Monday, June 19, 2017

My Glory Days In The Glamorous World of Publishing

   When I completed college, I got the job of my dreams.  I snagged a position in the art department at "National Lampoon". Nothing could've been more thrilling. The job at Lampoon was for a series of special projects and when they were done so was my position. (the time I spent there certainly deserves its own post, but for now, this is about what came after)  Reluctantly I needed to find a new job and found one at a magazine that could not have been any more different, "Financial World". Gone were the people in tee shirts and ripped jeans, gone was the explosive laughter, gone were the suspicious smells coming from closed doors.
    The staff at "Financial World" was all male, with the exception of the secretaries and another art staffer. They were strictly a dark suit, white shirt humorless crowd, who in 1978, were still talking to and about the women on the staff like we were in an episode of Madmen. The Art Director, John, was a balding man with a combover and appeared as if he had just read "Dress Cool Like The Kids". I could just imagine him, back home on the weekends, telling his neighbors about being an "artist" in Manhattan while wowing them with his hip fondue dinners.
   The other woman in the art department, April, was very cool.  She had long straight hair, was as thin as a rail and always dressed in black. She was extremely good at her job and kept very quiet. We kept the door shut to our office and would play music. She had been there for a couple of years and I could feel, although she never said it, that she would be gone soon. One morning she announced that she was leaving to work at "Rolling Stone". As soon as she announced that she was giving her two weeks notice, she became chatty. She told me of the parade of other assistants that left this room. She said that John only hired women for this job. She said that he hit on everyone of them. April said one of the former assistants and he were still meeting at a hotel at lunchtime. She told me about John's very sweet wife who was a board artist and often came in to work at crunch times when we were closing issues. April told me that his wife was seemingly unaware. Being pretty naive, I assumed his attention that he gave me was the fatherly kind. It never occurred to me that the man with the pressed blue jeans and neckerchief, tied jauntily to the side, was mentally undressing me.
   After April went to "Rolling Stone", my duties in the art dept grew. I had more responsibilities and no one standing over me to check my work. John, who had hired me because I was an attractive girl, clearly didn't check my references from "National Lampoon". I went to Lampoon with no experience and little knowledge of board work. Most of the copy that I pasted onto the boards was crooked. Skip Johnston, at Lampoon, told me I was hands down the worst mechanical artist he had ever hired at the magazine. Always being a person who appreciates superlatives, I was proud of being "worst". This being said, when I was finally on my own at "Financial World", mistakes were bound to happen.
   I don't know where John was when we did the cover of an important issue about the bull market, but I was given the task of doing it. I went through stock photos of animals and found a horned beast worthy of the cover. I got the last minute headlines sent to the typesetter and picked the colors. I felt like a pro...I thought even Skip would be proud of how far I had come in such a short time. There was  no one checking my work... I was the last stop before the printer got the boards.
   The morning that the issue hit newsstands, phone calls started coming in. There was a problem. The issue about the strong bull market, with a bull staring out from the cover with the headline "Is It For Real" had one glaring mistake for anyone familiar with was a cow...Not a BULL! How was I to know that horns are not just on bulls? I wish I could remember the conversations being screamed in the halls, but the blame, (although my mistake) was John's. He should never have had this go to press without his OK.

   Things were, as you can imagine, a bit tense for a while in the office. John's wife was coming in more frequently to help with boards, and I assume, keep an eye on me like a babysitter. This didn't stop John from going to check out photographer's studios or scout locations for shoots, which i knew by then was not where he was going. It was starting to feel like a bad soap opera and I knew it was probably time to get my portfolio to a head hunter.
   When John's wife didn't come to fill in on busy days, we used an art staff temp company called "Hour Hands". The man who owned the company was a big man in his 50's that had a thin permed fro and a fabulous collection of polyester suits with "sans-a belt" pants. He was a walking cliche. He always chatted with me and told me dirty jokes that I laughed at. I still wasn't getting the "boundaries thing". I still didn't get that men shouldn't be saying that to women in the office. 
   When he came in one day, i asked him if he would quietly look at my portfolio. I told him that I would like to make a change, leave "Financial World" and freelance. As if we were Jeff Sessions at a cocktail party exchanging info with Russians, we spoke in hushed tones and made a plan. He told me, so not to raise any eyebrows with John, he would gladly stay late and meet after work. I was to come to his office the next evening. I went to his empty office and sat, putting my portfolio on his desk, prepared for a critique. He laughed and said since it was after hours would I like to smoke some pot. I said sure, why not?! A bit stoned, I sat in his office, then he excused himself for a minute. My chair had the back to the door and when he walked back in, he reached down from behind and grabbed my breasts. Startled, I jumped up and ran out of the office, leaving my portfolio on his desk. 
   The next day, i didn't know how to proceed. I was worried that he would tell John that I was looking for a job. I should have been concerned that this slimy letch had attacked me. Along with the fear of losing my job, I didn't know how I was going to get my portfolio back. Quietly, from my desk, I called "Hour Hands". Before I could ask to get my portfolio, he said what fun he had had the prevoius night. Flustered I hung up the phone without responding. I needed someone with authority to help me. I called a writer at National Lampoon, Danny Abelson, who was brilliant and asked for his help. He immediately pointed out to me, that the name of the company should have thrown up multiple red flags, but said he would be happy to help.  That afternoon, he called "Hour Hands", saying in his charming South African accent, which gave him such gravitas, that he was my lawyer, and that my portfolio should be messengered to me by day end or there would be consequences. It was delivered in the afternoon.
   I continued working at "Financial World" and got used to the rhythms of the office. I didn't make any mistakes like the "Bull Cover", but I was also never given that much unchecked responsibility again. One day, when the last gallies were coming in, John said we would have to stay late and get everything pasted-up before leaving. The final corrections and edits would come in the morning, and then we would send the boards to the printer. As the evening wore on, John offered to buy dinner and suggested that we walk over to the brand new CITI building and get a "real meal" at one of the new restaurants. We had completed our work and he insisted that we deserved it. Over something with feta cheese or lemon soup his real intentions were made..."lets finish this evening at my apartment". My answer was an emphatic, "NO!" 
   The next morning was awkward and nothing was acknowledged. Something was being rewritten and boards needed big changes. We were going to be late getting the mechanicals to the printer by at least a day, and tempers were flaring. His wife came in from Long Island to assist. John was especially nasty to me. His office was across the hall from mine and instead of coming in to speak to me, we would yell from his room and order me to come in. He passed passive aggressive by 10am and went to full-on aggressive. He and his wife went out to grab some lunch and I took many of the boards and slipped them behind the large metal filing cabinets. When he came back with his sandwich he started yelling at me again. I went into his office and told him he was treading on a dangerous path. I said your wife is in the other room. He told me to fuck off. I stormed into the publishers office and told him everything. He looked at me from across his desk and took John's side, told me to calm down and get to work...the issue was late. I said, "I quit!" Then i went to John's  office and told him the same. Crossing the hall back to my office , I went to collect my things. He followed me into the hall and bellowed that i was fired.He was making sure everyone in the office heard it. I said that i just quit, then he screamed, "Oh NO!! YOU"RE FIRED!!!!"
   I looked at his wife as I got my Xacto-knife and set of Rapidographs. Telling her everything would have been sweet revenge on him, but she didn't deserve the humiliation, so I left without saying anything else.
   When the elevators opened, and I walked out onto 3rd Avenue, just knowing that there were 30 boards of pasted-up pages hidden behind the metal drawers was revenge enough.

Cheese Fondue:


In a small bowl, coat the cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of the ceramic fondue pot with the garlic, then discard.
Over medium heat, add the wine and lemon juice and bring to a gentle simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the simmering liquid. Melting the cheese gradually encourages a smooth fondue. Once smooth, stir in cherry brandy, mustard and nutmeg.
Arrange an assortment of bite-sized dipping foods on a lazy Susan around fondue pot. Serve with chunks of French and pumpernickel breads. Some other suggestions are Granny Smith apples and blanched vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and asparagus. Spear with fondue forks or wooden skewers, dip, swirl and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

March Labor and Madness

Tuesday March 11th  1986-
 Mark hailed a cab and I followed him into the car with my pink blanketed package. Mark told the cabbie, “West End Ave and 75th Street”, and sat back in his seat. We looked at each other and at this baby . We couldn’t have been more nervous. What had we done? There were no “backsies’ here, we were committed. The driver asked us her name and we said Leah. The driver then started telling us the story from the bible. Leah was the unwanted less attractive sister, the one that the father had to marry off by trickery. Learning that our very first act as parents was giving our daughter a name of an unwanted bride seemed like a bad start. But we looked at this sweet beautiful baby and were smitten. Our world had changed forever.

Friday March 7th  1986 -  
After nine long months of pregnancy, I was approaching the finish line. I never had a bout of true morning sickness, but I did have a feeling of being slightly carsick the entire time. Constant bland soothing foods were the only thing that seemed to quell the nausea, so I ate pasta and milkshakes until I had accomplished gaining 60 lbs. I had grown so large, when sitting alone in the apartment on the floor, putting together the pieces of a baby-swing I couldn’t get myself off the ground. Like a walrus on a rock, I could only flop about, waiting for Mark to get home and help me up off the floor 

With my due date quickly approaching, the timing of our blessed event seemed to conflict with Mark’s college basketball viewing. The baby’s arrival was inconveniently anticipated smack in the middle of The Big East Conference Tournament. Had we only counted better during conception, there would have been a coitus timeout called on the court to make sure this tragic overlap didn’t occur. Now it was too late for finger pointing and anger, it was just something we would have to soldier through. 

Mark, working at Sports Illustrated had tickets for the game in the in the luxury Sky Box at Madison Square Garden. These were the dark ages before cell phones. The times you were away from home, or out of the office was time that you were actually unreachable. With this in mind, Mark considerately called me before he left his desk at work, he let me know that he was on his way to the game and wanted make sure I wasn’t stranded on the floor like the week before. 

I told him that I was feeling fine and said the requisite “Lets Go Orange”. I told him to have fun, so, in retrospect, the events that follow could certainly be blamed on me.

We lived in a relatively small apartment building on West End Ave , 8 floors with only 2, 3 or 4 apts on each floor.  There was the usual mix of tenants, the Puerto Rican super in the basement apartment, the foreign diplomat with live in help from her country (that we suspected was chained to the radiator at night), the well known Broadway singer who was the dubbed voice of all the singing movie stars, bankers, lawyers and of course the crazy lady who let the pigeons fly into and stay in her apt, she wore white pancake makeup, round circles of rouge, and bright red lipstick reaching inches passed her lip line. In this building we had a group of young married couples, all within a year or 2 of each other in age. We were not people who would seek each other out in the real world, but like a college dormitory, because we lived together, we became a clique. We all got pregnant within months of each other. I was last to get pregnant and would seek their advice since they were all a few months ahead of me. 

That Friday afternoon, my neighbor took photos of me in a bikini, saying that as soon as she did this, it brought on her labor. We laughed at the sight of me in that pink bikini and watched the baby’s fist or heel make a path across my belly, looking like the sand worms in the movie Dune. 

With Mark gone for the evening, I was looking forward to watching “Bye Bye Birdie” on TV. I settled in on the sofa and couldn’t get comfortable. Pretty much, as soon as Ann-Margaret finished singing her opening number, I knew that I was in the early stages of labor. 

Mark had found an empty payphone during a timeout. He thoughtfully called to check up on me. I knew it was still early labor and he was thrilled that he was watching his Orangemen playing like real champions, so I chose not to say what was brewing. He would have come home if I had said I was starting labor. I heard the excitement in his voice telling me about his team and I knew the game would be over soon. 

 And....this is where our communication skills break down. I assumed saying that I was fine was a selfless deed. I know the length of a basketball game and felt sure he would be coming in the door in about an hour. He heard, “ go – have fun- this will be one of the last times you can throw caution to the wind with the guys”, after the Syracuse game was over Mark chose to stay for the 2nd game of the tournament . He thought since it was  a night of victory and last chances. He thought it was the perfect night to get drunker than he had ever been had before. 

With no way to call him, I paced and paced as the pain of labor kept coming and going. Hours passed, Hugo and Kim were reunited and the credits and music were long over. With each contraction I stared in disbelief at the door, burning a hole through it. Imaging Mark in an accident that I was hoping caused him multiple contusions. And then...  the door opened, Mark stumbled in like a man made of jello, but with the stale stinking aroma of beers, hotdogs and testosterone. With lidded eyes barely open, he tried to focus on me, standing in the hallway. I was screeching with a sound so insane it’s a wonder swat teams weren’t sent to secure our block. 

I looked at him and shouted WHERE WERE YOU??!!?! IM IN LABOR!!!  

He shook his head and said “you’ll be fine, I’ve got to go to bed”...and he did 

Mark went to sleep and I paced the apt like a caged convict, making noises that I hoped would wake him, but nothing was going to rouse him. Around 9am he shuffled to the bathroom and saw me circling the apartment. He asked what I was doing? I answered “Im Having the BABY!!” He looked at me knowing that his only chance of living now meant total and complete resignation. He dressed and we went to the Dr’s office.

The Doctor, seemingly in a conspiracy with Mark, told me I was barely dilated and should go home. I was sure I saw a wink pass between them or even a quick high five, as we left and Mark was able to go back to sleep. 

Late that afternoon we spoke to the Dr and he told us to come to the hospital. Even then, I was nowhere near ready, but in a sympathetic gesture to me and to Mark, he gave drugs to calm me down and an epidural to stop the pain.

Because of the epidural, I couldn’t feel the contractions. We just watched them on the monitor...or should I say I watched them.. Syracuse was back on the court Saturday night and the birth of a child was not going to get in the way. Mark had on his Sony Walkman radio with the big foam circle headset. He cheered and groaned as I lay there. Then after 36 hours of labor and basketball, on the very first push in the delivery room, my beautiful baby was born.

She was perfect. Nearly 10 lbs, the largest baby in the nursery but the numbers were still not adding up to my 60 lb weight gain. But weight issues are worthy of its own chapter, so we will leave with the miraculous feeling of being handed my baby, my Leah. All the joys of the world put on top of my chest. Holding the tiny pink fingers and putting my nose almost in her mouth to breathe in her breath, as if it was all the air I had never breathed before.

Tuesday March 11th 1986- out of the cab, into our apartment and the beginning of our new life.   

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Not Feelin' Funny...The after election depression

Growing up as a Jewish girl in Greensboro, North Carolina, I was taught to be fearful.
Always taught that there's danger even behind a seemingly kind smile. From the time I could listen or think I was told that people hated us.
   When I was too young to understand anything, I was told the stories of Anne Frank.I was shown the photographs of a little girl who looked just like m, and learned that she hid from people who hated her, and captured by them. I was told that Anne died and was put into an oven. Not the fairy tale oven of Hansel and Gretel, but a real oven. Ovens where six million of my people and six million more were killed.
People's capacity to follow the wrong person, a charismatic leader who offers simple solutions to difficult questions makes people capable of unimaginable hate.
 The stories, both biblical and historical, of persecution were drummed into my psyche. I would go to sleep at night and cry when the lights would go out, so fearful of being alone with my thoughts and no capacity to understand them. My parents thought I was a faker who didn't want to go to sleep and that i just wanted to stay up all night... but I was afraid of what happens in the dark, of who might come, wearing heavy boots, into our house and takes us away. I was afraid of the end of the world....or at the very least, MY world. I never got over my fear of turning out the light at night, I can't go to sleep in the dark, I can't go to sleep in the quiet ,my mind is too loud.
   Over the years I was bullied and picked on. Elementary school children who are too young to even understand what they were saying would ostracize me, call me names and not invite me. Try as I might to blend in, there was always the teacher who would separate me and say, "Ruth you don't have to sing the songs that we are all singing at Christmas. The pretty songs about drummer boys and snowmen. It always made me feel like i was being singled out and separated for be being Jewish. 
   Then there was junior high. Children from multiple elementary schools fed into a large junior high school. There were children from other neighborhoods. Children who had never met a Jew....children who had only heard stories from their parents. They zeroed in on me, and I became a target. By the time they had entered junior high school, these children had been fed stories of long bearded Jews with horns, the tales of how we killed Christ their Savior, and that Jews are all rich dirty money lenders.
   I would sit on the school bus in the morning, a group of boys would write the word "JEW" in the condensation on the cold windows...they would throw wadded paper at my head. A few of them would spit or chew up paper and make spitballs and blow them at me. I would walk the halls of my school, and those same boys would whip out pennies and throw them at my bare legs so hard that I would have welts on them. As stinging as a copper missile was, the sting hurt even more as they chanted "Jew , Jew Jew!!" Then they passed me, howling with uncontrollable laughter. I was told by my parents just to ignore them, that I was above all this and they were "nothing!" They said , and one day they would "get theirs" and I would find my place. ( in one, and ONLY one instance, a seismic explosion of karma happened ....the summer after high school, a pallet holding a ton of brinks fell from above onto one of the boys from the bus....)
   In the late 1960's, we would watch the news....the times were allegedly changing....people in the streets were marching for Love and Peace and Equality. The "love generation" came in while I was in junior high. It was a time when America had open its eyes, and had suddenly become aware. People believed that they had evolved.  This was America, the land that welcomed people with a Statue of Liberty's torch, and her and her words of "give me your tired your poor..  I lift my lamp beside this golden shore."The movement that happened in the 60s, seems to have been a warm blanket covering the cold hearts of most of America. But now in retrospect, the blanket didn't change or warm, it just covered their ugliness like a tarp. Now, in 2016, the blanket has been thrown off the bed and it is cold in America once again.
   Every summer my parents sent me to a Jewish sleep away camp. It was a beautiful place in the mountains with other Jewish children from all over America. Most of the campers were from areas that have large Jewish communities like Miami Beach. They didn't grow up as one of the 15 Jewish students in a large school. Saturday mornings at camp, we had services in the chapel. There was always a reference to the cry, "Never Forget".  I never did, that fear was always sitting in my pocket, ready to come out at a moment's notice. But for many children of the 60s, they lived in places where it was so hard to be Jewish. They didn't know what it was, that they weren't supposed to forget.
    One night, as a top secret activity to teach all of us, the privileged campers from comfortable homes,  the message went too far. (This certainly could never occurs in our bubble wrapped, politically correct society now....and it shouldn't) We were awakened by blaring sirens on the PA system, they were loud and they didn't stop. It was three in the morning, and all of our counselors and all of the staff were standing and screaming at us. They were throwing things on the floor, clamoring pots and pans, telling us to get out of bed immediately! "No no no!!!You may not grab your sneakers...No, you may not put on your sweatshirt!!!' In our nightgowns and pajamas, we were rounded up and taken to the big black top where the buses were usually parked. Crying confused children herded like animals. Yelled at as we were crying... scared and we didn't understand what was going on. They kept us standing there on the blacktop in the middle of the night  in our bare feet. Then the sirens stopped and we were told to march up the mountain to the chapel . At daybreak, the entire camp sat in the chapel and were given lecture about the Holocaust. We were told how lucky we were and how we should never forget.
    That night still gives me nightmares, and yet there was no real threat involved.  But I felt it, and so did the other children. It was a fire alarm. And I feel now, the fire burning... and  I feel my fears that I had as a little girl  coming to pass. I fear for people who can't blend in as I can with my nondescript looks and my English last name, I can blend.... I can walk undetected.
   Thursday after the election, I went shopping at Costco, here in Charlotte, NC.  I walked up and down the aisles, and as each person passed or approached me I sized them up as either friend or foe. I felt safe as I passed people of color, thinking they couldn't possibly be part of this hate revolution but I wondered what they thought when they passed me? Did they think I voted to  Make America Great? I had visions of movies about Germany in the late 30s, when Jewish families walked on the street and looked suspiciously at all of their neighbors. Wondering if that was going to be the one to rat them out. Is that the person who will alert the authorities and have them rounded up?
     I know you can be sympathetic, but if you have never lived in fear, if it hasn't been ingrained for your entire life,then you can't fully understand the despair that so many feel right now. You can see things going wrong. You can shake your fist and say how horrible it is, but you cannot feel the sickness in the gut that has been growing, stewing, brewing, sitting not so quietly in the deepest part of me. You really can't if you grew up without that fear. I envy people, not for being who they are, but for not knowing what I know, I envy the people who are able to say,  "OK let's move on from here--- let's take a deep breath and hold hands and make this work". I cannot hold hands, I am afraid to hold hands with the people next to me. I don't know who they are and I don't trust them. This election has taken away my entire sense of security, all of it is gone.... that warm blanket, now removed, unveiled the ugly monsters that have been under the bed all along. There's nothing to protect us.
   Many people will think this is just the ramblings of a depressed woman,
and you would be partially right, but mostly these are the words of a woman whose eyes are wide open now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My Short Life of Crime

   Confession is good for the soul. Today i am confessing to you all of my brush with crime. 
   I grew up in a bubble and only associated with children in my neighborhood. It was a nice upper middle class development with fathers that went to work everyday and stay-home mothers. there was no "criminal element" lurking in the shadows on my block, but I was about to change everything!
   When I was 12, I met a girl named Margaret at school. She was immediately fascinating. It wasn't because she was taller than the other girls, or because she wore a bra that she actually needed. It wasn't because she wore tight plaid Villager pencil skirts. She was interesting because she was from outside of my bubble. She went to our school, but she lived in an area that I had never been to before, although we passed it everyday. She lived in an apartment building. My bubble had NO apartments. She lived in a rundown garden apartment with her mother. There was no father and never any mention of him. Apparently, her parents were divorced....but there were all sorts of stories that swirled around this Mother-Daughter duo. Most were probably myth, but in her tight skirt and pointy bra, Margaret only encouraged the rumors. Her mother worked as a nurse and was never home. And...if that was't enough to prove what kind of woman she was, she drove a Mustang convertible! 

   Margaret walked to school all alone each day. Her mother left in the morning too early to drive her. Margaret went home to an empty apartment. As I write this, it sounds sad, but to my 12 year old self, this was the coolest thing i had ever heard of. Because her mother wasn't home, she could do whatever she wanted to do after school. The apartments were not just within easy walking distance of the school but also the shopping center. I jumped at making friends with this girl...i had was as if she was in the fast-lane to adulthood and I wanted to go with her.
   After school, Margaret and i would walk from school to the Friendly Shopping Center. When i made these plans, my mother always assumed that Margaret's mother was driving us. She didn't know we were walking on the busy road from the school to the stores. Margaret seemed to always have spending money. I didn't. I only had change left from lunch money.  I usually had just enough change for an ice cream cone at the Guilford Dairy. (not to prove how very old I am, but ice cream was a nickel a scoop at that time) We would usually go there first, then meander up and down, looking in all the shops.
   Our favorite store was Eckerd's Drugstore on the corner. It had everything ...magazines, records, hair sprays and make-up.
The make-up counter had displays with samples and we would try on all the lipsticks and blushes and then we splashed Canoe cologne all over each other.
   After dowsing each other in cologne,
we would sit on the floor and grab the can of Frost and Tip hair spray and while sticking our heads deep into the shelves, we would spray silver streaks on the front of our bangs. Margaret and i would finally leave Eckerds, looking like clowns, thinking we looked so glamorous with a thick cloud of cheap men's cologne trailing after us.
   My mother would always pick me up at the dairy and she assumed Margaret was being picked up by her mother. It never crossed my mother's mind that she would be walking home on Benjamin Parkway. I certainly never told my mother where Margaret lived or her racy circumstances.

   One day after school, Margaret and I were on our first lap around the shopping center. I had exhausted my funds and thought she had too. We crossed through the parking lot, away from Eckard's and went into Woolworth's. There was a makeup display selling a rectangular compact of tri-color blush by Yardley. I stood in front of the display staring at the blush like the "Little Matchgirl" stared in at the diners at the banquet. I wasnt even allowed to wear makeup yet, but i knew these 3 pink circles of powder could alter the trajectory of my life. George Harrison would probably call me and invite me to go on tour with the Beatles if my cheeks had Yardley blush and Slicker lipstick on them. As i stared a hot beam of desire, i noticed Margaret palm a few of the blushes and slip them into her small bag from Eckerd's. I couldn't believe what i was seeing and when she gestured for us to leave. I left quickly. I felt like there was a neon sign with a finger pointing at me, signalling my guilt. 

   I might need to confess at this juncture, that I was not a "theft virgin", but up til this point, I had only stolen from people that I knew and loved....never from a store. Odds and ends around our house that were technically owned by other family members may have found their way into my room. Once in my room, it was easy to hide under the jumble. My mother had long given up trying to make me clean my room and found, simply closing the door was the best way to deal with my mess. So, there, under layers of clothes and debris, were many of the missing items my brothers has wrongly accused my mother of throwing away, all of the tiny Avon lipstick samples that my mother accused my sister of "borrowing", and my sister's Charles of the Ritz eye-shadow that she was sure that I had taken, but couldn't prove.
   All of my "in home" petty crime had not fully prepared me for Margaret and real life malfeasance. My heart was racing as we sat on a bench in front of the Guilford Dairy. It was getting dark early, and in the dusky light, Margaret opened her bag and she showed me her haul. She didn't just have an item or two, she had a bag full. My mother would be there to pick me up at any moment, but before she did, Margaret handed me the rectangular box with the blush, then she left to walk home. I slipped the box into my pocketbook and felt like i was smuggling weapon grade plutonium. 
   A few days later my mother walked into my bathroom and caught me sitting on the counter with my feet in the sink. I was busy applying layers of blush in large circles on my cheeks, removing and then reapplying. She asked me where i had gotten the makeup. I told her it was a gift from Margaret and promised it was just for play.... i knew i wasn't allowed to leave the bathroom with it on. She didn't press me, and it may have only been my guilt, but i was sure she didn't believe the "gift" story.....although, technically it had been.
   Once I saw how easy it was for Margaret to slip the makeup in her bags and not get caught, it wasn't long before I joined her in our "discount shopping sprees". My first "bargain was the 45 "Sunday Will Never be the Same" by Spanky and Our Gang,
then "Monday Monday" by the Mamas and Papas. 45's fit neatly into my coat. I held myself as if I was chilly and walked out of Woolworth's. I worked up from 45's to a full sized albums. One day,  my mother, without explanation decided that i could no longer hang out with Margaret. I don't know if she saw Margaret's mother in her nurse's uniform, driving her Mustang, or if she saw Margaret walking along Benjamin Parkway after dark....but those were the days when parents didn't explain to their children. They simply said NO- you can't...and that was that. My brief vacation from my bubble was over, I was guided out of the fast lane and directed back to the kiddie rides. 
   I can never listen to the Mamas and Papas without thinking about of my reckless days of crime.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bat Mitzwedding

 My Bat Mitzwedding

Back in 1968 I was in 7th grade. It was a pivotal year in many ways. 7th grade meant leaving elementary school and going to junior high school. I would no longer be sitting in one classroom all day. Now I would change classes for each subject. These were the big leagues; and I was on the precipice of teen-hood.....just one training bra away from womanhood. Junior high had the day broken up into multiple periods for each and every subject. Bells would mark the end of one class and then another bell marked the beginning of the next. All of the shuffling through the halls would occur with a stack of books under one arm and a pocketbook on the other wrist. I had rehearsed the "one arm book hold" from the very first time i saw Sandra Dee do it. My greatest aspiration was to be a teenager!  Having an older sister and two older brothers, i had taken careful mental notes.Now I was entering junior high school and it was my turn to be Gidget.

The first stop into "Teendom" would be the Bar and Bat Mitzvah circuit. I had enviously watched my sister when she was 13 as she readied herself for all of the fabulous parties. They were formal affairs or creative theme parties. My favorite party  that I wished i had been invited to was a cowboy themed "Barn-Mitzvah" The invitation came on yellowed card stock, with type looking like a wanted poster. There was a small card with information that had a loop of twine holding a very tiny six-gun revolver.
I would sit in Roberta's room as she teased her hair into a poofy crown and then place a small velvet bow, in an indent between the poof and her bangs. Then she would select a party dress and slide on hose that attached to her garter belt. I yearned for the day i would no longer wear socks or patent leather maryjanes.

I had never been one to put a lot of effort into things. I wanted to be good at ventures, but never liked involving myself with either, practice or study. I took up violin in the school orchestra solely for the cool factor of walking through the school halls carrying an instrument. I can honestly say, i never, ever practiced. The orchestra leader had no choice but to show me the door, ending my chances of becoming the next Yehudi Menuhin. Then there was the time my parents had me take piano lessons. We had a magnificent baby grand in our living room that i never touched. At the year end recital, I sat at at the piano, played one note, looked out at the audience, then got up and ran out of the building and all the way home.

Now, my lack of effort was going to be directed at my Bat Mitzvah lessons. By 7th grade, i was in my 5th year of Hebrew "studies". The word "studies" is in quotations because in those 5, I had Hebrew school for 2 hours twice a week in the afternoons, Sunday school, Saturday Jr Congregation, and yet, i managed to only learn the letters Alef and Bet. For those of you who are also not Hebrew scholars, there is apparently an entire alphabet that follows those two letters. With my impending Bat Mitzvah looming over me,  never learning Hebrew was certain to be a problem.

One after the next, all of my Hebrew school classmates were Bar Mitzvahed. I was the youngest in my class, making mine the last. With each one the ante was raised. This was not just a rite of passage, there was a lot of one-up-manship.

During this time, i was not the only Kabat celebrating an important life event. My brother, Lee, became engaged to his college sweetheart. He was the handsome guy that was the country club life guard. She was the 6 foot, model bodied blond. They had that "it" quality. They weren't exactly the couple with whom i wanted to share the spotlight.

For convenience and economy, my mother thought it would be a terrific idea to combine the two events in a one week Kabat extravaganza. The week of Christmas was selected since all of our relatives had nothing to do and nowhere to go. While all of the rest of the world celebrated the Christ child's birth, we would have a Jewish Jamboree. All of our relatives could come from the New York tri-state area. We offered them two fabulous affairs with only one fare south....what a deal!! They would all come, my Long Island cousins with all of their children, my great aunts with their freshly blued hair and ample bosoms, my elegant uncles, my fat grandfather who smelled of cheap cigars and herring, and all the rest of the cast of "Goodbye Columbus".
All of the family was there

Everyone came to Greensboro, then we all drove together in cars packed like circus clowns to Sumter, South Carolina for my brothers wedding. Not since Moses lead the slaves out of Egypt had there been such a Semitic spectacle. Car after car, on winding two lane highways, the extended family found our way to this small southern town. Sumter was completely unprepared for the likes of us.

The brides mother was a southern Jew, complete with a refined southern accent and elegant, WASPified mannerisms. She politely greeted us at the hotel and said that there were very few restaurants in town...especially being Christmas Eve, so the pre-bridal luncheon would be at a small truck stop. My relatives all chuckled at her droll sense of humor. When we arrived at the luncheon and saw that it was indeed in a building behind a gas station all conversation stopped......but only briefly.

The wedding was a lovely affair at the Sumter Holiday Inn. It was the finest establishment that could....or available for a Jewish wedding on Christmas day. The bride was beautiful, my brother was handsome, everything was perfect. The morning after, we all loaded once again into our caravan and headed back to Greensboro for my Bat Mitzvah.

The excitement of the wedding and my duties as junior bridesmaid kept me from thinking about my own ceremony. Driving toward Greensboro, i sat in the back of my father's Cadillac, and it occurred to me that i hadn't studied for my Bat Mitzvah that week. Even more troubling, it also occurred to me, that i hadn't studied at any time during the last year. The realization that i did not learn my Haftorah was now water over the dam. I had exactly 48 hours to learn 13 years worth of Baruch Atah Adonais.
My mother inscribed the wrong date

Back in Greensboro, the following days were a flurry of beauty parlor appointments and last minute dress alterations. On Friday morning my father started to complain that he wasn't feeling well. By the time we needed to get dressed to leave for Friday night services, he said he was too sick to go. My father apologized and said that he needed to go to bed so that he would be better for the important Saturday service. I don't have a strong memory of this moment, but i have never been someone who handled disappointment well. I am sure i gave my father a dose of guilt making him feel even sicker. The guilt I served up made my mother nod with appreciation that i had indeed become a Jewish woman that evening.

Usually the Bat Mitzvah girl would lead the Friday night service, but the Rabbi and my teacher had long given up the hope of me being able to do that. They had me read a few English responsive reading passages. There seemed to be a murmur in the congregation as they noticed my lack of Hebrew participation. I felt their disapproval, but as long as they sent me a good gift, i didn't care what they were muttering!
 Wearing the bridesmaid dress for my Bat Mitzvah portrait 

Saturday morning, my father awoke with a raging fever and a case of full blown flu. He was going to miss my Bat Mitzvah....i couldn't believe it!! His dear friend Al sat beside me on the bima, where my father should have been. I led the few prayers that the Rabbi had hastily transliterated for me in his final act of resignation. Even with that, i stumbled over the words . Then, my was a mangled amalgamation of sounds that had little to do with Hebrew...or any known language on our planet.Most of the congregation and guests didn't really know what it should have sounded like, but it was clear to all, by the expressions on the faces of my instructor and Rabbi, i wasn't even close. The two men shot glances at each other over the opened scrolls. It seemed like i had struck a terrible blow against all Judaism...i had committed  "Haftorah Holocaust "

It was as if my mother psychically knew that this was going to be the worst Bat Mitzvah in all chronicles of Beth David Synagogue's history. With this in mind, she planned the most second rate party ever. My two older brothers and sister had beautiful receptions. Unfortunately, with all of the planning and excitement of my brother's wedding, who had time to organize a decent luncheon? Not my mother, that's for sure! It was downstairs in the basement of our old shabby synagogue. Tuna salad and Lender's bagels, ginger ale and sherbet punch, Mogen David concord wine and stale, week old Challah brought down from New York by my cousins.The one detail my mother took care of was hiring an accordion player. ...........yes, an accordion player!

Every child in our congregation would give a speech at their Bar Mitzvah luncheons. It was supposedly written by them, but was almost, without fail, written by a parent. My father wrote a fabulous one for my sister, complete with stage notes in parenthesis saying (look up), (pause), (speak slowly). He did not write one for me, after all this is the same father who didn't even come to my Bat Mitzvah! It never dawned on me to write one for myself...what, with all of the studying for the service that I was not doing, I was entirely swamped! Therefore, in between bites of my bagel, I composed a speech. One of my friends and i worked on it and thought we had just the perfect amount of sincerity and humor that was called for on this important day. As everyone ate their sub par kosher meal, I stood up and thanked everyone for coming. I also thanked everyone for their thoughtful and generous gifts. After that, I picked up my knife from my place setting, waved it furiously in the air, then thrust it forward saying, "and for those of you who haven't gotten me a gift...I KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!! Anticipating howls of laughter, i looked out at the tables of people who stared back at me looking like they were posing for Edvard Munch's "The Scream".

Lunch ended and we returned home. My final memory was of my mother telling my father how lucky he was to have been sick


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