|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
Thursday, January 24, 2013
A Word From the Weiss
For about as long as I can remember, there has been a Mitzvah Day at my temple.
I’m not talking about bar or bat mitzvahs, which are held weekly and go way back to the beginning of time – well,
Jewish time, anyway. I mean the day on which synagogue members are dispersed throughout the community to perform mitzvahs,
or good deeds, in the spirit of Tikkun Olam, our ongoing mission to repair our glaringly imperfect world.
In keeping with President Obama’s
call for a national effort along these lines, though, to be held on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our annual
event was recast this year as a Day of Service. And as much as it might seem a little pathetic that we need an official day
to motivate people to help others, it also seemed a little pathetic for me to not participate in this noble effort.
So this past Monday, I went out to help heal the world, or at least my little corner of it. And in the
spirit of giving, caring, and family solidarity, so did Nice Jewish Dad.
Back when our kids were little, we used to do
more charitable things that involved showing up in person to perform community service, like volunteering at their schools,
coaching their sports teams, and bringing gifts to a homeless shelter on Christmas Day. Yet in recent years, to be honest,
most of our philanthropic efforts have been restricted to simply donating money. Not that there’s anything wrong with
that, of course. But there’s nothing quite like putting in some time as well, and for me it had been too long.
In the interests of doing the most possible good, I searched my temple’s list of 16 possible activities
for something I might actually be good at. Far be it from me to toot my own horn, but I’ve always been a pretty
decent cook. At least my husband has only complained about one single meal in the past 30 years, and no one to my knowledge
has ever left my home feeling either hungry or dissatisfied. So I decided to bypass all the options like clearing underbrush
at a local park or delivering laundry at the Hebrew Home & Hospital in favor of preparing and serving lunch at a nearby
A fellow congregant named Carmen was leading this particular activity, and she called me over the weekend
to outline the basic plan. Rather than cooking at the shelter, she said, we’d prepare the food at home, then warm it
up and serve it on arrival. She’d also decided that we should make turkey chili, after bringing pasta last year only
to learn that many of the shelter’s residents couldn’t eat it because they were diabetic.
She already had enough people preparing chili and cornbread to accompany it, so I offered to help with the
salad we’d serve to the roughly 60 residents, as well as to bake some cookies for dessert.
Salad, as simple as it may sound, is one of my specialties, and I normally go all-out to find interesting
ingredients, then prepare my own balsamic vinaigrette dressing, which people seem to enjoy so much that my daughter keeps
urging me to bottle it.
Normally, I’m not making salad for 60 in a soup kitchen, though. We were paying
for all of this food out of our own pockets, so in the interests of economizing Carmen planned to pick up some gi-normous
bags of lettuce from BJ’s Wholesale Club for $2.99 apiece. At that price, I figured it would be strictly iceberg
lettuce (as opposed to the far healthier and costlier organic spring mix I favor). So it didn’t seem realistic to take
my usual fancy approach of toasting slivered almonds, slicing avocadoes and ripened pears and sprinkling goat cheese on top.
No, we were clearly going for quantity over quality. So I sliced lots of carrots and mushrooms and also bought
cucumbers, red peppers, and croutons to scatter on top.
After baking a few dozen chocolate chip cookies, though, a bell
went off in my head. What about all those diabetic residents Carmen had mentioned? They couldn’t eat the cookies and
brownies we were baking. We needed to bring something for them.
It was now too late to start baking again, but I found a bag of sugar-free candies in the cupboard. It wasn’t
exactly dessert, but it was better than nothing. That’s when something else dawned on me. We had lots of candy in our
house languishing in bags and bowls, left over from Halloween. Might the shelter be willing to let us donate that?
My husband looked alarmed when he saw me loading much of it into zip-lock bags. The fact is that some of
this candy is still languishing, but much has been mysteriously disappearing over time. I haven’t eaten a single piece
of it. Neither has the dog. And as far as I know, we don’t have mice. My husband, who claims to be watching his weight,
contended that the shelter wouldn’t take our candy. I insisted on bringing some anyway.
Everyone participating in the day of service was supposed to gather at the temple for a short meeting at
8:30 on Monday morning. I’m not much of a morning person, though, and I managed to arrive just as this assembly came
to an end. To my relief, but also slight disappointment, I had no trouble finding a space in the parking lot out back.
Congregation Beth Israel happens to be one of the largest Reform congregations in the Northeast, serving
about 900 families, and come the High Holy Days you can hardly find a parking spot within a mile. So I must admit I’d
been anticipating and hoping for a larger turnout.
But Jim Friedman, the major-league mensch who has headed our temple’s social action committee for 25 years now, seemed deliriously happy that 80 or so members
had managed to appear. Maybe many of the participants were skipping the meeting, like me, and going straight to their respective
activities. Either way, Friedman seemed delighted by the showing and said that it was a significant improvement over last
In the temple’s kitchen, dozens of people were busy making sandwiches to be served at another homeless
shelter called Loaves & Fishes. Others were assembling to drive together to locations like The Salvation Army and Foodshare,
a local food bank.
But I figured this gave me the perfect opportunity to stop at a supermarket and pick up some sugar-free cookies.
They wouldn’t be home-baked, but they would have to do.
I may seem excessively preoccupied with that
issue, but my mother was diabetic in the last decade or so of her life, as is a close friend, so I became sensitive to their
needs. Unfortunately, diabetic people often succumb to temptation and indulge in the regular desserts everyone else is eating,
and who can blame them? But it’s easier to have willpower if you have a healthy alternative. I wanted to provide
There were too many options to choose from in the sugar-free section of the cookie aisle, but none of them
looked all that delicious, and none of them were cheap. The fact is that the healthier food is for you, the more expensive
it tends to be, one of the main reasons why the poor tend to have lousy eating habits, and look like they do.
As for the cookies, the only ones
that looked remotely healthy were oatmeal raisin, but if you ask me an oatmeal raisin cookie isn’t a dessert; it’s
more like a punishment. The chocolate chips were so far inferior to the ones that I’d baked that I feared if anyone
looked at them side-by-side, there would be no contest which one they would choose.
So after agonizing for much too long, I finally selected a package of pretty-looking, round shortbread cookies
in a swirl shape from a company called Voortman. Then I hastened to check out and meet my husband and the rest of my group
at the temple.
We drove in a long convoy of cars into a bleak, blight-filled section of Hartford, where St. Elizabeth House stood
in the shadow of a church. Then we waited together in the parking lot while someone fetched a cart on which to transport our
We’d been warned repeatedly not to bring any valuables with us, and I could already sense why. As we
marched to the shelter, we passed a group of destitute-looking men huddled together on the sidewalk. One broke into a wide
grin that betrayed many a missing tooth when he noticed a woman in our group carrying a puffy, rolled-up blanket.
“Hey, I could use that sleeping bag!” he declared with a hearty, mischievous laugh.
“Actually, it’s a comforter.
But please, take it!” she responded, readily surrendering it. And I suddenly wished that I had thought to go through
my own belongings before coming, and that I was bringing something more useful than a bag of leftover candy.
A man held the door of the unobtrusive-looking
brick building for us and ushered us in warmly. Once inside the kitchen, however, we did not feel quite so welcome.
It turned out that two separate groups had been dispensed from our temple to volunteer in this shelter simultaneously.
Our group would provide lunch for the 60 or so residents of the homeless shelter. The second group would prepare and serve
lunch at the soup kitchen downstairs for the 150 to 200 people who’d wander in off the street.
The ironic thing was that there
were only three people who’d been allocated to serve the enormous crowd downstairs, and over a dozen of us to see
to the smaller group. And since we had already prepared our food, there was little left for us to do. So, as much as
I’d come to be of service, I found myself feeling useless.
No, worse than useless. Because just by being there, I quickly got in the way of the woman whose job it was
to preside over the shelter’s kitchen, Karen Moss, evidently known to all as Miss K.
She was busy transferring the countless pieces of fish that the first group had baked into a large metal
pan, carefully arranging them in countless layers separated by aluminum foil. Reluctant to interrupt her, I began searching
the kitchen for a knife with which to slice the cucumbers and peppers for the salad. But she quickly stopped me and demanded
to know what I was looking for, then explained with barely concealed exasperation that before doing any food prep I needed
to take off my jacket and have it locked in a closet, then put on disposable rubber gloves and a hairnet.
As for the knives? They were all
I readily traded in my coat for a pair of thin, white rubber gloves, relieved that no one mentioned “hairnet”
again. But after I’d been armed with a sharp knife, it took only moments to machete the veggies and spread them attractively
atop our giant salad. Then I found myself awkwardly loitering, getting in Miss K’s way all over again.
Meanwhile, some of the other women
had arranged our copious baked goods on a pair of trays, and they looked so appealing that I was glad to have brought the
sugar-free alternatives. I decided to leave these in the original package they’d come in to make clear what they were,
then poked around in some stacks of paper on the counter for a spare piece on which to make a “sugar-free” sign,
irritating Miss K once more.
But what unnerved her even more (beyond the fact that she hadn't known so many of us were coming) was when
she insisted that all of the chili be poured into one huge pan, and Carmen explained that one batch needed to be kept separate
because it had been made without meat for anyone who might be a vegetarian.
“Let me just tell you, there
ain’t no vegetarians here,” Miss K replied with a scornful laugh, “and if you don’t throw it in with
the rest, there ain’t nobody who’s gonna to eat it!”
It wasn’t just that no one at the shelter had the luxury of being picky. People living there weren’t
interested in consuming anything that was unfamiliar or different, she said.
But please don’t imagine
for a second that I resented or blamed her in any way. I think she's a saint. Also, the fact is that I am the queen of my
own kitchen, and I rule it with an iron fist. And anyone who dares to gets underfoot while I’m cooking (I'm talking
about you, Nice Jewish Dad)... Well, they had better watch out.
Still, it was a bit of a relief when a pair
of congregants I knew from the other group approached my husband and me. They had been told that two more people were needed
to serve in the soup kitchen. Would we be willing to defect?
They didn’t need to ask twice.
My husband looked back longingly at the stacks of cornbread, having had his heart set on getting a spare square. And I must confess that what I’d been looking forward
to was seeing people eating the food we had prepared ourselves. But most of all, I wanted to be of use. So
we followed our new cohorts past the sign posted in the hallway that read “WE LOVE YOU AND JESUS DO TO” and descended
in an elevator to the floor below.
Downstairs, we found a dingy basement filled with long cafeteria tables at which dozens of people in hats
and coats were seated, waiting silently. A man who worked there named Alex said that at the dot of 12 we’d begin serving
lunch to this crowd, as well as anyone else who managed to show up before they closed up at 1.
So without a second to spare, we
stationed ourselves in front of the steam table that lay behind a metal counter on the far wall and quickly formed an assembly
First in our formation was Fred Fitzgerald, a longtime college teacher whom I knew from his many years performing
with me in our temple’s Purim spiel. His job was to take a Styrofoam plate from the large stack and add a small, individual
container of salad dressing, plus two or three Hershey’s miniatures, Milky Ways, or other pieces of candy chosen from
what appeared to be a tub of other people’s leftover Halloween candy.
My husband would then add a roll or piece of dry bread, then pass the plate to me. My task was to apply a
helping of salad from a vat of shredded iceberg lettuce and sliced tomatoes. Alex noted that although there were tongs available,
the fastest and most efficient way to achieve this once we really got going was to simply grab a large portion of it with
my hand. Good thing I was still wearing that pair of rubber gloves.
Fred’s wife Judy, who stood to my right, would then slap on a piece of baked fish and place the completed plate on the
counter in front of us. Cheryl, the final member of our brigade, was there to hand out the beverages – paper cups filled
with water, that is.
I looked out at the vast sea of faces that filled the room. Some were white and some were black. Some were
young and some were old. Some were women, but most were men. Broken men. Beaten-down men. Men who, along with mostly shabby
attire and stubbled chins, had that vacant, haggard look in their eyes that made it clear they were down on their luck. It
was a look that made me want to look away, or at least not dare to stare.
But I didn’t have much time to wonder further about their individual misfortunes, because the clock
struck noon and Alex summoned the first table to come and get it.
We began churning out plates as fast as we could,
but it soon became apparent that our system wasn’t working. As far as I was concerned, the men weren’t hustling
fast enough. Meanwhile, Judy kept chiding me to be more generous with the salad, but then she would grow frustrated because
there was no room on the plates for the fish.
Alex, who was watching these proceedings like a hawk, suggested that I add the greens before the bread, and
then have my husband throw the bread on top. This worked better, but it made the plates look like a sloppy mess. In fact,
once we got into the swing of it, I began tossing on the salad so fast that the candy and container of salad dressing would
get completely buried beneath the lettuce. Then the lettuce would get buried under the bread, making the whole plate look
like a giant, messy sandwich.
Although I’ve always loved to cook, the thing I enjoy most about it is assembling the food in a manner
that looks appetizing or even artistic. I thought back to the canapés I’d served on New Year’s Eve, bite-sized
pastry shells filled with sour cream and red caviar, then garnished with a teeny sprig of fresh dill and served on a fine
This lunch was about as similar to that as a Super 8 is to the Four Seasons.
But when it really comes down to
it, what I enjoy most about preparing food is using it to please other people. Preferably hungry and appreciative people.
And these people appeared to be both.
Although the food we were dispensing was the opposite of elegant or delectable, and the people we were serving
had no idea who we were, many made it a point to stop and thank us, both when they first took their plates and then often
again when they got up to leave.
They clearly seemed grateful for our efforts, rather than taking them for granted.
But what they seemed to be most interested in and grateful for wasn’t the meal itself.
Or our efforts.
It was the candy.
Some of them declined to eat salad and asked for plates with just fish
A few said that they didn’t like fish and they only wanted bread and salad.
But no one there declined to take the candy. Rather, some wanted only the candy. Others begged for
seconds on it. Or pleaded to exchange the candy they’d been given, negotiating vigorously to trade in, say, a Tootsie
Pop for a miniature Mr. Goodbar.
Fred, who remained in charge of this precious stash, hasn't been playing wicked Haman
all of these years for nothing. Even in his casual workshirt and apron, he was the very picture of the king's vizier, casting
away nearly everyone who sought seconds on their way out, and refusing most offers to trade. Seeing this, I squirmed. As a
soft touch, I knew that in his place I would’ve caved instantly, succumbing to pleas to “C’mon, man, please,
just gimme a Charleston Chew!”
On the one hand, seeing these bedraggled and poorly nourished people, many of whom had noticeably rotting
teeth, I fantasized about getting to serve them some far healthier fare, like steamed broccoli or kale, perhaps with some
fresh fruit for dessert.
On the other, I wished that I hadn’t left my stash of candy upstairs and could
have slipped everyone who seemed eager a packet of M&Ms or box of Junior Mints. Why not make their day?
But the truth was that I didn’t
have much time to dwell on this matter because their ranks were lining up steadily, and we had to keep those plates coming
on down the line. And when I was so exhausted that I figured it had to be nearly 1, I checked my watch. Only 20 minutes had
During a brief hiatus in newcomers, I asked Alex how many they typically served. He said that they anticipated
about 140 that day, but this was down from the usual 200.
This being January, it wasn’t long after the holidays, he
explained. Many homeless people reconnect with their families at Christmas and get taken back into their homes. But most end
up back on the street again and return to the soup kitchen before long.
He also explained the difference between the people eating upstairs and down. Those above were residents
of the shelter, who paid $50 a week for room and board. All of them had jobs of some sort and were in the process of getting
back on their feet.
The people we were serving, however, were mostly homeless and unemployed. Some suffered from mental illness,
as well as substance abuse or other personal travails. They weren’t able to get their lives back on track. Or maybe
they weren’t ready.
I noticed one fairly young woman who had makeup on and was decently dressed. She was even carrying a nice-looking
pocketbook. What could have brought her there? I didn’t want to embarrass her by pointing her out, though. I could only
hope this was a temporary snag in her life, and if and when we ever returned, I wouldn’t see her again.
Besides, there was no more time
for chitchat. Here came more mouths to feed.
Every time I feared we had run out of fish, Judy would peel back the foil and reveal yet another layer. Miss
K really had known what she was doing. Meanwhile, I’d been so liberal with the salad that I came to the end of both
vats and Alex had to get some more. He returned having replenished the bowl from the salad left upstairs. I recognized those carrots, mushrooms, and cucumbers, and serving them gave me an added sense of satisfaction.
last we polished off the fish, but to our relief it was only a minute or two before 1. Alex assured us that he would clean
up, and sent us back up to collect our belongings.
We arrived to find that the other group had just finished eating themselves and had left just enough food
for us. To my husband’s delight, there was plenty of cornbread remaining. I had come to serve and not to eat, but realized
that I had built up quite an appetite and readily joined my group to feast on chili topped with shredded cheese and sour cream.
I don’t know what was more gratifying, filling all of those people’s plates or filling my belly.
Nah. I do. I also know that at least half the pleasure was all of the teamwork involved. Judy noted how much she had enjoyed
the experience and said they would definitely return. We’d heard that the soup kitchen served three meals a day, and
when Alex reappeared, I asked how they managed when volunteers like us weren’t available.
Miss K did all the cooking, he
replied. As for serving downstairs, he said, “I do it.”
I found it impossible to believe that he managed
to attend to all those people on his own, considering that five of us had struggled to keep the line moving. He just laughed.
“You people are really slow,” he said. “I’m faster on my own. People were waiting for you. They
wouldn’t wait on me.”
We invited him to join us for lunch, but he declined, saying that he only wanted dessert, yet couldn’t
have any of the countless baked goods that were left over because he was diabetic. At this, Judy hastened to point out that
a few of my sugar-free cookies remained. He eyed them briefly, but said that he only liked sugar-free oatmeal cookies.
Darn! After all of my extra effort and care, I had still managed to blow it, I thought.
Then he decided to take one anyway
and reappeared moments later for another. “Actually, these are really good,” he said.
I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face for hours.
Maybe it is pathetic that it takes a presidential proclamation
to prompt people like me to get off our tucheses (behinds) and volunteer our time. I also must confess
that I approached that day with some trepidation and worried about all the important things I might be neglecting.
But in the end, however dispiriting it was to see so many poor people mired in grim circumstances, I felt
an enormous sense of satisfaction and, strangely enough, joy. Rather than going about my own usual business, I had contributed
something of value. For after initially standing around feeling awkward and useless, I had felt useful indeed.
Or as my good friend Pat observed
after visiting a critically ill relative in the hospital this week, “I felt good that I did something for somebody.
It just made me feel good inside.”
So although it really isn’t about me or how I feel, I plan
to return to the soup kitchen soon.
I absolutely want to do something for others again, and to do it more often than once a year.
I want to help Alex, whether he
needs me or not, and Miss K, who truly is a saint.
And sorry, Nice Jewish Dad, but I also really want to
donate the rest of that Halloween candy.
Saturday, January 19, 2013
A Word From the Weiss
It’s fortunate that birthdays come but once a year, as mine did this past
Monday, so that we don’t actually notice (not-so-nice Jewish) Father Time creeping up on us… until it’s
already too late.
This past week in particular has been so unnerving, though, that I could almost see the wrinkles coming out and felt as if
I had aged ten years in just a matter of days.
It didn't help that I woke up on Monday morning with this odd sense of vertigo that I've begun
to experience periodically in the past six months or so. I awaken to find that the room is spinning around me. You might say
it was not fortuitous timing. I would say that it wasn’t entirely coincidental timing, either. The fact is that I flip
out in some way on my birthday every year, and that is not improving with age. Rather, quite the opposite. The more birthdays
I have, the more I seem to flip out!
Could it have been dehydration, or maybe the half-glass of wine I had with dinner? (Seriously, could I be that cheap a date?) Or is it just that I woke up Monday, realized I will be 60
in only two more years, and proceeded to heave?
Sure, I realize that someday I’ll be willing to give almost anything
just to be 60 again, which is the way I now feel about 30, 40, and 50. But for now, do you blame me?
The real tsuris actually began
last Thursday, though, when my son called to announce some actual good news. As I’ve mentioned, Aidan is about
to begin his second year of a two-year grad school program, leading to a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing for television.
Even though he’s now in the final stretch, he continues to have second thoughts about returning to school. But
recently, there appeared to be an unforeseen silver lining. He learned that his university was holding a one-act playwriting
contest and he believed that he stood a decent chance to win. So he wrote a play and submitted it last month.
In fact, Aidan has had two other one-acts produced in New York in the past, in conjunction with another competition,
called the Strawberry One-Act Festival. His new play is evidently a sequel to the second of these, which was entitled Clap
On, Clap Off.
In that madcap farce, a nice Jewish boy named Avi goes to visit his grandmother, having promised
to water her plants while she takes a trip to see Fiddler on the Roof. He arrives with his girlfriend Shelly in tow, and once Grandma finally leaves (after thoroughly
embarrassing him by wiping shmutz off his face, calling Shelly a shiksa to her face, and reminiscing ad
nauseam about her love life with his late Grandpa Mendel), it occurs to Avi that he and Shelly are finally alone together
– a chance for them to consummate their relationship at last, aided and abetted by the lights in Grandma’s apartment,
which go on and off via that inimitable device known as The Clapper.
Aidan’s new play evidently revisits the same young couple five years later, when they are in New York City during
the recent power outage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
This sounded like fertile ground for
more hilarity to me, but ever since Aidan had submitted it he’d been plagued with self-doubt, suddenly convinced that
he wouldn't win after all. I kept trying to reassure him, but that was worthless because I’m his mother.
Anyway, he called on Thursday morning
to announce that he indeed had won, and his play was among three chosen to be produced. I was ecstatic to hear this, but he
didn't sound especially excited, for it finally came out that he’d come down with the flu.
I don’t mean the sniffles or a
really bad cold. I mean the actual flu! Aches and pains all over, a fever, a terrible cough, and a stuffy nose. The whole
He felt like he'd been hit by a truck and was too sick to get out of bed. I always keep quarts of homemade chicken soup,
a.k.a. Jewish penicillin, in my freezer for such emergencies, so I was tempted to drive into the city to bring some right
away. But my husband and I were already scheduled to go in the next day and couldn’t leave till then.
As a nice Jewish mother, I was frantic
with worry, of course. Just beside myself. I mean, is there anything worse than being sick with no one there to so much
as make you a cup of tea? But when you’re in your 20s (generally too young to be married, but also too old to still
live with your folks), you are basically on your own.
So I spent hours talking to my son and desperately trying to locate places
in the city that would deliver soup and other necessities – the next best thing to being there.
Googling “soup delivery in Manhattan” yielded a nationwide service called GrubHub, on which I found a restaurant
that would bring hot soup and even waive the usual $4 delivery fee, since I was a first-time customer. In fact, Mr. Broadway
Kosher Deli mysteriously specialized in sushi, wonton soup, and other Asian fare, but also boasted so many choices of chicken
soup (with noodles, rice, matzah balls, or kreplach) that it was almost impossible to choose.
I finally decided to send one with noodles
and another with rice, as well as an entrée of half a roast chicken, figuring that even though Aidan claimed to have
no appetite, eventually he’d be ready for a nosh.
The reason he wasn’t hungry, I surmised, was that he felt like he had a high fever. How high? Who knew? He had
no thermometer. So I searched for a place that would deliver one, along with meds to bring this alleged fever down and make
him feel more comfortable.
A pharmacist at the Duane Reade on West 26th Street recommended Theraflu, but said that they
didn’t deliver and to call the Duane Reade on West 34th instead. At West 34th, they suggested Tylenol Multi-Symptom,
but also didn’t deliver. So I phoned the one on West 23rd, where they advocated Dayquil Cold & Flu, but of course
couldn’t bring some either.
So I gave up on Duane (“Read my lips – no delivery!”) Reade and went back
to Google, where I finally found a service at www.MaxDelivery.com that would deliver almost everything: over-the-counter meds,
a thermometer, household goods, and groceries. And within minutes, a digital thermometer was on its way, as well as tissues,
Gatorade, ginger ale, canned soup, and both Tylenol Multi-Symptom and Dayquil.
Aidan, however, is extremely stubborn, and being under the weather does nothing to undermine his ability to be oppositional.
He wouldn't eat anything I'd sent because he still had no appetite. He also wouldn't take either one of those medications,
arguing that an elevated temperature is one of the body's natural defenses against illnesses, and he didn't want to impede
that process in any way.
He also refused to go to a doctor to get a prescription for Tamiflu, which had been recommended
by my local pharmacist to curtail the duration of the flu. He’d read online that, like most medications, it had unwelcome
"What side effects?" I demanded.
"Hallucinations," he said. Or so he’d read.
I countered that if people were truly hallucinating on Tamiflu, then you’d hear about it on the evening news, since
the flu was the lead story every night and they were running dry on new horrors to announce.
But he refused to discuss it any further,
and I couldn’t really blame him. To be honest, he’s a chip off this old block; I don't like to take meds of any
kind, either. But after listening to him kvetch all day, I went out late that afternoon to get a flu shot.
On the way back, I got a call from my daughter. "What's my license plate number?" she demanded. And when I
told her, she shrieked, "Oh, no!" and hung up.
What now? I wondered for the next 20 minutes as I waited for her
to call back.
OK, I guess it could’ve been worse, because she’d said “Oh, no!” believing
that her car had been stolen. She had driven it to work that day, rather than taking the subway, in order to pick up the free
dining room table her boss had offered to give her, but had parked briefly in an illegal spot in front of a school, and it
turned out to have been towed.
Between the ticket and the towing fee, it cost her $295 to get it back. She was distressed
because she had only earned $300 as a nanny last week. I tried to cheer her up by noting that she'd cleared 5 bucks, which
was $5 more than I had earned.
Unfortunately, however, the table she’d been promised was no longer exactly free.
I know that these were all temporary glitches, and I tried to remain calm and remind myself that there are many people
whose children contract illnesses that won't clear up in a week or so, or whose cars get totaled with their children inside
them instead of their merely getting towed. But I must say that all this tumult was too much to deal with all at once, and
it did not exactly put me in the mood for a celebratory birthday visit to NYC.
That visit began on Friday night, and
although I was still dying to see my poor beleaguered son, I was also a little nervous about actually visiting him because
the flu shot I’d just gotten would evidently not kick in for another week or so. Also, long before we’d known
he would be sick, we’d made plans to have dinner with some old friends.
Steve and Betsy had lived around the corner from us for years, but had moved to New York within the past year or two
to take prominent positions in the museum field. We hadn’t gotten together with them in eons. Plus, Steve’s birthday
was coming up as well, and we had a longstanding tradition of celebrating our January birthdays together.
Our plan was to stop at Allegra’s
apartment on Roosevelt Island first, to drop off some furniture she needed because two of her roommates were moving out that
weekend. Then we would drop the soup and other provisions at Aidan’s, check into our hotel, park the car,
and take the subway to meet our friends.
Unfortunately, having spent all day Thursday dealing with my children’s respective crises, I’d stayed up
that night until 3 a.m. working on my blog and still hadn’t finished it. By the time I was all done, packed, and ready
to depart on Friday, it was already 3 p.m., and we found ourselves driving through rush-hour traffic in a heavy, blinding
We still managed to arrive at Allegra’s, deposit the furniture, and take off at 6 p.m. This gave us
plenty of time to do everything else and easily make it to dinner by 7:30.
That’s what we thought, anyway,
until we drove onto the Queensboro Bridge.
Have you ever made what you realize is a dreadful mistake just as you’re
making it, but you just can’t seem to stop yourself, so you keep heading toward certain doom?
Well, it was exactly like that, except that one of the reasons I kept going was that I was pretty sure I had no choice,
The only way to get to Roosevelt Island by car is through Queens, and the only way I know of to get from
Queens to Manhattan is by this double cantilever bridge. Also known as the 59th Street Bridge, the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge
is about 1.4 miles long, counting both approaches, and under normal circumstances it takes about two minutes to cross.
These were not normal circumstances, though. They were what happens in NYC during rush hour on a Friday night, in torrential
rain, no less. And the moment we drove onto the entranceway, I knew we were in deep trouble, and headed nowhere fast.
Make that nowhere slow. Very slow. According to a radio report, a truck accident had closed the FDR Drive, exacerbating
traffic everywhere. One look at the cars that stretched ahead and I told Nice Jewish Dad that we’d have to scale back
on our agenda, forget about Aidan, the soup, the hotel, and parking in a garage, and just drive straight to the restaurant.
The problem was that an hour later, after inching forward, we were still stuck on that bridge. Also, that the place
at which we were meeting was a little out of the way.
No. Make that way out of the way.
The week before, I’d gotten a
text from my good friend Liz asking for the name of the funky Italian restaurant on the Lower East Side where we’d once
gone with Aidan. I’d never actually known the name, I confessed, so I forwarded her message to him, reminding him of
the time we’d gone out together last spring.
“Supper,” he texted back.
“Yes,” I wrote back. “We had supper there.” I
went on to explain that Liz was looking for somewhere to take her daughter and a group of her friends for her birthday. “She
liked that place.”
“OK, good,” he texted back.
Was he being coy? “Aidan,” I wrote back,
getting just a little frustrated, “do you know the name of the restaurant? She wants to make a reservation. I have no
“Supper,” he wrote back.
And finally I got it.
“Oh!!!” I wrote back. “Seriously? Is this like ‘Who’s on First?’”
Liz ended up going to a different restaurant after all that. But after having a good laugh over our misunderstanding,
my husband remembered how much he had liked it too, and he'd arranged to meet our friends there for our own birthday
Supper, at Supper, was on East 2nd Street between Avenues A and B. And at the appointed hour of 7:30,
our friends were already there, and we were still trying to get off the Queensboro Bridge, which would eventually dump out
way uptown, in the East 60s.
Unfortunately, the restaurant had a strict policy against seating anyone until their entire party had arrived. So our
poor friends were obliged to sit in the bar and wait.
Make that our ex-friends. The last time we’d been scheduled to
see them in NYC, we’d gotten into a similar predicament. We’d spent the afternoon attending Kosherfest, a kosher
products trade show at the Meadowlands, then gotten into such heavy rush-hour traffic on the way back that they’d elected
to reschedule. Even if we ever arrived now, which seemed dubious, I figured they were bound to be so furious that we’d
never see them again.
When we finally reached the end of the bridge, we sat parked for another 20 minutes in the
middle of 63rd Street, watching the light turn from green to red and back again ad infinitum. It wasn’t just gridlock.
It was the end of sanity and civilization as we know it. No one was able to move.
By the time we reached the restaurant
and managed to find parking on the street, it was 8:20. We apologized profusely, but Supper now wouldn’t have a table
for 30 minutes. Our friends understandably didn’t want to wait.
It was pouring out, there were no other decent alternatives
in sight, and even if we found one it was likely to have just as long a wait.
That’s when someone in our group realized that there were outdoor tables under a canopy out front, with heat lamps
to make them habitable, even in the damp winter air. And so we sat down and had a festive al fresco dinner, all the
more fun because it was the middle of January.
I remained so contrite about being so egregiously late that I wanted
to pick up the check, but they simply shrugged it off, insisting that while we had been mired in endless soul-sucking traffic,
they'd been comfortably enjoying a glass of wine in a hip bar.
So we devoured our pasta, then Steve and I blew out the candles on our tiramisu. And although I adored the Andy Warhol
camouflage scarf that they brought me from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, knowing that we were forgiven was the best present
When we brought the soup over to Aidan the next day, he refused to let us into his germy apartment, insisting
that he wanted some fresh air anyway and that we take a walk together instead. He was distressed that he’d been too
sick to buy me a birthday present, but I assured him that he could get me something some other time, or not, and that the
best present of all was knowing that (meds or not) he was already feeling much improved.
So we wandered the
Highline – that elevated, art-filled walkway constructed on an abandoned railway in Chelsea – reveling in the
fact that we were no longer inside a car or late for anything.
Then, while he rested up for dinner, my husband and I met Allegra uptown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reveling
in the fact that this time she was the one who was late.
Given Aidan’s impaired state, dinner wasn’t anything too
ambitious. We settled for a lively eatery in his neighborhood called East of Eighth, made all the more festive when they provided
us with balloons.
After that, we had originally planned
to join the kids at an annual event they attend each year called Winter Jazzfest, even though they had warned me that I would
hate the loud, avant-garde music and that it would involve waiting in line endlessly outside various cramped, crowded
music venues in the Village.
I had argued that it would be fun to tag along
with them and do what they like to do.
It might even have made me feel… could it be? Young.
But since Aidan was too tired
to go anywhere but home, my husband and I decided to simply turn in too, while Allegra went to meet friends for
all that jazz alone. We spent the evening in our hotel room watching the Miss America pageant, as if we were back home
in the ‘burbs.
The next morning, we stopped at Allegra’s to bring her car home with us (before she could
risk getting it towed again). And that’s when she gave me the birthday gifts she'd bought.
In fact, she had designed something
unbelievable for me in the weeks ahead and before actually ordering it had emailed to ask if I wanted it. And I did want it. Who wouldn’t? It was a custom-made case for my iPhone featuring the NiceJewishMom.com logo she had created
for me on Zazzle.com when she ordered a T-shirt for me for Mother’s Day. How cool is that?
The problem was that I had recently
gotten a new case for my iPhone. A very solid and colorful Otterbox that might not be nearly as cool, but probably offered
much more protection for my phone, which I seem to be clumsy enough to drop all the time. And isn’t that the whole real
point of having a case (although it’s always nice to look cool)?
So Allegra had hastened to buy me some other, more
conventional things instead.
One was a sleek, lovely roll-on cologne from a company called Infusion Organique in a subtle
and exquisite scent called Buddha’s Fig. (As everyone knows, I really give a fig about figs, which are among my favorite
fruits or things of any kind.)
There was also a pretty little golden
“P” pendant embedded with rhinestones on a delicate chain, understated enough to wear every day (which I have
every single day since I received it).
In the third box, I discovered a hefty
cream-colored mug imprinted with the letter M. As everyone knows, I mostly gave up coffee years ago and am an ardent tea drinker.
This would be perfect for that.
But why the “M”?
“I liked it much better than the
‘P’ mug,” Allegra explained.
“Also… I was thinking ‘M’ for ‘Mom.’”
Oh. Of course! That made sense. No, more than sense. It made me deliriously happy. And so maybe (although getting to
spend time with my kids is all I care about), that was really the best gift of all.
Who knows? Maybe one of these days I will stop being such a suburbanite rube and learn to better anticipate the
traffic patterns in and around New York.
Maybe one of these years I also will
learn to take temporary glitches in stride (even if those glitches happen to adversely impact my children)
and I will stop behaving as though every little calamity that befalls us were the end of the world.
But no matter what happens, of one thing there is no doubt.
I will probably flip out on my birthday all over again next year.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
A Word From the Weiss
Once upon a time – that time being the notoriously style-challenged 1980’s
– I was just a nice Jewish girl living in New York City with an incessant stream of roommates.
And now that I am Nice Jewish Mom,
my kids live in NYC with their own revolving cast of apartment mates, and I get to enjoy that vicariously (or not so much)
To be honest, my own experiences were so checkered, and my own roommates each so challenging in his or her
own way, that there has never been a moment since when I actually missed that aspect of being young, nor any of the drama
attached to it.
What I do miss is that initial euphoria of realizing that at last you have a place to call your own (or nearly
yours alone), in which you can express your taste and identity.
Of course, it always helps to have someone a bit more experienced to bounce your design ideas off of –
not to mention someone a little more financially established to fork over some dough, in order to help put your wildest ideas
within the realm of possibility.
So it didn’t take much last week for me to succumb to my daughter’s contagious
air of breathless anticipation when she learned that two of her roommates, a young married couple, would be moving out in
the middle of this month, taking with them the bulk of the furniture in her living room, consisting mostly of castoffs from
one of their grandmothers.
As sad as she would be to see these two go, it was thrilling that Allegra would soon move into their much
larger room. Even more exciting was that this opened all sorts of design possibilities for her and her two lovely remaining
roomies, Jamie and Courtney.
Her first instinct was to ask if I would be willing to bring in the red velvet loveseat
that has been sitting idly in my office, a vintage piece she’s had her eye on for years.
This particular item was once my
greatest treasure, being the first item of furniture with which I got to express my own identity, way back when I was a waif
of her age, 23. In truth, it has long ceased to be of any real use to anyone, since after enjoying a prime spot in our first
house for years, it’s been sitting for over a decade now under a heap of old boxes and other detritus. Yet I was still
a little hesitant to fork it over now.
For one thing, I didn’t think its claret-red hue remotely matched the large plum and yellow rug Allegra
got me to buy her at Brimfield last spring. Nor the kiwi and amethyst velvet pillows I gave her for Chanukah, or anything
else in her current color scheme.
For another, it was once my most prized possession, but it had seen better days and
was now a little fragile, or maybe even a LOT fragile, and I was a little reluctant to have it subjected to the many
parties she throws or be mauled by the many cats with which she resides (even though two of them will be exiting with the
However, I knew that she’d been hankering for something like it ever since she had taken over the lease
from Shayna, another young singer who had moved out abruptly last year, taking her gorgeous, vintage-style green velvet chaise
longe along with her.
At the time, Allegra had begged me to let her buy the chaise from Shayna, who was leaving
the country and looking to dispose of it on Craigslist. However, Shayna evidently had bought it for $650 from Urban Outfitters,
that rather overpriced purveyor of goods to young hipsters, and she was hoping to collect close to that amount. I thought
the piece was on the impractical side, and way beyond the price I was willing to spend. So when Shayna was unable to sell
it, her mother came over to cart it off after she left.
Knowing that this piece was what Allegra really had in mind, I texted her agreeing to bring my loveseat,
but offering to check Craigslist first to see if anyone were trying to sell a chaise more like Shayna’s.
she texted back emphatically. She and her remaining roommates preferred to do it themselves. “Jamie and I want to plan
this out carefully and with a specific design in mind.” They didn’t want just random “whatever
I responded that I understood and wouldn’t insinuate myself, but hoped that she would look soon. She
responded that she would, but her “Ya” didn’t sound convincing.
I did understand her sentiment
that, as an early ’60s TV ad for Anacin used to say, “Mother, please! I’d rather do it myself!” And
I totally respected that feeling.
In fact, I respected it for the rest of that whole afternoon and well into the night.
The problem was that we were scheduled to drive into New York this weekend, and we might not be back for
awhile. I wanted to know soon whether I needed to surrender my cherished loveseat or not.
Perhaps I could find something
on Craigslist locally and bring that to her instead. So just before going to bed that night, I decided to take a quick gander
at the website.
After all, I knew her taste. I shared her taste. And when I didn’t find anything close to what I knew
would suit it listed locally, I decided to check the NYC Craigslist instead.
OK, so I looked through many pages,
for the better part of an hour. That’s when I saw it: nearly the same chaise that Shayna had owned, except that this
one was more symmetrical and in a gorgeous yet understated shade of charcoal gray velvet, and it was listed for only $250.
I instantly forwarded the posting to Allegra, then texted that I was sorry and promised not to look any further,
but would she please check out this so-called “fainting couch?”
Even though she was over 100 miles
away and it was after midnight – 12:18 a.m., to be exact – the response came back within about 20 seconds. “I
want it!!” she wrote.
“Isn’t it just what you want?” I replied, adding, “Too fab.
“Exactly what i want,” she confirmed, adding that she’d already replied to the ad. “Sooo
elegant. Jamie and I discussed that exact chaise in charcoal as our dream item.”
I was overjoyed that I’d
actually managed to locate the precise thing she’d had in mind, at such a bargain rate, no less. The original was still
at Urban Outfitters for $650.
And she was so elated that I’d somehow managed to read her mind that she didn’t seem to mind one bit that I had
thrust myself so boldly into her efforts at self-expression.
OK, perhaps most mothers are no longer shopping
for their children by the time they turn18, 21, or certainly 23. Most mothers, however, are not NiceJewishMom.com.
I think many of my friends thought it was a little out of line when I helped my son Aidan decorate his first
real apartment after he graduated college and moved to NYC. And when I say “helped decorate,” I don’t mean
that I gave him a bit of advice about color scheme or simply bought Venetian blinds for the windows and a dish rack (which
Shortly after graduation, Aidan had taken a summer sublet in an area of Brooklyn called Bushwick. I don’t
know Brooklyn well and had never been to Bushwick, and my daughter said that I was probably better off keeping it that way.
So I didn’t go to visit. Not even once.
At the end of that summer, though,
he decided to stay on in the apartment. He was working as a production assistant on the TV show Law & Order: Criminal
Intent, and I’d begun to notice that there were frequent references to his neighborhood on the show, and they were
usually along the lines of “There was a shooting in Bushwick last night.”
Plus, he had to get to work by
5:45 a.m. every morning, and Bushwick was a good 45 minutes away from Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, where the show was mostly
being shot. I thought he needed to live closer by and wanted him to move.
He was not eager to relocate, though,
and seemed more than a little incensed when his father and I finally paid him a visit in Brooklyn, then returned the following
weekend carrying a copy of the real estate section with a multitude of ads circled in red.
“I thought this was just a social visit,” he protested shortly after we picked him up.
“Social?” I asked.
“Not quite. Other than that we’ll be hanging out with realtors, starting at noon.”
He was so exasperated that sometime
after our third appointment, he jumped out of the car while we were stopped at a red light and stalked off in the middle of
But one of his roommates had turned out to be a drug-abusing creep with druggie friends, and Aidan was sick
of putting up with that, as well as with sleeping on a blow-up mattress in a cramped, cluttered loft space that had neither
A/C nor even windows.
So he called us early the next morning and said, “You were right. This place is hell. Get me out of
here!” We picked him up immediately and continued our apartment search, and within a few weeks he’d signed the
lease on a nice three-bedroom with hardwood floors and new stainless steel appliances, just a 10-minute walk from work.
That’s when I guess I got what my friends deemed to be a little too involved. It’s just that he was busy
working, and he was only 22, and I figured that he would never get around to buying the gazillion and one things you need
to set up a brand new place.
I also figured that if he did, since he was a guy and only 22, he would give less than
zero thought to considerations like color scheme or décor. So I helped him find an assortment of inexpensive used furniture
on Craigslist. Then I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond and T.J. Maxx and bought him an assortment of other items in manly shades like blue, black, and gray: bed sheets, a comforter, a duvet cover, and pillows… dishes, glasses, pots &
pans, and silverware… towels, a shower curtain, a bathmat and a broom... and countless other indispensable items, all
the way down to oven mitts, a can opener, and candlesticks. (“Candlesticks?” he asked. “Why do I need candlesticks?”)
Then I paid him another “social”
call, during which I delivered all of these items.
For some reason, during the four years since, he’s never invited
me to visit again. But at least I can rest assured that when he has a girl over, his apartment looks great!
I also rest assured that this intrusiveness is simply in my genes. And try not to think about
the time that my brother was in law school, and my own well-meaning Jewish mother offered him her own unrequested bit of help.
(She bought him a vacuum cleaner, even though he’d asked her not to, and he was so outraged that he followed through
with his threat to leave it out on the street.)
Though Allegra, as you can see, is much more preoccupied with the look of her surroundings, she has never
seemed to mind having me participate in her choices. The summer before she got her first off-campus apartment during college,
she was away working at a music camp, so I spent those few months assembling inexpensive pieces of furniture from here and
there. This included a desk that wasn’t just inexpensive but free, since I found it discarded in front of a neighbor’s
house and deigned to take it in.
When she returned, I bought her paint in her favorite colors – kiwi green, lavender and deep purple
– and she and her friends refinished the pieces to look funky and new. She adored them all and was very proud of that
apartment, and so, I must admit, was I.
When she moved to her current digs in NYC, though, she discovered that
her bedroom was turquoise and very tiny. None of those old items either matched or fit into her limited space. So she left
them behind in our attic and started decorating from scratch.
But now once again she was redecorating in earnest. Having seen her leave a trail of discarded furniture
behind already – like Hansel and Gretel with the breadcrumbs, except that she had no intention of ever coming back –
I wasn’t eager to throw a whole lot of money at this project.
Then again, I remembered what it was like to
be 23 and to prize that loveseat. And let’s be honest; even if it was an extravagant and impractical purchase, she wanted
that gray chaise more than anything, and I wanted more than anything to make her happy.
So I was crestfallen when she wrote
the next morning to say that she’d heard from the girl selling it, who’d said that someone else was already scheduled
to see it at 6:30 that night, and that Allegra could have it only if that person decided to pass.
Complicating matters was that Allegra was singing at a club that night, and by the time she heard from the
seller it might be too late to pick up the chaise beforehand.
We briefly considered how tacky and truly unethical
it would be to offer the girl extra money to let Allegra get first dibs instead (extremely, we both quickly concurred).
We had no choice other than to wait and hope for the best.
So we waited. And waited. I was
so consumed thinking about it that I could hardly concentrate on anything all day and then felt obliged to leave my zumba
class 15 minutes early that night, at 6:45, thinking that Allegra might call and need to confer about the purchase.
But she didn’t call. Not
at 6:45. Nor 7. Nor even 8 or 9.
I didn’t hear from her again until after her show, around midnight, when she
acknowledged that the other people had taken the piece, and she was out of luck.
The apologetic seller had divulged,
though, that she actually had purchased it on QVC, the shopping channel, for only $491, a far more affordable price than Urban’s.
I checked online and discovered that QVC still had it in stock for that price, and that it came in several
other tempting shades, including honey, berry, and aubergine. Yet $491 was nearly twice what the girl had been selling it
for and was still pretty hefty, especially for something so inessential and downright whimsical.
I also checked online at Target,
which had a sofa that looked similar on sale for $431 in assorted colors. But the reviews of its quality were mixed. Nearly
everyone who’d bought one complained that the color bore no resemblance to the one advertised.
“Also, it is REALLY flimsy!!!” one noted. “I'm using it as a 'look' piece
rather than actually [sitting on it]. I don't think that it will last very long! I would not buy it again!”
Target had another
piece that resembled Shayna’s, for $180. But if $431 got you flimsy, I could only imagine the workmanship on one priced
at less than half as much.
So I found myself back on Craigslist
again. The only potential option was an Urban Outfitters chaise exactly like Shayna’s, but in a color described as “burnt
orange.” In fact, the only customer review posted for this item at Urban Outfitters said that the official color was
mango, but that “the chaise is not mango and doesn't match the picture color. The color in person is more rust/burnt
orange… and I am planning on returning it.”
me it looked more like pumpkin. Maybe even burnt pumpkin. But whatever you called it, I deemed it so garish that I automatically ruled it out and didn’t
even mention it.
I awakened the next morning to two emails from Allegra, who had scouted around and found two similar pieces
on eBay. One was available for the “buy it now” price of $220, but it looked identical to the Target couch listed
for $180. The other looked sleek, but very different in style. Unfortunately, both items were located in California.
Never mind the likely shipping
costs. Did it make sense to buy a piece of furniture online without getting to test it with your own tush first?
We briefly considered contacting
Shayna’s mom to see if she might still have the piece and be willing to part with it for some reasonable amount. But
she lived in Boston. How would we ever get it down?
Besides, did Allegra really want a dark green sofa? That’s when we began to discuss what color she
ideally did want. She told me that she and the girls had decided to repaint the living room salmon. That’s when I remembered
the burnt orange chaise.
I told Allegra that I’d seen it and that maybe on second thought it wasn’t
that bad. She told me that she’d also viewed it and perhaps indeed had dismissed it too hastily.
Sure, it was listed for $400, versus
$250 for the charcoal couch. But she might as well go look at it, we agreed, and if she liked it could always offer, say,
She set up an appointment to see it at 8:30 that night, and we agreed that Jamie ought to come along with
her, to give her approval and also help carry it if necessary.
Once again I found it hard to concentrate all
day, wondering what would happen. Finally, 8:30 came and went, but I didn’t hear from Allegra. Neither did I hear at
9 or 10.
But at 10:07 I heard a text alert on my telephone and saw that she had sent me a photo of the mango/burnt
orange/pumpkin-colored fainting couch. It was even brighter than it had looked on Craigslist, but also much prettier than
it had looked to me online.
Then I took a closer look at the picture and realized something.
Seconds later, the phone rang.
“What happened?” I asked.
The owner, she said, a young designer, lived way up on the Upper
“It took quite a while to get there,” she said.
When they arrived, they discovered
that the girl lived on the sixth floor of a walkup.
“It took quite a
while to get up there,” she said.
But once they had seen the piece, there was no question in either
of their minds. “We took one look and we loved it!” Allegra said. “The color was richer and much more beautiful
than we’d expected. So I reached into my wallet and said, ‘Will 300 bucks be OK?’
“And the girl said, ‘No.’”
She tried to negotiate. She tried her best to
hondel, as we Jews are wont to say. But the seller stood her ground. She said that if they didn’t take it,
then someone else was coming to see it first thing in the morning and probably would.
She also said that she had paid
$750 for it and that it was only a few months old.
Why was she selling a sofa after only a few months? Might it be
defective in some way? Allegra said that it had turned out to be too big for her bedroom.
“A designer couldn’t
figure out that a piece of furniture was going to be too big for her room?” I asked suspiciously.
“She has a really narrow
room,” Allegra snapped.
In any case, at this point they couldn’t decide what to do. They’d driven
all the way there, it was getting late, and there was no way the girl was going to budge on the price.
Or budge much, anyway. She finally
agreed to take $390 – giving not so much a break as what you might call a hairline fracture. Then Jamie offered to kick
in 50 bucks. It was a deal.
So Allegra and Jamie carried the sofa six flights down, only to discover that it wouldn’t
fit into Allegra’s car. “I was ready to carry it all the way back up and ask for my money back,” she said.
As if the seller were ever going to agree to that…
But in the end, the seller did something better. She got the sofa to fit in after all.
And when Allegra got it home, she
discovered that the piece coordinated perfectly, not only with the kiwi pillow I’d bought her for Chanukah, but also
the small, gorgeous rug she’d bought two summers ago on a trip to Istanbul (another impulse indulgence).
And it certainly seemed to suit
Jamie’s cat Calliope, who’d already taken up residence on it and given it two paws up.
Sure, it was a splurge, and she had paid more for it than she’d intended. But her boss had offered
to give Allegra her old but stylish dining room table in exchange for a single Saturday night of baby-sitting. And Allegra
had decided that she could gladly make do with the pair of cocktail and end tables I’d bought for a pittance from my
friend Liz when she moved last summer, which Jamie planned to repaint in some lush color. (Burnt sienna, perhaps?)
So in the end, she had decided to blow what would probably be her entire redesign budget on a frivolous but
fabulous burnt orange fainting couch. And though that may be a tough color to redecorate an entire room around, for now she
had absolutely no regrets.
“Our dream home is about to happen,” she said with a wistful, contented
In the future, I really will try to mind my own business and let her buy her furniture, etc. on her own.
(For now, I still kind of wish that I’d ignored her orders and checked Craigslist right away, so that she might have
gotten to that cheaper charcoal sofa first.)
But the main thing is that she truly loves what she ended up with. She’s happy. And that means so am
Also, now she has a treasure of her own to someday pass on to her own daughter (and her daughter’s
roommates’ cats) when she turns 23. Or if she chooses, maybe not.
Friday, January 4, 2013
A Word From the Weiss
So, am I all ready for a brand new year? Oh, yeah. Am I ready for a better
year? You bet. Am I ready for a year with the rather inauspicious number 2013? Oh… hmmm.
I don’t like to think of
myself as someone who’s superstitious. I mean, seriously – how unenlightened. How primitive. How pagan. But the
fact is that I get a little spooked whenever it’s Friday the 13th. Having a whole year of dates that include the number
13? Now, that sounds Spooky with a capital “S,” promising anxiety on a whole ’nother level.
I’m not even clear on how
they first selected the number 13 to be the one with all the bad karma attached to it.
Sure, it’s a prime number, but so are,
say, 17, 23 and 103. What’s so special about 13?
From what I can gather by checking Wikipedia (that infallible font
of knowledge), the number 13’s negative rap is rooted in Christian liturgy. It evidently relates to the notion that
13 guests attended the Last Supper, the Passover seder during which Jesus predicted that someone present was going to betray him. Then, to make matters worse, Judas Iscariot, who sat in the
thirteenth spot, presumably did so, leading to the Crucifixion.
Oh. Seriously? Who knew? Certainly, not us Jews
Meanwhile, the ancient Persians believed that each of the 12 signs of the Zodiac would
rule over Earth for a millennium, then, in the thirteenth era, chaos would ensue.
Considering all of the chaos created by Lindsey Lohan alone, not to mention the near-fiasco we fondly refer to as the fiscal
cliff, I think it would be safe to say that the so-called “thirteenth era” is already upon us, and it began long
before this past Tuesday.
Of course, there are ways in which the number 13 can actually be something positive.
It’s the age at which Jews have their bar or bat mitzvah, a very good thing.
Then there’s the United States,
which got its start back in 1776 with 13 colonies.
And if anyone can think of a single other notable example, then
please email or tweet me asap because I really could use some positive reinforcement right about now.
I must confess that I was trying desperately to get the book that I’ve written out in print before
December 31st because I didn’t want to have a publication date of 2013. With epic sales of drivel like Fifty Shades
of Grey (not one word of which I’ve read, and not just because the main character is named Christian Grey),
the publishing world is tough enough already without having an unlucky pub date going against me. Unfortunately, things got
crazy in those final few weeks of 2012, so “copyright 2013” it must be. I will have to take my chances.
Given that this dubious year is only four days old -- and I’ve mostly managed to stay out of trouble,
in part because I never got out of my PJ’s on January 1 – I would like to ditch superstition, keep an open mind,
and continue to hope for the best.
After all, how many fortunate occurrences are actually just a matter of
And by the same token, how many misfortunes are just a matter of
really dumb luck, or, if we're going to be brutally honest, sheer stupidity?
Take, for example, the rather calamitous
(and incredibly embarrassing) episode that befell me this past weekend, right on the cusp of embarking on a happy new year.
As I’ve mentioned at least once before here – OK, maybe 10 or 12 or even 13 times –
I have the dubious honor (or should I say privilege?) of writing the lyrics for my temple’s Purim spiel each year. In
order to help beef up the cast of congregants who volunteer to participate in it (and because even after months of rehearsing,
I’m often the only member of the company who knows all of the words), I also appear in the production every year.
And even though by show time he knows neither all of the words nor the actual tunes, so does Nice Jewish
The main problem with this is that we often travel to NYC for the weekend, particularly during the winter,
when the hotel rates are down. So on Sundays, instead of doing as the New Yorkers do -- sleeping late, then imbibing in a
Bloody Mary or two over a leisurely brunch – we have to hotfoot it more than 100 miles back to Central Connecticut for
rehearsals, which begin promptly at 2 p.m.
Last Sunday, after an overnight visit to see our kids, I was determined
to get back on time. For one thing, we’d been late to nearly every rehearsal so far. For another, we were starting the
session with our very first run-through of a song that prominently features my husband, who’d been practicing it diligently
for weeks (to little or no avail).
It always takes longer than you expect to check out of a hotel, though,
and once again we were running late. It didn’t help that Nice Jewish Dad was insistent upon stopping first at a shop
in New York to exchange something he’d purchased.
Late the night before, when he’d popped into a deli to get Sunday’s New York Times,
he had surreptitiously bought himself a slice of cheesecake. At least he thought he had bought himself a slice of cheesecake.
He hadn’t wanted me to know that he was buying cheesecake because he claimed to have started a New Year’s diet,
and he feared that I’d make fun of him, or more likely nix the entire purchase. So he had gotten the clerk to slip the
cake stealthily into a plastic bag and then had concealed it in his backpack.
I don’t know how he expected to consume this delicacy without my noticing it, but when he removed it
from his backpack, to his distress he discovered that the clerk had misunderstood him and given him a slice of something called
Chocolate Outrage instead.
This was an apt name indeed, for it cost $3.99 for a small slice, and you should have
heard his outrage upon realizing that he had paid this amount for something he didn’t even want. He insisted that we
drive back to the deli the next morning and try to convince the clerk on duty to take the cake back and exchange it for what
I knew that this was going to be a time-consuming transaction, not to mention one that was unlikely to succeed.
On the other hand, I knew that when my husband gets a craving for something -- especially something that he really shouldn’t
eat, like a hot fudge sundae or a rich slice of New York cheesecake – there is no arguing with him.
So after leaving him at the hotel with our suitcases while I went to get the car, I nipped into a bakery
that had a sign advertising Baby Watson cheesecake. Yes, buying more cake would be an even bigger waste of money (and infraction
on his new diet). But it seemed like the most expedient way to satisfy his yen.
Then I had to go heavy on the gas
pedal the entire way home, and it was still a minor miracle (or just dumb luck) that we arrived right as the rehearsal
was about to begin. So we had no choice but to peel off our coats and launch right into that song.
Every year, I choose a different Broadway musical from which to borrow the tunes and pen new lyrics, in order
to convey the age-old story of how Esther, a young Jewish orphan, becomes queen of ancient Persia and bravely saves the Jews
from annihilation at the hands of wicked Haman, the king’s evil henchman. This year, we’re doing the inimitable
Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, which I’ve transformed into “Kiss Me, Esther.”
I chose this show largely because it offered what might be the ultimate opening number, which is sung to
the tune of “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” and begins like this:
Another Purim, another spiel
At Congregation Beth Isra-eel
Another carnival and a meal
Another Purim and another spiel.
Another Purim, another show
Set in the Persia of long ago
A chance to read the Megillah scro’
Another Purim and another show!
year, we rehearse and rehearse
Hoping to get better, not worse,
The cantor says, “On with the show!”
While mouthing the words that we still don’t
OK, so maybe it’s a bit of a
stretch to make the word “spiel” rhyme with “Israel.” Ever heard of poetic license?
also may seem a bit contrived to make my husband’s number appear to remotely relate to the Purim plot because, to be
perfectly honest, it doesn’t. But what a waste it would be if I had to leave out the one song that’s my absolute
favorite in the entire show… the one that in the original version never fails to bring down the house.
For anyone who has never seen it, Kiss Me, Kate
is one of those play-within-a-play confections, involving backstage romances and other high jinks as a 1940s theatrical company
puts on a musical version of the Bard’s The Taming of the Shrew. And in Act Two, a pair of sharply dressed
thugs come out and sing a song entitled “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”
Brush up your Shakespeare,
Start quoting him now,
Brush up your Shakespeare
And the women you will wow.
Just declaim a few lines of “Othella”
And they’ll think you’re a helluva fella.
your blonde won’t respond when you flatter ’er,
Tell her what Tony told Cleo-paterer…
If she says your
behavior is heinous
Kick her right in the “Coriolanus”…
Brush up your Shakespeare
they’ll all kowtow…
But for our purposes,
it was hard to resist having a group of fools come out and sing “Brush Up Your Yiddish.” And who could be better
to play a fool than Nice Jewish Dad? As the musical lead-in to my new lyrics notes, “…a century ago, or for some
folks even later, in most Jewish homes they spoke the tongue of Bubbeh and Zaydeh.”
…Brush up your Yiddish,
Grandma will help out
up your Yiddish,
It will raise your Jewish
If you tell someone
that he’s a "shikker"
It means that he cannot hold his liquor
And when people say that they have "tsores"
They’re about to start "kvetching" and bore us!
If someone says you are a "nudnik"
He means you are a foolish
Brush up your Yiddish
It’s a somewhat complicated song, thanks to all the Yiddish expressions, so my husband and the other singers ran through
it several times. That’s when it occurred to me that I’d just driven hours from New York City after downing several
cups of decaf and I really needed to use the facilities. But when I slipped out for a quick break, I discovered that, with
the temple closed for school vacation, the lights were off in the ladies room and they evidently could only be activated from
elsewhere in the building.
only other restrooms were near the sanctuary, a considerable hike away, and I didn’t have time to get there and back
before the next soloist was up. So I returned to the rehearsal room, where Jeff Smith, the man who will be king, was beginning
his number, “Where Is the Wife That First I Wed?” (sung to the tune of “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?”).
is the wife that first I wed?
Gone with the wind. She up and fled!
She shared my phone, my throne, my bed.
it my breath? Something I said?
And before I could consider making my exit again, Fred Fitzgerald, a powerhouse tenor who plays Mordechai, began to croon
his impassioned entreaty to Queen Esther, “Why Can’t You Be Brave?” (sung to the tune of “Why Can’t
I need to be present when the main characters practice, in case they have any trouble fitting in the lyrics.
So I stayed. And stayed. And before I knew it, the rest of the cast had assembled, and I realized we were about to begin rehearsing
in earnest for the next hour or so, and I hadn’t seen the inside of a bathroom since early that morning.
had no prayer of shlepping to the other side of the building, but when I went to check my phone for messages, a light
bulb went on in my head (and I am not talking about a 75-watt incandescent one, since those have been banned beginning in
iPhone happens to be equipped with a free flashlight “app,” I suddenly realized. Why not use that to light my
way in the darkened ladies room right down the hall?
I quietly snuck out, hoping to complete my mission before anyone even noticed that
I was gone. How clever I was! How high-tech and resourceful! With a ray of light emanating from the iPhone as my beacon, I
deftly slipped down the hallway into the darkened restroom, then entered a stall, wondering why I hadn’t thought of
last words. Within five seconds of my sitting down, my makeshift searchlight suddenly went out, leaving me in total darkness.
Sure, my phone’s illuminated screen goes dark automatically after 45 seconds or so in the absence of any activity –
a battery-saving measure, I suppose. But normally the flashlight stays activated until you flip the switch, which I hadn’t
tapped the screen gently, expecting this to reignite the beam of light, but it remained inert. That’s when a terrible
realization dawned on me. I hadn’t charged the phone overnight, figuring that I would do it when I got back home. I’d
also taken a lot of photos over the weekend, so its power supply must have been lower than I’d thought. Not just a little
lower. A whole lot. And my phone had chosen that very moment to die.
I managed to not only complete my business in the dark, but get
myself reclothed. Easy enough after a lifetime of practice. Exiting from the room? That was another story.
made my way out of the stall and proceeded straight ahead, assuming that all I had to do was veer slightly right and I would
find the door. No such luck. Within a few feet I crashed into a wall, and when I turned to my right I rapidly bumped into
a swinging metal door and found myself in yet another stall.
There are two things you need to understand. One is that my temple
renovated its restrooms a decade or so ago to make its banquet hall more inviting to people holding weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other simchas. With a row of 10 individual stalls facing a long bank of five
sinks, and a massive makeup counter on the opposite side, the room I was in was immense, over 30 feet across and more
than 20 feet wide. It was large enough to accommodate a huge crowd during High Holy Day services or any social event.
Large enough to rival the facilities at all the other
temples in town.
And easily large enough to get lost in when you found yourself in the dark.
That’s the other thing you need to know. When
I say it was dark, I mean DARK. Had I held up my own hand in front of my face, I wouldn’t have been able to see it.
Or anything else, for that matter. There wasn’t one iota of light available in the entire place.
my arms extended protectively in front of me, I pushed my way out of the second stall and tiptoed slowly ahead, but I sensed
nothing there but open space. Feeling carefully to my right and left, I finally located a counter that I could only assume
held all the sinks. So I groped my way to the far right, only to bump into another wall.
Then I turned and headed in another direction, only
to crash into yet another stall.
That’s when I realized that I’d been in the darkness for so long and wandered in so many directions
that I was completely disoriented. I had no idea which way was which anymore. The even worse thing was that no one else had
any clue where I might be, either. I hadn’t told anyone where I was going. No one presumably had seen me leave.
when I began to panic. And I don’t use the word lightly. My heart was throbbing wildly. I felt light-headed and a little
dizzy, as though I were about to faint. What if I did faint? Who would ever think of looking for me in a darkened
ladies room? The rehearsal wouldn’t be over for at least an hour. Who would find me and when?
With that in mind, I went into full-on terror and
began to scream. “Help me! HELP!!!”
Yet even as I did
this, I realized that the building was empty except for my fellow cast members, who were all way out of earshot, down a long
hallway and in a distant room singing loudly with the piano blaring. The chances of anyone hearing me were slim to none.
kept screaming anyway, not because it was worth a try. I was just too scared to stop. All this shrieking was not only futile,
though. It also was making my shortness of breath even worse.
So finally I did stop, and began to grope my way again in this
direction and that. The wall, the sinks, the stalls. Which way would only lead me further in? Which way led out?
hesitate to admit this, but adding to my mounting terror was the fact that I’m a bit afraid of the dark. It stems from
something that happened to me when I was 5 years old.
While baby-sitting for me one afternoon, my maternal grandparents decided to take me
to the movies. Unfortunately, the movie they chose wasn’t something meant for children of any age, let alone a 5-year-old
In The Time Machine, a 1960 science fiction film based on the 1895 H.G. Wells novella by the same name, a man
invents a contraption that lets him travel through time. George, the protagonist, played by Rod Taylor, initially journeys
only a few years into the future. But he eventually ends up in the year 802,701, in which a society of hideous, hairy monsters
called Morlocks rule over the human-like creatures known as Eloi. Every time a siren sounds, the Eloi instantly enter a trance-like
state and begin marching like zombies toward the building that holds the siren, until a few of them are trapped and then cannibalized
by the Morlocks, who live underground.
kept telling my grandmother that I was scared and begging her to let me leave, but she was dying to know what happened in
the end and told me to just cover my eyes. Who can blame me for peeking every time I heard one of the Elois shrieking while
For years afterwards, I was afraid to go into the basement of our own house by myself and I remained terrified of the
dark in general.
As an adult, and a mom, I’ve managed to put most of my childhood phobias behind me. This darkness, however, was
bigger, blacker, and more ominous than any itsy-bitsy arachnid you can find anywhere. I had never experienced darkness quite
as dark as this.
Let me try to explain how dark it was in there: It felt a little like being buried alive.
Finally, acknowledging that I was lost and utterly
disoriented, I dropped to the floor and squatted for awhile, just waiting. That’s when I saw it – there, in the
distance. On the ground. A tiny, faint sliver of light.
I began inching toward this, and as I approached, it grew less and less faint. Might
it be coming from a doorway?
I’d crawled across the cold grid of tiles on the floor all the way to this glow, I frantically felt my way up the wall
until my fingers closed around a small metal handle. I used this to hoist myself up at first, then tried to pull it down by
yanking it toward me. Indeed, it gave. What I had managed to find was the door. I was found. I was saved!
I emerged into the dimly lit hall, and in a flash
(literally), my nightmare was over. We Jews may not believe in hell, but in an instant I had escaped from a living one into,
well, not heaven, but the safety of my own temple... which was alive with the sound of music.
Another Purim, another spiel…
As I crossed the hallway and entered the rehearsal room, no one even looked up. So
I simply found an empty seat beside Nice Jewish Dad in the first row and began to sing. I still felt light-headed and a little
nauseated and dizzy. As well as totally unnerved.
I couldn’t exactly interrupt everything and announce... what? That I had just gotten lost in the ladies room?
Another few minutes of that beyond-spooky solitary confinement, and I think I would’ve
been afraid to go back into a public bathroom by myself for the rest of my life.
But I was lucky. In fact, ever since that moment,
I must admit that I have been feeling very lucky.
also think that, despite that one episode of lack of luck – make that sheer stupidity – I have a whole lot to
look forward to in the next 12 months, whatever the number that this year may be.
Not to mention that the year has already gotten off
to a promising start on so many different fronts.
After being hospitalized for days with a blood clot lodged in her brain, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was released
on Wednesday and is expected to make a full recovery.
Legislation passed by Congress at the eleventh hour averted the fiscal cliff, leading
the Dow Jones Industrial Average to soar 308 points, its biggest leap on the first trading day of the year in history.
on a more personal level, my kids are both doing fine, I’ve already lost four of the five pounds (preferably 10) that
I vowed to lose before my birthday later this month, and we shared a fabulous New Year’s Eve dinner with our close friends
Sally and Dial.
as the Bard said All’s Well that Ends Well, maybe all’s well that starts well, especially when
you manage to recover from sheer idiocy, essentially rescue yourself, and elude embarrassment and almost certain doom
without landing on your Coriolanus.
I’m almost tempted to knock wood, say “Kaynahorah!” (Yiddish for
"the evil eye"), and then spit three times while uttering “Poo, poo, poo,” to ward off the
devil. But I'm not a nudnik. I'm Nice Jewish Mom. And I really don’t like to think of myself as someone
|That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.
No, sir, that's not
my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring
ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible
need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime
delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the
dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in
their 20s, both are currently living on their
own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a
day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to
the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally
wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials
for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh
mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah
balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions,
from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I
can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can
barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active
mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging
times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!
|LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
In coming weeks, I will continue
posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often,
and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together):
That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New