Thursday, November 29, 2007

You Steal My Cab, You Die

I was running late by about 15 minutes and had just emerged from the subway station at Times Square huffing, puffing and utterly stressed out. This was the third meeting with an important client on an important project and I could not seem to arrive on time.

Walking westward along 42nd Street while facing eastward (in other words, walking backwards), I was delighted to see a cab pull to the corner, about to discharge a customer.

Instantly, my hand went up in the Nazi-salute that is the time honored way of hailing cabs in New York City and sent a silent prayer of thanks to The Almighty.

But what was this??? A blur of big blond hair ran past me towards the cab. Astonished, I broke into a jog and overtook the poacher.

"Excuse me," said I, "but you must have seen me waiting for the cab."

An overly-made-up fiftysomething woman snapped at me with a Texas twang, "Waaaalll, it's not like you were running for it!"


"Hailing cabs doesn't entail outracing other people," I sputtered as we strode shoulder to shoulder, jostling one another. "I was ahead of you, I hailed the cab and it's mine!"

"I'm taking it!" the Southern Belle from Hell proclaimed as we approached the car. I reached for the door and threw it open but the hussy jumped inside. I was stunned, then infuriated.

I've had yuppie scum steal my cabs; I've had hostile rapper-types steal my cabs; I've had little old ladies steal my cabs...but I have never lost a cab to a big-haired out-of-towner.

Fury boiled up in me, threatening to pour, lava-like, down the streets of Times Square, drowning New York's entire theatre district... which would hardly have made a difference yesterday since the strike was still in progress.

"I hope you die," I said calmly, then slammed the door shut on the hem of her coat.

And walked on to my important meeting, horrified yet oddly elated.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Married Reverend Billy...or How to Tell Good Shopping from Bad

THERE'S my guy, Reverend Billy, the inspired performance artist who preaches against mindless consumerism in the malls, Starbuckses, Victoria Secrets, BestBuys, Stapleses, Disney emporia and Walmarts of America backed up by his robed, gospel-singing Church of Stop Shopping.

I love this guy, which probably explains why I married him.

Well, not him exactly, but his Jewish counterpart.

Yup...Husband of Bungalow Babe is the Hebrew cousin of Reverend Billy, preaching his own brand of anti-consumerism from the pulpit of our home.

I love that about him but as someone who also understands the concept of retail therapy, HOBB's religious zeal against buying makes me want to bolt from his synagogue from time to time.

We saw Rev. Billy in action in the new documentary, What Would Jesus Buy? which I loved from start to finish. Anyone who has sensed the apocalypse -- which Reverend Billy brands the Shopocalypse -- walking into a Costco will adore this movie which explores not only the mindless acquisitiveness of the American Christmas season but the disturbing provenance of much of our cut-rate goods, the closing of Mom and Pop stores when big box retailers gallop into town, the misguided impulse of parents to buy their kids "everything," and naturally, the out-of-control debt racked up by many Americans.

Oh, and the positing of Mickey Mouse as the Christ Child, the deification of this cartoon character in plush form, the alternate reality created by the architects of Disney Land and Disney World and all things Disney.

Perhaps my fave moment in the movie is when Reverend Billy bursts into a Disney Store at a mall and holds up a stuffed Mickey Mouse, proclaiming, "Mickey Mouse is the Anti-Christ!"

Gotta love this guy.

Though HOBB has not been known to launch proactive anti-shopping offensives in malls, he has nearly fainted in Macy's, broken out in hives in Gap, experienced low-blood sugar at Tiffany's, bolted out of Target and wandered in a fugue state through malls. He owns about 2 items of clothes, doesn't crave electronic toys or gadgets and don't even get me started on the state of our minivan, one television set ( late Grandma Dorothy bought it for us in 1984) or much of the stuff in our home.

And though I, too, loathe mindless consumerism, I am also a willing practitioner of mindful consumerism from time to time, distinguishing between good shopping and bad shopping in much the same way as nutritionists divide good carbs from bad.

For instance, while Walmart is surely Purgatory, Target is Paradise and Loehmann's is often a glimpse of The World to Come.

While spending an entire Sunday at Woodbury Commons is a pathetic waste of time, dashing through it for an hour or two at the end of a day can be fun.

Snagging a great Isaac Mizrahi dress (bought for $24.99 from Target) is often more therapeutic than a month of psychotherapy.

And discovering cut-rate treasures at thrift shops is the most orgasmic experience outside of sex.

Not that I would ever confuse shopping with sex.

I must say that I do find HOBB's hatred for purchasing an attractive character trait and now that my kids are no longer little, I can concede how much I hated going into stores like Toys R Us or even FAO Schwarz, which I have always found obnoxious...hardly the wonderland everyone seems to think it is.

And though I stand four-square with HOBB on the evils of acquisitiveness, I have also determined that what often draws me to shop recreationally is the guarantee of easily-acquired happiness. The dress I am likely to find on sale at Banana Republic or the furniture that Ikea is offering hardly ever fails to bring me a small measure of joy.

Naturally, it's all about having a sense of perspective. These are things, after all, and just the icing on the cake of life. The happiness of finding that fabulous black velvet party dress that fits like a glove (and only for $58!!) does not begin to compare with the happiness of artistic achievement or human connectedness or the joy of travel or finding oneself in the midst of a magnificent forest or on a beach at sunrise or sunset or holding your newborn child in your arms or having your child graduate from elementary school/high school/college/graduate school or really great sex, or all those wonderful key moments in life, etc, etc, etc.


And one last thing...sometimes, the act of "going shopping" is less about the stuff and more about providing a context for something else...talking about difficult matters, for instance. Sometimes, launching on a quest for a new coat or pair of shoes with one's child provides a venue for having important conversations that would be difficult or awkward to have while sitting on the living room couch or facing each other down at a restaurant.

At times like these, the longed-for object is really a McGuffin...Alfred Hitchcock's term for the illusory goal that drives the plot of his movies... creating an opportunity to spend time together in the real quest to bring more happiness into our lives.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Beware of Speeding Mare

I often feel badly for MOBB.

Whenever Mother of Bungalow Babe calls during working hours, she anxiously prefaces her words with, "I'm catching you in the middle, aren't I?" which is true on every level -- in the middle of the work day, in the middle of a meeting, an e-mail or two or three or ten, a phone conversation, a deadline, a project, a press conference, a trip to the airport, a cab ride to a meeting, a lunch date, a proposal, a bathroom break, a negotiation, a name might know it...perhaps you live the same way as I do.

I feel bad for MOBB but in truth, I cannot talk during work hours and often find myself trying to ascertain the urgency of the matter without sounding snooty or impatient or disrespectful. And many times, what is NBD (no big deal) to me is a BFD (big frikkin' deal) to her.
Or to my teen daughter, Middle Babe.
Or to Big and Little Babe, my adult and pre-Bar Mitzvah sons, respectively.
Or to HOBB (Husband of Bungalow Babe), who often calls mid-day to chat cozily about marital or domestic or family stuff from his cushy office in the middle of his cushy life as a professor.

While I bolt like a mare on speed through my work day. By which I mean that my work life is super-intense. But don't go feeling bad for me; I am stimulated by my work and turned on by the projects and causes I promote and love my clients (some, of course, more than others) and feel plugged into the zeitgeist.

And just so you don't go thinking I'm a workaholic or anything, let me state for the record that I also play hard.

Naturally, there is stress. Stress is my oxygen. And I'm not downplaying the deleterious effects of stress or the fact that those nearest and dearest to me have seen me utterly break down in tears over the stress or simply act psychotic, and yes, some days or weeks or months have been impossible and I have a huge sleep debt and I've made myself meshuggeh and seen my skin break out and gained or lost weight and felt deprived of simple pleasures like having the head-space to read fiction at the end of the day and screamed at my husband for not being an international banker and said that I'd rather be a corporate drone than run my own business for one more second but five years into this adventure I have determined that either I'm masochistic or I actually like the mare-on-speed sensation.
Probably, it's a bit of both. As BSOBB (Birth Sister of Bungalow Babe) once put it -- some people don't have a low gear.
But let me not mislead my readers. Family always does come first. For real, true emergencies. Just not for workday chitchat.
Still, I usually do chat with MOBB, even in the middle of my workday because I love her and would hate to be thought of as a bad or insensitive daughter. At the conclusion of our conversation, she'll often sigh and remark, admiringly, "You have such an interesting life!"

Which makes me smile and regard her acknowledgement as a true sign of the success of feminism. And while I was driven at first by the sheer necessity of working hard to bring in the funds that would help keep our family afloat, I see the payback in ways that exceed the joys of solvency. It is gratifying to be a grown-up in the financial sense and enjoy the autonomy that comes with owning my own business.
Finally, not to gloat, but readers of my post from last week will know exactly why I am posting the following Breaking News item, which just popped onto

Investigators pass security at 19 airports with bomb parts
Transportation Security Administration: Checkpoints only part of total security

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Investigators with bomb-making components in their luggage and on their person were able to pass through security checkpoints at 19 U.S. airports without detection, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Passengers pass through security at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois.

GAO officials are expected to testify about the investigation Thursday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The investigators reported that most of the time security officers followed Transportation Security Administration policies and procedures, but investigators were able to take advantage of "weaknesses in TSA procedures and other vulnerabilities."
Check out the sad state of airport security by clicking on this link to the story:

In other words, La Guardia Airport: I want my frikkin' pink sparkly lotion back!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Airport Safety for Dummies

(LaGuardia Airport, NYC) -- I am really annoyed.

The TSA clerk at security confiscated my favorite lotion from Target, a shimmery pink confection that couldn't be transformed into an explosive for all the science in the world.

Naturally, I should have thrown the bottle into my check-in luggage, but having just flown back from Berlin with the lotion in my carry-on, I hardly foresaw a problem. Nevertheless, the high school drop-out who screened my bag most certainly did, triumphantly removing it AND the carton of organic half and half that I had taken with me to improve the horrible in-flight coffee.

I am not being paranoid when I note that she did so cheerfully.

Most assuredly, one of the perks of her job is throwing out the expensive "dangerous" belongings of utterly innocent passengers. Who have interesting jobs and lives. Who are educated. Who travel. Who had a momentary lapse in packing judgement either because they were hurrying or had no problem transporting such goods on international flights or simply wanted the stuff with them.

So annoyed was I to see my lotion in the trash bin that I contemplated retrieving it. Foreseeing a Page One picture in the Daily News -- featuring me stoically clinging to the lotion bottle while being escorted out of the terminal by security police -- I returned to the reality at hand.

Besides, I didn't want to miss my flight.

Still, I tried to reason with the clerk even asking if I could transfer the contents of the lotion to a smaller container. She said that "the rules" were that I had to do this outside of the security checkpoint. I informed her that her "rules" were retarded. The elegant, grey-haired businessman next to me cracked up while tying the laces of his oxford shoes.

Eyeing my tossed lotion longingly, I trudged to the gate nevertheless, drawing the looks of fellow travelers, most likely due to the steam coming out of my ears and the dangerous gleam in my eyes.

At the gate, I questioned the US Airways personnel about recourse and was told that they had nothing to do with the (retarded) rules...but that I should approach a TSA supervisor. The flame of hope was rekindled in my heart! Swiftly, I envisioned a librarianish older woman, wise and seasoned, to whom I might present my case.

No such luck.

Arriving at the security check-in, I found the supervisor, a dumpy Hispanic woman sorely in need of braces. Again, she cited "the rules," shaking her head in a practiced, infuriating, mock-sympathetic way.

Rolling my eyes at her and informing her that both she and her staff had no idea what they were doing, I gave up and went to my gate, fuming. I love that lotion and really depended on it to enhance my already sallowing NYC skin in LaLa-Land, where I am headed for a music convention this weekend.

I am now at the gate, waiting to board my plane. Logging into, I see that the lead story is about a bomb scare at La Guardia on an incoming flight from Chicago. Even as we speak, the bomb-sniffing dogs are leaving the terminal, having successfully determined that there is no bomb. All incoming flights are being delayed.

The sad reality is that the TSA security drones have no skills other than rule-following and it is doubtful that they would catch any terrorists looking to blow up aircrafts unless these terrorists were transporting bottles of pink sparkly lotion.

I place my trust with the bomb-sniffing dogs and would like to borrow them to sniff out my lotion and return it to me.

And then, when they are done sniffing, I'd like to turn them on the TSA staff.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Exactly one week ago, I was on my way back to NYC from Berlin where I had gone to visit Big Babe who has embarked upon the life of a Starving Expatriate American Writer only a few short months following his graduation from Columbia University.

My trip to Berlin was less about sightseeing and more a one-woman Red Cross mission. Meeting Big Babe at Alexanderplatz, I was horrified but not really surprised to note his resemblance to Franz Kafka...all sunken cheeks and haunted eyes. Plus, he was shivering in his thin jacket. My maternal radar had told me (even as Big Babe kept denying) that my beloved firstborn had run out of money, oh, about two weeks earlier and I came prepared to stock his pantry, supplement his inadequate wardrobe and bring him the books he simply could not live without.

The second of my suitcases was so laden with wares that I had to pay a $50 overage fee at JFK. Contained therein were not only coats and jackets and jeans and socks and blankets and sheets and books but also a bag of bagels, a tub of scallion cream cheese, a tub of smoked salmon spread and a pound of French Italian Roast from Zabar's -- soul food for a homesick and broke Manhattanite.

With a surplus of work and back-load of projects, I had come for an extended weekend visit, leaving NYC Thursday night and returning by Tuesday. I spent the last minutes before boarding on the phone with a NY Times reporter and sat whispering in my seat into my Blackberry in the seconds before take-off, terrified that I was going to be thrown off the plane for the security breach by the German flight crew.

My time in Berlin was a magical blur of museums and opera (Carmen) and classical music (a Brahms program at the Philharmonie) and bars (most notably, Hairy Mary's) and cheap restaurants and rides on the S-Bahn and U-Bahn and counting Arab kaffiyehs wrapped rattily around the necks of Berliners (27 in four days) -- evidently, this season's must-have accessory. I logged untold kilometers walking on Berlin's cobblestoned streets and untold hours of Skype conversations and Blackberry conversations and innumerable e-mails and Sh'mas whispered over the phone to Little Babe back in New York.

Berlin always hits me like something familiar and alien all at once. I thought I was so bloody original to frame it as "New York in the Seventies," until I saw this very phrase pop up in an article in this past Sunday's Home magazine supplement to the NY Times. With its cheap rent, preponderance of graffiti, ubiquitous smoking, restless youth culture, dangerous undercurrent and fluid economy, Berlin does zap me back to my days as a teen navigating my way from the nondescript streets of my native Douglaston and Forest Hills to the thrilling landscape of Manhattan, finding stories on every street corner, falling in love with the unknowable yet endlessly fascinating people I would pass hurrying down West End Avenue or up Madison Avenue, scripting screenplays and melodramas, hoping to rewrite the story of my life any minute now.

Berlin is the blond and blue-eyed Irish-Italian boy I used to make out with on the floor of his Corona, Queens living room with a black velvet Jesus -- complete with bleeding heart and a crown of thorns -- watching pitying from a nearby wall.

Dangerous, forbidden, repellent yet undeniably sexy.

Berlin is a lure for young Americans, particularly of the artistic bent. Big Babe loves it; this is his fourth visit there and he is conversant in German, has written and published articles about the culture and life in this city. This trip, I met his friends, a loosely-connected group of semi-and underemployed smart kids in their Odyssey Years as David Brooks so memorably put it. Many of them look like Big Babe -- undernourished and ill-clad. They share large multi-room apartments with each other or sublet rooms from Germans. Rental for a large room in a decent neighborhood is low...about 150 to 250 Euro per month.

So, here too, is a throwback to New York in the late seventies when studio apartments on the Upper West Side could be had for $300 a month and a rented room could cost as little as $200.

Because of the famously difficult task of getting employment as a non-German, Big Babe and his friends often face cash flow issues, starving while they wait for payment from the States for articles written, trying to find internships with visiting American academics or teaching at English language institutes or doing babysitting for American families or having some kind of steady gig from abroad, like website design or another skill that travels well through cyberspace.

If you ever need your maternal instincts reawakened, go to visit your kid in a foreign country about two weeks after they have run out of money.

My time with Big Babe was filled with hilarious dysfunctional moments. One day we came back to his room in Kreutzberg to find half the furniture missing...including the couch I was sleeping on. His friend, who sublet the room before him, had come to reclaim his furniture. The following day he claimed his down comforter. (I will spare the reader any discomfort by refraining from describing the sleeping arrangements minus the couch and blanket.)

And Big Babe showed me a hand-drawing made by his depressive roommate Helena that is so bizarre as to be a potential Exhibit A in her forthcoming trial for insanity. Evidently, Helena has an issue with men peeing while standing up. She has spoken about this repeatedly with Big Babe but not even on the level of "please do not leave the seat up."

Instead, Helena has told Big Babe that it is unnatural for men to pee standing up and has waged a campaign against this.

Her latest salvo is this drawing that features a standing man urinating with a big diagonal line drawn through it, Ghostbusters-style. If memory serves me correctly, there are droplets of pee coming out of a downward-pointing ween.

Penis-hating German roommates aside, the trip contained numerous discussions about making money and solvency and the viability of Big Babe staying on in Berlin. And while I was zapped back to my own adolescence and post-college experiences where I, too, never had enough money and often starved between dates with men I didn't really like and trips home for Shabbat where my mother picked fights with me because I had broken some kind of parent-child contract by moving out of the house before marriage, I nevertheless was able to toss off the memories of myself in the New York of the 1970's and embrace the reality of being an adult in the 21st century and pass onto my son some critical advice:

Money is essential.

And whatever you think is your bottom line is probably too low.

While it's great to opt for a life of meaning and art and adventure over affluence, poverty sucks.

Besides, you are too much of a bon vivant.

On Tuesday morning of last week, I left my bon vivant in Berlin and caught a flight back to Kennedy. Once back, I hit the ground running, attending Little Babe's orchestra practice, starting him on homework and then running out to a client meeting which lasted until 10 pm.

Berlin is an experience I need to process. Though I have an aversion to the city, it is fascinating to bear witness to its reinvented life in the 21st century. It is especially fascinating to see Berlin through Big Babe's eyes and to add my commentary to his observations. I fully understand his kinship with the city even as I find it personally repellent.

And then, there is the matter of being an American Jew in the Berlin of the 21st Century.

Coming from Manhattan, it all seems so pathetic. There are well-meaning but futile attempts to revive Jewish life in Berlin, but the synagogues remain largely empty, the community largely uneducated and the glorious Jewish museum preserves the memory of a community that was completely destroyed.

Leaving the Jewish museum on Saturday afternoon with Big Babe, I felt my insides scooped out. While it had reminded me somewhat of the new Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, there was hardly the triumphant emergence through the halls of despair into the sunshine of the present-day Jewish holy land.

Outside the doors of the Berlin Jewish museum resides no such hopeful view. Instead, there are the paved-over ashes of the Jewish life that had once thrived in this city -- bone shards of the countless Jewish artists, musicians, writers, teachers, doctors, rabbis, radicals, business people, politicians and young intellectuals like Big Babe who found themselves seduced by Berlin, believing in it even unto death.