Friday, July 30, 2010

the halloween conundrum

Each October, while other children dreamed of candy and debated over whether to go pretty (princess) or scary (toothless zombie), my sister and I braced ourselves for the torture known as Halloween, when, dressed in our everyday jammies, we would muffle our ears against the omnipresent sound of the doorbell, knowing that our parents were self-righteously ignoring it.

My parents were not, thank God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who denied us even a birthday present. Nor were they fundamentalists, rejecting Halloween as “Satan’s birthday” (as my Floridian children have been informed more than once by zealous baptists), or even ultra-orthodox jews, who would at least have supplanted the festive misrule of Halloween with an uproarious Purim that could have provided plenty of opportunities to go pretty (Esther) or skanky (Vashti). No, they were liberal, cultural Jews, who provided us with Christmas stockings (though God forbid a tree or lights), but who sanctimoniously insisted on the dangers of Halloween. “All year,” my mother would smugly query, “You tell children to stay away from strangers, and then ONE DAY, you encourage them to ring doorbells and ask for candy?” Never mind that we would only go to apartments where we knew someone; never mind that everyone else did it (“If everyone else jumped off the Empire State Building…?); never mind that it brought us shame and misery and pain, not only listening to that doorbell, but at school the next day, when everyone showed up with bulging bags of candy, not to mention a pushke full of change for the United Nations Children’s fund. (“Trick or Treat for Unicef,” children were taught to say, as if those behind the door would actually believe that, future readers of Playboy for the articles, these witches and pirates were only there to support charity). Later, when I read in CL Barber’s “Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy” about the reinforcement of hierarchy by its inversion on days such as twelfth night, I wondered if that would have proved a convincing argument for my highly intellectual parents – but I doubt it would have.

I bring up this painful memory not to evoke sympathy, verguenza ajena , or even schadenfreude, but rather because a recent discussion with one of my daughters reminded me of the conundrum my parents believed was posed by Halloween. Unlike Tigerlily (who would most likely want to shove her fingers in her ears and sing LALALA if the subject came up), the empathic Butterfly would like to see me dating. In her eyes (and probably mine as well) my social life is dull; she worries that I am lonely, and she would like to see a nice man about the house. The subject of online dating, however, is anathema to her. “No, mom. No internet.”

I told my dear friend, Perspicace Terapista (to whom we shall affectionately refer hereafter as “the Petvarkin”), and – insightful as always – she reminded me that the Butterfly’s response was, in fact, a good thing. “Think of all the time we spend telling kids that meeting people on line is a dangerous and bad thing.” The Petvarkin, of course, makes an excellent point all Match and Jdate and even Irishsinglesnetwork users need to keep in mind: you don’t really know who is out there. So what is a bella professoressa to do?

If we accept my parents’ response to the Halloween conundrum, bella p should not be on line at all. But why rationalize fear – or endorse a seemingly pious policy that (my own childhood demonstrates) causes pain and suffering? Why should I bypass the opportunity to receive winks from men who proudly assert that they don’t read books any more? My parents did, after all, afford a second model: the lie, or, more kindly put, the omission. (As in, not telling your child before she is anesthetized that she will wake up missing four grown-up teeth. Or that you flushed the fifth litter of baby gerbils down the toilet.)

As the Petvarkin pointed out, however, leading with a lie (“we met – uh – at a Starbucks!”) is not the best way to start out a relationship between your offspring and someone who might become a significant part of your life. Instead, she offered a different solution: “Show her the difference. Take her online and show her the safeguards in place. Explain to her the steps you are following to make sure you don’t place yourself in a dangerous situation.”

As we know, the Petvarkin is the brilliant Perspicace Terapista, so her helpfulness comes as no surprise. But the model she offered is also one I wish my parents had been willing to consider lo these many years. Don’t give in to the conundrum (my child might think it is ok to ring someone’s doorbell and ask for candy on President’s Day!”), but explain it: “Normally we don’t do this, but today is a special day when we wear costumes and ask for candy. We stay together, we carry a flashlight, we only go to the homes of our friends and we do not accept treats from anyone with his hand in his pants.”

So I think I will explain the process and the safety measures and show the Butterfly how these websites work. Because I bet after she sees the profiles of some of these charmers on (“Last thing read: Playboy”) the last thing she’ll want to do is meet up with some guy she meets on line!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

is he J?

When you are a nice Jewish girl, at some point in your life, someone (and, probably, a great many someones) is going to ask whether you are dating a tribesman. “Is he J?” my ex-sister-in-law’s mother used to ask avidly before every first date. (To no avail, it turns out, although my ex-husband’s brother is the one who wept at their son’s bar mitzvah.) So you should not be surprised, on your re-entry into dating, that those same someones (and some others, as well) inevitably will ask, “Have you tried J-date?” Never mind that you already have four children – the youngest of whom is already 11 – and, although you do really love babies you need a baby like an extra lochenkopf (hole in the head, to the gentle gentiles out there), so that the categorical imperative for mating with a fellow traveler is somewhat obviated. Never mind, too, that, in your hierarchy of needs and desires for the new man in your life (must be kind, must like children, must be self-supporting and industrious, must not admire Meir Kahane), yiddishkeit is a low priority. And, finally, never mind, that, given that you did list yourself as Jewish on your match profile, cyber-Jews from as far as Boca and Miami are virtually winking at you already, because every Jewish girl, by definition, must want to meet them.

But you are always curious about new things, and up for an adventure, and it is nice to think about spending the holidays with someone who will probably not be eating a tuna sandwich in front of you right before neela (closing services) as you are fasting for Yom Kippur. And you are, in fact, Jewish, so there you are, making a profile for Shaina Professoressa, and joining the line before the ark to be paired with your beshairt (cosmically intended).

J-date seeks to cater to the full spectrum of the Jewish world, so it is not surprising, perhaps, that you can select from a full range of options to describe the particular “ish” of your Jewishness. Orthodox, conservative, or reform? Those are not enough! Are you Hasidic? Modern orthodox? Traditional? A ba’al tschuvah? Or perhaps you are a convert (or on your way there), or reconstructionist, or “culturally jewish but not religious,” or “some other stream” or even (brace yourself), a GOY? (Okay, so they don’t actually label that option “goy,” but we all know what they mean.) You also are asked to select your level of kashrut (kosherness) from at least five options, ranging from glatt to “only at home” to “not at all.” (There is not, alas, a category, “technically not at all, but I think about it every single time I cook bacon, and I also think that how the animals were treated in their lifetimes is more important than the over-salting part of the ritual.)

But it’s when you move away from religious observance to activities that the distinctiveness of Jewish culture is thrown into relief. For example, in the goyische world of, everyone, it seems, wants to be outside. "I'm happiest sailing my boat!" "Just slather on the sunblock, drink plenty of water, and spend the day outside, from sunrise to sunset." (Wait! Sunrise? Sunset? That's our song! But this tune is a little different.) Whereas match provides you with a plethora of athletic activities -- from aerobics to weight-lifting to inline skating, hunting and fishing and whatever, J-date’s choices in that realm are somewhat limited. (They do, however, list "gambling" as an option, something missing from the gentile site.) On the other hand, the world of culture on J-date is far more diverse: not just "music and concerts" (the match checkbox) but a variety of choices, including, but not limited to reggae, ska, hiphop, opera, symphony, top forty, country and easy listening. There's not merely dancing but tango, ballroom and line. And music theater is definitely an option.

But the real smorgasbord (or early bird buffet, to remain in our people’s lexicon) is when it comes to food. Knowing that the universal Jewish response to match’s diffident, “do you enjoy dining?” is a resounding “Is the pope catholic?”, J-date requires you to provide your opinion regarding approximately forty different types of cuisine, including Korean, barbecue and soul food. Finally! A yenta website that gets to the essential issues!

Unfortunately, though, when you finally look at the matches, it’s the same old same old. I don’t mean literally (although probably that, too), but, like their gentile counterparts they like sailing or their Harley (what is it with men of a certain age and their motorcycles?) or they like to cook; they know they are supposed to like holding hands and watching "Casablanca" (remember about the lilypads?) and they want to find – that special someone.

So Shaina's going to hang up her tsitsits (no, this has nothing to do with bras!) and stick with ecumenicism. After all, what's more jewish than a buffet?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

braving the lilypads

Before you can meet your Irish prince, you have to kiss a lot of frogs. And what better way to sort the amphibians than with the obligatory post-modern hop through the lilypad pond known as!

For a happy hetero-divorcee such as myself, 21st-century dating represents a brave new world. Of course I know the words to every song from "Fiddler on the roof" and have followed my friends' on-line dating adventures, but the last time I dated, there was no internet, my breasts were where they belonged, and there was no aids. (Well, there was, but there was no test, we didn't know from HIV, and we didn't even pretend to use condoms. Now, apparently, I will be expected to have them in my purse.) We certainly didn't meet through "artificial means" --except for my parents' upstairs neighbor, Ruth, who, after her husband died of cancer, used a matchmaking service to meet a new partner with whom she made love EXTREMELY volubly for the rest of their lives.

I did, however, have one spectacularly awful blind date arranged by my grandmother's Israeli friend Ora, who set me up with a young man who referred to Gaza and the West Bank as Judea and Samaria and told me -- as a positive -- that his father reminded him of Meir Kahane. My one carry-forward lesson from the eighties? Meet for coffee before you agree to anything else. (But -- and this is not very attractive -- if you are stuck having dinner and he is paying, order a second dessert. After all, you deserve something for your pain and suffering.)

Now, preparing to meet guys is less about putting on lipstick and going somewhere and more about hunkering down with your laptop, and maybe a glass of wine. (Personally, I prefer a small plate of mini-eclairs.) I am happy to report that, like those bygone days, it still involves giggling with your girlfriends, although now the process is less about lipstick teeth check and more like taking those quizzes in Seventeen magazine.

Being a "glass half full" kind of a girl, I happily envisioned recovering from starbucks encounters with latter-day ben-Meir Kahanes through animated racconteurism to my friends, but I did not realize that the on-line dating process -- emails, "winks" and plain profile-reading -- would provide so much humor right in my very inbox.

To denizens of, eharmony, and -- yes, I saw it but did not join -- irishsinglesnetwork, what I greet with laughter, shock and awe will no doubt seem oldhat. But to folks like my beloved sister, bella psicologista, who has had two first dates in over 25 years, my revelations will be, perhaps, a bit more, well, revealing.

It seems there is some guide to online profiling for men that tells them to write what women want to hear. Or so I suspect. Are there really that many men out there who--unprompted--would describe themselves as "sensitive and a great listener"? And who are totally into nascar, moto-cross and sporting events, but whose favorite film is "casablanca"? After much cogitation, I unlocked the key. The secret to understanding these statements is to realize you are reading only the first part of the sentence-- -- as in, "I am as comfortable in a tux as in jeans" -- when you are s'ing my d.; "I love snuggling with my lady and watching "sleepless in seattle" -- when my lady is s'ing my d. "I love to gaze at the stars -- while ... well, you get the picture.

Another cringe-worthy factor (or, in the fabulous spanish term I learned yesterday, verguenza ajena -- "shame on behalf of others") demonstrated above is the use of "lady." Although I aspire to lady-like behavior (often hard to pull off when you are a disorganized, somewhat uncoordinated mother of four with wild hair and no time), no man except Barry White can get away with referring to his "lady" without asterisks or irony. (The jury is out on "lay, lady, lay" -- but it's not in my top 100.)

Here's a time-saving tip many resourceful would-be ladiesmen have learned: Cut and paste very passionate declarations of a lady's great beauty -- and send them to as many women as possible! Avow you're not a player and assert how much you long for a deep relationship with a lady who lives, oh, two-thousand miles away. My personal favorite thus far was "hearthatlove," an Englishman (living in England, mind), who rhapsodized about all he could read in my eyes--through the sunglasses in my profile picture?

Given my personal passion for close textual analysis (although "love cta" is not in my on-line profile), in later posts we may review some of the most memorable missives I have received, but I recognize my tendency to ramble, so I will leave you today with this query: Are misspelled words a turn-on to some ladies? Bella professoressa would like to know.

Monday, July 12, 2010

how to meet and marry an Irish Man

The first step, you might think, in meeting and marrying an Irish man would be to brainstorm ways to meet an Irish man--"" will let you know of upcoming conventions in Dublin, perhaps, or joining a Joyce reading group, on the presumption that the Ulysses-obsessed might have Irish friends. Or, you might take to lurking in an Irish pub: Tampa's 4 green fields boasts of the only thatched roof in North America, and you can drink Smithwick to your heart's content, instead of the liquid bread known as Guinness.

But, while these steps could certainly prove useful, and might well be worth adopting along the way, none of them -- or even the brainstorming itself -- is the first step. The first step -- and this is especially important if you are a slender but flabby single mother of four, pushing 50, satisfactorally employed but financially depleted, and only recently divorced from Beethoven -- is to get in shape. Miniature bat wings probably won't keep you from getting laid by a drunken guy in a bar (which virtually anyone in a very large bracket of adults can do if they put their mind to it), but your goal is not to have sex but to meet and marry an Irish man, with whom you will have fabulous, mutually-satisfying sex, as well as fabulous, mutually-satisfying conversations. This last pretty much cancels out the pairing up with a drunkard in a bar, since you hate drunkards, which will make meeting and marrying the right Irish man so important.

The purpose of getting yourself into shape is not, it is crucial to recognize, to make you more attractive to others. It is, first and foremost (beyond preventing osteoporosis and eliminating the need to drink that nasty skello-grow once a month) to help you feel better about yourself, and more attractive, so that, in turn, you will feel complete without a man (Irish or otherwise), but will, nevertheless, attract the right calibre of guy, such as that Irishman you are going to meet and marry. Besides, you will not be matched with the right sort of guy if your profile declares that you never exercise.

How you get in shape is pretty much up to you, but I would propose not being too doctrinaire. You could return to your glory days as a 5k runner -- maybe even break that 30 minute mark, and meet a well-toned runner at that terrific nighttime run catered by the Columbia restaurant. But adding races to your schedule is not a great idea when you are a single mother of four, already overcommitted financially and temporally. Even if your ass is flabby. And when you finally have a weekend morning where you don't have to drive to a rehearsal or a playdate or a bat mitzvah, do you really want to get up and run? With that fair skin, Irish men should not be running out doors, anyway.

Your Irish man may not be hiding at the Y, but you can use the elliptical, finally learn to spin (if you ever figure out the schedule), try to rediscover your abdominal muscles (remember the four children?) in core class or pretend you are your instructor as you look in the mirror at Zumba. Plus, doing Zumba will prepare you for the night of salsa dancing with your Latin lover, Diego, and will help to save you that $25 a month co-pay for skello-grow. Even if it breaks Diego's heart, you can put that $25 a month toward your trip to Ireland.

isn't it romantic?

When people learn that your husband is a composer, the first response is always, "How romantic!" And, indeed, it is. The things is, though, the romance isn't about getting flowers, or a deep look in your eyes, or lots of sex -- although these are all things you experience, at various times. (Frankly, there could have been more flowers.) I was never awoken, like Cosima Wagner, to a chamber ensemble, arrayed on the stairs, playing an arrangement of my husband's hits that would enter into the orchestral canon as "The Naomi Idyll." (My children, however, were kept up many nights by loud banging on the piano, and I often fell asleep, over the years, to the rather endearing click of his fingers on a keyboard, when he courteously put on headphones and worked electronically.)
No, life with a composer is romantic in the more accurate, historical sense of sturm und drang, poets setting out in a rowboat in a thunder storm, with their dead friend's poetry in their pocket; or the annoyance of Liszt, distracted by the babies constantly nursing off of his lover -- Wagner's daughter, I believe -- and offended by the preposterous assumption that somehow one's offspring should take priority over artistic creation. No, I was married to Beethoven, only with an acute sense of hearing and probably, to be fair, a much better aroma.

Being married to Beethoven does have its moments of glory; sharing in the premiere of the 9th symphony is an incomparable high, especially when you have listened to the evolution of the an die freude theme and even collaborated with Schiller on the text. What is not fun is listening to the rants about how no one recognizes that he is in fact Beethoven, the injured merit, the perceived slights. And the fact that Beethoven thinks it is okay to keep you up for hours, ranting at you, because it is your fault that he is not living in Vienna, or NY, or San Francisco, and because your ears stick out and you refuse to cover them, and because you want to be Mary Shelley instead of the Immortal Beloved.

But, at a certain moment, you can realize that "Isn't it romantic?" doesn't have to be your song, and you can gather up Bathsheba, and the Rockstar, the Butterfly, and Tigerlily, and compose a new melody, with lyrics all your own.