|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
Friday, July 18, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
Forget “To be or not to be.” The words my father spoke were “Is she coming out?” Then my fiancé
asked it, too. The date was July 15, 1984, and that was the question.
Standing in my tiny dressing room, swathed in
white from tulle veil to pointy toe, I’d suddenly had a panic attack. Or maybe my mother had hocked me one
too many times. All I know is that there were over 150 guests waiting to see me in my strapless gown. They would have to wait
a little longer. Was I coming out? To tie the knot? I thought not.
But then someone must have talked some sense
into me because apparently I did. I walked down the aisle. The groom stepped on the glass. Everyone drank Champagne.
So one wedding, two kids, and three decades later, that fiancé
(now husband) and I set out last weekend to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. But now the question was neither “To
be or not to be?” nor “Is she coming out?” We were down to one word.
We had agreed to postpone any major
travel until we go visit our daughter in Hong Kong this fall. (It seemed silly to go now, at the height of the tourist and
typhoon seasons.) But after surviving 30 years together, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, we had to do
It seemed that what we were supposed to do was something outside our normal routine. Like go to a romantic inn in the
country and gaze into each other’s eyes. But pleeeeze. After 30 years, we had seen each other’s eyes
plenty. Also, after 30 years, figuring out what my husband and I will enjoy didn’t require a whole lot of guesswork.
I knew that sitting in the country, we probably would be bored out of our minds.
Our normal routine when we’re
looking for fun and excitement is to go into NYC. And although we already do that plenty, why mess with success? There was,
however, one break from the usual that seemed imperative for the occasion. For our anniversary, there would be no economizing
by settling for a cheap chain hotel in Long Island City.
Fuhgeddaboutit, I told my husband. On the night of our
wedding, being ever-frugal, he had booked our usual home away from home – a very Spartan, dorm-like room at the Princeton
Club – motivating several of his friends to chip in and get us a room at the United Nations Plaza instead. This time
I was taking matters into my own hands.
After all, if there were ever a time in our lives to kick it up a notch or
two, this was it.
Knowing how much Nice Jewish Dad enjoys perusing the trendy shops and art galleries in Soho, I chose what looked to
be extremely hip and posh accommodations down there: the Mondrian Soho, run by the Morgans Hotel Group, which also owns what
may be the true height of hipness, the fabulously stylish Delano in Miami Beach.
After checking the prices on various web sites, from Hotwire to Hotels.com, I called the hotel itself and learned that
they had a very decent special “Seasonal Offer.” This entitled us to free Wifi, a complimentary continental breakfast
buffet, and a room upgrade if one were available. There was, however, one small but very significant catch.
The woman in reservations said
that all of their rooms (except for their penthouse suite, which went for a whopping $1,200 a night) had either a king- or
queen-sized bed, and there was no way to guarantee one or the other until we checked in.
Now, it may sound prissy, but the fact is that my husband and I have been sleeping in a king-sized bed at home for three
decades now, and when we go on vacation, about the last thing that we’re inclined to do is downsize. We wanted a king,
and only a king.
Exacerbating the issue was that we had been invited over to my brother’s house for a barbecue the evening that
we were due to check in, so we might not get to our hotel until late that night. And after my husband nagged me one too many
times about calling the hotel again to try to guarantee that we got that king bed, I didn’t have a panic attack. I simply
decided to phone the hotel, cancel the reservation, and stay elsewhere.
Not so fast, declared a woman named Jocelyn at the Mondrian Soho’s front desk. Before I could cancel, she proposed
a solution. She would not only guarantee us a king bed, but also lock us into a room upgrade. No, make that a double
upgrade, changing us from a standard room to a deluxe corner room on a high floor far from the elevators.
It wasn’t just an offer I
couldn’t refuse. It was exactly what I’d wanted all along.
It was also only the first of many windfalls
that would fall our way over that weekend.
We spent a wonderful day at my brother’s on Long Island visiting not only with him and my sister-in-law Karen,
but also our son Aidan, his girlfriend Kaitlin and our nephew Charlie, who was in for a rare trip from Berkeley, CA, where
he is attending law school.
I must say that I was happy to have locked into that deluxe room, though, because
by the time we had driven to the city through heavy traffic, it was already after 11 p.m.
To my amazement, we found a free parking space right across the street from the hotel which was good until Monday morning.
To my delight, the hotel was just as stylish and whimsically furnished as the Delano, although the brisk bar scene made
me wonder if we belonged there. (Somehow, mingling with the young and the beautiful doesn't make me feel young and beautiful.
It makes me feel old and frumpy.)
But after checking in quickly, we wandered into nearby Little Italy, where we treated ourselves to a midnight snack
of mouth-watering gelato at Ferrara’s bakery.
And when we returned to our gorgeous deluxe room, decorated exquisitely in shades of pristine white and royal blue,
I nearly swooned at the sweeping view of the twinkling city skyline, complete with the Empire State and Chrysler buildings
all aglow. Then I fell into that spacious, comfy, king-sized bed, and that’s the last that I remember.
The so-called continental breakfast to which we were entitled turned out to be one of the most ample and classiest buffets
we have ever had. Served in the chi-chi Isola Trattoria and Crudo Bar in the Mondrian’s lobby – a cavernous glass-enclosed
dining room hung with cascading chandeliers – it boasted everything from mini croissants, pains au chocolats
and other pastries to fresh fruit salad, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and the very best Greek yogurt and home-made granola
I have ever had in my life.
Although there was also the option to order such delicacies off the menu as Nutella- Stuffed French Toast with blueberries
and ginger mascarpone ($17) or Eggs Benedict with Charred Leek Biscuit and Hollandaise ($17, or $20 with smoked salmon), after
helping ourselves to the buffet repeatedly, we couldn’t have downed another bite.
We decided to work off brunch in
the fitness room, followed by a little shopping. But I barely managed to walk a block before wandering into an alluring jewelry
store from which I was unable to leave.
I’m not in the habit of buying myself expensive jewelry. But my husband wanted to get me something special for
our anniversary, and the prices at Seasonal Whispers (31 Howard St. or seasonalwhispers.com) were surprisingly reasonable,
and the unique styles too special to resist.
It was an added bonus to learn that all of the jewelry there was
designed by a mother-daughter team originally from Israel named Esther Lixenberg and Yafit Goldfarb.
But what truly sold me on these
delicate and inventive creations was how weightless they felt to wear. I was tempted at first by an unbelievably cool “vest”
for $80 made of 24k gold-plated chains being modeled by the vivacious salesgirl, Courtney, who’d gone to college
with Yafit’s daughter Tyler, a third-generation jewelry designer herself.
Then there was the ultra cool “hand chain” in 24k plated gold that you looped around your middle finger,
extended down the back of your hand, and wound gracefully around your wrist.
Yet I finally settled instead on a novel accordion-style “wraplet”
bracelet made of stainless steel wire and 24k gold plating, set with Swarovski crystals ($73.60). It felt so light and airy
around my wrist that I would have forgotten I had it on had those teeny brilliant crystals not kept catching the light.
Now it was my turn to find a special gift for my husband. In a trendy boutique next door called Opening Ceremony, he
found a pair of red sunglasses. It was love at first sight. For him, anyway. I thought they looked a little too special and
insisted we move on.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the area enjoying Soho. And before we knew it, it was
time to hop a subway up to the original scene of the sublime.
The Water Club, that is, where I had booked
us a sentimental journey for dinner.
When we had begun searching for a venue at which to tie the knot, The Water Club had been the very first place we visited.
I’m not sure that I believe in love at first sight; as I confessed recently, when my husband first appeared at my door
to take me out on a blind date, I thought he was cute, but mostly the most nervous person I’d ever met.
The Water Club, however, was another story. For me, that was love at first sight. And although we continued
searching for several months, nowhere else ever compared, and we finally realized that when it came to pitching a chupa
and saying our vows, this classy eatery on East 30th Street overlooking the East River was the only place for us.
It was hard to believe that 30 years had passed since we had last walked through its doors. But the moment that
we did, the momentousness of what had happened there hit me.
No, let me be honest. It was way more than that. Soon after the maitre d’ seated us side-by-side at a
large round table overlooking the water, my husband excused himself to go to the men’s room. That’s when it hit
me – right in the gut – kind of like a Mack truck.
The last time we’d been there, on July
15, 1984, we had posed following the ceremony for all sorts of pictures with my mother, my father, and my mother-in-law. None
of those people were alive any longer. But sitting there, I could see their faces. And feel their presence. The room was filled
with memories. But also full of ghosts.
And sitting at that big table all by myself, I couldn’t begin to fight back another river. A river of tears, that
Moments later, I looked up to see my husband returning, followed by the maitre d’, who was cradling two slender
flute glasses fizzing audibly with golden Champagne. I had mentioned both the wedding and anniversary when I had reserved
the table online, and the bubbly was on the house.
Not wanting to appear ungrateful, I managed to flash a big smile when our waiter snapped us. And then to flash yet another
one when at the end of the meal – which was uniformly scrumptious, from our shared appetizers of fried artichokes and
a beet salad to my grilled salmon – our waiter appeared with a special anniversary dessert, also provided gratis.
It was reassuring to discover how good the food was, even 30 years later, since at our wedding we had been busy making
the rounds and dancing, and barely had gotten to eat a bite.
It was also thrilling to be introduced on our way out to owner Buzzy O’Keefe, the famed restaurateur who’d
created the club, as well as Brooklyn’s legendary River Café.
But I decided not to take our waiter
up on his kind offer to bring us into the banquet room in which our wedding reception had been held. It felt overwhelming
enough to be back on the premises and to view the balcony in the lobby on which we’d been snapped with our many ushers
and bridesmaids. I didn’t have the heart to face any more ghosts.
Besides, we were running late for the next segment of the evening that I’d planned.
If there is one thing that my husband
and I enjoy even more than hanging out in Soho, it’s going to the theater. Unfortunately, most shows on Sundays
are matinees. But that didn’t mean we were out of luck.
The New York Musical Theatre Festival had just
kicked off a few days earlier, and it had several productions running that night. NYMF, as it's known for short, is an annual
series that since 2004 has spawned such resounding successes as Next to Normal and Altar Boyz.
It was presenting 24 new musicals through July 27, with all tickets priced at $25 or less. The one I had chosen for
us to attend was a musical comedy called ValueVille, with book, music and lyrics by someone named Rowen Casey.
In this surreal creation, a young fellow named Eddie with a newly minted MFA from NYU takes a temporary job at ValueVille,
a superstore that makes Walmart look classy. But on his very first night, he learns that he is doomed to serve out a life
sentence in this retail hellhole under the thumb of a demonic boss and alongside a cast of cantankerous coworkers, including
Sharonda (a larger than life, bad-ass black girl), Stacy (a skanky bimbo whose idea of discourse is spewing the plots of B
movies), and Meg, a tormented former flame who remains overwrought over the loss of Eddie’s affections.
Being just a nice Jewish mom, I cannot claim to have entirely understood all of the proceedings, which
seemed to me to have some sort of basis in Christian theology. Why were these eccentric characters doomed to an eternity inside
a cheesy box store, where a pregnant shopper had her baby permanently packed on board and customers could never check out?
And what was Eddie’s deceased, batty grandmother doing there? Were they stuck in a bargain-basement Purgatory? Or had
they gone straight to hell?
Also, why, when they finally rid themselves of their fearless leader’s dictatorship, did everyone desperately
want him back? Was it just a matter of preferring the devil you know? Or is it the human condition to need someone in
charge, no matter how evil?
Who knows? All I can say is that we thoroughly enjoyed all 90 minutes of this spirited,
uplifting, and highly energetic production and were very sorry to see it end.
In fact, within the hour, I found
myself to be very sorry about this indeed.
We took a series of subways back down to Soho and arrived a little
past 11, only to remember that our car needed to be moved before we went to bed because street parking was prohibited on our
block after 8 a.m. Monday.
I wanted to go find a parking lot right away. My husband, however, insisted on going up to our hotel room first to put
down his heavy backpack and change his shirt. He was convinced that this would take only 5 minutes. I knew it would take 20.
And it did.
Then we went back down to find parking. I was beat and it was late, so I just wanted to locate the nearest
garage and be done with it. After 30 years of marriage, though, I knew that my frugal husband all but refuses to pay for parking,
and he was not about to make an exception, even when we were there to celebrate our 30th anniversary.
With me behind the wheel, he demanded
that we drive around the neighborhood slowly while trying to read the parking signs on every block. They all said roughly
the same thing, though. (No parking Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
So I kept driving, and driving,
and thanks to the labyrinthine, cobblestone streets of Soho – which all have names like Crosby, Grand, and Lafayette
instead of easy-to-navigate numbers like the ones further uptown -- we were soon completely lost.
Eventually, we found a block with several empty spaces amid a few parked cars. However, all of these spaces were situated
in front of a public school, and a sign indicated that there was no parking after 8 a.m. on school days.
My husband insisted that I pull
into one of these, clearly euphoric to have found it. After reading the sign, however, which he’d bounded out to examine
closely, I asked him to get back into the car because I wasn’t convinced that it was legal to park there.
“There’s no school
tomorrow. It’s summer!” he barked when I remained obstinate.
Maybe there was, and maybe there
wasn’t. There might be a summer session, I countered, and we might not only get a ticket, but also be towed. Why take
What followed was a brief but quite colorful altercation in which my husband grew extremely red in the face and made
many references to how stupid and annoying I was.
And no doubt I made more than my share of rather unflattering
remarks in return.
Of course, I was in the driver’s seat in this case, both literally and figuratively. Being a nice
Jewish mom, I’m someone who always errs on the side of caution. That school bore a big banner talking about the meals
it was providing during the summer. There was no way I was going to throw caution to the wind and leave my car out front.
So finally my husband had no choice but to scramble back in, still sputtering. Then we proceeded to drive around the
neighborhood, still bickering and still basically lost.
Eventually, we found a public lot which was charging $38 for 24 hours. Given that we’d found free parking the
night before, not to mention our double room upgrade and being treated to free Champagne and dessert, I thought we should
spring for it.
We continued to drive around instead looking for someplace, if not free, then cheaper.
And suddenly the dark skies opened up. It wasn’t just raining. It was a deluge. I’m talking about a downpour like
Noah and the flood. (At last, a Biblical reference I got!)
To our relief, we finally found a garage that was only charging $24 overnight. But despite a couple of empty spots,
the surly Asian attendant declared that they were full.
The upshot was that we ended up driving around lost and in the
dark and torrential rain for over an hour in total, only to finally return to the original parking lot that cost $38. And
even with a pair of umbrellas, we got seriously soaked walking back to our hotel.
It was now 12:30 a.m. And never
mind that it was our 30th anniversary. Nor that we had shelled out for a fancy hotel, a romantic waterside dinner, and theater
tickets. I crawled into that king-size bed shivering and miserable and said that I wanted a divorce.
Who knows? Maybe I was right the
first time, when I wouldn’t come out 30 years ago. Yet 30 years later, my husband knows how to calm me down and warm
And the next morning we woke up to that wonderful complimentary breakfast again.
Then we looked at some art, shopped some more for sunglasses, and drove back to Connecticut by nightfall so we could
celebrate our actual anniversary the next day…
At which point my husband brought me a bouquet of flowers… And finally gave me the gold Star of David charm that
he had bought for me in May and safely put away.
I gave him assorted hazzerai too, then cooked him a delicious
three-course meal served with wine and another special dessert (heart-shaped brownies with vanilla bean ice cream and my famous
homemade hot fudge). Now, that's a gift.
Who knows? Maybe marriage is hell. Or maybe at times it is a purgatory from which
we cannot seem to escape “till death do us part.”
But when as a bride you choose to come out,
you have to deal with the outcome.
Sometimes, to be perfectly frank, even after 30 years, I wonder what my husband and
I are doing together. But our friends Pat and Michael gave us an anniversary card on which they listed a whole lot of random
things that they believe we have in common.
This included late nights, tennis, Purim, and TV, along with jazz and being Jewish.
They also mentioned books, New
York City, and mothers. (Who doesn’t have a mother?) As well as sex. (Who doesn’t have sex?)
But they didn’t even get
to any of the really big things that link us eternally and irreparably – not just love of Soho, theater, and trendy
hotels, but our son and daughter.
And Latke, of course.
I still don’t know about love at first sight. But I do know about love after 30 years.
And all I can say is that despite
the parking debacle, it was a damn nice weekend. So maybe it’s good that I came out, eventually. And maybe, given another
30 years, eventually we’ll get it right.
Friday, July 11, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
As a reader of this blog, you are kind of a first responder. OK, so maybe I don’t get a whole lot of responses. No,
let’s be honest. I don’t get any. Readers I have. Feedback from them? Not so much. But I keep writing, every week,
and that makes you among the chosen few who are privy to new developments in my life, both good and otherwise.
And this past week has produced
many such events, both good and otherwise.
I’ll get to the good. But first… the “otherwise.”
I don’t know whether it was due to the oppressive heat and humidity in the air – it seems much too eerie
to be mere coincidence – but last week, several people I know had heart attacks or other such health scares momentous
enough to land them in the hospital. This all happened within the same 24-hour period, and it truly left me stunned.
I’m sorry to be so vague about the details and identities of these friends and relatives, but I’m not convinced
that their personal health concerns are mine to divulge. My life may be an open blog, but that doesn’t give me the privilege
to babble to you about theirs.
Except for my children, of course. They are good sports and let me do my thing, good
or otherwise. And I’m happy to have mostly good things to report about them.
You may be eager to hear about
the start of my daughter’s adventures in Hong Kong. I’ll get to that in a sec. But first, let me fill you in on
the exciting adventures of my son.
As a jazz journalist, Aidan was offered a so-called “junket” by JazzTimes magazine – an all-expenses-paid
trip to Mexico last week to cover a jazz festival in Guadalajara.
Being a nice Jewish mom, I tried to be excited
for him and say, “How wonderful!” But what came out of my mouth was more along the lines of “Mexico? Why
do you want to go there? Isn’t it hot enough for you here?” And, “What if you get food
I quickly followed this up with cautionary advice like, "Just don’t drink the water!”
In all fairness to me, I’ve never been to Mexico (other than for a quick jaunt over the border to Tijuana
once while we were in Southern California). But Aidan has been further south and he did get food poisoning that
time, severe enough to land him in the hospital.
Still, I’m happy to report that he ignored my hysterical
admonitions and just spent five lovely days there with his girlfriend Kaitlin. And they not only lived to tell about, but
enjoyed it thoroughly (in part thanks to my admonitions. They did not drink the water… or land in the hospital).
As for Allegra, I’m happy to report that she landed safely last week in Hong Kong.
As I have related, she was hired to sing at the Four Seasons Hotel there for three months starting July 1.
And after she endured a 16-hour flight to a city where she didn’t know a soul, I feared that she might get off to a
So it was reassuring to learn that she got off instead to a “Lochy” start.
This is not a malapropism, or some kind of awful, politically incorrect remark (along the lines of a popular restaurant
Allegra soon discovered there called The Flying Pan). Rather, Allegra happened to be seated on the plane next to a very pleasant
young man from Scotland named Lochy (short for Lochland) who had studied for a semester at Hong Kong University and was now
returning there to do an internship in finance.
He chatted with her throughout the lengthy flight, and upon arrival helped her with her rather abundant luggage. He then joined
her for dinner that night, took her to some clubs, and gave her the lay of the land.
Sadly, she has barely seen
him since, although this appears to possibly have been the result of phone complications and a series of missed connections.
Luckily, we have been experiencing no such problems communicating with her ourselves. When Allegra departed for parts unknown,
I feared that I wouldn’t get to see or hear from her nearly as much as usual. But the opposite has proven to be true.
The most economical way for us to converse with her while she’s in Asia is on FaceTime. This feature on our iPhones
can only be used when we both have WiFi. It is absolutely free, however.
It also allows us not just to hear each other’s
voices, but to converse face to face. Every time she dials and I answer, her face pops up on my screen, and mine on hers.
To be honest, though, the face she has shown us has not always been beaming.
Yes, there was some initial excitement when she first viewed the accommodations in which the hotel had arranged to house
her for her first two weeks. (She’s scheduled to move on Sunday to a nearby apartment, in which they will put her
up for the duration.)
She quickly posted photos on Facebook of her immense luxury suite, complete with a king-sized bed,
sitting area, flat-screen TV and ultra-modern marble-lined bathroom.
“Yup. I think I’m gonna like it
here!!!” she wrote. “Hong Kong is AMAZING!!!”
She was equally delighted to discover that she
was allowed to use all of the hotel’s facilities, including the spa, which boasts a gorgeous infinity pool, hot
tub, and sauna.
But within a short time, issues began to bubble up, both minor and not-so-much.
She was completely exhausted and physically discombobulated by the time change, struggling to adapt her sleeping and eating
schedules to the 12-hour time difference.
As for eating, she discovered that the only food she could find consisted mostly of noodles and dumplings, and that
these were inordinately salty and heavily dosed with MSG, which was making her feel even more exhausted, not to mention ill.
Even more troubling was what happened when she began rehearsing with the band.
At least this produced one pleasant
surprise. When she first met the other musicians, she learned that Bob, their keyboard player, was also from Connecticut.
“That’s crazy! Where?” she asked. He said that he was from Hartford.
“You’re kidding. I’m
from West Hartford!” she exclaimed.
“Oh,” he replied. “Well, actually, I’m
from West Hartford too.”
There she was, halfway around the globe, being accompanied by
a guy who had grown up in our own little town. But when they began to play, she discovered how far from home she was.
She told us her throat was bothering
her and that her voice was far from normal.
“I can’t sing!” she declared.
When singers strain their voices for an extended period of time, there is
a danger of their developing nodes,
or nodules, or some sort of calluses on their vocal cords. She worried that this might already be happening to her.
I looked up the air quality in
Hong Kong and was horrified to read all sorts of alarming statistics about the pollution there. One story claimed it was three
times as bad as New York's and twice as bad as London's. Who knew?
We had been under the misguided impression that
the air was only bad in Beijing. Here I’d been, warning my son about the water in Mexico. Little did I know that
we should have been hocking my daughter about Hong Kong instead. But what could I say – don’t
My husband began hounding her to buy a gas mask to wear outdoors there. She said that no one else was wearing masks,
though, and to get a grip; neither would she.
Meanwhile, I began to worry about another less pressing but undeniable
Allegra sounded lonely.
As exciting as it was for her to
travel to so exotic a locale, it also seemed a little sad for her to be so far away from home on the Fourth of July. But surely
there were ex-patriots abroad who were observing Independence Day, even in Hong Kong, I ventured.
“Yes, but how am I supposed
to find them?” she asked.
“Easy,” I replied. And even though she was there and I was here, I Googled
“Fourth of July celebrations in Hong Kong” and found three good options in TimeOut.
I hastened to text her the names and addresses of a trio of eateries serving hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob,
watermelon, and other traditional fare. Then I sat around feeling very good about myself until I heard back later that day.
“I just spent an hour looking for one of those places," she said, only to arrive and discover it
was a dive.
Oh, well. I’d tried.
But then she found a nice café that was serving burgers. They looked pretty darn delicious to me.
But soon enough, the fun was over. No time
to search out fireworks. It was time to dress for her first singing gig that night.
With the 12-hour time difference,
that night began early in the morning for us. When I woke up a little past 8 a.m., I realized that she had just gone onstage.
During her first break, I begged her to send me a selfie, and she promptly obliged.
Better yet, she then got the manager to take a photo of the whole band in action.
I didn’t hear from her again until the show was over at 1 a.m. Jet lag or not, she had just crooned through five
grueling hour-long sets in high heels.
“Soooooooooooooooo tired,” she wrote. “I can hardly
keep my eyes open.”
The job requires her to sing only twice a week, on Fridays and Saturdays, but
these are long nights. And the next that we heard, she was already dressed up for round two.
Convinced that one of the reasons she’d been so pooped the first night was that she had neglected to eat dinner
beforehand, I noodged her to make sure she did this time.
so much for my good advice.
Whatever she had eaten at the employee cafeteria did not quite agree with her digestion.
Never mind the excess salt and MSG. One dish they had served her was pork shoulder with octopus. Another was some sort
of gray meatloaf... or fish loaf... She couldn’t quite tell which.
Perhaps Hong Kong’s answer to gefilte fish?
And as beat as she felt after she
was done, she woke up and phoned us in the middle of the night, convinced that she was about to heave.
But she finally fell back to sleep,
and when she woke up again, it had passed.
“I’m alive!” she wrote.
Indeed, she’d survived her
trial by fire (and octopus and MSG) and now had a week to rest up until she sang again. And over the ensuing days, things
seemed to improve.
Although there was still no sign of Lochy (had he gone back to Loch Lomond?), she now had a new companion named JP.
A college classmate of our family friend Tom, JP had grown up in Hong Kong and just returned after many years to find work.
But while he was job hunting, he had plenty of spare time to spend with Allegra.
They went out for lunch. They went out for dinner.
They went to a movie,
an art exhibit, and even for a foot massage.
He knew his way around, and he totally
knew the lingo.
So suddenly we began hearing from her much less, and when we did she was much happier.
Typical was the evening that she
phoned with a radiant grin on her face. I wondered what could have made her so gleeful. “Have you been drinking?”
And not just
drinking. What she’d been drinking was Champagne.
The hotel management had abruptly asked her to pack up all of
her things in the middle of that afternoon, just as she’d been heading out for the day. They needed her room for a paying
guest and said that they would move her elsewhere.
She felt just a bit peeved until she got a gander at what they meant by “elsewhere.”
It was an even more spacious suite in Four Seasons Place, an apartment building adjoining the hotel. Situated on the 49th
floor, it had a spectacular view of the nearby mountains and the city skyline… and a fully equipped kitchen complete
with dishwasher, stove and microwave.
And they still sent up a bottle of Champagne to compensate for her inconvenience.
So she invited JP and their
friend Tommy for dinner and, yes, to drink the Champagne.
“This is my apartment!” she crowed euphorically. “Are you looking at this? I live here!”
But best of all, “I’m so happy to have made some food that didn’t
The next afternoon, she called to relate an unusual anecdote.
Before meeting JP for the afternoon,
she had gone into a local eatery for lunch.
This tiny place offered only four choices: noodle soup with beef, noodle soup with fish balls, noodle soup with wontons,
or noodle soup with beef, fish balls, and wontons.
It was also so small a place that if you sat down by yourself, a complete stranger might sit down at the same little
table opposite you. And so she was soon joined by another woman. They both had ordered the noodle soup with the works -- beef,
fish balls and wontons. And Allegra soon found herself imitating everything that the other woman did, from the manner in which
she held her spoon to the way she placed her chopsticks.
“I’ve gotten the impression that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do almost everything here,”
she explained, “and I wanted to make sure I was doing it all right.” For example, “If you place your chopsticks
in a certain way, it’s disrespectful,” she said.
“Disrespectful?” I asked. “Even
to a complete stranger?”
“I have no idea,” she replied.
One thing that she did know was
that when you pay for anything in Hong Kong, you’re required to fork over the bills using both hands.
Unfortunately, after Allegra had ordered her meal there, she’d discovered that the place didn’t accept credit
cards. Having no cash on hand, she’d tried to cancel her order and leave. But the only waitress who spoke a bit of English
wouldn’t hear of it.
“You stay and eat!” the woman ordered her. “You eat NOW!”
She demanded that Allegra enjoy her soup while it was still piping hot. So she did.
“I left the restaurant after
eating to get some money,” she explained with a laugh, “and it took me awhile to find an ATM.” This sort
of thing had only happened to her once in all her years in NYC, and that was at a diner where she ate so often that they
knew her name.
And as foreign as she still felt here, this helped her begin to feel a little more at home.
Then just this morning, I awoke to realize that it was already Friday night in Hong Kong and she was singing her first
set. I got a text at 9 a.m., when she took her first break.
“Killing it tonight!” she wrote. “And having
Evidently, she’s back. That is, she’s
got her mojo back. Not to mention her voice. What a relief! As they say, no nodes is good nodes.
But God only nodes what
will happen next.
Whatever. In life, you have to take the noodles with the beef, wontons and fish balls. That is, the good
with the “otherwise.” And for now, everything is otherwise OK.
Friday, July 4, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
Normally, I try to keep my ruminations and reflections in this space relatively
light. You get enough tsuris in your own life, God knows, let alone from watching the evening news. Yet this past
week has failed to yield my usual nice Jewish comedy of errors. That is to say, it has come up extremely short in the comedy
As for errors? Fear not. There have been plenty. And plenty of them, of course, have been mine, all mine.
It all started, I suppose, a whole year ago, when we made reservations to spend last weekend at a lovely inn in Lenox,
Massachusetts. This was certainly nothing new. On the contrary, we go to the same inn every year and have ever since I can
As you may have noticed, “frugal” is my middle name. OK, it’s actually Sue – just plain Sue
– which, paired with Pattie, makes me sound like a cheesy country singer. Still, I tend to be a reverse
snob and to take endless delight in boasting about the great bargains I find and the cheap things, like cheesy hotels, for
which I am willing to settle.
But let’s face it, I also have the occasional luxuries on which I am willing
to splurge, and our annual family trip to the Berkshires each June has long been chief among them.
I hope I never grow too old or too set in my ways to not crave and relish adventure. Yet there is also something to
be said for having annual traditions, beyond the holidays (Jewish and otherwise) that we celebrate each year. And going to
Hampton Terrace in Lenox, MA, is one of ours. Along with being a delightful destination that we never fail to enjoy, it also
evokes warm memories of the many years that we’ve gone there already.
Many of these previous excursions
included my mother, who joined us there each summer without fail. Somehow, it always turned out that only one of our two kids
would be able to join us, while the other was away at a camp of some sort. And the child who came would be blessed with the
dubious honor of getting to bunk with Grandma Bunnie.
Being the original block off which I am a nice Jewish chip, my mom invariably would insist on giving that youngster
the better bed, claiming the saggy cot for herself. And when we were seated with other guests for the lavish
breakfast served daily, she never failed to mortify the child on hand by saying the most embarrassing things, such as
when she hectored our teenage son in a “stage whisper” to fraternize with female guests his age.
We always went the same weekend every summer, because the main purpose of this trip was to attend the live broadcast
of Garrison Keillor’s radio show A Prairie Home Companion, held at Tanglewood each year on the Saturday before
the Fourth of July.
This was another family tradition of which we never seemed to grow weary. And after Grandma, sadly, was
no longer with us, and both of our offspring had grown up and gone on to have bigger fish to fry, we didn’t even consider
relinquishing that ritual. We simply began to go to the radio show with our good friends Sally and Dial instead.
Yet I still refused to give up on my basic template for the tradition, which involved our whole crew. Each year, when
the tickets for Tanglewood went on sale in January and Prairie Home promptly sold out, I would buy an extra three,
just hoping that our kids might join us in June and predicting that one of them might want to bring a date.
And each June, when they didn't come, I would do my best to sell those tickets
To my delight, Allegra had vowed to come along last weekend for the first time in many years. So I was
crestfallen when she was hired to go sing in Hong Kong for three months, beginning on July 1. Not only would she not be able
to make our trip after all, but we’d be away and unable to give her a proper sendoff by driving her to the airport.
Our son Aidan agreed to drive her instead, meaning that he wouldn’t be able to join us either. So as time went
on, I began to regret not cancelling the entire trip. Never mind seeing Allegra off at the airport. I was full of angst
and wracked with dread to see her go! I knew that there was no chance I would enjoy a vacation with her departure imminent.
But I didn’t want to disappoint Sally and Dial, for whom we already had bought tickets.
I know Sally and Dial – I’ve known them for nearly 30 years – and I know that what they love about
going to A Prairie Home Companion each year isn’t really about going to A Prairie Home Companion.
It’s about going to Prairie Home Companion with us.
Over the years, you see, we have
developed our own elaborate ritual with them.
We spend the afternoon perusing the many stylish boutiques in downtown Lenox, Sally and I shopping for shoes and so
on while our husbands do a very poor rendition of acting patient… and when we can’t stand their kvetching
anymore, Sally and I give up.
Then we all drive to Tanglewood and have a lavish picnic on the lawn, complete with
the copious food that Sally and I have prepared and multiple bottles of wine.
Later, after the show, we repair
to our room for dessert… and of course more wine.
If we canceled out, then I knew that they could still do most of all this themselves. But I also knew that there was
no chance in hell that they would.
The four tickets I’d bought had cost $57 apiece, and it was too late to sell
them on Craigslist. If we didn’t go, the only ethical thing to do would be for us to pay for them all. Plus, we would
sorely disappoint our good friends. So I couldn’t see just canceling out.
Then something far more urgent
happened to make me want to cancel even more.
One of my uncles had been gravely ill for some time, but a week
before we were due to leave, my Uncle Gerard, who was 88, took an abrupt turn for the worse.
The following day, he was put in
hospice. His daughter called me the next morning to say that she didn’t believe he would live through the night. To
everyone’s amazement he did anyway. But the nurses predicted he wouldn’t last more than a day or two more.
My Uncle Gerard was not only my late father’s brother, but only 18 months his senior, meaning that they were very
close throughout their lives, and I loved him dearly.
Meanwhile, his daughter, my Cousin Susan, is only 18 months older
than I am. She lives in the same town that I do, and we are about as close as cousins can be.
I couldn’t imagine going
away for a fun vacation while my life was in such duress, and I couldn’t imagine going away for a little R & R while
her life was one big SOS.
What’s more, if life is unpredictable, then death is even more so. There was no way to foretell when the funeral
might occur. So as the week progressed, I became increasingly anxious that we wouldn’t be able to go or would have to
check out early.
I also grew fearful that the funeral, which would be held in New Jersey, might be scheduled for Sunday
morning (Jews can’t be buried on Saturdays), so that if we stayed in Lenox on Saturday night, we were likely to arrive
late. Murphy’s Law may state that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, but as a Jew, I subscribe to Levy’s
Law – essentially, that anything that can bite you in the tush is bound to bite you in the tush.
In this case, what if we got off to a late start? What if we got lost along the way? And what if we ran into heavy traffic,
which is almost guaranteed in and around NYC?
Yet by then it was past the point where I could try to cancel
in good conscience.
We had been going to the same inn for so many years that I thought the owners, Stan and Susan, might
cut us some slack and let us cancel or reschedule under the circumstances.
On the other hand, I knew that
they weren’t full for the weekend, and it was unlikely that they could rebook the room at this point. And we had gotten
to know them so well over the years that I would have felt enormously guilty to have them be out the dough.
I also felt too awkward to confront
them head-on. I simply wrote midweek to relay the news about my uncle’s condition. I said I was “terrified”
that I might need to attend a funeral that weekend and to let me know if anyone materialized to reserve our room, my
hope being that they would offer to let me cancel or rebook.
But Stan merely replied to say that he was sorry to hear about it and that he would keep me posted if someone else
called to book our room.
“Maybe you will still be able to come,” he assured me. “Let's keep
I never heard back from him again, though. Meanwhile, I kept in touch with my cousin, who anticipated that
each day might be her father's last. But he lasted through the week.
So on Friday, I reluctantly packed
up my suitcase, as well as our picnic provisions.
I also decided to bring along a small display of old photographs showing my uncle in much better days. I found one of
him with my father when they were each 20 or so, younger than my kids are now. Another captured him and my dad dressed in
formal attire, beaming broadly at my parents’ wedding, for which my uncle served as best man.
By the time we left for Lenox, I wasn’t just reluctant to go. I was sobbing loudly.
Never mind the money that would
have gone to waste. Why hadn’t I canceled out?
We arrived only to learn that over the winter, Atticus, the inn’s resident dog who had been loved by all –
especially us – had reached the age of 14 and they had been obliged to put him down.
I sobbed again.
Then we spent much of the evening
conferring with family members about possible funeral arrangements. I needed to alert some other cousins about what was imminent.
I heard from my Cousin Susan late that night that my uncle had just passed away. Then it was time to really cry.
She called again the next morning to report that the funeral would be on Sunday after all, and would start
Perhaps we should have decided at that point to go home right away. Or to go home that night after the show. But the
fact was that the temple in New Jersey, where the funeral would be held, was an estimated 2 hours and 45 minutes away from
our house and only 15 minutes further away from Lenox. If we got an early start, we could stay and still make it. And even
if we left, I assumed we’d still have to pay for the room.
And by now it was really too late to cancel on our friends,
and much too late to cancel out on the innkeepers. So I decided to not only stay, but to try to put on a good face for the
rest of the day and do my best to not ruin the experience for everyone else.
There is indeed something to be
said for having good friends and rituals you enjoy. Having Sally and Dial arrive was in many ways a wonderful distraction
from my grief.
Then again, when you’re in the throes of anguish over the death of someone you love, about the last thing you
want to do is have to pretend that you’re having the time of your life so as not to disturb anyone else.
We did our shopping and then had our sumptuous picnic supper, complete with a gorgeous vegetable salad that Sally had
prepared and our customary array of libations.
Then we proceeded into the massive Koussevitzky Shed at Tanglewood, where the show was just getting underway. Keillor
was up to his usual lively yet irreverent antics, singing and dishing out heartwarming tales and homespun humor along with
his usual entourage and lineup of special guests – including, as is part of his Tanglewood ritual, two girls’
singing groups, the DiGiallonardo Sisters and the Wailin’ Jennys.
But in my state of distress, I found my mind wandering, and the only detail that still sticks with me now relates to
a skit in which one of the characters was a diva with such an extreme allergy to almonds that she’d once gone into anaphylactic
shock when someone arrived with an Allman Brothers’ CD in the glove compartment of their car.
I kept trying to force myself to
enjoy it, as long as we were there. But the truth is that you can’t will yourself to be happy any more than you can
will yourself to be in love.
Afterwards, Sally and Dial came back to our room for apple pie and ice cream, and I perked up a bit while showing them
Allegra’s glamorous new publicity shots on my computer. But they left much earlier than usual, and then we were still
up until 1 a.m. packing everything into the car.
I didn’t want to risk leaving anything till morning.
And of course I barely slept a wink, worrying that I might sleep through the alarm.
When we stopped into the dining room on our way out on Sunday, Stan, the owner, went out of his way helping us pack
up some eggs, toast, and coffee and a bowl of his famous grits to go. But as I hurried through the front door balancing this
booty, I somehow failed to control myself when he called after me brightly, “See you next year!”
“Maybe,” I retorted
with an unmistakable grimace. “The fact is that forgetting this weekend is going to take me a long, long time.”
He responded with a stunned look, but I was in much too big a hurry to explain.
Our directions from Mapquest turned
out to be fekakta, of course, and sent us 15 miles out of our way. Then we threw our fate to Siri. Equally perilous.
But by some miracle, we managed to arrive at the temple by 11:50, with 10 minutes to spare.
My cousin delivered a eulogy so moving and sincere that I sobbed through every second.
Then her brother, my cousin Michael, offered his own poignant remarks, stating
how proud he was to have been his father’s son.
He described how my
uncle had been a war hero – given both the Purple Heart and a medal for bravery after being wounded in World War II
– as well as an incomparable athlete and eminently talented performer.
Indeed, when I was a child, the entire family had turned out regularly to attend his many community theater performances
in such classic musicals as The King and I (in which he, of course, played the king) South Pacific, and
Guys & Dolls (in which he truly brought down the house as Nicely-Nicely Johnson belting out, “Sit Down,
You’re Rocking the Boat.”
I’m sorry that I don’t have any photos of him in these memorable performances. But he was equally famous
within the family for crooning a truly magnificent Motzi (the blessing over the challah bread) at each and
every simcha (celebration) anyone held, and I have plenty of shots capturing this at my children’s bar and
It was both heartbreaking and uplifting
when everyone proceeded to the cemetery to discover that my cousin had arranged for my uncle to be given the honorable military
burial he deserved, complete with a haunting rendition of “Taps” and two uniformed servicemen respectfully performing
the ritual of folding the American flag that had been draped over his casket.
During the shiva observed back at my aunt’s house over a lavish spread of corned beef, pastrami,
and other deli meats (along with potato salad and kosher pickles), it was also heartwarming to catch up with many cousins
and other relatives I rarely get to see.
But then I stayed late to continue visiting after my husband left to
drive our son back to the city, and I got caught in horrific Sunday evening traffic. It took me nearly three hours just to
drive across the George Washington Bridge and six hours altogether to get home. I stumbled into my house just before midnight,
utterly exhausted, and passed out on the living room sofa still wearing my funeral clothes.
It would not only take me a long time to forget that weekend, as I had said to Stan. It would take me the whole week
Meanwhile, I wrote to him the very next day. I wanted to explain my parting comment, lest he fear
I had found his services somehow lacking. I also wanted to explain why he might not see us next year.
did not have any way of intuiting this,” I wrote, “but there was barely a moment during the entire weekend when
I could enjoy myself or begin to relax.”
I went on to explain how was tense and sad I had
felt about Allegra’s departure for Hong Kong, and how guilty I’d felt not to be able to drive her to the airport
and see her one last time. As for the
funeral, I’d been a nervous wreck and ashamed to be living in luxury while my cousin grappled with her father’s
death and funeral arrangements.
“Despite your usual hospitality, the weekend was, in a word,
a nightmare,” I concluded. “I don't feel like I just got home from a restful vacation. I feel like I just got
home from the war. I cannot imagine ever returning. But perhaps that sense will pass.”
He responded almost
at once, and what he said genuinely shocked me.
“I am sorry you had a stressful weekend,”
he wrote. “It is easy to understand why.”
What I had taken to be astonishment on his face at my parting words, however, had merely been a
look of mystification because he hadn’t heard a word that I’d said.
And that was far
from the only instance in which we had failed to communicate.
He said that he had been prepared for us not to come,
or to leave after only one day. “Since you are such a loyal guest, I would not have charged you for either night,”
he said. “That is money right out of our pockets, but I know you wanted to come. And since you never said you were not
coming – just that you might have to go to New Jersey at a moment's notice – I did not bring up what we would
do if you had to cancel.”
So I guess there were many errors over the past week, and as I said most of them were mine. If I could do it
all over again, there is little that I would have done the same. But perhaps that means there are lessons to be learned here
– lessons for us all.
I learned that I must follow my gut; if something doesn’t feel right, it probably
I learned that honesty really is the best policy, including honesty with yourself.
But most of all, I learned once again – and, once again, the hard way – that you can’t expect people
to know what you want unless you come right out and tell them. And if there’s something that you really want, you need
to come right out and ask for it. (The worst that you can probably be told is no, but they also might very well say yes.)
Dial and Sally are good friends, and if we’d canceled, even last-minute, they would have understood. (They are
good friends largely because they would have understood.)
And Stan clearly would have accommodated us too, even if it meant losing
a good deal of money on our pricey accommodations. He is the mensch I thought he was. “If we see you next year, great,” he concluded. “Otherwise, thanks
for your loyal patronage.”
And even if he'd lost a big chunk of change on us last weekend, that probably would have been in his best interests
in the long run. Just think of all the years to come when we might stay elsewhere now, or might simply choose to stay home.
Because if and when we go again, looming over all those fun times with Grandma and all of the good déjà vu will be memories of Allegra leaving
for Hong Kong and our losing my dear Uncle Gerard.
Then again, time heals all wounds, as they say. Or at least it
heals most of them. Maybe by next year I will be craving another dose of Keillor and another bowl of grits.
Or maybe it’s time to pursue
some new adventures and experiences, after all.
Meanwhile, I am more than ready to return to comedy again. Seriously.
Friday, June 27, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
Everyone keeps asking me when my daughter is leaving for her three-month stint
singing in Hong Kong (this Sunday) and whether I have started to freak out yet (yes!). But I keep reminding myself that she
will "have the adventure of a lifetime" (or so people keep telling me) and will “be back before I know it”
(or so they say). Meanwhile, until she goes, I’m trying to spend as much time with her as possible. And what could be
better to do together than attend the annual Mermaid Parade?
When she invited her dad and me to join her for this inimitable event last summer, let’s just say that things
did not go quite according to plan. We dressed up in sailor suits and arrived on schedule early that afternoon to meet Allegra
and her roommate Jamie at their apartment on Roosevelt Island. They were not quite done arranging their own costumes however,
and then proceeded to drag their fishnet-stockinged heels, insisting that we go get sandwiches to bring along and then stop
for iced drinks from Starbucks.
We finally followed them in their car way out to Coney Island to find that the traffic was treacherous, the parade was
already over, and there was no parking to be found anywhere.
I dropped off my husband, who wandered around
ogling the topless girls and other semi-nude denizens of the deep who turn out in droves for this raucous spectacle. Our own
little mermaids, meanwhile, managed to find an exorbitant parking garage for $45. (I refused to pay that level
of highway robbery for the mere 45 minutes we had left before we had to depart to meet friends for dinner.)
The upshot was that I drove about four hours round-trip and never even got out of my car. This year, I didn’t
want to risk having a repeat of that.
So my husband and I picked out some new nautical costumes, and
we all agreed to travel by subway and leave much earlier. Unfortunately, once again things didn’t go according to plan.
Two nights before the day of the parade, Allegra called with some news. She’d heard from the Four Seasons Hotel
in Hong Kong, where she will be singing, that they wanted her to send them brand new publicity shots that they could use to
promote her. She’d quickly called around and found a professional photographer who charged "only $350."
I don’t remember quite what I said, and even if I remembered I probably wouldn’t tell you.
Suffice it to say that earlier that week we’d had to replace our central a/c and furnaces, which cost over $10,000,
and then our son’s car had abruptly gone kaput. I’d also bought Allegra two new evening gowns for Hong Kong to
add to her already vast collection.
So what I said about her having to spend another $350 was far from enthusiastic.
Rather, it was blunt, rude, and insensitive enough to make her hang up on me almost instantly.
I texted her the next morning to
apologize, but she didn’t respond till late that day.
“Are you still planning on coming tomorrow?” she asked
I could only imagine that she hoped we’d changed our minds. And maybe if we were actually in our
right minds, we would have changed them. But as I said I was already freaking out. I also remained intent on spending as much
time as possible with her before she left, even if she now hated me.
And regardless of that, I had agreed to go help
her pack the copious contents of her room, since she had sublet it for the months she’ll be away. So I said we were
She responded somewhat stiffly that her friend Michelle and Michelle’s boyfriend planned to join her for the parade,
and that if we couldn’t get there by 12:30 then we’d simply have to take the subway to Coney Island ourselves.
So I began thinking that we should simply bow out and let the kids have their fun alone. But then she sent a message
of détente… never mind that I was the one who still owed her an apology.
“Mom, I really would like
to not fight during the few days I have left before I leave,” it said. “I hope we can all make an effort to get
along this weekend even though we’re all super stressed about everything. I’m going to try very hard.”
Tears began gushing the moment I saw it. (Did I mention that I’m already freaking out?)
“Me too!” I wrote back
instantly. “I miss you already! I don't want to fight either!”
I also became determined to arrive
on time and to not antagonize her any further. But you know what happens when you have a sensitive situation and tightly
scripted plans. All sorts of obstacles began cropping up to make the best-laid plans of mice and moms go awry.
The night before we left was the big annual fundraiser for an arts organization at which I volunteer. I spent half the
day helping to set up the party and the entire evening attending it. Then I went home and finished my blog, which kept me
up until 2:30 a.m.
Shortly before 6 a.m., I was awakened by our dog, who had a very upset stomach (to put it delicately).
I took her outside, only to discover that Latke had already relieved herself on not just one of our bathroom rugs, but
two. After washing them thoroughly, I went back to bed for an hour. That still left me operating on just over four
hours sleep (and not four consecutive ones).
So I should be forgiven for not leaving quite on time that morning. My husband drove separately so I could stay in NYC
after he left and help Allegra pack. He phoned from further down the highway to warn me that there were multiple traffic jams
due to construction, car accidents, rubber-necked motorists, and the apparent end of civilization as we know it. When it became
clear that we’d never make it on time, Allegra left for the parade with her friends.
A drive that should have taken
only two hours or so turned into an agonizing three and a half. By the time I arrived at Allegra’s, it was
well past 1 and the parade was underway. At that point, we learned that the subway from Roosevelt Island to Manhattan was
not running that weekend, so we had to take a bus to the tram across the East River and then walk many blocks to the subway
Allegra texted us that the subway to Coney Island took almost an hour and a half.
“Is it too late to come now?”
I texted in reply. But we were already en route, and the train that we needed came before we heard back, so we simply scrambled
I couldn’t believe the trip was that long, but it turned out that she was right. The parade was at the very last
stop in Brooklyn, and the subway car we were riding in had an electronic schedule that listed all of the stops in between.
It appeared that there were 15 to go, but every time we passed a stop, it would add another. And I soon began to realize that
there weren’t 15 stops at all. There were apparently 15,000, more or less.
Still, just before 4, we approached
the end of the line. (This had to be the end of the line, didn’t it?) The subway left its subterranean depths
and emerged above ground, meaning cell phone service suddenly resumed. That’s when Allegra’s reply reached us
She’d said it was indeed too late; that the parade was over and we shouldn’t come.
When we told her we were not only coming
but almost there, she said that her phone was about to die, and I realized that when we finally got there we would have
no way of finding her.
I wrote to ask if there were a location at which we could rendezvous, but got no reply. Perhaps
her phone had already petered out. Or could she still be irate enough at me to give us the brush-off?
Although my husband was not averse to getting another eyeful of semi-nude young lovelies, the only real reason I had
traveled so far was to spend some time with my daughter. Between the car, bus, tram, and train, I had now been on the road
for nearly 6 hours. Would it be all for naught?
Then I remembered that I had an old number for her friend Michelle
in my contacts.
“Michelle, is this still your cell?” I texted her. “We’re 1 stop away. Where r
Then, just as we disembarked, some encouraging words appeared:
“Hey, it’s Michelle.
We’re at the coney island cones at the boardwalk.”
The coney island cones? What the heck was that?
An ice cream shop, perhaps?
As we made our way through the subway station, we saw half of the Western World proceeding
in the opposite direction, trying to leave the area. Clearly, the parade was indeed over.
The excitement, however, was not.
The streets were filled with countless marauders in colorful wigs, makeshift fishtails, and other tawdry attire.
My husband kept stopping to admire them and snap their pictures.
I just wanted to find those cones.
We asked a policeman if he knew
where something called Coney Island Cones was. He shrugged.
The next officer we asked had no clue either, but
he pointed us toward the boardwalk.
The area was teeming with so many people that it was hard to walk. And there
were so many scantily dressed young women that it was hard to get my husband to walk. Anyone seeing us holding hands might have thought, "How romantic!" Not quite. That was simply the only
way I could prevent him from continually coming to a halt or abruptly wandering off for more, uh, photographic
Finally we reached what was clearly the boardwalk, where a girl in an electric blue wig and a red and green
bikini looked nothing like a mermaid but was still attracting considerable attention thanks to her tattooed pelvis, which was
gyrating wildly with a hula hoop.
Then there was the trio of fanciful sea creatures, one of whom was wearing only a pair of emerald green tights,
a floral lei, and a fine feathered headdress, and if you think that sounds sexy then you should have seen what his female
companions were wearing.
I texted Michelle again, but apparently there was limited cell service by the beach
because that message remained marked “Not Delivered.”
So we took our chances and headed in the direction in which there seemed to be the highest concentration of hamburger
stands and other shops, along with colorful characters like a pair of Day-Glo mermaids in turquoise and shocking pink posing
for pictures with their parasols.
We passed Nathan’s, famous for its Coney Island hot dogs, and many a booth
selling fried shrimp, fried chicken, fried clams and fried calamari, not to mention fried fries. And by now I was beginning
to feel fried myself.
Where the heck was our daughter?
My husband meanwhile began to look a little shell-shocked as we passed a lively group of girls whose top halves were
cloaked (and I use the term loosely) in little more than shells.
Then there were the assortment of parade-goers
whose tops were merely painted on.
And the girls whose tops were cones.
But where were those Coney Island Cones?
Just when I began to worry that we had headed in the wrong direction,
I spied a promising place by the amusement park.
It was an old-fashioned ice cream shop called Coney’s Cones.
It was also mobbed.
I studied the endless line of costumed customers waiting outside it to buy ice cream. I didn’t see Allegra among
them. Nor did I see Michelle. Clearly, they had left by now. My heart quickly fell.
Then, over the din of revelers
and roar of the sea, I heard a faint cry. “Mom! Dad!”
I looked up to see my daughter leaping into
the air so that I’d see her. She was wearing an itsy bitsy teeny weenie black and white polka dot bikini top, and
her hair was gathered in pigtails.
And before I knew it, she was racing across the boardwalk and flying into my arms.
“Oh, my God!” she cried.
“There you are! I was afraid you would never find us!”
all was forgiven.
She posed with me.
She posed with Michelle, Michelle’s boyfriend, and Michelle’s boyfriend’s friend.
And after the kids went for a quick
dip in the ocean, my husband bought himself one of those Coney Island cones, and I enjoyed some great Coney Island
trayf. (It was about the only thing you could buy to eat that wasn’t actually fried.)
Then we watched the kids take a spin on the famous Coney Island Wonder Wheel.
Unfortunately, we spent most of the next few days in Allegra's room, as planned, packing frantically. Not
exactly my idea of quality time together, although we did manage not to fight.
She also found time for that photo
shoot, which I now not only whole-heartedly endorsed, but for which I insisted she get a fancy, tousled new haircut.
Having been a fashion editor in a former life (i.e. my life before I had
kids), I also valiantly pitched
in as her personal assistant-slash-stylist. I helped schlep her many accoutrements to the photo studio and took the
subway down to Chinatown to borrow a classy, old-fashioned microphone to use as a prop from another singer named Christina.
Then, while she was in the studio, I tried to make myself useful by picking out jewelry to match her glamorous
outfits and helping her in and out of her many gowns, both old and new.
at the risk of seeming like a stage mom and nice Jewish noodge, I managed to snap a few of my own shots of the proceedings.
But she got the actual proofs back today.
I think in the end it was money
well spent and that Hong Kong will be pleased. Don’t you?
Meanwhile, she’s already packed, she’s
ready to go, and she leaves this Sunday.
And yes, of course I miss her already.
But she will be back before I know it. Won’t she?
Friday, June 20, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
You must forgive me for not posting last week. Yes, I know. Not only did I not
post, but I didn’t even post a note stating that I wasn’t going to post. Forgive me for that, too.
It was just one of those weeks
when I was too busy living my life to write about it. Last Friday, you see, happened to be my husband’s birthday. And
not just any birthday. A big birthday. No, beyond big. A really big birthday. One of those so-called milestone birthdays.
OK, I’ll just say it.
Last Friday, on June 13th, my husband turned 70. Seriously.
Nice Jewish Dad is
just over a decade my senior. That means that we are now being inundated with recorded calls from telemarketers that begin,
“Attention, seniors!” and then proceed to try to sell us stuff like alert systems in case we fall and can’t
It also means that I’m still in my 50s, but am married to a man who is technically (and in almost every other
way) now in his 70s. But only for the next seven months. Then we will both technically (and in almost every other way) be
pretty freaking old.
For now, though, in view of this momentous occasion, and taking advantage of my (relative) youth, I succumbed
to my kids’ entreaties to throw him a lavish birthday bash.
Yes, I might as well admit it here because my husband already knows that it’s true. Having a party was entirely
their idea. My idea of how to handle this so-called auspicious occasion (seventy!@#&%/?!!!) was to join the witness
protection program, or at the very least tell no one (no one!) and hide in the nearest cave. But my husband
wanted to celebrate sociably too, and eventually my daughter’s whining wore me down.
I hesitate to write about it in
excruciating detail, let alone post pictures, because not everyone we know was invited, and I don’t want anyone who
wasn’t to feel bad.
The fact is that the last time I threw him a sizable party (or I threw any kind of a real party, beyond the annual Passover
seder) was 10 years ago, when he turned 60.
That was a truly lavish and professionally catered affair held
at a stylish venue overlooking the Connecticut River, to which we invited 60 guests to mark his 60th year.
Turning 70 might be an even bigger
deal, but in the 10 years since that shindig we have put two kids through four years of college, footed the bill for all kinds
of disasters, and seen many a financial investment go south (meaning that it bypassed the Mason-Dixon line and Equator and
went straight to hell). Our budget is not what it once was.
And neither is our style of living… or partying.
This party was going to be held in our back yard and I would do all the cooking myself. But I cannot possibly
cook for 60. Or seat that many people in our back yard all at once. So the guest list had to be not just drastically
cut, but whittled down to a measly half.
Other than my kids and my only sibling, we invited almost no one from
out of town because we had no room to put anyone else up overnight. And although this might have been a chance to reconnect
with old friends, that would have to wait for another day. We invited no one we hadn’t seen lately.
As I watched the weather forecast
give way from 40 percent chance of rain to 60 percent chance of thundershowers, I realized that the party would have to be
moved indoors. So, as guilty as I felt for excluding many people, I did not regret capping the list.
I simply redoubled my efforts to
make the festivities still seem reasonably festive. The colorful plastic tablecloths and other party goods I’d ordered
from Party City would have helped transform our back yard into a tropical paradise on a balmy summer night. But would these
alone suffice in lending a party atmosphere to our finished basement?
At least with everyone safe inside it wouldn’t
be too hot, or muggy... or buggy.
We also would be able to seat at least a dozen people at our ping-pong table (cleverly
disguised under three overlapping bright red plastic tablecloths, of course). That meant that we only needed to rent two banquet
tables, along with folding chairs.
I feared that our basement would be claustrophobic, though, not to mention tacky. So along with hanging the requisite
tacky Happy Birthday banner, I put up a string of (excuse the expression) Christmas lights strung with plastic palm trees
and pink flamingoes. (Nothing tacky there, huh?)
Then, for good measure, I mounted a gazillion photos of my husband in past days (although not necessarily better ones),
many of them featuring people who’d be there too.
I also gathered assorted old photos to place on the tables, including the one that captured him back in the days when
he was widely known as (excuse the expression) “the Jewish John Lennon.”
Although this was far from a small child’s party, I was determined to give out treat bags. (Back in the days when
I was a full-time nice Jewish mom, those were my true forte.)
When my husband turned 60, I gave everyone sailor hats and colorful leis to wear and made treat bags that contained
nifty glasses with cute sea creatures on them to go with my nautical party theme, “Sailing into the 60s,”
reflecting the riverside locale.
To help economize this time, I dispensed with all of the extra (and extra tacky) accoutrements and made the treat bag
contents myself. My daughter came up with the idea of dipping pretzels into white and dark chocolate and studding them with
sprinkles and mini M&Ms.
To help personalize these, it was also her idea to apply home-made labels to the
bags themselves featuring an image of my husband that has become his trademark.
For as long as I can remember, every single time he has signed a greeting card for any occasion, he has carefully drawn
on a caricature of his face, complete with glasses.
Over the years, that image has gradually aged, although it still
has black hair, and plenty of it; it does not look anywhere close to seventy!@#&%/?!
The words I added were an
inside joke, relating to the chorus of a rap song my husband wrote and performed for our son’s birthday when Aidan turned
9 or 10, to Aidan's acute embarrassment: “He ain’t heavy, he’s Mr. Levy!”
And although this occasion wasn’t the bar mitzvah my husband never had (it was 57 years too late for that), I
also created a sign-in board for him, using a photo of him jogging on Miami Beach last winter and the official slogan I had
coined for this occasion.
“Harlan is the new 70!”
I had the same photo and slogan printed on a long-sleeved shirt from Zazzle.com. My husband didn’t really want
to wear this to the party. But neither did he want to go into the witness protection program, so, at my very strong insistence,
he soon gave in.
Another more vintage photo was delivered to the bakery at a local supermarket, The Big Y, to be airbrushed
onto the birthday cake I’d ordered. Shot on Martha’s Vineyard some years ago, it shows my husband posed in front
of a series of signs presumably imprinted with the names of families who owned the land we were passing.
Between all of these preparations, not to mention round-the-clock shopping, cleaning, and kvetching, I stayed
up past 2 a.m. every night the week before the party. Yet beyond whipping up some of my famous Nice Jewish Mom balsamic vinaigrette
and a industrial-size vat of homemade hot fudge, I didn’t get around to beginning much of the cooking until the morning
of the big day.
Good thing that my good friends Pat and Phyllis had refused to take my initial martyr-like cry of “No,
I'd rather do it myself!” for an answer and had insisted on each contributing a few extra dishes themselves.
But that didn’t suffice to
quell my mounting sense of anxiety. Because just my luck (or lack thereof), the birthday just happened to fall on Friday the
13th. And along with weather that refused to cooperate, I kept running into unforeseen complications.
Although I often write about my daughter’s exploits as a rising young jazz singer, my son is also quite accomplished
on the saxophone, and they wished to perform at the party for their dad. And when my good friend Catherine and her husband
Jaimoe got wind of this, they said that Jaimoe wished to perform as well.
Jaimoe is not just accomplished on the drums, however. He’s a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, with
which he continues to tour. With countless classic hits, including “Ramblin’ Man” and “Sweet Melissa,”
they were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement
So when Jaimoe said that he wanted to play with my kids, this was not child’s play. It was serious business.
Allegra already had recruited her regular pianist Sean to accompany them, and Jaimoe insisted on having a bassist get
in on the act too, so she invited her good friend Zwelakhe-Duma Bell le Pere, otherwise known as Zwe (which is pronounced
A day or two before the party, however, Sean discovered that the party conflicted with another gig he had that weekend
and bowed out. So Allegra frantically began calling around and managed to enlist another friend, also named Sean, to play
Then late Friday afternoon Aidan arrived with his girlfriend Kaitlin shortly before the party only to realize that he’d
inadvertently left his saxophone in his apartment in NYC. Although he had an old clarinet in his bedroom at home, it had no
mouthpiece. He didn’t want to disappoint his dad by bowing out of the band, though, So he called around until he found
the only music store open on a Friday night and drove off to buy a new one.
Meanwhile, Jaimoe stopped by to set up his drums and had a quick rehearsal with the rest of the group. Then he left
at 5:30 to get Catherine. The party started at 6:30.
“See you in an hour,” I called.
Their plan was to play during the
cocktail hour and then a bit more after dinner. When 6:30 rolled around, people gradually began to pour through the door en
masse. By 7, almost everyone was there. Everyone but Catherine and Jaimoe.
While the crowd descended upon
the open bar and copious hors d’oeuvres, I found myself sequestered out on our deck, manically trying to grill 30 steaks
(So much for the do-it-yourself approach. Why the heck hadn’t I hired
But by the time those many steaks were all perfectly charred and off the grill, Jaimoe and Catherine still
Had something happened? Were they OK? Had he abruptly changed his mind?
You’ve heard of Waiting
for Guffman and Waiting for Godot. Well, this was “Waiting for Jaimoe.”
It was 7:45 when I called to ask
what was wrong. Catherine picked up the phone.
“Hey! We’ve been trying to reach you. What time does
the party start?” she asked.
Jaimoe hadn’t heard me when he was leaving and had been phoning the house for
hours, only to get a busy signal. Sure enough, I discovered a receiver off the hook in my husband’s office. He’d
received one too many calls before the party wishing him well.
I apologized profusely. They promised to come
All of that meat was beginning to get cold, along with the salmon I’d grilled and the veggies I’d stir-fried.
Meanwhile, the huge cauldron of cold noodles with sesame sauce I’d made and giant green salad were beginning to
get warm. So perhaps I should simply have served dinner. But I didn’t want to start without Catherine and Jaimoe. And
after all the effort that my kids had gone to, I wanted to make sure they got to play as planned.
Catherine and Jaimoe finally burst in by 8 and the band launched into their opening number at once. Who cared if the
food was just a little cold? This was beyond cool! Everyone seemed to be enjoying it so much that they played an extra tune
Then Allegra announced that dinner was served and everyone hurried downstairs.
It wasn’t humid. It wasn’t buggy. And pink flamingoes or not, I don’t even think it was tacky.
And after everyone had eaten their
fill, we proceeded on to the next entertainment segment.
On the invitation, I had entreated everyone to come prepared to
roast and toast my husband. One clever couple, Suzy and Stan, took this literally and arrived with a basket laden with fresh
bread that read “Pattie, please toast me” and colorful peppers that read “Pattie, please roast me.”
Our dear friend Lois also had crafted a hilarious song for the occasion, which she bravely dared to sing a capella
herself to the tune of “Hello, Dolly.”
Well, hello, Harlan.
This is Lois, darlin’.
It’s so nice you have a back that’s still so strong.
Your family’s swell, Harlan
You should kvell, Harlan
Always upbeat even though
You don’t own a bong…
But my husband led off with a raucous speech he’d prepared for the occasion.
It was fairly uproarious, if you ask me, and positively sidesplitting, if you ask him. But if you ask me, it had waaaay
too many references to sex.
“…The real question is not what I’ve learned in my span to old
age – and 70 is technically ‘old,’ ” he admitted. “It’s a matter of what I’ve been
doing, what my wife has been doing, and also my two offspring, my relatives, her relatives, my friends, her friends, our friends,
and last but certainly not least our dog…
“But above all, it is about what my wife will be doing to
me later tonight.”
(“Good luck with that!” I cried.)
He continued to reflect on all
of the things he has been doing for the past seven decades, as well as the ones that he continues to enjoy, including tennis,
working out on his stationary bike, and a whole lot of other exercise.
“I eat marvelous suppers cooked by a master
chef EVERY FRIGGIN’ NIGHT! I sleep. I snore. There’s sex… not like age 30, but I’m happy to announce
that I still like it. Sorry, Nin.”
(He calls me Nin.)
He spoke of the things he was finally beginning to learn after all these years. For example, “to garner a little
respect around here I should restrain noises and smells that only a vagabond would emit if he lived alone in a cave. With
bats. And his loyal dog.
“You wives have so much to
put up with,” he continued, “men and their annoying habits, man smells, and a talent for trying to get you to
do stuff when they should just get up from the sofa and wash the pots, not ask, 'What are you doing way over there in the
kitchen at the sink?'
"And then there's sex – with old Humpty Dumpty.”
Again with the sex? Seriously? I mean, there were children present. Our children!
(I may be Nin, but I’m no
nun. Yet he is 70. There’s not that much sex to speak of.)
There were many other speeches
from many other friends who toasted him and roasted him, mostly gently (including Rafi, who took most of these marvelous
Then I figured it was only fitting that I put in my two cents worth. I hadn’t had even a moment to write anything
down. No matter. I had a few thoughts to get off my chest.
I told the assembled crowd that I knew perfectly well what my
husband often says about me to people, including them, behind my back.
“Honestly, would a bitch do all this?”
I asked, indicating the decorations around us.
“But I’m not here to debate with anyone whether or
not I’m a bitch,” I continued. “Rather, I’m here to tell you how I became his bitch.”
Then I recounted the tale of how it all began when I received a call from my brother back in February 1982. “There’s
something I would like you to marry,” he said.
It was not Harlan.
He wanted to fix me up with a friend
of his good friend Artie, a fellow who was very lucratively employed. I agreed to meet this paragon at Artie’s
birthday party on Valentine’s Day.
But a friend of mine named Lucy wished to fix me up earlier that same
day with her boyfriend’s friend Harlan from Connecticut, whom she said was cute and drove a BMW.
I can still picture the moment that he arrived at my door to pick me up. Along with being cute, I thought he was the most nervous person I'd ever met.
When we began to date soon after, my father had a different take.
“A man of 37 who has never been married
doesn’t want to get married,” he kept cautioning me.
To which I would counter, “A man of 37
who has never been married needs to get married right away.”
My mother, meanwhile, had her own assessment.
She believed he was the single most immature person she had ever met… but also that we were perfect for each other.
I was never quite sure how to take that.
Whatever the case, we were engaged within two months and married
in two years. And nearly three decades later, we had two kids, a dog, a house, and all those friends (including the friends
who weren’t there, and to whom I apologize profusely once again).
At this point of the evening, it was time to move the party back upstairs for cake. The band launched into a jazzy version
of “Happy Birthday” as everyone gathered around the birthday boy, who for the 70th time made a wish and blew out
Then everyone feasted on hot fudge sundaes as the band played on.
The last guests (Catherine and Jaimoe, as it happened) left shortly after 1 a.m.
(“Are you OK?” Zwe asked as he helped load the drums back into their car, to which Jaimoe cryptically replied,
Then I stayed up past 3 cleaning. (My husband had wondered what I’d be doing later that night? Well,
it was something very wet. But not very wild.)
At least by all accounts, a good time was had by all.
Well, almost all. A week later,
I'm still totally fried. But no matter. Because a week later, the birthday “boy” is still kvelling…
and no longer telling people I’m a you-know-what.
“Nobody else whom I know or have known could throw a party
that good,” he says, “with great food, live music, and my daughter, my son, Jaimoe, Zwe, and Sean playing great
jazz… IN MY OWN LIVING ROOM!!! How sweet is that?”
But the best thing for him, he admitted, was writing his speech before the party and getting to articulate his thoughts
about life and being 70 (which he still believes were side-splitting).
And the best thing for me, I must admit, was
hearing from my brother the next day. His was a much more objective opinion, yet no less a positive one.
He not only had enjoyed the evening thoroughly, but also had not found my basement, home-cooked meal, handmade treat
bags, or any other arrangements tacky. On the contrary, he said that he had been to the much more extravagant party I’d
thrown 10 years ago, and (although that one cost at least four times as much) he had preferred this one by far.
Maybe paring down the guest list
just made for a much more intimate experience. But I think it was more than that. This time, it was a real family affair.
Tacky or not, basement or not, every moment, mouthful, and musical note had a personal stamp on it.
Yet if you’re wondering how I’m going to top all that when my hubby turns 80, don’t. By
then I’ll be almost 70 myself. (Seventy!@#&%/?!) By that time there may no longer be sex (like at age 30
or otherwise). But there will still be the witness protection program.
|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