Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Amy Winehouse's Mum Pens Missive

So, Amy Winehouse was recently wandering around London in her bra and jeans at 5:45 a.m. which can't be a good thing. Oh, she just got arrested for obstructing justice or something like that , what with her husband Blake Fielder-Civil already in jail. And all this on top of the Grammy nods...
Apparently Amy's folks are a tad concerned about the effect that fame has had on their daughter . Amy hasn't been listening to the mater lately, so her mum decided to post a heartfelt letter in the British tabloids to try to get through to the trainwreck that is her daughter.The letter does not seem to have worked.
Nevertheless, it's given me an idea. What's good enough for Janis Winehouse is certainly good enough for me. So here is my public epistle to my progeny:

Dear Abraham and Anna,
I thank you both from the bottom of my heart for not wandering around Los Angeles (Abe) or Philadelphia (Anna) in your underwear in the wee hours of the morning.
Love, Your Mother
P.S. Thanks also for not turning out like Jocelyn Kirsch .Now that's tsuris with a capital T.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Wendy Forman's interest in Jocelyn Kirsch is Scandalous

So when the Jocelyn Kirsch story broke [Drexel girl with fake boobs courtesy of her plastic surgeon dad becomes cyber-Bonnie to a Penn grad Clyde], it was only a matter of moments before fabulous Facebook had a group called "Jocelyn Kirsch is Scandalous". As soon as Abe emailed me about it, I joined up and got to view my itty-bitty Facebook photo and I.D. right below that of his and Anna's too. In our defense, I have to explain that our interest in the story is beyond the mere prurient; Jocelyn Kirsch is someone with whom David and I have had some minor business dealings. Our darling real estate agent/surrogate son Dave had acted as "property manager" for a condo we briefly owned three years ago; the flaky,annoying,obnoxious,bratty,late on her rent tenant-from-hell whom he rented it to was none other than the afore-mentioned Ms. Kirsch. Because David and I had no actual dealings with this whole real-estate debacle, we had never seen Jocelyn in person. It probably wouldn't have mattered, for identification purposes, because the Jocelyn who rented from us has since had , according to unimpeachable online sources, a rhinoplasty among other things reconstructive. To quote my late father-in-law,I guess she cut off her nose to spite her race. And about her now-ample bosom, the Drexel rumor mill states that the plastic-surgeon father sent her the silicon beauties as a "Christmas present". I have my suspicions about this. It was my impression that breast implants are not a D.I.Y. project and usually require a physician and some sort of medical facility. We may never know.
Not only do we have the curious and spurious connection with Jocelyn from her time at 2601 Parkway, but we also have the dubious distinction of living one block away from the Belgravia, the condo building that she and her boyfriend Edward lived in while they helped themselves to their neighbors' identities, credit cards, checkbooks, and whatever else wasn't nailed down. Just the other night, David was walking Nelly and noticed two local news vans parked outside,undoubtedly waiting for a glimpse of the new Bonnie and Clyde or perhaps one of their irate neighbors looking for a chance to rant.
Apparently the Ballad of Jocelyn and Ed has been picked up by the AP and every other wire service and Internet news source that's worth its weight in implants. Jocelyn, in her unending search for attention, has had herself photographed incessantly, all over the world, with her "Christmas presents" hanging out for all to see. A quick Google Image search can grant you a gallery's worth of Jocelyn, the homely mugshots juxtaposed ironically with the glam photos, like an offbeat take on the prototypical magazine makeover.
So I suppose if you look up "Schadenfreude" in the dictionary you'll find the definition, "people who have known and loathed Jocelyn Kirsch and are now happily blogging about it". Facebook has certainly contributed its bit towards documenting the life and legend of this modern-day Bonnie. In addition to the group my well-educated children and I belong to ("Jocelyn Kirsch is Scandalous") there is also a Facebook group, which I just now joined "Jocelyn Kirsch is Going to JAAAAIL (and it's hilarious)" or something like that.
Jocelyn and Ed, who are currently out on a whole lot of bail, will be returning to Philly in February for sentencing. The word on the street is that once again white privilege will talk and they will walk. It's hard to say. The Feds may get involved because of the little issue of the Spyware they installed to hack into other people's computers to help finance their spending sprees, and in that case they may get the book thrown at them. Coincidentally, I'm scheduled for jury duty around that time. Stay tuned, dear readers, for even in the gray days of a Philadelphia winter,things may be looking up!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


So I put my sorry old ass on Facebook after reading a fascinating article about it in one of the plethora of magazines which we receive,unbidden, at our office. The article explained the genesis of the Facebook phenomenon and I was intrigued by it. Also, you don't really need an invitation to get on (very egalitarian, I must say) and so I jumped right in.
One of the first things you're supposed to do, especially if you are under 30 years old,is to import a photo of yourself into an itty-bitty box which keeps appearing and reappearing whenever you send anything out from your page. Because I am both 60 and technologically-impaired due to a genetic complication inherited from my mother who cannot yet grasp the concept of the digital clock nor even the radio, I spent what was probably too much time locating a picture and importing it. All I could find was one of me and David together so it may seem as if my identity and his have somehow fused, which is understandable given that our 38th anniversary is approaching. I then added a few random autobiographical details and some likes and dislikes regarding literature and cinema, as I was prompted to do. Then I clicked the button and, voila!, I was 'Booked.
This amazing site has a brilliant feature which enables it to automatically search through one's email address book, pick out the people already on Facebook, and allow you to "invite" them to be your "friends". Another clever gizmo searches through your classmates from college and high school. Well, none of my classmates appeared. It could be that maybe, after all these years, I am the absolute hippest and coolest individual from Grinnell College class of '68. A few other explanations for their absence from Facebook might be that my compatriots are too busy (according to the class notes for the upcoming 40th reunion)working at their high-level jobs, visiting their adorable grandchildren , or dying.In my humble opinion, the answer is the first. Some people obviously hit their hipness stride early; they peak and go straight downhill. Others, such as I, are the late bloomers. The VERY late bloomers..
In terms of my personal email address book, the site spit out only two names. One was a guy we know from the Square who has a precious dog named Gus. The other was a certain Zachary Pelta-Heller, my esteemed son-in-law. I decided to barrel-ass right on in and I posted a note on Zack's "Wall". Please do not make me explain this feature; all I know is that everyone has this wall about three-quarters down the page and I guess it is a kind of public statement for all viewers to read.
I waited patiently but my daughter's husband failed to respond to this brash act. Had I committed a Facebook faux pas? Could it be that this lovely young man whom I consider a surrogate son could not find it in his heart to be my "friend"? Would being on Facebook cause me to have to take a half a Xanax? Oy.
A few days later I got a call from my actual son. It's a cyber-mystery to me how he found out but, using his cautious and concerned tone, he inquired very politely why I had decided to go on Facebook? It was a tone similar to the one used by his sister when she inquires, after one of my charming memory lapses, if it's time yet "for the home". I explained about the Newsweek article and then offered the excuse that I thought it would be helpful prior to the election as an organizing tool for me to find others who share my candidate preferences.
Soon after that Zack did respond and by then I was up to 3 friends...my son, daughter, and now my son-in-law. It seems that he hadn't seen my wall posting and thus his silence meant nothing about our relationship after all. He also sounded a tad quizzical about my debut on Facebook, but without the tone.
Then I got an invitation to be Alisa's friend. She is a good friend of Anna and Zack's from college and I had the paranoid thought that Zack begged her to send me the offer because I had moaned to him about my Facebook unpopularity. It turns out that she "adores" the fact that I joined. After that, McKenna, whom I've known since she was 4, invited me too and she even posted something on my wall.
In ways that remain mysterious to me, others found out as well, and David's cousin's wife Stacey, my new friend Marie, and several others have bestowed their friendship upon me.
Something I love about Facebook is that there are lots of subgroups to belong to.They are a topic for another post someday, if I can spare the time away from my virtual friends. Excuse me while I 'book on outta here......

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Some people who are, for the most part, not in my family like to participate in adrenaline sports. The closest we've ever come to such a thing is the zip-lining adventure that we did over an extremely deep chasm in the rain forest of Costa Rica. Looking back on that event with a clinical eye, the only explanation I can offer for how it came about is group psychosis. There exists photographic evidence of certain family members, helmeted and hooked up to the cable, the expression on their faces not unlike the famous painting of "The Scream", only much much worse. For reasons that I cannot begin to understand or explain, I (Wendy the Whimpering Wuss) absolutely loved the entire thing, swinging and swaying, gazing down through the drizzle, feeling at one with the exquisite enormity of nature and wanting to zip on forever. The majority of us Greenwalds enjoy somewhat less taxing and frightening vacations. One senior member of the clan actually believes that being without one's Blackberry or cellphone service is an adrenaline sport in and of itself.
So it's a bit counter-intuitive that the lot of us, with a number of demonstrable fears lurking within the group, wound up in Africa, up close and personal with wild animals, to say nothing of a vertiginous view of Victoria Falls, and a lot of traveling about in tiny aircraft. It's with the aircraft that I will begin.
Most people I know who have fear of flying tend to avoid airplanes like the plague. At least two of our group are somewhat terrified of air travel, and a few more seem to dislike it as a preferred mode of getting from point A to point B. There was also some aeronausiphobia going around and illyngophobia reared its ugly head now and then.
Nevertheless, the "camps" we were booked into could only be reached by small airplanes which skidded onto rather primitive airstrips distinguishable from the surrounding bush only by a lone waving windsock. Since there were 13 of us in the group, three would volunteer to accompany the pilot into the small 3-seater (with one of us seated co-pilotlike up front). It's not as if the other plane was all that huge (usually a 12-seater) but for the aviophobes it was the lesser of two evils. It was a real testament to their fortitude that they dealt with this aspect of the journey without benefit of alcohol or tranquilizers and with a great deal of aplomb.
Even though most of us weren't too frightened during the open jeep rides to watch the beasts where they lived and cavorted, the presence of said animals wandering in and around camp resulted in occasional agrizoophobia, as evidenced by some sleepless nights and general jumpiness. Although we never actually saw any snakes, certain of my relatives expressed some transient ophidiophobia. During our crouched but exciting stay in the elephant blind (called "hide") a few wasps flew into the enclosure, which brought up some latent spheksophobia within the group. These fears were eclipsed by the almost magical sight of a baby elephant, just one week old, who didn't yet know how to use its trunk. It dunked its whole head under water to get a drink and then leaned up to nurse on its mother's gigantic teat.
Lest it seem like I was the only member of the clan without a phobia to call my own, I confess to a slight frigophobia. Every morning for the chilly game drives I dressed myself in long winter underwear,long-sleeved shirt,sweat pants, old wool sweater, sweatshirt,watchcap,scarf, and gloves and then I polished off this gorgeous look with my brown overjacket and a flannel-lined poncho.As the sun came up I peeled off the layers until it was time to go to bed, where I so feared the cold that I added extra blankets and David donated his hot water bottle to mine, to stave off my shivers.
I'm delighted to report that not one of us has even the slightest case of syngenesophobia; we were able to spend two long weeks in each others' presence almost 24/7 and still enjoy the company of relatives. A big shout-out to Robert and Heidi for making it all possible and giving the younger generation a jeepload of memories to discuss long after their elders are gone.

Fear of flying: aviophobia,aviatophobia,pteromerhanophobia
Fear of vertigo or dizziness: illyngophobia
Fear of airsickness: aeronausiphobia
Fear of wild animals: agrizoophobia
Fear of wasps: spheksophobia
Fear of snakes: ophidiophobia
Fear of relatives: syngenesophobia

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


You get to know a lot about your extended family when you're on safari for 2 weeks, much of the time in Botswana in a protected wild game preserve where you can go mano a paw with some really big cats, to say nothing of a dazzle of zebra, a pod of hippos, and... but I'm getting ahead of myself. When you travel with a group of 13 people (or pee-ple, as the case may be) you find out that some of us need to void our bladders more than others. Which in itself is not a noteworthy thing, unless the voiding needs to be done squatting behind a jackleberry bush or even, oh yayss as the South Africans say, on the edge of a one-lane airstrip. Ahh, the memory of a small plane of incoming strangers suddenly zooming in for their landing, surprised,that their first view on safari is not of a wild beast but of my naked behind, as I struggle to wipe myself, stuff the used T.P. into a small brown waxed bag, and jump up from a squat,accompanied by the hysterical laughter of my pride of nieces, daughter, and daughter-in-law, since they are more spry and were already zipping up their flies at the moment of my ignominy.
You'd think that an easy solution would have been to severely limit one's intake of liquid; however, that quickly led to dehydration which was even worse than having to pee in full view of baboons, who are real jokesters to begin with.
Now I'm not naming any names here, but there were a few human camels in our group (none with any Greenwald DNA) and they were remarkably sanguine about the constant requests for the guide to find a "safe" place in the bush, and let the pissers out for yet another elimination round. In fact, camels were one of the few species of wild animals NOT represented in the three fly-in safari camps we frequented. Giraffes,though, have a bit of a hump; they are listed in the Antelope family on the provided checklist. Who knew? Prior to this trip, I couldn't tell a Roan antelope from a Tsetsebbe, or something like that. Now I'm a mini-expert, shooting the shit with the best of them. I also know that an impala's poop is called midden which appears in neat piles all over to mark their territory.
Speaking of marking one's territory, maybe at this moment there is a pride of lions somewhere in the Okavango Delta sniffing all the places where my "cubs" and I
relieved ourselves so often last week. Meanwhile, the Greenwalds are all back in our real lives,using toilets instead of trees,reluctantly and alone.

[Tune in soon for the next episode: " A PHOBIA OF GREENWALDS"]

Friday, May 11, 2007


One of my earliest memories of my grandmom, Anna, was her Sunday
morning ritual of sitting upright and tense on the studio couch in her
bedroom watching "Meet the Press" moderated by Lawrence E.Spivack . For
my radical and highly political grandmother, television was an
interactive activity. She kept a running dialogue going, giving
positive shout-outs when she liked the politics of the guest and
hurling invective when she didn't. Her favorite epithet was "Rahk-shun-air", which I later figured out meant "Reactionary" in Yiddish.When she was particularly disgusted, she added a "Feh" or two. There is simply no English equivalent.

As a young child, I often cuddled up next to her and we watched TV
together. When I was in first grade (TV was still an exciting
innovation in 1953)the teacher asked us to tell our favorite show. At
the parent-teacher conference, Miss Bradley told my mom and dad, with
some concern, that while most of the kids had answered "Howdy-Doody", I had piped up with "John Cameron Swayze and the News"!

So it should come as no surprise that one of the things that my husband
David and I found out during our courtship,was that, especially during
election cycles, politicians appear in our dreams. I remember a whole
series involving George McGovern which was,as it transpired, the only
place that he did well.A few years ago I had a very vivid dream that
one of my best friends came to me all atwitter to confess that she had
embarked on a thrilling extra-marital affair. The amazing part was that
her paramour was none other than Michael Nutter. The more amazing part
was that this was even before he was running for mayor. In
reality,Michael Nutter is much too homely and nerdy to incite my friend
to break her marital vows ,and even in the dream I was surprised. Now,
just days before the Primary, I'm taking it as a sign that this was, in
some Freudian way prescient and that my man Michael will prevail. But
just in case, I will be working the polls!

And what a while ago might have seemed to be a dream, yesterday became a reality. My brother-in-law, Robert Greenwald
appeared before the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations
Committee, testifying about the issue of war profiteering. Abe sent me a link
to a video clip of part of the hearing
[http://movies.crooksandliars.com/Greenwald-Kingston.mov] so I got to
see a member of my family talking truth to power. I also got to see my
brother-in-law wearing a suit and tie; thank God, his glasses were
perched on his pate or I might not have recognized him.

Last night
I had a dream that I was watching CNN with a bunch of people huddled in
a gas station in the middle of nowhere. There was some sort of natural
disaster going on and the TV was showing a brand-new road being washed
out and this somehow,in that weird and unclear way of dreams, caused
some deaths. Several people in the crowd were yelling back to the TV,
something about this road being a boondoggle for rich concrete
manufacturers. A couple of tall frat-boys said that, hey, the
government has to help rich people make money and if some people had to
die, so be it. At this point I strode to my car and heard a disembodied
voice saying loudly "The truth shall set them free". I was declaiming
to no one in particular "This is the beauty of our democracy; we can
hear the truth". Then the voice said to me,"What difference does it
make if we can broadcast the truth if no one cares?" At this moment the
large poodle shifted at my feet and I awoke.

I wish I could tell Grandmom about the dream. She would probably hiss her most sibilant epithet, "KAHPITALEESSSSSTS". I found out that John McCain will be Tim Russssssert's guest on "Meet the Press" this Sunday. I can just hear her now. "Feh! If he the best thing the 'Repooblikahners' have to offer then we're in good shape for '08" According to Anna Miller,at least, THINGS ARE LOOKING UP!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Curly Girl

Until I turned thirteen and began to menstruate, my hair was poker
straight. When I was five years old, in the early 1950's, it was illegal for little girls to have thin, stringy hair, or at least this was what my mother had been led to believe. To rectify this situation before she was arrested by the fashion police, Mom decided to inflict a Toni home permanent on me. The end result made me look as if I had
stuck my wet finger into an electrical outlet. I refused to go to
kindergarten for three days and then only with the proviso that I be allowed
to wear my sundress with the matching hat that tied under my chin. The
perm eventually grew out and my hair got straight again until the onset
of adolescence.

So on the day that I officially became a woman and my hair went wavy,
curly hair was out and straight was back in. [I will not digress into a
philosophical discourse here about Life and Its
Eternal Unfairness; I really would like to do so, but I am painfully aware that
there are several more important issues with which to concern myself such
as the ongoing war in Iraq and getting Michael Nutter elected mayor of
In the throes of a totally Freudian repetition compulsion, I continually threw myself at the mercy of a series of sadistic
hairdressers and submitted to their torturous procedures and put-downs. I would often
go to bed with my lacklustre locks wrapped around large empty orange
juice cans which would "straighten" out the curls; by mid-morning, my
head would be a frizzy mess and there would be a kink in my neck from
attempting to sleep on
large metal cylinders.Once one of the girls in my dorm actually
ironed my hair. It's a miracle I'm not totally bald.
On my wedding day I went to a psychopath at the monumentally snotty salon at Henri Bendel's and he declaimed to his colleagues, as if I were not actually present, "Does she expect me to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear?"

To reduce the possibility of re-triggering trauma, I will fast-forward from my 20's to the decade of my50's (fast coming to a close). I think it was my daughter Anna who
turned me on to the Curly Girl book and the salon called Devachan in SoHo (www.devachansalon.com) A whole philosophy had emerged, which encouraged embracing one's inner curly girl; along with the philosophy came a number of expensive products to nurture one's curls. There's NoPoo and LoPoo and AnGell and SetItFree. I was an instant convert. I began taking the Chinatown bus to New York to go to the mother church of curl cutting. I sounded like a true believer and proselytized anyone with curls who would listen.
Alas, I am simply a congenital atheist. It transpired that once my kids and their significant others moved out of New York, I abruptly stopped my quarterly treks to SoHo. I guess it was the lunch with the kids (and the Jack Russell) at Spring St. Natural after the haircut that really drew me in and not the Curly Girl mecca after all.[I once had a Unitarian friend who was married to a Jew. For a while, they took their kids to both houses of worship. She told me ruefully that her kids ultimately chose the Temple because the Oneg Shabbat had better cookies.]
Now that Anna and her gorgeous head of curls moved to Philly, we've been on a quest to find the next great curl stylist. We tried the guy on 19th St. who proclaims himself the curly king by means of a storefront-sized blowup of a newspaper article about his skill with the scissors. Our haircuts were fine but neither of us could bear his bombast. He simply couldn't or wouldn't shut up,and his prices rivalled New York's. Now I am a Philly chauvinist and all, but I still bristle at someone in CenterCity charging like Manhattan.
Recently I went to see Fiorella at Oggi. She was clearly appalled as she ran her fingers disdainfully through my overgrown frizzy hair. She immediately bombarded me with her strong stance on curls; it was total apostasy. "NEVER,NEVER,NEVER use conditioner. ALWAYS comb through your curls." I felt like a devout Catholic finding out that the Pope was suddenly advocating abortions for priests' wives!I tried to defend CurlyGirl but she dismissed my interlocutions with an imperious wave of her shears. I sat, abject and silent, admiring my new haircut, but wondering if I could stand to come back again. After all, I had gone to my favorite dentist for 30 years even though he was a rightwing fundamentalist Christian. On the other hand, he had never once tried to convert me AND he did his own periodontia.
Anna chose her latest stylist cause he was cheap. Since her hair would look good if it were cut by a riding mower, I can't really go by her recommendations. She mentioned in passing she didn't like her guy either. David,eavesdropping on our conversation,proclaimed that we never like any of our hairdressers. It seems unlikely that a man, follically-challenged or not, could even begin to appreciate the complexities of the relationship of a woman to her stylista. We didn't even try to explain.
In a month or so, when I'm looking shaggy again, I can always check out one of the million or so salons in Center City. I still have the audacity of hope that there is someone around here who can do wonders with my hair and do it quietly. In the meantime I will be working the primary on the 15th and after that I'll be impeaching the president. Excuse me while I spritz my curls with SetItFree; THINGS ARE LOOKING UP!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Dogged Pursuit

My son Abe, when asked at age 7 what constitutes a happy family, replied without hesitation, "Having a dog." (search "Chenwald" on YouTube) He averred, naturally, that an unhappy family was one without their own canine. I had been the holdout when the kids were little, imagining that inviting a dog to share our home would create yet one more onerous responsibility for me and I was already having a bit of a problem balancing motherhood and vocation. It wasn't that I disliked the species; it was just that I had no real experience with dog ownership except for the disastrous brief interlude in my early twenties when David and I were called upon to foster his family collie/shepherd mix named Bertrand Russell. I developed a pretty bad allergy which may or may not have been psychosomatic and that tabled the dog issue for at least a decade.
So one night early in the '80's we were at a party and while under the influence, I made a brash announcement in reaction to one of David's many pleas that we get a dog already. I specified that if there were a full-blooded basset hound at the SPCA the next day then that would be our dog; otherwise, I didn't want to be "hounded" about this issue anymore! I had been enchanted by the breed ever since I was introduced to Cleo on the sitcom "The People's Choice". I was pretty little then, and significantly, this talented canine had a voice narrating her every adorable thought, and anyway you can't smell eau de Basset through a television screen.
Lady Dahlia Prenderby, as our first basset came to be known, was adopted into our little family that very next day and the history of the Forman-Greenwald bassetmania was duly chronicled ;my first cyber piece can be found if you Google "Basset Notes by Wendy Forman". (Not unlike the odor of hound in a house, it seems that nothing ever disappears from internet.)
We were dogless (and unhappy) for a while, but when we moved into our fancy condo in Center City we knew it was time to adopt a canine... anything but a basset!
Magically we acquired Nelly Greenwald P.H.D.(Poodle Helper Dog); she was pre-trained, doesn't shed, doesn't smell, and can open the door and let us in if we get locked out! She did have a bad experience with her first family which has left her with a distrust of men of a certain stature and hairline, but other than that she's just about perfect.
It was just a matter of time, then, before the newly-married Zack and Anna felt the need to become a truly happy family themselves, so about a month ago we started a series of visits to area animal shelters to find their new best friend. You may wonder how I got to be part of this mission; no, I am not the most interfering mother-in-law in the world. I was brought along to stand in for Anna whose kind social worker heart would cause her to weep and then probably take the very first critter who looked at her from inside a cage, no matter how unsuitable for their living situation. After weeks of shelter visits and hours on Petfinders.com, the third time at the SPCA in North Philly was the charm. We brought along our niece Maya Greenwald, who seems to have a gift with animals. Anna sat patiently in the waiting area, falling in love with every dog who walked by. The mutt formerly known as "Chucky", listed spuriously as a collie/terrier mix, was still in his cell since our last visit, looking out at Zack with a slightly goofy smile, begging for his "forever family", as they say on the shelter websites. The volunteer (are all the shelter workers the nicest people in the universe?) clipped a collar and leash on "Chucky" and we all strode out, picked up Anna, and were shown into the "family room". We sat on a some furry couches to see if the dog would bond with his potential new parents. He seemed sweet enough, but I could see Zack and Anna struggling a bit with such a big decision. They were definitely leaning towards adoption, but we really didn't know too much about this guy. As soon as we exited from the "family room" (we were actually kicked out because another family needed to use it ), a tall volunteer was passing by, noticed "Chucky", and said enthusiastically," You're getting a great dog there. I've been training him and he's a real winner". We all fell on him ("Call me B.J.") and peppered him with questions about the dog and were so relieved to hear all kinds of good things. Zack was already appearing paternal and I was kvelling, imagining introducing this adorable and gifted mutt as my granddog. Meanwhile, it transpired that B.J., while currently an SPCA volunteer, had been in the music business back in the day. He pulled out his faded news clippings and told us all about the famous people he'd worked with. He then showed us a fancy framed photo of his late dog and his current dog, both SPCA specials and gave us a card with his phone number to call with any questions about the new addition to the family. We kinda wanted to adopt B.J. along with "Chucky", but he disappeared as soon as the final papers were signed.
On the drive home, "Chucky" became "Leo" for a while and a few other names as well. At the Petsmart on Aramingo Ave. we ran into the dad with two little boys who had adopted the Scottie pup right before we liberated "Chucky". We all gushed over each other's recycled dogs and then bought out the store with necessities and toys for my new granddog. That night, while Anna and Zack were home alone with their new addition, they decided to name him Howard Heller. No hyphens, nothing fancy.
It's been several weeks now and Howard is so much part of the Center City scene that it's hard to remember life before his being here. The cat hates him, Nelly tolerates him, but he loves absolutely everybody. We've spent hours speculating on his heritage. Jakita (Jack Russell/Akita) was discarded as barely possible; Samoyed/Something gained popularity for a while. Someone said Dingo or Husky or Shiba Inu. Now he's just plain Howard. He's wearing the "Obama in '08" doggie T-shirt I gave him. I've sent out adoption e-nouncements to all my friends. So, as my son once said, a happy family is indeed a family with a dog; therefore, empty- nesters pushing 60 with a superb poodle and two granddogs must be downright ecstatic. Shoutouts to Julius Chenwald and Howard Heller; continuing kudos to Nelly Greenwald,P.H.D. and with sincere gratitude to the folks up at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Things Are Looking Up!
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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Amy Winehouse Phenomenon Update

So I'm just lolling about at breakfast,idly perusing the Thursday Styles section in the Times and in the lead article about celebrity detox facilities up pops the following reference:

At the Valentino show in Paris last month, 'Rehab', a popular ditty by Amy Winehouse, pulsed on the runway.

Carlos Souza, a public relations executive for the fashion house, crooned some of the lyrics:'They tried to make me go.. I said no,no
no.' The song is 'great,catchy and of the moment',he said....

While I'm still busy congratulating myself on referred hipness, Amy's song has already become a DITTY.
And it was just last night, on my drive home from work, that Terry Gross announced that, after a brief break, rock critic Ken Tucker would be reviewing the new album by.... AMY WINEHOUSE. I veered into the slow lane, adjusted the volume a bit higher, and took a cleansing breath. Ken sounded a tad smug, wondering if Amy's popularity might not be limited to aging baby boomers because of her musical influences. He admitted that the Rehab song is actually addictive in its own right. And then (I was way ahead of him here) he opined that Amy had gained considerable street cred because the rapper Ghostface agreed to record You Know I'm No Good with her. Now, I ask you, who is Ken Tucker to be referring to my guy Ghostface in such a truncated and familiar way? It's Mr. Killah to you, Ken.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Gray Eminence

The first time I saw Spalding Gray he was performing live at the Painted Bride; I had never seen a monologist in action before. At the time I didn't know that he and my sister Jo had been friends, way back in the day when they were in an experimental theatre group together in New York City. I also couldn't know that pretty soon he would be outgrowing the Painted Bride and be appearing at larger and larger venues and eventually on the silver screen itself. I just knew that this low-tech performance-- a table, a glass of water, a notebook whose pages he riffled through occasionally --was compelling and personal and deeply moving. I loved his New England accent, his patrician WASP-y air, his stream-of-consciousness writing which looped around and held together in some magical and mysterious way. I even loved his copybook- I believe it may have been the black and white marbled kind but maybe not- and I loved the way he glanced down at his story only rarely and made his performance seem effortless and spontaneous, even though it wasn't even remotely so.
I guess that evening at the Painted Bride turned David and me into Spalding Gray groupies, of a sort. We scrambled for tickets whenever we saw that he was giving a performance. We talked about him with friends and family and so it came as no surprise that during a visit to my sister Gail's in Boston many years ago a whole bunch of us went to see him in Cambridge for a performance called "Interviewing the Audience". Paula and Steve, our dear friends and anti-nuke colleagues, came along. My nephew Tony was there- he must have been in high school?- and my mom and dad, David, me and my sister Gail. [ Had I known what was to transpire , I would have tried to have a therapist there for my sister. Or at least a paramedic... ] I think my niece Jen must have been at Wesleyan then, maybe even working on her senior thesis, which was a paean to Spalding himself. I think it was called "Sleeping With My Mother" and I believe it referenced my sister's nighttime orthodontic appliance, but I may be wrong. I know that Jen actually spoke with him about it, but whether it was in person or on the phone I cannot say. What I do know is that my extended family had, in various ways and for quite a while, been intricately intertwined with the inestimable Mr. Gray, but nothing could prepare me for what was to occur that night at "Interviewing the Audience".
While we were filing into the theatre an usher asked people to write something down on a 3X5 card about themselves if they wanted to be considered as an interviewee for that evening's show. It all occurred rather quickly- a bit of a blur- but before we knew what was happening my mother ["The World's Oldest Living Child Star"] had somehow pushed herself to the front of the line, indicating in the midst of the mayhem, that she was Jo Forman's mother and that Spalding would probably want to be talking to her onstage.
I can't remember much about the other people who were interviewed by Spalding. It would be hard to outshine the likes of Doris Helene Forman, who walked up to the stage and immediately stole the show. Stealing the show from Spalding Gray is no mean feat, but I stand by my critique. My mother, clearly a frustrated performance artist herself, has a habit to this day of channeling Blanche DuBois on special occasions. She began speaking in her faux Southern accent and, truth be told, she always has "depended on the kahndness of straynjuhs. " Spalding asked her some leading questions and I seem to remember her mentioning that she had once "dropped mescaline" and that she had always wanted to try "that X.T.C."
At this point I glanced to my left where my sister Gail was sitting. I was surprised to see her slumped way down in her seat, hands covering her eyes and face, hyperventilating. Up till then, I had always thought the phrase "dying of embarrassment" was hyperbole. I tried to attend to her but I was fixated on the spectacle on stage. I was wondering vaguely what effect my mother's confession might have on my adolescent nephew, at which point I realized with a mixture of pride and awe, that my mother had just brought the house down. Gail suffered a form of post-traumatic stress disorder from the event, but it didn't stop her from remaining a lifelong Spalding fan, along with the rest of us.
If I thought Spalding's tragic death would end his influence on me, I was dead wrong. I urged my kids to "netflick" the recently-released DVD of Monster in a Box. I used up a good portion of my last therapy session talking about him and how I have a hankering to become a performance artist myself, at least once, before I die. I could schlep my giant binder with "Things Are Looking Up" in magic marker on the vinyl cover and I could read some of my meandering memoirs and I could raise the water glass and take a sip, in a toast to my late mentor.
When I read recently in the Times that a bunch of actors are performing Spalding posthumously, I immediately asked Anna and Zack if they wanted me to get tickets for them as well. They said sure, any time in May would probably be good for them.I went ahead and purchased 4 non-exchangeable tickets for May 6 and when I told Anna to mark down the date cause we would all be going to the Spalding Gray show that day she looked stricken. "What's the matter? I thought you said you'd be free the whole month?".
"We ARE free, every day but May 6. That's when we're going to the TLA to see Amy Winehouse!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Amy Winehouse Phenomenon

Some weeks ago my daughter Anna informed me that I would probably love the song stylings of Amy Winehouse, a young Jewish Brit who sounds like an old-time standards singer but with some distinctly new-time lyrics. Anna previews most of my cultural life for me these days; she warns me about current movies I shouldn't see because of their disturbing themes. Her brother keeps me posted about not-to-be-missed Netflix and books that he thinks I'd like. Abe and I share a fascination for Murikami novels and arcane documentaries; however, we part company of the subject of rap and hip-hop, which is how Anna got elevated to my de facto personal music assistant. Anna knows that I secretly hanker to be seen as belly-up to the cutting edge of the Zeitgeist, not unlike her Bubs (my mother) who still prides herself, at 92, on being absolutely au courant on virtually every aspect of the prevailing culture.
So I quickly accepted Anna's offer to burn me a copy of Amy Winehouse's latest album and thought no more of it. That is, until I could not get through a moment of any given day without non-stop news of this scrawny boozer and her new album...
Entertainment Weekly, a periodical which provides perfect reading during a pedicure, noted her talent, as did the throwaway Life Magazine, which comes tucked into our daily newspaper.
Then the other morning David called to me from his seat at the computer where he was checking out this Amy Winehouse- - do I know her?/sounds like I'd like her-- because he just heard about her on NPR! I informed him that I was way ahead of him, since Anna had already given me the heads-up and that a CD was being burned for me, probably as we were speaking. Then David and I had the little argument about why Anna told ME and not HIM and then we simultaneously waxed rhapsodic about Anna and her talent as a potential torch singer even if she insisted for some inexplicable reason on becoming a social worker instead of the Center City Amy Winehouse and then I said it's just as well since Amy Winehouse has tattoos of naked women up and down her arms and Anna's inherited propensity towards keloids obviates the obligatory body art and then we kvelled ad nauseum about how lucky we are with our kids, their spouses , AND all of their fascinating career choices.
Just when I was getting the feeling that enough was enough with this Amy Winehouse creature, I got to my office only to find an issue of the reconfigured Jewish Forward newspaper on my desk. There, emblazoned on the second page, was a huge photo and article entitled "Not Your Nice Jewish Girl-- Amy Winehouse".This is not my grandmother's Forverts anymore.
My mind began to reel.Have I suddenly entered an alternate universe? How is it that one day I had never even heard of Amy Winehouse and now I hear nothing but Amy Winehouse. I read about her in the Inky, the New York Times, and she's even coming to the TLA in May!
The CD that the kids burned for me is in the car and Amy Winehouse now comes on as soon as I turn the key in the ignition. I admit that I'm kinda relieved that I don't have to listen to the BBC newscast on my way to work anymore. Even with those cool clipped British accents, the news about Darfur and Iraq is too demoralizing to be subjected to before I've seen my first patient of the day. Instead I listen to Amy Winehouse and her defiant response to the urging that she go into rehab ("No, No,No" she sings out in a full-throated absolutely gorgeous voice that brings Bessie and Billie and Diana Ross to mind) and for some strange reason I'm with her all the way. Hey, I'm not her therapist and, for that matter, I'm not her Jewish mother either. I'm just a newly-minted fan, hoping that she doesn't self-destruct or sell out too soon.
I guess it's only a matter of time before we see the Amy Winehouse Diet Book,the Amy
Winehouse Guide to J-Dating, and the Amy Winehouse Haggadah. Until then, I offer thanks to my daughter for cluing me in so early on so that I can aver that I knew Amy Winehouse when... and contrary to her dark and self-destructive lyrics, it's obvious that for Amy and me... THINGS ARE LOOKING UP.

Friday, March 16, 2007

In Kroke shteyt a hayzele

One of my mother's earliest memories is sitting in her grandmother's lap while her bubba removes lice from little Dveyra's hair. (Doris is the anglicized version of my mother's name and the middle name Helene was self-inflicted at a later date) .Not only does my mother remember this event (these events) clearly, but she also remembers the song that goes with the delousing. So while I was sitting with my mom in her living room the other day, taking notes about her earliest memories for her commissioned biography (she couldn't get Kitty Kelly so I'll have to do in a pinch..), she proceeded to sing a few lines of the "lousy" ditty.
This is what she remembered: " In kroke shteyt a hayzele...la, la,la..." I replied, " I've got the 'stands a little house' part, but what's a 'kroke'?" Mom said with great confidence that a "kroke" must also mean a house and that was that. She sang the song fragment a few more times, her voice trailing off nostalgically and confessed that she felt bad that she couldn't remember any more of it. I reassured her that since the event she was recalling occurred say, almost 90 years ago, she could be forgiven for a slight lapse of memory.
Then, with a flash of inspiration, I decided to bring the whole conversation skidding into the 21st Century. I told my mother I would research the song on the Internet and see if I could find it. "Ooh, Wenj," she cooed." Couldja really look it up on THE INTERNET?" My mother tends to regard the Internet as a cross between a latter day Oracle at Delphi and The Wizard of Oz. Truth be told, so do I. She hasn't much of a clue about computers or what really transpires on the WWW, but she is certainly intrigued by the idea of it. For a while, after she first moved into Sterling Glen, they were offering free email service and computer classes for the inmates (which is what she calls the residents). With great excitement we set up an email account for her and I alerted Gail and the grandchildren and encouraged everyone to send her messages. My mother's foray into email lasted not quite as long as her trial of her hearing aids. The exquisitely -fitted hearing aids went back to Hear Me Now the very next day; my mother's adventure in cyberspace was over as soon as it began. Everyone assumed that she abandoned the project because she was too blind to see the screen, but I secretly believe that the whole thing struck her as a tad meshugge. This has not stopped her, however, from attempting to delegate to me all sorts of tasks involving email ."Wenj, couldja just send The Email to Reba to tell her I hope she's feeling better ?" Or "Wenj, when you have a minute couldja just send The Email to Jen and Mark for their anniversary?" My mother has always been a stickler for greeting cards and the concept of acknowledging her loved one's life events without having to find a stamp made her almost giddy.
So, I took gathered up my teeny notebook which I am using to record the notes for my mother's biography and I ran home to look up the song on THE INTERNET. I Googled "Yiddish Folk Songs" and took a stab at one of the addresses and emailed the salient information about the song my mother sang to me. Almost immediately I received the following reply from an ethnomusicologist from the University of London.
Dear Wendy, Thanks for your message. Kroke is Krakow (the town). The line reads "In Kroke shteyt a hayzele"(actually this is the second line of the song). Ruth Rubin discusses this song in her article 'Nineteenth-Century Yiddish Folksongs of Children in Eastern Europe.' ...I have copied the page with the full song text on and attached it to this email. As you said, Rubin notes that it is a delousing song. I don't know about the tune. It's not in any of my books and the source Rubin cites (Dobrushin and Yuditsky, 1940) only has texts, no melodies. I hope this helps. Keep going with your research! I am sure that YIVO in New York would be delighted to have a copy of the materials you collect. All best, Abigail Wood.

I flew to the phone and called my mom to sing-song the whole verse to her. Translated, it starts: "Bubi,bubi,little louse/In Cracow stands a little house". For some reason, I got a tad varklempt as I was reading the lyrics to my mother. I'm even crying a little right now. It's bittersweet these days, thinking of my mother as a little girl. More often than not, she tends to regress a bit and there's a case to be made for the interpretation that in her 90 + years she has never completely lost the little girl within. David has been known to refer to her on occasion as the world's oldest living child star.
And the world's oldest living child star has been in a great mood lately. She bursts into song quite often lately, apropos of nothing. Old-timey stuff, doggerel she makes up,and a few Yiddish ditties... I tend to join right in, blending my alto with her falsetto. I doubt that YIVO will be hearing from me anytime soon but as far as my personal filial research is going, it appears that once again THINGS ARE LOOKING UP!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Things Are Still Looking Up

Just what the world (wide web needs).... another blog! Well, fans, I'm planning to re-start the moribund THINGS ARE LOOKING UP which has been languishing, in hard copy only, in a supersized three-ring binder on our bookshelf next to at least thirty photo albums which have not seen daylight for quite some time. Since binders, photo albums, and hard copy too are so 20th century, I've decided to go cyber with my memoirs and memorabilia in the hopes that even if I have nothing new or creative to say, at least it won't be taking up any space in our pared-down condo.
America, perhaps you are wondering why I didn't choose the title THINGS ARE LOOKING UP for my blog. Amazingly, this title was already taken! So was the name "Schvig" for one of my many yahoo mailboxes and when I emailed the person who had purloined my special appellation by way of my grandmother, this cyberthief didn't even bother to respond. "Schvig" is Yiddish for "mother-in-law" and my grandmother Anna Miller was known by this nickname for most of her adult life. I guess that's what she got for moving in with her son-in-law and daughter from even before they were married and staying until her death one month before the birth of Anna Nettie 27 years ago. All of this reveals, I suppose, that I hold a rather parochial view of the Internet..somewhat narcissistic, no doubt. I figure that if I have a name or a title that holds special meaning for me then it should ipso facto be available and I am constantly surprised when this turns out not to be the case. I am also surprised and not just a little delighted that I was able just now to figure out how to turn ipso facto into italics. I am also surprised and delighted whenever I can retrieve messages off of my cellphone, but I digress..
Speaking of schvigs, I am one myself now- twice over! This would be the perfect place to insert the wedding photos of Abe and Anna and their gorgeous and delightful spouses only of course I have no idea how to do such a cyber thing. During the brief period when Abe and I co-blogged, he was responsible for everything to do with that sort of photo adding , presumably because he knows Html. Since I don't even know what Html means, it seems unlikely that I will be able to pull off such a stunt, but I might just try. Or I could ask my newly-minted son-in-law Zack to teach me how to perform such a feat of cyber legerdemain; however, that might turn him sour on his new Schvig and we wouldn't want that to happen.
So for now there will be no decorative additions...
The current piece I'm working on involves my mother, alternately known as Bubs, Bubby,The Bubster, Dorrie-Doodle (an unsanctioned appellation which she detests) or the Momster, by me. The aged relative is now 92 and one half years old and is just a laugh a minute. I've been interviewing her since she's requested that her biography be done. Thus far I have only one very small page of notes retrieved after a somewhat circuitous discussion starting with the leading question "What is your earliest memory?" I got some interesting data about my great-grandmother, Esther Rasha Cohen, and my mother's relationship with her. (sneak preview...it was very close. Not so close with Max, my great-grandfather) Stay tuned.....
Oh, and please let me know if you want to unsubscribe. It seems like every Chaim Yonkel these days is writing a blog and you don't need any more spam in your emailboxes. But if you are interested, then I am hoping that you will post feedback. That will motivate me to actually write these pieces that are floating around half-finished in my file cabinet or in my feverish brain. Thanks in advance for being my muses....and remember: THINGS ARE LOOKING UP!