Wednesday, February 24, 2010


If my life was a reality show, the theme song would be the theme from “Mission Impossible.” But let’s face it, without the help of a good editor, reel-life is real boring even with the help of a jazzy theme song from a cool 1960’s Cold War secret agent show.
My days are an endless series of stress-filled repeat episodes that leave me feeling as if I’m going to self-destruct in 5 seconds. Every morning I scream at the kids to hurry up and get ready for school; I push them out of one door and into the car; try to levitate my minivan above the insane traffic that constipates every road leading to the George Washington Bridge every single weekday morning; pull them out of the car to drag them across and up Fort Lee Road trotting them like long-shot race horses as the crazy Korean crossing guard curses me in a language I’m beginning to understand for crossing during the flashing 5 second warning; I internally scream my own violent obscenities as I push the kids through the school doors seconds before the late bell rings. After the overwhelming need to breathe into a brown paper bag passes, I begin my morning meditation: foraging for orphan change on the floor of my car so I can buy a cup of coffee and find my inner human being.
Against the better angels of my nature, I’ve become addicted to the most mindless shows reality T.V. has to offer--Bravo’s “Housewives of New Jersey” and MTV’s “The Jersey Shore.” Undoubtedly, you can’t get much worse than that. However, as a native Jersey Girl who needs her fill of mindless entertainment, I tune in to see not only how my beloved state is being portrayed, but betrayed.
What gets me about “The Housewives of New Jersey” is, well, everything. How believable is it, really, to have women with deep Hudson County accents represent tony Franklin Lakes? At the very least, attention must be paid to any group of women who can masterfully stylize the word boobs into the plural possessive “bewbies” and interject it into every third incoherent sentence. Now, I’m certainly not pulling the grammatical high card here; my entire family has created a language of our own by butchering the English language; I can conjugate the word “jaboopy” which happens to be a family favorite, and the topic of a column all its own.
What’s most amazing about the housewives is that they represent no woman I know. Who rewards their daughter with a brand new car for failing out of school? And when one of my 45-year old girlfriends is seen out with a 25-year old it’s called babysitting your friend’s son while their away on vacation, not dating. But it was the infamous “table flip” episode that caught my attention. Many people from Bergen and Hudson County know the “table flip,” in fact, it’s an Olympic sport in my family, but I don’t think the rest of the country was prepared for it.   
Then there’s MTV’s “Jersey Shore” where nobody ever goes to the shore and every moment is edited into a string of bad decisions! Lord knows that I spent enough drunken summer nights on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights to get down on my hands and knees and thank God those were the days before cell phones, digital cameras, and reality TV. If a camera crew had followed me around, God knows what “situation” they would have found me in, but one thing’s for sure--they wouldn’t have found me with “The Situation.” Despite the fact that the look for men back then was more ‘long-haired lanky’ than ‘juiced-up steroid,’ there was only one hair gel, “Dippity-Do,” and it wasn’t marketed to men.
However, it’s very possible you would have found me with “The Situation’s” uncle, “Vince the Slap Chop Guy” from the infomercial. There’s something awfully (emphasis on awful) familiar about him. Whenever I hear, “You’re gonna love my nuts,” something about his voice triggers my mind back to the summer of 1981, Lucky Leo’s, and way too many Jell-o shots.
Oh well, back to my un-edited reality: kids’ bath time, making lunches and packing snacks. (Cue theme from “Mission Impossible.”) 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Wide awake at 3 o’clock in the morning, waiting for the impending snow storm of the century, all I can think about are snow tires; more specifically those old snow tires that had chains. It seems that the further the years take me away from my primitive past, the more it re-appears to haunt me at the oddest, most inconvenient hours of the night.
          Most normal people, when they think back to their snowy youth, remember sleigh riding, hot cocoa, warm fires. I, however, think of unplowed streets, lack of traction, and my old man’s furrowed brow as seen from the rearview mirror as he ordered my little foot to “GIVE IT GAS!” while shouldering the Falcon out of an uneven snow drift as the tire spit a violent deluge of snow into his unprotected face. The roar of the revving engine drowning out the gusts of profanity emitted in puffy clouds of steam from his mouth like the winds of Poseidon.
Winter was not my old man’s season of choice. In fact, before he married he followed the sun south every winter to pre-Castro Cuba where he caddied for all the swells who treated him swell. His Havana stories always included lots of money in his pockets, midnight poker games in smoky dim-lit backrooms of bars, a colorful array of zoot suits, hand-rolled cigars, and iced rum served free to the high-rollers by hard-drinking bartenders. His stories entertained my imagination, and whenever Carmen Miranda or Ricky Ricardo came on T.V. he’d hum nostalgically along to their music while his eyes mourned the loss of those long, lazy Cuban dias of winters past.      
But to the northeast he permanently returned, never quite reconciling himself to the cold. I remember once, towards the end of his life when he was very sick but would let no one outside of his family know, there was a raging blizzard and he was late coming home from work. Worried that he might be stuck somewhere because the chained snow tires weren’t yet on his car, my mother sent me out on foot to find him. I walked north on Lemoine Avenue, the heart of the Coytesville section of Fort Lee, my head bent low to shield my face from the slash of whipping sleet. I passed Holy Trinity Church; passed the white-steepled First Reformed Church; passed the “Lunch Box”; passed “Bobanell’s Liquors.” I paused before the rectangular front window of “Randall’s Bar,” the last of the neighborhood saloons. I peered as best as my snow-blurred eyes could into the window, envying the shadows of the few bodies I saw standing around the bar.
As I surged on, something familiar struck me. “Did I see the silhouette of a pinky being raised with a shot glass?” I turned around and followed the grooved footprints of my snowboots back to the bar. I looked past my neon reflection and examined the patrons. A hand waved. It was my father’s hand.
As I crossed the entrance, the rush of intense heat magnetically pulled me towards the belly of the bar. There, regaling the neighborhood boys from Fort Lee Firehouse #2 with his incredible stories, stood my dear old man waving a shot glass of whiskey in the air as if it was a beacon light piloting lost travelers to safe harbors. He handed me the glass of amber liquor and said, “Here’s to your health!” As the whiskey travelled down my throat, tears swelled in my eyes. Not because the whiskey burned, not because I was wet and cold, not because I had expected to find him dead in the raging storm. No; tears choked me because I knew that this was the last perfect moment I would ever spend warm and safe by my father’s side. He died the following Fall, leaving this earth long before the winds of winter set in.  
           My father taught me that chains on your tires keep you gravitated to the earth when you feel like you’ve lost your footing. And it’s my memories of him that gravitate me to this earth when I feel like I’ve lost my footing and life is spinning out of control; a safe, warm harbor in the midst of raging storms.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Our minds make peculiar mental associations when triggered by certain scents. For instance, whenever I smell seasoned chop meat frying in a pan I’m sent back to my grandmother’s kitchen circa 1967; whenever I smell the Hudson River at low-tide I remember all those late ‘60’s/early 70’s summers swimming and crabbing off the deck of Bunty’s Dock near the base of the George Washington Bridge; whenever I’m in a car and I smell burning fuel I hear my father ordering us to run before the Falcon exploded. (My dad was Wile E. Coyote with cars—every trip, near or far, was tinged with the threat of explosion! I truly believe my old man was the inspiration behind the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters;” albeit without the benefit of safety gear or disability insurance.)
Where was I? Oh yeah, smell and memory. Recently, my daughter received a bottle of “Love’s Baby Soft;” when she unscrewed that pink cylindrical cap the scent rushed my brain back to 1976. “Love’s Baby Soft” was the “Evening in Paris” of my generation. Every school’s hallway was drenched in Love’s Baby Soft’s narcotic powdery undertones. I distinctly remember a boy leaning over and saying, “Wow, your perfume smells great,” to which I replied, “That’s not me, that’s Rosemary,” who sat on the other side of the classroom; proving that even if you failed to put your “Love” on, all you had to do was stand next to a girl who did to be infused by its contagious scent.
Which brings me to the eighth grade. I accompanied my mom to her friend’s, whose son I was madly in love with. He was a year ahead of me at Holy Trinity, but was now a freshman at Bergen Catholic. He was an altar-boy; he played basketball; he was a drummer. I had loved him since the fifth grade; he had loved my best friend since the fourth. Anyway, as I sat alone and bored on his couch watching T.V. I decided to go in search of his bedroom. He wasn’t home, but I thought if I could catch a glimpse of his room, I’d somehow know him better.  
I walked down the dimly-lit beige-carpeted hallway of his split-level house. The door to the first room I passed was slightly opened, and I caught a glimpse of his drum set. (Cue heavenly music.) I pushed the door open and crossed into the inner-sanctum of his manly boudoir. I immediately noticed that over his desk hung a cabinet whose door was slightly ajar. I had every intention of closing it, but in a last minute reversal, I opened it instead. Things, lots and lots of things, came nose-diving out in rapid succession; something large and white came hurtling into my open palm and affixed itself to my hand like a glove. It was his jock strap. I freaked.
I tried to shake it off, because there was NO WAY I was touching it, but the more I shook it, the tighter it twisted around my wrist. Of course at that moment I heard the wheels of his ten-speed Schwinn steer into the garage. “Oh. My. God!” I had to get out of his bedroom fast, so I thrust my arm inside my zippered sweatshirt and retreated like Napoleon at Waterloo to the living room where I jumped onto the couch. I tried to act nonchalant as Mike Douglas interviewed Zsa Zsa Gabor while my right hand was indelicately shoved down my sweatshirt.
Walking up the stairs from the basement, he seemed surprised to see me sitting on his couch. Just as he was about to sit down beside me his mom called him into the kitchen. Noticing my hand shoved down my shirt he asked me what was wrong. I panicked! What could I say, “Nothing, I’m just wearing your jock strap like a Speidel I.D. bracelet?” Instead my quivering thin lips released a nervous idiotic giggle that made my orthodontic retainer vibrate. Before retreating to the kitchen, he leaned over me and said, “Mmmm…Love’s Baby Soft?” I think I lost consciousness at that point.
Decades later, the scent of Love’s Baby Soft evokes memories of unrequited love, vibrating retainers, and the twisted jock straps of altar boys.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


If Eve gave up Eden for an apple, what would she have done for Nordstrom’s half-yearly sale? Fur-lined Uggs? A roomy mini-van? A ten-minute nap? These are things I think about when I should be focusing on more important things like did I pay the mortgage this month? Did I take the right kids home from school? Is that tightness in my chest my bra or a heart-attack? But musing on Eve is so much more fun. She’s constantly referenced as the first mother, but has anyone thought about the fact that she was the first housewife? And if she gave up Paradise for an apple, could it really have been Paradise for her?
          Although I’ve always been fond of the biblical Eve, that story is told from a male perspective. Now John Milton’s Eve in Paradise Lost is a woman who speaks to me. True, Milton’s a man; however, he was a blind man whose daughters transcribed the story as he told it to them, and it’s my theory that they put a trace of their own seventeenth-century feminist spin on Eve’s marital situation.
          There’s no doubt that Milton’s Eve is much more compelling and conflicted than the Eve of Genesis. Milton gives her language and through her voice we glimpse the domesticated Eve. Fed-up with hoeing with Adam in Eden, Eve tells Adam that she needs some alone-time and wants to go off on her own to explore Paradise. Adam, befuddled, can’t understand why she needs to go off on her own when she can till the land with him and revel in the beauty of his total naked creation. Besides, he wants to take another “nap” with her. Frustrated, Eve does a brilliant rhetorical dance that completely wears Adam down, and she manages to convince him that he’ll be all right without her for an hour or two. I can almost hear Adam saying, “You’re not taking my rib anywhere without me!” I can also see his sullen look as she runs naked away from him through leaves of grass in search of the Paradise of having a minute to herself.
We all know what happens next--she meets the serpent, eats the apple, and flushes Paradise down the proverbial biblical toilet bowl. But ladies, side with me here; the serpent was essentially offering to feed her something other than the same old manna from heaven; and he wasn’t expecting anything “else” in return, if you know what I mean. Truth be told, if I’m having a really bad day (or if the kid’s have a snow day)  and a serpent slithered up to me and said, “Sit down, relax, take a load off; oh and by the way, here’s an apple for you to eat; however, if you take even one bite you’ll send civilization straight into hell,” there’s a really strong possibility that I’d eat that apple to the core with one hand while waving good-bye to civilization with the other.   
Look, Eve faced it alone—no girlfriends to commiserate with; no mother to criticize Adam or compare him to Eve’s other boyfriends in an effort to completely emasculate him; no Oprah; no wine; no football games to distract Adam. True, she didn’t have a mother-in-law, a fact which may outweigh all the others, but she did have a father-in-law who gave her the monthly curse! Imagine, too, that all day long she had to sit and listen while Adam reminded her that were it not for his rib, she would not be. It wasn’t like she went to Arby’s and said, “I’ll have the Adam’s rib special; oh, and give me a side of Eden to go.” Has anyone ever stopped to think that perhaps she preferred salad instead?
If I could have dinner party and invite anyone from history, Eve would definitely be among the chosen guests. I’d love to hear the scoop on Paradise from her over a bottle or two of Pinot Noir.
“Ann, Adam wears that same faded fig leaf every day! Oh, and don’t get me started on those kids; it’s like they’re trying to kill each other!”