Vacations, Staycations and Other Memories of Summer

Bermuda 6Shortly after my fifth birthday, my mom enrolled me in a summer day camp. Mom put me in a group of campers that were mostly four year olds, perhaps to give me a possible height advantage that I could never reclaim at any other point in my life. But her plan backfired. When I told my fellow campers that I was five, none of them believed me. One girl said, “You’re not five, you’re four.” Another girl boldly proclaimed, “You’re not five, you’re three!” Another girl claimed I was two, the next said one and the final girl who was just a bit meaner and cleverer than the others said, “You weren’t even born yet!” At the time the words really stung and I continued to be annoyed when people thought I was younger than I actually was until about ten years ago when I decided to just keep celebrating my 29th birthday over and over again.

Another source of embarrassment was my inability to walk in flip-flops during our two daily treks to the swimming pool. While everyone else glided effortlessly in their flip-flops, I shuffled along like I was on a Nordic Track just to keep the damn things on my feet. I was never successful and would fall so far behind in the line that they had to send out a search party to find me. Walking without shoes was not an option, because much of the campgrounds were covered in wood chips of a similar size and texture to the glass shards that blanketed the Saxon Hall playground. Since I was a flop wearing flip-flops, I was given an option far worse than walking barefoot on glass; walking in slide sandals that were the footwear of choice for old Russian men. After that summer, I begged my mother not to send me back to camp again.

Shibley 2A few years later, I decided to give camp another try and I went to a new camp in Long Island. This was a far better experience and it was here that I improved my swim stroke and learned how to dive. But it wasn’t all marshmallows by the campfire and pony rides; it was here that I also discovered a whole bunch of other stuff I suck at. A few times during the summer, we got to go to the go kart area. Getting the gas and the brake right while steering proved too much for me and after nearly mowing down a group of fellow campers and two counselors, I was asked to just sit and watch the other campers. Note to everyone still trying to figure out why I don’t drive: Now you know.

Another camp activity I sucked at was making things with lanyard. Whether it was the zipper, Chinese staircase or butterfly stitch, I just couldn’t get the hang of it and just like the abandoned bookmark that defined my second grade experience, I left camp without ever finishing a lanyard project. Fortunately, lanyard was an activity generally reserved for the 35-minute bus ride home, so only a select group of campers got to witness my lack of digital dexterity which kept the teasing to a minimum. Unfortunately, I was the last kid dropped off the bus every day which meant I suffered with my lanyard in silence the last few extra minutes of the ride when on three out of four days of the week the bus driver’s radio blared Gilbert O’Sullivan’s summer hit, Alone Again Naturally at the precise moment the second to last camper stepped off the bus.

That same summer, my family took our first (and only) official family vacation, unless you count what dad referred to as our annual six hours of hell on Amtrak. I got to go on an airplane for the first time and we went to Bermuda. We stayed at our first (and only) big fancy hotel without the words Holiday or Inn in the name. The hotel was right on the ocean and we got to rent water rafts while my father who couldn’t swim sat under a huge beach umbrella, liberally applying the 1973 version of Coppertone which offered about as much protection from the sun as whipped cream. When we exited the ocean, guests were required to soak their feet in warm water to remove the tar that was stuck to them. At the time, we kids thought this was just another cool feature of the beach; we didn’t realize the tar was petroleum residue from a 1973 oil spill off the coast of Bermuda. Now I understand how we were able to afford the trip.

While we loved the beach, the hotel had something we loved more; a game room. Prior to our trip to Bermuda, the closest thing we’d ever seem to a hotel game room was the ice machine at a motel in Altoona, PA. But now we had pinball and ping pong! We spent hours in the game room, which is probably how three kids with the pastiest white skin ever avoided getting a sunburn on a tropical island.

Bermuda 3Another highlight of the trip was the hotel restaurant. In our real life we ate dinner out once a year. But in our vacation life we got to eat out every night. My brother Jeffrey decided to take full advantage of this and managed to order the most expensive thing on the menu each night. Additionally, many of the dishes he ordered involved fire. When he ordered the Flambe Cherries Jubilee for dessert, cooked right at the table, the nearby wall caught on fire and after that we were only allowed to get ice cream for dessert.

Many of my summers were spent just doing things in the neighborhood. While now we have the fancy term staycation to describe vacationing without going anywhere, back then we called it what it was; hanging out with your friends, often being bored out of your mind and getting into all sorts of trouble. Some of the most dangerous things happened to us in the summer; we played Ringolevio and hid in ominous apartment building garages that attracted sketchy people. We crossed Queens Boulevard with greater frequency and hung out past dark even when we knew Son of Sam might be nearby. We ate red M&M’s before they were banned in 1976, we trespassed on other people’s property to pick mulberries, and once or twice we even jumped into the Park City Pool a mere ten minutes after eating a Chow Chow french fry. We watched way too much TV, went looking for poison ivy, risked our lives tormenting our siblings and stepped in enough dog shit to fertilize an 18-hole golf course…twice. We survived all of this and emerged without broken limbs, skin rashes, stomach cramps, blindness or arrest records; just great memories of summer fun.


Wonderful Grandparents Never Go Out of Style

grandparentsGrowing up, I usually got to see my grandparents twice a year. We generally spent one week in the summer in Altoona, Pennsylvania, the small town where my mother grew up and where her parents still lived.  Altoona is known for three things; Horseshoe Curve, Mallomar cookies and the hometown of fictitious character Alex Owens from Flashdance.

Each year we embarked on the six-hour train ride to visit them with great enthusiasm and excitement. We would head for New York’s Penn Station with my parents and their his and her matching Samsonite luggage, my mother’s case packed to the brim as if she was spending a month in the South of France. She carried a Jackie Kennedy-like cosmetic bag that was big enough to transport a small dog which always seemed unnecessary to me since my mother didn’t wear much makeup. When they announced our train, the conductor would call out all the stops on the route with such vigor and heart that upon his retirement decades later, he was invited on David Letterman to call out the stops one more time. My favorite part was when he said All aboarrrrrrrrd!!! and he sounded something like this. 

For me, the grueling train ride was one of the most exciting parts of the trip. While my father chain smoked and counted the hours left before arriving at his destination, I would play cards with my brothers and make frequent trips to the water fountain that had fancy cone shaped paper cups, similar to those used to hold the Chow Chow french fries I salivated over back home. I was allowed to travel through the cars to the snack car or bathroom if accompanied by my brothers. I only wanted to do this with my brothers anyway, because I regularly feared that I would make a wrong turn, exit the moving train and be squashed by its wheels. I continue to have this fear today.

Back then, the trains had a fancy dining car with table cloths and real silverware, unlike today where you typically get your soggy microwaved Amtrak food in a cardboard box. On a few occasions, I remember going to the fancy dining car with just my father. One time we were eating as the train climbed an enormous hill in Paoli, Pennsylvania. The table shook, the glasses threatened to shatter, and I obliviously ate a hamburger that tasted like shoe leather, mesmerized by my surroundings.Grandma's garden

It was always exciting to visit my grandparents because they lived in a house, not an apartment, and owned a car. While many would take these things for granted, since we owned neither, these things seemed exotic to us. To this day, whenever I hear the sound of the turn signal in a car, I think of my grandfather and remember my drives with him.

The other thing I loved about visiting my grandparents was their yard which housed a garden and a birdbath. Additionally, my grandfather had an automatic pitching machine that pitched wiffle balls that you could hit with a plastic bat. My grandfather was one of 9 boys; enough for a baseball team. One of his brothers even made the minor leagues. So he was thrilled when his only granddaughter spent hours perfecting her swing while her brothers were inside exercising their minds.

There was no beach nearby, but my grandfather would take us to Lakemont Park, which  had an amusement park, playground and the largest swimming pool I had ever seen in my life; at least three times as big as the Park City Pool. When we arrived home with wicked sunburns caused by the fact that there was no such thing as Fair-Skinned Ashkenazi Jew Sunscreen 50 in 1970, my grandmother would attempt to sooth our skin with a paste made of baking soda and water that left a trail of white dust around the house. I don’t think this concoction did a thing for our sunburns, but it made up feel like we were being taken care of. After I was coated in my Shake n”Bake-like mix, my grandmother would let me help her in the kitchen. Her specialty was apple pie and she taught me how to make it with a fancy schmancy lattice crust.

Lakemont parkSometimes my grandfather would take us out for ice cream or a burger. My grandparents kept kosher at home and when they went out they would bend the rules a bit, but my grandfather was not prepared for the bacon cheeseburger I ordered one time when I went out to eat with him. I’m sure my mother got a dressing down after this episode, and once again wished I’d attended Hebrew school at Temple Isaiah, but then again, she’s the same person who shared her first BLT with my father years earlier and vowed never to go back to the dark side of a pork-free existence.

One other week each year, my grandparents came to New York to visit us. My grandmother’s favorite thing to do was go shopping at Loehmann’s, the same store where my fifth grade teacher shopped. My grandmother had a penchant for anything lavender and bought a pair of lavender spandex pants there that she rocked at the age of 73. While she bought disco-wear, my grandfather spent his time at the nearby Jay Dee Bakery buying enough prune danish to wipe out constipation in North America.

As I got older, I continued to visit my grandparents and began making the trips on my own. While I was fortunate to have them both in my life until after I graduated from college, their health was steadily declining at that point. By my early twenties, my grandmother was displaying the classic symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. On one occasion, my grandmother who had kept a kosher home for 80+ years asked for butter on her bread while we were eating meat. My grandfather kept insisting that she must want margarine, since it was against Jewish law to mix milk and meat at one meal. My grandmother was insistent and my grandfather said, “My wife’s been kosher for over 80 years but if she wants butter, I will give her butter.” This moment touched me at the time and this memory still stays with me today as a symbol of his love and compassion for her.birdbath

My grandmother passed away first and her funeral was held on a bitter cold day. My grandfather died just a month later and the day of his funeral it was a beautiful calm spring day. It was as if things were now in order and they were back together again.

If I’m ever fortunate enough to be a grandparent, I hope I get to share memories with my grandchildren  that will last forever, as mine have. I  hope to be rocking lavender spandex as well, but this may be a feat that only my grandmother could achieve.



$#*! My Dad Says

Dad BermudaJust like my mom, my dad had his own set of sayings, jokes and expressions that made him endearing, charming, silly, ridiculous and wise all at the same time. Here are just a few of my favorites.

  1. Ask your brother Jeffrey.
  2. How was the party?
  3. I love you sweetie-petite-ee
  4. Everyone gets one glass of soda.
  5. Major in accounting so you can meet a nice man.
  6. Where are the cookies?
  7. Start thinking about waking up for school. (6:30 am)
  8. Make it snappy!
  9. How was gym class?
  10. Are you taking care of your teeth?
  11. Oy!
  12. I never remember you and your brothers fighting.
  13. You should eat more junk food!
  14. Turn off the light when you leave the room!
  15. Ask your brother Stuart.
  16. dad couchHow many people were at the party?
  17. I love you Boober!
  18. Everyone gets one cupcake.
  19. What can you do with a psychology degree?
  20. Whose turn is it to buy cookies?
  21. Soon you will have to wake up for school. (6:45 am)
  22. What’s the rush?
  23. No gym class today?
  24. Your braces are costing me a fortune!
  25. Feh!
  26. You used to fight with your brother so much!
  27. You mean you like to exercise?
  28. Who left the light on?
  29. Ask your mother.
  30. Did the kids at the party bring gifts?
  31. I love you sweets-e-luchins.
  32. Eat as much candy as you want.
  33. Learn how to type so you can get a job.
  34. Who ate the last cookie?
  35. In 15 minutes you will have to wake up for school. (7 am)
  36. barbara and dad niagra fallsDoes Jim ever buy you pretty flowers? (always asked when discussing gym class)
  37. When was the last time you went to the dentist?
  38. Don’t ask.
  39. Go back to graduate school so you don’t have to type anymore.
  40. Are you sure you turned the light out?
  41. Wake up! (7:15 am)

My dad may no longer be here, but I know he’s somewhere still saying this $#*! And I hope he knows I’m still listening.








I’ll Take Two Great Brothers for $300, Alex

stuart, jeff me 4One of the great things about being one of three kids in the family was that there was usually someone to play with. With the exception of chess, a game my brothers felt I could never play well enough to command any reasonable level of competition, my brothers were usually willing to play some type of board or card game with me. My brother Stuart was always up for a good game of Scrabble. At age 12 he had the vocabulary of a Pulitzer prize winning author. He could find an open “a” on the board and come up with a word like “ka” which we would immediately challenge but unfortunately quickly realize was a real word referencing a Predynastic pharaoh of Upper Egypt. The “k” would undoubtedly be placed on a triple-letter square that was also a triple-word square or something equally ridiculous, and he would end up with 5,000 points at the end of round one. Today lots of people have heard of the word ka, but they know it as another Cirque de Soleil show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and I think using it in this manner goes against the official rules of Scrabble. I would generally follow up on my turn with a word like “it” garnering two points.

Stuart was so smart, that had my parents thought more about how to exploit this, they could have gotten him on Jeopardy and the prize money could have been used to send their less intelligent daughter to private school. No category would have been too demanding for Stuart. I could see him selecting “18th Century Russian novelists with speech impediments for $200” or “Unusual stamps of the 19th Century Depicting the Industrial Revolution for $500” without missing a beat and nailing the answer every time.

After being sufficiently humiliated with games requiring a command of the English language, my brothers would give me a reprieve and we would engage in games requiring less brain power. When my brother Jeffrey was about ten, he was able to request a copy of an original Star Trek script from NBC. I was no Trekkie, but didn’t want to be left out, so when Jeffrey decided to stage a production of “The Trouble With Tribbles” in our home, I was all over it. Jeffrey played Kirk, Stuart was fittingly Spock and I was Ohura and whatever female characters were fawning all over William Shatner that day. I can’t remember who played Scotty or the Tribbles for that matter, but it was a lot of fun.

Following this, we would move on to a board game, often Monopoly. I think Monopoly was invented for families with a lot of kids, because kids are the only people who will suffer through the three-plus hours it takes to complete this game. I usually ended up with my hotels taken over by my brothers, hocked property and many more tears than could fill my thimble playing piece, but I always came back for more. Luckily, we would find Risk a few years later and Jeffrey would always manage to place all his armies in the tip of South America and conquer the world within 20 minutes.

One of my favorite games was one I played with Jeffrey before Scrabble or Monopoly were even an option. In my bedroom, the room with all the unwanted furniture, there was a rotisserie that was only wheeled out once a year on Thanksgiving. It sat under a plastic cover, the kind you see old people place over their toasters, but this one was industrial size. We weren’t supposed to mess with the rotisserie, but we did anyway because it had a timer on it that was fun to play with. We would set the timer, lay on the bed, and when the timer went off we would roll onto the floor and pretend we had been transported into another time, where there were dinosaurs or knights on horses or astronauts in outer space.

As my brothers got older they stopped playing as many games with me and turned their attention to other pursuits. When Jeffrey was about 12, he invited a bunch of his friends over to the house. They made a huge tent in my brothers’ room, by placing blankets across the two beds and using World Book Encyclopedia’s to hold their makeshift canopy in place. They told me I couldn’t come in. I managed to quietly open the door and slither my way into the room on my stomach so they wouldn’t see me. I peered under the bed near the entrance of the room to see what they were doing. They were playing cards…poker…strip poker. After seeing more than I cared to of one of my brother’s best friends, I realized my days playing simple games with my brothers were numbered.

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.


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.

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!





Let’s Get Physical (or Not?): Exercise in the 70’s

In the 70’s, exercise didn’t seem to play nearly as important a part in people’s lives as it does today. As kids, we were generally naturally active, because we only had seven television channels that showed nothing but snow for at least 30 hours per week, and moms had no problem kicking us out of the house on a weekend morning, telling us to go out and play, and reminding us not to show up again until dinner time. Exercise and sports were not heavily emphasized in my house growing up and my brothers used to say that they exercised their brains, therefore they did not need to exercise their bodies (insert eye roll here).  But I do remember a few fleeting moments of fitness over the years that influenced my future perspective on exercise and left the door wide open for Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda in the 80’s.

Jack LaLanne. When Jack LaLanne wasn’t pulling boats and tractor trailers with his teeth to demonstrate his strength, stamina, and incredibly durable dentures, he was wearing a jumpsuit and hosting an exercise show on TV geared towards stay-at-home moms. I remember mom doing a few standing leg lifts while Jack counted, but when he got to the jumping jacks, I think she went and lit a cigarette.

Jogging. When dad felt he needed to lose a few pounds (during the 4 & 20 Pies days), he would jog in a circular path around our connected living room, dining room, and kitchen wearing his crappy Converse sneakers. After his 40 laps he had probably traveled the equivalent of one city block at the speed of a Pong ball, but at least it was something. Once he completed his run, I’m sure he went and lit a cigarette. Actually, I would bet my life on it.

Metal Exercise Bands. Dad had the forerunner of today’s rubber exercise resistance bands which were heavy metal coils attached by two metal handles. The handles were pulled to stretch the coils and work your upper body . A great strengthening exercise without the fuss and muss of free weights or a barbell, until your sweaty palms forced you to lose your grip and  the metal handle wacked you in the eye. After receiving quite the shiner, dad retired the exercise bands and that’s when he started jogging in the house.

Grip Strengtheners. While most exercise routines with dad were short lived, he owned a gizmo that looked like an oversized nut cracker that he would squeeze to strengthen his grip. I never understood this one. He wasn’t too concerned if he was carrying around an extra 20 pounds and his heart wasn’t pumping blood around his body efficiently, but he always wanted to be sure that his grip was strong enough to open a jar of mixed nuts.

Gym Class. In the early years, gym class was more fun that exercise. One of the best games in gym class was dodge ball, because it was the only time of the day you were allowed to throw something at the other kids. But as we got older, gym class shifted from team games to activities that required some actual stamina. To make matters worse, in the older grades we were required to wear a gym uniform which for girls was a cross between a beach cover up and an adult diaper. When the weather got warm we would actually have to wear these outfits outside where the boys were also having gym period. Why the boys got to wear simple gym shorts and a tee shirt while the girls were subjected to blue and white striped polyester beach wear is beyond my comprehension and beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that high school gym uniforms were the bane of every high school girl’s existence. The absolute worst unit in gym class was jogging. There was no real strategy for building up stamina and cardiovascular strength and on the days when the weather wouldn’t cooperate, we had to run around the school cafeteria as an alternative to the track which produced the same cardiovascular results as running laps around the family living room. To make matters worse, our track was not regulation size due to lack of space. We had to run five laps to complete a mile rather than the standard four. So when you were done with your forth lap and headed for the bleachers, the gym teacher would tap you on the back and remind you that you had one more lap to go. But perhaps the most awful thing about jogging was that in 1979 there was no such thing as a jog bra. Girls with more than a C cup risked knocking out an eye each week when they attended gym class. After several near misses, I swore I would never run again and I refused to run the popular three mile jogging loop at my college called Perimeter Road during any of my four years there just on principle. I never ran another step until 1991, and even then I wore two jog bras layered on top of one another, just to be safe.

Running Across Queens Boulevard. This was by far the best exercise program available growing up in Queens. It required strength, stamina, commitment, practice, mental toughness, Olympic-level precision, and a very strong desire to get to the other side in one piece. Luging and the skeleton pale in comparison.

In the 1980’s, more gyms started popping up and regular exercise became more commonplace. Perhaps this was because people began to see the health benefits of exercise, but more likely it was because people needed a legitimate reason to wear leg warmers, headbands, and gym shorts with white piping on the side.

Everybody Loves Jeffrey

Jeffrey and BarbieHaving an older brother has its pluses and minuses and for the most part I adored my brother Jeffrey. When we were young, I mimicked everything he did and when we were teenagers, I sought his advice on everything from academics to music to boys. 

But into many people’s lives, a bit of sibling rivalry must fall, and I was no exception. Things always came easy for my brother. He was a straight-A student and all the teachers loved him, particularly the ones who couldn’t stand me.

He always seemed to be getting some award at school named after some dead teacher. He received so many of these I started wondering if someone was “offing” teachers just to have another reason to give my brother another recognition for his talents.

In the sixth grade, he was awarded a dictionary with his name engraved on it for being the best all-around student. For years, that dictionary sat like a tschoke in the living room and if anyone ever had to look up a word, that dictionary was the only available resource to do so.  My mom still uses it, even though I keep reminding her that Wikipedia and Google are fine substitutes and much more reputable than a dictionary published in the 70’s, because as you all know, everything published on the Internet is true.  It’s no use though, because if she needs to know how to spell a word like esquamulose or learn the meaning of  smaragdine, she is headed to that dictionary.

In addition to constantly being showered with some award, Jeffrey was always selected to attend a special something or other. He was picked to attend a special experimental school for two years and spend a summer at some special international camp. This was years before Saturday Night Live’s Dana Carvey created the Church Lady character and coined the phrase, “well isn’t that spe-cial” but I was probably secretly mouthing something similar while Jeffrey got all this “spe-cial” attention.

His academic wins continued throughout high school, when he was “crowned” Boy Arista Leader and given some sort of power trip role among the other school brainiacs. My mother bought him a special suit for the induction ceremony that looked a lot like a Catholic school uniform, an odd choice for a proud Jewish mother.

In addition to being really smart, Jeffrey was really lucky. This became evident every year at the annual Purim Carnival hosted by Temple Isaiah in Queens. At the event, kids got to participate in carnival-like games such as throwing darts at balloons and playing ring toss. They won cheap prizes, mainly the type of stuff that breaks before you get home or is broken on purpose by your mother because it makes an annoying sound. But every year, there was a contest where kids tried to guess how many forks or M&M’s or jelly beans were in a huge jar. The kid who came closest to the correct amount won a decent prize like a big box of lollipops. My brother seemed to win this contest every year we attended the Purim Carnival. I wonder if he can count cards too.

Even the way Jeffrey dressed made him stand out as special. When he wasn’t wearing his Arista boy leader suit, he selected a style of dress that was quite different than his peers. Most guys were wearing jeans and concert tee shirts, but Jeffrey went for a different look that was a cross between Alex Keaton in Family Ties and Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. He happened upon a men’s clothing store in the Queens Center Mall that sold these silk/polyester blend shirts and he would pair these with polyester dress pants. He kept a few of the top buttons of the shirt open despite his lack of chest hair and he even donned a gold chain. He always wore shoes, never sneakers or even boots. When the shirts got wrinkled (wait, I thought that wasn’t supposed to happen with polyester?) he would iron the cuffs and collar and put a sweater over it to hide any imperfections with the rest of the shirt.

As jealous as I could sometimes get over the things that came my brother’s way, I don’t think I ever got mad at him. Maybe that’s because he always shared his Purim booty, but probably because deep down I was really proud to have him as my brother.