How a Nice Jewish Girl Got a Job as a Copy Boy

Copy Boy 2Following my sophomore year of college, when I finally turned 18, I was able to get a summer job that was better than the summer’s previous crappy cashier job where I was selling one hundred condoms to men for 99 cents.

My dad was able to get me a job as a “copy boy” at NBC News where he worked in the accounting department. Each summer, the news department needed fill-in help for regular staff members who were taking summer vacation and the copy boy role was only given to relatives of NBC employees. It was then that I added another fancy new word to my vocabulary that was even better than fondue or fuchsia; nepotism. Another great thing about this job was that it paid $6.50 an hour which was double minimum wage at the time, which made the revelation that I no longer had to sell condoms by the bushel all the more exciting.

Prior to the introduction of computers into the news room, there were teleprinter machines which were electromechanical typewriters that were used to send news stories from wire services like Associated Press directly to the newsroom. Dozens of these machines were housed in a special room, and the job of the copy boy was to regularly tear the print copy off the machines and distribute them in the mailboxes for assignment editors, producers, directors and news anchors. If a series of bells went off on the machines, it meant there was a breaking story, and you had to hand-deliver the wire copy directly to each person’s desk which required waiter-like grace and precision since it was easy to trip over the long layers of paper as you moved swiftly across the newsroom.

I learned quickly that news veterans, generally older men who lived on cigarettes, take-out food, and whiskey, preferred the female copy boys to the male ones and were prone to comment on the swiftness of your delivery  and how your ass looked as you whizzed away to the next recipient. While I’d learned what nepotism meant, the term sexual harassment was still years away, and so I did what most women in the 80’s did under these circumstances which was nothing.

Perhaps the job task that required the most trouble shooting was the paper jam. If you spotted a jammed machine (which occurred like every 30 minutes) you had to fix the jam as quickly as possible so no key news stories would be lost. Paper jams always resulted in mangled copy that was illegible and you had to decide which person in the newsroom would get the crappy copy. Bad copy generally went to the person who appeared to be the most junior staff member, the person who was least likely to yell at you, and in many cases simply the person you deemed the biggest asshole in the newsroom.

The newsroom was filled with all sorts of the latest technology, namely the fax machine. In 1982, this was cutting edge stuff and one copy boy each day had to fax important multi-page news reports to all of the bureaus; a task that ONLY took an hour and a half to complete. Amazing!

Each day, one of the evening copy boys was designated as Nightly News runner. This person had to take the scripts that were written for the anchor of NBC Nightly News and run them to the studio. This job was generally reserved for the boys, but I was designated as runner at one point and got to keep this role for several months. Running the scripts entailed taking scripts that were typed on color coded sheets with carbon paper inserted in between each sheet to generate the desired number of copies (note to readers born after 1990: carbon paper is nothing like mimeograph paper! If you try to smell carbon paper you will streak your forehead and people will be asking you if today is Ash Wednesday.)

With scripts in hand, the runner had to run from the fifth floor newsroom to the third floor studio. A special elevator was reserved for the copy boy with a special elevator operator just for this job alone. Once you got to the third floor you were immediately greeted by the janitor who was waxing the floors that led to the studio, making the task all the more treacherous. Upon arrival in the studio you had to distribute scripts to directors, producers and lastly to anchor Tom Brokaw and get your ass out of there before the show went live. If breaking news occurred during the broadcast, you had to repeat the task of running from floor five to floor three using the special elevator,  maintain your balance on freshly waxed floors and then wait for the cameraman to signal it was ok for you to give the anchor the next round of scripts. My last day on the job, I was a runner and I had to bring new scripts down during the show. After I placed Tom Brokaw’s revised script on his desk, I spun around to quickly leave before he was back on camera and created a gust of wind that blew his script off the desk. I heard him yell, “hey!” but it was too late to return and I kept on running.

There was a great deal of down time in this job since many times you were simply waiting around for the realms of news copy  to touch the floor and be ready to be ripped. There were lots of copy boys and almost all of the summer help were kids between 18 and 22, so the wire room looked more like the lounge of a college dorm than a place of business. By the end of my time there I ended up with new friends and two boyfriends, which basically represents one-third of all my boyfriends ever.

The people who worked as copy boys full-time were an interesting cast of characters. One was rumored to be a pimp because he would receive an endless stream of calls from women with names like Candy and Cookie throughout the day (note to readers born after 1990: there were no cell phones then, so we knew everyone’s business). There was a guy who managed all the copy boys who would interview people for positions and scribble important notes on their resumes like “blonde” and “nice legs.” There was another man who worked the midnight to 7 am shift who some said lived in his car. There was a man who always seemed to be going to the supply room for more post-its, which is where we learned he kept a bottle of gin.

But despite all the oddities of the job, it was in some ways the most important job I ever had. It was my first corporate job and it forced me to come to terms with my extreme shyness and interact with adults regularly on a professional level. I got to be in a newsroom during some pretty big moments in history and meet news icons like John Chancellor and Tom Brokaw. I kept this job each winter and summer vacation and then got hired full-time when I graduated from college. But just six months later, the newsroom was automated and everyone  got a computer on their desk, virtually eliminating the need for copy boys. There’s no longer a need to rip wire copy, create multiple scripts with carbon paper, run scripts to a studio or have a special elevator operator on standby. The only guy left is the janitor, still waxing those floors and I certainly wish him well.

*Photo credit

Music for Coming of Age and Music That Reminds Me I’ve Aged

recordI’ve always loved music and I spent a good amount of time as a kid listening to records on the phonograph in my room. (Note to readers born after 1990; this was the equivalent of your iPod, but we shuffled songs by carelessly moving a  needle past the songs we didn’t like, usually scratching and ruining the record in the process).

My brother loved music too and he invented what he called bouncing, an activity I quickly copied, which involves sitting on the floor or in a chair and rocking back and forth fervently while singing to the music. As he grew, his bouncing activities were partially responsible for the furniture problems we experienced in the 70’s, because as his legs got longer, each bounce resulted in the  pounding of his feet on the carpet, which eventually wore it out. There was no way I could ever be blamed for this since my feet still don’t touch the ground when I am seated in most chairs. Years later I replaced bouncing with running, but those close to me know that I still bounce from time to time, particularly during snowstorms or other occasions when I am cooped up in the house for long periods of time.

There are so many artists and albums that have been part of my youth and early adulthood, but a few in particular stand out.

  1. Burl Ives – Big Rock Candy Mountain. This is my earliest memory of listening to music. I loved Burl Ives’ voice and he reminded me of Santa Claus, another person I admired until I was five and was forced to celebrate Hanukkah.
  2. Dr. Funhouse. This was a six-album collection of children’s classics and some new tunes as well. I could spend hours alone in my room listening to these records, only emerging for food, water and an occasional bathroom break. It’s funny to think how non-portable music was back then and what lengths I would go to in order to listen to my favorite songs over and over again.
  3. Alvin and the Chipmunks. I was mezmerized by the high-pitched voices of these talented cartoon characters until I realized I could make any artist sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks simply by placing a 33 1/3 LP on speed 78. (Note to those same readers born after 1990…oh never mind, I have no modern day equivalent to describe this).
  4. Up to Date – The Partridge Family. This was an exciting release because the album cover showed the birthdays of each  Partridge. This was considered exceptionally proprietary information back then. Fast forward to 2014 and I can view Danny Bonaduce’s Facebook page, complete with his full birthday and a link to his wikipedia page with a synopsis of his dysfunctional family and upbringing in excruciating detail.
  5. Love Will Keep Us Together – Captain & Tennille. I still can’t get this song out of my head or come to terms with the fact that love kept them together for 40 years and then the shit hit the fan. Read more about that here.
  6. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John. I remember singing Bennie and the Jets and All the Young Girls Love Alice while my mother vacuumed the house. I’m still not sure if she chose to ignore the lyrics her ten-year old was singing or she just couldn’t hear them over the vacuum cleaner.
  7.  Captain Fantastic – Elton John. I waited weeks for the release, purchased the album from Alexander’s department store for $3.99, cherished the album cover and liner notes and managed to choreograph the Hustle to Gotta Get a Meal Ticket from side two of the album.
  8. Rock of the Westies – Worst Elton John album ever. Plus, I owned it on an 8-track tape, and well, we all know what happened to that. The album forced me to move on to new artists.
  9. The Stranger – Billy Joel. I converted kicking and screaming, but in the mid-70’s  Billy Joel became Elton John’s temporary replacement. I eventually found my way back to Elton, which is a good thing since he manages to show up for concerts with much greater regularity than Billy Joel.
  10. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass – Greatest Hits. My dad played this instrumental album often and the songs always make me smile.
  11. Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits. When my dad first brought this album home, he said mom would love it. She listened to it once and said, “I hate it.” Dad said, “Give it time.” He was right. She has been a Neil Diamond groupie for close to four decades.
  12. A Night at the Opera – Queen. Bohemian Rhapsody still blows me away and I still have no clue what it is about.
  13. Saturday Night Fever – The Bee Gees. Oh please…you listened to it too.
  14. Fragile – Yes. Brings back fond memories of listening to my tone deaf brother Jeffrey trying to sing the tunes with a pseudo British accent.
  15. Best of Emerson Lake & Palmer. See number 14.
  16. Seconds Out-Genesis. For me, my high school anthem. Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Rush (especially Rush) be damned.
  17. Duke-Genesis. This album was a huge departure for Genesis and a foray into pop. It sucked, but the summer of 80 when it came out rocked so I have to keep it on the list.
  18. The River-Bruce Springsteen. I’m not a huge Springsteen fan, but to reveal this publicly at my large state college in upstate New York with thousands of drunken fans sucking down chicken wings and “pop” would have resulted in an early death, so I went along with the ruse for four years (sorry guys).
  19. Tainted Love-Soft Cell. This one only has relevance to a certain someone who left me stranded in a club at 288 Lark Street in Albany 30 years ago; but of course I’m not bitter.
  20. Speaking in Tongues-Talking Heads. This was my favorite album in 1984 and a great part of my life my senior year of college when for just a few minutes we could stop listening to Bruce Springsteen.
  21. Soundtrack to Dirty Dancing. I found this on a first date in the CD collection of the person who later fathered my children; getting rid of it was a requirement for a second date.
  22. Diva- Annie Lenox-. Walking on Broken Glass was playing on the radio the day I brought my daughter home from the hospital. Reminded me of what a fragile little package I was holding.
  23. Blame it on the Rain-Milli Vanilli. Ok so the lip-synching thing wasn’t a shock, but it did change the way people thought about music, no?
  24. Jagged Little Pill-Alanis Morissette. This is the uber-rock anthem for pissed off women.
  25. So Called Chaos. This was the album Alanis made when she calmed down and stopped being so pissed off. She later went on to release Flavors of Entanglement, an album she created when she was in a “happy place.” Personally, I like pissed-off Alanis better.

What albums, CDs or iTunes define your life?


How We Got HGTV in our Home Before There Was Even Cable

6th grade graduation dressWhen my brothers and I were growing up, my mother subscribed to all the architecture and design magazines of the day such as House Beautiful and Architectural Digest. Since we lived in a rental apartment, there was little room for architectural anything…we weren’t getting a fourth bedroom or granite counters in the bathroom. We had standard issue appliances and fixtures like the 1950’s wall oven that forced you to stick your head in it to light it and geometric floor tiles in pink and yellow with matching tubs in the bathrooms. Floors were concrete and required heavy carpeting and we had a galley sized kitchen that could barely fit two small children standing back to back. Nothing would ever be renovated…ever…because we didn’t own the space.

Despite this, mom poured over these magazines, dreaming of a kitchen big enough for an eat-in table with a window overlooking the porch we didn’t have or the walk-in closet designed to accommodate the shoe collection she housed at the top of her closet that toppled on her head every time she needed a pair of shoes to match the bag she was wearing.

Since mom couldn’t renovate the apartment, she did what she decided was the next best thing; fill it up with new furniture. Part of this was out of necessity. Once the plastic slipcovers came off the furniture, around 1973, all of our furniture seemed to implode. The club chairs frayed and the carpet wore thin. Our living room furniture began to look like we owned dozens of cats that were never declawed, but the reality was all this damage occurred from the general wear and tear of a family of five.

Mom’s first attempt to decorate on a budget came when she decided to reupholster the existing chairs and couch. She traded in the dark blue fabric for light blue and fuschia, a word that was just as new and fancy to me at that time as fondue. Within six months of use, the fuschia chairs had a thick coat of dirt on them that mom quickly and accurately attributed to dad’s pack-a-day habit. Once I saw the damage the cigarette smoke had caused to the chairs I began to realize that the damage to dad’s lungs was probably even worse. Following fuschia-gate, mom went back to blue furniture for a few years and moved on to decorate other parts of the house.

When I was younger, my bedroom furniture consisted of stuff that belonged in other rooms, but didn’t fit in any of them, so all the misfit furniture ended up in my room. The room contained an interesting assortment of things including a low coffee table with an enormous lamp, a boy’s dresser, a television that only worked if you wrapped the antennae around your neck, and a rotisserie, a huge contraption that was pulled out once a year on Thanksgiving. When I entered middle school, mom decided it was time for me to have a proper bedroom and she set out to make the room look just like something out of House Beautiful. She selected French style white furniture and even purchased a second bed, which was odd because she was the mom who hated sleepovers unless they were at someone else’s house, in which case they were perfectly fine. She bought bedspreads that were so heavy that the only way to make the bed was to pick up as much of the bedspread as you could, hurl yourself on the bed and hope for the best. If I’d had this level of sports training during my days of punch ball and baseball I surely would have been the best player in all of Queens.

While mom may have had some decorating skills, she was lacking in measurement skills. She bought so much furniture for my room that I could only open the top three drawers of my six-drawer lingerie chest because the bottom three were jammed in so close to the bed that you couldn’t even open it wide enough to put a sock in there.

Once my brothers finished college, mom set out on another decorating project and redid their shared bedroom before the ink had even dried on their diplomas. She turned this room into a den, complete with the classic leather couch and humongous book case. She thought she was being practical by buying a couch that folded out into a bed, should one of her sons ever come to visit. But she placed a huge coffee table in front of the couch that was so heavy that splurging on a hotel was much cheaper than the investment you would have to make in the back surgery required after lifting and moving the table so you could open the bed.

After I left home for good, mom turned my room into a guest room/music room. She sold the baby grand piano that once stood in the living room (to make room for other furniture) and she bought an upright piano for my bedroom. Now the piano has been replaced with a desk and computer where my mother constantly makes phone calls to Dell’s help desk in New Delhi and I can routinely hear her utter the same curse words I once heard watching her bake her famous but impossible to make, apricot cookies.

Furniture has come and gone in the apartment my mother has rented for over 50 years, but some things have stayed the same. She has never redecorated her bedroom. She has the same furniture my grandparents gave my parents as a wedding gift. And of course the oven that everyone assumed would finally give out sometime in the 80’s is still working, so the building’s management company won’t give her a new one. And those yellow and pink bathrooms have been out of style for so long that I’m predicting that people will be crazy enough to call this stuff vintage in a few years and pay top dollar for it.


Fifth Grade and the Changing of the Guards

5th grade tomboyIn fifth grade I shed my Danskin leisure suits in favor of jeans, chopped off my two big ponytails opting for a small Jewfro and went into full tomboy mode.

My fifth grade teacher also had short hair, albeit much better coiffed than mine. We would watch in amazement as she brushed her hair during group activities.  What inspired such awe was the fact that she brushed her hair from the bottom up. Who knew this was even possible? (Well, actually for me it was not possible because the brush would have become lodged in my hair and required removal by a surgeon or at least someone who knew how to operate heavy machinery.)

During her lunch break, our teacher frequented Loehmann’s department store which was just a hop, skip and a jump away across the Horace Harding Expressway overpass. The wind on the overpass was so strong from all the traffic, even during the warmer months, that our teacher needed a good upside down hair brushing upon her return. She was certainly my best dressed teacher in her marked-down Channel pantsuits, but I can’t help but believe that her couture wardrobe was lost on a bunch of fifth graders who were at least five years away from their first pair of Calvin Klein jeans or Christian Dior handbags.

In addition to her “out there” fashion sense, our teacher was into experimental teaching methods. She once had us do an exercise where we selected a partner and had to pretend one of us was a mirror, mimicking the others’ movements. In hindsight, I think this may have been an exercise to help us become better listeners or better interpret visual cues, but at the time, we assumed this was just something for us to do while she brushed her hair. She had us do this in the hallway, much to the enjoyment and heckling of classmates from other rooms on their way to the bathroom. On another occasion, the principal walked down the hallway as we were working on our “assignments.” She shook her head, turned around and we didn’t see her again until June.

Despite her slight bending of the standard fifth grade curriculum, our teacher did let us do many of the other things the fifth grade classes did such as put on a school play. We performed Tom Sawyer and much to my delight I was cast as Tom rather than Becky, a testament to my new tomboy look or perhaps my less than pretty face.

Fifth grade was probably the year I demonstrated the most athletic prowess. I was a huge basketball fan and Gaby and I challenged two fifth grade boys to a game. We actually won which was pretty amazing considering I was the shortest girl in the class, validated each year when we had to line up in the school yard in size order and by my never changing positioning at the far right in every single freaking class picture.

While I loved basketball, punch ball was generally the game of choice during this time. Amy usually went first, followed by Gaby, Laurie or Jackie. Cha-Cha was in charge of getting the bases loaded. She had this fancy way of bouncing the ball, taking a dainty ballerina leap back and then wham. I was honored to often hit fourth, in clean up position and I usually didn’t disappoint my fellow teammates. Later when we moved on to softball, I often held the same position in the lineup, but once I hit the ball, I often flung the bat, rather than setting it down, once right into Amy’s stomach, knocking the wind out of her. After that, kids climbed up the fence when I was at bat, just to get away from me and protect their vital organs and lady parts.

Although I strove for the tomboy look, my body was beginning to change in ways that I could not come to terms with and never seemed capable of discussing with my mother. Another girl in the class had recently acquired a training bra and me and a few of my flat-chested friends teased her mercilessly about it. The joke was on me because I was perhaps the only girl in fifth grade who actually needed a training bra, but held out until mom basically told me my boobs didn’t need any training and I was ready for the real deal.

While I clung to the tomboy look, I started to admit to myself that I liked boys. Laurie and Gaby had boyfriends (that I secretly had crushes on) that were moving at the end of the school year and they arranged a party for them that was part farewell and part hook up. Feeling sorry for me, they arranged for someone for me to hang out with; a boy with hair as red as mine and boobs that were about the same size. I was terrified and I went to school that last day of fifth grade fearful of accepting my fate but equally fearful of looking like I had looked a gift horse in the mouth. The last day of school was marked by an awards ceremony. The red-headed boob man was to receive an award for perfect attendance that day. But to my surprise and utter relief, he was absent! I went to the party stag and mostly hung out with my fellow classmate Stephen (formerly number nine) listening to William DeVaughn’s ‘s 1974 hit “Be Thankful for What You Got” and feeling just that way.

Popular Shoes in the 70’s That We Can’t Seem to Let Go Of

jelly sandalThe 70’s was a decade with its own set of fads and shoes were no exception. Some have come, some have gone and some we can’t seem to get rid of even though every shred of logical thinking says we should. Here are some of my favorite shoe memories of the 70’s.

  1. Earth shoes. This was a shoe that turned the whole footware industry upside down by creating a counter-intuitive design with a sole that was higher than the heel. Walking in these things was freaky, immediately made you lose your balance and quite possibly was the inspiration behind Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk the following decade. Oh and did I mention these shoes were ugly as hell? I had to rally hard for a pair of these clown shoes and I still remember mom’s protests over this purchase. As the daughter of a traveling shoe salesman who owned dozens of shoes by the time she was 16, mom had to swallow hard and beg forgiveness from the illustrious shoe gods before purchasing these ugly suckers for me.
  2. Rubber rain and snow boots. These boots were made of a thin rubber that protected you against neither rain nor snow. But they gave the illusion that your mother was dressing you in weather appropriate outerwear. Girls had red boots, boys had black. Those were the only two colors available as far as I can recall. In recent years, these boots have made an unprecedented comeback with new colors and patterns that us red-booted girls could never have imagined in 1971. Unfortunately, somewhere in between my 8th and 35th birthdays I developed a wicked allergy to rubber and being within ten feet of rubber rain boots makes me want to pass out.
  3. Buffalo Sandals. These sandals with their thick straps and wedged high heel became popular around 1975 when I was old enough to balance in heels, yet too clueless to realize just how ugly these sandals were. They weren’t called buffalo sandals for nothing.
  4. Candies. Previously discussed here and here, these high heeled clogs were a recipe for disaster, but they did afford young women a break from Instant Pants and a foray into purchasing pants that didn’t require a ten inch hem.
  5. Jelly Sandals. Mom would never let us run barefoot in the sprinklers for fear we would contract some virus or step on a piece of gum or glass. However she had no compunction about putting our tender young feet in a sandal made out of hard plastic that routinely drew blood from your skin. Last I checked, these evil shoes were still popular. I actually purchased a pair for my daughter when she was 18 months old. I assumed it was a right of passage.
  6. Converse Sneakers. The period name for these shoes was Keds or Pro Keds because pro basketball players wore them. It’s not like they had a choice. This was the only sneaker available on the market at the time. Running on two pieces of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum would have provided just as adequate foot support. Yet these sneakers made a huge comback about ten years ago at a price point that is easily $40 higher. Now they are considered trendy retro as opposed to the truth; really cheap shoes.
  7. Clogs. Ok, these are shoes that should never go away. My affinity with clogs has already been documented here and I continue to appreciate them as I grow older and it becomes harder to bend down to put on or tie my shoes.
  8. Mary Janes. These were a staple of every young girl’s wardrobe in the 70’s and I looked forward to the annual dose of radiation doled out at the Buster Brown foot X-ray machine that was the prerequisite to purchasing a new pair each year. In the 70’s, Mary Janes were hardcore with a strap and teeny tiny hole to fasten them; none of this lame velcro shit.
  9. Lil Abners. These were a lace up boot that many of my classmates owned. There was no way in hell I was getting a pair of these after I’d made the earth shoe purchase. In retrospect I should have held out for the Lil Abners. They were much cooler and didn’t upset your equilibrium or mess with your Feng Shui.
  10. Flip Flops. After our mothers had inflicted enough pain on us via the jelly sandals, many of us graduated to flip flops as the beach footware of choice. I could never get the hang of these things. I always seemed to be flipping when I should be flopping and after getting lost from my camp group on numerous occasions due to my uncoordinated flip flopping, I was forced to purchase the less trendy slide sandals that only 70 year old Russian immigrants were wearing (with socks). I was chided by my peers and ashamed of my inability to find the ying and the yang within my inner flip and flop. Defeated (pun intended) I abandoned these shoes until the late 80’s when mind over matter triumphed and I retrained my brain and coordinated my steps to make walking in these things possible.

A Room With a View

family terraceWhen I was a kid, the terrace was the best part of my house.  Living in an apartment building, there was no sprawling yard to run and play in, no deck or above ground pool, no barbeque  for grilling burgers and corn. But there was a terrace, and for me, spending the summer months out here was the equivalent of  a month on a beach with crystal blue water.

Part of the appeal of the terrace was the fact that the terrace was outside, yet still inside the apartment. You could bask in the sunshine but be just steps away from the phone, the fridge, the television and the bathroom. It had all the comforts of home without actually being in the house.

When we were young, we had a chaise lounge and a glider on our terrace. The furniture was a hideous plastic with an oh so 70’s floral print, but it didn’t have the same skin ripping effect as the furniture inside with the unforgiving plastic slipcovers. The glider swayed back and forth like a swing and my brother Jeffrey and I would sit on the terrace for hours singing and gliding. Mom always got the chaise lounge where she could lie down; at the time I didn’t realize why a woman with three young children would enjoy the opportunity to rest. Silly me.

My father, hardly a man one would call an “outdoorsman,” also sat on the terrace frequently. Part of this was due to the fact that after he had smoked his daily pack of cigarettes, he enjoyed a cigar, a privilege that mom would only allow him to partake in on the terrace.  We would sit on the glider together and I would watch and count the cars going down 99th street and the number of planes that incessantly flew over our apartment building on their way to the airport. I would stare at the Archie Bunker houses across the street wondering who lived in them and fantasizing about what it was like to live in a house (to this day I still don’t know). Sometimes we talked; often we were silent and just enjoyed the scenery. It was here on the terrace that I learned how to just enjoy the moment and that silence doesn’t have to be awkward (well, unless it’s in an elevator).

On the Fourth of July, we could sit on the terrace and see a spectacular unobstructed fireworks show from nearby Flushing Meadow Park. In 1977 when the infrastructure of New York City sucked and there was a blackout,  I sat on the terrace taking in the darkness and wondering if there would be vast reports of looting and what Son of Sam’s plans were for the evening.

The terrace was also a place for “me time.” It provided the closest thing I had to a garden. I planted corn and tomatoes and while I got a few tiny green or mealy tomatoes and a huge stalk with no corn, I still felt a sense of accomplishment for my efforts. It was a great place to blow bubbles and I replenished my supply of bubble fluid frequently. As I got older, it was where I did my dreaded summer reading assignments and suffered reading such classics as Sons & Lovers and Look Homeward Angel; a book that I abandoned after 700 some odd pages because I just didn’t give a crap about what happened to any of the characters.

Cha-Cha’s terrace was directly below mine and we devised an ingenious communications system via the two terraces. We decided the phone was overrated and that a better method of contacting each other would be to take a hollowed out plastic jump rope and swing it up (or down) to the other person’s terrace clanging the hard plastic against the metal terrace railings. Once the signal was detected, the recipient would race out to the terrace to catch the swinging jump rope and speak into it using the greeting we had both agreed on; “one-double nine-three-oh-over” to communicate we were available for conversation. After we got bored of speaking to each other and our ears ached from having a piece of hard plastic shoved inside them, the conversation turned to food and who had good snacks in the house.  Since there was usually chocolate in mine, I perfected the art of hurling bite sized Snickers and Milky Ways down to Cha.  One would argue that her task to hurl treats up to me perhaps required more precision, but she hoisted her imported European jelly-filled sucking candies up to me with apparent ease.

Sometime after the year 2000, a large tree in front of the apartment building that faced the terraces was cut down. The Saxon Hall folklore is that this is where all the pigeons lived and after the tree was cut down they had no choice but to migrate to the apartment terraces. The pigeons are draped all over the terraces and nests have been found on some of the less traveled ones. My family terrace seems to be a favorite hangout and my mom has resorted to acting like a crazy women going out on the terrace and yelling things like “Get the hell off my terrace” as if the pigeons would give a shit…which is actually what they leave before they fly away.

Pigeons or no pigeons, I still love that terrace. It reminds me of a time when people came home and relaxed. A place where there were no cell phones or texts or laptops or social media. A place where you could disappear, regroup, recharge. And a time when sitting next to someone and enjoying the silence was OK. I would give anything to sit next to my father on my terrace in total silence. So every time I visit his house I do just that. And it always makes me smile. The pigeons like it too.

Queens Stuff I Love, But Forgot About

After being a city girl for 30 years, I seem to have repressed some of the things that make Queens life different. And while I realize that these things aren’t exclusive to Queens, many are rarities in Manhattan and I’m fully enjoying having these peculiarities, annoyances and small miracles back as an everyday part of my life.F train

  1. Fireflies. I’ve seen five fireflies tops my entire time in Manhattan and only in Central Park. During the summer in Queens I see them every night.
  2. Grass in between the cracks in the pavement. Stuff can grow in there? Who knew?
  3. Telephone wires. For the most part, telephony infrastructure in NYC is below ground. But in Queens I’m once again treated to telephone wires with perched pigeons, a flailing plastic bag, and an old pair of sneakers adorning them.
  4. Airplanes. NYC’s two major airports are in Queens. And it seems like every plane passes over my neighborhood. Additionally these planes serve as an excellent second alarm on those days I need to wake up early.Berry Bush
  5. McMansions. There was no such thing here when I was growing up, but in the last decade, these super-sized homes, affectionately referred to by the locals as f#$king big-ass monstrosities,  have been on the rise.
  6. Cars that stop at crosswalks. In Manhattan there are street lights on every corner which most drivers and pedestrians ignore. In Queens, drivers stop for pedestrians even when there is no light or sign. Still trying to wrap my head around this one.
  7. Shorter commute. Central Queens is a good 6+ miles further from midtown Manhattan than my previous domicile uptown, yet I seem to arrive at my destination in half the time. For readers who left Queens before 1979: stop bashing the F train.  It is now the equivalent of the Concord.
  8. Cooler air. Is this because Queens is closer to the ocean or because all the air in Times Square is sucked up by the endless parade of Hello Kitty and Elmos traipsing around and demanding ten bucks for the picture you took of them with your own cell phone camera? You decide.
  9. Parking spots. They actually exist in Queens. And you can get one without uttering excessive profanity of giving up your first born.slate floor
  10. Red brick. Six-story red brick buildings abound in central Queens. My favorite description of these buildings appears in the book Little Failure along with a description of the Kew Motor Inn,  “the most famous and exotic couples-friendly motel in Queens.”
  11. Sky. I prefer a little sky with my skyscraper. Queens provides a nice balance.
  12. Dashes. A good chunk of the borough is on a grid system that uses dashes in the address to identify location. Nobody understands it and it’s useless to ask any resident of Queens for directions. Here’s proof.
  13. Fallout shelters. Many new apartment buildings were constructed in Queens in the 1950’s with fallout shelters in the basements to protect people from a nuclear attack. Of course the children of the 50’s knew that hiding under a desk or a picnic blanket provided the same benefit. By the 70’s, when I was growing up in Queens, I knew nothing of such things; all I knew was that those cavernous basements  with steep hills made for some damn good knee scraping roller skating, giving the phrase fallout shelter a totally different meaning.fallout shelter
  14. Lawn sprinklers. You don’t see many sprinklers in Manhattan because you don’t see many lawns. That was easy. I’m thoroughly enjoying the sensation of darting through neighborhood lawn sprinklers and getting a bit of a spritz.
  15. Slate floors. I don’t know if I’m using the right term to describe these multi-colored floors you see at the entrance of  many Queens homes; I just think they are neat and they bring back memories of playing on this same type of flooring in the back courtyard of my apartment building  and unfortunately damaging it with some kid’s pogo stick that usually broke once we battered a few pieces of slate.
  16. Berry bushes. There were many of these in Queens when I was a kid. Back then we would trespass private property to pick and eat as many of these as we could. Now I just take pictures.
  17. The “offensive public statue.” A few years ago, then Councilman Anthony Weiner recommended the city remove a statue in Queens depicting  a nude man standing over two women, claiming it was sexist. Yes, you read that right…Anthony Weiner. Now the area is just a big eyesore. Many residents miss that statue; Carlos Danger; not so much.

Technology of the Future: A 1970’s Perspective

punchcardWhen I was in the 7th grade I took a computer science class. Computer science in 1976 resembled technology today about as closely as Morse code resembles texting (well, actually the differences there are not that extreme). But for the most part, the advances in technology have been monumental, yet it was still exciting to be learning about computers during their nascent stages.

When we weren’t busy creating “if yes, then” flowcharts or punching zeros and ones on our blue computer cards, our teacher showed us movies about technologies of the present and  future. We saw examples of computers that were  so big they probably wouldn’t have fit inside Alexander’s department store and we learned about computer scanners that would one day be used at store check out counters to track inventory. In one of these films, the prediction was made that one day everyone would have their own portable phone, which was preposterous to me. First of all, wouldn’t they run out of number combinations in about a week and second of all, did I really need to deal with a phone cord that would constantly get tangled up in all the other shit I kept in my bag, which by the way would now need to be a really big bag because a phone weighs like five pounds.

In addition to having portable phones, these phones would have both voice and picture. This was all well and good when it was depicted on the futuristic cartoon The Jetsons, but did I really want this in my actual life? How  would I lie to my parents about where I was if I was ever lucky enough someday to have the sort of social life that warranted fabricating my whereabouts? (by the way, that day never came)  What if I had told a friend I couldn’t hang out because I was home sick and then got a call from this friend where she could see I was actually at the Queens Center Mall with someone else? Would this technology make us all painfully honest with no hopes of ever getting away with anything? Count me out.

In addition to not being able to fathom some of these new technologies, many existing technologies changed over the years in a way I never thought was possible. In 1974 my brother got a Texas Instruments hand-held calculator from our grandparents for his Bar Mitzvah. At the time, this calculator was as cutting-edge as  Google Glass is today (except for the fact that the calculator actually worked). Calculators were very expensive then and the assumption was they would always be so. Last time I checked, you could get a fully functioning calculator for something like 99 cents at Staples.

When Pong came out in the 70’s, I never expected the explosion of video games that would follow and always assumed everyone would be happy just hitting that little electronic ball back and forth until the end of time. Who knew we’d soon have games to help us learn math, improve our golf stroke, guide simulated people on how to manage their lives, become experts at killing people, and basically eliminate any form of human interaction with anyone ever.

Right around 1980, the Walkman was released in the US. I’d never imagined having a portable device for listening to music and once I got one I took it everywhere, even though it wasn’t exactly lightweight and its portability was questionable. Luckily, the first mobile phone that wasn’t the size of a brick was still a god ten years away, so I never had to carry both at the same time or invest in a handbag with wheels.




What the F#$*???

question markWhen my brother Jeffrey wasn’t busy impressing everyone with how special he was, he behaved like any other older brother, wielding his power and authority to teach his younger sister stuff she was too young to understand.

My most vivid recollection of this occurred one afternoon at the Saxon Hall playground as Cha-Cha and I did flips and hanging tricks from the tetanus-producing bars underneath the sliding ponds. We had recently expanded our vocabulary to include the “F word” and we were busy trying the word out in different sentences and perfecting our language arts skills by using the word as a noun, verb, and adjective.

My brother was in earshot of this and exclaimed, “You don’t even know what the word means!” to which we retorted with our ten year old logic, “Of course we do; It’s a way to tell someone to leave you alone because they are stupid.” My twelve year old brother went on to explain, in explicit detail, the act that the word actually referred to. His description was met with WTF? looks from us, followed by disbelief. The whole thing made absolutely no sense, but what was harder to comprehend was how the heck my brother could have come up with such an explanation. After much deliberation, we decided that my brother must be telling the truth, because even though he was the smartest 6th grader in school and was about to receive his engraved dictionary to prove it, he was not clever enough to make this shit up.

I spent much of the next several months trying to figure out how this act was even humanly possible. To this day, tasks that require any spatial aptitude have always been challenging for me. I suck at jigsaw puzzles, I can barely figure out how to change a vacuum cleaner bag, and you definitely wouldn’t want me putting together a piece of your IKEA furniture.

So at ten, I was asking myself questions like, “How are the bodies arranged? How does it stay in? I imagined that for the parties involved, the only possible position was that they both  be lying flat on their backs with their heads at opposite ends of the beds which meant someone in the equation needed arms that were at least six feet long to even make the mechanics of this possible. I continued to ponder.

Then one day the following school year, the mystery was solved thanks to HBO. Cable was in its infancy in 1975 and my family was too busy trying to adjust the rabbit ears on the free version of television to even contemplate paying for shows with snow.  Fortunately Cha-Cha’s family already had a subscription and even more fortunately, were a bit lax with using the controls that kept their kids from watching age inappropriate television. We happened upon this movie, which was panned by many critics, but got a “thumbs up” from me for not only solving this riddle I’d been grappling with for close to a year, but also for clarifying any lingering questions by showing multiple examples of how it’s done and using a variety of cutting-edge camera angles.

After Jeffrey had shattered my illusion of the F word and while I was waiting for cable to come to Queens and set things straight, he got another opportunity to keep his little sister in line. While with Gaby, my most daring friend, we decided it would be a good idea to steal a piece of candy from a neighborhood store called Burt’s Candy Store. I was quickly caught by Burt himself for stealing a packet of Lick-A-Stix. I’m deeply embarrassed by this, partially because I was stealing, but more importantly because I was stealing bad candy, not even a piece of chocolate. Once Burt caught us, he demanded our home phone numbers and told us he would be calling our parents and telling them what we had done. Just as stupid as I was to steal bad candy, I was stupid enough to give Burt my correct phone number.

I went home and in a panic I told my brother what I had done, hoping for some emotional support and guidance. He offered to answer the phone to try to intercept Burt’s phone call. It was agonizing. For the next few days, every time the phone rang it felt like a scene out of  Play Misty for Me (well except for the fact that Burt, to the best of my knowledge, wasn’t psychotic). After a week and no call from Burt, I realized that the chances of him calling were marginal, but my brother now had a piece of information about me that he could use to his advantage. He suckered me into doing all types of crap for him like clean his room or lend him money and if I didn’t do what he wanted he would squeal on me. He milked this successfully for quite some time. I think I was a freshman in college before he officially let it go and only because Burt’s Candy Store had gone out of business by that time.

My parents never found out I was caught stealing which means my brother has kept this secret for 40 years. And in retrospect, I’m sure from day one he never really planned to divulge it. Which makes me a pretty lucky little sister.






$#*! My Mom Says

lunch with Mom July 2010 001In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite “mom-isms.”

  1. I smell grape gum.
  2. Is he Jewish?
  3. This pot is not for cooking; it’s for show.
  4. Leave your brother alone.
  5. Who picked a grape?
  6. More fondue anyone?
  7. We’ll see.
  8. Ask your brother to help you.
  9. Did you send that thank you card yet?
  10. Who’s turn is it to buy cookies?
  11. My pants are too tight.
  12. This ashtray is not for cigarette butts.
  13. He’s not Jewish?
  14. Ask him.
  15. Your father always makes me laugh.
  16. I like your hair better long.
  17. For my 80th birthday, I want a pair of Jimmy Choo red cowboy boots.
  18. Don’t eat your father’s cookies.
  19. Let’s wait.
  20. I hate this kitchen!
  21. Why haven’t you cashed my check yet?
  22. Your father is driving me crazy.
  23. Have you run your Norton Anti Virus lately?
  24. This chair is not for sitting.
  25. You’re late!
  26. Let me show you my new boots!
  27. My pants are too loose.
  28. Ask your father.
  29. Let’s not.
  30. Because he’s the boy.
  31. Everyone gets ONE!
  32. Your hair looks beautiful!
  33. I hate Windows 8.
  34. What did you do to your hair?
  35. Your brother said that???
  36. Who put a glass on this table without a coaster!!!
  37. I have too many pairs of boots.
  38. Your dress is so pretty!
  39. Who ate the last cookie?
  40. No sleepovers here.
  41. Everyone out of the kitchen!
  42. Maybe.
  43. You look beautiful!
  44. Someone help me pull off my boots.
  45. I’ve got to lose weight.
  46. Don’t be late!
  47. Again, he’s not Jewish?
  48. Because you’re the girl.
  49. You’re on time!
  50. Yes, you can go there for a sleepover.
  51. This computer is driving me crazy!
  52. Your dad and I are so proud of you.
  53. I’ve got to gain weight.
  54. Because I said so.
  55. Look at my new kitchen!
  56. Who cares if he’s not Jewish?

For my lovely mom and all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day!