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Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Allegra and me.jpg        I’m afraid I don’t have that much of a story for you this week, because I needed to do something for my daughter, and as I expect you have discerned by now, for me being a nice Jewish mom will always take precedence over being NiceJewishMom.com.
Anyway, the thing that I had to do for my daughter had to do with her forthcoming album.
I know you have been hearing about this album from me for quite awhile, and that I keep promising it’s going to come out. But this time I’m telling you in no uncertain terms. It really is going to come out!
OK, it is not going to come out until November. But in order for it to come out then, and for people to know that it has, Allegra hired a prominent jazz publicist. And that publicist needed a press release. A press release from us. And she needed it asap.Allegra's album cover.jpg
Why this press release about an album not coming out until November was such a pressing matter in July (which is when she had said that she needed it) was beyond me.
        Well, maybe not entirely beyond me.
As a longtime journalist, I know that editors plan the content for their publications months in advance, and that monthly magazines go to press months in advance. And we wanted to give these editors and their various publications as much advance notice as possible, in hopes that Allegra and her new CD might get reviewed.Jazz Times magazine.jpg
It was unanimously agreed in our household that the best person for this job was my son, Aidan, who, as a jazz journalist on staff at JazzTimes magazine and The Village Voice, often reviews CDs. He also occasionally writes press releases on a free-lance basis.
Aidan, however, is now on deadline for a book that he is writing. He also was away with his girlfriend Kaitlin on a trip to London, Paris, and the South of France at the time that this needed to be done. So it was unanimously agreed in our household that the best person for the job was not available. The only person who was available was me.
“You can do this!” Aidan assured me enthusiastically.
“I know I can,” I agreed with a barely audible gulp. The fact was that over the years, I’d written just about everything. I had even on occasion written press releases. Press releases for Allegra.Kaitlin and Aidan in Monte Carlo.jpg
But then, to offer some guidance, Aidan sent me a few sample press releases about other jazz albums that had been written for the publicist in question. And as soon as I read them, I began to realize that – as eager as I was to help – even if I were the only person currently available, I was not the right man (or nice Jewish mom) for the job.
The samples that he sent me weren’t just straightforward, informative documents conveying the particulars of who, what, when, where, and why. They were written in a very knowledgeable and florid style, including convoluted and technical-sounding phrases like “playing minor chords with upward angles” and “laying down an oscillating foundation of harmony that makes the high register feel both irresistible and forbidding.” Huh?
So I called Aidan, who was then in London, for a translation and added guidance.
He acknowledged that these press releases might be written with excessive flair. And that the job called for some degree of actual jazz expertise.
        “I should really do it,” he concluded guiltily.
“You don’t have the time to do it!” I reminded him. And to help assuage his guilt, I mustered as much self-confidence as I could fake and said, “No, I’ll do it. I know I can.”Allegra promo photo 3.jpg
So he sent me even more samples for guidance. These contained even more technical-sounding phrases like “a dusky, catchy number with a rhythm of 31/16,” “spacious solo statements,” “full-throated yet eminently lyrical horn lines,” and “marked by a tolling bass line and golden-hued lead playing.” And I realized that even if I were the last man or nice Jewish mom on earth, I wouldn’t be able to write this press release.
“I can’t do this,” I told Aidan.
        “I should really do it,” he concurred.
“You don’t have the time to do it!” I countered. “I’ll just do it. Really! I’ll be fine.”
Fine? Well, maybe not fine. I would be a basket case. But I’d do it nonetheless.
Part of the key to writing this sort of press release was to consult the artist (in this case my own daughter) about her music, her motivation, her inspiration, and so on.
Should I put in the part about how when she was growing up, I used to hear her singing in her room each night, and I would scream, “Stop singing and do your homework!” And when it finally turned out that she was going to go to a music college, I realized that I should have been yelling, “Stop doing your homework and start singing!”
Maybe not. I was supposed to let her tell what had happened in her own words.
Aidan began coaching me about what to ask her. Then this crazy thing happened. He was talking to me on our home phone from London via Google voice (which is free) when Allegra happened to phone me from Hong Kong on my cell phone via FaceTime (also free).
I began repeating what each one had said when I realized that there was no need.tape recorder.jpg
Instead, I held one phone near the other, and we began having a three-way chat. No, actually, they were just having a chat. They had cut out the middleman – make that middle nice Jewish mom – and begun talking to each other. But this wasn’t just idle chatter. Aidan stopped telling me how to interrogate Allegra about her music and intent and began interviewing her himself. I quickly turned on my tape recorder to capture it.Allegra is singing in Hong Kong.jpg
Unfortunately, it was soon time for her to get dressed for one of her weekly gigs at the Hong Kong Four Seasons hotel, so she had to sign off. But before she did, they arranged a time at which they would complete the interview the next day. The plan was that Aidan would finish the interview solo. Allegra would record it and email it to me.
The interview that they did turned out to be over an hour long – an hour and 14 minutes, to be exact. And when I received it and began to listen to it, I realized that I really had not been the right man for the job. Because Aidan didn’t just ask her about her motivation and her influences. They had a fascinating interactive dialogue in which he posed savvy follow-up questions that I never would have dreamed of, like, “Let’s talk about the music from a more harmonic perspective. You have some challenging chord progressions. How did you go about doing the arrangements?” And, “Do you think there’s a certain catharsis in the blues, or in the aesthetic that you’re aiming for?”
Transcribing the interview wasn’t hard. It was just very time-consuming. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this before, but when people talk fast (and my kids talk fast) you have to roll the tape back repeatedly to make sure that you got the words right.press release.jpg
I decided that I would only take the time to transcribe the interesting parts, but somehow, to me, they were all interesting. So I took the whole thing down word for word, which took me two days early last week and filled nearly 14 typewritten pages.
And then I spent the following two days trying to organize it and painstakingly whittle it down. For the interview consisted of 6,352 words, and the most recent press release that Aidan wanted me to model my own after was only about 600 words.John McNeil.jpg
Of course, writing the release wasn’t just a matter of transcribing the interview and offering excerpts from their lively discourse. I had to make it flow and also had to throw in a choice quote or two from John McNeil, the prominent jazz trumpet player who had produced the album.
He and Allegra had met when he was one of her professors at New England Conservatory of Music, and they had instantly clicked. Or as Allegra noted in the interview, “John and I are very like-minded people. We have a dash of cynicism in all of our work.”John McNeil and Allegra.jpg
At least I didn’t need to actually track down McNeil and try to interview him myself. Instead, I borrowed a choice excerpt from the liner notes that he’d written for the album. (“This is a mature first recording by a singer you’re sure to hear more from,” he’d stated. “The tunes are catchy and well-constructed, and you’ll probably find yourself singing them in a short time. I sing them still.”)Drummer Richie Barshay and Allegra.jpg
I also had to list and provide credentials for the many other musicians featured on the album, including Richie Barshay, a well-known drummer who is a longtime member of the klezmer band The Klezmatics, has played with such jazz luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Esperanza Spalding, and happens to be from our town.
For good measure, I tried to sound knowledgeable and slightly incomprehensible myself by throwing in some convoluted turns of phrase, like the way I described McNeil. “…he performs the high-wire musical balancing act of embracing tradition while promulgating the progressive,” I said, slightly embellishing Allegra’s own description.Allegra in the recording studio.jpg
Or the way I characterized the 11 songs on the album, all of which Allegra had written herself.  “Although these tunes bow to the classic, they still cling to the present, while defying the current trend among singers of performing wordless vocals.”
Another observation: “Most of her songs diverge from the typical lament that ‘My man has up and gone,’ tackling instead the angst of the human condition, and Levy’s own condition of struggling to cope in a world that cries out for levity and conformity.”  
And when I got the release down to around 1,400 words and couldn’t bear to cut one syllable more, my husband, who is also a journalist, offered to help. But I declined to let him help.
Instead, I called in the cavalry. Aidan, that is.Aidan came to the rescue.jpg
With luck, he had just returned from abroad at last. And although he was extremely jet-lagged, and still on deadline, he dropped everything and agreed to give it a crack.
I don’t how long he actually spent revising it, but in less than an hour he had sent it back to me. And I realized that the right man for the job wasn’t just one man. It was us.
Aidan and me. In the end, we made a great tag team.
Maybe what I had done wasn’t brilliant or savvy or even passably acceptable. But I had somehow come up with a close enough approximation that after I spent four days slaving over it, he could swoop down, fiddle around, and actually make my words sing.
It now contained truly incomprehensible sentences like, “On the plangent ‘A Better Day,’ Levy draws from the legacy of the great scatters to express the ineffable, breaking down the barrier between vocalist and instrumentalist.” And, “The lilting title track, ‘Lonely City,’ is ‘about finding your lost love,’ she says, and has a harmonic simplicity that belies the figurative bewilderment that goes into the search.”
But to my delight, he retained my basic structure and nearly every quote I’d used. He also agreed that there was little fluff in my feeble attempt and cut only a few lines.
He even retained the basic gist of my lead, although his was a major improvement.Allegra in green dress promo shot.jpg
Here’s my opening paragraph (and please bear in mind that it sounds far from objective not because I’m the artist’s mother but because it isn’t supposed to be impartial; it’s a press release!)
        Most jazz vocalists sing standards. Allegra Levy writes her own. From the feisty opening track of her brazenly autobiographical debut album, Lonely City, to the haunting strains of its intricate closing ballad, “The Duet,” it is clear: These are exhilarating new songs with staying power, and a vital new voice destined to be heard for many years to come.
        And now here’s his revised version:
        Most jazz vocalists sing standards. Allegra Levy writes her own. From the plaintive title track of her brazenly autobiographical debut album, Lonely City, to the haunting strains of its intricate closing ballad, “The Duet,” the 24-year-old New York-based vocalist and composer has penned a lyrical collection of 11 harmonically adventurous-yet-familiar originals steeped in the tradition of the Great American Songbook.
         Aidan was nice about it.jpg
        As I said, he's the professional jazz journalist in the family. He clearly was the right man (and/or nice Jewish boy) for the job.
But as a nice Jewish boy he chose to be nice about it. When he sent me his new and improved version, instead of saying, “I told you I should have done this,” he attached a really sweet note.
You did an amazing job with this! I trimmed it and moved a few things around. I think Allegra will love it and it will help get her the press she deserves!
        Allegra happy in Hong Kong.jpgAnd best of all, after a little family collaboration, it was done, and Allegra did love it. A few minutes after sending it to her, I wrote to clarify that if she was satisfied with it and had no corrections or revisions, she should feel free to forward it to the publicist.
To which she replied, “I already did!”
Who knows if the publicist will approve?
        Who knows if Allegra will get reviewed?
I will keep you posted.
I will also tell you how to buy the CD when it comes out. In November, that is.
And next week, with luck, I’ll get back to being NiceJewishMom.com again and actually have time to write my blog.

11:37 pm 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie with Latke.JPG       There are dog people and there are cat people, and in some cases the twain meet. But not in my house.
I grew up with a dog. We got a dog for our kids when they were little. And now that our kids are grown, and our first dog is, sadly, gone, we have another dog to be our kid.
Our kids, however, have grown up to have cats. Or to live with cats. One has two. Go figure.Mewy on computer.jpg
Perhaps it’s just a function of the stage of life that they’re in. Cats are much lower maintenance, and when you’re in your 20s, life is tough and chaotic enough. You’re still getting your act together. You don’t really need to take care of anyone or anything else.
But sometimes you still need someone else to come help take care of your cats. And that’s where we came in.Kaitlin and Aidan at the Eiffel Tower.jpg
I’m not complaining, mind you. Far from. When our son Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin recently asked if we’d be willing to help cat-sit while they spent a few weeks taking a trip to London, Paris, and the South of France, they didn’t need to ask twice.
But I did need to ask them a whole lot of questions because I’ve never had a cat. I also had a whole lot of trepidation because I have long believed I am allergic to cats (one of the many reasons that I’ve never, ever had one).
My husband was amazed that they asked us, regardless of their cat-sitting needs. We’ve stayed at our daughter’s more times than I can count, but never once at Aidan’s. He has never even invited us over to dinner, although I can’t say that I blame him.
The one time that he let me stay overnight at a previous apartment that he had in Chelsea, I woke up in the middle of the night and surreptitiously cleaned the bathroom. He’s a very neat guy, but I thought that it needed a touchup. I don’t think that he agreed.Kandinsky poster I bought Aidan.jpg
Then there was the time that I decided his apartment looked kind of bleak because after two years he had yet to put up a single piece of art on the walls. So I asked his roommates if they would mind some help and then bought them a whole lot of posters.
They were attractive posters, albeit rather generic to appeal to everyone’s tastes. And when he finally mounted them, six months later, the place looked lived-in at last. But his attitude brought to mind a popular advertising slogan for Anacin from the ‘60s. “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself!”
You might think I had learned my lesson from that experience, but not entirely, and I can’t entirely be blamed for that. Kaitlin recently sent me an email asking for decorating advice. After moving to their latest apartment, they’d realized that they didn’t have a single pair of matching sheets, and had decided to invest in some new bedding. But they’d been unable to find anything that appealed to them both. She favored floral. He wanted stripes. And he only wanted something in a shade he called “smoky blue.”
She asked if I had any suggestions to help get them past their design impasse.Theo bedding set from Pottery Barn.jpg
After looking online for days, I wrote back to say that I’d found the perfect solution. There was a bedding set on sale at Pottery Barn that was all-inclusive. The duvet cover and shams came in a stylish yet muted, non-floral pattern. The coordinating sheets and pillowcases were striped. All were in high-quality cotton. And they came in smoky blue.
With their approval, I sent them that set as a housewarming gift, and they both loved it. Still, I probably should have had the sense to quit while I was ahead.
        But no.Rug I bought for Aidan.JPG
Kaitlin also had mentioned to me that they needed a new rug for their bedroom. And when I saw one on Wayfair.com that matched the bedding I’d sent, I couldn’t resist.
As long as we were going to stay with the cats, I decided to bring the rug along. I also bought them some new fancy towels with French words… and pillowcases with London designs…and a pair of mugs with the names of French cities. Plus a picture frame with a photo of Paris. I just figured it would be nice to bring them a few gifts in return for their hospitality.Towels with French embroidery.JPG
Besides, I doubted that they would buy many (if any) souvenirs of their trip. After all, Aidan is essentially allergic to shopping. Whereas I love nothing more than to shop.
What I am allergic to is cats.Kaitlin and Aidan's cats.jpg
Given that condition, I was a little disconcerted to arrive at their apartment last Friday evening and be virtually assaulted by one of their cats. Not aggressively, mind you. On the contrary. It wanted to rub itself affectionately against every part of my being.
It was equally drawn to my horrified husband, who is not much of a cat lover either.
I was also disconcerted to find only one cat, because I knew that there were two. One was named Jody and the other Wuftie, although I didn’t know which was which.Wuftie hiding under the bed.JPG
After extensive searching, I finally located the second cat. It was hiding under the bed and exhibited no desire whatsoever to come out and greet us as its new guardians.
I was inclined to stay and continue making “Pssst! Pssst!” noises until it emerged. But we’d gotten a late start packing up all of my many offerings and were already late.
As I said, cats are much lower maintenance than dogs. We were not expected as cat-sitters to actually sit around entertaining them, and as long as we were going to be in the city I had gotten theater tickets for both nights and also made dinner reservations.Summer Shorts 2014 at 59E59.jpg
The play that we saw that night was actually a series of three one-acts, Series B of the Summer Shorts being staged at a theatre called 59E59, of which we are members. One was by Neil LaBute (known for such plays as Summer Shorts scene.jpg Reasons to Be Pretty and its sequel, Reasons to Be Happy). Although we enjoyed the production, however, none of the three plays was especially pretty, and none of them made us happy. One was about a single mother dealing with a grown son with Asperger’s, and a second about a man confronting another man about something awful that he had done. As summer fare, they were surprisingly grim.
        Brasserie 8 1/2 filet mignon.jpg
Far more satisfying and uplifting, I must admit, was the dinner that preceded them. It happened to be New York Restaurant Week, a semi-annual promotion that actually encompasses more than three weeks (July 25 to August 15), in which 314 participating restaurants were offering three-course prix-fixe lunches for $25 and/or dinners for $38.Brasserie 8 1/2 peach tatin.jpg
This may not sound exactly like a bargain rate, but it is the only way we could ever afford to dine at some of these eateries – upscale places like Le Cirque or Boulud Sud. And the one that I’d chosen, mostly for its proximity to the theater – Brasserie 8½, on West 57th Street – turned out to be absolutely divine, from my stuffed zucchini blossom with goat cheese appetizer to my husband’s filet mignon with haricots verts and Béarnaise sauce, to the glistening peach tatin with almond ice cream served for dessert.
After all of that, it was still disconcerting to hasten back to the apartment and find that the grayish brown cat still seemed determined to become my conjoined twin, while the white one still wouldn’t come out of hiding… until, that is, I began to remove my jewelry.Wuftie.JPG
Seeing the delicate gold chain I’d been wearing glinting in the light, it tiptoed toward me furtively, cautiously, unable to contain its curiosity. As a reward, I reached toward it and let my hand gently trace the contours of its ears, then back, then tail.Wuftie on my suitcase.JPG
It didn’t shy away, daring to perch on my suitcase while I dressed for bed. Until my husband reappeared, that is. Then it dashed for cover, seeking refuge under the couch.
I woke up in the middle of the night to feel something wispy and spidery tickling my left cheek. Rubbing my eyes, I opened them to discover it was the white cat’s whiskers. It was sitting on the night table staring at me intently, its face barely an inch from mine.Wuftie was watching me sleep.JPG
The next thing I knew, it was broad daylight and the white cat was sleeping on the floor beside me. When it saw me open my eyes, it leaped up onto the bed and onto me. Until my husband woke up too. Then it headed for the hills.
I discovered that its counterpart had bedded down for the night on my suitcase.
I don’t know if cats respond to their names the way that dogs do. From what I have observed, I don’t know that cats respond to anything. But it was beginning to drive me crazy that I didn’t know what to call these animals. Which cat was which?
So I emailed Aidan and Kaitlin in London to ask and tell of our experience so far.
I also asked about the cats' genders, although I suppose I could’ve figured that out.Jody and Wuftie.JPG
“The white one is definitely a girl,” I speculated, noting how she had shunned me until she’d noticed my jewelry. “Then she was interested and is now my new best friend. Although she still hates Dad and runs for cover at the sight of him,” I reported. “The gray cat likes us both, and licks us both, but she especially likes (and licks) my suitcase.”
soon responded to explain that the white cat was Wuftie (pronounced WOOF tee) and contrary to my psychological analysis, he was a male. The gray one was Jody. That was the girl.
My husband came up with a way to remember which was which, in case we forgot. Wuftie started with a W, for “white.” (But what about Jody? He said she was Jamaican.)
Meanwhile, Kaitlin wrote back to thank us and explain that Wuftie “starts off shy.”Jody on my suitcase.JPG
As shy as he may have been at first, he was no longer shying away from me. Neither, of course, was Jody. And as convinced as I was that I was allergic to cats, I no longer had the desire, fortitude, or self-control to shy away from touching them, either.
For regardless of my trepidation about breaking out in hives or getting congested, my heart went out to these creatures. How lonely and frightened they must have felt. Their owners had suddenly disappeared for days, and then two strangers had arrived.
I could easily relate to how heart-rending that must have felt to them.Allegra is singing in Hong Kong.JPG Although I missed Aidan and Kaitlin, of course, my real heartbreak was over my daughter. Allegra had gone halfway around the globe to Hong Kong to live for months. And at least I knew where she was and was able to text her and even talk to her via WhatsApp and FaceTime.
These poor kitties had no clue where their mom and dad might be or when they would return.Pattie holding Jody.JPG
So I dared to pet them, cautiously at first, then finally daring to hoist them in my lap. To my surprise, the world didn’t come to an end. I didn’t even so much as itch.
I was enjoying their furry company so much that it was hard to tear myself away. But my husband finally insisted that we dress and go outside to greet the day.Pattie with Wuftie 1.JPG
Although there is a subway stop within a few blocks of the building, we were in no hurry to get anywhere until dinnertime and decided to walk downtown and explore Aidan and Kaitlin’s new neighborhood.
And by their new neighborhood, I mean Harlem.
They had moved from Brooklyn to West 130th Street in June to be near Columbia University, where Aidan will start his Ph.D. this fall. It was the closest place they’d been able to find with a reasonable rent. They’d assured us that the neighborhood was nice and also safe. Not to cast any aspersions on Harlem, but I wanted to see for myself.Max Soha.JPG
To our surprise, walking down Amsterdam Avenue, we encountered one stylish café after another. The blackboard at a trendy place called Max Soha off 123rd Street was touting daily specials including a Tuscan kale salad, risotto with roasted pear and gorgonzola, and black sea bass with capers, lemon, endive and carrots.Kitchenette interior.JPG
Another place near 123rd called Kitchenette, with a bakery counter groaning under gorgeous cakes, cookies and pastries, looked like a perfect spot for Sunday brunch.Chicken Bar.JPG
Even a place a few blocks further down called the Chicken Bar, offering chicken, beer and donuts, looked inviting.
And within a reasonable distance we found ourselves on the Columbia campus. That’s when it dawned on us that Aidan wasn’t the only one going back to college.Columbia building.JPG
From the time he had entered preschool 25 years ago, our lives had revolved around our children’s school activities, from daily drop-offs and pickups to attending concerts and sporting events. Many of our closest friends had been the parents of our kids’ classmates. Our children’s full, busy lives had created full, busy lives for us as well.
That had ended abruptly when our daughter had graduated from college in 2011. And ever since, our lives had remained busy, yet never felt quite as exciting. Or full.Pattie on Columbia campus.JPG
But now here we were back at school once again. Not just school. The Ivy League! We began to envision ourselves attending Parents’ Weekend at Columbia this fall. Who cared if Aidan, as a grad student, wanted to be there or not? We could go without him.Columbia t-shirt.JPG
Just thinking about it got me so excited that I went into the campus store and bought him a Columbia t-shirt, another surprise gift to add to the mix.
Eventually, we finally hopped a subway and met some old friends for dinner.
The wife, Carol, at least, was an old friend of my husband’s, with whom he had gone to law school. I’d met her this spring, along with her husband Ray, when we had attended their 45th law school reunion and teamed up with them in the photo booth.Carol and Ray dinner at Isle of Capri.jpg
Now we posed with them yet again for a lovely and lively dinner at the Isle of Capri, a popular and rather traditional Italian restaurant on Third Avenue and 61st Street.
Then it was off to the theater again, once again at 59E59.
My review of the Summer Shorts may have been less than a rave, but our second foray for the weekend warranted a total rave and then some. We go to the theater all the time. And this was, I must say, one of the best things I have ever seen.
It was also especially appealing to me due to its decidedly Jewish content.The Pianist of Willesden Lane poster.jpg
The Pianist of Willesden Lane, running through August 24th, is based on a book of the same name subtitled Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir Of Music, Love, and Survival by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen.The Pianist of Willesden Lane.jpg
In this one-woman show, Golabek portrays her own mother, Lisa Jura, a gifted young Jewish pianist growing up in Vienna on the eve of World War II.
It begins in 1938 when, at the age of 14, Lisa is preparing for the most important hour of her week – her piano lesson. But she arrives to learn from her vaunted teacher that it has been forbidden to give lessons to Jews. “I am not a brave man,” he tells her. And so life as she has known it is abruptly over, and her dreams of making her debut dashed.
Soon after, her father manages to obtain a single ticket on the Kindertransport, allowing her parents to send a child away to safety in London. The problem is that they have three daughters. Her parents must make the most dreadful choice imaginable. And as it turns out, Lisa is the one chosen to be saved from the impending Holocaust.The Pianist of Willesden Lane 2.jpg
The play follows Lisa in her new life, as she faces one setback after another while struggling toward making the concert debut of which she has always dreamed. All the while, Golabek, an accomplished pianist herself, embodies all of the many characters Lisa encounters along the way while playing well-known classical selections with astonishing skill and verve.
The result is engrossing, poignant, amusing, and amazing, and it ultimately moved everyone to tears, along with a resounding standing ovation.
If you can possibly get yourself there, and get tickets, I really would not miss it.
But surprisingly, after we made our way out, I realized that I missed those cats.
When we arrived back at the apartment, they both came out readily to greet us. Well, to greet me, anyway. Wuftie still took one look at my husband and ran for his life.Jody on my suitcase again.jpg
Jody curled up on my suitcase again, but later joined us in bed.
The next morning, after feeding them, I took one whiff of the cat litter box and decided it was time. I had never done this duty before, and wasn’t keen to do it now.
And having now done it once, I must admit that I am not keen to do it again.
Then again, I have no qualms whatsoever about “picking up” after our dog, Latke. I guess you get used to it.
The thing that I have begun to wonder is if even a person who is allergic can get used to being around cats.
The fact is that I became convinced that I was allergic many years ago when I had begun to suffer from asthma. My brother and his wife had several cats, and when I visited them I would quickly become so congested that I could hardly breathe.The Hartford Courant building.jpg
Years later, after I left my longtime reporter’s job at a local newspaper, my asthma suddenly subsided. That’s when it occurred to me that the asthma symptoms had begun when the newspaper had moved into a new modern building a few years earlier. Perhaps I’d been allergic to that building itself, or something in it.
         (Or was I just allergic to work?)
In any case, I was no longer asthmatic. But I assumed I was still allergic to cats.
When I visited my brother or other people who had cats, I hesitated to touch them, convinced that if I avoided direct contact, then I would be OK.
But when my daughter moved in with roommates who owned cats after college, and we found ourselves staying overnight frequently, cats became impossible to avoid.Calliope.jpg
Perhaps I’d built up an immunity to them over time. Or maybe I’d never been allergic, after all.
One thing I can tell you. Whether or not I am actually allergic to cats, they are allergic to vacuum cleaners.
At least they are determined to avoid them even more than Wuftie was inclined to avoid my husband.The rug and bedding really matched.JPG
I had laid out the new rug that I’d brought in the bedroom, and it turned out to fit perfectly and match the new bedding I’d bought them even better than I had hoped.
The new towels with French embroidery also looked very elegant in the john.
But I wanted to leave the place in pristine condition, and I thought that included vacuuming the living room rug, which, thanks to all the cat hair, was not what I would call pristine.
But within moments of my turning on the vacuum, both cats vanished into thin air. And an hour later, when we were ready to go out for breakfast, they were still MIA.The cats did not like the vacuum.JPG
I finally found Wuftie under the bed and pulled her out gently. But she went back in.
As for Jody, where was she? Not under the couch. Not under the bed. Not in any of the closets. I even checked the dishwasher. No luck.
I didn’t want to budge until I knew she was alive and well. But my husband kept insisting that she had to be in there somewhere because no one had opened the door.Pattie eating brunch at Kitchenette.JPG
So we went out to the place we’d found the day before, Kitchenette, where we so enjoyed the High Falls brunch special (two eggs, grilled tomato, and sautéed spinach with Mornay sauce atop a homemade whole wheat English muffin) that we bought Aidan and Kaitlin a gift certificate so they could go enjoy it too when they got back.Jody was back on the bed.JPG
And when we returned, Jody was resting on the bed, ready to rub all over us again.
Sadly, the weekend was over and it was time for us to pack and leave.Pattie wuvs Wuftie.JPG
Don’t worry. Others had been enlisted for the duration of the trip to take our places.
And yet…
Those cats are the closest things we have to grandchildren right now, and after three days with them, maybe the twain had met.
I love those cats. I miss those cats. I only hope that my minor décor additions don’t make me persona non grata, because I could get used to this cat-sitting business.
What I’m not sure about is that poor, shy Wuftie will ever get used to my husband.

4:12 pm 

3:54 pm 

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

 Pattie Day 13.JPG       I have a confession to make.
No, I haven’t done anything immoral, illegal, or even illicit. In fact, about the only “ill” thing about what I have done is that it might make you feel a little ill to hear about it, making me think that it might be ill-advised to mention it.
        Too bad. Here goes.
Actually, what I’m about to tell you is not something that I have done, but rather something that I have not done. Something that I have not done for well over a week.
OK, make that two weeks.
I’m talking about something that most people do daily.
What I’m talking about is washing my hair.
And before you get too grossed out, or imagine me looking like a bag lady by now, let me just point out that the photo to the right was taken on Day 14.
You might say it all started last month… that is, the last time I’d had my hair done.
I have my hair done every five weeks. And when I say “done,” I don’t just mean cut. I mean the works. Colored, cut, and then blown dry so that it looks like it’s been “done.”Luis at United Artists.JPG
The person who does my hair is named Luis Irizarry, and he has been doing my hair for so long that you might say he is one of my best friends.
You might say that he is one of my best friends, not because he does my hair, but because I tell him stuff that I don’t tell almost anyone else, including my other best friends.
ou also might say he’s one of the most important people in my life, because he’s one of the only people on earth who make me feel better about myself. It also might be fair to say that I’m one of his best customers, because I've followed him to at least five different locations in order to keep having him do my hair for over 20 years.Luis and me.JPG
I now see him at a salon in Connecticut called United Artists, which I have begun to visit with increasing regularity as it becomes necessary to get my hair colored on a more frequent basis. (Yes, in case you are wondering, I am a natural redhead. At least I once was a natural redhead. Now I am a natural redhead with a little help. Every few weeks. From Luis.)United Artists salon.JPG
Yet even though he charges me what sounds like a bargain rate to my city friends, I can only afford to visit him at those five-week intervals. In between, I fend for myself. By which I mean that I do almost nothing. Nothing beyond washing my hair every few days, that is, then spraying on some goop that he sold me and letting it air dry.Pattie with haircut.JPG
Luckily, my hair has enough natural body to look passably presentable that way. But when Luis does it, it doesn’t just look passably presentable. It looks “done.” Done well, that is. So after it’s been done, I do what anyone in her right mind would do – I try to make the “do” last for as long as possible by doing nothing to it for as long as possible.
That means I comb it and/or brush it. I might even spritz it with dry shampoo. But I shower with a shower cap on and don’t allow my hair to get wet for up to a week.Allegra went to sing in Hong Kong.jpg
Last month, though, things didn’t go quite according to my usual plan. A week after I’d had my hair done, I departed for NYC to help my daughter pack up her belongings so that she could sublet her apartment while she went to live and be a singer in Hong Kong.
I didn’t have time to shampoo my hair before I left, and we were so busy packing that I didn’t have time to wash it while I was there, either. Besides, I really wanted to look much more than passably presentable while I was in the city with my daughter. So somehow, I managed to make do with the “do” Luis had given me for the duration of the trip.In NYC after nearly two weeks.jpg
Yes, despite the oppressive heat of summer in the city, it kept its shape and even its curl. Of course, it felt wonderful to finally douse my head with water when I returned. But when I checked my calendar, I realized that I hadn’t washed it for a full two weeks.
This was twice as much time as I ever recalled getting out of a single blow-dry, and (as nasty as it might sound to you), I felt like it was some sort of accomplishment. Perhaps something to be proud of. Or at least, something that Luis should be proud of.Luis just laughed.JPG
So the next time that he did my hair, on July 17, I decided to mention this to him. I had a little trepidation that, as a hair professional, he might be horrified to hear about it. After all, it sounded like I might have a problem with personal hygiene, or lack thereof. But when I told him the story, adding that I was tempted to try to break my new record, he didn’t recoil or react like my daughter, who’d said, “That’s really gross!” and then mumbled something about “style at any price of hygiene.” He threw back his head and laughed.Our moms went to the salon weekly.jpg
To his mind, this was nothing particularly shocking, or even out of the ordinary. Rather, he pointed out that when he was growing up, it had been customary for his mother to go to the hair salon every other week and to do nothing to her hair in between.
I was a little surprised to hear this, since my own nice Jewish mom had gone to a local salon, Maison Machata, every single Friday, like clockwork (and also done nothing in between).GK Hair dry shampoo.jpg
As for my ambition to exceed the new record I’d just set, instead of looking at me askance, Luis pulled out a silver can of dry shampoo for which he said he had no use.
“Why don’t you try this?” he asked encouragingly, insisting that I take it home at no charge.
        To me, this meant that he hadn’t just endorsed my effort to exceed the two weeks. He had almost double dared me.
Besides, my hair is long and thick, and even the minimal effort I normally go to is fairly time-consuming. This would save me many an hour. What did I have to lose?
You might consider my not washing my hair for so long to be unhealthy, as well as unsavory, but in fact daily cleansing may be the thing that’s detrimental to hair health.
Or at the very least unnecessary.
“Dermatologists and stylists agree that there's little reason to shampoo every day,” according to the web site WebMD. “The longer, thicker, curlier, and more processed your hair, the longer it can go between washes.”Don't cut your own bangs.jpg
        (Long, thick, and curly, you say? Hey, are you talkin' to me?)
A 2013 article in The Huffington Post corroborated this. “You should never wash your hair every day,” stated a story entitled “13 Hair Mistakes You Need to Stop Making,” which ranked daily washing right up there as a major grooming no-no with coloring your own hair and cutting your own bangs.Ted Gibson hair sheet styling.jpg
“All this does is strip essential oils from your hair,” it maintained. It recommended freshening up between shampoos, if necessary, with a dry shampoo or Ted Gibson Hair Sheet Styling, calming towelettes from the stylist to the stars known for trimming the tresses of celebs including Angelina Jolie, Claire Danes, and Keira Knightley.Angelina Jolie and her hair.jpg
Then there’s the web site Howstuffworks.com, which mentions an informal 2007 study in which about 500 people took on the challenge of going without shampoo for six weeks, after a guest on an Australian radio show mentioned that he hadn't washed his hair in a decade.
        A decade!?! (What about the seven-year itch?)
        Evidently, 86 percent of the participants reported afterwards that their hair was no better or worse than it had been when they had shampooed it regularly.People may be shampooing too often.jpg
“Even among medical professionals that specialize in the skin, hair and scalp -- dermatologists and trichologists -- there's disagreement about the usefulness of shampooing and just how frequently one should use shampoo, if at all,” the story went on to say. Some discourage frequent shampooing, believing that it can lead to the overproduction of sebum – the oily substance secreted by the sebaceous glands to lubricate skin and hair. “Others say that shampooing is necessary to prevent sebum from collecting in the pores and hair follicles and leading to skin problems like acne.”Not shampooing can cause acne.jpg
        So perhaps
 this is not a course of action (or non-action) that I would recommend to most teenagers.
        Then again, a stylist I used to patronize a long time ago (even before I began to see Luis) was zealous in his belief that Americans shampoo way too often. If I felt compelled to wash my hair more than every other day, he advised using only water on alternate days, saying it worked perfectly well.
for my own personal experiment, I was even swearing off H2O. So I figured that the only way I could demonstrate that I did not look unclean, disheveled, or otherwise disgusting – and that I had no live critters inhabiting my head – was to take a picture of my hair every day.My fantasy was wet if not wild.jpg
I’m sorry if this appears supremely self-indulgent. But I also wanted to have some sort of record with which to track the progress of my hair over those two weeks, or however long my willpower might last. (Don’t think it wasn’t a matter of willpower. There were moments when I fantasized about putting my head under a shower nozzle the way that most men probably fantasize about sex.)
        Also, by the way, all the photos that you will see here are selfies. My husband was well aware of my little grooming experiment, but I didn’t dare bother him to document it... and couldn't bear to hear one more word about my having "cooties."Pattie Day 1.JPG
Here I am (at right) on Day 1. I captured my freshly minted hairstyle within seconds of exiting the salon. You may notice a few hairs out of place (it was a very breezy day), but mostly how shiny and sleek my locks look with the sun glinting off them… if I do say so myself.Pattie Day 2.JPG
Do you notice a huge difference between that photo and Day 2? You might argue that a blow-dry loses its luster as rapidly as a new car decreases in value (that is, the moment you drive off the lot). Having to sleep on it all night doesn’t exactly help, of course. But there are tricks to get around that.
One is to give your hair a quick zap with a blow-dryer even if it’s already bone dry. I can’t explain why, but Luis says that the heat activates something in hair products and will make your hair puff right up and look almost as good as new.
        It also helps
to massage your scalp vigorously, as though you were shampooing it.Pattie Day 3.JPG Feels good, too!
Seeing Day 3, I wonder why I didn’t make more judicious use of a brush or comb. What I don’t wonder is why I felt a little relieved to get out of swimming when a friend who was visiting for the weekend declined to spend the day at our club.old yentas keeping it dry.jpg
        Yet t
he truth is that even when I do swim, I make it a point not to get my hair wet. I’m like one of those old yentas you see paddling around the pool, awkwardly craning their heads out of the water (minus the skirted swimsuit, of course).
The other truth is that this may have been an experiment better to conduct during the winter (when it’s often necessary to delay shampooing in order to avoid going out into the cold with a wet head). Not only was it frustrating to forego swimming along with showering, but the high levels of heat and humidity outside didn’t help matters one bit.Pattie Day 4.JPG
Yet even so, I think my style continued to hold up pretty well through Day 4. Luis later told me about a feature he’d seen on morning TV with advice on how to make your blow-dry last for up to four days. (Only four days? Who were these rank amateurs!?!)Pattie Day 5.JPG
Day 5 fell on a Monday, the day on which I always go to Zumba class. In case you’ve never tried it, let me just say that this is the only exercise I’ve ever found that I do religiously, not because it’s good for me but because it’s fun and makes me feel good.
But it also never fails to make me work up a sweat, which does little to enhance my hair. Then again, with friends from out of town still visiting, I think I managed to look tolerably OK by throwing on a bright scarf after class before going directly out to dinner.Pattie in shower cap.jpg
In case you have any doubts, I showered regularly throughout this interlude. I simply made sure to wear a shower cap every time that I did.
        I was also fairly fastidious about
carrying an umbrella at all times -- no, not in the shower, but every time I left the house.cumulonimbus clouds.jpg
Unfortunately, we went out on the evening of Day 6 with our friends Sally and Dial, to see a community theater production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, only to emerge from the theater into a raging deluge.  (Can you spell “cumulonimbus,” the kind of cauliflower-shaped, low-hanging clouds that produce thunderstorms and showers?)Pattie Day 6.JPG
That’s when I discovered that I had inadvertently left my umbrella in the car. But I held the program from the show open over my head as I made a mad dash to the restaurant next door, and by the time we had eaten, my locks looked almost as good as new.Pattie Day 7.JPG
By Day 7 or 8, I ought to confess, although I hadn’t put my head under a faucet in what already felt like a decade, I had availed myself of dry shampoo at least once or twice.
I used the one that Luis had given me, from GK Hair, which had directions printed on the back in several other languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Russian, leading me to believe this notion of not shampooing regularly is more popular in other cultures.TRESemme Fresh Start dry shampoo.jpg
That product sells for $12.98 on Amazon, however, whereas you can pick up a can of TRESemmé Fresh Start dry shampoo in CVS or almost any other pharmacy for only $6.98, and that one works just fine. Whichever you choose, the key is to shake the can well while using it. It also helps to lift sections of your hair as you’re shaking the can and spray your scalp beneath them. This not only cleanses the hair, but helps add volume.
Next, massage it in to spread the spray evenly and leave it on for a few minutes to allow it to absorb any oils that have built up in your tresses. Then brush it out. And voilá!
Your hair is not only freshened and fragrant. It’s already dry and ready to go anywhere.How to use dry shampoo.JPG
The place that I needed to go on Day 9 was my brother’s house on Long Island, for a belated birthday celebration for my cousin.
This didn’t pose any danger to my hair, beyond the perils of lit candles on the cake.
But we stayed overnight, and then the next afternoon, Day 10, we went out to play tennis.
There was nothing wrong with this in and of itself (beyond the potential of sweating profusely from your head factor). Until, that is, raindrops slowly began to fall. First one. Then many. But not so many that anyone seemed motivated to actually stop playing.
Anyone but Ms. No Longer Shampooing, that is.Pattie Day 10 dressed for dinner.JPG
Fortunately, there were five of us playing, so we were taking turns sitting out a game, and I took this as my excuse to sit out for several. I felt a bit lame sitting courtside under an umbrella while everyone else continued rallying, the downpour be damned. But then it stopped and I not only got to play again, but think I looked fine for dinner.hiking at my brother's.JPG
On Day 11, I gritted my teeth when we drove to the shore to take a long hike and it began to pour once more. But all the precipitation stopped the second that we arrived. At moments, I thought I might faint from the humidity. But my hair didn't mind. After all, this was the closest it had come to getting wet in over a week.Pattie Day 11.JPG
Back home on Day 12, I went out to lunch with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time (even longer than it had been since my hair had last come in contact with water).
        Pattie Day 13 again.JPGPattie Day 12.JPG
Then on Day 13, I took Latke to the groomer for a bath and a haircut; it’s one thing for me to forego routine hair care and quite another for me to deprive others, even my dog.
        Then on Day 14 my husband and I took her for a picnic dinner in the park, where I managed to snap a selfie of us both. (Believe me, her grimace had nothing to do with my hair or hers. She had managed to snatch the remains of my chicken sandwich when I wasn’t looking, and after a brief moment of triumph was very sad that there wasn’t any more.)Latke and me at the park.JPGPattie Day 14.JPG
Which brings me to Day 15. I did my thing with Luis’s dry shampoo once again, but it now had been exactly two weeks since I had last washed my hair with actual water. Or, to be more accurate, since I’d had it washed at the salon. Yet it still held plenty of curl. It also had plenty of shape and even bounce. Perhaps it didn’t have quite the same luster as Day 1. Yet to me, it still looked nice enough, as if it had recently been done.
But here’s the thing that will surprise you most: My scalp felt fine. It didn’t itch a bit.
If anything, it felt better than it customarily does when I wash my hair regularly.
And still…Pattie Day 15 -- How dry I am.JPG
I had managed to break my current record, by at least one day. But the weekend was fast approaching, and we were going away once again.
Was I really going to put off washing it until we returned, or go for a full third week?
I actually can’t quite explain what I was trying to prove by doing all of this, anyway. At the very least, I saved some water, and shampoo, and I saved myself some time.
But everything has its limits. And after two very dry weeks, I’d really reached mine. I'd truly had enough, and I was ready for some fluff.Pattie au naturale again.JPG
Besides, as much as I like my hair to look polished and styled, there’s something to be said for being the real me. You know. Nice Jewish Mom au naturale. Even if my hair gets so huge when exposed to the humidity in summer that it deserves its own Zip code.  
So the next morning, I did it. I took a shower. Without a cap. It had been so long since I had succumbed to suds that it felt a little like losing my virginity all over again.
The exciting thing is that I’d delayed for so long that pretty soon I’ll get to see Luis again. Meanwhile, I may not look like my hair has a “do.” Who cares? It’s time. I’m done.

1:43 pm 

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie with Star of Davidpendant.JPG        Although this may be a fundamentally Jewish web site, I don’t make it a habit to write that much about religion. I also make it a point not to write anything about politics. That stuff is too apt to be divisive, and you must get more than enough of it elsewhere. But that was before World War III practically broke out right in my kitchen this week.
Allow me to explain.
It had been a rather hectic, but also lively and resoundingly lovely weekend. My husband and I spent most of it entertaining some very good friends from out of town. Well, they live out of town now, anyway We became close friends with them back when they were living here for many years, before they moved to Minneapolis in 1998.Jake and Doreen.jpg
But the fact that they had lived here made it a bit challenging to entertain them over the course of an entire weekend. It wouldn’t work to take them to the few sites that Central Connecticut has to offer, like the Mark Twain House or the Hill-Stead Museum. Or to make a field trip to Mystic Seaport. They had seen and done all that long ago.
During the days before they arrived, our mutual good friends Lois and Rafi, with whom our friends Jake and Doreen would be staying, joined us in a valiant attempt to come up with cultural and recreational diversions sufficient to fill a four-day weekend.Samuel Colt.jpg
There was a celebration of the 200th birthday of Samuel Colt, founder of the famed Hartford-based firearms company, including a daylong festival, concert by the Governor’s Foot Guard Band, and evening dinner dance. But this took place on Saturday, when our visitors would be attending a wedding (the main purpose of their visit).Marion Meadows at Greater Hartford Jazz Fest.jpg
There was also the 23rd annual Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, featuring a dozen performances over three days and nights. But our friends are not major jazz fans, and I wasn’t convinced that they’d want to spend hours sitting on a blanket in a crowded park listening to The Urban Jazz Coalition or La Orquesta Espada.Wish I Was Here.jpg
We read countless movie reviews, hoping that a film might help liven at least one night. But summer cinematic fare tends to be targeted less toward people of our vintage than the out-of-school crowd. And the few films we truly wanted to see – including Boyhood, Wish I Was Here, and The Hundred-Foot Journey – hadn’t opened yet.
With sunny skies looming in the forecast, I emailed our friends proposing that they pack swimsuits in order to spend an afternoon at our club, unless they had no interest. Jake, an exercise fanatic, instantly responded that this sounded great to him.
Doreen wrote back too. She couldn’t wait to hang out with us. As for swimming, she had no interest.Dinner out with Jake, Doreen, Rafi and Lois.JPG
The upshot was that we didn’t do anything terribly ambitious, but that didn’t matter. The six of us went out for wonderful dinners on two of the nights. Lois and Rafi prepared a phenomenal feast on a third evening, and on Sunday night my husband and I hosted everyone for a barbecue, complete with hefty hors d’oeuvres, good wine, and Prosecco.
For the truth is that when you’re with good friends, that’s more than good enough. Drinking good wine can help enhance the joy. But who really needs entertainment?
Then again, over four days and nights, there was a lot of togetherness and a lot of conversation, which can be tiring in its own way. For, to be perfectly honest, when I spend that extended a period of time with other people, I often worry that they will begin to notice that I’m a little nuts. I believe that I’m nice, and a good friend, but also a little nuts.
So perhaps it wasn’t ideal timing that another good friend phoned to say that he’d be passing through town and to ask if he could stay over with us the night that they left.Jay.jpg
Jay, who had gone to Princeton with my husband, is the gifted sculptor who created, among many other things, the large piece in our back yard entitled Swinging Jenny. He needed to transport some of his work from a foundry in Pennsylvania home to Martha’s Vineyard. He would arrive too late to make the last ferry. Our home was along the way.Jay's sculpture Swinging Jenny.JPG
Of course he could stay, we told him. We also invited him to join us and our friends for dinner out on Monday, our last night together, but he said that he couldn’t make it.
Instead, he arrived only moments before we returned from that dinner at 9:45 p.m. We got home to find his car in our driveway, a massive sculpture on the trailer attached.Jay's sculpture on trailer.JPG
Boy, was I beat! After four days of company, I must confess, I was also ready for some down time. But I offered to cook him some dinner, and hearing that he’d already eaten, I served him dessert -- ice cream in a wide variety of flavors instead. Then we sat around talking until midnight, when my husband admitted that he still had a story to write for his newspaper.
That kept us up well past 1.
But I still set an alarm to get up early the next morning. Jay needed to make an early afternoon ferry from Woods Hole on Cape Cod, a good three hours’ drive from us. He planned to leave by 9, and I wanted to cook him a nice breakfast and see him off.Jay and Harlan.JPG
After all, Jay and his wonderful wife Marianne have put us up on the Vineyard more times than I can count over the years and have always been consummate hosts. Besides, he’s a very good friend, someone my husband has known for over 50 years.
I should also note that Jay is kind of a character. What you might call "a free spirit." You might also say he’s unconventional. I’d say he’s someone who has always done whatever he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it. He’s also someone who tends to say whatever he wants to say whenever he wants to say it. And at 70, he still does.
I found him down in our kitchen at 8 the next morning already dressed in a t-shirt. Still in my nightgown (why would he care?), I groggily began poaching him some eggs.Jay playing guitar.JPG
All the while, he chatted with my husband and me, advising us about our upcoming trip to Hong Kong, since he often visits Asia to have sculptures cast at a foundry there.
Then, as I popped his English muffin into the toaster, he broached another subject, completely out of the blue.
“What do you guys think of the situation in Gaza?” he asked.
I said the first thing that came into my head, which was the first thing that I’d said when we’d discussed this over the weekend with our old friends, all of whom are Jews. (Jay, in case you were wondering, is Gentile.)
“I’m very distressed about the way it’s being portrayed in the media,” I replied.
“I know!” he concurred heartily. “The news is so pro-Israel!”Bombing of Gaza.jpg
Was he kidding? What news was he listening to? I looked at him dumbfounded and countered that to me it was exactly the opposite. Every news story seemed to start off with the plight of innocent Palestinian children who’d gotten caught in the crossfire.
But he begged to differ. To him, the Palestinians were the ones getting short shrift.
“But… don’t you see?” I asked. There were no Israeli suicide bombers.
        No Israeli terrorists.
        They were just defending their borders.
        “The Israelis are not the aggressors,” I said.
“Not the aggressors?” he practically howled. “There’s like one Israeli soldier dead and hundreds of Palestinians. How can you possibly say they’re not the aggressors?”
And I thought, “Are you kidding? How can you possibly come into my home, eat my food, sleep in one of my beds, and then tell me that you are against the Jews?”
For wasn’t that, in essence, what he was saying? Saying, in essence, to me?
And hearing this, I was so upset that I lost all sense of self-control and decorum.Poached egg with berries.jpg
“You know what?” I barked. “Just go! Really! Just… go!” Then I slammed down the plate on which I had just finished carefully arranging some fresh berries beside his eggs, stormed upstairs, and shut the door loudly enough to reverberate throughout the house.
About five minutes later, my husband came upstairs and said that Jay was leaving. He also said that Jay was stunned and insisted that he had not intended to upset me. Wasn’t I going to come down and say goodbye?
I had no desire to. But he persuaded me to go down anyway. I was halfway down the stairs when I saw Jay’s car pass on our street, that trailer with the big sculpture in tow.
So it appeared that our abrupt and very heated altercation was abruptly over.
But the battle with my husband had just begun. He soon left for work, but the conflict continued via a series of text messages that we exchanged throughout the day.
He readily admitted that his old friend was something of an instigator, a “devil’s advocate” who had long delighted in saying inflammatory things just to provoke people.
        “It’s an instinct I’ve observed for decades,” he said.He said.jpg
Yet he was frustrated with me for leaving rather than staying to hash out the issue. “Running away… no matter how obnoxious Jay’s comments were… is disappointing and eliminates any chance at furthering understanding of this complex issue,” he wrote.
        He also felt that I’d missed an opportunity to potentially enlighten our old friend. “You could have changed his opinion, or given him a chance to do so,” he said. “Now there’s nothing.”
On the contrary, the only opportunity that I believed I’d missed was to be offended even further. My husband, who takes an avid interest in politics, should have known how entrenched his old friend’s own opinions doubtlessly were.
“I don’t believe it’s possible in most situations to change people’s minds about such politically charged issues,” I wrote. “Is there anything that anyone could say to persuade you to become a Tea Party member? A Republican? A racist?”She said.jpg
I also didn’t believe Jay had inquired out of any genuine desire to be enlightened. Or merely to make idle conversation. “He was either looking for trouble and/or clearly didn’t give a single moment’s thought to how offensive his remarks would be,” I added.
As for discussing this complex issue in depth, Jay had been just about to leave to catch his ferry. “There was no time to change his opinion while he ate an egg!” I said.
        And s
peaking of his departure, that was also troubling. If he’d been so distraught about upsetting me, wouldn’t he have stayed to apologize, rather than driving off?
But what troubled me most by far was something else – the dreadful aftermath. “The sad thing is that he’s gone,” I wrote. “But you and I are still here and now fighting!”Harlan was annoyed.JPG
My husband said he wasn’t fighting. But what he said sure sounded like fighting words.
“You’re blaming me for Jay’s insensitivity!” he wrote.
“I am blaming you for YOUR insensitivity!” I countered. Perhaps it was impossible to achieve peace in the Middle East, but nothing my husband was saying now was helping to further the prospects of restoring peace at home. If he wanted to settle the matter, then he needed to stop telling me what I should have done instead of what I had done.
Speaking of which, let’s not forget all that I had done. “I hosted your old friend after we’d had company for four days. I got up early and made him breakfast. I should not have had to listen to such gratuitously offensive words at 8:30 a.m. in my own kitchen!”
Of course, I was not proud of everything I’d done. Never in my life could I recall having asked a guest to leave my home. Then again, never had I felt so under attack.
In fact, I sensed that it might be fair to say there was an ironic parallel here.I felt like I was under attack.JPG
“I feel like he was the clear aggressor,” I said. “I was just fending off an assault within my own borders, and now you keep asking me to defend my own actions. How crazy is that?”
Hearing this, my husband admitted that he understood my reaction. “I just wish that we could talk about the whole Israel-Palestinian situation so that we could get to an intelligent opinion about this almost impossible-to-solve Middle East problem,” he wrote.
“Here is my intelligent opinion,” I retorted. “Don’t go visit Jews (especially nice Jewish bloggers) and tell them that Israel is wrong and the Palestinians are right!”
        Yes, as an American, and a former journalist, I’m fundamentally in favor of free speech. But as a human, and a nice Jewish mom, I’m also in favor of decency and diplomacy, and I especially think you need to be considerate of other people’s feelings.
Particularly when they are busy cooking you poached eggs in their own kitchen.
But the honest truth is that I also now wish I could take my explosive reaction back.Jay dancing with me at reunion.JPG
Searching for a photo of Jay to show you, I found pictures of us dancing together at the last college reunion we attended, and I must confess it made me very sad.
So I wish that I could turn back time, and that when he asked that morning what I thought of the situation in Gaza, I could have said, “What do you think I think? I’m a Jew!”
But I guess I was exhausted, so maybe I overreacted just a little bit by telling him to get out of my house. Instead, I could have said, “Listen, I don’t think we should discuss this right now, because it’s 8:30 a.m., and you don’t know what the heck you’re talking about, and I am a Jew, as you well know  – a Jew who writes a Jewish blog – and if you say one more word, I may have to ask you to get the f--- out of my house!”
Or something along those lines.
        Meanwhile, yesterday, seeking sympathy and other alternatives, I phoned several friends – all of them Jews, I will admit – to get their own reactions.Suzanne.jpg
One, Suzanne, understood my sentiments, but tried to calm me down with humor. Forget about my sense of betrayal on the part of my husband. She was less interested in discussing Benedict Arnold than Eggs Benedict. How could I have served someone naked poached eggs on an English muffin without smothering them in Hollandaise sauce?Eggs Benedict.jpg
I countered that I’d actually melted cheese on top, but was trying to offer a healthy breakfast by adding a side of fruit. In fact, I’d been about to take out the blueberries when Jay had brought up Gaza right between the strawberries and raspberries.
“Well, then it’s his loss of antioxidants,” she quipped.
My friend Liz was more serious and preoccupied with rising anti-Israel sentiments. She shared my pain and outrage, she said, having been alarmed in recent weeks to see friends posting pictures on Facebook “that make Israel really look like the bad guys.”Liz.jpg
She went on to add something that made me wish she’d been at breakfast with us. (I would’ve made Hollandaise to slather on her eggs, despite the perils of cholesterol.)
“I understand your rage and admire it,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have kicked him out, but I have my tirade, which goes like this:No more.jpg
“If you’re tormented for 2,000 years and then technology finally allows your enemies to kill you on a massive scale, then you reach a point where you say ‘NO MORE!’ You say ‘No more!’ even if someone throws a rock at you or just gives you a dirty look. You make a decision – now that you have land under your feet that you own – that NO one will f---ing hurt you ever again. And that is why racism and anti-Semitism backfire, because eventually people can’t take it anymore, and they fight back.”
The unfortunate thing is that the Israelis are now so keenly effective at fighting back that their fending off Hamas and the like makes them look like a bunch of bullies.
Another unfortunate thing (among the countless unfortunate things in this brutal, ongoing debacle) is that Hamas, the extremist group that now governs the Palestinians, chooses to conceal bombs and weapons in schools, hospitals, and other public places and to use innocent people, including women and children, as human shields.Hamas terror tunnels.jpg
It also chooses to use its increasingly limited resources to wage war rather than attempting to improve the lives of its increasingly desperate citizens. As The New York Times noted on July 22, “…this conflict has demonstrated that while Hamas governed over 1.7 million people mired in poverty, its leaders were pouring resources into its military and expanding its ability to fight Israel.” A key example: “Hamas was importing tons of cement – desperately needed for Gazan schools and houses and construction jobs – to reinforce the tunnels it built to infiltrate Israel and hide its weapons.”
OK, I’m no expert. I don’t claim to be. Not that even the experts have any real solution.
Besides, the history of this conflict is too mind-bogglingly complex to rehash here, let alone over a rushed breakfast.Dennis Prager.jpg
Or is it? As Dennis Prager, a well-known Jewish author, columnist, and nationally syndicated radio host, contends in a widely posted video, this may be the world's hardest conflict to solve, “but it is probably the easiest to explain.”
“In a nutshell, it’s this,” states Prager (whose conservative political perspective, I just want to point out, is not something that I personally share). “One side wants the other side dead. Israel wants to exist as a Jewish state and to live in peace. Israel also recognizes the right of Palestinians to have their own state and to live in peace.”Israel and its neighbors.jpg
The problem is that this sentiment is anything but reciprocal. There are 22 Arab states in the world and only one little Jewish state, he says, which is about the size of New Jersey. And most Palestinians, along with other Muslims and Arabs, refuse to recognize the right of Israel to exist. Instead, they’ve been trying to obliterate it ever since the United Nations voted to divide the land then called Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab one back in 1947.
He also hastens to point out that Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula – a huge hunk of land that was replete with oil -- to Egypt back in 1978, after Egypt signed a peace agreement with Israel. And that it has long been prepared to follow suit with the Palestinians, as it proposed to do in 2000, but instead “the Palestinian leadership responded by sending waves of suicide terrorists into Israel.”
And so the simple-to-explain but impossible-to-solve situation continues to this day.
Then there’s the take of Dennis Miller, which has been circulating online for years. Here's what the former SNL comedian (who is NOT Jewish) had to say in part in his own rant.DennisMiller.jpg
“Chew this around and spit it out: Five hundred million Arabs; five million Jews… Just reverse the numbers. Imagine five hundred million Jews and five million Arabs. I was stunned at the simple brilliance of it. Can anyone picture the Jews strapping belts of razor blades and dynamite to themselves?  Of course not. Or marshaling every fiber and force at their disposal for generations to drive a tiny Arab state into the sea? Nonsense.
Or dancing for joy at the murder of innocents? Impossible.
No, as you know, left to themselves in a world of peace, the worst Jews would ever do to people is debate them to death.”
        Hmmm. I suppose the past two weeks have proven that in a world not at peace, the Jews are capable of much, much more. Also, things have heated up too much lately to make light of this issue.
        And in the end
, I don’t really want to debate anyone to death. Not even our good friend Jay.
        In fact, a few days after he left, I received a thank-you note from him.
        "Thank you for your hospitality," he wrote. "I am sorry my comment about current events upset you."
        His comment about "current events?"
        I was happy to receive his card, however succinct it might have been. Yet it mostly highlighted to me how little he grasps how personally I take the turmoil, and how close to home it hits.Pattie and Latke with Chanukah menorah.jpg
It’s just that I’m a Jew. I may not keep kosher. I may not strictly observe Shabbat. I may not even have been to Israel in over 40 years.
But I will always be a Jew, through and through, and I will always support Israel.
I’m certainly not saying that I blindly agree with everything the Israelis may do. There’s no question that I’m horrified to see reports of Palestinian civilians, particularly women and children, being killed in this dreadful conflict. Horrified? No, I’m sickened. As Liz also said to me, “I hate weaponry of all kinds, and I hate war.” I couldn’t agree more.peace dove.jpg
I hope more than anything that someone, somehow, can come up with a solution. Soon. Not so that Jay and I can patch things up and continue to visit one another, although that would be nice. No, just so the bloodshed on all sides can come to a swift end.
In the meanwhile, if I’ve said anything offensive enough to make you throw me out of your house, or stop reading my blog, so be it. Next week, I promise to return you to your regularly scheduled program – that is, my usual personal, non-political rant. Meanwhile, I’ll try to chill out and rest up before I lose any readers.
        Or any more good friends.
1:28 am 

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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!   
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 York.

Comments? Questions? Just want to kvetch? Please go to GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS.