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Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

LatkeandMommy.JPG        From changing our kids’ diapers when they’re little to helping them grapple with far more grueling messes when they’re grown, parenthood can be a humbling experience. But that’s nothing compared with the countless indignities we endure in the care and feeding of our other little darlings.
        You know who I’m talking about.
Your pets.
And mine.
And I’m not just referring to the need to pick up whatever messes they may make.Devilimage1.jpg
I’m here to tell you that the devil doesn’t really wear Prada. He wears a dog collar.  And along with that pointy little tail of his, he has long, floppy ears and four paws.
When you last left my Portuguese Water Dog, Latke, and her BFF Duke last month, they were just unwitting canine bystanders in an unfolding human melodrama. Or so it may have seemed. That, actually, is not quite the whole story. The whole story is something that I didn’t tell you, for a very good reason. I was too embarrassed to.Latketearingtoys.JPG
Latke, who turned 1 in February, has begun displaying undeniable signs of maturity. (She mastered housebreaking months ago; now if only we could break her of that other nasty habit, which entails availing herself of the big porcelain “water bowl” in the bathroom.) Yet she still has that endless reserve of puppy energy, which demands daily play dates, in the absence of which she becomes mischievous and a destructive, insufferable nuisance.
This sends us out into the world in relentless search of canine companions. Unfortunately, as with our human children, we don’t necessarily get veto power on the mates with whom she chooses to fraternize. And on Latke’s list, Duke, a lively 1-year-old Labradoodle, is decidedly No. 1.Dukehandsomedevil.JPG
Forget about his highbrow hybrid pedigree and adorable good looks. Duke may be a handsome devil, but he’s definitely not the white sheep in this scenario. Never mind that he looks like the “ying” to Latke’s chocolate-brown “yang.” The problem is he’s a guy.LatkeandDukeyinandyang.JPG
In that regard, he has helped highlight to me the profound differences between the sexes. To wit -- however ill-behaved my little girl may ever appear, her male counterpart, by contrast, is invariably able to make her look as pure and innocent as the driven snow.
Whenever Latke manages to find some treasure in their yard, be it a half-gnawed old bone or fallen twig, Duke quickly manages to wrest it from her jaws and run away. “Go get him!” I urge. Or, knowing the odds against her, “Go find yourself another stick.” Yet rather than taking off after him in hot pursuit, she often just gazes at me mournfully.LatkeandDukewithsticks.JPG
Duke is not really all that interested in sticks, though. He has bigger fish to fry. Well, maybe not all that much bigger. But, given his own peculiar appetites, better.Latkesad.JPG
It all started early last winter, when my husband was at Duke’s one day doing his parental duties. This involves closely supervising our four-footed Water Daughter at play. Duke is confined to his family’s vast property by an electric fence, you see, but Latke has nothing to prevent her from running off in pursuit of other dogs or passersby. We simply rely on her to stay in close proximity to whatever beast with whom she's cavorting.
While my husband was standing guard, he accidentally dropped one of his gloves. He quickly bent to retrieve it, but Duke, being half Retriever, was quicker on the draw. He raced over and seized it.Harlansglove.jpg
You’re lucky when your own puppy actually pays any heed when you yell “Come!” But there’s little chance that someone else’s dog will. So after several minutes of pleading with Duke to no avail, my husband was forced to call in the cavalry – Duke’s mom, who in turn soon summoned one or two of her children as reinforcements.Dukeplayinghardtoget.jpg
For the next 20 minutes, this motley crew gave chase, aided and abetted by Latke. They summoned Duke, threatened Duke, and tried to bribe him with a variety of treats. No luck. Doing a demonic victory dance around the yard, he wouldn’t let anyone get near him.
        Finally, with darkness rapidly descending, my husband announced that he was giving up. He suggested that if they ever managed to recover the glove, they put it on top of their white picket fence, and the next time that he drove by he would reclaim it.
The next day, he was pleased to see it propped up on one of their corner posts, like a shrunken head mounted on a tiki torch in the jungle. On closer inspection, though, he saw that there was an array of tooth marks and the thumb had been chewed off.Harlansgloveminusthumb.JPG
“Becky,” Duke’s mom, was mortified and emailed my husband repeatedly offering to replace it. But he told her to forget about it. The gloves hadn’t been expensive. Really, it was no big deal.
Flash forward a week. My husband was over at Duke’s again when he summoned me to take over. He was late for a rehearsal for the latest Purim spiel I'd written at our temple and had an earlier “call” than I did.
This happened to be a frigid day in mid-December, and before long I began rooting around in my pocket for a tissue. It’s hard to locate anything in there with gloves on, though, so I removed one of mine, just as Becky happened to wander out of the house.brownglovesoriginal.JPG
        Duke was not one to waste such an opportunity. Leaping up, he seized the glove dangling from my hand and proceeded to gallop around the yard triumphantly. Becky once again beckoned one of her offspring to come outside, and after plying Duke with dog treats, assorted toys, and a petrified pig’s ear, we finally got him to give up his prize.
Becky, once again, was beyond embarrassed at her little mongrel’s behavior. But I laughed it off and peeled off my second glove to show her that no harm had been done. Both chocolate brown velvet, they matched perfectly. The stolen one was as good as new.
But just at the second that I did this, Duke, the little devil, leapt up unexpectedly. Before I even realized what was happening, he snatched the other glove in his muzzle and made off with it, cavorting with even greater glee and bravado around their lawn.Pattieembarrassed.jpg
Now it was my turn to be embarrassed. You know – fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Was I a total nitwit? How could I have been such a klutz?
We proceeded to give chase yet again, as I prayed for another fortuitous outcome. But when we finally managed to recapture our prey, I saw that Duke’s terrible teeth had done their dirty work. This time, he had managed to sever the entire pinky instead.gloveminuspinky.JPG
Becky insisted that she simply had to reimburse me. I protested just as adamantly that I had plenty of other gloves. But the truth is that these had been particular favorites. And that by this point I was feeling ready to really give Duke a finger… if you get my drift.
At the very least, I now knew the brute meant business.
Yep, Duke was out for glove.
        In succeeding weeks, the glacial weather persisted, but I remained on my guard. Fool me three times? I don’t think so. IDukeandLatkeplaying.JPG never let Duke’s paws or muzzle get anywhere near my hands again, although (thanks to both dogs’ dirty work) my winter coat got more than a little muddy.Muddycoat.JPG
        Now, any time that he approached, to his frustration I lifted both of my hands high in the air. I also kept scarves wound carefully around my neck.
Then April sent winter on the wane at last, and the air grew gentle and balmy.
Until this past Tuesday, that is. The previous weekend had been so temperate. And on Wednesday, the afternoon temperature topped 70. Tuesday was just a freak.
With the air at a raw and unseasonable 40 degrees, reminiscent of mid-March, I reached for my woolen coat when I went out to walk Latke. I also put on a warm scarf for the first time in weeks. But after standing in Duke’s yard for the better part of half an hour, I realized that my hands were growing numb, so I shoved them into my pockets.glovewithbow.JPG
At that moment, I detected that, to my delight, there was a pair of gloves still stored in those pockets. And not just any gloves. This was the pair I’d purchased online to replace the ones Duke had partially digested. They were also fashioned from brown velvet. But these were even prettier than the first, with large, matching bows at the wrist.
Yanking them on, I shook my head at the thought that I was wearing gloves again. Wasn’t it nearly May? But I didn’t have much time to either rue the change in weather or revel in my good fortune. There was a woman fast approaching down the block with another little dog on a leash. Unfortunately, Latke had spied them even before I did, and she took off.Latkerunning2.JPG
I screamed her name, but she kept forging ahead. So I did what I’ve learned to do. My husband often grows infuriated that our puppy won’t come to him when he calls her. But I defend her, to his even greater exasperation, by noting that he sounds so gruff and irate that I don’t blame her for running in the other direction. By contrast, I call her with a sweet, high-pitched voice. Even better, I squat and give her the signal.Cometomamaimage.jpg
        That is to say,
I open my arms wide, flashing her the universal symbol that simultaneously signifies "Come to Mama!" and “I love you this much!” And since that feeling appears to be more than mutual, she rewards me by running right back and into my arms.
To my considerable relief, that’s what she did at this perilous moment, doing an abrupt about-face right before she reached that passing dog.
And as much as I feel a sense of pride and joy that I get her to respond so readily, I also know that for her, being a dog, it isn’t only about the love. She expects a reward for good behaviorLatkerunningback.jpg.
So after pausing to wrap her in my arms with a heartfelt hug, I reached into my pocket to get one of her favorite treats. No, two treats, to be exact. Puppies, after all, are like little kids. I always reward her friends as well. I don’t want them to feel left out.
Those dog treats are even harder to locate with a gloved hand than tissues, so, of course, I removed my glove in order to do it. I popped a treat into Latke’s eager mouth. Then I extended the second one to Duke.
But Duke didn’t take the bait. Instead, he did some sort of reverse bait and switch, going for my other hand, in which I loosely held the glove I had removed.Dukewithglove.jpg
“Nooo!” I howled, watching in horror as he hid under a bush about 10 feet away. Shrieking his name repeatedly, I held out the treat that he had snubbed. Then I offered him a larger biscuit instead. When this didn’t seem to tempt him one bit, I pulled out the special water bottle for dogs that I carry. Why, just the day before he had jammed his muzzle into it and polished off every drop before poor Latke could get so much as a sip.
After running around the yard like a wild savage, I knew that he had to be thirsty. But evidently he’d built up quite an appetite too. Or so I gathered as I watched him chew my glove so vigorously that it began wilting inside his mouth like a large leaf of lettuce.
You’ve heard about the Jaws of Life? Well, these were the Jaws of Death. For, with one determined but difficult gulp, he soon swallowed, ingesting the entire thing whole.
Then he dashed back over to seize the grey plastic bag in which the water bottle had been wrapped and proceeded to shred it to tattered smithereens, too.Dukewithbag.JPG
I was so shocked with disbelief that I couldn’t think of doing anything other than call my husband at work to explode. He listened sympathetically, but also clearly was doing his best not to laugh. What’s more, his first impulse was not to console me about my loss.
“You need to tell Becky!” he ordered.
“Tell Becky?” I echoed. “Tell her why? So she doesn’t get the shock of her life when my glove comes out the other end?”
On the contrary, the real problem was what if it didn’t come out the other end? What if it got stuck in there somewhere deep in Duke’s innards, and he got sick or died?
“I hope he does!” I replied, although I’m Nice Jewish Mom (emphasis on the “nice”) and, as fuming mad as I might have been at that moment, of course I didn’t mean it.
But before we could debate it any further, Becky suddenly strode out of her house, and I hung up on my husband in mid-sentence.Blondewoman.jpg
She was late to pick up her kids at school, she announced, proposing that she leave Duke out in the yard if I wanted to stay. But I didn’t. I didn’t really want to tell her what had just transpired either, but I knew that my hubby was actually right for once.redpurse2.jpg
Her first impulse was to unzip her purse, resolute about paying me back this time, but I wouldn’t hear of it. Then she thought about it further and ventured that perhaps she should phone her veterinarian right away. When Duke had downed a dead bird recently, his doggie doc had elected to induce vomiting right away, lest he contract a disease.
        I wasn’t sure what disease he might get from my glove – hand in mouth disease, perhaps? But just before 3, as I pulled into my driveway, Becky phoned again to say that the vet indeed wanted to make him throw up, but was I sure he’d eaten the glove?
I was tempted to drive back to her house and make a thorough search of her garden just to make sure. Could I have been seeing things? It was impossible to believe, wasn’t it?Velvetglovewithselfbow.jpg
But the horror that I still felt wasn’t just a product of an often too-vivid imagination. I remained unnerved with disbelief, as though I had watched him swallow a small, live animal. And before long I had my answer because Becky texted me back from the vet’s at 3:37.
“He threw it up whole!!!” she wrote.
“OMG!” I responded. I wasn't just resorting to common text-messaging parlance. I really was amazed to hear it. I also now was more mortified than ever. Never mind her wanting to pay me for my glove. A visit to the vet had to run upwards of $100. Shouldn’t I be the one reimbursing them, not to mention making amends for Duke’s pain and suffering?
“I am so sorry and upset,” I added. “Is he OK?”
As often happens with conversations by text, our messages proceeded to overlap. But there presumably were no major consequences, based on what Becky said next: “Assuming you don’t want it back. LOL.”LOLonphone.JPG
“LOL!" I concurred. "That’s funny.” It was just a joke, wasn't it? Could she have been half-serious? Maybe she was – but no more than half. So, picking up on her jocular tone, I proposed an alternative.
“We could wash it and let him eat it again.”
Meanwhile, in response to my earlier comment, she began trying to allay my fears. “He is totally fine!” she wrote. “So good you told me! Nothing to be upset about! We need to train him not to jump for gloves!”
Then she added an inspiration of her own. “Or I could buy edible gloves.”
        An ingenius idea. If there weren't such a thing, there should be, I said,
proposing to check Amazon.com. “If they don’t exist, we could make them. There’s evidently a market. Dog treats shaped like socks, gloves, shoes… hats?”
        And why stop at clothing? Latke had mistaken my husband's Bluetooth for a teething toy, I noted. Not just once, but twice. Maybe there should be treats shaped like those, “and iPhones too.”
But by then Becky must have been driving home, because hours passed before she got back to me with another LOL. And by then I had descended back into a state of alarm, repeatedly reliving the moment in which I'd seen something soft and pretty that had just been on my hand going down the hatch.
Yet by the next morning, I'd once again regained some sense of perspective.
I may have dropped a glove or two. OK, three. But I haven’t lost my grip on reality.Glovesnewpair.JPG
It doesn’t take much to see that a problem as trivial as losing a glove (or having it turned into lunch) doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
Besides, I hastened to order a replacement on Amazon.com – the last pair left in stock – and it shipped out that very day and has already managed to arrive.
Yet I’m not sure I’m ready or willing to subject myself to such an indignity again.
Yes, I know that cold spell was just a fluke, and that I probably won’t have any reason to don a pair of gloves again until next fall. But I also worry about what my nemesis will set his sights and teeth on next – the shirt off my back? My phone? My very own bones?
I also have come to the conclusion that Duke’s back yard is not just the scene of too many a canine-created crime. It appears to be my own personal Bermuda Triangle.LatkeandLicksey.JPG
I may sound like a glutton for punishment – what Jewish mom isn’t? But as far as I’m concerned, I’ve finally reached my limit. This is a matter of three strikes and I’m out.
So for the foreseeable future, I intend to limit my poor pooch to fraternizing only with reasonably civilized creatures, like the far more demure and proper Licksy, who seems more inclined to model clothing than to maul or munch on it. (Yup, this pal is a gal.)
Who knows? I could relent any day, although preferably not until it gets warm enough for me to venture into Duke’s environs wearing next to nothing. In the meanwhile, I genuinely hope that he really is OK. But if Becky ever calls to ask why we stopped coming 'round, I have an answer ready:
        The devil made me do it.

12:09 am 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

        Before I begin, just a few words about how I see the tragic events in Boston this week as a mom (for “as a mom” is the prism through which I view almost everything).Bostonmarathonexplosion2.jpg
        While as riveted as the rest of you to the manic media blitz, I couldn’t help asking myself a few searing questions:
        Where were the parents or other older people who might have offered support and sound guidance in the lives of the two deeply troubled young perpetrators of this despicable act?
        How does anyone become so utterly disenfranchised from society and devoid of empathy that they would target children, innocent bystanders, and other total strangers?Bostonmarathonexplosion.jpg

          And how will we begin to feel safe again about having our children (or ourselves) attend large public events marking achievement, freedom, and all the other laudable things that we celebrate in life?
        Meanwhile, my heart and boundless sympathy go out to the fathers, mothers, and others who lost loved ones or limbs or were otherwise personally touched by this appalling event.
        (And now back to your regularly scheduled program.)
LevysatLaLunchonette.JPG        As all parents know, no matter how many children you may have, you somehow never get two of a kind – especially if you have children of different ages and genders.
In our case, we’re lucky enough to have two grown kids who like to talk to us often and, even better, like to talk to each other. They also have many interests in common. But that’s largely where the similarities end.AllegraandPattieatTomiJazzApril.JPG
Our daughter Allegra, for example, really likes to see us – so much so that she not only lets us come visit her in New York City regularly, but invites us to stay at her place.
Then there’s Aidan, who thinks she must be crazy. Sure, he enjoys our company well enough, but he clearly resents our descending on the city almost every other weekend (not that anyone could blame him). So he often declines to see us when we’re there and won’t let us into his apartment under any circumstances – even circumstances like “I want to bring you some soup because you’re sick” (me) or “I really need to go to the bathroom” (his dad).AidaninApril2013.jpg
Is it just that, at 26, he’s three years older and craves more independence? Is it only a fundamental gender issue, or a difference in personalities? Or could it have anything to do with the fact that he suspects I will start cleaning his place the moment he leaves the room (which, to be perfectly honest, I’ve done once or twice in the past)?
Of course, we love both kids immeasurably and want to respect their differences. But this past weekend put us into a bit of a quandary. Allegra was singing in a club on Saturday night and was eager for us to come (so eager that we chose to cancel plans with friends at home). Yet Aidan had a gig that night only a few blocks away from hers.
How could we in good conscience go only to hers, even if he told us not to come? That was the question.scalesofjustice.jpg
As parents, we do our best not to ever show favoritism to one child over the other. Yet, like wanting to lose weight, that’s much easier said than done. Sometimes, as in this case, respecting their wishes leads to what might appear to be showing a preference.
Besides, I probably enjoy nothing more than seeing either of my offspring perform. Did he really mind that much if we made a brief appearance at his show? Or was it just that the club where he was performing is exorbitantly pricey and he wanted to save us some dough?
With all of those questions in mind, we packed and headed for NYC last Friday.
Along with being full of quandaries, the weekend proved to be rife with missed connections. But by far the worst was the very first because it wasn’t just a matter of dumb luck (or lack thereof). It was a matter of being dumb.TalleysFollyimage1.jpg
Although Allegra had been perfectly receptive to our staying overnight, she had plans of her own for Friday evening, so we arranged to meet some old friends for dinner and a play. Dick and Wendy didn’t seem especially thrilled with Nino’s 46, the restaurant I had found and booked on Savored, which offers up to 40 percent off your bill if you make reservations via their website. But far worse was when we arrived at the theater.
We’d been eager for weeks to see Talley’s Folly, the revival of a 1979 play by Lanford Wilson that had received rave reviews. Focusing on an unlikely wartime courtship between two never-married misfits, Sally Talley, the daughter of small-town, bigoted, Midwestern Protestants, and Matt Friedman, an Austrian-born Jew 11 years her senior, it hadn’t been produced in NYC since winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1980.
But as I stepped up to the box office to collect our tickets, the clerk noted brightly, “You know the play has started already, don’t you?”TalleysFollyimage2.jpg
No, I hadn’t. I had purchased the tickets over the phone and not seen them till that second. Normally, I’m obsessive about details and scrupulous about making plans. Yet never had it crossed my mind that the play might start at 7:30, instead of the standard 8.
It didn’t help matters one bit that this was a short play, only 95 minutes long without intermission. By the time we’d been seated, it was 7:55. We’d managed to miss the first 25 minutes, and it took 25 more to figure out what the heck was going on.
Of course, I spent the duration of the evening feeling mortified about my error, which will heretofore be known as "Pattie's Folly" and for which I deserve to be awarded the booby prize.
The upshot? The play is touching and poignant, and it struck somewhat close to home, in that my husband is also 11 years my senior and we didn’t marry till he was 40. (The comparison ends there, since we're both Northeastern Jews.) Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulsen were superb in the leads, and I highly recommend it. But I mostly recommend it in hopes that one of my readers will see it and then let me know what the heck I missed.AllegrasapartmentonRI.JPG
Afterwards, we bid goodbye to our (no doubt still-disgruntled) friends and made our way back to Allegra's lovely apartment on Roosevelt Island. I was a bit annoyed when my husband insisted on stopping off to buy a bottle of wine, but this turned out to be a good thing. Allegra ultimately chose to spend the night at one of her friends’ apartments in Soho, rather than sleeping on the pullout in her living room so we could have her bed.JamieandCourtney.jpg
Meanwhile, we ended up hanging out with her wonderful roommates, Jamie and Courtney, drinking wine till 2 a.m. They said we were always welcome, and it seemed like they actually meant it and might even have appreciated a rare dose of parental camaraderie. (No one's parents are ever as annoying as your own.) At the very least, no one seemed to mind having us there. Or that bottle of wine.
We arranged to meet Allegra early the next Rooseveltislandtramimage.jpgafternoon at our favorite Soho brunch spot, The Cupping Room. But after dawdling while getting dressed, we learned there were no subways running from Roosevelt Island to Manhattan all weekend. The only other way to get there by public transportation was the ski lift-like tramway, which we missed by 10 seconds. So we had to wait for the next car, then take a subway downtown.EggsFlorentineatCuppingRoom.jpg
By the time we’d finished our Eggs Florentine, it was time to return to the island so Allegra could prepare for her gig.
While she arranged her music, my husband and I decided to take the lengthy walk to visit the newly opened Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park at the southern tip of the island. Of course, we arrived five minutes after it closed and never got to see it.PattieatCherryBlossomFestival.JPG
The upside is that while walking back on the opposite shore, we stumbled upon the lively Roosevelt Island Cherry Blossom Festival. The downside is that by the time we got back from this ambitious trek, we were already running late for Allegra’s show.
One of the main reasons Allegra likes us to come when she performs is that we always schlep other people with us and help fill the room. In this case, I’d arranged to meet our old friend Lucy, a former co-worker from my days at New York magazine, who had orchestrated the blind date on which my husband and I first met in 1982.Lucy.jpg
Since I hadn’t laid eyes on her in nearly 30 years, I had elected not to invite anyone else to join us, figuring that we would want the time to talk to her and only her. Yet poor Lucy had woken up with a stomach bug and canceled out that morning.
ost of Allegra’s friends also seemed to have made other plans for the evening. So we spent much of the day worrying that almost no one would show up for the gig.TomiJazzsignupright.jpg
Once again, we arrived at the tram just as it was leaving and had to wait for the next car, so poor Allegra was obliged to sprint the six blocks or so to the club in her cocktail dress and high heels. We arrived behind her to find a sparse audience, to say the least.AllegraatTomidancing.JPG
Tomi Jazz, a basement eatery on East 53rd Street, is so hard to find that there have been nights when she has performed mostly for us and anyone we managed to bring along (plus the gathering of mostly Asian people who run interference by chatting volubly at the bar).
Within minutes, though, people began streaming in steadily, including Allegra’s close friends Mystral and Zoey and the sizable entourage they had brought along.
Plenty of strangers also showed up, including the young mother beside us who was enjoying the last night of her first trip ever to NYC and chose to spend it listening to Allegra. And by the second set, it was standing room only.
        Every seat was full!
Since the club compensates the musicians largely according to the turnout, this was a good thing. It didn’t hurt that Allegra had chosen for the first time to perform only as a duo with her terrific pianist, Sean McCluskey, rather than the full band she normally brings. They got to split the take and the tips two ways. It was a fab (and finally lucrative) show.
But now it was time to make the big decision. Should we go to see Aidan too?
Allegra’s second set had ended at 10:30. That was when his second set began. And by the time we had said goodbye to everyone and left, it was already past 11.
Exacerbating our eagerness to see our son – and no doubt his reluctance to see us – was that he’d come down with something and was feeling under the weather. In fact, he was so sick that I had wondered if he might decide to skip the show and hire a sub.AidaninStanRubinOrchestra.jpg
Aidan, who plays the baritone sax, is a member of the Stan Rubin Orchestra, a group specializing in the big-band music of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, et al. A 16-piece swing band, it performs every Wednesday night at Swing 46, a dance club on West 46th Street. But on this particular night, Aidan was playing with them at the Carnegie Club, a cigar bar frequented mostly by middle-aged men of the New Jersey persuasion and so full of smoke that you risk asphyxiation just walking through the door.
Not exactly the ideal environment for a nice Jewish boy with a nasty cold.
I had wanted to make sure that he would indeed be there, but to avoid tipping him off that we might be there, too. So that afternoon, I had texted him to ask how he felt.Aidanatseder.jpg
My son, as a young jazz journalist and aspiring TV writer, has a way with words. A very succinct way. Especially when it comes to text messaging.
“OK, thanks,” he replied.
Not quite the illuminating answer I had been seeking.
“Well enough to endure cigars and mafia?” I persisted.
So now, with mounting trepidation and a very heavy bag – since I had agreed to transport Allegra’s copious supply of sheet music while she went out with her friends – we walked what turned out to be nearly a mile to Aidan’s gig, at 56th and Seventh Avenue.SteveMaglio.jpg
Every Saturday night, for nearly a decade now, the Carnegie Club has featured an all “Sounds of Sinatra” set featuring the mellifluous musical stylings of Steve Maglio, a trim, balding, Harlem-born baritone and vocal dead ringer for Old Blue Eyes himself. We arrived to hear Maglio crooning the opening strains of “Witchcraft,” as the scent and foggy residue of sizzling Macanudos and Montecristos wafted through the air.AidanplayingatCarnegieClub2.JPG
And there, right inside the doorway, two men in on the horn section, was our own tuxedo-clad son, gripping his saxophone in anticipation of the next notes. I lit up to see him, brighter than the tip of a burning Partagas, but the feeling was not visibly mutual. Rather, he seemed to looked right through me, as though I were less tangible than the ethereal ribbons of smoke.
Not so the hatcheck girl, a buxom brunette in a black dress cut down to her pupik, who made an instant beeline for us. “Do you have reservations?” she asked.Hatcheckgirl.jpg
We did not. The truth was that we didn’t because we had deliberately neglected to make them… and not only because of our lingering ambivalence about whether to attend or not.
The Carnegie Club – with its 25-foot ceilings, cathedral-like windows, and walls lined with vintage 18th-century wooden bookcases – may evoke an earlier era, but its rates do not. The cover charge on Saturday night is $40, with a two-drink minimum.Carnegieclubinterior.jpg
And with most drinks priced at upwards of $15 to $20, you can’t help but drop quite a bundle there, even if you happen to be the mom and dad of a member of the band.
Once, when we had ignored Aidan’s dire warnings about the questionable air quality and unquestionably hefty cost, we had taken another couple there in exchange for their putting us up for the night. The upshot was a bill for $250, even though I never even ordered a second drink – I’m a one glass of wine kind of girl.PattieatCarnegieclub.jpg
We had dared to venture back only once ever since. But that time we had asked politely if, as parents of the bari player, we could simply sit at the bar for a few minutes to hear our son, and then shared a single drink there. The bartender had kindly obliged.
I hate to be a cheapskate, but this time around we’d missed half the show, and I’d already enjoyed my one drink of the night at Allegra’s gig. So that was our plan once again.Scotchandcigar.jpg
Yet when I proposed this option to Ms. Hatcheck, she appeared none too pleased. Rather, her demeanor looked about as warm and understanding as the ice cubes clinking in the nearest patron’s oversized glass of Chivas Regal on the rocks. But she acquiesced frostily on the one condition that we find ourselves somewhere to stand.
If only that had been within the realm of possibility.
Despite the price tag, the place was mobbed (and I don’t use the term loosely, although I couldn’t swear in a court of law that anyone present had “family” ties to John Gotti). Every seat in sight was taken, and people were standing three deep at the bar.
So we simply remained right where we were, just inside the door in front of the tiny coat room… and Ms. Hatcheck. Until I turned to flash her an apologetic grin, that is, and rather than grinning back, she stated in no uncertain terms, “But you can’t stand here!”
By some miracle, a middle-aged couple chose to vacate their posts at the bar at just that moment, and we dashed over to fill in the void before anyone else could.CarnegiClubSteveMaglio.JPG
Meanwhile, Mr. Maglio had finished taking a bow for his latest song and decided to give credit where credit was also due – to the posse of fellows backing him up, and the horn section in particular.
        In anticipation of hearing my son mentioned by name, my Jewish mother’s heart leapt in my chest so ferociously that I feared people could hear it, even over the packed house’s vigorous din. But then I heard the singer give the caveat that he has so much trouble remembering all of their names that he’s been forced to come up with his own nicknames.JimBeam.jpg
Then he had them stand to be acknowledged while he introduced them in turn… as Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Captain Morgan, and Jose Cuervo.
Although the joke fell flat on my motherly ears, I flashed a faint smile to my son, a.k.a. Jim Beam, but he failed to return it or acknowledge in any way that he had noticed our presence. Instead he remained stony-faced, with an expression so flat that one might think the only family ties he had were to Ms. Hatcheck.
As a consolation prize, I listened as Mr. Maglio launched into what we all know to be Mr. Sinatra’s signature song of all time, a tune so well known to people in general and these people in particular that half the crowd joined in on the last line of each verse.
        And now the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
        I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and ev’ry highway
And more… much more than this,
I did it… MY WAY!
CarnegieClubMaglio2.JPG        As he sang, pausing dramatically between key phrases for added emphasis, I drank in the scene – the bright lights, the elegant formalwear of the all-male band, the fumes… It was all just a little intoxicating. The question remained whether we needed to order a drink or two and become genuinely, physically intoxicated.
Although the bartender remained otherwise engaged, the likelihood was that he would descend upon us at any second, and would probably then proceed to add two cover charges to our bill. I also felt more than a little deceitful because I had requested, as Aidan’s parents, that we only stay to hear a song or two, and we’d now heard three.AidanatCarnegieClubfindingmusic.JPG
Most of all, Aidan seemed so bent on completely ignoring us that I feared I should have taken him at his word after all. I really could not have felt much more unwelcome.
I endeavored to catch his eye as we passed him en route to the exit, but he was busy searching through his music for the next song and didn’t appear to take notice.
Still, as unreceptive as he had shown himself to be, I felt a little strange to depart without even saying hello. So I was relieved when my husband mentioned that he was famished. The fact is, with all of our running around, we had barely eaten since brunch.
By now, it was already 11:30, and even in a city that never sleeps most kitchens might be closed. But as we made our way down the block, I had a flash of inspiration.ParkerMeridienlobby.jpg
Across the street was a wide entryway with flags denoting Le Parker Meridien hotel. Aidan had once mentioned to me that he had discovered a secret place within its walls to which he often took girls on dates. Hidden inside this posh hotel’s ground floor atrium, concealed behind velvet curtains in the swanky lobby, was a quaint little nook known as The Burger Joint.
        It was called that because that’s all that it sold.
Despite its stylish location, the place was casual, inexpensive, and full of character. The story he’d told me was that he had once made the mistake of taking someone there on their first date, only to discover upon arrival that this young woman was a vegetarian. I’d been so intrigued by the colorful image he had conjured up that once, when I’d found myself walking in that neighborhood, I’d stopped in to see the place with my own eyes.
It turned out to be just as cool as he’d described it. But I'd never eaten there.Burgerjointcounter.jpg
My husband seemed a little baffled as I led him into the lobby of this opulent hotel. He was so perplexed, in fact, that I felt compelled to confess to him what I had in mind. The problem was that I couldn’t find the place. So we finally had to ask at the front desk.
        The clerk gestured toward a tall curtain just a few feet away. We pulled it aside… and instantly found ourselves in what you would swear was a seedy dive in Key West.
The dingy paneled walls were covered with posters and graffiti, and although there were a few tables and booths, service (which is cash only) was provided strictly at the counter. A large cardboard sign, the closest thing to a menu in sight, offered instructions on how to order.BurgerJointmenu.JPG
“THE FASTEST WAY TO GET IT RIGHT,” it stated in colorful, hand-drawn lettering.
Step 3 entailed specifying “WHAT D’YA WANT ON IT?” and offered a variety of totally standard toppings, from ketchup and mustard to onions and pickles. If you wanted all of the above, as my husband did, you were advised to order THE WORKS.
Although I hadn’t had dinner, I don’t eat much meat, and 11:45 p.m. didn’t seem like the ideal time to down something as heavy as a burger. So I asked my husband if I could simply have a bite or two of his. I soon grew to regret this choice when I heard his name called, then retrieved his dripping order wrapped in paper and watched him unwrap what turned out to be exactly what many a review touts:
        The best burger in NYC.Burgerjointburger.jpg
But I didn’t spend much time wallowing in my non-buyer’s remorse because soon after I had begged for yet a third little bite, my husband’s cell phone rang.
        It was Aidan.
“Where are you guys?” he asked.
He needed no directions to find us. His show, which ended at midnight, had just let out, and within a few minutes he strode in, tuxedo and all, his massive musical instrument case in tow.PattieinBurgerJoint1.JPG
Although this eatery also officially closed at midnight, the grill was still sizzling. But he declined our offer of a burger and even my husband’s eager offer to split a second one.
“You suddenly disappeared,” he noted. “What happened? Why did you leave?”
I shrugged. Why antagonize him by confronting him about his chilly behavior? Perhaps he had just been exhausted from playing, exacerbated by his impaired health, the late hour, and the noxious air in the club.
Or perhaps he had just been distracted and preoccupied with his musician’s duties.
So I simply told him that I felt I could die happy after having heard Maglio’s “My Way,” and described our confrontation with the hatcheck girl.
“Yeah, she’s a bitch,” he allowed.
We sat there chatting for awhile, but he did seem tired and the place was closing. Besides, I had gotten to see my son and finally say hello. I also had gotten my answer.
He may not want to see us that much or that often. But no, he doesn’t hate us.
We were heading east and he was heading west, and you know what they say about the twain. But we walked him a couple of blocks in his direction, braving the light rain that was now falling, until he suddenly hailed a cab.yellowtaxi.jpg
Before getting into it, though, he put down his instrument right on the street and reached down to give me a big hug. “Thanks for coming,” he said. “Love you!”
        With that in mind, I offer these simple instructions for dealing with grown children:
        Step 1: To go or not to go?
        Step 2: Go with your gut.
        Step 3: Hold the whining, hold the kvetching.
        Step 4: Go for THE WORKS and, with luck, love will triumph in the end.
        The next day, when we made plans to meet my college roommate Hallie for lunch, Allegra asked to come along, but Aidan declined to join us. He still felt sick, he said.
No matter. We didn’t play favorites. Like all children everywhere, my son is truly one of a kind. And more… much more than this... he did it HIS WAY!

2:27 pm 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

Pattieinspringoutfitwithflowers.jpgmiceimage1.jpg        Everyone gets spring fever – mice, men, even (God knows) nice Jewish moms.
I don’t know how it is in your neck, knees, or other body parts of the woods, but here in Connecticut we’ve got the fever, and bad. Yes, true spring finally arrived early this week, not just in word but indeed, as the temperature finally pole-vaulted over the 70-degree mark for the first time since last October. It’s also dazzlingly sunny outside, much too temperate after one cold-hearted bitch of a winter to languish indoors in front of a computer screen.Forsythia.JPG
So listen to your mother (well, this mother, anyway): You should be out smelling the roses (or more likely, at this stage of the game and vegetation, the crocuses and forsythia), and enjoying a much-needed respite, too.
        Who knows how long it will last?
        And s
o I’ve decided to give us both a break this week and keep it short and sweet.
To make up for the lack of length and depth, I’m going to throw something new and different your way, a daring experiment in Internet interaction (well, for me, anyway). That is, I am announcing here and now my very first NiceJewishMom.com writing contest ever.WinPrizes.jpg
As with all contests, there are a few rules.
        Even better, there are a few PRIZES!
Read the anecdotes below and then write me back with a similar story of your own. Your tale may or may not take place in a supermarket, as do both of the examples given below. It also may or may not be particularly “Jewy” in any way (although feel free to throw in some entirely gratuitous Jewish details, as I do). But it must involve a strange or otherwise interesting encounter of some sort with a complete stranger.FiftyShadesofGrey.jpg
It also must be truth, not fiction. After all, as we all know, truth is stranger than fiction (except in the case of, say, Fifty Shades of Grey, volumes one, two, and three, or so, at least, I gather. I haven’t actually read one word of that drivel yet).
I also request that you keep it fairly short – let’s say under 1,000 words (unless it’s really all that compelling, in which case you probably ought to be writing a weekly blog of your own).
Just in case you’re wondering, you don’t need to be Jewish to enter. Neither do you need to be a mom (although it would be nice if you are nice).
I’ll print the winning entries here within a few weeks, assuming that I receive any.
I’m not necessarily looking for something shocking or earth-shattering. Real life will do. Just read the stories below, and then I’ll tell you what you really want to hear about: the prizes!
        First, here’s my own experience, an incident which befell me just this past week.
AmyRichMikePatPattieHarlan.jpg        My husband and I were returning late one night from joining our friends Amy, Rich, Pat, and Michael for the opening of the Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival, an annual event that is not to be missed and which continues through this Monday, April 15th (21 films, 10 days, 8 countries; see www.hjff.org for further info).HartfordJewishFilmFestival.jpg
We stopped into a local supermarket, the Big Y, on our way home. I needed to buy the fixings for a salad to bring to my book group, the Shayna Maidels, the next morning.
I was standing in the produce aisle when a young woman I’d never met came up to me and, with some obvious embarrassment and hesitation, began to whisper anxiously.womaninsupermarket2.jpg
"I need to tell you something because I don't want you to buy it," this good Samaritan, a fellow redhead, confided to me anxiously in a hushed voice.
It? I looked down at the bunch of fresh asparagus that I was gripping in my hand and saw with alarm that it was priced at a whopping $4.99 a pound. Were they kidding? She was right. This amounted to highway robbery.Asparagus.jpg
Or perhaps there was something else imperceptibly wrong with it. Those perfectly innocuous-looking emerald stalks might taste bitter or be of dubious origin. So I warily put them back.
But that evidently wasn't the problem at all.
She leaned even closer and whispered right into my ear.
        "A man just put a bunch of bananas into your shopping cart and then kept right on walking as if nothing had happened," she explained.bananas.jpg
She gestured with a faint, almost imperceptible nod in the direction of the culprit, who was now disappearing swiftly and nonchalantly into the bakery section.
“Oh, my God!" I replied with a grimace. "Thank you so much for telling me.”
We’ve all been guilty at one time or another of mistaking someone else’s shopping cart for our own, and God knows there are Looney Tune individuals loose among us everywhere. But I could see we were dealing with an entirely different animal.
And as grateful as I was for her thoughtfulness, I had to tell her.Harlanputtingbananasintocart.JPG
“That man? He’s my husband," I said.
No, I am not going to admit to having a flash of momentary glee at the thought that she had looked at him, then looked at me, and it hadn’t even crossed her mind that there was any way we could be married. So forget I even said that.
RichFechtor.jpg        I decided to send this tale to our friend Rich, whom we'd just seen at the film festival, thinking that he would appreciate it. He’s someone who has always delighted in telling tales of misadventures, mix-ups, and practical jokes himself. But judging from his reply, he was not especially impressed. After all, like most men, he is prone to engage in one-upmanship (or in this case, one-up-momship).
“Here is a (true) and even funnier banana story,” Rich swiftly wrote back to me.
And here it is, folks – exhibit B.
CrownSuperMarket.jpg        “My dad, a notoriously bad supermarket shopper, was sent to The Crown [our local Jewish supermarket] by my mom to pick up a special-order roast,” he began.
“He goes to the rear of the store to pick it up and walks to the front via the produce aisle. He pays for the roast and then decides that he wants some bananas after all.
“So he turns to the guy at the [customer service] booth overlooking the check-out aisles and says, ‘I just bought this, but I don't want to lug it around the store. May I keep it here and go back and get some bananas?’
“The manager says, ‘Sure,’ and my dad does so.
“When he gets back to the check-out aisle, there are yenta ladies in front of him, and he starts to kibbitz with them about how great a store The Crown is. Then he says that he came in for the special.
“ ‘What special?’ they ask.
“He says, ‘You buy a bunch of bananas, and you get a free rib roast.’Ribroast.jpg
“There is obvious disbelief, so he tells them to check out and watch. Then he pays for the bananas, turns to the man behind the counter, and says ‘May I have my rib roast, please?"
“The man gives him the roast. He turns to the ladies and says, ‘See? Told you!’ and leaves the store as a ‘mini-riot’ begins.
        "My bananas beat your bananas, hands down,” Rich concluded.
Sure, I will readily concede that he is top banana in this case, although I didn’t necessarily realize that our little email exchange was a competitive event.
My contest, however, is.
Please email your entries to me at Nicejewishmom@gmail.com by Friday, May 10th.
Please be sure to describe yourself to the extent that you are willing to be identified in print (name, where you live, what you do, and anything else relevant to the situation).NiceJewishMomtshirtfront.jpg
The first prize will be a 100 percent cotton NiceJewishMom.com T-shirt designed by my daughter Allegra (only available in women’s sizes medium, large and extra large, I'm afraid).JewishasaSecondLanguage.jpg
        Second prize is a copy of the book Jewish as a Second Language: How to Worry, How to Interrupt, How to Say the Opposite of What You Really Mean, by Molly Katz 2nd edition (“now bigger, better and with more guilt – would it hurt to have a little more?”).
Third prize is a rib roast. Just kidding. It’s a signed copy of my daughter’s first jazz CD.
Plus, all the winners will get the infinite satisfaction of seeing their words presented in print in this space for all the world (or at least for all of my loyal readers) to see.Bigprize.jpg
Send in as many anecdotes as you like. Seriously. Feel free to go bananas. Winners will be chosen at the sole discretion of Nice Jewish Mom (with probable noodging, negotiating, and other such unwelcome advice from Nice Jewish Dad).
        Thanks for entering. And may the best mom (or non-mom) win!

4:26 pm 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

PattiewithNook.JPG        I am sitting on the sofa innocently reading a book on my Nook when my husband, otherwise known as Nice Jewish Dad, walks through the door, home early from work.
“Gluten bad!” he admonishes me.
Is he kidding? And why is he telling that to me, of all people?
“I don’t think so,” I reply.
It’s late Tuesday afternoon, on the eighth day of Passover, and I have spent much of the day – no, make that the past eight days – counting down the minutes until sundown, when I will be free at last to sink my teeth into a buttered slice of the fresh cranberry walnut loaf sitting on my kitchen counter.cranberrywalnutloaf.JPG
He, meanwhile, has done his own version of “keeping Passover” – haranguing me relentlessly to make him some matzah brei (fried matzah) while he continues to freely consume bread, pasta, cookies, cake, and anything else his heart or stomach desires.HarlanandArthur.JPG
Yet he also has just returned from interviewing our old friend Arthur Agatston, the famed creator of the South Beach Diet, whose latest book, The South Beach Diet Gluten Solution, is due to come out the next day.
I love Arthur. I’m eager to hear about his new book, and am all for better health. But having just gone to torturous lengths to avoid bread, pasta, and all wheat products not of the matzah persuasion, I am not exactly ready to hear about this new book now (so more on that later).SouthBeachDietGlutenSolution.jpg
It hasn’t helped one bit that I’ve been traveling for many of those bread-free days. It’s hard enough to keep Passover, yet almost impossible while you’re away from home. But this year I had little choice. My daughter Allegra had a jazz singing performance in Manhattan during that particular week, and my son Aidan had a short play he’d written produced in Brooklyn. Of course, I want to be a good Jew – a breadless, or, better yet, gluten-free Jew -- but above all, I’m a nice Jewish mom, and my kids always come first.
So I had packed a box or two of matzah, along with some Passover rolls I’d baked myself and other kosher-for-Passover foods, and headed for NYC, hoping for the best.Matzahballsoup1.JPG
I arrived for Allegra’s gig on Thursday evening just in time to help her get dressed. Before she put on the black-and-white-striped vintage gown we had found together last year at Brimfield, the annual famous flea market in Massachusetts, I insisted that she down a nice bowl of my homemade matzah ball soup. She rarely eats anything before she performs, but this gig ran from 9 to 11 p.m., and I wanted to make sure she could keep up her strength.SomethinJazzneonsign.JPG
I also downed a matzah ball or two myself, but had already pretty much made up my mind about a potential Passover food infraction.
        For some reason, Allegra seems to perform these days almost exclusively at Japanese restaurants. I don’t know what it is that makes jazz apparently go with Japanese food, but Tomi Jazz, Toshi’s Lounge, and Somethin’ Jazz Club (situated upstairs from a sushi bar) all seem to know and to have gotten with that program.
And as keen as I was on keeping Passover for eight days, I have one weakness. Bread, pasta, even cupcakes -- those I can easily resist. Sushi? Not so much.sushiimage.jpg
It isn’t so much that I love uncooked fish, although I do. It’s more about what it represents to me.
Long before I was a nice Jewish mom, I was a nice Jewish girl living in New York. Back in those days, I went out to dinner with friends or coworkers almost every night. But when I had no one to eat with, rather than preparing a meal for myself, or sitting in a restaurant all alone, I would routinely opt to go to my favorite neighborhood sushi bar instead.
My feeling was that it was much less awkward (and much less lonely) to sit beside other single people eating raw fish on rice than to occupy a table for two by myself.sushichef2.jpg
During this period, I developed an almost insatiable passion for sushi… and I soon discovered that the shy young sushi chef behind the counter had developed a secret passion for me. Never mind that I would try to economize by ordering the smallest assortment on the menu. He began presenting me with gorgeous, colorful platters fancifully arranged in whimsical patterns, veritable works of art constructed strictly from rice and raw fish.Sushiboat1.jpg
As time went on, his designs became more and more elaborate, and he would often bestow them on me with a flourish as the diners around me broke into applause.
One night, along with the check, he quietly handed me a tiny slip of folded paper. On it, he had hand-written a note in all caps. “You call me when you not busy,” it read.Callme.JPG
I smiled and nodded as I bid him arigato, but inside my heart was sinking faster than a falling star in the sky. I knew at that moment that I could neither lead him on nor continue in good faith to accept his excessive generosity. So rather than gravitating toward this eatery on lonely nights, I began to seek solace and sustenance elsewhere.
Soon after, with luck, I met my husband-to-be. And as much as he claims to enjoy sushi, too, he has never come close to relishing it the way that I do. I crave it so much that I would be happy to eat it every single day. He takes two bites of tekkamaki and he’s done.Allegrawithsushi2.jpg
The upshot is that we never go out for Japanese food. My daughter, however, grew up to be a fellow sushi fanatic and aficionado. So when she entered a music college in Boston, we quickly discovered the sushi spot right across the street. It soon became our routine that I would regularly escape from home to visit her alone, and we would immediately repair to Symphony Sushi for the bento box lunch, or better yet a combination of spicy tuna, raw salmon with avocado, and various fancy rolls of our choosing.
Somehow, sushi got bound up in my mind with the concept of freedom, as though you could wrap up liberation in sticky rice and seaweed and serve it cold with pickled ginger and wasabi. It evolved for me into a symbol of being young and free. And isn’t freedom, after all, what Passover it all about?
        How convenient that I now would get to enjoy both Allegra’s singing and some mouthwatering sushi all in one fell swoop.AllegraatSomethinJazzsmiling.JPG
The other issue was that Somethin’ Jazz, the club at 212 East 52nd St. where she was performing on this particular night, has a $10 cover charge for the music, plus a one-drink minimum. Since I had driven Allegra to the club and intended to drive her back afterwards, I was reluctant to drink any alcohol, and I figured that I would rather spend 20 bucks on sushi than 9 or 10 bucks on a glass of wine that I didn’t even want.
Besides, Sephardic Jews evidently eat rice during Passover. Why not be Sephardic for one night? It seemed like far less of an ethical infraction than biting into a bagel, for sure.
But this night turned out to be different from all other nights, or at least all the other nights on which Allegra had performed at this place. During previous engagements, she’d been the first act of the night, and given that the club is upstairs on the third floor and a little hard to find, there had been few people present. But that night she was the second on the bill, and the first group had attracted a sizable audience, many of whom stayed.AllegraandDanielle.JPG
y friend Liz had chosen to join me there too, and her daughter Danielle, on spring break from Middlebury, had chosen to join us both with five or six classmates in tow.
Altogether, about 30 people assembled, and the club’s Japanese manager, who presumably hadn’t anticipated this, found himself totally short-staffed, to say the least. He was the only person available to both take orders and prepare all of the drinks. 
On top of that, he seemed to speak limited English (even more limited than had my former secret admirer, the sushi chef who loved me). When I told him that I wanted only water to wash down my sushi, he reacted with a minor tirade, and although we couldn’t understand a word that he said, Liz soon surmised that the sushi, to be procured from the restaurant downstairs, would in no way pad his coffers, so I was required to order something alcoholic whether I wanted it or not… never mind that I’d gotten away with it the last time.
I continued to feebly gesture to him that I was Allegra’s mother, I was driving, and I didn’t want to drink. He remained stony-faced, however, until I uttered the magic word.Whitewine.jpg
Then, somehow, he failed to produce my glass of it for well over an hour. Good thing I hadn’t really wanted it, anyway. He finally brought it over during the intermission. To my greater frustration, he still didn’t bring the sushi, though, even after the second set began.
I’d placed my order just after 9. The menu stated that the kitchen closed at 10:30. Yet at 10:45, he came over and said something like, “Sushi come, 5 minutes, promise!”
Had my daughter not been performing there, and had I not been hungry enough to eat almost anything, chametz or otherwise, I would have told him not to bother. But just as Allegra launched into her last song of the night, he suddenly appeared with a bowl of miso soup and the assortment I had ordered, including my favorite, eel with cucumber.Sushiplate.jpg
The upside was that after singing for two hours, Allegra was even more ravenous than I was. And when she bounded off the stage moments later, the sushi was still cold and fresh and still mostly intact. So we ended up polishing off the platter together.
Then, still hungry, and having already declared ourselves temporarily Sephardic, we headed off with Liz and Allegra’s friends in search of, yes, more Japanese food.Juniorsrestaurant.JPG
No such luck the next night, when we convened for dinner before Aidan’s play. It was being produced in Brooklyn, on the campus of Long Island University, where he’s getting his MFA in television writing. And the only restaurant in close proximity was Junior’s.
This nearly iconic institution may be a Mecca for cheesecake lovers everywhere, but it is just as celebrated for its diner food and deli sandwiches. Southern delicacies also seemed to dominate the menu, and I watched in horror as our waiter deposited a large plate stacked with cornbread in the center of our table beside the kosher pickles.Cornbreadplate.jpg
My husband dove in eagerly, downing two large squares of it as Allegra and I watched with a mixture of horror and envy. Corn, for whatever reason, is also verboten during Pesach, making this treat the worst of both worlds. Then again, boy, did it look good!
y husband then proceeded to order something equally off-limits to us, a corned beef and pastrami sandwich, giving careful instructions that the corned beef be placed on one side of the roll it was to be served on, and the pastrami on the other.
Was he kidding? How cruel and insensitive could he be?Ilene.jpg
Perusing the menu, I saw little if anything that could pass for Kosher for Passover, other than the potato pancakes with applesauce requested by our dear Cousin Ilene, who had joined us for dinner and the play. To me, this sounded less like dinner than a mere side dish, though (even if the portion soon proved to be Gargantuan). Besides, my eyes suddenly lit on something that sounded far more compelling.
        Eggplant Parmesan.EggplantParmesan.jpg
It isn’t just that I happen to love this veggie concoction. Far more significant was that my mother loved it, along with all things eggplant, to the extent that she would invariably order anything available featuring the bulbous purple vegetable.
This past Friday, April 5, happened to be her fourth yahrzeit (anniversary of her death), soBunnieat53.jpg she’d been on my mind even more than usual lately (the usual being a helluva lot). In fact, if anything, I’d venture that I've begun to miss her even more now, if possible, because so much has happened in the last four years that I long to tell her about.
It also kills me that she isn’t around to participate in significant family moments, like the production of one of her adored grandchildren’s plays. So try to understand that, as with the sushi, the issue was less about the food itself than what the food symbolized. To me, it felt like ordering eggplant was tantamount to having Grandma Bunnie right at the table with us.AllegraatSouthofPower.jpg
Yet Allegra narrowed her eyes and shot me a disapproving look bordering on disbelief when I requested it. “Doesn’t that have bread crumbs?” she stage-whispered.
“Eh! Just a dusting,” I replied, even though I’ve been making that dish for decades and know perfectly well that every single eggplant cylinder gets liberally coated with them before being fried in oil.
The same might also be said for the fried chicken that she went ahead and ordered. And wouldn’t Liz’s Asian chicken salad come sprinkled with those fried noodles?Lizheadshot2.JPG
There was little time to cast any further aspersions on each other’s dinner choices, though, because by the time our meals had arrived we barely had time to Hoover, Dyson, or otherwise ingest them. It was nearly curtain time!Aidanatseder.jpg
As I have noted, Aidan has had two other one-acts produced in New York in the past, in conjunction with another theater competition, the Strawberry One-Act Festival. His new play was a sequel to the second of these plays, which was entitled Clap On, Clap Off.
In that bedroom farce, Avi, a nice Jewish high school senior, pays a visit to his grandmother, having promised to water her plants while she takes a lengthy trip with her Mensa group to see Fiddler on the Roof. He brings his girlfriend Shelly along to meet her, only to have Grandma Muriel thoroughly humiliate him by wiping shmutz off his face, calling Shelly a shiksa to her face, and reminiscing ad infinitum about her love life with his late Grandpa Mendel. But ClapOn2.JPGfinally she departs, leaving Avi and Shelly alone together – presenting the perfect opportunity for them to consummate their own love life at last, aided and abetted by the lights in Grandma’s apartment, which flicker on and off strategically via that inimitable device known as The Clapper.
        Aidan’s new play, I’d been told, revisits the same young couple five years later, when the lights go off again in Lower Manhattan during last fall’s power outage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Hence the title, “South of Power,” which he had aptly subtitled “A Dark Comedy.”ClapOnClapOff2.jpg
This sounded to me like fertile ground for more hilarity to ensue, and indeed it turned out to be… and I don’t say that just because I happen to be the author’s mother.
Even so, and as non-PC as it may be, I have to confess to having a moment of mild culture shock (far exceeding anything related to a dusting of bread crumbs) when the actors who’d been cast in the lead roles first strode onstage.
Having seen the original play twice, and watched the video version of it multiple times, I was almost married to the images of the actor and actress who’d originated those roles.
So I was a bit taken aback to discover that Shelly had undergone a slight physical transformation… and I am not referring to the fact that her hair was a whole lot shorter.SouthofPowerimage1.JPG
        The LIU student who portrayed her now could not have been much more appealing, though, as the young woman who finds herself competing relentlessly for her distracted boyfriend’s attention with his arsenal of technical devices, particularly the robotic female voice of Siri on his iPhone (“It’s like she’s your secretary you see on the side – only right in front of me!” she laments). And within moments I had completely adjusted to the shift in shiksas.
The fellow playing opposite her was also very capable as Avi, a young newspaper reporter and confirmed workaholic, not unlike Aidan, who argues in the throes of the raging storm that “The end of the world is a terrible excuse to miss my deadline.” He then valiantly defends his devotion to Siri by noting her many virtues as a virtual companion.SouthofPowerimage2.JPG
“She’s easy to get along with, has an excellent sense of direction, and always knows the score of the Knicks game, even when we’re out to dinner,” he observes.
However, as Aidan later confirmed, the actor apparently was not only not Jewish himself, but had never even seen a Woody Allen movie. So he may have missed some of the subtle nuances of his character’s neurosis as he totally unravels while grappling with lack of light and electricity (admittedly even more challenging than lack of bread).Yahrzeitcandle.jpg
’m not sure that the fellow even appreciated the full extent of Avi’s romantic gaffe when he disappears in search of some mood lighting and returns with a Yahrzeit candle.
No matter. We all enjoyed the entire play thoroughly, as well as the two other winning entries with which it was presented.Juniorscheesecakes.JPG
In fact, we were in such high spirits afterwards that we decided to return to the scene of the bread-crumb crime, Junior’s, to cap the evening off by getting one of those famous cheesecakes to go. Never mind that cheesecake routinely has graham cracker crust. This version didn’t appear to have crust of any kind. And even if it did, it couldn’t have been more than a dusting. Wasn’t it good enough that we genuinely believed we were still well within the boundaries of adhering to bread depravation?Challahfrenchtoastwithpancakes.jpg
        Don't worry
, I’m not going to bore you with the particulars of every single meal I ate while we were away. But I must tell you that when we went to Trellis, our favorite Sunday brunch spot on Roosevelt Island, Allegra and I found ourselves salivating with envy as we watched a woman at the next table devour a generous helping of challah French toast dripping with maple syrup, which came with  -- I kid you not -- pancakes on the side.Freud.jpg
(Freud, as we all know, thought that women were consumed with penis envy. Ha! I’m here to tell you that during Passover, pancake envy is really what it’s all about.)
But we dutifully settled for matzah, which was available almost everywhere in NYC that week. And when I returned home that night, it was back to matzah pizza and its unleavened ilk.
Which brings us back to Tuesday night.  And The South Beach Diet Gluten Solution.
As Dr. Agatston notes in this book, issues with gluten are far more rampant than any of us might expect. “In my cardiology practice, I have been amazed at the number of patients who have gluten sensitivity and who have gone undiagnosed for many years," he says.ArthurAgatston.jpg
When these people ingest gluten – the major protein in all forms of wheat, as well as barley, rye, and a wheat-rye cross called triticale – it can trigger all sorts of unwelcome consequences, "including stomach pains, diarrhea, heartburn, body aches, headache, skin rashes, fatigue, brain fog and depression," he states, “and sometimes lead to or exacerbate chronic illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.”
What’s more, it has become clear that there’s a connection between the new epidemic of gluten sensitivity and the rising prevalence of obesity and diabetes, “two related and reversible conditions that have been the principle focus of my earlier South Beach Diet books."PattiebreakingPassover3.JPG
        I am all for exploring my own possible gluten issues, and am eager to read the book and learn how I might lead a healthier lifestyle by limiting my gluten consumption. Plus I certainly wouldn’t mind, as the book promises, losing a little weight -- up to 10 pounds in two weeks.
However, with the taste of the much-missed bread that I finally got to deliriously devour still lingering in my mouth and my mind, I'm not quite ready to do that just yet.toast.jpg
After a week-plus of prolonged wheat product depravation, I feel like I deserve a little more time off (by which I mean time on, with gluten) for good behavior – well, pretty good behavior, anyway. Don’t you?

8:43 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.