A New York Story

A New York Story

     She is beautiful; leaving the building, she tosses her shiny dark hair, her blue eyes are focused and intent.  As she exits the fitness studio in Brooklyn Heights, she is met with sheets of rain. She runs through a list of options, none of them optimal.  The subway stop is several blocks away, the bus will take half of an hour to arrive and she is cold and sweaty. Not one to splurge often on a taxi, she decides to spend some of her hard earned money on a ride guaranteeing a swift arrival home and a moment out of the rain.

Looking up the street, she cannot believe her luck as her arm shoots up—there is a cab with its light on and it pulls over, its hazard lights flipped on.  Jumping out of the driver’s side of the car, the middle aged man runs over to the halal cart by the side of the road, purchasing some food. She waits for the driver to return, and asks if the cab is free.

“Yes Miss!” he quickly replies, as they both approach the car. She closes her umbrella, shaking off the water and drops her large bag on the backseat before getting in. She gives him her Brooklyn apartment address.  He seems confused.  She is not surprised.  Most taxi drivers get lost in the borough of Brooklyn.   The woman tells him to take a left on Lafayette. He proceeds down the street, laughing.  “You will be my teacher today, Miss! May Allah bless you.”

As the car wends its way along Lafayette, the driver follows the directions the woman gives him.  He asks her if she can possibly pay cash.  She had been planning to use her credit card, and pulls out her wallet.  Rifling through her cash and cards, she finds that she only has six dollars in cash.  She tells the driver that she is sorry, but that no, she does not have enough cash for the ride. He replies that that there is no problem.

A moment later, he looks in the rearview mirror, making eye contact with the woman. “Ah!” He says to her, “I am going to turn the meter off.  This ride is on me! You look much like my daughter.” She says thank you, saying that he is kind. “No,” he replies. “When I look at you I see her.”

She asks “does your daughter live in New York?” He replies to her, a hint of sadness in his voice.  “No Miss. She lives in Pakistan and I have not seen her in three long years.” She wonders if he has ever returned to Pakistan, and asks the driver if he has gone back home to visit. She learns that he is afraid of flying and that the trip to Pakistan would be too expensive.  He tells her that he is afraid of driving in snow, making her laugh.

They pull up to the apartment on Monroe Street.  She digs through her wallet, giving him all of the cash and change that she has. The cab ride was twelve dollars and her cash is woefully short.

“May Allah bless you!” the driver says, as she exits the cab, snapping open her umbrella.  The rain pelts down, drenching her sneakers.  She steps into a puddle, finding her footing on the curb.  “Thank you very much,”  she says, shutting the door of the cab.

Unlocking the door of her apartment building, she turns around, waving goodbye to the driver.  She enters the building, finding herself smiling in spite of the grey, the rain. She shakes her umbrella closed and begins to climb the stairs.

The Case for Millennials

The Case for Millennials

These days, all one must do is open a magazine, scroll through the news, or speak with a friend, and the topic will surely wend its way to “the problem with Millennials.” Technically, the Millennials are the demographic with a birth year beginning in 1980 and ending in the early 2000’s. They follow Generation X’ers and are referred to as “Echo Boomers.”

I, for one, am fed up with the complaints lobbed against this group of adults. I read that they are self-centered, that they know how to text, but don’t pick up a phone, that they are not team players and float from job to job on a regular basis. This only skims the surface of  Millennial bashing: they are taking an awfully long time to grow up, are refusing to emigrate from urban areas to suburbs, they insist on “safe spaces” and require kid gloves in college. Indeed, these folks spend enormous sums of funds on avocado toast, have very particular tastes in vegan food and the like, and insist on “pour overs” for their coffee of choice. After spending all of this money on specialty foods, they complain about being broke, and run to Mom and Dad.

Come on people. I’m talking to you, Baby Boomers. Let’s get real. I’d like to take a trip to the not-to-distant past: the past of the Baby Boomer, the DINKS, the YUPPIES. Let us not forget our own unrivaled reputation. How can you forget the criticism heaped upon our own generation? We were born between the end of World War II and the late 1960’s. We rejected the values of our elders, protested Vietnam and wore ripped Levis blue jeans. Yet we wound up becoming the wealthiest, most active and most fit generation to date. We increased consumerism, and were criticized for our excess. We thought of ourselves as a “special” generation. We were the first generation to grow up with television, influencing advertising, aimed right at us. And what was wrong with all of this? We were self-centered (sound familiar?), refused to grow up, and postponed having children. We basked in our professionalism, our success, our double-incomes. Compared to our parents, who married young and had children in their 20’s, we stretched out our adolescence as far as we could, indulging in income-fueled lifestyles.

So the Millennials like their avocado toast—we indulged in fancy triple cream cheeses and became wine connoisseurs just to spite our whiskey-drinking parents. The Millennials shop in vintage and consignment shops. This should put us to shame! We were the generation to embrace labels—starting with those oh-so-famous Brooke Shields Calvin Klein jeans. Trendy nightclubs, hot restaurants, fancy cars? We invented them. We are the disposable generation. Does your closet look too crowded? Don’t worry—you will feel zen-like if you toss it all and start from scratch.

Still smarting from some of the Baby Boomer criticism, it pains me to hear similar insults heaped upon my children, who range in age from 31 to 21. Yes-I have three Millennials of my own. They are launched in the world, and live in Millennial-havens: Brooklyn, Oakland and Wesleyan University. What’s a Mom to do? Well, for one thing, I take great pride in their accomplishments. I see how frugally they live to make a go of it in their hip neighborhoods. Yes, their rent is sky high, but I remember my parents blanching at what I paid in rent when I moved to the Big Apple.

The Millennials are too connected to social media and the Internet, the criticism goes on.  Hey folks–It was accessible to them, growing up. What did we expect? That they would begin typing papers on their MAC’s in elementary school, text friends and set up Facebook accounts only to ditch all of this when they began to work? No, Boomers, that’s not how it works. Think back—what was new and revolutionary in our day? You’ve got it! Television. Television was going to supersede books and radio. There was a time when MTV threatened to obliterate the radio, and the concept of listening to music. All of this concern was nonsense. Books have not disappeared, and music holds a greater part of our hearts than ever before. Let’s give our Millennials a chance to balance their lives too. The 20’s are a notoriously difficult decade. One must find oneself and set the course for a future that looms, but is a bit murky. Down the road, I feel confident that my children will limit the Internet and television for their children, just the way that I did. After all, we did raise them with our values. Some of that must have sunk in!

Rather than bash the generation of young adults finding their way, let us celebrate and support them. Accept who they are and appreciate their talents. Yes—they can do wonders with technology and if we are honest, we are a wee bit jealous of this. Accept who you are, Boomers, and take this wonderful generation under your wings. They are thrifty, eco-conscious, and well educated. They came of age during a tough recession and are still trying to find their way out of that hole. They live in cities, take the subway and reduce the carbon footprint. They are much more conscious of their impact on the universe than we ever were, and will make their mark, just as we did.

Millennials, live your dreams, make a difference, and ignore the critics. I, for one, am on your side.

Zen Minimalism Versus The Soul of a House

img_2064With a sigh of relief I learned the news that our house of twelve years had sold. In fact, it sold in such an expedited fashion that the VanderZwaag family (primarily my Husband and me, as two of our children are adults living on their own, and one is in college) is now betwixt and between our home and the townhouse that we are building in a nearby town. If the fates are kind, we will be in our new digs by the middle of May. It is now early March and so here I recline, on a sofa in a leased, furnished apartment, clothes, books and knick-knacks relegated to a storage facility. This situation provides the perfect “test” opportunity to examine the current fad of living with pared-down possessions. This practice is said to lead to a Zen-like experience of calm. The bestselling book THE LIFE CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP is all the rage and has, until now, only touched my life around the edges. Its philosophy sounded hokey; yet another claim to a life-altering experience, putting a lot of cash in someone’s self-help, deep pockets. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a pack rat. I have always been thoughtful of the work my husband and children would have to do if I left this world with chaos at home. As we have moved from home to home, I have seized the opportunity to get rid of junk and bring along only the most prized of possessions for two adults, three children and at various times, a cat, several dogs, goldfish, hermit crabs and hamsters. To this end, I have never fully lived up to my goals. I am a sucker for memorabilia, particularly the clay kind brought home by kindergartners, with a squashed hand print on an irregular mass of kiln-dried clay, or the expository composition books of a fourth grader, pondering the vagaries of life.
We have moved many times over the years, which was not the plan when I was a newlywed. I pictured a scenario kind of like this: my loving husband and I would live in an urban city until child number one came along. Then, we would find our dream home in a nearby suburb and make a life for our family, digging in and forming roots to home, the community, our history. But, as we all know, life does not always go according to plan. Job opportunities popped up in other cities which were too good to pass up. And so we moved. A home was vacated a few years after we moved in, because we realized we were not cut-de-sac, new development kinds of people. And so we moved. And again, and again. This move, and first downsize since we “upsized” over thirty years ago, is the eighth move in our marriage.
Has it been hard for the children to transition? Yes, absolutely. They tell me this now more than they did then, because they were coping like the soldiers they were, when they were little. Lets face it, they did not have much choice in the matter. “What is good for the parents is good for the children” was a mantra that rang true to us. We, the adults, needed to make life decisions that would benefit the whole of the family. And yet, we all ultimately sacrificed the wonder of a life dug deep. Old friends, long-term memories of a place through time, these are things we all sacrificed. Each move required the making of new friends for all of us and the reaching out to a new community in the hope that we would leave a mark of some sort; something for which we would be remembered. Facebook made the later moves easier. One of the great benefits of social media is the ease with which friendships can be maintained, online if not in person.
With each move, I made it my mission as Mom and Parent to create a home out of a house, as quickly as possible. Would Zen Minimalism have helped create these homes? I think not. Our homes were made of puppies, children’s artwork affixed to the fridge, the hum of a dryer filled with clothing, toys and stuffed animals. They were made with cozy throws and reupholstered family heirlooms. They were made with crock pot dinners and closets bulging with backpacks, boots and sneakers. Our existence, these past 30 years has hardly been one of minimalism.
Now comes the big challenge. Our two daughters are impressive, accomplished adults living on their own and beginning their life-journeys as adults. Our son is soaking in a liberal arts education in another state, coming home for spring and summer breaks. It is time to take stock of it all and, dare I say it, downsize. We do not need a big house. We do not need a big yard or even a neighborhood filled with children. We crave a simpler way of life that will still accommodate our family when we get together, but will be just the right size when it is just the two of us. We have our bucket list to tackle. We have trips we want to make, and hobbies to pursue. Years ago, we put these things aside to attend to our top priority : our family, of whom we loved more than life itself. It is a terribly hard transition to make—you go from sixty miles an hour for years and years, focused on the most important thing in your life—your children. You go from that to a quiet, a void that is like nothing else. I’m getting used to it now, and relishing the things that I can to now that I could not for years: going to a movie on a “school” night, deciding to eat out at the drop of a hat, taking an entire Saturday to read a book. There is bliss in this.
But back to minimalism. This move, this downsize, has forced my hand and made me reveal all of my cards. I am not good at this. I wish I were. For months now, I have tackled closets, paraphernalia, coats, food cupboards, all in the name of downsizing. The amount of furniture and clothing sent to consignment feels staggering. The numbers of trash bags filled with excess and sent to the Green Drop, endless. The amount of my children’s artwork tossed—well, uh, none of it. Hey—I have my limits!
This furnished apartment where I now sit is cool, modern and sleek. There are no distractions to keep me from writing. It is convenient to have washer, dryer, and master bedroom all on one floor. I can feel the Zen-thing, sort of. I am not necessarily finding it freeing. Seeing my favorite vase filled with flowers would be enticing, as would a stack of my favorite books (have I mentioned that I have a hard time giving books away-they are my friends.) Our new town home, when it will be done, has been inspired with a sense of the new—we plan to buy a contemporary rug and sofa for the Great Room, and some Eames chairs to go with the old farmhouse table. We want to embrace modernism with the older pieces of our family’s past. I’m hoping I can pull it off! What I doubt we will wind up with is a sleek, soulless space. The lifeblood of a home lives in the little things. I will treasure my back issues of The New Yorker, and the dog toys strewn on the floor. My home will never be featured in Architectural Digest. It is the soul of a home that matters, in the end. The walls and floors echo from the life beating within. Hopefully, it will be a life well lived.


NAILS1She carried anxiety like I do, but she tucked hers away expertly. She had lines on her forehead and made funny, sucking sounds with her mouth. Sometimes, she would fidget with her long nails or leave one cigarette burning in a crystal ashtray, and light another one. I adored her and fled to her for safety.

She was an expert on fun. Fun helped cover up the pain. Fun sometimes came from trips to warm, tropical places. She stayed in the shade then, or in the cabin of the boat. At night she would dress in her finery and order dessert for me before the appetizer course. She loved gin and caviar, and oysters and lobster and taught me to love these things too. The gin came later, but the lobster was consumed at six, on my birthday. I threw up all over the car, but she did not get angry.

Sometimes, we went to the southern mountains on vacation and she would pack gin in her suitcase. This was because the hotel did not serve alcohol with room service. Also in her suitcase were beautiful dresses and ladylike shoes with pointy toes and dainty heels. I once argued with my mother for weeks, wanting heeled shoes without a strap. I used Chapstick on my lips in place of lipstick and grew my nails and stopped biting them. She wore gloves when she went out on occasions. Some were short and white; others long and black. While she was napping, I would try them on and prance in front of her dressing room mirrors. There were four mirrors that swiveled and if I positioned them just right, I created a chorus line, wiggling and dancing to an imaginary song, gloves and heels adorning my kilt and woolen knee socks.

She slept well at night because she took a pill that knocked her out. We would call her in the evening, but mother would bang the black receiver down on the rotary phone. “Damn pills!” she would yell as she slumped in her kitchen chair, taking a drag on her low-tar cigarette. In the morning, I was often dropped off at her house before I went to school. She drank cold coffee and lots of orange juice. There was gin in the orange juice, but I never smelled it. She would map out her day in the morning. Maybe there would be a trip to the grocery store, in her gleaming, always new, Cadillac. Maybe she would invite her friends over and they would listen to Barbra Streisand on the Victrola while telling stories and chain-smoking. Sometimes she went clothes shopping and brought me with her. Other times, she would dance around her living room to Frank Sinatra, or paint my nails bright red, or let me look at the large charms on her bracelet that jangled when she moved her long arms. She sometimes danced on the coffee table, her feet bare, except for her silky stockings. Laughing, she would kick her legs and show me the flapper dances that she learned in her youth. She was beautiful then, and I knew that she had been stunning when she was younger. I could imagine her in a beaded dress that shook as she shimmied. I understood why he had been drawn to her.   She had a charm that was magical and magnetic and drew you into its spell.

I went away to college one fall, and called my family once a week on the hall telephone. The phone was on a small table, and there was a chair where I sat as I dialed home. Others hovered nearby, waiting their turn to make their calls. They pretended not to eavesdrop. I dialed home to tell my mother that I was fine and that I was doing well in school. That was the gist of these tedious, once-a week communications. This time though was different. I learned that she had died. I was young and the pain of loss was new to me. It was a loss that was not unique; loss is universal. I would learn, though, that she had left behind a legacy. I would dance with my children, and to sing in the car. I would sometimes allow them ice cream, before dinner. We would plan adventures and I would keep my children close and keep my heart light. I would talk about her and share my stories; the day she danced on the table at Kelly’s, the time that she gave me ten dollars and let me shop on my own in the city, the time that she told me to eat more slowly and not gobble up my food. She was a force greater than death and I hear her laugh now. It is in Oakland and in New York and in Middletown.



It was a small, smooth stone. Shaped like a flattened egg, it measured no more than two inches in length. At the lake, it could have been used as a skipping stone, but a decision had been made to save it instead. It had been stashed in the pocket of a fuzzy, fleece jacket and had remained there until its discovery, a few weeks later. The owner of the jacket was small as well. He loved the lake, and the trips that he would take there with his mother. When he found the stone in his pocket, he decided to put it on the shelf above his bed, along with a baseball that his father had caught for him at a ball game. When the weather turned cold, the boy no longer went to the lake as often.

One morning, the boy woke up and remembered the stone. He stood on his bed, pajamas loose around his hips, his feet bare and cold. Reaching up, he took the stone in his hand and sat back on his bed. Crossing his legs, he rubbed the stone between his fingers, marveling at its perfection. How many waves had caressed this rock, shaping it into this cool, opaque object of beauty? How long had the rock been tossed along on the shoreline, before he had scooped it up, taking it away from the place where it had belonged? Carefully, he dropped the stone within his bed sheets, creating a protective nest for it. Looking at it as he walked towards the bathroom, he thought of the lake. He thought of the feel of thick, grainy sand between his toes, the warmth of the sun on his back. He thought of his mother and of the wind blowing her hair, her face tilted towards him.

His splashed water on his face brushed his teeth and glanced at his face in the mirror.

Maybe he was looking older, beginning to change. He knew that one day, he would look into the mirror and decide that it was time to should shave. He wondered if he was beginning to look more like his father and less like his mother. He thought could see a hint of his father’s reflection as he turned his head and headed down the hall. The stone would not change. It would always look and feel like the object that he had found and kept. After dressing for school, the boy decided to picked up the stone, turning it and observing it from many angles. He lifted a sweatshirt from the floor, shrugged it on and put the stone in one of the front pockets.


His mother accepted his gift after he had rummaged for his backpack on the hooks by the back door. She straightened up, turned towards him and looked into his eyes. He could see that she, too, remembered the day at the lake. She took a minute to look at the stone, before she placed it in in a gilded, green bowl. The bowl contained keys, glasses and other things that she would commonly misplace, and so it was always on the table near the door.

As time passed, the boy would occasionally see his stone, if he happened to look in the bowl searching for his car keys, or a loose quarter for the parking meter. He became busy, and would not stop and study it in the same way that he had on the day he decided to give it to his mother. It was just a thing, no different than other things. Eventually, his mother would move the stone, placing it in a wooden box filled with other things. The box would be placed on a shelf in a dark part of the house.   The boy would come home and then leave again for periods of time. He would eventually shave, and pack his clothes in a duffel bag and drive away from the home. He would find the girl who he would look at in the same way that he had once looked at his mother, that day at the lake.   The stone would remain in the box.

The house became neater, sparer. One or two coats would hang by the back door. A small purse might be placed on the table by the door, and it would rest next to the gilded, green bowl. The boy’s bedroom would be simple, and used as a guest room for company. Sometimes, a few books were arranged on the shelf above the bed, but that was all. When the boy came home, he no longer felt in possession of the room. It was no longer his place.

The day that his mother found the stone was the day that she had removed the wooden box from the dark shelf. She had been packing her things in a cardboard container and had found the box, nestled next to a stack of old magazines. His mother sat on the floor cross-legged, and opened the box, lifting out the gray stone. She turned it over in her hands, looked at it for a long time. Eventually, she stood up, and then placed the stone carefully in the pocket of her cardigan.



Let’s be honest, boomers. We have been cranking music in our cars for well over forty years now. The methods that we have employed to blare our tunes have changed several times in our lives, but the result has been the same: playing songs that move us to join in. Sometimes, we roll our windows up, and sometimes, if we want to share, we roll them down. I call it the “Car Concert Effect.”

Right now, I have a very cool but understated, VW, GTI Golf. It is white and has the sharpest wheels you have ever seen. It drives like a sports car but looks kind of dorky. I adore it. The radio in it is ok–could be better. The speakers are a tad small for my taste. Nevertheless, I’ll hop into my car, put my seatbelt on and get the lay of the land. “How am I feeling today? Is the traffic bad? Is it sunny or rainy? Hmm…what mood am I in?” With Sirius Radio the selection of musical possibilities are endless and I thoroughly enjoy taking advantage of choice. On a good day, I crank up the Alternative/Pop Hits. I really like IMAGINE DRAGONS, DAVE MATTHEWS BAND and NEON TREES. I like GAVID DEGRAW and ADELE. No–I take that back. I love Adele. Yesterday, I was driving to my chiropractor and ADELE came on. “Crank it up, baby,” I thought. It was “Rumour Has It,” one of my faves. The inevitable question pops up. Do I blatantly sing at the top of my lungs, thereby giving myself away to the drivers of cars in the lane next to me? Do I sing in the back of my throat, and not move my lips–a good trick. Or–do I provide the percussion to this great song, and jiggle my left leg, while tapping the driving wheel of the GTI? No. This was a “sing it” song, and so I belted it out, swaying this way and that in my car. I’m in my own Car Concert, grooving to the lyrics, standing up, out of my imaginary concert chair, dancing to the beat. It’s my own, private Idaho and it numbs me from the car honking behind me, imploring me to speed up.

Back in the 1970’s, my parents let me drive their old, beat up station wagon. It was on its very last legs. Driving to school, it would stall as I stopped at every red light. I learned to keep the car in neutral, revving the engine to keep this from happening. If it stalled out, and the light turned green, I would suffer the fools behind me, who were annoyed at the delay in their morning and anxious to get to work. Hey–I was doing the best that I could do, under the circumstances. “Do you see my car?” I would think, “What do you want?” If all went well, I would reach my right hand over to the radio. A plain affair, it had a knob on the left for volume, and a knob on the right, to turn it on or off. It had FM and AM, which was advanced, because some cars and radios still had only AM radio. AM was mostly talk shows, or the local news and weather. I preferred to groove out to WMMR. This was the best Rock and Roll FM station in Philadelphia. I would bounce in my seat to LED ZEPPELIN, CROSBY STILLS AND NASH, JEFFERSON AIRPLANE, or maybe JANIS JOPLIN. That’s just the beginning. I could go on. Music was seminal and powerful in the early ’70’s. It defined our generation and represented what we were all about. It was “message music” that usually made references to a war we did not want to be a part of, or corrupt politicians, or young love. We felt like we were changing the world and this music was part and parcel of that. I’m not writing anything that we do not already know, but it bears repeating. To this day, when I hear JAMES TAYLOR or NEIL YOUNG, or ERIC CLAPTON I think of peace, rock and roll and saving the planet.

Inevitably, we changed and forgot some of our ideals. For that, I feel some sadness. It was a good time, and I think that we had great intentions and clear ideals. How did this same generation become the “Wolves of Wall Street?” I’m not sure how it all happened, but I was there. Living in NYC in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the Eight Track Tape was king. A bizarre and clunky device, it enabled the listener to pop a tape into a portal in one’s car and listen to albums on tapes that would not scratch like records. These were soon replaced by regular cassettes, which were sleeker, and not as clunky. The tape spooled up and tangled, and you had to use a pencil to unwind it. They were handy, because you could skip listening to the DJ on the radio, and pop in whatever album you wanted, straight into your Car Concert.

I remember wearing a long, black tee shirt, slung down my shoulder. I wore high-top Reeboks and had my hair cut short. This was after my Wall Street phase; at which point I wore starched button-down shirts, pencil skirts and high heels, but that is another story. By this time, I was a wanna-be Downtowner, living on the Upper East Side. I worked for a Small Press on the Lower East Side. I was part of the scene. At that time, I did not have a Car Concert Hall. I was a subway goer who had, instead, a brand new, enormous, first generation, WALKMAN. Oh, how this gadget changed my life. You could clip it to your jeans, but the contraption was so large, it was like walking around with a toolbox. A Walkman had maybe four, or five buttons–very basic; start, stop, forward, back, maybe fast forward. The headphones did not go in your ears. They were foam, and rested on top. You could buy a Walkman with a radio and a tape player, combined. I would play MADONNA, and DEBBIE HARRY and CYNDI LAUPER. It was an age of music by women; the GO-GO’s, LAURA BRANIGAN and ANNIE LENNOX. But then there were the male counterparts: JOE JACKSON, THE POLICE, MICHAEL JACKSON, PRINCE and EARTH, WIND AND FIRE. In addition, there was a lot of Disco music, played by one-hit wonders. This was all great clubbing music, and we would go, especially if we knew the door guy, so that he would let us in ahead of the long lines. THE UNDERGROUND and LIMELIGHT were very popular, as were STUDIO 54 and CBGB’S. Man, this was a fun, fun time. Clubs were thrumming with strobe lights, disco music, dancing and flowing alcohol. Have people forgotten how to dance? Dancing was great. One memorable evening, I went downtown with some great friends in New York City’s blizzard of the last Century. The subway was not running. There were no cars or buses on the street. White snow blanketed all of NYC and Central Park. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. Gone were the grime, and grey, and filth. In its place was a wonderland so vast, and empty and white it took your breath away. We were not going to squander this night. We walked the entire length of Central Park, in at least two to three feet of snow. Like explorers, our footprints were the first ones to mark the ground as we pushed on Downtown in knee-deep snow, determined to arrive at the Limelight. And arrive we did. They were open; a few stalwarts were in attendance. We danced the night away, delirious with joy. Such was the optimism of the time. We could do anything. We would make it in this inhospitable city. We would succeed, and thrive. The music confirmed our dreams and for the first time, we could carry it with us, on our person, in our Walkman toolboxes.

Fast forward to the late 1980’s. Now I have children, and I still want to rock out in my car. What fits the bill? RAFFI, of course. The standard for children’s music, I learned many, many new songs. “Baby Beluga” still gets stuck in my head, as does “De Colores” and “Down By the Bay.” The sign of a good Rock-Out session would involve dropping my daughters off at school, driving away, and still singing at the top of my lungs, to “Tingalayo.” Minutes would go by, before realizing that I could pop the cassette out of the player and listen to “adult” music. The DISCMAN came out sometime in the 1990’s, but I cannot remember when, exactly, because I was sharing my love of music with my children. I was not zoning out to my own Car Concert, or portable music player. Now I had a chorus behind me, in the backseat, who joined in my concerts. My children had adorable, beautiful voices and would sing at the top of their lungs, joining as I played RAFFI on the radio. We would hum to our heart’s content. I smile as I write this. It was a beautiful thing.

I still revel in my Car Concert today, alone again (naturally). I’m becoming older, but I defy it by keeping up with what I think is great music, and attending concerts with my family. There is joy in music. In bad traffic, I love jazz, or classical pieces. They wind me down and cool me out. When I am blue, I adore Frank Sinatra. Life is usually on the up-and-up with Frank and I lose myself in his crooning, ever hopeful, ballads. Sometimes, I listen to CLASSIC REWIND, to capture my youth, and sometimes I listen to what I imagine the younger generations are enjoying, although they would probably laugh at me. “Lady,” they would say, “You don’t get it at all.” But I do get it. I remember that feeling. You know the one–where the world is your oyster and music expresses your hopes and your passions. I can still go there and I do.


IMG_0445It is that time of year; the time of year when, young or old, rich or poor, urban or country dweller, our hearts turn towards bodies of water. They may be the chilly waters of Lake Michigan, or they may be the enclosed, buggy ponds of New England. In many cases, on the East Coast, getaway plans often include the gorgeous, multifaceted coastline of the Atlantic Ocean.

I am made up of this briny, salty water. It courses through my veins as blood courses through the veins of others. It is where I spent my childhood. It is where I learned to swim and where I spent countless hours diving, body surfing and rafting. It is where I was stung by a Man-O-War, caught countless crabs for dinner and fished for dark, oily fish that I would eat for dinner. I would turn very brown, never used sunscreen, wore the same three swimsuits in succession and clambered off to the same small movie theater on rainy days. I would eat an ice cream or two from Springers, or decide that I was more in the mood for soft-serve ice cream with the frozen chocolate shell surrounding the luscious custard cream. Many early evenings, I would forage the cheap, Five and Dime stores, looking for shell bracelets or other similar treasures. My bicycle was my ticket to freedom, and I would careen around my neighborhood, or into town, one hand on a handlebar, the other hand feeling the wind blow through my fingers, or ringing the bell attached to my bike, warning those in front of me to move aside. If I had enough cash, I would buy a Fifth Avenue chocolate bar as a treat, somehow never gaining an ounce from my endless sweet tooth.

I would spend my formative summers right ON the beach. An unheard of extravagance now, it was a treat then, to be sure, but not out of the question. As a typical child, I took much of it for granted, until years later. Of course everyone goes to the beach, I would think. This is just what you do in the summer. My parents carted my brother and me to our beach house directly following the end of the school year. Shucking our tunics, jerseys and khakis, we threw on shorts and polo shirts and scrambled in the back of our family station wagon; a large, clunky car with plenty of room on the back for two kids to roll around with comic books, crayons and coloring books and mad libs in hand. Seat belts? Huh?? Car seats? Wha? This was fun. This was staring out of the back window at the drivers of the cars behind us, making silly faces, tickling each other in the ribs, or reading Archie and Veronica to one another. Our excitement would build as we crossed the first of many bridges that would lead us to the Jersey Shore; as will say in Philadelphia, “down the shore.”

Our house was a glass-fronted, modern affair. All of our rooms faced the ocean, paying homage to the vast sea beyond. I would wake up in the early morning to the sound of the surf pounding in my ears, yards from my bedroom. Waxing and waning, it called me like a siren as I scurried out of bed, eager to get outside. Having to wait until 9am before feeling the sand between my toes was torture. My torture included delicious, cream-filled donuts with which I would stuff my face each morning and the brand new, just invented, Lego set with which I would build wonderful model homes. Still, the sea called me, as it called Aeneas into its cold embrace. Come to me, it would seem to say. Hear my roar, feel the coolness of my water, feel the warmth of the sun on our back. Smell the salt air. There has been nothing quite like it, in my life.

Am I at the shore now? Do you assume that my passion for the sea continued throughout my life? Right on the second count. Wrong on the first. I made a fatal mistake; I fell in love with a wonderful, bear of a man. His family hails from the Midwest. He despises eating fish. Body surfing does not come easily to him. His swimming prowess is, well, so-so. Don’t get me wrong. There are many things he does well. He played football in college like a pro. He is a pretty good cook. He thinks with numbers instead of words; a skill I find impressive and intoxicating as it is something I cannot do. He loves children, animals and family. He loves golf. I mean–he LOVES golf. His love for golf is a crazy love, spawned from childhood. His family would drop him off at the course in the morning and pick him up at the end of the day. The schedule has not changed; or should I say, he drops his family off at home in the morning and picks them up at night. Just as the ocean was the backdrop to my life growing up, so the lush greens and brutal bunkers of the golf course were his. “So what?” you say. “Your marriage is fifty-fifty,” you say. “You should be at the sea while your love is on the course.” Yes-I might answer. But the course is near the city, and it is one of the best in the world. One cannot find a course even close to its excellence, down the shore. And the shore–it takes an hour or so to drive there, and the costs of home ownership and rentals have gone through the roof. These costs extend everywhere: not just here, but up and down the coast, from Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, all the way up to the rocky shoals of Maine. One family, right now–at least, this family–cannot have both golf and salt water. If I am lucky, I might carve a week here or there out of my summer to obtain my fix. My lucky husband, on the other hand, keeps his clubs in the car and hightails it to the course every weekend. My backdrop is not as portable as his and yet its scarcity gives it a more magical quality.

How strong, you ask, is love? I guess it must be strong. Because I sit here, alone, on a sunny hot day, dreaming of my beach. I picture a bike with fat tires and a basket on the front. I picture myself in a frumpy black bathing suit, cover up and straw hat. I see myself pedaling to the waterfront, flip-flops on my feet, towel in hand, umbrella collapsed in my other arm. I have the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in my beach bag, along with a beach read, my phone and my needlepoint. I have already slathered myself with70 SPF sunscreen. I am in heaven as I pick my way among throngs of beach goers, finding a spot on the sand to call my own. Dream. I close my eyes and dream of such wonders. Dream a little dream….

We all have our dreams, our fixes; memories that will last well past our ability to enjoy them in reality. Will my dream comfort me in my old age, as I sit in a nursing home, remembering my youth? Probably. I am damned lucky to have these visions, these memories. I have my youth and my parents to thank for them. In the meantime, I try each year to love golf in the same way that my husband loves the game. If you cannot beat them, join them? Maybe? I try. Maybe one day I will be on par with my husband. Maybe? I try. I hold out though. I hold out for my ship to come in, for the hidden treasure to be discovered, for the winning lottery ticket. One never knows. One can always dream. I hear the surf pounding in my ears seventy-four miles away. I don’t have to be next to it, to know that it is there.


“Hello honey,” she said, just as I would have said to my son.“Where are you right now?” she continued, with a sense of urgency. This piqued my interest. It was an unusual question to provoke such angst. I leaned forward in my blue printed chair and looked through the contents of the bag at my feet, ostensibly looking for a book, a pen, maybe my iPad, or a magazine.

“Uh, huh, ok,” she said quickly. “If you are there and you plan to stay, here is what I want you to do. No hanging around Melvin. He is no good. And no staying past 8 o’clock. No good will come of that either. Don’t’ want you getting into trouble. You hear?”
The train slowed as it crossed over the bridge in Trenton, and then gathered momentum, swaying side to side. The car smelled of disinfectant and sweat. My chair sagged from much use. I shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position.
“And what are you wearing?” she continued, speaking softly, but intently. “Yeah, you know I don’t like you wearing that. It worries me. I have told you before.”
There was a pause. What was he wearing? I flipped open my magazine and studied the perfume ad. It showed two extravagantly dressed, beautiful young models, riding a horse bareback across an open field. Her arms wound tightly around his waist, and she rested her head on his strong shoulder. They wore Wellington boots, providing a stark contrast to the tuxedo, the evening dress.
“Take the hoodie off. Take it off right now. You want to make sure that everyone can see your face. Did you shave today? What you doing with your hoodie on and what you doing with Melvin?” She was whispering loudly now. I could hear her clearly if I leaned my head to the left of my seat and rested it against the glass window. The wheels of the Amtrak car screeched, drumming against the track that bore it to New York City.
“Yeah, and then what will you do? Call me when you get home, please. Right away. I will be back later tonight. I want to see you in the house when I get home. In the house. When I get home.”
She sounded agitated; a mother, worried about her child. The hoodie–it reminded me of another story: a boy, with skittles–a neighborhood vigilante, racial profiling, and then a shooting. The boy had been only seventeen. One year younger than my son. I sat up straight, closing my magazine.
“And will you stay there, for now? Or will you be somewhere else before you come home? Oh yeah? No, I don’t think so. I really don’t think so. don’t go there, Earl. Please. At least you are safe in Center City, until it gets darker. Was that Melvin’s idea? I don’t like him.”
My felt felt warm and a dizziness washed over me. My boy was probably sitting in a large classroom right now, or sleeping in the secure dorm room of the University. The campus was protected by an interior quadrangle, security staff, emergency phone boxes on every corner and required card identification slots for all entrances and exits. He was privileged, and white. He would be relatively clean. We had purchased a few new articles of clothing from a shop before he headed up to school earlier that fall. They would probably be wrinkled now–maybe dirty. We would meet at a vegan restaurant on 117th and Broadway. The dizziness passed. I pressed my lips together and closed my eyes.
“So, Earl,” the woman continued, softly. “You know that I would be there, if I could. Have you heard from your father? No? I see. You take good care of yourself. You know that I love you. I want to see you when I get home. Goodbye, Earl.”
Focusing on my glossy magazine, I skimmed over a story about making your life the best that it can be. I heard the woman on the phone stuff her phone in a bag and inhale. A newspaper snapped open, and she exhaled.


Feet pounding the tarmac, I ran quickly in those days. P.F. Flyers tied loosely on my feet and wearing old cut-off jeans and a cotton tee shirt, I flew down a road that intersected College Avenue. I looped around a leafy neighborhood rife with flowering dogwoods and azaleas. I felt powerful, immortal, invincible. I caught on to the high of running early on, and often saw the gaping jaws of neighbors driving by, shaking their heads, certain I was crazy. Endorphins became a needed part of my day, and barring blizzards or torrential rains, I would lace up, and go “jogging.”
It was 1975, and Frank Shorter transformed the landscape of fitness in America. I was inspired by his words, and his dedication to this new sport, this concept of being “healthy.” I would learn to eat larger salads, using greens other than iceberg lettuce. I would shun meats, and discover legumes, beans and yummy goat cheeses that were still outlawed in the United States. I would cut down on alcohol, and switched from drinking a nightly scotch, to imbibing a glass of red wine only on weekends, or with friends. It took some time for the wine fad to catch on in the ’70’s. How I remember the boxed Almaden wine that my parent’s bought. It was a big deal to brag that one was now drinking “wine,” with dinner, and Almaden, at that! How awful that stuff was. It took some time for my taste buds to discern a good bottle of red or white from swill, but it happened. Cheese was also a big discovery. I was shocked to learn that there were varieties other than American and Cheddar cheeses! In fact, I became so enamored of cheese, that I eschewed the dinners served at my college dorm, and purchased slices of exotic cheeses, to enjoy with crackers and condiments, for dinner.
My love of running continued through stints in Corporate Banking in New York City and a graduate program at Columbia University. I ran around the reservoir, and probably passed Jackie Kennedy, but did not realize it. Some days, I biked five miles around the park instead, letting the wind rush past me, feeling the power of pedaling around my favorite city, watching the distinct skyline of Central Park West as I flew.
As many do, I eventually left city life behind for suburbia, when my first child was born. I continued to jog and bike ride in those days. I was told by an OB/GYN that running could injure my uterus, and that the sport was not appropriate for women. Bystanders would gape as I ran in 10K races and hugged my daughter at the finish line. “You mean she is a mother?” they would exclaim. I loved exercise, and kept on pounding the pavement, and pushing myself. I swam, biked and ran, but the popularity of Triathlons was still a number of years away. In the meantime, I caught onto the Jane Fonda craze and was spurred on by a movie called “FLASHDANCE.” Thong leotards fit tightly over colored tights and leg warmers completed the ensemble. It was well into the 1980’s, and suddenly, the “feel the burn” movement had taken over, as I pounded on cement floors, wearing hightop Reebok sneakers.
A thought may have crossed your mind at this point of my first blog. And guess what? You are on the right track. All of this was wreaking havoc on my joints, even as I was staying aerobically fit. Cartilage was silently disappearing from my knees, my spine and my hips. My future was being mapped out, unbeknownst to me. It all collapsed on a fateful winter vacation, as I slipped down a small slope in Park City, determined to learn a sport I had never tried, while growing up. I heard a “pop,” could not get myself up, and was whirled down the slopes by a snowmobile, my` daughter, resolutely by my side. The doctor laid it all out for me: I had a severe ACL tear in my knee, but my knee had already been badly damaged through years of abuse.
“Abuse.” I thought. This was new. This was not good. What the hell had I done? I had gone down the garden path, with no sense of what damage I was doing to myself. Doctor’s and health experts seem to know what is best at the time, bemoaning the errors of our past and extolling the latest in lifestyle.
Now, I swim laps with older women in lanes next to me, “walking” in the water with weights on their legs. Am I an older woman? I guess so. When did this happen? Is this what I should be doing? Should I chuck my Speedo, high legged suit for a “moderate cut” model, and find a bathing cap with a chip strap? Not yet. I am swimming lap after lap, with my Garmin watch that keeps track of my stroke length and lap numbers. The less strokes per lap, the better. I am trying not to gulp in the chlorinated water, convinced that someday, the doctors will wag their fingers at me for ingesting poisons. Now, I am wary. Now, I know that danger lurks in every move I make. And yet, I visit my physicians, who urge me to continue to exercise, to watch my weight. The pain of my earlier forays into exercise follows me now. My knee hurts, my back aches, and the laps seem endless and boring. I watch runners with envy, but wonder if I should chase them, yelling at them, warning them of their inevitable demise. I want to tell them “I was once like you. I might look old, but in my heart, I am just like you still. Do not judge me for my moderate cut swimwear. Do not judge me for my high waisted jeans and bathing cap!” But judged I am, I am sure. But wait, my old attitude is still there! One that does not care what others think. Whether running, when others are driving, or swimming ponderously, lap after lap, I am trying, like an old soldier, to keep up. A cool footnote: Amazon sells waterproofed Apple shuffles with earplugs made for swimming underwater! It is a marvelous feeling to glide in the water, listening music I love. Note to self–please delete the Christmas music until next December!