Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Yom Kippur came and went, with its dizzying fast and its 10 hours of synagogue services (you read that correctly), and afterwards the communal break-fast at which we discovered not three, not five, but a total of eight different kugels, a wealth of kugels (nothing like a heavy starchy noodle pudding to bring you solidly back from the sacred to the everyday).

Each year, the Day of Atonement is a strange mixture of sad and joyful, heavy and light, boredom and uplift. Your body drags in the late afternoon, your stomach grumbles, and by the ninth hour if you are human, then you are cranky--but the songs, the prayers, the sharp notes of the shofar can sometimes have the power to force you through your physical discomfort to a good place, dare I say a godly place--

During my best moments in synagogue, my soul was light--like this runaway kite, escaped from the hands that held its string, flying higher and higher toward an approaching storm--

and then it was all over for another year, and there was the kugel waiting stolidly, patiently for us to land.

and p.s. don't forget to visit my contest, below!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


The U.N. is in session, the East Side of Manhattan is packed and rerouted and swarming with official cars, angry cabs, rushing pedestrians, and the usual delivery trucks blocking what few lanes remain open. So I choose to drive my little grey Toyota right into the thick of it, in the middle of rush hour, to take Hedgehog to a dentist appointment that could better have been reached by subway.

Me? I guess I'm just a thrill-seeker, more now even than I was at 20. At 39 years old, I have two outlets left for this feeling that pulls me outward: driving, and writing. The writing is good, I can be anywhere and anyone I want to be on the page. But facing Manhattan down is a whole other happiness and freedom. The streets and highways of midtown are my special place. All around me is chaos, but at the wheel I'm in total control. I mean total. I'm weaving to avoid the traffic cops and cones, fearlessly merging, honking at the guy who thrusts his baby carriage in front of me, the cab that cuts me off. I'm safe, of course, but bold in a way I would never have to be, just walking down the street pushing my shopping cart full of dinner groceries. For just a few minutes there, today, I owned Second Avenue between 57th and 34th.

What a feeling.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Happy New Year to All!

L'Shanah Tovah!

To all my friends--may your year be sweet and full of joy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Amigurumi Interlude

I'm off to work again on projects, and will return anon!

In the meantime I leave my little amigurumi cat friend to watch over the blog.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

September 16

I haven't been able to bring myself to post over Sarge's 9-11 post. I'm feeling extra sad around this year's anniversary, for lots of reasons. I learned some things about Sarge's experience that I hadn't known before. Reading his story was a little window into a place I'd never been. It only served to remind me that I can't always protect the people I love most in the world. I can't protect Hedgehog, and I can't protect my husband either. It's a scary, sad revelation, one I've had often before but never as strongly as I did when I read that 9-11 story.

Sarge can take care of himself, of course. He's done it in that and even worse situations.

Still, when you love people that much, you wish you could be there with them, holding their hand as they go through the bad parts. I know that on September 11, my place was at home with my baby, taking care of her while Sarge went out to do his job as he had to; and later, my job was to make a cozy, safe place for him to come home to when the work was over. But it never seemed like I did enough. I guess I'm feeling guilty too--a pointless but inescapable emotion that I haven't been able to rationalize away, not in all these years.

Meanwhile, Hedgehog started third grade. It feels like a milestone, and I had planned on interviewing her again as I did last year, but my heart just wasn't in it and finally she fumed "Mama, these questions are half-baked!" and huffed off. I'll try again...

Friday, September 11, 2009

That Day

It seems to me that some things don't get easier with the passage of time; 9/11 is one such event. I asked Sarge to tell something about his experience of September 11, 2001, and this is what he remembered.

It doesn't matter why I was there, or what I was doing. You'll have to take my word that I had work to do and the work was there. I could be a doctor, nurse, pipe fitter, steel worker, clergyman, heavy equipment operator, firefighter, cop, EMT/paramedic, truck driver, engineer, public utility worker, federal agent, soldier, transit worker. Maybe I work for FEMA, or NYC OEM, the NTSB, the FAA, the Salvation Army, or the EPA. Maybe I am a DMORT team member (and if you've never heard that acronym and have no idea what it stands for, be very glad). It doesn't matter what I do. I did not run in as others ran out, nor vice versa. I walked in many hours later. My team and I were held back until just before sunset.

Here are a few things I remember about that night.

When we entered the plume, it was weird. I recognized the smell. To me, from a distance of about a mile and a half out, it smelled exactly like the chemical smoke we used to use in the Army, not the colored smoke, the white concealment smoke.

At Park Row and Chambers St. a guy was handing out fiber filter masks to everyone who passed. I have no idea who he was. That kind of mask wasn't going to be very effective in that situation, but I guess they were better than nothing.

Walking east along Chambers approaching Broadway, there were shoes everywhere. I mean dozens of pairs. Why? Where did they come from? Who did they belong to? Did groups of firefighters responding from their homes gear up at that location, leaving their shoes when they put on their bunker pants? Sometimes I wonder what happened to the shoes.

Chambers and Broadway was sort of the northwest corner of the NYPD's inner perimeter that first night. When I got there, a group of very tired looking police officers from Brooklyn relieved a group of totally exhausted looking ash-covered police officers from Manhattan. The sergeant from the Brooklyn precinct, who looked like a smaller version of Captain MacAfee from Mad Max, talked to the Manhattan sergeant, but other than that there was no interaction between the groups which seemed strange. I think the Brooklyn cops were just respecting the utter weariness of the Manhattan cops.

That intersection was a very busy place. ORP is a military term It stands for Objective Rally Point, and it's basically the last place you stop (to get your shit together, do a leader's recon, make any changes to your plan, whatever) en route to an objective. Quite a few people from different agencies were using the area around that intersection as a sort of ORP.

A National Guard platoon formed up there and then deployed to different locations.

There were also three or four members of the Rutgers University Police at that spot.

Some FBI Special Agents tried to get in and were almost turned back when the one doing the talking showed a cop his badge. If you've never seen an FBI badge, they're tiny. They look like miniature badges, incongruous, sort of, well, fake. ID cards were soon displayed and all was well, though the FBI folk may have been a wee bit hurt at having their badges referred to as "mini-shields."

There was another reason there was so much activity at that location. Church Street was pretty much impassible to vehicles. Greenwich and West Broadway ended at Barclay, but they were screwed up as routes in and out when 7 WTC collapsed. So Broadway and West Street were the best roads in and out. Vehicles heading to the site mostly came in on Broadway and exited somewhere else. There was a surprising volume of traffic. Transit Authority trucks bearing names like "Iron North" and "Third Rail" came through. NYC Housing Authority trucks with the names of the housing development they were assigned to passed through. I think I remember seeing "Walt Whitman" "Langston Hughes" "Samuel J. Tilden" "Louis Pink."

Fire trucks from other areas, mostly Long Island, came through. I saw a massive caterpillar-tracked crane pass, a cop sitting on top directing the driver, it reminded me of pictures I'd seen of "erks" (I think that was the term) sitting on the wings of RAF planes in the Western Desert, directing the pilots as they taxied. I thought that crane might tear itself to bits before it got to the pile, those things are really not meant to be driven the distance it had been driven, but the crane operator seemed determined to get his machine where it was needed, where it could do some good.

Medical personnel were directed to staging areas elsewhere, as were volunteers with construction skills.

A Greek Orthodox priest accompanied by a young man and a young woman came up to the check point and introduced himself to an officer:

Priest: I'm Father N__ from Saint Nicholas. I'm here to check on the church.
Cop: I'm sorry, Father, I can't let you in. It's too dangerous.
Priest: I'm not afraid. I should check the church.
Cop (quietly): You can't check the church Father.
Priest: But why?
Cop (deep breath): Because it's not there anymore.
silence, then
Priest: Well, okay, but maybe I could help the injured.
Cop: There aren't any.
Then the cop turned away and the Priest and the young people left. If the cop seemed a little brusque to you reading this it's because you couldn't hear his voice or see his face as he talked. I think maybe he was trying not to cry.

Two Salvation Army ladies came by with a cooler full of sandwiches. Was it just my imagination, or were they wearing bonnets and cloaks, the way I remember Salvation Army ladies from my childhood? In any case, they went where they thought they were needed, and did what they thought they could.

There was one portable light generator at the intersection and as you walked south you were soon in darkness. The power was out in that part of Manhattan. Once you got south of the open space at City Hall Park, once you were back between tall buildings it got really black. There was no artificial light, except for small pools around light generators (and on that night very few were in place), almost no natural light, because of the canyon effect and the smoke.

We shined our flashlights down one of the side streets and saw all these little blue blobs. There by a derelict fire truck we found what had obviously been a temporary triage site. The blue blobs were gloves. The medics must have gone through hundreds of pairs at that location before they had to pull back. They were all over the street in the ever thickening ash and dust.

We passed abandoned hotdog carts and fruit carts. There were some beautiful-looking mangoes on one with a half inch of dust on top looking like some sort of frosting.

Walking west on Dey St (I think) I can only compare that darkness to night under triple-canopy jungle.

And there we were at Ground Zero. And where the hell were the towers? I mean, where was the wreckage, the debris? Okay sure there's a big pile there, but that can't be two 110 story buildings worth. Where did it all go?

The noise low air alarms from Scott airpacks seemed to come from all over. The ash was thick, thick, at least boot-top high on Church Street. Some places where water and ash had mixed, the sludge was even higher. If you got any of that crap on your shoes, you got a hotfoot when it dried, it heated up like concrete does as it cures. The ash made the graveyard behind St. Paul's chapel look almost like a winter scene, except for all the paper all over the place.

There was an unbelievable amount of paper littering the area. Weird how much paper "survived" intact. I picked up an undamaged "Pocono Homes Guide." Strangely it made me feel like crap. Here's some poor schmuck who was contemplating a 90 mile commute to give his family a better life (cause a single guy or gal is probably not moving to the Poconos). This is not a rich person (cause a rich person is probably not moving to the Poconos), this is just a regular person trying to make his or her way through the world, and, for the sin of being a responsible adult and dragging their ass out of bed and going to work at some crap job they get snuffed out just like that.

Also in St. Paul's graveyard was an old-fashioned water-filled fire extinguisher. It was just lying there, pristine. How did it get over the fence? Those things are heavy. If it fell shouldn't it have at least had a dent somewhere?

And across from the back of St. Paul's where I think the entrance to the parking garage used to be there was a "No Standing" sign completely undamaged while all around it was utter chaos and destruction. If you had been standing under that sign, you would have been all right; two feet away in any direction, dead. We moved on.

Later that night, I borrowed a ride north, I had been elected to get some coffee for the gang. We passed St. Vincent's hospital. There was a crowd of doctors and nurses standing at the Emergency entrance. I only saw them for a few seconds as we passed, and maybe it's me projecting my feelings but I knew with great certainty that they were Waiting. Waiting for casualties to come in. Waiting desperately to help, to be of use. As it turned out, and I think they knew, though they hoped it was not so, waiting almost utterly in vain.

I brought the coffee back and we worked through the night. I kind of wish I had written some of this stuff down when it first happened. It's not as clear as it was. Things fade, you know? But it doesn't matter. In another 50 years it'll be ancient history. Academics will know names like Rick Rescorla, "Red Bandana," "The Falling Man," and the others who had their "Kairos moments," made their choices, and acted how we would all hope to in similar circumstances, but few people will feel these events the way we do. "All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."

Which just goes to show what an absolute science fiction nerd I am. If you needed any further proof, at one point during that night when I started to get a little freaked out and upset, I thought a particular phrase several times until I calmed down and laughed at myself. I thought "Day shall come again." Not so damning unless you know the source:

Huor fell pierced with a venomed arrow in his eye, and all the valiant Men of Hador were slain about him in a heap; and the Orcs hewed their heads and piled them as a mound of gold in the sunset.

Last of all Hurin stood alone. Then he cast aside his shield and wielded an axe two handed; and it is sung that the axe smoked in the black blood of the troll-guard of Gothmog until it withered, and each time that he slew Hurin cried: "Aure entuluva! Day shall come again!"

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

At the Waning of the Green Hour

my lovely absinthe, posing obligingly in the late-afternoon sunlight

From mindful repentance to sweet excess, in the space of a few words...

Yes I know she's just glorified herby grain alcohol, but indulge me anyway as I slip on my shoulder-length gloves, arrange my bustle, and settle myself onto the chaise; glass, spoon, and sugar cube arrayed on the low table before me...

I'll be back here at the waning of the green hour...

Monday, September 7, 2009


Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, fast approaches, and with it comes the opportunity for t'shuvah (repentance and return to a higher standard of behavior). The concept of t'shuvah is, as with so many elements of Judaism, both simple and complex. One can make t'shuvah in the most straightforward way possible--thinking of one's wrongdoing over the past year, ruing those wrongs, and then righting them, or at least resolving to make them right. Or one can be radical in the approach to this exercise.

This year, I'm going to try for a more radical approach to repentance and return. I've been thinking a lot about my family's consumerist tendencies, from the moral, psychological, practical, and financial points of view. We have a great deal--more than we need. We buy a great deal--more than we need. We don't have a lot of money.

Into the thick of my musings comes Hedgie, who is currently obsessed with something she read about with her bubbe in the NY Times, about a family resolved to spend "a year without shopping," in which they didn't buy anything they didn't need for sustenance and survival. Hedgie was caught up in the adventure of it, mentioned it so often this summer that I finally took a hint that I think she was giving me.

So we've decided as a family to do this ourselves. We held a meeting to decide how long (we voted 6 months to begin with), whether there could be room for cheating (yes--Hedgie's birthday) and of course the most important question: what do we consider strictly necessary renewables, what just plain old unnecessary shopping?

It has been actually sort of fun to figure this out. Most things are obvious--no new clothes, new shoes, makeup, perfume, yarn, jewelry (me); toys or geegaws like comic books or gumball machine prizes (Hedgie); guitars (!) and magazines and cds (Sarge). No more roaming the aisles of Target and leaving with a package of Pokemon cards, new nailpolish, and fancy little notebooks. No more Sephora or Fresh, for new lip gloss or scented soap. No more little souvenirs of our trips to Chinatown or the museum. No new party dresses for Hedgie or myself. No manicures, no new tagine (how much do I want one of those things). We're going to put off the furniture upgrades for our living room, and the new kitchen flooring too. No new cell phones or electronic gadgets or accessories. When I lay out these purchases so baldly here, I think they seem completely wasteful. We really do have enough already. So, starting in a week and a half, whatever gets spent, gets spent on groceries and bills. No more recreational shopping, from the tiniest to the largest purchase.

The sort of sad thing is that I think it is going to take some adjustment, that I am so used to saying "yes" when Hedgie asks for something, even if money is stretched tight (which it usually is, these days). I'm so used to saying yes to myself, when I see a little trinket I like, or a new dress. But I'm already feeling a little lighter, knowing that we're going to have to say no. Living outside of our means, even a little, has just become too uncomfortable. Unnecessary spending is a habit I'm thrilled to break. And I'm tired of contributing to the credit house of cards that America has become. Not spending is, to me, a bit anarchic, a bit like sticking it to The Man.

I realize as I write this that there is a certain hypocrisy, a certain amount of posturing in taking a stand like this. I mean, I'm lucky to have the option to decide whether or not to give up frivolous spending. Still, when all is said and done, I just don't see how it could be a bad thing.

One little addendum here before I shut up: I totally support the right of anyone else to shop and enjoy it! I would never pass judgment--this is just something I think would be good for us personally.

and p.s. do you think daily take-away iced coffee is shopping? I hate to say that I do, but if anyone thinks otherwise, maybe I won't have to forgo it for the next 6 months...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

First Light

I was lying in bed with Sarge last night, having one of those conversations that people have, in bed, when they have been together a long long time and still like each other tremendously.

It was the kind of conversation that floats dreamily from mundane to teasing to serious to frankly existential. And then back again. The kind of conversation that begins with a query about whether the car insurance was paid, or what the hamster has been doing so secretively and industriously these past few nights, and ends with God or the finitude of the universe. The kind of conversation that might or might not last till first light, depending on so many things: how the threads are picked up and examined; whether provocative gambits are deployed and which ones gather response; depending on stamina--one might drift off while the other is still talking, a transgression always forgiven; depending on whether or not a light touch on a bare shoulder turns us from intellectual to purely corporeal and then helplessly to sleep...

But we have often over the years been surprised in mid-sentence by the first creeping tendrils of grey light, the first bursts of bird song.

"is it morning already?" I'll ask, amazed.

"We talked through the night!" he'll reply, and I can always feel a smile in his voice.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Filled up with a Feeling

At the dinner table yesterday, Hedgie was telling Sarge about our afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art.

Hedgie: We had lunch in the cafeteria, and I had the children's meal, a peanut butter banana and nutella panini and apple slices. There was just the right amount of nutella so that it oozed out the sides but not too much. And there were three slices of apple, and they were very crisp and sweet. They really know what children like. And we saw an exhibit called "Waste Not."

(We described the exhibit to Sarge and then Hedgie was silent)

Hedgie: Mama cried from it, while we were walking through. It's so embarrassing when you guys cry like that! Like how you cried, daddy, when you showed me that part of "Diva" with the opera singer.

(more silence)

Sarge: Do you know why grown-ups cry like that, Hedgie?

Hedgie: No.

Sarge: It's because we're filled up with a feeling we have--

Hedgie: and you have to let it out?

Sarge: Well, no, it just has to come out, even if we try to hold it in. Like laughter, it's the same thing. Sometimes it comes out as crying, sometimes as laughing. Just two different sides of a feeling that has to come out.

Hedgie: Why do you have the feeling?

Sarge: I don't know. Sometimes with a song or a piece of art, maybe it reminds us of another time or place, or a person who isn't with us anymore...

Hedgie: I guess I can understand that. But it's still embarrassing.

Filled up with a feeling--I so often am. I long ago gave up trying to hide honest tears from Hedgehog. I couldn't anyway, as Sarge says--sometimes it just has to come out.

here's the art that made me cry: "Waste Not" by Song Dong; also an explanation of the installation on the MOMA site.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


With the fall of this year comes Hedgie's first cello lessons.

In my family this is one of the most important rites of passage, the day you play the first sweet and terrible notes of your very own instrument. I can barely remember the details of my first violin lessons--I was only five--but I do remember how timid and awestruck I was--the only feeling that has come close since was the first time I held baby Hedgie in my arms, afraid to break her. How heavy the quarter-size violin was in my little arms then, how amazing the alchemy of bow to string and then sound...although the little screeches and scritches must have been dreadful indeed to the ears of my patient listeners.

My violin has been with me on my journey for nearly 35 years now, a steadfast companion always, whether spurned or beloved, through all the times musically fallow and musically fertile. Its sturdy presence shielded me from the parodically cruel tendency of Emily, my second teacher, to discipline by rapping her own bow hard across my knuckles. It was the helpful wing-man in my pursuits of a proto-Severus, black-haired Peter with the glowing pallor, the first violin in my high school string quartet (how I quavered under his gaze as he reminded me, with a haughty little tip of his bow, to come in on the correct note). My violin and I spent long afternoons together in the music rooms of my college, and it never complained that I took frequent breaks to stare out the windows at the rain, at the trees changing to fall and then from fall to spring...

We have come all this way from our long-ago beginning. There it is in the corner now, waiting for the rosined bow and for me.