April 2, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
Last Christmas, my brother, Charlie, gifted me with a piece of paper on which was scrawled, “Good for 1 tattoo.” This was perhaps a slight improvement over his gift of the year before (“Good for one dinner with Charlie. On you”) and arguably approaching his 2010 present-giving apex (autographed baby pictures of himself.) But it was still a pretty low-risk investment on his part; Charlie knew I was never going to break down and actually ink a permanent Dimples on my shoulder, something I’d flirted with through the years. “Just a small, classic Dimples,” I would explain to my mother. “A tribute!” And she would say, “Munnie would be appalled. And so would Yumma.”
As might be clear from the nomenclature, we have entered the Land of the WASP. Yumma, my grandmother (née Ruth Mary), was the daughter of Munnie (Margaret), whom I am said to, but do not, resemble. Munnie was a legendary figure, a mother of five who managed to render even the hardships of the Depression magical with her ingenuity, her creativity, her sense of fun. A hard worker who held things together after her husband died, she maintained a busy, cheerful existence until her death from cancer in her sixties.
Although Munnie died many years before I was born, she has always been a vivid presence to me, kept alive by Yumma’s stories of cream-puff swans and Halloween parties, and by the Scrapbook. The Scrapbook is a remarkable thing: two volumes in which Munnie hand-copied every scrap of correspondence she and my grandmother ever exchanged and bound them, with photographs and newsclippings and tracings of any drawings, into two large volumes, each 300 pages long. Munnie made one of these for each of her five children. My father calls the resulting tomes the Least Jewish Thing Ever Created. Read More »
April 1, 2013 | by Simon Akam
Nine weeks ago, a frigid, low-pressure system deposited some six inches of snow on central Belgium. On a Tuesday evening my girlfriend returned from work to her parents’ house outside Brussels and attempted the construction of a snowman in the garden. The process was unsuccessful; it was very cold and the snow was dry powder, with none of the cohesive properties required for the manufacture of what the Flemish call a sneeuwman. Abandoning the original project, my girlfriend sat down on the submerged lawn. As her body reached this thrillingly accessible position her dog attempted to mount her, over and over again. He would not desist. Exasperated, my girlfriend made a decision she had long toyed with. She condemned his balls. Read More »
March 28, 2013 | by Pamela Petro
Read part 1 here.
I owned a car that I couldn’t drive.
After the “Possession at Devil’s Bridge,” as we’d started calling it, Phil had parked the Mini alongside my cottage before roaring back to campus in her reliable yellow Renault. The following morning I went out and stood beside it, wondering what to do next. Any car’s speedometer cable could snap, but not just any car’s cable would have so profound a sense of timing as to do it at midnight, atop Devil’s Bridge, on its first outing with a new owner.
Appropriately enough, the Mini and I were in Wales: home of Arthur and Merlin, breeding ground of the fabulous. In one of the old Welsh wondertales, black sheep that cross a magical river turn white, and white sheep turn black. The Mini’s color remained mushroom grey, but something similar, if more subtle, had happened as it crossed the Mynach. On the far side of the river the Mini had been cheap, utilitarian transportation; on my side, it had already become a character in a story. In Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald says we all have a heroic period in our lives. The Mini came into mine just as one of these phases was beginning (I don’t see why we can’t have more than one), and promptly took its place in the pantheon of memory.
My next-door neighbor appeared and found me stroking my fingers through beads of dew on its roof. Read More »
March 27, 2013 | by Pamela Petro
I had a car in Wales.
I know what you’ll say. Really? A car? That’s amazing!
Don’t be snide. You’ve had cars too, I realize that. But when I lived in Wales as a graduate student, in the early 1980s, a creature came into my life for which the term “car” is unsatisfactory. Calling Gimli a car would be like calling your mother a mammal. Which is true, but in most cases insufficient.
On the outside, Gimli was the color of a week-old mushroom. His interior was bright red. He was a 1967 Morris Mini, and his relation to the Mini Coopers of today—those flashy, sturdy, burly bugs that tool confidently across our highways—is semantic at best. The ancestral Minis of the 1960s and seventies looked like starved versions of today’s cars. They were smaller, skinnier, frailer in every way; if they’d had lungs they would’ve been consumptive. I’m not tall, but I could look down on Gimli’s roof. Driving him on the motorway, my line of vision corresponded to the top of a tractor-trailer’s tires.
Even within the breed, Gimli was the runt of an automotive litter. He was rickety with rust. Every now and then he’d sputter, and I’d have to get out, crawl underneath, and bang his petrol pump with my shoe. The driver’s door didn’t close properly, which meant that in rain he took on water. And it rains a lot in Wales. Going uphill, backseat passengers’ feet got wet; going down, the tide shifted to the front. And yet Gimli and I undertook trips that other Mini owners never dared dream of, let alone embark upon (this may have been a function of my foolhardiness and naïveté, but it reflected well on Gimli). He served many; he flew like a wayward wind along the ringletted roads of West Wales. Read More »
March 25, 2013 | by Max Ross
A holiday’s most assiduously followed rituals occur, usually, before the holiday itself: preparing the customary meal, shopping for the requisite gifts, configuring the most acceptable seating arrangements. So much must happen before the sun goes down and the first three stars appear in the sky.
During the month preceding Passover, my father spends several hours planning, revising, and rerevising his remarks for our family’s seder. It’s a tradition that began a few years ago, when his father, deaf and grumpy with age, decided to pass on the task of leading the premeal service. An attorney familiar with speaking in courtrooms, my father is meticulous with his preparations—offhand-seeming ums and you knows are carefully drafted; a stopwatch ticks as he practices his commentary. Generally his seders have been regarded as both witty and efficient, observing all the rituals while getting us quickly to the meal.
But last year didn’t go so seamlessly. As the holiday approached, he was nervous because, for the first time since their divorce, my mother had decided to host the seder. As she has no immediate family in Minneapolis (except her devoted, sympathetic son), this meant fourteen of her former in-laws would convene in her home—a home she shared with her new husband, Kevin, a Catholic from North Dakota whose existence my father was uneasy about.
“I’m not quite sure how to handle it,” he said to me the week before the seder. Read More »
March 21, 2013 | by Patrick Monahan
“Sorry, wasn’t there a cabaret here?” a British woman asked the waiter. He was laying a napkin on the table and put a glass of white wine on top of it. For a second, I thought the woman was talking to me.
“Oh yes,” the waiter said, “this part of the bar used to be the Oak Room. They only put that wall up a couple of months ago.” He tapped a panel between her table and mine, then put an identical glass of wine in front of me.
The Algonquin Hotel’s Blue Bar lived up to its name: neon tubes snaked clear around the narrow room, reflecting their blue glare on its oak panels and plastic banquettes. Hirschfeld prints covered the walls and Sinatra crooned from a speaker in the ceiling. I wanted to answer the woman, but found myself far away from her.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a baritone voice announced, “The Oak Room is proud to present … Steve Ross!”
The crowd applauded. Candles flickered inside their glass holders. A curtain at one end of the room parted, and Steve appeared in Noël Coward’s emerald smoking jacket. He wove through the tables, making his way to the grand piano. The crowd hushed, and he began to play Porter, Gershwin, and the saloon songs he knew I liked.
“If it isn’t the jeunesse dorée!” he beamed at me after the show, shaking hands with people as they filed out of the Oak Room.
“Did you know,” he told me when most of them were gone, “that the first Algonquin Round Table was right over over there?” He pointed to a corner of the Oak Room, just on the other side of the door from where we were standing. Waiters were clearing the tables; the baritone in the light booth was pulling on his coat. Alexander Woolcott might as well have been lingering over lunch. Read More »