Close, but no cigarette


‘Malapropisms I have known and loved’

As I darkly hinted last week, I was thinking about writing a piece about the Common Cold. Specifically, about how the Cold is the Rodney Dangerfield of illnesses. You know, it “just don’t get no respect”.

For those of you who don’t know who the heck I’m talking about, that’s Rodney, with one of his quips. He was famous among some of The Dude’s college buddies for appearing in the movie Caddyshack. But he was even more famous for “insult humor”. He even had the temerity to insult Frank Sinatra (who, thank god, laughed); you can read about this is a famous essay called ‘Frank Sinatra has a Cold’, an essay by Gay Talese so good it is taught in journalism schools.

And yes, in this piece Frank Sinatra has a cold. Just like me! (The Common Cold being probably the only time ever I will have anything whatsoever in common with Frank.)

But I won’t elaborate. Because, if you’ve ever had a cold (and they are, in fact, pretty common, especially in New York this winter), I’m thinking you know exactly what I mean. I don’t know about you, but if I hear one more time that I should be glad that “it’s only a cold” and that at least I “don’t have anything more serious” I will do more than insult that person. I might do something truly evil, like lick their phone.

But back to malapropisms.

If you think the photo at the top of this post (the one with the sign that says, proudly, “thriving for perfection”) is funny, then you already know what those are. But, to save you clicking on the Wikipedia entry, here’s “malapropism”:

–the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance.

Maybe you’ve heard someone use ‘jive’ instead of ‘jibe’, as in “What you said just doesn’t jive with what I read in today’s Times”. That’s a malapropism. So is saying “for all intensive purposes” when you mean to say “for all intents and purposes.” And recently an acquaintance had me in (quiet, polite, trying not to do anything weird with my face) hysterics when she said she had enjoyed the “flamingo dancers” in Barcelona.

But it’s also malapropian if someone sort of mooshes two well-known phrases together. Like, if anyone has ever told you that you’re “barking up the wrong alley”. Close, but no cigarette, as someone also might say.

The Dude, unique individual that he is, has yet another gloss on the malapropism. He likes to use his own (slightly “off”) definitions for words, and then insist that they are correct, just because he says so. (Hmmm, remind you of anyone? Say, with orange hair?)

For example. As you may know, The Dude is a libertarian. (There is actually a rather hilarious story about The Dude, his libertarianism, and The Child that you can read once you’re done with this one. It’s called ‘Libertarian Blonde’.)

Anyway, I’ll spare you a discourse on political theory (talking about my cold was enough), but it makes The Dude crazy to read of what he considers wasteful government programs (Big Government!) When he reads about someone somewhere being paid to do, say, a government study on the effect of barnacles on the ships in the St. Lawrence Seaway, he’s apt to mutter darkly “Great! More people ‘on the dole’.”

And when I point out that ‘on the dole’ means, actually, that you are the recipient of charity or welfare, he says something like “well, that’s not the way I use it, and everybody I talk to knows that.” Oh. Okay. So anyway. I’m not sure if that’s a malapropism, but I’m gonna say it is. So there.

As much as I love malapropisms, though, they’re not very easy to illustrate. Good ole “thriving for perfection” happened to be emblazoned on a sign. And I do love silly signs. They have to be unintentionally silly though. Here are a few I’ve found since I wrote my piece ‘(Silly) Signs of the Times’ a couple of years ago. I will leave you with them as a parting gift this week. Partly because I don’t have photos of any more malapropisms. But mainly because I have to go blow my nose.

That’s Middle Younger Brother Roger looking decidedly amused at this sign

Words fail me. ‘Five generations’?

What a shame. I was so looking forward to ungoing there

Amagansett, New York. February 2017



“You looked so nice I almost didn’t recognize you.”


‘Appearances can be deceiving. Or something like that.’

So. Today is February 14. And yes, I did get something red and shiny for Valentine’s Day: my nose. Maybe by next week — when it’s (fingers crossed) only a miserable memory — I’ll find this cold amusing enough to write about. We’ll (sniff) see. In the meantime, I’m going with what I originally planned.

Which is a riff on Being Compared to Someone Else.

You know. Like when someone comes up to you at a family reunion and says something along the lines of “You remind me so much of your Aunt Net”. (A real Aunt of Mine whose name was Annette. She wore a hairnet, which is how she got that nickname. Or so we kids thought.) Continue reading

“I’m watchin’ him!”


‘The “Playdate”, back in Midcentury Modern Times.’

Last week I wrote about the Midcentury Modern custom of sending a high-school social studies class on a field trip to a maximum-security prison. I say “custom” because, frankly, I was astonished to find that many of you readers out there had done the very same thing. (And that’s not counting those of you who went to the very same high school as me.)

This week I’m curious to see how many of you grew up experiencing the Midcentury Modern version of the “playdate”.

“Playdates”, for those of you who don’t have, haven’t had, or don’t know anyone with children, are when parents or caregivers (what we used to call “babysitters”) set up specific times and places (“dates”) for kids to get together to “play”.

I just love that there is an actual Wikipedia entry for “playdate”. If you don’t feel like clicking, here’s what it goes on to say: Playdates have become common because the work schedules for busy parents, along with media warnings about leaving children unattended, prevent the kind of play that children of other generations participated in.

Hmmm. Just what “kind of play” was this?

Well. We rode bikes (without helmets, often with siblings perched on the handlebars, and sometimes for extra excitement we followed in the foggy wake of the mosquito-spraying truck), went skating (on frozen flooded cornfields in the winter and hot cracked sidewalks in the summer), made snow forts and tree houses (Middle Younger Brother Roger built a memorably elaborate one with three stories).

Middle Younger Bro Roger’s three-story treehouse

Inside the treehouse. Which you could, no doubt, sublet for big bucks here in NYC. Excuse me, but is that a vacuum cleaner?

We played vigorous games that involved much running around and squealing, like hopscotch and tag. We caught fireflies in summer (put them in jars, poor things, or ripped off the lighting-up bits and used them to decorate ourselves — see “Remembrance of Watermelons Past” for more.) And we waged “wars” with, depending on the season, snowballs or overripe persimmons as weaponry.

A couple of free-range children, Only Sister Laura and Littlest Younger Brother Doug, terrorizing the hood on their bikes

Most of the time we children were, as Wiki says, “unattended”. We formed our own groups and ran around the neighborhood with no regard to boundaries or property lines, knowing to avoid the Yard With The Mean Snarling Dog or the House With The Scary Old Lady. (She would open her mouth and thrust her dentures at us. This was really scary since we didn’t know about false teeth; we thought she could just sort of do that with her mouth. Sheesh.)

If we were lucky, we got to play at one of our grandparents’ farms. This usually happened at a family reunion. The grownups were usually inside “catching up” and drinking coffee, while we kids raced around daring each other to do reckless things. I recall a particularly exhilarating form of fun involving jumping onto a moving cart meant to hold milk cans (instead of Henry cousins) while it bounced and jounced at breakneck speed down a hill behind the barn.

Grampa Henry, in “attendance”, encouraging small Henry cousins to play on the tractor

If we were “attended” at all, it was usually by an older child or hapless porch-bound adult who was instructed to “keep an eye on” the kid(s). (That’s where the “I’m watchin’ him” of the title comes from. This was what said “attendant” would peevishly whine, usually right about the time some little kid was about to eat a bug.)

Oh, and every once in a while you’d hear “Somebody’s gonna get hurt,” usually from some aunt or uncle covering his or her ears to block out our joyful shrieks. But (mostly) we didn’t. We (mostly) survived to play another day — without “poking anyone’s eye out” or “breaking our necks”.

I was pretty little, so I’m pretty sure an adult was actually “keeping an eye on me” here

By now you’ve noticed that most of our playing was done outdoors. This was only partly because being outside was good for us. See, most mothers then (or at least the mothers of the kids I knew) didn’t “work”. At least not at jobs where you left the house and/or earned money. I did know one mom who was a teacher, but that sort of didn’t count since she was at home when her kids were.

So, instead of setting up “playdates” to deal with “work schedules”, our moms would just, basically, throw us all outside. Where we stayed. Oh, you could come in for the odd glass of milk or stray oatmeal-raisin cookie, but you were pretty much expected to make yourself scarce till suppertime, when your mom would step onto the back porch and call. Me, I would have loved to have sat reading inside on the couch all my free time, but my mom said I would “turn into a houseplant”, and threw me outside, book and all.

Scott, Roger and Me. On a “playdate” with our wagon

This happened in all weathers, though sometimes when it rained mom would cut us some slack and let us rummage in the attic. (See “In an alternate universe, I would have been a redhead” for hilarious detail.)

Was this only a Midwestern Thing? Nope. I have it on good authority (from The Dude himself) that he and his cousins Jack and Charlie weren’t just shooed outside. They were dropped off at Big Reed Pond near Montauk to fish and camp (in sleeping bags, not tents) all by themselves, and were picked up the next day. (Aunt Eleanor would honk the car horn, and they’d come running.) They were eight, nine, and ten at the time.

The Dude (holding snake) about the age he was when camping under the stars alone. Well, his cousin Charlie (in suspenders) was there too. That’s Dude’s brother Bill smirking in the corner. Not sure where fellow camper Jack was

Even my hilarious Hairdresser Pal, Anthony, who grew up in Brooklyn, said he and his buddies played outside all the time — stickball, kick the can, all those classic Woody-Allen-movie games — pretty safely, and with no adults around. Though he did say the Mean Kids would sometimes steal your marbles.

Well, we “children of other generations” are grownups, and have been for a while now. Some of us had kids of our own and (okay, I’ll admit it) scheduled the occasional “playdate”. But, I’m happy to report that The Child, Millennial though she may be, did get to experience some play the good old-fashioned Midcentury Modern way:

Evidence that “staying-outside-till-mom-calls-you-to-come-in” did in fact make it through to the next generation

New York City. February 2017

That’ll teach you


‘My high school field trip to the state penitentiary’

So I was having my hair cut last week and telling Anthony about last week’s post — the one about driving and road trips — and had gotten to the part about how in my high school the Drivers’ Ed teacher was always the same guy who taught gym and something called ‘social studies’.

Drivers’ Ed/Gym/Social Studies teacher Mr. K

We got to talking about how different high school was way back when, even in Brooklyn, where he grew up. How we had classes like Industrial Arts (AKA ‘Shop’) and Home Economics (‘Home Ec’) and organizations like FFA, which stood for Future Farmers of America.

I don’t know whatall went on in Shop (except that it looks a tad oily) since Shop was strictly for boys. In fact, boys were required to take either Shop or Agriculture. Girls had no choice, but were similarly required to take the aforementioned Home Economics. I don’t know where the ‘economics’ came in, since basically we were taught cooking, sewing, setting the table — all skills designed to make us better wives and mothers. Interesting note: Home Ec was taught by a Miss Ford, who was neither. Continue reading

“Drive,” she said.


‘On the glories of the Open Road’

Last week’s tribute to my Male Parent and his napping powers included a memory of Dad piloting us on those long drives up to Gramma’s house. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott remarked that Dad was the only person he knew who could ‘simultaneously nap and smoke a cigarette while driving.’)

So true, Scott, so true. But I failed to mention why Dad would get so sleepy on those drives. It was because it was at least six hours to Gramma’s — on charming-but-small-town-clogged two-lane highways — and we wouldn’t start the drive till he got home from work. Sometimes, I remember, we would pull over to the side of the road so everybody, not just Dad, could sort-of-safely sleep. I remember that when we lived in Memphis, and the trip to Gramma’s was more like twelve hours, we had a mattress in the back of the Ford station wagon for the kids to crash on. Very Joad-like, but that’s the way it was. Continue reading

Let sleeping dads lie


‘Remembering my Dad, who took napping to a whole new level — mainly horizontal’

Last Friday would have been my parents’ 66th wedding anniversary. I say ‘would have been’ not because they didn’t stay married. No, it’s because my dad, alas, is no longer with us. Dad made it to 80, which made him pretty happy. But just barely, which made the rest of us pretty sad.

The last photo my Dad ever took. That’s Older Younger Brother Scott — and Me — at Dad’s 80th Birthday Party. Taken with my camera, by Dad

Anyway. This past January 13 got me thinking about my Dad. And if you too knew him, whether as ‘Dad’, ‘Uncle Dale’, ‘DJ’ or ‘Deej’, ‘Henry Dale’ (which is how his mail was often addressed and how our friend Regina insisted on addressing him), or even as ‘Scotty’ (he apparently had a tartan plaid fixation as a child), you know that you can’t think about him without also thinking about some of his, well, ‘quirks’.

Yes, quirks. Dad was full of them. For example, he couldn’t stand the sound of crunching. Raw vegetables being consumed in his presence made his head spin around. (Ice? OMG.) He hated crunching so much that when he went on a trip to drum up business for the civil engineering firm he helped found, the still-going-strong Henry, Meisenheimer and Gende, we Stay-at-Home Henrys would take advantage of his absence to go crazy chomping down on every raw carrot or celery stick and/or pretzel or cracker we could get our teeth into. Continue reading

Panamaman Memories


‘Don’t sit under the Tourist Tree with anyone else but me’

Apologies for my tardiness in getting this post out, O Faithful Fans. But The Dude and I just flew in from Panama, and boy are our arms tired. (Not to mention our bottoms, after six hours of getting to the airport while bouncing in a van on quaintly winding Panamanian roads.)

Speaking of flying, we saw gazillions of new bird species. (Well, around 250, give or take a specie.) Plus lots of other animals like monkeys, and sloths (the non-human kind), and adorable just-hatched baby turtles. Here is The Dude bonding with one of the babies (turtles, not sloths — though we did see some baby sloths too):

Don’t worry Little Guy; Wayne likes turtles. And I don’t mean in soup

And here they are, hightailing it down to the water. The Child saw one bobbing next to her surfboard soon after its release. Maybe it wanted a ride. Continue reading