Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Picasso Woman

Two weeks ago, after returning from a business trip to Las Vegas, I felt a sharp pain in the left side of my back while getting out of my car and knew that something dramatic had befallen me.

The sensation was alarming. Over the next few days, a thought became lodged in my mind -- my body is broken. Heeding the alarm, I decided to investigate.

One trip to the Emergency Room and several exploratory doctors' visits later, I learned that my childhood scoliosis had quietly progressed over five decades so that not only was my spine woefully twisted, but my left ribcage painfully lifted, my neck unnaturally extended forward, the muscles in my middle back rendered useless, a nerve pinched, my sacrum jolted out of alignment...and a host of related complications had developed.

Left untreated, said Dr. Liu, the intuitive acupuncturist, palpating my back while I yelped in pain, people like me often end up confined to a wheelchair. While pressing and prodding several points on my back, he asked me about other, less painful symptoms and was thoroughly unsurprised when I told him of my excessive thirst, my frequent bathroom visits, my rushes of overwhelming heat, my thyroid medication.

Dr. Liu drew the connection between spine and bladder, hormones and health. He located the origin of my thyroid condition to the hypothalamus. He asked if I had been forgetful lately (I had). He asked me if I noticed that my hands were cold, despite my hot flashes. (I had not). He praised my energy and penchant for exercise. The good news, he reassured me, is that by first healing the pinched nerve and balancing the body and then strengthening the back, I could regain my health.

I nearly cried at his optimistic prognosis. Growing up with a mother who had a chronic back problem, who had surgeries and wore special metal braces and was restricted in her activities, I could not bear the idea of being similarly afflicted. Indeed, my childhood athleticism, my penchant for riding bikes and climbing trees and jumping off high walls and the roofs of garages was a defiant refutation of her and her physical limitations.  My vigorous tomboyishness was yet one more way in which I, her adopted child, was fundamentally different from her.

The pain-free adulthood I had enjoyed thus far seemed my birthright. While I watched friends, my husband, my sister and strangers cope with back problems, I clucked in sympathy, all the while feeling smug, boastful and secretly superior.

Yet while laying on Dr. Liu's examination table, I recalled two instances I had conveniently banished from memory: physical exams wherein doctors had noted that my scoliosis was significant, expressing surprise that it had not been corrected in childhood.

The defect was there all along. Reveling in my body's wholeness and strength, I ignored it and now I was broken.

Did I want to regain my health? Dr. Liu asked, peering seriously at me.

Yes! I replied. Yes and yes and yes!

Then you have to listen to me, he said.

Though it sounded rhetorical, Dr. Liu's question was a serious one. Did I want to regain my health? Of course I did!

But what this meant was following his advice and taking the rigorous treatment seriously. Not only the needles, but the massage and the electrical muscle stimulation. I have now had three sessions. The treatment is exhausting, difficult yet transformative.

But what Dr. Liu was asking me as well was whether I was willing to become an active participant in my healing. Was I willing to work towards recovery? Was I willing to learn about my body and honor its holistic integrity? Was I willing to take responsibility for my healing?

The prospect of partnership made me nearly giddy with joy. This quest is an essential one in my life. I seek partnership creatively and spiritually. I believe in Buber's I and Thou paradigm for a human-God relationship. I crave collaboration in work and friendship. My entire life has been spent seeking a true yedid nefesh -- soulmate.

In partnership with Dr. Liu, I have consulted a spine specialist whose findings confirm his. In the manner of females the world over, I have begun sharing my story with friends and hearing their stories in return, getting names and recommendations, learning about the benefits of swimming, special shoe inserts, vitamins, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, special pillows.

During my first session with Dr. Liu, I knew I had walked through a portal of self-discovery that would yield insights about much more than my body.

I understood that the imbalance in my spine and skeleton was metaphorical.

It is truly my life that is out of balance.

The crisis of the discovery of my degraded scoliosis is a grand opportunity to address that imbalance.

Last night, HOBB accused me of being obsessed with my back problems, boring him with endless conversation about it. I admitted that I was obsessed but found it an utterly compelling topic.

Just yesterday, as I stood in the office of the spine specialist, I told him that I always had a sense of my body as lopsided, that I recognized myself in Picasso's cubist depictions of women.

"I am a Picasso Woman," I said, while he measured my hips, the rotation of my neck, the extension of my arms and legs. The young doctor paused, considering my words. "The imbalance of your spine is the problem. The pain is just a symptom. Most people only seek relief for the pain without addressing the real problem," he said.

I am a Picasso Woman and this moment of crisis is a portal to self-discovery, a new palette for a beautiful and complex and possibly painful work of art.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Connecting the Dots: from the Gym to Shul to Lincoln to The Moody Blues. Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed. Episode 8.

Because it is anyone's guess how long these awesome polka dot tights will last, I asked HOBB to photograph me in my shul outfit just after Shabbat.

About the outfit:
  • Tights from Hue
  • The Dr. Martens ankle boots I have worn in virtually every photo.
  • Ann Taylor Loft black dress with cap sleeves and silver buttons down my back, (like Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack.) bought about four years ago.
  • H&M boiled wool black jacket with military styling and bold buttons, bought also around four years ago.
  • Chanel costume pearl necklace with pendant from my late mother-in-law Judy.
I wore this outfit to Congregation Ramath Orah, arriving in time for the kiddush, having spent most of my morning at the gym at the JCC in Manhattan. (This was actually my plan as I prefer davening in an egalitarian shul. In this behavior, I know I am hardly alone; indeed, when it comes to Orthodox synagogues, I proudly own the mantle of being a JFK Jew: Just for Kiddush. About the gym on Shabbat morning... Yeah. Well, every now and then I take a break from formalized prayer services. And I was still feeling buoyed by the Friday night service at Romemu.)

As I write, I am plotting what to wear for my evening plans, which include the 7:20 p.m. showing of Lincoln with HOBB and friends, followed by who-knows-what.

Shavua Tov. May it be a good week.


Though I got the sense that everyone in the theater LOVED Lincoln, I was bored silly. It was too epic, too important, too serious. Never for a moment did I believe that Daniel Day Lewis was Abraham Lincoln, nor Sally Field Mary Todd Lincoln. It felt to me like a school assignment. I became the teenager whose parents forced her to watch the long historical movie on Channel 13 while she wanted to watch the Rolling Stones perform live on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. 

Mine was a minority opinion in my group, though I was pretty sure that no one actually loved the movie, with the exception of possibly HOBB, who has been listening to Team of Rivals on audiobooks.

After the movie, we went to Bella Luna on Columbus Avenue. Two glasses of Shiraz -- and a lovely Sicilian salad and tilapia entree -- later, I forgot about the movie.

Besides, tomorrow night I get to do better than watch a rock band perform on TV.

I'm going to the Moody Blues concert at the NYCB arena in Westbury, LI with bungaleer buddies.

It feels like my reward for sitting through a long and boring history lesson.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Subway Stations and Bomb Shelters. Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed, #7

A mere two and a half weeks after Hurricane Sandy brought the mighty MTA subway system to a standstill, the trains in New York City are (mostly) up and running.

So reliably are they operating now that I actually forgot that there had ever been a transit shutdown.

So, on Thursday night, returning from a performance of the marvelous off-Broadway show -- The Lobby Hero -- which stars the gifted Noam Harary (the son of my friends Miriam and Ralph Harary and childhood friend of Big Babe's from Rosmarin's Bungalow Colony) I had to pause and capture the moment at the 116th Street Columbia University station.

In this picture, I am wearing houndstooth patterned tights from Hue; a black cocktail dress from Second Time Around (purchased for $25. A metziah!); an ancient Old Navy peacoat acquired about 15 years ago; and my Dr. Martens Darcie ankle boots. I also have a Kenneth Cole handbag in faux gold distressed leather, that I bought this summer at Woodbury Commons for a pittance.

This picture was taken Thursday night, as the situation in Israel and Gaza was beginning to escalate, the result of Israel's assassination of a Hamas leader weeks after the country had been under prolonged rocket attack from Gaza. On my way to the theater, I passed by a pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel rally in front of the Israeli Consulate. Tucked into the crowd were the usual anti-Zionistic Hasidic men, a sight that typically makes me want to scream and laugh all at once. This time, I also saw a breed of protestor I had never noted before: young Jews bearing signs announcing that they were Jewish and against Israel.

Holding their signs aloft, they lustily joined the chorus of voices denouncing the Jewish State.

Noam Harary's mother, Miriam, is Israeli. As I walked towards the theater district with HOBB, we spoke about the situation, trading news of what we had heard and whom we had spoken to. We talked about Miriam and her family, my sister, her husband, his extended family and their three boys -- one in the IDF, the other, a reservist -- and my brother and sister-in-law and their two tiny boys and the innumerable friends we have in Israel. We knew that they would be spending many hours in bomb shelters; some had already spent a portion of the previous night there.

Just as the Upper West Side was spared entirely from Hurricane Sandy's wrath, in New York City, we are are entirely protected from the terrifying assault of rockets or the knowledge of an enemy who dreams of our demise. At moments like this, the magnificence and strangeness of being a 21st Century American Jew overtakes me. As a result, riding the recently-hobbled subway, thoughts of our local hurricane accommodate another awareness: of missiles whizzing overhead, of sirens blaring, of people huddling for shelter, of injuries and trauma, interrupted lives, inevitable death.

This awareness is the occupational hazard of being a New York Jew who loves Israel.

As war simmers on the horizon of a nation half the world away, I attend an off-Broadway show. The drama absorbs me and I applaud the son of my Israeli friend for his stellar performance. And then I leave the cocoon of the theater and my prior consciousness returns.

At the 116th Street Columbia University subway station, no one watching me pose for my husband would have guessed that my carefree pose was an utter lie.

If you look closely, you will see that I am grimacing.

Leaning into the steel beam, my mind was far away, my heart heavy, fear running like lead through my veins.


Thinking about this post all day, I was troubled by the seemingly frivolous fashion digression in the midst of a serious meditation on being an Israel-focused Jew in post-Sandy NYC.

At first I wondered whether I ought to remove the mention of my outfit, but then, visiting Facebook, I saw several posts by people in Israel pondering what is appropriate or not appropriate to wear into a bomb shelter.

After running into her building's bomb shelter wearing a Victoria's Secret nightie, one woman wrote that she resolved to sleep in sweatpants and baggy shirts during this crisis. Girls on the Tel Aviv beach discussed the politics of wearing their bathing suits into the miklat. Other people made note of their lack of appropriate foot gear as they scrambled downstairs during the night.

What to wear into a bomb shelter is not a screaming magazine headline but a pragmatic consideration during a moment of life and death.

As for me, the impetus is much more simple.

Remembering what I wore helps me remember where I was during pivotal moments in the history of the world.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

After A Late Quartet. Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed. Episode 6.

Yesterday afternoon, HOBB and I joined half of the retirees of the Upper West Side at the 5:30 showing of A Late Quartet at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. Having just submitted the manuscript for his forthcoming book on the quest to master the cello in middle age, HOBB had high hopes for the film, anticipating that he would be able to relate to its characters -- aging musicians in a Manhattan string quartet.

When he fell asleep a mere ten minutes into the film, I should have realized how severely his expectations had been dashed. Having jostled his arm to wake him up, I later regretted my decision for he proceeded to spend the duration of the film vacillating between deep boredom and disgust for the characters' immorality and self-absorption.

As for me, I was simply astonished at the film's lack of authenticity, its wooden dialogue and the predictability of the plot. I also found A Late Quartet shockingly shallow, with pretensions of high culture. It was frankly depressing to watch such fine actors inhabit roles that were two-dimensional, at best.

My favorite movie moment came early on, when a bag of Zabar's coffee is visible on the counter of Philip Seymour Hoffman's character's kitchen. My least favorite moment was when the twenty-something daughter of Hoffman and Catherine Keener -- who is having sex with her mother's former lover -- breaks into gales of giggles when her mother shows up at her place.

In what realm is the prospect of your mother finding you in bed with a guy she also screwed an occasion for hilarity? Also, in what realm would you actually be interested in having sex with your mother's ex, who, incidentally, had watched you grow up?

Still, it was fun to grab a movie with the early bird special crew. And it is always fun to find fellowship with your spouse over a film that you mutually hate.

Notes on my outfit: In this picture, I am sitting on our dining room table, wearing a pair of tasseled black knee socks from H&M that I bought five years ago, a Vivienne Tam black dress with a swingy skirt, bought at Loehmann's, a burgundy scarf from Zara's in Venice, given to me by Big Babe, a black, faux leather motorcycle jacket from Bagatelle, also purchased at Loehmann's, and black Aletta ankle boots from Dr. Marten.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Trip to Goshen

Little Babe, my seventeen-year-old son, is a natural born driver.

The first (and only) of my three children with this proclivity, he received his learner's permit last summer, two months after his sixteenth birthday. Living in Europe for the past six years, 28-year-old Big Babe has no use for driving; planes, the U-Bahn, S-Bahn and Eurail take him where he needs to go. Similarly, 24-year-old Middle Babe, living in our Manhattan apartment, has not been particularly motivated to acquire her license, satisfied as she is with subways, taxis and car rides with her Gentleman Caller.

It's not that he fantasizes about getting his own wheels. Little Babe is captivated by the prospect of the open road and the promise of cross-country trips with friends.  Like me, he equates driving with freedom. Getting behind the wheel, he attaches the radio's auxiliary cable to his iPod and a curated musical journey commences.

"Cake has the best driving music!" he proclaimed this past Friday as their wry and mournful song, "Wheels" filled our vehicle while we drove over the Tappan Zee bridge on our way upstate, wailing the song's final lament in unison: "Why you say you/Are not in love with me?" Minutes later, he switched tracks and we were rocking out to David Bowie's buoyant "Modern Love," taking turns with the call-and-response chorus: "Never gonna fall for Modern Love (walks beside me)/ Modern Love (walks on by)/ Modern Love (gets me to the church on time)/ Modern Love (terrifies me)/Modern Love (makes me party)/Modern Love (puts my trust in God and man)."

So exuberant are our music-drenched journeys that I sometimes feel as if our destinations are incidental; the spatial equivalents of Hitchcock's MacGuffins.

Yet some destinations are essential, for instance, Goshen, NY -- the setting for Little Babe's pending road test.

A bit of background: after racking up more than 80 hours on the road (30 more than the required 50) and having completed the mandatory five-hour pre-licensing course (twice), Little Babe was crushed when his appointment in Goshen had to be cancelled two weeks ago because our Honda had no gas... and neither did any of the nearby gas stations in post-Sandy New York City.

In the context of Hurricane trauma, Little Babe's cancelled road test was a minor inconvenience, still, it was disappointing. The cancellation also rendered our loopy adventure the previous night -- when we journeyed to a driving school in a terrifying and remote Bronx neighborhood that administered the mandatory pre-licensing test after discovering that Little Babe's safety certificate from the previous summer had expired two months earlier -- idiotic, dangerous and unnecessary.

The cancellation of Little Babe's road test further meant a six-week wait time for a new appointment, which stood to delay Little Babe's dream of driving to his high school by more than a month.

In the manner of mothers everywhere, I was certain that through sheer ingenuity and tenacity, I could bypass the system that stood to make my kid miserable.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Complaint is a Gift...or the Art of Haute Kvetching

On October 4th, following a disappointing trip to the Bronx Zoo with Big Babe and his lady love, I dashed off the following letter of complaint:
Dear Bronx Zoo,
I cannot believe that I am writing to you -- one of my favorite NYC venues -- to let you know how disappointed I was at my most recent visit....which was this past Sunday, September 30th.
Arriving at the zoo around 3 pm with my son and girlfriend -- who live in Berlin -- we were presented with two levels of payment: basic and the all-encompassing exorbitant fee, which included rides and special exhibitions.
We decided that as we had about two and a half hours, the basic fee would suffice.
Sadly, because so many important attractions are now behind a paywall -- and other exhibitions were just empty -- we saw pathetically little for our $16 admission per person.
The zoo does, however, have a new Disney kind of look. It seems that Halloween cannot arrive early enough...with all the spooky decorations....more than a month before Halloween itself.
I call that cheap and infuriating.
Your patrons would prefer fewer gravestones and more animals.
And speaking of gravestones, unless you pay through the nose, it seems that the average person's trip to the Bronx Zoo is going to be kind of...dead.
How can you address this problem?
First off...I believe you have an obligation to inform the public at the entrance if key exhibitions are closed or under renovation. Signs at the entrance heralding the closing of an iconic exhibition such as the Monkey House would have been greatly appreciated. Even the Zoo employee outside the building agreed that it was not fair to patrons as he absorbed our shock and disappointment when we arrived to find a "Closed for Renovation" sign on the building.
But that was hardly the only problem.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Menschiness as Religious Calling

Maybe it's because I'm a PK* but I've got this stubborn belief that people of the cloth need to be, above all, mensches.

"Zay a mensch!" my Grandpa Leon would admonish us, looking like a fierce teddy bear in his wire-rimmed glasses and Winnie-the-Pooh belly. The Yiddish commandment to be a good human being was one of the mantras of my childhood, stated often, modeled by the adults in my life who were unfailingly responsible, fair, honest and decent...often boringly so, in my estimation.

In my childhood neighborhood of Douglaston, NY, it seemed to me that there was a maddening epidemic of menschiness. For evidence of grown-ups being thrillingly bad, I needed to look towards Great Neck (where I went to school), Manhattan (where I aspired to live as soon as possible), or the movies, where all manner of delicious misdeeds were being perpetrated by parents -- divorce, alcoholism, gambling addiction, drug use, adultery, white collar crime.

Locally, it was Vanilla City -- good marriages, intact families, responsible parents, school buses arriving on time, new outfits and shoes for the holidays, business as usual, blah, blah, blah, blah.

(Of course, being the height of the sexual/youth revolution, the local teens conducted their own business, which was far from vanilla. Still, the message from the adult world remained zay a mensch.)

Within this Xanadu, the mensch of all mensches was my father, the charismatic Conservative pulpit rabbi who bore an uncanny resemblance to the late, great American president, John F. Kennedy with his blue eyes, wide forehead and imposing stature. In his social-justice-saturated speeches and empathetic interactions with congregants alike, my dad was wise, kind, caring and committed to practicing what he preached. More than anyone I know, he walked the walk.

To this day, I have never seen another person bring as much comfort to the bereaved or throw a lifeline to the despondent or be such a loyal spouse and parent. The ultimate badge of my dad's popular appeal is that even the rebellious teens of Douglaston loved him.

As a rabbi, he was a rock star of righteousness.

Decades later, the retired rabbi and psychologist still plies his menschlichkeit from his impromptu pulpit -- the hospital bed at the rehab center where he has graduated to, following hip replacement surgery last week -- being kind and appreciative to the staff, his roommate, his family and visitors alike.

And when I shared with him, earlier this morning, a disturbing story of a religious leader whose ruthlessness was rapidly becoming one of the most striking features of their personality, he asked why no one had publicly censured them.

Fear, I opined.

Of what? he pressed.

Of what, indeed. Even ruthless people are mortal.

I have been shaped enormously by my upbringing as the daughter of a righteous rabbi and the granddaughter of a rabbi who preached the gospel of menschlichkeit. Rather than run in horror from people of the cloth, I have actually gravitated towards work with religious leaders, gratified by the menschiness of most I have worked with.

As a PK, I will readily admit that my expectations for clergy are high.

But I believe I am right to expect sterling character of someone who bears the title of spiritual leader.

Obviously, it is no chidush** that clergy are people too, with needs, wants, insecurities and flaws and it is wrong to have unrealistic expectations.  Over the past few decades, we have seen just how flawed clergy can be. As with the general population, the spectrum of clerical misconduct that has come to light ranges wildly -- from mild misdeeds to outright criminality, including sexual abuse, theft and even murder.

What is interesting to me is that another category of clerical misconduct is often overlooked and that is behavior and speech that is rude, hostile, abusive, dishonest, mean-spirited, obnoxious and unkind.

I am not referring here to a one-off intemperate utterance or an isolated instance of poor judgment or a rare, rash decision made under great duress.

I am not wagging my finger at ordinary shortcomings, missteps and failures that are part of being human.

What I am talking about is an ongoing pattern of inexcusable behavior that makes you wonder why the person in question chose to be a practitioner of the ultimate people profession.

Those who have been ordained as men and women of God have an overarching responsibility -- call it a calling -- to be mensches.

The way I see it, the misuse of one's status as spiritual leader is a grave violation that demands an outcry from a congregation of good people.

Or a few brave individuals.

Or even one lone voice.

So here's another lesson from my childhood, this one from my mother: People who are ugly on the inside cannot conceal their true nature from eventually springing forth. Meanness plays on a person's mouth, turning it into a permanent sneer. Hatred mottles facial skin. A Machiavellian mind puts sharp grooves in one's forehead. Scheming squints one's eyes.

In other words, the failure to act like a mensch is not an invisible affliction. It is a character defect that one ends up wearing, a mask of metaphysical and moral ugliness.

*Preacher's kid
**New teaching

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Ann

A year and half after I disconnected our cable TV -- finding it too noisy, too expensive, too time-wasting and too distracting -- HOBB resubscribed.

"Join me," my husband implored, last night, from the living room couch where he was avidly watching the Republican National Convention. Having recently arrived home after a day at North Shore University Hospital with FOBB (father of Bungalow Babe), followed by a trip into Brooklyn to retrieve Little Babe from an end-of-internship dinner, I was happily seated at the dining room table, replying to work emails.

"Ummmm. O....kay," I reluctantly assented, abandoning my earlier plan of achieving Nirvana by watching a few episodes of Law and Order: SVU on Netflix.

Plunking down on the adjoining couch, instantly joined by Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians, I arrived just in time to watch Ann Romney take the podium and enchant America with her captivating kindergarten teacher cadence and her message of "Can't Help Loving that Mitt of Mine."

And while I admit to being less horrified than I thought I would be by the prospective president's wife, I was demoralized by the mythology of America that she perpetuated and the real life cluelessness she cannot help but exude.

"Oy, it's the Hallmark card candidate," groaned HOBB, buried beneath Mrs. Romney's plentiful platitudes and smiley-faced sentences. My snark-o-meter began flipping out with every emphatic pronouncement. From my Morningside Heights apartment I was morphing into the elitist Democrat that the new GOP fears.

"Could she be more shallow?" I mumbled.

As Ann Romney delivered her speech, I thought of the vast (and dare I say goyische) America outside of the borders of New York City and felt zapped back to an unwelcome childhood feeling: of being a foreigner, a member of a not-especially elite minority.

Mrs. Romney's blond ambition for the White House -- coupled with the confidence that her vanilla, robotic Ken Doll husband can restore the greatness of America -- made me shudder. Was there ever a more extreme counterpoint to Michelle Obama, both visually and substantively?

Listening to her address the American public with the authority of a mother and grandmother and hitting all those high notes that her advisors and speechwriter included with the hope of appealing to the average American woman (whoever she is) reminded me of being a pre-pubescent tomboy with short, dark hair and scabby knees who looked at the available female role models... and declared them dismal beyond belief.

As I watched Ann Romney unpack her message of "I'm just a regular gal," it was painfully obvious just how irregular she is. It is probably safe to state that the majority of American women do not know anyone who is anything like Ann Romney. Yet, the semantic sleight of hand she performed last night was intended to make female voters think, "Omigod! Ann Romney is just like me!!" or perhaps wish to be her BFF.

If ever there was a poster couple for the One Percent, it is the Romneys.

And while it is not a crime for a person to be without a profession, my vision of the 21st Century precluded coiffed and coached characters like Ann Romney being held up as paragons of female achievement.

Mrs. Romney's message of love to America, alluring at first, ultimately made me queasy because in her party's playbook, all Americans are created equal but some are more equal than others.

And that ethic worries me not only on behalf of my children but for my increasingly vulnerable parents.

Paraphrasing Anatevka's rabbi from Fiddler on the Roof: "May God bless and keep Ann and Mitt Romney...far away from us!"

Alessandra Stanley's analysis of Mrs. Romney's speech is especially on target, I think.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Garden of Earthly Delights

Today, Middle Babe went to the New York Botanical Garden with her Gentleman Caller to view the Monet's Garden exhibition.

My giftie? The photo above, captioned by my girl as follows:

red hot chili pepper arch at the botanical garden

Middle Babe obviously knows that the way to her mother's heart is through references to her favorite rock band of all times.

And while God's creation needs no improvement, I did think about some additions to my ideal garden. I think I would start with one of these:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Melancholy Beauty of the Woods in August

I don't do sick well.

During this, the third-to-last weekend of my beloved bungalow summer, I have been in what I hope is the last act of a mysterious illness that came upon me without warning and wracked my body with fever, weakness and strange aches. Though I felt optimistic on the ride up to Monroe on Friday -- a multi-leg journey which included a stop at La Guardia airport to pick up Little Babe, who just arrived back home from visiting his girlfriend in Birmingham, Ala -- my temperature rose upon our arrival, demoralizing me.

Tired, emotionally labile, headachy and listless, I spent Shabbat overcome by a deep sorrow that my favorite season is almost over and I hardly even had a chance to inhabit it. Arriving, as it did, at the end of a busy summer, it was hard for me not to feel persecuted by this unwelcome illness.

Adopting the mantra of kids everywhere, it just wasn't fair.

Though I felt unwell, Shabbat had its moments of grace -- a tranquil hour spent reading outside the bungalow, the sunlight jewel-like, the air sweet and clean; a visit to the shore of Walton Lake, the view of the mirror-like water, the reassuring sensation of being nestled in the bosom of Mother Nature, the privilege of hanging out with Little Babe as he played guitar, singing the songs of Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, Coldplay, Pink Floyd and, of course, The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Resting on a humid mattress inches from my 17-year-old son, I was stirred, as I always am, by his soulfulness and artistry. Though I had been crying earlier, I felt uplifted and reassured hearing Little Babe's sweet voice and confident command of the music. Some of his favorite songs are my own -- "Wish You Were Here," "Homeward Bound,""Norwegian Wood" -- and some I have come to love through my son's renditions -- "Green Eyes," "Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m.," "Brendan's Death Song."

I remembered this moment last year when "I'm With You," the Peppers' new album, was just being released, our shared excitement as we discovered each new song. I remember hatching the plan to go see them perform, which we did, this past April in Greensboro, NC, on the fourth night of Passover.

Recalling our trip, recalling this very moment last summer, tears filled my eyes once again.

Exuberant by nature, I am also given to a certain melancholy and suffer from sentimentalism.

And when I get sick, it is an easy slide from sentimental into the home base of maudlin.

So there were maudlin moments aplenty, crying jags and a feeling akin to regret. There was palpable loss. I had wanted this to be a different kind of summer -- rich with friends and exploration and Sunday adventures and culture and time to write -- and of course, there was some of that, for there were weddings and times with friends and the birthdays of our three children, and some enchanted summer days with HOBB and an extended visit from SOBB (Sister of Bungalow Babe) and a short visit from Big Babe and the absolute, over-the-top joy of watching Little Babe perform at the day-long end-of-summer performance at the remarkable BIMA program at Brandeis and seeing him with his arm around his girlfriend, happy and complete.

At the end of this summer, I note that my three children are happily coupled.

That is no small blessing.

There were moments of splendor and now I mine them for reassurance that I inhabited the magic kingdom of summer even ever so briefly. There were moments but I wanted hours, days, a solid season of splendor.

I am greedy with want.

It is now noon on the third to last Sunday of the summer. We have friends coming in a few hours. I am shaky but fever-free. The air is cooler and the sun patterns on the lawn are classically Augustine. In the blink of an eye I've crossed over the midpoint of the month into that final back-to-school stretch. I cannot believe it.

I have been very lucky, I suppose, if I am complaining so bitterly about a disappointing summer, experienced once, a quarter of a year away from my 52nd birthday.

Perhaps I am even spoiled.

Yet I know I am not alone in perceiving the melancholy of the woods outside my bungalow porch on a Sunday in August.

The sadness is inherent in the soulful swaying of the trees to the maudlin, late summer music, all but inaudible to human ears.

Friday, August 17, 2012

By the Honor of Grayskull...I AM SHE-RA!

I was in my twenties when the super-kitschy She-Ra, Princess of Power hit the American airwaves and my chief reaction was one of surprise...and delight.

Through the portal of pop culture, my strange, foreign name -- Shira -- suddenly went mainstream.


Since 1985, I've had a great fondness and affinity for She-Ra, going so far as to adapt the moniker "Princess of Power" as my the cybersphere and karaoke bars alike.

My friend Margot had it engraved into a pewter flask for my 50th birthday party.

In truth, She-Ra, Princess of Power has been a fair weather faux persona, something to take out of the closet on Halloween and Purim, to riff on in conversation and online, to use in a strictly ironic way.

But I'm not too cool to admit that this week, I found myself thinking of the metaphorical value of She-Ra as a superhero as I faced down the fiercest fever I've had in at least a decade. At the tail end of a challenging summer, on my way back from a draining staff retreat in Atlantic City, I wondered at my sudden energy deficit, the slackness of my muscles, the heat creeping across my forehead.

It took me 15 minutes to gather the strength to emerge from my parked car, retrieve my luggage and get myself into the Urban Bungalow. Once upstairs, unable to eat despite my hunger, the reluctant awareness dawned on me:

I am sick.

Within the next few hours, I found out just how sick I was as my fever took root, ravaging me. I was utterly shocked by its power and frightened because I had no discernible accompanying symptoms, no aching throat, no upset stomach, no hacking cough, no indication what had caused the spike in my body's temperature.

As I tend to do in moments of physical distress, I found myself empathizing with the very sick; I wondered how people endure aggressive cancers, post-operative pain, car accidents, terrifying injuries, the innumerable diseases that feast on the human body.

Realizing I needed to bring my fever down but unable to walk, I woke up HOBB and had him bring me Tylenol, which enabled me to fall asleep. In the morning, it was scarily evident how serious my illness was. When my husband left to teach, saying he would return at noon to check on me, I cast him a wan and desperate glance.

A full hour before he returned home, I was burning hot again. The Tylenol was out of reach and I could not get up to find it. Seeking succor, I found myself visualizing She-Ra in all her leggy glory, holding her Sword of Protection aloft and proclaiming "By the honor of Grayskull....I am SHE-RA!" as she charged into combat with Hordak and the Evil Horde, fleeing like the wind on the back of Spirit, her winged unicorn.

Vanquished by the fire burning under my skin, weakened so thoroughly that I was unable to stand, I felt as sad and vulnerable as a small child.

Maybe that is why I summoned to mind a children's cartoon character.

It is now Friday morning. Alarmed at my state on Wednesday, HOBB took me to a local Urgent Care Center -- City MD -- on the Upper West Side, after my regular doctor's practice failed to return my urgent call. The Urgent Care doctor could not have been nicer. Though uncertain of the cause of my "febrile state" he prescribed antibiotics and mega-strength Motrin. I feel better but am not well yet.

The rest of the day, HOBB was as heroic as He-Man, bringing me water, my medication and a bucket to throw up into, calling my family members, getting advice from BOBB (brother of Bungalow Babe -- a doctor!), calling the Urgent Care doctor twice.

For this princess of power, being held by the evil horde of illness, a hero is just what the doctor ordered.

By the Honor of Grayskull, I AM SHE-RA!
For a primer on She-RA, Princess of Power, here's a site I especially like. Or check out this one. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Peace. Food. Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed #5

This has been a summer of simchas, surgeries and shlepping, work and worry, too much asphalt and not enough greenery.

For the first time since we discovered the Love Shack in 1995, it has been sadly neglected, inhabited all too infrequently. Typically, my summer work life is focused and wonderfully workaholic -- centered on the front porch of my bungalow where I sit in shorts and a tank top, connecting with my clients and the world at large via phone and Internet while gazing out at the verdant woods just a few yards away -- but this season is a sweaty, sweltering subway-centered one, featuring me dashing in heels and professional attire through Times Square and Grand Central at least three days a week, hauling laptop and gym attire, being pressed up against strangers, reaching constantly for cards to swipe: my Metrocard, work ID, AmEx, Mastercard, VISA, ATM.

Over the past month we have had:
  • Two family weddings
  • Two surgeries (FOBB -- Father of Bungalow Babe)
  • An Aufruf and several Sheva Brachot, one which we hosted this past Sunday*
  • Lots of family meals
  • Three birthdays
  • Various long car rides
  • Big Babe arriving from Berlin and returning
  • Middle Babe leaving her job at UJA-Federation's Caring Commission to prepare for her MA program in Human Rights Studies at Columbia
  • Little Babe departing for the remarkable BIMA program at Brandeis, from which we retrieved him last Thursday, en route to my nephew's wedding in NYC
  • FOBB and MOBB (Mother of Bungalow Babe) packing up their large Great Neck home in preparation for their move into an apartment
  • Other things I either cannot remember or do not have the strength to recount right now
The picture, above, was taken last night at Peacefood Cafe, on Amsterdam and 82nd Street, where I sat for over two splendid hours with my good friend -- the original Cool Jew and Hot Mamaleh, Lisa Alcalay Klug -- eating extraordinary vegan food while dishing, kvetching, laughing our heads off and planning world domination.

In the pic, I am posing in front of the menu wearing a black lace Necessary Objects dress I found in the clearance section of Loehmann's last year for about $19, a Chanel chain necklace my late mother-in-law gave me, another piece of gold tone street bling and my beloved Aerosole gold platform sandals.

Lisa looked pretty cute, too.

On my left arm is a Hot Mamaleh sticker, given to me by Lisa, who had them made for the release of her amazing new book.

You cannot tell because the photo is fuzzy but I look exhausted.

It is exhausting to be a Hot Mamaleh in the Summer City when you are, at heart, a Bungalow Babe.
*It was my supreme joy to host the Sheva Bracha for my Israeli nephew at Rosmarin's, which featured a sudden violent rainstorm forcing us to dash indoors clutching the food and setting up in the wonderful casino building. PS: A great time was had by all. PPS: After the storm, a double rainbow appeared over the blacktop, a magical omen.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Annie Hall"and My Manhattan Mythology

I saw Annie Hall Sunday afternoon at the Center for Jewish History's Only in New York summer film series.

Now, several hours later, I am freaking out.

I mean really and truly flipping out, complete with dry mouth and sweaty palms and a feeling of surreality.

My freak-out began when I looked the film up on the IMDb and noted that it was released in 1977.

Meaning 35 years ago.

Except that I remember the day I saw Annie Hall as if it were, well, yesterday.

Or more truthfully, I remember the me who first saw the smart, verbal, Freudian-slip-aware, Jewish, groundbreaking cinematic event that was Annie Hall because I slipped back into my 17-year-old self for the duration of the film and only partially emerged afterwards. A kid from Queens, I sat in my seat taking notes, getting a crash course in becoming that thing I so desperately wanted to become: a complicated, neurotic and sexy New York intellectual who would be adored by a brainy, emotionally unstable New York man.

It was the big screen, I think, that sent me hurling backwards yesterday through the portal of time, for I have seen Annie Hall many times on smaller screens in the intervening years.

It was the big screen and the communal experience of the movie theatre that conspired to mess with my mind. The minute the lights went out in the auditorium, I was powerless to resist. The movie -- so well-trod by me that I can recite the dialogue together with the actors -- began and I was pulled inside.

It was utterly overwhelming to behold the vivid depiction of Manhattan -- my personal Manhattan -- before all the new and necessary communication and information devices entered our daily lives. The city was so raw and gritty and magical before it got slick and exclusive and trendy. At one point in the film, Annie Hall complains to Alvy Singer that she is paying a fortune for her adorable apartment -- that fortune being $400 a month -- and everywhere in the auditorium there were audible chuckles. In scene after scene, my heart keened for the long-gone economy, street-scapes and storefronts, for movie theaters now extinct...only to leap with joy in recognition of that which stayed the same.

Thirty-five years ago, Woody Allen was a lovable schmendrick, a fetching nebbish, desirable because he was all about wounded-ness and over-intellectualism, Jewish paranoia and existential despair. He was wise-cracking, earnest, wordy and, yet sincere. Smart, sensitive men related to him. Women admitted to having a crush on this most unlikely of leading men.

He wasn't yet a strange, pervy, sorta-incestuous creepy genius/misogynist who seduced Mia Farrow's adopted Asian daughter and then married her.

And smart, sensitive girls like me aspired to be like Diane Keaton -- cooly stylish, WASPY, adorably flaky -- though we were none of the above.

Thirty-five years have elapsed since I first saw Annie Hall. Through this film, Woody Allen declared neurosis the must-have accessory for Manhattan living and shaped the character of the city for decades to come.

It is now well after midnight and I am no less mind-blown than I was eight hours earlier. Something profound happened to me yesterday in the auditorium of a Jewish cultural center in Manhattan's Flatiron district, surrounded by people who are mostly my parents' age. A terrifying realization: Though elderly now, they were my age when the film first came out. And equally terrifying: I am a lot older than Annie Hall, the character I aspired to be. It was a time warp. It was an existential head trip. It made me ponder who I was then and what I've become. It caused me to examine artifice and aspiration -- in my city and myself.

I am staring through my reflection in the midnight window of my Manhattan apartment, trying to nail down the essence of something true and sustainable.

Revisiting Annie Hall in the summer of 2012 has left me sifting through the layers of my personal mythology, hoping to uncover the bedrock of my city and myself.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Angel in the Guise of a New York City Cabbie

I had every intention of jumping aboard the M104 bus that pulled up just outside of the Duane Reade on Broadway, between 75th and 76th Street but instead, I found myself running out into the street, waving my right arm, already burdened down with bags, and shouting, "Wait! Wait! Cabbie!" at a taxi careening uptown.

My workday had begun early and ended late. En route to the gym on my way back home, I stopped by My Most Favorite Food on W72nd Street to visit SOBB*, who was having dinner with her future daughter-in-law and the girl's mother. Later, as I was leaving the gym just after 9 p.m. -- amazed that I managed a 45-minute workout -- HOBB* texted me with an urgent request to pick up dog food.

"Alfie is STARVING!" his message read, prompting me to ponder whether I ought to run over to the Trader Joe's on 72nd, to Fairway a few block south or just stick with the overpriced and limited dog food offerings at Duane Reade, just around the corner from the JCC.

Dressed in my sweaty gym attire, wet hair plastered to my neck and the sides of my face, weighed down with my laptop, ipad, pocketbook, gym bag and work satchel, I swept into the Duane Reade, grabbed a couple of dog food cans off the shelf and flew out the door. A bus was waiting patiently for me to board, but I ran for the cab instead. Spotting me, the driver instantly pulled to the curb and a passenger popped out. Sliding into the backseat, I arranged my bags on my lap and panted out my address.

"Your landlord is Columbia University?" the driver asked in a softly lilting African voice.

"Yes," I replied and we were off and running.

I am an easy talker (aka a yenta) who makes new acquaintances simply by the act of leaving my apartment. I have dear friends whom I first met on planes, trains and inside locker rooms. I am often detained en route to an event or appointment by conversations with complete strangers. I typically return home with stories about the interesting people I met that day, complete with intricate and often intimate details about their lives. My family is accustomed to rolling its collective eyes at me.

As we drove uptown, I learned that the gentle man who was delivering me to my home was Kwasi Wuli, a native of Ghana. The father of six and grandfather of 10, he was a founder and supporter of M.A.G.I.C.E.F. -- the Mafi-Atitekpo Girl-Child Education Fund, whose motto is "Ignorance is more expensive than education."

A non-governmental agency that was started only three years ago, M.A.G.I.C.E.F. aspires to send as many village girls to school as possible. "Lifting up girls for better tomorrow through education" proclaims the business card Mr. Wuli handed me. You can find basic information here about his organization.

I will admit that while I initially felt guilty about paying for a taxi while a bus awaited me, I shortly felt touched by the spirit of serendipity, blessed to have made the acquaintance of Mr. Wuli. Haunted as I have been by the horror of the terrorist attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, dismayed by the ubiquity of silly concerns and selfishness I see in the privileged society of young women in Manhattan -- women the same age as the ones whom M.A.G.I.C.E.F. assists -- disgusted by the political divide in America and the ugly rhetoric coming from the right, Mr. Wuli's taxi was a portal to a better place, a realm fueled by Tikkun Olam -- the imperative to make the world a better place.

"I paid my dues and I have been lucky. Now it is my time to bring about positive change," Kwasi Wuli told me.

I paid my fare and then a bit extra. Now it is my turn to bring about positive change for Mr. Wuli's organization...and as many like-minded initiatives as possible.

I hope you will support the work of a NYC cabbie from Ghana. To find out how to give to M.A.G.I.C.E.F. please email

*Husband of Bungalow Babe
**Sister of Bungalow Babe

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Midsummer Night's Fling

At this time on Thursday night, I was dancing to the music of Prince and Michael Jackson at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park, a joyous participant in the Midsummer Night's Swing party. For $17, I gained admission to the dance floor and a set of headphones which piped the music directly into my ears. Over the space of two-plus hours, I danced with everyone and no one. It was Manhattan Magic, as good as summer in the city gets.

Now -- 48 hours later -- I am up in the Catskills, at The Love Shack, where I arrived an hour before Shabbat, with HOBB and our pooches in tow. With Middle Babe in Atlantic City on a bachelorette weekend, Little Babe at a music program at Brandeis University until early August and Big Babe still in Berlin, we had the rare gift of a private weekend.

I close my eyes and savor the sound of silence. At this hour, our bungalow is completely quiet, save for the whirring of the electric fan in the kitchen window and the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard of my Mac.

Beneath our bed, Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians sleep the deliciously deep slumber of the happily knackered. They ran to their hearts' content from the moment we arrived, shaking off the constraints of urban canine life. Outside my bedroom, HOBB* sits in the Adirondack chair that occupies about a quarter of the teensy living room section of our summer home, working on his laptop. Through my window, I hear the Russian family in the bungalow next to us talking over dinner, three generations strong. The muted sounds of the cars along School Road weave a blanket of white noise over the placid night.

Propped up against pillows on my full-size bed, I, too, am deliciously exhausted, wondering if I should forgo the Saturday night show in Rosmarin's "casino" -- a barn-like building on the camp side of the campus, just across School Road -- in favor of staying in and continuing my reading binge.

Today, over a late afternoon game of Scrabble**, I finally finished Susan Jane Gilman's Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, a tedious and irritating memoir that I had bought at La Guardia airport two months ago, on the way to Miami Beach with Middle Babe for her long-overdue college graduation trip.

Having giddily grabbed it off the shelf while sprinting to the gate where our flight was in the process of boarding, convinced -- by the hyberbolic cover copy -- that I had found the work of a kindred spirit, I was utterly crushed to discover that like Eat. Pray. Love. (another popular memoir I hated) Gilman's book is completely charmless.

When I came to the final page, I tossed the work onto a chair with equal measures disgust and relief and picked up Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister -- a book I had taken to reading alongside Hypocrite.

Chandler's prose worked on my agitation like an antidote; it soothed me with its terse, staccato beauty. The palpable noir world Chandler constructs enveloped me. I picked up the action just as a dead man shows up at Philip Marlowe's door, bleeding profusely, "as heavy as five men." I was instantly hooked.*** (The rest of my critique of Hypocrite appears below, at the end of this blog post.)

"I'll be ready to go in 10 minutes," I called out to HOBB about 40 minutes ago. Shortly, I will change out of my shorts and bathing suit and maybe have some coffee. Of course I cannot miss the Rosmarin's Saturday night casino show. Even if the comedian is bad, it will be great. And then, there's the dancing afterwards to the house band.

After sundown, at the sighting of three stars twinkling in the Catskills sky, we made havdalah -- the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat and the start of the secular week. Holding a braided candle high, I sang to HOBB, "Shavua Tov!" -- May we have a good week! Together, we sipped wine and breathed in the sweet perfume of the mint that grows in front of our cabin, recalling the sweetness of the Sabbath day -- delicious meals, our leisurely breakfast, our mid-day study session on the final chapters of The Book of Job with our havurah****, our long, late-afternoon visit to the lake, the intensity of our intimacy.

And so, I climb out of bed and begin to change out of my bathing suit and into the black lacy dress I wore two nights ago to the Midsummer Night's Swing, spraying perfume on the back of my neck, humming as I buckle my golden sandals. Having left the magic of Manhattan for the weekend, I give myself over to Bungalow Magic, the Saturday night show in the casino, the warm company of friends and summer-time neighbors, and, of course, the joy of dancing with no one and everyone, especially with HOBB.
*Husband of Bungalow Babe

**I won. Twice.

***Billed as a memoir, one of the central problems of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress is that it lacks credibility. There are conversations and details Gilman recreates from her early childhood and onward that are simply impossible to believe. While it is clear that she considers herself a satirist, Gilman's writing style is glib, rife with wise-guy asides and one-liners about her antic, frantic life. Her conclusions are inconclusive and shallow. One chapter in, I was baffled as to why it had become a New York Times bestseller.

Yet I was compelled to finish reading the book, out of sheer curiosity and perhaps a tad of competitiveness (I had spent the entirety of my morning walk to Round Lake and back mentally charting out a new novel).  I wanted to understand why a publishing company saw fit to print this work, so on I slogged...reading half a chapter, throwing it aside, abandoning it and revisiting it over and over again.

To reduce my agony, I found myself skipping pages, looking for benchmarks in the narrative; anything to push things along.  Though much about Gilman's milieu is familiar in a New York/Jewish/Female/Writer way, aside from a party where she found herself talking to Mick Jagger, there is no episode in Hypocrite worth recalling, or retelling. 

****Jewish study group

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Desperately Seeking Rosalind and Orlando

Note to my Readers:

I started this post last week, got interrupted, and to my horror, realized I had never finished it only when I opened up Blogger thirty minutes ago to write a new entry. It's been that kind of week.

The lesson I learned from this is one I actually learned a long time ago...and keep on learning:

If not now, when?

To be true to the real-time character of blogging, I am going to publish the incomplete post it as I found it, without slapping an ending on one week later.  Instead, I am adding an introduction, wherein I explain what I wished to write about.

It might be summed up as follows:
  • Shakespeare in the Park is one of the magical experiences of being in Manhattan. 
  • This season's As You Like It, is a sheer delight. 
  • I was especially captivated by Rosalind and Orlando, not just with the way the actors inhabited their roles, but with the characters themselves. 
As I write below, I've been fortunate to see extraordinary Shakespeare, but this performance stands above all.  Though thrilled by every aspect of the production, so smitten was I with the intense romance of the young lovers Rosalind and Orlando that I begged them to accompany me home. Hand in hand, skipping, kissing, laughing, they agreed, following me out of the Delacorte Theater, along the side streets and avenues of the Upper West Side, now visible, now hidden, playful, forever young, forever in love.

Amid the cynicism of the city, the intense quality of their attachment to one another was luminous. Their love was that of yedidei nefesh -- soul mates -- deep, passionate, loyal and sustained. Having found one another, they quite literally could not live apart. Juxtaposed against the 21st century hook-up habit, run rampant in the society of people their age, their old-fashioned fidelity produced actual sparks, which surrounded them in the evening air.

I would like to say that Rosalind and Orlando are still with me, but somewhere along the journey homeward they took off like wild creatures, barefoot, shrieking with horror, streaked with tears. Unmoored, lifted out of their Shakespearean cocoon, they could not withstand the slings and arrows of New York City -- the love faded by disappointment, the refracted sorrow of broken hearts, the anger and pain evaporating off the pavement, the memories of notes pinned on trees and stolen kisses melting in the summer heat.

All Manhattan's a stage and all the men and women therein play out their dramas, comedies and tragedies of love and loss. Rosalind and Orlando never had a chance. They simply cannot exist outside of the Shakespearean realm for their lives have not been written to contain the necessary number of acts.

Below is my original post:

All the world's a stage but the best seats to be had are front row at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park for the mind-blowing, magical performance of As You Like It.

Actually, make that any seat, for this performance is, one of the greatest, most energetic and inspired Shakespeare performance I have ever seen...and I have seen fabulous Shakespeare from Stratford-Upon-Avon, England to Stratford, CT to Shakespeare and Company in the Berkshires to the creative Shakespeare on the Hudson and Times Square's Theatre for a New Audience.

"Where are you? What time can you get into the city," demanded HOBB at 6:57 p.m. as I was pulling into SAR High School in Riverdale, with Little Babe and his guitar in the back seat. Though school was out for the summer, my youngest had agreed to perform at an Open House for incoming freshman and, despite the insane heat, was freshly showered and decked out in a suit and tie.

The gas gauge was hovering below empty and it was 96 degrees outside. Knowing that there was a possibility of snagging seats, I had stopped earlier at Whole Foods to stock up on bread, cheese, olives and a bargain bottle of Reisling. The refreshments were chilling in my home fridge, but, in truth, I was not looking forward to the sauna of Central Park.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed: Denim, Gold and White Eyelet

Here are my feet, freshly-polished, encased in strippy gold sandals with a four-inch, faux snakeskin wedge heel, courtesy of Aerosole.

I have no idea what they originally cost, but when I purchased them from the Aerosole store near Columbia one hour before the Ramath Orah annual fundraising dinner two Wednesdays ago  -- selected to accompany the white Tahari dress I had purchased from the Century 21 on Broadway and 66th Street just an hour earlier -- they were marked down to $39.99.

And here is the rest of me, wearing an Old Navy jean jacket I bought perhaps 15 years ago, a white eyelet dress from Kensie, purchased last year at Loehmann's and a gold tone chain I bought from a street vendor last spring.

Though I wore this outfit to work today, it was planned with my evening destination in mind: a book party in the East Village. While I felt a bit like a rocker chick at work, in the noisy darkness of Manitoba on Avenue B -- where friends had gathered to toast Rich Cohen on the publication of his new book, The Fish that Ate the Whale, my outfit found a sense of homecoming. Thus attiredI was neither noticeably Upper West Side nor reaching too hard for hipsterdom.

By the time HOBB and I arrived, there was a small but animated group of friends crammed into the tiny dive. We had a chance to talk to Rich and meet some of his friends. After the horror of seeing a prematurely-aged, wasted and once-famous NYC author whom I had first met a couple of decades ago when she was a sullen teen at the Ramaz School and I a newlywed, we decided to hightail it to Second Avenue for an excellent, no-frills dinner of fishcakes and omelets at the legendary B&H, one of the few remaining luncheonettes in the city.

Of all the places me and my outfit were most at home, it was at B&H. Perched upon a stool at the counter next to HOBB -- faux snakeskin wedge heels planted comfortably on the counter footrest, tipsy from an overly generous glass of Manitoba's house white, wearing my white eyelet summer frock, now newly innocent without its edgy denim jacket -- I watched the counterman saute the mushrooms and onions for my omelet, then mix the eggs in a bowl, then blend all the ingredients together on the skillet, following his every move with open-mouthed rapture, just like a little kid.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed. Episode #3

Two nights ago, I was a guest of the nearly superhuman Jodi Samuels at the annual gala of JICNY at the Prince George Ballroom on E27th Street.

Here I am, an hour after I arrived home, woozy from lots of wine, lying on my bed, too punchy to get properly undressed.

My outfit for the event featured a little black dress from Zara, which I bought in Manchester, England two summers ago, shimmery Capezio beige tights and a pair of fabulous black patent leather Mary Janes with a four inch heel which I bought for about $20 at some cheap-o store somewhere in some city not New York.

My necklace is a gift from my late mother-in-law, a costume pearl necklace with a dangling pendant.

Because I was worried that my dress might be too immodest for the JICNY gathering, I brought a sheer black shawl with tiny crystals embedded throughout. I fashioned a jacket of sorts, with a wide bow in the back.

I needn't have worried about being too skimpily attired. While some women were surely covered from collarbone to wrist and ankle, many wore dresses that would have fit my Pomeranians better...too short and too tight for comfort. One woman wore a peachy dress that just cleared her pubic bone and had to be yanked down every five seconds.

The JICNY gala was swarming with wonderful people of a range of ages, marital status and lifestyles. The food and music were fantastic. It took every ounce of mommy responsibility to drag myself out and home at a decent hour to make sure that Little Babe was prepared for today's final exam.

As you can see, when I arrived home, I simply flopped down on my bed, outfit and all, and thought about how awesome it is when an event for a good cause is also lots of fun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No Mad Men in Moonrise Kingdom

Last night at this hour, I was nursing the existential pit in my stomach caused by the finale of the 5th season of Man Men. The moral vacuousness of the characters created by Matthew Weiner combined and converged to form a terrifying mass akin to a black hole, capable of destroying matter, one atom at a time.

While I loved and even obsessed over the show, the utter lack of integrity of most of the drama's players served to dismay and distress me, strangely echoing current real-life dramas of my own, in the classic and not uncommon "art imitates life" manner.

Integrity is on my mind at all times. I cannot help it; I am the daughter of a clergyman.

Even more than I have obsessed over Don and Betty and Megan and Sally and Roger and Peggy and Ginsberg and Lane, I obsess over the question: How do I lead a good life? I ponder how to create something real and substantive; how to stay good and pure in my intentions. Even as I entertain superficial concerns, it is always there in the back of my mind: have I done that which I promised? Am I coming through?

These are formidable goals for someone who toils in the field of spin and promotion. Overhearing me speaking to a reporter on the phone about a client's project, HOBB commented that I get paid to lie, or at least bend the truth in a creative way.

Which is why I am delighted to have been dragged to a rare weekday evening movie, courtesy of HOBB, who insisted we make a date night out of our carpooling duties for Little Babe at the SAR High School graduation, scheduled to take place at SUNY Purchase, where he performed as part of the school band.

Though it was I who originally proposed a fun excursion in Westchester for the stretch of time between dropping our son off and picking him up, I was feeling anything but jovial  as the evening approached. Overwhelmed by work responsibilities, morose from the crash 'n burn ending of a business relationship that had become increasingly troubling for me, I found myself glumly staring into my Whole Foods dinnertime salad at 7 p.m., unconvinced that I could give myself to the escapist joy of film-going.

But HOBB insisted and soon we were one of nine people at a vastly under-attended Greenburgh cineplex, watching the exquisite Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson. Since he saw it at the Berlinale, Big Babe had urged, nudged and otherwise implored me to see Moonrise Kingdom, knowing I would especially love it. Entering the film's dreamscape, I was swiftly swept away. Deep, yet whimsical, serious and quirky all at once -- and stunningly beautiful to boot -- the film centers on the love affair of Sam and Suzy, two wounded, stridently independent and extraordinary prepubescent children who live in accordance with the dictates of their hearts.

Guileless, loyal and honorable, all they want is for the adult world to let them be together...and their own quirky selves.

Watching Sam and Suzy embark on their wilderness adventure, I easily traveled back in time to that age and place where doing the right thing is easy and unimpeded, especially when your best friend is by your side, where the truest goal one can have is to have adventures, where eternity resides in the present moment.

And it is only now, hours later, that I thank the god of confluence for sending Moonrise Kingdom my way tonight of all nights, to provide a counterbalance to the maddening end of Season 5 of Mad Men, to soothe my agitated soul, to inspire me by example of Wes Anderson's stubbornly individualistic artistic achievement, recalling me to my most authentic nature, reminding me of what I once knew and held so easily, close to my heart.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Body. Myself.

Don't know much about designer shoes.

Don't care much about designer bags.

Feel the same about designer threads though I am passionate about clothing in general, just immune to the allure of labels, in fact, downright snarky about status-driven acquisitiveness.

But I am obsessed by the notion of a designer body, the idea that through exercise and diet and perhaps some tailoring, one's God-given form can be changed and even perfected.

I am obsessed with the concept of an ideal body despite my upbringing which stressed good values and inner beauty, which cautioned against the trap of superficial appeal, which scorned that which was only skin-deep.

Since I was small, I had a body consciousness which compelled me to wish to remake my physical self into something better even as my parents and my education required me to perfect my heart, my mind and my soul.

It was not that I wished to be altogether different; just improved. Me 2.0.

At rare and fleeting moments, I have experienced the triumph of having achieved this goal. Three times -- for stretches of several months apiece -- I also experienced the joy of my body's perfect biological capacity, the miraculous way it swelled with life.

I felt so rich and whole and holy when I was expecting. My big belly silenced my life-long critique of my butt and the tops of my thighs. It eclipsed all my imperfections.

Sometimes I think that it is a good thing that my daily life is full to overflowing with projects and work and concerns and meetings and assignments and tasks and responsibilities, making it impossible to dwell on body-related issues.

Other times I wonder if my body-focus is about something else entirely, a displaced spiritual quest, an essential sadness, a feeling of personal inadequacy, a vestige of the adopted kid I once was and always will be.

I do notice that after days that are especially stressful, my favorite activity, after the gym, is to Google plastic surgery procedures and websites, losing myself in a fantasy land of perfection, of Cinderella-like transformation where the good doctor is Prince Charming. Tonight, for instance, I spent over an hour looking at a procedure called Vaser Lipsosuction, avidly scanning Before and After photos, practically drooling with absorption.

What a fantasy it is...the prospect of melting away the middle-aged belly roll that my devoted workouts cannot budge, firming up those increasingly problematic upper thighs that no stair master can tame, lifting the brows that are gently sloping downward -- weary of holding an interested expression, which they have done, admirably, for decades -- asserting breasts that have settled into a a conciliatory posture.

I've noticed that the stress that drives me to the plastic surgery websites relates to a feeling that something vital has been taken from me. Preparing to enter the cyber portal, I am empty, drained, possibly pillaged.

The prospect of a perfected body restores that which was taken from me.

Other women shop for designer shoes, still others handbags and clothing.

For me, the designer body is what I really want, my legs, my butt, my breasts, my brow made to look just as they do in my dreams, as if I had created them myself.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sadness in the Cyber-Age

Though our means of communication and information-gathering have exceeded the futuristic visions we may have harbored just a few decades earlier, the human heart has not evolved beyond its primitive form.

Which is why it is disconcerting to experience intense sadness and pain at a time where it seems that we should have figured out the technology to avoid doing so.

I suppose the technology does exist, in the form of emotion-blocking medications...or even street drugs, if one so wishes.

The technology is there in the bottle of booze or in escapist pursuits.

I could go that route now. I have gone there before.

For now, I prefer proactive endeavors, like exercise and listening to good music. A skeptic about prayer in my adult life, I even talk to God in my heart of hearts, returning to a ritual of my childhood. Are you there God? It's me. I lift my eyes to the mountains. Where will my help come?

I try even to solve the problem, try to gather up the shards of the vessel that has been shattered, thinking that just enough care and compassion will allow me to glue the brokenness together.

What I am blindsided by is the discovery that the vessel is only one of several items that have been broken.

What I am taken aback by is the bracing reality that there is no reality when it comes to bruised hearts.

And what bruises my own heart is the revelation that underlying the bedrock of my own reality is a fault line, entirely man-made.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Maurice Sendak Made Me a Better Mother

News of Maurice Sendak's death yesterday morning reached me, ticker-tape-style, on the homepage of the Huffington Post.

Overwhelmed with sorrow, I called Big Babe in Berlin.

"I'm so sad," he said, by way of introduction. "I just heard that Maurice Sendak died."

"That's why I'm calling," I said, dissolving into tears.

"Did u hear Maurice Sendak died?" I texted Middle Babe at work immediately after I hung up with her older brother.

"Ya so sad," she texted right back, adding a frowning emoticon.

Rather than interrupting Little Babe during the school day, I hit him with the news when I returned from work. He was playing Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" in his room.

Little Babe stood with his electric guitar slung across his hips, looking stricken. "That's terrible," he said, pausing to absorb the information.

More than any other picture book (and there were scores) that I read to my three children, "Where the Wild Things Are" occupied its own place. I read it so constantly that I think I can still recite it by heart, so many years later. Though "Wild Things" was published when I was three years old, it somehow eluded my notice until I was a young mother. Charged with my own children to educate and captivate, I fell upon it as a beloved book of my own, delighting in my discovery.

In my rendition of "Where the Wild Things Are" the Wild Rumpus had a song -- the most famous riff from Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld" -- namely the melody known as the "Can Can." When I reached the prose-free middle pages, which depicted the Wild Things dancing crazily yet devotionally as at some underworld Shabbaton, I would sing the "Can Can," tilting and shaking the book all the while.

I have no idea just why I deemed Offenbach an appropriate Wild Rumpus soundtrack but it worked. It worked so well, in fact, that I shared my rendition with my children's friends and the various children whose parties I performed at as Shira the Drama Lady, a long-ago persona, a weekend identity I slipped into while wearing a fairy princess outfit and body glitter and carrying a magic wand.

There is so much to say about the multiple ways in which Maurice Sendak changed the world -- through his psychological insights, his art, his subversive views on what children's literature should be, his skillful blending of the gleeful and the grotesque.

For me, the essential legacy of Maurice Sendak was his ability to capture the magical thinking of a small child, who -- while exiled to his room by his mother -- escaped his punishment and powerlessness by building a boat to a fantastical, faraway land entirely within his own mind. The essential spirituality of this great artist is contained in the book's reassuring conclusion: Max, the King of all Wild Things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all, so he sailed back into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him.

And it was still hot.

Here is a way-weird, cynical hipster rendition of "Where the Wild Things Are" by Christopher Walken:

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Is This the Little Boy at Play?

Admission ticket. Check.
Number 2 pencils. Check.
Water bottles. Check.
Advil. Check.
Diet Pepsi with caffeine. Check.
Bagel with Cream Cheese. Check.

Here is Little Babe, walking to the Ramaz Upper School to take the SATs. He is walking west on E78th Street, from Park Avenue where HOBB and I just dropped him off. The time is 7:44 a.m. Two seconds after I took this picture, he plugged in his iPod earbuds. Five seconds later, a hand reached around and a yarmulke was placed atop his head.

On the way to Ramaz, to keep the adrenaline flowing, we listened to Van Halen, The Police and Rush. We arrived at our destination as "Tom Sawyer" was playing.

This is my youngest child, the curly-haired moppet morphed into a dedicated rock musician without losing one ounce of his innate sweetness, no matter how hard he rocks the cynical vibe.

This is the step before that major step: the leave-taking.

"Are you sure you want to come along?" asked HOBB, skeptical, for I teach Sunday mornings.

I directed an incredulous, acid-infused glare toward my husband. After nearly 28 years of parenting, he has to ask?

I wouldn't miss this moment for anything.

Good luck, Little Babe and to all the Sunday SAT test-takers.

Good luck, young men and women who worry that this test means everything.

I wish for you the insight of Little Babe, which is that while there is the goal of getting a good score on a standardized test and the goal of building a good life, the relationship between the two is entirely unknowable.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed. Episode Two.

Here I am, in the fitting room of the T.J. Maxx on Columbus and 100th Street in NYC, where I stopped to return a dress between meetings. The decision to photograph myself in a mirror with my iPad was spontaneous and arose from the numerous compliments I received on my ensemble.

Apologies to Angelina for plagiarizing the leg-thrust maneuver. I only struck that pose so that my cool tights would be visible.

The fashion 411:
  • Red pea coat from H&M, acquired about four years ago.
  • Black Vivienne Tam dress from Loehmann's a month ago. Super comfy, super chic, super cheap.
  • Nude tights with black bows from Loehmann's
  • Red fake RayBans from Target.

And you cannot see them but I'm wearing my Dr. Marten's lace-ups.

You'll begin to notice a theme with my wardrobe. Short dresses, preferably black. Color that pops. Hats or sunglasses. Minimalist jewelry. I'll do an up close of my earrings, currently from Swarovski. I'm a huge fan as they offer a rich look on a shoestring.

Comments, please!