CELEBRATIONS AND SECRETS: CHRISTMAS 2001 & MY 60th
So I recently turned 60. Like many of my
friends and fellow retirees, I find myself involuntarily—and all too
frequently—flailing about, lost in some cul de sac of forgetfulness. I
see a movie and don’t remember even a snippet of plot the next day. I
wouldn’t hazard telling a joke these days, even if I could tease one
back to consciousness. I recently ordered the same seven CDs twice from
Amazon.com. Then I forgot where I’d put them, so I couldn’t return
them within the allotted refund period and had to beg some faceless
person at the credit department for mercy via email.
I’ll read a New Yorker article and find some factoid or
statistic so dazzling and important I’m certain I will retain it. But
when I try trotting it out to illustrate a point I’m making, I find my
brain has been otherwise occupied retaining my 1963 Lord & Taylor
credit card (893 171 14 — don’t bother using it, it’s been
obsolete for decades.)
None of this is so unusual for a person of my
advancing age. Except that somehow I write in such detail. How is it
possible I can remember all the new places our peripatetic lifestyle
takes us, how do I manage to enumerate all the new and different events
that are occurring constantly?
The answer is, I carry my little black
journal wherever I go—if I happen to remember it.
Otherwise, I owe my recall to Gary.
Gary maintains he didn’t arrive on the planet
equipped with a memory. So purely as a survival mechanism, he became an
inveterate list keeper. Gary revises and re-revises his lists on an
almost hourly basis. He revels in crossing out a completed chore, often
placing entirely gratuitous jobs like “breathe” or “eat
breakfast” on a list just so he can happily scratch them off the list.
Losing or otherwise being separated from his pen causes him to vibrate
Gary spends most mornings taping neon-yellow
Post-Its all over LULU’s interior woodwork. If he happens to be
nowhere near a piece of paper, he simply begins speaking his list. Many
times a day. Mostly I’m the audience but Mel and Jackie frequently
enough find themselves front-row-center as well. He seems never to need
encouragement of any kind to break into an encore.
Being this minutely organized. Gary has, from
day one of our sailing adventure, kept a calendar of our progress, on a
computer printout of his own invention. This 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper --
organized into 16-week, 4 month-plus periods (mas or menos, as the
Venezolanos say) -- pretty much encapsulates all of our life.
Into each box — actually a Lotus cell
measuring 1” x ½” -- he enters our daily doings and then, every
morning -- after the toilet but before even brushing his teeth--he
diagonally slashes off the previous completed day with a grand flourish
of green highlighter. These postage-sized entries detail the minutiae of
our life in crabbed handwriting worthy of pre-Gutenberg monks. More
often than not they are phonetically—that is, usually
incorrectly—spelled. Typical entries include (but are by no means
limited to) all of the following categories and actual examples:
1. Our passages to a port, their duration – only if a long
trip -- and the wind speed, if unusual: May 15: (Despite the lack of space, Gary does not
change his habitual style – printing in capital letters.)
Or, June 10: TOMAYRU, SALT WHISTLE
[that is, Mayreau, the island, and Saltwhistle, the anchorage]. Such
documentation can, and, in this case, does, share the cell with CARNINAGE [sic, Carenage, a
familiar Caribbean name for a restaurant, or in this case, a hotel. In
actuality, a carenage was once a specially equipped harbor area where
square riggers Spanish galleons were pulled out of the water for
painting or repair.]
2. A particular feature of an anchorage: “rolly,”
ranks highest in number of mentions: As in the entry for May 12:
9 HRS TO ST
BART’S, ROLLY, VIETNAM
3. He doesn’t mean Vietnam, the country,
but Vietnam, the St Barth’s restaurant we ate at: because almost every
cell keeps track of that most vital of all categories: What We Ate
For Dinner. This category mentions:
A. Always he restaurant name: PESCADORES.
short for ABRACADABRA.
B. Sometimes particular entrees
in the restaurant mentioned: RIBS,
for example, during one weeklong orgy when we cased the St Martin’s
beach barbecue joints.
I cooked, if I actually cooked: STIR FRI or
BEST RED SAUCE EVER; or BUCO [yes, I recently and very
successfully tackled osso buco.] Or PIZZA [I have much to learn in
the crust department); Or even TUNA
[yes, Mel caught a 15-pounder on one Venezuelan passage this
summer. While Jackie and I whipped up (well maybe fumbled up) some sushi
appetizers, Mel and Gary grilled thick tuna steaks on the barbecue.]
4. Every rendezvous with another boat: LEGEND. TARA. NATURAL SELECTION. Even
if we’ve separated for any mechanical or logistical reason.
5. Parties with other boats: SUNDOWNERS,
LULU; GLASS SLIPPER: BRUNCH, DOMINOES, DRINKING
6. – 11. Miscellany & Important
Minutiae: Like SUPERMARKET runs. HAIRCUT.
[Probably only I would catch the plaintive note in his entry: no
restaurant that night and there was one available.] NODIFF. WENDY. BOBBI [perpetual misspelling of our
own son Bobby’s name. Likewise has for almost 30 years, Suey has
remained Suie.] These entries detail visiting children and friends.
12. Routine maintenance: GENERATOR [oil changes];
indicating nights, usually every 4 to 5, when we’ve made water]; WATERLINE
[every few weeks we need to scrub off the oily sludge,
assorted sea grasses, crusty barnacles and armadas of tube worms that
arrive entirely unbidden.
13. Special maintenance: INTERIOR VARNISH.
BOTTOM [for Bottom Cleaning:
every few months we hire divers to scrape off the hated barnacle carpet
that covers LULU’s nether regions.]
14. Miscellaneous repairs:
TOILET PUMP WATER
15. Everywhere there are circled initials,
which the casual reader might ignore; but, at the bottom of the page,
Gary provides for the really interested party (or maybe in case he
forgets himself), a translation code. These usually refer to the people
he calls frequently: M, K, D, WR -- Mom, Karen, David,
Wendy Riedy. Wendy gets the extra letter because she shares an initial
with Water. These phone-log letters are always off in odd corners,
wherever he can find a speck of space.
Like the “MAYRU/SALT
WHISTLE “CARINAGE TOUR” entries, most
squares record more than one activity, and often enough squeeze in three
or four. You would think there’d be no room for another category.
Well, you’d be thinkin’ wrong, as I found
out recently during the S&S Affair.
The background: One of the few things I
dislike about cruising is the relative (and increasing frequency) with
which Gary fails to shave. With neither of us living a routine any more,
his daily morning shave sort of evaporated. He now shaves in the evening
if we go out for dinner – yet another reason I favor going out to
dinner. He tends to skip shaving altogether if we make an early morning
passage or if we’re going to an informal sundowners party, or if
we’re just hanging out by ourselves at anchor.
Driven, he says, by my complaints about his
scratchy beard, and entirely unbeknownst to me, Gary -- ever the
scientist, or more accurately, ever the clown — initiated a sort of
research project. He began entering a circled “X”
every time we had sex when he hadn’t shaved. This letter was
given no corresponding code key on the page bottom. Given the general
clutter, I failed to notice the debut of this new code letter.
One sunset hour, in a weak moment (I must
have been griping about the stubble), he brandished the results, taking
particular pleasure in pointing out the one cell with dual “X’s,”
indicating, he informed me, he’d scored
“a double-whammy” on that No Shave day.
I protested his interpretation of the results
but congratulated him on his stealth (difficult to achieve when you’re
sharing, full time, a living space that is barely 240 square feet). I
did so mostly without using words like “devious,” “underhanded”
He insists the experiment is proof positive
of how devastatingly sexy I really find him as a bearded brute. I say
all it proved is I’d never get any sex if I waited for him to shave.
Because of interactions like the Shave & Sex
Affair, I find life with Gary full of laughter and novelty. I rarely
know what he’s going to say or do next. Unless it has to do with
Stuff. Then I know exactly what to expect: If there’s a way to leave
something slightly unfinished – the window shade not quite fully
raised, the last tool not put away, the wine bottle open but the cork
still twirled in the corkscrew -- Gary as if in answer to some
overpowering genetic code, will leave it. A bit of trash sitting just
outside the garbage pail is a particular favorite. I’ve nicknamed him
Master of the Cut Corner.
I am forever coming across Post-It scraps he
leaves, like seagull droppings, on horizontal surfaces. I picked one up
not long ago and found -- along with the expected crossed-out lines of
completed chores -- 24 tiny 4-letter anagrams, 6 neat columns of 4, all
permutations of the letters S, D, R, E.
For example: SRED, ERDS, RSDE, DRSE.
Mystified, I plunked my little finding in front of
him. He grinned sheepishly (as if he hadn’t wanted me to find it.) Or
maybe it was gleefully (because he probably couldn’t wait till I found
Turns out he’d come up with a brand new
category in his calendar-entry system, for an eventuality he’d
actually never been faced with. As a boy, Gary’s mother used to call
him “Wheels.” He couldn’t then, and he mostly can’t now, stay
still. He’s never more blessed than when he’s got some purposeful
project or repair. As my grandmother would have said, he’s got no
sitzfleisch. That’s Yiddish--meaning, literally, “sitting meat.” A
person with no sitzfleisch could easily be called “Wheels.”
But finally, the unthinkable happened. In an
idyllic, drop-dead Venezuelan cove this summer, uninhabited but for some
pelicans (and Feisty), “Wheels”
found himself with not one thing broken. Such an eventuality might well
have jettisoned our entire cruising life: Gary without a project is not
a happy man. Unless he’s napping--and apparently even Gary could
over-nap his capacity. Luckily, I’d been stockpiling tantalizing books
for him against such a crisis: You know, page-turners, the kind of juicy
stuff you can’t put down — for Gary, tomes on Evolutionary Theory,
Genetic Probabilities, Quantum Physics.
For the next three days he lay absolutely
content in the cockpit doing not one thing but inhaling his books. He
broke this fixed concentration only for necessities: a bathroom or
cookie break, a glass of wine and, naturally, for dinner.
Lo and behold, a fresh, new way to spend a
day: Sit, Read, Eat and Drink. It deserved a fresh new calendar
designation. Hence, all his paper parsing of SRED.
When I asked where he’d find room in a cell for even one, much
less four, new letters, he said there was plenty of room: S,
R, E, D could never be occurring on a day
filled with any other activity. (Well, maybe, just possibly an “X…”)
The next problem was which of the 24 permutations would look most
pleasing on the page. (I guess SRED lacked pizazz, or the
precise aura of bliss he was seeking. He just couldn’t commit. We may
need to call in a Feng Shui consultant…
Plastic Place Becomes Party Space
On a more serious note, Gary’s calendar also
records significant -- though relatively infrequent —real-estate
activity back home: in one example last Spring, important turning points
in the negotiations over renting the New Rochelle factory building. And
the day of the actual deal in late May: Just about the same day Plastic
Works finally made its long-scheduled relocation to a renovated building
nearby, we rented to Brian MacMenamin, a successful restaurateur and
chef (Summerhouse in Nantucket, the more nearby Larchmont Oyster House,
Sea Grill and Heathcote Tavern.)
Brian swung into action immediately on
ambitious renovations and has barely stopped to breathe since. Seven
months later, the landmark pink and purple building is now a more
subdued beige and aqua.
About to open some time this month (and much
needed on the Long-Island-Sound side of Westchester), “MacMenamin’s
Grill,” on the second floor -- the site of our old Lucite furniture
factory -- will be an upscale bistro with seriously good food served
from one of those almost-de-rigueur-these-days open kitchen. Casual chic
-- a sort of Spago by the Sound.
The rest of Brian’s ambitious scheme
continues to unfold and, given his prodigious energy, will be
successful, we think. (And hope, so we can finally come out heroes,
instead of merely hopeless optimists, for renting to our third
restaurant startup.) On the first floor, he’s opening not one, but two
cooking schools, one professional, the other for — I don’t know --
whoever shows up with a Visa card. There’ll also be olive oil
pressing, breadmaking and other such demonstrations. (I myself am hoping
to be home long enough to learn the tricks of pizza.) A TV studio for a
cable food show.
Even Buyer Nodiff is on the payroll -- and
back in her own stamping grounds. She’ll likely get to fill the space
with trendy pottery, napkins, placemats and the other appetizing house
frills she’s so good at unearthing. The other boon is that, luckily,
we get to keep our apartment on the third floor. In the hope department,
we’re also hoping that Brian’s odor control and sanitation systems
turn out to be as efficient as promised. Eau de Bluefish would not be my
favorite room deodorizer.
Brian personally — and proudly -- walked us
through the virtually completed space when we returned for my birthday
and Christmas in early December. The renovation is dramatic and the
entire project beautifully realized — far beyond anything we expected.
There’s an inviting, architecturally inventive new front entrance
outside. Inside, all the flaking painted walls, wood beams, ceilings and
100-year-old floors have been sandblasted, scraped, sanded, varnished,
re-stained. (The sole downside to all this work is that a hefty
percentage of the construction dust wafted its way up to my closets.)
At night, set off by soft pools of light, the
ruddy brick and stained timber now radiate warm, earthy tones. The
leaky, creaky old windows have been replaced with modern adaptations of
the multi-paned originals, which completely shut out all intrusive
highway noise. The ancient, cranky freight elevator has been updated and
transformed to a slick push-button affair. Our old office is transformed
into a welcoming, woody private party room. We hardly recognized the
And then I got to experience just how good
Brian can cook! Gary and
Suey made sure I got a very special birthday meal there.
Gary, naturally, had his official Trip Calendar. This calendar is more
casual than his computer-generated spreadsheets. Covering but a mere
three weeks, such overkill is unnecessary – it’s just a carefree
hand drawn group of lines forming more workably sized boxes. This trip
the squares were pretty much filled with various intimate birthday
dinners with friends. Most of them had already taken place by December
15. I suspected nothing, even though Bobby was in from L.A. for the
week. Why shouldn’t he fly in to see his aging Mommy early if he was
on call over Christmas? And why shouldn’t Karen be visiting her mommy
the amazing surprise party at McMenamin’s knocked my knickers off!
Though not yet open for business, Brian was doing private parties the
whole week before Christmas —
his investors, his lawyers, his accountants AND, it turned out, his
appetizers were plentiful, huge, fresh, expensive and most delish: the
biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen, crab claws, oysters, pate, seared tuna,
Irish salmon, unbelievable crab cakes — there was even caviar.
Followed by a main course of succulent grilled meats -- lamb, steak,
veal -- plus, paella, zucchini & I don’t remember what else. Yes,
there was plenty of wine. And even a birthday cake--without
chocolate, they remembered everything -- that I actually ate!
After which, the kids and friends wrote, spoke — even
sang--stuff about me I couldn't believe. I sounded like a combination of
Mother Theresa and Joan Rivers—with a large helping of Henrietta the
Eighth thrown in.
There were some of you out there who weren’t, but would have been
there -- had I been micromanaging the list. You know who you are. Trust
me, you were missed.]
next weekend I had the birthday party I'd really been expecting -- at my
son John's, in suburban Philadelphia-- with almost all our kids and all
our grandchildren frolicking about the house and driveway together.
Followed by yet another delicious – and elegant – dinner, planned
and organized by our daughter-in-law, Lisa who, with four kids under
four, had plenty else on her plate.
returned to Venezuela bursting with joy at how full my life is and how
astonishingly lucky I have been.