“A-maze-ing Laughter” Sculpture, by artist Yue Minjun, China. Vancouver Biennale 2009-2011. Image from Flickr via Louise Gadd
“How do you manage to remain so cheerful?” people ask. “Your job can be so stressful, and yet you’re always smiling. What’s your secret?”
It isn’t that I was born a perpetually happy camper, or that I’ve finally found the right meds. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
It’s because I’m a writer.
I work at a public library. Everyone is welcome, from polite, friendly, reasonable folks to hotheads, scoundrels, and absolute lunatics. Our regulars include not only moms, toddlers, and retirees, but folks who take orders from their toasters and a dude who claims that he can read your future by examining your feet. At the end of the day, do my friends want to hear about the adorable tots who enjoyed my story time or the pleasant people whose reference questions I answered?
Of course not! They want to hear about my run-ins with Toaster Man and Foot Dude. Because challenging encounters make for good stories. Or, to paraphrase (and slightly distort) Nietzsche: What doesn’t kill you gives you great material.
I used to endure my problematic moments with the public. Now I cherish each one. Why? Because I can turn them into stories.
Yesterday a woman went ballistic when I refused to cash a hundred-dollar bill so she could pay a 25-cent fine. An hour later, an elderly gent called me a string of unprintable names because I wouldn’t let him check out Dora the Explorer (to watch with his granddaughter) until he paid us the $90 he owed us. I can take these little flare-ups in stride, not because I’m emotionally made of Teflon, but because I’ve learned to experience life not as a hapless victim but as a humor writer.
When things go well, I enjoy them. When things go to hell, I write about them.
(By the way, Grandpa Putz did return later to pay the whopping fine. But not to apologize.)
You don’t have to be a writer to play this game. Telling a story about a crappy experience so that you come out on top is something anyone can do.
Has anything happened to you within recent memory that made you want to weep, scream, roll your eyes, or throttle someone? For a normal person, that’s a bad day. But for a writer it’s story fodder. Readers adore conflict. (As long as it isn’t happening to them.) The more exasperating the experience for you, the more readers (or your friends) will enjoy hearing about it.
Next time you’re talking back to Julie, Amtrak’s automated agent, or your boss is hollering at you for something that isn’t your fault, consider the silver lining: Give this the right spin and your friends will die laughing when you tell them about it.
So what’s the right spin? As your boss continues to blather, you might think about how you can “punch up” his rant (and your response thereto) to emphasize how gracious, sane, and long-suffering you are, and how bat-shit-crazy he is. You’re not Lois Lane, and this isn’t the 6 O’Clock News, so feel free to embellish it a little. Exaggerate for comic effect. The sky’s the limit!
Not only that, but when you tell the story later, you’ll be able to include all the snappy retorts and devastating zingers you come up with after the fact.
I’m not talking about tragedy. Leave that to Shakespeare or Eudora Welty. I’m referring to the story-telling goldmine that is everyday frustration and annoyance.
Entertaining people with a story isn’t just fun. It’s good for your mental health. Talking about something that’s driving you nuts enables you to vent, which will make you feel better, and to shape the material, which lets you regain some control over the situation.
Can good times make great stories too? Absolutely. I’ve published essays about my son’s Bichon Frisé–themed wedding, the hilarious colonoscopy mix tape a pal just made, and the time my sister and I got an upgrade to first class on a flight to Chicago.
But I also coped with my sweetie’s window-rattling snoring by publishing a humor piece about it in the Christian Science Monitor.
One thing I’ve learned as a writer is that there’s nothing more satisfying—for both you and your audience—than a well-told revenge story. Getting back at somebody who has put you through hell (or, at least, heck) is especially gratifying.
I was once kept waiting for close to an hour in a chilly examination room at a doctor’s office, wearing the usual flimsy cotton gown. When the doc finally showed up, he was rushed, perfunctory, and totally unapologetic about my long wait.
I left with the antibiotic prescription I needed. But I also left feeling angry and humiliated.
When I got home, I wrote “Outpatient,” a short story about a woman who endures the same experience, but I added a plot twist that enabled her to triumph over the situation. Not only did I feel better after giving that uncaring physician his comeuppance, if only in fiction, but the first magazine I sent “Outpatient” to grabbed it and sent me a check.
The story has since appeared in two anthologies and is currently included in med-school course materials aimed at helping doctors-to-be relate better to their patients. My little story not only enabled me to let off steam and made me some money, but might just stop a few future docs from being as terse and snotty with their patients as that doctor was to me.
Which is so much better than if Id just gone home and stewed about the experience.
When “Outpatient” was published, did I send a copy to my doc? With a little note saying, “Thanks for the inspiration!” And did that little gesture put a big fat smile on my face?
What do you think?
The questions we ask ourselves define who we are as a culture. “What is the meaning of life?” “Is there a God?” “Does anybody really know what time it is?” “Where the hell did I put my car keys?”
To see what America is asking itself these days, I checked a dozen popular magazines out of my local public library, from Martha Stewart Living to Sports Illustrated, and scoured the ads for questions.
So what’s on your mind, America? Here’s a sampling of the questions I found.
What’s the Gecko’s favorite yoga pose?
What do you hate most about vacuuming?
Why do we love football?
What’s your dinner made of?
Unexpected zit from hell?
How pure is Purified fish oil?
Is your stomach making you sad?
When’s the last time you were this excited to get on a plane?
On the go?
What’s so wrong with a bald head?
Your secret ingredient?
Ready to sparkle?
Is your cholesterol at goal?
Your litter may control urine odor. But what about feces?
Is it demanding to want it all . . . in two minutes?
First rule of taking the world by surprise?
What does a water balloon tell us about strong, healthy skin?
How long has it been since you gratified all your senses?
Can your deodorant do this?
Can you visibly shrink your pores after just one use?
Is your life a work of art?
It’s 5 o’clock. Is your make-up still fabulous?
So, how does the Man of Steel shave?
There are no bad questions, the saying goes, only bad answers. Or in my case, sarcastic answers. Here are a few of my own responses:
What do I hate most about vacuuming? Vacuuming.
What’s your dinner made of? Whatever I can phone in..
How long has it been since you gratified all your senses? Twenty minutes.
Unexpected zit from hell? Not at my age.
What does a water balloon tell us about healthy skin? If water balloons could talk, I doubt that’s the topic they’d choose to address.
On the go? Probably not.
Ready to sparkle? Maybe later.
Your secret ingredient? Lunch meat.
What’s the Gecko’s favorite yoga pose? Standing by the Coke machine asking if anyone can break a twenty.
When’s the last time you were this excited to get on a plane? During my anxiety attack.
Can your deodorant do this? No, but you should see it write on mirrors.
Got milk? Not since I was 12.
First rule of taking the world by surprise? Two words: Invisibility cloak.
Is it demanding to want it all . . . in two minutes? No, but it could be Bipolar.
Is my life a work of art? Not yet. But I’m working on it.
How does the Man of Steel shave? He gets Batman to help him.
“At the end of the day,” Zen guru Leo Babauta has written, “the questions we ask of ourselves determine the type of people we become.”
I guess this makes us a nation of football-loving, fish-oil-gobbling folks who love to sparkle but hate to vacuum.
But at least our make-up is fabulous.
Retired cantor Janice Woltag Cohen just turned 50. We boomers all know what that means. It’s Colonoscopy Time!
Colonoscopy! That fabulous 50th birthday present you give to yourself. Yes, it’s yucky. But it’s absolutely necessary. (It could save your life.)
As kids growing up in the 50s, we joined the Mickey Mouse Club. Now that we’ve hit the half-century mark, it’s time for the Colonoscopy Club.
Looking at a day filled with poop-inducing “cocktails,“ lots of clear fluids, maybe a little Jell-O, and a million trips to the bathroom, Cohen decided to have a little fun. She needed some distraction. Not to mention something that would get her in the right mood for that very special procedure.
So she logged onto Facebook and posted a question: “What songs should I put on my colonoscopy mixtape?”
Cohen has 1,412 Facebook friends. Most of them are boomers. And, apparently, all of them are smart-asses. They were on it in a flash:
The first suggestion?
“Ring of Fire, by Johnny Cash. Duh.”
Following which, Cohen’s pals quickly came up with:
The Long and Winding Road
Baby Got Back
Looking Out my Back Door
Back in the Saddle Again
Fixing a Hole (The Beatles)
“Hilarious!!” Cohen responded. But her Facebook friends were just warming up. If Cohen needed some tunes to help her through this boomer rite of passage, then that’s what she’d get. How about:
Like a Virgin
Little Brown Jug
Turn, Turn, Turn
Bad Moon Rising
Coal Miner’s Daughter.
Dirty Work (Steely Dan)
Then they really started to get into it:
“‘Tush,’ by ZZ Top!”
“How about my fave Springsteen tune—’Thunder Road?’”
“James Taylor’s ‘There’s Something in the Way She Moves.’”
“John Cougar Mellencamp’s ‘Hurts So Good.’”
“Paul McCartney’s ‘Let Em In.’”
“’The End,’ by the Doors.”
“Anything by the Butt Hole Surfers!”
“Anything by Hole!”
Even a classical music fan got into the act, with: “Beethoven’s Last Movement!”
One friend posted: “Another man might suggest ‘Don’t Touch Me There,’ by the Tubes. But I have too much class to even suggest that.”
Several folks suggested the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers classic “Cheek to Cheek.” One even linked to the video.
Another linked to a music video called “Colonscopy: It’s Not That Bad,” from the Stop Colon Cancer website. (The song is a hoot. Listen and laugh.)
And the titles continued:
I Wanna Be Sedated
That Ain’t No Way to Go
Black Muddy River
Highway to Hell
Friends in Low Places
Foggy Bottom Breakdown
The final suggestion? “Classical Gas” (Mason Williams).
Janice ended up receiving 125 comments in just two hours. (One pal pointed out that actually playing through all the songs would last much longer than the procedure itself, which usually runs around 30 minutes.)
Janice, laughing, posted: “Thanks for making Baby’s First Colonoscopy fun!“
With any luck, she’ll drift off under anesthesia with “Moon River” echoing in her ears, and emerge, after a quick and painless procedure, with a clean bill of health.
Happy 50th birthday, Janice. And welcome to the Colonoscopy Club!
Winik recounts her quest for love at age 50 in her new book, Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled Through the Joys of Single Living, and no matter how tumultuous or misguided your own love life has been, she’ll put you to shame.
The healthiest relationship she describes is with first husband, Tony, who, when they met, was a “penniless gay bartender who had recently lost his job as an ice-skating coach due to his drug problem.”
Winik fell hard for this guy. Why? “Having a beautiful gay man change his life to be with me was like getting the Nobel Prize for lovability,” she explains. Plus, the man could “cook, bartend, devise and execute wall treatments, garden, iron, arrange flowers, set a perfect table and professionally cut and color my hair.”
That almost made me want to marry a gay guy myself.
They got hitched, had two sons, enjoyed some good years and endured some bad ones, before Winik’s husband died of AIDS.
And, romantically, it’s all been downhill from there.
Winik, to be sure, brings her own challenges to the romantic table. She describes herself, in a self-deprecating moment, as “an alcoholic, manic-depressive slut.” She’s also an ex-junkie. And she smokes.
But she writes like an angel. (With a wicked sense of humor.)
Winik, who has published nine books, makes a good living writing about her unconventional life. She writes for The New York Times, she’s a regular on All Things Considered, she blogs for Baltimore Fishbowl.com, she’s a professor at the University of Baltimore’s MFA program, and she’s been on the Today show, Politically Incorrect, and Oprah.
Solid career success hasn’t stopped her from establishing a track record, in her personal life, of passing up great guys to throw herself at losers.
Some women enjoy being courted over a quiet, candlelit dinner. Winik goes for edgier stuff. A typical seduction? “He led me to a floodlit, garbage-swept concrete parking lot surrounded by a chain-link fence . . . with no further preliminaries, a furious make-out session was in progress.”
Winik, it turns out, is a woman in her 50s who dates like a hormone-drunk teenager. She may be looking for love. But what she finds, instead, are thrills. And when she finds them, she shares every juicy, peculiar, hilarious, and humiliating detail with her readers.
I hate to see a smart woman make a foolish choice, and yet I loved this book. Why? I’m a sucker for a good sentence, and Winik couldn’t pen a boring line if she tried. Her love life may be a mess, but it’s great material, and she makes the most of it.
She describes swapping spit with, among others, a construction worker who beds her only to hit her up for cash; a young ex-student who already has an age-appropriate girlfriend; her own second husband, years after their acrimonious divorce; and a dude whose personal ad claimed he’d only ever been with two women— his ex-wife and her best friend.
Winik thought he was joking. He wasn’t.
Ironically, while all this was going on, Winik was writing an advice column for a national magazine.
Fans of Winik’s earlier books know that she’s not only an engaging writer but a good mom and a good friend. She deserves to find a great guy! But it’s clear to the reader of this new volume that the chances of that happening are slim. (One hint: the book is dedicated, not to a dude, but to that ever-reliable bed partner, her miniature dachshund.) Still, you keeping hoping that this clever chick with the appalling blind spot when it comes to sussing out good guys will finally come to her senses and fall for a mensch.
There’s a touch of schadenfreude in the pleasure you get from this book. (Not to mention a heap of comfort for those of us whose own romantic choices have been less than fabulous.) It’s fun to watch someone else screw up, as long as it’s played for laughs. (I Love Lucy, anyone?)
And if there’s one thing Winik excels at, it’s laughing at herself.
She’s not afraid to play the fool. And she shares everything, from her Match.com profile (“Sassy, sensual and smart”) to the absolute wrong way to seduce a gay guy (“I sexted him a picture of me lying on the couch in my bikini underpants.”)
We’ve got front-row seats to even the most embarrassing encounter.
And yet, as the writer who chronicles these events, it’s Winik herself who has the last laugh. She let her bad dates fact-check “their” chapters prior to publication, and she’s changed a few names, but she’s retained the power to present her life as she sees fit.
The key to Winik’s continued success is that she’s, ultimately, so likeable.You wince at her mistakes and despair at her decisions, but you can’t help rooting for her, despite the fact that she can’t stop leading with her libido, and seems never to have met a Stupid Choice she didn’t want to make out with in a midnight parking lot.
But then, she isn’t really looking for Mr. Right. What she’s seeking is a man whose kisses will make her forget all reason.
And when she finds him, thankfully, we can rely on her to tell us all about it.
If you’re a girl and you’re a boomer, one thing is certain—you grew up playing with Barbies.
Whether you lived in a mansion or in a trailer, you spent hours as a little girl playing with America’s favorite foot-tall plastic fashion plate. You dressed her up in stylish clothing (remember “Silken Flame?”), complete with tiny matching shoes that were always falling off and getting chewed up by the dog. You sent her off on dates with Ken. You staged pajama-clad heart-to-hearts with Barbie’s best pal, Midge.
Barbie play was designed to prepare you for the wonderful world of romance and dating. And that future was always wholesome and bright. (There was no Unplanned Pregnancy Barbie or High-School Dropout Barbie.)
Of course, the edgier kids could always improvise. I know one girl who, after seeing the movie Gypsy, had her Barbies perform strip-teases for her Kens.
(Okay, so it was me.)
And I know of at least one future lesbian whose Barbie enjoyed marathon make-out sessions with Midge.
Barbie has been updated and modernized countless times since she first came on the scene in 1959. (Although her shoes still fall off and the dog still chews them up.) These days, Barbie doesn’t just don cool outfits and go out on dates. She has a career!
Teacher Barbie! Pop Star Barbie! Airline Pilot Barbie! Brain Surgeon Barbie! Rabbi Barbie! Porn Star Barbie! (Okay, I made that last one up.)
But one thing about Barbie never changes. Her age. While the little girls who once played with her have grown and matured, Barbie hasn’t aged a day.
Now that we boomers are middle-aged, we’ve discovered that it’s time to play Barbie again, this time with our granddaughters.
This gives me idea.
I think we need a new kind of Barbie. A Barbie who, like us, HAS grown up. When we get down on the floor to play with our grandkids, instead of a fresh-faced know-nothing who is just starting out, why not introduce the kids to a Barbie that reflects both our lives and their future.
Middle-aged Boomer Barbie!
What better way to signal to our granddaughters that there’s more to life than what outfit you’ve got on? And that while teenage dating is great, so is being a mature woman with a rich, full life?
This new line of AARP-aged Barbies could include:
Happily Married Barbie
Now that the kids are grown, Silver Fox Barbie and Slightly Balding Ken can re-focus on each other. Includes a Dream House with a paid-off mortgage, a zillion frequent-flyer miles, fat 401(k)s and matching Medicare cards.
Happily Divorced Barbie
After Barbie catches Ken and Midge making whoopee in the Dream House mudroom, help her kick him to the curb and jump back into the dating pool. Assist Barbie in crafting her Match.com profile, then dress her up in tiny Eileen Fisher outfits and sent her out on exciting dates!
She may be in her 50s, but she loves those younger dudes. (For her date, just borrow Ken from your regular Barbie. She won’t mind—he’ll come back to her a much better lover.)
Never Married Barbie
Includes a Xanax prescription, a tiny plastic vibrator, 3 cats, a library card, and a tenured position at an Ivy League University.
Comes with 4 mansions, 3 ex-husbands, a private jet, a personal trainer, an unscrupulous investment adviser, and an offshore bank account.
Out and Proud Barbie
Help Barbie and Midge shoot their “It Gets Better Project” video! Includes a rainbow flag, a Massachusetts marriage license, matching white tuxes and a Provincetown time-share with a signed Alison Bechdel original in the foyer.
Every Boomer Barbie is slightly shorter and plumper than Original Barbie, and comes with at least one ailment (bad knees, a bad back, cataracts, etc.) to kvetch about with the other Boomer Barbies. (The deluxe model has genuine hot flashes!) And all of them talk, saying things like “Where did I put my glasses?” “Is it hot in here? “Can you repeat that?“ And “At least I have my health!”
The best Boomer Barbie of all, of course, will be Grandma Barbie.
What better way to enjoy playing with your beloved granddaughter than for the two of you to help Grandma Barbie play with her beloved granddaughter?
Grandma Barbie reads books, sings songs, plays pretend, makes cool snacks, and gives great hugs. If you’re lucky enough to be her granddaughter, you know there’s nobody Grandma Barbie loves more than you. And shouldn’t a cool grandma who loves you to bits be just as much fun for a little girl to play with as a vapid teenager who gets dressed up and goes out on dates?
Not only that, but Grandma Barbie’s stylish yet sensible shoes will never fall off and get chewed up by the dog.
You can spend a lifetime figuring out who you really are. As I approach my 60th birthday, I‘m finally closing in on the truth. At the very least, I know who I’m not. An avid magazine and newspaper reader, I’ve noticed that the media loves to sum people up with just two words. Like “Internet billionaire.” Or “Famous chef.“ (Occasionally, the epithet-makers help themselves to three words: “Health-enforcing mayor,” anyone?)
I recently began collecting some sobriquets that can never be used to describe me. For good or ill, I’m never going to be a—
YouTube pioneer, or
Of course, when it comes to a few of these, I do come close. For instance, Blonde Chanteuse. I am (with salon assistance) a blonde. And the toddlers who attend Storytime at the library where I work love my rendition of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
And while I’m not exactly a Superstar Swimmer, I’m still in the pool every day, executing my plodding but consistent breast stroke.
Disgraced Cyclist? No thanks. I don’t need performance-enhancing drugs to enjoy a ride around the neighborhood on my one-speeder.
The truth is that I’m happy with who I am: a Good Mom, a Retired Attorney, a Published Writer, and a Part-time Librarian.
Although there’s still hope that, one of these days, “Lottery Winner,“ or even “Pulitzer-Winner,” might apply.
Or perhaps I should just add “Incurable Optimist” to that list.
What about you? If you could describe yourself to the world with just two words, what would they be? Amazing Mom? Stellar Wit? Fantastic Lover?
(Or, if you’re having a bad day, you might want to go with “Exploited Wage-Slave,“ “Problem Drinker,“ or “Unhappy Homemaker.”)
Go for it! Share your two words in the Comments Section below. Be as honest (or as delusional) as you want. Here’s your chance to establish yourself as a “Piccolo Virtuoso,” “Investment Whiz,” “Unsung Genius,” or “World-Class Bodybuilder.”
As for me, I’m going with “Sexy Librarian.”
An underwater Jewish wedding, with both bride and groom in scuba gear?
Cantor Debbi Ballard hasn’t performed merely one such ceremony. “I’ve done three!“ she says happily.
“I’m game for anything unique,” she explains. “And I’m always up for adventure.“
Cantor Ballard probably isn’t what you imagine when you think “religious leader.”
That‘s fine with her. “I am, in all ways, untraditionally Jewish,” she says.
Which is exactly what you’re going to need if, for instance, you want a Jewish wedding but your fiancé isn’t a Jew. Or if he is a Jew but you’re both gay. Or if you’re an interfaith couple but you want your child to have a bat mitzvah.
Or perhaps you just want to attend High Holy Day services, but don’t currently belong to a congregation.
If so, Cantor Debbi Ballard, a.k.a. “My Personal Cantor,“ is there for you.
Ballard, a freelance cantor, is redefining the meaning of Jewish worship by creating services and “life-cycle events” that are grounded in traditional Judaism but radically inclusive. Interfaith couples, unaffiliated Jews, and LGBT Jews are all welcome. “Every person,” says Ballard, “regardless of affiliation or orientation, deserves an open-arms approach to Jewish worship.”
This isn’t your grandpa’s Judaism. The message you’ll find on Ballard’s website? “We are not Reform, Conservative or Renewal. We are just Jewish.”
And if a Jew wants to get married under water? Well, why not?
Where a more traditional cantor (who leads the congregation in prayer and sings liturgical music) might turn down the opportunity to perform such a ceremony (or to officiate at an interfaith or LGBT wedding) Ballard’s approach is to focus on the possible.
“I‘d rather say ‘yes’ than ‘no’,” she explains. “’No’ ends the conversation. ‘Yes’ begins a dialogue. With ‘yes,’ you leave the door open.”
By saying yes, Ballard is addressing a question central to Judaism in the 21st century where, increasingly, Jews are marrying non-Jews, and the old idea of what it means to be Jewish is being challenged.
It used to be that you belonged to a congregation, paid your (often hefty) synagogue dues, and married within your faith. If you wanted to marry at your synagogue but outside of your faith, you were (usually) out of luck.
An LGBT wedding? Totally out of the question.
“That old model is broken,” notes Ballard. Most American Jews no longer belong to a congregation. (In South Florida, where Ballard is based, 80 percent of Jews are unaffiliated.) “To bring them back into the fold,” she says, “we need to find a way of being Jewish that works for them.”
Ballard’s vision of Jewish community has nothing to do with synagogue membership. There are no membership dues. (Non-Jews are often shocked to learn that belonging to a synagogue can cost thousands of dollars a year.) Instead, Ballard’s upbeat, affordable services are pay-as-you-go. And although Ballard owns a Torah, she doesn’t have a building.
“Who needs a building?’ she says. “I feel more spiritual connection on a beach than in a sanctuary.”
Indeed, Ballard has held Jewish worship services on the beach, as well as in private homes, restaurants, hotels, on a cruise ship, and in the conference room at the local Dunkin’ Donuts. The services themselves are easy to follow, with plenty of singing, storytelling, and even dancing, but also they include the prayers, blessings, and melodies that more observant celebrants are accustomed to. Ballard‘s mission is to make everyone—from Jewish “newbies” to long-time worshippers—feel welcome.
Ballard, 52, was raised an observant Conservative Jew, but became estranged from her parents when she married outside the faith. When she first introduced them to her future husband, her folks were shocked and furious.
“My faith was so important to me,“ says Ballard, “they were sure I’d marry a rabbi!” Instead, she fell for a blond-haired, green-eyed “goy.”
They found it impossible to be happy for her.
The pain of this estrangement, as well as the years that followed, in which Ballard, as part of an interfaith couple, felt like a second-class citizen in her own shul, radicalized her. She came to realize that there were many people who, as she did, wanted to practice their faith, but just didn’t feel welcome within a traditional congregation.
A problem-solver by nature, Ballard, in her 40s, decided to leave the corporate world, where she’d thrived for decades, and train (at All Faiths Seminary in New York) as a cantor, so she could provide interfaith couples, and others, a way to stay connected to Judaism. A perfect calling, being a cantor combines her love of music, her ability to easily connect with people, and her faith.
Now, as “My Personal Cantor,” Ballard serves not only her South Florida community, but flies all over the world to provide unaffiliated families with weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, memorial services, and other Jewish “lifecycle events” that are personal, authentic, and inclusive. (She is now divorced.)
Ironically, by welcoming anyone who doesn’t feel at home in a traditional synagogue, and by creating services that speak to both newcomers and to the long-observant, “I’m forging the type of faith community that people all over the country are trying to achieve,” Ballard says proudly.
And the best thing? Her once-estranged parents now share Ballard’s vision.
Ballard’s father, in fact, was so inspired by what his daughter had accomplished that, upon retirement, he trained to become a rabbi so that he could work with her. Over the next week, father and daughter will, together, be leading High Holy Day services at the Miramar Cultural Center, an 800-seat auditorium.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been,” Ballard says happily.
What does it mean to be a Jew? Is an age-old question. Cantor Debbi Ballard is giving the answer a vibrant and inclusive 21st-century spin.
I just returned from the insanely expensive resort where I vacation for a week each summer, which makes me sound like the kind of person who can actually afford that kind of thing.
Alas, because I work in a public library, I have to save all year for that one week in paradise.
But it‘s usually well worth it. Because the Absurdly Expensive Inn is, indeed, heaven on earth. The rooms? Beautiful. The staff? Super-competent. The cookies on the pillow at turndown? Bliss. But the best thing about the Bank-Account-Draining Inn, if you’re a swimmer like me, is the pool.
Large. Sparkling clean. Ringed with flowers in bloom. For the rest of the year, as I swim in lesser pools, I’ll close my eyes and imagine that I’m there instead. (Then reopen them before I swim into the wall.)
The day before I arrived this year, I phoned the desk clerk to make sure the pool was up and running, a little precaution I’ve taken ever since I checked into another hotel years ago, only to discover that the pool was closed because a toddler had just done something no toddler should ever do in a pool.
“How’s the water?“ I asked.
“Cold,” he replied. “Very very cold.”
“You haven’t turned on the pool heater?”
“There IS no pool heater.”
“No pool heater? Are you sure?” How could this be? The water had always been maintained at a balmy 86 degrees!
“The pool isn’t heated. That’s what they’ve told me.”
I was tempted to cancel my reservation, but I was vacationing with friends to whom a pool is merely something you recline beside while you sip iced drinks and read bodice-rippers on your Kindle.
You could stock the pool with piranhas and they wouldn’t care.
I couldn’t bail on a vacation we’d all looked forward to just because the pool they weren’t going to swim in was too cold to swim in. So I did what I always do when life hands me lemons. I phoned my sister to kvetch.
“They told me that there isn’t a pool heater,” I wailed.
“They’re lying, ” she said, then went online and pulled up half a dozen travel sites which enthused about the Inn’s glorious heated pool. When I emailed this list to the inn’s manager, I promptly heard back from her assistant, Mr. Useless, who insisted that not only was there no pool heater, but there had never been a pool heater.
If I wanted a HEATED pool, he suggested, I could always enjoy a swim at the local YMCA. He concluded, mysteriously, with the sentence “I hope I have met your concerns.”
Yeah, on Bizarro World, maybe, where you ask about the pool heater because you WANT the water to be the same temperature as the iced drinks served poolside.
When I arrived at the Inn the following day, the plot thickened.
“I was mystified to learn that the pool has no heater,“ I lamented to the desk clerk. “I could have sworn that the pool used to be heated.”
“Of course there’s a pool heater,“ she said. “But it costs a fortune to run, so this year the manager decided not to turn it on.”
I asked to speak to the manager.
“She’s out of town. Would you like to speak with Mr. Useless?”
I did not. But for the rest of the week, I played Nancy Drew, asking everyone on staff about the elusive pool heater. To a person, they confirmed that there was a heater, but the Inn had opted for a cool pool this summer to save a buck.
Determined not to let the Lying Tightwad Inn’s penny-pinching ways defeat me, I got in touch with my inner Polar Bear and dove in anyway. I discovered that I’m tougher than I’d thought.
At 58, I can still endure, if not enjoy, a daily swim in bone-chilling water.
Besides, a true swimmer hates a crowded pool, and, if nothing else, I always had that sucker to myself. As I glided back and forth, teeth chattering and slowly turning blue, I’d watch would-be swimmers approach, dip a toe in, then shriek and retreat to their chaises to pen furious Trip Advisor reviews.
Before I penned my own furious review, I thought it only fair to have a little chat with the Inn’s manager, who’d finally returned from whenever she’d been. (Perhaps at a seminar on “How to Lie to Your Customers and Get Away With It.”)
She claimed to have no idea the pool had a heater. The fact that you might actually be able to heat that glorious pool, she told me with a perfectly straight face, was news to her.
“I’ll look right into it!” she said airily.
“Stroll over there with me now, sister, ” I wanted to say, “and I’ll PUSH you right into it.“
But I’ve never been the stinging-retort type. My policy has always been: Don’t Get Mad, Get Even. Online.
Chilly pool? Surely a chilly review is in order. One that asks a simple question: Can you honestly call yourself a luxury resort if you’re too darn cheap to heat the pool?
I don’t think so.
So listen up, Tightwad Inn! When I return next summer, I hope you’ve solved the mystery of the disappearing pool heater. Or I might be tempted to do something in that icy-cold pool that no well-behaved librarian should ever do.
Orgasms have always come easily for Shirley Jones, and if that’s too much information for you, you might not enjoy Shirley Jones, her new memoir, in which the actress writes frankly about both her successful acting career and her sizzling sex life.
But for the reader eager to learn what happens during a celebrity threesome, what the parties were like chez Sammy Davis, Jr. (porn on every screen and lines of coke on every coffeetable), the size of David Cassidy’s schlong (hint: his brothers nicknamed him Donk, for donkey), and just what Shirley does at age 79 to keep the orgasms coming, this is the ideal beach read.
Jones describes her career trajectory, from a small-town girl with a voice she calls a “gift from God” to the star of iconic films like Oklahoma! and The Music Man, after which she became America’s favorite wholesome working mom on the hit TV series The Partridge Family. (Portraying a working mom was important to Jones. She turned down the “mom” role in The Brady Bunch because “I didn’t want to be the mother taking the roast out of the oven and not doing much else.”)
We learn, too, about her personal life, including her marriages to two very challenging (and both, as it turned out, bipolar) husbands: Jack Cassidy, a seductive, bisexual, and ridiculously self-absorbed philanderer, and Marty Ingels, a frenetic, attention-grabbing comic (famous, among other things, for suffering an on-air nervous breakdown on the Tonight show). After standing by Cassidy for decades, despite his immaturity, abysmal parenting skills, and countless infidelities, Jones finally cut him loose. She claims to have found “true love” with the exuberant Ingels—a puzzling choice, in that nobody else in her life, including her sons, appears to like him. (Check out her appearance with Ingels on The View, which is available on You Tube. You probably won’t like him either.)
While still a teen in Smithton, Pennsylvania, Jones did fall for a wonderful guy. He was stable, smart, loving, and loyal. They were engaged to be married. But small-town life wasn’t enough for Jones, so she broke it off. She wanted fun and adventure, and she found it. But the heavenly voice that was her ticket out of town was, perhaps, a mixed blessing. Jones muses that she might have been happier had she married her first love, stayed in Smithton, and become a veterinarian instead of a movie star.
Jones is unusually frank about her sex life.
Describing losing her virginity to the man she still describes as “sex God Jack Cassidy,” she explains, “he was inventive and extremely well endowed . . . . He had no inhibitions about sex, no barriers, and he taught me to . . . be free about sex and to openly want it and love it.”
Jones is refreshingly straightforward and explicit, telling the reader which stars made a pass at her, who she jumped into bed with and who she turned down, and who she most enjoyed kissing on-screen. There’s also a fairly graphic description of the three-way her “Sex God” hubby manipulated her into taking part in.
She clearly had plenty of opportunity to partake in sexual adventure. A typical Hollywood evening out? She and Cassidy are relaxing after dinner with Anthony Newley and Joan Collins in their Hollywood home, when “(a)ll of a sudden, Tony Newley got up and announced, ‘Right, we’ve got some porno movies. Why don’t we all get naked and watch together?’”
Jones also shares a story Cassidy told her about seducing composer Cole Porter, a story so lewd and off-putting that I’m not going to repeat it here.
Jones comes across as a good-hearted person who has made some terrific career choices and some abysmal romantic ones—an upbeat woman who takes her own path, stands by her man, and makes the best of whatever situation she finds herself in. Looking back, she sees herself, with some satisfaction, as “a headstrong girl who flew in the face of advice and went against convention, with her eyes fixed firmly on the next adventure.”
Jones closes out the book with some thoughts about masturbation, which, she asserts, is “. . . great for relaxation, great for the skin and a wonderful way of feeling and remaining young.“
So exactly what does Shirley Jones do to keep the orgasms coming?
“I just use Vaseline and a finger,” she writes. “And my fantasies. I get aroused by imagining a faceless, macho guy. And while I’m masturbating, I say his dialogue, and mine, out loud.”
TMI? Maybe so.
But the vision of Marian the Librarian happily making whoopee with Macho Faceless Man certainly made my day.
I grew up in Detroit, and even though I haven’t lived there since I was 18, I’m still a Michigander at heart.
I’m also a (retired) bankruptcy attorney.
You can probably tell where this is going.
I own a Detroit municipal bond. It’s a sewer bond, which means that the interest payments are funded by revenue from Detroit’s municipal sewer system. (A sewer system that, in my youth, served me well.)
I inherited the bond from my father when he died in 2006.
Although I knew about Detroit’s financial problems, I’ve hung onto my Detroit muni. It was a little part of Detroit. It was from Dad. And, to be sure, it was paying 5.5 percent, an interest rate that was hard to beat.
Even so, it was an investment decision made more with my heart than with my head.
I’ve held my Detroit muni through countless news stories about the city’s dire financial situation, mismanagement, and shrinking footprint, and despite many magazine articles and books about Motown’s decline, all accompanied by haunting photos of devastated neighborhoods that I remember as thriving when I was a kid.
People are usually surprised when I tell them that 1960s Detroit was a great place to grow up. I remember it as a lovely Midwestern city, a patchwork of pleasant, tree-filled neighborhoods, with the auto industry at its heart. Middle-class Jews, we lived in a safe, quiet community where I attended a more than adequate (and mostly integrated) public school. After school, I happily roamed the neighborhood with my pals.
Then things began to deteriorate and my family became part of the White Flight to the suburbs. After that, we rarely went into the city. When we did drive downtown, to go to a restaurant or visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, we routinely ran red lights, especially after dark. You’d pause to check for oncoming traffic, then zip right through. Better to take the chance of being stopped by a cop than, while waiting for the light to change, of having your window smashed, being pulled from your car, and robbed.
I don’t regret leaving, but, even though I’ve lived on the East Coast for years, I still love Detroit. When Mitt Romney made that infamous remark about Michigan trees being “the right height,” most folks responded with some version of “What an idiot!” But the Michiganders I know nodded with recognition.
It’s probably the only thing Mitt Romney has ever said that I agree with.
Although I enjoy the foliage of the Philadelphia suburb where I’ve settled, the trees of the Detroit metropolitan area do look “right” to me. The landscape of your childhood stays etched in your brain, familiar and beloved. The tall trees that lined the flat street I grew up on will always remain, to me, what trees are “supposed to” look like.
Detroit will always be part of who I am.
My father purchased this $15,000 municipal bond in 2001. I’m sure it seemed like a terrific idea at the time. Municipalities rarely file for bankruptcy. Dad, a psychoanalyst who began life as a house painter’s son, probably felt good about investing in his hometown. And, of course, there was that attractive interest rate.
When I heard about Detroit’s bankruptcy filing, I thought, “Oh no!” imagining the impact on the folks who now live in the neighborhood where I grew up.
My next thought was of my Detroit muni, now circling the drain. (Ironic, given that it’s a sewer bond.)
The day after the filing, as the lawyers got down to wrangling about who would get what, I looked into unloading my Detroit Muni. If I cashed it in, I was told, I could get $8,000.
Even though my years of experience both as a bankruptcy attorney and a risk-averse investor screamed, “Take the money!” I found myself saying, “No, thanks.”
I just can’t give up on Detroit. I’d rather hope, against long odds, for a successful comeback. Growing up, I was a diehard Tigers fan. Believing in the underdog was a way of life.
I may no longer live there, but I’m still rooting for my old hometown.
There is nothing like your first time, and by that I am referring, of course, to the first time you purchased a 45.
Going to a record store and buying a 45 is a uniquely boomer experience. Because, alas, there are no more 45s. Or, for that matter, record stores.
The phrase “buying a 45” means nothing to the Millennial. (Unless, of course, you’re in a red state and they assume you’re talking about acquiring a handgun.) But most of us boomers remember the first time we heard a song on the radio and thought: “I have to own that.”
These days, it’s all about “information wants to be free.” But back then, it was “This song—‘Love Me Do’ or ‘Happy Together’—wants to be MINE.”
So you’d walk to the local record store, or get your mom to drive you, put down your dollar, buy your first single, then bring it home and play it on whatever device you had.
Usually, it was a device you shared with the rest of your family.
Which meant that an integral part of this experience was inflicting your song on others. You didn’t just quietly groove to the tune through earbuds. You put it on the turntable (remember turntables?) and played it.
And then you played it again.
Until your sister stormed out of her bedroom to say that if you played “I’m a Believer” one more time she was going to take it off the turntable and jump on it.
(Which was exactly the way you’d respond two months later when she sought to play “Kentucky Woman” to death.)
Experiencing a song this way defines our generation, just as helping oneself to an illegal download and enjoying it on an iPod characterizes our children’s.
The music we blasted at age 12 defined who we were.
Not only that, but I believe that your first 45 suggests something about who you still are, or at the very least contains important clues to your character, in a way that’s every bit as significant as your birth order, Zodiac sign, or response to a Rorschach or Scientology Personality Test score.
I recently asked a number of Boomer pals, “What was your first?”
Isabella, still a rebel at heart, danced to the Beatles’ “Revolution” on a portable turntable. Stephanie, now a syndicated cartoonist, was drawn to a silly novelty song, “The Purple People Eater.” At age 12, my sweet-natured pal Peter fell for the blissful vibe of the Carpenters’ “Sing, Sing a Song,” while my edgier friend Liz went for Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’!”—drawn, she says, to the singer’s “aggressive confidence.” Jan’s pick, the unrequited love classic “Johnny Angel,” foretold, she says, “many angst-filled years to come.” Whereas Steve and Richard, who both married early and well, went for the happy, upbeat everything-will-be-all-right message of “Red Rubber Ball.”
My pal Caroline’s first 45 was “Stop! In the Name of Love.” Now she practices family law.
They all thanked me for bringing up such a fun topic. Thinking about the music you loved at age 12 is unlikely to make you feel glum. Even if, like me, your first 45 was Barry McGuire’s 1965 hit “Eve of Destruction,” a despairing little rant about how messed up the world was. Basically, it was racism, war, hypocrisy, and nuclear annihilation with a back beat, featuring cheery lyrics like “They’ll be no one to save/with the world in a grave.”
Barely 13 and I was already fretting about civilization and its discontents. Decades later, although a wisecracker on the surface, I’m still a worrier at heart.
And Mark, the man in my life? His first single was the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud.” To this day, he’s a man who hates a buzzkill.
“Eve of Destruction” and “Get Off of My Cloud.” Could this be the clearest case ever that opposites attract?
Luckily, we both love music. The two of us were browsing an indy music store recently when I noticed a large section devoted to newly released vinyl 33s.
“Turntables are making a comeback,” enthused the record store clerk when I asked him about it.
Maybe so. But I’m pretty sure the 45 is gone for good.
And that’s okay. After all, “to every thing there is a season.” Which may be from the Book of Ecclesiastes, but we all know it from the single the Byrds cut in 1965.
Perhaps it was your first.
Westward ho? Roz contemplates Silicon Valley. (Image by Patrick Rasenberg via Flickr)
My son and his wife are thinking of moving to California. Although Tom and Amy were born and raised here on the East Coast, the move makes sense. He’s a computer genius. She’s a tech marketing PR genius. They graduated from Johns Hopkins two years ago and are doing great work in Baltimore.
But Silicon Valley, inevitably, beckons.
They’re not thrilled about how far they’d be from their East Coast families. “But when we have kids, you’ll move there too, right?” Tom asks me.
I was an at-home mom. I love kids, and I’m great with them. And I really love babies.
But I also love my life in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Growing up in Detroit, I couldn’t wait to move to the East Coast. That’s where I knew I belonged. I saw myself living and writing in Manhattan. In a penthouse. With a kick-ass view of Central Park. And although I’ve had to make a few adjustments to that dream over the years, I‘m perfectly happy living near Philadelphia, visiting Manhattan often, and blogging for Womens Voices, the Huffington Post, and The New York Times.
At Tom’s age, though, I had my own California dream. After four years at the University of Chicago (Unofficial Motto: “Where Fun Goes To Die“), I was more than ready for sunshine and good times. I moved to Palo Alto and got a job in an ice cream parlor. I loved the fabulous weather, the relaxed vibe, and the friendly, easygoing people. But relentlessly pleasant, feel-good California just didn’t feel like home to me.
Within a year, I was enrolled at Boston University Law School, happy to trade scooping ice cream for studying law. I‘ve lived on the East Coast ever since.
California? Been there. Done that. Not for me.
But grandchildren can be game-changers.
“Welcome to the world’s best club,” a friend commented on Facebook when my pal Liz posted a photo of herself, beaming, her brand-new granddaughter in her arms. One by one, my friends are becoming grandparents. It’s a club I’m longing to join.
With any luck, I will. I’m even luckier that Tom wants me to be there for his kids. In fact, he could be counting on it.
I could become a Flying Grandma! The kind who lives across the country but reliably turns up for vacations, birthdays, piano recitals, soccer matches, and major Jewish holidays.
Or I could relocate.
My own grandparents lived nearby when I was a kid, and I have great memories, not just of special occasions but of routine pleasures. Watching Queen for a Day on the sofa with Grandma Sadie, or noshing on homemade gefilte fish in her kosher kitchen. Playing checkers with Grandpa. Grandma Libby, with spectacular patience, playing “War” with me for hours, games that, mysteriously, I always won.
My (as yet hypothetical) California grandchildren will have a stable home and loving parents. I’m sure they’ll get along just fine without my being there day-to-day, to play with them, snuggle with them, sing them goofy songs, and read them If I Ran the Circus.
But why should they have to?
It could be worse. The kids could be moving to Salt Lake City. Or Ohio. Even for the world’s most adorable grandbaby, I’m not sure I could relocate to Akron.
California is a great place. But I’m a walker. I love sidewalks. And bookstores. And the theater. I cherish my MoMA membership. And my edgy, urban friends. Not to mention my wonderful sister (and fellow transplanted Midwesterner), who lives here too. (And with whom I share the world’s cutest Yorkiepoo.)
At 58, I finally know exactly who I am. A writer who lives and works in suburban Philadelphia and makes frequent trips to New York. How tough could it be to expand that definition to include frequent cross-country trips to enjoy my grandchildren?
“I know you,“ a friend said. “When you fly out to visit that first grandchild, you won’t want to get back on the plane.”
She could be right.
“Have a kid,” I tell my son. “We‘ll see what happens.”
Most readers have heard of Nora Roberts, but few have heard of Elinor Lipman, a fact that comes in quite handy if you happen to work in a public library.
When a patron asks me to recommend a good book, I’ll ask, “Have you read My Latest Grievance?”
The answer is usually no.
I’ll find it on the shelf, she’ll check it out, smiling, and I’ll have preserved my reputation as that amazing librarian who can always be counted on to conjure up just the right read.
If Grievance isn’t available, I can go with Then She Found Me—or any one of Lipman‘s 10 witty and engaging novels. All are literate and funny, wise but never earnest, feminine to the core, but too sharply observed to be mere “chick lit.“ And while her female protagonists are often seeking love, and her stories tend to have happy endings, Lipman’s characters are nuanced and complicated, and she doesn’t hesitate to tackle issues like racism and prejudice.
Lipman’s latest book, I Can’t Complain, isn’t a novel, though, but a collection of essays written over the past two decades for venues from The Boston Globe and Good Housekeeping to Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex. (Which, on the basis of that title and Lipman’s contribution, now tops my own “to read” list.)
Not everyone who can write a good novel is also a gifted nonfiction writer, but I Can’t Complain is a winner. Addressing a wide variety of topics, from sex education and martial communication to growing up Jewish in an Italian neighborhood and the allure of Sex & the City, Lipman is smart, sincere, and very entertaining.
Lipman, a Sex & the City fan, is a bit like Carrie Bradshaw herself; a successful writer who confides in her readers about her life, and is fascinated by people and what makes them tick. But at 62, she’s an older and wiser Carrie Bradshaw in another stage of life, no longer in pursuit of a great love, but enjoying married life and motherhood, as well as coping with the inevitable losses that life brings.
The give and take of married life provides Lipman with plenty of material, inspiring essays about the pursuit of a good night’s sleep when your mate’s sleep habits differ greatly from your own, living with a clean freak, and some interesting observations about the secrets of marital longevity. Lipman celebrates her union, but notes that it is not without stresses. (When Hubby kvetches about the way she’s prepared a gourmet meal, Lipman responds, “Maybe he’d prefer a nice can of Progresso after a hard day’s work.”)
Lipman also explores her own quirks and foibles, in essays about being a nice person who holds grudges, learning to turn down invitations, and her anxieties as an author.
Because I’m a writer myself, I particularly enjoyed Lipman’s essays about her craft. Writing without an outline. Defining your characters by their food choices. And then there’s the dream-come-true experience of Then She Found Me being made into a movie (in 2007) starring Helen Hunt, Bette Midler, Colin Firth, and Matthew Broderick. (Featuring Salman Rushdie as a gynecologist!)
Lipman’s essay about naming her characters was instructive. “Sometimes you name a character in order to reward a friend or punish an enemy,” she confides. For instance, she named the sexual predator in her novel The Dearly Departed after “the critic who gave a dear friend an ugly review in The New York Times.”
Not only is Lipman a good writer, she’s a loyal pal.
Complain also includes Seinfeldian riffs about human behavior. Lipman is particularly interested in couples. What exactly is going on, she wonders, when a woman who is always perfectly turned out has a husband who is a total slob. Doesn’t she notice that his clothing is spotted with food stains and his shoulders covered with dandruff? Or doesn’t she care?
And what about the serial killer who managed to keep his murderous little hobby a secret from his devoted wife over the course of a 27-year marriage? How on earth did he pull that off?
Motherhood inspires a number of essays, including my own favorite, “The Rosy Glow of the Backward Glance,” about the reassuring truth that the vast majority of a new mother’s deepest fears fail to materialize. Lipman contrasts her own concerns about her son’s development when she was a young mom with the way he actually turned out, with items like:
Now: Exceeds his 500 minutes per month cell phone plan.
Then: Watched too much TV, played too much Nintendo.
Now: Graduates from an Ivy League university.
It’s an essay that ought to be handed to every new mom as she leaves the hospital, her new bundle of joy (and inspiration for endless anxiety) in her arms.
The only complaint I have about I Can’t Complain is that it’s over too soon. Putting it down, you’ll feel as if you’ve made a new friend. In the future, you’ll be sure to watch for Lipman’s byline.
And if you haven’t yet read Lipman’s novels, you’ll probably head straight for the library.
Lipman, who has been compared to everyone from Jane Austen to Bart Simpson (including Dorothy Parker and Fran Lebowitz), deserves a much larger audience. Despite her usefulness as a little-known gem to librarians everywhere, I hope that, with this terrific little book, she finds it.
I have an appalling new haircut.
I’d injured my leg, which made the long drive to my usual salon out of the question. But my hair was looking so long and drab that I’d begun wearing a cap to cover it up. So I decided to duck into the chop shop at the local strip mall and get myself a quick, cheap cut.
What could possibly go wrong?
Over the years I’d gotten a few perfectly adequate haircuts there, as well as one truly spectacular cut from a stylist moonlighting from an upscale salon, which, because “Cheap Cuts” was running a special that day, cost just five bucks.
That, in case you didn’t recognize it, is the Haircut Holy Grail.
Hoping that lucky-haircut lightning would strike twice, I entered the place with high expectations.
This time I got exactly what I paid for.
My haircutter was an affable, upbeat, bright-eyed young thing.
“I want it shorter,“ I told her. “But not too short. Can you cut it so that it falls right below my ears?”
“You bet,” she said cheerfully.
Then, inexplicably, she cut my hair so that it fell mid ear. The look I was going for was “short and chic.“ The look I ended up with was “Bozo the Clown.“
Why didn’t I stop her? She’d told me to remove my glasses, and I can’t see past the end of my nose without them. She could have been making preparations to set my hair on fire, and I wouldn’t have known until she lit the match.
Actually, setting my hair on fire would probably have resulted in a better look than the one I ended up with.
When she’d finished and I put my glasses back on, I didn’t gasp, scream, or curse her out. I’m far too polite. I was in shock. And the damage was done. The hair was gone. She couldn’t put it back. Speechless, I paid and fled.
The moment I was out the door I put my cap back on.
Years ago, my nephew got a haircut that was so abysmal—uneven, too short, and just weirdly off-putting—that when he got home he donned his Phillies cap and wore it nonstop till the ghastly cut grew out. Just once, when he was relaxing with a group of trusted pals, they persuaded him to take it off.
When he did, they burst out laughing.
I could continue to wear my own cap until my hair grew back. Instead I decided to try going about my life sans cap and see what happened.
I’d been invited to my sister’s house for dinner. When she opened the door, she did a double take, then quickly said, “It’s not that bad.”
All my brother-in-law could find to say about my haircut was, “It’s short.“
Then again, straight guys don’t really care about hair. Unless they’re your husband and you’ve always had dazzling waist-length blonde hair, and then, because you have a new baby and no longer have time to wash, brush, and endlessly untangle the stuff, one day at the salon you find yourself saying to your stylist: “Just cut it all off. I’d like it to fall just below the shoulders.”
This will make your stylist’s day, but, trust me, it’ll make Hubby miserable.
On the day, two decades ago, that I myself impulsively went from having super-long hair to having a manageable cut, my then-husband took one look at me when I got home and wailed, “How could you do this to me?”
Which is probably what I should have said to the stylist who “scalped” me.
Over the next few days, everyone noticed my catastrophic coif.
“New haircut!” said my friend Nancy Bea. “It looks great!“
“Do you really think so?” I asked. “Honestly?“
“No,” she said. “But it’ll grow back.”
“It’s awkwardly short,” said my pal Maria. “But it’ll grow back.”
My friends had clearly chosen “It’ll grow back” as my new mantra.
“OMG! You poor thing. But it’ll grow back.”
“Wow! That’s extreme. But it’ll grow back.”
“Do you like my haircut?” I asked Joan, a usually outspoken colleague at the library where I work, after a shift in which she’d been oddly silent.
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” she said, “But it’s TERRIBLE! What the hell happened?”
And although both his parents assured me that it looked “very nice,“ the terrific 5-year-old I babysit for took one look at me and said, with refreshing honesty, “That’s ugly.”
Having a bad haircut has given me new insight into the people in my life. Some, I’ve learned, are blunt but honest: “Holy shit! What happened to you?” Others are considerate, boldfaced liars: “Great haircut! You look terrific!” The rest fall somewhere in between: “Fabulous cut! Gee, I hope you’re one of those people whose hair grows quickly.”
When he saw my new cut, Mark, the man in my life, said, “You’re gorgeous.”
That’s why he’s the man in my life.
It was my friend Deb whose response was the most instructive. She didn’t say a thing. When I finally prompted, “So how do you like my hair?” she looked at me for a moment, then said, “It looks nice. Is it different?“
I’d assumed that my appearance had been so transformed that just to look my way was a painful shock for my friends and family. And yet, it hadn’t even turned up on Deb’s radar.
So . . . maybe my awful haircut wasn’t such a big deal after all?
When I returned home, I took a good look in the mirror and thought, “Get over yourself, Roz. It’s only a haircut. It’ll grow back.”
Then I took another look and put my cap back on.
Dr. Cecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for us in many articles over the years. This week she presents her contrarian view of a husband-hunting manual we reviewed last Thursday—Data, a Love Story. Roz Warren’s wry review laid out Amy Webb’s Internet search for a husband—amazingly successful, given her method. Webb laid down 72 demands that her suitor must fulfill—requirements as minor as “Mac person preferred over PC” and as major as “Wants to have two kids with me. This is non-negotiable.” She got her man—and by being picky!
As Roz Warren made clear in her post last week, Data: A Love Story is very amusing. And it’s heartening, too—the writer’s self-confidence should be an example to us all! Her proactive approach to Internet dating is what it’s all about.
However, I have some serious issues about what Amy Webb’s research and subsequent man-hunting approach reveals about the still sorry state of the battle of the sexes.
Though Webb herself is a woman of many accomplishments and would probably call herself a feminist, she abandoned all that in pursuit of a husband. For research purposes, she masqueraded on the Internet as a man—to find out just what her kind of guy wants in a woman.
As Roz described last week, Webb, a discouraged online dater, decided to use her skills as a number-cruncher to come up with some formulae of her own to help her find more suitable dates. First she crafted her ideal man—with startling precision (each of those 72 characteristics had a weighted numerical value). She posted several online profiles of men matching these characteristics (doctors, lawyers—you get the picture), complete with photos from stock photo sites, and waited to see who replied. Thus she was able to observe the profiles of the respondees and see how her “men” interacted with them. She could judge what her men wanted by checking out how generally popular these women were in the online world.
Her research led her to change her picture (her new picture showed her in a cleavage-revealing clingy dress, holding a glass of wine). Indeed, she also had to alter her whole profile. What she found out was that the “popular” women presented themselves as generically as possible—that is, as upbeat, fun-loving, sexy, and adventurous, and that’s about it. While Webb’s list of things she sought in a man was incredibly detailed, it turns out that what men supposedly want is quite limited: cleavage, fun, and to feel tall. (She found that every single one of the women in the most-viewed profiles was listed as under 5 feet 4 inches, so she concluded that height was a big factor.)
So Webb refashioned her profile in the spirit of a cheerleader, presenting herself like these women (though listing her real height of 5 feet 6 inches). Though it’s true that her original profile was too detailed (making it likely to be skipped), she is a person of great accomplishment and she herself was seeking the same qualities in her man.
Some of the changes Webb made to her profile are ones that I usually recommend—especially choosing profile pictures with Internet dating in mind. Which means that they must present a woman as attractive and appealing, sexy (but not too suggestive), and friendly.
However, I also recommend fashioning a profile that will attract the kind of person whom you might want to meet—so if you are an intellectual, don’t hide it, since that’s what you are seeking in someone else. This is not, however, the approach that Webb took. She remade herself into a generically appealing fun-loving type while underplaying her main advantages.
How is it that she was able to attract intelligent men this way? One thing that puzzles me is this: Her fake profiles of intelligent men attracted women who’d made themselves sound like unaccomplished cheerleader types. And the cheerleader types were popular. But how do we know that “real life” intelligent men would like them? These women are often marked as favorites on the dating sites—but how do we know that the kinds of men Webb liked were the ones doing the choosing, not the losers?
Finally, though Webb got 14 replies the first night she posted her new ad, she struck gold with the first man she responded to. So we don’t learn how many of the others are men who would have met her standards, nor how much drop-off there might have been (drop-off is typical after an ad has been around a while).
The most compelling thing about her story, and the most important, is that she knew what she wanted and refused to settle for less, despite the fact that there was enormous pressure all around her to date anyone with a Y chromosome. Perhaps not everyone knows herself as well as Webb does, or is as opinionated, but her self-confidence is inspiring. Some of her criteria, such as refusing to date any man who watches sports on TV, cut out an awfully large portion of the male population and may be dangerously limiting, but there are some things a person just can’t live with, I guess.
I have one more criticism, and it’s a serious one. When Webb put her male profiles up on the Internet site and was interacting with hopeful women, she limited herself to three interactions and then told them she wasn’t interested. Though it is important to have a thick skin when you engage in online dating, it’s hard for most not to take it as a personal rejection when this happens, and Amy Webb gave no serious consideration to the pain she might be causing other women during her research.
Later in her book she describes how incredibly excited she got when a man who seemed desirable contacted her. Yet, as a (fake) man, she showed “interest” over and over to other women, only to disappoint them. Sadly, the data in Data, A Love Story” suggests that your grandmother was right about how to get a man, “The Rules” are still in full force, and feminism still has a long way to go.