Just a speed bump on the road between Hallowe’en and Christmas.
It’s my favorite holiday.
Only having to be thankful and eat the same bounteous goodness every year, watch football, may be go hunting, may be go to some parties. May be not. May be put up the Christmas Tree the following weekend. See? I’m already rushing my favorite holiday.
A national day of thanks.
A day that originally thanked God for the blessings of this life. All religions have days of thanks. Days of feasting. Days of fasting. Thanksgiving is a feast day. In our church, Hymn 397 in the 1982 Hymnal is “Now thank we all our God”. It’s a perfect hymn for Thanksgiving, even better than that New England staple where we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing with hastening and chastening.
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices/who wondrous things hath done in whom his world rejoices/who from our mother’s arms hath blessed us on our way/with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.
Some of you began to hum the tune. Don’t lie.
The music is from Nun danket alle Gott by Johan Cruger, 1598-1662, whose dates coincided with the Pilgrims.
With all Pilgrim referencing out of the way, I need to let y’all know this little secret:
On Thanksgiving, we go full Southern.
Everybody knows you never go full Southern.
My father and two of his friends were early adapters of fried turkey.
We always have rice and gravy. What are these mashed potatoes you reference?
There is NEVER stuffing. There is ALWAYS dressing.
We hollow out oranges to fill with sweet potato souffle dotted with marshmallows.
We mold crushed cranberries, pineapple, pecans into a congealed salad that was the height of elegance some 60 years ago. We put a bop of mayonnaise on it, too. Yes we cran. Yes we will.
Broccoli casserole. Butterbeans. Green beans. We will pick one of you because there must be something green on our plates even if that’s a stupid rule.
We are out of the oyster pie (scalloped oysters) scene because I’m the only one who eats it.
My mother always made macaroni pie (baked macaroni and cheese with eggs and milk) from the old Potluck from Pawleys cookbook. I think it’s excessive. But, I make it. My mother’s is the best. I almost have it down, but it’s still not as good as her version.
There are squashes in various forms of casserole.
A shit ton of carbs.
There are pies.
There are cakes.
There are bloodies.
There are mimosas.
There are bottles of champagne.
There is wine. Good wine. Not that fetid, unpotable Beaujolais Nouveau that always comes out about the same time as Thanksgiving. It’s already turned into vinegar.
It’s been our family’s tradition to serve bloodies, mimosas, champagne along with Sister Schubert’s Sausage Wrap Rolls. Y’all might now them better as Pigs in a Blanket. With yellow mustard. It’s enough to tide us over until the feast. That and the pickled okra from the bloodies.
We eat the time our ancestors used to eat around 3 p.m.
My mouth is watering as I type.
I make turkey stock. I freeze cranberries for the cranberry salad. I don’t mess around with Thanksgiving.
I’ve decided I can do the entire meal. I’ve done it in the past. I’m sure I’ll be on it this year, too.
It just takes planning.
Last year, we took most of the meal to my parents’ house in Beaufort. My mother was over the moon appreciative.
I knew Mary Perrin Johnson was the one for me for many reasons. A shared love of the same food at Thanksgiving sealed the deal. Her family grew up eating what we ate. Like my family, her family put sliced hard boiled eggs in the gravy. It’s super old timey. Super Southern.
One year, one of our family members made something called gravy, but it wasn’t gravy. It was a thin sauce that had some turkey drippings near it. The cook added brandy. Bless them. Watery. Tepid. Bland. Cornstarch? WTF? My mother-in-law and I knowingly cut our eyes at each other. That misbegotten and misnamed sauce disappeared from the menu. Now thank we all our God.
Another year, back home in Beaufort, my mother said she would get Larry Taylor to make gravy for us. Hallelujah. Now thank we all our God.
Mr. Taylor was an amazing cook who cooked at the Beaufort Yacht Club and at his now shuttered restaurant, L.T.’s. My mother called on Mr. Taylor/Larry/LT on a regular basis to be her personal chef. He sliced eggs for his gravies, too. One time I asked him why we all put boiled sliced eggs in our gravy. His reply in deepest baritone, “Shhhhhiii…..hell if I know. We just do it.” Now thank we all our God.
To me, the most important component of Thanksgiving is good dressing. It’s the best supporting actor every year. It’s the reason the gravy must be perfect.
One year we were in New York for Thanksgiving. Parades. Museums. Shopping. Ice skating. Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Fred’s at Barney’s. Lafayette. But, come on, really, Big Apple? Chestnuts in the dressing? Maple syrup turkey? Mashed potatoes instead of rice? No no no no no no no.
In past years, we have gone to my in-laws’ family place in the mountains of North Carolina for Thanksgiving. In 2014, it snowed and snowed and snowed. We were housebound. I loved it and the Andover flashbacks as I sledded down the hill with our girls.
One of the first years we went to the mountains, I offered to make the dressing. I had made it only one time before my offer. What was I thinking? I scoured my cookbooks.
The problem with receipts for dressing and gravy is that there really aren’t receipts for dressing and gravy. It’s sort of like having a receipt for toast, for scrambled eggs, for grits. It’s just something that one knows how to do if one is alive and lives anywhere south of … well… the North Pole.
As I scoured cookbooks one night, I remembered having turkey and dressing at Mama Dip’s in Chapel Hill. Really good turkey and dressing drowning in perfect turkey gravy. I looked in her cookbook, which she autographed for me. It’s the best. Mama Dip was the late Mildred Council who died this year. Her restaurant in Chapel Hill has fed generations. She was an amazing cook who was called Dip because she dipped her hands in all her dishes and rarely measured. I wish I could be as intuitive a cook.
Years ago someone asked a Charleston cook how much of something she needed for her dish Her reply was that she put in enough of one ingredient to take up the slack. That statement is memorialized in Charleston Receipts. That’s how great gravies are made. Enough flour is added to take up the slack.
I’m still taking up the slack myself.
Mama Dip’s dressing will be on the menu on Thanksgiving Day.
I hope it’s on yours, too.
Here’s my modified version.
Go ahead. Go full Southern.
1 stick butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped fine
4-5 ribs celery, chopped fine
2 batches of cornbread (see below- doubles easily for the dressing)
4 c. bread crumbs from stale ends, old rolls, old bread, biscuit ends you’ve been throwing in the freezer since August
3-4 c. turkey broth or chicken broth
2 tbsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. sage (controversial in some households)(omit if the folks don’t like it)
3 eggs, beaten
In a large saute pan, saute vegetables until soft, about 8-10 mins. While they cook, add all other ingredients, except broth and eggs, to a large bowl and mix well. Add cooked vegetables. Add eggs and broth and mix well. Spread into a well greased 9X13 dish. Bake at 400 for 30-45 mins. This freezes really well prior to cooking. Just seal tightly and remove from the freezer the night before Turkey Day. Leave on the counter. It will be thawed by the morning. Also, you may want to add a little more broth while it cooks if you think it’s getting too dry. Don’t burn it. If it’s getting too dark on the top or too dark on the sides, cover with foil, and only cook for 30 mins. As this will probably cook with three other things in the oven, it’s o.k. if it cooks at 350. It will just take a little longer.
It’s really good sliced thinly and put on a turkey sandwich the next day.
1 c. self rising corn meal
1/2 c. self rising flour
2 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. butter
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
Heat oven to 400. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl, add the beaten eggs to the buttermilk. Place butter in 8×8 baking dish and place in oven for just a few minutes until melted. Don’t letter the butter brown or burn. As soon as it’s melted, take out of the oven and swirl all over baking dish. After swirling, add melted butter to eggs and milk and add wet to dry. Stir well until it’s just mixed. Don’t over mix, but make sure all is incorporated. One year, let’s just say there was some major dryness to our cornbread for dressing, and I had to start again with a better mixed batch. Pour into hot dish and bake for 20 mins or so or until brown. You can double this one easily, just use a bigger dish.
The dressing has almost two sticks of butter in it, and for that, now thank we all our God.
(Always something new out of Africa. Roman proverb)
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I had the distinct pleasure of serving as an intern for the Association of International Schools in Africa based in Nairobi, Kenya. From 1994 to 1995, I knew a song of Africa, including the Ngong Hills. Just like Karen.
I loved my time in Kenya.
Almost a full year.
I learned a little Swahili.
I could write a book about that wonderful adventure of working for the Association of International Schools in Africa, traveling to Tanzania, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana. I could write a book about the crazy White Kenyans I came to know. I could write a book about the Americans in Africa. I could write a book about the family that allowed me to rent a room and share their cook and yardman, both of whom were named Joseph. I could write a book about my boss at the Association of International Schools in Africa and her family.
The Association of International Schools in Africa is located on the campus of the International School of Kenya, which was created by the US and Canadian embassies back in the day to provide an American and Canadian style day school education for US and Canadian diplomats’ children. Located on the site of an old coffee plantation, it’s a beautiful campus. I could write a book about my days on campus. Peponi Road, I miss your coffee plants in full red.
There were safaris. There were drinks at Muthaiga. There were dhows. There were trips to Mombasa and the coastal resorts. There were nights in Lamu. There were children huffing glue at the petrol station in Gigiri There were the Sheths next door who dried their turban freed hair in the sun on Saturday mornings. There was hiking to the lower summit of Mount Kenya: Asante sana Kenya.
In Tanzania, there were nights in Zanzibar. The hottest, most sleepless nights of my life. I stayed restlessly at an inn smack dab in the middle of the Stone Town in an old Swahili mansion called The Spice Inn. Little did I know it had no air conditioning, was next door to a mosque, had a strict no alcohol policy, and crept with bugs all day and night. The recorded call to prayer seemed to be every five minutes. “Allah akbar” through sweated sheets and mosquito netting haunts my dreams.
Part of my job involved helping host conferences for teachers with speakers, consultants, continuing education classes, and all manner of educational training. I manned all AV needs for speakers and served as the de facto host. I was my boss’s walker.
We hosted conferences in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Gabarone, Botswana, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Accra, Ghana. I traveled all over Africa working. Like a dog.
In Ethiopia, I had the best Italian meal of my life. And, yes, there is food in Ethiopia.
In Tanzania, I ate crabs the size of my face and saw the Aga Khan’s house on the ocean. I bought a Tinga Tinga painting for a few hundred shillings. It hangs in my office.
In Gabarone, I drove a rented car on the wrong side of the road while the British head of the International School of Gabarone shouted directions at me from the back seat, her head out the window blowing cigarette smoke cursing me for driving too bloody slow. Her husband suffered long.
I had been in Africa since July, and, by October, I was feeling kind of homesick. It was when I deplaned in Accra, Ghana, that my homesickness abated. The heat felt familiar. So did the lady at customs.
In a naively semi-racist way, or may be fully racist way, I looked at my boss and said, “My Lord, Connie, she looks just like Maybelle Pringle who worked for the Aimars for years.”
Connie replied, “Well, Hambone, this is West Africa.”
I went back to all I learned in my studies in the Transatlantic Slave Trade class at Chapel Hill.
“Duh,” I said as we cleared customs.
I felt immediate kinship with the people of Ghana.
We spent two weeks in Accra, Ghana. We took day trips up and down the coast.
We toured Elmina Castle, the oldest slave castle in Africa.
Our tour guide told us the history of the Portuguese and their fortress originally called Sao Jorge da Mina. He told us of the Dutch seizing the fort and how the slave trade continued until the British took over the colony. He told us about the brutality of the place up until 1814 when the slave trade ended.
I looked through the Door of No Return knowing that no one who walked through that door did so voluntarily, knowing that many would die on the Middle Passage.
The castle is beautiful in spite of her brutality and murderous history.
I really loved Ghana and her people.
Were there open sewers and children playing in them?
Was there a power outage every day due to rolling blackouts?
Was there heat like you’ve never experienced?
Was there a large fight that broke out on the soccer pitch in front of the Accra Novotel where we were staying?
Was there a dinner at the head of school’s house where his Eritrean wife served a full Eritrean meal to us?
The people were so familiar. So lovely.
They always offered water.
Traveling with us for almost a month during October 1994, was a lovely lady whom I was tasked to fetch in the lobby of the Hilton in Addis Ababa. I marched across that cavernous space and extended my hand to her. She shook back firmly. She wore sensible clothes. She kept her hair tied in a simple pony tail. She wore little jewelry and no make up. She had a soft upper class British accent. She had a glint in her eyes.
She was Jane Goodall.
Dr. Jane herself.
I still have her home addresses in Tanzania and in Bournemouth, England. For sale to the highest bidder.
Connie Buford, my boss, had met Dr. Jane at a conference the year before in Hamburg, Germany. Connie is from Beaufort, SC, which is how I got the job with the Association of International Schools in Africa.
Meyer Woflsheim has nothing on me. I got connections.
At the conference in Hamburg, Connie Buford had approached Dr. Jane and asked her if she would be willing to speak at the four Association of International Schools in Africa conferences the following year.
“Why not?” replied Dr. Jane. “You know I have a home in Tanzania,” intoned the lady who travels over three hundred days a year. “Would love to be back in Africa.” She could advertise her nascent Roots & Shoots program.
Dr. Jane told us wonderful stories of drinking whisky neat and dancing in fountains in London. Of Dr. Leaky advising her to go study the chimps. Of how she saw the chimps of Gombe using tools.
All that wonderful PBS documentary come to life.
She was a lot of fun.
Dr. Jane was known to let go with a screaming Alpha male chimpanzee pant-hoot at the end of a good meal. She hooted it up more than one of our nights together in Ethiopia, in Botswana, and in Ghana. One night she called pant-hoots while another man in our group, from West Virginia, called wild turkeys. He was a champion turkey hunter. You can’t make this up.
The staff of the restaurant came running and stared in amazement at the two callers. They competed with each other. The hoots of the chimps. The warbles of the turkeys. All in the backroom of the white table clothed restaurant on the beach in Accra. The proprietors, a displaced Italian couple and the chef, a Frenchman, also came to watch. There was applause after the fifth round of hoots and calls. The Italian proprietor fetched his own private grappa for the group. So unnecessary. Dr. Jane knocked back her glass first.
Anyway, it was in Ghana that we had the most fun with Dr. Jane. We went to the zoo with her where we watched her soothe a chimpanzee and groom it with her fingers. We watched the chimp stroke Dr. Jane’s face and look through her hair.
“You lean up next to the bars and let him do that to you, Hamlin,” she said to me. “It won’t hurt.”
So, I leaned my head toward the bar, and, sure enough, the caged chimp stroked through my hair.
I stood up and he turned around and put his back to the bar.
“Now, your turn,” said Dr. Jane “Just push his hairs aside as though you were looking for lice or fleas as I just did.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. I got to work.
“He’s lonely,” asserted Dr. Jane. He held out a digit and Dr. Jane wrapped her fingers around it. They locked eyes. I gawked as she said “hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo” like a Lamaze instructor. The chimp begged. Dr. Jane threw him alms of attention.
We stood with the chimp for a good thirty minutes in broiling West African sun.
“Makes me cry for him,” said Dr. Jane.
“Oh, but this was Nkrumah’s zoo,” replied our guide.
“Still makes me weep,” said Dr. Jane. “I hate to see them in captivity.”
We had another week to go in Ghana.
We had our conference at the Accra International Conference Center.
Our conference ran until about 3 p.m. every day. Teacher hours.
In the afternoons, I would wander with other attendees. It’s all so surreal now.
We discovered the wonders of the Makola Market there in Accra. Kente cloth. All manner of dashikis. Bronze gold dust boxes/kudo/forawa containers (I brought home three of those), African trade beads from the 19th and early 20th century, African amber necklaces, hammered silver jewelry.
I bought jewelry which I would eventually give to my bride. She has it still.
As I was purchasing millefiori trade beads one day, the vendor asked me about my accent. Accent? What accent?
“You’re not British, but you don’t sound quite American, either, Brother. Are you from Canada?”
“No, I’m from the States, but from the South. We sound different from the rest of the country.”
“Oh, I understand, Brother. A Southerner in the diaspora.”
As a graduation gift from kindergarten, my parents have given each of their six granddaughters a trip to any city of their choosing in the United States.
Our eldest picked Chicago in 2008. Our youngest picked New York in 2013. Off they would go over Labor Day Weekend.
With only one child who was going to be home that Labor Day Weekend, I decided that we needed to go somewhere and not just sit around looking at each other.
My family are H U G E fans of Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. Pawley’s is one of the oldest beach resorts on the East Coast. Originally, the island was a retreat for rice planters who moved over to that three-mile stretch of sand to escape mosquitoes with their attendant malaria (the “fever” as it was once called).
My parents grew up going to Pawley’s. We would meet our grandparents there when I was little. My mother and father would rent houses there. We have friends who have houses there.
Knowing my Pawley’s devotion, I had read that the venerable old Pelican Inn had recently been purchased and was once again operating as an inn. Pawley’s used to have several inns of this type on the island. My grandmother’s cousin, Ruth Turner, once ran the Cassina Inn way back in the day. The Tip Top was another. The Seaview and The Pelican are the only two left.
These inns harken back to a simpler time at the beach. Every day, the innkeepers serve big breakfast and dinner. This dinner is the midday main meal, not the evening time supper. The food….my Lord the food….stomp down old school Lowcountry southern cooking. There will be no foams or gastriques or silliness on your plate. There will be biscuits. There will be desserts. There will be iced tea. There will be butter. There will be fresh vegetables.
Anyway, back in 2013, I made a phone call to the Pelican Inn to see if they had room for three (3) more guests for Labor Day. The lady who answered the phone said that Room 4 would be available, and, it could be ours.
I told her to please book it.
We have now been staying at The Pelican Inn for six seasons. We have gone for the 4th of July for five years running. As we leave, we re-up for the following year.
We were telling some Charlotte friends about The Pelican Inn a couple of years ago. The friends expressed more than an interest. They demanded to be included. It took us two (2) years to get us all in for Labor Day, that’s how in demand the Pelican Inn is for its loyal guests.
We convinced another family who love Pawley’s to go over the 4th of July a couple of years ago. They got in one year and will always be back. Always. When that family found out we were going to be there for Labor Day this year…well…there were some frantic texts of jealousy.
We have the same crew for July 4th almost every year. We are devoted to that regular crew, and they to us.
This past summer some of the regulars couldn’t come. One was on safari in South Africa. Another had a family wedding. Another had to have some surgery. Such excuses.
The Inn filled.
One of our July 4th buddies pulled me aside and said, “We need to do something about this. These aren’t our people, Hamlin.”
I knew exactly what she meant as our 4th of July clique creates clannishness.
The beauty of the Pelican Inn is in her proprietors and in her guests.
Corinne and Bruce Taylor own and operate the Inn from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Corinne is actually Dr. Corinne Taylor who maintains a top medical practice in Atlanta. Bruce is actually Bruce Taylor, Esq., who maintains a top legal practice in Atlanta. At this point, the Taylors are not just innkeepers for us. They direct our summer camp.
As we departed from Dr. Taylor on Labor Day, she said, “At this point, y’all are those guests I don’t even have to worry about…you let yourselves in…you know where everything is…you’re self sufficient.” We should be at this point.
The Taylors immediately took to our Charlotte pals. We have all reserved our spots for next year, too.
About the place: the inn occupies the summer house built before 1858 by Plowden Weston, a rice planter and former lieutenant governor of the State. The house was later owned by his relatives, the Mazÿck family, as well as the Atlantic Lumber Company which allowed its workers to vacation there. The Inn rests behinds the highest dunes on the Island. The Inn remains arrogantly shabby, as Pawley’s Island used to be. It is rumored that the ghost of Plowden Weston is the Gray Man himself who warns Pawley’s Island folks about upcoming hurricanes.
The Inn has the most wonderfully wide piazza in the world, crowned with Carpenter Gothic arches. The sun sets poetically through one of the western facing arches every night. The words of taps can be heard:
Day is done
Gone the sun
From the hills
From the lakes
From the sky
All is well
God is nigh
If you are ever lucky enough to obtain a room at the Pelican, make sure to have Dr. Taylor tell you about the pig raffle. Make sure to have Bruce Taylor explain to you why some restaurants are to be avoided.
If you are lucky enough to obtain a room there, you will have to go on a major diet for weeks afterward, because the good Dr. Taylor will feed you better than you have eaten in years. She’s a big fan of
Honey fried chicken
Blistered okra and tomatoes
19 Layer Chocolate cake
Homemade ice creams
Roasted corn on the cob
That’s just to name a few of the dishes Dr. Taylor puts on the table.
They groan with goodness. Fresh summer vegetables abound.
The Taylors also feed your soul. They engage in wonderful conversation. They listen. They laugh. They cut their eyes at bad behavior.
They let you in on the joke.
There are a lot of jokes.
Stay there long enough and they’ll show you underneath the Inn where old cypress boards marry old brick pillars
Stay there long enough, and they’ll tell you about the other guests. And, boy, is there a lot to tell.
Stay there long enough, and Dr. Taylor may go to her storage shed and give your children Pelican Inn t-shirts.
And, no, there has been no promise of discounted rates for me by posting this.
As I tell everyone who will listen, I win the Pelican.
I have my stay down to an OCDesque order.
I get up before dawn despite my best efforts to sleep.
I head out to the gazebo lookout on top of the dunes.
I watch the sunrise.
Usually, I greet the Taylors and their morning coffee, or, they greet me.
One morning, Bruce Taylor actually arrived on the overlook with my cup of black coffee in his hand. (See, stay there long enough and you, too, can have sunrise service)
After a while, I head into the kitchen to refill my coffee cup.
I linger on the piazza with coffee and a book.
Other guests generally amble downstairs and speak, rock, visit, read, check their devices, head across the causeway to get a morning paper.
My family always emerges much more slowly than I do.
It’s a treasure to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic.
Our pals amble down.
“Hey, good mawnin” is heard time and time and time again.
“How’d you sleep?”
“Hope I didn’t wake you”
“What y’all doing today?”
Bruce rings the breakfast bell promptly at 8 a.m.
A line forms at the entrance to the kitchen and dining area.
Guests take their seats at tables with their names on them.
We have been seated as a family. We have shared our tables with other guests. It matters not, as family style eating and conversations ensue. I have never had a bad table partner at the Inn.
We relish the repast.
After breakfast, most guests shuffle off to their morning activities.
I don my bathing suit and fill coolers with drinks.
I then take the leaden coolers and beach chairs to the beach.
There are 28 stairs up the dunes to the overlook. I know. I’ve counted.
Tenzing Norgay has nothing on me.
I am the family pack mule.
I descend to the beach.
I park it in my chair and read and sweat and roast and bake in the sun.
I usually crack a cold unit or two.
Sometimes I get in the water.
Sometimes I walk down the beach, up and over the groins.
We all go in around 12:45 for a rinse off before dinnah.
The bell rings at 1:30.
Glasses fill with tea.
Glasses fill with water out of gurgle pitchers.
There is another impossibly gorgeous meal ready and waiting.
Didn’t we just eat?
Then, it’s back to the beach, may be refill coolers with ice. May be not.
Move chairs with tide as needed.
More reading, basting, roasting, laughing.
Drink cold units.
Drink more cold units.
After a full day in the sun, it’s generally time to switch from cold beer to cold likka around 6 p.m.
After a shower in the outside showers – which – really – is there anything better than an outside shower? No. There’s not – it’s to the room for dry clothes and wet drinks.
During the happy hour, a lot of the guests all assemble together on the piazza or in the living areas or out on the dock for cocktails overlooking the creek. Hilarity ensues. The world’s problems are fixed. Tales are told. Sides split with laughter.
Brush up on your story telling, as it’s a requirement for porch sitting at The Pelican.
Supper is completely unnecessary, but, we generally cobble together something.
Loaf of lite bread and pimento cheese?
Chicken from the grocery store?
Potato chips and boiled peanuts?
By 9:30 p.m., most everyone is ready to call it a night.
I always want to stay up for that one last drink as I never want the party at the Pelican to come to an end.
I always want one more story or tale from the folks on the piazza.
After so much laughter and camaraderie, it’s time to hit the hay ready to do it all again the next day.
Paige Fowler Bellamy went to law school with us. She was in our wedding. She just called me this afternoon and said, and I quote, “Will you send me your marinated shrimp recipe before Thanksgiving or put it on your blog?”
She meant pickled shrimp a/k/a pickled swimps.
They are a standard. Her timing …wow….I took them to my in-laws last night to share with cousins in town for a wedding.
Paige raved about them on the phone. Forty minutes of raving on speaker phone with peels of laughter with me and Mary Perrin.
Ain’t no friends like old friends.
For Cindy P from Possum T.
Why do you people persist?
3 lbs medium shrimp
2 medium yellow onions sliced paper thin
1/2 c white vinegar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper corns
2 tbsp celery seed
1 tbsp mustard seed
1/4 c olive oil
1 jar capers…not the really big ones
Old Bay Seasoning
Beer – 12 oz can
Fill a 4-5 quart pot about 2/3 full with water and a couple tablespoons Old Bay and a 12 oz beer. I never measure the Old Bay. Bring to a full rolling boil. Add shrimp and cook for 4 minutes; it’s ok if it doesn’t reboil. Drain in colander. They will keep cooking as they cool. Let cool completely and peel…devein if you must. Nothing is worse than mealy, overcooked swimps.
While shrimp are cooling, peel and slice the onions paper thin. Juice two of the lemons and limes. Slice the other two lemons paper thin. To the lemon and lime juice, add salt, pepper corns, mustard seed, celery seed, vinegar, olive oil, and jar of capers with the brine from the jar. Stir to combine. I use a whisk.
After shrimp have been cooled and peeled, in an air tight container, place a layer of onion slices, lemon slices, 4 or 5 Bay leaves, and shrimp. Repeat until all onion, lemon, Bay leaves and shrimp are in the container.
Pour lemon juice mixture/marinade over all and seal. Turn over a few times to make sure there’s some of the liquid coating all the shrimp and onions. Refrigerate overnight. While in the fridge, turn over the container a few times or stir with a slotted spoon.
To serve, using a slotted spoon, place in a bowl. Not silver. The salt and acid cause the silver to pit.
No garnishes needed.
Serve as an appetizer with toothpicks and let everyone stab swimps and onions as she or he sees fit.
Don’t skimp on the salt.
Use fresh lemons and limes.
If you can, use fresh Bay leaves
We have a Bay plant in our yard. Old timey Bay leaves (Roman laurel) can be found in a lot of Lowcountry yards.
I never count the Bay leaves used. Mine are right off the branch and are so bright and green.
This can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled.
It’s perfect on Christmas Eve.
Talking to Paige, I said, “Why you want my pickled swimps? There are recipes for it in every cookbook I own.”
There are go-to menus at our house. Easy and delicious. Yes, they sometimes involve Campbell’s condensed cream o’sumpin soup as a base, but, isn’t that a just a bechamel short cut? Isn’t that 20th Century cooking in a nut shell?
I’m going to say that it is and continue to hold my head up high when I serve the below bill of fare. People dog it. Crush it. Go back for seconds.
There are standard bills of fare upon which I was reared. Who among us doesn’t have the same menu every year for Easter? Thanksgiving? Christmas? New Year’s Day?
My parents used to host our extended friend group family for Easter dinner for years. O’Kelleys, Robinsons, Calhouns, Williams, Gibsons, Schwartzes, Jeters, and others who came in and out. Almost every year we had the same menu.
The Williams used to host our extended friend group family for Thanksgiving dinner for years. Almost every year we had the same menu.
The Jeters used to host our extended friend group family on Christmas. Almost every year we had the same menu.
The Robinsons used to host our extended friend group family on New Year’s Day. Almost every year we had the same menu.
You get the drift.
There are just some standards that work well together and require little thought.
A staple of my growing up, and a Beaufort, South Carolina, dish if there ever was/is/will be one is Shrimp & Wild Rice. The version below belongs to my mother. She served it every Easter along with baked ham, asparagus, deviled eggs, macaroni pie (baked macaroni and cheese), butter beans, biscuits from The Palms in Ridgeland, South Carolina, which is another tale in and of its self.
A staple of my years entertaining here in Charleston is Nathalie Dupree’s Make Ahead Asparagus with Olive Oil and Lemon Zest. My mother-in-law taught me this one, and I use it all the time. I have taken it to dinner parties. I served it more than once to our now defunct supper club.
Another staple is my version of Zoe Sanders’ Preservation Salad from her Entertaining at the College of Charleston. Mrs. Sanders was the First Lady of the College of Charleston for years. Both she and her husband are talented cooks.
The roasted benne (sesame) seeds add a true South Carolina flavor.
These three play well together.
A recent guest whose legs were under our kitchen table asked for the receipts for all three.
“For these?” I questioned our guest. “Ain’t nothing special about this meal.”
“You’re flat out wrong about that,” came the reply.
“This is the best meal I’ve had in weeks.” The guest is a fine cook, has eaten all over the country, and knows a thing or three about good eats.
Hope y’all enjoy all three. We do.
Yancey O’Kelley’s Shrimp & Wild Rice
1 box Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Rice mix (the 20 minute kind, not the instant kind)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine
3 ribs celery, chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
4 tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 lbs. shrimp, peeled and, if you must, deveined. (I use medium shrimp)
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 tsps. Worcestershire sauce
1 c. grated cheddar cheese
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1 tbsp. sherry or white wine or dry vermouth (you choose)(or omit)
Cook the rice according to the package directions. While the rice is cooking, melt butter in large pan, and saute the onion, celery and bell pepper until soft, about 8 minutes, over medium to medium high heat. Add shrimp and saute until pink and just cooked through, another 5 minutes or so. There will be a lot of liquid from the shrimp.
In a large mixing bowl, combine soup, Worcestershire sauce, cheese, lemon, Tabasco sauce, sherry/wine/dry vermouth, and stir until blended. Add the cooked shrimp and vegetables, using a slotted spoon, to the bowl in order to make sure the mixture is not watery.
Mix all ingredients together and place in a buttered/greased 9×13 casserole dish. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or “until bubbly” as my mother’s original card states. This is even better the next day. Also, it really does freeze well. “Until bubbly” remains a standard cooking direction at our house.
And, yes, Beaufort folks. I know y’all know this one. By heart.
Nathalie Dupree’s Make Ahead Asparagus
1 bunch asparagus, woody part of stems discarded (I just break it where it breaks naturally near the bottom of the stalk)
1/2 tsp. salt
Place trimmed asparagus in shallow frying pan with enough salted water to cover. Bring to a boil uncovered and boil until bright green and just starting to bend/wilt. (About 5 minutes or so)
Immediately, place asparagus on a serving platter. And, no, you don’t have to shock it in ice water. Using a micro plane or zester, zest the entire lemon over the asparagus getting all the zest over as much of the asparagus as possible. Drizzle with good olive oil to taste.
If you want to go crazy, you can even zest an orange over the asparagus.
You can make this and leave it for up to an hour ahead of folks arriving. Super easy.
Zoe Sanders’ Preservation Salad (as amended)
1 large head of Romain lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite sized pieces
3 tbs. benne seeds (sesame seeds)
Hunk of good Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic minced fine
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh black pepper
1/2 cup mild olive oil (not extra virgin)
Toast benne seeds in 350 degree oven until just starting to brown and not burn. You’ll have to watch this. Best to do in a toaster oven and watch like a hawk. Or, you can toast in a dry pan on top of the stove, but, again, you have to watch as the oil in the seeds burns quickly. I have tossed more than one batch of burnt benne seeds. Let them cool completely.
For the dressing, place all of the dressing ingredients in a jar with tight lid and shake until combined. So easy. Store in the refrigerator until needed and shake a few times before serving.
For the salad: place the greens in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle with the toasted benne seeds. It looks like a lot of seeds, but it works. Using a vegetable peeler, cut strips of Parmesan cheese over the salad to taste. I usually cover the top with a single layer of Parmesan strips.
Lightly dress the salad and toss gently so as to keep the Parmesan strips in tact.
You can do everything ahead of time with this one, too, except for adding the dressing.
The last time I served this menu, I made some old school ice box rolls to go with it. They didn’t quite work. I’ll stick with biscuits. At yeast I got that going for me.
I may be on the spectrum. I don’t love to be touched by strangers. I adore being alone. I see numbers. I’m not kidding. I see numbers.
Numbers exist in time and space and color. Say a number, and I will tell you where it is.
Three is blue. Just like this:
It’s to the right of two and and sits right there before that first turn at the switch back at five. Twelve is yellow and blue, but they don’t make green. The sixties go straight up and down like a ladder, one on top of another. Five hundred dips between 499 and 501. Dips. Like a swing bridge. Negative numbers below zero look like a roller coaster. They are RIGHT THERE. I am pointing at them as I type.
In first grade, I confessed seeing numbers as colors and in time and space to my first grade teacher, Katrina Kinsey. Mrs. Kinsey loved me, but she found my obstreperous nature to be a bit much in disrupting the class. She told my parents that she did not need another teacher in the class. She told my parents my conduct would not be tolerated.
“What does ‘C’ stand for, Hamlin?” she asked me one day when we were discussing the letter of the alphabet.
“Conduct,” came my reply.
The class erupted.
One afternoon, I approached Mrs. Kinsey’s desk. Above the blackboard loomed the cursive alphabet. We had just finished math where Mrs. Kinsey dictated the problems and numbers.
“Miz Kinsey, I see the numbers when you call them out. That’s why it takes me longer. I said please wait and you got mad at me. You always get mad at me in math.”
Mrs. Kinsey squinted and then titled her head.
In her raspy smoker’s voice she said, “Stay in from recess tomorrow. We will talk then. You want to beat the erasers today?” Of course I did.
I stayed in from recess the next day.
Mrs. Kinsey approached my desk and asked what I meant the day before when I told her about seeing numbers.
“I see them. Right there. All of them.” I was six years old living in Beaufort. South Carolina.
None of us knew about synesthesia at the time.
“Well, tell me more,” said my teacher. And, I did.
After my explanation, Mrs Kinsey said, “Son, everyone learns differently. If you see numbers just tell me, and we’ll figure it out.”
She told me we would make it work. She also told me to be quiet about it, too, as people would not understand.
Some people never liked Mrs. Kinsey as a teacher. I adored her.
I never told a soul about this until Calculus class in 1989. Not kidding. Eleven years of silence and struggle with math, but I made it work. My parents never understood why I struggled. They compensated for me. They hired extra help. Completely privileged. Math tutors never pried as to why I would I needed their help but it always took me longer than it should have with math problems most people found easy.
I loved Geometry by the way.
In the fall of 1989, I went to my Calculus professor at Andover to seek some help. That lady cared little when I explained that derivatives, parabolas and L’Hopital’s Rule vexed me along with the requirement of existing limits and such.
“I see the numbers,” I told her.
“Impossible,” she said.
I took my lumps from her in Morse Hall and never looked back.
I kept my mouth shut for years.
I dropped hints from time to time.
No one picked them up until one fall a few years back.
We were in the mountains at a friend’s for Fall Break. Something came up about autism, the spectrum, and brain function.
Our hostess said, “Well, you know our neighbors have synesthesia and MUSC [the Medical University of South Carolina] studies them. The mom and the daughter both.”
”What’s that?” I asked.
“They see sounds as color and numbers in color and in space in real time. Did you see that ‘60 Minutes’ with Marilu Henner and how she knows dates and what she was eating and wearing? It’s all tied in together. Photographic memories, too, can be tied in to this.”
I was standing by the door in their kitchen. Our hostess crossed over to the cabinet and reached for the salt. She was cooking. The rest of our crew were watching the Clemson football game. It was misting rain outside.
Can you tell I have a photographic memory?
“I have that,” I said quietly “I totally have that.”
I spilled the beans to everyone assembled. They all believed me.
One of our pals who was there is a doctor. He looked at me and said, “Makes total sense about you.”
They kind of got it but then quickly changed subject.
In subsequent years, I have brought it up with friends and family. Subjects change and move on quickly. It makes people squirm.
This past summer I read “A Mango Shaped Space.” I knew that story of a girl with synesthesia because I could have written the story, in theory, thirty years ago.
Mrs. Kinsey’s voice echoed immediately.
So did did my calculus professor.
Thirty (blue and white and three tens above ten which sits just below the double yellow eleven) years later, I don’t care who knows.
On the spectrum? May be.
I still no longer need to convince anyone that this is real.
Mrs. Kinsey believed me, and to quote Mr. Frost, that has made all the difference.
“Paul Simon’s last concert is going to be in New York City in September,” Mary Perrin announced earlier this year.
“Where?” I asked.
“Madison Square Garden for two nights, then a surprise location for the final show on Saturday, September 22. I really want to go.”
“Well, I bet it’s going to be in Central Park,” I stated with full authority. “Let’s see where he announces and see about going.”
We monitored Paul Simon’s website every night after work, every weekend, every morning over coffee. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.
“Corona Park,” Mary Perrin said one morning after the refresh button provided news. “His last concert is going to be in Corona Park. Where’s that?”
“Well, I don’t know,” I replied, “But, is that what Rosie was queen of when me and Julio were down by the schoolyard?”
My blushing bride blushed, “Oh my gosh, you’re totally right. It’s in Flushing. Can we book it?”
So, the year of 2018 is the Year of the Fully Lost Mind.
We booked Paul Simon over the weekend of July 7th. Our American Express cards helped us get earlier tickets and access to the alleged VIP section.
We booked four tickets. May be some friends would want to go with us?
We asked some friends for hotel recommendations for hotels close to Grand Central as Mr. Simon advised we should take The 7 to Queens.
We booked the direct Hedge Funder Flight from Charleston to New York on Delta.
(It leaves at 6 a.m. and you can be in Midtown by 9:15 if the traffic isn’t too bad, your cabbie doesn’t take the Queensborough/Ed Koch/59th St. Bridge, and you have no bags to collect.)
More importantly, I sent out the APB to my Andover friends in New York.
“Wait, this is not going to turn into some kind of Andover party, is it?” asked Mary Perrin.
Of course it is.
What did I care if someone had Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes or would act as my Bridge Over Troubled Waters? I had friends to see in the Big Apple.
“Well, some of the folks would like to see us.”
APB generated immediate response.
“Will see who’s around”
“Can get our crew together 4 sure”
(An ancient Andover statement of excitement)
“New phone, who dis?”
“Ha ha – it’s Hammy”
For two months the messages flew back and forth.
For two months I scoured Eater NY, Grubb Street, Trip Advisor for restaurant recommendations.
I asked a one time resident who’s a true foodie, excellent cook, and cookbook author for ideas; she sent back recs of impossible-to-get-into places.
What am I, a movie star?
(More likely to get an audience with The Pope than get into these joints).
Plus, we had little time: lunch Friday, supper Friday, breakfast Saturday, lunch Saturday, brunch Sunday.
For two months I tried to get more friends into the City. One agreed, but, then life got in the way. One would just be returning from the City a few days before our arrival.
Back to the food, which, for me, is one of the main reasons to go to New York.
I am a complete fool for old school French restaurants of a certain type. Think La Grenouille. Think Lutece. Think La Cote Basque. Think 1983.
Eater New York announced that La Goulue had returned to the Upper East Side as of January 15, 2018. It had closed in 2009 due to landlord issues. But, the old girl was back with the same 212 phone number. Cheese soufflé takes twenty minutes, but who cares? What else did we have to do? I would be happy to be a glutton at The Glutton.
So, La Goulue it would be for 12:30 on Friday.
After one last consultation, we chose The Benjamin Hotel at Lex and 50th, a short walk to Grand Central. More importantly, for Mary Perrin, a short walk to Saks.
Our pal Michelle Pae sent out an email to a bunch of the Andover crew who get together fairly regularly in the City to see if a Friday night at Yakitori Futago (a Japanese Barbecue/You Cook Your Own Meat at Your Table) would work.
Michelle’s organizational skills were excellent.
She provided a forum for reliving some glorious times we spent at Guyahma, a Japanese restaurant in Boston that served us well when we were well under-aged. Everyone invited on that Friday night had been to Guyahma. I’m not saying that anyone had ever consumed any alcohol under-aged at Guyahma, but I am saying that we had all been there once, twice, twenty times our Senior year.
They practically took out an ad in our yearbook.
I use chopsticks proficiently because Guyahma had no forks or knives. They did have large Kirin beer in the bottle. Not that I know if anyone consumed any. They did know how to make Black Russians. Not that I know if anyone consumed any.
Our pal Erik Moody showed up with pictures of past events at Guyahma, specifically a friend’s 18th Birthday party. What happened at Guyahma will stay at Guyahma.
I still have a certain Irish fisherman’s sweater that I may or may not have been wearing at said birthday party. All of the folks I was with on that Friday night a few weeks back in Manhattan may or may not have been at the same party. May or may not.
Our pal Seth had to back out at the last minute due to family obligations. Another friend, Cynthia, couldn’t come, either. Unfortunately, Rob could meet us for a drink then had to head on back to Lawng Oisland.
So, it would be Yvette Lee, Susan Marcus, Ricky Shin, Chris Swihart, Hamlin O’Kelley, Erik Moody, all Phillips Academy ’90. Poor Mary Perrin. Spouses would be coming. At least to supper. Thank you Mrs. Swihart and Mrs. Moody for being there to soften the full Blue wave breaking over my long Andover-suffering bride. Our organizer, Michelle Pae, ended up booking a last minute trip to a spa in Mexico, but she’d meet us for a drink later in the night on Friday. The most interesting people live in New York.
Swihart, Shin, and I planned for the pregame before Friday night all during the week prior to the supper. More back and forth. How about here? How about here? What about this place? What time? You tell me. I’m the tourist.
Finally, Swihart graciously opened his house to us. See you at the Swiharts’ around 6 on Friday.
Extra tickets for Paul Simon promised to Pae. Michelle would find a friend.
Mary Perrin contacted a Davidson College pal just back from a two week work trip to Sri Lanka and Kenya. No kidding. Typical work trip of course. Brunch on Sunday booked in The Village with her, her husband, and their daughter. The most interesting people live in New York.
I called the hotel to see if we could have an early room if one was available, “Oh, yes, Sir,” said the front desk clerk, “ if it’s available. The U.N.’s big week starts on Monday, so we are pretty full.”
We bid our children goodbye as we have now reached the place where we can leave them at home. They can get themselves to school. They can get themselves to where they need to be over the weekend.
We kissed them goodnight.
We told them that we would not see them in the morning.
The Hedge Funder Flight is one where we always know someone. Sure enough, at 4:45 in the morning we struck up conversation with some friends.
“What y’all doing in the City?”
“Paul Simon’s last concert in Queens.”
“We’re going, too.”
“We’re in the VIP section.”
Not to be outdone, I replied, “Oh, yeh; we are, too.”
“Oh, great. See you there.”
“See you there”
By 8:30 we were in rush hour traffic into the City. Cabbie took the tunnel to Midtown after a few short turns and almost an hour later, we were at Lex and 50th.
Magically, The Benjamin had a room ready. I am now fiercely loyal to The Benjamin Hotel.
Out into the concrete jungle for some breakfast.
It was 9:15 when we emerged on 50th.
We walked over to 5th Avenue.
“What are you? Tourist?” to quote from this summer’s Ocean’s 8.
We’ve established that.
The Today Show had quit filming
Line at Bouchon Bakery was short. Quick breakfast? Sure.
“Henri Bendel’s closing, we should go there.”
Ugh. I hate that place. I can see why it’s closing.
The windows are pretty, I guess.
After we walked through, “I can see why it’s closing, too,” said Mary Perrin.
Quick walk through Bergdorf.
“Ma’am, is this whole floor nothing but Goyard?”
“Goyard does not engage in any form of e-commerce, Sir.”
In the home department, I said aloud to what I thought was an empty room, “Wow, three hundred dollars for a small glass tumbler? Can’t even put it in the dishwasher.”
Lovely clerk replied, “Actually, Sir, we sell a lot of those.”
“Of course you do.”
Long, long walk through Saks. Hours it felt like.
New shoes. For me.
Salesman looks at the shoes I’m wearing, “Man, we sold a TON of those back in the day.”
“These are thirteen years old.”
“I know that’s right,” he said, “I’d say you got your money’s worth. I don’t mean that they’re old or out of style or anything.”
New bag. Not for me.
Long, long walk through Zara.
“Didn’t we just go to one of these in Santa Monica?”
“That was in March”
Success for the girls.
“Let’s go to Sherry Lehmann to get the Swiharts some wine as a hostess present.”
So, we walk to 505 Park into that pristine purveyor of wine and spirits.
The clerk helped us pick some champipple.
I pay with cash.
“Are you from the U.S.?”
“Um…well…South Carolina did try to leave the Union once, but we’ve been in it pretty squarely since that war back in the 1860’s”
“It’s just that it’s mainly our foreign clients who pay with cash.”
He wraps the wine in a gift bag.
“Want to walk to Barney’s?”
So, we walk to Barney’s.
It’s near La Goulue.
It’s a wee bit humid.
“Have I pitted out?”
“Why aren’t we wearing better shoes?”
Barney’s air is working. Whew.
We go look at a friend of a friend’s jewelry collection.
“Let me know if you want to see a piece,” says the nice man.
“Just looking,” we say.
“I’ll be right here,” says the nice man.
We walk over to 29 East 61st
We are seated immediately in a small corner table with no one around us. Perfection.
We pass Robert A.M. Stern holding court.
I text an architect friend of mine.
“He’s a hack” comes the reply
Cheese souffle…yes…we’ll wait.
Washed down with pinkish wine
“May I tell you about the desert?” asks our attentive waiter.
“Et bien sur!”
“The pastry chef has a special of profiteroles filled with cocoa crème patissiere, a quenelle of coconut ice cream, homemade marshmallows, and dark dark chocolate. It is lovely.”
Oui oui oui oui oui oui oui oui oui oui.
After lunch we mosey slowly, satedly to Henry Clay Frick’s home.
It’s the last day of Canova’s George Washington Exhibit with a piece borrowed from Charleston’s own Gibbes Museum.
The Charterhouse of Bruges: Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus, and Jan Vos.
“No pictures. No touching”
Four Turners, one of which is a little sloppy, as compared to the ones in The Getty in L.A. (I’m now a Turner expert)
That perfect Roman atrium with fountain.
An hour or so with art.
“How about a drink?” asks my bride.
“How about Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle?” I suggest.
No one’s really in the bar at 4:05 p.m. There are a few folks in there. One table of ladies with martini glasses. Well played, Ladies.
We have a drink.
We take pictures of Madeline’s father’s artwork.
To the left of the bar are twelve little girls in two straight lines; the smallest one is Madeline.
“I think we need a rest period; we’ve been on the go since 4 a.m.”
Another Uber ordered as I don’t want to walk 26 blocks.
We notice that Jane Lynch will be at The Carlyle Café with Kate Flannery in Two Lost Souls
And, there’s one of the lost souls crossing Madison Avenue as we wait for another Uber.
She smiles; says “Hello.”
We get in the Uber
“You got to call someone about that.”
At the hotel, we make a run for the Duane Reid in the next block.
Isn’t there’s a Duane Reid on every block?
Or a bank?
Or a Starbucks?
Time for a rest.
Dogs are a barking.
Yvette Lee sends a message, “I’m running a little late.”
I reply, “We’ve been up since 4 a.m. See you at Swiharts’”
We jump in another car and head over to the Swiharts’.
We are immediately buzzed up.
Wish that were the only buzz of the night.
There are my people.
Greetings all around.
“Dude! You’re here.”
“Hammy in the CITAY!”
“Can’t believe it’s been three years since we’ve seen you.”
“How’s the writing going, Hammy?”
“You remember Mary Perrin”
“I’m so glad you’re in the City”
“Look at this picture of your husband in 1990, Mary Perrin.”
“Oh hell no”
“Is that […..……………..]’s 18th birthday party at Guyamha?”
“What’s everyone drinking?”
”Kirins and Black Russians.”
We talk. We visit.
“Y’all, where’s Marcus?”
“Meeting us there”
“We went to Paul Simon last night. You’re going to love it.”
From there, it’s a love fest at supper.
We make Ricky Shin order for everyone.
“Is it because he’s Asian?” I ask Susan Marcus.
“No, dummy, it’s because he’s been here before.”
“God Almighty, I really do love these people,” I think to myself as I grill beef tongue over the brazier.
We finish supper.
They won’t let us pay.
We may be half lit by now.
Or totally lit.
Off to McSorley’s Old Ale House.
Quickest ten block walk with a group ever.
We occupy a booth built for a much smaller group.
I knock over a pitcher of beer onto myself, Yvette Lee, and a little on Chris Swihart. But, mainly on Yvette.
“You never change, Hamlin” says Swihart
“These were the only pants I brought to New York,” I joke.
“Thanks, Hammy,” says Yvette,
Everyone is laughing.
Moody shows us more pictures.
At long soggy last, Mary Perrin pulls the trigger.
It’s kind of late.
“Y’all in a few more hours, I’ll have been up for 24”
Back to the hotel we go in the back of another cab.
“Want another drink?” I ask in the cab.
“No, and you don’t either,” comes the reply.
The next morning, I advise my people that I had just wrung out my pants into a glass for a nice eye opener.
“We’re coming to Charleston”
MP and I head to the New York Luncheonette for breakfast.
I see Jerry and Elaine and George in one corner.
After breakfast we hear from Michelle.
In less than five minutes she has us a table at the rooftop at Eataly.
It’s a gorgeous day.
We go to Bryant Park waiting for a store to open.
We stop at & Other Stories on the recommendation of a pal.
More successful shopping for the girls.
Down, down, down 5th to the Flatiron.
We walk to Fish’s Eddy to see if there is anything we need.
Register to Vote.
Fight the power.
“Isn’t this is a home goods store?”
We walk over to Eataly.
Michelle’s in line.
Perfect meal on the rooftop.
Glass of wine?
“Any allergies?” queries our waitress.
“Just to hipsters,” I reply.
She does not laugh.
Mary Perrin and Michelle laugh.
We had just seen Michelle in April, but this was a better visit over artichokes, farro, mushrooms, beets, burrata, arugula, parm, bread, olive oil.
“My cousin is going to join us tonight. She’s sort of a master of the trains. We’re taking the E to the 7. We’ll meet at the Lex and 53rd station – northeast corner – at 5. Don’t be late.”
“Sounds great; see you there.”
“I need to go rest.”
We walk to Washington Square.
We walk through NYU.
“I would love for Margaret to go to school here.”
“I don’t think she would, though.”
“Well, there’s that.”
Then, much like our Lord and Savior, we descended into Hell.
SoHo on a Saturday.
Worse than the Mall of America.
I hadn’t been to SoHo in thirty years.
I text a friend about SoHo and the crowds.
“It’s the WORST.”
Another Andover pal, Daphne Matelene, Class of ’92, wanted to meet for a drink that afternoon. Done. 4 p.m.
So, we hustle back to the hotel.
We throw some stuff in a bag for the concert.
We brush our teeth.
Back on the street in a New York minute.
We go meet Daphne, who is always delightful. She grew up in Columbia, SC. Her parents live in Charleston. Like me, she’s bilingual. She speaks Southerner and Yankee.
She was just back in the City from Berlin. The most interesting people live in New York.
After a quick, quick visit, it’s time to hit the trains.
Michelle and her cousin, our personal expediter, Jennifer, are waiting for us as we walk up.
“I don’t have a metro card,” I say.
“We’ll swipe you in!”
Tokyo subways have nothing on us.
Sardines have nothing on us.
There’s more space between molecules in inert gases than we had on the trains that evening.
“They’re all going to Flushing,” Michelle announces.
“How do you know?” I ask.
“Because there aren’t usually this many white people on this train.”
We all laugh.
We hang from the metal. We sway. We rock.
We finally get to the right stop in Queens.
“And, now all the white people get off the train,” says Michelle to me knowingly.
We cry laughing.
“We’ll meet you right here after the concert and can get you back,” says Jennifer.
“We can make it back,” I say.
“They totally can,” says Michelle. “They’ve been to New York before.”
“If we don’t see y’all, thanks for everything”
We all hug.
We all separate to stake our places in the grass.
Mary Perrin and I go get our spot.
We stake a place next to a delightful couple from Queens. She grew up in Flushing.
“I went to Forest Hills,” she announces.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“It’s where Paul went to high school.”
I guess they knew each other.
She called him Paul.
All that crap you knew in high school.
The sky blazes over the Unisphere.
The moon is just starting to rise over an open field when the Mayor and the Queen’s Borough President step on stage.
They boo DeBlasio.
Bronx cheer in Queens.
“Why did you all boo DeBlasio?” I ask.
My Flushing friend says, “He’s the woist mayah evah. I miss Bloombuhg.”
And, then, Mr. Simon and friends appear on stage.
For the next few hours.
With tears in his eyes.
With tears in our eyes.
And, he sings
“…and the moon rose over an open field”
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
“Set yourself free”
Boy in the Bubble
“Days of miracle and wonder”
Song no one knows.
Another song no one knows –go to restroom
Third song no one knows – go get beer
Mother and Child Reunion
“I would not give you false hope”
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard – with Mrs. Paul Simon (Edie Brickel) whistling
“And when the radical priest/come to get me released/we’s all on the cover of Newsweek”
Fourth song no one knows – more beer, more bathroom.
Fifth song no one knows – contact high from clouds of weed smoke swirling around us
Bridge Over Troubled Water
“I’m sailing right behind”
“The riots started slowly with the homeless and the lowly”
“All these spirit voices rule the night”
The Obvious Child
“We had a lot of fun/We had a lot of money/We lad a little son and we thought we’d call him Sonny”
Questions for the Angels
“Who believes in angels? Fools do/ Fools and pilgrims all over the world”
Sixth song no one knows – more beer, more bathroom, getting even higher through osmosis
The Cool Cool River
“I believe in the future. I may live in my car. My radio tuned to the voice of a star”
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
“She makes the sign of a teaspoon; He makes the sign of a wave”
You Can Call Me Al
“…angels in the architecture..spinning in infinity he says amen and “hallelujah”
Encore No. 1
Late in the Evening
“…stepped outside to smoke myself a j….”
Crowd goes wild.
Still Crazy After All These Years
“But I would not be convicted by a jury of my peers”
“The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National Guitar”
Encore No. 2
“I wish I was” (which should really be “were” since it’s the subjunctive, but o.k.)
With a nod to Forest Hills.
“Everything looks worse in black and white”
“For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises”
Simon on the guitar playing the Seventh Song no one knows which sounds just like “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”
And, then, the finale.
The tear jerking finale.
The Sound of Silence
“And whispered in the sounds of silence”
After which Mr. Simon said, “It means more than you can know.”
Esp. to us.
Exit, stage right.
Then Forty to Fifty Thousand of our best friends all tried to get on The 7 at the same time.
It’s an apocalypse movie come to life.
The line for metro cards stretches to hyperbole for effect.
Finally, one of New York’s finest makes the decision.
He opens the gates and says, “Just come on. Get on the trains. No cards needed.”
Free ride to the City.
Like a yokel, I took the Local.
We finally arrive at Grand Central after more than an hour.
We say a brief word of thanks to the Commodore for his temple to train travel, and then it’s back to the hotel.
The next morning, we store our bags with the bellman who says he can get us a car service to LaGuardia at 1 p.m. Perfect.
We store our bags and walk to Starbucks.
We then walk to Central Park.
It’s 60 degrees. No humidity.
As we walk toward The Mall we see a man walking his two Labradors. Really handsome dogs. He has on his Beats and smiles wanly as he walks by.
Immediate recognition by me.
“That’s Charlie Rose,” I say to Mary Perrin. “Alleged flasher in the Park; New York moment.”
We stroll up The Mall.
We walk to the Bethesda Fountain.
We walk over to 72nd Street and catch a cab to the Village.
We arrive early for brunch at Rosemary’s.
We walk over to Patchins Place and see e.e. cummings’ house.
We walk around the gardens at Jefferson Market.
We then meet our pals and have a lovely stereotypical brunch and hear all about the trip to Sri Lanka and Kenya. The most interesting people live in New York.
On in the background: Paul Simon and The Smiths.
“Of course There’s a Light That Never Goes Out. This is New York.”
From there, it’s back for one more surgical strike at Saks.