Saturday, July 25, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
One day, about 20 years ago, my mother divulged to me that my father had called her to say
there was something very important that he wanted to discuss with her. Confidential as this information might have been, I
of course divulged it at once to my brother. He and I began to speculate wildly on what this important thing might be. And
try as we might, there was only one thing that we could come up with.
mind that they had been divorced by then for nearly
Never mind also that for most of those 20 years they each had been married
to someone else.
We became absolutely convinced that our dad wanted
to get back together with our mom. What else could it possibly be?
there may have been plenty of other things that it could possibly have been. But there was only one thing that secretly, deep in my heart, I still inexplicably wanted.
speak of my parents’ divorce to people, I don’t
think I am truly resorting to hyperbole
when I say that they had one of the worst
marriages on record. By the time I was born, just over
five years into their tale of unhappily-ever-after, they were
already vociferously miserable together and had been
that way for most of those five years. That they remained together anyway more or less (very often less)
for 24 more years was nothing short of a miracle (or the world’s worst case of inertia). My father glared at her
with contempt almost any time that she opened
her mouth. And never mind looks that could kill. I don’t want to air too much dirty laundry right here, but suffice
it to say that he often seemed ready to strangle her, and one night he almost did.
I spent most of the years that they were together both dreading that they would divorce and wishing that they would do it already. And once they finally did, my
only wish was that they had done it sooner, since they seemed so much happier married to other people.
One of my favorite all-time movies remains The Parent Trap. I am talking about the original Hayley Mills version from 1961, although the 1998 remake starring a teenage Lindsay Lohan back before she became the train wreck that she is now wasn’t half-bad.
In this Disney-generated, live-action, modern fairy tale, twin girls separated soon after birth following their parents’ divorce end up by chance at the same
summer camp. When they realize that they are a matched set, they hatch a Prince and the Pauper--style plan to switch identities and lives. The purpose:
not only to experience how their other
half has lived for all these years and to at long last meet the
parent they each have never known, but more essentially to get
their estranged parents to fall back in love again so the family can reunite.
There is, of course, the requisite fly in the ointment – dear Dad is
about to marry someone else. Considering how heinous the wicked stepmother-to-be appears to be, you can’t help rooting
for the twins' foolish yet well-meaning match-making plot to succeed. But being the daughter of parents who were always on the verge of divorce -- up
until the day they finally managed at long last to cross to the other side -- I had my own personal vested interest.
Perhaps there is an innate desire within all
of us to have an intact family of origin. For as much as I knew rationally that my parents were a mismatch made in hell, a
small voice inside of me always wanted the fighting to stop so that we could all be together happily ever after.
I remember that feeling now every night when it’s time to walk our dog after dinner. Latke loves that
it stays light late enough in summer for us to fit in a family walk after we finish eating. But she doesn’t love it
nearly as much when either Mommy or Daddy is too busy with work and stays behind while
the other tries to set out solo. As much as Latke loves to
walk, she pauses at the end of the driveway to look back longingly and expectantly… and if you try to coax her onward, she pulls back
stubbornly and rears up like a bucking bronco. For the thing that she relishes most about that walk is that we do it all together.
I thought about that one night last week when my
husband was reading aloud to me in the car. He doesn’t normally read aloud to me, let alone do it in the car. But we were on our way back from visiting our kids in New York City, and we had already heard the latest headlines on 1010 WINS radio repeatedly, ad infinitum for hours… and
we had finally finished the terrific book that
we’d been listening to on Audible.
(That terrific book,
if you must know, was The Rosie
Effect by Graeme Simsion, which was the sequel to The Rosie Project, the last amazing and hilarious book that we listened to on Audible.)
What my husband read to me was my favorite part
of the Sunday New York Times. In fact, it’s my favorite thing in any newspaper during the entire week
– the “Modern Love” column.
That week’s entry was entitled “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give.” I was instantly intrigued because, as I have mentioned, my son recently got engaged. There was a time in my life when I was interested mostly in meeting the man of my dreams. Then it was getting pregnant, followed
by dealing with toddlers, then teenagers, then how to get your kids into the college of their choice. Now those topics bore me silly,
but anything that even alludes to getting married
is an automatic must-read.
This particular column turned out to be less about weddings
than marriage itself, though.
focused on the inevitable exasperating conflicts that crop up in any relationship after the idealistic belief in heartfelt vows like “I’ll always be your best
friend” wear off.
The author, a writer named Ada Calhoun, claimed to love weddings as much as the next sap, but after a decade
of marriage now knew the sad truth about those solemn vows. Whenever she attends a friend’s nuptials, she said, she must stifle the urge to leap to her feet and correct naively besotted declarations like, “I will never let you down.”
She knows that the dewy-eyed infatuation phase eventually wears off, giving way to the
never-ending frustrations of having to deal with
your mate’s idiocyncracies, annoying habits,
and habitual mess-ups.
“I want to say that one day you and your husband will fight about
missed flights, and
you’ll find yourself wistful for the days when you had to pay for only your
own mistakes,” she wrote. “I want to
say that at various points in your marriage, may it last forever, you will look at this person and feel only rage.”
is precisely what I had felt toward my husband only a couple of days before.
been on our way to NYC in the car to hear our daughter sing on Friday night. I
was behind the wheel, as usual; the fact is that I’m not a fan of my husband’s driving, and he would just as soon
let me drive so that he can read the newspaper in the car (although not necessarily read it to me).
one segment of this trip that invariably leaves us mired briefly in traffic. But far worse, this particular junction on the Hutchinson
River Parkway almost always leaves us mired in a brief altercation. It is a point in Westchester where the highway narrows and the left lane comes to an abrupt halt. Most drivers heed the sign in advance and change lanes accordingly. But there
are always a few stragglers who drive
along obliviously until the last possible moment and then begin signaling
that they want to push their way in.
My husband seems to believe that driving a car is some sort of us-against-the-world competition,
and that if I let even one of these cars in, then they will have beaten us in the race to get ahead. Or at the very least
they will have taken egregious advantage of us. Or taken
some important advantage away from
Sure, I will admit that it’s a little obnoxious when
drivers choose to ignore that a lane has
slowed down before an exit and try to get away with proceeding as far as possible, then muscle their way in. On the other hand, I know what it feels like when you make a mistake and need
to change lanes and no one will let you in. Also, to be honest, I just don’t care. What real difference will it truly make in the scheme of things if I let another car in? We may end up arriving at our destination 10 seconds later. So what?
Yet last Friday night, my husband had
just put in a stressful week of late nights, and so he became especially adamant -- almost deranged, if you ask me -- when we approached this intersection. He began berating me not to let any other cars in no matter what.
I also had just put in a stressful week of late nights, thanks to my new summer job, and I was not in any mood for his manic outburst. So I ignored him and let one car in. Then another.
And before I knew
it, we were really at each other’s throats. Over what? Nonsense.
Yes, thinking about it now, I know it was nonsense. And you know it was nonsense.
But at the time I had reached my limit and it seemed like a matter of life or death. Or at the very least marriage or divorce. And I was suddenly very much in favor
of the latter.
I went so far as to tell him (as I let yet another car cut rudely in) that he could have
full custody of the dog. That was just to add injury to insult. Or vice versa.
As the “Modern Love" columnist had noted,
there is a form of Buddhism that can be summed up with the words, “Life is suffering – and yet.” And marriage
can be summed up pretty much the same way. “I love this person, and yet she’s such a mess. And yet when I’m
sick, he’s not very nurturing. And yet we don’t want the same number of children. And yet I sometimes wonder
what it would be like to be single again.”
I don’t relate to any of those particular
examples myself. And yet my husband’s insistence on working out for at least an hour every day no matter what, and his
need to watch violent TV shows late at night at a deafening decibel level while I'm trying to write, and his complaining relentlessly about his weight yet continuing to eat two heaping
bowls of ice cream right in front of me every single night while I am trying to diet... well, these things make me want to do things to him that will be reported not just on local TV, but the national evening news.
And yet somehow we keep going on and on together.
And yet I begin to think about how silent the house would be if we didn't.
And yet my favorite line in that entire column was
a bit of parental advice the author repeated: “ ‘The way to stay married,’ my mother
says, ‘is not to get divorced.’ ”
But that incident on the Hutch took place two days before my husband would
read that column aloud to me in the car, and at that moment I did not want to stay married any longer. Never mind that this dopey
dispute was nothing new. In fact, it was
something very old. I was ready to call it quits right then and there.
My daughter – someone for whom our marital squabbles are indeed very, very old – often chides us for continually fighting
about the same trivial issues, as though our encountering the same old thing were so shocking that we suddenly find it totally
intolerable. But isn’t that what is most exasperating in marriage – always having to deal with your mate’s
crazy habits and eccentricities until the moment that you suddenly find them totally intolerable?
Or is it just that on most days we manage to put up with our partners’ craziness (for we all have some
form of craziness), but then we all have those days when we have had a hard week, or not enough sleep, and we find that craziness
you are with someone, the more big and little ‘and yets’ rack up,” Calhoun
wrote. “You love this person. Of course
you plan to be with him or her forever. And yet forever can begin to seem like a long time.”
Tell me about it. She was writing this after only a decade of marriage. My husband and I just celebrated 31 years last
week. We have more than our share of “and yets.”
And yet I must admit that I enjoyed having him read
to me in the car, and after we got home that night I made a nice dinner and we watched a new TV show that we both like, then we went to bed and began another week as though nothing had ever happened.
Yes, we began another week and another month, and soon it will be another year.
Although my parents were officially married for nearly three decades, they were separated on and off throughout my
teenage and young adult years, and they
never made it to our miraculous 31.
remember any more what that important thing was that my father wanted to discuss with my mother back then. Perhaps he suddenly wanted to apologize to her for the way he had treated her all those years. Perhaps he wanted to talk
about my brother or me. But no, he did not want to ditch my evil stepmother and get back together with my mom.
He died still married
to Ms. Evil Knievel. My mother died a decade later still married to my stepfather,
Sid, and, hard as it is to believe, we marked my father’s 17th yahrzeit (anniversary of his death) last
I’ll admit it. I secretly hope sometimes that my parents will still get back together.
Could they be together again in heaven?
If there is a heaven, do they know there that people have gotten divorced and make sure that they are kept safely apart? Or do divorced parents get to start
all over again there and overlook all the negative “and yets?”
Maybe that is the very definition of heaven.
Or maybe heaven is simply having
someone there (even someone a little annoying and crazy) to read to you in the car.
Friday, July 17, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
posted nothing at all last week and barely have a moment to emit more than
a blurb now. I’m just too busy with my new (summer) job.
I’m dying to tell you about my new (summer)
job, but I’m too busy doing it to talk about it. So you will have to settle for this.
Barely a blurb.
I woke up
to an email from a local supermarket, The Big Y, this
past Tuesday offering 10 percent off that day for seniors, and realized with a mixture of delight and utter horror that their age criteria (60 and over) meant ME. Of course, after dropping our dog Latke off at the groomers, I headed
miss a chance like that.
Soon enough, I found myself stocking up on everything we
could possibly need and a few things for my kids as well. (They may not be seniors quite yet, but why couldn’t they
be seniors by association?) Between sale prices and that 10 percent discount, I managed to save a whopping $117.
(PLEASE NOTE: I did not spend over $1,000 at the supermarket. Honestly! I am just reporting what my receipt said I saved in total, including the savings on many items that had already been marked down.)
Of course, this exercise
in frugality required contending with gray gridlock at the checkout line, not to mention listening
to a 10-minute debate that went on between a wizened geezer and his wife about bread crumbs. (Yes, 10 minutes. I kid you not.)
“No, not seasoned! Plain! Not unsalted! Regular. No, not that one! And not that one! I only want 4C, not the store brand! It stinks!”
Then there was the tiny, barely-5-foot octogenarian who was struggling mightily to get a can of gravy down from a high shelf.
I asked if I could help her, and she assured me she could manage. But just at that moment I got a phone call on my cell. She, of course, assumed
I was still speaking to her, so she continued speaking (and speaking!) to me.
Was it worth it?
Maybe not, because I then had to lug that whole giant haul out to my
car, then into the house and put it all away. Between the shopping trip and all of that, it took half the day.
At least I got some further mileage out of the deal, because when I posted about it on Facebook it set off a blizzard of
comments reminiscent of last winter’s snowstorms. (If only we could have one
of those now.)
market senior discount begins at 54. The outrage,” my friend Suzanne wrote.
“The horror. The
horror,” I replied (quoting Joseph
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness). “At least I stocked up on everything from paper towels to tofu to
my senior-plus husband’s hearing aid batteries. May never have to shop again.”
A neighbor named Meryl promptly weighed in to note, “I
hope you got the Silver Savings Card (free to age 60 and up), which automatically gives you all silver coin discounts! I was
perturbed that they didn’t want to
see my driver’s license when I asked for mine!”
“Perturbed?” I replied. “I was incensed and ready to call the manager. Is it time for
Botox? Don’t answer that.”
My friend Suzanne didn’t answer that, but she did reply to Meryl. “That’s unforgivable,” she wrote, whereupon the two, who have never met, began a lengthy dialogue about how Meryl knows Suzanne’s
sister Roberta and went to summer camp with her friend Janice Turteltaub. This went on for so many comments back and forth that I
was tempted to suggest they get a (chat) room and take the conversation elsewhere.
But then my friend Arlene piped up to complain that she hadn’t gotten the store's email. (If
you have to be a senior, or whatever we 60-and-over-somethings are, there should be some compensation in this world.) “Is
it today?” she asked. And Meryl began to talk to her.
This prompted someone named Jack, presumably a friend of a friend (or maybe a friend of Janice Turteltaub’s) to put in his own two cents. “You can
get a discount at MacDonald’s, but then you’d have to eat it,” he wrote.
Eat at Mickey D’s? Yes, they are advertising their latest upscale offering,
a lobster roll, this summer. But how good could it be? And no matter how good, it is of course trayf.
“As I said – the horror. The horror,”
point, to my surprise, even my former rabbi, Stephen Fuchs, who remains a friend on Facebook, chimed in to answer my mostly rhetorical question about whether the experience had been worth it. “Hilarious!”
he said. “But $117 is $117!”
Amen to that.
I was momentarily heartened to finally get a comment on the
matter I thought was most cogent. Not whether the indignities I had suffered were worth the savings, but about the indignity
of being eligible for that savings at all.
“It’s all in your mind,” my friend Liz posted. “You look like a teenager.”
“Feel like a teenager. Shop ‘n save like an old-timer!” I replied.
Thinking about this made me realize how true at least the
second part of that observation was.
mother died with about 17 cans of coffee in the cupboard,” I noted. “She didn’t even drink much coffee anymore.
But they were on SALE!”
At this, a friend named Cindy entered the fray. “We all have that in our family
history,” she wrote.
Do we? I
wonder. Yes, I suppose we do.
But am I now that person in my family? Oy.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
A Word From the Weiss
In his riveting eulogy for the Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney last week, President Obama called upon the nation to reflect upon racism – the kind of innate, insidious prejudice that can lurk even in those of us who would like to believe we are bigotry-free.
“Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it,”
he said. “So that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but also… the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview, but not Jamal.”
Let me tell you about my own very recent and memorable experience with “Jamal.”
As I have mentioned lately – more than once, I’ll admit – my daughter returned to the United
States a week or so ago after spending a whole year singing in Hong Kong.
Allegra was due to arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport late on a Thursday night.
She and her boyfriend JP, who was joining her to visit for a few weeks, were scheduled to get in at 9:40 p.m. But that didn’t mean I would pick them up at 9:40 p.m. After the hour or so it would take to disembark, go through Immigration and retrieve their bags, it was going
to be very late.
I live nearly three hours away from Newark and was busy
preparing for my new summer job, so I have no doubt that they would have been perfectly happy to spare me the long trip and take a cab from the airport to Allegra’s apartment on Roosevelt
I wanted to pick them up in order to welcome them back in person with open arms...
and a silly homemade sign.
I wanted to pick them up because, after a whole year of living in Hong Kong, Allegra was carting back a whole lot of luggage.
But mostly I wanted to pick them up because I am a nice Jewish mom, and that’s what nice Jewish moms do.
I had lots of work to do that day, including
finishing my weekly blog, but I wanted to be there the moment they
touched down, even if they might not emerge for eons after. So I kept
monitoring the progress of their arduous 16-hour flight on FlightAware.com.
When I first checked
after I awoke that morning, I could see that my daughter was already about halfway
home. My heartbeat began galloping like a herd of wild horses at the prospect of soon spying her sweet face. But at 5 p.m., the umpteenth time that I checked, I discovered that for some reason her plane was now due in a whole hour early.
At this, my heart began to race like American Pharaoh going into the final stretch. Traffic on the George Washington
Bridge can be a bitch, or at the very least unpredictable. What if I hit a colossal jam? So I jumped into my car and began driving like mad. Destination: New Jersey.
Following a few initial rush-hour glitches, I encountered little to slow me down and pulled into the airport, miraculously, just
after 8. My plan was to park in the short-term
lot by their terminal and go inside to grab a bit of dinner, and maybe a nosh for them. But before driving
through the ticket gate, I pulled over to check their flight once more.
To my bewilderment, their ETA had changed yet again. Changed drastically, in fact. They were
now due to arrive right on schedule at 9:40 again. Since they were unlikely to emerge for
a good hour after that, my silly sign and I had at least 2½ hours left to wait.
According to the posted rates, it would cost me $28 to park for that long. I already had shelled out handsomely for a hotel room for the night, since it would be too late to drive back home. It may sound frugal of me – OK, just call
me cheap – but $28? To park for a couple of hours? It seemed like a total waste.
Yet there was no way to turn around. I appeared to be stuck. So I backed up a bit so that I wasn’t
blocking the entrance to the lot in any way. Then I flicked on my hazard lights and proceeded to kill time checking email and working on my blog on my phone.
More than an hour went
by in this fashion. I was beginning to get hungry. No, make that famished. And five hours after leaving home, I was in dire need of a restroom. But it would cost at least 12 bucks to park for the hour or so I had left.
I figured I could wait a bit more.
It was nearly 9:30 when another car pulled up behind mine, and I saw a young man get out and run toward me. His hair was a mass of tiny braids and he was wearing camouflage shorts and a black t-shirt emblazoned “IT’S GOOD TO BE THE KING.”
I rolled down my window as he approached. “Can I ask you a question?” he asked.
had just discovered the hefty parking fees and wondered if there were any way to exit
without paying them. I replied that I was sitting there because I was in the exact same boat, and I
really didn’t know.
this, he indicated that he was simply going to make a U-turn. This would require
driving in the wrong direction along a one-way street. I advised against it.
“You’ll probably get a ticket,” I warned.
He shrugged and said he was going to give it a
Indeed, I watched as
he spun around and sped away from the entrance to the lot, only to be pulled over almost instantly by a passing security van. I winced on his behalf.
About 10 minutes
later, I checked on the flight again and
saw that it had begun descending rapidly and landing was imminent. It was time to bite the bullet and go in.
So I turned my car on.
At least I tried to turn it on. I rotated the key in the ignition, but all I heard was a hideous stream of shrill, rapid clicks. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh!
Perhaps when I had
switched off my car, I’d left it on halfway so that the a/c or radio would keep
running. Or perhaps I’d left on the lights. I thought I had turned it all off. Whatever the case, I evidently had done something dumb. Really dumb.
My battery was dead.
what was I going to do?
Sure, I’m a member of AAA – the Automobile Association of America (not Alcoholics Anonymous).
But by the time help arrived, an hour
or more surely would have passed. My daughter
and JP would be exhausted after a 16-hour flight. I was exhausted myself.
What a disaster! What an
idiot I was. What the heck was I going to do now?
At that moment, I saw the young man with the braids and t-shirt driving up again. This time, though, he pulled up right beside my
car and rolled down his window.
just picked up his brother, who had flown in from Georgia, but had chosen to drive back to me
just to pass on the secret that he had learned. The security officer hadn’t given him a ticket. Instead, he’d told him that if you entered the parking
lot and exited right away, the guards in the ticket booths would let you leave
without paying a cent.
He had taken the time to drive
back to tell me this even though doing so would require him to drive all the way through the vast parking lot himself in order to exit.
I could hardly
believe my ears.
I thanked him profusely for his thoughtfulness, but admitted that this invaluable tip would do me little good at this
point because my car had mysteriously
“Oh, no!” he replied sympathetically. “Do you want a jump?”
A jump? “You’re kidding, right?” I asked.
He was not. He had a set of cables on board
and was more than happy to help.
He proceeded to do another complete 180 and pull
his car up so close to mine that they stood like two horses resting in
a pasture nose to nose. Then he fished the tangled nest of rubber-coated cables – like long, smooth strands of licorice, one red, one black –
out of his trunk.
Incredulous, I popped my hood and jumped out to thank him again. Yet to his frustration, although the hood was open a crack, he couldn’t figure out how to unlatch it. He summoned
his brother, who was holding a groggy toddler,
to get out and help.
Then he spent quite a while researching my car model on his phone for instructions. No luck. I'd known this was too good to be true.
But then, probing around gently with his fingers, he
found the latch himself, and the hood gave way at last.
Although I’ve seen this task performed many times before, I remain a complete ignoramus when it comes to fixing cars. I could only stand by and watch in awe as he attached the clamps, creating a lifeline from his car to mine. Then, following his instructions, I got back behind the
wheel and gave it a bit of gas.
Eureka! In an instant, my defunct battery revved and audibly came back
Just at that moment, I received a text from Allegra. One word only. “Landed!”
What would I have done without this fellow’s
help? I couldn’t even imagine.
I hesitated to insult him, I felt so indebted that I wanted to express my thanks
more fully, and to do it in more than words. I asked if there were any way I could repay him by,
well, paying him. But he adamantly dismissed the offer at once.
“Hey, plenty of people have helped me out before when
I was stuck,” he declared. “I’m just paying it forward.
Maybe you’ll do the same someday.”
I hope I get that chance, although I doubt it will involve
my using jumper cables.
For now, all I could do was thank him again and ask if I could take his picture for my blog. Then I asked for his name. He said it was Jamal.
I kid you not.
Which brings me back to the President’s prescient words.
If I had been hiring for any kind of job, I would not have given Jamal a second interview. No second interview
would be necessary. I would have hired him on the spot.
I would hate to think
of myself as someone susceptible to racial bias. I also hate to generalize about race. But if I do have any bias along
those lines, then here is what it is:
There are good white people and bad white people.
There are good black people and bad black people.
There are good Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists, and also bad Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. (Yes, hard as
it is to believe, even bad Buddhists, no doubt.)
There are good Jews and bad Jews, and also, unfortunately, really bad Jews like Bernie Madoff.
in my experience, there are not a lot of white people – at least not a lot I have ever met – who would have gone as far out of their way as Jamal did that night for me, a total stranger.
In my experience, although I hesitate to generalize about people, and especially about race, if black people are different from white people in any significant way,
it's that they tend to be nicer.
As for Jamal, who was beyond
nice, he proved to be my hero, and a true mensh.
Before bidding me goodbye, he issued
strict instructions to continue running my
car for at least 20 to 30 minutes before turning it off so that the battery wouldn’t die again. Better yet, he advised, I shouldn’t turn it off until I’d reached my destination for the night.
So I kept it revving until it was time to drive through the parking lot, from which – as he had initially stopped so kindly to inform me –
they did allow me to exit free of charge.
By the time I had reached the terminal, Allegra and JP – and all of their copious
quantities of luggage – were already outside on the curb, waiting for me to pick them up.
So I did not
get to go in and have dinner. I did not get to go to the restroom, either.
But thanks to
Jamal, I did get to welcome my daughter in person, on time, and with open arms.
And to hold up my silly homemade sign.