Sunday, July 25, 2010

Birthday Girl

Valerie says: I know some parents who take each of their children out of school one day annually to do something special with that child alone. The child gets to decide what they’ll do, and siblings are not invited. I love this idea. What a child learns in a day of undivided parental attention can be equally as important as anything he or she will learn in a day of conventional schooling. What that is is hard to define, but I suspect we would all benefit from spending a day (a month! a year!) attending to the indefinable in our lives.

I have my own special day – not surprisingly, my birthday. (birthday hats from If it’s a weekday, I always take the day off. The thought of working on the one day a year I can really call my own is distasteful. (I did work on my 23rd birthday. I was clerking at Waldenbooks. I wore a tee shirt with a single right side spaghetti strap(with no brassiere, because it was expected back then), and on the flesh not covered by a strap I wrote the number 23 in glue (in my best penmanship), and then covered the glue with gold dust eye shadow. I had to work, but I celebrated as only the young and heedless can. (What WAS I doing with gold dust eye shadow in the house?!)

I knew my 2010 birthday would be low key. I was (am) still recovering from foot surgery, so there was no question of doing anything physically challenging (like Bonnie Townsend, shown here skydiving last week on her 90th birthday!). I DID want to spend it with a friend, and who better than Miss Jean, who cleared her schedule to be my substitute parent.

The night before The Big Day, I finally realized that I wanted two things: to start with the inimitable mango margarita at Tabla, and then take a train to Brooklyn, where I had many childhood birthdays. I once lived only a ten minute walk from the Brooklyn Museum (photo by, so the plan was to have a margarita, see the Warhol and fashion shows at the Museum, stop briefly at the Botanical Gardens (photo, and make our way back to Manhattan.

(Jean says: As Valerie's birthday approached and she didn't have her usual battle plan, I began to get jumpy. I quizzed and coaxed and was positively thrilled and relieved when she finally made up her mind and picked stuff I really wanted to do too.)

When we arrived at Tabla and ordered our drinks, our adorable waitress asked us why the hats. Jean responded that they were in honor of my birthday. (Really, we wear hats just because, but birthdays are more plausible when one is quizzed for a reason.) This was great strategy on Jean’s part, because our waitress brought us a birthday gift of two miniature watermelon mojitos to try. (Jean says: Tabla's mango margaritas are frozen with a Slurpee-like consistency and a vibrant orange color. Since they are "seasonal", we have to get them when we can from late April through September. I was sorely disappointed in the Metropolitan Museum's version which paled in comparison. Once we'd ordered and our margaritas arrived, we cracked up when the complimentary mojitos arrived. The subway ride to Brooklyn was a blur. Luckily, Valerie was a native and could navigate on auto-pilot.)

Before the drinks arrived, Jean presented me with the wonderful card of two ancient twins. We don’t look much like that yet, but we’re working on it.

Jean had another surprise up her sleeve – or rather on the tip of her tongue. Between these two surprises, I was just about falling off the edge of my seat with laughter. Jean has transitional lenses, and in the sun she looks like a famous TV and movie character. On her tongue, she had inscribed the sign of Vorro. (Jean says: Valerie's birthday is always a celebration. I'd had a blueberry popsicle at the beach the day before that turned my tongue blue. I remembered a line from the film "Badlands" with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in which he murders her family and they take off across the prarie on the lam. Sissy's character talks about writing letters with her tongue on the roof of her mouth. I figured writing the letter "V" for Valerie's birthday on the roof of my mouth would be tough to show off - without a tongue depressor and a flashlight! So, I took a magic marker and wrote a big "V" on my tongue. Only later when I saw the photos did I think that I looked like the revolutionary character in the fantasy film "V" - who also sported a Zorro-like hat, cape and mask. The look on Valerie's face when I stuck out my tongue was priceless. It was a blast. It lasted all day.)

Well (reprises Valerie), we wound up at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (as it’s now called) rather later than we expected, and probably happier than we expected, too.

On our arrival, we made the obligatory stop at the gift shop. This is always good strategy, too. It gets the shopping part of the trip off the agenda right away so you can focus your full concentration on the art. More than once we’ve left our gift shop visit till the end, and have been rushed out or, worse yet, have found that the gift shop closes before the museum. A trip to the museum is like a great dinner, and the gift shop is the dessert. Who said “Life is short: eat dessert first”? That person knew that museum gift shops can sell out of The Thing You Want, or can close early.

Then up we went to see the Warhol exhibition where, again, we stopped to see the special array of tantalizing goodies before setting about the serious business of looking at art.

Jean caught me admiring this Andy Warhol soup can shopping bag as if it were a shirt. She then forced me to stand there helplessly as she bought it for me. I think it’s fabulous, and it was a fabulous gift. I’ve already unpicked the base, and just have to shorten the sleeves.

Then we went to see the American High Style exhibition. We fell in love with two pairs of shoes by Steven Arpad. Both have sculpted wooden soles. Here they are. I think they were samples and were never worn. It’s hard to imagine the sculpted wood holding up to the punishment of actual wearing, but they’re still wonderful to behold. (Jean says: Somebody ought to buy the rights and reproduce Arpad's shoes. They were absolutely spectacular. Beautifully made and artfully designed, they were like mini-sculptures.)

The Brooklyn’s fashion exhibition was not as well advertised as the one at the Metropolitan, but I liked it better. (1949 Adrian, at left; 1955 Charles James at right.)The only curious thing about the Brooklyn show was the display of one of Queen Victoria’s dresses (probably not too different from the one shown here). Actually, I was happy and interested to see it, but we (us, not the Royal We) do wonder why a dress worn by the Queen of England was displayed in a show called American High Style. (Jean says: Judging from the dress, Queen V was only about 4 feet tall - and about 3 feet wide.)

And here’s Jean beside a dog mannequin in a good Republican cloth coat. (Jean says: Prior to the show, I hadn't really thought about dog clothing as particularly American. The exhibit had a great doggie-jacket and matching leash and collar, displayed on an adorable faux canine.)

By the time we left, my poor feet were crying for mercy. I imposed on Jean’s good nature by asking if I could give my feet a massage before we made our way to the subway. Jean asked if I could do that someplace where there would be less of an audience (what, MOI, be discreet??), so we walked over to the entrance of the Botanical Gardens. They were already closed, and relatively free of passersby. I gave my feet a rubdown, then cooled and cleaned my hands with the wet wipes I always in my bag. Afterward, we took this photo of Jean in front of the handsome gatework. (Jean says: I managed to kill two birds with one stone - Valerie got her foot massage and I got to check out the entrance to the Botanical Garden.)

I include this photo with trepidation, as it brings out all my worst features. Anyone would think I’d stolen a rhinoceros from the Museum and hidden it under my dress. And what is that thing that looks like an arm, except much wider? Hey, wait - could it just be an optical illusion - a trick of perspective? Jean, ever thoughtful, suggested the words voluptuous and reubenesque to describe me here. Or she could have said curvy, as in Real Women Have Curves. But we all know what these are code words for, right? (Jean says: My lips are sealed.)

Before heading back, we stopped for a few more photos. Jean was inspired by this gargoyle to once more make the sign of the V. (Jean says: The art in the subway stop was terrific. One last photo op before jumping on the train and heading homeward.)

I had a fabulous birthday (what Jean called an “event-driven birthday”). I almost can’t wait for the next one! Or for Jean's!

Jean is wearing a vintage straw matador hat from G. Fox & Co. (Est. 1847 Hartford), a black top by Bisou Jeans under a Top Shop black and white knit tank top, St. Vincent skirt, Alexander McQueen high top black patent Puma sneakers and Moss Lipow specs.

Valerie is wearing an old Kokin hat, second hand black linen dress by Joan Vass, tank top by Fluxus from the semiannual East 4th Street flea market, white cotton leggings by Capezio, Arche nubuck shoes, Mexican silver bracelets, rubber and metal earrings from the dearly departed 26th Street flea market, a teeny weeny button with a woodcut version of Munch's The Scream, and a rhinoceros underneath.

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