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Thursday, December 29, 2011


3:32 pm 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Word From the Weiss

menorah3.jpg        Chhhhh-appy Chanukah to all my readers! Well, as happy as it can be, anyway. It’s not as though we ever get to enjoy the treats and trappings of our own December holiday in peace. Never mind having most cities in the Western World and your entire surrounding neighborhood lit up like Mardi Gras, and a continuous soundtrack of insipid Muzak-al tidings of comfort and joy blaring over the P.A. in the supermarket and mall. What irks me most is that every TV talk show I watch suddenly has a one-track mind, offering tips on how to cook for holidays parties, dress up for holiday parties, and use dryer lint, buttons and felt to make everything in your house look like a snowman, Santa or sleigh (and other such crafty sleights of hand in which I don’t have the slightest interest).FeltFrosty.jpg
For me, holiday decorating consists solely of finding and de-waxing the menorah. And I don’t know about you, but as a Jew I haven’t thrown or been invited to a single holiday party since the first Bush Administration.
But I don’t mean to sound like such a party-pooper or Jewish Scrooge. (A Jewge?) For in fact, regardless of the holidays, the past week has featured more than enough parties for one nice Jewish mama, along with all the attendant preparations and drama.AllegraandStevoinLA.jpg
The saga started last Tuesday morning, when my daughter Allegra called to report that Stevo, her boyfriend, had announced that he wasn’t coming for New Year’s Eve. My recollection was that after he had moved to L.A. in October for a great job, she had agreed to fly out for Thanksgiving and he would join her in New York for New Year’s. Now it had turned out that his family was going away for the holidays and would not be back until January 2. He would try to visit her for a few days after that, but she’d be back at work by then, and the intrinsic romance of the Eve itself would already have passed.
Allegra tried not to sound too disappointed, but I could tell she was feeling glum. She had long resigned herself to the fact that her boyfriend was going to miss her 22nd birthday over last weekend, as well. As often happens with people born in December, half of her friends couldn’t make the party either because they had more pressing engagements, like final exams, flying home for the holidays or an early Hanukkah dinner at Grandma’s.PattieandHarlanheadshot.jpg
Why, my husband and I weren’t even going to be in New York to take her out, since we had to attend an engagement party for some close friends’ daughter (not that Allegra actually would have wanted her parents at her party, which was slated for 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturday night and intended for her much younger and hipper friends).
As any mother would understand, the last thing you want is for your child to be feeling downhearted and disappointed, particularly on his or her birthday. So I spent much of that afternoon mulling over how I might help in some way. And suddenly, it came to me. An inspiration. Well, make that a slightly far-fetched but fully do-able plan.Mysteryguestimage.jpg
Allegra had already posted invitations on Facebook, so there was no way for her party to be a surprise. But what if it were livened up by the appearance of a surprise guest? A surprise guest who would truly be a surprise? And I knew just who it could be.AlessandraLevywithnosepiercing.jpg
Back when Allegra was first applying to music colleges, a sort of musical comedy of errors ensued. Another girl her age who was also an aspiring jazz singer had applied to all of the same schools. And throughout the application process and live auditions, people had kept mixing the two of them up. It wasn’t just that my daughter (below, right) is named Allegra Colette Levy and this girl (at left) happened to be named Alessandra Gabrielle Levy. They also actually looked alarmingly alike, with similar facial features and physiques.Allegrahappywithoutpizza.jpg
The situation resolved when Allegra eventually entered New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and Alessandra wound up at the University of Miami. So never did the twain actually meet.AlessandraLevyanddogcropped.jpg
        They had remained Facebook friends over the years, though, and Allegra mentioned her periodically, often showing me photos at which we would truly marvel. (Why, as if bizarre coincidences would never cease, Alessandra’s family dog, left, even looked almost exactly like our late dog Zoe!)Zoesilhouetted.jpg
        So we began to sometimes refer to my daughter’s near clone as “Bizarro Allegra,” after a memorable episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine befriends a new group of guys who are strangely inverted versions of her customary Seinfeld cohorts. Then there was that other famous episode in which George, played by Jason Alexander, keeps proclaiming with increasing distress that when different aspects of your life begin to intersect, like Relationship George and Independent George, the earth will blow up. “Worlds collide, Jerry! Worlds collide!”Seinfeldcastsilhouetted.jpg
If I could get Alessandra to make an appearance at my daughter’s birthday party, I thought it would cause the opposite of distress. Allegra would be amazed and delighted. I also believed it wouldn’t be all that hard to orchestrate this sort of a world collision. After graduating last May, both girls had moved to New York to pursue their singing careers, yet never had managed to quite get their acts together to come face to face (although Allegra’s good friends Aubrey and Katie had run into Alessandra one night). All I would have to do was contact Alessandra. And these days, that would be a snap.
Or more like a click. After all, she and Allegra had remained friends on Facebook, and along with being Allegra’s devoted nice Jewish mom, I was one of her “friends” too.facebookmaillogo.jpg
I didn’t think it would work for me to try to “friend” Alessandra too, out of the blue. Instead, I sent her a private message, although (being a bit of a novice about Facebook protocol) I wasn’t certain it would reach her if we weren’t already connected. I explained this in my missive, noting that I was Allegra’s mom and had something I needed to ask her. “Don’t worry,” I concluded, “this is nothing weird or skeevy. I am really Allegra’s mom.”
Soon after sending this, I began to panic, wondering if I’d gone over the line or lost my mind. As much as I thought this was an inspired scheme, I realized it was more than a little intrusive into my daughter’s business. Should a woman of 22 really have her mother insinuating herself into her private life and issuing party invitations on her behalf?
But when I got a reply within a few hours, I also realized there was no turning back.Smilelyfaceimage.jpg
“Hi! How are you?” Alessandra asked, inserting a little smiley face, which I found more than a little encouraging. “Nice to virtually meet you.”
So nice to meet you too -- Allegra's virtual twin!” I replied. “I know it is insane that I wrote to you, but I had this sudden impulse this afternoon. Let me explain.” Then I laid out the whole sad saga, about the absent long-distance boyfriend, the many friends who couldn’t make Allegra’s party, and her understandable malaise. “I had this crazy idea that if you were around, maybe you could be a surprise guest,” I concluded. “I know you two have never met, but still… I could give you the address. Are you possibly around?”
To my great embarrassment, I couldn’t figure out whether this message had gone through. It disappeared, and I thought I’d lost it, so I painstakingly reconstructed it and pressed “send” again. Then I felt like a total fool when minutes later it appeared in print in duplicate. “Sorry,” I wrote in the apology I sent explaining this.  “I can’t do Facebook. I’m just a mom.”
No problem. She responded – in singular – in minutes. “Yes, I should be around!” she wrote, punctuating this with another smiley face, which assured me that no offense or annoyance had been taken; after all, she no doubt had a middle-aged mother, too. “I’ll bring a roommate,” she added, noting that she lived only three stops away on the subway.Rooseveltislandtramimage.jpg
“You're kidding!” I wrote back, overjoyed. “That's amazing!” I noted that I’d planned to suggest she bring a friend.  (After all, it seemed unreasonable to expect her to show up alone at a party where she would know no one, or to travel around late at night without an escort.)
Then I continued to natter on. “I’ll figure out the details so that you have no trouble getting in (although, honestly, I think the doorman would think you were her... or her twin),” I said. “Do you know how to get to Roosevelt Island” Then I gave the address, adding that my son, Allegra's older brother, would be there and a number of her friends, mostly other musicians and singers.
Perhaps I should have left well enough alone at that point, but I’m someone who likes to see to every possible detail because I always worry that things will fall through. So I wrote yet again, giving landmarks to find Allegra’s apartment and supplying my son’s cell phone number in case she ran into any trouble, as well as Allegra’s cell number and my own. “Thanks for doing this!” I concluded. “She will be thrilled!”AlessandraLevywithstarnecklace.jpg
I myself was ecstatic, believing that I had deftly and single-handedly orchestrated what was either a very novel surprise and/or one of the greatest party gags imaginable. I began to envision the look on my daughter’s face when her door suddenly opened on Saturday night and in walked… her face!
Then again, I’m not just a mother first and foremost. I’m also an obsessive worrier. So when Alessandra failed to reply or acknowledge either of my last two messages, and days passed, I began to fret. Why had I blabbered on so much and shown myself to be such a noodge? Every one of my notes to her had been an excessively lengthy and chatty paragraph, almost a novel, even without the inclusion of smiley faces and other such “emoticons.” Each of her responses, however sweet, had been short, no more than a phrase or two.AllegrainIndiadressheadonly.jpg
Had I come across as such a nut job that she had come to realize she should flee for her life and not get involved with my family because I would clearly never leave her alone?
Or, even more likely, wasn’t it highly possible, given the holiday season, that as the week progressed she would get other offers for Saturday night, or she’d come down with a cold, or her mother would make her go to Grandma’s for dinner, or she’d fail to convince a friend to accompany her on this mission and ultimately decide not to go? (Sorry to sound like such a worrywart, but as you can see, just as I leave no stone unturned when I make arrangements, I leave no roadblock unconsidered when I fret.)
If I wrote back to her again over the following days, though, with a gentle reminder, wouldn’t this annoy her even further and potentially become a self-fulfilling prophesy?
Given all of these potential ways in which my scheme might fall through, I decided not to mention anything to Allegra. Yes, it might perk her up a bit to know that a surprise was in store for her that weekend. But how much more crestfallen she would then feel if the surprise never actually arrived. There was also the possibility that she would begin to imagine that the surprise was that Stevo was coming, after all. Or that perhaps I had overestimated the potential positive impact of this little thrill I’d tried to arrange.HarlanatMoonstruckDiner2.JPG
Then again, I had reason to believe that I hadn’t misjudged this at all. When I couldn’t stand to keep my plan to myself any longer, I let it slip to my husband that I’d procured a surprise guest. I declined to reveal this person’s identity because I didn’t want to risk having him let anything about it slip to Allegra. But of course he proceeded to barrage me with 20 questions, or at least 18 (a nice Jewish number).
Was it someone with whom she had gone to college? High school? Elementary school? Camp? No, no, no and no.
Was this an old friend? A new friend? A Gentile friend? A Jew friend? Or, as Dr. Seuss might put it, did she meet her in a house? Did she meet her with a mouse? Did she meet her in a box? Did she meet her eating lox?SamIAmwithgreeneggsandham2.jpg
They hadn’t been in any plays together I said, or ever shared a stage together. They hadn’t met on any of our vacations or on her Birthright trip to Israel last summer. They hadn’t worked together or flown together or done anything else known together. Why, I finally confessed, they had never even met.
Why would Allegra want someone she had never met to come to her birthday party, unless it was someone famous, and why would someone famous want to come?
Then, suddenly, lightning stuck. “Unless, of course, it has to do with the way that person LOOKS! Or could it be her NAME?" At which point my face turned so red that I had to drop the charade.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“I’m not stupid,” he replied.
        As we all know now, (nice Jewish) Father never, or rarely ever, knows best.
“Yeah, you kind of are,” I said. “Then again, if you managed to figure this out, maybe that means it actually makes sense, so it wasn’t such a dumb idea after all.”
The hard part was convincing him not to breathe one word about it to Allegra, although when she sounded despondent, he couldn’t resist urging her to buck up because “you never know what’s going to happen. Maybe you’ll get a nice surprise.”AidanatMoonstruckDinercropped.jpg
Further corroboration that my plan wasn’t crazy came when I dared to clue my son in toward the end of the week. I figured that he had better know, since Alessandra had his number. Although I once again tried to let my mystery guest’s name remain just that – a mystery – he, too, proceeded to bombard me with questions. (Did she meet her on a train? Did she meet her on a plane?) But, somehow, he also managed to figure it out.
“Oh, God, Allegra’s really going to flip,” Aidan assured me, agreeing that this was a sure way to liven up the party. So historic a meeting was so compelling, in fact, that he thought he would probably be able to lure other people there just to witness it.
He also proceeded to tell me about a boy he’d seen around campus throughout his years of college who could have been his identical twin, with one very minor exception: This talented theater student was unquestionably and unabashedly gay (not that there’s ANYTHING wrong with it, as Seinfeld, and now the U.S. military, would say). So many of Aidan’s friends noticed the astonishing resemblance, in fact, that they repeatedly reported sightings of this boy and eventually made up a name for him, which Aidan was a little abashed to relay to me, and I am more than a little abashed to repeat to you. (OK, my sincere apologies to anyone who may be offended by this, but they called him “Gaydan.”)Aidan1andtoopinkandblackshirts.jpg
        Finally, at the end of their senior year, Aidan dared to approach this classmate, who seemed totally perplexed and failed to see any resemblance. As supporting evidence of his own claim, Aidan emailed me photos of the fellow appearing in a play. And I can honestly assure you, this boy looked exactly like my son. Or almost exactly. He was Aidan, only… Well, you get the picture (not that there’s anything wrong with it).
But you simply will have to take my word for it because he forwarded the photos to me only on the strict condition that I promise not to post them on my blog.
Meanwhile, as the week progressed, other elements of drama developed. After Stevo had let Allegra down about New Year’s, I’d begun to wonder, I must confess, if he would at least manage to get a gift to her in time for her birthday. Not that I’m a materialistic person, mind you; it’s the thought that counts, as they say, and as a parent it was evidence that my daughter’s boyfriend not only was thinking about her but also cared enough to think ahead that counted. And in this case, he’d have to think way ahead. This is a busy time of year for UPS and its ilk, to say the least. Also, given that her birthday fell on Sunday, and that few of those services deliver on weekends, it would need to arrive by Friday or else.largeboximage.jpg
So I was delighted when she called on Friday morning to report that a large box had just arrived, although Stevo had insisted that she wait two days until her birthday to open it. He’d also confessed in the same breath that he hadn’t gotten her anything especially nice this year, but vowed to do better next year. She had an irresistible urge to tear it open nonetheless, and then proceeded to periodically text me about this sense of unbearable temptation throughout the day. Could she open it anyway? Couldn’t she?
Finally, that evening, just as we were about to leave the house a little late to meet some friends at a restaurant for dinner, she called with the final result, which, given the suspense and length of her rather detailed account, immediately made us even later.bubblewrap.jpg
Stevo had finally given her the go-ahead, and she’d pried open this very large box. Inside, she had found a very large quantity of bubble wrap.
She pulled out all of the bubble wrap, and toward the bottom of the box, she finally came across a wad of rather tacky and badly wrinkled old Christmas wrapping paper.
Inside the wrapping paper, there was a ball of crumpled up newspapers.Tiffanysbluebox2.jpg
Inside the newspapers, there was a small box. A very small, pale blue box.
A very small pale blue box from Tiffany & Co.
And inside this box there was a lovely, bean-shaped, sterling silver pendant, a classic design by Elsa Peretti, on a delicate silver chain, which (judging from the photo she proceeded to text) had already taken up permanent residence around her neck.AllegrawithTiffanysnecklace.JPG
Allegra is not a materialistic person by nature, though, either, and the thing that touched her heart like a torch igniting a bonfire was the amazing poem that Stevo had written for her and enclosed with all of that bubble wrap and the necklace. But she didn’t send a copy of it, and probably never will, so we all will simply have to take her word for it.
She seemed so exhilarated, in fact, that I relaxed a bit, realizing that this might turn out to be an OK birthday for her after all, even if my surprise guest didn’t come through.
By Saturday, though, I began to fret anew. It had now been four days since I’d heard from Alessandra. Should I send her a gentle reminder and ask if we were still on? Or hold my tongue and my tendency to blabber and just trust that the stars would align?
Finally, just before leaving for the engagement party, I wrote her another message. “At the risk of annoying you, dare I ask if you're still coming to Allegra's party?” I asked. I also appended a snippet from the party invitation that Allegra had posted on Facebook:UglyChristmassweaterwithflamingoes.jpg
        "There will be festive holiday drinks, too much food, and a potential jam session if the spirits are high. Festive attitudes are appropriate, but tacky Christmas sweaters are not. EVER."
Then I prepared myself for the worst. But within minutes, a response appeared: “yep probably be there sometime between 11-12,” it said.
“Fabulous,” I wrote back. “You are the best! The best friend she's never met!!!!! Yet!”
I assumed mine would be the final word and didn’t expect her to return the ball. But one more quick volley from my daughter’s double followed. “i told her back in the summer after having met aubrey and katie that if we met the world would explode haha. we'll see when it happens tonight.” Indeed.StephanieFechtorandBriansilhouetted.jpg
Given my level of breathless anticipation, it was a little tough taking off moments later for the engagement party, as thrilled as I was for my friends Amy and Rich and their bride-to-be, Stephanie, who looked radiant and breathless with anticipation herself. Still, how touching it was to be there as Rich eloquently and very emotionally gave a heartfelt toast, “standing on my grandmother’s rug… on what was my parents’ wedding anniversary… announcing my daughter’s engagement.” Talk about worlds colliding!RichFechtor.jpg
It was tougher still making it through the rest of the day and night, wondering what was happening at Allegra’s party. I had been fantasizing all week that she would phone me after the big surprise and ask how I had pulled it off. But 11 p.m. came and went. Then midnight. Then 1 a.m. And the phone didn’t ring, once. There wasn’t even a text.
Finally, at 1:45 even a night owl like me could keep her eyes open no longer. Knowing that Allegra’s party was slated to run till 3 a.m., though, I figured that she would sleep late the next morning and, as eager as we’d be to wish her a happy birthday, I didn’t want to risk waking her. So I fired off a text message asking her to let us know when she woke up.
Seconds later, the phone rang. “What are you doing up so late?” she asked. Then, before I could even answer, she began shrieking excitedly. “Oh my God, guess who’s here!” Followed up by, “So, how did you ever do it?”dooropeningimage.jpg
Evidently, after 11:30, Aidan had starting growing skeptical that Alessandra would ever arrive (or maybe he just couldn't stand the suspense any longer) and he had mentioned to Allegra that a surprise guest was expected. But if that person didn’t ever show up, he said, he would tell her who was supposed to have come. Just before midnight, though, the door burst open. There was no knock. The doorbell didn't ring. She simply walked in with not one but two male friends, to Allegra’s complete shock and the amazement of everyone present.
Alessandra was still there when we spoke at 1:45 a.m., and the party, which managed to continue past 3, was a resounding success. Everyone, by all accounts, had an incredible time.
        So, up close, did the girls actually look that much alike? You don’t need to take my word for it. You don’t need to take Allegra’s either (although she was incredulous). Many of the photos snapped went up on Facebook that very night. Take a look for yourself!AlessandraandAllegra.jpg
What would you say – separated at birth? The same eyes. The same mouth. Almost the same hair and nose.
Clearly, they could be sisters. In fact, when Allegra announced that they were joking about starting a girls’ singing group, my good friend Catherine came up with the perfect name -- The Levy Sisters (like the Lennon Sisters, only more, er, Jewish… although Allegra says that Alessandra is only part Jewish and was not raised that way).
        Catherine also had a
nother, alternate name for the band: Worlds Collide.PattieatBombayOlive.jpg
Meanwhile, I just came across another young soulful singer online named Jennifer Levy who is evidently from Canada but is trying to establish a music career for herself in New York. Maybe she could round out the trio. Or who knows? Maybe, just in case Stevo doesn’t do better next year by actually showing up, I just might have another little surprise up my sleeve.SamIAmwithGreenEggsandHam.jpg
        Or perhaps, for once, I should learn to quit while I'm ahead.
Aidan has already made me swear that I won’t attempt to get in touch with his own doppelganger and pull this kind of a stunt when his birthday rolls around.
(“I do not like surprises, Ma’am. I do not like them, NiceJewishMom.com-I-am!”)

9:46 pm 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Word From the Weiss
        As we enter the final stretch of another year – yet again!  -- it’s time to count our blessings for all that we have and start formulating strategies to be better next year. That, at least, is what I should be doing right about now. But let’s get real. I’m no saint. Why, by mid-December, I’m not even sane. It’s nearly Hanukkah. It’s nearly New Year’s. The days are short. The shopping lists are long. And although I’m far from someone who struggles to make ends meet, all I am feeling lately, like many another mother, is stressed out, strapped for time, and – given all the year-end tips I need to bestow and all the holiday gifts I need to buy -- a little strapped for cash.
So the last thing we probably needed to do last weekend was spend a couple of days in NYC, where the stores are mobbed, the prices are obscene, and from now until New Year’s, the rates at even ho-hum hotels are over $300 a night. (Talk about insane.)
Our daughter Allegra is turning 22 this Sunday, though, and we can’t see her this weekend because we’ll be attending an engagement party near home. Plus, I wanted to hand-deliver all the many Hanukkah gifts I've bought for both of our kids. (Yes, although they're essentially all grown up, I still dole out one for each night.) So we were indeed New York City-bound, minor issues like budget be damned.
Unfortunately, we were not alone. With everyone in the free (or free-spending) world bent on seeing the store windows and that blasted lit tree in Rockefeller Center, hotels throughout Manhattan were all but booked solid for the rest of the month. So I was elated when Allegra introduced me to a novel housing alternative called Airbnb.com.airbnblogofixed.jpg
This popular Web site lists apartments in New York City and throughout the world, apparently, whose residents are willing to host short-term overnight guests for a price. In some cases you get the full run of the premises; in others, you simply get your own room, or merely to camp out in the living room while your host remains there with you. Perhaps sharing a bathroom or sleeping on some stranger’s pullout sofa is not everyone’s idea of the ultimate holiday getaway. Yet you can’t get away from the fact that the prices can hardly be beat.Sleepingonpulloutsofaimage3.jpg
Most of the listings are posted by young people looking to make a little extra cash, so they’re situated where young people tend to live -- in Brooklyn, Queens, and Harlem, not my first choice of location, location, location. Yet there are excellent options in every conceivable neighborhood. Then again, I thought I had located a nice studio in Chelsea, near where my son Aidan lives, until I read through the review posted by a disgruntled former guest. “There were stains on the bed and hair all over the apartment,” he reported. Also, “there were all sorts of insects in the bathrooms (cockroaches and LARGE centipedes).”centipedeimage2.jpg
OK, cockroaches are pretty much endemic to even the nicest addresses in NYC. But centipedes? LARGE ones? Yikes! Even for a very modest $150 a night, I think I'll pass.
Then there was the private room near Columbia University, on West 116th Street, which was a little far uptown for my taste but boasted a king-sized bed (an amenity hard to come by in New York, where bedroom space is at a premium). I was all set to book it when I noticed another user review. This previous guest warned that he had detected a few bed bugs crawling around in there, as well as “weird stains.” (Just curious -- what, exactly, are normal stains?) There were also other young people staying in the apartment, he noted, so he had “unfortunately encountered a sink full of puke and clogged toilet in the middle of the night,” although both had been cleaned up by morning. “This is a decent place to stay if you want to save some money,” he concluded, “but I didn’t think it would be worth it to stay longer than 2 or 3 days.”
Two or three days? I wouldn’t stay there for two or three seconds, not at any price. I was so disgusted by these rather squalid, graphic images that I prepared to bite the bullet and settle for the highway-robbery rates posted on standard cut-rate sites like Hotwire and Hotels.com.LoftinSohofromAirbnb1.jpg
But then I came across a very different sort of posting showing a spacious loft in Soho. The accommodations available consisted of only a bedroom in the loft, and the owners would be living there too. But the place looked enormous and, judging from the photos and appealing write-up, it was stylishly furnished with whimsically artistic flair. The bedroom had its own modern-looking bathroom. And the owners were a pleasant-looking couple who appeared to be of roughly my own vintage.LoftinSohofromAirbnb2.jpg
        The only review listed for the room, which was relatively new to Airbnb, assured me that the apartment looked just as beautiful in person as the photos depicted. “Great location, quiet and clean,” it stated. “Perfect in every way!”
A quick exchange of emails verified that the place was still available for the weekend for only $120 a night (no tax added, just a modest fee of $24 for the two nights, levied by Airbnb). Another big plus to me, I must admit, was that the owner, David, had a decidedly Jewish surname. I had just decided to forego anotherairbnbchristmastree.jpg promising-looking place strictly because recent photos featuring a tree dripping with tinsel and other holiday touches had tipped me off that its interior was beginning to look a lot like Christmas, a definite deal-breaker for NiceJewishMom.com.
So I entered my credit card info and booked the room in the loft. (This, to me, was a major plus for the Web site. Short-term sublets are also posted on Craigslist, but this generally requires that you pay the host in cash and also fork over a $500 security deposit via Paypal that gets fully refunded only if everything is in order after you leave.)
        Within minutes
, I got an email from David introducing himself as the head of an organization that promotes food sustainability. He also confessed to a minor gaffe. He had neglected to mention that he and his wife were holding a big fundraiser in the loft on the first night we’d be there. We were welcome to attend the party as their guests, if we wished, or go out for the evening if we preferred. But he would readily issue us a refund if this posed any problem.Sohoimage2.jpg
A problem? To be invited to a party? So few friends invite us to parties these days that we are more than eager to attend almost any social event, even with strangers.
We arrived on Friday night, after a quick stop to drop off our son’s gifts, to find that the loft was located in a hip neighborhood filled with art galleries, cafés and stylish boutiques. With luck, there was a parking space on David’s block right in front of his building. A nearby garage was charging $40 a night, but we had been assured that it was safe to park on the street, so we did. Before even unloading our luggage, we’d already saved 80 bucks.
The compact lobby was abuzz with a small staff checking people in for the party. The young woman who tried to register us indicated that the rate would be two at $150. I wasn’t sure if this meant $150 per couple or $150 apiece. But I quickly explained that we were overnight guests of the hosts. And seeing our suitcases, she took my word for it and let us through without further ado.Sohoweekendurbanhipsters.JPG
Moments later, we exited the elevator on the fifth floor to find the fund-raiser in full swing. The apartment was as cavernous and attractive as pictured, but most furnishings had been removed to make room for a massive gala. Behind a table set with rows of gleaming glasses, a bartender was pouring wine and Champagne. Waitresses were circulating with elegant hors d’oeuvres arranged on silver trays. Meanwhile, more than 100 guests milled about dressed in urban chic. All, however, were in socks or bare feet. Coats had already been hung up downstairs, but there was a table set up beside the door as a shoe check. “May I take your boots?” the young man behind it politely inquired.SoholoftDavidL.jpg
Before I could reply, a man with hanks of hair down to his shoulders made a beeline for us, and I instantly recognized David from his photo on the site.
         “This is a shoeless apartment,” he explained in greeting, indicating the wooden floors polished to a sheen. “Do you mind?” We didn't. Then he showed us to our room down a long hallway, which was clean and spacious and bordered by a gently trickling waterfall right across the hall.Sohoweekendsilentauctionwines2.jpg
Back out in the party room, I saw that it was rimmed by tables covered with countless items, mostly of the wholesome, organic persuasion, which had been donated for a silent auction. I helped myself to the vegetarian buffet that had been set out on the counter, including assorted cheeses and breads, hummus, curried pumpkin dip and an array of organic vegetables. Hesitant to take too great advantage of our free admission, though, I asked the bartender for a glass of Chardonnay instead of indulging in actual Champagne.PattieatSohogalawithwine.jpg
I also prevailed upon David to secure me a bidding number so I could participate in the auction and contribute to his organization in some way.
        I normally reserve most of my largesse for Jewish causes – if we don’t support each other, who will? But the Small Planet Fund sounded eminently worthy, since it supports all sorts of noble concerns, including “citizen-led solutions to hunger, poverty and environmental devastation around the world.” So I proceeded to bid on over a dozen items, including bottles of organic wine, baskets of organic tea, soapsSohoweekendsilentauction4.JPG made from goat’s milk, and clothing made from natural fibers. I drew the line, though, at a membership in the Wild Vermont Mushroom of the Month Club, which entitled you to a year’s worth of wild mushrooms shipped monthly. At $100, the starting bid may have been half of its stated value, but we’re not quite that mad about mushrooms.
We also didn’t realize what a bargain this apparently was. A related item in the live auction that ensued, offering a day’s outing at the mushroom farm in Vermont complete with private instruction on how to select wild organic mushrooms, went for $750.mushrooms.jpg
To my great dismay, moments before all of the bidding sheets were collected, I was abruptly outbid on every single item I’d been vying for. At least my multiple bids had helped raise the prices on all of these goods, resulting in higher donations to the organization. Still, in the end, there could be no doubt about it. Our dinners had been totally free.
The party was still going strong when we slipped out at around 11 to meet Allegra and her friend Mystral for a lively walk around the area. But we’d already eaten and drunk our fill and didn’t spend a dime.AllegraonSohoweekendcloseup.JPG
The next day, after rejoining Allegra for a brunch of eggs Florentine at a nearby hangout, the stylish Cupping Room Café, we set out to do some holiday shopping. Although I’d managed to buy and wrap various small items for her for the middle nights of Chanukah, I wanted to get her some special big-ticket items for the first and last nights, as well as for her birthday.
After blanching at the exorbitant prices in assorted fashionable boutiques – a tiny purse I admired in emerald leather turned out to cost $820 – we decided to venture into a downtown branch of Bloomingdale’s instead. That’s when Allegra admitted that what she secretly longed for but was afraid to ask for was a pair of actual UGGs, rather than Bear Paws, the bargain-rate knockoff sheepskin boots I buy her every year for a fraction of the cost but which never seem to last more than a season. (So what kind of a bargain is that?)UGGscropped.jpg
She regretted this confession when we discovered how pricey even standard black UGGs were. But she loved the way they felt on her feet so much that I came up with a plan. It had been so many years since I’d shopped at Bloomingdale’s that my credit card had long expired. If I opened a new account, we’d get 15 percent off on all our initial purchases. After saving $27 on the boots, we dared to peruse the women’s department; might as well take full advantage of the discount, since it was only good for two days.PattieinBloomingdales.jpg
Allegra soon headed into the dressing room holding an armful of dresses and other items, mostly from Free People, an ultra-hip fashion line that  should really be called Rich People because it is anything but free. Just for fun, I took in a couple of skirts for myself. To her delight, everything she tried fit. To my dismay, I found myself smitten by one of the skirts, a froufrou black number by BCBG/Max Azria embellished with real ostrich feathers along the hem, only to see that the price tag read $228. Even at half that price, it would have been a ridiculously frivolous splurge.
“That’s fabulous,” Allegra gushed approvingly.  “Are you going to take it?”
“I would,” I sighed, “if only it were miraculously on sale for around 50 bucks.”ostrichfeatherskirt.jpg
On the way out, though, we noticed a sign stating that all of the clothes in that department were 40 percent off. So I dared to take the skirt to the counter when we rang up Allegra’s purchases. It turned out that the skirt was on clearance. Its tag simply hadn’t been marked down. Meanwhile, the sales girl gave us a coupon for an extra 20 percent off on all clearance items. Adding in my 15 percent savings for opening a new account, her $118 dress cost $54, her $78 dress cost $35, and my $228 feathered skirt was a mere $53.35! On five items, we saved a total of slightly over $300. Was I dreaming? Or was this just a dream come true?AllegraandTomasattheAngelika.jpg
Armed with our bundles, we headed with my husband to the Angelika Film Center to meet Allegra’s college friend Tomas, who was coming in to stay for a few days. Allegra also needed to pick up her paycheck. As I detailed recently, she got a job last month working at this popular theater, which specializes in independent films. But after spending 10 nights working the concession stand and sweeping up popcorn and whatnot in the theaters between showings as well as tidying the bathrooms, she decided that doing such menial labor for minimum wage was not worth her while.
Instead, she had accepted a part-time afternoon baby-sitting job watching the adorable young daughter of an Israeli family living on the Upper West Side – much more civilized, not to mention twice the salary. So she’d readily relinquished her frumpy uniform, her late-night hours, and the one perk that working at the Angelika offered, free admission to movies for her and her family (a benefit of which my husband and I had never managed to take advantage).TheArtistphoto1.jpg
While we were sitting in the café resting up from our vigorous shopping efforts, I overheard that a movie I’d been dying to see was about to start. We had four hours until we were to meet my college roommate for a late dinner, so Allegra and I quickly lined up to buy tickets. Her former coworkers at the ticket booth refused to take her money, though. Instead, they ushered the four of us into the darkened theater.TheArtistdogUggie.jpg
And all I can say is that if you have an hour and 40 minutes to spare, I whole-heartedly recommend The Artist, a new dialogue-free film about a 1920s matinee idol whose stardom begins to falter when “talkies” take over, just as a fetching ingénue who idolizes him begins her own meteoric rise… although the real star of the film is the actor’s intrepid Jack Russell terrier, whose heroic antics easily steal the show and make Lassie look like an amateur. And no, I’m not just raving  about it because I saw it for free (although that certainly helped, since adult tickets there cost an astonishing $13).
Afterwards, Allegra and Tomas took off for their own evening plans, and we headed toward the Upper West Side. At least we tried to head toward the Upper West Side. As suburban old fogies, we remain a little inept at navigating both Soho and the New York subway system (talk about amateurs), so we somehow ended up boarding the 6 train instead of the D and found ourselves going east, not west. I was a little perturbed that this obliged us to switch trains twice… until we boarded the cross-town shuttle beneath Grand Central Station.Sohoweekendelvesonsubway.JPG
subway seemed in no hurry to take off, so our car soon grew quite overcrowded. Among our fellow passengers was a trio of nice young women dressed as Christmas elves, hoping to meet their own secret Santas (or perhaps Hanukkah Harrys) via a "pub crawl" being staged at bars throughout New York. Also aboard, though, was a young man with a guitar who felt it was his duty to distract his fellow occupants by staging an impromptu concert. Riffing through an assortment of popular rock tunes, he managed to cajole almost everyone present to sing along on the chorus by repeatedly pitting one side of the car in competition against the other.Guitarmanonsubway.jpg
At first I found his manic dialogue to be beyond annoying and resented being part of a truly captive audience. But then he began to improvise a witty rap number, inviting the crowd to give him three random words to incorporate in his rhymes. Like a musical version of Mad Libs, this yielded “hyper-extension” (which he rhymed with “mention”), “narcolepsy” (which he paired with “Pepsi”), and “money” (which was comparatively easy, although he admitted that it wasn’t “funny”). He was so amusing that when he plied the crowd for handouts (and/or $5 bills in exchange for his CD), many opened their wallets, and I was tempted to do the same. Then again, if I had, it wouldn’t have been quite as enjoyable because it wouldn’t have been free. Besides, as he aptly noted, “It don’t really matter if you give a donation. This is the 7 train, so I get a standing ovation!”SoholoftphotoItook.JPG
After a delightful dinner out with my former roommate, Hallie, we returned to our Soho quarters after midnight to discover that our hosts had taken off unannounced for their own overnight getaway to Washington, D.C. Other than a young Canadian former fashion model named Natalie who was renting another room there, we had free run of the entire apartment… for $120 a night. And there wasn't a bug in sight!
        This is not to say that not a creature was stirring.
I awakened late the next morning to discover that no one had given much thought to the family dog, Lucky, whom the family had left behind. Natalie said that they’d made a call to their dog walker before departing, but said that if this person didn’t show up by 10:30 or 11 they would appreciate her taking Lucky out.LuckydogonSohoweekendUSE.JPG
Were they kidding? I can’t imagine having to wait several hours to relieve myself after waking up in the morning, and poor Lucky, who was about 14 years old, shouldn’t have been expected to, either. Our hosts may have been very nice and likable, and acutely socially responsible with respect to caring for all mankind, but they turned out to be a tad lax when it came to man’s best friend.
“I’m taking Lucky out!” I called to my husband, quickly throwing a coat over my pajamas.
“No, I’m taking Lucky out!” he declared, pulling on his pants and shoes.
Somehow it was quickly settled without any further confrontation or even a coin toss. Talk about lucky dogs. In 30 seconds flat, we were ready to go together.2012NewYearsglassesonbluebackground.JPG
The moment I picked up the leash, heretofore listless Lucky bounded to his rather misshapen feet and leapt into the elevator. I meant only to take him for a quick “pish.” But an hour later, we were still touring the neighborhood. On Canal Street, where many an Asian vendor tried to sell me assorted bargain-rate accessories and tchotchkes, I hondeled  for a pair of festive, glitter-encrusted 2012 New Year’s Eve glasses until I’d gotten them all the way down from $20 to $12. Meanwhile, my husband searched for The Sunday Times, then wandered into Tribeca Bagel, emerging with not just the hot sesame bagel I’d requested but a fragrant bacon, egg and cheese sandwich that he simply couldn’t resist.LuckyandHarlanonSohoweekend1.JPG
Lucky, I suspect, was just a mutt and an aging rescue dog, but as he escorted us through the teeming streets in the brisk morning air, all three of us were magically transformed. He walked with renewed vigor and pride on what may have been the longest walk he’d taken in ages. After 10 months of mourning our dearly departed Portuguese Water Dog, Zoe, I became a simpering, besotted doggie “mommy” again, patting her newfound pet affectionately and chiding him repeatedly to “wait for Daddy.”
And my husband seemed more buoyant than he’d been ever since we lost poor Zoe. He no longer felt invisible to young women and other people he passed on the street. “I’m not just some old guy anymore,” he noted brightly. “Now I’m a man with a dog.”bacon.jpg
You might say that we’d rented a dog for the day. Or you might call it what it was: free love. No wonder when we got back to the apartment, and I failed to find a trace of anything resembling a dog biscuit amid the flax seeds and such in the pantry, I dared to snatch a bit of bacon from my husband’s sandwich and slip it to my furry new friend. Of course, I felt guilty. Never mind not being kosher; it was far from organic. I also know better than to feed other people’s animals, particularly old dogs who may have sensitive stomachs.  But judging from Lucky’s lip-smacking enthusiasm, and the way he stretched upward to gently lick my face, this may have been the single happiest moment of his erstwhile ultra-healthy but unlucky life.AidanAllegraandPattieatMoonstruckDiner.JPG
That afternoon, we had one more fortuitous experience of the bargain persuasion. After meeting both of our kids for brunch at the Moonstruck Diner, we drove Allegra to baby-sit on the Upper West Side. Then, after managing to find a rare free parking space on the street again, I noticed a long line of customers protruding from a tiny, rather plebeian-looking storefront on West 74th Street.LevainbakerycookiesonSohoweekend.JPG
“Levain Bakery,” the sign read. Intrigued, I impulsively joined the line and nearly swooned from the unmistakable aroma of dense, dark chocolate wafting out.
Most people were ordering hefty mound-shaped cookies in various permutations, from dark chocolate chocolate chip to dark chocolate peanut butter chip. I would later learn that these had been pronounced “possibly the largest, most divine chocolate chip cookies in Manhattan” by The New York Times. No wonder they were priced at $4 apiece.
“Try the chocolate chip walnut,” counseled another patron behind us, gathering from our conversation that we were out-of-towners and clearly among the uninitiated.LevainBakerysourcreamcake2.JPG
We did. But then the luscious-looking sour cream cake swirled with cinnamon also caught my eye. So I asked for a piece of that, too.
The perky, blue-kerchiefed ingénue behind the counter regarded the thick double-slice wedge on the plate, then, rather than seizing a knife, slipped it into the bag whole. “It’s the end piece,” she said, “so I’m going to give you the whole thing, but only charge you for one piece.” OK, so at $3 a slice it wasn’t quite like getting $300 off at Bloomingdale’s. But after all the windfalls I had encountered during those 48 hours, I felt once again like someone who was going to get to have her cake (right away, perhaps) and eat it later, too.PattieandHarlanatLevainBakery.JPG
So much for feeling beleaguered, harried, stressed out, and strapped, even after splurging on holiday gifts and a whirlwind weekend in Manhattan.
So, where was I again? About to tally my blessings? I can't. By now, I’ve lost count. After all, as we all know, there is no such thing as free lunch. But there is apparently free dinner. Also free drinks, free parking, free movies, free entertainment, and reduced-price genuine ostrich feather skirts and sour cream coffee cake.
        Not to mention pets that you don’t actually get to bring home, but whom you are free to walk, pat and pamper with contraband bacon.
Next year, I’m definitely going to try to be a better person. As for this year, I have everything I really need, including a loving husband and two kids whom I adore and admire to buy holiday gifts for. And it doesn’t get much better than that.
        So much for feeling stress and hyper-extension
I hope that this cheery tale fulfilled my intention
        But wasn’t dull enough to incite narcolepsy
        Or so un-organic that it caused you dyspepsy.
        And if you think it wasn’t worth your money, well, gee…
        You get what you pay for, and
every word was free.
11:50 pm 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Word From the Weiss

        Redheadedwomanwiththeworld.jpgAs you get older, it seems reasonable to expect that your world would get wider. After all, you’ve presumably been to more places, met countless more people, and read many more books (or even blogs)… and although you’ve no doubt experienced more disappointments, disasters and possibly debacles, you’ve also lived to tell about them.TVimage.jpg
So I’m sad to be slowly learning that the opposite turns out to be true. As time goes on, I feel my world getting ever smaller. My parents and many other relatives are gone. Friends divorce, move away or simply move on. And although I hear from both of my children daily, it’s by phone, email or text, not face to face asking me to pass the peas. At dinner now, it’s generally just we three – my husband, me… and the TV.
I thought about this recently when my daughter called home during her trip to L.A.AllegraandStevoinLA.jpg
As I’ve noted, Allegra went out to visit her boyfriend for a week over Thanksgiving. Since Stevo was obliged to go to work on her first day there, though, she had lunch with our Cousin Stephanie, who lives out in L.A. too.  Afterwards, she called to report back.
“She’s doing it again,” Allegra said.
She was referring to what happened a few years ago when we had dinner with Stephanie during a family vacation. We barely knew her then, having hardly laid eyes on her since her bat mitzvah two decades earlier. But she was family, and we were there, so we figured we should call. After dinner, she asked what we were doing the next night, and then decided to join us at a jazz club. And so it went again… and again. We saw her every single night that week.StephanieKagelheadshot.jpg
We didn’t mind in the least, of course, that she seemed to relish our company. On the contrary, we were flattered and thrilled that she was growing so attached to our family. Still, Allegra was a bit amused that after their recent lunch in late November, Stephanie seemed eager to reconvene again as many times as possible that week.
Similarly, when we went for brunch at another relative’s house late last month, Cousin Robert -- whom we barely know because he rarely comes to family events – spent half the day speculating on how we might organize a much larger family reunion.
Why do these people hanker for more interaction with distant family relations? Why, although they each have plenty of friends, do they long for that blood connection? To my mind, there’s one clear common denominator: Neither one of them has kids. So their worlds are too small, too.
As a nice Jewish mom myself, I feel like I never get to see my children enough and am always drumming up excuses to visit them in New York. There are only four birthdays in our immediate family, so thank God for Passover, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the 4th of July. And if they don’t make it home for Hanukkah again, never fear. We’re going to them.familygettogetherimage.jpg
Still, it’s sad that modern life just doesn’t lend itself to wider family get-togethers. When I was growing up, we spent virtually every weekend in Brooklyn visiting both sets of grandparents, along with a full house of aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and cousins once or twice removed. Now all of them are grown up, deceased, or scattered to the five boroughs, assorted suburbs and other states. When I mention even close relatives to my own children, they find it hard to match names to faces, or spouses. (“Who is he again? And is he married to Aunt Flo?”) And since we’re past the bar and bat mitzvah phase now and barely into the weddings, they rarely get a refresher course.
So I was thrilled when my daughter and I got invited to my cousin’s daughter’s baby shower last weekend, and even more delighted when Allegra eagerly elected to come home for it.AllegraandSusanatBilliesbabyshower.JPG
Oddly enough, my daughter and my cousin Susan, who moved to my town four years ago, have such a chummy relationship that they always seem to be in cahoots. They often chat on Facebook, play games like Words With Friends remotely via their iPhones, and find frequent excuses to talk, text, or get together without me. They also look so much alike that when we go out, people assume Susan’s the mother, not me. Yet, although Susan’s own daughter Billie lives nearby, she and I are virtual strangers.
The problem may be that Billie was all grown up by the time Susan moved to town. Every time Susan visited me, she saw Allegra. But Billie never lived here with her mom. Our paths cross so infrequently that I hadn’t seen her since her wedding 2½ years ago.Cuttheumbilicalcordimagefixed.jpg
Also, although Susan adores Billie, as well as her firstborn, Ben, she isn’t quite the nut job that I am. When they were born, someone remembered to cut the umbilical cord. For me, that’s still a work in progress – without much progress so far.
Maybe the shower would help remedy the situation – not help me cut the cord, but forge some stronger connection with Cousin Billie. Who knows when we’d see each other next?
Hoping to make a favorable impression on her, and to streamline and optimize the experience for Allegra, I’d ordered two items from Billie’s online registry at Babies R Us so we could each bring our own present. Baby showers, after all, are all about the gifts. And Allegra, at nearly 22, is getting a little too old to piggy-back on whatever I bring, yet it would have been hard for her to schlep anything on the bus from New York herself.
She’s also a little too busy in her own life, what with flying cross-country, teaching in Harlem, searching for singing gigs and whatever else kids do these days. In fact, I got a little distressed when it turned out a few days before the shower that she had mixed up the date and accidentally scheduled a recording session in New York for that afternoon. But to my relief, she managed to reschedule the singing; the shower was soon back on.LikeCrazyimage.jpg
She took the 2½ -hour train ride north the night before, and we picked her up at the station. To sweeten the deal and keep her entertained (considering that she rarely comes home anymore), we planned to go to the movies after a nice home-cooked meal.
I assumed that the movie I picked, Like Crazy, was an ideal choice. Even Allegra had said she was dying to see it. But once again, I learned a lesson that should have been ingrained in my brain long ago: To assume is to make an ass out of “u” and “me.” You need to do your research.GrandpaSidandAllegraatAidansbarmitzvahcropped.jpg
The experience reminded me of something Allegra is famous in the family for saying. Once, when she was about 5 or 6, we celebrated Christmas Eve Jewish-style with my stepfather Sid, which is to say that we went out for Chinese food, followed by a movie. The movie in question was Grumpy Old Men, with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and as we entered the theater, Allegra proclaimed to ordinarily chronically crotchety Sid, “Grandpa, I think you’re really going to like this movie. It has grumpy old men in it!”GrumpyOldMenimage2.jpg
In this case, I believed Allegra was really going to like the movie because it had a young couple in it struggling, like Allegra and Stevo, with a long-distance relationship. But the operative word turned out to be “struggling,” and let’s just say the struggle does not go well. Also, that based on that line of reasoning, afterwards we should have headed into a double-feature… if there were a movie called Weepy Young Women.Allegrasbabyshowergiftsilhouetted.jpg
Back at home, we struggled to wrap her present, which I’d waited to do until Allegra returned. Having battled recently over what sort of gift to buy for Stevo’s family, and had her adamantly refuse to bring some cookies I’d bought in a bakery unless she saw them with her own eyes, I knew that she would want to view what she was giving. Then again, maybe in this case it wasn’t quite all that crucial. Even wrapped as best we could, there was little mistaking exactly what item was concealed in that tissue paper.Billiesbabyshowertableoffriends.jpg
The next morning, we each changed our outfits several times, determined to wear just the right thing. Allegra was particularly conflicted, never having attended a baby shower before. It turned out that we needn’t have worried. Few of the other women there were dressed up in any notable way. Also, we hardly knew anyone else there.
I was a bit disappointed at how many people in the family had declined the invite. Then again, you might blame Susan, Billie and me for choosing to live in far-off Central Connecticut, while the rest of the clan still suckles at the ample Jewish bosom of Metropolitan New York.
Almost everyone had shown up for Billie’s wedding, even so. But a baby shower is far from as de rigueur. So most women in the family who’d been invited, including Susan’s own brother’s wife, had chosen to simply send a gift, along with their regrets. The only people I knew coming were Susan’s parents, her children and their spouses. So much for reconnecting.CousinSusanandmeheadshots.jpg
At least perhaps we would get a little better acquainted with Susan’s own kids. Ever since my cousin moved to my town, we’ve become so close that I tell people she’s more like my sister. And when we were growing up, I adored her so much that I wished she were my sister. But there was a long gap in there, starting from our college years, in which we lost touch. By the time we’d rediscovered one another, her kids were grown. They’ve only met mine a couple of times, if that, and they are cousins truly far removed to me.
Might a relatively intimate event like a baby shower help to remedy that?BabyshoweratKornhausers.jpg
        Back when I gave birth to my first child, 25 years ago, baby showers were coed affairs in my social set, and rather informal ones at that. I threw one for my good friend Betsy in our living room, and she, in turn, threw mine in her back yard. In each case, we whipped up a large chicken salad, a vat of pasta salad, some sliced fruit and a sheet cake. The women sat around ooh-ing and ah-ing as the mother-to-be unwrapped onesies and booties. The dads milled around looking out of place and quaffing beer.
Apparently, it’s not done that way anymore, or at least not done that way around here. The men are out. The onesies are out. And production values have gone way up.Billiesbabyshowerstuffedanimals.JPG
At Billie’s behest, Susan had booked a pretty, private room in a local restaurant. We arrived to find that she had gone all out on all the decorations too. There were long tables up front that Susan had cleverly arranged with gigantic stuffed animals and colorful parasols, around which people could stack their gifts. Cute votive candles embellished with baby designs and satin ribbons had been ordered to serve as party favors, and she’d fashioned attractive centerpieces by arranging glistening white twigs around white blossoms in shiny foil-wrapped flowerpots.BenandJacquiatBilliesshower.JPG
The round tables in the room could accommodate only six people apiece, though. And Susan was understandably reserving the two vacant spots at her own table beside her son and daughter-in-law for her parents, who were still en route from New Jersey. So she led Allegra and me instead to an empty table at the far end of the room.BilliesbabyshowerMyGrandmaonesiefixed.jpg
Allegra instantly set about applying herself to what is evidently a popular shower activity – drawing designs with colorful markers on plain white cotton playsuits that have been provided by the hosts. (So maybe the onesies aren’t quite out.) I watched as she sketched out a peace sign in Day-Glo shades, then scrawled an apt phrase around it.
“My Grandma is a Hippie,” it said.
Susan held it against her chest. The slogan, if not the size, was a perfect fit. Indeed, she’s a hippie at heart if there ever was one. She loves flea markets, funky clothes and the beach and can read your fortune from tarot cards. A free spirit, she’s wildly impulsive. She also set herself free of her children's father more than two decades ago.
But David remains the father of her children. So he arrived soon after us, along with an enormous stuffed bear, his (much younger) second wife, and their 17-year-old daughter. (She’s who you see with him and the bear; his wife isn’t quite that young.)BilliesbabyshowerDavidZellandstuffedbear.JPG
Ever since David and Susan parted ways, I’ve seen him only twice, at both of their children’s weddings. And because I think it’s only right, I’ve made it a point to be totally cordial to him at these social events. But to be honest, while they were married I was not exactly his biggest fan, and after the divorce I was less so.
So I was a little surprised when his wife and daughter took seats at another table, and then, apparently at David’s request, Susan seated him right next to me.
        To slightly paraphrase a song from another upcoming occasion, should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind (or your table)? Umm, yes -- if that acquaintance happens to be your dear cousin’s ex-husband, and in your humble opinion he is kind of a slick, self-aggrandizing blowhard and, more to the point, he didn’t treat her very well. (And as harsh as it may be for me to say that in print, it didn’t cross his mind to ask me a single question about what I’ve been up to, so I’d be amazed if he ever reads this.)DavidZellandBillieathershowercropped.jpg
Also, far be it from me to cast aspersions on a fellow party guest, especially when I’m hoping to ingratiate myself to his daughter, the sweet and very pregnant guest of honor. But I spent the next hour or so trying to make pleasant conversation with him, with no great success.
        I expressed interest in his younger daughter, for example, inquiring about her plans after she graduates high school next spring. He replied that she would be attending Brown University.
“Really!” I exclaimed, noting that my own son graduated from that school and my niece is enrolled there now. I was a bit surprised to hear this, since she didn’t look remotely like any of the girls I’ve ever seen there, to be frank. Somehow, she gives off more of an impression of Girls Gone Wild than Girls Gone to the Library. All I said, though, was that it was early to have heard back from colleges.
“You mean she was accepted early decision?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “You’d have to ask my wife.”BillieDavidZellandAlexaatshower.JPG
He volunteered that it had helped that she had attended a special performing arts high school. So I asked him what her special talent was – dancing? Singing? Acting?
“I don’t know,” he replied again, rather flatly. “You’d have to ask my wife.”
After three or four more less-than-illuminating answers like this, I finally did go over and ask his wife. She told me that the girl was interested in acting and was applying to a dozen colleges. Brown, however, was not among them, and she hadn’t heard from any of them yet.
Fortunately, at around this time, David went to watch the football game in the bar.
Also, fortunately, my aunt and uncle, who’d been mysteriously MIA, finally arrived. And although they were seated at the opposite end of the room, my aunt Kay wandered over after the buffet lunch, which was beyond delicious, and we got to have a chat. Then Allegra and I went over to visit with my Uncle Gerard.UncleGerardandAuntKaywithmyparentsinJamaicacropped.jpg
        I love seeing my aunt and uncle, although it also always makes me a little wistful. It’s so hard not having my parents anymore, and seeing these people, who were their companions and contemporaries, instantly stirs up a flood of childhood memories. It’s also a little disappointing that I never got close enough to either of my father’s brothers that I ever talk to them now, other than at social events. In the 13 years since my father died, we’ve never actually called each other just to say hello. And when we cross paths at bar mitzvahs and weddings, the music is usually so loud that we can hardly converse. So it was great to see them now, amid the peace and quiet… and the onesies.OnesiesatBilliesshowerstrungupcropped.jpg 
Aunt Kay, looking absurdly radiant and youthful for someone approaching the age of 85, was beyond excited about the imminent birth of her first great grandchild, and she remarked more than once that I probably couldn’t wait to have a grandchild myself.UncleGerardandAuntKayatshower2.JPG
OK, in all honesty, I’ve been guilty of some serious milestone envy in the past. I predated the contemporary concept of “going green” by several decades when my slightly older cousin Susan got her first pair of stockings, her first boyfriend and her first apartment of her own. But when it comes to becoming a grandmother, I’m more than happy to wait. I still have my hands full enough now being a nice Jewish mom.
I’d also prefer to attend my kids’ weddings first, thanks, and so far they’re nowhere in sight.UncleGerardatBilliesshowerheadshot.jpg
As for my Uncle Gerard, my father’s slightly older brother, I often wish that I could pick his brain for tales about what it was like when he and my dad were growing up. Although I often thought I’d lose my mind when my father used to tell me the same old stories repeatedly, I haven’t endured one in a long time. What I’d give to hear one now. This, however, was Billie’s day, and the subject at hand was the future, not the past. Somehow, it didn’t seem like the time or place to query him about the good old days.AllegraandUncleGerardatBilliesbabyshower.JPG
Yet my uncle has a special bond with Allegra because of his passion for music and theater, and they fell into a long discourse about how he would have loved more than anything to have been an actor or singer, but that was never even recognized as an option in his Jewish household when he was growing up. (Listening in, I felt renewed pride and determination about the fact that my husband and I have always encouraged our children to pursue their artistic passions at all costs. No relinquishing their fondest dreams in favor of financial security for them.)BillieandJohnatherbabyshowerUSE.JPG
Yet he allowed to her how satisfying it had been to perform instead in community theater productions for decades. His mellifluous tenor was also famous in the family due to his chanting of the motzi (blessing over the bread) at many a wedding, bar mitzvah or other such simcha. Yet there will be no repeat performances in his family, I surmise. Billie and her husband John, who isn’t Jewish, won’t hold a bris when their son is born next month; they chose not to even have a hora at their wedding. Oh, well. Maybe my uncle will oblige with this honor at my own kids’ nuptials someday. But once again, no hurry!BillieopeningAllegrasgiftatshower.JPG
All the while, Billie kept opening gifts to audible “oohs,” “ahhs,” and nods of approval from other new mothers present, which didn’t subside when she got around to my offering, a Fisher-Price My Little Snug-a-Bunny, some kind of seat contraption that vibrates and plays music for when the baby is sleeping (or you wish that it were). But Allegra’s colorful gift provoked fewer “ahs” than “ha ha ha’s” as Billie carefully detached the rubber ducky we'd fastened on top and everyone joked, “Gee, what could possibly be in there?”BilliewithAllegrasgiftatshower.JPG
Then, soon enough, the cake was cut and served, the presents were gathered, and it was time to pose for family photos. I was happy to be included in this, of course, but as we assembled in assorted groupings, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t managed to talk to Billie or her husband John, nor to exchange much more than two words with her handsome brother Ben and his lovely wife Jacqui, those words being, basically, “Hi!” and “Bye!”BenSusanKayandmeatBilliesshower.JPG
Maybe that’s all my fault, and I needed to take more initiative. But Ben and Jacqui were returning to their home somewhere outside Boston, so I couldn’t very well demand a do-over or say, like Cousin Stephanie, “What are you doing tomorrow?"AllegraandBillieatbabyshower.jpg
        So we kissed everyone goodbye (even the ex-husband and his family) and left. In the end, it was a great afternoon. It was a lovely shower. And although my world may be getting progressively smaller, maybe Allegra and Billie will end up getting closer from the experience; there’s certainly an unmistakable family resemblance between them. Why, they look more like sisters than Susan and me.AllegraandfurryfriendatBilliesbabyshower.JPG
And someday, as my aunt had aptly noted, it will be my turn for my world and family to get bigger. For now, the shower was mostly a chance to hang out with my cousin and spend more time with my own daughter. No problem! Being NiceJewishMom.com, as I said, I never, ever quite get my fill of that.

8:45 pm 

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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.