Monday, November 1, 2010

The Stewart/Colbert Rally in DC and Halloween in Baltimore

Saul decided to cancel his 11:00 a.m. class on Tuesday morning so that he could attend Fran’s funeral with me. We feared, because of her advanced age, and the fact that Irv’s life was in California, that there might not even be a minyan at the funeral. Larry and Adele had come to our house to pick up the shiva trays we had prepared and had gone to Fran’s house in Northeast Philadelphia to set up the food and prepare for the returning mourners. As it turned out, about 15 friends and relatives were in attendance. The day began sunny and crisp, but then turned unexpectedly gray and cold by the time the service began. A representative from the funeral home conducted the service and did a very competent job under the circumstances. The interment was at Har Jehuda Cemetery, which we had just visited last year with our friend, Larry, who wanted to check out some graves of relatives and some grave sites belonging to his family. Saul spent hours traveling by car to get to and from school, to pick me up so that we could travel to the cemetery together—an hour’s journey, then to the Northeast for the shiva, and then back home again. As usual this semester, his work was pressing, and he spent the rest of the day on his computer.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I prepared for our past lovely weekend in Baltimore and DC. Ari, Saul and I are big fans of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. We also TiVo The Colbert Report which follows it on Comedy Central. From the time we first learned about the “Rally to Restore Sanity,” which later became “The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” as both Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s two rallies became combined, we planned to attend it in DC. As we discussed our plans, our next-door niece, Beth, decided to join us at Ari’s for the weekend, and a few days ago, my cousin Anne, from New York, also decided to join us. At the last minute, Anne’s son, Ben, arranged to stay with friends in DC and join us for parts of the weekend. The day of the rally also happened to be Anne’s 54th birthday.

Not knowing what to expect as far as which meals we would be taking at home at Ari’s house, I decided to “kill two birds with one stone” and prepare some of my kids’ favorite foods which we could either eat, or could be stored away for future meals. On Wednesday and Thursday mornings I cleaned out and reorganized the kitchen cabinet on which Saul had replaced the broken hinge. I shopped, and then prepared dough and filling for more pumpkin-face cookies, made a huge pot of chicken soup that yielded 18 quarts, a large quantity of chicken salad from the four soup chickens, kasha and bow ties, macaroni and cheese, bread pudding, vanilla custard sauce, coconut/maple tapioca pudding, a brown sugar glazed sweet potato cake for Anne’s birthday, and a pareve carob sheet cake. Along with some other supplies, like milk, eggs, Hawaiian taro pancake mix, bread, avocados, tomatoes, etc., Saul and I packed everything up, including our suitcases for the long weekend and headed off to Baltimore on Thursday afternoon when school was over. We arrived in Baltimore at 6:00 p.m. just in time for a program for young families with toddlers that Alex had designed called PB & J—Pizza, Blessings and Jammies (pajamas). Jessica had been in South Carolina for several days at a conference on marketing retreat centers and was on her way home. We were able to take the responsibility of Yona and Izzy off Alex’s hands while he ran his engaging program. Sami was at a play date after school at her classmate Acadia’s house. Jess was supposed to pick her up at school and attend a PTA meeting for Izzy’s first grade class. Unfortunately, she got caught in rush hour traffic coming through DC and we never got to see her on Thursday night. She never got to attend the PTA meeting, either. She arrived exhausted and ill from six hours of driving, too many traffic jams, and several days of bad food.

Pizza not being one of my favorite foods, Saul and I stopped for a comforting late dinner of steaming soup, mu shu, and crispy sesame eggplant over steamed rice at Hollywood East Café in Wheaton on our way to Ari’s. Early Friday morning, as Ari prepared to leave for work, Saul was appalled to find that he could not get a Comcast Internet connection to answer the nearly 300 email messages that he had received following a controversial speaker who had presented at the college. A last-minute decision was made that he would accompany Ari to work so that he would have the connection to get his work done. I decided to go back to bed. Surprisingly, I slept until a little after 1:00 p.m. When I awoke, I had some late lunch, cleaned up the kitchen, looked at some magazines, played with my iPhone, watched some television, did all of Ari’s laundry, and made the beds. In short, it was a blissful day for me. The same was true for Saul, who managed to complete his work, socialize briefly with some of Ari’s co-workers, have a stimulating conversation at lunch where they were joined, in a rare instance, by one of the two founding partners, and leave in a reasonable amount of time to pick me up for our journey to Baltimore for Shabbat dinner.

Alex had chosen a Mexican theme this particular week. We were joined by his sister, Naomi, and her husband Matt. After we lit candles, dinner began with the blessings over grape juice and warm, freshly-baked challah dipped in honey, which has remained their tradition since their honeymoon. Alex made dishes almost too numerous to remember—spicy vegetable soup, guacamole, salsa verde, warm flatbreads and tortillas, black beans, baked and mashed butternut squash, chili con carne, fake crab and avocado salad and a few other side dishes that I am sure I have forgotten to mention. For dessert, we had the pareve carob cake. Sami presented me with a little gift she made for me out of cardboard, crayons, sticks, glue, nylon string and mini origami that represented a forest with owls and monkeys. Anne had driven into Philadelphia to hook up with Beth after work and they were supposed to meet up with us in Baltimore, but they had gotten off to a late start, had picked up Ben downtown, and had encountered heavy traffic on the way down. We decided to meet in DC instead and all of us arrived there at around 10:30 p.m. A few minutes later, having slept most of the day, I decided to accompany Ari while he dropped off Ben at his friends’ house a short distance away. Ordinarily, it would have been a five-to-ten-minute drive, but after encountering heavy traffic on the way there, we encountered stand-still traffic on the way home no matter which street we tried. Eventually, inching along, we discovered that the police had set up road blocks for a few blocks around the Columbia Heights Metro station which they had shut down. Ari and I did not get back until midnight. By then, everyone else was sound asleep.

In the morning, we rose early; breakfasted on bagels, cream cheese, juice and tea; and discussed what we wanted to say on our signs for the rally. We cut up an old beige bed sheet of Ari’s, and Beth and Saul provided permanent markers. Beth’s sign said, “I like pie.” Ari’s sign said, “I don’t like pie, but we can still get along.” Anne’s sign said “Whatever.” My sign said, “Why isn’t the media reporting on the media reporting on the media?” Saul didn’t make a sign. Then, we packed up a backpack with some chicken salad sandwiches and box drinks, Girl Scout cookies, sun screen, band-aids, our folded, bed-sheet signs, and a few other necessities and headed off, on foot, to the Petworth Metro station at about 10:30 a.m. The trains were quite crowded and became increasingly so as we traveled the few stops down to The National Mall where the rally was taking place. The station was so crowded that it took us almost 20 minutes in shoulder-to-shoulder crowds to exit. We stopped to take some photos holding our signs. Then, as we reached the mall itself, we found ourselves inching along in massive crowds to try to get close enough to the four large outdoor screens to see and hear something of what was happening. A few yards in from Seventh Street, which was about halfway between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, we had to stop as it was not really possible to squeeze in any closer in the mass of humanity, and I, being somewhat claustrophobic, didn’t want to try any further. All thoughts of pleasant, picnic-like seating on our blanket went out the window as we all struggled to stay together, listen to the speakers, or catch a glimpse of the projection screens above the vast sea of heads. It was standing room only for everyone, except those who were willing to climb nearby trees for a perch above it all, and there were quite a few of those. Although I could not see anything, Ari, Saul and Beth were tall enough to see the screens over all the heads, and Ari, who was standing next to me, filled me in periodically about what was happening. Eventually after about an hour, those who grew tired of standing, or needed a bathroom, or just gave up, filtered their way out of the crowd and I was able to find a spot a few feet further up where I could just see the screen if enough heads in front of me moved in the right direction as people shifted around in their spaces. The most poignant moments of the show were not really from the comedy, the music, or the satire, which were not stellar, but just from the experience of being present on that beautiful October day in that colossal, benign crowd (some estimates put it as high as 300,000). Singing, and hearing that huge throng singing the National Anthem on the National Mall, poised between the two iconic monuments of this country brought chills to my spine and tears to my eyes. I enjoyed the show, such as I could in such a situation, standing shoulder-to-shoulder for over three hours (five by the time I finally got to sit down on a concrete bench at the Metro stop). I thought the show was almost beside the point, a raison d’etre for bringing everyone together in such a way. No show could ever have met the expectations that accompanied this gathering.

At the end, we inched our way out of the crowd, struggling to stay together, and proceeded down Seventh Street, which becomes Georgia Avenue and is almost a beeline to Ari’s house about 4 miles away. Ari and Beth walked the entire distance home, but Saul, Anne and I gave up after a mile or two and headed down into the Mt. Vernon Square Station. There, we encountered green line trains so tightly packed with people that we could not hope to get on. The yellow line trains emptied out there as well, and those people just turned around and waited at the edge of the platform for a chance to push onto the green trains. After about 45 minutes of frustration, Saul hatched a plan for getting us home. We got on a train going in the opposite direction and took it well past the Archives station at the National Mall to the Waterfront Station. There, we crossed the platform and actually got seats on the train before it began to encounter the huge crowds from the rally. When we finally arrived at our Petworth stop, we had the idea, as we exited, to make reservations for Anne’s birthday dinner at Sala Thai Restaurant, which was right there. We made a reservation for seven people at 7:00 p.m. Ari was waiting for us in the car so that we did not have to walk the additional few blocks home.

Back at the house, we collapsed on the sofa with big glasses of water and watched the movie Shaun of the Dead, a precursor to Halloween, for about an hour before it was time to walk over to the restaurant for dinner. We were being joined by my other cousin, Julie, who has lived and worked in DC since she graduated from George Washington University many years ago. Anne left very specific instructions with an address for her son, Ben, who needed to get on the metro where he was staying and go two stops to meet us. Somehow, he wound up at a different Sala Thai in that neighborhood and had to take a cab to meet us. Anne was delighted that the restaurant had live jazz performers which she really enjoys. The singer, accompanied by an excellent pianist and bassist, had a terrific voice and sounded a bit like Ella Fitzgerald to me, reprising some of her classic songs. The food was wonderful, but the service was embarrassingly bad. We could not quite figure out why, except perhaps the waitress was new and had received no instruction at all. The restaurant was extremely small and did not seem to be understaffed. It began when she brought our hot appetizers and then disappeared without bringing any napkins or utensils to the table. Ari got up and found napkins, and a signal from the sushi chef spying our distress brought her running from somewhere eventually with utensils. When our entreés arrived, only half the table was served. We mistakenly assumed the others would receive theirs shortly. With no explanation from anyone, including our waitress, who again disappeared, we had almost finished eating before the other entreés arrived. I had asked about a chocolate mousse cake with a candle at the beginning of the meal, but the waitress seemed to have completely forgotten our discussion and we were all exhausted from our day and anxious to leave after so much time spent at the table. Ben left to join his friends even before the other entreés were served, so there didn’t seem to be much point in pursuing it. Julie drove Saul back to the house and joined us as we celebrated Anne’s birthday with tea and brown-sugar-glazed sweet potato cake with a tea-light candle in the center. We had a lively conversation until, one-by-one, we began to fall asleep. After Julie left, Ari cleaned up the whole downstairs before going off to bed. Next door, a wild Halloween party was raging and, as Ari was cleaning up, one of the drunken party-goers leaped from the deck next door onto his garage roof and passed out. Someone else leaped over and helped him get back eventually. In the morning, Ari swept or threw all the broken bottles and beer cans from his yard back in front of their door. Later in the day, while we were out, a hand-written note of apology was dropped into his mail slot.

We decided to go for dim sum on Sunday morning. Ari picked up Ben while Beth and Anne packed, and then we went in two cars to Hollywood East Café again so that they could get on the road home directly from there. We waited briefly for a table and enjoyed the assortment of steaming hot dumplings, taro cake, and lotus-leaf-wrapped sticky rice as always, but the big favorite of Beth, Anne and Ben were the assortment of warm desserts—egg custard-filled crispy mochi “carrots,” mini custard pies, toasted sesame balls with sweet yellow bean paste inside, green tea balls with sweetened black sesame filling, and fluffy pineapple buns. Beth, Anne and Ben headed for home after that, and Ari, Saul and I went shopping for odds and ends for Ari’s house at a nearby Tuesday Morning, Bloomingdale’s, Pottery Barn, and World Market. We began heading to Clarendon to check out the furniture-laden Crate and Barrel there, but realized, looking at the traffic on the other side of the road resulting from the Marine Corps Marathon that took place on Sunday, that we might get into a tremendous traffic jam on the way back and immediately turned around. We were disappointed with a lack of new merchandise everywhere we went. Stopping to pack up our things at Ari’s, Saul and I headed for Baltimore to go trick-or-treating with the girls, who were due back from a costume party at 6:00 p.m. As darkness fell, Jess, all three girls, and I pushing Yona in a stroller, went from house to house in the neighborhood for about an hour and a half. By the second house, Yona in her stroller realized that the other two girls were being given something and began to loudly protest in her own way that whatever they were getting, she wanted also. When she figured out that it was candy, we were assaulted by an endless stream of “open!, open!, open!” until Jess meted out some M & Ms.

We took the long relaxing way home over the Conowingo Dam and were unpacked and in bed by 11:00 p.m. It was a great long weekend!

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