Without Alice, Carol Brady Would’ve Been Popping Valium Like Tic Tacs

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.

What do Jerry Seinfeld, Judd Apatow, Jim Breuer, Carol Leifer & Eddie Murphy Have in Common?

“I must have written for well over fifty of those guys – every Dickie, Mickey, Morty, Freddie and Lee that ever lived,” Alan Zweibel quipped of his early days writing for Catskills comics.  In addition to writing for Saturday Night Live, Zweibel has dozens of film and TV credits under his belt. Among those: “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and currently, exec producing Showtime’s “Inside Comedy.”

In 2006 he received the Thurber Prize for his novel “The Other Shulman. ” He’s also author of the popular children’s book “Our Tree Named Steve,”  “Clothing Optional,” and “Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner – A Sort of Love Story” which was also a Broadway play.

These are some of the details that didn’t make it into my Newsday, LI Life cover story, because there was simply not enough space.  So look for future blog posts with quotes from other Long Island funny people that didn’t make it into the final feature.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Laughs Cover

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Where Howard Stern Grew Up…

“This town was a horrible place to live,” Howard Stern said in a 2006 “60 Minutes” profile while revisiting his childhood neighborhood. “It was a nightmare,” is a sentiment he reiterated in his book “Private Parts” and often on the air, where he’s projected his childhood in Roosevelt as a miserable experience.

By the time Stern started high school there, he was just one of a few whites still left.  And he recalls living in fear, repeatedly tormented and beaten up by black students while the teachers turned their backs.  This is in stark contrast to how his old friends remember Roosevelt, at least, the Roosevelt of the early 1960s.

It was idyllic.  That’s how Jerry Dikowitz, currently of Plainview, remembers his Long Island childhood.  Back then, his one-square-mile town appeared to be the quintessential middle-class neighborhood:  neat suburban houses, tree-lined sidewalks.  From his home at 45 Meyer Street, young Jerry would run out and meet up with his friends, including Howard Stern, on nearby Hausch Boulevard and Pennywood Avenue.  They’d play ball, listen to rock and roll records, or walk over to the five and dime on Nassau Road, the main commercial strip, where there were also restaurants, a toy store, supermarkets, a bowling alley and a movie theater.

This was Roosevelt just before the NAACP called for the desegregation of all of the neighborhood schools, two of which at the time were all black and all white.  Soon after that, the ‘hood became a dumping ground for welfare families and blockbusting.  Whites moved out in droves, except of course, for Stern’s family.

It’s a shame, because he’s seemed to black out the good parts of his childhood, which I’ve captured in my Newsday cover story today.

Howard, if you’re reading this, I hope it brings back memories of better days…

My New York Times Fashion & Style Feature, Tom + Lorenzo

They had me at:

“Nipples are sources of fun and nutrition, not hooks upon which you hang a dress,” a snappy zinger speared at actress Zooey Deschanel posing in a strapless Stella McCartney dress at an LA event in April.

Can you blame me for seeking out the producers of such a splendidly bitchy quip?  Not only did I make contact, but I got to shadow them for a couple of days as they made their frenzied way around New York City “like extremely stylish headless chickens.”

The result is my New York Times Fashion & Style feature on Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez, better known as the fabulous and opinionated pop-culture/fashion bloggers, TomandLorenzo.com.

As a bonus, I got to interview Marie Claire fashion director and Project Runway judge, Nina Garcia, who had to hush her charming five-year old so we could conduct an adult telephone interview.

Tom, Lorenzo and Nina all provided great insight into the world of celebrity fashion styling, which unfortunately, didn’t make the final cut due to space restrictions at the Times.  Perhaps I should incorporate all of that into another article…?

Tapping — Not Only on the Computer Keyboard

Where would writers be without inspiration?   And I’m not talking about inspiration for articles, books, blogs and tweets — that’s a different post.

If we are very lucky, on occasion we are inspired by our sources.  This is the case with a cover story I recently wrote for Newsday’s Sunday lifestyle pages.  It was a feature on a group of hoofers.  They call themselves “The Red Hot Mamas” and many of them are in fact, mothers — many even grandmothers.  These ladies are aged between 54 and 83, and they’ve been tapping it up as a group for years.  Read their story here.

So how did they inspire me?  Gotta dance. Every Monday…beginners, of course.

Facebook’s IPO. Meh…

If you’re jumping on a couch somewhere due to Facebook’s initial public offering, you can stop reading right now — no offense taken.  But if you’re like me and the IPO just triggers a massive yawn, you might enjoy my op-ed in today’s Newsday.  And by “enjoy” I mean “pass around, share, tweet, pin, digg” and otherwise broadcast to your entire social network.

522 ‘friends’ can’t be wrong

Published: May 17, 2012 6:38 PM

So the world’s largest social network is finally going public today (sounds pretty redundant). For months, the pending initial public offering of Facebook has had investors giddy with excitement — but I get the sense that no one else cares.

Frankly, my friends and I are so over Facebook. By “friends” I mean 522 people I’ve mostly never met, and by “so over Facebook” I mean totally addicted. The hours are marked by compulsive status updates, which revolve around the frenetic creation of cute photo ops accompanied by clever captions. We post these relentlessly on our news feeds and then, vastly pleased with ourselves, wait hopefully for comments. Mere “Likes,” which equate to disengaged nods, are usually a disappointment, but they’ll do in a pinch.

For the rest click here…

Keep Your Chin Up (and Toss in a Stiff Upper Lip)

Just five years ago, when I wrote this cosmetic surgery don’t ask, don’t tell  Newsday feature, the top five surgical procedures for women were:

  1. Breast augmentation
  2. Liposuction
  3. Eyelid surgery
  4. Abdominoplasty (tummy tucks)
  5. Breast reduction

It’s a telling list — with the exception of #1, there was stuff we wanted removed from all parts of our bodies.   Now, we’re into add-ons.  According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, chin implants — or “chinplants,” as we trendsetters refer to them –  are the fastest growing plastic surgery procedures going on, up 71 percent since last year.  Rumor has it that celebubore Paris Hilton had a jaw-and-jowl job recently. And I hear American Idolprentice Clay Aiken has been leading his team by the red hairs of his new chinny-chin-chin.

Aside from chin ups, we’re bloating our lips up 49 percent more than in 2010 and plumping our cheeks by 47 percent.

So what of the rhytidectomy? The good-old-fashioned facelift, increasing by a measly 5 percent, is facing an epic PR crisis.  Who should be the spokesperson…?