“Married People ­— A Comedy” stars Andy Lauer, Michelle Bernard, Paul Parducci and Kylie Delre.

It’s a funny thing about ‘Married People’


After nearly 30 years of marriage to their respective wives, comedians Mark Schiff and Steve Shaffer know a few things about the trials and tribulations of relationships and family life. Some of those experiences have been written into their new play, “Married People — A Comedy,” that opens March 3 at the Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles.

“It’s a play about acceptance and love,” Schiff said. “And, of course, marriage is always funny.”

The play follows two couples — Henry and Cookie, and Aviva and Jake — who are good friends and who both have sons. Henry and Cookie’s son is gay, and they are having trouble coming to terms with it. Aviva and Jake’s son has forsaken his Jewish heritage, which hurts Aviva, whose maternal and paternal grandparents were victims of the Holocaust. 

Marriage jokes sprinkled throughout the play add lightness to the difficult situations both couples experience. In one scene, when describing his sex life, Henry says, “I’ll tell you how the sex changes. It goes from all night to not tonight to, God forbid, out of sight.”

While the plot of the play isn’t autobiographical — neither Schiff nor Shaffer has a son who is gay — some of the dynamics of marriage are taken from their real lives.

“My marriage material and Mark’s are intermittent throughout the play,” Shaffer said. “But it’s not a jokey play. There is real dialogue. We worked really hard on making this sound real.”

Schiff and Shaffer, who have known each other for 35 years, took seven years to write the play in between other gigs. Shaffer lives in New Jersey and Schiff is in Los Angeles, so they spent hours on the phone hashing it out. The script went through 15 rewrites until they were ready to do readings in New York, L.A. and Chicago before staging it at the Zephyr.

The idea for “Married People — A Comedy” came about through a conversation Schiff had with Jerry Seinfeld. “We talked about plays and he said, ‘You know more about marriage than anybody. You should write a play about it,’ ” said Schiff, who opens for Seinfeld on the road.

This is Schiff’s second produced play. His first, “The Comic,” starred Larry Miller and ran for 10 months in L.A. It went to the Aspen Comedy Festival, and HBO optioned it to make a movie. But Schiff has been writing plays nearly his whole life; he wrote his first one at the age of 12.

“I didn’t even know if I’d seen a play, but I understood the medium,” he said. “I had a very up-and-down relationship with my mother, so the play was about a guy dealing with some woman. It was my way of trying
to figure out what was going on in my
relationship.”

In “Married People — A Comedy,” Schiff once again touches upon what it’s like to maintain a Jewish identity. Though he is observant, his characters are not. By the end of the play, though, the characters reconcile some of their problems.

“Essentially, what happens is the parents themselves had very little Judaism in their lives,” he said. “Their son didn’t have any role models to look after. They are getting more involved now. They are starting to light Shabbos candles. It may be a little late for the kid but not too late for them.”

The play stars Michelle Bernard as Aviva, Kylie Delre as Cookie, Andy Lauer as Jake and Paul Parducci as Henry. Rick Shaw, who produced six seasons of “The Nanny,” is the director.

As for the play’s future, Schiff said he hopes he can take it to Broadway or turn it into a half-hour sitcom. “People who have seen it love these characters,” he said. “They want to know more about them, and that’s a good sign.”

Though many of the issues that longtime couples face are highlighted in the play, Schiff and Shaffer stressed that, overall, it takes a positive look at marriage.

“The play is truly an affirmation for marriage,” Schiff said. “One of the things somebody said is everything he’s seen on marriage is negative. These two couples are never getting divorced. They are in it to win it, as they say on ‘American Idol.’ These couples care about and love each other, but they have big issues and they need to work through them.”

Added Shaffer: “People will walk away thinking we’re all going through the same thing. We all suffer the same problems. When people realize we’re all in the same boat, it makes life a little easier.”

“Married People — A Comedy” will be in previews Feb. 23-25 at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. It opens March 3 and runs through April 2.

McCartney attends Yom Kippur Services, Marries Next Day


Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney reportedly spent the night before his wedding at Yom Kippur services.

McCartney married Jewish-American heiress Nancy Shevell in London on Oct. 9. They reportedly attended Yom Kippur services and a break-fast at a local London synagogue, where Shevell, 51, received a blessing in honor of her upcoming marriage.

The couple married in a civil ceremony at London’s Marylebone Register Office, followed by a small reception at McCartney’s north London home.

McCartney’s first wife, Linda Eastman, also was Jewish. She died in 1998 after a battle with breast cancer.

Bush granddaughter wed in rite conducted by rabbi


Lauren Bush, granddaughter of the first President Bush and niece of the second, was married in a ceremony presided over by an ordained rabbi.

Bush and David Lauren, son of designer Ralph Lauren, were married Sunday at a ranch in Colorado owned by the Lauren family in a ceremony conducted by Cantor Angela Buchdahl of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, who is also a rabbi, the New York Post reported.

Lauren Bush’s father, Neil, is the brother of former President George W. Bush, who was at the wedding with his family. Her grandparents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, were unable to attend because of the altitude at the ranch, according to the Post.

Bush will now be known as Lauren Bush Lauren.

Israeli students protest yeshiva stipend


Thousands of Israeli university students gathered in Jerusalem to protest a bill that would provide stipends to yeshiva students.

As many as 10,000 students from universities throughout the country arrived by chartered buses to the capital Monday evening for the protest march from the prime minister’s official residence to Zion Square.

The protesters carried signs reading “We’re not suckers” and “Haredim—go to work” and chanted slogans such as “Students are worth more” and “We’re hungry for bread, too.”

The demonstration was protesting Knesset approval of the first reading of the 2011-12 state budget, which includes stipends for married full-time yeshiva students.

The amendment to the budget granting the stipends, proposed by Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism Party, comes after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in June that paying stipends to yeshiva students and not to university students constitutes discrimination.

Married . . . at last!


I got married for the first time at 50. The groom was 51. Yes, we are both Jewish. We met online.

I am tall, thin, blonde, green-eyed, and have a little turned-up nose. My
father-in-law’s first comment, across the Thanksgiving table, was, “Doesn’t she look like a shiksa?”

My husband is an inch shorter than I am and round. He is also handsome, smart, funny and very logical. But I married him because he is a good person and I love him very much.

I decided when I was about 46 that I really wanted to get married. The question became where to meet men who really wanted to get married, too. I decided to try online dating. I had already done everything else.

It was not love at first sight. It was interest. It was let’s see what will happen. We both had dated enough to know the difference between passion and real caring.

It took three years, but we did it. The short version:

We met in November of 2000. The cats and I moved in with him in 2001, and I gave him an ultimatum. We got engaged in June of 2002 and were planning to marry in December 2002, although I had yet to see a ring.

Thirteen weeks before the wedding, he fell and shattered his shoulder. We postponed the wedding. I told him he had until my birthday, in August, to do the ring, or it was over. This was it.

It took him eight months, but he did it. Three days before my birthday, he took me to dinner, and proposed a second time, this time with ring in hand.

This was August 2003, and we were going to get married August 2004. We would have a year to arrange the wedding. That was the plan. The next month, my then-91-year-old mother fell and wound up in the hospital, so the wedding was moved up to December.

I had three months to plan the wedding. I was crazed, to say the least. It turned out that my little, humble then-83-year-old aunt knew the owner of a hotel, which shall remain nameless, kayn ayin hora, poo poo. It was a fabulous hotel, famous for its weddings. We had a place. Then we had a date, invitations, a dress, a menu, a klezmer band and a dance band, and a lot of tuxedos.

In addition to planning a wedding in three months, a full-time job, I was also working and taking a class. How I did it, I don’t know. But I was almost there. We divided the wedding planning, sort of. My husband chose all the food and liquor. I handled the cake and flowers, the logistics of the day, the arrangements for out-of-towners, the rehearsal dinner, the auf ruf and half of the visitor packets. (My husband did the maps and the sites of interest.)

The day finally arrived. Hair and make-up call, 6 a.m. Both my husband and I have backgrounds in the entertainment industry, but this was the biggest production either of us had to pull off. He had produced and directed theater, and I had produced and directed reality TV. But this was something else.

I was drugged out of my mind the morning of the wedding. Not serious drugs, but Advil combined with terror can have a mind-numbing effect.

I had only my maid of honor, my cousin Patty, in the suite with me as I got ready. The ketubah signing was done privately with the rabbi in a separate room with only my two attendants and the two male witnesses present. It was beautiful.

It was getting scarier and scarier. Patty and I retired to the bridal suite to await the final call. The hotel’s coordinator lined everyone up, then called up to the room. They were ready for me.

Patty and I took the elevator down. We stepped out. I looked back at the mirrored elevator doors as they were closing on 50 years of being single. I looked at myself and affirmed, “I’m doing this.”

I just wanted to get through the chuppah. I got into line, at the end, next to my then 84-year-old father. This was a dream. This was unreal.

The music started and the bridal procession began. The coordinator was counting the beats. The aisle was 80 feet long. My father and I had rehearsed this, but there was no need. He was a natural. The music changed. I heard, “Now,” and I said to my Dad, “Right foot.”

Talk about a deer in headlights. I saw my cousin Jenny smiling. She stood up first, and everyone followed suit. All these people were standing up for me! I was the bride!

The ceremony was great, I thought. I loved the rabbi’s words of wisdom, although I had to watch the video about four times to remember what he said.

It was an awesome wedding, filled with Jewish rituals — the hora, the chair dance, the brachot over wine and bread. Then, after the first course, the mezinka, the dance honoring the mother upon the marriage of the last child. I am an only child, my husband, the last of four. His mother was deceased. We danced around our three parents, unbelieving that their “old” children were finally married.

In case you are wondering, married life is great. It is not a sitcom, it is not a romantic comedy — it is real life. Whatever you were before, you bring to marriage. Marriage is not a date — you see each other in the morning, someone takes out the trash, and you pay the bills.

But you do it together. At last.

Mierel Verbit is a writer and teacher who lives with her husband and cat in Santa Monica. She can be reached at mierelverbit@yahoo.com.

Book review: The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide


Divorce attorneys. Are there two dirtier words in the English language? Thoughts of them conjure up images of circling human sharks, cold-blooded assassins and profiteers feasting on the misery of others. Turning to them for suggestions on how to stay married would seem about as useful as seeking out Donald Trump for tips on humility or former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair for advice on journalistic ethics.
 
Sometimes, though, the conventional wisdom misses the mark. Drawing on interviews with 100 prominent divorce attorneys nationwide, author and former practicing attorney Wendy Jaffe has written an interesting and illuminating work called, “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide to Staying Married.” Apparently, those with ringside seats in divorce court, a place where couples venture to shred their wedding vows and one another, have a special insight into how not to behave in marriage.
 
In her book, Jaffe outlines how to diagnose and treat myriad union-killers, ranging from no-sex marriages to infidelity to unrealistic expectations. Beyond that, she argues that many couples who end up in divorce court could have, and should have, worked harder to save their unions.
 
In Jaffe’s view, marriage, except in cases of physical or verbal abuse and untreated drug and alcohol addiction, is worth fighting for. She argues that the fact that about half of all marriages in the United States don’t last is less a reflection of widespread incompatibility than an indictment of a disposable American culture that encourages folks to trade in their old-but-perfectly good cars, computers and, yes, even spouses for newer, fresher models. All too often, Jaffe argues, mates in the process of shedding their significant others come to realize too late that they’ve made a terrible mistake, especially when children are involved. The grass might appear greener elsewhere, but that, like a waterhole in the desert, is often only a mirage. The proof: Two of three second marriages end in divorce.
 
Jaffe’s starts her book detailing all the ways sex can kill a marriage. Why start with sex?
 
“It is rare that someone who is having good and regular sex will come to me for a divorce,” says Miami family law attorney Maurice Kutner, one of several lawyers Jaffe quotes.
 
Couples having infrequent intimate relations should beware, Jaffe warns. Sex, she writes, is an integral part of most marriages, and its absence augurs poorly for their survival. There are myriad reasons why married couples’ love lives can cool, including familiarity and the exhaustion of parenthood. Still, a no-sex marriage is far from the norm. As Jaffe notes, just because married spouses have stopped making love with one another doesn’t mean they have stopped making love.

Take the case of Steve and Linda, one of several case studies Jaffe sprinkles throughout her book. The couple married in their mid-20s, had three kids in six years and moved to the ‘burbs. To the outside world, they appeared to have the perfect union. However, behind the smiles, Linda felt increasingly disconnected from her spouse, and her interest in intimacy dwindled markedly with the birth of her children. Over time, Steve also became more disenchanted, especially after his wife rejected repeated requests to discuss her waning drive with a gynecologist. Steve eventually left a “shocked” Linda for a work colleague.
 
So what to do if sex begins to vanish from the bedroom? Jaffe suggests the road to recovery begins with recognition.
 
“Even if sex is not important to you,” she writes, “you have to realize that it might be extremely important to your spouse, and that it is a significant cause of divorce.”
 
Throughout the book, Jaffe encourages readers to consult a therapist. She also offers a helpful list of reference books readers might want to peruse.Infidelity is another sex-related marriage-killer with which Jaffe grapples. On the upside, she argues persuasively that many marriages can withstand cheating. If both spouses figure out what caused the straying and address the problem; if the victim spouse can forgive the affair; and if the adulterous husband or wife truly recommits to the marriage — a lot of ifs — the couple might salvage the union. On the downside, Internet chat rooms and dating services have made it easier than ever for bored spouses to find a playmate.
 
Many marriages, Jaffe writes, are in trouble even before they begin. That’s because one or both partners bring unrealistic expectations to the altar.
 
Couples who expect the romance and fires of passion to burn indefinitely set themselves up for their marriage to flameout. Similarly, men and women who believe marriage will magically transform their significant other are deluding themselves. Her insane jealousy won’t suddenly vanish, just as his verbal abuse and alcoholism won’t disappear. The bottom line: What you see is generally what you get. A caveat, though: People often do change over the course of a marriage, for better or for worse, Jaffe says.
 
Even those who’ve never married, as well as people considering getting hitched for the second or third time, could benefit from “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide.”
 
Jaffe and the attorneys she interviewed counsel against getting married at a young age. A little life experience, they argue, allows a person to grow up and figure out what they want from themselves and from a prospective spouse. It is no surprise, Jaffe writes, that Oklahoma, despite its location at the heart of the Bible Belt, has the second-highest divorce rate, according to 1990 stats. The reason: One of the lowest average ages for first marriages, at 22 for women and 24 for men.
 
As for remarriage, Jaffe warns against the “clone syndrome.” That is, finding a new spouse with a similar personality to the person just left behind. To avoid making the same mistakes again and again, such as repeatedly hooking up with alcoholics, Jaffe suggests seeing a therapist to “understand why your marriage broke down and how your selection of your spouse played a part in it.”
 
Jaffe’s book makes a surprisingly good read, considering that many lawyers tend to write in a turgid, tangled legalese. Still, Jaffe does trip up a few times.The lawyer in her devotes an entire section to prenuptial agreements. She argues that men and women with substantial assets need to protect them. Rational?

The Cost of Marriage


After two years of single life in Israel, I looked forward to the new perspectives that marriage would bring to my Israeli immigrant experience.

I knew that the normal adjustments from bachelorhood were inevitable, such as putting down the toilet seat and washing linens more frequently than every six months. But I never imagined that marriage would force me to re-experience the entire immigration process.

My initiation began the day after our wedding in Pittsburgh, which was also the day before our flight to Israel.

We sat in Dena’s family’s basement all night packing (I should say cramming) the majority of her personal items into four giant duffle bags. By no means is Dena a materialistic person; the simpler lifestyle in Israel appeals to her, as it does to me.

But after spending all night deciding which sweaters could and could not immigrate with us, I suddenly remembered the remark of a married friend who tried to prepare me for the changes of married life: “Women just have more stuff than us.”

Now, instead of the two suitcases that I brought on my aliyah, we were pulling five giant bags — four of hers, one of mine — through Newark Airport. We tried to disperse the heavy items evenly among the bags so they wouldn’t be overweight.

But when we got to the check-in counter, three of the five were overweight. We worked frantically, exchanging the heavier items for lighter ones so that we wouldn’t have to either leave some unnecessary items behind (my suggestion) or pay the $120 overweight fee (her suggestion). After 20 minutes of labor, every bag was about five pounds overweight, an amount the clerk was willing to overlook.

But that was nothing compared to the work that awaited us upon arrival. While Dena filled out paperwork in the absorption office, I had the task of locating and dragging each enormous bag off the conveyer belt and loading it onto the cart.

We then had to load the five bags into a cab and, once in Jerusalem, carry them up four flights of stairs to our temporary apartment.

On my third trip up the stairs, I remembered another comment from that same married friend: “Being married means you have to schlep a lot more stuff. And just wait till you have kids!”

As we settled into our temporary home, I looked forward to the delicious dishes my wife had been planning to cook for us. Any one of them would have been a grand improvement from my bachelor diet. But I didn’t realize that a broader diet equals a much broader bill at the checkout. On our first trip to the grocery store together, the clerk rang up a bill of about $150. I bit my tongue as I thought to myself, “That’s how much I spend in a month!”

As we were walking out of the store I asked Dena if she thought we had spent a lot, and she answered, “Oh, that’s nothing compared to what I was spending for groceries in Philly!”

I couldn’t have been happier that we were living in Israel.

But the shopping had only begun. Since I previously had lived in a furnished apartment, the only household items I owned were a microwave, assorted plates and pieces of silverware, a pot and a pan.

It was understood that our housewares would need a major overhaul. Even more so, since we were moving to an unfurnished apartment, which in Israel generally means the place would be completely empty. Ours didn’t even come with closets, much less a refrigerator or oven.

Over the next several weeks, we tracked down all the necessary household items, some from Janglo, a kind of Craig’s List for English speakers in Jerusalem, some from places I’d never thought I’d visit, like IKEA.

As the weeks went on, our seemingly endless shopping spree started to feel like a nightmare.

Over the course of several weeks our to-buy list was starting to shrink, and we were just about ready to move to our new place in Efrat, in the West Bank about eight miles south of Jerusalem. But there were a few essentials remaining on the list that I never could have imagined, namely a Kitchen Aid and a Magimix.

Not only had I never heard of these items before I got married, I had no idea where to shop for them. Apparently I hadn’t spent any time in the dozens of Jerusalem appliance stores that we began stalking day and night looking for the best price on these items.

In the end we settled on a Magimix for about $345 and the Kitchen Aid for $600-plus, more than twice its price in the United States.

I agreed with Dena that it’s better to buy good items that are going to last, but the bills were really adding up. Again, I heard a familiar voice in my head: “Being married costs a heck of a lot more than being single!”

Maybe the life changes that I’m experiencing have more to do with marriage in general than aliyah. Maybe all new husbands have to swallow high grocery bills and Kitchen Aids, though the side effects of happiness and fulfillment that marriage provide make it all worthwhile.

It may be that the only difference between my newly married friends in the United States and me is that I’m learning these lessons in Israel. But, that detail makes it all even more worthwhile to us.

Jonathan Udren is a freelance writer who lives in Israel.

Â

Bebe and Me


A lot of people my age feel pressure from their families to get married, but I think my not being married is the only thing keeping my grandmother alive. Bebe often tells me she just wants to live long enough to see my wedding. I’ll say “I do” and then she’ll immediately keel over. It’s a lot to bear.

Bebe likes to pretend she’s open-minded and doesn’t care if I date non-Jewish women. I should point out that I am technically Jewish — both my parents were born Jews. I never went to Hebrew school but we did celebrate Chanukah — until the year we couldn’t find the menorah. Then that was that: Bring on Christmas!

People see my freckles and last name and are surprised to find that I’m Jewish. They say something like, “Come on, Dutch Jews?” I remind them of a book by a girl named Anne Frank and tell them the reason there aren’t too many Dutch Jews is because of a little thing called the Holocaust. I pretend to be offended, they feel horribly guilty; it’s a win-win. But honestly, I mostly embrace my Judaism as a party trick.

But to Bebe it’s important. I’ll call her to tell her I’m dating someone and she’ll go on her Semitic fact-finding mission.

“What’s her name?” she asks. Sometimes I like to mess with her.

“Christian,” I say. “Christian Hitler.”

“Oh.” A pause. “Is she nice?”

Bebe is in incredible health. She’s 87 years old but you’d never believe it to look at her. She swims laps three times a week at the Jewish Community Center and still rides the ancient stationary bike in her guest room. None of this prevents her from preparing for death.

The last several trips I’ve made to see her, she’s handed me blank labels and asked me to put my name on any items in her house that I’ll want when she’s dead. I refuse to do this; I think it’s morbid and tacky (and besides, how do I know which macramé throws will go with my future settee?). My sister and uncle have embraced this though — their names are on way too many things. I’m talking napkin rings and liquor bottles, and not even good ones. My other grandmother had her kids do the label thing before she died and I think it just ended up confusing her. She had Alzheimer’s and thought the coffee table was named Becky.

I guess if I were 87 I wouldn’t exactly be thinking about my 20-year plan, but I would try to leave my heirs out of it. Bebe is constantly asking me what my father is going to bequeath me. I’m not sure if it’s so she can try to outdo him, or if she just wants to make certain that I don’t end up with two chafing dishes.

Of course, for Bebe, mortality is a longtime companion.

She’s outlived every important relationship you can have in life: two siblings, two husbands, two parents, a child, a best friend. What’s left? Six grandchildren, alive and well and unmarried. Maybe that’s why she worries so much for us.

Whenever Bebe dies it will be the end of an era. She’s not the kind of lady who would have her portrait hanging over a fireplace, but she’s a matriarch nonetheless. She leads this family with the iron fist of guilt in the velvet glove of worry. How do you paint that?

When my mother, died, Bebe became my advocate, often the only voice of reason to counter my father’s short-tempered resolve. Even though she lived an airplane trip away in Louisville and was no longer his mother-in-law, my father knew better than not to listen.

Through the years Bebe and I have bonded over our two common enemies: depression and my father. Our relationships with both have gotten much better, and in a weird way I miss how we’d struggle through them together, comparing strategies, medications, and, ultimately, successes.

If I get a gig, it doesn’t count until Bebe’s seen it. Every time I’m on a set, I make sure to get a Polaroid of me in costume to send to her. Open the cigar box in the top drawer of her rickety highboy and you’ll see square photos of me in all my Hollywood glamour: as Waiter, Ticket Taker, Game Show Host, Usher, Man No. 2 — proof that I did a TV job she may never see.

Another thing she may never see is my wedding.

I don’t know if Bebe will be around long enough to experience the shock of me getting married. If so, I hope she can at least hold out until the reception. Incidentally, Bebe’s been single longer than I have, but I don’t give her a hard time about who she dates. I’ll have to mention that next time I talk to her.

J. Keith van Straaten is a writer and performer who currently hosts “What’s My Line? — Live on Stage” every Wednesday in Los Angeles. For more information, visit

Change of Heart


It was only last October when I penned the column, “No Rush,” for this paper, arguing against marriage.

Now, eight months later, I take it all back. Well, most of it.

As I wrote, I still do believe that other people often try to convince you to get married in order to convince themselves. It’s the same reason your friend convinces you that girls love his new mullet — and you have to get one, too — “You know what they say: Business in the front, party in the back.”

So what’s changed?

I no longer believe one has to be settled in one’s career in order to “settle down.” I’m an actor, so I need to accept that stability is pretty rare. And I have. After making a living as an actor for the past couple of years, this year has had me back to showing up at friends’ houses just as they’re eating dinner. Despite the free meals, I feel much better when I’m buying my own food. So I gave in to “the man” and took a side job to help me when I’m not making money as an actor.

My mom told me that when she got married there were 15 friends and family squeezed into the rabbi’s study. That was it. That was all they could afford. And they had a great marriage. My dad became a successful partner at Ernst & Young, they had four children and they loved each other very much. My dad was a sweet, funny and charismatic guy. But then he died, which is not great for a marriage. Who would take out the garbage? Besides, I really miss the guy. The point is, though, that my dad didn’t wait until he had a career — he just married the only woman he ever loved, and they struggled and succeeded together. Time, I’ve learned, is limited.

So, as I’ve mentioned before, I love my girlfriend, Carrie. She’s sensitive and, even though she says I tend to hold in my feelings, we do share a good cry whenever we watch “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (you had me at, “Move that bus!”).

She’s also beautiful, even if I don’t always say it (if I say it too much she might realize she can do better). She also thinks I’m funny, even if it’s the fifth time that day I’ve said, “Pull my finger.” (What’s more amazing is not that she laughs, but she actually pulls it.)

Carrie has opinions about things but is willing to listen to others. Me, I already know what’s right, so what’s the point? She’s patient, whereas I’m so ADD that I’ve already forgotten what it is I’m writing about. (Wait one second while I scroll back to the top to remember my thesis statement … and … got it!) What I’m trying to say is I’m lucky to have found Carrie.

Being single was fun at times but it always felt empty. I couldn’t wait until I found the right girl. I’ll admit it — it scared me a little when I found her. Life-changing events can be scary. But, lately, all I can think about is how great it will be to spend the rest of my life with her. There’s comfort in knowing you’ve found the one person you want to be with forever.

I found the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, and I think she feels the same way. We both want kids, even if we have to squeeze a handful of them into a tiny apartment –but I’m going to work very hard to make sure we have room. When I’m away from her I think about how good it would feel to wrap my arms around her. When I’m with her, I feel so content that I need to remind myself not to take that contentment for granted. I will work hard to make sure we have room for our kids. I will also make sure that I won’t let a day go by where Carrie doesn’t get kissed. If I can’t do it, I’ll find someone who can…and he better be a good kisser because my girl deserves the best.

I love Carrie so much, and can’t wait to start our own family and be a great father. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I should get married.

So, Carrie … how about it? Will you marry me?

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer who lives in Los Angeles.

He’s my …


 

The term “boyfriend” is like the knee joint on someone who is morbidly obese. It is being asked to do way more than it was designed

to do. It is buckling under the pressure. Where it once could do the job, it is now carrying too much weight.

Example: My grandma had a companion with whom she would converse and play bridge after my grandpa died. They had long phone conversations, saw movies together. He accompanied grandma to certain family events. He was over 90, he used a walker, but, technically, Roy was grandma’s boyfriend.

Something about the word is just so precious. And misleading. Unless you’re safely within the confines of a sorority house or discussing someone you met in a chat room last week, that word just doesn’t work. No matter how serious or long-standing the relationship is, once you refer to him as your boyfriend, it sounds all fluffy and insignificant — and gives me the distinct sense a pillow fight is going to break out any second.

So what should you call him if “boyfriend” doesn’t seem right to you, as it never has to me?

Let me help you avoid a mistake I recently made: do not say “my friend” when referring to your romantic partner. If you refer him simply as a friend, you might as well take him for a salt scrub followed by a matinee of “Miss Congeniality 2”; that’s how emasculated he will feel. This is because, sadly, “friend” is also the word used to describe male friends with whom you have no intention of having sex, so you see the problem here. It may be satisfyingly vague and pretty much accurate, but it’s also eunuch-izing.

Moving on. Let’s get into the novelty options: there’s “my old man” and “the old ball and chain.”

I like the former, as it seems to conjure a Hell’s Angels clubhouse and leather pants. Although it’s nice to use the argot of an extra in the movie “Mask,” it can seem somewhat out of place if your “old man” drives a Camry and invests regularly in his 401(k).

“The old ball and chain” has some camp value. But like “my old man” it can be tricky using a term to refer to your partner that contains the word “old.” If he actually is old, that’s uncomfortable. If he’s much younger, in the Demi/Ashton sense, no need to bring that into relief. I’ll throw in “my main squeeze” here as another troubling novelty term. The modifier “main” suggests you have numerous other “squeezes.” Is it just me, or does that sound like “Meet Joe, he’s my main squeeze. I have so many ‘squeezes’ I have to break them down into main, secondary and auxiliary”?

Above, I used the word “partner,” which I will lump in with “companion” as totally useless if you happen to be straight, because everyone associates these expressions with same-sex couples.

Here we head into the category of sugary terms: my sweetie, my honey, my cutie pie. These make me long for the relative class of “my baby daddy.”

A nickname that is used privately is one thing, but I’m talking about the need for a public term. He can be monkey, puppy, bobo or baby in private, but when it’s time to introduce him at a party, you will need a descriptor.

“This is my little puppy pants” is just not going to do when introducing him to your boss. Here is where “my honey” nauseates anyone within earshot, “my friend” pisses him off, “my old man” is trying too hard and “my baby daddy” only works if you have kids. You are stuck with boyfriend, which will make you feel like you’re in the 1950s. Or you’re 15. Or you just wrote his name on your sweatshirt in puffy paint.

If there’s one good reason to get married, it is simply to be able to use the dignified moniker “my husband.” Even “my fiancé” has limited appeal, but husband is solid, works for all ages (except maybe under 15, like in Appalachia, when it’s creepy).

This brings me to “my man,” which has a certain twangy charm. If you can pull it off, good for you and Tammy Wynette, but it’s a bit country for most of us. There’s always “beau,” which is old-fashioned and sweet, but also cloyingly French. “Lover” barely rates a mention, because even in the 1970s it was way too ’70s.

This is where I’m left. Lucky to have the guy, but wishing I had something better to call him.

Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?”

But I notice he didn’t call his play “Ralph and Bertha.”

Teresa Strasser is a TV host and Emmy Award-winning writer. She’s on the Web at teresastrasser.com.

 

The Haunted Divorce


She was beautiful. She was sweet, smart and reflective. She was a devoted mother of a little girl, clearly able to love and to carry on a bright, thoughtful conversation. We connected, and, in first moments made drunk by hope, we discovered a shared passion for the poet, Rumi, and told each other favorite lines…

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways

to kneel and kiss the ground!”

And…

“Don’t run around this world

looking for a hole to hide in.

There are wild beasts in every cave!”

There was spark between us. There was energy. There was a bucketful of that holy grail of dating … chemistry.

And then the conversation turned to what happened to “the marriage.” I told my sad story. And she told her sadder one — of her tender ex-husband, a loving, charismatic man who also happened to be bipolar. And who, on one bad day, off medication, killed himself.

A ghost.

As a new dater, I suddenly became afraid of ghosts.

Not the transparent kind that say “Boo,” but the opaque presence of lost love, something fleshy that sits in the room between the two of you, crooning to only one of you, “I still love you.”

Setting out onto the yellow brick road of singlehood at 40, I could already see it would be a haunted trail. Those of us, man or woman, who have been married a long time, who have birthed children together, dandled and diapered them together, those of us who thought we were building lifelong partnerships before we were betrayed or bored or desolate or dead inside, cannot help but be haunted.

Clearly, however, there were going to be all kinds of ghosts. To start, married — especially with kids — ghosts feel different than old boyfriend/girlfriend ghosts.

To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, marriage is based on the exaggeration of the virtues of one woman above all others. Jewish tradition might put it this way: marriage is a decision to hold before you the purest soul that dwells within your partner — no matter how cranky or depressed he or she may be at times — and by this practice, you will weather the inevitable storms of life, and perhaps touch the Divine.

“Harei at mekudeshet li, b’tabaat zu.” With this ring, I make you holy to me.

With apologies to the Catholic Church, you might say marriage, therefore, makes holy ghosts.

For while love — untended — dissipates, holiness is forever. Holiness hands you the parting gift of a permanent spectral companion who whispers in your ear, “Because you knew me, no matter what you hope or dream or believe about yourself — doubt it!”

By this early date, I already knew that I was accompanied by my own ghost, one made faint by long-palsied love. I would get used to it. But across the table, stoked by love interrupted, hers burned with the chilling luster of still holy love.

It was suddenly very cramped. Me. Her. My fading ghost. Her blazing one.

When I was married and miserable, I never understood why people said they hated dating. It looked like so much fun. Bodies in motion. Now I saw that when it’s more than fun, that when something deeper in you suddenly touches something deeper in another, ghosts come out to call and feed.

Clearly, I was a novice at this dating thing in more ways than one. I knew I wasn’t ready for this table for four, so I didn’t call her back. At least I could curl up with my Rumi, who whispered something more encouraging….

“Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.

Don’t try to see through the distances.

That’s not for human beings. Move within,

But don’t move the way fear makes you move.”

It was going to take a lot of practice.


Adam Gilad is a writer, producer
and CEO of Rogue Direct, LLP. He also teaches creative writing based on Jewish
texts at the UJ and privately. He can be reached at adamgilad@yahoo.com

.

Get Me to the Beach on Time


Tired of the same old country club I-dos? Bored with the been-there, danced-to-that-Beverly Hills reception? Why not take your wedding on the road?

At one time, destination weddings were reserved for celebrity vows, hushed elopements and civil ceremonies. Exotic locales meant no chuppah, no rabbi, and no kosher-wine toast. But today, Jewish couples can have their wedding cake and eat it, too. Brides and grooms are getting married on the sandy beaches of the Bahamas and under the neon lights of Sin City, where traditional religious ceremonies are being hitched to romantic getaway affairs.

Nikki Sutker, 27, has lived in Los Angeles for six years, but never thought of Tinseltown as home. She always assumed she’d get married in her hometown of Dallas. But when her fiance, Santa Ana police officer Scott Bender, explained that most of his L.A. friends and Walnut Creek family wouldn’t be able to make the trip to Texas, the couple opted for a Vegas wedding.

“We’re both big Vegas fans,” said Sutker, a counselor at Patrick Henry Middle School in Granada Hills. “L.A. was really never an option, Dallas didn’t work for Scott, and Vegas is always so much fun.”

They are regulars at Sinai Temple’s Friday Night Live, and they wanted a Jewish wedding with Vegas flair. On Aug. 8, they will be married in a ballroom at the Venetian Hotel. The Sunday night, black-tie optional wedding will be conducted under a chuppah by a local rabbi, and kosher meals will be provided for their more observant guests.

Both the bride and groom’s guests support the couple’s decision to have a destination wedding.

“Most people have decided to make a vacation out of our wedding. They’ll arrive in Vegas on Friday and leave Monday,” Sutker said. Bender’s groomsmen are planning a Friday night minibachelor party, the couple is planning a Saturday rehearsal dinner, and they will provide their guests with a guide to the weekend’s Vegas attractions.

“There’s so much to do in Vegas — we’re really excited to have our wedding weekend there,” Sutker said. “I just hope I don’t have to drag Scott out of the casino.”

For their destination wedding, Raphi and Danielle Salem chose moonlight over neon lights. Raphi loved the kibbutz weddings he had attended while living in Israel.

“The ceremonies were outdoors and the whole community was invited. I wanted my wedding to have that same feeling,” said Raphi Salem, who runs judaicastore.com. So when he and Danielle got engaged, they looked at traditional venues with outdoor accommodations. Unsatisfied with the hotel courtyards and banquet hall patios they saw, the couple decided to have their wedding at Club Getaway, a 300-acre family camp in Kent, Conn. Guests were encouraged to bring their children, and they slept in cabins on twin beds. Activities ranged from kickball, water-skiing and archery to egalitarian and Orthodox Shabbat services. Club Getaway even provided camp counselors.

“As children we both loved overnight camp, and we loved the idea of turning our wedding into a whole weekend camp event,” he said. “We’ve been to so many weddings where you eat, you drink, you dance, and you spend zero time with the bride and groom. Rather than see each of our friends for five minutes at the reception, we spent the whole weekend playing with them.”

The Salems married under an outdoor chuppah on the lakefront in a traditional ceremony conducted by two rabbis. All of the weekend’s food was kosher, including the reception’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich appetizers.

“The actual ceremony was just a formality,” he said. “What made our wedding special for us was spending time with our friends and family. Having our wedding at Club Getaway was what allowed us to do that.”

Like the Salems, Daniel and Amy Nissanoff wanted a destination wedding, kosher meals and a weekendlong celebration, but they also wanted to be wed in the Caribbean. The tropical resorts they looked into did not have kosher caterers and would only kosher their kitchen if the wedding party reserved the entire hotel. So the Nissanoffs found a hotel — an island — they could fill: They were married last June in Jumby Bay, a 300-acre private island located off the coast of Antigua. The couple’s 90 guests filled the Jumby Bay Resort, the island’s only hotel, and participated in four days of fun, sun and celebration. The weekend included a cocktail party, a beach barbecue, snorkeling, tennis, calypso dancing and culminated with the Sunday night wedding. The Nissanoffs flew in an Orthodox rabbi to conduct the ceremony, a mashgiach to supervise the kitchen and food preparation and ferried in kosher ingredients and wine to feed their guests.

Looking to control the size of their guest list, a destination wedding seemed a natural choice.

“We always talked about having a smaller, more intimate wedding” said Daniel Nissanoff, who grew up in Hancock Park and attended Cal State Northridge. “If we got married in Manhattan, we would have been obligated to invite 400 people.”

With Jumby Bay, the couple could pare down their guest list, and because attending the wedding required a substantial time and monetary commitment, only their most devoted friends and immediate family responded yes.

“It was a fantasy weekend,” said Nissanoff, the founder and chairman of a New York-based Internet company. “And believe it or not, it cost less than if we had stayed in New York. We would have rented a fancy hotel, hired a 20-piece orchestra and bought thousands of dollars worth of flowers. In Jumby Bay, we got more for our money, had a more casual reception and the island was filled with its own beautiful flowers.”

Not every Jewish couple can find a rabbi willing to fly to an exotic locale, so many who choose to have a destination wedding are forced to have a civil ceremony. This is no longer the case in the Bahamas. Five years ago, Freeport Hebrew Congregation President Geoff Hurst was sanctioned by the Union of Reform Judaism(URJ) (the regulatory body of Reform congregations) and the government of The Bahamas to officiate at Jewish weddings.

“I wanted to insure that couples coming to the Bahamas to be married could have a proper, Jewish wedding,” said Hurst, a retired pharmacist. “Not a single rabbi lives in the Bahamas, so I approached [URJ] and asked if I could officiate.”

Hurst, who will conduct ceremonies on any of the Bahaman Islands, screens his couples; they must want to be married under the chuppah, with kippot and witnesses and with traditional vows in English and Hebrew. He doesn’t charge for his services, but asks that couples pay any of his travel and hotel expenses, and make a donation to the congregation.

“How can I charge for this? It’s a mitzvah,” Hurst said. “I am simply helping Jewish couples wed in the Jewish tradition.”

I, Me, Not-Husband


I am completely frozen.

I have just walked out of a pitch meeting in Santa Monica. Wilshire Boulevard is breezy and gorgeous. It

is 4 p.m. I have been married for 17 years and now, it appears, I’m not. For the last 17 years I had a wife, a family, a home, a dock in the open sea of the world.

Moreso, for the last 10 years, I’ve had chubby, laughing babies to return to, who then morphed into muscled cyclones, ready to hurl themselves onto my back the moment I walked through the door, then preteens, eager to sing me their triumphs, real and imaginary, at school.

At the end of the day, I knew where to go — home.

But this breezy Tuesday afternoon, for the first time in 10 years, I will return to a house without my children in it. I will not read to them, hector them to clean up after themselves, praise their drawings, write with them, do homework with them, tell them to brush their teeth, watch them, listen to their piano practice, remind them to speak kindly, smell their sweet hair, gaze into their impossibly trusting eyes, touch their impossibly tender skin.

After 17 years, the marriage is over. We both came to the same realization on the same day — that in the whirlwind of working and child rearing and bill paying and housecleaning — our love had dissipated like spent steam. She doesn’t want a divorce, but a chance to define herself on her own terms — including in the arms of others — while maintaining the option of coming back to me. To me, that’s not separation. That’s divorce. And although it feels like unburdening myself of 1,000 pounds of pain, I don’t want it. And I do. And I don’t. And I do.

So here I stand on Wilshire Boulevard, more or less a single man for the first time, with no place to go.

And every place to go.

What do I do? When I was married and obliged to go home at the end of the day, I could think of all kinds of great things to do! Disappear into a bookstore and read, visit a friend, walk on the beach, go to a hotel bar and fantasize — just exhilarate in temporary, borrowed freedom, taking a stand for my theoretical independence as a human being. Of course, I never did those things. A good Jewish husband, I went home for dinner.

Now: Wilshire Boulevard. 4 p.m. Me. Ideas tick through my head. I could actually go the bookstore and read for four hours. I could go to a bar (but what would I say?). I could take a walk, go to a restaurant, call a friend, stroll the beach, go to a movie, listen to music, open the L.A. Weekly and see what the hell it is that people do at night. Are there sex clubs in Los Angeles? Hmmmm. Ideas tick faster. I could go to Vegas. Never been. I could drive to San Francisco — and back! I could go shopping, gorge myself on chocolate, sit at an outdoor cafe and knowingly nod at passersby with a faux Italian "buona sera."

To paraphrase Milton, the whole world lay before me.

Only, I don’t know which way to turn.

And so I stand.

And stand.

And stand.

Is this what single life is going to be like? Frozen? A pillar? Like Lot’s wife who turned to salt for looking backward?

Eventually I unfreeze. I start driving toward — where else? — home, but spot a Gelson’s and think one thing is for sure: I will need food. I grab a cart and it dawns on me that this time, I don’t need to buy her 8,000-grain bread, her weekly round of broccoli, chicken, etc. It hits like lightning. I can buy anything. I can eat anything. I pick up a bag of brown rice and ask it, "Do I like you? Or do I just eat you because that’s what we eat?"

I query the romaine lettuce and the Mueslix. I ask the organic milk if we really have a firm foundation between us worth that habitual extra dollar. I need, I tell the Empire chicken, to know just what our relationship means.

And so I stumble into the best metaphor I’ve inhabited for years. For two and half hours, I move slowly up and down the aisles of Gelson’s, scoping out the food, introducing myself to pastas and sauces and exotic fruits. I feel like the biblical Adam, new formed, stepping out of the Garden of Eden, destined to start from scratch.

Thus I begin the process of redefining myself. I will come to understand what it is that I, me, not-husband, like to eat. I will come to understand what it is that I, me, not-husband, like to do. And I will come to understand, in stages, what it is that I, me, not-husband, value in a woman, a lover, a companion and, if there is such a thing, a soulmate.

But first, I will have to go on a date.

As it turns out, this will cost me a whole lot more than this trip to Gelson’s.

Adam Gilad is a writer, producer and is CEO of Rogue Direct, LLP. He can be
reached at adamgilad@yahoo.com

Finished


It has been said that a man is not complete until he is
married. Then, he is finished.

Well, I got married.

When last we visited these pages, I was on my way to the
altar. My long-suffering girlfriend — lets call her Alison, although I can’t
see why we should, when her name is and always was Amy — agreed to the terms.
She has since told me there was nothing in the ceremony about “obey,” and you
can only imagine how much I wish I had paid more attention before the rings
were exchanged.

The wedding was lovely. Not a lavish, all-night affair, but
very lovely and intimate. Thirty-five people at one long table. The pictures
look great.

I would tell you about one of the funny toasts, but then if
certain unnamed people who were not invited knew that a certain other person
was, there would be trouble. I don’t understand any of this, but Amy says so,
and she usually knows what’s what, so I’m keeping my trap shut until she gives
me the go-ahead.

The honeymoon was short but sweet. We went to Lanai in Hawaii.
I figured if it was good enough for Bill Gates, it was good enough for Mr. and
Mrs. J. D. Smith.

We had a wonderful time, but the hotel was a little frayed
around the edges. We wrote a letter to the hotel manager voicing our several
complaints. We hoped they would reward our keen sense of observation with a
free stay at another one of their seedy hotels.

I always think that getting twice as much junk is not any
better than having a little less junk, but it didn’t work anyhow. No dice.

We’ve been busy little honeymooners since our return. Amy
had a career change — not a big one, and a good one at that, but it’s been a
little anxious.

She sold her condo. You’ve got nowhere to go now, honey. Now
we’re really, really married, and you’re stuck with me. Ha!

We had a bit of a tiff over something one day, and I,
predictably perhaps, found it funny. “What’s so funny?” she said.

It occurred to me that we were going to probably get over
every tiff, disagreement, dispute, fight and contretemps over the next 40 or so
years. There would be no winning or losing, some I’m sorrys, some tears, some
giggles, some hard feelings, some regrets, but we would get over all of it. You
gotta. You just gotta. It’s part of the deal. (Sometimes you can’t tell when
I’m paying attention.)

We’ve been together almost two years now, and we’ve both
noticed that it is entirely possible for a person to tell the same story on
more than one occasion. I’ve asked her to please try to seem like she hasn’t
heard the same old crap before, or we’ll run out of things to talk about in
year two. Just pretending is a big part of a happy marriage.

My wife (I love saying that: “my wife”) likes to do the
laundry. As a guy, it’s never been much of an issue with me either way.

Alison, or Amy or whatever her name, is could survive well
with only one set of undergarments — that’s how often she does the laundry. I
thought the name of the game was to see how much stuff you could save up and
fit into a single load. The things you learn when you get a wife.

One slight caveat on the laundry front, however: It seems
that my wife is not terribly good at doing the laundry. She’s like a guy who
cuts himself shaving every morning. Oh well, at least I don’t have to do it.

Although the name Smith is quite common, my wife has not
quite mastered its pronunciation yet. When we show up at a restaurant for
dinner, the maitre d’ can’t seem to find us in the book. “I don’t see a Smith
here, but you’re in luck: there is a Sniff party which hasn’t shown up yet for
their 8 p.m. reservation — I could seat you at that table.”

One day she turned to me and said, “Are you surprised we’re
married?” I knew what she meant; that we were total strangers not so very long
ago, and now look at us. But the answer was a definitive “no.”

I went to a lot of trouble to get an engagement ring made to
spec. We spent a lot of time planning the wedding. Then there was the wedding
and the honeymoon and everything, so, no, I was not surprised we were married.

A week later, I looked at her with a puzzled expression on
my face and said, “You’re still here?”

We’ve been married about five months now, but it doesn’t
matter. It’s a drop in the bucket. We ain’t going anywhere. Please don’t tell
anybody, but I’m pretty happy with the arrangement.

We agreed that we wanted 40 good years together, then I can
do whatever I want. In 2043 I’m going to start riding a motorcycle and take up
smoking. Until then, I’ll be home with my wife.  


J.D. Smith is finished at www.carteduvin.com
and
elsewhere.

Friendly Match-Ups


It was the perfect day for a wedding. As birds chirped, guests sniffled and the bride and groom exchanged vows, I sat in the back row and reflected on the wedding party, all dutifully standing at attention up front. The bridesmaids, decked out in periwinkle, were my former sorority sisters from college. The tuxedo-clad groomsmen were all my college drinking buddies. And most of the bridesmaids and groomsmen were married or engaged by now — to each other.

Come to think of it, only one groomsman was still single. And, of course, me. (And I had hooked up with that groomsman the night before. What did that say about our group of friends?)

Some people might call our group of friends "incestuous," but the phenomenon of friends becoming lovers had obviously transcended the Northwestern Class of 1997.

After the wedding, I traveled to New York City to visit an old friend from high school. He was in great spirits because he had just fallen in love with a beautiful, intelligent woman. She also happened to be my best friend from high school. Seeing these two, suddenly cuddly, suddenly tender, suddenly optimistic about their future was, well, unsettling. I should have been happy that all my friends are finding love and comfort in the arms of my other friends. But honestly, it freaked me out.

"Why is it," I ranted later to my roommate, "that all my friends are marrying each other?" I took a big slug of whiskey and declared, "It’s a little pathetic. It’s kind of like giving up on the outside world."

My roomie got a guilty look on her face and said, "Well, I have been doing a lot of thinking lately, and I think I want to marry Randy."

I was incredulous, shocked. Randy was our old friend from more than 10 years ago, who she never sees, who has a girlfriend and who lives in another city.

"He just understands me," she continued, "and he has always been there for me."

Great. Now even my roommate was in the enemy camp. I had noticed lately she had been spending a lot of time on the Web site, Friendster. Friendster is kind of like a six-degrees-of-separation dating site, where you can scope out your friend’s friends as potential love interests. Clearly, this "friend loving" is a national trend.

I started to wonder about that old phrase, "you can’t go home again." Maybe, by finding your future through a friend in your past, you really can connect with a simpler time — a time in high school when the future seemed limitless; a time in college when you rallied against impending adulthood. Plus, late-20s growing pains can be harsh — suddenly you have financial responsibilities, friends scattered across the country and insecurities about careers and relationships. Maybe we all felt like better people 10 years ago. And maybe our old friends help us remember that. But is that any reason to marry them?

I flipped through a bunch of old photos, gazing at the new brides and grooms in uncomplicated times — when our biggest problem was misplacing the keg tap. In every photo we were smiling, cuddling, buzzed and delirious. Did all my friends know back then that they were intended for each other? Was their love and devotion always there, but just hibernating?

I began to wonder if there was any one of my friends that I might fall in love with one day. I racked my brain, trying to figure out if I could, someday, see anyone else in a different light. I came up blank. Then, I wondered in reverse, how come none of my friends wanted to marry me? I was momentarily affronted until I remembered that I couldn’t fathom a future with any of them.

I looked up from my photos and around my living room. I did have a house, a dog, a pretty nice television for a girl, a fledgling career, and, yes, lots of friends. Maybe my future has been brighter for being alone. Maybe my future will continue to be enhanced without marring someone that reminds me of my past — who instead reminds me of the present.

As I tucked my photos away I realized something. Here is the thing about friends: whether you marry them or not, they will always be there for you. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.


Lilla Zuckerman is the co-author of the recently released “Beauty Queen Blowout: Miss Adventure No. 2,” (Fireside).

Damaged Goods


Have you ever noticed how people who buy a newspaper from a coin-operated rack tend to ignore the top paper, and dig down for the second or third copy?

It’s basically an attempt to get a more pristine copy, for fear that the top copy may be damaged or missing something. Many folks grab their fruit from the supermarket pile in the same way.

Such habits can often appear in the dating world, too. Of course, people want someone unmarried and therefore available. But if the person has been unmarried for too long, the doubts creep in: What’s wrong that person?

It’s not an unreasonable question. After all, the usual course of action is to get married in one’s 20s or 30s. And while it’s become more common for people to stay unmarried well into their 40s and beyond (and, of course, some never marry), many people find that hard to deal with.

“I can’t believe you’ve never been married!” is something I’ve heard a number of times lately. The comment does not seem to reflect “You’re such a prize, why haven’t you been snapped up already?” but rather, “That’s so abnormal. What’s wrong with you, anyway?” The unspoken suspicion: Damaged Goods.

There’s no real easy answer. I never expected to be in my late 40s in this way, and am certainly not against being married. In fact, the idea is more appealing now than when I was younger. I’ve had some lengthy relationships, and was even engaged briefly. But the situations weren’t right, with some key differences that weren’t able to resolve to both parties’ satisfaction — in other words, not Happily Ever After — and the various dates along the way were, simply put, not the right people to marry.

I’ve known and dated some fine women, as well as some that were way wrong. It’s the usual slow process of kissing all those frogs (or frogettes) and trying to find the right person — it’s just that more time has elapsed in the process than the norm. It’s easy to begin to feel freakish. My consolation is that in my age bracket there are lots of others in the same boat, and we don’t feel so freakish among ourselves. Usually.

Those of us in our upper 40s to mid-50s came of age at a time of changes in social patterns and expectations, questioning of established habits and confused personal explorations. For example, in my high school class, “The Prom” was looked upon with far more disdain than generations before or after — it was too uncool for the Woodstock era. Dorky, even. Getting married and having babies was even somewhat alarming for those who matured as Earth Day started up and global overpopulation reached consciousness.

About half the women I’ve dated in the last few years are “Never-marrieds.” Almost all of them had the chance — they were either engaged or involved long-term relationships.

Sometimes they regret that they didn’t marry so-and-so. And most of them still like the idea of getting married. But there is comfort in knowing that someone else is also a Never-married, that the insinuations of abnormality from friends and relatives are cushioned by the numbers of other singles in similar circumstances.

All this isn’t to say that the thought, “What’s wrong with you?” doesn’t come up even within Never-marrieds, or that it doesn’t sometimes have merit. There are plenty of mama’s boys, spoiled princesses, neurotics, obsessive-compulsives and so forth. Of course, there are plenty of those types who did get married, too. (Just ask their spouses!)

But there are also many decent singles who simply haven’t found the right person. Maybe their job was unstable, or their career was building. Or their looks won’t get them into any Abercrombie & Fitch ads. Or there was a dependent family member needing caretaking. Or they lived in Palmdale and nobody would date them. Or they saw marriages that ended badly and became gun-shy.

Plus, it’s just so difficult to meet decent people, especially in the West, with so much individuality and car-bound isolation. Many speak of Jewish singles events with dread, full of people either too withdrawn, or too phony and aggressive. JDate? Many people aren’t honest in their online profiles. Synagogues? Not very encouraging to singles. Special-interest groups such as for hiking? Good to meet another hiker, but there’s so much more to finding a soulmate.

Grabbing the wrong person just to say you’ve gotten married might’ve been a course of action a generation ago. But most singles today would rather retain a bit more hope, more money and fewer lawyers — and wait for a better situation. Or a dog.

And so the search goes on. And on. And time goes by.


Steve Greenberg is an editorial
cartoonist and artist in Ventura County who contributes cartoons and
illustrations to the Jewish Journal. His e-mail is steve@greenberg-art.com
.

A Ramah Union


David Ross and Lauren Schmidt met for the first time in Los Angeles in May 2000. Or at least, the couple is pretty sure that was the first time.

Raised in Palo Alto, David was an active member of United Synagogue Youth since his early childhood, and spent every summer at Camp Ramah in Ojai, first as a camper and then as a staff member.

Little did he know that his future wife slept only a few bunks away during those summers at Ramah.

Lauren grew up in Austin, Texas, and was involved with Young Judea and various Jewish summer camps. In the summers of 1992 and 1993, Lauren traveled west to work as a counselor at Camp Ramah.

Despite spending summers at the same camp and sharing a passion for music, Lauren and David did not remember meeting each other when their paths crossed again through a mutual friend in 2000.

"It’s almost impossible that we never even said ‘Hello’ through two entire summers at camp," David said. "But we really didn’t remember each other at all."

Although they sensed a connection, Lauren still lived in Austin, and 2,000 miles was enough to dissuade David from pursuing a relationship.

"I remember telling my friends, ‘Too bad she lives in Texas,’" David said. "I thought we really hit it off, so the distance was pretty disappointing."

David’s disappointment soon turned to excitement when he traveled to Texas with his band, Milot Ha’Nefesh, to open for musician David Broza at Young Judea’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Lauren watched, then met David and his band. Even though they barely remembered each other, sparks flew and, three weeks later, David was in Austin meeting Lauren’s family. After a 10-month long-distance relationship, Lauren packed her bags and moved to Los Angeles in February 2003.

Only two months after her move, Lauren found more than matzah in the afikomen bag on the second night of Passover: David had hidden an engagement ring among the broken crumbs.

"Then I got down on one knee, and she said yes," David said. "It worked out well. We had been joking about wedding lists after we were together for three weeks, so it didn’t really surprise either of us."

The couple currently lives in the Pico-Robertson area and is strongly involved in the Jewish community. Lauren, a graduate of the University of Kansas with a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas, is a school therapist in Santa Monica. David, who graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in music composition, still works for Ramah and travels with his band. They will be married on Nov. 2, 2003, at Camp Ramah.

"It’s a little bit like ‘When Harry Met Sally,’" David said. "Their paths had crossed several times over 10 years, but nothing happened. The same was true with us — it just proves to us that it was meant to be."

Do the Jews Need Geraldo


Geraldo Rivera has rediscovered his Jewish roots, and he declares the Jews "need" him back.

Rivera, 59, the flamboyant TV reporter, recently announced to the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post that he is planning to marry TV producer Erica Levy, 29, in a Reform ceremony in New York this summer.

Rivera, whose mother is Jewish and father is Puerto Rican, told The Washington Post that "the Jews need me right now," apparently, according to the Inquirer, to help sort out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rivera could not be reached for comment, but he told The Washington Post that he is going to "take this whole Judaism thing seriously" from now on.

While this is his fifth wedding, Rivera said it’s his first in a synagogue or church. He celebrated a dual bar mitzvah in Israel with his oldest child, Gabriel, now 23.

Rivera has come under fire for some of his TV work in Israel and the Palestinian territories for Fox News. The media watchdog groups StandWithUs.com and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), blasted Rivera in 2002 for his reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Although uninformed coverage of the Israel-Palestinian crisis is common, Rivera’s combination of inanity and incessant self-reference to his own feelings, reactions and experiences has prompted particular audience disgust and derisive criticism from other journalists," CAMERA said.

That April 2002 criticism came after Rivera said that although he had been a lifelong Zionist and "would die for Israel," Palestinian suffering was turning him also into a "Palestinian-ist."

Rivera and Levy are due to wed this August at the 128-year-old Central Synagogue in Manhattan. The guest list at the ceremony and reception, to be held at the tony Four Seasons, is said to include the likes of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Upon learning of Rivera’s Jewish wedding, Andrea Levin, executive director of CAMERA, said, "He’s not going to be a Palestinian-ist anymore?"

While a Jewish marriage "doesn’t always necessarily guarantee level-headed reporting," she added, "I certainly hope he has a long and happy marriage and that it helps inform his reporting."

The Early Midlife Crisis


My 29-year-old cousin, "Barry," is having his first "midlife" crisis. By simple math, this would put his entire life span at a scant 58 years, well shy of the actuarial tables’ prediction. His midlife crisis should be about 10 years hence. It’s been a slow week over here at my place, so let’s take a look at his misery, shall we?

Barry falls short of the $1 million he’d counted on having in the bank by, oh, about $1 million and change. He could live with that, but now his car lease is up and it looks like he’ll be downsizing out of the go-go ’90s-era "starter" Lexus into something more in line with his new budget — something with really great mileage. His sense of entitlement is badly bruised by something called "reality." He checks his cholesterol. He wears sunscreen. He takes Viagra. He’s a little old man.

Much of Barry’s pain arises from his relationship, with an emphasis on the lack thereof. He’s getting more than his share of barfly action, but he can’t seem to string three dates together without supervision. I get a call almost every Monday morning about some girl he met over the weekend that he "thinks" he likes. That’s what he says: "I think I like this girl." He’s not sure. It sounds as if he’s leaving the door open. By Wednesday, he’s already out that door and making plans to go trawling for fresh trouble on Friday night.

My cousin basically acts like the standard man: he’s in hot pursuit, then running as fast as he can in the other direction when he realizes that by catching up with his quarry, she has caught up with him, too. Nothing new there, but he seems to think he’s doing something wrong. Usually it takes several years of this kind of bad behavior (and a change of therapists) before a fellow starts to think seriously about settling down to a life that has a bit of normalcy to it.

The problem is that he’s just now got his "game" on. Despite being tall and handsome, Barry struggled with girls for years. He seemed to attract a particular species of very dramatic, pretty young ladies. He’s got a scar on his left cheek from where a broken bottle cut him in a bar fight. (I would love to have a scar from a bar fight.)

I’m afraid Barry is becoming a little too comfortable with his bachelor life, buying frozen dinners or stopping for takeout on the way home. To his mind, he’s getting that much closer to spending his life alone in a squalid apartment. Less nights out, more TiVo. When he does get out, it’s easier to justify drinking and carrying on all night because he knows that there may not be another opportunity to feel good for a while. Something called "work" seems to be getting in his way.

Meanwhile, he’s going to a wedding every month as he watches his college friends tie the knot. He’s keeping himself busy with bridesmaids, but by the time the happy couple returns from their honeymoon, he’s certain that none of those crinoline-clad aisle-walkers are for him — until he hears that one of them is altar-bound. Then he has second thoughts about all the good ones who got away. Their numbers are growing, while he busily attends to the sowing of his oats. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, it seems the less he knows these gals, the more he mourns their loss.

Suddenly, on the cusp of his 30th birthday, he wants to be married. The only problem is that he doesn’t want to be married to anyone in particular. He’s probably got a little while before he’s ready for anything as serious as going steady, but I don’t think men who live in cities should consider marriage until they’re over 30. I hate to sound like a little old man myself, but when I was his age it never even occurred to me that I would wind up with any of the women I knew. What’s his hurry? These days, the notion of marrying your college sweetheart seems so quaintly anachronistic, and so terribly, terribly wrong. He’s still got work to do.

And now that he’s run the table at the United Nations of Babes, he’s decided the lucky girl of his dreams ought to be Jewish. "Mazel Tov!" I say to Jewish girls everywhere.

Why I’m Still Single


A friend of mine and I were sitting at Canter’s having lunch when we were discussing my dating life — or lack of it. Since he knows what a cool guy I am, he suggested that there was just one tactic to take — to make up an ex-wife and a divorce so that I could avoid the stigma of having never been married. He went a step better — he went for the widower concept, which I liked, and embellished with the death of my wife in a tragic car wreck.

But here’s the problem: It’s not so much that I’m against lying on principle, it has its place. It’s just that I suck at it.

And in the best- (or worst-) case scenario, I would have to continue the charade with tales of my courtship and marriage, the details of the accident and whether I’m in touch with her parents and siblings, etc. I’d have to basically write my own Lifetime TV movie.

So, in the interest of honesty, and because I cannot afford more therapy, I am going to address, once and for all, the issue of why such an incredible, well-liked and modest guy has never been married.

First of all, I was a late bloomer. Although I had an amazing date for my senior prom, she broke my heart, and I had zits. So I never got married in high school.

In college, I didn’t have a car and partied a lot. I went to the weddings of several friends my senior year, and it was pretty obvious that those marriages were in trouble. My main concern was the draft. So I never got married in college.

After college, I got the most incredible job in the history of mankind, due to the fact that my father was the treasurer of a large travel agency. For the next seven years, I was a tour guide in Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Cancun, Rome, Paris and Tahiti, just to name a few. I learned to play tennis quite well and got an amazing tan. Needless to say, I didn’t get married.

After that I moved to Los Angeles and became a screenwriter. I had a serious relationship that ended when I decided that it wasn’t quite right. Thereafter, I went out with every flake and insane model and actress in Los Angeles. By the way, in case you didn’t know this, struggling screenwriters are not considered marriage material by women of substance. So I didn’t get married in my 30s.

And I even made a bit of money writing screenplays, but you couldn’t call it a career — although I tried. And I made good money as a legal secretary. But you know what, legal secretary is a crappy job to meet women.

Oh, did I mention that I am the only child of Holocaust Survivors? So I had a very close home life and was devoted to my parents, who were quite a bit older than my friends’ parents, and in most cases, a lot smarter. Well, my father passed away when I was 37 and he was 86. He was a very wise man. He loved my mother deeply but he would say to me, at least three times a week, (translated from German) — “marry infrequently.”

So I did. Very infrequently.

My mother lived in La Jolla, and I went down there about every third weekend to make sure that she was OK and to pick up some free food — she would generally pack a cooler of Czech specialties and lox for me to take back to L.A. Made it rough to really get married with all that free food.

When things stabilized, my mom died. Now I was really devastated because I couldn’t really figure out why I needed to get up in the morning, so I didn’t bother. Well, not really. I went into therapy and discovered that I was really a hell of a guy, and that I had a right to feel bad.

So I got back into the thick of things and wrote a couple of computer books and decided it would be nice to find love with a good woman, but everybody I dated would ask me: “So how come you’ve never been married?”

Translation: “What is wrong with you anyway?”

So I met this woman I really liked — and I even really liked her dog, Max. I even walked him on Sundays and cleaned up his poop. She was worried I would never make a commitment, but right after Valentine’s Day, she woke up and asked me at 1 a.m., “Are you going to make $100,000 next year?”

You know, I really miss Max.

So I bought a condo on the Westside and had a big party, and all my friends said, “Man this is a great place to bring a lady.” But the women at the party all asked me, “So how come you’ve never been married?”

So I decided that instead of lying or making up an ex who died in a car wreck, I’m going to photocopy this column. At my age I go to the bathroom quite a bit, so over dinner, when I need to take a break, I’ll let her read it. We’ll see what happens.

I will also post it on dating boards online under the area, “What I’ve learned from my relationships.”

What have I learned from them? Mostly, I know that thing with the toilet seat, and a lot of times I even take tissue and wipe the hair from the drain in the shower.

Next time: Why I’m not six feet tall.

Bundles of Joy


The stork has been awfully busy lately.

It seems as though everyone I know is having a baby. A couple I haven’t heard from in months sent a postcard with a picture of what I thought was a Sharpei puppy — it turns out the little boy’s name is Jesse. I didn’t even know they were expecting.

Of course, in the bargain, I’ve lost all my friends. They’re no fun any more. They’re very busy doing not very much. They can’t go anywhere, especially if they’ve got more than one child. When they do get out of the house it’s all they can talk about and, honestly, there isn’t that much to say about a little baby. You see these people with the 1,000-yard stare at Blockbuster, returning the overdue videos they haven’t had time to watch, despite the fact they’ve been home every night for months.

I’ve been to visit a lot of these babies. I don’t understand how The Gap can be in a sales slump with all the baby gifts I’m buying. If you’re not one of the parents, there’s not much for you to do. You look the kid over, rain praise on its incredible good looks, hold it long enough until it emits some vile fluid or hurts itself, and then you hand it back to its owner to mop up. It’s like a slow, sloppy game of “hot potato.”

A visit to a newborn should take an hour at most, by the end of which time you will have determined if the child looks more like the mother, the father, Winston Churchill or Lyndon Johnson. That important business concluded, you’re free to leave these people behind and do whatever you want. Going to “see the baby” is a lot like going to see a convicted felon.

I have a single friend named Gina, who is determined to have a child in the next year. Gina has also decided that she doesn’t need a man’s help in getting the job done. Not much, anyway. She’s come to the conclusion that, at age 35 with no “significant other” in her life, she’ll get the baby thing out of her system so she can get on with her life. She doesn’t want the pressure of having to rope some guy, get married and then hurry up to have a child. She reasons that men run from the scent of desperation, and maybe she’s right. You might argue that two parents are better than one, but where’s poppa when you need him? She’s got a gay donor-daddy and an eminent fertility doctor — and they’ll do just as well in a pinch.

I’ve heard stories from the old days about young women getting pregnant and leaving town, going to stay with a relative until the baby was born. There was a time when being a single mother was a shonda. Not now. At some point, having the fellow around is basically a nuisance. Meanwhile, Gina’s family has rallied around her with unbridled support, beaming grandparents-to-be waiting for the fatherless child.

So here’s the rub: I want a child. My biological daddy clock is happily ticking away with no sign of wearing out. The warranty is still good for another several years, but suddenly the snooze alarm is broken. I’m not exactly hanging around schoolyards getting all misty, but the idea is getting more and more appealing to me. I’d prefer one that already walks and talks, but I understand they don’t come that way direct from the factory.

Now I want diapers and runny noses and little, bitty clothes and brightly colored toys and big books by Dr. Seuss and one of those walker things in the kitchen. I want to get woken up at ungodly hours and struggle with a baby seat, and I want to call a pediatrician “just to be safe.” I also want my friends back. None of their behavior will seem nearly as odd when I’m in the same boat with them.

Incredibly, it seems, I’m going to have to get a woman involved somewhere in the process. I feel like Frank Sinatra in my best pressed tweeds: All I really need is the girl.

J.D. Smith is expecting @ www.lifesentence.net.

A Belated Wedding Present


The ad caught our eye: an all-expense paid Shabbatweekend at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute for couples married withinthe past 18 months. I had been to Brandeis before, so I knew that, ifnothing else, my husband, Neal, and I would experience a tranquilShabbat in a beautiful setting.

The weekend program was the brainchild of RabbiAlvin Mars, executive vice president of the institute, who identifiednewly married couples as a population for whom no programming existedwithin the Jewish community. Mars designed a program to enable thesecouples to meet others like themselves within a Jewish context, andhe obtained funding to hold three pilot sessions in 1997 through theCotsen Family Foundation. The weekends were so well-received that thefoundation agreed to fund five sessions annually over the next threeyears as the Cotsen Institute for Newly Married Couples.

The program’s goals are simple: to provide apositive experience within a Jewish framework and to give couples achance to meet and befriend other Jewish couples. The onlyrequirements are that couples be married within the past 18 months,and that the marriage be performed by a rabbi.

“That is the only program of its kind in the worldthat I am aware of,” says Mars. “This isn’t a case of couplesprojecting how things might be once they are married,” he says.Instead, participants examine their marriage as it currently exists,and explore how they want it to be.

Our weekend, held March 6-8, drew 32 couples, mostin their 20s and 30s, and a few in their 40s. There were severalsecond marriages, at least three expectant couples, and one with a6-month-old baby at home. Three couples trekked up from San Diego toparticipate.

When it comes to Shabbat, Brandeis-Bardin has amagical effect: Once you pass through the gates and drive downPeppertree Lane, you feel truly removed from the commotion and stressof everyday life. The 3,000 acres, exceptionally green after recentrains, offer beautiful vistas and lots of opportunities for hiking.The newly constructed meeting and dining complex, completed followingthe 1994 Northridge earthquake, only adds to the appeal.

Our formal program began with Shabbat services.According to Mars, BBI seeks to be “an entry for the entire Jewishpeople,” and staff are careful to present Judaism in a welcoming,non-threatening manner. The institute even has its own prayer bookand unique melodies so that observant and nonaffiliated Jews alikeare “equally uncomfortable.”

At dinner, which was surprisingly tasty, couplesbegan getting to know one another. As my husband observed,newly-marrieds are like a fraternity of sorts, and we gleefullyswapped details about when and where we had gotten married, where wehoneymooned and how we’d heard about this weekend.

Shabbat morning services were led by Rabbi ScottMeltzer, scholar-in-residence, who used the Torah portion’sdiscussion of the tabernacle to make an analogy to the new home eachcouple was establishing. My husband and I have made a commitment toincorporating Jewish practice and ritual in our home, and RabbiMeltzer’s comments made me feel good about the patterns we had begunto set.

The welcoming atmosphere and spectacular settingbegan to have its effect, as couples became more relaxed and lessinhibited. We found ourselves doing things we might not do in thereal world, such as singing songs arm-in-arm or trying Israelidancing for the first time. Even the fact that cabins were furnishedwith twin beds became an ongoing source of humor.

As the program continued, couples were invited togather in sets of three to share stories of how they met. Later,couples discussed privately their individual values and how theywished to translate those values as a new family unit.

Neal and I had taken a “Making Marriage Work”seminar before our wedding, so we had discussed many of the topicsraised over the course of the weekend. For some couples, however, thesessions provided an opportunity to cover new territory. But if Nealand I didn’t discover any earth-shattering revelations about ourrelationship, we nevertheless fulfilled the program’s goals: Wereaffirmed and clarified our feelings about building a Jewish homeand met some couples whom we plan to contact in the future. We alsogot to enjoy the clean air, take brisk walks and spend time focusingon one another.

“I hope every couple that gets married will take[the weekend] as a gift from the Jewish community,” says Meltzer.It’s a gift that any couple could appreciate.

The next weekend for newly married couples will beheld in the fall. For more information, call Rabbi Scott Meltzer atthe Brandeis-Bardin Institute at (805) 582-4450.


+