“FAMOUS FATHER GIRL” – By ELLIN CURLEY

I just read a memoir by Jamie Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein’s oldest child and I absolutely loved the book!

The central characters are fascinating and complex as well as endlessly entertaining and the circle of friends is mostly famous people who are colorful and fun to read about.

Bernstein with the very young Jamie

Friends of my mother’s, the Coopers, lived in the same Park Avenue building in New York City as the Bernsteins for over a decade and became friends with the Bernstein family.

The oldest Cooper child, still a friend of mine today, was Jamie’s age and played with her for many years. I grew up hearing stories about the Bernstein family through the Coopers, so I feel a connection to them, however tenuous.

Helen Cooper in 1979

One of the stories I heard had to do with an incident at the Bernstein pool in Fairfield, CT. The middle Cooper child heard the word ‘gay’ from one of the adults and went up to another adult and asked him what gay meant. Leonard Bernstein was gay but lived a straight, family life for decades before coming out of the closet. That was necessary during the forties and fifties, and even the sixties, if you wanted to have a significant career. This story takes place during the closeted years.

The adult who the child approached thought it would be funny to tell the curious little girl to go ask Leonard what ‘gay’ was, so she did. Apparently, she got a paean about what wonderful, creative people gay men were and how glorious it was to be gay.

I’m sure this elicited lots of laughter around the pool that day.

The Bernstein’s Fairfield pool patio

Getting back to the book, the main reason it resonated so much with me is that Jamie and my childhoods had a lot in common. I’m only three years older than Jamie and we both grew up Jewish in New York City at the same time. Jamie was only half Jewish, but the Jewish half, Leonard, was strongly Jewish, at least culturally.

We both lived on Park Avenue in the same Upper East Side neighborhood and went to prominent private schools in the city. We both spent summers and some weekends at our second home in Fairfield County, Connecticut – Jamie in the town of Fairfield and me in nearby Easton. Our mothers were both beautiful and fashionable former actresses who entertained often and impeccably.

Jamie at a Bernstein rehearsal

However, the major experience that I shared with Jamie, was living in the shadow of a famous father. The title of Jamie’s memoir is “Famous Father Girl,” a nickname given to her by someone in her grade school class.

My father was not as universally well-known, but in our social circles and in the social science fields, he was a celebrity. Kids at my school knew that my father was an intellectual giant and he was spoken of with respect and awe by their parents, many of whom were psychiatrists, like my father.

My father

Jamie’s mother used to excuse Leonard’s excesses and eccentricities by telling her kids that this is what comes with ‘genius’, and my mother did the same thing. We had to forgive a lot of character flaws and social missteps because my father was a genius.

I can understand why superstars are surrounded by apologists and enablers because I grew up with that dynamic. In fact, my father was absolved of almost all paternal obligations and responsibilities, including talking to his child on a regular basis. At least Leonard Bernstein interacted with his kids, played with them and talked to them all the time when he was around.

Both of our fathers spent a lot of time teaching their children about their fields of expertise. Jamie learned about all styles of music at an early age and I knew about psychology, sociology, anthropology, as well as history and archeology (a favorite topic of my father’s) while still in elementary school. Both of our fathers were also hard acts to follow and we spent our young lives trying not to disappoint our larger than life parents.

Jamie tried to write and sing music for many years and I felt the need to excel academically, at least through college. I got a life, finally, in law school and stopped trying to be at the top of the class, which was a great relief. I’m sure Jamie shared my lifelong feeling of not measuring up in some significant way.

Bernstein’s famous TV series

Ironically, both Jamie and I found our voice and our passion in our thirties by becoming mothers. Years later Jamie found a true career running educational music programs based on her father’s Young People’s Concerts. I found myself in my father’s adjunct career – writer.

He published seven books over the years and numerous professional articles, which I helped my mother edit from the time I was fifteen. I publish blog posts and have the scripts I write with my husband performed by our audio theater group.

Jamie and her book cover

So Jamie and I each took something from our mothers and something from our fathers and later in life, came up with our own mix, creating satisfying lives for ourselves.

THE CASE OF THE OVERPRICED CABLE PACKAGES – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — The Case of Overpriced Cable Packages

We’ve been overpaying for cable since cable was introduced. We don’t have a choice here. We don’t get any choice except Direct TV or Spectrum (Charter). We can’t use DirectTV because we are surrounded by trees and the signal can’t get through the woods.

The super high-speed stuff you get via telephone cable is unavailable. Not enough people for them to bother to connect and they are expensive too. Meanwhile, as more and more people are cutting cable, Spectrum keeps raising their prices. They provide the cheesiest version of any device we need — for which they charge the highest possible price … and now they’ve raised wi-fi rates, too.

We can’t do without wifi anymore. Too much is attached to the internet, but we had already cut down to the absolute minimum package we could get from Spectrum. I had to renegotiate last week because our “free” HBO wasn’t free anymore and they raised the price of wi-fi by $20 and removed a $10 discount they’d been giving us, which made it now $30 more — just for wi-fi.

We hemmed and hawed and ultimately got it down to what was supposed to be the same as last year’s price, but with an additional $7.50 for HBO.

The bill came in last night.

$154, which was a $25 increase from the last year. $35 was just for renting their junky equipment.

Meanwhile, YouTube — now a subset of Google — is offering a huge selection of channels for $40/month — INCLUDING Major League Baseball as well our local baseball channel. Which means that Garry can actually watch the Red Sox live and still watch every other game being played. It’s got three ESPN channels, Fox Sports, and so much more. It is a sports loaded package, but it has all the networks, TCM, Sundance, and a bunch of other channels I don’t even recognize. We already have Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Acorn from before.

I can add HBO to Netflix if we want it. The problem is that we only watch one show on HBO — John Oliver. Otherwise, we don’t watch HBO at all. Yes, they have movies, but so does everything else and Garry like old movies better. We already have more stuff to watch than we have time to see. So we’ll wait and decide. I love John Oliver. I’m just not sure I want to subscribe to the channel just for that show.

The bill did it for me. I can get everything — much more than Spectrum offers — for $40 a month. It will drop our bill by more than $50/month.

I don’t get it. From a business standpoint, it makes no sense.

All cable companies know people are dumping them right, left, and center. Instead of trying to get competitive, they raise prices. They can’t believe this is good business.

It’s counter-intuitive and it gave me that final push to just give up. I hate changing utilities. I’m trying to keep life simple … but I’m also trying to survive on a fixed income. If they want $154 this year, what will they want next year? $175? $200? It will never stop and by the time they realize that instead of raising prices, they should be lowering them, they won’t have customers.

So Monday, they will come to collect the DVR boxes. By the end of next week, I will have just the telephone and wi-fi. I’m sure somehow they will find a way to raise the prices on those too, but I can’t fix everything.

YouTubeTV is a big package. That it includes MLB and our local NESN channel. This along means substantial savings for us because last year I had to buy MLB and we were blocked from seeing the Sox play live because our cable package didn’t include NESN.

Now we get both. For $40/month.

So that’s it for cable. By next week, it will be all streaming.

The case of the overpriced cable package had to be dealt with. Spectrum didn’t leave me a choice.

NO ONE IS LISTENING – Marilyn Armstrong

When does the complexity of a problem exceed the original problem to such a degree that one would really rather run screaming into the snow than have to deal with all that “stuff”?

Let’s say it’s dinnertime. The shrimp isn’t defrosted and you can’t cook the potatoes because you are out of onions. Home fries without onions? Are you mad?

Or, it’s Thanksgiving and the oven won’t turn on. How are you going to make that big bird? Turkey stew? Seriously?

But those things are simple when compared to medicine, doctors, hospitals, and tests.

The Front Door at UMass Memorial where they said I didn’t have an appointment

Life is a mess of complications and complexities and misunderstandings.

I told you, but you heard something else. You told me everything, but I forgot what you said or I was too drugged to understand assuming I was awake but I’m sure I wasn’t.

So … whatever you said? I have no idea what it was and please don’t repeat it. I can’t hear you.

The older I get, the more simple I want my life to be. I want appointments at a time when I can get there comfortably. Nothing at 7:00 am in the morning after an hour and a half of bumper-to-bumper traffic.

There are tests they assure me I need — medically — that are so absurdly complicated, I think I’d prefer to die.

My favorite is the one where they want to examine my brain. It had taken weeks to even get the appointment. When I got there, they’d lost the appointment. It turns out they were looking in the wrong book because they really did have it — in the right book. Which they didn’t have at the lab.

They made me a new appointment, but this time, the test was ridiculous so I was glad when it rolled around, I was sick and couldn’t go. They wanted me to be in Worcester at 6 am. Get tested. Wait for two-hours for the second part of the test. Then wait several more hours until a doctor is available and he, without interpreting the test, tells me to go home. I’ll get a skeleton version of the results probably a week later. I will be told the result is “negative.”

What does negative mean? Is that good? Bad? Do I get to actually finally talk to a doctor? Or is “negative” the whole story. Since they aren’t going to tell me what they are testing for, what are they telling me?

More of UMass Memorial

I said “Why can’t I just talk to a doctor and explain what happened? Maybe none of these tests are necessary?”

“The doctor insists,” she said.

Au contraire,” I murmured because I am the patient and I insist I be allowed to talk to the doctor before testing starts. This is expensive testing because our government keeps raising the prices for tests and we are poor. So, unless someone is willing to explain what they want to test for, I’m not going.

In the end, I didn’t take any tests. My cardiologist thinks I might need them, but he wants to do some heart testing first. But he does think, as I do, that whatever is wrong is probably not fatal and not in need of expensive testing. More like a diagnostic visit.

The world is complicated. At least half the time, it’s complicated because everyone is doing what someone else told them to do. Or they think they are doing what someone told them to do, but they aren’t. Because no one is listening to anyone.

No one is listening. No one.

TENDER MOMENTS IN BLACK & WHITE – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Tender Moments

I didn’t think I had anything, but as it turns out, I was wrong I had more stuff than I thought. So here are tender — or at least friendly — moments between creatures and humans.

In black and white.

Garry and Harvey Leonard
Bonnie and Gibbs
Swans on a dark pond
Ellin and Lexi