So help me God

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‘The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: jury duty in New York City’

Excuses, excuses. This week I’m late because I have to keep chasing a darned turkey out of my yard. Sorry if some of you out there like turkeys in your yards; not me. They leave too many ‘gifts’, if you get my drift.

Anyway. On to this week’s story. Which is about jury duty in New York. Now before you start yawning, let me assure you that it can be pretty darned fascinating. For one thing, they changed the rules a few years ago so that nobody — and I do mean nobody — gets out of serving. So it’s quite possible that you can find yourself killing time doing the crossword in a big ole waiting room with the likes of Madonna or Sir Paul or maybe even The Donald back when he lived in New York (But wait; He still does live in New York. But I don’t think he does the crossword.)

Used to be that you could get out of serving if you had a little kid at home, were a doctor, or owned your own business. (Check all three boxes for The Dude; now that those exceptions have been eliminated, he has to serve and it drives him nuts. He thinks up all kinds of “you may be excused” answers to their questions, like “Yes” to “Do you believe that everyone who is tried in this court is implicitly guilty?” and it just makes the lawyers love him all the more. He almost always gets picked.)

I get picked a lot, too. I like to think there’s something reassuringly fair-minded about my appearance. Or maybe I just look (depending on whose side you’re on) like a) I’ll get their guy off or b) I’ll say “lock him up and throw away the key”. We Midwesterners can be oh-so-confusingly poker-faced when we want to be.

I’ve lived here in New York City since the late 70s, so I’ve been called for jury duty often, and have many a tale to tell — from service on both criminal and civil cases. Like, there was this workmen’s comp case where a guy was suing the City of New York because he got hurt on the job. He was a police officer, and he had been chasing a bad guy. We jurors were like “Hmmm…isn’t that sort of part of the deal if you’re a policeman?” 

The daunting facade of 100 Centre Street, where the Jury Magic happens, Criminal Court version

Another time I was on a criminal jury — it was a guns-and-drugs case — and actually got sequestered. If you don’t want to click to see a definition of ‘sequestering’, basically it means that, if the jury doesn’t reach a verdict the first day, you have to stay together in a hotel every night until you do.

Now this might sound sort of glamorous and exciting. Stay in a hotel in New York City! For free! With meals and everything! But this was a seen-better-days, full-of-grubby-backpackers-in-sandals-and-socks Holiday Inn on the pre-glam, pre-High-Line West Side. We were taken there in a van, assigned a room with a (thank god) same-sex fellow jury member, served ‘dinner’ at a serves-twelve-size table (no, you could not order what you wanted), then locked in for the night. Honest. There was a guard stationed outside every door (I looked), and, to add insult to injury, the TVs were fixed so they wouldn’t work. We couldn’t bring in a newspaper, so we couldn’t even do the crossword. (This was all so we wouldn’t be ‘influenced’ or ‘tainted’.)

Well. Let me tell you that the one holdout, who happened to be my roommate, stopped holding out the very next day. Maybe she didn’t like the cut of my jammies.

Some of my favorite jury duty memories, though, are of the times I did not get picked. Once it was a civil case where this dentist was being sued. They asked if any of us had a reason we didn’t think we could be fair and impartial, and I raised my hand and said, “He’s my dentist.” The first thing I did after being excused was find a new dentist.

Another time this guy was suing three different parties: his employer, the owner of the office building where he worked, and the owner of a company that provided office vending machines. Apparently, he went to work one morning, sat at his desk, and the ceiling fell down on his head. The coffee machine in the office directly above his had leaked all night, soaking the ceiling and weakening it enough to fall upon him in heavy, sodden chunks. Poor guy was sitting there in a neck brace. I can’t remember the reason they excused me that time, but it could very well have been for ‘uncourtsmanshiplike laughing’.

Where giggling jurors go, if they’re not careful

Well, enough is enough. I see that cursed turkey out there again. (I’d take his picture and show you, but when he sees me, he runs. Or he’d better.) In closing, I’d like to thank Molly, who wrote a hilarious piece last week on her own jury duty experience, thus nudging my memory and prompting this post. So she’s the one to sue if you don’t like it. I rest my case.

Amagansett, New York. July 2017

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

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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Stars in stripes

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‘Looking back and forth on the Fourth’

For the past several summers we’ve had this fun Fourth of July tradition where we let The Child fill up our house with as many of her friends as we have beds to lay their pretty little heads on. Sometimes it’s guys and girls; sometimes ‘just’ girls. The Dude and I are happy with either arrangement, though we have noticed that when it’s girls-only, the Young Friends seem more inclined to activity — like going to the beach, hopping on the bikes, or heading into town to catch what’s up at The Talkhouse.  

Last year’s crop of Nation’s Birthday Beauties. Haven’t wrestled this year’s photo out of The Dude’s camera yet. But, trust me, they’re equally sparkly

(The guys, when the guest list includes them, seem content to hang around The Compound, sipping beer and, well, being content. Sometimes they bestir themselves to demonstrate their CrossFit routines; there was a Matt-shaped indentation in our lawn for a few post-Fourth days one year. Oh, and one other memorable Fourth, Somebody’s BF soaked his iPhone in our hot tub, though not intentionally. BTW, putting a soaked iPhone into a jar of rice does not dry it out, no matter what you may have read on the internet.)

Speaking of food, this year I inaugurated a new tradition: The USA Birthday Cake. From Carvel, of course. No, we didn’t sing

But hey, anything anybody wants to do — or not do — is A-okay with me. I’m happy to provide food — beaucoup de food — and stay the heck out of the way. I was in the kitchen in the midst of doing just that when one of this year’s Young Lovelies (and they are — lovely — each and every one of them) strolled by on her way to the pool, and I happened to catch the unmistakable whiff of — Coppertone.

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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

The Process of Elimination

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‘What to do when the blog clock is ticking’

People sometimes ask if I have trouble thinking of things to write about. Nope, I have the opposite problem — too many random ideas doing battle in my brain. Usually I look through photos to help me decide. But today that only made things worse. I kept finding photos I’d wished I’d used in previous posts. Like, here’s one that would have been perfect for last week, when I wrote about good times in and on the Lake of My Youth:

Look! I found a photo of the front of Sir Launch-A-Lot, complete with sign. That’s Gramma Henry, flanked by Only Sister Laura and Only Mom, um, Mom

Oh, and here’s one that would have been dandy to include in my riff on weddings (“I do, I do. I really do like weddings”)

Looking “back” on my first, “Polio-Shot” wedding. This was the rehearsal. But I guess you could say that about the whole marriage: that it was a “rehearsal”

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“Yet’s go to Ye Yake”

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‘Gosh. Illinois’ largest lake has been around for 50 years’

Now before you Whippersnappers out there start in with “Hey, isn’t Lake Michigan Illinois’ largest lake?” Or even “What’s so all-fired old about 50 years? There are lakes (see afore-mentioned Lake Michigan) that have been around for, like, a zillion years,” let me point out that Carlyle Lake (or if you’re feeling fancy “Lake Carlyle”) is the largest lake within the borders of Illinois, and that it’s a man-made lake that’s been around since 1967. So there.

This picture from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows the Carlyle Lake dam and spillway in all its glory. Nice stats, too, if that floats your boat

Carlyle Lake is also the only lake named after my personal home town, Carlyle, Illinois. But I’m not going to get into Fun Lake Facts. My mission here is to entertain. And so, actually, was (and is) the Lake’s. Oh, there was some serious flood-control going on. But for my family and friends, The Lake was really all about fun and games. Continue reading