Tuesday, September 29, 2009

And so begin the fall festivities...

“But Mom- you promised!”
Mrs. Hall looked up from her Sunday paper and at the low hanging clouds outside. If we go for pumpkins right now, we might only get slightly soaked, she thought hopefully to herself. Grabbing her Burberry’s trencher, she sighed, “Gather up your brother and assemble in the van. We’re going to get some pumpkins. ” Amid cheers and whoops, the little band bounced over the countryside to Tim’s Pumpkin Patch. The young ones are not so young anymore, but who can resist the appeal of an open field and the choice of hundreds of thousands bright orange orbs, all begging to be taken home and carved? Certainly not the Halls. “Wow- we’re havin’ some fun now!” exclaimed Master Ian, as he ran down the gravel path with the wheelbarrow, full of muddy rain water. The first wheelbarrow full took nearly 45 minutes to bring back to the van, soaking wet and exhausted; the second barrowful took only a half hour, having dug a deep enough rut in the muddy field to find their way back again. Photographic evidence of their “fun” reveals that, while they may have arrived neatly attired, the pumpkin patch took a muddy toll on their clothing, and also, much to Mrs. Hall’s chagrin, her chariot. It was to the aged van's credit that it still managed to toddle over hill and dale, bearing three medium sized folks and several hundred extra pounds of gourds.
Perhaps it was the rain, running down her face and washing her makeup off, but Mrs. Hall, for one brief moment, began to mist up. O, for the old days, she began to reminisce; the days when you two were so small I could put you in a cart with the pumpkins themselves. In those days, they used to “haunt” the old Goebbert’s Farm and Market, in Barrington IL. The old farm is long gone, but the happy memories of frolicking with the animals in the petting zoo and picking those perfect pumpkins linger on. Posted here, for those Gentle Readers who remember it, are some shots of that once charming destination, including the gleaming orange buck-toothed pumpkin atop the silo, that could be seen for miles away, down the highway.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It's why they call it Grand Rapids

“A little more to the left, I think, dear.”
Mr. Hall was struggling with his tie and cummerbund Monday night. He had been procrastinating getting dressed for yet another Eastern Star meeting and was now muttering under his breath as he fought with his collar. Mrs. H. was putting on her pearls when his pager, set to vibrate, began buzzing and hopping across the top of the bureau. “Did you say something?” she asked, from the bathroom.
“Hot dog! It’s a death call!” he whooped, and Mr. Hall set the land speed record for formal to khaki in 60 seconds or less. The black tie was still floating over the bedspread as he raced down to the hanger. Mrs. Hall looked out the window in time to see the big black car speeding around the corner. Flying solo again tonight, she sighed. So she was very surprised to see him slide in later and join her for cakes and coffee at the end of the meeting; and even more surprised to see him in good spirits. “Only two more days”, he whispered in her ear, giddily. “Two more days til Michigan!”
Indeed, Mr. Hall had been craving an infusion of Midwest hospitality for some time and it was with genuine relief he locked the doors of the funeral home behind him Thursday afternoon and pointed the big black car west again. Burning up the highways through New York and Canada, they arrived, seven hours later, parched but happy, at that Owosso hideaway, The Korner Bar. Their favorite bartender, Theresa, whom the Halls see but once a year, recognized them immediately. From their casual approach to spelling outside, to the relaxed and friendly atmosphere inside, the Korner Bar is always the Hall’s gateway to a great weekend.
Paul Arntz has been friends with Mr. Hall since they were toddlers growing up at Big Pine Island lake, and he and his wife, Jan, welcomed the Halls in style. It had been the custom of the Halls to meet them at their summer home in Paradise Cove Trailer Park, near Sand Lake, and take their boat/party barge out on the lake for a spin; but the Halls had been so late getting out this season, that the Arntz’ had already returned to their home in Hudsonville. Hudsonville is enjoying a growth spurt of late, riding on the wave of new development flowing from the vibrant city of Grand Rapids. After visiting Paul’s brother Dan, the little band took a tour of the Chapel in the Pines Campgrounds. They strolled around the lake, chatting with those few campers that were still left this late in the year, and ended up at the Gospel Music Barn, located just beyond the hook-ups with no water. The weather was gorgeous but after all that healthy air it was time for a change, so they headed over to the American Legion Post for a short beer. Smoking in restaurants has been a thing of the past for some time in NY, but the good folk of Michigan have not quite warmed up to that level of intrusion in their lives, and it is a matter of some small comfort to the Halls to know that walking into any given pub in the state, they will likely encounter that homey blue haze. Michiganers are enlightened enough, however, Mr. H. noted, to sell caskets at the local Costco.
The Halls did find time to take in some of the sights in Grand Rapids; the Amway Grand Hotel was delightful, the art museum was highlighting some early pieces by Saarinen père & fils, but the real fun was out on the sidewalks. Apparently the town had invited local artists to fill the streets with all manner of unscripted and spontaneous performance art, and the city was alive with music, dancing and rampant creativity.
The service called Mr. Hall later that evening, and plans for staying an extra day unfortunately evaporated. Putting the youthful exuberance of the city behind them, they dashed on over to the home of Mrs. Hall’s brother Rick and his lovely wife Gail, for an abbreviated visit. They always manage to squeak in time for good wine and even better food, and it was with true regret that the Halls had to cut short enjoying the hospitality of two of Brighton’s most lively and informed hosts. Sad (but full!) they waved good bye from the cockpit window, sped on home again, and returned refreshed to their labors.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Scraps from the back of the Penguin Hall Closet

It was well past the hour when sensible people should be out, Mrs. Hall remembers. Checking the bottom of the third (or was it fourth?) bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for the dregs, and sitting back contentedly, she remarked that although she felt the drink was inferior to begin with, such were the subtleties of the wine that after just one or two bottles it had improved immeasurably. It was a chummy little band; they had just consumed considerable amounts of naked oysters, and several disguised as Rockefellers and the glow of the fireplace and companionship had warmed their souls and loosed their tongues. Unka Knubby, in the corner, rousted himself from his reveries and wondered aloud how it was that folks began eating these delicacies. Funny you should ask, said Mrs. H. I've done some research recently and it's quite a story. And so she began to relate...

"The Mysterious Origins of Ingesting Oysters Revealed*"

"The sun beat down on an ancient and dissolute Norman one day, who spied an approaching Gaul; and having used up all his meager repertoire of amusement early on, and being a Norman of No Small Repute, he slung a worthy and opprobrious remark impugning the Gaul's manhood. The Gaul took the bait admirably, and marching squarely up to the Norman, demanded he name the challenge that would settle the score. The Norman, looking about and laying eyes on a fishing boat close at hand, reached into a nearby bucket of sludgy dredges and discards of a day's work and pulled forth an oyster. 'I dare you to eat what lies within,' he demanded."
"The Gaul replied, 'I'll not recede, but happily eat the phloem of this bivalve', and with a mild shudder, swallowed the snot in a shell. He closed his eyes, fighting the urge to reel; then, not being half the idiot he looked, opened his eyes and rolling them back in what feeble Gaulic lasses usually interpreted as rapture, said, 'What serendipitous slander on the part of this Norman has led me to find such ambrosia? This is the puddin' of the Gods!' The Norman, not one to miss a culinary cue, plunged his hand into the bucket for another, scrambled to open the ragged shell and slipping the slimy contents down his throat, broke into a craggy semblance of delight himself."
"The two, now smug and warm in the glow of a friendship based on mutual boondogglery, embraced; rambling forth to a cozy pub to share a cup and spread their mischief. Thus, the myth of oysters as exquisite comestibles was born."
*(Ed. note: some of the old timers from Penguin Hall may remember this from about 12 years ago; the editors at PHM thought perhaps they may like hearing it again.)

Editorial disputes

A small child was reading aloud from one of the books in the library at the Hall the other day, and happened upon the word “sans”, pronouncing it very literally as SANS. “But that’s the way it’s spelled!” burst out the infant, but Mr. Hall, ever the soul of patience, replied that while that was exactly true, it was properly pronounced SAN. “Unlike the case of myself and Mrs. Hall” he admitted, “the second ‘S’ is silent.”

As she is frequently filled to the brim with fizz and good fun, Mrs. Hall sometimes cannot wait to add little bits to the Monitor, but it has been the policy from the first, that Mr. H. should hold editorial sway over the contents. From time to time, however, there are disputes. Such was the case on a most recent occasion, when, upon returning from a convention with those livewires, the funeral directors of New York, Mrs. Hall could not refrain from commenting on their wacky activities. Of course, Mr. Hall would never permit something like that to go to press. The Monitor is happy to report that that little contretemps was happily resolved.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Pictures are worth 140 characters

The Monitor is ever mindful that the Gentle Reader may not necessarily be informed of the latest in social or internet fads, and as a courtesy to its members, would like to take a moment to bring those readers not familiar with the networking shorthand known as “Twitter” up to speed. The brief missives known as “tweets” enliven most workstations and help keep friends and associates updated throughout the day of one’s whereabouts or occupations. ("It's not as easy as it sounds," says Mrs. Hall. "You're limited to only speaking about 140 of the most interesting characters you know, and that's often hard to do." Mr. Hall usually sends her off to get him a headache powder at this time. )
Although it is called “Twitter”, it might have just as easily been named “Dither”, “Babble” or “Cackle”, for whether your bon mots are verbal or electronic, unless you are a virtual Noel Coward of the keyboard, chances are your tweets will wind up being as mundane as your deeds.
Punctuating these little lines are sometimes links to a service known as “Twitpic” which allows tweeters to upload photos they have taken “on the fly”, so to speak, and share them immediately with other tweeters. The Monitor has posted some of these on Twitter in the past, and for the benefit of those with neither the option nor the desire to sign up, here are a few of the images from the last few months:

"Looks like one of those puzzles 'See how many former presidents you can find in this picture!' At least you can tell she's a reader... "
Scenes like this are rarely posted; it’s not that the Monitor has any restriction in place that prohibits it from publishing pictures of the Hall, it’s just that sometimes it’s wiser not to invite criticism from other sources; i.e. relatives or helpful neighbors.

"Death takes a holiday- you'd think he could afford better wheels."
Taken one day coming out of Swaby’s after dinner. For one brief moment, Mr. Hall considered the possibility that perhaps he had gotten some bad cherries in his Manhattan.

"Vox Populi? Spotted at Liberty and Spencer Streets in Syracuse; this is one grassroots movement we hope won't catch on."
Just one of those situations for which the editor is grateful the reporters keep their cameras on them at all times.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Baden our time at the Sagamore

Perusing the schedule of speakers at this year's NYSFDA convention, Mr. Hall had sighed and written off the affair as just another rehash of tired old material; but the keynote speaker caught his eye and he ordered Mrs. H. to the keyboard. "Conjure us up some rooms at Lake George, dear. We're headed north!" Loading up the big black car and taxiing out of the funeral home hanger early Monday afternoon, they braved the Albany traffic and arrived in Lake George Village in time for dinner. Several gooey ribs and a few smart cocktails later, they toddled off to slumber.
Bright and early the next morning, in the company of a few hundred other fellow funeral directors, they wiped the dew (and any other remaining alcoholic residue) from their eyes and sat up at attention to hear Dr. Michael Baden, chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police, impart the wisdom of his many years. Those who may believe that the dead don't tell tales have simply not been listening closely enough, for Dr. Baden has had a lifetime of teasing the truth from these very reticent witnesses to crime and history. The long and impressive list of high profile cases he's worked on would have made him a fascinating study all alone, but his natural good humor and common sense made him a sparkling speaker altogether and the measly two hours he was granted only scratched the surface of his amazing career.
Out of consideration for the tender sensibilities of the Gentle Reader, the Monitor will not go into the more grisly details of his presentation, but suffice it to say, it was informative, surprizing and satisfying in the extreme. Mrs. Hall took notes at the table but Mr. Hall was seen shaking hands not only with Dr. Baden before the seminar, but also commenting on the state of the industry with Vernie Fountain, Embalmer and Post Mortem Reconstructive Specialist. The Halls have attended several of Mr. Fountain's seminars and his reconstructive work is nothing short of magical.
De rigour at the conference, of course, is the Exhibitor displays in the hall, complete with strolling lunch stations and gourmet cookie desserts. While it's not uncommon to see some of their fellow attendees sliding their arms across the displays, shoving promotional boodle into their monikered non-woven trade show bags like there was no tomorrow, Mr. Hall saw nothing particularly noteworthy this year, and eschewing the countless coffee mugs and endless parade of refrigerator magnets, he headed over to the casket showcase. Mrs. Hall busied herself making a Chicago style hotdog, with all the fixings, at the food island, carefully avoiding any item that smacked of organic, fortified or (shudder) heaven forbid, free range. She had been contemplating bidding on the gift basket in the silent auction that contained a wooden facsimile of an old beer advert, some napkins, glass cozies, two ceramic beer steins bearing the countenances of Schultz and Dooley and some old Utica Club beer bottles, but that old buzzkill, reason prevailed and reluctantly, she let it pass. They met at the pavillion door on the way out, satisfied they had surveyed the landscape sufficiently and headed back to the hotel.
The lake glittered and the cocktail parties beckoned, but the Halls had miles to go before they slept. Stopping only in Saratoga, at Mrs. Hall's insistence, to purchase baked goods from the famous Mrs. London's Bakery, they managed to make good time, thanks to a hefty tail wind, and blew into the old homestead early.

Tell your friends!