|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
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
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’ve since been in touch and plan to converse soon.
Talk about must-have experiences! I would say
without reservation that in all my years at Brimfield, this may turn out to be my greatest find ever, and it didn’t
cost me a cent (beyond the 30 bucks that I shelled out for three very loud and very colorful shirts).
I also would wager that this may
prove to be my best gift to Aidan of all… not that I can claim to have been clever to find it. For in the end, it was
really a matter of beshert (meant to be).
Meanwhile, still stewing about my earlier experience, I finally wrote
to the man in charge of Brimfield telling him about my close encounters with relics of the Third Reich.
“As a Jew, I was genuinely
sickened by the sight,” I told him. “But I don't think you need to be Jewish to object to the Nazi Party
being treated as a subject for nostalgia. There are plenty of events in history that belong on our shelves because
they remind us of better days gone by. Genocide should not be among them.”
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, since her initial contract already has been renewed – every time that I missed her so much that my
face hurt, I made myself focus on an exciting summer party that was coming up.
Paul and Kathy, some close old friends who live in London, had phoned a few weeks earlier to report that their son had
fallen hook, line, sinker and then some for the American girl of his dreams. Tom had recently proposed, Hannah had readily
accepted, and Hannah’s aunt and uncle had graciously offered to throw them a posh engagement party in Quogue, a hoity-toity
place near the Hamptons. Were we free to come?
Free, that is, to attend what was certain to be the highlight
of our summer?
“Hannah said yes!” read the printed invitation that soon followed. And, not surprisingly, so
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 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
As we walked out of our hotel room late the next morning after breakfast, my husband seemed perplexed that
I wasn’t bringing along a book or magazine to read. That’s what he does when we go out for the day and he suspects
I might go shopping.
I knew better, figuring that this was going to be more of an interactive experience. Besides, my husband
insisted that he’d be able to find something in less than an hour.
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 even
man present shed his sport coat, and my husband eagerly followed suit. So in the end, we spent about $200 and half of the
day shopping just so that we could avoid embarrassing ourselves for all of about 60 minutes.
But I found myself far less focused on that than on our dear friends’ unbridled joy. Judging from the father of
the groom’s delirious display of dance moves, rivaled only by those of the father of the bride, this was one of those
proverbial matches made in heaven, a union, dare I say it, as perfect as lox and bagels (or whatever the WASP version
of that classic combo may be).
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.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
There are dog people and there are cat people, and in some cases the twain meet. But
not in my house.
I grew up with a dog. We got a dog for our kids when they were little. And now that our kids
are grown, and our first dog is, sadly, gone, we have another dog to be our kid.
Our kids, however, have grown up to
have cats. Or to live with cats. One has two. Go figure.
Perhaps it’s just a function of the stage of life that they’re in. Cats are much lower maintenance, and
when you’re in your 20s, life is tough and chaotic enough. You’re still getting your act together. You don’t
really need to take care of anyone or anything else.
But sometimes you still need someone else to come help take care
of your cats. And that’s where we came in.
I’m not complaining, mind you. Far from. When our son Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin recently asked if we’d
be willing to help cat-sit while they spent a few weeks taking a trip to London, Paris, and the South of France, they didn’t
need to ask twice.
But I did need to ask them a whole lot of questions because I’ve never had a cat. I also
had a whole lot of trepidation because I have long believed I am allergic to cats (one of the many reasons that I’ve
never, ever had one).
My husband was amazed that they asked us, regardless of their cat-sitting needs. We’ve
stayed at our daughter’s more times than I can count, but never once at Aidan’s. He has never even invited us
over to dinner, although I can’t say that I blame him.
The one time that he let me stay overnight at a
previous apartment that he had in Chelsea, I woke up in the middle of the night and surreptitiously cleaned the bathroom.
He’s a very neat guy, but I thought that it needed a touchup. I don’t think that he agreed.
Then there was the time that I decided his apartment looked kind of bleak because after two years he had yet to put
up a single piece of art on the walls. So I asked his roommates if they would mind some help and then bought them a whole
lot of posters.
They were attractive posters, albeit rather generic to appeal to everyone’s tastes. And when he finally
mounted them, six months later, the place looked lived-in at last. But his attitude brought to mind a popular advertising
slogan for Anacin from the ‘60s. “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself!”
You might think I had learned my lesson
from that experience, but not entirely, and I can’t entirely be blamed for that. Kaitlin recently sent me an email asking
for decorating advice. After moving to their latest apartment, they’d realized that they didn’t have a single
pair of matching sheets, and had decided to invest in some new bedding. But they’d been unable to find anything that
appealed to them both. She favored floral. He wanted stripes. And he only wanted something in a shade he called “smoky
She asked if I had any suggestions to help get them past their design impasse.
After looking online for days, I wrote back to say that I’d found the perfect solution. There was a bedding set
on sale at Pottery Barn that was all-inclusive. The duvet cover and shams came in a stylish yet muted, non-floral pattern.
The coordinating sheets and pillowcases were striped. All were in high-quality cotton. And they came in smoky blue.
With their approval, I sent them that
set as a housewarming gift, and they both loved it. Still, I probably should have had the sense to quit while I was ahead.
Kaitlin also had mentioned to me that they needed a new rug for their bedroom. And when I saw one on Wayfair.com that
matched the bedding I’d sent, I couldn’t resist.
As long as we were going to stay with the cats,
I decided to bring the rug along. I also bought them some new fancy towels with French words… and pillowcases with
London designs…and a pair of mugs with the names of French cities. Plus a picture frame with a photo of Paris. I just
figured it would be nice to bring them a few gifts in return for their hospitality.
Besides, I doubted that they would buy many (if any) souvenirs of their trip. After all, Aidan is essentially allergic
to shopping. Whereas I love nothing more than to shop.
What I am allergic to is cats.
Given that condition, I was a little disconcerted to arrive at their apartment last Friday evening and be virtually
assaulted by one of their cats. Not aggressively, mind you. On the contrary. It wanted to rub itself affectionately against
every part of my being.
It was equally drawn to my horrified husband, who is not much of a cat lover either.
I was also disconcerted to find only one cat, because I knew that there were two. One was named Jody and the other Wuftie,
although I didn’t know which was which.
After extensive searching, I finally located the second cat. It was hiding under the bed and exhibited no desire whatsoever
to come out and greet us as its new guardians.
I was inclined to stay and continue making “Pssst! Pssst!”
noises until it emerged. But we’d gotten a late start packing up all of my many offerings and were already late.
As I said, cats are much lower maintenance than dogs. We were not expected as cat-sitters to actually sit around entertaining
them, and as long as we were going to be in the city I had gotten theater tickets for both nights and also made dinner reservations.
The play that we saw that night was actually a series of three one-acts, Series B of the Summer Shorts being staged
at a theatre called 59E59, of which we are members. One was by Neil LaBute (known for such plays as Reasons to Be Pretty and its sequel, Reasons to Be Happy). Although we enjoyed the production, however,
none of the three plays was especially pretty, and none of them made us happy. One was about a single mother dealing with
a grown son with Asperger’s, and a second about a man confronting another man about something awful that he had done.
As summer fare, they were surprisingly grim.
Far more satisfying and uplifting,
I must admit, was the dinner that preceded them. It happened to be New York Restaurant Week, a semi-annual promotion that
actually encompasses more than three weeks (July 25 to August 15), in which 314 participating restaurants were offering three-course
prix-fixe lunches for $25 and/or dinners for $38.
This may not sound exactly like a bargain rate, but it is the only way we could ever afford to dine at some of these
eateries – upscale places like Le Cirque or Boulud Sud. And the one that I’d chosen, mostly for its proximity
to the theater – Brasserie 8½, on West 57th Street – turned out to be absolutely divine, from my stuffed
zucchini blossom with goat cheese appetizer to my husband’s filet mignon with haricots verts and Béarnaise sauce,
to the glistening peach tatin with almond ice cream served for dessert.
After all of that, it was still disconcerting
to hasten back to the apartment and find that the grayish brown cat still seemed determined to become my conjoined twin,
while the white one still wouldn’t come out of hiding… until, that is, I began to remove my jewelry.
Seeing the delicate gold chain I’d been wearing glinting in the light, it tiptoed toward me furtively, cautiously,
unable to contain its curiosity. As a reward, I reached toward it and let my hand gently trace the contours of its ears, then
back, then tail.
It didn’t shy away, daring to perch on my suitcase while I dressed for bed. Until my husband reappeared, that
is. Then it dashed for cover, seeking refuge under the couch.
I woke up in the middle of the night to feel something
wispy and spidery tickling my left cheek. Rubbing my eyes, I opened them to discover it was the white cat’s whiskers.
It was sitting on the night table staring at me intently, its face barely an inch from mine.
The next thing I knew, it was broad daylight and the white cat was sleeping on the floor beside me. When it saw me open
my eyes, it leaped up onto the bed and onto me. Until my husband woke up too. Then it headed for the hills.
I discovered that its counterpart
had bedded down for the night on my suitcase.
I don’t know if cats respond to their names the way that dogs
do. From what I have observed, I don’t know that cats respond to anything. But it was beginning to drive me crazy that
I didn’t know what to call these animals. Which cat was which?
So I emailed Aidan and Kaitlin in London to ask
and tell of our experience so far.
I also asked about the cats' genders, although I suppose I could’ve figured that
“The white one is definitely a girl,” I speculated, noting how she had shunned me until she’d noticed
my jewelry. “Then she was interested and is now my new best friend. Although she still hates Dad and runs for cover
at the sight of him,” I reported. “The gray cat likes us both, and licks us both, but she especially likes (and
licks) my suitcase.”
Aidan soon responded to explain that the white cat was Wuftie (pronounced WOOF tee) and contrary
to my psychological analysis, he was a male. The gray one was Jody. That was the girl.
My husband came up with a way to remember
which was which, in case we forgot. Wuftie started with a W, for “white.” (But what about Jody? He said she was
Meanwhile, Kaitlin wrote back to thank us and explain that Wuftie “starts off shy.”
As shy as he may have been at first, he was no longer shying away from me. Neither, of course, was Jody. And
as convinced as I was that I was allergic to cats, I no longer had the desire, fortitude, or self-control to shy away from
touching them, either.
For regardless of my trepidation about breaking out in hives or getting congested, my heart
went out to these creatures. How lonely and frightened they must have felt. Their owners had suddenly disappeared for days,
and then two strangers had arrived.
I could easily relate to how heart-rending that must have felt to them. Although I missed Aidan and Kaitlin, of course, my real heartbreak was over my daughter. Allegra had gone halfway around
the globe to Hong Kong to live for months. And at least I knew where she was and was able to text her and even talk to her
via WhatsApp and FaceTime.
These poor kitties had no clue where their mom and dad might be or when they would return.
So I dared to pet them, cautiously at first, then finally daring to hoist them in my lap. To my surprise, the world
didn’t come to an end. I didn’t even so much as itch.
I was enjoying their furry company so much that
it was hard to tear myself away. But my husband finally insisted that we dress and go outside to greet the day.
Although there is a subway stop within a few blocks of the building, we were in no hurry to get anywhere until dinnertime
and decided to walk downtown and explore Aidan and Kaitlin’s new neighborhood.
And by their new neighborhood, I mean
They had moved from Brooklyn to West 130th Street in June to be near Columbia University, where Aidan will
start his Ph.D. this fall. It was the closest place they’d been able to find with a reasonable rent. They’d assured
us that the neighborhood was nice and also safe. Not to cast any aspersions on Harlem, but I wanted to see for myself.
To our surprise, walking down Amsterdam Avenue, we encountered one stylish café after another. The blackboard
at a trendy place called Max Soha off 123rd Street was touting daily specials including a Tuscan kale salad, risotto with
roasted pear and gorgonzola, and black sea bass with capers, lemon, endive and carrots.
Another place near 123rd called Kitchenette, with a bakery counter groaning under gorgeous cakes, cookies and pastries,
looked like a perfect spot for Sunday brunch.
Even a place a few blocks further down called the Chicken Bar, offering chicken, beer and donuts, looked inviting.
And within a reasonable distance we found ourselves on the Columbia campus. That’s when it dawned on us that Aidan
wasn’t the only one going back to college.
From the time he had entered preschool 25 years ago, our lives had revolved around our children’s school activities,
from daily drop-offs and pickups to attending concerts and sporting events. Many of our closest friends had been the parents
of our kids’ classmates. Our children’s full, busy lives had created full, busy lives for us as well.
That had ended abruptly when our daughter
had graduated from college in 2011. And ever since, our lives had remained busy, yet never felt quite as exciting. Or full.
But now here we were back at school once again. Not just school. The Ivy League! We began to envision ourselves attending
Parents’ Weekend at Columbia this fall. Who cared if Aidan, as a grad student, wanted to be there or not? We could go
Just thinking about it got me so excited that I went into the campus store and bought him a Columbia t-shirt, another
surprise gift to add to the mix.
Eventually, we finally hopped a subway and met some old friends for dinner.
The wife, Carol, at least, was an
old friend of my husband’s, with whom he had gone to law school. I’d met her this spring, along with her husband
Ray, when we had attended their 45th law school reunion and teamed up with them in the photo booth.
Now we posed with them yet again for a lovely and lively dinner at the Isle of Capri, a popular and rather traditional
Italian restaurant on Third Avenue and 61st Street.
Then it was off to the theater again, once again at 59E59.
My review of the Summer Shorts may
have been less than a rave, but our second foray for the weekend warranted a total rave and then some. We go to the theater
all the time. And this was, I must say, one of the best things I have ever seen.
It was also especially appealing to
me due to its decidedly Jewish content.
The Pianist of Willesden Lane, running through August 24th, is based on a book of
the same name subtitled Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir Of Music, Love,
and Survival by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen.
In this one-woman show, Golabek portrays her own mother, Lisa Jura, a gifted young Jewish
pianist growing up in Vienna on the eve of World War II.
It begins in 1938 when, at the age of 14, Lisa is preparing
for the most important hour of her week – her piano lesson. But she arrives to learn from her vaunted teacher that it
has been forbidden to give lessons to Jews. “I am not a brave man,” he tells her. And so life as she has known
it is abruptly over, and her dreams of making her debut dashed.
Soon after, her father manages to
obtain a single ticket on the Kindertransport, allowing her parents to send a child away to safety in London. The
problem is that they have three daughters. Her parents must make the most dreadful choice imaginable. And as it turns out,
Lisa is the one chosen to be saved from the impending Holocaust.
The play follows Lisa in her new life, as she faces one setback after another while struggling toward
making the concert debut of which she has always dreamed. All the while, Golabek, an accomplished pianist herself, embodies
all of the many characters Lisa encounters along the way while playing well-known classical selections with astonishing skill
The result is engrossing, poignant, amusing, and amazing, and it ultimately moved everyone
to tears, along with a resounding standing ovation.
If you can possibly get yourself there, and get tickets,
I really would not miss it.
But surprisingly, after we made our way out, I realized that I missed
When we arrived back at the apartment, they both came out readily to greet us. Well, to greet
me, anyway. Wuftie still took one look at my husband and ran for his life.
Jody curled up on my suitcase again, but later joined us in bed.
The next morning, after
feeding them, I took one whiff of the cat litter box and decided it was time. I had never done this duty before, and wasn’t
keen to do it now.
And having now done it once, I must admit that I am not keen to do it again.
Then again, I have no qualms whatsoever about “picking up” after our dog, Latke. I guess you
get used to it.
The thing that I have begun to wonder is if even a person who is allergic can get used to
being around cats.
The fact is that I became convinced that I was allergic many years ago when I
had begun to suffer from asthma. My brother and his wife had several cats, and when I visited them I would quickly become
so congested that I could hardly breathe.
Years later, after I left my longtime reporter’s job at a local newspaper, my asthma suddenly
subsided. That’s when it occurred to me that the asthma symptoms had begun when the newspaper had moved into a new modern
building a few years earlier. Perhaps I’d been allergic to that building itself, or something in it.
(Or was I just allergic to work?)
In any case, I was no longer asthmatic. But I assumed I was still allergic
When I visited my brother or other people who had cats, I hesitated to touch them, convinced
that if I avoided direct contact, then I would be OK.
But when my daughter moved in with roommates who owned
cats after college, and we found ourselves staying overnight frequently, cats became impossible to avoid.
Perhaps I’d built up an immunity to them over time. Or maybe I’d never been allergic,
One thing I can tell you. Whether or not I am actually allergic to cats, they are allergic
to vacuum cleaners.
At least they are determined to avoid them even more than Wuftie was inclined
to avoid my husband.
I had laid out the new rug that I’d brought in the bedroom, and it turned out to fit perfectly
and match the new bedding I’d bought them even better than I had hoped.
The new towels with
French embroidery also looked very elegant in the john.
But I wanted to leave the place in pristine condition,
and I thought that included vacuuming the living room rug, which, thanks to all the cat hair, was not what I would call pristine.
But within moments of my turning on the vacuum, both cats vanished into thin air. And an hour later, when
we were ready to go out for breakfast, they were still MIA.
I finally found Wuftie under the bed and pulled her out gently. But she went back in.
As for Jody, where was
she? Not under the couch. Not under the bed. Not in any of the closets. I even checked the dishwasher. No luck.
I didn’t want
to budge until I knew she was alive and well. But my husband kept insisting that she had to be in there somewhere because
no one had opened the door.
So we went out to the place we’d found the day before, Kitchenette, where we so enjoyed the
High Falls brunch special (two eggs, grilled tomato, and sautéed spinach with Mornay sauce atop a homemade whole wheat
English muffin) that we bought Aidan and Kaitlin a gift certificate so they could go enjoy it too when they got back.
And when we returned, Jody was resting on the bed, ready to rub all over us again.
Sadly, the weekend was
over and it was time for us to pack and leave.
Don’t worry. Others had been enlisted for the duration of the trip to take our places.
Those cats are the closest things we have to grandchildren right now,
and after three days with them, maybe the twain had met.
I love those cats. I miss those cats.
I only hope that my minor décor additions don’t make me persona non grata, because I could get used to this cat-sitting
What I’m not sure about is that poor, shy Wuftie will ever get used to my husband.
|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