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Friday, June 27, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

AllegraatMermaidParade2014.JPG        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?Allegra and Jamie at Mermaid Parade 2013.jpg
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.Harlan and Pattie in sailor hats 2013.JPG
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.)Pattie behind the wheel.JPG
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.Allegra in new gown.JPG"
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 flatly.
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 indeed coming.Michelle and Allegra.jpg
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.Art League fundraiser in tent.JPG
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).Latke was indisposed.JPG
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 in midtown.
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 aboard.Subway map of NY.jpg
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 at last.
She’d said it was indeed too late; that the parade was over and we shouldn’t come.
Oh, well.
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 u guys?”Mermaid Parade crowd leaving.JPG
No reply.
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.Mermaid Parade trio.JPG
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.Mermaid Parade hula hoop girl.JPG 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 purposes.
inally 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.Mermaid Parade threesome.JPG
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.”Mermaid Parade duo.JPG
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?Mermaid parade shell shock.jpg
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.Mermaid parade goer with cones.jpg
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.Coney's Cones.jpg
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.Michelle, Pattie and Allegra.JPG
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!”
        Evidently, all was forgiven.
She posed with me.Allegra Michelle and boys at mermaid parade.JPG
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.)Pattie with trayf.JPG
Then we watched the kids take a spin on the famous Coney Island Wonder Wheel.Coney Island Wonder Wheel.JPG
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.Pattie schlepping for photo shoot.JPG
        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.Allegra at photo shoot 1.JPG
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.
        Plus, 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.Allegra proof 13.jpg
        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?Allegra proof 37.jpg
Allegra proof 34.jpg

11:35 am 

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

The Levys at Harlan's 70th birthday.jpg        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.Harlan in party hat.JPG
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 get up.Pattie and Harlan at party.JPG
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.Harlan and Allegra at his 70th.jpg
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.Harlan and Pattie at his 60th.JPG
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.Pattie in apron.jpg
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.Flamingo and palm tree lights.JPG
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?)Harlan with mustache.JPG
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.Harlan photos on corkboard.JPG
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.”Harlan as the Jewish John Lennon.JPG
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.)Fishy glass.JPG
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.Treat bag from Harlan's party.JPG
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.Harlan's self portrait.jpg
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!”Harlan's sign-in board signed.JPG
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!”Harlan in his 70 t-shirt.JPG
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.
“Young… Noe… Moore.”Harlan Young Noe Moore.jpg
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.Aidan with saxophone.JPG
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.Allman Brothers Band.JPG
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 in 2012.Jaimoe.jpg
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 “zway”).Allegra and Zwelakhe Duma Bell le Pere.jpg
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 guitar.Harlan's 70th Kaitlin and Aidan.jpg
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.Band at Harlan's 70th.JPG
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 at once.Steaks on grill.jpg
        (So much for the do-it-yourself approach. Why the heck hadn’t I hired a caterer?)
But by the time those many steaks were all perfectly charred and off the grill, Jaimoe and Catherine still weren’t there.
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 at once.Harlan's 70th crowd.jpg
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.Pattie and Catherine at Harlan's 70th.jpg
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 or two.Harlan's party Allegra and friends.jpg
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.”Birthday basket from Suzy and Stan.JPG
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.”
        Lois at Harlan's 70th.jpg     
        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 o
wn a bong…

But my husband led off with a raucous speech he’d prepared for the occasion.Harlanat his 70th bday.jpg
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.)Harlan's party by Harlan.jpg
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 photos).Pattie andfriends at Harlan's party.jpg
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.Harlan and Pattie in Feb 1982.JPG
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).Harlan's 70th blowing out the candles.jpg
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 the candles.Harlan's 70th birthday cake.jpg
Then everyone feasted on hot fudge sundaes as the band played on.
        And 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, “I’m Jaimoe.”)Jaimoe at Harlan's 70th.jpg
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?”Aidan and Allegra playing at Harlan's 70th.jpg
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.treat bags for Harlan's party.JPG
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.Pattie in disguise without diamonds.JPG
t 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.

12:00 am 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie in Nice Jewish Mom tshirt with Latke 2.JPG        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).Ava's 65th birthday party.JPG
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.)
         Pattie and friend at '70s party.jpg
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.Power of the Purse logo.jpg
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.
        Pattie at Power of the Purse 2013.JPG
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.Liz, Pat, Roxanna and me.JPG
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 didn’t like.
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.Just some of my many purses.JPG
        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.Black Big Buddha purse I bought in 2013.jpg
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 Big Buddha.
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.
Big mistake.
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.Ladies in pant suits.JPG
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.My personal assistant Latke.jpg
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 local foundation.
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.Pat at Power of the Purse 2014.JPG
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.Pat, Roxanna, and me 2014.JPG
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.Power of the Purse silent auction.JPG
Then I set about perusing the many long tables of wares, with Pat egging me on.Purse with letters.JPG
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).
        Eat Cake for Breakfast purse.JPG
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?Purse plus Fiddler tickets.JPG
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.Cake purse.JPG
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.
Closed.Power of the Purse closed sign.JPG
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.Power of the Purse beige purse.JPG
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.Power of the Purse ballroom.JPG
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.Roxanna on big screen.JPG
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.Power of the Purse plate.JPG
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.Dr. Tererai Trent on Oprah.jpg
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 women.
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.Dr. Tererai Trent.JPG
        “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 of women.”
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.Jo Luck of Heifer International.jpg
“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,” she wrote.
        “I want to get a Bachelor’s degree."
         "I want to get a Master’s degree."
         "I want to get a Ph.D.”
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 Michigan University.Dr.Trent receiving her doctorate.jpg
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,” she declared.Dr. Trent with children.jpg
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.cheesecake at Power of the Purse.JPG
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” purse.
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.Pat and Roxanna 2014.JPG
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.

12:27 pm 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

Comments? Questions? Just want to kvetch? Please go to GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS.