In The Right

This past week, I told my students that they would be having a substitute teacher on Monday, October 3. “It’s Rosh Hashanah,” I told my class. “It’s the Jewish New Year and I will be going to temple that day. There’s only one student in this our class who is Jewish, so I assume that both Max and I will be gone that day.”

“I’m Jewish too!” shouted a boy from the back of the class.

“No you are not,” I said to the boy, confident in my response. After all, he has an adorable blonde buzzcut and blue eyes. He looks like an 8 year old version of Chris Pine. And also, his name is Brody. So, naturally, I assumed I was right.

There is quite a controversy swirling here in Arizona, and it all centers on the casting of the musical “In The Heights.” “In The Heights”centers on a variety of characters living in the neighborhood of Washington Heights, on the northern tip of Manhattan. At the center of the show is Usnavi, a bodega owner who looks after the aging Cuban lady next door, pines for the gorgeous girl working in the neighboring beauty salon and dreams of winning the lottery and escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, Nina, a childhood friend of Usnavi’s, has returned to the neighborhood from her first year at college with surprising news for her parents, who have spent their life savings on building a better life for their daughter. Ultimately, Usnavi and the residents of the close-knit neighborhood get a dose of what it means to be home. The show was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and has a similar vibe and hip-hop score as it’s more famous sibling, “Hamilton.”

I first saw this musical when my son Sam was in it at Stagedoor Manor. I had seen it while it was on tour in 2009, and it just didn’t resonate with me. Perhaps it was because of the theatre’s crappy acoustics (yeah, yeah, I know, the Gammage has improved it’s sound system), or maybe it didn’t say anything to me personally at the time.

Several years later, I watched my son Sam and his multi-cultural cast tell the story of a girl who was worried about disappointing her parents, a family sacrificing everything for their daughter’s future, and a parental figure facing her death. This time, I got it, and I loved it.

“In The Heights” has now hit the local theatre circuit, and two theatres in Arizona are producing their own versions of the show. One is Phoenix Theatre, which features a professional acting company, and the other is a combined cast of actors from Xavier College Preparatory and Brophy,College Preparatory, both of which are Catholic, Jesuit High Schools.

Chicago’s Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of “In the Heights” was surrounded with controversy because of its casting a white man in the lead role of Usnavi, originated on Broadway by composer/lyricist Miranda. The character of Usnavi came to American from the Dominican Republic. Phoenix Theatre’s production of IN THE HEIGHTS, cast an Iranian-born actor as Usnavi, stirring up dissent from the Phoenix Latin community. And now, The Xavier/Brophy production has become a hot topic of online teenage controversy in the Phoenix community.

Recently, a Phoenix student who attends Arizona School For The Arts published an article in one of our Phoenix newspapers about how upset he is about the casting of this show at Brophy high school. It was called “Why Do White People Keep Putting On In The Heights?” He states that “only 3 of the 12 leads are being played by Latin actors” even though he acknowledges that the population of these schools does not lend itself to the casting of an all Latino production.

I was surprised by this article for two reasons: (1) because he can get published in the “Phoenix New Times” and I have never been able to accomplish this feat and (2) because he’s an actor.

I would like to respond to this young man with a response entitled, “I’m ok with the fact that non-Jews keep playing Jews even though there are a shit-load of Jews out there that could play these roles.”

I am Jewish. I love my Jewish heritage and the story of my people. Our story is most notably told in theatrical form in “Fiddler On The Roof.” This show has been staged too many times to count, but in the many productions I have seen, the majority of the cast has played by non-Jews. And while we can argue that there is unfortunately a shortage of many ethnicities in the acting world, we cannot say that there are a shortage of Jewish actors.

The hit show “The Goldbergs” on ABC, is a show about a Jewish family in the 1980s. Out of all of the actors in the world who could have played a Jewish mom, dad, two sons and a daughter, they cast only one Jewish actor. The rest are played by non-Jews.

Jason Biggs is not Jewish, although he plays one onscreen four times in the “American Pie” movies. The list of non-Jews who played Jewish characters is lengthy: Christian Bale played Jew Irving Rosenfeld In “American Hustle.” Charlton Heston played Moses. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jewish Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” In “Schindler’s List,” Ben Kingsley played Schindler’s Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern.

I could go on for hours. I mean, for god’s sake, John Travolta just played Robert Shapiro in the O.J. miniseries.

However, I have never found myself watching one of these actors and shouting “They are not Jewish enough!” My ethnicity is rich and layered and deep and I would never balk at an actor who wanted to learn the story of my people.

And if, for example, a Roman Catholic High School located inside a Roman Catholic Diocese in Phoenix wanted to put on a production of “Fiddler On The Roof,” I would never scream about the lack of Jews in the performance. And that’s a good thing for Brophy High School, because they have put on two productions of “Fiddler” in the last few years.

Turns out my student Brody is Jewish. I felt like an idiot for assuming that he wasn’t one just because he didn’t look like the ones I grew up with. And even if he wasn’t Jewish, I should have been glad that a kid today would want to be one.

Life wasn’t always that way for us. The celebration and acceptance of my people can be attributed to many factors: but I would say that the universal love of “Fiddler On The Roof” is on top of that list.

I recently vacationed in the Dominican Republic. And while I enjoyed the beaches and food of the Dominican, I learned very little about the culture of the people beyond the resort walls. “In The Heights” has taught me that they are a people who fiercely love their families and their culture, and protect both these things at all costs.

Visiting the country did not teach me these things. Theatre did. And for that reason, I celebrate the people and the country more than I ever would have had I not seen this show.

We have so much to argue about right now in this country. Let’s not argue about something so good in a world that can feel so bad.

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You Can Call Me Al

I’m voting for Hilary. And it’s not just because of her views, or her beliefs, or her experience (although those things are very helpful.) But to be honest: It’s because of Bill. I really, really want to know what they will call him. Many titles have been thrown around for the first male presidential spouse: The First Gentleman? The First Dude? The First Fella? I suppose it doesn’t really matter what he’s called- he will be the first one in history to have that title. He can create it or define it however he wants to.

I just completed my first month taking on my new job title: teacher. After 15 years as an attorney, I am enjoying my new role for many reasons, but I’m pretty sure it’s mostly because I have an actual captive audience. And they think I’m hilarious. They may be nine years old, but they have an excellent sense of humor. I have realized that there’s not a whole lot of difference between my DUI clients and my 4th graders. Both insist that everyone is against them, but after a brief time-out, it’s pretty easy to get them both to say that they are sorry.

Life is all about our changing titles. We go from being a baby to a child to a teenager to an adult. We are “middle schoolers” or “high schoolers.” At one point or another, we are freshman, sophomores, juniors, or seniors. Finishing school makes you a “graduate.” Taking that job makes you an accountant or a stockbroker or a dancer. Getting married makes you a spouse, having a child makes you a parent.

This week, in preparation for another round of unnecessary state testing, I had to teach my students the art of filling in a bubble sheet (or, as I keep calling it, a “scantron.”) While kids today don’t have to do this very often, my entire life seems to have consisted of filling in that circle. My January 23 birthday was always the most fun to fill out on that form (it was an easy 1-2-3.) For women, that bubble in front of our names always had three choices: “Miss,” “Ms.” or “Mrs. “Miss” sounded young and innocent, “Mrs.” sounded old and serious. “Ms.” just sounded like an over-zealous feminist.

In preparation for school this fall, the administration wanted to know which one of those options to call me. I wasn’t sure. When school started, the kids needed to know what to call me. I offered fun options such as “Teach,” or a throwback name “Mr. Kotter,” but for some reason, the head of school felt those to be inappropriate.

For reasons that are not necessary to be discussed at this juncture, but will at some point make for a great sequel to my book, I have entered a gray area in my life on that bubble sheet.

I guess I could technically be called “Dr.” Having a law degree allows one to do that, I suppose, although doing so makes any lawyer sound absolutely ridiculous. Anyone with a doctorate degree does have that right. I’m still not sure why that never seemed to make sense for us attorneys.

According to the scantrons and magazine subscription forms of the past, I guess I have gone from a Mrs. to a Ms. When things get finalized, I’m legally no longer a Mrs. I guess I could go back to being a Miss, although at my age and frankly with my particular life at this point, that seems very wrong. And the Ms., well, I think that still sounds a little Gloria Steinem-ish.

For now, I still love the title of mom, and sister and daughter and friend. And for my students, when they want to get my attention or to tell me about a scratch on their arm, or to ask me to go to the bathroom or to get a drink of water or to tell me about a dream they had or a fight they had with their little brother, they call me “Ms. Primack.”

Like Bill, I’ll take the time to figure out what I want to be called. I’ll test the waters and see what title feels right. There’s no rush. This year, I can create it or define it however I want to.

scantron

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Her Name is Rio

Every Sunday night, I get hungry for Chinese food.  Perhaps that is because that was how we spent Sunday evenings growing up.  Rain or shine, every Sunday night, we would jump into the car and head to our local suburban Detroit Chinese restaurant.  It was our weekly ritual. It was also, sadly, the most “ethnic” experience I had growing up in the ‘burbs.

Growing up, the suburbs of big cities like Detroit were mostly similar to the fictional town featured in my all-time favorite movie “Pleasantville.” For the most part, the streets and stores in our town were filled with lots and lots of white people.

Looking back, I’m not even sure that it was actually Chinese food.  In reality, it was more like “Jewish Chinese food.”  I’m pretty sure they don’t serve dishes like “almond boneless chicken” in China.

Then in my 20s, I moved to Arizona, and my white world became filled with color.  The city of Phoenix, where I practiced law for many years, has a very large Hispanic population.  This was an ethnic group that new for me.  On my first day of work, I was handed the file for my very first client.  I proudly took my file and went to the courtroom to introduce myself to him.  “Jesus!” I called out, over and over, like a Catholic priest on Easter morning.  No one responded.

The madness was put to an end when my embarrassed co-worker tapped me on the shoulder and whispered quietly in my ear, “It’s pronounced HEH-soos.”

And thus began “The education of Allyson.”  Arizona is the melting pot into which everyone has relocated.  (I lovingly refer to this state as “the witness protection program” because I’m convinced that every single person who moves here is running away from something.)  But that’s why I love it here. My world has expanded so much in the 18 years I have lived here.

My youngest son Aidan has been in a self-contained gifted classroom for the last few years.  On his first day of Kindergarten, he got into the car and declared” “Well, I’m the only white kid in my class.”  And it was mostly true.  Almost every other student in his class for the last 3 years has been Indian or Hindu or Buddhist or Japanese.  My little blonde haired curly kid stands out quite prominently.  I used to call him the Carrie Mathison of his classroom.  (And if you got that reference, I applaud you.)

It has been pretty amazing to watch my son interact with so many different ethnicities.  The highlight every year are the holiday celebrations.  The kids each have an opportunity to bring their parents in to school to explain their holiday traditions to the class. Aidan loves learning about these fascinating holiday celebrations and sampling their traditional foods. I love learning about it too.  They are all so interesting and fun. I must say, when the time came for Aidan and I to present Hanukkah to the class, it was really quite depressing.  There is no fun way to tell that holiday story, and the dreidel game gets old very fast when played by children with high IQs.

This year, I am embarking on a teaching adventure in a school that is much like Aidan’s multi-cultural classroom.  My class list is filled with names that I cannot pronounce.  I hope I can learn their names soon, but I am really worried that there is no more room in my brain to learn anything new.

As I watched the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday night, I was awe-struck watching so many unique cultures and ethnicities coming together to celebrate as one.   And even though the USA looked like the cast of “Cruel Intentions” in our uniforms, our country is unique and special too. We have to remind ourselves that building walls around our country won’t make us stronger or better.  We can learn so much from one another if we just let each other in. That’s what will make this country great again, Mr. Presidential Candidate whose last name rhymes with Bump.

A few years ago, a friend of mine here in AZ recommended a tailor to me.  I needed a dress to be hemmed, and she told me that her guy, Joe, was the best in town.  This friend prided herself on knowing everything about everything.  “Just go to his store and tell him I sent you,” she said. “I’ve been going to him for years.” “Joe’s your tailor,” she told me, was the name of his store.  And so, I took her advice and headed to his shop.  I drove around the shopping center for a half hour, unable to locate his store.  When I called her, she assured me I was in the right place.

I parked my car and started walking, determined to find it on foot. I walked a few steps, and then I looked up.  I found the store alright, and I realized that I wasn’t the only one in this town who needed a lesson in cultural sensitivity.  Later that day, I called her and told her that she was right- he is the best tailor in town.  She was smug in her acceptance, until I told her she was very wrong about the one thing that was really the most important-his name.

We all have room in our brains, no matter how smart we are or old we are, to learn something new.  The only difference between those who learn and those who don’t is whether or not they want to.

Jose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What The World Needs Now..

Their little faces emerged from their respective camp buses.  My 13 year old daughter and 8 year old son had been away at camp for 28 days.  They had no phones, no internet, and no electronic devices.  I felt an overwhelming sense of joy as I hugged their dirty little bodies. A month without electronics means a month immersed in nature.  As we walked to the car, they told us stories about hikes in the wilderness, activities on the lake, races and games, and arts and crafts.  As they smiled and laughed, I was overcome with sadness.  The minute they get back their phones, and onto the internet, or to turn on the t.v., they will know what they missed while they were away.

Shootings, riots, and murders.  That’s what they missed.  Racism, prejudice and terrorism.  I so badly wished I could press pause on that moment and keep them frozen in time.  Because the minute we hand them back to the outside world, they will know what we know.  In the land without computers, there is no hate.  There is only love.

And if we could, thats all we would ever want our kids to know.

Our 15 year old son is at Stagedoor Manor, a camp that is filled with song and dance.  A place of acceptance and tolerance.  Today, they have launched a campaign.  A challenge to the world to sing about love.

And to remember what it was like for each of us, the moment before we all stepped off the bus into the real world.

**For each share of this video, Stagedoor Manor will donate $10 to the LBGT Center of Greater Orlando.  Please share this video and help spread the love.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC43Ot6wWKlKDJ64i4eUEfsA

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/116e92ec69e64e22bcd7523797327442/sumer-campers-dream-way-help-orlando-nightclub-victims

 

 

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“C” Average

Lately, whenever I walk into a store or a room, I find myself speaking out loud to remind myself why I’m there. “I’m at Target for toilet paper and socks. I am in the living room because I’m looking for the calendar.” Sometimes I sing a quiet little song about it: “I’m at the store for dryer sheets, yes I am…I’m here for dryer sheets, yes I am..” I am officially the crazy lady on the security camera talking to myself.

But no matter where I go this week, I can’t remember what I’m missing. I have a persistent feeling that I’m forgetting something.

And then suddenly it hits me: it’s my children. I have misplaced all three of my children. (Not really.) In reality, all three are spending a month at sleepaway camp. Once I remember where they are, I experience a combination of extreme gleefulness and sheer sadness. “I’m free!” “No kids to worry about!” “I miss them.”

My older two children have been going to sleepaway camp for years. But this is the first year that my little guy, Aidan, is gone too. The house is eerily quiet, but the noise inside my brain has become very loud: “What are you going to do with all of this free time? It better be something productive. Should I write another novel or start another non-profit foundation? Maybe I should spend some time trying to figure out exactly how I feel about Brexit.

About a week ago, I got a call from camp that started as follows: “Hi, Mrs. Primack, it’s Sharon from camp everything is fine.” (Grammar police: please note that I excluded the comma on purpose. A call from camp always starts with one long “nothing is wrong” run-on sentence.)

“Aidan’s counselors noticed that he wrote you a sad letter letter and you will be getting it soon. We just wanted you to know not to panic when you receive it. The staff had a long talk with him today.”

“We asked him to give camp a report card, and to grade it like he was the teacher. His answers: when he’s busy and enjoying camp activities, he gives it a “B.” When it’s bedtime and it’s quiet, it’s a “D.” So, the staff here has concluded that in Aidan’s mind, camp gets a “C” average and that’s a pretty good overall grade.

Frankly, I was relieved. I had previously anticipated many calls I would be receiving this summer about Aidan: that he got into an argument with another camper about the current political climate, that he told a staff member exactly what he thought of the lame camping trip, or that he was currently educating his bunkmates on the storyline and musical lyrics of “Spring Awakening.”

Later that day, as I researched whether or not it was possible for me to become a certified Zumba instructor in two weeks, I thought about Aidan’s analysis of camp. Just like the camp staff, I decided that it was pretty normal for an 8 year-old kid to feel happy when he’s busy during the day, and to feel sad and lonely in the still of the night.

But what about us adults? What if someone were to ask all of us how we grade our daily lives? Many people I know would come up with a similar answer to Aidan: an “A” or “B” when busy and distracted during the day, and a “D” or “E” at night, when lying still in bed. Life as a whole, for many people, gets a “C” average. And that’s a problem.

Most of us spend our lives constantly running towards an invisible finish line. That’s just how life is in 2016. But why do we do this? Is it because that’s what society demands of us in this competitive and 24-hour cyber-obsessed world? Or do we do this to ourselves on purpose, to avoid thinking about the things that really trouble us when we stop competing and turn off the computer?

Doctors are writing more prescriptions for sleeping medications today than at any other time in history. No one can sleep anymore. We are all way too restless.

I have to believe that the ultimate goal in life is to achieve a feeling of daytime and nighttime equality. We should all strive to feel the same joy during the silence of the night that we do during our busy days. We should all live a life that has an “A” average.

Aidan may not feel this yet because he’s not old enough to choose how to live his days and nights. He doesn’t yet have the autonomy or power to make those choices.

But we do. All of us grownups need to stop and think. What thoughts are we trying so desperately to chase away from our minds that we have to continually create chaos and frenzied activity during the day? What are our deepest, darkest fears that we put off thinking about until night? Isn’t it time to start dealing with those realities and fixing those problems while we can: in the light of the day?

Once we do that, surely we can enjoy and relax our precious nights at home with our families.

So, while I will enjoy my time away from the children while simultaneously feeling bad about doing so, I will try to take my own advice. I will stop running around like a maniac taking on way too much during the day so that I can pause and figure out what it is that I’m really running from.

If I find the answer, is it possible that I could then achieve such peace within myself that I won’t need any medications to help me relax and fall asleep at night?

If I can succeed at doing that, then as my children run off the bus from camp back into my arms, I will feel a sense of accomplishment. I will know that these four weeks were not wasted at all.

I did something very, very important with my time.

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The Wig and the Water Bottle

There are certain milestones in a child’s life that we all document: the first step or the first word. We think we are done when they get older, but it goes on: first day of school, first night away from us, and for us, last night: Sam’s first teenage party held at our house while we were home. Being that these are theatre kids, it was a party for The Tonys. But still.  There were 20 teenagers in our basement.

I couldn’t help but remember one of my own teenage milestones: the first party I had (when my parents were out of town.) We were juniors in high school and we all swiped alcohol from our parents’ cabinets. Alcohol was a novelty for us, and we all had way too much to drink. Some got sick. One of of my friends, Matt, threw up on our brand-new beige carpet. The stain didn’t come out. This would be my first and only party while my parents were out of town.

Last night, I really wanted to be the cool parent. But I just couldn’t do it. I worried. I worried about what they were doing down there whenever they stopped singing along to the Tonys. I worried whenever they went outside to our backyard. I worried when they went for walks to the neighborhood park.  Was I supposed to stay with them the whole time? Was I supposed to follow them on their walks? What if something bad happens?

A few weeks after my party back in 1988, Matt died. He was playing basketball one night at our school and he went back to the locker room and collapsed. He had a genetic heart condition that was never diagnosed. I was the first to learn of Matt’s death, as I had to go to school early that day. I had just gotten my driver’s license and needed a parking permit for my car. All of the teachers were crying. There were cell phones or social media, so I couldn’t tell anyone. One by one, each of one of my classmates came to school and learned of Matt’s death.

As a life-long observer of people, I sat in the lobby and watched as each of them learned the horrible news. What I mostly remember now is how they each walked into school as carefree teenagers, and moments later, their innocence drained away. We think we are invincible until we learn that someone our own age is not.

This week, another tragic death with similar circumstances has hit our community. This time, the 15 year old girl, Maya, was a friend of my son. When I told Sam the news, I had a horrible sense of deja vu, watching his transformation from teenager to adult in a moment.

Then, Orlando. We are accustomed to hearing about mass shootings. My kids to be less and less affected by this news. “We didn’t know any of the people who died.” “It didn’t happen here.”

But this time, my 13 year old daughter demanded answers.

“Why do bad things keep happening to good people?”
I don’t know

“Were gun laws stricter when you were growing up? Is that why this keeps happening?
I don’t know

“Why would God take away a 15 year old girl?”
I don’t know

Then she asked the one question that I realized that I had an answer to.:

“How can I make sure that something bad doesn’t happen to me?”

You can’t. You can’t ever guarantee that nothing bad will happen. Really awful things happen to really great people. And it happens to kids too. But this is what you can do:

You can make safe choices.
You can make a choice to not talk to people online that you don’t know.
You can make a choice to not get in a car with a drunk driver.
You can make a choice to not try drugs.
You can make a choice to not run across a busy highway at night.
You can surround yourself with good people who care about you.

This morning, post-party, I surveyed my house for signs of damage. I looked for evidence of bad behavior. But there was none.

I only found one thing that was new: a water bottle with a wig on top of it. I don’t know what that was about-perhaps that’s what happens when a bunch of theatre kids have a party. Whatever it was, it made me laugh.

I wonder if my parents worried so much during my teenage parties. But they, just like I, have probably learned that no matter how much we worry, we can’t stop bad things from happening. We can buckle our seat belts on the plane and we will still die if it crashes. We can put helmets on our kids, and they can still get hit by a speeding car.

Matt had too much alcohol at a party and he didn’t die. He died playing basketball with friends. Maya’s parents worried as they placed her on a plane to Israel. What if there were terrorists? There was, after all, a terrorist attack in Israel on the same day she died. But she didn’t die that way. She died while hiking with friends.

To me, the wig on the water bottle is a symbol. Life is ridiculous. It makes absolutely no sense. Some days we wake up to horror and sorrow. And some days, we wake up to laughter and smiles.

There is no guarantee as to what any of us will wake up to tomorrow.

All we can do is to make sure that we go to sleep each night with the knowledge that each day, we did as much as we could possibly do.
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Shtick (A Parody of Shel Silverstein’s “Sick.”)

No need to go to Target today, I’m sure,
Said little blogger Momontour.

I have napkins, socks, and baking powder,
Pens and pencils, cereal and clam chowder.

My fridge is full, we’ve got milk and eggs,
I’ve got lots of razors to shave my legs.

No picture frames to buy, we don’t have any more space,
No cosmetics needed, I’ve got lots of products for my face.

I’ve got dryer sheets, and cute dish scrubbers,
I’ve got plenty of tampons and I doubt we need rubbers.

We’ve got frames, we have pillows, we have towels galore,
Our cupboards are filled with paper cups and Kleenex, we don’t need any more.

We have chips and cookies and lots of desserts,
I’ve got plenty of socks and shorts and relaxed v-neck tee shirts.

We have toys and games and Legos and books,
Slotted spoons and measuring cups, in case anyone cooks.

We’ve got aspirin and Motrin and a variety of bandaids,
Hair brushes and combs and ponytail holders for braids.

Our garage is filled with storage tubs made of plastic,
Plenty of toothpaste and floss- our teeth look fantastic!

Ten half-bottles of Windex sit under our sink,
We have Tide and 409, and we even own bleach (I think.)

Tons of soaps and shampoos sit there in our shower,
Candles and flashlights in case we lose power.

We’ve got batteries, light bulbs, paper clips and glue,
Lotions, hand sanitizers, and travel-size shampoo.

We have crayons and markers, tape, and a red pen,
We have bones for the dogs and deodorant for the men.

There’s no need for coffee, I have plenty of that,
Got cute stuff for the garden, and a new welcome mat.

We have sugar and spice and boxes of rice, and….

What? What’s that you say?
There’s a chance we might run out of toilet paper today?
Goodbye! I must leave!
I’m going to Target right away.

sick

 

 

 

 

 

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