Monday, May 21, 2012

The Perfect Coverup

            The most important lesson I’ve ever learned is to never answer the question, “So what is the most important lesson you’ve ever learned?”
My life is made up of many important lessons, just as I’m sure yours is, and what was so terribly significant two years ago is now relegated to the back of my closet. And what I consider important may be fodder for someone else’s mental paper shredder.
These lessons began in the third grade, thanks to my father who purchased a skeleton marionette at FAO Schwartz. By tilting the wooden handle, Harry’s ceramic bones separated onto the puppet strings, and he flew into pieces. My classmates loved it. You could have stuck an owl in their mouths as they watched this spectacle with awe.
But this wasn’t enough for me. I designed a red wig out of wool and led Harry in dance to Hair at the school’s talent show. Some kid’s piano concerto won first place, with second place awarded to my best friend who belted out a song from South Pacific. The lesson learned here is that people will laugh at anything.
My Greek grandmother from Janina taught me the value of a home cooked meal, accompanied by a cackling laugh. I learned to add feta cheese to everything but must have missed something because the last time I invited a friend over for dinner, he noted that he would be busy vacuuming.
“But I didn’t tell you when,” I said, puzzled.
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied, wearily. “If you’re cooking, I have other plans.”
My grandmother taught me to curse in two languages. This has been more useful.
When I was 20, my worldly lesson was “just be yourself,” which I embraced with all of the fervor and hysteria of youth but with no direction.
When I hit 30, a friend in the fashion business, Stephanie Arcel, taught me an important lesson, one that women of all sizes can benefit from, particularly those wearing too small stretch pants. I was a repeat offender, not of stretch pants because they prevent me from breathing, but of waist-length jackets. Stephanie ticketed me.
“Always - cover - your - ass,” she said.
“It presents a better line,” she explained. “No one needs to see what’s behind you.”
I took her advice and diligently follow it by wearing long sweaters and blouses covering my contentious but hopefully, not too large derrierre. Based on the shapes and sizes I’ve seen on others, she’s right. Some things are better left to the imagination.
Stephanie, the wife of the legendendary boxing trainer Ray Arcel, first met when I interviewed her husband and covered the boxing scene more than a decade or so ago. She always looks impeccable. In another time, I can picture her at the Alqonquin offering a one-two punch loaded with charm at Dorothy Parker, with constructive comments about her fashion ensemble and ways to improve her witticisms, just as she’s always contributed suggestions to me.
Ray, she recalls, advised her, like one of his champion prizefighters, “Don’t be a district attorney.” She passed it on to me but I haven’t learned that lesson. It must be the journalist in me: I must know how and why everything works. In all the years I’ve known her and as many times as I’ve asked her, Stephanie has never revealed her age or how many times she’s been married.
I kind of agree about the first one but would include hair color and weight. People will decide for themselves.
I taught myself an important lesson, shared here with you. It has taken eight years for me to earn my bachelor’s degree and I graduate, finally, this June. In reality, it has taken me a total of twelve years, five colleges, seven boyfriends (at some point, I stopped counting) and several careers over too many years, but this is another story. The lesson here is that time will pass, whether or not you decide to go back to school, embark on another adventure, or sit on the couch and watch television, and complain about life passing you by.
Another lesson here: You, too, will be fine without the television. But stick with the laughs and feta cheese. And always, always cover your ass.



A special thanks to Manuel Guzman for the photograph at the end of the video.


Listen to the podcast of The Perfect Coverup by clicking on the image below:






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