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.

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