Oh, the important things I learn while researching… My latest cover story in Sunday’s Newsday.
If you’re looking at my portfolio (and I hope you are!), here are links to my most recent works:
In honor of “Alice,” Ann B. Davis, who passed away yesterday (June 1, 2014), this is an essay I wrote and then rewrote and have been reading out loud at my reading tour, “Living, Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat & Fears.”
Blended Like Brady
Like most people my age, I spent my childhood glued to the TV set, enchanted by my fictional BFFs Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Greg, Peter and Bobby. But more so than the step-siblings who made up TV’s most popular blended family, it was their parents who captivated my imagination. And I would have happily traded in my intact nuclear family to live with the dazzling widowers Carol and Mike, who somehow found each other, married and in 1969 became The Brady Bunch.
My mother hated the show and despised that my brother and sisters and I watched it religiously. We were recent immigrants from South America — a family of six cramped into a tiny apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens, trying to navigate through a foreign culture on very limited means. We barely spoke English, but despite the language barrier, my mother somehow understood that the Bradys were a weekly reminder of our utter shortcomings as a family. For me, the show was an introduction to middle class suburbia and American family life.
So I couldn’t help but notice that in stark contrast to the flawless Mr. and Mrs. Brady, as a couple, my parents were often combative, their tempers flaring at the slightest provocation.
The Bradys, on the other hand, discussed their issues rationally and calmly on their orange sofa, never giving each other the silent treatment for weeks and weeks at a time.
My parents were masters at mute cohabitation. And during these protracted episodes, my siblings and I would live on pins and needles while my parents would go about their daily business sporting poker faces – until only out of absolute necessity one of them would have to cave. But no one ever said “I’m sorry” or “You were right” or even “I over-reacted.” We would just go back to our lives pretending the flare-up never happened.
To manage his stress, my father chain-smoked feverishly. My mother coped by alternately popping Valium like tic-tacs and threatening to send our teeth flying across the room in one fell swoop.
Mrs. Brady never even raised her voice. Of course, the stay-at-home mom also had Alice, the saintly housekeeper. Alice was always there to serve. She was a sensible, soft shoulder in a baby blue maid’s uniform. Her daily chores: to gently render advice, offer reassurance and soothing words of wisdom. All from her perch at the kitchen sink.
So despite a houseful of six rowdy children with an endless stream of stupid problems, no one ever worked on Carol’s last nerve.
“Mike … !” she’d sing out angelically whenever a blended-family issue came up. Which was — always. And there Mr. Brady would be, at his drafting table, ready to patiently problem-solve — not an ashtray in sight. The Bradys always smartly figured out what to do. And whatever that was, it always provided the added value of a life lesson for whichever kid was involved in that week’s crisis.
Fast-forwarding several decades, I never dreamed I’d have the chance to channel Mrs. Brady. As a divorced mom bringing up three very lovely girls, combining my family with someone else’s was not on my agenda until I met a man I couldn’t resist, who had two kids of his own. We all moved in together three years later.
My journal entry the first day: “Fasten seat belt.”
It’s fortuitous that I selected a life partner with Mike Brady’s composed and easy going temperament. Glen rarely gets rattled, even with all five kids in the house at once. But shortly after moving in together, I realized I could never live up to Carol’s reputation.
By virtue of being super perky and having hair of gold, Mrs. Brady won the affections of stepsons Greg, Peter and Bobby, who called her “mom,” right off the bat.
I, a plain brunette, am devoid of perk. I’m perkyless.
So I had to gingerly maneuver my way into my stepchildren’s hearts, step-by-step. Sometimes going forward but more often moving backwards around two guarded adolescent kids whose first everythings I had missed by years.
Parenting my own three and becoming suddenly quasi -mom -ish to the others proved to be a precarious balancing act. That’s because Glen and I are parent polar opposites — he’s permissive, lenient, and really fun. I’m not any of those things.
So unlike the Bradys, who swiftly resolved differences within their allotted weekly half hour, we rarely come up with quick-fixes, our problems sometimes festering endlessly.
This was especially so once the kids got older and their school and social lives became less structured. See, as a writer I work from home. And I thrive on planning, organization and scheduling. The kids thrive on leaving trails of dirty dishes, shoes and random electronic devices. On watching TV until all hours of the night. They also enjoy not helping me around the house.
Good thing over the years we’ve all learned to love each other and to get along. And while we merged our two families into one, Glen and I learned two very valuable lessons. Lesson number one: Never, ever discipline each other’s kids. I’m not sure why, but our therapist said so. Lesson Number Two: Get a therapist.
The day we moved in together we put a therapist on retainer. And on speed dial. We’ll trample over everyone and drop everything on our schedules for an emergency session.
Our therapist is so effective I once asked her if she could move in with us. She thought I was joking.
But over time, she’s helped us navigate through this murky family blend by being our cheerleader and advisor. No one has taken up tobacco; no one has threatened dental dislodgings. She puts our issues into perspective, giving us continued hope that this can work, and she offers priceless guidance and support.
Her name is Dr. Dowds.
But I like to call her Alice.
Herewith, My Bucket List:
1. Shatter the glass ceiling. Or, shatter a glass on the floor
2. Have a full morning breakfast wearing business attire and makeup. Drink coffee — black. Engage in a coherent conversation
3. Swallow a tear
4. Close talk with someone without worrying about my breath
5. Bury the hatchet
6. Marshall-slap every single “Real Housewife” there was, is or ever will be
7. Number seven isn’t realistic, so never mind
8. Become ladylike
9. Jimmy Fallon
Climb every mounta hill
Editor’s Note: Updated. The entire Season 7, in texts.
If Mad Men characters used text messaging:
Season 7, Episode 1, Time Zones:
Season 7, Episode 2, A Day’s Work:
Season 7, Episode 3, Field Trip:
Season 7, Episode 4, Monolith:
Season 7, Episode 5, The Runaways:
Season 7, Episode 6, The Strategy:
Season 7, Episode 7, Waterloo:
Any time something comes to an end, is a good time to reflect. Also to scarf down a pint of ice cream. In one sitting. And then immediately regret it. Still, you can’t help but once again reach for the spoon and the empty cardboard container and scrape off every last melted miniscule drop of it until you are so sad that it’s really, truly over that your heart aches. As do your teeth and your belly. (Note to writers: this is not a metaphor for anything. It is in fact, my ice cream consumption ritual.)
So before placing a “Closed” sign on 2013, here are a few of my highs and lows that may be or may not be worth sharing, but since I went to the trouble of flipping the pages of my Week-at-a-Glance (yes, nerds — it’s a paper calendar) all the way back to January…:
January 16: “Alan Alda, 2:30 pm” definitely a high, as I insisted on a face-to-face interview for my cover story in The Saturday Evening Post (vs. a phone chat). He’s one of my favorite actors, but I’m sure Alda regretted agreeing to meet me as soon as I nervously launched into a series of inane questions about his facial hair. So for Alda, this was an all-time 2013 low.
January 28: “Urologist, 11 am” Obviously a low. Don’t ask.
February 5: “Guild Hall Essay Reading, 7:30 pm” This was the very first in a series of readings that I produced in 2013 –”Living, Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat and Fears“. The treacherous trek way the hell out to East Hampton on that snowy evening was totally worthwhile–it was such a HIGH to see Alec Baldwin! (Oh, not in person. A plaque on a wall bears his name and yeah, I got to touch it!)
February 6-8: “Boston” A total high strolling for the first time ever through Boylston Street, just hours before a massive blizzard rolled in and we had to unexpectedly roll back down to Long Island. But since in April Boylston Street and the people standing on it were blown to bits during the Boston Marathon, this actually turned into an unspeakably tragic low.
February 16: “Wedding, 4 pm” I was a guest at my first lesbian wedding, y’all! Guess what? Except for all the boobs, it was just like every other wedding. Sheer joy. Mind-boggling love. Cake. So, yes — a high.
March 6: “Smash, 2 pm” Remember the ABC show for theater-geeks that began with so much promise and ended in so much snark? I was scheduled to be an extra for a shoot in the Brooklyn Navy Yards but then I was sent the rules and requirements on the colorful email below: show up at the crack of dawn schlepping your own wardrobe, makeup and accessories. Cell phones are confiscated and returned at the end of the shoot, which could take up to 16 hours. No pay. Bring a sandwich. (Confession: I had been watching way too much of Ricky Gervais’ “Extras” on Netflix which does not at all romanticize being an extra so what the hell was I thinking, anyway?)
April 8-12: “New Orleans” Stuffing my beignethole at The Original Cafe Du Monde? A high and not just due to all that powdered sugar. There was also lots of my heart being blessed with the sound of music and of course, the kindness of strangers.
April 22: “Wendy Liebman, 12 PST” For a Newsday article, I got to talk to Wendy. She doesn’t know this, but ever since I tell everyone we’re close friends. (Hey, the proof is in the Twitter! She follows me! What more do you need?)
April 30: “Carol Leifer, 12:30 pm; Jim Breuer 2 pm” More interviews for that Newsday article on Long Island funny people. Jerry Seinfeld gave me a quote. Can I get a “What-WHAT? And then …
May 2: Alan Zweibel, 11 am” I had to meet him in person. (Why? See Jan. 16, “Alda”) Alan, one of the original SNL writers who invented the Samurai sketch, “Cheddar Cheese” and too much more to mention (but if you really want to know and you should know, look here) is one talented and generous mench. We spent several hours together and I would have followed him home like a puppy. He doesn’t know this, but ever since I tell everyone we’re close friends (he’s NOT following me on Twitter but shut the eff up–I’m working on it!)
Right about now, this desk calendar flipping is getting really old. So let’s skip the summer because it’s just sticky and annoying except that I did partake in a superb reading with my essay group at Cornelia Street Cafe and then had close encounters of the first kind with this alpaca in Roanoke, Virginia –
…and then with a racehorse at Saratoga. (We texted for a while but long-distance relationships never work out).
October 20: “David Sedaris, 7 pm” This was the year when my literary hero basically asked me to fuck off. Not in so many words, but I had managed to get a hold of his personal email address and began to gently stalk him. Sedaris sent me a good-natured email asking to be removed from my mailing list — little did he know he was the only one on that list. Ha, ha. You know what else he doesn’t know? That ever since he sent me an email I tell everyone we’re close friends.
Now don’t you go warning author and New York Times columnist Joyce Wadler! In November she agreed to be a special guest essayist at my group’s 2014 kickoff reading on Jan. 10th at City Winery.
And so, that’s more or less my year. Lots of other stuff happened in between, of course, but right now I’ve got a pint to suck down.
For Immediate Release
BEST-SELLING AUTHOR AND NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST JOYCE WADLER JOINS ESSAY READING TOUR AT CITY WINERY IN NEW YORK CITY
December, 2013 (New York) — The New York-based traveling essay reading series, “Living, Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat & Fears,” welcomes New York Times humor columnist and author, Joyce Wadler for a special guest appearance at the intimate Wine Room in City Winery, the legendary New York City performance venue. This unique event — hosted by PBS correspondent Bill Boggs, who’s a four-time Emmy Award-winning TV host and executive producer — takes place on January 10th, at 8 pm; doors open at 7 pm. Tickets are $10 and must be purchased in advance here.
The group has toured all over Long Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan to packed venues which have included The Half King, Guild Hall in East Hampton, Cornelia St. Café, The Sidewalk Café and DUMBO Arts Festival. The reading at the Wine Room at City Winery will kick off the series for 2014.
About Joyce Wadler: Joyce Wadler is a New York City humorist who writes the “I Was Misinformed” column for The New York Times, where she was a staff reporter for 15 years. Before coming to the Times, Ms. Wadler worked as a feature writer and crime reporter for newspapers and magazines and she was the New York correspondent for The Washington Post, as well as a contributing editor for New York Magazine and Rolling Stone. Her books include “My Breast,” her memoir about breast cancer, “Cured: My Ovarian Cancer Story” and “Liaison,” the story of the French civil servant and the Chinese opera singer which inspired the play “M. Butterfly.”
About “Living, Out Loud”: With decades of experience in publishing and multiple industry awards among them, this diverse group of writers has banded together to share their passion for the personal essay with audiences throughout the New York metropolitan area. For more, please visit our Facebook page.
Back in 2000, as a freelance writer I was retained by Newsday for a year-long series that was to run in the paper every day. They were calling it “Names of New York.” It involved research and history — a perfect love match for my interests. Newsday provided me with a long list of New York-based streets, landmarks, bridges, highways, and my job was to research and write about their name origins. The articles, which you can find under “Pages” here, looked like this:
It was a sweet gig and you know what made it even better?
One day, while the “Names of New York” series was running, I received a call, out of the blue — an offer to write a book. On Queens, where I grew up. The publisher? Yale University Press. Seriously. That turned into an amazing, interesting and grueling four-year project but the result was my first book and two nods by The New York Times — once when it was released in hardcover and later when it came out in paperback.
Fast forward to 2013 and many great assignments in between — I’m now on another fascinating research/writing project, this time for Parade Magazine’s website, Parade.com. Expanding on my much earlier “Names of New York” work for Newsday, I’m now writing a weekly “Names of America” column. Research…history…love!
And so kids, the point of this story is clear– yes, freelancing is often a biatch, but once in a while, one plum assignment lays the foundation for future work. You won’t know it at the time, but it happens.