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Friday, February 22, 2013

A Word From the Weiss
        Back in the day, I chose to transfer to Brandeis University in part because I found the first college that I attended way too goyishe kup. (Brandeis, which might as well have been called Yeshiva U2, was so blatantly Jewish at the time that our rallying cry might as well have been "Make Latkes, Not War.") But I was equally attracted to the school by its reputation for political activism. Like many a person who came of age in the ‘60s, I had a rebellious streak and was ready and willing to protest anything, be it about women’s rights, tuition hikes, or the Vietnam War.PattiewithLatke.JPG
Flash forward a decade or four. With a husband and two rebellious kids of my own, not to mention a dog to walk and a weekly blog to write, I am prone to protest no more. Yet recent events in my state have been unsettling enough to make me shake off my longtime apathy and be prompted to literally rally last week around a compelling cause.
I can’t truly claim to have greater anguish than people who live in other states just because the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School hit so close to home. In fact, when I first learned of the incident, as shocked as I was, I assumed that I wouldn’t know any of the victims, since Newtown is nearly an hour away from my Connecticut town.LaurenRousseau.jpg
How wrong I was.
I was horrified to soon discover that one of the six adults killed, substitute teacher Lauren Rousseau, was the older sister of the drummer in my daughter Allegra’s band.AnaMarquezGreene.jpg
Then there was poor 6-year-old Ana Marquez-Greene, shown repeatedly on TV playing a hymn at the piano. She was the daughter of jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who’d been on the faculty at the Litchfield Jazz Camp, where Allegra had worked for many a summer, befriending him and baby-sitting for his children, including little Ana.
Of course, it didn’t take a personal connection for me to find the shootings horrific. No child or teacher should be unsafe in a school, or anywhere else in our country. And no family should have to endure the agony of losing a loved one to senseless violence.DebbieLewiswithOneMillionMoms.jpg
So when my old friend Debbie Lewis called last month to announce that she was starting a local chapter of One Million Moms for Gun Control, she didn’t need to ask twice. I’m all for standing with other moms, as well as for working toward finding sensible solutions now. So I said that I would gladly join and do anything possible to help.OneMillionMomsfounderShannonWatts.jpg
With 80 chapters nationwide, this growing grassroots group was founded in the wake of the Newtown massacre by Shannon Watts, an Indiana mother of five. “Like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, our mission is to motivate and mobilize moms to encourage their legislators to support common-sense legislation,” she recently said.
The organization has since chosen to change its name to “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.” Its basic goals, however, aimed toward seeking middle-ground solutions to the problem of gun violence in America, remain the same:MomsDemandAction.jpg
1)      Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
        2)      Require background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases.
3)      Report the sale of large quantities of ammunition to the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives) and ban online sales of ammunition.
4)      Counter gun industry lobbyists’ efforts to weaken gun laws at the state level.
During our first meeting, held at another mother’s house, about a dozen of us sat around the living room brainstorming about ways that we might get our message out and attract new members. Debbie divulged that her motivation for co-founding a Central Connecticut branch of the national group was a reaction to hearing radio comments from Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association.OneMillionMomsDebbieandMaureen.jpg
“I was so enraged that I couldn’t see straight,” she said.
Meanwhile, Maureen Payne-Hahner, her co-founder, spoke of having heard her 10-year-old admit to alarming fears. The classroom across from her daughter’s had put up fake walls behind which students could conceal themselves in the event of such an attack.
“She was crying because her classroom doesn’t have those walls, and she said, ‘Mommy, I don’t know where I would hide.’ ”PattiedrawingOneMillionMomsheart.jpg
We later joined in an activity recommended by the national group, making paper hearts bearing anti-violence messages. Then we pinned those hearts on our clothing and posed for a photo, which appeared the following week on the cover of our town’s local newspaper.
I must confess that I was proud when I saw it, and I put it aside to show my kids. Their mom was an activist again, I would tell them. I’d stood up publicly for something in which I believed.OneMillionMomsmeeting.jpg
But it’s one thing to sit around someone’s living room doing an art project and spewing rhetoric and quite another to attend a public rally chanting and carrying placards. We agreed at the meeting to attend such an event held at the state Capitol. And as I entered the details into my date book, I promised Debbie to show up if I could.
That rally, known as the March for Change, had been deliberately scheduled for the two-month anniversary of the Newtown shootings, which fell on February 14.MarchforChangeposter.jpg
Valentine’s Day.
“Our hearts are broken and we demand change,” Nancy Lefkowitz, one of two Fairfield mothers who organized it, explained to The Hartford Courant.PattieonValentinesDay.JPG
My heart was indeed broken for the Newtown victims and their families. And I did want change. But I must confess in all honesty that when I woke up on the morning of February 14, there was a part of me that wanted to dress in pink and red and spend much of the day making a romantic dinner for my husband.
I had promised Debbie to show up, though, and when I tell someone that I will be somewhere, I rarely if ever renege. So I must admit that I did dress up in pink and red. Then I drove to the Capitol, arriving just before 11 a.m., the time that the rally began.
Given all the people who were descending on the same spot, I had enormous trouble parking. To my surprise, just as I found a space a few blocks away, I heard someone call my name and turned to see Lucy Ferriss, a Trinity College professor who lives around the corner from me.MarchforChangeCapitol2.jpg
Together, we hurried around to the back of the gold-domed Capitol building, where the rally was just getting underway.
That morning’s newspaper had said that the rally was expected to draw high-profile speakers, including assorted elected officials, some Newtown family members, victims of other gun violence, and actress Christine Baranski, a Connecticut resident who would serve as master of ceremonies. It also had predicted that 2,500 people would attend.ChristineBaranski.jpg
My experience from my college days was that you could get almost anyone to come protest almost anything on a balmy spring day, but bad weather was a tough sell no matter how compelling the cause.
As February generally goes here in the Northeast, this was a relatively temperate day. At least the sun was out. But it was bitterly cold, and snowdrifts still abounded everywhere.MarchforChangeinsnow2.JPG
No matter. As we rounded the building, we saw that so many people had gathered to support the cause that there was little prospect of locating our group in the crowd. The Capitol police estimated the attendance at 5,500, over twice the number expected.
My heart leapt at the sight, but also sank at the probability of disappointing Debbie. I figured that I’d simply have to call her afterwards and assure her that I'd come.MarchforChangeOneMillionMomssigns.JPG
But Lucy wasn’t about to give up so easily. She had prudently worn sunglasses, while I found myself almost blinded in the midday sun. We hurried over a snow bank to a small cluster by a One Million Moms sign, only to discover that I recognized no one.
Then she pointed out another such sign in the crowd. “Is that them?” she asked.
“No,” I said with a sigh, feeling even more hopeless.
Then she spied yet another bunch gathered under the familiar logo. Squinting, I saw that one of the women was wearing a bright green volunteer T-shirt over her coat.
        Then I realized that this was unmistakably Debbie.Debbieatrally2.JPG
“Yes!” I cried, and we hurried over just as the governor was being introduced.GovDannelMalloy.jpg
“If you can’t get on a plane without a background check, you shouldn’t be buying a gun without a background check,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told the crowd, which carried and waved a multitude of signs and banners stating everything from “We are Sandy Hook” and “Standing on the Side of Love” to “We the People Demand Change.”Standingonthesideoflove.jpg
“I know that the NRA thinks that the Newtown effect will go away,” he later said.
“No!” we shouted back in unison.
“I think you’re right,” he replied decisively. “But there’s also another warning in this. Every day that we delay making common-sense changes on a national basis is a day on which more innocent individuals will die because we failed to act.”
We cheered in agreement.MarchforChange2.jpg
Next up was Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, a Fairfield-based group that favors more restrictive gun laws.
He addressed the NRA’s proposal that, in light of the Newtown shootings, teachers should be armed. “The first-grade classroom is a gun-free zone!” he declared, adding that according to recent polls, 85 percent of teachers opposed the notion of teachers carrying guns in classrooms. (To which I couldn’t helping thinking, only 85 percent?!!)MarchforChangeMoreLoveLessGuns.jpg
He also gave voice to a sense of optimism and certainty that reform was imminent. “Sometimes you just sense that change is coming,” he said. “And while every mass-killing incident is horrific, this is the one that makes us sense that change is coming.”DeniseMerrill.jpg
Yet that change was not going to happen without a concerted effort from all of us, cautioned Denise Merrill, who asserted that she wasn’t there simply because of her position as Connecticut’s Secretary of the State. Rather, “I stand here because I am a parent,” she cried. “I stand here because I am a grandparent. And I have had enough.”MarchforChangeOneMillionMomsgroup.JPG
“I hear what state legislators are saying,” she continued. “‘We want to do the right thing, and we know it’s right.’ But they say they are hearing more from people who want to keep their guns.”
        And the rate at which gun owners were contacting them was truly overwhelming, she said. “They say they are hearing from them at a ratio of 100 to one.” That was why those gathered on the Capitol steps needed to become members of a “no longer silent majority,” Merrill challenged. “We need to be quiet no longer. Today is our day!”
We quickly picked up those words as a chant.StephenBarton.jpg
The need to not just take a stand, but also take pen and/or phone in hand was one echoed vociferously by many of the day’s other speakers, including Stephen Barton.
Barton, a 22-year-old from Southbury, CT, was on a long-planned cross-country bike trip with his best friend last July when they decided to visit friends in Aurora, CO, and see The Dark Knight Rises. Barton suffered gunshot wounds to the neck and chest that night when a gunman began firing inside the theater, killing 12 and wounding 58.Lucyatrally.jpg
“As a gun violence survivor, I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you are here,” Barton told the assembled crowd. “But this is just the beginning. You need to call your legislators.” And we needed to keep calling them.
        “Call them every day. Call them every Friday morning at 9:30, the same time that Newtown happened. Demand change. Keep demanding change… Keep making your voices heard.”
Colin Goddard, another young survivor of gun violence, joined him in assuring the crowd that their voices were being heard and entreating them to continue taking action.ColinGoddard.jpg
“Almost six years ago, while I was a student at Virginia Tech, sitting in my French class conjugating French verbs, a fellow student with a diagnosed mental illness burst into my classroom and shot and killed 32 of my classmates and teachers," Goddard said. He was one of 17 others there who were wounded in the incident.
Goddard still carries three bullets in his body and a titanium rod in his left leg as ever-present mementos of that 2007 day. “We must challenge any politician who says it’s easier to ask a first-grade teacher to stand up to a gunman with an AR-15 than it is to ask a legislator to stand up to a gun lobbyist with a checkbook,” he declared.JillianSotospeaking.jpg
As powerful and compelling as these and other such battle cries were, however, they were easily overshadowed by the soft, lilting, yet tremulous voice of Newtown’s Jillian Soto.
Her older sister Victoria, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, had gone to work on Dec. 14 expecting to make gingerbread houses with her class. Instead, she had died that morning of multiple gunshot wounds while cradling a child. She was later credited with having saved the lives of 11 youngsters in her classroom.VictoriaSoto.jpg
Jillian reminisced about how high-spirited and fun-loving her sister had been, showing off a photo of the young woman who had worn things like ugly Christmas sweaters, crazy hairstyles, and flamingo pajamas. “Sorry, Vic,” she said.
“In two years, I will graduate from college and I won’t have my sister there,” Jillian lamented. “We will not be the maids of honor at each other’s weddings, like we long planned.”  Neither would she ever hold a niece or nephew from her adored older sibling.
Jillian entreated everyone there to think about the five most important people in their own lives. “What if you wrote those five names on a piece of paper and handed them to me, and I crossed one of them out?” she asked. “No one else needs to lose another sister or brother, mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, aunt or uncle.”MarchforChangePattieandDebbie.JPG
She urged that the capacity of all gun magazines sold be limited to 10 bullets, as well as that the loop in gun sales be closed to keep weapons out of the wrong hands.
“The time is now!” she cried.
“Now!” I echoed with everyone else, although I was almost too choked up to speak.
Yet just when I thought that the scene could not get any more heart-rending, Veronique Pozner stepped up to the podium.
Pozner, an oncology nurse, was the mother of the youngest victim of the Sandy Hook massacre, Noah Pozner, whom she described as “my 6-year-old force of nature.”
“He was a child who took large, hungry bites out of every day,” she stated. He had also been unusually sweet-natured and reflective for his age, once asking her, “‘If there are bad guys out there, why can’t they just wake up one day and decide to be good?’”VeroniquePozneratMarchforChange.jpg
She recalled the school project that he had done on Thanksgiving this year, in which he had traced his tiny hand to make a turkey design and then been told to write something for which he was thankful on each of the tail feather fingers. The words that he had inscribed on the outer tendrils were “electricity,” “books,” “friends,” and “family.” Then finally, in the center, on the largest finger of all, he had written, “The life I live.”
Less than a month later, that life had been snuffed out. “His life and all its potential ended on December 14, 2012,” she said. Her “force of nature” would never kiss a girl, graduate from college, choose a career, travel the world, or feel the sun on his face.NoahPozner.jpg 
“I want to add my voice to the voices of all of you who are demanding change now,” Pozner tearfully concluded. “How could anyone think that the life of my son, or any of the others lost that day, was so disposable that it is acceptable to do nothing?”
There were many more speakers on hand, each rousing in his or her own way, and while listening to their rhetoric I found myself feeling empowered, chanting slogans with the rest of the sign-carrying crowd and utterly swept up in the moment and the cause.
Yet as I made my way back to my car after nearly two hours, then drove to the store at last to buy provisions for that romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, Pozner’s motherly grief was what echoed most resoundingly in my ears.Oldmanwithshoppingcart.jpg
I was still consumed by her words as I exited the store and heard someone call out to me. It was a complete stranger – a feeble-looking, elderly man who had just parked near my car and was offering to take my empty cart for his own shopping excursion.
As he approached, he noticed the “One Million Moms 4 Gun Control” button still fastened to my scarf. But given his eyesight, he could only make out the largest word.OneMillionMomspin.JPG
“What’s ‘One?’” he asked, pointing a shaky index finger toward the laminated pin.
So I told him, explaining that I had just returned from the rally at the Capitol.
“Oh,” he said, his wide grin perceptibly dissipating as he shook his head with disappointment. “You seem like a very nice lady, but you’re on the wrong side of things.”
I was so taken by surprise that I had to pause for a second, catching my breath.
I felt so zealous and invigorated after all of those empowering speeches. And Pozner had demanded to know how anyone could think it was acceptable to do nothing. Could it be acceptable to say nothing now?Rallycommonsensesign.jpg
Like others on my side, I wish that I could get the word out to NRA members and their supporters that we don’t aim to take their guns away. We merely want sensible measures that will limit assault weapons and ammunition, and keep guns out of the wrong hands, so that all of us, particularly the most vulnerable in our society, are safe.
On the other hand, this man seemed not only old but almost addle-brained. Was this the right time or place? And was a battle with a senile geezer truly worth fighting?
        Given my level of utter exhaustion, I decided to pursue detente instead of self-defense and give him a piece of my heart instead of my mind. So I just let it go. 
“Actually, I don’t think I am,” I said to his charge that I was on the wrong side. “But you seem like a very nice man too.”ValentinesDaydinner.JPG
As I prepared and ate my trayf-laden surf ‘n’ turf dinner with my husband that night, I was still feeling conflicted and a little ashamed about that choice. The truth is that I am “a very nice lady,” as he said, too nice to pick a fight with a frail, old codger in a supermarket parking lot. After so many years as a suburban mom, I’m also just getting my activist's act back together.
But I now know all sorts of alarming statistics, such as that eight children are killed by guns in this country every day; that more than 298,000 U.S. citizens were murdered by gunshots between 2000 and 2009; and that an estimated 80 percent of gun violence perpetrators get their weapons through private sales, which require no documentation.JoeBiden.jpg
“There’s a moral price to be paid for inaction,” said Vice President Joe Biden at a public forum in Danbury this week at which he outlined President Obama’s proposals, including laws requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales, limiting high-capacity magazines and renewing and strengthening the ban on assault weapons.
“We have to speak for those 20 beautiful children who died 69 days ago 12 miles from here,” Biden said. “They can’t speak for themselves.
        "We have to speak for those six adults who died trying to save the children in their care that day who can’t speak for themselves.”newtownchildren.jpg
        We also have to speak for the 1,900 people who've died at the other end of a gun since Sandy Hook in this country, he added, “1,900 just since that day!”
I agree.
No, Veronique, it is not acceptable to do or say nothing. So to make up for my reticence at the Big Y, I am going to write to my congressman, and I hope that all of you will too.
        Please write. Or call. Act now! We want lawmakers to hear from us instead of from them at a ratio of 100 to 1.

8:33 pm 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

Mardigrasmaskedmom.jpg        While most of you were busy feeling the love last week, I was also feeling the fat – “Fat Tuesday,” that is, otherwise known as Mardi Gras. Although I have only been to New Orleans once in my life, for a long, food-and-fun-filled family weekend to mark my fiftieth, last week my daughter invited me to a party for the holiday at which she and her band were performing. Never mind that it was 2½ hours away in NYC, on a Tuesday night, no less. Whenever I’m lucky enough to have either one of my kids say “Come,” I come.
She didn’t need to ask twice.Allegrahailingcab.JPG
To my enormous distress, I woke up that morning with a migraine so fierce that I was sick to my stomach and could barely stand up. I wasn’t about to let this minor calamity derail my plans entirely, but I got a very late start – so late that I arrived at Allegra’s on Roosevelt Island just as she and Andrew, her guitarist, were about to leave for the gig.
        I got the call asking where the heck I was just as I finished parking in the public garage there and unloading my suitcase and whatnot. And by “whatnot,” I mean a whole lot. As a nice Jewish mom,Roastchicken.jpg I always bring my kids a taste from home and had come equipped with all sorts of food I’d hoped to put in her fridge, including a nice, homemade roast chicken. But I didn’t want to risk making them late for the show. So I threw everything back into the trunk of my car, ran down six flights of stairs, and jumped into the back of Andrew’s waiting SUV.AndrewBairdcarryingguitar.JPG
        I guess there's at least one advantage to having to endure temperatures right now that are as cold as those in a refrigerator.
After racing through the Midtown Tunnel during rush hour, we miraculously managed to find parking on the street just a few blocks from our destination, and I found myself grabbing a music stand and more whatnot.
        (Just call me Nice Jewish Roadie.)
Then I did my best to keep up with Allegra and Andrew, who were decades younger and fast on their feet, despite their carrying even more gear and “whatnot” than I was.Toshisdoorway.JPG
We arrived at Toshi’s Living Room, a restaurant-slash-club in the Flatiron Hotel at West 26th Street and Broadway, to find that it was an ultra-modern space filled not just with tables and chairs, but also many a plush, velvet chaise longue, much like the gorgeous one Allegra recently had purchased for her apartment.
        I was particularly excited that she was performing at this place. Once last summer, we'd been on the subway together when Allegra had spied another young singer she'd met while she was a student at music school in Boston.Jazzsingeronsubway1.jpg
        "Go say hello," I'd urged. She had refused, though, convinced that the girl would not remember her, until I announced that if she didn't speak to her, then I would.
        The girl, of course, who was a few years older and further on in her career, had recognized her right away.
        "Where are you performing in New York?" I'd asked once Allegra had introduced me.
        "Toshi's," she'd readily replied, adding that she'd heard they were seeking new bands and that Allegra should go in and audition. But as far as I knew she never had, convinced that she would never be booked there. Until she'd been hired by the group throwing the Mardi Gras party there, that is.AllegraMusicforTomorrowposter.jpg
The party was a fundraiser for an organization called Music for Tomorrow, and as we entered I gave the ticket that I'd bought online to a woman inside the door. Then Allegra motioned for me to deposit my coat and the rest of our belongings on a chaise to the right of the bandstand while the band set up.
Within seconds, though, Toshi, the owner himself, and his beloved dog Ponzu descended upon me to announce that the adjoining table had been reserved by a party of 6. He asked if I was there by myself and indicated that I was welcome to sit at the bar way across the room. I was instantly glad that I'd arranged to have an old friend join me, for upon hearing this, he ushered me to a shocking pink chaise on the other side of the band.
Now that was more like it! He was also kind enough to help me shift all of our stuff.Toshisfishtankandspiralstaircase.jpg
With that, I dashed off to the ladies room, which was up a winding spiral staircase surrounding a two-story-high, cylindrical tropical fish tank. So cool!
I returned just in time to see my friend Russ walk through the door.Russheadshot.jpg
Russ and I had gone to Brandeis together many a year ago, and I’d thought of inviting him when my husband had been unable to join me because he works only a few blocks from the hotel. Also, although he lives with his wife in Southern New Jersey, he often spends weeknights at their pied-a-terre in the city and is all alone for the evening.AllegraatToshis3.JPG
Moments after he joined me on that hot pink chaise, the band did a sound check, launching into their first number, one of many classic New Orleans tunes they had learned just for the occasion. Seeing this, I reached for my phone to snap them.
That’s when I realized that it was nowhere to be found.
The main reason I had come all this way was that there is little if anything that I enjoy more than watching one of my kids perform. Also, after being snowbound for the past week or so, it was an incalculable pleasure to escape the stultifying suburbs for the city.
But beyond that, I had figured that this would give me something fun to write about, complete with photo ops. Here was my photo op. Where was my camera? On my iPhone.
        Which was
nowhere to be found.Mypurse.JPG
My first instinct was to dive into my purse, certain that it had to be in there somewhere. My purse is rather large, however, and also rather cluttered. And to refer to it as “rather cluttered” is like calling Mother Teresa “rather nice” or Mount Everest “rather high.” The fact is that my purse is generally a holy mess, so full of makeup, receipts, and "whatnot" that if I had thrust that roast chicken in there instead of putting it back into the trunk of my car, I might not be able to find it.
Russ and I are not just old friends, but really old friends. He has known me since I was just a nice Jewish girl, barely old enough to legally order a glass of Manischewitz. Yet I didn’t want to call attention to the fact that my purse had enough detritus in it to fill the state of New Jersey. So after poking around in it surreptitiously for awhile, I gave up.PinkchaiseatToshis.JPG
Trying to look cool, calm, and collected, I reached casually instead into the pockets of my coat. Then I foraged around in the pockets of Allegra’s coat, which was also on my chair, as well as her purse, although it felt a bit intrusive to be poking around in there.
“Uh, what are you doing in my purse?” Allegra demanded, peering over suspiciously.
I stage-whispered back that I couldn’t find my phone and asked if she could call it. But she was much too busy gearing up for the show to get involved.
“Here,” she said, surrendering her phone to me. “Why don't you call it yourself?”PattieandAllegraatToshis.JPG
So I did. I also sent a text message to myself, then another, and was fairly sure that I heard the familiar ding that alerts me when a text message arrives. But I didn’t see the phone anywhere. Could it have fallen underneath the sofa?
I groped around beneath it as best as I could. But I was wearing a rather short dress, and I was sitting in a very posh and stylish New York club, and about the last thing that I wanted to do at that moment was lie down on the floor and start peering under the sofa.
As casual and inconspicuous as I was trying to appear, Russ clearly noticed my behavior and could no longer contain his curiosity. “Are you looking for something?” he inquired.
“Oh, I just seem to have misplaced my phone,” I admitted. “But I’m sure it’ll turn up soon.”PattieperturbedonMardiGrasnight.JPG
“Are you kidding?” he asked. “If I couldn’t find my phone, I'd totally freak out.”
The truth was that I now was beginning to freak out. But I also was almost certain that what I had said was true. It would turn up soon. Not soon enough for me to capture the moment on camera, however. But suddenly I realized that I was equipped with an ideal substitute. I still had Allegra’s phone! So as the show abruptly began, I started snapping away with that.AllegraandTimatToshis.JPG
        The strange thing I discovered was that every photo I shot on her phone came out with a bizarre pink tinge. Yes, she was wearing a raspberry-pink-hued dress, much like mine. But still. Even her legs, face, and hair looked pink. Was there something wrong with her camera? Or was it just the lights in the club itself?
I got my answer when I stopped shooting and began feeling around inside the deep crevices of the chaise longue, thinking that my phone might have fallen into the upholstery. I quickly felt an excruciating prick, as what was presumably a stray nail or upholstery tack plunged deep into one of my fingers. I yanked my hand out at once, only to see a small pool of bright liquid emerge from my fingertip and begin dripping everywhere.PeptoBismol.jpg
But the liquid gushing out didn’t look like blood at all. Either there was something slightly off about the lighting, or I now evidently had Pepto-Bismol running through my veins.
This sent me poking around secretively in my purse once again, desperately hoping to find a tissue to stem the flow. No luck again. Fortunately, the waiter chose this moment to deliver our food, and I quickly seized a napkin and applied pressure to the finger before whatever that bright pink river was could stain the couch and/or my dress.AllegraatToshis1.JPG
Then I resumed clicking away with Allegra’s phone. It was definitely the lighting. But also definitely cool. I decided that I liked the Pepto effect. It was like looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. It also looked so artsy.
Didn’t it?
        Then again, I myself was feeling anything but artsy. So much for my cool night out in the city. Inwardly, I was really beginning to freak out, as Russ had said. I was so anxious that I could hardly eat.
When Russ excused himself briefly to visit the men’s room, I took the opportunity to pull the sofa out from the wall a few inches and also recheck my purse. Still no luck.Allegraatoshis2.JPG
Although I was thoroughly enjoying the music, I almost couldn’t wait for the first set to end, figuring that I could take advantage of the quiet respite to try calling my phone again. But the instant that Allegra announced that the band was taking a short break, the restaurant put on some piped-in music, and it was even louder than the band had been.
And within a few minutes, the band was back in action. Back to business.
Back in the pink.
        Allegra had been hired for this performance by responding to an online ad looking for music appropriate for Mardi Gras, and rather than performing her usual repertoire – a mix of jazz standards like “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Moon River” and original songs that she has written herself – she’d taken it upon herself to learn 17 New Orleans classics.MardiGrasmask.jpg
Personally, I would be hard-pressed to name much beyond “House of the Rising Sun,” which is much more bluesy than jazzy, exactly, and which she did not sing. But just Google “songs about New Orleans.” You’ll find that there are hundreds of ’em.LiLLizaJane.jpg
The ones she sang included everything from “Mardi Gras Mambo” by the Meters, “Go to the Mardi Gras” by a Louisiana blues singer known as Professor Longhair, and that perennial Southern favorite, “Li’l Liza Jane,” to “Iko Iko,” that old sing-songy number that sounds totally nonsensical, but which evidently evolved from Creole dialect and has been recorded by everyone from the Dixie Cups and The Grateful Dead to Cyndi Lauper:
IkoIkobyTheDixieCups.jpg        Your grandma and my grandma
Sittin’ by the fire
Your grandma told my grandma,
‘I’m gonna set your flag on fire.’
        Talking ’bout hey now (hey now!)
        Hey now (hey now!)
        Iko iko, unday
        Jockomo feeno ah na nay
        Jockomo feena nay!
        She also snuck in a few pieces from her usual show and a song by Amy Winehouse called “Valerie.” But moments before she began to thank the audience one last time and launch into their closing number, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” the front door flung open and the next act came marching in.Toshisinterior2.jpg
I had managed to remain calm for the better part of two hours, confident that as soon as there was a break in the music, I would be able to phone my phone and find it. Now I recognized the sad truth. There would be no break. No silence.
No way to find my phone.
At least once Russ had thanked us all and bid me goodbye, there was no need to stand on ceremony. I rummaged through the mess I call my purse with true abandon. I poked into all potential pockets again. I even ran back upstairs to check the ladies room.
Still no sign of my phone.
So I went up to a man near the door who appeared to be the manager to ask if anyone happened to have turned in a phone. As I expected, he said that no one had.Manliftingcouch.jpg
As I did not expect in my wildest dreams, though, he proceeded to embark on a thorough survey of the premises with me, searching exhaustively as if it were his own.
First he took me to the hotel’s front desk to inquire if anyone had turned it in there.
Then, after asking where I’d been sitting, he led me back to that hot pink chaise. I was still too embarrassed to get down on my hands and knees and peer underneath, but it turned out that I didn’t have to. He lifted one end of it up high into the air and told me to look underneath. Unfortunately, there was nothing there but a dog bowl.
Then he proceeded to poke his hands deep into the upholstery all over, even though I warned him about the prospect of nails. (I did not mention Pepto-Bismol.)Toshisgirls.jpg
Asked if I might have misplaced it anywhere else, I mentioned that I had initially been seated at that table reserved for the party of six. In fact, the party that had reserved it had shown up soon after we did, and was still sitting there now.
The young women at the table looked like fashion models, and their dates looked equally dapper. No matter. The maitre d’ marched over and asked them to check around and see if my phone might be sitting somewhere on their table or their chaise. They looked extremely irritated and made a perfunctory effort to look around their area. But still no luck.
I thanked the man profusely and asked him not to trouble himself any further. But he insisted on taking me over to the bar and getting the bartender to take down my info.BartenderatToshis.jpg
The bartender looked like a fashion model too. And he was extremely busy preparing drinks. But that didn’t stop him from dropping everything and taking down my name and Allegra’s number on a napkin. (There was no point in giving him my number, since I DIDN’T HAVE MY PHONE.) He said that he had lost his own phone recently and had been obliged to spend hundreds to replace it because it was clearly gone for good.
        Argh. Allegra was being paid relatively well for this gig. But this being a fundraiser, it didn't pay that well. Would we end up hundreds of dollars in the hole?
By now, the band had been fed and paid and was all ready to leave. I had begun to wonder if I might have dropped my phone on the street while we were rushing to the restaurant carrying all of that gear. But there was probably no point in looking for it out there. We now had been in the club for over two hours. “Finders, keepers,” as they say.Toshisband.jpg
The second band turned out to be deafeningly loud, as well as almost equally in the pink, and I asked Allegra if there were any way that we could wait until its show was over, so that I could find my phone.
“Are you crazy?” she asked. “Mom, this is a jazz club!” There was another band that would be playing after this one, she explained. “They have live music until 1 a.m.”
Oh, right. Of course. What could I have been thinking? I’m just a nice Jewish mom.
But as a nice Jewish mom, I was someone who was geared to never, ever give up.
        When my kids say "Come," I come. But when they say "Let's go," I don't necessarily go.
So while Allegra gathered up her music stands and gig bag and other “whatnot,” I plunked myself down on that hot pink chaise and decided to give it one more try. Dare I plunge my hand back into the nether regions of those cushions? Hmmm…  Maybe not.Toshisinterior.jpg
I still had Allegra’s phone at my disposal, though. And although the band was still playing as loudly as ever, I dialed my own number one more time, hoping against hope.
Of course, I heard nothing. Nothing but deafeningly loud jazz, that is.
But then I looked across the band to that table on the opposite side. The stylish group that had been sitting there earlier had at long last paid up and departed. The table was still covered with the remains of their drinks and meal. But there was something else on that table, too, something that was flashing on and off in the dim, pink  light.
And even with my faulty, aging, nice Jewish eyes, I could see that there was a single word that appeared on this object every time that the thing lit up.Allegracalling.JPG
And that word was “Allegra.”
When anyone in my list of contacts calls, my phone lights up with that person's name. And as I ran across the room and seized it, I saw that this is what it was doing right now.
Allegra was thrilled for me, along with being thrilled that I was now ready to leave. The bartender seemed genuinely delighted too as he tore up the napkin with my name. But no one was more elated than I was.PattiehappyonMardiGrasnight.JPG 
        I also hastened to share the good news with that manager who’d gone so far out of his way, of course. 
He told me that he thought that Allegra had been amazing, and said that they would definitely book her there again. And although I was so relieved to have my phone back, nothing is more important to me than my children’s happiness and success, so that was the best news of all.SpaghettiBolognese.JPG
As we exited that loud, cool, and very pink club, Allegra and I realized that now that the whole ordeal was done for both of us, we were both suddenly absolutely famished. So even though it was late and getting even later, we went out for a girls’ night together.
We found a new, cozy, and normal-colored Belgian restaurant nearby in Chelsea, where I tried to convince the owner that he needed live music and that I knew just the person who could provide it. (I’m not just a nice Jewish mom. I’m also my daughter’s “mom-ager.”)
And now with my own phone back in hand, I was able to snap a photo of my diva.
Then we chowed down happily on spaghetti Bolognese and Belgian beer.
        We ate so much that I almost needed Pepto-Bismol.
        Guess t
hey don’t call it “Fat Tuesday” for nothin’.
        Jockomo feeno ah na nay. Jockomo fee na nay!

6:36 pm 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Word From the Weiss
        Sorry, folks, that I posted a little on the late side last week. Yet I’m not entirely sorry that it happened. There were reasons for the delay, you see. Reasons that you might chalk up to mere technical difficulties, something that we all face now and then.
Or you might say that I was having a particularly Jewish week, i.e. a difficult one. That is not to suggest that we Jews have the market cornered on hardships and tsuris. But it would be fair to say that, when it comes to adversity, we are especially blessed. For every time we start to get too comfortable, it’s always there to put us to the test.Bunnieat53cropped.jpg
Not surprisingly, it was also a week that brought my dear, late mother to mind. This was not because she was the queen of adversity, although she certainly faced more than her share of it. In part, it was simply that she would have turned 85 this past Tuesday. But way beyond that, I’d say that she was the queen of resilience. She never let setbacks get her down. And in the end, isn’t that what facing adversity is all about?BunnieandmeonMothersDay2008.JPG
In the past two-plus years since I began writing this blog, it’s been a constant source of regret to me that my mother didn’t live to see it. I know that she would have been my most faithful reader, because she was without question my biggest fan.
In fact, it remains a source of mystery to me why anyone else takes the time to read it, but I know that you are out there, and I feel a commitment not to let you down. Last week, though, I just couldn’t seem to stay on schedule. Try as I might to focus, all sorts of things kept cropping up to impact me, distract me, or somehow slow me down.Hairinrollersillustration.jpg
        Some of those things were fairly mundane, even routine, but they managed to derail my writing nonetheless. On Monday, for example, I was scheduled to get my hair cut. “Cut,” of course, is the least of the matter. At my age, this essential beauty regimen amounts to a two-hour ordeal, including washing, blow-drying, copious time spent under the dryer, and whatever else it takes to restore me to my once-natural red-headed state.Latkesnowy.JPG
As for Tuesday, it was so cold outside that none of my dog’s friends were around. Ever since we adopted Latke, who turned 1 this past Monday, I have only been able to get a lick of writing done whenever she deigns to let me. Fortunately, she has cultivated assorted puppy friends in the neighborhood with whom she has near-daily play dates.LatkeandDukeyinandyang.JPG
Duke, a little Labradoodle, looks so much like Latke, only in white, that I refer to them as “Yin and Yang.” Then there’s Liksey (sp.?), named after a ski trail in Vermont. But Liksey’s family was away, taking advantage of Monday’s snowfall, and Duke was presumably off duking it out with someone else. I tried my best to exhaust Latke on my own, but she's a spiritedLatketuckeredout.JPG Portuguese Water Dog. You know the Eveready Bunny? Well, we have the Eveready Puppy, and no amount of ball-tossing seems to tire her out.
So suddenly it was Wednesday. I had plans to join my friends Pat and Roxanna for tea, but I was now hopelessly behind schedule. So it was perhaps fortunate when Pat texted me that morning to cancel. As a veteran actress, she’d been abruptly summoned to audition for a small role on the CBS TV show Elementary, a contemporary version of Sherlock Holmes starring Lucy Lui as Watson, and she had to leave for NYC at once.LucyLiuinElementary.jpg
This presumably would have freed me up to spend the day catching up on my writing. But no. The audition proved to be excruciatingly stressful, so much so that Pat began text-messaging me for moral support, so often that it almost felt like I was there with her.Drycleanerwoman.jpg
She was up to play a surly dry-cleaner who begins muttering in Polish when Lucy Liu arrives to retrieve a garment for Holmes. Pat had been contacted because, although she grew up in Montreal, her parents were Polish and she spoke the language fluently.Patcloseup2.JPG
At first, she merely texted me for tech support, including driving directions. (“Where’s Canal Street?”) But soon updates from the audition front began flooding in nonstop.
Of course, I wanted to cheer her on and encourage her. That’s what good friends do. So I did my best, at the expense of my ability to focus. Do you think you could write while conducting a running exchange like this? Let me just treat you to some highlights, which read a little like a TV script themselves.  
        Pat: I just finished the audition. They asked me to stay.
Me: Yay!!! Today could be your day!
She: They sent the guy home, but kept me.
        Me: Even better!
She: I just spied another woman who was also asked to stay. She is more Polish than I am. She speaks Russian too.
Me: Oy. But you never know. Don’t assume that they want more Polish.  Maybe less is more!
She: I don’t know. She looks really Polish.
Me: They asked you to stay. Maybe they prefer you. She may have too heavy an accent.Womaninhousecoat.jpg
She: But she is not acting. She is the part!
Me: Maybe she is too much the part.
She: We’ll see. She and I are the last people standing!
        Me: Don’t panic. Be positive. Confident. Polish!
She: Miss Polish just put on a housecoat and told me that I sound like I was not born in Poland. She was. I told her I’m from Canada. She said that she could hear it.
Me: You’re worried about HER? She’s wearing a housecoat! She’s just trying to psyche you out.
        OK, so some of my best friends probably wear housecoats sometimes. Unfortunately, in this case Miss Housecoat 2013 did somehow manage to psyche out my normally confident and determined friend, because the texting soon abated, replaced by a lengthy live chat in which I did my best to console Pat for having panicked and blown the final step, the screen test, during which they filmed her doing the scene.
That understandably was almost futile, but not as futile as my trying to salvage my writing that day. At least it was still only Wednesday. But on Thursday I had plans again.Trophyforsoccercoaching.JPG
The fact is that I’ve been leading a rather solitary life, not just as a writer, but also as a mom ever since my kids grew up. When they were young, I was involved in their lives in all sorts of ways – not only spending time with them and driving them to and from their many activities, but also participating in those activities myself. I coached several of Allegra’s soccer teams, helped supervise her after-school theater program, and chaperoned on many a class field trip. But most of those activities abruptly ceased the second that they left home.Roxanneheadshot.jpg
So I wasn’t about to say no when my old friend Roxanne asked me recently to help out by serving on a committee at the West Hartford Art League.
For many years, I served on the board of directors of this nonprofit group. It may sound a little like an artsy version of the Junior League – the ultimate in WASPdom – but believe me, there are no parallels beyond the name. This 79-year-old organization holds frequent art shows in its two galleries in town, offers affordable art classes to both kids and adults, and also undertakes various projects to display art in public places.ArtLeaguegalleryshot.jpg
It’s a noble cause, and although I’m not a visual artist myself, I was happy to assist until my tenure eventually came to a close.
Roxanne remains its executive director, though, and as I said she wrote to me. Was I willing to help again? Despite the daily calls I field from both of my kids, and from friends like Pat, I spend so much time alone that I rarely refuse an invitaton  of any kind. Was I interested in going to art openings again? Why, I’m so free that I would probably go to the opening of an envelope.
        I also would never turn down a request from a friend.ArtLeaguepublicartinstallationhead.jpg
So although I’ve never been a fan of meetings, I met with a committee there until noon, then stopped to do some errands. It’s hard to buckle down when you start working late in the day, though, and although I made some headway, my husband and I had to attend an alumni event for my alma mater, Brandeis, at a Mexican restaurant that evening.margarita.jpg
And after downing a frosty margarita (what else would you expect at a Mexican restaurant?), I was pretty much out of commission writing-wise for the night.
Normally, by Friday I’m already editing a final draft and adding pictures so that I can post that afternoon. Instead, I was now desperately trying to finish the writing itself. And under pressure, I finally managed to make some decent progress.ALMOSTMAINEPOSTER.jpg
I couldn’t persist until I reached the finish line, though, because we had plans that night with good friends to attend Theaterworks, a local company to which we subscribe. The play, Almost Maine, by John Cariani, which opened that night, turned out to be a delightful series of vignettes set in a fictional town in the state of Maine, subtitled "nine tales of love and frostbite"… and I evidently wasn’t alone in my enthusiasm because the second that it ended, every single person present rose in one fell swoop to give it an ardent standing ovation.AlmostMainescene1.jpg
And after working all day, then seeing something so touching and uplifting, the last thing that I wanted to do was go back home and sit down at my computer again.
So I started in again on Saturday morning. Or to be accurate, early that afternoon. And with luck, I finally finished the writing and started in with the pictures.AnniesSaladDressingoriginal.jpg
he graphic element of my blog is so time-consuming that it often takes me nearly as long as the writing itself. I typically include three or four dozen pictures, and each one has to be emailed separately from my iPhone to my computer, then downloaded, cropped, edited for brightness, and uploaded separately onto my website. Then I have to insert these one by one into the text, choosing the appropriate size and whether I want it to be aligned left, right, or center.NiceJewishMomsaladdressing.jpg
And that’s only for the photographs that I actually manage to take myself. Sometimes I need to create one instead, usually by manipulating images that I find online, such as when I recently turned an ordinary bottle of Annie’s salad dressing into Nice Jewish Mom’s kosher Balsamic Vinaigrette.
Well, I worked steadily on those photos from noon to nearly 7, when it was time to go out. I know that I often complain that no one ever calls us, but we had an unusually social weekend planned and were going out to dinner and a movie with our good friends Sally and Dial.Oscarnominatedshortfilms2.jpg
Actually, what we were going to was several movies – a screening of the short live-action films nominated for Oscars this year, held at Real Art Ways, a hip local arts center. And as often happens with hip arts centers, this screening did not begin close to on time, nor end close to on time. So by the time we got home, it was just after midnight. But as we walked through the door, I looked over at my computer and realized that the blog was long overdue, and that I’d been chained to my computer for the entire week, and the last thing I wanted to do was get up on Sunday and start doing it again.Pattieatcomputer.JPG
So I told my husband not to wait up -- I was going to finish it that night or else.
Of course, things tend to go a little slower late at night than they do during the day, and the later it gets, the slower they get. Yet when I have a mind to do something, I get a second wind and can completely lose track of time. So I kept going and going, until at 2:15 a.m. I added one of the very last photos...
        When suddenly it all disappeared.
In place of the 4,000-plus words and 39 images I had now so carefully arranged, there was a blank screen – blank except for the words “Unexpected error,” that is.Unexpectederror.jpg
Unexpected error? Yes, it was unexpected! Why, in the past two and a half years, this had never happened before. Not even once.
Yes, there were times when my computer lost its connection to the server and I had to redo 15 or 20 minutes of work. But I had long since learned to guard against that by saving my work periodically, which I had faithfully done all day.
I quickly logged back onto the website, but all that was there was the previous week’s entry. I did it again and again, to no avail. Everything I’d labored over all that week was gone.
Frantic and near tears, I dialed the company that hosts my website, doubtful that anyone would answer so late at night. Yet to my surprise, someone named Tyler did.Techsupport20questions.jpg
He proceeded to play 20 Questions, putting me through the usual battery of queries to confirm my identity. My name. My email address. My phone number. My zip code. The street on which I grew up.
“Are you kidding?” I asked, now actually weeping. “This is really me, and I have an emergency. Do you really think someone would try hacking into my site at 2:30 a.m.?”
“What street did you grow up on?” he replied.
Well, it turned out that Tyler was only in the sales department, anyway, and no one in tech support would be back until Monday. But he ran several tests, then did whatever else he could think of, and told me that there was no new content visible on my site, and that the chances of salvaging what I’d finally nearly finished were less than 10 percent.
What’s more, he said, there was no logical reason for it all to have disappeared.Pattieflippingoutcropped.jpg
Yet it had disappeared. How? And why? All that was left were illogical reasons.
And once I'd hung up, those illogical reasons started coming to mind. Clearly, I was convinced, either this was an act of God or my mother had somehow deleted it.
This might sound just a little farfetched, considering that God, as far as I know, has much better things to do than to read my blog, and my mom died nearly four years ago. But at what was now 2:45 a.m., these notions made perfect sense to me.Objectsfallingonmyhead.jpg
For one thing, while I had been writing, several objects across the room had begun tumbling to the floor, even though there was no one else around. Had my husband simply left them off balance and they’d finally fallen? Or was there a "spirit" in my midst?
For another, I had some reservations about the blog that I’d been writing, you see. Serious reservations. Evidently, God or my mom had somehow stepped in to save me.
Since I began writing in this space in September 2010, I have managed to offend a number of people. People whom I’ve written about, and about whom I care. Of course, it has never been my aim to offend anyone. I’m just trying to make some sense of my life by discussing my personal experiences with honesty and candor.
        But it’s one thing to be candid about your feelings and another thing entirely to be candid about your feelings about other people.Angryblondethatswhatyouthink.jpg
Often, I write under the assumption that the people I write about will never read it. In fact, practically the only way I ever find out that someone’s reading this is when I hear that they were offended.
Why, just a few weeks ago, I got a call from a cousin of my husband’s saying that another relative had just discovered something I’d written about her and her family more than a year ago, and she was so disturbed by it that she wanted me to take it down.
I thought it was highly unlikely that anyone would now read an entry I wrote so long ago. Still, I didn’t want to cause her distress. My first inclination was to simply edit it, deleting all the offensive parts. I learned from tech support, though, that I cannot alter anything on my blog once it has been archived for more than 20 weeks. Neither can I delete anything.
I’m still agonizing over that. The blog in question was written in good humor and was much more about me than it was about them. But that call still keeps me awake at night. So about the last thing I want to do is offend anyone else.
Believe it or not, it’s hard to anticipate what will upset someone and what won’t. And I’d been worried that last week’s entry might turn out to be one of those unfortunate cases. But I’d gone ahead and written it anyway. And now I was being punished.
Or saved.Redheadsmashingcomputer2.jpg
Either way, the agony was enough to make me want to throw myself off a bridge. But what I felt was way beyond that. I didn’t want to do it anymore. The whole blog. Ever.
To be honest, I felt such hysteria and despair at that moment that I didn’t even want to live. I know that sounds awfully melodramatic. But I’d spent so many hours doing it, and it was now gone, and it was 2:45 a.m., and that’s how black things looked.The truth is that I still had a hard copy of my first draft. But I couldn’t remember all the innumerable edits I’d made. I also couldn’t imagine starting over again putting in all of those images, nearly 40 of them, one by one. I didn’t have the time. Or the heart.
And now it was 3 a.m. and my second wind was long, long gone. So I went to bed.
I didn’t sleep well, as you can imagine and, given the hour, I didn’t get to sleep for long, either. But when I woke up the next morning, I knew exactly what I had to do.Pattieatcomputercloseup.JPG
Never mind that I had a busy day ahead: a rehearsal for Purim at our temple that afternoon and a Super Bowl party at Pat’s house that night. (Did I mention that we were having an unusually social weekend?) I sat immediately down at the computer and began editing the words that I’d written to the best of my recollection.
Then I started in with those pictures again… because I am my mother’s daughter.
I worked up until the rehearsal, then picked up afterwards where I’d left off. Then I sent my husband to the Super Bowl party alone, unwilling to leave until I was done.SuperBowlparty.JPG
And when I was done, I realized that I liked the finished product more than the original. Even more empowering was that I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment, having persisted and prevailed over dire feelings of hopelessness and defeat.AnaandPicasso.JPG
Then I went to that Super Bowl party after all and was able to enjoy it thoroughly. Well, the commercials, anyway, and the company, including Picasso, our friends Peter and Ana’s dog. (Does the Art League know about him?) But having been up past 3, I had trouble staying alert for the game, and nearly dozed off during 35-minute power outage.PatandPattiedozingduringSuperBowl.JPG
        And so did Pat.
        OK, maybe this was a small victory compared to all the things that my mother endured. But that didn’t make it feel any less sweet.
On the night before the last birthday that my mother lived to see, her 81st, my brother and I slept over at her house. And in the morning, while I served her what little breakfast she was able to eat, my brother asked her if it gave her any satisfaction to know that she now had outlived my father by a good 10 years.GrandmaBunnieinwhite.JPG
No, she replied adamantly. What pleased her was knowing that she had outlasted his second wife, who had been my father’s mistress for 15 of the years that my mother had been married to him.
“You hear that, Elaine?” she cried, raising a fist triumphantly toward the heavens. “I’m still here!”
And whether or not she is reading my blog, or messing with it, in so many ways she is still here.
Soon after that day, as frail as she was, she vowed to overcome the cancer that had ravaged her body and live to set an example for her children and grandchildren. And although that recovery was not to be, she did set an example for us all.GrandmaBunnieschickenbyAllegra.JPG
On what would have been her 85th, my daughter Allegra sent me a photo of the dinner she had just cooked in her honor, a dish that we refer to fondly as Grandma Bunnie’s Chicken.
        She also called me to confess to another way in which Grandma Bunnie is evidently with her still.Allegraandroommate.jpg
For Chanukah this year, I gave Allegra, among many other things, an undergarment that is a modernized version of what my mother’s generation would have probably called a girdle. Far be it from me to suggest that my 23-year-old actually needs such a thing. Yet many of the dresses that she performs in as a jazz singer tend to be on the clingy side, and honestly, what fashionable woman doesn’t wear Spanx these days?PattieinNewOrleansT.JPG
Well, evidently this garment has come in so handy that Allegra and one of her roommates have begun sharing it. What she divulged is that they have also begun referring to it as “the Grandma,” and that on many a morning one of them says to the other, “Hey, can I have the Grandma tonight?”
The blog that I just wrote is unlikely to offend anyone, or so I can only hope. But I could still use a dose of the comfort and company of my biggest fan.
         And so I ask, can I have the Grandma tonight?
Thanks! Also, thanks for making me the woman that I am.
        Happy birthday, Mom.

1:19 pm 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

PattieatOldJews.JPGA Word From the Weiss

        JewishMotheronphonewithredhair.jpgEighteen. That’s a nice Jewish number and a conservative estimate of the number of times I’ve heard the one about the Jewish mother whose son phones her to find out why she refuses to eat. (God forbid that she have food in her mouth should he happen to finally call.)
It’s also probably a conservative estimate of the number of times I’ve made at least passing reference here to the current off-Broadway show Old Jews Telling Jokes. But I had never actually seen this production myself because ever since it opened in May, my close friend Pat had continued to insist that we see it together. We could never seem to find a night on which we and our husbands were all available, though. And so, like many a Jewish joke, this tale went on and on and on, but never got to the punchline.OldJewsTellingJokes.jpg
The fact is, Nice Jewish Dad and I see a play almost every time we go into New York, and we go extremely often (so frequently that our kids probably should never eat, lest they have their mouths full when we call to say we’ve arrived). But Pat and her husband Michael spend most weekends at their second home in Vermont, and they only seem to stay home when Michael, who’s a doctor, is on call and unable to travel.
Finally, the entire year came to a close, as did our collective willingness to wait. We agreed to see the show together in January. But just when our long wait was over, the real complications began.PatandMichaelwithusatStephswedding.jpg
Pat and Michael weren’t free until the last weekend of the month. We quickly booked a hotel for that weekend, but they said that they preferred to stay with good friends who lived in Brooklyn instead. I argued that it was much more enjoyable to stay in a nice, comfortable hotel than on someone’s pullout sofa, but they did not agree.
Obviously, when you visit people, it’s expected that you’ll be spending most of your time with them. So when I texted Pat early last month to say that I’d just bought tickets for the four of us, she responded, “If we stay with our New York friends, are you ok with them joining us?”
Were we? Of course. But to be perfectly honest, that had never been the plan.
We had no objection whatsoever to these particular friends. How could we? We had only met them once briefly and didn’t know them at all. And therein lay the problem.PattieandHarlanatBrasserie.jpg
The fact is that, as garrulous as I often appear to be – our friend Rich refers to me as “Chatty Pattie” (affectionately, I hope) – I’ve always been notably shy and reserved.
And as outgoing and uninhibited as Nice Jewish Dad can seem to be when among friends and family, he has a tendency to clam up entirely when he doesn’t feel at ease.
We had envisioned this occasion – a joint extended celebration of my January birthday and Michael’s – as a rare getaway with close friends. And after waiting over seven months, we had expected to share it with them… and only them.PatandMichaelOldJewsdinner.JPG
But I wanted to be nice and accommodating. I also realized that it would be rude of them to stay overnight with their friends and not invite them to join us on Saturday night.
So I included many qualifications in my answer, hoping that Pat would get my drift.
“Sure,” I wrote, “but I only bought four tickets.” This meant that it was too late for their friends to sit with us. “I also can tell you that the hotels are dirt cheap in January, and that it’s much easier to stay in Manhattan than to schlep all the way from Brooklyn.”
I went on to specify just how inexpensive the hotels were, and to propose that if they still insisted on staying in Brooklyn, then perhaps they could see their friends on Friday while we visited with our children. Then we’d be free to spend Saturday alone.HillaryClintonwaving.jpg
Well, maybe I should stick with my day job and not replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Or perhaps my insinuations were simply too subtle for my own good. Because they were completely lost on Pat, who proceeded to make arrangements to stay with “Franny and Manny” and urge them to join us for dinner and the show.
Honestly, that was no big deal. As people often say (well, people who are much more gregarious than we are), “the more the merrier.” Besides, we see Pat and Michael all the time, and they still planned to spend the rest of the day on Saturday with us.Wholesaleshop.jpg
Pat had been extremely intrigued when I’d told her last fall about some wholesale shops I’d found that sold fashionable women’s clothing at a huge discount. We agreed to spend part of the afternoon perusing these together with my daughter, Allegra. Then we would rendezvous with our husbands and go to a museum or something else cultural.
That was the plan, anyway.
Flash forward to last Friday, the day we were scheduled to leave. Pat called me three times that morning, but I was too busy to chat, frantically trying to finish my weekly blog and pack. I finally called her back while driving to NYC. Was there a problem?FrannyandManny.jpg
Pat explained that when she’d called her friends to finalize the weekend plans, she’d discovered that “Franny and Manny” expected them to spend all day Saturday with them. We were welcome to join them for a trip to The Jewish Museum, she hastened to add. But I doubted that my daughter would be up for that, and we agreed to just meet that night.
I understood perfectly. And as I said, we see Pat and Michael all the time at home, and their friends don’t. Still, our long-awaited weekend was turning into just a night out.
It turned out to be just as well, however. We did end up spending Friday evening with our kids, and a festive time it was. Since it happened to be New York Restaurant Week, I had made reservations to take everyone out to dinner.NewYorkRestaurantWeek.jpg
During this city-wide promotion, participating restaurants offer three-course lunches for $25 and three-course dinners for $38. This may not be everyone’s idea of a bargain, but it provides people like me a chance to try some of those posh places you normally only get to read about. Hoping to guarantee that a good time was had by all, I’d spent hours scanning dozens of the special menus being offered. For one thing, I know what everyone in my family likes, and many of the dishes listed were decidedly not to their taste. At least none of us is a big fan of, say, scallops and pork shank, or pork and clams with fried potatoes, and not because these are just about the ultimate in trayf.
For another, my son Aidan happens to be dating a vegetarian and, mysteriously, none of the 317 participants seemed to offer one entrée free of meat, poultry, and fish.Brasserie85staircase.jpg 
But I finally came across a lively place called Brasserie 8 1/2 on West 57th Street. It had everything my Nice Jewish heart desired – an ultra-stylish décor, proximity to a subway stop, and good food options for everyone, including butternut squash risotto!PattieincrochetedhatfromAidan.JPG
Aidan surprised me by showing up with birthday presents, which he’d been unable to purchase for me the last time we’d come (only two weeks earlier) because he’d had the flu. Along with an adorable crocheted winter hat, there was some luscious Winter White Earl Grey from my favorite tea purveyor, Harney & Sons. Beyond thoughtful!LentilsoupwithCremeFraiche.JPG
Everything was also beyond delicious, from the lentil soup with crème fraiche and seared duck breast with Moroccan WildMerluatBrasserie.JPGcouscous, to that butternut squash risotto with pearl onions and goat cheese, to my wild Merlu (a mild, cod-like fish) perched atop a sculpted mound of spaghetti squash and wilted spinach.Brasseriedinner2.JPG


    Aidan chose the wine, a nice Cabernet, and we had such a raucous time, and stayed out so late, that we got a really slow start on Saturday.
And when I say slow, I mean slowwww. So slow that it was probably a good thing that we weren’t meeting our friends after all. Because by the time my husband and I had finished working out at our hotel and gotten dressed, and our daughter had schlepped all the way over from her place on Roosevelt Island to meet us for “breakfast,” it was nearly 2 p.m.AllegraatBrasserie85.JPG
After all that fancy food the night before, we decided to convene at one of our favorite haimishe breakfast spots, the Tick Tock Diner, on Eighth Avenue and 34th. Allegra and I both ordered the Eggs Benedict Florentine, and to our dismay found that they were accompanied by French fries; it was so late that they’d run out of the yummy home fries we usually get.TickTockDiner.jpg
I may not be fastidious enough about food to become a vegetarian – although I’ve begun leaning in that direction, I’m just not ready to give up certain things, like my famous chicken soup – yet I follow too healthy a diet to ever eat fries, and so does Allegra. So I had our potatoes wrapped to go, planning to offer them to a homeless person, which is what we always do when we're visiting a city.Mantalkingoncellphone.jpg
Somehow, every time I saw someone who looked homeless, though, Allegra restrained me, explaining with audible exasperation that the “crazy guy” sitting on a fire hydrant talking to himself was just chatting with someone on his cell phone, and the unshaven fellow hovering beneath a restaurant awning was a waiter stepping outside for a smoke.Frenchfrieswrappedtogo.JPG
So we were obliged to lug our fragrant bundle of fries along with us on our tour of wholesale shops in the Garment District.
        Most of
 these stores are located in the West 30s between Fifth and Seventh Avenues. Many display signs out front indicating that they’re open “only to the trade,” as they say. Pat had complained to me that she’d once visited one while in the city without me, but the staff had refused to sell her anything, insisting that they weren’t open to the public.Wholesaleonly.jpg
Was she out of her mind? Or were they? What kind of a store refuses to accept your money when you offer to hand it over? I thought that she had to be kidding.
But sure enough, the first place we entered was playing hard to get. The salesman said they could only sell to us if we bought at least three of every style that we wanted. Perhaps if Pat had been with us, this would’ve been an option – if we wanted to look like bridesmaids, that is. But it was too frustrating to keep looking at things we could easily afford but couldn't have at any price. So we chose to move on.AllegrainKaktussweater.JPG
Instead, we headed for the place I’d been to last fall. I knew they would play ball. Sure enough, Kaktus, on West 36th between Fifth and Sixth, was receptive to our business (whether we were in the business or not). Allegra immediately fell for a big, comfy black and white striped sweater.PattieinKaktustop.JPG
Meanwhile, I picked up a long, tropical-looking, tie-dyed summer dress with a poufy skirt, as well as a top embellished with brightly colored patterns and buttons.
I also couldn’t resist a chic black wool jacket with a shiny, maroon satin collar and colorful cut-out circles in both the front and back (although my husband chided me that its flared shape looked a little Star Trek to him). And forgive me if I don’t want to be so crass as to specify how much it all cost, but suffice it to say that it was less than a third of the manufacturer’s suggested price… in other words, “dirt cheap!”
Then we took our new purchases and our still-fragrant bundle of fries and resumed our hunt for a homeless person. But somehow, there still wasn’t one to be found anywhere.AffiniaManhattanhotelroom.jpg
It was now too late to go to a museum and still get to dinner on time. It was also too cold to keep wandering around. So we decided to go back to our hotel to put up our feet briefly and rest for the night ahead.
Unfortunately, we later departed in such a rush that I forgot to bring the fries along. I soon grew to regret this because we took the subway from Madison Square Garden, which was across from our hotel. That’s when we learned why we’d been unable to find any homeless people. They were inside public places like this one, escaping the cold.PattieinKaktusjacket.JPG
We arrived at the West Bank Café right on time to find our friends and their friends already waiting. And although I did feel a little shy at first, I couldn’t resist showing off my stylish new jacket, and soon enough I relaxed and realized what a fool I had been.OldJewsTellingJokesdinnercropped.jpg
“Franny and Manny” could not have been nicer, and we liked them both at once. We also found that we had endless things in common that we all wanted to talk about. And no, I’m not just referring to tsuris mit kinder (Yiddish for “problems with children”). What Jew of our vintage doesn’t have that?FrannyandMannyattable.jpg
         Super-city-savvy, t
hey told us about a compelling movie they had seen called Forks over Knives that had motivated them to become vegetarians, as well as about Blossom, a wonderful vegetarian eatery in Chelsea, for the next time such a need arose. They told us about a movie club they belonged to that offered private screenings and film talks in New York. Then there was the restaurant club called Savored that offers discounts of up to 40 percent off your total bill, including alcohol, if you make your reservations on its website.PatMichaelandHarlanatOldJews.JPG
In fact, we enjoyed chatting with them so much that I was sorry that they had purchased their show tickets separately and were sitting far away from the rest of us. For suddenly it was show time, and we had to make our way to the Westside Theatre, on West 43rd, where at long last we were going to get to see it! Old Jews Telling Jokes.
Pat and I were so overwhelmed, ecstatic, and a little verklempt to be there that we couldn’t resist snapping a series of “selfies” with my iPhone before the curtain rose.PatandPattieatOldJews2.JPG
I also snapped the guys.
So, how was it?
Have you heard the one about the three Jewish mothers sitting on a park bench? (One says, “Oy.” The second says, “Vey iz mir.” And the third says, “I thought we weren’t going to talk about the children.”)
How ’bout the one about the husband whose wife likes to talk to him during sex. (“She calls me up and says, 'Nathan, I’m having sex!'”)
OK, so we had. In fact, I would estimate that I had heard at least half the jokes that were told. But this didn’t prevent them from being funny or making us roar with laughter.OldJewsTellingJokes2.jpg
As the fairly glowing New York Times review noted back in May, “The show, whose title has as firm a grasp on its audience’s desires as ‘Girls Gone Wild,’ is a winning concept executed deftly with affection. Would it kill you to pay a visit?”
The production was adapted from a popular website by the same name, which features a variety of real people of relatively advanced years telling Jewish jokes. The show, however, created by writers Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, is far from just an amalgamation of old codgers delivering borsht belt shtick.OldJewsTellingJokes3.jpg
Rather, it’s a tightly choreographed madcap revue in which five actors – two women, three men; two young, three not-so-young – deliver jokes, sing, and perform the occasional monologue, often playing multiple roles in one another’s comic routines.
Some of the bits are one-liners in which the punchlines are delivered rapid-fire. Others are more elaborate routines, like the one in which a TV reporter approaches an old rabbi who’s been standing by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem for decades praying for peace in the Middle East, an end to world hunger, and honesty among politicians and world leaders.
“How do you feel after all these years?” she asks him.OldJewTellingJoke.jpg
He shrugs as if the weight of the world were on his shoulders as he sadly replies, “Like I’m talking to a f---ing wall.”
OK, you’ve probably heard that one too. And so, I must admit, had I. But like all the other jokes, it was still hilarious, thanks to the onstage antics and pitch-perfect delivery.PatandPattieatOldJews.JPG
And although this might not be the kind of profound play with insights that you keep pondering for days, we laughed our butts off and enjoyed every second. And so, judging from their demeanor when we rejoined them in the lobby, did “Franny and Manny.”OldJewsTellingJokesaudience2.jpg
Sadly, it was only an hour and 20 minutes long (perhaps the extent to which much of its target audience is able to stay awake or withstand not visiting the restroom), so it was now only 9:20 on a Saturday night. Yet Pat and Michael and company were beat, and they had a substantial subway ride back to Brooklyn ahead of them. So with great regret we bid farewell to our old friends, and our new friends, and returned to our hotel.MadisonSquareGardensubway.jpg
We exited the subway through the Madison Square Garden station once more, and were quickly approached by more than one vagrant seeking a handout. This reminded me of the French fries still languishing in our room. Unfortunately, they had to be cold and soggy by now. But still edible, I figured. The question was how to warm them up?
I wracked my brain for some strategy. There were no cooking facilities in our room. Nothing beyond a coffeemaker. But then I got a sudden inspiration.
I knew it was a little crazy. But I also knew it would work.
So I took the pan of French fries into the bathroom with me, removed the plastic lid, put them on top of the sink, and zapped the heck out of them for about five minutes.
With the hairdryer, that is.Frenchfriesandhairdryer.JPG
Even the tin they were in grew warm enough to keep its contents hot for awhile.
Then I threw my coat and gloves back on again and told my husband to send out a search party if I weren’t back within 15 minutes. And I opened the door to our room.
Outside in the hallway were more than a dozen young people having a wild time. The door to a room across the hall was agape and there was loud music blaring inside.
“What’s going on?” I asked a cluster of revelers.
A young woman in six-inch heels and not a whole lot of clothing gave a big laugh. “Someone’s birthday,” she replied, indicating the room where the bash was in full swing.Partyrevelers.jpg
Many of the youthful guests seemed to be trailing me slowly down the hall, so when the elevator arrived, I held the door open until they had caught up. “But there are about 30 of us,” protested a young man who seemed to be in very high spirits.
“That’s all right,” I said as a carload of youngsters proceeded to pile in behind him. “Just promise me that you’re not all going to come back at 3 a.m. and wake me up.”
“Don’t worry,” he replied giddily. “We’re already totally trashed.”
Pulling my coat around me as I exited into the frigid night air, I headed back toward the Garden, but before I could reach the entrance, I saw him. Or her. Someone was huddled on the ground, leaning against the siding of a newsstand, so totally concealed by a bright green quilt and dark knit cap that I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman.Homelessmanwithgreen.jpg
What I had no doubt about was that this person was homeless, and probably hungry. When I had reached him – I could see now that it was, in fact, a him – he held up a clear plastic cup and shook it toward me, but it was empty, so it made no sound.
“Hey, would you like some French fries?” I asked, proffering the yellow plastic bag in which I’d transported them.
He glanced up at me wearily, and I saw that he wasn’t wrapped in a quilt at all, but rather what appeared to be one of those blankets they use in moving vans, in which he’d torn holes for his head and hands. “Are there only fries in there?” he asked.
I nodded, suddenly ashamed that there wasn’t something a little more substantial. But he nodded and held out his gloved hand, so I passed the bag to him. “Got any spare change?” he added hopefully. I’d deliberately left my purse behind, but found two quarters in my pocket, which I dropped into his cup. Now when he shook it, it jingled.
“You should probably eat the fries soon,” I urged gently, “while they’re still warm.”
He nodded, but merely placed the bag beside himself and continued to shake the cup vigorously for passersby, none of whom seemed to take notice. I continued to watch for several minutes from afar, but the yellow bag just sat there. I was tempted to go back and noodge him again, but as a Jewish mother I knew that noodging gets you nowhere. I mean, if your own family won’t ever listen to you, why would a total stranger?
Besides, what could I say? “Eat them now – I went to the trouble of heating them up with a hairdryer?” They had to be cold again, anyway. And they were his fries now.AffiniaManhattanHotel.jpg 
Back upstairs in the hotel, I was relieved to find that the party seemed to be over. My husband and I watched Saturday Night Live, then turned off the light at around 1 a.m… only to be awakened again to an incredible commotion right outside our door in the hall.
My elevator mates had complied with my request not to come back at 3 and awaken me. No, they’d waited till 3:45. And judging from the decibel level at which they were conversing and carousing, they'd been drinking steadily since last we’d met.
I phoned the front desk and was assured that they’d send up security right away. And within minutes, the noise died down. But soon enough, it resumed again, even louder. The episode was so prolonged and unnerving that I couldn’t fall back to sleep. Instead I just lay there, tossing and turning, wide awake for hours.Couldntsleep.jpg
And what I was thinking while I was lying there was that Pat and Michael were the smart ones. I doubted there was a party going on in the hallway at Franny and Manny’s. They were lucky to have stayed out in Brooklyn and gotten a good night’s sleep.
Then again, I couldn’t help thinking about the homeless guy with my French fries, too. Whether or not I was sleepless in Manhattan, I was safe inside in a nice, warm bed.
So, have you heard the one about the nice Jewish mom who heated up French fries with a hairdryer and shelled out for a fancy hotel, but still couldn’t sleep a wink?
Well, now you have. And now you know that in the end, the joke was really on me.
I guess I shouldn’t complain, because when I kvetched about my ordeal at the front desk the next morning, they readily made amends by cutting our bill for that night in half.Adoctoralawyerandarabbi.jpg
You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, or an old Jew new jokes, but I think I have learned at least one lesson. I realize now that the more really is the merrier. Also, that there is more than safety in numbers. There is also exponentially more fun.
Speaking of which, here are some more fun numbers for you:
Zero. That's the number of Jewish mothers that it takes to screw in a light bulb. (As we all know all too well, they would rather sit in the dark and suffer.)PattieatOldJews.JPG
Forty-nine. That’s the number of dollars it costs for a ticket to Old Jews Telling Jokes if you buy it on Theatermania. (The regular price for an orchestra seat is $87.50.)
Seven or eight. That’s the number of months we waited to see that terrific show. And even if it turned out to be worth waiting for, we would hate to wait that long again.
For whether or not our old friends are free to join us, there are plenty more Jewish plays to see, and we have some new friends now. Who knows? Maybe next time we’ll stay with them.
1:56 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.