The Curse of the Potoo

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‘We spot a most unusual specimen — and suffer the cosmic consequences’

Nope. That’s not the ‘unusual specimen’ in the photo at the top of this story. That’s Chuck. Or, as he came to be known on this trip (by me anyway) ‘UpChuck’. For reasons which will soon become apparent.

The ‘unusual specimen’ in this story is a bird called, I kid you not, the Potoo. I first heard about the Potoo when The Dude and I were birdwatching in Panama last year. Dude Man kept asking ‘Hey, can you find us a Potoo?’ And Guide Man would just smile and shake his head, as if to say ‘That’ll be the day’. And I’d be like ‘Potoo? Potoo? That’s not a real bird, is it?’

See, I thought The Dude and The Guide were having me on. That looking for a Potoo was kind of like going on a ‘Snipe Hunt’. Which, if you grew up in the Midwest like me, you remember was an elaborate practical joke that Big Boys would play on Smaller Boys, like at Scout Camp. Or sometimes the joke would be played on Naive High-School Girls by Naughty High-School Boys. ‘Hey, wanna go in the woods tonight? On a Snipe Hunt? (Snicker Snicker)’

Potoo? Oh, wacky little Potoo? You in there?

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Eat. Or be eaten.

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‘Up close and personal with paranha, army ants, and other Amazon locals’ 

“Don’t look now, but there’s a half-naked man with a machete up ahead on the path,” fluted Paul in his Upperclass Brit Voice. And yes, there certainly was.

This was on, oh, Day Two or so of our Amazonian Adventure. The one where we spent two weeks on a boat traveling to the upper reaches of the Rio Aripuana, dubbed The River of Doubt by none other than Teddy Roosevelt.

Me, channeling my Inner Teddy on the Rio Aripuana. That’s our Base Boat, the Tumbira, in the background, a tad far away for comfort. For me, anyway

As the days went by we became more familiar with ‘men with machetes’, and actually quite happy to have them around. (In the Amazon, carrying a machete is kind of like carrying a Swiss Army Knife.)

“You call that a knife? THIS is a knife!”

There was a guy we met on another path on another day who even gave our Fearless Leader Bret a bit of a pause. I was transfixed by his Chicago Cubs hat and did not notice that he had been carrying a rather large firearm. Turns out he was out scouting for a jaguar that had been terrorizing his village. Continue reading

It’s a small world, after all

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‘It took me nearly as long to get to Roosevelt Island as it did to get to the Amazon River’

I didn’t get his name, but I’m betting it was ‘Tony’. He was the guy manning the gate that lets you into the waiting area to ride the tram back from Roosevelt Island.

One of my besties (hi, Laurie!) and I had spent a most marvelous time strolling around the Island, checking out the new monument to Mr. Roosevelt, the old Smallpox Hospital (where they used to quarantine the poor sufferers, bless their hearts), and even the new Cornell Labs (where they let us in, but only so far in; they have very nice light fixtures in their cafeteria).

Monument to Mr. R. One of my other bestie’s sons really really wants to skateboard here

You can’t go in because it is ‘unstable’ (not that I’d want to), but here is the Smallpox Hospital in all its tumbledown glory

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Crime ‘n Stuff

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‘Waves of summer mayhem out East Hampton Way’

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

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

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

Now this is a crime: floaterless pool floats

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

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

“I wouldn’t say no to a piece of pie”

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

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

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

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

HooHah Time is Story Time

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‘The one about the Big Midwestern Paper Company’

First, big fat apologies for being late with my story this week. I was Out West for a big ole family reunion (referred to in my fam, with infinite fondness, as a ‘Henry HooHah’). Many adventures were had which I honestly do not have the time nor the photos (yet) to go into right now, including a last-minute extra bonus day with my Favorite Sister Laura, courtesy JetBlue:


The one thing I can report right now is that, yes, many amusing stories were told at this HooHah, most while holding a glass of wine, and sometimes, if the story-teller was really really lucky, with an extremely cute baby in his or her lap.

Me, mid-story, no doubt, pacifying fussy-yet-still-adorable teething baby with nice cold wine bottle (chewy rubber spatula not having done the trick)

Oh, before I forget. The picture at the top of this post — the one showing me not really smoking but scaring my teensy niece by pretending to do so, was taken at one of the very first Henry HooHahs, held in Amagansett in, oh, I’m thinking, the early 90s. Yes, I was telling a story at the time. The one about the Chicago Manicurist shouting “Hold on to your son!” after being frightened by the sight of Middle Younger Brother Roger wearing a beret. (Someday, maybe, I’ll tell this one. But it involves using an accent, in a non-PC way at that, which would be tricky to relay in a blog post.) Continue reading

It’s lonely at the top of the Coliseum

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‘The time we went to Rome and no one was home’

They say that comedy is tragedy plus time. It’s been thirty years since the Chernobyl disaster, so I guess it’s safe to tell a somewhat-amusing story about it. After all, New York Times Journeys is selling tours to the Chernobyl site. The group is ‘departing’ (nice choice of words, Times writer) May 27, so there’s still time to sign up. If you’ve got $5,495 and a hazmat suit.

I think I’ll skip this, tempting though it may sound to stay in ‘the only hotel in the town of Chernobyl’

So what could Chernobyl possibly have to do with a nice thirty-something couple in New York? Well. The Dude was a freshly-minted doctor at the time and was preparing to give his first big lecture at his first big medical meeting. This meeting, of ophthalmologists from around the world, was to be held in Rome — a city that sounded darned nice to visit, meeting or no meeting.

So The Dude got his notes and slides all prepped and polished and I found us some nice cheap plane tickets and a nice cheap hotel. (These were the days when we were living ‘Barefoot in the Park’-style in that fish-bowl ground-floor apartment, remember, and the Hassler was not in our budget. Still isn’t, actually.) Continue reading