Believing Is Believing Revisited

The holidays seem to be sweeter when there are children in the family.  My kids are practically adults now, but it wasn’t that long ago when they were still daydreaming about flying reindeer or bunnies bearing chocolates.  There is something about that wide-eyed wonder that brings out the children in all of us.

One day, however, you might find yourself at an unwelcome crossroads – the day they express your doubts and you’re faced with the major decision of how you’ll handle it.

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What did I do?  Found out in this story called “Believing Is Believing“…

“Aha! I knew it!” I could hear my daughter’s squeaky little voice coming through her bedroom door. She was maybe about 7-years-old at the time.

Emerging triumphantly into the hallway, she began waving something in my face. At first, I thought it was a grain of rice, but her maniacal grin revealed a new gap along her bottom gums.

“Look!” Sure enough, she held one of her baby teeth between her fingers. “I lost this last night, but I didn’t tell a grown-up…and this morning, the tooth was still there…and there was no moneyI knew the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real!

Now, another parent might have buckled. Another parent might have choked. But you’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to outfox this fox.

With the cool detachment of a seasoned poker player or sociopath, I said, “Well of course she didn’t come. The Tooth Fairy communicates telepathically with grown-ups. If the grown-ups don’t know you’ve lost a tooth, she won’t know you’ve lost a tooth.”

My daughter eyed me suspiciously. Then declared, “Well, I don’t believe she exists.”

I’m not going to lie (to you). This stung me. She was still so young and I was not ready to see her give up on those charming childhood traditions.

Deciding to push another button, she added, “And I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny either!”

Seeing that I was still squarely on-kilter, she pounded the final nail into my mommy coffin… “Or Santa!”

NOOOO! Not Santa! On the inside, I died a little bit that day. But on the outside, there were no cracks in my façade. I knew that my reaction would either prolong those fairy tales for a little while, or make her a cynic well before her time.

Without skipping a beat, I called her bluff, “Gee, that’s too bad.”

“Why?” She looked worried.

“Because when you stop believing, they stop coming.” I had her right where I wanted her. But my girl is pretty cagey, having not fallen too far from the tree.

“Hmm…” she thought for a minute. “What if I fake believe?”

Incredible, I thought. This kid is relentless. But I just shrugged my shoulders and calmly said, “Nope. That’s not how it works.”

“OK, fine,” she grumbled as she left to replace the tooth back under her pillow.

Turning on my heel with my head held high, I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and ran the shower to conceal the sound of my sobbing.

My son is a different animal entirely. He instinctively knew it would be sad for me when he “learned the truth” about Santa. I should probably confess here that when I discovered he’d outgrown Baby Gap and graduated to Gap Kids (as was explained to me by a cold-hearted sales associate with no soul), I literally started crying right there in the middle of the store.

Anyway, it was a few days before Christmas when he said he needed to talk to me. He had that look people get when they know they’re going to tell you something you’re not going to like, but have to tell you anyway.

“I have a confession to make,” he began.

You’re 12, I thought. What could you possibly have to confess? I felt a chill run through me.

He stammered and stalled a little bit. Unlike his little sister, he was trying to let me down easy. “Well…I snooped.”

“Snooped?” I asked.

“I looked under the bed in the guest room…”

I immediately knew. And he knew that I knew. You see, all the presents from Santa are wrapped in distinct “Santa” wrapping paper with special gift tags (written in a curlicue hand that does not resemble mine), and stowed under the guest room bed. He had found his presents from Santa when Christmas hadn’t happened yet. This inconsistency in the holiday timeline could not be wriggled out of. I was trapped.

With wide eyes and a sweet loving heart, he said, “I’m sorry mom. Don’t feel bad. I’ve actually known for a while now.” And he put his arm around me. “But don’t worry. I won’t tell her.” The her he was referring to was, of course, his little sister. He was blissfully unaware that she’d already pulled the plug on me during the Tooth Fairy fiasco.

But now, here’s the funny thing about all this: kids really don’t know everything. If they thought for a moment about all those visits to St. Nick they would know that he does exist.

I have never stopped believing. In fact, every year, hubby and I pay that sweet old elf a visit before we go to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. And every year, he is just as jolly and warm and welcoming as the year before. And every year, as I’m walking through Macy’s Santaland, I am a child again, believing in peace on Earth, goodwill toward man, and the everlasting spirit and joy of the season. It fills me with a kind of love and comfort that can only be described as magical.

One day, my kids will experience this same enchanted feeling again. How can I be so sure?

Because, I believe.

Selfie with elf = Elfie

 

Sustenance

Food. Nourishment. Grub. Whatever you want to call that stuff you stuff into your mouth, its intended purpose is to support life.

I remember watching a TED Talk comparing the human brain to other animals. Our brains are more evolved because we cook our food. Could it really be that simple? It is, and here’s why: In order for the brain to grow and develop, it must be fed. The number of calories a human body burns in a day depends on its level of activity; but not your brain. It makes no difference if your brain is sleeping, designing rocket ships or trying to figure out common core math, it will burn 500 calories each and every day, no matter what.

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If you were a gorilla, and only ate raw twigs and leaves, you would have to spend most of your waking hours eating to consume enough calories just to stay alive. If a gorilla had the capacity to cook (or, at the very least, make a smoothie), it could reduce large volumes of food into smaller, more easily digestible meals. By doing so, it could consume many more calories in much less time, making it’s brain larger and, presumably, smarter.

“Hmm, I think this paleo diet is really working.”

So, it was the discovery of fire that essential transformed us into the species we are today. These are scientific facts, people, and I don’t dispute them. But here’s where I get tripped up: what was the turning point that changed our fuel from throwing the day’s kill onto the fire into dinner parties for eight, complete with wine pairings?

Who was the first Homo erectus Martha Stewart? Did she one day think, “Hmm, I wonder if this animal flesh would taste better combined with sprigs of vegetation and some roots?” Was it she that decided meals tastes better when shared with friends? “Hey, let’s invite the Uga-ugas over this Saturday night!”

Was this the advent of our complicated relationship with food?

It’s hard to picture an early ancestor sitting around the cave thinking, “I’m not really hungry, but I could go for a nosh.” I don’t think lower-food chain animals behave this way. Would a lion ever hunt down a gazelle because it’s feeling a tad peckish? Can you imagine a bear polishing off a salmon because there’s nothing good on TV? Or what if a chipmunk’s mate ran away? Would it scarf down all the nuts it was saving for winter because it had no access to raw cookie dough?

No, these disordered uses of food are strictly human. I hate to be a downer, but let’s face it: we sometimes take the very thing that’s meant to keep us alive and use it to slowly kill ourselves. They don’t call it “death by chocolate” for nothing.

And even if you have a very healthy diet, I doubt you view food as simply a way of transporting nutrients into your body. No, we modern-day humans have turned our food into so much more.

Food is a major component of our social lives. We use it to celebrate, to bring people together, to give pleasure, to comfort, to express love…all good things in moderation.

My personal relationship with food, and more specifically eating, is based on romance…and sometimes anger…but mostly romance. When I speak about a good meal, I create a narrative, a sensuous, seductive story detailing every nuance of every bite.

Once, while recommending a restaurant to a friend, my husband said, They have good ravioli.”

WHAT?

“Oh, no, no, no” I said. “They have delectable cheese-filled pasta pillows, that taste like they are lovingly assembled by the chubby hands of baby cherubs…so tender, I could have rested my head on them and slept.”

Now, that’s romantic. Want to know what’s not romantic? A date that does not involve a meal, that’s what.

Every Thursday night, my husband and I go on a date. Whether we’re seeing a show, or going to a concert, we always start by going out to dinner. One night, to mix things up a little, I suggested we have a quick bite at home and spend our date playing tennis. Great idea, right? Sure, if you think throwing a hissy fit on date night adds a nice spice to a marriage. I played so badly that the evening devolved into a lot of excuses, blaming, cursing, and pouting. Sexy, no? After that failed experiment, it was back to candlelit restaurants for us – back to savoring each seductive morsel with a good glass of wine and relaxing conversation.

And we judge others by what they eat.

I once threw a dinner party, not knowing one guest was in the middle of a cleanse. Why would someone on a cleanse come to a dinner party in the first place? You tell me. Anyway, he couldn’t eat anything I served, but as luck would have it, I made floral arrangements out of carnations, clementines, squash blossoms and Nasturtiums. So, he ate the centerpiece. True story! And, yes, we all judged him.

The bottom line is this: Food is complicated. We don’t really know why we eat the way we do, or why we like some things but loathe others. All we can really be sure of is that grub does more than just sustain our bodies. It nourishes our hearts, our imaginations, our relationships and feeds the soul.

Happy Thanksgiving from SNORK!

So, this Thanksgiving, I hope you find yourself sitting at a table with the people you love, feeling full of life’s blessings and enjoying all the flavors of this world’s abundance.

Daddy’s Greatest Hits

On weekdays, we didn’t see much of my dad – he’d usually leave the house before we got up for school. If he made it home in time, we’d all have dinner together and then, after the dishes were cleared, Dad would open his briefcase and spread out the work he brought home. He’d toil until after we’d gone to bed.

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This was perfectly normal for typical, middle-class American families of my generation. Moms worked inside the home, Dads worked elsewhere. It seemed that moms did all the heavy lifting.  She was responsible for the house and kids, laundry, going to school meetings, making and keeping dentist and pediatrician appointments, shopping for groceries, cooking, pet care – the list goes on and on. It’s funny, but none of us thought of them as “working.” Some people still don’t, but I’ll save that rant for another time.

How do regular women manage?

How do regular women manage?

There was only one mom – our neighbor, Mrs. Norris –who always managed to look as glamorous as Tippi Hedren did in The Birds (before the avian invasion of her beautifully coiffed French twist), even though she had four or five kids and no husband. Full disclosure: they all lived with Mrs. Norris’s parents so, in retrospect, I suppose they did all the work while Mrs. Norris bleached her hair in the kitchen sink (which I’d seen her do on more than one occasion).

Dads were of a completely different species. They got up, shaved, slapped on some AquaVelva, dressed, grabbed their fedoras and backed out of the driveway. Eight hours later, they’d drive back in, looking as fresh as a daisy.

On weekends, however, the tables were turned. Our dad would take us off our mother’s hands so she’d be free to go out for coffee with her friends, or wallpaper the bathroom.

There are so many wonderful things I did with my dad, too many to mention.  Instead, I’ve put together my Top 5 favorite moments.  Here we go:

Number 5: The time my mother had to go to a PTA meeting and left my father in charge of our dinner. He was supposed to make hot dogs, which he did, but he also treated us to a nutritious side dish of popcorn. There was no such thing as microwave popcorn back then because there were no such things as microwave ovens. So, dad made it on the stove and, to entertain us, kept taking the lid off, letting the popped kernels shoot all over the kitchen. Dinner and show!

Number 4: The hours spent tobogganing at Frear Park in the freezing cold. My dad had an analytical approach to this winter pastime focused on maximizing speed. He had four little kids on a heavy five-man toboggan. In order to balance the sled, he took great care in the distribution of our weight and would, therefore, seat us oldest to youngest from the front. He’d then push us to get us moving. Just as the toboggan began its decent down the hill, Dad would make a flying leap to take his place on the back. The set up took ten minutes, the ride took five seconds. We’d reach the bottom and trudge back up the hill to do it all again. If we complained about getting cold, he’d look at his watch and say, “We can’t go home. Your mother’s making hot chocolate and it won’t be ready yet.” I suspected he was under orders to keep us out for a certain amount of time or he had no concept of how long it takes to make cocoa.

Baby, it's cold outside.

Baby, it’s cold outside.

Number 3: Miniature Golf. This activity should have it’s own special exhibit in the Fatherhood Hall Of Fame. I don’t know about you, but we loved playing miniature golf with our dad. On one memorable evening, while playing mini golf on vacation in Cape Cod, Dad was at his hilarious peak. He was goofing around, cracking jokes, using his golf club as a pool cue…he had us all in stitches. At one point, he fell down on the ground. A coup de grace! We roared. Pratfalls were not previously a part of his customary comic repertoire. It took a few moments for us to notice, through our joy tears, that he was rolling around on the ground wincing in pain. Turns out he fell due to a twisted ankle and not for our personal amusement (although, truth be told, we still laugh whenever we tell this story).

Number 2: What favorite moment between a woman and her dad is more memorable and sentimental than the day he walks her down the aisle? In the months leading up to my wedding, the anticipation of this short stroll brought tears to my eyes every time I imagined it. I’d be walking to my office, think about it and start crying. I’d be in the grocery store, think about it and start crying. I’d be riding the subway, think about it and start crying. I went through a lot of tissues and so, I figured, by the time the big day came, I’d be all cried out and we’d sail down the aisle of the chapel dry-eyed with beaming smiles. And that is exactly what did not happen. I wept and, as everybody knows, when the bride is crying everybody is crying. It was a 5-hanky wedding, for sure.FullSizeRender

Number 1:  The time spent with my father cannot be boiled down to a single moment at all. Rather, it’s a collection of lessons, all of which lifted me up, advised me, assured me, or set me straight. He eased my anxiety about motherhood when my first child was born. He coached me on how to ace a job interview. He gave me pointers on buying a car. He explained what to consider when purchasing a house. He counseled me on navigating the minefields of those tricky newlywed years. He taught me how to make French toast. And he probably didn’t even realize the weight of his words in those moments because my father is not a “let’s sit down and have a heart-to-heart” kind of guy. Much of his wisdom was imparted to me simply by his being. I learned by watching him, listening to him, laughing with him and loving him.

My Dad

My Dad

So, thank you, Daddy…for everything. Happy Father’s Day.

 

Horsing Around

And They're Off!

And They’re Off!

Summers in my heyday included weekend trips to Lake George, sunbathing in Grafton Park, and the much-anticipated Saratoga Racing Season.

Spending the afternoon at the flat track wasn’t just a day at the races; it was an event. Each year, I’d plan what I’d wear, how much money I’d bring, how much I’d be willing to bet, what I’d spend on food and drink, and, no trip to the track was complete without going dancing afterwards, late into the night.

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Let me break it down for you…

First, let’s go over proper attire. Sure, plenty of people show up in cut-offs, sneakers, baseball caps, etcetera, etcetera. Schlemiels. Well, not this girl. No, sir! For my companions and me, half the fun of going to Saratoga was in the dressing up: sundresses, big hats, heels, Jackie-O sunglasses, leather clutch, pearls…you get the picture.

Now, let’s talk about the after-party:

Before heading out to the track, my friends and I would each pack bags of evening clothes and throw them into the trunk of my car. After the last race of the day, we’d go into town for dinner. Then, at about nine o’clock, we’d get into the backseat of the car, change into our “disco clothes” and head to a club called “The Rafters.”

The Rafters was located in the middle of Kaydeross Park, on Saratoga Lake. Every time I pulled into the parking lot, I was amazed that I found my way there. “Remote” doesn’t begin to describe it.

It was a favorite hangout for all the jockeys and trainers.

At the risk of sounding “braggy,” let me just say I was a most sought-after girl at The Rafters. Why? Well it could have been because I was…

  1. …young and beautiful
  2. … an accomplished and enthusiastic dancer partner, or
  3. … the shortest woman in the room

If you guessed D (all of the above), you would be wrong.

The answer is C. At 4’11” and 92 lbs, I made every jockey feel like a colossus. I won’t name drop, but I danced with all the greats {Did somebody say Angel Cordero?}

I’d hit the dance floor and stay there until the lights came up and it was time to go home. These were some of the happiest times of my college years.

 

So, imagine my excitement when my friend Harris moved to Baltimore and invited a group of us to come down for the Preakness.

My first order of business was to buy the right outfit for such a swanky occasion. After a period of careful discernment, I settled on a pastel linen skirt –the fabric of which looked like a Monet watercolor. The blouse was a gauzy trapeze top, sheer (with the exception of two strategically placed pockets – if you know what I mean). It was sexy, but tasteful and sophisticated at the same time. For footwear, I selected a pair of gray kitten heels. At the track, there’s a lot of walking on grass and gravel, so a low heel is essential. To round out the ensemble, I chose a straw cloche hat al a Mia Farrow al a Daisy Buchanan al a The Great Gatsby.

Feathered Saratoga Hat

Fast forward to racing day. About 12 of us were camped out at Harris’s condo. I emerged from the guest room, looking like I was being presented at Buckingham Palace.

Harris asked, “Where are you going?”

“Pimlico, baby!” I cheered.

“Not like that, you’re not,” he said.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

He shook his head, “You’re gonna ruin that outfit. We’re sitting in the infield.

“Who’s gonna what now?” I asked.

“The infield,” he repeated. “That’s where we’re sitting.”

Let me put this in perspective for you: At Saratoga, we’d sit in the Clubhouse, at linen-covered tables, soaking up air-conditioning and cool Saratoga Sunrise cocktails. The Saratoga infield was a manicured oasis – lush emerald grass accented with vibrant flowers and neatly trimmed shrubbery.

Through his chuckling, Harris advised, “Go put on some shorts and sneakers. Then you can help us pack the cooler.”

“Cooler?” Really?

I retreated back to the guest room and changed into the aforementioned schlemiel costume (sans backward baseball cap), then reported to the kitchen to help make ham sandwiches for our picnic lunch.

Feathered Pimlico Infield Hat

Feathered Pimlico Infield Hat

When we arrived at Pimlico, we were directed to a tunnel that ran under the track. It was relatively short, but no less hot, humid or fragrant as the finest New York City subway station.

 

The mob scene on the other side was something like “Woodstock meets Honey Boo Boo.”

The ground was thick with mud, the kind that sucks your shoes off when you walk through it. Drunken revelers staggered all over the place and the smell of pot wafted from every direction.

To give you an idea of the infield dress code: there was a woman in a string bikini made of four seashells and leather straps. We started referring to her as “Shelley.” Some people had pitched tents and dug out privies, I swear to god! (I wondered how long they’d been there and how long they planned on staying).

I didn’t see much horseracing that day, because I was mesmerized by my surroundings. Afraid I’d get lost and end up in someone hillbilly’s encampment, I never left the infield to place a bet. While sitting on a soggy blanket, I drank lukewarm beer from a can and ate sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper.

And truth be told, I never had that much fun at a horserace before or since.

Dadgumit! Where’d Shelley git to?

 

 

 

What’d You Call Me?

My name is WHAT?

My name is WHAT?

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In the Old Testament, God sent Adam out to name all the animals. He came up with things like, dog, cat, hippopotamus – which is a lot of syllables for a guy who was just created. Kudos!

Even so, people names can be a bit trickier because, let’s face it, a hippo can’t grow up to tell his therapist how much he’s always hated his name.

Which is why names can be a very sensitive subject.

But names are also highly suggestive.

How many times have you encountered a written name (with no other information, no context) and found yourself conjuring up an image or assumption about the person who carries it? Wait…you don’t think you do that? Really? OK, let’s play a game. I’ll give you a list of names and you see if you don’t paint a mental picture of the bearer (no matter how hard you try not to). Ready? Here we go:

Jessica

Eunice

Armando

Sheldon

I predict you envisioned Jessica as a beautiful young woman, probably with flowing hair. She is tall and lithe, with perky boobs.

Eunice is older, she’s wearing glasses, a tweed skirt, possibly support hose and extremely sensible shoes. She talks through her nose (sorry, Eunice).

Armando is a sexy suave European with his sport coat thrown over his shoulder and a scotch-on-the-rocks in his free hand. His gaze is smoldering.

Sheldon, in his white socks, Hushpuppy Oxfords and chinos is sitting in a messy office balancing his clients’ books.

I apologize to Shel as well, but you see what I mean?

This is why some expectant parents torture themselves over the naming of their children. I’ve known people who will not divulge a name they’re considering because, invariably, someone will urinate all over it:

“Katrina? My best friend was named Katrina! She used to pick her nose and eat it.”…“You’re gonna name your kid Luke? Why?”

 …and so on.

Then there are those who are not expecting but have picked names for possible future offspring (that they may or may not ever have) as a way of calling “dibbsies” on their friends and family. I’ve even heard of siblings and cousins competing to get pregnant first so they can “score” a coveted family name. It’s like a twisted pregnancy lottery.

When we were thinking about names during my first pregnancy, we were advised to give each one the “playground test” which means: don’t use any name unless you can comfortably call it out without incident (so “Fire” would be an obvious bad choice), or embarrassment:

“Caesar? Caesar! Caligula Caesar!!! Leave that kid alone! C’mere, honey. Mommy’s got Sunny D!”

“Who’s gonna mess with a kid named Buzz?”

Hubby and I wanted a name that was a little unique, but nothing outlandish. So that’s the kind of name we bestowed on our baby boy. What we didn’t expect was that he’d go through a phase of hating it. I found this out when I learned he was using an alias at day camp.  He was six.  Really, he should be thanking us, because we were seriously considering the name Crispin until we found out St. Crispin is the patron saint of shoes. Why would shoes need a patron saint? They don’t have souls. Oh, hey, wait a minute…

When people tell me the names they’re planning to use, I try not react. I know a woman who is planning to name her boy Buzz, when he’s born this summer. I can’t lie. My first reaction was, “Buzz? For real?” But then I mulled it over a little. “Buzz. Buzz. Buzz!” The more I said it, the more I liked it. In fact, I think I love it. It’s a good, strong, masculine name! Who’s gonna mess with a guy named “Buzz”? It worked for Buzz Aldren (and didn’t hurt Buzz Lightyear either, for that matter).

So that got me thinking about other names, and I began to feel a little ashamed of myself. When Gwyneth Paltro named her daughter “Apple,” I thought it was a marginal form of child abuse. But now I say, “Why not?!” People, especially girls, are named after objects all the time: Rose, Ivy, Peaches…Peaches! So why not Apple? I guess, maybe you just don’t want your kid to be Bananas.

Matzo Ball Soup

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In the Spring of 1990, Easter and Passover landed on the same weekend. It just so happened, that was also the weekend I chose to bring my boyfriend home to meet my family. Since we are Catholic and he is Jewish, I thought why don’t I surprise him and make matzo ball soup with Easter dinner?!

I had never made it before and, truth be told, I’d never eaten it before either. But, I figured, it’s soup. How hard could it be?

Since I wanted to make a good impression, I called his mother and asked for her recipe.

“Manischewitz,” she said.

“Is that a cookbook?” I asked her

“No, no,” she said. “It’s a brand. It comes in a box. From the supermarket.”

“Oh,” I said. “But I kind of wanted to make your recipe. The one he grew up with.”

“Manischewitz,” she repeated. “Just throw some fresh chopped parsley in there. It makes it look more homemade.”

So, I went to the store to find the mix. The package claimed that one box made nine servings: a cup of broth and one matzo ball each.

This was perfect because 18 people were coming for dinner. I bought two boxes. Following the directions, I prepared the matzo meal, but when I rolled out the balls, they were as small as walnuts – miniscule.

I would be embarrassed to offer such a puny portion to my boyfriend. So, I went back to the store and bought two more boxes, then combined all the matzo meal and doubled the size of the balls. They still looked small to me, but it was actually better that way. I wouldn’t want everyone to fill up on soup, since my mother was cooking a huge ham. As you may have guessed, I hadn’t fully thought things through, menu-wise.

Once the balls were done, I carefully dropped them into the prepared broth. As per the package instructed, I covered it tightly.

While waiting for the soup to cook, I chopped the fresh parsley.

All this was going on at the same time that my family was getting to know my boyfriend. And by “getting to know” I mean “interrogating.”

After the soup was allowed to cook for the prescribed 20 minutes, I removed the lid.

It was like a David Copperfield trick. All of the broth, ever last drop, had disappeared. And each matzo ball had magically transformed into blobs the size of a grapefruit! But it was too late to start over. My mother had called everyone in to dinner and they were already seated. So I had to serve it.

Sinker!

To make matters worse, my mothers fancy china came with dainty little soup bowls. I could barely fit one ball in each.

My sister came into the kitchen to help me serve. She looked at one of the bowls, looked in the pot and asked, “What the hell are these?”

“Knock it off” I snapped. “They’re matzo balls, of course. What do they look like?”

“Grapefruits,” she replied.

“Never mind, just bring them out,” I said, as I hit each bowl with a few sprinkles of parsley. Oh, yeah. That parsley made all the difference. They looked homemade all right. Homemade by a shiksa who can’t follow directions from a box of soup mix.

My boyfriend looked at his bowl and I knew that he knew that I knew I’d screwed up. And then he said, “Sinkers! My favorite! These are just the way my mother made them.”

Now what do you do with a guy who’d tell such a sweet lie. You marry him of course. And that’s just what I did.

A Man For All People

I've never seen him before in my life.

I’ve never seen him before in my life.

It was late on the Christmas night of Hubby’s 48th year.  We were all sitting around the dining room table, digesting our dessert.  Suddenly, from out of nowhere, he turned to me and stated, “I know what I want for my 50th birthday.”

I didn’t like the way he said it.  Maybe it was the way he brought it up, apropos to nothing.  It could have been the fact that he was giving me two years’ notice.  Whatever the case, I was instantly suspicious.

“What is it?” I ventured, my eyes narrowing.

“I want a birthday party with everyone I’ve ever met.”  The room fell silent.  We all stared at him, waiting for the punch line.

When he offered no further details, I asked, “Everyone, as in the whole family and your closest friends, everyone?  Or everyone, as in your family, friends and your pre-school crossing guard, everyone?”

“Yes,” he said.

Hubby enjoys ruffling my feathers from time to time, especially when he has an audience.  That night’s spectators included my mother, whose buttons he likes to push even more than mine.  Right on cue, she harrumphed, “Oh, that’s ridiculous!”

“But it’s what I want,” he shrugged, as if he couldn’t help it.  For good measure, he played the sympathy card, “How many 50th birthdays does a guy get?”

I wasn’t taking the bait, “Since I can’t afford to rent Madison Square Garden, what’s your Plan B?”

“There is no Plan B.  This is what I want,” he persisted.

Mom had my back.  “Are you crazy?  I never heard of anything so silly.”

I patted her hand, “He’s just playing with us, Mom.”

“No, I’m not.  And I want it here.  In the house.”

Hubby say what?  In the house?  He bypassed all my lessor warning levels:

DEFCON Green: commenting on dirty dishes in the sink. 

DEFCON Yellow: suggesting I ask my friends for fashion tips.

DEFCON Red: critiquing my cooking.

With an extremist’s indifference to world peace or the preservation of human life, he nonchalantly pushed me to place my nuclear missiles on stand-by.  DEFCON White: Let’s throw a huge party in the house.

Let me explain.  I have a thing about over-stuffing our home with people, especially when booze is involved.  At the risk of sounding obnoxious (I’m just going to put it out there), I have some nice things – antique furnishings, hand-tufted rugs, pricey doodads.  These are things for which I overpaid, but had to have (you can’t put a dollar amount on love, my friends).  These treasures cannot be replaced and there’s nowhere to store them for safekeeping when we have company.

Hubby knows that I experience anxiety when we’re planning big gatherings.  In my defense, allow me to put things in perspective…

At one of our parties, I watched helplessly as a guest balanced a glass, of the reddest red wine, on the arm of my bright yellow, custom upholstered chair.  I nearly fainted.  I only remained upright because I knew the tremor I’d produce, by hitting the floor, would tip the glass.  On another occasion, while cleaning up (and I’ll stay up all night to clean after a party) I discovered that someone had dropped a huge glob of Ooey Gooey Pizza Dip on the dining room floor and tracked it all through the house.  I had to take a Valium.  Another time, somebody placed an opened gallon jug of milk in the refrigerator…on its side!  Who could have possibly thought that was a good idea?

After every bash, I’d begin my litany of rhetorical questions: Was everybody raised in a barn?!  Don’t people have any respect anymore?!  Can’t I have anything nice around here?!  Who’s pants are those hanging from the chandelier?!…

 Without the slightest trace of judgment, Hubby always offered the same matter-of-fact conclusion: “When people drink at parties, they don’t always realize what they’re doing.”  Swell.

So the prospect, of cramming everyone he’d ever met into our house, was more than I could bear.  I was certain an army of plastered revelers would trash the place beyond repair (even though I’d never met his pre-school crossing guard or the guy who sold him his last suit, and didn’t know if they drank).

Seeing the look on my face – something akin to I’m trying to be good-natured about this because it’s Christmas, and I don’t want to kill you in front of the children – he backpedalled a tiny bit, “We can put up a tent in the backyard.”

“Your birthday is in the winter,” I hissed.

“We’ll get those portable heaters,” there was hope in his voice.  “And they have those fancy outhouses that come on a truck and look like real bathrooms.”

He had done research, which meant he was 100% serious.  My systems were “go.”  BLAST-OFF!  “Well you can have your stupid party with everyone you ever met, except for one person!  I!  WILL NOT!  BE THERE!”

Mom dove in, “Why do you have to do this to her?  Do you know what they’ll do to this house?  Do you think this is funny? Who put you up to this?”

He shrugged again, unable to fathom what all the fuss was about, “It’s just what I want.  I am who I am today because of all the people I’ve encountered in my life.  We all touch each other’s lives…everyday…if only in a small way.  It shapes us.”

Now, it was my turn to take a step back.  This was a true statement.  He delivered it with such genuine heartfelt emotion.  So sweet.  So profound.  So ineffective in halting the hives blooming across my torso.

At this point, my sister threw in her two cents, my brothers were laughing and shaking their heads and probably making bets, my father (the smartest person in the room) left the table, my aunt was rolling her eyes and my nephew said he thought it would be awesome.  It was getting loud and heated.  Yet, no one from Hubby’s side of the family said a word.  Why?  Because he’d waited for them to go home before he mentioned this gem of an idea.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

The argument spilled over to breakfast the next morning, the following week, and well into the New Year.  The subject of “the party” would come up regularly.  To our friends and family, it was a running joke.  To me, it was a source of nasty fights and excess stomach acid.

After about 15 months, he finally wore me down.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  He could have his precious party, but with one caveat: it would not take place at the house, or anywhere near it.  He agreed.

So I began the fool’s errand of planning an impossible-to-plan event.  I went through Hubby’s old yearbooks, date books and calendars.  I asked his friends for leads.  I went to his favorite places and flashed his photograph, asking if anybody knew him.  I always used his bar mitzvah picture (secretly hoping no one would recognize the 13-year-old boy with the slicked down bangs and aviator eyeglasses). “Do you know this guy?” My question was consistently greeted with, “Why? What did he do?”

One day, something shifted in my thinking.  I had become so twisted by the whole idea that I’d overlooked a key detail…I was in the driver’s seat!  I was planning this party.  I would set the parameters.  This was going to make it a whole lot easier…

Rule #1: No ex-girlfriends.

Rule #2: If Hubby hadn’t mentioned a person in the past year, they were off the list.

Rule #3: I would limit the number of guests to 200.

Rule #4:  Every guest had to live within a 25-mile radius (I did not reveal Rules 1-4 to Hubby).

Rule #5:  I refused to invite our former landscaper, whom I fired for digging up my heirloom dahlias and hollyhocks, because he thought they were weeds.  A landscaper can’t tell the difference?  Do not even get me started!

“The party” was still a crazy idea, but it was becoming a lot more manageable.

With less than a week to go, I was running around town, finishing up last-minute errands.  My first stop was at the dry cleaner.  When I walked in, Mr. Kang avoided my gaze.  “What’s going on?” I asked.

“I’m really sorry, but I can’t make the party.  My wife says I can’t go to any parties without her.”

My plan was working.  The directive was to invite everyone Hubby had ever met.  Since he’d never met our dry cleaner’s wife, I could not invite her.  Bwahaha!  Evil, I know.

My next stop, the drugstore for wrapping paper.  As I approached the counter to pay, Stephanie P. (the checkout girl) apologized for having to cancel.  “I’m really sorry, but I can’t make the party.  I decided to start the Master Cleanse this weekend.”

In the land of lame excuses, I’ve noticed this one picking up steam recently, outranking “that’s my poker night” by a wide margin.  But I didn’t care.  The herd was thinning.

The service station was next on my list.  As I stepped from my car to gas ‘er up, the attendant, Mr. Aliakbalahar approached me.  He hung his head low and whispered, “I cannot come to the party.  And by the way, you misspelled my name on the invitation.”

And another one gone.  And another one gone.  Another one bites the dust!

At this point, you might think I’m sounding pretty horrible.  But the truth is, I’m no Warren Buffet and cannot afford to throw lavish parties for large sums of virtual strangers.  Also, how could Hubby possibly enjoy anyone’s company when surrounded by that many people?  Wouldn’t quantity cancel out quality?  Would his memories of his 50th be anything beyond a blur of unfamiliar faces?

So as my “fringe” guests started dropping like flies, I held hope that I could still throw a great shindig without breaking the bank or completely overwhelming the birthday boy.  And that’s exactly how it played out.

Instead of a room packed with people who touched his life by schmearing his bagel or rotating his tires, Hubby actually knew every one of the 60 attendees.  More importantly, everyone knew him.  Nobody felt obliged to be there, or showed up only for free pigs-in-a-blanket (classy, no?).  What did Hubby come to realize that night?  We were all there because we love him.  When all is said and done, isn’t that really the best present a guy could get on his 50th birthday?  Hubby thought so, too.

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Gaudy

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History’s smallest parade. The kid on the left (me) is a firecracker, not a tomato.

Whenever the Fourth of July rolls around, I start reminiscing about 1976.  It was, of course, the 200th anniversary of our nation’s sovereignty.  For the year leading up to it, our collective American consciousness was obsessed with all things Bicentennial.

As the world’s leaders in conspicuous consumption, what better way for Americans to mark such an auspicious occasion than through the manufacture and sale of kitschy knickknacks?  Who could forget the homage paid to our founding fathers by the Old Spice company and their Bicentennial Commemorative Coin series?  No?  These were 6-ounce after-shave decanters, shaped like coins, bearing the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Paul Jones.  How Jones got the nod, over Samuel Adams, is anybody’s guess.

Kids had Bicentennial lunch boxes, key chains, and playing cards.  They decked out their bikes with red, white and blue plastic streamers and metallic star-spangled banana seats.  Moms bought decorative Bicentennial plates, tablecloths, glassware, planters, cupcakes, stamps, tampons, Betsy Ross sewing pins, jewelry boxes, towels, Dixie cups, and anything churned out by the Franklin Mint (of which there was plenty).  All these wonderful novelties could be paid for with the exciting and new Bicentennial currency.  You had your choice of Bicentennial quarters, half-dollars, silver dollars and, everybody’s favorite, the idiotic two-dollar bill.

In addition to all the collectables, there were lots of Bicentennial events.  One, in particular, stands apart.  It involves a calamitous spectacle, put on by my high school’s most talented performers.  The band (of which I was a member), the theater department, and the choir were invited to the state’s capital to present a Revolutionary-themed concert.  It was quite an honor and I remember we practiced for weeks.  Our singers and actors were dressed in homemade 1776-era getups.  The girls wore long calico dresses with bonnets and shawls.  The boys wore wool vests, coats and knickers (those American Revolutionaries really bundled up).  Since nobody ever pays attention to the band (unless we’re talking Rolling Stones) we were allowed to wear our regular school clothes.

The presentation incorporated Revolutionary music interspersed with narratives, read dramatically by the theater hams students.  The thing I remember most about that day was the heat.  It was about seven million degrees hotter than the inside of a dragon’s belly.  Don’t doubt me.

During our production – between Yankee Doodle and the Battle Hymn of the Republic – one of our actors was dramatizing the skills of a minuteman.  He mimed the loading, aiming and firing of his musket.  Our drummer, Bobby, was supposed to hit a rim shot at the same time that our actor was “firing” his gun.  Bobby executed it perfectly (he was very professional for a 15-year-old).  At that precise moment, one of the boys from the choir, overcome by the heat and his Benjamin Franklin costume, keeled over and fell face-first onto the floor.  The only thing that saved him from a broken nose was his tri-corner hat and Polyfill beer gut.

The audience erupted with wild applause.  They whooped and hooted.  What showmanship!  Slowly, however, it dawned on them that this was not part of the program, but rather a “situation.”  You’d think they’d have been tipped off by the fact that Ben Franklin’s impromptu assassination, by a minuteman, was not historically accurate.  Sometimes people just get caught up in the moment, I guess.  Or maybe they weren’t history buffs.

Anyway, the worst was yet to come.  Teenagers are very susceptible to suggestion, nerves, and, in this case, dragon-belly heat.  The sight of that one kid, splayed out on the floor, set off a chain reaction.  Other choir members started passing out left and right.  Our long-suffering conductor, Mr. Scaine, put down his baton, calmly approached the microphone and announced that there would be a brief intermission (he was every bit as professional as Bobby).

No one was seriously injured, but the remainder of our show was a wounded turkey.  By the time the concert resumed, we were all paranoid about another fainting epidemic.  We played our instruments tentatively, so as not to jar the more delicate members of our ensemble.  Our poor audience looked like anxious captives – they clearly wanted out, but decorum prevented them from leaving.  And rather than being performed with the gusto it deserves, our Battle Hymn of the Republic limped to a lackluster finale.  After the trauma and embarrassment of the morning, the only thing worth a hallelujah would be the glory of getting back on the bus and returning to school.  Thank god nobody had camera phones in 1976.

RIGHTEOUS!

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Many people of the cloth speak of the “calling” which led them to religious service.  My friend, Jane, was a New Jersey housewife (a real one, not a Real one), when she got the call.  Now Jane is a Vicar, enrolled in an intensive four-year program to become a Lutheran minister.  A relative of my husband’s got the call after being laid off from a high-level corporate finance position.  He joined a seminary and, after four years of rigorous study, lives as a practicing minister in Long Island.

I was watching a particularly raunchy episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm when I got the call.  It was my cousin and her fiancé, calling to say they were getting married.  They wondered if I’d be willing to become ordained and officiate at their wedding in Manhattan.  What fun! You bet!  “I’ll start the process right away,” I told them.

So I sat down at my computer to begin the steps necessary for acquiring my point-and-click investiture.  I Googled, “I want to be ordained online.”  The first website that came up seemed sufficient, and I’m lazy, so….  According to the website, an ordination through their church would qualify me to marry people in New York, as long as I registered with the New York State Bureau of Licensing.

I went through the prompts and started adding things to my virtual shopping cart.  Did I want the title “Doctor of Divinity” which included a printable degree?  Yes.  Did I want the small black book containing prayers and various ceremonies, such as weddings and baptisms?  Billed as a $45 value, it could be mine for the low, low price of just $19.99, plus shipping and handling.  Yes.   Did I want the printable parking permit, stating I was on official ministry business?  This would allow me to park anywhere.  Any where.  Are you kidding me? That would be a ‘yes.’  Did I want the printable proclamation authenticating me as a saint?  Hell, yes!

With my ordination bundle complete, I checked out and printed my PhD and saint certificate (which, as advertised, were suitable for framing).  I signed my parking permit and set it aside to be laminated.  Time spent?  Four minutes.  Who needs four years?

It’s amazing what having these documents did to me.  Like balm for my soul, the saint certificate assured me that the key to the pearly gates awaits me, already tucked under my eternal pillow.  I’m a shoe-in.  The degree stoked my ego.  I was now a doctor.  A doctor!  Oh, the respect I would command with that title.  And the parking permit?  Well, only the rare and extremely privileged individual has that kind of omnipotence.

These exciting revelations were followed by heady daydreams.  There I was, standing on a windswept mountaintop…at sunset…resplendent robes a flowin’.  I would gather people together to witness the unions of hundreds of happy couples.   And I would charge $300 a pop for 20 minutes of my time, plus gas and tolls.  What joy!

The next morning, I stopped at Kinkos, laminated the permit, and headed for the licensing bureau in downtown Manhattan.  I parked, tossed my permit on the dashboard and sashayed right past the muni meter. Dr. Anita Rosner parks for free!  Mm hmm. Take that, Mayor Bloomberg.

When I arrived at the bureau, the line at the only open window was about 30-people deep.  Other folks were off to the side, filling out forms.  Everybody was waiting in pairs – one person to hold the spot in line, the other person to keep the parking meter fed.  Suckers!

Being prepared, I had printed out the forms the night before and already completed them.  When my turn came, I presented the clerk, Ms. Waters, with my documents.

“I’m here for my license to perform marriages in New York.” There may have been an exaggerated note of gravitas in my voice.  I’m not sure.

Ms. Waters looked over the forms.  “I can give you a license for New York State, but not New York City.”

Uh-oh.  “Why not New York City?”

She pointed to the website listed on my credentials.  “We don’t recognize this church in New York City,” she casually replied.  To make matters worse, she mispronounced recognize as “REK-a-nize,” which is a major pet peeve of mine. When my daughter and her friends do it, I go insane!  But that’s a story for another time.

Sacrilege!  Her rebuff felt like a slap.  But I’ve dealt with enough pencil pushers in my day to be prepared for this.  I had preemptively tucked some bribe money in the front pocket of my conservative, yet chic, Coldwater Creek trousers.  Doctors aren’t stupid, you know.

I carefully slid the bill across the counter, so as not to be observed by anyone else but Ms. Waters.  “Perhaps you REK-uhg-nahyz this PREZ-i-duhnt,” I whispered, as I gave her a sly wink.

She openly picked up the bill, looked at it, slapped it back down on the counter and shoved it toward me.  “Ma’am,” she sighed, “I think everybody REK-a-nizes George Washington.  Now step aside.  You’re holding up the line.”

“That’s hardly any way to speak to a reverend,” I grumbled, as I stuffed the documents and dollar into my purse.

With my head held high, I marched indignantly from the bureau.  How dare they!  What chutzpah!  This threw a major wrench in the plans.  I would not be able to marry my cousin and her fiancé after all.

To add insult to injury, when I returned to my car, I discovered a $115 parking ticket stuck under my windshield wiper.  Someone had drawn on it…a picture of a smiley face wearing a halo and wings, followed by the words, “Ha! Ha!”  As if possessed, I snarled out some very un-saintly expletives, got in my car and drove home.

That night, I said “special prayers” for New York City, the jackass who drew on my ticket and the blasphemous Ms. Waters.  Amen.