Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Word From the Weiss
Happy last night of Hanukkah! It may be a relatively minor holiday, as Jewish ones go, but considering that there are eight whole nights of it, I
hope that yours was happy.
I got some very interesting
gifts this year, from a novel back scrubber, flamingo pajamas, and a jar of posh truffle salt to a bright fuchsia mermaid blanket from my well-meaning husband.
But if there was one thing that I wanted
more than anything this year – anything at all – it was to not be able to spend my daughter’s
birthday or the rest of Hanukkah with her.
And no, that “not” was not a typo. I really didn’t want her to be anywhere near
me on her special day.
But before you jump to the wrong conclusion, let me tell you why.
Between Hanukkah, New
Year’s, and my daughter Allegra having been born on the 18th of the month, December tends to offer our family almost too much to celebrate (although one of my best friends from college was known to say, "Too
much is never enough!"). Now that Allegra is engaged to JP, who shares not just her upbeat personality but her date of birth, we have even more reasons to raise a glass or two.
Last year, we got to celebrate Christmas with the two of them as well. And
not just our usual Jewish approach to Christmas – dinner at a Chinese restaurant,
followed by a movie. JP cooked an authentic Chinese meal for us in our home, with Allegra pitching in as sous chef in a Santa
But this year, it was his parents’ turn to have them for the joint birthday and holidays. And his parents happen
to live far, far away. Halfway around the world, in fact. They spend this half of the year in Hong Kong.
Normally, JP’s family
convenes for the winter holidays in Sydney, Australia, where his brother and sister live. But this year they chose to gather in Hong Kong instead, in large part because it would be relatively easy for Allegra and JP to get there (if you can call the 16½-hour
flight from New York to Hong Kong “easy” in any respect).
Allegra couldn’t wait
to see her future in-laws again, especially her little niece- and nephew-to-be, who are 2 and 4 respectively. She and JP spent weeks buying gifts for everyone
and counting down the days till they left.
There was just one little catch.
JP, who is not a U.S.
citizen, applied for a work visa in the early
fall, soon after he moved to NYC when he and Allegra got engaged. In late
October, he was assured that the visa would
be mailed to him in about two weeks. But as of last week, it had
yet to arrive.
On Friday, he explained to his family and ours that if he left the country without it, he might not be able to return for several years. Yikes! His entire family was deeply
disappointed, not to mention livid that he
had failed to mention this before everyone else had booked their own flights. Allegra was heartbroken
that they weren't going anymore. She was also mortified
that they had offended her future machutunin.
JP’s parents had arranged to host a lavish luncheon on Monday to celebrate the joint birthday. JP and Allegra were the guests of honor, but they would no longer be there.
What were they
going to do?
Our own family was getting together in NYC to celebrate both Hanukkah and the birthdays on Friday night. But suddenly no one was in any sort
of celebratory mood.
was the fourth night of Hanukkah, and all the way to the city, I fought back tears. My heart ached with pity.
We had agreed to care for Allegra and JP’s lively little puppy Luna during the 11
days they'd planned be away. We had been kvetching for weeks about this daunting responsibility, and had even recruited our son Aidan and daughter-in-law Kaitlin to split dog-sitting duties with us. But now we would have given anything to have what had previously appeared to be a bit of an imposition. Yet we felt powerless to help.
Before leaving home, I'd grated potatoes and
onions to make latkes when we arrived. Allegra's tiny kitchen is too small to cook in, so we were going
out for dinner. In fact, we were going out for hibachi. No latkes were
likely to be there. But what's Hanukkah without the latkes?
I also had gathered
up the many holiday gifts
I had purchased for one and all.
Even though the kids are now grown,
I still give everyone in the family, including our dog Latke, at least one present for
each of the eight nights. In fact, with all the sales on Cyber Monday, I got a little carried away this year. Too much in
this case might really be too much. They may be unwrapping till Tu Bishvat. No
matter. With the travel-ban pall cast over the festivities, I hardly felt like Mrs. Claus, let alone Hanukkah Harriet.
With soggy snow falling all the way from our home in Connecticut to NYC, the drive took over five hours in relentless traffic. But that’s not the reason it felt as gloomy
as a walk to the gallows. We
arrived to find Allegra looking dejected, her
eyelids red and puffy. She admitted that she had been crying for hours. Some
Aidan and Kaitlin arrived soon after us, and everyone ate a latke smothered in applesauce. I brightened momentarily when Aidan said that they were my best ever. Whether or not he
meant it, he certainly knows the way to a Jewish mother’s heart.
there was no time to rest on my laurels as a ballabusta (that's Yiddish for “good cook”). We
were already late for our dinner reservation.
Dejected or not, we still had to eat. Between
the manic antics of the high-spirited hibachi
chef, who hurled morsels of food at us as if
we were trained seals and squirted streams
of cold, tangy sake into our mouths, things brightened up a bit during dinner.
Everyone also managed to put on a happy face when we returned
to Allegra and JP's apartment to exchange holiday gifts. Even when you’re
feeling blue, it’s a lighter shade of blue when the family is all together.
But Allegra and JP soon realized that they had no choice and called the airline and
cancel their Saturday afternoon flight. And that turned every's mood from blue to black again.
Early the next morning,
their apartment buzzer sounded off early. There was a special delivery downstairs for them.
Wait! Could it be?
Perhaps it could
have. But it was not. It turned out to just be a document from JP’s bank. After having their hopes raised, even momentarily, only to be dashed, they now felt even worse.
Then they got some news from Hong Kong. One of JP’s aunts was in the hospital and gravely ill. JP’s sister, who is a doctor, composed a letter to Immigration outlining Aunt Betty’s condition and saying it was urgent that JP be allowed to come home ASAP.
A friend of our family who is an immigration lawyer advised us that JP and
Allegra needed to get to the Immigration
office before it opened at 7 a.m. on Monday morning. There was no guarantee that anyone would even agree to meet with them, but that was their only hope. The lawyer did not sound at all optimistic. An ailing aunt, he said, would not appear as compelling as a sick parent, sibling, spouse or child. But it was worth
out that poor Aunt Betty was gravely ill indeed.
We woke up Sunday to the sad news that she had died. JP was desperate to get home to help console his mother. They would now ask for permission to attend the funeral instead.
Eager to console Allegra and JP, my
husband and I took them out for another birthday
dinner on Sunday night. Then my husband drove home to Connecticut. But I insisted on staying overnight on the kids' couch in order to watch little Luna while they went to Immigration
the next morning. It would help them get out at the crack of
dawn if they didn't have to walk her first. I also wanted to be there in the event that they got bad news. It was the least that I could do.
Allegra stayed up late packing her bags, just
in case there was good news
instead. It was the least that she could do.
They left the apartment
at 6:22 a.m. armed with every document that they might need. Even though they
arrived well before 7, they were
already sixth in line.
Finally, the office opened. They watched in mounting horror as the five people before them, including a sweet, pregnant
young woman who wanted to go see her sick grandmother, were brow-beaten mercilessly by the surly official
manning the only reception window that was open. Then, just as it was about to be their turn, an affable young man arrived and took over a second window, and
he summoned them to approach.
Examining JP’s documents, he
noticed right away that this happened to be his birthday. JP pointed out that it was his fiancée’s as well. Hearing this and the details of their plight, the man seemed extremely sympathetic. He readily granted JP an audience with the
next person up on the totem pole. At
least they would be heard.
“OK, we have an appointment,” Allegra texted me, sounding cautiously optimistic.
“But we might need proof of JP’s relationship to Aunt Betty.” The
couple in front of them had been told that they needed such documentation themselves. They began freaking out. What would possibly demonstrate this relationship? Would they
need to obtain both his mother’s birth certificate and Aunt Betty’s? How would they get those right away?
The woman who met with them next didn’t request any such documents, though. She just seemed eager to help. She checked JP’s application status in her computer.
That’s when she discovered that his visa had already been approved – last Friday. It was presumably already on its way, in
transit in the postal system somewhere. But they wouldn’t have to wait for it to arrive. She issued them
another one right on the spot.
Allegra texted me a little after 10. “It’s a Hanukkah miracle.
They phoned the airline, United, and managed to nab the last two economy seats on the 3:05 p.m.
flight to Hong Kong. Never mind that United would call them back soon after to say that there had been some mistake – that the only two seats left were
business class and cost thousands of dollars more. They had to go no matter what.
And so they flew into action, as though someone had
fired a starting pistol and actually shouted, "Go!" They raced
home and somehow finished packing within the hour. They crammed all the gifts into a carry-on bag. While I went out to buy them breakfast to go, they even packed for Luna, who would be spending
the next few days with Uncle Aidan, Aunt Kaitlin, and their cats.
Then we jumped into the car, and I drove them straight to Newark International
Airport. We arrived two hours before the plane left, with
just enough time left to check in.
Then I drove back to the city with Luna sleeping beside me on the passenger seat. Never mind that there
was heavy traffic all the way there and
even more on my way home. I was still only as happy as my least happy child. But with just a little help from the universe,
and her nice Jewish Mom, that child was now happily on her way. Although she had spent the morning biting her nails at Immigration and would spend the next 16½ hours sitting on a plane, she was having what might
prove to be the best birthday ever.
So I would say we definitely have too much to celebrate this year. Guess we're just going to
have to party on till New Year's, or even Tu Bishvat. Who cares if Hanukkah's over? Let the celebration begin!
Friday, November 17, 2017
Word From the Weiss
Is it just me, or does everyone feel
like their life entails enough
drama, tsuris and nachas – that is, enough to kvetch and kvell about – to warrant
its own reality TV show? Well, The Real Nice Jewish Moms
of Connecticut may not be airing
in primetime any time soon,
but it recently occurred to me that it might be high time for me to go on a certain existing reality show instead. Or, more precisely, for my daughter to go on it. And given
the nature of this particular show, I would be obliged to go with her.
If you are a woman of a certain age (that is, my daughter’s, which is 27), give or take, then there is no need to explain when I say that I’m talking about Say Yes to the Dress. This phenomenon, now in its 15th season on TLC, entails brides-to-be
shopping for their wedding gowns at Kleinfeld’s, the most exclusive bridal salon in all of NYC.
OK, let me
be perfectly honest. I wanted us to go on this show not because I crave attention or publicity, but because I craved attention and publicity for my daughter. That is, I thought that this would be an ideal way to help promote her
career as a jazz singer. Even if it would most likely lead to her buying
an extremely expensive wedding dress.
(No, they do not GIVE you the dress. They do their utmost to SELL one to you.)
After all, they don’t need to
give away dresses to entice people to go on
this show. Almost every young woman of
a certain age (my daughter’s), as well
as her mother, would give her right arm (or at least ring finger) to get on. That’s how popular it is.
So don’t imagine for one second that simply anyone can go on it. I didn’t. I knew that Allegra needed an angle – some special drama, personal hardship (i.e. tsuris) or other distinction that
would make her more compelling than your run-of-the-mill or even runaway bride.
In other words, she needed a hook.
And we were pretty sure that we had one. Maybe
even more than one.
One night, when I couldn’t sleep, I sent Allegra a
link to the online application for the show.
She never mentioned this, but soon after she filled it out and submitted it. And the
show apparently agreed that she indeed had
an angle (or maybe even more than one). Because they
contacted her almost instantly, requesting more information and photos.
One of the angles that she’d used
to promote herself did, in fact, relate to her singing. We had once seen an episode in which a beauty pageant queen explained that she had been wearing beaded and glittering gowns for years,
so she needed something even more spectacular for her wedding day. Allegra could legitimately say the same.
And so she had.
As I would later tell them myself, she already had closets full of shimmering gowns. They are her work clothes – her everyday (or, more accurately, every night) attire. So, for
her wedding dress, she really needed to find something that would kick it
up a notch.
Then there was the multicultural nature of her match made in heaven (or, actually,
in Hong Kong). Allegra is a nice Jewish girl. Her fiancé, JP, is half Hong Kong Chinese and half German. She has
dubbed their impending nuptials “My Big Fat Jewish
Chinese German Wedding.”
Yet there was
still one more selling point that my daughter had
up her sleeve. (Although given
our taste in bridal gowns, there
would probably be no sleeves
As I have indicated, Say Yes to the Dress thrives on drama. Especially family drama. They like it when the mother of the bride, or some other member of her entourage, has
a vision of what the dress
should be that clashes with the bride’s own preferences. Years ago, I was a fashion writer. I
wrote about fashion for USA Today, and later served as the fashion editor for a Sunday magazine in Connecticut. I produced fall and spring fashion issues showing slinky models striking poses in the
latest styles. I also covered the semiannual
fashion shows held by NYC’s top designers.
To say that I am still what you might call a “fashionista” now was a bit of a stretch. However, I did have strong opinions about what sort of gown my daughter should wear. And whether or not these would conflict with
her own, that probably sounded promising.
It was promising
enough, at any rate, for the show to interview
her over the phone. This was followed by a live screen test, also performed over the phone via FaceTime. That presumably
lived up to their expectations, for they proceeded to screentest me.
I guess they had to be sure that I had at least a modicum of personality and would not just sit there like a lump… or a potato latke.
Have you ever had a screen test (albeit one performed over the phone via FaceTime)? I hadn’t. So I must admit that I was a little anxious. At least, as luck would have it, it was slated for an afternoon right after I already had
a hair appointment scheduled. I still agonized over what to wear and, more
significantly, what to say. I even prepared
a script for myself, although I knew that I wouldn’t be able to actually read from it while looking into the phone exhibiting at least a modicum of personality.
During the five to ten minutes I spent on camera, I forgot half of what I’d planned to relate. But I managed to rattle off my spiel about Allegra needing to kick it up a notch for her wedding. I also talked about how close a relationship we had – how we were beyond best friends. Even though my daughter has a full-time “day job,” we managed to
speak to each other several times a day, almost every day. When she’d spent a year in Hong Kong singing at the Four Seasons Hotel there, we’d still managed to talk almost daily, despite the 12-hour time
difference, even if this meant that one of us was typically in a glittering gown and the other in a nightgown. (Which one of us was in the PJs? You get one guess.)
I was not prepared for the last question
they would ask me, however. If Allegra came out on
the show in a dress that I didn’t like, was I prepared to be honest?
I hemmed. I hawed. Then
I gave the most candid answer I could muster. Which went something like this:
“I love my daughter so much that I would never say anything that might crush her.” On the other hand, she had such a fantastic
figure that I was certain she would be able to find a dress at Kleinfeld’s that
looked absolutely stunning on her. So I couldn’t imagine allowing her to buy anything that truly didn’t. For
this reason, I thought that I could afford to be honest with her – not brutally honest, necessarily, but gently honest.
I guess that they were satisfied with this reply, or whatever else we both said. For Allegra was told by the nice young woman who had screened us both that if the show was interested, they would give us a choice of several dates sometime in the distant future. But a few
days later, we heard back from them. Never mind the choice of future dates.
us ASAP. Were we available to go on the show the following Thursday? That is, were we ready to say yes to Say Yes
to the Dress? What could we say but “YES!?!”
Allegra was told that she could bring only three people on the show, including me. But so many of her friends wanted to get in on the act that she persuaded
them to let her have four. This would not include my husband, to his enormous disappointment, although not necessarily mine.
I knew that he would have only one thing to say about each dress that she modeled: “What does it cost?” That would instantaneously suck the joy out of what promised to be the experience of a lifetime. I did my best to explain this to him. “Honey, we’re not going to Kleinfeld’s to save money.”
Allegra was told that we should expect to be there for six hours, and that we needed to arrive “camera-ready.”
Camera-ready? Even if we’d had more than a few days to prepare, I’m
not sure that anything, including industrial-strength
Spanx, would have made it humanly possible
for me to be “ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.” Allegra made
hair appointments for herself and
the rest of the group. But I decided to go as myself. Go as
is, that is. Just kidding! I would spend at least an hour and a half transforming myself into a female contortionist as I
tried to blow-dry my own hair.
I would also shell out for a new top just for
the occasion at my favorite local shop, Kimberly Boutique, after explaining my mission to the instantly envious staff (my main mission being to not look like
a whale in high heels on TV). OK, maybe the item I chose wasn’t the most
slimming garment possible – no small
consideration, considering that, as
everyone knows, the camera adds 10 pounds. Then again, the cold-shoulder effect
was “on trend,” as Kimberly noted, and I thought that it looked reasonably glam and tasteful. I was going to play The Mom
on this episode, after all. I didn’t want to look skanky.
Allegra had already made one shopping foray to David’s Bridal with my daughter-in-law Kaitlin and her dear friend Leslie to try
on gowns. She wanted to do some advance research to see which styles suited her best.
What suited her best at David's Bridal was a strapless Vera Wang. The Sunday before we were scheduled to shoot, I got to go on a second such outing, to The Bridal
Garden, the special bridal shop on West 21st Street where Kaitlin
had found her wedding gown when she and my son
Aidan were married last summer.
The special thing about The Bridal Garden is that its inventory consists mostly of samples and overruns donated by top wedding dress designers, including Vera Wang, Marchese, Ann Barge, Lela Rose, and Monique Lhuillier. It then sells these at a deep discount. Equally compelling to us was that, as the only completely nonprofit bridal salon in NYC, it donates 100 percent of its proceeds to the Brooklyn Charter School, a tuition-free
K through 5 school for disadvantaged children in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
As ecstatic as Allegra was to have been chosen for the TV show, she was eager to contribute to this worthy cause, just as Kaitlin had when
she bought her own gorgeous Vera Wang gown there. So it was a little unnerving when
our entire group fell head over spike heels for a breathtaking Badgley Mischka mermaid-style gown there. It customarily sold for $3,000, but was marked down to a mere $999.
little doubt that she would end up spending more at Kleinfeld’s. Quite a bit more, perhaps. If she didn’t find anything that she loved there, at least she now had a back-up plan. Yet if she didn’t end up saying yes to a Kleinfeld dress, the chances of her
episode ever airing might be flimsier than a tulle
So she ruefully said no to The Bridal Garden gown. Oh, well. On with the show!
The following Wednesday night, I drove to NYC with
her good friend Emily. We had to be at Kleinfeld’s by 1:30 p.m. sharp Thursday and couldn’t risk arriving late.
JP joined us all for an early
lunch at Cafeteria, a trendy eatery near Kleinfeld’s. Presumably, we would not be fed a thing during the six hours that we would be filming. But we were
all so nervous and excited (not to mention worried about looking svelte). Who could think of eating now?
Then it was on to Drybar, part of a chain of salons where they will blow-dry your hair for $45. As planned, I had turned myself into a
human pretzel while curling my own locks that morning. But I readily succumbed
to their offer of a beverage while waiting, and downed a Mimosa – OJ spiked
with champagne. Yes, I’m a real nice
Jewish mom, but to play one on TV? A little dose of liquid courage couldn’t hurt.
We arrived breathlessly at Kleinfeld’s right on time, and were soon all hooked up
with hidden microphones. Then Allegra was whisked to the
back of the salon, where we were told she would be briefly interviewed. This interview, alas, was not so brief. She was gone
for at least an hour.
Meanwhile, the rest of us – Kaitlin, Emily, Leslie, and I – practiced
reacting to possible dresses. “Look like you love it!” I ordered, snapping them on my iPhone.
“Now look like you’re not so sure.” (Meh!)
While we waited on the couches that
lined the lobby, we peered longingly into the well-lit salon, which looked like a winter wonderland filled with headless
mannequins draped in snow-white dresses, as well as future brides in every possible shape and size giddily trying
We also watched in fascination as the front doors suddenly burst open and a large gaggle of giggling teenage girls flooded in, trailing none other than Randy Fenoli.
For anyone who may not know, Randy is a popular wedding dress designer and one of the show’s main bridal consultants, all of whom have become celebrities in their own right. He had arrived just in time to be spied by these star-struck passersby from the Midwest. They
could hardly contain their joy bordering on ecstasy as they posed with him for a group picture in the lobby, their chaperones
looking on with a mixture of puzzlement and pride.
Finally, Allegra rejoined us, and a producer came out to give us directions. We were about to meet Randy on camera ourselves. After a brief
intro, he would ask Allegra what she did for a living, whereupon she would answer by spontaneously bursting into song.
What would she sing? No problem. There’s something major I forgot
Shortly after Allegra had done her screen test, she had
been asked to write a jazzy jingle for the show. She’d promptly obliged with a ditty that ended with a “scat” solo sung as only a jazz singer can. The producers had loved it and wanted to include it on our episode.
At least five minutes into shooting this segment, however, someone suddenly
realized that there was something wrong with Randy's mic, so we had to reenact the entire scene again, trying to look natural and not stare directly into the cameras this time. Argh!
Although most of the questions Randy
asked were addressed to Allegra, I knew that I needed play my own role to the hilt. The
role of mother-of-the-bride-slash-fashionista, that is. So soon after I was introduced, I blurted out a little speech I had prepared.
I explained that I had once been a
fashion reporter, but now contented myself with buying clothes for members of my family – my husband, my son, my daughter,
my daughter-in-law, my niece, my nephew, and
now JP. “Soon after he met Allegra, he discovered that dating my daughter meant that he had to say yes to how I thought he should dress. But I guess
he doesn’t mind too much, because they’re engaged, right?”
This prompted an immediate
question from Randy. “What was wrong with
the way he dressed before?”
“Oh, nothing,” I replied. In truth,
there wasn’t. But I don’t
think I sounded convincing.
Randy followed up by asking me what kind of wedding dress I thought
Allegra should wear. I was prepared for this one and
had rehearsed that answer, too.
“Oh, anything at all,”
I said blithely, “as long as it has a mermaid or trumpet silhouette with a strapless or sweetheart neckline, and it hugs her body down
to here, then flares out into a cloud
of ‘wow!’… preferably in silk, organza, or maybe silk tulle.”
Fearing that this might sound a bit too specific, I followed it up with a second
“Honestly, though? She can wear whatever she wants.”
Randy smiled, nodded, and sized me up with a knowing glance.
“I don’t believe you,”
Was I already being painted as the evil mom? I had no time
to ponder this alarming prospect. We were immediately ushered at last into the cavernous salon, which
was filled with pale-colored upholstered couches, towering floor-to-ceiling columns, gleaming chandeliers, and hundreds of dazzling sequined, beaded, and billowing white dresses embellished with ballgown skirts, lace, ruffles, peek-a-boo patterns, and trains long enough to rival Princess Diana’s.
Spoiler alert: There will be no spoilers here. I don’t want to detract in any way from the show when it eventually airs.
Plus, even if I wanted to, I can’t show you any of the dresses Allegra tried on, because we were asked to put our cellphones away.
I won’t even tell you whether
she actually ended up saying yes to a dress or not.
All I am willing to report is that, as
exciting as it all was, the rest of the experience ended up being exhausting
and, well, a bit unnerving. For, as honest as I was prepared to be, it was horrifying to see my daughter step out in a series of wedding gowns and to have to weigh in on camera about whether I liked them before I could ask her if she did.
But I will divulge that
when she sashayed out in one overly ornate dress, I dared to utter the one word that instantly sprang to mind, never mind that it was in Yiddish.
demanded a translation, which I did my best to supply, never mind that there
is no word in the English language that comes close to being equivalent.
means everything and the kitchen sink,” I said, knowing that this
was hopelessly inadequate. “That dress just has too much going on.”
In that way, I think I totally did my part
to play up the Jewish mother angle.
The former fashionista element, though? That, I was
a little less comfortable about.
After Allegra had finished trying
on dresses, I was escorted to the back of the salon myself and interviewed on camera, under hot lights, for what felt like at least an hour.
In relation to what I’d said earlier about buying clothes for family members, I was asked if these people knew that I was out shopping for them. I explained that I never actually went shopping for anyone. It was just that
if I was out and about and happened to spy something that would look perfect on someone I knew, I would often buy it for them.
“I guess you could say
I’m a self-designated personal shopper,” I explained.
The producer, a pleasant Scottish woman with a dry wit, seemed to like this phrase so
much that she repeated it slowly as she jotted it down. I envisioned that I would end up on the show with that title printed beneath
my image: “Self-designated
But now I’m not so sure that this is quite where
that line of questioning was
She began to ask me leading questions, like, “Do you sometimes see people and think that they’re wearing
the wrong thing, or they ought to change
their hairstyle or whatever?”
I looked at her, surprised, and shrugged. “Sure,” I said, “I guess.”
Who can help doing that when they're on the
subway or they go to, say, the DMV? So, I thought to myself, “Doesn’t everybody?”
She then proceeded to ask what I thought she was doing wrong, and how she should change her own style. In other words, what might I do if I gave her a makeover?
she genuinely want a few fashion tips, or was she just trying to brand me as the fashion police? She was dressed in all black, as was almost everyone connected with Kleinfeld’s or the show. Hers looked like comfortable clothes, a plain black top and tailored slacks intended for
a long day of hard work behind
the scenes. Who knew what she wore under normal circumstances, or
when she was all dressed up?
Whatever the case, this
felt like a trap. So I looked away and squirmed.
“Come on. Just tell me. I can take it,” she prodded.
You know how they say of some people, “She can dish it out, but
she can’t take it?” Well, that’s not me. I’m closer to the opposite. I can’t take it. Or dish it out.
Instead, I gulped again and continued to avert my eyes. “I really don’t
feel comfortable answering that,” I said. She shrugged and finally moved on.
Days later, though, as I reviewed the conversation, that’s what would stick with me most. Was she trying to brand
me as the fashion police? Or, just as bad, a snob?
Talk about drama! Not to mention tsuris!
I am certainly
not any of the above. I’m not one of those
people who walk around judging other people – not for the way they behave, and surely not for the way they dress. I used to write about
fashion way back in the ‘80s. What the heck do I know now?
I know is that I love my daughter, and I hope she is happy with whatever
she wears for her wedding, and, far more
importantly, with the man that she weds.
should live and be well in whatever they wear. I will happily say yes to that!
Note: Our segment of “Say
Yes to the Dress” probably won’t air until next fall. I will
keep you posted.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Word From the Weiss
So sorry! I mean, I’m really, really sorry! I don’t call. But what’s worse is that I don’t write.
Don’t write here, anyway. The good news is that I’m hard at work on another book. The bad news? No time lately for NiceJewishMom.com. Other duties call. But it breaks my heart. I lie awake at night feeling like I have an itch that I can’t scratch.
fly by without documentation or, even worse, self-examination. I don’t write. Therefore, I am NOT.
Even more exasperating is that I did start writing something, several weeks ago. So many weeks that it’s now retreating into the rearview
mirror. Every day, I think that if I don’t finish it soon, it will be way too old to post. Staler than a week-old challah. I mean, how can
I tell you about Rosh Hashanah when it’s almost Halloween?
my daughter says that one of her best friends, a faithful reader, keeps checking this
space and is disappointed to still find nothing new. This story, as
I said, is hardly what you might call “new.” No matter. Here it is. Kylie, this one’s for you!
A very belated happy Jewish New Year from NiceJewishMom.com! I certainly hope this year will be a happy one. Not to mention a Jewish one. Yet, beyond being someone who blogs about being a nice Jewish mom, who am I to talk about being Jewish?
I would hate
to think that I am gradually turning into one
of those Jews who only turn up in their temples on the High Holy Days. But the
truth is that, in recent years, my husband and I often
don’t even do that.
When our kids were young, we celebrated everything from Shabbat to Tu Bishvat, which meant going to synagogue more often than not. But
now that the kids are grown and living on their own, many major holidays force us to choose: Go to our own shul in Connecticut, or drive down to NYC instead and share the occasion with them?
To me, when it comes to holidays, particularly the High and Holy ones,
my priority remains being
with family over simply following protocol. That
is, I would rather eat with my kids – or, when it comes to Yom Kippur, not eat with my kids – than daven without them. And in the pursuit of family togetherness, it tends
to be easier for the mountain to go to Mohammed (excuse the expression) than vice
I was hoping this year that we might be able to kill both birds with one shalom. That is, to be with our kids and still manage to attend synagogue services somewhere. But however
sweet that objective might sound, making it happen was far from as simple as dipping apples into
Rosh Hashanah fell midweek this
year, there was little chance that our kids would come home. So
I looked for a temple in NYC to
which we could go together.
As members of a Reform synagogue in Connecticut, my husband
and I are entitled to free reciprocal
tickets to Reform synagogues elsewhere. But now that the kids rarely come
home, we no longer maintain a family membership, so we couldn’t get free tickets for them. And for those of you who may not live in Manhattan,
or don't go to synagogue there, let’s just say that these tickets come at a price.
That price can top $400
per person to attend on both Rosh Hashanah and
Yom Kippur. And since my son is married, and my daughter will be soon, there are now six members of our family. That could
amount to quite a lot of gelt.
The distinct possibility also
remained that the kids might cancel out
at the last minute, so I didn’t want to invest too much in this endeavor. So I was
very happy when an Internet search led me to Kol Haneshamah, a.k.a. the Center for Jewish Life and
Enrichment. Not only was it a short walk from my son’s apartment on the
Upper West Side, but its services were free.
Hesitant to take advantage of its hospitality completely free of charge, I made a small donation after reserving six seats for Rosh Hashanah morning. But not
feeling confident that at least someone, if not
everyone, wouldn’t reneg, I
gave only a small amount, figuring that if all actually went as planned I could always give more later.
Unfortunately, just as I’d feared, when we checked in with my son the night before, it turned out that Aidan hadn’t been entirely aware of the plan. He wasn’t free to
attend services the next morning. Neither was my daughter-in-law, Kaitlin.
My daughter lives in Manhattan in the East 20s. We were staying at a hotel
in Long Island City. We had been willing to schlep all the way to the Upper West Side only for my son’s benefit. If
he and his wife weren’t coming, going
there made no sense, free services or not.
So my daughter found another service far
closer to her home.
This one was held by an organization called Ohel Ayalah, which offers free walk-in services meant primarily for unaffiliated Jews in their 20s and 30s. That makes it possible, according to its website, “for a Jew to wake up on Rosh Hashanah morning and say, ‘I feel like
going to the synagogue today and being with other Jews.’”
It all began in September of 2003,
on Erev Kol Nidrei –
the night before Yom Kippur. Rabbi Judith Hauptman was on her way to religious services when she encountered a distraught
young Jewish couple who had been turned away from two different synagogues earlier that evening. They had failed to make reservations, and all the seats had already filled up.
upon hearing this, was equally distraught. A conservative rabbi, and the first
woman ever to receive a Ph. D in
Talmud, she had been teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary since 1974. Determined
to find a solution, she quickly came up with an idea: She would find a way to offer free, walk-in services for those who
wait until the last minute to make up their minds about worshipping on the High Holy Days. (As well as those whose plans suddenly change?)
The following year, Ohel Ayalah (“Tent of Helen,” named for her late mother) was born.
The very first service
was packed, primarily with young people under the age of 35. In the ensuing years, the organization continued to not only flourish, but grow, branching out to add services in Brooklyn and Queens,
as well as Passover seders.
This year’s services in Manhattan would be held at the Prince George Ballroom on West 27th Street. Allegra and JP agreed to meet us there late the next morning.
We woke up to an urgent message from them, though. Their new little
puppy, Luna, had been up all night vomiting. They
were very concerned and rushing her
to the vet. Allegra was not ready to cancel out on temple just yet, though. And neither were
we. We agreed that we would go to
the service ourselves and attempt to save her a seat.
Good luck to us with that! Although the Prince George Ballroom is cavernous, at over 9,000 square feet, we arrived to discover that the service was already packed and standing-room-only. So we made our way to the back of the room... and stood.
At least this spared us from the usual routine of having
to get up every time the rabbi entreated the congregation to “please
rise” whenever a major prayer was read. We were already on our feet.
a bit sheepish about going to a service intended mostly for young people in their 20s and 30s. I’m a
nice Jewish mom of two people in their 20s and 30s. Young, I am not. And if I’m not young, then what is Nice Jewish
Dad, who has just over a decade on me?
Indeed, we stood out in the crowd – and I do mean crowd. Hundreds of well-dressed young
Jews filled the rows of seats and stood lining the perimeter of the room. Many among the seated soon began approaching us and
offering to give us their seats. As generous a gesture as this was – a mitzvah in the making –
we would graciously decline.
Yet it was an unusually warm day, both inside and out, and I eventually persuaded
my husband to accept one such offer, seeing that he was tired and beginning to shvitz in his suit.
I was there mostly to
be with our daughter, though, and there was no seat available for her. So I remained standing alone in the back, keeping one eye
on the prayers in the siddur (prayer book) and the other trained expectantly
on the doorway.
And finally, after an hour or so, there she was! They were still awaiting results
of the X-rays, so her fiancé, JP, who is not Jewish, had been obliged to stay behind with poor sick Luna. But Allegra was finally there, and I moved over eagerly so that she could lean against the wall beside me.
Eventually, I found that I could
no longer stand on ceremony, though, let
alone my high holiday heels. So I dared to sit down on the floor. Seeing this, to my amazement, dozens
of young people instantly followed suit, despite being attired in dresses and suits.
Maybe I had unwittingly managed a mitzvah of my own.
when it was announced that there were still seats available for an afternoon service on Yom
Kippur the following week – and that if you registered in advance, you were guaranteed to get one – I decided to make reservations for us all. This time, I would make sure that everyone got the memo.
We would get to worship as a family, after all.
Not that I was complaining, mind you. The service that we were attending now was not only free, but included a free reception afterwards.
After the closing hymn, everyone filed into
the hallway to feast on gefilte fish,
noodle kugel, and assorted rugelach. Yum!
No wonder I felt obliged to make a donation to Ohel Ayalah afterwards. If you are interested
in helping to guarantee the future of the Jewish community, what a worthy cause!
Afterwards, we hurried home to Allegra’s apartment.
Aidan and Kaitlin would be joining
us for dinner. There was still a whole holiday
meal to prepare!
Knowing that her kitchen is barely bigger
than a mezzuzah –
there isn’t even a drawer in it for silverware or Saran Wrap – I had toted most of the
food from home, along with pots
and pans to cook it in. Not to mention bowls, trays, condiments, and assorted
I had also done as much of the food prep as
possible in advance.
Out now came the apples and honey, the round braided raisin challah, the homemade chicken
soup with carrots and fine egg noodles, the kosher
chicken to roast with prunes, olives, and
fresh herbs from my garden, the broccoli I had already cut into florets and fresh organic carrots I had already peeled, the portabella mushrooms I had already stuffed, the apple crisp I had already baked, plus a pot of quinoa, which may not be a traditional Jewish food, by any means, but what the heck, it’s healthy!
Being a nice Jewish mom, I spent the rest of the afternoon cooking. Then the rest of the evening cleaning
it all up. But all that I remember now, looking back in the rearview mirror, is the magical moment at which we all finally sat down together as a
family, lit the tall, white holiday candles, and raised our voices to sing the Kiddush and the Motzi – the blessings over the wine and the bread. Suddenly, it was worth
every single second of effort. And, certainly, having to have missed services at our shul back home.
(From left to right) Aidan, Kaitlin, Allegra, JP, my husband Harlan... and Luna,
who was feeling much better, peeking out on the floor.
As for next
year, I am already looking forward to services at Ohel Ayalah again. Whether we reserve in advance and get to sit, or end up needing to stand again, they deserve a standing ovation.
To learn more about this group or make a donation yourself, go to www.ohelayalah.org.
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Word From the Weiss
as I am to see summer end – although who isn’t? – I must admit that there’s at least one
good reason I’m actually happy
to put this crazy summer behind me.
And as you are about to see, I really do mean “crazy.”
Of course, my heart goes out
to the people in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere who have endured incalculable hardships due to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Horrific as it may have been, the private disaster that I am about to divulge pales infinitely by comparison.
In fact, in light of all their suffering, I hesitate to even mention my own personal trauma. But mostly, I hesitate to mention it to anyone because it was so embarrassing.
On the other hand, I want to tell everyone about it – that is, to warn everyone about it – because if this dreadful thing could happen to me, then it could potentially happen to you.
Not to give too
much away – or to alarm you too much about my own well-being – but here’s what happened,
in a nutshell. As tasteless as that term might be in this case.
Nutshell, I mean.
One night this summer, you see, I was
taken into police custody and put into a locked psychiatric ward.
What precipitated this unfortunate event
--unquestionably the most humiliating and disturbing incident in my entire life – all began with something
mundane and innocuous. It began with my health insurance.
specifically, my attempt to pay for my health insurance.
For months, I had been
having trouble paying my premium. Not
financial trouble. Technical trouble.
Allow me to explain.
After my husband went on Medicare last year, I was no longer covered
through his work and had to take out my own individual policy under the Affordable Care Act. Let me just clarify something right now. I am not complaining about the Affordable Care Act. I am only complaining about my insurance policy. As well as the bleeping company that issued it.
My monthly premiums now cost me more than we used to pay for our entire family. Plus, I have what I consider to be an astronomical deductible of around
$6,500 per year. But I was still ready
and willing to pay for that. What choice, after all, did I have?
Initially, I put my monthly payment
on auto-pay. Every month, the exorbitant sum I pay would automatically go on my credit card, so
I wouldn’t have to think about how
much it was, or how little it covered. Then, during the winter, my husband and
I were victims of credit card fraud and had to get a new credit card number. I managed to change all
of the other bills I’d had
on auto-pay. But there was a mysterious glitch in the system, and I
couldn’t ever seem
to get my health insurance back on auto-pay track.
trying to fix it, to no avail. So at the end of each
month, I would receive a letter saying that I hadn’t paid my premium, and my health insurance was about to be revoked.
In July, this happened for the fourth or fifth time. By then, it was driving me
crazy. Crazy enough to be institutionalized, though?
Not quite. But there were other issues.
The day in question started out well enough. No, let’s be honest. It didn’t.
It was the hottest day so far in what had already been an oppressively hot summer. The humidity alone made it
look like you’d swum across the English Channel the
moment you stepped outside, and the temperature was high enough to fry a latke.
Beyond that, I was already a nervous wreck because
one of my closest friends had just undergone major surgery the day before, and I was a
virtual basket case about it.
I was under added duress because my dog had such severe
gastric distress that -- pardon me if this is TMI – I’d been obliged to drop off a stool sample for her at the vet.
Then there was
the other exasperating incident that
had really set me off.
At the start of the week, I had mailed a birthday card to my cousin, who had moved to Florida last summer. This would be the first birthday that Cousin Susan would
celebrate all alone, and I wanted to make
sure my card arrived just in time for her birthday on Friday.
Since I was late for work
on Monday morning, I left it in my mailbox for the mailman to pick
up instead of bringing it to the post office. The following night, one of my neighbors rang our doorbell and handed me back that birthday card. Rather, he gave me what was left of it. Apparently, the mailman had inadvertently dropped it through
my neighbor’s mail slot, and his big, rambunctious puppy had chewed it to smithereens.
Good thing that I am very friendly with this neighbor, whose dog and ours are dating. Because
I had enclosed a check inside the card, and
that remained totally intact.
I had no choice but to go buy
another card. But now it was too late for it to arrive on time
for the birthday. So when I went to the post office to mail it, I also filed
After showing the clerk the mangled card and recounting
my plight. I proposed that they overnight
the new card for me at their own expense. At the very least, I said, they owed me a new greeting card and stamp as compensation. Unimpressed, the clerk disappeared for several minutes to discuss it with
returned. “All we can do is give you
this,” she replied flatly, handing me an ugly, generic flag stamp.
I wasted even more time taking this up with the manager, who remained similarly
Then I went home, only to find another threatening letter from my health insurance provider, Connecticare, in the mail. Once
again, it said, I’d failed to pay my premium, so my coverage would
soon be canceled.
Clearly, this was not my day. And it was not going to my night.
I decided to call Connecticare for the umpteenth time and try to straighten
it out. The young woman who answered was named Roslyn. I’m
not sure how she spelled that. But she was very nice. Unfortunately, she was not very helpful. She knew almost nothing.
what felt like an hour on the phone together, and may have been even more. During this time, she had to keep putting me on hold to consult her boss. For as nice as she was, and as well-meaning as she was, as I
said she knew almost nothing.
She told me that I needed to remove my old
credit card from my account. I’d already done this. Many times before. But she said it was still on her screen. It was not on mine.
least an hour, or what felt like one, to my infinite
relief it appeared that we had
finally done it. I had managed to restore my auto-pay status. Plus I had processed a one-time payment for that month because it typically takes at least one cycle for auto-pay to kick in. I even had a confirmation
number. Could my troubles be over at last?
“Why did you process the one-time payment?” Roslyn demanded in obvious frustration. She was convinced that this would cause me to be charged twice. To avoid that, she insisted that I cancel everything that we had just done and start all over again.
“Huh? You’ve got
to be kidding!” I replied. “I would rather kill myself than
But she remained adamant. She
was convinced that I had done something wrong
and wanted me to cancel both payments I had processed and start again from scratch.
I stood my ground just as firmly,
though, because I was now
truly at my wit’s end.
“Start over again?” I echoed. “No way! I would rather stab myself in the eye!”
Roslyn grew understandably alarmed. “Why would you say something like that?” she asked, her voice growing anxious
and shrill. “You have so much to live for!”
So much to live for? Sure. Maybe I did. But her melodramatic statement
was such a cliché, and I was so frustrated myself, that I suddenly lost
it, as demonstrated by the crazy
thing I did next.
I not only repeated my threat about stabbing myself in the
eye, but told her that I was
going to find the longest, sharpest knife I could. Then I did something even crazier. I walked across the kitchen
and rattled the knives in a drawer. After which, before she could ask me one
more time to cancel my payments, I hung up.
A few minutes later, the phone rang, and I could see from the caller ID that
it was Connecticare again. No big surprise. But, as I said, I was genuinely at my wit’s end. And I had no desire
to discuss the matter any further. So I
let the phone keep ringing.
I sat down at my computer and went to work. After all, I had already wasted most of the day, and I had a lot of work left to do related
to my summer teaching job.
About five minutes later, I was lost
in thought editing one of my students' essays when I heard a thunderous rap on my front door.
I thought, my heart sinking with trepidation. “It couldn’t be.”
But it was.
I opened the door to find three police officers on my steps. In front of my
house were parked two police cars and a firetruck, and there was an ambulance at the end of the driveway.
“You've got to be kidding!” I exclaimed, covering my eyes as all three officers barged into my house.
I told them that there was definitely some mistake. I told them that I had just been kidding, and that they should stop wasting their time and go attend to a real emergency.
I even told them most of the entire pathetic story above in full detail...
minus the part about my dog's gastric distress. They were not impressed.
They told me that I had been speaking to Roslyn on a recorded
line, and that in view of what I had said they needed to take me into
custody at once. I would have to be examined by a team of psychiatrists
to determine if I really intended to take my own life.
I told them that I had no intention
of taking my own life and that I had no time to talk to a team of psychiatrists or anyone else about it. My husband and I needed to leave soon for
our weekly ballroom dancing class, something that we attend every Thursday night.
There would be no dancing for me, they asserted. They intended to transport me to the local hospital of my choice strapped to a stretcher in the ambulance.
As crazy as this may sound, I now began to argue about the details of this plan.
There was no need to strap me to a stretcher, I insisted. Besides, I happen to suffer from severe motion sickness and was guaranteed to get sick to my stomach lying down in an ambulance. At the very least, could
I please go into the kitchen and get my
purse, in which I always carry a pair of SeaBands, wristbands that help counteract car sickness?
Two of the officers were male,
and one of these two was extremely hostile and intimidating. He held up his heavily muscled arm
to physically retrain me from
leaving the front hallway of my house. I couldn’t go anywhere, he said, especially the kitchen. There were weapons in there, and I might try to take my own life.
Take my own life? All I wanted to do, I said, was be left alone to
finish my work so I could go out dancing
with my husband. We were learning how to salsa. Did that sound like I was suicidal?
Speaking of my husband, he chose
this very moment to emerge from the basement, where
he had been working out on his stationery bicycle the
entire time. Stepping into the hallway now, he was astonished to encounter the
apparent crime scene unfolding in our
I hoped against hope that his vouching for my sanity might help settle the matter. Then again, might it help more if he vouched for my insanity?
The sad truth is that I am prone to create scenes whenever I’m upset.
My mother used to speak with emphasis to get her point across. I have my own method. When I am really unnerved, or exasperated
– as I was now – I have a tendency to talk about killing myself.
going to slit my wrists,” I'll say. Or, “I want to throw myself off the nearest bridge.”
The truth is, I would never throw myself off a bridge, near or far. I have a serious actual phobia about bridges. I
hate them. I also hate cold water. And I am deathly afraid of heights.
I just say that stuff on a regular basis in order to let off steam and make it clear that, as they said in the classic 1976 movie Network, “I’m mad
as hell, and I’m not gonna to
take it anymore!”
After 33 years of marriage, my husband
has heard me make one of these crazy threats so many times that he is understandably mad as hell himself and not gonna take it anymore. At the very least, he was not going to begin to argue
with the police on my behalf. And the truth is that it probably wouldn’t have done any good anyway.
I had made what sounded like a credible suicide threat, on a recorded line, no less, and they were probably
bound by law to take me into custody, no
matter what either of us said.
Realizing this, I began to sense that there
was no point in my arguing any further.
My best course of action was to cooperate and get this over with. I had only one request.
Before they had arrived, I had been boiling some chicken and rice on the stove for my poor dog, Latke, who, as I mentioned,
was literally sick as a dog. Before leaving for the hospital, could I please just go into
the kitchen and feed the poor thing?
At this, once
again, the most belligerent of the three officers forcibly blocked my path. I could not go into the kitchen. I could not
get my purse. And I definitely could not go cut anything up, even for my dog.
He said that my husband would have to do all of these things for me.
My husband? Prepare some food? Even for a dog? Was he out of his mind?
Don’t worry. I kept this thought to myself, as well as the details of the gastric distress.
later, I was escorted outside to the ambulance. As I walked between two of the officers,
I wondered what the neighbors would think. I mean, there were two police cars,
a firetruck, and an ambulance parked in front of our house. How could they possibly miss that?
My husband had been advised by the officers to drive to
the hospital on his own. He couldn’t ride with me. But if I were released, then I would need some way to get home.
With luck, a fourth officer inside the ambulance allowed me to sit up rather than being strapped to the stretcher. He had
already surmised that all this
was a total misunderstanding. I still
felt carsick by the time we arrived at the hospital after about a 20-minute
drive in rush-hour traffic.
Adding to my growing nausea was the realization that I would probably be expected to pay for the ambulance, as well as
the visit to the emergency room, which might cost thousands.
My husband met me in the emergency room, where we were kept waiting for nearly an hour before I was processed by a registrar and admitted.
Then I was escorted to an alcove behind a curtain, where a nurse handed me a loose cotton hospital gown and baggy pants and made me strip down to my underwear and change right in front of her.
I also had to trade my high-heeled sandals
for a pair of synthetic, pale gray tube socks with rubber treads on the bottom. The
sheer indignity of it all was bad enough. But I had a more pressing reason
to wish that I could have remained dressed in my own clothes. If I needed to convince a team of shrinks that I was reasonably
stable and in my right mind, then I would have looked a whole lot saner in my color-coordinated outfit with matching jewelry
than in that ill-fitting, shapeless shmatta.
All of my belongings were placed
in a large plastic bag and taken away from me. Then
I was led to a hospital room and told to lie down on a cot and wait to be evaluated.
To my surprise, and slight distress, my husband was allowed
to join me there; we were barely speaking. The only thing in this room was a TV tuned to an endless stream of
old episodes of Law & Order: SVU.
“SVU,” as you must know,
is an acronym for “Special Victims Unit.” All of the special victims had been subjected to sexual assault, and in nearly every episode we saw, the perpetrator ended up getting away with the crime. This
only helped heighten my mounting anxiety. But there was no
remote control with which to change the channel, let alone turn the TV off. And by now, my husband and I were no longer speaking at all. I had nothing to do but watch.
Soon, another nurse came in and asked me a series of questions about my medical
history. She then asked me to sign a form agreeing to pay for the services with which I was being provided. Services I had not asked for and definitely didn't want. I didn’t know if it would make any difference. But I declined to sign.
Finally, after well over another
hour, a physician’s assistant came in to evaluate me at last. He asked me about
my mental health history. Had I ever been in a psychiatric ward before? Was I now under psychiatric care? Did I take any psychotropic medications?
No, no, and no.
Fortunately, he did not ask me any of the questions I would
have been reluctant to answer, on the grounds that they might incriminate me. Such
as, “Are you too depressed sometimes to get out of bed in the morning?” (Hmmm. Can you define "sometimes?") "Does your family think
you should be taking psychotropic drugs?” (You mean, because they keep threatening to sprinkle Prozac on my food?) And, “Do you sometimes feel like throwing
yourself off the nearest bridge?” (Sure. Of course. Doesn’t everyone?)
Instead, at this point he simply asked me to explain what the heck had happened.
As I recounted my story,
yet again, he looked at me with what
appeared to be sympathy and disbelief.
“Clearly, this is just a misunderstanding that spiraled out of control,” he declared.
I concluded by explaining that all I had wanted to do that night was go to my ballroom dancing class, he asked what kind of
dance we were learning.
“Salsa,” I replied, noting that we had really wanted to go because, although
I was passably decent at it, my husband was awful and really needed the help.
He told us to wait while he relayed my tale to his boss, whom he thought was likely to release me at once. Then he promised to give us some salsa dancing
tips when he returned.
as he was about to disappear,
he strode back into the room again. And it was not to ask me to dance.
“I need to explain something to you,” he said firmly. “Don’t say anything strange
when my boss comes in. Just tell him the
story exactly the way you told it to me. Don’t add any extra details. And whatever you do, don't try to be funny."
I was on a locked psych ward, he explained. "If you think that you can leave here just
because you want to, well, you can’t,” he continued. If I said anything to his superior that sounded suspicious, then
he might decide to keep me there. And
if he did, then I would be injected with sedatives and remain on the ward for another five days. I could not
speak to a lawyer. I would not be allowed
to make any phone calls at all. After that, I
would be brought before a judge. And if he determined that I was a threat to myself, or anyone else, then I would
be kept there indefinitely.
“So just tell him what you told me,” he
concluded. Then he walked out. And I began to freak out.
It’s not that I intended to say anything inappropriate. I would not mention
knives. Let alone bridges. The problem is that I have a tendency to talk too much
when I’m upset or nervous. And to resort to humor. But I did not want
to watch one more episode of Law & Order: SVU. I did not want to need a lawyer. I just wanted to go home to my dog, gastric distress and all.
Moments later, the physician’s
assistant returned with an older man, an actual doctor, in tow. And it turned
out that I was in little danger of saying anything wrong or inappropriately
funny. Because the doctor had already
heard my story and he didn't really need me to say a word. He was already
shaking his head in disbelief.
He made some sort of snide remark about insurance companies and how annoying
they can be. Then he repeated the phrase the PA had used about it being a situation
that had spiraled out of control. No matter. He would get me released at once.
A nurse soon appeared with my bag of belongings and escorted me to
a bathroom in the hallway so I could change. When I entered, I noticed that there was no lock on the bathroom door. Forget about privacy. This really was
a locked psych ward.
Back in the hall, the nurse began to show me toward the
exit when I explained to her that I needed to find my husband, who was still waiting for me back in my room.“Unless you would be willing to keep him here for me for
a few more days,” I joked.
She repressed any impulse she may have felt to smile. Or maybe she didn’t think it was funny. “Be careful what you say here,” she admonished
solemnly. “Really. Don’t even try to joke.”
Before I could be officially released, there was still one more thing to take care of.
The physician’s assistant soon returned to sign the papers that would set me free. Then, as promised, he taught us some special salsa dance moves.
It turned out, by pure coincidence, that he and his ex-wife had
been professional dancers before he’d decided
to return to school to become a PA. Their specialty?
Salsa. I kid you not.
I was tempted to make a remark about this, maybe about his giving up all the right moves for all the
right meds. Or that loose hips sink ships. But I had been
warned more than once. Don’t joke.
Now that I’m free to say whatever I want, though, I want to tell you how I really feel.
And it is no laughing matter.
I still cannot believe that I was taken forcibly from my house against my will
just because of something I said. Something that I said and never meant.
I started off that evening feeling unnerved, but in no way anything close to suicidal. But in the days and weeks that followed,
I actually grew severely depressed.
It was terrifying
to have been arrested – to suddenly lose my freedom and all of my rights -- and to find myself utterly powerless.
I wouldn’t deign
for one second to insult black people and other minority groups in this country
by suggesting that I now know how they feel. But I learned what it is like when the police attack and intimidate you and
treat you with disdain and contempt.
When the very people who
are supposed to protect you seem to be out to get you instead.
so threatened and frightened by them that I would be afraid to call them now, even if I were in genuine danger. To me, THEY are the danger. Whenever I see a police car now, even whizzing by on the highway, I freeze with abject terror.
By the way, as I feared, I am indeed expected to pay handsomely for my loose lips. The bill for the ambulance
was a whopping $895, although, to my surprise and enormous relief, the insurance
company chose to cover most of that. But the bills from the emergency room and the medical personnel I saw
there still exceeded $1,000.
So, needless to say, no matter how upset I get, I will never make idle threats again.
The good news, if there is any, is that I finally got my insurance back on auto-pay.
And I truly learned my lesson, the hard – and humiliating – way.
There is an old adage
that goes, “Be careful what you wish for.” To me, wishes are rarely dangerous. Words, however, can be. So I propose a new adage: Be careful what you say. Even in jest. And even
to someone on the telephone. Whether or not you are
at your wit’s end.
I am no longer at my wit’s end.
Really. I’m doing fine. Sure, there are days when I don’t feel like getting out
of bed. But I always get up anyway, because I'm busy. I have things to do. People to see. And another book to write. If you don’t
hear from me for a while after this, don’t worry. I’m probably just busy.
Or maybe I’m just out salsa dancing with my husband.