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Friday, December 27, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

2013inthecan.jpg        Can another year really be in the can? Already? Where was I?
        OK, I know where I've been, and if there's anything that I've actually forgotten, I can simply look back here and relive it all again (although I would rather move on and have some new adventures, or even misadventures, as the case may be and a little too often is).Allegra, Aidan and me by Joe Mondello.jpg
        I also guess that, all things considered, it's been a pretty good year. I mean, sure, as Gilda would say, "There's always something." But when I sat down to make my annual holiday photo montage this week, I pored over all the family pix from the past 12 months and was stunned to see how much time I'd managed to spend with my kids, even if they're grown and living on their own.
        We may not have fit in a family vacation, or always have seen eye to eye, but there were plenty of holiday dinners, Jewish and otherwise, and also ordinary days spent just hanging out, noshing or schmoozing together, and there's nothing better than that.Aidan and Allegra at the Flatiron Room by Joe Mondello.JPG
        Why, just last week I got to watch both my kids perform together at the Flatiron Room, a fancy-schmancy club in Chelsea. Allegra sang, Aidan played his baritone sax, and I tried to keep my maternal pride and picture-snapping down to a dull roar. (Never mind the rapture on her face. Believe me, the pleasure was mostly mine.)
        Speaking of pleasure, I can once again say without reservation that it would not have been nearly as good a year for me without all of you, my readers. You help give me a sense of purpose. You give me another reason to live, if only so I can then write about it here.Pattie Levy at the Flatiron Room shot by Joe Mondello.JPG
        I blog, therefore I am.
        When I began filling this space, over three years ago, I must confess that I feared there might come a dry week now and then, when I would have nothing much to say for myself. But it turns out that I needn't have worried. Whether it's reasons to kvetch or better yet to kvell, when you're a nice Jewish mom there truly is always something.
        I hope that the coming months will bring more of the former than the latter for us all. Enough already having to deal with a year bearing a number as ominous as 13. As it says on the card below, I'm all ready to start fresh with a clean slate. Aren't you?
        Until then, let me wish you a happy and a healthy new year from NiceJewishMom.com!

4:35 pm 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

GreenMonday.jpg        Every morning, when I wake up to a barrage of emails extending deals from Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Green Monday (whatever the heck that was), I can’t help gloating. While the rest of the world continues to battle over “doorbusters,” we Jews are already DONE!Hanukkahgelt.jpg
        On the other hand, is it fair that Hanukkah came right on the heels of Halloween this year? Not only do we have nothing left to celebrate until Purim – unless you’re actually counting the minutes until Tu Bishevat -- but we missed out on all the sales. Think of the dough we coulda saved!
But it’s cheesy to talk about money. So what I want to talk about is… cheese.cheesestacked.jpg
Last Sunday, while we were visiting our daughter Allegra in NYC, she proposed that we check out a temporary outdoor holiday market set up near Columbus Circle. Never mind that all of our holiday gifts had long since been bought, opened, and in some cases returned. Nor that it was frigid outside and threatening to snow any second.ColumbusCircleholidaymarket.jpg
This place was unlike any generic store experience, she said. Filled with small, independent artisans offering exotic, eclectic, and often handmade items, it was a place to find unique gifts for anyone really special to you.MenorahDay8.JPG
Just talking about it, her face lit up like a menorah on Hanukkah Day Eight. Besides, I still needed a gift for one of her two roommates, both of whom celebrate Christmas.
So we went.
At the very least, Allegra promised that there would be all sorts of good things there to eat and drink. Sure, we had just finished devouring brunch, but I was already thinking ahead to dinner and the prospect of bringing home some takeout from the city.takeoutcarton.jpg
By the time we drive home to Connecticut, you see, it’s usually too late to start cooking. But beyond that, I must confess that I have developed a weird sort of separation anxiety.
Never mind that we go to the city nearly every other weekend, in hopes of fraternizing with our kids. I find being in Manhattan so much more invigorating than life in the stultifying suburbs that I’m almost desperate to take some small taste of the hubbub home with me when we leave.LizatSwing46.jpg
        So we arranged to meet up there with our good friend Liz, whom we were driving home to Connecticut.
        ColumbusCircleHolidayMarket3.jpgThe moment we arrived at this makeshift outdoor mall off Central Park South, I could see that Allegra was right. Between the twinkling Christmas greenery adorning the booths and the bundled-up patrons exuberantly buying to the strains of holiday tunes, this was a winter wonderland tantamount to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.Harlanatholidaymarket.JPG
        Not surprisingly, I discovered that most of the wares here, from the jewelry and assorted tchotchkes to the hand-knit-looking hats and scarves, were relatively overpriced. But we were about to depart for the weekend. So I really wanted to buy something.
       Even my husband, normally a Jewish Scrooge when it comes to holiday spending, evinced a mad glint in his eyes, as though his money were burning a hole in his pocket.
He hurried over to a booth selling socks printed with designs including musical notes, flamingos, and cats and dogs of every breed imaginable (even Portuguese Water Dogs, like our own little Latke). Soon after, he began to kvell about having found the perfect gift for my upcoming birthday (even though these were no bargain at $10 a pair).sushisocks.jpg
The truth is that we’re both suckers for crazy socks. My drawer runneth over with sushi, flower, and flamingo designs, but I can’t seem to find a simple solid black pair to wear when I need one.
“Honestly, the last thing I need is more wild socks,” I grunted in my nicest possible Jewish-Scrooge-like way.Harlanatholidaymarketcloseup.JPG
“It’s the thought that counts,” he replied.
        And the thought that I had was, “So, does that mean dogs? Or more flamingos?”
Allegra, meanwhile, lured me over to a booth selling handmade hair combs and clips embellished with leaves, flowers, and tiny pearls. The haloed artisan who’d made them, an angelic-looking young woman from Tel Aviv, offered a discount if we bought more than one.Allegrawithhairclip.JPG
Never mind that Allegra had barely worn a barrette in her hair since preschool. They were all so lovely that I let her choose two for herself and a third for the roommate. Yes, they cost a pretty penny and were clearly what you might call an impulse buy. But my natural impulse was to please my daughter. And she had a birthday coming up, too.Haircombsatholidaymarket.JPG
By now, it was already late afternoon. Light flurries had begun dusting our lashes, and Liz, who’d been waiting patiently, said that her toes were freezing.
        It was time to leave.
But as we wended our way out of this urban labyrinth of luxury goods, I felt just a bit disappointed that I hadn’t bought myself so much as a cup of tea. That’s when I noticed a booth selling fancy cheeses and suddenly recalled my plan to get a bite to go.
An hour or two out in the brisk, wintry air had easily managed to whet my appetite. Besides, who among us could truly resist free samples of “the Finest Cheese from our French Mountains to you,” as the banner sweeping across this booth tantalizingly read?TheFinestCheese.jpg
The tall fellow behind the counter, who sported dark, slicked-back hair and a puffy brown vest, beckoned to me enticingly. “Madame, would you like to try some cheese?” he asked, betraying a French accent as thick and rich as a slab of pâté de foie gras.cheesebooth2.JPG
Without even waiting for an answer, he severed a narrow slice from a pale yellow disc the diameter of a spare tire and cut it into tiny bits. There were five of us, including Allegra’s friend Leah, who’d also joined us, and we each readily accepted a taste.cheesedisc1.jpg
The man proceeded to repeat this procedure, offering tiny samples to everyone in our group of four more varieties. Each was indescribably delicious in its own way, but in the end I far preferred the first and the last that we’d tasted, and Allegra heartily agreed.
So I decided to buy a slice of each of these.
“Like zis?” asked the Frenchman, positioning his knife to hack off a hefty wedge.
“No, half of that,” I countered, directing him to then divide each piece that he cut in half and wrap it separately, so that Allegra could take home an equal share to enjoy.cheesepaper.JPG
I watched him deftly wrap our purchases in shiny white and blue waxed paper printed with a map of France featuring what I took to be the names or geographic origins of innumerable cheeses, from Neufchatel and Chêvre Ste. Maure to Camembert and St. Nectaire.
“How much do I owe you?” I asked, pulling a crisp $20 bill out of my wallet.
He put each pair of parcels into a red plastic bag, then placed the bags on a scale.redplasticbag.JPG
“That will be $56,” he said.
Was he kidding? Fifty-six dollars? For cheese?
I gulped.
Under normal circumstances, I seethe a bit when I ask for half a pound of something at the deli and they hand me three-quarters of a pound instead. I also hesitate to buy fancy cheeses, even the mid-priced kinds you find at the supermarket. Garden varieties like Jarlsberg, Brie, and aged Gouda are good enough for the likes of us, I figure, and I often opt for ones reduced in fat, even if they’re also reduced in flavor.Cabotreducedfatcheese.jpg
And even then I find myself being cheesy enough to examine several chunks until I find the smallest (and least expensive) one in the case.
On the rare occasion that I buy something like cheese at a farmer’s market, I always inquire how much it costs per pound before specifying how much I’m willing to buy.
But somehow, in my haste, I’d neglected to do that this time. For had I done it, I would have discovered that “the finest cheese from the French mountains” apparently cost about $45 a pound.cheesecharmmadeofgold.jpg
Was there gold in them thar’ hills?
Granted, I’d spent more than 56 bucks on those pretty hair clips, but they would be with us for some time (or at least until they fell out of Allegra’s hair or got lost in her room somewhere).
That cheese would last for only as long as it took to swallow it with some crackers. Maybe not even overnight.cheesebooth1.JPG
        I hated to be a mouse about it.
But I also hesitated to create a scene. It was already cut. There were other customers waiting. And now it was really time to go.
“Do you take credit cards?” I asked, reaching into my wallet again.
The Frenchman, who was clearly growing impatient, shook his well-oiled head.
“Only zee cash,” he replied.
Fortunately, I’d stopped at an ATM before making this excursion. I surrendered a wad of bills, handed one of the two red plastic bags to Allegra, and kissed her goodbye.
The whole way home, I felt a little sick to my stomach just thinking about my gaffe. How could I have been so foolish? Then again, what kind of cheese costs that much?AllegraandPattieatholidaymarket1.JPG
I admitted to Liz that I was horrified about the incident, and that I figured the only way to make the best of it was to save the super-pricey cheese for New Year’s Eve, for which we’d invited two other couples over for an elegant dinner.
She said that was ridiculous – that our purchase would no longer be good by then.
“Cheese is a living organism,” she declared. “Don’t save it! You need to enjoy it now.”
Never mind that the waxed paper in which our delicacies had been wrapped bore instructions about this, printed beneath the French maps en Francais in delicate script: Conservez-moi dans mon papier, je resterai toujours frais.
If my high school French doesn’t fail me, these words basically translated as, “Keep me in my paper, and I will remain forever fresh.” But forever is a very long time.Jarlsbergcheese.jpg
So I Googled it. According to the World Wide Web, cheeses like cheddar and parmesan would last in the refrigerator for anywhere from several weeks to a few months, and as a general rule of thumb the harder the cheese, the longer its shelf life.
But I couldn’t find anything about storing the finest cheeses from the mountains of France, the kinds that were practically worth their weight in gold.
The next morning, still stewing about my misadventure with the cheese monger, I removed the red plastic bag from the fridge and anxiously unwrapped the waxed paper to see how much I’d actually gotten for my money.cheesewrapped.JPG
I’d been berating myself ever since my ill-fated purchase for letting the guy cut such sizable hunks. But the truth was that he hadn’t.
Neither piece could have weighed more than 5 or 6 ounces. If that.
Could that cheese really have cost $45 per pound? Or had he just ripped us off?
Our two wedges were so small that I realized it made no sense to save them for New Year’s. When our guests arrived, we’d each get a bite or two and it would be gone. Or, more likely, they would devour it while I was putting the finishing touches on dinner.Cheese1.JPG
No, that was our cheese. We’d found it, and we’d had the experience of buying it. We were going to eat that cheese ourselves, and we were going to begin eating it now.
I pulled out a knife. I cut a small chunk and put it on my tongue, savoring the subtle flavor and texture, unlike any Jarlsberg, Gouda or other mundane variety I’d ever eaten.
After chewing slowly and letting those rich flavors throw a chic soiree inside my mouth, I then dared to slice off a morsel of the second cheese and insert it between my lips.
And here’s what I thought:
This must be what they eat in heaven. For that’s where I am right now.Parisimage.jpg
It felt like my mouth had gone on vacation. I hadn’t just brought back a rare treat from high-brow Manhattan. Suddenly, I was in Paris. Or was it the France Alps?
        Suddenly, a
ll I wanted to do was eat that cheese. And I never wanted to eat anything else.
Why had I only bought that much? And where would I get more when it was gone? I didn’t even know what either kind was called.
Clearly, in my frugality, I’d been missing out on something for all of these years. Something that made daily life more worth living. Something beyond belief.
Every morning ever since, I’ve woken up knowing that I have some great pleasure to look forward to.
        That cheese.cheesebitsonplate.JPG
Every evening, I’ve allowed myself to cut off a few bits and relish them slowly. And my husband has done the same.tennisball.jpg
Life, I often say, is much too short for you to play tennis with dead tennis balls (something that my husband, a sports fanatic, also often does in order to economize).
Some say it’s too short to drink bad wine (although the good stuff is kind of lost on me).HarlanwithwineonHanukkah.JPG
Sure, it’s hardly within most people’s budgets to afford such pricey cheese. As a lowly blogger, it isn’t really within mine.
But maybe the important thing is to allow ourselves some little indulgence daily or at least now and then. And, just as important – if not moreso – to convince ourselves that we deserve it.
As ridiculous as it may seem, every time I take a bite of that cheese, I feel happy. Not just happy, but euphoric. I realize I have something to look forward to the next day. And best of all, I’ve convinced myself that I’m actually worthy of that cheese.cheese2.JPG
        Worthy of cheese?
Maybe you think I’ve lost my sanity, but I think that I’ve actually just found it.
My impression is that most men seek pleasure on a daily basis. But we women, especially Jewish ones, are raised to satisfy other people's needs while denying our own and practicing self-denial.
I always insist on taking the smooshed piece of pie, cake, or whatever it may be for myself. I forego dessert most nights because there are too many calories. And I’ve made do with driving the same old car for over a decade. What difference, I figure, does it make?
But maybe we still have to seek other ways to give ourselves a much-needed lift. When Nice Jewish Mom is happy, let’s face it, it’s also nicer for everyone else around her. N’est-ce pas?chocolatewithseasalt.jpg
If cheese isn’t your thing, there’s always chocolate. Special coffee. Or maybe a nice piece of fruit.
        I have more than enough sadness and disappointment in my life. I sorely miss my parents and other people whom I've lost, and am keenly conscious of the many things I once wished for that just never were and probably never will be now.
        But I am lucky enough to have some pretty great kids... and some pretty great cheese. And that is pretty great.
        No matter how you cut it.
4:11 pm 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Word From the Weiss

magicwandandhat2.jpg        Do you believe in magic? Can’t say that I do. When it comes to miracles, love at first sight, and those chance meetings that seem to be beshert (Yiddish for “meant to be”), I’m a total sucker. But beyond that, like most Jews, I tend to question everything… along with answering most questions with a question. As for magic, mind-reading, and all those crazy stunts that mentalists perform, I struggle valiantly to suspend my disbelief. The skeptic in me assumes there’s got to be gimmick, and I just don’t know what it is.
So when my husband insisted on buying two tickets recently to a high-brow, 70-minute magic show called Nothing to Hide, well, let’s just say that I was a little peeved.NothingtoHidetrio.jpg
Never mind that this off-Broadway production, directed by Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser and How I Met Your Mother fame, had been reviewed to near universal acclaim. Nor that it consisted of two gifted young magicians doing astonishing card tricks, rather than some mustachioed fellow sawing his assistant in two, then pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Those two seats set us back a whopping $164, including the hefty handling fees, to which we’d have to add a hotel room and dinner out in NYC. And I figured that if we were going to travel five hours roundtrip and spend that kind of dough, we should see something I wanted to see, too. That is, something a little more profound.Magicianwithrabbit.jpg
Unfortunately, given my customary candor, I didn’t exactly try to stifle my lack of enthusiasm. On the contrary, I expressed it openly. More than once. And by the second or third time I kvetched about these plans, my husband decided not to hold back either. He said that if I didn’t want to go, then he would invite our daughter to join him instead.
And he did.TrueBloodimage.jpg
This in and of itself would’ve been perfectly fine, I suppose. There’s nothing wrong with spouses spending an occasional evening apart. (I already tend to leave the room when he watches anything violent and bloody on TV.) And God knows that I’ve enjoyed more than my share of overnights in NYC hanging out with our daughter, Allegra. It would be nice for the two of them to experience a little father-daughter alone time too.Allegraandmeatwedding2.jpg
Yet I must admit that I had problems with this arrangement. These were two-fold.
First, I think that Allegra, who is about to turn 24, should spend Saturday nights out with friends of her own vintage, rather than her folks, whom she sees too often already.
        And second, we have been down this road before. The last time that we bought her a theater ticket, she got invited to a party and canceled out on us at the very last minute (although given her age, who could honestly blame her?).
I hoped for her sake that she would get a better offer again, and if so I wanted to give her the flexibility to accept it. But God forbid that we let an $82 ticket go to waste. So rather than planning to see another play that night, I decided to play wait and see.KutshersTribecabrunch1.jpg
Luckily, we soon learned that our good friends Jake and Doreen would be in the city from Minneapolis that same weekend to attend an event, and we arranged to join them for brunch earlier that day along with our mutual close friends Rafi and Lois.
They needed to meet up in Tribeca, and not having been down there in a gazillion years, I suggested we rendezvous at the only place I could find with a familiar name (and a Jewish one at that): Kutsher’s Tribeca, a hip yet kitschsy Jewish-food emporium co-owned by a fourth-generation member of the family who ran Kutsher’s Country Club, the iconic Borscht Belt resort.
This place was reputed to have the best pastrami sandwich in all of New York City. And despite my recent vows to eat mostly vegetarian, as NiceJewishMom.com I felt no less than a moral obligation to investigate this claim myself.JoshKutsherandSpielandApproval.JPG
The verdict? All it took was about two bites of their hearty, moist meat piled high on rye with a golden shmeer of mustard, and I found myself presenting co-owner Josh Kutsher, who was on hand, with an official NiceJewishMom.com Spiel of Approval.
We spent the remains of the afternoon with our friends taking an epic walk uptown. And by the time that we had parted, it was already time to meet Allegra for dinner.WalkingwithfriendsinManhattan.JPG
By now it had become clear that no conflicting plans would materialize for her. Clocking in at only an hour and 10 minutes, the 8:00 performance would end in plenty of time for her to catch up with friends afterwards and hang out for the rest of the night.
So as we headed off on the subway to collect the tickets, I realized that I would be totally on my own after we ate. I considered still trying to seek some tickets of my own. But to what? And where? The Pershing Square Signature Center, where Nothing to Hide was playing, is situated so far west on 42nd Street that it was practically in a world of its own. And although there were movie theaters on nearby blocks, the magic show was so brief that it would be over long before any film that I chose to see might end.
It also had grown so cold and blustery outside that by the time we’d arrived it had begun snowing lightly, and we were reluctant to venture back out again, even to eat. Luckily, the vast Signature Center, designed by Frank Gehry, has a nice café upstairs.SignatureTheaterboxoffice.jpg
We quickly texted Allegra saying to meet us there. Then I approached the box office to explore if I might have any remaining options right on the premises.
By the time my husband had purchased his tickets, weeks earlier, the magic show had already been sold out, with the exception of one remaining seat right beside theirs. He urged me to inquire if this were still available, as unlikely as that might be. It was not.
Yet one of the two young women behind the ticket counter said that it was possible that the director might release a few house seats just before show time. These would go for premium pricing, though, a rate that she estimated to be around $150 apiece. Having balked at paying $82, I surely wasn’t about to cough up anything like that.
She nodded sympathetically, and then noted that there were two other plays running simultaneously inside the theater complex. Both of these were also sold out. I was welcome to add my name to the waiting list for either of them, however, or both.
The good news was that since they were both still in previews, tickets ran only $25. The bad news was that they wouldn’t begin taking names for the waitlists until 7 p.m., and tickets would then only become available shortly before the performances began. By that point, it would be way too late for me to find any alternative activity.SignatureTheatercafeandbar.jpg
I had no clue what either of these shows was about, but figured I would try for both.
Allegra finally arrived shortly after this, and we found ourselves a table in the now-bustling café, which features live music, and went up to the bar to order some food.Yogateacherinpose.jpg
She had just come from a hot yoga class, meaning one held in a sweltering room so that while you stretch and strike various poses, you also shvitz (sweat) like mad. She recently had registered for a month of these via Groupon, and had been enjoying them immensely… until that afternoon. The woman teaching this particular session was such a tyrant that she had singled my daughter out for stern public criticism more than once.
At one point, Allegra had reached for a small towel that she had brought with her and begun swabbing her dripping brow. “We do not use towels here!” cried the woman, who had a thick foreign accent. “We are here to sweat! We do not wipe off the sweat!”YogaWeKeepOurLegsTogether.jpg
At another point, she chastised Allegra contemptuously for not having perfect form. “We keep our legs together in this class!” she barked, noticing Allegra’s ankles askew.
Was she kidding? Ohmmm my God!
“Who the heck did this girl think she was?” I squealed. “Some sort of yoga Nazi?” Yoga was supposed to be calming and rejuvenating, I said, not like boot camp.
Somehow, I got so caught up in righteous indignation that I didn’t notice when 7:00 came and went. By the time I had raced downstairs, it was already 5 past, and I was now No. 3 or 4 on the waiting list for both of the other shows. My prospects looked grim.
But to be honest, I didn’t really want to see either of them anyway. I’d now begun to sorely regret having maligned my husband’s choice of entertainment. I wanted to stay with my family and had begun hoping for a reprieve. Might some fool fail to show up for a show for which he’d shelled out upwards of 80 bucks, so that I could get his seat?
That probably would take a minor miracle. But I believed in miracles. Didn’t I?SignatureTheaterstairs.jpg
I went back downstairs to the original ticket window and told the young woman there my plight. One of her bosses was now beside her, and hearing my tale of woe about summarily being cut loose by my husband on a Saturday night, this woman erupted with righteous indignation of her own. (Yes, I glossed over the part about my having dissed the show.) If there were a no-show for the event, then the spare ticket would automatically be mine.
And no, I would not have to pay that exorbitant premium rate.SamParrott1.jpg
So I went back upstairs, finished eating, and was treated to more tales of the yoga Nazi. Meanwhile, I texted Sam Parrott, the son of our good friends Sally and Dial. He’s a gifted young actor whose day job happens to be working in the Signature Theatre box office. I asked him which of the other two plays he might recommend, and he assured me that both were excellent. Yet he most heartily endorsed the one entitled How I Learned What I Learned, a one-man show about the life of playwright August Wilson.AugustWilson.jpg
        I was embarrassed to admit this, but as avid a theater buff as I may be, I somehow had never managed to see even a single play by the late prolific, acclaimed writer, who won Pulitzers for Fences in 1986 and The Piano Lesson in 1990 and was celebrated for his many other works, including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Seven Guitars, and Two Trains Running.
Given that, how much was seeing the story of his life likely to resonate with me?HowILearnedWhatILearnedlogo.jpg
I’d have to make up my mind about that pronto, because it was time to run back downstairs. They were working their way down those lists, and soon I heard my name.
Did I want a ticket to the Wilson play or not? It could be mine for only 25 bucks. Before whipping out my credit card, I decided to make one last-ditch effort. Hastily approaching the other window, I asked what I should do. Was there any real chance of my getting into the magic show, for which I was now prepared to pay almost anything?DumbandDumbertrio.jpg
The girl bit her lip apologetically and admitted that if there were any prospect at this point, it was one in a million. And unlike Lloyd Christmas, the Jim Carrey character in Dumb and Dumber who’s told by his lovely love interest, Lauren Holly, that the chances of her dating him are one out of a million, I didn’t respond euphorically, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”
Instead, I returned to the other window and surrendered my Visa… but only after the first girl swore that if a miracle actually did occur, she would come up and find me.SignatureTheatrestairs2.jpg
My heart sank when I returned to my family upstairs, then noticed that the ticket I had just purchased appeared to be defective. That is, it was for that afternoon’s matinee performance. And indeed when I went into the theater, someone was sitting in my seat.
On the one hand, this gave me an excuse to go back to the box office again. Perhaps something had opened up at the very last minute, or they would manage some incredible real-life sleight of hand and find a way to fit me in there somehow.
On the other hand, maybe I would end up empty-handed and out of luck, after all.TickettoHowILearnedWhatILearned.JPG
As it turned out, neither thing happened. The clerk lit up when she saw me and said she’d realized her mistake the moment I’d left. The good news was that they did have a seat for me for the Wilson play, even closer than the first. But I would still be on my own.
I found my spot and soon watched actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson take the stage in this one-man production, an episodic monologue that serves as a candid and moving coming-of-age story. And from the very first line, I found myself completely enthralled.SantiagoHudson2.jpg
“My ancestors have been in America since the early 17th century,” he began, “and for the first 244 years, we never had a problem finding a job.” Then, after pausing for the ripples of appreciative laughter erupting from the mostly white audience, he continued.
“But since 1863, it’s been hell… hell because the ideas and attitudes that Americans had toward slaves followed them out of slavery and became entrenched in the nation’s psyche.”SantiagoHudson.jpg
What followed was an hour and 20 minutes of personal philosophy and anecdotes about what it was like to grow up in mid-20th-century America black and poor, yet full of promise and pride. Amiably embodying Wilson, whom he evidently knew well – he starred in or directed several of his plays – Santiago-Hudson revealed the innumerable roadblocks that he’d stumbled into in his native Pittsburgh, all related to overt racism.
Although Wilson dropped out of school at age 15, he did not “drop out of life,” he said. He managed to educate himself by practically taking up residence in the library. But quitting remained a consistent pattern as he walked away from job after entry-level job in the demeaning face of blatant bigotry.
Typical was the time that he was hired to work in a toy store stockroom, only to be cautioned by his boss not to steal anything, making him storm off before he even began. Then there was the lawn service job he exited post-haste after his boss failed to stand up for him to a wealthy white woman who didn’t want a black man cutting her grass.HowILearnedWhatILearned3.jpg
Even after his early theatrical successes began, the racial affronts failed to cease. Such was the case when he went to cash a sizable check for the first play he ever sold to the Mark Taper Forum in L.A., and the bank teller eyed him suspiciously, then refused to put his money in an envelope, claiming they had no envelopes at that bank.
Yet instead of losing his cool, Wilson apparently laughed all the way from the bank, marveling at the audacity of someone who would be “willing to put a mark on her soul for an envelope.” His conclusion: “She goin’ to hell!”Envelope.jpg
Through such personal anecdotes, the play and the irascible man behind it sprang vividly to life, aided and abetted by the inventive albeit rather spare set. This featured countless white slips of paper suspended from the ceiling, allowing key names or phrases to light up as if being tapped out on a typewriter as a preface to each scene.
“Coltrane,” for example, was the illuminated message when he began to reminisce about getting to hear that incomparable giant of jazz play live one memorable night, poignantly demonstrating the value of art and “the power and possibility of human life.”HowILearnedWhatILearned2.jpg
Then there was “Snookie,” not the pint-sized, shrill harpy from Jersey Shore, but a nubile siren with whom he had his first real romance, until her estranged husband appeared to reclaim her affections in a bar one night at the firing end of a gun.
But as Nice Jewish Mom, I must confess that my favorite parts may have been when he waxed prosaic about the stalwart, pride-engendering single mother who raised him – the woman who once won a new washing machine in a contest, then refused to accept the used model they tried to foist on her when they learned that she was black.
“Those of you whose mothers are still alive, I don’t envy you,” he observed toward the end, “because one of these days you’re gonna have to face the most profound grief. All these years, you been livin’ on your mother’s prayers, and now you gonna have to live on your own.”
If I had any problems with the production, they were once again two-fold: I now felt compelled to see everything August Wilson had ever written. And I wanted my husband to see this incredible play as well, meaning I’d soon be solo for yet another night.
After leaping to my feet at the end, along with most of the other people present, I hastened to find my family, who were already out of their show and waiting in the lobby.
“So, how was it?” I asked, still beaming with sheer delight.AllegraatSwing46.jpg
“Good,” my normally effusive daughter responded curtly with a shrug. Talk about damning with faint praise! I couldn’t tell if she was genuinely unimpressed or was merely hesitant to rave about it and make me feel bad for having missed it. I decided not to ask.
My husband, however, didn’t hold back. Never mind that their seats had been up in the mezzanine, making it challenging to see the action, most of which involved intricate card tricks. He spent the rest of the evening and much of the following days trying to describe the “mind-reading” wizardry he’d seen, none of which I could begin to follow.
In the end, I realized that I actually do believe in one small miracle – the way that things rarely work out the way that we want them to, but often the way that they should.Pattieinglasses.JPG
My husband was right to ditch me for that show, because I was almost guaranteed to have been a total wet blanket. This way, he got to revel in every magical minute of it, instead of worrying that I was bored or unimpressed or would later scoff, “I told you so!”
Meanwhile, I was practically cornered into seeing something that I never would have chosen on my own, but which turned out to be both amazing and, yes, profound.
Maybe other couples do better than we do about venturing out on their own to pursue their own passions and inclinations. But marriage tends to militate against that.Harlanonhisbirthday.JPG
Fortunately, Nice Jewish Dad and I happen to have quite a few interests in common. But after 30 years together, I barely remember what my own musical tastes once were. My husband and kids are such jazz fanatics that I rarely get to hear anything else.Harlan and Pattie in NYC.jpg
There are countless good movies I’ve never seen, not for lack of desire but because my husband evinced no interest. Then there are all the places to which I’ve never been because my spouse, who’s a decade older than I am, visited them long ago.
I’m not advocating for separate vacations. But maybe at this stage in our lives, when my husband has begun going to the office less and we’re together a whole lot more, it’s time to start giving each other some space and seeking a little more autonomy.
He can have his violent TV and magic shows. I can have my Zumba classes, yoga (preferably at room temperature, thanks), and whatever else I find compelling or profound. And maybe if we cut each other a little more slack, we’ll even begin to get some of that good old magic back.

4:49 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.