Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cocktails for two (hundred)

Mrs. Hall, cheered by the fact that her pater familias had yet again thumbed his nose at the medical profession, defied tradition to the tune of beating the odds and walking away unscathed, took a moment or two to raise a glass and give thanks early, ahead of the rush.

"Well," she began, "it was a very harrowing week earlier, but things are starting to look up." Mr. Hall was busy adjusting his tie. "Have you found that invitation yet?" he asked. In her anxiety, Mrs. Hall had misplaced an invitation to a cocktail reception for WCNY at King and King Architects' new flagship building on the west side. "Don't worry about it, dear," he soothed. "I know where we're going."
It would have been hard to miss. Flaggers waved the guests into the parking lots and though their new downtown location was in a very hard and dark part of town, the bright lights glittering through the new glass showed quite a well-heeled crowd swelling around a check-in table in the lobby.
Of course, not five feet into the structure, Mr. Hall stretched out his hand. "Ho, there- Bob! How are you?" and he was met by the same happy response. Directing the kickoff presentation was long time friend and the director of their little movie intro at WCNY last year, Bob Papaleoni. "Things are starting to hop. The mayor's not here yet, but Nancy Cantor is and I think I see Joannie Mahoney cutting into the drink line over there."
The room was packed, so they squeezed their way over to the buffet and stood in line. "This should be quite a nice little soiree," began Mr. Hall, as the president of WCNY started to speak- when all of a sudden the lights went out. A few excited squeals let out, but the professionals running the show took it all in stride; it was the work of five minutes or so and things were rolling along smoothly again.
Mayor Stephanie Minor gave a wonderful speech, all the speakers were mercifully brief and after a lively and informative video extolling the virtues of donating vast sums of money to their cause, the gathering had, for all intents and purposes, fulfilled its requirements. "Shall we be rolling along now?" asked Mrs. Hall, but Mr. Hall was engaged elsewhere; eschewing the video entirely, and reminiscing with fellow radio personality Bill Baker behind one of the buffet tables. "Come along, dear," she said. "The cats are waiting for us to feed them at home." They wrapped themselves up against the dark night and sped back to the Hall.

Friday, November 11, 2011

With (H)all Gratitude

To all our sons and daughters in the military today,

whether retired or active:

From all of us at
Penguin Hall- Thank you.

(And lest we forget-)
to all our four legged friends
who have served as well:

Thanks and a head scritch to you, too!

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Case of the Office Envy

Mrs. Hall had been looking at mid century modern homes in Las Vegas online for some time. The thought of purging all her old traditional furniture for a more contemporary look was beginning to truly appeal to her (chuckling all along that it was delightful that a sixty year old sofa could genuinely be referred to as "contemporary") and she found herself yearning for examples of the period to emulate.

She sipped her coffee as she stood at the newsstand at Wegmans and sighed. Staring back at her was a glut of magazines now touting the virtues of this century's take on last century's innovations, but what she really craved was the look of the real thing. She tried to imagine the classiest versions she could think of; the only ones that came to mind were the television incarnations she remembered from her youth. Not those horrible suburban living rooms with their faux-colonial stuffed couches and maple end tables; but the flashy, modern environs created by a superior race of designers that all seemed to come from Scandinavia. The first thing that came to mind was Perry Mason's office.

In the past, her main impetus for watching the old Perry Mason show was for the cars. While Raymond Burr may have been nothing like the lawyer Erle Stanley Gardner envisioned, and while his courtroom antics were, well sometimes circusy ( seriously- if you've just committed a felony, would you really stick around and see how it played out in court?)- the best reason for tuning in was to see the fancy pants wheels he was thrashing about the California landscape in, week after week. (Paul Drake apparently was doing pretty well for himself, as well.) GM and Ford were trading sponsorship of the series over the years, and it made for some lively rides for the boys; Perry got to drive a '57 Ford Skyliner with one of the industry's first power retractable hardtops and Paul switched between a Thunderbird and a Corvette.
But his success in the courtroom revealed itself more tacitly in his office surroundings. Maybe because it was so frequently seen only at night, maybe because it was in glorious black and white with all those delicious edgy shadows; whatever the reason, the office seemed to convey a form of California cool so enticing, it practically stood out as a character of the show in its own right. (In fact, a wonderful study of its exact dimensions and accessories can be found here, and an dandy interactive architectural rendering - with pics to support the views- can be seen here. Many thanks to D. M. Brockman for his tireless research and his charming website.)
That's exactly the look I want, thought Mrs. Hall to herself, and she slapped shut the latest glossy decorating edition chock full of useless advertisements. Now all I have to do is find a warehouse full of untouched sixty year old furniture waiting for me at rock bottom prices. She decided not to hold her breath waiting for that to happen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

We're only young two or three times at most...

"Hey look! I can get this thing up to fourth gear in the parking lot!" Mr. Hall gripped the door handle. Mrs. Hall was taking another lesson in piloting a stick shift car. "Okay- that's enough of that. Let's pretend there's a stop sign up ahead now." There seemed to be more activity in the high school parking lot than usual for a weekend and Mr. Hall was concerned about a nearby school bus that was conspicuously moving itself to the other side of the yard. "I'm getting to old for this. Flight instructing was less harrowing." Mrs. H. pulled Winston up to a neat stop and promptly stalled the motor. "Darn.." she muttered. "There,'re doing better every time." consoled Mr. Hall. "But we have to get going; we wanted to get some shopping done and we have to be ready for that dinner tonight." They hustled on over to the Wegman's grocery store in Fairmount.
Fall temperatures bring on the instinct to hoard and Mrs. Hall had been cooking and baking up a storm all weekend. While searching for the perfect head of cabbage, however, she realized she had inadvertently lost Mr. Hall. She strolled about the seasonal department until she came up behind him. Though the Please Do Not Touch sign was clearly posted, Mr. Hall's desire to play engineer was too strong to be denied. Photographic evidence, while proving he did in fact succumb to temptation, fails to fully document his particularly skillful application of the train whistle at strategic moments. Mrs. Hall patted him on the back and promised him one of those for Christmas if he was a good boy.
They toddled on home to change. The annual Matron/Patron appreciation dinner that night was being held at one of the Hall's favorite nearby restaurants and the attendance that night was terrific. The group filled two long tables in the back of the room, and squished in with the Halls along the back wall was Mary Perry and her daughter, little Mary Margaret. Ms. Perry had recently visited the Hall and was introduced to their signature martini after a long rehearsal one evening. She was regaling the table with what she had learned regarding the proper procedures for handling such delicate spirits: "Susan taught me this easy way to remember what to do with martinis. GIN has an 'i' in it, so you stir it (stir has an i in it, too), and VODKA has an 'a' in it, so you shake it, because shake has an a in ...well, you get the idea."
"Very good!" replied Mrs. Hall. "I've always found it easiest to teach, especially to children, when you have a mnemonic device." "What?!?" gasped Mary Margaret, and her eyes got big as plates. "You teach that martini stuff to children?!?" and she looked at Mrs. Hall with fresh respect. Mr. Hall just shook his head. "Time to go home, my dear," he said. "And I'm driving."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ghost story

In upstate New York, there are frequently days in the fall when the overcast is so complete and pervasive, that without the benefit of a watch or some other point of reference, it's truly impossible to tell what time it is. Thursday was one of those days.
Mrs. Hall packed her car, prepared a large travel mug of steaming joe and left a bowl of cat chow out for the cats. Mr. Hall was already hard at work, but Mrs. H. had to drive down to Binghamton to register for the Grand Chapter proceedings for her fraternal organization, an engagement slated to occupy the better part of her weekend.
Registration had begun at one o'clock, and ticking that off killed a solid half an hour. Since there was nothing more to do after that until the cocktail reception at six (a function she was dreading anyway, without Mr. Hall on her arm) she found herself in the unique position of finally being in her old stomping grounds again, free of obligation and alone with the company of her own memories. It was a luxury long denied.
Forty or fifty years of progress had wiped away most of the landmarks she could recall; a glance at her electronic map revealed a red gash indicating a highway that subdivided what used to be a smaller working class neighborhood. She frowned, puzzled by what looked like a foreign landscape, but luckily, the GPS wasn't hobbled by old memories. It blithely directed her under and around the stanchions supporting the thruway and eventually down a more or less familiar avenue. Even though the concrete wall that now dominated the end of the street had effectively cut it off from all but the most determined locals, it had also inadvertently rescued it from the harsher effects of the creeping urban blight lurking just on the other side. She drove down the street slowly, not because she was afraid she would miss anything, but because her eyes kept playing tricks on her; one minute the road was grey and bleak, another it was something entirely different. Stopping in front of number 94, she rolled down the window and pulled out her camera.
She suddenly felt conspicuous; a gentleman next door with a walker squinted at her. Mrs. Hall pulled the car up a little closer to the curb. "I'm just visiting an old neighborhood," she explained. "My grandfather used to live here. His name was John Pranitis."
"I've lived here 41 years," he said. "I remember him; I used to work on his car. He was a wonderful man. You see, these folks haven't kept the house up very well." She shrugged. All that really mattered to her was that it was still there. She thanked him for his kind words and drove on.

She plugged in another address in the GPS. It plotted a trail so unlike the one she had envisioned, she turned it off and headed west unaided. A few minutes later, she slid up along the curbside of another familiar venue and idled the engine. Clearly the years, as well as the subsequent owners, had been kinder to this old place. What is it about childhood memories that always make you remember things as being larger than they actually are, she thought. She drove along a route so entrenched in her memory she scarcely had to think about it, and despite the fact that as a child she could have sworn the old school was at least two miles away, the odometer proved just how fickle our memories can be. She drove to a parking lot and walked the rest of the way to the top of the hill, only to find that the the old merry-go-round in the park was boarded up for the season. A train whistle blew in the distance. It was time to go. It was so strange to see things so familiar look so different; was it that they had changed so much or had she just not remembered right in the first place? She shrugged and got back in the car. All that mattered to her was that they were still there.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ars Gratia Artis, 'cause that's the way we roll around here

Despite the fact that the children are scattered all over the country, reports do come in occasionally regarding their escapades. The editors at the Monitor, having been queried now and then about their well-being, offer to the Gentle Reader these tidbits, for their approval:

Colleen is in what can only be described by Mrs. Hall as the perfect relationship for a young lady with considerable art work that needs to be accomplished; that is to say, she is involved with a young man who currently resides a half a world away. Young Simon Thelning, who used to attend CCA along with Colleen, had to return to New South Wales, Australia last summer. They maintain communication, however, and a portrait he created of Colleen was recently spotted online. The editors of the Monitor, while recognizing that they are hardly experts in the field of art critique, do admit there is more than a passing resemblance to Mistress Colleen, and that the very accomplished Mr. Thelning seems to have captured a moment of pout perfectly.

Master Ian has been transferred to Ft. Meade, and of late has been training to be a combat correspondent. In a post to Mrs. Hall last week, he included this photo of one of his textbooks. Mrs. H. was appropriately jealous. While he has also been offered the chance to attend the broadcasting training as well, he is hesitant to accept anything that will delay his departure to parts unknown. The editors wish him well in his work, and hope he will confine his future spelling/grammar/syntax corrections of the Monitor to personal, not public, emails to them.

Master Christopher, fresh from his recent attendance at PAX Prime 2011 in Seattle, has checked in chock full of information and excitement for the world of gaming and game development. His trip was deemed a hugh success. Chris managed to take in not only the massive annual gaming convention, but the first installation of the new developers conference (PAX Dev) that preceded the convention this year. The press and media were not allowed at PAX Dev, so it was a strictly learning and networking event. Chris let on that he is currently working on some projects of his own, so the Monitor will continue to check back with him frequently. His most immediate plans, however, involve working long hours at Maxwell AFB and, on occasion, relaxing by hitting the gaming tables in Biloxi MS. Good luck, Chris!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mixing Business with Pleasure (and chocolate!)

"There's no keynote speaker this year??" cried Mrs. Hall, as she perused the convention booklet. "How on earth do they expect to get anyone from the eastern side of the state all the way out here?" The New York State Funeral Directors Association (acronymically referred to as "NYSFDA") had, in the past, scheduled some pretty high powered talent to speak at their conventions; but times being what they were, the powers that be had apparently scaled back the budget. Not only was there no featured celebrity in the field, but, as some were mumbling, it was on the 'shabby' side of the falls. "So much for home town boosterism," remarked Mr. Hall. Patriotism aside, however, the Canadians did seem to have the whole tourist thing down so much better in Niagara. Their gardens were lovely and pristine, and their boulevard overlooking the falls boasted some of the nicest hotels around. But the American side was where the convention was being held, so that was where the Halls were heading.
"The brochure says they have a block of rooms over at that Sheridan across the street from the Convention Center- are we staying there?" asked Mrs. H. tentatively. Mr. Hall assured her no; he had already made reservations at her favorite Hamptons, and Mrs. H. sighed a sigh of relief. (He made a great show of making it seem as though no sacrifice was too great for Mrs. H. but the reality was, the rooms were considerably less expensive and they accrued points for the stay as well. This was not, as they say, the first time to the rodeo for Mr. Hall.)
Without the usual two hour block of time allotted to their celebrity showstopper, the convention got down to brass tacks fairly quickly. To make the most of the seminars, the Halls usually split up and after taking notes, regrouped during the exhibition hours. The lessons seemed like slim pickings this year, but the organization had gone all out for the trade show end of it, and the strolling lunch stations were wonderful. "Is that a chocolate 'martini' station over there?" asked Mrs. Hall incredulously. Sure enough, mountains of candy sprinkles and bonbons were artfully arranged, between the casket salesmen and the mortuary shipping supplies. The hostess was scooping the sugary options over a thick chocolaty mixture poured into cocktail glasses. "I think I'll stick to the more traditional ones," said Mr. Hall, and suppressed a gag. His opinion notwithstanding, there were long lines of ladies queuing up for seconds.
A couple of days of mortuary accounting, cremation liability and funeral law sessions can wear on a person after a while, so it was with great relief the Halls faced the last day of seminars. "Take a look at all the serious swag I managed to snag in the exhibition room this week. " said Mrs. Hall, as she struggled to cram them into her bags. Mr. Hall chuckled and donned a baseball cap. "After this morning, I've got all the credits I need for this trip; how about we head on over the bridge and walk around the Canadian side?" Mrs. Hall was only too happy to agree.
Passing the souvenir stands and tourist traps along the way, they headed for the border post. Happy couples posed for pictures along the bridge and the Halls accommodated a number of them by taking pictures of them with their cameras. No matter what the season or the state of the markets, Niagara Falls continues to draw romantics from all over the world. They walked along the manicured gardens and marvelled at the mist rising from the gorge. After grabbing a snack in town, they crossed back into the US. "Do you feel up to getting a little wet?" asked Mr. Hall. "I've always wanted to take that path that runs right up to the American Falls. Are you game?" Mr. Hall, being the gentleman that he was, felt compelled to ask first, even though he already knew the answer would be yes; there is rarely an adventure Mrs. Hall declines. Taking the elevator right down to the rocks below, they trod the slippery gravel path that wound around the edge of the falls. A gentle breeze blew the cooling mist over them as their fellow tourists giggled and snapped pictures. Though a variety of languages could be heard in the group, it hardly required a linguist to translate the delight and awe in their voices.
On the way back to their hotel, they passed the Seneca Indian casino. "Just a little stop, just for a short while?" pleaded Mr. Hall. Mrs. Hall agreed, on one condition; earlier in the day she had talked some of the salesmen at the US Air booth into placing their large size table model of a Boeing 767 into the silent auction. They had to stop back and see if they had won.
Mr. Hall emerged, an hour or so later, somewhat wealthier for the experience, but it was short-lived. Mrs. Hall was seen jumping about, looking for him. "We won- we won the model in the auction!" she said. "Now all we have to do is write these nice folks a check!" Mr. Hall sighed and took out his checkbook.
It wasn't long afterwards the Halls could be seen, winging their way back to Syracuse. Winston groaned under the weight of all that swag, and Mrs. Hall was visible, but only barely- hiding behind a huge white box bearing their prize plane.

The Best and the Bright(on)est

Winston shone in the sunlight like a shiny green beetle. Mr. Hall drove him around and picked up Mrs. Hall in front of the lobby of the hotel. "Just for old times' sake," he began- "I just want to take a swing by the old homestead." Mrs. Hall nodded and Winston took off as if he knew the way all by himself.
Where once an orchard and a largely uninhabited stand of woods stood long ago, a small sub-division had grown up. Winston turned off of Woodland Park onto Hallridge Road; so named for the man who had once owned the entire hillside area, and who also happened to be Mr. Hall's father. A few short years ago, they had visited this spot and although the waterfront was showing signs of a revival, Mr. Hall's childhood house was up for sale. A quick inquiry proved why; in the face of the housing bubble, the realtors were asking an exorbitant price. A year later, upon revisiting it, the home was still on the market, but now for a more reasonable and realistic price. This year proved the most satisfying of the lot, however. Not only had the property sold, but the new owners had improved upon the lot in a most agreeable fashion. It was a pleasure to see it used and enjoyed. As they drove past town, they passed the old Hall's Market, where Mr. Hall, his father and grandfather had once worked so many years ago. It was a comfort to see it was still a neighborhood fixture in the area.
"Looks like there's a little weather coming in," remarked Mr. Hall, surveying the horizon, and truer words could not be spoken, for as soon as they cleared the outer markers beyond Big Pine Island Lake, the rains started to come down.
Winston splashed down the highway at a rate somewhat higher than the posted speed limit, but still couldn't manage to outrun the storm. By late evening, the little green car finally crawled up the driveway of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Pranitis' home in Brighton MI and the Halls ran through the raindrops to get in. Rick and Gail had invited them for a stay and their always gracious (and tasty!) welcome was just what the doctor ordered.
After burning the midnight oil a bit, trading stories and generally getting caught up, Mrs. Hall was somewhat sluggish about rising, but when Gail told her they were going to check out a local art festival in town, her interest perked considerably. Nothing beats finding new talent on the ascent, thought Mrs. Hall, and certainly an educated and intelligent community like Brighton would likely have some of the best and the brightest.
That the town embraced la vie artistique, was clearly apparent. Everywhere they walked were touches of adornment and sculpture. "Though I'm sure I'm supposed to be full of refinement now, I'd have to say my stomach is registering on empty. How about we break for some lunch?" said Mr. Hall. Rick and Gail were right on the money with the perfect spot. Bagger Dave's was right down the street, and after admiring the train pictures and the model train running around the ceiling of the bar, Mr. Hall finally settled down and ordered.
His inner man having been quieted at least for the moment, the little group returned to the fair. They wandered around for a while and after a few hours more of the quietly inspired lunacy, decided it was time to call it a day. Picking up their stuff from the house, the Halls thanked Rick and Gail for a lovely time, hugs went all around at least twice along with promises to get together again soon, and they were off.
As they waited in line at the Canadian border, Mrs. Hall wondered aloud if the adjacent car's owner had left his miniature dog in charge of the wheel while he made a pit stop, but Mr. Hall ignored her. "Next stop- Niagara Falls!" he announced, but she was already dropping off to sleep. Next episode: Taking sides (of the Falls)- stay tuned!

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