Sunday, July 29, 2012

Blogger Sleeps in the City That Doesn't

The Way Life Should Be
We bid adieu to the state which is the way life should be and headed for New York City where there should be life, fully expecting to be there in five hours. When we stopped in Connecticut the GPS told us we would arrive at 3:40 p.m. We pulled in at 6:15 p.m. For more than two of those hours we were in a deadlocked traffic jam. If there were a cliff jumping moment, this would surely have been it, but cars and trucks all around prevented us from acting out on our suicidal frustration.

The Way Life Is
But then The Big Apple has a way of putting everything right, especially checking into the luxurious Phillips House where my friend Michelle's family owns two condos. Everything about this place was deluxe and soothing right down to the Frete bathrobe.
Central Park Runners
That night we had a rousing reunion with the Hughes family and my beloved Cousin Fred.  We wanted to see The Clock(, but time did not permit. Dinner at PJ Clarke's and sitting on the fountain in front of the Lincoln Center eating gelato sufficed. I went running in Central Park the next morning, becoming an unofficial participant in an existing race, I had everything but the number. Lovely.

Sunday brunch with Lina and Michelle, Fred and his friends at The Druid in Hell's Kitchen, and then back to the pick up point in New Jersey to rescue Franky whose campsite on Lake George had been attacked by raccoons. He said they sounded liked terrorizing zombies.

Embarking on a merciless drive to Bethesda, permitting no food or bathroom stops, we made it in record time. We were all ready to be home.

Friday, July 27, 2012

This Plant Makes Me Sad

Crepe Myrtle Makes Me Sad

This is a crepe myrtle bush, they bloom in early July and they foreshadow the anniversary of my father’s death.  And here it is:  7-27 (1991) when we lost Mortimer Personya Warren who went by “Pete,” but I called him “Day.”  He was tall, 6’4”, and slim, and handsome; he was unfailingly polite and kind, fun, classy, a real gentleman.  How fitting to be in Maine today.  Day was a Mainer through and through, a man of few words, a man who picked wild blueberries for a summer job, a man who wouldn’t eat tomatoes unless he was here for the summer.  He wore Brooks Brothers’ suits in the summer in Tucson. He never shed his formative years in Maine especially his beloved time at Bowdoin (Class of '38) where his best friends were people like “Bunny” (Bass) and Bill “The Fly” Inman.  Nor could he lose his accent. “Cam down,” were the words that echoed throughout my childhood. 

He has missed a lot, primarily meeting his two grandsons, Peter Warren Beiser and Franky Warren Beiser.  He is missed a lot. I have him to thank for everything, my introduction to the music of his era; my surgical precision in picking apart a lobster and getting every morsel.  He was the guy everyone in the office liked, all of my friends liked, my mother and I loved.  He was pure goodness. There was nothing not to like about him. You’ll just have to trust me on that.

I spoke to him by phone in the hospital a few days before he died. He said: “You’ll never guess who’s here…my brother John.  He is just down the hall.” Uncle John had died in 1973. My father had neither a shred of religious upbringing nor any sense of spirituality. But I was glad to hear that Uncle John was down the hall and I hoped his parents were there too, and that my mother had joined them a couple of years later. I hope they are all sitting around laughing in big easy chairs, drinking and smoking with impunity and listening to Benny Goodman on the radio.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Manifold Memories in Maine

The Cliff House, Ogunquit, ME
Finally, finally, we reach "my" state, Maine, where the welcome sign says "The Way Life Should Be."  Indeed. I am posting from a genteel lobby with jazzy standards as background music, atop a 100 foot cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean as far as the eye can see. We are staying at the 140 year old Cliff House in Ogunquit, Maine. During my childhood my mother would take me to the sweet old Ogunquit Playhouse to see summer stock, and encourage me to go backstage and get autographs from such luminaries as Peggy Cummings. Then we would have dinner at the Cliff House. I always wanted to stay here. Now I can. And tonight we are going to see Damn Yankees at the Ogunquit Playhouse. It's never too late to start your childhood over again.

Walker's Point, Bush Compound
Yesterday I had the honor of introducing Lina to Margo's Maine, much like Sophia's Roma. We went to Kennebunkport so I could show her Walker's Point. I have always insisted that if I owned that house I wouldn't need to be President of the United States. All my dreams would already have been fulfilled. But some people are just greedy, I guess. 

Our old house in OOB
OOB house "Front Yard"
Then I took her to Goose Rocks Beach where we will be staying in August; and to Granite Point in Biddeford Pool where we spent so many happy hours in the Googins summer cottage; finally onto Old Orchard Beach where I spent my early years in an oceanfront/summer boarding house inherited from my grandmother, full of wacky regular guests such as Madame Beauchamps and her "companion" May; and a hot dog and candy stand to feed the hungry Quebequois who descended on our "front yard," the beach.

The real deal
From there to Camp Ellis where our friends the Wolfes are staying while they handle the press credentials for their client the Beach to Beacon race coming up next week. We ate at Huot's and I got my hands on my first real lobster dinner. Hell on your manicure but heaven on your heart.

By the way, there were hardly any moments of "Non Compass Mentis" yesterday. My primal rat brain kicked in and guided me to all of my childhood haunts and kept me on the Maine roads with hardly a bit of trouble.

Non Compass Mentis

This is a term I coined to describe my friend Judy's driving back in the days when I threw my Latin education around a little more liberally. A lay translation is "no sense of direction." A more literal translation is there is no compass in the mind. I am similarly afflicted. I must report honestly that this trip has been full of "non compass mentis" moments. That means missed turns, wrong turns, U-turns, overshot and undershot exits.  Even technology fails if you plug Davis Road in Falmouth into the GPS when you mean Ben Davis Road in East Falmouth. My Garmin's annoying "Nuvi" woman refused to take the entry. At least she didn't say "Re-Kal-Ku-Lating" in that annoyed tone. She simply gave up on me. Fortunately my travel companion is unflappable and the world's most patient person. She has been a kind and faithful co-pilot and I am glad to have her in the cockpit.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Breakfast with the Brainiacs

TI began my day with a visit to the concierge desk, where, as is my wont, I asked for a local running map. They handed me a small colorful card, almost Tarot-like in its prediction of my fate. I was to run down Dartmouth Street to the banks of the Charles River, cross the Harvard Bridge, run by MIT and back over the Longfellow Bridge and find my way home. Nothing like having to run by the ominous chrome dome of genius at MIT before breakfast. On the Harvard Bridge I espied various markings of "Smoot." The duck tour guide had told us that many years ago the MIT geeks, so offended by the name Harvard Bridge for the route to their college, had taken some poor freshman of short stature, Fred Smoot (5'7") and laid him across the bridge, end to end, again and again until they could measure the bridge in "Smoots" thus marking their territory and claim to the bridge. The Smoot is a measurement in use to this day, or so said our duck tour guide Shakespeare. My husband says you can never believe anything any tour guide ever says. The bridge made a believer out of me.

Harvard admissions office
Not having had our fill of egghead, we set out to Harvard for breakfast. Egghead was not on the menu, but Lina chose eggplant for her sub..okay we were a little late for breakfast. I went to Harvard Summer School in 1987, so it was familiar but still dauntingly impressive.  I saw so many tromping, troubled Ivy hopefuls marching their way through the orientation tours that I had an uneasy little flashback about the summer of our college tours. (See Washingtonian article below.)

Courtesy of Edward Perry Warren
Next up on the culture dish was the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The Warren WASP lines run long and deep here in Boston and I went in search of the Greek artifacts donated by Edward Perry Warren, an antiquities collector of some renown, and the man who helped my grandmother furnish her Portland house, and eventually my house. We eat dinner at a 16th century refectory table good old EP selected for her in England. And in the museum section on the ancient world we found a few of his finds. We were also delighted to come upon a Sargent portrait of another famous distant relative, Mrs. Fiske Warren. So my sliver of Boston Brahman offset the humbling at Harvard and the MIT mystique that had so colored my morning.

Headed to the North End tonight for some real Italian cooking. That means another morning outing to run off the ravioli.
Boston at our feet-the view from our room.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Ya Wanna Have a Refreshaah?"

The Swan Boats
So reads the blackboard in the Copley Center Starbucks whence I post. So I will provide a refreshaah of our day.  Just in case you do not encounter the authentic spoken Boston accent, the menus do the job for you-- at lunch at I was forced to order "clam chowdah." Ok we get it. We are in Boston. We had a full-on Day of the Cliche when it came to touring. In a city as steeped in tradition as my Calm tea is now, there is no reason to go rogue. So we backed out of Back Bay and strode down Newbury Street and before we knew it we were in the Boston Gardens (Gahdens) taking a ride on the swan boats, and bearing witness to the scene that spawned what our tour guide referred to "that non-stop thriller" Make Way For Ducklings.

Cheers-where nobody knew our names

From there through the Boston Common to follow the red brick road, The Freedom Trail, a two and half mile tour through Boston's historical high points. The Trail was lacking in freedom from hordes of tourists, campers, group tours. We ended up at Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market, ate at "Cheers" where nobody knew our names. A performance artist did a great job of finding two balding men in the audience to use as his foils and capped one with a road cone and the other with a toilet plunger and declared the Tin Man had met Teletubby.

Duck Tour led by man in tights
Best of all the Duck Tour, where our tour guide, named Will Shakespeare, ran onto the bus/boat saying he was wearing tights, but they were really leggings and there is a distinction. I learned more about Boston than I'd ever known despite numerous visits here. We crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Wait until I tell my running group.  I learned that Boston was the first in chocolate, jelly beans, the Boston Creme Pie, and the Parker Roll. Oh, and a lot of historical facts too. Best was that you can have a cold Sam Adams at the Beantown Pub across from the cold Sam Adams buried in a cemetery across the street. As we disembarked, Will cranked up Monty Python's Men in Tights, forever endearing himself to me.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Cape Crusade

Okay, so we lost a full day to driving Saturday. it took us a full 12 hours to get to Cape Cod from Bethesda. By the end of the day all I could see was red--red brake lights, red street cones for the accident in New Haven that slowed us down, and red traffic lights when we finally got off the highway. Richard Russo's That Old Cape Magic, a highly relevant audio book, helped ease the pain.

But our mood greatly improved when we arrived in Jerry and Susan's beautiful home in East Falmouth on Cape Cod and they helped us decompress immediately with salty snacks and salt air; and a candlelit dinner of steaks, salad and sorbet.  A quick tour of the house revealed that one door led to an airplane hangar. Jerry and Susan live in an "airpark community" designed for people who want to have their plane handy and a runway nearby. in this case, literally in their back yard. Jerry is a pilot with a single engine plane and a second plane he is building, now in progress. I slept like a baby, in other words for eleven hours. I woke to a very loud noise. Was it a leaf blower? No.  Was it a lawn mower? No.  It was a plane, boss! A plane! This happened a series of times as people took off for their Sunday jaunts to the Vineyard or Nantucket or Boston or the airshow in OshkoshToday, I couldn't have been happier to be in the backseat and leave the driving tour to Susan. She took us to Woods Hole. where I saw a sign for "lobster tacos."  While this is is the marriage of my two favorite foods, it just seemed wrong to me. Wrong. We went for a lovely lunch at Landfall with cool ocean breezes where I had my first lobster roll of the trip. We cruised around Falmouth proper, and North Falmouth where oceanfront manses abound; we strolled around cute little shops with crustacean covered curios; we went onto Osterville, where things were wrapped up tight by 5 p.m. on a Sunday; but we had to see a certain store with my name on it. What do they mean "practically unusual" anyway? I am fully unusual.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thelma and Louise Redux


Tomorrow my friend and I are going on one week road trip--from Bethesda to New Jersey to drop off my son at "cousin camp" and then onto Cape Cod; Boston; Maine; and New York City. Finally, back to New Jersey and Bethesda on the last day. Ambitious? Yes. But we like to "pack a lot in" on a trip and we don't mean luggage. Unlike Thelma and Louise, the only cliff we hope to encounter is the view from The Cliff House in Ogunquit, Maine. But who knows.  Follow along and I will keep you "posted."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

College Search Article-Washingtonian May 2012

I was published in the May 2012 issue of Washingtonian:

A Mom's Temp Job as College Headhunter for Her Teen

Visiting the Ivies and safeties, dealing with ditzy student guides, and more.

In a migration pattern common to many Washingtonians, after my husband and I had kids we left DC, moving to the suburbs to take advantage of Montgomery County's renowned public-school system, where we landed in the Walt Whitman High School "cluster." During my older son's junior year, I found myself with a new job.
Job description: Assist client, 17-year-old boy, in college search with more than 2,700 possible choices; select itineraries, routes, hotels, meals; set up appointments for orientations and tours; ensure that client arrives on time, rested, prepared, appropriately dressed.
Relevant qualifications: Must have a strong ability to hold your tongue. May not offer thoughts about a college, its geographic desirability, or its student body until client has formulated his own.
Travel requirements: Extensive.
Compensation: Zero.
Time frame: Job to begin in spring of client's junior year and be completed by fall of senior year, when client must create wish list of schools consisting of a mix of "reaches," "probables," and "safeties."
About client: Likely to be taller than you. At the beginning of your work with client, he is unlikely to know the difference between West Virginia and Wesleyan or even between a college and a university. He may be hard pressed to define "liberal arts."
Caveat: When job comes to an end, you may experience prolonged period of weeping and, in some reported cases, even mild clinical depression.
I take this crazy job. Client is very likable and easy to work for, though he can be, like his grandfather, "a man of few words." In our initial consultation, he states an interest in studying music and sets his geographic parameters as "north of Bethesda--or California."
Springtime Slog
New York University. A friend's father is a professor of government at NYU, so he takes us on a personal tour. We get to see the library, and he points out the balcony from which a student jumped. The professor wants our client to go there because, he says, "I need the money." Client registers no discernible reaction to where he is. I suppress my urge to say: "Look around, man--you're in New York City, the best city in the entire freaking world." It's rainy. Very urban, not much of a campus, but as our friend the professor says, "The entire city is your campus." That would be New York City. But I say nothing. Client also says nothing about NYU itself.
Off to Beantown. I suppress all urges to say, "This is one of the greatest cities in the world. Don't you love it? Isn't it fantastic?"
Tufts University. I want client to love Tufts. The elephant mascot, the extraordinary facilities. The prestige. The admissions office is handing out rain ponchos; we are drenched. The tour ends on the roof of the library for the alleged sweeping vista of Boston. We see nothing but gray skies, zero visibility.
Dripping client is eager to get into the car and says little.
Boston College. I subcontract this visit out to my husband, reasoning that it would be better led by a Catholic, even if a lapsed one. My husband loves BC; he loves the nice students and the Doug Flutie statue. I think the client likes it, too.
Berklee College of Music. What a place--our tour is led by an aspiring country singer. Berklee has everything a musician could want plus a dozen majors--production, engineering, movie scoring. Tour guide scares me when discussing the liberal-arts requirements: "You only have to take 40 hours and maintain a 2.5 grade-point average; the rest is music all the time." John Mayer went there, Quincy Jones--amazing alums, great facilities. Serves as a valuable field trip for a musician, kind of like going to Graceland.
Client feels underqualified but intrigued.
Boston University. School is urban, but there is a patch of greenery, the "BU beach" along the Charles River. Lots of Emmys and Oscars in the library. The tour guide is a ditzy pre-med whom both client and I agree we wouldn't want to see at our hospital bedside anytime soon. Off to the music department. Once again client seems daunted by the audition process, though impressed by the high-tech practice rooms.
While in Boston, client shows superior mastery of the public-transportation system and seems quite comfortable in the city.
Connecticut College. The fifth day of spring break and the weather is finally perfect. The sun is out; the campus looks like something from central casting--free private music lessons for all! Friendly students, everyone out on the lawn, an arboretum on the grounds, sledding on cafeteria trays. It's Connecticut College, for God's sake--no SATs required. Not a single strike against this visit.
Client says: "There was something off about that place."
Summertime Swing
University of Southern California. We visit during a gray and gloomy period in July. The tour guide apologizes and promises 333 days of sun a year. A film crew is on campus. We learn that graduates will be forever helped by 300,000 USC alums--Trojans helping Trojans--among them George Lucas. Randy Newman's "I Love LA" batters my brain.
Client says: USC is cool.
Next--upstate New York for a college blitz intended as my grand fireworks finale: six colleges in 3½ days, covering hundreds of miles. Conundrum of what to do with the little brother is solved by offload with the New Jersey cousins.
Cornell University. The famous Ivy on the hill lives up to its reputation for beauty and academic excellence. We see all of Ithaca below, the famous gorges. Tour guide discusses The Office, something both prospective students and their parents can enjoy. Mentions that Andy is a Cornell grad.
Client says: Cornell is probably a reach, but he might consider it.
Ithaca College. Newer and starker than Cornell but with a focused tour related to the client's stated interest--the School of Music. Serious prospective students, one carrying his violin case on the tour. We get the lowdown on applying to a music conservatory. We are handed a list of audition requirements--percussion instruments the client has never played, arias in languages he has never spoken. But we hear the magic selling point: "Music-education majors from Ithaca College have 100-percent job placement."
Client interacts with tour guide! Seems to like Ithaca College but remains confounded by audition process.
Colgate University. Named among the ten most beautiful campuses by the Princeton Review, and good friend went there, so why not? The grounds are lovely, but we start out with an orientation session that leaves us rather cold. Young and dopey admissions officer "is like" for every "says." Tour guide further slaughters English language: "When me and my roommate go sledding . . . ."
Client describes admissions officer as "annoying."
Hamilton College. Every reference on the tour is a chance for a dig at rival Colgate. Hamilton is classy. The admissions officer tells us that one of her favorite answers to the supplemental essay question "Why Hamilton?" was a single sentence: "Like Aaron Burr, I want a shot at Hamilton." The college focuses on teaching everyone to write well, which appeals to me, but oh, yeah--it's not about me.
Client begins assimilating knowledge: Says he likes Hamilton better than Colgate. Says a music degree from Ithaca College would be better than one from Hamilton.
On to Saratoga Springs, where at the height of "the racing season" the town goes from a population of 30,000 to 100,000.
Skidmore College. Everything goes right at Skidmore. The tour guide attended the client's rival high school, Bethesda-Chevy Chase. He is a music and government major. Client mentions he is in a Beatles cover band, and we learn there is an annual Beatlemania weekend featuring cover bands of the Fab Four.
Client says: "I think it's a good fit."
If the college fits, you must quit. But we do not. We race down the highway the next morning to Poughkeepsie.
Vassar College. Tour guide takes us to the drama department first. It's famous, apparently--Meryl Streep went there. Mix of old architecture and new, not well integrated. Original buildings stately; library looks like a Gothic cathedral with stained-glass windows. But a visit to the common room in one of the dorms does us in--sofas with stuffing coming out, dusty wires underfoot, lampshades cracked and askew. Music building "too far" to be included on the tour.
Client wants to leave so much that he is eager to head to New Jersey to see his little brother.
Final Report
Client has seen a total of 20 colleges or universities. Extensive organizational support required in the final phase.
Client wants to take piano lessons, rent a piano, take vocal lessons, prepare for music auditions. I write checks, prepare files and spreadsheets with deadlines. He writes essays, takes the SATs twice, and receives early-action acceptance from Boston College. Whew!
But it doesn't stop there. He cuts his list down from 14 schools to eight. In April he gets the nod from Skidmore and smiles in a telling way. He accepts its offer. He still has miles to go before he sleeps . . . in a dorm. I just wish I could accept that he has to leave home to do it.
I don't know if I'd take this job again, but there's a high-school sophomore in the house and something tells me I may have to.

Margo Warren lives in Bethesda.
This article appears in the May 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.