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!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed: Part I

Precious Readers,

I hereby inaugurate a new fun feature to Bungalow Babe in the Big City -- a periodic fashion blog-within-a-blog called Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed.

A tip 'o the hat to HOBB for coming up with that way-cool title.

And speaking of hats... and tights and dresses and other articles of clothing... each post of Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed will include a narrative on the featured garments.

The settings for the photographs will vary from the interior of the Urban Bungalow to any photogenic location where I look relatively thin and wrinkle-free.

Herewith, the first installment of Bungalow Babe Gets Dressed:

Greetings Bungaleers!

Here I am, posing fetchingly on the new floor of my kitchen wearing a favorite ensemble: black sleeveless minidress, kooky tights and a hat I bought at a sidewalk vendor outside of Zabar's, last summer.

As my Dr. Martens are not visible in the photo above, I'm attaching a second pic that shows them:

As you can see, they are cute and clunky ankle-high lace-up boots that HOBB continually complains about as I like to wear them around the house. They are my third -- and most beloved -- pair of Dr. Martens. I am a HUGE fan of this brand, both for its design and construction. Doc Martens aren't cheap but you will end up wearing them until they disintegrate...which will likely not occur this century.

My dress is a StudioM cotton and rayon knit shift that I bought at Loehmann's a while ago. I wore it TO DEATH for a few years, then forgot about it and only found it when our house was being packed away during our recent renovation. As it was musty and dusty, I threw it in the laundry and it emerged clean, softer and shorter. The washing machine transformed the dress from something vaguely Amish into awesome. It is now fitted across the bust and ends about three inches above my knees.

The moral of the story is: NEVER THROW ANY ARTICLE OF CLOTHING OUT!!! You can always transform and repurpose it.

Paired with the dress are raspberry tights from American Apparel, a store I violently hate, except for their tights. Actually, I prefer tights from Hue, but the discount Danskin shop on Broadway and 82nd Street has been carrying the most boring colors lately, so I got lazy and ducked into the American Apparel near Fairway after a recent food shopping expedition.

And as I already mentioned, the hat is a street purchase, made of woven paper. It solves bad hair days and deflects rain. It cost about eight buckaroos.

To achieve these amazing pics, HOBB stood on top of the highly unstable step ladder we brought with us from our home in New Rochelle about 18 years ago. Terrified he would fall and break his neck, he summoned Little Babe to take the rest of the pics and spotted him while I lounged on the kitchen floor.

I'd love your comments.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Marriage, Schmarriage

"Have you noticed that everyone is splitting up suddenly?" said FFCOBB (fabulous female cousin of Bungalow Babe) yesterday as we sat around a backyard pool in that Shabbat no-man's land between lunch and havdalah at the family Bar Mitzvah that was held in the leafy, large-homed community of Englewood, NJ.

The observation -- affirmed by me -- provided ample grist for our gossip mill as we shared tales of friends whose long marriages had suddenly dissolved (with a delicious recounting of post-divorce sluttiness on the part of both the men and women we knew) agreeing that in most cases, the split followed a long period of simmering discontent.

Several hours later, seated around the cozy kitchen table of yet another FFCOBB, the conversation was revived and enlivened, with several themes emerging: relatively fast remarriage among the men, relatively demoralizing relationship prospects for the women...and the sharing of some actual scandals.

"Omigod," said the second FFCOBB to her husband, who joined us at the table. "This is really depressing. Let's not ever split up."

My fabulous male cousin, her husband, laughed with the security that comes from having a solid marriage, the kind that reminds me of what my long-married parents have.

I spent three days this past week hanging with POBB (parents of Bungalow Babe) in their newfound paradise -- Boca Raton's Century Village. In this pristine, perfect sunny compound of over 6,000 apartments, there are many long term marriages, reported FOBB (Father of Bungalow Babe.) Between the water aerobics, balance-training classes, gym visits, new apartment-hunting expeditions and poolside chats I attended with them, I got to see some of these marriages up close.

From what I could see, they are built on a sweet camaraderie, a life-long chumminess, an emotional intimacy that is nearly reflexive. There seems to be barely a membrane separating husband and wife, so that they have blended into one, two-headed entity.

"The most important thing is loyalty," stated MOBB (Mother of Bungalow Babe) when I asked her what she thought the secret of these long marriages was. "You've got to be the other person's best friend."

"You have to share, from the heart and soul," added FOBB. "Money. Dreams. Big Decisions."

"You are a unit," declared MOBB. "You form a united front. Being a good couple is the key to having a good family."

While in Boca, I had ample opportunity to observe my parents walking the walk of good coupledom in myriad ways. They helped each other throughout the day, often physically. They spoke constantly, sometimes arguing...yet constructively. They laughed frequently. When a new apartment -- closer to the shul -- became suddenly available, FOBB sprung into action, making an offer to the son of the recently-deceased owner even as we walked through the unit.

Though my dad was happy enough with the more affordable third-floor apartment they currently occupy, MOBB has had her heart set on a ground-floor unit a few yards from the houses of worship.

Without even a moment's hesitation, he made her dream come true.

It was a courtly and elegant move.

My eyes still fill with tears when I think about how happy my father made my mother this past week. She clapped her hands like a little girl getting a favorite doll. In that moment, her husband became her hero.

Watching, feeling very much like a little girl myself, I was struck by how loving and selfless his act was.

He knew her dream and realized he had the power to make it come true. It was not his dream and it came with a cost but he was committed to the task of making her happy.

It was one of the most touching things I have ever witnessed.

While lesser couples dissolve around me, I pay close attention to the example and teaching of my parents and their long-married friends. This is not just freelance observation but a personal and professional endeavor. I watch, like Harriet the Spy, and take mental notes. I ask questions, like one of the Four Children of the Seder. I see something that only rarely seems to exist today. I wish to bottle it, to emulate it. I admire the manner in which my parents have elevated their life-long union from an institution to something far more profound.

Marriage, schmarriage.

Stay tuned for more.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Immoral Imagination

Over the first days of Passover -- a world unto itself, cocooned, cozy and magical -- I had a long and painful conversation with a family member about an esteemed relation, now long gone.

The theme was the great man who is a monster in private -- tyrannical, imperious, demanding, punitive, belittling, explosive and dangerous; the beloved public figure who is secretly an abusive spouse or father, the selfless, saintly community head,  respected educator or admired religious role model who morphs into a hideous creature far from the gaze of onlookers.

Invariably, the immediate family members of the great man are shamed into silence, wondering if there was something defective in them that brought out the monstrous behavior in the great man. Loyalists that they are, they keep their counsel until silence is no longer an option. The truth telling is often an arduous process. First it is whispered among the inner circle of victims, then tentatively told to trusted insiders on the periphery of that circle, then shared with a larger audience, with the speakers often experiencing a confusing blend of liberation and guilt in the process.

Sipping mugs of tea and nibbling on Passover chocolate cake at my dining room table this morning, we spoke in low voices. As my relative unpacked her offering, I bore witness to her story, receiving it as a gracious hostess would, taking it off her hands.

She spoke and I listened. The Urban Bungalow was still, with dogs and Little Babe asleep and the men gone to synagogue services and Middle Babe out for a walk. As the story took shape, my family tree changed shape as well, turning from something sheltering and leafy into a more sinister form like the ominous bare boughs depicted in horror films.

The stories carefully unwrapped and handed to me felt hot and weighty in my hands; stones that I wished to hurl at the long-dead great man. At several points my eyes filled with tears and I wanted the speaker to stop even as I wanted her to tell me more, adding the truly horrible details she was editing from her speech.

And then the speaker stopped abruptly and said it was not right to speak of the great man this way, that yes, everything did happen, but there was more, a vertical tail to this story, a comet hurling back in time, abuse upon abuse visited upon the perpetrator when he was a boy by a father dying too early and a mother ill equipped to raise two young children. There was also the background trauma of anti-Semitic pre-war Poland and childhood asthma and hunger and other handicaps...a story sad and layered and complex with many victims.

The speaker was neither recanting her tale nor was she diminishing the horror of her account. An older woman, she was teaching me a hard truth, which is that the truth is often hard to pin down, as it is  never simple.

Her story took place in another time and another place, in a galaxy well before "Harriet the Spy" and "I Am Woman Hear Me Roar."  During the time of the events she spoke about, men weren't yet from Mars, nor women from Venus. No one had heard of a battered wife or even child abuse. No one just said no. Active listening as a parental tool hadn't been invented. Children bullied by adults did not necessarily believe deep in their hearts that they would overcome some day.

Chances were good that the great man hadn't been told that charity began at home. Or if he had heard that maxim, it might never occur to him that it applied to his situation.

Still, I am comfortable terming this great man a hypocrite, even as I struggle to understand the big picture, the complicating factors, the backstory of the monster, his travails as a young, wounded man. And as I sat with my relative on a chilly 21st century April morning, I remembered that just the night before I found myself thinking about hypocrisy and morality and about someone I knew who spoke loftily about having moral imagination* when the truest application of it would be within his own home. This is, perhaps, the most difficult realm to practice moral imagination for behind closed doors there is no adoring public to applaud the great man for small but important acts of greatness: the kindness of emotional steadfastness, loyalty, friendship.

There is the manner in which all of us are hypocrites, trespassing on our stated principles and beliefs.  I know that I am capable of declaring myself dairy-free mere minutes before inhaling a Starbucks Vanilla Bean Frap or of leaving an empty shampoo bottle in the locker room shower immediately after chastising teenage girls for leaving their wet towels all over the floor. Of course, there are other things I am embarrassed to admit to, not as minor, hardly as forgivable.

There is the manner in which we need our small, relatively innocuous hypocrisies, some of which are touching, funny and deeply humanizing.

And then there is the flat-out immorality of the public purveyor of morality being monstrous to those he is charged with nurturing and protecting. There is the utter failure of moral imagination regarding those who require it most for charity begins at home.

Early this morning, I sat with a dear family member in the warm cocoon of time-out-of-time afforded by the festival of Passover. I absorbed the small hot stones of her story, felt tears spring to my eyes, felt rage gather in my fists, experienced compassion and love and sadness and regret. This morning I received her pain and insight -- a portion of my inheritance. And together -- speaker and listener, victim and witness -- we were one step closer to the Promised Land.


 *My truly great friend Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes and speaks most movingly about moral imagination. Check out any of his works.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

'Twas the Sunday Before Passover

With less than a week to go before Passover, I am camped out in my bedroom, subtly supervising the two Columbia undergraduates whom I hired to box up Big Babe's most precious possessions: the thousands of books he amassed and stored in the bedroom he has now bequeathed to Little Babe by virtue of graduating college and moving to Berlin.

While I catch up on my email, I am -- to appropriate an old-fashioned, equine expression that is under-utilized by humans of the 21st century -- feeling my oats. Literally.

The reason for this is that just before Davy and Dan showed up, I ate a humongous bowl of oatmeal with vanilla soymilk, a nutritious uber-chametzy meal. Returning from my morning of teaching kids at Prozdor, I always have the appetite of a manual laborer and find myself relishing my Sunday brunch like never before.

The Prozdor kids provided some great Passover inspiration, sharing what they liked about the holiday and helping riff on the inherent themes, chief among them freedom.

Returning home to prepare for the arrival of Davy and Dan, I hung out with Little Babe who -- taking note of my meal -- shared with me the important information that the Quaker Oats guy had been redrawn, thinner and a tad younger.

The news utterly unsettled me. Larry, the grandfatherly, benevolent Quaker Oats Man made leaner and meaner????

That's just wrong.

Rushing to Google the horrible news, I was relieved to find that what had befallen Larry was the equivalent of nothing more dramatic than a few shots of Botox and a few weeks on Weight Watchers.

In fact, had I not known, I probably would never have noticed Larry's makeover as I grabbed the legendary cardboard canister off the shelf on my typical fly-by Fairway shopping expeditions.

Perhaps only late at night, I might have found myself staring at the iconic image wondering what was different, thinking that it was probably time I invested in a decent pair of glasses.

Outside of my room, Dan and Davy have made amazing progress, removing nearly all the books that I stuffed into our small bathroom, filling boxes I purchased for the express purpose of storing Big Babe's books. On Tuesday, the guys will come with me to the Bronx location of NYC Mini Storage, where I will undergo a rite of passage experienced by so many urban dwellers: I shall become the renter of a storage unit.

Into it will go Big Babe's books, the clothes and artifacts he left behind, some suitcases and the treadmill I bought on Craig's List for $200 a few years ago and which HOBB has outlawed for noise and aesthetic purposes, something Middle Babe and I strenuously object to, but are powerless to fight at the present time.

Virtually one hour after they began, the small bathroom is free of books, available again to the Bungalow Bunch. Happily, I just welcomed the space back by utilizing it as a water closet and not a storage closet.

And though I am sad to be removing my eldest son's books, clothes and other possessions from our abode, I think of this loss as gaining a bathroom, a welcome development after more than a month of coordinating toilet, toothbrushing and shower visits in the one usable bathroom of the Urban Bungalow.

This newfound freedom certainly puts me in a Passover frame of mind.