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Friday, June 21, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

Underwater.jpg        In case you’re wondering what happened to me last week, let’s just say that I was under water. Literally.
        When last you left me, I was delirious with relief that my son Aidan, after endless tsuris and an agonizingly prolonged delay,AidanatBrownreunionheadshot.jpg finally had been given the green light to move into his nice new apartment in Brooklyn. No sooner did I return from the bank, though, where I’d gone to get the guarantor’s agreement notarized, than my husband informed me of yet another dreaded obstacle to overcome in the Odyssey that is my life.
“Bad news down here!” he called as I walked euphorically through the door.
I braced myself for disaster. And that’s exactly what was down there, waiting to douse me.Latkeinwetbasement.JPG
The basement was flooded. Even Latke, our Portuguese Water Dog, was alarmed, and she's supposed to like things to be wet.
        As they say, when one door closes, another door opens, allowing about a gazillion gallons of unwanted water to gush in. OK, maybe that’s not exactly what “they” say. Also, what had put out the welcome mat for that water wasn’t a door, but our sump pump, which had chosen this particular moment to punk out and go kaflooey.NoahsArk.jpg
Never mind that we hadn’t had one single drop of water trickle into our basement for the past 14 years, ever since the last time it had flooded, soon after we’d moved in. There had been endless rain in the Northeast for days – enough to make our sump pump mutiny and to convince me that maybe I should make like Noah, that archetypal Ark type, and start building a big-ass boat. Our lawn was totally saturated and then some.
        Fools rush in, they say. Well, evidently, so does water. And in this case, that water had nowhere else to go but in.Manonstationarybike.jpg
I don’t know which thing was more shocking – to race downstairs and discover the deluge, or to find my husband right in the middle of it, working out on his stationary bike. Come hell or high water – and in this case, it was both – the guy has his clear priorities. And they clearly aren’t always mine.
Not skipping a beat, I dashed back upstairs to the garage. When some good friends moved to NYC last year, we became the proud new owners of various and sundry possessions that they had been unable to dispose of otherwise. RichardTuckeralbum.JPGThis included some priceless old phonograph records, notably Cantorial Jewels: Six Greatest Hebrew Prayers, sung by world-renowned cantor and Metropolitan Opera star Richard Tucker, and 40 Favorite Jewish Melodies, featuring the Music League of Tel Aviv. But what seemed truly invaluable at this particular moment was their old wet/dry shop vac.
Hauling it back downstairs, I urged my husband to phone Servpro, the damage-repair company known for the catchy motto “Like it never even happened,” which he promptly did while still peddling away, disproving the widely believed myth that men can’t multitask.
Given the previous day’s downfall, they said that we were way down on their list, and we'd be lucky if they made it over that night, or even during our lifetime.Boilerroom2.JPG
The water appeared to be gushing in from the boiler room, which was four inches deep with assorted detritus floating around in it. The sump pump, which under normal circumstances would’ve bailed the water out, appeared to be fast asleep. As useless as it might seem, I jiggled it gently, hoping to awaken it back to life. No dice.Pattiewithshopvac1.JPG
So I plugged in the shop vac and began vacuuming the heck out of the carpet. I started off in the corner beside the bathroom, which was now a good two inches deep itself.
I chose that location because it appeared to be the wettest place in the very wet room. Emptyingshopvac.JPGIt was also the spot in closest proximity to the sink and toilet, a crucial thing, since every few minutes I’d have to stop vacuuming and empty out gallons of gross, filthy water.
        The off-white, medium pile carpeting was now even further off from white, although it wasn’t fully submerged anywhere, exactly; it was merely a minefield of little lakes and gullies. And no matter how often I went over any particular lake or gully, it seemed to remain sopping wet.
It was so soaked, in fact, that we began to suspect that water was still flooding in.
        This prompted m
y husband to call back Servpro, which told him that there was no real point in their coming over until the influx had subsided – not encouraging news, since more heavy rain was expected almost daily throughout the coming week.Sisyphus.jpg
So I continued to attack the spillage, even though it made me feel like Sisyphus, pushing a giant boulder up a steep hill only to have it roll right back down ad infinitum.
        At least b
y this time my husband had completed his workout efforts, and with a more than a modicum of whining, kvetching, and other forms of vigorous cajoling from me, he took over manning the vac. Meanwhile, I found a small, old dehumidifier and turned it on to maximum speed. I also blanketed a portion of the wet carpeting with old towels, then would wring them out as best I could and lay them out all over again.Toweloncarpet.JPG
No matter how hard we tried, though, all these efforts proved to be all but useless. It felt about as effective as if we'd been trying to soak up the ocean with a sponge.
So after a few hours, we finally gave up. It was a Saturday in summer, after all, and blindingly sunny outside. So we took a break and brought the dog to a local fair.
At the fair, which had rides, fried everything, and booths touting local CelebrateWestHartford.jpgbusinesses, we tracked down a plumbing company. It agreed to send someone to repair our errant sump pump, but we balked at paying the astronomical surcharge to get service over the weekend. By now, the damage was done, anyway. So we agreed to wait until Monday.
Big mistake.Pattiewithwetvac3.JPG
On Sunday, I was relieved to see that the water had gone down in the boiler room. But hours of wielding the wet vac again made no visible dent in the rest of the area. Once again, I jiggled the sump pump, to no visible avail. A nice Jewish plumber I’m not.
On Monday, just before noon, the plumber arrived. He too jiggled the sump pump. Being an actual licensed plumber, though, he didn’t just give it a wimpy jiggle, like I had. He jiggled it nice and hard. Instantly, it began to vibrate and kicked into action, as though it had merely been napping.
Who knew?Plumberjigglingsumppump.JPG
He offered to put in a new pump anyway. This, however, would’ve set us back nearly $400, and now that the other one was whirring away, I figured, why replace it? Since we were obligated to pay him handsomely just for showing up, he fiddled around with the old one instead, adding supports so it hopefully wouldn’t fail again. That cost $180.watermelon.jpg 
After he left, I spent several more hours doing my thing with the vac and towels. Every time I reached down, though, the carpeting felt as wet as a slice of juicy watermelon.
At this point, I was ready to call in the cavalry – Servpro, that is – but my husband insisted on continuing to wait, convinced that the basement might still flood anew.
It poured again that night, and much of Tuesday as well, but not into our basement. After wasting a few more hours trying to dry the carpet, I realized it was a losing battle.Pattiewithwetvac6.JPG
By now, I had invested so much time and energy in this endeavor, though, that it had become a mission. How could I simply call in the pros, and admit that I had wasted all that effort?
Besides, we nice Jewish moms aren’t in the habit of asking anyone for help. We’re more in the business of offering help to others, whether they want it or not.
There’s something else I haven’t admitted yet, mostly because it’s too embarrassing.Allegras11thbirthdayparty.JPG
For years, that spacious finished basement had provided the perfect refuge for our two kids, ideal for hanging out with friends after school and holding teenage parties. Equipped with a pullout sofa and full bath, it also had done double duty as a guestroom.
But in recent years, it slowly had evolved into what might best be described as our own personal town dump. Every year, when the kids returned from college, they would deposit all of their clothes,Pingpongtablecovered.JPG books, housewares, and other worldly possessions down there, never to be retrieved again. And when my mother had died, I’d stored much of her clothing and personal effects there too, figuring that someday I would sort them out.
Then there were the boxes. Not boxes full of anyone’s stuff.  Empty boxes, I mean.
Every time I purchased something online, I’d store the empty box in the basement, convinced that I might need it someday. Maybe I’d have to mail something to one of the kids, or send someone a gift. Who wants to pay for boxes when you already have perfectly good ones sitting right in your own house?
That’s the way it seemed to me, at least.
        Seriously, am I the only one who does that?Tangledribbon.jpg
I also had managed to accumulate over the years, by conservative estimate, a few hundred colorful gift bags, several thousand yards of Chanukah and birthday wrapping paper, and enough ribbon to encircle the earth multiple times and still reach Uranus.
By some miracle, most of all that hazzerei had managed to remain dry. However, I assumed that if the pros came, they wouldn’t just remove the wet sections of carpeting. They’d remove all of it, obliging me to remove everything that was on top of it. After all, you can’t just re-carpet part of a room. With wall-to-wall carpeting, it’s kind of all or nothing.
I wasn’t ready to deal with those heaps of stuff. They would take weeks to sort out, anyway.
Then there was a whole other issue. The real elephant in the room (a room so cluttered that you probably couldn't have found an elephant had one been in it).Boilerroomunderwater.JPG
My insurance agent had warned me that we should think twice before reporting the claim to our insurance company, because if we did they might not renew our policy.Catch22.jpg
It’s one of those crazy Catch 22 things, I guess, where you need to have insurance just in case something terrible happens, but when something terrible happens you don’t dare report it because you might get canceled, and then you’d have no more insurance.
We couldn’t afford to report it, but we couldn’t afford to not report it and pay for it ourselves. How’s that for Catch 22s?
        So I came up with a clever new plan.
I didn’t need Servpro, or any other pros, to come. I just needed a better shop vac.shopvac.jpg
I found one at Walmart for only 50 bucks. But when I tried to assemble it that night, I discovered that one of its four legs was missing. Would this curse upon us never end? I was too beat to drive back to the store, and decided to exchange it the next morning.
But then, on Wednesday morning, I suddenly came to my senses.
Even a four-legged shop vac was not going to do the trick, I realized. It was time to issue an SOS (Send Over Someone!) fast.
        I found a local firm online that advertised its expertise in salvaging wet carpeting. And when Kevin, its sole proprietor, arrived that afternoon, he sounded encouraging.Kevinmeasuringmoisture.JPG
He believed that his industrial-strength vacuums would be able to extract all the moisture out of both our carpeting and the pads below it, and he promised do the job for under $1,000.
“Do it!” I said.
Then I pointed out a pair of futon mattresses sitting on the floor that had become so waterlogged that my husband and I had been unable to lift them.
He noticed a trace of evil-looking, greenish mold along the surface of one of them. If there was mold there, then there was probably mold growing almost everywhere.
        Uh oh. wetfutons.jpg
The odds of salvation had changed, he said, and not in our favor. We had waited too long.
When water gets into your house, time is of the essence, he explained. It's best to get help within 24 hours. Our basement had now been wet for more than four days.
So Kevin summoned his friend Danny, whose company specializes in disaster restoration. After measuring the humidity in the surrounding walls, he told me that the moisture had seeped not just in, but up. It would be necessary not only to remove all the carpeting, but two feet of drywall, too.Dannymeasuringmoisture2.JPG
he ground water that had poured in was considered “black” water, he told us, meaning that it was probably contaminated. There was also a high probability that mold was already proliferating behind the walls. If we didn’t take action soon, we faced all sorts of  health hazards and complications down the road.Blackwater.jpg
If we didn’t deal with it properly now, our whole house might become uninhabitable.
The estimate he sent me that night came to just over $6,000. Fortunately, we had $5,000 of insurance coverage, after a $1,000 deductible.
Unfortunately, this estimate did not include replacing the drywall or carpeting. That would run several thousand more. But time was of the essence, and what choice did we have?
“Do it!” I said.
I only asked that he give me one day to clear out as much of the room as possible. 
That day happened to be my husband’s birthday. Some birthday! At least he’d get to go to the office all day while I tackled the dirty work.Cleaningladies.jpg
Lucky for me, though, I would not have to do it alone. My cleaning ladies were scheduled to visit that day. “Never mind the house,” I told Margaret and Magda when they arrived. We needed to completely empty the basement, pronto.
The work they did that day was no less than heroic. I kept trying to sift through the piles and bags, painstakingly examining assorted memorabilia in fear that I’d overlook some treasure. But Magda, the younger of these two stalwart Polish ladies, had no patience for that.
“Is garbage!” she declared each time I began to dawdle or tried to salvage some soggy memento. (And she was right, considering the amount of mouse droppings we discovered inside the closets and underneath many of those piles, which I absolutely am not going to admit to here. It’s bad enough being a confirmed packrat. Do we have to have actual rodents?)
By the time my husband got home, the “town dump” was nearly all dumped out.Harlandistressed.jpg
He still seemed despondent and in an unusually sour mood as we headed out for a long-planned birthday dinner with some close friends that night.
        The truth was that I had been a borderline basket case for the entire week myself. But finally taking action after days of indecision and inertia had energized me and helped me attain a fresh, more balanced perspective.Pattiewithnewattitude.JPG
“Snap out of it!” I told him. There were people in New Jersey, Oklahoma, and elsewhere in the past year who had lost their homes and all their worldly possessions. We had merely suffered some damage to our basement, a room that we rarely used, and had been forced to get rid of a whole lot of stuff that we didn’t need anymore and would be better off without.
Yes, that would cost us some serious dough, and we probably wouldn’t get to take a summer vacation. But no one was sick. No one had died. We’d just been obliged to do some long-overdue purging and to trash some old carpeting that was stained, anyway.
And within a few weeks, life would go on again as usual, only with a lot less junk.
Dannyremovingjunk.JPG        Danny and his crew of guys arrived the next morning with 16 heavy-duty fans, two “air scrubbers,” and four mammothGiantfan.JPG dehumidifiers that put my dinky little one to shame. They soon began ripping out the flooring and doing loud, heavy demolition on the walls.
They also finished hauling out all of the detritus I hadn't quite gotten to, although in the back of a deep closet they finally did unearth some genuine treasure.
        There, in a plastic laundry bin, had been stored about two dozen photos of my daughter, which I’d framed and put on the tables a decade ago when she’d had her bat mitzvah.FramedoldphotoofAllegra.JPG
Talk about priceless!
Then those huge fans roared for four days and four nights, which felt like 40 days and nights.
        But now the room is dry.
The most unnerving thing is that we carried everything that we just couldn’t bear to part with upstairs, and now our living room and dining room look like the town dump.Dumpsterindriveway.JPG
But with a four-ton dumpster  parked in our driveway, we have continued to purge. I even got the kids to remove some of their junk when they came home for Father’s Day… although, to my enormous exasperation, when they asked for some empty boxes to cart it all away in, I suddenly no longer had any!Mylivingroomasdump.JPG
        And tomorrow, another crew arrives to start the restoration. I’m not sure what we’ll put down on that basement floor, but I know it won’t be carpeting.
        Especially carpeting that is any shade of white.
As for me, I not only have managed to write this week, but to maintain my new and improved attitude. For ever since I changed my perspective, I’ve been feeling better.
I’ve also learned a few lessons:
Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you really need it, and sometimes even Jewish mothers really do.
A stitch in time saves nine, not to mention having to call your insurance company.
If at first a little jiggling doesn’t do the trick, try jiggling a little harder.treasure.jpg
But mostly, sometimes it takes a little adversity to make you count your blessings.
And dump your crap.
I’ve now dumped four tons of it. And soon will have my life and my living room back.
Maybe that’s my true treasure.

1:17 pm 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Word From the Weiss
        The story I am about to tell involves a whole lot of parties and a whole lot of beer – free beer, in fact, which might arguably be the best kind – so while you’re reading it and looking at all of the cute pictures, please keep in mind that I didn’t drink one sip of it, being someone who prefers a fine whine while I’m sipping a passably drinkable wine.PattieinNapatoasting3.JPG
Besides, as everyone knows, you’re only as happy as your least happy kid, and your contentment quotient can actually sink below zero in that respect if you’re a nice Jewish mom. I just thought I should mention that in case you hear about all the partying I did last weekend and imagine that I was actually enjoying myself.
It all started when we received an unexpected invitation to a graduation party that my cousin Michael and his lovely wife Pagan were throwing for their kids, who were graduating from college (son Alex) and high school (daughter Rachel) at the same time. To be honest, we don’t really know their children all that well. Since they live a full four hours away, just outside of Philadelphia, beyond the annual holiday photo card that they send we’ve only seen them a handful of times, at bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings.Graduationpartyinvite.JPG
Yet Michael and I grew up together, and as I’ve mentioned, Nice Jewish Dad and I get so few invitations that I’m just a nice Jewish mom who can’t say no. Also, especially compelling to me was that Michael’s parents would be there. My Uncle Gerard, my late father’s older brother, had turned 87 in February and spent much of the past winter down in Florida ailing and in the hospital. I hadn’t laid eyes on him in over a year and wasn’t about to turn down a rare chance to do it now.Harlangrinnedandboreit.JPG
        Of course, there were other considerations. My husband, to begin with. As decent and understanding as he tends to be about spending time with my relatives, just as I always am about spending time with his, I could tell that he was putting on a good face about having to drive eight hours roundtrip just for that purpose on a steamy weekend.
Can you blame him?Aidanrefusedourhelp.jpg
My first inspiration was to break up the trip by helping our son move that weekend. Aidan was leaving his longtime shared digs in Manhattan for his first solo apartment in Brooklyn. But he said that he could manage just fine on his own with a little help from his sister, whom he had already recruited for the job, and he staunchly refused our offer of help.
Could you blame him?
Then I had another idea.
I checked online and, sure enough, it happened to also be reunion weekend at Princeton University, my husband’s alma mater. Granted, it wasn’t a big year for him. (Who in their right mind goes back to their college to celebrate their 47th?) Also, we’d just been down there only two years ago, for his 45th. Wasn’t that more than enough?
Then again, we'd enjoyed ourselves that time more than I would’ve expected. And my husband’s friend Jay, whom we rarely got to see, would be there.
Besides, we pass right by Princeton on our way to Philadelphia from Connecticut. So soon we were embarking on our second graduation/reunion weekend in a row.
This would be nothing like the weekend we’d just endured in Providence, though. Gone were the forecasts of frigid air and soggy skies. Now we were in for a real scorcher.pregnant-redhead-unhappy.jpg
Good thing that I had managed to book a hotel just a few miles from Princeton. The first time that I’d gone to one of my husband’s reunions, his 20th, it also had been sweltering. But I’d been foolish enough to agree to economize by staying in the dorms. There was no a/c, the beds were narrow metal bunk beds, and I was seven months pregnant.
It turned out to be a brutally humid, weekend-long beer party, and being with child I couldn’t drink a sip even if I had wanted to. After that, I refused to return for 15 years.
        And I made sure to book a hotel from then on.womanwithfolder.jpg
Before leaving for this one, we checked in with Aidan, and things were not too cool with him, either. He’d put down a deposit on a terrific one-bedroom near the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens on May 20th. But the woman responsible for approving his rental application had gone on vacation shortly after and been unable to review it. I’d been anxious that moving day would come and go and he wouldn’t have signed a lease yet.
I wasn’t just being a noodge or worrywart. His dad and I were happy to serve as guarantors on the apartment should he be turned down, but we couldn’t produce all of the necessary financial documents at the drop of a hat, let alone while we were away. He’d kept assuring me that the situation was sure to get resolved in time. But by the time we left on Friday afternoon, it hadn’t.
This was beyond unsettling, because Aidan had to be out of his old place on Saturday, June 1, no matter what. He also admitted that he had tons of packing left to do. I wished that I hadn’t taken him at his word and had persuaded him to let us help. But we had hotel reservations and plans. It was a little too late to change course now.Princetontiger.jpg
We finally arrived at our hotel and stopped to change. It wasn’t just that we wanted to freshen up after over three hours on the road. We didn’t dare set foot anywhere near the campus in clothes that didn’t reflect the hues of the Princeton mascot, a tiger.Princetonsocks.jpg
Having been down this road many a time before, we knew the drill and had accumulated an extensive orange and black wardrobe just for this purpose. I’m not only referring to my husband’s countless pairs of orange and black socks with tiger stripes. I also had innumerable black and orange tops, sweaters, scarves, dresses, and even jewelry. If you didn’t know better, you might just assume that my favorite holiday was Halloween.Princetongeezerongolfcart.jpg
And don’t imagine for a second that we were alone in such fashion folly. You know how I asked, “Who in their right mind goes back to their college to celebrate their 47th reunion?” Well, that was what’s called a rhetorical question because I knew the answer: Princeton grads do. Many of them go back for their 47th, and also their 27th, 37th, 57th, 67th and every number before and in between, provided that they’re still alive and kicking. (No, never mind the kicking part; I saw many a guy in wheelchairs and on golf carts.)
I’d venture that these reunions may be the best attended anywhere on earth, bar none. More than 24,000 alums, family and friends were expected to show up this year.HarvardmascotJohnHarvard.jpg
They’re infinitely more popular than those at my alma mater, although that ain’t sayin’ much and isn’t a fair comparison, because Brandeis is much smaller and was founded in 1948, versus Princeton, which goes back over two centuries more, to 1746. Then again, Harvard dates back even further, to 1636, and I would be amazed if it draws tens of thousands of people each year dressed in crimson or like its “mascot,” John Harvard.PattieinPrincetondress2.JPG
My husband said that the dress I put on at the hotel was much too dressy for the pizza party to which we were invited. I said that I didn’t care. Black and orange are black and orange, and when at Princeton you’re good to go as long as the twain shall meet.
I was also very proud of this particular dress, since it not only incorporated those two key colors, but also featured patches of a black and white animal print. Grrrrrr!
If you ask me, the shirt he put on was not only too dressy as well, but simply wrong. Because nearly every other man at the party was wearing an entirely different animal – a bowling-style shirt in a black and orange leopard print, issued for their 35th reunion.
When we arrived at the party, held behind one of my husband’s classmate’s homes, we discovered that, to our surprise, we had become grandparents. And before you respond with a chorus of mazel tovs, let me point out that this occurred without either of our 20-something children getting married, let alone producing any offspring.
Allow me to explain.HarlaninPradewithsign.JPG
My husband’s class, the grads of 1966, had evidently chosen to adopt the 1,360 students in this year’s freshman class as their “grandchildren,” with the understanding that they will graduate in 2016, the year that we’ll return to celebrate his 50th reunion. The idea was also, I was told, that a normal generation is 25 years long, so this class was two generations behind us – in other words, perfectly aged to be our "grandkids."
Never mind that I’m 10 years younger than my husband, and that my daughter, at 23, was only five years older than most of them. Just call me NiceJewishGrandma.com .
My husband caught up with several old chums at this illustrious event. This included a classmate named Mike, who said he was sleeping in a dorm room in bunk beds, and that the other bunk in his room was occupied by someone he had never met.JayandHarlanwithtiger.JPG
It also included his good pal Jay, a talented sculptor who had traveled there all the way from Martha’s Vineyard with the funky life-sized tiger statue he had fashioned for the event and who’d be spending each night in a sleeping bag in the back of his SUV.
Unlike me, none of their wives had consented to come. I can only wonder why.TinyMorganandHarlan.JPG
A classmate long known as “Tiny” Morgan was also there. I have no idea where he was sleeping, but if it was in the top bunk, then I have a tiny word of advice: “Look out below!"
        After dinner, we wandered over to the campus because the night was still young and we had many more parties to attend. Never mind any image you may have of Princeton grads as preppy, snotty Ivy League stiffs. They don’t just dress like tigers. When they get together for reunions every June, they go wild.
And I do mean WILD!Singersintigerminidresses.JPG
There were outdoor keggers being held in tents throughout the vast campus, each with its own live band loudly holding forth. (Nearly 40 different musical acts were scheduled to perform over the weekend.) We danced at one, which featured a trio of singers in tiger-print mini-dresses, to rousing Madonna and Michael Jackson medleys , followed by an amalgamation of Motown hits (“Baby love, my baby love…”), and the occasional current top 40-type dance tune, most notably British rocker Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite”:
        I throw my hands up in the air sometimes,
        Saying AYO! Gotta let go!
        I wanna celebrate and live my life,
        Saying AYO! Baby, let's go!
'Cause we gon' rock this club,
        We gon' go all night, we gon' light it up,
        Like it's dynamite!
        'Cause I told you once,
        Now I told you twice,
        We gon' light it up,
        Like it's dynamite!...

Then we went to another tent and danced to those same songs all over again.PattieinPrincetondress.JPG
As much as even the geezer set there likes to party hearty, this was Princeton, after all, and the class of ’63, which was out in full force celebrating its 50th reunion, also had put out an extensive display of the innumerable books written by its members.
My husband had regaled me over the years with stories about how he had failed to fit in at the school, largely because there had been so few other Jews. So I was excited to notice a series of books there by someone named Steven L. Kaplan, who was evidently an expert on France and French bread… and presumably a fellow Jew.StevenKaplanbreadbook.JPG
Even though some of his books were written in French, I quickly managed to identify him in the crowd by the cover photo on one of his many volumes. My husband urged me to go introduce myself and tell him about my website, but I refused. So he took one of my business cards and strode right up to him and did it himself.
“You like bread. We like matzah balls!” was his opening gambit. Kaplan laughed.
Then we all launched into a lengthy chat, based strictly on our all being Jewish.
I pointed out that the winning word in the Scripps National Spelling Bee had just been “knaidel,” which had been defined as a kind of dumpling.
        “Dumpling?” I scoffed. “They’re matzah balls!”MyNameIsAsherLevbookcover.jpg
He told us that he and his wife lived in Paris, but had flown into NYC for the reunion and managed to see Old Jews Telling Jokes, as well as My Name Is Asher Lev, based on the best-selling book by Chaim Potok. Then he divulged that when he was growing up, his Hebrew teacher had been Chaim Potok. Of course, this was long before Chaim Potok became CHAIM POTOK. Back then, he was just another young Jewish guy (something that Kaplan also had found to be in painfully short supply at Princeton).
But soon it was time to bid farewell, not just to our newfound friend and landsman, but to Princeton itself for the night. We had to be up early for more reunion activities.
On the way back to our hotel, we phoned Aidan. He said that the realty office had closed for the night without ruling on whether or not he could move in. He still, however, was obliged to move out.
The next morning, we raced back to attend a lecture by economist Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist and an eminently popular Princeton professor. Unfortunately, we slightly misjudged the extent of this popularity and ended up not in the auditorium that had Krugman live, nor the lecture hall featuring a televised simulcast, but the lecture hall with the run-over from the televised simulcast. And even this was full.Pattiewithdogsculpture2.JPG
Afterwards, we took in some of the sights and sounds of the wildlife on campus. Then we explored the plethora of stylish boutiques around town, in one of which I fell for a nifty new necklace, which was not only orange and black, but also blue, yellow, purple, pink and green.NecklacefromPrinceton.JPG
But soon it was time to assemble for the parade. Better known as the P-rade.
This far-from-illustrious event – which lasts for an estimated three and a half hours and this year featured every class dating back to 1935 – gives everyone with a Princeton pedigree a chance to strut their stuff. Their orange and black stuff, that is.Princetonsuits.jpg
Each class celebrating a milestone that’s a multiple of five issues costumes for both alumni and their spouses to sport in the procession. These range from T-shirts and sportcoats to entire men’s suits. There’s no actual decree that you must wear this stuff. But somehow, few if any of the participants balk at playing along. No matter how foolish they may have looked (in most cases, very), everyone present was putting on the dog.Dogputtingonthetiger.JPG
Except for the dogs, that is. They were putting on the tiger.
Most impressive to me were the girls I saw dressed in what I assured them were the only attractive costumes ever designed in the entire history of Princeton reunions. These were strapless black and orange fringed dresses, with matching headbands.Gr8Gatsbyflappers.JPG
This trio of young flappers turned out to be members of the class of 2008.
“We’re the Gr8 Gatsy!” one explained. Oh. Of course!
I also saw a young woman walk by in a bright purple dress, causing me a moment of shock and disbelief. It was the kind of disbelief you feel when you’re standing at a wedding in agonizingly high heels and you see another woman walk by in flats. For just a second, you have one of those dumbfounded, “I could’ve had a V-8” moments. Then you realize that you look much hotter in your heels than she does in her frumpy old flats.Princetoncoupleinmatchingshirts.JPG
In this case, I looked anything but hot. The only thing hot about me was how I felt. But when I saw that woman in purple alongside a man who was clearly her husband, I thought, “Uh oh! You had better get with the program.” After all, those vows we take come with certain obligations, both spoken and understood: for richer and for poorer... in sickness and in health... in orange and in black...Harlequingolfknickers.JPG
        So I couldn't help but admire another couple I saw. The husband, whose reunion button identified him as a Princeton spouse, was wearing what might have been the most foppishly ugly costume there, or maybe anywhere, hideous harlequin-patterned golf knickers with an orange polo and black beanie.
“Now, there’s a happy couple,” I thought. He was willing to sacrifice his dignity for her (not that the tiger-print jumpsuits the women in another class were wearing looked all that classy).HarlanandfriendsatPrade.JPG
And whether or not we were the happiest couple there ourselves, I deigned to do my part too, marching alongside my husband in a tiger-print sarong, and periodically running 10 steps ahead so that I could snap a picture of him... then letting him run 10 steps ahead so that he could snap a photo of me.PattiemarchinginPrade.JPG
It’s not as if anyone there looked any dumber than I did. The only legitimate complaint I could have was that by the time we had reached the finish line in Poe Field, more than two hours had gone by and it was over 90 degrees in the shade.Pradelicenseplate.jpg
Then again, it’s one thing to march around in 90-plus-degree heat in tacky clothing, and quite another to carry furniture and heavy boxes up and down stairs. All the while, I was thinking about poor Aidan and my daughter, Allegra, who’d been nice enough to pitch in.
When we called them after the parade, they said they were far from being done. Even worse, there was still no word on whether Aidan had an apartment in which to move.
Once again, I deeply regretted our choice not to help. Were we having fun now?
Either way, it was time to drive to a dinner party held by one of my husband’s classmates, Gary Mount, at the 200-acre orchard that he and his wife owned nearby.koshersalt.JPG
At the farm stand there, I couldn’t resist buying some fresh ears of corn, beefsteak tomatoes, biscuits, honey, and a strawberry rhubarb pie. But I also purchased a container of kosher salt, thinking that I could bring it to Aidan’s new apartment when I saw it as a sort of housewarming gift.BarnatTerhuneOrchards.JPG
Then we went into the barn, where tables were set and we joined the entire class of ’66 in feasting on short ribs, grilled chicken, Israeli couscous, fried zucchini, and salad, which we finished off with an assortment of the orchard’s home-baked pies.Princetondinnerpartyplate.JPG
Before chowing down, we were treated to an a cappella performance by the famous Princeton all-male singing group the Tigertones.Tigertonessinging.JPG
Also, to our delight, we got to sit with several of our newly adopted grandchildren, including Julia, an affable economics major from New Zealand.JuliafromNewZealand.JPG
Standing around schmoozing afterwards, I realized that despite all the food and even all that pie, my husband and his friends Jay and Jim were fairly fit for old farts. Compared to many other granddads in the room, they had a decided dearth of paunch.Fitoldfarts.JPG
Even so, with two hip replacements under his belt (literally), my husband’s hips are not what they used to be. Neither are his knees or back. So maybe we were better off not having stopped in NYC to help our son lug his furniture around.
A call from Aidan indicated that he was still loading up the truck he’d rented. Far more disturbing, though, was that the realty office had closed for the duration of the weekend without offering any word on whether he had been approved to move in. This meant that he wouldn’t be able to occupy his new place until Monday at the earliest.
What the heck was he going to do until then?UHaul.jpg
He explained that he’d park the truck in a commercial lot and stay at his girlfriend’s. The truck rental and parking would cost him $150 per day, however. What a disaster!
With this on my mind, we drove back to campus and danced for a few more hours.HarlandancingatPrinceton.JPG
There was a whole new roster of bands on hand, along with that trio of girls, who were now wearing beehive wigs. While we were boogying, we got a call from Aidan at 10:30 p.m. to say he had finally finished and parked the truck.
The poor guy. Were we having fun now?PattieandMichael.JPG
The next morning, we drove further south in New Jersey to my cousins’ house. Michael and Pagan looked happy to see us, and of course the feeling was mutual.
My Aunt Kay seemed to really welcome the chance to catch up. Other than her own daughter, no other relatives had braved the heat wave to make the schlep down.
And I was especially happy to see my Uncle Gerard, who greeted me warmly, even if he was obviously very weary and not up to having much of a real conversation.UncleGerardandme.JPG
We considered stopping in NYC on the way home to see Aidan, but how could we help him? He still had his stuff on that truck and couldn’t unload till he got the go-ahead.
On Monday, through an endless series of irate phone calls to the rental agency, he finally got the woman who was supposed to review his application to evaluate it.
She didn’t give a ruling until late Tuesday, though. At which point she turned him down.
I spent all day Wednesday trying to gather the many documents required to serve as his guarantor. Yet in the final moments, my fax machine malfunctioned and the realty office closed promptly at 5 p.m. before I could manage to send it in.
When they failed to respond to him on Thursday, he began house-hunting anew.
        Was he simply not meant to live in this particular apartment? Was it not bashert? Was his moving there so not meant to be that God would mess with my fax machine?
That night, I stayed up till 2 a.m. searching for affordable apartments on Craigslist. And at the risk of annoying Aidan, I forwarded my findings the next morning. He said that they were all terrible, located in places that he would never live.
        Oh, well. I tried.
So on Friday, a whole week had passed and we were pretty much back to where we’d started, except that I was now wearing normal colors. Only my face was orange, flushed with Jewish guilt for not having managed to help my son in any way, making my soul feel decidedly black.PattieinPrade.JPG
At 5 p.m., my heart plummeted as I realized that the realty office probably had now closed again. Then, at 5:20, my phone rang. It was Aidan.
“So, I got approved for the apartment,” he said.
I screamed so loudly that a neighbor came out to see if I was all right.
Am I all right?
No offense to my husband, the entire history of students who ever went to Princeton, my cousin, his wife and kids, or certainly my aunt and uncle. But now I finally feel like partying.
My son is moving in! He’s happy. So I’m happy. Why, I might even throw a parade.

8:29 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.