|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
Friday, May 30, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
OK, I hate to be one of those mothers -- you know, the ones who kvell
a little too much and a little too loudly about their kids. But I have news.
No, not just news. Big news.
And not just big news. Bigger news.
Everyone who is friends with my daughter on Facebook (and honestly, who isn’t?) already knows the outcome to this
saga (and I do mean saga, maybe with a capital S). But for the benefit of all the rest of you, I think it’s only fair
that I start at the beginning.
It all began nearly two years ago, when my daughter Allegra, an up-and-coming young
jazz singer in New York, met a guy whom I will call “Alejandro.” An accomplished and award-winning jazz pianist
from Colombia, South America, Alejandro had graduated a few years earlier from New England Conservatory of Music in Boston,
just like Allegra, and then moved to NYC to pursue a musical career, just like Allegra.
He was looking for a singer to pair up with professionally in order to pursue a long-term gig… not in NYC, where
they both lived, but halfway across the globe, in Asia.
He had been engaged sometime earlier to play at a fancy hotel
in Hong Kong and knew that this was a wonderful and rather cushy job, not to mention much better paid work than anything likely
to befall a jazz musician almost anywhere back here in the U.S. of A.
Initially he had approached one of Allegra’s friends to join him, but she did not want to drop everything and move
away for six months or more. So she recommended Allegra.
Allegra was only 22 at the time, and my husband and I did not
particularly want her to drop everything and move away for six months or more either. But Allegra, being only 22 at the time,
was footloose and fancy free and told him that she was game anyway.
They made a video featuring the two of them
performing together and sent it off. Then we held our collective breath. But to our relief, I must admit, no offer ever materialized.
So she went her way and he went his, and we pretty much forgot the whole thing.
Flash forward to two months ago. March 25, to be exact. That’s when Allegra received an email out of the blue
from someone named Justin. The subject line read “Performing in Hong Kong.”
“Please allow me the pleasure
to introduce myself,” it began. “I am emailing from Hong Kong as I spotted your material online while performing
searches for jazz vocalists.”
It went on to explain that he was looking for a new singer and had come across her
name while searching the sites of music colleges and jazz performers in New York.
“I am currently running the
band at one of the most prestigious live music venues,” he explained, “and we are looking to have the position
of the vocalist filled at the beginning of the coming July. The music in the room is going to be predominantly jazz, and not
the commercial kind but what one may consider the serious kind.”
I didn’t care what kind of jazz it was. Was it legit? Allegra Googled Justin online and assured us that it was.
Then she wrote back immediately to express keen interest.
His next email, sent later that evening, provided
more details. The opening was at the Blue Bar
in the Four Seasons, “the top hotel in Hong Kong,” he declared.
It was also “undoubtedly the best regular gig in town,” he continued. For in addition
to being well-paid, it came complete with round-trip flights and accommodations, in exchange for which she would only be expected
to perform twice weekly, on Friday and Saturday nights. The rest of the time she would be free to travel, or to accept other
singing gigs if she wished.
It sounded almost too good to be true. Didn't it? And so I wondered
again, was it legit?
Either way, this plum position was not being offered to Allegra outright.
She’d be vying with an assortment of other American singers whom they also intended to contact.
Justin went on to
verify something else Allegra had learned – that he and Alejandro knew each other because this was the very same gig
Alejandro had once had in Asia.
“This is going to be a somewhat long-winded process and I hope
you don't mind,” Justin concluded. But he promised to make a final decision by early May at the latest.
Over the coming weeks,
they corresponded back and forth as Allegra entered each round of competition. At first, he simply wanted to hear some of
her vocal recordings.
With luck, she’d recently finished recording her first real album, called Lonely City,
featuring 11 of her original tunes. It will be released this fall. (More details TBA...)
That is my first big news: Allegra just signed with a record label!!!
She emailed the tracks
to Justin in early April and heard back almost at once.
He seemed to like her voice. “Great arrangements too,” he wrote. “You
are definitely high on the list among our candidates.”
That meant that she moved on to Round 2. He
wanted to see photographs of her illustrating how she might look while performing at the likes of the Four Seasons Hotel.
The fact was that Allegra had had professional shots taken shortly before she’d graduated from college, in which
she wore a glitzy gown and looked very dressed up. These were already three years old, however, and she had since cut her
Other photos that had been taken in the interim were not quite glamorous enough because she doesn’t typically
perform in such high-brow places. But I was reluctant to invest in more professional photos, so she got all dressed up and
had a friend with a good camera shoot her in various locations and poses on Roosevelt Island, where she now lives.
Then, fearing that even these were not quite posh enough for the Four Seasons, I encouraged her to have even more photos
taken wearing a very flashy orange gown, as well as my late mother’s mink stole and my late mother-in-law’s silky
elbow-length opera gloves.
I don’t know if this was going a bit too far, but the lengths to which she
went were clearly far enough. Because Justin took just one look and instantly put her into Round 3.
Round 3 required her to learn and record three songs that he had chosen. One was a very hip and jazzy number by Grammy-winning
bassist Esperanza Spalding called “I Know You Know.” The other two were unfamiliar to us both. No matter.
The band had recorded all three
tunes, and Allegra was supposed to tape herself singing over their instrumental versions. She’d been told it would be
fine if she simply did this on her own computer. But to make sure that the sound quality was optimal, she made the investment
to have it done professionally, at some expense, in a recording studio.
She emailed the results on May 7 and heard back within three hours. “I taken [sic] an initial listening to them
and great job!” Justin wrote. That put her into Round 4. He was going to send three more songs. She was expected to
choose two and record these as well.
Meanwhile, the time frame for making a final decision had suddenly been
revised. He was now talking about mid-to-late May, and she’d need to arrive there in late June.
I was beginning to grow a bit suspicious, I must admit. My friend Suzanne said it “smelled of human trafficking.”
At the very least, this audition process was like a set of Russian Matroyshka dolls, with each round of competition
simply leading to yet another.
How many more rounds were there?
How many more songs would she need to sing?
Then again, I reminded myself,
Alejandro knew Justin. So it had to be kosher. Right?
As for Allegra herself, she remained neither deterred nor in any way discouraged. But fortunately, she agreed to record the
two new songs she selected – including a jazzy version of Sting’s “Roxanne” (originally sung by The
Police) – on her computer this time.
I thought she did a terrific job, although hearing those words
gave me a few chills.
You don't have to put on the red light
Those days are over
don't have to sell your body to the night
You don't have to wear that dress tonight
Walk the streets for money
You don't care if it's wrong or if it's right…
She sent these two new tracks off on May 11 and once again heard
back promptly, as well as enthusiastically, yet still without anything close to a final outcome.
“Brilliant, Allegra!” Justin wrote, adding that he had now submitted her entire package to the hotel’s
management, along with those of her two remaining rivals, and that he hoped to hear back from them within a week.
But the message she received a week later was barely more decisive. “Almost there!” read the subject line.
At least by now, the pool had been narrowed down to two. The length of the contract also had been reduced, from four months
to only three.
She wrote back to confirm that she remained as keen as ever. At 2 p.m. the next day he replied that a decision
“I should know within 12 hours,” he said.
Hong Kong is 12 hours ahead of us, so 12 hours
later would be 2 a.m. our time. Still, that meant we might hear that very night.
What if she had put in all of this effort and come
so far only to be disappointed?
Knowing how anxious Allegra was, her dad and I stayed up until late that night. The truth was that we
were anxious ourselves and couldn’t have fallen asleep anyway. But finally we began to fade at around 1:30 a.m. and
dejectedly turned off the lights.
minutes later, just as I had drifted at last into a deep sleep, the phone rang.
“I got it!!!” Allegra screamed loudly
enough to wake the dead... almost loudly enough to be heard all the way to Hong Kong.
Justin’s latest email had just arrived, consisting
of merely two words: “You’re in!”
A contract soon followed, laying out the terms of employment in glorious detail.
will live and eat at the Hong Kong Four Seasons for the first two weeks, then move to her own apartment only five minutes
away. Her only obligations are to sing from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and rehearse with the band once a week.
It sounds like she may even be allowed to swim in their famous
and beautiful infinity pool.
Her favorite perk, however, has nothing to do with singing or swimming.
She gets free dry-cleaning for all the gowns and other fancy dresses in which she is expected to perform.
soon followed up with a lengthy travelogue entitled “Adventures in Hong Kong,” written by Allegra’s predecessor,
a young woman from Ontario named Janaia whose tenure singing at the hotel’s Blue Bar has lasted for a whopping 22 months.
what can I tell you about a contract at the Four Seasons’ Blue Bar and living here for a spell?” it asks. “Best
gig ever.” The Canadian Trade Commission rates the Four Seasons Hong Kong as a 6-star hotel, she proceeds to observe.
“If you land a gig here, not only are you 6-star entertainment, but you’re treated that way!”
goes on to describe Justin as “the best boss ever,” and to report everything from the convenient availability
of organic veggies and Western-style groceries to the fact that it only costs about $20 to have a maid clean once a week (another
verifies that she has managed to supplement her generous salary by performing regularly at weddings and in assorted other
local music venues. What’s more, working only two days a week “opens the door to travel adventures,” she
reported, hastening to add that “Thailand is a must” and “Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, even India and
many more are all possible and just a couple of hours away.”
by this point, needed little more in the way of hidden perks and incentives, though. She proceeded to sign the contract and sublet
her apartment and has already begun to pack.
Of course, I could not be happier for her. Her music college did not allow for junior
year abroad, so this will be her first opportunity to live elsewhere for any extended time.
Even so, let’s be honest. As a nice Jewish mom,
I have a whole mess of conflicting emotions. Obviously, I am thrilled for my daughter. I want her to travel. I want her to
be independent. Most of all, I want her to have this phenomenal opportunity because she wants it.
But Hong Kong? She couldn’t get much further
away unless she flew to the moon.
Or Mars or Uranus. (Do they have jazz on the moon, Mars and/or Uranus)?
The close relationship I have with my kids is my greatest source of joy in my life.
But it has also made me a laughing stock among friends and relatives for over 20 years.
On a typical day, Allegra and I probably talk or text
up to a dozen times or more. And when I don’t hear from her for several hours, I am sometimes apt to freak out.
Typical was an incident that happened earlier this
month. She had just landed her first weekly gig at a Turkish restaurant in Soho and was excited yet nervous about it.
Her dad and I go to most of her performances, but
this one was midweek in NYC. There was no way that we could make it.
when we aren’t there, she calls shortly after she finishes to report how it went. She was singing from 9 to 11 that
night. When we didn’t hear from her by 11:30, I began to worry.
When we hadn’t heard from her by midnight, I began to bite
she hadn’t returned my many calls or texts by 1 a.m., I began to search online for car accidents in Manhattan.
By 1:30 a.m., I was ready to jump off a bridge. (Fortunately, there are none all that near.)
Finally, I got a text message just before 2. Her phone
had died and she had stayed after the show to hang out with her band members, so she finally had just gotten home.
know that she is now an adult and is entitled to stay out just as late as she wants. But I also know myself. If she’s
going away to Hong Kong for three months, then I may either need to go with her or be put into a medically induced coma until
her safe return.
I know. I know. I need to get a grip. There’s email. There’s Skype. We may even visit. (Her dad
and I have a big anniversary coming up.) And she’ll be back before we know it.
But what will I do in the meanwhile? And what will
I find now to fill this space?
case you haven’t noticed, my daughter is probably the main character in all of the misadventures I write about each
week… not to mention my virtual constant companion.
Yes, I have a wonderful son too. But at 27, Aidan is a bit older than she is,
and he has a beautiful girlfriend. He doesn’t want to hang around with his mom and dad all that much.
Somehow, so far, I seem to be getting little if any
sympathy from my friends. Many of their offspring have gone away just as far, or even farther, for longer stretches of time.
friend Arlene just endured 10 long months while her daughter Ariel accepted a fellowship teaching kids at an NGO school called
The Global Child in Cambodia, during which she was mugged twice by roving purse snatchers on motorbikes.
"It goes by fast, and she’ll love the experience,”
she assured me. Then again, she confessed that she and her daughter spoke daily via Facetime and an app called Viber. “I
slept with the phone under my pillow,” she said.
friend Amy’s daughter Michelle, a very close friend of Allegra’s, not only did back-to-back semesters of college
in Paris and China, but then returned to China for an entire year to attend a graduate program. She thinks I’m insane
to worry (or worse).
a great opportunity!” she gushed when she wrote to congratulate me on the news.
Meanwhile, my friend Phyllis hasn’t seen her
daughter in nearly a year. Kylie, another of Allegra’s BFFs, is away volunteering with a Jewish organization in Nepal.
area Kylie is in is so remote and primitive that there’s no indoor plumbing, and electricity is only available for a
few hours a day. Rabid dogs and aggressive wild monkeys also roam freely through the streets, and Kylie regularly travels
around in rickety buses that often plunge over the mountainside because there are no guard rails.
I complained to Phyllis about my daughter going to Hong Kong (a metropolis so ultra-modern that I’ve been told it makes
NYC look like Podunk), she just laughed.
And honestly, why shouldn't my daughter
be allowed to have the travel bug too, no matter how much it is bound to bug me?
Besides, ultimately, whatever I think, or however
much angst and trepidation I may feel, let’s face it: My daughter is going away. For at least three months. Halfway
around the world.
I'm thrilled for her. But I miss her already.
And you heard it here first… Or maybe not,
if you’re friends with Allegra on Facebook.
Friday, May 23, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
“Good news!” the text message read. Who could resist that, no
matter what they were doing? What I was doing at that particular moment was walking my dog, Latke. But seeing those words,
which had been sent by someone I know and love, I let curiosity get the better of me. I stopped instantly and dropped everything
– everything but the leash, that is – in order to investigate further.
I read. Latke lurched. And the rest was not just history, but a horrific
disaster of (to my mind) epic proportions.
Before I could even open the message, my iPhone practically flew
out of my hand. Not like a bird taking flight, though. More like a torpedo hurtling mightily toward a target. That target
was evidently the sidewalk, and in less than a second my phone came to a crash landing, detonating on impact. Like a piece
of toast falling on the buttered side, it landed face down, causing the glass screen to shatter into a mosaic of jagged chips.
Miraculously, the phone was still functioning, so I was able to
retrieve that good news. I’m not telling you what it was, though, nor whom it was from, because that person might feel
guilty. Of course, he or she was not to blame. I’ll tell you whom I blamed:
And upon hearing what I hollered in response to the situation (something far from fit to print here), she
appeared quite contrite. Not nearly contrite enough, though, if you ask me. (OK, if my daughter has told me once, she’s
told me a thousand times: DO NOT WALK AND TEXT! But the text I was receiving was good news. Can you blame me?)
This, of course, was far from the first time I’d dropped my phone. It might not even have been the first time
I’d dropped my phone that day. I’m what you might call a total klutz, and as we all know life is busy
and “stuff” happens. Stuff happens to me.
There was a time when my phone was housed in a sturdy yet clunky
case called an OtterBox, so that when this “stuff” happened to me, nothing happened to my phone.
For my birthday this year, though,
back in January, my daughter surprised me by designing and ordering an amazing custom-made phone case for me from Zazzle.com.
Fashioned in pale aquamarine, which is my favorite color, it was embellished with the logo that Allegra designed for
me last year – a redhead proclaiming “Because Nice Jewish Moms Know Best.” Above this was printed the message,
“Call your mother!” Below it, in elegant script, was the name of my website, NiceJewishMom.com.
Made from a hard but rather thin
plastic, this accessory did not include a screen protector and was not nearly as effective a shield as the rubber Otterbox
I’d been using. Who cared? It had been made by my daughter. For my birthday. And it was so damn cute!
So I’d thrown caution to
the wind and used it for months, dropping my phone with such frequency that countless chunks of the case had chipped off around
the edges. But until now I’d never dropped it on something as hard and damaging as concrete.
This awful scenario transpired
the Friday afternoon before Mother’s Day weekend. My husband and I were due to leave within a few hours to go hear our
daughter sing, and we were departing early the next morning to spend the weekend in New York City. Before doing all of this,
I had a gazillion and one things to finish, and I was running late. Now what was I going to do?
I’ll tell you what I did
do. I used my phone (which was still operating in all respects) to phone the nearest AT&T store. The fellow who answered
said that they did not repair phones, but that they could sell me a new one and I might even be due for an upgrade. The only
way they could check was if I went over in person. So I did.
Another fellow there named Alex verified that, having gotten my current iPhone 4S about two and a half years ago, I
was indeed due for an upgrade. If I got a new phone from them, then I would have to sign a new two-year contract (not a problem).
However, I then would not be eligible for a new phone for another two years, meaning that I would not be able to get the much-anticipated
iPhone 6 when it’s released this coming fall.
Did I care? Hardly. I’m not what you’d call a techie.
I could care less what kind of car I drive or phone I use. All I really wanted was to be able to take pictures of my kids
over the impending weekend. And, of course, to continue to receive calls and text messages (preferably bearing more good news).
That said, Alex enumerated my options. I could get another iPhone 4S for only 99 cents, but he didn’t recommend
doing that because Apple was likely to phase them out.
I also could purchase a new iPhone 5C for $99, or a 5S for $199.
Between those two options, I vastly preferred spending less, not more. But there were complications.
Before I could obtain a new phone, I’d need to back up my current phone onto my computer or the Cloud, whatever
the heck that is. This was something I’d never done. And Alex said I had so many photographs on my phone that this task
would require hours.
Hours that I didn’t have.
As a stopgap measure, I asked if there were a screen protector
he could sell me so that the shattered glass on my phone didn’t cut my face or crumble further. AT&T carried one
for $20, he said, but he admitted that I might be better off running across the street to Marshall’s, where I might
find an even better one for only 5 bucks. So I did.
Back home, I tried to back up my phone with Alex’s instructions, but had so many photos on there (mostly of my
kids) that this was going to take an estimated 22 hours. That was time I definitely didn’t have.
So we left to hear Allegra sing. And I managed to take even more pictures of her.
And the next day, before leaving,
I Googled “iPhone screen replacement in NYC.”
I discovered that there were plenty of repair kits on the market,
some of which could be purchased for as little as 5 bucks. But I knew I didn’t have the smarts for that.
There were also plenty of places
in Manhattan that would do the job for me, in as little as 20 minutes and for as little as 75 to 100 bucks.
The place that most piqued my interest, though, was Repair Wizard in the Astoria section of Queens, because we’d
be staying in a hotel in nearby Long Island City. And when I called them, a forthright, plain-talking guy named Roman answered
He assured me that he offered prices competitive with any I’d find in Manhattan. But what clinched
it for me was his candor, which convinced me that he was honest.
He said that he could replace my screen for
$50, but that the material he’d use was cheap and might only last a month. For $75 instead, he could make it as good
He also told me bluntly that the $99 iPhone 5C was a piece of junk that broke easily, and that I shouldn’t
accept one even if AT&T offered to pay me to accept it.
As for getting a 5S for $199 instead, he said, “When you
can buy a phone for $200, what’s the point, as opposed to getting the phone fixed for $75 and it’s as good as
It was a wonderful and action-packed weekend, as I detailed here last week, and I didn’t have so much as a moment
to think about backing up to the cloud, let alone getting my phone fixed. But I did manage to take even more photos, mostly
of my kids.
And on Monday afternoon, on our way home after staying over on Sunday night to hear our daughter sing yet
again, we drove straight to Repair Wizard in Astoria.
Roman Davydz operates his phone repair business out of his Uncle
Steve’s store, K & D Jewelry on Ditmars Boulevard in Queens. I was surprised to discover that he was only 25, barely
older than my daughter. I was also a little surprised – and pleasantly, I admit – to discover that he wasn’t
just very savvy about phones. Judging from the large chai hanging from his neck, he was also a landsman
– a fellow Jew.
Yes, I know this shouldn’t make a big difference to me, but let’s be honest. It does. If I’m going
to do business with someone, I’d just as soon make it another MOTB (Member of the Tribe). I’m so conscious of
being part of a tiny minority in the world that I feel like we have to support one another. If we don’t patronize each
other, who will?
Roman, meanwhile, seemed to be unpleasantly surprised when he saw my phone. Although he had no doubt that
he could replace the screen, he said that he could only do it with a phone that had been updated to Apple’s current
iOS system, 7.1.1. This is something I’d been unable to do because I didn't have enough gigabytes (!?!) available because –
have I mentioned this yet? – I had too many photos stored on my phone.
He offered to perform this operation
for me by temporarily downloading my treasure trove of pictures onto his own computer. Yet I had considerable trepidation
that he’d be unable to execute this operation in reverse. After he installed the new program, how would there possibly
be enough room left to reinstate all of my precious photos?
Still, he was the expert. I’m just a nice Jewish mom. So
I gave the go-ahead.
This procedure required a great deal of time (although fortunately not 22 hours). And while I was there
waiting, Roman reassured me that I was doing the right thing.
One alternative would have been to go to the Apple store, but this was something he didn’t recommend. “Apple
can replace your phone,” he said, “but they replace it with a phone they refurbished, and then they fix your phone.
The next customer who comes in with a broken phone, Apple gives them your repaired phone. So what’s the point of having
somebody else’s problems when you could stick with your own problems?”
I could easily see his point. “It’s
like getting somebody else’s husband when you could stick with your own pain-in-the-ass husband,” I observed brightly.
My husband laughed. He thought I was joking.
Then Roman went on to divulge how he had parlayed his job working
at his uncle’s jewelry store into his brisk sideline of fixing cell phones.
“We had a jewelry store customer, and she was constantly questioning me about a special jewelry order.”
One day, he and his girlfriend were driving somewhere, and when he got out to pump gas, a text arrived from the customer on
his iPhone, which he'd left inside the car. “My girlfriend sees the message, doesn’t believe it’s from a
customer, and slams the phone on the stick shift.”
The glass screen shattered.
That put him in the same boat that
I’d been in, only with a better attitude… and more aptitude. He found a do-it-yourself repair kit online for
$30, and after half an hour of work had fixed it himself. That led to an entrepreneurial brainstorm. “I put up an ad
charging $50 and ended up with a line down the block and 10 or 15 customers a day.”
Indeed, while we were there, as
many people stopped in for phone aid as jewelry.
And we were there for quite a while. After my photos finally had been transferred, I watched with horror as Roman disassembled
my phone, bit by bit and screw by screw. Would he – or all the king’s horses and all the king’s men –
be able to put it together again?
But after peeling off the damaged glass, he deftly reassembled those gazillion pieces and applied a perfect new screen
right before my eyes. Then, as part of the deal, he threw in a free screen protector made of a hard, clear material called
Gorilla glass, which he normally sells for $20. He also gave me a new Speck hard plastic grip case, which sells for around
$35 online, but he gave to me gratis in my choice of color (you guessed it, aquamarine).
He also sold a matching case in ruby red to my husband.
Then came the moment of truth, when he attempted to reload my photo archives. Actually “moment” might be
a poor choice of term. This took nearly an hour, and while I was waiting, his uncle Steve, who had since joined us, insisted
on cleaning my rings.
This led me to confess that I couldn’t remove my wedding ring. No, let’s be honest. I hadn’t
been able to remove that band of gold for over 20 years, since the first Bush Administration. Even a sea of hand lotion wouldn’t
get it to budge over my knuckle.
This, in turn, prompted Steve to fetch several pairs of industrial-strength shears and try to cut the ring off my finger...
preferably without taking the finger along with it.
I was terrified that he might cut my skin as well. But the truth
was that I’d now lived in fear for decades that I might have some kind of medical emergency, and they would have to
cut my ring off in the hospital, where I doubt they would do nearly as good a job.
I also had lived in fear that I
would go to Lux, Bond & Green, the best-known jewelers in my town, and they would offer to do it for me and charge a small
Or, more likely, a large fortune.
Uncle Steve insisted on enlarging my wedding band, as well as a gold horoscope ring that my father had bought for my
17th birthday, and said he would do both for $60.
It sounded like a steal.
He also cleaned my grandmother’s
gaudy diamond cocktail ring, which suddenly sparkled much more brightly than back when Grandma or my own mother had worn it.
But before I could begin to celebrate my good fortune, Roman handed over my repaired phone, and I discovered that it
had managed to upload only 70 photos, a mere drop in the bucket from the original 2,300-plus.
No, I did not erupt the way I had
during the original damage. But I was not pleased.
Roman calmed me down by assuring me that all of my photos were
still safe on his computer, rather than somewhere in the stratosphere. But just to make sure he wouldn’t mess up again,
he wanted to experiment by uploading them onto a spare phone he had. This might take another hour.
I’m a relatively normal, red-blooded woman, and while I was waiting yet again, I couldn’t help ogling all
of the jewelry lining the walls and cabinets throughout the store. I was particularly charmed by the many golden pendants
that came in an astonishing variety of shapes, from elephants and pineapples to tiny typewriters with pearls for keys.
But then my eyes lit on the gold Stars of David, and I knew what I wanted most. The one I chose was tasteful and delicate,
and my husband asked Uncle Steve to wrap it up for our next anniversary. Now all he has to do is remember where he put it
two months from now, in July.
By now, between the pendant, the $85 Roman charged me for the screen repair (a bit
more than the original $75 he’d quoted), $60 for the ring enlargement, and $13 for shipping, we already had exceeded
the $200 I might have spent on a brand-new phone.
Roman was also nowhere close to having finished downloading my
gazillion photos, and we needed to get going. So he offered to send them to me on a disk, along with my rings. So we bid our
new friends a fond farewell.
At that point, we unfortunately discovered that we had neglected to feed the parking meter all this time, and that we had
gotten a ticket, adding $35 to our total. No matter.
My phone not only looked brand-new, but was operating better than ever before. Without all those photos slowing it down,
all of its former glitches had been resolved.
It was like I no longer
had my own pain-in-the-ass husband; I had someone else's husband. Or maybe it was still my husband, but it didn't look
like my husband, and it was no longer a pain in the ass.
And a few days later, a package arrived via UPS. Inside were my missing photos – all 2,381 of them on two discs.
Plus my enlarged rings, which now gleamed like new and slid easily onto the fingers that had swelled after I gave birth to
two wonderful kids.
I’m also happy to report that the next time I dropped my phone, which happened before long, thanks
to my new aquamarine case it didn't shatter.
So maybe dropping my phone wasn’t such
a disaster of epic proportions, after all. In the end, it actually turned out to be a fortuitous thing, even among the best
things that has ever happened to me (beyond, of course, my giving birth to my two wonderful kids).
And I guess I know who I have to
thank for that.
Oh, yes, and that person who sent me the good news.
Friday, May 16, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
Before I commence dishing about my delightful Mother’s Day experience, let
me just point out that when it comes to this hallowed, Hallmark-generated holiday each year, I don’t just sit around
waiting for my grown children to remember that they have a mother. Hardly! I come up with some special activity I’d
really like to do, then invite my kids to join me.
This year, though, I’m very excited to report that, for
what I’m pretty sure was the very first time, my kids actually came up with some special plans and then invited me.
And those plans essentially could be summed up in a single word.
No, not “special.”
Ever since my son and his girlfriend moved to that (arguably nice Jewish) borough last summer, my husband and I eagerly
have been awaiting an invitation to their place. Forget the classic notion of the nagging nice Jewish mother; I’m far
from forthright about inviting myself anywhere, and am especially hesitant to insinuate myself into my grown children’s
lives (regardless of what they may think, or any stories you may have read here).
We recently gave up wishin’
and hopin’ patiently, however, because time was running out. Aidan and Kaitlin are moving to the Upper West Side in
anticipation of his beginning his Ph.D. at Columbia in the fall, and their lease is up at the end of the month. So this was
clearly a case of now or never. And between the two, I vastly preferred now.
Knowing that, my daughter Allegra considerately took matters into her own hands. She proposed that we spend the day
having a nice brunch out, then visiting the lovely Brooklyn Botanic Garden, only a short walk from Aidan’s building
in Crown Heights.
No, this didn’t prompt my son to instantly issue an invitation to come up afterwards. But it did
allow me to venture to him tactfully that as long as we were going to be in the neighborhood, his dad really would appreciate
being able to pop in for a quick look. (Somehow, it’s more socially acceptable to make your so-called better half
the bad guy.)
Mother’s Day, of course, always manages to end up being more than a mere day. We were talking Mother’s Day
weekend. This began with a trip on Friday night to go see Allegra sing with her jazz band at the Crowne Plaza Hotel
in Southbury, CT, part of a new series called Jazz at The Plaza. And what a show it was… if you ask me.
For Saturday night, as long as we had to be in NYC
anyway, my husband and I had bought tickets to a new play by Nicky Silver called Too Much Sun, starring Linda Lavin. Having seen The Lyons, his last show starring Linda Lavin, on Mother’s
Day in 2012, we knew that this brand of dark-as-night comedy was definitely for us.
The new play, currently in a pre-Broadway
run at The Vineyard Theatre on East 15th Street, is about a celebrated and supremely self-absorbed actress (played by Lavin)
who has a meltdown while rehearsing Medea, prompting her to drop in on her estranged married daughter in her summer cottage by the sea. And I’m happy to report that it is not only another brilliant and very moving production,
but also in many ways a very Jewish one, not the least of which is that it also stars yet another Jew, the phenomenal Jennifer
Westfeldt, otherwise known as actor Jon Hamm’s even better half.
late the next morning, it being
Mother's Day at last, Allegra picked us up at our hotel and drove us to Brooklyn.
She drove us to Brooklyn because the last time we’d tried to navigate around in this virtual labyrinth ourselves,
we’d gotten hopelessly lost while driving back to the city and had managed to miss the Broadway show to which we’d
bought very pricey tickets.
We weren’t about to dare risk another potential case of GPS-induced déjà
For brunch, Aidan and Kaitlin had selected Le Gamin, a charming little French café in Prospect Heights,
and an excellent choice it was. Soon we were seated in the tranquil outdoor garden out back, where the golden, freshly baked
croissants were flaky, the Bloody Marys potent, and the goat-cheese-and-veggie-stuffed omelets utterly divine.
And no, in case you’re wondering, we didn’t coordinate our wardrobes in advance. It was merely one of those
cases of great minds, or whatever they may be, thinking alike. (Sadly, Allegra, normally a poster child for polka dots, failed
to get the memo.)
Then, soon enough, it was time to open presents. I’d brought along a few little tchotchkes
for Kaitlin (at far right), who’s getting her Ph.D. in English at CUNY and had not only just passed her demanding oral
exams on Friday, but passed them with “Great Distinction.”
Meanwhile, the kids had gotten together the day before to go shopping for me. What do you get for the nice Jewish mom
who appears to have virtually everything? Allegra had managed to find a funky pair of flamingo earrings, knowing that I’ve
long been certifiably obsessed with those fine feathered life forms.
She’d also bought a device called a Corksicle,
which you keep in the freezer and use to instantly chill white wine. Let the summer begin!
Aidan and Kaitlin, meanwhile, presented me with an exquisite little pouch in which to stylishly store tissues
and a classy cheese plate set, no doubt in view of the blog I posted last winter, detailing how I’d gotten cornered
into shelling out a fortune for some highbrow French cheese at an outdoor market, only to discover that it was worthy every
centime because eating good cheese actually makes life worth living.
Needless to say, I appreciated it all, although my favorite part of the gift-giving ritual is always the cards,
and once again these did not in any way disappoint.
Allegra apologized profusely for presenting me with a homemade
card, which she had been obliged to create as an arts-and-craft activity with the children for whom she nannies. (Her day
job.) Little does she grasp, obviously, that there’s nothing more precious than a card made by your own child, and that
the saddest thing in life is to realize that your kids are grown and that phase of your life is now definitively over…
until the grandchildren arrive.
Even more endearing, though, were the heartfelt sentiments that she had inscribed inside, and I hope I’m not breeching
her trust by divulging just a few of them.
She swore that she had not read my blog last week, and I genuinely
believed her. (My kids and my husband almost never read what I write about them, to my knowledge; do you think I could continue
getting away with my telling all about them if they did?)
That made it especially eerie and ironic to read her card, because
last week I had posted an image at the very top that read, “MOTHERS – even when they’re wrong, they’re
right!" Which is pretty much precisely what Allegra had to say about me.
“This Mother’s Day
I want to thank you for being right,” she wrote.
“When I actually do heed your advice, I can be assured that I’m not
mucking it all up. Now that I’m an adult (with a card that looks like it was made by a child) I have decided to listen
more carefully. I’m lucky to have a mother who is ALWAYS RIGHT. But even more important, I’m thankful to have
a mother who is there for me and comforts me even when I don’t listen and the aftermath is grim. Without an ‘I
told you so.’ ”
She went on to point out that I do so much to support her dreams, and Aidan’s
as well, that any success they achieve will have to be shared with me, the way Jared Leto thanked his mother at the Oscars
this year upon winning best supporting actor for playing a dying transvestite in Dallas Buyer’s Club, “although
I doubt Aid will ever play a tranny with AIDS.”
Aidan, meanwhile, in his own inimitable fashion, kept it short
but sweet… well, what I consider sweet, anyway – for however dubious in appeal some of these qualities may be,
they’re the very ones I profess to possess here almost every week.
I am so grateful to have
you in my life. You are a constant source of inspiration, a shoulder to lean on, a great balabusta… and a real noodge.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Come to think of it, maybe my family actually is secretly reading what
I write about them and they let me continue to do it anyway. Now, that is a true gift.
After brunch, we proceeded to the
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, to which Aidan and Kaitlin, who happen to be members, had gone to the trouble of procuring guests
passes for the rest of us, as well as a free parking pass.
A bucolic 52-acre expanse of lush green that opened more than 100 years ago, the Botanic Garden is comprised of a series
of smaller specialty gardens within the Garden. These include a rose garden, a fragrance garden, a children’s garden,
a Shakespeare garden, a Japanese hill and pond garden, and one of the finest collections of cherry trees visible outside
of Japan, including 200 specimens representing 42 different species.
In other words, it was pretty much the ideal location in which to spend Mother’s Day, and everyone in the Western
World – and their mothers – appeared to know it.
No matter. It was a gorgeous day, albeit one
helluva scorcher, and I can only wonder what place would be a lovelier or more pleasant to wander in with the fam.
We wandered among the cherry trees. We wandered through the Japanese hills and ponds. We wandered past what I can only
assume was the children’s garden.
We wandered by a garden bursting with what looked like peonies, and also by a mass of puffy "Blue Spectacle"
tulips that were actually purple -- as royally purple as any irises I’ve ever seen.
The boys wandered around chatting
amongst themselves and soon wandered off. Then we girls wandered around for a long time trying to figure out where they’d
Then we wandered past the big fountain
outside the Steinhardt Conservatory, a gracefully domed greenhouse that houses an impressive collection of bonsai trees.
We also wandered briefly into the conservatory to admire those magnificent pint-sized shrubs, but it was as steamy as
a sauna in there, so we promptly wandered out.
When we’d finally had our fill of flora, we left and got chocolate-dipped ice cream cones from a nearby Mister
Softee truck, which was doing a bang-up business on this steamy day thanks to the patronage of everyone else in Brooklyn and
his or her mother.
Then came the moment we’d all been waiting for. Or maybe I should speak for myself. Allegra drove us all to Aidan
and Kaitlin’s, where she parked by a hydrant and told us we could go up while she waited in the car, but to please try
to make it snappy. She had another singing gig in the city that night, and she was already running late.
The truth is that we had visited this apartment briefly once before, nearly a year ago, before Kaitlin had moved in
with Aidan or the furniture had even been arranged. But it had long felt strange to have my son living in a residence I’d
barely really seen. Why, we had never even met their cats.
So we went up. And in.
We came. We saw. We conquered?
But we finally met the cats.
Most exciting for me was to discover that they were using some of the gifts I’d bought them, including a pair
of mammoth red throw pillows, which were on the couch.
But I didn’t dare have a seat on that couch. Or elsewhere.
Hello, we must be going!
After hours with my children, mostly out in the blazing sun, I had enjoyed a very
lively and satisfying Mother's Day. It would’ve been more than enough for any mother of any age.
But no sooner was Mother’s
Day was over than Mother’s Night was about to begin.
We drove back in heavy traffic through Brooklyn and Queens on
the BQE to my daughter’s apartment, where she changed quickly into a funky maxi dress and sandals.
Then we jumped back into the car and drove through even heavier traffic to the Lower East Side.
This time, however, we were in
my car and I was behind the wheel. My husband argued vociferously that we should take two cars, in case Allegra wanted to
go out with her friends after the show. However, I was convinced that if she went out afterwards, she would have something
alcoholic to drink, and I didn’t want her drinking and driving.
Allegra actually had urged us not to come to this gig, but that only had rendered us all the more eager to
go. She was appearing at a semi-seedy place called Pianos with The DayGlos, a new group that she and some friends recently
formed to perform “funk-adelic” music, rather than her usual mix of jazz standards and original tunes.
Of course, we had a total blast listening to their rock-influenced repertoire, featuring tunes by people including Joni
Mitchell and Amy Winehouse. It was even more fun when some of the much younger and hipper patrons began to dance with abandon.
When a young guy with dreadlocks began clapping to the beat of one of Allegra’s original tunes, we started clapping
too, until Allegra shot me a dirty look and shook her head. But then that fellow shot me a dirty look and insisted that I
resume clapping, so I did. Of course I didn’t want to irritate my daughter. But isn’t the customer always right?
Finally, the show was over, and after emptying the tip jar, which contained a total of $15 -- $12 of which my husband
and I had put in ourselves – the six band members were each given a free drink at the bar (their only other compensation
of any kind). Then they decided to go out, after all.
Allegra looked at me pleadingly. It was 10:30 p.m. We needed to
drive her back. What if she went out with her friends and we killed time in the vicinity until midnight?
Mother’s Day was over. Mother’s
Night, too. Now it was her turn to have fun.
So my husband and I resumed our
identities as wandering Jews, only this time scoping out a much more urban landscape... the somewhat seedy Lower East Side, late on a Sunday night, with an
hour and a half to kill.
We were afraid to wander too far, because we have that nasty habit of getting lost. That made me hesitant to venture
more than two or three blocks in any direction.
Our first impulse was to wander over to Katz’s Delicatessen, only two blocks away. Unfortunately, after the brunch,
ice cream, and having downed a slice of pizza before the gig, we weren’t at all hungry. We considered getting one of
their famous pastrami sandwiches to go anyway… until we saw that this would cost $18.45.
For a sandwich.
There were plenty of bars in the area, but after those Bloody Marys we’d had at brunch, we weren’t
interested in drinking, either. So we just kept wandering around.
We wandered past what was evidently a renowned tattoo parlor called Invisible NYC, which looked more like a funky art
gallery with a large bicycle in the window. (Ah, if only tattoos actually were invisible... Now, there's the one kind of tattoo
I could stand, and maybe even understand.)
We also wandered past a different
form of what you might call modern artistry. There was a pair of denim-clad graffiti artists at work. At least the one who
manned the spray can was intermittently at work. Meanwhile, his friend served as the lookout. Every time a car approached,
he would yell, “No!” And then, after it passed, he’d yell, “Go!” And soon the accordion-style
aluminum grate on a nearby store was a mass of yellow.
I was a little worried to take their picture. But I was even more worried when we saw half a dozen teenage boys approaching
on a darkened street dressed in hoodies. Was it safe to be wandering around in these environs so late at night?
Then they passed, oblivious to
our presence, and I smelled a suspicious fragrance. We were apparently safe from crime, after all, but not from nearly getting
a contact high.
Once again, we pivoted after a block or two because we didn’t know the area at all. It’s one thing to find
your way around midtown, where all the streets are numbered. It’s quite another where they all have names like Rivington.
Or Rabbi Yaakov Spiegel Way.
Speaking of names, we thought we had come across a nice place to sit down for a cup of coffee when we spied a bar and
eatery with the nice Jewish name Schapiro’s. Yet a young man guarding the door quickly informed us that there was an event going on there and it was already packed to the gills. Oddly,
when two comely young women from Florida and Georgia appeared, he ushered them in gladly and said no such thing.
So we merely went into a corner grocery store, where my husband bought himself a stale cheese Danish, which he downed
grumpily while sitting on the bench out front.
It was now barely past 11. We still had an hour to go.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to bore you with every detail of how we passed the rest of that time. Suffice
it to say that we wandered into many more grocery stores, simply because they were open, and also past many trendy boutiques, even
though they were closed, including one that displayed a brightly flowered “statement” necklace (although
my husband stated that he didn’t care for the statement it was making).
And when we realized that we were
hopelessly lost after all, we saw our waitress at Pianos walking home from work, and she kindly directed us back to the club.
Then, just as we reached it, a young man standing nearby asked me how the show had been. His name was Nile, and judging
from his thick brogue, he had recently arrived from Ireland.
Judging from his slurred speech,
he was also very drunk.
He continued to chat with me at length, confirming that last assessment beyond the
shadow of a doubt. Meanwhile, my husband, clearly very uncomfortable to witness the proceedings, made no effort to join us.
He merely hovered awkwardly nearby.
My new friend Nile must have realized I was old enough to be his mother because I
kept talking about how Allegra had performed that night. But he kept gabbing anyway. And instead of wandering off, I kept
standing there wondering why. Do they not have Mother’s Day in Ireland? Or does he not realize that Mother’s Day
is for picking out a nice greeting card for your mother, not for trying to pick somebody else’s mother up?
Either way, it made my husband
jealous. And that was among the best gifts of all.
By now, we still had almost half an hour to go. But we just went to sit in the car and wait, and were excited when shortly
after 12 a text came to say Allegra was on her way. And by 12:15, she and her band mate Leah finally strolled up looking as
happy as clams (clams that have had a few too many margaritas).
We drove Leah home, then went back to Allegra’s ourselves and got to bed after 2.
As I said, it was a delightful
Mother’s Day. And as you can see, mothers aren’t the only ones who are right. As Allegra acknowledged, I do
go out of my way to support my children’s dreams. All the way to Brooklyn. To midnight on the Lower East Side. Or to
the moon if necessary.
I’m thrilled to have seen Aidan and Kaitlin’s home at last, just in the nick of time. But I’m even
happier that my offspring recognize that I am behind them 100 percent, and that they appreciate this and love me enough to
have made those Mother’s Day plans.
Still, honestly, any success that they manage to achieve will be all
theirs. I’m just happy to have been there to help them along the way. That really is the best gift of all.
Saturday, May 10, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mothers and others from NiceJewishMom.com! And in honor of that incomparable occasion,
a tale of two (nice Jewish) moms.
My mother was a remarkable woman, and I’m not just saying that because she
was my mom.
She endured plenty of adversity in her life, but also had plenty to be proud of, not the least of which
was that she raised my very successful brother. And, of course, me.
In that regard, despite her being a hard-working woman before most women worked, and going through a messy, prolonged,
and profoundly acrimonious divorce, she remained a deeply devoted mom.
as she was known to all, also
obtained two Master’s degrees, taught thousands of kids with learning disabilities to read, was an incomparable cook,
avid tennis player and whiz at bridge into her 80s, and founded a popular group at her temple known as the MT Nesters.
Yet the one thing in life of which she was most proud was that she was listed in the Marquis books Who’s Who
in America and, even better, Who’s Who in the World.
Never mind that this badge of honor required her to pay a hefty fee each year to receive copies of these books, and
even more for personal plaques commemorating it. She paid those fees, bought those books, and stacked those plaques in her
Having retired at the age of 74, she had no office in which to hang those engraved wooden slabs attesting to her great distinction.
Yet she liked to keep them in plain sight, a reminder that she was not just another mother. She was important. Worthy. Someone.
A true “who” among who’s.
Of course, she was proud of other things in
her life, most of all her grandchildren. She also was one smart cookie and liked to point out at frequent intervals, whenever
she found something that was missing or unraveled some conundrum, “I’m so smart! I’m so brilliant!”
Yet those books and fake oak plaques remained her main claim to fame.
I will allow that this was some measure of distinction. Not everyone (or everyone’s mother) is listed in Who’s
Yet I must confess that I was mystified by this – both that what I privately dismissed as a cheesy
vanity-press ploy could imbue my mother with a sense of validation… and that these tributes (along with being a card-carrying
member of the brainiac society Mensa) were the life achievements upon which she dwelled and kvelled.
Yet I came to appreciate her participation in this dubious enterprise in a way that I never could have anticipated.
On the day that she died, five years ago, my brother and I went to the funeral parlor to make the necessary arrangements…
only to be abruptly informed that I had precisely 10 minutes to write her obituary in order to get it into the next day’s
It was essential to make this deadline because Passover began two days later. We had to hold the funeral the very next
afternoon, and I wanted people to know about it.
Having just lost my mother hours earlier, I wouldn’t have
had the presence of mind to do anything of the sort had I not happened to have with me in her purse – along with her
reading glasses, wallet, assorted pillboxes, and copious sucking candies -- the bio that Who’s Who had just
mailed to her to update, listing every crucial detail of her life.
There, in one comprehensive run-on paragraph, were the names of her parents, only sibling, and children (us); the dates
of both her marriages, as well as her divorce from my father; every college degree she’d ever earned; every job she’d
ever held; every school at which she’d ever taught; her professional affiliations; her love of tennis, cooking, and
other hobbies; and, of course, her long-prized membership to Mensa.
I used this outline as my guide, and within
the allotted 10 minutes I pressed “send.”
Then I filed the mini-bio back in her purse for safe-keeping,
never ordered those books or paid either of the enclosed bills ($247 for the standard edition of Who’s Who in America
and $347 for Who’s Who in the World) and never thought much about it again.
Until, that is, about a month ago,
when I received an intriguing email from someone I didn’t know named John D’Agostino, identified in the subject
line as “This is your formal invitation.”
“Dear Valued Candidate,” it began.
“You were recently chosen as a potential candidate to represent
your professional community in the 2014 Edition of Global Who's Who. The premier networking organization for distinguished
“Once finalized, your listing will share registry space with tens-of-thousands of fellow accomplished individuals
across the globe, each representing accomplishment within their own geographical area.
“To verify your profile
and accept the candidacy, please click here…”
Share registry space with
tens of thousands of fellow accomplished individuals?!? Really? No, my heart did not skip a beat. Nor was I filled with rapture
at the prospect of representing my professional community. Although time was that I labored for decades as a serious journalist,
I’m now just a lowly blogger.
I have no professional community.
This was not the first time I’d gotten such a query, but I usually ignore them. This one managed to pique my
interest, though. I was undeniably curious about it because it asked me to verify my profile, which made me instantly begin
to wonder: What did my profile say?
All I had to do was click on that link to find out. So I did. Can you blame me?
The link led me to a form asking for
my name and industry. (Wait. If they didn’t even know my industry, then how could they have my profile? But what the
heck.) I filled it out, pressed continue, and got an email back saying that I would receive a call in a few days from a representative
who’d interview me to complete my profile.
Two mornings later, just before 9 a.m., someone named Michael Sheehy
called from Covington Who’s Who, a company evidently based in Hollywood, FL. Not wanting to waste my precious time,
or his, I stated flatly that I wasn’t interested.
Yet this news did little to discourage him. He simply fast-forwarded
his spiel, bypassing the offer for a lifetime membership, which cost $800, and proceeding directly to their lowest level available,
“only $99 for a one-year trial membership."
Trying to be polite, which is more than I do for most telemarketers,
I stood firm. I wasn’t going to give him a dime, I declared. This still did nothing to dissuade him. Instead, he went
on to explain that all options included a voucher for two round-trip flights to any of 40 destinations, including London,
Spain, California, and Florida.
Suddenly, I was all ears.
A roundtrip flight? To Florida? Or even Europe?
"What’s the catch?"
“Catch?” he asked. There was no catch. There were merely two black-out dates, Christmas and New
Year’s, and the flights were good on virtually any airline.
Sure, it sounded too good to be true, but within
seconds I found myself giving him my complete career history. He asked everything from why I had gone into journalism in the
first place to what my charitable affiliations, personal interests, and hobbies were. For accuracy, I ran downstairs to forage
in my office for my most recent resume, determined to give him the correct names of all the awards I’d won way back
If this info was going to be distributed to tens of thousands of professionals, or even just fellow bloggers,
then I wanted to get it right.
After about 20 minutes of this banter, Sheehy asked for my credit card info, which I dutifully surrendered.
Only at that point did he reveal that
in addition to the $99, there was a $29 fee for processing and handling. Also, to get a copy of the book itself would set
me back an additional $199. The plaque, if I wanted one, cost $129 more, as I recall.
I didn’t want the book or plaque
and balked at paying so steep a handling fee. But then I thought about those airline tickets again and pictured myself in
"What the heck,” I said, and I authorized the payment. In return, he gave me his name and number, saying
he would continue to be my personal representative.
An hour later, I began to think about what a good deal this was and
to wonder why both of my kids couldn’t be in Who’s Who, too. They might be young, but they were professionals.
They were both “who’s,” too, and both were eager to travel. Maybe I should get them to call and register
Then, five seconds later, just as I began to dial my son’s number, I suddenly came to my senses. The deal didn't
just sound too good to be true; it was. I’m normally savvy, as well as automatically suspicious of everyone
trying to sell me something. Why hadn’t I checked the company online before giving my credit card information?
Then I quickly Googled "Covington
Who’s Who." And I thought, “Yikes!"
Innumerable grievances popped up, indicating that this so-called
“professional networking service” had operated a scam for many years under a different name, Biltmore, until it
finally had shut down, only to reappear as Covington Who’s Who.
A common complaint was that the promised airline
flight vouchers never arrived. Another was that to take advantage of the “free” flights, you had to pay for an
overpriced hotel for a minimum of three nights.
One unsatisfied customer, referring to the firm as “an unbelievably
predatory bunch of frauds,” stated that after realizing it was a scam he’d contacted his credit card company to
block any charges, yet they’d managed to go through anyway.
The outfit had evidently racked up countless complaints with Better Business Bureaus throughout the country. Many people
complained that they had called to cancel after the books they’d ordered never arrived, but never received a refund.
One victim reported that an entire year had already passed without any recourse.
Also, as one consumer column pointed
out, the original solicitation that had begun “Dear Valued Candidate” contained many red flags, not the least
of which was that if my being singled out for distinction “really
involved a selection process… you would expect the email to address you by name.”
I realized in an instant that I’d made a drastic mistake. So I phoned Michael right away and told him that I
had changed my mind.
Sounding almost hurt, he said that was too bad because my information had already been processed.
“Well, un-(expletive) process
it," I told him.
Michael then transferred me to “Ellen,” who was supposedly in "accounting," to whom I repeated my desire
to cancel. She asked if she could ask me why, and I said no, figuring that any explanation I offered would simply open it
up to debate.
“You don’t understand,” she said. “I’m asking you if I can ask why you want to
“Oh, I understand perfectly,” I rebuffed. “And the fact is that you're free to ask. I am simply not
going to answer.”
“Fine. Have a nice day!” she retorted curtly. Now, that was something I was
willing to discuss… and debate.
“I don’t want to have a nice day!” I replied. “I
want to be assured that you are not going to process my credit card and charge me $128.”
She huffily confirmed that she wouldn’t
and said to have a nice day anyway.
That, of course, was far from enough to fill me with any confidence about these people,
who were clearly gonifs (Yiddish for “thieves”). So I quickly called our credit card company and was
told that no charge had been processed yet, but that the best course of action – short of canceling our card and getting
a new one – was to put a temporary hold on the card until further notice.
Of course, it wasn’t easy living
for the coming days without using the credit card on which we normally put most of our expenses. But the worst part of all,
beyond the sense of shame and humiliation, was having to confess to my husband, who’s a consumer and business reporter at
a large local paper, that I'd been so easily duped.
Then again, this gave him a juicy subject to write about in his consumer column that week. It also prompted him to
confess that he’d backed his car into a snow bank the month before and broken the tail pipe, which cost $400 to repair,
another act of sheer stupidity that he felt made us even.
something I’d really like to debate.
Over the following weeks, we continued to monitor
our card online to see if Covington tried to process a charge. (So far, so good.) I’m also happy to report that I’ve
since received three more emails from them inviting me to join, and I simply pressed delete.
So, who’s who?
I dunno. Who are you?
What I do know is that you are not what you have or what people say
or write about you. Rather, you are what you do… or don’t.
There are hundreds, thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of accomplished individuals,
perhaps even professionals, who have fallen for that scheme and maybe lost their money, but I managed to get mine back.
I’d like a plaque commemorating that.
(I’m so smart!
I’m so brilliant!”)
I loved my mother, and I loved her mother. But it breaks my
heart that my mother’s mother never told her how incredible she was, so that my mother had to pay others to do
Maybe I should start keeping a current copy of my resume in my purse, or in plain sight in the living
room, just in case… although all I mostly want people to remember about me is not all the jobs I held, or stupid awards
I won, but how much I loved my kids.
I think that qualifies me to be listed in Who’s
Who, too. Who's Who Among Nice Jewish Moms, that is. (Why isn’t there such a book?)
If there were, I'd make sure that my mother was in it. I think she would be proud.
Friday, May 2, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
Before I begin to unload about the latest week of misadventures in my life, a quick
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Hope that wasn’t too cheesy!
And now back to your regularly scheduled blog.
When my husband first mentioned the dinner dance that his law school class was holding last weekend in honor of its
45th reunion, my first reaction was to ask how much it cost. And my second reaction, upon hearing how much it cost, was to
say NO WAY.
I mean, seriously! Sue me, sue me, what can you do me? For one single evening out, even at the ultra-posh albeit stodgy
Waldorf Astoria, I was not about to spend that.
But as the week wore on, being a nice Jewish mom, I let the guilt
start to set in.
His good friend and law school classmate Rick was flying up from Miami with his wife Lynn and their daughter just for
the occasion. And as much as we’d promised to hang out with them while they weren’t at the dinner, how much time
would that actually be?
Plus, they were paying not only for the dinner dance, but also airfare and three
nights at that exorbitant hotel. Wasn’t shelling out for the gala the least that we could do?
So on Friday morning my husband
called the reunion committee to determine if it were still possible to attend. Big surprise. It was! Even bigger surprise:
We were entitled to a discount if he worked in public service. He said that he was a newspaper reporter.
“Close enough,” they
And suddenly the issue was not should we or shouldn’t we, but merely what to wear?
Although my husband attended NYU law school way back when (make that waaaaay back when),
he only practiced law for all of about 10 minutes after graduating and hasn’t exactly kept up with many of his classmates.
The only other person we knew who'd be attending was his former roommate Lee (at left), and the last time I had laid eyes
on him was at our wedding almost 30 years ago.
That, by the way, was also the very first time I’d laid
eyes on him. As I said, my husband has not exactly kept up with his class.
So the only people we were really
interested in seeing there were Rick and Lynn. But considering that they live in Miami Beach, we were really interested
in seeing them. Sure, we’d gotten to catch up with them when we’d escaped Siberia for a week in
South Beach in February. But beyond that, our face-to-face interactions tend to be few and far between.
That may be why, the moment we arrived at our hotel late Saturday afternoon, my husband began hounding me to get ready
ASAP, which he expected to happen in 10 minutes flat. Was he out of his mind? (Don’t answer that.) But seriously. I
can easily get ready in 10 minutes flat to go walk my dog. But for a dinner dance? At the Waldorf? Given my age, stage in
life, and state of disrepair, we were talking more like a matter of days.
He kept saying that he was going to phone Rick to make sure he saved us seats right next to them, until I finally exploded
and said that he was behaving beyond OCD. At first, he hadn’t wanted to go to this event. Why, suddenly, did his life
depend upon getting to it?
But finally, after duly slaving over my hair, nails, makeup, and so on, and putting
on my favorite ‘40s-style dress, I realized this was as good as it was gonna get, and we left... while we were still
Of course, we were not staying at the Waldorf Astoria ourselves. Whether or not that legendary hotel might
be to our taste, the lap of luxury is not in our budget. Our budget had booked us into a Best Western in Queens. (No
luxury. Not even a lap.)
But soon enough we made our way to this Art Deco landmark in Manhattan on Park Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets,
and up to the Conrad Suite, on the fourth floor, where the grand soirée was already underway and cocktails were being
Not being much of a drinker myself (and being stuck in a sort of cultural time warp in which Sex and the City
still rules as the height of cool), I asked the bartender for a Cosmopolitan. This is a pale pink drink normally served in
a martini glass, consisting of vodka, Triple Sec, and fresh lime juice with just a splash of cranberry added for color.
What he gave me was more like vodka and cranberry juice in a large wine glass. But the operative word here was probably
“large,” and after about four sips I didn’t care.
Given that 45 is not a particularly notable
year, the school had lumped us in with the class of ’64, which had turned out in droves, as well as black-tie, to mark
their 50th. And considering that they were 75 and up, you had to hand it to these merry gentlemen. And I do mean “gentlemen,” as opposed to “ladies and…” I soon was accosted by a matronly redhead in a blue
sequined dress who began babbling to me in a heavy accent that she’d enrolled at NYU from Argentina as one of only two
women in their entire class.
She also told me quite a bit more, I think, but those were essentially the only words she said that I actually understood.
My husband, meanwhile, managed to track down one of the few men from his class who had bothered to turn out for this
illustrious event. He and this fellow, whose name was Ron, did not remember each other from 45 years ago, but Ron knew Rick.
But wait. Where was Rick? The party had begun at 6 p.m. and it was already 6:30. Yet he and Lynn were nowhere
to be seen.
Whatever. A waiter wandered by proffering a silver tray. “Lamb chop?” he asked.
I’m trying to become a vegetarian.
But we were at the Waldorf. Why the heck not?
Ron said he had chosen to attend at the last minute after being
urged to come by Rick, whom he’d run into earlier that day. He’d also seen Lee, my husband's former roommate,
who was no longer coming. Oh, well. After 30 years, I might not have recognized him anyway.
Ron had come from Philadelphia
for the occasion. I asked him why his wife hadn't joined him and he replied that he’d been divorced for 20 years. That
made me feel a little like a fool. OK, actually a lot.
But then another waiter stopped by with crab cakes. Never mind that they’re trayf. What’s better
than crab cakes? Besides, I’ve never kept kosher. Didn’t mind if I did.
By now, it was nearly 7 and the
party staff was urging us all to proceed to dinner. My husband stopped to get another drink at the bar, then we entered the
dining room. There were only two tables for his classmates. One of them was already completely full. The other was completely
We joined Ron at that table, which was way in the corner. My husband, who remained anxious to sit beside
Rick, tipped over the two chairs beside him. Ron said that Rick was the only person he knew there and he wanted to sit next
to him too.
So I made room for Rick to sit between them and for Lynn to sit beside them, and went to sit across the table all by
myself. Whatever. It’s not like I don’t see my own husband every single day. All the tables were already set with
the appetizer, an elegant-looking, tricolored mound composed of undetermined vegetable matter, garnished with a wig of watercress
and embellished with concentric circles of a syrupy Balsamic sort of sauce.
They also were set with glasses
full of the wine that accompanied the first course. This was white and indescribably delicious. I’m normally what you
might call a cheap date. I can have one drink or one glass of (cheap) wine – not both – and that puts me right
to sleep. But even our reduced admission price had been rather hefty, and this stuff was free. So what the heck. Didn’t
mind if I did.
Ron and my hubby were seated so far across the table that we couldn’t converse. Where were Rick and
Lynn? My husband decided to call them. They were on their way. Phew!
They finally breezed in with their daughter in tow. Rick had decided that Gabrielle, who is 13, couldn’t spend
the evening in a hotel room on her own. She begged to differ. At the very least, she didn’t want to spend it at a fancy
dinner with a bunch of lawyers.
She spent the bulk of the rest of the dinner looking at her phone. I spent the bulk of the rest of the
dinner listening to Lynn trying to get Gabrielle to stop looking at her phone. But I personally didn’t blame the girl
for looking at her phone. The class of ’64 had launched into a series of self-congratulatory speeches about their illustrious
past. It took an immeasurable amount of self-restraint for me to stop looking at my own phone.
But now the second course was being
served – filet mignon with baked butternut squash and sautéed kale. Yes, I really am trying to become a vegetarian,
but that meat was unbelievably delicious, especially paired with the red wine that accompanied it, which was unbelievably
Dessert, surprisingly, turned out to be just a modest plate of petit fours and chocolate-dipped strawberries plus
French macarons (nothing like our Passover coconut macaroons) in assorted pastel shades. But just when we’d
finished eating our fill, it turned out that this was just the pre-dessert, like a practice round for dessert -- maybe just
the dessert appetizers -- and along came what was evidently the real dessert, individual fallen chocolate tortes
served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
As appetizing as these looked and tasted, at this point the speeches
resumed, accompanied by a song. Someone from the class of ’64 had written new lyrics to “As Time Goes By.”
I’m afraid I couldn’t manage to catch them all.
But maybe that was just as well.
Remember this you must
A trust is still a trust,
A crime is just a crime
fundamental rules still chime
As by goes time.
And when two lawyers fight
They both say "I am right"
Of that there is no doubt
But EBT's and
Will bring truth out...
It's still the same procedure
justice it will lead ya'
The case is yours to try
The world will always welcome lawyers
As time goes by!
(How about this -- Don't play it again, Sam!)
Just when I thought
I couldn’t stand one more word or verse (even though I'd already easily polished off both glasses of my wine),
dinner was pronounced officially over and everyone was asked to proceed to the dance segment of the evening.
By now, Gabrielle, who is a very sharp and supercool kid, but still a kid, had clearly had more than her fill of
the over-70 crowd – a crime to which all three females at our table might have pled guilty – but our husbands
were still lost in combative and presumably lawyerly conversation. So Lynn invited me to go up to their room to powder our
noses and help Gabrielle get settled for the night.
I must admit that I was deeply torn between morbid curiosity to
see how the other half of our group lived (or at least vacationed) on the one hand and, on the other, extreme dread to discover
just how far off from luxurious our own digs doubtless were. But curiosity won.
And far be it from me to even try to describe how spacious, bordering on palatial, their accommodations were, complete
with a king-sized bed and expansive sitting area.
As for their mammoth, marble-lined bathroom (nearly the size of
our own bedroom), I have just one word for you.
I'm willing to bet there isn't a single one of those in Long Island
City. Or maybe even a single person who knows what one is.
From there, we elected to rendezvous with our male counterparts
in the Starlight Ballroom, up on the 18th floor, where the dance portion of the evening was being held. As we entered this
opulent banquet hall, consisting mostly of an enormous dance floor, we spied our escorts beside yet another open bar.
This one was stocked not only with wine and liquor, but also assorted liqueurs like Kahlua, Amaretto, and Drambuie.
I asked for a Frangelico and cream on the rocks. This wasn’t such a bad party, after all.
Out on that dance floor the size
of New Jersey, a single couple was shaking a leg. Four legs, to be exact. However, they were dancing to the strains of a nine-piece
(18-leg) band. What was wrong with this picture?
Yet Rick suddenly grabbed Lynn and began to swing her around. So we joined in.
Then the band launched into “We Are Family,” originally sung by Sly and the Family Stone, and I coaxed Ron
to come join us as I mouthed the words to the song emphatically. After all, we were becoming some kind of crazy family, linked
by law, weren’t we?
The ceiling was lined with navy blue and white banners stating the years of all the
alumni there celebrating five-year milestones, from the class of 2009 to the class of ’64. Evidently, the room had been
relatively deserted until now because the class dinners had been staggered in time, with our group of codgers designated for
the early-bird special. But soon enough, much younger revelers began rushing in, leaving the dance floor mobbed.
There were dancers who thought they were hot stuff on the dance floor but weren’t. There were dancers who thought
they were awful on the dance floor and were. And there were dancers who were pretty awful on the floor, knew it, and just
Where did we fall in that crowd? The jury's still out on that. But I liked the last group best of all.
Actually, I know exactly where we fell. My husband may once have been a lawyer (albeit for about 10 minutes), but he’s
fundamentally a very silly person and a very silly dancer. And whether or not he’s as good on the floor as he thinks
(he’s not), we always have fun.
By pure coincidence, the very next day I saw posted on Facebook an image
bearing a word that I had never before heard.
The word, taken from Middle English, was “balter,”
and here’s how it was defined: “To dance gracelessly, without particular art or skill, but perhaps with some enjoyment.”
That’s exactly what we were doing, and every time we stormed the floor once more upon hearing the opening strains
of a song that we liked, it could have been called a “balter dash.”
Which was a lot more satisfying
than any of the speeches we had heard earlier, which consisted, in a word, of “balderdash.”
That is not to cast any aspersions
on lawyers. Why, some of my best friends are lawyers. My brother and sister-in-law are both lawyers. My own husband was once
a lawyer (albeit for about 10 minutes).
Nor is it to cast any aspersions on NYU’s School of Law. Why, Amal Alamuddin (the woman of the moment, being George
Clooney’s brand-new fiancée) went there herself, during which time she clerked for Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Of
course, Alamuddin, a Beirut-born human rights lawyer, was nowhere near the NYU reunion. She was off in London or somewhere,
helping to defend WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in his extradition case with Sweden… and, of course, getting engaged.
But if dancing was not the forte of most barristers at the ball, then there were other diversions for these princes
(and princesses) who were more churlish than charming.
Chief among them was a photo booth set up near our table. About the size and dimensions of a phone booth (remember those?),
it was only ample enough to accommodate two at a time. No matter. My husband’s old classmate Carol and her husband Ray
had joined us for dancing (and yes, more cocktails), and the seven of us took turns piling onto each other’s lap so
we could mug for the camera four at a time.
Was this the dinner dance we had wanted to forego, mostly to save a little dough?
Most fun ever!
For those who had already managed to work off dinner on the dance floor, there was also a separate room offering a Viennese
table groaning with cream puffs, pies, pastries, and other posh desserts.
Evidently, the "real dessert" had just been a warm-up round for the dessert buffet.
By now it was well past midnight,
and by my count my husband (after four cocktails and about five glasses of wine), had already consumed more than his money’s
worth. And although I’m not much of a drinker, as I said, I was a very satisfied customer too.
I was also a very tired one, and when Rick and Lynn soon began making their exit, we agreed to call it a night, too.
Unfortunately, poor Ron now realized that the next train back to Philly didn’t depart until 3 a.m. He declined
my offer to see if there might be a room at our Best Western. But my husband had what he thought was a far better solution…
at a far better hotel.
He gallantly introduced Ron to a small, gray-haired lady we found wandering in the hallway whose name tag
indicated that she was there celebrating her 50th reunion. Evidently, we’d somehow found her – the only other
female member of the class of ’64. And she had a room of her own right on the premises.
Ron seemed to appreciate this noble gesture even less than he’d welcomed mine.
My husband later told me he’d
learned that Ron’s 70th birthday had begun at midnight. I can only hope that wherever he slept, he had some fun and
eventually found his way home.
As for us, we stopped in the restrooms on our way out, and the individual stalls in the ladies’ room were so large
and glitzy that even they put our hotel room to shame. Maybe Ron could have stayed there.
The next afternoon, after we’d managed to more or less wake up, we met Rick’s family and our own kids for
brunch and a little shopping in Soho. But with my niece Suzy and Aidan’s girlfriend Kaitlin in tow, our group was so
large that we barely got to chat. So it was a good thing we had bitten the bullet and gone to that damn reunion, after all.
Still, in the course of asking everyone what they did, I managed to hear Rick note that his ultimate ambition in life
was to have a job he enjoyed so much that he’d do it for free.
It wasn’t a startling revelation, but profound enough to give me a sudden epiphany. Maybe that’s exactly
what I have myself. For as much as I kvetch in this space now and then that writing a blog has no monetary reward,
I clearly do enjoy it enough to do it for free. For if I didn’t enjoy it, why would I have continued doing it weekly
for over three years?
So in the end, I learned a lot and have two small bits of motherly wisdom to impart.
1) If invited, go. It’s almost always much more fun to show up than you ever would
2) If you’re satisfied staying on the cheap, do not peek in on the
other half’s hotel.
I also have a new word to propose – blahg. Definition: to
write gracelessly, without any particular art or skill… or shred of financial compensation whatsoever…
but perhaps some enjoyment. Maybe even a lot.
|That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.
No, sir, that's not
my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring
ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible
need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime
delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the
dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in
their 20s, both are currently living on their
own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a
day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to
the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally
wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials
for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh
mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah
balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions,
from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I
can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can
barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active
mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging
times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!
|LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
In coming weeks, I will continue
posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often,
and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together):
That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New