The Grandma Refrain

5:30 AM Sunday March 30th, and I am wide awake. It’s not because I’m coming home from one of those nights to remember (and will likely forget). No, I’m waiting for a call informing me of a reality that I have not yet grown to accept.

7:00 AM Sunday March 30th, and my stepmother calls to tell me my grandmother has passed away. It’s not an entirely surprising occurrence. She has spent the last two months in and out of hospitals and nursing homes, her body a human laboratory for modern medicine.

Despite the inevitability of her demise, I cry. In the course of two and a half months, I have lost both of my grandmothers. And while the nature of my relationship with each of them was quite different, there is one critical commonality between them: their commitment to loving me, in spite or perhaps because of my flaws.

Each had a unique vision for my future. My mother’s mother saw me as the future of the Jewish people, and as such was committed to my matrimonial quest. My father’s mother believed in my ability to leave the world slightly better than the one I had entered. She subsequently supported me in my academic and social activist pursuits.

They collectively invested in my potential. And suddenly, in their absence, my emotions gave way to a flood of tears. I cried for the loss of my biggest fans, the ones who would attend my third grade Flag Day play, and cheer as their granddaughter stood on stage for an hour as the American flag, a wholly inanimate object.

I cried for the loss of my best friends, who every Friday afternoon would set aside time to talk to me before Shabbat and remind me that no matter how daunting the future appeared, they had faith in my ability to look fear in the eyes and laugh.

And I cried for the loss of two courageous women, who watched as the opportunities provided to them expanded exponentially for their daughters and granddaughters. Despite their sometimes confusion, they cheered from the sidelines as the women they raised began to shatter the glass ceilings they never knew could be broken.

Therefore, on the eve of my second funeral this year, I’m taking a new approach and embracing the Sam Smith response to loss:

You told me not to cry when you were gone
But the feeling’s overwhelming, they’re much too strong
Can I lay by your side, next to you, you
And make sure you’re alright
I’ll take care of you, 
And I don’t want to be here if I can’t be with you tonight

That’s How You Know

My interns often ask me who my favorite journalist is, and my answer is always Ann Friedman. Aside from being a rockstar writer, she also exhibits a certain kind of quick wit that no amount of UCB training can teach you. Each week she shares her wit by way of her infamous pie charts on The Hairpin.

So when I learned that she was participating in Women, Action, & The Media’s yearly auction, I knew I had to bid on her reward: a personalized pie chart. After bidding away my Chanukah savings, I won! And when Ann (yes, we’re now on a first name basis) asked me if I had anything in mind for my pie chart, I sent her a link to an old blog post about my failed foray into Jewish online dating.

Fast forward one month, and Ann conceived of the following work of genius: How Do You Know You’re A Single, Ex-Orthodox Jewish Woman?

Pie chart

 

Wearing trousers on New Year’s Eve

American passenger: So how was your New Year’s? Did you kiss a special dude?

Me: No.

AP: Did you kiss a special dudette?

Me: No.

AP: So what did you do?

Me: I wore trousers for the first time.

There is a moment in every Orthodox Jewish girl’s life when she looks to the High Heavens, fully expecting lightning to strike. For me, there have been two such moments. The first was June 21, 2001– the day after my Bat Mitzvah; the day I assumed full responsibility for all my sins; and the day I dared to sport a short-sleeved shirt in public. It was 90 degrees and humid, a typically painfully New York summer day, and if public nudity had been legal and I had been more comfortable with my body, I would have debated sporting my birthday suit.

Still, despite my commitment to overcoming heat stroke, I was also paralyzed with fear. Men would see my elbows, and what could be more seductive than my funny bones on display? There would be retribution; there would be lightning. And so after a few short moments in the public eye, I receded to my bedroom and opted for more modest attire.

Fast forward 12.5 years, and I make the bold decision to buy crazy, sexy, cool heathen pants. I am not entirely convinced I will wear them, but I use my discount code and go for the spiritual plunge: wearing them on New Year’s Eve in London.

Only once I am in London and surrounded by Jewish peers, I begin to rethink this somewhat bold move. Note: the last time I attempted to purchase pants, I broke down in tears in the GAP fitting room and ran a mile down Broadway shrieking, “Never again.” I wasn’t ready then, and I was beginning to reconsider if I was truly ready now.

But the joy of traveling with a quasi-small suitcase is that you don’t have lots of alternatives. Once you are 3000 miles from home, you must make do with what you have. And so reluctantly and fearful of an impending rain storm, I sported my newly purchased symbol of heresy and boarded a public bus to a fairly large party– where many people who knew my older skirt-wearing self would be amazed (and perhaps concerned) with my transformation.

Then the unthinkable happened. Nobody said a word. And not because they were silently judging my single lady ways, but because nobody actually cared. I was just another rowdy New Yorker in all black attire brooding silently over my beer.

In fact, the only comment anyone even made in reference to my clothing was, “You have a smart blazer.” And my beloved Zavi responded, “Well, obviously, she’s Yaffa.” Though her comment seemed benign, it meant the world to me. I was not defined solely by my exterior. There was a full package, and even complete strangers at the party could sort of see that.

So when I boarded my flight back to New York hours later, and the nosy American grandma quizzed me on the night before, I told her quite simply that I had worn trousers… and lightning did not strike.

Christmastime for the Jews

After seeing a wonderfully heartwarming performance of The Nutcracker, my roommate and I ventured northward– in search of the diner where I once poured the contents of my drink on a no good, very bad date.

When we arrived, the high of the theatrical experience soon gave way to the grave realities we call our futures. My roommate, balancing a full-time job, night school, and mandatory volunteering, was unnerved by her rather strenuous daily routine. And I, questioning my leadership skills and failed forays into romance, had little positivity to profess. We were two disgruntled peas in a pod.

While chowing down on deliciously greasy omelettes, we lamented our twenty-something failures, neither making the false promise that every well-paid psychotherapist makes– that it somehow, someday gets better. And while there were so many people facing significantly greater obstacles, the “misery loves company” adage seemed meaningless.

“So how do we get past this funk?” I asked between my sips of heavily-diluted Diet Coke.

“We recognize our coping strategies for what they are– means of denial. And work past them.”

“And what are those strategies?”

“I hide, and you clean.”

When the weight of the world is on my shoulders, I take a bottle of scrubbing bubbles and make the bathtub sparkle. I grab hold of a Swiffer wet jet and get my wooden floors to glow. I, as my roommate so wisely observed, clean until I run out of cleaning supplies and/or things to clean– whichever comes first. (I should mention that I scrub my apartment from floor to ceiling at least once a week.)

Since we were being brutally honest, I trusted my roommate entirely. The supply closet was my sanctuary, and clorox wipes had become my gods. I needed to check myself and maybe cut back on my late night Swiffer activities.

And so when we returned to Casa Carroll Gardens, I didn’t take my shoes off at the door. I walked those dirty city boots to my bedroom. And I didn’t grab a mop to clean the remnants of the urban landscape from my recently refurbished floors. Instead, I jumped into bed and determined to employ my second favorite coping mechanism– SNL claymation shorts. Baby steps, amigos.

Dual Identities: Annie and Jay-Z

No, I’m not an orphaned red head living in the Great Depression. And no, I’m not an impoverished minority born in an urban ghetto. But this week I found myself simultaneously identifying with Annie and Jay-Z, humming “Hard Knock Life” each morning on the F train.

The problems began one fateful Wednesday when I was working late, editing a potential litigious piece in our winter issue. Determining that the second week of November was sufficiently late enough into the holiday season to listen to some Christmas tunes, I turned on Celine Dion’s “Happy X-mas” and got my professional groove on.

After 24 Christmas songs, I had completed my final edits on a 6000 word piece. I was elated, relieved, and ready to revel in the holiday spirit. And then, of course, G-d laughed. As I entered my apartment, I was greeted by a wave of cool air. The heat was not on, and the boiler most definitely had gone to that special place all boilers go when they die (heaven? hell? Staten Island?).

I did what any responsible tenant would do. I called the super– only to discover he had been fired for smoking weed in my basement. The new super, seemingly drug-free, promised to check on the problem and address it in a timely manner. Two days later, he had discovered that the problem was more serious than initially observed. We needed an entirely new boiler, and our management company was not going to provide space heaters or hotel accommodations while it dealt with the burden of ordering a new contraption for the basement.

A weekend without heat, and I was starting to reconsider the whole notion of living in the developed world. Angola- a war torn African country I’d recently become well acquainted with- was looking mighty appealing, and I’d always wanted to learn Portuguese. But, of course, G-d laughed again, and we had a gas leak, which was soon followed by no hot water.

And while the lack of heat and hot water might be enough to make anyone transform into a Scrooge, it was not what sent me into a “Hard Knock Life” tizzy.

Without the basic necessities of bougie Brooklyn life, I ventured onto the island of Manhattan and stayed with my wonderfully generous friend in her glorious one bedroom apartment overlooking Madison Square Park. For one week, I was a Manhattanite again.

As much as I have worked to make Brooklyn my own, to embrace the idea that I can make another borough my home, I really miss Manhattan. I miss feeling like I am at the center of something significant. And while I spend five days a week breathing the midtown madness, I have so little time to embrace the only place I’ve ever really called home.

So when the week came to its end, and I returned to my still heatless Brooklyn apartment, I curled up with Woody Allen’s Manhattan and feel asleep dreaming of my return:

Susan Miller nails it… again.

“You actually read your daily horoscope?” says every friend who has ever listened to me prattle on about the significance of being a water sign.

Given my rather pragmatic approach to life, my devotion to Susan Miller and all her astrological offerings seems slightly paradoxical. Nonetheless, I maintain the woman is on point every month. When she says there will be rainbows and butterflies, I get a job offer. And when she states all hell will break loose, my favorite coffee barista quits his job to pursue a career in the arts (whatever that means…).

Which is why when she predicted that October would be worst month of the 2013 calendar year, I panicked. All the stars were about to misalign, and below is the evidence I have gathered that Miller may, in fact, have a direct line to the Guy Upstairs:

1) One of my interns compared my personality to that of Hannah Horvath’s on GIRLS. Hannah, played by Lena Dunham, is an obsessive-compulsive, rash decision maker with an unnerving q-tip hangup. And while this comparison already gave me reason to pause, my intern proceeded to compare my behavior to that of Hannah’s when she does cocaine for the first time. Sober me is somehow reminiscent of high Hannah.

2) While at a boozy birthday brunch, where I refrain from drinking nearly any alcohol, an intoxicated party-goer accidentally pours the entire contents of her mimosa over my dress, bag, and most notably, shoe. For the first and hopefully last time in my life, I scream, “There is mimosa in my shoe!” And everyone laughs, which I would’ve done as well if my entire foot didn’t reek of Tropicana and cheap champagne.

3) The subway I have grown to rely on since I moved to Brooklyn and away from any other accessible public transportation does not run on the weekends so I am forced to surrender the contents of my first paycheck in nearly three weeks to the indiscriminate taxi gods. Instead of $2.50, I am spending $22.50 to experience the thrill of Bowery Coffee.

4) I am suddenly single again and forced to re-enter the maddening dating jungle that is New York City. And instead of convincing myself that I am at the start of my romantic career (er, wrong word choice?), I sink back into my 22-year old mindset, in which I reside on a desert island with only a coconut tree to sustain me.

5) The 4 month old that I am babysitting decides to throw up the entire contents of her milky dinner on my brand spanking new leather jacket. And I can’t even get mad because the kid can’t even talk or walk yet. So instead I spend more than the cost of the jacket to get it cleaned at the dry cleaners. In other words, I’ve become the poster child for “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

With that, I leave you to create a countdown- to-November calendar. Miller predicts November to be replete with roses and pumpkin pie, and I. Can’t. Freaking. Wait.

On Maybe Someday Quitting New York

I’ll admit it– I’m a commitmentphobe. Except for my daily iced skimmed lattes, I cannot commit to anyone or anything for an extended period of time. I change jobs every 12-18 months; apartments every 18-24 months; and tv show loyalty every 2-3 seasons.

Perhaps this phobia is the reason I returned to New York after college. New York is a city replete with individuals unwilling to settle or accept the status quo. It is where people with insatiable desires pursue limitless possibilities. It is, quite simply, a city that never sits still.

And until recently, it was this very quality that made me feel at home. However, like any New Yorker who has even been trapped between a homeless man and a Jesus freak on a packed subway car, I get sick of it sometimes. Instead of embracing that feeling, and accepting that New York– like every other city– can be imperfect, I feel incredibly guilty for judging it.

This week, though, I read Ann Friedman’s wonderful piece- “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York at 24.” And in her typically succinct prose, she reminded me that I was not alone in my less than enthusiastic sentiment. I didn’t have to defend the city where I spotted my first cockroach or had my first bed bug scare. I could criticize its imperfections. And better yet, I could leave. I could move to any other city, state, or country– and still pursue a meaningful career in media and policy.

While most of my friends consider me the quintessential New York Jew, I realized as I read Friedman’s piece that I could retain that persona outside of New York. As the saying [sort of] goes, you can take the New Yorker out of the City, but you can’t take the City out of the New Yorker.

Now, I’m not booking my one way ticket to Nairobi anytime soon. But, for a brief moment this week, Friedman allowed me to consider the possibility that I could perhaps be true to who I am and not be so entirely committed to just one city.