“I do, I do. I really do like weddings.”

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‘After all, what’s not to like about a big ole party with champagne and dancing?’

There was a long dry spell there for a while. But I’m happy to report that not only is June bustin’ out all over, but so are the weddings. Not only are we going to a dandy weekend-long affair in a couple of weeks, but we just found out Nephew Chris and Squeeze Sarah are engaged. (I was going to use some corny euphemism like ‘getting hitched’, ‘tying the knot’, or maybe even ‘making things legal’, but restrained myself. Though I could not resist saying ‘Squeeze’. Oh well.)

Nephew on the left: engaged to be married. Nephew on the right: just got married. Yes, this is how I picture them in my Auntly Mind’s Eye

The long dry spell was because The Dude and I are long past the stage of going-to-friends’-and-relatives’ weddings and have finally broken into going-to-friends’-and-relatives’-kids’ weddings.  (There was a blip in there with a few do-overs, including my own, but not many, I’m sad/happy to say. My First Wedding is now a fond memory and funny story called ‘My Polio-Shot Marriage.’) Continue reading

“Swim, Sandy, swim!”

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‘Equal time for dogs’

My Porn Star Name is ‘Sandy Peterson’. In honor of Sandy the Dog, the beloved Pet of My Youth, pictured above in a moment of not-unusual adorableness.

But before we get to Sandy, a quick word about that word game. Maybe you played it too. It’s the one where you take the name of your beloved pet, add your mother’s maiden name, and, voila!, you’ve got your Porn Star Name. (The Child’s is ‘Tuna Henry’.)

I must admit ours are pretty tame. Over wine at my dining room table I’ve heard some easy-to-imagine-clad-in-fishnets doozies: ‘Pinky Parker’, ‘Missy Goodbody’. Though the Dude’s is ‘Duffy Miltner Flockmaster Cromartie’, which is pretty darned racy.

But back to pets, which is the point of this piece. A couple of weeks ago I waxed nostalgic about felines of yore in ‘The Cat Who Ran Away from Home and Broke My Heart’.

I finally found a picture of me with Aunt Marilyn’s Herkimer, the first cat I adored. And tortured with two-year-old abandon

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“Come as you are.” Or, um, maybe not

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‘Decoding the dress code on party invitations’

Who doesn’t love getting invited to parties? Well, maybe The Dude, actually. He’d much rather relax in his jammies in the comfort of his own home than head out to a party after a long work week. But the last two Fridays in a row have found us helping two Birthday Boys celebrate very Big Birthdays at a couple of very Big (and very nice) Parties.

One of the nice things (aside from the free-flowing champagne and hors d’oeuvres) that we appreciated about these two parties in particular was that there was no dress code. At least, not a dress code that was spelled out on the invitation. I guess the hosts (or hostesses, in these cases) figured that guests old enough to go to a birthday party without holding someone’s hand would be able to figure out how to dress.

Now, me, I love parties. And I look forward to getting party invitations of almost any kind. Including the ones with the little notes on the bottom of the invitation that tell you what to wear.

Should I wrap myself in cellophane like a bouquet from the corner deli?

Or should I make like a rosebush?

Being a dyed-in-the-wool-New-Yorker-of-40-years-and-counting, I’ll probably just don my wear-to-pretty-much-every-party basic black. Maybe I’ll carry a nosegay. Or wear rose-colored lipstick.

But back to those dress codes. I’m sure you’ve seen your share of these. ‘Jacket and tie’, ‘Formal’, ‘Semi-formal’. (Does this mean half of you is dressed up, and the other half not? You know, like a suit jacket with jeans — a look I rather like, actually.) And then there is ‘Business casual’, which, honestly, I’ve never been able to figure out, except that when I was working in advertising, being ‘casual’ while doing ‘business’ (like on Casual Fridays) inspired the guys to dress like toddlers — in tee shirts, shorts and Teva sandals. At least most of them skipped the socks.

Some girlfriends and I were discussing the more creative party dress codes the other day over lunch. One of them (hi Sue!) had us all cracking up over her interpretation of ‘Casual Chic’. She said that when she sees this on an invitation she’s tempted to show up in something like sweatpants and a head covering. And what’s ‘Beach Chic’? Rudolph Valentino in a bikini?

Speaking of ‘Casual Chic’, The Child tells me that when she was in college she and her friends kept getting invited to events calling for ‘Casual Chic’ attire, and she said it got to be a running joke because they never knew what it meant either. Though they do seem to ‘get’ ‘Formal’.

The Child and her pals at a decidedly NOT ‘Casual Chic’ event

Oh, while we’re on ‘Formal’, my favorite party of the year is one I call The Prom because I get to really dress up, which I love. It’s a dinner dance and the dress code is ‘Black Tie, White Tie, or Full Military Dress’. Which tempts me to wear combat boots with my taffeta skirt.

Me in my One Long Skirt. Without the combat boots

That picture was taken at one of my late belated Tree-Trim parties, which is how I got my Christmas tree decorated Back in The Day. (I hate decorating, but love parties, so combined the two with great success. If you’re interested, I’ve got a funny story about this called ‘(No) Tannenbaum.’ These days, with no Santa-believing Child at home, I not only skip the decorating, I skip the whole tree.

But when I did send out invitations to those Tree Trims, I admit that I was guilty of adding a little note to dress ‘Festive’. Which, to me, meant dragging out the ole taffeta skirt.

And to everyone else, ‘Festive’ meant pretty much anything they wanted. Why, my guests didn’t even have to wear the festive little crowns that came in the Christmas crackers if they didn’t want to.

The Child appropriates all the Christmas Cracker Crowns, thus saving other guests the indignity of wearing them

Nowadays I’m even more casual, if that’s possible, in my interpretation of ‘Festive.’ Given a ‘Festive’ occasion, I pretty much wear whatever I want — jeans, even — and slap a tiara on top. Yes, I actually have a tiara. My Favorite Sister got it for me a few birthdays ago, and now I wear it not only on every birthday, but pretty much every chance I get. Nobody gives me a second glance, because at my age I’m invisible anyway.

Oh! Before I go, I should explain what occasion The Dude was dressed for in that picture at the top of this post. No, he wasn’t on his way to a ‘Come as you are’ event, though that would have been wildly entertaining for our hosts. He was dressed for a birding excursion. On his motorcycle.

New York City. May 2017

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.

 

Just because it fits doesn’t mean you should wear it

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‘When everything in your closet is “vintage”‘

It’s getting to be Spring here (finally), so the other day I was participating in a seasonal ritual particular to New Yorkers (at least New Yorkers in apartments with small closets) — The Switching of The Clothes.

Which is when you dig your Spring/Summer stuff out of storage and switch it with the Fall/Winter stuff. In my case, “storage” is the second closet in The Child’s room. She has never realized that she has two closets; she grew up thinking it perfectly normal that Mommy’s out-of-season clothes lived in her room.

BTW, Switching The Clothes in Spring absolutely guarantees a cold snap. Today, the 9th of May, it is 48 degrees out, and where are my sweaters? Stowed away in The Child’s second closet. Sigh.

But back to the topic at hand, which, I suppose, is Age Comes Out of The Closet. See, in years gone by, The Switching was a pretty easy chore. I’d just grab everything — and switch. I wouldn’t even try things on to make sure they still fit; I’ve been basically the same size my entire Adult Life. Not because of anything I’ve done; I follow no annoyingly virtuous regimen or routine. It’s because I’m (mostly) a Swede. And it’s a well-known fact that Swedes don’t get fat. We shrivel. As we age, we sort of turn into the human equivalent of beef jerky.

And the past few years, yes, beef jerkiness has been quietly sneaking up on me. Except for the odd arthritic twinge now and then, I don’t feel all that different. And like most people, I don’t realize I look any different (er, older). Except when, say, I see my reflection in a store window and wonder “who is that old woman who looks just like me?” Then I realize — good grief — it is me! Oh, and The Dude once thoughtfully got me contact lenses (he’s an ophthalmologist) which I gave up wearing after I scared myself silly glimpsing myself bare-faced in the bathroom mirror. Blue glasses cover a multitude of sins. And eye bags.

But lately people have been offering me The Senior Discount. (Attention, those of you in the Service Professions: if someone wants the Senior Discount, trust me, she will ask for the Senior Discount.) Even worse, people have started offering me their seats on the bus. Sometimes, if I’m feeling frisky, I’ll look down, pat my stomach, and say “Oh! Am I showing already?” Then I smile. And remain standing.

Anyway, I think you get the idea. I’ve come to notice, if not embrace, my Older Self. So this time when I Switched, I paused and actually looked at my clothes. Some, like The Dress pictured below, I’ve had — and worn — for decades. These days I can definitely identify with one of my bosses, who once said to an uppity Whippersnapper Account Executive, “I’ve got belts older than you.”

But a belt — or even The Dress — is one thing. A pair of hot pink paisley pants (which I actually owned, until last week) is another. Before, the only risk in wearing a favorite item year after year was that people would recognize it instead of me. I was once introduced to a woman at a party who said, “Oh, I think I met you last year — I remember that dress.”

These days, the risk is that I might, as my gramma used to say, “scare the horses”. True, I live in New York, where pretty much anything goes. (See Betsy Johnson.) But, alas, I’m no Betsy. (See Much-Missed Role Model Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck.) I just don’t feel comfortable wearing hot pink paisley any more. At least not out of the house.

Interestingly, I picked the photo at the top of this post because, if I still had it that outfit (which, alas, I don’t) I think I could still get away with wearing it. Though maybe with a bra these days (not that I need one any more than I did then). And there’s a pleated skirt I remember from high school that I would kill to have saved. It was one of the few clothing items I owned that I did not sew.

I even sewed this dress for Homecoming: crushed velvet with blue satin sash. I no longer own it, though I do, in fact, own a similar crown

I saved up babysitting money and bought the skirt at Topper’s, which was sort of the Barney’s of Southern Illinois. It was lime green and hit just at the middle of the knee. I used to roll it up once I got to school so it would be super-short; now I could wear it as is and it would be perfect.

This proper Englishwoman and I are roughly the same age. Noticing the above-the-knee skirt, she asked ‘Aren’t your legs cold, Dear?’

So, this latest Clothes Switching Time, to avoid gathering unsolicited comments from Englishwomen — or appearing, as another Gramma saying would have it, like “mutton dressed as lamb”, I edited out the short skirts, the tight pants, the bare backs. Put them all aside for The Child and her friends.

What I wore to my first — and only — wedding rehearsal. No danger of your seeing it again. It’s long gone, as is the First Husband

Interestingly, it’s the stuff that I thought was really cool that she and her pals rejected. And the stuff that I think is dowdy that they wanted. The sober Joan and David nineties-era pantsuit? Grabbed. That short silver cocktail dress I bought on a shoot in Australia? In the Bargain Box pile.

And anything “vintage”? It used to be fun to scout thrift shops for choice vintage pieces. But it doesn’t work for me anymore. No one gets that I’m being ironic. They just think that I’ve owned that sixties jeans jacket or seventies wrap dress for a long time and haven’t gotten around to donating it yet. And they’d probably be right.

New York City. May 2017.

The cat who ran away from home and broke my heart

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‘And other feline friends from days gone by’

Somewhere among the snapshots that used to live in the attic in a big cardboard box — the photos we were allowed to rummage through on rainy days (see ‘In An Alternate Universe, I Would Have Been a Redhead’) — is one of me with my Aunt Marilyn’s cat Herkimer.

I’m, oh, two in the picture, and poor Herkimer looks about as pleased at being clutched by a toddler as you can imagine. Aunt Marilyn said I used to thread the poor thing through the gaps in a wicker chair.

Now the cat in the picture at the top of this post looks marginally happier. And I look pleased as punch. This kitty never had a name that stuck (I kept coming up with names that didn’t ‘take’; for some strange reason, Christopher Columbus Kitty was one) so everybody just called him Kitty.

(I am notoriously bad at naming. As an adult, I had another cat named Kitty. In fact, when I was pregnant and trying to think of baby names, my Oldest Younger Brother Scott said “Why not just go with ‘Baby’? Since that’s what you’ll end up calling it.”)

The Dude poses with The Other Kitty Named Kitty. Before we had the Baby Who Is Now Called The Child

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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