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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“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

Looks like we got ourselves a HooHah!

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

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

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

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

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

I just flew in from The Coast

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

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

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

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“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”?

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‘Not so fast, Facebook Friends. Not so fast.’

I was all ready to write an amusing Memory Lane type tale about my first Real Summer Job (the kind that did not involve babysitting, but did involve the procurement of a Social Security Card), when I saw this on Facebook:

Posted on June 25. Exactly six months before Christmas. I get it, I get it. But I don’t want to play, OK?

So, excuse me, but the First Real Job at the Carlyle Union Banner story will just have to wait. Because (speaking of waiting) I plan to wait till at least after Thanksgiving to begin my own Countdown to Christmas. A “countdown” that will be “brutish and short”, if not “nasty” (sorry, Thomas Hobbes).

Those of you who have read my rants (er, pieces) for a while know that Thanksgiving — not Christmas — is my absolute A-Number-One Favorite Holiday. Christmas, with its obligatory gift-and-tip-giving and endless trapped-in-an-elevator playings of “Little Drummer Boy” doesn’t even come close. (For an amusing and non-crabby recounting of Five Big Ways Christmas can’t hold even a red cinnamon-scented candle to Thanksgiving, just click here.)

‘Little Children Forced to Greet Benevolent Uncles dressed as Scary Santas’ isn’t on my list, but probably should be

The other reason I’m not even close to being ready for a Countdown to Christmas is that I haven’t even begun my Countdown to the Fourth yet. And the Fourth of July is coming up this very next weekend. So I’d better get a wiggle on, as they say where I come from. Continue reading