Wednesday, December 30, 2009

the usual new year's riff

What are you doing New Year's Eve?

In my experience, the population is divided on the subject of celebrating New Year’s Eve. The most vocal members have had their plans in place for at least a month in anticipation of hearty partying. For the rest of us, it’s something to get through as uneventfully as possible.

I fall into the latter group, which, I suspect, is a silent majority. However, my feelings about New Year’s Eve are strong. I dread it. I think I almost always have.

In childhood, it was the celebration I always missed. No matter how hard I tried, sleep overcame me before that ball dropped. The next morning, the house rarely failed to show evidence of some secret grown-up ritual I was certain was as magical as it was mysterious. Someday, I thought, I will be old enough to join in such fun.

As an adolescent, I spend the long nights in a number of strangers’ homes, tending to their offspring as they frolicked away the last of the year. It was such a bore. Regular television was preempted for the New Year’s specials. It seemed that everyone in the world was partying but me, or so I imagined. At least then I earned a nice bit of change for the empty hours.

As I grew older, New Year’s developed into a time of involuntary reflection. It is when the earth and everyone on it ages, including me. Each January 1, I feel as if I have aged at least a year, although my birthday is five months away.

It’s not that I never had a good New Year’s Eve. While my children were young, I experienced the night through their eyes. We would go out to see a movie together and then either go home or gather at a friend’s house.

As our collective youngsters fought the good fight to stay awake, the adults cooked marvelous treats. We were even known to fire-up the backyard grill and roast s’mores. We sang camp songs and downed hot chocolate. And if anyone remembered, we turned on the tube in time to catch the ball drop, gingerly stepped over the bodies of sleeping offspring to offer the traditional New Year’s kisses.It was heaven.

But all too soon, my kids were making their own plans for the evening. It seems that the celebration had now grown to include teenagers. Now, my job became one of worrying: Were they where they said they would be? Would they come home in one piece? The up side to having children is that concern for their well being often obscures concern about your own life. So, in a perverse sort of way, my New Year’s Eve dance card remained filled.

For some time now I have been left to my own devices. And I have tried just about everything I could think of to get the dark night behind me. Some years I would force myself to make elaborate plans to avoid ending up alone. This tended to drive my friends, usually a generous lot, and nuts. I’d start asking them in August what they were doing for the New Year. They would pat me on the head, laugh and dive back into the swimming pool.

So I tried ignoring it. It was just another night. Yeah, right. Let me tell so something. It doesn’t matter how many videos you rent or how early you hit the sack, the world will insist upon reminding you at midnight – with firecrackers, bells and whistles – that you are entering the New Year.Lately, I’ve been taking a more moderate approach. I try not to obsess until mid-December. Then I make casual overtures to a friend or two. If nothing turns up, I try to make my peace with the evening. I may decide to go to a movie. Perhaps I arm myself with a good book, some incredibly decadent food and new CDs. These days, I bet I can party harty on the internet. Betcha facebook will be rockin". Something tells me, I have a lot of company out there, eh?

This year, I'll be working New Year's Eve until 7 p.m. and the next day, so any kind of partying may be beyond me anyway.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day, 2009

Alone again, naturally.
That’s not as bad as it sounds, not now, even on this traditional family-centered day.
It’s not just that I’m used to it.
It’s that I live in the retail world, where “Christmas” is interminable and often insufferable.

Much of me just wants to veg the day away, especially since I need to be at work by 6 a.m. tomorrow.
My Christmas dinner is a prepared turkey feast from Whole Foods.
My desert of pumpkin cheesecake by way of the B&N café.
I even have one of those cheesy video’s of a Yule log to pop on the TV.
Yeah, I know. It sounds pathetic.
But in truth, what’s a lot worse is one of those pity holiday invites where you sit around amid other folk’s family and watch them open gifts. I’ve been there, trust me.
If I rally later this afternoon, I’ll hit the movies for a traditional Jewish Christmas day.
If not, I’ll curl up beside my “fire” with a book.

My life has always been filled with Christmas confusion.

As a child of the 1950s, growing in a secular Jewish family on Long Island, we got the season all wrong. In an effort to give us everything, my parents ending up leaving us wanting. Like many children, Jewish mainly in the cultural sense, I coveted Christmas, the trappings of which permeate our culture.

We lit the Hanukah candles, did the fried food and such, but “Santa” brought our presents on Christmas morning. The thing is, we weren’t allowed to have a Christmas tree. We didn’t have a fireplace, but I once actually hung one of my little white stretch socks from my bedpost. I don’t even think my parents noticed.

It’s no surprise that as soon as I was married—to an Italian—I got a tree. With no money for ornaments, it was decorated with Christmas cards. But the lights were the old fashioned kind that looked like candles. And the ornaments I later collected mimicked those trees of the olden-day movies of my youth.

When I split from my husband, I also chucked the artificial tree for the real thing.(Although, he took the Lionel trains with him.) Among my warmest memories are going with my son to a small farm in Farmingdale, N.J., to chooce our tree.

I enjoyed many a Christmas Day as my children grew. (Yes, we continued to light the candles & eat the latkes.) When they were tiny, I put the tree in the playpen. I loved wrapping the gifts, which I often did with home decorated newspaper. For me, it was all so fresh.

My friend Jean taught me how to bake cookies, and I had a collection of tins. I’m probably one of the few that included my grandma’s home-made mandelbread, though. I spent alot of time covered in flour.

My parents would arrive early, laden down with shopping bags full of gifts, and we all chilled out for the entire day. Our meal was another turkey feast with all the trimmings. Yes, there was tension and some sour years, but I choose not to go there. Not important.

When the kids grew and no longer came home for the holidays, it died a natural death. There are no grandchildren (as yet?) and each lives 4,000 miles away in opposite directions. So I’m on my own.

Which brings me back to this day, Christmas 2009, now almost half gone. By the time most of you read this, your Christmas will be but a memory. Hope it was warm and wonderful.

And that’s the way the Christmas cookie crumbles.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tiger’s tail: so many puns, so little time

OK folks, I know I’m a little late to the party. But my confession has been held up by negotiations. You know the drill by now: my agent is shopping my story around the media to get the best price before I can make a full confession. So I can just lay out the bones for now, so to speak.

Tiger and I crossed paths as I was leaving work. He was dashing out of a neighboring golf store having forgotten to pack his favorite golf socks. He was appearing at the nearby Bobby Jones golf course later that day.

What can I say? (that hasn’t already been said, and said, and said.) Our eyes met and it was instant chemistry. Yes, I know I’m 30 years his senior, but “soul mates” know no age barrier. The details of how we got it on etc. will be left for the aforementioned interview(s), but let me just say, ours was a deep relationship.

Tiger let me know right away how boring all those beautiful blond tight bodies (such as that of his elegant wife) can be, how he longed for the heavy loose flesh of a well-seasoned cougar. But ours was much more than a physical thang. We spent hours in philosophical discussions, interspersed with hours of tantric sex to which I introduced the dear boy.

In the end, though, I sent him on his way, concerned he was becoming too attached to me.

Ridiculous? Of course it is.

As much as I’ve tried to avoid it, though, the marathon of blond bimbos parading before us with hand outstretched, to confess (brag?) of their sexual encounters with Tiger turns my stomach. I am making no moral judgments here, you understand. But if you have an affair (By the way, these women were not “mistresses.”) with a married man, the very least you can do is keep your MOUTH SHUT. Shame on the so-called main stream media for paying these women to talk. YUK.

I am among the minority who believes Tiger Wood owed us his skill on the golf course. Period. Yes, I know he signed on to promote products and these folks certainly are within their rights to turn their collective backs on him. But the only children he is a role-model for are his own. And the only person he betrayed is his wife. If we insist on elevating sports figures to sainthood, because they can swing some variation of a stick, or jump high or throw long etc, then we deserve what we get.

Unlike Clinton and Stanford, Tiger wasn’t on the public payroll when he was getting it on.

So now Tiger will disappear for a while, and we will move on to tearing down the next idol. Then he will appear on Dancing With the Stars, and we will applaud his “smooth moves”...and the beat goes on.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

memories of Baby M redux

A front-page story in today’s New York Times updating the status of surrogate parenting in the U.S. again triggered a flood of images, so I am reposting this piece from last May. This post continues to generate far and away the most hits of any other. Surrogacy remains an unregulated minefield of heartache.

Twenty-two years ago, I was a fledging reporter with the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey when we were ground zero for the story of stories. I've always thought of it as the flip side to abortion. It was my immersion into pack journalism.

Melissa Stern is now 23 years old. Back then she was known only as Baby M, an infant at the center of a landmark custody battle revolving around surrogacy.

First a recap:

Mary Beth Whitehead of Brick Township, answered an ad in the APP to help infertile couples. Whitehead signed a $10,000 surrogacy contract with William and Elizabeth Stern of Tenafly, agreeing to be inseminated with his sperm and then give the baby up to the Sterns.

But Whitehead refused to turn over the child, whom she called Sarah, invoking a media circus worthy of a TV movie. Actually, I think it was made into one. The Brick police raided the home, returning the infant to the Sterns, whom they had named Melissa. Whitehead sued for custody.

Among all the ethical and cutting edge science questions, there was the “class” issue. Did the Sterns affluence, that of a biochemist and a pediatrician, give them undue advantage over Whitehead, a high school dropout married to a sanitation worker?

(an aside: Local newspaper reporters would chaff at calls the Whiteheads were “working class”. Her husband's salary of $35,000 was considerably more than any of us made at the time. So much for a college education.)

On March 31, 1987, Superior Court Judge Harvey Sorkow upheld the contract, terminating Whitehead’s parental rights and taking Elizabeth Stern to his chambers to adopt Melissa.

On that day, I joined the flood of media camped out on Whitehead’s lawn in the now familiar scene, awaiting that decision. I was petrified and overwhelmed, decidedly out of my league and eager to prove myself.

As the hometown paper, I felt special pressure. After all, her front lawn was less than 10 minutes from my own. I was on first name basis with many of those Brick cops she so detested. I knew my paper expected me to find some fresh angle to a story beaten to death, some way in through the barred door to the emotions inside.

I watched hot-shot broadcast media types so desperate they interviewed young children milling about on their bikes who parroting their parents’ words proclaimed: “a contact is a contract.”

Then the familiar “slap” of a newspaper hit the driveway, our newspaper.

The Press smartly paired me with one of out most talented and aggressive photographers who had been shadowing Whitehead for the length of the story. He immediately slapped the paper into my hands and shoved me toward the front door. I took a deep breath, swallowed and knocked. A beat later I was looking into an extraordinary pair of crystal blue eyes. She was indeed striking. Newspaper photos didn’t do her justice.

Mary Beth smiled and reached for the paper. She was gracious but unyielding. I failed in my mission to cross the threshold and the surging crowd behind me fell back, although Tom got off a few shots.

In the end, with a bit of insider info, I was able to slip away from the pack and interview the sister-in-law at her house several blocks away. It was a second hand story, but I was the only one with it, earning me a bylined story running along the bottom of the jump page. At least I didn’t shame myself.

Whitehead appealed by the way, and on Feb. 3, 1988, the New Jersey Supreme Court voided the contract and adoption, restoring Whitehead as Melissa’s mother with visitation rights. They ruled a fit mother cannot be forced to give away her baby. In this case, a contract was not a contract.

With medical advances, gestational carriers, who have no genetic relationship with the children they bear, have since replaced paid surrogates in most cases. But the shadow of Baby M lingers in New Jersey, barring such carriers from receiving more than medical and legal expenses; compelling them to give birth outside the state to collect a fee.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Wednesday was my half-birthday. NO, I’m not one of those boomers crazed by advancing age. However, it’s impossible for me not to notice that I am now closer to 63 than 62.

It’s just that Dec. 2 is my brother’s birthday. He was born exactly 2.5 years after me, under unusual circumstances. Neither of us was suppose to be born. Let me give you one piece of advice: If you can arrange it, don’t let your birth make medical history. Please, take my word for it. For now, let’s just leave it at that.

Back to my half-birthday. Actually, now that I think about it, my brother suffered through this concept also. My parents never let either of us have a birthday to ourselves. It definitely was a pebble in my shoe and certainly didn’t help our sibling relationship. Not too long ago, one of my mother’s best friends told me she never understood why my folks insisted on the practice.

So even though those days—and my parents--are long gone, the legacy remains. Without conscious effort, I can’t help knowing the exact day I am closer to my next birthday. When someone asks my age I start saying, “...I’m going on (insert next birthday age here). I’m always making myself older than I really am. I can’t seem to help myself.

My brother would have turned 60 years old on Wednesday--if he had lived. He orchestrated his exit from this plane of existence 21 years ago. But that, too, is a story for another time.

One thing’s for sure, I’ll never forget his birthday, no matter how long I live.

(I apologize for this brief entry, but I’ve been distracted by my daughter’s recent visit and radical changes in my work schedule. I’ll get back my rhythm in a bit.