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Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Word From the Weiss

        Just as they say no news is good news, I suppose that all charity is good charity. Or is it? Yes, there are always people who may give less out of the goodness of their hearts than to out-give everyone they know and gain public recognition. But what if you give strictly to receive something in return, and that something is a bit more concrete than social status? And it’s not just something concrete, but something truly shallow?NightofTooManyStars.JPG
Something shamelessly ephemeral?
Something totally tacky?
Such was the case last Sunday night when I began to watch a TV special entitled Night of Too Many Stars.
OK, maybe it is possible to be too rich or too thin, but how, you might ask, can there ever be too many stars? I suppose there might be a production with such a star-studded cast that there are just too many names to name. Or one with so many egos attached that you run out of dressing rooms and don’t know who to give top billing.
In this case, though, the show was a fundraiser on Comedy Central, and there were so many celebs involved that there wasn’t enough time for everyone to get into the act. So, many of the stars were simply sitting on the set in order to answer the phones.
hey were there strictly to talk to anyone who called in to make a donation, that is. And that’s how I suddenly found myself in trouble.JonStewartonNightofTooManyStars.jpg
I hadn’t known anything about this show, but my husband had read about it and, being a devotee of its emcee, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, set our DVR to record it. And shortly after it kicked off at 9 p.m., he suddenly remembered to turn it on.
Judging from the name, I prepared myself to see some sort of comic variety hour. Au contraire. Sure, it was plenty funny. And it had plenty of variety. But its main purpose was not to entertain, but to raise dough for (and awareness of) the rising epidemic of autism.BoywithAutism.JPG
Although my purpose has never been and never will be to impress anyone else, I would like to think that I’m as charitable as the next guy (or next Jewish mom), maybe even moreso. I also consider autism to be both a pressing issue – it’s now estimated that 1 in 88 children are born with it – and an unquestionably noble cause. The way that people choose to allocate their contributions is extremely personal, though, and having no personal connection with the condition, I prefer to direct my philanthropy elsewhere.GrandmaBunnieheadshot.jpg
After all, cancer runs in my family (I lost both of my parents to it), so when it comes to health-care issues, that tends to be my priority. As a writer and a lover of theater, music, and all things creative, I also feel compelled to support theTheMonaLisa.jpg arts. (They may not exactly preserve life, but they help make it worth living.) And as a nice Jewish mom, I feel driven toGrandpaStuheadshot.jpg contribute to the Federation and other Jewish organizations. (We make up less than .2 percent of the world’s population. So if we don’t help each other, who will?).
Add in a little bit for food for the poor, political campaigns, and various other causes friends ask me to support, and how much more can I be expected to give?
But soon into this star-studded, on-air extravaganza, I began to rethink this stance.
Now, I also never have been someone to fawn over celebrities. As exciting as it may be to glimpse someone famous while at a restaurant or on the street, I’ve never understand the thrill of getting anyone’s autograph, and have no overwhelming desire to get my picture snapped with a movie star (although I might just find the time to pose if Hugh Jackman or Hugh Laurie were available).
        To have an actual conversation with someone famous sounded appealing, though, and this show had an abundance of them on hand. Not just stars. Too many stars! Or at least too many to choose from.
        Not that callers would actually get to choose.JerrySeinfeldonNOTMS.JPG
I mean, sitting at that long bank of telephones were some major-league A-listers: not only madcap supporting cast members from The Daily Show, along with Seth Meyers, Kenan Thompson, and half the current cast of Saturday Night Live, but also Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Kimmel, the late-night host of Jimmy Kimmel Live, and – I kid you not – Tom Hanks!TomHankspointing.JPG
I’d never had even a single moment in which I’d hankered to speak to Tom Hanks. But there he was, just hanging there, or maybe more accurately Hanking there, affably manning one of the countless phones. And I thought, Why not speak to Tom Hanks?
Or Paul Rudd (co-star of everything from Anchorman to The 40-Year-Old Virgin to the forthcoming Anchorman: The Legend Continues), who is among my favorite actors?
Or even Hoda Kotb, whom I watch religiously on weekday mornings as she co-hosts the fourth hour of NBC’s Today (while getting mildly smashed starting at 10 a.m.) alongside the ever-effervescent Kathie Lee Gifford?KathieLeeandHodawithredwine.jpg
Come to think of it, I had a whole lot of desire to talk to Hoda. My daughter had run into her in NYC in recent months, not just once but twice, leading me to believe that this might be destiny. Beshert. Allegra was convinced that I was meant to go on the show to talk about my blog. I believed Allegra was destined to go on the show to sing when she released her forthcoming jazz album. Could this be my chance to broach both subjects?
All I had to do was call… and make some sort of monetary donation, of course.BristolPalinonDancingwiththeStars.jpg
Also of course, there was no guarantee that I would get to talk to Hoda, or Mr. Hanks, or a recognizable “star” of any kind. As anyone familiar with the show Dancing With the Stars must know, sometimes that term is used rather loosely. (Bristol Palin? Melissa Rycroft?) In other words, thisringfromgumballmachine.jpg experience might turn out to be a bit like one of those gumball-style vending machines you see in front of supermarkets, where your kid puts in a quarter because she sees a glittery, bejeweledgumballstylevendingmachine.jpg ring encased inside a plastic capsule, but to her dismay all that comes out is a rubber caterpillar or some other piece of junk.
Perhaps I would make my donation and then merely get to talk to Andy Cohen, whom I admire for being both a prominent Jew and the first openly gay host of an American late-night talk show (Watch What Happens Live, on Bravo), but whose work I am mostly unfamiliar with, since I’ve never seen the show he is best known for hosting, AndyCohen.jpgThe Real Housewives of New Jersey.
Or perhaps I would indeed get to chat with Hoda. Ed Asner. Or even Tom Hanks.
As I contemplated this dilemma, I watched as Mr. Stewart set up the first major auction item of the night.  Evidently, the call-in portion of the show that I was watching was indeed live, but another segment of the program had been taped on an earlier date at New York City’s Beacon Theater. And at this event, Stewart had gotten various major celebrities to donate some rather unconventional services to benefit the cause at hand.
“Our next guests have appeared in such hits as Night of Too Many Stars 2008 and Night of Too Many Stars 2010,” he said. Then he introduced Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.TinaFeyandAmyPoehler.JPG
These SNL alums, close friends themselves and two of the funniest people alive, quickly burst onstage to offer a chance to become their new best friend… albeit only for that one night. As Fey stipulated, though, they preferred that this honor go to a female “just because, let’s face it, men and women can never really be friends,” so “inevitably, we would end up having sex with you.” And as much as racier things have happened on the major networks, on everything from The Young and the Restless to The Bachelorette, that was not the kind of camaraderie that these girls had in mind.
We were talking girlfriend friendship, rated G. “We’ll French-braid your hair!” Poehler prodded.GraceAnnfromCT.JPG
With that, the action started off at $4,000, but quickly ascended to nearly ten times that amount as a bidding war ensued between two members of the well-heeled-looking audience. Finally, it was agreed that this mutually devoted duo actually had room in their lives, or at least on this particular night, for two new friends, provided that each of the contenders was willing to cough up $36,000 for the privilege, as they readily were.
“I want the brunette!” Poehler squealed preemptively.TinaFeyandAmyPoehlerwithfriends.JPG
Then Grace Ann from Connecticut, and Karen from Rockland County bounded up to receive bear hugs from their new celebrity friends and join them over glasses of wine at an elegant, white-clothed table, and the girl talk got instantly underway as Fey fawned over her new gal pals, lavishing praise upon them for their best identifiable features.
“You have gorgeous raven hair,” she told Karen. “It’s really offsetting your skin beautifully.” Then she gushed over the gray sequined camisole gracing Grace Ann. “This top? Fantastic! You have a natural fashion sense.”
Hey, my hair offsets my skin. And I’d like to think I have a natural fashion sense. And what fun to have new friends, and famous, witty, best-seller-writing ones at that. Boy, did it look like they were having a barrel of laughs! I wanted to play this game too.
“Uh, hand me the phone,” I said to my husband, who never comments on my skin.Stewartatphonebank.JPG
As I dialed the number up on the screen, I wondered how much I’d have to give. Presumably, the generosity of those two women was motivated by a far more personal connection to the cause than mine. But if they were prepared to shell out $36,000 – that’s 2,000 chai – then I certainly could cough up some paltry sum to support this worthy effort.
I couldn’t help wondering if the amount that I offered might help determine which star wasMeredithVieira.JPG designated to me. How much would you have to shell out to shoot the breeze with bandleader Paul Shaffer? What might it cost to mince words with Meredith Vieira? And how much more might it take to mull life over with Julianne Moore?JulianneMoore.JPG
Then again, if each of these people had a set price, then what did that make them? You know that old joke, as well as the quote attributed to Winston Churchill when a socialite supposedly agreed to sleep with him for 5 million pounds, but huffily demanded “What kind of a woman do you think I am?” when he offered her only five pounds instead: "Madam, we've already established what you are. Now we’re haggling about the price."Stewartatphonebank2.JPG
        As I dialed, I became breathless with anticipation, expecting that someone with a household name was about to pick up the receiver and jot down my credit card information. Instead, after a few rings I got a woman named something like Marisol who said that she could help me. And by the time I'd spelled the name of my street and provided my Zip code, I asked sheepishly, well, didn’t I get to speak to one of the stars?SethMeyersandBillHader.JPG
“Oh, yeah. Yeah, sure. Of course you do,” she said, not sounding at all convincing. It was merely her job to get down all of my vital statistics first. But I needed to be aware, she said, that if I happened to get disconnected after that (and she said this as if she were alluding to the prospect of my getting wet while going outside in a raging storm), then I should simply keep calling back until I managed to get through to someone.
Then she asked how much I wanted to donate. Hmmm. I hadn’t quite settled on any specific figure. Hanks was touting the fact that for $100, they would send you both a Derek Zoolander 2013 “End of Syphilisation” calendar and a DVD of the HBO series Game of Thrones with ersatz commentary by comic actors Tracy Morgan and J.B. Smoove. I didn’t particularly covet either of these items, let alone both. On the other hand, even though the cause of autism wasn’t near or dear to my heart, I also didn’t want to appear cheap. So I spit out a number that I thought sounded passably decent.
“How about fifty bucks?” I asked. I guess that was good enough because she didn’t make any attempt to haggle with me. She simply wrote it down with my credit card number, expiration date, and three-digit security code.
Then she promptly disconnected me.JonStewartwithZoolandercalendar.JPG
I wasn’t completely sure that I had lost the connection right away because there was Muzak for awhile, then nothin’. Dead air. But after I’d heard complete silence for three or four minutes, I gave up in exasperation and promptly called back. The person who answered this time was a guy named Juan, who asked for my name and how much I wanted to donate. And when I explained that I already had made a donation and was calling back to talk to one of the stars, he said to hang on, then disconnected me again.
By now there was a stand-up comic named Bill Burr on the show going through his shtick. I’m not so sure he qualified as a star because I had never heard of him. BillBurr.JPGBut he definitely qualified as a standup comic because he was crass and kind of obnoxious. And also pretty funny.
“When is the nerd epidemic just going to end?” he was asking. “Like, when is the nerd bubble just gonna burst? They’re (bleep)ing everywhere! Every show, they’ve got a guy with black-framed glasses, kinda awkward, going [and here his voice went up two octaves], ‘I don’t know how to talk to the opposite sex!“ This is supposed to inspire me? When I was a kid, nerds had shame. They had horrible days at school. They were stuffed into lockers, left there overnight... Then in the morning, the janitor let them out and they got the (bleep) kicked out of them for wearing the same (bleep) two days in a row.nerd.jpg
“Now they’re walking around all proud, double pocket protectors, black socks yanked up. This is what happens when you get rid of bullying. When you get rid of a species’ natural predator, it just grows exponentially.”
Hmmm. The only thing growing in my house was my frustration, because in the time it had taken Burr to malign all of geek-kind, I had called back three times, only to explain my plight, listen to a few more insipid bars of Muzak, then lose contact again.
But I’d already anteed up 50 bucks, was still watching, and had nothing better to do. So I simply hit redial again.JackMccBrayerJimmyKimmelandvodka.JPG
Now Jack McBrayer, an actual, certifiable star (he plays Kenneth, the Gomer-like, lovable NBC page on 30 Rock) was getting in on the fun. He had consented to quaff a shot of vodka for every $25,000 donated, and the chance to raise his blood alcohol was evidently an inspired way to raise dough because those dollars just kept pouring in. With a dramatic drum roll, Letterman sidekick Shaffer unveiled the latest total, $56,377.JackMcBrayerwincing.JPG
At this, Rudd proffered two shots, which McBrayer downed with palpable distaste. Either the actor is as straight-laced as the prig he portrays, or vodka is just not his drink.CarlyRaeJepsen.JPG
young Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen sashayed out to sing and gyrate to her smash hit "Call Me Maybe" while actor Harvey Keitel ran interference by flatly reciting the lyrics (also with palpable distaste) between verses.
        Then Comedy Central talk show host Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report (he of the irreverent impulse to tease and the two silent T’s) got to do his share… with a bear. He strode onstage arm in arm with a big brown grizzly, which he insisted that he trusted unconditionally. “Just to illustrate my point,” he added, “before coming on tonight I slathered my entire body with salmon. That’s how much I trust this bear.”Colbertwithbearcropped.JPG
He also had stuffed his jock strap with chestnuts and blueberries, he continued, and was about to douse his neck with “the pheromones of a female bear in estrus – powerful stuff for a bear. This is like porn for the sinuses.” Then he entreated the animal to join him in a Sondheim medley. Before he could begin to rhyme “personable” with “coercin’ a bull,” though, Colbert had fallen prey to his furry friend, his arm seemingly torn from its socket as he collapsed while cajoling the audience to “give generously.”
Yet the next musical interlude proceeded without a hitch… or dry eye in the house.Jodihavingtantrum.JPG
When Jodi DiPiazza had been diagnosed with autism shortly before her second birthday, her parents had been warned that there was little if any hope. “What they told us was there’s no cure for it. It’s a life-long disability and don’t expect too much,” Tom DiPiazza, her father, stated in a video segment aired on the show.JodiDiPiazzasinging.JPG
Indeed, as a toddler she had been given to uncontrollable tantrums. Yet years of intensive behavioral intervention had not only enhanced her social skills, but also developed her natural musical abilities. Now 11, Jodi was able to appear onstage at the Beacon Theater, where she played and sang along exquisitely with Katy Perry on her hit song “Firework,” then wrapped her arms around her pop idol's waist in an adoring hug.JodiandKatysingingmyshot.JPGJodihugcloseup.JPG


        JonStewartverklempt.JPGEven the ever-cynical Stewart -- a gentle soul, after all, and a genuine Jew -- found himself so verklempt that he struggled to choke out words as he went to a commercial break.
But just when I began to feel great shame about my frivolous aim, comedian Louis CK took to the Beacon stage to remind me that, as pervasive a problem as autism might be, this was a night of too many stars but not a whole lot of earnestness or solemnity.
The celebrity item he’d been enlisted to hype was a true one-of-a-kind experience. “You get to make your Christmas card photo… with Al Pacino.” And he wasn’t talking about some cheesy cardboard cutout of the pre-eminent star of both stage and screen. “Al Pacino will be there with you,” he exclaimed deliriously, “as if he were in your family!”
What if you didn’t happen to celebrate Christmas? No problem. They had prepared for all contingencies. “Jews, we’ve got you covered. We’ve got a background for Jews. Seriously! He’ll do a Jew-y card thing.” They were even ready to accommodate atheists. “The background will just be a desolate nothing. Just sadness and despair,” he said.AlPacinoheadshot.JPG
Neither of these alternate options turned out to be necessary, though. After berating the crowd for not going beyond the top bid of $20,000 – “Jesus Christ, it’s Al Pacino. He was in The Godfather… all three of them!” – CK, star of the FX comedy series Louis, joined the bidding himself. And the honor finally once again ended up being shared by the two highest bidders – an audience member for $20,000 and CK himself for $25,000.
Then, on the live show, Pacino emerged in a cheery red cardigan and dutifully smiled for the camera as each tree-side family portrait was snapped in turn.AlPacinoXmascard1.JPG
After which, my spirits lifted (even though Christmas is clearly also not my thing), I reached for the phone and dared to try, try again.
This time, a young woman answered instantly and was a little more honest with me. When I explained my situation, she confessed that the problem of people getting cut off was reaching epidemic proportions. Donors were being put through to the celebrities even if they AlPacinoXmascard2.JPGonly gave a single dollar, creating such a backlog of callers waiting on hold that she wasn’t supposed to offer to try to reconnect anyone unless that person asked.
Since I had indeed asked, though, she said that she would gladly give it a try.
While she did, comedian Seth Rogen came out to offer yet another encounter of the celebrity kind.SethRogen.JPG
The star of such hits as Knocked Up and Superbad said that he knew many people with autism, so to recognize the cause, “I’m going to pee with the highest bidder.”
I kid you not. As Stewart quipped, he wanted to have “a pee party.” In this case, Rogen stipulated that he wished to reserve this honor for males only, because what he was offering was a chance to use the men’s room side by side, with a camera crew in tow. And then, if there were even the tiniest drop of self-righteousness in his righteous act, he succeeded in flushing away that impression by adding, “I gotta go pretty bad, too!”Pattieatherwitsend.jpg
By now, I was beginning to feel that my own personal agenda here might not be as tacky and tasteless as I had feared, or at the very least that I shouldn’t be quite so hard on myself for not approaching the enterprise in a dead-serious, reverent manner.
I was also beginning to wonder who in their right mind would offer so much as one cent to relieve themselves on camera, even in the company of a star of Rogen’s stature. But the bidding started off at $4,000 and soon began trickling in rapidly. And then for a third time, thanks to yet another bidding war, the prize was ultimately split two ways as the pair of people vying for this privilege forked over $16,000 apiece and then bounded onto the stage.DonnyDeutschinaudience.JPG
One of the two turned out to be something of a star himself, advertising mogul and TV personality Donny Deutsch, who used to have his own show on CNBC and is now a frequent guest on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and NBC’s Today. I don’t know whether he had any personal connection to autism, but he joined in with enormous hilarity as Stewart offered both Gatorade and asparagus to enhance the prize experience, then Rogen led this merry band to the nearest men’s room, camera crew indeed in tow.SethRogenandfriendsinmensroom.JPG
Maybe it was just a sudden attack of camera shyness, or perhaps Rogen hadn’t needed to go quite so badly after all, because upon arrival all of the participants seemed to have significant trouble getting their money's worth, if you get my drip... Er, drift.
But I can’t tell you if they ever actually succeeded or not because suddenly my latest telephone companion came back on the line to tell me that it was hopeless, and that all she could suggest was that I hang up and try again in 10 minutes or so.
I didn’t believe that my prospects were going to get any better by waiting, however, and with some prodding this nice young woman agreed to try once more on my behalf. She put me on hold again, and I braced myself for the sounds of silence. But instead, I heard a phone begin to ring. And then a different female voice came on and said hello.AllisonWho2.JPG
“Uh, hi!” I responded, so startled after waiting all this time that I found myself at a loss for words. And although she didn’t identify herself, I had the distinct impression from the cacophony of voices and ringing in the background that I had gotten through to an actual star.
“Who’s this?” the voice ventured, sounding young and just a little breathless.
I gave my first name only, then proposed the question right back. “Who’s this?”
“Allison Williams,” she responded sweetly.
Allison Williams. Allison Williams. The name sounded so familiar, but I just couldn’t seem to place it. So I proceeded to put my palm over the receiver as best as I could and stage whisper to my husband, who is a bit hard of hearing, “Who is Allison Williams?”
He looked at me blankly and shrugged. “Ask her what she’s on,” he whispered back.
That may have sounded like it made sense. I felt embarrassed to ask her, though. These people volunteering their time to man the phones were being billed as “stars.” Yet how much of a star could someone be if you had to ask them who they were?Femalenewscaster2.jpg
Her name sounded so strangely familiar, but I couldn’t begin to fathom who she was or manage to attach a face to the name. It sounded to me like a newscaster name. I had this vague sense that she was someone who delivered a nightly broadcast, maybe in New York. “Thanks for tuning in! This is Allison Williams with the 6:00 Evening News.”
“Ask her what she’s on!” my husband urged again as I put her on speakerphone. But I shook my head vehemently and struggled to find something else to say instead.
“Are you sitting up there with everyone else on the set?” was the best I could come up with as I peered at the screen imagining her face might suddenly pop into view.
“Yes,” she said genially, “I am, but we’re all about to head out for the evening.”
And before I could come up with anything remotely scintillating that might prolong the conversation, she began to sign off. “Thanks so much for your donation,” she said.
“Well, thanks for volunteering your time for such a worthy cause,” I replied lamely.
“You’re welcome!” And with that she clicked off and the line once again went dead.
Only then could I race to my computer to find out who the heck this woman was.AllisonWilliamsonphone.JPG
“Allison Williams.” I let my fingers do the Googling as fast as they possibly could. Then I looked at the photos attached and screamed.
Allison Williams! She was one of the four young stars of Girls on HBO, the most talked-about hit on the air last year and without question of one of my favorite shows. She played Marnie, the gorgeous but uptight best friend of the main character, Hannah, played by the series’ 26-year-old wunderkind creator, writer, and star Lena Dunham, whose ground-breaking production had been hailed by many as a Sex in the City for the 20-something set and was regarded by my daughter Allegra as a virtual video of her life.
As for why I’d kept thinking that she was some sort of a newscaster – hullo? BrianWIlliamsonNightlyNews.jpgHer father was Brian Williams, the NBC network news anchor I watch at 6:30 every night.
        How could I have been such a fool? How could I have wasted this opportunity?
Never mind having my daughter get to sing for Hoda and Kathie Lee. My son Aidan is an aspiring TV writer who free-lances GirlsonHBO.jpgregularly doing crew work on assorted TV shows. For the past year, I’d been virtually obsessed with the idea of his getting to work on Girls, meet Lena Dunham, and, as mental as this sounds, maybe even date her. (Never mind that she created Girls. She’s a nice Jewish girl.)
At the very least, I could’ve gushed to Williams about how much I admired her work, and Dunham’s, and that of all the other young stars connected with the show. I could have told her how much the writing resonated with my own daughter (even if knowing this makes the many sexually explicit scenes a little too graphic for my taste).Girls2.jpg
But no. “Thanks for volunteering your time for such a worthy cause,” is all I said. Why hadn’t I listened to my husband for once? How could I be so (bleeping) stupid?
Talking to Williams was, in its own way, even more thrilling to me than getting to hobnob with Tom Hanks. (Honestly, what would I have said to him? “Loved your work in Castaway, but that volleyball, Wilson? Ya gotta admit he stole the show”?)
And all I suddenly wanted was to call her back again.TomHanksinCastaway.jpg
Getting through the first time had been almost a miracle, though, or at least an act of unfettered persistence, unabashed pushiness, and uncharacteristic chutzpah, even for me. If I’d had to give a name to my own evening, it would’ve been “The Night of Too Many Calls.”
Besides, as I’d learned, when you phoned in the best-case scenario was that you got the luck of the draw, and as Williams had told me they were all about to head out.AllegraSeptember2012.JPG
So all I could do was call Allegra to report my thrilling news, only to hear her chastise me for not telling Williams what big fans we were of the show (and how much she related to it and felt that it totally captured her life). And then to comfort myself with the knowledge that I had indeed made a small but nice donation to a very worthy cause.AidanatCharlieswedding2.JPG
For in the end, maybe no one truly gives a hoot why we give or to whom we give it. The essential thing is that we give. (And in the end, the show raised $3.7 million for autism, including the money from corporate sponsors. Now, that’s a whole lotta vodka.)
Even so, I’m not quite ready to give up just yet. I still want Allegra to sing on Today someday for Hoda and Kathie Lee Gifford. I still want Aidan to manage to meet (and perchance to write for, work for, or even date) Lena Dunham, or Ms. Williams herself.
And so, though autism may not quite be my thing, I now can’t wait and am already counting the days. Yes, it’s only a year to go until The Night of Too Many Stars 2013.

2:26 pm 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Word From the Weiss

        Sorry, everyone -- this entry took me so long to finish writing (and even longer to put all the photos on) that I'm not going to post again this week.

Pattieatreunionheadshot.JPG        In recent weeks, as I have written, I’ve found myself almost relentlessly on the run, ricocheting from this state to that state and even coast to coast. This past weekend, though, I embarked on a different sort of excursion. A journey of truly epic proportions, and a sentimental one at that. For although I covered little ground in terms of distance – less than 90 miles each way – this expedition took me far back in time instead. Not just decades, but to a different mindset, a different milieu, and a decidedly different me.
You’ve heard of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth? Well, this was more like Journey to the Center of my Soul… or, potentially, a descent straight into hell.
Over the weekend, you see, somewhat against my better judgment, I attended my 40th reunion. And I’m not talking about a mere college reunion (nor am I quite that old!). I’m talking about a gut-wrenching, mind-warping, déjà vu-inducing return to my roots.ByramHillsHighSchool.jpg
Yes, I went back to high school.
These reunions may be familiar territory for you, so I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m making a mountain-climbing expedition out of a molehill. As far as I’m concerned, though, it was pretty heady stuff, because I believe you spend four of your most formative years in high school, and then the rest of your life trying to recover from it.
And once you have recovered from it – and I’d like to think I’ve made substantial progress in that regard – is it really prudent, advisable, or psychologically safe to return, even for a single day?Pattieinyearbook2.JPG
Exacerbating the trauma for me was that my parents were going through a messy divorce at the time, so let’s just say this was far from a happy time in my life. Plus, I felt so awkward, shy, and downright hideous that I was embarrassed to have anyone look at me (although this candid shot of me I found in my senior-year yearbook makes me wonder what I was thinking, because I'd give almost anything to look that young and fresh now).Pattieyearbookheadshot.JPG
Either way, it would be fair to say that by the time I had graduated, my self-esteem was basically in the toilet. We all know what happens to things in the toilet, though, so it would probably be more accurate to say that it had been flushed into oblivion and was virtually non-existent. And only through decades of marriage, motherhood, work, and my latest incarnation as Nice Jewish Mom have I managed to salvage most of it.PattieatCentralSynagoguesmiling.JPG
Then again, this weekend event sounded like it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For not only was it the first such reunion I would ever attend, but since I figured that I was not going to get any better-looking from here on in, it was probably going to be the last.Glee4.jpg
If you’re wondering why my appearance would be a major factor in this equation, then clearly you didn't once upon a time attend a public high school in America. Or you don’t watch Glee. After all, when you’re in high school here, you are painfully aware at every single second of every single day precisely how popular you are (or, in my particular case, aren’t), and that popularity is in no way related to your IQ (unless you're willing to concede that it's, in fact, inversely proportional). And then you spend the rest of your life trying to forget that. And yet, try as you might (at least in my particular case), you probably never fully will.JimandRoger.JPG
To be honest, I thought that I had finally risen above all that teenage stuff -- worrying about your appearance and what other people think of you -- until I received the invitation to this event over two years ago. Jim, Sue, and Roger, the three classmates who'd taken the initiative to organize it, believed that it would require that much advance notice for people to fit it into their schedules, especially for those who lived some distance away.ISurvivedHighSchool.jpg
In my case, it was such an easy drive to my hometown of Armonk, NY, a distant suburb of NYC, that I could have made it on a moment’s notice. I appreciated the alert, though, because I figured that it gave me time to lose 10 pounds, as well as to write a bestseller, cure cancer, or try to distinguish myself in some other way.
When those two years flew by and none of these things had happened, I had to resign myself to the fact that getting my hair done and wearing Spanx would have to do.
And I still wouldn’t have been eager to go to this fekakta event, or possibly enjoyed it, without my partner in crime.25thanniversaryatOliviero1.jpg
I’m not talking about my husband, because I think it’s meshugah to cart spouses along to these things and then have to worry about whether anyone is talking to them. By “partner in crime,” I mean my closest friend from high school and beyond.
Lisa and I met when I moved to Armonk in fourth grade, and although her family later moved overseas for a few years, as soon as she returned, just before high school, we picked up right where we’d left off.Lisaandmeyoung.JPG
Together, we discovered the Beatles, bras, and boys, not necessarily in that order. Since she lived right around the corner, our houses served as each other’s refuge whenever our parents made staying home insufferable (i.e. pretty much all the time).
In recent years, she’d moved around quite a bit, from Brooklyn, NY, to Florida, then finally Phoenix, so our visits had been few and far between and always included a family entourage. And as much as we loved getting to know each other’s husbands and kids, the greatest draw of this entire trip was that we’d get to spend time alone together.LisaandPattieatplay.JPG
With that in mind, I had agreed to forego the pregame segment of the reunion – Friday's dinner at a pizza place – in favor of taking in a Broadway show, something Lisa also rarely got to do.
We met for dinner first at Scarlatto, a nice Italian eatery in the Theater District, and when I began to hyperventilate at the sight of her it wasn’t just because I was breathless with anticipation, and so overcome with excitement that I had jogged the last three blocks in heels. Yes, I’ve made other friends over the years, but there’s nothing like an old friend who gets you, really knows you, and knows everything you’ve been through.
I was also thrilled to see that her voluminous, wavy hair was a little bigger and a little blonder, but it was otherwise the Lisa I knew and loved. She hadn’t changed a bit.
Over dinner, we compared notes about our current lives (she's the mother of two and runs a public relations firm with her husband), then confessed our mounting fears about the blasts from the past that lay ahead.
        I also got to fill her in on my progress in finding Chris, or mostly lack thereof.Chrisinyearbook.JPG
        Chris, arguably our closest male friend in high school, had always exuded the indefinable air to me of someone destined to make it big. One of those razor-sharp students who excel at every subject and score a perfect 1600 on the SATs, Chris was far too intellectual to be considered remotely cool at school. But when he’d discovered filmmaking during our senior year, I’d been convinced that he had found his niche.
“I am turning real artist – my newest (and necessarily greatest to date) film is in the works,” he wrote to me during his first semester at Yale. “A part awaits for all those willing.” In the volley of letters that continued between us, we began operating as a kind of mutual support system, one in which he played an oddly paternal role, despite our being the same age. He always signed affectionately with the same salutation: “Love, Pa.”Chrisinhighschool.JPG
“I miss you a lot and I want to talk to you about a lot of things,” he wrote in one. “You were one of the few people I could talk to without having to worry about defending my sanity, since you are as crazy as I am (my highest compliment).”
Over time, our postal exchange gradually tapered off. But one day, a year or two after college, he had called and arranged to meet Lisa and me for dinner in New York en route to a new job or graduate school program out West (I’ve long forgotten which).
At the time, I’d been sharing my apartment and my life with a college boyfriend, but that relationship had suddenly gone sour. After we’d dropped Lisa off in a cab, Chris had slipped an arm around me in the back seat and gently drawn me close. “Don’t worry,” he crooned consolingly. “I’m still your old Pa. I’ll always be there for you.”
I’m not exactly sure where “there” was, though. I never saw him again.FrancesFordCoppolawithOscars.jpg
Decades later, I still found myself lingering in movie theaters until all the credits had rolled. Frances Ford Coppola I knew he was not, but I still hoped to see his name. I never did, though. Neither had I been able to find him on the World Wide Web. It seemed unbelievable that he could just vanish into thin air. Yet entering his name on Google yielded nothing.
Lisa and I had long agreed that he was the classmate we were most eager to see. Yet as I confessed now, a last-ditch effort I’d made – a voice-mail message I’d left for his younger brother begging him to pass on my contact information – had remained unacknowledged.EdAsnerthen.jpg
After dinner, we raced to Grace, a dark tragicomedy that had opened the night before, drawn not only by the marquee value of its biggest star, Paul Rudd, but moreso by a supporting role played by Ed Asner, known best for portraying the ever-crusty boss Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, our favorite sitcom during our teenage years. Other than for the triple murder-suicide, it was the perfect prelude to our trip down Memory Lane.EdAsnernow.jpg
Then we drove to the La Quinta hotel in Armonk, where the reunion was taking place, and stayed up well past 1 a.m. poring over my yearbook.
The first event on the schedule was a tour of our alma mater, called Byram Hills. We pulled down the school’s circuitous driveway with almost overwhelming trepidation.Reunionwomeninparkinglot.JPG
My cousin Susan, who’d attended her own reunion elsewhere a year ago, had assured me that people had been so excited to see each other that they had repeatedly screamed each other’s names and hugged, even if they had never been friends before. I found this hard to believe.JeannieMacInneshug.JPG
Yet as we disembarked and approached a cluster of women who’d gathered, I found myself shrieking, “Oh, my God, Jeannie MacInnes!” and embracing a classmate with whom, to my best recollection, I had never exchanged even two words since sixth grade.Jeannieheadshotbefore.JPG
        One reason I was so overcome with emotion was something I hadn’t anticipated. I’d been expecting to feel excruciating embarrassment at failing to recognize former friends after so many years. But this, I quickly detected, was not going to be a problem. After 40 years, many people had vastly different physiques, and most had different hair. Yet everyone – and I do mean everyone – had essentially the same face.Helenanow.JPG
And so the shrieking and bear hug routine was repeated in quick succession with Willow Brown – a former honey-blonde beauty who was now a fellow redhead selling real estate in Florida – and Helena Gregorio, a once-brunette British exchange student who’d briefly dated my older brother Joel and was now working at a law firm in London.
I was even happy to see a girl named Cindy who’d been an incredible athlete, varsity cheerleader, and all-around hot girl back then. And, to my amazement, she seemed delighted to see me… although she confessed to having been anxious about coming.Cindybeforeandafter.jpg
Seriously? She had been worried? “But you were all the smart kids,” she said softly and with such sincerity that I could see she wasn’t putting me on.
As exhilarating as it was to see all of these people, though, we’d never been actual friends. So it was more of a revelation when the tour began and I got to reconnect with Rocco.Roccoheadshot.JPG
Rocco had been among my closest male cohorts, and although there had never been anything remotely romantic between us, we’d played pivotal roles in each other’s lives because we had gone together on what was decidedly his very first date and mine.Roccoondate.jpg
As I had recounted to my children many times over the years, Rocco had just gotten his driver’s license that day in 1971, and his father had given him a hunk of cash to take a girl out. I was mystified why he would select me, a mere friend, but readily accepted anyway. We went to see the movie Love Story, starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. Then he took me out to dinner at the only restaurant he could think of, which happened to be at Westchester County Airport, where he begged me to have the steak – the most expensive item on the menu – because he felt compelled to spend as much of his father’s dough as possible. But I insisted on having the chicken instead.Rocco.JPG
So I’d been a bit surprised to discover recently, via the personal profile Rocco had posted on the reunion website, that his partner in life was someone named Ron. The prospect of his being gay honestly had never once crossed my mind back in the ‘70s. Then again, in this new light, the interlude above had suddenly made much more sense.
Of course, I didn’t care in the least. The only thing that was shocking, and a bit disappointing, was to hear Rocco admit now to having no memory of our big date.
This was among the first lessons I would learn during this time-travel interlude. How fascinating it is what people choose or manage to remember, and what they forget. No one, of course, had forgotten theDonMcLeanAmericanPiealbum.jpg time that singer Don McLean, then a complete unknown, had performed his soon-to-be-classic hit “American Pie” for us just after it was released, and had practically been booed off the stage. Yet as classmates began to air their other fondest memories, I realized that I couldn’t even summon the names of all of the teachers I’d had, while my friend Karin had perfect recall about where each of us had sat in Mrs. Alexander's class during sixth grade.
Karin was among the other people I was most eager to see, although as one of my closest childhood friends she’d stayed in touch somewhat, so I didn’t need a reunion to know what had become of her. What was surprisingly touching was seeing her house… and her mom.Karinbefore.JPG
Although we’d met for dinner a few years ago, I hadn’t been to her family's home, other than for her wedding, since the “anti-prom.” Back in 1972, you see, we were so free-spirited, counterculture and intent on breaking with traditions of virtually every kind that more than half the class had chosen to boycott our senior prom. Instead, we’d gathered at Karin’s house to go skinny-dipping in her lake.Karinslake.JPG
It was a wild night. A memorable night. But I must confess that one of the few regrets in my life is that I never got to dress up and go to a prom like my kids did, and now I never will.
That said, I have countless fond memories of hanging out at her house, which was without a doubt the largest and most beautiful in our entire town, thanks to her parents’ exquisite taste and their having started a well-known corporation together. Nonetheless, I must also point out that Karin remains among the least pretentious people I know, and also the most generous, and as soon as the tour ended she began inviting people, including me, to spend the rest of the day at her family’s estate on the edge of town.Karinshouse.JPG 
Vivid memories descended on me like the gentle rain falling from the sky as I stepped through her front door into their vast living room and saw her mother, Martha, who, despite the halo of white hair, looked just as I remembered her. Had 40 years really passed?Marthaheadshot.jpg
        “How is your mom?” she asked after rising to greet me warmly, and my face fell as I gently answered that -- didn't she know? -- she had died three years ago.
Having lost both my parents, my stepparents, and my mother-in-law over the years, I’d gotten to the point where I expected everyone of my vintage to be an orphan like me. But another classmate there, Nancy Dubiell, hastened to tell me that she’d heard I was looking for Chris, and that her mother and his were not just alive and well and still living in town, but they remained good friends, so she might be able to get me his number.
Of course I accepted instantly and listened intently as she left a voice message.AtKarins.JPG
Among the 175 or so from my graduating class, only about 64 people had chosen to attend the reunion, and only a select few had come to Karin’s. These were all people I’d once known well, though, and I found myself relaxing and beginning to enjoy myself.
After going to his own 40th two years ago, my brother had assured me I’d have more fun than I expected. But something else he’d said had clinched my interest.
He had mentioned his surprise that of all the women who’d shown up from his graduating class, the most well-preserved by far had turned out to be Linda Castellano (the older sister of my classmate John, a reunion no-show who is now chief of the Appeals Bureau in the Queens District Attorney's office). And maybe “well-preserved” wasn’t quite accurate, since, having graduated at the top of their class, Linda had been best known for being a braniac back then. Four decades later, though, she was "exquisite and shapely," as my mother would say. Or as I might say, a total hottie.Reuniondayoutfit.JPG
And as presumptuous, vacuous, and vain as this might sound, ever since I had heard this tale from him, all I had wanted was to go to my own reunion and be that girl.AllegrainMontreal.jpg
Toward that end, I had gotten my hair done the day before and obsessed about every item I would wear. I’d even gotten my husband to take photos of both the day and night outfits I’d chosen, so that I could email them to my fashionable 22-year-old daughter for her approval.Reunionnightoutfit.JPG
“Mommy looks skinny!” Allegra had texted back enthusiastically about the first getup. The second had provoked an equally reassuring response. “You look svelte!”
Then, of course, my husband had totally deflated my bubble of confidence and made me second-guess myself by noting that he thought I had a lot of other clothes that were far more stylish. Didn’t he understand that I didn’t give a hoot about looking stylish and had only two real ambitions when it came to my attire? I wanted to look thin. And I wanted to look young.Thorbeforeheadshot.JPG
But I’d decided to ignore him and settled on those two outfits anyway. And while standing in the school parking lot following the tour, I’d sensed that at least one male member of the class was staring at me with more interest than any of them had ever evinced before. That person was Thor Thorsen, now a renowned ski instructor out West, with whom I’d probably barely exchanged more than two words back in the ’70s, but for the purposes of the reunion was suddenly among my new best friends.ThorThorsen.JPG
And lest you think that was just my imagination, I must confess with all due modesty that shortly after I caught him looking at me, he actually blurted out the one thing that made not just my day, but the whole darn weekend: “You look great, by the way!”
Thor had readily agreed to join Lisa and me at Karin’s house, and that turned out to be a fortuitous thing, because everyone there decided to take a walk through the woods around her lake, and he seemed more than happy to catch me every time I stumbled. The ridiculously high heels I was sporting hadn’t been chosen with hiking in mind. (Just "svelte!")Betsythen.JPG
Also in the group was Betsy Arnold, another one of my best high school chums. Among my most vivid memories were the many sleepovers I’d had at what might best be described as her cat house. Her family didn’t just have cats as pets; they bred them, and it remains indelibly fixed in my mind that they had 22 or 23 Siamese at any one time. These exquisite, haughtyBetsyArnoldatreunion.jpg creatures roamed through their house freely and often jumped onto the kitchen table while you were eating dinner, and if you dared to shoo them away when they began nibbling on your food, she and her family took vociferous offense.
Somehow, I’d lost touch with Betsy during college, but it didn’t surprise me to learn now that she was still "catting around." That is, she was a cat veterinarian in upstate New York and still bred and showed purebreds professionally. In fact, she allowed with a Cheshire cat grin that she still had about 22 or 23 of them at home.Jimbefore.JPG
Betsy had inscribed in my yearbook a reference to our having fought endlessly over Jim Stigler at parties. No offense to Jim, but I didn’t remember doing this. Then again, if we had, I could see why. (Uh, nice abs!) Now a professor of psychology at UCLA, Jim, one of the reunion organizers, was still tall, lean, and extremely affable. As I discovered during our hazardous hike, he'd become incredibly easy to talk to.
Unfortunately, much of what we talked about together now related to a running joke that had started earlier that day.JimStiglernow.JPG
He'd mentioned to Lisa that five people from our class had responded separately that they were unable to attend because they were going on vacations to Italy. Lisa had confessed that she might have preferred going to Italy as well, and that perhaps we should've held the reunion there instead. This prompted Jim to not only propose that we locate our next one there, but to say that he knew the perfect pair to organize it.
Lisa and me.
At the time we’d deflected this clever suggestion with a nervous laugh. Not only did I have no interest in planning the next reunion, but no particular desire to even attend it.  Still, as Lisa and I drove back to the La Quinta from Karin’s, I had to admit that although I was already exhausted and feeling emotionally drained, I was actually having a blast.
PattieandLisaatreunionpartycropped.jpg        Armed with this high-spirited feeling, we quickly changed into our little black dresses and yet more heels and headed for the party.
My eyes lit up as I scanned the room and on the other side of the bar spied Luke.
Although Luke and I hadn’t remotely been friends in high school, he maintained a special place in my heart because he’d once been my big seventh-grade crush.
Despite my unequivocal identity as a former nerd, I’d entered middle school with a somewhat less pitiful status. I can’t claim to actually have been one of the popular kids. I was simply popular enough to be invited to all of the popular kids’ parties. The pathetic thing was that once I arrived at these, I’d end up sitting by myself in the dark all evening. Sure, I’d get to play spin the bottle with everyone else. But no one asked me to dance.Lukeinyearbook.JPG
The only possible exception to this was Luke, my secret heartthrob, who’d gotten up the nerve to dance with me once or twice after almost everyone else had left. Perhaps he was shy, and it took the whole night for him to summon the nerve. But my interpretation at the time was that he may have reciprocated my feelings somewhat, but I was too unattractive and dorky for him to have dared make this public in any way.
After about a year of this, I had realized that I wasn’t having any fun at all. So I’d stopped hanging out with the "in" crowd. Instead, Karin and I had begun organizing social events for our fellow students in the honors track, who may have been nerds like us, but were nice, on our intellectual level, and perfectly happy to be with us…and be seen with us.
Still, I’d long wondered what had happened to Luke and remembered him fondly. So when I’d read the list of attendees, he was among those I was most enthusiastic about seeing.Lukeatreunion.jpg
Noticing him now, I made a beeline across the room and gave him a big hug. Clearly, he recognized me instantly, but just as clearly he was either still very shy or had little if any interest in talking with me. Continuing to ply him for details of his life anyway, I learned that he, like Thor, was a ski instructor, in Colorado. But unlike Thor he was not inclined to become my new best friend or, as in our distant past, to be seen with me. And the moment I turned my head to answer a question from someone else, he fled.
As other people took his place, I grew to regret that I’d neglected to mentally compose a brief way to summarize my work life. Rocco had stated, “I’m a doctor.” Janie said, “I teach fourth grade.” My career path was a little more complicated than that.Roccoandmenow.JPG
I didn’t want to respond to everyone’s queries as to what I did with myself these days by saying that I used to be a journalist, but now I write a blog. When you answer that question with “I write a blog,” you see, this invariably prompts another question: “But how do you get paid to do that?” And then you have to confess the truth. Namely: I don't.
I don’t know why anyone thinks it’s any of their business what I make, but men, at least, always do. And until I manage to come up with a clever retort (or a way to make my efforts pay), I’ll be stuck saying "I don't," which makes me feel instantly diminished and almost as bad as being back in high school.KevinandElyse.JPG
But people were now arriving in droves, and by the time this had been asked and answered four or five times, we were summoned into the main room for hors d’oeuvres. There, amid the mini vegetable quiches and fried mozzarrella sticks, Karin and I were excited to see her old flame Kevin Miller, now a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, and Elyse Frishman, now a prominent Reform rabbi, who'd grown up right next door to me, but whom I hadn't seen since she had presided at Lisa’s wedding.AnneCastimorethenandnow.jpg
I also found myself elated to see Anne Castimore, now a reading specialist in Philadelphia, and Gaby Borger, who'd come all the way from Germany to be there.
        Then “Jennifer” swept in. She was a vivacious, outgoing girl who’d been part of the popular crowd, but had always seemed sweet, so I cried out her name and embraced her. But before I could say anything further, she interrupted to say that she'd just arrived and wanted to know where she could put her coat. And with that she dashed off and never returned.Pattieatreunionpartydisappearing.jpg
Of course, I could understand that she needed to get settled. But I also could sense full well that I was not on her list of people about whom she had any curiosity. And wondering what I could’ve been thinking, I felt those old feelings flooding back.
That’s when I suddenly remembered how I’d really felt back in high school. I’d recalled feeling unattractive and insignificant. What I’d forgotten is that what I’d really felt was invisible.Reunionpartyroom.jpg
By this point, more of the once-popular girls had arrived, and none of them had grown up to be wallflowers. With big hair and clingy dresses, they still looked gorgeous… and they knew it. And although I’d thought I looked reasonably nice, I realized now that my dress wasn’t low-cut, nor short, nor tight, and it did little to show off my figure. This hadn’t been my objective in choosing it (just svelte!), but I suddenly felt dowdy.
So I became less inclined to accost people I hadn’t been close to, anticipating that they’d have no real interest in exchanging updates with me.Jimatmic.JPG
Soon, dinner was about to be served anyway, but first Jim silenced the band and seized the mic. Although he and his fellow reunion organizers had hoped to present a slide show of old photos, almost no one had sent any in, so the only formal segment of the evening was his brief welcoming remarks. These consisted of exactly two things.
        He wanted to thank everyone for taking time out of their busy lives to come. And he wanted to announce that this was such a successful effort that we were going to have another reunion soon… and two classmates had already stepped forward to organize it.
Lisa and me.
y taken by surprise, I joined Lisa in laughing Pattiewithwineglassatreunion.jpgself-consciously. Back in high school, I would have then proceeded to slink into a corner and try not to faint. Now, instead, bolstered by four decades of maturity and the two glasses of Chardonnay I'd managed to nearly polish off, I strode to the front of the room and with some effort wrestled the mic from Jim's hand.
        “That’s right, folks!” I cried, raising the remains of my second glass high. “Twenty years from now. Our sixtieth… in the nursing home!”
A mild uproar ensued, although almost no one laughed, and someone yelled, “Boy, you sure don’t have very high aspirations!”Buffetline.JPG
Then I was inclined to slink into a corner because I realized that I sounded the way people probably remembered me: weird and depressed, with a twisted sense of humor.Lisawithplateatreunion2.jpg
With luck, dinner was indeed served, and with our plates loaded up from the buffet, Lisa and I searched the tables anxiously for somewhere to sit. There wasn’t enough room beside Karin, Betsy and Rocco, so we proceeded to tour the room, only to see Thor patting the seat beside him. And although we had no other close friends at the table, we quickly accepted.
While Lisa conversed with the people to her left -- one of her former history teachers and his wife, who’d chosen to attend -- I began to lose my nerve and clam up, growing increasingly uncomfortable as many of the once-popular girls, aided and abetted by liberal libations from the cash bar, proceeded to lead assorted male classmates onto the floor and dance with increasing abandon.DavidLiebowitzbeforeandafter.jpg
Before the evening was out, I still managed to have a lively chat about the stock market with David Liebowitz, a lanky fellow who was now a croupier at aJohnHalpernnow.JPG casino in Lake Tahoe, then an animated discussion about yoga with John Halpern, an artist, filmmaker, and practicing Buddhist who was making a documentary about the Dalai Lama. (Although I'm embarrassed to say my school and class were basically 100 percent white, you can't say that in other respects we didn't have some element of diversity.)
Also, to my delight, I discovered that Cindy Capriola not only had a Portuguese Water Dog puppy, just like mine – not to mention an old varsity letter jacket (something I'd never had) -- but that she also was in touch with Chris’s mother and was more than happy to make yet another call to her on my behalf.CindyCbeforeandafter.jpg
        Then there was
my brief encounter with Bobby Meyerhoff, who gaped at my name tag, clearly mystified (and somewhat the worse for drink), then finally bluntly confessed that he had no clue who I was and therefore no idea what I was doing there.BobbyMeyerhoffwithbeard.jpg
I assured him that I’d been in his class and that I remembered him well. Why, back in seventh grade, he’d been incredibly cute, possibly the cutest guy in the entire class.BobbyMeyerhoffheadshotbefore.JPG
At this, his face lit up with immeasurable joy, and he asked if I would be willing to repeat those words to Willow, his longtime high school girlfriend, and his sister Robin, who happened to be there too. And without hesitation, I accompanied him to find them and did.
So what if he’d completely forgotten me? Why not make someone else’s day (or maybe even whole darn weekend)?
Then, in a flash, the long-anticipated event was over, and people kept coming over to say goodbye and vow to stay in touch, although I doubt anyone believed we would. But just when Lisa and I thought we’d survived the ordeal and might actually live to tell about it, Joe Tavormina asked if we’d have brunch with him the next morning.Joebefore.JPG
We had no other plans, so we readily agreed. But we were more than a bit surprised. Joe, who’d become an engineer, was one of the smartest guys in our class, and also one of the sweetest and most decent. Yet Lisa and I wondered why he had chosen us. We wondered what we would find to talk to him about for another hour or two. And most of all, we wondered whether or not he remembered The Make-out Party.Lisainyearbook.JPG
Back in ninth grade, you see, I’d briefly had a boyfriend, Mark Seeley, before his family had abruptly moved to Cincinnati and essentially made me a high school widow. Karin, meanwhile, seemed to have been dating Kevin since they were about 3. But Lisa had never even been kissed, and we needed to do something about that.Joeonteam.JPG
So one Saturday night, when my parents had gone out, Karin and I had invited our boyfriends over and arranged for them to bring along a friend. When they showed up with Joe, we wondered if he would get the picture. But he was a red-blooded teenage boy, not to mention on the football team, and in this case he didn’t need any coaching whatsoever.Joenow.JPG
According to Lisa, they'd never dated or even spoken about that evening ever again, and Joe made no reference to it over our omelettes the next morning. Instead, he showed us a snapshot of his wife, the beautiful blonde he’d met as a college freshman and then married soon after graduating MIT, and their two beautiful, grown daughters. He also had his own consulting company. It seemed like he had the perfect life.
But in talking about my own life since last we’d met, I confessed that although I'd waited until I was nearly 30 to choose a spouse, my own marriage had been complicated and even turbulent at times, at which he began to laugh.
“Do you think you’re the only person on earth who's ever had a complicated, turbulent marriage?” he asked with a bemused grin. “I mean, seriously. Do you really?”LisaandPattiepartingshot.JPG
And then the three of us began to have one of the most open, honest, and heartfelt conversations I’ve had in years about our hopes and hardships and fondest dreams. And I thought to myself, This is what having a reunion is really all about. Not exchanging sound-bite-sized versions of your resume to a roomful of semi-drunken people dressed to the nines, but really connecting with a few of the folks who really knew you when.
Also by the way, when I alluded to that unforgettable Saturday night, Joe smiled broadly and asked, “Oh, yeah, you mean the big Make-out Party?” So I guess he hadn’t forgotten a thing.
That’s probably as good an ending point as any, and if I don’t stop writing this soon, 20 more years will have passed, and it will indeed be time for the nursing home. But I can’t possibly leave off without reporting what happened later that afternoon.PhonewithChrismessage2.JPG
After brunch, Lisa and I headed into the city to see my kids, and just as I walked through my daughter’s door, I received a text message from my husband saying that Chris was trying to contact me. And then, as I began to hyperventilate again, my phone rang and I heard a deep, sonorous, fatherly voice, the one I hadn’t heard in about 35 years. And I began to sob.
When I finally managed to compose myself, I learned that, to my enormous relief and infinite delight, he had never relinquished his dreams and was a successful screenwriter. And although he professed to be “allergic” to reunions, he seemed eager to see me too. He simply had no presence on the Web, he explained, perhaps because, although he’s married, he never had kids. (The only reason I’m on Facebook is that my daughter put me there.)
        He also didn't hesitate to admit that Lisa and I had been the two people who'd made high school bearable for him... and that as trite as it might sound, hearing me cry at the sound of his voice was something he'd truly "treasure."
        The other good news was that he lived in New York, not far away from me at all. Unfortunately, he was out of town at the moment, so our rendezvous would have to wait and to Lisa’s enormous disappointment would be unable to include her this time around. But now I had his number at last, and he had mine, and we promised to meet soon.DinnerwithkidsandLisa.JPG
        Then Lisa and I ended up joining my son and daughter and their friends for dinner at a restaurant in Soho. My kids, my friend, and their friends? As nice as it had been to go back in time, it was an enormous relief to get back to my normal grownup life, much as it was for Dorothy to get back to Kansas in The Wizard of Oz. You know how she said, "There's no place like home"? Well, maybe there's also no time like now.WizardofOz.jpg
        The next day, after I returned, my cousin Susan called to ask if I’d had fun. Fun? I guess you could say that, I allowed. But it had also been profoundly unnerving and unsettling, I admitted, explaining how uncomfortable and insecure I’d felt during the evening party.
All she did was laugh.
“You mean all the girls who used to think they were all that and a bag of chips still do?” she asked. “Big surprise. Get over it.” And I realized that she was right.
Maybe those glamorous, once-popular girls are clinging to their looks like a life raft, or maybe they’re just holding onto them much the way I remain consumed with my kids even though they’re now grown and on their own – because if I weren’t still busy being their mom and worrying about them, I don’t know who I'd be or what I would do.
I’m sure my kids don’t quite believe that I was a teenager once, or that I even truly remember what it was like to be young. Sometimes I wish that I didn’t. High school, as I said, was not a happy time in my life, and you couldn’t pay me to be that young again.reunionband2.jpg
But now that the ordeal is over, I’m beginning to think that collaborating with Lisa on that next reunion might not be such a crazy idea, after all. Although I think the trio who undertook the effort this time did a fabulous job, and the turnout was pretty remarkable, there are some things I might have done differently. I wouldn’t have minded holding the party somewhere a little more glamorous than the lovely La Quinta, even if that meant jacking up the $80 price of admission somewhat. And as big a fan as I am of live music, it might have been more fun to have a DJ instead spinning hits from the Beatles, Monkees, Dave Clark 5, and Stones, the soundtrack of our youth.Lisaandmeatreunionlaughing.jpg
At the very least, I’m determined to see Chris in the flesh before I lose track of him again. I also miss Lisa like crazy, and apparently vice versa, so she’s agreed to come back sometime soon. So as disorienting and damaging to the psyche as these journeys may be, in the end I'm glad that I went... and one way or another, I probably have a few more reunions yet in store.
5:30 pm 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Word From the Weiss
        Sure, weddings are wonderful occasions, but they are also occasions that make us wonder. We wonder whether to have the chicken or the fish. We wonder whether the marriage will last. But most of all, whether we are the mother of the bride or the mother of the friend of the sister of the bride -- as I was recently -- we wonder what to wear.
That last issue becomes even more of a quandary at times of year like this one. We’re right on the cusp of two different seasons. Do we dress for summer or dress for fall? Is it too late for linen? Too early for velvet? It’s hard enough figuring out just how farputzed (Yiddish speak for “dressed to the nines”) to get for a Sunday afternoon affair. But in late September, will it still be steamy, or should we be prepared for the big chill?LevysatCharlieswedding.JPG
Given that I went to only three weddings this year – my kids, being in their early to mid 20s, are way past the bar mitzvah stage now, but not quite yet into the nuptials  – I couldn’t really justify shelling out for a lot of new dress-up clothes. So when we RSVP’d to accept for the wedding of Stephanie, the daughter of our close friends Amy and Rich, I planned to make do with the nice dress I’d bought for my nephew’s wedding in August.
Since Charlie and his lovely and brilliant bride Holly had opted for a small, low-key ceremony and reception on a farm inCharlieandHollyweddingphoto.jpg Oregon, this wasn’t a terribly dressy dress. It was far from the sort of flashy or elegant attire you might ordinarily choose for a wedding.  But it was a pretty dress. It was certainly a nice enough dress. And since I was not an integral member of this particular wedding day, I was convinced it would more than do.
Anticipating that the weather might turn on a dime, however, I picked up a back-up option to keep as an alternative. It had rosettes along the neckline and wasFuchsiadresswhenIboughtit.JPG fashioned in a shiny, bright fuchsia fabric that said “afternoon wedding” to me. I figured that if I didn’t wear it this time around, it was bound to come in handy for another occasion. The dress was too long, though, and when I modeled it for my husband, he turned up his nose.Pattieintshirtandjeans.JPG
This came as no great shock. He prefers me when I first wake up in the morning or dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, preferably sans makeup and with wet hair. When he saw the new dress, he told me it looked like something someone’s grandmother would wear.
OK, I’m actually old enough to be a grandmother. But no one actually wants to look like a grandmother. So I never bothered to get this dress shortened. I didn’t get around to returning it either, though. I just hung it in my closet and forgot about it for months.
        Samandfamily.jpgAs the wedding approached, I grew distracted with other things. Our daughter Allegra was coming home to stay with us the night before. So were her good friend Samara, and Samara’s older brother Avi, who were attending the wedding as well. Their parents, Laurel and Chengiah – dear friends we have in common with the bride’s family – had moved to South Africa earlier in the year, so we had invited them to stay with us.AllegraandSamtryingondresses.JPG
Being a nice Jewish mom, I spent the day that they arrived shopping and preparing a sumptuous dinner for the kids. Then, as soon as the meal was over, the girls retreated upstairs to Allegra’s room to finalize what they would wear to the wedding the next day.
Each had packed two different perfectly nice prospects in their suitcases, complete with matching shoes and other accessories. But that didn’t discourage them from slipping on countless other possibilities they found in both Allegra’s closet and mine.
You may be incredulous that 22-year-olds would have the slightest interest in any garment owned by someone of my vintage. But once upon a time I was a fashion reporter, so many things that I purchase are relatively timeless and geared to last. Then there are the trendy items I bought in the ’80s and ‘90s that are back in style again.Charliewithmeathiswedding.JPG
But after they’d tried on about 27 dresses apiece, I began to reconsider my own attire. Did that long striped dress show me off to my best advantage? Was it dressy enough after all? And there was a twinge of fall already invading the New England air. Was the striped dress a little too “summer?”
So I dared to slip it on and venture into Allegra’s room to model it for the girls. The verdict was not just instantaneous, but unanimous. “You absolutely cannot wear that!!!”
This sent me foraging in my closet to find the back-up number I had purchased a few months back. The girls nixed the purple shoes I paired it with (“too matchy”) and the beaded evening bag I proposed to carry (too “ungapatchka”). But the dress, they said, was perfect. Well, it was almost perfect. The problem was that I had never shortened it. It was still four inches too long.Pattiestandinggreendressuse.jpg
I considered returning to my closet to find some other old thing that was suitable. But Allegra had already claimed my old standard fall-back, a classic, strapless, ruched number in shiny olive green satin. And it was just as well. This dress was so fitted to the body (and to my body in particular) that it had always taken two people to zip me into it. And in recent years, I had reached the point at which it would take a lot more than that.
No, the fuchsia dress would have to be it. That meant its hemline had to come up. And fast.
I scoured the house for any spool of thread that might be a reasonable match. But this was a very bright hue, a very unusual hue, and none of the thread I had would do. By now it was past midnight. So I figured I would go to sleep and try to buy some thread in the morning, never mind that it would be Sunday and fabric stores would be closed.AviatStephswedding.JPG
Being a nice Jewish mom, I spent the majority of the next morning rustling up a lavish breakfast for my young guests, then cleaning it up. Then I spent no small amount of time finding jewelry that would match the girls’ dresses, as well as helping Avi choose a tie from my husband’s vast collection, since he had somehow neglected to bring one.
By the time everyone else was dressed, and I had finished curling my hair, I realized that I had a big problem. That fuchsia dress was still four inches too long. And I didn’t have any thread that would suffice, let alone enough time to do any actual sewing.Dresswithtapedhem.JPG
Then, with only minutes to spare, I had an inspiration. I ran down and found a roll of clear packing tape. Then I turned the dress inside out and quickly taped the hem up.
Since the bottom of the dress was now simply folded under awkwardly and didn’t come to a sharp enough edge, I then proceeded to iron the very bottom of the dress, being careful not to let the hot iron come too close to the tape, fearing that it might melt.
Voila! It was now the perfect length. Would it manage to hold throughout the day? It would have to. I didn’t have anything else to wear, and we were already running late.Stephsweddingchupaindistance.JPG
We were so late, in fact, that as we arrived at Saint Clement’s Castle in Portland, CT, nearly 10 minutes after the appointed hour of 3 p.m., we could see in the distance that the outdoor ceremony was already under way. Allegra and Sam had decided to drive separately much earlier, but Avi was with us, and he and my husband took off as fast as their legs could carry them toward the chupa (wedding canopy) in the distance.
Unfortunately, this was much faster than my legs could carry me, since I had discovered that the packing tape was not only crunching audibly with every step I took, but also forming a tight band around my knees, preventing me from taking anything but itsy-bitsy baby steps. It didn’t help that my low spike heels were sinking into the grass.
“Why are you walking pigeon-toed?” my husband demanded in a stage-whisper from where he was, a good 10 steps ahead of me. How could I even begin to explain?
By the time I reached the assembled crowd, my husband and Avi had found seats near the front, but I didn’t want to call attention to myself, so I simply stood in the back.Stephsweddingchupa2.JPG
It seems to me that I can never call it right with weddings. At the one we attended much earlier this summer, we arrived well in advance only to find that the ceremony itself didn’t actually begin for well over an hour because there was a lengthy bedecken (a Jewish ceremony in which the bridal party remains in one room and the groom and his attendants stay segregated in the other, while guests get to greet them separately).
        I generally assume that weddings will commence as much as half an hour late, in order to ensure that all the “dearly beloved” have managed to gather first. But when you assume, you make an ass out of “u” and “me,” and this one evidently had gone off like clockwork.StephanieandBriansweddingunderchupa.jpg
Fortunately, although I had missed the dramatic entry of the bridesmaids, the ushers, and the bride herself, I’d arrived just in time to catch the most important part. The vows.
The bride and groom had chosen to write the words they would utter themselves. And some pretty unbelievable words they were.
Brian spoke with such sincerity and raw emotion, barely keeping it together as he gazed at Stephanie with overwhelming adoration and unadulterated admiration – “worship” might be a better word – that I choked up completely and, to be honest, could barely focus as Stephanie addressed him with her own touching words of undying love.Stephsweddingmyprizeshot.JPG
I instantly had no doubts whatsoever that this was one marriage that would last.
I was also suddenly glad that I hadn’t dared distract anyone by seeking a seat, because soon after this the groom got to step on the traditional glass and then to passionately kiss his blushing bride. And then, as they turned and strode up the aisle arm in arm, I found myself in the perfect vantage point to capture true love on camera.
Then I finally got to join the rest of my family for the cocktail reception, as well as find our good friends Pat and Michael, who are also very close friends of Amy and Rich.
I was excited to see them all and spend the rest of the day there celebrating with them. But to be perfectly honest, I was also a wreck underneath it all (literally), because Pat is someone who doesn’t miss a thing, and who is apt to be outspoken to the point of being blunt. And I feared that the crunch of that packing tape was still vaguely audible.
I also could feel that in many places, that hasty hemline was already falling down.PatandMichaelwithusatStephswedding.jpg
Pat and I had a great time nonetheless imbibing in a couple of cocktails apiece, including my standard choice of a Sex in the City-inspired Cosmopolitan, as well as an Amaretto sour, something that Allegra recommended or perhaps even invented herself.
I also took this opportunity to snap some fabulous photos of Allegra in her wedding finery, along with her two dear friends, whom I instantly dubbed the Three Miss-keteers. (Michelle, as her sister’s maid of honor, looked exquisite as ever. So did Sam, although to my mild bemusement she had ultimately opted for the very first dress she’d tried on.)TheThreeMissketeers.JPGAllegraingreendresswithdrink.jpg
As for Allegra, that ruched dress fit her like a green leather glove and looked so flattering, if you ask me, that I realized in a flash that its days in my closet were done.
The view by the castle overlooking the Connecticut River could not have been more breathtaking, although there was indeed a bracing trace of autumn chill in the air. Also, looking around at the other guests, I realized that Allegra had been right. This dress, rather than the far less formal, summery one, had been the right one to wear.
I also decided that my husband had been wrong. I did not look like a grandmother.
Then it was time to go inside, find our place cards and take our seats for the reception.
Rich, the father of the bride, had come up with the novel idea of having individual wedding cakes decorated with sugar flowers placed at the center of every table in lieu of actual flowers (which was not only exquisite, but actually more economical, I assume). Resting on footed antique silver platters, they were the ultimate in edible arrangements.
As father of the bride, he also gave a wedding toast that was both heartfelt and hilarious, concluding with his hope that Steph and Brian would be as good to each other as his wife Amy had been to him, a sentiment that made my eyes gush all over again.
But as we dove into the delectable tortellini appetizer, I must confess that my mind returned quickly to my hem, and the mayhem that was unfolding (and unpeeling) within.
For as much as I tried to enjoy the meal and all the festivities, every time I shifted in my chair, I could feel the plastic tape crinkling here and there, continuing to detach.
In fact, when I dared to peek under the tablecloth, I could see telltale tentacles of unstuck tape protruding from my dress where I’d fortified the main strip on either side.
Pat and I are dear friends, as you know if you are regular readers of this blog, but I knew exactly what she would say if she detected this situation and discovered that I had been foolish enough to think that taping up a hem would do: “Are you out of your mind?
My mind, meanwhile, turned to the festivities that lay ahead. My husband and I are avid dancers, but it seems that the only time we ever get to display our enthusiasm and prowess on the dance floor (or lack thereof) anymore is when we attend a wedding. I certainly didn’t want to miss out on that.
Then there was the whole issue of the hora. Although the groom was not, in fact, Jewish, I had been assured that there would be a hora during the reception. There is nothing more moving to me than joining in this ritual dance on a joyful occasion – and this was as joyful an occasion as anyone could imagine, because my friends regarded the groom as such a mensh that they regularly referred to him as “Prince Brian.”Stephsweddinghora2.JPG
There was no way I was willing to forego this pleasure, nor the chance to share in their delight. But every time I thought of joining hands to dance with everyone in a circle, I envisioned my hem coming completely undone, shreds of tape tearing loose and tumbling down as my friend Pat stopped mid-kick, pointed at the tape and shrieked, “Are you out of your mind?”
By the time the salad course was being served, I could stand the worry no longer. Besides, those two cocktails I’d downed had managed to run their course, and I had no choice but to make a pit stop. As I stood and hobbled to the ladies room, I awkwardly tucked two telltale tabs of crinkled packing tape back under my dress, hoping no one was paying attention in case they slipped out again as I crossed the vast reception hall.
Then I sequestered myself in an empty bathroom stall, where to my complete horror I felt the entire length of tape detach as I gently lifted the dress’s narrow skirt.
Now what was I going to do?!?
I had considered bringing along the roll of tape and a pair of scissors, just in case I needed to make repairs during the event, but neither had fit into my tiny evening bag. So I had been obliged to leave them behind.
Yet the main strip of tape I had used on the dress had lost its tackiness almost entirely and could not realistically be reattached with any real hope that it would hold.
Was I going to spend the remaining hours of the reception hiding in the bathroom?
I stood inside the stall in total terror, wondering what I could possibly do now while waiting for a pair of guests to finish having a lengthy conversation about their haircuts. Then, the moment that they finally exited, I did the only thing that I could do.Tapewaddedup.JPG
I reached beneath the dress, and in one fell swoop loudly dislodged the entire length of tape around the bottom of the dress, wadding it up into a tight ball in my fist.
Then I dashed out, tossed it into the trash, and surveyed myself in the mirror.
It was not good. No, not good at all. It was actually even worse than I’d anticipated.
There was a distinct ridge all the way around the bottom of the dress where I had ironed it at its new length, and the four inches of extra material hung down from there.
I looked, in a word, ridiculous. But what choice did I have other than to go with it? I couldn’t stay in the ladies room one moment longer. It would be hard enough to explain where I’d been for the past 10 minutes while everyone else was devouring their salads.
I emerged to find the rest of the guests in rapt attention as the father of the groom gave his toast. Reluctant to call any more attention to myself than necessary, I slunk slowly over to girls’ table, which was on the near side of the room against the wall. Allegra would be my test market. My fashion police. My guinea pig in green satin.Allegraingreendressheadshot.jpg
“How bad is this?” I whispered discreetly when I had reached her side.
“Is what?” she asked, still engrossed in the toast and genuinely perplexed.
I lowered my glance decisively in the direction of my knees, then up again at her.
This,” I said. Then I stepped back a foot or so to give her the full-length view.
Shifting her eyes from Brian’s father for barely a second, she surveyed the damage, then shrugged. “You’re fine,” she replied.
Was she out of her mind?
“Are you sure?” I whispered.
She gave me a quick once-over one more time, then another reassuring nod. “Fine,” she repeated. “Don’t worry about it. It actually looks kind of funky.”
Armed with her rare seal of approval, I dared to return to my table as soon as the toast was over and everyone had finished raising their glasses. I braced myself for an onslaught of ridicule, but Pat didn’t say one word. No one even asked where I’d been.
So I proceeded to wolf down my salad, followed by the very ample main course. (My husband and I had both opted for the fish, although the chicken also looked good.)Stephsweddinghoraupinchairs.jpg
Then, as the DJ played the opening strains of “Hava Nagillah,” Pat caught my eye. “Let’s do this!” she exclaimed.
So we and our husbands stormed the dance floor, linking hands as we spun in one direction, then the other, surrounding the grinning bride and groom as they were lifted high into the air in chairs. Then we clapped to the beat as Amy and Rich ecstatically linked arms with each other to spin in the center, then pulled in one friend after another.AmyandRichdanceatwedding.JPG
I was so deliriously happy for them all at this moment that my face almost burst. The last thing on my mind was my dress.
Then suddenly, the music shifted smoothly into a medley of Motown tunes, and my husband and I continued dancing alongside Pat and Michael and the Miss-keteers until we could hardly breathe and had to take a break… to break into that wedding cake.
All this time, no one seemed to take the slightest notice of my sagging hemline. Whether or not it actually looked funky, I guess that it did look fine.AllegragettingdownatStephswedding.JPG
In fact, if anyone noticed any dress other than the gorgeous gown worn by the bride herself, it was probably Allegra’s… or perhaps merely what was in it. One of the ushers got down with her on the dance floor (indeed), and another male member of the wedding party “friended” her on Facebook the next day.PattieandHarlandancingatStephswedding.JPG
And by the time we had danced the very last dance – and we did indeed dance until the very end – I’d come to realize that I should get over myself already. No one was that interested in me or my fashion faux pas. The only important thing going on was the love.
In fact, if I hadn’t dared to blog here about my lame minor wardrobe malfunction, no one would ever have been the wiser, including my friend Pat, who will probably read this entry sooner or later and then unquestionably ask me, “Are you out of your mind?
Meanwhile, professional photos from the event were posted on a website the following week, along with a video of the happy couple pronouncing their wedding vows. So I can now bring a sampling of their actual beautiful, sweet and heartfelt words to you.StephandBriancloseup.JPG
Brian, who is 31 and works for Verizon, harkened in his back to their very first date – “the beginning of our love story,” as he put it. “It was warm and sunny, like the cheerfulness of your heart. We walked and talked for hours, sharing our life stories…
“At the end of our date, we sat in your car, still talking, and to be honest, I didn’t want the date to end. I didn’t want to stop spending time with you.
“When I left, I couldn’t stop thinking about you, and I haven’t stopped thinking about you since. I noticed that there was something different about you, and I was right: You’re a Red Sox fan.”
But on a more serious note, he credited her with “bringing the old Brian back. It’s because of you that I laugh louder, I smile with my face and my heart, and I dare to dream again.StephandBriansweddingcollage.jpg
“I will forever have unconditional love for you. I’ll hold you in my arms, keep you safe, and comfort you in times of distress. I will anticipate when to wipe your tears away and when to cry with you...
“In honor of your slight obsession with Disney movies, I found this quote: ‘Love is a song that never ends.’ May our love and our song never end, so we can dance in the kitchen together forever and find new ways to dance into each other’s hearts.
“I vow to be your faithful lover, partner, and best friend from this day forward… and always find new ways to love you.
“A dream is a wish that your heart makes. And today, because of you, my dream has come true.”StephanieFechtorbridalheadshot.jpg
Although they had not shared with one another in advance what they would say, Stephanie, who is 26, uttered vows echoing many of the same themes.
“Every time I began to write about my love for you, and how much you meant to me, the words never came out quite right. It seemed that my feelings for you surpassed my powers of expression and my working vocabulary.
Finally, I realized it wasn’t my vocabulary that was the problem. It was words themselves. Our love transcended everything.
“Our love is the way you squeeze my hand three times to say I love you, and how you dance with me in the kitchen. It’s the way you put up with me after a hard day at work, how you love my family, and especially the way you always – always – make me feel special.Stephsweddingbrideandgroom2.JPG
“...I was told that most love stories aren’t like those in the movies; they aren’t a fairy tale. Yet here we are, me in my princess dress, at a castle, surrounded by friends and family, with my prince standing in front of me. You’ve made our love story into the fairy tale I didn’t think was possible…
“I promise to stand by your side in times of adversity and sorrow, and to share with you in joyous times. I promise to laugh with you and never stop kissing you.
“I vow to never intentionally hurt you. But if I do, I promise to fix it with coffee ice cream and specialty beer.
“I promise to support and encourage you. I will do my best to never let you down. But I will ALWAYS love you.
“Today, I give you my hand, my heart, and my love, without condition, completely and forever.”
Well, there you have it. That’s love. (And sorry if I let that segment run a little long, but I’m not much better at shortening wedding vows than I am at shortening dresses.)Pattiewithwethair.JPG
Watching those speeches in the comfort of my own home, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, with wet hair, no less, my eyes welled up all over again. But that’s little wonder.
Weddings make us remember how we once felt back when our own love began. They help recapture those feelings for a moment. Maybe that’s why they make us cry.StephsweddingPatandPattie2.JPG
And before I begin to well up all over again, I have one more vow for you.
I solemnly vow to get that fuchsia dress shortened by a tailor as soon as possible, and to never, ever wear a dress with a taped-up hemline to any else’s simcha ever again. Yes, I did something really dumb. But I’ve learned my lesson. And I am not out of my mind!

5:56 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.