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.)

Then one day a week or so before we were supposed to leave, we read in the paper that a nuclear reactor had melted down somewhere in Russia, Chernobyl to be exact. We of course felt bad about this, but as was our wont, we went on with our lives and didn’t think a whole lot more about it. Until we heard about the Radioactive Cloud.

This was, basically, a super-nasty airborne plume of ‘hazardous isotopes’ that floated away from the Chernobyl disaster kind of the way a balloon floats away from a birthday party. Except that, instead of getting trapped in a tree and causing an eyesore, this nasty balloon was going to poison crops and cause cancer.

Nobody knew where the plume was going to land, but scientists thought it was going to be ‘somewhere in Europe’. So trips were being cancelled left and right — including trips to The Medical Meeting. We thought about it maybe for a second, and decided that bailing was not an option. Money had been spent. And besides, The Dude had that talk all practiced up. So off we went to Rome.

I’ll skip the part about what it was like to fly coach in the ‘non-smoking section’ on Alitalia back in the Eighties. (It was the last row way back by the not-too-clean toilets — and yes, it was just one row.) And I’ll gloss over the part about what Leonardo Da Vinci airport was like back then, except to mention that this was only about a year after an infamous TWA hijacking, so the place was swarming with teens in uniform toting machine guns. Sort of like any airport in these post-9/11, post-Trump days, I guess. But back then it was unusual.

But we made it to our comfy-but-cheap hotel, settled in, and headed out on the town for some pre-meeting fun.

All I can remember about this place was that we could afford it

Well. First thing we noticed was a surprising lack of, well, people. No matter where we went, Rome looked like a ghost town. A wonderfully well-stocked-with-antiquities ghost town, but still definitely ghostly. The Palatine Hill — deserted. The Forum — empty. The Vatican — you could shoot a gun and not hit anybody. Only The Coliseum was full. Of cats.

The Palatine Hill (I think; it’s been a long time) — and me

Me, making like a Vestal Virgin. (Vestal Virgins were thin on the ground that day)

The good part about this was a lack of crowds. The bad part was the lack of fresh food. Here we were in Rome with, basically, nothing to eat. The restaurants were thrilled to welcome us — we would be greeted with happy cries and even hugs when we entered any trattoria or ristorante. Once we were even treated to complimentary grappa, which I thought tasted kind of like tennis shoes. Tennis shoes that had been kept in a damp basement.

But there was no fresh food. No tomatoes, no milk, no fruit. Because of the toxic plume, you see. No one was sure if anything fresh was safe to eat. So there we were in Rome, eating canned peaches. Oh well, at least we were in Rome.

Nope. I don’t even see the Pope. Maybe he was craving fresh mozzarella, and left town to get some

Since our hotel was next to the train station (travel tip: many inexpensive hotels are next to train stations), we did leave Rome to go on a day trip. Went to Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa d’Este. Which were equally empty.

No people and no produce at the fountains of Tivoli. No cats either. Oh well, cats hate water

We were starting to feel a little lonely when we finally went to The Medical Meeting. Where, you’ll be happy to hear, there were at least a dozen or so intrepid souls in attendance to take in The Dude’s talk. He wasn’t nervous, not one bit. But then again, it wasn’t exactly a big scary crowd.

And what happened to The Big Scary Cloud? It settled, eventually. But not anywhere near Rome. It glommed on to Scandinavia. And, even though they ‘got’ the cloud, I’d rather visit the Swedes than, as the Times Journeys description puts it about their Chernobyl trip, “gain an unparalleled perspective on this seminal world event, and emerge with an informed view of nuclear power”.

I’m afraid that’s not all I’d ’emerge’ with.

New York City. May 2017.

 

Signs of Spring (Fever)

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‘An it’s-too-nice-out-to-be-chained-to-a-computer story featuring funny signs, though not necessarily about Spring’

Okay okay. I have a zillion ideas for stories that should amuse the bejeepers out of you. I’ve got trip stories, like the one about when we went to Rome right after Chernobyl and nobody was there. Or the one where we left The Child by the side of the road next to a pueblo.

I’ve got ad-biz stories, like the one where we went to South Africa for a diaper shoot and the baby wrangler would only eat foods that started with ‘C’. Or the one where I got lost finding my office in the new Ogilvy digs at Worldwide Plaza and wound up in a British documentary.

And of course I still have plenty of fuel left in the family-story tank — plus major holdings indeed in the growing-up-in-a-small-town memory bank.

But. It is Spring. And Spring is distracting. I’ve been so distracted that the photo at the top of this post was mistakenly snapped by my iPhone-clutching hand while strolling along checking out Spring in New York City. (Actually, I was in a rush to deliver some crutches to The Child, who had just sprained her ankle badly in a fall from a climbing wall — but that’s, ahem, another story.)

Photo taken while wandering lonely as a cloud. If one can ‘wander’ while on a bike

And then this weekend, while on a bike ride out in Amagansett, hoping to clear my head and focus — focus, already — on a story, I found signs of Spring springing out at me from every which way. Continue reading

Please don’t play it again, Sam

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‘Living in harmony with the Piano Man’

Even the most wonderfully wacky honeymoon — spent driving around Portugal and Spain checking out caves (well, make that one cave) and mooching off Malcolm Forbes in Morocco — has to end sometime. And then you have to get back to Real Life.

Which The Dude and I did. We lived, as we do now, in an apartment here in New York City. Not the same apartment as now, though. This one was on the ground floor of the building right next door, which is an oddity I won’t get into right now, for lack of space (mine) and patience (yours).

Anyway. I mention the Ground Floor Thing because it meant that any pedestrian striding by on his or her way to work or class (hospital down the street, school across it) had a clear view through our windows of anything we happened to be doing. I remember getting our living room ready for moving in — this was before our blinds were installed — and feeling, you know, watched. I glanced up to see a whole Peanut Gallery checking out my floor-polishing technique. So we pretty much had to keep those blinds shut. Which made the apartment feel rather like that cave we visited on our honeymoon. Continue reading

Laughter is the best medicine. Well, except for maybe a manhattan.

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‘Waking up to Mo(u)rning in America. Trumped’

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. But what do you do when life (or, er, almost half of your fellow Americans) hands you a Big Ole Orange? Well, you can weep or rage or march. You can tear at your clothing or hair. You can move to Canada or even threaten to secede from the Union. (Bye, California, including Oldest Younger Brother Scott in Petaluma; just don’t take Mom with you.)

And sure, you can look for a way to try to squeeze a little orangeade out of that Big Ole Orange. Here’s a way that involves squeezing a trigger. (No, no. Do not call the Secret Service; this is perfectly-harmless-yet-remarkably-satisfying paintball, folks. And, yes, The Child approves the use of this message.)

paintball-wizzard

Caption to this pic on The Child’s Instagram feed: ‘Good way to let off steam after a tough week #stillanastywoman’

And of course you can indeed toss off a few Manhattans. I chose this other favorite beverage this time because I’ve already ‘done’ Martinis. You can read about my cocktail adventures in ‘Three, and you’re under the host’, in case you missed it or just want to bail already on this Trump post and skip right to drinking. Reading about it, anyway. Continue reading

Yachts: many many boats

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‘A few salty sallies from the pages of New York Magazine.’

Last week’s post was sort of a Reader’s Digest of amusing Metropolitan Diary entries written by, um, me. Since you Readers seemed to get a kick out of it, I thought I’d regale you this week with a few examples of stuff of mine that got into New York Magazine. (If I ever get anything into the New Yorker, like my pal Ken, you’ll never hear from me again.)

Remember when I told you that Ad Folks are the funniest people ever? This famous New Yorker Cartoonist used to work at Ogilvy. And I actually KNOW him!

Remember when I told you that Ad Folks are the funniest people ever? This famous New Yorker Cartoonist used to work at Ogilvy. And I actually know him. Fun fact: he also wears blue glasses (!)

To be honest, I’m really doing this stuff-from-New-York-Magazine thing because I played hooky away from my computer all weekend. I was on a birdwatching trip (honest) to Cape May, New Jersey, and it was kind of hard to think about my blog while I was trying to concentrate on warbler wing bars. (I promise to share wacky birding stories soon; stay tuned for my views on how “birders” are practically sexually indistinguishable — and much much more!) Continue reading

Walking the goldfish

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‘And other Dear (Metropolitan) Diary entries’

A couple of weeks ago, my story (‘The time I had a blind date with an eye doctor‘) came by way of a suggestion by my friend Mary Ann. (Thanks again, Mary Ann!) This week’s is thanks to an idea from another friend, Jim. (Who writes a very cool blog called ‘Forged in Buffalo’. Plug plug plug.)

Jim reminded me that my stories used to appear fairly regularly in the New York Times. Honest. There is this column that appears on Mondays called The Metropolitan Diary. As the Times website puts it, ‘Since 1976, Metropolitan Diary has been a place for New Yorkers, past and present, to share odd fleeting moments at Bloomingdale’s, at the deli around the corner, in the elevator or at the movies.’

You can well imagine that I’ve overheard my fair share of ‘odd fleeting moments’ (emphasis on ‘odd’), and that I haven’t been shy about sharing them. Only now I share them with dozens of followers of my blog rather than with thousands of readers of the New York Times.

Hmmmm. Continue reading

The time I had a blind date with an eye doctor

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‘A Cinderella Story. Involving an actual cinder’

My friend Mary Ann said she liked the Forbes story (which was about a honeymoon) and the de Kooning story (which was about a living room), but that the story she really wanted to read would be the one about how The Dude and I met.

And I’m going to tell it. But first I have to set the stage a bit.

See, back in the 80s when this tale takes place, I went out a lot. With a lot of different guys. Trust me, this wasn’t at all unusual at the time. Most of my friends also went out with lots of guys. Young People then were not so into that going-out-in-packs thing, much less that thing called ‘hooking up’. (I’m not sure I know exactly what that means, and I don’t want to know. And please don’t mention Tinder.) True, there were a few couples into that serial-monogamy thing, but most of them were married.

A bevy of pre-dating-app beauties. The one on the right (me, hah) has a role in this story

A bevy of pre-dating-app beauties. The one on the right (me, hah) gets the fateful cinder in her eye

So. During the day I’m having a blast working at Ogilvy. Nights and weekends, I’m having a blast going out with guys. Let’s see, at the time of this story I was going out with a blonde surfer-type guy from California, an energetic older guy (he was probably 45) I met running in Central Park, a hunky television producer who owned his own Personal Truck, and, oh, off and on I was also seeing a Russian waiter. I’m not counting Steve Martin. I met him a week after I met The Dude. (If you have a sec, you can read that story here. It’s a pretty good one.) Continue reading