Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm

Anticipating the approach of Irene, I set out at four this afternoon with HOBB to stroll through our Morningside Heights neighborhood.

My original plan was to walk along the Hudson from Fairway at 125th Street till the little red lighthouse right under the GW Bridge. I could see that the river was calm and the air was thick, still and weirdly warm. I knew it would be cooler and possibly breezier by the water and wanted to connect with a beloved patch of the island before everything got tossed around.

But before we had even walked up to Grant's Tomb, HOBB proclaimed himself out of breath, sweaty and generally unable to take a step further.

Though disappointed that our excursion had come to a screeching halt (and a tad alarmed), I couldn't fail to notice the strange quality of the air, which was so heavy as to be suffocating. We found a bench and sat down while HOBB caught his breath. Sparse groups of people walked by; mostly tourists, judging from their accents. The sky was dull grey. There were no birds. There was a distinctly ominous feeling.

It was then that it hit me -- "the calm before the storm" was upon us, deceptive as the quiet and ordinary psychopath-next-door.

Our traditional Shabbat walk was chaperoned by a dangerous incarnation of Mother Nature.

Friday, August 26, 2011

More Hurricane Music

Believe it or not...Adam Sandler singing "Like a Hurricane" on Letterman in 1995.

A Hurricane Playlist

I admit it.

I am a breaking news addict. Compounding this is the fact that my parents are semi-professional weather watchers and Middle Babe is beginning to exhibit weather obsession tendencies as well.

Which means that right about now, the only thing on my mind is Hurricane Irene.

I'm up in the bungalow, scheduled to spend the weekend in the Urban Bungalow. Little Babe and I had planned to drive in around 5ish. Now, however, I'm wondering about the wisdom of this plan.

I'm possibly influenced by my mother's 8 a.m. panicked phone call and visits to half a dozen websites where phrases like "nightmare scenario" flew off the screen and stuck in my brain.

The trunk of the Honda is packed with water, pretzels, peanut butter, granola bars and other essentials. I will gas up before heading down to the city. But I am also thinking about stopping at Home Depot or Lowes in order to buy sheets of plywood.

For our apartment windows, of course, which face north and west.

We've got a great view of the Columbia University campus.

And that means that Irene might think we've invited her into our living room for Shabbos lunch or Sunday brunch.

Enough. I'm turning to music in order soothe my savage breast. Below, some suggestions to ride out the storm:

From Ben Greenman at The New Yorker, this coolness:

The iPod of the Hurricane: Songs for a Windy Weekend

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called for caution. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared a state of emergency. And as Hurricane Irene moves up the East Coast, worried citizens are stocking up on supplies. In light of that, here is our Hurricane Irene playlist. We have excluded the Scorpions’s “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” and The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” Song choices are not meant to undermine the potential severity of the storm and should not be considered appropriate substitutes for water, canned goods, and batteries.

1. Wynonie Harris, “She’s Gone with the Wind”: Some people say Irene is the biggest storm since 2005. Others believe that it’s the greatest threat since 1985. And some are reaching all the way back to 1944, to the Great Atlantic Hurricane. This Wynonie Harris song dates from the following year.

2. The Delfonics, “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”: It’s the supreme seventies sweet-soul anthem. Aretha Franklin has covered it, as has Millie Jackson. It’s also the song that makes Max Cherry fall for Jackie Brown. In this video clip, William Hart’s beard looks like a map of a hurricane. (A live version is below.)

3. Ella Fitzgerald, “Ill Wind (You’re Blowing Me No Good)”: Ella was a hurricane herself, and her version of this Harold Arlen song is filled with gusty vibrato. But it’s also full of rue and regret. Frank Sinatra also sang it, as did Tony Bennett, as did everyone else.

4. Robin Williams, “Blow Me Down”: Harry Nilsson wrote the soundtrack for Robert Altman’s doomed adaptation of “Popeye,” and this breezy song is one of the highlights, though Robin Williams’s performance of it in the film is—like the rest of the film—somewhat ramshackle. Nilsson’s version is available on various bootlegs.

5. The Carpenters, “Rainy Days and Mondays”: Irene is probably coming Sunday to the New York City area, but that seems like a quibble.

6. Tom Waits, “Blow Wind Blow”: Tom Waits just announced his new album, “Bad As Me,” in which he will deliver yet more of his trademark mix of junkyard rock and blues ballads. This official video for this song—which appeared on “Franks Wild Years” in 1987—features Waits, balloons, ventriloquist dummies, and top hats. There are no hurricanes, though there is a big fan.

7. Ian Hunter, “Irene Wilde”: The obvious choice would be “Goodnight Irene,” the folk standard originally recorded by Lead Belly, popularized by the Weavers, and covered by everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to the Meat Puppets. But if it’s Irenes you want, why not try out this Ian Hunter love song, here performed live with Mick Ronson.

8. Bob Dylan, “Ballad in Plain D”: It’s easy to pick a Dylan song, but hard to pick the right one. Not “Hurricane”: it’s not about weather. Not “Blowin’ in the Wind”: there’s weather, but it’s political, metaphorical, and, by this point, cliché. Not “Shelter from the Storm”: too obvious. Not “Idiot Wind”: too long. In the end, we parsed lyrics, and found three candidates: “The wind began to howl” (from “All Along the Watchtower”); “I’d jump up in the wind, do a somersault and spin” (from the early “All Over You,” recently released on the Witmark Demos); and “The wind knocks my window, the room it is wet,” from this plaintive, sometimes bitter ballad. It’s about the late Suze Rotolo, Dylan’s early-sixties girlfriend, and Dylan later looked back on it with regret: “Oh yeah, that one! I look back and say ‘I must have been a real schmuck to write that.’ I look back at that particular one and say, of all the songs I’ve written, maybe I could have left that alone.”

Or this from an NBC blog:

Who’ll Stop the Rain?” - Creedence Clearwater Revival: A natural fit for the upcoming dumping we are about to receive. This song is an open plea to Mother Nature in the hopes she will take it easy on us.

Katrina” - Black Lips: This is just a reminder to all the New Yorkers bemoaning our current forecast; we’ll never have it as bad as the city of New Orleans did in 2005.

Riders on the Storm” - The Doors: As you can imagine there is going to be a lot weather related tracks on this playlist and it wouldn’t be complete without this psychedelic jam.

Let’s Get It On” - Marvin Gaye: If you are lucky enough to be shut in with a loved one throughout the course of the storm, there is no reason you shouldn’t work on making a little Irene of your own.

Entrance Song (Rain Dance Version)” - The Black Angels: If you get bored during Irene, blast this song, make a headdress and dance around your living room giving yourself credit for the weather event.

Blizzard of ‘96” - The Walkmen: At the end of the day there is one thing about this rain that can make us all happy – it is not snow.

Summertime” - Sam Cooke: Though all may seem bleak, don’t forget that next week should be a breeze and it leads into the final blowout weekend of the summer which is followed by a short work week.

The Rain” - Missy Elliot: By Sunday evening you’ll be taking this chorus as gospel and even if you can’t stand this track, you can certainly kill some time watching Missy’s entertaining video.

Hurricane” - Bob Dylan: Yes, I know this song is originally about Denzel Washington and not a weather event, but we are taking the liberty to alter the meaning of this great poet’s song to fit our current situation.

Singing in the Rain” - Gene Kelly: There is no reason to let the rain get you down. Take a page from this classic, get on the street and dance around like a kid hitting every puddle in your path.

Or this more extreme list from Grooveshark.

Stay safe and dry, New York! May Irene inspire us all. In a good way.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Horror Show at Harriman Army-Navy

As a confident fashionista with an edgy style all my own, I rarely find myself forced to try on clothing that constitutes a sheer and utter sartorial disaster. I am the mistress of my own dressing destiny and know - by the ripe age of 50 - what looks good on my form...and what does not.

Therefore, I am still astonished that yesterday afternoon, I found myself talked into trying on a dress that could only be described as Morticia Addamsesque...or perhaps Drag Queen Fabulous.

It happened at the Harriman Army-Navy, where I had popped in to look at the evening wear for an ultra-Orthodox wedding next week. That's right, Harriman Army-Navy. I was as surprised as you no doubt are but over breakfast at the Monroe Diner last week, my friends Mary Ann and Judy raved about the unexpected collection of gowns and dresses they carried, alongside the jeans, army boots, hunting knives and other staples of any good army-navy store.

Possessed of a few free hours while Little Babe took his pre-certification Driver's Ed class, I figured what the heck.

I shoulda been thinking more along the lines of WTF.

Spying me flipping through the clothing racks in my Champion workout gear, unwashed hair tucked beneath my black Zabar's baseball cap, sports bra holding my assets tightly -- in advance of my upcoming workout at Straub's -- the saleslady swooped in, determined to transform this tomboy into a princess.

She lectured and opined, pointing out form-fitting polyester numbers with sequining and mesh. Perhaps she thought I said I was a Vegas performer? Politely, I explained that my style was typically a 50's style dress, cinched at the waist, full-skirted, sleeveless and several inches above my knees.

But the Army-Navy saleslady knew better. Enough with that look! So nineteen fifties! What I needed was something "edgy."

My eyebrows went up to the rim of my Zabar's cap. Really? Okay, I was decked out in workout gear but everything -- shorts, tank-top and hoodie around my waist-- was BLACK...and kinda faded. My bangs practically hid my eyes. I have many piercings and am contemplating a tattoo. I am dangerously tanned, which enhances my muscle-tone, giving me anything but a suburban look. Did she notice my edgy yellow Nikes, perchance? Did she note my Forever 21 canvas bag??? The five o'clock shadow on my legs? The copy of The New Yorker peeking out over the top of my bag? Excuse me but here in Orange County, New York, I own the "edgy" label, hands-down.

She pulled out a truly heinous number from the rack. I thought Cher, Liza Minelli, Lola Falana and Charo. I restrained my Columbia J School self from chastising her for abusing the English language because what she meant by the use of the word "edgy" was clearly "tacky."

I smiled and said I knew what fit me. And this wouldn't.

But she held her ground and gave a secret superior smile. Everyone loves this dress, she said. It's magic. Everyone cannot believe how good they look in it.

The gauntlet was thrown. Okay, I said, shrugging my bag to the ground, untying my hoodie from my waist. I will try it on.

But even before I zipped the monstrous creation up, I wanted to escape through the back of the dressing room, find a "Chronicles of Narnia"-kind of escapeway.

I looked worse than ridiculous, worse than tacky.

In the magical dress I looked fat and middle-aged.

Okay! I called to her from inside my cubicle. It's horrible, but I'm coming out!

I watched the saleswoman's face go from smug to shocked.

It's a disaster, I said, gesturing to my reflection in the mirror, stating the obvious.

I kind of see what you mean, she kind of admitted, playing around with the fabric, showing me how it might work better, telling me that I had a "cute" figure.

But I had reached my limit.

Listen, I said, turning to her, hand on hip. You don't know me at all. I am a writer and a publicist. I live in Manhattan. I go to lots of parties. I'm 50 years old and I know what looks good on me.

Meekly, she nodded.

And, I added, heading back inside the cubicle where I planned to tear the monstrosity off my "cute" figure, you obviously cannot tell but I'm pretty edgy. I am known and admired for my edgy fashion sensibility. And this...this the complete opposite. Just saying.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Imminent Departure of the Music

It is a day of technological glitches, too boring to explain.

It is also a day of firsts: Little Babe's first driving lesson, one day after he got his Learner's Permit at the Goshen DMV. Mazel Tov Little Babe, the first of The Three Babes to achieve this milestone! Tonight he will sit through a 5-hour session while I skip off to Straub's Fitness ("Searching for Bobby Fischer" is playing at the Cardio Theatre) and possibly putter up to the Barnes and Noble in Newburgh to buy my son the Hemingway work that is required summer reading for Junior year English. (What? Hey, there are two weeks left until school starts!)

Behold my youngest child under the trees by the edge of the woods, playing his new Marcus Miller Jazz Bass, which he spent his entire camp salary on. We bought it last night at the Guitar Center on Route 17 in New Jersey, capping off a two-plus hour visit where we jammed, sang in the guitar room ("Let it Be" and "Landslide" sounded especially great on the 12-string Martin) and schmoozed with customers and salesmen alike. It made me happy that the drum dude recognized me from my last visit two months earlier. We talked about finding a comfortable distance between throne and drum kit. I bought a copy of Drum! magazine (with Chad Smith of the RHCP on the cover!!!) and a couple of sets of sticks to show how serious a musician I am, a rocker chick in my own right, not just the mother of the kid contemplating buying an $800 jazz bass. The drum dude showed me the used drum kits but I was not ready to commit to a purchase though I long to play in the privacy of my own space, a girl drummer, not a girl anymore.

Little Babe's purchase, however, more than justified our visit. Lovingly, he lay the instrument down in the back seat of our Honda and when we returned to the bungalow, he lifted it out gingerly, joyfully, like a father bringing a newborn child home from the hospital. I fell asleep to the sound of him playing, well after midnight.

And here is the Love Shack, already wearing a look of melancholy at the approach of Labor Day, the imminent departure of the music.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The News from a Middle of a Carefree American Summer Day

"It's been too quiet," said my sister over the phone, my baby sister, the mother of three boys, who lives in Israel, which means that her sons are all/will all be soldiers.

The eldest had just been released from his military duty last month having received the highest honors of officer. The middle one, the sensitive musician, the budding socialist, had just been inducted last Monday, Big Babe's birthday.

As news from today's terrorist attack in Israel filtered through on my BlackBerry, my laptop, my iPad, I thought of the Egged Bus I took last year from Jerusalem to Eilat and shivered. Was it that bus that was attacked, I asked my sister?

No, she said. That is a different bus. This one left Beersheva for Eilat, taking a special road that Bedouins control.

I noted that the wounded and dead were taken to Soroka Hospital, where Middle Babe was taken when she became dehydrated in the Negev four years earlier. I noted that one of the dead Israelis was a 22-year-old Golani soldier.

Two sisters talk on the phone, one in the middle of a carefree American summer day, one in the somber Israeli night after a terrorist attack on civilians, the mother of little boys who grow up to be soldiers in a country where the concept of a carefree summer day does not exist.

Hava Nagila Wake-Up

o, I overslept this morning because of the venti cup of Starbucks I had at 8 p.m. last night on my way to the free screening of Mars Attack on the Pier 1 on the Hudson river at about 70th Street, which made me remain wide-eyed until 2 a.m. forced to watch the traffic along Amsterdam while attempting to catch up on work.

It seems my life can be measured by cups of coffee. Now I'm sitting at the dining room table in the urban bungalow guzzling my second cup of Zabar's French Italian blend. My eyes look heavy-lidded in Middle Babe's make-up mirror. Briefly, I contemplate sticking my face in a bowl of ice water. Isn't that from some movie? Or from the video of Huey Lewis and the News's "I Want a New Drug?"

While talking to Big Babe in Berlin, I pulled up a video clip of 17-year-old Olympic contender Alexandra Raisman doing an extraordinary gymnastic routine to the tune of "Hava Nagila."

Watch it and wake up:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Groove Without End: Ayn Sof Arkestra on the Hudson. Moon Included.

If you think this looks like a spaceship has just landed on the banks of the Hudson, you're not completely out of your mind.

This is a picture of last night's Mostly Music performance by the Ayn Sof Arkestra at Memorial Park in Nyack and to borrow a cliche, it was out of this world; groove without end, musical mayhem, shock waves of aesthetic ecstasy.

Sometimes frantic, always funky, Ayn Sof Arkestra is a host of stellar musicians who delight and swing with their original compositions. Founded by musical gedolim Rabbi Greg Wall and Frank London, ASA fuses klezmer, jazz, soul, secret agent tracks, funk and hipster sounds. With young talent Zach Mayer, (son of my friend Lisa Mayer, a klezmer queen herself) as well as grown-up greats Jordan Hirsch, Paul Shapiro, Mike Cohen, Jessica Lurie, Marty Fogel, Rob Henke, Pam Fleming, Ben Williams, Art Baron, Aaron Alexander, Uri Sharlin, Fima Ephron and Yoshie Fruchter, they left me plotzing, kvelling, rocking, rolling and reeling.

Ayn Sof Arkestra presented a holistic, body-slamming, mind-bending trip last night to everyone who was lucky enough to be there. As a huge orange moon rose over the Hudson, I thought I discerned the silhouettes of angels hovering over the bandshell.

What Lies Beneath

Well, one of the central mysteries of our summer has now been solved.

While approaching the bungalow upon his return from camp yesterday, Little Babe announced, "Nala is playing with an animal skull. So that's why she's basically been under the cabin all summer."

Stalking outdoors, I saw, indeed, that our pudgy little Pom was babysitting skeletal remains...with teeth. Some were attached, others had fallen onto the ground. Little Babe and his camp buddies looked on with mildly horrified gazes.

When I reached out my hand to retrieve my Little Pomette from beneath the bungalow, she growled at she had done all summer when I sought to coax her out and into the sunshine.

Suddenly, everything was illuminated. But I wasn't really surprised. I knew there was some reason our little dog was drawn to sit in the dank underbelly of our summer shack, a task she had undertaken, a dedicated stewardship, a mission, a cause that helped shape her days, giving her a reason for being.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

At Four in the Afternoon, After the Rain

At four in the afternoon
After the rain
Comes the blessing of sweet summer wind
Rays of sun shimmying between branches
A solitary white chair declares the greenness of the grass;
It is a soundstage for the songs of innumerable birds
The nearby woods a velvet curtain
I sit on my summer porch
Eating two peaches and a plum
Their tart juice surprised my tongue
Words of praise dance on my lips

Monday, August 15, 2011

Morning Has Broken

This is the last week of Rosmarins Day Camp. I'm pretty sure I discerned a heavy spirit draped around Little Babe as he diligently set off for his Monday morning staff meeting at 8:30...the final one of the season.

It's been an extraordinary summer for the Three Babes. My youngest had his first job -- Junior Counselor for 9-year-old boys. When he wasn't at camp, his time was filled with music and friends, romance and midnight swims, jam sessions, pizza and hamburgers. A week from today, he is scheduled to apply for his Learner's Permit at the Orange County DMV in nearby Goshen so that he can take driving lessons in the relative sanity of Monroe instead of Manhattan's stressful streets. We tease our older kids that their baby brother will be the first of the sibling group with a Driver's License. Big Babe, who favors European cities, has no use for cars and Middle Babe has a GC (Gentleman Caller) with his own wheels. (I know that sounds old-fashioned and sexist so let me add that she also has many female friends with cars. Besides, like Big Babe, she hardly ever finds herself anywhere without a great public transportation system.)

Middle Babe had her first post-college summer, complete with a full-time salaried position and all that goes with it -- lunch breaks, office mates, staff retreats, casual Fridays. I am proud and amazed that she, like her little brother, has a diligent work ethic. She also has a volunteer ethic. This Thursday, she is coordinating a fundraiser for Jewish Heart for Africa at an Upper East Side bar and I have volunteered to come early to help her set up, but mostly, I want to watch my little girl in action. Besides her GC, whom we all love dearly, she has many BFFs. Her summer was a jumble of sleepovers with friends and parties and weddings and weekend excursions.

And then there is my eldest, Big Babe, who turned 27 last week and whom I haven't seen since January. He, too, is thriving -- writing and traveling and doing his signature Borscht Belt comedy, leading tours of Jewish Berlin, working on a novel, hosting Shabbat and holiday meals, enjoying love of his own. Even with him so far away, I feel his presence in the midst of my bungalow summer. He is virtually here through the magic of Skype and our regular phone conversations.

Finally, HOBB and I shared some marital magic in the course of a project we jointly undertook, which provided proof of the very thing we are best at -- creative collaboration. After working feverishly on the manuscript of his forthcoming memoir for months, my husband felt that the project still needed much work and asked me to read/edit it/interact with it. Reticent for just a millisecond (a workaholic/selfish inner voice tried to tell me that my first priority was my own overwhelming writing projects) I delved into the project with tremendous curiosity and just a tad of trepidation tempered with the confidence that I possessed the alchemical ability to sharpen dull insights, shine dusty prose, focus nebulous narrative; in other words, transform his work-in-progress into a modern literary masterpiece.

The opportunity to interact with the first draft of HOBB's efforts proved thrilling. I was greatly honored to be granted access to this work. Completely absorbed, I felt like a seamstress, a plastic surgeon, a construction worker, an executioner. I cheered and berated him, I challenged and needled him, I struck out words that served as dead weight; I wrote in details and passages that seemed glaringly absent. The process took several weeks. It involved close reading, reacting, yelling, guffawing, cursing, congratulating, praising, gnashing my teeth, long walks, hour-long phone conversations, arguments and ultimately breakthroughs. I woke up early and stayed up late. My eyes blurred. I took to wearing the quaint/cool red reading glasses from Ricky's that I had bought on sale for my old age.

Pacing until the newly-edited pages were ready to be pounced on, HOBB was delighted, declaring the work reshaped in important ways, proclaiming that I forced positive change in his writing, pushed him past mediocrity, discovered truths hidden between the lines. We marveled, through the process, that we had discovered a new amity 28 years into our union, one which we had briefly tasted but which had never been so sustained and so strong.

Passion we have always had. My husband and I do not lack for crimson emotions, fur flying, words careening off walls, shouts, hugs, clashes, blood, sweat, tears, ecstasy and hysterical laughter.

But this was something new. This was passion that was focused and wholly positive. It did not exclude impassioned argument -- a hallmark of our relationship -- but the basis of the argument was conceptual...not personal. Nurturing not volatile.

This new form of friendship filled me with warmth and generosity of spirit. We both marveled at the magic that had overtaken us. We felt we were our highest selves, the best form of us ever. Truly BFF.

Now the manuscript has been rewritten and passed onto a posse of new readers including close friends and our own children. Comments are coming back. HOBB is feeling grateful but also overwhelmed, confused, sick of the project or at least the endless work.

At this moment, the role I need to play is clear to me. The selfish/workaholic voice inside me has not totally disappeared but I have a really strong set of lungs and can out-shout anyone, if necessary. The last time I felt so unambiguous about assuming a responsibility on behalf of someone else was when I first became a parent.

This analogy is apt because writing anything of worth is akin to giving birth.

The marital magic we gained during our collaboration still suffuses the summer. The way we fit together as creative collaborators still dazzles us. It is the thing I had foreseen when first we met, nearly 28 years ago. It was the carrot dangled before me, a glimmer of Eden, a wisp of a promise.

It was the promise of such a partnership that I pinned all my youthful dreams on, the hope that I might find in this man a journalistic yang to my literary yin, a stable center to my thirst for adventure. This was the bashert I believed in all along.

Oh, and in case you hadn't figured it out, the video at the top of this post features our pooches, Alfie and Nala. It was filmed in my bungalow bedroom early this the morning and captures their inimitable cuteness and chemistry, proving that bashert is hardly the exclusive domain of humans.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It Takes Two to Tango...or Does It?

Alright, alright...

Seems that everybody and their uncle has been posting about HOBB's bold article in the recent NY Jewish Week which critiques the NY Times's coverage of the 1991 Crown Heights riots, detailing how the paper falsely framed the resulting anti-Jewish violence as an even-handed racial conflict.

So I guess it is time for me to opine about the piece as well, which I did tweet about and post to my Facebook wall on Thursday.

But in order to do so, I must forgo writing about the drama at Straub's Fitness on Friday morning when one woman decided to hog the elliptical machine in the Cardio Theatre for the entire duration of The King's Speech, nearly touching off a rumble with another woman, the mother of 5-year-old triplets who was almost in tears because her workout had been hijacked.

Which brings me to my mother, who was fond of aphorisms.

"When in Rome, do as the Romans!" she liked to say as part of her ongoing effort to force me to conform with her ideal of how I ought to act, speak, dress and think.

"It takes two to tango!" she would proclaim when one of us came to her complaining that the other provoked a fight.

Though it was a few years before I learned that the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and therefore, should never invoked as role models by Jews, I knew at a young age that this "two to tango" business was complete BS.

Any kid who has ever been bullied could tell you that.

Yet, in covering violent clashes, many newspapers persist in sustaining the "two to tango" trope, possibly because they don't want to give the appearance of bias or in pursuit of that impossible ideal -- fairness -- or commendably, owing to their commitment to objectivity.

As HOBB reports, the Times bungled the story behind the Crown Heights riots big time, spinning it as a conflict between blacks and Jews...when it fact it was open season on the local Jewish community by local blacks enraged by the tragic yet accidental death of a young black boy. That terrible and regrettable death led, in turn, to the vengeance murder of a rabbinical student visiting from Australia.

Wow. Writing that paragraph felt really uncomfortable because I had to keep inserting the word "black" as a modifier. I thought to use "African American" to mix things up but that would not be accurate as many of the residents of Crown Heights during that time were West Indian and Caribbean; indeed the parents of Gavin Cato, the 7-year-old who was killed were Guyanese immigrants.

Referring to Jews, however, I was able to vary my vocabulary by using both "Jew," "Jewish," and even "rabbinical."

Still, in its coverage of the Crown Heights riot, the Times adopted my mom's mantra: "It takes two to tango."

Twenty years ago, telling the truth about what was going on in Crown Heights would have entailed employing two highly uncomfortable stereotypes -- angry black people and victimized Jews.

Though it appears that the Times's error in framing the story as a "he said/she said" spat was motivated by editorial queasiness over portraying blacks as angry and violent, perhaps it was the nature of the second stereotype that really shaped the story.

As uncomfortable as it was to report on out-of-control black people, maybe the notion of Jews becoming the targets of racial hatred on the streets of New York City during the regime of its first black mayor was just too frightening for some Jewish editors at the Times, too creepily close to a trope that has a habit of recurring throughout history.

Twenty years after he shouted to his editor into a pay phone that the newspaper of record was getting the story wrong, my husband took it upon himself to set the record straight.

I was not on the streets of Crown Heights in August of 1991. But I was at Straub's Fitness this Friday morning and can report that in the case of the Elliptical Machine Almost-Rumble, one party was guilty of being a rude and inconsiderate machine hog, the other party robbed of her right to exercise during her one free hour a day as a busy mom of young triplets.

This is a trite comparison with a profound lesson. In the gym, as on the streets of a city, innocent people sometimes get kicked in the face in the course of something that is supposed to be a dance.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Out of this World

Here's the view from the 12th row center from last night's wildly energetic/hallucinogenic show @ Lincoln Center Out of Doors.

On stage is the outrageously inventive composer and digital violinist Todd Reynolds with wackadoodle/completely out of his mind "singer/multi-instrumentalist provocateur" Sxip Shirey, beat box god Adam Matta and a chorus of young violinists plus a tuba guy whose name I do not know. Their set of sheer amazingness was followed by dreamy prose and music by Laurie Anderson who was joined at the end by Lou Reed. Anderson's performance had a social critique/seventies-fabulous quality to it, reminding me of just how cutting-edge she was...and still is.

For those who have not experienced the magic of Damrosch Park on a summer night for the FREE cultural cornucopia of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, teleport yourselves there ASAP!!! Indeed, following last night's magic, I am about to can my plans for tonight in Nyack (a great destination in its own right) and beg, cajole and otherwise convince my friend Pesha to meet me back @ Lincoln Center for tonight's performances.

A shout-out to my good friend and J School classmate Vivien for inviting me to join her and her kick-ass friends Sally and Marilyn last night. After the show, Viv and I walked from Lincoln Center to the Hummus Place on Amsterdam and then, all the way, all the way, all the way home to Morningside Heights.

Music. Wine. Falafel. Friendship. New York City on a summer night.

It doesn't get better than that.

Here's what's on for tonight:

The funk is on when award-winning choreographer David Dorfman and his troupe join the musicians of The Family Stone for the world premiere of a new work on August 11, Prophets of Funk (Concert Edition). With its hits “Dance to the Music,” “Everyday People,” and “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” the Family Stone was synonymous with soul and funk and was also one of the first major bands on the national scene integrated along race and gender lines. Inspired by their groove, David Dorfman Dance unveils a 3 concert edition of a full-company work. Featuring a live band performance, outrageous costumes, striking lighting and visual effects, and gorgeous dance, it’s a non-stop celebration, in Dorfman’s words of, “the funk and joy of everyday life.”

Debo Band, which shares the August 11 bill is a Boston-based, Ethio-groove collective led by Danny Mekonnen. The band’s unique instrumentation—including horns, strings and accordion—was inspired by the Golden Age of Ethiopian music in the late 1960s and early 70s, but its accomplished musicians are giving new voice to that sound. Joining Debo is Ethiopian traditional dance and music troupe, Fendika, amazing young Azmari artists led by one of Ethiopia’s leading dancers Melaku Belay. Belay, one of the most active artists and arts advocates on the Addis Ababa scene today, is an innovative and virtuoso interpreter of Eskiska a traditional Ethiopian “shoulder dance”. He appeared at Out of Doors in 2008 dancing with Gétatchèw Mèkurya and The Ex.

Look for me in the 12th row center.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Break-Fast of Champions

Briefly, because HOBB really wants to go to sleep and the glare of the laptop acts like a searchlight in an otherwise-dark bungalow, here's what I did once Tisha B'Av ended at 8:35 p.m:

  • Ate (scrambled eggs, avocado, tomatoes, sharp cheddar cheese) and drank (lots of water and a strong cup of Oren's Beowulf Blend coffee w/organic half and half)
  • Hightailed it to Straub's Fitness @ 9:20 to run three miles on the elliptical machine while watching the first 36 minutes of Let Me In in the Cardio Theater...once again. (Actually I had only previously seen the first 30 minutes so I saw 6 scary new minutes!)
  • Drove to the ShopRite just up the hill and sashayed through the nearly empty store, singing aloud to the BeeGees songs they were playing, getting scared afresh by the middle-aged clerk with the black hair who looks like an escaped mental patient, wondering if I could really pull off a Flash Mob dance in the freezer section, and, oh yeah, buying stuff
  • Came home and ate the nectarines I bought at ShopRite while HOBB yelled at the customer service people at Netflix because we couldn't download the movie program from their site
  • Snuggled with HOBB on our creaky bungalow bed a short while later to watch The Resident on Netflix, probably the dumbest and most boring thriller I have ever seen (my choice, because HOBB was too burnt out to even think about making a movie selection)
Before I left Straub's I found out that they're showing The Bodyguard tomorrow -- which is actually later today -- so I've gotta sign off in order to get there @ 7 a.m. to get in my workout before a killer-diller work day in Manhattan followed by the FREE Laurie Anderson concert at Lincoln Center Out of Doors and a business meeting/karaoke at Soldier McGee's around 10 p.m.

And late, late, late at night -- which might technically be tomorrow morning -- HOBB gets to choose the Netflix movie, which we'll watch together on the non-creaky king-size bed of our apartment if I choose to stay in the city overnight, trading in one paradise for another.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Jerusalem, Viewed from the 9th of Av

On Sunday afternoon, I sat by the waters of Walton Lake and explained Tisha B'Av to my friend Sam, an interfaith minister whose real name is Joanna and who was raised Catholic.

Tisha B'Av is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, I said. Unlike Yom Kippur -- which is not supposed to be a somber day -- Tisha B'Av is a day of mourning, commemorating many Jewish calamities, including the destruction of the first (586 BCE) and second (70 CE) Temples in Jerusalem, the murder of over 100,000 Jews in the city of Betar by the Romans in 132 CE, which signaled the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, I explained.

According to Jewish history, Tisha B'Av -- literally the 9th day of the month of Av -- has bad karma. As anyone who has attended a Jewish summer camp can attest, the commemoration of the day often includes a litany of other tragic national events as well as readings or study about the contemporary uber-calamity for the Jews -- the Shoah.

A 25-hour fast day, Tisha B'Av is synonymous with exile, dispersion, wandering, homelessness, the longing for Zion.

Fasting aside, I was telling Sam how much I love Tisha B'Av, love to sink deep into sorrow, love to read the haunting poetry of the Book of Lamentations -- Eicha -- written by the prophet Jeremiah.

I told her how having lived in Jerusalem as a child, the stories of the Jewish people, even those contained in the Five Books of Moses and the books of the Prophets were immediate to me, that the characters therein were my kin.

And then last night, for the first time in my life, I realized something else about my connection to Tisha B'Av.

We were sitting in the Beit Knesset, the prayer house, at Camp Ramah in Nyack, visitors at their Tisha B'Av program. We had already heard a moving reading of Eicha in a candle-lit room, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Afterwards, we walked wordlessly outside with the staff of the camp to hear kinnot (dirges) sung by a choir of counselors while the word Yizkhor (remember) was lit aflame on a metal scaffold. When the fire burned out, we walked back to the Beit Knesset as young people formed a path, brandishing Israeli flags.

Inside the Beit Knesset there was more singing of mournful, beautiful melodies. An essay was read, a man with a distinctive Israeli accent began singing Naomi Shemer's classic "Jerusalem of Gold." A screen showed a 3-D depiction of the Temple in Jerusalem. And then, suddenly, there was footage from the Six Day War, film of Israeli soldiers fighting in the streets of Jerusalem.

My eyes filled with tears. On the screen was my Jerusalem, first encountered in that magical moment after the unlikely victory in 1967, the year before I arrived, the 7-year-old daughter of an American rabbi on sabbatical. The city that had been twice destroyed, and now, miraculously reclaimed was the one I first encountered. Watching the black and white film, I dwelled in recollection of that moment in history; it preceded the poisonous political pronouncements about the State of Israel or the rights of the Jews to the land or a state of their own or the misappropriation of the word "Nazi" to refer to the very people who were Nazism's primary target. It was a moment of pure celebration, of global goodwill towards the tiny country that successfully fended off an attack from its neighbors. That moment, that year in Israel following the '67 victory was one of unambiguous joy for the Jewish people. I interpreted it as a second significant sign that the world had emerged from darkness into light and what happened to Jews in the past would not happen anymore. The first was the establishment of Israel after the Shoah; it seemed to me akin to the rainbow after Noah's flood -- a sign of God's covenant and protection.

On Sunday afternoon, Sam listened to me speak about Tisha B'Av then pressed me to explain what the day meant to me. At first I was baffled, then frustrated, then annoyed. I had never sought to analyze my love of Tisha B'Av; indeed, it seemed pretty straightforward to me. Moreover, I was uncomfortable trying to extract a personal message from Tisha B'Av; it is a communal commemoration, as relevant to me as to any Jew in any place throughout time. Tisha B'Av is a link to the Jewish past. It is a moment to mourn without the complexity attached to consideration of Israel; it exists apart from discussions and debates and recognition of policies gone wrong or injustice or social problems in the Jewish state.

Isn't that enough?

Yet last night at Camp Ramah, I gained an insight, which is perhaps the explanation Sam was looking for all along. The lamentation over a Jerusalem Temple destroyed centuries ago evokes tangible grief in me not only because of my early encounter with the land of Israel but because of the particular moment our histories collided. Tisha B'Av is a living day of commemoration for me for I am an American Jew who first met Jerusalem in the heady aftermath of the Six Day War. Even with my feet planted in the soil of the 21st Century, the prophet Jeremiah's poetry surges through my veins, the destroyed Jerusalem Temple is my recent tragedy, the dispersed people are my family, I recall the bitter taste of recent exile. I access the sorrow of the day because I experienced its antithesis. Wondrous, I visited the newly-returned Western Wall, climbed Jerusalem's olive trees and and breathed in the dust of the Old City, walked her streets and walls and prayed in her holy tongue, understanding, for the first time, the meaning of the words. I am the child whose heart was pierced by the joyous present, but also the tragic past, who could never forget Jerusalem, who will forever see herself as a true daughter of Zion.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Birthday in Paris

At 7:33 in the morning, while walking around Goose Pond in downtown Monroe, I called Big Babe to wish him a Happy Birthday.

Twenty-seven years ago, after a troubled pregnancy that never went to term, my first-born child came hurtling into the world, hastening an event that I was hardly prepared for.

I was 23 and newly-married, a contradictory creature -- a young sophisticate/rebel/intellectual/tomboy/Lolita/troublemaker/spy/writer-at-large/abandoned child wanting to be saved. Having a kid was not the last thing on my mind; it was the very thing I was certain would never happen to me.

Yet love, marriage and a baby carriage came upon me in terrifying speed. So fast that it seemed the baby was about to be lost.

But my tiny son proved resilient, with powerful lungs and a feisty spirit. His Apgar score of 9 made me as proud as if he had aced the SATs. Within milliseconds of making his acquaintance, I fell utterly and heedlessly in love with the uninvited, underweight child placed perfunctorily on my chest before being whisked off to the newborn ICU. "Hello, Adam," I murmured, kissing the top of his head.

The thing I thought would signify the death of my youth offered, instead, the most profound spiritual and creative rebirth, the truest reason for being. The wound in my adopted-child soul was healed. I knew myself to be deeply blessed.

My little premie is in Paris today. Last night he sent me an email detailing the magic of his trip, the multiple ways in which his life intersected with the plot of the improbable yet charming Woody Allen film he just saw, Midnight in Paris, which finally made it across the pond. This morning, we spoke briefly as he was going into the Centre Pompidou. I was awash in love and longing...for Paris in the summer, yes, but mostly for my son.

Hanging up, a thousand memories came flooding over me -- the tiny infant, the curly-haired cherub, the chubby grade schooler, the cerebral teen, the young adult with whom I traveled to museums and European cities alike. We have shared a myriad movies, shows, afternoon trips to parks and zoos, adventures good and bad, illnesses, arguments, school performances, graduations, opinions, operas; all the mess and marvelousness of life.

Passing the morning walkers around Goose Pond, I was nearly consumed with pain over the passage of time, the sudden need to see my son, to hold him, to revisit everything that was, to immerse myself in remembrance of things past and moments sweet and forever gone.

But to exist in that place is maudlin and maddening. There is the matter of the here and now, the work requiring my attention, the matter of living, the task of turning pages, stepping forward into the future. I have always been bad at this even as I crave newness and beginnings. Secretly, I am sentimental, something I share with my firstborn.

And so, with great reluctance, I shook off the cloak of nostalgia and climbed out of my mental attic, replacing musty albums on shelves, returning to the Monday morning of a 50-year-old Manhattanite ambling around a pond in downtown Monroe, New York, foothill of the Catskills, repository of memories.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Black Cherries

It is after the deluge.

Crickets and cicadas chirp in the sweet night air outside my bungalow.

A two-thirds moon hangs pendulous in the cloud-spotted sky.

Tired pups rest on the kitchen floor.

A teenage boy -- my youngest -- plays guitar in the back room.

I sit on the screened porch facing the night forest, eating black cherries, my fingers sticky, remembering my Grandma Blanche, who loved black cherries, too.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Forty-Five Minute Movie Club

Best in Show, the hilarious 2000 mockumentary directed by Christopher Guest that parodies the world of competitive dog shows, has always been one of my fave films... even in my B.C. (before canines) days, before I really knew how crazy dog owners could be.

I've probably seen it more than ten times -- in movie theaters, on TMC on Sunday afternoons at the JCC gym, aboard planes, in hotel rooms, on DVD -- never tiring of the razor-edged spoofery, kooky subplots and the spot-on performances from Parker Posey, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean and Christopher G. himself.

The movie is so beloved to me that, in about ten minutes, I'll be dashing out of the bungalow and driving to Goshen so I can relive the hilarity...while also burning hundreds of calories, sweating like a beast, building my abs, glutes, quads, biceps and triceps and keeping my heart rate elevated.

Where can such an awesome experience be had?

At the Cardio Theater at my summer gym, Straub's Fitness -- a darkened room with ellipticals and stationary bikes instead of seats, a wide movie screen and extreme air conditioning -- the perfect fusion of culture, comfort and calisthenics.

The Cardio Theater at Straub's offers one film per day (which they replay over and over) ranging from the highly acclaimed to the inexplicable. Over the past ten days I saw Blue Velvet; Let Me In; Pulp Fiction and The well as a few other flicks whose names I cannot recall.

Oh wait. I did see something inane called My Fellow Americans. It had something to do with presidents and had an all-star, if elderly, cast. And then there was that clunky movie with Drew Barrymore where she plays a pregnant unmarried girl whose married lover is killed by her new boyfriend played by Owen Wilson. And then there was the one with Ben Kingsley where he plays a psychic psycho who kills people in really sick ways, carving out their eyes or something... I'm not sure because I was only semi-watching.

Yet, the sheer awfulness of these movies make them perfect for the Cardio Theater experience because they mildly entertain, or at least distract me from my exertion and then I have no problem walking away for I harbor no curiosity about the outcome of the plot nor the fate of the characters. It's kinda like a Zipless you-know-what.

Within the context of the Cardio Theater, awful is an asset because it enables me to adhere to my 45 minute cardio routine and then move onto other parts of my workout. In fact, when a movie is truly great, it is painful to leave just when the plot starts thickening. In the case of the quirky and creative Aussie flick Muriel's Wedding, I was so bereft to leave prematurely that I talked friends into renting it later that week so I could find out what happens.

Since Memorial Day weekend, I have seen the first 45 minutes of over 20 movies. Sometimes, my stay at the Cardio Theater is abbreviated because of prior plans (such as last night, where my limited time actually saved me as Let Me In got seriously gruesome around the 27 minute mark) and once or twice a summer I will actually stay for the ENTIRE film.

When this happens, I am left to bathe in the warm afterglow of holistic fulfillment. And wonderment. In a world where so much is wrong, I simply cannot believe that something as amazing as the Cardio Theater exists.

The Cardio Theater offers guilt-free (and FREE!!!) movie-going...any time I want (that is, between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. five days a week and 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekends...not bad). But the absolute greatest (and most my mind) aspect of the Cardio Theater is that it is the least popular feature at Straub's Fitness, meaning that it is completely underutilized, meaning that it is VIRTUALLY FREAKING EMPTY whenever I arrive!!!!

This means that I not only get the absolute BEST "seat" in the house, smack-dab in the middle of the room, but I score the best machine (the Precor elliptical with the yellow handles) AND THE TRAINER GRACIOUSLY STARTS THE MOVIE FOR ME AT THE BEGINNING AND I get to yap on my cell phone if I want because no one else is in the room with me so I don't become that jerk talking on the cell phone during the movie. I can also text with impunity, unconcerned that I am causing other movie-goers to squint at the glare from my LCD.

This, dear reader, is Bungalow Babe's definition of Nirvana.

Well, I've gotta get to Goshen because I intend to watch an entire movie tonight at the Cardio Theater and it'll take me about 15 minutes to get to the gym. But don't admire my devotion. I'm not being virtuous by planning to exercise for 90 minutes straight. This is sheer indulgence.

And oh, there is a Straub's much closer to me than the Goshen location. My local Straub's is about 5 minutes away, in downtown Monroe, but the movie they are showing today is The Name of the Rose. I saw that on a plane.

I recall that it kinda sucked.

Which would make it absolutely perfect for a 45 minute viewing at the Cardio Theatre if only Best in Show wasn't playing in Goshen.

UPDATE: 10:09 p.m.

I am back in the bungalow, sweaty but happy. Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians can hardly believe their good fortune; their mistress is a human salt stick. They are licking my legs and feet. Now, they have jumped up on the bed and are licking my arms.

When I left the bungalow, I realized that I really didn't want to travel to Goshen because I had driven there earlier in the day with Little Babe to apply for his Learner's Permit at the county DMV. And just before my Goshen run, I had done a round-trip to Manhattan in order to teach a morning class on the Upper West Side. So, with a sigh and a shrug, I turned left off of Route 17M into the parking lot of the Straub's in downtown Monroe.

After all, I can see Best in Show whenever I want. Perhaps on my laptop. I think I even saw it for sale at Shoprite.

Entering the luxuriously empty Cardio Theater, I plunked my bag down, claimed the best machine, took out my BlackBerry and put it on the monitor, removed my tank top and baseball hat and spent 48 minutes running in my sports bra and shorts to one of the most entertainingly bad films ever made: The Name of the Rose.

Alone in the dark room, I screeched with laughter, groaned, snorted, hooted, heckled, conducted a phone conversation, talked back to the screen and generally had a blast. I hardly know what to praise first: the cliched dialogue, the ominous music, the hideous monks, the requisite hunchback, the grotesque murders, the hint of Satan, the creepy castle, the semi-hot nude sex scene featuring a young Christian Slater or Sean Connery as the world's most implausible celibate. Four miles later, I was in a state of ecstasy. And because the movie sucked so badly, it was easy to leave in order to finish my workout in the weight room where I was so inspired that I found myself doing extra reps, which I haven't done in, oh, years.

It was a night to remember at Straub's Cardio Theater.