Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Riches of Friendship

Having packed bags, made weekend arrangements for husbands, kids and pets, and traveled from three different states, we four forty-somethings were gathered in Julie’s kitchen in Ridgefield, Connecticut by seven on Friday evening and, in the ensuing forty-something hours, barely left the casual comfort of her great room. Sure, we poked around in the downtown shops on Saturday morning, had a bite of lunch at Fifty Coins, rented a cute, feel-good movie for Saturday night and took a dip or two in the pool, but mostly we reminisced about the past, caught up on the here and now, and planned our next get-together.

Our past includes one year as floor mates in Ruef Hall, one as apartment mates in Watson Courts and 24-plus as friends who, although often in touch only at the holidays and birthdays, are always close in each others’ hearts. As though we were lunching back at our little table in the Courts, The Young and the Restless on in the background, we recalled Julie’s stay in Easton Hospital to fight a mono infection, Laneco runs in my clunky Dodge Aspen, Deedee’s nice-guy boyfriend Hal, and Terry’s phone calls from England during her semester abroad. Oh yes, in between our soap-opera-watching lunches, our Sunday night sorority meetings, our pub night dancing escapades at fraternities and our countless upper class meal plan dinners at KDR, we went to class, studied, wrote papers, took tests and absorbed the fine liberal arts and engineering education we were fortunate to have available to us.

As far as the here and now, we shared family photos, kvetched about in-laws, provided updates about spouses, parents, siblings, kids, jobs and dates, compared cholecystectomy scars and hypertension meds and, to a person, noted the ever increasing volume of the television in our parents’ homes. Thankfully, everyone there is relatively healthy and active, and we know we’re lucky that’s the case.

By Sunday afternoon, we’d laughed and cried, made a teeny-tiny dent in the catching up and agreed to gather again next year…perhaps with husbands and kids in tow. Indeed, how lucky each of us is for friends who are like family, for decades-ago memories of good times that still make us glow, and for the promise of more riches of friendship in our lives in the years and decades ahead.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day Lessons

Yesterday, my sister and I arrived at Patsy’s at just about 4 p.m. and were seated at a table for four. Our “’rents,” we knew, were on their way. Daddy loves Italian food and, since we’d had a nice family dinner there back in January, we chose it again, this time for Father’s Day. However, before we even opened the menus, we realized that the music was pounding so loudly we could barely hear ourselves and, despite the heat and humidity, the windows were wide open to the city's summer steam, and we were already schvitzing. Knowing our parents all too well, Amy and I made an executive decision to leave and, when my father pulled up in front to let my mother out, we jumped into the car instead.

And so off we went to Piola, another Italian place where Amy, Ian and I had enjoyed a nice lunch after seeing Up a few weeks ago. Negotiating the few blocks effortlessly, my father dropped us off before going in search of parking. Unfortunately, only once we were inside and seated did the rest of us learn that some whoop-de-doo soccer tournament was underway and the restaurant was broadcasting the game live and at incredibly high volume.

So yet again we changed venues. This time, unable to reach my father (of course his cell phone was off), my mother and sister jumped in a cab and headed to The Cottage while I waited for him in front of Piola so we could walk the few blocks to 16th and Irving together. Finally, at nearly 5 p.m., an hour after our fisaco began, we found ourselves seated together at a table – albeit in a Chinese not an Italian restaurant -- where at long last we could hear ourselves and each other.

After the scallion pancakes and chicken dumpling appetizers (delish!), Amy and I gave Daddy his gift, a book we’d carefully selected for the infectious disease guru. Good thing we’d gotten a gift receipt, though, because, despite my mother’s assurances that he hadn’t, my father had indeed already bought it and read it.

No matter…we Hermans went on to enjoy a delightful Father’s Day meal with lots of laughing, schmoozing, togetherness and fortune cookies -- not tiramisu -- for dessert! But after all, isn’t that what Father’s Day is all about?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

If Only Life Was More Like T-Ball

Last Sunday was the end of the 2009 Greenwich Village Little League T-Ball season for the five- and six-year-old set, but not before the Orioles (in orange) and the Angels (in red) duked it out on the playing fields of Pier 40 on Manhattan’s Westside.

During the four-inning game, every kid got to bat, every kid got to run (even if they ran to third base instead of to first), and every kid got a cheer. No outs. No scores. No tears.

I loved it.

If only life was more like T-Ball...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Letter to Cupid

Dear Cupid,

I figure that with Valentine’s Day more than six months away, perhaps you’re not too busy at the moment and can help me out here while things are slow in your office. Although I’ve tried really hard to appreciate the various guys you’ve sent me in the past, unfortunately you’ve missed the mark – sometimes more than other times -- and I’m still out here looking.

I know your job isn’t an easy one, even in a city of eight million people, and without being too critical of your handiwork, I’d like to offer some positive ways you might be able to improve your marksmanship with that little bow and arrow of yours:

1. I’m 46, so when I say “age appropriate,” I don’t mean 28 and I don’t mean 57. Forty-five to 55 would be great.

2. I’m Jewish and although not religious in the traditional sense, it is an important part of my life in a liberal sort of way. I’d be grateful, therefore, if you didn’t send me guys who describe themselves as “Orthodox,” “traditional” or “Jewish but not religious.” Also, although I have nothing against them personally, I don’t think I’d be a good match with guys who consider themselves agnostic or atheist. Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist Jews who still retain some attachment (even if it’s just cultural) to their heritage are most desirable.

3. Although I’m not looking to get married again (at least not at the moment), I also am not interested in meeting guys who already are married or are not quite divorced. It would be great if you could limit your selections for me to those who are single, fully divorced or widowed.

4. As you know, I don’t have a specific “type” in mind when it comes to guys and I don’t much care about hair color, eye color or that sort of thing. At the same time, at 5’5”, I do appreciate guys who are at least 5’7”. And, since I know that they often ask you, please feel free to tell them that I've got a medium or average build and that I'm height and weight proportionate (and stay that way with the help of the treadmill nearly every other day). Other physical attributes include long, curly auburn hair, brown eyes and a great smile.

5. Much more important to me, Cupid, is that you do your best to send me a mensch. Of course I don’t expect perfection (I’m old enough to know that it only exists in fairy tales and the movies), but would love to spend time getting to know someone who is honest, gentle and kind, seriously interested in finding the right somebody and not into playing games. I don’t really care about how much money he makes, whether or not he travels annually to the Caribbean or how many electronic gadgets he owns. Speaking of electronic gadgets, though, if we do decide to meet and chat over coffee or a drink, it’d be nice if he’d put his iPhone on vibrate and wait until later to return calls and answer email.

6. I live and work in Manhattan and although I’m open to guys who live in the other four boroughs, as well as close by in Westchester and New Jersey, Florida, Maine, and upstate are a bit out of the question. Some consideration of geographic boundaries would be greatly appreciated.

7. I know that these are tough economic times, but gainful employment is a big plus as are solo living quarters unless, of course, the guy shares space with his kids – either full-time or part-time. (Although I don’t have any of my own, I’m definitely open to having other people’s kids in my life.)

8. Although I don’t expect an initial email that rivals the Great American Novel, I do appreciate a few brief sentences about the guy you’re sending me. I’d love for him to tell me a bit about himself and his life, as well as what positive attributes he’d bring to a meaningful long-term relationship. Most undesirable are one-liners, canned responses, photos with no words (and no shirts), and phone numbers that say “call me.”

9. Although I know that you won’t necessarily send me a guy who’s a carbon copy of me (that’d be boring), it would be great if he and I shared some basic values. High on my list are honesty, integrity, intellectual curiosity, ideas, family, friends and other things money can’t buy.

10. Lastly, to make this thing really work, I hope you’ll be able to send me someone with whom I have that seemingly all elusive chemistry. Ideally, we’ll have an emotional, intellectual and physical spark that together we can coax into a wonderfully warm and glowing relationship that keeps us both from having to be in touch with you again for a long time to come.

Cupid, I know that I'm asking for a lot here, but I have faith that if anyone can deliver, it’s you…especially now that it’s summer and far, far from your busy winter season. Thanks for your careful consideration of my requests. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Good Enough for Metropolitan Diary?

Dramatis personae: Three potential jurors, all middle-aged Jewish women.

The scene: All three are seated on a bench outside a courtroom at 100 Centre Street waiting to be called in for voir dire on the second day of jury service.

Overheard among them:

Potential juror #1 (who is seated in the middle and obviously has spoken individually to each of the other two): “I’m going to make a shidduch.”

Without actually using names, she introduces the two women to each other after which the following conversation ensues:

Potential juror #2 to potential juror #3: What do you do?

Potential juror #3: I’m the director of the Dyckman Senior Center.

Potential juror #2: Do you know Carol So-and-So?

Potential juror #3: I am Carol So-and-So!

Potential juror #2: I didn’t recognize you. Your hair is different.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Thank You, Herb and Dorothy

Yesterday my sister and I went to see Herb and Dorothy, a documentary film that tells the story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel and the multi-million dollar art collection they amassed over four decades. A postal worker and a librarian respectively, they lived on her salary and devoted his to art purchases, all of which they stored in their modest, rent-subsidized one bedroom Manhattan apartment and never once sold for profit. Over time, the dwelling came to resemble the picture I have in my mind’s eye of the Collyer brothers' apartment. Well known among artists and within the art world, the couple--seemingly always together--were regulars at the city’s galleries, museums and openings. Their story has been told repeatedly in the media over the years and, as you may know from that coverage, their collection today is housed in the National Gallery of Art, as well as in museums and galleries in each of the 50 states as part of the 50 Works for 50 States national gift program.

More than their love of art and the artists who created the works in their collection, however, I was struck by their love for each other. Rarely, either in the film or in photos is Herb without Dorothy or Dorothy without Herb. So too was it when this unpretentious pair entered the small Cinema Village Theater on 12th Street after the screening to speak briefly to the audience and answer questions. Their devotion to each other was palpable.

Thank you, Herb and Dorothy, for giving us a wonderful glimpse into your extraordinary life, for so generously sharing your riches with America, and for showing us that love and commitment can survive the decades. In today’s world, it’s easy to forget these important lessons.

Monday, June 1, 2009

My Confirmation Rose

I am familiar with several Shavuot traditions--eating dairy foods and studying all night--but only recently learned from Ima on the Bima’s blog that “it [also] is customary to decorate synagogues and homes with flowers and greenery….” That image reminded me that my own confirmation service—30 years ago today, June 1, 1979—began when we, the three confirmands, affirmed our commitment to Judaism with these words:

We speak to you,
To the congregation,
To the world,
And to our religion,
And we say:
We accept our heritage,
And we guarantee
A Judaic tomorrow.
We then ascended the bima, individually placed a white rose in the basket of flowers already positioned there and said:
We offer this flower as a sign of our Judaism. May it ever flourish with the beauty of relevance, with the sweet aroma of genuineness, and with a simple elegance which inspires us to become all of which we are capable.
Back then, the struggle of Soviet Jews was relevant and, for me, very real. While most of my classmates were studying Spanish or French, I was tackling the Cyrillic alphabet, and trying to distinguish da from nyet and zdrasvuytye from dosvidaniya. While doing so, I was well aware that Anatoly Shcharansky (as he was known at the time) was newly imprisoned, that Eduard Kuznetsov was newly released, and that longtime family friends were intimately involved in resettling a Russian immigrant family of five--mother, father, grandmother and two teens, Felix and Natasha--newly arrived in America. My connection to this family, the Brevenders, and the Judaism we shared became the basis for my own remarks that evening.

Although they stayed in central New Jersey only a short while before moving on to Philadelphia, their brief presence in our midst has stayed with me these many years. I recall that as anxious as they were to learn English and American ways, so too did they hunger for knowledge of Judaism and the customs and rituals of our tradition—for which they all had sacrificed so much.

The white roses from that confirmation evening withered and died long ago, but not so the commitment to Judaism they embodied. That commitment lives deep within me and, I like to believe, within the Brevenders as well.