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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie keeping cool.JPG        Sorry that I posted so late (yet again!), but thanks to Labor Day it was a very short week last week, and I’ve been laboring frantically ever since just trying to catch up.
The best thing about Labor Day, if you ask me, is that you don’t – labor, that is. The closest thing I did to work all that weekend – beyond swimming languorous laps in the local JCC pool – was to prepare an epic end-of-summer feast including grilled salmon, chicken, corn on the cob, and some succulent trayf that I’d prefer not to name.corn on the cob.jpg
Yet the fact is that along with a national holiday that celebrates work by avoiding it, the past two weeks have included two other major events that obliged me to plead for time off from that triumvirate of taskmasters for whom I work – me, myself, and I.
        Aidan's 28th birthday cake.jpg
The first was the anniversary of the birth of my firstborn child. You might think that our son Aidan would have better things to do on his 28th birthday than hanging out with his poor old nice Jewish mom and dad. We assumed that too. But the birthday fell midweek, and he preferred to celebrate with his friends at a jazz club the following Saturday night.Aidan and friends on his 28th at Fat Cat.jpg
Besides, he has never been much of a party animal, particularly when it comes to his own birthday. Sure, I threw some pretty elaborate festivities in his honor back when he was a kid, notably including an X-Men-themed party when he turned 8 and a soccer match (for which I  tie-dyed t-shirts for all his friends) the year that he turned 9.Aidan's X-Men birthday cake.jpg
But he now far prefers to keep things low-key. Modest and unassuming to the max, he hates to toot his own horn and hesitates to ever make himself the center of attention. A few years ago, when someone asked him what he’d been up to lately, I heard him reply, “Not much.” That wasn’t true then and could not be further from the truth now.Aidan's soccer 9th birthday party.JPG 
Let me tell you about some of the “not much” that he’s up to these days (since as his supremely proud nice Jewish mom, I am a little less reticent about it). He just began his Ph. D in English at Columbia University last week, even though he’s busy writing a book, a biography of musician Lou Reed, which is due to his publisher in November. He’s also an active jazz journalist on staff at both The Village Voice and JazzTimes magazine, still works occasionally in his “spare time” as a stagehand in TV and film, and continues to play a weekly gig in a Big Band Era swing band at a nightclub in New York.
Yet he somehow still found time to go out to dinner with us on his actual big day.Aidan and Kaitlin.JPG
Given that the occasion fell on a Wednesday, the same night as Aidan’s weekly gig, we decided to stay overnight and go hear him play afterwards. The awful truth is that we hadn’t been there in over a year, which made me feel awfully guilty. It’s just that Wednesday nights are awfully tough because my husband still has a regular job, we live over two hours away from NYC, and the gig runs extremely late, from 8:45 to 11:45 p.m.Becco.jpg
But first we met Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin at Becco, a bustling Italian eatery a few doors down from the club on West 46th Street. We love this place largely because it has a nightly special that is among the best deals in town. Called Sinfonia di Paste, it includes a choice of a phenomenal Caesar salad or mixed antipasto appetizer, followed by unlimited servings of three different pastas of the day – that is, all you can eat for a very reasonable $22.95.Becco Sinfonia di Paste.jpg
All three pastas that day were scrumptious, as always, and after we’d eaten all that we could eat, I suggested that we order a dessert with a candle so we could sing to Aidan. He adamantly declined, having truly eaten his fill… until, that is, I readily agreed, proposing that we save the dessert and singing for later at the club instead. That made his cheeks grow ruddier than the marinara sauce on the linguini we had just devoured.Aidan and birthday cake.JPG
“I don’t want anyone at the club to know that it’s my birthday!” he declared. (Big surprise.) So rather than deprive a nice Jewish mom of singing to her son, he succumbed to a slice of chocolate mousse cake served with a loud and hearty serenade from half the Becco wait staff.Allegra called from Hong Kong.jpg (Not exactly low-key.)
        As stirring as that may have been, I must confess to one maudlin moment. My daughter Allegra called from Hong Kong via FaceTime to wish her brother a happy birthday, which let us see her and her see us. I had already been beyond sad to have her miss a big family occasion, but imagining how she must have felt to glimpse her whole family sitting around the table celebrating without her was unbearable. So I'm sorry to confess that I completely lost it and (despite Aidan's attempt to head me off at the pass by entreating "Don't cry Mom!") my eyes unleashed a flash flood.Aidan's birthday dinner at Becco.JPG
        But t
hen, for his sake, I managed to pull myself together. Besides, it was time for presents.
        The truth was that we already had made him go buy his own gift earlier in the week. He’d desperately needed a new computer to start his six-year program at school, and it seemed more prudent to let him go pick one out himself than for us to presume to choose it for him.MacBook Pro.jpg
To me, though, buying him something so utilitarian -- albeit from Apple, and no matter how pricey -- smacked of the days when my parents would give my brother and me new socks, mittens, and PJ’s for Chanukah. How much fun is that?
So I surprised him with a few unexpected tchotchkes, including a nifty new speaker to amplify the music that he’ll listen to on his new MacBook Pro. Useful? Yes. But also fun.
Then it was time to rush over to the club in time for the performance to begin.Swing 46.jpg
Swing 46, on West 46th Street between 8th and 9th avenues, is a jazz and supper club in the center of the theater district with live music seven nights a week. Aidan plays the bari saxophone there as part of the Stan Rubin Orchestra, a.k.a. SRO, a 16-piece combo that performs jazz standards in the style of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. If you are looking for an authentic swinging throwback to better days gone by, Stan is your man. He and his troupe have been on the music scene long enough to have played at Grace Kelly’s wedding in 1956.Swing 46 Aidan's friends.JPG
Aidan's desire to keep things low-key, Kaitlin had invited several of their friends to join us, including two of Aidan’s former college roommates. It seemed a little sad and unfair that we got to socialize with the birthday boy’s friends for hours while he labored onstage. But the fact is that, as much as Aidan hates to toot his own horn, he loves to play it – hisAidan with his bari sax.JPG saxophone, that is. And at least he was able to join us for two long breaks.
What he was not able to do was join us on the dance floor, on which we managed to thoroughly embarrass ourselves, despite any skills we managed to glean during the club’s nightly swing-dancing lesson. So my husband decided to horn in on Aidan’s act by dragging Kaitlin out on the dance floor once or twice. Talk about embarrassing!Harlan and Kaitlin dancing at Swing 46.JPG
        Then suddenly, to
my surprise and delight, the band launched into a jazzy rendition of "Happy Birthday." But it turned out that they were just singing to a patron who was there celebrating her own special day. Aidan, as planned, told no one about his own simcha.Swing 46 Lynn singing.JPG
So the most memorable moment of the evening occurred when the band’s longtime singer, Lynn McCune, took the stage to croon several jazzy numbers. She always performs with such passion and verve, swiveling her hips sassily as she sings, that as she passed me after taking a bow, I congratulated her by declaring awkwardly, “You’ve still got it!”
I realized as I said this that it was a pretty lame and corny thing to say. But it was not nearly as corny or lame as what my husband thought I’d said. Hearing loss runs in his family, and at 70 he has more than his share of it. (Once, when I called upstairs to ask him if he had any laundry, explaining that I was washing reds, he replied, “Fred? Who’s Fred?)Swing 46 Stan Rubin Orchestra.JPG
But his hearing issues are particularly challenging in a loud room, and between the music and the din of the crowd, this place was really LOUD. So after Lynn passed, he asked me to repeat what I had said to her, explaining that what he thought I’d said was, “You go, goddess!”Swing 46 dance lesson.JPG
Ever since then, he has continued to cheer me on with that bizarre exclamation whenever it remotely applies.
Which brings me to the other major event that made me abandon my usual labors.
I have written about it in this space before, and I’ve been there far more often than I’ve written about it. But the antiques and collectibles show in Brimfield, Massachusetts, was on last week, and two unusual things happened there that made this Brimfield like no other Brimfields.Brimfield tchotchkes.JPG
This lively event, which bills itself as the largest outdoor antiques show in the country, is held three times a year, for six days at a pop, in May, July, and September. My cousin and I go there at least once each summer, but this year she convinced me to go all three times, which I must confess didn’t require a whole lot of arm twisting.Susan and me at Brimfield.JPG
Of course, there is never anything that we really need. Until we see it, that is. With over 5,000 dealers from throughout the U.S., we’re guaranteed to spy countless things so compelling that once we see them we can no longer live without them.Brimfield Lusterware plate.JPG
Adding to that sense of must-have-or-I’ll-die is that most of the prices are far from high, and nearly all are extremely negotiable. If you pay full price, then you are a fool. For those who like to hondel (Yiddish for “haggle”), this is a bargain-hunter’s heaven.Brimfield Noritake bowl.JPG
This time around, I seemed to come across more gotta-haves than I ever have. These included a lovely antique Lusterware plate (marked $8 but for which I only paid $6), and a Noritake bowl featuring swans on a lake, marked $12 but surrendered for only $9.Brimfield teapot.JPG
Then there was the orange polka dot teapot (also marked $8 but relinquished for $6) and a glass condiment bowl with a glass-bead border that was priced at $10 but I got for only $7 because I “bundled it” with theBrimfield condiment dish.JPG matching glass goblet and serving platter. (The more you buy at any booth, the more willing the merchant is to give you a break.)Brimfield statement necklace.JPG
Our greatest score, no doubt, was at a booth stocking vintage clothing and jewelry, from which I walked away with three pairs of earrings, two pins, and two necklaces – including this black and white “statement necklace” – for a measly 30 bucks all told.
But my sense of buyer’s euphoria over all this booty would soon enough go bust.
I was killing time in another tent while my cousin haggled over a lamp when I happened to glance down at a table and see some items that made me recoil in horror.
There, arranged neatly in a shallow glass case, was a collection of German World War II medals, Hitler figurines, and other such memorabilia embellished with swastikas.
Although I’ve seen them in books and newsreels, I’d never seen one up close.
“Let’s go!” I barked sharply to my cousin, interrupting her chat with the merchant.Nazi memorabilia.jpg
“O…K.,” she agreed reluctantly, clearly mystified.
“Now!” I added, punctuating my initial overture with a clearly urgent command.
“Did I do something?” the merchant asked, bewildered to see us beat so hasty a retreat.
I merely glared back, so shocked by the gruesome sight that I could barely speak. “Yes, you did,” I finally managed to mutter back almost under my breath.
“Am I allowed to know what it is?” he persisted.
We were 10 yards away by the time I turned back in his direction to answer. “You’re selling Nazi memorabilia?” I cried. “Seriously? That’s… that’s disgusting!”old man at Brimfield.jpg
The vendor, a disheveled older man with wispy white hair and matching stubble on his cheeks, simply shrugged. “Hey, just ’cuz I sell it doesn’t mean that I agree with it,” he replied defensively. “But there’s a market for the stuff. Why not keep an open mind?”
“An open mind?” I shouted back over my shoulder. “Really? Are you kidding me? Have you ever heard of the Holocaust?”
How dare he tell me to keep an open mind? Was he out of his mind?!? Six million Jews and many people of other faiths were brutally murdered during the Holocaust. This is not the sort of thing that should be commemorated with knickknacks. And even if there are sick people out there who collect such items, that doesn't make it perfectly fine to display them in places where nice, well-meaning people will casually encounter them.
Perhaps I should have stayed and tried to explain how deeply offensive this was. But what was the point? He wasn’t going to change his business to accommodate me.
        At the same time,
I began to think, how entitled was I to my righteous indignation? Yes, it was despicable for anyone to try to make a profit by trading in Nazi collectibles.Amputations sign.jpg
On the other hand, there were many more booths there offering Civil War mementos. This included a large wooden sign emblazoned “AMPUTATIONS.” (Who in G-d’s name would actually buy that?) But there was also no shortage of Aunt Jemima figurines. I saw many of them that day, along with a copy of the children’s book Little Black Sambo.Aunt Jemima figurine.jpg
Aren’t these things similarly offensive, commemorating slavery as though it were an institution to be remembered fondly and even used to decorate one’s house?Little Black Sambo.jpg
Clearly, there’s a market for these, too. Of course, I would never consider buying one. And yet when I saw them, as uncomfortable as I felt, I said nothing. I simply cringed silently inside and walked away.
But who cares if there’s a market for all of these items? There’s a market for drugs. Does that make it OK to sell them?
Selling Nazi and slavery memorabilia may not be against the law. But what sorts of people have such low morals that they’re willing to profit from trading in atrocities?
It was so upsetting that it sucked the joy out of the entire experience for me. But it would be eight more months before Brimfield resumed again. And we'd driven over an hour to get there. So we didn’t leave.
Instead, we proceeded to remain on the prowl for more (and more innocuous) treasures. And minutes later, I happened upon one that made up for my earlier distress.
My husband always enjoys seeing my finds when I return from these excursions, but none of the tchotchkes I’d bought so far were truly for him. I wanted to return with some small gift. So I stopped into a tent that I often frequent which stocks men’s shirts.Brimfield Hawaiian shirt.JPG
Well, not just any men’s shirts. Hawaiian shirts. Loud, colorful Hawaiian shirts. My husband actually likes these things, and so do I. The louder the better, if you ask us.Harlan in Hawaiian shirt.JPG
The last time I’d been to Brimfield, I’d bought one for him and another for Aidan. They both seemed to be enjoying these items so much that I wanted to buy some more.
Typical of transactions at Brimfield, the vendor – an affable fellow with a white ponytail named Gary – said that the three shirts I selected cost $15 each, but if I took all three I could have them for $30. I didn’t really need three, but it was an offer too good to refuse.Brimfield shirt guy.JPG
This particular vendor also sells t-shirts, records, and other music memorabilia. After paying, I saw some other customers leafing through a large album of rock posters. And to my amazement, there on one of the pages was a vintage 1986 poster featuring Lou Reed.
“Wait! I need that!” I exclaimed, not even waiting to ask the price, which turned out to be a mere $15 (evidently the magic number at that booth).Lou Reed poster.JPG
As the vendor wrapped it, I explained that my son was writing a book about Reed.
He replied that not only was he a longtime fan of the late musician, but one of his best friends had been the manager of The Boston Tea Party, a historic club in Boston at which Reed’s original band, The Velvet Underground, had often played back in the ’60s.
Aidan had been telling me that he needed more information about “The Velvets,” but had been unable to contact anyone intimately involved with the group.
I asked the man if his friend might be willing to be interviewed for the book. He was confident that he would, adding that he and his friend knew everything about the band. Or as he put it, rather graphically, “We can tell you about every time that a Velvet peed and where he did it.”Aidan in Hawaiian shirt.JPG
I instantly phoned Aidan to pass on the news and the man’s contact information. And I’m happy to report that they’ve since been in touch and plan to converse soon.
Talk about must-have experiences! I would say without reservation that in all my years at Brimfield, this may turn out to be my greatest find ever, and it didn’t cost me a cent (beyond the 30 bucks that I shelled out for three very loud and very colorful shirts).
I also would wager that this may prove to be my best gift to Aidan of all… not that I can claim to have been clever to find it. For in the end, it was really a matter of beshert (meant to be).
Meanwhile, still stewing about my earlier experience, I finally wrote to the man in charge of Brimfield telling him about my close encounters with relics of the Third Reich.
“As a Jew, I was genuinely sickened by the sight,” I told him. “But I don't think you need to be Jewish to object to the Nazi Party being treated as a subject for nostalgia.  There are plenty of events in history that belong on our shelves because they remind us of better days gone by. Genocide should not be among them.”Pattie shopping at Brimfield.jpg
I urged him to establish rules restricting what vendors may exhibit there, assuming that such guidelines don’t exist already. After all, there were limits to what should be acceptable, I argued, especially at such a wonderful and welcoming place as Brimfield.
“I don't recall ever seeing sexually explicit merchandise there,” I observed. “I find Nazi memorabilia to be far more obscene. I don't care if someone will buy it. It doesn't belong there, and that doesn't make selling it right.”
I don’t know if he will respond, or if my remarks will have any influence. But I feel better to have tried. At the very least, it is always worth the effort to stand up for your beliefs. Or as my husband would say, “You go, goddess!”
5:02 pm 

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie on the beach in Quogue.JPG        Common wisdom tells us that we should live every day as though it were our last. For the past week or so, I’ve been trying to live every day as though it were the last day of summer. That means fitting in final swims, backyard barbecues, dining al fresco, and everything else that I coulda-woulda-shoulda done since Memorial Day.school bus.jpg
But let’s face it. Instead of luxuriating in the last gasp of summer’s warmth, I’ve found myself weighed down by the annual back-to-school blues. The crazy part is that I’m not even going back to school. It’s just that almost everyone else I know is, from good friends who teach to my son Aidan, who began his Ph.D. at Columbia this week, leaving them less available to hang out with me… until school lets out again nine months from now.
        Then again, there was one recent day that I actually returned to the halls of academia, however briefly, myself.Roxanna and Scarlett.jpg
It all began with an email from my friend Roxanna, who is involved with the Women’s Leadership Council at the United Way. In it, she asked if I was available to help her and her daughter Scarlett create literacy kits for young children at a local magnet school the following Monday morning.
That is, was I willing to help kids get hooked on books? How in good conscience could I refuse? So I promptly clicked the link that read “Register here.”
And then, life being as busy as it is, even in summer, I promptly forgot all about it.
Until the following Monday morning, that is. Having been away for a hectic weekend, I lingered lazily in bed leafing through my interminable stream of junk email on my phone. Then, still too groggy to start the day, I turned my attention to Facebook.
That’s when I saw that Roxanna, an avid poster on FB, was already at the school.
The event had begun at 8:30 a.m. It was already past that. But I didn’t dare punk out. Instead, I sprang into action, throwing on clothes and shrieking at my husband that I had no time to walk the dog. No time for breakfast or coffee either. By 9, I was in the car.
Too rushed to have looked up the address of the school, I simply consulted Siri. “Directions to the Dwight-Bellizzi School!” I bellowed.Belize.jpg
“Sorry, I cannot provide maps and directions in Belize!” she chirped back.
I decided to try, try again. “Directions to Dwight-Bellizzi School!” I repeated, enunciating every single syllable.
“I could not find any places matching Dwight Believes Me School!” she replied.
         "Dwight-Bellizzi School!" I corrected.Siri Tweit bellies E school.jpg
        It was no use. "I could not find any places matching "Tweit bellies E school."
So I went to Maps on my iPhone, typed in the name of the school, and hit “Start.”
The step-by-step directions that ensued sent me through an area glutted with both rush-hour traffic and heavy construction delays. The trip had been estimated to take 21 minutes, but 21 minutes later I was only halfway through town.
Eventually, I reached the highway, and the cheery voice on my phone directed me to get off after several exits, then take a long series of twists and turns before it deposited me halfway down a road called School Street, whereupon it informed me that I had arrived at my destination.
        My destination
? I was in a manufacturing company's parking lot in the wrong town.
At this point, I frantically Googled the actual address of the school and learned that I was still 21 minutes away. It was now past 9:30. The event had begun an hour earlier. All I really wanted was a cup of coffee. And a bagel. Was there any point in proceeding?
“Who is the idiot here?” I began to wonder. (Don’t answer that.) I also wondered if I had the chutzpah to show up so egregiously late. One thing I am not is a quitter, however. I’m just a nice Jewish mom. And to not show up after agreeing to help would not be nice.Bellizzi School.JPG
So I rerouted myself again and, as they say, the third time was the charm. I arrived at the Dwight-Belizzi Asian Studies Academy at 10, only to realize that it was indeed only 20 minutes from my house, never mind that I’d already spent an hour in the car.
Never mind also that I was now 90 minutes late for a three-hour event. The principal of the school greeted me warmly out front and personally escorted me to the cafeteria.Roxanna's literacy event photo.jpg
Inside, dozens of women, most of them dressed in white t-shirts emblazoned “LIVE UNITED,” were seated at long tables busy at work. I quickly spied Roxanna and wondered if I should dare go greet her. Wouldn’t this just point out how late I was?
Better late than never, as they say. But before I could approach her or even consider grabbing a cup of coffee and a bagel (both of which were in abundance, to my delight), a nice woman named Laura rushed over to find me a seat and explain what the task entailed.Children's literacy volunteers.JPG
Rather than assembling actual literacy “kits,” we were there to embellish books. Each volunteer was given two children’s picture books and asked to make 3-D decorations to insert throughout to enhance the illustrations. This would help bring the book to life by literally letting the story pop off the page and make reading more fun.
“Are you a creative person?” Laura asked.
Hmmm. How should I answer that?Bat Mitzvah on Broadway centerpiece.JPG
After my daughter chose “Bat Mitzvah on Broadway” as her party theme when she turned 13, I made all the elaborate centerpieces for the tables myself using posters from assorted Broadway musicals. I also wrote a song for her to perform at the party, fashioned place cards in the form of theater tickets, handmade the sign-in board and party favors, and printed all the invitations at home, tying each with a gold satin bow.Kathy's birthday card.JPG
More recently, I made all the party favors, invitations, etc. for my husbands 70th birthday. I’ve also given up on finding greeting cards that suit my needs and begun creating them myself using a computer program from American Greetings.
A professional artist I am definitely not. But there’s nothing I enjoy more than turning almost everything, short of doing the laundry, into an imaginative art project.
“Creative enough,” I said.Children's literacy materials.JPG
So she handed me a pair of books, then indicated the collection of colorful paper, pompoms, and other materials scattered on a nearby table and told me to help myself.
I turned my attention to the first book, The Snowy Day, written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. I’d never seen it before, but later learned that it was a 1962 children’s classic, with illustrations that had earned him the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1963.TheSnowyDay.JPG 
Keats, I also later learned, had actually been born Jacob Ezra Katz and raised in Brooklyn, the third child of Benjamin and Gussie Katz, a pair of poor Polish Jews.Benjamin and Augusta Katz.jpg
His book focused on a boy named Peter exploring his neighborhood after the first snowfall of the winter. The inspiration for it, according to Wikipedia, had come “from a Life magazine photo article from 1940, and Keats' desire to have minority children of New York as central characters in his stories,” something that previously had been rare. In fact, during the Civil Rights Movement, the book apparently had been banned in many schools.Ezra Jack Keats.jpg
Peter appears in six more of Keats’ 22 books, but this was the first one that he had both written and illustrated himself, unleashing his full creative potential. The result? The book remains so popular that in 2012, 50 years after its debut, it came in fifth on a list of the top 100 picture books of all time in a poll conducted by School Library Journal.
“One winter morning, Peter woke up and looked out the window,” it begins. “Snow had fallen down the night before. It covered everything as far as he could see.”Snowflake I made.JPG
        It felt a little anachronistic to be looking at snow before Labor Day. Then again,
I figured it would be a snap to embellish simply by adding a variety of paper snowflakes to almost every page. So I helped myself to glue and white paper in a variety of weights, seized a pair of scissors, and began snipping away.The Snowy Day with my snowflake.JPG
It had been quite some time since I had made a paper snowflake, however. Decades, no doubt. And sadly, this turned out not to be one of those riding-a-bicycle things. You know, the kind of skill that just comes back to you like magic.
To my best recollection, in order to get a flake to have six matching sides you needed to fold a piece of paper three times and then snip some of it away. Well, the best I can say for my feeble attempts is that no two examples of my artistry looked exactly alike. But this was all kind of impromptu. (If my daughter had chosen a snowy bat mitzvah theme, say, "Bat Mitzvah on Mt. Everest," I would've figured it out.Snowman I made.JPG)
I fared far better as the story developed. At one point, Peter, the pint-sized protagonist, realizes that he is too young to engage in a snowball fight with the bigger boys, so he contents himself making a smiling snowman. And so did I. (Mine had a carrot nose, stick-figure arms held akimbo, and a jaunty black hat.)Snowy Day with pocket I made.JPG
Later, “he picked up a handful of snow, and another, and still another, packed it round and firm, and put the snowball in his pocket for tomorrow, then went into his warm house.” I had little trouble fashioning an actual tiny pocket out of bright red felt -- a pocket that poor Peter would later be dismayed to find empty -- simulating stiches with a black magic marker.
Best of all, perhaps, was the scene in which Peter soaks in the tub while thinking about his many adventures. The rubber ducky I glued on was thinking about snow, too.The Snowy Day with rubber ducky.jpg
And while Peter and the rubber ducky thought about snow, I began to think about something else.
I suddenly remembered a children’s book that I had written nearly 20 years ago, back when my daughter Allegra, who is now 24, was still in kindergarten.
It wasn’t exactly a storybook like this one. Neither was it destined to be a children’s classic because I never even made any attempt to get it published. But thinking about that now filled me with regret. For I originally had written it just to entertain Allegra, but then, like Keats, or Katz, had decided to use the project in part as a way to include children whose ethnicities were too rarely encountered in your typical children’s book.
At the time, Allegra was attending a public school with an extremely diverse student body. And when I went to read it to her class, I inserted the names of each of her 25 classmates.
A takeoff on the classic children’s rhyme, “Mary had a little lamb,” my book had 26 variations on that theme, some of which I endeavored to illustrate myself as well. As you can see, none of these were close to Caldecott Award material. Oh, well. I tried.
We all know that singsong verse from the time that we can talk:Mary's lamb.jpg
        Mary had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.
        But there are plenty of other things beyond snow that are white. Just think about it… The lamb took a shower.JPG
        Allegra had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as flour
And everywhere Allegra went
The lamb took a shower.The lamb jumped rope.JPG

        Daniel had a little lamb
        Whose fleece was white as a cloud
        And everywhere that Daniel went
        The lamb got lost in the crowd.
        Luis had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as soap
And everywhere that Luis went
The lamb jumped rope.
        Mariah had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as a ghost
And everywhere Mariah went
The lamb would order toast.The lamb wound up in jail.JPG
        Caleb had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as a sail
And everywhere that Caleb went
The lamb wound up in jail.The lamb would hide and seek her.JPG

        Mei had a little lamb
        Whose fleece was white as rice
        And everywhere that Mei went
        The lamb would skate on ice.
         Quiana had a little lamb whose
leece was white as a sneaker
And everywhere Quiana went
The lamb would hide and seek her.
        There were almost endless possibilities. Well, if not endless, then enough white stuff for every letter of the alphabet, from milk and eggs to teeth, a bone, and a bride.
My favorite, however, was the final rhyme.The lamb fell in love.JPG
        Zachary had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as a dove
And everywhere that Zachary went
The lamb fell in love.
        As I recall, the children to whom I read it seemed thoroughly entertained, in part because they were hearing their friends’ names included in a book. But mostly because in one case I was only able to come up with a single potential rhyme.
        Ryan had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as sugar
And everywhere that Ryan went...
                                                The lamb had a booger.
        Sorry! I left out salt because all I could think of to rhyme with that was “Oy, gevalt!” But honestly, how could I possibly leave out sugar? (And if you can think of anything else to rhyme with that, then email me now or forever hold your peace.)
Anyway, whether the lamb’s fleece was as white as a tooth or cream or snow, it was time for me to go turn my attention back to The Snowy Day. For as a Johnny come lately (or nice Jewish mom running on Jewish time and then some), I was way behind the rest of the pack. By 11, everyone else had finished adorning both of their allotted volumes and I was only halfway through my first.Roxanna, Pattie, Scarlett and Ebony.jpg
Plus, Roxanna had noticed me at last and come over for a photo op with Scarlett and a woman named Ebony... a photo that she would soon post – where else? – on Facebook.
So I made a few more rather sad-looking snowflakes and decided to call it a day.
At least it was a day on which I had done my best to show up, however late, and to do my bit to promote children’s literacy. (G-d knows what my blog promotes. Being Jewish? Being a mom?)
        But after I’d gotten home (which took only 20 minutes), I decided that gluing some decorations into a single volume hadn’t been nearly enough.
So I wrote to Roxanna and Laura, who seemed to be in charge of the event, asking if the book I had written so many years ago might be of any possible use.Pattie at children's literacy event.JPG
Perhaps I could go back to that school (now that I know where it is) and read it to some classes, inserting the students’ names. Or perhaps I need to figure out a way to get it published, so that I could donate some copies (and then maybe next time people can come in and – dare I suggest it? – glue pictures of soap and rope and ghosts and toast into them).
Who knows? I’ve never published a children’s book and, as creative as I may or may not be, I’m not convinced that I know how.
In any case, summer’s over. Maybe it’s time for me to go back to school. Perhaps Tweit bellies E school... if Siri and I can find it.

11:58 pm 

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Grandma Mary and me.JPG        Here’s a morsel of nice Jewish motherly advice.
        Whenever I find myself going through a grueling ordeal or rough patch (and honestly, who doesn’t?), one of my favorite coping strategies is to remind myself that “This too shall pass,” as my Grandma Mary would always say, then try to shift my thoughts to some far more pleasant event to which I’m looking forward.Allegra is singing in Hong Kong.jpg
So after my daughter left in late June to sing in Hong Kong for three months – a period that has since been extended to seven months, since her initial contract already has been renewed – every time that I missed her so much that my face hurt, I made myself focus on an exciting summer party that was coming up.Paul and Kathy with us in May.JPG
Paul and Kathy, some close old friends who live in London, had phoned a few weeks earlier to report that their son had fallen hook, line, sinker and then some for the American girl of his dreams. Tom had recently proposed, Hannah had readily accepted, and Hannah’s aunt and uncle had graciously offered to throw them a posh engagement party in Quogue, a hoity-toity place near the Hamptons. Were we free to come?
Free, that is, to attend what was certain to be the highlight of our summer?
“Hannah said yes!” read the printed invitation that soon followed. And, not surprisingly, so did we.Hannah said yes, the invitation read.jpg
The celebration would not just include a fancy Saturday night gala at the aunt and uncle’s country club, but also a get-together on Friday night at their summer home, plus a chance to hang out with some great friends of whom we never get to see enough. Plus, as an added bonus, the hotel at which we all would stay was right on the beach. Can you understand why it was a welcome antidote to seven months without Allegra?lighthouse in a stormy sea.jpg
I anticipated it, dreamed about it, and trained my sights on it as if it were a radiant lighthouse beaming rays of hope through the sturm und drang of a dark and stormy sea. It never failed to buoy my spirits. Then, finally, earlier this month, the day of departure finally arrived.
Given my tip-top level of anticipation, I was determined to leave on time for the 4-hour trip to the tip of Long Island. In order to make the 4 p.m. ferry to Orient Point that I’d reserved, we needed to leave the house no later than 2:15. So I was more than a little distressed when my husband phoned to say that he had just left his office and wouldn’t be home until almost 2:30.
To ensure that we made a fast getaway, I informed him that he should not even consider coming into the house when he arrived. So he gave me a list of all the items that he needed to take along with us, and while waiting I loaded them all into the car.We just made the ferry to Orient Point.jpg
With luck, despite rush-hour traffic, we managed to secure one of the last three spots for our car on the sold-out ferry. And that is where our good luck ended.
For moments after the boat’s booming foghorn sounded off as we left the dock, as though warning of danger looming ahead, my husband suddenly realized that he’d left all of his dress-up clothes hanging on his closet door.
The invitation had specified “festive attire,” which our friends had clarified meant cocktail dresses for the women and sport jackets with dress shirts but no ties for the men. It should come as little surprise that, given my level of anticipation, I had bought a lovely new dress for the occasion (despite my husband’s mysterious query, “Did you really need a new dress?”).His jacket was still hanging in his closet.JPG
My husband, meanwhile, had simply tried on the old sport coats and khakis in his closet until he found one of each that looked presentable and still fit. He had neglected to ask me to take this outfit, though, and the fanciest thing that he had along in its stead was a pair of cargo pants and the egregiously wrinkled shirt he’d worn to work that day.
He blamed me for rushing him out of the house. I blamed him for leaving his office so late and being so fardreyt (Yiddish for disorganized). Unfortunately, most misfortunes in life eventually will pass, as my grandmother always said, but being fardreyt or farblondjet (Yiddish for hopelessly mixed up) does not happen to be one of them.The house was magnificent.JPG
My anxiety about his error was only exacerbated when we arrived at the Friday night party and discovered how magnificent and palatial the aunt and uncle’s summer house was. Adding to that concern, to be frank, was my discovery that we were nearly the only Jews among the many guests invited to participate in the weekend’s festivities.Hannah and Tom, a perfect match.jpg
Our hosts could not have been nicer, and the bride, whom we got to meet there for the first time, turned out to be not just beautiful, but also affable, lively, witty, warm, and delightfully unpretentious – a truly perfect match for Tom and down to earth to the max.
We had a wonderful time wining, dining, and avidly catching up with our dear friends, who are award-winning (and need I note, extremely fun-loving) journalists.We had fun with our friends on Friday night.JPG
But I was somewhat self-conscious about the fact that we were making a rare foray into a rather rarified world – the world of WASPs – and we did not want to stick out.
So, as much as our friend Kathy tried to assure us that my husband would be admitted to the country club the next night without the requisite jacket, we didn’t dare risk having him look inappropriate by being a schlub or noticeably underdressed.
With luck, we learned that the Tanger shopping outlets in Riverhead were only about 20 minutes away. So never mind that we’d been looking forward to spending the next afternoon at the beach for what might be our only visit to the shore this summer. We knew what we had to do.
As we walked out of our hotel room late the next morning after breakfast, my husband seemed perplexed that I wasn’t bringing along a book or magazine to read. That’s what he does when we go out for the day and he suspects I might go shopping.
I knew better, figuring that this was going to be more of an interactive experience. Besides, my husband insisted that he’d be able to find something in less than an hour.Tanger Outlets in Riverhead.jpg
Famous last words, as they say. I had been to other shopping outlets and knew it can take that long just to park. I also had been shopping with my husband before and knew that it takes forever to convince him to choose anything, and I do mean “forever,” because when it comes to clothing for himself, the man is reluctant to part with a dime.
We arrived at the Tanger (rhymes with “hanger”) outlets to discover what was more like an entire shopping city, comprised of more than 165 brand-name stores representing almost every label imaginable, from Calvin Klein and Coach to Michael Kors and Juicy Couture.Barney's New York outlet.JPG
Given our desire to get in and out asap, I dropped my husband off at the place that he thought would have the biggest, best, and most stylish selection, Barney’s New York.Harlan in Barney's blazer.JPG
Unfortunately, you could add “most expensive” to that list of superlatives. After parking, I entered the store to see him looking unusually dapper in a navy blazer so classy that you could practically feel the astronomical thread count from across the room. Could our journey be over so quickly? Not quite. This exquisite specimen, which was imported from Italy (where else?), was priced at $550, marked down from $695.
If my husband won’t part with a dime, he surely wouldn’t relinquish 5,500 of them. So we moved on.Harlan in Johnston & Murphy blazer.JPG
The Johnston & Murphy factory outlet next door specialized in men’s shoes, but it had some clothing as well, including one blue blazer. Alas, after donning the Barney’s model, this plebeian version looked sadly commonplace. It also pulled a bit at the waist. So we decided not to waste any more time there.Harlan in Zegna blazer at Saks Off 5th.JPG
Saks Off 5th, the outlet for upscale Saks Fifth Avenue, was sure to have more choices. What it did not prove to stock was cheaper ones. A sign we saw as we entered touted a sale that sounded promising, in that all blazers were an extra 40 percent off. Even at a 40 percent discount, though, a $1,295 sport coat from Italian maker Zegna still cost a lofty $795. My husband tried it on to humor me, but neither of us was truly amused.Harlan with Ninja Turtles t-shirt.JPG
What did manage to crack us up was a t-shirt marked down to 20 bucks. It looked perfect for a party, but not necessarily one held at an exclusive country club in Quogue.
En route to Brooks Brothers, which was bound to yield more appropriate offerings, I noticed a sign offering an extra 20 percent off at many participating stores. With luck, Brooks Brothers was among the outlets participating in this promotion, and despite our expectation that it would have prices hovering in the stratosphere, it had two very promising options.Harlan in Brooks Brothers blazer 1.JPG
One was a very traditional, all-weather blue blazer with shiny brass buttons which fit almost perfectly and cost a surprisingly reasonable $184 after the 20 percent discount.Harlan in Brooks Brothers blazer 2.JPG
The other was a summer-weight version which also fit well and cost a mere $104 after the discount.
My husband seemed tempted to consider the more economical of the two. But after careful consideration, I urged him to opt for the pricier one, on the grounds that the summer was drawing to a close and he’d get much more use out of the heavier one.
But like the typical “player” – you know, a man unwilling to settle for the first pretty girl who comes along, or even the fiftieth – he asked the saleswoman to put both choices aside while we continued our search.
By now I was getting frustrated, but instead of pulling the plug on this never-ending journey, I pulled him into Nautica.Harlan in Nautica blazer.JPG
This 31-year-old clothing line may be best known for its polo shirts, outerwear, and other casual attire of the nautical persuasion. Yet the store manager assured us that they had men’s blazers. Actually, only one style of men’s blazer. But that style was exactly what we were looking for -- it was tastefully tailored in an all-weather weight, and the price was right.
It was marked down to $152 from the original price of $325, but with the 20 percent discount it was only $120 plus tax. After our foray into all of those much pricier stores, this seemed so reasonable that we decided to go all out and complete the look.My husband went for a full prep.jpg
So my husband went in for a full prep, also buying two colorful, wrinkle-free cotton dress shirts (only $27 apiece, a mere half of the original $54) and a pair of khaki slacks for only $20, marked down from $50.
No surprise, this little excursion not only set us back just south of 200 bucks plus tax, but took nearly 3½ hours including travel time, more than three times the original estimate. By the time we’d returned to our hotel and changed into swimsuits, we had fewer than 30 minutes left to luxuriate in the surf and sand before it was time to dress for dinner.The beach at Cove Place Inn.JPG
Somehow, the beach feels a little less tranquil and rejuvenating when you spend less time looking at the horizon than at your watch. Still, we did get to gambol in the waves and cool our limbs in the calm waters of the bay. A slender slice of heaven.The toasts were uproarious.JPG
The party at the country club turned out to be all that we had expected and more. The hors d’oeuvres and drinks were plentiful, the toasts both uproarious and heartfelt, and the lavish buffet dinner, complete with rowdy dancing to the strains of a DJ, divine.Pattie at Quogue Field Club.jpg
I would like to think that my new cocktail dress fit right in with the rest of the crowd. As for my husband, thanks to our outlet foray, he looked neither farblondjet nor fardreyt.Harlan at the engagement party -- not fardreyt.JPG
Of course, the moment we entered the darkened dining room following the cocktail hour out on the veranda, nearly even man present shed his sport coat, and my husband eagerly followed suit. So in the end, we spent about $200 and half of the day shopping just so that we could avoid embarrassing ourselves for all of about 60 minutes.Pattie and Kathy at the party.JPG
But I found myself far less focused on that than on our dear friends’ unbridled joy. Judging from the father of the groom’s delirious display of dance moves, rivaled only by those of the father of the bride, this was one of those proverbial matches made in heaven, a union, dare I say it, as perfect as lox and bagels (or whatever the WASP version of that classic combo may be).Pattie dancing with Paul.JPG
So you might think I began then and there to breathlessly anticipate the wedding.
Actually, not so fast.
Just before we’d left for the weekend, we had received a phone call announcing a bit of a fly in the ointment, although that fly had been greeted as, well, more of a butterfly.
        It t
urned out that our friends had even more exciting news to announce. The bride-to-be was a mother-to-be. They weren’t just gaining a daughter, but also a granddaughter. Or perhaps a grandson. Whichever the case, they could not contain their boundless delight.Hannah and Tom just married.jpg
    So the happy couple had decided not to delay and instead hatched a secret plan. The morning after the party, they would tie the knot privately in the presence of only their parents and a justice of the peace. Although many others would be joining them for the weekend, too many friends and relatives had been unable to attend due to previously made vacation plans. And rather than making these people feel left out, they had chosen to restrict it to the key players.The wedding cake.JPG
At least I got to glimpse the cake the next morning. The bride had requested the kind of simple supermarket sheet cake she'd grown up with, and when my husband asked me what that was, I explained that a sheet cake is to a cake as a ranch house is to a house; all on one level, that is. This one, though, was not only on the level, but particularly lovely and absolutely perfect. For apparently not only did Hannah say yes, but both she, Tom, and the cake followed it up with “I do!”
        I must admit it was refreshing to see someone manage to go through nuptials without the typical attendant hoopla featuring bridesmaids, ushers, endless brouhaha over the bridal gown and other bank-account-draining folderol. 
now, whenever I find myself feeling blue, I can’t set my sights on that wedding.Allegra and friend in Hong Kong.jpg
        No matter. T
here’s a bright new lighthouse looming on the horizon. Allegra may be in Hong Kong for another five months, but soon enough we’ll be there with her. If Muhammed won’t go to the mountain, as they say, then the mountain will have to fly over and visit Mohammed.
        Or something like that.
So we’ve booked a trip. We’re going! Soon.
        Now, that is something to look forward to.

7:04 pm 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Allegra and me.jpg        I’m afraid I don’t have that much of a story for you this week, because I needed to do something for my daughter, and as I expect you have discerned by now, for me being a nice Jewish mom will always take precedence over being NiceJewishMom.com.
Anyway, the thing that I had to do for my daughter had to do with her forthcoming album.
I know you have been hearing about this album from me for quite awhile, and that I keep promising it’s going to come out. But this time I’m telling you in no uncertain terms. It really is going to come out!
OK, it is not going to come out until November. But in order for it to come out then, and for people to know that it has, Allegra hired a prominent jazz publicist. And that publicist needed a press release. A press release from us. And she needed it asap.Allegra's album cover.jpg
Why this press release about an album not coming out until November was such a pressing matter in July (which is when she had said that she needed it) was beyond me.
        Well, maybe not entirely beyond me.
As a longtime journalist, I know that editors plan the content for their publications months in advance, and that monthly magazines go to press months in advance. And we wanted to give these editors and their various publications as much advance notice as possible, in hopes that Allegra and her new CD might get reviewed.Jazz Times magazine.jpg
It was unanimously agreed in our household that the best person for this job was my son, Aidan, who, as a jazz journalist on staff at JazzTimes magazine and The Village Voice, often reviews CDs. He also occasionally writes press releases on a free-lance basis.
Aidan, however, is now on deadline for a book that he is writing. He also was away with his girlfriend Kaitlin on a trip to London, Paris, and the South of France at the time that this needed to be done. So it was unanimously agreed in our household that the best person for the job was not available. The only person who was available was me.
“You can do this!” Aidan assured me enthusiastically.
“I know I can,” I agreed with a barely audible gulp. The fact was that over the years, I’d written just about everything. I had even on occasion written press releases. Press releases for Allegra.Kaitlin and Aidan in Monte Carlo.jpg
But then, to offer some guidance, Aidan sent me a few sample press releases about other jazz albums that had been written for the publicist in question. And as soon as I read them, I began to realize that – as eager as I was to help – even if I were the only person currently available, I was not the right man (or nice Jewish mom) for the job.
The samples that he sent me weren’t just straightforward, informative documents conveying the particulars of who, what, when, where, and why. They were written in a very knowledgeable and florid style, including convoluted and technical-sounding phrases like “playing minor chords with upward angles” and “laying down an oscillating foundation of harmony that makes the high register feel both irresistible and forbidding.” Huh?
So I called Aidan, who was then in London, for a translation and added guidance.
He acknowledged that these press releases might be written with excessive flair. And that the job called for some degree of actual jazz expertise.
        “I should really do it,” he concluded guiltily.
“You don’t have the time to do it!” I reminded him. And to help assuage his guilt, I mustered as much self-confidence as I could fake and said, “No, I’ll do it. I know I can.”Allegra promo photo 3.jpg
So he sent me even more samples for guidance. These contained even more technical-sounding phrases like “a dusky, catchy number with a rhythm of 31/16,” “spacious solo statements,” “full-throated yet eminently lyrical horn lines,” and “marked by a tolling bass line and golden-hued lead playing.” And I realized that even if I were the last man or nice Jewish mom on earth, I wouldn’t be able to write this press release.
“I can’t do this,” I told Aidan.
        “I should really do it,” he concurred.
“You don’t have the time to do it!” I countered. “I’ll just do it. Really! I’ll be fine.”
Fine? Well, maybe not fine. I would be a basket case. But I’d do it nonetheless.
Part of the key to writing this sort of press release was to consult the artist (in this case my own daughter) about her music, her motivation, her inspiration, and so on.
Should I put in the part about how when she was growing up, I used to hear her singing in her room each night, and I would scream, “Stop singing and do your homework!” And when it finally turned out that she was going to go to a music college, I realized that I should have been yelling, “Stop doing your homework and start singing!”
Maybe not. I was supposed to let her tell what had happened in her own words.
Aidan began coaching me about what to ask her. Then this crazy thing happened. He was talking to me on our home phone from London via Google voice (which is free) when Allegra happened to phone me from Hong Kong on my cell phone via FaceTime (also free).
I began repeating what each one had said when I realized that there was no need.tape recorder.jpg
Instead, I held one phone near the other, and we began having a three-way chat. No, actually, they were just having a chat. They had cut out the middleman – make that middle nice Jewish mom – and begun talking to each other. But this wasn’t just idle chatter. Aidan stopped telling me how to interrogate Allegra about her music and intent and began interviewing her himself. I quickly turned on my tape recorder to capture it.Allegra is singing in Hong Kong.jpg
Unfortunately, it was soon time for her to get dressed for one of her weekly gigs at the Hong Kong Four Seasons hotel, so she had to sign off. But before she did, they arranged a time at which they would complete the interview the next day. The plan was that Aidan would finish the interview solo. Allegra would record it and email it to me.
The interview that they did turned out to be over an hour long – an hour and 14 minutes, to be exact. And when I received it and began to listen to it, I realized that I really had not been the right man for the job. Because Aidan didn’t just ask her about her motivation and her influences. They had a fascinating interactive dialogue in which he posed savvy follow-up questions that I never would have dreamed of, like, “Let’s talk about the music from a more harmonic perspective. You have some challenging chord progressions. How did you go about doing the arrangements?” And, “Do you think there’s a certain catharsis in the blues, or in the aesthetic that you’re aiming for?”
Transcribing the interview wasn’t hard. It was just very time-consuming. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this before, but when people talk fast (and my kids talk fast) you have to roll the tape back repeatedly to make sure that you got the words right.press release.jpg
I decided that I would only take the time to transcribe the interesting parts, but somehow, to me, they were all interesting. So I took the whole thing down word for word, which took me two days early last week and filled nearly 14 typewritten pages.
And then I spent the following two days trying to organize it and painstakingly whittle it down. For the interview consisted of 6,352 words, and the most recent press release that Aidan wanted me to model my own after was only about 600 words.John McNeil.jpg
Of course, writing the release wasn’t just a matter of transcribing the interview and offering excerpts from their lively discourse. I had to make it flow and also had to throw in a choice quote or two from John McNeil, the prominent jazz trumpet player who had produced the album.
He and Allegra had met when he was one of her professors at New England Conservatory of Music, and they had instantly clicked. Or as Allegra noted in the interview, “John and I are very like-minded people. We have a dash of cynicism in all of our work.”John McNeil and Allegra.jpg
At least I didn’t need to actually track down McNeil and try to interview him myself. Instead, I borrowed a choice excerpt from the liner notes that he’d written for the album. (“This is a mature first recording by a singer you’re sure to hear more from,” he’d stated. “The tunes are catchy and well-constructed, and you’ll probably find yourself singing them in a short time. I sing them still.”)Drummer Richie Barshay and Allegra.jpg
I also had to list and provide credentials for the many other musicians featured on the album, including Richie Barshay, a well-known drummer who is a longtime member of the klezmer band The Klezmatics, has played with such jazz luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Esperanza Spalding, and happens to be from our town.
For good measure, I tried to sound knowledgeable and slightly incomprehensible myself by throwing in some convoluted turns of phrase, like the way I described McNeil. “…he performs the high-wire musical balancing act of embracing tradition while promulgating the progressive,” I said, slightly embellishing Allegra’s own description.Allegra in the recording studio.jpg
Or the way I characterized the 11 songs on the album, all of which Allegra had written herself.  “Although these tunes bow to the classic, they still cling to the present, while defying the current trend among singers of performing wordless vocals.”
Another observation: “Most of her songs diverge from the typical lament that ‘My man has up and gone,’ tackling instead the angst of the human condition, and Levy’s own condition of struggling to cope in a world that cries out for levity and conformity.”  
And when I got the release down to around 1,400 words and couldn’t bear to cut one syllable more, my husband, who is also a journalist, offered to help. But I declined to let him help.
Instead, I called in the cavalry. Aidan, that is.Aidan came to the rescue.jpg
With luck, he had just returned from abroad at last. And although he was extremely jet-lagged, and still on deadline, he dropped everything and agreed to give it a crack.
I don’t how long he actually spent revising it, but in less than an hour he had sent it back to me. And I realized that the right man for the job wasn’t just one man. It was us.
Aidan and me. In the end, we made a great tag team.
Maybe what I had done wasn’t brilliant or savvy or even passably acceptable. But I had somehow come up with a close enough approximation that after I spent four days slaving over it, he could swoop down, fiddle around, and actually make my words sing.
It now contained truly incomprehensible sentences like, “On the plangent ‘A Better Day,’ Levy draws from the legacy of the great scatters to express the ineffable, breaking down the barrier between vocalist and instrumentalist.” And, “The lilting title track, ‘Lonely City,’ is ‘about finding your lost love,’ she says, and has a harmonic simplicity that belies the figurative bewilderment that goes into the search.”
But to my delight, he retained my basic structure and nearly every quote I’d used. He also agreed that there was little fluff in my feeble attempt and cut only a few lines.
He even retained the basic gist of my lead, although his was a major improvement.Allegra in green dress promo shot.jpg
Here’s my opening paragraph (and please bear in mind that it sounds far from objective not because I’m the artist’s mother but because it isn’t supposed to be impartial; it’s a press release!)
        Most jazz vocalists sing standards. Allegra Levy writes her own. From the feisty opening track of her brazenly autobiographical debut album, Lonely City, to the haunting strains of its intricate closing ballad, “The Duet,” it is clear: These are exhilarating new songs with staying power, and a vital new voice destined to be heard for many years to come.
        And now here’s his revised version:
        Most jazz vocalists sing standards. Allegra Levy writes her own. From the plaintive title track of her brazenly autobiographical debut album, Lonely City, to the haunting strains of its intricate closing ballad, “The Duet,” the 24-year-old New York-based vocalist and composer has penned a lyrical collection of 11 harmonically adventurous-yet-familiar originals steeped in the tradition of the Great American Songbook.
         Aidan was nice about it.jpg
        As I said, he's the professional jazz journalist in the family. He clearly was the right man (and/or nice Jewish boy) for the job.
But as a nice Jewish boy he chose to be nice about it. When he sent me his new and improved version, instead of saying, “I told you I should have done this,” he attached a really sweet note.
You did an amazing job with this! I trimmed it and moved a few things around. I think Allegra will love it and it will help get her the press she deserves!
        Allegra happy in Hong Kong.jpgAnd best of all, after a little family collaboration, it was done, and Allegra did love it. A few minutes after sending it to her, I wrote to clarify that if she was satisfied with it and had no corrections or revisions, she should feel free to forward it to the publicist.
To which she replied, “I already did!”
Who knows if the publicist will approve?
        Who knows if Allegra will get reviewed?
I will keep you posted.
I will also tell you how to buy the CD when it comes out. In November, that is.
And next week, with luck, I’ll get back to being NiceJewishMom.com again and actually have time to write my blog.

11:37 pm 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie with Latke.JPG       There are dog people and there are cat people, and in some cases the twain meet. But not in my house.
I grew up with a dog. We got a dog for our kids when they were little. And now that our kids are grown, and our first dog is, sadly, gone, we have another dog to be our kid.
Our kids, however, have grown up to have cats. Or to live with cats. One has two. Go figure.Mewy on computer.jpg
Perhaps it’s just a function of the stage of life that they’re in. Cats are much lower maintenance, and when you’re in your 20s, life is tough and chaotic enough. You’re still getting your act together. You don’t really need to take care of anyone or anything else.
But sometimes you still need someone else to come help take care of your cats. And that’s where we came in.Kaitlin and Aidan at the Eiffel Tower.jpg
I’m not complaining, mind you. Far from. When our son Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin recently asked if we’d be willing to help cat-sit while they spent a few weeks taking a trip to London, Paris, and the South of France, they didn’t need to ask twice.
But I did need to ask them a whole lot of questions because I’ve never had a cat. I also had a whole lot of trepidation because I have long believed I am allergic to cats (one of the many reasons that I’ve never, ever had one).
My husband was amazed that they asked us, regardless of their cat-sitting needs. We’ve stayed at our daughter’s more times than I can count, but never once at Aidan’s. He has never even invited us over to dinner, although I can’t say that I blame him.
The one time that he let me stay overnight at a previous apartment that he had in Chelsea, I woke up in the middle of the night and surreptitiously cleaned the bathroom. He’s a very neat guy, but I thought that it needed a touchup. I don’t think that he agreed.Kandinsky poster I bought Aidan.jpg
Then there was the time that I decided his apartment looked kind of bleak because after two years he had yet to put up a single piece of art on the walls. So I asked his roommates if they would mind some help and then bought them a whole lot of posters.
They were attractive posters, albeit rather generic to appeal to everyone’s tastes. And when he finally mounted them, six months later, the place looked lived-in at last. But his attitude brought to mind a popular advertising slogan for Anacin from the ‘60s. “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself!”
You might think I had learned my lesson from that experience, but not entirely, and I can’t entirely be blamed for that. Kaitlin recently sent me an email asking for decorating advice. After moving to their latest apartment, they’d realized that they didn’t have a single pair of matching sheets, and had decided to invest in some new bedding. But they’d been unable to find anything that appealed to them both. She favored floral. He wanted stripes. And he only wanted something in a shade he called “smoky blue.”
She asked if I had any suggestions to help get them past their design impasse.Theo bedding set from Pottery Barn.jpg
After looking online for days, I wrote back to say that I’d found the perfect solution. There was a bedding set on sale at Pottery Barn that was all-inclusive. The duvet cover and shams came in a stylish yet muted, non-floral pattern. The coordinating sheets and pillowcases were striped. All were in high-quality cotton. And they came in smoky blue.
With their approval, I sent them that set as a housewarming gift, and they both loved it. Still, I probably should have had the sense to quit while I was ahead.
        But no.Rug I bought for Aidan.JPG
Kaitlin also had mentioned to me that they needed a new rug for their bedroom. And when I saw one on Wayfair.com that matched the bedding I’d sent, I couldn’t resist.
As long as we were going to stay with the cats, I decided to bring the rug along. I also bought them some new fancy towels with French words… and pillowcases with London designs…and a pair of mugs with the names of French cities. Plus a picture frame with a photo of Paris. I just figured it would be nice to bring them a few gifts in return for their hospitality.Towels with French embroidery.JPG
Besides, I doubted that they would buy many (if any) souvenirs of their trip. After all, Aidan is essentially allergic to shopping. Whereas I love nothing more than to shop.
What I am allergic to is cats.Kaitlin and Aidan's cats.jpg
Given that condition, I was a little disconcerted to arrive at their apartment last Friday evening and be virtually assaulted by one of their cats. Not aggressively, mind you. On the contrary. It wanted to rub itself affectionately against every part of my being.
It was equally drawn to my horrified husband, who is not much of a cat lover either.
I was also disconcerted to find only one cat, because I knew that there were two. One was named Jody and the other Wuftie, although I didn’t know which was which.Wuftie hiding under the bed.JPG
After extensive searching, I finally located the second cat. It was hiding under the bed and exhibited no desire whatsoever to come out and greet us as its new guardians.
I was inclined to stay and continue making “Pssst! Pssst!” noises until it emerged. But we’d gotten a late start packing up all of my many offerings and were already late.
As I said, cats are much lower maintenance than dogs. We were not expected as cat-sitters to actually sit around entertaining them, and as long as we were going to be in the city I had gotten theater tickets for both nights and also made dinner reservations.Summer Shorts 2014 at 59E59.jpg
The play that we saw that night was actually a series of three one-acts, Series B of the Summer Shorts being staged at a theatre called 59E59, of which we are members. One was by Neil LaBute (known for such plays as Summer Shorts scene.jpg Reasons to Be Pretty and its sequel, Reasons to Be Happy). Although we enjoyed the production, however, none of the three plays was especially pretty, and none of them made us happy. One was about a single mother dealing with a grown son with Asperger’s, and a second about a man confronting another man about something awful that he had done. As summer fare, they were surprisingly grim.
        Brasserie 8 1/2 filet mignon.jpg
Far more satisfying and uplifting, I must admit, was the dinner that preceded them. It happened to be New York Restaurant Week, a semi-annual promotion that actually encompasses more than three weeks (July 25 to August 15), in which 314 participating restaurants were offering three-course prix-fixe lunches for $25 and/or dinners for $38.Brasserie 8 1/2 peach tatin.jpg
This may not sound exactly like a bargain rate, but it is the only way we could ever afford to dine at some of these eateries – upscale places like Le Cirque or Boulud Sud. And the one that I’d chosen, mostly for its proximity to the theater – Brasserie 8½, on West 57th Street – turned out to be absolutely divine, from my stuffed zucchini blossom with goat cheese appetizer to my husband’s filet mignon with haricots verts and Béarnaise sauce, to the glistening peach tatin with almond ice cream served for dessert.
After all of that, it was still disconcerting to hasten back to the apartment and find that the grayish brown cat still seemed determined to become my conjoined twin, while the white one still wouldn’t come out of hiding… until, that is, I began to remove my jewelry.Wuftie.JPG
Seeing the delicate gold chain I’d been wearing glinting in the light, it tiptoed toward me furtively, cautiously, unable to contain its curiosity. As a reward, I reached toward it and let my hand gently trace the contours of its ears, then back, then tail.Wuftie on my suitcase.JPG
It didn’t shy away, daring to perch on my suitcase while I dressed for bed. Until my husband reappeared, that is. Then it dashed for cover, seeking refuge under the couch.
I woke up in the middle of the night to feel something wispy and spidery tickling my left cheek. Rubbing my eyes, I opened them to discover it was the white cat’s whiskers. It was sitting on the night table staring at me intently, its face barely an inch from mine.Wuftie was watching me sleep.JPG
The next thing I knew, it was broad daylight and the white cat was sleeping on the floor beside me. When it saw me open my eyes, it leaped up onto the bed and onto me. Until my husband woke up too. Then it headed for the hills.
I discovered that its counterpart had bedded down for the night on my suitcase.
I don’t know if cats respond to their names the way that dogs do. From what I have observed, I don’t know that cats respond to anything. But it was beginning to drive me crazy that I didn’t know what to call these animals. Which cat was which?
So I emailed Aidan and Kaitlin in London to ask and tell of our experience so far.
I also asked about the cats' genders, although I suppose I could’ve figured that out.Jody and Wuftie.JPG
“The white one is definitely a girl,” I speculated, noting how she had shunned me until she’d noticed my jewelry. “Then she was interested and is now my new best friend. Although she still hates Dad and runs for cover at the sight of him,” I reported. “The gray cat likes us both, and licks us both, but she especially likes (and licks) my suitcase.”
soon responded to explain that the white cat was Wuftie (pronounced WOOF tee) and contrary to my psychological analysis, he was a male. The gray one was Jody. That was the girl.
My husband came up with a way to remember which was which, in case we forgot. Wuftie started with a W, for “white.” (But what about Jody? He said she was Jamaican.)
Meanwhile, Kaitlin wrote back to thank us and explain that Wuftie “starts off shy.”Jody on my suitcase.JPG
As shy as he may have been at first, he was no longer shying away from me. Neither, of course, was Jody. And as convinced as I was that I was allergic to cats, I no longer had the desire, fortitude, or self-control to shy away from touching them, either.
For regardless of my trepidation about breaking out in hives or getting congested, my heart went out to these creatures. How lonely and frightened they must have felt. Their owners had suddenly disappeared for days, and then two strangers had arrived.
I could easily relate to how heart-rending that must have felt to them.Allegra is singing in Hong Kong.JPG Although I missed Aidan and Kaitlin, of course, my real heartbreak was over my daughter. Allegra had gone halfway around the globe to Hong Kong to live for months. And at least I knew where she was and was able to text her and even talk to her via WhatsApp and FaceTime.
These poor kitties had no clue where their mom and dad might be or when they would return.Pattie holding Jody.JPG
So I dared to pet them, cautiously at first, then finally daring to hoist them in my lap. To my surprise, the world didn’t come to an end. I didn’t even so much as itch.
I was enjoying their furry company so much that it was hard to tear myself away. But my husband finally insisted that we dress and go outside to greet the day.Pattie with Wuftie 1.JPG
Although there is a subway stop within a few blocks of the building, we were in no hurry to get anywhere until dinnertime and decided to walk downtown and explore Aidan and Kaitlin’s new neighborhood.
And by their new neighborhood, I mean Harlem.
They had moved from Brooklyn to West 130th Street in June to be near Columbia University, where Aidan will start his Ph.D. this fall. It was the closest place they’d been able to find with a reasonable rent. They’d assured us that the neighborhood was nice and also safe. Not to cast any aspersions on Harlem, but I wanted to see for myself.Max Soha.JPG
To our surprise, walking down Amsterdam Avenue, we encountered one stylish café after another. The blackboard at a trendy place called Max Soha off 123rd Street was touting daily specials including a Tuscan kale salad, risotto with roasted pear and gorgonzola, and black sea bass with capers, lemon, endive and carrots.Kitchenette interior.JPG
Another place near 123rd called Kitchenette, with a bakery counter groaning under gorgeous cakes, cookies and pastries, looked like a perfect spot for Sunday brunch.Chicken Bar.JPG
Even a place a few blocks further down called the Chicken Bar, offering chicken, beer and donuts, looked inviting.
And within a reasonable distance we found ourselves on the Columbia campus. That’s when it dawned on us that Aidan wasn’t the only one going back to college.Columbia building.JPG
From the time he had entered preschool 25 years ago, our lives had revolved around our children’s school activities, from daily drop-offs and pickups to attending concerts and sporting events. Many of our closest friends had been the parents of our kids’ classmates. Our children’s full, busy lives had created full, busy lives for us as well.
That had ended abruptly when our daughter had graduated from college in 2011. And ever since, our lives had remained busy, yet never felt quite as exciting. Or full.Pattie on Columbia campus.JPG
But now here we were back at school once again. Not just school. The Ivy League! We began to envision ourselves attending Parents’ Weekend at Columbia this fall. Who cared if Aidan, as a grad student, wanted to be there or not? We could go without him.Columbia t-shirt.JPG
Just thinking about it got me so excited that I went into the campus store and bought him a Columbia t-shirt, another surprise gift to add to the mix.
Eventually, we finally hopped a subway and met some old friends for dinner.
The wife, Carol, at least, was an old friend of my husband’s, with whom he had gone to law school. I’d met her this spring, along with her husband Ray, when we had attended their 45th law school reunion and teamed up with them in the photo booth.Carol and Ray dinner at Isle of Capri.jpg
Now we posed with them yet again for a lovely and lively dinner at the Isle of Capri, a popular and rather traditional Italian restaurant on Third Avenue and 61st Street.
Then it was off to the theater again, once again at 59E59.
My review of the Summer Shorts may have been less than a rave, but our second foray for the weekend warranted a total rave and then some. We go to the theater all the time. And this was, I must say, one of the best things I have ever seen.
It was also especially appealing to me due to its decidedly Jewish content.The Pianist of Willesden Lane poster.jpg
The Pianist of Willesden Lane, running through August 24th, is based on a book of the same name subtitled Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir Of Music, Love, and Survival by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen.The Pianist of Willesden Lane.jpg
In this one-woman show, Golabek portrays her own mother, Lisa Jura, a gifted young Jewish pianist growing up in Vienna on the eve of World War II.
It begins in 1938 when, at the age of 14, Lisa is preparing for the most important hour of her week – her piano lesson. But she arrives to learn from her vaunted teacher that it has been forbidden to give lessons to Jews. “I am not a brave man,” he tells her. And so life as she has known it is abruptly over, and her dreams of making her debut dashed.
Soon after, her father manages to obtain a single ticket on the Kindertransport, allowing her parents to send a child away to safety in London. The problem is that they have three daughters. Her parents must make the most dreadful choice imaginable. And as it turns out, Lisa is the one chosen to be saved from the impending Holocaust.The Pianist of Willesden Lane 2.jpg
The play follows Lisa in her new life, as she faces one setback after another while struggling toward making the concert debut of which she has always dreamed. All the while, Golabek, an accomplished pianist herself, embodies all of the many characters Lisa encounters along the way while playing well-known classical selections with astonishing skill and verve.
The result is engrossing, poignant, amusing, and amazing, and it ultimately moved everyone to tears, along with a resounding standing ovation.
If you can possibly get yourself there, and get tickets, I really would not miss it.
But surprisingly, after we made our way out, I realized that I missed those cats.
When we arrived back at the apartment, they both came out readily to greet us. Well, to greet me, anyway. Wuftie still took one look at my husband and ran for his life.Jody on my suitcase again.jpg
Jody curled up on my suitcase again, but later joined us in bed.
The next morning, after feeding them, I took one whiff of the cat litter box and decided it was time. I had never done this duty before, and wasn’t keen to do it now.
And having now done it once, I must admit that I am not keen to do it again.
Then again, I have no qualms whatsoever about “picking up” after our dog, Latke. I guess you get used to it.
The thing that I have begun to wonder is if even a person who is allergic can get used to being around cats.
The fact is that I became convinced that I was allergic many years ago when I had begun to suffer from asthma. My brother and his wife had several cats, and when I visited them I would quickly become so congested that I could hardly breathe.The Hartford Courant building.jpg
Years later, after I left my longtime reporter’s job at a local newspaper, my asthma suddenly subsided. That’s when it occurred to me that the asthma symptoms had begun when the newspaper had moved into a new modern building a few years earlier. Perhaps I’d been allergic to that building itself, or something in it.
         (Or was I just allergic to work?)
In any case, I was no longer asthmatic. But I assumed I was still allergic to cats.
When I visited my brother or other people who had cats, I hesitated to touch them, convinced that if I avoided direct contact, then I would be OK.
But when my daughter moved in with roommates who owned cats after college, and we found ourselves staying overnight frequently, cats became impossible to avoid.Calliope.jpg
Perhaps I’d built up an immunity to them over time. Or maybe I’d never been allergic, after all.
One thing I can tell you. Whether or not I am actually allergic to cats, they are allergic to vacuum cleaners.
At least they are determined to avoid them even more than Wuftie was inclined to avoid my husband.The rug and bedding really matched.JPG
I had laid out the new rug that I’d brought in the bedroom, and it turned out to fit perfectly and match the new bedding I’d bought them even better than I had hoped.
The new towels with French embroidery also looked very elegant in the john.
But I wanted to leave the place in pristine condition, and I thought that included vacuuming the living room rug, which, thanks to all the cat hair, was not what I would call pristine.
But within moments of my turning on the vacuum, both cats vanished into thin air. And an hour later, when we were ready to go out for breakfast, they were still MIA.The cats did not like the vacuum.JPG
I finally found Wuftie under the bed and pulled her out gently. But she went back in.
As for Jody, where was she? Not under the couch. Not under the bed. Not in any of the closets. I even checked the dishwasher. No luck.
I didn’t want to budge until I knew she was alive and well. But my husband kept insisting that she had to be in there somewhere because no one had opened the door.Pattie eating brunch at Kitchenette.JPG
So we went out to the place we’d found the day before, Kitchenette, where we so enjoyed the High Falls brunch special (two eggs, grilled tomato, and sautéed spinach with Mornay sauce atop a homemade whole wheat English muffin) that we bought Aidan and Kaitlin a gift certificate so they could go enjoy it too when they got back.Jody was back on the bed.JPG
And when we returned, Jody was resting on the bed, ready to rub all over us again.
Sadly, the weekend was over and it was time for us to pack and leave.Pattie wuvs Wuftie.JPG
Don’t worry. Others had been enlisted for the duration of the trip to take our places.
And yet…
Those cats are the closest things we have to grandchildren right now, and after three days with them, maybe the twain had met.
I love those cats. I miss those cats. I only hope that my minor décor additions don’t make me persona non grata, because I could get used to this cat-sitting business.
What I’m not sure about is that poor, shy Wuftie will ever get used to my husband.

4:12 pm 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

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