|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
Friday, August 29, 2014
Word From the Weiss
Common wisdom tells us that we should live every day as though it were
our last. For the past week or so, I’ve been trying to live every day as though it were the last day of summer.
That means fitting in final swims, backyard barbecues, dining al fresco, and everything else that I coulda-woulda-shoulda
done since Memorial Day.
But let’s face it. Instead of luxuriating in the last gasp of summer’s warmth, I’ve found myself weighed
down by the annual back-to-school blues. The crazy part is that I’m not even going back to school. It’s just that
almost everyone else I know is, from good friends who teach to my son Aidan, who began his Ph.D. at Columbia this week, leaving
them less available to hang out with me… until school lets out again nine months from now.
Then again, there was
one recent day that I actually returned to the halls of academia, however briefly, myself.
It all began with an email from my friend Roxanna, who is involved with the Women’s Leadership Council at the
United Way. In it, she asked if I was available to help her and her daughter Scarlett create literacy kits for young
children at a local magnet school the following Monday morning.
That is, was I willing to help kids get
hooked on books? How in good conscience could I refuse? So I promptly clicked the link that read “Register here.”
And then, life being as busy as it is, even in summer, I promptly forgot all about it.
Until the following Monday morning,
that is. Having been away for a hectic weekend, I lingered lazily in bed leafing through my interminable stream
of junk email on my phone. Then, still too groggy to start the day, I turned my attention to Facebook.
That’s when I saw that Roxanna,
an avid poster on FB, was already at the school.
The event had begun at 8:30 a.m. It was already
past that. But I didn’t dare punk out. Instead, I sprang into action, throwing on clothes and shrieking at my husband
that I had no time to walk the dog. No time for breakfast or coffee either. By 9, I was in the car.
Too rushed to have looked up the
address of the school, I simply consulted Siri. “Directions to the Dwight-Bellizzi School!” I bellowed.
“Sorry, I cannot provide maps and directions in Belize!” she chirped back.
Argh! I decided to try, try again.
“Directions to Dwight-Bellizzi School!” I repeated, enunciating every single syllable.
“I could not find any places
matching Dwight Believes Me School!” she replied.
School!" I corrected.
It was no use. "I could not find any places matching "Tweit bellies
So I went to Maps on my iPhone, typed in the name of the school, and hit “Start.”
The step-by-step directions that
ensued sent me through an area glutted with both rush-hour traffic and heavy construction delays. The trip had been
estimated to take 21 minutes, but 21 minutes later I was only halfway through town.
Eventually, I reached the highway,
and the cheery voice on my phone directed me to get off after several exits, then take a long series of twists and turns before
it deposited me halfway down a road called School Street, whereupon it informed me that I had arrived at my destination.
My destination? I was in a manufacturing company's parking lot in the wrong town.
At this point, I frantically Googled
the actual address of the school and learned that I was still 21 minutes away. It was now past 9:30. The event had begun an
hour earlier. All I really wanted was a cup of coffee. And a bagel. Was there any point in proceeding?
“Who is the idiot here?”
I began to wonder. (Don’t answer that.) I also wondered if I had the chutzpah to show up so egregiously late.
One thing I am not is a quitter, however. I’m just a nice Jewish mom. And to not show up after agreeing to help would
not be nice.
So I rerouted myself again and, as they say, the third time was the charm. I arrived at the Dwight-Belizzi Asian Studies
Academy at 10, only to realize that it was indeed only 20 minutes from my house, never mind that I’d already spent an
hour in the car.
Never mind also that I was now 90 minutes late for a three-hour event. The principal of the school greeted
me warmly out front and personally escorted me to the cafeteria.
Inside, dozens of women, most of them dressed in white t-shirts emblazoned “LIVE UNITED,” were seated at
long tables busy at work. I quickly spied Roxanna and wondered if I should dare go greet her. Wouldn’t this just point
out how late I was?
Better late than never, as they say. But before I could approach her or even consider grabbing a cup of
coffee and a bagel (both of which were in abundance, to my delight), a nice woman named Laura rushed over to find me a seat
and explain what the task entailed.
Rather than assembling actual literacy “kits,” we were there to embellish books. Each volunteer was given
two children’s picture books and asked to make 3-D decorations to insert throughout to enhance the illustrations. This
would help bring the book to life by literally letting the story pop off the page and make reading more fun.
“Are you a creative person?”
Hmmm. How should I answer that?
After my daughter chose “Bat Mitzvah on Broadway” as her party theme when she turned 13, I made all the
elaborate centerpieces for the tables myself using posters from assorted Broadway musicals. I also wrote a song for her to
perform at the party, fashioned place cards in the form of theater tickets, handmade the sign-in board and party favors, and
printed all the invitations at home, tying each with a gold satin bow.
More recently, I made all the party favors, invitations, etc. for my husbands 70th birthday. I’ve also given
up on finding greeting cards that suit my needs and begun creating them myself using a computer program from American Greetings.
A professional artist I am definitely not. But there’s nothing I enjoy more than turning almost everything, short
of doing the laundry, into an imaginative art project.
“Creative enough,” I said.
So she handed me a pair of books, then indicated the collection of colorful paper, pompoms, and other materials scattered
on a nearby table and told me to help myself.
I turned my attention to the first book, The Snowy Day,
written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. I’d never seen it before, but later learned that it was a 1962 children’s
classic, with illustrations that had earned him the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1963.
Keats, I also later learned, had actually been born Jacob Ezra Katz and raised in Brooklyn, the third child
of Benjamin and Gussie Katz, a pair of poor Polish Jews.
His book focused on a boy
named Peter exploring his neighborhood after the first snowfall of the winter. The inspiration for it, according to Wikipedia,
had come “from a Life magazine photo article from 1940, and Keats' desire to have minority children of New
York as central characters in his stories,” something that previously had been rare. In fact, during the Civil Rights
Movement, the book apparently had been banned in many schools.
Peter appears in six more of Keats’ 22 books, but this was the first one that he had both written and illustrated
himself, unleashing his full creative potential. The result? The book remains so popular that in 2012, 50 years after its
debut, it came in fifth on a list of the top 100 picture books of all time in a poll conducted by School Library Journal.
“One winter morning, Peter woke up and looked out the window,” it begins. “Snow had fallen
down the night before. It covered everything as far as he could see.”
It felt a little anachronistic to be looking at snow before Labor Day. Then
again, I figured it would be a
snap to embellish simply by adding a variety of paper snowflakes to almost every page. So I helped myself to glue and white
paper in a variety of weights, seized a pair of scissors, and began snipping away.
It had been quite some time since I had made a paper snowflake, however. Decades, no doubt. And sadly, this turned out
not to be one of those riding-a-bicycle things. You know, the kind of skill that just comes back to you like magic.
To my best recollection, in order
to get a flake to have six matching sides you needed to fold a piece of paper three times and then snip some of
it away. Well, the best I can say for my feeble attempts is that no two examples of my artistry looked exactly alike. But
this was all kind of impromptu. (If my daughter had chosen a snowy bat mitzvah theme, say, "Bat Mitzvah on
Mt. Everest," I would've figured it out.)
I fared far better as the story developed. At one point, Peter, the pint-sized protagonist, realizes
that he is too young to engage in a snowball fight with the bigger boys, so he contents himself making a smiling snowman.
And so did I. (Mine had a carrot nose, stick-figure arms held akimbo, and a jaunty black hat.)
Later, “he picked up a handful of snow, and another, and still another, packed it round and firm, and put the
snowball in his pocket for tomorrow, then went into his warm house.” I had little trouble fashioning an actual tiny
pocket out of bright red felt -- a pocket that poor Peter would later be dismayed to find empty -- simulating stiches with a
black magic marker.
Best of all, perhaps, was the scene in which Peter soaks in the tub while thinking
about his many adventures. The rubber ducky I glued on was thinking about snow, too.
And while Peter and the rubber ducky thought about snow, I began to think about something else.
I suddenly remembered a children’s
book that I had written nearly 20 years ago, back when my daughter Allegra, who is now 24, was still in kindergarten.
It wasn’t exactly a storybook
like this one. Neither was it destined to be a children’s classic because I never even made any attempt to get it published.
But thinking about that now filled me with regret. For I originally had written it just to entertain Allegra, but then, like
Keats, or Katz, had decided to use the project in part as a way to include children whose ethnicities were too rarely encountered
in your typical children’s book.
At the time, Allegra was attending a public school with an extremely
diverse student body. And when I went to read it to her class, I inserted the names of each of her 25 classmates.
A takeoff on the classic children’s
rhyme, “Mary had a little lamb,” my book had 26 variations on that theme, some of which I endeavored to illustrate
myself as well. As you can see, none of these were close to Caldecott Award material. Oh, well. I tried.
We all know that singsong verse
from the time that we can talk:
Mary had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.
But there are plenty of other things beyond snow that are white. Just think about it…
Allegra had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white
And everywhere Allegra went
The lamb took a shower.
Daniel had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as a cloud
And everywhere that Daniel went
The lamb got lost in the crowd.
Luis had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as soap
And everywhere that Luis
The lamb jumped rope.
Mariah had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as a ghost
And everywhere Mariah went
The lamb would order toast.
Caleb had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white
as a sail
And everywhere that Caleb went
The lamb wound up in jail.
Mei had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as rice
And everywhere that Mei went
The lamb would skate on ice.
Quiana had a little lamb whose
Fleece was white as a sneaker
And everywhere Quiana
The lamb would hide and
There were almost endless
possibilities. Well, if not endless, then enough white stuff for every letter of the alphabet, from milk and eggs to teeth,
a bone, and a bride.
My favorite, however, was the final rhyme.
Zachary had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as a dove
And everywhere that Zachary went
The lamb fell in love.
As I recall, the children to whom I read it seemed thoroughly entertained, in part because they were hearing their friends’
names included in a book. But mostly because in one case I was only able to come up with a single potential rhyme.
Ryan had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white
And everywhere that Ryan
The lamb had a booger.
Sorry! I left out salt because all I could think of to rhyme with that was “Oy, gevalt!” But honestly,
how could I possibly leave out sugar? (And if you can think of anything else to rhyme with that, then email me now or forever
hold your peace.)
Anyway, whether the lamb’s fleece was as white as a tooth or cream or snow, it was time for me to
go turn my attention back to The Snowy Day. For as a Johnny come lately (or nice Jewish mom running on Jewish time
and then some), I was way behind the rest of the pack. By 11, everyone else had finished adorning both of their allotted volumes
and I was only halfway through my first.
Plus, Roxanna had noticed me at last and come over for a photo op with Scarlett and a woman named Ebony... a photo that
she would soon post – where else? – on Facebook.
So I made a few more rather sad-looking snowflakes
and decided to call it a day.
At least it was a day on which I had done my best to show up, however late, and to
do my bit to promote children’s literacy. (G-d knows what my blog promotes. Being Jewish? Being a mom?)
But after I’d gotten home (which took only 20 minutes), I decided that
gluing some decorations into a single volume hadn’t been nearly enough.
So I wrote to Roxanna and Laura,
who seemed to be in charge of the event, asking if the book I had written so many years ago might be of any possible use.
Perhaps I could go back to that school (now that I know where it is) and read it to some classes, inserting the students’
names. Or perhaps I need to figure out a way to get it published, so that I could donate some copies (and then maybe next
time people can come in and – dare I suggest it? – glue pictures of soap and rope and ghosts and
toast into them).
Who knows? I’ve never published a children’s book and, as creative as
I may or may not be, I’m not convinced that I know how.
In any case, summer’s over. Maybe it’s
time for me to go back to school. Perhaps Tweit bellies E school... if Siri and I can find it.
Friday, August 22, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
Here’s a morsel of nice Jewish motherly advice.
Whenever I find myself going through a grueling ordeal or rough patch (and honestly, who doesn’t?), one of my favorite
coping strategies is to remind myself that “This too shall pass,” as my Grandma Mary would always say,
then try to shift my thoughts to some far more pleasant event to which I’m looking forward.
So after my daughter left in late June to sing in Hong Kong for three months – a period that has since been extended
to an almost unimaginable seven months – every time that I missed her so much that my face hurt, I made myself focus on an exciting summer party that
was coming up in late August.
Paul and Kathy, some close old friends who live in London, had phoned a few weeks earlier to report that their son had
fallen hook, line, sinker and then some for the American girl of his dreams. Tom had recently proposed, Hannah had readily
accepted, and Hannah’s aunt and uncle had graciously offered to throw them a posh engagement party in Quogue, a hoity-toity
place near the Hamptons. Were we free to come?
Free, that is, to attend what was certain to be the highlight of
“Hannah said yes!” read the printed invitation that soon followed. And, not surprisingly, so
The celebration would not just include a fancy Saturday night gala at the aunt and uncle’s country club, but also
a get-together on Friday night at their summer home, plus a chance to hang out with some great friends of whom we never get
to see enough. Plus, as an added bonus, the hotel at which we all would stay was right on the beach. Can you understand why
it was a welcome antidote to seven months without Allegra?
I anticipated it, dreamed about it, and trained my sights on it as if it were a radiant lighthouse beaming
rays of hope through the sturm und drang of a dark and stormy sea. It never failed to buoy my
spirits. Then, finally, earlier this month, the day of departure finally arrived.
Given my tip-top level of anticipation,
I was determined to leave on time for the 4-hour trip to the tip of Long Island. In order to make the 4 p.m. ferry
to Orient Point that I’d reserved, we needed to leave the house no later than 2:15. So I was more than a little distressed
when my husband phoned to say that he had just left his office and wouldn’t be home until almost 2:30.
To ensure that we made a fast getaway,
I informed him that he should not even consider coming into the house when he arrived. So he gave me a list of all the items
that he needed to take along with us, and while waiting I loaded them all into the car.
With luck, despite rush-hour traffic, we managed to secure one of the last three spots for our car on the sold-out ferry.
And that is where our good luck ended.
For moments after the boat’s booming foghorn sounded off as we left
the dock, as though warning of danger looming ahead, my husband suddenly realized that he’d left all of his dress-up
clothes hanging on his closet door.
The invitation had specified “festive attire,” which our friends had clarified
meant cocktail dresses for the women and sport jackets with dress shirts but no ties for the men. It should come as little
surprise that, given my level of anticipation, I had bought a lovely new dress for the occasion (despite my husband’s
mysterious query, “Did you really need a new dress?”).
My husband, meanwhile, had simply tried on the old sport coats and khakis in his closet until he found one of each that
looked presentable and still kind of fit. He had neglected to ask me to take this outfit, though, and the fanciest thing that
he had along in its stead was a pair of cargo pants and the egregiously wrinkled shirt he’d worn to work that day.
He blamed me for rushing him out of the house. I blamed him for leaving his office so late and being so fardreyt
(Yiddish for disorganized). Unfortunately, most misfortunes in life eventually will pass, as my grandmother always
said, but being fardreyt or farblondjet (Yiddish for hopelessly mixed up) does not happen to be one of them.
My anxiety about his error was only exacerbated when we arrived at the Friday night party and discovered how magnificent
and palatial the aunt and uncle’s summer house was. Adding to that concern, to be frank, was my discovery that we were
nearly the only Jews among the many guests invited to participate in the weekend’s festivities.
Our hosts could not have been nicer, and the bride, whom we got to meet there for the first time, turned out to be not
just beautiful, but also affable, lively, witty, warm, and delightfully unpretentious – a truly perfect match for Tom
and down to earth to the max.
We had a wonderful time wining, dining, and avidly catching up with our dear friends,
who are award-winning (and need I note, extremely fun-loving) journalists.
But I was somewhat self-conscious about the fact that we were making a rare foray into a rather rarified world –
the world of WASPs – and we did not want to stick out.
So, as much as our friend Kathy tried to assure
us that my husband would be admitted to the country club the next night without the requisite jacket, we didn’t
dare risk having him look inappropriate by being a schlub or noticeably underdressed.
With luck, we learned that the Tanger
shopping outlets in Riverhead were only about 20 minutes away. So never mind that we’d been looking forward to spending
the next afternoon at the beach for what might be our only visit to the shore this summer. We knew what we had to do.
As we walked out of our hotel room
late the next morning after breakfast, my husband insisted that he’d be able to find something in less than an hour.
Famous last words, as they say. I had been to other shopping outlets and knew it can take that long just to park. I
also had been shopping with my husband before and knew that it takes forever to convince him to choose anything, and I do
mean “forever,” because when it comes to clothing for himself, the man is reluctant to part with a dime.
We arrived at the Tanger (rhymes with
“hanger”) outlets to discover what was more like an entire shopping city, comprised of more than 165 brand-name
stores representing almost every label imaginable, from Calvin Klein and Coach to Michael Kors and Juicy Couture.
Given our desire to get in and out asap, I dropped my husband off at the place that he thought would have the biggest,
best, and most stylish selection, Barney’s New York.
Unfortunately, you could add “most expensive” to that list of superlatives. After parking, I entered the
store to see him looking unusually dapper in a navy blazer so classy that you could practically feel the astronomical thread
count from across the room. Could our journey be over so quickly? Not quite. This exquisite specimen, which was imported from
Italy (where else?), was priced at $550, marked down from $695.
If my husband won’t part with a dime, he
surely wouldn’t relinquish 5,500 of them. So we moved on.
The Johnston & Murphy factory outlet next door specialized in men’s shoes, but it had some clothing as well,
including one blue blazer. Alas, after donning the Barney’s model, this plebeian version looked sadly commonplace. It
also pulled a bit at the waist. So we decided not to waste any more time there.
Saks Off 5th, the outlet for upscale Saks Fifth Avenue, was sure to have more choices. What it did not prove to stock
was cheaper ones. A sign we saw as we entered touted a sale that sounded promising, in that all blazers were an extra 40 percent
off. Even at a 40 percent discount, though, a $1,295 sport coat from Italian maker Zegna still cost a lofty $795. My
husband tried it on to humor me, but neither of us was truly amused.
What did manage to crack us up was a t-shirt marked down to 20 bucks. It looked perfect for a party, but not
necessarily one held at an exclusive country club in Quogue.
En route to Brooks Brothers, which was bound
to yield more appropriate offerings, I noticed a sign offering an extra 20 percent off at many participating stores. With
luck, Brooks Brothers was among the outlets participating in this promotion, and despite our expectation that it would have
prices hovering in the stratosphere, it had two very promising options.
One was a very traditional, all-weather blue blazer with shiny brass buttons which fit almost perfectly and cost a surprisingly
reasonable $184 after the 20 percent discount.
The other was a summer-weight version which also fit well and cost a mere $104 after the discount.
My husband seemed tempted to consider
the more economical of the two. But after careful consideration, I urged him to opt for the pricier one, on the grounds that
the summer was drawing to a close and he’d get much more use out of the heavier one.
But like the typical “player”
– you know, a man unwilling to settle for the first pretty girl who comes along, or even the fiftieth – he asked
the saleswoman to put both choices aside while we continued our search.
By now I was getting frustrated, but instead of
pulling the plug on this never-ending journey, I pulled him into Nautica.
This 31-year-old clothing line may be best known for its polo shirts, outerwear, and other casual attire of the nautical
persuasion. Yet the store manager assured us that they had men’s blazers. Actually, only one style of men’s blazer.
But that style was exactly what we were looking for -- it was tastefully tailored in an all-weather weight, and the
price was right.
It was marked down to $152 from the original price of $325, but with the 20 percent discount
it was only $120 plus tax. After our foray into all of those much pricier stores, this seemed so reasonable that we decided
to go all out and complete the look.
So my husband went in for a full prep, also buying two colorful, wrinkle-free cotton dress shirts (only $27
apiece, a mere half of the original $54) and a pair of khaki slacks for only $20, marked down from $50.
No surprise, this little excursion
not only set us back just south of 200 bucks plus tax, but took nearly 3½ hours including travel time, more than three
times the original estimate. By the time we’d returned to our hotel and changed into swimsuits, we had fewer
than 30 minutes left to luxuriate in the surf and sand before it was time to dress for dinner.
Somehow, the beach feels a little less tranquil and rejuvenating when you spend less time looking at the horizon than
at your watch. Still, we did get to gambol in the waves and cool our limbs in the calm waters of the bay. A slender slice
The party at the country club turned out to be all that we had expected and more. The hors d’oeuvres and drinks
were plentiful, the toasts both uproarious and heartfelt, and the lavish buffet dinner, complete with rowdy dancing to the
strains of a DJ, divine.
I would like to think that my new cocktail dress fit right in with the rest of the crowd. As for my husband, thanks
to our outlet foray, he looked neither farblondjet nor fardreyt.
Of course, the moment we entered the darkened dining room following the cocktail hour out on the veranda, nearly every
man present shed his sport coat, and my husband eagerly followed suit. So in the end, we spent about $200 and half of the
day shopping just so that we could avoid embarrassing ourselves for all of about 60 minutes.
But I found myself far less focused on that than on our dear friends’ unbridled joy. Judging from the father of
the groom’s delirious display of dance moves, rivaled only by those of the father of the bride, this was one of those
proverbial matches made in heaven, a union, dare I say it, as perfect as lox and bagels (or whatever the WASP equivalent
of that classic combo may be).
So you might think I began then and there to breathlessly anticipate the wedding.
Actually, not so fast.
Just before we’d left for the
weekend, we had received a phone call announcing a bit of a fly in the ointment, although that fly had been greeted
as, well, more of a butterfly.
It turned out that our friends had even more exciting news to announce. The bride-to-be
was a mother-to-be. They weren’t just gaining a daughter, but also a granddaughter. Or perhaps a grandson. Whichever
the case, they could not contain their boundless delight.
So the happy couple had decided not to delay and instead hatched a secret plan. The morning
after the party, they would tie the knot privately in the presence of only their parents and a justice of the peace. Although
many others would be joining them for the weekend, too many friends and relatives had been unable to attend due to previously
made vacation plans. And rather than making these people feel left out, they had chosen to restrict it to the key players.
At least I got to glimpse the cake the next morning. The bride had requested the kind of simple supermarket sheet cake
she'd grown up with, and when my husband asked me what that was, I explained that a sheet cake is to a cake as a ranch house
is to a house; all on one level, that is. This one, though, was not only on the level, but particularly lovely
and absolutely perfect. For apparently not only did Hannah say yes, but both she, Tom, and the cake followed it
up with “I do!”
I must admit it was refreshing to see someone
manage to go through nuptials without the typical attendant hoopla featuring bridesmaids, ushers, endless brouhaha over the
bridal gown and other bank-account-draining folderol.
Yet now, whenever I find myself feeling blue, I can’t
set my sights on that wedding.
No matter. There’s a bright new lighthouse looming on the horizon. Allegra may be in Hong Kong for another five
months, but soon enough we’ll be there with her. If Muhammed won’t go to the mountain, as they say, then the mountain
will have to fly over and visit Mohammed.
Or something like that.
So we’ve booked a trip. We’re
Now, that is something to look forward to.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
I’m afraid I don’t have that much of a story for you this week, because
I needed to do something for my daughter, and as I expect you have discerned by now, for me being a nice Jewish mom will always
take precedence over being NiceJewishMom.com.
Anyway, the thing that I had to do for my daughter had to do with
her forthcoming album.
I know you have been hearing about this album from me for quite awhile, and that
I keep promising it’s going to come out. But this time I’m telling you in no uncertain terms. It really is going
to come out!
OK, it is not going to come out until November. But in order for it to come out then, and for people to
know that it has, Allegra hired a prominent jazz publicist. And that publicist needed a press release. A press release from
us. And she needed it asap.
Why this press release about an album not coming out until November was such a pressing matter in July (which is when
she had said that she needed it) was beyond me.
Well, maybe not entirely beyond
As a longtime journalist, I know that editors plan the content for their publications months in advance,
and that monthly magazines go to press months in advance. And we wanted to give these editors and their various publications
as much advance notice as possible, in hopes that Allegra and her new CD might get reviewed.
It was unanimously agreed in our household that the best person for this job was my son, Aidan, who, as a jazz journalist
on staff at JazzTimes magazine and The Village Voice, often reviews CDs. He also occasionally writes press
releases on a free-lance basis.
Aidan, however, is now on deadline for a book that he is writing. He also was away
with his girlfriend Kaitlin on a trip to London, Paris, and the South of France at the time that this needed to be done. So
it was unanimously agreed in our household that the best person for the job was not available. The only person who was available
“You can do this!” Aidan assured me enthusiastically.
“I know I can,” I agreed
with a barely audible gulp. The fact was that over the years, I’d written just about everything. I had even on occasion
written press releases. Press releases for Allegra.
But then, to offer some guidance, Aidan sent me a few sample press releases about other jazz albums that had been written
for the publicist in question. And as soon as I read them, I began to realize that – as eager as I was to help –
even if I were the only person currently available, I was not the right man (or nice Jewish mom) for the job.
The samples that he sent me weren’t
just straightforward, informative documents conveying the particulars of who, what, when, where, and why. They were written
in a very knowledgeable and florid style, including convoluted and technical-sounding phrases like “playing minor chords
with upward angles” and “laying down an oscillating foundation of harmony that makes the high register feel both
irresistible and forbidding.” Huh?
So I called Aidan, who was then in London, for a translation and added
He acknowledged that these press releases might be written with excessive flair. And that the job called
for some degree of actual jazz expertise.
“I should really do it,”
he concluded guiltily.
“You don’t have the time to do it!” I reminded him. And to help assuage his guilt, I
mustered as much self-confidence as I could fake and said, “No, I’ll do it. I know I can.”
So he sent me even more samples for guidance. These contained even more technical-sounding phrases like “a dusky,
catchy number with a rhythm of 31/16,” “spacious solo statements,” “full-throated yet eminently lyrical
horn lines,” and “marked by a tolling bass line and golden-hued lead playing.” And I realized that even if I were the last man or
nice Jewish mom on earth, I wouldn’t be able to write this press release.
do this,” I told Aidan.
“I should really do it,” he concurred.
have the time to do it!” I countered. “I’ll just do it. Really! I’ll be fine.”
Fine? Well, maybe
not fine. I would be a basket case. But I’d do it nonetheless.
Part of the key to writing this
sort of press release was to consult the artist (in this case my own daughter) about her music, her motivation, her inspiration,
and so on.
Should I put in the part about how when she was growing up, I used to hear her singing in
her room each night, and I would scream, “Stop singing and do your homework!” And when it finally turned out that
she was going to go to a music college, I realized that I should have been yelling, “Stop doing your homework and start
Maybe not. I was supposed to let her tell what had happened in her own words.
Aidan began coaching
me about what to ask her. Then this crazy thing happened. He was talking to me on our home phone from London via Google voice
(which is free) when Allegra happened to phone me from Hong Kong on my cell phone via FaceTime (also free).
I began repeating
what each one had said when I realized that there was no need.
Instead, I held one phone near the other, and we began having a three-way chat. No, actually, they
were just having a chat. They had cut out the middleman – make that middle nice Jewish mom – and begun talking
to each other. But this wasn’t just idle chatter. Aidan stopped telling me how to interrogate Allegra about her music
and intent and began interviewing her himself. I quickly turned on my tape recorder to capture it.
Unfortunately, it was soon time for her to get dressed for one of her weekly gigs at the Hong Kong
Four Seasons hotel, so she had to sign off. But before she did, they arranged a time at which they would complete the interview
the next day. The plan was that Aidan would finish the interview solo. Allegra would record it and email it to me.
The interview that
they did turned out to be over an hour long – an hour and 14 minutes, to be exact. And when I received it and began
to listen to it, I realized that I really had not been the right man for the job. Because Aidan didn’t just ask her
about her motivation and her influences. They had a fascinating interactive dialogue in which he posed savvy follow-up questions
that I never would have dreamed of, like, “Let’s talk about the music from a more harmonic perspective. You have some challenging chord progressions.
How did you go about doing the arrangements?” And, “Do you think there’s a certain catharsis in the blues,
or in the aesthetic that you’re aiming for?”
Transcribing the interview wasn’t hard. It was just very
time-consuming. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this before, but when people talk fast (and my kids talk fast)
you have to roll the tape back repeatedly to make sure that you got the words right.
I decided that I would only take the time to transcribe the interesting parts, but somehow, to me, they were all
interesting. So I took the whole thing down word for word, which took me two days early last week and filled nearly 14 typewritten
And then I spent the following two days trying to organize it and painstakingly whittle it down. For the
interview consisted of 6,352 words, and the most recent press release that Aidan wanted me to model my own after was only
about 600 words.
Of course, writing the release wasn’t just a matter of transcribing the interview and offering excerpts from their
lively discourse. I had to make it flow and also had to throw in a choice quote or two from John McNeil, the prominent jazz
trumpet player who had produced the album.
He and Allegra had met when he was one of her professors at New
England Conservatory of Music, and they had instantly clicked. Or as Allegra noted in the interview, “John and
I are very like-minded people. We have a dash of cynicism in all of our work.”
At least I didn’t need to actually track down McNeil and try to interview him myself. Instead, I borrowed a choice
excerpt from the liner notes that he’d written for the album. (“This is a mature first recording by a singer you’re
sure to hear more from,” he’d stated. “The tunes are catchy and well-constructed, and you’ll probably
find yourself singing them in a short time. I sing them still.”)
I also had to list and provide credentials for the many other musicians featured on the album, including Richie Barshay,
a well-known drummer who is a longtime member of the klezmer band The Klezmatics, has played with such jazz luminaries as
Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Esperanza Spalding, and happens to be from our town.
For good measure, I tried to sound
knowledgeable and slightly incomprehensible myself by throwing in some convoluted turns of phrase, like the way I described
McNeil. “…he performs the high-wire musical balancing act of embracing tradition while promulgating the progressive,”
I said, slightly embellishing Allegra’s own description.
Or the way I characterized the 11 songs on the album, all of which Allegra had written herself. “Although
these tunes bow to the classic, they still cling to the present, while defying the current trend among singers of performing
Another observation: “Most of her songs diverge from the typical lament that
‘My man has up and gone,’ tackling instead the angst of the human condition, and Levy’s own condition of
struggling to cope in a world that cries out for levity and conformity.”
And when I got the release
down to around 1,400 words and couldn’t bear to cut one syllable more, my husband, who is also a journalist, offered
to help. But I declined to let him help.
Instead, I called in the cavalry. Aidan, that is.
With luck, he had just returned from abroad at last. And although he was extremely jet-lagged, and still on deadline,
he dropped everything and agreed to give it a crack.
I don’t how long he actually spent revising it, but in less
than an hour he had sent it back to me. And I realized that the right man for the job wasn’t just one man. It was us.
Aidan and me. In the end, we made a great tag team.
Maybe what I had done wasn’t brilliant or savvy or even
passably acceptable. But I had somehow come up with a close enough approximation that after I spent four days slaving over
it, he could swoop down, fiddle around, and actually make my words sing.
It now contained truly incomprehensible sentences
like, “On the plangent ‘A Better Day,’ Levy draws from the legacy of the great scatters to express the ineffable,
breaking down the barrier between vocalist and instrumentalist.” And, “The lilting title track, ‘Lonely
City,’ is ‘about finding your lost love,’ she says, and has a harmonic simplicity that belies the figurative
bewilderment that goes into the search.”
But to my delight, he retained my basic structure and nearly every
quote I’d used. He also agreed that there was little fluff in my feeble attempt and cut only a few lines.
He even retained the basic gist
of my lead, although his was a major improvement.
Here’s my opening paragraph (and please bear in mind that it sounds far from objective not because I’m the
artist’s mother but because it isn’t supposed to be impartial; it’s a press release!)
Most jazz vocalists sing standards. Allegra Levy writes her own. From the feisty opening track of her brazenly
autobiographical debut album, Lonely City, to the haunting strains of its intricate closing ballad, “The
Duet,” it is clear: These are exhilarating new songs with staying power, and a vital new voice destined to be heard
for many years to come.
And now here’s his revised version:
Most jazz vocalists sing standards. Allegra Levy writes
her own. From the plaintive title track of her brazenly autobiographical debut album, Lonely City, to the
haunting strains of its intricate closing ballad, “The Duet,” the 24-year-old New York-based vocalist and composer
has penned a lyrical collection of 11 harmonically adventurous-yet-familiar originals steeped in the tradition of the Great
As I said, he's the professional jazz journalist in the family. He clearly was the right man (and/or nice Jewish boy) for
But as a nice Jewish boy he chose to be nice about it. When he sent me his new and improved version, instead
of saying, “I told you I should have done this,” he attached a really sweet note.
You did an amazing job with this! I trimmed it and moved a few things around. I think Allegra will love
it and it will help get her the press she deserves!
And best of all, after a little family collaboration, it was done, and Allegra did love it. A few minutes after sending it
to her, I wrote to clarify that if she was satisfied with it and had no corrections or revisions, she should feel free to
forward it to the publicist.
To which she replied, “I already did!”
Who knows if the publicist will
Who knows if Allegra will get reviewed?
I will keep you posted.
I will also tell you how to buy
the CD when it comes out. In November, that is.
And next week, with luck, I’ll get back to being NiceJewishMom.com
again and actually have time to write my blog.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
There are dog people and there are cat people, and in some cases the twain meet. But
not in my house.
I grew up with a dog. We got a dog for our kids when they were little. And now that our kids
are grown, and our first dog is, sadly, gone, we have another dog to be our kid.
Our kids, however, have grown up to
have cats. Or to live with cats. One has two. Go figure.
Perhaps it’s just a function of the stage of life that they’re in. Cats are much lower maintenance, and
when you’re in your 20s, life is tough and chaotic enough. You’re still getting your act together. You don’t
really need to take care of anyone or anything else.
But sometimes you still need someone else to come help take care
of your cats. And that’s where we came in.
I’m not complaining, mind you. Far from. When our son Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin recently asked if we’d
be willing to help cat-sit while they spent a few weeks taking a trip to London, Paris, and the South of France, they didn’t
need to ask twice.
But I did need to ask them a whole lot of questions because I’ve never had a cat. I also
had a whole lot of trepidation because I have long believed I am allergic to cats (one of the many reasons that I’ve
never, ever had one).
My husband was amazed that they asked us, regardless of their cat-sitting needs. We’ve
stayed at our daughter’s more times than I can count, but never once at Aidan’s. He has never even invited us
over to dinner, although I can’t say that I blame him.
The one time that he let me stay overnight at a
previous apartment that he had in Chelsea, I woke up in the middle of the night and surreptitiously cleaned the bathroom.
He’s a very neat guy, but I thought that it needed a touchup. I don’t think that he agreed.
Then there was the time that I decided his apartment looked kind of bleak because after two years he had yet to put
up a single piece of art on the walls. So I asked his roommates if they would mind some help and then bought them a whole
lot of posters.
They were attractive posters, albeit rather generic to appeal to everyone’s tastes. And when he finally
mounted them, six months later, the place looked lived-in at last. But his attitude brought to mind a popular advertising
slogan for Anacin from the ‘60s. “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself!”
You might think I had learned my lesson
from that experience, but not entirely, and I can’t entirely be blamed for that. Kaitlin recently sent me an email asking
for decorating advice. After moving to their latest apartment, they’d realized that they didn’t have a single
pair of matching sheets, and had decided to invest in some new bedding. But they’d been unable to find anything that
appealed to them both. She favored floral. He wanted stripes. And he only wanted something in a shade he called “smoky
She asked if I had any suggestions to help get them past their design impasse.
After looking online for days, I wrote back to say that I’d found the perfect solution. There was a bedding set
on sale at Pottery Barn that was all-inclusive. The duvet cover and shams came in a stylish yet muted, non-floral pattern.
The coordinating sheets and pillowcases were striped. All were in high-quality cotton. And they came in smoky blue.
With their approval, I sent them that
set as a housewarming gift, and they both loved it. Still, I probably should have had the sense to quit while I was ahead.
Kaitlin also had mentioned to me that they needed a new rug for their bedroom. And when I saw one on Wayfair.com that
matched the bedding I’d sent, I couldn’t resist.
As long as we were going to stay with the cats,
I decided to bring the rug along. I also bought them some new fancy towels with French words… and pillowcases with
London designs…and a pair of mugs with the names of French cities. Plus a picture frame with a photo of Paris. I just
figured it would be nice to bring them a few gifts in return for their hospitality.
Besides, I doubted that they would buy many (if any) souvenirs of their trip. After all, Aidan is essentially allergic
to shopping. Whereas I love nothing more than to shop.
What I am allergic to is cats.
Given that condition, I was a little disconcerted to arrive at their apartment last Friday evening and be virtually
assaulted by one of their cats. Not aggressively, mind you. On the contrary. It wanted to rub itself affectionately against
every part of my being.
It was equally drawn to my horrified husband, who is not much of a cat lover either.
I was also disconcerted to find only one cat, because I knew that there were two. One was named Jody and the other Wuftie,
although I didn’t know which was which.
After extensive searching, I finally located the second cat. It was hiding under the bed and exhibited no desire whatsoever
to come out and greet us as its new guardians.
I was inclined to stay and continue making “Pssst! Pssst!”
noises until it emerged. But we’d gotten a late start packing up all of my many offerings and were already late.
As I said, cats are much lower maintenance than dogs. We were not expected as cat-sitters to actually sit around entertaining
them, and as long as we were going to be in the city I had gotten theater tickets for both nights and also made dinner reservations.
The play that we saw that night was actually a series of three one-acts, Series B of the Summer Shorts being staged
at a theatre called 59E59, of which we are members. One was by Neil LaBute (known for such plays as Reasons to Be Pretty and its sequel, Reasons to Be Happy). Although we enjoyed the production, however,
none of the three plays was especially pretty, and none of them made us happy. One was about a single mother dealing with
a grown son with Asperger’s, and a second about a man confronting another man about something awful that he had done.
As summer fare, they were surprisingly grim.
Far more satisfying and uplifting,
I must admit, was the dinner that preceded them. It happened to be New York Restaurant Week, a semi-annual promotion that
actually encompasses more than three weeks (July 25 to August 15), in which 314 participating restaurants were offering three-course
prix-fixe lunches for $25 and/or dinners for $38.
This may not sound exactly like a bargain rate, but it is the only way we could ever afford to dine at some of these
eateries – upscale places like Le Cirque or Boulud Sud. And the one that I’d chosen, mostly for its proximity
to the theater – Brasserie 8½, on West 57th Street – turned out to be absolutely divine, from my stuffed
zucchini blossom with goat cheese appetizer to my husband’s filet mignon with haricots verts and Béarnaise sauce,
to the glistening peach tatin with almond ice cream served for dessert.
After all of that, it was still disconcerting
to hasten back to the apartment and find that the grayish brown cat still seemed determined to become my conjoined twin,
while the white one still wouldn’t come out of hiding… until, that is, I began to remove my jewelry.
Seeing the delicate gold chain I’d been wearing glinting in the light, it tiptoed toward me furtively, cautiously,
unable to contain its curiosity. As a reward, I reached toward it and let my hand gently trace the contours of its ears, then
back, then tail.
It didn’t shy away, daring to perch on my suitcase while I dressed for bed. Until my husband reappeared, that
is. Then it dashed for cover, seeking refuge under the couch.
I woke up in the middle of the night to feel something
wispy and spidery tickling my left cheek. Rubbing my eyes, I opened them to discover it was the white cat’s whiskers.
It was sitting on the night table staring at me intently, its face barely an inch from mine.
The next thing I knew, it was broad daylight and the white cat was sleeping on the floor beside me. When it saw me open
my eyes, it leaped up onto the bed and onto me. Until my husband woke up too. Then it headed for the hills.
I discovered that its counterpart
had bedded down for the night on my suitcase.
I don’t know if cats respond to their names the way that dogs
do. From what I have observed, I don’t know that cats respond to anything. But it was beginning to drive me crazy that
I didn’t know what to call these animals. Which cat was which?
So I emailed Aidan and Kaitlin in London to ask
and tell of our experience so far.
I also asked about the cats' genders, although I suppose I could’ve figured that
“The white one is definitely a girl,” I speculated, noting how she had shunned me until she’d noticed
my jewelry. “Then she was interested and is now my new best friend. Although she still hates Dad and runs for cover
at the sight of him,” I reported. “The gray cat likes us both, and licks us both, but she especially likes (and
licks) my suitcase.”
Aidan soon responded to explain that the white cat was Wuftie (pronounced WOOF tee) and contrary
to my psychological analysis, he was a male. The gray one was Jody. That was the girl.
My husband came up with a way to remember
which was which, in case we forgot. Wuftie started with a W, for “white.” (But what about Jody? He said she was
Meanwhile, Kaitlin wrote back to thank us and explain that Wuftie “starts off shy.”
As shy as he may have been at first, he was no longer shying away from me. Neither, of course, was Jody. And
as convinced as I was that I was allergic to cats, I no longer had the desire, fortitude, or self-control to shy away from
touching them, either.
For regardless of my trepidation about breaking out in hives or getting congested, my heart
went out to these creatures. How lonely and frightened they must have felt. Their owners had suddenly disappeared for days,
and then two strangers had arrived.
I could easily relate to how heart-rending that must have felt to them. Although I missed Aidan and Kaitlin, of course, my real heartbreak was over my daughter. Allegra had gone halfway around
the globe to Hong Kong to live for months. And at least I knew where she was and was able to text her and even talk to her
via WhatsApp and FaceTime.
These poor kitties had no clue where their mom and dad might be or when they would return.
So I dared to pet them, cautiously at first, then finally daring to hoist them in my lap. To my surprise, the world
didn’t come to an end. I didn’t even so much as itch.
I was enjoying their furry company so much that
it was hard to tear myself away. But my husband finally insisted that we dress and go outside to greet the day.
Although there is a subway stop within a few blocks of the building, we were in no hurry to get anywhere until dinnertime
and decided to walk downtown and explore Aidan and Kaitlin’s new neighborhood.
And by their new neighborhood, I mean
They had moved from Brooklyn to West 130th Street in June to be near Columbia University, where Aidan will
start his Ph.D. this fall. It was the closest place they’d been able to find with a reasonable rent. They’d assured
us that the neighborhood was nice and also safe. Not to cast any aspersions on Harlem, but I wanted to see for myself.
To our surprise, walking down Amsterdam Avenue, we encountered one stylish café after another. The blackboard
at a trendy place called Max Soha off 123rd Street was touting daily specials including a Tuscan kale salad, risotto with
roasted pear and gorgonzola, and black sea bass with capers, lemon, endive and carrots.
Another place near 123rd called Kitchenette, with a bakery counter groaning under gorgeous cakes, cookies and pastries,
looked like a perfect spot for Sunday brunch.
Even a place a few blocks further down called the Chicken Bar, offering chicken, beer and donuts, looked inviting.
And within a reasonable distance we found ourselves on the Columbia campus. That’s when it dawned on us that Aidan
wasn’t the only one going back to college.
From the time he had entered preschool 25 years ago, our lives had revolved around our children’s school activities,
from daily drop-offs and pickups to attending concerts and sporting events. Many of our closest friends had been the parents
of our kids’ classmates. Our children’s full, busy lives had created full, busy lives for us as well.
That had ended abruptly when our daughter
had graduated from college in 2011. And ever since, our lives had remained busy, yet never felt quite as exciting. Or full.
But now here we were back at school once again. Not just school. The Ivy League! We began to envision ourselves attending
Parents’ Weekend at Columbia this fall. Who cared if Aidan, as a grad student, wanted to be there or not? We could go
Just thinking about it got me so excited that I went into the campus store and bought him a Columbia t-shirt, another
surprise gift to add to the mix.
Eventually, we finally hopped a subway and met some old friends for dinner.
The wife, Carol, at least, was an
old friend of my husband’s, with whom he had gone to law school. I’d met her this spring, along with her husband
Ray, when we had attended their 45th law school reunion and teamed up with them in the photo booth.
Now we posed with them yet again for a lovely and lively dinner at the Isle of Capri, a popular and rather traditional
Italian restaurant on Third Avenue and 61st Street.
Then it was off to the theater again, once again at 59E59.
My review of the Summer Shorts may
have been less than a rave, but our second foray for the weekend warranted a total rave and then some. We go to the theater
all the time. And this was, I must say, one of the best things I have ever seen.
It was also especially appealing to
me due to its decidedly Jewish content.
The Pianist of Willesden Lane, running through August 24th, is based on a book of
the same name subtitled Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir Of Music, Love,
and Survival by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen.
In this one-woman show, Golabek portrays her own mother, Lisa Jura, a gifted young Jewish
pianist growing up in Vienna on the eve of World War II.
It begins in 1938 when, at the age of 14, Lisa is preparing
for the most important hour of her week – her piano lesson. But she arrives to learn from her vaunted teacher that it
has been forbidden to give lessons to Jews. “I am not a brave man,” he tells her. And so life as she has known
it is abruptly over, and her dreams of making her debut dashed.
Soon after, her father manages to
obtain a single ticket on the Kindertransport, allowing her parents to send a child away to safety in London. The
problem is that they have three daughters. Her parents must make the most dreadful choice imaginable. And as it turns out,
Lisa is the one chosen to be saved from the impending Holocaust.
The play follows Lisa in her new life, as she faces one setback after another while struggling toward
making the concert debut of which she has always dreamed. All the while, Golabek, an accomplished pianist herself, embodies
all of the many characters Lisa encounters along the way while playing well-known classical selections with astonishing skill
The result is engrossing, poignant, amusing, and amazing, and it ultimately moved everyone
to tears, along with a resounding standing ovation.
If you can possibly get yourself there, and get tickets,
I really would not miss it.
But surprisingly, after we made our way out, I realized that I missed
When we arrived back at the apartment, they both came out readily to greet us. Well, to greet
me, anyway. Wuftie still took one look at my husband and ran for his life.
Jody curled up on my suitcase again, but later joined us in bed.
The next morning, after
feeding them, I took one whiff of the cat litter box and decided it was time. I had never done this duty before, and wasn’t
keen to do it now.
And having now done it once, I must admit that I am not keen to do it again.
Then again, I have no qualms whatsoever about “picking up” after our dog, Latke. I guess you
get used to it.
The thing that I have begun to wonder is if even a person who is allergic can get used to
being around cats.
The fact is that I became convinced that I was allergic many years ago when I
had begun to suffer from asthma. My brother and his wife had several cats, and when I visited them I would quickly become
so congested that I could hardly breathe.
Years later, after I left my longtime reporter’s job at a local newspaper, my asthma suddenly
subsided. That’s when it occurred to me that the asthma symptoms had begun when the newspaper had moved into a new modern
building a few years earlier. Perhaps I’d been allergic to that building itself, or something in it.
(Or was I just allergic to work?)
In any case, I was no longer asthmatic. But I assumed I was still allergic
When I visited my brother or other people who had cats, I hesitated to touch them, convinced
that if I avoided direct contact, then I would be OK.
But when my daughter moved in with roommates who owned
cats after college, and we found ourselves staying overnight frequently, cats became impossible to avoid.
Perhaps I’d built up an immunity to them over time. Or maybe I’d never been allergic,
One thing I can tell you. Whether or not I am actually allergic to cats, they are allergic
to vacuum cleaners.
At least they are determined to avoid them even more than Wuftie was inclined
to avoid my husband.
I had laid out the new rug that I’d brought in the bedroom, and it turned out to fit perfectly
and match the new bedding I’d bought them even better than I had hoped.
The new towels with
French embroidery also looked very elegant in the john.
But I wanted to leave the place in pristine condition,
and I thought that included vacuuming the living room rug, which, thanks to all the cat hair, was not what I would call pristine.
But within moments of my turning on the vacuum, both cats vanished into thin air. And an hour later, when
we were ready to go out for breakfast, they were still MIA.
I finally found Wuftie under the bed and pulled her out gently. But she went back in.
As for Jody, where was
she? Not under the couch. Not under the bed. Not in any of the closets. I even checked the dishwasher. No luck.
I didn’t want
to budge until I knew she was alive and well. But my husband kept insisting that she had to be in there somewhere because
no one had opened the door.
So we went out to the place we’d found the day before, Kitchenette, where we so enjoyed the
High Falls brunch special (two eggs, grilled tomato, and sautéed spinach with Mornay sauce atop a homemade whole wheat
English muffin) that we bought Aidan and Kaitlin a gift certificate so they could go enjoy it too when they got back.
And when we returned, Jody was resting on the bed, ready to rub all over us again.
Sadly, the weekend was
over and it was time for us to pack and leave.
Don’t worry. Others had been enlisted for the duration of the trip to take our places.
Those cats are the closest things we have to grandchildren right now,
and after three days with them, maybe the twain had met.
I love those cats. I miss those cats.
I only hope that my minor décor additions don’t make me persona non grata, because I could get used to this cat-sitting
What I’m not sure about is that poor, shy Wuftie will ever get used to my husband.
Friday, August 1, 2014
A Word From the Weiss
I have a confession to make.
No, I haven’t done anything immoral, illegal,
or even illicit. In fact, about the only “ill” thing about what I have done is that it might make you feel a little
ill to hear about it, making me think that it might be ill-advised to mention it.
Too bad. Here goes.
Actually, what I’m about to tell you is not something that I have done, but rather something that
I have not done. Something that I have not done for well over a week.
OK, make that two weeks.
I’m talking about something
that most people do daily.
What I’m talking about is washing my hair.
And before you get too grossed
out, or imagine me looking like a bag lady by now, let me just point out that the photo to the right was taken on
You might say it all started last month… that is, the last time I’d had my hair done.
I have my hair done every five
weeks. And when I say “done,” I don’t just mean cut. I mean the works. Colored, cut, and then blown dry
so that it looks like it’s been “done.”
The person who does my hair is named Luis Irizarry, and he has been doing my hair for so long that you might say he
is one of my best friends.
You might say that he is one of my best friends, not because he does my hair, but
because I tell him stuff that I don’t tell almost anyone else, including my other best friends.
You also might say he’s one
of the most important people in my life, because he’s one of the only people on earth who make me feel better about
myself. It also might be fair to say that I’m one of his best customers, because I've followed him to at least five
different locations in order to keep having him do my hair for over 20 years.
I now see him at a salon in Connecticut called United Artists, which I have begun to visit with increasing regularity
as it becomes necessary to get my hair colored on a more frequent basis. (Yes, in case you are wondering, I am a natural redhead.
At least I once was a natural redhead. Now I am a natural redhead with a little help. Every few weeks. From Luis.)
Yet even though he charges me what sounds like a bargain rate to my city friends, I can only afford to visit him at
those five-week intervals. In between, I fend for myself. By which I mean that I do almost nothing. Nothing beyond washing
my hair every few days, that is, then spraying on some goop that he sold me and letting it air dry.
Luckily, my hair has enough natural body to look passably presentable that way. But when Luis does it, it doesn’t
just look passably presentable. It looks “done.” Done well, that is. So after it’s been done, I do what
anyone in her right mind would do – I try to make the “do” last for as long as possible by doing nothing
to it for as long as possible.
That means I comb it and/or brush it. I might even spritz it with dry shampoo. But
I shower with a shower cap on and don’t allow my hair to get wet for up to a week.
Last month, though, things didn’t go quite according to my usual plan. A week after I’d had my hair
done, I departed for NYC to help my daughter pack up her belongings so that she could sublet her apartment while she went
to live and be a singer in Hong Kong.
I didn’t have time to shampoo my hair before I left, and
we were so busy packing that I didn’t have time to wash it while I was there, either. Besides, I really wanted to look
much more than passably presentable while I was in the city with my daughter. So somehow, I managed to make do with the
“do” Luis had given me for the duration of the trip.
Yes, despite the oppressive heat of summer in the city, it kept its shape and even its curl. Of course, it felt wonderful
to finally douse my head with water when I returned. But when I checked my calendar, I realized that I hadn’t washed
it for a full two weeks.
This was twice as much time as I ever recalled getting out of a single blow-dry,
and (as nasty as it might sound to you), I felt like it was some sort of accomplishment. Perhaps something to be proud of.
Or at least, something that Luis should be proud of.
So the next time that he did my hair, on July 17, I decided to mention this to him. I had a little trepidation that,
as a hair professional, he might be horrified to hear about it. After all, it sounded like I might have a problem with personal
hygiene, or lack thereof. But when I told him the story, adding that I was tempted to try to break my new record, he didn’t
recoil or react like my daughter, who’d said, “That’s really gross!” and then mumbled something about
“style at any price of hygiene.” He threw back his head and laughed.
To his mind, this was nothing particularly shocking, or even out of the ordinary. Rather, he pointed out that when he
was growing up, it had been customary for his mother to go to the hair salon every other week and to do nothing to her hair
I was a little surprised to hear this, since my own nice Jewish mom had gone to a local salon, Maison Machata,
every single Friday, like clockwork (and also done nothing in between).
As for my ambition to exceed the new record I’d just set, instead of looking at me askance, Luis pulled out a
silver can of dry shampoo for which he said he had no use.
“Why don’t you try this?” he asked encouragingly,
insisting that I take it home at no charge.
To me, this meant that he hadn’t just endorsed my effort to exceed
the two weeks. He had almost double dared me.
Besides, my hair is long and thick, and even the minimal effort
I normally go to is fairly time-consuming. This would save me many an hour. What did I have to lose?
You might consider my not washing
my hair for so long to be unhealthy, as well as unsavory, but in fact daily cleansing may be the thing that’s detrimental
to hair health.
Or at the very least unnecessary.
“Dermatologists and stylists agree that there's little reason
to shampoo every day,” according to the web site WebMD. “The longer, thicker, curlier, and more processed your
hair, the longer it can go between washes.”
(Long, thick, and curly, you say? Hey, are you talkin' to me?)
A 2013 article in The Huffington
Post corroborated this. “You should never wash your hair every day,” stated a story entitled “13 Hair Mistakes
You Need to Stop Making,” which ranked daily washing right up there as a major grooming no-no with coloring your own
hair and cutting your own bangs.
“All this does is strip essential oils from your hair,” it maintained. It recommended freshening up between
shampoos, if necessary, with a dry shampoo or Ted Gibson Hair Sheet Styling, calming towelettes from the stylist to the stars
known for trimming the tresses of celebs including Angelina Jolie, Claire Danes, and Keira Knightley.
Then there’s the web site Howstuffworks.com, which mentions an informal 2007 study in which about 500 people took
on the challenge of going without shampoo for six weeks, after a guest on an Australian radio show mentioned that he hadn't
washed his hair in a decade.
A decade!?! (What about the seven-year itch?)
Evidently, 86 percent of the participants reported afterwards that their hair
was no better or worse than it had been when they had shampooed it regularly.
“Even among medical
professionals that specialize in the skin, hair and scalp -- dermatologists and trichologists -- there's disagreement about
the usefulness of shampooing and just how frequently one should use shampoo, if at all,” the story went on to say. Some
discourage frequent shampooing, believing that it can lead to the overproduction of sebum – the oily substance secreted
by the sebaceous glands to lubricate skin and hair. “Others say that shampooing is necessary to prevent sebum from collecting
in the pores and hair follicles and leading to skin problems like acne.”
So perhaps this is not a course of action (or non-action) that I would
recommend to most teenagers.
Then again, a stylist I used to patronize
a long time ago (even before I began to see Luis) was zealous in his belief that Americans shampoo way too often. If I
felt compelled to wash my hair more than every other day, he advised using only water on alternate days, saying
it worked perfectly well.
But for my own personal experiment, I was even swearing off H2O. So I figured that
the only way I could demonstrate that I did not look unclean, disheveled, or otherwise disgusting – and that I had
no live critters inhabiting my head – was to take a picture of my hair every day.
I’m sorry if this appears supremely self-indulgent. But I also wanted to have some sort of record with which to
track the progress of my hair over those two weeks, or however long my willpower might last. (Don’t think it wasn’t
a matter of willpower. There were moments when I fantasized about putting my head under a shower nozzle the way
that most men probably fantasize about sex.)
Also, by the way, all the photos that you will see here are
selfies. My husband was well aware of my little grooming experiment, but I didn’t dare bother him to document it... and
couldn't bear to hear one more word about my having "cooties."
Here I am (at right) on Day 1. I captured my freshly minted hairstyle within seconds of exiting the salon. You may notice
a few hairs out of place (it was a very breezy day), but mostly how shiny and sleek my locks look with the sun glinting off
them… if I do say so myself.
Do you notice a huge difference between that photo and Day 2? You might argue that a blow-dry loses its luster as rapidly
as a new car decreases in value (that is, the moment you drive off the lot). Having to sleep on it all night doesn’t
exactly help, of course. But there are tricks to get around that.
One is to give your hair a quick zap with a
blow-dryer even if it’s already bone dry. I can’t explain why, but Luis says that the heat activates something
in hair products and will make your hair puff right up and look almost as good as new.
It also helps to massage your scalp
vigorously, as though you were shampooing it. Feels good, too!
Seeing Day 3, I wonder why I didn’t make more judicious use of a brush or comb. What I don’t
wonder is why I felt a little relieved to get out of swimming when a friend who was visiting for the weekend declined to spend
the day at our club.
Yet the truth is that even when I do swim, I make it a point not to get my hair wet. I’m like one of those
old yentas you see paddling around the pool, awkwardly craning their heads out of the water (minus the skirted swimsuit,
The other truth is that this may have been an experiment better to conduct during the winter (when it’s
often necessary to delay shampooing in order to avoid going out into the cold with a wet head). Not only was it frustrating
to forego swimming along with showering, but the high levels of heat and humidity outside didn’t help matters one bit.
Yet even so, I think my style continued to hold up pretty well through Day 4. Luis later told me about a feature he’d
seen on morning TV with advice on how to make your blow-dry last for up to four days. (Only four days? Who were these
Day 5 fell on a Monday, the day on which I always go to Zumba class. In case you’ve never tried it, let me just
say that this is the only exercise I’ve ever found that I do religiously, not because it’s good for me but because
it’s fun and makes me feel good.
But it also never fails to make me work up a sweat, which does little
to enhance my hair. Then again, with friends from out of town still visiting, I think I managed to look tolerably OK by throwing
on a bright scarf after class before going directly out to dinner.
In case you have any doubts, I showered regularly throughout this interlude. I simply made sure to wear a shower cap
every time that I did.
I was also fairly fastidious about carrying
an umbrella at all times -- no, not in the shower, but every time I left the house.
Unfortunately, we went out on the evening of Day 6 with our friends Sally and Dial, to see a community theater production
of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, only to emerge from the theater into a raging deluge. (Can
you spell “cumulonimbus,” the kind of cauliflower-shaped, low-hanging clouds that produce thunderstorms and
That’s when I discovered that I had inadvertently left my umbrella in the car. But I held the program from the
show open over my head as I made a mad dash to the restaurant next door, and by the time we had eaten, my locks looked almost
as good as new.
By Day 7 or 8, I ought to confess, although I hadn’t put my head under a faucet in what already felt like a decade,
I had availed myself of dry shampoo at least once or twice.
I used the one that Luis had given me, from GK Hair, which had
directions printed on the back in several other languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Russian, leading
me to believe this notion of not shampooing regularly is more popular in other cultures.
That product sells for $12.98 on Amazon, however, whereas you can pick up a can of TRESemmé Fresh Start dry shampoo
in CVS or almost any other pharmacy for only $6.98, and that one works just fine. Whichever you choose, the key is to shake
the can well while using it. It also helps to lift sections of your hair as you’re shaking the can and spray your scalp
beneath them. This not only cleanses the hair, but helps add volume.
Next, massage it in to spread the spray evenly
and leave it on for a few minutes to allow it to absorb any oils that have built up in your tresses. Then brush it out. And
Your hair is not only freshened and fragrant. It’s already dry and ready to go anywhere.
The place that I needed to go on Day 9 was my brother’s house on Long Island, for a belated birthday celebration
for my cousin.
This didn’t pose any danger to my hair, beyond the perils of lit candles on the cake.
But we stayed overnight, and then
the next afternoon, Day 10, we went out to play tennis.
There was nothing wrong with this in and of
itself (beyond the potential of sweating profusely from your head factor). Until, that is, raindrops slowly began to fall.
First one. Then many. But not so many that anyone seemed motivated to actually stop playing.
Anyone but Ms. No Longer Shampooing,
Fortunately, there were five of us playing, so we were taking turns sitting out a game, and I took this as my excuse
to sit out for several. I felt a bit lame sitting courtside under an umbrella while everyone else continued rallying, the
downpour be damned. But then it stopped and I not only got to play again, but think I looked fine for dinner.
On Day 11, I gritted my teeth when we drove to the shore to take a long hike and it began to pour once more. But all
the precipitation stopped the second that we arrived. At moments, I thought I might faint from the humidity. But my hair didn't
mind. After all, this was the closest it had come to getting wet in over a week.
Back home on Day 12, I went out to lunch with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time (even longer than it
had been since my hair had last come in contact with water).
Then on Day 13, I took Latke to
the groomer for a bath and a haircut; it’s one thing for me to forego routine hair care and quite another for me
to deprive others, even my dog.
Then on Day 14 my husband and I took
her for a picnic dinner in the park, where I managed to snap a selfie of us both. (Believe me, her grimace had nothing to
do with my hair or hers. She had managed to snatch the remains of my chicken sandwich when I wasn’t looking, and after
a brief moment of triumph was very sad that there wasn’t any more.)
Which brings me to Day 15. I did my thing with Luis’s dry shampoo once again, but it now had been exactly two
weeks since I had last washed my hair with actual water. Or, to be more accurate, since I’d had it washed at the salon.
Yet it still held plenty of curl. It also had plenty of shape and even bounce. Perhaps it didn’t have quite the same
luster as Day 1. Yet to me, it still looked nice enough, as if it had recently been done.
But here’s the thing that
will surprise you most: My scalp felt fine. It didn’t itch a bit.
If anything, it felt better than it customarily
does when I wash my hair regularly.
I had managed to break my current record, by at least one day. But the weekend was fast approaching, and we were going
away once again.
Was I really going to put off washing it until we returned, or go for a full third week?
I actually can’t quite explain
what I was trying to prove by doing all of this, anyway. At the very least, I saved some water, and shampoo, and I saved myself
But everything has its limits. And after two very dry weeks, I’d really reached mine. I'd truly
had enough, and I was ready for some fluff.
Besides, as much as I like my hair to look polished and styled, there’s something to be said for being the real
me. You know. Nice Jewish Mom au naturale. Even if my hair gets so huge when exposed to the humidity in summer that
it deserves its own Zip code.
So the next morning, I did it. I took a shower. Without a cap.
It had been so long since I had succumbed to suds that it felt a little like losing my virginity all over again.
The exciting thing is that I’d
delayed for so long that pretty soon I’ll get to see Luis again. Meanwhile, I may not look like my hair has a “do.”
Who cares? It’s time. I’m done.
|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