It’s About Time

Planning a family vacation becomes complicated when you have adult children.  College schedules, work, life – these things can get in the way.  That’s why, when the stars align and everyone has a few free days, you pounce on the chance to plan a trip.

We took advantage of just such a miraculous opportunity and booked a family getaway to Costa Rica last year.  Several relaxing days in a warm rainforest would be the perfect balm for an icy cold New York January.

I had no idea there would be so much high adventure, tests of human endurance, drama and suspense…and that was before we even got on the airplane.

Let’s begin with the morning before our flight.

New York. January 9th, 4:00 am

It was T minus 24 hours before the car was to pick us up for the airport.

I don’t sleep well the day before I travel. There are so many things to think about. Did I pack the sunscreen?  Were my flip-flops in my suitcase? Was my e-reader fully charged? If I forget my retainer, would I come home with buckteeth?

Tip-toeing around so as not to wake anyone, I busied myself with the final preparations for our vacation.  My plan was to get everything done and grab a nap in the afternoon. Like most of my plans, that nap never materialized. But that was OK, I thought. I’d just go to bed early and get up around 3:00 to shower, put on the carefully selected traveling outfit I had chosen, style my hair, have a light breakfast, water the plants, load and run the dishwasher, clear the perishables from the refrigerator, and empty the garbage so the house wouldn’t smell like a sewer upon our return. After all that, I’d be ready for some R&R.

Apparently, I am a slow learner, because that plan didn’t pan out either.  Here’s what happened instead…

New York. January 9th, 6:00 pm

With PJs on and ready for bed, I said good-night to my family, “Remember, the car is picking us up at four.  So, get to bed early and make sure you all have your passports.”

When I uttered the word “passports”, my son got a strange look on his face. He quickly retreated to his room, shutting the door behind him. I heard a lot of rummaging sounds.

Uh-oh.

He emerged within moments.  I would best describe his face as a combo platter of fear, nausea and guilt. 

Oh no.

“Mom,” he said hesitantly, “I could have sworn my passport was here. But now I realize I must have left it in my dorm room. I am so sorry!” 

Oh, dear god.

His college was 5 hours away (without traffic).

Deep breath. I quickly consulted my phone.  According to Waze, we would get to his campus around 11:00 pm. Doing the math in my head, I was certain we could complete the round trip with enough time for me to shower and change before heading to the airport. (Side note: I am not good at doing math in my head.)

“If we leave right now, we’ll get back in time,” I said.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“Do you have a better idea?”

“I just won’t go,”  he offered. ” It’s ok. Really.”

There was no way we were taking this family vacation without him.

“Get in the car,” I said. 

I threw on some old sweats and we headed to Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania. January 9th, 10:53 pm

The entire college was closed for winter break.  We had to track down campus security to let my son into his dorm.  While he and the officer went to his room, I programmed our home address into Waze.  We would return at 3:48 am. Good-bye shower.

As I sat in the car watching the seconds slip away on the app, I also noticed we would never make it home unless we stopped for gas.  Hello putrid garbage.

Tick. Tick. Tick. What could be taking so long? His room was the size of a bathmat.

Finally, I saw my son and the security officer walking toward the car.  My son looked stricken.

“Mom, I am soooooooo sorry,” he said. “I just got off the phone with dad…”

“Oh my god,” I said, “is somebody dead?!” 

“No, no…,” my son continued. He looked at the officer for help. The man put a supportive hand on my son’s shoulder.

“What is it?” I begged. “Out with it!”

“Dad found my passport.  In my room. At home.”

For the second time that night, I told him, “Get in the car.”

As we pulled away, the officer shrugged and gave a wishy-washy wave good-bye.

“I am really, really sorry. Please don’t be mad,” my son pleaded.

“I want you to remember this moment,” I told him. “Look at me. I’m not mad at all.”  And this was the truth – for three reasons.  One, nobody was dead. So, that was good. Two, by this point I had been awake for 19 hours. I didn’t have the energy to get mad. But the main reason is that I love my son and I had missed him. Since he’d been away at school, we didn’t get to talk much anymore.  That road trip, just the two of us in the car, was an absolute pleasure. He stayed awake with me the whole time and we talked about everything and anything. Sheer joy. 

Pennsylvania. January 9th, 11:10 pm

It was time to stop for gas.

And since I mentioned “time”, let me get philosophical for a moment: Time is a funny thing.   It doesn’t actually “exist”, and yet it’s very real.  You can have too much of it on your hands or not enough of it in a day.  It can be on your side or your worst enemy.  And anyone with a GPS knows you’re more likely to lose it than gain it.  So don’t even try to make up time on the road. I should mention that, throughout this entire odyssey, I kept close to the speed limit. Safety first!  Also, if we got stopped for speeding, we’d be totally schtupped.

Anyway, back to the gas…

We had precious few minutes to fill the tank if we were to make it home by four. Now, here is where time decided to eat us for lunch and then laugh at us while it picked its teeth – the gas pump couldn’t have chugged along more slowly if it were dispensing peanut butter. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. My son and I stared at it in amazement.

At this point, I had a sobering thought: Was the universe trying to tell us something? Did providence know something about this flight that I didn’t? Should I listen?

Screw it.  I pumped enough gas to get us home and we hit the road again.

New York. January 10th, 4:02 am

As we pulled up to the house, we could see the car service parked out front.  My husband, daughter, our luggage and my son’s passport all safely inside it.  I ran upstairs, grabbed my retainer (priorities!) and we left for the airport. 

Now, you probably think this is the end of the story.  Well, it’s not.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:30 am

Technology can be such a time-saving blessing. We were able to use the automated kiosk to check-in and get our boarding passes. 

My husband scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.

I scanned my passport. Beep. It spit out my boarding pass.

My son scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.

My daughter scanned her passport. BLOOP! No boarding pass.  She tried it again.  BLOOP! Nothing.

My husband said, “Let me try.” He scanned it again.  Still no boarding pass.

Seeing we were having trouble with the kiosk, an airline representative came to our aid.  She tried the scanner.  Same thing.  No boarding pass.

“Ohhhh,” she finally said, “I see the problem.”

What a relief.  She saw the problem.  She was going to fix it. Problem solved!

She handed the passport back to my husband, “This one’s expired.”

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:00 am

I could not breathe.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:01 am

Everything went silent.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:02 am

The blood drained from my face.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:03 am

There was ringing in my ears.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:04 am

Time stood still.  Now time stood still?  THANKS FOR NOTHING, TIME!!

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:32 am

The airline rep gave my husband a document and some instructions, “There’s a passport office in Manhattan. They open at eight. Give them this paper. They will expedite your daughter’s passport and you’ll have plenty of time to get on the next flight to Costa Rica this afternoon.”

I looked at my husband.  I could have sworn, just for a split second, that his expression suggested I should take her to the passport office. Maybe it did.  Maybe it didn’t.  What do I know? It’s possible that being awake for over 25 hours could make a person see things. But there was nothing ambiguous about my expression…it said “Warning! Tilt!  Danger!!”

My son came up to me. He gently took my hands and whispered, “It’s gonna be ok, mom.”

I looked into his sympathetic, soothing eyes and whispered back, “I feel terrible for your sister.  I’m sorry that your father has to take her to the passport office. But make no mistake…I. Am. Getting. On. That. Plane.”

San Jose, Costa Rica. January 10, 11:30 am

When we stepped out of the airport, my son and I were still wearing the same ratty clothes from the day before. So much for my chic traveling ensemble. The warm moist jungle air enveloped us like a welcoming hug. Our cabbie would take us to the resort, which was three hours away.  I didn’t care. I slept in the backseat. I snored. I’m sure I drooled. En route, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant which overlooked a picturesque coffee farm.  The food was delicious. The view was spectacular. Our ten-hour road trip, five-and-a-half hour flight, and bumpy excursion in a taxi were all worth it. We’d reached paradise.

After checking into our rooms, we took a dip in the pool, had dinner together and hung out in the bar until my daughter and husband arrived.

The band was finally back together again. And now we all had valid passports.

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.

***For the podcast, with additional interviews, stories and merriment, click HERE!***

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?

 

 

 

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.

Siri-ously?

Feeling misunderstood?  This Snork is for you.

Feeling misunderstood? This Snork is for you.

Can we all agree that relationships are tricky? Sometimes, the most difficult ones are with those closest to us. Take, for example, the small woman who lives within my iPhone. Her name is Siri, and I carry her around in my purse.

When we first met, Siri and I had a great time together. We’d laugh, share jokes. The kids and I would ask her questions ranging from the ridiculous, “Siri, do these pants make my butt look big?” to the sublime, “Siri, what does the face of God look like?”

We’d play with her, just to see what she’d say. She would humor us with real answers to our silly questions…

Us: “Siri, where can we hide a dead body?”

Siri: “There are several dumps fairly close to you.”

Us: “Siri, where can we score some decent ganja?”

Siri: “Here is a list of rehab facilities fairly close to you.”

Back then, we didn’t know that all our queries were being recorded and stored in a database somewhere in the ether. It’s true! I’m surprised social services and the FBI haven’t come a knockin’!

Anyway, like many intimate relationships, Siri and I were getting along just fine until I started asking too many questions. Then, I noticed her becoming evasive (I can’t really say, Anita), a diva (I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t take any requests right now) and, sometimes, downright defensive (I’m sorry, Anita. I don’t know what you mean). I didn’t like the dynamic that was developing between us. At times, I could swear she was even using a “tone” with me. Well, two can play at that game. In retaliation, I commanded her to address me as “Oh Empress.”

The data really hit the fan one day last spring. I was late for an appointment and couldn’t locate my pocket-size subway map. I was getting more frazzled by the minute as I rummaged through my handbag. Then I thought, “Aha! I’ll ask Siri.”

“Siri, show me a New York City subway map.”

“I found six places matching ‘subway’ fairly close to you,” she replied, as she displayed six Subway sandwich shop locations, their phone numbers…and, of course, a map.

Realizing the nuances necessary to communicate with my virtual assistant, I rephrased the question, “Siri, show me a map of the New York City subway system.”

“I found six places matching ‘subway’ fairly close to you,” she repeated.

“Again, with the sandwiches.” I grumbled to myself. “No, Siri! Show me a map of the New York City transit system!”

I don’t remember her response to that one, except that it had nothing to do with sandwiches or subways.

Never one to throw in the towel, I found several other ways to craft my request: Siri, show me a New York City MTA map. Siri, which subway will take me to 11th Street and Avenue B? Siri, which subway goes to Alphabet City? Siri, what train will take me to the lower east side of Manhattan?, etc. Each time, I got a da-dong and a useless answer.

With every failed attempt and every tick-tock of the clock, I grew more and more exasperated, until I lost it. There I was – a grown woman, standing in the middle of Grand Central Station, screaming into my cell phone, “SIRI! WHY ARE YOU SO EFFing STUPID?!”

Finally, I had asked a question to which she had the correct answer. “Oh Empress,” she calmly replied, “That is your opinion.”

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.