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How do you trace genius? What’s the recipe for inspiration? When listening to an acceptance speech, who gets a nod and who goes unappreciated?

Put another way, how much credit does the home field get when the home team hits one out of the park? When Highland Parkers make it onto the world stage, how much of that success is happenstance, and how much is attributable to the zip code?

Consider The Princess Bride. William Goldman, the author, was born and raised in HP. We could lower our taxes if there were a residual paid to the town every time somebody said, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Were those words inspired while clowning around in line, waiting for the cheddar fries at Stash’s? They might have been.

Anne Farleigh, the English teacher who ran the now extinct HPHS Reading Lab, was the one who first handed me Goldman’s book. With pride she said, “See what our graduates produce.” And that was before it became a movie.

More recently, HPHS can lay claim to the creators of Amazon’s top selling game, Cards Against Humanity: A party game for horrible people. Much has been written about these boys and their humor, but what about their local inspiration?

“Everything was safe, sanitized, boring. High school was an awful place, a futuristic prison,” says Max Temkin, one of the eight guys who, for lack of a better phrase, are all warped wizards.

Really?

Pressed to come up with even one thing from Highland Park he misses, Temkin’s face finally lights up. “The egg-white salad from Once Upon a Bagel. It’s the best. How do they make that?”

My eyebrows shot up. These boys, three of whom graduated first, second, and third in their class, and who together are just shy of forming a minyan, do they give a nod to their mothers? A nod to their teachers? A nod, even, to each other?

“I hate David, and David hates himself,” says Temkin, explaining their distinctive friendship. It’s that charming and ironic connection that keeps the group bound together despite physical distance and divergent daytime career paths.

Still, ‘tis the season of giving, and I feel the need to express my appreciation to these HP natives for the latest and most demented reason to be proud of my hometown.

So to you, Eli Halpern, David Munk, Josh Dillon, Eliot Weinstein, Daniel Dranove, Ben Hantoot, David Pinsof, and yes, Max Temkin, here is my gift: direct from Oscar Garcia of Once Upon a Bagel, the recipe for their egg-white salad. “Take low-fat mayo, a little bit of black pepper, celery, onion salt, and just the egg whites from boiled eggs.”

“What makes it so special?” I asked.

“It’s the love,” replied Garcia.

Yes it is. And boys, remember this: It’s not just the hometown egg-white salad that fostered your creativity. Give a nod to your mothers here in Highland Park. They put up with all of you.

 

 

 

ImageThe Cheney Gals, cooking up a foul brew.

 

Shakespeare was really the first to cash in on the idea of a cooking show. Complain all you want about those pesky reading assignments, but to a person we remember those three witches, standing around the cauldron, stirring with demented glee, and reciting their recipe faster than any of the groundlings could transcribe it. What’s shorthand for eye of newt and tongue of bat, anyway?

 Doesn’t matter. MacBeth is captivating, from the recipes right down to the ransacking. Of course, those kitchen-witches aren’t the ones fighting. In a play where unbridled ambition ruins families and fiefdoms, the three weird sisters seem to get along. Apparently, that’s what makes them weird. Don’t believe me? Ask the Cheneys.

 They’re helping to redefine Thanksgiving for the twenty-first century: food, family, and fights. Don’t even bother to send me your complaints. Save time. Send them directly to my mother, who agrees with you. She thinks everyone should get along, and she abhors the very concept of antagonism among siblings. Birth order dictates her point of view: That is to say, she is an only child.

 As one of four, I understand a little rough and tumble family fun. I have older brothers, and trust me when I tell you no sentence instilled greater fear in my bones than my parents leaving the house and my mother waving and calling out, “There are TV dinners in the freezer, and the boys are in charge.” (Full disclosure: I loved those Swanson TV dinners.) But putting older brothers in charge? Why not save everyone a lot of time and trouble and just let Betsy and me lock ourselves in the bathroom?

 The point is, of course, that siblings don’t always get along. That’s why the NYTimes put the feud between the Cheney sisters on page one. Liz and Mary aren’t talking to one another, unless you count social media jibes and news conference accusations as communication.

 At issue is same-sex marriage, which Liz Cheney vehemently opposes. Meanwhile, her sister, Mary, is married to Heather Poe, and together they have two children.

 Here’s my favorite sentence in the NYTimes article. “Things erupted on Sunday when Mary Cheney, a lesbian, and her wife were at home watching Fox News Sunday – their usual weekend ritual.” Does Fox know Mary and her wife are regular viewers? Do Mary and Heather realize they are watching Fox?

 Channel selection aside, what about the Cheney Thanksgiving? How will they get through the fair-is-fowl, foul-is-family fest when Liz’s bid for the senate trumps her family fealty? Ambition compels her to opt for expediency over loyalty.

 Sound familiar? Shake out those mothballs between your ears. It’s the story of MacBeth. And it is a tragedy.

 If only Shakespeare’s witches could cook up a spell to help Liz recognize the legitimacy of her sister’s relationship. It’d be a brew to help her accept her brood. That’d be a cooking show worth watching, and a recipe worth replicating. Instead, what she’s asking voters to swallow is poison.

Let the heavens weep. Oh hell. I’m weeping. People Magazine has declared Gwyneth Paltrow the World’s Most Beautiful Woman. Thanks, People, for confirming that beauty comes in one shape and one size: Toothpick-Thin and Double Zero.
Apparently, having no breasts, no hips, no butt, no thighs, and no apologies for exercising two hours every single day is the standard of beauty in this country. Where are the Dove executives when we need them most?
Whatever progress in accepting our bodies and our shapes and ourselves we might make has eroded another little bit.
Next year I expect to see Olive Oyl make the list, too. Assuming she dies her hair blond, of course.

Gwyneth the Thyneth

World’s Most Beautiful Stick

Fun sized candy? This is more like it.

After years of looking, I’ve finally found candy that I would deem “fun sized.” Now who’s the Smartie?

Look out for what he’s selling.

“Romney needs to complete the sale.” Jill Hazelbaker, Communications director for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Ever try on a pair of shoes and hesitate about buying them because they pinch? You know what a good salesman does. He offers to “take them into the back and stretch them.” No one knows what that means, but when he brings them back, they seem to feel better. “They’re genuine leather. They’ll give a little,” he assures you. You look at your feet. You look in the mirror. You love these shoes. You buy them, believing that after a short “break-in” period they’ll be comfortable.

Of course, at the best stores, you’ve got a little insurance. It’s called a return policy.

Romney is that shoe salesman. In the first debate, he could have sold anyone a shiny new pair of shoes, no matter how badly they fit. The candidate who looked straight into the camera and promised a better America came across so convincingly that he could have sold a pair of stilettos to my great-grandmother and a pair of clogs to my teenager.

If only he were selling shoes on November 6th. Then, when we all figured out that what he had sold us didn’t fit, or that we didn’t like it, or that it still hurt, we could return it. We could return him.

But that’s not how the presidential election works. Vote for the wrong guy, and you’re stuck with a bad fit, not just for four years, but for as long as a Supreme Court appointment lives.

When an experienced campaign director insists, “Romney needs to complete the sale,” I cringe.

Look long and hard at that salesman. He’s selling snake oil. Women, don’t buy it.

 

 

Felix Baumgartner takes a leap from space.

Here’s what I know from walking into a preschool class eighteen years ago with my first child. Every class has a Felix Baumgartner in it, and I don’t want my kids being friends with him. Or her. Or anyone who thinks it’s fun to jump because there’s a bridge, or climb because there’s an Everest, or dare because he’s a devil.

I’m talking to you, Felix Baumgartner, Mr. Risk-Your-Life-Jumping-Out-Of-A-Space-Capsule-For-Fun. Think about your mother, for goodness sakes.

Does this ring a bell? “It’s those friends of his. They’re a bad influence.” Every mother alive has blamed the first and second and sometimes third round of bad behavior on the company her kid keeps. Peer pressure is the scapegoat of every parent caught hand wringing in despair as she wonders why her child made bad choices.

So imagine if your kid hung out with Felix. Every night at the table would be the same old same old. “I don’t care if he jumped from a space capsule. I said NO.” Or, “I don’t care if he fell at Mach 1. NO.” Or even, in utter despair, “No, you may not jump from three atmospheres. Not today. Not tomorrow. Never. Understood? Now go finish your homework.”

Felix had to be tough at home, tough at school, and just plain tough. Maybe if he’d been in middle school now, he’d have been medicated out of his tendency to push the boundaries of fear and sanity. I’m not necessarily promoting the possible merits of medicating our youth, but perhaps on the right cocktail he would have been happy just bungy jumping or ice climbing or heli-skiing, like more typical thrill seekers.

The dinner conversation would still be the same, though on a smaller magnitude. “I don’t care if it’s a one-time-only opportunity to squirrel-fly from the Eiffel Tower. Not while there’s breath in my body.”

As far as I’m concerned, the fear-buzz Felix experienced before plunging toward earth could only be a fraction of what his mother felt. And I’m guessing she doesn’t enjoy the buzz from the emotional intensity of life-threatening activity the way her son does.

Sometimes it sucks to be the mother.

Scooters and Hips

Talismans of Youth: A scooter, stilts and a pogo stick.

I was minding my own business, hoisting the bottom half of  a couch out of our garage  in preparation for the AmVets truck pick-up, when Tim suggested that we give away a few other things. I nodded approval, because my idea of a good time includes getting rid of everything, and my idea of a great time is sweeping out a newly emptied garage.

Tim carried out a couple of brass floor grates, a rusted wrought-iron table, and my heart.

He didn’t actually hold my heart, of course. What he held was a set of stilts, a scooter, and a pogo stick. These were our younger daughter’s favorite toys, symbols of a childhood spent in constant motion: balancing, careening, and bouncing.

Twelve years of soccer, six Varsity letters, and one Alaskan NOLS expedition later, she’s still a force of nature. But as she grew up, I grew accustomed to her adult pursuits, running and biking and exploring her way through life.

One glance at these Talismans of her younger self reduced me to a nostalgic mess. That’s what parenting is, I guess. A series of matter-of-fact rituals occasionally interrupted by moments of overwhelming emotion.

My husband took one look at me at chalked it up to menopause.

But it was more than hormones gone awry in my sleep-deprived middle-aged body. Two days earlier, I’d spent the night in the hospital, keeping my eighty-year-old father company in the ICU  following his hip replacement surgery. A life-long athlete at the national and even international level, my father’s hips and knees and ankles are now failing him, taunting him later in life after having served him so well.

That night in the hospital, from the discomfort of my not-fully-reclinable Lazy-Boy bed, I found myself looking not at my father, pale from his surgery, but at his electronic monitor. Those brightly colored zig-zagging lines and beeping numbers offered more reassurance to me than the faint snores and coughs coming from his bed.

I thought about the heart-stopping fear I used to feel, watching my daughter climb and jump and race through life, missing corners and edges and danger by the narrowest of margins. And I thought about the heart-stopping fear I felt now, worrying that my father’s heart would, in fact, stop.

That’s what being a daughter  is, I guess. A lifetime of counting on the presence of a parent, interrupted by the overwhelming emotion of acknowledging the inevitable.

Nope. I reject that. Dad’s going to be fine. He’ll move from the hospital to rehab to home. He’ll swap the hospital bed for a walker, the walker for a cane, and then even the cane will be gone.

That’s what being an optimist is about. The stubborn belief that moving forward is always good.

I let the guys from AmVets take the stilts and the scooter and the pogo stick. But not before I snapped a picture. A gal needs a photo every now and then to remember these little moments. And then I rode my own bike to the hospital to visit my dad, who really is getting better.

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