Category Archives: guests

tom and cooper dog

Toronto Visit

Toronto is like New York, as run by the Swiss.

—Peter Ustinov

“We’re just back from Tokelau.  Jack prepped with “Freddie” at Choate a hundred years ago. Anyway, Freddie’s the Royal Imperial Emperor now.  We told him not to make a fuss, but apparently he stayed some executions, closed the banks and schools, and put on this amusing little festival for us.  The kids enjoyed it.  And you, are you still out in the West somewhere?”

—Imaginary voice of a globetrotting Kenwood matron

 It is particularly difficult for me to write about travel, knowing the sophistication of the Hill and Lake Press readership.  That many of you do not make it to the back page is some solace, but it is still intimidating. I must adopt the proper world weary, bemused, detached tone of a seasoned travel writer.  Toronto was a gnarly, way cool, itchin’ time, and I cannot wait to chill there again as it is awesome to the max!!!

My son-in-law, Daniel Gillies, is working in Toronto for a few months on Saving Hope, a medical drama for NBC.  He brought the family’s yellow lab, Cooper, for company.  With a place to stay and “Coopie-Coopie” for a tour guide, we walked most of the city.  Having a large dog brands me as more likely a local, rather than an L.A. tourist.

We were pleased to learn that dogs are permitted on subways, trains, and city buses in off-peak hours.  In Toronto patio is a verb.  In the summer weather, people love to patio outside with a meal and drink.  Cooper enjoys a bowl of water just the other side of the railing.  The city feel is European right down to the smoking on the street.   Very few people fit my antiquated stereotype of square jawed mounties and blonde farmers’ daughters from Saskatoon.  Toronto is the largest city in Canada and fifth largest in North America.  One half of the population was not born in Canada.

Toronto is multicultural, racially diverse, and in a big hurry.  The downtown seems to stay up late.  Cooper and I saw hundreds of mostly 20 to 30-somethings out after midnight.  Seeing as how Toronto is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan cultural center, Cooper and I fit right in.  What you rarely see are law enforcement officers.  It appears to be a city that polices itself.  It does not hurt to have a 75 pound lab with you, but I never felt intimidated on any of our walks.

“The Beaches” is an Uptown-like neighborhood with shops, a boardwalk, swimming areas, and a well defined dog beach, all fronting Lake Ontario.  Like Target Field, the Blue Jays’ retractable roof stadium is great for baseball, and it is right downtown.  On Daniel’s day off the three of us went to Kensington, a hip neighborhood right next to Chinatown.  Toronto has a Minneapolis feel with parks and greenery everywhere.  The city is vibrant, almost despite local government officials.

Torontan’s seem to be amused rather than incensed by their own political scandal.  Mayor Rob Ford was once arrested for threatening his wife.  He famously warned the city that the Asians are taking over.  Currently he is in the news for trying to buy and annex city park land adjacent his home.   He is an obese man, well over 300 pounds, who looks like he could swallow Rush Limbaugh.  Months ago Ford vowed to lose at least 50 pounds.  Ballyhooed as a charity fund raiser, there was promise of twice-weekly weigh-ins at City Hall.  He appears to have gone AWOL and gained weight, not only abandoning the project, but ceasing to come into his office for any reason.

 Toronto, a doggone good city.

Tom H. Cook is back in the States plotting his next trip, a return to the Twin Cities in the fall.





Guests Who Stay Too Long

It would be so nice if you weren’t here.         — Charles Grodin (That’s the title of his autobiography)

I had to sink my yacht to make my guests go home.                    — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Never Can Say Goodbye (no no no)           –Clifton Davis (popularized by The Jackson 5)

Won’t you come and take me home, I’ve been too long at the fair.          –Bonnie Raitt

We have all had the experience.  You are at a thing.  There are hors d’oeuvres with spinach and feta, and that is clearly the highlight.  JoAnne and everyone else you know were smart enough to beg off.  You are there to show support for the volunteers that are working tirelessly to either wipe out or build up something in our lifetime. A couple I know vaguely greets me effusively.  I am wary, but they are spicy meatball people and no threat to the dwindling spinach/feta spread over which I have taken a proprietary interest.

They find my irreverent comments on the gathering and its people hysterical.  They ask about “Joannie.”  We have some Chablis, share a few laughs and soon I am referring to Joannie and how heartbroken she is to miss this gala but she is wrapping bandages at the Red Cross.  After more Chablis I confide that she is changing the oil on a bookmobile at an orphanage.  I worry that this nice couple will die laughing.  Where were these people when I was trying to make it in comedy?  A better question is Who are these people?

There’s a fleeting comment spoken in haste, then a date book (not mine) appears out of nowhere.  On the third Friday of a month that hasn’t even started yet the McSomeones (Jerry or Gary and Edie or Ellie) are free! They will have to move a few things around of course.  They are frantic and busy.  I nod in a way that I hope conveys empathy, although I am rarely frantic or busy.  The only activity on my mired mental agenda is that the dogs will probably be due for a flea treatment again around the date we are speaking of, provided I remember to administer one to them soon.

The last hurdle is where to meet.  We could go there.  They begin to describe where they live.  It is an unincorporated exurb north of Sleepy Hollow beyond anything a GPS can calculate.  We would need sherpas… or they could come to us.

They are amazed that I do not have to pull out an electronic phone/datebook/letter opener, nor do I need to check with Joannie first.  I assure them that she loves company and that if it weren’t so late and they didn’t have that horrible drive, they could come over right now and we could get this visit thing over with tonight. Edie/Ellie wants to know if I always say hurtful things in a funny way.  I put three cream puffs in my mouth and answer her.  They think I am kidding and laugh.

The next day I explain my master coup to JoAnne /Joannie.  Adept at the Lesser of Two Evils Defense, I deftly point out that thanks to my quick thinking we do not have to drive to Outer Ishpeming Forest Estates next month!  The McSomethings are coming here for dinner!  We can stay in our warm, safe house and have a casual evening…  JoAnne interrupts to suggest a third option, known as Neither of the Above.  I assure her that they were intent on meeting and only through swift diplomacy was I able to delay the inevitable and secure us the home field advantage.  Did I mention how I make a weak argument worse by interjecting sports lingo?

The evening that was so far in the distance that it wasn’t even worth worrying about is here. JoAnne has risen to the occasion and prepared a dinner far better than I feared we were going to have as late as this afternoon. There is food and wine. Except for opposable thumbs we have little in common with this couple.  Then a curious thing does not happen.  We hit the segue.  It is 10:30 and time for them to go…yet they stay.  I turn off the heat and it seems not to faze them.  Soon it is well after 11:00 and Jer and El are still here.  Perhaps they are waiting for me to be as sardonic as I was at “the thing.”

I envy my dogs, curled up nearby and sleeping peacefully, exempt from Jer’s stories.  It is a long night and the four of us are waist deep in it.  Many hours ago we agreed to come out to their land to hunt pheasant or grouse or rabbits next fall.  I ask if they are planning to stay so that we can carpool.  They think I am kidding and hunker down.  JoAnne has become Jo Jo, or Jo Jo Ma.  I do not believe this delights her but it is hard to tell as we are not making eye contact.  Part of this may be because of her long sojourns to the garage, a part of the house she rarely spends any time in.  This is after Gar’ pipes in that “Joannie spends more time in the bathroom than some junkies I know.”  I doubt that Gar knows any junkies, but if he knew anyone else I wish he would find them immediately.

JoAnne, her hand to the wall for support, delivers our family’s favorite line: “Well, we’d better go to bed; these nice people probably want to go home.”  Garth and Elsie thank her, bid her good night and proceed to settle in on the couch.  In hindsight I may have been enabling, but out of desperation I make popcorn for what I hope will be the grand finale.


Afterward Ellie wants to help clean up.  It is a nice gesture, but it is closing in on 1:00 AM and the full meal and dessert are a distant memory.  We have no coffee, which momentarily disappoints them, but Garp finds the tea and my special cookies.  They consume the cookies and all of the ice cream I am willing to part with but still they paddle around in stocking feet seemingly enjoying the Santana CD that I thought would drive them away.

They finally left.  I awoke the dogs from a sound sleep for a last outing and Gil and Leelee followed us out the door.  After their tail lights disappeared, the dogs and I rolled in the grass, happy to be free.

Some people cannot take a hint.  On a larger scale, perhaps that is what the youth are twittering and tweaking about.  Our entitled generation has driven the country to the brink of despair with our old style politics.  We are seen as clueless, attempting to apply aging paradigms to complex modern problems. Youth want us to go. Now. And take Arlen Specter with us.

We have been asked nicely to step down.  Except for Depends, we are not the focus of advertising.  Letterman and Leno aside, there are few television shows with actors over 50.  They have shrunken our precious newspapers, the equivalent of flashing the house lights.  They smirk at our landline telephones and VCRs.  But still we stay.   Fogies like Vice President Biden are urging everyone to remain home to avoid getting the flu.  Young people roll their eyes.


Tom H. Cook is too hip to quit.  Someday he will take his own advice and retire, but it won’t be next month.  He would like to be among the first to wish you a Happy Summer.




Visit to New Orleans

Dateline: Gretna, Louisiana.  (OK, I admit it, I am not still there.)

The time my wife JoAnne and I spent in this gritty outskirt of New Orleans is a far more interesting tale than my recent column about doing laundry (HLP February ‘05).

We had tasted the French Quarter (metaphorically immersing ourselves in deep fat), ate beignets at Cafe du Monde, spent a long weekend in Lafayette, and wandered the Garden District before checking into “the only room left in the greater New Orleans area” (in the words of the cheerful representative).  Let’s not quibble over who neglected to see if the largest non-Mardi Gras event had just hit town.  Let me just say that one of us figured that midweek there would be plenty of rooms.

Besides, in this person’s defense, we did get a room in an Econo Lodge, which, we had a vague recollection, was a national chain whose logo featured a cute little bear in a nightshirt and cap holding a candlestick.  Furthermore, Gretna sits just across the Mississippi River, a scant four miles from Bourbon Street.  To top it off, the guilty one added that Gretna was the birthplace of Hall of Famer Mel Ott, the feared New York Giants slugger of the 1930s who seemed to rear up on his back leg when he swung, and who hit 511 steroid-free homeruns.

The Economy Lodge (that is not a typo; that is what the sign read) we pulled up to clearly had no affiliation with the national chain, unless there had been a coup.  Smiling at me behind the counter was a nearly toothless and fully barefoot man for whom English did not appear to be one of his top three languages.  He did not seem to be the type to wrest control from a powerful corporation.  The more likely scenario seemed to be that he had stumbled in from the Quarter years ago and, unable to pay his bill, had been sentenced to serve as manager of Dante’s waiting room.  Glancing around the dirty, shabby, and threadbare lobby, we were eyeballed by a fellow lodger whom we soon dubbed “Sugarman” for his curious habit of using twelve sugars in his coffee and making way too much eye contact.

When the proprietor asked if we had reservations, I was able to answer, “Yes quite a few.”  This line usually gets a chuckle or at least a hollow laugh.  JoAnne was too frightened to respond.  The proprietor, now joined by his wife, who had almost twice as many teeth, smiled hopefully.  Only Sugarman was laughing like Ed McMahon, although he had begun to chortle long before the witty banter began.  I mumbled something about not judging a room by its lobby.  We checked in and drove around to our room at the far corner of the court.  As we unloaded the car, Sugarman ambled over and attempted to talk with JoAnne, who was not speaking to either of us.

In our thirty-some years together we have camped out, slept in youth hostels, and stayed on the floor of a friend’s barely finished basement.  Despite being older, I like to think we have not become bourgeois burghers and that we still possess a spirit of adventure.  But this setting clearly violated tenets of the Geneva Convention. The air conditioner had been ravaged and was held together by mildew.  The smoke alarm hung by a wire, the furniture would not have been accepted by Goodwill, and the bed was so concave that the thin spread touched the mattress only at the sides.  Although it was a non-smoking room, there were ashes on the floor of the bathroom.

When I turned on the hot water faucet I expected cold, rusty, or Mississippi River water.  Instead there was absolutely no water. When JoAnne spotted the bullet hole in the wall  and then the smear of a brown-red handprint not far from it, we both reached for the phone to call the airline.  Needless to say, the phone didn’t work.  I broke for the lobby, leaving JoAnne to put the bags back in the car.  When the ubiquitous Sugarman, in his unofficial role as host/neighbor/welcome wagon approached her, she abandoned the task and hurried to join me in the lobby.  I was having no luck with the proprietor, who was not versed in how to dial out on his Marconi 300 phone console, circa 1934.  He explained that people contact him for rooms and he did not know how to make a long distance call.  He graciously invited me to come around and attempt to dial this exotic 800 number myself while he watched until he lost interest and sat down on the floor.

JoAnne arrived to find me behind the counter and seemingly the person in charge.  After fifteen frantic and stressful minutes, through a stroke of luck I was somehow able to reach United Airlines, whose options had recently changed.  (Why does every organization claim to have new prompts –initiated during the Carter administration– that will streamline service, yet are guaranteed to increase your wait time?)  JoAnne paced in the lobby and, as if on cue, Sugarman came in and began to fix himself another cup of coffee.

It was rush hour and we still had a rental car to dispose of, but there was a 7:00 PM flight to LA with a couple of seats available.  I thanked the United Airlines representative profusely, handed my key to the helpful if bewildered manager, who probably wanted me to teach him how to use the phone system as much as he wanted us to stay.  JoAnne and I hurried past  the sludge-filled swimming pool, threw our suitcases in the car and peeled out.  Sugarman saw us off.

We gave up two extra days in The Big Easy, but felt that we got away with our lives.  It was great to see the Mississippi again, but it felt wonderful to return to our adopted home.


Tom H. Cook is the HLP West coast correspondent. A representative refunded our money after hearing an abridged version of our tale.   JoAnne wishes to thank everyone who has sent her string for the Thread Project.   If anyone else wishes to have their threads in the project, it’s not too late to send them along: PO Box 1187, Torrance, CA 90505. If you have questions, you can email JoAnne at



Hosting Guests

Left in charge of a small Redondo Beach home just south of Los Angeles for the summer has been a dream.  When word of our good fortune got out, various and sundry friends and relatives suddenly found their commitments (parole hearings, tattoo removal, electrolysis, flea market hawking) remarkably flexible.  A staggering number of my ‘best friends,’ including a few that had difficulty remembering my last name, were planning to be in L.A. and would love to stop by for a while and stay with me and my wife Jan (JoAnne?).  In fact as the temperature rose in Minnesota the warmth of a number of relationships we had left behind seemed to increase proportionately.  Think Randy Quaid in “National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation”.

Our once uncluttered summer schedule was filling up rapidly and my wife and I were cast in the unlikely role of hosts.  Unfamiliar with this responsibility, and much more accustomed to being the deadbeat guest, I reached for my copy of “Etiquette” by Emily Post (1949) in preparation for the onslaught.


“The host always goes into the front hall and shakes hands with everyone who arrives.  He asks the guests if they want to be shown to their rooms, and if not sees the men who come give their keys to the butler or valet, and the ladies without maids of their own give theirs to the maid who is on duty for the purpose.”

Greeting of the Host, 2001

I will not send a chauffeur as suggested but will arrive at LAX myself and bear hug my guests.  At the house JoAnne will similarly greet our friends.  I will throw their stuff in the guest room and not rummage through their luggage to see if they brought me something.  I will put on a CD of music that I believe everyone will like.  JoAnne will first tell me to turn it down, and then ten minutes later, to everyone’s great relief the sounds of The Tijuana Brass (second album) will no longer fill the house.


“After tea, people either sit around and talk, or perhaps play bridge.  About an hour before dinner the hostess asks how long each needs to dress, and tells them the time.   She makes sure that they know the location of their rooms, (before going to dress) herself.”

The Hostess 2001

JoAnne is usually barefoot and wearing a  t-shirt and shorts.  She does not need time to go change, which is handy because she is probably elbow deep in making pasta and telling me to clean up that thing I had promised to take care of before the guests arrived.


“At bedtime she always asks,  ‘Would you like to come down for breakfast, or will you have it in your room?’ (The guest card, with a menu longer than Chucky Cheese’s asks what time you would like to be awakened, and if there is a special book you would like placed in your room before retiring)…a thoughtful hostess who has the morning paper sent up with each breakfast tray, or has one put at each place at on the breakfast table, deserves a halo.”

The guest what???

If you can sleep through the stereo (this time reggae music), vacuum cleaner sounds (coming from next door), and me talking loudly about the Twins downfall on the phone with another friend back home, then stay in the guest room as late as you want.  Grab the newspaper before it gets recycled or I crumble the sports page in dismay because of someone’s inability to advance a runner.  Breakfast is whatever you can find and in the kitchen.

Yes you may have some salt.  If you want the last piece of cold pizza, go for it.  You may want to ask how old it is, but it is all yours.  Feel free to rummage.  Bikes, basketballs, boogey boards are there to be used; be independent.  If your diet consists exclusively of rice pudding and pop-tarts, we will direct you to a grocery store and you can stock up.  We are delighted simply to bask in your frequent but not constant presence.

From the host side,  I can be too pushy and full of so many suggested activities that a veteran tri-athlete would become winded.  My challenge has been to let my guests explore (with or without me) the things that bring them joy.  Emily had it right fifty plus years ago…


“In home where visitors like to go again and again there is always a happy combination of some attention  on the part of the host and hostess, and the perfect freedom of the guests to occupy their time as they choose.  In other words while we of the modern day like to have some attention paid to us at least now and then, the majority of us…would rather go to stay with one who lets us quite alone than ever again go to stay with one who is over-energetic.”


Tom Cook is enjoying being bi-coastal if you consider the Mississippi one of the coasts, and yes, he knows the line is from “Waiting For Guffman”.  


I delight in the idea of a party but find no pleasure in the reality.  The result is that I can neither keep away from parties nor enjoy them.                                                        -J.B. Priestly

Him: “So, you ever been to Nairobi?”

Me: “No, but I have the feeling that if I don’t make a break for the cheese dip, I am about to spend the rest of the evening hearing about it.

The above conversation never took place.  In truth it was Guam and my response was an innocent, “no.”  As a result I found myself engaged in a rather one-sided discussion of Guam’s natural resources, customs, and currency for the next two-and-one-half hours not counting the forty-five minutes I spent hiding in the pantry.  Yes, I had been to another ‘party.’

Despite many personal experiences to the contrary a party announcement still conjures up images of merriment and spontaneous carefree good times.  It is a high school era vision complete with prom queens and football players.  We are all cavorting and having (PG-13 rated) fin.  Whenever I am invited to a party that is not at the Guthrie or does not feature Tupperware, I still flashback to this admittedly adolescent notion, and hope beyond hope.  What is remarkable is not that I graduated from high school nearly twenty years ago, but that I was never invited to these parties in the first place.  Nevertheless my perceptions of what there ‘happenings’ were probably like has not dimmed.

I sat behind “Fast” Eddie Coleman in home room in ninth grade until his expulsion in eleventh grade.  I believe that Eddie was born with chest hair and a three day beard.  The gray Italian shoes and gold ID bracelet were with him the first day of ninth grade, so I can only speculate as to their origin.  Whatever, the effect worked.  Eddie had a deep voice and could do the WahTusi sitting down.  Everyone liked Eddie.  He was a party guy.  He clearly had experienced it all and thanks to the gods of alphabetical order I was right behind him, literally, on Monday morning to hear about it.

Since Eddie was invariably late (I was amazed he could stand), I became the keeper of the little presents-gum, homework, lunch money that rolled in.  I refused to accept contraband (cigarettes), but Friday mornings I became the center for all the party information.  I knew whose parents were out of town before the cat burglars.  Laura Pennsinger, tired of waiting, finally told me hat she had gotten her period.  I actually held Margie Fennimore’s private phone number written in pink magic marker for a whole day.  Judy Walters called me a doll-as in, “be a doll and be sure Eddie gets this.”  My life was complete.

Most of Eddie’s party stories were intended to impress Annie Cresthull who sat behind me.  I was free to listen, although our alliterative brotherhood did not extend beyond homeroom.  I don’t know whether it was propinquity, or the ease by which I was impressed by stories of nurses, local DJs, and dudes doing wheelies on girls’ front lawns, but I fancied that Eddie was not far from inviting me along, when he was expelled.  (Something about Miss Epps in Social Studies.)  I spent my senior year seated behind Alan Cohen whose life was only slightly more interesting than mine.

I suffer from vicarious interruptions.  The word party is a misnomer.  To make things even worse, in the 1980s the noun party had become a verb.  Forty-year-old actuaries and women that sell Amway out of their garages speak of ‘partying.’  “We are partying all weekend at the VFW.”  Serious parties like Eddie and I knew are rare.

‘Parties’ I am invited to are usually in older homes where the owners have restored most of the wood work (‘…WE STRIPPED EVERYTING BUT THE LANDING, I never want to see another container of Zip Strip…”).  There are between five and twenty three other guests not counting the mystery couple.  The mystery couple is the hook.  They become larger than life as the party drags on.  Usually he is a friend of the guy who manages Prince, and she poses for art magazines and used to live with Roman Polanski.  They are laving for Rio of Cannes in the morning, but will try to drip by.  The mystery couple never comes.

Who does come are bearded Hegelians and women that did their undergraduate work in Chaucer.  The host and hostess play only Gustav Mahler records.  Their other friends are people that aside from living on land, and bearing live young, I have nothing in common with.  The talk of evening is usually about famine, oppression, and bad television reception. Most of the other guests do not want to discuss The Shirelles of the works of Eddie Arcaro (many believe he was just a jockey).  Consequently I spent a lot of time alone, near the cheese dip.

When I talk about a Party, I don’t mean scoring some brews and hanging out with bleached blondes and dudes that listen to KQRS.  I am more mature and responsible.  How about renting a mechanical bull, or mud wrestling?  Despite my slight frame, I believe I could hold a medium-sized woman on my shoulders if we were to have chicken fights – We could pit the physics department against the lawyers!  Bizarre you say, but so is standing elbow to elbow with total strangers for three hours discussing the failure of mass transit, and coming home with seven business cards and six continuing education units.

Tom H. Cook, is an incredibly quiet local resident who has not been to a party since Watergate.  He enjoys discussing the 1975 World Series and arranging his sugar cube collection.