Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Reruns: Grand Central Christmas

A NOTE BEFORE READING: This is actually a rerun of a rerun, but if you've seen "the Grinch" or White Christmas more than a few times, you'll appreciate that sense of precedence that comes with holiday fare. This also will be my last post for 2011. ...When windstorms lead to power outages lead to fried motherboards and the unexpected purchase of a new computer, a girl can get a little stressed, so... I'm giving myself a break. I will, though, try to resume my enthusiastic blog-hopping in the days and weeks ahead. And, I'll be back with a fresh rerun and a new post early in the new year! Best wishes to all, and to all a good week.

(original post-date: December 23, 2009)

My verbal skills include the ability to take an acerbic path. That's not necessarily a gift. It just is. And it is, among other things, potentially misleading. Contradicting that caustic edge is another part of me -- the part that is moved to tears by a profound sense of what I can only describe as universality.

That connection.

That feeling.

That “brotherhood of man” thing.

Although I claim no religious affiliations, Christmas carols have always pushed that special button for me. I don’t care if it’s about some little town named Bethlehem, a drummer boy catching Mary’s eye, or whatever it was that came upon a midnight clear… if you put me in a room where a bunch of people are singing those songs, I guarantee you, I’ll start crying.

(I might even embarrass you.)

Back in my New York years, I worked for a time at the Ford Foundation, and so my commute to and from the office involved walking through Grand Central Station. One December evening, I was in the main concourse area when I heard some familiar songs, and so I was drawn to a circle of people. Among them was a man in his late twenties (I’m guessing), dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt. His guitar was strapped on, and his enthusiasm in leading the group of carolers was charmingly genuine. As for the group, it appeared to have a core: young people. Specifically, teens.

I’ll never know the actual story behind the gathering, but I made one up on the spot, and I’m sticking to it. Here’s what I think was happening at Grand Central that evening: teacher man, who had grown up in the 60’s and 70’s, had an altruistic heart (quite different from his peers, who were – at the time – all wearing yellow ties and working on Wall Street). He successfully recruited about a dozen of the ninth graders from his Connecticut classroom, and together, they rode the train into Manhattan earlier that afternoon. Then, just in time for the rush-hour madness, they formed their circle. For anyone who joined the circle, they had prepared – and happily distributed – sheets of lyrics.

They were armed and ready – to promote joy to the world in Grand Central Station.

When I first approached the circle, it was simply out of curiosity. Once I realized I could do some caroling on my way home from work, I was more than happy to join in. I accepted a copy of the stapled collection of lyrics (though I didn’t need them for the most part), and I participated with enthusiasm.

But as we were into the second verse of Angels We Have Heard On High, I realized I had to make an adjustment. I had to hold the stapled lyrics a little higher. I had to hide my face. I was hard-pressed, at that point, to hold back the tears, and while I’m not ashamed to cry at anything, I didn’t want to disturb someone else’s good time…

I should note, though, that part of what compelled that maneuver was the observations I already had made. Before allowing that lyric sheet to hide my emotion, I had looked around. I had taken in the faces and bodies who had joined this circle of impromptu carolers. There were homeless women (at the time, we called them “bag ladies”); there were businessmen and women executives; there were local service workers and tourists just passing through. There was teacher man and his students.

There was, from what I could tell, everyone.

Everyone – singing together in a circle.

Everyone – creating a sound of joy.

The beauty of the noise emanating from Grand Central’s main concourse was so powerful. The familiarity there was so universal.

In that moment, all else seemed secondary or obsolete.

I hid behind the lyric sheet.

I sang and I cried.

And when I’d had my fill, I left the circle and caught the shuttle to Times Square.

From there, I transferred to the Broadway Local and headed home.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


During my childhood, a common classroom or camp “party game” tested our skills in unscrambling words, often from a thematic list. And although I won these games more times than I didn't, my victory during the 6th grade solicited a tease from my teacher.

It was this time of year, and so we were challenged with word combinations such as:

elds (as in sled)

eawhrt (as in wreath)

rreeedin (as in reindeer)

and, … well, you get the rpeicut (picture).

Presenting me with my prize, my teacher exclaimed, “Rats?!”

I smiled sheepishly, not yet understanding her reference.

“Rats?!” she said again, her grin toothy.

I don’t remember what the original scramble had looked like, but what the teacher was really looking for was “star.”

Hell, even “arts” would have been more seasonally appropriate.

I don’t know, though, can’t rats be part of Christmas?

In the ensuing years, I’ve made a mental note whenever I’ve considered a word that – when scrambled – creates another word of related significance.

My list is admittedly short, and I present it to you now in hopes that you’ll add a few more:





Your turn…

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Reruns: "Get Glasses, Alice!"

(original post-date: December 15, 2010)

Back in the ‘80’s, when I lived in New York, there was a television commercial that came on quite frequently. The protagonist – a yuppy’ish, urban woman – kept running into things. And so her friends kept imploring, “Get glasses, Alice!”

Needless to say, the ad was for a glasses-making outfit.

It might have been LensCrafters. In fact, I think it was. (And who knew, by the way, that they’d make such bank – 25 or so years later – when a certain perky pitbull from Alaska took center stage at a certain convention, but… that’s another story.)

Lately, I’ve been remembering the ad. I’ve been hearing someone whisper into my ear: “Get glasses, Alice!”

I am desperately in need of a visit to the eye doctor. (So desperate in fact that my audio-hallucinations allow someone to call me “Alice.”)

But it’s not that I don’t already have glasses…

I have three pairs.

From front to back, they are: the reading and beading glasses, for those activities that take place about 9-12 inches from my eyes; the computer glasses (which I am wearing now) – recommended for a 17-inch or so distance; and the movie and driving glasses, which I’ve lately worn on occasion when watching TV in my living room.

So, yes, I have glasses, but it may be time to make the leap.

I love it that what were once “trifocals” are now called “progressives.” That is, dare I say, progressive.

And while I am also of that ilk (progressive, I mean), I dread the next step.

The last time I was at the eye doctor (which was more than a year ago), I asked if it were time to “go there.”

He didn’t think so. “As long as you go through part of your day without glasses, then it isn’t time.” Because, as he explained, once you wear progressives, you’re committed to wearing glasses. All the time.

So that’s my dilemma. When I’m not reading or beading; when I’m not at the computer; when I’m not driving or watching a movie… I am generally not wearing glasses. And so: I don’t think of myself as a person who wears glasses.

But then… there are times when I look very closely at a shelf in my bathroom.


Maybe I need bathroom glasses, I think.

Or, there are those occasions when I’m meeting with a new client for the first time, and because my purse isn’t all that big, I’ve not brought along the various glasses. The driving pair is in the car, but otherwise, I am free of corrective lenses… I ask my new client for a business card, and she hands it to me. I then look at it, and I hope that those blurry lines I am looking at include an email address and a telephone number.

Of course, if the meeting’s going particularly well (and they usually do), I can just make a joke as I stretch out my arm so as to view the card.

But… even that move is getting dicey. So I wonder… should I shop for a purse large enough to carry all my glasses or should I see if any stores sell arm extenders – in which case, I suppose, I’d still need a larger purse.

I guess the best next step is to schedule an appointment with my eye doctor…

Actually, I’d like to see him again.

We always enjoy talking about current events and so forth.

We respect each other’s views.

Which is to say, we share a vision.

Which is to say… he’s delightfully progressive.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Accolades ad Nauseum

Several years ago, my most tenured Los Angeles friend was questioned by her daughter, who was probably in the third grade at the time.

“Mom?” her daughter began, “Why don’t you put that sticker on your bumper? The one about my getting A’s in school?”

My friend was quick to respond.

“The car’s a lease,” she said. “I can’t.”

But even if my friend’s car had not been a lease, I know she would have resisted advertising her daughter’s academic achievement. And I don’t blame her. There are way too many accolades and rites of passage for kids these days, and bumper stickers are just the tip of the iceberg.

… I don’t have kids, but I also don’t live under a rock, and so I am aware of how things have developed over the years.

These days, kids seem to graduate from everything. Everything.

And those who participate in sports get trophies and certificates simply because they participated.

While it’s true that winning isn’t everything (after all, as the saying goes, it’s “how you play the game”), I don’t think losers should get trophies. Rather, they should be proud of their efforts, and they should be inspired to do better. They should be inspired so that, next time, maybe they will get a trophy.

… A year before my very first graduation (the one from prep school), I won the Intermediate Division of a horse show. My tangibles? A beautiful small sterling platter and a long, three-tiered ribbon. I was so proud of that win, and I loved holding that shiny platter and streaming ribbon as I rode out of the ring.

I wonder what that same event would look like today? Would everyone get a platter and long ribbon? Would I have no way to distinguish my achievement from that of the others who – on that particular day – simply had not performed as well as I had?

I don’t think I would enjoy that very much.

In fact, I believe it would probably squelch any desire I had to excel.

What’s the point of competition if no one really gets to feel as if they’ve won?

What’s the point of competition if it doesn’t inspire one to do better next time?

… I don’t know about what we’re teaching our kids. I don’t know if it’s a good idea for their little microcosm of society to provide them with tangible rewards for adequate performance. I don’t think a trophy is an appropriate accolade for simply showing up.

Given the current employment situation, the handwriting is on the wall. The adult world is becoming increasingly cut-throat, and it is unlikely that it will become less competitive in the years and decades ahead. Will your son expect that showing up is all he needs to do? Will your daughter expect a bonus simply because her colleague got one?

My Child is an Honor Roll Student at Wilson Middle School, the bumper sticker says.

Cool. And if your child earned that status, even better.

But I don’t think you should invest too much in bragging.

I’m guessing, too, that 20 years from now, you’ll not want to drive around with a bumper sticker that says, My Adult Child is Living in My Basement with All His Trophies.

If that happens, though? If your grown-up kid shows up with such a decal and suggests you put it on the car? Just do what my friend did. Tell him that the car’s a lease.

(And don’t worry if it’s a lie. There’s probably a certificate for that, too!)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monday Reruns: Charisma 101

(original post-date: December 8, 2010)

I attended prep school for three years, starting as a sophomore. And within just a week or two of that boarding school experience, I was aware of a student in my class whose energy was engaging.

Julie, who hailed from Alabama, was loud and fun and inviting.

You wanted to be her friend.

I got to know her during that year, and although I don’t remember specific times together when we were sophomores, I know we had a lot of laughs. I remember, too, that I always felt special in her company.

During the summer before our junior year, Julie sent me a letter. (This was back in the days of the pony express.) Having ended the previous year without a roommate lined up, she realized she was in the random sampling. She didn’t want to be placed with just anyone, so she wondered if we could room together.

When I received that letter, I was beyond flattered.

To have this remarkable person want to share a room with me?

Of course!

So, Julie and I were roommates junior year. And we had a lot of good times. But there also were challenges. We were at such different stages of growth.

Senior year, Julie and I no longer roomed together, but we continued to bond. In fact, it was that year that we discovered a common repertoire … One day, we both happened to be sitting in “the Smoker” (i.e., the senior hall lounge with ashtrays), and we were watching the film version of Gyspy on television. Until that moment, neither of us knew that the other had grown up with the lyrics.

But once we learned of that common knowledge, I scored the vinyl from my parent’s collection (Funny Girl, too), and Julie and I sung along at the top of our lungs, absolutely annoying anyone within earshot.

Everything’s coming up roses…

Don’t rain on my parade…

Boy, did we belt!

I can’t recall how well we kept in touch after graduation. I do remember getting an invitation to her wedding breakfast. And a few years after that, there was the 10th year reunion in Virginia.

I enjoyed seeing Julie at the reunion, but I also appreciated that we were living in different worlds and that our paths may never again cross. She had married a doctor and settled in Mississippi, where she would ultimately fill her days raising a daughter and doing remarkable work on behalf of charities in her community.

I was still (at the time of our 10th reunion) living wildly in New York. Settling did not then seem an option for me. (In some ways, it still doesn’t.)

…Three weeks ago, I sent out one of my occasional email blasts. When I do this, it is to alert people to recent blog postings, and I send it to fairly much everyone in my email address book. Julie has always been included in that list, as has been Kate (my veni vidi vici buddy from our prep school Latin class).

Just a few hours after that recent blast, I got an email from Kate. She shared with me that my missive had made her nostalgic, and so she decided she’d like to touch base with Julie. (She, too, had neither seen nor spoken to Julie in ages.) Since Kate was at work and didn’t have her address book handy, she decided to do a quick Google search to see if she could get Julie’s phone number online.

But what she got was an obituary.

Julie died in October.

… Since learning the news of the brain tumor that was diagnosed 14 months before Julie’s death, many of us who went to school together have reached out to each other.

By phone. By email. By Facebook. Whatever works.

And through the internet, we have gained access to written memorials from people who knew her years after we did.

It has been heartening to absorb their testimonials, and to recognize – in this woman they describe – the girl we all knew.

… In the 25 years that have passed since I last saw or spoke to Julie, I’ve been blessed to know – and to become close to – a small handful of people who possess what I call charisma. And when I think of someone with charisma, I think of this: you just feel so damned special to be in their company.

There’s something about them…

Something they quietly pass along to you...

A gift of joy, laughter, wisdom.

A generosity of spirit.

A magnetic inclusiveness.

That was Julie.

My introduction to charisma.

I will always be touched by her life.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Doctors, Pharmaceuticals, and Why I'm Leery

A few weeks ago, I heard a television promo that was meant to be alarming. It was regarding the next “Dr.Oz” episode, and it featured a voice-over that could have brought a person out of a coma: THE INSOMNIA CRISIS, it began. And then: WHY DO WE HAVE IT?

(Loud promos, maybe? Just sayin’.)

Seriously, though, I could answer that “insomnia question,” and perhaps I will in another post. But right now, I want to talk about doctors.

I do not think that they are God.

Not even when they come with the name of OZ.

In fact, I think when a doctor’s name is “OZ,” it’s a little creepy.

In fact, I should tell you (and Oprah) that I avoid doctors whenever possible.

I also turn off the radio when there’s a story about some current epidemic and its manifestations.

I figure, if I don’t know the manifestations, then I won’t exhibit any.

I figure, I’m best off not harboring fear.

And in my opinion, doctors – and pharmaceuticals – primarily exist to fill us with fear.

…Okay, okay, I admit it. I have an issue with doctors (and pharmaceuticals).

Let me tell you why.

When I was a junior in prep school, my mother still took me to the man who had been my pediatrician. Nothing wrong with that scenario. It made sense to all of us.

Problem was, though, said pediatrician was weight-obsessed. He had charts on his walls, and he seemed to worship them.

At the time, I was probably about 15 pounds over what his chart recommended for someone my age and height. And, in his eyes, this made me “fat.”

Never mind the fact that I was built strong and could maneuver a 1200-pound horse over a course of 3-foot jumps. No… I was “fat.”

So, said doctor prescribed a pill – new on the market. It seemed a miracle drug.

Mom agreed to the prescription, and so off we went.

Off we went, into a semester when I would quickly drop a great deal of weight but not remember what I learned in class. Off we went, into a semester when this drug – this drug that was constructed to “tell my brain” that it wasn’t hungry – would prevent me from eating. Off we went, and several months later (after I’d stopped taking the drug), I developed unusually swollen ankles that caught the attention of a nurse on staff at my prep school.

And so off I went, to the prep school’s doctor…

The prep school’s doctor ran a few tests, and then, he called my mom.

When he made that call, he had probably assumed that she knew I’d been sent to him that day. (She didn’t.)

“We’ve ruled out heart failure!” he told her, over the phone.

“Great,” she said, completely at a loss. “On whom?”

The prep school doc filled her in, and once he had clarified to Mom that he’d run some tests on me, he also let her know that he wanted to put me in the hospital for a day or two. For more tests.

And so, to the hospital I went.

I was a senior at that point. I’d just turned 17.

I don’t remember the tests or the details.

I do, though, remember the bottom line.

Prep school doc found the test results inconclusive, and so – because he had to draw a conclusion, I suppose, he decided that I was “carrying around too much weight.”

And so he prescribed more diet pills…


Okay, my first point: doctors who are working with minors should NEVER be allowed to prescribe diet pills. Ever. Diet is behavior, which is therefore wed to psychology, and while psychotropic drugs have their place, individuals should always and first be encouraged and empowered to change their behavior without drugs. Moreover, a drug that instructs the brain to tell the body it isn't hungry is inherently disrespectful of that brain.

I think that’s what pisses me off most about the whole pharmaceutical franchise. It is the lack of respect. It is the drug companies saying, “You don’t have the capacity to change who you are, but WE do. We can change you! We can help you!”

Powerlessness is not a prescription I want to fill, thank you very much.

Okay, my second point: that drug that my pediatrician put me on when I was 16? That drug – that drug that was oh-so-new to the market – was Pondimin, which turned out to be the fatal half of Phen-Fen.

The fatal half.

I’m lucky to be alive.

I still have a photograph taken of me from the summer I stopped taking Pondimin. Never have I looked so swollen, from head to toe.

And I was only 16 at the time.

I’ll reiterate what I said before: doctors should not be permitted to give “diet drugs” to minors. Ever.

I know, I know, the obesity epidemic is intense these days among children and adolescents.

But still: it’s not about drugs. It’s about behavior and paying attention.

That is our charge.

Change our behavior and pay attention.

I’m not saying that all pharmaceuticals are bad and no one should take them. But: if it is in our power to make the changes that otherwise inspire a drug prescription, then we should.

And if we don’t?

Then incompetent doctors and profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies will continue to have all the power.

Haven't they had enough already?