A Look On The Lighter Side: What’s on your list of essential items?

A Look On The Lighter Side:  What’s on your list of essential items?


I was recently inspired by an interview with actress Martha Plimpton in T he New York Times. In the course of discussing her newest venture — a TV series called “Sprung” on Amazon— she talked about 10 things she “can’t live without, chosen from a list of hundreds.”

What startled me was the variety of her choices — from her pandemic puppies, to California’s Route 101, to a museum gift shop, as well as the more standard fare of books, music and movies.

I thought — sitting at a traffic light — why don’t I make a list like that? I started dictating into my phone.

First would be the very road I was waiting to turn onto: Plandome Road, going north from Northern Boulevard.

That’s the route my husband and I first took here. As we came up the curving, tree-lined hill toward the town dock in Port Washington, I knew I had never been here before and yet things suddenly felt familiar. It felt like we were somehow also driving next to Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., near my parents’ home. Maybe that’s why, before we ever went to our first open house, it already felt like home.

Second would be something that’s on both Martha’s and my list: National Public Radio and WNYC. “It brings me a sense of continuity,” Plimpton says. It does the same for me.

She also mentioned a website I’d never heard of, PublicRadioNameGenerator.com, where you plug in your name and (preferred) gender, and it gives you a nom de plume worthy of your own show on NPR. My most recent try dubbed me Rosa Kowalski-Nader. I love it!

Next on Martha’s list was the Tate Modern art gallery in London and its gift shop. “I’m huge on museum gift shops,” she said. So am I. In fact, there have been times — I’m not proud of this, but it’s true — when I spent so much time (and money) in the gift shop that I had no time left for the actual museum.

This has happened to me at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn and more recently, the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. Both shops have been my secret weapons for years, for things to give other folks as gifts: beautiful silk scarves, eye-popping ceramics,  re-usable nylon shopping bags that fold up into their own pocket and amazing kites.

The Cradle of Aviation gift shop is also where I have found some fascinating books, like “Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World,” written and lavishly illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky. I knew some of the women in it, of course — like Marie Curie. But I had never heard of Hypatia, a mathematician born in Alexandria, Egypt in 350 CE; and while I knew Hedy Lamarr was a Hollywood star, I had no idea she had also invented and actually received a patent for something called “frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) technology, used to this day in cell phones, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices.

Martha Plimpton mentions being inspired by a coffee-table book by a photojournalist called Weegee. She finds herself “totally entranced” by his photos of city street life in the 1950s and ‘60s, and let’s call them the offbeat people living there.

My preference is for a photo collection titled “Quintessence: The Quality of Having It,” by Betty Cornfeld and Owen Edwards. My copy was published in 1983, but I believe it is still in print. It’s a collection of items illustrating the authors’ concept of “quintessence,” which I would summarize as being beautiful, useful and unique. Classic objects that made the cut range from the Slinky, Swiss Army knife, Crayola crayons and Oreo cookies, to the Mont Blanc Diplomat pen, the Steinway piano, and a Cigarette Hawk speedboat.

This book is where I learned that Ivory Soap (another entry) was the product of a mixing-machine accident that was left going too long, mixing so much air into the soap that bars actually floated to the top of bath water. This turned out to be one “mistake” that customers couldn’t get enough of.

Stuck at a traffic light, it’s intriguing to think: What’s on my own list of essentials? What things would make the cut for my own idea of “Quintessence”?

Perhaps there will be a book about that, coming soon to a museum shop near you. Look for anything by Rosa Kowalski-Nader.

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