“Is is safe to watch the eclipse on TV?”

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‘Honest-to-God questions for my eye doc hub’

Unless you live under a rock or on the West Coast, you were probably watching the solar eclipse yesterday. Dr. Dude and I were out in Amagansett, where we peered at it through a fancy-schmancy sun scope.

Dude Man with a solar scope. This was an earlier, easier-to-use model. The one he has now is waaaay more complicated

I also had a backup device: a sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 copier paper that I punched three holes in with a letter opener. It was delightful projecting tiny little crescents all over our upstairs deck while Dude Man hogged the scope. “Get me a black tee shirt! I need to block the light from coming in around my head!” “Okay,” I said, while gaily waving my paper around, making my “mini-eclipses” dance.

The Paper Plate Method. One step up from the copier paper

But more annoying than orders from Mr. Fetch-Me-This-Fetch-Me-That were texts and calls from his patients.

See, Dr. Dude, as you may already know, is an ophthalmologist, which, you certainly must know, is a fancy word for an eye doctor. And, to experience an eclipse, one must use one’s eyes, preferably shielded by eclipse glasses, which you could get pretty much anywhere for free or practically nothing. Some libraries gave you a pair if you checked out a book. My friend T scored hers when a helpful library patron in Summit, NJ, upped his order from two to three when he realized the librarian was not going to let T have glasses without checking out a book — even though T volunteers at said library for umpteen hours a week. (Stingy librarians. No wonder people are turning to e-books.)

But back to safe viewing. I don’t know about you, but in the days leading up to The Eclipse, I found it hard to miss instructions and advice on safe viewing. It seemed like every piece of news I encountered had tips, pointers — and warnings.

Yup. You can use a straw hat to make teensy little mini-eclipses

There were articles about how to make your own viewing devices: Cheerios boxes figured big here, as well as colanders — here’s a piece from Fox News, for heavens sakes. There was even a piece in The Times about how to safely watch without eclipse glasses. Here it is if you want to save it for the next U.S. eclipse, um, twenty years from now. In addition to fun facts about straw hats, sieves, straining spoons and loosely-laced fingertips, there was this at the end: Do NOT look directly at the sun during the eclipse with your naked eye.

Basically, the warnings were everywhere.

An example of viewing tips — and a warning — from the East Hampton Star

But, swear to God, Dr. Dude got calls from patients asking things like: “Can I look at the eclipse through my fingers?” Or “Is it safe to go outside?” There was even a guy who traveled up to Maine so he and his family could experience totality and asked if it would be safe to drive home. But my absolute favorite — and no, I am not making this up — was “Is it safe to watch the eclipse on TV?”

Oh — yes. Lest I forget. Later in the afternoon there were several calls from panicked patients who — in spite of all the warnings — had looked directly at the eclipse and wanted to know what to do now that their eyes burned and hurt and their vision was blurry. “Not much you can do at this point,” was his reply.

I only hope that none of these people has passed on any genetic material.

Looks like an emoji for “I looked directly at the sun during the eclipse”

Amagansett, New York. April 2024

“What’s that bird?” “Heck if I know.”

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‘Confessions of an Experiential Birder’

I’ve often said that birding is like jury duty with feathers. (See “Jury Duty, Only with Feathers.”) Or that bridge is indoor golf. (See “Bridge? It’s Basically Indoor Golf”.) I also used to say that Hell is other people’s children. But I must be getting soft in my old age — or maybe I’m just craving grandkids — because other people’s children don’t bother me as much as they used to. Unless they are seated behind me on a plane. (See “The Four Seatmates of the Apocalypse.”)

One thing I haven’t said much is the name of a bird if someone asks me.

This is what one of our guides would call a “fancy bird.” Some kind of woodpecker; just don’t ask me which one

That’s basically because, unless it’s some bird that the asker probably already knows the name of — think “robin” or “blue jay” or “wren,” if you’re not too picky about the type of wren — I won’t know. I’m a birder, but I’m not the kind of birder who keeps track of names, much less genus and species and other technical whatnot.

I do keep track of funny signs. (See “Oh no, Danger Man!”) Like this one somewhere in Brazil indicating parking for those over 60

Why, I don’t keep track of anything about the birds. Unless it’s some really interesting experience associated with that bird. Like, on our Northeast Brazil trip, there was this macaw — the Lear’s, or Indigo Macaw — that lives only in a very specific type of canyon. You can read more about this macaw here, but basically, there are only a few hundred of them, they weren’t recognized as a species until 1978 — and, if you want to see them, you have to go to this one sandstone canyon via four-wheel-drive at daybreak to watch them come out of their nests and swoop around. Now that’s an experience — and that I remember.

Waiting around the sandstone canyon for the Lear’s Macaw to show up. They did. And so did some listers

I’m most definitely not a “lister.” Listers are birders who keep a list of all the birds they’ve seen. And, trust me, they care about that list. I’ve had encounters with listers a few times on our trips. Mostly, they’re okay. Though it can get a bit old to have someone constantly piping up “6499!” (the number of birds in their Life List just achieved) or “Lifer!” (meaning the bird just spotted is the first time the person has seen it in his/her life). Variations on this rack-’em-up theme include “day bird,” which is the first time that bird has been seen that day, and “trip bird,” same thing, only for the trip. “Day bird” can also mean a bird that’s been seen every day of the trip. On our most recent excursion, it was the black vulture. Which should tell you something about that trip.

Iguazu (or, in Brazil, Iguacu) Falls. Another terrific experience, especially with these swifts that go dive-bombing through the falls every evening

At the end of every birding day, the group gets together with their checklists and the guide/leader goes through all the birds seen that day. Fortunately for me, this happens at cocktail hour. I dutifully check birds off as I sip, say, a cold local beer or a  caipirinha.Three guesses what happens to the lists.

Paddling on a hot river where there were many caiman — and lots of cool birds too

So. If you see me after one of our birding trips, feel free to ask me about my experiences. (I have lots of good stories — like the one where we had to go to a water park on a Sunday to find a certain rare mannikin. The beautiful Brazilians in their bikinis didn’t quite know what to make of us.)

Just don’t ask me the names of any of the birds.

Amagansett, New York. April 2024

“You’re not made of sugar; you won’t melt.”

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‘Or so my mother assures me.’

It was so wet out in Vancouver this last trip. So wet that if I had been made of sugar, I would have melted into a Wicked-Witch-style puddle.

Now, you may be thinking, “Gosh, what did you expect? Vancouver, Washington, is in the Pacific Northwest, for heaven’s sakes.” I mean, they have businesses that specialize in moss removal out there.

Who ya gonna call? Moss Busters!

Well, believe it or not, this is really the first time I’ve encountered classic Pacific Northwest wet  — at least the kind of rainy wetness that the area is famous for: steady, unrelenting, unvarying, and mostly sideways.

Wet out? Stay inside and finish another hat!

On most of my other trips, I’ve seen sunny skies. Honest. My Beloved Only Sister has lived out here for more than thirty years, and you can practically bet your bottom dollar that when I visit the sun will come out. I like to think I’m the cause of all this solar energy, but it’s no doubt just dumb luck. Whatever it is, we’ll take it.

Most of my trips require sunglasses and hats — and not the rain-hat kind

But the usual state of weather affairs out there is so consistently wet that everyone pretty much gets used to it. Why, my nieces famously squinted and shrieked, “Too bright, Mommy, too bright!” one sunny spring morning and begged for the curtains to be drawn.

People who live there, my sister included, just kind of walk around in the mist and/or rain with their shoulders shrugged up to their ears. I have yet to see an umbrella. A major concession to the universal damp is to pull one’s hoodie hood to the upward position.

Me with my hoodie hood up. Note: Peanuts characters in the background are not carrying umbrellas

That’s how I’d see the pods of kids in the mornings waiting for the school bus: shrugged into their hoodies, staring at the phones cradled under the “awnings” of their chins. Of course, I had options for my walks. I’d check the weather, then look for a “window” of clear weather. (Or at least a window of not-so-much rain.) Then I’d scamper out for my walk. One day, though, my window closed before I could get back and, if I had indeed been made of sugar, I would have dissolved right down to a nub.

Turns out that everyone in the Pacific Northwest waits for a “window,” then they dash about doing their grocery shopping, dog-walking and whatnot. Of course, at Mom’s place, the population being older, they just stay inside. Mom and I got our exercise by walking the hallways inside instead of the walkways outside. Hey, it was better than nothing — and we got to admire the various and sundry Christmasy-decorated doorways.

Mixed messages decorate a doorway in Mom’s building

To end on one last precipitation-soaked note, I got a surprise the last day I was there. I got up early, as is my wont, and peered out the window to assess the degree of wetness. But hey! There was snow!

The view out my Mom’s bedroom that last morning. Most of the snow had, alas, melted by the time I got this shot. Then, of course, it started raining again

But, my feelings of delight (fresh tracks! flinging snowballs!) rapidly turned into forebodings of danger (flight delays! falling!) I guess that’s how you know you’re officially old.

New York City. January 2024

Don’t leave home without it.

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‘The one travel essential that never appears on a list’

A couple of weeks ago Dude Man and I had dinner with the kind of couple I love to do things with in the City. They’re up for just about anything and, if weeks — or even months — go by between dinners or whatever, it doesn’t matter one whit. We just take up where we left off and have a jolly good time.

I knew the woman from a zillion years ago at Ogilvy, but our friendship got rekindled when she and her husband were on a plane to Bonaire and happened to sit next to Dr. Dude. One thing led to another and, next thing you know, we were sharing a pizza on the island and cracking each other up.

Anyway, that was years ago, and we still get together every once in a while to share a pizza on an island (Manhattan now) — and, yes, crack each other up. This last time they were telling us an air travel horror story. Trust me, even air travel horror stories can be pretty darned funny well after the fact. (You know the famous saying, right? “Comedy equals Tragedy plus Time.” True, so true. For anecdotal evidence, try out “The Gate Nazi at JFK.” Horrible and hilarious.)

On the same trip (of Gate Nazi fame) our flights were delayed for so long we went back to the hotel for more birding. (See “Birders Gotta Bird”)

This particular air travel horror story did not involve authoritarian gate agents demanding the singing of Christmas carols. No, this time the horror involved a delay — the kind of dreadful delay that drags on and on and on, and, adding to the drag, no food or water or refreshments of any kind.

Me, warily contemplating my fate at a gate at JFK

Were our friends daunted by this delay? Well, they weren’t pleased, but they weren’t starving either. Because, with tremendous foresight, my friend had packed a peanut butter sandwich. (Well, actually, two peanut butter sandwiches. One for each of them.)

This, O Reader, is the Travel Trick that I never see on even the most comprehensive lists. I see packing cubes, I see headphones, I see phone chargers, I see collapsible pillows. But do I see “peanut butter sandwich?”

Oh, once in a while, I see a suggestion to bring “snacks.” But what do they mean? Fruit gets mushy. Cheese gets rubbery. And god forbid you bring something aromatic. I once was on a flight where my seatmate whipped out a carton of chinese food. And don’t get me started on the guy who brought some McDonald’s (!)

Yes, this was The Child’s travel snack. No, she did not try to bring it on the plane

True, a peanut-butter sandwich can exude a somewhat nutty aroma. But, other than that, and the fact that it might get a bit smooshed — a problem that can be mitigated by making it foldover style — a PB&J is portable, palatable and non-confrontational.

If you find yourself saying, right about now, “Oh, but I’m going to be on an international flight and they have to serve me food” or “But I’m going to be in first class and the food will be terrific” — listen up. Your Emergency PB&J won’t take up a lot of room, and, like a spare phone charger, you might be awfully glad you’ve got it with you. (See my friend’s photo of her international-flight dinner — cup of water plus weird cracker/cookie thingie — at the top of this post. That sandwich on the left? That’s her presciently provided-by-herself PB&J.)

Dude enjoying First Class on our flight to Ecuador. (The food was good)

And if you end up not needing your PB&J after all? Eat it when you get where you’re going. Then you won’t need to go out for pizza. Though you’re going to want to go out for pizza if you’re with friends like ours.

Amagansett, New York. June 2023

Grad School

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‘What I learned by going to reunions’

Last weekend The Child wasn’t here to help celebrate The Dude’s birthday. Which wasn’t too big a deal, because A) it wasn’t a Big Birthday (just one of those annoying all-too-frequently occurring regular ones) and B) she’s here now, so we’re celebrating the birthday this weekend instead.

Celebrating not one but two birthdays last weekend. With not one but two cakes!

So, where was Her Childness last weekend? Celebrating her ten-year college reunion, that’s where. And if you think all-too-frequent birthdays give one pause, chew on that.

The Child and I at her college graduation ten years ago. Neither one of us looks one iota different. Well, not to me, anyway

I know, I know. You’ve heard me whine enough already about how quickly time passes. But seriously? Little Sammie Jane has been out of college for ten years?

Dude Man takes the measure of The Child. Then puts a brick on her head

Oddly enough, she did not invite me to go to her reunion with her. Though there is precedent for Mom-As-Reunion Date. My mother attended my ten-year high-school reunion with me. And, yes, she was a splendid date indeed.

Gosh, I don’t know why The Child didn’t invite me to her reunion. I got to go to this graduation party, didn’t I?

I also went to my 20-year and 40-year high-school reunions, though sans Mom. And I went to Dude Man’s 15-year and his 50th reunion, too. It was supposed to be in 2020, Dude having graduated in 1970. But, thanks to Mr. Virus, 2020 was not a year for reunions–or any gatherings, for that matter. And whomever was in charge of rescheduling sort of dropped the ball.

A couple of weeks ago Dude Man and I were happily ensconced in Amagansett with a major rainstorm of the deluge variety raging outside, when he plays a message left on his phone. Something about a 50th Reunion Bash being held that very night. “Did I want to go?” I motioned out the window. “Are you kidding?”

Well, one look at his little classmate-craving face and I caved. Soon we were hydroplaning our way on the Long Island Expressway back to Manhasset. Where 25 or so of his almost-200-strong Class of ’70 were gathered, damp but happy, clutching cocktails and peering intently at each other’s nametags.

The nametags, helpfully, were emblazoned with each attendee’s high-school yearbook photo. Although, sadly, this was not the one on The Dude’s. (hubba hubba)

So here’s where I go out on a limb and share what I’ve learned after going to so many high-school reunions. At the ten-year reunion, the men look better than the women. That’s because the women have tenaciously clung to the look they had in high school. Same hair style, same makeup techniques. But ten years have passed; maybe that flip needs to flop. They’ve also gained a few pounds. The men are still rocking high-school style too, but somehow it doesn’t matter, men’s styles not being quite so, well, changeable.

That’s Stanley rocking men’s style circa 1968. Still works, doesn’t it?

At the 20-year reunion, it’s the opposite. The women have figured it out. They’ve ditched the bouffants and (mostly) the pounds and look pretty darned terrific. Bonus discovery: the wallflowers have blossomed. So much so that (at my own 20-year bash) I heard more than one man exclaim to a formerly-invisible girl, “Sally (not her real name, of course) is that you?!?”

Meanwhile, the men have lost their hair and gained some paunch. Oh well. It pretty much all evens out at the (gasp) 50.

Oh. Before I forget — and before you ask. What about my college reunions? Didn’t I go to any of them? Well, actually, no. And not because I didn’t want to. No, as far as I know, good ole University of Missouri isn’t big on reunions. At least I’ve never heard tell of one. Gosh, maybe the rest of my class has been having incredible bashes every ten years since 1973 — and I just haven’t been asked.

Me, in college. Wouldn’t you want to get together with such a fun-looking girl at a reunion? One would think so.

I’ve been to Dude Man’s college reunions, though. The ten and the twenty. Here’s what I learned. The men at the ten (this was an all-guy’s school) were handsome and successful and showed off their wives and cars. At the twenty, they were (mostly) still handsome, and they were in the same cars — but they had new wives. I can hardly wait to see what they’re all up to at the 50th next year.

Dude and a bunch of Dartmouth Dudes at a reunion. Not sure which one, since The Dude, darn him, never ever changes

Oh, if, unlike me (I’m talking to you, Kim!) you’ve been to a Mizzou reunion, please keep it to yourself. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep going to any ole random reunion that’ll have me. Oh, and birthday parties.

Amagansett, New York. June 2023

 

 

Happiness by the foot

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‘The surprise and delight of shoes’

I love shoes. There’s something about looking down and spotting a snappy pair that makes me smile.

Check out (hah) these leather Vans. (Smiley face goes here)

My Mom is the same way. I look forward to my Kid of the Month Club visits not just because I get to see my super-fun Mom, but also because I get to see her super-fun footwear.

Mom in one of her many pairs of cute shoes. Her even cuter accessory? Youngest Younger Brother Doug

What is it about shoes that so delights? Well, compared to clothes, which can mysteriously “shrink” — or even lengthen — in your closet, shoes that fit well when you buy them pretty much stay that way. (As for clothes that get longer, see ‘Skirting the Issue’ for a tale of trailing taffeta.)

Shoes also seem to be an immune to “mutton dressed as lamb” syndrome. (In case you’re not familiar with that particular phrase, it refers to an older woman wearing clothes designed for younger people. It’s not flattering — either the phrase or the wearing.) I’ve written a post about this called “Just Because It Fits Doesn’t Mean You Should Wear It.”  But with shoes, as long as you have good legs — and, even more important, good balance — even heels are okay when you’re, um (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) over 70.

As for the surprising aspect of shoes, it’s fun to top off (or underline?) a conservative outfit with a jolt of the unexpected. Just yesterday I attended a big fancy meeting wearing black and white — plus these babies:

If I followed the Yellow Brick Road in these, I wouldn’t be able to see my feet

A quick note about when and where to wear cool shoes. Don’t waste your time if you’re going out to dinner. You’ll be seated at a table and no one will see your feet, much less your kicks. Concentrate instead on fun up top: necklaces, scarves, fun frames. A tiara.

What was I wearing on my feet? Who knows, and who cares? It was all about that tiara, baby

Shoes get a better chance to shine when worn to places people can actually see them. Think cocktail party or art opening. Someplace you’ll be standing. Or, if sitting’s more your style, think lectures. Recitals. Especially boring ones where people’s attention — and eyes — tend to wander. Trust me, your fellow coop board members will appreciate a fancy upper.

I broke my rule and wore the Vans to dinner. Where they drew no admiring glances. And actually disappeared into the floor

You can even surprise yourself with shoes. If you buy them off-season when there are deep discounts (like I do) then put them away, you’ll get a big kick out of “discovering” them months later. “Gosh,” you’ll say to yourself as you open a Tory Birch box stored with your summer clothes, “I forgot all about these! What fun!”

Look what I found in the back of my closet! Thank you, Tory Birch

New York City. May 2023

 

 

 

“I can’t believe I read the whole thing.”

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‘Literary taste: The Food Theory of Books’

I’ve actually written about this before — how books are like food. Check out my fifth-ever post from (gasp) 2014. I called it “Tolstoy is So Tasty,” because, like beets, I didn’t know how delicious War and Peace would be until I actually tried it.

It’s no War and Peace, but this book was also waaaay more delicious than you’d think (!)

But tonight I am going to an event featuring Andre Soltner, he of the late lamented Lutece fame, and I got to thinking about this whole topic — how reading is a lot like eating — and decided to give it another go. (Also, it’s the Christmas season, and though I do very little decorating — see “Deck the Halls with Bough of Holly” — and send absolutely no cards, I have been holiday-busy, mainly going to a lot of holiday-themed events. Which involves little work other than dressing up, but does make me blog-lazy, to say the least.)

Holiday Decorating, Ken & Barbie House style

So. In “Tolstoy is So Tasty”, I explain how some books are like a good dinner: satisfying, filling, memorable. As a bonus, they inspire conversation.

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The birthdays just fly on by

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‘What happened to “You sure don’t look it!”?’

I’ve whined (er, written) about birthdays before. (Thank you, Loyal Readers, for your patience with my elderly musings: “Sixteen Candles. Plus Another Sixteen. Or So.” “All Saints’ (Birth)Day.”  “Skirting the Issue.” There are way too many — kind of like the number of candles on my cake.)

A scene from one of many random birthday celebrations. I believe this one was not actually mine — I was just trying on the tiara for size

I’m actually grateful for reaching the astounding age that I have reached — especially when I consider the alternative. One of our friends, even older than I, has a motto: “Every day above ground is a good day,” with which I heartily concur.

Having a very nice time above ground with a tiara and a glam group

Last year I celebrated a Landmark Birthday — seventy, it was, for heaven’s sakes — with a fancy party and all the glam trimmings. I was riding high on birthday glory when — about a week later, it felt like — I turned seventy-one.

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Tawking the Tawk

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‘”New York” as a second language’

I once worked with a fabulous art director named Jayne. (Hi, Jayne!) She was — and probably still is — not only visually talented, but verbally funny.

I forget now where she grew up, but she was living in New Jersey when we were working together and she was concerned that her daughter was picking up the accent.

“Mommy, Mommy,” the Little Cherub cried while playing on their outdoor deck. “I have a splintah!” It says something about Jayne’s devotion to good diction that she corrected her daughter’s pronunciation before extracting the “splin-ter.

My boss Harvey, the master of New Yorkese. Read about him in the ever-popular and hilarious “Harvey and the Grilled Half Goat Head”

Speaking of accents, you may have a good idea of what a New York accent sounds like even if you’ve never spent time here in the City. (Note: New Yorkers never refer to their town as the Big Apple; it is “the City.” But, yes, some do refer to it as “New Yawk.”)

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Hands on clocks, hands on hips

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‘All right; assume the position’

Until that glorious day when I get some of my own (hint hint hint, O Child), I borrow my bro-in-law’s grandchildren.

He has three; all extremely adorable girls. This Memorial Day was the tenth anniversary (gulp!) of their coming to Amagansett for an action-packed visit.

Since they’re not my grandchildren, I won’t show the little girls’ faces. But, as you can see, they have pretty adorable backs. And their Grampa, seen giving them fond good-bye hugs, is pretty cute too

While hanging out on the deck one morning perusing the paper, my also extremely-adorable (and extremely perceptive) niece-in-law pointed something out to me.

Watch faces in ads always have the time set to 10:08. Sometimes 10:09 or 10:11. But always thereabouts — she told me

I’m ashamed to say that I’d never noticed this. Have you? Extremely perceptive N-I-L had a few theories about why this is so. 10:10, she said, whether it’s AM or PM is a kind of hopeful, nonstressful time. You’re not rushing to work or school or hurrying to get dinner on.

Here’s another, from a magazine this time. Note uplifting, positive hand position

Of course Dude Man had his own theory. “They do it that way so the hands don’t cover up the name of the watch,” he pointed out in his oh-so-practical way. “Okay,” countered N-I-L, “then why don’t they use 7:20?”

She was still thinking about this on their way home. As for 3:10, I told her I thought that was a very discouraging time: too late for coffee and too early for cocktails

Thinking about the position of hands sparked another thought of mine. “Stand up and put your hands on your hips,” I said to her.

Dude Man standing with hands on hips. Notice anything different from the photo of me doing the same thing at the top of this post?

“What?!”

“Go on,” I encouraged. “Don’t think about it. Just stand up and put your hands on your hips.”

So she did, and her pose looked pretty much like mine up there at the top of this story. Except that she is oodles younger and prettier.

I don’t have a photo of Bill doing this, but here’s another one of The Dude demonstrating what I mean

See, Whitmores always put their hands sort of backwards on their hips. To demonstrate, I got her husband (Dude Man’s nephew and son of bro-in-law Bill, the Grampa of the adorable girls) to do it too. Yup. Same deal.

Here’s the first person I noticed doing this: Grampa Whit, the father of Grampa Bill. And yes, that’s The Child frolicking in the surf with him

It’s kind of like that Asparagus Pee Thing. Or that Rolling Your Tongue Thing. Hereditary. Go ahead; try it. Are you a Frontwards or a Backwards?

There’s my dad, far right in the back row, demonstrating the Frontwards. Henrys are all Frontwards. Note one of my cousins, Frontwards in the front row, striped shirt

Once I started searching, I found tons of photographic evidence of both Frontwards and Backwards — and of how consistently people did one or the other.

Honestly, I couldn’t find anybody who switched around — or at least any pictures as proof that they did. The best I could do was to find some people (like me at the top of this post) who sometimes mixed things up by balling their fists in Frontwards position, a pose I like to think shows determination and power.

Here’s The Child, showing her Whitmoreness in a crowd of Petersons and Henrys

And here she is again, demonstrating that you don’t grow out of your hands-on-hips position

I could go on and on. But I have to get my act together to drive back to the Very Hot City, where I have places to go and people to see. You can bet I’ll be keeping an eye on where everybody puts their hands.

Sometimes it’s fun to put your hands on somebody else’s hips (!)

Amagansett, New York. May 2022