HUNKA, HUNKA BURNING TRIVIA

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I was going to start out the new year with all sorts of encouragement about fresh starts, resolutions and what a hopeful year this promises to be.   But a quick glance at the calendar quickly disabused me of any notion of improving or uplifting mankind because today is a significant day – Elvis Presley’s birthday.  All of us of a certain age have been influenced by him, or at the very least, his music.  My favorite movie with him was Blue Hawaii and I choose to remember him as that ukulele-playing, handsome heartthrob.  But the fact is that had he lived he would have been 81 years old today.  Seems hard to imagine Elvis as an old man, adjusting his dentures and screaming “whaaaat?” to his friends and family.  I want to remember him with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana – died young and that’s how he’ll stay forever.  I thought I knew a fair amount about Elvis until I started doing some research.  Like so much else in my life, I’m a lot more ignorant on the subject than I thought I was.  So…here’s a few little known facts about Elvis to commemorate his birthday.

Elvis was a twin.  Yep – the King of Rock might have been the Prince of Rock.  He was the second son born to his mom and dad but his older brother died at birth.

It’s good he isn’t in school now.  Wood shop was Elvis’s favorite subject in high school.  He didn’t like music that much and only got a guitar when his mom surprised him with one on his birthday.

He wasn’t an instant sensation.  Some of Elvis’s first concerts didn’t go over well, with one reviewer likening him to “a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party.”

Elvis wasn’t big on travel.  He only ever performed outside of the United States three times, and all three times were in Canada. In 1957, he played Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

“Maria” could have been his big hit record.  Elvis was originally pegged to star as Tony in the musical West Side Story. His manager Colonel Tom Parker nixed the idea, however, and the part went to Richard Beymer.

This could explain his weight gain.  Elvis only ever endorsed one product in his lifetime: Texas-based Southern Maid Doughnuts.

A little dab will do you.  One of the secrets to styling and maintaining his famous hairdo: a combination of Vaseline and rose oil.  I hate to think what that looked like when he was sweating.  While we’re on hair:

Only his hairdresser knew for sure.  Elvis’s natural hair color is brown; he dyed his hair black.

Elvis was his own security squad.  He was a karate black belt.

Where were the candelabras?  The idea for Elvis to wear more flamboyant outfits in concert came from none other than Liberace.

He could have lived in Beverly Hills or Scottsdale.  Elvis went under the knife in the 1970s, receiving a nose job and two facelifts.

He wanted to be the Godfather.  One film part Elvis always wanted to play but was not considered for: Don Corleone in The Godfather. Hard to imagine him making an offer than someone couldn’t refuse.

He must have been referring to Heaven.   Elvis’s last words in public were reportedly spoken to his assistant and concerned an upcoming concert tour: “Billy, son, this is gonna be my best tour ever.”

So, there you have it.  Some little known facts that you can ruminate on as you celebrate Elvis’ birthday.  Heck, at the very least it’s a good excuse to eat some cake.  I’ll just leave you with this quote from Johnny Carson:

“If life was fair, Elvis would still be alive and all the impersonators dead.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS – JUST ADD GIN!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Today being Christmas Day we assume most of your are either opening presents or sleeping in this morning.  We are too!  So today we share some thoughts about our dad and, as always, share his famous Christmas Ice Cream Gin Fizz recipe.  Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday.

“THROUGH THE YEARS WE ALL WILL BE TOGETHER, IF THE FATES ALLOW…”

A jolly man indeed!

This will be the 16th Christmas without our dad. I miss him just as much this year as I did that very first one. He was a happy, joyful guy, always kind and helpful to others. He was also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. All year long he embodied the Christmas spirit and when I was very young I thought he even looked like Santa, with his twinkling blue eyes, rosy cheeks and a stomach that shook like a bowl full of jelly. He loved the holidays, welcoming friends and family alike into our home. Our whole family misses his loving spirit but we also recognize we were very lucky to have him as long as we did and are grateful that he left us with so many cherished Christmas memories.

 

“…SO HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS NOW.”

One of Pop’s hallmarks was the Ice Cream Gin fizz he served every Christmas morning. Oh sure, most families had hot chocolate and cider while we were drinking gin. But don’t judge – it has given a roseate hue to many a Christmas morning. We share it in the hopes that you can start your own Christmas memories.  Just keep it away from your Drunk Uncle.

 

POP’S CHRISTMAS ICE CREAM FIZZ

Fill a blender 1/4 full with ice cubes
Add 6 jiggers of gin
Add 4 scoops of French Vanilla ice cream
Add 1 small bottle of soda water (the size you get in a 6-pack)
My brother Bob adds an egg so the white adds some froth, brother Jack doesn’t add an egg. Personally, I’d add it just because you can then claim it’s a protein drink.
Just blend it well and – voila – you have a concoction sure to put a positive spin on everyone and every thing!
Our mom served them in a wine glass with a dash of nutmeg. As we got older we conspired with Pop and ditched the wine glass for a chilled beer mug from the freezer. Saved having to go back for seconds…or thirds.

We wish everyone a Happy Holiday season – we’ll be back in 2018!

THE NORTH POLE: HOTBED OF HARASSMENT!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Well, children, it’s looking like Christmas may have to be cancelled this year.  Bad behavior abounds at the North Pole and there simply isn’t anyone to make and deliver presents.  It all started with Santa.  Several of his “little helpers” claim that his fingers have been aside things other than his nose.  They have produced videos and photos showing him groping and grasping, despite the girth from his gelatinous belly.  Somehow, he deems himself irresistible despite the food stuck in his snow white beard and the stench arising from his decades-old uniform.  The helpers claim that during their stints at the local mall he has asked them to scout out single suburban moms for him to hit on when he slides down the chimneys in their homes.  It seems that the Jolly Old Man is more like the Dirty Old Man.  He has insisted that they have the wrong guy, but the beard and the red suit make him hard to misidentify.  To complicate matters, Mrs. Claus is no longer around to help Santa prepare toys for his yearly sojourn.  Once she got wind of his extra curricular activities she told him he could get his fat ass into his costume by himself this year and took off for Puerto Vallarta.  Christmas still might have been salvaged if the elves had been able to take over Santa’s duties, but sadly that is not a viable option.

 

It seems the Head Elf has a reputation for hitting on the new intern elves.  He asks them into his office and proceeds to pleasure himself in front of them.  It is known as “The Elf Does Himself” around the toy shop.  He is under the delusion that all women are attracted to his bare body and he is partially right; they say he is the biggest tool at the Pole.  Unfortunately, the other elves began to emulate his behavior and soon the workshop became the very definition of “hostile work environment”.  Toy production suffered because the elves were too busy flirting to get down to making Legos and Mr. Potato Head.  Plus, some of the money that was designated for your hard earned toys was spent on settling law suits.  Still, after all this, there was hope that maybe the reindeer could fill in and pull the sleigh full of toys unchaperoned.  But that was not to be.

 

While Santa and the elves were “busy” in the workshop, the reindeer were playing their own games out in the barn.  Cupid and Vixen took their names literally and were found putting their hooves in inappropriate places.  Prancer and Dancer were performing the strip tease, while Blixen and Donner hosted a floating crap game that landed them in so much debt they ended up in the Reindeer Protection Program.  Who knows where they are?  Dasher and Comet sped out of town, hoping to salvage some shred of dignity.  And we all know that Rudolph has a red nose because he’s blotto half the time and is incapable of steering anything.

So, boys and girls, there will be no Santa delivering toys this year.  But – take heart! – it could be worse.  These characters could be working in the government.

 

 

THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

People may not agree on much these days, but I think everyone believes that life as we know it has become more stressful.  Over the past couple of weeks I noticed a strange manifestation of that – lots of people put up their Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.  Almost seems sacrilegious to me, but then I’m a big devotee of pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes so I don’t like anyone messing around with a holiday devoted to eating.  Still, I get it.  If an Elf on the Shelf or Hanukah menorah brings some joy to the world then I say go for it.  That said, I read the other day that the latest trend in decorations is the upside down Christmas tree.  I got to wondering … why?  Why mess with a perfectly good tradition that has held us in good stead lo these many years?  So I did some research, only to discover that upside down trees are believed to have been a “thing” dating back to ancient times.  History on this is a little sketchy since there was no official paper of record back in the Middle Ages but I’ll try my best to capture the genesis of this rather odd custom.

The history of the upside down Christmas Tree has its roots in the 7th century. It is during this period that St Boniface journeyed from Devonshire, England to Germany to preach the message of God.   He engaged himself in religious as well as social work and spent a lot of his time in Thuringia, a town believed to be the birthplace of the Christmas decoration industry.  So we can infer that Hallmark’s original corporate headquarters was, in fact, in Germany.  I think Thuringia is also known for beer but that’s a subject better covered by my brother.  It is believed that while St. Boniface was in Thuringia he used the triangular fir tree to represent the Holy Trinity as he tried to convert the pagan population.  One can only imagine what the native peoples thought of a guy trying to tell them that the local conifer had something to do with the Creation.  But apparently he was the Steve Jobs of his time because the converted people started to worship the Fir tree as God’s Tree.  By the 12th century it became a custom, especially in Europe, to hang the Fir trees upside down from the ceilings to symbolize the Holy Trinity. The Upside down Christmas Trees also signified that the household was one that practiced Christianity. That’s the best history has to offer us on the upside down tree.  The real history behind the hanging of Christmas Trees upside down still remains vague. Nowadays the tip of the Christmas Tree is made to point towards Heaven, as many think that an upside down Christmas tree is a sign of contempt.  Hmmmmm, given the current social climate, maybe that’s why the upside down tree has become popular.

In any event, my very limited search for upside down Christmas trees resulted in a very surprising discovery.  Walmart is selling a large variety of them this year online.  That wasn’t the surprising part since Walmart seems to sell everything.  The shock came when I looked at the price.  The most expensive one sells for an astounding $910.00!!  Apparently wanting to say “up yours” with your Christmas tree is not an inexpensive proposition.  The cheapest one was $150.00, which still seems like a lot of money for a fake tree.  The larger conundrum is WHO at Walmart is buying these trees?  If photos on the internet are to be believed, most Walmart shoppers wear holey sweat pants and muscle shirts with stains on them.  Definitely underwear is optional, and if worn, is usually peeking out of baggy pants or spandex tops three sizes too small for the wearer.  But who am I to question the marketing geniuses at Walmart? I’m just not sure that the typical Walmart shopper wants to fork over a week’s paycheck on a tree when they can furnish their entire house if they hit the blue light special just right.  Then again, I may be underestimating just how stupidly people can spend their money.  As for me, I’m on my out to buy “A Christmas Story” leg lamp.  Now that’s a smart investment.

 

OH, FOR THE LOVE OF DOG

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This month we have the confluence of two events – Dash’s 5th birthday and Thanksgiving.  Since so many of our readers are animal lovers I am dedicating this week’s blog to dogs – something for which we can truly be grateful.

Dash with Daddy on his first day home

“If you don’t own a dog, at least one, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”  Roger A. Caras

I lost my last dog in 1983 and longed for one every day after that.  I desperately wanted to replace her, but my husband kept pointing out that with our work and travel schedules it just wasn’t fair to the dog.  Frankly, I think he just didn’t want to pick up dog poop, but I had to admit he was right – we were too busy.  Still, life felt empty without a dog.  Finally, in 2012 we dog-sat for our kids while they were on vacation and, to his credit, my husband saw how much I loved having a dog by my side.  He told me to start looking for a puppy.  Much research later, I was referred to Kelly Collins of Spice Rack Cavaliers.  When we went to interview her (and her, us!) I was a bit nervous about how my husband would react but my worry was misplaced.  Within minutes, seven Cavaliers jumped on his lap and he was immediately reduced to baby-talk and dog hugs.  We were lucky enough to get a dog from an upcoming litter and in February 2013 Dash the Wonder Dog entered our lives.

    Dash at work

“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, filling an empty space we don’t even know we have.”  Thom Jones

People ask why I refer to Dash as “The Wonder Dog”.  It’s simply this – he has changed our lives for the better since the day he joined our home.  My husband who really didn’t want a dog?  Now he won’t leave Dash alone for more than three hours.  He and Dash conspired not only to have Dash sleep in our bed but to have his own pillow.  I have seen the most wonderful side of my husband in his caring for our sweet little pup.  For me, nothing soothes a bad day or a friend’s slight like walking into the house and being greeted by Dash’s wagging tail.  Even if I’ve just gone to the post box, he runs around as if I’ve been gone for weeks.   And it’s not just us that he helps.  Each Saturday I am his Uber driver that takes him to work at a local elder care center.  It’s safe to say that just a lick on the nose or a gentle stroking of his soft fur provides comfort like nothing else could.  If that doesn’t qualify as a Wonder Dog, I don’t know what does.

       Patiently waiting

“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”  Andy Rooney

Our friends now joke that they have a high bar to meet in order to get us to go out to dinner – is it a more attractive offer than staying home with Dash?  That is a slight exaggeration, but only by a bit.  I will say that Dash has had a way of helping us prioritize our time.  Before we had him, we pretty much accepted every request for dinner or party invitation.  Now, we really do wrestle with whether we would rather spend our time with the people involved or Dash.  NOTHING is better than Dash curled up next to me, sometimes resting his chin on my leg, but I do realize that we could easily become hermits if we stay home with him every night.  Still…the sight of him waiting for us at the door whenever we go out breaks my heart.  And there’s not many people at a cocktail party who will do that!

 

Cooper and Dusty –  together in Heaven

“So this is where we part, My Friend, and you’ll run on, around the bend…And as you journey to your final rest, take with you this…I loved you best.”  Jim Willis

It is so heartbreaking to lose a dog.  We have lost two in our family this year.  Good dogs, who brought so much joy and love.  Unfortunately, that is the deal we enter into when we get a dog – we know from the outset that they don’t live nearly long enough.  Still, the joy of having one outweighs the grief.  Or as someone said, owning a dog will bring you many happy days and one horrible one.  Which is why, every day, I try to appreciate Dash and all that he brings to us.  He gets lots of belly rubs, blueberries and all the toys he can rip through in 10 minutes.  Spoiled?  You bet!  But it’s not like he’s going to grow up to become an axe murderer.  He never asks for money, the car keys or breaks his curfew so I figure there’s no harm.  Plus, that’s part of the joy of owning a dog – especially a Wonder Dog.

This being Thanksgiving week we would like to wish you and yours – and your dogs – a very happy Thanksgiving.  And while we have a great family that gets along, I leave you with this final quote in case you are dreading your Drunk Uncle over the holiday:

“Dogs are God’s way of apologizing for your family.” Anonymous 

 

HARVEY WEINSTEIN, BRAVE WOMEN, AND HYPOCRISY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I’ve been obsessed with the fall of Harvey Weinstein these past few weeks.  I was about five feet away from Mr. Weinstein up in Sun Valley a few years ago.  He is just as hairy and creepy looking in person as his pictures indicate and I can’t imagine the horror of being in his radar.  As a former HR executive for a major corporation, and two small companies before that, I’ve seen and heard more than most in terms of sexual harassment.  The only thing Mr. Weinstein got right is that harassment in the workplace was common in the 70’s and 80’s.  For those of us who began our careers in that era we know that leering glances, off-color remarks and outright propositions happened all the time.  A successful career not only required skill in the selected profession but also being able to fend off the inevitable advances.  To paraphrase Winston Churchill, our greatest skill was being able to tell the perpetrator to go to hell in such a way that he’d enjoy the trip.  We never reported such events.  Frankly, I don’t think anyone would have cared back then.  I once had the head of HR asked me to “walk on the beach” with him after an offsite dinner.  I think his definition of walking on the beach didn’t include much walking.  He got increasingly angry with each rebuff.  He finally gave up but from that point on his formerly praising attitude toward my work turned to one of criticism.  I reported the incident to the head of personnel relations, but she felt her hands were tied.   After all, going over his head to the President of the company seemed like a far reach in the 1980’s.  I left the company shortly after that.

So I’ve read with interest the remarks some have made castigating the women Mr. Weinstein harassed for not stepping up right after he groped, raped or pleaded with them to watch him shower.  I have an issue with Ashley Judd (more on that later) but I think she got it right when asked to reflect on how she responded in 1996 to Weinstein’s first proposition to her.  She said she would tell her younger self, “Good for you!  Good for getting yourself out of that situation without any harm being done.”  Sometimes that’s enough – just getting yourself out of harm’s way.  The people who criticize the scores of women Weinstein harassed do not understand how frightening and paralyzing it is to be in that situation.

All that said, I do have a problem with the number of very powerful women who have kept Mr. Weinstein’s sexual predilections quiet for so many years.  After all, it is widely reported that his methods for intimidating young women were known for decades.  So well known that a clause was written into his contract citing increasing monetary penalties for each lawsuit brought due to his misconduct.  I understand young, wanna be actresses not wanting to speak up about the most powerful producer in Hollywood.  But where were the women who were already famous and successful?  Why didn’t they speak up, either individually or collectively, to protect those who couldn’t?  Are we really supposed to believe that Meryl Streep “had no knowledge” about his harassment and Hillary Clinton was “shocked” to learn of his behavior?   These women who claim to be so much in the forefront for women’s issues were silent.  They found it convenient, for career or for cash, to overlook it.  Which brings me back to Ashley Judd.  She has been called “brave” by many who laud her for speaking out against Mr. Weinstein.  I was on board with that until I saw her interview with Diane Sawyer in which she said that in 1999 she was seated at a dinner table with him and told him off.  She noted, “I found my power and I found my voice.”  Think of the scores of women who would have been spared his deviant behavior had she used her voice to blow the whistle on him publicly at that time.

I have seen “brave” firsthand.  In the late 80’s I received a phone call from the Administrative Assistant to a senior manager in one of our major offices.  She was sobbing as she told me that the evening before, as she entered her boss’ office at the end of the workday, he pinned her against the wall, kissed her and was trying to get her blouse off.  She was able to escape his clutches and run from the building.  The following morning she called me from home.  She explained that she really needed her job – she was self-supporting and it was a very tight job market after the 1987 crash – but asked if I could call him and ask him to leave her alone.  When I explained that legally I had to have the situation investigated she panicked and asked me to forget that she called.  Of course, we had to proceed with an inquiry and she courageously told her story to the investigator.  We fired her boss the next day.

In my opinion, “brave” is an appellation belonging to that young woman, and all the others like her, who blew the whistle in the moment.  There is little bravery in waiting 20 years, once there is no longer a risk to personal or professional well being.  It seems to me that the height of hypocrisy is to be lectured about standing up for women from those who sat silent for so long.

ALL I WANT IS A CUPPA JOE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

“I’ll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.”  Those of you who enjoy a good comedy will recognize that line from the 1991 movieL.A. Story.  The line was uttered by Steve Martin’s character, Harris, with the deadpan delivery that only Martin can pull off.  At the time that coffee ordering scene was meant to depict how pretentious coffee drinking had become.  We laughed and laughed at how ridiculous people could be about coffee.  Oh how innocent we were then.  Last week The Telegraph reported that Starbucks boasts that they now offer 87,000 different drink combinations.  Thanks to the “secret menu” underground, people have come up with all sorts of ways to bugger up a good cup of coffee.  I know this because I spent most of the summer standing in line behind the person who was trying to come up with drink #87,001.

 

As you regular readers know, we travel a lot during the summer months and I am embarrassed to admit that we often schedule our departure times based on when the local Starbucks opens.  “Opens at 5 a.m.,” my husband will report.  Which means that I set the alarm for o’dark thirty and we are cruising through the drive-through window at exactly 5.  The advantage really does go to the early bird in these cases because most people who are crazy enough to be up at that hour just want a plain, strong cup of coffee.  If Starbucks offered to mainline caffeine at that hour I think they get blockbuster results.  The problem with Starbucks occurs later in the day when the Steve Martins of the world arise.  If we venture into a Starbucks between 8-10 a.m. we are invariably met with a long line of people who are seemingly stumped by all of their choices.  The photo (right) was taken in Sun Valley a couple of weeks ago.  I was the 9th person in line at 9 a.m.  By the looks and age of the people in front of me I assumed I was in the company of fellow “plain drip” drinkers.  That’s what I get by categorizing people by age.  Unfortunately I was behind people ordering the new maple drink, which was doubly troublesome because the baristas weren’t quite sure how to make it.  So I stood in line for more than 15 minutes just to get two cups of dark roast drip.  I was ready to leap over the counter and pour the darn stuff myself.

Each time I find myself in this situation I harken back to my working days in San Francisco.  In the 1990’s Starbucks opened a location in the basement of the Bank of America tower.  Directly across the hallway was a Max’s Diner, which featured delectable baked goods and a self-serve coffee station.  The beauty of getting coffee there was you could pour your own coffee and throw the required payment into a jar and walk out.  They operated totally on the honor system.  The managers at Starbucks soon realized that they would lose the plain coffee drinkers like me who just wanted a fast cup of coffee.  Their solution was to establish two lines for coffee: one for just a plain cuppa joe and the other for people who order foo foo drinks.  It was a perfect system.  Unfortunately I have not seen this replicated in any other location.  And with 87,000 drinks available the lines are often filled with confused people who, to my caffeine-addicted self, seem decidedly clueless to the notion that real coffee does not include whipped cream, soy, caramel sauce, coconut water or any of the hundreds of other additives available.  So while I was waiting in that line at Sun Valley I came up with a great idea – why not have a high-end coffee machine that could be self-serve?  One could use either a credit card or the Starbucks app to access it.  It could grind fresh coffee (maybe two choices of blend) and then dispense it into a cup.  I’m sure Starbucks could pay a vending machine company to come up with something appropriately fancy looking so that even Steve Martin would be proud to obtain his coffee from it.  It would save time, labor and money.

Mr. Starbucks:  you are welcome to use my idea any time.  Just consider it my contribution to the “drips” of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

MY AUNT MARILYN MONROE AND SUN VALLEY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Until the age of 10 I thought Marilyn Monroe was my aunt.  Our Uncle Dick had a deep and abiding love for Marilyn.  So much so that he bought a life-size poster of her to hang in the cabin at Lake Tahoe.  As a way to explain why we had a picture of a blonde bombshell in a bikini so prominently displayed, Uncle Dick and my parents tried to sell us kids on the notion that she was our aunt – therefore, it was a family picture.  They didn’t try very hard to sell the idea and my brothers weren’t buying it at all but I wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.  I was mesmerized by her and, as you can see from the photo, I tried to emulate her when I could.  When she died in 1962 I was on my way to Girl Scout camp for two weeks in the Sierras.  The morning paper’s headline screamed “MARILYN MONROE DEAD!”.  So while other girls were shrieking with joy about escaping parental supervision for a week, I was bawling my eyes out over the death of my “aunt”.    Of course, with time, I better understood all of her problems and sexual peccadilloes  with the Kennedys but I still admired her glamour and her intelligence (her IQ was 168).  Today I channel her every December when I sing the “Happy Birthday” song to my brother in my best Marilyn-to-JFK impression.  And, truth being stranger than imagination, I discovered a few years ago that Marilyn Monroe is also a descendant of Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.  So, she actually IS my aunt – just 15 times removed!

 

But our common ancestry is not the only thing that Marilyn and I have in common.  She filmed the movie Bus Stop in and around Sun Valley, Idaho during the winter of 1956 and frequented The Ram restaurant.  The Ram is our favorite place to hang out and is the oldest operating restaurant in Sun Valley.  Over the years stars from Gary Cooper and Clark Gable to modern media titans Oprah and Mark Zuckerberg have dined there. The photo (right) was taken of Marilyn on the night before the Bus Stop company left Idaho to return to Los Angeles.  As you can see, Marilyn wasn’t afraid to partake in the local cuisine.  No rabbit food for her – she tucked into a steak and baked potato like a truck driver.  Apparently she loved to eat, which is just another reason to adore her.  At the time she was criticized for wearing such a “manly” sweater, as if Marilyn could look “manly” in anything.  But there may have been a good reason for her bundling up – shortly after her return to Los Angeles she was hospitalized for 12 days with pneumonia.  She blamed her illness on having to wear skimpy clothing in the heart of an Idaho winter.  Still, Bus Stop turned out to be one of her best performances.  Today one can drive a bit north of Sun Valley to visit the North Fork Store (named Grace’s Diner for the film) where Marilyn performed her magic.

For the past 29 years, we have traveled to Sun Valley in September and have had dinner at The Ram.  In fact, because our anniversary is at the end of August, we usually save our special celebration dinner for The Ram.  The photo (left) was taken on our 25th anniversary.  The food is always good and they even have a cocktail named after Marilyn.  Whether sitting inside in the old-fashioned booths with the antler chandeliers or outside on the beautiful terrace overlooking the duck pond, The Ram has always provided great atmosphere and a feeling of history.  Larry Harshbarger, who has been playing the piano at The Ram since 1979 always accommodates our requests.  It is an evening we anticipate with joy each year.

 

This year we marked 30 years of marriage in August so for this special occasion we planned on a romantic dinner at The Ram, listening to Larry and enjoying a Marilyn cocktail.  On our first day in Sun Valley we walked up to the restaurant and were greeted with a boarded up façade. The Ram and the adjacent areas are being renovated for the next three months.  According to the information posted on the fence, The Ram’s interior will be gutted and modernized.  The only remnant of the past will be the antler chandeliers.  The “new and improved” Ram will feature an open kitchen.  I hate open kitchens.  Isn’t the whole reason for going out to dinner is so you DON’T see a kitchen?  I want my meal to appear as if by magic, in the arms of a waiter who bursts through swinging doors carrying a tray filled with plated food.  Open kitchens, in my experience, render conversation with your table mates nearly impossible.  The clanging of pans, shouting of sous chefs and the occasional dropped silverware all conspire to make a cacophony of sound with decibel levels near that of a jackhammer.  So I don’t know what I hate more – that The Ram is being renovated or that it will now feature an open kitchen.

All I know is – I’m sure glad Aunt Marilyn isn’t alive to see this.

UP IN SMOKE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The Western United States has just undergone one of the most vicious and destructive wildfire seasons on record.  In Idaho, Montana, California, Oregon and Washington over 2 million acres burned this fall.  That’s bigger than the entire state of Delaware.  Worse, nine firefighters lost their lives and over 500 homes were burned to the ground.  There are many reasons being proffered for this increase in activity – lightning, hotter than normal temperatures, and the ever-present idiots who left campfires burning or, worse yet, intentionally set the forest ablaze.  I can personally attest to the smokey conditions that have caused so many problems since we had the misfortune to be vacationing in three of the wildfire areas this summer.

We arrived in the Central Coast in July just as the Alamo fire in Santa Maria broke out, growing to 29,000 acres and spewing black smoke and ash our way.  The following week the Whittier fire broke out near Santa Barbara, destroying an additional 18,000 acres and consuming a Scout camp.  The fires and smoke, coupled with our already disastrous TurnKey Vacation Rentals condo made for a rather  inauspicious beginning to our summer travels.  But we weren’t done yet.  In August during our two week stay in Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite endured several fires that consumed 14,000 acres of brush.  Each day we would stick our heads out the front door to determine if the wind was blowing the smoke our way.  We lucked out about half the time.

But wait…there’s more!  In September, as we prepared for our annual trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, a spate of new fires broke out.  I checked the EPA Air Quality website only to discover that the entire state of Idaho was either red or maroon – unhealthy for everyone.  Our good friends who were scheduled to visit us cancelled their trip due to respiratory issues.  We wavered a bit but ultimately journeyed up and luckily, the air began to clear the day we arrived and has been increasingly better.  Of course, the reason it’s gotten better is that it’s SNOWING.  In September.  Go figure.

So it seems our summer that was planned to contain plenty of hikes and golf games has been replaced by reading novels and hearing  more than we ever wanted to know about air particles.  But our minor discomfort is trivial compared to the small business owners in these remote mountain towns that rely on tourists to make their bottom line.  Both in Mammoth and Sun Valley we’ve talked to many of them who complain about the Forest Service policy of letting fires burn out if they aren’t endangering structures or humans.  This is a rather new policy that has been increasingly implemented over the past decade.  The argument goes that before the European settlement of America, forest fires consumed  20-30 million acres each year (for comparison, we’re on track for 5 million this year).   The Forest Service only began actively fighting every fire in the 1930’s.  But now they have adopted the new policy, citing that the burning of the forest is Mother Nature’s way of cleaning out and allowing new growth to thrive.  The policy has the added benefit of not endangering firefighter’s lives.  But those arguments don’t take in to account the smokey air nearby inhabitants are forced to breathe or the many forest animals who die or the diminished tourist visits that fuel the engine of small town economies.

Soon we’ll be heading back home but as a coda to our stay in Sun Valley, word around town is that Aspen Company is looking to buy Sun Valley Resort, just as they have swallowed up Mammoth Mountain, Squaw Valley and so many others.  If true, it would signal the end of the last large family-run ski resort in the West.  The quaint and historic Sun Valley we know and love just might be going…up in smoke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INFLECTION POINTS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Inflection points –  events that not only change the course of  history but our collective psyche as well.  For many of us the first such event was the Kennedy assassination.  Prior to November 22, 1963, we were a nation energized by a young President with fresh ideas and plans – plans that were to be carried out by those “born of a new generation”.  When JFK was cut down it was shocking and unnerving.   And, one could argue, changed who we are.  There is a much-quoted conversation that took place after the assassination between journalist Mary McGrory and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then assistant secretary of labor.  She lamented, “We’ll never laugh again.” He replied: “Mary, we’ll laugh again. It’s just that we’ll never be young again.” Many hopes and dreams died that day, as well as our collective feeling of security and our way of life.  As some sociologists have noted, November 22, 1963 was the end of the Fifties.

The assassination changed us in ways we could not have predicted at the time.  After that, Americans increasingly distrusted the Federal government (particularly after publication of the Warren Report) and yet, ironically, it also precipitated the largest expansion of government into our everyday lives.  We became embroiled in a war that many argue Kennedy would not have supported and our culture was flush with sex, drugs and a whole lot of anger.  Of course, there were good changes as well – civil rights and the women’s movement to name two – but certainly the innocence of the prior decade was gone forever.  It also marked the rise of television over newspapers.  Everyone was glued to black and white screens, watching events unfold for three days.  And why not?  It was compelling and the only way to stay abreast of changing events.  For me, I remember watching Lee Harvey Oswald being escorted down that fateful corridor in the Dallas police station when Jack Ruby shot him.  The experience of seeing someone killed in real time was jarring and disturbing.  Millions of people experienced that same shock.  Coupled with the assassination, how could we not be affected going forward?

The next time I saw anyone murdered was sixteen years ago today – September 11, 2001.  I flipped on CNBC that morning while getting ready for work.  The first plane had already hit Tower One and the hosts were speculating that it was a freak accident.  They mused about whether it would have an affect on the stock market since so many trading firms were in that building.  Then the unimaginable happened – the second plane hit.  I watched it in horror; this time it wasn’t one person I saw killed, but thousands.  Thanks to the 24 hour news cycle we were all witness to  explosions and fire and falling bodies over and over again for weeks.  I’m not sure we yet fully understand the toll that it took on us. Surely our national mindset was altered after watching all of the carnage and grief.  A grief that I believe is still evident after all these years.

To this day many of us tear up when recalling the image of the Twin Towers collapsing.  It remains hard to think about the people who perished that day – people who left home for work on a bright, blue-sky Tuesday morning and never returned.  The very notion of that was – is – frightening and causes us, once again, to question how secure we really are.  The fear of an imminent terror attack began impacting our everyday lives that day.  Suddenly we had to remove our shoes at the airport and limit the amount of shampoo we carry on a plane.   Socially, it brought on a lot of change too.  For the first few months after 9/11 it seemed we were able to put our differences aside, but that fraternity soon dissipated and has now devolved to a point where divisiveness rules the day .   In many ways, it has been the 60’s all over again with an extra dose of anger thrown in.

Which brings me to the unintended consequences of 9/11.  At some level we live with fear on a daily basis – fear that it could happen again to us or someone we love.  We  witness repeated terrorist attacks carried out all over the world that target ordinary people doing ordinary things.  I believe that the discord in our society is, in part, a manifestation of that fear.  I hope at some point we can recapture the unity we had in the aftermath of 9/11 and once again pull together.  Hurricane Harvey, as devastating and heart-breaking as it’s been, has shown me that people really can come together when fellow citizens are in need.  Sandra Bullock put it best when she Tweeted:  “There are no politics in 8 feet of water.  There are human beings in 8 feet of water.”  Amen.  Maybe this is a new beginning.  A new inflection point that causes us to remember that more often than not, most of the time we’re all just human beings in 8 feet of water.