Shirley Hirsch z”l (1925-2014)

Shirley could have been in the New York Times year-end edition of the Lives They Lived.  As a tale of lost and found.

She was born into a poor immigrant family and was, as they used to say, “not quite right”.  After her father died (her mother died in childbirth with her younger sister), she was put into a public-assisted halfway house system.  She was thereafter “dead” as far as the family — her surviving siblings — was concerned.  Ultimately, she ended up in a public assistance psychiatric nursing home.

One of her nephews discovered her existence 60 or more years later and began, with his wife, visiting her.  Through their interest and kindness, she spoke for the first time in decades.  And she kept talking, but not like a made-for-TV movie — it was intelligible, although often guttural.

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We buried Shirley today.  Forgive the non-adherence to the Jewish 24-hour burial rule, but her nephew only found out two years ago that he was Jewish (for another blog) and is trying to integrate that knowledge into his otherwise Christian life.

In most other respects, we followed Jewish tradition.

The usual litany of readings and meditations didn’t fit this particular situation.  I talked with my cousins about what we would say about Shirley during the graveside service.

My cousin showed me the poem he wrote.  There were no better words.  Rest in peace, dear Shirley.  We will remember you.

For Shirley:

She a little left
a little different
and we a little right
perhaps indifferent
but was it right
to let a loved one
cling fast
to family long past?
we forgot that past
while she forgot this present

Finally we unlocked the door
and dove right in
to days left behind
all day into the night
hiding in plain sight
We found each other
Surely we were ignorant
but we were not
we ran away from each other
and surely that was not right

Reunited, we clung fast
she managed soft whispers
of that past long gone
we hung on every word
as we held onto her hand
soaking in precious moments
making up that lost time
when we went left
and she went right
a family come full circle

and surely this is right.

Amen.

When the Past, Present and Future Collide

Some people say time is not linear.  I guess then, in terms I can understand, Star Trek’s space/time continuum conundrum is more than a plot enabler.  Or life with and without George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” are just two realities that co-exist in different time dimensions.

And so the space-time continuum has been crashing around me recently.  Recently, I have been getting information overload about my aunt that make me wonder, “did I ever know you?”

When I was young, my aunt was gorgeous, avant grade and in the art scene. She was our idol. She knew how to talk to us kids and we felt in our bones that she loved and adored us.

Even as I got older, I knew very little about her family of origin.  She cut off any discussions about it.  I knew she had a sister who was married, with two boys, and the boys and their father were jazz musicians.

I didn’t realize how thick that wall was until, when Mom was sick, my aunt mentioned that she missed her sister and that she had died of cancer a few years before.  I was dumbfounded.  I was in my late 30s.  How come she didn’t tell us?  Why didn’t we ask?  Were we not as close as I always thought?

Now, as I clean out her pack rat apartment little by little on Saturdays, I guess I should not be surprised at the person who is my aunt and what I find out about her.

Let’s review the non-traumatic facts I have learned since she died:

  • she was decidedly older than she admitted (no biggie).
  • she had an “emotionally and mentally disabled” sister as well (no one really knows what that would mean today) who lived in their parents’ apartment until the building was torn down and died some years later (sad, but, again, not a biggie).
  • but her birth date wasn’t even the date she told us (ok, getting, odd), let alone the year.
  • she had an artist’s eye for the human body complete with Polaroids of people we know (a little ooky, but it would be really cool if it were someone ELSE’s aunt and uncle in the pictures).
  • her other sister, whom she told me she missed, died ten years before she told us and they had not really spoken in 30 years (getting odder).
  • her mother died young, but did NOT die in childbirth as we were told (ok, but suggests a trauma anyway).
  • They all led a hard life of immigrants in New York from the turn of the 20th century onward.

So, I guess the theme here is that the “facts” of my aunt’s life are more accurately, rebuttable presumptions.  Maybe, if we live to 91, the “facts” of our lives will be similarly suspect.

But here is the fact that I can’t let go of:

It turns out, in a twist a la Mark Twain, my aunt’s disabled younger sister’s demise was exaggerated.  She is decidedly undead, though aged and in decline.  And all her life, this sister lived close by but still far from sight.  There is no evidence that my aunt helped her.

What happened?  There is a story behind this.  Maybe there is something in their upbringing.  Maybe it was the hardscrabble immigrant experience.  There is no one left to say (the surviving sister has dementia).

It makes me think about the trajectory of people’s lives and how, maybe, whatever happened in that tenement on Third Avenue in Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s, may have set a course for three sisters, all estranged and one essentially left behind.

 

 

Things I Learned on My Son’s 10th birthday

SOS climbed into our bed after breakfast.  I was the only one in pajamas, because POB and SOS had been up for a while doing all the usual morning routines for a day at camp.  I love this time in the morning.  My family lets me be lazy until 7:30am.  POB learned very early on — at Camp Wingate — that trying to make me a go-getter in the morning was a losing battle.

Today, SOS wanted to talk about his momentous birthday and think ahead about the next decade of his life.

“Will I change as much as I did in this last decade?” 

“Well,” I said, “physically, probably not — you were a scrawny newborn — but emotionally, intellectually and philosophically?  Absolutely!”

He was quiet.  I had to remember that he is only 10 years old.

“But I will always be your baby.  But not in public anymore.”

Oh, the dreaded “not in public anymore”.  I knew it happened after boys hit the “double-digits” (i.e., 10 and over), but on the day that he turned 10?  Was that soooooo necessary?

SOS had his birthday party before the school year ended, so all his friends could come.  His actual birthday is therefore more low-key.  He wanted a hamburger and fries and some Star Wars action figures.  Easy enough.

We went to the “burger joint” and while we were waiting for his order, he posted:

So, not a good parenting day as far as SOS’s nutritional intake.  But french fries are good for the soul.

On the way back, he took my hand and said,

“I know that I am pretty spoiled, but that is what parents are supposed to do.”

“Sweetie, a parent spoils best when she spoils a child with love.”

“Absolutely, that is number 1, but the toys do come in a really close second.”

I give him a look.  That awesome “Mom look” that immediately establishes control over your child’s life.

“Whaaat?” He whines.  “I’m just sayin’.”

Over dinner (we took the grease extravaganza to go), SOS asked, “E-Mom, remember when you said that Dubai was becoming more of a tourist attraction than an oil producer or distributor?”

“I don’t remember telling you that.  We did discuss that Dubai’s leadership has built the tallest building and various (sinking) islands just off its shore.”

“Oh, yes, I remember: I read it in the Economist.”

From deep thoughts to a child’s scrawling hand-writing to reading business porn, all in the span of one day.  Is he 5, or is he 10 or is he 35?  Depends on the moment.

Time to fasten my seat belt; it is going to be a bumpy decade.

And I don’t want to miss one minute of it.

Weiner, Whiner, Weenie

And another one bites the dust.

It is all so stupid.  I don’t care about Weiner’s weiner.  I don’t care about for Sen. Craig’s gay liaisons.  I don’t care about Gov. Sanford’s Argentinian fiasco or Schwarzenneger’s love child(ren).  I don’t care about Bill Clinton’s dalliances. Or Al Gore’s ooky come-on lines with the spa masseuse. And Dominique Strauss-Kahn can have all les liaisons dangereuses possible.  Those are PRIVATE matters until:

  • Sen. Craig, who was virulently anti-gay until his actions showed himself a hypocrite and in serious need of counseling.
  • The governor of South Carolina was unreachable for a time without transferring power to the lieutenant governor (even if that guy is a psycho right wing nut).
  • Bill Clinton lied under oath when he was president, and therefore head of the executive wing that includes the Department of Justice.  It was just about sex until he committed perjury.
  • Al Gore just showed himself to be gross and awkward in an alleged encounter with a masseuse that makes even the words “suave” and “debonair” cringe.
  • DSK allegedly did not have non-consensual sex.  (It is a crime.  Whether or not he was set up, “no” is “no” assuming the housekeeper said, “no” (ou “non”).)
  • GOP representative Mark Foley sent inappropriate emails to underage senate pages and should have been jailed.

The list goes on and on.

Anthony Weiner is a hypocrite.  He also said something really scary: he did not know the ages of the females with whom he was corresponding.  THAT reckless behavior together with his self-righteous attitude toward anyone who doesn’t share his Progressive political perspective and his inability to accept responsibility from the outset bears on his fitness as a leader.

Weiner has been hoisted on his own petard and burnt.  He should slink away and get counseling.

I don’t hate men (and I love POB (partner of blogger) who is a woman) but I just don’t get it.  Is it a power thing?

I teach my son, “You do it, you live with it.  You own up to what you’ve done. Try to make it right and learn from it.” But I can’t compete with these idiots who show that you have a 50-50 shot at holding onto power and prestige if you deny, deny and deny.

The one guy who deserves re-election?  The GOP representative who showed his bare chest to someone on email or some chat room and became the GOP sacrificial lamb.

 

Subway story

I know, it has been a long time since I had a story that involved the magnetic S (for Schmuck) on my forehead.  You remember, the one that attracts crazy people to me.

Yesterday, on the subway (OF COURSE) a man introduced himself to me as a “storm chaser” and told me all about the tornado hitting Springfield, MA.  Then he moved on to stories about the wonderful people in California after the last earthquake.

He and his wife travel to natural disasters.  He told me:

“It’s what we do.”   

I keep thinking about this guy and his wife.  They aren’t storm chasers because they only arrive after the catastrophe.  He didn’t mention that he was an aid worker.  So, so, so, they are . . . .

Disaster Gawkers?

How creepy.  So much oooky-ness packed into 3 subway stops.  I was a little capitivated by his creepiness and oooky-ness.  Thank G-d I had to get off because I was running late to a meeting; otherwise I would have traveled to bowels of Brooklyn to listen to this guy. 

Am I a Creepy/Oooky Gawker? Maybe, because  . . . .

It’s what I do.

Why I love the gym

I was feeling blue and out-of-sorts these past days.  I know that a work-out, even a short one, lifts my mood, so I made sure to pack the necessaries and dash there right after work.

I saw SOB (sister of blogger) there, which is always a treat.

So, there we are — SOB is reading and I am sweating on elliptical machines next to each other.  Very companionable but not necessarily chatty.  I see SOB wipe her face with a towel, but she is just seeing if I am paying attention. SOB does the least she can do at the gym and therefore not enough to work up anything resembling perspiration.

A man comes up to our machines and starts sniffing.  I think, uh oh, there’s a blog entry coming. . . .

I am watching him and I start to sniff, too.  Does someone or something stink?  Do I stink?  He starts talking to me.  OF COURSE, he starts talking to me, because of the S-shaped magnet (S for schmuck) embedded in my forehead that always draws these people to me.

He says that he is allergic to perfume and is relieved that we don’t wear perfume.  In fact, he says, he could tell before he came over because we didn’t look like people who would wear perfume.  I think, is that good or bad?  Is that a compliment or a swipe?  Do SOB and I look too low-maintenance to wear perfume?  Do we look like we don’t take care of our appearance?  Could it be our effortlessly dorky gym attire?

Then the Sniffer tells me that there are men in the locker room who put on cologne before working out.  He believes they read some propaganda about how our natural odors are not good for us.  Now, he is talking crazy talk but I think he is trying to strike up an acquaintance.   Oy.

In deference to SOB, I do not encourage further conversation because he could have been scary crazy (rather than slightly off and socially incompetent) and I want to protect my sister.  Had I been alone, I would have NEEDED to probe more deeply to make a diagnosis.

I have a feeling there will be other opportunities at the gym to talk to the Sniffer.

Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland

Today was the truest snow day ever.  18 inches of snow in New York City.  Stalled car and buses every where.  Blizzard-scale winds that made me believe in Mary Poppins.  Law firm offices closed.  Let me say that again.  LAW FIRM OFFICES CLOSED EVEN AS THEY TRY TO MAKE BUDGET FOR 2010.  Now, that, THAT, is saying something.  I live in the City and there was no way I was going to make it to the office except by walking, and the blizzard-scale winds would have taken me way off-course.  The Upper West Side of Manhattan is not even plowed 12 hours after the last snowflake fell (don’t they realize that we vote with our ballots and pocketbooks?  Has anyone noticed the UWS demographic has changed????)

POB (partner of blogger) was supposed to go east to the beach with our son (SOPOBAB) and his cousin, our nephew.  Oh, I think Mother Nature is a teeny tiny bit stronger than the sheer will of POB.  Although Mother Nature won, she was bruised and hospitalized.  Anyway, my beautiful prizefighter POB thought that we needed to go sledding.  I thought we needed to drug the boys (just kidding, for all the Child Protective Services personnel who read this).  How else do you keep two rambunctious 8 year-old in check?

So, a-sledding we went.  A winter wonderland.  Sheer, treacherous beauty on West 108th Street.

As I was fretting about the absence of protective gear while trying not to fall down the hill at scary velocity (I remember all too well flying down the hill with SOPOBAB when he was a littler kid.  I also remember buying another life insurance policy the following day, because SOPOBAB would bounce, as children do; I would not have survived another run.)

But, then, life has a way of keeping it all real.  A child, whose family apparently fell on hard times (they must have been slumming by spending year-end at home), stated with disgust, “There isn’t even a hot chocolate shack!” If that were my child, he would be enrolled at military school tomorrow.  Yes, I am passing judgment (and also stating a fact).

Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Aspen anymore. It was so pathetic and sad at the same time that I couldn’t, simply couldn’t, take a picture of the spoiled brat who uttered that line.  Ok, I almost did, but G-d intervened and the battery of my camera failed.  Lucky kid, but karma, as we know, is a boomerang.

BUT, THE BATTERY DID NOT DIE BEFORE I GOT A PICTURE OF A SARTORIAL/PSYCHO-SOCIAL TRAGEDY.  Before I share this vignette, I will note that my own outfit could remind a person of Pippy Longstocking — everything was mismatched in that way that you wear whatever will keep you warm.  In fact, I was wearing a serial-killer hat (depicted in every artist sketch in an all-points bulletin) that made me look particularly deranged and very much like a predicate felon.  But that isn’t what I am talking about.

I am talking about an outfit that could scar a child for life.

A MOTHER IN A SUMMER’S PEASANT SKIRT, WINTER JACKET WITH FUR LINING, CARRYING A BRUSHED COPPER COLORED PURSE, TOTALLY IGNORANT OF THE GRAVE EMBARRASSMENT AND LIFETIME TRAUMA SHE WAS CAUSING HER LITTLE SON:

Later she yelled at her son who is out of control as he sled down the hill, “watch your kepilah [head]!!!” as if summoning G-d to deliver her from this pagan ritual that assimilation has thrust upon them. The only saving Grace is that this the Upper West Side of New York, with a Jewish population larger than the whole of Israel.  So, we understand.  Because was heard these humiliating stories from our parents as part of their own, very personal, Exodus stories.

A bastardized adage still holds true:

One person’s winter’s wonderland is another person’s proof that Hell DOES freeze over.

Spa Treatment for EVERY part of the body

So I was ready to say some Northeast-snobbish things about Southern California when I read about the new vaginal steam baths with pungent vapors being introduced in SoCal spas.  Then I read that it is a centuries-old Korean tradition (http://articles.latimes.com/2010/dec/20/health/la-he-v-steam-20101220).  So I will be more respectful than I might otherwise have been if it was just something kooky that Californians thought up.  I am not sure I would sit for one.  .  .  .

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Vaginal steam bath finds a place among Southern California spa options

A Korean treatment for the vaginal area is said to aid health and fertility. What’s missing is evidence.

December 20, 2010|By Sari Heifetz, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Pungent steam rises from a boiling pot of a mugwort tea blended with wormwood and a variety of other herbs. Above it sits a nude woman on an open-seated stool, partaking in a centuries-old Korean remedy that is gaining a toehold in the West.

Vaginal steam baths, called chai-yok, are said to reduce stress, fight infections, clear hemorrhoids, regulate menstrual cycles and aid infertility, among many other health benefits. In Korea, many women steam regularly after their monthly periods.

Elmo Goes To Work

Ever wonder how Elmo gets to work?

Well, here he is on his way to Sesame Street.

Hey, Elmo, “can you tell me how you get — how you get — to Sesame Stree-ee-tt??”

Wait, Elmo, you’ve stopped on the corner of 50th Street and 7th Avenue.  I know for sure — for sure — that this is most definitely NOT Sesame Street.

Funny, his voice sounded awfully much like a lawyer I used to know. . . .