The Family of Your Family Are Your Friends

Tonight was ULOB’s tribute at Dance Manhattan, where he was a teacher and a mentor and a dancer.

We had never met ULOB’s other family — members of the dance world.  He had kept his life very compartmentalized.  A survival instinct he learned from his refugee parents.  My mother, his sister, shed some of that armor because of Dad, the happiness of her life and, I hope, her children.  But back to the mystery that is ULOB.

His dance studio wanted to pay tribute to him.  He was beloved.  But little known.  In fact, no one knew he had family or that he was a tap dancer, a ballet dancer, a Broadway dancer, a choreographer (even for the Playboy Club, Gloria Steinem forgive us) or a director, producer and writer of “Me and My Shadow” about the legendary Billy Rose.

One of the dancers said to me, “He was so giving and generous on the dance floor and so in tune with his partner, in a way that very few dancers are.  But he was not someone who chit-chatted about life and family.  That was separate.”

None knew that he was in an early production of Carousel:

Scan 16

No one knew about AROB or POULOB.  Or us.  We were as shocked at the outpouring of love in that dance studio as they were that there was family to celebrate his life and host the tribute.  Pictures of the room before it filled up:

photo 2

photo 1His age, his background, his training were all mysteries to the present day dancers.  They didn’t know his stellar credentials, his serious training, his unrecognized talent.  They knew him simply as Larry, an aging, endearing, dancer who must be have been something in his prime.

SOB and I arranged for the refreshments (wine and food) but one thing that was done solely by the studio was:

photo 3SOB and I were teary-eyed.

Who knew that others missed ULOB?  During the two-hour reception, so many told us how much he touched their lives.

The studio kept him on as an instructor until he was beyond his capabilities to teach.  But for most of his life he taught, and he learned from, his students.

He was a private man and no one will write a column in the New York Times Magazine about the life he lived.

But they should.  And they should remember him like this:

Scan 16With wild applause as he exits stage left.

Tales of Aging in the City

It was, more or less, a typical Saturday.

SOB and I disposed of a week’s worth of scam mail that Dad receives.  Official-looking scams targeting the elderly.  Here is three days’ worth on its way to the shredder:  photo200Dad was affable enough about our rummaging through the house in search of mail and chucking it.  I guess he was hungry and wanted to see his pals at COTUD (Coffee Shop of the UnDead).

Yes, the Coffee Shop of the UnDead

(cue suspenseful music)

En route, we bumped into a man who was once our upstairs neighbor and our playmate 40 years ago.  His mother, who always seemed a lovely woman, still lives in Dad’s building and she is sick.  And he is taking care of her.  I wanted to think kind thoughts but he is a convicted pedophile.  He wanted to hug and kiss us all hello and I wanted to vomit.  I kept my distance.  I was so close to screaming and beating him about the head and face.

(Cue clip of Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order: SVU ‘cuffing him.)

He served some (not enough) time and was released.  As a citizen, I believe in a criminal justice system that gives convicts a second chance.  As a mother, I believe in the death penalty for pedophiles and other predators.

Sidebar:  Ain’t the old neighborhood great?  There are scary, bad secrets scattered all along the sun-soaked streets of the East Side.

I decided I didn’t need to remind my father of this former neighbor’s felonies.  I didn’t think Dad could process it.  There are some things Dad doesn’t need to remember.  I, of course, was thinking about castration.

We were late to COTUD.  I wondered if any of the regulars wondered whether Dad might be more than undead, as it were.

(cue suspenseful music)

No table for us.  It was bustling at COTUD.  But, because we are regulars and we don’t stay all afternoon, the management likes us.  So do the main waiters, Nick and Vassily.

Vassily asked an old woman with a walker to get up and move, so they could put tables together and accommodate us.  I was mortified.  I went over to the woman and apologized and thanked her.

(cue sadess about the indignities of being old in a fast-paced, youth obsessed world)

We saw Sam and his long-time companion, Norma, who were eating with Norma’s daughter and sons. We had never met Norma’s family.

(cue immediate suspicion)

It was good to see Norma out and about. She is frail.  As people grow older, their face lifts and other work seem so distorted against the natural aging (and sagging) of the rest of their bodies.   (Just a note to those who are considering “face work”.  Even her daughter’s face work could use a little — how do you say? — refreshment.)

Last time SOB saw Norma at the COTUD, they had a pleasant conversation, after which SOB overheard Norma say about Mom:

“Elsie was a special person.  It was the first time at a funeral that people used superlatives and they were true!”

(cue sigh and teary eyes)

Ok, so we love Norma.  And Sam.

Vassily didn’t even give us menus.  The only thing that needed to be said was “french fries, too”.

The fries came.  I offered them around.  Something was stuck to the underside of the plate.

It was gum. 

Peppermint gum. 

First, what cretin sticks gum on the underside of a plate and, second, what dishwasher doesn’t clean that?

And this place has an “A” health rating. 

(cue visions of the horror flicks like, ‘Wilbur,” about a killer rat.)

Ugh.  I scrubbed my hands raw in the less than Grade A bathroom.

Then Harvey came in.  He had to take a cab the 1.5 blocks from his apartment building to the diner because it was uphill and he has two canes.  (I saw him through the window.)

He took a table right next to us.  We greeted him warmly and asked about his wife and (now middle-aged) son.

Barbara, his wife, was at home.  “She has dementia and cysts on her legs.  But me, I turned 90 and I still work and drive!”

OMG. This is the second public menace we have met today.

I was worried about the driving thing but he can’t get in and out of a car without assistance, so I am pretty sure he doesn’t really drive.

He said to SOB, “you look great  — just the same — and still working hard, I am sure.”  He looked at me.  “You look different.”

Harvey, whom I never liked, was telling me I looked old.  I liked his wife, even with her screechy voice.  She was always making a jello mold.  She always had a bouffant “do”.  She perpetually lived in 1969.  Even in the 1990s, she brought jello molds to my parents’ Yom Kippur break fast.  By then, it was totally cool and retro.

By the end of lunch, SOB and I staggered out. Overwhelmed by the faint smell of peppermint.  Horrified at seeing the pedophile free among us.  Wistful about time gone by for Sam, Norma, Harvey, Barbara and Dad.

Dad, however, thought it was a fine time in the neighborhood.  And that is how it should be for Dad at 93.

Life with Father

The weekend.  Time to spend time with Dad.

I need to do so strenuous sports activity first.  Relieves the stress of the impending visit to Dad’s house and lunch at the Coffee Shop of the Undead.

In the cab to Dad’s, I prepare mentally for the visit: Dad will be in an insane-looking outfit, I will go on a treasure hunt for scam solicitations for which he tries to send checks (the aides hold them for us), and a further hunt for things he says he hides (when we ask why he hides, he really doesn’t know).

SIDEBAR: I note that many older people burrow and hide stuff Dad is no different — he burrrows and hides money and mail.  He never did this before.  I am scared to think how close are the DNAs of beavers and elder humans.  No kidding.

I go through the mail and trash 99% of it — scam solicitations aimed at the elderly.

I have worked up an appetite on the Rings and now schlepping pounds of scam solicitations to the garbage chute down the hall from Dad’s apartment.  I am starving.

We head to the Coffee Shop of the Undead.

Vassily takes our orders.  In the beginning, we were in Nick’s station but as our lunch crowd got bigger, we had to move into Vassily’s station.  He is now used to my having two entrees for lunch.  He knows Dad’s and his attendant’s orders without asking.  The rest of us order.  Vassily knows to supersize whatever I order because I am always hungry.  He no longer asks if we are expecting another person after I order.

H., Dad’s aide, starts in almost immediately.

“One of the other attendants woke your father at 7am, when he was sleeping.”

Really, H.?  That is how you start lunch conversation?

 “[H.], doesn’t he usually get up at 7am?”

“Well, he has been napping more and sleeping until 10am!!”

“So, [the other aide] woke him up at the normal time?”


“Ok, if Dad went back to sleep, I don’t care!”

Oh my G-d, please stop with the internecine battles.  Dad doesn’t usually sleep so late, so the other aide was probably making sure he wasn’t dead.

SIDEBAR:  Hell, if I were there and Dad weren’t awake, I would make sure he were alive.  Just sayin’.

And she was probably trying to avert H.’s saying “he wasn’t dressed and fed before she arrived at 8am” in her report to the supervisor.

Frankly, Dad’s sleeping so much makes me think he is winding down his life.  At that scares the hell out of me.

I was grateful that H. took pity on me and didn’t give me the list of grievances against the other aides for not taking good enough care of Dad when she is not around.

I love how much she loves Dad. And we love her, but others take care of Dad in a different way and he is safe and happy and that is what we want.

Yet, we have to deal with the soap opera surrounding Dad’s care.  It is a new soap opera, “As My Stomach Turns”.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

[For the song, “Mrs. Robinson”:]

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns [our frightened] eyes to you.  (Woo woo woo.)

Once we believed that our political and sports heroes could save us our innocence and our dreams from the stark realities of war, assassinations and a nation divided.

We looked to them — to Joe after Marilyn’s death, to Jackie after JFK’s assassination, to Coretta after Rev. Dr. MLK’s assassination — to steady us.  To remind us of better times and take us past the tragedies.  To take us back to a winning baseball team, to Camelot, to a place where dreams were possible.

God bless you, please, [this America].
Heaven holds a place for those who pray.
(Hey, hey, hey.)

Today, I am scared.  Because we are a nation so bitterly divided.  Because my dreams are ever less fanciful, my reality ever less comforting, my hopes and expectations ever lower, than just a week, month or year ago.

And there are no heroes, but where is there a parent who wants to tell that to his/her children?

Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids.

What is the embodiment of my fears?  Heritage Action for America scuttled any potential deal on the debt ceiling in the House of Representatives.  Because lawmakers are taking their cues from lobbyists-thinktanks-donors and not their frightened constituents.  That very action breaks the very foundation of our nation — representational government.

Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.

And all that people have worked for, and saved for, and paid taxes for, hangs in the balance.  Because we, the people, are pawns in a power grab.


We whom our government serves.


About whom no one seems to care.


Joltin Joe has left and gone away (hey hey hey).  It isn’t the same to turn our frightened eyes to A-Rod.

93 and going

Dad turned 93 on Saturday.  We had a celebratory luncheon at a restaurant.

SOS and I were late getting ready and hopped a cab.

“E-Mom, I am nervous.”

“Why, buddy?”

“Because I feel you are nervous.  And I get nervous when you are nervous and my stomach starts to feel queasy.”

My child, the speaker of truths.  “I am sorry, buddy, to put my nervousness on you.  You are right.  I am nervous because I think about the party we had when Grandpa was 90 and he was so strong.  And I am scared that he won’t be so present today, because some days are good and others not so good.  And it is my dad, and it is hard.”

“It’s ok, E-Mom, I get that.  But now that Papa [FOPOB] is just like Grandpa, Grandpa will have good company no matter how he feels.”

Out of the mouths of babes. . . .

“You are so right, buddy.  You know, you are wise—”

“E-Mom,” SOS interrupts, “we are almost there and I need quiet to get ready.”

Thank Goodness for SOS’s peculiarities keeping it real; otherwise, I would go to Tibet and claim that he was the future Dalai Lama.

We had a lovely lunch with family.  People came from far and wide — BOB from Texas, Cousin Gentle from the Upper West Side, and in the strongest showing, FOPOB came from the upper East Side.

The restaurant is in the Museum of Art and Design, with spectacular views of Broadway and Central Park.  We could even see the early signs of leaves changing color for the Fall.  The changing of the seasons.  The passage of time.  The changing of the guard.  It was all so bittersweet.

photo(16)Still, Dad looks so strong as he is making a point about something.  Somewhere, deep inside that forgetful, enfeebled, needy, nice old man is our Dad.  And sometimes, he is as strong as ever, as supportive as ever, and as opinionated as ever.  And in those moments, I could live a lifetime.

Happy birthday, Dad,



Bespoke Blog

Sometimes you meet a person at work whom you just know, from that first moment, will tell you — when nobody else will — that you have schmootz on your blouse or you sat in mustard.  I am lucky that there are a few of us like that in our office.

But one colleague, in particular, takes you into her office and shows you all the supplies she keeps for “women’s issues” — from Motrin to safety pins to tampons.  And when she shows you, that means you can just take what you need, whenever you need it.

And this colleague often ambles into my office to one-up me, playfully, in our never-ending contest for whose family has the most bizarre stories.  (She is winning by a landslide — the blog she could write. . . .)

Today I asked my friend and colleague, via email exchange:

“How are you feeling?  Are you up for visitors?  What was the extra procedure?  What can I do to help?”

“Blog about me.  You know I love the media spotlight.  My acronym should be COBWARB (colleague of blogger with almost rocker body)”

“My pleasure, COBWARB.”

Why? Because COBWARB is recovering from a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

In the weeks preceding the procedures, we talked about what was going to happen and the mechanics of reconstruction.  The negatives are obvious; on the plus side, COBWARB was going to have her entire tummy suctioned into new, well-sized breasts.

“I am going to have smaller breasts because who needs to be so big if they cause back pain and I am going to have your flat stomach without working so hard on the Rings!”

Okokokokokok.  I didn’t have three children like COBWARB did.  So, I should have a flat stomach (but I don’t really).  And, I would gladly work out every day and eat quinoa and kale (G-d help me) not to make the choices and options forced on COBWARB.

But, hey, a rock star body? Flat stomach and perfectly shaped breasts?  Go, girl.

Still, you were beautiful as you were, and I fear, my friend, that the rock star body cannot replace what this episode has cost you, in mind, body and spirit.

Speedy recovery, COBWARB.



Mom and Dad always taught us that if you lose, you lose with dignity.  You don’t take your marbles and stomp off.

Except I never played marbles and I had no idea what they were talking about.  Just like my son doesn’t understand the phrase, “you sound like a broken record.”

But, eventually, I got the point.  If you lose fair and square, then you congratulate the winner and move on.  You don’t try to pretend the game never happened or that the winner cheated or that you were robbed of the trophy.

Unless, of course, you are part of the Tea Party.  Then you think that G-d is your co-pilot and that Barack Obama is not a legitimate president because, well, how could we elect a black man and no black man was ever born in the State of Hawaii.  (SIDEBAR:  Ted Cruz, you were born in Canada and had dual citizenship until a week ago.)

Let’s be fair.  We have had presidents who ascended to the highest office in the land under a cloud.  The “elections” of John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush come to mind.

But the Tea Party did not mind George W. Bush being president.  Hmmmmmmm.

Maybe because they “won”?  Hey, I remained an ordinary, law abiding citizen and patriot even through the terrible years of Bush/Cheney.  And I did not think they were duly elected, but the Supreme Court spoke.

I didn’t take my marbles and stomp off.  But, now the Tea Party is mad because Barack Obama is president, and a legitimate president.

But the government shut down and the debt ceiling should not be about one man and his health care reform and his birth certificate. 

These issues are about the people you all pretend to care about.

This is America and the majority spoke.  Be patriots.  Show the world that this is your country, come what may. Come on, I dare you, Tea Party members of Congress.

Put country first.

Hey, I am as liberal as they come and I say to you, “Less government? ok.  No government? Anarchy.”

And anarchy is treason.

And so are breaching the public trust and the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

And then you will see citizens like me  — middle-aged, economically secure (or so we thought) taxpayers — take to the streets and scream for your heads because you let our nation default.

So, before you smugly take your marbles and stomp off, remember, if you let our nation default —-

then you are no better than Benedict Arnold, betraying your country and fellow citizens and playing roulette with the total collapse of the republic.  

The hangman awaits.  Your move.