Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I Didn't Order Nuts

The woman in front of me was making me nervous. She was frenetic.
She was out of her gourd. And she was -- I was convinced -- going to walk
out of the deli with my order of two dozen latkes.

I had preordered my potato pancakes. The woman in front of me hadn't. She wanted 60 of them, and she wanted them loudly. 

was going to make them myself, but I didn't want to stink," she said to
the guy behind the counter, oblivious to how this might sound to
someone who, like him, had been making latkes all day. "I'm going to
have 30 people over, and I don't want to stink from the oil."

deli was closing at 2. It was 1. I thought for sure the guy was going
to give her all the latkes he had just to get her aromatic self out of
his shop. So I was thankful when he walked out from behind the counter,
past the latkes lady, and presented me with an open tray of my fried
potato goodness. 

"Oh, those look good," the woman said. "Can I have a bite?"

"What?" I said. 

"Just a little nibble. Just a corner," she said, reaching toward my tray.

"You're kidding." 

"You're so funny. Why not? I'd let you."

The deli worker and I stood dumbstruck for a full three seconds before I finally stammered, "Um … it's cold and flu season." 

was a nice thing to say. A way for her to regain control of her
faculties, realize that she had just crossed a line and back away

Instead she shot back, "I'll wear a glove."

not a conspiracy theorist, but I do think something terribly strange is
afoot when people ask to taste your food, hold up the line at the post
office because they can't believe stamps no longer cost 37 cents or put
infants through the X-ray machine at LAX.

Some claim that this
time of year is when "inexperienced" travelers and shoppers merge with
the rest of us, causing tensions to mount and jaws to drop. But I think
something more sinister is at work. The only logical conclusion for all
this bizarre behavior is this: Once a year, some giant underground
asylum throws open its doors and releases all its patients for three
weeks. People who don't normally see sunlight, let alone other humans,
are suddenly thrust upon an unsuspecting society.

So harried
are we at this time of year that we pay little mind to these peculiar
parolees. But they're out there. Everywhere. And they haven't come in

I have scant proof of this, but I believe that these
Christmastime Crazies operate on an Amway-like referral system, wherein
if they drive you bonkers enough, you'll be forced to return with them
to their lair on Jan. 2. You'll get a nice padded cell and your
recruiter will get, I don't know, a subscription to Us Weekly.

Christmas and Hanukkah behind us, we're in the homestretch. But be
warned, these nut jobs work New Year's, too. So for the next few days,
when you run across someone trying to sign a check with a candy cane,
keep a wide berth. Maybe I'm wrong. But, really, can you afford not to
listen to me if I'm right?

And be warned: The Crazies don't
just frequent stores, they work at them, too. At the kosher bakery, the
woman behind the counter warned patrons who had been standing there for
20 minutes that we'd be waiting another 10 for the next batch of
traditional Hanukkah jelly doughnuts. In the meantime, the first four
of us in line could place our orders for whatever else we wanted.

I ordered challah.

"We don't have challah."

"I'm looking at three loaves right behind you."

"Those are chocolate chip challah."

"Then I want chocolate chip challah. And I'll take a pound of burekas."

"What kind?"

"What kind do you have?" I asked.

"Potato and mushroom," she answered.

"Give me half a pound of each."

"No. They're all potato and mushrooms," she explained.

"Then why did you ask me what kind I wanted?" I asked.

She shrugged. Then she smiled brightly, as if she had just come up with a great idea: "You can have potato and mushroom."

"Sounds great."

the meantime, a baker brought out a batch of jelly doughnuts. There
were 25 on the tray. The woman in front of me had requested 20. The man
in front of her wanted four. I felt my heart sink, realizing that I was
going to have to keep company with the Lucille Ball of kosher baking
for even longer.

But then she did something stupefying.
Bypassing the other patrons, she continued to fill my order. Challah,
burekas and one dozen doughnuts. The woman in front of me was outraged,
as well she should have been.

The nice thing to do would have
been to speak up and defer my doughnuts. And, particularly at this time
of year, I really do want to do the nice thing. But stand in that line
for any longer? I may be nice, but I'm not crazy.

And I want to keep it that way.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Season's Greetings

Don't send holiday cards. Seriously. Don't.

Unless there is
money in that envelope, or a heartfelt and handwritten message in that
card, don't bother sending it. Nobody is fooled when you mail a
preprinted card that wishes "All the best," to someone who hasn't heard
from you in a year. 

Instead of "Season's greetings," the card
might as well read, "I hope you haven't moved since last year" because
everyone knows that mailing holiday cards is less about whom you
cherish and more about who's in your address book.

"We got a holiday card from the Satterfields," I told Hubby. 

"Who are the Satterfields?" he asked.

"I don't know. They live in Alabama. Who do we know in Alabama?" 

"No one."

"Oh, wait," I said, searching my contact list. "They're your cousins. Did you know they moved to Alabama?" 

"Which cousins?"

This is why we stopped sending holiday cards.

used to relish making and sending holiday cards as a form of creative
expression. Usually, we'd make cards featuring photos of Monkey, our
stuffed animal gorilla, posing at various historic landmarks. One year,
we downloaded a picture of a random ugly family and used that as our
greetings. After Zev was born, everyone naturally expected he'd become
the star of our new holiday stationery line.

Not so.

think the thing that sent me over the bah-humbug edge was that
metastasizing trend of sending personal essays inside of greeting
cards. You know what I'm talking about: Those two- or three-page
(single-spaced) letters crisply folded inside a blank, bland greeting
card that tell you (and probably 100 other people the writer hasn't
thought about in a year) what he or she has been doing for the past 365
days. Some are funny. Some are spoofs on the form. But all of them are
unsettling in how impersonal they are.

Last year, I learned
that someone I used to have brunch with every week spent several months
recovering from a back injury. I had no idea. I felt like a jerk for
being so out of touch that a major trauma could come and go without me
knowing about it. After reading that, I thought, "Are we even
acquaintances anymore?"

I tried making that argument to Yvette
last week. Yvette has had a momentous year, culminating in brain
surgery. She figured not everyone was up to speed on her life, and
writing it all down was a good way to get the word out.

"But if
they're someone you really wanted to tell this to, wouldn't you have
told them, like, before they cut into your skull and removed a chunk of
your brain?"

"Well, a lot of people are busy," Yvette said,
citing a friend of hers who was finishing up a PhD while having
relationship issues and, if I'm remembering this correctly, going to
clown school or something like that.

There is busy, and then
there is too-busy-to-be-in-your-life busy. Can an annual essay really
maintain bonds that are so obviously fraying?

And then there is
the weirdness of getting one of those letters from someone you see all
the time. You feel like calling them and saying, "Hi. Yeah, it's me. I
just got a letter detailing everything you've done in the last year,
and – having been party to most of it – I have to say, it wasn't as
boring as you made it out to be."

So, how about saving the
postage and picking up the phone instead? It's, like, 143 times better
to hear someone's voice than to read his words. For one, you can be
sure the words shared will be unique to the two of you. Unless you're a
freak and you write out a script before you call people. In that case,
I can't help you.

Otherwise, stop typing and start dialing.
After all, there is no reason to wish a "Happy New Year" to someone you
didn't talk to during the old one.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Oops! She Did It Again

The passage of time is supposed to do it. Having children is
supposed to do it. Changing party affiliations, finding a homey hobby,
discovering religion. These are all things that are supposed to do it.
Britney Spears is not supposed to do it.

And yet, she did it: Britney Spears has turned me into my mother.

"Oh, Britney!" I found myself saying out loud, into my newspaper. "Why Paris?"

was lamenting the fact that Ms. Spears, a woman I have never met, has
started hanging out with Paris Hilton. She finally sheds that dead
weight of a "husband" of hers, and she rushes into the arms of a woman
who ascended to fame with a night-vision sex video? How stupid of her.
What a waste. How … wait, what am I saying?

Mom was always
concerned about who our friends were. She is of the opinion that you
can judge a person by the company they keep. I never subscribed to that
point of view, but since I naturally gravitated toward the straight-A
types, it wasn't much of a problem. Sis, with her Florence
Nightingale-like love of all things injured and stupid, vexed Mom much
more with her choice of friends.

It used to bug me how much
importance Mom placed on who Sis' friends were. As long as Sis was
happy and staying out of trouble what difference did it make if her
friends were never going to win the Fulbright?

"It's important," she would snap back, without elaborating.

No, I thought to myself, it's not.

here I am, pouring over Web pages of Britney and Paris sharing fishnet
stockings, and thinking Brit could do better. Should do better. It's

Have I mentioned that I don't know Britney Spears?

Madonna's "Sex" book came out, I was in high school and Madonna was, by
my estimation, infallible. My mother thought the book was vulgar. I
thought it was genius – albeit in a pervy kind of way. Here was Madonna
laughing at the face of convention. Living up to the expectations of
prurient audacity a Puritan public placed on her – all while daring
that public not to like it.

And yet, when Britney flashes her
naughty bits (post babies!) for the paparazzi, I'm as aghast as a
librarian. As uppity as a book-burner. As disgusted as … as my mother.

Oops! Britney did it again.

they not make underwear on Planet Moron?" I shouted. "When she's
sticking her naked butt up against a plate glass window, is she
thinking, 'I sure hope my sons see these photos someday?' "

shake my head, wondering what is wrong with people, and I feel that
head growing a little harder, a little more judgmental, a little more
Mom-like. It freaks me out.

Time was, I saw a diverse friend
base as a sign of a truly loving person, a big-tent heart that had as
much room for the friend with the cabin in Big Bear as for the guy
who'd track you down at that cabin to ask you to post bail.

don't know how it happened, this transformation. I don't know how I
went from thinking about people as individuals to thinking about them
as the sum total of their friends. But it's happened. And I fear it's
taking over me: I mean, what was Lane Garrison doing in a car with
teenagers, anyway? He's 26!

I don't know if I'll ever shake
this choose-your-friends-wisely mentality. But one thing is clear: I
shouldn't spend any more time thinking about Britney Spears. She's bad

At least, that's what my mom would say.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want

They say 'tis better to give than to receive. That's not true, of
course. Unless what's being given is a TB blanket or a venereal
disease, 'tis always better to get as much as your stubby little arms
can carry. Especially this time of year, when all your relatives and
friends are socially obligated to buy you things.

But there is
an upside to giving that getting can't match: the esteem you receive
from imparting a well-purchased present. Getting somebody something
that they really wanted shows that you understand that person. That you
care about what's going on in his heart and mind. That you pick up the
buried cues in her most casual conversation. Trouble is, getting the
right gift means you have to actually understand, care and listen to
the people around you. 

Who has time for that?

why this Hanukkah, I propose that all my friends update their
Amazon.com wish lists. (Brill, sweetie, you're going to have to start
one. A little bird told me you want a soldering iron, but I am not
about to get you an implement of destruction unless I have proof that
that bird isn't putting me on.)

An Amazon.com wish list tells
your friends exactly what you want and how much you want it. And it
lends specificity to the vague concepts of you that your friends have.
I know, for instance, that Jean loves to knit. But I don't know the
first thing about choosing a knitting book. Now, thanks to her Amazon
wish list, I don't need to take time out of my schedule of being
fabulous to find out.

And what's more, I know without a doubt
that Jean is going to love her present. Why wouldn't she? She picked it
out. And all the love she has for her present will, naturally, spill
over to me – making me look and feel absolutely glorious in her eyes
(and the eyes of anyone else in the room when she opens her present).

old-fashioned types out there will tell you that buying stuff off of
registries and wish lists is impersonal. That searching for and finding
the perfect trinket – the gift your recipient hadn't already thought of
– shows you really care. These are the same people who tell children,
"The best presents are the ones you make yourselves." Ever get a
macaroni necklace and think, "That's just the accessory I needed to
spruce up my wardrobe"? I didn't think so. Don't listen to those
people. They're delusional. They're archaic. They're Lisa Bee's

"Every year I tell my family, 'Buy me stuff from my
Amazon wish list, and I'll rejoice.' And every year I get, like, 'Top
Gun,' " Lisa Bee IM'd me.

I took a look at her wish list. She
has 193 items. It goes on for eight pages. I nearly called her mother.
No one, ever, has the right to say Lisa Bee is hard to shop for. Ever.

wish list is not just a collection of things people want, it's a view
inside their psyches and their ever-expanding interests. Lisa Bee, for
instance, added some books about the Middle East to her list shortly
after a group of us got into a big discussion about the Iraq war and
the state of affairs in Israel. (Guess what you're getting this year,
Lisa Bee.)

And if you take a look at my wish list you'll find …
oh. Wait. My Amazon wish list contains two items, one of which is my
husband's novel. Hmm. Not a very helpful road map for potential
gift-givers, is it? I've been so busy thinking of others – well, how
others will perceive me once I present them with the perfect present –
that I've completely neglected to update my own requests.

matter. If someone really cares, they won't need an Amazon wish list to
tell them what to get me. But the rest of you, get typing. I don't have
the time necessary to put into buying thoughtful gifts unless you help
me look like I've taken the time to be particularly thoughtful. So get to it!

sense of my generosity and consideration depends on it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Breakable Tradition

Last week many of you grabbed your flashlights, braved the cobwebs
and eased out the wedding china from its hiding place, box by pristine
box, to adorn your Thanksgiving tables. Some of you probably held your
breath each time someone slurped from a precious coffee cup or clinked
a fork down a little too hard on a salad plate.

You might have
counted the minutes until you could wash and dry the whole mess (by
hand, of course) and then return each setting to its proper box –
cardboard dividers and all. Your guests measured the success of your
holiday meal by the quality of the food. You, secretly, used the number
of chipped dishes as your metric: No matter how delicious your
marshmallow yams were, if that cow-shaped creamer broke, the evening
was ruined. 

When we were getting married, Hubby tried to
dissuade me from registering for fine china. He anticipated that people
would shell out a lot of money for a delicate albatross that would lurk
silently in our house, emerging only on the rarest occasions to drive
me completely batty.

Don't touch that! I'll wash that! Don't stack the soup bowls with the spoons still in them; they'll chip! 

told me we would likely never use fine china. As it happens, we've used
our pretty calla lily-embossed settings very nearly eight times. Or
maybe it was five.

"Why do we need china?" he asked me back then. 

"Because," was my answer.

truth, I had no idea why we needed china, but Mom and the woman at
Macy's told me we did, and I was too young to argue. At the time, they
equated china with the little black dress: You always want to have one
in your closet. But the difference is, I get actual use out of my
little black dress – and it doesn't take up nearly as much room in the

My girlfriends who waited until after puberty to get
married were a little wiser. They now keep food in their pantries
instead of punch bowls and cake plates. I'm slightly envious of people
who managed to get a marriage license without a gravy boat. These are
people who don't own a single silver napkin ring – and have had no
occasion to learn that I have 12.

Each time we've moved, I've
been the one to pack the kitchen – never wanting Hubby to get a good
inventory of the insane amount of underused stuff we keep hidden away.

I know what he'd say after packing his 17th box of fondue sets and caviar spoons: "Why did we register for this again?"

My answer would be the same as it was back then: "Because."

like serving turkey on Thanksgiving, collecting useless table
adornments is a tradition. We load up married couples with plenty to
prepare them for special occasions and precious little to prepare them
for life. Collectively, we perpetuate the myth that expensive stemware
is an heirloom in the making, rather than a thing couples fight about
every time a glass breaks. We all do it. And we will all keep doing it
until civilization comes crashing down in a giant crescendo of broken
pumpkin-shaped soup tureens.

If we didn't keep doing it, if we
gave newlyweds presents they'd actually use – like toilet paper or
groceries or retainer fees for a divorce attorney – then when we went
over to their homes for dinner once every two years, we'd have to pile
food onto everyday plates, covering it with ladled gravy and eating it
with mismatched flatware. Chaos.

And worse, the unencumbered
couple would have gotten off scot-free. Babies don't wear handmade
booties, but that won't stop people from knitting them. We will keep
heaping unwanted treasures onto newlyweds because we had this stuff
foisted onto us.

So for those out there who hosted Thanksgiving
dinner this year and hazarded your finest china in the hands of Auntie
Neanderthal and her ADHD-afflicted brood, I raise my glass to you.
And set it back down. Very, very carefully.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Peek-A-Boo! I Can't See You!

I dread The Question.

I dread The Question almost as much as
I dread that puff of air they always shoot into your eyes to test for
glaucoma. Nearly every visit to the eye doctor involves someone asking,
"Have you considered laser eye surgery?" And I just dread it. 

I usually cast a dilated eye downward and mutter something like, "Yeah. I don't think it's for me."

Some docs push it harder than others, but pretty much all of them do a hard sell. Imagine never needing to fuss with contacts and glasses again! Imagine waking up and being able to see! 

And when I resist they almost always think it's because I'm some Luddite coward. The technology has improved dramatically and the results are fabulous!

is, I'm not afraid of lasers in my eye (though I think hirsute lil' me
would be better served if the lasers were pointed more southward). I
just don't want to give up my bad vision.

I know that sounds ridiculous. That's why I dread the question.

True, I can't see my
own face in the mirror unless I'm so close to the glass that my breath
steams over my reflection. And true, my handicap forever prevents me
from being a pilot in the Air Force or a viable contestant on
"Survivor." But I can live with these limitations.

What I don't think I could live with is a completely altered identity.

always been the "blind girl." I was the blind girl when I was 6, and I
had to squint at all the puppets and overhead projections and
chalk-drawn alphabet letters that the rest of my first-grade class
seemed to have no problem seeing. I was the blind girl in the second
grade, when an astute teacher finally figured out what was going on and
mentioned to my parents that I might need glasses. I was still the
blind girl in the third grade, when an overly indulgent teacher let me
stand by the chalkboard during her lessons like some kind of magician's

And I was the blind girl in the fourth grade, when I
finally convinced my stubborn father to pretty please let me get some
glasses so I could go to school and, you know, learn stuff.

didn't much like the idea of his pretty daughter covering up her face
with homely glasses, so he built up a cataract of denial around my
deteriorating vision.

"I don't need glasses. Your mom doesn't need glasses. You don't need glasses," he'd say.

"OK," I'd answer, before bumping into a wall.

he finally did concede -- after a teacher's intervention -- I had to
agree to only wear my specs in the classroom. If I was going to be
ugly, I'd have to do it on my own time.

I interpreted his
admonition to mean that I couldn't wear my glasses on the playground,
either. And it was there that my strained vision gave me two things I
love more than anything else: attention and an excuse not to exercise.

play dodge ball if you can't see what you're dodging. So, instead, I'd
sit on the sidelines and mock the boys until they cracked little smiles
at my jokes or gave up their games altogether to talk to me.

and I reached a détente when contact lenses became more popular and
readily available. He never understood why my vision (and then later my
sister's vision) was bad, but he finally admitted it was and shelled
out the money for my first pair of contacts.

Since then, my
blindness has been less of an attention-getter than an escape. Other
people with bad eyes might disagree with me, but there is something
almost soothing about taking out your contacts and not being able to
see anything. A kind of visual shush that absolves you of the
responsibility of sight. I don't meditate, but a few minutes of blurry
vision every day comes close.

So I was relieved the other day
when my new eye doc didn't ask The Question. We talked about changing the
type of contact lenses I wear. We talked about getting new frames for
my glasses. And then, without any mention of lasers, she sent me to the
receptionist to place my order.

"Wow," the receptionist said, noting the prescription.

"Yeah," I answered brightly. "I'm pretty blind."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Broken Bed

I thought I was adjusting well to this new lifestyle. This
one-income, live-in-an-apartment, limit-our-travel lifestyle. Then the
bed broke, and I snapped.

Zev, Hubby and I were all piled on
the bed, and Hubby started jumping up and down, to the delight of our
toddler. I was less thrilled. 

When I first married Hubby, I remember telling a friend that I felt as though we'd gotten away with a spectacular prank.

My exact words were: "Don't they know we're just kids? Don't they know we eat chocolate cake for breakfast and jump on the bed?" 

bed wasn't even a bed. It was a box spring and a mattress on the floor.
To compensate for the lack of actual furniture, I hung two rings from
the wall where a headboard would have been and draped a piece of pale
green fabric between them. We called it "the swoosh." It was all the
furniture we could afford, and it was all the furniture we needed.

complete the adolescent look, we kept stuffed animals on the bed along
with a pile of seven extraneous pillows that I thought added a
deceptive height to the whole mess. 

Even after we bought a real
bed, after we bought a house and replaced every bit of Ikea furniture
in our home with big-boy-and-girl pieces, we still kept the stuffed
animals where they were. I thought it was triumph of youthful hearts
over encroaching age. But it turns out stuffed monkeys don't a carefree
girl make.

When the bed broke, I grabbed Zev and huffed out of
the room. Hubby lingered in the bedroom for a minute and then met me in
the kitchen. There was a split in the wood. That was his postmortem
assessment. A split in the wood that was probably going to go at any

But it didn't go at any time. It went now. And now, I
feel as though we're back where we were 10 years ago: living in an
apartment and sleeping on the floor. But we're no longer those
wide-eyed kids awestruck by our good fortune. We don't eat chocolate
cake for breakfast. And, clearly, we're too old to jump on the bed.

dam that had been holding back my insecurities collapsed right along
with that bed frame. What are we doing? Where are we going? Why did I
quit my job? How is any of this possibly in Zev's best interest?

was mad. At Hubby. At me. At first I was so mad, I refused to speak.
Then I said a few cruel things that I immediately regretted. In terms
of "in good times and in bad," this doesn't even come close to the
worst we've seen. It's fixable. A not-very-expensive fix at that.

old me would have found the whole thing funny, really. For one, the
timing was impeccable. Hadn't I just been warning Hubby not to teach
Zev to jump on the bed "because, you know, it could…?"

But I
didn't laugh. It's startling to snap/crack/boom onto a pile of
splintered wood. It's more startling, still, to find out you're no
longer the old you.

Eventually I apologized to Hubby and helped
him carry the bed frame into the garage. He said he'd look for a
furniture maker to replace the broken beam, and I'd ask some of my
interior designer friends for advice.

That night, as we were falling asleep, he said, "It's kinda fun. Sleeping like this."

smiled in the dark at his attitude. He doubts our decisions and worries
about our future as much as I do. But he's able to laugh about it. I
resolved to do the same.

"Fun? I don't know about that," I said. "But at least now we can jump on the bed all we want."

Monday, November 6, 2006

Never Better Late

My belly is flabby. My memory is shot. I'm tired all the time, and
I've been known to slip into baby talk with friends and colleagues.

But motherhood has endowed me with a superpower. A talent the likes of which I never expected I could possess: punctuality. 

used to be pathologically late. My husband once asked me if I ate time,
because he had trouble figuring out what else I could have done with
it. I was the person you lied to about movie start times. I showed up
late to Lorene's wedding and gave her a great big hug, only to be told,
"Um, Mayrav, it's nice to see you, but the reason all those people are
looking at me right now is that I'm about to walk down the aisle. So
could you please find a seat?"

Now? Now, I'm not only on time,
I'm the kind of on-time that takes into account parking and slow
elevators. The best thing about my new superpower, though, is that it
has given me the ability to predict exactly how late other people are
going to be.

Mom's hair appointment was at noon in the Valley. She said she was going to come over right after.

"So I'll see you at 5?" I said.

"What 5?" she said "My appointment is at noon. I'll be there at 2."


In the meantime, Keren called to see if I'd be free for a late lunch, "sometime around 3."

I thought about it for about a half-second.

"Yeah. I'll be able to make it."

Later, when my mom showed up, I looked at the clock. 4:50 p.m.

Lisa said she wanted to stop by for coffee in the afternoon, I took
steaks out of the freezer. I figured afternoon on Planet Lisa meant 6
p.m. Earth time, but then figuring for traffic, she could easily be
here as late as 7. And she'd be hungry. Her arrival time? 8 p.m. We had
a delightful dinner.

Former late arrivers are the opposite of
former smokers: We're totally mellow about it. But late arrivers are a
jittery lot, all apologies and overcompensation. In Lisa's case, she
usually buys the first two rounds if she's late meeting a friend at a
bar. (Note to self: Invite Lisa to more bars.)

"I want you to know, I'm trying to reform myself," Lisa said, when I called her later. "I've gotten much better."

"Yeah? What are you doing differently?"

"I'm trying not to take on too many things."

it should be noted, was talking to me from the self-checkout kiosk of
the grocery store where she was buying a few last-minute items that
she'd forgotten for the pasta sauce that she'd left cooking on the
stove at home.

"How's that going for you?"

said lateness comes from a desire to please – you don't want to say no
to anything, so you end up taking on too much and showing up late to
all of it. "I don't want to come off looking bad, but I always do."

She didn't need to explain. I'm the same way. Or at least I was.

like to say that Zev has inspired a greater focus in my life. Or that
my desire to spend quality time with him forces me to work faster, more
efficiently and manage my time better. I'd like to say a lot of things
that people always say after they have kids. The truth is, I think I
was zapped with a gamma ray. I'm simply not the same human being I used
to be.

But while Lisa was busy analyzing the root cause of her
tardiness ("I always underestimate how long it takes to do anything"),
I was trying hard not to think too much about my new superpower, for
fear I'd lose it. If Lisa wants to reform her ways, I want to help out
– offer some advice from my own life experience. But "have a kid"
sounds as ridiculous as "get bitten by a radioactive spider."

I got out of it the same way I got into it: Zev. It was nearing his
bedtime and I had pajamas to put on, books to read and snuggling to do.
So I got off the phone.

I didn't want to be late.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Turning Tricks, No Treat

How do I make R2D2 slutty?

That's the question facing me
today. I could dip into my collection of past Halloween costumes and
just go as a slut devil, or a slut angel or a slut pirate.

Hubby is going as Luke Skywalker with Zev – dressed as Yoda – strapped
to his back, just as the characters appear on the swamp planet of
Dagobah in "The Empire Strikes Back" (have I lost you yet?).

only other character in that scene is R2D2. And since it'd be kinda
lame for Luke and Yoda to be traveling around Dagobah with a French
maid, I have to figure out how to slut up R2.

If you're asking
why I have to turn a 2-foot droid into a whore, why I can't just go as
a "normal" R2D2, then you've probably spent the last 20 Halloweens
alone in some darkened patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear.
When you're a kid, Halloween is about treats. When you're an adult,
it's about looking as though you turn tricks.

I suppose, as a
presumably thinking person, I should question why women across the
country have silently declared one of the coldest evenings of the fall
as the night we collectively waltz around outdoors in our underwear.
But when it comes to tradition, I've learned not to question: Why do we
eat turkey on Thanksgiving? I don't know. Who cares? It's the one day
of the year my mom ever cooked. Why spoil it with analysis?

is true for vampish Halloween costumes. Is it odd for a nice Jewish
girl to celebrate a pagan ritual that's been funneled through Christian
traditions? Yep. Is it any more odd to do so while wearing a corset?
Probably not. So lace me up!

Truth is, women are sexual beings.
At least, we'd like to be. There's an awful lot of punishment and
condemnation and mixed messages out there for women who enjoy sex and
feel comfortable with their sexuality. There is this weird definition
women have of "sexy" as "being sexy for men." Halloween, the way I see
it, is a way of turning that on its head. Of being sexy for ourselves.

is, of course, some harm we're doing our daughters and little sisters
in presenting "dress up" as something other than a fulfillment of our fantasies.
Do girls look at these revealing costumes as a choice or a mandatory
uniform? It's hard to know, but I suspect the latter.

A loyal,
if crazy, reader, Kirsten, says the whoring of Halloween starts young
these days. Her 8-year-old daughter wants to go to her "very orderly
Lutheran school" dressed as Marilyn Monroe.

"Of course, I'm letting her," she wrote in an e-mail.

But that doesn't mean the sex-kitten-for-a-day thing doesn't get her dander up.

really bugs me is the women who answer the door with candy and a
skin-tight, low-cut top with their giant boobs hanging out," she wrote.
"I know they're doing it for my cute husband, but my 11-year-old son
stands there staring at the 'candy.' "

Which brings me back to my own boobs – and just how I am going to manage to reveal them in an androgynous droid costume.

gone through various methods in my head: The super short white dress
with blue buttons sewed on it and a silver hat? Nope. I'd be mistaken
for a Rockette. The cylindrical box that shows off much leg but covers
my head? I'm afraid I'd look like a suppository.

I was about give
up, when I decided to turn to Jessica Paster, the celebrity stylist
responsible for dressing Kate Bosworth, Thandie Newton and a host of
other starlets. If she couldn't help me out with my R2 costume, no one

As it turns out, years of dressing the sexiest women in
Hollywood have given her some insight into this Halloween tradition of
ours. In other words, she's questioned it. And it didn't hold up.

creative and having a creative costume is fun. Looking like a hooker is
not fun," said Jessica, who will be sporting an elaborate raven costume
tonight. "I think that women think that's sexy. It's not sexy."


I've got, like, five hours to figure this thing out now, and the way I
see it, I have two options: Either I realize that I'm under no
obligation to show skin tonight and stick myself inside a big white
box. Or I take the slut costume tradition to its logical conclusion,
strip all my clothes off, paint the words "I'm R2D2" on my body and
call it a night.

A cold, cold night.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Red In the Face

Sweaty and stupid.

That's how people usually feel when the
rage hangover kicks in. After the steam has left your ears and the red
receded from your cheeks. You're usually left hoarse, winded, sweaty
and stupid. 

That's how my new pal Amber probably feels about
now. Two weeks ago, Amber (her real name is Stephanie, but I promised I
wouldn't use it in print), e-mailed me to tell me what a sophomoric,
insulting and boring writer I am.

That's not – by a long shot –
the worst anyone has ever called me. But what struck me was Amber's
rage. I can't print the whole e-mail because this is a newspaper and
not a prison yard, but the gist of it was that she didn't like the
subject matter of my column and that somehow the fact that I'm a Jewish
married woman with a child makes me unintelligible to readers of The
Orange County Register. (For this, I blame our Yiddish translator, who
is clearly sleeping on the job.) And while she was on the topic of
Register readers, she asked, in mouth-foaming all-caps: "DOES THE

I suspect they do. But
what I'm less certain about is how someone could pick up the paper,
look past all the true outrages reported in the news section and get
her panties in a bunch over a silly column. I think my column ran
alongside a piece that taught readers how to "pick up a boy" – this is
not the stuff that will advance Western society and political
discourse. This is the stuff you read while on the treadmill, when a
commercial comes on and you have to stop undressing Matt Lauer with
your eyes.

But Amber roared at me, full throttle – and I,
because I'm yet not old enough to know better, decided to engage her.
I'm glad I did. What I learned from her will likely help me the next
time I feel the need to choke a chatty checkout girl – or when I'm the
one getting stink eye.

I have yelled at people for things that
I eventually found out they didn't do. I cursed a hideous blue streak
of obscenities in front of my grandmother when I thought some dazed
driver hit our car – only to realize later that I had been the one at
fault. I once jumped out of my boyfriend's car to scream down a drunk
driver in the middle of the night on the Southside of Chicago.

after every one of these instances, I ended up feeling sweaty and
stupid and wondered why in the world these things set me off. Why
couldn't I control myself better?

Chris, who bears the
distinction of being my angriest friend, says people subconsciously
pick fights over small indignities because the big stuff is simply too

"People feel powerless about everything in their lives,
and so they either accept that they're powerless or they get angry
about it."

Amber seemed to concur:

"I have plenty of thoughts on world events, depressing and infuriating. However, Kim Jong's e-mail wasn't printed."

So, was I a scapegoat for North Korea's nuclear proliferation? That's kinda cool, actually.

makes being the subject of a stranger's outsized anger seem like a kind
of public service. Something we can all get behind. It's a lot harder
to get worked up by someone's instant hatred for your screaming child
if you realize they don't want to kill your kid, they're just working
out their disgust over the genocide in Darfur.

So the next time
someone flips you the bird in traffic, don't get indignant. Realize,
instead, that it's just the guy's abbreviated way of saying, "PCBs in
the environment are turning female polar bears into hermaphrodites and
threatening the entire species, and that frustrates the hell out of me!"

Can't get mad at that guy now, can you?

Also realize that the person with the outstretched finger will go from consternation to contrition in a matter of minutes.

sorry if I insulted you, really," Amber wrote a day after flaming me.
"One major thing about having anger is the remorse the angry person
gets after the rage subsides."

That's OK, Amber. We all need to rage.

And afterward we all feel sweaty and stupid.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Gift That Just Stopped Giving

It was a sweet gift. A year ago, Steve gave me a leather-bound
journal. In it, he'd jotted down witty thoughts and glued old
photographs and New Yorker cartoons on random pages. Most of the pages,
though, were blank. 

A handwritten note came with it explaining
that he'd put down some funny things in the book and was leaving it
with me "for a couple of weeks, a month," and then I was to send it
back to him with some more of the pages filled. We'd keep at this until
the blank pages disappeared, and then, "when the book is full, you get
to keep it," his note said. "Hopefully around your birthday or a
holiday, so I don't have to think about what else to get you."

gave me this caveat: "It's a gift, not an imposition. So if you decide
you don't have the time, inclination or memory, I won't be offended at
all. I would want it to be fun, not frustrating." 

The truth is,
I really don't have much time, but I love the idea so much that
whenever I get a chance, I jot stuff down. I've only filled a handful
of pages in this past year – but it's pretty good stuff.

the guy who admitted that he was so freaked out after renting "The
Ring" that when his 8-year-old, long-haired daughter walked into his
bedroom asking for a glass of water in the middle of the night, he
"jumped up on the bed and screamed like a girl."

Or the
conversation I overheard between a pouty 3-year-old and her dad. I'm
not sure what the girl's demands were, but the dad was refusing them,
saying, "You can't because it's winter."

The girl, standing in a light dress in the warm sun, asked her dad, "What's winter?"

The dad, wearing shorts and holding an ice cream cone, suddenly looked very, very embarrassed.

"Winter," he said, slowly. "Um. Winter is now."

had intended to hand the Book of Funny off to Steve when he was here
this past weekend, but the stars didn't quite align. So I told him how
sorry I was that he was returning to New York without the book. His
response: "What book?"

"The Book of Funny."

"Oh, I figured that was dead."


"Why?! Oh, I don't know, maybe because you never, one, sent it back to me, or two, mentioned it. Ever. For a year."

"Oh," I said. "That."

of the hallmarks of a good friendship is that two people can go for a
long time without talking and then pick up right where they left off.
There is so much that never needs to be said.

But maybe it wouldn't have killed me to say something. Like "Thanks." Or "This is a great idea. I'm totally into it."

whole enterprise, Steve explained in that first note to me, was to give
me another stab at developing a hobby. I failed at knitting,
mosaic-tiling and exercising. I don't enjoy cooking, drawing or
painting. I can't sing.

Writing down funny stuff, he figured,
was a sure thing. I'm a humor columnist. But my silence left him with
the idea that the journal was going the way of the pottery wheel he'd
given me one year – a thing that I want to want to do.

Now, I
fear, I'm going to be carting around this mostly blank Book of Funny
for the rest of my life. A scrapbook of memories that will never be
recalled because they'll never be collected.

I protested that I
will fill these pages more, and that I want him to do the same, but
it's clear Steve's moved on. I guess I'm going to have to, too. It was
a good idea, and if anyone reading this has more discipline than I do,
maybe you can start (and finish) a Book of Funny with a friend.

for my book, I think I'll clip out this column and paste it inside.
That way, in a hundred years, at least my progeny will know why I
bothered to keep this mostly blank book lying around.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Get Out of My MySpace!

My sister and I are no longer friends.

She still calls me
whenever she needs something. And I call her to say "Hi." We always end
the conversations with a nice "I love you." And I'm certain she
wouldn't cross to the other side of the street if she saw me heading
her way.

But on MySpace, I'm dead to her.

I've never
had someone remove me as a MySpace friend, and it's fairly humiliating
that my first such blow should come from a flesh-and-blood relative. As
far as anyone peeking at my page is concerned, someone named *mofo* and I
are closer than me and Sis. I don't know *mofo*. I've never met *mofo*, and
if I did, she and I would have no idea that we're "friends." (But
thanks to MySpace's handy features, I do know that *mofo* turned 30 on
Monday. Happy birthday, *mofo*!).

Even before my sister exiled
me, I had been feeling like a little bit of a MySpace loser. I have
asked my favorite artist, Ani DiFranco, to be my friend 15 times (one
for each time I have seen her in concert). I still haven't gotten a

And comedian Dane Cook – the guy who pretty much
launched his career from the pages of MySpace and has, according to his
page, 1,533,755 friends – won't have anything to do with me.
Apparently, even if you have 1.5 million friends, you have to draw the
line somewhere.

Sure I have twice as many friends as Hubby.
And, yeah, I have forged an actual friendship – 27-year-old Nikki from
Milwaukee is a living embodiment of positive energy. But getting
ignored by Dane Cook and kicked to the curb by my sister pretty much
makes me the biggest loser on MySpace.

I have to admit that in the case of Sis, I did have it coming. See, I hate my sister's boyfriend.

I brought future Hubby home to meet my family, my then-9-year-old
sister shoved him and screamed, "Get away from my sister! You're going
to marry her and move to New York and I'm never going to see her again!"

a lot older than 9, but you might not know that by the aggressive
messages about Idiot that I posted on Sis' MySpace page. I called Idiot
a "creep," a "jerk" and a "loser." And I did it so he could see that I
did it. But that's not where I went wrong. The mistake I made was that
I should have just called him by his name: Idiot. 

The word
"idiot" has such a lovely, vaguely francophone arrangement of vowels. By
the time he sounded out the word, he would have been so intellectually
exhausted that he'd need a nap. By choosing simpler words, I left
myself open for a counteroffensive, an opening he took – however

The "war," as Sis describes it, proved too much
for her, and with a few angry clicks she removed me and Hubby from her
site (and her sight). She says she also removed Idiot, but I'll never
know because she blocked her profile so that non-friends can't see her
pictures of Israel or the photos of my son that she regularly posts to
her page. 

"MySpace is supposed to be fun. I just want to see my friends on it, I don't need this stress," she said.

she's right about that. I apologized to her for being childish – but
not for hating Idiot. Idiot's a creep and I hope even Tom drops him.
But I am sorry that I turned her page into a family feud. 

Sis accepted my apology. But not my friendship request.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

A Hybrid of Ideas

I used to draw on my clothes in high school.
Dumb stuff, like my boyfriend's name or Shakespeare quotes. On one pair
of pants I painted a giant green peace sign.

The first day I wore them, I heard this voice calling out behind me: "Have you ever even smoked dope?"

I turned around, shocked to find School Pothead talking to me. He was cute. And he never talked to me.

"What?" (Yeah. I have a way with words.)

"Pot. Have you ever smoked it?" Pothead said, half talking, half barking.

"No," I said, confused.

"Then why are you wearing that fucking peace sign, you fucking poser?"

Apparently marijuana not only kills brain cells, it dampens an appreciation for irony.

"What does pot have to do with peace?"

"If you're not a hippie," Pothead said, "don't dress like one."

conversation was bizarre in the way that those conversations between
Bert and Ernie were bizarre. Remember those? Bert would walk into the
bedroom to find Ernie covered in duct tape. When Bert would ask, in his
uptight Muppet way, about the tape, Ernie would always have some weird
Rube Goldberg-esque explanation about how the tape would remind him of
being stuck, which would remind him about a hard homework question he
had, which would in turn remind him about the housework he had to do;
which would then remind him to take Rubber Duckie out of the dishwasher
– or something like that, it's been awhile since I've watched.

you want to take a duck out of a dishwasher, there's no need to bind
yourself up in a lot of tape. One has nothing to do with the other. But
it seems like all around me people make these odd Bert/Ernie
connections all the time – connections between two disparate ideas that
put weird strangleholds on the brain.

It's like how Mom buys
cantaloupe in bulk because, per melon, it's cheaper than buying just
one – but then she throws out all but one of them because the rest go

Just recently, on Rosh Hashana, our rabbi talked about the
importance of buying fuel-efficient cars. It might seem like an odd
thing to sermonize about, but he had a really good point about the need
to stop filling the coffers of our enemies every time we fill up our
tanks. He was hardly preaching to the choir on this one: The parking
lot was full to bursting with giant SUVs.

I drove home (in my
fuel-efficient Honda, thank you) thinking that as persuasive as his
sermon was, it's doubtful that he changed any minds that afternoon.
Southern Californians bathe in petroleum. For every Prius you see on
the road, there'll be five Escalades right behind it.

But I was
heartened the following morning to talk to a mom in my son, Zev's,
Mommy and Me class who had also heard the sermon. She said her husband
thinks that as soon as his lease expires this year, "He's really going
to consider looking into a hybrid car."

"That's really great!" I said.

"Yeah. What's bad for me is that I can't."

"What do you mean?"

"I have three kids. I need a big car."

chose to ignore, for the moment, that this was a complete fallacy –
people the world over have even more kids and even smaller cars – and
instead said, "They make hybrid SUVs now."

"I know, but not the kind with three rows. I need three rows."

was about to ask just how big her children were that each one needed
his own row, but I held my tongue. When I came home, I relayed the
story to Hubby, who laughed it off as Bert/Ernie lunacy.

"What does having three kids have to do with a hybrid?" he asked.

"Exactly!" I said.

was going to leave it at that, but – in classic Bert/Ernie style, it
reminded me of Pothead's statement from all those years ago. I probably
should have set Pothead straight back then – and I think I should
definitely challenge Large Mom now. Maybe it won't earn me any friends,
but her strange thinking is keeping her stuck in the duct tape of bad
ideas. If people aren't challenged, they'll never change their thinking
– and they certainly won't change their actions.

It's a zillion
years later, and I still don't know what pot has to do with peace. But
I know I can't keep my peace on inanity any longer.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Growing Pains

Zev told me he wants to start seeing other girls.

He thinks
it's nice and all, the way I cater to his every whim. The way I
anticipate his needs so that he doesn't even have to verbalize them
(especially since – unless his needs include a ball or a dog – he can't
verbalize them).

But now, my 15-month-old tells me, it's time
we start seeing other people: Him, nice day care provider and her posse
of two-foot playmates. Me (sigh) judging by his penchant for grabbing
my midsection, I'm apparently to start seeing a yoga instructor.

really didn't see this day coming. We've been virtually inseparable
since the day he was born. I'll let Safta or his baby sitter Gretta
watch him for a few hours here or there. And every weekend he gets one
"Daddy Day." But, mostly, he's stuck with me all 14 of his waking hours
every day.

Apparently, that's simply too much mommy.

warned me that this was going to happen, that a kid as social as Zev
was eventually going to need to test the waters of independence and
make friends without Mommy hovering about. And Abbe told me that one
day I was going to need a little break from the unrelenting job of
motherhood, reminding me that as a freelance writer, "You are a working

I didn't quite believe either of them. I love the hard
work, and Zev and I have so much fun together. Wasn't I the one who
nibbled the first giggle out of him a year ago? Wasn't I the one to
slide him into a swing for the first time at 5 months? Who turns up the
Stevie Wonder and dances with him all over his room? Me, that's who.

Zev has recently started to notice other kids, chasing them, giggling
as they touch his face, even kissing his buddy, Aidan. Whenever we go
to a park or to synagogue, Zev darts off in search of adventure, only
occasionally checking over his shoulder to make sure I'm there. As fun
as Mommy is, she's no toddler.

We're in a Mommy and Me class, a
swim class and a music class, all of which Zev adores. But each of
these takes an hour or less. Zev could use more toddler time. 

frankly, I could use a little less. Zev's naps have grown shorter right
as my freelance assignments have grown more abundant. And I experience
this weird phantom-limb feeling whenever I walk outside without a

Still, I quit my job to stay at home with him, so what am I doing signing him up for day care? 

can't shake the question out of my head as I trudge over to Day Care
Lady's place to drop off the deposit. Day Care Lady is wonderful. She's
got good credentials, a calm demeanor; her record is clean and she's
walking distance from my house. But she won't take kids for fewer than
14 hours a week – about seven more than I'd like. And, most
importantly, she's not me. She's very understanding of my
indecisiveness and agrees to let me try it out for a month.

"What happens when he likes it, but you miss him?" she asks. 

"I don't know."

gives her a big smile as we leave and head to the park, where I slip
him into a swing between two 2-year-olds being pushed by their nannies.

used to being the only parent in a park full of nannies, but today I
feel self-conscious about it. Maybe the nannies can sense this.
Unsolicited, they tell me about all the successes they've had with
children in their care, the way the parents had 4-year-olds in diapers
until Nanny came along. The way Nanny eased bottles out of
rotten-toothed mouths and coaxed bed-wetters into waking up dry.

of the nannies starts meowing at her charge, inspiring giggles from the
child and an astonished look from Zev. Zev's heard Hubby and me meow at
him before, but something about Nanny's meow captures him differently. 

"Mmm," he starts tentatively. "Meow."

"Oh!" Nanny says, "He knows how to meow."

Well, he does now.

The world is full of people who aren't me. People who Zev will meet and learn from. 

As hard as it may be, I know I have to let go a bit and let him.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Book Club Blows My Cover

I  had long ago set a few rules for myself: 

1. No Diet Coke.
2. No Brazilian bikini waxes.
3. No book clubs.

once got thirsty and broke the first rule, I won't comment on the
second and the third, well, the third rule had been untested for at
least two years, when last I was asked (and declined) to join a book
club. But last week, Ande sent me a message over MySpace asking me to
join a group she's starting for "non-flaky types." 

She said she wants to read "Everything Is Illuminated," and like many women my age, she would rather not do so alone.


only recently met Ande, and I liked her right away. Hubby was meeting
me at a museum where I had taken Zev for the afternoon, and he
surprised me by bringing her with him. I was in a bad mood that day and
a little resentful of being forced to meet someone new while covered in
sweat and baby food. But within 15 minutes, I invited her over for

Still, that's not enough to break a cardinal rule. I
wrote her back, explaining that my problem with authority extends to
assigned readings. 

But the truth is I'm an embarrassingly slow reader.

I mean, really, really slow.

summer, I read "Lincoln's Melancholy," by Joshua Wolf Shenk. That's it.
Just "Lincoln's Melancholy." It's not a particularly long book, but it
took me all summer to read it. Before that, I read Tom Robbins'
"Jitterbug Perfume." Started it in February. Finished it in June. At
this moment, I'm not reading anything – I've got to recuperate from the
intense reading schedule of the last seven months.

Hubby makes
fun of my snail's pace ("I think you're the only person I know who
writes faster than she reads.") but he's also the first to come to my
defense ("You read constantly – magazines, newspapers. That's why it
takes you so long to get through books.").

It's sweet of him to
say, but he reads as many magazines and newspapers as I do – and he
still manages to plow through books like nothin'.

My painful
pace has been a point of shame my whole life – a deficiency I have
tried hard to cover up, with varying degrees of success.

my senior year of high school, Ben Glassman sat kitty-corner behind me
in English class. One day, when we were doing "silent reading" at our
desks, he passed me a note.

"Timed you as you read that last page. Took you 20 minutes."

that point on, I bowed out of study groups, shied away from borrowing
friends' books and, of course, declined all invitations to join book
clubs. Why call attention to this embarrassing shortcoming?

Ande's invitation isn't easy to avoid. For one, she's Israeli, and
Israelis can be powerfully persuasive. And two, after becoming a mom, I
seem to have lost my social life along with my waistline. I've promised
myself I'd meet new, interesting people and do something that's just
for me. I was going to start playing on a softball team that someone
had invited me to join, but I run even slower than I read.

I told Ande I'd join. She seemed genuinely happy and asked me to
suggest some books for the group to read before the first meeting in a
few weeks.

How about "Lincoln's Melancholy?" Either that or "Jitterbug Perfume."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Too Dull To Die

I am totally depressed about this Crocodile Hunter thing.

not his death that gets me. The only time I saw Steve Irwin on
television, he was dangling his toddler in front of a crocodile or
something. I was no fan. No, it's what Irwin's death represents to me
that has me so down.

Don't get me wrong; it's terrible that a
young man with young children should meet an untimely fate. But the guy
wrestled crocodiles. His death wasn't an accident. It was inevitable.

And – if you stop to think about it – it was also kind of cool. Which is why I'm so depressed.

died doing what he loves – getting way too close to deadly animals. I'm
guessing that a stingray barb to the chest is a painful way to go, but
you can imagine that just before the barb went in him, Irwin was
grinning like a child. He loved that stuff.

Which got me
thinking: I don't have a cool way that I want to die. There's nothing I
could be doing that – should I give up the ghost halfway through –
would make my friends say, "Well, at least she died doing what she

I don't do anything that I love, dangerous or otherwise.
It's dismal. I'm sure I'm not alone in living a passionless life devoid
of crocodiles and life-threatening humanitarian work. And I'm perfectly
content to waste the days allotted me contributing absolutely nothing
to this world; I'm American. But I'd really like my death to be more
spectacular than all that.

The day before Irwin died, Jeff
e-mailed me from Africa to say he'd been accosted by a baboon. The
baboon demanded Jeff's apple. Jeff complied, and all went well. But if
it hadn't … well, I love Jeff dearly, but getting killed by a baboon is
pretty awesome. For the rest of his friends' lives, he wouldn't be
"Jeff," he'd be "Jeff, my friend who was killed by a baboon."

I don't see baboons. I don't swim with stingrays. Today I went crazy, hitting the mall and the supermarket.

Irwin's death made me realize that the headline to my obituary will likely read: "Mayrav Saar did nothing, continues same."

figured my angst was universal. There is only one Steve Irwin, after
all. Other people, normal people, probably aren't so self-actualized as
to know how they'd prefer to die, right? Wrong.

"I imagine I'll
die drinking, hopefully halfway through telling a story," Steve says.
He doesn't even have to pause before answering. This is something he'd
thought of before. Maybe years ago. That truly is what he loves doing,
and what he'd love to be doing when he kicks it.

Kevin says he's
actually seen someone die the way he wants to go. A few years back, he
saw a man collapse after Northwestern University's football team beat
Ohio State. The victory was totally unexpected, and the fans went nuts.
Kevin, a die-hard Wildcat, felt terrible for the man's family, but
realized that shedding your mortal coil in the midst of wild jubilation
is a fantastic way to die.

I don't have anything like that. I
don't drink much. I don't follow sports. I have no hobbies or skills.
This is terrible. Am I too boring to die?

No, Steve assures me.
Death isn't going to pass me over because I've never been to Africa.
I'll die just like everyone else. Not to worry.

Kevin adds that
most of us – no matter what romantic notions we have about death –
usually meet our end in a sterile hospital room, anyway. No interesting
life stories required for admission.

That does make me feel a
little better: I guess I can stop pitying myself for not being a dead
crocodile hunter and just to go bed. And if I should die before I wake
… well, those are the breaks.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Office Ick

If you're reading this at work, look around you.

Do you see
the woman who pops her chewing gum? Or the guy who blows his nose so
often, it's like a continuous loop of mucus Muzak? Do you spy the nail
biter with Band-Aids on all her fingers? What about the dandruff snow
blower who leaves little flakes everywhere he goes?

office has a disgusting co-worker. And if you don't see something gross
on the other side of the cubicle wall, then you, my friend, are the
Office Ick.

It's not easy to admit that you're vile. Believe
me. I just realized I was the Office Ick – and I left office life more
than a year ago. But if you think that your habit of picking strange
objects out of your hair goes unnoticed, allow me to do you the favor
of telling you you're wrong. 

No force field of invisibility
shrouds you when you pick your teeth. "Silent" does not equal
"scentless." And just because people turn away when you, ahem, adjust
yourself, doesn't mean they don't notice. They notice. And they send
each other instant messages saying things like, "Is he playing Frogger
down there?"

I decided to write about the Office Ick because
Yvette asked me to. Yvette has spent several years working in a
technology firm taking down furious little mental notes of all the
disgusting things a few of her co-workers do. She does this not because
she's petty, but because she's appalled.

One of her co-workers
(whom she calls Pick-N-Lick, for his habit of picking his zits and then licking
his fingers during meetings), is particularly ripe fodder for a column,
she says.

"I am sure that other people have a co-worker that is some form of Pick-N-Licker. So I'm sure readers can relate," she says.

No doubt.

to have found a forum in which to vent, Yvette offers more examples of
Office Ick behavior: The guy who leaves the kitchen sponge inside a
dirty cup filled with brownish water. And then this e-mail:

I was dialing your number, so I had to take my headphones off. What do
I hear? The guy two cubes down is clipping his fingernails! It drives
me nuts. I only cut my fingernails in the privacy of my home. I think
it is gross. I shouldn't have to listen to it."


my many years as other people's co-worker, I not only clipped my
fingernails at my desk, but my toenails, too. I clipped them directly
into a trash bin. Nice and neat-like. But clip, clip, clip, I did. I
also suffered from terrible allergies and had a kind of snow-covered
mountain of spent Kleenexes on my desk at all times. I removed my shoes
any chance I could, laughed loudly and told dirty jokes. I was, pretty
much, disgusting. And now I'm extremely embarrassed.

I realized
that I owe Lisa Liddane a very huge apology. Register Fitness Goddess
Lisa and I shared a way-too-small cubicle for about four years, during
which time she was the perfect-posture picture of precision focus and I
was … well, I was wiggling my bare toes over a trash can and telling
dirty jokes while blowing my nose.

I write an apology of sorts, calling on Lisa to lash out at me for all the years that I imprisoned her in a lair of revulsion.

don't recall you clipping your nails in all the years we've worked
together, so you must have purposely done that when I wasn't around,"
she e-mails back. "That or the memory of you clipping your toenails was
so traumatic that I had to repress it. LOL."

I am buoyed by Lisa's response. Maybe I wasn't as gross as I thought I was.

Oh no, Maura assures me, I was.

never worked with Maura, but it is her experience that when it comes to
Office Icks, no one likes to talk about it. Lisa's response was just a
kind of coping mechanism that all normal office people use to avoid
confronting the mouth-breathing yeti in the room.

Instead of confronting an offensive person, Maura says, "I just talk behind their backs."


"Conflict sucks."

I guess that's true – so let me handle it. If you've got an Office Ick, clip this column out, and place it on his or her desk.

They'll get the point.

And you'll get a booger-free cubicle.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Now 40% More Mayrav To Love!

I had a perfectly lovely time with Maayan and her daughters. Food.
Friends. Lots of toys for the kids to throw around the room. It was
great. Maayan, I thought, looks wonderful for a woman who had given
birth less than a year ago.

I, apparently, do not.

When I got home, I had this e-mail waiting for me from Maayan: “So … are you?”

I? Am I what, mortified? Yes, yes I am. I am horribly mortified. I
wrote Maayan back to assure her that I am not pregnant. She gave me a
very Israeli shrug of an apology.

“Oh, I'm sorry,” she wrote. “You look it.”

true. After 14 months, I'm back into all my pre-pregnancy clothes, but
I have a little paunch that doesn't seem to know the party's over. I
curse this paunch.

When Mom asked me if I was pregnant a few
weeks ago, I didn't flinch. Women grow accustomed to quasi-competitive,
inappropriate jabs from their mothers. But a girlfriend? Girlfriends
know better. Maayan wouldn't have said anything if I didn't really,
really look like I'd picked up a fetal hitchhiker.

My ever-helpful hubby tried to cheer me up. My belly isn't so bad, he said.

“But Maayan said I look pregnant.”

“She is probably just referring to your acne.”

I plan to start speaking to my husband again in 2008. In the meantime, I IM'd Leslie. 

she wrote. I could practically hear her sigh. “I'm about to spell out
your future for you. Are you ready? For your future?

“You will
go to the gym with me three to four times a week. You will cut out
sodas. And you will lose your rather microscopic paunch in about two

“In the meantime, you will continue to enjoy your tiny
little jeans and your tiny little birdie arms and your perfectly
sculpted shoulders and whine from your perfectly pouty lips about how
ugly you are.”

Sometimes I think Leslie reads to me from a magic quote book called “Say All the Right Things Right Now!” 

I didn't very much like the future she foretold. The sodas I would
abide. I shouldn't drink that garbage anyway. But the gym?

used to be a regular gym-goer. There was a time, in fact, that I went
every day. In my early 20s I contemplated getting a side job as an
aerobics instructor. But then one day, quite randomly, I remembered an
example my professor used in a lecture about cognitive dissonance
theory: “I can say I go to the gym because I enjoy working out. But
maybe it's that, because I go to the gym, I just think I enjoy working

“Hmm,” I thought, while marching repetitively in place on
a machine coated in the thick barbecue sauce of hundreds of strangers'
sweat. “You know what? I hate this.”

That was several years
ago. So when I laced up my running shoes to meet Leslie at her gym,
they were well preserved. Problem was, they were also a half size too
small. I forgot my feet grew three years ago (who knew feet can grow in

I treadmilled. I stationary biked. I stretched. I even watched Anderson Cooper on closed-caption TV.

I did not do is feel the endorphin rush promised me by the Ghost of
Workouts Past. Nor did I feel like doing this three times a week could
have any effect on my abs. I didn't feel anything, really, other than
uncomfortable and silly for wearing too-small shoes. 

When I ask
myself if I hate what I look like more than I hate exercising, the
answer is yes. But will I work out as a result? No. First of all, my
shoes don't fit. Also, I'm so paunchy I don't like the way I look in my
workout clothes. It's a vicious cycle. A vicious, potbellied cycle.

Leslie is adamant that exercise is the answer to everything from the
blues to scabies. So she looks at me funny when I fail to share her
enthusiasm after our workout. 

“Don't you feel great?” Leslie asked, as she bounded out the gym door.

“No,” I said. 

But I can't say the excursion was a total bomb: My feet hurt so much, I forgot about my gut.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Some Notes Are Too Touching

I have lost touch with people very dear to me and grieved after parting with people I truly love. I've gone years without hearing from those who have inspired me.

But I can't seem to shake my real estate agent.

It's been six months since we sold our house, and we're still getting postcards from Real Estate Lady – not to mention letters, bookmarks, beach balls, suggested summer reading lists, magnets and notepads.

I can't say that I mind this too much – who couldn't use an extra notepad? It's just kinda weird. I don't hear from my sister as often as I hear from Real Estate Lady, and I have to wonder: What gives?

The obvious answer, of course, is money. By keeping so loyally in touch, Real Estate Lady will no doubt embed herself deep in my frontal cortex – so that when next I need an agent, hers will be the first name to come to mind. This trick has already worked. The notepads and calendars she left on our doorstep in the four years before we sold our house made hers the first number we called when we decided to move.

But we've moved out of her "coverage area" with no plans to move back – she knows this. Still, here we are, receiving her glowing review of "Shadow of the Wind," by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. So emphatic is her reading suggestion, she has tucked two bookmarks (with her company's logo on them, of course) inside her note.

Which makes me wonder whether this really is about money. Is this shrewd or pathological?

We all know people who make an art of correspondence – people who learn calligraphy and own fancy rubber stamps. They maintain pen pal relationships that span decades and have steady, practiced signatures. They slip a card in the mail, thanking you for a lovely dinner party, before they've even gotten to your house. They are always chipper. They never forget a birthday. They periodically forward e-mails that include cats doing something cute.

They scare me.

I am trying to figure out what, exactly, disquiets me about Real Estate Lady's compulsive networking, when I get a call from Lisa.

The last time I talked to Lisa she was on a bus, yelling into a dying cell phone that she was going to call me when she got home. That was two months ago. This time, she dials me up while resting in a hammock that was part of an art installation in San Jose. She had a few minutes to talk, as she waited for a friend of hers she hadn't seen or spoken much to for two years.

"I have a $100 flight voucher; it expires in December, and I want to use it to visit you," she says, before running down a list of reasons why such a visit would be impossible. The sentiment would sound insincere if it didn't add at the end, "You know what? Why don't I transfer the voucher to you and you can visit me up here."

That's when I understood. Keeping in touch is only meaningful if … well, if it's meaningful. Consistent correspondence doesn't say anything other than "I hate trees." When someone really reaches out to you, it doesn't feel like junk mail; it feels like a sincere invitation to play ball on the beach or hear about the good book she's reading.

\Maybe on some unconscious level I'm just trying to make an excuse for being bad at calling and writing people, but I don't think so. Real Estate Lady can send all the postcards she wants. Some of the people who love me the most are the ones I hear from the least.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Slice and Dice to Look Nice

I will not age gracefully.

I plan to nip and tuck and slice and suck myself as far away from the crypt as I possibly can without looking ridiculous. I don't listen to the argument that plastic surgery is fueled by our culture's pervasive degradation of women and media brainwashing. The argument is true, mind you, I just don't listen to it.

I also don't listen to Ashlee Simpson. Not to her music. Not to her sister. Not to what she has to say about self-esteem. So forgive me for coming to this a bit late, but what's all the fuss about?

Jessica Simpson's lip-synching little sis did a nice little interview in the July issue of Marie Claire, in which she chirps, "Everyone is made differently, and that's what makes us beautiful and unique. I want girls to look in the mirror and feel confident."

Shortly thereafter, she got a nose job.

Now Marie Claire readers are all up in arms over the lip-syncher's hypocrisy, and other media outlets spent a few days batting her about like cats with yarn. I don't begrudge anyone for making fun of Ashlee. She's a walking commodity created by bizarre parents and expensive lighting. Her purpose in life is to remind the rest of us why we don't really want to be famous after all.

But I do take issue with the idea that hacking into one's flesh is bad. I've never had plastic surgery, but like I said, I fully intend to. Why not?

It's not a sign of weakness. It's the ultimate sign of control. Are you the love child of a horse and a rhinoceros? If you can make it work for you, then you're probably a truly beautiful person who can light up a whole room with your smile.

But if you can't make it work for you, lose the long face and chop off your schnoz. Victory over DNA. I feel the same way about people who get sex-change operations. Honey, if you were born in the wrong body, then get yourself in the right one. Where's the scandal?

When hypochondriac Hubby worried that he would one day lose all his teeth, I shrugged and said, "So? You'll get new ones."

And I mean it.

We live in a time when we can carve entirely different looks out of the clay molds of our bodies. In his youth, Donald Rumsfeld looked like Dick Sargent. One skilled scalpel, and he still could.

I have friends who disagree (actually, I'm hard-pressed to find friends who agree with me on this). They bring up Michael Jackson, which is like bringing up epidemic obesity when a 90-pound woman glances at the dessert menu.

They say that women, particularly young women, are pressured into believing they have to be perfect in order to be beautiful/accepted/successful/loved. But my friends who rail against cosmetic surgery all happen to be beautiful, accepted, successful and loved. It's very difficult to have perspective on the myriad reasons a woman (or man) would go under the knife if you look ravishing with unwashed hair and no makeup.

Besides, the whole hubbub over Ashlee is as misplaced as Mel Gibson at a bar mitzvah. Society's big mistake is holding a dimwit like her up as a role model, not with her choice to (let's face it) make herself look better.

And yet, Marie Claire is expanding the letters section of its Aug. 15 issue to allow for many of the more than 1,000 notes of protest readers sent to the magazine.

Since she is a role model (sigh), some of her detractors say she not only shouldn't have made the hypocritical statement, but she shouldn't have gotten the plastic surgery in the first place. Plastic surgery is the devil's work, plain and simple. A sign of insecurity and low self-esteem. Proof that women simply can't be trusted with control of their own bodies.

If rolling one's eyes causes wrinkles, I'm going to need a lot of Botox some day.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Doll Face

Growing up, I believed there were two kinds of girls in the world: girls who were blond, and girls who were ugly. Not being blond, I figured I fell into the latter camp.

There was very little out there to dissuade brown, Jewish me from my conviction. Barbie? Blond. Cinderella? Blond. Evil stepsisters? Brunettes. With large noses. I was too young to know that a Jewish woman created Barbie dolls and that self-loathing was a cultural birthright. All I knew was that dolls didn't look like me, and, therefore, I was ugly.

Not anymore, I ain't. In fact, I'm a doll.

I just caught on to this cultural phenomenon, but if you're an 8-year-old girl and your parents mistake toys for love, you are likely the feudal lady of global doll fiefdom. You, my friend, are an inhabitant of the American Girl Place.

Much has been written of American Girl dolls, and I've ignored all of it. Never mind that more than 12 million dolls have been sold or that travel agencies book vacation packages based around visiting the country's three American Girl Place stores. I'm not a little girl. I don't have a little girl. I didn't see a need to know anything about little girls' dolls.

Oh, what I've been missing!

When the American Girl Place opened at The Grove in Los Angeles in April, Leslie told me I had to go see it.

"It's like a cult," she promised.

She said the girls all go in as normal people and come out wide-eyed and Kool-Aid drunk. What transpires inside the two-story doll mecca, she couldn't say. She herself was afraid to step foot in there lest she get bitten on the neck by Samantha or Jess and end up sold in a box, gap-toothed with polyester hair.

So I told her I'd scout it out first.

As the doors parted, so, too, did the clouds. And the angels did sing. Two whole floors of dolls. A museum. A café. A photo studio. A theater. A dolly hairdresser. A dolly doctor. A clothing store where you could buy matching clothes for you and your doll. Matching clothes!

But wait, it gets better.

Adults can argue embryonic stem cell research and human cloning all they want. Any red-blooded American Girl can tell you clones already exist. Duh. They're called Just Like You Dolls. And – here's the greatest part – they look Just. Like. You!

At the dolly hair salon, 8-year-old Shannon, of Seal Beach, was gingerly handing over Elizabeth to a hair stylist. Shannon had light brown hair. Elizabeth did, too. Shannon had blue eyes and the sweetest freckles around her nose. Elizabeth did, too. Shannon had her hair up in a ponytail with a pink ribbon. Elizabeth did, too.

Shannon said she'd had Elizabeth for a year and had never before been here and had never before had Elizabeth's hair professionally styled and was, gulp, nervous. She looked nervous. Eerily, Elizabeth did, too.

I backed away from the girl and her proxy and headed upstairs to find my own Just Like You Doll. Her name, according to the box, is GT26 G. Medium skin, curly dark brown hair and amber eyes. And, oddly, she comes with a toy dog that looks a lot like Sketch. For $102 I could have my own little effigy, a book and the dog. And for an extra $24 I could dress her in an outfit that looked strangely like the one I was already wearing. How did they know what I'd be wearing that day? And what's with the dog?

My throat suddenly started to constrict and fill with the very strong taste of focus group. Had I been studied and classified and categorized into a type?

As unhealthy as all my blonde worship might have been as a child, at least I never thought of myself as a type. Standing in that store, I finally realized that I shouldn't have envied the blond girls their Barbie look-alikes. While I was being subliminally told that I was ugly, they were being brainwashed into thinking they were far worse – not unique.

It's a life lesson that American Girls today will likely never get. Now everyone is not unique. Everyone is classifiable. Only time will tell if they're worse off for it. I put GT26G back on the shelf, tiptoed past Shannon and her voodoo doll and walked out of the store.

I'd rather be ugly than a type.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

If He Don't Look Good, I Don't Look Good



Register columnist

I expect that some day my son will come home with hair dyed purple and papier-mâchéd into the shape of a vulture. I will not care. At that point, hormones and a sheltered suburban existence will conspire to make him an entirely unreasonable monkey-thing. Aside from demands for money and food, I doubt, at that point, he'll even be talking to me.

But until then, Zev's hair is my concern. Mine. Not my husband's. Not my mother's. Not "society's." Mine.

Somehow, in these last 13 months I had forgotten that fact. Somehow, I had allowed his tresses to get out of control. Somehow, I let Zev grow a mullet.

It was cute at first, those soft curls kissing the back of his neck. But when the rest of his hair failed to grow at the same rate, he started to look like Billy Ray Cyrus.

Strangers complimented me on my "beautiful daughter." Friends greeted Zev with a pinky-forefinger rocker salute and the exclamation "Business in front; party in back!" A portion of his birthday festivities was taken up with people discussing just, exactly, how hard Zev rocked his mullet.

I was appalled. I was embarrassed. But I was outnumbered.

While I demanded that Zev get a haircut, Mom, Hubby and a host of so-called "friends" told me to leave his hair alone, citing everything from religious superstitions to promises that, honestly, his hockey hair looked cute. I got so many admonitions, I started to develop a Samson complex about it.

Never mind that no one can so much as smile at this kid without first going through me, I had somehow relinquished my control-freak grip on this one aspect of Zev's well-being, and he was stranded in silly hairdo-land as a result of it.

Then came Gretta.

I immediately liked everything about Zev's lovely baby sitter from the moment I interviewed her. She is comfortable with kids. She speaks her mind. She thinks I'm pretty. But something she said stuck in my head – my well-groomed head.

"I love that you cut his hair into a mullet," she said.

In all the comments I'd received about Zev's hair, no one had ever suggested that I fashioned Zev's hair this way on purpose. Is that what people think? That we play trailer-park dress up at home? That I did this to my child?

Now the mullet was making me look bad. It was time to take Zev's hair into my hands.

Well, not my hands. I am a firm believer that I can do anything well – but I'd much rather pay someone else to do it better. So, against Hubby's protests, we whisked Zev over to First Cut at Fashion Island.

Hair salons for children, in general, are minimonuments to the kind of overindulgent parenting that creates spoiled, hateful kids. And this one, with its airplane seats, individual cartoon-spewing televisions and well-stocked toy section is guaranteed to turn your child into a brat.

I loved it.

The place is bright and airy and full of kids. I had one request: I wanted a hot hairdresser. Before you send your angry letters, think about it for a second: Anyone can cut a kid's hair. We were paying good money ($22) for a gimmick, and all I wanted was my money's worth. To me, a hot hairdresser is just part of the show.

That's how we ended up with Kim. With a winning smile and long black fingernails, Kim did an expert job lopping off Zev's locks. She even ignored my husband's demand for Depeche Mode bangs and, instead, followed my request for Ari Gold hair.

Zev came away looking fantastic. And I'll look even better for having a kid with such a great haircut – which is the important thing.

Kim sent us home with one of Zev's curls tucked in an envelope for safekeeping.

When the day comes that Zev sports a Mohawk or shaves his girlfriend's name into his head or dunks his head in Nair, I'll be able to wrap the long curl around my fingers and remember that once – for a short time – I was in charge.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

When go-go becomes "Go!"



Register columnist

The idea seemed cute at first. For Keren's birthday, a group of us conspired to take her out for a good, old-fashioned Girls' Night. Limo. Swanky L.A. club. Bottle service. Dancing.

It would be fun! It would be crazy! It would be a diversion from our humdrum lives of baby-raising! It would, I quickly surmised, be a nightmare.

Debbie gave me the instructions: "Be there by 9, and dress to kill." Dress to kill? I'm a flabby Jewish mother. Dress to kill what? A chicken? Still, I squeezed myself into a little black dress that didn't used to feel so little, strapped on my sexiest shoes and headed out the door.

"You excited?" Hubby asked.

"No," I said. "I'm 150 years old. I'm fat. I'm tired, and I'm about to get eaten alive by high school kids with fake IDs."

"Have fun!" he chirped.

The DJ was terrible, the two-bottle minimum proved more than we could take and the kids across the aisle from us somehow decided we would want to watch them spill Red Bull on each other and simulate sex.

A pretty young thing wearing a shirt – and just a shirt – bopped from knee to knee, giving lap dances without the benefit of underwear and posing for photos we all agreed she'd regret horribly some day.

Watching her, I was suddenly seized with shame. Not for her, but for me. "Wow, was I an idiot when I was 20," I thought. I remembered my own club-scene stunts and shivered. "At least this girl isn't being carried off the dance floor topless."

I looked back at Keren, who was dancing and clearly having a wonderful time. A guy started trying to dance with her, and without missing a beat, she shooed him away with her hand, as if brushing off a fly. He looked shocked.

"Go," she said. And he did.

She kept dancing as if nothing had happened. She is now my hero.

Women don't typically want to meet guys at clubs. Girls' Night is almost always about drinking and dancing with friends. But when you're an idiot 20-year-old, you don't realize that wiggling about without underwear will get you unwanted attention. And once you get this attention, you're too young to understand that it's OK to be rudely direct. Instead, you make up excuses not to dance. You give out wrong phone numbers. You feign illness. Anything to get out of having to talk to whatever worm inched his way toward you.

If you never learn how to tell a guy, simply, "Go," then by the time you're 30, you figure club life is for kids and hang up your stilettos.

The realization was liberating. I started to see the club less as an ordeal to endure than as a big inside joke that only we were in on. I batted away pickup lines like a heckled comic.

"Where do I know you from?" was met with "I think I used to baby-sit you."

I stopped a guy who was trying to drag Aliza and me off to the dance floor by telling him, "Collectively, we're 70."

With my new curmudgeonly old lady outlook, I was able to dance and drink and enjoy myself. At least for a while. By about 2 a.m. the alcohol, the lateness and my advanced age caught up with me. I was starting to nod off in the booth when an eager-faced young man plopped himself down with a bounce.

"You're beautiful," he said.

Ugh. Here we go.

"Thank you," I sighed. "My husband thinks so, too."

"Your husband?" he said, as if the word was foreign.

"Yes," I said. "And so does my son."

"Your son?"


The kid wasn't budging. Clearly he'd heard lines like these before; he had no idea I was telling the truth.

He kept trying to chat me up, dodging his way around my roadblocks like a pro. I gave up trying to be polite. Imitating Keren's brush-wave, I said, simply, "Bye."

"Bye?" he said.

This line was clearly as new to him as it was to me.

"Yep," I said, loving the way the brush-wave felt in my wrist. Reveling in how the word rolled off my tongue. Like a mantra. Like something precious I had earned: