Wednesday, July 1, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
In his riveting eulogy for the Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney last week, President Obama called upon the nation to reflect upon racism – the kind of innate, insidious prejudice that can lurk even in those of us who would like to believe we are bigotry-free.
“Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it,”
he said. “So that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but also… the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview, but not Jamal.”
Let me tell you about my own very recent and memorable experience with “Jamal.”
As I have mentioned lately – more than once, I’ll admit – my daughter returned to the United
States a week or so ago after spending a whole year singing in Hong Kong.
Allegra was due to arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport late on a Thursday night.
She and her boyfriend JP, who was joining her to visit for a few weeks, were scheduled to get in at 9:40 p.m. But that didn’t mean I would pick them up at 9:40 p.m. After the hour or so it would take to disembark, go through Immigration and retrieve their bags, it was going
to be very late.
I live nearly three hours away from Newark and was busy
preparing for my new summer job, so I have no doubt that they would have been perfectly happy to spare me the long trip and take a cab from the airport to Allegra’s apartment on Roosevelt
I wanted to pick them up in order to welcome them back in person with open arms...
and a silly homemade sign.
I wanted to pick them up because, after a whole year of living in Hong Kong, Allegra was carting back a whole lot of luggage.
But mostly I wanted to pick them up because I am a nice Jewish mom, and that’s what nice Jewish moms do.
I had lots of work to do that day, including
finishing my weekly blog, but I wanted to be there the moment they
touched down, even if they might not emerge for eons after. So I kept
monitoring the progress of their arduous 16-hour flight on FlightAware.com.
When I first checked
after I awoke that morning, I could see that my daughter was already about halfway
home. My heartbeat began galloping like a herd of wild horses at the prospect of soon spying her sweet face. But at 5 p.m., the umpteenth time that I checked, I discovered that for some reason her plane was now due in a whole hour early.
At this, my heart began to race like American Pharaoh going into the final stretch. Traffic on the George Washington
Bridge can be a bitch, or at the very least unpredictable. What if I hit a colossal jam? So I jumped into my car and began driving like mad. Destination: New Jersey.
Following a few initial rush-hour glitches, I encountered little to slow me down and pulled into the airport, miraculously, just
after 8. My plan was to park in the short-term
lot by their terminal and go inside to grab a bit of dinner, and maybe a nosh for them. But before driving
through the ticket gate, I pulled over to check their flight once more.
To my bewilderment, their ETA had changed yet again. Changed drastically, in fact. They were
now due to arrive right on schedule at 9:40 again. Since they were unlikely to emerge for
a good hour after that, my silly sign and I had at least 2½ hours left to wait.
According to the posted rates, it would cost me $28 to park for that long. I already had shelled out handsomely for a hotel room for the night, since it would be too late to drive back home. It may sound frugal of me – OK, just call
me cheap – but $28? To park for a couple of hours? It seemed like a total waste.
Yet there was no way to turn around. I appeared to be stuck. So I backed up a bit so that I wasn’t
blocking the entrance to the lot in any way. Then I flicked on my hazard lights and proceeded to kill time checking email and working on my blog on my phone.
More than an hour went
by in this fashion. I was beginning to get hungry. No, make that famished. And five hours after leaving home, I was in dire need of a restroom. But it would cost at least 12 bucks to park for the hour or so I had left.
I figured I could wait a bit more.
It was nearly 9:30 when another car pulled up behind mine, and I saw a young man get out and run toward me. His hair was a mass of tiny braids and he was wearing camouflage shorts and a black t-shirt emblazoned “IT’S GOOD TO BE THE KING.”
I rolled down my window as he approached. “Can I ask you a question?” he asked.
had just discovered the hefty parking fees and wondered if there were any way to exit
without paying them. I replied that I was sitting there because I was in the exact same boat, and I
really didn’t know.
this, he indicated that he was simply going to make a U-turn. This would require
driving in the wrong direction along a one-way street. I advised against it.
“You’ll probably get a ticket,” I warned.
He shrugged and said he was going to give it a
Indeed, I watched as
he spun around and sped away from the entrance to the lot, only to be pulled over almost instantly by a passing security van. I winced on his behalf.
About 10 minutes
later, I checked on the flight again and
saw that it had begun descending rapidly and landing was imminent. It was time to bite the bullet and go in.
So I turned my car on.
At least I tried to turn it on. I rotated the key in the ignition, but all I heard was a hideous stream of shrill, rapid clicks. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh!
Perhaps when I had
switched off my car, I’d left it on halfway so that the a/c or radio would keep
running. Or perhaps I’d left on the lights. I thought I had turned it all off. Whatever the case, I evidently had done something dumb. Really dumb.
My battery was dead.
what was I going to do?
Sure, I’m a member of AAA – the Automobile Association of America (not Alcoholics Anonymous).
But by the time help arrived, an hour
or more surely would have passed. My daughter
and JP would be exhausted after a 16-hour flight. I was exhausted myself.
What a disaster! What an
idiot I was. What the heck was I going to do now?
At that moment, I saw the young man with the braids and t-shirt driving up again. This time, though, he pulled up right beside my
car and rolled down his window.
just picked up his brother, who had flown in from Georgia, but had chosen to drive back to me
just to pass on the secret that he had learned. The security officer hadn’t given him a ticket. Instead, he’d told him that if you entered the parking
lot and exited right away, the guards in the ticket booths would let you leave
without paying a cent.
He had taken the time to drive
back to tell me this even though doing so would require him to drive all the way through the vast parking lot himself in order to exit.
I could hardly
believe my ears.
I thanked him profusely for his thoughtfulness, but admitted that this invaluable tip would do me little good at this
point because my car had mysteriously
“Oh, no!” he replied sympathetically. “Do you want a jump?”
A jump? “You’re kidding, right?” I asked.
He was not. He had a set of cables on board
and was more than happy to help.
He proceeded to do another complete 180 and pull
his car up so close to mine that they stood like two horses resting in
a pasture nose to nose. Then he fished the tangled nest of rubber-coated cables – like long, smooth strands of licorice, one red, one black –
out of his trunk.
Incredulous, I popped my hood and jumped out to thank him again. Yet to his frustration, although the hood was open a crack, he couldn’t figure out how to unlatch it. He summoned
his brother, who was holding a groggy toddler,
to get out and help.
Then he spent quite a while researching my car model on his phone for instructions. No luck. I'd known this was too good to be true.
But then, probing around gently with his fingers, he
found the latch himself, and the hood gave way at last.
Although I’ve seen this task performed many times before, I remain a complete ignoramus when it comes to fixing cars. I could only stand by and watch in awe as he attached the clamps, creating a lifeline from his car to mine. Then, following his instructions, I got back behind the
wheel and gave it a bit of gas.
Eureka! In an instant, my defunct battery revved and audibly came back
Just at that moment, I received a text from Allegra. One word only. “Landed!”
What would I have done without this fellow’s
help? I couldn’t even imagine.
I hesitated to insult him, I felt so indebted that I wanted to express my thanks
more fully, and to do it in more than words. I asked if there were any way I could repay him by,
well, paying him. But he adamantly dismissed the offer at once.
“Hey, plenty of people have helped me out before when
I was stuck,” he declared. “I’m just paying it forward.
Maybe you’ll do the same someday.”
I hope I get that chance, although I doubt it will involve
my using jumper cables.
For now, all I could do was thank him again and ask if I could take his picture for my blog. Then I asked for his name. He said it was Jamal.
I kid you not.
Which brings me back to the President’s prescient words.
If I had been hiring for any kind of job, I would not have given Jamal a second interview. No second interview
would be necessary. I would have hired him on the spot.
I would hate to think
of myself as someone susceptible to racial bias. I also hate to generalize about race. But if I do have any bias along
those lines, then here is what it is:
There are good white people and bad white people.
There are good black people and bad black people.
There are good Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists, and also bad Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. (Yes, hard as
it is to believe, even bad Buddhists, no doubt.)
There are good Jews and bad Jews, and also, unfortunately, really bad Jews like Bernie Madoff.
in my experience, there are not a lot of white people – at least not a lot I have ever met – who would have gone as far out of their way as Jamal did that night for me, a total stranger.
In my experience, although I hesitate to generalize about people, and especially about race, if black people are different from white people in any significant way,
it's that they tend to be nicer.
As for Jamal, who was beyond
nice, he proved to be my hero, and a true mensh.
Before bidding me goodbye, he issued
strict instructions to continue running my
car for at least 20 to 30 minutes before turning it off so that the battery wouldn’t die again. Better yet, he advised, I shouldn’t turn it off until I’d reached my destination for the night.
So I kept it revving until it was time to drive through the parking lot, from which – as he had initially stopped so kindly to inform me –
they did allow me to exit free of charge.
By the time I had reached the terminal, Allegra and JP – and all of their copious
quantities of luggage – were already outside on the curb, waiting for me to pick them up.
So I did not
get to go in and have dinner. I did not get to go to the restroom, either.
But thanks to
Jamal, I did get to welcome my daughter in person, on time, and with open arms.
And to hold up my silly homemade sign.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
I don't even want to tell you how much we spent on our weekend getaway this past week,
let alone what we shelled out for dinner. It was, granted, a birthday dinner.
Make that a double birthday dinner.
The main reason I can’t believe what we spent on that one meal is that it wasn’t
supposed to cost nearly that much. There was no indication it would cost that much. And although what happened was not exactly
my fault, I ended up feeling guilty.
I chose the restaurant.
Guilty because I made all of the arrangements.
But mostly, guilty because I am a nice Jewish mom. How else do you
think I would feel?
It all started a few months ago when we were out for dinner with our good friends “Nora” and “Ray.”
Ray mentioned that at our age he had begun to find himself unable
to participate in many of the sports he used to love and had begun to delve instead into the joys of yoga. This prompted me to ask if he had ever visited Kripalu.
I was referring to Kripalu (pronounced “kri-PAH-loo”) Center for Yoga & Health, the popular, tranquil retreat in Lenox, Massachusetts that is the largest, most established, and best-known Mecca for yoga, health, and holistic living in all of North America.
He confessed that he had not, and somehow a plan was hatched then and there for the four of us to spend a weekend there together celebrating his and my husband’s then-impending birthdays, which fell within a week of each other in June.
Although Ray may be a budding yoga devotee,
my husband and I remain total novices
at best, and even that is a bit of a stretch. I once took a yoga class back in college, and then a few years ago, when we first became empty nesters, I signed us up for an introductory
We finished all
eight sessions of that series. In fact, we took it twice. And my husband still couldn’t get into a decent Downward Facing Dog or any of the other most basic
yoga positions. So we decided that our days of saying “Namaste”(“peace”) were over.
Nora confessed to being such a neophyte at this art that she didn’t even own a single pair of yoga pants (something I tend to live in whether I do yoga or not just for the comfy stretchiness). So I recommended that we just test the waters for our first Kripalu outing
by purchasing day passes for $120 apiece, which would entitle us to eat three meals there and take
all the classes we wished on a single day (including a 90-minute workshop session on Deconstructing
Your Downward Dog), rather than totally immersing ourselves
I had done this routine at Kripalu three times before and enjoyed strolling their magnificent grounds, then taking an amazing daily noon class called Let Your Yoga Dance, which
is not exactly yoga and not exactly dance, but is 100 percent full of joy.
In order to make a full weekend of it, though, I recommended that we stay over at one of the many lovely
inns that welcome overnight guests in the bucolic Berkshires.
Besides, despite its low-key and ascetic atmosphere, Kripalu's accommodations are on the exorbitantly pricey
side. With three daily meals included, per person prices, even for a standard double room with
a shared public bathroom down the hall (think typical college dorm), run $434 per person per night (and there is a two-night
It would actually be cheaper to buy a day pass and stay at a posh inn with private bath nearby.
During the summer season, most inns are also prohibitively pricey and require a minimum stay of three nights. However, I managed to find one
place nearby that hadn’t put its high-season rates into effect just yet and only demanded we stay for two.
Yes, after spending hours surveying every nearby B&B listed online, I came across the Cornell Inn, which boasted not only charming New England decor but also a lavish breakfast that could be enjoyed al fresco beside a small pond and
scenic gurgling waterfall.
That would take care of breakfast both mornings, and we would eat one lunch and dinner in
the Kripalu dining hall, known for its
mostly vegetarian and uber-healthy kale-oriented
But since this was a birthday weekend – a double one, at that –
I figured that we should eat at least one special meal out. Make that a very special meal.
Over the years, while visiting Lenox each summer, my husband and I have eaten at almost every restaurant in town. There is only one that he especially loves, called Nudel, but it doesn’t take reservations.
Since Nora and Ray wanted us all to attend a show they’d
heard about on Friday night, we couldn’t take a chance on not having a dinner reservation somewhere. And I knew just
what that somewhere should be.
There’s a lovely Gilded Age inn in the center of Lenox
with an elegant restaurant on its premises. Not only is this place exceedingly
charming, even as New England inns go, but the chef evidently used to be the White House chef when Bill Clinton was in office.
And even if the notion of Bill Clinton’s tastes conjures
up images of Big Macs with a side of fries, I figured these items would not be on
the menu at this elegant inn.
Just to be sure, I checked the menu, which boasted offerings
more like Filet Mignon with mashed potatoes, cipollini onions and dem-glace or Slow-Cooked
Half Duck with butternut puree, forbidden rice with currants, and watercress salad. On further
inspection, I learned that the inn's eatery only offered
a prix fixe three-course meal for dinner.
On weekends, this dinner cost
a rather hefty sum, but their website stated that on weeknights it cost only $39…and said that weeknights included Friday.
OK, maybe that wasn’t exactly cheap. But for a special birthday dinner – a double birthday dinner, at that – it was within the realm of reasonable.
I wrote to our friends, who readily agreed, then I made a reservation for early
Friday evening and promptly forgot about it… until the day before we left, when I received a text message from the inn asking me to
confirm our reservation, which I did.
That night, after I’d finished packing, I decided to go online to check the inn’s current menu. I knew that they changed their offerings regularly to feature seasonal ingredients and wondered what wonderful delicacies might be in
store for us.
That’s when I discovered, to my distress, that the prices had gone up since I’d made the reservation six weeks earlier. Gone up substantially. Perhaps the old prices had been for out
of season and high season had already officially begun at this inn.
prix fixe now cost $55 per person,rather than the
original $39. On weekends, which it still said meant
Saturday and Sunday, the meal cost a colossal $67.
When I had made the reservation, I had been obliged to give
my credit card and acknowledge that the restaurant
charged $20 per person if you canceled the day you were slated to arrive.
already after 10 p.m. the night before. Was the
place even still open?
I quickly texted Nora to alert her about the problem and ask
what she wanted to do. She wrote back promptly. “No
problem. Don’t worry,” she said.
“Really?” I replied. “With wine it will be
“It’s a special night,” she countered.
At those prices, it had better be.
We were all feeling quite celebratory
when we arrived at the inn just before 5:30 the following night and were ushered to a table in their handsome, stately
dining room. Until, that is, I looked at the
The food listed was different from the fare I’d seen listed online
the previous night.
wasn’t the problem. The problem was the price. It now cost $67 per person.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Now what were we going to do?
thought that “prix fixe” meant that the price was fixed. Apparently not.
The only thing that was fixed, in this case, was the
game. And the game was fixed in favor of the house.
Ray and Nora urged us not to make a fuss,
but I felt taken advantage of. Having chosen the place myself, I also felt responsible… and responsible for setting
I waved our waitress over to complain about the inexplicable change. She said she would summon the manager,
who appeared about 10 minutes later.
He didn’t seem terribly interested in making any kind of adjustment, but agreed to speak to the chef about it. Then he disappeared for about 20 more minutes, by which time we had already ordered our dinners and been served our drinks.
After all, there was no time to go elsewhere now. And we’d presumably be docked $80 if we did.
Moments after I complained to him,
a couple seated near us – the only other
patrons present at the time – called over to divulge that they had been similarly misled.
very pleased that they said this, because otherwise I would have wondered if there were some chance I
had made a mistake. I also would have worried that
my friends thought the error had been mine.
By the time the manager finally
returned from his conference with the chef, we already had finished eating the first course.
“I’m so sorry,” he said with a distinct French accent. “Zee chef, he says zis is zee menu we are serving tonight, and zis is the price for zee menu. Perhaps, though, we can offer you maybe a bottle of Prosecco?”
We had already
each had a cocktail or glass of wine and didn’t
really need to drink any more alcohol, if you ask me. But free Prosecco? Well, at least
it was a small means of compensation. So we nodded to agree… although by the time the bottle of bubbly arrived, we
were nearly done with our entrees.
And I must say those entrees had been skillfully prepared and exquisitely presented, whether or not the price was right.
My oven-roasted half duck with English pea mash and broccolini was served in such gorgeous
splendor that I swooned at the sight.
And the key lime pot de creme that followed for dessert for the birthday boy was nothing short of luscious.
But I was so mortified when the bill came that I couldn’t
sleep that night.
Instead, I tossed and turned until dawn just mulling over the awkward situation.
Should we have walked out as soon as we’d arrived, protesting the bait and switch?
we have offered to pay the difference in price on our friends’ bill (although they undoubtedly never would have let us)?
Had the mistake
somehow been my fault? And had our friends just pretended to be good sports about it, but were secretly livid at me?
I got my answer when I went down, bleary-eyed, to join our companions for the Cornell Inn’s sumptuous breakfast served overlooking the pond.
Nora was still kvelling over the roast rack of lamb she had ordered the night before. She had relished every bite. Ray seemed equally rapturous.
“So you’re not
mad about the dinner?” I asked, incredulous.
On the contrary, he assured
me. They weren’t upset at all. He preferred to look at it this way: We had enjoyed a phenomenal
meal in an elegant setting with impeccable service. And with great friends. They were perfectly happy with the entire experience. Why undermine it by dwelling
on a minor discrepancy in the price?
I realized at that moment that he was absolutely right.
The fact was that I did feel deceived, because
I was a victim of false advertising. Or
at the very least an unfortunate error brought on by old world charm colliding with the age of technology.
But the main reason I had been upset was that I felt somehow responsible for the mishap
and had worried that my friends were annoyed about it. Annoyed with me, that is.
OK, with the tip – a relatively modest one – the bill came
to a whopping $186 per couple. That’s the priciest meal for two I have eaten in my memory. Maybe eaten ever.
My husband, who is the consumer reporter at a newspaper in Connecticut, still chose to call the inn after we returned home to complain, hoping they’d do something to rectify the situation beyond
the bottle of Prosecco we hadn’t really needed. But I wasn’t optimistic.
I figured, to count our blessings.
We are blessed that we can afford to splurge now and then on a birthday dinner.
fact, we could afford to splurge further that weekend and also take in a tour of The Mount (home to 19th
century author Edith Wharton), followed by an incredible show on Sunday at Jacob’s
Pillow Dance Center in Becket.
(Did I mention that we spent a whole lot?)
Best of all, though, by far, is that we have incredible and true friends who are very wise and also willing to let it go when things don’t go their way.
Now, that is really lucky… and ducky.
But meanwhile, guess
what? After my husband complained, the restaurant caved. They invited us to come back for another meal – a FREE one, this time – for four.
We will have to think of another way to compensate Nora and Ray because
we plan to enjoy that meal next weekend, when, as it happens, we will be back in Lenox for our
only other visit this summer, this time with our daughter Allegra and her boyfriend JP.
Wait. Didn’t I tell you? She’s coming home! For good! After a whole year in
I guess I should have mentioned that first. Talk about burying the lead.
I will tell you more about it next week… if I have time with
all the excitement.
For now… count your blessings. And let the non-blessings go.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
Jackie I mean. I can’t believe that in all this time I’ve barely mentioned him to you. My kids must be tired by now of hearing his name insinuate itself into our
every conversation like a pesky Internet
Jackie and his wife
Chris moved into the white house with pale green shutters across the street
and two doors down five or six years ago. When I first saw him in his driveway, I stopped by to chat briefly and welcome him to the neighborhood. Then, life being busy, and his being young enough to be my son, our paths
never crossed again.
Until last year, that is, when he and Chris adopted Zoey – a feisty little beagle-German Shepherd mix. We were already busy being puppy parents ourselves, and suddenly Jackie became
our new best friend.
Or maybe even more than a friend.
Latke, our Portuguese Water Daughter, is as gregarious a critter as you’ll ever find.
Since she came into our lives three years ago, we have prowled the neighborhood daily with her in search of canine companionship. To our frustration, many nearby dog owners have invisible fences and think that pet care
means little more than letting their dogs roam around on their lawns on their own.
Others are satisfied to just quickly march their
dogs around the block on a leash. They’re too busy with their human offspring to have time or energy to “waste” on doggie play dates.
Jackie was a distinct exception to this rule.
He began to come over several times a week, if not almost daily, to
let Zoey and Latke romp and play unfettered in our fenced-in
back yard. He was as busy as anyone could be, juggling his job at a motorcycle gear shop with a part-time
internship and classes he was taking at a local
college to finish his degree. But he still proved to be a deeply devoted
doggie daddy to Zoey.
Like us, he had discovered that without enough exercise or other activity, our pups could transform into mischievous or maniacal little devils. Yet after an hour of toothsome tugs of war and other vigorous antics, they’d collapse and snooze like
docile little angels for the remainder of the day.
Years ago, I used to walk our previous dog (whose name was also Zoe) almost daily with a fellow doggie mom, and after five minutes we would struggle for things to say. Not Jackie.
He is about as chatty and garrulous a guy as you will ever hope to find. Despite our difference in years, there was never a dull moment or lull in
There was also never a lull in the fun. When Zoey first appeared, she was a mere midget compared to our 42-pound mongrel,
yet still anything but timid. High-spirited
and brimming with spunk, she could hold her own and nimbly fend off older and far heftier adversaries.
And within the year she filled out and shot up so that they were a perfect match. Every day, the moment Zoey would arrive, she and Latke would spring instantly into action, racing manically around the
yard and weaving dangerously, like dare-devil slalom skiers, through the intricate obstacle course offered by our elaborate old wooden playscape.
Then, like arch enemies, they’d battle endlessly, vying over the same twig, tattered toy or other such treasure, snarling menacingly as they waged snout-to-snout combat, deftly
managing to just miss each other’s ears or muzzles with bared fangs the way we humans air kiss.
Yet as fierce as their
growls and playful barks might sound, there was no doubt. They each had found their BFF (Best Friend Fur-ever) and bonded
for life. Whenever I walked Latke down the block, she would make a beeline for Jackie and Zoey’s house and plant her backside on their
doorstep. Wild horses, let alone a busy but far from muscular mom, couldn’t drag her away.
Fortunately, whenever Jackie was there, he was more than willing to step outside with his
four-footed charge night and day. Along with being the best neighbor imaginable, the
truth was that he needed us as much as we needed him. We soon became a mutual
canine collaboration society.
We took an even more heightened interest in Jackie when our daughter Allegra, who was away singing in Hong Kong, began to date her boyfriend JP. By coincidence, Jackie was not only the exact same age as JP, but just like him had grown up in Hong Kong and left the
city at age 8. I began to joke to Jackie that they were secret brothers separated at birth.
At the very least, I maintained, they must have crossed paths at some point when they were
young. But Jackie would always shake his head and insist otherwise. Hong Kong
is a city of over 7 million, he explained. Besides, he grew up
having something of a hardscrabble life, first in Hong Kong, then Queens, New York, where he went to live with his father
for years after his parents divorced. JP, on the contrary, he would say, had grown up “with a silver spoon in his mouth.”
It was the kind of blunt thing that Jackie says. But I kind
of like that he’s kind of blunt.
Besides, along with the candor, he’s beyond considerate and kind. And not just to Zoey.
People of a certain age – my age, that is – know what it’s like when your children grow up and leave the house. After decades
of having life revolve relentlessly around the kids, you suddenly feel like you have
lost your sun. There is a void that you will
never fill... and a whole lot of silent nights.
There is also no
strapping young man or woman around any more to lift heavy boxes, help carry your suitcase down the stairs… or solve
those nasty technological glitches that invariably crop up.
did all of that for us, gladly. And more.
When a small section of tiles on our kitchen floor buckled up over the winter (a calamity
we ascribed to melting snow seeping in), a tile company said our only recourse was to retile half the downstairs of our house, which
probably would have cost thousands.
knows how to fix almost everything and said that was a waste. Instead, he removed the few
broken tiles, replaced them with a handful of spare ones we had on hand, and regrouted for little more than the nominal cost of the materials.
When my computer crashed a few days later, he managed
to get it up and running, just like that.
And when my husband needed a new car this spring, he joined him at a dealer and advised him what to lease.
Then there was the time that Allegra, who was visiting from Hong Kong, realized that she
had left an invaluable notebook filled with original music at a club where she had sung. We were away in New York City at the time. The club was in Connecticut. There was only one person I dared ask to do us the favor of driving half an hour roundtrip to retrieve it. And he did it.
Happily, of course.
And, of course,
we were always happy and eager to reciprocate. While Jackie and Chris were away over the winter, I brought in packages delivered
to their doorstep, got our plow service to clear their driveway after a blizzard, and shoveled their walk myself (with only
a little help from Latke).
Then there was the time that some potential buyers were coming over to look at their house unexpectedly.
I ran over to fetch Zoey, who was there napping in her crate.
And when I discovered that she’d had “an accident” in there (yes,
with puppies it happens), I cleaned the mess up and opened all the windows in the house to air it out before
the buyers arrived.
The buyers. Yes, I did say "buyers." Which brings me to the sorry truth.
In December, Chris
got a new job that started immediately, requiring her
to move to New York at once. Jackie stayed behind to finish school and continue working here. They got together on the weekends. But
on weekdays he was now more available than ever.
To my husband, and me, it felt like we had a child at home again. And to our infinite delight, Jackie seemed to
reciprocate our feelings. He doesn’t have any relatives nearby, and with his wife living hours away, he seemed to relish having the company. Even ours.
He not only still came over almost daily, but also began texting me almost round the clock, and not just to coordinate doggie dates. He also would write to tell us what he was eating for dinner (“Squid ink fried rice – life changing experience!”), or often offer to bring something for us when he got takeout himself (“Want a bagel? I’m picking up lunch.”).
Or he’d simply write to mention things he came across that he thought might interest me (“The BBC
Channel is talking about Aushwitz remembered
– Channel 1207 on AT&T”).
But it was eminently clear that our budding liaison had a looming expiration date.
We knew it was only a matter of time before Jackie
joined Chris to live closer to the city. They soon bought a new home in New York and put their house here on the market.
Oblivious to it all, Latke and Zoey continued their daily backyard escapades in the cold and snow. Jackie also continued to join us and
listen to me bark at him as though I were his
“Why aren’t you wearing a hat?" I'd ask. "It’s freezing out. Where are your gloves?”
I couldn't help offering other motherly advice. And noodging him about all sorts of things. Noodging him
a lot. Yes, he already had a mother. But he’d never had a nice Jewish mom. And he didn’t seem to mind.
With four-foot drifts piled up on their lawn, they didn’t have much luck with buyers.
But we still knew it was only a matter of time.
I began to live in dread of their departure, and was relieved when construction on their new house delayed their move from March to April,
But two weeks ago, the moving van finally arrived. I readily
volunteered to watch Zoey while the
movers loaded up the truck.
To our delight, Jackie brought Zoey back a few days later when he returned to straighten up. Then, just today, I nearly exploded with
euphoria when they popped up again unexpectedly
on the block (nothing like an Internet pop-up at all) so that Jackie could pick up a few items he'd left behind and return
his cap and gown to school.
Once again, it didn’t take a bit of arm-twisting for
me to offer to supervise the goyls for one final doggie date in our back yard while Jackie tied up some last
I watched them zoom around their old obstacle course like race cars speeding mightily on a circular
track. Then they played furry hide and seek, darting around the trees until their little legs gave out and they collapsed,
pink tongues panting wildly, on cool tufts of grass. At last, seeking refuge from the glare of the afternoon sun, they rested
up on the deck, side by side for one last time, seated politely like ladies at tea on their favorite chaise longue.
Every time I grow maudlin about Jackie and Chris’s departure, Allegra
reminds me that she is about to return to the States. It’s true. After what turned into a full agonizing year abroad,
she's moving back to New York later this month, supposedly for good.
When I think about her extended absence, I begin to wonder if Jackie was heaven sent. Everyone knows I’m such a dedicated nice Jewish mom that it was doubtful I would survive having my daughter halfway around the globe for an entire
12-month stint. To those people, I usually say, “Thank G-d for Facetime!” But I also thank heaven for Jackie.
Having him around, more than anything, helped to get me through the past year.
I will miss him, of course. I already do. But we will still continue to talk. And text. For sure.
how will we ever explain to poor Latke that Zoey doesn’t live here anymore?
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Word From the Weiss
I have news. No, not just news. BIG NEWS. Without a doubt, the biggest news I’ve had since the day that I began filling this space over four years ago. I am so excited that I'm almost jumping out of my skin and don’t know how to tell
you. But I’ve decided that you might as well know now. After all, practically everyone else does.
As you will soon understand.
By now, you know almost everything about my son Aidan (my son, the Ph.D candidate,
jazz journalist, saxophone-playing TV stagehand, and author-to-be, that is). For nearly three years, I have been mentioning the name of his girlfriend, Kaitlin, in the very
same breath. And three years is a pretty long time
when you are about to turn 32 (as she did last weekend).
I must confess that I knew a couple of days in advance that he was going to, uh, confer with her about this matter. At least, I knew that he was going to ask her a very important question. I could only surmise what she would answer.
But first he had to ask.
There was some controversy about how he would ask,
but I knew that he probably would ask, and also where he would ask.
The only questions were how and with what? As of a few days before, he hadn’t yet bought a ring, and
he needed a little advice.
My daughter, no doubt, was the best person to offer this advice, in large part because she is
savvy about these things and in larger part because she and Kaitlin are extremely close. Allegra, however, is still living in Hong Kong, which is 12 hours ahead of us, so she is not always available to chat when we need her. For that reason, the task fell to the next best thing. The next best woman around, that is.
I guess that would
I don’t want to give
away too many of the details to which I
am privy. After all, although this is my blog, this is, in the end, about my son’s life and it is his story
to tell. Suffice it to say that he wanted to buy
a ring, but is not what I would call a professional shopper. Far from.
He didn’t know quite where to begin.
He did, however, have the location narrowed down, and that helped quite a bit. One of his best friends since
childhood, Andrew, is married to a lovely young woman named Lana whose father is a jeweler in New York. It seemed only right that Aidan go to him for such a major
purchase. But he still had no idea what to buy.
Kaitlin, who is the sweetest and loveliest
not to mention most brilliant girl imaginable, happens to be a Ph.D. candidate herself, and her field of concentration concerns Nature and 19th-century poetry. So
I thought it might be appropriate for Aidan to look for a ring that evoked the Victorian
Era or at the very least was a vintage
style. I sent him some pictures of those.
Kaitlin also happens to be a strict vegetarian
and committed to living an ethical life. My daughter, who began to weigh in on
the controversy, advised looking at rings made with “conflict-free” diamonds obtained in an ethical manner, available from companies such as
Brilliant Earth, which purports to provide fine jewelry “originating from pure sources and harvested using socially
also suggested that Aidan check out some so-called “vegan” engagement rings, set with a sparkly stone called moissanite in place of actual diamonds.
Moissanite, if you
must know, is a mineral discovered in 1893 in an
Arizona meteor crater by a French scientist named Henri Moissan. According to Wikipedia, it is the name given to naturally occurring silicon
carbide and its various crystalline polymorphs.
I thought this was a lovely idea.
However, Kaitlin is not a vegan, and a polymorph is
not a diamond. When was the last time you heard anyone say, “A moissonite is forever?” I thanked her for this thoughtful idea, but
thought she should keep it to herself.
Before we could come up with any other bright ideas – or ideas for anything
else bright – Aidan told us that he had consulted his friend Andrew, arguably an expert since he got married two years ago,
and his wife is the daughter of a diamond merchant.
Andrew told Aidan that he didn’t need to choose a ring at all.
He merely had to put down a deposit on a ring
with a jeweler, and the jeweler would give him a “placeholder” ring set with a cubic zirconium with which to pop
the question. Then, if Kaitlin accepted, he could return the temporary ring to the store and let her select a ring of her choice.
This sounded like a brilliant solution. Why hadn’t we thought of it ourselves?
The more that I thought about it, though, the more
I thought that perhaps he should go back to square one. That is, diamond one. You know, the plan in which he would “man up,” as they say these days, and dare to choose a real ring for her himself.
Allegra whole-heartedly agreed. As she pointed out, this approach had made perfect sense when
Andrew had proposed to Lana. After all, as she aptly pointed out, “Lana is the daughter
of a diamond merchant!” She obviously would be particular about the ring that she would
wear for life.
Kaitlin, however, would probably be thrilled with almost any ring, and even more thrilled knowing that Aidan had picked it himself.
Plus, wouldn't it be more romantic to receive the actual diamond ring (not CZ or polymorph) right away and
be able to display it to the world at once, rather
than having to wait a few days until the end of the holiday weekend to exchange it?
And if she really
didn’t love it, she presumably could still
exchange it, anyway.
With that in mind, Aidan went to see Andrew’s father-in-law, the diamond dealer. Who knows how
many rings he looked at? I only know that he managed to choose one. And a gorgeous one, at that. (Clearly a diamond. No crystalline polymorphs for us!)
however, raised yet another grueling question.
What was Kaitlin’s ring size?
Aidan called Kaitlin’s best friend, whom he swore to secrecy. But she didn’t know what it was, which was no big surprise. Fact is, I don’t
even know what my ring
Aidan brought several of Kaitlin’s rings to another jeweler to be sized. But it turned out that she had rings in
at least four different sizes, possibly worn on
Then Allegra came to the rescue. She was pretty sure Kaitlin wore a size 7, or 7½
at most. He decided to go with that.
Somehow, I assumed he would
save his gift for Sunday, Kaitlin’s birthday. So imagine my excitement when I woke up to a text from Hong Kong Saturday morning. “It’s happening today!” Allegra wrote. Was that ring burning
a hole in his pocket?
We heard nothing for hours. Then at 1:25 came another text from Hong Kong.
“They are ENGAGED!!!”
Did the ring fit?
Did she like it?
“I’m asking,” Allegra replied.
At 1:33, a text arrived from Aidan himself: “She said yes!!!”
By then, though, I must admit, I already had the answers to all of my questions and more. Allegra had forwarded several photos from the happy couple, taken by innocent bystanders in the glorious Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where they’d been strolling when this took place.
Kaitlin looked ecstatic. So, if you ask me, did he.
And the ring was on her finger.
She loved it! And it fit!
might think I had my happily-ever-after ending already. And if this were a fairy
tale, I would. But this drama was unfolding in 2015.
So the story did not end there.
As it happened,
my husband and I were slated to be part of another fairy tale that day. We were invited to an engagement party for Allegra’s high school friend Justin. And although we would have preferred under the circumstances to spend the afternoon at home excitedly phoning
everyone we know, we were already late for those festivities.
party in question was a potluck barbecue to which I had to bring a side dish. By the time I had dressed and assembled my bowl
of cold noodles with sesame sauce, we were nearly an hour late.
Only after we’d
arrived did it occur to me to quickly check Facebook on
my iPhone. That’s when I discovered that within half an hour of the event, the news had already gone out online. Not only had Kaitlin posted it, but 94 people had already “liked” it.
Of course, I didn’t mind, or blame her one bit. That’s what people do these days.
Besides, I was absolutely
thrilled that she was so overcome with jubilation to be engaged to my son that she wanted the whole world to know about it… and to know at once.
So I hastened to “like” it
as well, then got my husband to go on Facebook and like it too. Yes, it might have been rude to do at the party, but how would it look if we were Nos. 250 and 251 among the growing chorus of well-wishers voicing their approval?
The only real issue for
me was that I had envisioned having the pleasure of getting to tell my friends and relatives personally by phoning them
to announce it one by one.
Of course, most of
my friends and relatives are not on Facebook themselves. However, many of their children are, and my children are friends with many of their children (or at least they’re Facebook “friends”). This meant that almost everyone I knew would hear about
it before I could tell them myself. If they didn’t know it already.
I was bursting
with so much excitement that I couldn’t keep it to myself and spilled the beans to almost everyone I met at the party. But it felt a little strange to be telling many complete strangers before I told my closest friends.
Evidently, my husband couldn’t wait, either.
He confessed that he had already texted many of our best friends. Such is life in 2015. This cat was really out of the bag.
We began calling people
that night, as soon as we arrived home. But this being a Saturday night, on a holiday weekend, no less, everyone we called
was out. We had to settle for leaving cryptic hints. “Call us back as soon as you can. We have some... news.”
At around 11 that
night, Allegra woke up in Hong Kong and posted it on FB herself. She is not only Facebook friends with many of my friends’ children, but also with many of my friends. Now the cat wasn’t just out of the bag. It was broadcasting live.
enough, I woke up to an email from my friend Amy. Subject: “Mazel tov.”
“I hear via the grapevine there is an engagement in your family,” she wrote. “Congratulations to Aidan and to you!”
emailed back to both accept her good wishes and
offer an apology. When her older
daughter had been married two years ago, she had
called me personally to spread the news. But she soon replied to assure me that she understood.
the moment!” she wrote. “And still call your friends! Even us.”
Alas, we still had no time to do that now. We had signed up for a tennis mixed doubles round
robin at our swim club and had to spend the entire morning doing that.
the time we had managed to reach most of our friends
and family by the end of the weekend, almost
everyone already knew. They were all delighted for
us, of course. But no one was exactly amazed.
At least many were amused.
One, Lorry, recalled that she had found out about her own grandson Spencer’s engagement
when the groom’s aunt’s husband’s mother had phoned her from Brooklyn to say “Mazel tov.”
“Mazel tov for what?”
she had replied. The news had spread faster than wildfire. And faster than her own nearest and
dearest could phone. For that’s how Facebook works.
Face it. There are no secrets these days. At least there are
no secrets for long.
At least, as secrets go, this is a very fortuitous one. We love Kaitlin and could not be
Besides, this issue, of all topics, should not be a matter
of “What did you know, and when did you know it?” For one thing, it is all about love and marriage, not knowledge.
For another, that would leave a whole lot of room for a lot of people to be peeved at me.
Instead of happy for me. Which I hope you are.
As for when, where, and how the wedding will happen, that has
yet to be determined, let alone go up online. I
will tell you. Eventually.
I will also tell
you and all of my friends right now. You may be among my nearest and dearest. But you will not be the first to know.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Word From the Weiss
Jews may not as a rule believe in reincarnation,
but I finally know what I want to come
back as in the next life, should there be one – not a grasshopper, or a great world leader like
Mahatma Gandhi or Golda Meir. Just someone who grapples with life by making decisions firmly and
decisively and then moving on. As opposed to what I am.
For the past month or so, you see, I have been agonizing over a choice that I had to make. It was a choice that for most grasshoppers, great leaders, and everyone
in between would have been what is commonly known these days as a “no-brainer.”
(I hate that expression and usually think whoever
coined it clearly didn’t have one. But to me this choice was so irresistible that there’s almost no other way to
That is, I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to join my daughter on a trip to Japan.
Granted, Japan might not be everyone’s cup of (green) tea. My
cousin Ilene says she still has vivid memories of World War II, and that you couldn’t pay her to go there.
for as long as I can remember, I have longed to go there. I adore Japanese art. I love
Japanese culture. I love Japanese fashions and God knows I love Japanese food.
It has always been at the very top of the list of places I would like to go someday. For most of my life, I believed
that “someday” would never come because I’d developed
a longtime, serious fear of flying. I just couldn’t imagine enduring that long a flight.
All that changed when my
husband and I went to visit our daughter in Hong Kong. Never mind that this required taking a 16-hour flight in each direction; she’d been there for months, and I missed her so much that I would
have flown to the moon to see her.
As long as we were traveling that far, we decided to
extend our trip and visit Beijing and Bangkok as well. That journey kept us
up in the air for a total of 48 hours round-trip. To my surprise, those flights, which I’d dreaded for months, ended up being no big deal.
I watched a few movies, ate, slept a bit, ate some more, and arrived. Big whoop.
And when I came
back, having realized I could do it, I felt wonderfully
If I could go there, then I could go anywhere. OK, maybe not the moon. But at least, at long
My daughter, Allegra, has always wanted to go there as well, and we agreed to do it together, preferably before she returned from Asia. She’s
now slated to come back in June. That made it sound like our going was pretty much now or never.
We decided to go now.
After all, she was living in Hong Kong, a mere four-hour flight away from
Tokyo. And although this blog keeps me busy, it leaves me free to come and go as
Although you’d assume she might have preferred to go with her boyfriend, JP,
he was very busy with work and only free to join her there for the long holiday weekend. (Yes, Monday was also a national holiday in Hong Kong. No, not Memorial Day. The birthday of Buddha.) She was determined to go to Japan for at least a week.
That’s where I came in.
She proposed that I meet her in Hong Kong and accompany her to Tokyo. From there, we planned
to take a high-speed train to Kyoto. JP would join us for the weekend. He said he was happy to have me come along. (That’s the kind of mensch he is.)
And I would have been happy to be there with them. Not just happy. A trip to the place I
have always wanted to go, with my daughter? I would have been happier than a non-kosher animal
in non-mud (if you get my drift)!
Adding to the pleasure, I will dare to confess, was
the notion of going without my husband. Of course, it would have been fun to have him come
along too. But he was busy with work, and he wasn’t
nearly as thrilled about seeing Japan as I was. Besides, a girls-only getaway
with my daughter would’ve been the ultimate adventure and fun-fest.
Plus, there was an added bonus – the prospect of getting
to meet JP’s parents.
They spend about half the year in Hong Kong and
the other half in Vancouver. For months, they’d been asking Allegra when her father
and I might visit. They were returning to Canada in mid-May. This was our last chance to meet them before they left.
Allegra and agreed that I would plan to arrive in Hong Kong a day or two before they departed, then she and I would go to Japan for a week and have JP join us at the end.
For Memorial Day-slash-the-Birth-of-Buddha.
But then something unexpected arose.
It was a good thing, maybe even a great thing, but it was a problem nonetheless.
I ran into a friend who told me about an opening for
a wonderful job. I ran into this friend in my doctor’s office while my daughter was waiting to go in for an appointment.
Until that moment, I had not known that this friend and I
see the same doctor. And had Allegra’s appointment
not perfectly dovetailed with my friend's appointment – or had the doctor not kept us waiting… and waiting…and
waiting until my friend emerged from hers – we never would have bumped into each other and I never would’ve heard about the job.
Talk about beshert.
I will tell you more about this job at a later date. All you need to know at this point
was that I went on an interview for it earlier this month. And the interview went well.
The people in charge said that I needed to submit a written proposal, however. And after I submitted the proposal, they said that
they would get back to me shortly.
But shortly, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
A week went by. Then two.
My husband was so excited that he bought me roses the day that I had the interview. And
long after they had wilted, then shriveled and died, I still hadn’t gotten a definitive answer.
The job was only a summer job. But if I got it, it would start in late June.
Japan is 11 hours ahead
of us, and the last time that I returned from Asia, I was jet-lagged for weeks. Did I really want to be
jet-lagged when I was starting a new job?
Plus, I would need to prepare for the job if I were to get it.
Did I really want to go on a major trip while
worrying about having to prepare for a new job as soon as I returned?
Then again, what if I didn’t get the job and
missed out on the trip too?
One night, JP overheard
Allegra talking to me about my upcoming to visit and freaked. Sure, he
wanted me to meet his parents. Eventually. (I
guess.) But not necessarily right now, and definitely not the night before they left for
six months in Canada.
Turns out that his mom is a little nervous about flying, too.
If I wasn’t going to meet his parents, then I couldn’t go to Hong Kong while they were still there. How rude to them that would seem.
And I certainly couldn’t arrive the day after they left.
That would seem even ruder.
The only thing that made sense was for me to fly directly to Tokyo and meet Allegra there.
spent much of my days checking flights. Flights to Hong Kong. Flights
to Japan. They were all extremely pricey and getting pricier by the minute.
In fact, when Allegra saw the airfares taking flight themselves, she booked a flight for herself. She wanted me to come, she insisted. But she was going whether I did or not.
Should I go?
Shouldn’t I go?
How could I go?
could I not?
Every time anyone invited me to do something in late May or early June, I hemmed and hawed. I was afraid to make any plans, since I might be in Japan.
(A likely story, they must have thought.)
Meanwhile, the airfares soared so high that JP realized
it was sheer lunacy for him to fly over to Japan just for a weekend himself.
If he wasn’t going to go, Allegra decided, and I wasn’t going to go, then maybe someone else would.
She asked her friend Sheray, who happened to recently have moved to Hong Kong with her
boyfriend. Sheray agreed to accompany her provided that they flew back
to Hong Kong to spend the upcoming three-day holiday weekend with their boyfriends. This only allowed them time to go to Tokyo
and back. I really wanted to visit tranquil and serene Kyoto, which I hear is the most exquisite place imaginable.
to be a former student of mine from the years that I served
as the faculty adviser to the student
newspaper at a local high school.
She wasn’t just any old former student. She was the only student on staff who actually
wanted to be a journalist when she grew up. So she was particularly close to
my heart, and long after she graduated we
stayed in touch. I absolutely love Sheray.
Could there be anything more fun than going to the one place that I always had wanted to go with my daughter and one of my favorite students?
On the other hand, could there be anything crazier than going to Japan for only five days? Not only would it cost a
fortune just to fly there, but I probably would be
jet-lagged the entire time I was there and then jet-lagged for weeks after I returned.
“You’re worrying too much,” Allegra
wrote one night. “Either you come and make it a spontaneous, fun thing, or you just don’t come this time and we
plan better next time.”
“Are you sure there’ll be a next time?” I responded. What if there weren't?
This might be my only chance.
go? Shouldn’t I go?
How could I go? How could I not go?
Less than a week
before Allegra left, I finally began to realize the answer.
my thinking that this opportunity was a matter of now or never was nuts.
I always tell my
kids that there are no such things as rain checks in life. If you get a chance at something – something that you really want – then you
need to act on it right away, because it won’t be here tomorrow. It may not even be here ten minutes from now.
That seems to have become even more valid as I advance in life. I’m in good health now, and so is everyone in my family. But you never know what life will bring.
But life could also bring better opportunities. Better than
a whirlwind trip to Japan.
At least half the joy of almost any journey, for me,
at least, lies in the anticipation. At this point, there was
no time for anticipation left. I barely had time to pack.
Besides, if I actually was going to Japan, I probably wasn’t going
to go twice. So I wanted to see a whole lot of the country, and I wanted to plan it well and do it right.
It wasn’t realistic to plan
the trip in five days, or to see the
whole country in five more.
Maybe I should wait until I could.
I was almost heartbroken bidding Allegra goodbye the afternoon that she left.
But I wasn’t completely despondent. Because
I was excited for her… and Sheray.
Besides, guess what? My husband bought me new roses.
I finally got the job!
I’m glad that I will have
time to plan for it properly and won’t be drowsy at work.
I’m also getting plenty of vicarious thrills as the girls keep me posted night and day.
They’ve sent shots of the tiny
but cute Tokyo apartment that they rented
on Airbnb.com, and videos
of masterful sushi chefs giving them a true "raw" deal.
They’ve sent photos of the jazz clubs they’ve visited at night, at some of which Allegra was asked to get up and sing.
They also sent photos of their biggest and craziest indulgence of all, a visit to Tokyo's top nail artist. (It's all there
in black and white... and bling.)
Seems like I didn’t have to fly halfway around the world to have the
time of my life, after all. They’re having the time of my life for me. Japan is all that I expected and more.
want to move here,” Allegra wrote. “I can only live in New York, Paris, or Tokyo.”
As they say, how are you going to keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen… Tokyo?
No matter. Sounds like
she’s definitely going back sooner or later. Probably sooner. And if she’s going,
then I’ve made up my
mind. Firmly and decisively. I’m going with her.
Next time. No matter what.
Job or no job.