Monday, September 26, 2016

The Mystery of the French Clay Pipes

How did six elegant clay pipes make their way from a town in northern France to my mother's house in Vermont? Anyone who has ever emptied out a parent's attic is familiar with this type of puzzle. It took me four years to go through the contents of my mother's house. The last box I opened was in the basement, and it contained an assortment of dishes, a hand mirror, and the six pipes. The newspaper that had been used as packing material dated from the summer of 1968, suggesting the contents might have belonged to Grandma Tucker, since it was around this time that my parents began clearing out her house in Randolph Center. The pipes were wrapped in tissue and stored in a white ceramic pitcher (the pitcher is in the upper right corner of the photo). They are in pristine condition. They were made by Gambier, a French company, probably in the 19th century. How did they come into my possession? I know of nobody in the family who smoked a pipe (and indeed these pipes have never been smoked). Maybe Justin Tucker, my grandfather, whom I barely remember, was a pipe smoker. These pipes are beautiful, and Grandma Tucker had an eye for beauty. She was also a great collector of domestic treasures. Grandma's collection of pitchers hung from hooks near the ceiling and encircled the dining room; it numbered in the hundreds. The littlest pitchers were barely bigger than a thimble. It was broken up, I am sad to say, when my parents sold the contents of her little cottage at auction; my siblings and I have remnants of the original collection. The pitcher that contains the pipes was made by the Homer Laughlin China Company, the manufacturer of Fiesta dinnerware. Homer Laughlin still makes its dishes in the U.S. Maison Gambier opened in Givet (a town near the Belgian border) in 1780 and closed in 1928; at the height of its production, in 1860, it employed 600 workers. I will never know how these pipes found their way to 36 Highland Avenue. The best I can do is to learn more about the factory that produced them. You probably have items like this in your family, too. I have so many it's mind-boggling. I fully expect to spend the rest of my life figuring out what to do with them.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Conversation With My Mother

Saturday morning, 8 a.m., Fontainebleau, France. I am lying in bed, listening to the sound of traffic on Avenue Franklin Roosevelt and staring at the ceiling.

Mom: You know, Sara, you have always done a good job of anything you set your mind to. And you have natural leadership qualities. That play you and Jim Reidy wrote and produced in high school—what was it called?
Me: Noah’s Flood.
Mom: That’s the one. It was a tremendous hit, and the two of you organized the whole thing. The writing group at the senior center is another example. Thanks to you, it took off like gangbusters. The Hale Street Gang exhibit went all the way to the Governor’s Mansion.
Me: Jack Rowell made that happen, Mom. And it was the Statehouse Cafeteria.
Mom: Even better.
Mom: What are you driving at, Mom?
Mom: This run for the presidency—I think you’re making a mistake. It isn’t for you.
Me: Why not? Grampa served in both the Legislature and the Hoff administration. Uncle Allan was a judge.
Mom: They had nothing better to do, but you—I want you to get busy and write another book.
Me: I was afraid you were going to say that. Grampa wrote books. He did both.
Mom: He wrote those books after he was secretary of state. What's more, he always said that job was mostly filing. Sara, I'm your mother, I know you better than anybody, and it behooves me to point out that you have a great tendency to think you can do everything. You can’t be president of the United States and write a best-seller at the same time.
Me: Who says I’m going to write a best-seller?
Mom: I do. Besides, politics has gotten much nastier than it was in your grandfather's time. Fight, fight, fight, that's all they do. Look at the mean things they say about poor Obama. I feel sorry for him. I don't even bother to turn on the TV anymore.
Me: Do they have TV in heaven, Mom?
Mom: They have everything in heaven, dear.
Me: How’s the food?
Mom: The vegetables are overcooked. Most people don't know how to cook vegetables.
Me: I miss you, Mom.
Mom: I miss you, too, dear. Now get busy and write that book. And forget about this presidential nonsense. It’s not for you.
Above: One of my mother's collections of stuff.
For further reading:
Why I Should Be President
In My First 100 Days as POTUS
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Running for Prez

Friday, September 23, 2016

My Hysterically Funny Grief Memoir

What the hell is the Literary Net? This question came up while I was deleting some of the hundreds of newsletters I get from people who want to help me sell my books. Turns out I joined Literary Net a year ago, soon after attending a book conference in New York, where one of the speakers sang its virtues. The purpose of the email was to inform me that my member profile was incomplete. After digging around for my user name and password, I dutifully went to the website to investigate.
   One of the things Literary Net wanted to know was why anyone should buy my books. The answer to this question is what’s called an “elevator pitch,” and it is a standard tool in an author’s kit. An elevator pitch is supposed to be very short, so you can rip it off between floors if you should happen to run into Morgan Entrekin or Judith Regan on your way to buy ink cartridges. Perfecting it can take weeks, even months, but I’ve been in the book-selling biz long enough to have it down. My elevator pitch is so polished I could recite it if the elevator were in freefall. I could recite it on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over my face.
   At second glance, the Literary Net website looked a bit paltry—273 writers pitching their books to each other while waiting for somebody important to come along. Like a sad little crafts fair next to an Interstate highway where the traffic is speeding by. And our head shots—phew. One author was peering out from behind an enormous cat; another was holding a copy of the Holy Bible; a third had chosen to represent himself as a white snowflake on a blue background. A glitch in the website caused the heads to look squished, like a reflection in a cereal spoon.
   Gazing at those photos, I felt a pang in my heart. Truthfully, I wanted to bolt. I wanted to leave Literary Net and never return. You’ll be proud to know that I didn’t. Instead, I hung around long enough to fill out my profile. I mentioned the 93 customer reviews on Amazon, the four-star rating, the blah-blah-blah. I fixed my squishy head. I did not write “You should buy this book because I busted my ass over it for more years than I can count” or “I dedicated this book to my sainted mother so how can you NOT buy it?”
   I did, however, do one little thing to lighten the task. Before signing off, I added the following paragraph in a box labeled “Additional Information”:
   “The prepublication buzz about my ‘grief memoir’ is through the roof. My publisher won't let me divulge the title, because he is afraid aliens will steal it, so for now it is just ‘Sara Tucker's Hysterically Funny Grief Memoir.’ The book is almost done except for the recipes.”
   Between you and me, the hysterically funny grief memoir consists of a few lines scribbled in my spiral notebook. It is not "almost done." If it ever materializes, it will probably not have recipes. But the folks at Literary Net don't need to know that, and anyway, we are all entitled to dream. xo Sadie
* * *
Above: School notebook, 1908. The scholar was Harry H. Cooley, my maternal grandfather. One of his essays, astonishingly, concerns Fontainebleau, France, where I now live. At the time he wrote it, he was a Vermont schoolboy. He never in his life went to France. I discovered the notebook last summer while I was going through my mother's things and couldn't believe my eyes. Material for another post.

PS You can subscribe to this blog by email if you can find the whoozy-whatsit sign-up thingy in the right-hand column. I think you have to scroll down.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

I Was Attacked by a Sports Bra

This has happened to me before, many times, but never with such violence as I experienced at approximately 10:30 yesterday morning in a quiet suburb of Paris. Patrick had gone by train to visit his mother, and I had just stepped out of the shower and was starting to get dressed.
   In my underwear drawer I have two bras. One is friendly, the other hostile. The friendly one has adjustable straps and a hook-and-eye closure. The hostile one is a sports bra. It has no closure, so you have to pull it on over your head and then slide it past your shoulders, where it is likely to get stuck. An alternate method is to step into it, then slide it up over your derriere, where it is even more likely to get stuck. It is tenacious, stubborn, and unyielding. It is an obstinate little fucker. This morning, it wrapped itself around my shoulders, grabbed hold of my arms, and threatened to strangle me.
   Instinctively, I began to struggle. The sports bra tightened its grip.
   We fought for the next three minutes—three minutes that felt like a lifetime. As the conflict escalated, I could see—with the part of my mind that remained aloof—three alternatives. Get the kitchen scissors, wait for Patrick to come home, or call SAMU, the French equivalent of 911. My right arm was completely encumbered, my right hand pressed against my ear, but my left hand was free enough to punch the two digits that summon SAMU's rescue team, a group of musclebound firefighters.
   My husband was not due back until 7 p.m. The wait would be a minimum of eight hours, plus the time it took him to stop laughing and lend a hand. The firefighters were clearly not needed—the kitchen scissors would do the job. And yet I hesitated.
   Now, I know what you're thinking: What kind of person has only two bras in her underwear drawer?
   The reason I have only two bras is because someday I want to live in a tiny house and I will not have room for a lot of clothes. I also have three pairs of pants, three pairs of shoes, and so on.
    At 10:35, I emerged from captivity, sports bra in hand. I did not have to fetch the kitchen scissors or call the fire department. Instead, I used patience, reason, and gentle coaxing to resolve the conflict peacefully. (And I won, which is the main thing. I showed that little fucker who's boss.)
    I spent the rest of the morning typing things like "attacked by sports bra" into my web browser.
    Twenty-four hours later, I can laugh at the experience. In fact, I'm grateful for it. It lasted barely five minutes, but it taught me some valuable life lessons. I share them here in the hope that they will help other women, especially if they have been victims of similar attacks:
   (1) Getting almost strangled by your sports bra is not an uncommon occurrence. It happens to a lot of people. If it happens to you, remember that you are not alone.
   (2) It is not your fault. It is not your body's fault. Really, these particular clothing items should come with detailed instructions and a warning.
   (3) It helps if both parties are thoroughly dry.
   (4) There is something called an "attack bra" that is used to deter murderers and rapists. One cup holds a small knife, the other a small can of pepper spray. This has nothing to do with what happened to me. I just discovered it by accident as I was googling "attacked by sports bra" and found it interesting.
   (5) Even if you live, or are preparing to live, in a tiny house, it is worth investing in a sports bra with a hook-and-eye closure. I am told there are some very good ones out there.


Friday, September 16, 2016

My Health Report

With only eight weeks to go until Election Day, the media is abuzz with questions about coughing fits, fainting spells, and cholesterol counts. For those of you who have been wondering about my own health status, here is a summary, compiled by me and vetted by my personal physician, Dr. Bernadette Tong, host of the popular podcast "Dr. Tong Explains It All for You." Dr. Tong received her degree from the University of the Republic of Kiribati in Oceania. For her full report, go to iTunes and download episode 4.

I am 61 and female. All of my original organs are intact—appendix, gall bladder, uterus, brain. Overall, I am in excellent physical condition. Boring, very boring.

My height and weight are perfect. As world leaders go, I am neither too tall nor too short. I am exactly the same height as Vladimir Putin, and slightly taller than Francois Hollande. In terms of size, I am eminently qualified to lead our nation in these difficult times.

I have an excellent memory. If I want to be sure I don’t forget something, like the name of a foreign capital at the epicenter of a U.S. military campaign, I write it on a Post-It. (There’s a phone app for this but I don’t know how to use it. That’s what tech departments are for.)

I have no hair issues whatsoever. My follicles are extremely productive. Astonishingly so.

My feet are ridiculously sensitive. No president in U.S. history has ever had feet like mine. Because of my hypersensitive feet, I cannot stand for four hours without a break. I require a chair, a parasol, and a Big Gulp cup with lots of ice. In extreme heat, I tend to grab the nearest fan-like object (spiral notebook, baseball cap) and wave it in front of my face like a maniac. Not very presidential, I admit.

I have never had pneumonia, but there is always a first time. If I do get pneumonia and my illness coincides with a can't-miss public appearance, I will do my best to power through it, with or without the Big Gulp cup, and if I fail, at least I will have tried. When people call me a weenie, or worse, for succumbing to pneumonia and heatstroke, I will refer them to Rule No. 44 of an etiquette handbook long used by American presidents: 

"When a man does all he can, though it succeed not well, blame not him that did it."(1)

If you would care to know more about my health status, please leave your inquiry in the comments section and I will come up with an appropriate answer and get Dr. Tong to sign it.

xo Sadie

Above: A hula ceremony honoring handover of the island of Kaho'olawe by the U.S. Navy to the state of Hawaii. I would need a chair and a Big Gulp cup for this.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Would You Want This Job?

Dolley Madison, the nation's first First Lady.
If you were A-listed for a hostess job where you wouldn't have to (a) empty barf bags, (b) spray-starch your own apron, or (c) repeat “Welcome to Disneyland” ten thousand times a day, would you be interested? I would. And if I were in line for the nation's top hostess job, I would put my best foot forward and march.
   So where are Bill and Melania? Has anybody seen them lately, handing out leaflets on the campaign trail and giving hope to the masses? No way. Melania is busy raising Little Donald, and Bill is busy being Bill. Obviously, neither one wants to be our next FLOTUS, which kinda pisses me off. I mean, it's not some paltry little pooh-pooh job, and it comes with some nice perks. Such as:

* A floral designer, a social secretary, and an executive chef. (See "parties," below.)

* A beekeeper and 70,000 honeybees.

* Respectability.

* You get to write your own job description. The role of FLOTUS is what you make of it, meaning you can pretty much do what you want and nobody will fire you. Obviously, a cigar aficionado who plays the sax, or a skin-care specialist who speaks Serbian, would bring new qualifications to the job.

* You get to throw a lot of parties. Although there's no official job description, the First Lady is regarded as the nation's number-one hostess. Not an easy task in Washington's toxic environment but way more entertaining than Bingo Night at the senior center. You gain points for putting political rivals at ease, and you lose points if they stab each other with their dinner forks. Dolley Madison set the standard. She left her calling card all over the city, and her parties packed the White House with so many Washingtonians that young people began calling them “squeezes.”

On the downside:

President Taft. My husband
has a similar mustache.
* You get criticized a lot. Abigail Adams was almost pilloried for hanging her laundry in the East Room. Caroline Harrison was castigated for modernizing the White House plumbing. Martha Washington wrote to a niece that she was “more like a state prisoner than anything else” and that she would “much rather be at home.” Eliza Johnson spent most of her time at the White House upstairs in bed.

* You work your ass off 24/7 and you don't get paid. That's right: No salary. The idea, which goes back to Martha Washington, is that your husband will share his.
My husband, as it happens, is very good at dinner parties. A regular Dolley Madison. He's French, but that shouldn't be a problem. Jefferson Davis was one of his ancestors, Mark Twain was another, and his mustache, which flips up at the ends, makes him look a little like President Taft. Keep reading and you'll come to his All Finger Foods dinner menu in five courses. He also makes an excellent steak tartare.
xo Sadie

PS: Can we get over the fact that our future First Lady might be differently gendered? A lady plumber is still a plumber, not a plumbess, and a female Airman First Class is not an airwoman. If the title of First Lady was good enough for Eleanor Roosevelt, it is good enough for anybody.

Chef Patrick's "All Finger Foods" 5-Course Menu

The other night my husband and I were fantasizing, over cocktails on our little balcony above Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, about all the dinner parties we’d like to give once we're back in circulation. (His recovery from a collision with a VW minivan is moving right along, and my recovery from an acute midlife crisis is progressing with cautious speed.) One of the menus we came up with is a five-course dinner of finger foods. The "mini-muffins" contain bits of sausage (a kitchen staple in our household). For an entrée, there's a choice of three: oysters on the half-shell, mussels (we have a method for eating these with your fingers), or poached shrimp with mayo. Main course: barbecued ribs with Vermont-grown ("Vermontoise") corn-on-the-cob, asparagus spears (the French consider this finger food), and steamed artichokes. There's a cheese course (of course) and, for dessert, an ice-cream cone or a candied apple mounted on a licorice stick. The recipe for the mini-muffins is one we clipped from the TV guide. If you would like a copy, send me an email. It's in French, but I'm working on a translation.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Pants on Fire! From the Department of Corrections and Clarifications

"The fact that the job [of POTUS] comes with a place to live is a plus for me, since I am essentially homeless, having spent the past five years living in my mother-in-law's apartment." —Questions to Ask Yourself Before Running for Prez

Correction: I am not a homeless person. That whiny remark slipped into a post I wrote one week ago, when my housing situation was exactly the same as it is today. Soon after I hit "publish," a helpful friend pointed out that I have "a nice home" right in Randolph, the town where we both went to high school. In fact, I have two nice homes in Randolph. One is big and the other is small. The Big House is at the top of a small hill, and the Little House is at the bottom of the same hill. The Big House has a refrigerator but no bed, and the Little House has a bed but no refrigerator. I also have a set of keys to an apartment in France.

And yet, I feel homeless. Why is that? Obviously, a question for a professional. (Warning: The following answer has not been vetted.)

First the Big House, the one on the hill. My parents bought it in 1945, and my husband and I lived there with my mother from 2007 to  2012; I have explored my relationship to it in depth. In May a "For Sale" sign went up next to the front walk. In June, the sign began to sag slightly forward, as if depressed. In August, a big wind attacked the towering maple next to the garage and a large chunk of it landed on the roof. The roof has since been repaired, but I mourn the loss of the tree, which you could see from the kitchen sink; a family of squirrels lived there. I await with a mixture of hope and dread the day somebody buys the house.

This brings us to the Little House. It is adorable and I love it. In May, I spent several weeks loading stuff into the back of a Subaru that used to belong to my husband and now belongs to my ex-husband (I lead a complicated life), and then driving the fully loaded Subaru from the Big House to the Little House, where I unloaded it. I did this many times. Then I took pictures of the Little House and put them on Facebook. Then I locked the door and returned to France.

The apartment in France does not belong to me. It belongs to my mother-in-law, who is in a nursing home. It is filled with her things. Her Louis the Umpteenth furniture, her Made in England teacups and Provencal platters, her designer dresses, her massive silk floral arrangements, her costume jewelry and elegant shoes, which I sometimes wear. To be honest, I am kinda tired of living with other people's things, however beautiful. I would like to live with my own things for a change. Hence, the Little House.

I have not yet slept in the Little House, which does not yet have a bed. During the time I was moving, I stayed with a very kind friend. I have stayed with lots of very kind friends over the past few years. Did I mention that I also have a standing invitation to stay with my ex-husband at his apartment in New York City? When I'm there, I sleep on the couch. Like I said, I have a complicated life.

When I say "I locked the door and returned to France" I am talking about the old door, which has since been replaced. That's because the Randolph Fire Department had to break into the Little House the night Polly's BBQ restaurant caught fire. Below is a photo of the Little House as it looked in August, after the restaurant was demolished and the back wall of the Little House was replaced, along with the front door. The Nicest Landlord in the World sent this photo to me in an email. He said my stuff, which he moved out of the way of the demolition crew, was safe. xo Sadie
Photo courtesy of Phil Godenschwager.

Friday, September 2, 2016

My Celebrity Quiz: Answers Revealed!

As promised, here are the answers to Wednesday's quiz. If you feel you should have been included here and you don't see your name, please contact me asap.

1. Margo Martindale (above, as Mags Bennett in the TV series Justified) read a poem at my wedding in Randolph Center, Vermont, in 1981. The groom, Patrick Husted, was her ex-boyfriend, and the poem, which Margo chose herself, was “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” She won her first Emmy a few years after her star turn at my wedding.

Ethan Phillips as Neelix.
2. Ethan Phillips lent me his house in the Catskills while he went to L.A. to look for work. Mr. Phillips went on to play Neelix, a space alien and gourmet chef, on Star Trek: Voyager, and I had many encounters with his exterminator, whom we always referred to as "the Bug Man."

3. Julia Glass was a copy editor in the Cosmo copy department when I was the copy chief, back before desktop computers. As chief, I hosted a weekly meeting where we ate croissants and discussed punctuation marks. Julie went on to win a National Book Award and I went on to write this blog.

4. Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown was my boss in 1979, before Hearst renovated the eighth floor of 224 West 57th Street and she finally got her own bathroom. Besides the paper towel that she handed me one day in the ladies room, she also gave me a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, four Tiffany dessert plates, and a four-leaf clover that she plucked from her sister's lawn in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

5. Martha Stewart hired me to help expand her business empire, which was growing at such a rapid pace in the late 1990s that she eventually ran out of office space and had to move some of her staff into a warehouse in Chelsea. My job was to edit recipes for wedding cakes, and my desk was in a corridor outside the men's room.

Composer Nico Muhly; we had the same piano teacher.
6. Nico Muhly and I were born in the same hospital and had the same piano teacher: Florence Scholl Cushman of Randolph, Vermont. Nico’s mother, Bunny Harvey, introduced me to stuffed squash blossoms and his father, Frank Muhly, taught me how to eat shrimp. Nico wrote an opera that was performed at the Met; I quit piano lessons when my acting career began to take off, a chapter of my life that I wrote about in embarrassing detail here.

7. Bette Midler and I started our respective careers in New York City, then moved to L.A. We moved back to New York City at almost exactly the same time, and we were both so appalled by the amount of trash that had accumulated during our absence that she started a beautification program and I volunteered to pick up litter. (I actually met her face-to-face only once and I doubt she would remember me.)

8. Bernie Sanders visited the Randolph Senior Center in 2010, when I was a volunteer server. Senator Sanders told the Wednesday lunch crowd that Social Security is NOT going to bankrupt the U.S. government and anyone who says otherwise is full of crap (not his exact wording). He did not stay for the meat loaf.

Lost in Moscow for Condé Nast Traveler.
9. Klara Glowczewska was the editor in chief of Condé Nast Traveler in 2009 when the editors of the Stop Press news section (RIP), Kevin Doyle and Deborah Dunn, sent me to Moscow on a writing assignment-slash-scavenger hunt modeled after the reality TV show The Amazing Race. One of my assignments was to find an all-night pharmacy and buy aspirin.

10. Jon Voight was just about to start rehearsals for Hamlet, the play that wrecked his marriage, in the summer of ’77 when he invited the play’s director to dinner at the Park Lane hotel in New York City. I was the director’s date. Marcheline Bertrand was there, too, and Angelina Jolie was asleep in a crib. I think it's fair to say that the production, which opened a few weeks later at Rutgers, was (a) not very good and (b) memorable only in that it changed the lives of everybody in that room. Jon Voight plays a minor role as the movie star in this book.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

I Occupied a Toilet Stall Next to This Famous Person!

My Celebrity Quiz

Whether you are opening a nail salon or running for public office, it helps to have famous friends. I have 10. See if you can guess who they are. (Answers will be published in this space on Friday, September 2, 2016.)

  1. Character actress who read a poem at my wedding.

  2. Queen Latifah
    Maggie Smith
    Ellen Degeneres
    Margo Martindale

  3. Character actor who introduced me to his exterminator.

  4. Danny Devito
    Steve Buscemi
    Gary Oldman
    Ethan Phillips

  5. Novelist with whom I shared a croissant.

  6. Agatha Christie
    Philip Roth
    Brett Easton Ellis
    Julia Glass

  7. Magazine editor who handed me a paper towel in the ladies room.

  8. Anna Wintour
    Oprah Winfrey
    Diana Vreeland
    Helen Gurley Brown

  9. Publishing magnate who made me sit in the hallway.

  10. Rupert Murdoch
    Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.
    Martha Stewart
    Sun Myung Moon

  11. Classical composer who had the same piano teacher as me.

  12. Stephen Sondheim
    Leonard Bernstein
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Nico Muhly

  13. Singer who thanked me for picking up litter.

  14. Luciano Pavarotti
    Beverly Sills
    Tina Turner
    Bette Midler

  15. U.S. Senator who shook my hand at the senior center.

  16. Hillary Rodham Clinton
    Donald Trump
    Bernie Sanders
    Francois Hollande

  17. Editor who sent me to Moscow in February to buy aspirin.

  18. Kurt Andersen of Spy magazine
    Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair
    William Shawn of the New Yorker
    Klara Glowczeska of Condé Nast Traveler

  19. Oscar winner who invited me to his room at the Park Lane hotel.

  20. Al Pacino
    Robert DeNiro
    Jon Voight
    Fred Astaire

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Guilty (A List of My Faults and Transgressions)

In 1998, I was given special treatment by the Clinton administration.

(1) Stole candy from the Red & White supermarket (age 4).
(2) Bought candy with my Sunday-school money at Merusi’s corner store and hid it under the Streeters front porch (primary school).
(3) Told my little brother I had a “thinking cap” like the one in Rocky & His Friends (I didn’t).
(4) Hit Billy Arnold on the head with a floor mop and he had to have stitches (age 5).
(5) Deliberately made Marla Tewksbury bump into a post one day when we were practicing being blind on our way home from school.
(6) Fell down on my way home from school and told my mother that Hanky Buerrman pushed me. (He didn’t.)
(7) Flunked high-school geometry.
(8) Flunked high-school physics.
(9) Dropped out of college.
(10) Got kicked out of acting school.
(11) Lived in sin.
(12) Told a tiny little fib on a 1979 résumé, but it was for a good cause (I needed the job).
(13) Divorced (once).
(14) Shook Donald Trump’s hand (New York, Hearst Building, early 1980s).
(15) Accepted gifts from the Clintons (e.g. a wooden "keepsake egg," painted pink and inscribed "Happy Easter from the White House").
(16) Have not been to church for at least two years.
(17) Have not memorized the Constitution.
(18) Have never provided a home for a shelter animal. (Meghan Cooley and I are working on this.)
(19) Told a U.S. official that I was writing “a best-seller” (not quite true).
(20) Descended from Communist sympathizers (details here).
(21) Used to dye my hair.
(22) Sometimes spend whole days having pointless debates with invisible people.

IMPORTANT: If you know of other bad stuff I've done, or if you just have a vague but nagging suspicion that I MIGHT have done something bad or even borderline bad, I urge you to come forward now and not to wait until I am president of the United States. xo Sadie

Saturday, August 27, 2016

My Position on the White House Bees

One reason I would want to be president is because of the bees. Do you think for one minute that either Bill or Melania give a rat's ass about the White House bees? I honestly fear for all 70,000 of them if either Hillary or Donald gets elected. My husband, on the other hand, keeps a pot of honey on the kitchen table, and every morning he slices his baguette in two and puts orange marmalade on one half and a big dollop of honey on the other. He will protect the bees.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Running for Prez

Your new workplace.
Today a dear friend suggested that, were I to become the first female U.S. president, I “would not like the job.” Her concern triggered some serious soul-searching. If you, too, are thinking of running for president (because honestly, will there ever be a better time?), I urge you to ask yourself the following questions, which I have helpfully bullet-pointed.

* Are you qualified? I answered this question yes, because the job is basically making speeches, right? I’m pretty good at making speeches. I can even write my own. In fact, I've been writing my own speeches since seventh grade, when I did a humorous presentation, in Miss Weeks's English class, about how to give your dog a bath (my former classmates will testify to its success).

* Do you really want to live in Washington, D.C.? The fact that the job comes with a place to live is a plus for me, since I am essentially homeless, having spent the past five years living in my mother-in-law's apartment. On the minus side, D.C. is hot in summer and I have absolutely no friends there.

* Do you really want a chauffeur, a cook, a housekeeper, a secretary, and a private jet? Of course you do.

* Can you live with the office email system? Because I'm told it sucks. On the bright side: You will have your own office. Not a tiny cubicle furnished with a drawer full of paper napkins and plastic spoons and a dog-eared copy of Words Into Type but a real office with an ergonomic chair and a door that you can shut.

* Can you live on $400,000 per year and a pension of $200,000 (plus a little extra for things like postage)? Yeah, me too. I mean, I've never tried it, but I'm sure I could manage. Besides, as the first woman president in U.S. history, I bet I could get an amazing book deal.

xo Sadie

Above: President Obama meets with a Secret Service agent and his family in the Oval Office (2014).

In My First 100 Days As POTUS

Dear potential donor: Have you noticed that since this wacko election season began nobody has said boo about what he or she would actually do on the off-chance that he or she were to wind up in the Oval Office?

Let me be the first.

If I were POTUS, I would be-quick-as-a-bunny to act on the following initiatives in my first 100 days:

Agriculture. IMO, every public school and federal prison should have an organic garden, and the kids and the inmates should do the work. Research shows that pulling weeds and experimenting with kale recipes is good for people.

The environment. America has too many lawns and not enough butterfly gardens. Lawns are basically chemical dumps. Lady Bird Johnson planted wildflowers along the Interstate; I will ask people to toss out their power mowers and plant black-eyed Susans and milkweed.

The arts. Our nation is in serious need of art therapy—just look at all the nut jobs in politics today. I propose Art Fridays, when everybody—carwash attendants, corporate vice-presidents, congressional leaders—gets the day off to make and appreciate art.

Reforming our criminal justice system. We need to put more animals in prison. Caring for a pet makes us better people, and a lot of dogs, cats, and horses need a loving home.

Notice my use of the subjunctive, above: If I were POTUS, this is what I would do. Because I'm still asking myself whether being the nation's chief exec is a job that a sane person would volunteer for. Will let you know my decision by the end of next week.

Love, Sadie

PS The photo is of a community garden in Detroit.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Sadie the Cleaning Lady

I don't know about you, but I think this would make an excellent theme song for my new unofficial presidential campaign. The song was a hit in 1968 and it's still popular, at least in Australia. Here are the lyrics. Would love to know what you think.

Sadie, the cleaning lady
With trusty scrubbing brush and pale of water
Worked her fingers to the bone, for the life she had at home
Providing at the same time for her daughter

Ahh Sadie, the cleaning lady
Her aching knees not getting any younger
Well her red detergent hands, have for years not held a man's
And time would find her heart in spite of hunger

Scrub your floors, do your chores, dear old Sadie
Looks as though you'll always be a cleaning lady
Can't afford to get bored dear old Sadie
Looks as though you'll always be a cleaning lady

Ahh Sadie, the cleaning lady
Her female mind would find a way of trapping
Though as gentle as a lamb, Sam the elevator man
So she could spend the night by TV, napping

Ahh Sadie, the cleaning lady
Her aching knees not getting any younger
Well her red detergent hands, have for years not held a man's
And time would find her heart in spite of hunger

Ahh, scrub your floors, do your chores, dear old Sadie
Looks as though you'll always be a cleaning lady
Can't afford to get bored dear old Sadie
Looks as though you'll always be a cleaning lady

Ahh Sadie, the cleaning lady
Her Sam was what she got, hook, line and sinker
To her sorrow and dismay, she's still working to this day
Her Sam turned out to be a nervous figure

Ahh, scrub your floors, do your chores, dear old Sadie
Looks as though you'll always be a cleaning lady
Can't afford to get bored dear old Sadie (fade)

Why I Should Be President

Ever since I had a complete nervous breakdown for two days last spring, I have been wondering what to do with the rest of my life, and this morning, while peeling carrots for chicken curry, it came to me: I should run for president! Consider:
(1) I have never before run for public office and I have no political experience of any kind. This alone should endear me to millions of voters at both ends of the political spectrum.
(2) I happen to be a woman, so my presidency would be just as historic as Hillary's but without all that baggage, since I have never met Henry Kissinger or Dick Morris or any of those people.
(3) I have a nice husband. He would make a fine First Whatever. He is an immigrant, but the right kind of immigrant. Meaning that he comes from a country that is part of NATO.
(4) I can read (handy when using a teleprompter) and write (handy for signing bills into law).
(5) I do not have a dog. After I am elected, I will need to get one (every White House family should have a dog). Deciding what kind of dog I should get will spark a national debate, one that diverts media attention during my first 100 days. This is when I plan to sneak controversial legislation through Congress—i.e., while the dog debate is going on and attention is diverted.
(6) I love the arts. Every artist should vote for me. We will do lots of art projects while I'm in the Oval Office.
(7) I have not named any buildings after myself, so if you decide to name your building after me (because I'm the first woman prez and artists love me and all that), you can be the first.
(8) I am not as elderly as my potential rivals, both of whom are due for a major stroke or something. At least Ben Carson seems to think so, and he's a doctor so he should know.
(9) I am basically of sound mind, despite that wee episode back in April, which I will fully explain as soon as Donald Trump publishes his tax returns.
(10) Speaking of tax returns, I have filed one every year since 1972 and I can prove it. I used to spread everything out on the kitchen table but now I use Turbo Tax (like Mrs. Sanders). I have never been audited. Somewhere I read that never being audited is not necessarily a good thing (it means you might be paying too much), but for me it is.
Bonus: I have never been to prison, except to visit friends and relatives. My husband did once spend time in a Zambian jail cell, but that was before I knew him. Besides, he was never formally charged with a crime, and ultimately he escaped. If you want more details, you can read them here.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Why I Didn't Write This Week

Fakarava Lagoon on Bora Bora. This is where I was, mentally, on the evening of June 27. Photo: Grégoire Le Bacon
I was actually sitting right where I am now, on my living room sofa in Avon-sur-Seine, watching a YouTube video about Bora Bora, when I heard the thunk. It was nearly 7 p.m., and the street below our apartment was streaming with rush-hour traffic.
   The thunk was followed by dead silence and then a shout.
   That thunk, I thought, was a car hitting an object that was not very solid. Possibly a bicyclist or a pedestrian.
   My husband had gone down the street to Le Smile, the neighborhood pub, to have a beer with his friend Pascal.
   I thought, Patrick should be almost home by now.
   I thought, maybe I should investigate.
   I thought, but maybe I’ll just sit here and watch this Bora Bora video instead. Because if something bad is happening down there, it’s really not my business. There is nothing I can do. And Patrick will be home soon. So I’ll just finish watching this video and then we’ll have dinner.
   And then the phone rang. And I thought oh, shit.
   A man’s voice said in heavily accented English: “Your husband has been in an accident. He is in the street. He is okay. The doctor is here.”
   There was some muffled discussion and my husband’s voice came on the line.
   “Hello, darling. I’ve been hit by a car. I’m just across the street from the Carrefour Market.”
   “I’m coming.”
   Eight days later, Patrick came home from l’hopital de Fontainebleau with a broken pelvis and some spectacular bruises. His arms were wrapped in gauze, and there was a big bandage on his head. I went to the pharmacy for a wheelchair, a walker, pain medicine, sleeping pills, bandages, and compression socks.
   That is the number one reason why I didn’t write this week. Or last week. Or the week before. The accident happened 25 days ago.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Malintent: Airport Scanners in the Era of ISIS

This morning, as I was rifling through an online archive of stuff I wrote several years ago for Condé Nast Traveler I came across this ancient blog post about airport security (below), which mentions something called Malintent. The scanning system, which Homeland Security was developing at the time, was supposed to read your mind and warn the nation's supercops if you were planning to commit a crime. I, for one, assumed the crime would take place in midair, or perhaps on the runway, unless Malintent stepped up to save the day. Needless to say, the entire scenario sounded very Orwellian and sinister.
   Given recent events, I decided to check what was happening with Malintent. According to the DHS website, they're still working on it (it's now in a testing-and-tinkering phase).
   Europeans were not too keen on the scanning booths that were emigrating from America in 2008. Maybe they realized their limitations. It is hard to imagine how even Malintent might have prevented what happened in Brussels this week. Obviously, the world has changed a lot since the spyware development program began. By the way, the proper name for Malintent is Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST. 

October 31, 2008

Europe Balks at the Scanning Booth

The future of security scanning?
AP Photo
by Sara Tucker
Invasion of the body scanners!
Digital penetration!
The TSA wants to see you naked!
   Such were the warnings when scanners that bare all began cropping up in the nation's airports last year, starting in Phoenix. "Are you up for this?" Slate asked its readers as JFK and LAX stood in line to receive the equipment. "Are you ready to get naked for your country?"
   Then came this year's rollout and another spate of headlines. "Body-scanning machines that show images of people underneath their clothing are being installed in 10 of the nation's busiest airports," announced USA Today in June, calling the proliferation "one of the biggest public uses of security devices that reveal intimate body parts."
   But apart from the media and the ACLU, nobody seemed to care. Instead of an invasion of privacy or an Orwellian threat to their personhood, most passengers caught in the bovine shuffle through airport security perceived the glass booths as just another boring obstacle in the long, dull slog to their departure gates. That's because they "have no idea how graphic the images are," contends the ACLU's Barry Steinhardt.
   "In a nation infamous for its loud and litigious protesters, the silence, the absolute and utter silence on this issue is screaming," fumed a reader at Slashdot.

Now, however, the scanners are popping up in European airports, and the Europeans are saying not so fast. Citing "serious human rights concerns," EU lawmakers last week called for "a detailed study of the technology before it is used." Germany denounced the equipment as "nonsense."
The word from America: Get over it. Body scanners are "the wave of the future," a TSA official told USA Today back in June. "We're just scratching the surface of what we can do with whole-body imaging."
   In the works: A scanner that can read your mind. "Like an X-ray for bad intentions" is the way Fox News describes Malintent, a contraption that uses sensors and imagers to determine whether a passenger, say, is planning to blow up the plane.
   "There is a point at which you think--I can't write about this, it's a joke or a skit," notes technology blogger Renee Blodgett. "But it's not." Still in the testing phase, Malintent looks "very promising," according to a DHS spokesman.
   To those who would dismiss such gadgetry as "security theater," a reader of the "common sense" blog Ugly Ass Opinion ("Common sense still kicks ass") has this to say: "Homeland Security will now be sending an agent to live in each of your homes to make sure you're not a terrorist. . . . You must feed and clothe him at your own expense. He will bring his own toothpaste, though."

Further reading:
*India's use of brain scans in courts dismays critics (International Herald Tribune, September 2008)
*The Things He Carried: Airport security in America is a sham (Atlantic Monthly, November 2008)
*Homeland Security detects terrorist threats by reading your mind (Fox News, September 2008)
*Homeland (video): A seven-minute "thriller" from the 48 Hour Film Project (Best Editing, 2008)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

You Could Win a Dryer!

That is the subject line in an email that came today from Town and Country magazine, to which it seems I subscribe. A dryer? I had to know more, so I clicked. Sure enough, Hearst (the magazine’s publisher) is giving away a General Electric Gas Dryer With Stainless Steel Drum and Steam. For clothes. I don’t know what I was expecting. A dryer for apples, maybe? Or hair? Or coffee beans? Or . . . well, anyway, this one is for wet clothes. Do I want a dryer? No, I don’t. I already have one. Two in fact. One in Vermont, and one in France. So I didn’t enter the sweepstakes.
    But it got me thinking: Why would Town and Country, a posh magazine if ever there was one, come after me with a prosaic household appliance? I guess because Hearst also owns Good Housekeeping and lumps its subscribers together, but still. If I were into housekeeping (which I’m not), a nice prize would be a butler. Or a two-week vacation in the Bahamas, or a chalet in the French Alps.
    The incident reminded me of the time my husband, newly arrived in Fontainebleau (also posh, at least by our standards), was invited via a telemarketer to attend a luncheon about sweaters. It was a free lunch, so he went. The lunch was in a restaurant on Rue Grande, and there were about 40 people there. Everyone at his table thought they had come to hear about sweaters and enjoy French cuisine. Wrong: The presentation was about mattresses. To this day, he cannot explain it.
    PS: If you need a dryer, feel free to use my name. It seems you have two chances to win. Runner up gets a top-loading dryer with interior drum light. Your housekeeper is gonna love it.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Hunting Giants: A Spring Pilgrimage Through Western North Carolina in Search of the American Chestnut

Lumberjacks stand beside old-growth chestnut trees in North Carolina around 1910. (Forest History Society, Durham, N.C.)

“Imported on plant material in the late 19th century and first discovered in 1904 in New York City, the blight—an Asiatic fungus to which our native chestnuts had very little resistance—spread quickly. In its wake it left only dead and dying stems. By 1950, except for the shrubby root sprouts the species continually produces (and which also quickly become infected), the keystone species that had covered 188 million acres of eastern forests had disappeared.” —The American Chestnut Foundation

In a region famous for its picturesque settings, Francis Cove is exceptional, a rather largish bowl with an encircling ridgeline in the mountains of Western North Carolina, about two miles from downtown Waynesville. The cove faces more or less northeast and opens into a little valley. In the nineteenth century, this area produced some of the largest American chestnut trees ever recorded.
Except for the high tannin content and the resulting rot resistance of the wood, chestnut appears not to have been much valued as a timber species. It splits too easily for framing uses, and it often grew with a twist, somewhat offset by the fact that it might grow 100 feet before branches disturbed the trunk. This made it possible to get very long, unblemished beams from chestnut.
Around Waynesville, its chief value was for tannin extraction, and the Champion Paper Company of my childhood was the Champion Chestnut Extract factory of my father’s. Times change. The hill folk used to harvest the chestnut mostly for the tannin, and they called it “acid wood.” It was the chief source of natural tannin in the U.S. before the blight, and there was so much chestnut that many of the extraction factories were able to continue operation into the 1960s using standing dead stumps.
    Somewhere I had heard that the largest American chestnut on record was about twelve feet in diameter. One day I repeated this bit of hearsay in a casual conversation with someone at the American Chestnut Foundation (the goal of the ACF is to develop a blight-resistant tree and restore the American chestnut to its native range in eastern woodlands); one thing led to another, and retired UNCA professor Dr. Garrett Smathers dug up an actual reference, a tiny mention in Charlotte Hilton Green’s 1939 book Trees of the South. There she states, “Perhaps the largest of our American chestnuts was one in Francis Cove, western North Carolina, which had a diameter of seventeen feet and a height of more than one hundred feet.” Another colleague found a similar reference in a 1915 issue of American Forestry, which stated that “a tree with a diameter of seventeen feet has been recorded from Francis Cove in North Carolina.” Well, Garrett Smathers actually knew where Francis Cove was, and recalled knowing someone who knew where the stump of that old giant was. That’s how these things come about: threads of memory, oral history, dim recollections, some persistence and curiosity sometimes lead to the real thing. Thus began a pilgrimage in search of evidence of the perimeter of that tree. Garrett dug up some names, including Gene Christopher, who was a relative of Garrett’s late friend Mr. “Pink” Francis.

A Visit to Francis Cove
Francis Cove has been populated with the Francis and Christopher families for quite some time. In 1887, William Francis chose the site for a water-powered gristmill, now on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, Francis Cove is home to Christopher Farms, a small orchard that has been in family hands for generations.
Gene and Doug Christopher run not only the orchard but also a small retail produce enterprise, a slightly modernized version of the old mountain stores, which you can find today only in truly remote parts of Western North Carolina. The Christopher Farms store sells real sourwood honey (not clover with a sourwood label), a wide variety of apples, locally produced eggs, and 100 percent pure maple syrup. (A poster above the shelf of maple syrup informs you that Aunt Jemima syrup is 2 percent maple and the maple content of Log Cabin syrup is zero.) One of the store’s niceties is that you can call up and someone will take your order over the phone and box up the groceries so your granddaughter can pick them up—as one young woman was doing I arrived at the store.
With me was Dr. Paul Sisco, a geneticist for the American Chestnut Foundation and a world expert on this species. Our visit had a purpose other than getting us outside on a promising early spring day. We were trying to install a small demonstration chestnut planting at the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, forty minutes away, and we thought it might be nice to give folks a concrete idea of the actual size of these “redwoods of the East” by placing our kiosk in the center of a gravel pad of the same dimensions as a cross-section of this arboreal monster.
When we arrived, Gene (whom I had spoken to earlier on the phone) was off at jury duty and brother Doug was manning the store. Doug managed to break away from the busy phone long enough to walk us outside and point out where we should look. Neither he nor his brother had been up to the site for maybe fifteen or twenty years, and neither could promise that we would find anything. Doug volunteered a couple of interesting items: There were actually two big trees, the second nearly as large as the first; in the old days you could turn a cart around inside the larger tree. After giving us directions, Doug returned to the phone, and Paul and I were on our own.
Up through the woods we went. I was carrying an arsenal of camera hardware, including a digital camera and a camcorder, a vial for collection of chestnut debris for carbon-14 dating, orange flags to mark the perimeter for photographing, rope, a ruler, just the basics. Paul had about the same amount. Optimists. We stopped in the area where Doug had indicated we would find the first stump and began looking around.
As a woodcarver, I have found that chestnut has two distinct features. One is its slight baby-aspirin tint, coming from the tannins that preserve it. The other is its ease of carving, particularly when one is carving contours. As a rough field test, I use my pocketknife to shave through the exterior rot of a fallen limb, scrape down to solid wood, and then carve a curved cup. If it is “easy enough” and it is orange, it’s a safe bet it’s chestnut. Since these hills used to be covered with the stuff, it’s a pretty safe bet anyway.
Paul and I spent twenty minutes walking around the first site. The earth under our feet had that unmistakable feel of a springy mattress stuffed with centuries of humus, penetrated with the bones of dead trees and stumps—some of them chestnut but none of them large. Trickling invisible water . . . mushy, muddy places where seeps emerged out of sudden dips in the slope . . . wildflowers. Our exploration yielded some briar cuts, a warning from a neighborhood brace of watchdogs, and not much else. Halfway through the first site visit, I returned most of my data-collecting gear to the car.

The Second Site
The second site was at the top of the abandoned orchard. It had a lot of fallen timber. In the right places, chestnut has the look of driftwood, but here it looked more brown on the exterior. Doug had volunteered a few comments about the out-of-towner who had come up several years ago, planted the orchard between where the two trees once stood, then disappeared, leaving acres of untended trees right next to the impeccably maintained orchards of Christopher farms. The fellow had also overseen the obliteration of the entire mountainside of its timber. “Made his million and went back to Florida” was Doug’s comment on the subject.
Paul and I spent another half hour wandering in ever widening circles. The spring ground, even in late March, was beginning to sprout a lot of wildflowers. I felt guilty stepping on the bloodroot, trout lilies, wood anemones, and squirrel corn, and was truly surprised that they were out in such early abundance. I normally don’t even look until late April or early May.
Much of the fallen timber turned out to be chestnut, based on my little field test, but we were unable to locate the stump of the old giant. There was a lot of water and moisture on this side of the mountain, perhaps accounting for faster rot (and poorer fortunes for two amateur giant hunters) as well as for the size of these huge trees.
Nor were we able to find chestnut sprouts. The leaves were not out yet, but you can still usually identify them. Paul had heard that where you find chestnuts easily today is in places where they grew most poorly in the past. That’s because many trees have problems growing in those places. But where they formerly grew best, any tree can grow, and the niche of the chestnut was quickly filled with other species. In fact, some biologists say that the best thing ever to happen to biodiversity in our mountains was chestnut blight, since the more commercially valuable oaks, poplars, and hickory colonized the empty chestnut stands. (These biologists don’t get invited to my house for dinner much!)

Vanishing Traces
We went back down to report to Doug that we had found nothing and were fortunate to run into Gene, who had just gotten off jury duty. He took a few minutes to run us back up the hill and point out exactly where the tree had been. We had been looking about 100 yards too far to the left, and he pointed out the little rise and the flat upon which he recollected the stump had been. Gene said that the big tree had yielded twelve to fourteen chords of acid wood, or about 1,800 cubic feet. His grandfather and father had harvested it around the turn of the century.
He also said that the forest we were looking at had already been cut twice in his lifetime (he was about sixty years old) and that it was within twenty years of another harvest. That would mean one heck of a lot of productivity for this site, and might explain why the biggest chestnuts were found here.
Gene drove back down the hill to the busy store, and Paul and I trudged through the woods to the designated place, but we were unable to find even a hint of the big tree—which is pretty much what one would expect when a tree has been gone for 100 years. It’s a miracle that there was any crumb left fifteen years ago when Gene recalled last seeing it.
We just don’t find big chestnuts stumps any more. Even the biggest stumps can’t last forever. But at least we did get to the site. The earth that supported these big trees remains intact, no matter how many “foreigners” mow it down from time to time. It can support the chestnut again. All that’s missing in the equation is the chestnut, and we’re working on that. I’m planning a visit back there in 700 years to see the replacement trees. Paul, unfortunately, will be too old by then to go with me. But I’ll take some pictures for him.
And the site did yield something for me: a rusted lucky horseshoe, complete with a nail or two. Maybe off a horse and cart that used to turn around in the old stump? I’d like to think that, anyway.
Forrest MacGregor is an engineer, inventor, and artist who hails originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina. He currently lives in Randolph, Vermont. Much of his art and writing explores modern man’s relationship to technology.