Sunday, November 13, 2011


I am vain; there’s no denying it.

I only post flattering pictures (mostly old ones) on Facebook. My business card photo is probably 15 years old, and it took three rolls of film—yes, film—to get one glamorous shot. I used to wear jeans so tight I had to lie down and use pliers to get them zipped. I wore eyeliner to the operating room when I went for cataract surgery. I dye my hair.

This confessional came up because recently I used the word “slip” to a woman twenty-something years younger than I and she didn’t know what I meant. “Petticoat” was no help either.

Discussing the extinction of petticoats with Nicodemus this morning, I told him about Spanx. Probably I am the last person in the world to learn about Spanx, a kind of super-corset which squashes female flesh. They make Spanx “body-sculpting” underwear in all sorts of forms to fit parts from shoulder to toes. God knows what the things do to your insides.

Before I learned about Spanx, I was curious to notice, looking at pictures of a lovely chubby tango dancer (nobody we know) in a strapless dress, that she had a pleat in the skin between her bare shoulder blades. What could cause such a thing, I wondered. Did she know her skin was pleated?

Now I am wondering if these garments have to be removed with scissors. Can you bend from the waist? Has there ever been a Spanx explosion where the flesh comes tumbling out of the constriction? And is it really worth it to suffer for the sake of looking thinner than you are? (Or younger. With thick eyelashes.)

In the interest of research, I took a look at advertisements for Spanx. No, I am not going to buy any. And, searching for the etymological root of the word Vanity, I looked at the Greek version of Romans 8:20: “For the creation was made subject to vanity...” The word is also translated as frailty or weakness.

You might think vanity would be opting for appearance over reality, or the capitulation to some sort of cultural imperative regarding ideal beauty. But maybe it could also represent an effort to get one’s outsides to look more like one’s inner sense of self. How many people do you know who like photographs of themselves? How many do you know who catch a fleeting glance in a mirror and think “Who the heck is that?”

(Narcissus, from John William Waterhouse painting, Echo and Narcissus, 1903.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Nonda and Ed: This morning’s New York Times reproduced its front page from Nov. 9, 1965, about the huge blackout which happened when we were living on Riverside Drive in New York City. I thought I’d send you a copy of the front page and remind you about what happened that evening.

I was still at work at the United Nations delegation on the lower east side of the city when the lights went out. It was almost closing time for the office on the seventh floor of the Harcourt Brace building and when the power went out, we were completely in the dark. The elevators were not working, of course, so we decided to walk down the steps by the light of various people’s matches and lighters.

Once we were outside, there was pandemonium in the streets. All the subways were stopped under ground, the traffic lights were not working, and every time a bus would come by, people would rush in a crowd to get on any bus going uptown. The office was on about 54th Street and our apartment was on 168th. Caught in the noisy, pushing crowd, I shouted out “What are we all here? Animals?” People were so shocked by this outburst that they actually stepped back and let me on the bus, which was bound for Harlem. I got on the packed bus, terribly worried about you kids, and rode as far as the bus went, to about 145th Street.

Then I got out and walked some thirty blocks through some of the roughest neighborhoods in New York. The only light we had was a little moonlight and the headlights from cars and buses. Pedestrians and cars were going everywhere in a kind of mad tangle, but though everybody seemed to be out on the street, nobody bothered me, I was not robbed, mugged or maimed, and finally I got to 168th and Broadway and crossed the street in the dark, heading down to Riverside Drive.

When I reached our building, I saw a little light on in the superintendent’s apartment at street level, but of course the rest of the building was dark. I knocked at the door and was greeted by the mother of Junior Collazo, Nonda’s little friend and the super’s son. When I looked in, I saw Junior and you two about to chow down on some delicious-looking tamales wrapped in corn husks. Your baby-sitter, Kay, had left you two with the Collazo family and had gone home to the Bronx. By then it must have been about 7:30 or 8 P.M.

I don’t remember what happened after that. I just remember how scared and worried I had been, and what a peaceful scene it was, you two sitting happily at the table, about to eat a delicious dinner by lamplight.

Love from Mom