Madame Fortuna Knows All

Some people put more effort into decorating for Halloween than Radio City Music Hall puts into their Christmas Spectacular.  All over the suburbs, homes are festooned with strands of orange lights, giant spiders dangling from rooftops, goblins and witches lurking in the trees, mock cemeteries gracing front lawns…  I’ve even seen people take it to the limit by bringing the ghoulishness insides their homes – coffins and skeletons and dungeons.   Me?  I put a mini pumpkin and some gourds on the dining room table and call it a day.

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Even as a kid, Halloween’s main attraction for me was free candy and not much else.  If a grown-up asked me what I was planning to “be,” I’d shrug.  Those important decisions were left up to my personal seamstress (a/k/a my mother).

Mom’s always been very creative and made our costumes by hand.  Store-bought outfits were not an option.  The one exception occurred the year my three older siblings and I were too sick to go trick-or-treating.  Mom spared herself the job of sewing and gluing and toiling – while caring for four cases of chicken pox, or flu, or god-knows-what-all, and instead, bought costumes for us to wear over our pajamas.   Most moms would have skipped the whole thing entirely, but our mom would not deprive us.  Halloween was going to stink that year.  The least she could do was let us dress-up.  Now, that’s a good mom!

Worst Halloween Ever

Worst Halloween Ever

So there we were, four little kids sitting by the living room window, watching all the other kids who were lucky enough to be out.  My oldest brother, Dominic (age 11 at the time), had the important job of answering the door and handing out the candy.  We all expected it to be the dullest Halloween ever.  But then…

A teenage boy (who was not in costume) came up our front steps.  We didn’t know him.  He was all alone, and didn’t have a bag or a pillowcase or a plastic pumpkin with which to collect his loot.  We kids looked at each other.  Something seemed “off.”  He rang the bell.  Dominic picked up our big bowl of treats and, with some hesitation, opened the door.  Without saying a word, and for no apparent reason, the teenager swung his arm, as if to execute an underhanded softball pitch, and knocked the bowl up and out of my brother’s hands, creating a shower of fun-size delights that landed all over the porch and entryway.  Finally, we thought, some excitement!

Even at the tender age of four, I knew there was danger afoot, and was afraid for my brother.  I screamed for my father, who came into the living room just as the boy took off running.  I’d never seen Daddy move so fast.  He flew down the front steps, caught the kid a block away and brought him back by the collar of his shirt.  After making him return every last piece of candy to the bowl, my father told him to apologize to my brother.  Then he gave him a brief lecture on civilized behavior.  The boy could not explain why he had done it (my mother thinks he must have been drunk).  My father agreed not to call the kid’s parents if he promised to stay out of trouble.  The boy dutifully complied because this was the 60’s, when teenagers respected their elders and nobody felt the need to call the police or their lawyers or draw weapons.

I was in awe of my father that night.  He protected his home, avenged my brother, firmly (but kindly) taught a valuable lesson to a wayward child and saved our candy.  My hero!

Many Halloweens followed, and they weren’t particularly eventful.  I didn’t care what I wore (usually somebody’s hand-me-down from the prior year).  During high school, I tried to be a little more innovative.  Most girls went as cheerleaders, cats, bunnies, nurses…girlie things.  By college, they were still dressing this way, except now they went as slutty cheerleaders, sexy cats, Playboy bunnies and naughty nurses.  So much for the women’s movement.

Cher channelling Madame Fortuna

Cher channelling Madame Fortuna

It was in college that I came up with my perfect costume (and alter ego): Madame Fortuna.  Madame Fortuna was born out of sheer laziness – a flowing skirt, a scarf to tie around my head, layers of jewelry, and gobs of dramatic eye make-up were all that was necessary to transform me into this mysterious gypsy fortune teller.  Wandering through parties, the Madame read palms and made up comical, ridiculous predictions for anybody who wanted a “reading.”  My friends and I would go to Halloween events and use Madame Fortuna to make friends, meet cute guys and score free drinks.

When I moved to New York City after college, I realized I’d have to start putting more effort into my costumes – not because I wanted to, but because I had to. My other brother, Michael, threw legendary Halloween parties in his Manhattan apartment and killer costumes were de rigueur.  Guests were instructed to a) dress up, b) bring food or booze, and c) come with something to sleep on.

Michael would move all of the furniture out of his living and dining rooms, roll up the rugs, put strobe lights in the chandelier, black lights in the lamps, roast a turkey and a ham, and let the good times roll.

We’d dance all night, and when the last reveler couldn’t stand up anymore, we’d kick the dirty cups and cigarette butts out of the way, roll out our sleeping bags and pass out on the floor.  The next morning, everybody pitched in to clean up and then we’d go out to brunch. Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?

I couldn’t attend Michael’s epic parties in a half-ass costume or show up every single year as a gypsy.  It was necessary to think outside the box.  But whomever (or whatever) I came up with, I’d stay in character all night (to the delight of some and the confusion of others).  I once went as Katherine Hepburn’s character from On Golden Pond.  I stippled my face and hands with liver spots, put on a big sun hat and went around calling people “old poops” in a quivering, upper-crusty accent.  One guest, utterly perplexed by my costume (or not familiar with the great Kate – go figure), asked my brother if there was something “wrong” with me.  Um, hello…it’s a costume party, professor!

Are you stupid, you old poop?

Are you stupid, you old poop?

Another year, I went as daylight savings time with clocks taped to my shirt, springs in my hair and autumn leaves glued to my back and butt.  Spring ahead.  Fall back.  Get it?  Neither did anyone else.

When Michael moved to a smaller apartment, he gave up those fabulous parties and nobody offered to take them over.  I can’t blame them.  That kind of magic can’t ever be recreated, even on a night where witches and warlocks abound.

So, a lot of years went by when I didn’t dress up at all.  Then, about 10 years ago, one of my sister’s co-workers was organizing a carnival-style fundraiser at a park in New Jersey.  My sister asked me to do my Madame Fortuna bit for the event.   It was for a good cause, so I figured why not.

I decided to kick it up a notch, and bought some props – a crystal ball and a deck of Tarot cards.  My plan was to have some jokes and tricks prepared in advance, to entertain people donating their money to a phony fortune teller (as if there was any other kind).

So, on a sunny morning in early October, I brought Madame Fortuna out of retirement.

My first customer sat down, and I immediately noticed she was wearing a necklace that read Sandy.  This would be like taking candy from a baby, I thought.

Staring deeply into my crystal ball, and in an accent thicker than goulash, I said to her,  “I am standing on the edge of an ocean.”

She:     [No response]

Me:      I see a vast expanse of beach.  Does this mean anything to you?

She:     [Meekly shakes her head no]

Me:      The shoreline is very grainy.

She:     [Still no response.  I considered checking her pulse.]

Me:      There is a lot of sand.  It is very, sandy.  Yes!  Very, veeeeeery SANDY!  This means nothing to you?

She:     Well…we used to have a house by the Jersey shore. [It seemed I had overestimated Sandy, and her IQ.]

Me:      [Exasperated, I dropped the accent and said] Lady!  Is your name Sandy or what?

She:     Who me?  Oh, yeah…

Next!

A small group of middle school boys stepped up, each daring the other to get a reading with yours truly.  A redheaded boy said he wasn’t afraid.  He also called me “bogus.”

Madame Fortuna and I know a thing or two about redheaded boys.  As a matter of fact, we married one.  They are full of mischief (especially if they also have freckles).  So, I decided to make a not-so-wild guess that this “ginger” was a handful.

Me:      Look into my crystal ball and tell me what you see.

Red:    Nothing.

Me:      Of course you see nothing!  That is because you are not Madame Fortuna! I am.  [This elicited laughs from his friends. I pulled the crystal ball toward me and stared into it for a moment, then clacked my tongue and shook my head in disgust.]  School only started a month ago and already you are into much troubles!  Yes?  [Note: for added authenticity, broken English must always accompany a phony accent.]

Red:    [Flabbergasted] Holy $#@!

Red’s friends gasped and moved closer to my table.  One of them whispered, “How does she know that?”  How, indeed?  My instincts, and follicular profiling, proved to be correct.

Red:   [Suspicious]  Do you know my mom?

Me:      Silence!  [Remembering how my father tried a little mentoring with the sociopathic candy bandit, I saw an opportunity to give Red some unsolicited guidance] Listen to me, my little potty mouth friend, your teachers think you are a jitterbug who doesn’t like to pay attention.  But Madame Fortuna knows you are bored in school.  You must not let this defeat you!  [I wagged my finger at him for emphasis. My jangling bracelets added the perfect sound effect.]  Madame Fortune sees two futures for you.  The first one will happen if you do not heed my warning.  You are understanding me?  Madame Fortuna sees one word, written over and over again, in bright red letters! [Dramatically, I pushed the ball away and covered my eyes as if it were too painful to witness. I opened them and looked gravely at Red.] Juvie!  Do you know what is this word, juvie?

Red’s eyes widened, as did his posse’s.  He nodded his head.  Nobody was laughing anymore.  They were hanging on my every word.

Me:      The second future, if you behave at school, is full with all kinds of wonderfulnesses.  You will be…great leader!  Can you promise to be good boy, kid?

Red:    I will!  I promise, I will!

I liked working with Red a whole lot better than that dingbat Sandy.

Next up were two adorable ‘tween girls, who were obviously the best of friends.  They were holding on to each other, full of giggles and giddy trepidation.  I could hear them talking as they approached, and I noticed they were both very articulate.  I suspected they were a couple of smart cookies, so I took that angle.  One of them was wearing eyeglasses.  A clue, perhaps?

Me:      [Speaking to “Glasses”]  Would you like me to read your palm or your cards?

Glasses:           Can we do the crystal ball?

Me:      Why not?  Madame Fortuna aims to please.  Hmm…I see you in a room, alone.  You are very happy there…because…because…because you are surrounded by books!

Glasses and her friend, Giggles, both let out a scream.   It appeared I had nailed this one, too.

Giggles:           She’s always got her nose in a book!  That is unbelievable!  How did you know that?

Me:      Madame Fortuna knows aaaaalllll.

I had no idea I was so good at reading people, or that sterotypes could be so helpful… bookworms wore glasses…redheads are rascals…

My reputation as a gifted seer (a/k/a lucky guesser) soon spread, and the line to see Madame Fortuna began to grow.  For six hours without bathroom breaks (Madame Fortuna has bladder like camel, yes?), I read old men, young mothers, couples, kids…you name it.  Everybody wanted a piece of the Transylvanian Sensation.

I was surprised to see a repeat customer step up to my table.  It was Glasses with a man who unquestionably was her father. He had his arms crossed and wore a grumpy expression.  No doubt about it, he wanted nothing to do with me.

I figured the best way to loosen him up would be with a joke.  I asked him to look into the crystal ball and to tell me what he saw (I was setting him up for the same gag I had used on Red).  When I retold the joke, Grumpy Dad didn’t even crack a smile.  OK, I thought, onto the next quip.  Some of my prepared jokes ended with song lyrics for punch lines.  I would try the set-up that ended with, “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.”

Me:      [Looking into the crystal ball] I see…hmm…I’m confused…I don’t know what this means…but I see…a porch swing.

Looking up, I saw Grumpy Dad’s face lose its color as his mouth dropped open.  His daughter, Glasses, grabbed his arm and softly whispered, “See, daddy.  I told you she was real!

Me:      What does this mean?  This swing?

Glasses:           This summer, we built a porch swing together as a daddy-daughter project!

How was I doing this?  I felt like Whoopi Goldberg in the movie Ghost.  She plays a con artist, posing as a medium, and bilks people out of money by pretending to commune with the “other side.”  When she finds out that she really can talk to the dead, it terrifies her.  At this point, I was starting to give myself the creeps.  Could I be that lucky of a guesser? It didn’t seem possible.

Me:     Your father loves you very much.  I don’t need crystal ball for to see that.

Glasses:  He’s the best!

Finally, a big fat smile out of Grumpy Dad.  He gave his little girl a hug and kissed the top of her head.  As they got up to leave, he leaned over to me, whispering, “Impressive.”

Me:   [Whispering back] Magic!

The fundraiser was a great success.  Attendees had a good time and a lot of money was raised.  A little girl shared a special moment with her dad.  A skeptical dad opened up to the possibility of magic.  A red-haired boy set his sights on something higher than juvenile detention.  And a woman named Sandy wandered around the parking lot trying to remember where she left her car.  How can I be sure?

Madame Fortuna knows all.

Fibs, Lies and Chinese Turkey Rolls

The stuff of dreams.

New parents can be pretty amusing as they rattle off all the things they will never do with their children.  Some declarations are honorable: I’ll never serve fast food to my kids!  Some are sensible but unrealistic: I’ll never let them stay up past ten o’clock on a school night!  Some are control-freaky and horrible: Unless they get straight A’s in high school, I won’t help pay for college!  And then there’s my personal favorite, the sweet: I will never lie to my kids! 

Inside, I chuckle.  After all, how cute that they have such high ideals.  It’s like a four-year-old announcing she’ll invent a time machine when she grows up.  You wouldn’t tell her that time travel isn’t possible because why disabuse someone of a lofty goal?  Also, who knows?  If a kindergartener, back in 1960, told you that you’d be reading this on an all-purpose electronic device that also makes visual phone calls, sends mail, plays movies, and puts all the world’s knowledge at your fingertips, you might have dismissed him with, “That’s very nice, Stevie.  Now go clean your room.”  But he would have been right.

So, I just smile when I hear these assertions that they won’t lie to their kids, because I know that this is actually the very first lie of many, and these parents are telling it to themselves.  For example, somebody bought all those Elf On The Shelf toys last December.  What’s that you say?  You don’t consider that lying?  It’s just a playful fib?  Oh.  I see.

I’m not judging you.  Oh no, no, no!  I just want to give you a teensy little reality check.  And I don’t mean to be a spoilsport.  The truth is, I don’t see anything wrong with traditions that lead children to imaginative play, like believing in magical candy-bearing bunnies, or fairies bartering cash for teeth.  In fact, I love them.  And I concede that there’s certainly a distinction between a fib:  Keep making that face and it will freeze that way, a white lie: The supermarket was completely out of ice cream, and a downright whopper: Your real father is an exiled prince.  For his own safety, and ours, I can’t tell you who he is.

Then there are lies of convenience.  These are the lies we tell to save us time, aggravation, or to avoid an awkward conversation for which we are unprepared.  I knew a mother who, when asked the purpose of a certain feminine hygiene product, told her prepubescent daughter that they were shoe inserts used to prevent sore feet.  Then there was the father who gave such a cursory explanation about the birds and the bees, that his 8-year-old son asked, “Next time mommy lays an egg, can I see it?”

It was one of these convenience lies that sent me on a wild goose chase for nearly 25 years.  Here’s how my odyssey began:

Could you fib to this little face?

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t a terribly fussy eater as long as everything you served me was turkey.  Turkey was my favorite and the only “meat” I’d eat.  No matter where my parents took me, turkey was on the menu (or so they said.  I couldn’t read.).

Once, on a visit to New York City’s Chinatown, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch and my parents ordered for me.  When the food came, I was served a warm, bready, fluffy orb, flat on the bottom, and about the size of a softball.  It was golden brown in color with a delicate sheen to its crust.

“What’s this?” I asked my father.

“Turkey,” he said.

I bit into its soft, chewy exterior to discover the most delicious, sweet, moist turkey I had ever tasted.

Thus began my quest for the elusive Chinese Turkey Roll.

When I became old enough to read, I searched the menu of every Chinese restaurant for turkey rolls.  I never found them.  As an adult, I’d ask waiters, “Do you have those rolls?  You know the ones I mean – they’re soft and kind of shiny?  They have turkey in a sweet sauce inside?”

Waiter: “You mean pork bun.”

Me: “Um, no…not pork.  Turkey.”

Waiter:  “No.  No turkey.  Pork!”

This is how it went every time.  They didn’t have what I wanted, so they’d try to sell me on pork buns.  Even though I’d never had one, I knew pork buns weren’t what I craved.  Give me Chinese turkey rolls or nothing.

I once asked my father if these rolls were some sort of delicacy, or if the restaurant in Chinatown made them as a specialty, or if he remembered the name of the place.

“You want to ask me what we ate for lunch 15 years ago?  I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast today,” was his response.

Fast forward to 1986.  I was working as a research director on Wall Street and living on my own in Brooklyn.  My downstairs neighbor, Olivia, called me one night to invite me for dinner.  When I arrived, a deliciously pungent aroma welcomed me at the door.

Olivia greeted me with a hug, “You’re in for a treat!  I was in Chinatown today and picked up lots of goodies.”

After brewing a nice pot of oolong for us, she served our first course: scallion pancakes.  I’d never had them before, but my taste buds had come a long way since I was little. Now I tried new foods all the time (however, turkey was still my favorite).

The pancakes were crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and had a sweet oniony flavor.  We dipped them in a dark sauce that was salty like soy, but slightly sweet and tangy.  Yum!

Then Olivia brought a platter to the table.  It was piled high with, what looked like, smaller versions of my gastronomic Holy Grail.  But I’d been disappointed before, so I checked my excitement until that first bite.  Gently lifting one to my mouth, and hoping against hope, I took a tentative nibble.  And then I heard the voices of a cherubim’s chorus.

“Olivia!  You have to give me the name of the place where you bought these turkey rolls!”

She tilted her head and gave me a quizzical look, “Turkey rolls?  Those are pork buns.  You can get them anywhere.”

Anywhere?

My ecstasy was tempered by the knowledge that my father’s fiction had deprived me of over two decades’ worth of pork buns.  Add to that the embarrassment I felt replaying all the times I’d grilled restaurant employees about those non-existent rolls (sometimes I did this on dates!).  It’s like going into Home Depot and demanding a flying carpet because you just know they really exist.  And when the salesman tells you there are no such things, you think he’s stupid and he thinks you’re crazy.

So parents, next time you tell that little white lie, please don’t forget to straighten things out somewhere down the road.  Yes, my father fibbed about the turkey.  Was that the end of the world?  No.  Did he inadvertently spare me from years of eating something that, let’s face it, would not have made for the healthiest of diets?  Yes.  And in the grand scheme of things, there are worse outcomes born from parental subterfuge.  I could have been that bride walking down the aisle with panty liners stuffed into her shoes.

I danced all night. Thank you, Stayfree!

I danced all night. Thank you, Stayfree!

Next stop, Willoughby!

Complimentary shuttle service to Willoughby Station

If you are a fan of the old Twilight Zone reruns, you may have seen the episode about an overwhelmed and hen-pecked executive who dozes off on a commuter train. His dreams take him back to 1888 and the idyllic, wholesome town of Willoughby. Well, I’m here to tell you, Willoughby really exists. You’ll find it along New York State Route 17. Here’s how I know…

Our daughter, Peaches, was doing summer stock in the Catskill Mountains, so Hubby and I went to see her perform. During the drive, somewhere between Fishs Eddy and Deposit, we must have pierced a membrane separating space and time. It became clear as soon as we turned onto the dirt road leading up to our resort (a term that seems to mean something different in the Catskills compared to, say, every place else).  We had landed squarely in yesteryear.

The lobby décor can best be described as Gone With The Wind meets Ma & Pa Kettle. The furnishings were a hodgepodge of both lush and rustic, all of it original turn-of-the-century. Added to the pretty, quaint atmosphere, was a dash of weirdness – in the corner sat an antique dentist’s chair upholstered in floral brocade (or it may have been a barber’s chair – is there really much difference?). Either way, why would a utilitarian chair be covered in a feminine floral fabric? But, I digress…

The proprietor (I’ll call him Father Time) checked us in and handed us our key. It dangled from a trapezoidal plastic fob, imprinted with the name of the hotel and our room number.  Hotel security is not a concern here in the 19th century.

He escorted us up two flights of stairs. Hubby carried the bags. Our room had three windows overlooking a lake, two of them were nailed shut and the third only opened half-way. The shower in the movie Psycho looked more inviting than the one in our room.

We were only staying for one night, so the austere accommodations were not a big deal. However, this little trip had occurred in the middle of a heatwave. Even up in the mountains, the temperature was holding at 100° and the humidity was high.  Our room had no air conditioning. Please don’t think me spoiled, but in that kind of weather, AC is a necessity, not a luxury. I asked if there were any fans available. There weren’t.

Father Time assured me that, after sundown, the breeze coming off the lake would require us to bundle up with a blanket. Huh? I’m no meteorologist, but even I know the temperature can’t take a 50° nosedive in three hours, unless hell is freezing over. However, I was raised to respect my elders (even when they’re full of baloney).  So I said a cool breeze sounded nice.

Norman will bring fresh towels after dark.

After giving us a tour of our room (it took 5 seconds), Father Time  announced that dinner would be served in 15 minutes, the staff was aware of our arrival and our table would be awaiting us. That all sounded pretty posh. Perhaps things were looking up!  We set our bags down on the bed and headed for the dining room, not bothering to lock our door behind us.

There was nothing especially remarkable about dinner, except that ambrosia was on the menu. Now, if you’re under the age of 45, or never  attended a potluck barbecue in the 60’s, you might not be familiar with this dish. Let me explain: Ambrosia, also known as Food of the Gods, is a sugary, gooey concoction of marshmallows, sweetened coconut, mandarin oranges, pineapple, maraschino cherries and creams (both whipped and sour). It has no nutritional value but tastes like pure bliss. Contrary to its sweetness, ambrosia is not considered a dessert; it is served as a salad before the main course.  This baffles me. The only way to find out why it’s a salad and not a dessert would be to go back to 1953 and ask a housewife.  Therefore, it remains one of life’s great puzzles.

After dinner, Hubby and I took a walk around. We passed the building that served as lodging for the actors. It was identical to the house where Norman Bates grew up. I thought about those windows in our room  –  were they designed to prevent our escape and muffle our screams?  A feeling of uneasiness began to creep over me.  We had not seen Peaches since our arrival.  Might we never see her again? [Cue screechy violin music]

Hubby seemed oblivious to all of this. For he was in his glory, having been born 200 years too late. If something was old-timey, then it was for Hubby. With each musty, mildewed, splintered, antiquated throwback we encountered, Hubby’s eyes would pop out of their sockets with unabashed joy. Oh my god! Look at that old sing-along songbook! Oh my god! Look at that old Victrola! Oh my god! Look at these old postcards! Oh my god! Look, they have ambrosia!

We continued on down to the lake as the sun was setting. The view was truly breathtaking but the air was not getting any cooler. Nope. Not one iota.

Show time was approaching, so we made our way to the playhouse. As we entered, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The stage, the seating, the lighting…the only things missing were Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. I was half expecting to see Peaches appear on stage, draped in chiffon, bathed in a spotlight, and flinging herself into the arms of a balletic bad boy. That didn’t happen, but she may have been put in a corner somewhere, because we still hadn’t seen her.

The pre-show entertainment featured a snazzy lounge singer accompanied by a jazzy keyboard player – both octogenarians. They offered to take requests, but the audience seemed to be feeling shy. I wanted to call out “Kung Fu Fighting,” but Hubby wouldn’t let me. Thank you, Mr. Buzz Kill. Since no requests seemed forthcoming, the snazzy guy started a sing-along of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” The audience was a little too young to know all the words, but we did the best we could. Finally the show started, and there was Peaches, alive and well.  She made us proud.

Afterward, we went to the upper floor of the playhouse for ice cream. Again, we were spellbound by our surroundings: a soda fountain and candy counter, an ancient movie-house film projector that stood about four-feet tall, and a bowling alley, all of it looked like something out of a Frank Capra classic. The woodwork of the bowling alley, its lanes and ball racks, were works of art. The light fixtures, the floors… It was not hard to imagine what this place looked like in its prime. All you had to do was open your eyes and glance around. I started to wonder if we’d ever get back to 2013 without a flux capacitor.

After our refreshments and a quick walk on the wrap-around porch, we headed back to our room/sauna. We spent the rest of the night schvitzing like farmhands (and not in a good way).

The next morning, we drank, drank, drank to rehydrated our fluids and headed back to the future.

The Catskill Mountains – known as the Borscht Belt or the Jewish Alps, in its heyday – was a magnificent summer playground for tourists, especially those from New York City. If you grew up in the metro area, you probably vacationed at magnificent retreats like The Nevele, Grossingers, or the original Kutshers.  Right about now, you might even be feeling a little nostalgic for those bygone resorts and carefree days, when people actually relaxed on vacation without laptops and cell phones. If you are, you can still relive a precious piece of those sweet memories…in Willoughby. Just take Route 17 and don’t stop until you find your ambrosia.

Don’t Have My Cow, Man!

Image

Buttercup, in happier times.

Buttercup, in happier times.

If you were driving from Southhampton to New York City, late on a summer afternoon in 2006, you may have seen something peculiar. Many people did a double-take, disbelieving their eyes. Is that…? No, it couldn’t be…

It wasn’t a bird. It wasn’t a plane. It was Hubby, tootling along Route 27. He had the top down on his car, with Buttercup in the rear. She was on her back with her legs sticking straight up in the air. Not very ladylike, even for a cow. But that’s the only way he could fit her in his car. Allow me to explain…

We own a red barn. You can’t have a red barn without putting a cow in front of it. You simply cannot. So one day, while in the Hamptons on business, Hubby passed an establishment that sells lawn thingamajigs. They have wishing wells, planters, gazebos,…and cows!

Each cow was slightly different in size and pose. Hubby made his selection, paid $250, and asked the proprietor (I’ll call him Mr. Tchotchke) to ship it. Mr. Tchotchke said delivery would cost another $250.

Hubby’s not cheap, but he didn’t want pay $500 for $250 cow. What to do? He really wanted it. She was perfect for the barn. “Never mind,” he said, “I’ll take her with me.”

“I don’t think she’ll fit in that little car,” replied Mr. Tchotchke.

Hubby eyed the cow, eyed the car and said, “Oh, I’ll make her fit.”

With that, he dropped the top, turned the cow upside-down and wedged her into the back seat. As he drove home, people were staring, pointing, taking pictures, mooing…it was quite something, according to Hubby. In fact, when he called me from the road, to say he had a surprise for me, I could hear people beeping at him. I didn’t think much of it…just assumed he was driving like he usually does.

When he pulled into the driveway, the kids and I were taken aback for a second. What the…? Is that…a cow?

Before we took her out of the car, we had to get some photographic evidence, lest anyone think this was a fish story, rather than a cow tale. Then we arranged her in front of the barn – a little to the left, a little to the right, yes! Right there! She looked fantastic, which immediately made us think that someone would definitely try to steal her.

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Hubby’s wheels started turning again. This time, his solution was to drive 4-foot stakes into the ground and secure the cow to them with aircraft cable. Unless the cow was Houdini, she wasn’t going anywhere.

For the next 7 years, the community got to know Buttercup, as she came to be called. Children would run into the yard to see her. Parents would perch their kids on her and take pictures. People referred to our house as the one with the cow. Buttercup became a neighborhood staple.

Every year, somebody would try to kidnap her. We could always tell, because the stakes would be pulled out of the ground a little bit. But Buttercup remained secure.

Until this past Saturday.

While Buttercup was minding her own business, some depraved criminal snuck into the yard, cut the cables and walked off with her. Walked away carrying a cow! How is that even possible? Nobody saw a thing. Not even me. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t notice she was missing until a neighbor called and told me. I’m ashamed because, clearly, I had taken Buttercup for granted. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she had run away in search of a more attentive family.

So, what do you do when somebody pinches your cow? The first thing you do is create a Facebook page, of course. I set up Cowgate: The Search For Buttercup. Then, I called the cops. An officer came to the house, and a report was filed. Period, I thought, that’s the end of it.

Not so fast!

I started getting Facebook condolences about Buttercup. People were sad, upset, and even outraged that anyone would steal her. Several offered to drive around looking for her. One friend posted a reward for Buttercup’s return. The outpouring of support really touched me, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

Two days after the heist, I received a call from the Detective Sargent of our local police department. “Mrs. Rosner, I’m sorry about your cow,” he said. “I know you’ve had it forever. Every time I pass your house, I notice it. I want to try to get it back for you.”

I was speechless. The Detective Sargent continued, “Do you have any pictures of it? One from the front and one from the side would be best.”

“Like a moog shot?” I quipped. Dead silence greeted me on the other end of the line. I had to remind myself that this was police business…no time for jokes. Clearing my throat, I said, “Oh sure. I have some photos.”

He gave me his email address so I could send them.

“Are you going to put up flyers or something?” I wondered about the next step.

“I’m going to put out a bulletin. A statewide bulletin,” he said.

Statewide? I tried to imagine the reaction such a bulletin would illicit in the police departments of the Bronx or Greenwich Village or Niagara Falls. How would they respond to a report about a missing melamine cow from Westchester County? Would they put a detail on it right after roll call, like on Hill Street Blues? Would this become a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of Law & Order?

As of this writing, the cow is still on the lam. If there’s any news, I’ll post it on the Cowgate Facebook page.

In the meantime, we wait. But I know that my friends may never spot her in the woods, or floating on the lake or tossed by the side of the road. And despite his best efforts, the Detective Sargent might come up empty-handed.

I can see you. Yes, you! I know you think this whole thing is ridiculous. But you’re wrong.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem very significant in the grand scheme of life. However, consider this: One single, thoughtless person did something bad, something hurtful, something wrong. Then dozens of people came forward to do something right, something good, something kind.

There is nothing insignificant or ridiculous about that. No, not one thing at all.DSC_0043

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.”

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.