It was our first small business endeavor as hot-shot advertising agency. We named the company Isidore Lefkowitz & Elgort, after ourselves, blind to the fact that no one would be able to pronounce let alone spell our names right. Still our confidence in ourselves is what got us through the awkward first steps in starting a business. We had no more than a handful of guys working for us and an office that could house a traveling circus so we had to get pretty crafty when bringing in new clients. No one wants to look like a wimpy small business when they’re trying to sell an idea to a client so we devised a system to mask our small beginning with help from my wife Rosemary. We would call up our friends offering them lunch on us, all they had to do was pretend to be a busy working bee while we desperately tried to impress clients. Our office was a Hollywood set and my wife the stage manager. There was an art to it. She would strategically cue a line of people to hustle past our office during meetings, set the constant tapping of typewriters as a background and have Joe at desk 5 call Bill at desk 11 to give the impression that we were flooded with persistent clients. It was ridiculous. It was a dog and pony show. It was our first of many wacky productions on our road to becoming successful.
The presents you get for the holidays always help you understand what others identify you as that year. When I was going through my artsy phase I got every type of paint brush imaginable, when I was into music I got endless CD’s, and when sports was my thing I got a whole shelf worth of stuff from sporting authority. So it’s easy to guess just the type of presents I got this year after finding an interest in writing. If you guessed books you’re right, but more specifically I got every short story book imaginable. With this in mind, I’ve decided to accept the identity my relatives have chosen for me and try my hand at some very short stories.
A lot of times during my conversations with my Pop Pop he tells me quick anecdotes that stick out to me but that I feel no need to further reflect on or write a two page essay analyzing. Like Goldilocks at the end of her book, some of my Pop Pop’s stories are “just right.” So to begin my series of “pocket-sized stories,” I’ll tell you one from last week’s conversation:
It was my first time taking a real college English class. It was an English Composition class and it was as exciting as it was daunting. It was held in one of those huge lecture halls that feel like the Colosseum and the professor looked exactly how you would imagine a college English professor to look like: slim physique, refined facial features and an aura of existentialism that radiated at a constant rate. I spent the first class intently listening to an hour lecture on run-on sentences: their identification, how to correct them and how to avoid them in the first place. At the end, the professor assigned us an assignment to go home and write 500 words on any subject of our choosing. Being the enthusiastic over achiever that I was, I took this task very seriously and began working on it the minute I got into my dorm. The next class I walked up to his desk with pride in my eyes as I handed him my assignment: a story about my initial experiences in college that was one big run on sentence.
Let’s face it, we’re all a bunch of narcissists. Most if not all that we do has underlying selfish intentions. I don’t say this in a scorning, wagging of the finger type of way-I’m a teenage girl I know a thing or two about narcissism-I just say this to explain why it is so easy for us to get caught up in our own world.
It seems to me that everyone is just walking around in their own individual world, in their own individual bubble. You’d think that with the mass exposure were capable of having, thanks to social media and the internet, we’d have a better perspective of the world around us. However, like a man alone in the desert, this vast openness brings out our most isolationist, close-minded tendencies. It is for this reason that many Americans feel like the beginning of a Trump presidency is the end of the world.
Now don’t get me wrong, when I google a list of U.S. presidents for a history project and see the name of a misogynist reality tv star listed under a Harvard graduate my heart goes into slight cardiac arrest as well. But let’s take some perspective on the situation with a little help from my friend Nicholas Kristof. The NY Times is the perfect cocoon of anxiety for so many Americans to wrap themselves into, so when my Pop Pop and I flipped to the op-ed page ad saw an article that read Why 2017 May Be the Best Year Ever it was almost instinctive for us to read.
Basically, what the articale says is that the U.S. is not the only country in the world. This may be the pessimist in me, but I interpreted Kristof’s endearingly genuine concern for the world as a statement to the rest of us that it’s time to take a step back from all of our problems and get some perspective. And I’m not suggesting that “there is always someone worse off than you,” because let’s face it when has that phrase ever made us feel better. All that I-and maybe even Kristof-are suggesting is to take a step back from all the chaos of the U.S. and reflect on all the positive things going on in the world as we speak. Poverty is decreasing, more and more people are receiving adequate education and following the other worldly crowd support at the historic Million Women’s rallies, it seems that this is just the beginning of an era of change.
It’s easy to feel discouraged when you watch the news to see all the unjustifiable violence and hatred spread throughout the U.S. and beyond–and it’s even more discouraging to see a man who denies the existence of climate change, supports hateful rhetoric and does little to discourage corruption, be placed in a position of power but let’s all just remember that we’ve had bad presidents during great eras before. As my Pop Pop says “Trump is just a black dot on a blank page…make that an orange dot on a blank page.”
I’m of a special breed…I’m an introverted chatterbox. Meaning, I can talk and talk and talk until you wish I had an off switch, but when it really comes down to it I’m a sufficiently shy individual. I’m able to unleash an outgoing side of me in front of people I know and am comfortable with, but when I’m around new people I tend to emulate the kid dancing awkwardly with only his upper body in the corner of the party. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those shy kids who accepts their isolationist tendencies and rocks it with a cluster of other introverts; I’m conscious of my shyness but I don’t own it. I really look up to, and perhaps even envy, people who are so naturally extroverted.
So in the tradition of cliche holiday sentiments I’ve created one big New Year’s resolution for myself: to become one of those ladies who is friends with their hair dresser or has existential conversations with the woman who does their nails. In other words, I want to become so overwhelmingly extroverted that you’re forced to be friends with me the second I walk into the room. I feel as if the majority of people aspire to reach this level of friendliness but in a melancholic trick of fate most people don’t really reach this state until old age. A twenty something year old is more likely to talk to a plant than a stranger at the mall while it’s almost a guarantee to see an eighty year old chatting it up with their grocery line neighbor . My theory behind this is originates from a kind of “f**k it attitude” that most people acquire once they descend into older age. There’s a clarity achieved about the validity of social norms and acceptable behaviors as you age. People let go of seemingly meaningless ideals and begin to say what they really mean or do what they want to do. So while most people will be wishing to rewind the clock of life on January 1st, 2017 I will be attempting to conjure the care free old lady I know I hold within me to become the type extroverted person I’ve so long admired.
Monday marked the 81st birthday of my Mom Mom and the first of her birthdays since her recent passing. It was of course a solemn day for my Pop Pop, who continues to work through the immense grief understandably caused by the loss of such an extraordinary woman and best friend. However, for me it was a day of inspiration more than anything else.
To understand the essence of the gap she left in all of our lives, I would first need to describe her to you, which evidently is an impossible task. Describing my Mom Mom to someone who never met her is like describing a color to a blind man; you just can’t find the right words to do so. I have no better explanation for her other than this: when she was a little girl playing house, all the other kids in her neighborhood would fight over who could be the mom and who could be the dad. My Mom Mom on the other hand, always chose to be the grandma simply because it allowed her to sit back and boss everyone around.
Now don’t get me wrong my Mom Mom was never one to hold back her opinions but what I really mean from this description is that she was one of those outstanding personalities that could inherently conquer a room. She screamed life and in many ways that is why her death was so devastating to my Pop Pop. My biggest regret is not asking more questions about her life. She had so many amazing experiences in life that even after 40+ years of being with my Pop Pop she still had some untold stories of her own. My favorite was one that unexpectedly came up at the Easter dinner table.
I had just come back from a big trip so of course the first half of the dinner was spent catching up on who was dating who, who had gained a few, who was switching majors faster than a puma, and then we got into the good stuff: the stories. We were all listening intently to another story from her glamorous past in the advertisement industry when she veered off a tad.
“…and so then we were making out in the fireplace when-” she said with enchanting nonchalance.
“Wait! What?” my Pop Pop interrupted
“Oh Tony hush..”
Now granted my Pop Pop is hard of hearing so the abruptness of his reaction may have been due to a late register of what she was saying, but I always took it as his surprise to hear a new story after so many years together. The conversation then divulged into what making out was vs. hooking up, and yes, it was as uncomfortable as you would expect a conversation of this caliber to be between grandparents and grandchildren but that’s besides the point.
I think about her often and can’t help but smile with admiration at the luck she had for being one of the few people who cracked the code on how to live life as thoroughly as possible. I feel her with me driving me to take risks, explore and live more intensely every day so that one day, if I am lucky, I will be as filled with stories as she was.
I am a paradox. Here I am, a girl who loves writing and storytelling but can’t tell a good story if her life depended on it. It’s become an inside joke between my friends and family who think my arsenal contains 3 mediocre stories-on a good day. In a real life situation, that’d set me up for about 15 minutes of first date conversation until I’m completely dry.
The overthinker that I am has spent many car rides and mid math class dazes pondering about what it is that makes my stories so terrible. Through simple trial and error I’ve calculated that my three biggest flaws in story telling are: unimportant details, over explained endings and an immediate admit of defeat after I finish. I always start off strong with the attention still twinkling in the eyes of my audience but as soon as I see them darting off as I explain the color of socks I was wearing or type of smoothie I had on the morning of that particular day, I give up and ruin my story with a unfulfilling ending. My go to end-of-story tag line is, “Wow I told that story awfully, I’m so sorry.”
I like to think that I inherited this quality from my great aunt Maisy who was as bad at telling stories as she was at telling jokes like: “I’ve been with the same man for 40 years…I hope my husband doesn’t find out about him.” However, I’m no Aunt Maisy. I can’t pull off the look of the charmingly gullible and ditzy old lady, any more than I can pull off the outrageous costume jewelry she used to adorn herself with. I’m just not cute enough. Seeing that I can’t miraculously convert into a charming old lady or a podcast superstar, I guess my only choice is to keep writing and telling stories, however unbearably boring they are, until I get the hang of this thing. Hopefully in a short time my tag line will be “Wow I told that story only slightly awfully, you’re welcome.”
I do my best work when there’s too much work to do. Routines are as necessary to me as pizza and being down to earth are to Jennifer Lawrence. So it makes sense that going into this year I put a huge emphasis on finding a writing routine that was acute and time conscious: my Pop Pop newspaper assignment.
I feel like I have been fulfilling this task as I promised, but I find it challenging to write for every single conversation I have with my Pop Pop. This isn’t saying that that we have boring, unworthy conversations, its quite the opposite. Sometimes I just feel content with these conversations as they are and feel no need to ponder on them further. Simply put, some of these conversations are meant to stay between me and my Pop Pop only…sorry internet strangers.
With this in mind, I’ve tasked my self with a pre-new years, New Years resolution to write/post more about whatever story, essay or idea originates from my little brain. This is my bland attempt to embody the intimidatingly thoughtful Patti Smith who used to spend hours deciphering random poems, essays or stories she scribbled on whatever material was in her possession at the moment of inspiration. Maybe I won’t be having as profound thoughts as whether our lost socks or coats mourn us after we’ve misplaced them, but regardless, I’ll be writing and that’s all that matters.
So I guess this is my invitation to you, for an adventure into the land of non sensical writing.
RSVP by December 20th, black tie only