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Friday, October 30, 2015


A Word From the Weiss


Allegra and me at the temple gala.jpg

       It had been months since I’d first been approached at my shul about whether my daughter would be willing to sing at their annual fundraiser – months in which negotiations about the performance, ticket prices, catering, and whatnot had unfolded more like preparations for a war – so by the time I arrived for the event last Saturday night, I was pretty much prepared for everything.

       Everything but the question a woman I barely knew posed as I walked through the door.

       “Exactly how big is your chest?”

       Say, what?

      “Excuse me?” was all I could muster.

       I’d been careful to vet the new outfit I was wearing with my husband that very morning. Of course, I knew better than to dare tempt fate by posing the age-old question, “Does this make me look fat?” At this point in my 30-plus-year marriage, I’ve narrowed the wardrobe inquiry down to two basic but very crucial questions: “Does this look OK?”and “Too booby?”

       I’d been a bit crestfallen (but not chest-fallen) when he’d responded by damning me with fairly faint praise, pronouncing my new Ivanka Trump navy jumpsuit “fine.”

ivanka trump navy jumpsuit.jpg

        Then again, this gala, however glam it might be, was being held inside our synagogue. I wasn’t actually aiming for “Va-va-voom!” Although slightly form-fitting at the bust, the outfit I’d chosen was understated, comfortable, and conveniently equipped with deep pockets in which to carry my iPhone and lipstick.

       It was fine with me if I only looked “fine.”

      But now I could only wonder if my husband had been wrong on the second count. Had this woman taken one gander at me and been so stunned that she actually wanted to know my bra size?

       Apparently, for when I failed to respond, she proceeded to repeat her query again.

      “Seriously, how big is your chest?”

I'm often a little self-conscious.jpg

       If only she knew what it felt like to be a little too well-endowed for your own good. I like to joke sometimes that my chest is apt to arrive places five minutes before the rest of me. But the truth is I’m well aware of my physique. Painfully aware. It makes me feel self-conscious.

       Yet when I did little more than smile back in awkward silence now, the woman rephrased it once more.

       “Is your chest swelling with pride?” she asked. “Is it just getting bigger and bigger?”

       “Oh!” I responded with a sigh, understanding at last. “G-d forbid!”

       Of course I am proud whenever my daughter performs. I’m proud of both my kids. And yes, I was particularly proud that she had been chosen for an honor like this one.

       But the truth is that when Allegra has an important gig – and this, to me, was very important – the main thing that swells inside me is my underlying sense of anxiety.

Murphy's Law.jpg

       I’m not sure if it was my own chaotic upbringing that inculcated this ever-present sense of foreboding, or a cultural background that leaves me anxiously awaiting for the next pogrom. But I’m one of those people who not only subscribes to Murphy’s Law – “anything that can go wrong will go wrong – but also believes that this is doubly true if you’re a Jew.

       I’m not sure exactly what I feared was going to go wrong in this case, but that’s the magic of Murphy’s Law (or lack thereof). You can never tell what will fall through. You only know that, as Roseanne Roseannadanna would say, “It’s always something.”

Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna.jpg

        Over the many months since the synagogue had booked Allegra for this big event, I’d worried that something unforeseen would happen to prevent her from honoring her commitment. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but, believe me, this was not just an imaginary fear.

       At the time that they had hired her, she had been performing in Hong Kong for a year at the Four Seasons hotel, and she was still living there. When she mentioned that she was being considered for a months-long engagement at an equally posh hotel in Bangkok, instead of being thrilled for her, all I could think was, “What about the temple?”

Allegra with us at the Hong Kong Four Seasons Blue Bar.JPG

       Every time she’d had a mysterious ache or pain over the weeks preceding the gala, I’d worried that it might turn out to be something serious enough to prevent her from doing the show.

       When she had decided to drive home from NYC the day of the concert instead of the night before, I had worried that something might happen on the road (traffic or worse) to prevent her from arriving on time.

       Then I had mildly panicked when she phoned that morning to report that her piano player for the show, Carmen, who had flown all the way from the Thelonious Monk Institute just for the occasion, had accidentally locked herself out of her apartment with her phone, purse, and everything else that she needed to take with her still inside.

        What if Allegra had no piano accompaniment? Could Mr. Murphy (or Mr. Monk) have anticipated that?

Carmen got locked out.jpg

      And when Allegra managed to arrive from NYC with Carmen and her belongings safely but showed up an hour late, I hacontinued to stress while she slowly got dressed, trying on a long black dress, then a short black dress, then the long one all over again.

       I know. I know. There’s all sorts of medication available to help with all of this worrying. But I don’t think you can blame me. I felt pretty deeply invested in this particular gig.

       Over the past few months, because Allegra had been living in Hong Kong, then NYC, I had acted as her hometown proxy, attending a meeting and fielding a steady stream of emails.

       Being not just her mom and so-called mom-ager,” but also a longtime journalist, I’d written the press release for the show and then sent it out to assorted newspapers and other media outlets.

       Although Allegra had designed the poster advertising the event, I had gotten the copies made for her at Staples and then driven all around town putting them up myself.

Allegra's poster for Beth Israel.jpg

       Then, when the temple had requested biographical information for the program, I had volunteered to compose a short bio not just for Allegra but for each of the other three members of her band, stating their various rather stellar credentials.

        And beyond that, let's face it. This wasn’t just any gig.

       This was my own daughter.

       Singing at my own shul.

       If something went wrong, how would I ever show my face there again on Shabbat or Purim, let alone Yom Kippur? 

       But somehow, everything now seemed to be going pretty much according to plan.

       Was there a chance that this much-anticipated event would go off without a hitch?

The Beth Israel gala looked festive.JPG


       The temple certainly had gone all out with the arrangements. The caterers were busy setting up the food and bar in the spacious lobby, which was decorated festively with colorful tablecloths and big bouquets of balloons. And although I had arrived early with the band, guests soon began filing in to attend a havdalah religious service before the party.

       The party would consist of a 90-minute cocktail hour,” during which wine and substantial hors d’oeuvres would be served at both stations and on butlered trays.

Hors d'ouevres were passed on trays.jpg

      Although I was attending as a guest, I felt obliged as Allegra’s “mom-ager” to make sure that everyone in the band was well cared for and happy. So I spent most of the party time traveling between the social hall in which the musicians were sequestered and the lobby filled with guests, fetching the group anything they desired – a bottle of water, a glass of wine, or a little more on which to nosh.

       The most challenging part of this was that, as the mother of the entertainer, every time I ventured out into the crowd I was stopped by several people wishing to congratulate me. One actually requested my autograph on a cocktail napkin (although no one else ever inquired about the proportions of my chest).

       But finally, at long last, the party was over and it was time for the concert to begin.


Allegra and JP at Beth Israel gala.jpg

       We found ourselves seats at a nice table alongside our good friends Pat and Michael, our neighbors Beth and Joe, and Allegra’s boyfriend JP. Let the show begin!

       Among the many other things I had worried about during the past few months was that this was not the typical audience Allegra attracts whenever she performs. Few of the congregants were probably major fans of jazz. They were most likely there in order to support the temple and the good cause that would serve as the evening's beneficiary, the Rabbi’s Fund for Lifelong Learning.

     Yet, as Allegra noted in her opening remarks, everyone was welcome and was going to have a good time, whether they had come “to see jazz, or Jews, or jazzy Jews.”

Allegra singing at Beth Israel.jpg

       Then I held my breath as she launched into her first song.

       Although I generally try to mind my own beeswax when it comes to her career (an assertion she would no doubt dispute), I had dared to weigh in on her set list in this case. On my advice, rather than beginning with a lively but somewhat obscure jazz number, she started off with a rip-roaring mash-up of two George Gershwin favorites, “’S Wonderful, ’s Marvelous” and “You Can’t Take That Away From Me.”

      Also at my request, she included “Moon River,” that universal crowd-pleaser from the movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's" that she used to end almost every show with, but hadn’t performed in front of me in years.

Allegra singing at the gala.jpg

       Then there was her own catchy, calypso-inspired version of a popular Beatles number, “I Will,” which also never fails to please.

       But a good portion of the songs she performed were her own material, either from her album “Lonely City,” which consists of 11 original songs for which she wrote both the words and music, or other tunes she had composed since it was released last year.

       No matter. The guests may have been so unfamiliar with jazz that even most jazz standards would not have struck a chord with them. And yet Allegra’s own songs did. As Gail, the temple’s current affable and extremely gracious president, noted to me, my daughter’s own compositions sounded like standards themselves and seemed very accessible.

Allegra's CD

       During intermission, while dessert and coffee were served, I raced back out into the lobby, where I had set up a small display of Allegra’s CD’s. Although I was indeed there as a guest, I thought that the show might be a good opportunity for her to sell her albums, and we had no one else there to sell them.

Never had I seen her so relaxed and polished.jpg

        Soon enough, the second half of the show began, and still everything seemed fine. No, my outfit was merely “fine.” Her performance was phenomenal. If I do say so myself.

       I have seen her perform in Hong Kong, in Scotland, at countless New York City venues, and in a glitzy casino on the island of Macau. Yet never had I seen her quite so polished and relaxed as she bantered between songs, telling anecdotes and joking about how being there reminded her of her bat mitzvah. Certainly, many of the same people were there.

       As a special touch, given that this was at our temple, she had chosen to “jazzify” a popular Jewish song by Debbie Friedman that had been sung to her at her bat mitzvah, “L’chi Lach”:


Beth Israel gala the whole band.jpg


The crowd  seemed mesmerized.jpg

 L'chi lach, to a land that I will show you
     Leich l'cha, to a place you do not know
     L'chi lach, on your journey I will bless you
     And you shall be a blessing

    You shall be a blessing,

    You shall be a blessing,

    L'chi lach


     As she sang it, I looked around the room and everyone seemed virtually mesmerized. 

   Jazzy Jews, indeed.

Beth Israel crowd applauding.jpg

   Then again, they seemed equally entranced when she sang my favorite number from her album, “The Duet,” which goes in part like this:


     It started small – just you and me, that’s all

     It wasn’t much – a kiss, a touch

     You never know what to expect.

     Will it all work out?

     Will there be pieces to collect?

     Will we give into our doubt…?”


     Despite all of my foolish trepidation, I had managed not to give into my own doubts. And when after the last note, the audience leapt to their feet in a resounding standing ovation, and Allegra was presented with a mammoth bouquet of gorgeous pink roses, I knew that it was time to let go of my misgivings at last.

They gave her a mammoth bouquet of pink roses.jpg


     Or was it?

     Once again, this was no time to rest on my laurels – or latkes. Time to sell CD’s!

     I went back into the hall, where I was inundated not just with congrats, but credit cards. Fortunately, I had my trusty Square device plugged into my iPhone and was able to process them with ease, although to my relief many people offered cash instead.

      One enthusiastic congregant had come equipped with neither, however. She said that she was eager to buy the CD, but had left both her wallet and checkbook at home. Was I willing to trust her? She really wanted it. She would mail me a check the next day.

       Under normal circumstances, no one would sell something to someone they didn’t know with the promise of being paid at some later date. This, however, was our temple. And this woman seemed so nice and so hopeful. How could I possibly have refused?

Allegra and me after Beth Israel gala.jpg

       After I had sold for awhile, I went back inside to check on the band and pose at last for a photo with my daughter. For me, that was among the true highlights of the night.

      But it was also one of my biggest mistakes. Because when we counted the money later, back at home, we discovered that although we’d sold 19 CD’s at $20 apiece, we only had been paid for 17 of them. Even factoring in the nice woman I had agreed to trust, we were still $20 short.

       Had I screwed up processing a sale on my Square device?

       Had I managed to misplace a $20 bill in the excitement of the moment? 

      Or had someone at our temple actually deigned to pinch a CD from us?

      Yet it was only $20. If this was the worst thing that would befall us there, I’d live.

I made everyone angel hair pasta.jpg

      As often happens after a show, Allegra invited the band and other friends to come back to our house afterwards. And as ALWAYS happens after a show, all of them were absolutely famished.

       So after I’d put out the various hors d’oeuvres I had prepared in advance and the plates of cookies I had baked, I cooked up a huge vat of fresh angel hair pasta covered with marinara sauce, fresh mozzarella, sautéed portabella mushrooms, and freshly grated parmesan. And then I served it to the kids, who sat around in our living room eating, drinking wine, and schmoozing until past midnight.

The after party at our house.jpg

       Carmen and her boyfriend stayed over, as did Allegra and JP, and the next morning I made everyone a lavish brunch before we began receiving calls and emails congratulating us on the show. It was time to let go of my foreboding now, wasn’t it?

      But then the other shoe dropped.

The next morning I made a lavish brunch.JPG

      Late that night, after we had returned from dinner and a movie, Allegra received an email from a woman at the temple. She wanted to send Allegra a check, but had forgotten how much they had agreed to pay her. According to her recollection, though, they owed her only half or three-quarters of the amount that they had in fact agreed upon.

     Allegra insisted it was no big deal and that she would write back in the morning to remind them. But I went into full-blown panic mode.

       I was the one who had negotiated the rate at a meeting. Yet I had never put the amount in writing, and neither, it turned out, had she. The only evidence I had were my notes from the meeting and a text message I’d sent to Allegra specifying the price, to which she had texted back her agreement.

I had attended the meeting as her mom-ager.jpg

     Maybe I was just a mom. Not a mom-ager. A mom-ager would have put it in writing.

      Allegra had already paid everyone else in the band, who had all since dispersed. Would it end up after all her effort that she would actually lose money on the gig?

       Going into my customary nice Jewish mom guilt mode, I felt that it was all my fault. So I could hardly sleep that night.

       The next morning, though, Allegra did write to the woman, who replied right away to reassure her that there was no problem and they would mail her a check for the full amount that very afternoon.

       And that was that. Phew!

You don't want to know.JPG

       Now I could finally relax. And maybe rest on my laurels (and latkes) just a little bit.

       To top things off, that nice woman from the temple also mailed a check for the CD.

      And over the past week, I have been inundated with rave reviews from everyone I know who was there.

     “What a bodacious performance!” wrote our friend Lorry, going on to compliment Allegra’s silky voice, stage presence, and "patter" between songs. “We knew her when!”

      “Allegra is so talented and ‘composed!’” wrote Mary-Jane.

     So, exactly how big is my chest?

     You don’t want to know.

5:03 pm 

Friday, October 23, 2015


A Word From the Weiss


Aidan's new book Dirty Blvd.jpg

       As I told you last week, my son Aidan was scheduled to read from his new book DIrty Blvd. on Sunday Oct. 18th in our town, and I felt entitled to crow (and yes, kvell) about it. But when you’re a nice Jewish mom – particularly one with children who do creative things – you don’t get to sit around and rest on your laurels (or latkes). You need to help do the work.

      At least I feel inclined to help.

Concierge parent.jpg

       There have been all kinds of stories in the press lately about parenting styles, comparing “concierge parents” (who virtually serve as their grown children’s employees, doing everything from watching the grandchildren to walking Spotto “lighthouse parents” (who have the characteristically WASPy self-restraint to stand by silently and serve as distant beacons of guiding light).

Concierge parent walking Spot.jpg

       Anyone who knows me fairly well or ever reads this blog must sense where I fit into that scenario.

       I feel inclined to help.

       Of course, my son Aidan had done all the real work. He’d written an actual book. But like almost anything, it would take some effort – on my behalfI felt – to make sure that this event was well-attended and that he sold as many books as possible. So along with putting up posters around town, and alerting a local newspaper, the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, I emailed invitations to 85 or so of our neighbors and closest friends.

Aidan's book reading invitation.jpg

       And if some of those people, along with a few complete strangers, were going to take the time out of their busy weekend to come hear my son discuss his book, and perchance also buy it, we couldn’t expect them to just sit around and kvell along with me. They deserved to have a little nosh. Didn’t they?

       At the very least, a little nosh afterwards would make the event a whole lot nicer.

       Aidan contended that after hedone the reading at a local library, it would be best to move the party to a restaurant and let everyone pay for their own food and drinks. I didn’t agreeThat may be just fine for kids in their 20s, whose birthday parties are often held these days in bars where everyone shells out for their own schnapps. But for the birth of this book, I felt that it was only appropriate that we serve as hosts and foot the bill.

       I also believed it would be most convenient for all involved if the after-party were held right on the spot, rather than expecting anyone to accompany us to yet another location.

       But that meant we would have to provide the food ourselves. Not to mention drink.

I was ready to toast my son with champagne.jpg

       I was so excited about this milestone in my son’s life that I would have been happy to toast everyone with champagne, or at least a nice little vintage of some sort. But the library agreed to let us hold a reception on the premises only on the condition that no alcohol whatsoever be served. Oh, wellWe would simply have to celebrate with apple cider.

       Well, not just apple cider. We would also need something to eat. Assuming that my son would be irate if I went into my usual bar mitzvah mode, I decided to scale down and economize a bit. And the best way to do that, I figured, was to bake myself.

The Posh Tomato had recently opened next door.jpg

       I had noticed that a relatively hip new pizza place called The Posh Tomato had recently opened right next door to the library. Its owner agreed to also deliver an assortment of his piping hot, paper-thin-crusted Margarita pies the moment that the reading ended. Wouldn’t that be much cooler than the usual – cheese and crackers – anyway?

The library put up its own cool posters.JPG

       It was wise of Aidan to have chosen to hold the event at the public library. They do an ace job of publicizing events by sending out emails and putting up cool posters around town (far cooler than the ones I had designed). To my slight frustration, they chose to state that no RSVP was necessary. So I had no clue how many people we might end up needing to feed.

       To my even greater frustration, the Connecticut Jewish Ledger did an awesome cover story on Aidan and his book, but provided the wrong location for the reading. Jews around here all read the Jewish Ledger. How many might go to the wrong place?

       The library said that they typically drew about 40 people for book readings. About 30 people we knew also planned to attend. Then again, the best-laid plans of mice, men, and nice Jewish moms often go awry. So we could only guess at best.

I baked a large tray of leaf cookies.jpg

        Being a nice Jewish mom, I approach all events involving food with the same motto: Too Much Is not Enough. G-d forbid anyone should ever leave my house or one of my parties hungry! So after purchasing the cider and other non-alcoholic beverages, as well as an array of party goods in a red and black color scheme to match the cover of the book, I spent all day Saturday baking four different kinds of cookies, including chocolate chip, sugar, and peanut butter, as well as a batch of chocolate chip cookies that were gluten-free just in case.

Leaf cookies I baked.jpg

     I also decorated many of the sugar cookies to resemble autumn leaves, then dipped a few dozen strawberries in white and dark chocolate.

       “What is all this?” Aidan asked with mild horror when he and his fiancée Kaitlin arrived from NYC Saturday night. There are probably only going to be 15 people there.”

       Only 15? Was he kidding? Either way, I didn’t believe that he was right. But even if he were, the worst case scenario was that we'd end up with a whole lot of cookies, with gluten and without.

       So much for my diet.

The Noah Webster Public Library.jpg

       After I had prepared a nice brunch for everyone on Sunday morning, it took no small effort to load all the food, drinks, and assorted accoutrements into the car, then carry them into the library. We’d made it a point to arrive early in order to set up and start my giant coffee pot brewing. But to our distress the event room was locked.

       So I went into the nearest department to see if someone might be willing to open it. It was the children’s wing, where I took one look at the librarian and did a double take.

       “Oh. My. G-d. Dee?” I asked.

Library children's section.jpg

       Since my youngest child is nearly 26, it had been going on two decades since I’d ventured into this cheery section equipped with playthings and pygmy-sized upholstered chairs. But once upon a time, at least two decades ago, that had been our stomping ground of choice.

The library had once been our stomping ground.jpg

       Back then, it had been presided over by a vivacious and dynamic woman named Dee.

       And apparently it still was.

       I began babbling like a blithering idiot about how a little boy to whom she had once often read aloud was there because he was about to read aloud from a book that he had written himself.

Aidan little raising his hand.jpg

      I say “idiot” because Aidan chose that moment to join me. And even if at 29 he was no longer the sweet, wide-eyed preschooler he had once been, she not only recognized him instantly, but also remembered his full name. She had no trouble recalling my daughter’s name as well, and began recounting stories about her, such as the time that Allegra at age 3 or 4 had complained to her that some little boys were bothering her, but then had summoned the chutzpah to make them stop it all by herself.

The children's section was still presided over by Dee.jpg

       Was this just pure coincidence, or was it one of those chance encounters that put things instantly into perspective? It suddenly seemed like only yesterday that my son had been sitting in the Kiddy Corner listening to Dee read Dr. Seuss. And now he was getting his doctorate and about to read from a book that he hawritten himself.

       It was all I could do not to lose it then and there. Good thing that there wasn’t a minute to spare or to stand around weeping and waxing nostalgic, as we nice Jewish moms are wont to do. It was time to make the coffee.

       Meanwhile, Kaitlin hastened to begin setting up all the party goods and platters.

Joe set up only about 40 chairs.jpg

       A fellow named Joe who runs community programs at the library soon arrived and began pulling chairs out of a closet in the back and arranging them in perfect rows. My heart sank a bit when he stopped after he’d reached about seven rows of six.

      I may not by nature tend to be one of those “the glass is half-full” (vs. half-empty) people, yet did he really think we wouldn’t need any more than that?

      But then people began steadily wandering in. And continued steadily wandering in. People we knew. People we didn’t know. So many people that we needed more chairs.

      Then more chairs.

      So many more that we finally ran out of chairs.

My husband and I sat at a table.JPG

       My husband and I had planted ourselves at a table way in the back, beside Kaitlin, ready to begin selling books as soon as the reading ended.

      We also had arranged to have the pizza delivered as soon as the reading ended. The question was, when would it end?

      The book, as I have noted, is called Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reed. And although it was only released this month, it has continued to rack up good reviews.

       “Skillfully written and respectful,” said a publication called Booklist, stating that “Levy has produced an informative and insightful look at a rock star and songwriter whose work always cut a little deeper than that of his peers.”

Intravenous magazine.jpg

       “Well worth your time,” concurred a hip music and culture magazine called Intravenousnoting that “the writing style is engaging; empathetic in places, critical in others, but very even handed in its depiction of both Reed the man and Reed the artist. It... keeps an authoritative tone and distance that elevates it to the level of such rock bios as 'Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon' by Tony Fletcher, 'The Beatles' by Hunter Davies... and 'Strange Fascination...' by David Buckley."

      Then there was a publication called Library Journal. “…about as close to a must-read book on Reed as one can get,” it said.

Bob (left) and Aidan at the book reading.JPG

       After Aidan read from a few select portions, interspersing this with playing musical selections from the late rock icon’s repertoire, including “Sweet Jane” and “Walk on the Wild Side,” he had arranged to be interviewed by a man named Bob from the Trinity College radio station, where Aidan had once hosted a jazz radio show while still in high school. (It was Bob who presented him with the WRTC-FM cap he wore throughout the event.)

       And after Bob had run out of questions, he opened the forum up to the audience.

       Who had many questions of their own.

       Many, many questions.

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       I had worried that few of the people we’d invited knew much if anything about Lou Reed. But the many strangers who had wandered in knew more than enough to make up for that. The reading had been scheduled to end at 3:15, and the pizzas arrived promptly shortly before that time. But the questions went on and on.

       I tried to keep in mind that the real purpose of this event was reading. Not feeding. But weren’t the 10 pizzas sitting inside those cardboard boxes growing awfully cold?

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       After about 20 minutes, I raised my own hand and posed what I thought might be a definitive enough question to end the discussion. I noted that Mr. Reed, who’d been as infamous for being abrasive as he’d been famous for his music, had never been known as a great humanitarian. But another new biography about to be released evidently focused on the negative side of the equation, claiming that he’d been abusive to many of his romantic partners, and it characterized him as “a monster.” Aidan had initially approached the subject of Reed reverentially. Had his writing the book changed that?

       I'd tossed out the term “great humanitarian” trying to be funny, but it turned out to be fortuitous that I'd phrased it that way, because this prompted Aidan to enumerate the many ways in which Reed had in fact been altruistic, participating in an array of charitable causes. So I ended up learning something.

Reed actually was a great humanitarian.jpg

       He then went on to explain (and I only wish I could remember how he articulately put this) that despite the inevitable stories about Reed’s irascibility, many of these incidents had been drug-induced. Sure, he had not just walked but also lived on the wild side, and had done more than his share to alienate people, particularly the press. But in the end most of his friends and loved ones had revered him despite everything and had spoken of how kind Reed had been capable of being as well.

       Aidan would later say that mine was the most difficult question anyone had asked. Unfortunately, it was far from the last question anyone asked. Because after he'd finished answering it, Bob asked if there were any more questions, and half a dozen hands went up.

       After another 10 minutes, I could stand the thought of the chilled pizzas no longer. I stood up and began removing the plastic wrap from my copious trays of cookies. I don’t know if this was a clear signal to Bob or the crowd that things had gone on long enough. Or if perhaps the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies said this for me. 

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       But they suddenly all ran out of questions. Let the feast begin!

      I don’t know how cold the pizzas were by then, because my real work had just begun.

      OK, here’s the great thing about a library: You’re completely surrounded by books.

     Here’s the bad thing, if you’re an author (or author’s nice Jewish mom): None of them are for sale. And if you want to sell your own book – or your son’s book – you have to do it yourself.

      To avoid having to do that, or having to estimate how many books to order, Aidan had arranged to sell and sign the books in the Barnes & Noble next door afterwards. But for those who might not would want to stick around for the reception and then walk to yet another location, we had ordered some books to sell at the reading as well.

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      The only problem was that now we had to do the selling, And by “we,” I mean me.

      To accommodate people who might not have cash on them, and to avoid having to make change, I had registered online weeks earlier for a program called Square.

        They send you a little white plastic doohickey that you plug into your mobile phone. All you have to do is enter the amount you’re charging on the phone's screen. Then you slide someone’s credit card through the device, get them to sign their name with their finger, and voilá – the money goes into your bank account, minus a minor service charge of 2.75 percent.

You just slide a card through the Square.jpg

       Pretty cool, huh?

       I had practiced doing this a couple of times the night before, charging a dollar on my own Visa. Nothing to it. At least there was nothing to it in the privacy of my own home.

       The moment that the reading ended, a line of eager buyers formed at my table, and that made me a little more flustered. But somehow, between my husband accepting cash and my using Square, we managed to sell all 19 books we had brought.

       Meanwhile, everyone seemed to be having a fine time chowing down on pizza and cookies and downing the various low-test libations, but mostly schmoozing with each other. Maybe this was good practice for Aidan’s wedding next June. Because afterwards, I was so tired that I felt like I had thrown a bar mitzvah. And all I could think about was all the people I had barely gotten to say hello to because I had been busy selling books.

Aidan's book signing at Barnes & Noble with us.JPG

       When the reading, eating and schmoozing was overAidan went next door to Barnes & Noble, where they set him up at an author table and he managed to sell even more books, although not before posing for a few pictures with dear old Mom and Dad.

       And with Kaitlin, of course.

       And when he was done at last and we had loaded the few leftovers back into the car, all I could think was a resoundingly euphoric, “We did it!”

Aidan and Kaitlin at Barnes & Noble.jpg

      Well, he did it. All the real work, I mean. He managed to write a book and get it published. All we did was help.

      I know. As a parent of grown kids, I realize that our offspring think we don’t have a clue. But sometimes I think they’re the ones who don’t have a clue. I mean, do they have any idea how exhilarating it is for us now and then to recapture the thrill of getting to be of help to them?

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       I doubt it. But I know that Aidan was grateful for all my efforts in the end. Not only did he say so, but he wrote something very sweet in my copy of the book.

       Also, a few days later he asked his sister to bake for his next reading, held at a bookstore in Brooklyn called WORD, indicating that he realized things actually were nicer with a nosh.

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       What Allegra baked, of course, was a pan of homemade caramel-drizzled apple squares using apples she'd picked herself and caramel made by her boyfriend JP. 

       Which is to say that both of my children have now easily managed to outdo my own efforts. But that is exactly as it should be, is it not?

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      Maybe someday, when I’m gone, my memory can stand for my children and grandchildren as a beacon, a example of well-meaning motherhood that serves as silent guiding light back to safety in a storm.

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        But for now, I would just as soon continue baking, selling, or whatever the heck else it takes to help.

      Just call me NiceJewishConcierge.com.

10:48 pm 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


A Word From the Weiss


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      We’ve all heard of an embarrassment of riches. Well, this month I have something even better than riches, and therefore you might say even more embarrassing.

       An embarrassment of naches.

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       My daughter Allegra is performing at a big concert in our town because she has been booked to sing at our synagogue’s annual fundraiser. (If you have to know, and you just happen to live in Connecticut, it will be held at Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford on Saturday, October 24, and tickets cost $50 including drinks, dinner, and a concert featuring Allegra and her amazing band.)

       Meanwhile, my son Aidan just released his first book, Dirty Blvd., a biography of curmudgeonly rock icon Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground (best-known for such classic rock songs as “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Sweet Jane”).

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        My husband and I proudly attended the NYC release party last week at a hip store on the Upper West Side called Book Culture, and future readings will be held at WORD, a bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on Thursday October 22 at 7 p.m., and at the Noah Webster Public Library in West Hartford, CT this Sunday, October 18 at 2:15 p.m.

       That means that if you’re friends with me on Facebook, or you drive around my town, you can’t help coming across postings or posters promoting one or the other of my children.

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       Granted, Ill admit that put up most of those postings and posters myself. But that just makes me feel even more embarrassed.

       I don’t want you to think I’m one of those mothers who blabber endlessly about the accomplishments of their kinder (even if it sometimes seems I do just that in this very space). After all, also kvetch about my children now and then in this space.

       Plus, those posters featuring Allegra in a black strapless dress were put up mostly to help my synagogue (even if they also do at the same time help promote her).

Aidan signing books at Book Culture.JPG

       As for Aidan, he’s one of those people who are modest to the max, which more than makes up for anything I could ever do to promote himEven though his father and I are longtime journalists, with assorted media connections (to the local press, at least), Aidan explicitly ordered us not to help hype his book in any way, as though it were a state secret. Or actually were embarrassing in some way.

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       It was only when I accidentally let news of its impending release slip to a local editor that a lengthy interview with Aidan ended up on the front page of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger this week. (Oops. My bad, as they say. I swear I’ll never do it again!)

      I also promise not to breathe a word here about how you can order his new book, Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reedon Amazon.com for only $19.85 (or $18.86 for the Kindle version), even though the rather handsome book jacket says it costs $28.95.

      Or find it at the nearest Barnes & Noble, of course. 

Aidan's book at Barnes & Noble.JPG

      But what can I do? I’m not just a mother. I’m a nice Jewish one. A very proud one. With an unfortunate embarrassment of naches.

       I hope you realize that this popular Yiddish expression means pride and delight," particularly the kind of pride and delight derived from one’s children, and that it has absolutely nothing to do with chips, salsa, or melted cheese.


       I am particularly proud (and yes, overflowing with naches) about the fact that my son chose to dedicate his book to my husband, my daughter, and meWhat a mensch!

      I’m also proud that Aidan, a 29-year-old jazz journalist who has written for The Village VoiceJazzTimes magazine, The New York Times and the Daily Forwardsomehow managed to whip off this 406-page tome in his "spare time" during the first year of his full-time Ph.D. program in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia. (How exactly did he do this? “I don’t know,” he says.)

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       And I am understandably proud of the positive reviews the book is getting, including this one from Kirkus Reviews: “The details of Reed’s ascendance, fall, and comeback as a solo artist are so vital and culturally significant they read like a Hollywood script, and Levy ably captures it… A valuable study of Reed, further cementing his totemic influence as the high priest of art rock.”

     And so, at the risk of really incurring my son's wrath, or sounding like one of those nice Jewish mothers, I’m going to treat you to a few choice excerpts from Dirty Blvd. here.

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       As the book jacket notes, Lou Reed made it his mission to rub people the wrong way, whether it was with the noise rock he produced with the Velvet Underground in the late 1960s or his polarizing work with Metallica that would prove to be his swan song. On a personal level, too, he seemed to take pleasure in insulting everyone who crossed his path. How did this Jewish boy from Long Island, an adolescent doo-wop singer, rise to the status of Godfather of Punk? And how did he maintain that status for decades?

      “Dirty Blvd. not only covers the highlights of Reed’s career, but also explores lesser-known facets of his work, such as his first recordings with doo-wop group the Jades, his key literary influences and the impact of Judaism upon his work...

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       The book -- based largely on extensive personal interviews that Aidan conducted with many of Reed’s childhood friends, musical collaborators, former girlfriends and wives and many others -- focuses primarily on the late rocker’s acerbic personality and turbulent personal life, including a three-year relationship that he conducted with a transgender woman named Rachel. Yet I thought for the purposes of this particular space I should select a few passages that deal specifically with Reed’s Jewish roots.

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       One of the many things that apparently first drew Aidan to the material was Reed’s background as a nice (or not-so-nice) Jewish boy who was born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, the son of second-generation Russian immigrants(Until his father, Sidney, a successful accountant, legally changed the family name, it was Rabinowitz.)


       Lou Reed began, to paraphrase Hubert Selby Jr., as a scream looking for a mouth. Lou’s grandparents immigrated from the shtetls of Russia to escape the pogroms long before the Bolshevik Revolution. Mendel Rabinowitz and Fannie Weinberg each came to the United States with the promise of a better life, for religious freedom and the hope of the American Dream. The streets of Brooklyn were not paved with gold, but when they arrived at Ellis Island, they were happy to trade the frigid current of the Volga for the free-flowing commerce of the Hudson.

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      Before long, Mendel established a presence in the burgeoning immigrant economy with a successful printing business. In 1912 he married Fannie, and the next year their eldest son, Sidney, was born. Two more boys followed, and Fannie raised the three Rabinowitz children – Leo, Stanley, and Sidney – in their apartment in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park. As was the case with nearly all Jewish immigrants, the Rabinowitz family were Orthodox and kept a kosher kitchen. Not only did this honor the tradition of the old country and the free expression of their heritage that had once been denied to them, they would never forget where they came from.

       While Leo became a chemist and Stanley a clerk in the family business, Sidney trained to become an accountant, dashing hopes at a writing career to shore up his mother’s wish for him to join the middle class as a productive member of society…

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        They were Jews first and foremost, but reaping the full benefits of upward mobility in a free-enterprise economy that extended beyond the boundaries of the ersatz shtetl they had re-created in Borough Park meant cutting down on the pumpernickel and assimilating into white-bread American society. A name like Sidney Rabinowitz – polysyllabic, phlegmatic, and unmistakably Jewish – was not neutral enough. The name that suited his ambitions sounded much more like Reed.

       Not far away, Lou’s maternal grandparents were living a similar story of immigrant striving in a brick row house in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Rebecca had immigrated from Poland in 1906 and married another Polish Jew, Louis Futterman, who had arrived three years earlier and was ten years older. Louis worked as a skirt manufacturer in a Jewish-rungarment factory in Brownsville owned by Hyman Feingold until his death. After the passing of her husband, Rebecca presided over the household and her children – Leon, an accountant slightly younger than Sidney; Ralph, who had not even had his bar mitzvah yet; and Toby, a beautiful court stenographer…

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      Six months after her eighteenth birthday, [Toby] was nominated for the annual Stenographers’ Ball, a beauty pageant for young women whose typing skills were only rivaled by their beauty. In 1939 Jewish girls generally were not included in beauty pageants; black girls were strictly banned from Miss America, and though the anti-Semitism was never an institutional policy, it wasn’t until 1945 that the first and only Jewish Miss America was crowned. The Stenographer’s Ball was about as close as they could get. Much to her surprise, Toby won... [making] her the hottest catch in Brooklyn.

     Yet Toby’s strutting days were short-lived. Soon, Sidney and Toby were engaged. They got married, and when Toby was twenty, they were expecting their first child. Sidney had his last name legally changed to Reed, and the couple began to imagine a future for themselves that built on their parents’ sacrifices…

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      On March 2, 1942, the night of a total lunar eclipse, Lewis Allan Reed came screaming into the world at Beth-El Hospital in Brownsville, only five blocks from where Toby grew up. In keeping with Jewish tradition, they named him Lewis in honor of his late grandfather.

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    … Lou grew into a thin, saturnine child with kinky dark hair. When he was five… Lou’s parents enrolled him in PS 192, the public elementary school four blocks from their apartment. The school was Lou’s first taste of the polyglot reality of Brooklyn, a rough introduction to a culture clash where survival of the fittest dictated the cutthroat playground politics

    Yet there were some distinct pleasures of growing up along Kings Highway, a positive aspect to his upbringing that Lou would not reveal until 1996 with Set the Twilight Reeling, when he waxed nostalgic on the song “Egg Cream.”

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      When I was a young man, no bigger than this

      A chocolate egg cream was not to be missed

      Some U Bet’s chocolate syrup, seltzer water mixed with milk

     Stir it up into a heady fro, tasted just like silk


Lou Reed loved egg creams.jpg

      Lou was dyslexic, and despite his precocious intelligence and streetwise acumen, he struggled to read; even as child, he needed something to take the edge off, and a chocolate egg cream was his drug of choice


     “In the postwar boom, Lou’s father got hired as the treasurer of Cellu-Craft, a plastics manufacturer on Long Island, finally securing a position that would allow the family to leave Brooklyn… 



Reed with the Velvet Underground.jpg

   Lou’s new life in Freeport, though a jarring adjustment from Brooklyn, proved a fertile incubator for the angst that fueled his later work; Lou’s violent reaction to the experience of growing up in the suburbs would eventually be his ticket out. In Freeport, he faced a slew of more insidious slings and arrows – bar mitzvah lessons, soda shop gossip, and Republican neighbors – but coming in at a fever pitch on 1010 WINS, he also found the transformative power of rock ‘n’ roll.


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     The book goes on to follow Reed to Congregation B’nai Israel, the Conservative synagogue at which, Aidan writes, “he was sentenced to Hebrew School three times a week,” as his parents attempted to combat the healthy disrespect for authority he displayed and “curb his rebellious behavior with bar mitzvah lessons.”

      In case you are wondering, Reed’s bar mitzvah indeed took place in 1955 (the year that I was born). As we all know, Reed’s rebellious behavior was far from ever curbed. Neither was his healthy (or not-so-healthy) disrespect. How else could this nice (or not-so-nice) Jewish boy from Brooklyn and Long Island have evolved into the King of Punk?

       But if you want to know more, you simply will have to buy the book yourself.

       Here’s a link to do just that on Amazon.com at the bargain rate of only $19.85.


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       But please remember – I may be a nice (and understandably proud) Jewish mom with an embarrassment of naches, but if my son asks, well, you didn’t hear it from me.

4:59 pm 

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

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

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