The Downside of Exposing Your Child to “Culture”

My son went to the Museum of Modern Art today with his second grade class and loved it.  Why am I shaking my head and wondering how the world gets so skewed?

My son saw Jackson Pollacks and figured he could do that, too.  Check, he understands that no one knows why art is art.  So far so good.

He noted that you can get the Picasso effect if you spin around and around and then look at someone sideways.  Check, he already understands cubism.  He is a prodigy.

He loved some of the Picassos and he thought Matisse’s dancers were fabulous.  Ok, why?  Because they were girls, and they were naked.  He is a boy (with a heightened sense of the opposite sex for a nearly 8 year-old).

It sounds like the set up for my standing riddle:  What do two lesbians moms produce?  A hyper-heterosexual son.

Still, some of his aunts, uncles, cousins and grandfathers might think he is a prodigy.  I won’t tell them that he stares at Victoria Secret ads with probably more zeal than he showed for the not-so-representational works of Picasso and Matisse.

I thought the prevailing wisdom was that boys get easier as they age . . .

I think my mother would giggle at this problem.  And that makes me smile.  But then I get back to reality and just shake my head.

My Gynecologist, Dr. Jew

No joke.  My doctor’s last name is Jew.

If only his first initial were A., it would be “A. Jew, M.D.”  That would be the culmination of two generations of Jewish humor.

Except that Dr. Jew is Asian.

Actually, that makes it a satirical culmination of two generations of Jewish humor.

The whole point of the visit was to talk about hormone replacement therapy.  I am not loving some of the effects of aging and since, in this day and age where we think we can cherry-pick out the good from the bad and have it all, I think why not ask?   And besides I read about it in the New York Times Magazine.  The article says it is safer now.  Ahhhh, the Times.  The word from on High.  I know, I know, I know.  Think Valerie Plame scandal.  Think slanted reporting in the run-up to the Iraq War.  Ok, so the Times is almost as reliable as a comic book.

Dr. Jew was so very gentle and courteous when he suggested to me that doctors tend not to base their medical judgments on New York Times Magazine articles.  They like to rely on clinical tests and multi-year studies, like the kind you find in the New England Journal of Medicine.  “That rag mag?” I thought, but did not say aloud.

Look, I get my news from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  So, it isn’t a stretch for me to get my medical information from comic books.  Thank G-d I am not a doctor.

And Dr. Jew?  He is a good (Jew) doctor.

Synagogue Retreat at the Norman Bates Motel

Ok, this is a long, random recounting, so bear with me.

My sister thinks that her trip on a Greyhound bus to a casino — where, no joke, a medical conference and training were being held — brought her very close to the common denominator of humanity. She emailed me that when she got to the bus gate at Port Authority, the woman in front of her on line just started talking to her.  The woman was traveling back from Florida to Providence. She had to go to Florida to get her mother’s ashes, which were in the shopping bag that she showed to my sister in case she wanted to see. (I wish my sister knew how to use the camera feature on her cell phone. A picture would have really made the moment.)  The woman had spent 3 days on a bus and needed to smoke a cigarette, had trouble in her childhood but has now straightened out, etc.

Dear SOB (sister of blogger), welcome to my world.  It is good that you experience your birthright — i.e., Mom’s magnetism for the strange, creepy and absurd.

Well, I am at a synagogue retreat. It was a rustic experience. Lots of rules — you need to observe the Sabbath and subscribe to the Jewish dietary restrictions — not on the quantity but on the depth to which the culinary arts must sink in order to conform to Kosher laws. Alcohol is Kosher, for which many people gave thanks to G-d. Also, no coffee Saturday morning because it is the Sabbath and one cannot use electricity or fire. Really? Really? Does anyone want really want to deal with me de-caffeinated? Also tonight someone by accident started making coffee before the end of the Sabbath.  Before we could descend on the heavenly libation, the moshkiach (the Kosher police) told the kitchen workers that they had to dump out the coffee. Wastefulness CAN’T be kosher.

There are many blessings that are new to me. The place has helpful plaques to assist in mastering them. I took a picture of the blessing after one eliminates in the bathroom, thanking G-d for the creation of certain cavities in the body. Really? My orthodox grandmother said this prayer? Even when she had indigestion? This must be an invention of those “too cool for shul” types. I am not kidding. Look at the picture.

Ever trying to make lemonade out of lemons, I have decided that we would learn this prayer and recite it every time our father discusses his irregularity.  Maybe we could teach it to him.  Clearly, I am going on the slow boat the Hell.

The place was kind of like that.  As you enter, there is a sign saying, “We are blessed by your presence”.  Ok, someone should be holding judgment until we leave.  There should even be a sign flashed for a specific few (like me), “We are blessed by your leaving.”

“Blessed by your presence”?  Trying to create holy, kumbaya, religious space and energy at crash-landing impact, after braving hellish Friday night traffic.  I thought to sing, “someone’s kumbaya-ing my Lord,” but I didn’t want to say kumbaya to that.  This is getting to crazy, with the aggressive, reverse Kumbaya on the Sabbath.  Slow boat.  Nah, I am taking the express train to Hell.

As you may have surmised, we couldn’t do much documentation on the Sabbath because that required use of electricity or batteries, so I had to take pictures in secret and I couldn’t blog.  Now that was harsh.  As my own little rage against the machine, I turned on my iPod just BEFORE I left the premises to go on my run.  Ah, the little subversities. But, as usual I digress.

Friday night, after blessing the group with our presence (or so the sign said), we proceeded to our promised charming two bedroom cabin.  The advertising was so wrong it should be a felony.  So one civil crime justifies a religious crime — desecration of the Sabbath — to take these pictures:

Is this a charming two-bedroom cabin? Type that into wikipedia and I bet that you won’t see a picture of this.  Really??  This is a three-bed cabin.  Ooops, there must have been a mistake.  No?  No mistake, this is the very finest that the camp has to offer?  In the county in Connecticut with the highest per capita income?  Really?  Really?  I am in a mood most foul and approach the rabbis about the relative merits of, say, a Ritz Carlton.  Not so my friends can get business, but it is a base level that to which we should become accustomed.

But at least the turn-down service left conflict-free chocolate on the beds:

But the real kicker is that in the light of day on Saturday, I realized that I had parked my rented super-huge, gas-guzzling monstrosity here:

Ok, I am a convert:  There, but for the Grace of G-d, go I.

~ the Blogger

Wall Street Cab Driver

It was too beautiful this morning to get into the subway (and, surprise, I was running late), so I hopped a cab and asked the driver to drive through Central Park, so that I could enjoy the beauty that the car exhaust was destroying.  But I digress.

The cab driver mentioned how New York has changed since the 1970s even though he believes that there is more crime than the official statistics would suggest.  I asked him if he had always driven a cab, knowing in the back of my mind that anyone who didn’t know that you could get the Park Drive going south at 100th Street and Central Park West hasn’t been a cab driver for too long.

No, he was a bond trader and was laid off in 2000 when the bond markets were rocked by one thing or another.  He was a golf caddy for a while and he turned down a job back on Wall Street in 2001 because the pay package was too low.  Yup, you guessed it — at a firm in the World Trade Center.  Ok, Gordon Gekko, in this case, greed saved his life.  Actually, he isn’t really Gekko-esque.  After all, he is driving a cab.  He said the pay package was too low because bond traders were a dime a dozen and people were scrambling to get work.  But he had paid off his mortgage and cashed out of equities as soon as he was laid off, so he was ok.  Not rich, but ok.  Clearly, because he is driving a cab.

A serene cab driver who would rather compete for fares in New York City than go back to Wall Street.  Now that is saying something.

A Typical Family Dinner

As we do almost every Sunday, the extended family — dispersed far and wide on the Island of Manhattan — gather for dinner prepared by POB (partner of blogger).  Three generations of the family are represented and range in age from 7 to 89 years-old.

My 26 year-old cousin who is a runner was talking about her gastro-intestinal problems, which she believes somehow is a sign from her father, z”l, who was a gastroenterologist (sp?).  Ok, as much as our family is fixated on our intestinal fortitude, I am skeptical that her father, my dear cousin, would cause these kind of issues from Heaven so that she could remember him.  I suggested it might be a parasite from living for 5 years in China.  Food for thought, so to speak.

All my father had to hear was that someone was having issues with diarrhea and he started a sidebar with my sister the doctor about his own issues.  Here is where there needs to be a firewall between parents and children.  Ok, even if there were such a firewall, we would have drilled a tunnel under that it a looooong time ago.  How did I know the topic of this sidebar, you ask?  The look on my sister’s face told me everything I needed to know.  Since my sister doesn’t drink, I needed to give my father more wine to stop the conversation.

All this is going on while I watch my 23 year-old cousin fade in and out.  He came over early to toss a football with my son, and just as we were getting into the really gross intestinal details (over hors d’oeuvres, mind you), he was finally feeling the hangover from the night before — as in, it took him more than 14 hours after his last drink to process all of the alcohol in his system.  I am not naming names, but he is a former hockey player and maybe some of my family will recognize the descriptions so far and call him out on that.  But I am not saying anything.  Nope.  Lips are sealed.

Then a cousin of my generation put together a beautiful, stirring composition, “At My Daughter’s Wedding,” for my sister and brother in law in a CD with the cover featuring a photo at their wedding with my mother’s picture in the foreground and my sister and brother in law in the background.  My sister and I fought hard to hold the tears back.  We talked today and we were both choked up that my cousin captured the joy of the event and the sadness that our mother was not alive for the wedding, all in the beauty of his music. It was an extraordinary moment.  We also played a song he wrote about our family history so the young ones could be further indoctrinated into the cult of our family.  I really cannot say enough about my cousin’s music — it hit a chord in my sister and me that is too deep for words and I hope he understands the depth of his gift from the looks in our eyes.

Of course, this same cousin gave me cassette tapes about dealing with loss when my mother died and I had forgotten about them for over seven year until POB reminded me about a week ago.  Then, my head and heart exploded when I realized I had the tapes when his mother died.  Oy.  Oy.  Just when he needed them.  Oy. Oy.  I returned them to him last night.  A little late.  Oy. Oy.

Then, of course, my cousin and brother in law had to have an eating contest, just like two brothers, which warmed our hearts.  POB made a traditional roasted chicken and vegetables using a Kosher chicken for our young cousin and an Indian chicken dish with basmati rice and some other vegetables for those of us more culinarily assimilated.  Of course, the “boys” kept asking our kosher cousin if she had had enough so they could consume the rest.  In other words, eat fast or don’t eat at all.  It’s a tough world out there and our house is sometimes a little like boot camp.

Of course, one never knows what will happen next at a family function.  My sister and brother in law brought over their wills to be witnessed.  My sister wanted to do this quietly, so of course I had to announce what we needed to do to all assembled.  So after dessert, we assembled the necessary witnesses and signed as appropriate.  The lawyers at the table asked if they were each of sound mind and then we decided that no one in our family could really pass that test.  We respectfully withdrew the questions and proceeded with the signing ceremony.

From the mundane (diahrrea) to the emotional (music for my mother z”l) to the eternal (the wills).  No wonder these dinners are exhausting.  And wonderful.


My son is into Star Wars and really, really, really, wanted a battleship cruiser (or something like that).  It was expensive so we said this was an early birthday present.  And he is really good about not asking (ok, not begging) for things everywhere we go and, well, he is our one and only child, so ok, we spoil him.

He and I go to the store to buy this colossal box and return home immediately to assemble this, the “most-awesome-gift-ever-thank-you-so-much”.  Here is the trick, this thing requires assembling 1,180 Lego pieces, ranging from small to minute, in the right sequence and in the right place.  There are two, yes, two, instruction manuals because all the instructions can’t fit into the first manual that is the thickness of, say, telephone books for most towns across America.

Who was I kidding — my son got distracted with the easily-assembled action figures almost immediately, leaving me with the assembly of the mother ship.  I learned many things from this experience (which isn’t over by a long shot), the most important of which is that I need a stronger bifocal prescription.

Within an hour of starting the assemblage, POB (partner of blogger) takes my son off to a playdate in Brooklyn, leaving me on the floor with 1,180 pieces of a battleship.  Two hours later, I am still on the floor.  I go to the gym for 45 minutes but really can’t focus because I must conquer the Lego monster that is in pieces on the floor.  The box says “For ages 9 through 12.”  Hah!!  I don’t know anyone that young that has a PhD in Lego construction. 

POB and son come home to find me on the floor of his room, in a defeated, “woe is me,” pose.  I simply need to take a nap.  POB eyes me with that “you’re a wimp but I love you” look as I take to my bed with great pomp and ceremony.

That night is our date night, so we leave our young prince in the capable hands of a wonderful young woman studying to be a special ed teacher.  When we get home, our babysitter says to me, “G-d bless you for trying to put together that Lego thing!  It is impossible!!”   Ahh, validation.  Still, POB eyes both of us with suspicion.

Next morning I wake up (later than POB and our son because, well, my son may be a prince, but I am the Queen) and POB says, “Omigod, that LEGO thing is impossible!!  I tried to attach some things, but I think I did it all wrong.  It is insane!!”  Ahh, validation.

I look and she got it backwards AND upside-down.  Impressive

My hopes of a project with my son are dashed.  But I take appreciation — and, ahh, validation — where I can get it. 

And I am reveling in it!!

One thing leads to another

I started the weekend early by slipping out to go to the ear doctor.  Most people wouldn’t call that the start of a weekend.  But my ears have been clogged and itchy on and off for some time and more and more people have told me that they’ve been to the ear doctor and the problem was wax.  Deriving from a deep-seating egotism or martyrdom — I am not sure — I assumed that the ear doctor would look into my ears, faint at the sight of the wax and then, once regaining consciousness, would suit up (a HazMat, of course) and begin excavation.

He looked into my ears, my ears and my throat.  He said, “No wax.  Your ears are clean.”  He looked at my expression and asked, “You were hoping for serious wax, weren’t you?”  I nodded.  He felt bad.  He said, “I am really sorry, but your ears naturally dispose of excess wax, just the way they are supposed to.  And it just may be allergies causing the itching and clogged feelings.”  I was so dejected.  He started to feel really bad.  He continued, “Look, I kept you waiting for 30 minutes and there was no wax, so I am waiving the co-pay for the visit.”  I protested, after all, it wasn’t his fault about the wax and he apologized for being late the moment he walked in the room, so my anger at that was assuaged.  “No,” he insisted, “give it to charity.”

I walked onto the street and tried to hail a cab during that ridiculous time of day when ALL cabs are “off-duty” — why every cab company must have the shift changing times is beyond me.  I inadvertently cut in front of a guy and ran to an off-duty cab because sometimes the driver will take you if the destination is on his way to the designated shift-changing location.  I felt bad — I don’t usually cut a line and this was right after the doctor waived a co-pay.  The guy looked odd but harmless enough.  So, I offered him a lift to his destination — Port Authority. This is a very non-New York thing to do.  A cab is one’s (rented) private domain from the beginning to the end of the ride.  Don’t get between a New Yorker and his or her cab.  It would get ugly fast.

It turns out the stranger in my cab was a doctor and a sheep farmer near Binghampton, NY and was in the city for a medical conference.  He hates the city and the thought of living on a farm gives me hives.  So, total opposites and that does not bode well for the 20 minutes remaining in our time together.  That is an eternity in a small space with a stranger who somehow feels beholden to make conversation.  And he was clearly not a natural conversationalist.  For example, he mentioned that not only does he get wool, milk but he also gets hides.  Picture a dead Bambi starring in the movie, “The Silence of the Lambs.”  He had noooooo sense of humor and seemed somewhat sad.  When we got to Port Authority, I declined his offer of payment and told him that my doctor waived the co-pay, and telling me to give it to charity and so I am doing the same here.

As the cab driver and I continued on to my destination, I said congenially, “Was I crazy to give a stranger a lift?”  The cab driver looked at me in his rear-view mirror and said, “You seem like a very nice spirit and a professional, educated person.”  I knew that that was a compliment and a way to say he thought I wasn’t crazy doing a good turn for a stranger, but it is fascinating how different cultures and the “immigrant experience” shape our language.  He then asked rhetorically, “You are Jew?”   Turns out Moustafa is a Muslim from Egypt and a civil engineer.  (A weird factoid: he is the third cab driver — all were Egyptian — to ask if I were a Jew.)  We had a wonderful chat about life, happiness and universality of humanity.

It is crazy how a doctor’s waiving a co-pay led ultimately to a conversation with Moustafa.  A conversation that lifted my spirits and reminded me of our common humanity.

Into America

I had to go to heartland for a meeting.  I didn’t really know where I was going because I keep myself on a “need-to-know basis” — I don’t need to know details until just before I really need to know them.  It turned out to be a perfectly lovely and forgettable place.

At the lunch meeting, for salad dressings we had a choice of ranch or (violently red) raspberry. You know you’re in “America” when you would kill for a bottle of Wishbone Italian dressing.

Also the plane was so small that, instead of the pilot’s saying “flight attendants, please take your seats for landing,” he said, “Andrew, please take your seat now.”  And during the flight, I kept watching the propellers as if by sheer force of will, they would keep whirling.

A Pulitzer?

Gene Weingarten won a Pulitzer for feature writing, for an article about parents who accidentally kill their children by forgetting them in cars.  A Pulitzer Prize.  A Pulitzer Prize

A Pulitzer he won.  For what?  For telling us about the lives of people who accidentally kill their children?  Whaaaat?

If I won for this article, my mother wouldn’t be able to tell anyone.  She would have put her head in the oven.  She would think, couldn’t you write about world peace, environmental concerns, something other than dead children and the parents who kill them?

Of course, now I am scared that I caused the evil eye to look upon my family and me.

(But, really, a Pulitzer?  Really?)

Dear Brother-in-Law,

Yes, we were impressed with your preparation of all those vegetables for SOB (sister of blogger) [see yesterday’s blog].  I know she was working in the hospital this weekend and you, the dutiful husband, prepared dinner for her again tonight instead of your both coming over for Sunday night family dinner.  (Remind SOB that she scored so big when she met you.)

Because we want you to feel included, I am sending a picture of the food you could’ve had if you had come to dinner tonight.  This is not a competition.  No sirree.  It is just that we missed you and we wanted you to know what you left on the table, so to speak.  I made sure that we didn’t clear away the main course before dessert so you could see the full array:  wild salmon, rice, and roasted asparagus.  Followed by a delicious fruit selection of strawberries, melon and grapes.  There was even ice cream if asked.  Ok, this is a competition.  And POB (partner of blogger) outdid herself.

So, maybe next time.  We did miss having everyone together but FOB (father of blogger) and COB (cousin of blogger) rounded out our dinner table.  (And ate your portions.)

Mwa, mwa (big kisses) to you and SOB,