Archive for the 'Personal Essay' Category

The perfect meal

September 13, 2016
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A french farm-to-table setting

Many, many years ago, I worked as a bartender on a US and Danish air force base in Greenland–miles away from civilization and one very long treacherous dog sled ride to the nearest Inuit village. Food was functional and almost always thawed. In fact, most foods were brought in on US cargo jets either canned or frozen. There were three restaurants and a chow hall on the base, and the one constant you found on all four menus, for breakfast, lunch and dinner was pork. Pork chops, pork and beans, pork patties, pork bellies, pork sausage, pork meatballs, pork roast…you get the point. The reason for pork wasn’t so much that the Danish love it, or the Americans for that matter, but rather, it freezes better and longer than any other meat, and when you’re shipping rations to the arctic you need something that will last…and last and last and last. And so,  along with 300 other US servicemen and a few civilian employees like myself, I ate so much pork that when I returned home, I swore it off for the rest of my life (OK, save the occasional slice of sausage pizza).

This got me thinking of how impossible it would have been to have a good meal, let alone a perfect meal in that setting. Greenland was remote. And frozen. And lonely. And aside from the extremely rare arctic hare or caribou that was served fresh from the kill, it was slim pickings. Your choice was reheated pork and canned somethingorother. The sad truth is, the same can be said for a huge swath of America, despite our access to better quality, fresh ingredients. It’s so hard to create a meal (and I mean, a real meal) from shoddy, conventional, factory farmed and frozen food stuff, let alone fake food. Do you realize that over half the “cooking” that people think they do includes some form of processed or pre-packaged food (let me open this box of instant potatoes and add water)? And according to a Forbes article, while our obesity rates soar, we spend less time eating and less time cooking than other nations.(1)

You see, I’d been reading Michael Pollan‘s  NYT best-selling “In Defense of Food.” And I was preoccupied by the way we eat. On the one hand, I was horrified that some consider a microwaveable Lean Cuisine to be a healthy meal. On the other, I was intrigued by the simplicity of Pollan’s underlying message: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. But more than this simple message were his “rules” for eating–rules that could bring us back from the wasteland of processed and fake foods we’ve created for ourselves out of convenience, but that have actually removed us from a more real experience of eating. So, what were his rules? They were practical and straightforward things like: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” “Eat at a table,” “Eat slowly,” and of course, “Try not to eat alone” (and a few more).

I figured, if I could achieve as many of these things in one meal, I could essentially create the perfect meal.

And so,  one afternoon,  it began like this: I called my new neighbor and said, “Let’s get together and eat.” I wanted to eat with friends. Doug and I typically don’t do that. We eat with family, which is great. But I wanted to branch out. I also wanted to eat with people who deeply appreciate food like my Italian-American family. That’s hard to find. Most of my American friends get more excited over a craft beer than a fig with feta. I knew that the Lombardos–our new neighbors– would definitely appreciate good food. After all, they own and operate a high-end, award-winning Italian restaurant  in Collingwood. So, as Marisa and I talked about it, we figured let’s just go out. This way, no one would have to cook or clean up. Right?

Wrong.

Nonsense, said her husband. I’ll cook. 

A chef, cooking in my kitchen!? Two thoughts: Lord, what did I do to deserve such luck! And, Lord, help me if I have to prepare food to impress a chef and his family.  As with most gatherings among friends, it’s the collective responsibility of the group to bring a dish. What the hell could I bring? I didn’t feel as though I was up to the task. Sure I know my way around a kitchen. But I’ll never win any awards. What’s more, Shepherd’s pie doesn’t exactly shout “gourmet” or “perfect.” Suddenly, I felt performance anxiety.  I felt as though my “perfect meal” could potentially turn into a perfect disaster.

But that didn’t happen.

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Marisa Lombardo, owner of The Artemisian

Try Not to Eat Alone As with all perfect meals, preparation actually begins well in advance. In this case, it began a year prior, when our new neighbors moved across the lake from us. Doug and I would sit out on our back porch, or on the dock, overlooking the lake, lazily watching contractors come and go over the many months it took to renovate the house that faced our backyard. Until one day, in late spring, the new owners finally moved in.  And before I could wrap a bow around a bottle of Spanish Rioja and deliver it to their doorstep, I received a called from Marisa, a total stranger to me at the time, asking if I wanted to join her and a few others for a yoga session on her dock.  Although the yoga never happened–at least not then– that very night she and I and Doug were sipping top shelf whiskey in my kitchen telling our life stories. This was not going to be any average neighbor. And as I secretly rejoiced in that fact, I simultaneously recognized that I was experiencing one of those rare coup de foudre moments that can only be explained by the alignment of stars, or more realistically, shared commonalities between a group of people who hit it off.

The yoga and whiskey were just the beginning. There were impromptu lunches and bike outings with kids; stop ins to bitch about gluten intolerances or work frustrations; recipe sharing, art outings, and one rather successful attempt on her part to teach me how to make real Italian espresso in a macchinetta. And when her husband and Doug were thrown into the mix, talk expanded to travel, motorcycles, grills and how to build an outdoor shower. And thus, the first ingredient in the perfect meal hadn’t exactly been found or bought, rather created from scratch: friendship.

Adding a few others to join in the “perfect meal” was essential too. Jan, Doug’s sister, who is a class or two away from becoming a sommelier is a definite foodie and a regular at all our gatherings. She offered to bring wines that perfectly paired with our meal. Who else would know what goes so well with oysters, pork and pasta but Jan? And Marisa’s and Franco’s long time friends, Juan and Lisa were a must too. I met Juan, who is Spanish, and Lisa, whose family runs a Spanish Imports business, at one of the Lombardo’s parties and we hit it off instantly. The Spanish connection could not be denied (on her annual trip to Spain with her parents when she was 14, Lisa ending up meeting Juan. It was love at first sight and they were married at 19. For those of you who don’t know, my first husband was also a Spaniard. We both have two boys around the same age, and we both love all things Spanish). It’s no wonder they compare friends to food when they say friendship is the spice of life.

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Franco Lombardo, owner of Sapori Restaurant, and his daughter

Eat at a Table After some discussion of the menu, we decided to leave the main course to Franco. Wheph. And so, I was off the hook and didn’t have to offer up my crock-pot American Chop Suey.  My marching orders were simple: set the table, make dessert. Easy. I could handle that. In fact, desserts are my speciality. When I was young I spent hours with my grandmother, who was a Pennsylvania Dutch baker, helping her make apple pies, apple dumplings, shoofly pies and funnel cakes in her tiny kitchen in Ambler, PA. We’d load up her stationwagon early in the morning and haul all that goodness down to Union St. in Medford where she and my dad’s second wife Jenifer ran a little bakery called The Upper Crust. Whipping up a fruit tart with a buttery flaky crust was in my genes. And because it was summer, peaches and blueberries were still relatively easy to find at a NJ Farmer’s Market.

Setting a table was also something I divinely enjoyed. There is an art to it, as well as a tradition. The colors, the fabric, the centerpiece, the dishes…I wanted them all to reflect a French provincial farm-to-table feel that was at once elegant and understated. I’d choose a basic blue and white linen tablecloth, blue and white plastic (yes, plastic!) plates on top grainy, dark wood chargers from Sur la Table and a bouquet of wild flowers. On subsequent dinner parties I stole Marisa’s idea of cutting a few sprigs of basil or thyme from my garden and placing them in mason jars.

Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food The night of our soirée was a Tuesday in July. The table was set, the guest arrived, and Edith Piaf was belting out La Vie en Rose in the background. Franco started us off with fresh oysters and tuna carpaccio with wasabi salsa. We all lingered by him at the island in the kitchen, standing, drinks in hand, scooping up an oyster, biting off a chunk of baguette. Laughing. Chatting. I don’t care how big or exotic your house may be, if you’re a foodie, there’s no other spot for you but the kitchen, near the person cooking. You will stay there the entire time until you’re told to leave, which happens often, right before food is about to be served. I remember my mother  yelling at every Christmas dinner, “Everybody out of the kitchen!” including the adults, and we knew it was only moments before dinner would be served.

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The grilled pork belly

The tuna and oysters would have been enough. I would have been completely satisfied. But, it was only the beginning. Following the antipasti, Franco prepared sautéed shrimp & cuttlefish squid ink pasta. He plated and served the pasta for seven adults and seven kids and we finally took our seats at the table. More wine. More talking. And the slurping of the squid ink pasta, which turned our tongues black. At this point, we ate nothing else. Just pasta. In Italy, true tradition is to never serve a “side” of pasta or a meat over a mound of pasta. Rather spaghetti, pasta, risotto and so on are the primi piatti, or first plate. Then the main course, which, in our case (coincidentally), was Pennsylvania Amish pork, is served with a small accompaniment.

Eat slowly. While the photo of the grilled pork belly I’m sharing here exists, it does it no justice. And to say that this one piece of meat changed my perception of pork forever is an understatement. I assure you this dish was so divine it threw me into a state of temporary nirvana so profound and so celestial that I became speechless for moments after I had first tasted it (my eyes may have also rolled back into my head; honestly I don’t remember). I kid you not. Because the second bite was just as mind-blowing as the first. Tender. Mouthwatering. Succulent. Cosmic. Franco grilled the pork out back on our little grill–an outdoor appliance that never cooked up anything fancier than a burger or a dog. He topped it with a light salmorigano sauce of lemon, olive oil, garlic, oregano and fresh parsley. He believes food should be simple. It should speak for itself. Marisa made baby kale and watercress salad with dates, goat milk ricotta, figs and balsamic pearls as a side.

But here’s the question. Would this meal taste as good on its own? Does any food have the ability to taste divine in a complete vacuum?

The answer is complex. While “delicious” food can be and is often prepared, cooked and served by a pro (or not), the experience of the meal can be deeply enhanced when shared with friends who participate in the story of that food. We ate together. We ate slowly. We ate deliberately. We talked about the food. We talked about cooking. We talked about ingredients and farms and animals. By the end of the night, we all knew which ocean the oysters were pulled from, what the pig had eaten, and that the pasta was made with cuttlefish ink and semolina flour imported from a tiny village in Sicily. I want to make it perfectly clear that every part of this meal came with a story.

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A summer berry & fruit tart

And just as a storyteller weaves a tale and transports an audience, the perfect meal does the same to those who sit down together and eat it. There’s a symbiotic relationship between people and food, and to make a mental and emotional direct connection to it– where it comes from, how it’s made, what it means to you –is to achieve as close and intimate an experience as you can possibly ever achieve from something you ingest. And, that’s when I realized that, Greenland aside, I had had many perfect meals in my lifetime. I grew up with a family that bred me with a keen sense of food not only as sustenance, but as a story. Our Italian heritage, our identity was connected to nearly every recipe my mother made. My great grandmother’s raviolis. The red gravy a top every Sunday dinner. The Italian cookies that were made on my great-grandmother’s pizzelle iron. If food is love then the perfect meal is the story in which that love is told.

The dishes were not cleared from the table right away. If you are Italian, Spanish or Greek (maybe even French), clearing the table too quickly is sacrilege. Plates remain on the table a long time. This is a distinctly Mediterranean tradition. We pick. We eat more. We eat off someone else’s plate. We take our time. We talk. We drink. We digest. Whether you are right off the boat or third generation Italian-American, these are the kinds of traditions that are not so easy to shake. They last for centuries. Sitting at the table a long time over a good meal is in your blood.

At some point, someone asked for an espresso. I cheated. I whipped up a few in my more modern Nespresso maker, not yet a pro at using the macchinetta. I didn’t know this, but, Italians apparently never order a cappuccino after 10 in the morning. After dinner, you have an espresso. And then you have a Passito Di Pantelleria, which is a sweet dessert wine. Or chocolate.

A slice of  homemade fruit tart isn’t so bad either. The next thing you know, it’s close to midnight and your friends are helping you with the dishes and you’re completely spent. You’ve experienced the perfect meal.

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Friends: Tracy Shields, Jan, Juan, Doug, Marisa, Franco and Lisa

I often wonder if the pork they served us in Greenland would have tasted better with friends. I imagine it would.  And yet, there was no story to that pork. No one knew where it came from. In fact, we were so remote, I often imagined that we received our food by way of some humanitarian-like airdrop, where cargo planes would fly overhead and boxes of frozen pork would be dropped by parachute onto the frozen tundra. Actually, we’re not so far off from that imaginary scenario when we go to the grocery store. Where does all that stuff come from? Who knows. Michael Pollan writes that your best hope for real food from a supermarket is around the perimeter. That’s where the produce, the dairy, the meats are. All the aisles in between are processed food airdropped from corporate America.  The best story that comes from a bag of chips is that you located it on sale in aisle seven. I’m not sure that makes for a very great story. Or a great meal.

 

 

 

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Remembering Prince, 1958-2016

April 24, 2016

prince_shmI have to say something about Prince’s death because, honestly, I just have to write to feel better about this. And, because, he was probably my first true love. Yeah, I know. That sounds pathetic. I remember when Michael Jackson died and everyone went crazy. People were crying. I thought, “Are you kidding me? You act like you knew the guy…” Well, now I understand.

I’ve cried for three days straight. No, I mean, I’ve sobbed. I had devoted so much fantasy time to that man for a good ten years–I had every single solitary one of his albums, his 45s, his cassettes and his CDs; I knew every song, I could tell you which album each song came from; I had all his song lyrics figured out and in high school, my walls were painted purple with the big EYES from the Purple Rain album; I even lost my virginity to Purple Rain with a kid who I believed was the closest thing I could get to Prince–I devoted so much emotional time to that man,  it only seems natural I would feel this loss, and yet, a part of my identity that took years to build seems to have crumbled away in an instant. That’s a bizarre feeling. For sure.

Untitled-1Aside from my father, Prince was probably the man who influenced me most, good and bad, and fueled a latent nature that was dying to burst forth. Everything I was running away from, everything I wanted to be, everything I couldn’t attain was wrapped up in that man. His lyrics held all the answers for a girl who was clueless and afraid of love and life. What’s more, I think he changed the chemistry of who I was the night I first saw him in concert. As he sat at his piano, screaming The Beautiful Ones, “I gotta know…Is it him or is it me…” Prince reconfigured my DNA that night, and there was no going back. Without him, I couldn’t tell you what I would look like today, what I might have become. I was transformed.

My mother couldn’t figure out the attraction. I think Prince scared her. He was black, he was half naked all the time, he wore frilly clothes like a woman and he sang about masturbation and God and she wasn’t having any of it for her perfect little girl. After I had bought the Controversy album at a record store at the mall, I hung the poster that came with the album in my bedroom closet. If anyone remembers this poster they might see how it could horrify a parent of a 15-year-old girl. It was Prince in black bikini underwear only, standing in a shower with a crucifix hanging on the shower wall. When my mother uncovered it at one point, not long after I had put it up, she told me to take it down. I refused. She told me, “If that ‘thing’ is not gone in three days, I am ripping it down.” I said, “No. It’s my room! You have no right to do that.” She said, “It’s my house.”

I held my ground and left the poster on the wall and, when I came home from school on the third day, the poster was ripped to shreds in a heap on my purple bedroom carpet.

I suppose that story is more telling of my mother than of me or my sentiments for Prince. And yet, there were many more times I would cry over the man. I cried out of frustration when I missed one of his concerts, I cried out of jealousy when I learned he was dating Vanity or some other woman. And I cried just to cry because, when you’re 16, that’s what you do.

And I wasn’t alone. I had a clique of friends that also worshipped the Purple One. We wore fringe and lace, swooshed our hair to one side, wrote letters to God, painted our rooms purple and drew The Sign and those Eyes on all our notebooks along with lyrics, carefully chosen that spoke to us like no parent ever could. We worked diligently trying to uncover all the hidden messages in his albums. When Paisley Park came out, we were hysterical because we thought Prince was dying. And we all wrote in our yearbooks that we were going to DMSR our lives away…

Shortly after graduation my best friend came to visit me in Wildwood where I worked for a summer selling t-shirts. I was so lonely and so missing my old friends that her visit was a godsend. We noted the cherry moon on the night she showed up. It was a sign.

When I was in my 20’s, living in Paris, I lived my life through the Sign of the Times and Batman albums. I drank “pink things” at an American bar called the Violon Dingue with my British friend Karen and we smoked Gauloises and bemoaned living in Paris with zero money. I thought it was a miracle when a boy selling cassettes on the street offered to sell me the Black Album and a bootlegged copy of Crystal Ball that he had clearly made in his parents’ basement—all for a whopping 20 francs. I think I sacrificed a meal and a pack of cigarettes that week. But, it was worth it.  This collection of songs I shared immediately with my other Prince-addicted friend, Kimberly, who was also living in Paris at the time. One night we ended up at club that was promoting an All-Prince night. We had come across one of their paper advertisements in the street—a red heart that said LoveSexy and were convinced the Man would make an appearance. I begged my au pair family to let me have the night off. I took the train into Paris from Fountainbleau met Kim and we stayed out until 7am—until the Metro started running again—dancing and waiting. He never did show, and what’s more my purse was stolen. But, I still have the LoveSexy advert. That’s all that really mattered.

princeI marked the years by albums, and, maybe shortly after Emancipation (ironically), my styles changed and I drifted. Or did I drift away organically? It’s not clear. The impoverished, but spiritually abundant days of Paris were long gone, and the girl who was so averse to growing up, grew up faster than she wanted in a less-than-perfect marriage and a deep struggle within myself to hold on to the woman I wanted to be. I remember one afternoon, living in Madrid with my new husband. I was happy within myself for a moment, in between fighting and a seemingly never ending long string of days where I would cry and rock back and forth wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. I remember putting on Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife, singing at the top of my lungs and dancing around a rather empty Madrid apartment living room that only had a futon and a TV. My husband came in and yelled, “Stop singing, you’re annoying me.”

That was the end of Prince.

I came back briefly during his Musicology period—Call My Name and On the Couch were the throaty, moaning, slow love songs that had first drawn me in and I simply needed to go back. That was 2004. The year my father died and the year I divorced. But, it wasn’t the same. I had changed. Prince’s spirituality imbued with sexuality was the perfect message of inspiration and validation I needed when I was younger, when I believed in those things, but I simply no longer possessed any of that anymore. Letters to God were replaced with the logical promise of science. And as far as my sexuality was concerned, I had spent years devoid of everything Prince told me true love and sexuality should look like. There were no hot nights in bathtubs with candles. My husband never said to me,

“If I was your girlfriend

Would U let me dress U

I mean, help U pick out your clothes…”

I got nothing remotely close to that. And so, I stop believing. In Prince. In the promises of youth. In me.

And that was that.

Until it wasn’t anymore. In 2009 I met Doug. By then, I had been through my fair share of ups and downs, reconnected with my true self, or rather, found my true self, not my fantasy one, and felt the warm glow of aliveness and happiness coming from within and from my children. While I no longer needed an idol to help me form my identity, I was no longer jaded by all the dreams that never came true. Doug and I, when we first met, talked about the fact that we both had Prince posters all over our walls and that he always dug girls who were into Prince because, well, let’s be honest, if Prince did one thing for any true fan, it was to teach them how to fuck. From a man’s perspective I could see how that might be appealing.

But, the truth is, Prince was a distant memory, a larger-than-life figure that gave me so much more than a song to dance to. He taught me how to be free. How to love. How to be my own duality. How to express myself. How to be unique. How to look at the world in all its glory and say, this is beautiful.

When I heard the news that he was dead it came in the form of a text that I only briefly saw. And then another, something about TMZ reporting it and it can’t be confirmed. I froze. I was at my computer, just off a 2-hour conference call. I went right on to Facebook and saw the posts blowing up my newsfeed. I called one of my old high schools friends right away and just kept saying, “No, no, no, no, no…It can’t be…” We were both crying. Holding on to the possibility that Prince not remotely capable of dying.

I looked at the date. And I knew.

Ironically, or coincidentally, both my father and Prince died at age 57. And ironically, or coincidentally, they both died on the same date. This is significant. There had always been a mystique about the world for me–an innocent belief that the universe aligns certain major events in your life mysteriously–as if someone behind a curtain is trying to tell you something–I may be invisible but there’s a purpose and a plan, and I’m going to drop little clues to keep you guessing. I stopped believing in that for a very long time, but in that very moment of reconciling Prince’s passing, I knew. It was a gentle reminder that the world is still a mystery and I need to keep my eyes open for signs.

Thank you, Prince. Thank you. For a lifetime of helping to build a girl into a woman. That’s a pretty big feat for such a little guy.

best-prince-songs-5I read today that Prince’s remains were cremated. And that reports of his death were that he may have overdosed on percocets. To me, those are crazy hard facts to hear. They don’t compute. They bring me back to the girl with the ripped to shreds poster on her bedroom floor. Crying because it just doesn’t make sense.

One of my homegirls sent me a poignant quote that sums up exactly how I feel about Prince’s death and why it’s possible I still feel a bit lost.

Prince was so utterly, effortlessly enshrouded in mystique that he seemed other-than-human, to the point where mortality never figured into our calculations.—Vanity Fair

Rest in peace. Nothing compares to you.

What it Means to Be a Mom

May 16, 2013

Untitled-1The quintessential highs and lows of being a parent and the flux of emotions that a mother may experience with regard to her children tend to happen over months, weeks, even days. Until you have a teenager. Then, they tend to occur by the hour.

SHAME


As Doug and I came in from dinner at La Campagnola, at exactly 6:58pm, I saw my son Julien in the dark, waiting by the door to be let in. I quickly apologized for not being home on time to let him in, although he usually gets in a little after seven on a Tuesday, so I didn’t think I’d be late. He smiled and said, “That’s OK, Mom.” And yet,  I still felt bad for not being home. “Were you waiting long?”

“Twenty minutes!” he said, with so much emphasis as if twenty minutes were actually 20 days. Ugh. I hugged him and apologized again. After we were inside, I quickly turned to him and said, “Where’s your brother?”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

FEAR

“Well, what do you mean you don’t know where Dani is? It’s seven at night. Wasn’t he over your dad’s with you?” I am divorced and practically remarried, and on Tuesdays my kids go to their father’s until seven. At seven, on the dot, they return home to me. Every week.

“No, he never came home.”

My head grew hot. It was seven at night. That doesn’t make sense.

Usually, Dani comes home on the late bus at 4:30pm and comes here. Now that he’s older, he doesn’t even go to his father’s on Tuesdays.

“Well, did he tell your dad where he was?”

“Yes, he called around 3:30 and let him know he had to do something with the camera club, after school.”

That made me feel slightly better. And yet, that usually meant he would be taking the late bus home. He’s never stayed at school past 4:30, save during soccer season. Despite the fact that he’s been a Freshman for a few months, I still sometimes feel like I have no idea what’s going on. I scurried and made a few calls. I called Dani’s cell and it rang and rang, then went to voicemail. I texted. Twice. “Where the heck are you?” I called their father and asked him to tell me exactly what Dani had said when he spoke to him. Just that he was with the camera club for something happening after school. Well, how long after school? I wanted details and no one could give them to me. And then, I called Dani’s cell again, only this time, it went immediately to voicemail. As if someone turned off the phone, or it went dead.

My stomach took a plunge, and yet, I was trying not to panic simply based on technology. Cell phones fail from time to time. Right? But, oh, the stock we set in them.

“Come on, Julien, we’re going to the school.

It was not like Dani to not contact me or text me or simply not let me know where he was. And yet, it was Dani. He was prone to forgetfulness. I tried to stay calm and not over-react but a mother sometimes can’t help herself. She needs to know where her kids are at all times. Hell, in the span of two months the news reported nothing other than children being abducted.  While I drove, I had Julien search through his list of contacts. Anyone who Dani might be hanging out with. Julien diligently put in a few calls, sent a few text, but no one responded.

Once at the school, we walked through the halls of Shawnee, stopping people along the way. “Excuse me, is there any camera club event going on?” The response was inevitably, “Not that I know of. Are you looking for someone?”

“Yes, my son.”

I always feel so pathetic when I say that. Like I’ve lost my keys, or my purse. Like I can’t keep track of my things. And then, the mommy-guilt kicks in, and the negative self-talk takes over…What mother loses her kid? A bad mother, that’s who. I should have paid more attention to who he was hanging around with. I don’t even know the names or phone numbers of any of his friends. What an idiot I am.

After about ten minutes of self-degrading and worry, the logical brain takes over. I decide that maybe the camera club is filming or taking pictures of another event. There’s several going on. It’s just a matter of which one. I eventually make my way to an event in the auditorium. A pinning ceremony. I scan the crowd, searching for that young person who is essentially an extension of myself. When you cannot find your child, lost in a crowd, it’s as if you’ve lost a limb.  Lo and behold, there he is behind a video camera propped on a tripod, filming a couple of giddily happy girls on a stage receiving their pins. His techie friends are dispersed around him. I exhale at that moment of instinctual recognition of my child; he is safe and good and alive—it’s the kind of moment that changes a mother’s chemistry, like breastfeeding. At the very moment the infant latches on there’s a hormonal flood within the mother, a wash of oxytocin, which tells her, “this is pure pleasure,” despite the cracked and bleeding nipples. Ah, bonding.

I wanted to kill him.

ANGER

Julien and I walked down to the front row, and sat right behind where he was working. I zoomed in on the back of his head like a hawk about to dive for her prey, a scowl on my face. I could sense his uneasiness. He knew I was angry as hell. I whispered, “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been worried sick. Why on earth didn’t you call me?” In secret I was thinking, Boys! How can they be so insensitive? So in their own world that they never in a million years realize that they have the power to rip your heart to shreds.

“But, I did contact you. I sent you a text!” he said, pleading.

I reached into my pocket and looked at my phone. Nothing.

“Nothing.” I said.

He quickly pulled out his and showed me the text he wrote, slightly redeeming himself. There it was, at 3:30 p.m. It had never been sent from within the auditorium.

RESIGNATION

“Look, enough with the texts, OK. You need to talk to me and I need to hear your voice. You can’t just assume I’ve got your message…” Secretly, I’m thinking, You owe me that much, don’t you think? And then, kids are so damn selfish. I’m going to go on Facebook and make a blanket statement that people should not EVER have them if they want to keep their sanity. I remember my father saying this to me and I never quite understood what he meant. I do now.

CALM

We drove home quietly. After an hour of decompression, and me doing the usual meditative ritual of going onto the computer and reading mindless posts, trying to get my sanity back, Dani came upstairs, almost as if nothing had happened.

“Hey, mom, did you see this video that’s going around now? Oh my God, You’ll love it.”

“I don’t know, show me.”

He sat on my lap. Yes, my almost 15-year-old son who weighs more than 150 pounds at 5’8″ still sits on my lap, much like I did with my own grandfather well into my 20’s, even when he’d yell, “You’re going to break my legs! Get off of me.” It runs in our family. This is how we love.

He put the youtube video “To This Day” on, and we watched. It’s about bullying. I had seen it before, but I sat still, and watched it again. It’s one of those videos that has gone viral and every time you see it, you can’t help but tear up.

When it was over he moved across the room and sat opposite me and said how much he loved this video. His eyes were red and wet with tears. It wasn’t often that I saw him cry anymore, like he used to, when he was little.

“Maybe because you were bullied as a child, ” I said, and my heart ached a little remembering some of the horrible things kids did to him because he was different. Chasing him on their bikes, threatening to beat him up, hitting him, laughing at him. In seventh grade he came to me once, when I asked him why he never hangs out with anyone anymore and said, “I have no friends, mom. None. No one likes me.” A mother is paralyzed when she hears this kind of stuff. How is it possible that your kid has no friends? Don’t others see what you see? How can I make it better, you think. How can I make people love him.

You can’t. You can only love your child and by virtue of that love, you can give him strength.

“Who me?” he said.  “Nah. I never cared about people making fun of me. I never believed them. I like myself too much.”

He smiled.

We sat there for a minute. I guess he was right. He never really cared if kids picked on him. Or if he had no friends. He always let stuff roll right off of him. He had a rich imagination that could keep him busy for hours. I always envied him for that. I always depended too much on the opinions of others for my self-worth. I was proud that he did not make the same mistake I did.

“Well, something in this video must have touched you,” I said, not needing to point out that his eyes were as wet as mine.

I thought for sure he would say the usual, that he felt sorry for kids that had to go through a life of bullying. I, myself, was bullied as a kid too. Spit balls in the hair, called a dog, tripped, kicked, spit on. The whole shebang. I had told the story to both my kids many times, and how it strengthened me and made the person I am today. Whether they were listening or not, wasn’t exactly the point. It was in the telling. In hoping to give my kids the necessary tools to deal with whatever came their way. In fact, in the video, there’s a segment about a girl who was bullied as a kid and grows up to be a woman who doesn’t believe in herself and still thinks she’s ugly because of a mark on her face. And yet, despite having kids of her own, who love her, she is insecure.

LOVE

I turned to Dani, “What do you think it was that touched you so much, then?”

“I guess,” he said, his eyes growing a little redder, “I loved the part most when they say, ‘..and they’ll never understand that she’s raising two kids whose definition of the word beauty begins with “mom.'”

Mom. A word that means beauty. How could it be? How could it not be? I guess he was listening.

I hugged him tightly, and told him I loved him. He smiled, said he loved me too, and off he went. Back into his world of being a boy.

If you haven’t already, watch the video.

 

Take it personally!

February 23, 2012

Need a great gift idea? How about dinner for two prepared in your home by a personal chef.

As some of you may know (despite my public displays of affection for my lovely boyfriend, D) I am not very romantic. I hate the idea of Valentine’s day, I think celebrating anniversaries is kinda lame, and I rarely make any requests for candlelight dinners, flowers or chocolate. But I do love giving and receiving  unique gifts.

And so, the other week, I was trying to come up with a gift for D– whether we celebrate or not, I still wanted to do something special for our three-year anniversary. That’s when Fran Davis popped up on my Facebook newsfeed with the idea of hiring a personal chef to prepare dinner for two. Bingo. I hate cooking, but love to eat healthy so I chose my menu items (she had a few to choose from) and I hired her.

Personal Chef Fran Davis, of The Flavorful Fork

On Friday, she arrived at 4ish with all her cooking supplies, including her own pans, knives, spices,  and towels for clean up. I think she even brought her own sponge! Anyway, as she cooked (in my kitchen), I was able to finish up some work and then pad around the house, doing virtually nothing. Actually, I kinda felt like a lazy, pampered (spoiled) bourgeois housewife. But we chatted and laughed and I was amazed at how well she was able to not only cook this amazing meal, but socialize as well. I think if I had her job, I would have been more like, “OK, don’t talk to me, and get out of the kitchen!” Who knows, maybe inside that’s how she felt. Truth is, she seemed very at home and comfortable.

So, D came home around 5:30.  Fran had also brought over a bottle of Spanish red for us, so we started drinking that. I set the table, lit a candle (why not) and by 5:45 dinner was served.

Our first course was a mango and avocado salad with mango dressing (I still have the dressing in my fridge and keep putting it on everything), after that she served Parmesan-Herb Crusted Tilapia, served with mashed yams (I believe she threw a little sage into the yams too). This main course was so amazingly good that it made me believe I was eating at Le Bec Fin. Tres gourmet. To think that something that delicious can be made in my kitchen is a bit of a shocker. That was always my excuse as to why I never cooked. I didn’t think my kitchen was capable of it. Then again, there was that time that Natalie made that amazing risotto. Now, I guess, I have no excuse.

But back to Fran, our final course was a pear-cranberry fruit crumble for dessert with a scoop of coconut ice cream. Dear Lord! I think I gained 10 pounds in two hours. But it was completely worth it. By that point, D and I were both in our respective food comas and I don’t even remember Fran cleaning up. The next thing I remember was hugging her goodbye and dreaming up a future event where her services could again, be put to good use. Maybe a tapas party in the new house? Just to make sure the new kitchen is capable of serving up fabulous faire? Definitely food for thought.

As for my lack of enthusiasm for romance, I guess I’m not entirely averse to it. But I would still not say that the night was romantic. It’s kind of hard to be all shmoopy in the presence of a friend who’s cooking in your kitchen. But it was definitely a positive, unique experience. And that’s what I liked about it. I could feel pampered for the night and in my book, any time I don’t have to cook, it’s a good thing! I will definitely be calling Fran again. And I hope this inspires others to do the same! She can be reached at The Flavorful Fork dot com.

Home

November 14, 2011

The summer after I graduated high school, I left home. I worked on the boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ with Israelis, Moroccans, Canadians, French and Russians. Those people did crazy things to me. They introduced me to the world. They pulled at my insides, sparks flew, something felt very right, like a calling to turn my life over to God. I was eighteen and still remember sitting in Frieda’s tiny, one-room apartment on Young Avenue. She was a woman with whom I sold t-shirts. A ton of Israelis, after their stint in the army, would live in a kibbutz and would have connections to others who were making tons of money ironing decals on t-shirts at the Jersey shore. Word of mouth sent her here. She knew she could make money under the table for the summer while getting to know America.  In the winter, she, along with everyone else, migrated to Fort Lauderdale, and then back again, year after year, never entirely settling down. There was something familiar in the ebb and flow of the way she lived her life. But I could never put my finger on it.

On a hotplate plugged into the wall she made me “Israeli coffee” and poured it in a tea glass, with sugar. We talked about life on the kibbutz, Shimon Peres and the Palestinians. “We are all human,” she said. She taught me how to say I love you, in Hebrew, which incited me to go around to all my other friends and ask them how to say I love you in their language. By the end of the summer, I could say I love you in English, Hebrew, Arabic, French, Russian and Hungarian.

It may have begun then.

When I turned 20, I moved to Paris and lived in a one-room chambre de bonne on rue Rimbuteau. I read a lot of Henry Miller, got laid, dropped out of my French classes at the Alliance Francaise and existed in such a state of poverty that my friend Karen and I would steal food from her stepdad’s house during the day, and then at night, we’d flirt with rich exchange students at the Violon Dingue trying to get them to buy us free drinks. I was even homeless for a few days and spent a good 24-hours with a transient, tattooed, pierced, skinhead named Will West who kept me laughing through my vagrancy. We would stay at free night clubs all around Les Halles and dance like zombies until seven in the morning, until the cafes opened and then, we could sit for hours with the alcoholics and street people, drinking cheap coffee and toasted baguette for ten francs. Je ne regrette rein.

When my mother dragged me home in the fall of ’89, I applied for a job as a cashier at John Wanamaker’s. The woman who interviewed me read my application and saw that I had just come back from France. She smiled and said, “Coming back to reality, eh?” It wasn’t long after that that I repacked my bags and took a bartending gig in Greenland. I’ll show you reality, bitch.

Sondrestromford, was a US and Danish military base right below the arctic circle. It was cold as hell. Thirty degrees below zero could turn a flower to shattered glass. There were no trees. Just gray, monochrome hills with dark skies and the occasional aurora borealis that slinked across a sky so lit up by stars you thought you might be looking through a telescope. A fjord the color of wet cement cut along the base.  I served drunks at the NCO Club and dated an American bodybuilder who taught me how to lift weights–there was nothing else to do up there but use the indoor gym, hunt musk ox and make money. I did that for a good five months before realizing that some places are better left untraveled. So, I came back home.

Part of the experience of being away from home, was longing for home. There was a weird dichotomy there. It was like what someone said to me about living in Paris. The only way to continue to love Paris, is to leave. So, for many years, I lived at home to the point of exhaustion and ennui, only to pack my bags, and live somewhere else for a time, until I missed home again. Back home, back out again. Back home, back out again. Just like that.

The older I got, though, the length of time it took to get to the point of missing home shortened. Until eventually, I did the unthinkable. I married and settled down. Granted, I married a Spaniard, which afforded me several costly trips back and forth to Madrid. Kids have to visit their Abuelos, you know. But the truth is, for the first time in my life, I actually liked home. I no longer wanted to run away. Making peace with the idea of stability, continuity, and permanence was a trip in itself. Something I had never known. The drawback is that kids force you into such a state of routine that you end up feeling trapped. At least I did. Drop off, pick up, drop off, pick up, breakfast, lunch, dinner, bed-time at exactly eight. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.  Nothing to jostle the monotony. So, you join the Junior Women’s Club. You go to Longaberger basket parties. You volunteer at school to serve lunches. You ask your mother to babysit so you and your husband can actually be alone and scream during sex. When that only happens once every six months, you go back to school and get a degree and have an affair. Well, you don’t have an affair. He does. And well, then you get to a point where you kinda fondly remember the monotony. But, that’s another story.

Permanence wasn’t my thing anyway. And so, in 2004, three events occurred which, even in their bad sad miserable way, allowed me to reclaim my inherent nature–a traveler. My father died. I divorced. And, I finally got my college degree (granted, the last was a positive consequence of my years as a stable New Jerseyan). When these three things happened, my tether broke. And when a tether on a hot air balloon breaks, there’s no telling which way the wind will blow it.

Within months, of these events happening, I hit the road. Twenty eight days, across the Heartland. Long stays with my kids in the Utah desert. Hiking the red rocks of Moab. Flying over the Grand Canyon. Twelve-hour car rides that had me fantasizing about the practicality of wearing a Depends undergarment so as not to make so many damn pee stops.

Travel is in my blood. Which gets me thinking. It probably didn’t begin with Wildwood. It didn’t begin with Paris or Greenland or week-long trips to Long Beach Island, or summers in Philly, or any of the trips I actually took to simply get away from home, get away from me. It began much further back than that.

In ’67, my mother and father eloped. They packed up my mother’s 1963 Chevy Nova and headed to Vegas. A year later, they made their way back to the West Coast, to Hollywood, where I was born in May of ’68. In November, we came home to Jersey and stayed a while. But not long. And while we never, vacationed, per se, we did move. And every move was an adventure.

In fact, we moved every year, for fourteen years. A new house every year, sometimes less than a year if my father couldn’t pay the bills. Adapting, readapting, not adapting so well. Moving in anger; moving in fear. Moving with our tail between our legs. Moving out of shame and necessity because we had burned our bridge. Moving with elation and joy to be in a new, undiscovered world of hallways and bedrooms and hidden closets and eiree basements and blistering hot attics. We weren’t moving to anything, now that I think of it. We were running away. Well, I wasn’t running away. It wasn’t me who couldn’t pay the bills. I was just along for the ride.

But a funny thing happens to a child whether she likes it or not. She inherits her parents’ hopes and fears and everything in between.  The circular reasoning that makes up 90 percent of the gray matter in her head. There was, in fact, a box of dolls I no longer played with that remained packed for many years because my mother was sick and tired of unpacking them. This frustrated me for a time because, of the few friends I was able to make, most had a wall of pretty little knick knacks, dolls, and porcelain (or plastic) horses on display with which they no longer played. I did not. My walls were bare. And so, when I was finally old enough to take these dolls out of the box, to pull them from their captive bundle of newsprint and bubble wrap, I didn’t even like them anymore. And so, I ended up throwing them away or maybe giving them away to another little girl who might have appreciated them more than I. Their traditional spot on a dusty, permanent shelf, where they could have sat throughout my entire childhood, held no meaning for me. And yet, I was embarrassed for so long at the transience of my life. Even now, when I explain my past to people (because traveling 14 times in 15 years is a bit much for a kid, don’t you think), they ask, “Was your father in the military?” I can’t say that I’m not slightly ashamed to have to say, “No, he was not.”

My childhood was a rich fabric of insanity, joy and adventure. I’ll leave it at that.

But here’s the thing. Every house was a home, a world unto itself –like a country, with a different language spoken within its borders. Each closet, to my child’s eye, was a landmark, a monument; each new kitchen, served a new regional cuisine. Every backyard was a continent, a varied landscape with fields that stretched to the horizon, or snowcapped mountains, or dark forests; seascapes, city lines, quiet, fenced-in corners pulsing with tiger lilies and skies broken to pieces with big white clouds. We traversed New Jersey, then up to New Hampshire, then back again. We lived in farmhouses, big houses, small houses, ranchers and even, what my mother not-so-fondly called, “a cardboard box.” My life is thusly divided into fourteen different worlds, with a myriad of experiences.  The cliché “home is where the heart is,” aptly applies.

In less than a week I’ll be in Holland. A month ago it was Bear Creek for work. Then Sedona.  Followed by Baltimore and now NYC. The instability of all this travel wears me out. Some days, I’d simply rather stay home. And yet, there is the eternal, inborn wax and wane, the coming and going, the internal rotating door that can’t be tuned out. An opportunity to adapt, readapt, not adapt so well. At the heart of it, I suppose, I’m used to the discomfort, the inconvenience. It has meaning. It’s who I am. The doll on the shelf can’t shake a stick at the story I tell and retell. And to me, the significance of that is far greater than any gift I may bring back home to decorate my walls.  More importantly, the child in me is finally OK with the idea that there’s no need to unpack.

A touchy subject, even for the world of film

November 11, 2011

In a few days, D and I are headed to Amsterdam for the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) where a film I took part in, “Love Addict,” will debut. And while I’m thrilled to once again be part of the art world, schmoozing with a great clique of writers, directors, producers and photographers, in Europe no less, I am a little leery.

For starters, the documentary is a topic of interest that might not be, how shall I put this, all that well received. It’s about weakness and that’s something some people have a hard time witnessing. People might laugh. We will, after all, be in Europe. “Oh those Americans,” they’ll say, “Always angst ridden and falling apart over the most luxurious and invented of possible problems.” And it’s true. Love addiction isn’t really about love or anything lofty like that. It’s not even about something as ugly yet facinating as being addicted to sex, meth, hoarding or any of the more lowbrow dysfunctions. It’s about the psychology of personal defense mechanisms and how that plays out in a person’s life. It’s about whining over not being loved, but feeling stuck and doing nothing about it because you don’t believe in yourself. Superficial, self-centered stuff that probably should have been dealt with at age 13, not 43.

And let’s face it. The documentary is not based on “real” suffering, in the broader sense, the kind you find in places like war-ravaged Iraq or Sierra Leone. We didn’t film a heated polemic on climate change or the impending doom of global food shortages. This is self-imposed, I can’t control my behavior stuff that causes suffering. It’s akin to over-eating, over-spending, gambling, drinking. It’s the addiction argument. We participate in these behaviors of over-indulgence and over-consumption and suffer the consequences, then wonder what the hell happened when we fall flat on our faces. We wonder how it got this bad. And why it can’t be stopped. So we call it a “disease.” Really, it’s like cancer; it spreads. Obsessing over that which we cannot have and putting up with bad behavior from others becomes the dominant response. It gets to the point where good judgment is lost. It gets to the point where a husband smacks his wife across the face. It gets to the point where she stays because she “loves” him. She stays “for the kids.” Or she stays because she’s scared to death to be alone.

Sure, people might snicker over my American sensibility for personal growth. And they might even get that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of their stomachs when the director toys with the idea of a woman who resorts to stalking a la Fatal Attraction, or another who dates a kid fifteen years her junior with no job and no real ability to handle an adult relationship, let alone take care of himself. Through most of the documentary, in fact, you find yourself asking, is this a real problem or do these people simply suck at managing their lives. In the beginning you feel like, clearly, anyone labeled a love addict is sick in the head. In the end, you wonder, “Could this be me?”

And that’s a good question.

Maybe the cultural dilemma of how men and women treat each other within a relationship is not as black and white as the media would have you think. Maybe love addiction is a lot subtler than the Hollywood version, or the battered woman version. Maybe the term “love addiction” is a misnomer, and it’s even more prevalent than alcoholism. You remember those statistics from the 80’s? In every family there’s at least one drunk. Or was that “jerk”? I can’t remember now. But I can tell you this: there’s tons of unhappy women suffering through bad relationships right now or stuck in a one-sided flimsy representation of one. It’s plague-ish, if you ask me. Take a good look at all your girlfriends. How many have stayed in a bad relationship or a bad marriage long past the point of dignity? That’s love addiction. How many settle for a “friends with benefits” situation in the hopes it turns into something more? That’s love addiction. How many men or women do you know that have had affairs and destroyed their families on the fantasy-based whim that love with this perfect new stranger will save their soul? That’s love addiction. And how about the hard-working career woman who finds it safer to date a married man, or one about 3000 miles away rather than go out and actually find someone close and available? That too, is love addiction.

It was just this past weekend that my Aunt came to a family party with proof that dating a bad boy is an epidemic among twentysomethings. She showed me a photo of my cousin N, a beautiful Paris-Hiltonish statuesque blond. She was pictured with a cute, smiling Italian guy. The first words out of my Aunt’s mouth were, “This guy is actually [emphasis mine] nice.” I.e. he’s not a f’ up like the previous ones.

It reminded me of my youth. I dated one bad boy after another. Each one ever so slightly less bad than the last. You’d think I’d be trading in behavioral traits in the hundreds instead of making microscopic improvements in increments of one. But were my bad dating decisions so far from the realm of what’s normal? I don’t think so. Sure, some of my friends dated good, kind, loving men who treated them well. But most couples in my circle had problems. And marriage didn’t leave you exempt from mismanaging your life. Marriage and love addiction are not mutually exclusive. And while having problems within a relationship is normal and unavoidable and by no means signifies that you or your partner are addicted to love, the degree to which those problems do exist and the length of time they last are your best indication that you are in a healthy relationship or that serious soul searching is in order.

But getting people to accept that idea is almost impossible. We all have preconceived notions of who we are and Unflattering Labels don’t really fit into our personal worldview, I’ll give you that. Who wants to be labeled a junkie? But remove the label and what have you got? Romeo and Juliet, is what you’ve got. The glamorization of painful, unhealthy love. So, does it really matter what the disease is called? Does it really matter if it’s a disease at all? The lessons are what’s priceless: love thyself, your body is a temple, you are a miracle, you have value, you deserve better than scraps, you need to grow up and get over the fact that life ain’t a Shakespeare play…

This documentary doesn’t offer those lessons. It should, but it doesn’t (it will have resources for how to get help on its website and DVD). What it does offer is the problem. And a socially acceptable glimpse at love addiction. Unlike self-help books, which, let’s be honest, are a bit embarrassing (no one wants to be seen checking out a copy of “ Women Who Love Too Much”), documentaries don’t imply there’s anything wrong with you. You can go to the theater and be a voyeur into the lives of others and you can freely and secretly gauge if this is something you need to investigate further. A documentary is a film. It’s art. And while you can certainly judge the participants of the film—and even laugh at them if you want—you cannot avoid recognizing yourself in their stories, if but in the smallest of ways.

And I guess that’s all I can hope for. That art can still inspire individuals to sustain judgment and think deeply about what this film implies. Not the sloppy Jerry Springerish implication of classless people getting paid wads of cash to beat the crap out of each other for entertainment. But the deeper implications of the human heart, and its delicate  and often feeble inability to always be strong.

Disaster in the ‘burbs

August 27, 2011

Years ago, when I was living in New Hampshire, my father took me camping out in my backyard. I spent the night holed up in an old chicken coop, while my father heated up a pot of soup over an open fire. I remember feeling so free and pioneering, despite being yards away from my house. Just my dad and I,  surviving the elements, living like frontiersmen. Trying to make do on rations of soup, hotdogs and a loaf of Wonder bread. It was exhilarating. Until I realized that I was missing my nightly glass of warm milk before bed.  “We’re surviving out here,” my dad told me. “There’s no glass of milk in the wilderness.”

I wasn’t much of a survivalist then and I’m still not. And in a deep-rooted, guilt-ridden sense, I am ashamed of myself and  people like me who, sadly, are creatures of comfort. Whose disaster mentality has translated not only into buying up a gazillion water bottles and stock piling food like it was the end of the world, but purchasing rain boots, generators and a month’s supply of romance novels. I am embarrassed that our survivalist instinct has turned into a consumerist instinct, and that we even have all this crap for purchase to begin with. And, I regret to admit that extreme conditions, cautioned about incessantly on every TV channel and every radio station and every online newswire, incite us to run out to Wal-Mart as if our life depended on it.

I’m kind of disappointed too that we desperately fear adversity. Oh sure, we love it in movies. But reality’s another story. What happened to our fore fathers’ pioneering spirit? Has our DNA transmuted so severely that no one wants to be that guy whose power goes out for a week; or whose house blows away; or whose stuff sinks into biblical flash floods and everything he owns is stripped from him in a matter of 24 hours?  The guy who didn’t heed the governor’s warning to “prepare” or “evacuate.” And even though, you know as well as I do, that the power will be back on within 24 hours, it’s a little disheartening  that we’re all purchasing with such fury and devotion.

I’m not saying that I don’t think the storm will do damage. Or even that lives or possessions are at risk. I’m not even upset that, after the 5.9 earthquake where the extent of destruction was an overturned plastic chair,  Wolf Blitzer finally has something to talk about.

What I am saying is that our survivalist instinct has morphed into some weird excuse to shop.

And while  The Dominican Republic, or some of the smaller islands of The Bahamas  watch their lives sink into oblivion, we on the East Coast are buying up two-hundred cans of Chicken Noodle soup for a ten-hour power outage.

Forget about the coastal towns, where homes are truly in the path of the eye of the storm. There are spots from South Carolina to Maine that need to take extreme caution. I’m not talking about those places. I’m talking about right here– 40 miles inland, where my local grocery store’s shelves are bare and where Target has sold out of not only batteries, but rain boots (Rain boots? Really?)

What bothers me is our desperate tenacity to avoid any kind of deprivation. We fear being without. Without electricity. Without power. Without water. Without food. Without peanut M&Ms, a pocket full of cash and about twenty DVDs for weekend movie watching. Being without has become unpatriotic. “Stuff” and the possessing of it is as American as apple pie. Sure, there are necessities that we should not go without during a hurricane. An emergency preparedness kit is a great idea. But hoarding and stockpiling massive quantities of food and useless commodities like rain boots is, quite frankly, insane. Especially when you consider that PSE&G will have “6000 employees supporting the restoration effort, including 840 linemen and 540 tree contractors available to respond to outages once the hurricane pulls away.”

You know as well as I do that the power will be back on–if your home is still standing– within 24 hours. And if your home isn’t still standing, then a can opener won’t do you much good, will it? Remarkably,  the diner down the road can take care of your needs.

Wawa will re-open. Shop Rite will be restocked. Roads will clear.

This is the suburbs. It’s not Nunivak Island off the Yukon River delta in Alaska. I’m not sure of any disaster scenario in Cherry Hill, NJ which might necessitate a three-day supply of non-perishables when Whole Foods is in walking distance and will reopen for business the day after the storm. No one will starve. No one will go hungry. And no one, technically, will go without.

The Wall Street Journal had an amazing article out a while ago, entitled, The Fantasy of Survivalism, which details our inherent need to experience real disaster. That need showcases itself every where–in apocalyptic movies like 2012, Armageddon and Doomsday; in our media outlets, news channels and social networking sites; and in our own “disaster mentality,” which compels us, as a society, to stockpile, hoard and accumulate goods when rationally, it doesn’t make sense to do so.

Virginia Postrel writes, “…the survivalist instinct mostly plays to a perverse fantasy. It’s both comforting and thrillingly seductive to imagine that you’re completely independent, that you don’t need anyone or anything beyond your home, that you can master any challenge. In the survivalist imagination, a future disaster becomes a high-stakes opportunity to demonstrate competence and superiority.”

But sadly, there’s a rather large disconnect between the fantasy of surviving and the reality of it. For one, we’re not really surviving. We’re weathering a storm. You survive the Isreali-Palestinian border. You survive trekking through Tibet. You do not survive affluent Haddonfield.  Second, we’re failing to make logical, rational judgements in the face of “What if…” The Weather Channel reported that “28 million are under threat of a hurricane watch.” It sounds devastating. It sounds catastrophic. And it sounds like I better get 100 bottles of water instead of ten. In other words, my perspective on where I am located, my socio-economic status, the strength of my home and the resources surrounding  me don’t play into my  judgement about what will probably happen, as opposed to what could happen (side note: at the height of this thing, they’re calling for 40 mph winds for Medford, NJ). Lastly, if you want to know the truth, most of us are ill-prepared for true survival anyway. “Our society is full of ignorant urbanites who don’t know how to make what they use,”  Postrel quotes, “That ignorance makes us vulnerable.” And that ignorance  leads us to believe that  consumption of goods is the next best thing. I, for one, couldn’t tell you how to find edible berries in the woods if my life depended on it.

Which leads me back to my argument about the suburbs. Do we really need to forage for food anyway? Do we really need to prepare for three days of isolation and internment when, within minutes after the storm,  Krispy Kreme will reopen and we can once again pig out on donuts? Has anyone ever eaten cold soup from a can anyway???

Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our  disaster mentality that we “play out the steps taken ‘before, during, and after a natural disaster’. These include ‘predictions of impending doom’, overreactions, the ‘institutionalization of threat’, rumour, false alarms and at times mass delusion” (Cohen 1972: 144-8 in Goode & Ben-Yehuda 1994: 29). And speaking of impending doom, I made sure to shave my legs this morning in the shower, lest I am cut off from a water supply for several days.

All this brings me  to Bangladesh. Every year in Bangladesh monsoons come and wipe out everything along the river. Every year people lose their homes, their possession; some lose their lives. But they’ve become so adapted to this way of life that they can collect all their belongings in one bag and stick it in a boat. They can float down river for days until the floods cease. And then, they rebuild–year after year after year.  Postrel quotes Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution as saying; “Those who, in extremis, are able to produce their own food and shelter are far more autonomous, and far better able to react to adversity,”

And I agree. We give up something of ourselves and forego our deeper potential to “survive” when we turn our power over to credit cards and to nonsensical stockpiling of things as nutty as “freeze dried delights which can be easily stored for 7-25 years.”(Suburban Survivalists Begin Hoarding Food, Water and Weapons).

Look, who am I kidding. I went out and bought up water bottles and canned goods just like everyone else. I have my fancy little crank radio, candles and matches ready to go. And without anyone knowing, I secretly checked to make sure our sleeping bags were readily accessible. For what, I don’t know. And there is a part of me, deep down inside, that functions, like Postrel suggests, on a “survivalist imagination” and wishes to experience an epic event where I actually get to use all this stuff. But the reality is, I am well taken care of. Trees will blow down around me. Maybe even some power lines will fall. Maybe I’ll lose electricity. If I’m lucky, dinner will be a can of beans that I’ll open with my manual can opener.  I’ll feel like I’m a frontierswoman again. And in the morning, just like everyone else, when the storm’s over,  I’ll go back to the grocery store and restock– or I’ll eat my words. Let’s hope for the former.

Life goes on…

July 23, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve written, why with all the changes that have occurred recently and all, I simply haven’t had the time or the inclination to sit down and write. I have also been putting a lot more focus on my other blogs, and so this one has somewhat fallen by the wayside.

But aside from the big news in my life that D and I now live together, the bigger news is that the world didn’t end on May 21st and…better yet… we’re still not paying the price for our unraptured souls.

In fact, D and I have been  celebrating. Not the end of the world, but the beginning of ours. We finally went out last night (sans kids) into the city. We talked about sex and confessed our deepest darkest secrets. Mine, of course, always a little deeper and darker. We ate tuna tartar, halibut and octopus, margaritas and martinis. And stared up at the high domed ceiling of the Ritz Carlton which was glowing pink with lights from the bar. Nothing compares to a warm night in Philly, dinner and a pear martini  at 10Arts, and then hobbling along tipsily on heels across Broad, down Walnut, and zooming back over the bridge towards home with the top down…

On the way home we  talked about a trip to Sedona for his birthday. There’s a spa out there to die for called Enchantment Resort. It’s booked and we simply cannot wait. Oh the desert. It’s calling me. In fact, I hope our desert adventure reawakens my desire to write. I’ve been so lazy lately!

The day after we actually went back into the city to have lunch at Beau Monde for some stuffed crepes and champagne. Walked around. Got coffee at a little indie place off South Street and then headed home. End of fantasy; back to reality. And reality lately has been a little tough on me, why with all the newness of my new life. All the new dynamics in my household. I can only hope that I adapt to the change as easily as I used to. With weekends like this, all things are possible. I have hope. I am excited about the future.

This is the thing about the end of the world. Despite there being a future, we die every day. And every day  we are reborn. It’s a solo journey, despite having someone along for the ride.