Friday, November 20, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
Even with Hanukkah fast approaching, the life of a nice Jewish mom (well, this NJM, anyway) is hardly all about spinning dreidels. It’s full of drama, drudgery, an ever-present dread that someone in the family will get sick,
or something else bad will happen, and the occasional chance to gloat that one of my
kids has done something wonderful, like get into grad school, or land a new job, or suddenly remember that he or she has a mother.
Not so much. Usually not at all (not for this NJM, anyway).
Last week, though,
I got to leave all the drudgery, drama, and dread behind and get
a rare, hefty dose of fun and glamour.
Make that Glamour. Literally. Thanks to my daughter, who invited me to join her at a star-studded event involving Glamour magazine’s annual Women of the Year Awards.
And when I say star-studded, I am not referring to mere Dancing With the Stars caliber stars. Recent past winners have included everyone from Barbra Streisand, Lena Dunham
(pictured left), and Lady Gaga to human rights activist Malala, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and both
of the Taylors (no, not Elizabeth. I mean Schilling
Past years also had reportedly attracted attendees
the likes of Hillary Clinton and George Clooney.
Plus, this year’s event, the 25th annual installment, was to be hosted by the funniest woman of the year, maybe even funniest
woman ever, Amy Schumer.
Which only prompted me to ask Allegra whom she would be most excited about seeing –
George Clooney… Amy Schumer… or Malala?
ask me how she had gotten invited to something so posh and glam. I pinky-swore I wouldn’t tell. Suffice it to say that someone she knows was involved with the event, and this person had not only offered Allegra a ticket, but also had said that she could bring along a "plus one" on
this fabulous magic carpet ride.
That’s where I came in.
As golden an opportunity as this clearly was, I felt a little hesitant to accept at first. This hesitation wasn’t along the lines of believing I didn’t deserve it, in keeping with the
typical nice Jewish mom’s penchant to insist on taking the messiest piece of pie. It was just that there was only one
extra ticket, and had I not happened to have been in NYC on the Monday night that the event took place, that ticket would
have gone to Kaitlin.
I'm talking about Kaitlin, who is not just Allegra’s dear friend, but also my son’s wonderful fiancée. How could I possibly deprive her of a chance like that?
I finally succumbed to the invitation only on the grounds that this would
be an ideal thing to blog about (far more compelling
than the usual drama and drudgery of my life); that
it was arguably beshert that
I would be in town on that particular night; and
that if there’s one thing I cannot resist,
it’s getting to trade in my usual dread that something bad will happen, or that someone will get sick, and go out
for a night on the town with my daughter.
Yet that did little
if anything to assuage my lingering sense of Jewish guilt.
I tell you this so that you will grasp that I approached these high-brow festivities with a mixture of crying-out-loud excitement and crippling
shame. Also, so that you might be less inclined
to judge my actions at the end, which
were well-meaning, but ethically dubious.
Allegra told me to meet her at Carnegie Hall, where the event took place, at 6:30 because
it began at 7. As I said, there would be all sorts of celebrities attending, and we hoped to get an eyeful.
When we were ushered into our box seats on the first level
of many balconies, though, we discovered that there were few people seated on the orchestra level yet. Rather, the place was almost empty. This event was evidently
running on Jewish time.
No matter. A pair of
nice young women had just arrived in the box next to ours. “OK, let’s get this done before the place fills up,”
declared one, reaching for my iPhone. “We’ll shoot
you if you shoot us.”
It made me glad that I had bought something new and glittery to wear the week before at my favorite store, Kimberly Boutique in West
Hartford, CT. My sequined top might be a little too glam for my usual humdrum, drudgery-filled life. For Carnegie Hall, though? Perfect!
also took this opportunity to snap a picture of Allegra, who was looking pretty glam herself.
Moments later, another pair of people arrived in our box, one of whom turned out to be another friend of our
benefactor. I think his name was William. But since I am not sure, and I am keeping things on the down-low, I will call him
Fred and Allegra proceeded to scour the growing audience and exclaim things like, “There’s Martha Stewart!” Or, “There’s Caitlyn Jenner!” Or, “There’s Ivanka Trump!”
Of course, I had seen these people on TV and would recognize them anywhere. Well, almost anywhere. Even though
we were in the first ring, and there were two or three rings even higher up, it was hard to make out their features from such a distance. Good thing that Allegra and William
were there to point them out. I mean Allegra and “Fred.”
I don’t know who all of the other people at this shindig were, but every single seat in the place was soon taken, mostly by women, and all of them were dressed to the nines and beyond.
Sadly, neither George nor Amal Clooney, appeared
to be in evidence. Neither was Malala. No matter. My celebrity sweet tooth was totally satisfied
at the mere sight of pop singer Selina Gomez and Mad Men actress Elisabeth Moss (both presenters, I would later discover) and actress Reese
Witherspoon, one of this year’s honorees.
And soon enough the lights went down and the proceedings were called to order.
Singer Jennifer Hudson, from American Idol, soon took the stage to belt out a number from the show The Color Purple, in which she is currently making her Broadway debut.
Then, after the requisite opening remarks, Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive hastened to introduce our mistress of ceremonies, the woman she called “my favorite trainwreck.”
“Hi, guys! I’m national treasure Amy Schumer!”announced the sassy comedienne, star and creator of last summer’s runaway hit Trainwreck, striding out in an uncharacteristically modest lipstick-red dress to welcome everyone to what was “the hottest ticket in town.”
At least she’d been told it was the hottest ticket in town. “It is such an honor to be here,” said Ms. Schumer,
whose image, like that of everyone
else involved, was projected on a giant screen behind her. “I mean, that’s what Cindi told me before she told me I wasn’t getting paid.”
She went on to note how out of character
it was for her to be at such an event. Normally, she said, she was more inclined to make fun of women’s magazines instead,
for printing articles like, “How to trick your stomach into thinking you ate that week,” or “How to make
your pussy smell like a Christmas ornament.”
At least I think
that’s what she said.
The New York Times would later report that the word she had used was “look,” not “smell.” When reporting this, The New York Times would not use that other word she had used. It would sanitize it to the extent of calling it “one’s private
parts.” But this is NiceJewishMom.com, not The New
York Times, and whether Ms. Schumer actually said “look” or “smell,”
I hope I did not offend you with my otherwise accurate
I would also like to
point out that The New York Times did not go on to give every last detail of the presentations that followed. And for the sake of brevity,
neither will I.
Suffice it to say that every famous person there to be honored
was first introduced by someone equally if not even
more famous. For example, dancer Misty Copeland,
the first-ever African-American prima ballerina
with the American Ballet Theater, was introduced by Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o of Ten Years
And Reese Witherspoon
was served up by the original Reese Witherspoon (perky, petite blonde actress, that is),
Ms. Gomez, also in red, was on hand to introduce an impressive
group of former honorees including former
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, American Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, fashion icon Iman, model Naomi Campbell, tennis legend Billie Jean King, and the world's No. 1-ranked tennis powerhouse, Serena Williams (whom I initially failed to recognize due to her ultra-glam glittery black dress and spike heels).
And the entire U.S. women’s soccer team (honored
as “game changers” for having won the
most-watched soccer match in U.S. history), were ushered to the stage by talk show host Seth Meyers, who
joked about his own athletic prowess, or total lack thereof.
“Not only would I lose to both Serena and Billie Jean King,” he self-deprecatingly confessed, “but I’m pretty
sure I would go down in straight sets to Madeleine Albright.”
Then again, not everyone there to be saluted was
what you might call a celebrity.
one of the evening’s most rousing moments, the entire crowd gave a standing ovation to a quartet of women from Charleston,
South Carolina, all of whom had lost loved ones in the horrific massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Elizabeth Holmes, the 31-year-old founder of the blood-testing
business Theranos, was honored as a trailblazer
and the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. (She spoke of the dire need for women to help
other women, referencing Albright’s apparently
historic remark that there’s “a special place in hell” for women who don’t.)
And I must say that I thoroughly admire Glamour for having the chutzpah to defy any
potential backlash by honoring Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.
“I want to thank my own mother, Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas,” Richards said. “She received this exact same award 24
years ago, and I just want to say thanks to all the mothers who encourage their daughters to do whatever – whatever – it is that they want to do.”
As not only a mother myself, but a nice Jewish one, I'd
like to say “amen” to that.
Speaking of both controversy and backlash, the magazine incurred its fair share of both by honoring Caitlyn
Jenner as a “Trans Champion” and Woman of the Year. During the following
week, a man whose late wife had been the only
female police officer to perish in the 9/11 attacks would choose to give
her Glamour award back.
"Was there no woman in America, or the rest of the world, more deserving than this man?" he wrote in a letter to the magazine that was later posted on Facebook.
To this fellow, and anyone
else who might question the choice, I would counter that Ms. Jenner’s acceptance speech proved to be a deeply moving testament to her evident decency and courage. (It could not have been easy for her to endure becoming a worldwide target of ridicule, not to mention the No. 1 Halloween costume of the year.)
In what were clearly heartfelt remarks, the 66-year-old described the torment
of always sensing that her life was “not authentic” and having “never felt like I fit in anywhere.”
"I had many many, many years of isolation from the world, of lying to the world, of not being myself,” she said. It
got to the point where she spent years
hiding inside her house. Finally, she began
to wonder, “What am
I going to do with my life? I've isolated and lied to myself and lied to the world for
so long. What am I going to do with my life?”
the nerve to come out, said the former Olympian and reality show star, had not only given her new hope, but also a new sense of purpose.
this is why God put me on this earth -- to tell my story, to be authentic to myself about
who I am," she began to speculate. "And maybe in doing that, maybe you can make a difference
in the world. What a great opportunity in life to have. So few of us ever get to have that opportunity."
When it came to being inspirational, however, none of the
honorees could quite rival Ms. Witherspoon, who closed the night with a stirring call to action for women everywhere.
The Oscar-winning star of
such film classics as Legally
Blonde and Walk
the Line had long ago tired of being offered scripts in which the female lead invariably
turns to the (invariably male) hero in a crisis and gasps breathlessly, “What do we do now?”
“What do we do now?” she repeated incredulously, in a derisively mocking tone. “Do you know any woman in any crisis
who ever turns to a man and says, ‘What
do we do now?’”
Convinced that “women are so much more complex than the ones we were seeing on film,”
she decided to follow her own mother’s sage advice: “If you want somethin’ done, honey, do it yourself!” So she had started her own production company and begun to option and produce scripts with strong female protagonists, such as Wild and Gone Girl.
"I believe ambition is not a dirty word," Witherspoon asserted to the rapt audience. "It's believing in yourself and your abilities."
In the end, she asserted, it was high
time for all of us to combat the current
“culture crisis” in this country, in which women in almost every field of endeavor are underrepresented and underpaid.
This was one crisis in which it was appropropriate to ask, “What do we do now?”
She urged everyone present to defy
the limitations that others had imposed on them. “What is it in your life that someone told you you could not do?” she asked. “Wouldn’t it feel really good to prove them wrong and do
As I applauded emphatically with the rest of the crowd, I felt suddenly empowered. Indeed, there were so many things I wished I’d done. Or wished I could do. Couldn’t I -- shouldn't
I -- try?
But now was not the time
to do anything but get up and rush out, Allegra advised me urgently. She had been tipped off that there would be fabulous
goody bags given out, courtesy of Glamour and the event’s main sponsor, L’Oreal Paris. We had to make sure we each got one before the supply ran
Indeed, as we were practically trampled in the stampede down the stairs, we spied a mountain
range of hot pink shopping bags emblazoned
with the name of the magazine. Young staff
members were distributing one to each guest as she left. As I claimed mine,
clutching its white-ribboned handles, I felt euphoric, as though I had just triumphed over adversity or defied gravity.
But the moment that we reached the sidewalk, I reconsidered my good fortune. I still felt guilty that I had preempted Kaitlin’s
own chance for relishing this literal taste of glamour by accepting Allegra’s gracious invitation myself. Did I deserve
this booty? Wouldn’t it help settle the score somewhat if I were able to bestow a bag on her too?
Allegra began to gush excitedly as she examined its precious contents, all from L’Oreal:
an industrial-sized can of Elnett Satin Hairspray (the best ever, she exclaimed); Revitalift triple power moisturizer; Voluminous Super Star mascara
and liquid eyeliner; Nutri-Gloss High Shine Glossing hair mist; and a lipstick in a color called Julianne Red.
been so many bags. Did I dare go back in and try to score a second one?
I know, I know. I simply could have given Kaitlin mine.
But I’m a nice
Jewish mom. Not a nice Jewish saint.
it looked like almost everyone had exited, I slipped back in and, seeing that there were countless bags remaining, will admit that I sheepishly snagged another.
I joined Allegra back on the sidewalk to await the appearance of her friend, the one who had given us this opportunity of
a lifetime (but who shall remain nameless).
While we waited, we gawked at the
well-dressed and extremely glamorous crowd, hoping perchance to catch a glimmer of one of the famous celebrities exiting. The closest we came to stardom was spying gifted young actress
Zoe Kazan, who has appeared in the movies It’s Complicated and Our Brand
Is Crisis and the amazing HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge,and who has just been tapped to star in a new HBO comedy pilot to be directed
by Lena Dunham.
I also saw Oprah’s BFF Gayle King, co-anchor
of CBS This Morning, hurrying past en route to the after-party at the Rainbow Room
(to which we were, alas, not invited).
At last, Allegra’s friend who shall remain nameless
appeared, but after lighting up to see her, my face fell. Allegra had assured me her friend would get a bag of her own. She clearly had not, though. So I valiantly offered her my extra one. She was thrilled.
But now I was squarely back in the guilt game. I had nothing to give to Kaitlin.
And so, as much as I tremble to admit it, I dared to go back
inside one more time.
There were still gazillions of gift bags left.
But at this point the lobby was almost deserted, and there were virtually no departing guests left inside to claim them.
To my horror, a pair of women wandered in
off the street at the same time I did and asked if they could each have a gift bag. One staff member waved them off, insisting
that the bags were only for people who had just attended the event, and they, clearly, had not.
Then another staffer
explained that these women had been working at the event. So they were each allowed to take a bag, after all.
when I thought, to paraphrase Ms. Witherspoon, “What do I do now?”
I didn't want to
risk being affronted by one of the staff members. But I didn’t want to
give up so easily either. So I just stood there
awkwardly texting my husband on my phone, asking
where he was. I realized I didn’t have the chutzpah to try to snag
another bag. So after awhile, I decided to walk out.
But as I did, one of the staff members handed me a bag, and I’ll admit that I took it.
I didn’t feel good about taking it. No, I felt cheesy. But I felt very good about getting to give it to Kaitlin a few days later. And I can assure you that she was thrilled to have it.
That may not make me one of Glamour’s Women of the Year. Or even nice Jewish mom of the
year. But now that my night of glamour is over, and I’m back to the usual drama, drudgery, and dread, I’m glad that I took it,
and almost feel entitled to gloat a bit about it.
No, I didn’t see George Clooney. Or Malala. But I had an incredibly fun and inspiring night out on the town with my daughter, and I remembered that I had a wonderful future daughter-in-law, too.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
My apologies for not posting a word
last week, but no matter how nice a Jewish mom you may be, you need to take a vacation
now and then.
The fact is, though, that I wasn’t entirely on vacation last week (unless you consider New Jersey to be a true vacation destination). I was just away with my husband for a few days, in both the so-called "Garden State”
and NYC, spending some time with my kids (always a pleasure) and attending two very exciting events.
Exciting and exclusive events about which I will tell you in the coming week or two.
It will take me a few days to
do that, though, as well as to catch up
on the laundry and my holiday shopping. (Chanukah, which falls early this year, is now less than three weeks away!) So in
the meanwhile, I want to tell you quickly about another highlight of my trip.
Getting to be with my children, of course, was the undisputed highlight of my trip. But if there were a close second, it would probably be this.
At some point, nearly every day while I was away, I made sure to give part of nearly every meal that I ate to some poor starving soul.
A posting on my site, listed among the Nice Jewish Mother and Other jokes, compares being Jewish to being "goyish" (Yiddish for non-Jewish) and states that it is Jewish to take doggy bags away from restaurants, but goyish to actually eat their contents. I’m not sure that's entirely
true, even though I would venture that I throw away more than half the leftovers my husband invariably insists on carting home from restaurants. (Needless to say, little if any part of
these “doggy bags” actually go to Latke, our dog.)
Even so, we continue
to take away our leftovers because too many restaurants serve larger portions than anyone but a small elephant should eat, and I am forever watching my weight. Not to mention that I grew up being
reminded on a fairly regular basis that there were people in India, Africa, and [fill in the blank] who were starving.
Sadly, decades later, there are still too many people in India, Africa, and [fill in the blank] who are still starving, as well as far too many others far closer to home. It seems like a sacrilege to waste food.
When we’re staying in a hotel, though,
we can’t realistically make good use of leftovers ourselves. Even if we could manage
to cram them into our room’s mini fridge along with the teeny bottles of minibar booze, we’d have nowhere to reheat them. Or anyplace to eat them. No matter. I always have them packed up anyway.
I don’t do this merely out of force of habit. I take them because there are so many
homeless people everywhere. Hungry homeless people. At least there are in New York.
You see them on the subway. You see them on the street. And for some reason, it seems like you see even more of them at this time of year, when the air begins to chill.
One night, we went to see my son perform his weekly
gig with the Stan Rubin Orchestra at Swing 46, which bills itself as NYC’s only “all swing” jazz and supper
club. Aidan plays the bari sax in this lively joint every
Wednesday night with SRO, a 16-piece big band that performs
classic numbers by Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, et al.
always fun to make total fools of ourselves on the dance floor demonstrating our best version of
swing dancing, which I will readily confess is absolutely dreadful at best. But before we dance, we always dine in lieu of
meeting the required drink minimum on our bill.
Fortunately, the food is not
only fabulous there, but the portions are fairly generous. So generous that when it comes
to the roast chicken with mashed potatoes and veggies I ordinarily order, I can eat
no more than half.
So after we left
the club last Wednesday shortly after midnight, I carted my leftovers along. As late
as it was, I'd barely gotten halfway down the block when I spied a bedraggled man proffering a paper cup,into which he entreated us to drop our spare change. When I forked over what I assured him was a perfectly good, untouched piece of chicken instead, he seemed unable
to believe his good fortune.
"Why, I'll take
food over money any day," he declared.
Then he proceeded
to do a joyful little jig on the sidewalk far better and more exhilarating to behold than anything my husband and
I had exhibited on the dance floor.
To guarantee that I had more provisions
to offer during the rest of the week, I made sure to take something from breakfast daily. Good thing that our hotel, a Fairfield Inn & Suites in the Long Island City section of Queens, happens to offer a rather ample free breakfast.
“Free,” of course, I fully realize, does not necessarily
mean we were free to take away more of it than
we were able consume on the spot.
So you might say that the scrambled eggs, bagels, carton of yogurt, or pieces of fresh fruit I would slip into my tote bag after eating were arguably a form of
stealing. I admit that I felt a little sheepish about making off with them.
other hand, though, I knew that I was simply saving these items from the garbage. Having stayed regularly in this hotel, as well as several others like it, I have often been horrified to observe that the moment breakfast is over, any leftover food, which is often copious, is instantly and rather unceremoniously tossed
in the trash by the kitchen staff.
At another nearby hotel, I’ve repeatedly
seen several dozen perfectly good bagels and freshly baked pastries dumped directly into the garbage can. At first, I used to prevail upon the staff to give me some of these things to bring to a homeless shelter. But that required me to drive to a shelter as soon as I got home after
the weekend. And the fact is that my life is very busy, and I often got very
home late, and there aren’t any homeless shelters close to where I live.
Still, throwing away that
much food seems like a travesty to me. Or worse. I mean, seriously, why don’t they donate
all this food to a food bank or homeless shelter somewhere? Hotels might not be able to feed these items to their guests the
following day, but aren't there homeless people who'd be delighted to eat day-old bagels? Or even two-day old bagels?
I’m a Jew. There’s hardly any bagel I would refuse to eat.
As for the hotel at which we stayed last week, one
morning I watched a staff member pour an enormous chafing dish full of hot scrambled eggs into
the trash the moment that breakfast was over. It turned
my stomach to see it. If only I had gotten to it first.
After that, I had little compunction about making off with a few other items to distribute during the day.
I got to hand a cup full of granola and small carton of milk to a weather-beaten man in an alley.
I presented a buttered cinnamon raisin bagel and strawberry yogurt to a scarecrow of a fellow hunched over on the ground outside a subway entrance. Then there were the pair of hard-boiled eggs, English muffin and Granny Smith apple I offered to the hungry woman huddled against a doorstep.
Meanwhile, I'm still feeling guilty about the rotund young woman holding a sign that read “Pregnant and hungry” whom I was obliged to hurry past
shamefully one night because I had long since
disseminated my booty for the day and we were running late.
It saddened me
immeasurably to see all of these people in that sorry state. But it warmed my heart
immeasurably to be able to provide what may have been the only morsels of food they’d eat that day
that had never seen the inside of a dumpster.
By the way, being a nice Jewish mom, I didn’t just hand these people a plastic bag with
a few scraps of food. I made sure there were utensils inside. Maybe even a napkin.
I’m not urging everyone to become modern-day Robin Hoods by stealing from the rich (or large hotel chains) in order to bestow edible alms on the poor. The truth is that it would be somewhat more ethical to buy or prepare such handouts ourselves.
Then again, it still sickens me to know that there are countless hotels
and restaurants throwing away massive quantities of leftover
food every day, rather than going through the trouble
and red tape required to donate it to those in need.
I wish I had the time and wherewithal to create a service that would help facilitate this on a large-scale
basis. Or even a small-scale basis. There are hundreds if not thousands of hotels
in NYC, and G-d knows there are probably tens of thousands of homeless
close by. Isn’t there some way to hook up these two sides of the hunger equation?
Yet it’s not just about hotels and restaurants. According to the December issue of Consumer Reports, for every dollar Americans spend on food, they discard
about 10 cents’ worth into the trash. That amounts
to about $1,500 worth a year being dumped for a typical family of four. Now, that’s a whole lot of eggs, bagels, and other good stuff.
Stuff that the starving could eat.
So at the very least, I hope you’ll remember the needy during this season of giving thanks and in the year
to come. It isn’t hard to take along a handout after you leave a hotel, restaurant, or your own home. And that kind of doggy bag isn’t Jewish. Or “goyish.” It’s
just human. And humane.
Friday, November 6, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
As any parent knows, raising children is a gradual
process of learning to let go – let go of their hands,
your heart, your dignity at times, but hopefully not your hopes.
Letting go of the more challenging aspects -- like helping
with math homework and having to foot the bill for everything from bar and bat mitzvahs to college tuition –
can be liberating. Letting go of the fun stuff, though? Not so much.
Especially when you’re a nice Jewish mom.
I still miss getting to plan my kids’ birthday parties and help choose their clothes. But
if there’s one thing that ranks way up there on the Venn diagram that mashes up motherhood and fun, it’s getting to help choose their Halloween costumes. And I would like to say that I miss
that annual ritual. But truth be told – and it’s a dirty little secret, as truths go – I don’t truly miss that yet because I still make it
my business to do it.
Never mind that my
kids left the house years ago and are both well into their 20s.
me to explain.
About two months ago, in early September, I began to be barraged with emails offering me discounts
on Halloween costumes. At the time, I was still grappling with the dreadful realization that it was Labor Day Weekend, and summer was regrettably over. About the last thing
on my mind was Halloween, let alone how I would dress for it.
But I knew in my heart of hearts, not to mention the mounting chill in my bones, that soon enough
the leaves would begin to fall along with the temperature, and I’d soon be carving pumpkins and stocking
up on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and
I also knew that it was only a matter of
time before I got a call from one or both of my kids asking if I had this or that lying around the house to help with their costumes.
The fact is that after celebrating Halloween
in a pretty big way for many a decade
– and being an incurable pack rat by
nature – I do have both this AND
that. Whatever you want, be it witch’s hat or hula skirt, if it has to do with a costume of some sort, I have it. And
I am always happy to lend it. But I’m a little
less happy to have to mail it overnight.
I’m not casting any aspersions,
mind you. My kids happen to be extremely busy people. Along with being a rising young jazz
singer and songwriter, my daughter has a demanding day job. As for my son Aidan and
his fiancée Kaitlin, they are both in the throes of getting their PhD’s in NYC and doing a whole lot of other important things. About the last thing on their minds is what to wear for Halloween. Until it’s Halloween.
Being extremely literate and literary people, what Aidan and Kaitlin generally want to be for Halloween is not something that you tend to find at the nearest Party City. The first year that they were dating, they dressed as F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda.
The following year, it was 19th-century Romantic English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (who wrote Ozymandias) and his
novelist wife Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (author of Frankenstein).
What, you might ask, could they possibly wear to look like either
of the Shelleys? All I can tell you is that I looked
it up, and I had all the necessary pieces in
In fact, I had so many options for Mrs. Shelley that Kaitlin was able to go to three different parties dressed as Mary Shelley and wear a totally different outfit to each one.
I would wager that she was by far the best Mary Shelley that anyone had ever seen. Or, to be more accurate, the best Mary Shelleys that anyone had ever seen. I couldn’t wait to see which dynamic literary duo they would choose to impersonate the following year.
Shortly before October 31st, though, when I dared to ask,
she told me that this time around they wanted to dress up as cats.
This was no major surprise. Kaitlin and Aidan happen to have two lively feline companions, Jody and Wuftie, on which
they both passionately dote. (Although in Aidan’s recently published book – a biography of rock legend Lou Reed – he was kind enough
to thank his father, sister, and me in the acknowledgements section, in almost
the same breath he also expressed gratitude to this demonic duo, “who sat patiently for untold hours listening
to the Velvet Underground as they watched me write what eventually became this book.”)
No, the only surprising part was that, on impulse, I’d just happened
to have purchased a sexy cat suit on clearance a few weeks earlier when I’d spied it on the shelf at Target. I immediately offered to mail it to Kaitlin, along with a pair of long
furry tails left over from one of my husband’s college reunions at Princeton, where a tiger is the official mascot.
You’ve heard of letting the cat out of the bag? Well, this was putting the cat into the box. And I was more than happy to do it, and even to shell out for the
But this year, when I received those emails in early September offering deep discounts on Halloween garb, I decided it might be prudent to head them off at the pass. Why not be prepared in advance for once and save on the shipping and schlepping?
So I looked at
the options from Party City, Halloween Express, and
Costumes.com. And that’s when I saw it – something I was certain would look incredibly cute on Kaitlin.
It wasn’t part of
a literary couple. It wasn’t a cat or animal of any kind. But it was kind of historic and classy, yet also sexy –
for in the end isn’t that what grownup get-ups for Halloween are all about?
What I saw was a fringed Roaring 20’s flapper dress,
complete with a sequined and feathered headband, to which I figured I could add my own long knotted string of faux pearls.
As for Aidan, I thought
the snazzy black pinstriped zoot suit I found, along with a matching
fedora and big fat fake cigar, would suit the jazz musician in him just fine.
ordered these items and soon handed them over with the proviso that I knew they hadn’t asked
for them, so if they didn’t like them or want them I would gladly return them, no offense taken or questions asked.
But Kaitlin tried hers on and loved it and said that they would keep them, after all.
Meanwhile, while perusing the offerings
online, I also had noticed an amusing couple’s costume. It also wasn't a literary duo. Nor was it animal or vegetable. Well, maybe it was kind of animal. It consisted of bacon and eggs.
G-d knows I didn’t want to
And I didn’t really want to be eggs.
But I didn’t want my husband to be a hot dog again for the third year
in a row. And I didn’t want to have to dress up
as his sidekick, a sassy diner waitress, again either. I prefer doing something new and different
every year, and I hadn’t liked that silly hot dog suit in the first place.
So I showed him the
bacon and eggs.
My husband, I must admit, is mad about bacon, trayf though it may be.
“Get that!” he cried emphatically.
So I did.
But when these outfits arrived, he was not all that impressed.
He did not want to be bacon.
He did not want to be eggs.
He just really wanted to be the hot dog again. ("My costume has a first name. It's
So I promised
to return those costumes. And I meant to do it. I really did. But instead I got busy, and simply put them in the basement and forgot the whole thing. Until last week, that is, when my daughter and her boyfriend JP came to visit.
They are also both very busy people and were still debating
what to wear for Halloween.
searching her closet for various old get-ups –
the sexy Carmen Miranda suit she wore a couple of years back, and the even sexier Cleopatra outfit from who knows when.
But the fact is
that she also shuns reruns and hand-me-downs for Halloween. She prefers to
do something new and different each year.
That’s when it hit me.
JP happens to love bacon too. And so I told them. “Have I got
a costume (or two) for you!”
They took one look and had no doubt. It was love at first bite... er, sight.
Now, I just had to dissuade my husband from dragging out his wiener yet
again (so to speak).
So back to Party City we
went, where he found an odd orange mask and flashing sequined hat. I don’t quite know what the heck he was in them, but at least it didn’t involve mustard or buns.
I still had no idea what I would
wear myself, but I figured I would eventually think of something. After all, we have our own Halloween tradition going back several years.
It all started
when we discovered that our good friends Sally and Dial live in such a remote location that they had never had a single trick-or-treater come to their door. We tend to get a steady stream of them and we always
get into the spirit of things by dressing up to pass out candy to them. So we invited
them to come over that night, on the condition that they dress up too.
Sally came decked out in a big orange pumpkin
suit that she’d apparently fished out of a dumpster at her son’s college when he was packing up after graduation.
I have since lost count as to how many years
they've been joining us now, but every single
year she wears the pumpkin suit again… unless Dial puts it on instead.
also collaborate on making a festive holiday dinner including something ghoulish (although not goulash). Two years ago, by
chance, we both made the same mozzarella cheese eyeballs. There are only so many
eyeballs that anyone wants to eat. Ever since, we have made sure to compare notes beforehand.
This year, our friends Rafi and Lois admitted that they, too, had never received a single trick-or-treater
at their place. So we insisted that they join us too... on the condition that they also come dressed up in some fashion.
That’s when Lois asked if I possibly had a spare witch’s
hat I could lend her.
know who she was talking to? I mean, couldn’t she come up with something a
bit more challenging? That was like asking Zabar’s if they might have a bagel lying around.
I learned that Aidan and Kaitlin had a short break from school and were flying down to Miami Beach to visit some good friends for the weekend. But they assured me that they planned to bring their costumes along with them.
So they were fixed in terms of both fun and fashion. Yet it was now the night before Halloween and I still had nothing to wear. So I started perusing the costumes from Party City online again, just for inspiration. The one that caught my eye was a German barmaid’s
outfit. I had a skirt in my closet that looked a lot like that one, and my husband had a beer stein Allegra had
once bought him on a trip to Berlin.
Then there was the horned Viking hat in the basement, left over from… well,something. I don’t know what a Viking hat had to do with a German barmaid. But somehow it all just worked.
Sally said that she was bringing a cauliflower “brain” dripping
with red food coloring “blood” and filled with green guacamole guts. Phew! That would in no way conflict
with the cheese-stick fingers I had prepared, nor my newest creation, creepy meatball eyeballs.
After preparing a small feast of other dishes, both trayf and otherwise, I decided
to add one more thing.
This one wasn't animal. It was vegetable.
I made the mash. I made the Monster Mash!
of vegetables, it turned out to be Sally’s turn to sport the pumpkin suit this year. I think Dial was... what? A flower child?
My witch’s hat turned out to be the crowning glory for Lois’s witchy wear.
And Rafi arrived
dressed as a coach.
I still don’t know what the heck my husband was,
but at least he wasn’t the hot dog.
And so, not to make him feel bad, I retired Latke’s hot dog suit, too. This year, she was a wicked little witch.
My heart sank a little when I checked Facebook soon after we sat down to eat and saw that Aidan and Kaitlin had posted pictures of themselves out to dinner with friends
in Miami, and they were dressed in their normal clothes.
Oh, well. I'd tried. At
least those Roaring 20s costumes were timeless, unlike
many of this year's top choices, like Donald Trump. Maybe they could wear them next year.
But Allegra and JP soon posted photos too, and they seemed to be having a great time. We have always called Allegra "Leg" for short,
but JP prefers to call her “Legs.” And so they’d decided to dub themselves Bacon and L’eggs.
They looked so amazing that my husband said we should have worn those outfits
ourselves. He was sorry I’d given them away. But
being a nice Jewish mom, I wasn’t.
And then as I was serving dessert, a text message arrived from Kaitlin. She and
Aidan had evidently changed after
There he was in gangsta garb, mugging for the camera with that big fat fake cigar. And she looked adorable in her flapper dress.
I must say, they were the best
Roaring 20s couple I had ever seen.
I know. I know. They’re
getting married next summer, and soon after he will turn 30. Maybe it’s time for me to finally let go of this little pleasure too. From now on, I should let him
choose his own Halloween costume. Or let his wife-to-be get one for him.
Besides, I now have a new tradition to uphold, or maybe just an expanded old one. I assume that Lois and Rafi will be
joining us from now on, and maybe I can help dress them.
I also still have my work cut out for me with my husband. Maybe we'll decide to reclaim the bacon and eggs for next year. Or maybe
we'll come up with something a little more kosher (and more kosher than Donald Trump). But if I can finally learn to let go, then I think it's high time for him to let go of
his weiner for good at last.
Friday, October 30, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
It had been months since I’d first been approached at my shul about whether
my daughter would be willing to sing at their annual fundraiser – months in which
negotiations about the performance, ticket prices,
catering, and whatnot had unfolded more like preparations for a war – so by the time I
arrived for the event last Saturday night, I was pretty much prepared for everything.
Everything but the question a woman I barely
knew posed as I walked through the door.
“Exactly how big is your chest?”
“Excuse me?” was all I could muster.
I’d been careful to vet the new outfit I was wearing with my husband
that very morning. Of course, I knew better than to dare tempt fate by posing the age-old
question, “Does this make me look fat?” At this point in my 30-plus-year marriage, I’ve
narrowed the wardrobe inquiry down to two basic but very crucial
questions: “Does this look OK?”and “Too
I’d been a
bit crestfallen (but not chest-fallen) when he’d responded by damning me with fairly faint praise, pronouncing my new Ivanka Trump navy jumpsuit
Then again, this gala, however glam it might be, was being held inside our synagogue. I wasn’t actually aiming for “Va-va-voom!” Although slightly form-fitting at the bust, the outfit I’d chosen was understated,
comfortable, and conveniently equipped with deep pockets in which to carry my iPhone and lipstick.
It was fine with me if I only looked “fine.”
But now I could only wonder if my husband had been wrong on the second count. Had this woman taken
one gander at me and been so stunned that she actually wanted to know my bra size?
Apparently, for when I failed to respond, she proceeded to repeat her query again.
“Seriously, how big is your chest?”
If only she knew what it felt like to be a little too well-endowed for your own good. I like to joke sometimes that my chest is apt to arrive places five minutes before the rest of me.
But the truth is I’m well aware of my physique. Painfully aware. It makes me feel self-conscious.
Yet when I did little more than smile back in awkward silence now, the woman rephrased it once more.
your chest swelling with pride?” she asked. “Is it just getting bigger and bigger?”
“Oh!” I responded with a sigh, understanding
at last. “G-d forbid!”
Of course I am proud whenever my daughter performs. I’m
proud of both my kids. And yes, I was particularly proud that she had been chosen for an honor like this one.
But the truth is that when Allegra has an important gig – and this, to me, was very important – the main thing that swells inside
me is my underlying sense of anxiety.
I’m not sure if it was my own chaotic upbringing
that inculcated this ever-present sense of foreboding,
or a cultural background that leaves me anxiously awaiting for the next pogrom. But I’m one of those people who not only
subscribes to Murphy’s Law – “anything that can go wrong will go
wrong” – but also believes
that this is doubly true if you’re a Jew.
I’m not sure
exactly what I feared was going to go
wrong in this case, but that’s the magic of Murphy’s Law (or lack thereof). You can never tell what will fall through. You only know that, as Roseanne Roseannadanna would
say, “It’s always something.”
Over the many months since the synagogue had booked Allegra for this big event, I’d
worried that something unforeseen would happen to prevent her from honoring her
commitment. Yes, I know what you’re
thinking, but, believe me, this was not just an imaginary fear.
At the time that they had hired her, she had been performing in Hong Kong for a year at the Four Seasons hotel,
and she was still living there. When
she mentioned that she was being considered for a months-long engagement at an equally posh hotel in Bangkok, instead of being thrilled
for her, all I could think was, “What about the temple?”
Every time she’d had a mysterious ache or pain over
the weeks preceding the gala, I’d worried that it might turn out to be something serious enough to prevent her from
doing the show.
had decided to drive home from NYC the day of the concert instead of the night before, I had
worried that something might happen on the road (traffic or worse) to prevent her
from arriving on time.
Then I had mildly
panicked when she phoned that morning to report that her piano player for the show, Carmen, who had flown all the way from the Thelonious
Monk Institute just for the occasion, had accidentally locked herself out of her apartment with her phone, purse, and everything
else that she needed to take with her still inside.
What if Allegra had no piano accompaniment? Could Mr. Murphy (or Mr. Monk) have anticipated that?
And when Allegra managed to arrive from NYC with Carmen and her belongings safely but showed up an hour late, I had continued to stress while she slowly got dressed, trying on a long black dress, then a short black dress,
then the long one all over again.
know. I know. There’s all sorts of medication available to help with all
of this worrying. But I don’t think you can blame me. I felt pretty deeply invested in this particular gig.
Over the past few
months, because Allegra had been living in Hong Kong, then NYC, I had acted as her hometown proxy, attending a meeting and fielding a steady stream
Being not just her mom and so-called “mom-ager,” but also a longtime
journalist, I’d written the press release for the show and then sent it out to assorted
newspapers and other media outlets.
Allegra had designed the poster advertising the event, I had gotten the copies made for her at Staples and then driven all
around town putting them up myself.
Then, when the
temple had requested biographical information for the program, I had volunteered
to compose a short bio not just for Allegra but for each of the other three members
of her band, stating their various rather stellar credentials.
And beyond that, let's face it. This wasn’t just any gig.
This was my own daughter.
Singing at my own shul.
If something went wrong, how would I ever show my face
there again on Shabbat or Purim, let alone Yom Kippur?
But somehow, everything now seemed to
be going pretty much according to plan.
a chance that this much-anticipated event would go off without a hitch?
The temple certainly had gone all out with the arrangements.
The caterers were busy setting up the food and bar in the spacious lobby, which was decorated festively with colorful tablecloths
and big bouquets of balloons. And although I had arrived early with the band, guests soon began filing in to attend a havdalah religious service before the party.
The party would consist of a 90-minute cocktail “hour,” during which wine and substantial hors d’oeuvres would be served at both stations and on butlered trays.
Although I was attending
as a guest, I felt obliged as Allegra’s
“mom-ager” to make sure that everyone in the band was well cared for and happy. So I spent most of the party time
traveling between the social hall in which the musicians were sequestered and the lobby filled with guests, fetching the group
anything they desired – a bottle of water, a glass of wine, or a little more on which to nosh.
The most challenging part of this was that, as the mother of the entertainer, every time I ventured out into
the crowd I was stopped by several people wishing to congratulate me. One actually requested my autograph on a cocktail napkin
(although no one else ever inquired about the proportions of my chest).
finally, at long last, the party was over and it was time for the concert to begin.
We found ourselves seats at a nice table alongside our good friends Pat and Michael, our neighbors Beth and Joe, and
Allegra’s boyfriend JP. Let the show begin!
Among the many other things I had worried about during the past few months was that this was not the typical
audience Allegra attracts whenever she performs. Few of the congregants were probably major
fans of jazz. They were most likely there in
order to support the temple and the good cause that would serve as the evening's beneficiary, the Rabbi’s Fund for Lifelong Learning.
Yet, as Allegra noted in her opening
remarks, everyone was welcome and was going to
have a good time, whether they had come “to see jazz, or Jews, or jazzy Jews.”
Then I held my breath as she launched into her first song.
Although I generally
try to mind my own beeswax when it comes to her career (an assertion she would no doubt dispute), I had dared to weigh in
on her set list in this case. On my advice, rather than beginning with a lively but somewhat obscure jazz number, she started off with a rip-roaring
mash-up of two George Gershwin favorites, “’S
Wonderful, ’s Marvelous” and “You
Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
at my request, she included “Moon River,”
that universal crowd-pleaser from the movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's"
that she used to end almost every show with, but
hadn’t performed in front of me in years.
Then there was her own catchy, calypso-inspired version of a popular Beatles number, “I Will,” which also never fails to please.
But a good portion
of the songs she performed were her own material, either from her album “Lonely City,” which consists of 11 original songs for
which she wrote both the words and music, or other tunes she had composed since
it was released last year.
No matter. The guests may have been so unfamiliar with
jazz that even most jazz standards would not have struck a chord with them. And yet Allegra’s own songs did. As Gail,
the temple’s current affable and extremely gracious president, noted to me, my daughter’s own compositions sounded
like standards themselves and seemed very accessible.
During intermission, while dessert and coffee were served, I raced back out into the lobby, where I had set up a small display of Allegra’s CD’s. Although I was indeed
there as a guest, I thought that the show might
be a good opportunity for her to sell her albums, and we had no one else there to sell them.
Soon enough, the second half of the show began, and still everything seemed fine. No, my
outfit was merely “fine.” Her performance was phenomenal. If I do say so myself.
I have seen her perform in Hong
Kong, in Scotland, at countless New York City venues, and in a glitzy casino on the island of Macau. Yet never had I seen
her quite so polished and relaxed as she bantered between
songs, telling anecdotes and joking about
how being there reminded her of her bat mitzvah. Certainly, many of
the same people were there.
As a special touch, given that this was at our temple,
she had chosen to “jazzify”
a popular Jewish song by Debbie Friedman that had
been sung to her at her bat mitzvah, “L’chi Lach”:
L'chi lach, to a land that I will show you
Leich l'cha, to a place you do not know
L'chi lach, on your journey I will bless you
And you shall be a blessing
You shall be a blessing,
You shall be a blessing,
As she sang it, I looked around the room and everyone seemed virtually mesmerized.
Then again, they seemed equally entranced when she sang my favorite number
from her album, “The Duet,” which goes in part like
It started small – just you and me, that’s all
It wasn’t much – a kiss, a touch
You never know what to expect.
Will it all work out?
Will there be pieces to
Will we give into our doubt…?”
Despite all of my foolish trepidation, I had managed not to give into my own doubts. And when after the last note, the audience leapt to their feet in a resounding standing
ovation, and Allegra was presented with a mammoth bouquet of gorgeous pink roses, I knew that it was time to let go of my misgivings at
Or was it?
Once again, this was no time to rest on my laurels – or latkes. Time to sell CD’s!
I went back into the hall, where I was inundated not just with congrats, but credit cards. Fortunately, I had my trusty Square device plugged into my iPhone and was able to process them with ease, although to my relief many people offered cash instead.
One enthusiastic congregant had come equipped with neither,
however. She said that she was eager to buy the CD, but had left both her wallet and checkbook at home. Was I willing to trust
her? She really wanted it. She would
mail me a check the next day.
circumstances, no one would sell something to someone they didn’t know with the promise of being paid at some later
date. This, however, was our temple. And this woman seemed so nice and so hopeful.
How could I possibly have refused?
After I had sold for awhile, I went back inside to check
on the band and pose at last for a photo with my daughter. For me, that was among
the true highlights of the night.
it was also one of my biggest mistakes. Because when we counted the money later, back at home, we discovered that although we’d sold 19 CD’s at $20 apiece, we only had been paid for 17 of them. Even factoring in the nice woman I had agreed to trust, we were still $20
Had I screwed up processing a sale on my Square device?
Had I managed to misplace a $20 bill in the excitement of the moment?
Or had someone at our temple actually deigned to pinch a CD from us?
Yet it was only $20. If this was the worst thing
that would befall us there, I’d live.
As often happens after a show, Allegra invited the band and
other friends to come back to our house afterwards. And as ALWAYS happens after a show, all of them were absolutely famished.
So after I’d put out the various hors d’oeuvres I had prepared in advance and the plates
of cookies I had baked, I cooked up a huge vat of fresh angel hair pasta covered
with marinara sauce, fresh mozzarella, sautéed portabella mushrooms, and freshly
grated parmesan. And then I served it to the kids, who sat around in our living room eating, drinking wine, and schmoozing until past midnight.
Carmen and her boyfriend stayed over, as did Allegra and JP, and the
next morning I made everyone a lavish brunch before we began receiving calls and emails congratulating us on the show. It was time to let go of my foreboding
now, wasn’t it?
But then the other
Late that night, after we had returned from dinner
and a movie, Allegra received an email from a woman at the temple. She wanted
to send Allegra a check, but had forgotten how much they had agreed to pay her. According to her recollection, though,
they owed her only half or three-quarters of the amount that they had in fact agreed upon.
Allegra insisted it was no big deal and that she would
write back in the morning to remind them. But I went
into full-blown panic mode.
I was the one who had negotiated the rate at a meeting. Yet I had never put the amount in writing, and neither,
it turned out, had she. The only evidence I had were my notes from the meeting and a text message I’d sent to Allegra specifying the price, to which she had texted back her agreement.
Maybe I was just a mom. Not a mom-ager. A mom-ager would have put it
Allegra had already
paid everyone else in the band, who had all since dispersed. Would
it end up after all her effort that she would actually lose money on the gig?
Going into my customary nice Jewish mom guilt mode, I felt
that it was all my fault. So I could hardly sleep that night.
The next morning, though, Allegra did write to the woman, who replied right
away to reassure her that there was
no problem and they would mail her a check
for the full amount that very afternoon.
And that was that. Phew!
Now I could finally relax. And maybe rest on my laurels (and latkes) just a little bit.
To top things off, that nice woman from the temple also mailed a check for the CD.
And over the past week, I have been inundated with rave reviews from everyone I know who was
“What a bodacious performance!”
wrote our friend Lorry, going on to compliment Allegra’s silky voice, stage presence, and "patter" between
songs. “We knew her when!”
“Allegra is so talented and ‘composed!’”
So, exactly how big is my chest?
You don’t want to know.