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Dining in the Dining Room by
100
(132 Stories)

Prompted By Mealtime

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As should be clear to anyone who has read a number of my other Retro stories, my mother was very liberal.  And by “liberal,” I mean not just in the current American political sense we usually associate the term with — pro-choice, anti-war, societal safety nets, etc.  She was also liberal in the more philosophical, John Stuart Mills-ian “On Liberty” sense — i.e., individuals should be free to do whatever they want to do so long as they do not interfere with the rights of others.  Or, as it has often been put, “The rights of your fist end at the tip of my nose.”

With this as background, it might come as a surprise that there was one part of my upbringing as to which my mother was NOT liberal about; indeed, she was downright authoritarian.  And that was her requirement — with a few reasonable exceptions — that she, my brother and I all had to sit down and have dinner together every night, and in our very formal dining room.*  The breakfast room was strictly for breakfast (with an exception I’ll note below) or lunch.

My mother explained this rule, quite rationally, as am important opportunity both for participating in each other’s lives and for discussing current events and other issues outside of the family.  And I give her credit; it really worked that way.  While I wouldn’t say we exactly sat around the dinner table debating the finer points of Kierkegaard most evenings, the conversations were held on a pretty high level, especially as my brother and I got older and, concomitantly, more worldly.  My brother, in particular, added aptitudes in science and music that neither my mother nor I had. And, as other Retro-ists might have guessed, I’ve always been a “word guy,” and that’s where I could contribute.  In any event, our conversations were at least loftier than just “pass the damn potatoes, will ya” and “tell him to stop bugging me about my pimples.”  My brother and I loved these dinners, inconvenient as they could be sometimes.

That said, as my brother and I came to realize as we got older, my mother’s motivation here likely came not only from lofty ideals of child development, but from her own childhood experiences.  She was brought up in a very affluent family.  And this was in the 1920’s — decades before there were TV’s, let alone TV dinners to accompany them. As a result, until she was sixteen, she and her two younger brothers had to eat dinner early in the “nursery,” rather than later on in the dining room with her parents and any other adults who were there.  As can be imagined, as she got into her teens, she more and more resented this arrangement, especially as her brothers, who apparently spent most of their time figuring out ways to maim or otherwise torture each other, were hardly the most scintillating intellectual company.  So, once she finally graduated to the dining room with the adults, she embraced the opportunity, albeit probably as much to lord it over her bratty kid brothers as for the erudite conversation, and the seed was planted for passing it on.

In fact, I didn’t realize how unusual my mother’s dining room rule was until I noticed how many other families I knew mainly just did “catch as catch can” for their dinner times and locations.  I particularly recall when I was in college and my roomies and other pals would visit at our home and later tell me how much they enjoyed these long, chatty dinners — even beyond my mother’s terrific cooking skills — and how unlike their own families’ meals they were.

And, indeed, in a modified way (mainly on weekends, due to challenging work, travel, and business entertainment schedules), my former wife and I tried to do the same with our own brilliant and always fascinating daughters — at least when they weren’t figuring out ways to maim or otherwise torture each other.  They are both still single, so haven’t had a chance to pass on the tradition, but I need to ask them if their memories of these dinners are as fond as my own.

As enjoyable and enlightening as dinner in the dining room was when I was growing up, I should note two significant exceptions to the rule.  First, it only applied to dinner.  Indeed, when I was growing up, I was so nauseated by my mother smoking cigarettes as I tried to eat my cereal in the morning in the breakfast room, that at some point I just took my cereal — and a book or newspaper — into the dining room and ate in there.  And my mother was fine with that.  She understood and respected my desire to not be around her cigarette smoke, but she was damned if she would deny herself what I understand — and my current wife has confirmed — is the sublime pleasure of leisurely smoking and drinking one’s coffee in the morning.  (For the record, I hate coffee, too.)  I can’t remember what my brother did — my head was too buried in whatever I was reading — but assume he was equally excused from attendance.

Second, dinner of the whole family in the dining room was not always a felicitous affair.  I speak in particular of several Thansgiving dinners where my mother’s brothers (my uncles) would join us.  They were, of course, much more mature than they had been in the nursery growing up, but somehow — and, as I consider it, possibly due in some part to their disinterest in the adult conversations in the dining room even after they were allowed to eat there — their politics had not evolved very much.  I’m not sure if they would be Trumpians today, but they were pretty conservative, especially for educated Jews, and they would get into some fairly loud and ugly arguments with my mother and mock her for being the archtypical “limousine liberal” that, for better or worse, wasn’t too far from the truth.

Political arguments with crazy uncles at Thanksgiving dinners is almost a cliche. But, worse than their choices in politics were my uncles’ choices in wives.  Both seemed to be attracted to increasingly more unhinged women over the years.  Almost all of these women, it ultimately became clear, were very serious alcoholics.  As a result, by the time dinner rolled around, they had frequently been drinking for hours and were quite out of control.  In retrospect, their episodes of screaming at the dinner table, and sometimes having to be physically restrained (if they didn’t simply pass out), was a pretty good object lesson for both my brother and me as to the dangers of excessive drinking, and one which we both have remembered well and taken to heart.

These sad, temporary aunts certainly did little to enhance my memories of family dinners in our dining room.  Nonetheless, take it from this otherwise unreconstructed liberal: such dinners are still a wonderful thing to experience and impose upon one’s kids.

__________

*       I am in awe of Betsy’s treasure trove of pictures from all aspects of her family’s life, and equally humbled by my own failings in this regard.  However, in thinking about some image to illustrate this story, I suddenly remembered the special section of the New Haven Register that my mother was in charge of for the New Haven Symphony;  I wrote about it in this recent story.  And, in particular, I remembered a captioned photo of my mother in our dining room with a couple of the executives of the company that had repaired the ceiling, as well as the matching floral wallpaper and drapes, after some pretty extensive water damage.  So, while I don’t have any photos of us sitting around the dinner table, at least I have this photo, which I’ve used as the featured image. (And my mother would have wanted me to mention that the wallpaper and drapes were from Scalamandre.)

Terrorists, Then and Now (RetroFlash) by
100
(132 Stories)

/ Stories

Twenty years ago,

sitting in front of a television

In a hotel room in Australia

With my (then) wife.

Watching planes hit the Twin Towers

In New York — in MY city.

And filled with rage at these terrorists.

 

Twenty years later,

Sitting in front of a television

In my home in Massachusetts

With my (now) wife.

Watching mobs attack the police

Guarding the Capitol — MY Capitol.

And filled with rage at these terrorists.

 

 

And 2021’s terrorists are not foreigners.

They are Americans.

They are also traitors.

 

False equivalence?

No.

Even the feckless DHS

Knows they are the

Terrorist threat this 9/11.

The People In Your Neighborhood…. by
100
(132 Stories)

Prompted By Going to Work

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In considering my fifty years or so of commuting, I realized that there were not a whole lot interesting things to write about them.  During the many years I lived and worked in Manhattan, I took the subway or walked, and, when I have worked in places without decent public transit, I drove.  Ho and hum.  My only time of somewhat unusual commuting was the first year that I worked in Milwaukee (2009-10), when my wife stayed back in Connecticut trying to sell our home and I flew back and forth between Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee and LaGuardia most weekends. But even those flights were pretty routine, save for a couple of hellacious snowstorms I flew through and, more happily, it being the one time in my life when I could read the entire New Yorker cover toi cover, and not just the cartoons and a few selected articles.  Moreover, this wasn’t really my daily commute.  I rented a small apartment purposely close to my office and, prosaically enough, just drove back and forth between the two on weekdays.

But, as I considered the prompt further, I did come up with two commuting-related stories that, if not exactly life changing, had some meaning beyond just getting from Point A to Point B and back on a regular basis.

The first took place the summer after my first year in law school.  (The summer after my “Summer of 71” story, for anyone keeping a timeline of my life.)  Through my father’s connections, and despite our family’s lack of any Irish blood, I had gotten a job as a summer associate in the New Haven law firm of Gilooley, Eastman & McGrail, named after the three very smart and kindly senior partners of the firm. Accordingly, rather than staying in my tiny apartment near Columbia, I lived at home that summer, in our small town about five miles outside of New Haven, and drove to G, E & M’s offices. Before I started working, Jack McGrail pointed out to me the large parking lot right across the street from the offices and said I should simply inform the lot attendant them that I was working at G, E & M that summer and, as with all their lawyers and employees, could park my car in the lot without additional charge under the firm’s contract with it. And that I should by all means grab any open spot close to the office; there were no “reserved” spaces for partners or the like.

Simple enough, right?  Yet, on my first day of work, even after I explained the arrangement to the old guy in the booth at the lot, he started screaming at me and saying he had no knowledge of this arrangement and insisting that I park at the far end of the (relatively empty) lot.  And then he screamed at me again on the second day.  And on the third day, too — seemingly for no reason. By Thursday, I was so shaken by the experience that I was considering going into Jack’s office, explaining the situation, and asking if he could intervene on my behalf.  But then I had a little talk with myself that went something like this: “Look, Shutkin, you’re already through your IL year and are set on being a lawyer, right?  Well, lawyers are supposed to be zealous advocates, right?  Well, can’t you at least be a zealous enough advocate for yorself  to stand up to a grouchy old parking lot attendant and get the damn parking spot you’re entitled to?”  I also realized what a total wuss I would look like to my boss Jack if I came to him with this little problem.

So Friday morning, just as the parking lot guy was about to go off on me again, I jumped on him first (oratorially, not literally).  I believe my little soliquy went something like this: “Look, buddy, you’ve given me crap every day I’ve driven into this lot, even though I have explained to you, every damn time, exactly where I’m working and why I’ve got every damn right to park here.  And I’m sick of it.  So just stop it right now, or I’ll have my firm pull out of its contract and probably get you fired.  Got that, buddy?”

Well, whaddaya know?  Rather than giving it right back to me, the guy meekly apologized, assured me that it would never happen again and further assured me that I was welcome to park in any spot in the lot.  After I parked — near the office — I slammed my car door and glared at him and he gave me a friendly little wave and even said “Have a nice day.”

Then it dawned on me. The parking lot attendant and I were in a classic leader/follower relationship.  But he wasn’t sure which one he was, as the situation was a bit ambiguous, probably because of our age difference. So at first he assumed the role of leader, and not a benevolent one at that.  But once I took over that role from him, he meekly assumed the role of follower and did what I told him to do. Sociology 101.

Indeed, for a while, the attendant was not just polite, but downright obsequious.  But I am not a total jerk and I felt uncomfortable with that dynamic.  So I quickly cranked it back a few notches and started making freindly small talk when I saw him.  And, in the course of the summer, we actually became quite friendly and chatted every time we saw each other.  His name was Al Lombardi, he showed me photos of his grandkids and, when I told him my name, he figued out that my father had treated his wife a few years before when she had hurt her back.  Nice.

(By pleasant coincidence, I was in New Haven to see my daughters — my older daughter now lives there — one Saturday when I was writing this story.  She lives close enough to downtown that we could walk to where the G, E & M office building — now totally re-built —  is and the parking lot across the street was.  The lot is now a parking garage and I took this  picture of it.  But when I tried to park my car there, the ticket dispensing machine informed me that it is closed on weekends, and then I had to back up the ramp and find another spot.  So, ironically, it turns out that I still have problems parking there.)

Fast forward to the 1990’s for my second commuting story.  At that time, my then-wife and I were living in an apartment near the corner of Park Avenue and 79th Street in Manhattan and my office was on Park Avenue at 52nd Street.  So, at least during nice weather, it was a very pleasant stroll down Park Avenue to get to my office — particularly in the spring and summer when all the flowers are in bloom in the median divides.

I can think of only two irritants I had during this idyllic commute, and one of them was for only one morning.  It was when Pope John Paul II was visiting New York in 1995.  On this particular morning, he was scheduled to celebrate a mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and was transported in the Popemobile (remember?), attended by a massive motorcade, from where he was staying on the East Side across East 72nd Street to Fifth Avenue.  As I only learned as I walked down Park and approached 72nd Street from the north, the NYPD had barricaded all the avenues crossing that street through Fifth and would allow no one — and they meant no one —  to cross until after the motorcade passed and the barricades had been removed.  Of course, I had an early conference call that day and this was before cellphones.  I contemplated walking to the nearest subway and literally going under the whole procession, but decided that would take too long.  So I waited, stewed, saw the Pope go by, and then waited and stewed a bit longer while the NYPD casually removed the barricades.  Then I ran as fast as I could to the office.  And felt no great urge to convert to Catholicism as a result of this experience.

For those who might not remember, here’ s what the Popemobile looked like going through New York:

And here is the Pope arriving at St. Patrick’s (much more easily than I arrived at my office):

 

The second irritant on my Park Avenue commute was far more long term.  On the corner of Park and 57th almost every morning when I walked by was one of the patented New York “crazies,” bellowing at the top of his lungs.

No, not this New York crazy; he was actually still sane — and, in fact, mayor — at the time.   But any real New Yorker knows what these guys look and act like.  And also knows that they are highly territotrial and routinized and tend to be at the same place at the same time every day.

That would have been OK with me had this guy simply continued his unfocused ranting as I walked by.  But, for some reason, at some point he started to single me out and direct his rants directly at me, which I found awfully uncomfortable.  Why did he?  I have no idea.  It was certainly nothing I said or did for, real New Yorker that I was, I walked by him tight-lipped and staring straight ahead. (That reaction is written in the Real New Yorker Code.)  My best guess is that I looked to him like quintessential yuppie corporate scum and thus particularly deserving of his venom.  And, frankly, I did look like that then. Here is a photo of me which I’ve previously posted (with some woman named Hillary, as I recall) which was taken at about this time:

 

And here is a photo, also taken at about the same time, of Mitt Romney and some of his pals at Bain Capital playing around with dollar bills after closing a big deal.  I have to admit; this sure looks like yuppie corporate scum to me:

In any event, these encounters were unnerving.  And I even contemplated the coward’s way out: detouring over to Lexington Avenue and avoiding this guy altogether.  But, for some reason, I not only rejected this weasly course but decided one morning to do three things entirely inconsistent with the Real New Yorker Code.  As I walked by him, I made eye contact, smiled and said, “Good morning.”  I braced for the worst but, instead, got back an equally friendly, “And good morning to you, young man.”  And, from that day on, we had a very similar, brief exchange of smiles and friendly words and moved on — me to the office and he, presumably, to his unfocused rants.  Phew!  And once again I could enjoy my lovely little commute down Park Avenue.

More than that, I drew from both this experience and from the one years earlier with the parking lot attendant an important, if obvious, lesson.  Much of how other people treat you depends on how you treat them.

So be kind.

Mom’s “Senior” Moment by
100
(132 Stories)

Prompted By Senior Moments

/ Stories

I seem to keep coming back to my “The Grand Tour” story again and again in response to new prompts. Maybe this is my own senior moment fixation.  In any event, here it is again for anyone who cares and/or is having a senior moment in trying to remember it:

The Grand Tour

However, this time my story comes not from TGT in 1965 which I primarily featured in my original story, but from an earlier TGT (in 1962) which I briefly noted and which consisted of just my brother, mother, grandmother and me.  But grand it still was, covering seven weeks and including stays in Italy, Switzerland, France and England — bracketed by transatlantic ocean liner cruises on both ends, of course.

We were nearing the end of a week in Rome when my well-organized mother started looking for our tickets for the overnight train to Geneva, our next destination.  She could find them nowhere, though she just about turned our hotel rooms upside down — figuratively, of course —  in search of them.  Finally, the day before we were scheduled to depart, she resigned herself to the fact that they were lost and she would have to go to the ticket office and get new ones — there was no RailEurope website back then to log onto and fix things with a few clicks.

Part of my mother’s distress obviously was the concern (which proved to be accurate) that she would get no refund and would have to buy new tickets.   Mom was certainly financially comfortable, but, Depression child that she was, she hated to waste money.  Quaintly enough, I still remember the cost of the four tickets — including dinner in the dining car, overnight berth compartments and a light breakfast served in the compartments  — came to the grand toal of $118. But of course, that was still a pretty hefty tab in those days.

That said, it was clear that my mother’s far greater concern was that her losing the tickets was an initial senior moment, one from which she might never recover. And boy, did my brother and I have to hear that lament again and again as she searched vainly for the tickets —  as did our poor grandmother, the legendary Tootsie, who presumably was even less pleased to hear it from her daughter than we were.

But here’s the really quaint part of the story: in the summer of 1962, my mother was not yet 52.  She lived another 30+ years and was sharp as a tack to the end.  And I don’t think I presume too much as to my fellow Retro writers to believe that all of us would kill to be 52-year olds again.  Indeed, I think only AARP, for obvious reasons, considers such youngsters to be “seniors.”

 

(Happily, we all made it fine to Geneva with our new tickets and, in the picture above, I am with my mother and Tootsie — you can figure out who is the more senior — in front of the Palais des Nations, which Woodrow Wilson had had bullt in order to house the League of Nations.)

In Dates We Trust by
100
(132 Stories)

Prompted By Dating

/ Stories

I’ve actually already written my one big date story: back in 2017, when I wrote about my drive-in movie blind date with the perhaps-not-so-angelic “Angelina.”  Here is the story again for anyone who cares to read or re-read it (in italics for clarity):

OK, this week’s prompt had its intended flashback effect on me.  Here is my one drive-in movie story.  It could probably form the basis for a John Hughes movie.  I would have the Anthony Michael Hall role.

One spring day my junior year in high school, my mother informed me that she had received a call from one of her friends.  Her friend’s daughter (let’s call her Myra, because that was her name) was coming home for the weekend from her girls’ boarding school and could I double date with Myra, Myra’s date (from a nearby boys’ boarding school) and Myra’s roommate. I assumed that I was the target of the invitation because I had a car (and a Mustang at that) and was a “good boy.”  It was really not a question; this was obviously a command performance or, at the least, a clear expectation of my mother’s — She Who Must Be Obeyed.

I said OK (good boy, remember?), but was dreading it.  Not only did I think I had better plans for the evening with my own friends, but my recollection of Myra from before she went off to boarding school was of a homely and pretty loony kid; in fact, my clearest memory of her was when she “painted” all her fingernails in sixth grade with a pencil and then walked around with the pencil stuck in her ear (or maybe it was her nose).

Things brightened considerably when I showed up at Myra’s house at the appointed time.  Myra had clearly emerged from her ugly duckling stage and was now very attractive — though she still seemed kind of loony.  Even better, however, was Myra’s roommate, who was absolutely, drop dead gorgeous.  (I forget her name now, but let’s call her Angelina.)  And even better than even better, both Myra and Angelina were wearing their school uniforms — you know, the white oxford shirt, blue blazer and plaid kilt outfit, with the kilt rolled up at the top into mini length to create the “naughty schoolgirl” look of every adolescent boy’s wet dreams.  Oh, and of course, Myra’s boyfriend was the hunky, jock-y, preppy type who I knew was way cooler than I was regardless of the disparity in our SAT scores.

So off we go to the local restaurant/hang out in New Haven for dinner, it having been announced to Myra’s parents that we were first going there and then to a nearby movie theater. However, as we were finishing our respective burgers, the three others (hereafter, the “co-conspirators”) informed me that we were not going to that movie theater, but to a neighborhood drive-in movie instead.  They even assured me that they had all seen the movie we were supposed to see, so they would have no problem discussing it with Myra’s parents if need be.  Of course, these brilliant co-conspirators hadn’t thought about whether I had seen it or not.

Fortunately, I had seen the movie as well (an early James Bond, probably) and, in any event, was not entirely averse to going to a drive-in with the charming and enchanting Angelina. And it was quite clear to me about 30 seconds into the movie at the drive-in — and I have no recollection of  what the movie was —  that the whole reason for going to the drive-in was so that Myra and her boyfriend could make out in the back seat the entire time, as they were more than a little constrained by their boarding schools’ strict rules on visitation, to say nothing of Myra’s parents’ that weekend.  Meanwhile, back in the front seat, Angelina immediately explained to me that she had just gone through a rough break-up with her boyfriend (Myra’s boyfriend’s roomie, as I recall) and that she loved being in the company of a really polite, smart conversationalist such as I rather than the kind of rude boys who just wanted to put their grubby paws all over her.  Well, that might sound like a compliment to a parent, but to any boy with half a brain and half a sex drive — both of which I had — that was an unmistakable message to just keep talking and stay the hell away from her.  So Angelina and I spent the duration of the movie in undoubtedly scintillating, but chaste, conversation while Myra and her boyfriend went at it behind us.  And, of course, I felt totally used.

After the drive-in, we all went back to Myra’s house and we were invited in by Myra’s parents, where we dutifully had a snack and discussed with them the movie we hadn’t just seen.  I was at least somewhat rewarded, not by the expected report back to my mother from Myra’s mother about what a “nice boy” I still was, but by the sudden and seemingly heartfelt (and tongue included) kiss that Angelina bestowed on me just before we got out of the car.   That encouraged me sufficiently to call her a couple of weeks later when she was back at school to see about having a real date.  Unfortunately, Angelina explained, and as much as she really, really liked me, she had just gotten back with her boyfriend and he was the really jealous type and, well, you know. At that point, I realized that I hadn’t been just 80% used the night of the drive-in *

   *          *          *

But, as a true Retro-ista, I couldn’t just rest on my prior prompt laurels, so I set myself to thinking further as to my personal history of dating.  Shutkin Dating 2.0, if you will. However, I was initially stumped.  For whatever reason, I could not recall my first dates with any of the important girls/women in my life (wives included).  Nor could I think of any date that I could fairly characterize as The Date from Hell.  Ask me about a particular movie or show I saw, and I can probably confirm that I saw it on a date, and maybe even remember with whom I saw it, but that’s pretty much it.

Finally, though, I fixed on three dates that I had fairly specific recollection of.  And, considering them further, I realized that they all had a common theme: trust or the lack thereof.  More specifically, parental trust; this is not about my date being worried that I might be a rapist and/or serial murderer (or vice versa, for that matter).  So my title may actually be a bit misleading — but, unlike Suzy, I don’t have a vast anthology of song titles to call upon, so I just do the best I can.

Anyhow, on to the three dates….

One date was one that my step-mother Mary set me up on when I was seventeen with the daughter of some German countess (countess-ette?) named Cornelia who lived in South America, went to boarding school in Switzerland and was looking at colleges in the U.S.  Resisting the obvious temptation to ask whether her father had been a Nazi war criminal in exile (“Good question” was all my father would say), I agreed to take Cornelia out.  Mary then explained to me that I would wear a coat and tie, what (very nice) restaurant I would take Cornelia to, what movies were acceptable to go to after dinner (I think we agreed on a James Bond), and how I would then bring her right back to my father and Mary’s place for coffee or tea (or Tab, in my case) and then I would go on my merry way home.

I was fairly ticked off that Mary would so try to micro-manage the date, particularly since it suggested that I couldn’t be a “good” date without clear and proper instructions.  In other words, she didn’t trust me. It was then that I remembered my step-sister Etta, Mary’s daughter, who was several years older, telling me just how strict Mary had been about her dating when she was in high school and how happy she had been to go off to college and free herself of that yoke.  So I felt better about things, or at least took them a little less personally.  And, indeed, as I pondered it further, I decided that Mary would not have even nominated me to take Cornelia out if she hadn’t felt that I was capable of taking care of her precious daughter of royalty.  In short, she trusted me — sort of.

As to the date itself, it went just fine.  Cornelia was beautiful and beautifully dressed and far more interesting and down to earth than I thought she would be — I was stereotypically expecting either the cloistered nun or the spoiled, playboy-dating deb sort.  And she really did want to pick my brain about colleges, which I was more than happy to have picked by her.  Mary later reported back to me that Cornelia had really enjoyed my company and she —  Mary — thanked me for my noble efforts with the nobility.  I never saw Cornelia again, but assume she married some guy named Monte Cristo.

The other two dates both involved going to movies with my high school girlfriend Susan.  In 1966, we decided we wanted to see the allegedly steamy French movie “A Man and a Woman,” which was playing at what passed for an art movie theater in New Haven.  Some of you may remember its poster:

Susan’s father at first said we absolutely could not go, but then relented and agreed that we could, with one provisio. He said that he knew exactly how long the movie was (I think he called up the theater) and how long the drive from the theater to their house should take, and that we had to drive back to the house immediately after the movie. I assumed he expected that we would have otherwise been so turned on by the movie that we would have driven directly to a hot sheets motel and temporarily slaked our insatiable teenage lust.  Anyhow, we did as instructed  — I did my slaking with a Tab in their kitchen —  and her father later came to trust me much more, but both Susan and I found the whole exercise offensive.  As for the movie itself, it was pretty tame, even by 60’s French standards, and, like most viewers of it, we decided the hype was mainly about its lush sounstrack.  Zzzzzzzzzz…….

The other movie date featured my mother and was the exact opposite as to the trust issue. This was also in 1966 and involved Mike Nichols’ famous production of Albee’s “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton:

Although the MPAA movie rating system had not yet gone into effect, it was somehow decreed that one had to be over the age of sixteen to see the movie unless accompanied by an adult — presumably not because of graphic sex, because there was none in the movie, but because of its language.  Absurd, but….

In any event, both Susan and I wanted very much to see the movie and, as a seventeenth birthday present to me, my mother offered to be our adult “escort,” as Susan was not going to turn seventeen for several more months.  Not only that, but my mother even said that she would happily sit somewhere else in the theater so she wouldn’t “bother” us — as if this were some sort of hot make out movie  Now here was a parental  dating trust scenario that I loved!

Both Susan and I loudly protested against this and insisted that my mother sit with us, not just for the movie, but for dinner afterwards.  In fact, I often thought that Susan liked my mother more than she liked me, and I know the feeling was mutual.  In any event, unlike “A Man and a Woman,” we all loved this movie and this ended up being one great date for all three of us.

Trust me on that.

Home Away from Home by
100
(132 Stories)

Prompted By Home Repair

/ Stories

Although I’ve had my share of home repairs, and the attendant horror and/or success stories, over the years, I am writing about my most recent adventure in this genre, which took place in 2017.  Not only does this mean that my memory is less blurry about it than with other, earlier adventures, but I also write about it because of the ironic lesson that I — and my wife — took away from it.

By way of background, we moved to the Boston area from Milwaukee in 2015 because my firm was fine with me working out of our of one of our offices in this area and, for many reasons, we are ultimately Easterners and not Midwesterners.  Happily, we were able to sell our home in Milwaukee much more quickly than we had assumed it would take, but that meant we had to scramble on the other end to get a new place.  Ultimately, after almost buying a converted 1760 tavern that would have been the quintessential money pit had we gone thorugh with the deal, we grabbed a less-than-perfect but well located townhouse in a nice condominium community near my office — crucial, given Boston’s horrendous traffic.

The condominium community had been built in the 80’s and our particular home had not been updated since then.  My wife, who has much stronger feelings — and far great knowledge — in such areas than I, loves both old houses and new kitchens.  This place had neither.  She immediately went about having the entire kitchen beautifully renovated and modernized — we didn’t even bother unpacking our kitchen stuff from the move — and we got through that project pretty easily while making do with a microwave and small refrigerator in the utility room.  And, yes, plenty of restaurant and take-out meals.

But then came the big project: what I jokingly referred to as “converting our place back to the 18th century condominium that it had originally been.” This was to be a renovation of virtually every room other than the kitchen, including wainscoting and changing the fireplace stonework in the living room and family room, lowering the vaulted ceilings in several rooms, adding French doors at both ends of the living room (my wife loves French doors) and painting every room.  Also, importantly, we were removing the wall to wall carpeting in the living room and front hallway and replacing it with reclaimed wood floors.  In fact, our only limitation — for which I was eternally grateful — was on any exterior work, as that was prohibited under the condominium by-laws.

We knew that we would have to move out at least when the floor work was being done at the end of the project, and I started scouting around the nearby hotels.  We thought we could somehow live through the rest of the work in situ, even though we knew the project would be long — at least five months — loud and dirty, and we would have to relocate ourselves several times from one room to another as the work progressed.  But then I had an epiphany, perhaps prompted by both the inconvenience and complicated logistics of staying in place most of the time and by the fact that I got a nice bump in my compensation from my firm.  Why didn’t we just move out for the entire duration of the project?

When I had lived in New York, I had always had some disdain for super-rich acquaintances who, when undergoing major renovations of their mammoth apartments, simply moved out for months into luxurious New York residential hotels and got most of their meals from room service.  And, of course, they also retreated from time to time to their weekend country homes.  It just seemed too damn ostentatious and pampered.  But now, albeit on a much more modest scale, it seemed like a quite attractive option for us.  And I knew there was a nice rental apartment complex owned by Avalon — it has dozens of them on both the East and West Coasts — right in our town. (See featured image.)  That would allow me to remain close to my ofiice, both of us to be close to our home —  particularly important for my wife’s daily monitoring of the construction project — and, in general, would minimize our sense of dislocation. It also had the further advantage of reminding our contractor — whom we had used on the kitchen project and liked very much, but still…. — that any delays in the project would impose an added expense on us (and one from which he would not benefit) in terms of having to pay additional months of rent on the apartment and related housing costs.

My wife quickly agreed with my suggestion and off I went to Avalon to secure a one-bedroom apartment for several months.  There was the usual excessive paperwork and on-line nonsense with the lease, security, insurance, utilities (cable/internet — ugh!!), but it was not too bad. And, after all, I’m a lawyer, so this is my milleau. Then I painlessly rented some essential furniture through a company named Cort, which I has used in Milwaukee my first year there and is excellent. (No wonder Warren Buffet bought it a few years ago.)  As soon as the furniture arrived, my wife and I moved in with just some cooking and dining ware, linens and towels, television set and computers, and  a very limited subset of our winter wardrobes, as this was January.

Our “furnished”  apartment looked much like this model from Avalon’s brochure:

 

We also soon discovered that Avalon had a well-equipped fitness center and a “club room” with wet bar and kitchen for entertaining, as well as a very nice swimming pool just off the club room:

The pool looked lovely, but, again, this was winter in New England, so it was not exactly open for business.

We ended up staying at Avalon until the renovation project was completed in late July.  This was a month later than originally planned — and a month’s extra rent and utilities —  but, as I am sure others know, home construction projects are almost never finished on time, so this was hardly an unexpected catastrophe.  And, as before, our contractor had done a beautiful job.  Here is a photo of our “colonial” living room; note, in particular, the wainscoting and the French doors:

So we were and are absolutely delighted with the project and the finished product.  And, surprisingly, equally delighted with our six or so months in the apartment.  We had lived there comfortably, compatibly and efficiently the whole time, and, in fact, met a few friendly neighbors (other than the one jerk with a pick-up truck who hogged two spaces in front of our unit).  But, even more than that, we left with the ironic lesson that I referred to in the first paragraph.  We both realized that, as lovely as our renovated home was — and we really do love it — we could have remained equally happy in our one-bedroom apartment with just a bit of necessary furniture and other assorted “stuff” and with a whole lot fewer clothes.

Indeed, we particularly liked the idea that, when we were in the apartment, we knew exactly where the other one of us was.  Yet we never felt claustrophobic or in need of more personal space. Conversely, once we moved back home, with its three floors of living space, we realized there were times when we couldn’t figure out where our better half was.

Even beyond that, once we moved back home, we both started going through our closets and donating clothes we rarely wore and obviously didn’t need. And this trend carried over to when I retired at the end of 2019 and realized my need for suits and ties had greatly diminished.  It was surprisingly painless — indeed, joyful — to do. Marie Kondo may actually be onto something here.

So the lesson we learned may have been ironic, given that the catalyst for this construction project was a desire to enhance our home, not to downsize it, but it was a happy one.  And happy in terms of not just reducing our space and our “stuff,” but, more fundamentally, in terms of our marital compaibiity.

So possibly file this lesson under the “Less Is More” tab.  Indeed, we have joked about the fact that we should probably get a needlepoint sampler that reads: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like [the little place you moved into while you were renovating your] home.”

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