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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kandinsky and the Evil Laugh

Picking up on my looking at Art theme, and all that comes with looking, yesterday I went to the Guggenheim Museum with my 15 year old and met up with my friend Jeff who appreciates 15 year olds; well at least my 15 year old, an important factor to consider when bringing your teen to excursions really meant for adults.  It's not that some of my friends don't have children, they do, but their children are beginning to have their own children, if you know what I mean.  My husband and I kind of waited until the last possible moment and said,  "Ok, how bout now?"  

But, that being said, I do find the unexpected joys of parenthood are limitless and never found where you look for them.  My attitude is throw enough poop against the kid and something is bound to stick, with a resounding plop, so while he was the only one under 40 at the matinee for Freud's Last Session and certainly the only visitor I noticed under 21 at the Francis Bacon show at the Met -- (see my earlier Blog entitled: Life's Shutter, for just how well that went but be prepared, it meanders purposefully to that moment, but I think it's worth it.) the ability to have a conversation about Theatre, God and Art with my child was well worth it. 

His response to Freud, an imagined conversation between Sigmund F, an 80 something-year-old atheist dying of mouth cancer and C.S. Lewis, a once avowed atheist who at 33, decided he was a Christian and is now a 40 year old Oxford Don, was one of those joyous moments. The actors are meeting at Freud's apartment in 1939 London on the eve of Chamberlain's Declaration of War against Germany and what my son found most interesting; after acknowledging the debate over God's Existence was a draw, was that the younger character was the believer and older one, the atheist, since he thought it was usually the other way around.  As his Mom, I love having this kind of conversation with my child.  It allows me to demonstrate that Art and Music and Theatre are important. 

I don't believe in limiting his exposure, as long as it's not violent or sexual in nature.  The sexual thing is primarily because he gets embarrassed. As a matter of fact, when my husband had "The Conversation"* with my son in his bedroom several years ago, while I giggled in the kitchen, like the immature person that I am, my son came tearing down the hallway, hands over his ears, protesting that he had heard enough.Violence, on the other hand, is should be seen by no one, as far as I am concerned. 

* Not the be confused with "The Conversation", a very fine film from 1974 by Francis Ford Coppola. 

Did I mention that Jeff worked at the Metropolitan Museum for over 15 years? He is so much fun to talk to about Art.  Today's excursion was no exception.  Beginning at the top of the famous Guggenheim spiral was a video installation, part of a show on contemporary imagery - both photography and video.  The show, entitled: Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance, has been described as examining contemporary photography and and video that possesses "a melancholic longing for an otherwise irrecuperable past."  Nicely written. (For more visit:

The first piece was a six screen looped film installation of Merce Cunningham sitting in a traditional mirrored dance studio on a metal folding chair. The machines showing the films were quite delicate and soundless and the museum had gone so far as to cover the dome and lower the lights to ensure the film would be clearly seen. Each of the cameras were projected at the walls at different angles, were varying sizes, and showed either a close-up or mid-range shot of this incredible choreographer sitting quietly, barely moving.  The label described the piece as the video artist capturing Merce Cunningham's choreography to John Cage's Silent Symphony with Three Movements in six parts.  I defy you to explain that to a a 15 year old.  I suggested to him that we look for the invisible Score. 

So, there we were, what we actually came for, The Geometry of Kandinsky and Malevich, a lovely little exhibit, seated in front of the canvas Conversation 8, which is just glorious. 

Vasily Kandinsky
Conversation 8, July 1923
Oil on Canvas, 140x201cm
My son has had some exposure to working in different mediums and we all listened to our audio headsets describing the canvas, how it looks like it was painted with watercolors in certain areas as Kandinsky explored the relationship of colors and the nature of transparency and how other parts of the canvas looks to have be done with pastels.  My son understands this and we talk about why he agrees. I am delighted that he understands. 

Kasimir Malevich
Mystic. Suprematism
Oil on Canvas, 100.5x60 cm
Then Jeff and I move over to a Malevich, and begin discussing how the influence of the religious iconography of the Orthodox Christian Church shows up so clearly in Malevich's Canvases.  My son moves on, eyes rolling.  This is Mommy going on with her friend time. 

He returned a few moments later to ask about Kandinsky and his evil laugh.  Huh?

Jeff and I exchange looks.  

My son has been reading a label on the wall which says in bold print, Kandinsky and the Bauhaus.  My son is not at all familiar with Bauhaus, so he has twisted the word to fit his frame of reference and reflect his wit with words. To him, he tells us, this reads Bwa-Ha's, as in the cartoon villian who maniacally cackles -- Bwa - ha - ha.

And there is it, another one of moments, the unexpected joy of parenthood.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Wing Nut Commander!

Wing Nut Commander! 
A tale from my days peddling trinkets on TV...

 I am standing on the convention center floor in Anaheim, California, drinking a huge cup of coffee, bracing myself for yet 
another round of presentations to groups of white men, all Cable Television executives from someplace in America.  I am resplendent in black suede high heels, shooting me up to 5'9" and my scrumptious red wool double-breasted Tahari pant suit, that just reeks of power. My hair is perfectly coifed in a pageboy, my make-up is absolutely flawless, I am Executive! -- and doing quite a splendid impression of one. 

Centrally located in this colossal arena is a slightly scaled down version of the Sleeping Beauty Castle from Disneyland which rumors are, has cost the brand new Disney Channel over $40,000 in 1987 dollars.  This is the largest Cable Television Programmers Convention to date, with over 200 hopeful exhibitors.  The objective at this event is to lure local cable system operators into your booth, who have come here from everywhere in the Untied States, and convince them to carry your programming.

This is the Rock ’n Roll era of Cable TV and systems are no longer limited to a dozen or even 20 channels.  Over 50 million households in the United States will be subscribing to cable television by the end of the year. That’s a whole lotta eyeballs.  This is the beginning of the end of Broadcast Network domination. (Read -- Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost their way by Ken Auletta, which tells the whole story rather nicely.)

I’m on a break, watching the traffic between two competing booths, The Comedy Channel and Ha!  Both claim to be the funniest.  Ha! has better buttons.  The Comedy Channel has a better-looking booth and twice as many sales reps circulating the floor.  Down the aisle, I see The Crazy Eddie Channel, run by an old friend from my Pay Television Days.  These Brooklyn guys look completely out of place and their booth, if you can call it that, is kind of pathetic.  They have no idea what they are doing in this very orthodox American crowd. HBO, an early front-runner, has the cleanest-cut crew of the bunch and a very slick presentation.  Our booth is just o.k. with it’s patriotic hues and quasi-military style. We have regional sales representatives with name like Dottie and Ginger, which in my constricted New York Metro Jewish Suburban experience, is more likely to be the name of a beloved pet. 

If you’ve never been to a Cable Television Programmers convention or any other industry convention, in brief, it’s a whole bunch of people checking out their competition, luring their targets upstairs to private suites where they pitch their product after plying them with very good alcohol and food, and then try to close the deal.  The sale force minions act like barkers at a carnival, circulating on the floor, reporting in random rumors from who knows where, and setting up the 20 minute appointments for the assault upstairs with the heavy hitters like me, suited up for the occasion, -- although no one else dared to wear red. 

We did not have as expansive a budget as Disney and I frankly wasn’t that keen on our own booth’s theme, which reflected our Institutional Advertising campaign we had created in a knee-jerk response to having immediately kill another much more effective one that had been running for months.  Our theme was based on the Air Force, how we would be your system’s Wing Commander – navigating you to money making opportunities if you carried our programming. Lame.

The original campaign featured the Shopping Service transformed into an ATM Machine (newly fangled at that time) spewing cash to cable system operators with a multi-million dollar number indicated on the front that had been paid to date to those who had been smart enough to affiliate.  My team had come up with this concept, which included a 4-color die-cut glossy piece for the sales reps to use in the field. With a black plate change, I could alter the dollar amount as we continued to pay out millions in commissions. I would check my numbers with the President of the company intermittently to try and keep it current.  

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, the new eagle-eyed head of our legal department upon seeing this asked me nonchalantly where I got my numbers from.  When I told him, he turned pale and ran back to his office.  Ten minutes later he called and told me to kill the campaign.  “Why?” I entreated.  

Because, he said, Mr. President had been making the numbers up.  Oops. 

What had begun as a local Florida shopping service with 4 fulfillment outlets, where consumers could pick up their merchandise, sold by Budget Bob and others, on a local cable service and with some spotty carriage in the Southeast; had metastasized by the end of 1987 into a National service available in over 40 million homes.

The way this worked, was that if you carried our programming, you received a commission based on sales revenue from your cable subscribers. So imagine -- you are Jack Smith and you are the manager of Comcast West Orange, New Jersey (my home town) with 50,000 subscribers.  Every time your subscriber Mary Jones or her Aunt Sarah bought something from us, you made a percentage of the sale.  We paid you, Jack Smith, to carry our programming.  In return, you ran the customized promotional spots we provided, directing your subscribers to the appropriate channel on your system and allowed us to drop inserts into your cable bills.

My job was to create these puppies as well as supervise our very first National Advertising Campaign, the efforts of two very well-known advertising agencies, one on each coast, for which we had budgeted over $40,000,000.   Yes, I was responsible for spending over $40 million.

My assignment at this Cable Convention was to pitch this advertising campaign to the various executives, senior managers and subordinate staff that came upstairs to our suite.  That meant I was to re-enact both the television spots and radio commercials as well as show the layout and samples for several collateral pieces, cross channel video promos we had created in-house. (I had a staff of 24 people based in Florida to supervise as well.)  I was the advertising shill and shill I did. By the end of this two-day craziness I had my first and only ever case of laryngitis but had racked up a serious collection of “Atta Girls*” by my boss, one of the rarified breed of very smart cable television executives out of Denver.  

* Heretofore known as Atta Boy, the penultimate compliment from a boss to a subordinate, by a generation of men who weren‘t sure what to make of us, so we wore suits to calm them down.

The last presentation of the show, with my voice reduced to a scratchy whistle, I took the storyboards in hand, just one more time and took my audience through a campaign which revolved around “ Don’t bother me, I’m shopping!”

The premise of which, was that our programming was so compelling, that even a bride, about to walk down the aisle, would delay her wedding to take advantage of some unseen bargain on her television. The campaign never happened for many complicated reasons, but that is not so unusual. The company still managed to gross $750 million dollars that year, up from the $10 million made the year before.  And I, in my fabulous red suit, helped.

Monday, July 19, 2010

In the eyes of the beholding the camera

Recently a dear friend returned from an excursion to MoMA, taking in the fabulous Matisse exhibit. She shared an astute observation and suggested that I write about it, so permit me to put it in context --

One of the great disappointments an artist comes to terms with, whether they use paint or pen, is that the world is not waiting for their work. An appreciation, and I might go so far as to suggest, an understanding of the artist's message, narrative, perspective, or balance and composition may be important, original, and even sublime, but don't expect the world to beat a path to your doorstep. Talent is no guarantee of success or interest in what you have to say.

In February of 1971, when I was still in High School, my art class took a field trip to the Brooklyn Museum for a Van Gogh exhibit. I had up to then, visited the masters at the Met, some modern work at MoMA, a bit of Pop and Op Art, as well as a sensational Toulouse Lautrec exhibit at the Huntington Hartford , a museum that is tragically gone. These works and all I knew and understood about Art came through slides and reproductions, which seemed to my uninformed sensibilities, sufficient for appreciating the work and understanding its significance.

My dear friend is a superb, dare I say, magical visual artist. I'm not the only one who thinks so. Her work hangs in Museums and is sought after by collectors of note. To spend time studying her work, as I have, is to appreciate the lyrical colors, the rich textures, the majestic sensibility and most importantly the brave and singular reflection of her life that she dares to conjure up on her canvases. I believe a great artist is one who is not afraid of revealing what lies beneath, who risks exposure and leaves their heart unprotected, sharing images or words to make life understandable and bearable.

It wasn't until I stood before A Starry Night, my breath literally taken away, that it struck me square in the face, that up until that moment, I had not really understood the need for authenticity in the experience of Art.

My collection of books, the slides I had seen in the classroom; the primary sources of my Art History education up to that point, were both totally inadequate for conveying what was felt in the presence of what was intended by the artist -- and of course, that was for the work to be seen in the flesh. The colors were skewed, no strokes were discernable and most importantly, the intimate emotional connection between the hand of the artist and the impact on canvas was absent.

So my forlorn friend at the MoMA stood shell-shocked as she watched the bustling visitors stand in front of the delicate dancing work of Matisse, with their Iphones and various electronic transmission devices; snapping pictures. They were transforming them into multitudes of pixels, through tiny lenses on a pocket-sized screen; again once removed, from the authentic experience of Art, diminishing the experience to Art-lite.

How different was this from looking at the distorted slides of her childhood or the muddy images in my picture books? My friend, like myself, had been educated with the same constraints in the Midwest, until she, ironically, stood in front of Van Gogh’s, The Potato Eaters, at an exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum and said she could feel the truth in the painting. These humble farmers, like the modest farmers, and perhaps at one-time slaves, on her family tree, had brought her to tears.

Why, she lamented, did these visitors not understand where they were, what they were witnessing, how incredibly lucky they were? What did any of this have to do with the transformative power of Art, or why they had come to the Museum in the first place?

Perhaps it was the appeal of sharing with their friends, what they had seen, where they had been -- were these merely stolen souvenirs of a visit, caught while she noted, the guards were distracted, busy texting one another?

What might the Impressionists think of the irony of this instantaneous electronic impression made of their work? Instead of a dream within a dream, like Christopher Nolan suggests in Inception, would these not be an impression within an Impression?

What would Mark Rothko, the brilliant painter who said,

.. The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when painting them. And if you say you are moved only by their color relationships then you miss the point.”

What would he think of his work missing it’s stroke, distorted in color, and diminished in monumental splendor? Surely he would weep -- as we should, when we witness how easy it is to succumb to a fascination with technology and gadgets that interfere with authentic learning, from those who have the most to teach.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Garage Sales, Yard Sales and other roads paved with good intentions

Part One of Two

I have conducted and attended my fair share of Garage Sales in the past 13 years. I happen to live in a town which has a specific Garage Sale season; strict laws, fees, and fines about posting signage for these events, a distinct neighborhood known as the “Estate Section” where the pickings can be plentiful, and a town paper which reminds it’s anxious readers, that the season will soon be upon us. As Oscar remarked so poignantly from his garbage can on Sesame Street, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, now gettouta here.”

These events are particularly attractive to mothers of young children who come to realize that The Cat in the Hat and Goodnight Moon and other essential staples of your child's first library, work just as well in the $1.00 slightly dog-eared, still hardcover garage-sale edition, as in the $15.95 Barnes & Noble version. One weekend I even nabbed three still-best-selling Harry Potter hardcover like-brand-new editions for $1 a piece. Score!

At a tender age, my son when through an unfortunately serious books-that-make-noise phase; letter sounds, animals sounds, character voices, random buzzes and beeps -- and being the attentive mother that I am, I went out and bought at least 25 of these classics at $16.95 a pop. As he pressed the buttons, my heart burst --"Look, he likes to read!"

Three years later when my son realized he could make all of these noises and more himself, they flew off my driveway on the hottest Saturday, in the history of the world --- all 25 in one shot for $25. Books are easily the best and simplest booty from these events, if you are a reader or hoping to grow one.

Then there is the wide wide world of riding toys. I would wager that at any given time, the average child between the ages of 2 and 10 owns at least a dozen. They might begin with a well-intentioned gift of the for-indoor-use-only, wooden-wheeled, faux-fur covered, stuffed and expensive -- from FAO Schwarz* or some upscale toy catalog that seems to get your mailing address out of nowhere -- type; or perhaps the cuddly but itchy polyester, Toys R Us, chain-store version, usually in garish pink or purple and possessing a unfortunate single long horn on it's head. Then there are the made for outdoor, molded hard-rubber, horn-tooting, it's-ok-if-it-rusts, leave-out-in-the-rain-or-sandbox models.

* This is the proper spelling, not FAO Schwartz. As my mother kept reminding me, "Stop making them Jewish!" She being the official arbiter of all things Jewish and not.

I would be remiss if I neglected to include the classic reproduction from a parent's very own childhood including the archetypal little red wagon, those gender-hued tricycles with strands of plastic streamers at the ends of the handle-bars and the little metal thumb-operated bell fastened with two screws that never fit right and was always upside down when you needed it, the iconic Flexible Flyer, the indestructible plastic snow saucer and it's antithesis -- the elegant wooden toboggan with green and white striped L.L. Bean cushions, the miniature two-wheel training bicycles with those wobbly removable wheels that never balanced, the bigger kid two-wheelers with the banana seat and clattering, faded baseball cards attached to the spokes with clothes pins, assorted skateboards, scooters, and the really version big ticket reproductions of various adult leisure and war-time vehicles that had mind-deafening electric motors, which propelled them up to about 2 miles per hour. So much noise, for so little momentum! These too, are often available for the first comers at these events.

When I was a new mother, there was a time when it struck me that my darling husband actually approved of, encouraged and was rather proud of my Garage Sale prowess. I would sit with the town paper on a Friday night, pull out a local map and plan the excursion stop by stop. I would star the ads with the most potential based on some non-scientific formula involving the advertising copy, the address of the sale, and my own non-sensical notion of material deficiencies that week. I would deliberately and carefully plot out the optimal route. There was a very crazy method to my madness.

Getting up early on Saturday mornings, (some place permitted "early birds" as early as 7 a.m.! ) I would buy myself a huge cupacoffee, place my unfolded map and my starred-with-magic-marker newspaper on the front seat next to me and jettison myself into a Garage-Sale-Shopping frenzy!

I got to know, at least by face, a whole stratum of like-minded souls who subsisted on this most competitive of shopping sports. Within three minutes of my arrival, I could size up any sale and even size up my shopping competition for the morning. Sometimes it took only a drive by, I was that good.

I was home by 11 a.m. on most days -- worn out and happy. For the uninitiated or retail-insistent, who deem these events as other-peoples-trash, I say, "Thank You!"

Keep away and leave the goodies to the self-actualized professionals and young mothers in need.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

WHat kind of Jew are you? Part Three of Three

The Psychoanalytic Society in New York City

What kind of Jew are you? Part Three

This is a continuation of two earlier blogs entitled “What kind of Jew are you?” They are reflections of a 6-year period of my life, spent in extra-ordinary company and circumstances. To truly understand Part Three, I ask that you read Parts One and Two first.

Please scroll down as needed. Thank you.

I would like to start, by trying to understand, what does our “Identity” do to us?

So much time is spent in our lives, attaching names to who we are; deciding and selecting from some list that our teachers, our parents, our neighborhood presents us with, as though it contains our only options; as though we are stamped at birth with a checklist of life options for which we are most suited. When we reach middle age, how does one reconcile what might have been or, as assured by our life advisors, what should have been; with what is?

Perhaps our grown-up “Identities” are some kind of created claim we make, to fulfill our needs. Do we seek to create ourselves based on the models we know; by eliminating what we know; or do we choose to become what we are in spite of what we know? I am as confounded by this, as the next person.

Perhaps we have a need to conform to a set of values that are attached to a particular identity. Perhaps we are always in a process of assimilating because we desire to belong, to wherever life takes us. Or is it our survival instinct that makes us sculpt a particular reflection of ourselves?

Group of Marxists

When asked, as we are throughout our lives, and most particularly as a child in a classroom – please tell us who you are in three words? What words did you use? Did the order of the words matter, were you told that they did, and have those three little words remained the same? Mine certainly have not. Mother has come first since 1995.

Many years ago, a friend who was born and raised in South Korea, told me a story about she and her mother. She first asked, if I knew how to tell if a native-born Korean had been born before 1964. I had absolutely no idea.

In Korea, she told me, in a celebration after a child was born; the mother was given a very special garment to wear, often passed on from one generation to the next. I would describe it as a two-sided apron with a bib top –-but it had a long ornately decorated flap in front and in the back.

Until your child could walk, the idea was for the mother to use the back flap of this garment like a papoose and tie the baby up in it, with the baby’s legs wrapped around the mother’s hips; and securing it by knotting the ends of the back flap over her breasts. Unfortunately, this tradition actually created many bowl-legged Koreans, until it was officially banned by the government in 1964.

Fast-forward 25 years and my friend is pregnant with her first child and living in New York City. What do you think her mother sent her from Korea?

She was apoplectic. Making light of it, I asked her if she was sure her mother wasn’t Jewish. She laughed and told me that one of the best selling books in South Korea for the past two years, was The Torah. I shook my head in disbelief. “Why?” I asked.

She told me that Jews fascinated South Koreans; they were intrigued that such a tiny group of people had and continue to have, such an amazing impact on the world stage. They believed The Torah must possess great wisdom.

So back in this space, in this brief moment in 1996 in a penthouse surrounded by this brightest galaxy of Jewish over-achievers, I had to consider my own identity. How was I truly a part of this most distinguished crowd? What was I doing here? How did being a Jew really matter or not?

Since that time in my life, I have read and reread Torah and have taken it upon myself to learn enough to try to answer with learned thought, with graceful words, and without hesitation, Frederic’s question, “What kind of Jew are you?”

But in the final analysis, as we all bid our farewells to the first decade of this glorious new millennium, I keep coming back to considering what kind of person I am. That is, for me, the critical question.

Whether we chose to follow one religion or another, I’m just not sure it makes a difference, if you’ve been asking yourself the right questions all along. If you have truly been examining your life. And if there is a God up there, somewhere in heaven, don’t you think he would not be so shallow as to offer, just one road to his carnival?

All photographs (C) Frederic Brenner

Monday, July 12, 2010

I know why the caged bird sings....

I know why the caged bird sings....
at Lord & Taylor

with apologies to the wonderful Maya Angelou

When my dear wacky grandmother, Nana Sophie, turned 75 and I was a young 13, she had the misfortune of slipping in the bathtub and breaking her hip. As a result of this accident, she was in a cast from waist to knee for several months recovering. Sophie was quite the baleboosteh*, robust both in personality and appearance, if you know what I mean, not that this would not have been a hardship for any 75 year old, but just made it, particularly difficult for her.
*from: Yiddish for
(ba-leh-BOOST-eh) n. A Super-woman, a.k.a.- One Tough cookie
Because the poor thing had this plaster mold affixed to her side for months, she sort of lost her appetite and slimmed down rather dramatically. To celebrate the cast removal and Sophie’s liberation, my mother suggested that she and I take her to lunch at her favorite restaurant, The Birdcage, at the lovely Lord & Taylor in Millburn.
The Birdcage was a true treasure. It was created for and thrived in its heyday, as a ladies-only dining establishment serving only lunch and afternoon tea. The individual tables were artfully designed to wrap around a slim solitary diner, so customers taking a break from their arduous shopping, need not feel awkward dining alone. These tables were also placed in clusters around the light-filled airy room, so mothers and daughters could talk and lunch together. The floor to ceiling window-fronted space was filled with enormously ornate floral arrangements and tall golden filigree birdcages and they served the most beautifully prepared salads with delicate finger sandwiches perched artfully on the side of the bowl. Made of cucumber and butter and another made with salmon and just a bit of crème fraiche, with the crusts removed of course, they were a little girl’s fantasy of sophisticated dining for the gentler sex.
I was so excited about taking my Grandmother out to this wonderful place, our favorite place, on her very first excursion following her accident.
My Grandmother lived, as did many other widowed Jewish Grandmothers, on South Munn Avenue in East Orange, New Jersey. Her neighbor was the mother of William Shatner, who my Grandmother had never heard of, and when she kept complaining to us about the “lady who keeps bragging about her son in Hollywood, Captain Kirk,” and how she had no idea who the hell this woman was talking about, my sister and I would run and hide and then shriek with laughter.
This part of South Munn was a repository of elderly ladies living alone in lovely brick and stone mid-rise apartment buildings, which lined both sides of the avenue. All had grand entrances with long canopies and tall neatly trimmed hedges extending the length of the walkway to the street, from the front doors.
On this particular day, we pulled up to the front of her building, right between the tall hedges. My Grandmother was waiting just inside the double glass front doors, with her ever-present pocketbook hanging from her metal walker. You could tell how happy she was to see us. I was sitting in the back seat of the car by the window, watching as she pushed opened one of the doors, holding on to the walker with the other hand for balance, and stepped down onto the sidewalk, ready to traverse the steps to her awaiting chariot. As she stepped down, her underpants slid down to her ankles. (I did say she had slimmed down.) Time stopped, took my breath away and with my eyes and mouth wide open, I wondered, what was poor Nana Sophie going to do?
Once both her feet were firmly planted on the ground, she gracefully bent down, stepped out of her underpants, one delicate foot at a time, straightened herself back up, unfastened the massive clip on her pocketbook, dropped said drawers right inside, and snapped her bag shut, ever the lady.
When she finally looked up at us, I could see the tears in her eyes from laughing. I could not believe it and became completely hysterical. My mother, who had witnessed the whole thing from the front seat, burst out laughing as well as my Grandmother began to inch her way step by step to the car, gripping her walker with the pocketbook dangling, her head held high with great dignity, and with tears of laughter streaming down her happy face.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Cups runneth over

My Cups runneth over

I have been blessed with what one would call an ample bosom; that is if you were born before 1935. Current vernacular might be nice tits, a great rack, some nice peaches, the girls, more than a handful, some set of headlights, etc. and they have been called all of these things and more on more than one occasion by both acquaintances and strangers. For those of you so endowed, you know exactly what I’m talking about and don’t get all-prissy on me --- and for those of you not possessing this particular bounty, I’m sure you are a lovely person.

When my son was about six years old, I participated in down-the-shore day-trips with friends and their children. Wanting to share my own experience of Jersey beach life with my child, I retraced my footsteps and frequented what used to be called Phillips Avenue Beach in the quite lovely and fancy Deal, New Jersey. This is the only public beach in Deal and is nestled between two very expensive private beach clubs with their own tennis courts, pool, a huge playground, wait staff in uniforms and spacious ocean-view cabanas with their own puffy beach chaises – what a great word!

Our beach, Phillips Avenue Beach, had no chaises, but they did have lifeguards, swings and see-saws for the kids, a covered area for dining, clean bathrooms and private closet-sized cabanas you could rent for the day that included private shower privileges; all essential amenities when traveling with small children.

We would rent one cabana, pay our entrance fees and spend the day on the beach on our own portable beach chairs. Phillips Avenue also had an excellent grill. They cooked up terrific burgers, dogs and fries as well as grilled chicken sandwiches on pita for the Mommies. They had ice pops and ice cream bars and ice cream sandwiches as well as wonderful homemade ice tea and lemonade.

What a pleasure to just pack beach toys, chairs and towels and head out, down the Garden State Parkway in the traffic-free middle of the week. We would play in the surf, build castles with natural moats, have a leisurely lunch; shower and head home in time to rinse out the suits, throw the towels in the machine and prep dinner. It was relatively stress-free day tripping.

On one such trippy occasion, I was in the shower after a long day, peeling off my sandy suit when I overheard a conversation between two boys.

“Wow. Check these out!”

“Oh, those are nice ones.”

Much more was said, but frankly as I’m typing this I’m getting embarrassed, because at some point, I figured out they were talking about me. I soon located the point of origin of my Porkys moment and was about to poke a young eye out through the discrete knothole in the wood; but my admirers apparently figured out, that I had noticed them as well.

“Geez. I think she spotted us.”

“We better get outta here.“

Who doesn’t love a good boob story?

Recently I spent 45 minutes in a 7th grade classroom watching a young lady playing with her own girls. I was mesmerized by her technique. She did a rather extended lifting each of individually one at a time by the bra strap, snapping said strap and doing a quick release; a sneaky from-the-bottom-double-lift-off and release; and a quirky smush together for enhanced visible cleavage two-fisted maneuver with an admiring glance down at the results. It was like an Olympic Event. I watched in fascination, slack-jawed, as she did this for the entire 45 minutes of class time, rather than actually put any effort into the test, sitting on the desk before her.

This got my mind a wandering, which is pretty typical for me. Is the emergence of breasts on a young woman comparable and as fascinating to her -- as a young man’s discovering the toy he keeps in his pants?

It is too many years since the budding of my own bosom and I only remember that the very first time I wore a bra, it was to the Barnum and Bailey Circus (how fitting), with my whole family. I remember that the Circus smelled really awful, and at some point, the bra crept up around my neck, poked through the round collar of my red bandana print blouse, and left my tiny new buds behind. So for those of you who are new to wonderful world of breasts, whether natural or artificial, would you mind weighing in here and reminding us – newly minted, are they indeed your very own wonderful playthings?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What kind of Jew are you? Part Two of Three

Please read Part One first.

1996: Back at the party in the Penthouse….

This daylong celebration for Frederic Brenner’s first American book was due to the largesse, a $350,000 gift, of a very successful woman on Wall Street -- a non-Jew, who was so moved by the work of this extraordinary man, that she wanted his vision of what the celebration should be, to be brought to fruition.

How does one choose to create an event for guests who included a sitting member of the Supreme Court, the honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg; the author of Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and Pulitzer Prize winning -- Arthur Miller; the star of Casablanca and one time wife to Humphrey Bogart -- Lauren Bacall -- and sexologist Dr. Ruth and Olympian Mark Spitz? This, my friends, was a once in a lifetime question!

Thus, the $350,000 was easily spent.

But the truly extraordinary treasure of the evening was a very special little book in a leather slipcase; a small intimate reflection --- not available to the public. This was the gift that Lauren Bacall was so graciously thanking Frederic for in fluent French, as I stood nearby listening in; a very limited edition (only 180) of each icon’s portrait individually printed and fastened into a leather bound book with less than 100 pages entitled Icons. A vellum overlay preceded each portrait and contained the sitters’ response to “What are your hopes as a Jew for America, as we enter the new Millennium?”

Frederic had asked only this as acknowledgement from this extraordinary group; these incredible individuals who had been responsible for redefining their worlds. Many chose to respond, but for some it was too late: in the time between photograph and publication, they had passed away. This included Director Billy Wilder, Physician and Scientist Dr. Jonas Salk, Comedian George Burns, Art Historian Meyer Shapiro, and Cosmetics Entrepreneur Elizabeth Arden.

Most chose to hand write their response, some chose to type; others, like Alan Ginsberg, Saul Steinberg and Richard Avedon, chose to respond with illustrations and Phillip Glass submitted 8 elegantly hand-scribed bars of music. Henry Kissinger provided only his autograph.

It was fascinating to read the unedited, private thoughts of these very accomplished and eminent Americans; these individuals who normally don’t reveal themselves without a publicist or editor’s intervention.

These do not belong to me and it is not my intention to usurp any publishing rights, but I include just a sprinkling of my favorites and hope that someday this singular collection will be shared with the audience it deserves.

I hope for a time in which all of us ask courageous questions; are not satisfied with superficial answers; are open to wonder and at the same time subject all claims to knowledge, without exception, to intense skeptical scrutiny; are aware of human fallibility, and cherish our species and our planet. -- Carl Sagan

As a Jew in America, my hope is that before too very long the question of one’s faith will become a private matter, and that all Americans will be seen and treated as equals not only in the eyes of the laws, but in the eyes of their fellow citizens. -- Arthur Ochs Sulzberger

To look back often is a blessing. It gives us tolerance to leap ahead. -- Steven Spielberg

I don’t have hopes “as a Jew” for America. I hope that America doesn’t become the stupidest country on earth. -- Phillip Roth

My hope is that in the year 2999, another American Jew would be asked the question about his hopes for America as we enter the new millennium. -- Itzhak Perlman

My hope is for all children -- that they may inherit a country and a world that turns its attention from meeting the challenges posed by enemies beyond their borders to the challenges that face us from within. I refer mainly to the challenges of education and adequate health care. Without them; the foundations of our society will begin to crumble; will not be able to compete, and our children will begin to lose hope. But with them, the new millennium can offer unparalleled security and opportunity. -- Michael Milken

Yes, that Michael Milken. And I close my selection with a Nobel Laureate --

My hope for America is that, in the next century, it will justify our faith in the nobility of man. Elie Wiesel

I haven’t even mentioned Walter Annenberg, Kirk Douglas, or Dr. Milton Friedman, all luminaries, all with deep and thoughtful responses -- or the other party attendees who were, like myself; contributors on the sidelines to this wondrous occasion.

I have only now, all these years later, just begun to reflect upon these hopes, these visions of a future, and this singular moment, in a pre 9/11 New York City on a beautiful Autumn evening. How could this experience not color my hopes, as a Jew, as a human being, for America, as we entered the new millennium?

What does our Identity do to us?

What kind of Jew are you?

Part Two of Three