Some have a philosophizing bent.  Not me. I’m pragmatic.  I want to get on with whatever it is, not sit around considering it from one aspect and then another, possibly winding up in either a metaphysical tangle from which it’s impossible to extricate yourself or a shouting match with whoever was going to help you address the problem.

Given this mind set, I never took a straight philosophy course in college.  Perhaps I was also scared off by my first serious boyfriend pronouncing me illogical. Of course, the subtext of his pronouncement had to do with sex — he being all for it right away and me putting up multiple objections to such haste. On departing for a semester at his own remote college, he urged me to acquire a copy of Cohen & Nagel’s Introduction to Logic; it would help me think properly when he returned for Christmas break.  I hated Introduction to Logic from its very first page. Besides, it had nothing to do with sex.  I shut the book and never looked at it again.

However, I did take a great senior course called The Individual and History given by a lanky and charismatic professor named Charles Trinkaus who didn’t know how charming he was.  For him I turned the pages of the Bible and assorted works by, inter alia,  Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Benedict, Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, Rousseau, Voltaire, Hegel, Engels, Marx and Freud — before forgetting most of what I had read.

With this sketchy training from boyfriend and professor, plus an unforgettably snotty remark from a first and early husband (but no other philosophic weapons at my command), I nevertheless entered adult life equipped with three magic bullets that fully resolved differences with another person, especially whenever I was feeling cornered — and permitted moving forward on whatever really mattered.  If you too are a pragmatist and find yourself not doing so well in a talk-fest, be my guest.


1.  Snotty putdown.

(So that other guy should not gloat when you’re stuck.)

“Now that you’ve got the last word, what are you going to do with it?”


2.  Too wise to nit-pick. 

(You said A; he or she said B; you’re not sure what to say next.)

 “What are we arguing for? As Hegel said, It’s all thesis, antithesis, synthesis anyway.”


3.  Self-referential deconstructionist.

(My favorite. Justifies everything.  Best employed with Gallic shrug of shoulder and twinkling eye. Also from Hegel, via first serious boyfriend trying to impress me on the beach the summer we met. )

“The world is my idea.”   

How can anyone argue with that?




Anyone who works in a professional capacity — that is, without expectations of a nine-to-five day — probably long ago realized the major part of his or her life was now being spent in an office.  [For those who toil equally long hours at home the temptations to be discussed below will necessarily be different.  The refrigerator? The nap? The laundry? Here I have no experience to share, and can only imagine.]

Especially where it is men and women who are collegially spending these major parts of their lives together, having frequent one-on-one conferences and meetings on this and that early and late, passing each other in the sometimes narrow hallways, occasionally needing to order working suppers sent in — what thoughts, and other nouns, do you suppose might occasionally arise?

Of course, we’ve all heard the friendly advice:  “Don’t mess around in the office.”  [A more gender-specific version of this counsel, inapplicable to half of us: “Don’t stick your pen in the company inkwell.”]  And we all know nothing good can come of whatever we’re contemplating, irrespective of the immediate pleasure. Not in the long run. Or even the short run, if one party seriously misreads the signals coming from the other party.  Nonetheless, to err is human, especially under conditions imposed by the American economy on those who want to put their children at least through college, if not graduate school, and have enough left over to retire before being overtaken by death.

That said, I never did find out much about what went on in the two law firm offices in which I sweated out my last nineteen years of paid employment. By then I was rather too long in the tooth to appeal to any but a highly specialized taste, which did not timely present itself; I therefore acquired no first-hand information to impart to you. As for piggyback hearsay, unless inebriated at firm parties lawyers tend to be discreet. However, the woman who ran the night Word Processing Department was another story. “Oh honey,” she would say at 10 p.m., as you gave her a marked-up brief that had to be ready to file the next morning:  “What I could tell you about lawyers in love!”

If no one was behind me waiting for her services, I could then hear of a dainty Chinese-Australian first-year associate found sitting on a large partner’s lap behind his closed office door after hours (both parties married to others), and about a Supreme Court Chief Justice’s son — also married, and breeding legitimate babies like a rabbit — who could not resist openly pinching secretarial bottoms, and perhaps in a few instances reaching under and up the rear hemlines. (Admittedly, this last hardly qualifies as “love,” but does cross some kind of bright line for seemly office deportment.)

There were also two other male partners, both splendid chaps and wonderful conversationists when not discussing the law, who in the past had traded in their wives (with multiple attached children) to marry the younger, more comely secretaries who were their office wives already. One of them — not having learned anything from experience — later repeated the process with a subsequent secretary who had replaced the new Mrs. Partner as soon as new Mrs. P. got the ring on her finger.  He was then burdened with two monthly alimony payments and two packages of child support. [He also paid for one new wife to go to art school.] Fortunately, he was a lucrative rainmaker, so that his domestic expenses remained manageable.

In that very large firm with the voluble night Word Processing manager were two more partners — both married, although not to each other, and both professed Catholics — who comported themselves with utter propriety even when no one seemed to be looking but were given to leaving warm, bordering on openly affectionate, messages on yellow stickies affixed to each other’s desks, easily  legible if somebody else were to walk in while one or the other of them were away in the bathroom, for instance, or doing a deposition in a conference room.  Once when late at night I was leaving the building, which occupied a square block, I saw them halfway down the steps together in the near dark, under the dim light of a faraway street lamp.  They were face to face and no more than an inch apart, bidding each other goodnight in whispers too soft for me to hear.  But no part of either touched any part of the other.  It must have been exquisite agony.  He later died of prostate cancer and she became visibly distraught at the funeral, more so than any of his other partners.  However, she later went on the state bench and managed to insert herself between another state court judge and his wife, who sat on the federal bench. The two married judges were not Catholic, so their marriage unravelled more easily than had that of the recently deceased male partner.  Apparently the lady partner turned judge who had previously communicated her feelings to her male partner via yellow stickies had not been so Catholic after all. Are you still following me in all this?

Moving right along, some people (although not lawyers, as far as I know) have tried to bring the desired one home as a congenial colleague, in the apparent hope of incorporating more time with her or him into married social life. In the one case I personally know of — because it took place two floors below the apartment  second husband and I occupied while our children were small –this strategy boomeranged big time.  The young and good-looking male neighbor, who worked in public television and had two small children himself, introduced his pretty wife to an extremely attractive young woman with whom he worked and who he thought felt about him the way he felt about her. Was he ever wrong!  The pretty wife and the extremely attractive young woman fell in love, and our young and good-looking male neighbor had to move out.  He later found employment at another public television station in San Diego, and another wife as well, so you could say it all worked out okay, but as you may well imagine, there were many hard feelings along the way.

And now we come to the feature attraction of this piece: my very own story of office temptation.  Let us roll back the years to 1962, when I was 31 — just a year older than the Balzac ideal woman, la femme de trente ans, old enough to know what’s what, still young enough to be desirable. We find me recently divorced from first husband (and therefore theoretically and also actually “dying for it”), looking about as good as I ever would, and writing advertising copy for things women wear in a small ad agency run by two aging brothers, one of whom I never saw in the two and a half years I worked there. There was a “creative” staff of five: senior art director (male), junior art director (male), two copywriters (both female), and a Creative Director (male) who had been an art director but had worked his way up.  He was married; however, the wife and three children were tucked away in Long Island somewhere, a one-hour commute from us. There were also several account executives, a bookkeeping department, and an art department of persons perched on art stools who did layouts and paste-ups and technical stuff for print ads you don’t need to know about. Also an unmarried receptionist/switchboard operator of about twenty-four, slender but with badly colored brassy red hair that was really black, as were her eyebrows (she was of Italian descent), skin that showed the ravages of teen-age acne, flashy taste in clothes and poor diction.

Back to the “creative” staff.  Our offices ran along the side of one hall, together with the office of one account executive.  The senior art director, about my age, was reputed to have been “wild” in his youth.  “Wild” as in sometimes ripping off all his clothes except his BVDs and running around the agency barefoot to let off steam. He didn’t do that any more.  He was married, and a father, and grumpy because this was the Doyle, Dane Bernbach era when the visual ruled in print advertising. We, on the other hand, often ran a lot of copy to go with the photo of the product because the manufacturer wanted it that way, which meant our ads had no chance of winning art director awards.

The junior art director was simpatico, competent and gay. (But in the closet.  We were sort of friends, I sort of guessed, he never said.)

The other copywriter was married, a mother, and with a husband who didn’t earn enough.  She worked a three day week, and on those three days worked through lunch so she could leave at four.  She hardly had time to talk, even in the john.  So I carried the copy load for the big accounts.

The account executive whose office came between the senior art director and the Creative Director had been a secretary who found favor with the client that really kept the agency going. Now she was liaison between that client and the agency.  (It was copy for that client’s account I was principally responsible for.) She was also the sort of person who couldn’t bear seeing you idle for a moment if you could be doing something to improve service for “her” client.  One such afternoon she set me the challenging assignment of finding “fresh” ways to say “Prices slightly higher in the West.”  Go ahead: you try it.  “Prices rise with the Rockies”  was about as good as I could do and, as you can see, it wasn’t very.

Under these lonely and unhappy working conditions, you may well understand that a nice-looking Creative Director — tall, dark, and with a warm, friendly smile just for you each time he passed your doorway — could begin to occupy the thoughts of a 31-year-old copywriter who was “dying for it,” even though he was married.  We sat in many meetings together — Creative Director, senior art director, account executive and me. As the senior art director and the account executive droned on, about ruffles on a blouse, tucks that didn’t photograph well, I would examine the Creative Director’s features — his nose, his mouth, his chin. Suddenly, his eyes met mine and saw desire. For one electric moment, our eyes touched. Then, embarrassed, I looked away.

Too late. The fat was in the fire.  Now there were many mutual looks.  Much stopping in doorways. Little chats about the weather that weren’t about the weather. Unnecessary excuses to check out a piece of copy.  One day, he came into my office dangling a sheer flesh-colored something  from a finger.  It was a probable design reject from a brassiere manufacturer we represented:  a bra without an underwire or any built-in support and no extra appliqués of cloth covering the nipple area. The client thought it wouldn’t sell.

“What do you think?” he asked.  “Can we do anything with this?” I took it from his finger, our hands briefly touching. An hour later, I was in his office with the bra and a piece of paper pulled from my typewriter clearly revealing what was on my mind:  “BARELY THERE:  the bra to feel you’re not wearing a bra in.”  Now his smile was huge.  The next morning, he was back with a line drawing of a lovely odalisque: a reclining woman wearing the bra and apparently nothing else. (The drawing stopped at her hip.) My headline was lettered in below.  He had done it himself, at home, imagining me. Well, that’s what he said.

It was seven years before Woodstock, but “Barely There” sold and sold!  We had a hit!  We also had a dilemma.  Where did “we” go from here?  At the next boring meeting with the account executive and the senior art director about ruffles, tucks, pleats and retouching an unattractive pimple on the model, the Creative Director began with a little anecdote he thought was funny.  (Although what it had to do with ruffles, tucks and pleats he never said.) “A lady comes into a psychoanalyst’s office. Before she can say anything, the psychoanalyst directs her to take off all her clothes and lie down on the couch, whereupon he has sexual intercourse with her.  When he’s done and buttoned up again, he says, ‘Well, that’s the solution.  Now, what’s the problem?'”  The Creative Director then turned to me and asked, “Is that the solution?”

Quel drama!  In a public forum! Did the other two suspect what was going on?  The silence was thunderous. Reluctantly, I answered, “It’s a solution that creates more problems.” For a moment he seemed startled. Then he replied, “That’s a very good answer.”

And on that prudent note, dear readers, my story ends.  Soon the Creative Director was taking extremely long lunches out with the red-haired receptionist/switchboard operator, who tried not to talk about what they were doing during those long lunches but occasionally failed.  As the weather got warmer, and the Creative Director began walking up and down the corridor past my door with his jacket off, I also noticed he had a very big ass, quite out of proportion to the rest of him.  It was an ass that might possibly be acceptable in a husband, because whether you were on top or on the bottom you didn’t have to see it, but certainly not what you would want in a married lover in the office, where you saw him walking up and down the corridors before the two of you went out for the quickies which were all you’d ever get because he was homeward bound every night to his wife and three children.

About a year later, I was let go;  the account executive felt she needed someone “fresh.” This was not an unmitigated tragedy.  I did find another job writing copy, and then I met someone who would become my second husband and the father of my children.  Just to wind this up on an even more positive note, I was walking through JFK several years after that with my six-month-old first-born on my shoulder, having returned from showing him off to my parents in California.  The Creative Director, also in the airport but several groups of other people away, nevertheless spotted me, waved and mouthed a question about the baby:  “Yours?”

I nodded.  He gave me a thumbs up, and we smiled at each other one last time.



I’m doing PR today for three acquaintances.  Two I’ve met in what we call “real” life, one I’ve encountered only on WordPress.  Nobody paid me. Nobody asked me.  Not one of the three is aware of this post.

But when someone you know ( or “know”) works for years and years — in two cases below, eight years — on the typescript of a novel and it finally becomes a published book, I think that book deserves a shout-out when introduced to the reading public.  Nothing below may appeal to you. But perhaps you know someone with different tastes, and could spread the word.  All are available for pre-order on Amazon. In order of publication date, here they are:


SINGLED OUT, by Julie Lawford.  Available in paperback on January 28: $13.99; Kindle edition on February 1, $3.99.

Julie is a British marketer who decided four years ago she really wanted to be a writer.  She has worked long and hard to become one, and now she is.  You can read about the process, and her angst along the way, in her blog, A Writer’s Notepad. [She’s also become a blogging buddy, but that’s neither here nor there.]  I haven’t had the opportunity to read any of her book, which she calls “a gritty psychological suspense story set on a singles holiday in Turkey,” except the first sentence.  But a novel that begins:  “He stands over her, fastening his jeans” — come on, ladies, how can that not grab you?

This is the Amazon description of Singled Out (which I bet Julie wrote herself):

Brenda Bouverie has come on a singles holiday to Turkey to escape. Intent on indulgence, she’s looking for sun, sea and distraction from a past she would give anything to change.

But on this singles holiday no one is quite what they seem. First impressions are unreliable and when the sun goes down, danger lies in wait. As someone targets the unwary group of strangers, one guest is alone in sensing the threat. But who would get involved, when getting involved only ever leads to trouble?

The tag for Singled Out is: “There’s something delicious about not being known, don’t you think?”  If you want a read that subverts the sunshine holiday romance, “taking you to a darker place where horrific exploits come to light, past mistakes must be accounted for and there are few happily ever afters” — this may be the winter book for you!


THE BROMLEY GIRLS, by Martha Mendelsohn. (Texas Tech. Univ. Press)  Paperback, $11.43.  Publication date, April 15.

I met Martha at a monthly prose writing group I attended in Manhattan (commuting from Princeton), from about the end of 2006 until 2009.  The meetings took place mostly in Martha’s apartment on Central Park West. [She makes a mean guacamole. Her husband hid out somewhere while we were there.]  It was at those meetings that I read, and then heard read aloud, the chapters of the first and second drafts of The Bromley Girls — a young adult (“YA”) novel that deals with anti-semitism, anorexia, mean girls, sibling problems, and the burgeoning of young love, as experienced by a fourteen-year old transferring to a new school in Manhattan in 1955.  But it was primarily, even in its early drafts, a smooth and suspenseful story, not just for young girls but also for me (in too many ways still a young girl at heart).

I haven’t seen what happened to The Bromley Girls after I left the group, but it can only have gotten better.  Martha’s a terrific writer, and when it at last left her computer, it was selected for publication by a university press with a YA division. This is how it’s described on Amazon:

It’s 1955 and fourteen-year-old Emily Winter’s promising start at Bromley, a posh, academically challenging Manhattan girls’ school, threatens to turn sour when her new friend Phoebe Barrett joins an anti-Semitic club founded by the popular and snobby Cressida Whitcroft.

But how can Emily stay angry with Phoebe, who shares Emily’s fascination with knights and the Middle Ages, when Phoebe has put herself on a dangerously stringent diet and is sinking into an ever-deeper obsession with losing weight?

In a story about the search for identity and the triumph of friendship over bigotry, Emily discovers a knack for leadership as she copes with Phoebe’s snubs, a newborn brother, a know-it-all classmate addicted to true-love magazines, a whiz kid who thinks he’s James Dean, a fifteen-year-old fencer with an intriguing scar, and a surprise assignment that brings everyone together.  Will the Bromley girls rise above their prejudice? Will Emily and Phoebe be best friends again?

If you’ve got a young daughter or niece or granddaughter who loves to read, The Bromley Girls could be the perfect gift. Confession: I even plan to give it to myself, despite already knowing how it comes out.


SAFEKEEPING, A NOVEL, by Jessamyn Hope. (Fig Tree Books) $12.18.  Publication date, June 9.

Jess was another member of the guacamole-eating group of writers that met at Martha’s house.  All but one of the other members, although not quite as old as me, were at least within hailing distance of my age. Jess was in her early thirties.  She came from Montreal and had spent time in Israel.  Now she was living very frugally for a year, on savings from a former job in advertising, in order to write the first draft of a novel.  (She already had an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.)  She arrived at our meetings on rollerblades, with a small dog named Golda in a baby-carrier.  [Golda was extremely well-behaved, if given a few baby carrots first.]  Under these circumstances, I read and heard read aloud most of the chapters of that first draft of Safekeeping.

Now it’s eight years later, individual chapters of it have appeared in Ploughshares and Colorado Review, among other publications, and it is being published in its entirety by Fig Tree Books.  The description that follows is, again, from Amazon:

It’s 1994 and Adam, a drug addict from New York City, arrives at a kibbutz in Israel with a medieval sapphire brooch. To make up for a past crime, he needs to get the priceless heirloom to a woman his grandfather loved when he was a Holocaust refugee on the kibbutz fifty years earlier.

There Adam joins other troubled people trying to turn their lives around: Ulya, the ambitious and beautiful Soviet emigree; Farid, the lovelorn Palestinian farmhand; Claudette, the French Canadian Catholic with OCD; Ofir, the Israeli teenager wounded in a bus bombing; and Ziva, the old Zionist Socialist firebrand who founded the kibbutz. By the end of that summer, through their charged relationships with one another, they each get their last chance at redemption.

In the middle of this web glows the magnificent sapphire brooch with its perilous history spanning three continents and seven centuries. With insight and beauty, Safekeeping tackles that most human of questions: how can we expect to find meaning and happiness when we know that nothing lasts?

Jess has her own website where you can find out more about her and her 400 page novel. (And see a photo of her at her desk!)

Happy reading!



[By the time you read this, I shall have spent the afternoon just past in Manhattan, attending a cello concert in his other grandmother’s apartment by my now-eight-year-old grandson. (She has a piano for the accompanist; that’s why it takes place there.)  Those of you who’ve been hanging around TGOB for a while, say ten months or so, may recall I did the same thing last year, when he was seven. The concert last year was to commemorate his having finished the pieces in Book One of the Suzuki Method and being able to play them all by heart. Now he has mastered the pieces in Book Two.  Given the amount of money his loving parents have poured into this lengthy learning process, I anticipate at least better finger skills and perhaps more interesting “music.”  Anyway, what are grandmas for, if not to fill seats at Sunday afternoon musicales by their progeny?

Not being one who is able to tap out posts on an i-Phone while riding New Jersey Transit into Penn Station, I thought it might therefore not be inappropriate to keep the blog going tonight by re-running the piece that appeared here last March after his first concert, which was not really about the concert at all.  Nothing much has changed.  Same crappy weather; same black down coat; same handbag and water bottle; same glasses on a chain. (Different book and different scarf, but those are mere details.)  Most important: the same feelings. Now if only the rest of the ride home were unchanged!  Well, we can’t have everything, can we?] 



Last Sunday, I went in to New York by train to attend a cello concert given by my seven-year old grandson for his parents, grandparents and a few young friends from school who are also studying an instrument. He had finished Book One of the Suzuki method of instruction, and part of the Suzuki method is the requirement that the student play all of the pieces in the book from memory for an informal gathering of family or friends.The concert was a happy event, carried off with aplomb by its sole performer (who loves applause) — with plenty of tasty refreshments afterwards.

The trip in and out of the city, however, was a less happy event, as it always is, something realtors invariably neglect to mention when you are looking to buy in Princeton. Except for the politicos among us, Princetonians generally try to forget that Princeton is in New Jersey. When someone asked me over the post-concert refreshments if I was from New Jersey, I instinctively answered, “Well, yes, but not really. I live in Princeton.” To which he replied, “Ah yes. That is a separate place.”

The train to New York City from Princeton is the New Jersey Transit Northeast Line. It should come as no surprise to anyone who rides it to hear me call it a third-world train. It is slow, with antiquated cars, and passes through some of the most run-down parts of a state generally acknowledged to be blighted (despite the proud claims of its portly and vindictive governor). When it finally arrives, it pulls into the belly of hideously overcrowded Penn Station, itself located beneath Madison Square Garden in an unpleasant, highly commercial part of the city packed with human bodies pushing every which way against you as you try to fight your way out of the exits.

That said, the Northeast Line does boast a few — very few — newer cars, designed to carry more passengers per car length by being double decker (with one station-level section at each end of each car), and colored blue (in contrast to the dingy turd-brown color of the older cars). So it was my good fortune that the 4:34 to Trenton last Sunday afternoon (passing Secaucus, Newark Airport, Newark Penn Station, Metropark, Linden, Edison, New Brunswick and Princeton Junction on its way) was one of the so-called “new” ones. And it wasn’t even crowded.

In fact, by the time I had phoned Bill to alert him to when I’d be home, reviewed the photos and two videos of the concert on my i-Phone, taken a swig of water from the water bottle I carry in my purse on trips, nodded off for three or four stops, and then pulled myself back into consciousness to check where we were on the itinerary, I found I was due to get off at the next stop and there were just two other people left in the lower level of the car I was sitting in. One of them was across the aisle from me and in the row ahead, so I had only a partial view of his profile from the rear, but something about it attracted my attention.

Was it the line of his jaw? The muscle outlining the side of his mouth? The slightly olive complexion? The contrast between his bookish eyeglasses and the knit cap with a hole in the back that nearly covered his dark brown hair? Except for the knit cap, he strongly resembled — in one-third rear profile — my first serious boyfriend as he had been in 1948 and 1949. But he looked taller. And the hands were larger — more like my first husband’s, only with less pronounced knuckles. They were deftly manipulating photos on a smartphone over which he leaned — with what? Interest? Longing?

The leaning posture showed me the shape of his muscular shoulders, tapered back and narrow waist beneath a short jacket of some thinsulate material that clung. Safe from his view, I further examined with growing interest the lean strong thighs pressing against his narrow jeans. I even noted his footwear: tan laced-up ankle boots collared in dark brown leather. He was what? Twenty-eight? Thirty at most?

You could say I gobbled him up with my eyes. Then I was stripping him naked in my mind and sliding my hands against his skin. Yes, I was aware of who I was and what I looked like (had anyone been looking, but no one was): an eighty-two year old grandma in a black down full length coat, with a wavy grey wool scarf around her neck and glasses hanging on a chain over them, with a book by Louis Begley and a water bottle sticking out of her dark red leather handbag. But I was nevertheless flooded with what had rapidly transformed itself into unabashed and ravenous lust — for a man easily young enough to be my grandson (had I begun reproducing somewhat earlier than I did) and with whom I almost certainly had absolutely nothing in common. And yet, in some other fantasy world where he was blind (and therefore willing) — I might have dropped to my knees between his legs and reached for the zipper, right there on the New Jersey Transit between New Brunswick and Princeton Junction. Not that I’ve ever actually done anything like that in my real life. But the older you get, the freer the thoughts.

Just then he leaped to his feet, snatched up his khaki backpack and moved fast to the stairs leading up to the station-level part of the car. This section had a few fold-up seats lining the sides, where passengers are supposed to park their heavy baggage, strollers, carriages and bikes. Without a second thought as to what I was doing, I too stood and followed him down the aisle and up the stairs, where I sat down again on one side. Against the other, he was re-assembling a large green racing bicycle, his back to me. When he was done, he turned to hold the bike steady just as the train pulled in to Princeton Junction, and then rolled it out towards the door. Full face, he looked somewhat different than I would have thought, but not unattractive. The eyes were dark, the nose was strong, the mouth….(Believe it or not, I’ve run out of affirmative adjectives.) As he passed me, the only other passenger in that part of the car, our eyes met. Just for a moment he saw me. But he didn’t see me. What he saw was of no interest to him, and I hadn’t thought it would be, nor would I have wanted it to be. (Whatever I am, I’m no fool.) I had no time to be embarrassed. He looked away, was out of the car, on his bike and into the cold drizzle, pedaling towards his real life, whatever it was, before I stepped onto the platform.

Young people don’t know this stuff about old people. They feel it all belongs to them, because their bodies are gorgeous (even if they think they aren’t), and their skin is taut, and they move so easily, so quickly, so gracefully. But it doesn’t belong just to them, and they’ll find out, if they live long enough. Some older women may claim I’m wrong, and good riddance, but that’s sour grapes, I think. (What do you suppose hormone replacement therapy is for?) And I bet there isn’t an older man alive who believes desire is only for the young.

I could have just written about the cello concert and kept all the rest of it to myself, but the cello concert was only one part of my Sunday. And if I had to choose between the two parts, I ‘m not sure which I’d pick. It doesn’t matter that the object of my desire will never know, or want to reciprocate. It may be sad that I’m old, but it’s great that I feel.

I’m still alive! And who wouldn’t choose that?




Just when I realized I’m exactly 83 1/2 today  — it sounds awful to me, too — this book fortuitously arrived.  Donald Hall is a former Poet Laureate, his career in letters capped by a National Medal of Arts awarded by the president.  He doesn’t write poetry any more. He says in his new book: “As I grew older — collapsing into my seventies, glimpsing ahead the cliffs of eighties, colliding into eighty-five — poetry abandoned me.”

Now he writes essays, very slowly — because for him:

[t]he greatest pleasure in writing is rewriting….Revision takes time, a pleasing long process.  Some of these essays took more than eighty drafts, some as few as thirty. Writing prose, I used to be a bit quicker. Maybe I discovered more things to be persnickety about. Most likely age has slowed down my access to the right word….Really, I am self-indulgent, I cherish revising so much.

But at last we have fourteen of these slowly simmered pieces gathered together in a slim little book called Essays After Eighty.  I was about to go out for a walk, the weather having magnanimously permitted such an outing, when it showed up in my mailbox. (Not actually a surprise; I did order it.) I turned right around and went back home to look inside.

In just 134 pages — I said it was slim — you can find Hall’s thoughts on looking out the window, on writing essays after eighty, on the three beards he’s had in his life, on death, on physical malfitness (his own), on garlic, on fame (his own and others), and on the human condition. Yet it’s not sad at all. To give you a taste, let me quote from the end of “Three Beards,” not because I admire beards and grubbiness — don’t imagine for a minute that either are “right up my alley” — but because I find invigorating the resurrection of his will to live to the hilt, in his fashion, after the premature death at 47 of his truly beloved wife, Jane Kenyon. On my half-year birthday today, I really need to read stuff like this:

Jane died at forty-seven after fifteen months of leukemia. I mourned her deeply, I wrote nothing but elegy, I wailed her loss, but — as I excused myself in a poem — “Lust is grief / that has turned over in bed / to look the other way.”  Among spousal survivors, many cannot bear the thought of another lover.  Some cannot do without. In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom thinks of a graveyard as a place to pick up a grieving widow. Thus I found myself in the pleasant company of a young woman who worked for a magazine — a slim, pretty blonde who was funny, sharp, and promiscuous. (We never spoke of love.) I will call her Pearl.  After dinner, we sat in my living room drinking Madeira and talking. I pulled out a cigarette and asked her if she would mind….”I was going crazy,” she said, and pulled out her own. She told me about her father’s suicide. I spoke of Jane’s death. When she left the room to pee, I waited by the bathroom door for her to emerge. I led her unprotesting to the bedroom, and a few moments later, gaily engaged, she said, “I want to put my legs around your head.” (It was perfect iambic pentameter.) When we woke in the morning, we became friends. We drank coffee and smoked. When I spoke again of Jane, Pearl said that perhaps I felt a bit happier this morning.

After seven weeks Pearl ended things. Before I received my dismissal, we lay in the backyard sunning, and she suggested I grow a beard. She had seen book jackets. “You’ll look Mephistophelian,” she said. That’s all I needed. It suited me again to change the way I looked because the world had utterly changed. I mourned Jane all day every day, and acknowledged her death by the third beard and the girlfriends. Some entanglements ended because I was needy, others because of adultery or my gradual physical disability. A California friend and I commuted to visit each other for more than a year. She diminished my beard by trimming it into a goatee, getting me to smooth my cheeks from sideburns to mustache and chin. After dozens of assignations amassing airline mileage, we decided we had had enough. I grew the big beard back.

A dozen years ago I found Linda and love again. We live an hour apart but spend two or three nights a week together.  She is an Old Lady of the Mountain in her bone structure, with pretty dimples. She is tender and as sloppy as I am. She abjures earrings, makeup and dresses; she wears blue jeans and yard-sale shirts. Combs and brushes are for sissies. We watch movies, we read Edith Wharton to each other, and we travel. In 2002 we impulsively flew to London, and later we took many trips for poetry readings without ever combing our hair.

When I turned eighty and rubbed testosterone onto my chest, my beard roared like a lion and lengthened four inches. The hair on my head grew longer and more jumbled, and with Linda’s encouragement I never restrained its fury. As Linda wheelchaired me through airports, and my eighties prolonged, more than ever I enjoyed being grubby and noticeable. Declining more swiftly toward the grave, I make certain that everyone knows — my children know, Linda knows, my undertaker knows — that no posthumous razor may scrape my blue face.




This post was one of the three favorites — both with me and the teeny part of the blogosphere aware that I existed — from the blog with which I timorously entered the world of blogging.  (“Learning to Blog” it was called.)  Lucky you!  Another chance to look at it again (or not), thanks to a lovely lady named Natalie. She asked for a photo of my cat Sasha, about whom I’ve written.  I suggested she might want to go back to this post, which features photos of all the cats Bill and I have ever owned together.  “Oh please re-blog it!” she typed.

Normally, I might not, just because someone asked.  I often feel I re-blog too much as it is.  But in about three weeks, Natalie is going to have her knee replaced, and I bet she’s feeling a little scared. Think of a piece of you being removed for good, and maybe you can imagine what I’m talking…

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[Bill keeps saying he’d like a dog.  A small dog, that could relieve itself on a wee-wee pad and didn’t need much exercise.  One that’s no trouble at all for me. (Notice the “me.”  No mention at all of “him.”)  Maybe an elderly Havanese.  Bill’s never before had a dog — or a desire for a dog. Or any desire to walk a dog. This is something that’s come upon him recently when neither cat responds to his calls to cuddle. Duh. Unlike me, he knew about cats; he had them in both prior marriages.  I was the one who’d led a hitherto mostly cat-deprived life. 

A couple of weeks ago he even got into friendly telephone conversation with a not-too-far-away Havanese breeder who had a six-year-old nearing the end of its reproductive life and needing a good home.  I have assured Bill — and hopefully by extension the breeder — that ours is not that home. We already have litter boxes for the two cats in both bathrooms (one upstairs, one down), and there’s no more room in either for “wee-wee pads.”  Besides, who do you think would be the one running out to the store for these pads, finding a place to stash them until needed, and then disposing of them?  Also the vet predicts our otherwise peaceable cats would not be happy at the introduction of a canine interloper and might express their displeasure with, ah, toilet malfunctions.

It’s not that under other circumstances (such as no cats), I might not like a little dog. But not so very little as a Havanese, cute though it might be. The stationer in town has a darling black cocker spaniel named Sasha (like our cat) who’s sort of what I might have in mind if there were to be an “if.” But it’s not going to happen in this lifetime; I’m 83, Bill’s going to be 87 next week, and there’s a limit to how much menagerie our surviving children may be able to tolerate.

In lieu of a dog, I have therefore suggested to Bill that he revisit the TGOB post from November 2013 in which I reviewed my life as a dog lover.  It will pretty much give him the ups and downs of it. As we grow old, we must make do with literature and lesser forms of reading matter, such as blogs.]



One of the pleasures of the ninth decade of my life is Sasha, now a nearly six year-old British Blue shorthair cat. She’s been with us since she was five months old. Although her breeder was thinking of keeping her — she was a nearly perfect kitten by breeding standards — she let us have her because the sibling kitten we had driven fifty miles to see had already been sold. So Sasha was a happy accident. As many happy things are.

She was even more of an accident because I’ve always favored dogs. Fruitlessly, I yearned for a dog in childhood. At last I took matters into my own hands by accepting a puppy from a lady down the street whose cocker spaniel had been erotically careless. I was eleven. Jimmy was brown and white and warm and cuddly. And he didn’t cost a cent!  My parents let me keep him.

Jimmy waited by the front door every afternoon when it was time for me to come home from school, barking joyously at my arrival. He was also noticeably fond of my mother, the food source. And especially fond of her hamburgers and peanut butter cookies. But no one denied he was “my” dog. Wasn’t I the one who’d found him? Then we moved east from Los Angeles, and Jimmy couldn’t come. My best friend took him. I used to think about him sometimes and hope he was having a nice life. There were no more dogs in mine.

Until I had children of my own. (Second husband, if you’re counting.) How could we deny them a dog? Despite living in a somewhat cramped fourth-floor apartment on West 86th Street in New York City, I even envisaged giving them a first-hand experience of the magic of birth. Our dog, when we got her, could have puppies in the second bathroom!

Second husband, who had not been permitted a dog in his own Brooklyn childhood, was willing.

We began with two false starts that cost nothing and produced nothing. First there was Mick Humble (a name somewhat inspired by Mick Jagger but more suitable to a trembly little dog). No magic of birth in the bathroom, but free is free. Poor Mick lay in misery behind the toilet for several days before we realized he wasn’t just frightened but really sick, and needed to be taken back to the ASPCA to be put to sleep.

Next came Bonaparte, a frisky cutie if ever there was one. He was given to us by a grateful neighbor with an unspayed black Lab who — like Jimmy’s mother many years before — had yielded to an unplanned amorous impulse. Little Bonaparte had to be returned because he grew too large too fast; when at fourteen weeks he took to jumping on the children in friendly play, he nearly knocked them down. His father must have been a mastiff.

It finally dawned on us that you get what you pay for. So one sunny Sunday, we all climbed into our aging Volkswagen and headed a couple of hours north of the city, where according to the classifieds — remember them, anyone? — breeders were less grasping in their pricing practices. The trip was productive: we came back with the golden retriever puppy who would grow up with us; see our children through their childhood and my second husband and I through our marriage; and imprint for good on all of us the conviction that a dog is indeed a best friend.

“What shall we call her?” I asked during the car ride home. The two children sat in the back (no car seats, no booster seats in that faraway time ), a puppy the color of golden sand between them. With one voice, they cried out, “Sandy!”

Not being Little Orphan Annie, I aimed higher. “How about a more interesting name?” I inquired seductively. “Think of all the deserts in the world full of sand! Gobi! Mohave! Sahara!”

And now I could tell you about training Sahara to hold it for the street despite the temptations of the elevator floor, and about generously dispensing dollar bills to the elevator man for “accident” cleanup. About my West 86th Street walks with Sahara early and late, and the people I met at the end of her leash. About mopping up behind Sahara on hands and knees during her first period, an experience definitively ending plans for puppies in the second bathroom. About how Sahara covered clothes, children, rugs, furniture and car with her golden hairs, and how we learned not to mind. About the time my older son (aged twelve) saved Sahara’s virginity from another golden retriever, a large and horny male. About how Sahara comforted my younger son when his brother went away to school. About how walking with Sahara by the ocean kept a fraying marriage together after we left New York for a beach town in Massachusetts because living in New York had became too expensive and too difficult.

I could even tell you the sad part, although it would be much harder to write, about when the children grew up and left us. Soon afterwards I too went away, leaving Sahara to grow old in a cold and empty house alone with the children’s father. I still feel guilty about her. We both wanted out. But she wanted only to be with our family. And then there was no more family to be with….



When I was small, my mother often called me “Miss Why.”   Mine were not the sort of repeated “Why?”s to which an exasperated mother could snap back, “Because I said so!”  I really wanted to understand why things were the way they were.

Why was it all right to go to the bathroom with other little girls, but not with little boys?  Why did I have to stop being a leftie in kindergarten and start using my right hand? (Even if it made me stammer.) Why didn’t I have cousins and aunts and uncles and grandpas and grandmas like everyone else? Why didn’t Daddy like it when the unmarried lady upstairs brought a Christmas tree down to our living-room and decorated it with a Star of Bethlehem at the top — just for me?

My poor mother had wanted a sweet little girl with Shirley Temple curls, not a pint-sized inquisitor.  As soon as I could read, my parents bought me the Book of Knowledge — a sixteen-volume encyclopedia for children popular in the 1930’s, with enough pictures and stories on every page to keep me quiet for a long while.

I did eventually learn to be quiet when necessary. (See next paragraph.) But I still need to understand why things are the way they are — with the people I know or have known, or loved and married, or raised and sent out into the world, or cannot forgive.  And then there’s the world itself — the smaller one I live in now, the larger one I used to work in, and the much larger one we all inhabit.  Why are things the way they are there?

I just don’t often ask aloud anymore. After you grow up, you soon learn it may often/usually/always be wiser — or even mandatory — not to probe in front of other people. Besides, I’m a big girl now and probably can figure out most of whatever it is for myself, as much as anyone can.  I can spot superficial explanations, smell shitty ones, turn away from the politic ones, the expedient ones, the ones designed to deflect further “Why?”s.  I don’t let myself get away with much anymore, either.  (Why did I do/say that?  Why was I so needy, boastful, negligent, unkind?)

Of course, I also now know there’s no full and comprehensive answer to any “Why.”  But without the question, the world is not only mysterious but oppressive. Especially where there’s so much suffering and pain — how can one not ask “Why?”

Other people seem less bothered at not knowing the “Why” of things.  Some trust in God, believing there are divine reasons which will be made manifest hereafter. Others are more interested in the answers to easier questions — “What?” and “When?” and “Where?” and “How?” — and with being first to pass them on. (The reportorial approach.)

And then there are the therapists, in their professional capacities less concerned with the ontology of it all than with “How does that make you feel?”  (Alone with themselves in the night, though, don’t they too cry out “Why?”)

In the end, all we may have are provisional answers to small questions. A disciple asked Socrates, condemned to drink poison in thirty minutes, why he was still practicing his flute.  “So that I may learn this song,” he replied.

But we wouldn’t have known that if someone hadn’t asked “Why?”



While I identify as culturally Jewish, I have never had religious or social affiliation with any Jewish organization or social media. However, the friend/follower who  occasionally supplies me with cartoons and the pictures of multiple kittens you’ve seen here, received this morning, from a Boston friend of her own with some such connections, a email letter which she’s kindly passed on to me.  I say “kindly” because I would otherwise never have seen it.  Nor, I daresay, would you. It comes from Tom Cohen (originally out of Oregon), now the American rabbi of the French-American synagogue in Paris (Kehilat Gesher), and presents a view of what life was like on the streets of Paris for French Jews on the day of Charlie Hebdo, as well as his (admittedly partisan but not necessarily incorrect) analysis of the current forces in French politics and society that permitted such a situation to have developed.

As he concedes, his letter is long.  I’ve cut away about a third of it, the cuts indicated by ellipses (….) — including his plea for funds from American friends to maintain protection for the synagogue in the days to come. Setting the fund-raising aspect of it aside (which I have), I nonetheless thought it deserved a wider readership than those limited number of the Jewish faith to whom it was first addressed.  [It’s broken into sections to make scrolling through it easier, if you’re in a hurry.]


Dear Friends,

…. A week ago, all of Paris –myself included– was going about their normal business. In my case, I was taking one of my children to a medical visit and considering whether I needed to take advantage of the official “sales period” that had just begin that morning. (For my American friends, France has a much more regulated commercial economy that dictates when and for how long stores may have sales – and what constitutes a sale). Turning on the radio in the autolib (an electric Zip car of sorts), came the first waves of information: an “attack” had taken place at the redaction office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. In reality a massacre had just taken place, but details were still sketchy.

My first reaction is probably a familiar automatic response known by all of our Israeli friends: I sent off a quick SMS to my family to find out if everyone was alright! Everyone was fine. Then details started to come out: the staff was gunned down in cold blood by Islamist terrorists at an address that was vaguely familiar. Suddenly I realized that the Charlie Hebdo office was no longer at an address in the North of Paris. (After having been firebombed by radicals in 2011 for its drawings of the prophet Mohammed, they probably had decided to move for security to another site). Instead, they were literally right around the corner from my wife’s synagogue, Centre Maayan-CJL.

As in any dramatic moment that centers on issues of life and death, we often consider the “what ifs.” Among those I had thought about was the realization that the directors of the Talmud Torah religious schools of the Liberal synagogues of Paris and some rabbis were supposed to be meeting at her synagogue center at about the same time that the premeditated slaughter was perpetrated. The meeting’s location had only been changed at the last minute to another synagogue to accommodate one of the directors. Otherwise, they would have been walking out of the metro stop and into the killing spree.

By the time I got back home –I live in the historic old Jewish neighborhood of the Marais– police and riot control forces (CRS) were already present. Turning on the news, and switching back and forth between TF1, I-Télé, BFM news, CNN and I24, we learned more of the story of the grim outcome for the editorial staff and security personnel. How … a wounded local policeman (a Muslim, himself moreover) coming to their aid was literally murdered — his death recorded on a video, played over and over again around the world.

My own phone started ringing non-stop as shock, horror, anger and trepidation started to settle in amongst Parisians. Everyone realized that armed terrorists were literally running loose on our streets. I called my Talmud Torah director to consult together, since we had a class scheduled at the synagogue for that same early afternoon. We needed to figure out whether or not to maintain the class – and whether we would be able to contact all the students, parents and teacher in time, if the decision was to cancel the class. Because the class would be held very shortly and kids often come on their own directly to the synagogue, class in the end was held. I asked our teacher to use the backroom (farthest room from the street and next to an emergency exit) and keep me updated.

…. By the next day, when two sets of terrorists were holed up in two locations, one being a Jewish supermarket not too far from my daughter’s High School, sheer panic had hit us all. France’s national security alert system (Le plan Vigipirate) was at its highest levels. Calls were coming forth to cancel that evening’s Shabbat services. In consultation with my congregation’s President and Talmud Torah director, we decided that given the situation… we would cancel Sunday school classes as a precaution for the children. (However we did send homework home to the families by email, explaining to them that learning was also a way to resist.) Nonetheless, I felt that it was very important for us to maintain our Shabbat services – even if other congregations might decide otherwise. We hired private guards; heavily armed police in bullet proof vests were also making the rounds between Kehilat Gesher and a neighboring Orthodox shule on the next street.

…. My little shteibl was packed. The atmosphere at Kehilat Gesher was at once spiritual and electric. Fear and pride intermingled in our prayers. In our collective minds, we were not only thinking about the current attacks, but also thinking about the killing of Ilan Halimi z”l in 2006, the murders of the French soldiers and Jewish children and teachers in Toulouse in 2012, and the massacre at the Brussels Jewish Museum last year in which one of our very own members of Kehilat Gesher, Dominique Sabrier z”l was murdered… and for whom I with a heavy-heart presided over the funeral. Everyone there felt to the depths of their … souls that the simple act of praying together was an act of defiance. It was an act of resistance and resilience.

At the next morning services, one congregant even commented that “it was almost a normal Shabbat at Kehilat Gesher” in these atypical times. Yet walking out into the streets (and asking members to disperse quickly and avoid leaving in groups) reminded us just how much our reality had changed in only a couple of days. A healthy dose of fear reigns as everyone wonders when and where the next attack might occur. On my way home, I noticed that shops were nearly empty and that there was a deafening loud quietness all around the city – highly unusual for a Parisian Saturday afternoon. That evening I cancelled our ciné-club activity set for Sunday, in order to permit everyone to participate in the rally of unity, and I passed the rest of Saturday evening glued to the TV, internet or radio, like most of the population around me.


 Sunday morning, I participated in an inter-religious ceremony that preceded a Protestant religious service. I, an Imam, a Priest and the Temple’s Pastor spoke of tolerance and unity. It was a ceremony, for which I am very happy that it had taken place, but I was also troubled by it. I know well my clerical colleagues and am confident of their hopes, desires and good intentions. That being said, I was profoundly disturbed that the original idea for the ceremony was to start by lighting 21 candles – 17 for the victims, 3 for the terrorists killed and one large general candle for victims of terrorism everywhere. I let it be known that while I realize this might be a part of their theological imperative, I couldn’t countenance a ceremony that put the executioner on the same moral level as the victim. As a result, 3 candles were placed apart from the others.

Further, I was also bothered by the words of the Imam –a wonderful person. Nonetheless, he simply could not see that his (and my preferred) interpretation of Islam is in reality not the only interpretation acceptable among Moslems. He basically stated that the terrorists could not be Moslem because, I assume, they did not fit his more open and tolerant understanding. I would accept that Radical Islam may be an extreme version of the Muslim religion, but it certainly is not a stranger to it. And that is a problem not only liberal Muslims –but also all of us in the West– must have the courage to look in the face one day, if we really want to vanquish the demon.

Finally, I was made anxious by the ceremony because… well, here was a crowd of people simply coming to their house of worship — Protestants in the occurrence — with the front doors wide open and with no police or security standing on the outside! What might be standard for the non-Jewish Christian population in France becomes frightening from a Jewish viewpoint. I realized no one there was as sensitive to these standard concerns as almost any Jew in France today. And knowing that I have been formatted by circumstance (read ‘warped’) into thinking it “right and normal” to have to worry about safety measures before gathering people together in a Jewish context is one of the surer signs of the illness of our times.

Yet in spite of these complexities, I am still pleased that the ceremony occurred. And even if it was not all what I could hope for, a truism of life is: if one wants to make change, we must start from where others are, in order to get them to where we think they ought to be!

Sunday afternoon, the coming together of millions of people in the streets of Paris was an incredible experience. Yes, a good number of the signs held high said “Je suis Charlie” (I’m Charlie). But numerous, as well, were the signs that said “Je suis Juif” (I’m Jewish), even in the hands of people of obvious North African descent.…. Seeing everyone clapping for and cheering on the police (unusual in France), spontaneous singing of the national anthem, la Marseillaise (even more unusual in France), and strangers talking to each other with warmth and tenderness in a friendly atmosphere (what can I say, highly unusual) was some solace of hope in these somber times.


…. Here we are now a week later. What can I tell you? That kosher restaurants near my synagogue were filled as they normally are at lunch hour. And eating a hamburger and fries (sorry my vegetarian friends and family) has taken on a new color – an act of civil protest and rebellion, in addition to simply being an expression of my Jewish values. Students are still showing up for classes, and parents are still having me perform life cycle events. (We welcomed a baby girl into the community yesterday!)

True, aliya (immigration) is up. Yet it is difficult to know how much is really an Aliya based upon fear of anti-Semitism previous to these attacks, and how much is an Aliya based upon economic interests and what the French call defiscalisation: “tax refugees”. Many commentators pointed out how Netanyahu was so warmly welcomed at the Rothschild synagogue, especially when compared to the “polite” applause accorded to President Hollande (who until recently has had the “honor” of being the least liked President in the history of the 5th republic). Those journalists were saying that this was a sign that the Jews of France are preparing to leave.

For me, a telling moment was Netanyahu’s appeal to French Jewry that they “should” come home… with the diplomatic response of the Prime Minister Manuel Valls saying that “France without its Jews will no longer be France.” Yet at the end of that evening ceremony where Netanyahu was so warmly welcomed, those same attendees spontaneously started singing la Marseillaise. (Next thing you know, the French will be waving flags as patriotically and as often as Americans.)

So how did we get here?

Too many years have gone by in which politicians (of both major parties) willfully overlooked creeping extremism in certain neighborhoods in France for expediency purposes, economic benefits and simply votes. They abandoned prisons to Islamists, creating a festering breeding ground for Jihadists. They became wobbly and cowed when confronted by violence and racism in the schools. Journalists have also played a role over the years, substituting direct terms for weaker images: a massacre or a slaughter becomes an “attack”. Extremists and their followers become the “youth from the suburbs”. Intellects tried to pin the blame on others in the face of creeping radical Islamization: in their eyes racism can only come from the traditional source, the far right. Another game is to blame the victim. They are somehow responsible because they support Israel, or they are rich or they are poor, or they are exclusive… just fill in the box.

The social atmosphere had degraded over the years, and the inability to name the problems has made things worse. It is not my intention to go through a geopolitical analysis of how things have slowly spun out of control. But the internationalization of these groups through the Internet has taken an isolated ideology and exported the philosophy to these fanatics and their supporters with whom we must deal with today. These horrific murders are a wakeup call that has aroused many to finally start realizing that Islamist fascist groups’ intimidation is real and its reach is widespread. These murders also underlined once again the reality that some people are being killed for the right to express themselves freely, like the journalists at Charlie Hebdo; others, the Jews, simply for being who they are.

Hopefully the reaction to the violence will lead people to recognize that Islamist jihadist terrorists pose a serious threat to values our democracies cherish and hold dear: liberty, equality and fraternity. So even if Aliya rates double in the coming year, a cold-eye analysis is that the vast majority of Jews in France are still staying for a whole host of reasons that are legitimate. They want to see changes, and they’re hoping that the politicians follow up their words with facts on the grounds.

As of today I can say that in every speech pronounced by and legislation proposed by the Prime Minister, I feel a real determinism on his part to do the right thing.   Mongers of hate on the Internet and through Tweeter have in the past couple of days been arrested and sentenced to jail time; even Dieudonné was taken into custody. Also thousands of soldiers and police have been mobilized to protect sensitive sites (e.g. synagogues and schools). France is sending its aircraft carrier into range to strike the Islamic state and Al Qaeda operatives in the Middle East.

It doesn’t completely lessen the nagging fear, but it is a start. And there is much more to do! So to answer a question a few people asked: no, I’m not packing my bags yet. I still have way too much work to do here.

I know this letter has been (too) long. But I have had numerous demands asking what people can do to help from overseas. Just beyond the amazing spiritual and psychological support, concern and prayers which we have received,  ….come and visit. The hizzuk (strength) we get from your presence is important. We had a couple from New York this last Shabbat who came to Friday night services. Their presence on a night when the rest of us were still in shock was priceless! …. And realize that what has happened in Paris can happen anywhere in the civilized world. The only real way to fight it is by sticking together. Giving up is not going to solve the problem, only perhaps compound it. May we all soon find healing and the possibility to live freely and safely everywhere where we might live.


Rabbin Tom Cohen ‫הרב טוביה בן יוסף הכהן ודבורה

‫ק”ק קהילת גשר דפאריש          ‫ Kehilat Gesher

La synagogue franco-américaine de Paris

7 rue Léon Cogniet‫  75017 Paris  (M° Courcelles)



Before I consign all those legal casebooks and hornbooks in my basement to the recycling bin, permit me to beguile you with another short visit to law school. In my last such post, “– And Wife,” we considered the concept of assault, an intentional tort.  Although that case — the earliest one recorded in Anglo-American law — made the intentional infliction of fear of bodily harm in another person an actionable offense, you may recall that despite the wife being the person who was put in fear of bodily harm, no one back there in 1205 questioned an underlying assumption in the case: that she was her husband’s property, which is why he had to bring the suit in his own name as the injured party.

Lest anyone harbor any lingering doubt that capitalist societies  have always rested on ownership — whether it be of land, livestock, means of production or intellectual property, although today perhaps no longer of wives — let me introduce the case of Pierson v. Post, otherwise affectionately known by its students as “Who Owns the Fox?”  [3 Cai. R. 175, 2 Am. Dec. 264 (N.Y. 1805), if you really need a citation so you can go look it up afterwards to prove to yourself I’m not fooling.]

Pierson is one of the first cases the first-year law student encounters in the Property Law casebook. Why that should be, I cannot tell you, except maybe because who owns what seems to remain of paramount importance to an awful lot of people — even if most of us don’t chase and shoot animals anymore.

These are the “facts” (otherwise known as the story):  Post was in pursuit of a fox while hunting with his hounds. (Here we learn at the outset that Post was a gentleman of property.) Pierson killed and captured the fox even though he knew Post had been pursuing it.  Neither party owned the land on which they had been hunting. Post brought suit in trespass, contending he had acquired title to the fox when he began to hunt it. Pierson asserted that Post did not yet have control over the fox and therefore had not acquired any property interest in it. The trial court entered judgment for Post (the guy with the hounds), and Pierson appealed.

The appeals court reversed the lower court. It stated the mere fact a person is pursuing a wild animal does not grant that person a right to the animal.  “First to kill and capture” is the superior rule of law.  Had Post mortally wounded the animal, that would have been sufficient to show possession, since it would have deprived the animal of its natural liberty.  But he was only able to show pursuit and therefore acquired no property interest in the animal. There was a dissent, seeking to reward the pursuer (Post) for his effort, but we don’t have to go there, as dissents don’t become law.

Notice the bit I italicized?  About neither party owning the land through which the poor fox ran?  If Post had been the owner, that would have changed the outcome for him. Conversely, if Pierson were the owner, there would have been no case. Alternatively, what if the person who really was the landowner had intervened as an interested party?  Suppose his counselor-at-law had whispered in his ear that he should get himself over to court and claim property damages from both those guys for running amok and killing an animal on his land?

[I seem to be getting carried away with the lucrative possibilities here. No wonder lawyers have prospered over the years.]

Okay, back to the point, if there is one. [Or if there isn’t, maybe that’s the point.]  Does Pierson v. Post  tell us anything we still need to know? Does it give a guy at a bar the right to slide over to a hottie two stools down as soon as another guy who’s been chatting her up needs a bathroom break?  Is “first to kill and capture” the superior rule of law here?  Suppose there’s a brawl over hanging-out rights (“I saw her first!”), the hottie bursts out laughing at both of them, “You guys kill me!” and walks off with someone else, thus entirely eluding capture, at least by either of the two fighting over her.

You think I’m putting you on about property law?  You’re lucky we’re not moving right along  to The Rule Against Perpetuities.  (Otherwise known as Let’s Hope It’s Not On the Exam.) Roughly (very roughly) speaking, that one prevents you from leaving property to any descendant who will not yet be alive — is “not yet in being” —  when you die and who doesn’t get born until more than twenty-one years after that. At least, I think that’s the usual construction of its meaning, and there may even be an arcane reason behind why twenty-one years, but most people leave such legal refinements to the Wills and Trusts lawyers, one of whom I never was, so we probably should too.

And now I will recklessly click “Publish.”   I have to roll the recycling barrels out to the curb before it gets dark.  They’re collecting tomorrow.



For those of us living in northern climes (and maybe for everyone else, but probably not so much), January is fat month.  There was all that holiday eating, now settled in nicely at hips and waist.  (You too, guys.)  And now it’s cold outside!  Which means thick warming soups and stews and chile and mashed potatoes with gravy and lasagnas and pot roasts, plus brownies right out of the oven and hot cocoa and ______.  [You fill in the blank.]  Why shouldn’t we live in the moment? Shorts and tank tops are at least four or five months away.

Of course, there’s still the mirror every morning, before all those heavy clothes go on. (Unless you force yourself not to look, or never take them off till spring.) For such trying times, there’s the soothing word: zaftig.

Unfortunately for the guys, men are never zaftig themselves.  Under the circumstances discussed in the preceding paragraph, they get big, or large, or (God forbid) extra-large.  But the word zaftig coming out of a man’s mouth to describe a woman is a life-saver. It means she’s not fat at all; she’s luscious.  I refer to grown men, of course — men with enough experience to reject the concept of embracing skin-covered sinews — not those young ones still yearning to make it with a ballet dancer.

Mind you, the word can’t be applied to just anyone.  By way of example (and I refer to ladies long gone who can no longer have feelings in the matter), if Marilyn Monroe had gained ten or fifteen pounds, she’d be zaftig. If beautiful but straight-up-and-down Audrey Hepburn had gained umpteen pounds, enough pounds to burst out of the top of her Givenchys, she’d still never get to zaftig.

Also if used by a woman about another woman, the word is not so good.  “Is she fat?”  “Not quite.  But she’s sure zaftig.”

However, never mind those catty types.  Lets put the emphasis back where it belongs: male appreciation.  In the days when Bill and I used to spend part of the summer on a small Greek island and I would haul myself out of bed early for a brisk constitutional before it got too hot to do anything but lie around and perspire — I once met a Greek man older than me mid-walk.  He was on his way to let his goats out to pasture or something.  But he could speak a little English.  After we’d said Kalimera to each other, he asked what I was doing up and about so early.  I explained I was atoning for all those ouzos and spanikopitas; I had to go on fitting into my bathing suits at least until we got back home.  “Don’t overdo it!” he warned, smiling with approval at my visible flesh. “A man likes some meat on the bones.”  If he’d known Yiddish, he could have told me that a man likes his women zaftig.

But that’s only my own experience with the word.  I concede my etymological knowledge is far from comprehensive and may even be partially incorrect. Fortunately, a short article from Moment Magazine (Jan.-Feb. 2015 issue) has been brought to my attention at this opportune time by a caring friend. It purports to clarify everything you ever wanted to know about the word zaftig while managing  to be confusing at the same time:


A Full-Bodied History

by Hilary Weissman, with additional reporting by Sala Levin

For a quick overview of the complexities of the word zaftig, take a look at the Los Angeles Jewish Home’s video, circulating online, in which its residents demystify the meaning of the word.

Charlotte Seeman says that zaftig means “a little bit on the heavy side,” to which the moderator, Marty Finkelstein, asks, “But in a good way?”

“They look a little, if you’ll pardon the expression, appetizing to other people,” adds Yetta Dorfman.

Esther Berlin is less effusive. “It’s a shame because they don’t take care of themselves and do something about it,” she says, prompting the chivalrous gentleman of the group, Irving Rubinstein, to defend the zaftig dame’s honor. “It’s kind of a sexy, plump, attractive woman,” he concludes.

That, in a nutshell, is the debate over zaftig. By most contemporary definitions, zaftig means voluptuous or sexily curvaceous à la Marilyn Monroe or the commanding office manager Joan Harris on Mad Men. Unless it is a polite way of saying fat, in an unsexy way. “It holds both [meanings] depending upon who says it,” says Lori Lefkovitz, professor of Jewish studies at Northeastern University.

But in traditional Yiddish, zaftig has nothing to do with women’s bodies. It comes from the German word saftig, meaning “juicy” or “succulent. ” (Saft in German means “juice” or “sap”, and in European Yiddish, in which it is spelled and pronounced zaftik, was used to describe food and taste.) It could also be used for more abstract depictions of ideas, says Eddy Portnoy, who teaches Yiddish language and literature at Rutgers University. “You can have a zaftik story, you can have a zaftik piece of gossip, virtually anything that fits the bill,” he says. “It’s a very commonly used modifier that can refer to anything that is rich or pleasing,” much the same way an American might tell a friend that she heard some juicy news at the water cooler.

So how did zaftig make the transition to women? It is likely another example of the common transition that occurs with the Americanization of Yiddish. “We do that a lot with women’s bodies—we talk about juicy bodies and succulent bodies,” says Lefkovitz. “We describe women as food because they’re edible, they’re delicious.”

Sexual undertones are often implicit in the word’s use. In his classic 1968 book The Joys Of Yiddish, Leo Rosten affectionately exclaimed that the word “describes in one word what takes two hands, outlining an hourglass figure, to do.”  Says Yiddish expert Michael Wex, who defined the word in Just Say Nu: Yiddish For Every Occasion (When English Just Won’t Do): “The best equivalent I ever found for zaftig was an old cigarette commercial for Lucky Strike; the Lucky Strike model is ‘so round, so firm, so fully packed.’ That immediately took on a secondary meaning, a sexual connotation. Zaftig might—I can’t say for sure—in that sense have been influenced by that.”

Others have been even more explicit in the erotic implications of zaftig; Hanne Blank, editor of the 2001 anthology Zaftig: Well-Rounded Erotica, says that she chose the word for the title in part because “zaftig sounds like something that’s enjoyable, like something you can have a good time with, where plus-size sounds like you lost your way in Kmart and ended up in the plus-size section.”

Our changing perceptions of female beauty have influenced the use of the word. “Once upon a time, plumpness or curviness and all of those luscious sexual descriptors were associated with health and wealth, and as health and wealth got increasingly thin, zaftig became a euphemism for overweight,” says Lefkovitz.  Harvard professor Marjorie Garber touched on the word’s ambiguity in her essay “Moniker,” which was compiled in the 2001 book of essays Our Monica, Ourselves, dissecting what she argues some saw as Monica Lewinsky’s inherently Jewish seductive qualities. To Monica’s critics, “she was ‘pushy;’ she was ‘ambitious;’she was ‘zaftig;’ she was ‘typical Beverly Hills.’ She was physically mature for her age. She was sexy and seductive…She led a weak Christian man astray.”

What accounts for the word’s seemingly unflagging presence in American English? For one thing, as with so many Yiddish words, there’s no exact equivalent in English. The closest may be “pleasantly plump” or “Rubenesque,” after the women depicted in the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens—but neither has the zing of zaftig. Lefkovitz suggests that another reason is its nostalgic evocation. “It’s a word where we hold both the past and the present, where there was a kind of valorization even for our zaftig grandmothers.”

The word is popular among non-Jews, too. When it came to choosing a name for his brewery, it didn’t matter to Brent Halsey whether his patrons would appreciate the double entendre of Zaftig Brewing Company. “None of us three co-owners are Jewish, but [the word] left a mark on me,” he said, citing as inspiration his high school English teacher’s penchant for quoting The Joys Of Yiddish. For a brewery specializing in full-bodied ales, it seemed the most fitting choice.


I guess you can take what you like from all that. Personally, I go for the zing of being edible and delicious. Which reminds me, isn’t it time for dinner?



The magnum opus I promised to produce a few posts back keeps growing longer, and the end further away. [That’ll teach me to promise what I don’t yet have.] It will eventually appear, cross my heart.  In the meanwhile, how about these, from last year’s bag of tricks, to brighten up the day?



[Re-blogged from December 21, 2013]


(Thank you, New Yorker.)




(Have no idea where he got it from.)




(Clearly intended for couples.)




(No comment.)




(We both like him very much.)





When we think about the past — especially a past that precedes our own personal past — we tend to think of it the way it looks in jerky old newsreels. Or in black and white photos now fading to gray, or in brownish sepia prints from the pre-World War II rotogravure.

The costumes in the photos and newsreels are funny-looking, too. Who in his or her right mind could possibly put on all that, day after day? And the artifacts of life — the high manual typewriters with round noisy keys, the brown wood living-room radios around which people gathered in the evenings, black telephones with white dials attached to a phone jack, Western Union telegrams for sending urgent messages out of town, bathtubs on legs, cotton sheets that had to be ironed, rumble seats on the back of coupes — they all look like props for a movie. Oh, and the voices and music on the old records, even where digitally restored as well as possible — they’re so dim and scratchy.  Were those real people making those sounds, real like you and me?

The very young even assume those of us who are considerably older can’t possibly understand anything about their high-speed world, the one that’s on the screen right now, because our slower world is gone and we’re not so quick on the uptake with the new iPhone6.  (From their point of view, we’re hanging around almost by sufferance; we have to be good, and quiet, and stay out of their multitasking way.) How can we possibly know anything about anything? There were no television sets, no cell phones, no email, no texting in our world.  No air-conditioning in the hot damp city summers.  No Salk vaccine to hold off polio. Letters  took two or three days to reach their destination, Food was seasonal. Refrigerators were small with virtually nonexistent freezer compartments. Contraception was iffy, abortions illegal, without anesthesia and sometimes on kitchen tables. (I’m writing off the top of my head here.This is not a reasoned or philosophical disquisition.) There were also so many other things that were different — great big life-extinguishing things, too many and profound to list completely —  like no unemployment insurance, no health insurance, no social security, no economic or racial or religious or ethnic equality.

So how can we — let alone the young — believe a fading memory of an uncomfortable, often painful, world that’s gone still has relevance today? How can we believe the sky was as blue then as it is now (when it is), or the touch of another’s hand as exciting, or calming, or comforting?

It’s even easier to think patronizing thoughts about this past when you consider how little it once cost to live.  It’s like looking backwards through reverse binoculars and seeing everything shrunk to doll size.  As you may know, I’ve lately been trying to write a longish piece about the year between my sixteenth and seventeenth birthdays.  That was in 1947-48. I thought I remembered a lot. I don’t.  I still know a stamp used to cost three cents, and a subway ride a nickel.  But memory has failed on so much we all take for granted (and therefore make no effort to remember) that I’ve had to fall back on the internet.

I therefore just learned again what I probably once knew:  that in 1947 America, a car cost $1,500, gasoline was 23 cents a gallon,  cigarettes were 20 cents a pack, you could buy a house for $13,000, a loaf of bread for 12 cents, and a gallon of milk for 80 cents.  In 1947, the federal minimum wage was 40 cents an hour and the average annual salary $3,500. Those weren’t doll-size numbers then. My own father earned $100 a week when he worked, but he was able to find work only for half the weeks of the year, so he saved $50 every week he was paid, and the three of us lived on the other $50.  This worked out to less than the statistically average American annual salary. Yet I always had decent clothes and good shoes, and new books and records for Christmas and my birthday, and even piano lessons, for which I practiced on a brand new $1,000 Steinway baby grand my father paid off in installments until it was ours. I didn’t feel deprived at all, until I began to dream of expensive colleges beyond our reach.

[There’s probably a good think piece to be written by someone else on what these numbers tell us about inflation. Raise the wage floor and you have to raise wages throughout the organization so that people earning more than the minimum wage go on earning proportionately more. But that eats into profit, so the employer raises prices, the minimum wage eventually becomes inadequate again, and there we go, up up up and away ….. But that’s not a piece I can write, because I have no idea what to do about it.]

This piece though — the one I ‘m posting today — started out as a sort of progress report on where I am with writing “The Practice Boyfriend.” It seems to have become something else. Not about inflation, but not about how far along I am with the longish piece, either. That’s because lying in bed in the morning thinking about this now long-ago part of my life has not only generated lists of things to research when I’m fully awake, but also brought up out of my own subterranean depths thoughts and feelings so much still alive (blue sky, comforting touch and all) that I categorically reject the notion the past is valueless because it has a quaint set design. Much of what reposes deep inside the aging heart remains so meaningful to what life is all about that it seems a shame to send it off to dead storage.  Time enough for that when those of us who still remember no longer can.  Until then, let’s write about it — so it can go on living a little longer through our words.