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.