Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Girls....

The phone rings in the middle of the night
My father yells what you gonna do with your life
Oh daddy dear you know you're still number one 
But girls they want to have fun .............................Cyndi Lauper

Once upon a time there were 6 girls who were not bound by blood but by choices.  The first choice being that their parents had all left their native Romania to come to the US.  The second choice was that their parents had chosen to settle in areas that were close (walking distances) to one another, except for 1 and we will get to her.  The third choice was that they chose each other to be friends with in a strange land, to stay friends with in life, to forgive each other when they were not their best and to let go of one of them when they knew they had lost the thread that bound them to her. 

I was one of those 6 girls, the others were Margaret (who lived in NJ which seemed so far to us at the time), Mary, Liri and her sister Mireille, and Gabby.  We were exactly one year apart (me oldest and Mireille youngest).  Mary and I (when she was 6 and I 8) somehow "babysat" one another by walking together home from school, it was a different era and kids did that so it was not that odd.  We were known to "forget" our keys ( a ruse that involved going to our respective apartments and leaving our keys there) so that we could spend time together.  Mary and I took vacations together, only children, and were Be Fris (if you are a child of the late 70s you will remember those gold hearts that split in two they spelled Best Friend and you each wore one Be Fri St end) and blood sisters (got that from some after school movie am sure).  Liri and Mireille joined us often and we spent endless hours at the movies, walking to every where, playing handball in school yards and talking for hours.  Mary's Father was a master at tracking us down, in alleys with boys we liked, in candy stores playing video games (hoping said boys would come in) and his famous line to us was "fetele" which is "girls" in Romanian.  Everyone knew him and we knew better than to try and not go when he came to collect us.  Gabby joined us at some point too and she quickly became our close friend.  She was cooler than us, she was more willing to to push the limits.  

We girls grew up together, fighting at times to the death (aka crying our eyes out) but quickly understanding we could not live without one another.  We went from ponytails to flipped hair (better for Mireille and Mary with the straight hair), crazy Ozone depleting giant hair (better for me and Liri) to current ahh this is the look that says me more than my era.  We pined and asked for Sasson and Jordache jeans, Reeboks, boom boxes, walkmen, to iPads we let our kids play with.  We cried for each other when any one of us got in trouble and were mercilessly blackmailed by Mireille to taking her along with us even though she was younger.  The girls shared stories of first kisses, 7th grade groping, high school make out marathons, THE first time, the best time, and now we are share our comfort in our own sexuality, no longer afraid of and aware of our needs and likes.  We watched boys to see if they were looking at the one of us who liked him as we walked out of our way by that boy (sometimes he looked and it was cause for hours of talking and dissecting that look).  We learned to smoke together, to drink together(oh the horror of thinking we drank a mixture of all that my parents bar had in small amounts snuck into via not so well cleaned Wella shampoo bottle to family party - Margaret's basement a novelty that afforded us a freedom small apartments could not).   We were there for one another with crushes, trends and heartbreaks.  At some point we drifted apart.  For each of us that meant expanding our friendships with others, having new experiences, and growing up as individuals not as only "the girls".  

We never parted ways completely though, somehow always connecting here and there.  Margaret got married while we were all in colleges and had no inclination to do so.  Mary, Mireille and I went to college in New York, got jobs and enjoyed the sins and saves that the city has to offer.  Liri decided she wanted to live in Europe.  We had no emails or Facebook or even cell phones for a while (I moved a lot within New York, outside of New York) but somehow we always found each other.  We found each other to recommend each other for jobs, to be there when my Dad, Mary's Mom and Gabby's Mom all died within the same year and none of us were past 30 (or even close to it).  We lost each other to lovers, to moves, to lack of time. We knew we could call each other when those lovers, moves did not work out and we needed help.

We lost Gabby, maybe she needed us not to drift apart more than any of the others.  She was a little lost from the day we met her and somehow others pulled her farther and farther to the place she had been heading before she met us ....it is a dark place and I think most of us have realized we are not to blame, cannot save her. Gabby we love you but you must find your way back on your own.  The rest of us now are married, and have more children than we ever thought between us.  We have a bond that stretches between Westchester, Romania, New Jersey, Massachusetts and South Carolina that is unlike any other friendship.  We try and do a get together with our families at least once every few years which is bit like planning the Olympics logistically.  When we do get together though we laugh at each other, we cry for one another, we hug and kiss a lot, we look at our families and cannot believe how old we are all getting and mostly we look into each other's eyes and see only "fetele".  

Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world
I want to be the one to walk in the sun
Oh girls they want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have ...Cyndi Lauper

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Everywhere around the world
They're coming to America
Every time that flag's unfurled
They're coming to America....Neil Diamond
These people....why don't you just go back to your own country....they are dirty/lazy/criminals...we do not need them....freakin' immigrants!!!! Bet almost every immigrant group including your own forefathers heard some version if not that particular one at some point when they first got to the States.  I know hard to believe because you may have thought some sanitized version of it about someone who had the audacity to come to the States these days.  It is actually not a new or even novel story it is the story of the United States and it is becoming the story of the European Union, only they have just begun this journey and they are not as politically correct in keeping these thoughts out of public hearing distances.

At some point someone who had been here for longer decided their ancestors were of a better stock than the current wave of newcomers.  Looking at the history of immigration in the US that is so not likely.  Oh yes you have your Brahmins and yes you have your Astors but those were the exceptions...mostly you had the people who due to class and caste or religious fanaticism (yes that would be you oh so proud my greatxxxx came on the Mayflower people) would not be able to succeed, to move ahead, to be who they wanted to be in their own native land.  They were the undesirables and they desired more than they could get.  This is what built the United States because let's face it if it was all Astors they would have hauled ass back fairly quickly without anyone to build, serve, work for them here.  As the Cold War progressed you got your Soviet bloc refugees, running toward a beacon of freedom, a place where they would not be afraid to tell a joke, to vote, to think out loud, to have aspirations for more.  These days the Middle East, Africa, South America donates to what is the quilt known as the United States, patches that look different sewn together by a thin thread.

My parents came to the States with a lot of hope for a place that would offer them and their child opportunities.  They did not ask for anything else just the ability to not look over their shoulders for a secret police, to not have to wait on line for basic food supplies, to be able to travel with their child where they wished when they wished.  They did not expect to be offered jobs that mirrored their former professions, nor housing, or pretty much anything because they never forgot (much like immigrants before them) that they had chosen to come here.  They took jobs that were less intellectually challenging and reminded me that there is no shame in any job as long as you do your best.  They learned the language and adopted some of the customs. My father did not know quite how to make the American dream his ....he thought he had more business savvy then he actually did and was a never ending example of keep trying what you think you can do.  Not always easy emotionally or financially for the family but a good example of believing in yourself.

It is not easy to be an immigrant, there were people who made fun of my parents' accents instead of admiring their ability to learn a new language in their thirties.  There were people who got a kick out of scamming the newcomers through the ages.  There were dreams that would never get off the ground.  Yet there were also success stories upon success stories.  It is not easy to maintain a sense of your nationality, to impart it to your children, to use it to better the quilt that is the United States.  It is not easy to leave behind the safety, even when it is poverty stricken or war ravaged or just hard to live in, of your native country/language/family /friends/sense of self.  It is not easy to try and accept that it is not the same here, that there are people who are so different that they may as well be from another planet not just another continent.  It is not easy to be an immigrant.  However, it is the choice all immigrants have made to be just that.  As an immigrant I can never lose sight of that choice.  I choose to live in the United States and understand it's imperfections and try to better my adopted country through my actions.  I am Romanian and American and feel a part of both of those places and not fully of either.  The only way we could succeed as a country is to remember that as citizens we too were immigrants at some point and for immigrants to choose to be Americans. We are not a tossed salad ...we are a stew whose flavors intensify one another the longer we meld together.  It annoys me to see people not learn English (you are choosing to lose the opportunities you came for), to see signs in languages that I do not understand, to hear an immigrant tell me only what is better about the place they left, the people of their land over the US.  To all of that I say you chose ...so choose to either be part of the stew or go back and make your own place a success.  Be proud of your heritage, share it with all of us and take pride in embracing the crazy, rude, loud, happy, wondrous, diverse, secular, religious, vast country that morphs us from (insert nationality here) to Americans.

Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..Emma Lazarus

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sept 11

"Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again" Simon/Garfunkel

It is hard for me to write this blog...I do not talk much about my Sept 11 memories unless asked, find this to be a common theme for those of us in the city that day.  Not that we do not want to acknowledge it but it is a day that probably many of us cannot talk about without weeping.  If you lost friends, colleagues, family on that day it is that much harder.  If you know anything about me you know I am fiercely loyal to New York, I love it for it's imperfections as much as for being a city unlike any other anywhere in the world.  It is part of my soul and part of my personality.  This attack just hurts on so many levels that I was not sure I could get through writing about it.  Then I thought of all those memoirs from people about man made horrors (holocausts throughout the ages, bombings, crusades (of all religions), dictators) and how they are written because the innocent survivors voices should be louder than the shouts of the lunatics who orchestrate these events.

I too remember what a beautiful day it was.  I was living in Astoria and I took the train and at 59th street a man in a suit on the 6 train kept saying into his Nextel phone "my wife is in that building" and the shaking his phone as the train pulled away and he lost the signal.  No one else knew what he was talking about.  I got off the walked toward my office and looked down 3rd Ave and saw the flames from the first tower and thought oh shit a fire at the Twin Towers.  In my building life was frantic as usual...but for business reasons, with many of our teams in Florida for a meeting.  We somehow heard that the 2nd tower had been hit and we all ran to the windows to see this and then to a conference room to watch TV.  The announcement (we are across from the Israeli mission, on the other side of a news channel, block away from Grand Central, blocks away from the UN so yes we get communications from the NYPD and others when things go wrong) came on that we should stay in the building as they could not guarantee what our safety would be outside.  Maybe it was then that I realized this was unlike anything, that we were on an island and suddenly everything was a potential target.  I yelled at some poor soul who called me and asked about the status of a project, she was in Massachusetts and yet I did not cry yet! This man I worked with and I went to look at the windows to see the Towers now grey smoke and suddenly....one just seem to vanish in a cloud of smoke.  We looked at each other and back again...it happened fast and slow and we had no idea what the hell just happened.  People started making plans to stay with friends.  My best friend lived on 17th street, we were stuck on the island of Manhattan with nothing going in and out, and so without thought I headed to her apartment.  I walked outside and it was the silent....a few sirens in the distance but no one was blowing their horn (and you all know we drive hand on horn at all times in the city), people were walking toward me covered in grey ash quietly, not running, delis were handing out water, and as I always see New Yorkers just are incredible in an emergency.  They help each other, they are grace under pressure, they were silenced....never before have I seen this.  No subways underfoot, no air traffic except for a sonic boom here and there of a fighter jet.  I walked with a man who told me his daughter worked in the Towers and asked me if I thought she was ok and I do not think I answered but we talked and walked and he kept going...I hope his daughter was ok.

I got to my best friend's apartment, cell phones were spotty, our other best friend was there and we got Chinese food because we still could not wrap our heads around what we were living through, you could see the ash, you could taste and smell it even on 17th street but all we had was each other at that moment.  Having done volunteer work at Cabrini, around the corner from her, I thought we should donate blood.  The line snaked around the corner, again quiet, people in line, not talking....no ambulances zooming by though.  I went to talk to the ER doctor to say I had crisis intervention experience and he called me in a room, he told me did not think there would be survivors but if I could just not panic the line outside and he told me to go home.  We walked back Elli and I...and we talked ....and then for some reason they opened the subways for a brief moment and Julie and I raced to the nearest one and went home.  I am often asked how I could have gotten on a subway ...was I not scared?? I did what I do in New York, I found a way to get to my location and a real Fuck You to anyone who was trying to tell me what to do. No even then this girl has the attitude that you cannot take my city from me.

I spent days looking at the skyline from my apartment, talking to friends whose family members were in the FDNY, to overseas friends who called and told me that when they first saw the Tower go down they thought it was simulation showing what could have happened because they could not imagine that it actually had.  I saw people quietly and with dignity put out their American flags and was reduced to tears over and over again.  I could not stop watching the news and yet I wanted to.  I called frantically trying to reach 2 of my close friends who are Pakistani (afraid that maybe in the madness someone who do them harm verbally or physically simply because there was anger out there -- they said most New Yorkers treated them with respect).  I did not want to hear the conspiracy theories, still don't...if you knew so much were the hell where you to stop it before???? I was disgusted with the showing of celebrations over this...to this day I have yet to be in a celebration mood for the death of people in any country, even the ones that produced the lunatics that drove the planes on 9/11.  I felt as though the wound at Ground Zero, a term so new to me, was part of me....

I have only been once to the site and it was not to see it but for the simple reason that I had to pass it to get to my destination...it is not a tourist attraction for me...it is a place where people who were part of my New York family ceased to be more than a name on a wall.  I do not understand the hatred to this day and I hope I never will.  I now have children who will never know a world where 9/11 is not a day where Mommy cries and mourns.  I now have children who asked me if I needed to go to work when they saw a terror alert with a picture of Grand Central 'cause the bad men may hit it with a plane.  I am not sure I will ever see, hear or think about that day with anything other than pain...I am changed forever by it.  If you were here in New York that day you are changed too vastly differently than if you were not.  This is not a competition of your loss is bigger than mine it is just the fear of being here, the confusion, the loss is here too.  I feel for those at the Pentagon and I am humbled by the passengers who took on the plane in Pennsylvania.  I do not forgive the terrorists and I do not have any need to....you do not deserve any more than you took that day.  This day became the day that I realized that life is really meant to be lived for that day not for the what might be and that I would not put off the things I need to say, to do, to become.  For me 9/11 is the day I chose to be in my life a person who will not give in to hatreds, gave up any hope for organized religion, respecting others for having the belief systems I no longer did, and the day that I decided that my children (not born then yet) would be people who would be proud of being part of a diverse world not so afraid of it that they would chose their death and the death of others instead.

Here is my voice -- You hurt me...you maimed my city...you took my friend...yet for all of that you have nothing ...you did not win !

Beautiful day with the sun shining bright
Flames and smoke downtown a terrible sight
Confusion, loud silence, grey soot and despair
The smell of death, smoke, fear in the New York air

Why we have asked ...reasons seem shallow
Families and spaces left behind with imprints still hollow
Rebuild and rise from the ashes like the phoenix of lore
Making peace with a world that will never be like it was before

Friday, September 9, 2011

First day of school...

It was a scene being played out around the country, possibly the world, summer ended and the first day of school was starting.  For those of us who have grade school children we were prepping backpacks that often were half the size of the child carrying them, with cartoon figures and action figures and girly girl glitter, full of folders, new pencils, crayons, and other school supplies.  As the bus pulled up, or as you left your child at the door of the school, smiles and cameras flashed, wishes that said "you'll have fun...be great...love it" in every language were being said by parents that were tall, short, fat, skinny, older, younger, suburban, urban and everything else.  Yet as soon as the buses pulled away, the child was gone from sight swallowed behind the doors of the school the smiles of most of these parents waned, the drooped and often turned into the bittersweet tears that said "my baby is growing up so fast".  I was one of these, surrounded at our daycare by  parents who were ready with a tissue and who a few minutes before were sharing laughter with stories of summer fun.

I remember my first days of school -- not all but the ones that seem to be the beginning of something new.  The first day of first grade with my great-aunt, hair in ponytails with giant Eastern European white bows (you know the look if you ever saw any pictures from that Soviet era), blue and white checked dress with a blue apron on top (no idea why but this was the look for grade school...I never got to it but all around the Iron Curtain this uniform was worn and morphed into white shirts with navy blue skirts and the requisite red kerchief of young Pioneers - a Communist school club you had to join).  I had a brown leather backpack (filled with notebooks, a blotter, fountain pen and ink pot-- no I am not THAT old but even in the late 70s Romanian schools started you writing with a fountain pen and you learned how to use that blotter pretty quickly 'cause little hands press on those fountain pens often with school work looking more like a Rosarch blot than anything else).  This is probably why the idea that script will not be taught so still annoys the crap out of me. I missed my parents being there (my Mother still cries about missing it) but pretty soon made a friend of my desk mate, then others and pretty soon I was loving it.

I remember my first day in the US school, my language limited to "Hello my name is Juliana", my Mother walking me to school, me waving goodbye while she cried outside the small window in the brown wood door, sitting with kids who stared at me, Mrs Schilkraut with her short black and grey hair and blue eyes - skinny and loving, and kids who very quickly thought nothing of the fact that I did not speak English - this was Astoria after all many of them had not spoken English at first, or their families barely spoke it.  I learned to not raise my hand Romanian style (hand lifted at elbow on desk, pointer and middle finger held together like a shy peace sign) and to wave my hand in the air frantically to get the teacher's attention.  I went to the blackboard and answered a question (telling my Mother when she picked me up - to which she inquired in what language)   after all I had just skipped a grade based on a test they gave me and I knew this math..this I had done.  Learning not to cross my 7s, to not round the bottom of my 9s, to drop the nose off the 1.  I walked home for  the entire year with a boy who lived near me named Francisco, about 2 inches shorter than me, talked the whole time even before I knew what he said, yeah...no rules about children being left alone back then, key around my neck.  It was great and it was exciting and I still loved it.

I remember the first day in private school, QLS, where they did not care if you were not Lutheran and with the exception of one girl (who I still think was a bitch) made new friends who I still see to this day...parents now who may actually speak English....and I had a great time.  The first day of high school ....went from a 2 classes per grade school to a 300+ student body per grade giant place (still afraid to step on the seal in the middle of the ground floor lest that 4 foot security guard yell and chase me)....some of my best days spent there.  The first days of college and then grad school....always with a little trepidation, always the person I have always been enthusiastic about the new, optimistic about my chances to make friends. I learned a lot and developed a love of learning in the buildings, through great teachers, and was lucky to meet people in all these places that have made my life so much more interesting, fun, wonderful

As a working Mom I struggle...I had one too as did many people I know....with making sure I am at events for my kids, that I am a part of their days.  I am lucky that we are surrounded and have befriended so many of the parents of their school mates and friends and have a network of people who are as dedicated to raising children who will add to the world as they add to their height.  I make their lunches, I encourage them to be the best they can be, and most of all I remind them that they will be great in their environment...so far my boys seem to agree.  This year I bought the cutest stickers for them from Hamptonpaperdesign.com (love, love, love them) that I plastered all over their school supplies (confession I loved buying school supplies for my school years and love buying them for theirs...hmmm early obsession with stationery) and had a notepad made by this company that has a guitar image personalized with the words Mommy's Thinking Of You....I write them little notes for their lunch boxes that remind them along with their snacks that they are never far from my thoughts.  I am sad for all those people who have negative memories of school years....for me they are place I enjoy revisiting and helping my boys come along for the ride as they build their own school time memories....

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Movie Soundtracks

I got rhythm...and was born to be wild...everything free in America for a small fee in America...glad to have you be the wind beneath my wings..ahh fame I want to live forever - people remember my name

As we, sadly for me oh so sadly for me, move into the end of summer I was thinking of the many summer movies that I have loved over the years.  I am big fan of the movies and they are one of the things I have missed going to on a regular basis since I had children.  I like small independent movies, domestic and foreign movies, some big blockbusters, and the whole amazing process that goes into making them.  My best friend studied film and I was one of the chosen few (this is where a sarcasm font would be so welcomed) who helped her when she made her films.  For such a marvel they are still quite manual, yes even the over financed ones.  Scenes are shot over and over and over again, sound is added to the visual, editing takes forever, and the smooth and seamless transition you see on the screen is done with blood, sweat, tears, cigarettes and buckets of coffee.  Did I mention the equipment is heavy and for amateur film makers the filming usually happens a lot at night as they cannot afford to rent out daytime spaces as easily?! So lucky for Elli her friends (aka unpaid crew) were all young enough to work their day jobs and these all nighters when she needed us.  Okay, okay the ham and wanna be actor in all of us appreciated our 15 seconds immortalized on celluloid too. (cause we were crew, extras, and even stars).  Ready for my close up Mr. Demille.

The thing I like about the movies besides the actual movie is that at times there is a great soundtrack.  To a lover of music this is a bonus.  Soundtracks over the years have been everything from instrumental tunes that we can all identify (ta dum, ta dum, ta dum ta dum...do it fast you can almost see the shark fin coming at you)....the pounding symphony of Darth Vader walking and the lightness of the orchestra of the opening credits (music as good and bad guy).....the electronic beats of Close Encounters...the smile from a younger man that has me hearing "God bless you dear Mrs Robinson"...  Even if you never saw the movies if you live in the Western world (and probably with satellite anywhere else now) you have at least heard these.  Then there are the soundtracks that have become classics black and white goodies from Fred/Ginger,"Casablanca", "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "Singing in the Rain", "Sound of Music", "West Side Story", "Grease", "Dirty Dancing" am sure those of us who love movies have a huge list that we can easily bring up.  There are soundtracks that are a part of a moment in my life "Breakfast Club", "Pretty in Pink", "Purple Rain",  "Singles"...no one is saying there was great music on these and I am not saying there wasn't all I think is that hearing songs from any of these takes me back not only to the movie but to the place in time that it held in my life.

How many times have you had a moment where you wish you had a soundtrack...the first kiss...the first time you are intimate with someone....a passionate moment...a breakup.....just running for the train.  As an only child with an active imagination I have these in my head with the stories I have had running in there for years.  No I do not need to check self into Creedmore...or do I Nurse Ratchet???  As summer ends the soundtrack that I often think of is Grease...with it's catchy opening tune of summer ending and fall starting....it is cheesy, it is commercial, it is something that makes me smile.  In the end I like the movies for the places they let my imagination take me and the soundtracks for keeping that going long after the closing credits have rolled past.

Loose, footloose, kick off your Sunday shoes....'cause we are livin all our lives in gangsta paradise....lose yourself in the music you want it....still like that old time rock and roll the kind of music that soothes your soul..after all I've had the time of my life...and nobody does it better makes you feel sad for the rest...