Cookie Tulip, Social Security Cards, and the Pineapple Express

In 1969, I knew a person by the name of Cookie Tulip.  She was not the daughter of hippies; she was herself a hippie.  As far as I can remember, that was her name by birth.  I do clearly remember that her parents’ names were Saul and Bess Tulip.

The only reason I mention Cookie Tulip is because I wanted to use her name in the title of this post.  Other than that, she has nothing whatsoever to do with this post, except for the fact that her first name was Cookie and Jerry and I just baked cookies.

Initially, I thought I was going to write about this, the last time Jerry and I would bake Christmas cookies for our last Christmas in the USA.  Then, I thought, ‘Well, that’s depressing.’  I don’t like the idea of “last times.”  There are, of course, exceptions.  I was very pleased that the first time I had my wisdom teeth pulled was also the last time I would ever have them pulled.  It was a relief to know that George W. Bush’s last state of the union address was his LAST state of the union address.  But, in general, I like to leave the door open.  So instead of writing about our last time to bake Christmas cookies in the USA, I decided instead to write about the FIRST time Jerry and I would bake Christmas cookies in Irvine since we didn’t bake cookies our previous Christmas here.

The cookies turned out to be such a laughable disaster that we’ve decided we’ll be baking another batch this week to redeem our Christmas cookie integrity.  So, after all my “last” issues, they didn’t end up being possibly the last cookies we would bake here anyway.

Since I don’t cook (and baking falls under that blanket category for me — as does nuking a bowl of instant oatmeal), I don’t really have to take the blame for the “spritz” cookies that wouldn’t spritz out of the manual cookie press I bought for Jerry (at his request) from Williams Sonoma a couple of years ago.  But I do enjoy decorating cookies.  And since, after about two hours, we managed to produce only about three dozen almost passable little cookies that I then proceeded to make even more hideous with my trimmings, I finally do have to share some responsibility.

Jerry thinks he figured out what went wrong with the cookie press.  So, ginger bread spritz cookies are still to come.  Keep a good thought for us… and the cookies.

SOCIAL SECURITY CARDS

We can check off another couple of items on our to-do list.  We drove over to the Social Security office in Mission Viejo today.  When the Social Security Administration went electronic some years ago, a data entry error was made and the spelling of Jerry’s name was changed.  We can’t have any confusion when we submit our visa applications, so Jerry had that corrected today.  At the same time, I thought it might be a good idea to order a new card for myself since my existing card was issued when my parents opened my first savings account.  The split goatskin has yellowed and the corners are frayed — not to mention that when I was in college I wrote a girl’s phone number on the back.  OK, it’s not really goatskin, but it is yellowed and dog-eared.  And by the way, Claudia Harfenist, I tried your number and it’s been disconnected.

FDR SIGNING SOCIAL SECURITY ACT…  THIS WAS LONG BEFORE I WAS BORN.
PINEAPPLE EXPRESS

OK.  The rain has become a bit boring… not to mention extremely depressing.  We saw a break in the nearest layer of clouds today.  Sadly, all it revealed was the next layer of clouds.  That’s as much “sun” as we’ve had in a very long time.  I think we’ve had half our annual allotment of rain this past week.  I may be exaggerating, but not by much.  Apparently, there’s what is described as a “conveyor belt of moisture stretching all the way to Hawaii.”  It’s called the Pineapple Express.  It sounds so much sweeter than it is.  Well, from my perspective, at least it’s not snow.

Careful. We Wouldn’t Want to Learn From This.

ADDITIONAL ADVENTURES IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS

If you’ve read my earlier posts “Why We Will Never Live in a Tent,” parts 1 and 2, you know that Jerry and I were both well and poorly prepared for our first camping adventure in the lush and verdant (i.e, soaking wet) Green Mountains of Vermont.

THE FORGOTTEN FOX

Returning home damp, tired, and somehow still happy, we determined that our next camping trip would be a complete success.  We were confident that Jerry would actually sleep in the tent.

We began looking for a larger tent.  Did you know that you can get a tent with three rooms?  Imagine.  Jerry and I could each have our own room.  Overnight guests.  Endless possibilities.  But we finally decided to stick with our 3-person tent — as long as it was just the two of us.  If we were going to share with anyone else, we would then buy a larger tent.  We did however pick up a battery operated table lamp for Jerry.  It would double as a bedside reading lamp and a nightlight.

So, we made plans with Blair and Marie, avid campers and fully equipped themselves, to head up to Maine (they from Boston, we from Guilford) where they reserved adjoining campsites at campgrounds right on the Saco River.  They had been there before and loved it.

ON THE SACO RIVER

We met in town and drove over to the campgrounds together.  The owners lived in a little house right on the property.  It was a charming place and much less wooded than our digs in Vermont, which meant Jerry would feel much less claustrophobic and stressed.  Our campsites were large and perfectly located.  We could walk our canoe down to the river in minutes and be peacefully away.

Marie and Blair knew the perfect local place to hit to pick up our fresh steamers (clams) and lobster.  So, we planned out our meals.  Steamers the first night.  Lobster the next.  After that, it really didn’t matter what we had.  The weather was perfect.  Comfortable.  Not hot.  The mosquitoes were healthy. But we had a 10 x 15-foot screen house and I had about a dozen cans of Deep Woods OFF.  This time, we knew we were ready for anything.

THE ALL-IMPORTANT S’MORES

Blair and  Marie were also extremely well prepared.  They couldn’t take any chances.  The last time they were there, Marie had put a bit of a fright into the owners of the campgrounds.

Marie is Boston born and raised.  And sometimes – just sometimes – her way of pronouncing things can be a little confusing to non-Bostonians.  During their first stay on the Saco River, she and Blair had purchased fresh lobsters and prepared the perfect meal.  They thought they had brought everything they needed, including all the side dishes.  To their dismay, just as they sat down to eat, they discovered they had forgotten one very important element; and they couldn’t possibly enjoy the meal without it.  So, Marie, headed over to the owners’ house to see if they had what was needed.

When the woman answered the door, the effervescent and ever-charming Marie, quickly explained about their beautiful meal of “lawbstuh and drahn buttah” and wine and everything else.  “We remembahed everything except the fox,” she said.  The woman took a step back and just stared dumbly at Marie.  Marie noticed that the woman seemed confused, so she tried to explain again.  “Imagine, we planned it all.  We even baked potatahs and vegetables on the fiyah.”  How can you have lobstah and vegetables without any fox?”  This time the woman took another step back and looked toward the other room, obviously trying to find her husband.  They had fox-eating lunatics from Boston staying at their campgrounds.  Then Marie thought, ‘this woman doesn’t appeah to undahstand what I’m saying.’

She tried again, very slowly, while acting it out with her hands, “You know, like KNIVES and FOX.”

This time around we had plenty of knives and FORKS for anyone who should happen to drop by and Marie was happy to slip by the owners’ house without being recognized.

MARIE AND FRIEND

Blair and Marie also warned us about the animals that wandered the campgrounds.  We needed to be vigilant and keep our food securely stowed.  There was a donkey that made the rounds during the day.  He and Marie were of course good friends.  And she didn’t even have to give him any food for him to like her.  She just has that way about her.  But the raccoons were voracious and extremely clever.  We assured Marie that she didn’t need to worry about us, we would keep everything safely locked inside the car (the one with the matching canoe on the roof).

We set up camp, pitched our two tents and our screen house, and we headed to the local clam shack to buy a load of what turned out to be the best steamers we had ever had.  We had a perfectly relaxing evening and then at around 11 p.m., we settled down to sleep.

Zip.  Zip.  Zip.  Zip.  Zip.

I was in my sleeping bag with my back to Jerry — to avoid the glare of the battery-operated nightlight.  But I couldn’t ignore the constant zip and unzip.

Zip.  Zip.  Zip.  Some muttered curses.  Zip.  Zip.

Then he unzipped his sleeping bag completely and I heard him make his way to the tent flap.

Zip.  Zip.  Zip.  Zip.  Some more loudly muttered curses and back to the sleeping bag.

Zip.  Zip.  Mutter.

A very noisy stumble to the tent flap again.  Zip. Zip.

Back to the sleeping bag.

Zip.  Mutter.

“Are you having a problem?” I sarcastically queried.

And then Jerry sat up, stared right at me, and let fly with a litany of profanity.  ‘How could anyone be this…!  “I’m not a mummy!”  “What the…!”  “There’s not enough room in this … bag!” “Why in…”  “I’m either too hot with the bag zipped up or too cold with it zipped down.”  “I can’t bend my legs!”   “There’s no air in this… tent!”

Jerry, who always said, “Oh fudge” when he was annoyed was using words I didn’t think he even knew the meaning of.

Amazingly, he didn’t jump in the car.  We talked a bit about what we would go out and buy the next day.  Jerry had a brilliant idea.  He could zip our two mummy bags together and then he’d have a really nice sleeping bag that would allow him to sleep in any position he liked.  We would then just have to get a new sleeping bag for me.  And I wasn’t picky (well, everything is relative).

We talked for a few hours and finally fell asleep.  We know we fell asleep because we were awakened some time later — it was still dark — to the clattering of pots and pans.  It sounded like a rowdy group was having a party.  There was a lot more noise.  We heard Marie’s raised voice and a bunch of scurrying.  “It’s OK, Blair,” she called, “I got it fixed.”  So we went back to sleep.

HE LOOKS LIKE A CAMPER

The next morning, we were entertained by Marie’s story of the raccoons’ late-night raid of our screen house.  Jerry and I had kept all our food locked in the car.  Marie and Blair had left their huge cooler in the screen house.  But, they figured it was safe because they had stacked on top of the cooler the heavy boxes filled with pots and pans and other cooking gear.  The raccoons wouldn’t be able to move all that.

Maine grows strong and robust raccoons.

The gang knocked over the boxes and threw pots and pans everywhere.  It looked like they had used the Tupperware lids for frisbees.  They then easily lifted the lid of the cooler and had a party.  Marie found empty containers of gourmet dip scattered all over the woods.  The chips were gone too, but it didn’t look like they had been eaten together.  What a waste; the pairings had been so carefully planned.

We had one of those amazing camping breakfasts, eggs, bacon, muffins.  We went into town and bought me a really ugly, rectangular, cotton flannel sleeping bag — it was all we could find.  We had lunch in town.  When we got back, Jerry zipped the two mummy bags together and modeled for us.  He looked like the Michelin Man (or a blue Pillsbury Doughboy).  But he felt comfortable and knew he would sleep well that night. We canoed in the afternoon.  It was a perfect day that culminated with the best lobster dinner (no fox).  And s’mores.

We headed off to bed just as it started to rain. We hadn’t been expecting that. Oh crap!  But, our campsite was level and clear.  No puddles formed.  No mud trails.

Jerry, however, had had enough.  The rain made him feel even more claustrophobic.  He remained calm, but said he just couldn’t do it.  He was going to find a hotel for the night and come back in the morning.  I could handle that.  He was behaving rationally.  The weather wasn’t that bad.  The roads were wide open out here and there were plenty of places to stay.  So I wished him well as he drove off and I went back to a very comfortable night’s sleep.

Now, I haven’t mentioned this, but for a few years at that point, I  had been having a problem with bursitis.  It was worst in my hips.  It was just one of those things I developed young and struggled with for a number of years until I learned how to exercise it into abeyance.  This camping trip was during the time the flare-ups were at their most annoying.  Damp ground could be a problem.  Well, I woke that morning and could barely walk.  I moved like I needed both hips replaced.

Jerry returned happy and refreshed.  He pronounced, “I’ve decided I am going to sleep here tonight no matter what.”

I said, “Well, I was about to tell you that my hips are killing me. I had planned on joining you in the hotel tonight.”

“Oh, good!” he said.  He didn’t even try to hide his relief.

Thanks to Jerry, I have at times over the years appeared to others to be “the calm one, the sane one, the one who doesn’t sleep with a nightlight.”  (Yes, I am actually quoting here.)  That is one of the reasons — among so many better reasons — that I stay with Jerry.  He can make me look calm, sane, and in no need of a nightlight when, in reality, he has been my nightlight for more than 29 years.

THE BLUE PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY

I Have Not Failed

I’ve just found several hundred ways that won’t work.

I have closed up shop.  For good.  We are applying for retirement visas, so I need to retire.  I had, however, imagined myself selling ToldemArt (the business) for millions and retiring in style.  Instead, I will save some jewelry samples as souvenirs and mementos and I will donate the rest to charity.  This is my “How Not to Succeed in Business” post.

LOVE

Although under-capitalized, ToldemArt was off to a rousing start in 2008.  Early in the year, I was working with a trendy retailer in L.A. who thought ToldemArt was the greatest idea she had seen.  She was affiliated and — to my eventual dismay — enamored with the Hollywood tabloid set and was convinced they’d all wear (and give to their mothers) inexpensive gold-plate enamel jewelry with fake gemstones.  (OK, the concept is unique — designs created using the letters of the words they illustrate — but it is what it is… good-quality, inexpensive jewelry; not something the tabloid princesses have been known to fancy.)  We finally had a parting of the ways after the mother of a tabloid-princess bride decided that the jewelry she loved a day earlier wasn’t expensive enough to remain in the gift bags for the bridesmaids the day of the wedding.  The mother was everything she was reputed to be in the tabloids.  My day job was giving me no pleasure.  My trendy retailer was giving me no pleasure.  Solid gold and real gemstones might have made all the difference, but that wasn’t a possibility.  Besides, my trendy retailer had already cost me enough money.

KA CHING

Later in 2008, I got my Good Luck Collection placed at MGM Grand and Bellagio with the potential of expanding to all MGM Mirage properties in Las Vegas.  The jewelry sold like hotcakes (not that I’ve ever sold a hotcake) for the first four weeks.  A solid future was “guaranteed.”  Then, the economy tanked.  Everything stopped selling.  No new orders could be placed.  Two months later, the corporate buyers left the corporation.  When the economy finally recovers in Las Vegas, we’ll have been living our Spanish adventure for a good long time.

I spent part of 2009 creating The ToldemArt Zoo.  I had a a great time.  The doodling of designs remains a complete joy for me.  I sold the collection retail while developing wholesale opportunities.  Finally, in 2010, The Zoo was placed in two large venues, again with the potential of expanding to many properties — this time, around the country.  But, the economy continued to be uncooperative.  The corporate buyer remained confident, but the orders are not pouring in, and that visa application awaits.

Another Great Idea

I have an idea for my next career.  I will become a business consultant specializing in start-ups.  If you need to know if it’s a bad time to start a business, you can check with me.  If I’ve just started one, it’s a bad time.  (Well, so much for that.  I just gave away the entire premise of my business consultancy.)

I’m not finished having fun with my word-play designs.  They’ve been floating in my head for as long as I can remember.  I’ve kept a few sites at zazzle.com where I can see what the art looks like on a variety of products.  They are zazzle.com/ToldemArt, zazzle.com/BlockLetters, and Zazzle.com/TalkTrashy.

Oh… TalkTrashy.  I didn’t mention that I had a less wholesome line of designs.  Since my blog is G-rated, you’ll have to figure out these last two images for yourself… although I have included hints-like-bricks in the captions.  Wearing one or the other of these discreetly beneath my shirt and tie — during my last miserable year or two working for someone else — helped me make it through the worst days.  And looking around in meetings to see one or another of my colleagues wearing the same was definitely reassuring.

But now, no regrets about the many careers that never had enough meaning or the businesses that didn’t make me rich.  You have to move on.

AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON
IF THEY CAN’T TAKE A JOKE

Why We Will Never Live in a Tent — Part 2

Jerry was lost in the Green Mountains of Vermont.  Judy was sound asleep.  And I was being swamped by a mini mudflow.  I grabbed everything around me and made a quick dash for the screen house.  We had dropped the plastic side panels before we went to bed.  The inside, although damp, remained clean and dry.  I spread my wet belongings around the interior.  In the damp, there was no hope of their drying, but it seemed to make sense at the time.  We had a little clock in the screen house.  It was 5:30 a.m.

TASTES LIKE SMORES

I decided I would make a nice hot pot of coffee.  I grabbed the pot and filled it from the water jug.  Smart campers don’t leave their food stores out at night to attract wild animals.  So, I realized I’d need to make a quick dash to the car to get the coffee…  The car.  Jerry had the car.  I was really worried about him and hoped he was alright.

OK.  I will boil myself some water and pretend it’s coffee, I thought.  I just needed to light up the cook stove.  We were smart and had kept the matches safe and dry…  In the car.  Jerry had the car.  He had me worried.  I hoped he wasn’t in a ditch.

Judy continued to sleep.  Well, at least I could take a nice hot shower.  That would make everything seem better.  I took a large green trash bag and cut a whole in the bottom.  I grabbed a slightly damp towel, popped the trash bag over my head like a poncho, threw on my baseball cap and ran down the muddy hill in the driving rain to the little building containing the showers and toilets.  I was worried about Jerry, but we weren’t far from Bennington.  He should be fine.

ARMHOLES WOULD HAVE HELPED.

I stripped down and stepped under the shower head.  That was when I remembered the slot and the knob.  The slot was where you inserted the quarter that would enable you to turn the knob that would produce the hot water.  Crap.  I didn’t have any change.  I would have to get dressed, throw on my trash bag poncho and baseball cap, and get some change.  From the car…  Jerry had the car.  I worried.

The jerk had better not be in a ditch.

I got dressed, put on my trash bag and cap, and went back to the screen house.  For the next two hours, I drank cold water from a brand new enamel cup and pretended it was hot coffee.  It continued to pour.  The campground was slick mud.  At 7:45, Judy arose.  She came running in refreshed and smiling.  Then she noticed the car was gone, “Where’s Jerry?” she asked.  I told her.  She said a hot cup of coffee would be great.  Had I made any.  I told her.  Oh. She sighed,  a hot shower would feel so good.  I told her about the quarters.  Finally, I poured her a cup of pretend coffee and we both sat staring through the screen at the pouring rain.  We worried about Jerry.

We agreed that if he hadn’t gone into a ditch, he was going to wish he had. 

At 8:20, the rain miraculously stopped.  The sun burned through the remaining clouds.  We sat in a warm mist.  We lifted the rest of the panels on the screen house and peered through the trees at the deserted campground.  Around the curve appeared the Trooper, canoe on its roof, with Jerry behind the wheel.  He pulled up in front of our tent and hopped out wearing fresh clothes and a glowing smile, the obvious result of a good night’s sleep.  He had shaved.  His hair was perfectly combed.  He was beaming with contentment.

Judy and I sat calmly, both imagining what we were going to do with the body.

THE HAPPY CAMPER

But, Jerry then produced a paper bag from behind his back.  Hot coffee and a dozen donuts.  “Hey,” he said.  “I have a great idea.  There’s a motel just up the road.  Let’s go check in.  You can take showers and we can go out for a nice breakfast.  We can come back here and ‘play-camp’ for lunch and dinner, and then we can get a dry night’s sleep at the motel tonight.”  He said he hadn’t noticed the motel last night when he drove into Bennington but had spotted it on his way back this morning.  He had stayed at a very upscale place in town, but this would be “just fine” for us.

Well, he was right.  It was definitely fine.  The rains returned that evening right after dinner.  We left everything at our campsite (except for the food, the matches, and the money) and spent the next two nights eating Fig Newtons and watching TV. 

Although the canoe had never left the top of the car, we were proud of what good campers we were.  We may not have slept in the tent after the first night (Jerry, at all).  But we cooked our meals, washed up, managed to build a campfire before the rains started again (I can’t for the life of me remember where we found wood dry enough to burn), and enjoyed Smores before heading to our motel.

For the next time — there would, of course, be a next time — Jerry and I just needed to consider getting ourselves a bigger tent and a battery operated nightlight.

SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN THE COMING WEEKS:
The story of our camping adventure with Blair and Marie on the Saco River in Maine during the 1992 Democratic National Convention, well-fed raccoons, and why we never bought a six-person tent.

Why We Will Never Live in a Tent — Part 1

When I was in college, I had a friend named Jean who had plans to go skiing for the first time in her life.  The week before the event, Jean was so excited that, like many first-time skiers, she went shopping.  She returned with a spectacular pair of skis, boots, bindings, poles, goggles; and a beautiful snow bunny outfit all in white, including a parka with fake fur around the hood.  She added a dash of color in the form of a sky blue six-foot-long wool scarf that she imagined trailing in the wind as she schussed the black diamond trails.  Jean was going to be amazing.  She unpacked all her goods and, to the delight of her roommates, modeled every last thing, including the skis.

Small living rooms are not designed for skis.  Jean got her skis crossed, tripped over the coffee table, and broke her leg.  She spent the next two months in a cast and gave her ski gear and snow bunny outfit to her sister Mary.

We have been more successful
at camping than Jean was at skiing.
We have not broken any bones.

One spring day in Guilford, Connecticut, we were visiting a friend at her cottage on Lake Quonnipaug when she asked us if we needed a tent.  Until that moment, we had absolutely no need for a tent.  But, now that she mentioned it, we did already have a canoe and a matching Isuzu Trooper.

I had been a boy scout and my father had been the scout master.  (It’s a good thing I was too young to understand I was gay or the Boy Scouts of America would have kicked me out and I might never have learned how to make hunter’s stew or use a compass.)  I had been camping on the Sacandaga River when I was in college.  Jerry had gone camping when he was in grad school and after.  We had both enjoyed it.

Anyway, our friend had a 3-man dome tent she was looking to sell.  It was like new and the price was right, so we bought it.  We then began planning our first camping trip.  We already had a great camping cook stove from Jerry’s father (I don’t know why), so we went out and bought sleeping bags, pots and pans, glazed enamel dinnerware, a huge water jug, lanterns, canteens, a couple of coolers, a folding shovel, and everything else of interest at our local camping supply store.  We practiced setting up the tent in our backyard.  We were ready to camp.  Being from the prairies, Jerry prefers open spaces and is not at home in deep, dark woods.  Being who I am, I do not like latrines or cold showers.  So, we carefully researched campgrounds and found the perfect place in the Green Mountains of Vermont.  Large campsites, flush toilets, hot showers.  Lakes and rivers nearby for the canoe.  And 10 minutes from Bennington.

Judy, the intrepid adventurer, flew in from Seattle and we made preparations for our first camping trip.  We watched the weather forecasts with concern.  Heavy rains were predicted for New England.  Judy said we shouldn’t worry.  The morning our adventure was to start, it was raining in Guilford.  Jerry and I were hesitant but Judy said, you never know what the weather will actually be doing in Vermont,  What was a little rain?

So, we loaded up the Trooper, strapped the canoe to the roof, and headed out in the rain.  The rain continued at a steady pace until we reached Amherst, about half-way there.  It cleared a bit for the rest of the drive.  We arrived under threatening skies at a spectacular and entirely deserted campground.  So, we quickly set up camp and drove into Bennington to buy a 10 x 15-foot screen house with drop-down plastic panels to enclose it from the elements.  In a steadily increasing drizzle, we erected the screen house; no small task — nothing seemed to fit the way it was supposed to.  We finished just ahead of the downpour.  Inside our dry and safe enclosure, we cooked a delicious spaghetti dinner, we then took hot showers, and settled in for the night.

I don’t know who does the ratings, but three-man tents are not designed for three men — unless those three men are little people.  Nor are they designed for two men and a woman, no matter how petite that woman may be.  Or maybe three-man tents are just not the best idea when two of the men are Jerry and me.  Judy immediately fell contentedly asleep.  Being from Seattle, the damp was her familiar friend.  Jerry and I tossed and turned trying to find places for our legs in the cramped quarters as we listened to the rain pound the nylon tent and we felt the damp settle into our bones.  Finally, at 11:30, Jerry had a meltdown.  He muttered furiously that this was impossible and he couldn’t take it anymore.  He unzipped his mummy bag, unzipped the tent flap, and took off in the car.  I had no idea where he was going or when/if he was coming back.  Nor, clearly, did he.  The headlights of the car flooded the tent with daylight as he backed away from the campsite.  Judy slept.

I spent the rest of the night worrying.  The rain had become a constant torrent.  Where had Jerry gone?  Why did my sleeping bag feel wet?  Why had the ground beneath the tent gone soft?  Was Jerry coming back?  Had he gone off the road?  Had the car been washed into a river?  How could Judy possibly sleep through all this?

And was it my imagination or was that a river of mud to the left of my sleeping bag?

TO BE CONTINUED…