Friday, June 26, 2009

Accomplishment #34: Take a Road Trip (#23) Part 1

[Okay, this is going to be broken up into two parts, because I went a little overboard, and I'm too lazy to edit what I wrote two weeks ago.]

When I was a senior in high school, all the other kids talked about what they wanted to do for their post graduation, last high school hurrah summer. A lot of kids, including my close circle of friends, were going to Hawaii. The luckier ones were going to Europe. Me, I got a job at Crown Books in a strip mall next to a Loehmann's. Some vacation.

But I didn't want the beach or castles. What I really wanted to do -- my ultimate dream vacation -- was to take a Winnebago (with a chauffeur, because I'm smart like that) on a cross-country road trip. Me, some friends, the not annoying and unobtrusive chauffeur, and the open road. And Wall Drug and Graceland and the World's Largest Ball of Twine and thrift shops galore.

That, obviously, did not happen. For one thing, how would an 18 year-old secure a Winnebago and a not annoying, unobtrusive chauffeur? And the money and time to get one's kicks on Route 66? That $3.35 an hour I was making at Crown Books wouldn't cut it, and I had to register for classes and find cool towels and extra long twin sheets for my dorm room by mid August. And yeah right -- like my parents would say, "Okay, honey! Have fun on your madcap adventure!" as I rode off into the sunset in a cloud of smoke with a bunch of other irresponsible teenagers and unobtrusive chauffeur. Pffft.

However, my parents (shockingly) did give me permission to go on a road trip that very summer, over Fourth of July weekend. My two best friends and I drove down to Southern California, where we stopped at Pea Soup Andersen's and creepy Santa Claus Lane, went to Disneyland, played quarters with two boys from Arizona (I lost), went to Knott's Berry Farm, walked along Hollywood Blvd., and slept in the car in the Denny's parking lot the last night because we didn't have a hotel room. Good times... that we still laugh about 20 plus years later.

Marci, me, Hap-pea and Pea-Wee. Taking the photo: Traecy. Whee!

Since then I've done that trip to Southern California countless times -- sometimes with friends, often alone (and got my first speeding ticket in the King City Speed Trap while listening to, of all things, Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel")*, and once with a rat named Lucifer at my feet.

{*NOTE: I wrote this two weeks ago, before MJ's untimely demise. FREAKY!}

But I still have that dream of the open road (and the Winnebago and friends and unobtrusive chauffeur) and the whole USA. I want to see Mt. Rushmore and the statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, fairy themed miniature gold courses and the Carlsbad Caverns. I want to see all that amazing Americana that's fading fast, and visit the places I've only read about in books. And even though I make slightly more than $3.35 an hour now, I'm still not exactly financially solvent enough to do it.

So when my boss suggested that we go on a road trip to the South -- Birmingham to Oxford to Nashville -- to visit accounts, I jumped at the chance. Southern literature is my most favorite genre, and to be able to actually see chinaberry trees and kudzu and Piggly Wigglys and where William Faulkner lived... heaven! And have my work pay for the rental car and expenses? Awwww yeah!

So first we flew to Birmingham, AL for a meeting, getting in late afternoon. There wasn't much time to do anything and we had to do work related stuff, but we did go to the 5 Points South area, which was cool, especially Charlemagne Records (where I bought a Frank Sinatra box set because it was cheap) and this:

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
It looks like Hap-pea or Pea-Wee!

The next morning we had our meeting, and left directly to drive to Mississippi. I think my boss thought I was weird because I had to stop and get Doritos (a road trip MUST), and he also thought I was weird because let's just say we don't have the same taste in music. He knows all new stuff that I don't care about, and I was happy as a clam shooting along the highways of Alabama, listening to Frank Sinatra sing "America the Beautiful" while he politely writhed. It was too good. I wistfully looked at all the thrift shops as we sped past, but I knew that I was pushing my luck and weirdness factor with Old Blue Eyes singing schmaltz and didn't press it. After all, I was with my boss. A little bit of professionalism was necessary.


I have a deep love for Elvis. I had a little, um, phase many years ago where I was obsessed. I thought about moving to Memphis to work in the Graceland gift shop, just for the hell of it. I even went to the Butterfield's auction and grabbed the crotch of the tuxedo Elvis wearing when he appeared on Frank Sinatra's Timex special, and asked the curator if they were selling the gun Elvis used to shoot at Bob Goulet on TV. I've even been known to win a trivia contest or two. So yeah. I love me some E.


And, had I been with my friends, I would have screamed, "OHMIGOD! PULL OVER! TUPELO! ELVIS! GLADYS! OHMIGOD!" and then launched into "Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love." But since a little bit of professionalism was, in fact, necessary, I kept the squeals down to a minimum and asked, "Ohhh, can we go? Please?"

"I don't know," my boss said. "We need to get to Oxford soon," and checking his iPhone, he told me to merge onto the upcoming highway to go south.

I thought I was going to cry. Here I was, in Tupelo, and I was missing one of the greatest landmarks of all time. Where Elvis was brought into this world, along with his stillborn twin, to spread joy and sunshine and total freakdom to the masses. I watched the exit go past, and bravely drove on.

But Elvis was looking down at me, in the guise of crappy navigational skills. "Whoops, wrong way," my boss said. "We have to double back."

"Then can we please go to Elvis's birthplace? It won't take long, I promise, I've always wanted to go, it's my total dream... and besides, we work for a TRAVEL company and we're SUPPOSED to do stuff like this!" I guess I was vehement enough and he agreed, and I happily turned on my blinker and exited, telling my boss useless and little known facts about The King, while he ignored me as best he could.

I thought I was going to PLOTZ. I waited politely for my boss to get out of the car, but practically ran to the teeny tiny house where THE KING HIMSELF was born, only to be told by the big haired tour guide lady that it was $12 to go inside. "Come on," my boss said. "I'll buy you a ticket. I've never seen you so excited about anything." (Which makes me wonder just how unenthusiastic I am at work.)

"THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING THING EVER!" I shrieked, and ran to the Visitors Center.

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
Elvis Mecca. One of 'em, anyway.

"I'M HERE ALL THE WAY FROM CALIFORNIA!" I announced to the old ladies behind the counter.

"Woll, isn't that niiiice!" one of the ladies said. "You should sign the guestbook."

"I'M GOING TO!" I said. "BUT FIRST I NEED TO LOOK IN THE GIFT SHOP!" And I did, where I bought Elvis Presley recipe coasters, buttons, and a CD, because it was imperative that I heard "Bossa Nova Baby." "DO YOU LOVE ELVIS?" I asked the lady who was reading a romance novel behind the register.

She sighed. "Sometimes."


"I can tell," she said.

Meanwhile, my boss was talking to his boss on his iphone. "You will never guess where we are -- in Tupelo at Elvis Presley's birthplace! Karen made us come here -- I have never seen her so excited. Now anyway..." I could not fathom how anyone could talk about work when we were standing in The KINGdom, but there you have it. When he finally hung up, I pointed at a picture. "THAT'S ON HIS BIRTHDAY RIGHT AFTER HIS MOMMA DIED," I explained. "ELVIS WAS SUPER BUMMED. AND THEY MADE IT INTO A MOUSEPAD, LOOK!" And my boss was very nice and bought me the mousepad featuring Depressed Elvis, because he thought I needed a souvenir. Because, you know, everyone needs a sad Elvis picture.

And then we paid our $12 to go into THE VERY HOUSE WHERE ELVIS WAS BORN. It was just big-haired tour guide lady, me, my boss, and then two latecomers -- two elderly people that I instantly felt sorry for, because I was going to be obnoxious. I couldn't help it. It was Tupelo Tourettes.

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
A little too excited.

The lady started her spiel, and I couldn't help myself. "IS THIS THE VERY BED WHERE ELVIS WAS BORN?" I asked.

"Well, no... this is all furniture that looks just like what the Presleys would have had. But that is Vernon's hat."

"COOL!" I said.

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
Vernon's hat!

She went on, talking about Elvis, but something was missing. "AND DON'T FORGET JESSE GARON HIS TWIN!" I instructed Big-Haired Tour Guide Lady. It would be criminal to leave him out. She looked startled.

"Honey, Jesse Garon was stillborn."

"I KNOW THAT," I said. "BUT HE WAS STILL BORN," without realizing what I said.

My boss looked like he wanted to fall through the floor.

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
almost the very bed where The King and his twin were born.

So I shut up and listened to Big-Haired Tour Guide Lady, who told us some very informative facts:

Vernon and Uncle Vester built the house themselves

They didn't have wallpaper, they used newspaper

They were broke and lost the house and moved down the street, but then moved to Memphis

When Elvis got all rich he bought the house and the land and turned it into a park for poor kids to play in

they took baths once a week in an old washtub and Vernon had to heat water over a fire, and he'd heat the iron for Gladys, too, because they were poor and proud

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
Cute kitchen, but I would have decorated it a bit differently.

And then she told us other stuff but I was too busy wondering about the unmentioned outhouse, and if the weekly baths meant they were stinky, and why Gladys didn't throw Vernon out because he was kind of a dog, and if, in fact, Elvis and his momma had a kind of weird relationship, because that's what Dee, Vernon's second wife said. (I think I know a bit too much.) And considering the house was as big as a postage stamp and there wasn't all that much to say about it, the tour was over in roughly 3 minutes, but it was still the best twelve bucks ever spent.

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009

So then we were shuffled out of the house and I knew my boss wanted to leave right away, but there was STILL so much to see. Like a church and a fountain and a statue of Elvis around the time of the prizewinning Old Shep performance that got him on his way:

Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
We make a really good couple

But being that it was a road trip, and a road trip with my boss (so I couldn't whine and stay longer and roll around on the grass or something), I knew it was time to go. Sadly I looked at the little house where the Magic happened (oh ewww), and bid it farewell. And I was so grateful that Gladys and Vernon settled here and TCB-ed and made baby Elvis who grew up and enriched so many lives. And I was grateful that I got to go to Tupelo and Elvis's birthplace after all, thanks to bad directions.

And I was grateful for another cheesy photo op:
Alabama and Mississippi -- May 2009
Almost the car that the Presleys drove out of Tupelo to Memphis

And then it was time to get back into the rental car and head toward Oxford, our next stop. I wanted to blast "Bossa Nova Baby" as I sped off into the sunset in a cloud of smoke and I would have, if my boss wasn't in the car talking on his iphone. But I sort of did it anyway and yelled, "BYE ELVIS! I LOOOOVE YOOOUUU!!!"

And now you, too, can blast "Bossa Nova Baby," one of the best Elvis songs EVER:

Stay tuned (or not -- believe me, I don't blame you) for Part Two, in which our heroine gets busted at Faulkner's grave at midnight, and nearly gets into a fight with a Crazy Lady in a hotel bar in Nashville. Hot dog!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Accomplishment #33 Take Care of a Pet (#80)

A year ago today, I had to put my beloved cat, BeBe Louise, to sleep. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

BeBe Louise 1993- 2008
BeBe Louise 1993-2008

Now, I know that everyone thinks their cat is the best cat in the world, but BeBe was quite spectacular. She was my baby and my best friend, the best gift I've ever gotten. Eight pounds of toothless and tailless terror, that one, with the loudest meow on the planet. And smart. She knew how to say hello, and blessed me when I sneezed. (Not kidding. I'd sneeze and she'd meow in the same inflection a person would say "bless you." Every time.) She gave eskimo kisses, rubbing her nose against mine. She knew I was home when I was still half a block away, and greeted me at the door every single time. At night she'd curl up with me, the perfect nestling spoon, or settled her 8 pounds on my hip. I spent hours petting her until she drooled a puddle. And I also subjected her to utter humiliation:

Moooom! Stoooop it!!!

You could sing her name in any song, and her nicknames were The Beez, Beezus, Little Miss, Doo, Tailless (and Toothless) Wonder, and Keeper of All Secrets. I told her everything. Countless times I sobbed into her tortoiseshell fur, and danced with her (which she tolerated, with dignified patience, for about 45 seconds) in happy moments, but mostly she would just be purring on my lap or inches away, as I absently pet her while I read or watched TV or was on the computer. We were rarely in separate rooms. We survived our apartment building fire together -- I had the firemen and the neighborhood looking for her, and she emerged from "the sixth dimension" -- the portal of which was in my closet -- unscathed and annoyed. She hated everyone, including me, and we all bent over backwards to try to make her love us, though it was usually met with disdain. She especially hated other cats and children and the vacuum and getting her nails clipped. What she loved was Fancy Feast, feet, a dirty wad of string called "String Baby" which she nurtured, and drinking water from her own little cup.

At the end she was a little senile and completely incontinent (I hung the above photo on the fridge at her eye level, hoping she'd at least try for the litterbox every once in a while) and when her back end gave out and she was barely eating, I had to give up the hope that I had held for so long, that we'd find the right medicine and she'd get better. Up until the last minute I was resistant, but it was the right thing to do. I will never forget that moment when she went -- I was holding her and her eyes dilated and I couldn't be polite for the vet's sake. Just then Jon's cell phone went off and instead of ruining the moment, I remembered that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.

The night I picked up BeBe's ashes, I was sitting on the couch, crying, sure that my heart would never heal, when one of my best friends called. I figured she was calling to ask me how I was doing, but instead she was calling to ask a favor. She and her husband and two kids (our god-children) and dog were moving to Arizona, and would we take their cat? I wasn't sure, but Jon and I agreed -- we'd be helping out, and no cat could be like BeBe, so it wouldn't be a replacement.

Enter Norman.

Everyone -- meet Norman.

I'll admit, when Norman first came to us (and immediately squeezed himself behind the record shelves), I was worried. It was too soon after The Magnificent Beez, and this giant cat was nothing compared to her. Ohhh, he was nice enough, but his face wasn't smushed like BeBe's was. And his name couldn't be sung into any song. And he was on Prozac (living with two babies and a dog made him a little bonkers) and attached to a catnip stuffed bulldog, not a dirty piece of string. What was I doing? I could never love this animal, and I felt like a traitor to BeBe, whose ashes were on the mantel. "You're kidding me," I could hear her sneer. "This? You've replaced me with THIS?" "Nice Norman kitty," I said, but the words sounded hollow. The "n" sound was nasally and guttural, not the flowing "eeee" I'd been used to for so many years. I went to bed that night, feeling like maybe I had made a mistake, and was doing this poor cat a disservice because I couldn't be a good adopted cat mom after Beezus.

But then, in the middle of the night, I woke up and saw Norman staring at me, and I swear to God he looked worried. Like, "Hi, we don't know each other, but I hope you like me. Please?" And my heart melted, and I scratched his cheek, and he put his chin on my hand and gave me kisses. We've been pals ever since.

It's true, he is the polar opposite of BeBe. For one thing, he's a BOY. And he has a tail (which is a language I'm still trying to learn) and all of his teeth. He weighs three times as much as she did, with a belly that swings side to side when he runs, and isn't picky about food at all. And shhh, don't tell him but he's, um, not as smart as BeBe. He doesn't bless me when I sneeze -- he gets spooked and takes off. He can't sit still when you pet him -- he paces and gets over excited and flops around. He won't sit on laps (but I'm teaching him, along with being picked up), and his meow is little and wimpy. He has eaten all the plants.

But he is so sweet, and a total lovebug. He completely lacks that disdainful cat gene -- he's more like a goofy dog, earnest and eager to please. He loves people, and is dying to go outside and play with the other cats, but we kind of think he's so dumb he'll try to befriend a raccoon and that wouldn't be good. At parties he comes out to check out the action, whereas BeBe hid, furious, in the closet until everyone was gone. And he is also musically inclined:

Norman plays the accordian
A one-anna-two-anna...

So we've had Norman for about a year now, and I still think about and miss BeBe every day. I miss her little clicky feet on the floor, and her sweet motorboat purr. But Norman has grown on me, more and more all the time. It's not the same kind of bond I had with my little BeBe girl, but we're good friends, he and I. I try not to talk about BeBe in front of him, because I don't want him to get jealous and think he's a rebound. It's a different kind of relationship. But I do love him very much, and I know he loves me back -- he spoons, and looks at me with that open, sweet face, and he follows me around like a puppy. Right now, he's beside me, snoring as I type. And I know that as soon as I go to bed, he'll put his chin on my hand and give me lots of licky kisses (he doesn't get the eskimo kiss thing) and we will fall asleep, and he'll wake me up way too early tomorrow morning for a cheek scratch. I'm awfully lucky that I had BeBe, and now I have Normie-Boo.

norman 008
Find the Norman

Because they taught me that sure, we take care of pets, but really -- they take better care of us.

Thirty-three down, 64 to go.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

For You.

A few weeks ago, the fabulous and funny Tessa of Tessa Scoffs bestowed this award on me!


I am honored to have received it and am just so impressed that someone was able to recreate my likeness onto such a small thumbnail. (Ohhh, okay, fine. My fantasy likeness, sans the orthopedic Danskos, prescription sunglasses and with a wasp waist and a poodle.)

In all seriousness, thank you Tessa, and right back atcha.

And now comes the time where I bestow this award on what I consider to be the 5 best blogs, or tell you my 5 least favorite things, or 5 things you don't know about me and my 5 digit pin code for the ATM machine. Welllll... I'm going to choose five things and shake it up a bit, so here goes:

~ If you are on my blog roll thingamajig: this award is for you.

~ If you follow me (and thank you!): congratulations, you just got an award.

~ If I follow you: I like you, I really like you.

~ If you are reading this and you have a blog: you're an award winner.

~ If you're not reading this, but you have a blog: this one's for you.

Because here's the thing: putting yourself out there is damn hard, and I admire each and every one of you. I don't care if you're anonymous, or a persona, or yourself writing about what you had for breakfast. I don't care if you're writing to keep in touch with family or friends, to get your feelings out or getting something off your chest, or talking about what you wore or found on etsy. I don't care if you have 5 million followers or a book deal or if you have never written anything but your name before, or if you're a spelling bee champion or can't even spell cat. What I care about is that you are writing, and you are writing publicly. To me, that is one of the bravest things you can do, because exposing yourself and your thoughts and feelings and words can be downright scary. I find that to be so admirable, and it's something I'm pretty intimidated by. (And a lot of it has to do with atrocious grammar.)

I'll admit, I let this blog lag because of something that happened to me a few months back. I was out at a nightclub, blah blah blah, and I made an offhand comment in a conversation. A girl with whom I'm not friends said to me sarcastically, "Is this going to be one of your long and boring stories that no one wants to listen to?"

I felt like I had been punched in the throat. Yes, true, this girl and I are not friends and do not like each other, so her credibility and anything she says should not be taken seriously. And yes, true, word economy is not my strong suit and I tend to blab. And sure, I may be a little boring... But still, it hurt. She found that button to push, the one thing that would upset me, and she knew it. But I couldn't stop thinking about it. I went from embarrassed to angry to defensive to sad, in no particular order on no particular day. I've had criticism before -- I survived high school, went to grad school and have endured heinous writing groups, for godssakes -- but this was deliberate and mean. It made me reassess a lot of things and wreaked havoc on my insecurity and wreaked havoc on writing the blog. To make a long and boring story short: it sucked.

But what I realized, that even despite this woman's tactless comment that I let get to me when I shouldn't have, is that I love writing, and I love writing this blog, and missed it. I never let it go away completely -- I was writing it in my head, even if I wasn't logging on. And then I sat down and started to type, and grew a skin that looks a bit like a lizardy, thanks to my new determination and older age.

In order to put yourself out there you need a thick skin, and I think all of our skins have grown a little tougher as soon as we signed up to do this. But there is something about the vulnerability and thrill as you hit "POST," and I picture all of you doing it, and it makes me love you all. I think of you coming up with ideas, feeling the sense of Accomplishment when you are finished and pleased with your efforts, feeling good when your ideas come across. I'm happy at the thought of all of you getting supportive and kind comments, and hate the thought of any of you hurt by assholes being assholes for the sake of being assholes. I'm thrilled that you're writing.

In short (See? I can change!): you all deserve this award. Congratulations.

So, okay, maybe I messed up this award giving process a little. (I'm not good at chain mails, either.) But I want you all to accept this award, and pass it to someone else, and let them know that they are fabulous for putting, uh, words on a screen. (Pen to paper sounds so much nicer, though.) And that you and they are Accomplishing Great Things, which is what this blog is all about.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get off my soapbox and go and edit a really long and boring (no kidding) blog entry.

Thanks, again, Tessa, and thank you all!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Accomplishment #32: Dine High End on a Low Budget (#22)

Last week I was in New York City. Ahhhh... I love New York. There is nowhere in the world like it. Walking down the street I feel like That Girl, ready to fly a kite or twirl a floral umbrella or wink at a mannequin. Or something.


Frank Sinatra was right -- when you're there (or not), you want to be a part of it, old New York. You can't help but think of all the books and movies and music and glamor and squalor and history. On Fifth Avenue, you think of Holly Golightly at dawn in last night's finery. In the Village you think of beatniks and jazz, baby. At the Met I think of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the lower East Side I think of The Alienist, and of course Midtown is Dorothy Parker and her Round Table compatriots or Deborah Kerr racing to meet Cary Grant atop the Empire State Building. Then there's Woody Allen and Seinfeld, When Harry Met Sally and Harriet the Spy, Paul Auster and Holden Caulfield, CBGB's and "21." (And Paul's Boutique by The Beastie Boys when in Brooklyn -- awwww, yeah!) The list goes on and on and on. It's the pulse of the world, the capital of dazzle and substance, the epicenter of excitement...

And it's super, super expensive. Like, crazy expensive.

I'm lucky -- I was there for work, so it all wasn't out of my own pocket. But I'm a good girl (or try to be), and I try not to take advantage of my company, eating as cheaply as possible. Which isn't all that easy to do -- it adds up, and fast. Even fast food restaurants are way more expensive in Manhattan, though "street meat" is cheap but let's face it, risky.

So last week when I had gotten in I had been starving and had grabbed a bite, using up my quota for the day. After resting a bit and attempting to brush my hair, I walked up to Times Square from my hotel (on 7th across from Madison Square Garden) to meet my old friend Suze. The city had blocked off Times Square to traffic, rerouting cars, and had set up lawn chairs in the street. It was thronging with tourists and sailors for Fleet Week, and the lights are so bright that even though it was 9 o'clock, it was like daylight. We sat on the red neon steps under the Coca Cola sign and took it all in.

Manhattan May 2009
our view from where we were sitting

While it was exciting, there is a fact about having that many people around: elbows and feet in your face. So we took some touristy pictures and decided to go find something to eat.

We poked around the Great White Way, sneaking into theaters to ooh and ahh over their intricate ceilings and loges, and marveling at all the star-studded Broadway productions that are going on right now. West Side Story, 9 to 5, and Blithe Spirit with Rupert Everett, Angela Lansbury and Christine Ebersole (she was THE BEST in Grey Gardens, the only show I've ever seen on Broadway proper). It's astonishing really, how many shows there are. (And remember -- expensive!)

We didn't know where to eat, but I was happy wandering aimlessly, turning onto W. 44th St. And there was the legendary Sardi's.


Sardi's is one of those New York institutions, the kind of place you dream about getting all snazzy and ordering filet mignon and Baked Alaska. Founded in 1927, it has always been thee restaurant for the theee-aaaa-tah crowd, attracting actors and audiences alike. The Tony Awards were founded there, and it still is thee spot for opening night parties and photo ops. Its trademark is the caricatures of all the stars, everyone from Helen Hayes to even Clay Aiken ("the Gayken"), framed and hung in the dining rooms and bar.

And it's even been a star in movies itself -- here it is in Please Don't Eat The Daisies with Doris Day and David Niven, 1960:

Fast forward to the 5:37 mark -- Sardi's!

"Oooh, Sardi's!" I breathed, like the tourist geek I am. "Can we go in and just have a drink? I've always wanted to..."

"Sure," Suzie shrugged. She lived in New York for years and is an actress -- she is far worldlier than I. She swung the door open and we went in, leaving behind the New York street sounds and stepping into hushed voices and clinking silver and glass, and quiet, jazzy music.

I felt a little thrill of excitement. I was going into the venerable Sardi's! I have always just dreamed of dining at Sardi's with the hoi polloi, while wearing a taffeta Dior dress with gloves and ankle strap heels, my laugh tinkling (not cackling), sharing witticisms and martinis with Cole Porter. (Okay, fine, my Sardi's fantasy is circa 1952, but STILL. All my fantasies are, if you haven't figured that out by now.) But instead of a taffeta Dior and ankle straps and opera length gloves... I was... I was... oh God...

...I was wearing a SWEATSHIRT.

A black hooded sweatshirt that I had put on that morning, covered in cat hair and Munchies crumbs and airplane germs. And jeans and Hush Puppies and messy hair. Now, I know that casual wear is de riguer now -- one doesn't even have to wear a tie to even "21" anymore (which I lament -- I wish there were more places that upheld outdated civility) -- but COME ON. A sweatshirt? Cole Porter was spinning in his grave, and Cecil Beaton and Lily Dache were giving me the ghostly stinkeye.

But the bartender was very nice, and laughed when I stammered that I wouldn't normally wear a sweatshirt to such an establishment. And the maitre d' let us sit in the dining room to sip our drinks, since the shows hadn't let out yet and it was virtually empty. We gawked at the caricatures ("Look, there's Lucy!" "Awww, there's Dom Deluise!"), craning our necks and twisting in our seats. All decorum and nonchalance was abandoned, and I felt like the two rube suburban girls in Catcher in the Rye, silly and guileless in the Big City. Such rubes, in fact, that the busboy took our picture.

Manhattan May 2009
Tourist geeks

"Let's look at a menu for fun," I said, and the waitress brought us the post-theater supper selection, and we perused the twenty dollar hamburgers and forty dollar steaks. But when I saw they had French Onion Soup for under ten dollars, I realized that this would be my Accomplishment, dining high end on a low budget. And I would actually eat at SARDI'S.

So I got the soup:

Manhattan May 2009

Suzie got french fries:
Manhattan May 2009
Starchy goodness

And ate lots of good French bread.
Manhattan May 2009

And this was our bill:
Manhattan May 2009
Probably the lowest bill they had all night. And NOTE: My work did NOT pay for this!

People started trickling in as the shows were letting out, and it started filling up. And Rupert Everett came in, dressed even worse than I was, and sat beneath his own picture. Talk about ego! And no, we didn't take his picture. We're tourists, but not that bad. Now, had he been, say... PATTY DUKE... that's another story. ahem.

And since we were paying customers, we felt entitled to poke around the closed upstairs dining room and bathrooms, where we took lots of photos:

Manhattan May 2009
Aren't these beautiful?

Manhattan May 2009
Just THINK of who used these booths, before the advent of cell phones...

Manhattan May 2009 Manhattan May 2009
Anita Loos, Shelley Winters

Manhattan May 2009
Sammy and Dick!

Manhattan May 2009 Manhattan May 2009
Myrna Loy, Farrah and Liz

And then I discovered that I'd actually been there before, in the guise of The Gooch:

Manhattan May 2009
Peggy Cass, aka Agnes Gooch

Manhattan May 2009
Uncanny, isn't it?

Except she is wearing pearls, NOT a sweatshirt.

So as Auntie Mame told Agnes Gooch, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death," we ate -- CHEAP -- at that banquet. I highly recommend it.

French fries: $4
French Onion Soup: $9.75
French Bread: free
Dining at Sardi's for less than $20 and being able to say you ate there: priceless

Manhattan May 2009
Such a glamorous Accomplishment!

Thirty-two down, 65 to go.