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Doing Good

12 Feb

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When the world seems to be falling apart, it is comforting to see the people you love trying to put it back together. One of those people is my son.

He’s a quiet kid. He’s shy and unassuming and once you are lucky enough to get to know him, he’s hilarious and kind and genuine. He still needs to work on the regular teenage stuff like being nicer to his brothers or answering me in a more patient tone. But all in all, he’s a truly fine human being and I am honored to have the privilege of being his mom.

In the fall, my son participated in a Midnight Run. Together with his friends and our synagogue he collected necessary every day items we might take for granted: soap, pillows, a warm jacket. On a cold November night, my son and husband drove into New York City and handed out jackets to the homeless. They helped people find the right size coat, the color they preferred, and ultimately the jacket that would keep them the warmest. They handed out jackets until there were no more jackets to hand out. But there were still people who were cold.

A few weeks later, I saw a segment on the news about a company in Michigan called The Empowerment Plan that was making jackets that converted to sleeping bags. The labor hired to sew these jackets is sourced exclusively from homeless shelters. These women are trained and given skills that will hopefully allow them to find full time employment. It was an incredible story to behold. I told my son about the jackets and he began an online fundraiser via Crowdrise to raise $5240 (the cost of 50 jackets plus shipping to NY), so he could continue to help keep our city’s homeless a little warmer.

With the help of many friends and family, more than $6000 was raised allowing for the purchase of nearly 60 coats. And on a cold January night, our family and my parents loaded the jackets into two trucks and drove to Hebrew Union College in The Village to distribute the coats to those patronizing their soup kitchen.

As we unloaded the coats onto a table and started demonstrating them for the people there, a small crowd began to gather. A very tall man was the first person to take a coat, explaining how happy he was because he has not been able to find a warm jacket that fits him in years.

We met a man named Matteo who sleeps in his van and was grateful to now have some semblance of a bed. He marveled at the utility of the jacket and how it was an item fashioned for those in need with respect for those in need in mind. He thanked my son and began to cry.

When a woman named Fatima saw the jacket, she broke into a wide smile and laughter, confiding that this was something she could really use. Her joy was palpable. She took a jacket and returned 15 minutes later just to talk to my son.

“You did this? How did you do this?”

My son explained his fundraiser. Fatima began to cry.

“I can’t believe you did this. You’re only 16. Do you know what you’ve done?”

And then she asked him for a hug. And they embraced.

When the shift was over only 5 jackets remained which we donated to the soup kitchen. Several hours later, after eating dinner at a local restaurant, we started walking back to our car. On the way, we passed Hebrew Union College. Outside was a man in a lawnchair, laughing with his friends, and wearing one of the jackets we gave him earlier that night.

Things have certainly come full circle. To have begun the Midnight Run program in our synagogue and to have ended this coat drive in the basement of a seminary was a beautiful living brush stroke of tikkun olam: repairing the world.

And the world is indeed in need of repair.While the country’s delicate seams have been mercilessly ripped apart, small acts of kindness, like this one, are the thread we all need to sew us back together. Because regardless of where we live or what we own, people are people are people. And yes, you do things for other people. You do it because it is the right thing to do. You do it because you can. You do it because you can make someone’s life better, even if it is just in the smallest way, like a giving a stranger a fresh bar of soap. But you also do it because it makes you feel better too. And it feels good to do good. It does.

My son may not always be the type who sits on my lap to hug me, or who holds my hand while I’m driving and rests his head on it, or who comes into my room to hug and kiss me as a study break. But I hope he is. I will never be too old to accept any of those expressions of love.

Soon my son will be going off to college. When he leaves the home in which he has grown up, I wonder if he is ready for what the world will throw at him. But mostly I want to know that he is a good person. That I am sending my best work, a really good human being, into the world. That he will love and be loved. That he will be kind. That he will help those who need it. And that he will be good. And he is.

My son is already repairing this world, doing great things, and giving back. He’s going to make his mark on this world. In fact, he already has.

Friendships That Are Gifts

19 Oct

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Every now and then you are lucky enough to come across someone who will be your true friend. Someone who will understand the same jokes. Someone who you can laugh with until your stomach hurts and tears roll down your cheeks. Someone who will get you. Nearly 13 years ago, I was lucky enough to come across my beautiful friend, Beth.

Not long after that, when she was only 37, she called me to her home on a warm spring night. We sat on the porch and sipped iced tea and she told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the first step in a heartbreaking chapter of our friendship.

Beth, loved by innumerable people besides me, was strongly supported by our local community and her larger network of family and friends. I had never known a friend with cancer and I had no idea what to do for her first. I began by pouring my heart into cooking. Every Wednesday night, for as long as she was undergoing treatment (which, incidentally, was many months) I made dinner for Beth and her family. Throughout this time, I noticed her lose her hair, her eyebrows, her eyelashes. I listened to her talk of sores in her mouth as she sucked ice pops, and lament that she was forgetting things from all the chemotherapy. I saw her family rally around her. And I saw her rally around her family. And most important, I watched her fight each day, talk relentlessly about the future, and continue to live her life positively. She was simply incredible.

On her final week of treatment, and the last time I delivered dinner to her family, I brought her a bottle of wine. I worried that such an open display of revelry might superstitiously invite bad luck, but 5 years after Beth’s diagnosis, I was fortunate enough to bring her pink champagne to celebrate the important milestone she finally reached.

What once consumed Beth and her family (and a large part of my mind as well), has become merely a part of her past. She does not dwell on what happened to her. She looks forward. She is happy. She is loved. She continues to live her life positively. She is still simply incredible.

Several months ago, Beth asked me to join her on the Avon 2 day, 39 mile walk across New York City. Without even thinking about it, I said yes. First, I have a problem saying no, and second, I would do anything for Beth. And then I panicked. 39 miles is a major undertaking that required 12 weeks of training, 2 pairs of sneakers, 3 new apps, a minimum fundraising goal of $1800, a weekend away from my family, and countless blisters. What I received in return, however, cannot be itemized. Walking through the streets of the city in which I have grown up, in which my parents have grown up, in which my grandparents have grown up, was nothing short of momentous. I walked past the area where my great grandfather owned an antiques store on the Lower East Side, the theater where I saw my first James Taylor concert, the apartment building I lived in during law school, the library in which my husband and I met, the street where my mother and I picked out yarmulkes for my wedding, the hospital where I delivered my first baby, the spot we used to stroll him to for Sunday brunch, the courthouses in which I spent so much time litigating. I walked through my family history for the past four generations. I walked through my life.

And then I realized, maybe that’s the point. Maybe when you walk through your whole life, your whole life comes back to you. Washed amid a sea of pink, our team held hands and crossed the finish line. I took so many pictures throughout the two days but my favorite one, by far, was the one captured by my husband, solely because of the pure glee you can see in my friend Beth’s smile.

Beth’s whole life has returned to her. She is complete. At the end of the walk, I kissed her and said “your friendship is a gift.” Because it is. I should know. I have been treasuring it now for almost 13 years.

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More pictures from the walk:

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The Night Before

10 Sep

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The Night Before it was beautiful.

It was September. It was the 10th. It was my brother’s birthday. We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant on Third Avenue. I ordered Penne Pomodoro after learning that the Spaghetti Bolognese I really wanted was made with veal and pork. We sat at a table for 9 people that included my parents, my husband, my cousin, my aunt, my uncle, my brother. My husband and I were only a family of 3 at the time and we toted our toddler son everywhere. It was a non-event. And yet, it was monumental because it was The Night Before the world changed.

We stood on the sidewalk of Third Avenue, looking up at the sky. It was painted with pinks and purples, and tones of burnt orange. It was still warm outside even though it was mid-September in New York. We all remarked on the perfection of the evening.

And then it was gone.

We remember the most meaningless details of time because they precede those that are the most horrific. That birthday dinner is etched in my mind, its details engrained, the seating chart and round table at the back right corner, still vivid. That small stretch of time we all looked up at the sky. We record moments of normalcy because they ground us, because we yearn to get them back, because we wish to just exist in a time when things are so routine we remember choosing Penne Pomodoro over Spaghetti Bolognese in what might otherwise be another tiny decision to forget over a lifetime of countless tiny decisions. And we want that night, that moment, that simplicity back.

The next day the sky was cloudless, clear, blue, until it turned thick and acrid from jet fuel, airplane debris, and the unthinkable spontaneous combustion of two buildings that graced New York City’s skyline for my entire life, their contents, and the lives of nearly 3000 people and their families. It went on like this for days, the smoke downtown visible from the park in the East 70s where I pushed my son on a swing. He had no idea how his life had changed slightly after 8 am just days before. He had no idea he was about to inherit a world I had never contemplated. His sky was still blue.

Perhaps our children are better for not knowing The Night Before, what they are missing, what simplicity might have graced their days. My sons sleep soundly in the world they inhabit, not aware of What Might Be and What Might Have Been. I wish it was different. But it is not. The best I can hope for are meaningless moments, simplicity, and a lifetime of clear, beautiful skies.

The Soundtrack of My Life

30 Jan

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My father is singing Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow to me. I am 3 or 4 or 5 years old. I wonder about the limbless body singing until all the parts of him are gone and he is seemingly nonchalant, perhaps even grateful to be without eyes and a tongue. My father continues to sing the same song to me like a lullaby.

I am in a full body cast in a hospital. I am 6 years old. My mother is sitting, surrounded by sick children, with her ukelele, playing and singing Puff the Magic Dragon. I am proud and yet jealous. I do not want to share her with the rest of these patients. I want her to sing and wrap her oversized heart around only me.

I am in my Mustang convertible while Carole King’s Tapestry cassette plays on a loop. I am 17 years old. I am weeping. My boyfriend is going to college and every single song was written for me. I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, Home Again, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Where You Lead, Beautiful. My boyfriend makes several stops to say goodbye to friends while I wait for him in the passenger seat, disconsolate. He gets back in the car and gives me an inscribed locket I will wear until the picture inside is all rubbed out and he breaks my heart years later.

I am lost. I am 18 years old and without a sense of direction. I am listening to Van Morrison’s Moondance album. I am driving my car from Connecticut to New York and it is midnight. I finally find a commercial area where it feels safe enough to get out of the car and make a phone call. I call my father from a  pay phone. I beg him to rescue me. He tells me to find my way home and that it will be good for me. I get back in my car and blast “Caravan.” I circle who knows how much of the tri-state area before I pull into my parents’ driveway sometime after 2 am. I have found my way home.

I am standing amongst piles of boxes in my apartment in Brooklyn waiting for movers. I am 23 years old. The only thing not yet packed is my stereo. I am listening to Nanci Griffith CDs for hours as the movers have forgotten me. By the time they pick me up, I am distraught, fearing NYC condo regulations will forbid me from the late move and I will be temporarily homeless. Two men load up the packaged belongings comprising my life and offer me a ride uptown. I sit in the front seat of the movers’ truck as we drive up the FDR to my new home on East 81st. I lean my head against the window, listening to Nanci Griffith on my walkman, equally terrified and excited about this move. I dislike change even though this is a good one. My parents are waiting for me and it is all ok.

I am getting married. I am dancing with my husband to Ben Taylor’s version of The Beatles’ I Will. We are alone on the dance floor, moving in choreographed rhythm thanks to Ernesto of Arthur Murray’s East 86th Street studio. I can see him counting beats in his head as he leads me. We later break loose to The Emotions’ Best of My Love. We don’t yet know that both songs will feature prominently at the bar mitzvah of our first son.

I am in my apartment on East 75th Street. I am nearing the end of my 20s. I am pregnant with my first child. I am working from home for the day, listening to Counting Crows’ This Desert Life. My belly tightens and my son kicks and flutters every time this album plays. He has good taste. I know I will love him.

I am rocking in a glider in the bedroom of my baby boy. He is sleeping on my chest and I think I might never move. I sing him every song I know and love. It goes like this every night. Sweet Baby James, The Way You Look Tonight, Annie’s Song, An American Tune. I sing him Moonshadow and deposit him back into his crib. He tucks his legs beneath him, looks briefly at me, and goes back to sleep.

I am at the obstetrician’s office. I am alone. I am 7 weeks pregnant. My husband is traveling for business. For days I have had a premonition that my doctor will tell me he cannot find a heartbeat. The doctor squeezes jelly over my belly and after several minutes of searching, says “Lisa, I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” I am even sorrier. Sorry to be right. Sorry to lose a baby I already loved. Sorry. I listen to Eva Cassidy’s cover of Fields of Gold over and over, weeping until I tell myself I have punished myself enough and I turn it off.

I am again rocking in a glider but I am in a new room in a new house beside two new babies to love. I sing them the same songs I sang to my first baby. I sing them Moonshadow. I put them into the same crib so they know each other’s presence.

It is my son’s 10th birthday. I am listening to the Circle Game. I cannot believe I am at the second verse. I do not know where the time has gone. I know I will be at the third verse in six short years. I am dragging my feet to slow the circles down, Joni Mitchell.

It is my birthday. 10,000 Maniacs’ These are the Days is playing on my desktop. We have just returned from dinner with my family and I am making my husband and sons dance with me in the kitchen. I will do this every year as long as they will. I turn up the music as high as it will go and watch my family in the reflection of the windows in my kitchen. They indulge me because it’s my birthday but I hope there is enough time in the song for them to feel how much music can lift you, how it can intoxicate you, how its joy is utterly contagious, how necessary it is to be in love with music: to let it infuse your heart, your mind, your soul. To let it literally play the soundtrack to your life.

My Mother, The Bell Ringer in Pink

3 Oct

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She said she would be there with bells on and she was.

When I was a high school senior, my beloved mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were unfortunately familiar with this because my mother’s mother and my mother’s mother’s sisters all had it too. A genuine hit in the gene lottery. I don’t recall my mother talking to me about this before she entered the hospital for her first mastectomy. All I remember is that for several weeks before I knew anything, I knew something was very wrong. She denied it, but I knew.

My mother checked herself out of the hospital, against her doctors’ advice, a day or two early so that she could see me off to the prom. This woman, with drains still attached, in serious pain, yet with a smile on her face, threw me and my friends and their families a small party. This is what keeps her going. This woman loves her family.

And we love her back.

That summer before college she lost all her hair. She lost her eyelashes, eyebrows and even arm hair. She lost her dignity. She sat with me in either a turban or a terrible wig and we played board games with my friend, Andrew. This was in between aggressive chemotherapy treatments where she would lay in bed and close the door to her room for several days until she felt well enough to emerge. We did not even cook dinners those days because the smell of the food would seep under her door and make its way to her nose and nauseate her. Every night when I thought my family was asleep, I would sneak outside and sit on my front step and cry.

At the end of August, my parents took me to Ann Arbor and helped me move into the dorm. I wanted to let everyone know that my mother was wearing a wig. That that horrible hair did not belong to her. That she had the most gorgeous hair I had ever seen, hopefully underneath her scalp, just waiting to grow back and make her whole again.

The second time she was diagnosed I was a newly married, young lawyer. It was exactly 9 years and 10 months after her first mastectomy. My mother was frightened and devastated and, again, a warrior. She had a second mastectomy and thankfully, due to a very early diagnosis, no treatment.

The third time was in 2007 and that was a horror show because she had no breasts left to remove. It was a mere six months after her beautiful sister, my incredible aunt, died. I think my mother’s heart literally broke from the loss because that was the neighborhood in which her cancer returned. My mother underwent major surgery and a severely complicated post-operative extended recovery period, and never once looked back. In the recovery room, she was awoken and told of the lengths they had to take in the operating room. Sedated, she responded, “I don’t care what I look like. I just want to live.”

And she did and she does.

We often “forget” that my mother had breast cancer because she has never dwelt on it. She never let it define her or become her life. It only became part of our conversations when she was living it or, more typically, when she was celebrating her survival.

And that she does as well. And often.

Early this week, my mother was contacted by a producer from The Today Show, inviting her to attend their kick off of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She asked her friend, Lydia, another survivor, and some other friends and family to join her. She made signs. She brought 6 pink sweaters for me to choose from because we had to dress in pink. My mother does everything big. And thank G-d, because she does life big too.

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At 6 am we were funneled into a VIP line full of survivors and their families. Many of the women were bald. All of them were smiling. My mother, with her beautiful, long, blonde hair, gratefully accepted a “GOD IS BIG ENOUGH” pink bracelet from the hairless woman in front of her. I started to feel badly about my mom’s hair, which she has grown out so she can donate it to Locks of Love, and how it might make these women feel. Then I thought, not only has she earned it, but she is an inspiration to these women who are currently fighting so hard for their lives. My pretty mama and her Rapunzel-like hair were a gift to these women who must see her and hope that they could one day be just like her: a mother; a sister; a daughter; a friend; a grandmother; an aunt; a survivor.

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My mother told the producer that she would attend this event “with bells on” and she literally did. She bought breast cancer awareness ribbons and bells and made all of us necklaces to wear.

She rang the loudest.

And she always does.

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September 11, 2001: A Day in My Life

11 Sep

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It was a magnificent day until it wasn’t.

It was the one morning I was watching the Today Show, instead of Sesame Street, while my 16 month old son played quietly in his room. By this time, I would typically have been in my office in New York City’s financial district, but because I had a court appearance in the Bronx, I was still home.

A plane flew into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. There was no further information except the image of a smoking tower amid a cloudless, sunny morning.

I called my husband whose office was in the World Financial Center, a building attached to the WTC by a footpath. I left a message.

I sat down on my bed, still wet from a shower, still thinking this was just a tragic case of pilot error.

A plane flew into the second tower. Another one flew into the Pentagon. A 4th plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

The world was falling apart.

I  never went to court that day and the people that made it to my office were shattered and scattered and shellshocked. One work friend was literally thrown by the sheer force of the explosion, landing on the sidewalk, several feet from where she was standing, shoeless and covered in jet fuel. She spent the rest of the day walking back to her apartment, barefoot, and would later  permanently wrap her clothes in a bag, unable to wear them again, yet unable to discard them.

I still did not hear back from my husband, who, at the time the first tower was hit, had emerged from the bathroom to stare at a gaping hole in the WTC; a tower literally eviscerated. He and his co-workers watched coverage of the attack on a TV at work and when the second plane hit, he immediately left the building only to witness people jumping to their deaths on the sidewalk below. He overheard one woman next to him asking “they’re all going to be all right, though, right?” He turned away and started to walk from the bottom of Manhattan to the top, where we lived on East 75th Street.

I called him, repeatedly. I paged him. I beeped him. I used every form of communication available in 2001. I could not find him.

After an hour of circling my apartment, glued to the TV coverage with the babysitter–who had simply arrived for another day of caring for my son but instead found herself watching history unfold with me–my husband finally called.

“I’m ok. I have to go, there’s a long line at the payphone, but I’m on my way home.”

I watched as the first tower imploded, like a graceful horror show, a choreographed demolition, taking with it the thousands of lives inside. The second tower followed. And then there was nothing but white dust, debris, shredded and whole sheets of paper floating aimlessly, mayhem, sorrow, and tragedy.

My husband did not arrive at our apartment until that afternoon by which time we received calls from as far as Switzerland, wanting to know that he was ok. That he made it. Because, as you know, so many did not.

“The towers are gone!”

“No, you mean they’re damaged. But they’re still there. I saw them.”

“No. They’re gone. Completely. Gone.”

I still can’t believe it.

My father showed up on the shore of Long Island, to perform triage duty for all the anticipated survivors they would have to dispatch for fear New York City’s hospitals would not be able to handle the swell of patients. Not one person arrived for treatment.

For days we could still smell the destruction as far away as our 75th Street apartment. I could see smoke all the way downtown, from the park on York Avenue, as I pushed my son in a swing. I recall the eerie quiet and palpable fear attendant with my first post 9/11 subway ride. There was a large bang and the entire train car screamed. It turned about to be nothing, of course, but New York was not herself. Nothing was.

For weeks I would watch from my office window, barges carrying the destroyed remains of the familiar WTC facade up the East River, like a long somber funeral procession. For months after that, life was constantly interrupted by memorial services for NY’s courageous first responders that lost their lives. Traffic stopped, bagpipes played, it was, so very sadly, endless.

I want you to know, more than anything, that this is a good story. My husband came home to me and our son while so many others did not. The amount of families broken and heartbroken by 9/11 is staggering. I know several people who never returned to their wife’s embrace, their mother’s smile, their child’s laughter. There is no end to the amount of horrific stories this awful day in history created. I forced myself, as a start, to read all of them profiled by the New York Times in the months that followed. But those were just blurbs among lifetimes and families and love; not enough.

September 11, 2001 scarred New York City, New York, and the United States of America. That skyline, which I have loved my whole life, which relentlessly draws awe and emotion, was forever altered. It is and always will be beautiful. But it will never look right to me again. There’s a small piece of New York there that’s missing. That can’t be replaced. Or forgotten.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY BROTHER!

10 Sep

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I wanted a sister like nobody’s business but my parents, people that they were, wouldn’t let me choose.

My brother was born, premature and ailing, on September 10th, not that I recall anything about it, being a baby myself at the time.

My first memory in life was my birthday three months after he arrived. My mother gave me a big, wrapped box and inside I found a tiny piano. Each key, when pressed, played a familiar Disney song.

“This is a birthday present from your little brother, Jonathan.” He was still in the hospital at the time. We didn’t really know each other that well yet.

But, I remember–very clearly–saying and thinking “that’s so nice of him! He is so nice!”

Not much has changed since then. He thrived, physically, exceeding all of his doctors’ expectations, and eventually came home where I would torment him, and dress him up as that sister I never had, and call him Joan, and smother him. He grew up to lead a tiny Black Jack ring in our basement, ruin my car in a series of mishaps after I entrusted it to him freshman year of college, and learn all the words to every James Taylor song against his will because I was the first one with a driver’s license and he had no choice as my hostage I mean passenger. But he always remained the “nice” generous person I thought him to be when I was that little girl with the tiny piano. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that my birthday gift was never that piano. It was him.

Thirteen years ago, we went out to dinner to celebrate my brother’s birthday with our family at a restaurant on the Upper East Side. It was a gorgeous night in New York City. The sky was streaked salmon and orange and yellow. I can still see myself standing on the sidewalk on Third Avenue, staring up at that sky and admiring it.

The next day the world changed. Thankfully, my brother still hasn’t.

Happy birthday to my soulful, sweet, handsome, devoted, kind, hilarious and all around perfect baby brother. Thank goodness you came just as you are. Who needs a sister when I have you.

xo,

Lisa

Thank You For Being a Friend

7 May

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Some time ago, my mother asked me if I would like to watch a taping of “The Chew” and have lunch with Carla Hall at Otto. I didn’t pay much attention to the details or that it was through the “Adult Education” program of our home town. The day for this extravaganza finally approached and my mother was unable to attend. I called on my friend, Amy, to spend the day with me, and let me tell you, she was the perfect substitute.

This friend of mine has been my best friend for nearly 40 years. We literally grew up together. She is the one person (aside from my brother) that I get “the giggles” with. Any situation, at any moment, can send us into fits of laughter and render us unable to make eye contact the rest of the day for fear we will embarrass ourselves due to massive immaturity and poor behavior. Thank Gd for her. For real.

Amy was late, as usual. I got on the bus and lo and behold, it was Cocoon. I looked around, thinking I must be in the wrong place because clearly, they emptied out the local retirement home for the day and I was on a slow bus to nowhere with the Golden Girls’ mothers. I looked out among the sea of short-white-haired women in bifocals and thought “I can’t wait until Amy gets here. This is going to be the best day ever!”

I first checked in with an old woman I kept referring to as Bette Davis, I don’t know why. Bette Davis was very concerned because Amy’s name was not on the list and the list was already given to the folks at ABC. I asked whether we could persuade them to allow her entry but she was not so sure. She insisted we hop off the bus and head to the main office to let the ABC people know ahead of time so they could make sure that Amy was not operating an Al Qaeda cell. I shouldn’t have judged Bette Davis so fast. She turned out to be pretty spry.

Bette and I reboarded the bus and I anxiously awaited Amy’s expression when she saw we were taking a field trip with the Fixodent crew. I stepped over some canes and sat down. Finally, she got on the bus and our eyes met and it was just the moment I knew it would be: giddiness. We took seats in the way back of the bus and did the silent laugh (the best kind), until we collected our maturity and resigned ourselves to a day of fun with the widows of the Bartles and Jaymes dudes.

We arrived at ABC, and a woman with a Jane Fonda-esque hairdo (albeit very strangely bleached in some sort of Ombre fashion gone terribly wrong — maybe she did it at home?), rose right before the bus could fully stop. “Ombre” knew just what she was doing. She pushed aside several old ladies, making sure she was the first one off that bus, but for what? We had Ombre’s number.

We waited for an hour or so in a holding room where granola bars and water were offered. Ombre shoved in front of that line too. Finally, a guy who looked exactly like Shaggy from Scooby Doo (inasmuch as a human being can resemble a cartoon character), started to funnel us into the studio. Ombre cut this line too. She was really starting to get on our nerves.

We taped our applause, we taped our laughter, we taped our surprised expressions. The warm-up comedian asked who was single. Ombre raised her hand. Amy and I exchanged knowing glances. Things were taking a little long to get started and it occurred to me that I made a critical error in not rationing those free granola bars. Maybe there was a loose Tic Tac in my jacket pocket from 2008. No such luck. The Golden Girls theme song played on a loop in my head while I watched the hosts and the guest diners eat all the food they discussed in detail. This was my Guantanamo Bay and I did not like it at all. Rick Springfield was the special guest star. Or was that simply a hunger-induced hallucination?

After a few hours, the taping of the show was finally over and we were ravenous. Amy looked for an Advil to chew on after offering to split her last LifeSaver, as she wondered whether we would have to walk long to find the bus. Who was she kidding? This crowd wasn’t even going to make it  across the street! The bus picked us up right in front of the studio and we headed south to 8th Street.

Knowing we might be hungry, Bette Davis came prepared. She had the foresight to bring 2 boxes of matzoh (matzoh!), which she offered to everyone seated, as she weaved her way down the bus aisle. I refused but Amy ate that matzoh like someone just sprung her from POW camp. Otto came into view like a mirage. We entered the restaurant (Ombre pushed again!) and the old ladies stuffed their purses with anything that was free, which amounted to business cards for all of Mario Batali’s restaurants.

Lunch was delicious. I sat next to Carla Hall (who I loved! Hootie Hoo!) but don’t recall talking to her until I reentered society with my 3rd piece of pizza. Carla offered to autograph books that could be purchased and Ombre made a stink about how she thought the book was supposed to be given to us for free. You’re wrong, Ombre, get over it.

We boarded the bus to head back home. After all, it was almost 5, time for these ladies to hit the hay. Amy and I reconvened in the back of the bus. I looked around at these women and eavesdropped on some of their conversations. Several of them discussed the invention of the television and its emergence in popular culture and more specifically, the homes of the people they knew. They laughed and joked with each other. They discussed old memories they shared. Even Bette Davis, who worked the bus mic with more feedback than clarity (or was that one of these women’s hearing aid batteries going off?), spoke eloquently about the old days and her job at Good Housekeeping.

And then it dawned on me: these ladies were pretty amazing. Here they were, living their life and enjoying it to boot. They weren’t sitting around in a recliner, nursing a prune juice and crocheting booties for their great great grandchild. They were on an adventure, having a beautiful day with their friends. Even Ombre wasn’t so bad. Maybe. So what if they knew Abraham Lincoln personally. These women were storytellers. They were vital, they were important, they were lovely.

I looked at Amy, who napped most of the way home, and I thought, this is going to be us one day. We should only be so lucky.

Fast Forwarding Through Life

30 Apr

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This time last week I was miserable. Miserable. It was one of those weeks so murky and difficult to navigate, when things seemed they could implode at any turn, that I was longing for a fast-forward button for life. As always, I found myself repeating, “this time next week, things will be better.” The breaking point was Thursday.

I was terrified as to what the day would bring and at the same time, I just needed to hear everything. I dreaded and anticipated it, I cursed and welcomed it, and I thought of the Lisa 8 hours later who would know the answers to many of the questions plaguing her.

It turns out that Thursday was beautiful. A sign. Step One. I don’t know how I would be if I lived in a city without seasons because I draw so much hope and emotion from a sunny day, an autumn leaf, the first snow, the ocean breeze. I could probably get accustomed to the ocean breeze and sunny days, but would I appreciate them as much? Would they lift me still? Would they give much-needed meaning to doubts and fears and sadness? Would they be simply relished as euphoria-inducing gifts?

As the day progressed, news on all the fronts I had been anxiously sitting by, seemed to improve. And then, when you think you will never hear the words you want so badly to hear, I heard them. I heard them from a source I fell in love with, I heard them from the birds in the blossoming trees, I heard them from the rays of sunshine on my windshield.

As I drove home across the Triboro bridge, I stared at the New York City skyline I have been staring at my whole life. Maybe it’s being a New Yorker, maybe it’s being an optimist, maybe it’s just because it is, objectively beautiful, but every time it comes into view, it takes my breath away. Every single time. And thank G-d. I am so happy to be able to appreciate moments big and small, so grateful to feel sweeping surges of gratitude and love, so appreciative that I am still in awe of something some people might never realize they are in the presence of.

As we neared the end of the bridge, I looked at the people I love. I looked at the reassuring texts on my phone, I looked at the cloudless, blue sky, and I thought to myself “today, the sun is shining just for me.” Because it was.