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06

Oct

I haven’t written about Aunt Gerry in a long time. It is due largely to the fact that I simply don’t see her as much as I used to, but it is also because we kind of got in a fight, or as they say in Hebrew, we had “brogus,” a word that sounds much more like how I feel about what happened.

What happened was this: I had gone over to her apartment to help her set up her online dating profile (of course). We spent hours going through not just her answers, her photo, etc., but also the basics of how to use the iPad and the world wide web. I wrote out step-by-step instructions for her – this is what the power button looks like, slide the icon like this. From a design perspective it was actually really interesting to have to explain all of these actions to someone who had no familiarity with the interface… how DO you get to that one spot where the pictures are? What IS the difference between email and the rest of the Internet?

Anyway. We had finished our vermouth, and I was on my way to what would turn out to be an incredibly weird date, and was feeling a bit nervous. On my way out the door, Aunt Gerry remembered a book a friend had recently given her that she wanted to show me: Women, by Annie Leibovitz. The book is beautiful, full of Leibovitz’s trademark depth and richness, depictions of, as you might expect, women! - famous ones, beautiful ones, politicians, dancers. As I was flipping through it,  Aunt Gerry said, oh there’s one in here that reminds me of you, let me find it, and she flipped past the glamour and the athletic, past the hot, tan-all-over dancer, past Hilary Clinton, and stopped at a photo of a chubby, terrible-haired teenage girl wearing a too-tight see-through dress and standing in front of a trailer.

“This one?” I said? “Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“But this girl is like 17 years old, and I really feel like she doesn’t look like me.” I said, already feeling a little stung, but trying to suss out where this was all going.

“Well.” Aunt Gerry said, “ I think everyone thinks this, but I am the only one to be brave enough to say anything. You dress oddly, and it’s time you stopped. You need to dress and look more like a woman, and less… youthful.”

She went on to give me very specific examples of the clothing that was not only acting as my chastity belt (jean shorts), but also as the antidote to potential future fathers of my potential future children (ripped jeans), and my most assured spinsterdom (ink stained tank tops).

Taken aback, I made my excuses and promptly left for the date wherein one of the least weird things that happened was returning from the bathroom to find him reading through all my text conversations on my phone, having spied my password at some point, and feeling free to hack away.

But that’s not the important part of this story. The important thing about this story is that Aunt Gerry, the very next day, or maybe even that night, called me and left a heartfelt apology on my voicemail. After feeling my way through the hurt of it all I realized this: Aunt Gerry meant what she said. She also means it when she tells me how beautiful and wonderful I am and that she loves my dresses and shoes and my arguably strange fashion sense. But what she really means all the time, is that she wants me to be happy. To her, happiness will be when I am married, and start a family (“you will undoubtedly be such a wonderful mother,” she tells me regularly). Maybe she’s right, and maybe it’s more complicated than that, but two things strike me now, many months after this whole incident - 1. That she did in fact speak up about something she thought important enough to talk about, despite the potentially difficulty aftermath, and even though it wound up being off the mark, and 2. That when she realized just how off the mark it was, and how hurtful it wound up being, that she was just as vocal, and just as honest.

Lesson 14: Keep talking. All the way through. 

21

Nov

At the Chelsea Diner, the waiter who was for some reason pretending to be Italian, but was definitely a Spanish speaker, approached the table where I was getting ready to order my favourite meal of Greek salad and French fries and where I was seated with my mom and Aunt Gerry. He immediately started “fake” flirting with Aunt Gerry, or maybe all of us. And I mean fake like he was putting on the flirt charm, but didn’t really mean it – an act. A harmless, sort of sweet, and sort of strange act, but an act nonetheless - a kind of pandering. Aunt Gerry certainly loves flirting, but is not to be pandered to. 
First of all she returned and held eye contact.
Then, when he kept it up, becoming overly solicitous, pouring the sugar in her coffee for her, stirring it for her, calling her beautiful, saying he would do anything for her, she flirted right back without hesitation, smiling, charming him to exactly the same volume that he was turned to.
Finally, when he brought us our food, she turned it up.
“Well.” She said, “I think I’ve lost my appetite.”
“What?” he said, surprised
“You’re just so hot, I couldn’t possibly eat with you around,” she volleyed, causing him to blush from under his collar up to his hairline. 
He walked away flustered.
Aunt Gerry turned to me and my mom and said “And that, ladies, is how it is done.”
Lesson 13: smile, smile, smile; eye contact; make them blush.

At the Chelsea Diner, the waiter who was for some reason pretending to be Italian, but was definitely a Spanish speaker, approached the table where I was getting ready to order my favourite meal of Greek salad and French fries and where I was seated with my mom and Aunt Gerry. He immediately started “fake” flirting with Aunt Gerry, or maybe all of us. And I mean fake like he was putting on the flirt charm, but didn’t really mean it – an act. A harmless, sort of sweet, and sort of strange act, but an act nonetheless - a kind of pandering. Aunt Gerry certainly loves flirting, but is not to be pandered to. 

First of all she returned and held eye contact.

Then, when he kept it up, becoming overly solicitous, pouring the sugar in her coffee for her, stirring it for her, calling her beautiful, saying he would do anything for her, she flirted right back without hesitation, smiling, charming him to exactly the same volume that he was turned to.

Finally, when he brought us our food, she turned it up.

“Well.” She said, “I think I’ve lost my appetite.”

“What?” he said, surprised

“You’re just so hot, I couldn’t possibly eat with you around,” she volleyed, causing him to blush from under his collar up to his hairline. 

He walked away flustered.

Aunt Gerry turned to me and my mom and said “And that, ladies, is how it is done.”

Lesson 13: smile, smile, smile; eye contact; make them blush.

06

Sep

This may very well be my favourite thing in the bag.
 This is a list, separated by neighborhoods, of restaurants all over the city (and when I say the city, I mean ON MANHATTAN. Have we picked up on Aunt Gerry’s bias against the boroughs yet?). 
Aunt Gerry was a secretary and typist for a long time before she to school  to be a counsellor. She can often be found by the sunny empire state building window clicking the keys on her typewriter and getting organized. She keeps thorough lists of everything from to-dos to her now historical packing lists which she makes and keeps for every one of her many trips.
So, when she’s with a friend, after, say, seeing a film at the IFC, instead of standing around spouting restaurant names and then rejecting them because we always go there, Aunt Gerry is prepared with good suggestions from YEARS of going to restaurant week with her friends (hottest spot in town? Trust that Aunt Gerry has been there) and the phone numbers at her fingertips, ready to dial and make a reservation on her mobile phone – the decades talking to each other. She is less concerned with the food though, than she is with the ambience. 
Lesson 12: In the bag – be a little organized, only go to restaurants with good lighting.

This may very well be my favourite thing in the bag.


This is a list, separated by neighborhoods, of restaurants all over the city (and when I say the city, I mean ON MANHATTAN. Have we picked up on Aunt Gerry’s bias against the boroughs yet?). 

Aunt Gerry was a secretary and typist for a long time before she to school  to be a counsellor. She can often be found by the sunny empire state building window clicking the keys on her typewriter and getting organized. She keeps thorough lists of everything from to-dos to her now historical packing lists which she makes and keeps for every one of her many trips.

So, when she’s with a friend, after, say, seeing a film at the IFC, instead of standing around spouting restaurant names and then rejecting them because we always go there, Aunt Gerry is prepared with good suggestions from YEARS of going to restaurant week with her friends (hottest spot in town? Trust that Aunt Gerry has been there) and the phone numbers at her fingertips, ready to dial and make a reservation on her mobile phone – the decades talking to each other. She is less concerned with the food though, than she is with the ambience. 

Lesson 12: In the bag – be a little organized, only go to restaurants with good lighting.

05

Sep

Daily 2012 – “Don’t read that it has secrets in it,” Aunt Gerry said as she showed me the torn and taped cover of this unassuming “diary.”
Partly this blog is about how Aunt Gerry is a reminder for me of the fact that life is full, and wide and long if you’re lucky. I think people think that there is a certain age when you simply stop being yourself. Like you settle into a life you think you should (red flag word) settle into, and you stop hoping or loving  or dreaming or crushing. Like, if you haven’t gotten that all out of your system in your twenties, I guess you missed your Window Of Opportunity (WOO). 
There’s something inherently romantic that goes along with physically carrying around your own secret thoughts - like you are definitely the protagonist of your own story. For years, maybe even a decade, I carried around a letter that someone wrote to me. I transferred it from bag to bag along with my wallet, phone. It wasn’t from a lover really, or even someone who I kept in touch with very well, but there was something so important and rich about carrying around the intimate words, without anyone having any idea. The quiet writing on that page existed only for me and only in one place, with no digital record out in the ether. It was just a note: thoughts on me, not by me, a perception of myself from afar, a reminder of perspectives outside of my own. The letter was ambiguous in its intent, and it made me like being an adult. 
I can only speculate about what is in Aunt Gerry’s diary, which she carries around with her everyday –  memories? Hopes fears? Notes on secret loves and old flames? To do lists that include potential crushes?  
Lesson 11: In the Bag – our secret selves. 

Daily 2012 – “Don’t read that it has secrets in it,” Aunt Gerry said as she showed me the torn and taped cover of this unassuming “diary.”

Partly this blog is about how Aunt Gerry is a reminder for me of the fact that life is full, and wide and long if you’re lucky. I think people think that there is a certain age when you simply stop being yourself. Like you settle into a life you think you should (red flag word) settle into, and you stop hoping or loving  or dreaming or crushing. Like, if you haven’t gotten that all out of your system in your twenties, I guess you missed your Window Of Opportunity (WOO). 

There’s something inherently romantic that goes along with physically carrying around your own secret thoughts - like you are definitely the protagonist of your own story. For years, maybe even a decade, I carried around a letter that someone wrote to me. I transferred it from bag to bag along with my wallet, phone. It wasn’t from a lover really, or even someone who I kept in touch with very well, but there was something so important and rich about carrying around the intimate words, without anyone having any idea. The quiet writing on that page existed only for me and only in one place, with no digital record out in the ether. It was just a note: thoughts on me, not by me, a perception of myself from afar, a reminder of perspectives outside of my own. The letter was ambiguous in its intent, and it made me like being an adult. 

I can only speculate about what is in Aunt Gerry’s diary, which she carries around with her everyday –  memories? Hopes fears? Notes on secret loves and old flames? To do lists that include potential crushes?  

Lesson 11: In the Bag – our secret selves. 

04

Sep

Aunt Gerry needed a new travel bag. She was sick of schlepping her shoulder bag, and wanted something with wheels. So we went to the store, and she was of course prepared with the exact measurement parameters for carry-on luggage and a TAPE MEASURE.  What?

“You brought that with you?” I asked?
“I always carry a tape measure, don’t you?”

Oh. Of course I do (I don’t). I am the handy maker designer in this scenario, not my much older aunt, but, as ever, she knows things.

“Well what if you need to buy something for your home?”

Lesson 10: In the bag – always carry a tape measure for measuring what you might need.

When we got back to the apartment, I insisted that she empty her bag to see what other physical manifestations of life lessons she had lurking inside. All week: in the bag. 

Aunt Gerry needed a new travel bag. She was sick of schlepping her shoulder bag, and wanted something with wheels. So we went to the store, and she was of course prepared with the exact measurement parameters for carry-on luggage and a TAPE MEASURE.  What?

“You brought that with you?” I asked?

“I always carry a tape measure, don’t you?”

Oh. Of course I do (I don’t). I am the handy maker designer in this scenario, not my much older aunt, but, as ever, she knows things.

“Well what if you need to buy something for your home?”

Lesson 10: In the bag – always carry a tape measure for measuring what you might need.

When we got back to the apartment, I insisted that she empty her bag to see what other physical manifestations of life lessons she had lurking inside. All week: in the bag. 

21

Aug

Aunt Gerry got an iPad. Feeling like a technology hater? Don’t. 
Lesson 9 - Adapt, guys.

Aunt Gerry got an iPad. Feeling like a technology hater? Don’t. 

Lesson 9 - Adapt, guys.

06

Aug

When New York is running at its best, you can catch a rhythm – getting on and off the subway with orchestrated timing, finding your line through the crowds like a pro-cyclist, the lightening speed with which they ring you up before you can even get your wallet out at the bodega.
“In Chicago, they really know how to walk on the sidewalk,” Aunt Gerry told me.
“Chicago is the worst, “ I said (come back, mjs!).
“Well, on their crowded street – that one, their Fifth Avenue equivalent, whatever it’s called, people really walk on the right side of the sidewalk. We should be better at that.”
Half an hour later, as we were walking through midtown to Daffy’s, because they are closing, we were dodging the usual hoards of tourists et al around the theatres and through the convoluted semi-pedestrian walkways. On a narrow section of the sidewalk, there was a young woman, around 25, just standing, staring into the middle distance with her back towards us, very much in the way and forcing everyone else into the street and to scurry around her.  Aunt Gerry, walking ahead of me, put her left hand on the girl’s’ trim waist, patted her three times, and in a near intimate tone said: “you have simply got to move over, honey.” And she did, flustered, apologizing.
If the city’s got a mental telepathy, it is actually a collective memory, and that is how it works.
Lesson 8: you have simply got to move over, honey. Flow.

When New York is running at its best, you can catch a rhythm – getting on and off the subway with orchestrated timing, finding your line through the crowds like a pro-cyclist, the lightening speed with which they ring you up before you can even get your wallet out at the bodega.

“In Chicago, they really know how to walk on the sidewalk,” Aunt Gerry told me.

“Chicago is the worst, “ I said (come back, mjs!).

“Well, on their crowded street – that one, their Fifth Avenue equivalent, whatever it’s called, people really walk on the right side of the sidewalk. We should be better at that.”

Half an hour later, as we were walking through midtown to Daffy’s, because they are closing, we were dodging the usual hoards of tourists et al around the theatres and through the convoluted semi-pedestrian walkways. On a narrow section of the sidewalk, there was a young woman, around 25, just standing, staring into the middle distance with her back towards us, very much in the way and forcing everyone else into the street and to scurry around her.  Aunt Gerry, walking ahead of me, put her left hand on the girl’s’ trim waist, patted her three times, and in a near intimate tone said: “you have simply got to move over, honey.” And she did, flustered, apologizing.

If the city’s got a mental telepathy, it is actually a collective memory, and that is how it works.

Lesson 8: you have simply got to move over, honey. Flow.

13

Jun

So, inevitably, Aunt Gerry found out about this blog. I hadn’t told her, unsure of her reaction. I asked her if she wanted to see it, and she, not surprisingly, but perhaps singularly, said, “Oh, no. Absolutely not.”
For many many years Aunt Gerry worked at The Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s first and leading provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, care and advocacy.Gerry was a councilor for their hotline, and they are major partners for the upcoming Pride Parade and surrounding events.  One of her closest friends also worked there, perhaps still does, and showed up in a photo in the recent Chelsea Now, our local paper.  Now, know this - the ladies in our family are vain. We are many other, more laudable things as well, but we are unaplogetically, bordering on imperiously, vainglorious. For as long as I can remember Aunt Gerry has been a fierce editor of unflattering family photos, and has developed certain tricks (that I could really stand to practice) for taking a good picture.  Her friend’s photo in the paper was terribly unflattering. 
She cut the photo out and set it aside to show me, as she does with funny or interesting articles about gallery or theatre shows I should really see and new restaurants opening up in Brooklyn that she will never go to (whhhy would I go to Brooklyn?) so perhaps I should.  
"I’ve had a big realization," she said to me, smoothing the photo out. "It doesn’t matter to me what the photo looks like, I love this picture because I love this person, and I love seeing her!"
It truly, as she says, gave her a lift to see her friend.
Seldom are we able to give ourselves the same leeway as we give the people we love, but maybe next time you are tearing yourself down or editing your own image, remember that even the most prideful of them all would be happy just to see your face. 
Lesson 7: It’s all about the love.
[photo credit: madduhuacuja.com]

So, inevitably, Aunt Gerry found out about this blog. I hadn’t told her, unsure of her reaction. I asked her if she wanted to see it, and she, not surprisingly, but perhaps singularly, said, “Oh, no. Absolutely not.”

For many many years Aunt Gerry worked at The Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s first and leading provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, care and advocacy.Gerry was a councilor for their hotline, and they are major partners for the upcoming Pride Parade and surrounding events.  One of her closest friends also worked there, perhaps still does, and showed up in a photo in the recent Chelsea Now, our local paper.  Now, know this - the ladies in our family are vain. We are many other, more laudable things as well, but we are unaplogetically, bordering on imperiously, vainglorious. For as long as I can remember Aunt Gerry has been a fierce editor of unflattering family photos, and has developed certain tricks (that I could really stand to practice) for taking a good picture.  Her friend’s photo in the paper was terribly unflattering. 

She cut the photo out and set it aside to show me, as she does with funny or interesting articles about gallery or theatre shows I should really see and new restaurants opening up in Brooklyn that she will never go to (whhhy would I go to Brooklyn?) so perhaps I should.  

"I’ve had a big realization," she said to me, smoothing the photo out. "It doesn’t matter to me what the photo looks like, I love this picture because I love this person, and I love seeing her!"

It truly, as she says, gave her a lift to see her friend.

Seldom are we able to give ourselves the same leeway as we give the people we love, but maybe next time you are tearing yourself down or editing your own image, remember that even the most prideful of them all would be happy just to see your face. 

Lesson 7: It’s all about the love.

[photo credit: madduhuacuja.com]

24

Apr

We were out to dinner when someone in our party declared that they had recently begun taking anti-depressants.
"You know, I really resisted it. I felt so strange about taking medication, pills. I felt like I was altering myself," our friend said.
"WHERE have you BEEN?" says Aunt Gerry. "I mean honestly, what rock have you been under that you are still working out this issue?" She went on incredulously. "If you can feel better, WHY wouldn’t you?"
If you can feel better, why wouldn’t you indeed. It wasn’t a discussion about chemicals, the benefits vs. the worries; our fears or our disappointments; our preoccupation with what it would mean to be One Of Those People who Takes Anti-Depressants. It was, go ahead, make yourself happy.
Sometimes, that’s the hardest part, even when we can see our way to getting there. Sometimes, I think we think that maybe we don’t deserve to feel good.  
Also, Aunt Gerry likes to show off her feet in really great sandals, because, duh, look at those ankles. Beautiful. Make yourself feel good. Lesson 6.

We were out to dinner when someone in our party declared that they had recently begun taking anti-depressants.

"You know, I really resisted it. I felt so strange about taking medication, pills. I felt like I was altering myself," our friend said.

"WHERE have you BEEN?" says Aunt Gerry. "I mean honestly, what rock have you been under that you are still working out this issue?" She went on incredulously. "If you can feel better, WHY wouldn’t you?"

If you can feel better, why wouldn’t you indeed. It wasn’t a discussion about chemicals, the benefits vs. the worries; our fears or our disappointments; our preoccupation with what it would mean to be One Of Those People who Takes Anti-Depressants. It was, go ahead, make yourself happy.

Sometimes, that’s the hardest part, even when we can see our way to getting there. Sometimes, I think we think that maybe we don’t deserve to feel good.  

Also, Aunt Gerry likes to show off her feet in really great sandals, because, duh, look at those ankles. Beautiful. Make yourself feel good. Lesson 6.

13

Apr

One of the things that I love the most about Aunt Gerry is how communicative she is about love. One night we went out to dinner in the neighborhood (Thai), and I wanted to pay the bill (duh), and we fought about it. She said no, I said yes, she insisted, I insisted. She won. And she won by putting her hand over mine and saying, “Shoham, I cherish you.” How often do you get to hear that in your life? How often do you say it? Who’s sitting next to you right now? Do you cherish them? Go ahead, put your hand on theirs.
Last night, after getting back from the gym, I was reading the paper, trying to keep up with Aunt Gerry as always, and we were chatting a little about our days. She came over to me and was like, “our time together has meant so much to me, it’s been like an awakening.” And I felt the exact same way. We talk about things that I don’t talk to most people about - loss, grief, love, happiness, anxiety, sex, politics, communism, imperialist tendencies, separation of church and state - everything; and she is from a generation that is associated with NOT talking about ANY of those things. Maybe it is the breadth and scope of her experience that enables these conversations, maybe I relate to her because at my young age, and her much older one, we have surprisingly been down similar roads.
She sometimes just turns to me and says, I’m so lucky, my life is so full and rich. And she’s right.
Lesson 5: hands on hands, cherish.

One of the things that I love the most about Aunt Gerry is how communicative she is about love. One night we went out to dinner in the neighborhood (Thai), and I wanted to pay the bill (duh), and we fought about it. She said no, I said yes, she insisted, I insisted. She won. And she won by putting her hand over mine and saying, “Shoham, I cherish you.” How often do you get to hear that in your life? How often do you say it? Who’s sitting next to you right now? Do you cherish them? Go ahead, put your hand on theirs.

Last night, after getting back from the gym, I was reading the paper, trying to keep up with Aunt Gerry as always, and we were chatting a little about our days. She came over to me and was like, “our time together has meant so much to me, it’s been like an awakening.” And I felt the exact same way. We talk about things that I don’t talk to most people about - loss, grief, love, happiness, anxiety, sex, politics, communism, imperialist tendencies, separation of church and state - everything; and she is from a generation that is associated with NOT talking about ANY of those things. Maybe it is the breadth and scope of her experience that enables these conversations, maybe I relate to her because at my young age, and her much older one, we have surprisingly been down similar roads.

She sometimes just turns to me and says, I’m so lucky, my life is so full and rich. And she’s right.

Lesson 5: hands on hands, cherish.