Clothing Stores Need Mirrors

The lady who was hogging the mirror looked a lot like this!

The lady who was hogging the mirror looked a lot like this!

Has anyone else noticed the very strange trend in New York City clothing stores these days where it’s practically a miracle if you can find a mirror?

I don’t get it.  Clothing stores ought to require mirrors.  Everybody isn’t into going to the dressing room to try on clothes.  If you know the size will fit, it’s easier to just hold the item on its hanger up in front of your reflection in the mirror and, if the color and/or style looks great, then purchase it.  Period.  Easy, schmeasy.

Lately, though, finding the amenity of a mirror in a clothing store can seem more like going on a hunt.  There’s a dearth of mirrors in the two outlets near my house in Brooklyn, in JC Penney in the Manhattan Mall, and, I discovered tonight, in Burlington Coat Factory on Sixth Avenue and 22nd Street.

The third floor of that particular Burlington seems to primarily contain coats, so that makes this mirror shortage even more bizarre to me.  Coat purchasers don’t usually bring the coats they want to try on into a dressing room since there’s no need to undress.  It’s all done in front of the mirror.

If you can find it.

Tonight, after walking around all over the floor, I finally uncovered a mirror, an event that made me feel like it was worthy of a prize.

Unfortunately a woman had found it before me.

She was big.


And wide.

Easily almost as wide as the mirror.

And relentless in the way she was trying on coats.

First she’d strut this way, frowning.  Then that.  Then the other.

She’d look at herself with her collar up, her collar down, her belt tied this way, her belt tied that.  Front view, side view, rear view – of everything.  Twist.  Turn.  Repeat.  And repeat.

This was not a polite woman.  She reminded me of Ursula the octopus from The Little Mermaid, but without the charm.  She wouldn’t get her massive visage out of the way to let anyone else have a turn in front of that glass.  Oh, no.  There were four of us waiting to try on coats and we couldn’t get near that mirror.  It’s not her boudoir, it’s a public store.

The martinet finally realized we were waiting, but still she wouldn’t stop strutting her stuff in front of the glass pane.  “There is other mirror on other side of floor!” she barked at us, pointing, the human personification of a frownie face.  “Go there!  Other mirror!”

She didn’t want to move her huge strutting rump so we should go on the other side of the floor?!!!

Well, we all started laughing.  “You just have to laugh at a situation like this,” one lady said to me, shaking her head.

“She’s telling us to move when she won’t?” said the second one.

“I’m not going to let this get to me,” said another.

“She’s so rude it’s almost funny – and she doesn’t even realize it,” I said.

“Exactly,” the others agreed.

“What can you do with someone like that?” said the first one.

“Use her as blog material,” I said with a grin, “what else?”

The moral of the story?  As always, you can’t control the putzes, since they’re everywhere, but mirrors aren’t, so some of these clothing stores really ought to add more mirrors!

Take Action & Help the Hungry: Mary’s Meals!

Mary's Meals is feeding hungry children in countries all over the world!

Mary’s Meals is feeding hungry children in countries all over the world!

Tonight I found out about a charitable organization that put an instant smile on my face and is bound to inspire one  to land on yours, too.

Mary’s Meals is its name, and its mission is stunningly simple yet effective: the group sponsors one healthy, vitamin-fortified meal a day for impoverished children to enjoy at school.

It’s not only fighting hunger.

It’s not only creating healthier children in Third World countries.

It’s also inspiring the children to attend school.

It’s even inspiring parents of girls, whose education is considered a waste of time in many cultures, to send their daughters to school so they can get something to eat.

Mary’s Meals is, in other words, changing the world, one child with a full belly at a time.

To make matters even more fabulous, the organization can feed a child for a year – for the mere sum of $19.50!  That’s less than it will cost me when I go to Barnes and Noble tomorrow to pick up the book , The Shed That Fed A Million Children, written by Mary Meals’ founder, Mangus MacFarlane-Barrows of Scotland.  He started the organization many years ago, in a shed in his parents’ backyard, where he was gathering supplies to help children in Bosnia.  But good ideas sometimes take off like rockets, and MacFarlane-Barrows soon found himself leading a global organization.  They utilize locally grown food and companies in every country they serve, which helps their economy, in addition to enhancing the lives of their children.

Mary’s Meals was named in honor of the Virgin Mary – who raised her son in poverty.  Yet this is not a religious organization.  They don’t try to proselytize or convert the kids, just fulfill the need for them to get fed.  The children’s religions don’t matter.  This is an organization for them all!

Here is a video, called CHILD 31, about Mary’s Meals, which I’ve watched twice so far and am about to view again.  So many times I’ve seen videos about children in Third World countries who are starving and sobbing with hunger.  There are several of those in this video, too, but with a difference: those are like the “before” images.  What I absolutely love about this video is seeing how healthy the children depicted in the schools that are served by the organization look after they’re getting their “daily bread.”  Enjoy!  And please consider joining me in supporting Mary’s Meals, too.

Isn't it wonderful to see all of these little ones from Third World countries looking so HEALTHY?

Isn’t it wonderful to see all of these little ones from a Third World country looking so HEALTHY?

Some World War II Heroes Weren’t Soldiers: RIP, Rachel de Leeuw

Mrs. de Leeuw, Annie and Rachel, circa 1935, in Holland.

Mrs. de Leeuw, Annie and Rachel, circa 1935, in Holland.

I never met her, but she was one of my heroes since I first read about her when I was about twelve years old.

Rachel de Leeuw was the older sister of Johanna Reiss, then known as “Annie” de Leeuw, author of THE UPSTAIRS ROOM and THE JOURNEY BACK, books that dealt with her Jewish family’s incredible story of survival during World War II in Nazi-occupied Holland.

Annie, the youngest, was fourteen years younger than Rachel, and ten years younger than the third sister, Sini. Their mother was very ill and the two older girls became surrogate mothers to Annie.

As their mother’s health deteriorated, so did the conditions for Jewish people in Holland. Their mother, who was fatally ill, entered the hospital. The Nazis were rounding up Jewish families for deportation to what they deemed “work camps.” The rest of the de Leeuw family, led by a clear-thinking, savvy father who realized the Nazis’ stories about these so-called “work camps” couldn’t possibly bode well or be a good thing, arranged for himself, and his daughters, to go into hiding until the war was over.

This cannot be held up for anything, and unfortunately, “anything” includes the imminent death of the girls’ mother. The Nazis already tried to round up the family at their former address and could have apprehended them at any moment. Mr. de Leeuw and the three girls have to leave to join the families that would be hiding them – at once.

The father has to go to one hiding location and the three sisters, Annie, Sini and Rachel, were all set to go to another one together – to the Hannink family. However, it’s the eldest girl, Rachel, who voluntarily stays behind at first. The local hospital will not prepare kosher meals for the girls’ dying mother, so Rachel remains in their hometown of Winterswijk to make them for her.

This may sound like a minor thing, but it isn’t.

It’s major.

Rachel de Leeuw could have been arrested, and ultimately killed, for being Jewish, but she was also a great daughter. Rachel opted to stay for a few more week to take care of those meals for her mother. She was fully cognizant of the fact that she was risking arrest by doing this, and yet, she stayed.

She also was involved with preparing little Annie for her trek to her hiding place in Usselo. She cut the child’s hair like a little boy’s and put her in a boy’s outfit, the better to evade Nazi scrutiny as the ten-year-old left town on a bus. Rachel also walked behind her on her way to the bus stop, “riding shotgun,” as it were, to make sure the little girl made it onboard safely.

Again, it may seem like a small gesture, for an older sister to make sure a younger one boarded a bus. But Rachel wasn’t supposed to be out on the street, watching over her little sis. She was risking her life.

Yet there she was.

Rachel remained in town until her mother died, and even saw to her burial. Ultimately, she wasn’t able to join Annie and Sini at their hiding location. She was sent to the home of a reverend who is famous in Holland, and ought to be famous here, too, for his role in helping to hide Jewish people during such a dark time: Reverend Frits Slomp. Recently it came to light that Rachel was concealed behind a false wall when Nazis raided the house, looking for contraband people. They fired gunshots into the wall, which was one of their preferred ways of ferreting out the hidden. Rachel, thank God, didn’t stir and wasn’t hit.

Rachel was later moved to another hiding place, where she was hidden all alone. She missed her sisters so much that she traveled, by night, on a bicycle, and using false identification papers, just to have the chance to visit them. One more time: it may seem like one small step for Rachel, but it was huge. She risked her life yet again to see Sini and Annie.

I didn’t know when I read these books as a child that one day Annie would become one of my very best friends in the world, but that’s exactly what happened. I never met Rachel, but only because, by the time I met Annie, her heroic older sister was too old to visit her in New York like she used to.

It broke my heart today to hear that Rachel, at age 97, died early this morning in a nursing home in Holland. At the same time it makes me want to stand up and cheer to know that the amazingly gutsy Rachel died peacefully, with her daughter by her side, and didn’t have her light extinguished prematurely, back in the 1940’s, due to the hate of a madman.

There is a Yiddish proverb that hangs on a sign over my desk at work. It says, “Don’t be scared when you have no other choice.” Rachelina de Leeuw Akker, “Lini” to her family and friends, personified it. She was a woman whose like we may never see again, as awesome as any one of our World War II veterans who also showed enormous courage, simply because the situation warranted it, when they stormed Normandy Beach to liberate these three sisters, and their father, and all of Europe, from the insanity of the Nazis. Yet from what Annie tells me, Rachel never quite realized how off-the-charts fantastic she was.

May this wonderful woman rest in peace and finally know what an inspiration she has been to everybody who read her little sister’s books, and will be for generations of readers to come, too.

THE UPSTAIRS ROOM by Johanna Reiss tells the first part of the story.

THE UPSTAIRS ROOM by Johanna Reiss tells the first part of the story…

...and THE JOURNEY BACK, also by Johanna Reiss, tells the rest of it.

…and THE JOURNEY BACK, also by Johanna Reiss, tells the rest of it.

Want to Read a Page-Turning Thriller?

RED NOTICE by Bill Browder: I can't put it down!

RED NOTICE by Bill Browder: I can’t put it down!

If you want to read a page-turner that’s as riveting as a fictitious mystery, I highly recommend RED NOTICE by Bill Browder.

This is a true story about Bill Browder’s savvy business moves in Russia…and what happens when a good guy gets on the wrong side of bad people, post-Soviet-style.

What I especially like about it is the author’s descriptions of some of the hideous places where he worked prior to starting his own firm.  Bill Browder doesn’t gloss anything over.  The high-finance characters he deals with are as funny as they are oddly fascinating.

The book is so well-written that it even explains high stakes finance in a way that someone like me can understand it.  This made me wish I’d majored in business or finance.  Hey, it’s never too late to learn more about both!


SWEENEY TODD at Candlelight Theater in Delaware

Me with Catherine Ard in her "Mrs. Lovett" costume, right after the show.

Me with Catherine Ard in her “Mrs. Lovett” costume, right after the show.

Once upon a time two little girls whose mothers were best friends, and hadn’t seen one another in several years, got together – and realized they both loved musical theater.  In particular, we were both into the musical ANNIE.

I was one of the little girls, and the other was my amazing friend, Catherine Ard.  The second we realized we had ANNIE in common, I remember, we ran right up to Catherine’s room to listen to the record.  When we saw ANNIE several months later, we went together, along with our parents and one of my other best friends, Claudia Bell.

Naturally, I told Catherine all about GYPSY, my first Broadway show that I’d seen a few years earlier with Angela Lansbury.  When Angela returned to Broadway a few years later, Catherine, my cousin Ellen Clutter who turned out to be one of Catherine’s schoolmates, and I went to see her on Broadway.  The musical was SWEENEY TODD.  Angela Lansbury played the comic accomplice to Sweeney, who was a madman…or was he?  The character of Sweeney had been pushed way too far by a judge who framed him and sent him from England to Australia just for a chance to seduce his wife…

This wasn’t ANNIE or GYPSY by a long shot, but it was fascinating.  Angela Lansbury outdid herself as the wacky Mrs. Lovett, alternating between hysterically funny and chilling, since that character is a sociopath underneath all the smiles and laughter.  None of us ever forgot that day.  We even got to meet Angela Lansbury at the stage door afterwards!

I remember sitting with Catherine in the backseat of my father’s car as he drove us somewhere-or-other and discussing the SWEENEY TODD characters of the perfidious Judge and the Beadle and how horrific they were, abusing their power to a fare-the-well.  I remember saying I could understand how Sweeney wanted to get even with them, that he wouldn’t have been so enraged if he hadn’t been framed, and how their absolute power had corrupted them both absolutely.  Catherine and I were having quite a philosophical discussion back there, for a couple of teenagers.  I think we were driving my father half bonkers with it.

Catherine and I also were known to burst into song on other occasions, singing “The Worst Pies in London” – with Cockney accents picked up from playing the cast recording so many times.

Catherine lives in Pennsylvania now and has done professional theater work for years.

So imagine my joy at hearing, a few months ago, that Catherine was trying out for Angela Lansbury’s role of “Mrs. Lovett” at Candlelight Theatre in Delaware.  I promised I’d cross my fingers, eyes and toes for her and said over email that she had to let me know when she heard if she got the part or not.

She got it!

“Then I’m going to be there and see it!”  I promised.

Last week, I did!  I had a wonderful time, too – Catherine was just amazing!  She blew me away.

Take a look at this video and you’ll get a hint of how fabulously Catherine – and the entire phenomenal ensemble cast – played their parts in this show.  If you live in Delaware or anywhere near it, the show is going to be playing from now through November 1st, 2015.

The video:

Here’s the website of the theater.  Go for it!

Me with Catherine's mother, Joan Ard, my mother's best friend.

Happy: Me with Catherine’s mother, Joan Ard, my mother’s best friend.  This was SUCH a great day!


‘Burb People

THE BURBS is a movie I don't have to see. I lived it.

THE BURBS is a movie I don’t have to see. I lived it.

If you’re looking for a review of THE BURBS, the movie, well, sorry, folks, but you’ve landed on the wrong page.  I can’t review it because I haven’t seen it.  I don’t want to see it.

I already lived it.

This week an incident reminded me all over again of why I’m so glad to have left the ‘burbs, and that phase of my life, far behind me.

Those who think the cities are filled with all manner of crazies have always made me laugh.  Yes, cities attract a lot of nuts, true that, but most of them manage to get lost in the crowd, and who pays attention to them when there are so many better people to be inspired by here anyway?

In the ‘burbs, it’s different.  I always have said that when people in the ‘burbs are crazy, we’re talking they’re major-league, world class, save the world, save the whales, bay-at-the-moon-and-call-it-religiosity crazy.   It was like growing up in a zoo, or better yet, a bat cave.

I’ve always wondered just how I might have turned out had I not been stuck in a lifeless suburb from the ages of 11 to 25 and surrounded by so many different types of fanatics.  It’s been really easy for me to go in other directions than the ones I’m about to recount here.  I didn’t just walk away, or even run – I all but flew.

Suburbanites are, by their very choice of living locales, usually the sort of people who are afraid of the cities.  In some instances they’re downright phobic, believing if you so much as boarded a bus to go to Broadway, “You’ll be murdered!”  Yeah, right.  Ridiculous!  But that’s the sort of nutty thing people would say – to a kid like me, when I was all excited about going to see my first Broadway show.

I knew all kinds in the suburbs, and let me tell you, it wasn’t “Mayberry RFD.”  I don’t remember what “RFD” in that old TV show used to stand for, but “OCD” would have been a good designation for a lot of the suburbanites that I knew.  I knew Jesus freaks.  I knew hippie freaks.  One of the Jesus freaks used to pretend to pass out, struck by “the spirit,” on a neighbor’s living room floor.  This happened regularly.  Then she’d get up and make psychic predictions she swore “came from God.”  Well, none of them ever came true, surprise, surprise.  The hippies professed peace and love but were breaking the law by doing drugs and thus patronizing violent drug dealers.  Peace?  Where’s the peace in that?  I knew the sort of screaming Democrats who were such bullying motormouths to anyone who disagreed with them that to this day, the minute I hear someone is a member of that party, my first thought is, “Oh my God, are there any headphones handy?  How bad is this one going to get?”

Did I mention that the time period I’m speaking of is the 1970s?  Do I have to, or is it already obvious?

On top of all of the above, all over town, there were members of The Crowd with the Complexes.  I’m sure you know the type.  These are the top nuts on the suburban fruitcake, the whipped cream with the cherry on top of the which-exit sundae.  It would be one thing if they left the rest of us alone, but they don’t.  They’re not just miserable, they’re desperate for company, and want to take you along with them on their, ahem, inner journeys.  Fasten that seatbelt!  This one’s trying to find herself, that one’s trying to lose himself, the Jesus Freak bunch were all complaining they’d lost their “inner peace,” another bunch was off to the nudist colony because they didn’t like it that “society” was “forcing them” to wear clothes…

I used to have a blast getting a rise out of all of them, but the non-clotheshorses were a really fun group to give a little backtalk to.  “You don’t like society for forcing you to wear clothes?  Well it’s January in New Jersey, honey, so if I were you, I’d either move to Tahiti or put on a parka and suck it up!”

Was I disrespectful at times like that?  Sure I was – and proud of it, too!  How much respect were they showing to anyone else when this nonsense would begin, eh?  Aha, now, answer me that!

Is it also any wonder my favorite song involved how “these little town shoes are longing to stray?”  One of the happiest days of my whole life was the one when I moved out of there.

A ‘burb character, a blast from the past who’s like a bit of flatulence on the wind, has been giving me some agitation this week, but hey, I don’t live there where you’re all fascinated by your own navels anymore, so you can take your self-involved nonsense, dearie, and place it where the sun doesn’t shine!  Woo-hoo!  I live in the Big Apple, not in some place where somebody’s attention-getting “complex” is made into a problem to be projected onto all those they know.  Have fun “finding” yourself again, dearie, but please, do it over there!

I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again: I love living in New York!

STEVE JOBS the Movie

STEVE JOBS: The Movie.

STEVE JOBS: The Movie.

I knew, before I saw this new movie, the rudimentary facts about Steve Jobs: he was one of the co-founders of Apple, Inc., thought outside of the box, and was universally acclaimed as a genius.

That said, this movie had me sitting in the theater in open-mouthed shock to see the dramatization of what he was like as a man.  The guy may have been ingenious, sure, but he was also quite lethal – and utterly clueless.  He’s so far into his own head that he’s also up his own ass.  He doesn’t have any sense whatsoever to realize how adversely his actions are affecting anybody else and comes across like a malignant force of nature.  A tornado, maybe.  Sweeping the world out of its way as it passes.

Cary Joji Fukuhaga did a fine job in directing this story, where most of the action takes place backstage before Steve’s various product launches.  Steve Jobs is played by Michael Fassbender, who may well win an Oscar for the portrayal.  There’s an outstanding supporting cast surrounding Jobs, and trying to humanize him, led by Kate Winslet as his assistant, Joanna Hoffman, and including Jeff Daniels, Michael Stahlbarg, and Katherine Waterson.  It’s hard to watch them try to knock some sense into Jobs’ thick head, but it’s equally hard not to.

It’s not exactly an uplifting story – it’s more like a disaster movie than anything else – but if you like character studies, have I got a movie for you!