|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Word From the Weiss
For months now, I’ve been alluding to the big trip I will be taking to visit
my daughter in Hong Kong. Well, it’s time for the alluding to be over. Let the eluding begin!
That is to say, my husband and I are
about to embark on a three-week trip to Asia. In addition to spending time with Allegra, who is singing at the Hong Kong Four
Seasons for seven months, we’ll also travel to Beijing and Bangkok and a Thai beach. And as much as I would love to
take you along for the ride, the fact is that I’m anxious about schlepping my computer on such an elaborate
journey. This also may be the only time I ever get to visit these distant destinations, and I don’t want to sit in a
hotel room writing when I could be out climbing the Great Wall or devouring dim sum or pad thai.
This is my way of saying that I have no intention of breaking up with you, but I’m about to take a break for three
full weeks. I hope you won’t forget me while I’m gone.
With that in mind, let me assure you that I will
be back in mid-October with exciting new adventures. Not only will I be hanging out with my daughter in many exotic locales,
but we’ll be observing Rosh Hashanah in Hong Kong and then Yom Kippur in Bangkok. How cool (albeit unorthodox) is that?
And if you actually find that you miss me that much (as if!), feel free to “friend” me on Facebook, where
I’m sure I will be posting plenty of pictures as Patricia Weiss Levy.
Yet whether or not you miss me, I promise that I will genuinely miss you. Then again, I cannot tell a lie. It may be
a great relief to take this much-needed respite. As of this week, I've been writing in this space for four years and have
only taken off two weeks in a row once, when we went on our last real family vacation to Italy three years ago.
What I have never taken (since I was
a zaftig teen, anyway) was a three-week trip. Seems impossibly extravagant, doesn't it? It’s
just that after taking a 16-hour flight, I feel we should get our money’s worth and see as much of Allegra and another
continent as we can.
Still, I must admit that I’m feeling a little guilty about leaving all of you behind, especially during the High
Holy Days. (Shouldn’t I be home posting tips about making kugel and brisket?) But what I’m really feeling guilty
about (nice Jewish mom that I am) is leaving behind our dog. You know where I’m going and that we will be back
soon. How do I explain that to Latke?
Never fear, however. She will be having a vacation of her own with her many
friends at Wags, her favorite puppy “playcare” center. Also, just before leaving, we treated her to an extra special
day on which I can safely say she had the time of her life.
Our local JCC swim club was once again hosting a Doggie Funday, held after the facilities closed for the summer, but
just before they drained the pools.
When Latke attended this illustrious event last year, she not only had a total blast
diving in and out of the kiddie pool with reckless abandon, but also entered the talent competition, in which, to our amazement,
she managed to clinch third place.
Although she thoroughly impressed the judges with her ability to leap over a stick, I doubted that reproducing the same
trick a year later would produce the same results. So the moment that we decided to attend again, I began wracking my brain
for a new stunt.
They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but at 2½ Latke is far from
old. As a Portuguese Water Dog, she’s also pretty sharp as canines go. However, we’d spent much of last summer
perfecting her jumping skills. With only a few weeks left, we might not want to stick with the stick, but she’s still
a dog. We couldn’t be too ambitious.
My first impulse was to attempt that oldie but goodie, getting Rover
to roll over. Detailed instructions that I found online indicated that this could be achieved by holding a fragrant treat
by her ear while she was lying down and getting her to follow the scent. When that didn’t work, I tried manually rolling
her over. Gravity and growling intervened.
A clerk at the pet supplies store suggested getting her to stand
on her hind legs and pirouette by holding a treat above her head. Latke was very interested in the treat. Spinning, though?
Not so much. She’d balance for a few seconds on her toes before planting her paws painfully on my stomach. Sharp as
she is, a ballerina she’ll never be.
As a last resort, I tried capitalizing on a novel skill that Latke already possessed. For years, we have been playing
a sort of three-card Monte game in which I conceal a treat in one of my hands, hold them both closed, palm down, in front
of her and get her to choose which one it’s in. She is pretty good at this feat, but let’s face it – it’s
not all that impressive. She hits one hand with her paw, and if she doesn’t get it on the first try, then she always
does the second time around because there’s only one other choice.
What would make the trick more impressive was if she could get it right every time (which seemed possible if I resorted
to using VERY SMELLY treats). Better yet, what if I could teach her to know her left from her right? Or at least appear to
know her left from her right?
We worked on this for awhile, with me exclaiming “Left!” and looking pointedly
toward my left hand, then doing the same thing with the right. Any luck? Yeah, right! Latke was happy to keep practicing, but it remained
a clear case of hit or miss. Maybe it was time to give up and simply stick with the stick.
The day before the big day, with none
of her new skills quite ready for prime time, we came up with a final inspiration. We went to the store to buy a Hula Hoop.
I figured she could jump through that as easily as she could leap over a stick, but it would look like it was something new.
We bought a very impressive lemon yellow hoop with bright pink plastic doohickies that lit up on contact. Latke took one look
at this and ran the other way.
Until, that is, her bff Zoey came over. Zoey, at about 6 months, may be only a puppy, and less than half of Latke’s
size at that, but she took one look at the treat we were brandishing on the other side of the hoop and stepped bravely through.
And not to be outdone in the treat department, so instantly did Latke.
They practiced this new prowess until it was perfected and we were out of treats.
The next morning, before leaving for
the JCC, I dressed Latke in her costume, a shocking pink feathered boa I had found in my daughter’s closet. This may
sound a little over-the-top as dogwear goes. But it was so light that she didn’t notice it, and even smiled for the
Then I took her into the yard to practice jumping through the hoop one last time. She took one look at it and ran again.
We were back to square one.
With only minutes left to prepare, we couldn’t begin to teach her a new trick
now. The best we could do, we figured, was demonstrate all of her half-baked skills hoping that one would work.
My husband came up with a clever name for this circus act: Cirque de Lat-Kay. I quickly fashioned a sign on my computer,
adding a pretty pink tulle bow. We were off!
Before you cast any aspersions about my trying to get my dog to perform,
let me just mention that under most circumstances, I am far from a competitive person. No, it’s beyond that. I am probably
just about the least competitive person you know.
Growing up in a family of fiercely competitive people, I quickly
learned when I was young that I was never going to win and set about learning instead to lose graciously.
As time went on, I began to realize
that other people enjoyed winning so much more than I did that it was in everyone’s best interest that I lose. So the
real challenge for me became to lose not just graciously but deliberately without making it too obvious.
So when it came to Latke winning or
losing, I didn’t care because she wouldn’t care. The person who would care was my husband, and I wanted
to try for his benefit.
Besides, in the end, win or lose, it is always much more fun to participate than just
sit and watch.
The moment that we arrived, we discovered that there was once again a whole lot of participating to do.
Dozens of dogs and their owners had
gathered for the fun and games in store.
First, everyone lined up for the doggie dash, a nearly 2-mile, on-leash walk-run around the property.
this was pretty cool, but after it was iver she was all ready to cool off. One look at the adult swimming pool and she took
a sudden leap in, only to think better of it and scramble out with a whole lot of tugging from us.
Then I did my best to dry her off because the talent show was about to begin.
A black and white dog named Phred (yes, Fred with a Ph, “just to be different”) impressed everyone by catching
a Frisbee (or was it a Phrisbee?).
A dinosaur of a dog named Daisy perched on her hind legs to retrieve a treat (although
the most notable part of the act was her sheer height, which exceeded that of her young owner).
Latke watched intently as her next competitor, who looked a lot like her, simply sat and gave his or her paw.
Then it was our turn up at bat. My
husband donned a wizard’s hat I had brought while I held up our nifty sign for all present to see.
Latke balanced on her hind legs just long enough to snatch a treat without leaning on me, which looked somehow much
more impressive performed with that pink boa on.
Then she leapt over her good old stick in both directions before
catching a bright pink ball that lit up in her mouth.
Dare we even try for the grand finale? Nothing ventured, nothing
gained. We held up the hoop. I proffered a treat. She didn’t leap, but didn’t run either. Dogs are nothing if
not natural performers. Egged on by an appreciative audience, Latke stepped through. One small step for a previously skittish
dog. One giant leap for canine-kind!
Raucous applause ensued.
Next up, unfortunately, was Charlie, a little spaniel who had come in first last year.
Last year, all Charlie had done, as
far as I can recall, was a whole lot of standard dog stuff like sitting and giving his paw. The secret weapon in his act was
his pint-sized owner, who looked too damn adorable to settle for second-best.
This year, that owner had grown a
bit. But so had Charlie’s repertoire. He sat. He gave a paw. He went down on all fours. And then, with stunning aplomb,
he rolled over.
It took the judges only moments to come to a decision.
Charlie, no surprise, nabbed first
But then – big surprise – Latke came in second!
Our prize was merely a certificate bearing her
name. Still, victory was sweet.
Maybe losing, however graciously, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be –
in my book, anyway – after all.
Although I knew we had already garnered our share of recognition for the day, I still entered Latke in the costume contest,
requiring us to parade around in a circle with the other pets who had dressed for the occasion. As glam as Latke looked still sporting her flaming pink boa, there were many
other worthy contenders, including one of the saddest clowns I’ve ever seen and Charlie, our arch rival, who looked
awfully cute all dolled up in his itsy bitsy sailor suit.
First prize, however, went to the dog in the football jersey, with an owner to match. Together, they made a great team. Touchdown!
The next event – dog who looked most like its owner – was one contest for which I was content to sit out
and watch. But others were less proud and I must say the winners made quite a spectacle of themselves. Almost literally.
I let Latke take off her fine feathered regalia for the next competition, a race through an obstacle course, for which
she made a good enough showing to come in fourth place.
But soon enough it was time to do what we’d really come for all along – not to win. To jump in! All summer
long, I had felt guilty every single time that we had gone to the club for a swim on a hot, sunny day and left poor Latke
languishing inside at home. Now was her moment to make up for lost time.
Last year, it had taken a ball tossed into the water to get her to dive in. This time, she needed no props, nor encouragement.
There were countless other hounds already having a blast in the water and she eagerly joined the wet and wild throng.
So, however, did several children
present, who didn’t quite get the idea that the kiddie pool had been taken over by other bathers for the day. Diving
in with dogs may be even more exhilarating than swimming with, say, dolphins, but I hope that these youngsters’ mothers
hosed them down afterwards. After seeing many a dog squat in the water (including my own, I must confess) I can assure you
that I bathed Latke.
But first she got to swim her fill and then some, and by the time we left we had one very wet, waterlogged, yet thoroughly
satisfied pooch. And the knowledge that we now had a full year to pick, learn and perchance perfect another talent for her
bag of tricks.
Assuming that they hold the event again, in which case you know we will be there.
Here, for those who may not get it, is the great thing about dogs. Sure, they’ll jump through hoops for you (or
at the very least walk reluctantly through them). But far better is how boundlessly they love you, even if you only take them
swimming once a year. They erupt in full-blown ecstasy whenever you just return from taking out the garbage. Can you imagine
how Latke will react when we return from Asia after three long weeks?
Right now, it’s a little hard to imagine leaving her behind for so long. But that’s a small price to pay
for getting to see my daughter’s face for first time in three months.
And I know somehow that Latke will
forgive me for going. I hope you will too. See you after September. After Columbus Day that is. Don’t forget
to check back then.
Until then, happy new year!
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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. (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.
But then, 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.
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
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, 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.
Despite 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 – his 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!
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.
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?
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!”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 the matching glass goblet and serving platter. (The more you buy at any booth, the more willing the merchant is to give you a
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.
“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!”
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
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
“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).
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
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.”
I instantly phoned Aidan to pass on the news and the man’s contact information. And I’m happy to report
that they connected, Aidan got to speak to the friend, and it was a great interview.
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.”
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!”
Friday, August 29, 2014
Word From the Weiss
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.
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.
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.
“Sorry, I cannot provide maps and directions in Belize!” she chirped back.
Argh! 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.
School!" I corrected.
It was no use. "I could not find any places matching "Tweit bellies
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.
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.
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.
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?”
Hmmm. How should I answer that?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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 had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white
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…
Allegra had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white
And everywhere Allegra went
The lamb took a shower.
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
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.
Caleb had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white
as a sail
And everywhere that Caleb went
The lamb wound up in jail.
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
Fleece was white as a sneaker
And everywhere Quiana
The lamb would hide and
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.
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
And everywhere that Ryan
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.
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.
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.
Friday, August 22, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
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.
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 – 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, 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
“Hannah said yes!” read the printed invitation that soon followed. And, not surprisingly, so
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?
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.
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?”).
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 kind of 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.
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.
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.
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 insisted that he’d be able to find something in less than an hour.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Of course, the moment we entered the darkened dining room following the cocktail hour out on the veranda, nearly every
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.
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 equivalent
of that classic combo may be).
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 turned 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.
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.
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.
Yet now, whenever I find myself feeling blue, I can’t
set my sights on that wedding.
No matter. There’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
Now, that is something to look forward to.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
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.
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
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.
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
“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.
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
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.”
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.
do this,” I told Aidan.
“I should really do it,” he concurred.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.”)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
As I said, he's the professional jazz journalist in the family. He clearly was the right man (and/or nice Jewish boy) for
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!
And 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
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.
|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!
|LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
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