|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
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.
My 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
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.”
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.
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.
Among 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 many 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
A SPOILED ROTTEN PORTUGUESE WATER DOG LIVES HERE.
Or so one did, up until the Friday night before last.
I 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.
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.
Soon 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
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.
Then, 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?
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.
He 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
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.
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’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”
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.
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.
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?
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.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
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.
Indeed, 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
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
“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.”
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.”
I 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
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.
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.
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.
And 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.”
I blurted out the whole pathetic saga and braced myself for an explosion.
looked at me, and a glimmer of a smile overtook his lips. “That’s it?” he asked.
He shrugged. Then I told him the “brain fart” part. This time, he laughed.
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
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.
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.”
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
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.
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
For another thing, gamelan? What the heck is that?
Lest 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?
In 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
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.
Panicked 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.
Soon 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.
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.
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?
By 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.
What 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.
my husband and I queried, almost in unison. “Are you going to see her again?”
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.
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.
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
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 evenings out. This entailed interviewing dozens of New Yorkers about “how to play the dating game when the rules no longer
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
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.”
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.”
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.
when it comes to his dating, there is no doubt, I’m bowing out. He is zee capitaine.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
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.
“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.)
He 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.)
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.
There 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.)
Given 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.
As 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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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?
|That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.
No, sir, that's not
my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring
ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible
need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime
delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the
dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in
their 20s, both are currently living on their
own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a
day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to
the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally
wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials
for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh
mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah
balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions,
from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I
can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can
barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active
mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging
times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!
|LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
In coming weeks, I will continue
posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often,
and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together):
That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New