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Sunday, September 10, 2017

7:41 pm 

A Word From the Weiss


A toast to the end of summer.jpg

     As sad as I am to see summer end – although who isn’t? – I must admit that there’s at least one good reason I’m actually happy to put this crazy summer behind me.

       And as you are about to see, I really do mean crazy.

       Of course, my heart goes out to the people in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere who have endured incalculable hardships due to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Horrific as it may have been, the private disaster that I am about to divulge pales infinitely by comparison.

Hurricane Irma.jpg

       In fact, in light of all their suffering, I hesitate to even mention my own personal trauma. But mostly, I hesitate to mention it to anyone because it was so embarrassing.

       On the other hand, I want to tell everyone about it – that is, to warn everyone about it – because if this dreadful thing could happen to me, then it could potentially happen to you.

       Not to give too much away – or to alarm you too much about my own well-being – but here’s what happened, in a nutshell. As tasteless as that term might be in this case.

       Nutshell, I mean.

       One night this summer, you see, was taken into police custody and put into a locked psychiatric ward.     

      What precipitated this unfortunate event --unquestionably the most humiliating and disturbing incident in my entire life – all began with something mundane and innocuous. It began with my health insurance.

       Or more specifically, my attempt to pay for my health insurance.

       For months, I had been having trouble paying my premium. Not financial trouble. Technical trouble.

       Allow me to explain.

The Affordable Care Act.jpg

       After my husband went on Medicare last year, I was no longer covered through his work and had to take out my own individual policy under the Affordable Care Act. Let me just clarify something right now. I am not complaining about the Affordable Care Act. I am only complaining about my insurance policy. As well as the bleeping company that issued it.

       My monthly premiums now cost me more than we used to pay for our entire family. Plus, I have what I consider to be an astronomical deductible of around $6,500 per year. But I was still ready and willing to pay for that. What choice, after all, did I have?

    Initially, I put my monthly payment on auto-pay. Every month, the exorbitant sum I pay would automatically go on my credit card, so I wouldn’t have to think about how much it was, or how little it covered. Then, during the winter, my husband and I were victims of credit card fraud and had to get a new credit card number. I managed to change all of the other bills I’d had on auto-pay. But there was a mysterious glitch in the system, and I couldn’t ever seem to get my health insurance back on auto-pay track.

     I kept trying to fix it, to no avail. So at the end of each month, I would receive a letter saying that I hadn’t paid my premium, and my health insurance was about to be revoked.

      In July, this happened for the fourth or fifth time. By then, it was driving me crazy. Crazy enough to be institutionalized, though? Not quite. But there were other issues.

      The day in question started out well enough. No, let’s be honest. It didn’t.

The thermometer hit 98 degrees.jpg

       It was the hottest day so far in what had already been an oppressively hot summer. The humidity alone made it look like you’d swum across the English Channel the moment you stepped outsideand the temperature was high enough to fry a latke.

       Beyond that, I was already nervous wreck because one of my closest friends had just undergone major surgery the day before, and I was a virtual basket case about it.

Latke was sick as a dog.JPG

       I was under added duress because my dog had such severe gastric distress that -- pardon me if this is TMI – I’d been obliged to drop off a stool sample for her at the vet.

       Then there was the other exasperating incident that had really set me off.

       At the start of the week, I had mailed a birthday card to my cousin, who had moved to Florida last summer. This would be the first birthday that Cousin Susan would celebrate all alone, and I wanted to make sure my card arrived just in time for her birthday on Friday.

Cousin Susan and me.jpg

       Since I was late for work on Monday morning, left it in my mailbox for the mailman to pick up instead of bringing it to the post officeThe following night, one of my neighbors rang our doorbell and handed me back that birthday card. Rather, he gave me what was left of it. Apparently, the mailman had inadvertently dropped it through my neighbor’s mail slot, and his big, rambunctious puppy had chewed it to smithereens.

Theodore chewed up the birthday card.JPG

      Good thing that I am very friendly with this neighbor, whose dog and ours are dating. Because I had enclosed a check inside the card, and that remained totally intact.

      I had no choice but to go buy another card. But now it was too late for it to arrive on time for the birthdaySo when I went to the post office to mail it, I also filed a complaint.

What was left of the birthday card.jpg

      After showing the clerk the mangled card and recounting my plight. I proposed that they overnight the new card for me at their own expense. At the very least, I said, they owed me a new greeting card and stamp as compensation. Unimpressed, the clerk disappeared for several minutes to discuss it with her manager.

     Finally, she returned. All we can do is give you this,” she replied flatly, handing me an ugly, generic flag stamp. 

The mail clerk was unimpressed.jpg

     I wasted even more time taking this up with the manager, who remained similarly unmoved.

    Then I went home, only to find another threatening letter from my health insurance provider, Connecticare, in the mail. Once again, it said, I’d failed to pay my premium, so my coverage would soon be canceled.

    Clearly, this was not my day. And it was not going to my night.

    I decided to call Connecticare for the umpteenth time and try to straighten it out. The young woman who answered was named Roslyn. I’m not sure how she spelled that. But she was very nice. Unfortunately, she was not very helpful. She knew almost nothing.

    We spent what felt like an hour on the phone together, and may have been even more. During this time, she had to keep putting me on hold to consult her boss. For as nice as she was, and as well-meaning as she was, as I said she knew almost nothing.

She knew almost nothing.I said I'd rather stab myself in the eye.jpg

    She told me that I needed to remove my old credit card from my account. I’d already done this. Many times before. But she said it was still on her screen. It was not on mine.

    After at least an hour, or what felt like one, to my infinite relief it appeared that we had finally done it. I had managed to restore my auto-pay status. Plus I had processed a one-time payment for that month because it typically takes at least one cycle for auto-pay to kick in. I even had a confirmation number. Could my troubles be over at last?

   Not quite.

   “Why did you process the one-time payment?” Roslyn demanded in obvious frustration. She was convinced that this would cause me to be charged twice. To avoid that, she insisted that I cancel everything that we had just done and start all over again.

    “Huh? You’ve got to be kidding!” I replied. “I would rather kill myself than start again.”

    But she remained adamant. She was convinced that I had done something wrong and wanted me to cancel both payments I had processed and start again from scratch.

    I stood my ground just as firmly, though, because I was now truly at my wit’s end.

    “Start over again?” I echoed. “No way! I would rather stab myself in the eye!

    At this, Roslyn grew understandably alarmed. “Why would you say something like that?” she asked, her voice growing anxious and shrill. “You have so much to live for!”

     So much to live for? Sure. Maybe I did. But her melodramatic statement was such a cliché, and I was so frustrated myself, that I suddenly lost it, as demonstrated by the crazy thing I did next.

     I not only repeated my threat about stabbing myself in the eye, but told her that I was going to find the longest, sharpest knife I could. Then I did something even crazier. I walked across the kitchen and rattled the knives in a drawer. After which, before she could ask me one more time to cancel my payments, I hung up.

    A few minutes later, the phone rang, and I could see from the caller ID that it was Connecticare again. No big surprise. But, as I said, I was genuinely at my wit’s end. And had no desire to discuss the matter any further. So I let the phone keep ringing.

     Then I sat down at my computer and went to work. After all, I had already wasted most of the day, and I had a lot of work left to do related to my summer teaching job.

     About five minutes later, I was lost in thought editing one of my students' essays when I heard a thunderous rap on my front door.

     “Oh, no,” I thought, my heart sinking with trepidation. “It couldn’t be.”

     But it was.

There were policemen at my door.jpg

     I opened the door to find three police officers on my steps. In front of my house were parked two police cars and a firetruck, and there was an ambulance at the end of the driveway.

     “You've got to be kidding!” I exclaimed, covering my eyes as all three officers barged into my house.

     I told them that there was definitely some mistake. I told them that I had just been kidding, and that they should stop wasting their time and go attend to a real emergency. I even told them most of the entire pathetic story above in full detail... minus the part about my dog's gastric distress. They were not impressed.

     They told me that I had been speaking to Roslyn on a recorded line, and that in view of what I had said they needed to take me into custody at once. I would have to be examined by a team of psychiatrists to determine if I really intended to take my own life.

We were going to our salsa dancing class.jpg

     I told them that I had no intention of taking my own life and that I had no time to talk to a team of psychiatrists or anyone else about it. My husband and I needed to leave soon for our weekly ballroom dancing class, something that we attend every Thursday night.

     There would be no dancing for me, they asserted. They intended to transport me to the local hospital of my choice strapped to a stretcher in the ambulance.

     As crazy as this may sound, I now began to argue about the details of this plan. There was no need to strap me to a stretcher, I insisted. Besides, I happen to suffer from severe motion sickness and was guaranteed to get sick to my stomach lying down in an ambulance. At the very least, could I please go into the kitchen and get my purse, in which I always carry a pair of SeaBandswristbands that help counteract car sickness?

SeaBands for car sickness.jpg

     Two of the officers were male, and one of these two was extremely hostile and intimidating. He held up his heavily muscled arm to physically retrain me from leaving the front hallway of my house. I couldn’t go anywhere, he said, especially the kitchen. There were weapons in there, and I might try to take my own life.

     Take my own life? All I wanted to do, I said, was be left alone to finish my work so I could go out dancing with my husband. We were learning how to salsa. Did that sound like I was suicidal?

The policeman put out his muscled arm.jpg

     Speaking of my husband, he chose this very moment to emerge from the basementwhere he had been working out on his stationery bicycle the entire time. Stepping into the hallway now, he was astonished to encounter the apparent crime scene unfolding in our foyer.

     hoped against hope that his vouching for my sanity might help settle the matter. Then again, might it help more if he vouched for my insanity?

    The sad truth is that I am prone to create scenes whenever I’m upset. My mother used to speak with emphasis to get her point across. I have my own method. When I am really unnerved, or exasperated – as I was now – I have a tendency to talk about killing myself.

    “I’m going to slit my wrists,” I'll say. Or, “I want to throw myself off the nearest bridge.”

    The truth is, I would never throw myself off a bridge, near or far. I have a serious actual phobia about bridges. I hate them. I also hate cold water. And I adeathly afraid of heights.

    I just say that stuff on a regular basis in order to let off steam and make it clear that, as they said in the classic 1976 movie Network, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna to take it anymore!”

Peter Finch in


   After 33 years of marriage, my husband has heard me make one of these crazy threats so many times that he is understandably mad as hell himself and not gonna take it anymore. At the very least, he was not going to begin to argue with the police on my behalf. And the truth is that it probably wouldn’t have done any good anyway.

   I had made what sounded like a credible suicide threat, on a recorded line, no less, and they were probably bound by law to take me into custody, no matter what either of us said.

    Realizing this, I began to sense that there was no point in my arguing any further. My best course of action was to cooperate and get this over with. I had only one request.

    Before they had arrived, I had been boiling some chicken and rice on the stove for my poor dog, Latke, who, as I mentioned, was literally sick as a dog. Before leaving for the hospital, could I please just go into the kitchen and feed the poor thing?

There were two police cars outside.jpg

    At this, once again, the most belligerent of the three officers forcibly blocked my pathI could not go into the kitchen. I could not get my purse. And I definitely could not go cut anything up, even for my dog.

    He said that my husband would have to do all of these things for me.

    My husband? Prepare some food? Even for a dog? Was he out of his mind?

   Don’t worry. I kept this thought to myself, as well as the details of the gastric distress.

They put me in the ambulance.JPG

    Moments later, I was escorted outside to the ambulance. As I walked between two of the officers, I wondered what the neighbors would think. I mean, there were two police cars, a firetruck, and an ambulance parked in front of our house. How could they possibly miss that?

    My husband had been advised by the officers to drive to the hospital on his own. He couldn’t ride with me. But if I were released, then I would need some way to get home.

    With luck, a fourth officer inside the ambulance allowed me to sit up rather than being strapped to the stretcher. He had already surmised that all this was a total misunderstanding. I still felt carsick by the time we arrived at the hospital after about a 20-minute drive in rush-hour traffic.

The ambulance took me to the hospital.JPG

     Adding to my growing nausea was the realization that I would probably be expected to pay for the ambulance, as well as the visit to the emergency room, which might cost thousands.

The took me to the emergency room.JPG

    My husband met me in the emergency room, where we were kept waiting for nearly an hour before I was processed by a registrar and admitted. Then I was escorted to an alcove behind a curtain, where a nurse handed me a loose cotton hospital gown and baggy pants and made me strip down to my underwear and change right in front of her.

They made me change into a hospital gown.jpg

    I also had to trade my high-heeled sandals for a pair of synthetic, pale gray tube socks with rubber treads on the bottom. The sheer indignity of it all was bad enough. But I had a more pressing reason to wish that I could have remained dressed in my own clothes. If I needed to convince a team of shrinks that I was reasonably stable and in my right mind, then I would have looked a whole lot saner in my color-coordinated outfit with matching jewelry than in that ill-fitting, shapeless shmatta.

I looked saner in my own clothes.jpg

     All of my belongings were placed in a large plastic bag and taken away from me. Then I was led to a hospital room and told to lie down on a cot and wait to be evaluated.

   To my surprise, and slight distress, my husband was allowed to join me there; we were barely speaking. The only thing in this room was a TV tuned to an endless stream of old episodes of Law & Order: SVU.

   “SVU,” as you must know, is an acronym for “Special Victims Unit.” All of the special victims had been subjected to sexual assault, and in nearly every episode we saw, the perpetrator ended up getting away with the crime. This only helped heighten my mounting anxiety. But there was no remote control with which to change the channel, let alone turn the TV off. And by now, my husband and I were no longer speaking at all. I had nothing to do but watch.

Law & Order SVU -- Special Victims Unit.jpg

     Soonanother nurse came in and asked me a series of questions about my medical history. She then asked me to sign a form agreeing to pay for the services with which I was being provided. Services I had not asked for and definitely didn't want. I didn’t know if it would make any difference. But I declined to sign.

    Finally, after well over another hour, a physician’s assistant came in to evaluate me at last. He asked me about my mental health history. Had I ever been in a psychiatric ward before? Was I now under psychiatric care? Did I take any psychotropic medications?

     No, no, and no.

     Fortunately, he did not ask me any of the questions I would have been reluctant to answer, on the grounds that they might incriminate me. Such as, Are you too depressed sometimes to get out of bed in the morning?” (Hmmm. Can you define "sometimes?") "Does your family think you should be taking psychotropic drugs?” (You mean, because they keep threatening to sprinkle Prozac on my food?) And, “Do you sometimes feel like throwing yourself off the nearest bridge?” (Sure. Of course. Doesn’t everyone?)

The physician's assistant.JPG

     Instead, at this point he simply asked me to explain what the heck had happened.

    As I recounted my story, yet again, he looked at me with what appeared to be sympathy and disbelief.

     “Clearly, this is just a misunderstanding that spiraled out of control,” he declared.

     When I concluded by explaining that all I had wanted to do that night was go to my ballroom dancing class, he asked what kind of dance we were learning.

     “Salsa,” I replied, noting that we had really wanted to go because, although I was passably decent at it, my husband was awful and really needed the help.

     He told us to wait while he relayed my tale to his boss, whom he thought was likely to release me at once. Then he promised to give us some salsa dancing tips when he returned.

     But just as he was about to disappear, he strode back into the room again. And it was not to ask me to dance.

     “I need to explain something to you,” he said firmly. “Don’t say anything strange when my boss comes in. Just tell him the story exactly the way you told it to me. Don’t add any extra details. And whatever you do, don't try to be funny."

     I was on a locked psych ward, he explained. "If you think that you can leave here just because you want to, well, you can’t,” he continued. If I said anything to his superior that sounded suspicious, then he might decide to keep me there. And if he did, then I would be injected with sedatives and remain on the ward for another five days. I could not speak to a lawyer. I would not be allowed to make any phone calls at all. After that, I would be brought before a judge. And if he determined that I was a threat to myself, or anyone else, then I would be kept there indefinitely.

Psych ward hallway upright.JPG

     “So just tell him what you told me, he concluded. Then he walked out. And I began to freak out.

   It’s not that I intended to say anything inappropriate. I would not mention knives. Let alone bridges. The problem is that I have a tendency to talk too much when I’m upset or nervous. And to resort to humor. But I did not want to watch one more episode of Law & Order: SVU. I did not want to need a lawyer. I just wanted to go home to my dog, gastric distress and all.

     Moments later, the physician’s assistant returned with an older man, an actual doctor, in tow. And it turned out that I was in little danger of saying anything wrong or inappropriately funny. Because the doctor had already heard my story and he didn't really need me to say a word. He was already shaking his head in disbelief.

They gave me back my bag of clothes.JPG

     He made some sort of snide remark about insurance companies and how annoying they can be. Then he repeated the phrase the PA had used about it being a situation that had spiraled out of control. No matter. He would get me released at once.

     A nurse soon appeared with my bag of belongings and escorted me to a bathroom in the hallway so I could change. When I entered, I noticed that there was no lock on the bathroom door. Forget about privacy. This really was a locked psych ward.

     Back in the hall, the nurse began to show me toward the exit when I explained to her that I needed to find my husband, who was still waiting for me back in my room.“Unless you would be willing to keep him here for me for a few more days,” I joked.

    She repressed any impulse she may have felt to smile. Or maybe she didn’t think it was funny. “Be careful what you say here,” she admonished solemnly. “Really. Don’t even try to joke.”


    Before I could be officially released, there was still one more thing to take care of.

    No, make that two.

    The physician’s assistant soon returned to sign the papers that would set me free. Then, as promised, he taught us some special salsa dance moves.

    It turned out, by pure coincidence, that he and his ex-wife had been professional dancers before he’d decided to return to school to become a PA. Their specialty? 

They let us leave the psych ward.JPG

     Salsa. I kid you not.

     I was tempted to make a remark about this, maybe about his giving up all the right moves for all the right meds. Or that loose hips sink ships. But I had been warned more than once. Don’t joke.

    Now that I’m free to say whatever I want, though, I want to tell you how I really feel.

     And it is no laughing matter.

     I still cannot believe that I was taken forcibly from my house against my will just because of something I saidSomething that I said and never meant.

    I started off that evening feeling unnerved, but in no way anything close to suicidal. But in the days and weeks that followed, I actually grew severely depressed.

    It was terrifying to have been arrested – to suddenly lose my freedom and all of my rights -- and to find myself utterly powerless.

     I wouldn’t deign for one second to insult black people and other minority groups in this country by suggesting that I now know how they feel. But I learned what it is like when the police attack and intimidate you and treat you with disdain and contempt.

     When the very people who are supposed to protect you seem to be out to get you instead.

     I felt so threatened and frightened by them that I would be afraid to call them now, even if I were in genuine danger. To me, THEY are the danger. Whenever I see a police car now, even whizzing by on the highway, I freeze with abject terror.

Wristband from hospital.JPG

      By the way, as I feared, I am indeed expected to pay handsomely for my loose lips. The bill for the ambulance was a whopping $895, although, to my surprise and enormous relief, the insurance company chose to cover most of that. But the bills from the emergency room and the medical personnel I saw there still exceeded $1,000.

      So, needless to say, no matter how upset I get, I will never make idle threats again.

      The good news, if there is any, is that I finally got my insurance back on auto-pay.

      And I truly learned my lesson, the hard – and humiliating – way.

      There is an old adage that goes, “Be careful what you wish for.” To me, wishes are rarely dangerous. Words, however, can be. So I propose a new adage: Be careful what you say. Even in jest. And even to someone on the telephone. Whether or not you are at your wit’s end.

Maybe we're out salsa dancing.jpg

      I am no longer at my wit’s end. Really. I’m doing fine. Sure, there are days when I don’t feel like getting out of bed. But I always get up anyway, because I'm busy. I have things to do. People to see. And another book to write. If you don’t hear from me for a while after this, don’t worry. I’m probably just busy.

      Or maybe I’m just out salsa dancing with my husband  

7:36 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.