Friday, May 30, 2014

Return to the Nest

We find our nest repopulated
Tranquility has changed to hubbub.
Summer's here and kids are home.
“Where are my shoes? Can't find my phone!”

Four settings now at dinner table.
But every dish has something icky.
How could my kids turn out so picky?
One loathes mushrooms and one hates kale.
Himself is hard enough to please
so kids subsist on grilled cheese.
And now I know my summer fate
is scraping dried cheese from greasy plates.

And when I'm not washing their dishes,
They've enumerated their wishes.
It's on my way to work they know
so there's a list for Trader Joe's.
Their daily needs are always ample
I'll gain a ton just from the samples.

We’ve got the bills for Fall tuition.
The increase is quite out of sight.
And our scholars share the same affliction.
They can't turn off a light.

We would suggest some gainful job
or at least to be less of a slob
but they are deaf
to these gentle requests,
as the house shakes to the sub-woofer's throb.

I guess it's a young person's quirk.
When I'm at home they're mostly tired,
'cause their schedule resembles a vampire's.
They rise as I return from work.
My drive is filled with dark foreboding
of Trader Joe's bags alone unloading.

Their good grades, they think, confers an entitlement
to return to the nest
and indulge in some rest.
They don't want to hear their mom bray.
But now that I'm old and gray,
I've got a bit of enlightenment.
This won't be a summer of languor.
They'll not have to fear just my anger.
They'll be smote where it's near and it's dear.
The parental wallet is closed.
This isn't too bad they suppose
until they've no moola for beer.

I promised myself not to be a nag.
After all, they're not with us too long.
I'll hit their room with Lysol and trash bags
but I'll cry my eyes out when they're gone.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

When In Philly

Spuds  snores away and I will write here until it is time to wake him.  He is luxuriating in a comfy hotel bed with crisp linens after a freshman year on a metal cot. His mountain of stuff is haphazardly packed away and crammed into a storage space in Red Hook.  I stay in the little house where I’ve stayed in before and visit with a particularly charming Welsh terrier.  I take Spuds and his gregarious friends to an old school diner.  The nose-ringed waitress reeks of tobacco and takes our order on a scratch pad. 

Before hitting Bard, I spend a few days in Manhattan and check out the new Russ and Daughters Café, enjoying a mind blowing breakfast with my wonderful friend Rosemary.  I have a ticket for what turns out to be a dreadful play at Lincoln Center.  It is 5 p.m. on a Saturday and cabs are scarce.  People jump, seemingly out of nowhere and grab them up before I have a chance.  An agitated woman with an entourage is yelling and trying to get a cab to make a u-turn.  Eventually she crosses to my side of the street where I have now been waiting over half an hour and am late for a dinner reservation.  The cab stops for me, and a riot practically breaks out.  I indicate that I had indeed been waiting longer.  She calls me a liar. The taxi driver screams at her. “I’m not taking you.”  She tries to open my door and an Asian man presses against my window and yells “white trash.” 

My heart is pounding.  I have missed my reservation, which means it will be hard snagging a meal before the play. I know there is no loss of life but nevertheless thing like this make me grumpy.  I show up nearly an hour late.  The restaurant is jammed and there is a long line but for some reason they find me an outdoor table.  There are two girls babysitting a little dog and we chat.  A two year old named Sam climbs up on a chair at my table.  He eats my bread and I talk with his mother.  Then there are more toddlers and young parents and a couple of cocktails and suddenly New York seems less awful.

I spend a day exploring Brooklyn with my old friend Steve , checking out hipsters and Hassids.  We drive through Alphabet City and Harlem.  His car is being exchanged for a new one the following day and he is determined to use up a tank of gas.  I visit the Frick Gallery and stroll through Central Park on a particularly spectacular spring day before I catch the train to Bard.

The dorm room, in fairness mainly due to the roommate, is revolting and my impulse is the dive in and get rid of stuff and neatly sort and pack everything but instead I just provide some bins and boxes and leave him to it.  It will annoy me all summer that the linens that are packed away haven’t been washed but I guess this isn’t life threatening. 

Spuds is wistful leaving Bard and I wonder if I will be back again myself before he graduates.  We take the train to Philadelphia,, which despite a spot of rain, we find completely charming.  We visit the Franklin Museum, Liberty Hall and see the Liberty Bell.  We take a walking food tour and even succumb to the red meat of a Phillie Cheesesteak, which I find underwhelming, but Spuds devours with relish.  The highpoint for me is a soft pretzel with hot mustard.    

We visit the Barnes Collection, which I imagine, outside of France, is the best collection of Impressionist art on the planet and cunningly displayed in ensembles with antique ironwork and furniture.

The Dodgers are playing the Phillies.  The stadium is an 8 minute subway ride from the hotel.  We are happy to note a bit of Dodger regalia in a sea of Phillie red.  There are no Dodger dogs, instead, to Spuds’ delight, , a number of cheesesteak purveyors.  We argue whether the Phillie Phanatic is an anteater or a dinosaur. Spuds and I had season tickets to the Dodgers for a couple years.  I remember some of the players and the pleasure I took at his pleasures at the game.  Unable to follow the action much myself, I’d listen to Vin Scully on headphones.  I commented once to Spuds on one of Scully’s remarks and one of the regulars was surprised.  “You’re listening to the game!  I always thought you were listening to classical music.”  There is no “Kiss Cam” or organ or 7th Inning Stretch at City Field.  Despite not singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” the absence of Scully and a long rain delay, the Dodgers prevail and we are happy in a way we used to be.

I will wake him soon.  He wants to get in another cheesesteak before we catch the train back to Manhattan.  We’re there for three days and then he’s back in L.A. for less than a week before he’s off for a summer in Detroit.  We haven’t really talked about it I think that we are both aware that these little patches of time together will continue now to dwindle.  I know that he is anxious about a summer in a strange city and my own apprehensions are too numerous to list.  But we have a tacit agreement to be present in these few days we have.  It is time now to wake him up and set out together for one last cheesesteak.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Mother's Day Post Mortem

It is 95 when we leave for the airport. I am flying to New York, ostensibly to help Spuds pack up and store all his crap.  I will be gone for ten days.  The boy has a lot of clothes.  I am spending a couple of days in Manhattan on each end and in- between Spuds and I are spending a few days in Philadelphia, for no particular reason except my mother was born in Germantown.  I don’t have time to tear through the garage and try to extract her birth certificate and I am unable to find anything on although there is a photo of my maternal grandmother, posted apparently by some relative I’ve never heard of. 

My mother left Philadelphia when she was a baby and moved to the Bronx where I find her named as a family member on a 1930 census.  Her elder half brother Irving lived his life in Philadelphia and was the host at what he described as the city’s best restaurant.  My cursory (free trial membership) poking at yields nothing and to access the Philadelphia Jewish Genealogy obituary website  a $100 donation is required.  I am not that curious.  Once when he was visiting our freezer conked out and my mother was distressed about a pint of ice cream.  My uncle Irv noted that this happened at work all the time and they simply re-froze it and it was fine.  Perhaps he exaggerated about the quality of the restaurant.

This is my first mother’s day in twenty-one years without a kid although I was remembered sweetly by both of them. Joe College thoughtfully leaves a gift and a card for me before he leaves for Europe.  Spuds sends a dead on sketch of Rover with a note saying that when he is faced with a problem his natural inclination is to try to figure out what I would do.  This is incredibly loaded. It seems that so often what I do is to fuck things up even more. God help the boy, although no one has ever said anything more lovely to me.

Being old now is at the forefront of my day-to-day life.  The nest is empty.  My health is good but many of my contemporaries have maladies minor and major.  The sense of being in a very different phase of life is palpable and bittersweet.  Being on the cusp of senior citizenship I find my self-awareness has blossomed in tandem with my not giving a shit.   I’ve given lip service for years about how you reach true maturity when you stop blaming your parents.  I am truly, or for the most part I guess, done with that. But with this new era I find that my appreciation of my mom and dad has increased more than I ever could have imagined.

There is an article about a competitor that mentions briefly my own business and quotes my pop from a 1973 interview.  He talked about the obsessiveness of film collectors and said, “Film is like dope.”  This is so quintessentially my dad that I feel him more than I have in a long time. We quarreled a lot and many times when I got my way, it was the wrong way.  I have and will never work as hard as he did but I muddle along. I will never love the business as much as he did,  It is often a colossal pain in the butt.   I forget sometimes that it is my father’s legacy and while he, like all of us, sometimes fell short, he left to me the great accomplishment of his life, the most precious thing he had.

There’s a line from a Joni Mitchell song that's popped into my head frequently over the decades.  “Papa’s faith is people.  Mama, she’s always cleaning.”  There are little pockets of disarray at the house and office but except for the children’s hovel, I value cleanliness and order.  I think the most virulent fights I had with my mother were about my slovenliness.  Now that we work for all the things the kids thrash I do at times indeed feel wounded by their apparent lack of respect for my labor.  My own mother became quite vicious in her mania for tidiness. I leave the kids ‘ room completely alone and usually suck it up about the rest of the house, or at least choose my battles wisely.  My mother’s rage just made her seem materialistic and petty and insane. I probably rebelled by becoming even more of a slob.  Now I know that I am truly happier when I can find what I need and am not embarrassed by the state of the house if someone drops in unexpectedly.  I’ve learned from my own experience though, that while I do have to enforce some sort of order in my own space, that the kids, in time, will figure out how to maintain their own. 

I lived in one house throughout my childhood, as have my own children.  My mother lost count.  They moved from Philly to NY and then crossed the country in a Model A Ford with six people and a cat, relying on charity and soup kitchens.  Mom was a young teen when she arrived in LA and before she married my dad, lived in a dozen other places.  They bought the first house she ever lived in on Fulton Avenue in 1955.  She stayed there for fifty years.  As I organize and putter in my own home I think of how she cherished hers.  I feel small and ashamed for having disrespected it.  Even though it has been over forty years since I lived there I remember every inch of the place.  The gardenia and camellia bushes.  The gigantic lemon tree.  The brick wall my father built.  The projection booth and naïve mural of a Paris Street scene.  My mother’s blouse closet and the musical jewelry box with the plastic ballerina.  The dainty filigree tray with fancy unused perfume atomizers.

Pictures of the place we’ve made for them will float into our children’s’ psyches after we’re gone.  The dogs we’ve had.  The Mexican masks.  The striped placemats neatly rolled when not in use.  Printed sheets.  Roosters. Books everywhere.  Perhaps they will feel remorse for being careless in the home we’ve given them.  Maybe they’ll rue the times they think they've disappointed us.  I must remember to tell them, and remind them again and again that as far as I’m concerned they have nothing ever to regret. The balm for all the tiny hurts is the light of who they are becoming. And while I never said, “I’m sorry” to my mom and dad, I think I am forgiven.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Saga of Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling is disconsolate
to have spilled his guts to a young mistress,
who’s got no name, only a consonant.
His yammering’s caused much distress
for the team, the wife and all the rest.
Too bad there was no tape eraser
to save the former ambulance chaser.

He tried to hide that he’s a cad
with tacky full-page newspaper ads.
He boasted of philanthropy,
was feted by the NAACP.
His contributions in truth were sad.
Many fewer dollars than did say he,
which smacks of pure misanthropy.

He trumpeted righteousness,
but was myopic in largesse.
His glitzy condos sure aren’t plebian;
Each palace screams out “Nouveau Riche”
But scads of dough won’t change the hitch,
don’t try to rent if you’re not Korean.

V. was called an archivist,
suggesting database and lists.
But the job description must have read:
Lots of bucks for giving head
Sterling boasts that life ain’t boring
and Viagra stock is soaring.
A life lived lusty, Sterling’s chipper
The bucks, the broads, Plantation Clipper

The NBA plans retribution.
And it seems that they will see fit
to order the sale at a huge profit
and impose a ban that lasts eternity.
But for Sterling how long could that possibly be?

Sterling moans that it’s tragic
that he wasn’t defended by Magic
Except for the no Instagrams
Magic was one of Donald’s bestest pals.
Koreans aren’t known for their great basketball

Shelly you’ll find the most curious.
Her lawsuit against V. was quite spurious,
But she’s infinite light-years outside of the box.
You’re not sure if she’s crazy or crazy like a fox.
She stays married to Sterling despite her great scorn
They changed the name from Tokowitz before I was born.
A regal appellation like “Sterling” had been Shelly’s dream.
And now the old queen is claiming the team.
Our Shelly’s a lady of mystery.
She can throw a big fit,
but she still looks the shit
Though she’s gotta be older than history

And Bernie Madoff chills in prison,
freed from the stress of big decisions
and comforted by his own myth.
The shekels scammed were from only the rich.

Why does the world hate Israel?, you may ask.
Madoff’s in the slammer.
So Sheldon Adelson has taken on the task.
 A real Hebrew Hammer.
He’s a nasty old coot.
He gave big bucks to Knute.
and the Tea party to him does clamber.

Rottoness over the top.
Three scoundrels.  Three makers of news.
Greed, arrogance, biogotry and all manners of fop,
It ‘s good for a laugh but it’s bad for the Jews.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Judy

I've had five motherless Mother's Days but this is my first childless one in over twenty years. Joe College leaves tonight for a month in Austria. Spuds is enjoying his first spring in Annandale.  Himself’s annual quip, which never gets old (for him) is “You're not MY mother.” My only wish for Mother's Day is that the spawn take the time, using those expensive phones that I pay for, to at least text me. HPPY MTRS DY will be just fine. Who am I to expect vowels?

Until the kids flew the coop my office was a refuge from trails of pungent garments, stacks of sticky dishes and a throbbing sub-woofer. Now that the house is orderly and quiet I beat the traffic and return home after lunch and work from there. Watching Judge Judy with a bowl of popcorn every afternoon has become sacrosanct. When were we in London and I turned on the telly. There was Judy, in her lacy collar, chewing out a brainless miscreant. I was pretty stoked.
My own mother was quick witted and had a wicked sense of humor. Then she grew so ravaged by dementia that her ability to form coherent words faded. Towards the end, she knew that I was a person that she was glad to see, but my name and relationship eluded her. Still, when she saw me something primal kicked in. She examined me and then snapped, “You should color your hair.” Later, when I rose to leave, more clear words slipped out of some ancient repository, “Drive carefully.”

I feel guilty that after serving for years on the temple board of directors that I've devolved into a High Holiday Jew (and not even the second day of Rosh Hashanah). My drift from organized Judaism doesn't make me any less the stereotype, perhaps even a cartoon, of a Jewish mother. When Spuds reports a fever and runny nose I spend hours attempting to locate a Hudson Valley purveyor of chicken soup willing to make a dormitory delivery. A totally futile effort, but despite the lack of Jewish penicillin, the child miraculously survives.

This nearly pathological over protectiveness ironically goes hand in hand with another trait often ascribed to a Jewish mother. I yell. When the same child who recovered from his first away-from-Mom cold exhausts our cellular data plan, doing God knows what, on the aforementioned expensive phone, instead of studying at the expensive college which we make many sacrifices in order for him to attend, I have no compunction about giving the lad a piece of my mind.

I grew up in a house with lots of yelling but also Christmas trees and frilly dress Easters.  My parents were Depression kids and had a conflicted relationship with Judaism. They believed that Jews were smarter than everyone else but I was admonished never to admit to being Jewish. My mother would hiss “Yid!” derisively when, what she referred to as an M.O.T., engaged in a behavior around gentiles that she deemed Jewish-ish. Like bargaining. My mother, of course, was a habitual bargainer but in her own mind's eye she herself negotiated so charmingly that it was beguiling and not the least bit Jew-y.  However, if you dated a guy who needed you to co-sign for a car loan or whose deli order was ham with mayo on white bread and a Coors you had a “goyishe kopf.”

The legacy of centuries of persecution seemed to confer to my mom and dad a license to bend the rules a little. Well, as much as necessary. This is not an indictment of my hard working parents.  I attended college on their many dimes. I was raised with ample food and in a beautiful home. But I was taught that exaggerating an insurance claim or using fuzzy math on a tax return is the American Way.  Others share my experience that in a household with parents who'd experienced hunger and discrimination, expediency usually trumps ethics. Then in college they made me read Martin Buber. For the rest of the world, there's Judy.

I confess about my Judy infatuation to a friend. “But she's so mean,” is her reaction. “Not really,” I respond. “You just haven't watched enough reality TV. It's just a form of theater.” As Judge Judy, Judith Sheindlin plays a version of herself. Some of the disputes she hears are legitimate, as the production staff combs small claims court filings. Other potential litigants write into the show directly, mainly regarding family disputes. The tacit bargain is that litigants and witnesses get a free trip to Hollywood and the production company pays for any damages that Judy awards. Claimants are typically familiar with reality show conventions. Entertainment value is priority one. Litigants perform accordingly. The quid pro quo is that in exchange for travel and remuneration, disputants are required to subject themselves to the sting of Judy's acid tongue.

Recently a defendant, having caused an accident while uninsured, is unable to purchase a car himself without showing proof of expensive liability insurance. He registers his car in his girlfriend's name. Judy practically blows a gasket explaining why this is wrong but the man is truly baffled. Judy goes apoplectic when recipients of Social Security Disability have surfing accidents or indolent boyfriends are supported by way of a girlfriend’s child support payments.  Even if unwitting, attempts to “work the system” raise Judy’s hackles. Her quips and one-liners keep the audience engaged but her challenge to the perception that the government and society are separate from people's actual lives and not deserving of respect or allegiance must resonate.  The show is Sheindlin's bully pulpit.  While Judy rakes in a bundle she metes out subliminal civics lessons.

In addition to providing her millions of viewers a palatable course in Ethics 101, Judy advocates for fierce parenthood. As ruthless as she can be with adult litigants she is consistently a champion for children. Even if it isn't necessarily germane to a ruling, Judy never misses an opportunity to caution the audience not to make babies unless they're financially and emotionally prepared to care for them. And as far as Judy is concerned, parenthood is a life sentence. A mother is suing her adult son for repayment of his hospital bills. Judy is irate. “You're his mother. You're supposed to pay for things like this.” She often illustrates her philosophy of parenthood with personal anecdotes.

My own children have taken my cars and had accidents. Once, one of my sons went over an embankment into a ditch; then he told me that the earth opened up because of severe rain, that was how the car slid down the roadside. Needless to say, that story didn't work; but I didn't SUE him, either.

Judy's quick wit and sparky vitriol has made the show one of the most popular daytime programs in history. While pop psychology has taught us that guilt is something to transcend, Judy and Jewish mothers since the beginning of time, know that guilt is actually an indispensable tool.  A recent survey shows that Americans trust Judge Judy more than any of the justices on the Supreme Court. While she seems harsh sometimes, it makes me proud that Judy is face of Jewish motherhood all over the world

I still hear my mother’s critical/loving voice all the time.  I presume that the fear of my wrath at least influences my children to make smart decisions. I hope that their sureness of my love encourages them make brave ones. Judy reminds me of the mother I miss and the mother I should be.  Judith Sheindlin is the surrogate Jewish mother to the world. For millions of viewers she plants the suggestion that if you act stupidly you risk being screamed at and made to feel guilty. But your mom will always love you. Even if you forget to text her on Mother's Day.