|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
Friday, June 27, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
Everyone keeps asking me when my daughter is leaving for her three-month stint
singing in Hong Kong (this Sunday) and whether I have started to freak out yet (yes!). But I keep reminding myself that she
will "have the adventure of a lifetime" (or so people keep telling me) and will “be back before I know it”
(or so they say). Meanwhile, until she goes, I’m trying to spend as much time with her as possible. And what could be
better to do together than attend the annual Mermaid Parade?
When she invited her dad and me to join her for this inimitable event last summer, let’s just say that things
did not go quite according to plan. We dressed up in sailor suits and arrived on schedule early that afternoon to meet Allegra
and her roommate Jamie at their apartment on Roosevelt Island. They were not quite done arranging their own costumes however,
and then proceeded to drag their fishnet-stockinged heels, insisting that we go get sandwiches to bring along and then stop
for iced drinks from Starbucks.
We finally followed them in their car way out to Coney Island to find that the traffic was treacherous, the parade was
already over, and there was no parking to be found anywhere.
I dropped off my husband, who wandered around
ogling the topless girls and other semi-nude denizens of the deep who turn out in droves for this raucous spectacle. Our own
little mermaids, meanwhile, managed to find an exorbitant parking garage for $45. (I refused to pay that level
of highway robbery for the mere 45 minutes we had left before we had to depart to meet friends for dinner.)
The upshot was that I drove about four hours round-trip and never even got out of my car. This year, I didn’t
want to risk having a repeat of that.
So my husband and I picked out some new nautical costumes, and
we all agreed to travel by subway and leave much earlier. Unfortunately, once again things didn’t go according to plan.
Two nights before the day of the parade, Allegra called with some news. She’d heard from the Four Seasons Hotel
in Hong Kong, where she will be singing, that they wanted her to send them brand new publicity shots that they could use to
promote her. She’d quickly called around and found a professional photographer who charged "only $350."
I don’t remember quite what I said, and even if I remembered I probably wouldn’t tell you.
Suffice it to say that earlier that week we’d had to replace our central a/c and furnaces, which cost over $10,000,
and then our son’s car had abruptly gone kaput. I’d also bought Allegra two new evening gowns for Hong Kong to
add to her already vast collection.
So what I said about her having to spend another $350 was far from enthusiastic.
Rather, it was blunt, rude, and insensitive enough to make her hang up on me almost instantly.
I texted her the next morning to
apologize, but she didn’t respond till late that day.
“Are you still planning on coming tomorrow?” she asked
I could only imagine that she hoped we’d changed our minds. And maybe if we were actually in our
right minds, we would have changed them. But as I said I was already freaking out. I also remained intent on spending as much
time as possible with her before she left, even if she now hated me.
And regardless of that, I had agreed to go help
her pack the copious contents of her room, since she had sublet it for the months she’ll be away. So I said we were
She responded somewhat stiffly that her friend Michelle and Michelle’s boyfriend planned to join her for the parade,
and that if we couldn’t get there by 12:30 then we’d simply have to take the subway to Coney Island ourselves.
So I began thinking that we should simply bow out and let the kids have their fun alone. But then she sent a message
of détente… never mind that I was the one who still owed her an apology.
“Mom, I really would like
to not fight during the few days I have left before I leave,” it said. “I hope we can all make an effort to get
along this weekend even though we’re all super stressed about everything. I’m going to try very hard.”
Tears began gushing the moment I saw it. (Did I mention that I’m already freaking out?)
“Me too!” I wrote back
instantly. “I miss you already! I don't want to fight either!”
I also became determined to arrive
on time and to not antagonize her any further. But you know what happens when you have a sensitive situation and tightly
scripted plans. All sorts of obstacles began cropping up to make the best-laid plans of mice and moms go awry.
The night before we left was the big annual fundraiser for an arts organization at which I volunteer. I spent half the
day helping to set up the party and the entire evening attending it. Then I went home and finished my blog, which kept me
up until 2:30 a.m.
Shortly before 6 a.m., I was awakened by our dog, who had a very upset stomach (to put it delicately).
I took her outside, only to discover that Latke had already relieved herself on not just one of our bathroom rugs, but
two. After washing them thoroughly, I went back to bed for an hour. That still left me operating on just over four
hours sleep (and not four consecutive ones).
So I should be forgiven for not leaving quite on time that morning. My husband drove separately so I could stay in NYC
after he left and help Allegra pack. He phoned from further down the highway to warn me that there were multiple traffic jams
due to construction, car accidents, rubber-necked motorists, and the apparent end of civilization as we know it. When it became
clear that we’d never make it on time, Allegra left for the parade with her friends.
A drive that should have taken
only two hours or so turned into an agonizing three and a half. By the time I arrived at Allegra’s, it was
well past 1 and the parade was underway. At that point, we learned that the subway from Roosevelt Island to Manhattan was
not running that weekend, so we had to take a bus to the tram across the East River and then walk many blocks to the subway
Allegra texted us that the subway to Coney Island took almost an hour and a half.
“Is it too late to come now?”
I texted in reply. But we were already en route, and the train that we needed came before we heard back, so we simply scrambled
I couldn’t believe the trip was that long, but it turned out that she was right. The parade was at the very last
stop in Brooklyn, and the subway car we were riding in had an electronic schedule that listed all of the stops in between.
It appeared that there were 15 to go, but every time we passed a stop, it would add another. And I soon began to realize that
there weren’t 15 stops at all. There were apparently 15,000, more or less.
Still, just before 4, we approached
the end of the line. (This had to be the end of the line, didn’t it?) The subway left its subterranean depths
and emerged above ground, meaning cell phone service suddenly resumed. That’s when Allegra’s reply reached us
She’d said it was indeed too late; that the parade was over and we shouldn’t come.
When we told her we were not only coming
but almost there, she said that her phone was about to die, and I realized that when we finally got there we would have
no way of finding her.
I wrote to ask if there were a location at which we could rendezvous, but got no reply. Perhaps
her phone had already petered out. Or could she still be irate enough at me to give us the brush-off?
Although my husband was not averse to getting another eyeful of semi-nude young lovelies, the only real reason I had
traveled so far was to spend some time with my daughter. Between the car, bus, tram, and train, I had now been on the road
for nearly 6 hours. Would it be all for naught?
Then I remembered that I had an old number for her friend Michelle
in my contacts.
“Michelle, is this still your cell?” I texted her. “We’re 1 stop away. Where r
Then, just as we disembarked, some encouraging words appeared:
“Hey, it’s Michelle.
We’re at the coney island cones at the boardwalk.”
The coney island cones? What the heck was that?
An ice cream shop, perhaps?
As we made our way through the subway station, we saw half of the Western World proceeding
in the opposite direction, trying to leave the area. Clearly, the parade was indeed over.
The excitement, however, was not.
The streets were filled with countless marauders in colorful wigs, makeshift fishtails, and other tawdry attire.
My husband kept stopping to admire them and snap their pictures.
I just wanted to find those cones.
We asked a policeman if he knew
where something called Coney Island Cones was. He shrugged.
The next officer we asked had no clue either, but
he pointed us toward the boardwalk.
The area was teeming with so many people that it was hard to walk. And there
were so many scantily dressed young women that it was hard to get my husband to walk. Anyone seeing us holding hands might have thought, "How romantic!" Not quite. That was simply the only
way I could prevent him from continually coming to a halt or abruptly wandering off for more, uh, photographic
Finally we reached what was clearly the boardwalk, where a girl in an electric blue wig and a red and green
bikini looked nothing like a mermaid but was still attracting considerable attention thanks to her tattooed pelvis, which was
gyrating wildly with a hula hoop.
Then there was the trio of fanciful sea creatures, one of whom was wearing only a pair of emerald green tights,
a floral lei, and a fine feathered headdress, and if you think that sounds sexy then you should have seen what his female
companions were wearing.
I texted Michelle again, but apparently there was limited cell service by the beach
because that message remained marked “Not Delivered.”
So we took our chances and headed in the direction in which there seemed to be the highest concentration of hamburger
stands and other shops, along with colorful characters like a pair of Day-Glo mermaids in turquoise and shocking pink posing
for pictures with their parasols.
We passed Nathan’s, famous for its Coney Island hot dogs, and many a booth
selling fried shrimp, fried chicken, fried clams and fried calamari, not to mention fried fries. And by now I was beginning
to feel fried myself.
Where the heck was our daughter?
My husband meanwhile began to look a little shell-shocked as we passed a lively group of girls whose top halves were
cloaked (and I use the term loosely) in little more than shells.
Then there were the assortment of parade-goers
whose tops were merely painted on.
And the girls whose tops were cones.
But where were those Coney Island Cones?
Just when I began to worry that we had headed in the wrong direction,
I spied a promising place by the amusement park.
It was an old-fashioned ice cream shop called Coney’s Cones.
It was also mobbed.
I studied the endless line of costumed customers waiting outside it to buy ice cream. I didn’t see Allegra among
them. Nor did I see Michelle. Clearly, they had left by now. My heart quickly fell.
Then, over the din of revelers
and roar of the sea, I heard a faint cry. “Mom! Dad!”
I looked up to see my daughter leaping into
the air so that I’d see her. She was wearing an itsy bitsy teeny weenie black and white polka dot bikini top, and
her hair was gathered in pigtails.
And before I knew it, she was racing across the boardwalk and flying into my arms.
“Oh, my God!” she cried.
“There you are! I was afraid you would never find us!”
all was forgiven.
She posed with me.
She posed with Michelle, Michelle’s boyfriend, and Michelle’s boyfriend’s friend.
And after the kids went for a quick
dip in the ocean, my husband bought himself one of those Coney Island cones, and I enjoyed some great Coney Island
trayf. (It was about the only thing you could buy to eat that wasn’t actually fried.)
Then we watched the kids take a spin on the famous Coney Island Wonder Wheel.
Unfortunately, we spent most of the next few days in Allegra's room, as planned, packing frantically. Not
exactly my idea of quality time together, although we did manage not to fight.
She also found time for that photo
shoot, which I now not only whole-heartedly endorsed, but for which I insisted she get a fancy, tousled new haircut.
Having been a fashion editor in a former life (i.e. my life before I had
kids), I also valiantly pitched
in as her personal assistant-slash-stylist. I helped schlep her many accoutrements to the photo studio and took the
subway down to Chinatown to borrow a classy, old-fashioned microphone to use as a prop from another singer named Christina.
Then, while she was in the studio, I tried to make myself useful by picking out jewelry to match her glamorous
outfits and helping her in and out of her many gowns, both old and new.
at the risk of seeming like a stage mom and nice Jewish noodge, I managed to snap a few of my own shots of the proceedings.
But she got the actual proofs back today.
I think in the end it was money
well spent and that Hong Kong will be pleased. Don’t you?
Meanwhile, she’s already packed, she’s
ready to go, and she leaves this Sunday.
And yes, of course I miss her already.
But she will be back before I know it. Won’t she?
Friday, June 20, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
You must forgive me for not posting last week. Yes, I know. Not only did I not
post, but I didn’t even post a note stating that I wasn’t going to post. Forgive me for that, too.
It was just one of those weeks
when I was too busy living my life to write about it. Last Friday, you see, happened to be my husband’s birthday. And
not just any birthday. A big birthday. No, beyond big. A really big birthday. One of those so-called milestone birthdays.
OK, I’ll just say it.
Last Friday, on June 13th, my husband turned 70. Seriously.
Nice Jewish Dad is
just over a decade my senior. That means that we are now being inundated with recorded calls from telemarketers that begin,
“Attention, seniors!” and then proceed to try to sell us stuff like alert systems in case we fall and can’t
It also means that I’m still in my 50s, but am married to a man who is technically (and in almost every other
way) now in his 70s. But only for the next seven months. Then we will both technically (and in almost every other way) be
pretty freaking old.
For now, though, in view of this momentous occasion, and taking advantage of my (relative) youth, I succumbed
to my kids’ entreaties to throw him a lavish birthday bash.
Yes, I might as well admit it here because my husband already knows that it’s true. Having a party was entirely
their idea. My idea of how to handle this so-called auspicious occasion (seventy!@#&%/?!!!) was to join the witness
protection program, or at the very least tell no one (no one!) and hide in the nearest cave. But my husband
wanted to celebrate sociably too, and eventually my daughter’s whining wore me down.
I hesitate to write about it in
excruciating detail, let alone post pictures, because not everyone we know was invited, and I don’t want anyone who
wasn’t to feel bad.
The fact is that the last time I threw him a sizable party (or I threw any kind of a real party, beyond the annual Passover
seder) was 10 years ago, when he turned 60.
That was a truly lavish and professionally catered affair held
at a stylish venue overlooking the Connecticut River, to which we invited 60 guests to mark his 60th year.
Turning 70 might be an even bigger
deal, but in the 10 years since that shindig we have put two kids through four years of college, footed the bill for all kinds
of disasters, and seen many a financial investment go south (meaning that it bypassed the Mason-Dixon line and Equator and
went straight to hell). Our budget is not what it once was.
And neither is our style of living… or partying.
This party was going to be held in our back yard and I would do all the cooking myself. But I cannot possibly
cook for 60. Or seat that many people in our back yard all at once. So the guest list had to be not just drastically
cut, but whittled down to a measly half.
Other than my kids and my only sibling, we invited almost no one from
out of town because we had no room to put anyone else up overnight. And although this might have been a chance to reconnect
with old friends, that would have to wait for another day. We invited no one we hadn’t seen lately.
As I watched the weather forecast
give way from 40 percent chance of rain to 60 percent chance of thundershowers, I realized that the party would have to be
moved indoors. So, as guilty as I felt for excluding many people, I did not regret capping the list.
I simply redoubled my efforts to
make the festivities still seem reasonably festive. The colorful plastic tablecloths and other party goods I’d ordered
from Party City would have helped transform our back yard into a tropical paradise on a balmy summer night. But would these
alone suffice in lending a party atmosphere to our finished basement?
At least with everyone safe inside it wouldn’t
be too hot, or muggy... or buggy.
We also would be able to seat at least a dozen people at our ping-pong table (cleverly
disguised under three overlapping bright red plastic tablecloths, of course). That meant that we only needed to rent two banquet
tables, along with folding chairs.
I feared that our basement would be claustrophobic, though, not to mention tacky. So along with hanging the requisite
tacky Happy Birthday banner, I put up a string of (excuse the expression) Christmas lights strung with plastic palm trees
and pink flamingoes. (Nothing tacky there, huh?)
Then, for good measure, I mounted a gazillion photos of my husband in past days (although not necessarily better ones),
many of them featuring people who’d be there too.
I also gathered assorted old photos to place on the tables, including the one that captured him back in the days when
he was widely known as (excuse the expression) “the Jewish John Lennon.”
Although this was far from a small child’s party, I was determined to give out treat bags. (Back in the days when
I was a full-time nice Jewish mom, those were my true forte.)
When my husband turned 60, I gave everyone sailor hats and colorful leis to wear and made treat bags that contained
nifty glasses with cute sea creatures on them to go with my nautical party theme, “Sailing into the 60s,”
reflecting the riverside locale.
To help economize this time, I dispensed with all of the extra (and extra tacky) accoutrements and made the treat bag
contents myself. My daughter came up with the idea of dipping pretzels into white and dark chocolate and studding them with
sprinkles and mini M&Ms.
To help personalize these, it was also her idea to apply home-made labels to the
bags themselves featuring an image of my husband that has become his trademark.
For as long as I can remember, every single time he has signed a greeting card for any occasion, he has carefully drawn
on a caricature of his face, complete with glasses.
Over the years, that image has gradually aged, although it still
has black hair, and plenty of it; it does not look anywhere close to seventy!@#&%/?!
The words I added were an
inside joke, relating to the chorus of a rap song my husband wrote and performed for our son’s birthday when Aidan turned
9 or 10, to Aidan's acute embarrassment: “He ain’t heavy, he’s Mr. Levy!”
And although this occasion wasn’t the bar mitzvah my husband never had (it was 57 years too late for that), I
also created a sign-in board for him, using a photo of him jogging on Miami Beach last winter and the official slogan I had
coined for this occasion.
“Harlan is the new 70!”
I had the same photo and slogan printed on a long-sleeved shirt from Zazzle.com. My husband didn’t really want
to wear this to the party. But neither did he want to go into the witness protection program, so, at my very strong insistence,
he soon gave in.
Another more vintage photo was delivered to the bakery at a local supermarket, The Big Y, to be airbrushed
onto the birthday cake I’d ordered. Shot on Martha’s Vineyard some years ago, it shows my husband posed in front
of a series of signs presumably imprinted with the names of families who owned the land we were passing.
Between all of these preparations, not to mention round-the-clock shopping, cleaning, and kvetching, I stayed
up past 2 a.m. every night the week before the party. Yet beyond whipping up some of my famous Nice Jewish Mom balsamic vinaigrette
and a industrial-size vat of homemade hot fudge, I didn’t get around to beginning much of the cooking until the morning
of the big day.
Good thing that my good friends Pat and Phyllis had refused to take my initial martyr-like cry of “No,
I'd rather do it myself!” for an answer and had insisted on each contributing a few extra dishes themselves.
But that didn’t suffice to
quell my mounting sense of anxiety. Because just my luck (or lack thereof), the birthday just happened to fall on Friday the
13th. And along with weather that refused to cooperate, I kept running into unforeseen complications.
Although I often write about my daughter’s exploits as a rising young jazz singer, my son is also quite accomplished
on the saxophone, and they wished to perform at the party for their dad. And when my good friend Catherine and her husband
Jaimoe got wind of this, they said that Jaimoe wished to perform as well.
Jaimoe is not just accomplished on the drums, however. He’s a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, with
which he continues to tour. With countless classic hits, including “Ramblin’ Man” and “Sweet Melissa,”
they were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement
So when Jaimoe said that he wanted to play with my kids, this was not child’s play. It was serious business.
Allegra already had recruited her regular pianist Sean to accompany them, and Jaimoe insisted on having a bassist get
in on the act too, so she invited her good friend Zwelakhe-Duma Bell le Pere, otherwise known as Zwe (which is pronounced
A day or two before the party, however, Sean discovered that the party conflicted with another gig he had that weekend
and bowed out. So Allegra frantically began calling around and managed to enlist another friend, also named Sean, to play
Then late Friday afternoon Aidan arrived with his girlfriend Kaitlin shortly before the party only to realize that he’d
inadvertently left his saxophone in his apartment in NYC. Although he had an old clarinet in his bedroom at home, it had no
mouthpiece. He didn’t want to disappoint his dad by bowing out of the band, though, So he called around until he found
the only music store open on a Friday night and drove off to buy a new one.
Meanwhile, Jaimoe stopped by to set up his drums and had a quick rehearsal with the rest of the group. Then he left
at 5:30 to get Catherine. The party started at 6:30.
“See you in an hour,” I called.
Their plan was to play during the
cocktail hour and then a bit more after dinner. When 6:30 rolled around, people gradually began to pour through the door en
masse. By 7, almost everyone was there. Everyone but Catherine and Jaimoe.
While the crowd descended upon
the open bar and copious hors d’oeuvres, I found myself sequestered out on our deck, manically trying to grill 30 steaks
(So much for the do-it-yourself approach. Why the heck hadn’t I hired
But by the time those many steaks were all perfectly charred and off the grill, Jaimoe and Catherine still
Had something happened? Were they OK? Had he abruptly changed his mind?
You’ve heard of Waiting
for Guffman and Waiting for Godot. Well, this was “Waiting for Jaimoe.”
It was 7:45 when I called to ask
what was wrong. Catherine picked up the phone.
“Hey! We’ve been trying to reach you. What time does
the party start?” she asked.
Jaimoe hadn’t heard me when he was leaving and had been phoning the house for
hours, only to get a busy signal. Sure enough, I discovered a receiver off the hook in my husband’s office. He’d
received one too many calls before the party wishing him well.
I apologized profusely. They promised to come
All of that meat was beginning to get cold, along with the salmon I’d grilled and the veggies I’d stir-fried.
Meanwhile, the huge cauldron of cold noodles with sesame sauce I’d made and giant green salad were beginning to
get warm. So perhaps I should simply have served dinner. But I didn’t want to start without Catherine and Jaimoe. And
after all the effort that my kids had gone to, I wanted to make sure they got to play as planned.
Catherine and Jaimoe finally burst in by 8 and the band launched into their opening number at once. Who cared if the
food was just a little cold? This was beyond cool! Everyone seemed to be enjoying it so much that they played an extra tune
Then Allegra announced that dinner was served and everyone hurried downstairs.
It wasn’t humid. It wasn’t buggy. And pink flamingoes or not, I don’t even think it was tacky.
And after everyone had eaten their
fill, we proceeded on to the next entertainment segment.
On the invitation, I had entreated everyone to come prepared to
roast and toast my husband. One clever couple, Suzy and Stan, took this literally and arrived with a basket laden with fresh
bread that read “Pattie, please toast me” and colorful peppers that read “Pattie, please roast me.”
Our dear friend Lois also had crafted a hilarious song for the occasion, which she bravely dared to sing a capella
herself to the tune of “Hello, Dolly.”
Well, hello, Harlan.
This is Lois, darlin’.
It’s so nice you have a back that’s still so strong.
Your family’s swell, Harlan
You should kvell, Harlan
Always upbeat even though
You don’t own a bong…
But my husband led off with a raucous speech he’d prepared for the occasion.
It was fairly uproarious, if you ask me, and positively sidesplitting, if you ask him. But if you ask me, it had waaaay
too many references to sex.
“…The real question is not what I’ve learned in my span to old
age – and 70 is technically ‘old,’ ” he admitted. “It’s a matter of what I’ve been
doing, what my wife has been doing, and also my two offspring, my relatives, her relatives, my friends, her friends, our friends,
and last but certainly not least our dog…
“But above all, it is about what my wife will be doing to
me later tonight.”
(“Good luck with that!” I cried.)
He continued to reflect on all
of the things he has been doing for the past seven decades, as well as the ones that he continues to enjoy, including tennis,
working out on his stationary bike, and a whole lot of other exercise.
“I eat marvelous suppers cooked by a master
chef EVERY FRIGGIN’ NIGHT! I sleep. I snore. There’s sex… not like age 30, but I’m happy to announce
that I still like it. Sorry, Nin.”
(He calls me Nin.)
He spoke of the things he was finally beginning to learn after all these years. For example, “to garner a little
respect around here I should restrain noises and smells that only a vagabond would emit if he lived alone in a cave. With
bats. And his loyal dog.
“You wives have so much to
put up with,” he continued, “men and their annoying habits, man smells, and a talent for trying to get you to
do stuff when they should just get up from the sofa and wash the pots, not ask, 'What are you doing way over there in the
kitchen at the sink?'
"And then there's sex – with old Humpty Dumpty.”
Again with the sex? Seriously? I mean, there were children present. Our children!
(I may be Nin, but I’m no
nun. Yet he is 70. There’s not that much sex to speak of.)
There were many other speeches
from many other friends who toasted him and roasted him, mostly gently (including Rafi, who took most of these marvelous
Then I figured it was only fitting that I put in my two cents worth. I hadn’t had even a moment to write anything
down. No matter. I had a few thoughts to get off my chest.
I told the assembled crowd that I knew perfectly well what my
husband often says about me to people, including them, behind my back.
“Honestly, would a bitch do all this?”
I asked, indicating the decorations around us.
“But I’m not here to debate with anyone whether or
not I’m a bitch,” I continued. “Rather, I’m here to tell you how I became his bitch.”
Then I recounted the tale of how it all began when I received a call from my brother back in February 1982. “There’s
something I would like you to marry,” he said.
It was not Harlan.
He wanted to fix me up with a friend
of his good friend Artie, a fellow who was very lucratively employed. I agreed to meet this paragon at Artie’s
birthday party on Valentine’s Day.
But a friend of mine named Lucy wished to fix me up earlier that same
day with her boyfriend’s friend Harlan from Connecticut, whom she said was cute and drove a BMW.
I can still picture the moment that he arrived at my door to pick me up. Along with being cute, I thought he was the most nervous person I'd ever met.
When we began to date soon after, my father had a different take.
“A man of 37 who has never been married
doesn’t want to get married,” he kept cautioning me.
To which I would counter, “A man of 37
who has never been married needs to get married right away.”
My mother, meanwhile, had her own assessment.
She believed he was the single most immature person she had ever met… but also that we were perfect for each other.
I was never quite sure how to take that.
Whatever the case, we were engaged within two months and married
in two years. And nearly three decades later, we had two kids, a dog, a house, and all those friends (including the friends
who weren’t there, and to whom I apologize profusely once again).
At this point of the evening, it was time to move the party back upstairs for cake. The band launched into a jazzy version
of “Happy Birthday” as everyone gathered around the birthday boy, who for the 70th time made a wish and blew out
Then everyone feasted on hot fudge sundaes as the band played on.
The last guests (Catherine and Jaimoe, as it happened) left shortly after 1 a.m.
(“Are you OK?” Zwe asked as he helped load the drums back into their car, to which Jaimoe cryptically replied,
Then I stayed up past 3 cleaning. (My husband had wondered what I’d be doing later that night? Well,
it was something very wet. But not very wild.)
At least by all accounts, a good time was had by all.
Well, almost all. A week later,
I'm still totally fried. But no matter. Because a week later, the birthday “boy” is still kvelling…
and no longer telling people I’m a you-know-what.
“Nobody else whom I know or have known could throw a party
that good,” he says, “with great food, live music, and my daughter, my son, Jaimoe, Zwe, and Sean playing great
jazz… IN MY OWN LIVING ROOM!!! How sweet is that?”
But the best thing for him, he admitted, was writing his speech before the party and getting to articulate his thoughts
about life and being 70 (which he still believes were side-splitting).
And the best thing for me, I must admit, was
hearing from my brother the next day. His was a much more objective opinion, yet no less a positive one.
He not only had enjoyed the evening thoroughly, but also had not found my basement, home-cooked meal, handmade treat
bags, or any other arrangements tacky. On the contrary, he said that he had been to the much more extravagant party I’d
thrown 10 years ago, and (although that one cost at least four times as much) he had preferred this one by far.
Maybe paring down the guest list
just made for a much more intimate experience. But I think it was more than that. This time, it was a real family affair.
Tacky or not, basement or not, every moment, mouthful, and musical note had a personal stamp on it.
Yet if you’re wondering how I’m going to top all that when my hubby turns 80, don’t. By
then I’ll be almost 70 myself. (Seventy!@#&%/?!) By that time there may no longer be sex (like at age 30
or otherwise). But there will still be the witness protection program.
Saturday, June 7, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
There are the ladies who lunch and the babes (or moms) who blog, and typically
the twain don’t meet. But this past week featured not just one, but three days that forced me out of my routine and
usual uniform (the t-shirts and leggings in which I customarily work and walk my dog).
One of these was a 65th birthday bash-slash-going-away-party held at The Elephant Trail, a local Thai restaurant, for
Ava, a member of my book group, the Shayna Maidels. (And let me just point out that whether or not I’m anything close
to a babe, I’m the true baby of the group, not having yet reached 60.)
The second event was a ‘70s-themed
disco party dubbed "Thursday Night Fever" at the Wadsworth Atheneum, the nation’s oldest public art museum,
for which guests were urged to come in period costume, although only a dozen or so of the hundreds who turned out
(including this fellow fun-lover and I), actually did.
The third event, however, was on an even grander
scale, obliging the caterer to prepare for not just dozens, or even hundreds, but over a thousand – 1,230 to be exact.
Called The Power of the Purse, it was a luncheon sponsored by The Women’s Leadership Council, part
of the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut.
This was not my first time at this particular rodeo. My friend
Roxanna Booth Miller, who is heavily involved with the Women’s Leadership Council, had invited me to attend as her guest
last year at one of the two tables that she filled, along with our mutual friend Pat.
As the WLC’s key annual fundraiser,
this event involved much more than lunch. There would be the usual inspirational speeches, including one from a keynote speaker.
But it would all start off with a silent auction, featuring primarily purses.
At first glance, this event was tailor-made for me, in the sense that it permitted you to help repair the world, in
the Jewish spirit of Tikkun Olam… simply by shopping for my all-time favorite things, purses.
Or perhaps, on second thought,
maybe not so much.
We are all familiar (some of us maybe much too familiar) with alcoholics and workaholics. Well, I’m
what you might call a purse-aholic.
I’ve almost never seen a purse I
Given my eagerness to help boost the economy – single-handedly, if you ask my husband – I have
more than enough handbags. I have handbags of every size, shape, color and creed. The last thing I needed was another.
Then again, this would be a good time out with good friends for a good cause.
What could be better than that?
The festivities were to be held at the Connecticut Convention
Center in Hartford, and Pat and I planned to travel there together. But when she offered to pick me up at 11:15 a.m., I demurred.
The silent auction opened at 11, and I wanted time to peruse those purses. Never mind whether I needed one or not.
For as generous as it was for Roxanna
to invite us as her guests, along with the many other friends she was subsidizing, I could only assume that the proper etiquette
was for me to contribute to the organization in some respect. Of course, I could merely make a monetary contribution. But
it seemed to make more sense to play along with the concept. That is, to bid on – and buy – a purse.
Some of the purses were new ones contributed by local stores and handbag companies. Others were “gently used”
specimens donated by local women.
Last year, there had been several that appealed
to me, and with luck, I'd become enamored of one that had been procured by Roxanna herself from a manufacturer called
Also with luck, my taste runs toward the hip and funky, unlike that of the typical lady who lunches, so
I hadn’t had much competition to snag this item of my choice, a black, oversized, hobo bag embellished with crisscrossing
silvery metal beads. I bought it for $55.
Pat, who loathes buying anything she doesn't really need, wasn’t as convinced as I was that
we were obliged to make a purchase or donation. And when I woke up that morning, I felt foolish to have argued with her about
the time. So I told her to pick me up at 11.
The event had first been held three years ago
and evidently attracted around 385 attendees. Last year, that number had more than doubled. But this year, there were over
1,200 participants descending on the Convention Center, seemingly all at once.
By the time we had managed to park, the silent auction was already in full swing.
As we walked through the cavernous
parking garage and ascended the escalator, we noticed that all of the other women arriving seemed to be coming from their
offices. They were decked out in corporate attire, from pant suits to conservative dresses.
Pat and I began to confer about
how we had each left our “personal assistants” holding down the fort in our own “corporate headquarters”
while we were at lunch. My “personal assistant” was hoping I would bring back a doggie bag in return.
My personal assistant, much like
Cher or Madonna, goes by a single name: Latke.
We had both received the email sent out by Roxanna prior to the event introducing us to our 18 fellow table mates. She’d
done her best to identify each by her credentials. One was director of the Yale Fund, another the executive director of a
As much as I love and admire Roxanna, we haven’t known each other for all that long, so she has no
way of knowing that I was once a steadfast journalist, most recently a staff writer at the local Sunday magazine, then a free-lancer
for The New York Times. She’d ID’d me as a blogger. (Better that than a mere mom and walker of my dog.)
Pat, who has done everything from hosting a children's TV show to standup comedy (she once opened for Howie Mandell),
was an “actress and entertainment specialist.”
We quickly noticed at the registration table that almost everyone
else’s name tags specified which corporation or foundation they represented. Ours just bore our names.
But never mind that. It was going
on noon and we had much bigger fish to fry.
Along with increasing the number of attendees, they had vastly increased the number of purses on display. And before
placing a single bid, I wanted to see them all.
There’s a little problem with silent auctions, you see.
The concept is that you place bids on items that interest you, and then other people may or may not preempt you by placing
higher bids. So it's possible that you can place multiple bids and still end up buying nothing.
Or it’s possible that you
can place multiple bids and end up buying a whole lot.
I wanted to buy one item and one item only, preferably something that I’d actually use. So, with over 300 purses
on display on four long tables, I had my work cut out for me.
First, though, we found Roxanna mingling amid
the throngs of shoppers, and then found someone to snap the three of us so that we wouldn’t have to settle for a selfie.
Then I set about perusing the many long tables of wares, with Pat egging me on.
I was tempted by a novel satchel imprinted with what resembled Scrabble letters. In a way it had my name written all
over it. Or did it? I love to write but don’t play games (even ones with words).
I also was drawn to a wry red and
beige tote bag from designer Kate Spade that said “Eat Cake for Breakfast.” I liked the look. I liked the
spirit. Yet I wasn’t quite sold on the sentiment itself. Cake for breakfast? Think of the calories! I only eat
cake on people's birthdays. I like to eat yogurt for breakfast, preferably topped with fresh fruit. But that wouldn’t
sound good on a purse.
Some of the purses came with extras to help sweeten the deal… and raise the pot. A caramel-colored
beaded evening bag, for example, included tickets to see Fiddler on the Roof at the Goodspeed Opera House.
Never mind wondering how many evening bags anyone really needs. The question was, how many times can you see Fiddler?
Then there was a purse that needed no sweetening whatsoever. Donated by a place called A Little Something Bakery, it
didn’t just look good enough to eat. It was.
Unfortunately, it was also already up to $120, and the rules required you to raise all new bids by increments of no
less than $10. At a cost of $130, I could not take the cake, whether it was meant to be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or just
a little snack.
In fact, at this point almost every item had already been priced out of what I considered to be my range.
Some even had been priced out of everyone’s range.
That’s because a new regulation allowed
bidders to shut out all rivals for any item by offering the “buy it now” price (that is, 150 percent of its estimated
value). And in many cases, I was just about to enter a bid when another guest would do just that, prompting an attendant to
step forward and scrawl across the page a definitive word.
By now it was already well past noon. Lunch was being served, and the bidding closed in only two minutes. I couldn’t
in good conscience buy nothing, but I also knew my husband would ask to see my purchase that night, so I couldn’t buy
just anything. What the heck was I going to do?
Then I spied a rather innocuous-looking pocketbook in a tasteful
shade of beige.
“You can be summer chic in this crème canvas purse from Merona,” the slip read.
It may not have been fabulous. In fact, it may have been from Target (isn’t Merona their in-house brand?) Then
again, not being notably fabulous, it was only priced at $40.
I scrawled my name just as the auction closed.
There was no one left to outbid me. Everyone else, including Pat, had already gone in to eat.
So I hurried into the ballroom,
which was filled to the max with tables, chairs and the chattering of 1,200 or so women, corporate and otherwise, speaking
all at once.
The Women’s Leadership Council, according to the program, is “a diverse network of professional women and
leaders who stand up and take action to help women and families in our community work toward financial security.” As
the program also observed, “When our families are financially stable, we are healthier, our children do better in school
– and our communities are stronger and more vibrant.”
Roxanna had risen in the ranks of this organization
over the past year to be co-chair of the event. So out of more than 120 tables, we were seated up front at Table 3.
I watched with pride and admiration as she ascended the dais to offer welcoming remarks to a room so vast that her image
needed to be projected onto a giant screen.
With astonishing poise, and aplomb beyond anything I could have
approximated, she proceeded to thank the corporate sponsors, including The Hartford (which had sent over 325 employees), TD
Bank, MassMutual, Comcast, and Stanley Black & Decker.
Then, as I launched into my lunch – a lovely salad topped with grilled chicken and garlic bread -- she introduced
another speaker, who introduced another… and so on… until the keynote speaker took the stage at last.
Her name was Dr. Tererai Trent,
and she was identified in the program as Oprah Winfrey’s “all-time favorite guest” among thousands who had
appeared in the 25 years of her syndicated show.
She was not a blogger or an entertainment specialist. But neither was she a corporate leader.
Raised in rural Zimbabwe, she had
grown up in a hut with no running water or electricity. She also had come from a culture which did not provide education for
As a young girl, she would beg her father to let her go to school, if only for one day. “I just wanted
to sit at a desk and raise my hand and say something,” she explained.
Instead, she was married off at
the age of 11, when her father traded her for... a cow.
“By the time I was 18, I had four children,” she recounted grimly. “One died as an infant because I could
not provide enough milk, because I was child myself.”
This was neither a surprise nor an aberration for her village,
her family, or womankind.
“I came from a long line of women who were married off young to abusive men,”
she said. “Unfortunately, it is a story that is typical of our world, a story that represents thousands and millions
Her path diverged from that of those countless others when a woman named Jo Luck, president and CEO of
an organization called Heifer International, visited her village.
“If you believe in your dreams, they are achievable,” Luck assured her.
Trent’s mother then encouraged
her to write her dreams down and bury them. The words she scrawled were small enough to fit into a tin can that she interred
under a rock. Yet those dreams mapped out a new life that wasn’t small at all.
“I want to go to America,”
“I want to get a Bachelor’s degree."
"I want to get a Master’s degree."
"I want to get
Later, with help, she made her way to America, with five children and her abusive husband, where she juggled
three jobs as she studied.
“It took me ten years from the time that I buried my dreams for me to get my GED,” she said. Then she proceeded
to earn a B.A. from Oklahoma State University, followed by a Master’s degree, then eventually that doctorate, from Western
Although she didn’t discuss this, I later read that her first husband was eventually deported for abusing her,
and she later married another man whom she had met at college.
What she preferred to divulge was what had empowered
her to break the cycle of poverty that had enslaved her mother, grandmother, and so many others: great hunger.
It was evidently a hunger not just
to learn and to grow, but to help others grow too.
“The greatest hunger is the hunger for a meaningful life,”
So the meaning she has found in life is not only to savor the precious education that had been denied her, but to extend
this opportunity to other girls in her native land. She’s the founder of a group called Tinogona (which means “It
is achievable” in Shona, her native tongue), and with the help of a $1.5 million donation from Oprah Winfrey she is
building a school in her village.
“I am not a victim!” she cried. “I am part of the solution! I am
evidence that when organized women want to change things, they can move mountains.”
Talk about motivational speakers!
Watching her pace passionately back and forth on the stage in her traditional African attire, you could’ve heard a pin
drop in that massive room. It was no less than electrifying, as evidenced by the resounding standing O that followed.
It was so inspirational that I began to feel ashamed that I’d hesitated to spring for some fabulous purse that
I might really have wanted in order to avoid annoying my husband by spending too much.
But after I had taken a few bites
of the cheesecake served for dessert and thanked Roxanna profusely, I went out into the lobby and paid up for my new “crème”
On our way out, I ran into a woman carrying her own purchase – the cake purse. She said she was going
to go back to her office at Aetna, the major insurance company, to share it with her many coworkers. I envied her a little
having enough co-workers to be able to consume an entire cake. Then again, I had slipped a few slices of chicken from Pat’s
plate and mine into a plastic bag in my own purse. My co-worker would enjoy that.
Who knows? Maybe Pat was right, that Roxanna did not consider it de rigueur to make a purchase in return for
her invite. Maybe it was more than enough for us to get out of our usual garb and our usual routines just to show up there,
be counted, and cheer her on in her moment of glory. Because later that day, Roxanna changed her profile picture on Facebook
to be a photo I’d snapped of the two of them there together.
And although I’m happy and proud to have
contributed something to such a noble effort – an effort that raised an estimated $222,000 that day – maybe the
ultimate point was not about the purses at all. It was all about the power – the power to show that when women get together
in great number for a great cause, they can move mountains.
And maybe I should write down a few dreams of
my own and bury them in a can.
If we believe in our dreams, they are achievable. There’s nothing
better than that.
|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