Category Archives: adolescence

I HATE YOU

It was bound to happen sooner or later.  I was warned.

The words were shouted from the shower, heard over the falling water,  where she assumed she would be safe.  If she had locked the bathroom door she would have avoided my pulling open of the shower curtain all “Psycho”-like, leading to her blood-curdling scream.

At that point I couldn’t even remember what she hated me FOR.  13-year old girls can hate their mothers for so many reasons.

I called her father, my ex-husband and said “I just got my first ‘I hate you.'”  He laughed, not unsympathetically and said, “Uh oh, what happened now?”

I know my daughter loves me, almost as fiercely as I love her.  I generally ruin her life by not letting her use my phone or laptop the second she needs it.  I sap her will to live when I tell her for the MILLIONTH TIME not to leave all of the lights on in the ENTIRE HOUSE when she goes to bed after us.  She is clearly destined to become a raging alcoholic because God forbid I should ask her to flush the toilet every once in a while.

I’ve become one of those people that when someone mentions to me that they have young daughters I’ll say, “Oh, good luck with that in a few years,” or “You’re so lucky you have boys.”   I’m that cliched mother of a teenage girl.

I’ll check in with my friends who have daughters the same age to make sure that I’m not being unreasonable to not buy her a $125 DRESS FOR AN 8TH GRADE DANCE.  I’ll double-check when she tells me that so-and-so’s mother is letting her bring $40 TO THE MOVIES FOR A TICKET AND SNACKS.

I remember the one time I actually physically tussled with my mother.  She was blocking the door to our apartment, not letting me out for some reason.  At 5’5 she was not exactly threatening to my 5’9.  I think I just tried to push her arm or something and we did everything in our power not to break a smile at the absurdity of the whole thing.

I can’t begin to count the number of times that I’ve yelled, “If you ask me that one more time….” and not come up with an actual thing that I would do if she asked me that one more time.  I have tried reasoning, the “look at me when I’m talking to you,” yanked her tablet out of her hands and not let her use it for a week, threatened that if she slammed her door “ONE MORE TIME WE’RE TAKING IT OFF THE HINGES.”

There will be two weeks of utter perfection where she’ll actually CLEAR THE TABLE WITHOUT ASKING or offer to…hmm…I’m actually not coming up with anything else, but suffice it to say, she’s not the devil child, what my husband has called “the succubus, (second definition–“any evil spirit or demon,” not the primary definition which has something to do with seduction of men in their sleep).

There is no logic to the flip-flop of devil/angel other than the obvious hormonal stuff.  She really is an amazing, compassionate and most importantly, confident young woman.  She has great friends, great judgement and gets me.  I’m sure the reasons she “hates” me will change over time.  Maybe I’ll discourage her from dating the “bad boy,” or not let her go to the biggest party of the year, but I do know that without question that we’re in it for the long haul, together, with that unbreakable bond that I never knew would be so overwhelmingly magnificent.

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The Crumble of My Life

lifemap

The above is a summary of my life, all 50 years of it,  on a 22 x 27 piece of poster board.  It’s not one of those “inspiration boards,” used in team-building or ice breaker exercises.  In many ways, it’s the opposite–the sort of “anti-inspiration” board not seen and replicated on sites like Pinterest.

I work as part of a team that leads a 14-week employment program for homeless adults, most with serious addiction issues and criminal pasts.  The goal is that by the time the students graduate, they will be employed and ready to start rebuilding their lives with pride and a great sense of accomplishment.

Each class starts with 14 students, 7 men and 7 women, as young as 21 and as old as 65. The first couple of weeks are spent on self-reflection and group interaction, and culminates in the creation and presentation of something called a “Life Map.”

I had heard a lot about this project during my first week of work and had the opportunity to see some completed ones on the walls of the classrooms where the students had moved on to the next phase of the curriculum.  The images and words, clipped from magazines or written out in pen or marker, were very similar– syringes, bottles of alcohol, prison bars, and words like “loser,” “sex,” “hope,” and “God.”  As soon as I learned that all staff have to create their own, and then present them to a class, I was compiling my own, isolating themes and images that I would share.

Without question, my life is interesting and I wanted the students to know that.  I wanted them to know that I too have experienced trauma and tragedy but that I have managed to succeed and maintain a wonderful and incredibly happy, full and fun life.

Without going image by image and word by word here, my map has four pivotal dates, highlighted in yellow;  my date of birth, the day my mother was found dead, my daughter’s birthday and the day I married for the second time.   I presented a pretty happy childhood, the luxury of growing up so close to Manhattan where my father gave me access to wonderful cultural experiences.  I moved on through boarding school, college and landing in Boston, sprinkling the hard truths about my mother’s serious mental illness (and eventual suicide) and my parent’s divorce into the narrative and moved onto the present day.  The students were pretty stunned and surprised and incredibly gracious in their comments.  But, this isn’t really about me.  It’s about them, and their lives.

One by one, the students presented their maps, required to speak for at least 1/2 hour and not to go longer than one.  Many things struck me as each one bared their souls, flayed open to their deepest nerve. Most of them had lovely childhoods, much like mine, going on family vacations, eating together as a family each night, learning the value of an education and hard work.  A couple of them grew up vacationing in rented summer cottages in the mountains or on a lake, camping and fishing with their fathers, and laughing with their mothers.  And then, again, in most of these cases, a sudden switch in their narrative, in at least 4 out 5, the death of a parent while the students were still teenagers  lead to a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse.

I’m blessed not to have an addictive bone in my body.  I certainly would be hard-pressed not to fall to pieces if I had my coffee taken away, but drugs have always scared me.  I’ve smoked plenty of pot in my life, tried coke once, and as much as people say I would love it, would never dream of taking hallucinogens.  I tend to STOP drinking the second I feel a little tipsy and was able to quit smoking cold turkey.  So, when my mother died when I was only 21, I turned to other things like music, writing and friends without ever feeling the urge to numb the pain that I never seemed to experience.

The drug of choice in almost all of the students is heroin.  In some cases they started with other opiates like pain killers, but when they became too expensive switched over to the widely available and cheaper heroin.  Most swore they would never shoot-up.  Most ended up doing so, multiple times a day.  When the youngest in the class, a 21-yr old walked us through his timeline, he described this transition by pointing to a picture of a syringe and said, “This is where the crumble of my life began.”

In what will seem like an utterly selfish reaction to these presentations is my wondering and fear of what my 13-year old daughter would do if I died.   She has the addiction gene in her bloodline and it terrifies me to think of how missing me, how tragedy of any sort could trigger the similar reaction as these people have had.   She has shown me absolutely no reason whatsoever to have this fear, but she’s at the age where I tried pot for the first time and where a lot of my friends had started sneaking sips of booze from their parents liquor cabinets.  I naively believe that this isn’t happening in her middle school or that she is nowhere exposed to those temptations.  All I can do is pray that she’ll turn out okay, that she’ll make the right choices, and that her life will never crumble.

40 Years in 4 Hours

No, no, no, this was NOT my 40th high-school reunion.  I might not admit when that one comes around.  It was my 30th, making me sound old enough.  I remember, when I was younger, hearing people wistfully mention such high numbers and I just assumed they’d be dead soon.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I was unexpectedly whisked away in the middle of my first year of high school ( for those who never knew why, see my below post):

http://mylifeinthemiddleages.blogspot.com/2011/12/how-snoopy-ended-up-in-oven.html

I spent my childhood on a nice, upper-middle-class street from kindergarten and followed the trajectory of elementary school through junior high with friends I adored. I rode my bike until it got dark when kids still did that, playing with my neighbors before parents checked with other parents that we’d be supervised.  I liked my life, I fit in, (despite always being the tallest and the biggest in elementary school).  When I was forced to move to Los Angeles at 16, I lost touch with all of my Long Island friends.

The beauty of Facebook (and to me, it has been miraculous in bringing back that part of my life) has re-introduced me to people I barely knew, those who moved in different circles.  It has also been responsible for reconnecting me with those whose houses I slept over and spoke to on the phone for hours at night.

In many ways, I felt like an interloper at the reunion, since I missed those awkward and fraught high school years with those who were there.  To me, in my day, I looked at life as there were the Jews and then there was everyone else.  (Read the below post about my 30th boarding school reunion, where I spent my last two years of high school, one among a smattering of Jews.):
http://mylifeinthemiddleages.blogspot.com/2012/05/three-reunions.html

I felt slightly disappointed not knowing the football players who looked at my face registering not a bit of recognition and moved right past me. Everyone had meshed and merged in those two years and I had missed that part.

I felt most rooted reconnecting with my elementary school friends, those who appeared in the school photos I had uncovered and brought with me.  There were three who lived on my street in houses I have memories of pretending we were the Partridge Family.  We took the school bus together, a short distance, but memorable just the same.  Seeing these boys who had turned into men, had me hugging them the hardest, staring at their faces and marveling at who they’ve become.  I’ve become particularly close with one who lived around the corner, all through Facebook and words.

There was the smallest boy in the class who actually let me put my finger into one of his dimples (well, I never asked if I could), what I remember him for.  I heard stories about lunging to kiss a boy in first grade only to have him throw me off in a panic.  I learned that a sweet boy gave me a coin from his collection and that my mother, thinking I had stolen it, called his mother and forced me to return it.  I learned that one of the nicest boys laughed at me when I stepped in dog poop and he’s felt guilty about it for all these years.  I learned that I always had a nice “aura” in junior high.

I drank wine and laughed with a woman who I had totally confused with someone else, another Facebook friend who I never really knew.  We have shared written quips and laughter, found many things in common, and I breezed into her hotel room as if we were best friends.  Another connection who I barely knew has turned into masked mush over his incredible work with urban kids.  We stole away for a few minutes having discovered so much about each other through my writing and constant Facebook posts.  He’s wonderful and I hope he never has to compromise his love and passion for the lives he changes.  And of course, there were a couple of my very dear friends who I would occasionally whisk past during the night and whisper to them and move on, confident just knowing that they were in the same room with me.

There were many people there who I know read my blog and many others I had no idea did.  Throughout the night I was sought out, hearing praise for my writing that was unexpected and beyond flattering.  A man made it a point to come over to me to compliment me and on the teeniest, tiniest, itty-bittiest scale,  I felt like a real writer.  As I was leaving a lovely woman who hasn’t aged one second said “You better write about this,” and well, here it is, my homage to my roots and the lovely people I had to leave behind.

The Man At the Top of the Stairs


I’d stand, leaning on the hot metal counter, filling in little bubbles with a blunt golf pencil ordering the greasiest most fattening food to my heart’s content from the poolside snack bar. The college student working the grill never judged me while passing me my cheeseburger, fries and Hoodsie cup. No money ever exchanged hands and the total charge would eventually end up on my parent’s account. I was living the life of a member of Shelter Rock Tennis Club on Long Island.

It struck me only a few years ago the irony that the Club shared a gravelly unpaved parking lot with our temple. We certainly weren’t regular temple goers but there were a handful of times, after Sunday school (which was really nothing more than a group of restless teens wasting time in the basement of the temple) that I would trudge up the pebbled hill to meet my mother after her first tennis game of the day.

The Club was little more than just a constant reminder of how unfit I was, a super-sized version of most of my same-aged peers who hung out by the pool. There was a pair of identical twins who would move so fast in their bikinis that I got tired just following them with my eyes. There was another girl, built like a giraffe, who walked around scowling at the world (In a bit of astonishing irony, her father and my mother would ultimately die together in a double-suicide.) There were pruney and tanned older women and women in Pucci cover-ups. There was smoking and card playing and impressive dives from the high diving board.

I do remember rather fondly one of my very first crushes, a boy named David Kelman, surprisingly very blonde for a Jewish kid. One day we went off to trudge around the woods and swung at a cocoon on the verge of bursting, whacking at it with a long tree branch. I really had no idea that we undoubtedly interrupted some really critical life cycle, BUT for some reason, this made David want to hold my hand. Now, every time I see a cocoon, I think of the happy transformed lives about to enter into their new world.

I remember the “pop” sound of tennis balls in a state-of-the-art tennis bubble, the sucking of the heavy metal door in the steam room, and occasionally watching men play squash through a window in a separate building. I also remember walking into the men’s locker room at about 5 or 6 and my father SCREAMING at me while standing in his white briefs. I never did that again.

Between tennis games, men and women would eat lunch in the dining room. Most of the women would order the “diet plate,” a hamburger patty, side of cottage cheese and one half of a cling peach. My mother didn’t have to worry about what she ate, and actually, most of these women didn’t either. Even though I rather enjoyed scraping out grapefruit sections with a serrated spoon, when my mother and her friends weren’t around I certainly wouldn’t be eating a grapefruit for lunch. Again, when I’d eat with my friends, I’d sign a receipt and never think twice about the cost.

At the edge of the dining room, separating it from the lobby was a very large wooden, polished spiral staircase. On the day that I learned that the head chef lived up there I was completely fascinated and even slightly jealous. Every time I was there, I would tip my head to see if he was up there, willing this phantom man to appear. Would he look like the chef from Sesame Street who fell down the stairs with a stack of pies? Would he be old and black like our “chef” from camp who made the best fried chicken that to this day, is the best I’ve ever tasted? One lucky day, he DID appear, in his chef whites, his name embroidered on his chest pocket. I think he waved and then ducked back behind his secret door. (I think the waving and ducking part might be a false part of the memory.)

I tried to find the current yearly dues for the Club online, but to no avail. I know this was a privilege of upper-middle class life but one that really sort of bored me. However, I certainly wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to fill in little circles on an old fashioned looking computer card, have someone hand me a burger and fries, never to see the check.

How Snoopy Ended Up in the Oven

I knew something was amiss when my brother, no more than 24 at the time, appeared at my high school in his bright orange Toyota Corolla, mid-week, at the end of the school day. He worked in Manhattan and lived in Queens so his sudden appearance made no sense.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” I asked, always happy to see him, but posed the question with a great degree of trepidation.

“Well,” he said, having to steel himself before continuing, “Mom has you booked on a flight to California. Tonight.” I knew what this meant. I was being shunted to my father’s in Los Angeles.

I have no memory of what I said as I sunk into the passenger seat. I had become numb to certain blows in my life, but this was a big one, bigger even than my mother’s half-hearted suicide attempts I had endured since I was nine. This was her controlling MY life, not her own. This was her taking her index finger and flicking me across the country like a menacing mosquito. Flick.

“I’ve cancelled your flight. You’re going to come stay with me until we figure this out.”

This was all happening way too fast. I was in 10th grade with several weeks until the semester ended. My brother lived a good 35 minutes away and would have to drive me to Long Island and then drive to the city, and then somehow reverse it all at the end of the day. California was the last place on earth I wanted to be. I had an incredibly full life. Why was this happening??

“We’ve got to go to the apartment to get your stuff,” he said.

“Is she there?” I asked with pure anger and fear. “Do you know why this is happening?”

“Yes, she’s there. She apparently read your diary and thinks your using drugs.”

“WHAT?” This was all way too much to process.

“She read something about your friends using cocaine and doesn’t think you should live around them anymore.”

Okay. This was the biggest stretch I had ever heard. I had no desire or inclination, at 15, to try cocaine. I was a really good kid with good judgment who had only smoked pot a handful of times and had absolutely no interest in alcohol.

Our apartment was only about a 15-minute drive from school and in that short time my numbness started to churn into anger. When my brother and I let ourselves in my mother was sitting on our orange couch, in the corner where she spent her days when she wasn’t laying in total darkness in her bed, discolored and worn from her constant presence. I stood across the room from her, my brother by my side, and seethed. I don’t remember my words, but I remember the feeling, an anger so deep in my chest that if I wasn’t human, I would have roared. She just sat there and stared at me.

“WHERE’S MY DIARY?” I screamed.

“I’m not giving it back,” she said with a look of defiance so icy cold that I wanted to shake her.

“Mom, give it back to her,” my brother said.

She said she was keeping it as “evidence” that I was hanging around with the wrong crowd. She said that she also didn’t like the way I was writing things about her.

“GIVE IT BACK,” I said much more insistently.

I’m not sure what finally convinced her, but she went into the kitchen and came back with a singed copy, burnt to a crisp around the edges, the Snoopy cover fallen off its binding. She had tried to burn my diary in the oven.

There were pink square pieces of paper with her name on them marking certain pages. I later had a chance to see what was so compelling, so awful that it made her choose to banish me to an unknown place where my father and his girlfriend had JUST moved in together. Most of those pink squares have since fallen out but most of my teenaged words were typical of adolescence, nothing more incriminating than crushes and the occasional curse word.

How does a 15-yr old process something like this? I went through the motions of grabbing some stuff, not knowing how long it would be until all of this was resolved. I went to my brother’s who, for at least three weeks drove me to school every day, slept on the floor of his bedroom, and who entertained me, with his wonderful roommate, with their rendition of Steve Martin and Dan Ackroyd being “two wild and crazy guys.”

With many steps in between, including an amazing surprise going-away party that my friends held for me at a restaurant, I did end up spending the second half of 10th grade in the affluence of Los Angeles. I have never felt more out of my element. The school was HUGE with trailers for some classrooms, where I initially hung around with the misfit crowd in my neighborhood. I met my first gay friend who belted out songs of angst by Linda Ronstadt and Heart. Things got a bit complicated when we met a boy in our neighborhood and found ourselves both falling in love with him.

For my father and his girlfriend (now his wife) the timing couldn’t be more horrendous. They had lived together for less than a month before I landed in their laps. Things were not easy for any of us. The prevailing theme was that I had been sent there to be a spy, a pawn, in my father’s new life. By the end of 10th grade, it was decided, with not so subtle prompting from my father that I attend boarding school back east. The place was my savior.

I took with me years of deep scars and met my peers, some with even deeper ones. We were all a bit beyond our years that had been accelerated by uncustomary life experience and we all were made to feel safe as we transcended the history that came with us, protected by the stunning Berkshire mountains, and, each other.

Dairy Barn, Chicken Delight And The Soda Man

When I look back, I continue to be amazed by how EASY things were living on Long Island in the 70s and how very quaint some of our every day conveniences seem in retrospect. These things pre-date drive-thru ATMS, (although you could speak to an actual LIVE teller from your car and stick your deposit through that tube that got sucked up like Augustus Gloop in “Willy Wonka), drive-thru pharmacies, drive-thru dry cleaners, and grocery home delivery. Today, we could live our entire lives out of our cars.

Dairy Barn, pictured above, is total iconic Long Island. Before I confirmed otherwise with friends, I vaguely remembered driving INTO it, like a meat locker version of a car wash. As you can see from above, that’s not quite how it worked. You drove up to a window, and gave some young, undoubtedly stoned, teenager your order which usually consisted of bread (they only had white, squooshy bread), eggs, orange juice (not the best, I might add), butter, etc. The guy would disappear into his inner, refrigerated sanctum, slide the glass doors closed and start pulling things off shelves. Then, he would reappear with our bag, my mother would pay, in actual CASH, and off we’d go.

Perhaps these trips were a stop gap between deliveries from our actual MILK MAN! Yes, we had a MILK MAN who would creep up our back porch stairs, and leave glass bottles of milk in a tin box which made a distinct sound when the lid slammed shut. The coolest thing about the Milk Man was that once a year he brought bags of Halloween candy.  Was it free? Did my parents order it so it was one less thing they had to worry about? I never ONCE laid eyes on the Milk Man or received an answer to this one remaining mystery of my childhood.

Not only did we have a Milk Man, we had a SODA MAN. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why we needed a bi-weekly CASE of soda, glass-bottled with non-screw off caps, but I do know that it made my brother, who my mother referred to as the “soda jerk” (only in this particular context, not in life) very happy. There was “cola” and orange and cherry and lemon-lime, such artificially pretty colors all lined up in a heavy plastic, red crate-like tray. When it was finished, and on some designated day, the empty bottles would be left somewhere and like magic, they’d be replaced by a whole new case of pretty-colored liquid.

The soda was kept in the garage next to our extra freezer. This freezer was nothing short of miraculous. About once a month a delivery truck would pull up and a uniformed man would wheel, dolly-full by dolly-full, boxes of glorious frozen food. There were gorgeous and perfectly sized and flash frozen pork chops, steaks, ground beef and lamb chops along with the most delicious croissants I have EVER tasted. There were cans of concentrated orange juice, bags of frozen French fries that were all stacked so lovingly that I wasn’t allowed to touch anything. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing to my first job during the summer right after graduating from college as someone who SOLD, over the phone, going down the Syracuse-area phone book name-by-name with a ruler to keep my place, the exact same service. My job was to convince people to allow a salesman into their home, to discuss the benefits of having something like a side of beef stored in a freezer that they may or may not already own. After that, my job was done.

Growing up, when my father was either working late or at a hockey game, we would have the great fortune of ordering from Chicken Delight, what I remember to be the holy grail of poultry.  The chicken, fries and very soft rolls would come, broken out into the individual meals we requested, in two domed cardboard plates stapled together. It came with little packets of honey (which I never ate) and wet naps. It brought instant happiness into our home.

Home delivery of crappy-yet-totally-delicious food is so pervasive now that it shocks me that my favorite local Chinese place has the gall NOT to deliver. “Wait, you want me to GET UP and DRIVE the HALF MILE to your little hovel of a kitchen just for the best Chicken Chow Foon around???? Fuck YOU!”
Back then you didn’t have to pump your own gas (truth be told, I will choose full serve over self despite the higher prices) but you did have to stand and wait in an actual line with actual standing humans at McDonald’s. You had to walk into an incredibly hot and LOUD dry cleaners with that dry cleaner smell instead of having someone pass you your clothes through a car window. There was certainly charm (not to mention human interaction) in those day-to-day things while now we just scream into a speaker with a faceless person on the other end.

Never Quite the Cool Girl

I’m standing, leaning against a railing, slightly raised from the dance floor watching my two friends dancing to Siouxsie and the Banshees’, “Kiss Them For Me.” One’s just moving her shoulders ever so slightly, the other, her arms outstretched above her head looks like a slithering snake in slo-mo. There’s almost a homoerotic quality to them, the subtlety and pure sexuality they are exuding. I have never looked that cool in my life.

My movements have always been LARGE. I speak large, I sing large and I tend to take up a lot of space when I dance. There is nothing subtle about me. I’ve always been more Katrina and the Waves, “Walking On Sunshine” than Siouxsie Sioux.

I was always on the cusp of cool, more B+ than A-list. At camp, school, college and after, there was always something that I was left out of, some after-hour activity that I was never asked to join. At camp, there were the raids and the midnight eating of contraband food that the counselors would sneak back from town. In high school, a pretty WASPY boarding school in the Berkshires at which I was part of only a handful of Jewish students, I walked around in a huge, puffy, PURPLE ankle-length coat like a dancing California Raisin.

Post-college friends of mine would stay at the bar or a party and dance on tables while I was sure to be home and in bed by 11. They’d leave with guys they had just met and wakeup, hungover and awkward.

The truth is, and people tend to be surprised to discover this about me, is that I have never been the party girl that I somehow appear to be. At camp I used to cry because my bunkmates wouldn’t shut up when I was trying to go to sleep. I’ve never bar-hopped or pulled an all-nighter. I’ve never taken hallucinogenics or thrown up from drinking. It wasn’t until my early 40s that I did my first tequila shot, but now, during the week, I have no problem getting into bed by 9:30. At this age, there is no reason to wonder about what I might miss when I duck out for the day. Back then, I’d be in bed regretting my decision not to live a little bit more.

I certainly knew in which contexts that people didn’t know quite what to make of me. I missed the mark on fashion and I didn’t have that certain posture, that way of holding myself that says “I don’t give a shit what you think of me.” I think there were some friends who were embarrassed a little bit by me, and sensing that, I would try to be quiet and just go with it. Now, I couldn’t care less about what people think of me and know it instantly. I essentially let the person I feel it from know by throwing that vibe right back at them with a stare that says “I’m on to you.” At this age, “cool” doesn’t matter. People generally tend to like me and if I’m wearing jeans that are bordering on mom jeans, I just cover them up with a long, last-season tunic.

I’ll Have The Corned Beef, Lean, A Pound of Chopped Liver, and the Chocolate Babka

Two nights ago a miracle in the form of an attractive 70-yr-old woman appeared, like Glinda the Good Witch in her ephemeral bubble, waving her magic wand. POOF! Leftover food from her Yom Kippur breakfast appeared on the empty kitchen countertop at my friend’s house. Bags of bagels and tubs of whitefish salad, piles of lox and pans of kugel materialized like the poppy field that Dorothy and her nice friends get high and fall asleep in. In my delight, I suddenly found myself clapping my hands like a seal.

Where I live there is no easy access to food like this. Twice a year Whole Foods trots out buckets of chopped liver and brisket and I stand in front of the case wide-eyed, like a kid watching someone put a final squirt of whipped cream on a sundae. The Whole Foods employees look rather horrified as they are faced with the task of spooning the chopped liver into takeout containers, undoubtedly thinking, “This is not in my job description.” I want them to believe me when I tell them that it’s better than ice cream, but clearly they don’t believe me. And, when people ask if it’s like pate, I don’t betray the integrity of what it is—chicken liver, chicken fat, onions and egg. Just like people call Target, “Tar-jay,” I don’t buy into this notion of “let’s make it sound fancy” because it’s NOT. It looks like cat food, it’s got tons of cholesterol, it smells, BUT, it is the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted.

It’s not an original subject, talking about a Jewish cultural connection to food. Every race and religion has one. My Puerto Rican husband will go to the ends of the earth for the perfect paella. An Asian co-worker of mine taught me to cook with bok choy and talked about the culinary wisdom her Thai father continues to pass on to her. We all love to gather around and eat food that is familiar to us with those that we have done it with before. My husband is not going to pick up the last remaining hunk of gefilte fish with his fingers like my brother would. New friends are not going to hang around in the kitchen and peel the skin off of a roasted chicken and shove it in their mouth like my sister would. At my former (Catholic) sister-in-law’s house, I would get a hand slap if I pinched a glob of stuffing, and be forced to eat the green jello mold that was a family tradition (no so bad, actually).


I will always give my father credit for creating one of the lovliest rituals of my childhood. Like Jews all over the the tri-state area, my father would get up early and hunt and gather. He would go to the not very originally named “Hot Bagels and Bialeys” which flashed in neon on a storefront, stand in line, and tell the guy behind the counter what to include in the baker’s dozen. They were picked from bins like the ones above, WAY before there were blueberry and chocolate chip bagels. The poppy seeds from the poppy seed bagels and the salt from the salt bagels would get mixed up with the onions from the onion bagels, so by the time he got home, the bottom of the paper bag looked like a dumped spice rack. We’d come back to them after eating, wetting our fingers and rolling them in the mixture, licking them off our fingers.

He would also go to what is called an “appetizer store” and get cream cheese and chives, whitefish rolled in wax paper, lox, muenster cheese and sometimes herring in cream sauce. With the resulting breath it’s no wonder we spent our Sundays in separate rooms.

When the question comes up, “What would you want your last meal to be?”, you know, which happens a lot, I would go for everything in both of these pictures. In honor of my mother, I might ask for a pot of boiled beef flanken which looks like this:

I’d throw in some rice pudding, a linzer tart and I’d HAVE to have mint chocolate chip ice cream, which incidentally, was the only thing Timothy McVeigh, Oklahoma City bomber, asked to have as his last meal. He certainly wasn’t Jewish.

Watching Porn at North Shore Towers




At thirteen, immediately after my parent’s divorce, my mother and I moved into what is apparently the only gated community in New York with its own zip code. I’ve recently learned that it also has its own self-generating power plant, so really, who wouldn’t want to live there?

The Towers apparently sit on the highest point of Queens. According to the rather fascinating Wikipedia entry, this “hill” was formed in the “last glacial period.” Now, apparently due to some serious melting, it’s an 18-hole golf course. The height sets off the three buildings so they can be seen from as far away as Connecticut. They cut a rather imposing figure from the Long Island Expressway and Grand Central Parkway. You could literally stand in one place and be in both Queens and Long Island at the same time. My favorite part of their placement is that they share land with Long Island Jewish Hospital where my mother spent time going in and out of the inpatient psych unit. Someone was clearly thinking ahead.

Living in North Shore Towers made me REALLY popular with my classmates who lived in normal, upper-middle-class suburban sprawl and didn’t have a “retail concourse” that included a movie theater and two restaurants underground. It housed the first atm machine I had ever seen (this was in 1979), buttons on the wall of a bank that made cool sounds and spit out money.

This subterranean mall connected three buildings. It was the perfect place for the disgruntled children of bitter divorces and hated stepmothers to run amok, completely unsupervised. We smoked cigarettes in the stairwells in our pajamas and smoked pot outside in the bushes near the pool. We went out for lunch at the deli-style restaurant, The Nibbler, and ordered whatever the hell we wanted. We made the rounds of each others apartments, all carbon copies of the others, and watched game shows after school. Like all other teenagers in America, we got bored out of our minds.

Recently as I’ve reconnected with people on facebook from junior high and high school, I’ve been reminded of the wild parties I used to throw at my apartment. Now very successful business men and women, after the initial “HEY, what-have-you-been-up tos” will say, “Remember those parties you used to have at North Shore Towers? Man, I used to get so drunk!” As soon as they say it, I get an image of well-groomed Jewish teenagers spilling through my door.

I have no recollection of how these parties formed. I guess I’d make a decision to have one, I’d tell one person, and friends would call others and say “Party at Gayle’s.” I would go down to the underground supermarket and buy Cheese Doodles and soda, chips and Lipton onion soup dip mix, M&Ms and called it a day. I have absolutely no idea of how the carpools worked, how late these kids stayed, and, the most vague of all, is where was my mother? Did these parties all happen when she was in the hospital? Was anyone staying with me? I remember just ONE time that she was in her room, in bed, and I went in to check on her with a cigarette in my hand. She asked for a “puff,” mistaking it for the first joint she might ever try. It took me a minute to convince her that it was just a cigarette.

I was not a drinker back then and can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve been hungover. I don’t know who brought alcohol to these parties and I certainly don’t remember who brought the porn classic, “Deep Throat.” I DO remember a bunch of eager boys sitting on our orange nu buck suede couch trying to act really cool as if this was something they did every day. I remember flitting about also trying to act cool even though I had never seen porn before especially not in my own living room with 20 or so of my friends around. I remember it being really bad quality being played on the Sony Betamax but still being able to make out Linda Lovelace doing some pretty dirty things. I learned a LOT of things that night that I wasn’t necessarily prepared to learn.

The night came to a rather abrupt halt when someone (I remember it as Jimmy Klein but I think I’ve since been corrected) vomited orange soda all over our guest bathroom and then locked themselves in. I don’t know who picked anyone up or how they were ever allowed to come back. People don’t throw up at my parties anymore, and if anyone is watching porn they’re doing it on their i-phones, sitting on a sage green and not an orange suede couch.

Visiting Day for a Chubby Kid


On the morning of the most anticipated day of the summer, there is, quite literally, nothing that can hold us back. We’re like Beatle’s fans breaking through the barrier, and all attempts to keep us in order are futile.

From the top of the hill we can see cars pulling into the parking lot at the bottom, one after the other, a parade of tri-state area license plates. “There’s my mom” someone would yell and go bursting down the hill into the arms of their parents. “That’s my dog!” Another one.

Visting Day at camp was a day like no other. Smack, dab in the middle of the summer, it was like what visiting hours must feel like at a prison or hospital. Now, don’t get me wrong, camp was like Disney–“the happiest place on earth,” but it was rather odd to have the real world infiltrate for a day, glamorous, Jewish mothers, cigar-smoking fathers, luxury cars and jewelry, a stark contrast to our tube socks and sweat-shorts. And then, there were the brown paper grocery bags.

To be honest (and camp friends feel free to dispute this) Visiting Day was about FOOD. PACKAGED, store-bought FOOD. We judged the luckiest, most-loved kids by the number of bags their parents carried, (didn’t we?) For those of us who had been bunkmates for years, we knew who would get the best stuff and who would share and who wouldn’t, who would hide their shit and who would dump it on their beds and divvy it up among us.

There would be Pringles and Freihoffers and Yodels and fruit pies and tuna and cup a soup and squeeze cheese and Ritz crackers and candy and the ripest of peaches and plums. My friend Robin always got bakery cookies from a family-owned bakery in a box tied with red and white string. It was a magical and heady day.

But here’s the catch: I didn’t get that stuff. I was a bit of a formless and overweight kid and my parent never really let me forget that, even for a day. (My camp friends and I recently discussed this impression that I’ve had forever of myself as this lumpy behemouth of a pre-teen and teenager. What they said, and I loved this, is that I’ve grown curves. I’m no longer formless. I’m all curve. Or something like that.) At home, sweets were hidden from me (not very well, I might add) and I was forced to try things like Alba 77 for breakfast (who remembers that?)

Anyway, I would get some fruit and some books. Maybe some lifesavers. I MAY have gotten cheese doodles one year (but it could also be that I’m conjuring those up because I’ve been wanting some for weeks.)

But, I will NEVER forget the one year, that my dear, always-sweet-and-kind brother Mark, when his day off as a counselor fell within a day or two of Visiting Day, sat down with me on the steps of my bunk with a brown, paper bag. What I remember is that with great fanfare, Mark pulling out a big bag of Tootsie Pop Drops like it was serious contraband. I rememeber thinking that this was the kindest gesture that anyone had ever done for me (and his wife has outdone even that by doing an overnight feeding for me when Amelia was an infant). It’s been a lifetime of kind gestures from Mark, but, in his way, he was saying that I was worthy, just like everyone else, of a special treat on Visiting Day.