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Monday, February 28, 2011

A Word From the Weiss

        My mother wasn’t a demonstrative woman, much like her mother before her, so I grew up not being touched that much. There can be no doubt that she loved me beyond words, but I don’t recall her mentioning that fact on a regular basis until I was nearly 50. So although I routinely declare my affection every time I end a phone conversation with either of my kids, the phrase “I love you” has never managed to roll naturally off my tongue. At least it didn’t until the ultimate cure came along, and we adopted Zoe.
        I cannot even begin to imagine what our lives would have been like without her.
        Zoeonthedeck2.jpgMy daughter Allegra had always dissolved into a heap of quivering mush at the sight of almost anything furry. Finally, she confronted me one day at age 8. “Just tell me now – am I ever going to have a dog?”
        I loved my daughter. I love dogs. How could I say no?
        Officially, “Zo-Dog” was her ninth birthday present, but from Day 1 I was “Mommy.” I was no longer going to an office job by then. So I not only did virtually all of the care and feeding, and the lion’s share of the leash-walking, but also stayed home with her all day.
        And after both our children eventually grew up and went off to college and beyond, she stayed home with us.
        In her puppyhood, she slept in a crate, but later on she had the full run of the house. And from that moment on, my days always started pretty much the same way. I would awaken not to an alarm clock, but the gentle thump of Zoe jumping into bed beside me. Then I’d bury my face in her soft black fur and reach out to rub her belly.
        “I love you,” I’d whisper. “Mommy loves Zoe. Do you know what love is? Did I tell you about that thing?”
        Until President Obama made good on his very public promise to sate his own young daughters’ yearning for a dog, people would often stop us and quizzically demand, “What is that… a poodle?” Afterwards, many knew better. Now that a Portuguese Water Dog has its run of the White House, I’d like to say we were ahead of our time. The truth is, we just lucked out.
And although the Obamas’ Bo may officially be First Dog, if you pitted them against one another, I know who’d come out on top. Zoe may never have strutted the runway at the Westminster Kennel Club, but to me she’ll always be “Best in Show Zo.”Zoegivingpaw.jpg
        It wasn’t enough that she could bark her way through “Happy Birthday,” or howled along heartily at Chanukah as our family sang the nightly blessing over the menorah. Eager to show off her keen intelligence, I decided early on that “Sit!” and “Paw!” were much too ordinary for her, so I proceeded to invent a distinctly different trick. “Speak!” I'd order, and she’d yelp on demand, to the delight of many a youngster in the park. Unfortunately, after being rewarded for this talent more than once, she completely dispensed with waiting for my command. She’d simply make a beeline for anyone in sight, then sit of her own accord and “speak” loudly and repeatedly, until she was duly rewarded.
        Beyond anything she ever said to me, though, were all the things I said to her. It’s been 15 years since I held a regular job, and nearly four since my youngest left home. But I never felt lonely for even a second, thanks to my running dialogue with Zoe. I told her in detail how I was feeling – far more cathartic than any therapy I’ve ever had. I also kept her constantly updated on every new development with her older, human siblings.
        She always knew where they were, how they were, and of course whom they were dating. When my son, Aidan, began seeing a girl from Paris during his junior year abroad, I spent months teaching Zoe to present a paw to be kissed when I exclaimed, “Enchanté, Mademoiselle. Enchanté!” And she was so smitten with my daughter’s current flame, Stevo, that she often seemed prepared to debate whose boyfriend he actually was.
        Mostly, though, I kept our endless conversations focused on how I felt about her. Each time I passed her, all day, every day, I couldn’t resist bending down to kiss her muzzle, stroke her back, and tell her how good, precious, and beautiful she was. “I love you, Zoe. Mommy loves Zoe. Do you know what love is? Did I tell you about that thing?”
People listening to me natter on in public may have thought I was certifiably nuts. Maybe I am – a little. But I once made a list of words and names that Zoe recognized, and its number exceeded 400, surely as plentiful a vocabulary as almost any toddler’s. When she sat out on our lawn at the height of the day in summer, I’d call out, “Zoe, it’s too sunny. Go sit in the shade!” And she’d get right up and plop down under a big tree.
        Needless to say -- and sorry for being graphic -- she’d pee outside on command. (The other end... not so much.) And when I wanted to make sure she comprehended something more complex, I broke it down into small words I knew she’d understand. When the woman who groomed her was coming to wash and clip her every few weeks, inside a van she'd park on our driveway, I’d announce, “Zoe, tomorrow you’re having your ‘car bath.’ ” And from the moment she woke up the next day, she’d park herself by the door, anxiously waiting.
        Are you shaking your head in disbelief, or wishing your own hair stylist made house calls? Then maybe I shouldn’t tell you about the delicacies I’d cook for Zoe almost every night. About the large blowup plastic pool I bought for the backyard to cool her off when it was so swelteringly hot last summer. How we never left her in a kennel when we were away, opting instead for the spacious home of “Pet Nanny,” an adoring sitter who doted on her almost as much as I did. Or how when we went out to dinner, I almost invariably ordered something Zoe could eat, because the high point of going out for me was coming home afterwards and surprising my precious girl with a small taste of her own.
        Zoeincarsmiling.jpgAmong the many things she did in return was the time that she "saved Mommy," after I accidentally locked my car door with both Zoe and the keys inside. Reluctant to call for help -- or worse, confess my carelessness to my husband -- I collared Zoe to come to my aid instead. The only "ruff" part was coaxing her onto the driver's seat, where the errant keys were sitting; Zoe may have been pushing 75 in dog years at the time, but she knew she was too young to drive. Then, after a few emphatic commands of "Paw," she stepped hard on the electronic "unlock" button on my keychain. Voilá! The doors clicked open. Sadly, I still ended up in the doghouse that day. The tale was too good to keep to myself.
        Like m
any Jewish parents, I often feel ashamed to let others know the extent to which we overindulge our children. But the sign above our doorstep proudly proclaims how we felt about the runt of our litter:
        Or so one did, up until the Friday night before last.
        Summer2010036.JPGI recently tried to explain to a non-pet-lover that dogs are like children who are never ungrateful, never give you a moment of grief, and never grow up and leave home. Supremely devoted creatures, they exist for the sole purposes, it often seems, of getting to sit as close to you as possible at all times, gaze at you with adoring eyes, delight you, defend you, and love you love you love you. Sure, they require us to pay adequate attention to their various bodily needs, and they may pull off occasional ingenious heists of food inadvertently left within reach. But they will never diss you, detest you, divorce you, or desert you. They love you unconditionally. Love you without reservation.
        Love you without end.
       Then again, let’s be honest, even the most impeccable of pets occasionally misbehaves. If almost anyone living on my block heard me extolling the virtues of Zoe like this, they might say I was deranged. She was exceedingly territorial and inclined to bark ferociously at almost anyone or anything who trespassed on what she deemed her turf. Even so -- believe me -- she was all bark, no bite.
        The worst of her character flaws, if she had any, however, revolved around food. Spoiled from the start, she hesitated to eat so much as one morsel of regular dog food unless we sweetened the deal with some crumbled dog treats, finely minced chicken or other human food scattered on top. After she underwent major surgery last May, she became so picky about eating that we had to change her food repeatedly, finally settling on a pricey, natural Canadian brand available only in a specialty store 30 minutes away. And then she quickly grew tired of that.
        Still, it was surprising in January when she began refusing her Greenies, the large, spinach-colored dog treats shaped like toothbrushes intended to help clean her teeth. For years, she’d been wolfing one of these down for dessert nightly, seizing it with such fervor that I could only assume it was the equivalent to her canine palate of Godiva chocolate. Now, mysteriously, she snubbed them instead.
        Zoejumping.jpgSoon after, she started turning up her nose at her regular bedtime reward, too. Ever since I could remember, she had bounded up the stairs each evening and waited patiently at the top for me to hand her a large Milk Bone. Now on some nights she’d tentatively accept a different snack in its place. Others, she sniffed any offering with disinterest and simply walked away.
        Why would she shun her favorite things? I groped for excuses. Maybe now that she was 12, the rock-hard dental bones were too tough for her teeth. Perhaps her appetite was shrinking, as can happen with people in old age, or she just preferred the biscuits left by the mailman to the healthier “senior” variety we served.
        Besides, in all other respects she remained decidedly herself – bounding up our steep staircase with ease, strutting energetically around the neighborhood and her favorite parks. So we chose to take those changes in stride, along with another odd development that followed: When snow began falling almost daily this winter, she took to licking it compulsively. She guzzled it so often, and with such gusto, that I feared she was becoming addicted. Yet I read on the Internet that dogs often eat snow, and that doing so is generally harmless.
        Zoewithsnowman.jpgThen, two weeks ago, the morning after we returned from a weekend visit with our son in New York, Zoe tried to jump up on the bed and missed for the first time ever. Later that day, for no apparent reason, she didn’t want to go for a walk. On Tuesday, she appeared a little lethargic. Only on Wednesday morning, though, did it become clear that something was decidedly wrong. I brought her immediately to her longtime vet, who took one look and shook his head. He showed me her gums, which were pale gray instead of pink, then drew some blood, saying he suspected cancer. He predicted she had only a few more days to live.
        A few more... days?
        Horrified and shocked with disbelief, we phoned our children and told them to come home that weekend. The next morning, though, we took one look at Zoe and phoned them both again. “Come now,” we said. We spent that whole day lying with our poor girl on the floor in the vet’s office, waiting for a veterinary specialist to arrive.
        ZoetheWonderDogJanuary20112.jpgHe finally came early that evening and administered an ultrasound, which indicated not cancer, but what appeared to be advanced cirrhosis of the liver. By now, Zoe was barely able to stand and even struggling to breathe. Our vet said liver disease might have been treatable if caught much earlier. By now, it was most probably too late.
        Our only possible recourse was to drive an hour and a half up to Tufts Medical Center in Massachusetts, have her put on an IV, biopsied, and probably hospitalized indefinitely. And even then, the chances of recovery, if any, were extremely slim.
        My husband wanted to go to Tufts immediately. But I firmly stood my ground. Zoe had grown so weak that I couldn’t imagine letting anyone put her in a cage alone. Neither did it seem remotely humane to subject her to extensive and useless treatment. The best thing for her, I believed, was to be with us every second. I couldn’t let her out of my sight.
        So the vet sent us home with a variety of pills that might help treat her condition. My daughter and I stayed up with her downstairs, taking turns holding her all night. The next day, Zoe couldn’t stand or even lift her head. My son, who'd been unable to get off work, rushed home from New York City that night. It clearly broke her heart that she didn’t have the strength to even wag her tail for him.
        Just past midnight, she died in my arms.

        I’ve lost both my parents. I loved both my parents. But never have I felt such grief.
       And the one thing that’s always helped me get through grief, for more than a decade, was Zoe. How will I ever deal with it now?
It’s been 10 days since we lost her, and we still don’t have the heart to empty her water bowls. I keep listening for the lilting patter of her paws on the stairs, but the house is deathly silent. She used to follow me from room to room incessantly, like a four-legged shadow, while I put away laundry or watered the plants. Now it’s unbearable to be here without her. But I can hardly stand to leave either, because there’s no one left to race to the door when I return, greeting me as if I were returning from years lost at sea, even if I just stepped out moments ago to run an errand or empty the trash.
        Meanwhile, we can’t stop berating ourselves, wondering how and where we went wrong. If only we’d taken her to the vet earlier. If only we’d noticed how much weight she’d lost. If only we’d been the perfect parents we meant to be and that she decidedly deserved.
        I also can’t help wishing I could turn back time and make her sweet life just a bit sweeter. Maybe she was indeed “spoiled rotten,” but I still wish that I could spoil her more now. There were so many days this frigid winter that I didn’t take her out for a real walk until the sun was already going down. There were so many nights that she may have gone to bed hungry because we said she’d had enough chicken and had to eat her dog food too. If only I could give her a few extra treats. If only I could touch her expressive, furry face. If only I could kiss her once more.
        And yes, I'd give almost anything to hear her “speak” again.Zoewithlei.jpg
        People keep asking if we’ll get another dog. I don’t believe we will. I can’t quite imagine life without a dog. Yet I also can’t imagine having any dog other than Zoe.
        Any other dog.
       She brought so much joy to me every day, just by being anywhere within earshot, sight or touch, that I can’t help feeling right now that the best of my life is over. There’s no way that anything will ever be as good without being able to share it with her.
        She was good, beautiful and precious. She was Best in Show Zo. And wherever she is now, I love her forever. Mommy loves Zoe.
        Do you know what love is? Did I tell you about that thing?

9:34 pm 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

To my loyal readers,

Sorry, but I'm afraid there can and will be no blog this week. I'm just beyond words. Please tune in next week, and you will see why.

7:44 pm 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Word From the Weiss

         Believe me, I’m not proud of the story I’m about to tell you. Then again, if I limited myself to writing about behavior I’m proud of, this would be a pretty blah blog. Actually, more like a blank blog.
        Instead, I’m about to write what I have tentatively dubbed my bank blog.
        It all started when I stopped at my bank last Monday morning, planning to make a simple transaction. I needed to deposit a check to cover our credit card bill, which was due. As long as I was there, I decided to wait and speak to a banker, having noticed that one of my accounts had begun incurring inactivity charges. These had started showing up after my bank had changed some of its policies at the beginning of the year. But I hadn't ever had the time to go into a branch and speak to someone.
        bankimage1.jpgIndeed, I was now kept waiting for nearly half an hour, so long that I nearly left. Who has time to sit around in a bank? Life is too short.
        Finally, a woman named Tracy ushered me into her cubicle. While checking out my situation, she noticed a completely unrelated problem. She said a $36 charge for insufficient funds had just appeared in another one of my accounts. This was not good.
        The account in question was the joint checking account I hold with my husband. That’s the account we use to pay most of our bills. This was really not good.
        Upon further investigation, Tracy saw that the check in question was the one we’d mailed to our town the previous week to pay our property taxes. Now, this was terrible. It also made no sense.
       bankerimage1.jpg “That’s impossible,” I told her. My husband had mailed the check on February 1, the date by which it had been required to be postmarked. That same day, I’d done an immediate transfer online, adding an additional $3,000 to the account to more than cover the check.
        Tracy shook her head firmly. “You did transfer $3,000 that day,” she concurred. “But you put it into a different account.”
        The account I’d transferred the money into was an old money market fund I no longer use. It had so little activity in it, in fact, that Tracy soon discovered it had incurred monthly service charges going back several months, presumably when the bank had changed some other policy.
        “Do you read your bank statements?” she asked me, with a cold, accusatory tone.
         I smiled back. I read the newspaper. I read novels. I even read the labels on cereal boxes and cartons of yogurt before I eat them. But bank statements? Seriously? Life is too short.
        Rather than dignifying her question with an answer, I raised an accusation of my own. I never would have transferred the money into that old account. I wasn’t an idiot. I knew exactly which account the tax check had been written on, and that undoubtedly was the one I’d selected for my transaction. Clearly, this must have been an error on the bank's part.
        Once again, Tracy stood her ground. The transaction had been done electronically. There was no possible way the bank could have made the mistake. The error was human, not electronic, and it was mine, all mine.
        I was incredulous that I might have done anything so utterly careless and so inept. I was so incredulous about this that I was at a loss for words. “That’s like a… a brain…”
        “Go ahead and say it,” Tracy prodded helpfully. “A brain fart.”
        brainfartimage2.jpgI looked at her even more incredulously. That was hardly the phrase I’d been groping for. First of all, she was a banker, and a rather stiff one at that. Had she really said those words? Second of all, I’m a woman. A rather refined one at that. I never fart. And neither does my brain.
        All I could imagine was that I’d highlighted the proper account on my computer, then somehow the column of numbers had shifted and I’d clicked on the wrong one.
        The problem was that the error in question, whatever you might be inclined to call it, would not simply incur a service charge from the bank. As exorbitant as their $36 penalty might seem, I feared there would be even harsher consequences from the town. You can’t pay your property taxes late -- no ifs, ands, or butted-headed goofs about it.
        Tracy assured me that when a check is returned for insufficient funds, it gets presented to the bank a second time. Then she immediately transferred the money into the right account, so the funds would be there when the check came back for another go-round.
        I called the tax collector’s office when I got home, yet couldn’t get through.  I finally left a lengthy voice message explaining my dilemma. But no one ever returned my calI.
       bankerrorinyourfavor.jpg I should have gone into that office the next day, but Tuesdays are sacrosanct to me. I rarely get out of my pajamas, let alone leave the house. That’s when I write my blog.
        I also probably should have told my husband what had happened. But I was still hoping to sort the situation out and never have to mention it. After all, it’s one thing to confront your own idiocy. It’s another thing entirely to let your spouse find out about it.
        On Wednesday, I called the tax collector again, and after countless minutes on hold managed to reach an actual person. This was a nice woman named Chris, who echoed Tracy’s belief that the town would automatically resubmit my check and everything would probably be fine. This might take several days to occur, though, and there was no way for her to investigate the status of my payment. I'd simply have to monitor my bank account to see if the check cleared.
        I envisioned spending the next few days anxiously waiting. That prospect alone filled me with dread. When I logged onto my bank account late that evening, though, I discovered that the suspense was over. And not in a good way. A second $36 charge for insufficient funds had appeared in the joint account for the same check. It evidently had been resubmitted to the bank three days before I’d gone in and Tracy had transferred the funds.
        How bad might this be for me? I went onto the town’s Web site and read the fine print. Late payments incurred penalties of 1½ percent per month. What's more, all such penalties would be charged beginning on January 1, when the bill had actually been due, regardless of the fact that we'd been permitted a 30-day grace period, until February 1, to pay it. (Does that seem fair to you?) Although I hadn't discovered the problem until Feb. 7, we would be fully penalized for both months, plus have to pay a $30 returned check fee to the town. Our grand total penalty: $248. That was a pretty hefty price to pay for a slip of the hand. A moment of stupidity. A brain… freeze.
        Whatever you call it, I was in no mood to tell my husband about it. And yet, the more I thought about it – or tried not to think about it – the more it began to eat away at me inside. I had a terrible secret, one that I didn’t want to tell anyone, especially the person I live with.
        witnessstandimage2.jpgAnd if you don’t know what that feels like, let me tell you. I finally understand all those insane characters who abruptly break down and confess to murder on the witness stand on TV shows like Law & Order. Late that night, just before we went to bed, my husband asked me what was wrong. I’d been trying so hard to act normal. But at that moment, my eyes welled up and I began to sob.
        “Sit down,” I blubbered, choking back tears and preparing to be roundly chastised. “I’ve done a really stupid thing.”
        Then I blurted out the whole pathetic saga and braced myself for an explosion.
        He looked at me, and a glimmer of a smile overtook his lips. “That’s it?” he asked.
        I nodded. He shrugged. Then I told him the “brain fart” part. This time, he laughed.
        “You can go down to the town tomorrow and try to argue with them,” he said. “But whatever they say, it’s not exactly the end of the world. It’s just $248. Nobody’s sick. Nobody died. People make mistakes.”
        Maybe he was relieved to hear that this was all I’d meant by “a really stupid thing.” What had he expected me to say – that I’d crashed the car? Blown a fortune in the stock market? Or possibly done something really stupid… like had an extramarital affair?
        Or maybe, just maybe, he was relieved to see me be the family idiot for once. Usually, he’s the fool, the one who has to ‘fess up about losing something important, or having a fender bender, or doing some other dumb-ass thing -- an unequivocal brain fart.
        And usually when he does these foolish things, I don’t merely shrug them off. I’m accusatory and confrontational, not comforting and forgiving. I don’t do well with simple human errors in others, maybe because I have a hard time accepting them in myself.
        Friends may think of me as chronically messy and more than a little disorganized, but I’m actually in most respects the precise opposite -- a detail-obsessed perfectionist. Many years ago, as the young assistant to the managing editor at New York magazine, one of my first jobs, I filled in one night in the production department, giving various pages of the magazine a final once-over before they went to press. I managed to find at least one mistake on every single page I saw – whether a small typo, missing comma, or other tiny error that had been overlooked by the editors, assorted proofreaders and the entire copy-editing staff. After that, I was assigned to serve as the final pair of eyes that viewed every single page that left the office (truly a mixed blessing, since for the next few years I usually had to remain at work until press time, 9 p.m., three nights a week).
        I’m not trying to boast. I’m confessing that I’m an almost compulsive, nitpicking nut.
        As a longtime newspaper reporter, I was preoccupied with accuracy over almost all else. I still am. When my family goes away, I make all of the plans, guaranteeing that we have accommodations, tickets, dinner reservations and directions to everywhere we go. Mistakes? There’s no excuse for them. I'm careful to proofread most emails that I send to friends. Twice.
        But for once my confidence in my infallible accuracy had let me be a little too lax.
So I didn’t make a big stink when I went to the town office the next day and was told that I had no possible recourse. They make no exceptions whatsoever, whether people are unable to pay or just make accidental blunders like mine, which evidently happen all the time. (Then again, I didn’t hesitate to ask Tracy to reverse those two $36 bank charges for being overdrawn, something that she said the manager agreed to do as a courtesy, considering that I’ve been a customer there for over 25 years. They also refunded those two $8.95 inactivity charges about which I'd originally gone in to complain.)
        I still felt that I deserved to be punished in some way, though, for my $248 gaffe. We’d been planning to go to New York City over the weekend to visit our son. I proposed that we stay home instead and save some dough to make up for the loss.
        Doing that, however, would have punished my husband too, and he had no desire to be punished. Nor to remain at home.
        We couldn’t even economize by staying in a cheaper hotel. I had booked a lowly Holiday Inn on Hotels.com for $162. How much cheaper or more déclassé can you get in NYC?
        So we went. For two days, we hung out with our 24-year-old son, Aidan, who seemed to enjoy our company and even be in dire need of some sound parental advice. We ate scrumptious pasta at Lattanzi, a tranquil trattoria on West 46th St., then saw a brilliant new play still in previews at the Manhattan Theatre Club, “Good People,” starring Frances McDormand and written by David Lindsay-Abaire, who won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2007 for “Rabbit Hole.”
        And you know what? Maybe I did deserve to be punished. Or maybe I just need to lighten up and get over myself. I may be a perfectionist, but I’m not perfect. No one is.
        And maybe my husband deserved not just a fun weekend away, but also a medal for putting up with me. Yes, he may be a little disorganized, even fadrayt (we had to drive back to the hotel after we’d checked out because he’d left his hearing aids on the night table… and no, this wasn’t the first time he had misplaced them that week). But I’m the one who’s always ready to reprimand and coldly scold him because I screw up never… or hardly ever.
        And maybe that’s the kind of behavior I should really feel ashamed of, rather than being mortified for committing the occasional careless human error.
        In the future, I’m going to be more careful, if possible. I’ll proofread emails three times. I’ll always check the confirmation page. I may even read my bank statements.
        Of course, on some level I’m still incensed and royally pissed at myself, and I wish I could get that $248 back, if only to donate it to my temple, the Mandell Jewish Community Center, or one of my other favorite charitable recipients (which do not include the town of West Hartford, Connecticut).
        Yet as expensive a screw-up as this one may have been, I’m almost glad I made it. I’m glad that something reasonably harmless happened to remind me once again that, as almost everyone knows, everyone makes mistakes sometimes. (You can bank on it.)
        But mostly I’m glad we didn’t let stupidity stand in the way of having a great time. Now that’s something that would be really stupid. Life is too short.
12:08 am 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Word From the Weiss
        When my son mentioned that he was taking a girl he’d just met to his friend’s gamelan concert, we were not filled with great hope. For one thing, how are you supposed to get to know someone when you’re sitting side by side silently, rather than gazing into one another’s eyes, plying each other with queries about possible mutual tastes, interests and natural proclivities?
        For another thing, gamelan? What the heck is that?
        AidanheadshotDec2010.jpgLest you think we were not entitled to any opinion on these issues, let me explain that a) yes, you’re absolutely right, we should mind our own beeswax, and b) we still felt that we had a slight vested interest in the matter. Last year, you see, my husband and I bought Aidan, who is now 24, a special Valentine’s Day gift. Not the usual scarf or box of hazelnut buttercrunch from Bridgewater Chocolate, our favorite local candy shop. Rather, we surprised (or should I be honest and say ambushed?) him with something else we thought he needed and would really enjoy: a six-month subscription to JDate. (And if you want any more of the gory details, go to “Adventures on JDate,” far right.)
        After his initial shock and bout of blind rage subsided, he actually filled out his personal profile on this popular Jewish dating Web site. Soon after, his lackluster social life picked up so precipitously that a few months later, I took the liberty of renewing his membership… once again without telling him until my credit card had been processed.
        That’s how he had encountered the girl he was taking to this concert. Even so, he had recently mentioned that I should not consider a repeat performance if I valued my life. So we had some small hope that this girl might turn out to be The One. Or at least one of the ones whose company he might enjoy for some extended period of time, until he met The One.
        But first they had to survive what would essentially be a blind first date. Blind date with something called gamelan as the only soundtrack. Whatever happened to meeting at Starbucks? Or for lunch, a drink, or dare I suggest it, dinner?
        gamelanmusicimage3.jpgIn fact, as he explained when he phoned us the next day, he had planned to meet her at the concert, then to take her to dinner after the first half. At intermission, though, she professed to be enjoying it so much that she wanted to stay. (Gamelan, it turns out, is a type of Southeast Asian orchestral music featuring bowed stringed instruments, flutes and a wide assortment of percussion instruments playing very complex rhythms.  Sounds vaguely like Klezmer, with a Balinese bent. So, really, what’s not to like?)
        By the time the show ended, though, it was well past 10 and they were famished. The concert had been held at the Indonesian embassy on East 65th Street, an area not exactly known for being a hotbed of affordable eateries for the young and newly employed. My son assured the girl, though, that he knew the perfect place. He then proceeded to lead her to an ideal spot he'd discovered to take dates, a burger joint known as The Burger Joint, sequestered in the lobby of the posh Parker Meridien hotel and reputed to serve the most mouth-watering hamburgers in Manhattan.
        Upon their arrival, though, she turned to him and uttered three fateful words: “I’m a vegetarian.”
        He gulped as he took in the situation. “Let me assure you then,” he replied grimly, “there’s nothing on the menu here you’ll be able to eat.”
        So they walked back towards Fifth Avenue and began to trek further downtown. By now it was going on 11 p.m., and even in natty New York City many kitchens were already closed. It also was cold out and raining steadily. Neither of them had brought an umbrella, and his date, to his added distress, happened to be wearing extremely high-heeled boots.
        LaGrenouillephoto1.jpgPanicked and feeling far from suave, Aidan resigned himself to settling for the next open restaurant they passed, whatever it might be. There was nothing, though, in sight. So it came as no small relief when they rounded the corner of 52nd Street and he spied an elegantly  curtained storefront with subdued lighting and an attractive white canopy. “We’re eating here,” he declared. Then he took her arm and led her into La Grenouille.
For those of you unfamiliar with the fine dining scene in Manhattan (which, until that moment, decidedly included my son), La Grenouille (which is French for The Frog) is among the fanciest restaurants there or almost anywhere. No, it’s not considered hip or cutting edge. No one dishes in gossip columns about who they spied there last night. Then again, it’s been serving sumptuous soufflés and other classic haute cuisine for nearly half a century. Its most recent review in The New York Times, in 2009, pronounced it “the last great French restaurant in New York City,” thanks to the demise of such other grandes dames as Lutèce and La Côte Basque.
        Although Aidan was not walking around with a Zagat rating book tucked into his pocket, one glance at the plush scarlet banquettes and moneyed clientele said it all. He and his date were already standing in the richly paneled foyer, though, between the mammoth flower arrangements and maitre d’s post. It was pouring outside. There was no turning back.
        LaGrenouillephoto2.jpgSoon they were seated at one of the velvet banquettes – again side by side, but no longer silent. They had an extensive menu to decipher. Some written in English. Some in French. None of it á la carte. La Grenouille only offers a prix fixe meal, a choice of three courses for $95 per person. Excluding beverages, tax and tip, obviously.
        Aidan, as I once mentioned in a previous blog entry, prides himself on having become self-supporting within weeks of graduating from college. At this point, however, the TV show where he works as a production assistant, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, was still on an extended summer break. He was subsisting mostly on unemployment checks and therefore strictly watching his budget. But now he didn’t care.
        Fortunately, while locating a dinner jacket in Aidan’s size to dress up his jeans (de rigueur in this rarified atmosphere), the maitre d’ also had sized up the situation. Aidan and his date would be allowed to share a single $95 meal.
        Since the girl turned out to be more of a pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats fish), but also kosher, they chose to forego Les Ravioles de Homard a l’Estragon (lobster and tarragon ravioli) in favor of the Blini au Tartare de Saumon et Caviar Americain (which was essentially potato pancakes with lox and a little caviar). They similarly had to opt for the only fish choice offered, grilled Dover sole with mustard sauce. This carried a $14.50 surcharge. Then again, Aidan was absolved from springing for anything from the impressive wine list, which ranged in price from $60 to $590 a bottle. The girl could only drink kosher wine, which they didn’t stock at any price.
        All the food was so delectable, though, and the setting and service so impeccable, that it might be argued that this experience came at a bargain. Especially if you factor in the expression on his date’s face, which, from the way Aidan described it and I imagine it, was lit up with delirium. She was an attractive girl, he said, but roughly the same age. How likely was it that any guy had ever taken her to such a palace, even on a first date?
        chocolatecakeimage1.jpgBy the time they had polished off the last crumbs of Gateau au Chocolat Americain et Fruit de la Passion (chocolate cake with a passion fruit coulis), she was gazing at him with undisguised rapture. Then the moment of truth arrived. The check came with not only a space to enter a tip for the legion of waiters who had attended to their every need, but also a gratuity for the captain. Yet another moment of panic. Who the heck was that?
        The girl whipped out her smart phone, which suggested adding 10 percent on this line, along with the requisite 20 percent for the rest of the wait staff’s fine service. Still, Aidan summoned the kind fellow who had taken their order. He feared making any faux pas.
        “Monsieur, I am zee capitaine!” the head waiter cried, clearing up the final mystery.
        waiterimage1.jpgWhat Aidan had no doubt about whatsoever was that he was going to pick up the entire check. This was a first date, after all, and if there's one social convention that's universally accepted, it's this: No matter where you go, on a first date the gentleman always pays.
        Although Aidan didn’t specify, the damage by my calculation was just over $150 (in addition to the price of the concert tickets, for which he shelled out $20 apiece).
        Outside, the rain had mercifully subsided, and the girl suggested walking around until they found a bar, where she sprang for a round of drinks to express her gratitude. Then, since she lived in a different borough, he found her a cab and sent her home. Evidently, she had good enough breeding (and a Jewish enough sensibility) to text him when she had arrived safely, and to add that she’d had a great time and hoped to see him again.
         “So?” my husband and I queried, almost in unison. “Are you going to see her again?”
        Aidan paused on the other end of the phone line, then uttered three discouraging words. Actually, more like two words and a grunt. “Eh, I dunno.”
        He proceeded to explain that the night had gone so perfectly from start to finish (the rain and rather hefty pricetag notwithstanding) that he was afraid to see the girl again, lest anything that followed undermine the memory of it all.
        On the contrary, I argued, not hearing from him ever again was guaranteed to sully her memory of the experience. Also, as far as I could see, the entire point of being so extravagant on a date was to guarantee that a girl would want to see him again.
        This attitude had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that this girl was an aspiring journalist, and she’d expressed an inordinate amount of interest during the date in meeting me and plying me for career advice. I understand perfectly well that the only significant thing in his choosing a possible girlfriend is that he feel a strong personal connection with her, not that she happen to have a great deal in common with, say, his mother.
        Then again, I must admit, she sounded to me like a very nice girl. A very, very nice girl.
        She was so nice, in fact, that in the end, I believe, she suggested their next date. This time they met in her neck of the woods. And although he was paying once again, this time they ate at a diner. In place of red velvet banquettes, there was presumably a vinyl booth. Instead of Dover sole, hearty diner fare like meatloaf and eggplant parm.
        No captain. No cachet.
        Could these be the only reasons that the magic was suddenly gone?
        Afterwards, he once again declared his resolve to cease and desist from using JDate.
        Aidan blamed that decision not on this particular girl, but rather the forthrightness of all the girls he seemed to meet on this Jewish dating site, the modern-day answer to the matchmaker. They referred too readily to how many children they hope to have and similar expectations, he said. They made it clear that they weren’t out to meet a nice guy. They were foraging for a fiancé. And at the ripe old age of 24, he couldn’t have that level of commitment much further from his mind.
        He feels even more offended, though, by a strong strain of materialism he's detected in the girls he's met -- and although this may not be exclusive to our religion, he’s met all of them on JDate. Young women today expect to go out to extremely nice places, he says, and they expect the man automatically to pick up the check for almost everything. They’ll suggest a pricey restaurant, then order two rounds of drinks, which can run upwards of 60 bucks without anyone eating so much as a blini, let alone eggplant parm.
        And as much as he was the one who chose that French restaurant, and he was more than happy to take a night off from his usual frugality and spring for something truly special, in most cases he ends up feeling that women are taking advantage of him. With the exception of the drinks that this girl bought, no one ever reaches for her debit card when the check arrives, even when she's gainfully employed and knows that he’s out of work. (His TV job finally resumed last week. But who knows if his active dating has?)
        This makes me think back to the days when I was single and living in New York. Having grown up with an older brother and overheard too many conversations in which his friends lamented that they'd spent a whole lot of dough on a date and then “gotten nothing off the girl,” I was fundamentally opposed to letting men routinely pay for me on dates. (What part of me might they imagine they were buying? Who or what did they think I was?) If I was asked out by someone who made a substantially higher salary than I did, and he chose to eat somewhere I couldn’t afford, I’d attempt to reciprocate in the future by cooking him dinner or paying for something within my budget, like movie tickets. Or other goods. (No services!)
        This brings to mind an article I once wrote about dating etiquette for a special issue of New York magazine entitled "Single in the City." Along with exploring who was doing the asking and how soon people were engaging in sex, I investigated which gender typically paid for eveSingleintheCitycover2.jpgnings out. This entailed interviewing dozens of New Yorkers about “how to play the dating game when the rules no longer apply.”
        The consensus among the men was nearly unanimous: Most women had jobs now and should also have the decency to carry their own weight on dates, at least occasionally. “It’s archaic to expect the man to pay all the time,” said Henry Goldman, then a 32-year-old TV reporter/producer. “But the reality is that men end up paying more often than not.”
        A young management consultant confessed that when his dates failed to ante up, he wasn’t shy about prodding. “If a woman doesn’t offer, I come right out and say, ‘I’ll get this one, you get the next,’ he said. “That way you settled the question and set up a principle for future operations.”
        Only one man (the one I was dating at the time) expressed discomfort with having a woman pay, adding that her insistence on doing so put him on his guard. “It suggests she’ll be insistent about other things as well,” he explained.
      What put women on their guard? “Stingy men,” said a former model who complained that a man had once arrived for a date and announced, “Sorry, Chemical Bank ate my card.” (Sounds eerily like someone I once dated too, so maybe it was just a common scam.)
        All of the other women I interviewed were ready and willing to share the bill. As one, a lending officer at a large bank, noted, “When I’m earning as high a salary as most of the men I go out with, I feel funny having them pay my way.”
        The incredible thing is that this story was called “An Etiquette for the Eighties,” and it ran back in January of 1982, nearly three decades ago. Has society taken a giant step backwards since then, in terms of gender equality? Where’s Gloria Steinem when we need her? And is it possible that my future daughter-in-law is somewhere out there, yet my son will let her walk on by because a Capital One card is what’s in her wallet, and that’s where it remains?
        OK, let’s scratch that last remark. Although I may not keep it much of a secret that I’d prefer he date and eventually marry a Jewish girl, we’re not anywhere close to the second part of that equation yet. Nor should we be. My husband and I met on a blind date on Valentine’s Day in 1982 (a month after I wrote that story). But at the time he was 37.
        Meanwhile, as NiceJewishMom.com, I dread hearing anything about young women today that gives credence to the stereotype of the so-called Jewish American Princess. Then again, I trust my son implicitly and have no reason to believe he’s exaggerating, or complaining unfairly, or possibly making any of these stories up.
        And having heard his tale of that exquisitely romantic date, I know he isn’t stingy.
        I’m also taking his word for it when it comes to his JDate membership, which has since expired. This Valentine’s Day, he’s getting – you guessed it – a very nice scarf. Maybe a gamelan CD, if I can find one. Probably some chocolates too.
       But when it comes to his dating, there is no doubt, I’m bowing out. He is zee capitaine.
12:19 am 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Word From the Weiss
I mean no offense to the medical profession – some of my best friends are doctors. Seriously. But when it comes to diagnosing almost any illness, I believe that mother knows best.
        And by “mother,” I mean me.
        So when my husband came home yesterday horrified to have learned that he had a hernia, I reacted with little if any rachmones (that’s Yiddish for compassion and pity). After all, I’d told him that it was a hernia two weeks ago, when he first started kvetching about the pain and mysterious bulge in his lower abdomen. (And, believe me, that was not a lewd remark I just made, or some sort of double entendre; this bulge was not that low.)
        maninpain2painted.jpgHe instantly dismissed my expert opinion on the grounds that a) his doctor’s office, albeit the nurse practitioner there rather than a full-fledged doctor, had pronounced his ailment to be just a pulled muscle, something that would heal on its own, and b) the last he’d heard, I don’t have a medical degree. So when he went for a second opinion and came home doubled over with pain and self-pity, having learned that he indeed needed surgery, my reaction was somewhat lacking in surprise or sympathy.
        As I’ve noted before, the expression has always been “nice Jewish mother.” Who’s ever heard of a nice Jewish wife?
        In my defense, I’d like to point out that his having a hernia wasn’t news to me. Rather, I’d fully digested his predicament two weeks ago. Also, he’d walked out of the house that very morning fully erect (again, I’m referring to his body position, nothing kinky). All that had changed, to my knowledge, was his knowledge. What is it about getting a diagnosis that makes an illness or injury seem to hurt more?
        In retrospect, maybe I shoulda/woulda/coulda lingered a little longer over the horror and awfulness of his pain and suffering. Then again, there was this nagging sense that his malady wasn’t exactly an unavoidable accident incurred in the line of some noble husbandly duty (by which l mean shoveling a few more feet of snow, not… you know). Rather, it was another casualty in a long line of self-induced injuries resulting from his tendency to exercise excessively, despite our advancing age (leading him to need two hip replacements in the past two years). I’ve also spent so much time taking care of ill or injured family members in recent years (including him after those hip replacements) that I can’t help feeling I deserve time off for some very good behavior.
        Then there was the understandable sense of satisfaction I felt that, despite my supposed lack of credentials, someone was finally acknowledging my medical acumen. And by “someone,” I mean him. (Not that he’s actually given me the satisfaction of admitting it.)
        This is not to suggest that I have any regrets about my career path, or that if I had my life to live over again, I’d live it as an MD. Med school never even crossed my mind. I may socialize with many a physician, but I’m almost phobic about seeing them professionally. In fact, it was only by coincidence, and relentless pressure from my husband, a devotee of medical procedures and diagnostic tests, that I went to the doctor yesterday, too.
        Drsofficeimage1a.jpgThere was nothing acute precipitating this visit. In fact, I felt sheepish about going, considering that I felt fine and couldn’t complain of as much as a splinter. I’d scheduled an annual physical exam a year ago, though. And as much as I hate to look for trouble  -- and to be lectured again about my “bad” cholesterol, let alone my “good” cholesterol – I’d also rather be safe than sorry.
       Before I could get comfortable in the waiting room and crack open a wildly outdated and probably unsanitary copy of Time, I was summoned into a cubicle-sized exam room and asked to submit to the usual indignities: stepping onto a prehistoric, rickety scale, then stripping down to my undies while trying to remember whether to leave the gown open in the front or back. (If you’re going to have to disrobe and face a fully dressed physician while you’re wearing only a shapeless, cotton schmatta, couldn’t you at least be weighed after removing your street clothes, which, based on the difference between your girth at home and in the doctor’s office, apparently tip the scales at eight pounds?)
        Despite my own personal assessment that I felt good and deserved a clean bill of health, I braced myself for any awful surprises that my blood work or urinalysis might reveal. It turned out that the results hadn’t come in from the lab yet, though, to my mixed frustration and delight (frustration because I hadn’t had a thing to eat or drink between midnight and noon the previous Saturday, so my blood could be drawn at fasting level; delight that now I’d be spared the usual lecture about cholesterol, both good and bad.)
        Drsofficeimage2.jpgGiven that the annual is a once yearly exam, though, and that my doctor is a meticulously thorough man with a humanistic bent, he always supplements his battery of tests with a barrage of probing questions. Regardless of my resting blood pressure, he wants to know what the rest of my life is like – how I’ve been spending my time, how often I talk to friends and family members, and even whether I’m still walking my dog.
        So, as irrelevant as it might seem to my health, I began telling him about this blog. It’s something I’d wanted to do for years, I explained, but had never managed to undertake because I didn’t have the time. Since starting it in September, I’d learned that it ate up far more time than I’d even anticipated and often kept me up late at night. Yet somehow in the ensuing months I’d found the time and added energy not only to write it but also to add all sorts of other activities to my life. Along with doing Zumba and eating out with friends every Monday, I was learning to play bridge on Wednesdays and Fridays with women from my book club. I’d also just joined a writer’s group with a friend.
        bridgeplayersimage2.jpgAs I described these activities, I found myself growing more and more animated. He took copious notes, then pointed out that I’d not only lost five pounds since last year but seemed to be in a better condition and frame of mind than he had seen me in years.
        “At your last two annual exams, you appeared listless and without direction,” he observed, reviewing last year's notes. “You complained of having no purpose and nothing to do but worry about your children, even though they had grown up and were no longer living at home.” Now, instead, I seemed enthusiastic and suddenly full of life. His expert diagnosis: I was actually, for the first time that he could remember, happy.
        And I abruptly realized that, without even trying, I’d hit upon the universal cure-all: vitamin B. Not “B” for Blogging, or Book group, or even playing Bridge (although the last one seems to keep many a retiree alive and kicking with senility possibly at bay). Whatever your taste or temperament, whether you’re Jewish or Gentile, in sickness or in perfect health, young, old, or middle-aged, there’s nothing quite like it. I’m talking about keeping Busy.
        That was something my late mother-in-law often counseled, and she lived to be nearly 95.
        Thinking about this brought to mind something that happened to me in my mid-20s. Although I was living in New York City, I was lonely because I couldn’t seem to meet anyone close to my perfect match. Rather than holding out for Mr. Right, though, I decided to go out with anyone who asked me and seemed reasonably nice. Maybe these people’s charms would eventually begin to grow on me. Or, at the very least, going out with someone had to be better than staying home alone.
        Most of the men I met didn’t grow on me with time, but a realization did. The more fellows I began to date, the more that would ask me out. When I finally met my husband-to-be, I was seeing 10 other young men at once. (I mean dating them, and only dating them, as in dinner and/or a movie; before I became NiceJewishMom, I was a nice Jewish girl.) I’m not saying I was a knock-out, by any stretch of the imagination. Nor did 10 men I wasn’t crazy about add up to one true love. But I was so busy going out -- and I felt so good about myself because for the first time in my life I felt, as trite as it may sound, popular -- that against my nature, I was happy. And happy is irresistible. Or so it was to Bachelor No. 11, whom I met 29 years ago this month and married.BachelorNo11.jpg
        I’m not sure if any of the new activities I’ve adopted are exactly right for me. More often than not, I don’t end up liking the selections that my book club chooses to read. My writer’s group has been snowed out for the past two meetings, so it can’t seem to get off the ground. And as much as I’ve been playing bridge twice a week for months, I still don’t love it or even get it and am not sure I’ll keep playing when the lessons end. Guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
        Yet filling up my plate with activities, and even better, people to do those activities with, has given me a fuller life and therefore a more pleasurable one. Yes, there are times when I feel guilty now because I don’t have time to take a phone call from a friend or even one of my kids because I’m late for a meeting or just have too much to do. Then again, my kids and friends are better off talking to me less and having me more upbeat. Usually they’re just calling to complain, anyway, but who wants to hear someone complain back?
          Unfortunately, now that I feel good, I’m also less willing to listen to other people complain. And I’m less eager to help lift my husband’s spirits now that he has a hernia (although I’d happily lift the suitcases and put them in the car if he wants to take a trip).
       matzahballsouppicture2.jpg Maybe that disqualifies me from being Dr. Mom, but not from dispensing medical advice. I’d just counsel everyone to take two matzah balls and call me in the morning. Jewish mother’s orders. (Also, don’t lift anything too heavy. You could get a hernia!)
        As for my own recent visit to the doctor, I realize now that I went in reluctantly because I feared that I might get a terrible surprise. It never occurred to me that the surprise I got might be a welcome one, and I’d be told I’m even healthier than I thought. Just hearing that made me feel even better. I only wish, in a way, that I had an actual job. When you’re a blogger, you can’t really call in sick. So how can I possibly call in well?
10:30 am 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

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