Arts & Culture


My friend, Sophie, who I met in Israel during college, fled her abusive husband and landed in my home on West 90th Street. At the same time, my mother-in-law’s friend, Hilda, had flown north from Florida to attend a great-granddaughter’s … Read More

By / September 17, 2008

My friend, Sophie, who I met in Israel during college, fled her abusive husband and landed in my home on West 90th Street. At the same time, my mother-in-law’s friend, Hilda, had flown north from Florida to attend a great-granddaughter’s birthday party in Manhattan and she, too, was staying "by me," as they say in the old world.

For five days, they stayed by me. Within minutes of meeting one another, Hilda had already advised Sophie of two things: never return to her husband, and lose weight. On hearing this, Sophie put down the bagel with the schmear of cream cheese, and said, "I only had a third of it!" At the end of their first breakfast together Hilda, still wearing her long, white nighttime T-shirt, breasts hanging halfway down her chest, proudly pulled a small container of something out of her Ziploc bag. "I never travel without this," she showed us. It was OxyClean. "I have these bosoms," she explained, "and when I eat, I drop everything on them, there’s a spot here and here and here and here," (this was physically demonstrated by poking at her ‘bosoms’), "and I spray this on and it’s all gone. You’ve got bosoms, too, Sophie." These newfound friends bonded over their bosoms and bagels.

Both Sophie and Hilda were prone to burst into tears, and it was impossible to be forewarned when the floodgates would open. Thus Hilda, at the end of the day, said to me, "Angela, come here, I need a hug." I obediently hugged her, not completely certain when she would let me up for air, even as I heard her muffled voice saying, "Oh, Angela, you don’t know…you don’t know…" and when she finally released me, she was weeping. Sophie, naturally, was tapping right into the same Weltschmerz, and joined in to keep Hilda company. Hilda offered to house Sophie if she decided to move to Florida. Tears slipped from Sophie’s eyes, and she hugged Hilda and said, "May you live to be 120." Hilda’s lips quivered and she hugged Sophie, and said, "You’ll be fine." And Sophie responded with the Hebrew phrase, "B’ezrat HaShem," with the help of God. This was entirely too much crying and emotion for this not-to-the-tribe born, stoic, German Midwesterner. I escaped and checked my e-mail.

A man I’d sat next to at a benefit a year and a half ago recently made an appearance at a gathering of friends. He emailed me to tell me he’d changed jobs, moved to the Upper West Side and was wondering if he’d made the right decision two years ago to break up with his girlfriend who had been pushing for marriage. (Why had I become such pals with this guy? Well, I liked him, and I liked minding other people’s business. That was it.) Now he had discovered that he, too, wanted to meet someone and create a life as part of a couple. (He didn’t say it exactly like that, but that was the gist of it.) He asked me if I knew anyone to introduce him to–though he was Jewish, he didn’t want anyone too religious.

I pondered the possibilities. I could set him up with one of my divorced girlfriends who liked younger men but that wouldn’t be fair, because they didn’t want more children and would probably only be interested in him for the good times. The challenges of a modern day matchmaker!

Taking the dog for a walk that evening, I contemplated how it’s come to this–so many people I know are either escaping a bad relationship or looking for a good one– and on Central Park West and 90th Street I bumped into a guy I’d met at a mutual friend’s son’s bar mitzvah a few years ago. (The bar mitzvah was held at a Conservative synagogue, and the Torah portion that week had to do with the laws against homosexuality. Every time the lesbian rabbi mentioned the words "anal sex," my then-twelve-year-old son’s eyes popped wide open.) I smiled in recognition at the man, but he didn’t smile back, and then I realized that: 1) His wife was standing with him and holding his hand and 2) At the bar mitzvah party, he had confided in me that it was hard to remain faithful after being with the same person for thirty years. Because our spouses had been standing just a few feet away, it hadn’t occurred to me immediately that he was making a pass at me. When I finally figured out that he was subtly asking me if I was interested in a discreet liaison, I decided to play the dumb blonde, a role I’d perfected in college. I nodded and furrowed my brow and he gave up, probably thinking me entirely clueless and impossible. Which I actually was.

I headed into the park with my dog and made a mental list of people I could introduce to one another, bearing in mind their age and height and weight, as well as their level of Jewish observance and family background. In the old country, anal sex wasn’t discussed from the pulpit, abused women rarely left their husbands, and attempted hook ups with strangers at bar mitzvahs would have been scandalous. Today, hook ups are easier to attain than a match which, if not made in heaven, is made by someone who actually knows both people. But the place where the new world meets the old is in our ongoing attempt to bond with one another, with the help of God, with the help of our friends, over bosoms and break-ups.