A Show Under the Stars

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It was around 1974. It had to be since it took about four years for my mom to perfect her tennis game.  She played every day at the Cherry Hill Tennis Courts.  She started out at the free outdoor courts in Kressen Woods, but it didn’t take long for my mom to realize that indoor courts were her best bet.    It was winter so playing indoor tennis made sense.  On that chilly  Wednesday I answered the phone, hopeful that a friend was calling.  But it was for my Mom.  The rich, low voice on the other end said he was Gladys Knight’s manager and wanted to see if Arlene, my mom, would play mixed doubles with them. I could not believe my ears.  I wrote down the message, making sure I got the number right. This was way better than any random weekday call from a friend.  When I told my mom she had a message, she first thought it was a prank. But her curiosity got the better of her and she ended up calling back.  Turns out Gladys was headlining at the Latin Casino, the Vegas Style night club that graced the West side of Cherry Hill’s Route 70. Ms. Knight liked to play tennis but they needed a forth.  My mom’s name was offered.

 

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The next day, Thursday, after her regular league, my mom stayed and played mixed doubles with Gladys Knight and two of the Pips on court 14.  It was on the end, and was reserved for games without viewers.  I couldn’t wait until she came home.  She said they were very nice and they were on for another game the next day, a Friday.  Not only that, but they asked her to be their personal guest at their show Friday night. I wanted to ask so much more, but dinner had to get on the table and my chores took priority, at least while I lived in her house. I had fantasies of going with my mom, even though it was a nightclub and I was 14.  My mom was strict, and as far as she was concerned fourteen was closer to childhood than adulthood.  I had a differing opinion, like any good adolescent.

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My mom was no expert in making decisions, so she had to think about the offer.  I was amazed she had to think at all, how could she Not see a Motown star’s act?  But the words, “I have to think about it,” usually meant a delayed NO.  And that time was no exception.  She said they were lovely, but there would be too much smoke at the club.  My Mom was a dedicated Camel smoker until I was six, probably when she was pregnant with my brother.  Since then she would cough loudly in any public place, asking anyone within her vicinity to put out his cigarette.  Usually my mom was bashful, but she boldly made her requests much to the chagrin of the smokers.

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Fast forward to this summer, and my husband, Larry, has been working at Pier 17, the outdoor venue at The South Street Seaport.  Gladys Knight was headlining last week, and I knew I just had to see her. Larry made it happen.  Everyone at the venue treated me as if I had just played tennis with Gladys. Knight. But they were just great at hospitality. It was a spectacular night.  Before the show, the audience members started coming in. They looked extraordinary. Everyone was dressed up to the nines. It was it’s own show.  Then the band opened the act. In came the star.  Gladys Knight is musical royalty, yet she performs with enthusiasm and a generous heart.  Her voice sounded beautiful, complimented by her excellent band and back-up singers.   My mom might have thought the 1974 show wasn’t for her, but for me, Gladys Knight is a Knight to remember. IMG_1877.JPG2018-08-25 20.54.00.jpgIMG_1878.JPGIMG_1873.JPGIMG_1872.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

A Trip to Africa

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What can I say about a dream come true?  Shall I say that I spent most of my life believing my dreams wouldn’t be fulfilled?  I lived much of my early years longing for the things that others had.  The thing about my longings is that it kept me out of the loop. There’s an unspoken presumption that it was beyond my reach. Growing up I heard about the trips to Florida my classmates took.  I longed to audition for a traveling high school production of Godspell, but had to work, and couldn’t afford to take time off, let alone pay for a ticket to California.  I felt left out.  Moving to New York in the early 80’s, there were apartments for sale at accessible prices. But for me, getting my hands on $200 was as elusive as paying for a $20,000 apartment.   It took years to learn that there were ways to have what I once thought as impossible.  I learned that by working hard in psychotherapy. And, throughout the years I’ve realized a few of my dreams, my own private practice, running the NYC Marathon at 56, and most recently, going on Safari in Africa.

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It was a month ago Larry and I were in East Africa.  It truly was a dream come true.  I first had the idea when my mother mentioned wanting to go to Africa when I was a child. In my mind, we would go together. But through the years it became apparent she was not one who could travel easily.  I, on the other hand, started traveling in college. First studying art history in Paris, and visiting a few other European cities.  Then doing what I could to go on local road trips, and visit other countries.  But one of my bucket list trips had yet to be realized.

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A little over ten years ago I created the Africa fund.  This was separate from a vacation fund, or any other savings account I had.  I had thought I’d go for my 50th birthday, but I hadn’t saved enough to do anything but backpack, and I’m really no camper.  So, I aimed for my 60thbirthday.  When my mother died this year, I thought, “Why wait? We only live once. ”   And, so, I started planning the trip.  We chose Micato Safaris, which turned out to provide an amazing adventure.  They designed special experiences throughout.  Elephants are my favorite animal, and they made sure my time with Elephants surpassed any and all expectations.

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We started out in Kenya. We went to the Nairobi National Park. It was our first safari experience. There is a unique energy trying to visually locate animals in their natural habitat.  Giraffes can be easier to spot based on their height, but most of the animals blend in so beautifully that it was not as easy to spot them as I would have imagined.  Later we went to a Giraffe sanctuary.  They save endangered giraffes, and raise them until they can go back into the wild.  We got to feed these beautiful creatures with their purple, foot long tongues, and expressive eyes.  Later we visited the  Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is an orphanage for baby elephants.  They ran past us in the sweet line as they made their way into their nightly beds.  They are rescued elephants, who are raised for their first few years, then introduced back into the wild, with their dedicated foster parents.

 

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The next day we flew to Tanzania for the Tanzania Spectacular tour.  It is aptly named.  We visited Tarangire, where we stayed in luxurious treetop cabins.  From there we went to the Ngorongoro Crater. It is like nothing else in that it attracts all the wildlife since there is a good supply of water.  From there we drove to the Serengeti.  The Serengeti is vast and varied.  There we were able to see so much.  And, though I was enamored by all the animals we saw, I have to say, I loved meeting and speaking to everyone we encountered.  When our tour ended in Tanzania Larry and I went to Zambia to enjoy the beauty and splendor of Victoria Falls.  While there, we went on a motor boat on the Zambezi to The Elephant Cafe, a restaurant that serves local cuisine after feeding and petting the rescued elephants they care for. It was an outstanding experience, from the crocodiles and hippos by the river, to a five star meal after communing with the gentle giants.

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Each moment of each day was full and satisfying.  I felt transformed.  Not only was I able to go somewhere I had only dreamed of, but I was able to enjoy all the trip had to offer.  I don’t know how it’s changed me.  Only time will tell.

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Running Again

 

IMG_1337.JPGI ran my first race in over a year.  It was slow process, both recovering from benign injuries, as well as running 15-minute miles this morning.  In the past months I went through acupuncture, medical massage and physical therapy putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. So, tentatively, step by step I took on Central Park’s Drive.

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What I noticed right away was the throngs who passed me as I inched my way forward.  I am no stranger to being left behind.  In elementary school I often was picked last in kickball, more for my lack of popularity than for any inability to kick and catch the ball. In junior high school I was not asked to parties.  I awkwardly went to school dances, uncertain how to pretend I was fine while swaying my hips to The Captain and Tennille.  Then, in my early adult years, I didn’t know how to negotiate apartment hunting, and ended up subletting again and again to keep a roof over my head.  I am still learning how to navigate the world.

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But today, I knew where I needed to be for start  of the event. I showed up along with a few thousand New York Road Runner members. Each one of us running for our own reasons.  This run helped me appreciate what I’ve learned over the years.  Some things are easier for some and not others.  We all have our own journey.  And, having others pass me can distinguish my particular trek through life.  A perfect spring day in Central Park making for an invaluable run.

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Free Shakespeare in the Park

 

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On a sweltering Tuesday in August, in my first full summer as a New York City resident, I was nervous and excited about the prospect of obtaining free tickets to A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The day in 1982 was hazy, and the great lawn was full of picnickers all with numbers for a place in line. I was number 26. I had gotten there so early, maybe 7 AM to ensure my audience participation. And, I was far from the first one in line. But with a coffee and an H&H bagel for breakfast, I felt well-prepared. Hour after hour of baking in the sun, I was a lucky recipient of two tickets to the show.

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The production was magnificent. Directed by James Lapine, a name I wouldn’t recognize until after the first production of Into the Woods, Shakespeare’s mystical comedy was a seamless theater piece. Before the show I spotted Kevin Kline among other stars in the V.I.P. section. As a young aspiring actress, I felt part of something.   Christine Baranski was spot on as a comedic actress. William Hurt was dreamy.

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35 years later, Larry, my husband, and I celebrated our 20th anniversary seeing the latest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Another wonderful evening of theater, this time with the wonderful singing voice of Marcelle Davies-Lashley. Although neither Larry nor I had ever heard of her before, we’ll be following her now. And, though the entire cast did a great job, our notable favorites were the indomitable Annaleigh Ashford, plus Danny Burstein and Kristine Neilsen.

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It was so much fun to share the evening with Larry. Between our work, our parents, our kid, and life’s needs, we don’t go out even half as much as we did twenty years ago. We very much felt like a part of something as as audience members, as New Yorkers, a supporters of Free Shakespeare in the Park, and as a couple. It’s more fun to laugh together. And, for that I appreciate a good night’s theater under the stars.

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(All images are from www searches)

 

What I’m Not

 

 

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We just took a trip to a resort in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. It was beautiful. The weather was warm and clear, and everyone was friendly. I wanted to enjoy this vacation. Last year was hard and I was looking forward to some R&R.   But the food, though plentiful, went from bland to awful.   The amenities promised were elusive or not as advertised.   The other travelers seemed to be content, but I couldn’t help notice the missing details, the absence of my desired holiday away. I would go for a run on the beach, grateful for the easy breeze, and the laps of the ocean. Yet, I kept thinking of all the things I didn’t like about being there. I was angry at myself for booking and paying hard-earned money for this trip. I kept playing back other vacations I should have taken. I was blaming myself for not being able to let it go. Why couldn’t I simply enjoy what I had. Why was I so upset? Why couldn’t I be a more spiritual being? There are so many who are scared for their families and loved ones. There are those dealing with death, health challenges, immigration issues. And, I am feeling sorry for myself for not enjoying the beautiful resort I was in. What kind of person am I? And, the self-criticism was relentless. I am not grateful. I am not selfless. I am not worthy.

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This is not a new theme for me. I have a long history of being hard on myself. I understand that it’s not productive, yet I don’t seem to stop. In fact with the time and space on vacation, I seemed to swim a little in the outdoor pool and swam constantly in a state of condemnation. As the week continued, I’d have moments of peace, thinking that this will be a really funny story with some distance. And there were other times when the inner monologue chattered on.

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I am not a published book author, I’m not a size 8. I’m not a home owner. I’m not a multi-millionaire. I’m not a doctor. I’m not organized. I’m not young. I’m not coordinated.” The list could easily continue. I am clearly aware of what I’m not. In fact, sometimes my mind is so crowded with what I’m not, there’s no room for what I am.

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What I am is a mother and a wife. I’m happy with my work. I have a private practice and work with amazing individuals. I’m a friend. I’m a sister and a daughter. I am a theater and arts lover. I’m a subscriber to theater companies and a member to a number of varied museums. I’m a walker. I love walking the city. I’m a Manhattanite. I’m funny at times, and critical at other times, I’m a foodie. Life is good. But it won’t always be good. Sometimes a vacation turns out to be a vacation from what I love. And being away gives me greater appreciation of what I have.

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So I’m thinking this vacation was about taking vacations every day from self-criticism. It taught me to spend less mind-space on what I’m not, and celebrate more on who I am. Maybe this bad vacation can have a good outcome.

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If nothing else, I’m blogging again. So, yeah, I’m a blogger, too.

Back to the Basics

 

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I learned to iron from my mom, but not before I scorched a shirt or two. Cotton and Polyester were the fabrics of my childhood. And, although I liked my Danskin striped shirts and ribbed pleated pants, cotton was the classier choice for anything other than playing in our Haddontown neighborhood. When inside I had chores, one of which was the ironing.

 

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I would set up the creaky ironing board in the kitchen close to the counter with the electrical outlet. And then I’d carefully plug in the Sunbeam, aqua iron until it was hot enough to smooth away the folds. I would iron my father’s shirts for work, my sister’s and my blouses, leaving the trickier ironing of dresses to my mother.

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In my twenties I volunteered at a new age retreat. One of my jobs was to iron the leader’s white oxford shirts. Perhaps I was chosen because Virgos are known for our attention to detail. They never told me. What they did say was, “Janet, it’s imperative that you bring integrity to your work. There must be no lines in his shirt. Anything that takes his attention away from leading the group compromises the quality of the retreat.” I took them seriously, and performed my ironing with fear and seriousness. At the end of the week I was commended for my work, but at great cost to my happiness.

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Today I ironed my dresses, two green, two blue, one orange and one black. It’s been a while since I’ve ironed. I tend put on no-iron clothes or slightly creased shirts. I take out a steamer from time to time, but sometimes it just doesn’t do the job of old fashion ironing.

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There is something meditative about ironing. I can tell immediately if I’m doing it right. And I know this because the wrinkles disappear. I find this ever so satisfying. It’s clear what task is at hand, and it’s clear when it’s complete. Few jobs are that straightforward in life. Unlike my fear of failure at the retreat, I’m happy to do my ironing with music on in a state of ease. My dresses are done and I’m grateful to my mom for introducing me to the finer points of ironing.

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Hidden in Plain Sight

 

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This week Larry and I went on a tour of Gracie Mansion, an activity over 15 years in the making. We live a half a block from New York City’s first family home. Yet, we’ve only seen the façade prior to today. I would usually walk into Carl Shurz park passing by the city-guarded mansion.  We spoke of going on a tour during the Guiliani years, but we always found ourselves too busy. So, two weeks ago, I thought, screw that, we’ll always be busy, let’s just do it. And, we did.

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The tour is free. We just went to the .gov site and got on a list. Tours take place Tuesdays. They start on the hour beginning at 10 AM. We got a 2 PM time slot, a slim opening I had on a full work day. And, that was it. We were scanned going in, and then shown a home built in 1799 during the Federalist period. When it comes to style, I’m much more of an early and mid-twentieth century buff, but I appreciate history and Gracie Mansion is chock full of history. The architecture, furniture, art work and fixtures were the key focuses of the tour. We had a well-informed well-styled woman to take us around along with about 15 others. Another group tour of 20 well-heeled woman from a Bronx senior program were taken by their own tour guide.

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It was fun to learn new facts about the city. I learned that Frederick Douglass was a visitor, but never a resident, of New York City. I just assumed he lived here since there’s an impressive two-way Boulevard named after him. And, I learned that most of the present furniture were gifts rather than original pieces.

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It’s fun to find out that no matter where we live there’s something new to learn. I don’t always retain the information taken in, but I do cherish the experience. We enjoyed a peak into another era. It’s so easy to deny ourselves the simple pleasures of living in the city.

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I’m much more apt to go downtown to the theater than walk down the block on a Tuesday afternoon to take in a quiet treasure. Sometimes slowing down to enjoy what’s hidden in plain sight can enrich us in ways we underestimate.