Red: The Color of Change, Passion and Life

Update on my watch color dilemma: After much deliberation and agony carefully deciding between purple, orange or lime green (you may have read about my colorful and emotional associations in my last blog, Seeing Time in Colors: On Turning 50,  and you might think I was forced to choose between eternal emotional stress or institutionalization – both real options I must refuse) – I am glad to report that I am the proud owner of a sleek, bold RED watch. I am still in shock.

What happened? The fools sent me the WRONG one! No, actually, I must have clicked on the “wrong” button as I feverishly, finally, had made my decision, and in this fervor, my subconscious must have laughed out loud and navigated my fingertip a nano-inch to the right. Or left. No matter, red it is. And it looks and feels great!

And I have a theory as to why I am now walking around happily strutting my RED watch, steeling furtive glances in its general direction even when I know what time it is. Dang, it’s good looking. And it has no baggage of my ponderous color obsessions! That’s the theory. I know, I’m not prone to the scientific method, but it does seem beyond coincidence that in the deepest, instinctive part of my kishkes I knew it as a matter of survival and I had to choose a different color all together. Get rid of the baggage! It’s the New Year, for heaven sakes!

It stand on its own; it is bright, assertive, sexy, and packs a punch: pow-wow! Like a wallop of love that’s meant to be, of lust, of romance, of the stuff that pumps energy into life. I can live with that.

Now, when I begin to feel a little shvach or weak during the Yom Kippur fast next week, I can simply glance down on my vibrant, life-affirming watch and get the koach (strength) to make it to the end.

And then new life can begin again; a fresh start as we enter the year 5776!

L’chaim!

(Oh, and if you wonder, it was orange that lost it to red.)

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The Fiddler on My Roof, or My Crush on Tevye

This day being Father’s Day and all, it got me thinking about some of the father figures I’ve had in my life aside from the beloved biological one. Aside from him, most of them have been Jewish, and it started with Tevye the Dairyman from the 1971 movie adaptation of Shalom Aleichem’s story, first published in 1894. Not only did I have a crush on Chaim Topol, the Israeli actor who played Tevye in the original movie, but I was deeply, completely and fatefully swept away by the desire to belong to that. I wanted to live under the same roof as his Jewish family, feel the Jewish identity the way he did, and dream the Jewish dreams that he did. I wanted Goldie, Tevye’s spirited wife, to light shabbos candles with me.

Sure, I could do without the bloody Russian pogroms, the poverty, the muddy country roads and lack of sanitation. But how about that strong, unwavering feeling of identity, wrapped up in a warm, passionate fatherly type who despite his simple and often difficult life, stuck to it; that’s what I wanted! That’s what spoke to my guts. Watching the movie again and again from the VHS tape on my second-hand TV-set, oblivious to my neighbors while cranking up the volume as Tevye belted out “Tradition!” I sang, danced and wept in the same rhythms as my crush; Judaism as impersonated by Tevye.

Tevye

To me, it was obvious he wasn’t just addressing the camera in all those close-up scenes where he inquires philosophically about life, purpose, and the various dilemmas the Jews faced in a rapidly changing world. He spoke to me. He was telling me a story that he said could also be mine. Come in, he seemed to say, I can’t promise it will be easy but I can promise there will be love, commitment, continuity and TRADITION!  

And I went in under his roof. In fact, I lept. I can still hear his deep, warm voice and want to bury myself in his arms when the going gets tough. Farm stench and all. Out of curiosity, I googled Topol the other day to see how the man had evolved from the 1970’s, and found that the now 80 year old still made my heart flutter with fond memories.

Topol

When I got married in 1988, as a brand spanking new-Jew, I had chosen, yes chosen, a violinist from the University of Hartford Music School to play “Sunrise, Sunset” as my oddly obliging yarmulke-wearing Norwegian father escorted me down the isle of the synagogue. Probably a bit overwhelmed by all the “ethnic” and religious details surrounding him, this otherwise agnostic and conservative man who had taught me all about relativity, clutched my arm tightly while whispering “you can always convert back if you don’t like it.”

Little did he know, once a Jew, always a Jew.

Of course, despite my early crush on Tevye, when it comes to men, it is my dad who played the greatest role in enabling me to imagine a future and a life as “other,” far away from him and my mom, singing different songs and celebrating different holidays. He is the one who gave me the wings to fly.

Although I have become accustomed to state my Jewish name Naomi bat Avraham ve-Sarah, Naomi, the daughter of Abraham and Sarah, there is no doubt about my parentage; for I’d say once a daughter, always a daughter. The fatherly figure of Tevye exuding commitment, warmth and love was likely just a Jewish representation of what I already knew: that first crush we girls experience with our dads, and which I got to experience again in some way once I embarked on a new journey as a Jewess.

She Was Only a Bootlegger’s Daughter: In Memory of My Father

“She was only a bootlegger’s daughter, but he loved her still…” an old song goes.

***

I notice the mannerisms and instinctive moves I have after my dad who died two years ago today. I smile. I cry. I remember him in my body and soul.

This morning, in the shower, I turn the water off and before I reach for the towel hanging over the shower door, I run my hands over my body in energetic downward and outward moves brushing off the excess water.

He used to do that before drying off to reduce the wetness of the towel. Probably a trick he learned during his days in the army in Norway or from when my family spent weeks at a time on our wooden boat in the summer, sailing down the Oslo fjord. Smart.

I am in my car with one of my sons next to me in the passenger seat. I instinctively reach over and hold his leg, by the knee, and stroke it, gently yet firmly press on it, as if to say things like “Do you know how much I love you?” and “I love that we are here together,” without using words.

He used to do that to me when I sat next to him in the car. Loving.

In my kitchen preparing dinner, I peel the carrot holding it in my left hand and slowly and rhythmically rotating it as the peeler works its magic all around in smooth motions, leaving the orange root clean and glistening .

Pappa peeled vegetables just like that. Thoughtfully and deliberately.

It’s 10 am and I feel overwhelmed by everything I am not achieving, not getting around to, even though I have said I planned to. I briefly entertain the idea of not getting dressed, opening a wine bottle, and staying at home all day reading and sulking. Forgetting the pain of all that unaccomplished and the disappointments.

My father spent days, weeks, months and years like that. Not so smart, but I understand…

The love I feel for my three sons is so full and so filling, I think to myself, if I accomplish nothing else, having raised these beings whose company I enjoy and who seem to be able move about in the world relatively competently with kindness and a sense of humor; if that is ALL there is and will be, I am contented.

I am my father’s daughter.

He felt contented with the love he gave and received from his two daughters.

Feeling this love, he was able to just be, in the mess of it all. Wise.

“I am only a bootlegger’s daughter…”

IMG_3474.

The Old Man and the Porn Movie: A Love Story

Love Story

Prologue:

She asked him what he wanted to do with the time they had left the rest of the afternoon, now that they were done with the errands at the bank and grocery store. “To tell you the truth,” he said hesitatingly looking at her sideways with the beginnings of a shy smile, “I’d like to go see a dirty movie.”

Part I:

The Man

Tiny Marty Finder was a gentle and friendly octogenarian who had a lot more going for him than met the eye. He was a guy you might say was the embodiment of the saying that one should not judge a book by its cover. Or perhaps he was a reminder that what most people think of as “normal” for a guy his age is simply an arbitrary and random, not to mention false supposition that grandfathers don’t want sex and intimacy, aren’t easily aroused, and don’t wake up with the same aching erection and desires as do younger men.

Marty lived comfortably in a suburb of Boston in a subsidized senior living facility, where most of his needs were met. What he required extra in terms of logistical assistance, such as getting to and from his seemingly endless doctors’ appointments, he had hired a driver, a lovely Russian woman named Alina.

Marty was a Holocaust survivor, and had arrived to Ellis Island from Poland via Germany in 1948. Although he had lived a good life in America by all standards, he now spent three days a week at the dialysis outpatient clinic in Waltham, took about 18 different meds a day, and had diabetes. He did what is not uncommon among survivors: he kept meticulous records and minutes of all his medical and personal hygiene needs and events, in a hand written journal complete with columns and rows, additions and averages. This included notes on the size, consistency and number of his daily bowel movements.

Once married to an American Jewish anthropologist with a penchant for art, he had two adult kids who lived far away, and although they loved their dad dearly, they had their own full lives more than a flight away. Once his wife became a Buddhist and divorced Marty, he lived for his kids and the small but solid business he had built, a printing shop in a then bustling downtown neighborhood filled with mom and pop shops, delis and local urban old world flair, the kind he liked, as the ambiance would some times, on good days, remind him of a happy life in Poland before the war. Everyone knew Marty in the old Boston neighborhood where his print shop had been, for he was quick to befriend people, was pleasant tempered, and with his sweet smile and animated face gladly offered details about his fascinating life in hiding during the war. Even if people didn’t need to have anything printed or copied, they would stop by just to have a cup of coffee or chat for a few moments about the weather or the latest Red Sox results. Marty made people feel good, and having people around to talk to made Marty feel good in return.

He was also genuinely interested in hearing about other people’s stories. He had a sense of humor, despite all the horror he had experienced as young boy; the Nazis had wiped out his entire family. And Marty knew how to love. After his divorce, in the second part of his adult life, he had had two long lasting meaningful relationships; one with a Christian woman his age, whose sultry manner would make him grab her from behind as soon as she came through the door. God how he loved to reminisce about those crazy and delicious years they had shared, when they would go with the flow and enjoy the freedom of the empty nest, good health and decent income – life had been good then. They had talked about getting married, but the trouble was, she wanted him to convert to Catholicism. He begged her to leave things as they were; they were so happy, things were so good. But she wanted their partnership blessed by the church. Marty was a Jew, and had no inclination to change. So, it came to an end.

The other relationship he had was with a Jewish woman, also a survivor, with whom he shared a more balanced and less passionate life. But they spoke the same language – through their shared history – and this made room for such pleasant lightness of being, a sort of beautiful synergy that emanated a serenity he might have bottled and saved some up for rainy days. It surely made up for the lack of fun and raunchy sex, and he felt blessed to have met such a good “shidduch” in his older days. Where he and the Christian girlfriend had fulfilled each other physically in a dreamlike way, he and the Jewish girlfriend completed one another emotionally. Sadly, she died of cancer after they had 14 years together. Since then, he had been single, but remained amorously enthusiastic about women whenever he would meet one he found attractive. This happened often. The older he got, the younger the women would be. His imagination was roaring and his body was telling him he had still much to give in the way of love.

The Woman

The driver he had hired was by his standards a young woman – she was in her forties – and he had fallen in love with her after a few weeks. Alina was a Russian Jewish immigrant who had come to the States in the early 90s with her abusive, former world champion wrestler husband Slava, and their only daughter Sofia. They had gotten special help to come to the States, because Slava was a possible victim from Chernobyl, and showed early signs of Parkinson’s as well as a mysterious blood disorder that was progressively debilitating. She had wanted to divorce him for a long time, but once his illness was a fact, she could not find the courage. She nursed him to the end, and he died ten years after they had immigrated, to Alina’s great but secret relief. The day after his funeral she threw his trophies out in the trash container in the back of her apartment building, together with all the gaudily framed photos of him on top of winner’s stands at tournaments back in his heyday in Russia. Good riddance. She kept one picture of the two of them holding their daughter as a toddler, sitting on a park bench on a beautiful spring day, blossoming trees surrounding their smiling faces. There had once been happy times, and she wanted her daughter to know she had been conceived and nurtured in love.

Alina was tall, had high cheek bones and long, light brown hair that she usually kept away from her face with a comb in the back. Her kind warm eyes would always look straight at Marty, and she was quick to laughter and seemed courageous and brave, something he found sexy. There was something about her confidence that he thought was attractive, but most of all it was the way that she was so cheerful, funny and freely expressed herself that made his heart skip a beat. Like a breath of fresh air in his life. Marty could not help but notice the strong, soft lines of her neck, the round curves of her hips, and he particularly loved to watch her soft hands work as she would do whatever she had to do to help him get ready for their outings. He noticed he began to anticipate the days of her working for him, although the dialysis on those days was not at all anything he looked forward to. Maybe it was God’s way of finally giving him a small reward for all his suffering, by making that whole sickening ordeal tolerable. He couldn’t wait for her to come in the morning.

Three days a week she would show up at Marty’s apartment and help him get dressed, and while she carried his bag to the car, he would do his best to gingerly push his walker next to her, he really only needed it for a little support with balance, asking her how her daughter was doing in school, or how her pottery studio was going. Alina was an artist, and was part of a potters’ coop in Brookline. When she was not working for Marty, or helping her college bound daughter who had just been accepted to the Boston Conservatory with a scholarship to their dance program, she was at the studio, throwing clay, burning or painting, so full of ideas and inspiration she sometimes would forget to go home at night. Sofia would call her mother to ask what was for dinner, or to tell her she would be late because of a social commitment, not knowing her mother didn’t sit at home waiting for her, but instead was at the studio, lost in her own imagination, which together with the endless possibilities of the wet, soft clay was taking her to places expressing the deep creative desires she had repressed for all the years before her husband died.

A-Love-Story-Could-Begin-Anywhere

Yes, a love story could being anywhere.

And it could go anywhere.

And it could be anything.

So, stay tuned for Part II.