Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Lady Vanishes

I once quietly stalked Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson on Broadway with my daughter, Middle Babe, walking stealthily behind them for about six blocks until they turned right on a street in the West Sixties -- I think it was W67th Street -- and into a luxury building.

They were wearing sunglasses and holding hands.

"Well?" I asked my daughter, standing stupidly on the street as our movie stars greeted the doorman and disappeared inside an elevator.

"Pointless but cool," my daughter summarized. "Let's check out the Gap," she suggested, heading back to Broadway.

Earlier today, before Natasha Richardson's death was announced, I sent my daughter a message on Facebook reminding her of our long-ago adventure. After accusing me of being Perez Hilton, Middle Babe conceded that the news about Richardson was horribly sad...and that, yes, she remembered we had once stalked her and Liam Neeson.

It was a while ago when we did that; I think Middle Babe was a freshman in high school. Still, I didn't need to explain to her who Richardson and Neeson were after I spotted them on the street. She recognized them, having seen The Parent Trap and Schindler's List.

My Facebook message reached Middle Babe in Dublin, where she was recovering from St. Patrick's Day with one of her best friends, who is taking a semester at Trinity. I'm bound for Dublin tomorrow night to spend the weekend with her, HOBB and Little Babe...and then I'm onto Berlin to visit Big Babe, my oldest son.

Nothing but nothing is ready for this trip. I've been consumed by work, the cleaning lady is MIA, there were Parent-Teacher conferences this afternoon followed by a drive out to Great Neck to see NOBB (niece of Bungalow Babe) perform (steal the show) in Beauty and the Beast

Leaving the show at intermission, I dashed back to the city with the intention of getting a jump on all that needed to get done -- laundry, packing, purchasing items on a Wish List for Big Babe, work assignments -- before I boarded my plane.

Sitting down in front of my computer close to 11 pm, the staccato headline jumped out at me, confirming the rumors of the past day: Natasha Richardson is Dead at 45.

I stopped in my tracks to observe a moment of silence, enveloped by sadness for the actress I first noticed in The Handmaid's Tale.

And reorder my priorities.

It is nearing midnight. I am not Perez Hilton but I find myself thinking of Natasha Richardson and the unkind way that death came for her. I think of her famous husband and her young sons, imagine the terrible shock of her unheralded departure. I think of her family, the names that are a Who's Who of contemporary theatre and film.

I grieve for her mother, that immovable, impossible icon Vanessa Redgrave. I ponder the unspeakable cruelty of a mother having to bury her child.

The suddenness of this particular death rivets and terrifies us. We want to rewind the footage so as to track the stealthy progress of the Angel of Death as he moved to claim her, note the snares he had set, see how he covered up his work, tricking everyone into a false sense of security.

Most of all, her.

For Natasha Richardson, the thinnest of veils separated this world from the world to come.

I think of her death as when last I had seen her -- standing in the lobby of a building one moment, gone a second later.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah, Part II

Dear Readers,

I am delighted to bring you the Second Annual Wish List from Berlin, courtesy of my eldest child, Big Babe, who is living the life of the expatriate American writer in the European city widely touted as The New Paris.

Below, reproduced in accurate detail, is Big Babe's request list of items he cannot live without...culled from the various emails we have exchanged over the past week, in advance of my forthcoming trip to Europe.

And while I had visions of minimalist chic travel accessories, I now see that I will be shlepping a monster-size suitcase, hoping that the pungent scent of salami is muffled by the various books and bottles of hot sauce, a condiment that is evidently and disappointingly shvach in the Fatherland.

But I'm not really complaining, indeed, I am thrilled to be journeying to two cities that end with "lin" - Dublin and Berlin -- and cannot wait to spend time with Big Babe in his (hopefully temporary) adopted home. I am merely trying to figure out when I'm going to pick up all this stuff between now and my Thursday night departure.

Without further ado, Big Babe's Berlin Wish List II:

March 8, 2009

Hi Mom!!!!!!!I've been thinking about what I want you to bring - ideally - from the good ol' U S of A. For the moment, here's all the essentials I can think of...also cognizant of the fact that you'll need to schlep these to Ireland and then on to Berlin, so it’s none too extravagant.

From Zabars:

- 3 lbs. French-Italian ground for Melitta.

- 1/2 lb. lox (prepackaged OK)

- Chocolate babka and/ or chocolate rugelach

- .5 - 1 lb of a nice sharp cheddar (totally nonexistent in Germany)

- 2 Vials of Melinda's XXX (German hot sauce just isn't the same)

- Maybe a kosher Salami or two. The hard kind if possible. Spicy too.

No loose cold cuts (they get nasty in transit)

From News Stands:

- Current and one recent issue of the New York Review of Books

- Ditto for the New Yorker

- Maybe a copy of Harpers, The New Republic or The Nation?

From Home:

- That pkg that arrived about a month ago for me

- Another pkg that should be arriving in a week and change

- My video-out mac cable (I'll give you more info on where to find it later this week)

Additionally, if you manage to get your hands of the Everyman's Library edition of Yates, that would be great(s)!!!! and perhaps a bottle of that single malt scotch -- Dalmores -- that dad likes...and if you make it to Trader Joe’s, some of those wonderful tea tree oil wipes would be great!I think that's all...but will let you know if I remember anything!

March 16, 2009

Let me know if you have any difficulty tracking down / procuring any of the items I requested - among which is a package that ought to arrive in a few days...if we're lucky

March 16, 2009

One more request: Could you pick up the current issue of Sight and Sound? It's a British film magazine. You might have more luck finding it in Ire or Heathrow than in NY...I just saw online that this issue is dedicated to Stanley Kubrick so I'm quite excited.

March 17, 2009

Two more things that spring (!) to mind: my portable external HD (the small gray one...not the larger white one)- last seen on that pine file cabinet that was in the middle of my floor....And a hardbound copy of Edward Lear's The Book of Nonsense, which I believe is on the bookcase next to my desk and the radiator, on the first of second shelf (the books are double stacked...)


Monday, March 16, 2009

His Story, Monday Afternoon

It was my second time seeing him and he was draping warm, wet cloths over my feet.

"Relax," he urged me.

"It doesn't come easy," I replied. He raised an eyebrow. "I can tell," he said. "Try closing your eyes. Some people actually fall asleep."

I closed my eyes and tried really hard.

"Make your feet limp," he said, wiggling my left foot by the toe. He ran a hand under my foot in a tickly stroke. It worked. I felt the muscles in my ankle release.

"Good," he reported, going to work on my feet. While he draped cloths, pushed and prodded my feet this way and that, took measurements and did various other doctorly things, he told me a story.

It was about a young boy, a college freshman, a New Yorker alone on a mid-western college campus because his buddies from Forest Hills High School had been drafted and shipped off to Vietnam.

He was bound there too, but a freakish medical condition prevented Uncle Sam from wanting him.

And so, he lived to grow up and become a doctor while they all died young, in battle. Every last one of his buddies from Forest Hills.

The mid-western college experience was lonely without his friends...but something else. It was terrible, he said, lifting his eyes to mine.

And then he told me why.

In a fifth-floor podiatrist's office in Manhattan's midtown, on a cold March afternoon, a silver-haired doctor talks to his patient, telling her about something that happened to him when he was a boy.

The story has the effect of a punch in the gut, forcing a sharp intake of air, a wince, a flood of empathy for the man kneeling before her.

The patient examines the man who holds her feet and tells this tale. She has come because of a pain in the heel of her right foot which he had diagnosed as plantar fasciitis, evidently a common affliction, though she had never heard of it before. He is there to dole out the cure, explain treatment, foot baths, exercises, prepare special implants for her shoes.

And while he works, he talks, spilling his story like so many pills from an upended prescription bottle. The story heightens her sensory awareness and she observes the murmur of Sunday mass in his voice, the vibration of the stripes that run along his dress shirt, the dull thunk of a basketball bouncing on a driveway, the brush of his mother's kiss along his hairline, the shape of a name whispered achingly in the night, the burnished glow of his tanned skin.

She wonders why this story was offered to her -- a forty-year old remembrance of things past. She wonders if he tells this particular tale to all his patients, or just his female patients, or just patients who come on Monday or in March.

The story ignites curiosity about another story he told her last time -- a contemporary, happy story - and she wants to connect the dots between the two, figure out how A led to B.

Pulling on her high black boots a short while later, she finds herself viewing his story in her head, seeing it unfold in slow motion.

When she steps down hard on her right foot, she imagines that the pain in her heel feels like the memory that is still lodged in his heart.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beware the F-Word

Oh, irony of ironies.

Last night, a small news story was posted to the New York Magazine website, featuring a shocking collection of words.

The news item, which concerned itself with two rival schools of journalism in this great city of ours, sent my eyebrows WAY up to my hairline.

Not because of what it purported to be about (who cares, after all, after the pissing matches of graduate programs), but because it featured HOBB (whom loyal readers know to be Husband of Bungalow Babe and who is a professor at one of these schools), using a word that he rarely uses in real life.

Yes, it's the biggest and baddest cuss word there is, folks, the ultimate naughty thing to say, beginning with an F, and ending with a UCK.

And it ain't Firetruck.

Now, here's the thang:

The word that HOBB is quoted as using is actually one of my personal faves, the equivalent of the coveted blank Scrabble tile, an all-purpose, pithy, monosyllabic, blunt and utterly vulgar word that sounds good in a variety of settings and situations.

Bang your knee under the table as you're standing up exactly in that horribly painful spot that makes you black out and want to die?

Bump unexpectedly into your ex-boyfriend at the Halloween parade in the Village only to realize that he's holding hands with a guy who reminds you of your father?

Some drug addict darts in front of your moving vehicle and you swerve, nearly killing a mom with a baby stroller?

I rest my case.

The point is, I have a healthy relationship with the F-word, much to the dismay of HOBB who has accused me of being afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome due to my fondness of it.

So, returning to last night, I was stunned to discover him using the F-word...but worse, far worse.

He was quoted using it -- a university professor (and religion writer and publicly Orthodox Jew, to boot) -- in the pages of New York, which did readers a favor by posting the item online before the print issue hit the stands.

The context was his commentary on journalism education that seeks to teach the new bells and whistles of the medium before the basics.

To convey his point, he reportedly told his Reporting and Writing Class earlier this year, "F-word New Media." One of his students dutifully wrote this piece of instruction down and anonymously conveyed it to the reporter from New York.

Naturally, HOBB's pronouncement is the money quote and it instantly went viral, due in small part, to me, the perversely proud wife, who blasted it out to a group of friends and select cool family friends.

Today, you'll find it charmingly referenced in various places online in blogs and websites that care about pissing matches between graduate journalism programs. In the comment log to the New York article, HOBB has both defenders and detractors.

Some find HOBB to be a dinosaur, a Luddite, a fuddy-duddy. Amusingly, others bring examples of other important technological inventions (the phone, the automobile, moving pictures) that were similarly pooh-poohed by those who lacked vision.

What I was not prepared for, however, was the rage-soaked, hostile invective by commentors on a couple of the other blogs, citizens of cyberspace who found HOBB's view so egregious that they were moved to hateful, vicious, even violent-sounding posts.

They became ageist, calling him an old man, which he certainly isn't.

They turned the F-word on him.

They sounded like grounded teens getting really pissed at their parents.

This, I found curious.

Was it HOBB's use of the F-word, I wondered? Did that raise the blood pressure of readers? Supposing he had used a slightly different choice of words, such as -- "I don't really like New Media," instead of "F- New Media?"

But I'm the first to admit it. Positioning the F-word next to "New Media" has a jaunty, sloganistic ring to it. Sounds like a fundraising concept for the J-School, something cool to put on t-shirts, perhaps.

F*** New Media!

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Class of 2009

Anyway, the more I pondered the apoplectic reaction of some readers, the more I wondered who the true Luddites were.

I also wondered how our home environment would change now that HOBB's secret is out of the bag.

Despite claiming to abstain, he is indeed a public practitioner of the F-word.

I'm not the only one who needs to wash her mouth out.

But yet another secret has stayed largely discovered by those writing about HOBB'S public Tourette's attack: this allegedly anti-New Media prof is married to a practitioner of the New Media. (Duh!!! You're reading her blog!)

And with that tantalizing - not to mention, ironic -- little tidbit, his words take on a whole new dimension.

Bernie Madoff: Metaphor

I admit that it has been hard to focus on work today with Bernie Madoff just having being sentenced to a nice long FOREVER stay in prison for pulling off "perhaps the biggest swindle in Wall Street History," according to 1010 WINS, which I just checked a little while ago, having struck a bargain with myself that I would not stoop to watching television during work hours...but radio was okay.

In response to the handing down of his sentence, Bernie said he was "deeply sorry and ashamed."

Really warms the heart.

Does nothing, of course, for his victims, all of whom are recorded in excruciating detail in a PDF file I downloaded this morning from one of the myriad blogs and sites that have been reporting on L'affair Madoff.

Recorded in microscopic print, the file went to 160-plus pages.

Contained therein are thousands of individual, family, foundation, institution and company names. Many are familiar. Some are associates.

Midway through, I had to avert my eyes.

This list of names reminded me of other such lists.

Victims of 9/11.

Victims of the Shoah.

There is closure today, but only in a symbolic Law and Order kinda way. Closure, really, for the spectators of this drama. Restitution and true justice for Madoff's victims -- the honest, hardworking individuals who are ruined, the charitable institutions and our society at large -- might be impossible to secure.

So, rabbi's daughter that I am, I turn to the metaphysics of Madoff, seeking to find something of meaning in this terrible matter.

What, I ponder, does Bernie Madoff tell us about ourselves as a society?

Or, in a more Pollyannish vein -- what is the silver lining of this crime? What good might come out of it?

I listen closely.

But there is no voice from the whirlwind, no comfort to be gleaned.

Instead, the sobering words of Ecclesiastes, old King Solomon imparting his sad wisdom at the end of days: Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Remains of the Day

Tonight's Van Morrison concert at the Beacon theater was the nail in the coffin that was my day.

Every freaking parking spot between 66th and 86th Street was taken; even the commodious parking lots on Amsterdam were filled to capacity with diabolical parking attendants standing outside waving on prospective patrons with an energetic shake of the head and an exaggerated mouthing of the word, "NO."

You gotta admire the pleasure some people draw from something so simple as dashing people's dreams of actually making it into a concert they paid $500 to attend.

"Van Morrison. Tonight at 8," read the marquee on the front of the Beacon. Well, how in the heck was I supposed to know about this concert? Perhaps if I wasn't locked into such a marathon of work, too stressed to read anything as diverting as the arts section of the New York Times, or even the past couple of New Yorkers, unable to make it to my gym, one block away from the Beacon, FOR AN ENTIRE SOLID FREAKING WEEK, I would have seen the marquee and known about the Van Morrison concert and not thought that it was a good idea to drive my little black Honda down to the JCC earlier this evening.

Naturally I could have taken the subway but we had a parking spot right in front of the apartment which was not good for Thursday anyway and the car seemed a cozy, civilized way to make it down to the gym after having spent THREE FREAKING HOURS on the phone with a perky T-Mobile tech repair person who was determined to fix my Blackberry...and didn't.

Besides which, the car was perfect for transporting groceries as I planned to pop into Fairway after my satisfying workout to stock up on healthy munchies, including a delectable gluten-free, high fiber, low carb snack I tasted this past weekend that is ONLY available on the second floor of Fairway. And Illy coffee because it was already too late for Zabar's, which closed at 8, and which I missed because of my FREAKING THREE HOUR PHONE CHAT with T-Mobile. And a new bottle of Oil of Evening Primrose capsules to keep my raging hormones in check, which I was unable to buy more cheaply from The Vitamin Shoppe because, alas, it closed at 7 and yes, I was on that FREAKING PHONE CALL which resulted in a big, fat, nothing and destroyed my chances of exercising at home before the babies in the apartment below us go to sleep and I can no longer use our treadmill and ended nearly an hour after all the T-Mobile retailers in the city were closed so I couldn't event race down to a store and BUY a replacement phone right away.

And I really needed those Evening Primrose capsules because I have a horrendous combination of perimenopausal irritability and good, ole' PMS.

I didn't even think it was possible to be courting menopause and persecuted by my period at the same time.

Somehow, I thought that one would graciously bow out to make way for the other.

I never envisioned being tag-teamed by both.

And just in case you're wondering what the big deal is about the THREE HOUR T-Mobile call, let me inform you that the five hours prior to that call were filled with an almost implausible array of time-wasting, maddening, ridiculous pursuits, a TERRIBLE experience at the hair salon and a charming half-hour visit with a representative from my e-mail's server...because my e-mail was coming up in triplicate, nearly crashing my Inbox....leaving me without my secondary form of communication.

And without the primary one -- my Blackberry -- as well.

Well...that's all in the past. I have a big event tomorrow night, okay, not as big as the Van Morrison concert, but respectable in its own right, and I am sure that after I race down to a T-Mobile store first thing tomorrow morning and buy a new Blackberry, then complete all the preps for the event while trying to do some major hair rehab, all will be fine.

In preparation for things to be fine once again, I ate half a bag of cheddar cheese popcorn, bought at my local deli. I just love scarfing down carbs late at night, knowing I haven't moved my butt in a week. I cannot wait to see what I look like in the dress I am planning to wear to this event tomorrow night. I better reserve at least an hour of trying on and tearing off a variety of outfits while crying.

Well, I'm gonna sign off now. It's time to make a strong cup of Lapsang Souchong, my favorite tea, curl up on my couch and watch Nancy Grace who is always in a pissy mood as she goes after criminals in pursuit of justice for their victims -- women and children.

Today was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad SUCKY-TO-THE-MAX, ridiculous, maddening, wasted freaking day.

Yet someday, it will all seem like the stuff of high comedy.

Already, I cannot wait to tell my sister in Israel about it. I am practically rehearsing the punchline..."and then I drove down to the JCC and there was not a single, FREAKING parking spot available for an entire mile! No...I swear!!! But d'you know why????"

Thus are our small tragedies artfully spun into more useful stuff -- a humorous keepsake, a good story, momentos of a particular time in our lives when things were a certain way.