Monday, March 31, 2008

New York Foray a Panoply of Experiences

Just back from the Big Apple after a three-day jaunt with my sorority daughter and friend for her spring break. Cold weather doesn't daunt the bustle or noise or commotion, as cab horns, sirens, hawkers, jackrabbit-starting autos and cell-phone yellers all compete to be heard.

It was tough to find a hotel, but after dueling between websites, Travelocity found us a place in the San Carlos Hotel that Orbitz, Kayak, Travelzoo and Expedia all claimed was full. A red-eye flight left the three of us zombie-esque upon our 10 am arrival, but a kindly desk clerk named Quron took pity and upgraded us to a one-bedroom suite with immediate entry. I plan to commend him.

Our first day in The City was frigid but sunny and we took the opportunity to
stroll with my NY daughter in Central Park. The benches in the sunshine were lined with bundled visitors, faces turned upward as ours were. Next to us was a young couple taking their 8-day-old baby girl, Mia, outdoors for the first time. Alice in Wonderland was alive with climbers; the characaturist sat sketching with a crowd of approving onlookers.

Though my school-break daughter was there for serious shopping, my secret agenda was to gain a peek at the life of my NY college senior. The biggest thrill for me was being surrounded by the lithe voices of six young women singing choral rounds in rehearsal under the sweet-voiced director whose lilting instruction was as melodious as the harmonies I heard. That a child of mine could reach notes as distantly ethereal as the far-octave pitch she achieved was in itself worth the plane flight.

Also leaving me flying was the chance to observe a dress rehearsal of her school
play, for which she ultimately switched her Northwestern normality for a thick Brooklyn accent. I happened to luck into also hearing the presentation of a veteran Broadway actor who had played for years in the same comedy my daughter helped stage; his insights into the struggles of actors just to survive were as startling as they were entertaining. Needless to say, throughout all my adventures, my paparazzi camera recorded it all.

The days of shopping, though, did have their amusements. Walking from 50th Street all the way south down Broadway to Canal Street gave me a slice of activity as diagonal as the avenue's slant. Macy's Flower Show was a breathtaking display of real blooms of brilliant hues stuffed in long troughs above all the merchandise, down the centers of aisles and forming astounding stands of creative floor-to-ceiling displays. If my inveterate shoppers hadn't rushed me on, I would have cooed over every blossom.

Canal Street, formerly for ferreting fabulous fakes, now brought every hushed mutter of "Coach?" the reply, "No more Coach," or, "No Coach, Police." The stalls just north of Canal on Broadway that once housed colorful Guatamalan boiled wool purses, rainbow-striped scarves, t-shirts and sunglasses were tarped-over and surrounded by a chain-link fence. One building that previously offered
obvious knock-offs in front but more convincing inventory behind rear false walls showed merely a plywood facade. I doubt the crack-down on counterfeiters has eliminated them; they've probably moved into new digs likely accessible with persistent surreptitious inquiries, though not to three ladies respectful of the law.

We left on a quest for the store "Joyce Leslie" (20 University Pl. between 8th and 9th Streets in Greenwich Village) in which the fashionista duo ultimately spent nearly four hours and a couple hundred dollars--while I escaped after a cursory and overwhelmed perusal. Racks of styles are arranged by color, the lemon yellow contrasted with black; the kelly green interwoven with white, jammed in a two-story labyrinth replete with dead-end cubbies and random rounders.

I just don't need more clothes. My closet is stuffed already with hand-me-ups, shirts, denim skirts, sweaters, tank-tops cast off by my youthful flaw-finders after a season or an unsatisfactory wash. I can't bear to discard something that could be worn; something I could combine with this or update with that or wear layered with the other--that I paid for! In most cases, my girls' pleas or requests or cajoles to purchase each of the items still echoes in my brain. I also too-clearly recall my own college days, when, (rather than walking both ways to class through snow drifts) I was forced by poverty (as well as lack of interest) to wear the same pair of jeans every day with one of my four tops (laundered every other Friday). This frugality has led me to jam my closet with unwearables impossible to abandon, denying some African citizens of desperately needed too-short tops and shrunken hip-huggers that would have been shipped their way jumbled in ton-sized blocks.

New York at this point seems a fantasy, a faraway hive of bumble bees buzzing and rushing and honking seriously in their separate world. The kosher restaurants were wonderful (though expensive; Gusto Va Mare's heavenly Peanut Butter Pie is pictured), the sights stimulating, the contact with my
NY daughter exhilerating, but I'm glad to be back home, even under book deadline, even with an every-weather weekend of snow, sleet, hail, rain, sunshine and overcast. Time to get back to work and stop procrastinating by basking in a dream.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Purim: Best Time for a Game of Kings

Can't believe it's nearly Purim already. Which shouldn't be a surprise, given that this is a Jewish leap year and we've had an extra MONTH to prepare! But the daffodils are just now in full flower, brightening up the nearly consistent gray and rain here in the Northwest. The forsythia bushes are brilliant yellow as well, shocking the bland pavement and monochrome sky into embracing springtime.
Meanwhile, my family room is ablaze with a rainbow of tissue paper splaying from colorfully prepared bags of shaloch manos (food gifts for friends). Tomorrow night, we host a break-fast pot luck dinner party, this time featuring a new activity (beyond the "write a gramin song for the person whose name you drew out of the hat" that we enjoy every year). It's a college drinking game called "Kings" that for the evening we're calling "King Achashverosh" where cards drawn from a deck indicate silly behaviors to do that ultimately end in a swig. And laughs.

My sorority daughter has just regaled me with descriptions of drinking games. Not that she's played them all, but just about every college student finds out about them by osmosis. I WAS looking for something new and fun to play at our party. And if Purim isn't the occasion for a drinking game, then when? I'm going to provide some beverage selections, including a punch made from fruit sherbet, 7-Up and Cranberry juice, spiked with vodka. Save the recipe--it's yummy.

My wish for you is to have a "Chag Purim Sameach," a very happy Purim. And don't forget that every day of our survival is a miracle, even if it isn't always obvious.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Eliot Spitzer: Skanky Antics Lowers Everyone

Like millions of other Americans--not to mention New Yorkers enveloped in it--I'm morbidly interested in the downfall of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

I clicked on the TV news reports, and his press conferences on You Tube. I watched three times Spitzer's campaign ad that says, "You begin your journey on Trustworthy Turnpike, make a left on Honesty Road, turn down Integrity Lane, and eventually, if you've walked the right way, end up on Responsibility Road..." I admit, a bit embarrassed, that I saw the photos of Kristen, and chuckled at the Rush Limbaugh promo to the strains of the parody, "Client Number Nine."

During his apology press conference the day before he resigned, Spitzer said he needed "time to rebuild the trust of my family," and I thought, "No way, buddy, is your family EVER going to trust you again!" Certainly no electorate will ever entrust their governance to the
pathetic, hypocritical former New York "law and order" attorney general.

What kind of arrogance allows someone in so visible a position, so elevated and honored, to think he can escape undetected YEARS of spending $5,000 per pop on call girls? Who uses eighty thousand dollars of inherited wealth (or, who- knows-whose funds), in a hurtful web of illegal duplicity? One word comes to mind: CHUTZPAH, brazenness born of self-aggrandizement to the selfish disregard of anyone else.

OK, it's bad enough that he publicly humiliated his wife and three daughters and scarred forever their feelings about him. His family tragedy is sad, but localized. What's worse is that, despite vocally eschewing any religious association, (refusing a bar mitzvah, marrying a Baptist), Spitzer is seen as a Jew. Even if news reporters don't focus on his background, they slip in that now, his aspiration to become the first JEWISH president is dashed.

Eliot Spitzer has committed a sin Jews are commanded to sacrifice their lives rather than commit: defaming God (chillul Hashem). By being identified as a Jew, Eliot Spitzer's carnal indulgences make all Jews, and God, look bad. It takes a lot of positive role models like Joe Lieberman living honorably on a daily basis to offset a single splashy transgressor like Eliot Spitzer. And chances are, as the news unfolds, the activities of Mr. Spitzer will continue to smear our people's reputation.

And, I must add, his misdeeds continue to taint me. My interest in his conduct, aroused out of shock, has continued out of prurience. It does not elevate me to know about his creepy connivances, the 22-year-old brunette misfit he engaged, and the heartbreaking experience of his family. It does not improve my character to know that a fellow Jew, whom I'm commanded to love whether or not he identifies with our faith, is behaving disgracefully. Each person with ears or eyes is lowered by knowing of this sordid and skanky affair. I'm glad he resigned immediately, because that likely will shorten the number of days I must absorb new smarmy details.

But I'm going to try to resist further exposure to this story. I see this as an opportunity for self-discipline in skipping the enticing newspaper headlines and switching radio channels during the top-of-the-hour newscast. It's a chance to reaffirm my own values, and appreciate even more the normality and closeness with those in my life. It's a time to reconnect with others in a positive spirit, especially on the eve of Purim, which celebrates Jews' embracing of Torah even when hidden in a secular and anti-Semitic climate.

Yes, I've heard enough, and it's time to move on to happier things in this month of simcha.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Zooming in on Wedding Joy

Back from New Jersey...Long Branch, that is, and a lavish and sophisticated wedding. Color scheme was light beige and cream..."balls" of roses in those tones were spotlighted in a dim room for a dramatic effect. Large orchestra, famous singer, both steak and stuffed chicken...pre-ceremony food at many "stations" augmented by waiters bearing trays of array of square plates of colorful fruits including South African gooseberries...

Illustrious rabbis giving their blessings, and joyous family and friends dancing in such frenzied circles (separated by gender) that both glowed with perspiration as well as happiness.

I took photos. I feel I've lost a dimension of any activity if I haven't measured it in my viewfinder and taken bounteous images. Taking photos is the way I grab
and freeze and re-live moments, events and emotions. And so, at this life-altering occasion, I recorded and edited my still-lifes and while viewing them was there in that grand ballroom again, noticing expressions I hadn't seen, and framing highlights in new perspectives.

I do believe that each encounter, each vision (every day) is important and precious, and so, with
hundreds of witnesses there to link forever to this couple and to discharge their personalities into the amalgam of the guest amoeba, I was on my secret mission...well, sometimes my slightly obnoxious preserve it and examine it and immerse myself in it behind the protection of a little black electronic unit with its ability to zoom close into interchange and later to allow me the luxury to savor a smile and eliminate a grimace right here, in front of my computer screen back at home.

Mazel tov, Rachelle and Zev!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Showers of Two Types Bring Happy Rewards

So I was sitting at my computer, listening to the dots shuffling on my metal roof, when I looked up, expecting to see the morose sky and dashes of raindrops when--big shock! There was a gorgeous rainbow, brilliantly boasting its distinct colors. I felt instantly grateful to see it: "Acknowledged are You, God, who remembers and is faithful to His covenant and fulfills His word..."

We're taught that it's not all that good to see a rainbow; that God's reminding us that He won't destroy the world by flood this time, but, well, we might be deserving it anyway. I find it tough to associate something so grandly beautiful with a warning from God. Instead, it feels like He's ready to party, and here's a festive new outfit to prove it. After the enclosing oppression of dark gray and claustrophobic pelting of determined drops, to see the sun illuminate the view, and an arc of color stretch heavenward, brings a feeling of hope and encouragement. I can't return my eyes to my computer screen when a magnificent and fleeting show is right outside my door.

Don't Put Away Your Umbrella Yet... Speaking of showers, yesterday I helped organize a bridal shower, and it was bountiful fun. Peak was when the bride guessed responses of her fiance to "Newlywed Game" type questions, and when guests shared recipes brought for the bride. Best story: the reminiscence of the
college student who at age 7 had made a cake for the father-of-the bride's birthday. The slightly intimidating Dad cut into his cake to discover the baker girl had added a rather novel ingredient: a metal spoon.

Also fun: Descriptions of The Proposal on an icy beach near a closed-for-renovation lighthouse. There were no passersby on that frigid sand to memorialize the moment--so the clever groom-to-be had set up a tripod. The bride, meanwhile, was thinking, "Why did he spring this NOW, when I'm in sweats and my hair's a mess?"

The bridal couple we feted yesterday are slated to wed this coming Thursday. I'll be flying cross-country to attend; watch this space for an update!