Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Word From the Weiss
I don’t know when using technology
became a competitive event, but
there are days when I ridicule my
husband for not knowing how to post photos on Instagram, or being completely unable to distinguish between his wall and his timeline
No, wait, let’s get real. Rare is the day when this doesn’t happen. The expression
is “nice Jewish mom,” not “nice Jewish wife.” Despite 33 years of marriage,
or maybe because of
them, I rag on him about being
technology-challenged almost every day.
And yet I must confess that there are some technological
issues that I don’t quite grasp myself, particularly when
it comes to the intricacies of Internet
etiquette. Otherwise known as Netiquette.
Take what happened when I woke up last Sunday morning and realized that it was my son and daughter-in-law’s very first wedding anniversary.
OK, I didn’t just
suddenly realize it was their anniversary. Far from. Aidan’s wedding to Kaitlin last June 25 was unquestionably the biggest thing that has happened to this nice Jewish mom since Aidan and
his sister Allegra were born… and their bar and bat
mitzvahs, of course.
And so I
had been thinking about the anniversary for days. Not to mention nights. Why, a few nights earlier, I had stayed up half the night preparing a special gift for
Months ago, I had come across a beautiful
wedding album in a store. OK, that store just happened to be HomeGoods, and the wedding album was on deep
discount. No matter. It was a white satin
one from designer Nicole Miller decorated with pretty pearls that could hold
500 4 x 6 photos.
My plan had been to fill this album with photos from their wedding and give it to them as
a surprise anniversary gift. But between the two photographers we had hired for
the wedding, and the many guests who had
been kind enough to send us their own
candid shots, there were hundreds
and hundreds of photos to be printed. To assemble them all would take hours and hours. And I was insanely busy.
Life, after all, is busy. Mine is, anyway, and always has been. When my husband and I got married, 33 years ago next month, we immediately put our own hundreds and hundreds of photos together. Together in a plastic bag, that is. And
three decades, two children, and one of those children’s own weddings later, that is where they still remain. Put
them into an album? Who had time for
The past year had been no
exception. If anything, my life had only
somehow a whole year had come and gone, and I had never gathered Aidan’s wedding
photos, either, let alone had them printed. Now we were leaving in the
morning for a weekend in NYC, where Aidan and Kaitlin
live, and I had nothing to give them. Nothing but an empty album. Was there any way I could still pull this surprise gift off?
All the photo labs in my town long
ago went the way of the pet rock. The only place to get these photos printed overnight was Walgreen’s, and its photo department had already closed for the night. No matter. I began to upload the wedding photos from my Dropbox
onto the pharmacy’s photo department site.
Hundreds and hundreds of them.
Despite my holier-than-thou attitude
toward my husband, I am no Wonder Woman
when it comes to technology. I couldn’t figure out how to upload these many
photos en masse. I simply had to do them – my hundreds and hundreds of photos – one at a time.
After I had finished uploading all of these photos,
which took hours, I texted my daughter to get her own Dropbox ID and password. Then I proceeded to upload even more photos from Aidan and Kaitlin’s wedding. Hundreds and hundreds
By the time I had uploaded them all, it was around 2:30 a.m. I submitted my order and held my breath. I had managed to order 475 prints, nearly enough to fill the album. Yet according
to the confirmation email I received, they would all be ready by 9 a.m.
We weren’t scheduled to leave until 10. Talk about technological miracles!
My only fear now was
that Aidan and Kaitlin might not
appreciate my present. At all. Even though I’d be able to pick up the photos before we left for NYC, there would
be no time to put them into the album. They would have to do it all themselves. And as young Ph.D. candidates, they’re very busy. Even busier than I am. Would my special
gift be a welcome surprise, or just a burden to them? Was it a blessing, or more of a curse?
I know this was a ridiculous thing to worry
about. Most things that I worry about tend
to be ridiculous. In fact, most of the things that I worry about will probably never happen. I should know by now that I should try not to worry about these things until they actually do happen. If they do, there will still be plenty of time to worry about them then.
But I’m a mom – a nice
Jewish one, at that. All that I really want in life is to help my children
and try to make them happy. And I worried that this gift wouldn’t make
my son happy. It might annoy him instead. After all, he might end up with his
own lifelong plastic bag full of wedding photos. A bag that begged to
be emptied into a photo album, but would merely
grow older and hole-ier over time. That's not a blessing. It’s a curse.
Although we would be in NYC
for the weekend, we had no plans to help celebrate the anniversary. After all, it was Aidan and Kaitlin’s anniversary. Not ours. We were just the mother and father of the groom. Last year, they had needed us to walk Aidan down
the aisle and help make the wedding. They wouldn’t need us now to help celebrate their anniversary.
So I wasn’t even quite sure that I would get to deliver my anniversary gift. Aidan and Kaitlin don’t live in a
doorman building anymore, so we would have to arrange a specific time to drop it off at their apartment. And as I said, they’re busy people. Even busier than I am.
But I was afraid to ask when I could drop it off because I didn’t want
to bother them.
And when I woke up on the morning of their anniversary,
I realized that there was one more issue, one that related to the original subject at hand – namely, Internet etiquette.
I wanted to deliver my gift in person, preferably at their convenience. Yet I also wanted to send them anniversary greetings via a far more public forum – Facebook.
Everyone I know
posts all of the good things that happen
to their children on Facebook, whether they be birthdays, graduations, engagements, weddings, or the
birth of a new grandchild. This shows the world that they’re proud of their offspring, and it gives
everyone they know a chance to share in the joy by “liking” their posts and/or congratulating them by replying, “Mazel tov!”
And what better news could there be to share than a first wedding anniversary?
On the other
hand, it was their anniversary,
not ours. So maybe it was their news to share. Not ours. Would I be insinuating myself where I didn’t belong by
posting about it? Would I be hijacking
their private cause for celebration by kvelling so publicly myself?
Should I wait until they posted something about it themselves, and then share
that? Then again, as I said, they’re very busy people. Kaitlin was away until later that day attending
an academic conference.
And although Aidan had managed to wish his dad a happy
birthday on Facebook earlier this month, he is not generally given to posting much himself.
There was another issue: What exactly should I post? Facebook is a visual medium. You don’t just post words, like “Happy
anniversary!” There need to be photos
too. Then again, when it came to photos, I had plenty. Hundreds and hundreds of them.
Obviously, I wasn’t going to post hundreds and hundreds in this case. The 475 I’d had printed were for the happy couple themselves. But it was hard to choose only one or two. Maybe I could
get away with a small photo collage. I narrowed it down to 11. Was that too many?
At least I managed to keep the message short and sweet.
(Not too sweet, I hoped.)
first anniversary to my incredible son Aidan and his beautiful bride Kaitlin!" I wrote. “Can’t believe it’s been a whole year!”
Then I posted my 11 photos, more than half of which
appeared merely as “+6.” Anyone who was really interested would
have to click on the group to see them all.
What if Aidan and Kaitlin
didn’t like the photos I had chosen?
Well, someone liked
them, anyway. Within minutes, one of my Facebook friends posted a comment. “Mazel
Soon after, the “likes”
I wrote to Aidan
to say that his dad and I were meeting my college roommate, Hallie, for brunch on the Upper West Side, about 40 blocks from where he lives, and asked if he wanted to join us. He thanked me, but said (no surprise) that he was too busy.
Then we began
to negotiate via text about when
I might drop off my gift. He would be out for most of the afternoon. We couldn’t get to his apartment before brunch. And that evening,
after Kaitlin returned, they were going out for an anniversary dinner.
agreed that we’d come right after brunch. I promised to arrive by 2:30.
Brunch, of course, ran longer than expected. I had barely seen my roommate since the wedding. We had so much to discuss. By the time we got to Aidan’s, it was already after 3.
He was very nice about it, but I had clearly inconvenienced him.
He had a lot to do. Instead of adding
to the joy of the occasion, I had made him wait around all day for a gift that he might not even want. A gift that might not be a blessing, but possibly a curse.
Aidan, meanwhile, felt guilty
that we’d been carrying this massive parcel
around. The album alone was hefty
enough. But the 475 photos? We might as well
have been lugging a large rock.
That, of course, wasn’t all that was in the bag. I had also bought
them a nice new set of sheets that matched their bedding, plus a framed
8 x 10 photo and some cookies.
Then again, Aidan didn’t know what exactly was weighing us down. Kaitlin hadn’t returned from her conference yet, and
he wasn’t about to open
their gifts without her. So after a quick chat, we took off so he could go on at last with the remainder of his day.
My heart sank as we left.
Once again, I had messed things up. I’d kept him waiting after carefully arranging a plan. I had brought him a gift he might not even appreciate. And
I’d posted a whole lot of photos
on Facebook. (At least it wasn’t hundreds of them.)
Why is it that Father knows best, as they say, but nice Jewish moms, however well they may mean, can never quite get anything right? And who really cares about getting tech stuff right when you still end
up annoying the people you love most, your kids?
An hour or so later, while sitting on the subway, we received
a text from Aidan. It was
short, but very sweet.
“Thanks for the photos, album and sheet set!”
it said. “We love them!”
Love them? Had he really said “love?” Maybe
I hadn’t messed up, after all.
I wrote back. “I wasn’t sure if I should make the album or let you do it. But I ran out of time.”
Or, to be more accurate, I’d never had time in the first place.
“No, we want to do it!”
Aidan quickly wrote back.
Oh! So maybe by accident, despite myself, I had managed to get it right, after all. I'd done the right thing by not doing too much.
to top it all off, he added something
also for the thoughtful and heartfelt card!”
Yes, there had been a rather schmaltzy anniversary card tucked inside the bag, too.
I’m not going to tell you
everything that it said, because the message was not only heartfelt, but private. Also, I didn’t keep a copy, so I can only approximate what I wrote. But it was something to this effect:
“I can’t believe that a whole year has passed since the Big Day. But I also have to admit that, in
some respects, I like today even better than
that one. There was no need for hair and makeup, or seating arrangements. All of the guests are long since gone. Yet the honeymoon is still
far from over… and I hope that it never will be.”
It’s true. Next to the births of my children, their bar and
bat mitzvahs, and my own wedding, of course,
my son’s nuptials had truly been one of the biggest events of my life. But it was also the most overwhelming. Sure, it felt even more special to have hundreds of people whom I care about there to share my joy and wish me “Mazel tov!” But there were too many people
to greet, and too many details to manage, from the Motzi, to
the toasts, to the hotel welcome bags, bridesmaids’
bouquets, and groomsmen’s boutonnieres, not to mention the 17 different vendors whose final payments had to be delivered in cash during the wedding itself. So it
had been hard to step back, relax, and revel in the joy that I knew I should have
The only real exceptions to this, as I recall, were when we danced the hora and when
the happy couple exchanged vows. When
my new daughter-in-law gave hers, I was so moved that I sobbed aloud. (So much for my hair and makeup.) When Aidan said his, I laughed so hard that I nearly wet my Spanx. It went by so fast, though, that it remained a blur. Yet I now have the video in hand and can tell you exactly what they said.
know if this is another infringement of their privacy, or
of Internet etiquette. I should know well enough by now
to quit while I’m hopefully ahead. Then again, they recited all of these words publicly, so I hope they won’t object if I reproduce them here.
when I met you on a summer night, four years ago, I never knew it would lead us to this moment. In the rush of the city, you
made New York home to me. You are my home. You stopped all the heartbreak in my
life, and you replaced it with love. You brought music into my life, and you became my favorite song, the one I want to listen
to again and again when I want to feel what matters.
“You took me on adventures across the world, and now we start this adventure
together. You take care of me when I’m sick. You make me talk about
my feelings, and you listen. You adopted the kitties and say you love them as much
as I do.
“I admire everything about you – your empathy,
your ethics, your mind, your work. I never knew there could be such a combination. You are serious and you are funny. You
are quiet and you are expressive. You are gentle and you are strong. You are everything I want in my life…
“I promise to be your friend and your partner, to always be there to support and challenge
you. I’ll always listen to you and work to build a life that we love together. I love you now and always.”
Aidan: "Kaitlin, you are a brilliant,
beautiful, witty, vivacious, loving, thoughtful, empathetic, and compassionate woman. And being able to join our lives, in the eyes of the government, all of the beautiful
people gathered here today, and anyone else who might be watching on closed-circuit TV is the greatest thrill of my life.
“I’ve been told that before I met you, I never smiled. Some of my closest friends and family cannot remember me smiling.
It’s true. Ask almost anyone here. I rarely laughed. I didn’t smirk. The proof is in the photos. But since we met, just look at me. I smile at least once a
day. I’m even smiling now!
“Of course, you have one of
the all-time great smiles. Dark rooms are your nemesis. Mona Lisa has nothing on you.
“Kaitlin, you are the love of my life. And so, in the tradition of top ten lists, going all the way back to Sinai, I offer my Top Ten Wedding Vows
that I promise to honor and keep, in all
media, in perpetuity throughout the universe.
“No. 10: I promise to make certain that you always have easy and open access to a quality chocolate supply, be it in cake, bar, or beverage form.
I vow to cook pasta with you with the freshest ingredients available, and
to have it at restaurants, or wherever pasta is sold.
“8: I vow to always, always save room for dessert.
“No. 7: I vow to communicate with you in a language we both understand, and to solve problems
together… but not before coffee.
“6: I vow to build
a life with you that accurately reflects our values, and a house that reflects a tasteful but modest aesthetic.
“5: I vow to hold up my end of the litterbox duties.
“4: In the tradition of Jewish law, I vow to put your needs before mine.
“3: According to the philosopher Martin Buber, ‘Marriage will never be given true life other than
by that out of which true marriage always arises, the revealing by two people of the Thou to one another.’ I vow to always reveal ‘the Thou’
“2: Perhaps most importantly, I vow to adopt a dog
with you… one day.
“And finally, I vow to love
and care for you, and to do whatever it takes
to keep you smiling, through thick and thin, till the end of my days, no matter what life throws at us.”
No matter what life throws at them? Even an annoying nice Jewish mom who worries,
shows up late, and doesn’t grasp Internet etiquette?
That's what the man said.
Well, there you have it. A very happy anniversary indeed. And having witnessed their first year of marital bliss, I would
say that the honeymoon is definitely
far from over. The proof is in the photos.
Hundreds and hundreds of them.
the way, Aidan “liked” my post on Facebook later that day, and Kaitlin followed suit the next morning. It has since received nearly 60 “likes” in
all, perhaps more than anything else I’ve ever posted.
So maybe I didn't do so bad. Netiquette be damned.
Friday, June 9, 2017
Word to the Weiss
In case I have left even the shadow of a doubt, I am a very proud mother. Never mind that the term “proud
mother” is practically redundant. I mean, aside from the poor soul who spawned, say, Kim Jong-Un, what mother isn’t proud
of her offspring? So when I tell you about what happened last week, please try to keep in mind
that I am simply a proud mom. Not a delusional one. Not cray-cray.
The cray-cray part
would come later.
Almost anyone who has
ever read this space knows that my daughter, Allegra,
is a jazz singer. I don’t exactly keep it under wraps. Rarely, if ever,
do I mention this blog on Facebook. The same goes for my recent book.
But I am almost shameless when it comes to promoting her shows whenever she performs.
Last weekend, she had such a show. Not just any show, though. A CD release.
Her second CD, Cities Between Us, came
out in April on SteepleChase Records. She released it at a posh place in NYC called Club Bonafide, and the concert completely sold out. She wanted to have a similar show in our town in Connecticut, however, so that hometown friends, her former teachers,
and others we know could attend as well. So with my help, she booked a small concert hall at a local university.
Shortly before the local show took place, we
received a contract, and being not just a nice Jewish mom but also Allegra’s
mom-ager, I read all of the fine print. That was how I discovered that the show was
scheduled for the school’s Spring Fling
Weekend, during which no one would
be allowed to enter the campus without a special parking pass.
When had they planned to mention that? The music critic at a large local
newspaper was writing a story about the show. What would happen when dozens of people showed up and were turned away at the
front gates? At least the school readily let us out of the contract. But it was too late to book another place on such short notice.
Over the coming weeks, I searched for a new location. I called or visited at least 15 venues. Most
proved to be way beyond our budget. But there were also other issues.
A local alternative arts center called Real ArtWays offered the right hip vibe, but had a sculpture installation through the summer that was too fragile to subject to a crowd.
local nonprofit had a classy auditorium and plenty of free parking, but no piano.
Then there was the community theater that said they would be happy to have her, with one
Her concert would coincide with the opening of their newest children’s production. Would
Allegra mind performing on the set of a musical version of The Cat in the Hat?
As one of my friends pointed
out, she could have pulled this off by wearing a tall striped hat and calling it “The Scat in the Hat.” But she decisively declined.
We thought we’d finally hit paydirt when a cultural center housed in a former historic synagogue agreed
to let us rent its sanctuary. Then Allegra asked a savvy question: Did the place have air-conditioning?
As Connecticut’s oldest synagogue, the structure dated from 1876. Stained glass windows,
yes. A/C? No. By now, she had chosen a new date -- June 3. There was no telling in advance what the weather might be. Did we want fans fainting in the pews?
After all my efforts, it was Allegra, who now lives in
New York, who finally came up with the solution. She heard that a famous jazz drummer would be playing at a local
place called The Polish National Home. If it was good enough for Jeff “Tain” Watts, it was certainly good enough for her.
I went right over to check
it out. The décor was, well, a little dated. But it turned out to have a
large, funky concert space called the Chopin Ballroom, plenty of free parking, and a baby grand piano that the woman in charge
assured me was regularly tuned.
They would even give us our own bartender, who’d serve cheap cocktails
and Polish beer.
We signed the contract that very afternoon.
As not just a proud mom,
but Allegra’s mom-ager, I proceeded to do what I could to help promote the event. I wrote the press release
that went out to local newspapers. I contacted the band directors at local schools. I put up posters all over town and
sent an email inviting countless friends.
And yes, I posted it
people assured us they would come. A few days before the event, however, when I sent out a reminder, suddenly almost
everyone I knew was otherwise engaged.
Some were going to weddings, others to bar or bat mitzvahs, graduations, reunions,
or birthday parties. Many were simply going away to their summer homes. The first
weekend in June, it turned out, was apparently among the biggest social dates of the
So many people were unable
to make it that instead of composing a guest list, I found myself tallying the names of the people who weren’t coming instead –
36 of them, to be exact. Which happens
to be a Jewish number, but in this case not a nice one.
A few of the people who had promised
to come now needed to attend funerals. There was certainly no way we could fault them.
But there were
others who simply never responded. And that made me feel kind of bad.
As I said, I’m a proud mom. I’m proud of both my children. But I am
I could sit and watch my daughter – or her older
brother Aidan, who blows a mean bari saxophone
– night after night, and never begin to tire of it. After all, I love them beyond words, and I am
I do not expect that kind of interest or devotion from anyone else. Maybe not
even their dad.
I will admit
that I feel embarrassed that there are so many occasions on which Allegra performs, or her brother publishes a book or whatever, that I always
seem to be inviting people to come see them, or posting about them, or
simply kvelling about
other hand, Allegra hadn’t sung
publicly in our area since she released her first CD in 2014, so it isn’t as if I
go around hounding people about her every day. Many friends had gladly turned out for the show three years ago. In the interim, she had become infinitely better as
a singer. I figured many would come again.
Many? How about any?
I know, I know. The average person is not that into jazz. And
all of those excuses were totally
legit. We had simply made a miscalculation
in choosing the new date.
again, the barrage of emails listing other commitments was becoming beyond daunting.
And some of those commitments sounded a little less compelling than others.
By Wednesday, three days
before the show, Allegra had only managed to sell 25 tickets. In order to break even, after paying the venue, the band, and the sound man, she needed to sell 85. At least there would still be that story in the newspaper. We assumed it would be in the entertainment section,
which comes out every Thursday.
To say I’m not an early riser is an understatement. I rarely
get out of bed before 10. But I got up at 6 last Thursday morning and bounded downstairs to seize the paper on our front
I searched from cover to cover. Twice. There was no story in it about my daughter anywhere. Just two short
blurbs about the show.
Neither mentioned the website on which tickets
were available. They gave only one
means of contact – the Polish National Home.
I went on the home's website. There was no mention of Allegra’s concert
anywhere. People might actually assume the paper had been wrong. Yikes!
wasn’t able to reach the woman at the Polish Home until that evening. I asked if she could possibly post something on their site about the concert. She advised me to contact the newspaper that had made the
error instead and “give them a piece of your mind.”
I tried to explain to “Maja” that it is never in your best interests to attack the press (something that one very
significant figure in our country apparently has yet to grasp).
Plus, even though we had already gotten the paper to put the correct information online,
the print version would continue to point readers to her place.
So she reluctantly told me to send her some info and she'd see what she could do.
Two hours later, I received an email from the Polish National Home
inviting me to a ceremony in which 60 new American citizens would be naturalized the following day. This was followed by an invitation to a musical tribute to a Polish poet.
If you scrolled down to the
very bottom of the email, there was a copy of Allegra’s poster and a link to buy tickets to her show. But when I clicked on the link, it led nowhere. “Whoops, the page or event
you are looking for was not found,” is all it said.
The link was broken.
a panic, I called “Maja” back, apologized profusely, and related the problem. Was there any way
she could fix the link when
she managed to put it on their website?
At this, she unleashed a tirade unlike any I had ever heard before. I mean, even if you feel no compunction about attacking the press, was it OK to verbally assault
Perhaps it was
in this case, considering that I’d submitted our final payment when we’d spoken earlier
that evening. What did she have to lose now? She
had me over a barrel.
Make that a ballroom.
“All we did was rent
space to you!” she was shrieking now in a heavy Polish accent. “I am a very busy person. And I have no obligation
whatsoever to help you market your musical event!”
I kept trying to interrupt
her to agree and apologize. After all, she was absolutely right. But I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. She just kept ranting and raving. Until, that is, she abruptly hung up.
Now what were we going to do?
At least we'd learned that the newspaper story
Allegra had been interviewed for was
actually still running, but
not until Saturday, the day of the show. Wouldn’t
most people have made plans by then?
To enhance the show’s local appeal, she had booked three other musicians who grew up in our town, and well-known ones at that. They would presumably
stay with their families, but we would
be putting up the rest of
Yes, part of being a singer’s mom-ager is occasionally running a bed-and-breakfast.
Allegra has a regular Friday-night
gig in Greenwich, CT, about two hours
away. I picked her up there, along with
her boyfriend JP and piano player Carmen, and
we got home after midnight. So I must admit that I started the weekend off feeling fried. But even
worse was my mounting sense of dread.
It wasn’t that I was worried that Allegra
might end up losing hundreds of dollars on the event. Being a young jazz musician is not a lucrative venture; we’ve been down that road before. It was more about not wanting to see my kid be disappointed and hurt, not to mention embarrassed to have to play to a room that wasn’t even close to half-full.
The newspaper story came
out the next morning. A nice story with a huge photo. You really couldn’t
miss it. But as big as it was, and as nice as it was, wasn’t it now too
everyone a lavish brunch, I helped
Allegra print copies of her music for
the show and choose an outfit to wear. Then I attended to one final minor detail.
I decided to design some actual paper tickets, print
them out on card stock, then cut
them out, one by one, on a cutting
board. Allegra insisted that we
didn’t really need them – we could just check people in at the
door. But I thought it looked more professional.
The question was, how many to print? By now, despite the newspaper story, Allegra had only managed to sell
36 tickets, including the two her father and I had purchased ourselves.
I’d designed the tickets to be 12 to a page. Seven pages would yield 84 of
them. But if she sold only that number, she would barely break even. Then again, to make too many more seemed like it would be tempting
fate. No, worse. It would be delusional.
And if there’s one thing I’m
not, I’d like to believe, it’s delusional.
So I printed out one more page. Eight sheets of 12. A total of 96.
When we reached the Polish Home, I dropped Allegra and her bandmates, then slipped in via a back staircase to avoid running into “Maja.” My best friend, she was not.
While the band set up
and did a sound check, my husband
and I arranged a sales table in the lobby outside of the Chopin Ballroom, along with Allegra’s boyfriend, JP. The show was slated for 8 pm. At 7:30, a lone couple trudged slowly
up the stairs.
where you get tickets for the jazz concert?”asked the
husband, who appeared to be in his early 70s. He
seemed pleased that we were able to take
credit cards, but grew a bit annoyed
when I fumbled with the little white plastic Square device I had plugged into my
phone. I should’ve practiced my
processing skills at home. A sales clerk I am not.
Over the next 15 minutes, only a small
trickle of patrons followed, most of whom were on the list of patrons who had already paid. But then, gradually, the pace picked up.
It wasn’t exactly an avalanche. But the lobby was filling up fast.
The lobby was filling up because
Allegra had ordered us not to let anyone into the ballroom yet. This was the only
chance the band had to rehearse,
and they just weren’t ready. I started to flip out, wondering how we could expect everyone to just stand around when
the show was supposed to start in five minutes and the doors were still closed.
But my friend Liz, who’s in the music biz, told me to get a grip and chill out.
“This is a jazz concert!” she noted, with a laugh. “Jazz never starts on time!”
Finally, right at 8, the doors opened and everyone rushed in to grab seats. I couldn’t follow because people were still arriving in droves. Good thing we were starting late.
There was another good thing. I had numbered the tickets from 1 to 96, and we had now sold 85 of them. Allegra had
hit the break-even point. It seemed like a miracle.
No, here was the miracle: By the middle of the first
act, when Liz insisted on relieving me at the sales table so I could go sit inside, we had
sold exactly 96 tickets.
I had somehow hit the nail right on the head.
The band sounded amazing. Allegra? Also amazing. Everyone seemed enthralled.
who had stormed past me earlier without saying a word, popped in to listen and seemed entranced.
When Allegra came out during intermission, I whispered, “You sold out. Every
ticket! You’re actually in the black!” Her face lit up brighter than her vivid
fuchsia silk jumpsuit.
OK, so maybe she was in the pink.
Which was a good thing, because the late dinner that I served to everyone back at home consisted largely of pretty messy pasta. We stayed up partying past 2.
When I mentioned the bizarre coincidence with the number of tickets,
her trumpet player said I should have dared to print even more. Either I was psychic or there was some supernatural force at work. Maybe we would have sold those as well.
knows? Or cares? It was over at
last. It had been a success. Although
none of her former teachers had shown up, and little more than a handful of my friends, Allegra had even made a small but decent profit.
So by all accounts, I should have been not just a proud mother, but a very
I would like
to leave you with that happy ending, but here’s an honest one instead.
so stressed out by the entire ordeal that I’d already lost my sense of equilibrium. Ditto my appetite. I was also so disappointed that I couldn’t seem to summon more than a handful of
friends in my own town – albeit on one of the busiest nights of the
year – that, despite the positive outcome, I felt a lingering sense of sadness. It was as if I’d discovered that this terrible thing I have always feared is
I may not be a jazz singer, or performer
of any kind. But life often feels to me like a perilous high-wire act. I'm the Mom on the Flying Trapeze. And I now know that I may be performing without a safety net.
I'm a nice Jewish mom. If my children
fall, I’ll always be there to catch them.
But if I fall – and sometimes I am bound to – I am afraid there will be no one there to catch me.
Will my husband do it? He probably thinks he would. But he’s always working. Or working out.
I know this is crazy. No, beyond. Cray-cray.
But over the ensuing week, I’ve remained
so exhausted that I feel like I can barely go on.
One night, lying on the couch,
I stared for over an hour at a cup of tea I’d made. I was desperately thirsty, but too weak to sit up and reach for it. So
it just sat there and grew cold. Finally, dizzy and faint, I realized that I had barely eaten in four days. Maybe that’s what was wrong with me.
So I Googled hypoglycemia –
low blood sugar, that is.
Bingo! I had about 10 out of the 12 symptoms, the last two being coma and death.
It said I needed to drink a small glass of juice right away. So my husband brought me some apple cider. (What a man!) I gulped it downed, crawled upstairs, and went straight to bed.
Since then, I’ve felt a little
better every day. And I’ve tried to
eat a little more every
I’m also trying to chill
out and get a grip every day. Maybe everything is more or less just jazz. And jazz, as Liz said, never starts on schedule,
just as life almost never goes according to plan.
Beyond that, for the moment,
I have no plan.
I’m still, I repeat, a very proud mom.
But maybe I’m not cut out to be a mom-ager.
Thursday, June 1, 2017
A Word From the Weiss
The morning of the day I
was to address the Jewish Book Council, I did not spend even one minute practicing my presentation. I had far more pressing
issues on my mind. Mainly, what to wear? I tried to get my daughter, who had put me
up for the night, to help me choose between the four or five possible outfits I had crammed
into my suitcase. These ranged from a crisp, white-and-black gingham shirt and crinkly white linen skirt (too funky?) to a tailored black pant suit (too funereal?).
Late for work herself, Allegra had no
time to watch me put on a fashion show at 9 a.m. "Just wear what you feel most empowered in," she advised.
Empowered? Was she serious? My daughter is 27. I am decidedly not. The world is no longer my oyster (pardon the reference to trayf). The best I could do, given the circumstances and that feminist guideline,
was choose the outfit in which I felt the least fat.
And even then, any semblance of looking svelte would require poor eyesight on the part of the beholder,
and the aid of control-top pantyhose on the
part of the wearer.
So far, this foray into NYC had not gone well. Given my indecision in the wardrobe
department, I had arrived the night before schlepping multiple suitcases. Reaching down to lift them
all as I exited the elevator, I had felt my glasses dislodge from my head and watched in horror as they clattered directly into the elevator shaft, never to be seen again, no doubt. Never
mind that they were just inexpensive readers. They were silver with teeny black polka dots. My favorite pair.
Not exactly an auspicious start to what promised to be a stressful
But then, just that morning, shortly after I had poured out my tale of woe to the
super in Allegra's building, he had knocked on her door and delivered them back to
me, not only intact after falling six stories to
the basement, but without even a scratch. A good omen, perhaps?
Dressed in a compromise solution, a combination of two of my
proposed outfits – the black blazer with the white crinkly skirt (funereal, yet funky) -- I felt not empowered exactly, but
hopeful. At least now I would be able to see what
I was reading. Things were looking up.
I had registered
for this annual conference, seeing it
as a prime opportunity to promote my new memoir, The
Adulterer's Daughter, to my prime target audience -- Jews.
Once a year, the Jewish Book Council invites reps from Jewish community centers, synagogues, and other such groups throughout the USA to come
to NYC for three days. Authors are also summoned there to promote their latest books. Books with Jewish content, that is. Each author gets two
minutes to speak. And by "two minutes," they really mean two minutes flat. That's it. My two minutes flat of would-be fame were slated for that afternoon.
I arrived at Hebrew Union College in the West Village to discover that
there were around 50 authors pitching that afternoon, one of five such sessions to be held over the three days. I would
be competing with 244 other authors in all, some of them fairly famous.
The odds seemed daunting. No, hopeless. Why had I even bothered to come?
I was a little intimidated to have arrived
15 minutes early and be greeted by a fellow author waiting out front. When I asked this attractive young woman if she had ever done this tour of duty before, she sighed, rolled her eyes, and murmured, “Many times!”
Indeed, her name, Pam Jenoff, sounded awfully familiar. Stepping aside to Google it surreptitiously, I had discovered that had 10 books to that name, including the New York Times bestseller The Kommandant’s Girl.
Was this the caliber of person I would be competing with for speaking engagements? Why had I bothered to come?
Once inside, I went to the ladies’ room to freshen up and noticed that I’d already managed to run my pantyhose. Yes,
the control-top ones that made me look svelte. Why had I worn a skirt?
At least everyone there was
being extremely friendly. I soon discovered that I was far from the only newbie.
Almost everyone I met was a Jewish Book Council virgin too.
One of my newfound friends, an author there to promote both a children’s book and an adult novel, assured me that you couldn’t see the run in my stockings.
Was she just being polite? I raced across the street to a nearby Duane Reade to buy another pair. How empowered would I possibly feel wondering if everyone was staring at my legs?
I got back just in time for orientation, during which three very encouraging
members of the JBC staff divulged the details of the proceedings. “Make
sure that microphone is right in front of your mouth,” counseled a woman named Joyce, the
same enthusiastic woman who had called weeks earlier to coach me in preparing my pitch. We would each be given a chance to go up and practice speaking on the podium – bimah, actually, since the event was held in a sanctuary at the college.
That sanctuary was enormous and would soon be packed to the gills. We had
to make sure we were heard, Joyce asserted.
As for that two-minute limit, as she had adamantly admonished me, that was truly no joke. Each of us would have no more than 120 seconds to speak. To keep everyone within
those bounds, another woman named Andrea would be seated in the front row and hold up signs. The first of these was a small placard that said “One minute
left.” Followed by “30
Then “10 seconds left, pls wrap up!”
And finally, “TIME’S UP!"
UP!” sign was in Day-Glo lime green. You really couldn’t miss that one.
“We know it is wholly unfair of us to make you take this book you
may have worked on for years and sum it up in just two minutes," Andrea said, "but that’s the best way we’ve found to do this." They had learned this lesson through trial and
error. The error had consisted of handing hundreds of Jewish authors a microphone and letting them speak for as long as they wished.
“Suddenly, it was 3:00 in the morning,” Andrea said with
I wasn’t worried. I had spent weeks whittling down my spiel. Yes, I would
need to spit it out at the speed of sound. But
I’d practiced until I could do that. In two minutes flat.
When we were given our time
to practice speaking into the mic, I
prevailed upon an affable author
named Lois to take a photo of me on the bimah. Then I gladly returned the favor.
After that, we were given a quick break to freshen up again and have a last sip of water. My husband had convinced me to take a bottle along, but no food or drink was allowed
inside the sanctuary. So I gulped down a plastic cupful, then surveyed the long line of representatives waiting
to get in to hear us pitch. There were hundreds of them.
Andrea had mentioned that a special guest was among them. Before
we authors began our talks, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin was there to also speak for a couple of minutes.
Rabbi Telushkin is not only a famous rabbi, but a popular lecturer and the author of more than 15 books, including
the 2014 New York Times bestseller Rebbe. I wondered whether by “a couple of minutes," Andrea actually
meant only two minutes. Would he be cut off after 120 seconds, just like the rest of us schlubs? Would he suffer the indignity of the “ten seconds left” sign, or
G-d forbid, “TIME’S UP!”?
comfortable to give Rabbi Telushkin the
one-minute card,” she confessed. “But
he asked me to!”
In fact, the remarks he delivered were short and sweet, yet took nearly four
minutes (although who, other than Andrea perhaps, was counting?).
“At first, I thought it was
unfair to ask authors to summarize their books in only two minutes,” he began. “Then I thought back to that famous
story in the Bible, the one in which Rabbi Hillel is asked to summarize all of Judaism while standing on one foot. And I thought,
‘Maybe two minutes is more than enough!’ ”
Hmmm. Maybe he was right.
As the long parade of
speakers began, I quickly concluded that
he actually was. You could easily tell within a minute or two what each book
was about, whether you might want to read it, and whether you would want to listen to its author lecture about it at much
Although we were seated in alphabetical order, Ms. Jenoff, the famed author I had initially encountered, needed to get home to a sick child. So she led off with an account of her latest historical novel, The Orphan’s Tale, a powerful
story of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II. Destined to be another Times bestseller, no
soon succeeded by a man who had been inspired by the smash Broadway musical Hamilton to write a book he described as “the tragedy of Moses in verse.”
Then there was the Reform rabbi whose spiel started off sounding like a musical
itself. “Don’t worry, be happy!” he began crooning the second
that he reached the bima. “That
doesn’t sound like a very Jewish song, does it?”
“Judaism focuses more on ‘oy’
than joy,” he continued. “Our theme song is more likely to be reminiscent of that old Jewish joke
about the telegram." He proceeded to sing its contents to the exact same tune. "Start worrying! Details to follow!’
My new comrade in pitching and photo companion
turned out to be a motivational speaker named Lois Barth who had written a book called Courage to Sparkle. This was a commodity she
clearly possessed in spades, given her sequined violet jacket and her equally vibrant speaking style. Her book, subtitled “The Audacious Girls’ Guide
to Creating a Life That Lights You Up,” was an upbeat self-help manual filled with what she had dubbed “LOIS-isms,”
an acronym that stood for "Lessons, Opportunities, Insights and Solutions."
“My version of tikkun olam [the Jewish mission to repair the world] leaves the world with a whole
lot more sparkle,” she exclaimed, before concluding, “Courage to Sparkle. It’s a book. It’s a movement!”
By the time my turn finally approached, at long last, I could have used a movement myself. Make that a chance to get up and run. Listening to so many spiels was daunting. And demoralizing. Why
would anyone want to listen to me prattle on for two minutes, let alone hire
me to speak?
Although, with luck, I had been seated among the L’s
(for Levy), rather than the W’s (for Weiss), it seemed like an eternity had passed since I had gotten to wet my whistle.
My mouth was bone dry. Was it fear of public speaking? Or just fear that I would totally bomb?
We would find out soon enough. Andrea announced my name.
As I noted, I had practiced relentlessly spewing my spiel rapid-fire so that it took under 120 seconds, rather than risk being cut off. But now my mouth just wouldn't cooperate. The words I had pared down so painstakingly came out in
a halting, tremulous voice.
Have you ever dreamed that you’re trying to run away from something, but your legs just won’t move? That’s exactly what it felt like. Except that the things that wouldn’t seem to move were my lips.
Here was the other issue: I had practiced my speech in my living room,
my dog Latke my only audience. My focus had been exclusively on getting the words out fast enough. But I had never given much thought to what those words actually meant.
that my book is about how my father kept a mistress for 15 years while he was still married to my mother, those words were far from dryly informative, like a grocery list. Much of what
I had chosen to say sounded more like an intimate, heartfelt confession. Still, I hadn't expected to get emotional about
it. Those words were not news to me.
reading them before a roomful of strangers, my eyes welled up with tears.
Having those tears hardly helped. Glasses or not, I could barely see. When I looked up as I concluded the last
sentence, I saw Andrea flashing me that pesky “TIME’S UP” sign. Yikes! How far overtime had I gone?
Mortified, I slunk back to my
seat and barely heard what the next few authors said. Or perhaps sang.
A few minutes later, Andrea announced that we were taking a short break
– the book council's equivalent of the seventh-inning stretch. At this, the
author seated in front of me, a professor of Middle Eastern History at Berklee College
of Music, spun around.
"I think for your book,
people were absolutely silent because they were riveted," she told me. “Of all the books here, yours was the most compelling!"
Huh? Was she kidding? I couldn't resist reaching out to hug her. So I hadn't totally
At the reception afterwards, I was inundated with reps from around the country.
"You're on my short list!" exclaimed a lively woman from a temple in New Jersey. "Are you available to come speak to our
woman, from Austin, Texas, asked if I was free for her group's book festival
A publicist slipped me his card. The "joy versus
oy" rabbi said he couldn't wait to read my book.
Then there was the writer
from San Francisco who planned to recommend
my memoir to his wife's book group. I was happy to hear that its members were in their 50s.
"There's too much sex in it for a much older crowd," I warned him.
"Now I'm intrigued and REALLY going to recommend it!" he replied.
It remains to be seen how
many, if any, of them will
actually book me to speak. But now, at least, I know why I went.
I went because you can’t succeed if you don’t try.
OK, here, in case you're curious, is my two-minute pitch. See if
you can read it in two minutes flat.
Book pitch for The Adulterer’s Daughter
My father always said that women should be “slender and laughing.” My mother, with
all her advanced degrees, was neither of those things. She was zaftig. And brilliant! So he preferred his mistress – “Elaine” –
who looked like a Jewish Sophia Loren (yeah, she wished!).
The situation was horrific.
But having to keep it hidden? That was The Worst.
The thing was, he didn’t leave my mother for his mistress. He kept them both. Girlfriend in the city. Nice Jewish family
in the suburbs. He moved in and out of our house relentlessly.
When he was home,
he was abusive to my mother – and I don't just mean verbally. But I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. My mother was convinced it was too shameful.
So I kept my Jewish family’s
dirty little secret for decades. I grew up to be a successful journalist, writing for newspapers like The New York Times. Covering murders and other scandals, I was nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize. But still I kept my
own story to myself.
one day, I just couldn’t keep it any longer.
This book is not about my father’s
affair, but how it affected me, and MY quest to meet the nice Jewish boy of my dreams. Eventually, I did fall madly in love. With
a married man! But after all I’d endured, there was no way I could do that.
So (spoiler alert!) I had the good sense to simply walk away.
Years later, as my father lay
dying, I consulted my rabbi about the need I felt to forgive him. "Has he ASKED for forgiveness?" he asked. Good
question. He hadn't. "Have you told him you love him?" That, I had. "Good enough!" he said.
Because in order to have parents
and other people in our lives, however flawed they may be, that is often all we can do.
Never fear, I also found plenty of humor in the situation. That's what we Jews
do. I didn’t write this
memoir to get even with my father. I’m just ready to be done with the shame. We ALL have things in our lives we’re
embarrassed about. They may not be murder, or infidelity. But every family, even nice Jewish ones like mine, has
SOMETHING. And when we talk about those things, it helps people know they are not alone.
Writing this book made me feel better. Reading it may help others too.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
A Word From The Weiss
Nearly a week afterwards, Mother’s Day seems almost like ancient history already. But no mother-oriented blog – nice, Jewish, or otherwise – would be complete
without at least some accounting of how that famous Jewish
holiday was spent. (I mean, seriously, isn’t almost everything related to motherhood fundamentally
Jewish in some way?) So let’s make
a pact. If you tell me about yours, I’ll gladly show and tell you all
A Facebook friend
who lost her own mom last year posted on FB about how painful she was finding it to face the occasion, no longer
having a mother to fête. “The world barrages you with “Send flowers!” “Give
gifts!” and you’re crumpled inside,” she wrote.
Despite fears of sounding
callous, I felt compelled to respond. “My mother has been gone
for some 8 years now,” I wrote, “and I still miss her every day. But the first Mother’s Day that I spent
without her, despite the onslaught of media messages, I must confess that, amid the pain, I also managed to find a bright side. For the first time in my life, I got to
be the one in the family being celebrated. I got to be The Mom!” Thank
g-d for her beautiful daughters, I added. “You (and they) have much to celebrate this Sunday. You are The Mom now too!”
What I did not tell her (which truly would
have risked sounding callous) was how stressful I had always found Mother’s
Day, up until the year that my mother died. I invariably bent myself into a pretzel during the weeks before, trying to make plans that would please my mother,and to select
suitable gifts. This customarily involved spending hours at the mall, making brunch reservations, and buying tickets to a Broadway matinee, then driving hours to pick my mother up in Westchester en route to NYC, making sure that everyone in the
younger generation showed up on time to see Grandma Bunnie.
And even though Grandma Bunnie seemed to appreciate my efforts, some facet of the plans was all but guaranteed to go awry. Mother’s
Day traffic was bound to be brutal in both directions. My mother was almost
guaranteed to later return all the gifts I had so carefully chosen for her. So by the time I got
home from the festivities, I would be ready to collapse – never mind that I was the only one in the family still actively engaged in daily mothering, the one who had really needed a little appreciation, and maybe even a break.
So despite all the trouble I’d gone to, I would end up feeling inadequate and inept.
But old habits die hard, as they say, and even though I
lost my mother some eight years ago, I have
continued to go to exhaustive lengths each year to make all of the plans for my family’s Mother’s Day. Never
mind that I am now, yes, The Mom.
But this year turned out to be different.
Oh, I tried to make the plans, as usual. I was fully prepared to make them all. But somehow, for the first time ever, all of the plans I tried to make managed to get pre-empted.
Would the day still turn out all right – which is to say, as good
as it ever does, considering that by the end I always tend to feel
like I’ve turned myself into a pretzel?
That remained to be seen.
Continuing our long-standing tradition
of taking in a matinee performance in NYC, I first set out to select a show that everyone in the family might enjoy.
My first choice was a play being staged by a theater company to which I belong, The New Group. This play, called The Whirligig, was still in previews, but sounded awfully appealling. After
all, its cast included Zosia Mamet and Norbert Leo Butz.
Zosia had portrayed
what was arguably my favorite character in the recently wrapped-up Lena Dunham series on HBO, Girls, on which she played the hyper, fast-talking, and unmistakably Jewish member of the quartet of friends, Shoshanna Shapiro.
And Norbert Leo Butz is,
well, excellent in everything he does. No ifs, ands, or buts.
But there was a “but” in this
case. An inconvenient one. There were six members of our family, including
my husband, our two children, and each of their significant others. And there weren’t six tickets left to The
So I decided
to book two seats for the night before instead, just for my hubby and me. Then I set out to get tickets for the
entire group for A Doll’s House Part 2 instead.
A Doll’s House Part 2 had garnered great reviews and was being touted as the most nominated play of the year, having received eight Tonys nominations, including best play, best actress, best actor, best director, and two best actresses in featured
“So endlessly stimulating that it could give audiences fodder for heated
conversation until the fall season is in full swing,” raved Charles Isherwood in Broadway News.
What could be bad?
about this? For one thing, the young reporter who reviews plays for the Connecticut newspaper
at which my husband works had given it a rather tepid rating. For another, my husband argued that he had never seen A Doll’s House, the original classic play by Henrik Ibsen, to which this one was meant to serve as a sort of
sequel. How could he possibly enjoy A Doll’s House Part 2 until he took in A Doll’s House 1?
I was just about ready to throw in the towel when he proposed an alternative.
A revival of a 1932 drawing room comedy, The Roundabout, had just opened at 59E59, a theater company to which my
husband belongs, and it was
getting raves as well.
“A sparkling, impeccably staged play,” The
New York Times declared, going on to call it “catnip to Downton Abbey devotees!”
I was an unquestionable, dyed-in-the-good-British-wool, Downton Abbey devotee. What could possibly be better than that?
I will tell you what could be better: The fact that my husband was volunteering
to buy the tickets himself, at a member discount, no less.
I only hesitated for a moment when I learned
that our son would be unable to join us. Aidan, who is getting his Ph.D. at Columbia,
needed to study that afternoon because part one of his all-important oral exams began the very next day. (For those of you who may be unfamiliar with oral exams, these evidently have two parts, just
like Ibsen’s play. And part one of “the orals” was actually a written exam held over two days. Who knew?)
But Aidan assured me that he didn’t
mind our going without him, and his wife Kaitlin said she would be happy to join us to give him time alone in their apartment
the very least, Aidan said he would definitely be able to join us for brunch.
Assuming that he needed all the time he could get to study,
I offered to find a restaurant in their neighborhood on the Upper West Side. That was fine, Aidan said. With one proviso: They
wanted to find the place and make reservations themselves.
I had always made the brunch reservations, never mind that it was Mother’s Day. OK, maybe I’m a control freak. The last time I suspected my husband was throwing me a surprise party, for my 40th birthday a couple of decades or so ago, I not only chose the caterer, but also made the guest list myself. Wait. Am I a bit of a control freak?
No, no, that’s
not me. I don’t think it’s me. I don’t think I even like to be in control. It’s just that I don’t like chaos. I like
things to go smoothly, without a hitch, if possible. And the best way to make sure that things go without a hitch, I have learned, is to make all the plans myself. Though, yes,
maybe that does mean I’m a bit of a control freak.
So I have a little confession
to make: I did continue to
look at eateries in their neighborhood, noting that, as the day approached, all of them were filling up for brunch. But I appreciated my son and daughter-in-law offering
to take control of the day instead. So I bit my tongue and kept quiet, knowing that they were moving into a new apartment that week, and that Mother’s Day
brunch might be about the last thing on their minds.
And when they emailed me late that week to say that everywhere seemed to be filled up for Mother’s Day, I shrugged and just took it in stride, control
freak though I may be. And soon enough they managed to book a place at which
we’d eaten once before. It was nearby
and perfectly fine. Besides, where we went didn’t matter. It was all about who I would be with – my kids.
only things I got to make reservations for myself were dinner on Saturday, followed by the play with Zosia Mamet
and Norbert Leo Butz. Neither of which went as planned.
Late that afternoon, I received
a message from the restaurant, an Israeli eatery called The Green Fig I had booked online, saying there had
been a terrible mistake. They had a private event that night and were unable to honor my reservation. However, if we were willing to sit in their lounge instead of the dining room, they would give us a free bottle of wine.
The private event turned out to be Aidan’s Bar Mitzvah, according to a sign in the lobby. LOL! We had attended our own son Aidan’s
bar mitzvah some 18 years ago, followed by his wedding last summer. No
matter. The lounge area was fine, the Israeli
food and the service were more than fine, and the wine was not just fine, but free!
The play, however, was something else. Zosia Mamet was more than fine.
So was Norbert Leo Butz, no
ifs, ands, or buts. The acting, in fact, was almost uniformly superb. The problem was the subject matter.
The Whirligig started off with two distraught parents sitting beside their grown daughter’s bed
in a hospital and being told by the
doctor to take their 20-something child home.
There was nothing more that could be
done for her. She was going to die.
Having spent the entirety of this past fall sitting beside my own bed-ridden
20-something daughter, fearing that she
might never recover from the terrible concussion she had sustained, I found the entire production difficult to sit through. Never mind the frequent moments of insight and laugh-out-loud humor. Mother’s
Day entertainment it was not.
Thank G-d we had been unable to get
in the next day.
Brunch the next day, on the contrary, was perfect, though. Beyond perfect because everyone was there. On time, no less. The food was fabulous, the company even better.
My only reservation had nothing to do with my not getting to make the reservations. It was just
that my son was visibly edgy in anticipation of his exam. And my daughter was also edgy because she works at a school and
was facing a very busy few weeks of year-end activities.
Who came up with the idea
of holding Mother’s Day in the middle of May? How can any mother relax when her children are feeling anxious? I become
instantly anxious by association. Doesn’t every mother – nice, Jewish, and otherwise – when her kids are
But counteracting any sense of malaise was the bounty of
lovely gifts and cards.
I had told my kids there was no need to buy me any gifts, that a nice card would do. In fact, if they didn’t have time to buy a nice card, just a nice note
scrawled on a napkin would do.
OK, in the
interests of full disclosure, I wanted a card, or just a note scrawled on a napkin, and one other little thing that related
to the tenure of the current presidential administration, if possible.
Aidan and Kaitlin gave me a
gorgeous bag full of goodies, including a Starbucks to-go cup in my favorite color, aquamarine, along with an assortment of iced teas and delectable-looking goodies. But even better were
the sentiments on the exquisite card.
“Thanks for always
being there for me, when I’m up and when I’m down,”
Aidan wrote. “And for planning one heck of a wedding. Happy Mother’s Day!”
Kaitlin, meanwhile, made me feel like I must be doing something right, control freak though I may be.
“I’m so grateful to have you as my mother-in-law!” she had
inscribed. “You are such a wonderful mom, writer, wife, friend and person. Thank you for making me feel so welcome as
part of your family!”
Boy! I would have settled for any one of
the above attributes… just scribbled on a napkin.
Allegra and her boyfriend JP, meanwhile, presented me with a true novelty,
an adorable umbrella shaped like my favorite thing in the world, a flamingo, along with
a little box of Mother’s Day chocolates that were far too beautiful to possibly eat.
“OK. So maybe I call a little too much,” Allegra acknowledged on
their card. “But that is just
a testament to how much I love you. Not everyone can say their mom is their best friend, and manager, and editor, and stylist,
and… I could go on forever. But I can’t ever begin to thank
Wow! I mean, really. She had me at “maybe I call a little too much,” although if you ask me, when it comes to
calling your mother, too much is never enough.
What was more than enough
was that delightful play we saw afterwards. The Downton Abbey-style one, written by J.B. Priestley. Go see it, if you possibly can. It’s playing for a
few more weeks.
My only real reservation
about the day occurred when we were saying goodbye. Allegra seemed so edgy that I couldn’t help asking if she was OK.
Even if she faced end-of-the-year pressures at school, wouldn’t they be over soon?
It wasn’t just that, she hastened to explain. It was the enormous pressure she felt. Pressure about Mother’s
“How can you ever do enough for the person you will never be able to
thank enough?” she asked, sounding genuinely distraught.
Oh. My. G-d.
So I told her about how I
had always felt about my own mother and Mother’s Day. Was it a universal dilemma? Would this insane form of performance
anxiety never, ever end?
“Please don’t say that!”
I begged her. “Everything you do is good enough for me!” The truth was that I didn’t need presents, or a nice card.
Not even a note on a napkin.
only thing that was important to me was that we all got to be together.
One week later, I’m happy to report that Aidan did fine on the written part of his “orals.” And
Allegra is now one week closer to being
in the final stretch of school.
So my nerves have settled down, too. But maybe I should go back to making all the Mother’s Day plans. Then everyone else can relax,
and this holiday – as Jewish as it may be – can be celebrated guilt-free.
Mother's Day, after all, is for mothers. And hey -- nice, Jewish, or otherwise -- I'm The Mom.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
A Word From The Weiss
Happy Mother's Day to all of you mothers -- nice, Jewish, and all the others.
I am looking forward to spending a wet yet wonderful weekend in NYC visiting my children and their so-called significant others.
Hope you have someone to spend it with too.
If you see something, say
something. Or so they say these days. Well, yesterday I saw something. Not a potential sign of terrorism or crime, but something
very disturbing. The question was, should I dare to say something? And if so, then what should I say?
was not, I repeat, related to terrorism or national security in any way. Yet as
we are beginning to learn, suspicious or unsavory things can crop up almost anywhere. In
this case, it was the most unthreatening of settings. A flea market in Massachusetts.
Well, not just any flea market. I am talking about Brimfield, the largest and easily best-known outdoor antiques and collectibles show in the entire country. Maybe world.
This annual event, which happens three times a year – for six days straight in mid-May, July,
and early September – began in the 1950s and now attracts over 5,000 dealers and tens of thousands of visitors from
all over the country and planet.
Between the crowds, the crazy and often vibrantly colorful hodgepodge of stuff being sold, the rows of white tents, and
the lively food court, this event takes on a
kooky, carnival atmosphere. This place is not just a three-ring circus. It’s more like 3,000 rings.
I first discovered it through my cousin Susan, arguably its most devoted devotee. We have made an annual excursion there since ever I can remember, sometimes two or even three
times a year. My house overflows with the tchotchkes I’ve brought back, treasures I know that I didn’t
need, but couldn’t live without as soon as I had spied them. Some are so quirky that they give my house
something of a carnival atmosphere, too.
My cousin and I always looked forward to going there and would count down the days until we could each
spring, the way non-Jews tabulate the days until Christmas. When Susan chose to move from my town in Connecticut down to Florida last summer, I assumed that our Brimfield days were finally over. Last May, I had to fight back tears as we put our heads together there and snapped a selfie. I
figured it would be our last.
But then, to my surprise and infinite delight,
she flew up last week for a visit. She came up
mostly to celebrate the 90th birthday of her mom, my ever-youthful Aunt Kay. But as luck would have it, this just happened
to coincide with the opening of Brimfield.
I picked her up on Wednesday morning, and before noon we were parked in a makeshift
lot on the grounds of a farm (albeit nearly a mile
away from the action) and already on the
prowl. Susan, who is the virtual queen of Brimfield, led me to a section of the market called Hertan’s, where a tent filled with used clothing had just opened up. Eager
buyers were being issued free lemon-yellow
tote bags at the tent’s entrance. A hand-lettered sign stated that as much as you could stuff into each bag would cost $20.
The last thing I needed was more clothing, let alone other
people’s cast-off items
that I would have no opportunity to try on. But everyone began frantically sifting
through boxes and racks of garments, and caught up in the frenzy, I soon followed suit. Susan handed me a pair of wide-legged knit
pants with diamond-shaped designs at the hem.
Whatever. Why not?
To these, I added two black-and-white silky scarves (one polka dot, one striped), an iridescent mauve dress my daughter might like,
a pale pink tennis hat embroidered with a “P” (not for Pattie, but evidently
the Portsmouth Regional Hospital) and an Italian black blazer with a single big white button at the belly. Never mind that it smelled a bit musty.
When all of this failed to fill my
bag even halfway, I threw in a large white tablecloth heavily embroidered with lace. Never mind that it might have a few faint yellow stains. During a single Passover seder, it might sustain
so many battle scars from beet-red horseradish drippings and Manischewitz that I might need to throw it out, anyway.
At an adjoining tent, I assembled a small collection of old earrings and bracelets. “How
much?” I asked the man stationed at the entrance.
He surveyed my bits of unburied treasure and shrugged. “Five bucks for the lot.”
We had been there for 20 minutes and I was already lugging around a heavy load. The walk back
to the car would be endless, and we still had many hours left to shop. Savvier patrons had arrived equipped
with folding carts in which to transport their finds. I would have to be more
As I acknowledged earlier,
I didn’t truly need anything. But “need” is a subjective term. Once, I shelled out 60 bucks for an Art Nouveau flower
frog in the shape of a nude posed gracefully on a crescent moon. Never mind that until that moment I hadn’t known what
a flower frog was. It was exquisite, and
it had been marked $125. What a bargain!
The following year, I had bought a companion flower frog featuring a similar nude. Never mind that it set me back another 40 bucks (down from 45). Now I was a collector!
To ward off other such impulse buys, I had found that it helped to arrive at Brimfield with some sort of mission
in mind. That meant thinking of something funky I could use. Not something I needed, necessarily
(see paragraph above), but that might serve some purpose.
Or, better yet, something
that one of my children could use. Over the years, I had bought them each a vintage coat rack or two. Neither child felt they needed a coatrack. But the racks remain in their apartments, so covered with coats that they can't be
seen. People keep telling me that young people today don’t want a bunch of old stuff. Mine may not want it, but
I say they need it, because my gifts are being put to good use.
My son and daughter-in-law, meanwhile, had just moved into a brand new apartment
last week. Their new apartment was much larger than their old apartment. (That’s the main reason they moved there.) But I didn’t dare ask them if they needed anything from Brimfield. They were having enough
trouble transporting all of their
own old stuff to their new place. They didn’t need to deal with anyone else’s old stuff now.
My daughter also moved into a new apartment this winter. Knowing that I was going to Brimfield, and being too busy to join me, she had told me she did need something. The kitchen in her New York City apartment is merely an alcove
with a stove and a sink
– so small that it doesn’t have a single drawer in which to store flatware or plastic wrap. She
wanted a piece of furniture to station outside this nook, one with plenty of drawers.
I promised to be on the
lookout, although I doubted I could fit any furniture in my car. This would give
some purpose to my travels. But I also had an agenda of my own.
Years ago, I’d bought a beautiful vintage hatpin at the Brimfield market. Hatpins may be a thing of the past, but they
represent an ever-present need to me. As a fair-skinned person who shuns the sun,
I wear broad-brimmed hats throughout the summer. Each of these is embellished with a hatpin.
It isn’t just a matter of adding decoration, although there’s nothing wrong
with that. These stick pins actually
serve a purpose. They prevent my hats from blowing away on the beach or being wafted off by a sudden breeze. I imagine that in Victorian times, women plunged these hatpins through the massive buns or twisted braids on their heads. In medieval Europe, they were also employed to hold wimples on women’s heads.
What, you may wonder, is a wimple? It’s a
large piece of cloth that covers the head, neck, and chin. In medieval times, it was improper for married women to show their hair in
public, just as many Orthodox Jewish wives choose to keep their hair covered now. These days, wimples
are worn only by nuns.
go in much for Victorian hairstyles. And I’m a nice Jewish mom, not a nun. But I have enough hair to plunge a hatpin through and don’t want my hats to blow
As I recounted in this
space last summer, I made a terrible mistake with my favorite hatpin. I was about to fly back from Paris when it caught the attention of a security guard at the airport. This fellow summoned a
small army of reinforcements, including the security manager. She removed my hatpin from my
hat, touched the sharp tip, and shook her head in palpable disapproval, a level of disdain that was decidedly
“C’est un antique!” I pleaded plaintively, using my best rusty high school French. “C’est un
bijou!” (“It’s an antique!
It’s a jewel!”)
At this, the stern, uniformed woman shook her head and replied in her best English.
“Madame, eez forbidden!” Then she coldly tossed my precious hatpin into the trash.
Ever since, I had been counting the days until I could return to Brimfield for another. Now, at
last, was my chance.
I spent a long time at one booth foraging in boxes of old jewelry, then deliberating over whether to purchase a
poodle brooch encrusted in rhinestones or a tarnished stick pin with a purple
jewel that was probably no amethyst. Then, suddenly, my cousin waved me over. In a neighboring
booth, she had stumbled upon a mother lode of much nicer options.
Indeed, after paying $5 for each of the aforementioned items, I hurried over to see that she was
right. Perched atop a glass jewelry cabinet were two small vases (or possibly salt
shakers, given the pattern of tiny holes pierced in their tops). Both held a bouquet of a dozen or so hatpins, each one more beautiful than the last.
I began to pore over this collection,
trying to decide which of the pins I liked best. One featured an ivory-colored
cameo. Another had glittery black caviar beads wound around the tip like a turban. Then I noticed two others and stepped back, recoiling
The heads of these two
bronze-toned hatpins were shaped exactly like swastikas.
Oh. My. G-d.
Almost sick to my stomach, I backed out of the tent. Then I thought better of it and motioned to my cousin to come at once. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming. That’s how hard I found
this to believe.
In truth, this was hardly the first time I had encountered one of these Nazi symbols. It wasn’t even the first time I had encountered one at Brimfield.
Some people collect strange things, and some collectors tend to be strange people. There is no accounting for what many individuals
consider to be fit to collect. There are people who collect
airline barf bags, toenail clippings, and belly
button fluff. There are those who collect
empty Coke cans, umbrella sleeves, or talking clocks.
And whatever it is that people collect, vendors are happy sell it to them
Well, maybe not toenail clippings or belly button fluff. But just
about everything else.
The first time I’d
spied some Nazi memorabilia there nestled amid relics of WWII, I hadn’t hesitated to express my disgust to
the merchant selling it. He had reacted defensively, saying that there was a market for these items, so he didn’t see why he shouldn’t stock them. I had argued that this hardly an excuse.
There is a market for heroin.
Does that make it OK to sell it? It was sickening to capitalize on genocide,
in this case the savagely planned and executed extermination of millions of Jews and many others.
I was Jewish myself, I’d added, and although I’d seen something among his wares that I liked, I wouldn’t consider patronizing his
booth because of his deplorable choice.
At this, he had simply
shrugged. He simply didn’t care. The
encounter had upset me so much that I’d opted ever since to just give purveyors
of such evil items the evil eye, then stalk out.
It was one thing to see Nazi insignias hidden amid guns and other war memorabilia, though, and quite another to view it displayed daintily alongside women’s jewelry.
I had journeyed there to have a nice day with my cousin and pick up a few antiques, however. I was not there to pick arguments or stand up for my beliefs.
But I am a nice Jewish mom, emphasis on “Jew” in this case. I couldn’t just
So I went to
find the merchant overseeing this tent, in
order to voice my distress.
I was a little startled to discover that she was a small, attractively dressed woman of about my age. Not to cast any aspersions, but
to the best of my recollection the fellow I had reprimanded for selling the Nazi
souvenirs had been an old, Southern-sounding
codger with a long, straggly beard
that looked like it might house several small critters.
Now, when I motioned toward the woman, she approached
me with a warm smile.
came in looking for a hatpin and was very
interested in buying one of yours,” I began, “until I noticed that you have a couple here shaped like swastikas.”
Her smile didn’t
fade one iota as she looked at me cheerily and calmly replied, “Those aren’t swastikas. They’re peace symbols.”
“Peace symbols?” I repeated in disbelief. “Well, they
sure look like swastikas to me. And I must tell you that I find that very offensive.”
She shook her head, not budging an inch. “They
make look like swastikas,” she allowed, “but that’s not what they are. They’re Native American peace symbols.”
“Native American peace symbols,” I echoed. “Hmmm.
Really. Are you sure?”
a little more closely, I detected that the larger of the two swastikas – or should I say peace symbols –was engraved with what appeared to be feathers. And feathers, as far as I knew, had never been commonly associated with the Nazi party.
They were more likely to be associated with Native Americans.
At that moment, I remembered an incident my daughter had told me about a few months earlier. A student at the school at which she works had drawn a swastika
on a desk. Nobody knew who had done it, but the faculty was up in arms – all except for one teacher, who had argued that this graffiti might
just be a Latvian peace symbol.
My daughter hadn’t made much headway arguing with that knucklehead, and I realized that
I probably wasn’t going to get
very far with this one, either. The best I could
do was to walk out without making a purchase and hope that this would speak volumes.
Of course, customers constantly walk out of tents at Brimfield and
stores everywhere without buying anything, so she might merely have assumed that I just wasn’t interested in her wares.
So, as glad as I was to have said something in
this case, I continued to wonder for the
rest of the day. What could I have said instead? Had I said enough?
Sure, I might have proceeded to lecture her about the evils and atrocities of the Holocaust. But the hubbub of this bustling flea market had seemed
like neither the time nor place.
I also might have made it clearer that I was leaving only because I couldn’t
in good conscience do business with someone so lacking in compassion or common decency. Not to mention integrity. For even if it’s possible that those hatpins were peace symbols -- whether Native American, Latvian, Buddhist, or whatever the
heck else – the fact that they
were shaped exactly like
swastikas should have been enough to dissuade her from displaying them, or presumably buying them from someone else in the first place.
Yet I had come there to spend time with my cousin, and to enjoy
the scene, not to make one. And
we still had a whole lot of booths to visit. So
we merely exited quietly and walked on, and on, until I finally found a couple of hatpins for sale in another tent. These weren’t nearly as nice as the non-swastika ones being offered by the first lady.
But one had some pretty green jewels,
and the other was black and sparkly.
They were nice enough. They would do for now.
And they were
each only 5 bucks.