Sunday, August 28, 2016

visit home; marginally better than last time

 9:53 Friday night; my phone rings.

I'm alone in a Via coming back from Soho ($6.48 total; how can you not love Via?). I've just seen a screening of War Dogs (great) with Susan and Jill. 

"Hi, I'm on a bus, on my way into Manhattan." 

It's Alexander. I haven't seen him in four weeks and miss him.

"I'm seeing some friends tonight, but I'll be home after, so don't double lock the door."

"You're coming home?"


"Great. I'll take you out to dinner tomorrow night."

"Can't. I'm going back tomorrow."

At four a.m. my son wakes me to let me know he's home.

I leave a sleeping boy on Saturday to go to work.

I'm at Saks; it's late afternoon and I'm having a miserable day. I've been at work since 9:15 and plan to leave around 6. So far I've sold zero. That means I've earned zero. 

But at 5:29 I get a text that brightens my day.

Great. I start to think of restaurant possibilities. Steak? Burgers? I'll see what my son wants.

About an hour later I call.

"So where do you want to go for dinner?"

"I'm eating with a friend." 

I see Alexander briefly when he and his friend come back to the apartment around 10 to watch a movie.

And I see him briefly again this morning. He reminds me of how well-behaved he's been. "You forgot to thank me for not sleeping on the sofa for the two nights I was home."

I don't expect my son to miss me in the same way I miss him.  But a little more time with him when he is home would be nice.

His leaving is always a rush.

"Get off your computer. Now! I need to print out my ticket."

I ask to take a photo before he leaves.

"I don't have time."

You do. It'll take a sec.

"I don't."

"You do."

"Okay but hurry. If I miss my bus it'll be your fault."

A smile would be asking too much.  

On the positive side, my son didn't throw up everywhere like last time he was home (return of the ex-roommate), and he did sleep in his own bed. And he did let me take a picture of him.

I guess that's progress.

Friday, August 26, 2016


Everybody loved my grandmother Sally (or as we called her, nanna). My sister Jean even named her daughter after her.

My maternal grandparents, Sally and Jack, 1927 

Growing up, every week my family would have dinner with my grandparents. They lived at 45 Favre Street in Mattapan, about a half hour drive from my home. My grandparents lived on the first floor; their landlords, the Bellos, lived upstairs.

Their apartment, though small, holds big memories. 

My grandparents made a walk-through (no-doors) dining room into their bedroom. The front bedroom (with the window on the left)  was my Aunt Rozzie's, who was still in high school.  And the back bedroom was for Bubbe. Bubbe spoke no English, and I remember her always sitting in a chair in her room, not saying a word. She was very very old, and looked like she could leave this world at any time. She was probably younger than my mom is now, but looked centuries older.

Bubbe's room also housed a real barber's chair. My grandfather was a barber at Filenes and on weekends local customers would come to his home.

Because my family visited so often, we knew the neighborhood well. My sisters and I played with the neighborhood twins, Barbara and Harriet. We bought penny candy at Cantors, a block away. And we sometimes played in the park at the end of the street.  

We weren't allowed to walk into Mattapan Square, because that would mean walking alone down Cummins Highway. But I do remember the Oriental Theater  where we'd often go with my grandparents for the double feature when my parents left us with our grandparents while they vacationed.

Great aunt Celia (I think), my mom, Rozzie, Sally, me and Valerie, around 1957
Occasionally we'd take the trolley into town. Unlike NYC, where you "go into the city,"  in Massachusetts, going into Boston is "going into town."  And we'd sometimes dress up. Nana (as we called Grandma Sally) would let us use her one-inch tall lipsticks of varying shades of red. It made us feel very grown up.

My grandmother wasn't the best cook, but she was known for her stuffed veal. Her carrot-based stuffing is still a family favorite.

When I was 15, my grandmother got sick and had to be hospitalized. I remember one day being home, and looking out the kitchen window. There I saw my mom and dad in the backyard talking. I watched as my dad took my mom in his arms to comfort her. Later I would learn my mom had just found out that my grandmother's illness had been diagnosed as breast cancer, and the prognosis was not good. 

On my grandmother's birthday, she succumbed to her illness. She was 60 years old. 

50 years ago today.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

a nothing special — soon to be forgotten — very nice day

First, there's Jack, my nephew.  Today he heads off to begin his freshman year at Quinnipiac.  He is happy; his puppy Roxy (Music) is not.

I gave up the practice of weekly manicures in January, and my nails have been so much healthier. I am now into short nails; they are easy to maintain, and almost always look good.  But a sign like this is hard to resist.

I'm lucky and get Madhu. 

Her English is weak but everything else about her is strong. The massage she gives is amazing. 10 minutes (I think she actually does 15), followed by a hot towel rubdown. I leave without the aching lower back pain that's been tormenting me all summer. $30 well-spent.

Then I see Lico. She is the consummate professional — excellent at everything she does. Her coloring skills are outstanding. That's why I see her.  But her long, luxurious head massages are incredible.

Blue Blocker is a small unassuming salon on East 75th. No glitz at all. But surprisingly they have a pull-down white screen for photos.  I love this place. 

While I'm waiting for my color to take, I get an email saying I am one of 6 winners in a vendor contest. I'll be getting $250 in KENZO merchandise that I choose.

And my not-special-but-nice day will end with some good TV. I'm watching the 7th and next-to-last episode of an excellent HBO series. It's smart, nuanced and suspenseful, with great characters and story.

Today is an uneventful day that will easily be forgotten. But the experience of it  — like so many — is nice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

face from the past

I'm walking to Grand Central after seeing a screening of an intriguing new documentary called Tickled. The Q&A after with David Farrier (the film's star and director) is every bit as good as the film itself.

It's a beautiful night. I'm actually thinking how much I love the city.  Knowing its streets. Its subway system. Its newest exhibits (not that I go to them). And how to get around without the need to ask for instructions. I'm more comfortable here than I am anywhere else, and it's a good feeling.

I'm about to cross the street when I look up and see a familiar face, a face I haven't seen in a very long time.

In 2005, I was hired as Sr. VP Packaging by the then CEO of PHD Media, Steve G (real name). And though I liked the people and the environment, the job never materialized into anything substantial, despite the nice title and big corner office. And when the agency lost some major clients, Steve had no choice but to let me go. I understood Steve's decision, and would have made the same one myself, probably months earlier. That was in May of 2006. 

When I see Steve my first thought is, he looks exactly the same. 10 years later and he hasn't changed a bit. My next thought is, I wish I'd worn makeup (or at the very least mascara) and not relied solely on my tan. 

Steve held the highest position in the company, yet he was always approachable. Fair. And kind. Given the competitive nature of advertising, it's not all that common to find someone who is respected, smart, and a really nice guy. 

We talk for a few minutes about what we're doing. He's still involved with advertising and now the digital world. I confess my day job, but also tell him about my work with BAFTA.

That's another thing about New York that I love. You never know who you'll bump into.  I should remember that the next time I go out and opt for a no-makeup look.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

free day

Zelia has to cancel our trip to the Hamptons.

I have to admit, I'm not all that disappointed. I need time in the city to get some things done.

NYC. The most exciting place to live. So much to do. And I have a free day. 

So here's how I spend the first three hours of my day: on the phone dealing with a second-notice of an unpaid bill from a doctor's visit for my son.

Last May Alexander had an X-ray taken on his leg at City MD.

A month ago I (well he, but really I) get a bill for $226. Apparently the bill was rejected by my son's  insurance company. Reason: they need a letter of termination from his prior insurance company (Aetna) that ended in August of 2015.

I call Aetna on July 29. Speak to Daryl in Boston. Give him all the information he needs to send a termination letter to the new insurance company.

Yesterday I get an overdue bill notification from City MD.

I call Aetna again. Apparently nice Daryl is nice but not competent. He did nothing. In fact, he didn't even note that he ever spoke to me.

This time I speak to Yolanda. She needs the fax number so she can send the termination letter.

I call the new insurance company to get the fax number. While dialing, I think (for the first time), why do they even need a letter of termination? My son has been on this new insurance for a year, and they've paid other claims. They must have gotten the letter of termination last August.

But his time I am very very lucky and get Yusef. He thinks what I'm thinking before I even say it.

And then Yusef (who is both nice and competent) does what he needs to do to correct the problem.

That's my morning. I'm hoping for a more exciting afternoon.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

playing nice in the sandbox

I am walking by the handbag department on the 5th floor.  I know nothing about these mid-priced bags.  

A customer sees me and asks, "Do you work here?" 

"Yes," I respond.  

"Can you help me? I don't see anyone else around." 

She sees no one else around because there is no one else around. The handbag department is empty.

I know nothing about handbags. But still, I can help her. Any sales associate can help any customer, anywhere throughout the store.

"Does this tote come in a medium size?" the customer asks. She is holding both the large and small sizes.

Before I get a chance to answer, out of nowhere comes, "No, it doesn't. This Tory Burch tote is called the Ella. It was featured on Oprah, and immediately sold out.  It does not come in medium; just large and small."

I naively think this other associate, who clearly knows handbags, is being helpful. But then she turns to me and says, "You can leave now. I'll take it from here."

Huh?  I can leave now?  Who does this?  

There are unwritten rules of fair play; this violates all of them.

Basically, Miriam (not her real name) just blatantly stole my customer. But I don't say anything because I don't want the customer to feel awkward.

About ten minutes later I see the customer. She did buy the tote. But she, too, didn't like Miriam's approach. She comes up to me.

"Wow! She was certainly aggressive. It's like she was saying to you, Get out! This is MY territory and you shouldn't be here." 

I go back to find Miriam, and wait until she finishes with her customer.  She is immediately defensive and aggressive. 

"What is it you want to say?" she asks rather loudly, as she is walking toward the stockroom and away from me.

"That wasn't right what you just did. That woman was clearly my customer and you just took over."

"Well you shouldn't have been in my area to begin with."

"I was walking by and the customer approached me."

"Well, I had just left the floor for a minute." 

"But you weren't there, and the customer was asking for help now," I counter.  

Miriam keeps walking away from me, never once stopping. And with every word she utters, her voice rises. 

I follow her into the stockroom and say, "You are being so rude."

"I'm being rude? You're being rude.  Go ahead. Talk to my supervisor."

"You know, I hadn't planned on doing that, but now that you suggest it, I think I will. What is your supervisor's name?

"You're so smart, you go figure it out. I'm not telling you."

But I don't have to figure anything out. Miriam calls her.

K comes over. I like K. Separately, we each tell our version of the story. I have no doubt that Miriam's version is distorted.

Within an hour, two different associates who have overheard our argument go to K and support my version of the story.

My guess is that Miriam didn't play well in the sandbox of her youth.

And if nothing else, it adds some drama to a dull, unprofitable day.

(A side note: Most of the associates throughout the store are incredibly helpful and nice. That's why finding one who isn't is so surprising!).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

anything can happen

Anything Can Happen. That's the music that plays throughout Saks when the store opens every morning.  

I'm guessing the music is primarily (if not solely) directed at the sales staff. Because what it's really saying is, "Don't give up. All it takes is one good customer. That can happen anytime. And you have no idea who that customer might be."

I'm at work by 10:30 this morning, and by four, I've sold one on-sale sweater for $177 to Rhonda from Hartford.  She is most appreciative of my efforts to find her a nice blouse for her birthday next week. 

Around five, I sell a sweater. This one for $395.

Other than that — nothing.

My favorite group of co-workers is in today.   Some are doing better than others but it's very slow. Until late afternoon, there are, without exaggeration, more sales associates on the fifth floor than there are customers. Probably by a multiple of two.

I see a mother (early 50's) and daughter (mid-20's) — the mother is wearing ripped jeans (the kind with more holes than fabric) and the daughter is wearing daisy-duke denim shorts. Neither looks like your typical Fifth-Avenue shopper (if such a stereotype even exists).  

I approach them, and within an hour, they purchase $4,000 worth of sweaters, skirts and dresses, having just spent $10,000 on Chanel purses (I see the receipt).  They are friendly, and nice, and fun to work with.

I leave later than planned to meet Jill and Susan; we are seeing a new off-Broadway play, The Layover (interesting and complicated). 

As I'm walking to the theater, I think of the Saks music, and how appropriate it is.

It also happens to be the reason I like doing what I do.