For the Love of a Shoe

There was a time during my early adolescence when buffalo shoes were all the rage. I adored them. But I’d had foot issues from infancy and my parents refused to let me get a pair of wedges, certainly not after years of paying for costly orthopedic footwear. They believed buffaloes would undo the corrective work Katz’s hideous rubber sole shoes had wrought, though it’s likely the doctor had also told them as much.

I can still recall my desperate longing to own a pair anyway. I was convinced they were the secret to the insouciance all the other girls my age possessed, an aura I felt I lacked in spades. My envy was powerful, and I can reach for the memory of it as if it were a leaden, physical object I once held in my hands.

And yet, there was no moving my parents, no matter how much I begged and fought. Buffaloes remained elusive that entire spring.

One summer evening, I went with them to the erstwhile Bradlees department store. I hid some of my babysitting money in the top of my bra before we left the house, a trick I learned at an early age from my grandmother, who used to do this with her bus fare. While my parents shopped, I ran to the shoe department to purchase a pair of knockoff buffaloes in my size (Bradlees did not carry the original Buffalo brand). I didn’t even have time to try them on.

At the agreed hour, I met my parents at the exit. I tried to keep calm and casual. After all, I was hoping to pull off the greatest stealth operation of my youth.

“What’s in the bag?” they asked me. Anxious and fearful I was going to lose my only chance at those shoes, I clung to that bag for dear life, the plastic handles cutting deep into the palms of my hands.

But there was no point. The battle of the buffaloes was lost. My father walked with me to customer service, where I returned them. In a final plea, I promised never to wear them if he let me make the purchase. I just wanted to own them, like every other girl I seemed to know. Alas, I crawled into the car with tears in my eyes, placing my sadness, disappointment, and rage on the seat next to me.

I was too young to know that by fall, buffaloes would be out of style, that all I needed to do was be patient and this yearning, too, would pass.

Flash forward to this afternoon, when these caught my eye at Marshall’s. Not the exact pair I remember, but close enough. And there were others, similar styles, some with higher wedges, others lower. The new buffalo wave of 2019.

With childish delight, I tried them on, admiring how they looked. But they weren’t comfortable. I felt unstable, certain I wouldn’t be able to walk far in them. Yet I considered buying them anyway. I mean, who’s going to stop me now?

Instead, I let them transport me back in time, where I forgot that I’m middle-aged, that I have bunions, that I long ago relegated heels to the back of my closet.  And yet, it was with the insouciance of youth that I placed the buffaloes back in the box and returned them to the shelf. I took my seat at the wheel of the car and drove home with a new pair of Crocs instead, my heart happy, and my feet, too.

 

How To Walk Humbly From Purim to Pesach

It was the morning after Purim.

After making myself a cup of coffee, I took my regular seat at the dining room table, hoping to write. At the very least, I wanted to preserve the kernel of an essay that had popped into my head the night before.

I cleared a space for my laptop by pushing back the remains of the Mishloach Manot packages that covered the table. But as much as I tried, I could not write. Not a word.

I was too distracted by the assortment of colorful containers and clever themes, the bright ribbons and festive gift bags, the towering boxes filled with candied nuts and dried fruit, the baked goods, wine, and chocolate. The display was a visual picnic. The risk to my healthy eating regimen notwithstanding, I could not look away.

Of all the ritual obligations of Purim day, the exchange of food gifts is my favorite. I love having a reason to make something fun for our friends. On the receiving end, I treasure the variety, as well as the thought folks put into the planning and distribution.

Still, as with so much else in Judaism, it’s the spirit of the mitzvah that matters most, not the beauty of the package or the creativity of the contents. Generosity and friendship go into the giving along with the treats. It’s equally important to remember that this bounty, dare I say excess, isn’t to be taken for granted.

It strikes me each year how the two holidays that start with a P (or a peh in Hebrew) not only fall just one month apart on the Jewish calendar. They also share an essential mitzvah:  the giving of tzedakah to those in need. On Purim and Pesach, we only fulfill our own holiday obligations once we’ve made sure others can as well.

While traveling between the two Ps, ridding our home of chametz, I try to hold this close to my heart. The cost of making Pesach goes up year after year (Does anyone else remember when the butcher gave out shank bones for free?).  Many families, sometimes folks we least suspect are in need, aren’t sure how they’ll put the basics of the seder plate on the table. Because we may have no idea who among us is struggling, we’d do well to be sensitive as we shop, refraining from participation in the public chorus of kvetching about the rising cost of brisket.

As for our formal Maos Chittim donations, we can make them early to organizations like a local Tomchei Shabbos, the Masbia Soup Kitchen Network, or a shul matzah fund. They are all especially busy as they scramble to meet the needs of Jewish families in the approach to the holiday. Buy two of something while out food shopping for Pesach and donate the second to a kosher food pantry, checking with them first to see what they need most. Or get creative in taking the edge off Pesach prep for someone who needs help in ways that aren’t financial.

Make good on the Pesach cleaning in the meantime. Donate unused chametz to a local food pantry or soup kitchen that services a non-Jewish population. Or follow the example of the Greenbergs. They make a huge Kiddush Hashem by collecting Purim leftovers from members of our community, then repackaging them as gifts to a veterans’ home, a shelter for women and children, and an after-school program.

One thing we can all do, no matter what’s on our plates as we travel from Purim to Pesach, is to make extra room in our hearts while we’re clearing out our freezers and cabinets and at our tables when we sit down to the holiday meals.

Kindness begets kindness.

Let’s fill the coming weeks with as much of it as we can and may our seder tables teem with blessing.

 

 

The Sound of Silence (in My Head)

I needed a break. A little getaway. Nothing exciting. Just some quiet and a change of scenery. The chance to work on my book, read, sleep late (at least past 6 a.m.), crochet, drink beautiful lattes, and stare at the ceiling if the mood struck me. I didn’t want to travel far, just far enough that I wouldn’t bump into anyone I know. And I wanted to go alone.

I told my husband, “I need to clear the noise in my head and write,” laughing as the words exited my mouth, filing the idea under Science Fiction/Fantasy.

When he asked me, “Why not?” I listed the myriad reasons – our complicated schedules, seemingly endless obligations, and all the stressors that were cluttering my head in the first place.

Days later, I discovered a folder marked “Margaritaville, PA” on my laptop, papers with my hotel reservation (thank goodness for points!) and a few suggested local attractions inside. For the record, there is no such place as Margaritaville, PA. I first read the location without my glasses on and the name stuck.

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Knowing what a luxury it was to carve out this window of R & R, my first getaway like this in 25 years, I was excited to go, grateful, too, that my husband understood why I needed to be by myself in a place where I’d hear mostly silence. Soon enough, though, I wondered who I thought I was to take this time away.

Still, I proceeded with the plan, borrowing Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own from a friend. I hadn’t read it in years, but I recalled Woolf’s proposal that in order for a woman to devote herself to the craft of writing fiction, she must have a room with a lock on the door, meaning unfettered time and space to do so.  Though the book was published in 1929, many of its ideas still resonate (for proof, check out all the Post-Its on my friend’s copy), far beyond Woolf’s specifics about women and writing and fiction.

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Woolf would surely agree that the everyday encumbrances of the modern era devour our time and energy, leaving us with little opportunity for intensive focus on our creative pursuits and interests or our other ambitions, whatever they are. It’s okay, important even,  to take a break here and there from our obligations to rediscover who we are deep inside and get our spiritual juices flowing.

As I packed to leave for this self-styled retreat, I asked a friend to make sure I got in the car. I was afraid guilt would change my mind, that I’d give up on the idea of Margaritaville, PA. Going was a much belated leap of faith in myself, and I’ve returned sold on the importance of short escapes, even if all we can manage is an hour or two in which we do nothing but what nurtures our souls. We need to steal moments whenever we can, locking the metaphorical door behind us.

While I was away, I met a friend for coffee and did some shopping. I read and slept and crocheted. I even stared up at the ceiling now and again. And I wrote, scribbling far more than I would’ve at home in that same window of time. Mostly, I embraced whatever it was I felt like doing, allowing myself to be in the moment while gathering stories along the way.

In one thrift shop, I stumbled upon this sweet tableau. I am still trying to figure out what Chaim Potok has to do with St. Patrick’s Day, but there’s an essay in there somewhere. And one day I’ll write more about day two, when I returned from a quick run to Trader Joe’s to find the lobby filled with emergency personnel. A pipe had burst and the Fire Marshall had to close down the hotel, evacuating the guests and scattering us to assorted other hotels in the area.

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By the time I got home, a folder teeming with notes under my arm, it was close to Shabbos. I’d cooked and frozen everything in advance so I’d be able to hold onto that peaceful feeling heading into the weekend. But of course, within hours, all the noise was back in my head. Still, I have the memory of those few blessedly quiet days away to hold onto. They are precious, and I can’t wait to get away again.

Saying Goodbye to Lord & Taylor

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I went to the city last week for a few meetings. To those of us who live in its orbit, the city means New York City, with its unique urban quirkiness, culture, and pulse. It has so much to offer, but one of my favorite things about it has long been its potential for shopping serendipity, especially in tourist-jammed midtown this time of year.

Nearly all of that’s gone now –  the costume jewelry, hand-knit puppets, used books, and all kinds of items for sale on tables set at random intervals along the sidewalk. They have been replaced by “I Love New York” merchandise, $10 knock-off watches, and pashminas, identical displays without much character on every corner. It’s a shame, too, because shopping on the sidewalks of New York was once an adventure, the source of some wonderful finds.

On the other hand, Lord & Taylor’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue was where I went when serendipity would not do. I was devastated when I first heard the news that the store, which opened in 1914, would close its doors after the holidays. It feels like a seismic shift, the loss of a landmark on my personal Manhattan landscape.

I, like so many others, made a pilgrimage to its holiday windows nearly every year since childhood. Later, it would become my go-to place when I began to shop for myself. The Saks I could afford, it’s where I bought my first professional wardrobe and nearly all of what my mother and grandmother called foundation garments.

In December 1991, I purchased an outfit at Lord & Taylor that would launch 1,000 ships in my life. I wore it to an interview at the Joint Distribution Committee, a position that brought me to Zagreb in 1992, where my career changed direction and I met my husband. When we married, I bought outfits for our sheva brachos there. When I was pregnant with our boys, the store’s ladies room was my public bathroom of choice. Later, after we’d already left the Upper West Side for the suburbs, I’d return to search its racks for a dress for their bar mitzvahs.

It’s no surprise, then, that after my meetings last week, I felt compelled to bid Lord & Taylor farewell on my walk back to Penn Station. I wanted to say thank you, and to pick up a souvenir to remember it by. I happened upon the perfect thing as soon as I entered the store.

See these geese? Smitten, I wanted to take one home.

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Although I was on a tight budget, I knew the evening gowns were selling for $16.99 and figured a goose wouldn’t run me too much. I got giddy envisioning the ideal location for it in our living room, where it would allow me to wax poetic about the Lord & Taylor of yore. Plus, I wanted the fun of walking down Fifth Avenue with a large goose under my arm, though I was somewhat concerned about getting it on the train.

I asked a saleswoman at one of the makeup counters for help. She had no idea whether the geese were for sale or not, but she smiled at me like nothing was odd about my request and went off to inquire. She returned with the disappointing news that the geese were destined for other Lord & Taylor stores in the suburbs.

I told her in earnest, “These are New York City geese. I can’t imagine they’ll be happy there,” forgetting for a moment that I now live in the suburbs, too. Still, believe me, that goose would be loved and cared for in our home, not ignored in some dark storage closet in the bowels of a mall.

Anyway, she was lovely about the whole thing, reassuring me that I’m not alone in my feelings of nostalgia for the store, though she admitted I was the only person who’d asked her about the geese. She suggested I head to the 10th floor, where fixtures and staging items were for sale, figuring I might find the right souvenir up there.

This eerie display of mannequins greeted me as I stepped off the elevator.

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Everything Must Go!  Ha! Everything but the geese, apparently.

I roamed around a bit, curious what I might find. There were large frames, light fixtures and ornaments, oversized flowers and miniature chairs, as well as an array of miscellaneous items that once beautified the store’s display tables and windows. In the end, I found this wounded bird – not quite a goose, but a little something with feathers and character.

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With my new .50-acquisition in the tiniest plastic Lord & Taylor bag, I boarded the train bound for home. Yet I haven’t stopped thinking about the goose that got away, and also about the fact that this is the end of an era. Until the store closes after the holidays, I’m going to dream that one of those geese takes flight and finds its way to me. We belong together in the embrace of our shared retail memories.

If not, I guess it will be off to the mall next December to pay them all a visit.