Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vow. Wow. Ow.

Unless you've been living under a rock (or are a graduate student scrambling to hand in her final paper) no doubt you've seen the shockingly tasteless Vows column in the Sunday New York Times about two married New Yorkers who met each other at their kids' school, fell in love, dumped their spouses and got married.

And again, unless you have been otherwise engaged, you've probably read at least some of the reader reaction and fallout to the piece which, gratifyingly, has mostly expressed shock, awe and total disgust.

You can (and probably have already) Google this to your heart's delight, but some of my fave reactions have been Jeff Bercovici's editorial on the Forbes site, Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams' smart and sassy observations and the following Tweet reproduced on the HuffPo:

Deborah Wilker
#vowsbacklash - nauseating, tasteless piece in the #NYT- perfect complement to this self-absorbed, nauseating couple
The Times piece is indeed entirely nauseating and insults the intelligence of human beings everywhere by reproducing Carol Anne Riddell's disingenuous claim that the two acted in a principled way and kept it platonic...then told their respective spouses that they were in love with other people:

“The part that’s hard for people to believe is we didn’t have an affair,” Ms. Riddell said. “I didn’t want to sneak around and sleep with him on the side. I wanted to get up in the morning and read the paper with him.”

The retarded thing is that of course the two were having an affair...of the emotional variety. They portray themselves as being powerless in the face of attraction but they actively stoked it along. They passionately pursued a flirtation that led to its logical conclusion: romance. This is called infidelity. For more on this subject, read M. Gary Neuman, a marriage counselor and author of several books on the topic.

It would have been one thing if both Riddell and Partilla were miserably married but that appears not to have been the case.

Here's the thing about marriage, especially when you have kids. With all that is great about it, there is also a certain amount of drudgery, lots of household management and criticism from your spouse. The person you are building a life with is sometimes cranky and combative, justifiably, or not. It is unrealistic to expect that he/she will find you constantly charming, attractive, witty, sexy and otherwise fabulous.

How flattering when someone laughs at your jokes after your wife raked you over the coals that morning! How irresistible when someone tells you that you are remarkable when your husband merely asks you to take out the recycling!

Sigh. This is the oldest, most pathetically cliched narrative. Stuck in the ho-humness of domestic life, a new person appears, making you feel supercharged and romantic and giddy and young and vital and intoxicated with life and possessed of the ability to see endless horizons and new possibilities.

She hangs on your every word, asks your opinion, makes you feel smart and powerful. He tells you how special you are, makes you feel cherished, less trapped. He sees the vital YOU that your dense husband fails to see.

Note to Carole Anne Riddell and John Partilla: If you're not going to be honest with the New York Times, at least be honest with the families you wrecked.

Platonic, shmatonic, atomic.

You dropped a nuclear bomb into the heart of two homes.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dear Santa, um, Mom or the December 2010 Edition of Big Babe's Berlin Wishlist

Oh, dear.

A week from tomorrow I embark on my SIXTH trip to Berlin in half as many years.

The first couple of trips were untaken as an anxious mother who could not quite believe that her (Jewish) son had chosen to live in that place.

Somewhere around trip #3, Big Babe casually invited me to check out the club scene after an opera one evening and an obsession was born.

First came the Forward article -- on the expat scene in Berlin -- which ran last winter.

Now, the Masters thesis on the same topic, but far more scholarly and critical, focused solely on the Americans who have claimed Berlin as their new heim. Much of my research consists of hanging out, discovering the parameters of the expat scene. I don't know many people who can properly claim bars and clubs and art galleries and parties as the ground zero of their academic research.

Though my trip this past summer did entail a fair amount of work, next week's trip will be devoted entirely to research. Part of my mission is to figure out if and how the Americans in Berlin are impacting the life of the city and its inhabitants. What are they creating...other than a rousing good time? Is Berlin the 21st century version of 1920's Paris or merely a playground for the young and rootless?

To cut costs while in Berlin, already a highly affordable town, I will be crashing at Big Babe's place. Yesterday, he informed me that the running water in his flat was lukewarm to freezing. Normally, I'm not afraid of a bracing start to my day but when the outside temperatures hover below freezing and snow covers every possible surface, I really like my showers hot.

Last year, Big Babe's spacious digs were so cold that I slept in my coat, hat, gloves and shoes. My feet were constantly cold and damp and I drank about three times as much coffee as I normally do, just to keep warm. At night, I drank about 10 times as much wine as I normally would. When you're riding the U-Bahn home at 5 am, then walking several snowy blocks to your freezing abode, a high blood alcohol level is your best friend.

Armed with the certitude of being cold and uncomfortable, I am trying to carve out time this week to visit Uniqlo in SoHo to stock up on thin thermal underwear. Late at night, I'm scouring the Internet to find the ultimate fashionable yet toasty pair of black boots. The knit cap I scored for $10 from the vendor outside of Zabar's will not cut it this year. I need to trade it in for a Russian furry number, the kind that covers my ears, neck and chin.

According to family tradition, Big Babe has sent me his Berlin Wish-List, the artfully arranged accounting of stuff from New York that he simply cannot live without. Noting my ONE bag limit this year, I'm wondering how to accommodate his desires while avoiding overweight charges at the airport.

While I figure that one out, here is Big Babe's Berlin Wish List, the December 2010 Edition, plus a small addendum, which arrived in today's email:

- the small box of cds that I packed and left on the table
- the new Shteyngart (that is, if you've already read it)
- two additional books on the dining room bookshelf (roughly eye-level on the west-facing case): Ferdydurke and The Melancholy of Resistance
-my cowboy-ish leather coat (you know the one). It's too cold for it now, but will be perfect for spring!

I'll also keep my Zabar's wishlist modest:

- 1-2 lbs. french-italian whole bean
- hard salami (it doesn't need to be 40 lbs. this time!)
- chocolate rugaluch! (I still have 1/2 a babkah and need a change)
- Melindas!

and most importantly...



From: "A.J. Goldmann"
Date: December 21, 2010 9:44:36 AM EST
To: Shira Dicker
Subject: Re: Behold! The midnight scream!

Ooh! One thing that I forgot that would be totally smashing if you could manage to pick up, is a 2011 Desk Calendar. I remember they go on sale at BN right before New Years. I prefer the New Yorker one, but the BN one is also perfectly satisfactory (and a bit cheeeeper).



Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunset Over the Hudson

This is the view from the passenger side of my Honda at 4:24 p.m. driving south on the Henry Hudson Parkway, around W160th Street.

I was on the way back from SAR High School in Riverdale to drop off some costumes and props for Little Babe who was in Thoroughly Modern Millie. It was my second of three trips to Riverdale and back today, but that's the life of the parent. And it was exceptionally cool to return at night for the performance which included my youngest hamming it up onstage, acting, dancing, singing and speaking Chinese cribbed directly from Wayne's World.

That, too, is the life of the parent.

With my oldest 26 years old and a working professional, it seems unbelievable to me that I've already done that difficult, demanding, all-enveloping thing: raise kids. Perhaps this incredible fact is brought into sharper focus this year because I am in a graduate program with people who are typically much younger than me. Some are the very ages of my middle and oldest children, or some number between. What they have looming is already behind me. Yet I seem not very much older than them. To myself, at least.

This past Tuesday, I picked up Middle Babe from Goucher College. She is finished with her undergraduate studies, having taken extra classes over the summer. Having started as a musical theatre major, she graduates with a degree in philosophy, invited to present a paper at an academic conference in the spring. On the drive home we listened to Regina Spektor while marveling over this transformation, over the unreal fact that her college experience is over. Spektor's soulful, surreal music seemed the perfect soundtrack for the occasion. Middle Babe and I recalled the hair-raising move to her first dorm room at Goucher; blithely, we hop-scotched through four years' worth of adventures. From the vantage point of 95N, at 80 miles an hour, the time seemed compressed. Four years went by like that. And now, life looms ahead for her. A zillion possibilities tantalize. It is thrilling and anxiety-producing. For the foreseeable future, she has moved back home, to save rent, to chart her course, to be near her friends and job.

In the Urban Bungalow, Middle Babe joins Little Babe, of course, who, at 15, is completely low-maintenance, resourceful and self-sufficient. Once, not very long ago, he demanded the lion's share of my attention and care; I was his sun and moon, the feeder, the nurturer, the pusher of the stroller, the carrier, the soother, the storyteller, the crooner of lullabies, the playmate, the creator of games, the interpreter and advocate when he was inexplicable. Now, he is a talented teen, a dedicated musician with his own agenda and friends and ambitions and a sophisticated sense of humor and a great reserve of cultural references. These days, our time together is a joyride of jamming, singing along with the Talking Heads in the car, watching YouTube videos, talking about our shared favorite groups -- the Talking Heads, the Beatles, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Elton John, Pink Floyd -- being amused by the antics of our dogs, sharing life's innumerable ironies.

Tonight, I blog to gather my thoughts, to capture this moment in my life. I am on break from school now through the end of January, a working break, meant to be filled with research and reading and, of course, writing.

Remarkably, my year-long program is half over. How the hell did that happen?

So this post is the briefest of snapshots, clicked hurriedly, rather like the photo taken as my car careened down the Henry Hudson Parkway in the gathering twilight of a mid-December Sunday of my 50th year.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Reanimation of the Clock, Part II

Prior to photographing Ground Zero, I wrote:

"Ground Zero is a missed opportunity for a memorial and triumphant architectural response to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.The time that has lapsed, the general depressing nature of the site, the attraction of marginal characters to the area and -- yes -- the palpable void, contribute to a mood of despair that the camera cannot fail to capture."

At that time, I identified the defining characteristic of Ground Zero as empty space, the absence of what had been. My initial inspiration was to address this void. As I wrote in my previous post, the act of photographing Ground Zero forced me to widen my focus and concept of the area.

Here are the six photos which did not make the final cut:

The Reanimation of the Clock, Tick by Tock

While I have made a point of refraining from writing about what takes place within the inner sanctum of my J School classroom, today I am posting a project for my Evidence and Inference class, administered by Dean Nicholas Lemann.

It is not that I am so eager to share with you my uber-amateur photographs of Ground Zero and questionable captioning skills. Nor am I especially proud of the 125-word (give or take 50) description I finally edited down from 479 words.

The thing is that we have to present our projects in class and I have no idea how to do Power Point. Seems that the other members of my team are similarly at a loss...or buried under mounds of work.

While dashing across the flurry-dusted campus earlier last night, the solution hit me like a snowball tossed by a mischievous child: I would post my work here, thereby sharing my work with the world at large.

So, without further ado, I present my photography project of Ground Zero, which I have entitled "Reanimating the Clock, Tick by Tock." The "rejected" six photos appear in their own post, immediately above this one.

Desolate and industrial, dirty and depressing, the area of Manhattan known as Ground Zero is a paradoxical site. It is New York’s most haunted and hallowed place yet it is also a construction zone whose workers appear to have walked off the job…until very recently.

Now, the mood of the site shifts dramatically with the time of day and the day of the week. During morning and evening rush hour, streams of commuter overflow its narrow streets. At other times of day and on weekends, however, the space still appears populated primarily by vagrants, voyeurs, visionaries and vendors of 9/11 memorabilia.

A notable addition to the area – unique to this season -- is the Salvation Army volunteers in their trademark red uniforms, collection buckets and bells.

In my original hypothesis I wrote, “The overwhelming impression of Ground Zero is of a clock that has stopped, mid-tick.” Now, it is more accurate to state that the chief impression is of an entire metropolis engaged in the act of bringing this clock back to life.


Evening Rush Hour.

Ground Zero Through a Cemetery at Night.

Century 21 at Night.

Danger. Dawn at Ground Zero.

Ground Zero Wakes Up.

Ground Zero Staircase.

Construction Site Through Grid.

Jumping Security Guard.

Exit Only.

Morning Rush Hour.

Epoch Times.

Conversation. The View from the World Financial Center.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Professor David Epstein Makes Columbia's Drug Dealing Students Look Downright Wholesome

There are some things I simply fail to understand.

I understand drug dealing, as illegal and dangerous as it is.

I even understand intellectually that there are warped individuals who have sex with their children.

What I do not get AT ALL is the idea that one or both of those intertwined in an incestuous relationship would explain it as consensual.

This, from Friday's Spec, which apparently broke the story on the arrest of Columbia poli sci prof David Epstein on grounds of incest.

Political science professor David Epstein, 46, was charged Thursday with having a sexual relationship with his daughter, 24.

He was arrested Wednesday morning and charged with one count of incest in the third degree at an arraignment hearing on Thursday. According to police, the relationship appears to have been consensual.

In which realm could a child properly consent to have sex with a parent? At the heart of parental love is an utterly different kind of emotional bond, one entirely devoid of sexual involvement. Consent given by a child even in those cases where the sex is the result of the seductive initiation of a child is not actual consent. The shunning of incest is not some fusty old taboo. It is there for a psychological, spiritual and biological reason. Obviously, it is a form of abuse on the part of the offending parent. The worst to murder.

Having read this story now on several news sites, my chief reaction is that I wish to soak my brain in a big vat of Clorox. The consensual claim adds another dimension of creepy.

Sure makes the drug ring on campus busted earlier this week look downright wholesome.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Higher Education

A great news story can brighten your day. Case in point -- "5 brainiacs grabbed in frat-house drug sting" crows this morning's front page of The NY Daily News, just above its punning headline: "Ivy Sleaze"

Yeah...there was a drug bust at Columbia. Shocking, I know, but the action took place at the row of grungy frat houses on W114th Street, across from the campus. I mean, who'da thunk it? And this was not a case of law enforcement on steroids, that is, police overreacting to a group of geeky kids smoking weed. Hardcore stuff was being dealt. LOTS of cash changed hands. Some fun facts: acid-laced Sweetarts and Altoids were part of the seized stash.

Here's what I'm wondering. What took the cops so long to figure this out? The campus is crawling with drugs and drowning in underage drinking (but probably not more than most private university campuses, to be fair.) Late on a Friday night, about three weeks ago, I had the honor of talking with 3 uber-stoned kids who just returned from a party in one of the dorms. It was an entertaining and illuminating conversation...if you enjoy talking with people whose brains are not functioning properly. (At this point I should mention that I live in a Columbia-owned building and this encounter took place therein.)

And as I posted on Facebook earlier this morning, Big Babe's residential advisor was dealing coke out of her Carman room when he was a freshman at Columbia. (My son emailed this morning to correct me. She was only using. And sharing. My bad.) I learned then about the market in Adderall, the must-have medicine to make it through midterms and finals. There is frequently vomit on the sidewalk outside of our apartment on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Uh, President Bollinger? We have a problem.

It's not obvious? Perhaps the posses of half-naked girls stumbling down Broadway on their way to off-campus parties might be a clue, because when you're wasted, you don't notice how cold you are (see my previous post). When Asian undergrads storm Hamilton Deli for munchies at 2 am and then hang out on Amsterdam Avenue, laughing hysterically, you know you have a problem.

There is lots of glorious coverage of this one. Just Google "Columbia drug bust" sit back and enjoy the show.

I am avidly awaiting the letter from Lee Bollinger. Already twice this semester Goucher College students heard from its president Sandy Ungar about the newly outta-control drug and alcohol culture on the formerly sleepy campus. Property was being trashed, kids were being rushed to the ER , fires were being set. The bottom line was that he didn't want to attend the funeral of a campus kid as a result of over-indulgence. The bottom line was that he was taking the campus back...and he asked the Goucher student body to stand with him.

Middle Babe, my daughter, a senior who will be graduating from Goucher once she hands in her philosophy papers next week, voiced disbelief that her lame-ass college has joined the pantheon of party animal houses of higher learning. This distinction lends her refined alma mater a bit of street cred.

I do wonder how the local drug bust is going down with the Columbia student body, now that the "brainiacs" are revealed to be big-time badasses. I heard that friends of friends of the dealers (aka, users) are feeling that uniquely adolescent sense of rage against the hypocritical adult world as well as sadness for these promising lads' lives being ruined. It is incredibly sad. A future is a terrible thing to waste.

There's obviously way more to say about this saga, including the knee-jerk explanation by at least one of the students that they were dealing to handle the tuition. That will be for another blog. I've got classes to attend, papers to write. In the meantime, here's the report from

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Particular Hell of the Writing Workshop

Last night, at a super-fab Chanuka party in the East Village, I was astonished to bump into an old professor of mine from my first round at graduate school in the early 1980's.

It was a writing program at a New York university and he was my fiction workshop instructor. Generally speaking, I enjoyed the class but there was the day he arrived, in some kind of altered state and proceeded to rake one of the writers over the coals.

I do not remember the name of the short story or even the particulars of his assault but have a vivid recollection of how we students sat as still as packages of frozen spinach while the student in question -- a young woman -- bore his brutal attack.

Later that day, when I returned to my abode -- a tiny maid's room on W114th Street for which I paid $200 a month -- I stared at my face for a very long time in the bathroom mirror and then hacked my bangs off.

I suppose this act of cosmetic self-mutilation (I looked like a freak for about a month) was an empathetic reaction to having witnessed a traumatic event -- an unprovoked attack on a fellow human being. Pondering the metaphorical value of that act, it seems the enactment of "tearing one's hair out."

I forgot about this incident at last night's party and gabbed instead with my former professor as if we were old confidantes. Both of our eldest children had been actors in Little Shop of Horrors at the Ramaz Upper School over a decade earlier. We were now the parents of people in their twenties who were pursuing creative careers. Perhaps it was that fact more than the passage of time that served to equalize our relationship.

Jacked up on insanely potent margaritas, I navigated my way through the party, meeting, greeting and eating. It was a fine Chanuka party, filled with A-list journalists, many of whom I knew, some of whom seemed just slightly older than a kindergartener. I would have stayed forever but at one point, I noted the time and the fact that I was due for a student meeting uptown at 8:30 and headed out into the frigid night air, searching for the 8th Street subway mean feat when you are totally trashed.

This morning, I thought about my old professor and how chummy we were at the party. And I didn't think about the horrible workshop incident until something similar happened in one of my classes.

Except that this time, for a good portion of the class, I was the student on the hot seat.

Because I am constrained from writing about what takes place inside my Columbia classroom I will say nothing other than how sucky the experience was.

Unlike the kid who hacked off her bangs, I am a fairly seasoned adult with no intention of going near a pair of scissors. Still, it was unpleasant and shocking and hardly what I expected. Yes, the constructive criticism was there; buried in the basement beneath the feedback free-for-all. It took every ounce of self-restraint not to walk out of the room...or simply stand up and protest: Hey. this is not the way a writing workshop is supposed to be.

The shock of the workshop followed me around all day, like a pesky younger sister, but there were several points of grace along the way. One was sharing an elevator with the actor Richard Kind and his toddler son at the JCC, where I went to run off my rage after my afternoon class at the New York Historical Society. Seeing Kind recalled his excellent performance as the mentally ill brother in A Serious Man, the one who cries out, "Hashem hates me!!" who feels God's loathing and abandonment.

Another was returning home from the gym (where I ran four-plus miles, lifted tons of iron and did so many crunches that it hurts when I cough) to light the menorah with HOBB and Little Babe and recover my inner Maccabee.

And I will share yet another one with you: the email I just received from my friend, Lynda, who was unable to make it to Shira Means Song, my 50th birthday celebration last month at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal:

I am so glad I bumped into you at the JCC and I got to see this video, which as you say, is pretty hilarious. Congratulations to the whole family and the DOT too! I am the 121st visitor to the site. You have Guts! Creativity! Imagination! and a pretty dress.


Since I have been negligent in writing about the OVER-THE-TOP SUCCESS that this event was, I will simply post the YouTube video, edited down to a manageable length.

It reminds me of the importance of using one's voice, of finding one's venue, of doing great, crazy, ambitious things, at vanquishing ones' adversaries, of taking risks, of actualizing your dreams, of standing up, of celebrating the song of oneself.

Check it out!