|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
Thursday, October 25, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
Just as they say no news is good news, I suppose that all charity is good charity. Or is it? Yes, there are always people
who may give less out of the goodness of their hearts than to out-give everyone they know and gain public recognition. But
what if you give strictly to receive something in return, and that something is a bit more concrete than social status? And
it’s not just something concrete, but something truly shallow?
Something shamelessly ephemeral?
Something totally tacky?
Such was the case last Sunday night
when I began to watch a TV special entitled Night of Too Many Stars.
OK, maybe it is possible
to be too rich or too thin, but how, you might ask, can there ever be too many stars? I suppose there might be a production
with such a star-studded cast that there are just too many names to name. Or one with so many egos attached that you run out
of dressing rooms and don’t know who to give top billing.
In this case, though, the show was a fundraiser
on Comedy Central, and there were so many celebs involved that there wasn’t enough time for everyone to get into the
act. So, many of the stars were simply sitting on the set in order to answer the phones.
They were there strictly to
talk to anyone who called in to make a donation, that is. And that’s how I suddenly found myself in trouble.
I hadn’t known anything about this show, but my husband had read about it and, being a devotee of its
emcee, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, set our DVR to record it. And shortly after it kicked off at 9 p.m., he suddenly
remembered to turn it on.
Judging from the name, I prepared myself to see some sort of comic variety hour. Au
contraire. Sure, it was plenty funny. And it had plenty of variety. But its main purpose was not to entertain, but to
raise dough for (and awareness of) the rising epidemic of autism.
Although my purpose has never been and never will be to impress anyone else, I would like to think that I’m
as charitable as the next guy (or next Jewish mom), maybe even moreso. I also consider autism to be both a pressing issue
– it’s now estimated that 1 in 88 children are born with it – and an unquestionably noble cause. The way
that people choose to allocate their contributions is extremely personal, though, and having no personal connection
with the condition, I prefer to direct my philanthropy elsewhere.
After all, cancer runs in my family (I lost both of my parents to it), so when it comes to health-care issues,
that tends to be my priority. As a writer and a lover of theater, music, and all things creative, I also feel compelled
to support the arts. (They may not exactly preserve life, but they help make it worth living.) And as a nice Jewish mom, I feel driven to contribute to the Federation and other Jewish organizations. (We make up less than .2 percent of the world’s population.
So if we don’t help each other, who will?).
Add in a little bit for food for the poor, political campaigns,
and various other causes friends ask me to support, and how much more can I be expected to give?
But soon into this star-studded,
on-air extravaganza, I began to rethink this stance.
Now, I also never have been someone
to fawn over celebrities. As exciting as it may be to glimpse someone famous while at a restaurant or on the street, I’ve
never understand the thrill of getting anyone’s autograph, and have no overwhelming desire to get my picture snapped
with a movie star (although I might just find the time to pose if Hugh Jackman or Hugh Laurie were available).
To have an actual conversation with someone famous sounded appealing, though, and this show had an abundance of them
on hand. Not just stars. Too many stars! Or at least too many to choose from.
Not that callers would actually get to choose.
I mean, sitting at that long bank of telephones were some major-league A-listers: not only madcap supporting
cast members from The Daily Show, along with Seth Meyers, Kenan Thompson, and half the current cast of Saturday
Night Live, but also Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Kimmel, the late-night host of Jimmy Kimmel Live, and –
I kid you not – Tom Hanks!
I’d never had even a single moment in which I’d hankered to speak to Tom Hanks. But there he
was, just hanging there, or maybe more accurately Hanking there, affably manning one of the countless phones. And I thought,
Why not speak to Tom Hanks?
Or Paul Rudd (co-star of everything
from Anchorman to The 40-Year-Old Virgin to the forthcoming Anchorman: The Legend Continues), who
is among my favorite actors?
Or even Hoda Kotb, whom I watch religiously on weekday mornings as she co-hosts the
fourth hour of NBC’s Today (while getting mildly smashed starting at 10 a.m.) alongside the ever-effervescent
Kathie Lee Gifford?
Come to think of it, I had a whole lot of desire to talk to Hoda. My daughter had run into her in NYC in
recent months, not just once but twice, leading me to believe that this might be destiny. Beshert. Allegra was convinced
that I was meant to go on the show to talk about my blog. I believed Allegra was destined to go on the show to sing when she
released her forthcoming jazz album. Could this be my chance to broach both subjects?
All I had to do was call…
and make some sort of monetary donation, of course.
Also of course, there was no guarantee that I would get to talk to Hoda, or Mr. Hanks, or a recognizable
“star” of any kind. As anyone familiar with the show Dancing With the Stars must know, sometimes that
term is used rather loosely. (Bristol Palin? Melissa Rycroft?) In other words, this experience might turn out to be a bit like one of those gumball-style vending machines you see in front of supermarkets,
where your kid puts in a quarter because she sees a glittery, bejeweled ring encased inside a plastic capsule, but to her dismay all that comes out is a rubber caterpillar or some other piece of
Perhaps I would make my donation and then merely get to talk to Andy Cohen, whom I admire for being both
a prominent Jew and the first openly gay host of an American late-night talk show (Watch What Happens Live, on Bravo),
but whose work I am mostly unfamiliar with, since I’ve never seen the show he is best known for hosting, The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
Or perhaps I would indeed get to chat with Hoda. Ed Asner. Or even Tom
As I contemplated this dilemma, I watched as Mr. Stewart set up the first major auction item of the night.
Evidently, the call-in portion of the show that I was watching was indeed live, but another segment of the program
had been taped on an earlier date at New York City’s Beacon Theater. And at this event, Stewart had gotten various major
celebrities to donate some rather unconventional services to benefit the cause at hand.
“Our next guests have appeared
in such hits as Night of Too Many Stars 2008 and Night of Too Many Stars 2010,” he said. Then he introduced
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
These SNL alums, close friends themselves and two of the funniest people alive, quickly burst onstage
to offer a chance to become their new best friend… albeit only for that one night. As Fey stipulated, though, they
preferred that this honor go to a female “just because, let’s face it, men and women can never really be friends,”
so “inevitably, we would end up having sex with you.” And as much as racier things have happened on the major
networks, on everything from The Young and the Restless to The Bachelorette, that was not the kind of camaraderie
that these girls had in mind.
We were talking girlfriend friendship, rated G. “We’ll French-braid your
hair!” Poehler prodded.
With that, the action started off at $4,000, but quickly ascended to nearly ten times that amount as a bidding
war ensued between two members of the well-heeled-looking audience. Finally, it was agreed that this mutually devoted duo
actually had room in their lives, or at least on this particular night, for two new friends, provided that each of
the contenders was willing to cough up $36,000 for the privilege, as they readily were.
“I want the brunette!”
Poehler squealed preemptively.
Then Grace Ann from Connecticut, and Karen from Rockland County bounded up to receive bear hugs from their
new celebrity friends and join them over glasses of wine at an elegant, white-clothed table, and the girl talk got instantly
underway as Fey fawned over her new gal pals, lavishing praise upon them for their best identifiable features.
“You have gorgeous raven
hair,” she told Karen. “It’s really offsetting your skin beautifully.” Then she gushed over the gray
sequined camisole gracing Grace Ann. “This top? Fantastic! You have a natural fashion sense.”
Hey, my hair offsets my skin. And
I’d like to think I have a natural fashion sense. And what fun to have new friends, and famous, witty, best-seller-writing
ones at that. Boy, did it look like they were having a barrel of laughs! I wanted to play this game too.
“Uh, hand me the phone,”
I said to my husband, who never comments on my skin.
As I dialed the number up on the screen, I wondered how much I’d have to give. Presumably, the generosity
of those two women was motivated by a far more personal connection to the cause than mine. But if they were prepared to shell
out $36,000 – that’s 2,000 chai – then I certainly could cough up some paltry sum to support this
I couldn’t help wondering if the amount that I offered might help determine which star was designated to me. How much would you have to shell out to shoot the breeze with bandleader Paul Shaffer? What might it cost
to mince words with Meredith Vieira? And how much more might it take to mull life over with Julianne Moore?
Then again, if each of these people had a set price, then what did that make them? You know that old joke, as well as
the quote attributed to Winston Churchill when a socialite supposedly agreed to sleep with him for 5 million pounds, but huffily
demanded “What kind of a woman do you think I am?” when he offered her only five pounds instead: "Madam,
we've already established what you are. Now we’re haggling about the price."
As I dialed, I became breathless with anticipation, expecting that someone with a household name was about to pick up
the receiver and jot down my credit card information. Instead, after a few rings I got a woman named something like Marisol
who said that she could help me. And by the time I'd spelled the name of my street and provided my Zip code, I asked sheepishly,
well, didn’t I get to speak to one of the stars?
“Oh, yeah. Yeah, sure. Of course you do,” she said, not sounding at all convincing. It was merely
her job to get down all of my vital statistics first. But I needed to be aware, she said, that if I happened to get disconnected
after that (and she said this as if she were alluding to the prospect of my getting wet while going outside in a raging storm),
then I should simply keep calling back until I managed to get through to someone.
Then she asked how much I wanted
to donate. Hmmm. I hadn’t quite settled on any specific figure. Hanks was touting the fact that for $100, they would
send you both a Derek Zoolander 2013 “End of Syphilisation” calendar and a DVD of the HBO series Game of Thrones
with ersatz commentary by comic actors Tracy Morgan and J.B. Smoove. I didn’t particularly covet either of these items,
let alone both. On the other hand, even though the cause of autism wasn’t near or dear to my heart, I also didn’t
want to appear cheap. So I spit out a number that I thought sounded passably decent.
“How about fifty bucks?”
I asked. I guess that was good enough because she didn’t make any attempt to haggle with me. She simply wrote it down
with my credit card number, expiration date, and three-digit security code.
Then she promptly disconnected
I wasn’t completely sure that I had lost the connection right away because there was Muzak for awhile,
then nothin’. Dead air. But after I’d heard complete silence for three or four minutes, I gave up in exasperation
and promptly called back. The person who answered this time was a guy named Juan, who asked for my name and how much I wanted
to donate. And when I explained that I already had made a donation and was calling back to talk to one of the stars, he said
to hang on, then disconnected me again.
By now there was a stand-up comic named Bill Burr on the show going through
his shtick. I’m not so sure he qualified as a star because I had never heard of him. But he definitely qualified as a standup comic because he was crass and kind of obnoxious. And also pretty funny.
“When is the nerd epidemic
just going to end?” he was asking. “Like, when is the nerd bubble just gonna burst? They’re (bleep)ing
everywhere! Every show, they’ve got a guy with black-framed glasses, kinda awkward, going [and here his voice went up
two octaves], ‘I don’t know how to talk to the opposite sex!“ This is supposed to inspire me? When I was
a kid, nerds had shame. They had horrible days at school. They were stuffed into lockers, left there overnight... Then in
the morning, the janitor let them out and they got the (bleep) kicked out of them for wearing the same (bleep) two days in
“Now they’re walking around all proud, double pocket protectors, black socks yanked up. This
is what happens when you get rid of bullying. When you get rid of a species’ natural predator, it just grows exponentially.”
Hmmm. The only thing growing in my house was my frustration, because in the time it had taken Burr to malign all of
geek-kind, I had called back three times, only to explain my plight, listen to a few more insipid bars of Muzak, then lose
But I’d already anteed up 50 bucks, was still watching, and had nothing better to do. So I simply
hit redial again.
Now Jack McBrayer, an actual, certifiable star (he plays Kenneth, the Gomer-like, lovable NBC page on 30
Rock) was getting in on the fun. He had consented to quaff a shot of vodka for every $25,000 donated, and the chance
to raise his blood alcohol was evidently an inspired way to raise dough because those dollars just kept pouring in. With a
dramatic drum roll, Letterman sidekick Shaffer unveiled the latest total, $56,377.
At this, Rudd proffered two shots, which McBrayer downed with palpable distaste. Either the actor is as straight-laced
as the prig he portrays, or vodka is just not his drink.
Next, young Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen sashayed out to sing and gyrate to her smash hit "Call
Me Maybe" while actor Harvey Keitel ran interference by flatly reciting the lyrics (also with palpable distaste) between
Then Comedy Central talk show host Stephen Colbert of The Colbert
Report (he of the irreverent impulse to tease and the two silent T’s) got to do his share… with
a bear. He strode onstage arm in arm with a big brown grizzly, which he insisted that he trusted unconditionally. “Just
to illustrate my point,” he added, “before coming on tonight I slathered my entire body with salmon. That’s
how much I trust this bear.”
He also had stuffed his jock strap with chestnuts and blueberries, he continued, and was about to douse his
neck with “the pheromones of a female bear in estrus – powerful stuff for a bear. This is like porn for the sinuses.”
Then he entreated the animal to join him in a Sondheim medley. Before he could begin to rhyme “personable” with
“coercin’ a bull,” though, Colbert had fallen prey to his furry friend, his arm seemingly torn from its
socket as he collapsed while cajoling the audience to “give generously.”
Yet the next musical interlude
proceeded without a hitch… or dry eye in the house.
When Jodi DiPiazza had been diagnosed with autism shortly before her second birthday, her parents had been
warned that there was little if any hope. “What they told us was there’s no cure for it. It’s a life-long disability and don’t
expect too much,” Tom DiPiazza, her father, stated in a video segment aired on the show.
Indeed, as a toddler she had been given to uncontrollable tantrums. Yet years of intensive
behavioral intervention had not only enhanced her social skills, but also developed her natural musical abilities. Now 11,
Jodi was able to appear onstage at the Beacon Theater, where she played and sang along exquisitely with Katy Perry on her
hit song “Firework,” then wrapped her arms around her pop idol's waist in an adoring hug.
Even the ever-cynical Stewart -- a gentle soul, after all, and a genuine Jew -- found himself so verklempt
that he struggled to choke out words as he went to a commercial break.
But just when I began
to feel great shame about my frivolous aim, comedian Louis CK took to the Beacon stage to remind me that, as pervasive a problem
as autism might be, this was a night of too many stars but not a whole lot of earnestness or solemnity.
The celebrity item
he’d been enlisted to hype was a true one-of-a-kind experience. “You get to make your Christmas card photo…
with Al Pacino.” And he wasn’t talking about some cheesy cardboard cutout of the pre-eminent star of both stage
and screen. “Al Pacino will be there with you,” he exclaimed deliriously, “as if he were in your family!”
What if you didn’t happen to celebrate Christmas? No problem. They had prepared for all contingencies.
“Jews, we’ve got you covered. We’ve got a background for Jews. Seriously! He’ll do a Jew-y card thing.”
They were even ready to accommodate atheists. “The background will just be a desolate nothing. Just sadness and despair,”
Neither of these alternate options turned out to be necessary, though. After berating the crowd
for not going beyond the top bid of $20,000 – “Jesus Christ, it’s Al Pacino. He was in The Godfather…
all three of them!” – CK, star of the FX comedy series Louis, joined the bidding himself. And the honor
finally once again ended up being shared by the two highest bidders – an audience member for $20,000 and CK himself
Then, on the live show, Pacino emerged in a cheery red cardigan and dutifully smiled for
the camera as each tree-side family portrait was snapped in turn.
After which, my spirits lifted (even though Christmas is clearly also not my thing), I reached
for the phone and dared to try, try again.
This time, a young woman answered instantly and was
a little more honest with me. When I explained my situation, she confessed that the problem of people getting cut off was
reaching epidemic proportions. Donors were being put through to the celebrities even if they only gave a single dollar, creating such a backlog of callers waiting on hold that she wasn’t supposed to offer to try
to reconnect anyone unless that person asked.
Since I had indeed asked, though, she said that she
would gladly give it a try.
While she did, comedian Seth Rogen came out to offer yet another encounter
of the celebrity kind.
The star of such hits as Knocked Up and Superbad said that he knew many people
with autism, so to recognize the cause, “I’m going to pee with the highest bidder.”
I kid you not. As
Stewart quipped, he wanted to have “a pee party.” In this case, Rogen stipulated that he wished to reserve
this honor for males only, because what he was offering was a chance to use the men’s room side by side, with a camera
crew in tow. And then, if there were even the tiniest drop of self-righteousness in his righteous act, he succeeded in flushing
away that impression by adding, “I gotta go pretty bad, too!”
By now, I was beginning to feel that my own personal agenda here might not be as tacky and
tasteless as I had feared, or at the very least that I shouldn’t be quite so hard on myself for not approaching the
enterprise in a dead-serious, reverent manner.
I was also beginning to wonder who in their right
mind would offer so much as one cent to relieve themselves on camera, even in the company of a star of Rogen’s stature.
But the bidding started off at $4,000 and soon began trickling in rapidly. And then for a third time, thanks to
yet another bidding war, the prize was ultimately split two ways as the pair of people vying for this privilege
forked over $16,000 apiece and then bounded onto the stage.
One of the two turned out to be something of a star himself, advertising mogul and TV personality
Donny Deutsch, who used to have his own show on CNBC and is now a frequent guest on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and
NBC’s Today. I don’t know whether he had any personal connection to autism, but he joined in with enormous
hilarity as Stewart offered both Gatorade and asparagus to enhance the prize experience, then Rogen led this merry band to
the nearest men’s room, camera crew indeed in tow.
Maybe it was just a sudden attack of camera shyness, or perhaps Rogen hadn’t needed to
go quite so badly after all, because upon arrival all of the participants seemed to have significant trouble getting their
money's worth, if you get my drip... Er, drift.
But I can’t tell you if they ever actually succeeded
or not because suddenly my latest telephone companion came back on the line to tell me that it was hopeless, and that
all she could suggest was that I hang up and try again in 10 minutes or so.
I didn’t believe
that my prospects were going to get any better by waiting, however, and with some prodding this nice young woman agreed to
try once more on my behalf. She put me on hold again, and I braced myself for the sounds of silence. But instead, I heard
a phone begin to ring. And then a different female voice came on and said hello.
“Uh, hi!” I responded, so startled after waiting all this time that I found myself
at a loss for words. And although she didn’t identify herself, I had the distinct impression from the cacophony of voices
and ringing in the background that I had gotten through to an actual star.
this?” the voice ventured, sounding young and just a little breathless.
I gave my first name
only, then proposed the question right back. “Who’s this?”
she responded sweetly.
Allison Williams. Allison Williams. The name sounded so familiar,
but I just couldn’t seem to place it. So I proceeded to put my palm over the receiver as best as I could and stage whisper
to my husband, who is a bit hard of hearing, “Who is Allison Williams?”
He looked at
me blankly and shrugged. “Ask her what she’s on,” he whispered back.
That may have sounded
like it made sense. I felt embarrassed to ask her, though. These people volunteering their time to man the phones were being
billed as “stars.” Yet how much of a star could someone be if you had to ask them who they were?
Her name sounded so strangely familiar, but I couldn’t begin to fathom who she was or
manage to attach a face to the name. It sounded to me like a newscaster name. I had this vague sense that she was someone
who delivered a nightly broadcast, maybe in New York. “Thanks for tuning in! This is Allison Williams with the 6:00
“Ask her what she’s on!” my husband urged again as I put her on speakerphone.
But I shook my head vehemently and struggled to find something else to say instead.
“Are you sitting
up there with everyone else on the set?” was the best I could come up with as I peered at the screen imagining her face
might suddenly pop into view.
“Yes,” she said genially, “I am, but we’re all
about to head out for the evening.”
And before I could come up with anything remotely
scintillating that might prolong the conversation, she began to sign off. “Thanks so much for your donation,”
“Well, thanks for volunteering your time for such a worthy cause,” I replied lamely.
“You’re welcome!” And with that she clicked off and the line once again went dead.
Only then could I race to my computer to find out who the heck this woman was.
“Allison Williams.” I let my fingers do the Googling as fast as they possibly could.
Then I looked at the photos attached and screamed.
Allison Williams! She was one of the four young stars
of Girls on HBO, the most talked-about hit on the air last year and without question of one of my favorite shows.
She played Marnie, the gorgeous but uptight best friend of the main character, Hannah, played by the series’ 26-year-old
wunderkind creator, writer, and star Lena Dunham, whose ground-breaking production had been hailed by many as a Sex
in the City for the 20-something set and was regarded by my daughter Allegra as a virtual video of her life.
As for why I’d
kept thinking that she was some sort of a newscaster – hullo? Her father was Brian Williams, the NBC network news anchor I watch at 6:30 every night.
I have been such a fool? How could I have wasted this opportunity?
Never mind having my daughter
get to sing for Hoda and Kathie Lee. My son Aidan is an aspiring TV writer who free-lances regularly doing crew work on assorted TV shows. For the past year, I’d been virtually obsessed with the idea of his
getting to work on Girls, meet Lena Dunham, and, as mental as this sounds, maybe even date her. (Never mind that
she created Girls. She’s a nice Jewish girl.)
At the very least, I could’ve
gushed to Williams about how much I admired her work, and Dunham’s, and that of all the other young stars connected
with the show. I could have told her how much the writing resonated with my own daughter (even if knowing this makes the many
sexually explicit scenes a little too graphic for my taste).
But no. “Thanks for volunteering your time for such a worthy cause,” is all I said.
Why hadn’t I listened to my husband for once? How could I be so (bleeping) stupid?
Talking to Williams
was, in its own way, even more thrilling to me than getting to hobnob with Tom Hanks. (Honestly, what would I have said to
him? “Loved your work in Castaway, but that volleyball, Wilson? Ya gotta admit he stole the show”?)
And all I suddenly wanted was to call her back again.
Getting through the first time had been almost a miracle, though, or at least an act of unfettered
persistence, unabashed pushiness, and uncharacteristic chutzpah, even for me. If I’d had to give a name to
my own evening, it would’ve been “The Night of Too Many Calls.”
Besides, as I’d
learned, when you phoned in the best-case scenario was that you got the luck of the draw, and as Williams had told me they
were all about to head out.
So all I could do was call Allegra to report my thrilling news, only to hear her chastise me
for not telling Williams what big fans we were of the show (and how much she related to it and felt that it totally captured
her life). And then to comfort myself with the knowledge that I had indeed made a small but nice donation to a very worthy
For in the end, maybe no one truly gives a hoot why we give or to whom we give it. The essential
thing is that we give. (And in the end, the show raised $3.7 million for autism, including the money from corporate sponsors.
Now, that’s a whole lotta vodka.)
Even so, I’m not quite ready to give up just yet.
I still want Allegra to sing on Today someday for Hoda and Kathie Lee Gifford. I still want Aidan to manage to meet
(and perchance to write for, work for, or even date) Lena Dunham, or Ms. Williams herself.
And so, though autism
may not quite be my thing, I now can’t wait and am already counting the days. Yes, it’s only a year to go until
The Night of Too Many Stars 2013.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
Sorry, everyone -- this entry took me so long to finish writing (and even longer to put all the photos
on) that I'm not going to post again this week.
In recent weeks, as I have written, I’ve found myself almost relentlessly
on the run, ricocheting from this state to that state and even coast to coast. This past weekend, though, I embarked on a
different sort of excursion. A journey of truly epic proportions, and a sentimental one at that. For although I covered little
ground in terms of distance – less than 90 miles each way – this expedition took me far back in time instead.
Not just decades, but to a different mindset, a different milieu, and a decidedly different me.
You’ve heard of Jules Verne’s
Journey to the Center of the Earth? Well, this was more like Journey to the Center of my Soul… or, potentially,
a descent straight into hell.
Over the weekend, you see, somewhat against my better judgment, I attended my 40th
reunion. And I’m not talking about a mere college reunion (nor am I quite that old!). I’m talking about a gut-wrenching,
mind-warping, déjà vu-inducing return to my roots.
Yes, I went back to high school.
These reunions may be familiar territory for you, so I’m sorry
if it sounds like I’m making a mountain-climbing expedition out of a molehill. As far as I’m concerned, though,
it was pretty heady stuff, because I believe you spend four of your most formative years in high school, and then the rest
of your life trying to recover from it.
And once you have recovered from it – and I’d like to think
I’ve made substantial progress in that regard – is it really prudent, advisable, or psychologically safe to return,
even for a single day?
Exacerbating the trauma for me was that my parents were going through a messy divorce at the time, so let’s
just say this was far from a happy time in my life. Plus, I felt so awkward, shy, and downright hideous that I was embarrassed
to have anyone look at me (although this candid shot of me I found in my senior-year yearbook makes me wonder what I was thinking,
because I'd give almost anything to look that young and fresh now).
Either way, it would be fair to say that by the time I had graduated, my self-esteem was basically in the
toilet. We all know what happens to things in the toilet, though, so it would probably be more accurate to say that it had
been flushed into oblivion and was virtually non-existent. And only through decades of marriage, motherhood, work, and my
latest incarnation as Nice Jewish Mom have I managed to salvage most of it.
Then again, this weekend event sounded like it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For not only was
it the first such reunion I would ever attend, but since I figured that I was not going to get any better-looking from here
on in, it was probably going to be the last.
If you’re wondering why my appearance would be a major factor in this equation, then clearly you didn't
once upon a time attend a public high school in America. Or you don’t watch Glee. After all, when you’re
in high school here, you are painfully aware at every single second of every single day precisely how popular you are (or,
in my particular case, aren’t), and that popularity is in no way related to your IQ (unless you're willing to concede
that it's, in fact, inversely proportional). And then you spend the rest of your life trying to forget that. And yet,
try as you might (at least in my particular case), you probably never fully will.
To be honest, I thought that I had finally risen above all that teenage stuff -- worrying about your
appearance and what other people think of you -- until I received the invitation to this event over two years ago. Jim,
Sue, and Roger, the three classmates who'd taken the initiative to organize it, believed that it would require that much advance
notice for people to fit it into their schedules, especially for those who lived some distance away.
In my case, it was such an easy drive to my hometown of Armonk, NY, a distant suburb of NYC, that I could
have made it on a moment’s notice. I appreciated the alert, though, because I figured that it gave me time to lose 10
pounds, as well as to write a bestseller, cure cancer, or try to distinguish myself in some other way.
When those two years flew by and
none of these things had happened, I had to resign myself to the fact that getting my hair done and wearing Spanx would have
And I still wouldn’t have been eager to go to this fekakta event, or possibly enjoyed it,
without my partner in crime.
I’m not talking about my husband, because I think it’s meshugah to cart spouses along
to these things and then have to worry about whether anyone is talking to them. By “partner in crime,” I mean
my closest friend from high school and beyond.
Lisa and I met when I moved to Armonk in fourth grade, and although her family later moved overseas for a
few years, as soon as she returned, just before high school, we picked up right where we’d left off.
Together, we discovered the Beatles, bras, and boys, not necessarily in that order. Since she lived right
around the corner, our houses served as each other’s refuge whenever our parents made staying home insufferable (i.e.
pretty much all the time).
In recent years, she’d moved around quite a bit, from Brooklyn, NY, to Florida,
then finally Phoenix, so our visits had been few and far between and always included a family entourage. And as much as we
loved getting to know each other’s husbands and kids, the greatest draw of this entire trip was that we’d get
to spend time alone together.
With that in mind, I had agreed to forego the pregame segment of the reunion – Friday's dinner at a
pizza place – in favor of taking in a Broadway show, something Lisa also rarely got to do.
We met for dinner first at Scarlatto,
a nice Italian eatery in the Theater District, and when I began to hyperventilate at the sight of her it wasn’t just
because I was breathless with anticipation, and so overcome with excitement that I had jogged the last three blocks in heels.
Yes, I’ve made other friends over the years, but there’s nothing like an old friend who gets you, really knows
you, and knows everything you’ve been through.
I was also thrilled to see that her voluminous, wavy hair was a
little bigger and a little blonder, but it was otherwise the Lisa I knew and loved. She hadn’t changed a bit.
Over dinner, we compared notes
about our current lives (she's the mother of two and runs a public relations firm with her husband), then confessed our
mounting fears about the blasts from the past that lay ahead.
also got to fill her in on my progress in finding Chris, or mostly lack thereof.
Chris, arguably our closest male friend in high school, had always exuded the indefinable air to me of someone destined to make it big. One of those razor-sharp
students who excel at every subject and score a perfect 1600 on the SATs, Chris was far too intellectual to be considered
remotely cool at school. But when he’d discovered filmmaking during our senior year, I’d been convinced that he
had found his niche.
“I am turning real artist – my newest (and necessarily greatest to date) film is in the works,”
he wrote to me during his first semester at Yale. “A part awaits for all those willing.” In the volley of letters
that continued between us, we began operating as a kind of mutual support system, one in which he played an oddly paternal
role, despite our being the same age. He always signed affectionately with the same salutation: “Love, Pa.”
“I miss you a lot and I want to talk to you about a lot of things,” he wrote in one. “You
were one of the few people I could talk to without having to worry about defending my sanity, since you are as crazy as I
am (my highest compliment).”
Over time, our postal exchange gradually tapered off. But one day, a year
or two after college, he had called and arranged to meet Lisa and me for dinner in New York en route to a new job or graduate
school program out West (I’ve long forgotten which).
At the time, I’d been sharing my apartment and my life with
a college boyfriend, but that relationship had suddenly gone sour. After we’d dropped Lisa off in a cab, Chris had slipped
an arm around me in the back seat and gently drawn me close. “Don’t worry,” he crooned consolingly. “I’m
still your old Pa. I’ll always be there for you.”
I’m not exactly sure where “there”
was, though. I never saw him again.
Decades later, I still found myself lingering in movie theaters until all the credits had rolled. Frances
Ford Coppola I knew he was not, but I still hoped to see his name. I never did, though. Neither had I been able to find him
on the World Wide Web. It seemed unbelievable that he could just vanish into thin air. Yet entering his name on Google yielded
Lisa and I had long agreed that he was the classmate we were most eager to see. Yet as I confessed now, a
last-ditch effort I’d made – a voice-mail message I’d left for his younger brother begging him to pass on
my contact information – had remained unacknowledged.
After dinner, we raced to Grace, a dark tragicomedy that had opened the night before, drawn not
only by the marquee value of its biggest star, Paul Rudd, but moreso by a supporting role played by Ed Asner, known best for
portraying the ever-crusty boss Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, our favorite sitcom during our teenage years.
Other than for the triple murder-suicide, it was the perfect prelude to our trip down Memory Lane.
Then we drove to the La Quinta hotel in Armonk, where the reunion was taking place, and stayed up well past
1 a.m. poring over my yearbook.
The first event on the schedule was a tour of our alma mater, called Byram
Hills. We pulled down the school’s circuitous driveway with almost overwhelming trepidation.
My cousin Susan, who’d attended her own reunion elsewhere a year ago, had assured me that people had
been so excited to see each other that they had repeatedly screamed each other’s names and hugged, even if they had
never been friends before. I found this hard to believe.
Yet as we disembarked and approached a cluster of women who’d gathered, I found myself shrieking, “Oh,
my God, Jeannie MacInnes!” and embracing a classmate with whom, to my best recollection, I had never exchanged even
two words since sixth grade.
One reason I was so overcome with emotion was something I hadn’t anticipated. I’d been expecting to feel excruciating
embarrassment at failing to recognize former friends after so many years. But this, I quickly detected, was not going to be
a problem. After 40 years, many people had vastly different physiques, and most had different hair. Yet everyone – and
I do mean everyone – had essentially the same face.
And so the shrieking and bear hug
routine was repeated in quick succession with Willow Brown – a former honey-blonde beauty who was now a fellow redhead
selling real estate in Florida – and Helena Gregorio, a once-brunette British exchange student who’d briefly dated
my older brother Joel and was now working at a law firm in London.
I was even happy to see a girl named Cindy who’d
been an incredible athlete, varsity cheerleader, and all-around hot girl back then. And, to my amazement, she seemed delighted
to see me… although she confessed to having been anxious about coming.
Seriously? She had been worried? “But you were all the smart kids,” she said softly
and with such sincerity that I could see she wasn’t putting me on.
As exhilarating as it was to see all of these
people, though, we’d never been actual friends. So it was more of a revelation when the tour began and I got to reconnect
Rocco had been among my closest male cohorts, and although there had never been anything remotely romantic
between us, we’d played pivotal roles in each other’s lives because we had gone together on what was decidedly
his very first date and mine.
As I had recounted to my children many times over the years, Rocco had just gotten his driver’s license
that day in 1971, and his father had given him a hunk of cash to take a girl out. I was mystified why he would select me,
a mere friend, but readily accepted anyway. We went to see the movie Love Story, starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali
McGraw. Then he took me out to dinner at the only restaurant he could think of, which happened to be at Westchester County
Airport, where he begged me to have the steak – the most expensive item on the menu – because he felt compelled
to spend as much of his father’s dough as possible. But I insisted on having the chicken instead.
So I’d been a bit surprised to discover recently, via the personal profile Rocco had posted on the
reunion website, that his partner in life was someone named Ron. The prospect of his being gay honestly had never once crossed
my mind back in the ‘70s. Then again, in this new light, the interlude above had suddenly made much more sense.
Of course, I didn’t care
in the least. The only thing that was shocking, and a bit disappointing, was to hear Rocco admit now to having no memory of
our big date.
This was among the first lessons I would learn during this time-travel interlude. How fascinating it is what
people choose or manage to remember, and what they forget. No one, of course, had forgotten the time that singer Don McLean, then a complete unknown, had performed his soon-to-be-classic hit “American Pie”
for us just after it was released, and had practically been booed off the stage. Yet as classmates began to air their other
fondest memories, I realized that I couldn’t even summon the names of all of the teachers I’d had, while my friend
Karin had perfect recall about where each of us had sat in Mrs. Alexander's class during sixth grade.
Karin was among the other people
I was most eager to see, although as one of my closest childhood friends she’d stayed in touch somewhat, so I didn’t
need a reunion to know what had become of her. What was surprisingly touching was seeing her house… and her mom.
Although we’d met for dinner a few years ago, I hadn’t been to her family's home, other than
for her wedding, since the “anti-prom.” Back in 1972, you see, we were so free-spirited, counterculture and intent
on breaking with traditions of virtually every kind that more than half the class had chosen to boycott our senior prom. Instead,
we’d gathered at Karin’s house to go skinny-dipping in her lake.
It was a wild night. A memorable night. But I must confess that one of the few regrets in my life is that
I never got to dress up and go to a prom like my kids did, and now I never will.
That said, I have countless fond
memories of hanging out at her house, which was without a doubt the largest and most beautiful in our entire town, thanks
to her parents’ exquisite taste and their having started a well-known corporation together. Nonetheless, I must also
point out that Karin remains among the least pretentious people I know, and also the most generous, and as soon as the tour
ended she began inviting people, including me, to spend the rest of the day at her family’s estate on the edge of town.
Vivid memories descended on me like the gentle rain falling from the sky as I stepped through her front
door into their vast living room and saw her mother, Martha, who, despite the halo of white hair, looked just as I remembered
her. Had 40 years really passed?
“How is your mom?” she asked after rising to greet me warmly,
and my face fell as I gently answered that -- didn't she know? -- she had died three years ago.
Having lost both my parents, my
stepparents, and my mother-in-law over the years, I’d gotten to the point where I expected everyone of my vintage to
be an orphan like me. But another classmate there, Nancy Dubiell, hastened to tell me that she’d heard I was looking
for Chris, and that her mother and his were not just alive and well and still living in town, but they remained good friends,
so she might be able to get me his number.
Of course I accepted instantly and listened intently as she left
a voice message.
Among the 175 or so from my graduating class, only about 64 people had chosen to attend the reunion, and
only a select few had come to Karin’s. These were all people I’d once known well, though, and I found myself relaxing
and beginning to enjoy myself.
After going to his own 40th two years ago, my brother had assured me I’d have
more fun than I expected. But something else he’d said had clinched my interest.
He had mentioned his surprise that
of all the women who’d shown up from his graduating class, the most well-preserved by far had turned out to be Linda
Castellano (the older sister of my classmate John, a reunion no-show who is now chief of the Appeals Bureau in the Queens
District Attorney's office). And maybe “well-preserved” wasn’t quite accurate, since, having graduated at
the top of their class, Linda had been best known for being a braniac back then. Four decades later, though, she was
"exquisite and shapely," as my mother would say. Or as I might say, a total hottie.
And as presumptuous, vacuous, and vain as this might sound, ever since I had heard this tale from him, all
I had wanted was to go to my own reunion and be that girl.
Toward that end, I had gotten my hair done the day before and obsessed about every item I would wear. I’d
even gotten my husband to take photos of both the day and night outfits I’d chosen, so that I could email them to my
fashionable 22-year-old daughter for her approval.
“Mommy looks skinny!” Allegra had texted back enthusiastically about the first getup. The second
had provoked an equally reassuring response. “You look svelte!”
Then, of course, my husband had
totally deflated my bubble of confidence and made me second-guess myself by noting that he thought I had a lot of
other clothes that were far more stylish. Didn’t he understand that I didn’t give a hoot about looking stylish
and had only two real ambitions when it came to my attire? I wanted to look thin. And I wanted to look young.
But I’d decided to ignore him and settled on those two outfits anyway. And while standing in the school
parking lot following the tour, I’d sensed that at least one male member of the class was staring at me with more interest
than any of them had ever evinced before. That person was Thor Thorsen, now a renowned ski instructor out West, with whom
I’d probably barely exchanged more than two words back in the ’70s, but for the purposes of the reunion was suddenly
among my new best friends.
And lest you think that was just my imagination, I must confess with all due modesty that shortly after I
caught him looking at me, he actually blurted out the one thing that made not just my day, but the whole darn weekend: “You
look great, by the way!”
Thor had readily agreed to join Lisa and me at Karin’s house, and that turned
out to be a fortuitous thing, because everyone there decided to take a walk through the woods around her lake, and he
seemed more than happy to catch me every time I stumbled. The ridiculously high heels I was sporting hadn’t been chosen
with hiking in mind. (Just "svelte!")
Also in the group was Betsy Arnold, another one of my best high school chums. Among my most vivid memories
were the many sleepovers I’d had at what might best be described as her cat house. Her family didn’t just have
cats as pets; they bred them, and it remains indelibly fixed in my mind that they had 22 or 23 Siamese at any one time. These
exquisite, haughty creatures roamed through their house freely and often jumped onto the kitchen table while you were eating dinner, and if
you dared to shoo them away when they began nibbling on your food, she and her family took vociferous offense.
Somehow, I’d lost touch with
Betsy during college, but it didn’t surprise me to learn now that she was still "catting around." That is,
she was a cat veterinarian in upstate New York and still bred and showed purebreds professionally. In fact, she allowed with
a Cheshire cat grin that she still had about 22 or 23 of them at home.
Betsy had inscribed in my yearbook a reference to our having fought endlessly over Jim Stigler at parties.
No offense to Jim, but I didn’t remember doing this. Then again, if we had, I could see why. (Uh, nice abs!) Now
a professor of psychology at UCLA, Jim, one of the reunion organizers, was still tall, lean, and extremely affable. As I discovered
during our hazardous hike, he'd become incredibly easy to talk to.
Unfortunately, much of what we talked about
together now related to a running joke that had started earlier that day.
He'd mentioned to Lisa that five people from our class had responded separately that they were unable to
attend because they were going on vacations to Italy. Lisa had confessed that she might have preferred going to Italy as well,
and that perhaps we should've held the reunion there instead. This prompted Jim to not only propose that we locate our next
one there, but to say that he knew the perfect pair to organize it.
Lisa and me.
At the time we’d deflected
this clever suggestion with a nervous laugh. Not only did I have no interest in planning the next reunion, but no particular
desire to even attend it. Still, as Lisa and I drove back to the La Quinta from Karin’s, I had to
admit that although I was already exhausted and feeling emotionally drained, I was actually having a blast.
Armed with this high-spirited feeling, we quickly changed into our little black
dresses and yet more heels and headed for the party.
My eyes lit up as I scanned the room and on the other side of the
bar spied Luke.
Although Luke and I hadn’t remotely been friends in high school, he maintained a special place in my
heart because he’d once been my big seventh-grade crush.
Despite my unequivocal identity as a former
nerd, I’d entered middle school with a somewhat less pitiful status. I can’t claim to actually have been one of
the popular kids. I was simply popular enough to be invited to all of the popular kids’ parties. The pathetic thing
was that once I arrived at these, I’d end up sitting by myself in the dark all evening. Sure, I’d get to play
spin the bottle with everyone else. But no one asked me to dance.
The only possible exception to this was Luke, my secret heartthrob, who’d gotten up the nerve to dance
with me once or twice after almost everyone else had left. Perhaps he was shy, and it took the whole night for him to summon
the nerve. But my interpretation at the time was that he may have reciprocated my feelings somewhat, but I was too unattractive
and dorky for him to have dared make this public in any way.
After about a year of this, I had realized that
I wasn’t having any fun at all. So I’d stopped hanging out with the "in" crowd. Instead, Karin and I
had begun organizing social events for our fellow students in the honors track, who may have been nerds like us, but were
nice, on our intellectual level, and perfectly happy to be with us…and be seen with us.
Still, I’d long wondered
what had happened to Luke and remembered him fondly. So when I’d read the list of attendees, he was among those I was
most enthusiastic about seeing.
Noticing him now, I made a beeline across the room and gave him a big hug. Clearly, he recognized me instantly,
but just as clearly he was either still very shy or had little if any interest in talking with me. Continuing to ply him for
details of his life anyway, I learned that he, like Thor, was a ski instructor, in Colorado. But unlike Thor he was not inclined
to become my new best friend or, as in our distant past, to be seen with me. And the moment I turned my head to answer a question
from someone else, he fled.
As other people took his place, I grew to regret that I’d neglected to mentally
compose a brief way to summarize my work life. Rocco had stated, “I’m a doctor.” Janie said, “I teach
fourth grade.” My career path was a little more complicated than that.
I didn’t want to respond to everyone’s queries as to what I did with myself these days by saying
that I used to be a journalist, but now I write a blog. When you answer that question with “I write a blog,” you
see, this invariably prompts another question: “But how do you get paid to do that?” And then you have to confess
the truth. Namely: I don't.
I don’t know why anyone thinks it’s any of their business what I make,
but men, at least, always do. And until I manage to come up with a clever retort (or a way to make my efforts pay), I’ll
be stuck saying "I don't," which makes me feel instantly diminished and almost as bad as being back in high
But people were now arriving in droves, and by the time this had been asked and answered four or five times,
we were summoned into the main room for hors d’oeuvres. There, amid the mini vegetable quiches and fried mozzarrella
sticks, Karin and I were excited to see her old flame Kevin Miller, now a psychology professor at the University
of Michigan, and Elyse Frishman, now a prominent Reform rabbi, who'd grown up right next door to me, but whom I hadn't seen
since she had presided at Lisa’s wedding.
I also found myself elated to see Anne Castimore, now a reading specialist in Philadelphia, and Gaby Borger,
who'd come all the way from Germany to be there.
swept in. She was a vivacious, outgoing girl who’d been part of the popular crowd, but had always seemed sweet, so I
cried out her name and embraced her. But before I could say anything further, she interrupted to say that she'd just arrived
and wanted to know where she could put her coat. And with that she dashed off and never returned.
Of course, I could understand that she needed to get settled. But I also could sense full well that I was
not on her list of people about whom she had any curiosity. And wondering what I could’ve been thinking, I felt those
old feelings flooding back.
That’s when I suddenly remembered how I’d really felt back in high school.
I’d recalled feeling unattractive and insignificant. What I’d forgotten is that what I’d really felt
By this point, more of the once-popular girls had arrived, and none of them had grown up to be wallflowers.
With big hair and clingy dresses, they still looked gorgeous… and they knew it. And although I’d thought I looked
reasonably nice, I realized now that my dress wasn’t low-cut, nor short, nor tight, and it did little to show off my
figure. This hadn’t been my objective in choosing it (just svelte!), but I suddenly felt dowdy.
So I became less inclined to accost
people I hadn’t been close to, anticipating that they’d have no real interest in exchanging updates with me.
Soon, dinner was about to be served anyway, but first Jim silenced the band and seized the mic. Although
he and his fellow reunion organizers had hoped to present a slide show of old photos, almost no one had sent any in, so the
only formal segment of the evening was his brief welcoming remarks. These consisted of exactly two things.
wanted to thank everyone for taking time out of their busy lives to come. And he wanted to announce that this was such a successful
effort that we were going to have another reunion soon… and two classmates had already stepped forward to
Lisa and me.
Totally taken by surprise, I joined Lisa in laughing self-consciously. Back in high school, I would have then proceeded to slink into a corner and try not to faint. Now, instead,
bolstered by four decades of maturity and the two glasses of Chardonnay I'd managed to nearly polish off, I strode to the
front of the room and with some effort wrestled the mic from Jim's hand.
folks!” I cried, raising the remains of my second glass high. “Twenty years from now. Our sixtieth… in
the nursing home!”
A mild uproar ensued, although almost no one laughed, and someone yelled, “Boy,
you sure don’t have very high aspirations!”
Then I was inclined to slink into a corner because I realized that I sounded the way people probably remembered
me: weird and depressed, with a twisted sense of humor.
With luck, dinner was indeed served, and with our plates loaded up from the buffet, Lisa and I searched
the tables anxiously for somewhere to sit. There wasn’t enough room beside Karin, Betsy and Rocco, so we proceeded
to tour the room, only to see Thor patting the seat beside him. And although we had no other close friends at the table, we
While Lisa conversed with the people to her left -- one of her former history teachers and his wife,
who’d chosen to attend -- I began to lose my nerve and clam up, growing increasingly uncomfortable as many of the
once-popular girls, aided and abetted by liberal libations from the cash bar, proceeded to lead assorted male classmates onto
the floor and dance with increasing abandon.
Before the evening was out, I still managed to have a lively chat about the stock market with David Liebowitz,
a lanky fellow who was now a croupier at a casino in Lake Tahoe, then an animated discussion about yoga with John Halpern, an artist, filmmaker, and practicing Buddhist
who was making a documentary about the Dalai Lama. (Although I'm embarrassed to say my school and class were basically
100 percent white, you can't say that in other respects we didn't have some element of diversity.)
Also, to my delight, I discovered
that Cindy Capriola not only had a Portuguese Water Dog puppy, just like mine – not to mention an old
varsity letter jacket (something I'd never had) -- but that she also was in touch with Chris’s mother
and was more than happy to make yet another call to her on my behalf.
Then there was my brief encounter with Bobby Meyerhoff, who gaped at my name tag, clearly mystified (and somewhat the worse
for drink), then finally bluntly confessed that he had no clue who I was and therefore no idea what I was doing there.
I assured him that I’d been in his class and that I remembered him well. Why, back in seventh grade,
he’d been incredibly cute, possibly the cutest guy in the entire class.
At this, his face lit up with immeasurable joy, and he asked if I would be willing to repeat those words to
Willow, his longtime high school girlfriend, and his sister Robin, who happened to be there too. And without hesitation, I accompanied
him to find them and did.
So what if he’d completely forgotten me? Why not make someone else’s day
(or maybe even whole darn weekend)?
Then, in a flash, the long-anticipated
event was over, and people kept coming over to say goodbye and vow to stay in touch, although I doubt anyone believed
we would. But just when Lisa and I thought we’d survived the ordeal and might actually live to tell
about it, Joe Tavormina asked if we’d have brunch with him the next morning.
We had no other plans, so we readily agreed. But we were more than a bit surprised. Joe, who’d become
an engineer, was one of the smartest guys in our class, and also one of the sweetest and most decent. Yet Lisa and I wondered
why he had chosen us. We wondered what we would find to talk to him about for another hour or two. And most of all, we wondered
whether or not he remembered The Make-out Party.
Back in ninth grade, you see, I’d briefly had a boyfriend, Mark Seeley, before his family had abruptly
moved to Cincinnati and essentially made me a high school widow. Karin, meanwhile, seemed to have been dating Kevin since
they were about 3. But Lisa had never even been kissed, and we needed to do something about that.
So one Saturday night, when my parents had gone out, Karin and I had invited our boyfriends over and arranged
for them to bring along a friend. When they showed up with Joe, we wondered if he would get the picture. But he was a red-blooded
teenage boy, not to mention on the football team, and in this case he didn’t need any coaching whatsoever.
According to Lisa, they'd never dated or even spoken about that evening ever again, and Joe made no reference
to it over our omelettes the next morning. Instead, he showed us a snapshot of his wife, the beautiful blonde he’d met
as a college freshman and then married soon after graduating MIT, and their two beautiful, grown daughters. He also had
his own consulting company. It seemed like he had the perfect life.
But in talking about my own life since last
we’d met, I confessed that although I'd waited until I was nearly 30 to choose a spouse, my own marriage had been complicated
and even turbulent at times, at which he began to laugh.
“Do you think you’re the only person
on earth who's ever had a complicated, turbulent marriage?” he asked with a bemused grin. “I mean, seriously.
Do you really?”
And then the three of us began to have one of the most open, honest, and heartfelt conversations I’ve
had in years about our hopes and hardships and fondest dreams. And I thought to myself, This is what having a reunion is really
all about. Not exchanging sound-bite-sized versions of your resume to a roomful of semi-drunken people dressed to the nines,
but really connecting with a few of the folks who really knew you when.
Also by the way, when I alluded to that
unforgettable Saturday night, Joe smiled broadly and asked, “Oh, yeah, you mean the big Make-out Party?” So I
guess he hadn’t forgotten a thing.
That’s probably as good an ending point as any, and if I don’t
stop writing this soon, 20 more years will have passed, and it will indeed be time for the nursing home. But I can’t
possibly leave off without reporting what happened later that afternoon.
After brunch, Lisa and I headed into the city to see my kids, and just as I walked through my daughter’s
door, I received a text message from my husband saying that Chris was trying to contact me. And then, as I began to hyperventilate
again, my phone rang and I heard a deep, sonorous, fatherly voice, the one I hadn’t heard in about 35 years.
And I began to sob.
When I finally managed to compose myself, I learned that, to my enormous relief and infinite delight, he
had never relinquished his dreams and was a successful screenwriter. And although he professed to be “allergic”
to reunions, he seemed eager to see me too. He simply had no presence on the Web, he explained, perhaps because, although
he’s married, he never had kids. (The only reason I’m on Facebook is that my daughter put me there.)
He also didn't hesitate to admit that Lisa and I had been the two people who'd made high school bearable for him...
and that as trite as it might sound, hearing me cry at the sound of his voice was something he'd truly "treasure."
The other good news was that he lived in New York, not far away from me at all. Unfortunately, he was out of town at
the moment, so our rendezvous would have to wait and to Lisa’s enormous disappointment would be unable to include her
this time around. But now I had his number at last, and he had mine, and we promised to meet soon.
Then Lisa and I ended up joining my son and daughter and
their friends for dinner at a restaurant in Soho. My kids, my friend, and their friends? As nice as it had been
to go back in time, it was an enormous relief to get back to my normal grownup life, much as it was for Dorothy
to get back to Kansas in The Wizard of Oz. You know how she said, "There's no place like home"? Well, maybe
there's also no time like now.
The next day, after I returned, my cousin Susan called to ask if I’d had fun. Fun? I guess you could say that,
I allowed. But it had also been profoundly unnerving and unsettling, I admitted, explaining how uncomfortable and insecure
I’d felt during the evening party.
All she did was laugh.
“You mean all the girls who
used to think they were all that and a bag of chips still do?” she asked. “Big surprise. Get over it.” And
I realized that she was right.
Maybe those glamorous, once-popular girls are clinging to their looks like a life raft,
or maybe they’re just holding onto them much the way I remain consumed with my kids even though they’re now grown
and on their own – because if I weren’t still busy being their mom and worrying about them, I don’t know
who I'd be or what I would do.
I’m sure my kids don’t quite believe that I was a teenager once, or that
I even truly remember what it was like to be young. Sometimes I wish that I didn’t. High school, as I said, was not
a happy time in my life, and you couldn’t pay me to be that young again.
But now that the ordeal is over, I’m beginning to think that collaborating with Lisa on that next reunion
might not be such a crazy idea, after all. Although I think the trio who undertook the effort this time did a fabulous job,
and the turnout was pretty remarkable, there are some things I might have done differently. I wouldn’t have minded holding
the party somewhere a little more glamorous than the lovely La Quinta, even if that meant jacking up the $80 price of admission
somewhat. And as big a fan as I am of live music, it might have been more fun to have a DJ instead spinning hits from the
Beatles, Monkees, Dave Clark 5, and Stones, the soundtrack of our youth.
At the very least, I’m determined to see Chris in the flesh before I lose track of him again.
I also miss Lisa like crazy, and apparently vice versa, so she’s agreed to come back sometime soon. So as disorienting
and damaging to the psyche as these journeys may be, in the end I'm glad that I went... and one way or another, I probably
have a few more reunions yet in store.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
Sure, weddings are wonderful occasions, but they are also occasions that make us wonder. We wonder whether to have the chicken
or the fish. We wonder whether the marriage will last. But most of all, whether we are the mother of the bride or the mother
of the friend of the sister of the bride -- as I was recently -- we wonder what to wear.
That last issue becomes even more
of a quandary at times of year like this one. We’re right on the cusp of two different seasons. Do we dress for summer
or dress for fall? Is it too late for linen? Too early for velvet? It’s hard enough figuring out just how farputzed
(Yiddish speak for “dressed to the nines”) to get for a Sunday afternoon affair. But in late September, will it
still be steamy, or should we be prepared for the big chill?
Given that I went to only three weddings this year – my kids, being in their early to mid 20s, are
way past the bar mitzvah stage now, but not quite yet into the nuptials – I couldn’t really
justify shelling out for a lot of new dress-up clothes. So when we RSVP’d to accept for the wedding of Stephanie, the
daughter of our close friends Amy and Rich, I planned to make do with the nice dress I’d bought for my nephew’s
wedding in August.
Since Charlie and his lovely and brilliant bride Holly had opted for a small, low-key ceremony and reception
on a farm in Oregon, this wasn’t a terribly dressy dress. It was far from the sort of flashy or elegant attire you might ordinarily
choose for a wedding. But it was a pretty dress. It was certainly a nice enough dress. And since I was
not an integral member of this particular wedding day, I was convinced it would more than do.
Anticipating that the weather might
turn on a dime, however, I picked up a back-up option to keep as an alternative. It had rosettes along the neckline and was fashioned in a shiny, bright fuchsia fabric that said “afternoon wedding” to me. I figured that if I didn’t
wear it this time around, it was bound to come in handy for another occasion. The dress was too long, though, and when I modeled
it for my husband, he turned up his nose.
This came as no great shock. He prefers me when I first wake up in the morning or dressed in a t-shirt and
jeans, preferably sans makeup and with wet hair. When he saw the new dress, he told me it looked like something someone’s
grandmother would wear.
OK, I’m actually old enough to be a grandmother. But no one actually wants to
look like a grandmother. So I never bothered to get this dress shortened. I didn’t get around to returning
it either, though. I just hung it in my closet and forgot about it for months.
As the wedding approached, I grew distracted with other things. Our daughter Allegra was coming home to stay with us the night
before. So were her good friend Samara, and Samara’s older brother Avi, who were attending the wedding as well. Their
parents, Laurel and Chengiah – dear friends we have in common with the bride’s family – had moved to South
Africa earlier in the year, so we had invited them to stay with us.
Being a nice Jewish mom, I spent the day that they arrived shopping and preparing a sumptuous dinner for
the kids. Then, as soon as the meal was over, the girls retreated upstairs to Allegra’s room to finalize what they would
wear to the wedding the next day.
Each had packed two different perfectly nice prospects in their suitcases, complete
with matching shoes and other accessories. But that didn’t discourage them from slipping on countless other possibilities
they found in both Allegra’s closet and mine.
You may be incredulous that 22-year-olds would have the slightest
interest in any garment owned by someone of my vintage. But once upon a time I was a fashion reporter, so many things that
I purchase are relatively timeless and geared to last. Then there are the trendy items I bought in the ’80s and ‘90s
that are back in style again.
But after they’d tried on about 27 dresses apiece, I began to reconsider my own attire. Did that long
striped dress show me off to my best advantage? Was it dressy enough after all? And there was a twinge of fall already invading
the New England air. Was the striped dress a little too “summer?”
So I dared to slip it on and venture
into Allegra’s room to model it for the girls. The verdict was not just instantaneous, but unanimous. “You absolutely
cannot wear that!!!”
This sent me foraging in my closet to find the back-up number I had purchased a few
months back. The girls nixed the purple shoes I paired it with (“too matchy”) and the beaded evening bag I proposed
to carry (too “ungapatchka”). But the dress, they said, was perfect. Well, it was almost perfect. The
problem was that I had never shortened it. It was still four inches too long.
I considered returning to my closet to find some other old thing that was suitable. But Allegra had already
claimed my old standard fall-back, a classic, strapless, ruched number in shiny olive green satin. And it was just as well.
This dress was so fitted to the body (and to my body in particular) that it had always taken two people to zip me into it.
And in recent years, I had reached the point at which it would take a lot more than that.
No, the fuchsia dress would have
to be it. That meant its hemline had to come up. And fast.
I scoured the house for any spool of thread that might be a reasonable
match. But this was a very bright hue, a very unusual hue, and none of the thread I had would do. By now it was past midnight.
So I figured I would go to sleep and try to buy some thread in the morning, never mind that it would be Sunday and fabric
stores would be closed.
Being a nice Jewish mom, I spent the majority of the next morning rustling up a lavish breakfast for my young
guests, then cleaning it up. Then I spent no small amount of time finding jewelry that would match the girls’ dresses,
as well as helping Avi choose a tie from my husband’s vast collection, since he had somehow neglected to bring one.
By the time everyone else was dressed, and I had finished curling my hair, I realized that I had a big problem. That
fuchsia dress was still four inches too long. And I didn’t have any thread that would suffice, let alone enough time
to do any actual sewing.
Then, with only minutes to spare, I had an inspiration. I ran down and found a roll of clear packing tape.
Then I turned the dress inside out and quickly taped the hem up.
Since the bottom of the dress was now simply
folded under awkwardly and didn’t come to a sharp enough edge, I then proceeded to iron the very bottom of the dress,
being careful not to let the hot iron come too close to the tape, fearing that it might melt.
Voila! It was now the perfect length.
Would it manage to hold throughout the day? It would have to. I didn’t have anything else to wear, and we were already
We were so late, in fact, that as we arrived at Saint Clement’s Castle in Portland, CT, nearly 10 minutes
after the appointed hour of 3 p.m., we could see in the distance that the outdoor ceremony was already under way. Allegra
and Sam had decided to drive separately much earlier, but Avi was with us, and he and my husband took off as fast as their
legs could carry them toward the chupa (wedding canopy) in the distance.
Unfortunately, this was much faster
than my legs could carry me, since I had discovered that the packing tape was not only crunching audibly with every step I
took, but also forming a tight band around my knees, preventing me from taking anything but itsy-bitsy baby steps. It didn’t
help that my low spike heels were sinking into the grass.
“Why are you walking pigeon-toed?” my husband demanded
in a stage-whisper from where he was, a good 10 steps ahead of me. How could I even begin to explain?
By the time I reached the assembled
crowd, my husband and Avi had found seats near the front, but I didn’t want to call attention to myself, so I simply
stood in the back.
It seems to me that I can never call it right with weddings. At the one we attended much earlier this summer,
we arrived well in advance only to find that the ceremony itself didn’t actually begin for well over an hour because
there was a lengthy bedecken (a Jewish ceremony in which the bridal party remains in one room and the groom and his
attendants stay segregated in the other, while guests get to greet them separately).
I generally assume that
weddings will commence as much as half an hour late, in order to ensure that all the “dearly beloved” have managed
to gather first. But when you assume, you make an ass out of “u” and “me,” and this one evidently
had gone off like clockwork.
Fortunately, although I had missed the dramatic entry of the bridesmaids, the ushers, and the bride herself,
I’d arrived just in time to catch the most important part. The vows.
The bride and groom had chosen
to write the words they would utter themselves. And some pretty unbelievable words they were.
Brian spoke with such sincerity
and raw emotion, barely keeping it together as he gazed at Stephanie with overwhelming adoration and unadulterated admiration
– “worship” might be a better word – that I choked up completely and, to be honest, could barely focus
as Stephanie addressed him with her own touching words of undying love.
I instantly had no doubts whatsoever that this was one marriage that would last.
I was also suddenly glad that I
hadn’t dared distract anyone by seeking a seat, because soon after this the groom got to step on the traditional glass
and then to passionately kiss his blushing bride. And then, as they turned and strode up the aisle arm in arm, I found myself
in the perfect vantage point to capture true love on camera.
Then I finally got to join the rest of my family
for the cocktail reception, as well as find our good friends Pat and Michael, who are also very close friends of Amy and Rich.
I was excited to see them all and spend the rest of the day there celebrating with them. But to be perfectly honest,
I was also a wreck underneath it all (literally), because Pat is someone who doesn’t miss a thing, and who is apt to
be outspoken to the point of being blunt. And I feared that the crunch of that packing tape was still vaguely audible.
I also could feel that in many places, that hasty hemline was already falling down.
Pat and I had a great time nonetheless imbibing in a couple of cocktails apiece, including my standard choice
of a Sex in the City-inspired Cosmopolitan, as well as an Amaretto sour, something that Allegra recommended or perhaps
even invented herself.
I also took this opportunity to snap some fabulous photos of Allegra in her wedding
finery, along with her two dear friends, whom I instantly dubbed the Three Miss-keteers. (Michelle, as her sister’s
maid of honor, looked exquisite as ever. So did Sam, although to my mild bemusement she had ultimately opted for the very
first dress she’d tried on.)
As for Allegra, that ruched dress fit her like a green leather glove and looked so flattering, if you ask
me, that I realized in a flash that its days in my closet were done.
The view by the castle overlooking the Connecticut
River could not have been more breathtaking, although there was indeed a bracing trace of autumn chill in the air. Also, looking
around at the other guests, I realized that Allegra had been right. This dress, rather than the far less formal, summery one,
had been the right one to wear.
I also decided that my husband
had been wrong. I did not look like a grandmother.
Then it was time to go inside, find our place cards and take our
seats for the reception.
Rich, the father of the bride,
had come up with the novel idea of having individual wedding cakes decorated with sugar flowers placed at the center of every
table in lieu of actual flowers (which was not only exquisite, but actually more economical, I assume). Resting on footed
antique silver platters, they were the ultimate in edible arrangements.
As father of the bride, he also
gave a wedding toast that was both heartfelt and hilarious, concluding with his hope that Steph and Brian would be as good
to each other as his wife Amy had been to him, a sentiment that made my eyes gush all over again.
But as we dove into the delectable
tortellini appetizer, I must confess that my mind returned quickly to my hem, and the mayhem that was unfolding (and unpeeling)
For as much as I tried to enjoy the meal and all the festivities, every time I shifted in my chair, I could
feel the plastic tape crinkling here and there, continuing to detach.
In fact, when I dared to peek under
the tablecloth, I could see telltale tentacles of unstuck tape protruding from my dress where I’d fortified the main
strip on either side.
Pat and I are dear friends, as
you know if you are regular readers of this blog, but I knew exactly what she would say if she detected this situation and
discovered that I had been foolish enough to think that taping up a hem would do: “Are you out of your mind?”
My mind, meanwhile, turned to the festivities that lay ahead. My husband and I are avid dancers, but it seems that the
only time we ever get to display our enthusiasm and prowess on the dance floor (or lack thereof) anymore is when we attend
a wedding. I certainly didn’t want to miss out on that.
Then there was the whole issue of the hora.
Although the groom was not, in fact, Jewish, I had been assured that there would be a hora during the reception.
There is nothing more moving to me than joining in this ritual dance on a joyful occasion – and this was as joyful an
occasion as anyone could imagine, because my friends regarded the groom as such a mensh that they regularly referred
to him as “Prince Brian.”
There was no way I was willing to forego this pleasure, nor the chance to share in their delight. But every
time I thought of joining hands to dance with everyone in a circle, I envisioned my hem coming completely undone, shreds of
tape tearing loose and tumbling down as my friend Pat stopped mid-kick, pointed at the tape and shrieked, “Are you out
of your mind?”
By the time the salad course was being served, I could stand the worry no longer. Besides,
those two cocktails I’d downed had managed to run their course, and I had no choice but to make a pit stop. As I stood
and hobbled to the ladies room, I awkwardly tucked two telltale tabs of crinkled packing tape back under my dress, hoping
no one was paying attention in case they slipped out again as I crossed the vast reception hall.
Then I sequestered myself in an
empty bathroom stall, where to my complete horror I felt the entire length of tape detach as I gently lifted the dress’s
Now what was I going to do?!?
I had considered bringing along the roll of tape and a pair of scissors, just in case I needed to make repairs during
the event, but neither had fit into my tiny evening bag. So I had been obliged to leave them behind.
Yet the main strip of tape I had
used on the dress had lost its tackiness almost entirely and could not realistically be reattached with any real hope that
it would hold.
Was I going to spend the remaining hours of the reception hiding in the bathroom?
I stood inside the stall in total
terror, wondering what I could possibly do now while waiting for a pair of guests to finish having a lengthy conversation
about their haircuts. Then, the moment that they finally exited, I did the only thing that I could do.
I reached beneath the dress, and in one fell swoop loudly dislodged the entire length of tape around the
bottom of the dress, wadding it up into a tight ball in my fist.
Then I dashed out, tossed it into the trash,
and surveyed myself in the mirror.
It was not good. No, not good at all. It was actually even worse than
There was a distinct ridge all the way around the bottom of the dress where I had ironed
it at its new length, and the four inches of extra material hung down from there.
I looked, in a word, ridiculous.
But what choice did I have other than to go with it? I couldn’t stay in the ladies room one moment longer. It would
be hard enough to explain where I’d been for the past 10 minutes while everyone else was devouring their salads.
I emerged to find the rest of the guests in rapt attention as the father of the groom gave his toast. Reluctant to call
any more attention to myself than necessary, I slunk slowly over to girls’ table, which was on the near side of the
room against the wall. Allegra would be my test market. My fashion police. My guinea pig in green satin.
“How bad is this?” I whispered discreetly when I had reached her side.
“Is what?” she asked,
still engrossed in the toast and genuinely perplexed.
I lowered my glance decisively in the direction of my knees, then
up again at her.
“This,” I said. Then I stepped back a foot or so to give her the full-length view.
Shifting her eyes from Brian’s father for barely a second, she surveyed the damage, then shrugged. “You’re
fine,” she replied.
Was she out of her mind?
“Are you sure?” I whispered.
She gave me a quick once-over one more time, then another reassuring nod. “Fine,” she repeated. “Don’t
worry about it. It actually looks kind of funky.”
Armed with her rare seal of approval, I dared to return to my table
as soon as the toast was over and everyone had finished raising their glasses. I braced myself for an onslaught of ridicule,
but Pat didn’t say one word. No one even asked where I’d been.
So I proceeded to wolf down my
salad, followed by the very ample main course. (My husband and I had both opted for the fish, although the chicken also looked
Then, as the DJ played the opening strains of “Hava Nagillah,” Pat caught my eye. “Let’s
do this!” she exclaimed.
So we and our husbands stormed the dance floor, linking hands as we spun in one direction,
then the other, surrounding the grinning bride and groom as they were lifted high into the air in chairs. Then we clapped
to the beat as Amy and Rich ecstatically linked arms with each other to spin in the center, then pulled in one friend after
I was so deliriously happy for them all at this moment that my face almost burst. The last thing on my mind
was my dress.
Then suddenly, the music shifted smoothly into a medley of Motown tunes, and my husband and I continued dancing
alongside Pat and Michael and the Miss-keteers until we could hardly breathe and had to take a break… to break into
that wedding cake.
All this time, no one seemed to take the slightest notice of my sagging hemline. Whether or not it actually
looked funky, I guess that it did look fine.
In fact, if anyone noticed any dress other than the gorgeous gown worn by the bride herself, it
was probably Allegra’s… or perhaps merely what was in it. One of the ushers got down with her on the dance floor
(indeed), and another male member of the wedding party “friended” her on Facebook the next day.
And by the time we had danced the very last dance – and we did indeed dance until the very end –
I’d come to realize that I should get over myself already. No one was that interested in me or my fashion faux pas.
The only important thing going on was the love.
In fact, if I hadn’t dared to blog here about my lame minor
wardrobe malfunction, no one would ever have been the wiser, including my friend Pat, who will probably read this entry sooner
or later and then unquestionably ask me, “Are you out of your mind?”
Meanwhile, professional photos
from the event were posted on a website the following week, along with a video of the happy couple pronouncing their wedding
vows. So I can now bring a sampling of their actual beautiful, sweet and heartfelt words to you.
Brian, who is 31 and works for Verizon, harkened in his back to their very first date – “the
beginning of our love story,” as he put it. “It was warm and sunny, like the cheerfulness of your heart. We walked
and talked for hours, sharing our life stories…
“At the end of our date, we sat in your car, still talking,
and to be honest, I didn’t want the date to end. I didn’t want to stop spending time with you.
“When I left, I couldn’t
stop thinking about you, and I haven’t stopped thinking about you since. I noticed that there was something different
about you, and I was right: You’re a Red Sox fan.”
But on a more serious note, he credited her
with “bringing the old Brian back. It’s because of you that I laugh louder, I smile with my face and my heart,
and I dare to dream again.
“I will forever have unconditional love for you. I’ll hold you in my arms, keep you safe, and
comfort you in times of distress. I will anticipate when to wipe your tears away and when to cry with you...
“In honor of your slight
obsession with Disney movies, I found this quote: ‘Love is a song that never ends.’ May our love and our song
never end, so we can dance in the kitchen together forever and find new ways to dance into each other’s hearts.
“I vow to be your faithful
lover, partner, and best friend from this day forward… and always find new ways to love you.
“A dream is a wish that your
heart makes. And today, because of you, my dream has come true.”
Although they had not shared with one another in advance what they would say, Stephanie, who is 26, uttered
vows echoing many of the same themes.
“Every time I began to write about my love
for you, and how much you meant to me, the words never came out quite right. It seemed that my feelings for you surpassed
my powers of expression and my working vocabulary.
"Finally, I realized it wasn’t my vocabulary that was the problem.
It was words themselves. Our love transcended everything.
“Our love is the way you squeeze my hand three times to say
I love you, and how you dance with me in the kitchen. It’s the way you put up with me after a hard day at work, how
you love my family, and especially the way you always – always – make me feel special.
“...I was told that most love stories aren’t like those in the movies; they aren’t a fairy
tale. Yet here we are, me in my princess dress, at a castle, surrounded by friends and family, with my prince standing in
front of me. You’ve made our love story into the fairy tale I didn’t think was possible…
“I promise to stand by your
side in times of adversity and sorrow, and to share with you in joyous times. I promise to laugh with you and never stop kissing
“I vow to never intentionally hurt you. But if I do, I promise to fix it with coffee ice cream and
“I promise to support and encourage you. I will do my best to never let you down. But I will ALWAYS
“Today, I give you my hand, my heart, and my love, without condition, completely and forever.”
Well, there you have it. That’s love. (And sorry if I let that segment run a little long, but I’m not much
better at shortening wedding vows than I am at shortening dresses.)
Watching those speeches in the comfort of my own home, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, with wet hair, no
less, my eyes welled up all over again. But that’s little wonder.
Weddings make us remember how we once felt back
when our own love began. They help recapture those feelings for a moment. Maybe that’s why they make us cry.
And before I begin to well up all over again, I have one more vow for you.
I solemnly vow to get that fuchsia
dress shortened by a tailor as soon as possible, and to never, ever wear a dress with a taped-up hemline to any else’s
simcha ever again. Yes, I did something really dumb. But I’ve learned my lesson. And I am not out
of my mind!
|That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.
No, sir, that's not
my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring
ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible
need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime
delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the
dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in
their 20s, both are currently living on their
own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a
day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to
the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally
wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials
for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh
mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah
balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions,
from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I
can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can
barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active
mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging
times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!
|LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
In coming weeks, I will continue
posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often,
and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together):
That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New