Saturday, July 25, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
One day, about 20 years ago, my mother divulged to me that my father had called her to say
there was something very important that he wanted to discuss with her. Confidential as this information might have been, I
of course divulged it at once to my brother. He and I began to speculate wildly on what this important thing might be. And
try as we might, there was only one thing that we could come up with.
mind that they had been divorced by then for nearly
Never mind also that for most of those 20 years they each had been married
to someone else.
We became absolutely convinced that our dad wanted
to get back together with our mom. What else could it possibly be?
there may have been plenty of other things that it could possibly have been. But there was only one thing that secretly, deep in my heart, I still inexplicably wanted.
speak of my parents’ divorce to people, I don’t
think I am truly resorting to hyperbole
when I say that they had one of the worst
marriages on record. By the time I was born, just over
five years into their tale of unhappily-ever-after, they were
already vociferously miserable together and had been
that way for most of those five years. That they remained together anyway more or less (very often less)
for 24 more years was nothing short of a miracle (or the world’s worst case of inertia). My father glared at her
with contempt almost any time that she opened
her mouth. And never mind looks that could kill. I don’t want to air too much dirty laundry right here, but suffice
it to say that he often seemed ready to strangle her, and one night he almost did.
I spent most of the years that they were together both dreading that they would divorce and wishing that they would do it already. And once they finally did, my
only wish was that they had done it sooner, since they seemed so much happier married to other people.
One of my favorite all-time movies remains The Parent Trap. I am talking about the original Hayley Mills version from 1961, although the 1998 remake starring a teenage Lindsay Lohan back before she became the train wreck that she is now wasn’t half-bad.
In this Disney-generated, live-action, modern fairy tale, twin girls separated soon after birth following their parents’ divorce end up by chance at the same
summer camp. When they realize that they are a matched set, they hatch a Prince and the Pauper--style plan to switch identities and lives. The purpose:
not only to experience how their other
half has lived for all these years and to at long last meet the
parent they each have never known, but more essentially to get
their estranged parents to fall back in love again so the family can reunite.
There is, of course, the requisite fly in the ointment – dear Dad is
about to marry someone else. Considering how heinous the wicked stepmother-to-be appears to be, you can’t help rooting
for the twins' foolish yet well-meaning match-making plot to succeed. But being the daughter of parents who were always on the verge of divorce -- up
until the day they finally managed at long last to cross to the other side -- I had my own personal vested interest.
Perhaps there is an innate desire within all
of us to have an intact family of origin. For as much as I knew rationally that my parents were a mismatch made in hell, a
small voice inside of me always wanted the fighting to stop so that we could all be together happily ever after.
I remember that feeling now every night when it’s time to walk our dog after dinner. Latke loves that
it stays light late enough in summer for us to fit in a family walk after we finish eating. But she doesn’t love it
nearly as much when either Mommy or Daddy is too busy with work and stays behind while
the other tries to set out solo. As much as Latke loves to
walk, she pauses at the end of the driveway to look back longingly and expectantly… and if you try to coax her onward, she pulls back
stubbornly and rears up like a bucking bronco. For the thing that she relishes most about that walk is that we do it all together.
I thought about that one night last week when my
husband was reading aloud to me in the car. He doesn’t normally read aloud to me, let alone do it in the car. But we were on our way back from visiting our kids in New York City, and we had already heard the latest headlines on 1010 WINS radio repeatedly, ad infinitum for hours… and
we had finally finished the terrific book that
we’d been listening to on Audible.
(That terrific book,
if you must know, was The Rosie
Effect by Graeme Simsion, which was the sequel to The Rosie Project, the last amazing and hilarious book that we listened to on Audible.)
What my husband read to me was my favorite part
of the Sunday New York Times. In fact, it’s my favorite thing in any newspaper during the entire week
– the “Modern Love” column.
That week’s entry was entitled “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give.” I was instantly intrigued because, as I have mentioned, my son recently got engaged. There was a time in my life when I was interested mostly in meeting the man of my dreams. Then it was getting pregnant, followed
by dealing with toddlers, then teenagers, then how to get your kids into the college of their choice. Now those topics bore me silly,
but anything that even alludes to getting married
is an automatic must-read.
This particular column turned out to be less about weddings
than marriage itself, though.
focused on the inevitable exasperating conflicts that crop up in any relationship after the idealistic belief in heartfelt vows like “I’ll always be your best
friend” wear off.
The author, a writer named Ada Calhoun, claimed to love weddings as much as the next sap, but after a decade
of marriage now knew the sad truth about those solemn vows. Whenever she attends a friend’s nuptials, she said, she must stifle the urge to leap to her feet and correct naively besotted declarations like, “I will never let you down.”
She knows that the dewy-eyed infatuation phase eventually wears off, giving way to the
never-ending frustrations of having to deal with
your mate’s idiocyncracies, annoying habits,
and habitual mess-ups.
“I want to say that one day you and your husband will fight about
missed flights, and
you’ll find yourself wistful for the days when you had to pay for only your
own mistakes,” she wrote. “I want to
say that at various points in your marriage, may it last forever, you will look at this person and feel only rage.”
is precisely what I had felt toward my husband only a couple of days before.
been on our way to NYC in the car to hear our daughter sing on Friday night. I
was behind the wheel, as usual; the fact is that I’m not a fan of my husband’s driving, and he would just as soon
let me drive so that he can read the newspaper in the car (although not necessarily read it to me).
one segment of this trip that invariably leaves us mired briefly in traffic. But far worse, this particular junction on the Hutchinson
River Parkway almost always leaves us mired in a brief altercation. It is a point in Westchester where the highway narrows and the left lane comes to an abrupt halt. Most drivers heed the sign in advance and change lanes accordingly. But there
are always a few stragglers who drive
along obliviously until the last possible moment and then begin signaling
that they want to push their way in.
My husband seems to believe that driving a car is some sort of us-against-the-world competition,
and that if I let even one of these cars in, then they will have beaten us in the race to get ahead. Or at the very least
they will have taken egregious advantage of us. Or taken
some important advantage away from
Sure, I will admit that it’s a little obnoxious when
drivers choose to ignore that a lane has
slowed down before an exit and try to get away with proceeding as far as possible, then muscle their way in. On the other hand, I know what it feels like when you make a mistake and need
to change lanes and no one will let you in. Also, to be honest, I just don’t care. What real difference will it truly make in the scheme of things if I let another car in? We may end up arriving at our destination 10 seconds later. So what?
Yet last Friday night, my husband had
just put in a stressful week of late nights, and so he became especially adamant -- almost deranged, if you ask me -- when we approached this intersection. He began berating me not to let any other cars in no matter what.
I also had just put in a stressful week of late nights, thanks to my new summer job, and I was not in any mood for his manic outburst. So I ignored him and let one car in. Then another.
And before I knew
it, we were really at each other’s throats. Over what? Nonsense.
Yes, thinking about it now, I know it was nonsense. And you know it was nonsense.
But at the time I had reached my limit and it seemed like a matter of life or death. Or at the very least marriage or divorce. And I was suddenly very much in favor
of the latter.
I went so far as to tell him (as I let yet another car cut rudely in) that he could have
full custody of the dog. That was just to add injury to insult. Or vice versa.
As the “Modern Love" columnist had noted,
there is a form of Buddhism that can be summed up with the words, “Life is suffering – and yet.” And marriage
can be summed up pretty much the same way. “I love this person, and yet she’s such a mess. And yet when I’m
sick, he’s not very nurturing. And yet we don’t want the same number of children. And yet I sometimes wonder
what it would be like to be single again.”
I don’t relate to any of those particular
examples myself. And yet my husband’s insistence on working out for at least an hour every day no matter what, and his
need to watch violent TV shows late at night at a deafening decibel level while I'm trying to write, and his complaining relentlessly about his weight yet continuing to eat two heaping
bowls of ice cream right in front of me every single night while I am trying to diet... well, these things make me want to do things to him that will be reported not just on local TV, but the national evening news.
And yet somehow we keep going on and on together.
And yet I begin to think about how silent the house would be if we didn't.
And yet my favorite line in that entire column was
a bit of parental advice the author repeated: “ ‘The way to stay married,’ my mother
says, ‘is not to get divorced.’ ”
But that incident on the Hutch took place two days before my husband would
read that column aloud to me in the car, and at that moment I did not want to stay married any longer. Never mind that this dopey
dispute was nothing new. In fact, it was
something very old. I was ready to call it quits right then and there.
My daughter – someone for whom our marital squabbles are indeed very, very old – often chides us for continually fighting
about the same trivial issues, as though our encountering the same old thing were so shocking that we suddenly find it totally
intolerable. But isn’t that what is most exasperating in marriage – always having to deal with your mate’s
crazy habits and eccentricities until the moment that you suddenly find them totally intolerable?
Or is it just that on most days we manage to put up with our partners’ craziness (for we all have some
form of craziness), but then we all have those days when we have had a hard week, or not enough sleep, and we find that craziness
you are with someone, the more big and little ‘and yets’ rack up,” Calhoun
wrote. “You love this person. Of course
you plan to be with him or her forever. And yet forever can begin to seem like a long time.”
Tell me about it. She was writing this after only a decade of marriage. My husband and I just celebrated 31 years last
week. We have more than our share of “and yets.”
And yet I must admit that I enjoyed having him read
to me in the car, and after we got home that night I made a nice dinner and we watched a new TV show that we both like, then we went to bed and began another week as though nothing had ever happened.
Yes, we began another week and another month, and soon it will be another year.
Although my parents were officially married for nearly three decades, they were separated on and off throughout my
teenage and young adult years, and they
never made it to our miraculous 31.
remember any more what that important thing was that my father wanted to discuss with my mother back then. Perhaps he suddenly wanted to apologize to her for the way he had treated her all those years. Perhaps he wanted to talk
about my brother or me. But no, he did not want to ditch my evil stepmother and get back together with my mom.
He died still married
to Ms. Evil Knievel. My mother died a decade later still married to my stepfather,
Sid, and, hard as it is to believe, we marked my father’s 17th yahrzeit (anniversary of his death) last
I’ll admit it. I secretly hope sometimes that my parents will still get back together.
Could they be together again in heaven?
If there is a heaven, do they know there that people have gotten divorced and make sure that they are kept safely apart? Or do divorced parents get to start
all over again there and overlook all the negative “and yets?”
Maybe that is the very definition of heaven.
Or maybe heaven is simply having
someone there (even someone a little annoying and crazy) to read to you in the car.
Friday, July 17, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
posted nothing at all last week and barely have a moment to emit more than
a blurb now. I’m just too busy with my new (summer) job.
I’m dying to tell you about my new (summer)
job, but I’m too busy doing it to talk about it. So you will have to settle for this.
Barely a blurb.
I woke up
to an email from a local supermarket, The Big Y, this
past Tuesday offering 10 percent off that day for seniors, and realized with a mixture of delight and utter horror that their age criteria (60 and over) meant ME. Of course, after dropping our dog Latke off at the groomers, I headed
miss a chance like that.
Soon enough, I found myself stocking up on everything we
could possibly need and a few things for my kids as well. (They may not be seniors quite yet, but why couldn’t they
be seniors by association?) Between sale prices and that 10 percent discount, I managed to save a whopping $117.
(PLEASE NOTE: I did not spend over $1,000 at the supermarket. Honestly! I am just reporting what my receipt said I saved in total, including the savings on many items that had already been marked down.)
Of course, this exercise
in frugality required contending with gray gridlock at the checkout line, not to mention listening
to a 10-minute debate that went on between a wizened geezer and his wife about bread crumbs. (Yes, 10 minutes. I kid you not.)
“No, not seasoned! Plain! Not unsalted! Regular. No, not that one! And not that one! I only want 4C, not the store brand! It stinks!”
Then there was the tiny, barely-5-foot octogenarian who was struggling mightily to get a can of gravy down from a high shelf.
I asked if I could help her, and she assured me she could manage. But just at that moment I got a phone call on my cell. She, of course, assumed
I was still speaking to her, so she continued speaking (and speaking!) to me.
Was it worth it?
Maybe not, because I then had to lug that whole giant haul out to my
car, then into the house and put it all away. Between the shopping trip and all of that, it took half the day.
At least I got some further mileage out of the deal, because when I posted about it on Facebook it set off a blizzard of
comments reminiscent of last winter’s snowstorms. (If only we could have one
of those now.)
market senior discount begins at 54. The outrage,” my friend Suzanne wrote.
“The horror. The
horror,” I replied (quoting Joseph
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness). “At least I stocked up on everything from paper towels to tofu to
my senior-plus husband’s hearing aid batteries. May never have to shop again.”
A neighbor named Meryl promptly weighed in to note, “I
hope you got the Silver Savings Card (free to age 60 and up), which automatically gives you all silver coin discounts! I was
perturbed that they didn’t want to
see my driver’s license when I asked for mine!”
“Perturbed?” I replied. “I was incensed and ready to call the manager. Is it time for
Botox? Don’t answer that.”
My friend Suzanne didn’t answer that, but she did reply to Meryl. “That’s unforgivable,” she wrote, whereupon the two, who have never met, began a lengthy dialogue about how Meryl knows Suzanne’s
sister Roberta and went to summer camp with her friend Janice Turteltaub. This went on for so many comments back and forth that I
was tempted to suggest they get a (chat) room and take the conversation elsewhere.
But then my friend Arlene piped up to complain that she hadn’t gotten the store's email. (If
you have to be a senior, or whatever we 60-and-over-somethings are, there should be some compensation in this world.) “Is
it today?” she asked. And Meryl began to talk to her.
This prompted someone named Jack, presumably a friend of a friend (or maybe a friend of Janice Turteltaub’s) to put in his own two cents. “You can
get a discount at MacDonald’s, but then you’d have to eat it,” he wrote.
Eat at Mickey D’s? Yes, they are advertising their latest upscale offering,
a lobster roll, this summer. But how good could it be? And no matter how good, it is of course trayf.
“As I said – the horror. The horror,”
point, to my surprise, even my former rabbi, Stephen Fuchs, who remains a friend on Facebook, chimed in to answer my mostly rhetorical question about whether the experience had been worth it. “Hilarious!”
he said. “But $117 is $117!”
Amen to that.
I was momentarily heartened to finally get a comment on the
matter I thought was most cogent. Not whether the indignities I had suffered were worth the savings, but about the indignity
of being eligible for that savings at all.
“It’s all in your mind,” my friend Liz posted. “You look like a teenager.”
“Feel like a teenager. Shop ‘n save like an old-timer!” I replied.
Thinking about this made me realize how true at least the
second part of that observation was.
mother died with about 17 cans of coffee in the cupboard,” I noted. “She didn’t even drink much coffee anymore.
But they were on SALE!”
At this, a friend named Cindy entered the fray. “We all have that in our family
history,” she wrote.
Do we? I
wonder. Yes, I suppose we do.
But am I now that person in my family? Oy.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
In his riveting eulogy for the Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney last week, President Obama called upon the nation to reflect upon racism – the kind of innate, insidious prejudice that can lurk even in those of us who would like to believe we are bigotry-free.
“Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it,”
he said. “So that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but also… the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview, but not Jamal.”
Let me tell you about my own very recent and memorable experience with “Jamal.”
As I have mentioned lately – more than once, I’ll admit – my daughter returned to the United
States a week or so ago after spending a whole year singing in Hong Kong.
Allegra was due to arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport late on a Thursday night.
She and her boyfriend JP, who was joining her to visit for a few weeks, were scheduled to get in at 9:40 p.m. But that didn’t mean I would pick them up at 9:40 p.m. After the hour or so it would take to disembark, go through Immigration and retrieve their bags, it was going
to be very late.
I live nearly three hours away from Newark and was busy
preparing for my new summer job, so I have no doubt that they would have been perfectly happy to spare me the long trip and take a cab from the airport to Allegra’s apartment on Roosevelt
I wanted to pick them up in order to welcome them back in person with open arms...
and a silly homemade sign.
I wanted to pick them up because, after a whole year of living in Hong Kong, Allegra was carting back a whole lot of luggage.
But mostly I wanted to pick them up because I am a nice Jewish mom, and that’s what nice Jewish moms do.
I had lots of work to do that day, including
finishing my weekly blog, but I wanted to be there the moment they
touched down, even if they might not emerge for eons after. So I kept
monitoring the progress of their arduous 16-hour flight on FlightAware.com.
When I first checked
after I awoke that morning, I could see that my daughter was already about halfway
home. My heartbeat began galloping like a herd of wild horses at the prospect of soon spying her sweet face. But at 5 p.m., the umpteenth time that I checked, I discovered that for some reason her plane was now due in a whole hour early.
At this, my heart began to race like American Pharaoh going into the final stretch. Traffic on the George Washington
Bridge can be a bitch, or at the very least unpredictable. What if I hit a colossal jam? So I jumped into my car and began driving like mad. Destination: New Jersey.
Following a few initial rush-hour glitches, I encountered little to slow me down and pulled into the airport, miraculously, just
after 8. My plan was to park in the short-term
lot by their terminal and go inside to grab a bit of dinner, and maybe a nosh for them. But before driving
through the ticket gate, I pulled over to check their flight once more.
To my bewilderment, their ETA had changed yet again. Changed drastically, in fact. They were
now due to arrive right on schedule at 9:40 again. Since they were unlikely to emerge for
a good hour after that, my silly sign and I had at least 2½ hours left to wait.
According to the posted rates, it would cost me $28 to park for that long. I already had shelled out handsomely for a hotel room for the night, since it would be too late to drive back home. It may sound frugal of me – OK, just call
me cheap – but $28? To park for a couple of hours? It seemed like a total waste.
Yet there was no way to turn around. I appeared to be stuck. So I backed up a bit so that I wasn’t
blocking the entrance to the lot in any way. Then I flicked on my hazard lights and proceeded to kill time checking email and working on my blog on my phone.
More than an hour went
by in this fashion. I was beginning to get hungry. No, make that famished. And five hours after leaving home, I was in dire need of a restroom. But it would cost at least 12 bucks to park for the hour or so I had left.
I figured I could wait a bit more.
It was nearly 9:30 when another car pulled up behind mine, and I saw a young man get out and run toward me. His hair was a mass of tiny braids and he was wearing camouflage shorts and a black t-shirt emblazoned “IT’S GOOD TO BE THE KING.”
I rolled down my window as he approached. “Can I ask you a question?” he asked.
had just discovered the hefty parking fees and wondered if there were any way to exit
without paying them. I replied that I was sitting there because I was in the exact same boat, and I
really didn’t know.
this, he indicated that he was simply going to make a U-turn. This would require
driving in the wrong direction along a one-way street. I advised against it.
“You’ll probably get a ticket,” I warned.
He shrugged and said he was going to give it a
Indeed, I watched as
he spun around and sped away from the entrance to the lot, only to be pulled over almost instantly by a passing security van. I winced on his behalf.
About 10 minutes
later, I checked on the flight again and
saw that it had begun descending rapidly and landing was imminent. It was time to bite the bullet and go in.
So I turned my car on.
At least I tried to turn it on. I rotated the key in the ignition, but all I heard was a hideous stream of shrill, rapid clicks. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh!
Perhaps when I had
switched off my car, I’d left it on halfway so that the a/c or radio would keep
running. Or perhaps I’d left on the lights. I thought I had turned it all off. Whatever the case, I evidently had done something dumb. Really dumb.
My battery was dead.
what was I going to do?
Sure, I’m a member of AAA – the Automobile Association of America (not Alcoholics Anonymous).
But by the time help arrived, an hour
or more surely would have passed. My daughter
and JP would be exhausted after a 16-hour flight. I was exhausted myself.
What a disaster! What an
idiot I was. What the heck was I going to do now?
At that moment, I saw the young man with the braids and t-shirt driving up again. This time, though, he pulled up right beside my
car and rolled down his window.
just picked up his brother, who had flown in from Georgia, but had chosen to drive back to me
just to pass on the secret that he had learned. The security officer hadn’t given him a ticket. Instead, he’d told him that if you entered the parking
lot and exited right away, the guards in the ticket booths would let you leave
without paying a cent.
He had taken the time to drive
back to tell me this even though doing so would require him to drive all the way through the vast parking lot himself in order to exit.
I could hardly
believe my ears.
I thanked him profusely for his thoughtfulness, but admitted that this invaluable tip would do me little good at this
point because my car had mysteriously
“Oh, no!” he replied sympathetically. “Do you want a jump?”
A jump? “You’re kidding, right?” I asked.
He was not. He had a set of cables on board
and was more than happy to help.
He proceeded to do another complete 180 and pull
his car up so close to mine that they stood like two horses resting in
a pasture nose to nose. Then he fished the tangled nest of rubber-coated cables – like long, smooth strands of licorice, one red, one black –
out of his trunk.
Incredulous, I popped my hood and jumped out to thank him again. Yet to his frustration, although the hood was open a crack, he couldn’t figure out how to unlatch it. He summoned
his brother, who was holding a groggy toddler,
to get out and help.
Then he spent quite a while researching my car model on his phone for instructions. No luck. I'd known this was too good to be true.
But then, probing around gently with his fingers, he
found the latch himself, and the hood gave way at last.
Although I’ve seen this task performed many times before, I remain a complete ignoramus when it comes to fixing cars. I could only stand by and watch in awe as he attached the clamps, creating a lifeline from his car to mine. Then, following his instructions, I got back behind the
wheel and gave it a bit of gas.
Eureka! In an instant, my defunct battery revved and audibly came back
Just at that moment, I received a text from Allegra. One word only. “Landed!”
What would I have done without this fellow’s
help? I couldn’t even imagine.
I hesitated to insult him, I felt so indebted that I wanted to express my thanks
more fully, and to do it in more than words. I asked if there were any way I could repay him by,
well, paying him. But he adamantly dismissed the offer at once.
“Hey, plenty of people have helped me out before when
I was stuck,” he declared. “I’m just paying it forward.
Maybe you’ll do the same someday.”
I hope I get that chance, although I doubt it will involve
my using jumper cables.
For now, all I could do was thank him again and ask if I could take his picture for my blog. Then I asked for his name. He said it was Jamal.
I kid you not.
Which brings me back to the President’s prescient words.
If I had been hiring for any kind of job, I would not have given Jamal a second interview. No second interview
would be necessary. I would have hired him on the spot.
I would hate to think
of myself as someone susceptible to racial bias. I also hate to generalize about race. But if I do have any bias along
those lines, then here is what it is:
There are good white people and bad white people.
There are good black people and bad black people.
There are good Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists, and also bad Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. (Yes, hard as
it is to believe, even bad Buddhists, no doubt.)
There are good Jews and bad Jews, and also, unfortunately, really bad Jews like Bernie Madoff.
in my experience, there are not a lot of white people – at least not a lot I have ever met – who would have gone as far out of their way as Jamal did that night for me, a total stranger.
In my experience, although I hesitate to generalize about people, and especially about race, if black people are different from white people in any significant way,
it's that they tend to be nicer.
As for Jamal, who was beyond
nice, he proved to be my hero, and a true mensh.
Before bidding me goodbye, he issued
strict instructions to continue running my
car for at least 20 to 30 minutes before turning it off so that the battery wouldn’t die again. Better yet, he advised, I shouldn’t turn it off until I’d reached my destination for the night.
So I kept it revving until it was time to drive through the parking lot, from which – as he had initially stopped so kindly to inform me –
they did allow me to exit free of charge.
By the time I had reached the terminal, Allegra and JP – and all of their copious
quantities of luggage – were already outside on the curb, waiting for me to pick them up.
So I did not
get to go in and have dinner. I did not get to go to the restroom, either.
But thanks to
Jamal, I did get to welcome my daughter in person, on time, and with open arms.
And to hold up my silly homemade sign.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
I don't even want to tell you how much we spent on our weekend getaway this past week,
let alone what we shelled out for dinner. It was, granted, a birthday dinner.
Make that a double birthday dinner.
The main reason I can’t believe what we spent on that one meal is that it wasn’t
supposed to cost nearly that much. There was no indication it would cost that much. And although what happened was not exactly
my fault, I ended up feeling guilty.
I chose the restaurant.
Guilty because I made all of the arrangements.
But mostly, guilty because I am a nice Jewish mom. How else do you
think I would feel?
It all started a few months ago when we were out for dinner with our good friends “Nora” and “Ray.”
Ray mentioned that at our age he had begun to find himself unable
to participate in many of the sports he used to love and had begun to delve instead into the joys of yoga. This prompted me to ask if he had ever visited Kripalu.
I was referring to Kripalu (pronounced “kri-PAH-loo”) Center for Yoga & Health, the popular, tranquil retreat in Lenox, Massachusetts that is the largest, most established, and best-known Mecca for yoga, health, and holistic living in all of North America.
He confessed that he had not, and somehow a plan was hatched then and there for the four of us to spend a weekend there together celebrating his and my husband’s then-impending birthdays, which fell within a week of each other in June.
Although Ray may be a budding yoga devotee,
my husband and I remain total novices
at best, and even that is a bit of a stretch. I once took a yoga class back in college, and then a few years ago, when we first became empty nesters, I signed us up for an introductory
We finished all
eight sessions of that series. In fact, we took it twice. And my husband still couldn’t get into a decent Downward Facing Dog or any of the other most basic
yoga positions. So we decided that our days of saying “Namaste”(“peace”) were over.
Nora confessed to being such a neophyte at this art that she didn’t even own a single pair of yoga pants (something I tend to live in whether I do yoga or not just for the comfy stretchiness). So I recommended that we just test the waters for our first Kripalu outing
by purchasing day passes for $120 apiece, which would entitle us to eat three meals there and take
all the classes we wished on a single day (including a 90-minute workshop session on Deconstructing
Your Downward Dog), rather than totally immersing ourselves
I had done this routine at Kripalu three times before and enjoyed strolling their magnificent grounds, then taking an amazing daily noon class called Let Your Yoga Dance, which
is not exactly yoga and not exactly dance, but is 100 percent full of joy.
In order to make a full weekend of it, though, I recommended that we stay over at one of the many lovely
inns that welcome overnight guests in the bucolic Berkshires.
Besides, despite its low-key and ascetic atmosphere, Kripalu's accommodations are on the exorbitantly pricey
side. With three daily meals included, per person prices, even for a standard double room with
a shared public bathroom down the hall (think typical college dorm), run $434 per person per night (and there is a two-night
It would actually be cheaper to buy a day pass and stay at a posh inn with private bath nearby.
During the summer season, most inns are also prohibitively pricey and require a minimum stay of three nights. However, I managed to find one
place nearby that hadn’t put its high-season rates into effect just yet and only demanded we stay for two.
Yes, after spending hours surveying every nearby B&B listed online, I came across the Cornell Inn, which boasted not only charming New England decor but also a lavish breakfast that could be enjoyed al fresco beside a small pond and
scenic gurgling waterfall.
That would take care of breakfast both mornings, and we would eat one lunch and dinner in
the Kripalu dining hall, known for its
mostly vegetarian and uber-healthy kale-oriented
But since this was a birthday weekend – a double one, at that –
I figured that we should eat at least one special meal out. Make that a very special meal.
Over the years, while visiting Lenox each summer, my husband and I have eaten at almost every restaurant in town. There is only one that he especially loves, called Nudel, but it doesn’t take reservations.
Since Nora and Ray wanted us all to attend a show they’d
heard about on Friday night, we couldn’t take a chance on not having a dinner reservation somewhere. And I knew just
what that somewhere should be.
There’s a lovely Gilded Age inn in the center of Lenox
with an elegant restaurant on its premises. Not only is this place exceedingly
charming, even as New England inns go, but the chef evidently used to be the White House chef when Bill Clinton was in office.
And even if the notion of Bill Clinton’s tastes conjures
up images of Big Macs with a side of fries, I figured these items would not be on
the menu at this elegant inn.
Just to be sure, I checked the menu, which boasted offerings
more like Filet Mignon with mashed potatoes, cipollini onions and dem-glace or Slow-Cooked
Half Duck with butternut puree, forbidden rice with currants, and watercress salad. On further
inspection, I learned that the inn's eatery only offered
a prix fixe three-course meal for dinner.
On weekends, this dinner cost
a rather hefty sum, but their website stated that on weeknights it cost only $39…and said that weeknights included Friday.
OK, maybe that wasn’t exactly cheap. But for a special birthday dinner – a double birthday dinner, at that – it was within the realm of reasonable.
I wrote to our friends, who readily agreed, then I made a reservation for early
Friday evening and promptly forgot about it… until the day before we left, when I received a text message from the inn asking me to
confirm our reservation, which I did.
That night, after I’d finished packing, I decided to go online to check the inn’s current menu. I knew that they changed their offerings regularly to feature seasonal ingredients and wondered what wonderful delicacies might be in
store for us.
That’s when I discovered, to my distress, that the prices had gone up since I’d made the reservation six weeks earlier. Gone up substantially. Perhaps the old prices had been for out
of season and high season had already officially begun at this inn.
prix fixe now cost $55 per person,rather than the
original $39. On weekends, which it still said meant
Saturday and Sunday, the meal cost a colossal $67.
When I had made the reservation, I had been obliged to give
my credit card and acknowledge that the restaurant
charged $20 per person if you canceled the day you were slated to arrive.
already after 10 p.m. the night before. Was the
place even still open?
I quickly texted Nora to alert her about the problem and ask
what she wanted to do. She wrote back promptly. “No
problem. Don’t worry,” she said.
“Really?” I replied. “With wine it will be
“It’s a special night,” she countered.
At those prices, it had better be.
We were all feeling quite celebratory
when we arrived at the inn just before 5:30 the following night and were ushered to a table in their handsome, stately
dining room. Until, that is, I looked at the
The food listed was different from the fare I’d seen listed online
the previous night.
wasn’t the problem. The problem was the price. It now cost $67 per person.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Now what were we going to do?
thought that “prix fixe” meant that the price was fixed. Apparently not.
The only thing that was fixed, in this case, was the
game. And the game was fixed in favor of the house.
Ray and Nora urged us not to make a fuss,
but I felt taken advantage of. Having chosen the place myself, I also felt responsible… and responsible for setting
I waved our waitress over to complain about the inexplicable change. She said she would summon the manager,
who appeared about 10 minutes later.
He didn’t seem terribly interested in making any kind of adjustment, but agreed to speak to the chef about it. Then he disappeared for about 20 more minutes, by which time we had already ordered our dinners and been served our drinks.
After all, there was no time to go elsewhere now. And we’d presumably be docked $80 if we did.
Moments after I complained to him,
a couple seated near us – the only other
patrons present at the time – called over to divulge that they had been similarly misled.
very pleased that they said this, because otherwise I would have wondered if there were some chance I
had made a mistake. I also would have worried that
my friends thought the error had been mine.
By the time the manager finally
returned from his conference with the chef, we already had finished eating the first course.
“I’m so sorry,” he said with a distinct French accent. “Zee chef, he says zis is zee menu we are serving tonight, and zis is the price for zee menu. Perhaps, though, we can offer you maybe a bottle of Prosecco?”
We had already
each had a cocktail or glass of wine and didn’t
really need to drink any more alcohol, if you ask me. But free Prosecco? Well, at least
it was a small means of compensation. So we nodded to agree… although by the time the bottle of bubbly arrived, we
were nearly done with our entrees.
And I must say those entrees had been skillfully prepared and exquisitely presented, whether or not the price was right.
My oven-roasted half duck with English pea mash and broccolini was served in such gorgeous
splendor that I swooned at the sight.
And the key lime pot de creme that followed for dessert for the birthday boy was nothing short of luscious.
But I was so mortified when the bill came that I couldn’t
sleep that night.
Instead, I tossed and turned until dawn just mulling over the awkward situation.
Should we have walked out as soon as we’d arrived, protesting the bait and switch?
we have offered to pay the difference in price on our friends’ bill (although they undoubtedly never would have let us)?
Had the mistake
somehow been my fault? And had our friends just pretended to be good sports about it, but were secretly livid at me?
I got my answer when I went down, bleary-eyed, to join our companions for the Cornell Inn’s sumptuous breakfast served overlooking the pond.
Nora was still kvelling over the roast rack of lamb she had ordered the night before. She had relished every bite. Ray seemed equally rapturous.
“So you’re not
mad about the dinner?” I asked, incredulous.
On the contrary, he assured
me. They weren’t upset at all. He preferred to look at it this way: We had enjoyed a phenomenal
meal in an elegant setting with impeccable service. And with great friends. They were perfectly happy with the entire experience. Why undermine it by dwelling
on a minor discrepancy in the price?
I realized at that moment that he was absolutely right.
The fact was that I did feel deceived, because
I was a victim of false advertising. Or
at the very least an unfortunate error brought on by old world charm colliding with the age of technology.
But the main reason I had been upset was that I felt somehow responsible for the mishap
and had worried that my friends were annoyed about it. Annoyed with me, that is.
OK, with the tip – a relatively modest one – the bill came
to a whopping $186 per couple. That’s the priciest meal for two I have eaten in my memory. Maybe eaten ever.
My husband, who is the consumer reporter at a newspaper in Connecticut, still chose to call the inn after we returned home to complain, hoping they’d do something to rectify the situation beyond
the bottle of Prosecco we hadn’t really needed. But I wasn’t optimistic.
I figured, to count our blessings.
We are blessed that we can afford to splurge now and then on a birthday dinner.
fact, we could afford to splurge further that weekend and also take in a tour of The Mount (home to 19th
century author Edith Wharton), followed by an incredible show on Sunday at Jacob’s
Pillow Dance Center in Becket.
(Did I mention that we spent a whole lot?)
Best of all, though, by far, is that we have incredible and true friends who are very wise and also willing to let it go when things don’t go their way.
Now, that is really lucky… and ducky.
But meanwhile, guess
what? After my husband complained, the restaurant caved. They invited us to come back for another meal – a FREE one, this time – for four.
We will have to think of another way to compensate Nora and Ray because
we plan to enjoy that meal next weekend, when, as it happens, we will be back in Lenox for our
only other visit this summer, this time with our daughter Allegra and her boyfriend JP.
Wait. Didn’t I tell you? She’s coming home! For good! After a whole year in
I guess I should have mentioned that first. Talk about burying the lead.
I will tell you more about it next week… if I have time with
all the excitement.
For now… count your blessings. And let the non-blessings go.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
Jackie I mean. I can’t believe that in all this time I’ve barely mentioned him to you. My kids must be tired by now of hearing his name insinuate itself into our
every conversation like a pesky Internet
Jackie and his wife
Chris moved into the white house with pale green shutters across the street
and two doors down five or six years ago. When I first saw him in his driveway, I stopped by to chat briefly and welcome him to the neighborhood. Then, life being busy, and his being young enough to be my son, our paths
never crossed again.
Until last year, that is, when he and Chris adopted Zoey – a feisty little beagle-German Shepherd mix. We were already busy being puppy parents ourselves, and suddenly Jackie became
our new best friend.
Or maybe even more than a friend.
Latke, our Portuguese Water Daughter, is as gregarious a critter as you’ll ever find.
Since she came into our lives three years ago, we have prowled the neighborhood daily with her in search of canine companionship. To our frustration, many nearby dog owners have invisible fences and think that pet care
means little more than letting their dogs roam around on their lawns on their own.
Others are satisfied to just quickly march their
dogs around the block on a leash. They’re too busy with their human offspring to have time or energy to “waste” on doggie play dates.
Jackie was a distinct exception to this rule.
He began to come over several times a week, if not almost daily, to
let Zoey and Latke romp and play unfettered in our fenced-in
back yard. He was as busy as anyone could be, juggling his job at a motorcycle gear shop with a part-time
internship and classes he was taking at a local
college to finish his degree. But he still proved to be a deeply devoted
doggie daddy to Zoey.
Like us, he had discovered that without enough exercise or other activity, our pups could transform into mischievous or maniacal little devils. Yet after an hour of toothsome tugs of war and other vigorous antics, they’d collapse and snooze like
docile little angels for the remainder of the day.
Years ago, I used to walk our previous dog (whose name was also Zoe) almost daily with a fellow doggie mom, and after five minutes we would struggle for things to say. Not Jackie.
He is about as chatty and garrulous a guy as you will ever hope to find. Despite our difference in years, there was never a dull moment or lull in
There was also never a lull in the fun. When Zoey first appeared, she was a mere midget compared to our 42-pound mongrel,
yet still anything but timid. High-spirited
and brimming with spunk, she could hold her own and nimbly fend off older and far heftier adversaries.
And within the year she filled out and shot up so that they were a perfect match. Every day, the moment Zoey would arrive, she and Latke would spring instantly into action, racing manically around the
yard and weaving dangerously, like dare-devil slalom skiers, through the intricate obstacle course offered by our elaborate old wooden playscape.
Then, like arch enemies, they’d battle endlessly, vying over the same twig, tattered toy or other such treasure, snarling menacingly as they waged snout-to-snout combat, deftly
managing to just miss each other’s ears or muzzles with bared fangs the way we humans air kiss.
Yet as fierce as their
growls and playful barks might sound, there was no doubt. They each had found their BFF (Best Friend Fur-ever) and bonded
for life. Whenever I walked Latke down the block, she would make a beeline for Jackie and Zoey’s house and plant her backside on their
doorstep. Wild horses, let alone a busy but far from muscular mom, couldn’t drag her away.
Fortunately, whenever Jackie was there, he was more than willing to step outside with his
four-footed charge night and day. Along with being the best neighbor imaginable, the
truth was that he needed us as much as we needed him. We soon became a mutual
canine collaboration society.
We took an even more heightened interest in Jackie when our daughter Allegra, who was away singing in Hong Kong, began to date her boyfriend JP. By coincidence, Jackie was not only the exact same age as JP, but just like him had grown up in Hong Kong and left the
city at age 8. I began to joke to Jackie that they were secret brothers separated at birth.
At the very least, I maintained, they must have crossed paths at some point when they were
young. But Jackie would always shake his head and insist otherwise. Hong Kong
is a city of over 7 million, he explained. Besides, he grew up
having something of a hardscrabble life, first in Hong Kong, then Queens, New York, where he went to live with his father
for years after his parents divorced. JP, on the contrary, he would say, had grown up “with a silver spoon in his mouth.”
It was the kind of blunt thing that Jackie says. But I kind
of like that he’s kind of blunt.
Besides, along with the candor, he’s beyond considerate and kind. And not just to Zoey.
People of a certain age – my age, that is – know what it’s like when your children grow up and leave the house. After decades
of having life revolve relentlessly around the kids, you suddenly feel like you have
lost your sun. There is a void that you will
never fill... and a whole lot of silent nights.
There is also no
strapping young man or woman around any more to lift heavy boxes, help carry your suitcase down the stairs… or solve
those nasty technological glitches that invariably crop up.
did all of that for us, gladly. And more.
When a small section of tiles on our kitchen floor buckled up over the winter (a calamity
we ascribed to melting snow seeping in), a tile company said our only recourse was to retile half the downstairs of our house, which
probably would have cost thousands.
knows how to fix almost everything and said that was a waste. Instead, he removed the few
broken tiles, replaced them with a handful of spare ones we had on hand, and regrouted for little more than the nominal cost of the materials.
When my computer crashed a few days later, he managed
to get it up and running, just like that.
And when my husband needed a new car this spring, he joined him at a dealer and advised him what to lease.
Then there was the time that Allegra, who was visiting from Hong Kong, realized that she
had left an invaluable notebook filled with original music at a club where she had sung. We were away in New York City at the time. The club was in Connecticut. There was only one person I dared ask to do us the favor of driving half an hour roundtrip to retrieve it. And he did it.
Happily, of course.
And, of course,
we were always happy and eager to reciprocate. While Jackie and Chris were away over the winter, I brought in packages delivered
to their doorstep, got our plow service to clear their driveway after a blizzard, and shoveled their walk myself (with only
a little help from Latke).
Then there was the time that some potential buyers were coming over to look at their house unexpectedly.
I ran over to fetch Zoey, who was there napping in her crate.
And when I discovered that she’d had “an accident” in there (yes,
with puppies it happens), I cleaned the mess up and opened all the windows in the house to air it out before
the buyers arrived.
The buyers. Yes, I did say "buyers." Which brings me to the sorry truth.
In December, Chris
got a new job that started immediately, requiring her
to move to New York at once. Jackie stayed behind to finish school and continue working here. They got together on the weekends. But
on weekdays he was now more available than ever.
To my husband, and me, it felt like we had a child at home again. And to our infinite delight, Jackie seemed to
reciprocate our feelings. He doesn’t have any relatives nearby, and with his wife living hours away, he seemed to relish having the company. Even ours.
He not only still came over almost daily, but also began texting me almost round the clock, and not just to coordinate doggie dates. He also would write to tell us what he was eating for dinner (“Squid ink fried rice – life changing experience!”), or often offer to bring something for us when he got takeout himself (“Want a bagel? I’m picking up lunch.”).
Or he’d simply write to mention things he came across that he thought might interest me (“The BBC
Channel is talking about Aushwitz remembered
– Channel 1207 on AT&T”).
But it was eminently clear that our budding liaison had a looming expiration date.
We knew it was only a matter of time before Jackie
joined Chris to live closer to the city. They soon bought a new home in New York and put their house here on the market.
Oblivious to it all, Latke and Zoey continued their daily backyard escapades in the cold and snow. Jackie also continued to join us and
listen to me bark at him as though I were his
“Why aren’t you wearing a hat?" I'd ask. "It’s freezing out. Where are your gloves?”
I couldn't help offering other motherly advice. And noodging him about all sorts of things. Noodging him
a lot. Yes, he already had a mother. But he’d never had a nice Jewish mom. And he didn’t seem to mind.
With four-foot drifts piled up on their lawn, they didn’t have much luck with buyers.
But we still knew it was only a matter of time.
I began to live in dread of their departure, and was relieved when construction on their new house delayed their move from March to April,
But two weeks ago, the moving van finally arrived. I readily
volunteered to watch Zoey while the
movers loaded up the truck.
To our delight, Jackie brought Zoey back a few days later when he returned to straighten up. Then, just today, I nearly exploded with
euphoria when they popped up again unexpectedly
on the block (nothing like an Internet pop-up at all) so that Jackie could pick up a few items he'd left behind and return
his cap and gown to school.
Once again, it didn’t take a bit of arm-twisting for
me to offer to supervise the goyls for one final doggie date in our back yard while Jackie tied up some last
I watched them zoom around their old obstacle course like race cars speeding mightily on a circular
track. Then they played furry hide and seek, darting around the trees until their little legs gave out and they collapsed,
pink tongues panting wildly, on cool tufts of grass. At last, seeking refuge from the glare of the afternoon sun, they rested
up on the deck, side by side for one last time, seated politely like ladies at tea on their favorite chaise longue.
Every time I grow maudlin about Jackie and Chris’s departure, Allegra
reminds me that she is about to return to the States. It’s true. After what turned into a full agonizing year abroad,
she's moving back to New York later this month, supposedly for good.
When I think about her extended absence, I begin to wonder if Jackie was heaven sent. Everyone knows I’m such a dedicated nice Jewish mom that it was doubtful I would survive having my daughter halfway around the globe for an entire
12-month stint. To those people, I usually say, “Thank G-d for Facetime!” But I also thank heaven for Jackie.
Having him around, more than anything, helped to get me through the past year.
I will miss him, of course. I already do. But we will still continue to talk. And text. For sure.
how will we ever explain to poor Latke that Zoey doesn’t live here anymore?