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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Word From the Weiss

Washingmachinekaput.jpg        No doubt it was all but inevitable that my washing machine went kaput last week, just three days after the 90-day warranty expired from when it was repaired back in March. So I was thrilled to be told that the repair service that had vastly overcharged me last time would honor that outdated warranty anyway. After all, almost everything these days comesMicrowavepopcorn.jpg with a firm expiration date, from milk to medicine to microwave popcorn. Even marriage, it seems.
        Everything but the demanding job and undeniable joys of motherhood, that is.
Or maybe I’m just a nice Jewish mom who can’t say no.AidanandAllegraonFathersDay.JPG
After all, five years after my youngest left home, I still seem to be on call 24/7 to perform many of my former motherly duties… and not always just for my actual kids.
Yes, I’m still happy to field queries about laundry, offer often unsolicited advice, and endure endless kvetching from both my children at all hours of the day and night. But I’m also ready, willing and unfailingly able to let countless others get in on the fun.
Take this past weekend. Saturday didn’t exactly get off to the most fortuitous start, to say the least. I still don’t know what happened, but I awakened to something bizarre that I cannot explain and can hardly describe. OK, so I’d gone to bed way too late, then awakened way too early to the sound of our puppy whimpering in her crate beside me.Latkeincrateonpurplepad.JPG
I reached down to poke my fingers between the bars, cooing softly in a futile attempt to coax little Latke to go back to sleep before she could awaken my husband. (Not that mere whimpering would ever wake him. With his hearing, he could sleep through a nuclear attack.)
        Then I simply rolled over in bed. That’s all. And that’s when it happened.

  amusementparkrideblur.jpgThe room around me began to spin rapidly, as though I were on an amusement park ride called something like "The Tornado" or "The Rotor" (even though I’m a self-professed wimp prone to motion sickness and won't brave anything more challenging than a merry-go-round). It felt similar to the first time I drank much too much and experienced what is often called  “the whirlies.” But I rarely if ever over-imbibe anymore, and in this case hadn’t had a sip of alcohol all week.
The word “vertigo” came to mind, as I broke into a cold sweat and shut my eyes, mostly because every time I opened them over the next few hours I instantly got sick to my stomach. I was so dizzy that I couldn’t sit up, let alone walk. Finally, I managed to fall back to sleep, and when I awakened it had totally passed, as abruptly as it began.MichaelKazakoff.jpg
I would later be told by my doctor friend Michael that it most likely had to do with my inner ear, which controls balance, and that it wasn’t anything serious and might never even happen again. By now, though, it was nearly noon, and to my disappointment I had to let my husband go alone to the pool club to which we belong while I spent the rest of a beautiful summer’s day indoors finishing up last week’s blog.
Finally, at half-past 3 I was done and about to walk out the door with my beach bag when the phone rang. I figured it was my husband wondering where the heck I was. But no.Samaraheadshotfromgraduation.jpg
It was one of my daughter’s BFF’s, Samara, phoning out of the blue. She asked how I was, then sadly had to listen to an abbreviated account of the above episode. She wasn’t really calling to inquire after my health, though, of course, nor to report on hers. She had a favor to ask.
She was en route to New York City for the weekend with four friends, and they had suddenly come up with an inspiration. All five had lined up assorted friends to crash with for the night, but wouldn’t it be much more fun if they could stay somewhere together?
“You have this knack for finding cheap hotel rooms,” Sam noted, recalling the nice mother-daughter getaway I’d arranged for her, her mom, and my daughter and me last fall. “I hate to ask, but do you know anywhere affordable that we might be able to stay?”LenoxDinneratFrankies.JPG
It was late in the afternoon on a summer weekend, at the height of tourist season, and she wanted a bargain-rate room in New York City that could accommodate five. Could she be joking?
On the other hand, if she really needed to locate such a find, she’d come to the right place. As you know if you regularly read this blog, I go to the city often because both my children live there, so I’ve become somewhat adept at finding cheap digs.
Normally, when we’re considering a trip, I spend hours if not days hunting down a steal, or at least reasonably economical accommodations. In this case, she didn’t have hours, though, let alone days. She also evidently didn’t have an iPhone on hand, either.AllegraandSamaraatgraduationcropped.jpg
Besides, as I mentioned when I wrote about Sam’s graduation from Smith College last month, she and I are so close that she jokingly calls me “Mom,” and I refer to myself as her “other mother.” So I dropped my bag, sat down at my computer, and logged onto Hotels.com. And after about 45 minutes, and a lengthy conversation on my cell phone with someone very unhelpful in India who said that his name was Jason, I’d managed to land the girls a small suite in the Murray Hill East Suites on 39th Street and Lex for $169 plus tax.PattieinJCCpool2.jpg
By the time I got to my club, it was nearly 5 and my husband was ready to leave. At least the pool was no longer teeming with kids, and I got in a nice, tranquil swim.
Better yet, I got that glow that I used to get whenever I was recruited to help one of my children with some challenging task, be it finishing a school report due the next day or learning lines for a play. It’s that rush of endorphins that parents experience, probably far more exhilarating in its own way than any runner’s high or mood boost induced by drugs: The knowledge that you were there for your offspring, they actually appreciate you, and you’ve been of significant use because they couldn’t have done it without you.SusanwithPattieatBrimfieldheadshots.jpg
I was still basking in a bit of this glow when my cousin called me two days later. She had just heard from an old flame that he wanted her to come visit him on July 4. However, he lives in Philadelphia and she lives near me in Connecticut, and she didn’t want to make the four-hour drive down. Would I mind checking the trains for her? She wanted to determine at once if she needed to secure an extra day off from work for the trip, and she didn’t have access to a computer because she doesn’t have one at work.Latkeonkitchenfloor2.JPG
Now, perhaps I haven’t mentioned it that much lately because I feared that I was beginning to sound like a broken record. (Does anyone know what that means anymore, now that we only listen to CD’s and MP3s?) But with a new puppy in the house, I am so strapped for time that I’m losing my mind. In case you haven’t noticed, I never finish my blog by Wednesday anymore and often don’t manage to post it until Saturday, because I’m too busy taking care of a four-month-old mongrel who needs to go out constantly, gnaws on almost everything within reach, including me, and demands my full attention.
Plus I still hear from both of my kids almost daily by both phone and text-message. (Yes, unlike many a youngster in their mid-20s, they still call and they also still write.)Amtraktrains.jpg
So maybe I should’ve told her to look it up herself when she got home, or just said sorry, I’m so busy tending to my pooch that I can hardly find time to go to the bathroom. But instead I instantly sat down at the computer again, logged onto Amtrak and began checking the schedule.
And after about 30 minutes of consulting my cousin about when she wanted to leave and return, and checking countless options, I determined that the most prudent choice for her was to drive to New Haven and hop a train there on Monday afternoon, then take one back on Wednesday evening, for a whopping $138 roundtrip. But she deemed this too expensive, not to mention too much of a hassle and drain on her time.Fireworks1.jpg
She decided it wasn’t worth her while to go, and that she would invite him to visit her instead. Whereupon she began to wonder if there were fireworks to take him to on the Fourth. And so I began to Google that.
        (In all fairness to my cousin, though, I should mention that we are so close that we are like sisters, and that she helps me out, too, and recently was nice enough to drive me to the service garage, twice no less, when my car was in the shop.)
Then there’s the case of my good friend Pat, who began taking a weekly course in New York recently and asked me to recommend a play for her to see while there. Patatwomenssederheadshot.jpgI quickly obliged, sending not just names, but emails offering special discounts on tickets. She liked my first recommendation, The Lyons with Linda Lavin, so much that she asked for another suggestion the following week and then yet a third, finally concluding that the course, which was over, had been OK, but what she really had enjoyed was those plays. “You obviously know what I like,” she concluded. “What should I see next?”
Of course, it felt good to pass on my tips and have them appreciated. Great, even. I also enjoyed getting to discuss these plays with her afterwards and relish them anew.doctorillustration2.jpg
Perhaps I should feel grateful that some people view me as a font of information. Or perhaps I should blame myself for purporting to be an authority on so many things. I have another friend who calls me regularly the moment anyone in her family is stricken with any physical ailment. “Who’s the best person to extract wisdom teeth?” she’ll ask, and I’ll automatically reply, “Everyone goes to Judd Fink, but you also can’t go wrong with Jonathan Goldman.” Or she’ll ask, “Who’s the best gastroenterologist in town?” and I’ll say, “Oh, Ted Loewenthal, without a doubt,” quickly providing his phone number.
All these queries might be of no consequence if I were not still tending to my family. In the past 24 hours, my husband has asked me to edit a newspaper story he’d written for his consumer column about a recent misadventure we had, reviewing it for accuracy. My son asked me to determine which of two health insurance plans his job was offering was best. And my daughter prevailed upon me to search the house for a light sweater she hadn’t seen in years so she could wear it as a wrap to a wedding this weekend.
And although she didn’t exactly articulate it in any audible way, one sniff of our rather fragrant little puppy after she returned from doggie daycare yesterday, and I knew she was positively begging me to take her into the shower stall for a much-needed bath.Latkeinshower.JPG
All perfectly reasonable requests, coming from family members? Perhaps. But each in itself promised to occupy an hour or more of my time. And if there’s one thing I am seriously lacking these days, it’s time. So I’m beginning to wonder exactly when it was that I became a public-service hotline… or to put it much more crassly, everyone’s bitch.
Was it when I became a mom?
Was it when I became NiceJewishMom.com?
Or was it perhaps when I stopped having a real, actual job to go to more than a decade ago, so that people began to think, “I’ll call her – she’s probably doing nothing,” the definition of “nothing” being “nothing for which she is actually getting paid.”schoolbusimage2.jpg
In part it may be as simple as that (because writing a blog is clearly just a “hobby”). I still remember getting a call the day after I was downsized from my longtime job as a staff writer at a magazine. It was from a woman who was far from a close friend, asking if I could go pick up her son at a local middle school because he’d just missed his bus.
And at that moment, I thought to myself, “Oh, well, welcome to unemployment,” realizing that “unemployment” evidently meant “being everyone’s bitch.”
Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I love and am happy to hear from all who call. Seriously. I am. Maybe a little too much so.SiriwherecanIhideabody.jpg
Cheerier than the Yellow Pages. Able to cough up contact info faster than Google. And infinitely more reliable than Siri, the robotic voice on the iPhone, who is far from the respectful woman-servant depicted on TV commercials that readily offers up driving directions, instantly plays “Shake, Rattle and Roll” at the drop of a hat, and locates the nearest sushi bar or whatever else you require at your slightest verbal command. (Once, not long ago, when I was feeling particularly down one night, I actually asked her, “How can I kill myself?” and she flatly responded, “Let me Google that for you.”)
Why wouldn’t friends and family instantly call me? Why, if I could, I would call me. (And I would talk me, or anyone else who needed it, off of that psychological ledge.)
So the bigger, more pressing and more perplexing issue is why do I continue to let these people call me, and then readily, and even eagerly, respond to their every need?
Of course there is no greater joy than getting to be of help to others, and nothing makes you feel better about yourself than being able to show off how capable you are. And I know all sorts of esoteric, random things – how to find cheap parking in New York, how pick a ripe cantaloupe, and how to make the world’s best matzah balls, of course. Even how to cure hiccups.canteloupewhole.jpg
OK, maybe other people also get great satisfaction from performing some service or other for which they get paid, handsomely, but that hasn’t happened to me in years. Like many an aging mother, I left work behind. Then finally active motherhood left me behind. And other than getting to pick up after my new little pet, whatever she may smell like or have deposited or destroyed, I don’t get to do all that much for anyone anymore.
So whenever someone consults my expertise or asks for a favor, I’m right there! Nice Jewish Mom, at your service. At last, I have a purpose. I’m needed again. Of use. Sometimes I even step in to offer help or venture an opinion when I haven’t been asked. Why shouldn’t I give others the benefit of my purported wisdom? What’s a mother for?”AidanheadshotatHarlansbirthday2.jpg
It only concerns me when I consider the example that I evidently have set for my kids. I’m proud that my son is always there for a friend in need, but worry a bit that he seems to attract emotionally needy and unstable girls like buzzards to fresh roadkill.
As for my daughter, she’s not just nice. She’s a nice Jewish girl who can’t say no. So after caring for a sick child all day today in her job as a nanny, she went to stay overnight with a friend so that she could escort her to the hospital bright and early for chemo. Never mind that my daughter stayed out incredibly late the night before and really needed a good night’s sleep before going to work tomorrow.Allegrainstrawhat.jpg
On a recent weekend, she threw a birthday party for a friend on Saturday night and then an engagement party for another on Sunday. She listens to her friends’ problems relentlessly. She’s let one of them sleep on her pullout sofa for the past two months. She prides herself on being always available and happy to lend a sympathetic ear.FlorenceNightingale2.jpg
And when I implore her to stop being Florence Nightingale and just take care of herself for a change – after all, she’s only 22 -- she retorts that I just don’t understand.
I don’t understand? Oh, really? Hearing those words makes my head start to spin. Maybe I should be thrilled that she’s already a future nice Jewish mom in the making. But when I really think about that, well… Here comes that vertigo again.
Perhaps she would listen if I started living for myself. And maybe, just maybe, I will. I’ll stop writing this blasted weekly blog and author something I can actually sell. Or maybe I should accept my true calling in life and simply become a travel agent.
But first I need to find something for my cousin and her old beau to do next week. Yes, he’s coming here after all! But I’ve already checked and learned there are no fireworks here on the Fourth of July; they’re being held the following weekend instead. So she wants me to locate a concert for them, like that great outdoor music festival I recommended the last time he came. I’m sure I’ll find something. It’s nice to be needed. Knowledgeable. In the know. A true nice Jewish mom. And who knows better than me?fireworkswideimage.jpgPattieperplexedheadshot.JPG

5:37 pm 

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Word From the Weiss

        So, as I said, it was both my husband’s birthday and Father’s Day last week, and as much as we’d been more or less whooping it up all week (by which I mean nothing kinky, mind you), you might say that was mere foreplay. The real celebration would be with the kids over the weekend in New York City, and even though this wasn’t a major birthday at all, it wasn’t an itsy-bitsy number either, and I’d been planning it for weeks. Months, you might even say.combblack.jpg
I’m only mentioning that because, several days later, I can’t stop going over those plans with a fine-toothed mental comb, trying to pinpoint exactly where I went wrong.mouseimage.jpg
        Then again, we all know what can happen to the best-laid plans of mice… and moms.
Back in January or so, I’d arranged to have some extra nice accommodations for the birthday weekend… with one minor catch. We’d have a large, luxurious room at the New York Hilton, on a posh floor exclusively for members of something called the New York Hilton Club. The catch was that this place was trying to sell us a sort of timeshare, and we’d get a special cut rate only in exchange for taking a lengthy tour of the facilities.Tribespostersmaller.jpg 
Then in early May, I’d bought four tickets for Saturday night for Tribes, a play at the Barrow Street Theater in the Village that some friends had raved about. I’d also nabbed a pair of front-row seats for Friday for Venus in Fur, a play my husband had been dying to see (and which just won a Tony for best actress). How could we go wrong with that?VenusinFurposter.jpg
All that and dinner out each night may sound like more than enough activity. But no. All four members of my family are notorious for always biting off more than we can chew… or do. So these would merely be the backdrop for this festive family weekend.
        Before the play on Friday night, we arranged to meet Gail, an old friend of my husband’s who was in from California and whom he hadn’t seen in nearly 40 years.
Also, our daughter Allegra, who’s a young jazz singer, had just booked a gig out in Brooklyn on Friday night. We would try to make it there for her second set after our play.TomWadeheadshot2.jpg
Plus, to make Saturday even more special, my husband invited Tom and his girlfriend Lynn to come along. Tom, the son of very close friends, recently moved to New York from London, and we’d been eager to take them out and get to know Lynn.NewYorkHiltonroom.JPG
So… we arrived in the city just in time to check into our hotel, which turned out to be a revelation. The room was not just luxurious and large; it was gargantuan compared to any room we had ever taken in New York, with an elegant bathroom to match. We also learned that our sojourn there entitled us to attend a cocktail party with free wine and hors d’oeuvres on both nights, as well as a lavish continental breakfast each morning in the members’ private lounge.GailandHarlan.JPG
We didn’t have time for the cocktail party that night, however, because we were already late to meet Gail at Robert, an elegant restaurant I’d discovered inside the Museum of Art & Design on Columbus Circle. This visit turned out to be so pleasant and yet so brief (since Gail had bought theater tickets of her own to a play that started at 7) that we arranged to meet up and continue our conversation later on at Allegra’s gig.VenusinFurscene1.jpg
Venus in Fur turned out to be phenomenal, but there’s no point in delving into too much detail about that because it closed its lengthy run two days later, so you can’t see it now. Suffice it to say that the lead actress, Nina Arianda, was so brash, versatile and astonishingly sexy that I kept thinking to myself, “So that’s why she won best actress…” Then two minutes later, I’d think, “No, I guess that’s why.”
Speaking of astonishing, Allegra was her usual engaging and sassy self behind the mic, although to my enormous disappointment it took us so long to get to Brooklyn after our play that we missed most of her show and only caught the final three or four songs.AllegraatbellevilleJune1.jpgAllegraandPattieatBellevilleJune2012.jpg

Then it took even longer to get back to our hotel by subway after midnight -- so long, in fact, that we arrived close to 2 a.m., by which point my husband was ravenous. With luck, as we neared our hotel we spied a hot dog stand in the distance.Hotdogstandopen.JPG
        Now, under normal circumstances I try to dissuade him from eating hot dogs on the grounds that they contain too much fat and sodium, not to mention who knows what other nasty stuff. But this was his birthday weekend, so I was trying to chill out and let him freely indulge many of his bad habits. And there was no mistaking it… even at 2 a.m., this place was OPEN!
       Hiltontourguide.JPGI don’t really want to tell you much at all about that tour we took on Saturday. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t really a tour at all. It was more of a prolonged and very intense sales pitch from a garrulous Indian fellow who used to be the head of sales for a major corporation. In fact it was so intense that we ended up actually purchasing a timeshare, even though we’d had absolutely no prior interest in one, and had only agreed to endure the tour in order to get that discounted room for the weekend.
It was also so prolonged that by the time we had signed all of the papers, the 90 minutes to which we had reluctantly committed beforehand had turned into three hours. It was already 5, time to leave for our dinner at Po, an Italian eatery in the West Village.glassofwinered.jpg
But we also realized that the evening cocktail party was about to start, and we had been obliged to forego this perk the night before and really didn’t want to miss it again. Not to mention that after that three-hour “tour,” we both could really use a glass of wine.
So we decided to take our chances and just pop our heads in for five minutes. And that is all that we stayed. I swear. But by the time we had taken the subway down to the Village and gotten a bit lost trying to locate the restaurant, we were 20 minutes late.
Then again, if I had it to do all over again, I would do it the same way, only maybe I’d linger at that party a little longer. Because 20 minutes, it turned out, wasn’t nearly late enough.Pointeriordark.jpg
We walked in very embarrassed to have kept our guests waiting. To our surprise, though, only Allegra had managed to arrive. She was sitting at the bar writing in a card. By now it was already 5:50, but Aidan, Tom and Lynn were nowhere to be found.
Aidan had already warned me that he might be a little late when he’d called that afternoon to ask where and when dinner was. Never mind that I’d sent him an email a few days earlier to give him all this info. He had never responded to that message, and I realized now that I had failed to follow up and make sure he knew the time and place.
As for Tom, I had texted him a week earlier to invite him and Lynn to join us for the play. When he’d graciously declined, saying that they would simply come for dinner, I’d written back to warn him that this would need to be exceedingly early -- by which I meant earlybird-special early -- specifically at 5:30, in order for us to make our 7:30 curtain. But this evidently posed no problem.iphoneseeyouatPo.jpg
“Great! See u then!” he had replied.
That very morning he’d written again to ask about the arrangements, and I had responded immediately and a bit excessively, perhaps, with the time, name of the restaurant, street address and nearest subway stop. Where could they be? (Jewish time is 10 minutes late. Could British time be 20?) 
My husband had evidently just texted Tom on the way to the restaurant to apologize for our lateness and assure him that we were en route. He got a message back now saying that they’d been confused about the time and would be there in 20 minutes.
They weren’t.
Twenty minutes went by, then 30, then 40. Still no sign of Tom and Lynn. And where could Aidan possibly be? He called shortly after we arrived to say he, too, was on his way, but offered no explanation. He had landed a full-time job just that week as a production assistant on a new ABC TV series starring Vanessa Williams called 666 Park Avenue, a supernatural drama about a couple who move to Manhattan and realize that their building and its upscale tenants appear to be possessed. Had he perhaps been called into work that day? He’s always scrupulously punctual. This was strange.666ParkAvenue.jpg
Along with worrying whether something terrible might have befallen him, I began to realize that even if he arrived safely soon he’d probably be frazzled and in a bad mood. Another parent might have been annoyed, maybe even furious. I was just feeling sad.
For one thing, I had long envisioned a delightful and relaxed family dinner filled with lively conversation, general hilarity and endless toasting to my husband’s health. Clearly, there would be no time for that now. The play had posted prominently on its Web site that there was absolutely NO late seating allowed. We needed to leave the restaurant by 7:15. It was now 6:30, an hour late, and half the guests were still MIA.
For another thing, I remembered a similar unfortunate and unforgettable incident with my father nearly 20 years ago. To be honest, I have never been known for being the most punctual person. But trying to get around New York City often throws me for a loop, and this was one of those nightmares from which you just can’t seem to wake up.AidanandAllegrareallyyoung.JPG
We’d been scheduled to have dinner with my father and wicked stepmother after attending a child’s birthday party in the city with my own kids, who were tiny at the time. But the party had run late, it was difficult to lure my toddler off the monkey bars, and by the time we had realized that we were hopelessly late we’d been unable to find a cab and been obliged to walk about 30 blocks carrying a toddler and pushing a baby stroller. We arrived very late to find that the restaurant would no longer honor our reservation, and to face my father stewing on the sidewalk out front, his face as red as Merlot.GrandpaStuheadshot.jpg
That’s when he said it. Or more like seethed it. He leaned his face into mine and, right in front of the little ones, blasted off like the bellowing foghorn of an ocean liner about to leave port. “If you can’t show up on time, then don’t bother showing up at all!”
That is not something I would ever say or think about either one of my own kids. Rather, I was wallowing in empathy, knowing full well that sometimes things come up in life -- and sometimes taxis don't. I just wanted my son to show up. I didn’t care that much when he showed up, but I hoped it would be soon and that he might actually be calm and composed instead of writhing with guilt and remorse.Posalad.jpg
To save time, soon after we had arrived I had ordered three assorted salads for the six of us to share as appetizers so that something would be on the table when everyone arrived. Unfortunately, this normally bustling restaurant, one of our favorites in the city, had been half-empty before 6, so these dishes had arrived almost instantly. I refused to let anyone take a single bite, though, until the other guests had arrived, so these assorted stacks of dressed greens had proceeded to wilt slowly on the table while I continued to glance anxiously toward the door.TomandLynnatTomi2.JPG
Finally, at around 6:40, Tom and Lynn rushed in looking flushed and embarrassed. As I stood to kiss them, Lynn apologized profusely, explaining that Tom had somehow thought that dinner was at 7:30, rather than the play, and that in the future I should always contact her if I wanted to be sure they’d get it right. And I realized that was the first big mistake I probably had made. In my experience, social arrangements are the purview of women exclusively and can under no circumstances be entrusted to men.
As they glanced at the menu to put in their orders, I decided I simply had to call Aidan to find out what was happening and ask what he wanted to eat, so that I could order on his behalf.AidanheadshotatHarlansbirthday2.jpg
“I’m having trouble finding a parking space!” he declared when he answered, sounding palpably unnerved. Why he had driven instead of taking the subway was beyond me, but I begged him to pull into a parking lot a.s.a.p, assuring him that I’d gladly pay whatever this might cost. He agreed, although I knew he wouldn’t comply, and he finally burst in at 6:50, just as our entrees arrived, looking grim and harried with an ultra-short new summer haircut.
I jumped up to give him a big hug, hoping this might allay any fears he had that we were angry. Then we all began gulping our food. We had only 25 minutes left to eat it -- so as much as I tried my best to put on a good game face, it was painfully obvious that I was feeling aploplectic.chairsonbeach.JPG
As we chewed frantically, Aidan offered up a true confession as to his whereabouts, which weren't anything unusual or sinister at all. He simply had been invited to join a large group at the beach for the day, and hadn’t realized that dinner was going to be so early. In fact, he’d texted Allegra about the schedule before leaving, but she’d never responded, and for some reason he had failed to consult me (no doubt assuming that I might have discouraged him from going, although in truth I only would have encouraged him to return an hour earlier).
In turn, I informed him that I had expected that our whole family would meet for Sunday brunch the next day, but had discovered that our accommodations included breakfast, for which he was welcome to join us. He replied that he was already eating brunch with an old friend from home who was in the city for the weekend.
        The young man he was meeting suffers from a chronic illness, so I couldn’t entirely fault him for wanting to give him some time. Still, I was surprised and disappointed.
I proposed that we meet for a late lunch or early dinner instead, to which he responded that he had a meeting all afternoon to discuss a script he was working on with some colleagues for a Web series.
“But honey…” How could he have scheduled a meeting? “It’s Father’s Day,” I said.LevysatScarlatto.JPG
This may sound like standard behavior for many a young person in his 20s – indifferent, oblivious and too busy to fit his poor old parents in – but that was far from typical for my son. Aidan is always considerate, always eager to talk to us and even confide in us, and invariably available for family occasions. And he is especially close to his dad.
        On the other hand, I realized now that I had never actually mentioned anything about brunch or lunch or any other plans for Sunday. I'd simply assumed that the kids realized it was Father’s Day and would have set it aside to spend with us.
Then again, as we all know, when you assume you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” Or maybe, in this particular case… just me.sorbetwithcandle.jpg
We managed to down our food in time, but there was no time to consider dessert. The maitre d’, knowing of the occasion, surprised us with a single scoop of gelato with a lit candle in it, over which we sang a hurried “Happy Birthday.” Then my husband paid the check and we made a mad dash out the door.
Not to be so vulgar as to actually mention money, but that meal cost us well over 200 bucks, and we gobbled it in little more than half an hour. Talk about fast food.
We made it to the play in time, but even that was a bit of a disappointment. Somehow, I’d gotten the impression from the friends who’d recommended it that it was hilarious. And there's no denying that it had its share of amusing moments. But Tribes, a play about a wildly dysfunctional Jewish family with a deaf son, was hardly what I would call a comedy.Tribesscene1.jpg
Sure, it was brilliantly written, and the acting was superb. But there were too many uncanny parallels with my own family – the daughter was trying to be a singer and the mother was a writer working on her first book, not to mention that hearing problems run in my husband’s family – along with various other extremely unsettling elements (one of the sons may be hearing impaired, but it’s the domineering, temperamental father who is totally deaf to all his children’s needs). So it ended up being mostly disturbing.RichardJenkins.jpg
        To me, in fact, the only truly light moment of the experience came when I was following my husband upstairs to the restrooms and a man came out and told me that I was about to walk into the men’s room. And then I realized that the man who had just snatched me fromthe jaws of public humiliation as Richard Jenkins, the actor who starred in HBO’s Six Feet Under, The Visitor, and about 100 other movies, who just happened to be in the audience.
After the performance, realizing that we had been too rushed at dinner to consider taking photos, I snapped a few shots of my husband with the kids inside a frozen yogurt shop. Then we walked the kids across town to the East Village, where they each were meeting respective friends (which is why I had scheduled dinner for before the play instead of after, assuming that they’d still want to spend Saturday night with their peers).
        But the tenor of the play and the tension of the dinner had put us all into a foul mood, and although everyone had smiled for the camera, no one was feeling particularly celebratory or festive.
, although it was still fairly early, my husband and I headed back to our hotel. Our favorite new hot dog stand was – guess what? – still OPEN. But neither of us was remotely in the mood.Hotdogstandopen2.JPG
I tossed and turned in that big, comfy, king-sized bed all night, then oddly overslept, only to be awakened at around 9:30 a.m. by my cell phone ringing. It was Aidan, calling to get the address of our hotel. He was on his way over for breakfast.
“What about your brunch?” I asked.AidanonFathersDay2012.JPG
His friend wasn’t feeling up to it and had canceled out.
I hastened to text message Allegra so that she wouldn’t feel left out (I may be a bit inept at rallying the troops at times, but I am not remotely deaf to my children’s needs). She said that an old friend had slept over and was still asleep, so she couldn’t leave immediately, but to save her something to eat and she’d get over as soon as possible.AllegraonFathersDay2012.JPG
        Aidan showed up with a very sweet card for his Dad, and we had a relaxed and prolonged breakfast in the members’ lounge – so prolonged that we were the last ones to leave and only vacated after the cleaning crew began to vacuum loudly all around us.FathersDay2012.JPG
Allegra joined us in our room shortly afterwards, and after downing a few items that I had procured for her from the buffet, the four of us took off, laughing and joking around as we made our way back to the Village. The sun was out in full force, there wasn’t a cloud visible on the skyline, and it felt like the night before had never even happened.HarlanandPattieonFathersDay2012.JPG
Aidan eventually did have to take off for his meeting, but we arranged to meet at a nice outdoor café for that late lunch if he could manage to get out in time.AllegraandHarlaninhats.JPG
Then Allegra, her Dad and I spent the afternoon strolling around, poking into shops and eventually each buying a stylish new summer hat at an outdoor stand in Soho.
It felt as if we had briefly lost our way, or our heads, the evening before. But then, just like that, we had suddenly found them again.PattieandAllegrainhats.JPG
Aidan didn’t make it out of his meeting in time to join us for our late lunch, alas, and unfortunately we had to leave by 5 in order to get home in time to pick up the dog where she was boarding. Otherwise, it was what I would call a picture-perfect Father’s Day.
        Which just goes to show that you can't let yourself get too down about anything, even a derailed family dinner, because all's well that ends swell, and tomorrow really is another (Father's) day... or whatever it is they say.
As for that timeshare we had been persuaded to buy, we canceled it the very next day. It’s not that we won’t be going to the city as much as ever to hang out with our kids. We’ll just be staying at other, cheaper, and far less luxurious places, which will leave more money for eating out and going to the theater.Harlaneatinghotdog1.JPG
In the future, though, I’ll be sure to make certain everyone knows all the plans. And maybe we’ll bite off just a little bit less from now on. Or start chewing a whole lot earlier.

10:43 pm 

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Word From the Weiss

 Whatmenwantimage.jpg       I know that everyone is always asking what it is that women want, but seriously. Does anyone out there have a clue what to buy for men? I really could’ve used some sage advice this week, because it’s not just Father’s Day in our household. With my husband’s birthday falling on Wednesday, June 13, for us it’s more like Father’s Week.Bugsocks.jpg
Although he may be a decade my senior, my husband is most definitely not my dad. Yet I always buy him something for both occasions. After 30 years together, I know exactly what he likes – unusual ties, novelty socks decorated with animals, vegetables, or other interesting designs, and, when really in doubt, wine. But at his age (68!) he has more than enough of these things already, and pretty much everything else.
Wine, being a consumable commodity, is certainly something that you can always use more of, but he hasn’t drunk any of the bottles I bought him last year yet. He keeps saving the good stuff for some special occasion that never comes.
A good book? You can’t be serious. He has unread books piled everywhere.Noseearandlawntrimmer.jpg
Men, it seems to me, enjoy devices and gadgets most of all (preferably ones that are frivolous and multifunctional, like a weed-wacker that can landscape your lawn and also manscape your nose and ears, then pop open a few beers). But they won’t read instructions. So the Kindle I bought him last year because he was so desperate to have it? He claims that he's been waiting to use it until after he finished reading those piles of actual unread books. All I know is that it took him a year to take it out of the box.

When I was a kid, I often felt that I was getting a bit gypped, in that my mid-January birthday fell right on the heels of Hanukkah, so I got all of my gifts in one fell swoop, then for the rest of the year… absolutely nothin’. For my husband to have both of those two major occasions fall during the exact same week, though? All may be fair in love and war, but definitely not when it comes to holidays.Harlanhappyheadshot.jpg 
Then again, don’t cry for him, Argentina. Or any other countries out there. Being Nice Jewish Mom, I’m on the case, so -- believe me -- he’s getting plenty of birthday.
Now that the kids are out of the house, we’re celebrating both occasions with them over the coming weekend, as usual, so I’ll have to wait until next week to report back. But there have already been two or three dinners with other people, and many presents. As I said, he’s getting plenty of birthday. We have partied almost every day this week.
Nearly every Monday for the past few years, we’ve gone out for dinner with the same small group of friends. It all started when my BFFs Pat and Liz began taking a weekly Zumba class with me at the local Jewish community center about five years ago. If you ask me, Zumba offers the most possible fun you can have while standing up. I actually look forward to it all week, never miss class unless absolutely necessary, and would go so far as to say that it’s the only form of exercise I have ever actually enjoyed.PatandLizatwomensseder.JPG
As for Pat and Liz, though, not so much. Pat got bored with it after about a month, pronouncing it monotonous. (She actually prefers a spinning class -- talk about monotony.) Liz, meanwhile, abandoned it about a year ago for her own one true exercise love at first side plank pose, yoga.
The one part of the ritual that has persisted unabated, though, is the dinner we get together for afterwards. Pat’s husband and mine always join us for this, and since I’m always dressed in workout clothes (and rather sweaty ones at that), we don’t want to go to the most elegant eatery around. But neither do we want to settle for fast food, either. So we go to Panera Bread.PaneraBreadpastries.jpg
If you’re not familiar with Panera, then let me explain that it’s a national chain that offers relatively healthy foods liked soups, salads, and hot paninis, as well as some not so healthy foods like baguettes, bagels and other baked goods. The hard part is walking past the mouthwatering pastries always displayed at the front, which, after a vigorous workout, look so tempting to me that ogling them feels like my own form of pornography.
The five of us meet there at 7:15 p.m. each Monday for what we call “Zumba dinner,” even if I’m the only one doing any Zumba anymore. And somehow, although we always each tend to order almost the same thing – for me it’s a cup of creamy tomato soup and half a Fuji Apple Chicken Salad -- the experience always seems almost as fresh as the bread they serve up, because we get to unburden ourselves of whatever problems have cropped up during the week, most of which tend to involve everyone’s kinder (that’s Yiddish for “kids”). Or inlaws and exes. Or our kinder’s inlaws and exes.HarlansPanerabirthdaywithcupcake2.JPG
As time has gone on, we’ve realized that we enjoy meeting at this place as much, if not more, than eating at our favorite fine restaurants. It’s such a bargain that we don’t feel guilty about either the monetary expenditures or the calories. It’s so cathartic to dish about our problems that we don’t need to go for actual therapy. Most of all, though, we relish the ritual for the camaraderie. It’s almost like being back in college again.
Then again, after all these years, even something you enjoy can become routine. So we seize upon any and every occasion we can think of to spice up the meal a bit. Wedding anniversaries and other milestones are potential fodder for extra fun, but we make the most of our five respective birthdays.
As time has gone on, the scale of our celebrations has kept escalating to include not just cake with candles, but party hats and balloons. Although Panera serves a wide variety of baked goods prepared on the premises, it does not offer anything resembling a birthday cake, so more often than not we choose to bring one in from elsewhere instead, along with all of these other accoutrements, as tacky as this may seem.AmyandRich.jpg
One night we invited another couple, our friends Rich and Amy, to join us, but Rich summarily declined on the grounds that it was too tacky, perhaps even unethical. Personally, I can understand his embarrassment to be a party to this sort of partying. On the other hand, I figure that the place would rather that we come with our own cake, candles, and party paraphernalia rather than choosing to celebrate by dining elsewhere. I also feel that we’re such faithful regulars there that not only does everybody know our names but we practically own the joint and can do virtually anything there that we like.
Along those lines, we’ve often had the chutzpah to ask staffers there for matches to light the candles on the cakes we bring in, and they have always readily obliged.Harlansbirthdaycupcake.jpg
This year, knowing that my husband far prefers ice cream to any other dessert, I chose to go a slightly different route. Just for appearances, I bought a pretty iced carrot muffin there to stick candles into, but I also brought along two pints of Haagen-Dazs (chocolate and vanilla bean), as well as a pint of sorbet for Liz, who’s lactose intolerant.MichaelatPanerawithwhippedcream.jpg
Being Nice Jewish Mom, though, I wanted to make it even more special. (Why settle for plain old ice cream when you can stage a make-your-own-banana-split bar?) So along with schlepping the party hats, I took along whipped cream, bananas, assorted berries, and nuts I’d freshly toasted. (My nut recipe: Put about ¾ cups of slivered almonds in a bowl along with three tablespoons butter, a tablespoon or so of sugar and a few shakes of kosher salt. Microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring once in the middle. If necessary, cook longer until they’re a deep, golden brown. Healthy? Not exactly. But delicious? Beyond.)Toastedalmondsinbowl.jpg
I did not bring along my home-made hot fudge because the birthday boy insisted that this was going too far. But that is also almost a snap to make. (Melt 4 squares of unsweetened chocolate in 1/3 cup water and cook over a low flame, stirring until blended and smooth. Add 1 cup sugar and a pinch of salt and continue cooking, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture becomes slightly thickened. Stir in one stick of butter and ½ teaspoon vanilla and immediately remove from heat. Healthy? Don’t even ask. As for beyond delicious… Uh, ditto!)hotfudgeonspoon.jpg
I also brought along all of the necessary accoutrements – not just plates, bowls, and spoons, but also ice cream scoops and yes, candles and matches. And after we’d dispensed with all of the healthy food and the gossip, I quickly whipped this all out.Patsbirthdaycard.JPG
Pat and Michael had inadvertently left the gift they’d bought at their weekend home in Vermont, but they had a clever card, noting that “You’re at the perfect age... not dead.” Also, in keeping with a funny custom we’ve been observing for years (so many years that we can no longer remember which of us initiated it, although Pat insists it was her), the card bore the signatures of almost everyone we have ever met or ever mentioned in our conversations, from each of our children to our rabbi, Barack and Michelle Obama, our current dog, our former dog, my husband’s prep school, Mitt, Oprah, and, of course, Panera.LizsgifttoHarlan.JPG
As for Liz, she came up with a novel gift perfect for my compulsive snacker: a battery-operated gumball machine, plus assorted candies with which to stock it. Did I say that men like devices and gadgets? What gadget could be better than that?
The rest of the group seemed perplexed when I didn’t present anything myself. I made the excuse that this was only Monday, and I was saving my gifts for the actual day. But truth be told, I had two days to go and I still didn’t have a clue.
The birthday boy had, in fact, been telling me for weeks what he wanted. What he wanted, however, was not just any old device but an iPad or similar so-called notebook, so that when he covered meetings as a newspaper reporter he could type on this instead of scribbling in an actual notebook and having to laboriously transcribe it afterwards.Harlaninpartyhat.JPG
The problem is that, being a decade older than I am, he is stuck in a bit of a time warp in terms of technology. Our kids can look at any sort of computer or digital device and know instantly how to navigate through it the way almost any sane woman can operate any washing machine without aid or instructions. My husband, on the other hand, gets easily befuddled by all things electronic has loud wrestling matches on almost a daily basis with his laptop computer, his video camera, his digital camera, his blasted iPhone, and even the TV remote. Did I really want to add to this litany of public enemies?
Plus in past years he has convinced me to buy him a computer printer that he has never managed to operate and a teeny-weeny TV he used exactly once, not to mention last year’s Kindle, still in the box. Did I really want to add to that list?Latkewithboomerangsilhouetted.jpg
In a moment of mild inspiration, I let the dog “pick out” a gift, a squeaky toy shaped like a boomerang, to use with Daddy while we were out buying dog treats. Latke these days is Daddy’s little girl and once true love. Couldn’t go wrong with that.ILoveYouDadbowl.JPG
Soon after, Daddy’s actual little girl texted to consult me on what to get Dad. Even with all the stores in NYC at her disposal, Allegra didn’t have a clue either. I told her to forego the shopping route entirely and give him something he’d really appreciate. She may be a grown woman, at 22, but parents never really tire of getting home-made gifts from their kids. And in this particular case, Nice Jewish Dad has been heartbroken ever since a bowl she painted for him many years ago fell off the counter and broke.
I had done my best to reassemble it with Krazy Glu, but it was no longer usable. Weren’t there any places in NYC where she could paint him another?Newbowlinterior.JPG
She immediately agreed and arranged to take the 5-year-old she baby-sits along on this mission, and proceeded to text me photos of the finished product. And seeing these, I suddenly had an inspiration for a DIY project of my own.
Several years ago, at a similar loss, I made my husband a gift that he seemed to enjoy and actually use more than any newfangled device I’d ever bought him.
It’s been so many years since I did this – exactly five, I discovered – that I don’t remember where I got the idea, but I think I came up with it all by myself; I may subscribe to O (the Oprah magazine), More (the over-40 women's magazine), and Vogue (the I wish I were 6 feet tall and could fit into a size 6 magazine), but I do not read any crafting magazines.Photoplacemat2007.JPG
        Every year I assemble a photo collage of family photos from the past year and sent it out as a holiday card. I always laminate a copy of this for us to save, and that’s what gave me the idea.
I made a slightly larger version of this, using photos from vacations, family dinners and other occasions from the past year, and had this laminated as well. On the reverse side I placed a piece of colorful construction paper and attached a sign on which I’d printed out greetings wishing him a happy birthday and Father’s Day. And voilá! I had a homemade placemat/keepsake to use for years to come.Photoplacemat20122.JPG
        After five years of steady use, though, those placemats were now a little the worse for wear. So I spent half of the afternoon making him an updated set. This time on the reverse I glued on images of dogs wearing party hats. Even better!

After five years of steady use, though, those placemats were now a little the worse for wear. So I spent half of the afternoon making him an updated set. This time on the reverse I glued on images of dogs wearing party hats. Even better!Photoplacemat2012reverse.jpg
Although they admittedly required some design sense and elbow grease, not to mention a whole lot of glue stick, making these items at Staples cost about 2 bucks apiece – 99 cents for color copying and another buck for laminating. The actual value, though? How could you quantify it, other than to say priceless?
        The only sad thing is that on the updated version, he has five more years of wear and tear on him... a also a little less hair on his head.Harlanwithwinebottleup.jpg
Not to seem chintzy, I also bought him some more colorful socks, a set of four tall beer glasses, and a few new bottles of wine (although as I explained to the clerk at the wine store, what I wanted was something OK but not particularly good, since if I bought him any more good stuff it would just go onto the shelf for safekeeping).
And I decided to stop right there, since more likely than not I will still end up shelling out for the iPad and/or notebook device… also destined for safekeeping.
        I’m happy to report that he appreciated all of these items thoroughly, and was so excited about the new updated placemats that he’s been showing them to everyone.
The thing that he appreciated most of all, though, it turned out, was the birthday card I bought. It’s one of those cards with a New Yorker cartoon on the front. This one features a tank full of tropical fish, a bird in a birdcage, and a dog. And above each of these characters is a balloon displaying their inner thoughts. The fish thinks, “Fish got to swim.” The bird thinks, “Birds got to fly.” And the dog, which has a distinctly hang-dog look, laments, “I got to love one man till I die.”FishGottoSwimcard.JPG
I won’t read you my inscription, but I signed it from both Latke and me.
I presented all of these to him on the actual day, along with his favorite food. Spaghetti.
The next night, we went out with our good friends Sally and Dial, to a favorite local Italian place called Salute. (Yes, even more spaghetti.)HarlansbirthdaySallyandDial2.JPG
        Afterwards, we came back home with them and lit candles on the key lime cupcakes Sally had brought along to eat with our ice cream... and my homemade hot fudge.AdamandEvecup.JPG
Then they presented him with their own novel gifts: a Corksickle (a long plastic wand you keep in the freezer and insert in wine bottles to cool them instantly); some funky stickers to decorate his computer and other technology; and an Adam and Eve mug that becomes instantly X-rated when you add hot H2O.
        "Weird stuff," he declared as he gathered his gifts afterwards. "Good -- I like weird stuff!"Corkcicle.jpg

        And there, I guess, I have my answer. That's what men want!!!

Yes, as I said, he’s had plenty of birthday. And the real celebration has yet to begin. We’re off to see the kinder. For an action and culture-packed Father’s Weekend. And probably more spaghetti, ice cream, and weird stuff. I’ll have to report back.

1:40 pm 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Word From the Weiss

JudyCollinsheadshot1.jpg        When I found the double bill months ago, it didn’t just sound like a proverbial match made in heaven; it seemed like bashert. Madeleine Peyroux and Judy Collins: One of my daughter’s all-time favorite singers paired up for a concert with one of mine. That meant I would get to listen to her music, and she would get a rare taste of mine. What could be better than that for mother-daughter bonding?
        So I quickly snagged four tickets, believing that my husband enjoys almost everything and hoping my son might consent to come along, if only for a little nice Jewish family togetherness.TownHallmarqueeupright.jpg
This stellar event was being held at Town Hall in NYC last Friday night, and as long as we were schlepping down to the city, we decided to make a full weekend of it. So I sublet an apartment on Airbnb.com, reserved a table at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, and made plans to meet Cousin Stephanie and her new boyfriend, who were in from California to attend a wedding, for brunch with the whole fam on Sunday. Perhaps my husband and I would also see a play on Saturday night.
        Talk about full weekends.
My daughter and I also planned to go shopping at a favorite store, which she’d noticed was having a going-out-of-business sale.
        Talk about mother-daughter bonding.Anthonysairbnbapartmentbed.jpg
The apartment I booked was in Chelsea, not just because we like its whole artsy, laid-back vibe, but also our son lives there and our daughter likes it well enough to meet up with us there now and then and just hang out. We’d never stayed at this particular place before, but it looked nice online and even nicer in person. We even found free parking on the street, good for the whole weekend, right out front.JudaicaatAnthonys.jpg
It also was a nice touch to arrive and find the place abounding with tchotchkes like a Lucite matzah holder atop the refrigerator, mezuzahs on every doorway and a bunch of other Judaica. Clearly, our host, Anthony, was a landsman. Not that it really matters. But it helped make us feel almost immediately at home in our home away from home.AllegraandGlennatJudyCollins2.JPG
Our son, it turned out, was unable to make the concert or dinner after all. Aidan, a free-lance music critic, was reviewing a concert that night for The Village Voice. But Allegra had invited along her affable friend Glenn, a talented guitarist we especially like, and we took the subway up to meet them at Café Un Deux Trois on West 44th.  There, we shared some authentically French pâté and introduced Glenn to escargots. Kosher?escargots.jpg Mais non! (If snails aren't shellfish, then tell me, what is?) Then again, as trayf goes, is there anything more divine?
Then we made our way around the corner to Town Hall, from which a line snaked down the block, and we noticed something right away. Not only was this line extremely long; almost everyone on it was extremely long in the tooth. I’m talking about us. And others of our ilk. Golden oldies, every one. A Justin Bieber concert this was not.TownHallaudience.JPG
In fact, surveying the vast sea of gray matter assembled inside (and by gray matter I am referring to what was on the heads, not in them), I had the distinct impression that most of this crowd had been drawn to the event by the second half of the program (Ms. Collins), not the first (Ms. Peyroux). Personally, I was only nominally familiar with the latter’s artistry. But I trusted my daughter’s taste and was eager to learn what was so special about her.JudyCollinsradiohost.JPG
I was also eager to be able to show all of you what was so special about her, but before either of these wonderful ladies could emerge, a rather rumpled gentleman took the stage to introduce them. This fellow, a longtime radio show host, fit right in with the vintage of the crowd. He recalled a time about 40 years ago when he was working at a classical music station and the folk music he’d begun to play was a little too progressive for most of his listeners’ tastes. But then he ordered everyone to put away their digital and video cameras, cell phones and other technological devices, saying that they couldn’t use anything that hadn’t existed 40 years ago. And so I reluctantly but dutifully complied.MadeleinePeyrouxwithguitar.jpg
Then Ms. Peyroux, guitar in hand, took the stage with her band. A 39-year-old jazz singer-songwriter who cites Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Bob Dylan among the influences on her music, Peyroux grew up in Brooklyn but moved to Paris at age 13, after her parents divorced. That would explain why much of her set was sung in French.
What it does not explain is why I couldn’t make heads or tails of more than half the lyrics she sang. (In fact, despite my high school French being rusty at best, I caught far more of what she performed en francais than anything that she crooned in English.) Neither did a single tune that she sang sound remotely familiar, although I’d heard Allegra play her music now and then around the house. I assumed that this meant she was singing only new material from her latest album, but Allegra later explained that she simply was improvising so much that she rarely if ever bothered to stick to the melody.Allegrawithhairback.JPG
As we all know, there’s something strange in the human brain that makes music much more enjoyable when it strikes a chord of familiarity, versus many other sources of pleasure, such as art and travel, which make us yearn for something novel and new. In the absence of this sensation, I kept glancing over at Allegra to get a vicarious thrill. She was smiling but looked far from euphoric or transfixed.
As for the rest of the crowd, they applauded appreciatively after every number and even clamored dutifully for an encore at the end. But Ms. Peyroux, perhaps sensing that this assemblage of wizened Generation Ex-Woodstockers was not her customary fan base, looked uncomfortable from start to finish, awkwardly muttering dry quips between songs that were also all but inaudible.
And then she was gone.
Then, after an unusually lengthy intermission (presumably so everyone not wearing Depends could make a much-needed visit to the restroom), Act Two began. And it was something else entirely.JudyCollinsonstageblurry.JPG
From the moment that Ms. Collins wafted onstage, her thick, incandescent lioness’s mane of ghost-white hair enveloping her like something between a haze of magicians’ smoke and an angelic halo, the till-now semi-somnambulistic crowd stirred instantly back to life, as though it just had downed a double dose of psychic Viagra.
And who could blame them? Each silvery note not only evoked the entire span of my teenage years and young adulthood, but also instantly brought back another era, a kinder and gentler one. Well, maybe between the Vietnam War, the student massacre at Kent State and the sum total of my personal angst it wasn’t all that kinder, or gentler, but glimpsed through my rearview mirror it looks an awful lot like better times gone by.
Clothed in a glittery blazer, painted-on-tight leggings and knee-high leather boots, Ms. Collins looked not just well-preserved but as svelte as a 16-year-old – so svelte, in fact, that I didn’t know whether to say, “Boy, she looks great!” or “Boy, she looks gaunt!”JudyCollins2010.jpg
But of course we hadn’t come to see her in person as much as to hear That Voice. And that voice, which to my mind knew no equal, is what was truly the best preserved. As she strummed and sang through classic hits with which she’d once gone platinum, from Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” it became unmistakable that, however frail she may appear at 73, she hasn’t lost one iota of either the melody or the magic.
No offense meant to my daughter, whose singing puts me into a state of euphoria. Yet as corny as it may be to say, Collins’ voice was absolutely the purest and most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. Listening to it felt like the aural equivalent of being able to look directly into the sun without having it hurt. In fact, I actually began to think that if I were ever in unbearable discomfort or nearing death from some horrific disease, all I would want was to have her singing to me live, and I could die happy and pain-free.Pattieontramheadshot.jpg
It also made me think about how there’s truly nothing more moving than live music. Especially if it’s the sort of music that resonates deep inside your own personal soul. The fact is that I do attend concerts regularly, but out of deference to my family, all of whom are either jazz musicians and/or jazz lovers, these invariably involve some form of jazz. After years of exposure I’ve developed an ear for it and even genuine fondness. But there’s nothing for me quite like the folk music and other strains of my distant youth.
And although, at 73, Ms. Collins and her contemporaries are not necessarily about to kick the bucket, neither is there any guarantee that they will have their vocal prowess, stamina or star quality forever. So if you discover that some musician you once loved is playing, don’t wait (or hesitate to shell out whatever it costs). See them. See them now!AllegraatJudyCollinsheadshot1.jpg
And, if the opportunity should possibly present itself, see them with your children. In the throes of sheer ecstasy, I looked once again over at Allegra to gauge her own reaction and, to my delight, to all appearances I sensed she was similarly mesmerized. Days later, I noticed that she had put up a posting on Facebook just as the concert began. “Madeleine Peyroux live right now,” it read. But she had to confess that, in the end, she was surprised to have been more impressed – and moved – by Ms. Collins.JudyCollinsandArloGuthrie.jpg
“She was an angelic vision with a voice to match,” she said, “polished and poised with the delivery of a goddess.” She was also impressed and delighted by her candor, in that she wove the many songs she sang into a colorful and star-studded narrative of her life, recalling such times as the concert she once gave in the Village in 1961 at which she realized that the place was packed mostly due to her opening act, some 13-year-old kid she thought really stunk (so what if he happened to be Woody Guthrie’s son?). Or how she was visiting friends in Woodstock, NY in 1964 when she woke up at 3 a.m. and wanderedBobDylanwithguitar.jpg upstairs to find Bob Dylan working out a new song with a refrain that went, “Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man…”
Best of all, the performance seemed to have opened Allegra's mind to another genre – and era.
“It was a very soothing, very pure sound,” my daughter allowed in conclusion. “Unfortunately, there isn’t anybody who sings like that anymore.”
Talk about mother-daughter bonding.Murraysbagelwithlox.jpg
We reconvened for a little more mother- (and father-) daughter bonding the next morning, although to our disappointment the breakfast spot right down our block that she’d raved about, Gezunte Bagel, turned out to be closed for shabbat, so we had to settle for bagel sandwiches at a reliable old standby, Murray’s on West 18th, instead.AllegraandEmilyinChelsea2.jpg
Then Nice Jewish Dad took off to wander around on his own so Allegra and I, along with her good friend Emily, could take off on our intended shopping excursion.
A funny thing happened on the way to our destination, which was way uptown. Every subway train that arrived at our station seemed to be the wrong one, and we found ourselves waiting underground for more than half an hour. Finally, to our relief, the right one rolled into the station, and the moment we boarded it Allegra leaned over to point out a young woman sitting near us in the car and whisper that she was a fellow jazz singer who'd sung regularly at our favorite restaurant in Boston, Le Petit Robert, while Allegra was a student at nearby New England Conservatory.
I urged her to go over and say hello. But having Mom make the suggestion only caused my normally gregarious daughter to freeze up and dig in her heels, of course. “No, it probably isn’t her,” she protested.
“It obviously is,” I countered. And even if it actually wasn’t, I figured, who cared? How funny it is at my age to see younger people so terrified to risk embarrassment. If there’s one advantage to getting older (and this is probably the ONLY advantage), it’s that you barely worry about that stuff anymore. “If you don’t want to ask her, then I will,”Jazzsingeronsubway.jpg I said.
But my daughter was even more horrified at that prospect, insisting that the young woman knew her and wouldn’t know me, so she finally got up her nerve and went over.
The young woman lit up immediately, of course, remembering Allegra and thrilled to be recognized. So I hurried over as well, mostly to get the chance to ask one key question. “Where are you singing these days?”
The girl promptly named a club at a nice hotel where she was performing regularly, then got a sudden inspiration. “In fact, they’re auditioning new bands,” she told Allegra. “You should really apply!”
It took a whole lot of restraint not to exult or utter, “You see?” as we exited. Instead, I merely urged Allegra to contact the place as soon as possible. “Running into her wasn’t just a matter of chance or coincidence,” I asserted. “That’s what I call bashert.BetseyJohnsonawning.JPG
But first we had another sort of a date with destiny scheduled. Allegra had noticed that the Betsey Johnson boutique which she passes on her way home was going out of business, and she wanted to check out the sale there with dear old Nice Jewish Mom.BetseyJohnsoninMarilynshirt.jpg
Betsey Johnson isn’t just one of our all-time favorite designers, thanks to her funky, spunky and ultra-figure-flattering designs. She grew up in Wethersfield, CT, a town near ours, so back in 1986, when I was the fashion editor of the local Sunday magazine, I got to hang out with her for a whole day while writing a profile of her.
And as Allegra has heard me recount on many an occasion, I happened to be extremely pregnant with her older brother Aidan at the time, prompting Ms. Johnson to insist on giving me a huge, floral-patterned, one-size-fits all sweater from her then-current collection.
        Under normal circumstance, it’s totallyPattiepregnantinBetseyJohnson.jpg unethical for a journalist to accept anything whatsoever from someone he or she is writing about. However, under my own circumstances – namely, that I had almost nothing presentable to wear in my size at the time, which was ginormous – my editor at The Hartford Courant gave me special dispensation to keep it. (And if you don’t believe me, just look at this photo with my mom [left] and mother-in-law. I’m the red-haired hippo-and-a-half on the right!)
I was extremely distressed to learn recently that Ms. Johnson has filed for Chapter 11 and that most of the 63 boutiques that bear her name are closing. Yet the prospect of her clothing at closeout prices was close to irresistible. Unfortunately, at only 30 percent off at this point, most garments at the store we entered were still beyond pricey. Yet both girls found a handful to try, if only for fun.BetseyJohnsonsale.jpg
There were two other young women checking out the merchandise, and when one of them emerged from an adjacent dressing room in the exact same dress that Allegra was trying on, I asked if she was also a singer because they could both buy it and form a girls’ singing group. Soon I found myself weighing in on everything else this girl modeled too, finally insisting that she buy another that looked as if it had been made for her. She eyed me skeptically and seemed unconvinced.
“My mom actually knows what she’s talking about,” Allegra explained to her, for once not totally embarrassed by my public behavior. “She used to be a fashion editor.”
“I’m not just being nosy,” I hastened to add. “I’m actually a professional noodge.  I’m NiceJewishMom.com.”BetseyJohnsondress2cropped.jpg
Meanwhile, Allegra found two dresses that looked like they’d been made for her. And after she finally managed with great difficulty to choose between the two of them, it was suddenly someone else’s turn to be nosy… or more like a professional Scrooge.
When we learned how expensive this dress was, despite the 30 percent off, Allegra said she couldn’t bear to let me shell out for it. But I insisted on buying it anyway, with the proviso that she wear it to a wedding we were attending next month.
“You can’t wear that to a wedding!” one of the two salesgirls on duty declared.
“Huh?” I asked, dumbfounded to the point of being ferblunget. “Why not?”
“It’s white,” the other salesgirl there piped up. “Everyone knows you can’t wear white to a wedding.”
I began to argue that it wasn’t white, but cream colored, with a multitude of black stripes running down the bodice and embellishing the hem. But these two girls insisted that many brides wear champagne instead of lily white, and that my daughter could only wear this dress if she and the bride were extremely close friends and she got permission from her first.
Are you a good friend of the bride?” she went so far as to inquire.
“Actually, I’m a good friend of the groom’s,” Allegra allowed a bit sheepishly. “He was my boyfriend back in high school.”
“Oh! Then you definitely can’t wear this dress,” the girl decreed, pronouncing this prospect not only socially unacceptable, but also “disrespectful to the bride.”PattieinBetseyJohnsondresssilhouetted.jpg
I began to wonder if these young women might go so far as to refuse to sell it to us, and fantasized about reporting their poor salesmanship to a higher authority, namely my "old friend” Betsey. Meanwhile, Allegra was growing so uncomfortable that she no longer even wanted the dress. But I insisted that she buy it and wear it to the nuptials, and in the heat of the battle I dashed into the dressing room with something else I spied on the rack, then emerged in this black number with spaghetti straps, which I insisted on buying as well and wearing right out of the store.
        Who knows? I might even end up wearing it to the wedding, never mind that, as everyone knows, you can't wear black to a wedding.
Talk about mother-daughter bonding.
That night, Allegra was throwing a birthday party for Emily, so Nice Jewish Dad and I decided to see a play on our own at Playwrights Horizons. What we chose hadn’t even opened yet, so we were taking a chance. Or maybe not so much of a chance, since it was written by Gina Gionfriddo, the playwright who wrote Becky Shaw, a 2009 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize which was reputed to be amazing.AmyBrenneman2.jpg
Also in its favor was that it starred Amy Brenneman, known for her TV roles on NYPD Blue, Judging Amy and Private Practice, who also grew up near our town, in Glastonbury, CT. Then again, the entire cast of five was uniformly superb.
name of the play was Rapture, Blister, Burn, and if I were you I'd burn rubber to go see this insightful, witty production about two former grad school roommates.RaptureBlisterBurnposter.jpg
        Gwen and Catherine quote-unquote have it all – or they would, if they were one person. Sometime back during grad school, Cathy left for a fellowship in London and Gwen dropped out and married Cathy’s former boyfriend, and about 15 years later Cathy has the illustrious career of a red-hot author and Gwen has the husband, domestic servitude and dowdy wardrobe of a mother of two. And instead of thinking “To each her own,” they are each peering over the proverbial fence at grass that looks a whole lot greener.
Or so they are until Cathy is lured home by her mother's heart attack, and she drunk dials Gwen and her ex one night, confessing to some serious midlife envy.RaptureBlisterBurnCathyandGwen2.jpg
By the time the play starts she has already forgotten the phone call, but controlling hausfrau Gwen, who covets Cathy’s success and has long soured on her marriage to apathetic, pot-and-porn-addicted Don, is there to parrot back all the gory details.
“I said, ‘Maybe we should switch places,’ " she recalls, "and you said, ‘Like in a Disney movie?’”
And although this complex play is decidedly adult stuff -- delving into the fallout from feminism, the many sad, often soul-cannibalizing myths behind happily ever after, and the hopelessly jumbled relations between the sexes in a world where “women are running for president and men are exfoliating” -- that is soon precisely what happens.
After all, after living with the choices they’ve made, all three participants are game. “I’m like a f---ing dying plant, Gwen,” grouses Don, her bored, far-from-doting husband. “I am withering in the black, sunless hell of your disapproval.”
You’re withering?” Gwen retorts. “I could use a little sunlight, too, Don.”
The question is, will these three manage to live happily-ever-after after that?RaptureBlisterBurnCathyandDon.jpg 
As playwright Gionfriddo divulged this week in The New York Times, the day after the play began previews she heard from Wendy Wasserstein’s former assistant that “she wished Wendy were here to see me ‘taking up where The Heidi Chronicles left off.’ ”
Personally, I’d say it picks up where almost all romantic comedies leave off. We get to see not just the morning, but the marriage after – what we’d choose if we could do it all over again, and the many compromises we end up making with ourselves, if not each other.RaptureBlisterBurnCathyandmom1.jpg
Yet I must admit that the moment that resonated most for me was toward the end, when Cathy contemplates the potential loss of her mother, thinking back to the time she was caught in a hurricane and her mom called incessantly to make sure she was OK.
        As we all know, all romance has its limitations.
Or perhaps it’s just that there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – greater than a mother’s love.
“No one is ever going to love me like that,” she sighs. Amen.
        OK, I’m beat now and can’t even begin to tell you about the Sunday brunch we had with Cousin Stephanie. (As I said, it was a full weekend.) Suffice it to say that her new beau was a total mensch, and as far as I can see there are absolutely no limitations there. Evidently, at 40 she has finally met her match and a man eminently worth waiting for.
(OK, so they met online. But these days who doesn’t? I’m convinced it was bashert.)StephanieandJosh2.JPG
When I got home, I showed a picture of that Betsey Johnson dress to my good friend Suzy, the mother of the groom, who pronounced it absolutely adorable, said the bride was wearing white (not cream) and insisted that Allegra wear it to the wedding. Which may not exactly be permission from the bride, but is good enough for me.
Meanwhile, Allegra found a job posting online from the club recommended by the singer we saw on the subway, and she told me they’re looking for pop music, not jazz. But at the risk of undoing all of our recent bonding, I insisted that she call and apply anyway. And she quibbled valiantly and then said OK.
You can argue with your mother.
        You can even argue with NiceJewishMom.com.
        But bashert is destiny. It means meant to be.
        You cannot argue with bashert.Stephaniewithusatbrunchcropped.jpgPattieinBetseyJohnsonheadshotupright.jpg

11:36 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.