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56 WOMEN AND WINE: ARE WE OVERSERVING OURSELVES? Seeking emotional release in a glass. by Bonnie Adler 68 YOUNG MONEY Wall Street recruits learn the ropes. by Kevin Roose 80 GWYNETH AND MARTHA A feud for the ages. by Rebecca Harrington 90 STUCK IN AN ELEVATOR AT THE WALDORF WITH 16 REPUBLICANS by Maureen Pilkington
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CONTENTS . ISSUE 54
In 1839, Vacheron Constantin created the famous pantograph, a mechanical device allowing for principal watchmaking components to be reproduced with total precision. Elevating the quality of its timepieces even further, this invention, which also revolutionized Swiss watchmaking, would propel the brand into the future. Faithful to the history upon which its reputation is built, Vacheron Constantin endeavours to maintain, repair and restore all watches it has produced since its founding: a sign of excellence and confidence, which continues to elevate the brand’s name and stature.
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1986 “THE GLASS MENAGERIE.” KAREN ALLEN AND JOANNE WOODWARD. PHOTO BY T. CHARLES ERICKSON
departments 22 TRAIN OF THOUGHT Two Cats, Fat and Thin. by Jacob M. Appel 33 THE LOCAL SCENE Neighbor to Neighbor 130 GREEN ROOM Long Wharf Theatre Celebrating 50 years. 140 I’LL TAKE MANHATTAN Uptown and Down
148 DA MO DA MERRIER Where the Gettin’s Good by Simone 156 LIKE A ROLLING STONE Adventures around the world. 170 BEST OF BOTH WORLDS Telluride – Where lifestyle is king. 172 MEDICAL TOURISM
Achieve your personal goals. 174 HEALING AGENT Seeking and finding wellness. 180 APPRAISED AND APPROVED Alex And Ani and Susan Durkee. 197 INDEPENDENT SCHOOL GUIDE Day and Boarding, Higher Education and Summer Programs Semester Abroad by Simon Rich Can this relationship survive study abroad? 272 COMMUNITY ROOM
The Quiet Car. by Hal Sirowitz
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Editor and Publisher Eric S. Meadow Editor Celia R. Meadow Art Director TimHussey Executive Editor Debbie Silver Travel Editor Susan Engel Editors at Large Paula Koffsky, Simone Meadow, Rich Silver
General Counsel Bruce Koffsky, Esq. Contributors
Bonnie Adler, JacobM. Appel, Natalie Axton, Eric Boman, J.C. Duffy, Amy Levin-Epstein, Amy Ferris, Mary Ellen Walsh, RebeccaHarrington, DaveHousley, Rev. Jen, MairaKalman, RichMonetti, GregO’Brien, Maureen Pilkington, SimonRich, KevinRoose, Vivian Shipley, Allie Silver, Hal Sirowitz, Nina Sutton, ElizabethTitus, AlineWeiller Contributing Photographers MaryBar,JoelandAnneDarelius,PeterFriedman, KerryLong,LizaMargulies
I n fifth grade, we are asked to sacrifice: our prized possessions must be inventoried and surrendered to the state. This is, mercifully, an exercise. I am a sheltered ten-year-old boy in an upscale bedroom suburb of New York City, a community so flush that its grade school teachers must simulate hardship for their students. We have already suffered through a sugarless week in solidarity with the over-taxed colonists of eighteenth century New England; we have wandered the classroom blindfolded, rendered sightless by a barrage of Confederate bullets. Now we are studying the immigrant experience—or possibly the Holocaust—and each of us has been ordered to bring from home a personal treasure that our teacher-turned-jailor, Mr. G., intends to “confiscate” as the price for our freedom. This crash course in palm-greasing takes place several years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, before the Challenger explo- sion, before the death of my beloved grandmother—and I confess the details are misty in my memory. (It is also an age of laxer classroom mores, when Mr. G. can still have his young charges massage his shoulders, not because he harbors ulterior designs on children, but because he enjoys having his muscles loosened.) What I Two Cats, Fat and Thin By JacobM. Appel
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do recall vividly is Mr. G. as Kafkaesque bu- reaucrat, shuffling between our tiny desks on his reconstructed knees, inspecting one boy’s meticulously-labeled coin collection and another girl’s sepia photograph of her great- grandparents in fin-de-siècle Vienna. When he leans down to demand my offering, I gaze intensely into the Formica desktop. I have brought him nothing. I have not even told my parents that he’d asked. “I don’t have any favorite things,” I mutter. “I’m sorry.” “Well, well,” says Mr. G. “Nothing will come of nothing.” How can I know he’s quoting Lear ? I want to sink my teeth into his fleshy hand. “Surely, you must have something worth sacrificing,” says Mr. G, sporting the perpetu- ally bemused smile that defines his benevolent, leonine face. “Maybe you could bring in some- thing for us later this week.” “All of my prized possessions have been tak- en!” I snap. “You’re too late.” This earns me yet another afternoon with the school’s psychologist. T HE PRIZED POSSESSIONS that I no longer possessed were two miniature rubber cats, one fat, one thin, given to me by my grand- mother’s eldest sister. The thin cat appeared hungry and scheming—a synthetic, feline Cassius. The fat cat looked as though he’d just swallowed an obese goldfish. They were not a matching pair, manufactured as companions, but two independent creatures forced into unsought friendship. Neither of them had names. Merely Fat Cat and Thin Cat. Al- though they’d once been the most treasured objects of my brief existence—at the age of six, I had carried them everywhere, even the bathtub—they lacked any other social or economic value. Unfortunately, our school’s psychologist, a tense, hyper-analytic fussbud- get, got hung up on determining whether Aunt Emma was an aunt or a grandaunt. We never came around to discussing Fat and Thin, so my unspoken anxiety continued to slosh around inside me like battery acid. Even now, I shiver when I recall my private apocalypse. It was the final autumn of the Carter Presi- dency. My family was driving through north- ern Florida en route to New York, because, to my mother, every commercial jet was an airborne coffin. She’d been arguing with my father, insisting that a presidential vote for
John Anderson would throw the 1980 Elec- tion to Reagan and usher in nuclear winter. We’d just visited my grandaunt in Miami Beach, the last time we would ever see her. I had my two travel companions, Fat and Thin, securely buckled into the back seat of my mother’s foul-tempered Dodge Dart. I sup- pose my brother was also in the vehicle—he must have been about two years old—but I cannot be certain. I was too busy making sure that Fat and Thin didn’t grow carsick, and later, that they were tucked under the covers in the gloomy motel room outside St. Augustine, where we’d all spend the night. We’d only entered the room long enough to inspect it—we hadn’t even emptied our lug- gage from the trunk—but my cats decided to enjoy a nap, a fleeting, indolent snooze while the rest of the family ducked out for breakfast at the local Waffle House or Den- ny’s. Who was I to insist otherwise? Maybe we also collected seashells and pink coral on the public beach. Or we scaled the ramparts of the historic Spanish fort. I have no reason to remember that breakfast, any more than I recall the events of the day, two months later, on which my father drew me aside, following dinner, to reveal that my grandaunt had suc- cumbed to stomach cancer. It was a morning without omens, all prologue to an unforeseen horror. How could I anticipate that, when we returned, joyful and sun-drunk, to our other- wise undisturbed motel room, both Fat and Thin would be gone? As in any self-respecting whodunit, suspicion immediately fell upon the servants—in this case, any of the depleted, middle-aged African-Amer- ican maids who vacuumed and scrubbed toilets while the Caucasian guests scaled the Spanish bat- tlements and collected pink coral on the beaches. These women had opportunity. They hadmotive. Who else would pilfer a pair of worthless rubber cats except a mother or grandmother too impov- erished to purchase her brood feline companions of their own? That’s how my father explained it to me. I had lots of toys. Most likely, the poor Black child who’d been given Fat and Thin had
none. Nor did my parents believe there was mal- ice involved in the catnapping. Rather, entering an empty motel room that contained only two rubber cats, the well-intentioned maid probably believed the creatures had been abandoned. So my parents would buy me new cats, they pledged. Better cats. But to hope that Fat and Thin might return home was simply unrealistic. If we pursued the matter doggedly, a blameless working mother might lose her job. What good would that accom- plish? Besides, even if it were possible, did I really want to yank these cheap, well-worn toys from the hands of a deprived little boy? So we continued our journey up the sea- board. Past unmarked police cars scanning for Yankee plates, through palmetto thickets blanketed with Spanish moss. We drove by the hospital where, the previous winter, my mother had undergone emergency surgery after dropping a can of tomato soup on her left big toe. Soon the air turned crisp and we crossed the endless brooks and runs of Virginia. Then Delaware, where I was bun- dled into a windbreaker and rewarded with a sour gumball. And New Jersey, an endless colonnade of chemical drums that looked like giant toadstools. Finally, we were back in New York, passing the playing fields where I would soon master the arts of lollygagging and wearing a baseball mitt on my head. We parked opposite the neighbor’s stone wall— the wall that my brother would later reshape with the bumper of his first car. But there were now only four of us in the vehicle, not six. I stared out the windshield at our over-lit house, the carefully timed lamps blazing in the upstairs windows, thinking of that needy boy back in Florida whose toilet-scrubbing mother couldn’t afford to take vacations. Did I really want to yank Fat and Thin from his deprived little hands? Yes, I did. Yes, I did! YES, I DID! T WENTY YEARS AFTER the crime of my centu- ry—for Fat and Thin are my Great Train Rob- bery and Lindbergh baby and Manson family
I AMASHELTEREDTEN-YEAR-OLDBOY INAN UPSCALE BEDROOMSUBURBOFNEWYORK CITY, ACOMMUNITY SOFLUSHTHAT ITS GRADE SCHOOL TEACHERSMUST SIMULATE HARDSHIP FORTHEIR STUDENTS.
murders all rolled into one—I was hired to teach an introductory course in applied eth- ics at Brown University. Whether by coin- cidence or subconscious design, much of my syllabus focused on the countless moral ques- tions surrounding property rights: Should my neighbor have to compensate me if she builds a house that obstructs my view? Why shouldn’t private business owners be permit- ted to discriminate on the basis of race or reli- gion? Who has the most convincing claim to a stolen painting that is subsequently sold and purchased in good faith by an unsuspecting third party? These are the conundrums that try eighteen year olds’ souls, during those ephemeral salad days before they start amass- ing property of their own. When you ask them: Is it ethical for a poor maid to steal a cheap toy for her son from the motel room of a wealthy family, they grapple with the mat- ter quite intensely. On the whole, they tend to be surprisingly forgiving of the well-inten- tioned and indigent cat burglar. Some even defend the working-class bandit who actually knows that the well-heeled family will return for the toy, yet steals it anyway, comparing the theft to pilfering apples for starving chil- dren or swallowing a phone company error in your favor. In contrast, my thirty-something friends—professional, civic-minded couples raising overindulged children of their own— see no ambiguity in the situation. Stealing is stealing. To the last, they are surprisingly lacking in sympathy for the imaginary servant who, in my concocted scenario, makes off with a pair of hypothetical rubber cats. Why are my Brown students so lenient? I often suspect it is because they have never before considered the injustice of a social sys- tem that allows some children to amass toys while others have none. Sure, they are aware of poverty: kwashiorkor and marasmus in the starving, dust-clad villages of the Sahel; hemorrhagic fevers ravaging war-torn swaths of the Congo. The more socially-conscious among them feel guilty that they have the leisure to study Gramsci and feminist the- ory, while millions of their chronological peers work fast food counters in urban ghet- tos and raise toddlers on food stamps. My
lessness. They side with the maid because, accustomed to an arsenal of Xboxes and mul- tiethnic Barbie dolls whose shoe collections rival that of Imelda Marcos, they do not see much cost in losing a single toy. When I de- scribe to them the vanished immigrant world in which my grandmother and Aunt Emma grew up, where one home-fashioned rag-doll was handed down like a cache of jewels from sister to sister, they listen with tolerant incre- dulity. I might as easily be telling them that when I was their age, I hiked fifty miles to school every morning—uphill, both ways— through drifts of year-round snow. Occasionally, of course, a student will take the side of the wealthy family. I recall one par- ticular girl—a sharp-thinking beauty, well on her way toward professional school and civic- minded childrearing—who had already learned
HOMO SAPIENSWERE LIKERUBBERCATS. YOUCOULDRETURNTOYOURMOTEL ROOM ONENIGHT TOFINDTHEMGONE FOREVER.
students find these inequities fundamentally unsettling, even unjust—though, in all fair- ness, few will devote their lives to eradicat- ing poverty, and even fewer, if any, would voluntarily exchange places with their less fortunate brothers and sisters. What my students have never done, however, is reflect upon a life without toys. In a society where mass-produced plastic action figures cost ten dollars a piece, and every middle-class family has a closet well-stocked with such whole- some board games as Monopoly and Risk, my students find “toylessness” as alien as home-
not to tinker with the rules of social organiza- tion. What about the boy whose toys were sto- len? she wanted to know. What if those were his most beloved possessions? What if they’d been given to him by his grandparents on their deathbeds? I admired her eloquence, but I also sensed her passion was not personal—that she had never actually lost anything of value. Think about what being victimized like that could do to somebody, particularly a small child, she urged her skeptical classmates. For all you know, that kid will never get over his missing cats. For all you know, taking those cats away ruined his entire life. I WON ’ T CLAIM that the loss of Fat and Thin ruined my life, but their disappearance cer- tainly changed it. Even today, I am a far more cautious—even suspicious—person than I might have been if not for that episode. I am
particularly careful not to leave shopping bags in my car while I run a few additional errands or an attaché case at a restaurant table when I visit the rest room. I never loan out my door keys, not even to a close friend or relative for a matter of seconds. When I travel, I phone my home answering machine at least once a day—not principally to check my messages, but to assure myself that my apartment build- ing hasn’t burned down. And every morning, if I’m staying at a hotel, I pack up all of my belongings and stash them inside the trunk of my car. So while I give generously to charity and even to panhandlers, no slippery-fingered room cleaner’s toddler will ever acquire a stray sock or a ballpoint pen at my expense. Of course, even without the St. Augustine mas- sacre, I might have grown into a thoroughly maladjusted adult. Hitler and Stalin could still have proven butchers, notwithstanding
loving childhoods. What I can say with con- fidence is that not a day passes during which I don’t actively fear being robbed of what I care about most deeply: not tangible objects, but friendships and loved ones. I imagine psychiatry has a label for this walking dread. That is why I don’t see a psychiatrist. Another consequence of this traumatic incident has been my longstanding discom- fort with the housekeeping staff at hotels and motor lodges. The winter after Fat and Thin disappeared, I slammed the door in the face of another African-American mo- tel maid—this time on the resort island of Sanibel—and nearly shattered her nose. The woman, a plump battleaxe with a soli- tary gold tooth, accused me of racism. My prejudice, of course, was of a different sort. Alas, my parents, who had long since moved beyond the previous autumn’s horrors, forced me to apologize. Later that week, my father drove our rental car through the shanty towns where the cleaning staff lived, so that I might witness the corrugated zinc roofs and the un- dergarments drying in the open air. Yet what most interested me were the dozens of young children, scampering among the chickens and guinea fowl. I scrutinized them care- fully, wondering if one of these boys might somehow have acquired Fat or Thin from a cousin who lived further upstate. I had long ago given up hope of recovering both of my cats. My deal with the cosmos was that if one of them returned home, I would behave irre- proachably forever. Many nights, I lay awake in bed, trying to determine whether I would prefer the jovial, fun-loving Fat or the wise, worldly Thin. I was trapped forever in my own micro-version of Sophie’s Choice . What- ever the outcome of my fantasies, I ended up sobbing myself to sleep. I am self-aware enough to recognize that while stealing may be stealing, the loss of the rubber cats was far more than merely the loss of the rubber cats. My aunt had died, after all—or my grandaunt, to please the sticklers. Even at the age of six, I understood that this was the ultimate of all calamities, a disaster so unspeakably horrific that we pretend the suffering is bearable and struggle on with our lives. Many people close to me have died since that evening when my father explained that we wouldn’t be visiting Miami Beach anymore, but I’ll never shake the genuine terror I felt when he revealed the true course of human events. I’d been introduced to the
ghastly secret that separated the adults from the children : Homo sapiens were like rubber cats. You could return to your motel room one night to find them gone forever. M Y AUNT WAS one of six siblings, all deceased, only two of whom produced biological chil- dren. One brother, Harry, eloped with a non- Jewish woman and was banished from the life of the family forever. A second brother, Mor- ris, traveled by train to California at the end of World War II—and his children, in perpetual exile, are prosperous restaurateurs in Los An- geles. While I think of Emma’s sister, Ida, as my grandmother, she is technically my moth- er’s stepmother. (My biological grandmother discovered a lump in her breast in 1953 and was sent home from the hospital to die.) The comedian Jerry Lewis is a distant cousin, as was the stage actor, Bert Lahr, but neither Lewis nor Lahr’s son, John, have answered my multiple letters. I mention all of this to emphasize how few visitors come to Aunt Emma’s gravesite at Mount Ararat, in Queens, where she is buried alongside her parents and thousands of unfor- tunate strangers. When I visit, on a warm au- tumn afternoon nearly twenty-five years after her death, the markers are overrun with desic- cated vines and thorny creepers. It is amazing how little I know of my aunt. She was born in 1898 and worked her entire adult life as an executive secretary at the Al- lied Chemical & Dye Corporation. She never married. As far as my surviving cousins recall, she never dated. Most of her time was spent in the company of another single woman named Alice McCarthy, but whether they were merely friends, or romantically involved, is a mystery lost to the ages. What I do re- member are visits to her single-occupancy apartment in the old Sherry Netherland Ho- tel, and how she showed me a paperweight made from glass-encased butterfly wings, and one time she called me on the telephone and I innocently nodded my head to answer her questions. And I remember vividly the eve- ning she gave me Fat Cat and Thin Cat, after a quiet afternoon in which I downed numer- ous glasses of chocolate milk and she nibbled fruit-flavored baby food, the only meal her esophageal strictures permitted. That is all I remember of my grandmother’s eldest sister. Yet I still love this octogenarian spinster, who is now but a smattering of flashbulb memories in my consciousness, an image of a perpetu- ally impish woman with dimpled cheeks and
appropriated toothbrush. I was thinking of my long lost friends. My plan was to scour the city, making in- quiries of desk clerks. Yet what could I possibly ask? Do you recall if I left a pair of rubber cats here thirty-two years ago? Would you mind if I asked your housekeeping staff if they’d stolen my toys? As I drove past the Pelican Island Wild- life Refuge and the Kennedy Space Center, the absurdity of my scheme grew increasingly clear to me. The woman who had made off with my prized possessions would be long-since re- tired. Or worse. Her son might well have a six- year-old boy of his own. Most likely, the motel itself had been purchased by a national chain and then sold off again in a series of complex transactions that might well have concluded with a wrecking ball. The bottom line was that any sane motel clerk would have laughed me out of his lobby before I made it within shout- ing distance of a housekeeper. I would have had as much luck convincing Dellwood to put the cats’ photographs on its milk cartons. So I turned my car around and drove back—to my bare motel room, to the life I lead without my childhood toys. The irony, I realize, is that if I could find the grown man who’d been that deprived child, I would let him keep the cats. Gladly. I can’t say I would have at the age of fifteen or even at twen- ty-five—but as a thirty-four-year-old university professor, I’ve finally found enough peace in life to forgive the misguided motel maid who did me a small injustice a quarter of a century ago. Honestly, I don’t even want to see the cats again. Fat and Thin are far more vivid in my memory than they could ever be on a stranger’s shelf—or even, for all I know, on his pillow. So what do I want from this man whom I will never meet— this man who probably doesn’t even know that I exist—this man who has never even once asked himself where his mother or grandmother found the toys she brought home from work? All I want is to see who he is—to discover what became of the boy whose mother gave him a pair of rubber cats, one fat, one thin, on a fateful au- tumn night in 1980. That’s what I want to ask him: Did they change his life as much as they changed mine? Jacob M. Appel’s most recent books are a collection of essays, “Phoning Home,” and a short story collection, “Scouting for the Reaper.” He is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at theMount Sinai School of Medicine, where he teaches medical ethics and creative writing. *
a penchant for turquoise hats. I remember loving her and I remember her loving me. I still own the butterfly paperweight, one of the few possessions I carry with me from apart- ment to apartment. Alongside this heirloom, there is always an empty space on the shelf, a final resting place perpetually waiting for Fat or Thin. I am like a war mother, keeping free a chair for her missing son. At some point reason eclipses hope, but the opening must remain as a tribute to the long departed. T WO MONTHS AFTER I visited my aunt’s gravesite, I found myself once again on the east coast of Florida for the wedding of a childhood friend. I made the terrible mistake of staying in the Best Western at 1505 Belve- dere Road in West Palm Beach—an error I wish to encourage all readers of this essay to avoid. The motel appeared a suitable enough lodging at first glance—not too pricey—al- though the soda machines didn’t work and assorted household debris floated atop the pool. Lulled into lowering my guard by the lush, subtropical air and the swaying palms, I took the risk of packing only my computer into my trunk and leaving my other belong- ings inside the motel room while I attended the nuptials wearing a tuxedo. How could I ever have anticipated that the housekeeping staff would confuse the day of my departure? When I returned at two a.m., feeling festive but fatigued to the bone, I discovered that the maid had turned over the room in my ab- sence. She’d taken with her my beach clothes, my toiletries, even the prescription medica- tion that I take before traveling on airborne coffins. To this day, despite my repeated pleas, the motel has proven unable to track down my missing belongings. I will not keep an open space of my shelf for them. Of course, as a result of this screw up, I found myself with a day to kill on the Florida coast, lacking so much as a bathing suit to wear or a paperback novel to read. Seized with an irratio- nal impulse, I immediately phoned my mother in New York and asked her for the name of the motel where the rubber cats had disappeared. Which rubber cats? she asked. When she final- ly understood what I wanted to know, it be- came clear that she possessed only the faintest memory of the entire episode. My father didn’t remember the rubber cats at all. That left me no choice but to drive up the seaboard toward St. Augustine—intend on stopping at each roadside motel. I didn’t care about my recently
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the local scene
The Next Chapter by Amy Ferris Causing a scene at theJetBlue terminal Speaker’s Corner by Elizabeth Titus Embracing alternative lifestyles Acts of Kindness by Amy Levin-Epstein Pink Aid compassion until there’s a cure School Road Spotlight on High School Theatre Next Stop Grand Central by AlineWeiller Meeting at the Information Booth Rural Palates Washington Prime Arts Revisiting the Great War and (Re)discovering the NewWorld Gallery Galas galore! Project Return’s Birdhouse Auction and Near & Far Aid 37 38 40 44 45 47 46
the next chapter
S he must have a window seat. This, she promises, is her last phone call for the night, reminding me one more time, it must be a window seat. I tell her I will do my best, the plane seems awfully full, and since it’s a last minute book- ing, it might be hard. “If I tell you I want a window seat, get me a window seat.” Click. This phone exchange was not long after she had been diagnosed with moderate stage dementia. She had some scary moments; un- settling, jarring, and confusing moments. Having found her curled up in a ball, naked on the floor in her bedroom in Florida while visiting for a long weekend, I knew she had absolutely no recollec- tion of how she landed there. When I shook her from her sound sleep, she smiled and told me I looked a lot taller than she remem- bered. “Ma, you’re on the floor.” “Oh. It feels comfy though, you sure it’s the floor?” A Bat Mitzvah in Scarsdale, New York spurred her into major travel frenzy. She wanted desperately to go. “I have to go. I have to see Gertie. I have to go.” Gertie was her sister. Theirs was a relationship not dissimilar to Palestine and Israel. “I have to go. Don’t tell me I’m not going.” The thing about my mom, she was as stubborn as the day was long. God’s honest truth, sometimes it was really hard to tell if it was the dementia, or my mother just being herself. “Ma, I don’t think it’s a good idea, you traveling by yourself.” “Oh, really? Fine. I’ll drive to Gertie’s.” Having rammed her car into a fire hydrant – a glaring sign that she should never be behind the wheel ever again – “It came out of no where,” she said, “One minute I was sitting there, minding my own business, and the next minute, there it was, crossing the street.” What do you say? Really? “Ma, it can’t walk, a fire hydrant doesn’t walk.” Unbeknownst to us, my mother had an expired driver’s license. I worked it out so a car service (a very kind man who lived a few doors down from her) would come and pick her up, drop her off at the JetBlue Terminal, and make sure there was no seen or unfore- seen problems. I paid the guy to wait an extra half-hour. I called the airline, JetBlue, and spoke with a reservation agent, who had just the right combination of humor and sympathy and could not have been any more cordial or kind. She promised they would do whatever they could to accommodate my mom, but she needed to remind me that the plane was in fact full, and hopefully someone would be able to move if there was not a window seat available. I ask her if there is a ‘companion’ person – a representative – who can help my mom get settled. Help her with the boarding pass, and the other unexpected frustrations that may arise. Yes, she says,
THE WINDOW SEAT by Amy Ferris
someone will help my mom. I can only hope and pray for my mother to come ‘face to face’ with kindness. I think of all the times I gave up a window seat for an elderly person, or a pregnant woman, or a wife who wanted to sit next to her husband. I am hopeful. She is picked up at the designated time – standing outside her condo with her suitcase and an overnight bag, hav- ing packed enough clothing for an en- tire month. “Maybe I’ll stay for a few extra weeks,” she tells me the night be- fore when she lists all the clothing she’s bringing. I can hear in her voice something I never heard before: loneliness. She gets to the JetBlue terminal, she checks her suitcase outside with baggage claim, and – I am told by the neighbor/car service driver – she hands a crisp ten dollar bill to the lovely bag handler, telling him he is a lovely, love- ly, kind man. He deeply appreciates her gesture. Little does he know that the remaining ten or so crisp ten and twenty dollar bills that she has tucked ever so neatly in her wallet will make their way to others who smile, offer a hand, let her get ahead in line, help her with her carry-on. She makes her way up to the counter, where a ticket should be waiting for her. Yes, there is a ticket, but she must go to the gate, in order to get a window seat. She goes through the whole secu- rity scene – I am told by the neighbor/ car service guy – the taking off of her shoes, the removing of her belt, the telling a joke or two about her hip re- placement after she in fact set off the security alarm and how the sound re- minded her of the old days in Las Vegas when someone won at the slots. It was a sound filled with ‘good wishes.’ “No more,” she says loudly as if tell- ing it to every single person on the se- curity line. “It’s a phony sound, it has
no heart. Gimme back my shoes.” The neighbor/car service guy cannot go any further with my mom. The rules. The com- panion person from JetBlue now meets her, thankfully. There is no window seat available. She has an aisle seat. It appears that no one wants to give up a seat. I am horribly sad by this lack of generos- ity for this old, frail woman, and dare I say, embarrassed, because this old frail woman is in fact my mom. This is where I get to relive the whole crazy scenario as it is repeated to me: My mother throwing a shit storm of a nut-dance, hurling a racial slur at the African American flight attendant, and then, if that wasn’t enough, causing another passenger who was somewhat overweight to breakdown and cry. “You know how fat you are? You have your own zipcode.” The administrator told me on the phone it was like an unstoppable chaotic ruckus. A tornado. A whirlwind. I am sad. I tell her that my mom has the begin- ning stages of dementia. It comes and goes, but mostly it’s coming these days. I give her all the broad strokes, my dad died, she’s liv- ing alone, we know, we know, it’s time to get her settled, she’s stubborn, she’s independent, and there’s the whole question of what to do now. Move her, or does she stay? And she’s al- ways been much more strident and righteous and defiant. Not going gently into the good night. She’s escorted off the plane, and somehow manages to get back to her condo by renting a car even though she has an expired license. I would just love to meet that Avis rental per- son who gave my mom a red Mustang to tool around in. She calls me in absolute hyper-hysterics. She wants me to fire every single one of those nasty, bitchy flight attendants, and pilots, and the co- pilot, he’s as much to blame. And where is her luggage, her f---ing luggage? “I bet they stole it. They stole it and you should fire them, the whole lot of them. Now. I want you to fire them now.” “Okay, Ma. I’m gonna fire them now.” I find out from the very cordial and patient JetBlue rep that her luggage is on its way to New York. I am in Los Angeles on business; my brother is at a birthday celebration on Long Island. Neither one of us expected this hailstorm. I try to deal with the airport bu- reaucracy and arrange for my mom’s luggage
“See that, see that, they’re dancing together. Just like Daddy andme. You can only see this kind of magic from a window seat.”
to make its way to Fort Lauderdale within 48 hours, barring any glitches. My mother refuses to speak to anyone. She feels duped and lied to and the fat girl should have gotten up. “My God, she took up two god-damn seats.” And then she said, “I always, always have to sit at the window.” Why, I ask her, why? “F--- you,” she hangs up on me. Shortly thereafter, I moved my mom to New Mexico where she was about to start living in an assisted living facility. “Did you get me a window seat?” “Yeah, Ma, I got you a window seat.” “Good,” she said, “Good.” As the plane revved its engines, and was about to take off, my mom took my hand and squeezed it, staring out the window – watching the plane disappear into the gor- geous white clouds – and after a few long, long, moments, she turned to me, and said: “Up here, in the clouds, I can dream all I want.” Then she pointed to two clouds, al- most intertwined, and she said with such joy: “See that, see that, they’re dancing together.
Just like Daddy and me. You can only see this kind of magic from a window seat.” In that moment, on that plane, it was as if every memory was intact. She started to giggle. She was so happy, con- tent. The lines on her face smoothed out, her eyes filled with a sparkle and a twinkle. It was here – up here – that my mother had always been able to see and feel and imagine clouds dancing, forms taking shape, lovers kissing, the intertwining of souls, and as her hand pressed up against the window, she could, in fact, feel the kindness of Heaven. Amy Ferris is an author, editor, screen- writer and playwright. Her memoir, Marrying George Clooney, Confessions From a Midlife Crisis (Seal Press, 2010) was adapted into an Off-Broadway play in 2013. Amy dropped out of high school, and never looked back. Coming from a middle-class Jewish family on Long Island, this was, as you can imagine, not received well. Her parents sat shiva for two years. *
NOTHING TO SAY by Elizabeth Titus
“I AM CONFUSED,” Victor says. “Excuse me, my English is not perfect, but I do not understand how you are together here. Please explain this.” We are a group of six, at dinner aboard a Rus- sia river cruise – the ones advertised on PBS’s Downton Abbey – docked in St. Petersburg for a few days at the start of the trip: Victor and his wife, Grace; Charlie and his husband, Tom; and Lili and I. Victor is a prosperous businessman from Mexico City, in his late 50s, well-dressed in a starched, blue-striped shirt and navy blazer, and Grace has short hair, smooth skin, and a beautiful smile. Charlie is in his late 60s, tall and handsome, with short-cropped white hair, wire-framed glasses, and an easy laugh. Tom is in his mid 60s, much shorter than Charlie, with a neatly- trimmed white beard, horn-rimmed glasses, and the air of a scholar. They are retired architects living in Santa Fe. Charlie has been hobbled by severe arthritis and walks with a cane as he awaits spinal fusion surgery soon after the cruise. Lili, my adopted Chinese daughter, is 20 and in college in Boston. She is the reason we are on this cruise with Charlie and Tom. When they mentioned it a year ago, she told them she’d love to go. A bit surprised that this would ap- peal to her, given the demographic of this type of trip, I quickly signed on and then gave it little thought until the time came to pay the bill just when Russia and the U.S. seemed perilously on the brink of a new Cold War. As a widow in her early 60s, it’s not easy for me to find traveling companions. I didn’t consider myself quite ready for a cruise, preferring independent travel, but I had long wanted to see Russia, and Charlie and Tom would be excellent traveling companions. How to answer Victor’s question about how we got here? I decide to take the lead. “Charlie and Tom got married in Connecti- cut in 2010, after the state made same-sex mar- riage legal,” I begin. “My daughter Lili was 16, and she made a sign for our guest room, The Honeymoon Suite . We had the wedding recep- tion at our house in Weston.” “Mom, tell them how that justice of the peace wanted them to get married on the beach,” Lili urges me.
At this, Charlie and Tom laugh. The woman who had performed the wedding ceremony, Mary Pugh, had developed a large following, with many gay and lesbian couples travelling from states that are less enlightened than her own. She urged Charlie and Tom to go for a sunset wedding on Compo Beach in Westport, complete with poetry and music and white
* He is impressed; it’s unlikely that he knows many women in Mexico City with MBAs from Wharton. It is still hard for me to talk about Gregory, who died in 2007 of melanoma at the age of 56. I usually try to be direct, as in, “I lost my husband of 30 years in 2007 to cancer.” There is nothing more to say, and people usually get this. The one missing piece for Victor is Lili. He had mentioned that she looked Mexican, which she took in stride; she has heard this a lot, as her Chinese features sometimes strike people as Hispanic rather than Asian. “In 1994,” I tell them, “Gregory and I went to China and adopted Lili. She was a year old, living in what was called a welfare institute. It was the best thing we ever did.” Suddenly, the conversation seems stalled. Has all of this been too much for Victor to take in? He and Grace are most likely con- servative politically – and Catholic, based on the cross Grace wears around her neck. I would not imagine that the circles they travel in have very many gay, married couples, or adopted Chinese daughters of American wid- ows in their 60s. “I have to tell you this,” Victor finally says. He appears more serious than he had been earlier. “It is the greatest honor to be with you here tonight, on this ship.” He seems on the verge of tears. There is nothing to say. We are silent, all six of us. We understand what Victor means. So we just sit there, each of us interpreting what has just happened in his or her own way. And for the remainder of our time aboard the ship, Victor always calls out to us, or stops by our table to embrace each of us and slap Charlie on the back. “My friends,” he tells people. “My good friends I have met here on this cruise in Russia.” Perhaps, I tell myself with a certain feeling of satisfaction, Victor and Grace were not in favor of same-sex marriage, until they met four friends on a cruise in Russia in August of 2014, at a time when Russia was invading its neigh- bors and jailing Pussy Riot and making homo- sexuality a crime. Elizabeth Titus is a freelance writer living in Weston, Connecticut, as well as on the UpperWest Side of Manhattan.
LILI, CHARLIE, TOM AT KREMLIN
linen suits and bare feet and many friends on hand. Charlie, who had taken the lead in plan- ning the wedding, wanted none of this. So the event took place on the lawn of the Westport Town Hall in April, with me as witness. Charlie and Tom have been together for 38 years, and in some ways they are the “straightest” couple I know: completely devoted to each other, intel- lectual, serious, and civic-minded. They dress in old khakis and frayed Brooks Brothers shirts. “But then how do you know Elizabeth and Lili?” Victor asks Charlie. “Elizabeth’s late husband, Gregory, was in my class in architecture school at the Univer- sity of Pennsylvania,” Charlie explains. “And then Elizabeth and I went to Wharton together a few years later.” “Elizabeth, you went to Wharton?” Victor asks. “That is a very famous business school.”
acts of kindness
PINK AID COMPASSION UNTIL THERE’S A CURE by Amy Levin-Epstein
W hen a person fights breast cancer, receiv- ing treatment for the disease is only one part of her battle. There are also tremendous physical, mental and financial burdens that get piled onto families—and while those take a toll on everyone deal- ing with cancer, they are particularly devastating for those who might already be struggling to make ends meet. Whether money is already tight or patients are uninsured or underinsured, a little help can mean the difference between a successful outcome and an unsuccessful one. That’s where Pink Aid, founded in Westport in 2010 by Andrew Mitchell-Namdar, Amy Gross, Amy Katz and Renee Mandis (and launched in Long Island in October 2014) comes in. Since its creation, Pink Aid has provided an astonish- ing $1 million to grant recipients
PROUD SURVIVOR LIZ SCHUPLER DURING THE PINK AID LI
CELEBRATION OF LIFE WALKING WITH FRIEND BETH LEE
both large (St. Vincent’s hospital, Stamford Hospital, and the Norma F. Pfriem Breast Cancer Center in Bridgeport, which just received $52,000 from the charity) and small (grass roots organizations like the Cancer Care wig program and the Witness Project, a nutritional counseling service, in Bridgeport). Every single grant focuses on improving the lives of patients and alleviating some of the burden on their families. “While there are many wonderful organizations that focus on research, we specifically focus on the human side, the compassionate side. So many people in our community are fortunate and don’t have to think about decisions like stopping treatment because they don’t have transportation to go to their ap- pointments or choosing between buying groceries or buying a wig,” explains AndrewMitchell-Namdar, VPMarketing &Creative Services at theMitchell Family of Stores. By giving grants to different organizations, Mitchell-Nam- dar says, Pink Aid has served thousands of families over the years. In October, Mitchell-Namdar helped host the charity’s fourth an- nual cornerstone event, the Pink Aid Fashion Show and Luncheon at Mitchells of Westport. “We had 500 people and it sold out three weeks in advance,” says Mitchell-Namdar. The enthusiasm carried through the entire event. “The energy was so empowering for everyone there. It’s a celebration of life. Half of the models in the fashion show are actual
survivors of breast cancer, and the person who has helped them through treatment. Everyone is standing and cheering,” he recalls. One of the most memorable parts of the day was the Wall of Compassion, where guests wrote small notes of hope for people. Another highlight was an inspirational speech from veteran journalist Lara Logan, a mother of two small children and a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed after returning from a trip to Egypt during which she was sexually assaulted. She shared how her emotions took her off guard after her diagnosis, saying “I panicked for the first time in my life…While I pride myself as a strong person, I struggled.” And perhaps most relevant to the audience in attendance: “There is a community of people who will be your rocks and get you through,” shared Logan. “She was tremendous on many levels, inspiring women from her journey,” says Mitchell-Namdar, who lost his own grandmother, mother-in-law and sister-in-law to the disease. Of course, fashion was also front and center, with guests getting a sneak peek at Michael Kors’ Spring 2015 collection, ripe with opulent floral pat- terns and feminine silhouettes inspired by the 1950s. The hue of the day— pink, of course—was carried through the décor with a delicious lunch beauti- fully presented by Marcia Selden Catering, along with the signature cocktails supplied by Sydney Frank Importers, the aptly named Pink-a-tinis.
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