“I’ve got belts older than you.”

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‘Freelance was such fun. Until it wasn’t’

As you may recall, last week I was all set to share a crabby/funny story about when I was a freelance writer — when, all of a sudden, this happened:

Needless to say, I’m still plenty excited. In fact, so excited I just can’t help treating you to another shot of the Happy Couple.

No one should be allowed to look this all-fired gorgeous on a plane, for heavens’ sakes

All in all, it was a darned exciting week, what with my umpteenth birthday, the afore-mentioned engagement, and the firing of President You-Know-Who (name rhymes with “dump”). There was some sad news, too — the death of Alex Trebeck, the beloved Jeopardy! host. Who was, of course, Canadian. (I say “of course” because I’m convinced, since The Engagement, that all the very best and very nicest men come from Canada.)

At our house, though, the game show of choice was the other really popular one. (Answer: “PattanVanna” Question: “What did The Child call “Wheel of Fortune?”) It was almost as fun to watch her point at the TV and squeak out “PattanVanna” as it was to watch her point at the TV in my Dad’s Clinton-hating presence and squeak out “BillKinton! BillKinton!”

The Child, in the very room and in the very slippers, where she’d squeak “PattanVanna”

But back to the point of this story.

As I mentioned, I celebrated yet another birthday last week. I say “yet another” because I’ve reached a rather extraordinary age. It’s a number that has rather unfortunate dirty-joke connections. Though I was so naive that I didn’t “get it” when people snickered if I mentioned I was “Class of ’69.” (Yes, my age now matches my high-school graduation year. I’m more of a ‘Senior’ now than I was when I was a ‘Senior’ then.)

Me, long ago — but still long after high school graduation — sporting my CHS sweatshirt. (It does not have a ’69 on it)

You regular readers (whom I adore with all my heart) know that I used to be an advertising copywriter. Which was “The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On.” (You can read more about the glam life I led Back Then by clicking on any story in the Adland Lore tab.) Advertising was such fun, for me anyway, that after my regular career ended I kept on cranking out copy as a freelancer.

I was a very successful freelancer. I’d come in, bat out some brochures about sheet metal or some letters to disease-sufferers. In record time and without whining. (Most of my freelance was for what they called Direct-to-Consumer advertising — DTC in Biz Lingo — which is what Regular People call “Direct Mail” or even “Junk Mail.”)

Freelancers just wanna have fun. And not get run over by a bike while taking a selfie

I wrote my stuff and didn’t complain — even if the assignments were, well, less than glamorous. The bosses loved my cheerful attitude. Boss: “You used to write for American Express; you don’t mind doing these letters for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?” Me: “Hey, I’m freelance. You pay me, and I’ll wash your darned car.” Except I didn’t say “darned.”

All went swimmingly until one assignment where this assistant account executive kept changing my copy. Without telling me. The nerve. For those of you not in The Biz, an “assistant account executive” is a person so low on the account side totem pole that he/she carries your bags and drives the car. (They can rise to the top alarmingly quickly, though. There was this assistant AE named Bill Gray who ended up being the President of Ogilvy. So it pays to be nice.)

Me, back in my Ogilvy Days. When assistant AEs carried my bags and drove the rental cars. Among other things

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care if even a lowly assistant AE changed my copy. I was a freelancer. No strings, no emotional involvement. I didn’t really work there. I’d take my check and forget about it. Except that she was changing it so it was awful. I had my pride. And my reputation. If people thought it was me writing with such atrocious syntax and horrible word choices, my lucrative career might go south.

So I did what I hated to do: I complained to my boss. (He was a great boss named Rob; super nice, even though he wasn’t Canadian.) Well, Rob called that little whippersnapper of an assistant AE into his office and told her to stop already with the changing of my copy. She was way too wet behind the ears, he explained, to presume to mess with a seasoned writer’s work. “Young Lady,” he went on, “I’ve got belts older than you.”

Me, at the beginning of a very long — and mostly very happy — advertising career

End of colorful crabby/funny story. And, incidentally, the end of my career. Even though good ole Rob fixed things, for me the freelance well had been poisoned. I was still lucratively-paid, but I couldn’t summon up that old satisfaction-at-a-job-well-done feeling any more.

But hey — I’ve got an Engaged Kid, a New President, another birthday under my ancient belt, and a bunch of people reading my finely crafted and carefully honed blog every week. What’s not to feel satisfied about?

New York City. November 2020

 

 

 

 

She had a hat

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‘Wearing headgear well runs in the family. Too bad I didn’t get that gene.’

As you, dear Reader, know only too well, we’ve been slowly and-oh-so-surely settling in to the new Ken and Barbie House. All the Big Stuff has found a new home, and we’re on to clearing out the Little Stuff. (I am having nightly horrors about the Junk Drawer.)

We Henrys have been holding regular Family Facetime Calls with our dear Mother every Sunday, and on one of these, not too long ago, I happened to be in the middle of clearing out the coat closet. (How many mismatched gloves can one person have?!?)

My Oldest Younger Brother looks over my Facetimed shoulder and says, “Hey! There’s the Hat!” And goldarnit. There it was.

The Hat. Basically, the only one I wear. And not for “fashion”

It was easy to spot because not only is it large and furry and rather assertive and unmissable on a closet shelf, it’s pretty much the only hat I wear — being as how I only wear hats for function, not fashion.

Don’t worry, I do not own this Keebler Elf hat. I borrowed it when we were up in the Catskills last weekend.

Not that I am not interested in fashion. Oh no. I love dressing up, dressing down, even dressing medium. True, like most everyone I know, I am a pandemic-pants wearer. But I wear these really cute Tory Burch athletic pants I got on sale. I have my standards, even when in self-isolation.

All dressed up for a Birthday Toast. Wearing a Birthday “Hat”

But, darn it, I have never been able to wear hats well. Not fashion-y ones. And not even functional ones. Maybe it’s my Swedish Head. The Swedish Head Thing is real, and pretty interesting. I wrote a whole post about it (See “What’s that in the road — a head?“) back in the good old days when I wasn’t downsizing or having shots in my spine and things like head shape seemed very important. (Quick update: shot — actually two shots — not as bad as I thought. Though I certainly wouldn’t want to get one every day. And, yes, my back feels much much better.)

Oldest Younger Brother Scott rocking a fashion hat at the wedding of his nephew — son of Middle Younger Brother Roger, who looks pretty darned snappy even hatless

But other members of my family — and not just the Whitmores — are champs at hat-wearing. Check out the picture at the top of this post, par example. The Child doesn’t even look silly in that sombrero.

She doesn’t look silly in the fake fur number I wore intermittently for years, much to Dude Man’s amusement. It was not flattering. Not on me, anyway

The Child, it should be noted, takes after her father, Dude Man, in many extraordinary ways: math prowess, piano playing, fearlessness at sports. I take that last one back: fearlessness at anything. She’s hiked the John Muir Trail — alone and jumped out of planes — on purpose.

Dude Man checks to see that his daughter has indeed inherited his lovely round head

Yes, she, like The Dude, looks terrific in hats. Functional, fashionable. No matter. He/she look amazing with any kind of topper.

This doesn’t bother me too much. I still wear a hat — when I need to. And I get to watch them wearing hats because they want to.

Tillamook Head. Times two. Note how my hair — and ears — stick out. Sigh

Oh — before I forget. The title of this piece comes from one of my Mom’s favorite jokes. It seems this crusty little ole gramma (probably about my age, hah) is in charge of watching her little grandson at the beach one Sunday. The little guy’s, oh, about two, and he’s happily shoveling sand into a pail when a big rogue wave rolls in and sweeps him out to sea — pail, shovel and all.

The gramma leaps to her feet, clasps her hands, and entreats the heavens, “Oh please, O Lord! Please take mercy upon your humble servant and return my precious grandson to me! Please, O Lord, I beg you!”

Well. Another wave rolls in and deposits the boy right back where he was, completely unharmed, pail and shovel in hand.

The gramma looks up once again at the heavens and says, “Hey! He had a hat!”

Yup. She even looks good wearing the equivalent of a bucket on her head

Amagansett, New York. October 2020

I don’t care what you call me, as long as you call me for dinner.

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‘Well, on second thought, maybe don’t call me “Karen”‘

Big surprise: my name isn’t actually “Lutheran Liar.” It’s Alice, a name I didn’t like much when I was a girl. Back then I wished my name was Linda or Debbie or Nancy or Sandy or Barb. Cool girl names. Cheerleader names. Girls-with-flips names. (That’s me, without a cool name, but with a reasonably-cool flip, in the picture at the top of this story.)

Instead, I got saddled with the name Alice. Which is a perfectly lovely name, really. But at the time I thought it was a “Grandma Name.” Maybe that’s because, in my case, it actually was a Grandma Name: the name of my Peterson Gramma. To add insult to name injury, my middle name was also a Grandma Name: Celia, the name of my Henry Gramma. (I couldn’t — and didn’t — do this to The Child. Her name would have been Bertha Myrna.)

My Gramma, the original-in-my-family-anyway-Alice

At my age it’s kind of hard to wrap my head around what’s happened with the name Karen, which was perhaps the coolest Cool Girl Name of all. As you probably can’t help but know, “Karen” has become a not-so-great all-purpose name for women caught exercising their white privilege muscles. Preferring an upbeat blog, I won’t go into this now, but you can read this New York Times piece for sad sociological details.

One of the nicest of the Nice Karens I know

Me, I only know Nice Karens. Like my cousin Karen. And my bridge buddy Karen. The very sweet Karen I babysat for in high school. There’s snappy-smart Lustre Karen. I even know a Field Guides Tours Karen. All nice as nice can be.

A gaggle of nice cousins with Cool Names: Debbie, Sandy, Kathy, Cindy, Nancy and — yes — Karen — all at my Mom’s 90th birthday party last fall. And no, dear Cousin Sandy, we did not name our dog Sandy after you (!)

Of course, no one really called me “Alice.” Except my Mom when I did something wrong. Then I got the whole darned name: “Alice Celia Henry, get in here this minute.” Ooops. I was “EO” to my Middle Younger Brother because he couldn’t say “Alice” and instead tried to spell it. I was “AE” to my Dad, because he remembered the spelling incident, only with with different letters.

Middle Younger Brother (the one who called me EO) competing for treats with Hermie, who was never ever called “Herman”

And, of course, The Child called (and still calls) me “Mom.” I know some families where the kids call their parents by their first names. Which is fine; just don’t try it at my house.

The Child modeling a sweater her Mom (me) knit for her. In the background is a painting that she used to point at, saying “Mommy! Mommy!” Hmmm

And The Dude? He calls me “Pie.” In fact, sometimes when he leaves me a note, he just draws a little pie wedge in lieu of a signature. Sometimes he draws steam coming out of it.

My Dad, who called me AE, called The Child “WalMart” because I made a crack one day about people naming their kids after stores (“Tiffany”)

As for the name “Alice,” not only did I learn to like it — especially after I moved to the East Coast, where I met several other Alices my own age — but I’ve grown into it.

In fact, the only other name I’d rather be called now would be “Gramma.”

Amagansett, New York. August 2020

“When I grow up, I want to be Brenda Starr”

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‘Me and the mimeograph machine, making news after school’

Somebody Up There must not want me to go to The City. Last week when I journeyed there for a necessary errand, an epic storm struck right when I had to catch the Jitney home. In spite of being (what I thought was) adequately prepared, I — and everything I had with me — got thoroughly soaked. (I tried to make a video of myself pouring literally cups of water out of my rain shoes — yes, “rain shoes”, I told you I was prepared — but it was too dark and wet down by my feet.)

The errand that took me into The City: watching the countertop guys make a template for this curved counter in our itty bitty kitchen

Here’s how the side with no curve turned out

As you know only too well by now, The Dude and I are downsizing and need to get everything out of the old apartment. So, every time I slip into The City I try to bring some stuff back with me. If I’m traveling by Jitney (which is a fancy New York name for what is essentially a bus) I can’t take, say, boxes of books, but every little bit counts.

Some of the “stuff” got a bit damp. (See rain-stained right side of envelope)

This trip I grabbed a half-full box of tagliatelle, some jars of slightly-old-but-perfectly-good oregano and basil, a few cat toys, some socks, a few bits of china (which I wrapped in the socks), and a couple of random envelopes from a desk drawer, including one tantalizingly labeled “Stuff from Mom.”

By far the largest item in that envelope was this studio portrait of Baby Me. I swear it’s, like, 10×12. (Notice the same expression in the photo at the top of this post)

But what really got my attention were three lovingly-preserved copies of The Carlyle Grade School News.

This October edition had its cover art embellished by a younger sibling

I saw these, and the past came rushing back like a journalistic freight train. Gosh, how could I have forgotten The Carlyle Grade School News? I can recall (now), like it was yesterday, the aroma of baking bread that was the mimeograph machine running off copies in the school office after hours. Of course this happened a jillion years ago when I was in the eighth grade. There’s sure been a lot of water under the bridge (or poured on my head) since then.

The Christmas Edition was a fat one, bursting its staples. There was a Roving Reporter asking what students wanted for Christmas. Overwhelming answer? Mohair sweater, usually in pink

But why and how did this newspaper come to be? Well. When I was a girl there was this comic strip called “Brenda Starr, Reporter.” It featured a glamorous redhead (Brenda) who, as an ace reporter lived an extremely exciting life. I always liked to write and I’ve always had a thing about redheads. I could imagine no future more perfect than to be Brenda Starr. Gosh, it’s only now when I look it up on Wikipedia that I realize that the “Dale Messick” who drew the strip was (gasp) a woman. How perfect! (She shortened her name from Dalia, says Wiki, to get her strip published, since being a woman wasn’t exactly an advantage for a cartoonist in those days.)

Future Brenda Starr. But without red hair

To be Brenda Starr, I would need some practice. They didn’t have a newspaper at my school, so I decided to start one. I recall approaching The Powers That Were for permission to use the school office as a newsroom. I said that I wouldn’t break anything or make a mess, and that they wouldn’t have to lift a finger. All I would need was use of a typewriter, the mimeograph machine and some paper. In those days, well, that was enough. At least in my small-town hometown.

Me with my effortlessly glam mom, at about the age of my Editor-in-Chiefdom

Of course I was the Editor. But there were others on “staff.” Like reporters who covered each grade. Second Grade heard a talk about “the danger of playing in old ice boxes,” while Grade Five said “their chief interest in math is to myltiply (sic) with zeros.” (Note: there is no way to make a correction when typing a form for a mimeograph machine.)

Editorial staff plus editorial excuse

There were sports reporters and a gossip column and puzzles and stories — there was even a story “hand-picked by Alfred Hitchcock.” Though I doubt he actually appeared at Carlyle Grade School to do the “hand-picking.”

No newspaper would be complete without editorials. This one foreshadows the tone of a certain blogger, n’est-ce pas?

There was a fashion column (the Christmas edition featured knee socks), an advice column called “Letters to Lola” which dealt mainly with issues concerning “getting pretty girls to like me.” (I honestly don’t remember who was “Lola.”) Oh, yes, and Want Ads. One offered “Baby snails. Limited supply.” And jokes? You betcha! “Hey Chef, this soup is spoiled!” “Who told you?” “A little swallow!” I didn’t say they were good jokes.

All that remains of the Carlyle Grade School News today are these three dog-eared, rain-rescued and sibling-scribbled issues my mom squirreled away in an envelope buried in a drawer. But it led to my high school gig on the Carlyle Union Banner, my enrollment in Journalism School (see me ecstatic in my dorm room at the top of this post) and, ultimately, to New York City and my ever-so-exciting career in the Ad Biz — not to mention meeting The Dude.

Big fat sigh goes here.

But enough Deep Thoughts. Now I’m back to obsessing about the Ken and Barbie House.

The Ken and Barbie House: getting there!

Amagansett, New York. August 2020

 

Before the parade passes by

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‘Believe it or not, summer’s almost over’

I’ve written about the astonishing swiftness of summer before. (See “The Days are Long, but The Season is Short.”) And more than just that one time. (See “Yup, Summer’s Officially Over,” etc. etc.) One would think that by now, with so many summers under my baby-boomer belt, I’d be used to the swiftness of it all.

One would be wrong.

What made me realize that this particular pandemic-plagued summer was already sailing inexorably into its sunset was a photo my beloved Favorite Only Sister posted on Instagram recently.

Here it is. Showing a mixed assortment of Clinton County Parade spectators. Looks like I missed a *sniff* swell time that year

She posted it because, yes, it’s Clinton County Fair Time again. The Parade pictured was enjoyed during a time when we kids were all grown up, some of us with kids of our own. I was, alas, missing from the scene that particular year. But I did get to witness the “Surfing the Internet with God” float (pictured at the top of this post) on another similarly-memorable Parade-watching occasion.

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Her Personal Truck

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‘From zero driving to truck driving in no time flat’

Back in the early 80s I dated this guy who also worked in the New York City Ad Biz — he was a producer; I was a copywriter — but he, unlike me, owned a vehicle. This was (and still is) somewhat unusual for a New Yorker.

The few New Yorkers who own cars are all out here

Anyway, this guy was really cool. Still is, I imagine. He was so cool that he not only owned a vehicle, he owned a truck. This was so unusual — and, to me, so cool — that I dubbed this vehicle — I don’t remember the make but it was white — his Personal Truck. As in, “Oh, do we get to go wash your Personal Truck?”

Yup, that’s me. During my ride-around-in-the-Personal-Truck period

I say “go wash” because Cool Guy did not keep his Personal Truck in the City. He kept it at his childhood home in New Jersey. We would hop on the train, pick it up (well, it was a pickup truck, after all), wash it (this was back when you could ride through a car wash, which I enjoyed immensely) and then he would drive it around while I made those swoopy hand-fish motions out the window and felt the wind in my hair.

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“Don’t be in such a hurry,” said my wise mother.

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‘”You’re going to be a grownup for a very long time.”‘

I had my heart set on using this seriously cute photo of The Child wearing my shiny brown hand-tooled cowboy boots. (They look more like hip boots on her three-or-four-year-old form.) In this lost photo she is also sporting a pair of big ole dangly pearl clip-on earrings. Painfully cute.

Never fear. I have a plethora of painfully cute Child photos

I could keep on looking, but the clock just keeps on ticking and it’ll be Wednesday before this Tuesday post is done if I don’t just forge on ahead.

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Queen Elizabeth and I both put our tights on one leg at a time

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‘And we both sit down on the bed first’

I’m not all that cagey about revealing my age. Though it does bug me to be asked. Usually, unless the person asking is a government official or someone hinting that I deserve the Senior Discount, I just smile and say that I’m old enough to remember when Sir Paul was a Beatle. They get the idea. And I get the discount.

Note to Young Persons in Positions Serving the Public (movie ticket sellers, museum fee gatherers and the like): if someone wants the Senior Discount, she will ask for the Senior Discount. MoMA won’t make any new Friends if you suggest that discount to someone you in your dewy-eyed wisdom deem eligible. Trust me; I know whereof I speak.

The Dude and me on a recent tights-wearing occasion. It was me wearing the tights

But back to Queen Elizabeth and me. You know that old (speaking of old) saying, don’t you? The one about The King of England and the lowliest commoner both putting their pants on one leg at a time? Well, I realized last Tuesday that I am now just like Her Highness, at least in the Getting Up There Department. Because, when I put on my tights, I sat down on the bed first.

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I never did find that darned bedpan

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‘More Memories of my dear funny Aunt Marilyn’

I’ve been feeling a tad emptied out these last few weeks. And not only because our home is, bit by bit, quite literally being emptied of virtually all our favorite possessions. (The Gods of Staging decree it thus.)

Living room with piano and cat bed, on its way to being “staged” for sale

No, I’m feeling empty because my life is being emptied, bit by bit (or soul by soul), of many of my favorite people. (In this case, it’s the Guy — or Gal — Upstairs who decrees it.) A few weeks ago, it was my Mom’s sister, my dear funny idiosyncratic Aunt Marilyn.

Aunt Marilyn in a rare formal portrait. I used to stare at this photo (framed, on a shelf in my Gramma’s house), wishing I owned that fabulous fur neck thing

True, I already wrote a piece about Marilyn. A couple of pieces, in fact. (See “Hey, Aunt Marilyn! Everybody’s up!”  and “A Very Marilyn Christmas” for some nice reminiscences.) But, trust me, she was such fun and so, well, unique in her enthusiasms, that she deserves another few words.

I already mentioned that, when I was very small, my Dad went off to serve in Korea and Mom and I went back to her parents’ farm to live for the duration. (See “Kissing Daddy Good-night” for poignant details.) Marilyn was a teenager at the time, so she, of course, was in residence.

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Only if the plane was on fire

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‘When Whitmores say something is “exciting”‘

There’s a scene in one of my favorite Woody Allen movies (I’m thinking it’s Annie Hall) where Woody’s character asks his date to name her favorite sport. She says “swimming”, and Woody says, “Swimming? Swimming’s not a sport. Basketball’s a sport. Swimming is what you do when the boat sinks!”

Well, Woody, I hear you. I feel similarly about parachute jumping. I can think of absolutely no scenario where I would jump out of a plane. Unless it was on fire — and I’m not sure I’d do it even then.

Obviously The Child feels differently. There is photographic evidence (see the shot at the top of this post) of her smiling while she’s jumping out of a plane. And guess what? She did it again a few years later with a bunch of work buddies.

Not sure if this was before or after that second jump. Those could be smiles of relief — or terror

Anyway. I bring all this up because The Child never ceases to amaze me with her daring. Though, honestly, I shouldn’t be surprised when she does stuff like jump out of planes, leap off cliffs, swing from trapezes, or face off with large animals. She is, after all, a Whitmore.

The Child, outstanding (er, squatting) in her field: staring down danger

Now, some of you are no doubt protesting, “Hey, you’re a Whitmore!” But I am a Whitmore only by marriage. The Child’s Whitmoreness flows through her very veins.

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