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.