Monday, July 28, 2014

Kids Play

Saturday afternoon, I saw a free street performance of Romeo & Juliet right around the corner from my Brooklyn apartment. Saturday night, I went to a Harlem rave.

What a long, strange day it was.

The afternoon was nothing short of miraculous. Boy-free–M was out with his dad–I was able to hang with my Park Slope neighbors as we watched the entire Shakespearean masterpiece I love so well.

So what if some/much of the dialogue was drowned out by passing planes and children shrieking as they played nearby in an open fire hydrant? I heard "A curse on both your houses!" and "O Romeo, Romeo!"; the party scene, with the Venetian-masked cast dancing to Beyonce's "Crazy in Love," was too fun for words; the nurse, on crutches from a previous performances mishap, was hilarious; the star-crossed lovers were beautifully convincing; the sword play was thrilling. The rain even held off.

With my day's dose of culture seemingly over, I headed home to dress for what I thought was dinner out with friends. After a few changes, I finally arrived at a blue peasant blouse, a flowing black linen skirt and funkadelic chandelier earrings. In other words, decked out for a pleasant evening.

Flash forward to 10:30 p.m., when I found myself waffling as to whether to travel with a friend–along with her teenage babysitter and her baby-faced boyfriend–to a Harlem rave. (It had a Facebook page and everything!) Responsible Beth kept reminding herself that the boy would be up and at 'em early the next day, while fun-loving, "I'm not too old for this, dammit!" Beth said, "Why not?"

Of course, it helped that my friend was footing the bill for a car or I never would have done it. Plus, hey, it was "only" 10:30–past my usual bedtime, but all work and all that. And so I went.

Let me tell you, I haven't felt so old, like, ever. Not when the boychick who greeted us asked me, "How long have YOU been on the scene?" as he and his partner frisked my friend and me over with their eyes, as if they were trying to detect if we were narcs. Silly boys; don't they know undercover midlife ladies would have waxed their hair up into spikes, put on five-inch white platforms, and donned wigs, glow sticks and tutus?

When they finally deemed us harmless–my friend kept telling them her sitter was her daughter (!)–we were led to an "undisclosed" location, a hot garage basement filled with post-pubescents trying too hard, drinking Coors Light and dancing to terrible not-even-house music.

I had polled my friends on Facebook beforehand as to whether I should go to a rave. The answers ranged from "Yes!" to "Are you 22 and living in the '90s?" to "If you have to ask, the answer is..." After five minutes, I answered to my own question when I posted "Here. Underwhelmed and bored. #callmejaded"

What can I say? I guess I have been on the scene a long time. And when you spent the '80s in Manhattan clubs, coming this close to JFK Jr. at Area and attending a party at the reopened Studio 54 with Michael Jackson hanging in the VIP Lounge (yes, I caught a glimpse, he was there), a few pyrotechnics and smoke machines aren't going to do it. I wasn't even moved to move. Still, I was thrilled the starry-eyed kids we'd taken were as excited as they were. ("It's the best rave we've ever been to!" cute boy declared. "And the most dangerous!")

And so about an hour later my friend and I departed. Thanks to the travel time, the eye-frisking, the jaunt to said "super-secret" location a few blocks from our drop-off point, and the wait for our car, I didn't get home till 2. Thank all that is holy, my son didn't wake up till 9:30, which never happens.

My friend says she can now check "go to a rave" off her bucket list. All I can say is, Romeo & Juliet's music and dancing were much better than whatever that was up in Harlem on Saturday night. All's well would have ended well if I had gone home at 10:30.

Next time, I'll remember: The play's the thing.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The House of Blue Tape

Our apartment is tangled up in blue–blue tape, that is.

No, we aren't painting the place. I wish we were; we could really use a touch up.

But I digress.

When M was just a toddler, I arrived at the idea of posting things on our stainless steel refrigerator–who knew magnets wouldn’t stick on it?–with blue painters tape. From there, I perfected the art of looping the tape around the back of his preschool pictures for display. Little did I know I had a small blue monster in the making.

Before too long, M took to wanting to "build" things out of his riding toys. But as an only child who lacked the skill to work independently, he always expected us to help–aka do it. By the time he was 3, he would rouse us from our wrinkled sheets as early as 6 a.m. on a Saturday to "make doors" for his PlasmaCar, a marvelous invention that is powered solely by the steering wheel. (It also managed to scratch up our wood floors pretty well; guess we'll fix those when we paint. When hell freezes over.) 

The car is plastic and rounded and does not lend itself to adding doors, or a roof, or any of the other myriad things M demanded that we create for him. But try we did, with cardboard and tin foil and rolls upon rolls of blue tape. (If I had to add it all up over the years, I’d say we’ve spent thousands on the stuff.)

M graduated from the car to his scooter and now his bike, which in its latest incarnation is "pimped out"–as the kindly bicycle shop guy puts it–with a bell, plastic strips that make his wheels clatter insufferably, and a misting fan he insisted on lifting from a box of castaways, even though I told him not to.

The thing is, at 11, M is already a longtime "collector." Our Brooklyn neighborhood is the epicenter of stoop sales and the “leave your old crap on the curb” phenomenon, which used to mean arguing him out of schlepping home every dead TV he saw on the sidewalk. My carefully curated loft apartment is starting to look like something out Hoarders.

The latest pièce de résistance: A broken white ceramic frame with the picture of a random model M bought at the school flea market for 50 cents. He can't understand what's odd about leaving some stranger’s picture in there. He “fixed” it with 12 pieces of very visible blue tape.

I must admit, it’s starting to grow on me. Anthropologie would probably sell it for $25.

But the ultimate blue-tape incident happened one night not long ago, when I came home to discover that in what appeared to be an OCD-like flurry to order his universe, he had labeled everything in the house: "fish tank," "fish bowl," "light," "TV," "misc. home items" (aka the junk drawer), ad infinitum. The poor kid went to such an effort, I left it all on for him a few days.

The latest: a box of tissue seemingly levitating above his bed, suspended by, what else, blue tape. 

I'm thinking of submitting it to the next Biennial. I may just have a design genius on my hands.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Back to the Womb

You can go home again.

With my 10-year-old son settled happily at camp, I have returned to the St. Louis suburbs for some much-needed time with my extended family. Back in Brooklyn, I yearn for such support, and so I have left the paperwork and cleaning behind for a few days. I know all of it will be waiting for me when I get home.

My parents long deceased, I always stay with my Aunt Fran and Uncle Jerry. I like to call their subdivision ranch house "the womb," named for the back bedroom where I'm ensconced. When the drapes are closed, the dark hush that envelops me in a room furnished with my grandparents' bedroom set–the one I used as a girl–makes me feel safe and comforted. While I'm here, I will sleep and eat, eat and sleep, with plenty of talking and deep hugs and raucous laughter to punctuate the time in between.

Someone asked if I have old school friends to whom I can turn for love and encouragement. I do, but I depend mainly on my aunt and cousins as we talk for hours about our children, our marriages, our work, our family history, cramming into several conversations many months' worth of events and feelings.

There's even Ruthie Ann, the beautiful yet spiteful cat who will tolerate a brief amount of petting. Eventually, the fangs come out, but I'm sure my blood pressure has gone down, regardless.

If I lived in town, I wouldn't need a therapist.

My aunt and uncle keep a house of calm order and routine, so different from my own. And unlike my apartment, their home–with its full finished basement right down to a complete kitchen–offers enough storage to get them through several rough winters. Their hall closet alone is stocked like a Walgreens. A very partial list of contents:

3 bottles Sarna lotion
6 boxes Kleenex
12 packs Kleenex packs
3 bottles nasal moisturizer spray
7 tubes Colgate Optic White toothpaste
3 tubes Arm & Hammer Advance White toothpaste
10 toothbrushes (you never know when house guests might forget theirs)

I'm not even going to begin cataloguing what's in the basement; let's just say that regular trips to Sam's Club and Costco mean there's little chance of running out of anything.

The refrigerator is another marvel of home engineering. The asparagus stalks stand on their tips in a shallow glass bowl of water so, as my aunt explains, they don't dry out. The strawberry tops have been sliced off, the fruit placed in rows on an oblong plate like tiny red Christmas trees "because otherwise," she says, "you know what happens."

For the first time in weeks, my mind is clear enough to write.

Frannie, 76, and Jerry, 79, both look 20 years younger. They are still strong and independent; at an age when many lean on canes or walkers, he logs 2.6 miles almost every day–my engineer uncle's precise calculation–in the park or shopping mall, depending on the weather. (And I now know from experience that he moves at a brisk clip.) When my aunt doesn't join him, she works out at Curves.

I only wish I had half my aunt's energy. I take after my mother, her older sister, prone to depression and anxiety. Frannie is always busy in the kitchen and takes joy in the things she does for her family. She never lays down to rest; I do.

My uncle continues to cut the grass and do most of the home repairs. (He also often cooks and does the dishes; any gender-based division of labor that existed when I was growing up seems to have disappeared.) Both engage with the family, many friends and the community, running volunteer organizations and helping the elderly neighbor.

They continue to make the small daily concessions–there is much discussion over the temperature setting–and exhibit the acts of kindness that demonstrate their love for one another and allow a marriage to thrive nearly 60 years. They are a team. This is their life, here in the quiet suburbs.

I know there are reasons I rejected all of this as an about-to-burst 18-year-old, ready to make her mark in the big wide world. I know I'm lucky to live where I do, close to the most exciting city on earth, blocks from an urban park oasis. and within walking distance of shopping and the subway.

And yet here I sit on their front porch, the wind whistling through the branches of oaks they planted 49 years ago, wistful for this life in the Midwest. What was once mundane to me has taken on a glow. At this moment, I wish I could pull up stakes and start over.

Don't we all want a redo sometimes?

Monday, April 14, 2014

This Year in Kansas City

Yesterday's murder of three innocents at Jewish centers in Overland Park, Kansas, truly hits home. I spent many of my formative years at the St. Louis JCCA–first on the swim team, then as a swim instructor, lifeguard, camper and counselor–and I am certain the Kansas Jewish Community Center is much the same, attracting people of all faiths and backgrounds to its fine facilities and programs.

This kind of thing isn't supposed to happen in the quiet suburbs, and yet a former Ku Klux Klan leader with a history of anti-Semitism and racism was able to get a gun and randomly mow down a doctor and his 14-year-old grandson in the JCC parking lot before heading for a retirement village, where he shot and killed a woman. Both of the JCC victims were members of the nearby United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

As news of the tragedy got out, my Facebook feed became a hotbed of debate–some feel anti-Semitism is on the rise in this country, while others continue to believe this is the best time and place for Jews since the diaspora. I am in the latter camp, but I realize I've been sheltered from much of the blind hatred toward my people.

I grew up in an insulated community with many Jews and now live in a liberal Brooklyn neighborhood where, I hope and believe, people are judged by their character rather than the color of their skin or religion. Many if not most of my friends are Jewish; it's a tight circle. I have never been called a kike, though I know my mother and her siblings were when they were growing up. I imagine that's at least part of the reason my mom made sure I'd go to school and camp with other Jewish kids.

I did spend two years in a small town in Colorado; it was there that I experienced what it feels like to be a minority. When I asked for matzoh at the grocery store, they had no idea what I was talking about. There was no synagogue; a rabbi would travel up twice a month to conduct services in someone's home.

Tonight, I'll be with dear friends, but I'll be heading to the seder with a heavy heart. We will recount the Exodus tale of freedom from slavery, and I'll pray for the victims and their families–and freedom from hate.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Forever, Mom

The check came today, bringing the usual bittersweet mix of gratitude and sadness. Gratitude for my mother's continued love and generosity, sadness for my loss.

It's been coming for 16 years, ever since the first anniversary of my mother's death.

As discombobulated and disorganized as Mom seemed toward the end of her life, she still managed to hire a financial planner and set up a fund that distributes a tax-free dividend to her children each winter.

A product of the Depression and a displaced homemaker of the '70s, Mom was terribly nervous about money. So when we read the will and I learned how much she had saved for us--by no means a fortune, but a sizable amount for someone who acted impoverished--it made my heart hurt.

"Why didn't she spend it on herself?" I kept asking through my tears. She should have traveled more, we all thought. She'd started taking art museum bus tours, traveling from St. Louis to see Impressionist shows at her beloved Chicago Art Institute, which she'd attended for a year before meeting and marrying my father. Why couldn't she have done more?

She did take one last big trip, to visit us for a summer vacation on the North Fork of Long Island (that pink Victorian we rented is a blog in itself) and then see my brother's family in Salt Lake City. It was the last time I saw her.

There were signs she wasn't well, but my brother and I didn't think there was anything serious going on. Her death was a shock.

And now the checks come, year in and year out, a reminder of how she cared for us.

These days, I understand her mindset. The first 25 years of my career, the economy was robust, my industry--print journalism--viable. But no more. I need to remake myself, much as she did after my father left on the eve of my departure to my first year of college.

When I was working full time and sure of my financial footing, I wanted to tear that check up every year. It felt like blood money to me.

Now that I'm a freelancer, I thank her silently as I deposit it into my savings account.

Just as she would have wanted.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me!

I'm slightly jealous of the petite blonde who lives next door.

First of all, V comes by her tresses naturally. Second, she mixes it up with the boys with plenty of spunk. (I like spunk.) Third, she celebrates her birthday with gusto, right down to posting a sign on her apartment door broadcasting how old she is.

Then again, she's 7.

One thing we do have in common: We were both born in January, albeit a "few" years apart.

This year, while she was off broadcasting her number in No. 2 pencil, I was answering my brother's birthday call with, "Yeah, whatever."

It wasn't all about my number, though that figured into the equation. I was also nursing a broken ankle that had been sidelining me for weeks, with the stomach flu thrown in for good measure.

But larger changes were afoot. Up until 50, I crowed about my birthday, seeking attention in the worst way. This year, it felt like just another day I might want to move to Australia.

Thank goodness for phone calls, my friend S's visit and Facebook; goofy as it sounds, those greetings really did lift my spirits. (No, I didn't tell everyone what a downer of a day I was having. I have a positive image to maintain!)

Speaking of my social-media fix, my mood hadn't lifted all that much over the following weeks until my friend M posted an excellent meme. (I only wish I could find the link.)

It's a vintage shot of six middle-aged women on an amusement park ride. The two in the first row, decked out in pearls, look like the girls they were, hysterical with laughter; the two in Row 3 look downright dire.

The caption: "You can choose to live in the front row, or in the third row."

On my birthday, I'm afraid I was one of the Sour Sisters. I needed the reminder to move up. After all, I can't let the petite blonde next door think only 7-year-olds have spunk.

Besides, it's my birthday. Last one to the front row's a rotten egg!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Snow Queen

At 3:30 a.m., I awoke to hear the plows rolling down my street. The second of January's gnarly snowstorms had hit New York City hard the previous day and, true to form, I had gone to bed not knowing if there would be school the following day. I prayed the verdict would be "yes."

I dialed 311 and heard the recorded "school is scheduled to be open today." (It turned out the new schools chancellor had called it at 11:30 p.m., but I had crashed at 9.) Then, for the next hour, I followed the debate raging on Facebook: Should school be open? Are you sending your kids? Why can't the Board of Ed cancel school early, like everyone else? Why are you sending your kids? (Implied: What kind of mother are you to send your kids out into this awful storm?)

I was relieved to drift off until my alarm rang at 5:50. I called the bus company to be sure the yellow fleet was running--it was. I thought of keeping my son home. What if the roads were slippery? But I managed to quickly dismiss the thought. After all, the buses were up and at 'em, and so was school. I know I might sound cold, so trust me when I say I'd never send my baby out into what I feared to be a dangerous situation. And it seemed clear we didn't have that. Heck, we didn't have the foot they'd predicted, either.

Here's the thing: As I see it, the world is divided into three kinds of moms, with a sprinkling of dads in the mix. On the one hand, you have the 21st century version of the Saturday Evening Post mother who celebrates a snow day as a chance to bond with her children, making memories filled with baking, sledding and hot cocoa.

Then there's the 21st century mom who figures it's no biggie if her kid stays home; he'll keep himself occupied with Minecraft and Harry Potter all day.

Then there's the panicked mom.

Guess which group I belong to?

Even at 10, my son requires my constant engagement. If I go to the bathroom, he asks me where I'm going. (It's an far could I go?) I might as well be living with a retired husband.

Not only that, I had just survived a three-day weekend. A three-day weekend, I tell you. It was far too soon for another day with my darling hanging around when I had work to get done...and a blog to write!

And so if school says yes, I say yes. I went even further. When my friend Judy messaged me, "Did you send the boy to school this morning? I'm going through all kinds of Jewish angst about how selfish I could be to let mine go," I told her it was OK, our kids would be fine. And yes, we would be, too.

I'm just glad I missed the email from school saying that many of the teachers wouldn't be making it in today, but not to worry, there was enough staff to handle things. It might have given me pause, if only for a moment. And they did handle things. And the bus delivered M to school and back home again just fine.

Don't get me wrong, I love my son. I just happen to hate snow days.

Call me the Wicked Witch of the South Slope.

That's how this mom rolls.