18 August 2016

Always Send A Condolence Card

The other day I came across something on the intertubes that struck me, hard. It turns out to have been posted more than 10 years ago - on NPR's All Things Considered - but good things are still good, 10 and more years later. Except eggs. Eggs are not good 10 years down the road.

Back to NPR. Always Go To The Funeral. It's a lovely little essay which says just that: you should always go to the funeral, because it means so much to the living.

A couple of weeks ago, the father of an imaginary friend died. I've never met her in the flesh, though I sent her a copy of Jenny Lawson's book for her birthday last month, and she sent me a wonderful hand knit scarf about 10 minutes after we'd met online. She is indeed a friend, though until I've had a chance to hug her and share a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with her she will continue to be imaginary. It's a term of art, yo.

Last weekend, the sister of a local acquaintance died. She's someone I know her mostly from Facebook because we poke sticks at similar town- and school-related issues, but I run into her at the farmer's market from time to time, so, not imaginary. I had never met her sister.

Stumbling on Always Go To The Funeral in the aftermath of these two arms-length deaths, something resonated deeply in my soul.

I would like, therefore, to offer a corollary, or perhaps a subtitle.

Always Go To The Funeral. And if you can't, Always Send A Condolence Card.

Honestly - get out a card, or your good writing paper, and a pen, and write two or five sentences, and put it in the mail with a live stamp on it. It is the least that you can do, and in my book, it's acceptable if you have never met your imaginary friend's father or your casual acquaintance's sister.

10 August 2016


1. Babysitter. One family paid me by check, $2 and $3 at a time. Another had The Story of O on the living room bookshelf.

2. Mail sorter at Publishers Clearing House. We sorted the incoming sweepstakes entries by hand - and ripped the corners off of all the postcards that had uncancelled stamps. I think I didn't buy a stamp for about four years.

3. Legal Assistant at a small family owned law firm. I sorted a lot of paper. When I became a mother upteen years later, that same lawyer drafted wills for my husband and me.

4. General office worker (typing, bookkeeping, filing) for a production music library. One day a tiny black cat wandered in the front door. She weighed 2 pounds on the mail scale. I took her home and my mother named her Peeve - her pet peeve.

5. European Sales Representative for that same production music library. I'm not sure that I earned them back the expense of sending me to London for four months, but I had a good time. The lasting result, though, is that I'm not allowed to give blood: too much time in the UK and I'm at risk of mad cow.

6. Records Department Clerk at a big New York law firm. Friday lunch was usually hamburgers and beer. On an extreme Friday, it was more than a pitcher of beer per person. Filing in the aftermath was not so good.

7A. Office Services Special Projects Assistant at that same big firm. Did I even have a title? I had a wonderful boss who set me loose on all sorts of odd projects, like finding a new cafeteria vendor and rethinking the office supplies department and planning alternate transportation in case the MTA carried through with a threatened transit strike.

7B. Teaching Assistant while in graduate school. All the undergraduates at Columbia had to take a basic music appreciation class, so all the graduate students in the music department had to teach it. I actually loved teaching that class; it taught me a lot about what I know and what I can do. But I never wanted to teach again afterwards!

(7A and 7B were contemporaneous.)

Somehow, I have never worked as a waiter or a sales clerk or any other job that requires regular interaction with the general public. It's probably for the best.

Your turn, if you haven't already.

07 July 2016

#TBT Child In Shopping Cart

Throwback Thursday to ... back when she was a toddler, or a month ago when we were at Target?

When she was little, she always wanted to ride in the truck shopping carts at the supermarket.

Now, she can't even get inside.

29 June 2016

How TV Can Lead To Education

So we dropped the kid off at camp the other day. And every time I tell someone where she is and what she's doing, I find myself explaining that it all has to do with the Gilmore Girls.

Back in the fall, the girl and I embarked on some mother/daughter TV watching: we set out to watch the entirety of the Gilmore Girls - all 153 episodes. This is not a show that I had ever watched, but enough smart women that I like told me I'd like it, and that she would too. If you have no idea what it is, it's a TV series which ran from 2000 to 2007, about a girl (Rory) and her single mother (Lorelai) who is only 16 years older than she is. Frankly, it's kind of adorable. And Rory is a pretty good role model for a tween, because Rory is a good girl who loves books and is educationally aspirational: at the beginning, she is dead set on going to Harvard.

A couple of weeks into what turned into a seven month marathon of kicking Daddy off the couch so we could watch another episode (or two), the girl came downstairs and told me "Mama, I want to go to summer school at Wellesley. I searched it up and I found this program. I really want to go there; can I?" I don't know about you, but when my kid seems hungry for something that isn't a new pair of shoes or lousy fried rice from the local pan-Asian restaurant, I pay attention. We looked into it, and found that it seemed like a really interesting summer camp - more geeky/academic and less sportsy/crafty although there are plenty of sports and lots of crafts. It's just that they take courses like Girls on Film and So, You Want To Be A Doctor? every morning - and they live on a college campus, in the dorms (and have to do their own laundry). And I swear, the reason that my daughter decided she wanted to go to summer school at Wellesley was because Rory Gilmore wanted to go to Harvard.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

She needed to be there on Sunday. While we could have driven up and back in one day, it occurred to me that it would be nice to break the driving into two days, and stay overnight in Boston. So we found a hotel room, checked in on Saturday afternoon, and played tourist. We went to see the USS Constitution, which was in dry-dock - a phenomenal structure built of granite in 1833 when Andrew Jackson was President. From there, we took a ferry across Boston Harbor to the aquarium, where we consorted with rays and tortoises and sharks. We migrated back to our hotel by way of Quincy Market, which was depressing as hell - so crowded and tawdry. Sunday morning, after a nice breakfast, we continued our touristing, and rode to the top of the Prudential Building so we could look at the Hancock Tower,

and the boats on the Charles,

and even Fenway Park.

It was a nice mini-vacation.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Because this started with the Gilmore Girls, I'm going to leave you with this sweet tweet video, in which Rory drops in on Michelle Obama to give her a pile of books to read on her flight to Africa for Let Girls Learn:

Because girls everywhere need to get the education they deserve.

24 June 2016

21 = Hair

Today, our marriage has reached the age of majority: twenty-one. Or it would be, if we lived in Mississippi. As we are in New York, we reached adulthood three years ago.

But never mind that, because the real question is "what is the appropriate gift?"

The thing is, the charts generally go year by year until year 15 or 20 - and then they start skipping. So 21? Who knows?

McSweeney's to the rescue. According to their list of TRADITIONAL WEDDING ANNIVERSARY GIFTS FROM MEMORY, the gift for the 21st anniversary is ... hair.

I could buy a hair mattress. A hair shirt. I went down a crazy rabbit hole looking for things made out of hair; there are surprisingly many very very strange items out there.

But the single oddest and most intriguing find was a leaf. A textile artist works with human hair to recreate leaf skeletons, ineffably lovely objects.

Happy anniversary, honey! I didn't make you a leaf out of my hair, but know that I was thinking of you!

02 June 2016

#TBT Dining With Danny

My mother loved to rip things out of the newspaper. She'd sit at the kitchen table, with a cup of coffee and a paper cutter, and go to town. If she was really exercised, she'd get out a red pen and underline egregious turns of phrase and typos. Then, she'd leave them on my bedside table for me to read the next time I visited. Eventually, after all of her children had read them, they'd get tossed - unless they were really special, in which case they got filed.

Dining With Danny was special. Dining With Danny was so special that my sister inherited a handful of clips of Dining With Danny. Well, not inherited as in bequeathed in the will, but laid claim to when we were cleaning out the house. Last summer, Pinky was moving and instead of moving Dining With Danny to a new house, she mailed the clips to me.

Here's the thing about Danny. Danny had a restaurant review column in the local newspaper, but Danny couldn't write. Danny says things like "the milky base tasted valid" (about a clam chowder).

Or the dressings were "lopped on the center of the salad".

"Fruiti de Mare was a dainty presentation of chilled shrimp, crab, lobster enticed by grated onion." Of course, the onion was doing that enticing because Danny had just had some wine out of a very special, um, wine glass? It may be that Danny had never before seen a wine glass.

Then again, Danny pays attention to the glasses; a Margarita "could have been served in a more decorative glass". But at that august establishment, the host "stood up and 'attempted to' serenade us."

I'm not sure that Danny understands the difference between posh enclaves and "upscale", but the chicken cutlet was "a large hunk of flavor".

What does it mean when Danny says that soup is an "ongoing project"? It sounds a little too much like learning on the job!

Danny tries hard to find something nice to say. Even though the coffee was very bland, "the food and ambiance is not pretentious. This is a respectable, all-purpose eating place."

Except sometimes, there's really nothing to say.

On the one hand, I kind of feel for Danny. On the other hand? These gems are too good not to share, and that my mother so carefully cut them out and marked up her favorite bits makes me wistful and delighted all at the same time.

If you want to read the full reviews, I uploaded them all as a pdf. You're welcome.

30 May 2016

Remembering on Memorial Day

I think often of the street I grew up on. It was a lovely neighborhood with kids my age and older and younger, and interesting people up and down the street. As time went on, children grew up and moved away, adults got older and moved away, one house got knocked down and replaced with a ticky-tacky McMansion-y thing, one child moved back into the family home (after his parents went elsewhere) and one couple is still there. But I'm still in touch with so many of them, of all ages, many through the miracle of Facebook, others because we share Christmas cards and a certain history.

Before my husband and I got married, we scratched our heads about who was going to perform the ceremony. We're heathenpaganatheists and it didn't seem quite right to ask a cleric (though that is what we ultimately did). I had the whimsical idea that we could call in three of wise men from the neighborhood: the Methodist minister from across the street, the rabbi from next door, and the Joyce scholar from down the hill. It'd have been a gloriously high-minded cross-cultural mess with a certain je ne sais quoi about it:

The Methodist minister died in 2002; I was on my way home from his funeral when I learned that my second IVF had failed.

The Joyce scholar died in 2012; his widow is still living in their house, still throwing a holiday shindig, though recently she's made it a New Year's open house instead of a Boxing Day party.

And last winter, the rabbi died.

He was a mensch, tall and courtly, and a scholar. When I was a kid, he was just Gene Borowitz, neighbor. Later I learned that he had a big profile out in the world, a life of "working to advance race relations and civil rights" and helping to "shape Reform Jewish thinking and practice". I remember him today because it's the time of year when the azaleas and rhododendrons blaze away in hot pinks and soft lavenders and creamy whites; his yard was full of fancy azaleas and unusual rhododendrons.

My three wise men are now all gone, but azaleas will always remind me of Gene.