I was the queen of the TOMBOYS.
I remember rough housing on the school play ground in the 1st and 2nd grade with the boys, playing in the dirt with TONKA trucks, trading horror comic books for models of GODZILLA.
At the grand old age of seven, I was having a blast.
I would join up with my best friend Ronny, a perpetually filthy red-haired little boy who loved war games in the dirt. We would set up our plastic army figurines or our cowboys and Indians (I was always the Indians) and go to war in the back alley.
I was happy.
My second grade teacher, Mrs. H. (oldest and meanest teacher in my Bradley Beach, New Jersey, grammar school) didn’t like the fact that I had all male friends, dressed like a boy, wore my hair short like a boy and acted like what she felt a boy should act like. After I got into a fight on the school grounds (I WON) with a boy, Mrs. H. told my parents to send me for a psychological evaluation for “gender confusion.”
I called it “TOMBOY” she called it “gender confusion.”
For 8 weeks, every Wednesday after school, I was taken to Miss O.
Miss O. was a tall, pretty woman in her early 30s. She was the first adult I’d ever met who truly wanted to know what I was thinking and how I was feeling. She looked into my eyes when we spoke. She asked me about my dreams!
About my dreams?! Wow! I dreamt of being the Indian warrior on the horse with the bow and arrow, not his wife sitting home in the tee pee! Who would want to be left home in the tee pee?!
She laughed, “NOT ME!”
I was in love.
After 8 weeks, my mother said that Miss O.’s evaluation of me was, “There is nothing wrong with your daughter. She is just overly creative and a little eccentric. Let her be.”
Except that I didn’t.
That year, my brother, sister and I were sent to a private yeshiva filled with rich kids who all spoke Hebrew and had known each other since they were in nursery school. We were brightly colored Legos in a jigsaw puzzle box.
I was told that not only did I have to wear a dress to school every day, but one that covered my knees. My mother sent me off in a maxi skirt that hovered below my ankles. The first time I tried to play kick ball with the boys, I fell flat on my face.
My Indian warrior was dead. I was banished to the tee pee.
When I was ten, my parents moved to Rumson, New Jersey, a very posh little town.
After a ceremony that entailed tearing my old maxi skirt to shreds, I tried to go back to my Queen of the Tomboys ways, but I had lost my mojo. Plus being the new kid in school when your parents drive a Volaré and everyone else’s drives a Cadillac was not so easy.
But the year I turned 12 something happened.
Every Wednesday night, “The Bionic Woman” would come on television. There was nothing, nothing that could keep me away from that show. I would forgo ice cream, movies, and bribery. Lindsay was tall and pretty like Miss O., but powerful. She could jump over a building, beat up the biggest, nastiest guys. She was my hero.
Once again, I was in love.
By the time I got to high school, I had abandoned all pretense of fitting in, and for the first time since I played in the dirt with Ronny, the Queen of the Tomboys was back, only this time, I had discovered the power of being sexy.
I wore jeans cut off just below the butt with California hiking boots, cut-up Blondie T-shirts, a coke spoon dangling from a strand of leather around my neck. I screamed the lyrics to the Sex Pistols “God Save the Queen” as I marched down the hallways of Rumson Fairhaven High School.
This was not gender confusion, I really wanted to be a girl, but I wanted to be a girl like Joan Jett not Julie Andrews.
So yeah, I got in trouble a lot, my grades suffered, and my conservative parents didn’t know what to do with the wild child under their roof. They didn’t know that after years of suppression, I was exploding out of my cocoon. As Joan would sing, “Don’t give a damn about my bad reputation!”
My folks tolerated the cigarettes and the apricot brandy, but after my best gal pal’s mother called to tell my mom, “Your daughter is trying to turn mine into a lesbian!” Mom hit the roof.
It was bearable to have a juvenile delinquent under your roof, but a gay one?!
I took a tip from The Runaways and ran away, but after a particularly loud party I threw landed me in the Long Branch, New Jersey, police station, my parents shipped me off to a Chasidic rabbi in Crown Heights Brooklyn who specialized in turning wayward Jewish girls religious.
Once again I was forced to wear skirts below the knees, shirts below the elbows and above the collarbone. I was told not to sing in front of men, lest the sensual sound of my voice might distract them from being holy.
I was also told not to touch a man, not even a handshake, until I was married. That wasn’t a problem. I didn’t want to touch a man. I wanted to touch Grace Jones.
I could have run away again, of course, but I was 16, broke, in New York City in 1981 and didn’t want to wind up being a hooker or a dead body, so I bided my time. I wore the dreaded maxi skirts with my jeans underneath. I wore long-sleeved shirts in the summer with a Rolling Stones T-shirt over them.
I was fighting to keep my power.
The rabbi wanted me to get religious, get married and have 6 to 12 kids. The moment I was able to move out of his house and into my own apartment, I proceeded to get myself a girlfriend instead.
New York City in the early ’80s was not a safe place.
Unless you were on Christopher Street, walking down the street holding your girlfriend’s hand might get you stoned, and not in a fun way.
But for one day a year on Gay Pride, it was as though we owned New York. For one day a year it was okay to be whoever you really were, to love whoever you really loved.
I would linger on Christopher Street into the late hours, long after the parade was over and the crowds had dissipated to soak in every last bit of pride that thousands of people had left like breadcrumbs from the day’s festivities.
I was there, sunburnt, sweaty, exhausted, filthy and smiling ear to ear, once again digging in the dirt with Ronny, the Queen of the Tomboys.
Long may she reign!
HAPPY GAY PRIDE NYC!
HAPPY GAY PRIDE U.S.A.
AT LONG LAST MARRIAGE EQUALITY ALL ACROSS AMERICA!
WE HAVE COME A LONG WAY BABY!!!
June 28, 2015 Comments Off on The Rock and Roll Pride Ride and the Tomboy Queen
I miss Orchard Street being Jewish.
My mother haggled in Yiddish with every vendor on Orchard until the leather bomber jacket I wanted went from 80 dollars on Orchard and Houston to 50 bucks near Rivington.
Then it was a celebratory lunch at the spectacular David’s Deli on Houston Street, near Katz’s. My family called it David’s, but it may have been the Crown. I just remember countless hanging salamis and a corned beef on rye sandwich to melt your soul.
“Katz’s, shmatzes,” My mother said, “David’s is really kosher.”
Katz’s is still there (thank God), and East Houston Street is still home to the wonderful Yonah Shimmel’s Knishes, where you can get the most fantastic latke, too. And Russ and Daughters for smoked fish to bring tears to your eyes, or maybe that’s the raw onion. You gotta add raw onion if you’re having lox!
But David’s is gone, not to mention all the other great kosher restaurants on the Lower East Side. Bernstein’s on Essex (Schmulka Bernstein’s) is gone. Bernstein’s was the first place I ever went for kosher Chinese food. Chow mein, sweet and spicy beef ribs … wowza, it was great.
The giant kosher dairy restaurant Ratner’s on Delancey Street, with its famously old and famously nasty waiters in white jackets is gone. I once made the mistake of asking my 80-year-old waiter to cut the huge slab of smoked sable on my plate into thinner slices, and he promptly walked off and never came back.
The 2nd Avenue Deli is a Chase bank now. That kinda says it all.
Further up First Avenue in the East Village, the great DeRobertis Pasticceria, a family-owned Italian pastry joint, recently closed. Italian coffee, cookies, pastry and all the friendly conversation you wanted. This was pignoli cookie heaven since 1904, and I miss it. DeRobertis was the nicer cousins of Venieros on 11th Street, which is thankfully still there.
I don’t miss the crime, but I do miss the renegade spirit of the East Village in the 1980s and early ’90s.
I miss gangs of punk kids in mohawks hanging out in Tompkins Square Park.
Walking east of Avenue A felt was like stepping off the edge of the world. It was scary, but the light at the end of the tunnel was the Life Café on 10th Street and Avenue B. Yeah, yeah, the guy who wrote “Rent” hung out and wrote a lot of the musical there. Jonathan Larson was beyond brilliant, but in the 1980s, Life Café was not about a Broadway show; it was about LIFE. This was a friendly place to get decent cheap food and strong, cheap drinks. I still miss the huevos rancheros.
I remember an out-of-business gas station on Avenue B that turned into a pop-up nightclub. Of course it was illegal, but nobody cared about half-naked club kids on Avenue B in the 1980s. There were far worse crimes to contend with than the lack of a cabaret license, or for that matter, indoor plumbing.
I remember a guy squatting in a boarded-up building on East 12th Street unlocking a padlock to let me into his dilapidated basement so that, amid the rats and the dust, I could read an essay I wrote on his guerrilla radio station.
I miss Cave Canem, a gay bathhouse turned club, on 1st Avenue off 2nd Street. The Cave housed a wild lesbian night on Sundays. One night, the girls put red food coloring into the old whirlpool in the basement and swam naked in the bloodlike water. It was the first time I ever heard the expression glamour dykes. Years later, Hayne Suthon, the New Orleans belle who owned the building, reimagined Cave Canem with Asian drag queens, and it rose from the funk to become a huge hit as Lucky Cheng’s. Sadly, Lucky Cheng’s is gone, and so, for that matter, is spunky, outrageous Hayne. Rest in peace, Hayne.
I miss Allen Ginsberg living on the Bowery. It’s probably a good thing that he never saw the Bowery turned into millionaire’s row. Fantastic filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch also lived on and loved the Bowery.
I miss the Bowery being chock-full of drunks and illegal tattoo parlors. I got my first and only tattoo there, by Fineline Mike, an ex-hippie who worked out of his loft overlooking a flophouse.
I also miss the wildest part of the Bowery, the awesome CBGB’s, although much as I loved the idea of CBGB’s, I never could hang out there because there was no fate worse then having to use their bathroom. It was like a scene from “Trainspotting.”
I miss great dive bars like the Mars Bar. It was so stinky and nasty that even after you left, you’d smell like Mars funk the rest of the night. Its bathrooms were scarier the CBGB’s, which is REALLY saying a lot.
I miss the Lizmar lounge on First Avenue, where I had my first bartending job. I was scared out of my wits. Half my customers were in the bathroom shooting up. The other half were stoned out of their gourd and didn’t speak English. They kept asking me in Spanish for chichaitos, which someone finally told me were rum and anisette. The manager sat at the end of the bar with a baseball bat ready to hit anyone who hassled me. I knew if I could last at the Lizmar, I could handle anything.
I miss the wild and crazy Meat Market. I would hang out at Dizzy Izzy’s Bagel shop (alas, gone) and devour hot-from-the-oven, awesome bagels slathered in cream cheese and watch the Market night unfold.
After the wholesale meat vendors closed up, leaving the stench of rotting meat in the trash and on the streets, it was time for the evening shift: trans hookers and leather boys. There were S/M clubs like The Vault and Hellfire. One day I went to The Vault with a gal pal to check it out, and a Chasidic guy with a long, white beard asked me to spank him. I gotta say that kinda creeped me out.
I miss summers on the ramshackle West Side piers off Christopher Street, where I could sunbathe topless, invisible to the gay boys cruising each other and dancing to disco blaring from portable radios.
I miss knishes.
I miss knishes with spicy deli mustard hot and steaming and sold from street carts on every corner.
Where have all the corner knishes gone? Bring back the knish!
Mostly I miss the feeling that living in Manhattan meant you were in the edgiest place on the planet.
Edge moved to Brooklyn a while ago. Not sure where it’s gonna move next. Queens, probably.
I wonder if they have knishes in Queens.
June 6, 2015 Comments Off on The Lost City (Manhattan)
I remember an apartment I had in Manhattan, when I was just 20. It was at the top of a six-floor walk-up with marble stairs. Even at 20, I wanted to leave an oxygen tank on the 4th floor for laundry day. But a huge two bedroom in the West Village for cheap rent was hard to come by, even in the 1980s. Plus there was a handy bonus: My parents couldn’t make it up the stairs. No more surprise visits. WIN!
We called the apartment the Ranchhouse and decorated it with Clint Eastwood posters and western-style furniture. It was a completely NOT-renovated pre-war tenement, where the landlord never did a thing. Once a year or so, part of the ceiling would fall down, and we’d have to tape plastic bags to keep out the pigeons.
The kitchen was like stepping back in time to the 1950s. It had a huge sink in which you could wash two babies and a water buffalo, and an old country gas stove made years before electric starters came into fashion. You had to light a match every time you used it, then jump back or lose your eyebrows.
Since the bathtub was as close to the stove as the nearest counter was, it became an extension of the kitchen. One of the first parties I catered, years before I could afford a commercial kitchen, I had to make a hundred quiches. Fortunately there was loads of space in the Ranchhouse kitchen. I opened up two folding tables for more kitchen prep area then bleached the clawfoot tub, filled it with ice, put the quiches in disposable containers and stacked them in the tub.
A caterer was born!
I threw at least one dinner party every week in the seven years I lived in the Ranch. Big pots of chicken curry simmered away on that funky stovetop regularly.
Part of the reason for all that home cooking was that once you got up all those stairs, you never wanted to go down again and part of the reason was that big kitchen with the 1960s country gas stove and old cupboards, just made you feel like cooking.
If you spilled a sauce or dropped the eggs, so what?! It was the Ranchhouse, stained, scratched and comfy.
A few years later, I had the pleasure of moving into a designer home (lost it in the divorce, alas) with a kitchen that was featured in a magazine or two. I never saw so many gadgets; I wanted to hire an IT guy just to show me how to turn on the oven! But something about that super swank, electric, brand new, “cook’s kitchen” shut down my mojo. I don’t think I cooked a meal at home the whole five years I lived there, unless you count salad.
For me, a dream “cook’s kitchen” needs a gas stove, but I can make electric work. I once catered a party for 300 people out of a Xerox machine closet using two butane camper stoves and a prayer. So I know just about anything can be done if you have enough gusto.
I can forgive the electric stove as long as I have a lot of room and an easy, it’s-OK-to-make-a-mess, we-can-just-clean-it-up feeling kitchen. Not the case for that designer kitchen. Everything about it read “pretty but don’t touch.”
I was recently invited to a family supper to share, great food and lots of love, but also to show off my cousin’s swank new kitchen with the gorgeous tiled counters.
As with 99% of the dinners I get invited to, I was asked to help prepare the meal. It goes with the territory. Folks finding out you are a caterer is like finding out you are a doctor. Doc why does this hurt? Chef, how long do I cook this beef?
So I pulled up my sleeves and jumped in to help crank out the supper. But every time I tried to put something hot down on those gorgeous, Spanish style counters, her husband nearly had a coronary! “Don’t scratch the counters! Don’t get burn marks on the tile!”
I wound up breaking down a few cardboard boxes, covering all the tile with them and then covering the boxes with tablecloths to make it look a little nicer. So yes, gorgeous new kitchen, but NO, not my idea of a cook’s kitchen.
I’m not a designer or a contractor or a spokesperson for any sort of pot or pan or sort of kitchen appliance. I’m just a downtown girl who loves to cook and am lucky enough to get paid doing it.
So what I can tell you about creating that dream kitchen of yours is this: It’s your dream, not mine. Find whatever makes you feel comfortable. If an egg dropping on the floor in a kitchen sends you into cardiac arrest, something is wrong with that kitchen (or perhaps less caffeine would be a good idea, dear). Keep it user-friendly!
Give me a kitchen that’s big, with loads of counterspace, a cook’s island, a heavy-duty gas stove, lots of good, heavy-bottom pots and a few windows to let out the smoke if it doesn’t have an exhaust fan, and I am good to go.
So what’s the moral of this kitchen story? Moral shmoral. Just be comfy and make sure to cook with love. Everything else falls into place.
March 8, 2015 Comments Off on Kitchen-orama, mama
With New Year’s Eve just passing us by, this little resolution seemed appropriate.
I call it Drawing the Line.
I remember taking my first and only trip (thus far) to Israel. I was told it would be a life-changing trip, and for many reasons that I can’t explain right now, it was, but the biggest impact the trip had on me was during the 13-hour flight back to New York.
I love New York. I have done a good amount of traveling, but I’ve always felt happy to come home to the greatest city in the world. Except this time.
Shortly after we took off, I realized I didn’t want to come home. I tried to shrug it off as a “Boohoo, my vacation is over” kind of thing, but it was more than that. I really truly didn’t want to come home.
I couldn’t sleep – something about a screaming baby two rows back – but no matter. I used the time to ponder my reluctance to return to New York. The answer came to me mid-flight: It was because I didn’t have a home to come home to.
My small catering business had grown into a bona fide company to be reckoned with. The phone was ringing off the hook. We were booked with events for 100 guests to 700 and often catered multiple weddings in a single weekend. I’d outgrown the warehouse kitchen in Long Island City that I’d shared with two other companies and built my own swank commercial kitchen in Lower Manhattan. There was much to be proud of, if I had the time to be proud.
My kitchen was a 12-block walk; just a quick stroll. But to save time, I answered my business phone calls and emails from my apartment. I had an answering machine next to my bed receive all the forwarded calls from the office.
In the morning, I would wake up, check my work emails for a few hours, and answer my work phone calls for another few hours. At about 2 in the afternoon, it would occur to me that my stomach was burning from hunger and that I was still in my underwear. So I’d down breakfast in two gulps, and then after having used up my entire morning and early afternoon working, I’d walk to work to meet clients and, you know, work.
Late at night, as I drifted off to sleep, I’d hear the voices of bar mitzvah and wedding inquiries chatting away from my answering machine.
I was getting fat and depressed, and my home was anything but my castle. It was just an outer office with a bed.
I decided on that 13-hour flight to change all that. After I got home, I disconnected the Internet from my home, unforwarded my office phone and reclaimed my apartment.
Mornings became my time to write, paint, stretch, think and have a proper breakfast that included this thing called chewing. The walk to work became a time to smell the air or a chance to cut through Tompkins Square Park and see the dogs playing in the dog run.
I had thought that all those calls and emails waiting for me when I arrived would mean I wouldn’t get out of work until late at night, but oddly, my day got shorter. Something about getting “me” time, focused my brain so that I was far more efficient at work!
At the end of the day, when I put the gate to my kitchen down, I left the phone calls, emails, proposals, bills and assorted mishegash at the office. No notebook in my bag, no calls to return later after dinner. DONE!
At night as I went to sleep, I was not lullabied by Mrs. Horowitz from Long Island’s voice shrilly demanding “a kiddie bar with real-looking cocktails, not just Shirley Temples!”
So that went OK … for a few years. Then my girlfriend asked that I install email in my apartment for personal things, like family or friends. So I did, promising myself that I would only check personal email while at home.
That lasted about two days.
I got an iPhone, promising myself that I would only check work emails in case of emergency. Yeah, that worked. … I knew I was in trouble when I caught myself two-finger typing a sample menu at midnight. Grilled flank steak, seasoned with insomnia, anyone?
When I was flying home from a trip recently, guess what else came back? You guessed it: That feeling of not wanting to come home.
I suppose I am a workaholic, or I’m a small business owner in one of the most expensive cities in the world, trying to keep up, or both.
So I’m counting days again, as they say in recovery programs; no work emails at home, reclaiming my mornings to do things like write my column. I’m also reclaiming the evenings I am not supervising events. I have a gym membership, and I damn well plan on using it!
Drawing a line between work and home gets pretty darn complicated when you are self-employed. Especially if you work from home. I am lucky enough to have another place to go. Not everyone does.
I have an entrepreneurial pal who holds his meetings in a nearby hotel lobby, a professor pal who does her computer work from a local café. There are ways.
I always banish work from the bedroom! Well, almost always. As I said, I’m counting days.
I am grateful for that flight back from Tel Aviv that taught me that home is where the heart is, but it’s up to us how we fill that heart.
Today I choose yoga (really bad yoga, but I get an A for effort) and writing to fill my heart.
I choose oatmeal and bananas with almond butter for breakfast and enough time to enjoy the sweet banana flavor.
It’s good to be home.
January 8, 2015 1 Comment
It’s not like I’m an expert on the being 50 thing.
It’s only been a few months since I turned the big five-Oh!
But I can tell you what I’ve noticed about being a half-century old that wasn’t exactly on my radar 20 years ago.
Food Isn’t Just a Now Thing Anymore!
I used to be able to eat whatever the hell I felt like eating, pizza covered in pickled jalapeño peppers with a Michelob light chaser was my favorite, followed by a Snickers bar. Yes, ma’am!
Now I think about everything that goes into my mouth and ask myself questions like:
• How will I feel in an hour?
• Will this pass through me or does it require a prune chaser?
• How many hours in the gym is needed to work this off?
I know from countless trials and errors that red wine gives me the acid reflux of a foghorn from hell!
Ditto on eating anything, ANYTHING after 10 p.m.
Gone are the days when I could devour cold leftover pasta at 2 a.m. For that matter, gone are the days when I do anything at 2 a.m. And I’m allergic to wheat.
I actually think about things like “Am I getting enough sleep?”
No more close-the-bar-down at 4 a.m. mornings, watching the sunrise from the bagel joint in the Meat Market. While we’re at it, gone is the bagel joint in the Meat Market (not that I can eat bagels anymore). Not hip enough for the new über-chic Meat Market.
Going out to dinner with my girlfriend, then a long walk afterward, that lands us home at 11:30. That’s a late night for this party babe!
“I used to dance the night away!” my GF says, followed by, “Can you make us your special cocktail.”
My special cocktail by the way, is one spoonful of Metamucil to an 8-ounce glass of filtered water, stirred not shaken.
I used to close my eyes at night and wake up 9 hours later. The only thing I needed to fall asleep was a bed or a floor. Now it’s chamomile tea, melatonin, a long hot bath and a prayer to get this babe to wind down.
Problem with that damn tea is that it leads to another gift of being 50, the “I can’t sleep through the night without having to pee” thing. When the hell did that start?
You guessed it; that’s our next subject: PHOOEY!
I can’t be bothered to be über-chic.
That’s a nice little perk to turning 50 you get to say, “Phooey!!!” A lot!
That pesky filter that used to turn all my no’s into yesses … with the horrible sweet voice in my head saying over and over again the mantra “Be nice, be nice, be nice!” … has been replaced with PHOOEY!
“Would you like to lend me money that I will never pay back in this lifetime or the next?”
“Can you lower your price to below your cost, because I’m a well connected hipster and will tell my pals about you?”
“Can we come and sleep in your living room for a week? We’re too cheap to rent a hotel?”
PHOOEY-itus starts forming in our 40s and begins to blossom in our 50s. But having spent a lot of time with my 88-year-old dad, I have to say it doesn’t get its full bloom on until we are in our 80s.
“Would you like some steamed vegetables, Dad?”
“PHOOEY! BRING ME A HOT DOG NOW!”
Something to look forward to.
But PHOOEY works in other ways, too.
Like recently on Halloween when I was sitting at work giving away a boatload of Halloween candy (that I couldn’t eat because chocolate gives me acid reflux), I felt a little sleepy.
“Should I go home to take a nap or go to the gym?” I asked my 35-year-old chef.
“Go to the gym!” he screamed, horrified that I even asked.
“PHOOEY!” I screamed to my tired body and trudged to the gym, worked out for 45 minutes and really did feel a lot better.
Back at home, I wanted to crawl into bed and watch Halloween movies rather than go to a late-night dance party. The problem was I was going with my 59-year-old and 52-year-old gal pals, each well into her PHOOEY years.
“PHOOEY!!” they said. “Get your dancing shoes on!”
“PHOOEY!” I said to my aching knees.
I pulled out a Naughty Sexy Cop Halloween outfit from a decade ago that actually still fit, then shlepped out to the party in Long Island City.
Everyone, 25 or 55, was in costume; they were getting down!
“They’re playing old school,” screamed my gal pals!
Never mind that I was in my 30s when these “old school” songs came out. I boogied on the dance floor, feeling every bit the sexy cop.
OK, yes, I was home in bed at 1:30, but you know, kinda danced the night away.
I went to sleep that night, needing nothing but my bed and woke up feeling just fine.
Proving what I now know: most of all FUN is ageless.
Not to mention a great cure for stress, acid reflux and the blues.
So I’m 50!
It’s just a number, and to all those who disagree I say, loudly and proudly, 50 times over, “PHOOEY!!”
November 11, 2014 Comments Off on So This is 50
I took some zany jobs in my younger years. I was a barker at an amusement pier in Long Branch, New Jersey. I got on the microphone and called folks to throw down quarters, spin the wheel of chance and try to win A CARTON OF CIGARETTES! “Grab your girl, and give it a whirl! There’s nothing to it; you can do it!” I was 15. I thought the job was pretty darn glamorous. What I really wanted was my boss’s job. While I was sweltering with the gambling smokers, he was sitting in an air-conditioned office counting money.
After I moved to NYC, I landed a job selling cosmetics at an outdoor market in SoHo. In the winter, when I was stamping my feet in the cold, trying to sell frozen lipstick as frostbite crept into my fingers and toes, I would look over at my boss, sitting in the van with the heat blasting and the windows fogged up and feel even colder.
“One day I’m gonna be the boss!” I told the four-pairs-of-socks-for-five-dollars guy at the stall next to mine.
“I’m too cold to talk,” he answered.
When I decided that I wanted to be a chef, I took lots of jobs to learn while I earned. One outdoor supper club had me and seven guys sweltering in a trailer-turned-kitchen with no indoor plumbing, no sharp knives, not even a fan, while we cranked out food for a thousand yuppies a day.
“Can we have sharp knives and a fan?” I asked the boss while his secretary counted what must have been a hundred grand on the table next to him.
“You think you are suffering!” he shouted. “I was wounded in the war and had to stitch up my own wound! That’s suffering!”
We sharpened our knives on a concrete block, wrapped ice in dish towels and put them around our necks and growled while the boss sipped iced coffee in his Jaguar.
One summer, I allowed myself to be bused out to the Hamptons by a catering company that needed staff for its busy season of lux parties for the elite.
“Ohhh, how swank!” a pal cooed into the phone when I told her I was being put up in a house in the Hamptons for a week.
When I arrived at the house, which was also the kitchen, office and storage facility, I was led up the stairs and shown a ten-by-twelve-foot room filled with sleeping bags and mattresses.
“Two knapsacks from the corner is your spot!” said the sous chef, a very tired-looking Chinese man.
I was then herded downstairs and spent the next 10 hours cooking in a stifling-hot, cramped kitchen with a slew of cooks who looked as though they were ready to collapse.
At the end of the day, too tired to do anything but eat our communal dinner and crawl up the stairs, we took turns (12 of us for one bathroom) showering, and then collapsed onto our spots on the floor.
I was the first to break the ice: “This sucks!”
“Really sucks!” came a voice from a sleeping bag in the corner.
“I thought all homes in the Hamptons had swimming pools.” a young redheaded woman called out.
“One day, I’ll be the boss,” I chanted in my head as I drifted off to sleep.
It took me a few years to start my own business, but every time I did an event, they told people, who told people, and thankfully, the word did get around.
It’s been 26 years since I became “the boss,” and I have learned a whole lot about the price you pay for being the owner.
After a day of cooking in my air-conditioned kitchen with knives that are professionally sharpened every week, having had a proper lunch break, after which staffers returned to their ample workspaces with a lot of appreciation and all the cold water, coffee or soda they want, my employees leave for the day.
That’s when I take off my apron and put on my reading glasses and go into the office to start my other job: owner. Between answering emails, paying bills, returning calls, writing proposals, scheduling meetings and contending with the endless, ENDLESS, barrage of legal requirements to running a business, I’ll be lucky to get out for a late dinner.
It’s a solitary feeling, looking over that mountain of paperwork at the hipsters running to the bar, the kids running to the park and the moms running after their kids.
When I am finally ready to leave for the night, my stomach growling and my eyes red and blurry, it occurs to me that I work longer hours more days of the week, than I ever did working for a “boss.”
So what’s the reward?
Top of the list is having the power to be nice to the staff. It makes me happy to give them proper meals, a comfortable workplace, very decent pay and respect. All except for the executive chef. She can never do enough to please me. That job, of course is mine.
I get to hang my own art in the office (monoprints of Provincetown Bay right now), take all the personal calls I want (when I have time, which is rarely), play the music I like (rock ’n’ roll, of course), eat when I want to eat (if I’m lucky), and I decide when I am done for the day.
But my biggest motivation to plow through the endless haze of stress, is that I am completely and absolutely unemployable by anyone other than myself.
My proper corporate meeting attire may well include a vintage T-shirt on which is scrawled “RAW.” While I insist that every bit of food I plate up is exquisite, I serve my clients the truth, regardless of whether it’s palatable. Once I asked a bridezilla to get laid so she could stop stressing everyone out. Thankfully, she did, and we all lived happily ever after, especially the groom!
I also need a LOT of personal space. My kitchen is constructed so that the front table with the wall of spices separating it from all the other worktables is my spot, you could say it’s my emotional throne. From there, I make the sauces, marinades, and dips while my chef does the sea salt and caramel whoopie pies, my prep cooks grill the shrimp and fry the mac and cheese fritters as Led Zeppelin plays in the background.
The Queen is making killer satay sauce from her throne!
So yeah, being the boss is not for the faint of heart, but at least I get to make my own fun.
Now I gotta go, I have a very important meeting. I have to dress up! Hmm, the hunter green T-shirt stamped “Rebel” with Levi’s shorts and a pair of biker boots will do just fine.
October 7, 2014 Comments Off on The Boss is Always Greener
It is 911 today, first morning since that terrible morning that i woke up not remembering what day it was..but something woke me up an hour earlier then i meant to get up, so i checked face book, but couldn’t shake the feeling that i was forgetting something..then i remembered in a jolt it was the “911” anniversary..so many lives lost on this day, so many lives forever changed..I am not the person i was the morning I woke up on september 11th.. I can still remember so vividly standing on my roof and watching the towers burn, the shock and terror when they fell one by one..the strange acrid smell…all those haunted faces i met at ground zero the brave first responders i was privileged to feed..they were going into a burning pile looking for friends..all i could do was give them a hamburger… but mostly what i recall was the kindness that spread out all over new york city…everyone opened doors for each other…strangers hugged…people from all around the world sent food, water, socks, eye wash a thousand things to ground zero…it was our worst day but our best moment for kindness and heroism..i am humbled to think about it today..On september 11th i remember the love and bravery that tried to wash away all that pain and loss.. sending you all a little love on this day
September 11, 2014 Comments Off on 911 again
Gay Pride 2014
I was standing in front of “The Duchess,” a lesbian bar in Greenwich Village. I had just moved to New York City. I was 17 years old.
I had found the courage to leave home, but the courage to walk into the Duchess? My feet were frozen to the concrete.
An androgynous woman wearing a leather jacket, her brown hair slicked back, stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. She looked at me and snickered as she sucked her Marlboro. I ran all the way to the Sheridan Square subway station.
By the time I mustered up the courage to enter a women’s bar, the Duchess had closed. I went to “Peaches and Cream,” a friendly joint on the Upper East Side.
I can’t describe the sensation of walking into a bar filled with gay women. It felt a bit like being lost in a candy store where I was too terrified to touch the candy. Thankfully, some of the older women in the bar felt a maternal instinct toward the terrified teenager and welcomed me heartily.
It was like finding a family I didn’t know I had lost.
Being gay was something I’d kept on the inside. Being hurt, ostracized, cat-called, or worse, those were all real possibilities for being “out” in the 1980s. But at “Peaches,” I felt free to be exactly who I was: a young woman who loved women.
I grew up fast … joined in gay pride marches, fell in and out of love several times, took part in New York City’s first glamour dyke parties, and years later with my bodacious partners threw our own women’s parties. We called ourselves “Nasty Girl Productions,” and we sure were.
Over those years, the world changed, too. I remember when walking down the street holding my girlfriend’s hand risked a gay bashing, now I see young happy women holding hands all the time. They don’t think about homophobia. The world is their oyster, and I’m happy for that. I am happy for them.
Gay marriage has become legal in a boatload of states, including New York, and at long last gay marriage has gotten its well-deserved federal rights. Thank you, Edie Windsor!
The gay pride parade is now less a symbol of overcoming oppression and more a great chance for advertisers to make Gay Money.
A lot of my pals don’t even go to the parade anymore. “It’s too hot. It’s too crowded. We’re too old.”
But I still go.
Every year in Manhattan on the last Sunday in June, I love to cheer the marchers on and wave my handmade signs. “Gay caterers spice it up” was last year’s sign. This year, it’s “Gay chefs sizzle!” I hoot and holler until I’m hoarse.
All that joy is exhausting.
For me this day, is not just about celebrating, or partying; it’s a family reunion for thousands and thousands of relatives I never knew existed.
It’s our day.
July 9, 2014 2 Comments
On Mother’s Day when we were kids, Dad would take us to a drugstore and buy hairbrushes, body lotion, athlete’s foot powder … you know, the sentimental stuff. He’d also pick up a Mother’s Day card and have us each scribble our names and affections on it. He always had leftover wrapping paper in the garage, and we’d take turns doing terrible wrapping jobs on the items. Each of us would claim one gift as our own. I tried to be glamorous and grab a lotion or a scented soap. If you didn’t move fast enough, you’d get the foot powder.
It was clear that Dad had done the picking, but each year, Mom clasped her hands together and kvelled (kind of like beaming in love) all the same, then dragged her three children to her chest in delight. It was suffocating, but it went with the turf.
By the time I was 10, I figured out a few things.
1) Dad was a lousy gift giver.
2) Mom didn’t care what the gifts were, as long we gave them.
3) Mom loved lilacs.
A neighbor’s tree exploded in fresh lilacs every year, right around Mother’s Day, and I decided to sneak over and acquire (steal) an armload of glorious, fresh lilacs to present to Mom. Our ragtag kitchen of cheap linoleum and paper plates took on the air of an eccentric garden with those pretty flowers sitting in a large glass apple sauce jar on our dinette set. I loved the smell, still do, but it may have something to do with the ecstasy of Mom’s face when I gave her the flowers. It became our annual mantra for five years:
“Oh, I love lilacs!”
“Yes, Mom, I know!”
Things changed right around the time I discovered that even though I was 16, I looked old enough to get into bars without being carded. I didn’t give a hoot about my mother’s love after that; I wanted to party! I also wanted to paint, fly, have friends my mother hated, smoke, explore, and in short, leave the nest!
By the time I was 17, I was living on my own, and Mother’s Day was a day when I called Mom and subjected myself to an hour of her prodding and digging about whether I would ever marry a nice Jewish boy. It was my gift to Mom, letting her eat my insides. It took me a few years to mention that not only would I not be marrying a nice Jewish boy, but if I did get married, it would probably be to a woman.
Eventually we found our way to back to each other. Mom was a poet, I am a writer, and we started to talk about the creative process. It was an amazing thing to find out that my housewife, over-possessive, couponing, bargain-hunting mother was actually a spectacularly creative soul. She even won a local poetry contest and got her name in the newspaper.
“Promise me, my Slovah (my Yiddish name), that you will write about me. I want you to immortalize me.”
“Of course, Mom, how could I not? There’s so much material!”
My parents were coming back from a trip to Florida, driving on 195 toward New Jersey when Mom went into cardiac arrest in North Carolina. She never made it home. I was 28 years old.
For many years after that, I didn’t know what to do with myself on Mother’s Day. I felt that the whole world was celebrating a day that I was locked out of. The lilacs at the Korean deli sent me into tears.
Then I decided I would spend Mother’s Day with her, death notwithstanding.
I bought an armload of lilacs (bought!), hired a car service and rode from my apartment in Manhattan to her grave in Staten Island. It’s an old Jewish cemetery that houses most of Mom’s line of the family. My grandparents and great-grandparents are there.
I laid out a towel next to Mom, and placed the flowers on her grave. FYI, this is a big no-no in Jewland. We don’t bring flowers; we place stones. But really, could we get any more depressing?!
I slathered suntan lotion on my arms and legs and lay down next to Mom.
Groups of mourners came by, horrified to find a woman in a hot pants and a tank top splayed out in the grass, but Mom would have liked it, and so did I.
I told her about my life. Whom I was cooking for, what I was writing about, whom I was dating, what made me happy, what made me sad.
She was a good listener.
I’d like to say I still do this every year; I don’t. But it got me through the hardest Mother’s Days.
Taking the car service back to Manhattan, I didn’t feel the cast-out sensation anymore. I looked out at the families coming back from brunch with Mom, happy and giddy. I spent the day with my mom, too! SO THERE!
I still feel an incredible loss on Mother’s Day. I suppose having a baby would have helped. Then I’d be Mom, too.
But it wasn’t my destiny to be a mom, maybe because I’m so busy mothering … EVERYONE!
Happy Mother’s Day to all the motherless daughters out there. It’s our day, too! Make it a great one!
May 16, 2014 Comments Off on Motherless Daughters on Mother’s Day
I love New York City.
Well, I love the New York City that may not be quite there anymore. It’s a bit like looking at a six-foot-tall guy and remembering him as a toddler – in this case, an adorable but naughty toddler.
I remember when NYC had grit and wonder and edge and CBGB’s and the 2nd Ave Deli!
The day they turned the 2nd Ave Deli into a Chase, I knew the NYC of my heart was no longer. I went in to make a bank deposit, and I swear I smelled pastrami.
Most of the mom and pop stores that made NYC so magical are gone. They have been replaced with big chains, superstores, condos, condos and more condos, and did I mention condos?
Now they want to knock down Junior’s in Brooklyn and put up what? Yes, condos!
Penny wise, pound foolish is a phrase that comes to mind so often.
Yes, the crime is way down. That is great, but also way down are the character, the wonder, and the glorious kaleidoscope that made NYC so friggin’ awesome.
I know from my own path of running a small business in NYC for decades how hard it is to stay here. Every new law that is passed seems to put money into the pockets of just about everyone BUT the business owner.
But when the small business owner is pushed out, doesn’t everyone lose? Workers lose their jobs. Agencies can no longer collect fees. The neighborhood loses its character and New York City takes one more step toward being everywhere else.
Sometimes I look around my corner on the Lower East Side and feel as though I am trying to hold the torch for the NYC I love, disappearing a little more every day.
A luxury 13-story building is going up next door. I’m sure a Starbucks is on the way.
And by the way, what happened to Mars Bar?
I haven’t given up, YET. I am still fighting the enormous pull to leave NYC for a cheaper, easier, far less stressful place to do business.
I stay, if but for no other reason, to hold the fort!
Long live CBGB’s !
April 10, 2014 Comments Off on I Love New York