|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
1) Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than
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.
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.
“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.’ ”
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.
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
“Our hearts are broken and we demand change,” Nancy Lefkowitz,
one of two Fairfield mothers who organized it, explained to The Hartford Courant.
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.
Together, we hurried around to the back of the gold-domed Capitol building, where the rally was just getting
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.
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.
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.
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
“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
Then I realized that this was unmistakably Debbie.
“Yes!” I cried, and we hurried over just as the governor was being introduced.
“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.”
“I know that the NRA thinks that the Newtown effect will go away,” he later said.
“No!” we shouted back
“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.
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
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.”
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
“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.
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.
“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
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.
“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.
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.
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,”
“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.”
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
“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?’”
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.
“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.
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.
“What’s ‘One?’” he asked, pointing a shaky index finger toward the laminated
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
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?
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
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.”
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.
“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.”
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!”
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.
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Word From the Weiss
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.
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, 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.
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
(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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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
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
“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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Your grandma and my grandma
Sittin’ by the fire
Your grandma told my grandma,
‘I’m gonna set your flag
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.
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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 they don’t call it “Fat Tuesday” for nothin’.
Jockomo feeno ah na nay. Jockomo fee na nay!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 spirited 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
A Word From the Weiss
Eighteen. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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!
Everything was also beyond delicious, from the lentil soup with crème fraiche and seared duck breast
with Moroccan couscous, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So we were obliged to lug our fragrant bundle of fries along with us on our tour of wholesale shops in the
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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?
Super-city-savvy, they 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
|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