|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” gushed fashion
model Kelly LeBrock and other young lovelies in a late ’80s ad campaign for Pantene shampoo. Well, I may not be
beautiful, but please don’t hate me for having spent a recent week somewhere that is.
And never mind beautiful. Even
better – balmy. I'm talking about Miami’s sundrenched South Beach.
I’d made it a point to visit Florida each winter ever since my maternal grandparents moved down there when I was
12. Then for the past four years I didn’t go. Life got busy. Old friends down there moved away. And the snowfall wasn’t
all that bad.
But if there were ever a winter to revisit my past – along with mild and madcap Miami Beach –
surely, this was the one. After too many days of temperatures in the single digits – nah, make that too many weeks
– I woke up one morning and told my husband I’d had it. Then I booked flights and a hotel on Expedia. South Beach,
here we came!
Not without a hitch, however. Never mind being subjected at the airport to my first full-body TSA pat-down ever. Far
worse an indignity was having Security confiscate the key lime Chobani yogurt I’d planned to eat on the plane for lunch
to help get myself psyched for a trip to the tropics. After taking great pains to make sure I wasn’t carrying more than the
3 allotted ounces of shampoo, sunscreen, or any other liquid, I’d foolishly failed to consider the prospects for using
fermented milk to blow up a plane.
Virtually all such past trips had been family affairs ever since our kids were born. Yet both are now grown and were
too busy with work to travel. Besides, that week happened to coincide with Valentine’s Day, which was also the anniversary
of the fateful blind date on which my husband and I had first met. So, like it or not, we were going to be on our own.
Well, not entirely on our own. Some friends have moved away, but others remain. Our old friend Rick, who'd served as
best man at our wedding, still lives there with his wife and daughter.
And although my grandparents are now regrettably
long gone, there was someone else from way back when whom I felt deserved a visit.
My late mother’s best friend from childhood, Nada, had written to me recently to report that her
second husband had passed away last summer. As dispiriting as this was to hear, there was one bit of good news. This had motivated
her to relocate after decades in faraway Sarasota to Boynton Beach, within a manageable drive of Miami.
When I’d phoned her to express
my condolences, we’d ended up babbling animatedly for well over an hour. It was the first time I’d spoke to her
at great length since I was a child…or possibly ever. It was also the closest thing on earth I can hope for at
this point to talking to my mother, whom I miss daily more than words can express.
I had promised Nada in closing that if I were ever in Florida, I’d come to see her. This trip would be my chance.
When booking the vacation, I’d discovered that hotel rates had risen astronomically since our last visit. Most decent
places were now priced at upwards of $500 a night. Yeah, right. Reluctant to spend even half that much, I took a room at a
newly renovated hotel still under construction. They assured us that no drilling would be done till after 11 a.m.
It sounded like a deal.
Even so, we still had some trepidation and asked our friend Rick to check it out for us. He didn’t have time to
go in, but drove past and reported back that it looked like a construction zone.
So it was a relief to arrive at
the SBH South Beach Hotel and view it for ourselves. Indeed, the entryway in front was a work in progress. Maybe even a mess.
Who cared? The rooms had just been refurbished in December and were modern, fresh, and bright.
For a nominal added “resort fee” of $20 a day, we were entitled to breakfast for two –
including a choice of pancakes, a yogurt parfait, or scrambled eggs and home fries – at the stylish Charles Street Café
right around the corner.
That fee also gave us access
to the rooftop pool at the Boulan, an adjoining luxury hotel. This proved to be a tranquil, elevated oasis overlooking
the pristine towers of SoBe, presided over by a hip, graffiti-embellished mural of an Asian courtesan. The water was warm,
the scene cool, the rooftop view of the Miami skyline spectacular.
After battling the bitter cold and other elements for the better part of three months, it felt like we hadn’t
died, but simply boarded a plane and gone to heaven.
Each morning after breakfast, we drove to nearby Flamingo Park
and played tennis. Although I’ve never been inclined to play competitively, we made it our special mission
to keep the ball aloft for as many consecutive shots as possible. And by week’s end, we’d managed to reach a new
world record (well, for us, anyway), 181.
From there, we’d hasten daily to our unequivocal favorite place on earth for lunch, a funky little outdoor stand
on 14th Street off Collins Avenue called La Sandwicherie.
Its menu consists almost entirely of sandwiches, salads, and fresh-fruit smoothies, but all are made with only the freshest
of ingredients, from light-as-air French baguettes to ethereal discs of mozzarella cheese and tiny, tangy pickles called cornichons.
As with most great food, however, especially that of the French persuasion, the secret is in the sauce – in this
case, their very own brand of Dijon mustard vinaigrette.
We’d spend the rest of the day strolling the silky sands
of a magnificent beach only a block from our hotel, or lying poolside, reading, swimming, and soaking up the sun.
OK, do you hate me now?
At night, we dined at various old haunts, including an Italian eatery in trendy Lincoln Road Mall called La Lupa di
Roma, where we long ago befriended the owner, Flavio.
Then there was the incredible meal we had at my husband’s
favorite Cuban place, Puerta Sagua, a bustling family restaurant where we feasted on specialties like arroz con pollo
with black beans and sweet fried plantains.
It doesn’t get any better
The temperate atmosphere put me in such good spirits that we began
getting along better than we have in many a year. In fact, we had only one notable spat, and a rather trivial one at that.
Perhaps my husband meant it as a compliment when he admired an old bikini he had convinced me to bring along against
my better judgment. If only he’d had the sense to simply leer at me in it and then quit while he was ahead.
He has a peculiar way of voicing
admiration that might best be termed as giving an “underhanded compliment.”
He went on to express how much he liked it… unlike the one-piece suit I’d been wearing the day before,
which he didn’t care for on me at all… a thought punctuated by a very different look, more appropriate for reacting
to a sack of raw sewage.
Following this unfortunate exchange, I treated him to raw silence for several hours.
But then sunshine got the better of me and I decided it wasn’t worth fighting about. So I broke down and said
something I hoped would settle the subject once and for all.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” I began, “but try to understand. When I put on a swimsuit at this stage
in my life, I don’t expect to look sexy. I have no interest anymore in even trying to look sexy. The only way
I aim to look can be summed up in three little words:
“Not that fat.”
Did he understand? Not that likely.
Maybe not at all. But he laughed and we never spoke about it again.
And so on Valentine’s Day, I woke up to find him standing in our room with a peace offering, a heart-shaped
helium balloon he'd slipped out bright and early to buy.
Then later that night, we dined al fresco at The Flame Café
on a scenic pedestrian thoroughfare called Espanola Way, where we were treated to complimentary cocktails made from Prosecco,
vodka, and strawberry puree and garnished with lychee nuts.
Then we went to see crusty comedian Lewis Black spew diatribes in a show entitled “The Rant is Due” at the
Jackie Gleason Theater. Sure, as Black himself openly acknowledged, his curmudgeonly brand of humor was a peculiar choice
for Valentine’s Day. Then again, having seen him before, we knew this was something we would both enjoy and that would
make us laugh our butts off.
And what’s more romantic than that?
OK, maybe it wasn’t all that romantic to hear him vent about his colonoscopy prep. But he did have a particularly
hilarious political segment in which he cited statistics indicating that people find Congress less appealing than either lice
or the Ebola virus, although most prefer it slightly to both gonorrhea and the Kardashians.
But in many respects the show was
also resoundingly Jewish. Typical was when he tackled the issue of gun control, attributing the fiery controversy in which
this country is embroiled to the fact that some of us grew up in a gun culture, while others did not.
He, for one, had not. “My
parents are Jews,” he explained. “They do not hunt…
That’s how we spent our first few days, anyway. Then we finally went to see Nada.
She and my mother, Bunnie, had met at age 10 and remained lifelong friends. So it was no surprise that when my
mom had chosen to take a weekly writing course in the last years of her life, Nada managed to figure prominently in a
substantial portion of her work.
So, as a small surprise, I’d gone through the stacks of notebooks
that my mother had left behind and photocopied a few stories that I thought would be of particular interest to her.
One talked about the time when they were first friends that Nada’s father, a dentist, had chosen to surprise my
mother on her 10th birthday by cleaning her teeth for free.
This story also vividly depicted the backdrop for their friendship,
highlighting the stark contrasts between their two families.
“Dr. Ragovin was a Sephardic Jew,” it began. “His
daughter, my dearest friend Nada, was not affiliated with any temple.” My mother’s own family, by contrast, had
“observed Talmudic rules and Jewish holidays” as active members of Shomrei Emunah, the Orthodox synagogue two
blocks away from their home in Boro Park, Brooklyn.
But the differences did not stop there. “Dr. Ragovin had opened his dental office in the 1930’s, and although
his family was subject to the worries of the Depression, his professional skill safeguarded them and permitted luxuries my
family did not enjoy.”
My mother’s father, meanwhile, struggled to eke out a living selling insurance,
with such little success that my grandmother had been obliged to work too, first selling ladies hats and later serving as the
office manager for the Liberty Syrup Company.
As Nada’s best friend, however, my mother got to tag along with her to the theater and restaurants and to enjoy
“other extravagances my family could not provide,” like “the fresh Ebinger’s pastries and home-baked
cookies always available” at her house.
"What was Ebinger’s?” asked my husband,
when I read this story to him aloud. “Was it like Entenmann’s?”
“Much better than Entenmann’s!”
I replied, recalling their famous blackout cake.
I thought Nada also might get a kick out of my mother’s
romantic tale describing how when she was 17, she’d decided it was finally time to meet her special someone.
As with most stories she wrote,
this was written in the third person, and she called herself by her middle name, Ann. (My father, Stu, had no middle name.
She referred to him as Joe.)
“Ann’s grades were the best, but nobody was breaking down her door to take her to the senior prom,”
she wrote. So she convinced her friend Nada to accompany her to the dance run by their school’s honor-student society,
Arista, where Ann encountered Joe by the punch bowl and heard him begin to croon along to a Frank Sinatra record.
“She watched the dance floor for what seemed like an eternity, nursing her punch cup and feeling a frozen smile
overtake her. Then suddenly, Joe walked over to Ann. Was he really coming to her?”
Unfortunately, we all know now
how that ill-fated liaison eventually ended, in a prolonged and contentious divorce, although their marriage did last for
nearly 30 years. And so eventually followed the tale that my mother wrote about what happened a few decades later when, after
my parents split, she set out to re-enter the dating game.
Coincidentally, perhaps, Nada’s own marriage also had recently unraveled, so she led the way, guiding my mother
into singles groups such as Parents Without Partners and Single Professionals, through which Nada had met her own second husband
Yet I decided against including yet another story set many years later, when my mother’s
second husband Sid had already died and Nada called to announce that she and Jim were coming to visit. As welcome as
this news was, it threw my mother into a frenzy of cleaning.
She went on to describe what polar opposites she and Nada had
always been. My mother was a disorganized packrat and invariably late for almost everything. I don’t just mean she ran
on Jewish time. She was known to often arrive for a visit hours after the appointed time. Nada, by contrast, was a confirmed
neatnik and obsessed with punctuality.
Knowing that, we made sure to leave in plenty of time to get to her
place by 1, the time at which I had promised to take her out to lunch.
The trip would take an estimated hour and a quarter, according to Mapquest. So it was beyond unnerving to drive for
nearly an hour, then realize that we’d made an unfathomable error. Nada lived north of South Beach, but we had
been driving south. Instead of nearing her apartment at 12:30, we were now an hour and a half away!
Thank G-d for cell phones. We called
her quickly to confess the problem, and I could hear in her voice not anger or frustration, but fear that we might cancel
Not a chance.
Instead, we rerouted and continued at breakneck speed. The drive took
nearly two and a half hours, but we arrived shortly before 2, and exiting the car I heard an unmistakable voice calling
my name excitedly from a balcony overlooking the parking lot.
Then I saw a familiar face, one I hadn’t laid eyes on since my wedding, 30 years ago. Though 86, she was clearly
the woman I remembered, the one my mother had loved. Within seconds we had nearly melted together in a warm and much-overdue
Now, this was truly what it was like to die and go to heaven.
Oh, and by the way, needless to say, her apartment was immaculate.
Over lunch in her retirement home’s clubhouse,
we talked about her own two sons, who are both around my age and were once like cousins to me. She also told me stories about
my grandparents and how my mother had once sworn her to secrecy, mortified that her own mother had taken a job because
no one else she knew had a mother who worked. But mostly we reminisced about years gone by, and I got to pose questions
that had long been on my mind, like how two people as different as my folks had ever gotten together.
“Your mother set her cap for
him from the moment they first met,” she replied. “My own mother used to joke about it." Never mind that
my father -- no ordinary "Joe" -- had been incomparably shrewd when it came to business. "My
mother would say that he didn’t stand a chance.”
As for my mom’s second husband, it came
as a relief to compare notes.
I admitted that as happy as I’d been that she had found someone new later in life, I’d had my reservations
about him. But I wasn't the only one. Every time we arrived at their house for a visit, she would commence screaming at him
I can still hear her often shrill and rather nasal voice ringing in my ears. “Sid!" she'd holler.
After suffering through my father’s relentless criticism for years,
she had seemed to have no patience for her second spouse, browbeating him harshly almost without end. Yet once he had died,
she inexplicably turned him into a saint. So bereft did she become that she took to driving around with his framed photograph
perched on the passenger seat of her car, lamenting that she’d never meet as good a man ever again.
this, Nada could contain herself no longer. “I wish we’d had this conversation years ago,” she said, “because
I used to tell Jim I thought I must be losing my mind!”
My mother had also called her constantly to complain about Sid, often on the verge of divorcing him. But following
his death, Nada too had listened incredulously as my mother sang his praises to the hilt, as though he were the Moshiach
And I realized that as much as we really hadn’t talked for many a year – if ever – Nada
and I had been inextricably linked all my life through the indefatigable bond that was my mother.
It wasn’t merely in the stories
she'd written. It was all the things she had told us both over time, and the stories that she'd told us about each
I could only imagine what it would be like to get a visit, many years hence, from the daughter of one of
my own closest friends. Although I don’t get to spend much time with these girls, I hear about everything significant
that happens to them. They're all like daughters to me.
After arriving an hour late, we ended up staying much longer than
planned, as well. But of course I couldn’t leave before giving Nada those stories and reading one or two aloud.
When I got to the part about Ebinger’s pastries, my husband, still mystified, asked again what they had been.
“Were they like Entenmann’s?” he asked.
“Much better than Entenmann’s!”
Nada and I replied instantly in unison.
She then grinned broadly to hear about the boundless generosity her family had
But when I finished the tale about the teeth cleaning, her eyes flooded with tears.
My mother had concluded by observing,
“I never enjoyed a dentist’s office as much before or after that time.”
“I never knew my father did
that – cleaned her teeth for her birthday,” Nada said. “But I’m not surprised. He was a wonderful
man, and she was my very best friend.”
The only heartbreaking part about the visit was that after we’d
left, I wanted to call my mother at once and tell her every detail. How happy it would have made her to hear!
A week after we returned, we got a card in the mail from my mother’s best friend. “Just a note to let you
know how much I appreciate your taking the time to come up and visit,” she wrote. “It was really so nice to reconnect
again… Keep in touch.”
I fear it may not be easy to stay connected because Nada, despite
having her wits totally intact – and then some – is a product of her own generation. That is, she’s a bit
of a Luddite. She adamantly refuses to learn how to email, and although she has a cell phone, she doesn’t know how to
text and doesn’t want to know.
So when I got some good news last weekend, I struggled to think of who I could contact to kvell to about it.
Just imagine – my son Aidan called to report he’d been accepted into a Ph.D. program at Columbia University, his
very first choice of schools. He’d even been awarded a special fellowship, giving him not just free tuition, but a handsome
Who else would be excited to hear about it, now that both of my parents were long gone? Sometimes when you’re
a nice Jewish mom, you still need a nice Jewish mom.
Then I thought of Nada.
I can’t wait to tell her
and also to see her again. For no matter how cold next winter may be, we’ve already made reservations to retrace the
steps that warmed us up again. And that includes seeing my mother’s dear friend, who is now wonderfully mine as well.
Friday, February 21, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
Yes, I'm back. And I had fun. My blog, however, is not quite done.
It's hard coming back from vacation... in more ways than one.
though I've barely unpacked, I'm off for the weekend again and more misadventures. (After a whole week away, being a nice
Jewish mom, I need to go check in on the kids. In person. A nice Jewish mother's work is truly never done.)
Sorry! See you soon. Monday maybe. Tuesday for sure.
To put it
off any longer would not be... nice.
Friday, February 7, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
As I’ve noted in this space more than once, “nice Jewish mother”
is the expression. Who’s ever heard of a nice Jewish wife? After all, husbands, if you ask me – particularly
mine – totally have it made already. Never mind their not having to shave their legs and armpits… or pop whole
live babies out of their nether regions. Just think: I put a tasty, home-cooked meal on the table most nights of the week.
The laundry miraculously turns up clean. Whenever it’s someone’s birthday (even one of his relatives), I buy and
wrap the presents, and all he has to do is sign a card that I bought too at the very last minute.
Plus, I gave birth to and helped
raise our two terrific kids, and I never, ever smell.
Am I really expected
to be nice, too?
But I’ve been making more than my usual effort to be civil (bordering on pleasant) lately, in view of the approach
of Valentine’s Day, which is not just Hallmark and FTD’s designated day for getting it on, but the anniversary
of the day my hubbie and I first met.
That happened way back in 1982, and after 32 years of daily exposure
to each other’s foibles, quirks, and habits, we are no longer exactly a mutual admiration society, like Kim and Kanye.
(Or Kanye and Kanye.)
But we are still together.
And so, along with performing all of the aforementioned domestic duties, I’ve been trying to be less combative
than usual lately… meaning that I don’t mention that I want a divorce – or wish I were still in college,
so I could request a new roommate – more than once or twice a week… or at the very least, when I do, I try to
mumble these things under my breath.
Plus, last week I really put myself out (which has nothing to
do with “putting out”) for my husband’s sake on two notable occasions. The result? Well, according to a
recent headline in The New York Times, “In Long-Term Marriages, Good Enough Is Great.” If so, then I
would venture to say that one of these instances was great.The other? Not so much.
At first glance, the first of these efforts might not seem to have much, if anything, to do with my husband,
and merely relate to my customary persona as Nice Jewish Mom. For all that I did was throw a birthday party for
our puppy, Latke, who was about to turn 2.
OK, to be honest, I guess I was into it, too. After all, never
in my life have I been more in my element than when I got to throw elaborate birthday parties for my children (unless, of
course, you count the arrangements I made for my daughter’s bat mitzvah, for which I personally made the invitations,
centerpieces, place cards, and party favors, all reflecting the theme she’d requested for her reception, “Bat
Mitzvah on Broadway”).
I love little more than assembling treat bags or arranging fancy trays of desserts. So you might surmise
that putting on a party for our pooch was for my own gratification, a quest to recapture a touch of my former glory (if you
can call loading candy and tchochtkes into cellophane bags glory).
You also might imagine that this was done mostly for the guest of honor’s benefit. How much more
fun could there be than to be lavished with attention, gifts, and bones? But I will be the first to admit that Latke has yet
to grasp the idea that chasing birds and squirrels is a total waste of time because they’ll just fly away or scamper
up the nearest tree. She doesn’t have a clue what planet we’re on, let alone that she was born not to a nice Jewish
mom but an actual doggie one on February 4th, two years ago. And if we hadn’t done much to celebrate that event, she
wouldn’t have needed therapy… or cared less.
Yet my husband, to the contrary, is consumed with little Latke, almost to the point of obsession. He reminds me of one
of those older men who remarry later in life and dote on their new young children far beyond anything they ever did the first
In all fairness, he’s been a devoted dad to our human offspring, always there for them when they were growing
up. And he’s always there for them now. However, he wasn’t always there for them (or, to be
more accurate, for me) back when a diaper needed changing or it was time for a bath.
With Latke, he is. He’s the one who walks and feeds her first thing every morning and who takes her without complaint
for that last late walk in the dark and cold every single night. Talk about a mutual admiration society! This love affair
began the moment we went to the breeder to check out her new litter, and one little critter raced straight to him…
not to me.
Latke loves Mommy too, of course. But there’s no question she’s Daddy’s little girl.
So Daddy began hocking me a month or so ago that we had to hold her “bark mitzvah” soon because in
dog years she was already 13. So I proposed we have a little party for her last Saturday.
My husband didn’t waste one moment before springing into action by inviting Latke’s best friend, Bryn. Then
he began dialing the home of her boyfriend, Coco.
“No!” I screamed.
It wasn’t just that two puppies
cavorting in our back yard would be more than enough. There was another issue.
The week before, Latke and Coco
had played together for the first time in months, and there’d been a little problem. Coco, a miniature poodle, evidently
had matured since the last time they’d met. They used to run, jump, and nip at one another with abandon. Now Coco had
a new agenda. He spent over an hour trying tirelessly to mount Latke. But she’d been spayed at 6 months.
“Latke’s not interested in that,” I kept telling him, to no visible avail.
I can’t claim to have seen
a whole lot of porn, but I can tell you that this was without question the lewdest display I’ve ever seen on the part
of either man or beast. When I brought Coco home, I told his owner that a new issue had cropped up, so to speak, and she confessed
that Coco hadn’t been “fixed” yet, but would be soon.
Not soon enough for the party, though. The dog we’d already invited, Bryn, has two human sisters, ages 4 and 6,
and they were invited too. If I was unnerved by Coco’s X-rated antics, I could only imagine how they’d react…
or how we’d explain the proceedings.
As it turned out, snow was predicted for the day in question,
so Bryn’s mother Julie and I agreed that we should probably postpone the party until the next day instead. Then I woke
up late Saturday to a sunny day and found myself scrambling to get ready.
I was so pressed for time, in fact, that I had to send my husband to the store for a birthday cake. Not for the dogs,
of course. I already had bought them Frosty Paws, a frozen treat for dogs. But I couldn’t imagine holding a birthday
party without a cake, particularly when little girls were involved.
Meanwhile, I managed to put together treat bags
for both the dogs and little girls. By the time my husband had returned from the supermarket, I also had managed to bake cookies,
whip up some guacamole, and assemble platters of cheese and crackers, sliced fruit, crudités and dip, and some frozen
hors d’oeuvres I found in the freezer.
All my husband had been entrusted to do was buy a small birthday cake suitable for little girls. I’d envisioned
something with white icing and lots of pink flowers. So, what did he choose? Chocolate macaroon, a dark brown confection trimmed
At least he’d gotten the bakery to scrawl “Latke” on top in ruby red.
But I reminded myself that most
men probably wouldn’t go to the supermarket to buy a birthday cake for a dog. And that, once again, I was throwing this
shindig mostly for his benefit, not mine, or Latke’s, or even when it came down to it those two little girls.
So I grinned and said, “Great!”
And anything else I said was muttered under my breath.
Moments later, the guests arrived, and there was no time for muttering or anything else. The little girls, Rosalie and
Caroline, requested hot cocoa, which I went inside to prepare. Then they sprang into action, availing themselves of our swings
Meanwhile, the dogs went berserk,
running, jumping, and waging vigorous snout to snout combat, coming up for air only long enough to knock things off the table
or plant their muddy paws all over me, turning my coat into a collage of paw prints.
Julie and I did our level best to supervise this bedlam while her husband, Tony, and mine stood around chatting, drinking,
and noshing as though they hadn’t a care in the world and total chaos weren’t raging all around them. Men, as
I said, have it made.
But with a little bit of cajoling, I persuaded my husband to snap a few pictures before the little girls blew out the
candles (another skill poor Latke has yet to master). And even though Rosalie (or was it Caroline?) was a little put off by
the mysterious flaky white stuff all over the cake, they both deigned to down a slice of it anyway.
And the puppies needed no prodding whatsoever to devour the contents of their Dixie cups filled with unidentifiable
frozen product before springing back into action.
Then Caroline (or was it Rosalie?) helped Latke unwrap the lovely gift they’d brought her, a green rubber chicken
with an iridescent orange beak.
Best of all, to me, were the squeals of delight from both Rosalie and Caroline when it was time to leave and I whipped
out the treat bags for both girls and beasts.
OK, so it was no bark mitzvah
on Broadway. Yet I'd dare say that a good time was had by all, especially my husband… and I'm happy to report that no one tried to mount anyone else.
It was more successful in every respect than my attempt to please my husband, Round 2.
This began when he mentioned one day that an old friend from college was passing through our town and would stop by
to say hello.
Having been to a reunion myself last year, I knew what it felt like to encounter someone you haven’t
seen in ages. That is, even if you have a spouse who mutters about you regularly – and not always
under her breath – you’d like your old friend to take one look at you and think two things: “Boy, he hasn’t
changed a bit!” and “Looks like he has a great life, or at the very least a great wife.”
So I cleaned the living room, put
on some presentable clothes, and even baked cookies.
The friend, whose name was Bert, arrived before my husband got home from work. So I welcomed him warmly and ushered
him into the living room, where I proffered a plate of those cookies, still warm from the oven, and offered him something
My husband came home at that moment, and it was fairly evident that they hadn’t seen each other in
a very long time. Or so I surmised from their conversation, which quickly got down to the question, “So, what have you
been doing for the past 48 years?”
But before my husband could begin his story – and a very long one I knew it would be – I interrupted to
repeat my question, asking our guest what I could get him to drink.
I went on to enumerate all the options, including
espresso or cappuccino (both regular and decaf), San Pellegrino sparkling water, wine, or about 50 different kinds of
tea. (I’m what you might call a tea-aholic, in that I have a wall of tea instead of a wine cellar.)
But no. Bert looked a bit sheepish as he confessed to me what he really desired. He said that he drinks hot
coffee every morning, but prefers to drink it iced in the afternoon, even on a winter day like this one, when it was about
20 degrees outside.
“Would that be too much trouble?” he asked.
“Of course not!” I
replied in my guise as the good wife, even as I thought to myself, “How the heck am I going to do that?”
The fact is that you can always
add ice to piping hot coffee, but it will come out either kind of weak or kind of lukewarm – the colder the coffee,
the less bold the brew.
I considered pouring two shots of espresso over ice, but figured that would barely fill a tall glass. Then I noticed
a bag of coffee beans on top of our regular coffee maker and decided to go back to plan A. My friend Liz had given us this
sack of something called Vienna Blend for Chanukah, along with other delicacies from her newly adopted home in Brooklyn. And
although I may not know beans about coffee, I figured that anything that came from either Brooklyn or my good friend Liz had
to be pretty good.
The truth was that I hadn’t opened this bag yet, even though Chanukah fell back in November, because ever since
I gave my husband a Nespresso machine for the previous Chanukah (being a good wife), we’ve fallen into the habit of
drinking espresso instead.
But Liz was visiting over the weekend, and I didn’t want her to see the bag
still unopened. So I decided to brew a pot and make it strong so it would hold up over ice.
I hadn’t used the coffeemaker
in over a year, ever since we’d gotten the Nespresso machine. So I carefully cleaned out the top compartment into which
you pour the beans. Then I added some water and hit “on,” releasing a dull roar as the beans were ground.
While it brewed, I set about filling a Sterling silver creamer with fat-free half-and-half and loading up a crystal
bowl with packets of sweeteners, both real and artificial. Then I placed it all on a nice tray, feeling like not just a good
wife, but a Stepford one.
When the machine stopped, I filled a glass with ice and poured in coffee almost to the brim. Then I dipped in a spoon
to taste it… and nearly gagged. It wasn’t just weak. It was dreadful! Perhaps the worst coffee I’ve ever
tasted – so bad I wanted to spit it out.
Now what? Was it just my imagination? Were my taste buds off for
some reason? Or had my palate been spoiled by drinking only good espresso (or tea) for over a year?
For a moment, I thought that I had better start over again from scratch… or go back to plan B and make him two
shots of espresso. But Bert had already been waiting for quite a while. And he had chosen to visit on Friday afternoon,
when I was busy, as always, putting the finishing touches on my blog. How good did this coffee have to be?
And seriously – how good
did a good wife really have to be? Baking cookies from scratch already felt a little too Donna Reed-like to me. Was I expected
to be a gracious hostess, waiting hand and foot on my husband’s friend, and be a Starbucks barista, too?
So I put the glass on the tray and poured a mug of the hot stuff for my husband, then served it to the men with a smile.
I worried that Bert would have a reaction similar to mine and end up leaving his iced concoction untouched.
He drained the glass politely and
asked if there might be any more. Indeed there was! So I refilled his glass with ice and coffee, and watched him slowly sip
this as well.
My husband helped himself to cookies, but left his mug of hot coffee untouched.
It was only after Bert had
departed, seeming duly impressed, that I went to clean out the coffeemaker again and discovered my terrible mistake.
Although I’d been careful
to scrub the top compartment of the coffeemaker, I hadn’t opened it. And when I did, I discovered that the inside compartment
evidently had been filled with coffee grounds from the last time we had used the device – over a year ago.
I could only imagine how moldy and perhaps even rancid those grounds had been. That’s when I really wanted to
Knowing my husband – and his quirks, foibles, and habits – I asked him what he had done with
the hot coffee he hadn’t touched. He said that he’d poured it into a to-go mug to take to work with him the next
day. The only way to convince him to spill it out was to tell him what I’d served his friend. And then to make a fresh
pot, using Liz’s beans.
Of course, it was absolutely delicious.
I can only hope Bert was OK, but if we don’t see him again for another 48 years, I think we may know why.
In the meanwhile, you won’t be seeing me in this space next week, because it’s both Valentine’s Day
and the anniversary of the day that my husband and I first met. And so I am making one more stab -- hopefully a better one
– at being a good wife.
I have arranged a much-needed trip for the two of us, a week in Miami Beach.
For seven days, I will not be putting
any tasty, home-cooked meals on the table. The laundry will not turn up clean. Nor will I be putting myself out
in any other way. But I will put up with my husband's foibles, quirks, and habits 24/7 for seven days. And that's about
as much as any wife should have to do, nice, Jewish or otherwise.
Friday, January 31, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
Exiting the local JCC one recent night, I found myself gently chastising a child
I didn’t know and had never even seen before. So glued was he to the game he was playing on his phone that he nearly
crashed into the door. I guess I subscribe to the in loco parentis creed of Jewish parenting: To paraphrase a song
by Crosby, Stills & Nash, if you can’t noodge the one you love, noodge the one you’re with!
But this just reconfirmed my firm belief that having kids who are grown and on their own doesn’t mean I’m
not a nice Jewish mother anymore. Au contraire! Jewish motherhood is forever. Now I just have more time to be a nice
Jewish mom to the entire world.
Having fewer mouths to feed – and no one left to schlep
between after-school activities – also frees me up to look beyond the end of my nose and the needs of my own family
and participate in community efforts, like my temple’s recent Day of Service.
As I noted last year, my shul has long held an annual “Mitzvah Day,” on which congregants are dispersed
throughout the area to perform mitzvahs, or good deeds, in the spirit of Tikkun Olam, our ongoing mission
to repair our ingloriously imperfect world.
Yet last year, this customary spring event was renamed and rescheduled
to fulfill President Obama’s call to action for the establishment of a National Day of Service, to be held each January
in conjunction with the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
My experience with this last year
proved so rewarding that I vowed to not wait a whole year before returning to the scene of the sublime, a local soup kitchen
at which my husband and I helped serve lunch. But life often feels to me like being on a treadmill, and time flies by,
especially when you write a weekly blog. So, sadly, it takes both a presidential decree and repeated reminders in my temple’s
weekly bulletin to get even a well-meaning nice Jewish mom like me to get off my proverbial (and actual) tuches.
Also sadly, my husband had to work on Dr. King’s birthday this year, so I was on my own in this noble effort. My initial
plan was to undertake a different task this year, like helping out at the Hebrew Home and Hospital or sorting donated books
for underprivileged children, if only to have something different to share with you in this space. But when I learned that
I’d be flying solo, so to speak, I figured that it might be less challenging to return to a place where I already knew
the drill… or at least the drill sergeant, a forthright and rather self-possessed woman affectionately known to all
as Miss K.
So I called Carmen, the lovely woman from Congregation Beth Israel who’d valiantly led our charge last year, and
asked if she might need me to pitch in again.
The answer was an instant, unqualified, and resounding yes.
Once again, our group would prepare most of the food we
would serve at home and simply reheat it when we arrived. But all of the key elements were spoken for already. All that Carmen
needed me to do was bake some cookies or brownies, she said, as well as provide some salad fixings to throw into the lettuce,
if I chose.
Unfortunately, we were away in NYC for most of that holiday weekend. And I arrived home at around 10 p.m.
the night before our visit to the shelter to discover that all of the packaged baking mixes in our pantry were significantly
out of date. Might they be safe to use anyway? Who knew? But I figured it wasn’t worth taking a chance.
At least I already had managed to purchase an assortment of salad ingredients that afternoon, so I spent some time slicing
up mushrooms, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, and the like. But then, before going to bed, I reread Carmen’s email and
saw that she clearly was counting on me to bring some sort of baked good, too.
Now what? I’m not just a
nice Jewish mom; I’m also an unwaveringly dependable one. If I promise to do something, I may very well arrive
for it on Jewish time (at least 10 minutes late), but you can absolutely rely on me to do it, unless I’m on my deathbed.
So a little past midnight, I unearthed a bag of Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate chips in the cupboard, then found
many a decade.
Then, in hopes that my husband wouldn't notice I was willing to put myself out more for homeless people I'd
never met than for him, I set aside a few for him and put the rest in a large tin.
Needless to say, after finishing at 1:30 am, I arrived the next morning on Jewish time.
We pulled in behind St. Elizabeth
House, a low brick building with bars on the bottom-floor windows, a little before 11, and quickly unloaded. Everything inside
was just as I remembered it, and I instantly knew I’d made the right choice.
The good thing about retracing your footsteps sometimes instead of always doing something new and different is
that you get to learn from your experience and hopefully not make the same mistakes twice (although you may very well make
Last year, more than a dozen of us do-gooders had descended all at once, overcrowding the kitchen and unnerving
Miss K. This year, there were only six of us – enough to do the work, yet not so many that we made a nuisance of ourselves.
Last year, I also had made the mistake of arriving with copious salad fixings all uncut and begun prowling around the
kitchen for a knife. Now I knew that all sharp implements on the premises were kept under lock and key and brought out with
reluctance. So rather than bothering busy Miss K, I’d pre-sliced everything at home.
Yet even when you do your best to tiptoe around her, as I proceeded to do, Miss K can be a bit crusty at times
(although she’s so giving of herself that I would still argue the “K” might very well stand for “kind”).
She once again made it abundantly clear that she is queen of her own kitchen and would prefer that everyone give her a wide
birth (as I tend to do myself, particularly when holding long, sharp implements). But Carmen had visited a few days before
to discuss all the arrangements, and so she was expecting us and welcomed us warmly.
To my delight, she also readily accepted a large bag of extra baked goods I’d brought along. In our hotel the
morning before, I had noticed a waiter throwing away dozens of leftover bagels and pastries after breakfast and had entreated
him to give them to me instead to donate to the shelter. Miss K said she had no doubt she could use them.
Regrettably, though, our group had not conferred extensively about how many people we might be feeding or who was
bringing what. While I began to arrange my salad in an industrial-strength plastic tub, another congregant named Kati assembled
a second one of similarly mammoth proportions in an enormous metal bowl.
Miss K soon wandered by and gave us a look of disbelief bordering on incredulity. Just one of these colossal creations
would have been more than ample, she explained. But rather than let any of our provisions go to waste, she would put one salad
away for dinner. I felt a little crestfallen as I watched my own vibrantly colored offering, complete with croutons and ultra-healthy
chickpeas, be whisked away for safekeeping in a fridge.
Then I looked at the abundance
of desserts being arranged on platters, and it was my turn to be incredulous. There were countless cookies, brownies, slices
of banana bread, and other treats, copious enough to cover three large platters. I’d forced myself to wield cookie dough
well into the wee hours in fear that there would otherwise not be enough to go around and we would be forced to strictly ration
out the baked goods. Ha!
Instead, I could only hope that St. Elizabeth House had a decent dentist on call,
and preferably a weight-loss and fitness guru like Richard Simmons as well.
Lunch was to be served at noon. But by 11:30 we were all ready. We’d heated up all the food and arranged everything
on long counters in the cafeteria. There was little left for us to do beyond posing for pictures, as self-congratulatory as
this might seem.
No, wait. There was one crucial thing to which we needed to attend. Miss K made us all suit up for sanitary purposes,
donning not just rubber gloves, but hairnets as well. Then we posed for even more photos, including a selfie that I dared
to send to my kids (although I tremble to actually show it to you).
“Lunch lady!” my son Aidan promptly texted back.
He had that one right.
Next, to streamline the meal, we
decided to dish out some of the salad in advance. Miss K cautioned us to start with only 10 individual portions in white Styrofoam
bowls, but these looked pitiful next to that giant vat, so we decided to dish out a dozen more.
Then we were issued our final instructions. People would begin coming in promptly at noon. After helping themselves
to salad if they wished, they would line up for their entrees, which we would serve out to them by preparing plates in assembly-line
It was particularly crucial that we dole out the desserts, rather than letting anyone help themselves, and these needed
to be strictly limited to three baked goods apiece. Otherwise people might take as many as six, warned Miss K, or maybe even
Also, only after 12:20 would anyone be permitted seconds on anything, and when they were we had to
make sure they used a clean plate to avoid spreading germs.
It sounded simple enough. So our team lined up behind a steam table laden with minestrone soup, meatloaf, mashed potatoes,
and mixed vegetables. And given the choice, I opted to serve the last of these. (I’m a big proponent of eating
your veggies, even if this standard mix of corn, carrots, green beans, and peas was not exactly fresh.)
Finally, the clock struck 12 and
we braced ourselves for an immediate onslaught. But no stampede ensued. Rather, residents of the shelter began wandering in
gradually and sporadically.
Some were women and some were men. Some were young and some were old. Most were black, but a few were white.
Yet all had one key thing in common. As we had discovered last year, all were extremely appreciative and made it a point
to thank us repeatedly.
Although many looked decidedly down on their luck, most were dressed in decent and
warm winter clothing, and I surmised that what I had been told last year was true.
These people were residents of
the shelter, who paid around $50 a week for room and board. All had jobs of some sort and were in the process of getting back
on their feet.
Last year, I’d been sent to serve lunch downstairs instead, to the weary legions who wandered in
off the street. These poor souls were actually homeless and unemployed. Some suffered from mental illness, substance abuse,
or other such travails. They weren’t able to get their lives back on track. And the fatigue on their faces showed
Our current “customers” were in much better condition and spirits, and one young man even joked
that he wanted no bread or potatoes because they had “too many carbs.”
Most others were happy to accept anything and everything, though, especially their three allotted desserts. So,
to offset the calorie count, perhaps, or just in view of our overabundance of provisions, I found myself heaping the veggies
onto each plate… until Carmen came over and whispered that I should stop being quite so generous because many people
were simply dumping their vegetables into the trash.
I didn’t want to disobey orders, but this did little to
deter me because, to our great disappointment, only about three dozen people showed up to eat, even when you counted in several
members of the staff. And when 12:20 rolled around, few requested seconds on anything, other than those yummy desserts.
We had anticipated more than twice as many takers. So by the time the meal ended at 12:30, we had an entire gargantuan
pan of meatloaf still untouched in the kitchen, and hadn’t dispensed even half of anything else.
Miss K seemed nonplussed, though,
promising that the cauldron of leftover minestrone would be reborn as sauce for chicken cacciatore the next day.
As for the rest of the leftovers,
she would put them out for dinner that night, which she assured us would be served to many people besides the ones we’d
just fed. (Even if you’re down and out, you really shouldn’t have to down the same grub for both lunch and dinner.)
But I couldn’t help feeling a little demoralized, noticing that the remaining desserts, when rearranged on a single
tray, were still more than sufficient to feed a small country.
As for the 22 bowls of salad we’d dished
out in advance, 13 remained untouched. Miss K was anything but surprised. “I told you so,” she chided with a colossal
But there was an easy remedy for our having overestimated the residents’ appetite for greens. With
no more takers and plenty of food remaining, it was time for us to eat.
The truth was that rushing out that morning, I hadn’t had time to grab breakfast. And while looking
at that food for nearly two hours, I’d worked up quite an appetite. So along with the rest of my cohorts, I helped
myself to everything we had prepared… including, I tremble to confess, my three allotted desserts.
All was delicious, and like all
the residents before me I felt grateful, even blessed.
We begged Miss K to grab a plate too, but she declined, saying
that she was watching her weight. She did hover nearby to chat, however, and I couldn’t help noticing how
much more affable she seemed this year, as though we were not just allies for a day in the war against hunger, but actually
And a better friend, or all-around person, you would be hard-pressed to find. Under normal circumstances – meaning
the other 364 days of the year, when we aren’t there to help -- she manages all of this herself, not only cooking
three meals a day, but also serving them and cleaning up almost single-handedly… although she does have a part-time
cook who fills in twice a week.
That is not to say she isn’t open to help. She told us about one extraordinarily
generous woman who had insisted on footing the bill for a lavish Christmas dinner there, featuring anything Miss K wanted
to serve. This had led to a feast including shrimp, baked clams, roasted lamb, and a dazzling array of side dishes and desserts.
Then, after shelling out the $800 that this ran, the unnamed benefactor had begun prodding Miss K to begin planning
something comparable for Easter.
This prompted us to ask if she might prefer that we merely donate the funds
for a nice meal or two at the house and then do her a favor by staying out of her way.
But Miss K dismissed this notion
decisively. “I want you to keep doing what you already doing,” she replied earnestly and without the slightest
Then she insisted on cleaning up everything herself, although we begged to help. So we packed up our belongings, hugged the
queen of the kitchen goodbye, and headed out.
Of course, it felt wonderful in the end to have gotten off my
duff to help others. Although I may write an assortment of checks annually to donate to various causes -- most of
them Jewish in some respect -- there’s something infinitely more fulfilling and exhilarating about donating actual time
On the other hand, I couldn’t help harboring some misgivings about the extent to which we’d
misjudged the amount of food needed and had bumbled a bit awkwardly through our efforts.
So on the way home, with the trunk
of the car now empty and our bellies full, we began discussing what we might serve there next year and how we might do things
differently. Perhaps there’s a better way to estimate how much food to bring. We also wanted to offer more assistance to Carmen, who has continued to undertake the yeo-woman’s
share of both the cooking and the out-of-pocket expenditures, having prepared and paid for almost everything that we
provided this year all by herself.
Given my busy life, I probably won’t make it back there before
next January. But there’s no question that I’ll join in again when we return for our next Day of Service. For
if we keep on doing right – at least one day a year – maybe we lunch ladies (and gent) will eventually get
it right, too.
Friday, January 24, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
Though I enjoy a fine whine as much as the next nice Jewish mom, I guess that I
cannot complain for once, for in the past seven days I have been relentlessly wined and dined – not to mention coffee’d
and lunched – by countless friends in honor of the day I was born. So (despite having sadly attended a funeral on the
actual day) I would have to say that I had not only a very happy birthday this year, but a very happy birth week.
Or so it seemed, anyway… until last Saturday night.
No birthday would be complete without
seeing my children, of course, so we went into NYC for the weekend to celebrate with them… and that’s when the
Although neither of my kids would dream of punking out on the occasion (even though I always assure them
this would be no big deal), my son had one small complication this year. Several of Aidan’s college roommates,
who are now scattered throughout the country, were coming into the city for the weekend. So I proposed that, to make things easier for him, we get together close to where he lives, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
I noted that I was dying to see
an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, featuring the far-out fashions of French designer Jean Paul Gaultier. But between you and
me, I must admit that I had something of an ulterior motive.
I also was secretly hoping that if we went out
there, we might get an invitation to the apartment Aidan shares with his girlfriend Kaitlin, which happens to be a few blocks
from the museum. We’d only gotten a quick gander at it once before, when Aidan first moved in last summer. Since then,
the closest we’d come to a glimpse of the place was when my husband had prevailed upon Kaitlin to send us a few
You may not understand why I care that much about seeing the place where my son hangs his hat (and jeans, t-shirts,
button-downs, jackets, and just about everything else). I’d like to believe it’s merely normal parental interest.
It would help me to better envision his surroundings whenever he phones.
I honestly don’t think it would be fair
or accurate to chalk it up to sheer nosiness... or a motherly desire to buy him all sorts of stuff he doesn't want, if only
I knew what color to get or what they really needed.
Whatever the case,
I’ve been fixated on this
desire for months now. I wouldn’t dream of inviting myself, though. So I hoped that if we happened to be in the neighborhood,
we might be asked up on the spur of the moment.
This also would give me the opportunity to deliver a small house gift, a pair of large, bright red throw pillows that
I had purchased for them during the January “white” sales. (Hopefully they were the right color and something
they really needed.)
To my delight, when I mentioned the museum, Aidan proposed that we eat at a terrific restaurant they had
discovered just a few blocks away from it. I readily agreed.
After that, he planned to meet up with his former
roommates. Although Kaitlin wanted to give him some time off for male bonding with his old buddies, she and my daughter Allegra
also had plans for the rest of the night. So my husband and I did our usual thing and bought tickets for the theater.
I will admit that I had enormous
trepidation about getting from Brooklyn to Manhattan after dinner in time to see a play. However, there was a new Broadway
show I was dying to see. And Allegra assured me that if we ate early enough, we’d have no problem driving there.
We had to drive (rather than take the subway) in order to deliver those pillows.
I figured that we'd go to the museum
mid-afternoon and have plenty of time to view the exhibit (and perchance be invited up to the apartment) before it was time
To Allegra’s infinite distress, one of her roommates’ kittens, Mewy, had gone missing for several days;
the girls were all absolutely inconsolable. So we spent considerable time walking around her neighborhood looking for the
cat. Then, when we got back to her apartment at around 2, instead of getting ready to go, she began preparing lunch. Yikes!
Aidan said that he preferred not to meet until 4 p.m. anyway, and assured me that there would be no line at the museum.
So after lunch, we went out and looked for the missing cat some more.
We arrived at the museum right
at 4 to find that the only parking spot nearby was so narrow that fitting my car into it was like squeezing one more sardine
into a full can. No matter. I managed to maneuver in with barely an inch to spare on either end. My husband was so impressed
that he snapped a photo as proof of my wizardry behind the wheel.
Then we entered to discover that there was an interminable line after all, snaking throughout the lobby.
We also met up with our good friends Sally and Dial, who had just finished seeing the show and were both kvelling
(never mind that neither one of them is Jewish).
It turned out that they were seeing a different Broadway show
that night near ours, so we arranged to meet them afterwards for a drink.
Then it took forever to procure
our tickets. Aidan and Kaitlin were running late and had already seen the show, so we went in ourselves.
Gaultier has long cultivated a reputation as the bad boy of French couture, but judging from The Fashion World of
Jean Paul Gaultier, “bad” didn’t begin to cover it… because his sexy and daring women’s
garments, which feature corsets and ludicrously pointy appendages at the bust, barely cover the bodies on which they’re
It didn’t take the bizarrely animated mannequins, equipped with eyes that blinked and lips that moved,
to make the show unsettling. Looking at these fantastical, lingerie-inspired get-ups, “wearable” was about the
last word that might come to mind… unless maybe you were Madonna, who vamped around in his leather bras and corsets
during her Blonde Ambition tour of 1990.
Then again, I could easily imagine
myself in one novel, nautically striped piece, so ample that Allegra and I couldn’t decide if it was a hat or a jacket
and finally dubbed it a “hacket.”
I also found myself lusting after a salmon-colored satin
dress (I guess it was a dress) with a long, cascading train of ribbon tendrils (although G-d knows where I’d
wear it -- on my Red Ambition tour?).
But I wasn’t sure what to make of his controversial "Chic Rabbis" collection from 1993, in which all
of the mannequins sported long pais (earlocks). Was Gaultier a not-so-secret anti-Semite or, more likely, just a
devilishly irreverent equal opportunity offender?
Whatever the case, Aidan and Kaitlin finally arrived, and my son soon made it eminently clear that he hadn’t enjoyed
the show the first time around and wasn't up for a rerun. Only then did it occur to me that this had been a terrible
choice for a family activity. Why hadn’t I picked something none of us had seen yet and we were all likely to enjoy?
But Aidan said that he didn’t mind because the location was so convenient. As I well knew! Unfortunately, there
was no prospect of getting an invitation to his place now. We were already late for dinner.
On our way out, we ran into a woman
we know from our temple and had to say a prolonged hello.
Have you ever noticed how you always seem to
run into someone you know whenever you’re late for something? I used to think that it was because we know so many people.
But I've come to realize it’s just because we’re always running late for something. And now we were really
The restaurant, Bar Corvo, turned out to be very nice indeed, but the service was kind of slow. Under normal circumstances,
I’d be perfectly happy to linger indefinitely over dinner with my kids. But these were not normal circumstances, and
I began to regret buying those tickets.
We had intended to be driving by 7 p.m., but our entrees didn’t
arrive until 6:45. Birthday or not, we clearly had no time for singing "Happy Birthday" over a flaming dessert.
But the waiter surprised me with a lovely panna cotta topped with a glowing candle, which we all passed around.
Then Aidan and Kaitlin pulled out their gifts, consisting of a stunning infinity scarf in an wide array of colors that
I love, and a very attractive cuff bracelet. Both amazing!
Allegra had already given me her own gift earlier that day, a
funky black and red tunic that I instantly adored (no corsets or cone appendages in sight!).
Of course, just being with my offspring
was the best present of all, but it made me feel good that they’d gone to the trouble to get me such nice things that
they knew I would like.
Sadly, it was time to rush off now. By the time we reached the car, it was already 7:15. I hastily handed over the red
throw pillows, which had been stored in the trunk of my car, and we were off.
Actually, we weren’t off
quite so fast because my car was still jammed tightly in between those other two, and it was even harder getting out of that
space than it had been getting in.
Only then did I begin driving frantically, following the directions I'd gotten
from Mapquest that led to the Manhattan Bridge.
That is, I tried to drive frantically. But the traffic proved to be impenetrable.
After about 25 minutes, we'd driven for miles and strangely there was still no bridge in sight. So I quickly pulled over while
my husband consulted Siri on his iPhone.
That’s when we discovered that we had been going in the wrong
direction all along. We weren’t approaching Manhattan. We were way out in Coney Island!
We no longer had a prayer of getting to the play anywhere close to on time. Welcome to Brooklyn -- like no other place
in the world... to get lost.
I tried not to freak out completely as I turned the car around. This wasn’t
the end of the world, I told myself. It was just the end of nearly $200. That’s how much I’d shelled
out for those tickets.
To put things in perspective, I began to conjure up a litany of other mishaps that would have been genuine
heartbreaks, rather than just a stupid waste of dough.
How lucky I was that my kids wanted to celebrate with me, even
though they’re in their 20s and have plenty of other things to do on a Saturday night. What if they'd had no interest
and blithely begged off?
Or how much more distraught I would have been if I had managed to lose,
tear, or somehow break one of the wonderful gifts they’d given me.
And so I ordered myself to get a grip. This
wasn’t a case of life or death. We hadn’t had a car accident on the way to the theater. No one was hurt or ill.
But it was still horrifying to watch the minutes tick away. By the time I had driven through the interminable Brooklyn-Battery
Tunnel – "the longest
continuous underwater vehicular tunnel in North America," which felt long enough to reach South America – and slowly made our way uptown, it was already 8:45.
The show had started at 8.
We pulled into a nearby parking garage, but they turned out to be filled to capacity and
the attendant waved us off.
The exact same thing happened at the next four garages we tried.
Finally, we found an outdoor garage
with space. Then we ran.
By the time we reached the theater, though, it was 5 past 9 and a man named Jim, who appeared to be
the house manager, was summoned.
The play we had tickets for was the latest from John Patrick Shanley, who wrote Moonstruck,
one of my favorite movies ever, as well as Doubt, which won the Tony and a Pulitzer back in 2005.
This one was a romantic comedy
called Outside Mullingar, starring (nice Jewish) actress Debra Messing, best known for TV shows such as Will
& Grace and Smash.
Jim told us that it was a fine play, a "beautiful" play, and that we would have loved it, but that there was
absolutely no point in our going in now. After all, it was only an hour and 35 minutes long without any intermission,
and it was now already two-thirds over.
Then he gave us a slip of paper with instructions on how to call to
request replacement tickets for a future performance instead. This stated clearly that we were only eligible to get tickets
on the same day of a performance, provided any were still available. But Jim believed that if we phoned soon, we’d be
able to book seats in advance.
I had no such confidence, and after driving around for what was now nearly two hours,
my nerves were shot. I’d been holding myself together all along. Now I lost it and began to sob hysterically.
When my husband explained our ordeal,
Jim urged us to go across the street to a restaurant called The Glass House and tell the manager that he'd sent us.
“Chris will take care of you,” he said.
I had absolutely no desire to eat or drink anything at this point.
But we had nothing better to do, and when I arrived still sobbing, my husband relayed our predicament to Chris.
He seated us at the bar, where
my husband ordered himself a margarita and I continued to sniffle and wail soundlessly… until the entire wait staff
suddenly descended upon me with a chocolate dessert topped with a burning candle and proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday.”
Happy? Were they kidding? As sweet a gesture as this was, it managed to only make me feel worse. But I wiped the rivulets of mascara from
my eyes and thanked them profusely, then forced down a few bites.
Then we sat there for nearly an hour, waiting
for Sally and Dial to get out of their play.
All I really wanted to do was go back to our hotel and put a pillow
over my head. But I didn’t want to disappoint our friends and hoped to still salvage the evening.
As though things couldn’t
get any worse, though, we discovered that my husband’s phone was now nearly dead. He barely had enough power left
to send them a text message announcing our location before it went off.
My phone had died hours earlier. How would we
contact them now?
The only recourse I could think of was to walk around the corner and meet them at their theater.
They were seeing Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, which Dial had estimated would get out
at 10, and Sally had said was on West 46th Street, as far as I recalled. We were on West 47th. How far could it be?
We proceeded to march up and
down for several blocks in each direction. But we couldn’t find The Glass Menagerie anywhere. So we reluctantly
returned to The Glass House. I was too embarrassed to go back inside again, even though it was around 20 degrees outside.
So we waited in front for about 20 minutes.
But they didn’t
So at 10:30 we decided to give up, and we drove back to our hotel at last. At least we could
plug in our phones there and rejoin the human race.
That's when we learned that Sally and Dial's play had been on West 45th Street, not 46th, and had turned out
to be over at 10:30, not 10. Also, although they’d received our message, after all, they'd been obliged to cancel out
on our drink anyway because Sam, their own mid-20s son, had insisted they come hear one of his friends' very
loud band perform on the Lower East Side.
We would’ve been welcome to join them, they said, but I was done
driving around, and it sounded like they had their own wild misadventure, anyway.
Meanwhile, Allegra wrote to say
how sorry she was to hear about our debacle. As it turned out, Aidan had ended up not going to meet his friends, and had joined
them instead at a drag show put on by an acquaintance of theirs, where they’d had a total blast.
“You should have come with
us!” she said.
Of course, that would have been the most fun of all. If only they had invited us to begin with. Clearly,
the average 20-something doesn't want to go to a drag show or hang out in a bar with his or her parents. Or maybe they had
just assumed that we wouldn't be interested. If only they realized that even if they’d planned to spend the
night sitting in a sewer, we would have preferred being with them.
We phoned Telecharge the next day and wrote
them as well to recount our tale of woe. But the Manhattan Theatre Club, which produced the play, ultimately ruled against
us (big surprise!). We can only get last-minute replacement tickets on the day of a performance, if available, and only during
midweek… never mind that we live two and a half hours away and my husband works.
Who knows? Maybe it
will still happen. But I’m not convinced.
What I am convinced of is that we are never going to get that
invitation to my son's apartment. But maybe that's just as well. For after our latest fiasco, I'd just as soon never
return to Brooklyn again during my lifetime.
But I also still believe I’m very blessed. We
may have missed a "beautiful" play, but given the chance, I'd still choose to eat dinner with my kids
again any day.
And my tale of woe still has a happy ending: Allegra and her roommates finally found their kitty! Little Mewy
was discovered alive and well after being MIA for eight days out in the bitter cold. My daughter is so happy.
So I’m happy too!
But I think I've had enough birthday for now. I've blown out enough candles for one year and blown more than enough opportunities.
Haven't I? So I must confess I’m also happy that my birth week is over at last and won't come around for another year.
Now, that is something to celebrate.
|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