Monday, May 24, 2010

The Graduates

Key West -- 'Tis the season for graduations and this year I got to celebrate, too.

My commencement was at Rutgers and I got to wear a regal crimson gown and black velvet hat. I loved parading around in it.

George now calls me Dr. J. It's not my first honorary degree. That was at Mount Holyoke College -- see my commencement blog of Friday, May 29, 2009 titled SAT (For Better or Worse). But because I grew up in New Jersey, being honored by Rutgers has special meaning.

I have Susan Wilson to thank for this. Susie was my champion. She's the one who sparked my interest in Answer and Sexetc. Because of her I serve on the Advisory Board of this important organization which is part of the Center for Applied Psychology at Rutgers. Thanks, Susie!

But back to Rutgers and my memories of spending weekends there, bunking with students at Douglas College (Rutgers' sister school in the days when the two schools were segregated by sex), and going to fraternity parties with boys. I never learned to like the taste of beer but not drinking didn't stop me from having fun. (I'm sure I had more fun than the kids who got drunk and sick. Ugh!)

Who would have imagined then, that fifty years later I'd be back for an honorary degree? For anyone interested, below is a video.

And you know what the best thing about it was? I didn't have to give a commencement address. So I could relax, enjoy, and listen while Eleanor Smeal, former president of NOW spoke. She focused on the fiftieth anniversary of The Pill and how it changed the lives of women. Can you believe it's been fifty years?

I have no idea who gave the commencement address at my high school graduation in 1956, nor do I remember a thing he/she said. I remember only clutching the hand of my best friend, Mary Sullivan (lucky for us we were seated next to each other, connected by the alphabet - Sullivan and Sussman). Her hand was clammy. I think we wore white. I have no memory of receiving my diploma. And four years later, when I graduated from NYU, I skipped commencement. My diploma arrived by mail. I was married with a baby by then. I felt too grown up for graduation. Little did I know! Which is why, I think, all these graduations mean so much to me.

So congratulations graduates everywhere -- you made it! And now, another beginning. I wish you all the best.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jersey Girl

New York -- day 12 of our whirlwind visit to the city. But let's start at the beginning. The Miss New Jersey contest -- oh, wait! -- that's what George called it, but really it was the New Jersey Hall of Fame. What a night, what a hoot!

First there was the heat. The temperature outside was 90 plus that afternoon. The car picked us up at 3:30. The air conditioning worked for about 5 minutes then cut off. I don't even like air conditioning. I'm a person who rarely sweats. And I like to sweat, at the gym, or in my tap class --but not when I'm wearing my new purple jacket and an hour's worth of "natural" looking makeup, professionally applied. By the time we reached the NJ Performing Arts Center in Newark I was ready for a swim. Instead, it was red carpet time -- directly from the car -- no chance to use the restroom first. And if I thought it was hot inside the car, the red carpet with all those lights made it feel like a sweat lodge.

George denies he's the guy with me here -- says it must be my bodyguard. But we know better.

Soon Frankie Valli arrived and the crowd went wild. At the end of my final TV spot I sang to him.

Can't believe I did that in public!

Then, bliss -- the cool air of the lobby of the theater, and a glorious theater it is. An opera house that seats 2,000. I headed for the Womens Room where I stripped down, spritzed myself with water, and paper towel dried, praying my deodorant was still working. It was -- whew! I mean, Miss New Jersey with smelly armpits?! But this is probably more than you want to know.

Each honoree was assigned a "minder" (that's what they call them in the UK) -- someone to make sure you get to where you need to be when you need to be there. Only problem was, our minders weren't properly informed (no fault of theirs) so mine didn't know there was a dressing room for me, or a green room with snacks and drinks where the official photo of this year's Class was taken. I made it just in time. Beautiful Susan Sarandon, who was there, isn't in this photo. Maybe her minder didn't know either. That's Michael Graves in a Segway chair. Thrilling to meet him.

And not bad, being seated between Jack Nicholson and Frankie Valli, with Carl Lewis behind us, and one of my favorites, Danny DeVito, next to Frankie. I was disappointed that Philip Roth didn't make it. He is surely one of America's finest novelists. Not to mention that our mothers went to high school in Elizabeth together.

Each of us was introduced by a video.

OMG -- was I ever that young and earnest? And how about David Letterman and Tom Brokaw in 1980? But that narrator's voice! Makes everyone's life sound so, well, lifeless.

I was lucky to have the fabulously smart and funny Judy Gold as my presenter.

We met when I went to her play 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother.

Most moving moment of the evening -- widow of a police officer who was shot and killed on duty in Jersey City. He was acknowledged as a NJ hero. With three small kids, the youngest just a year old when her husband was killed, I'd say she's pretty heroic herself.

Funniest -- The Boss introducing Danny DeVito, then DeVito himself!

Four hours after it began the show ended. Even the Academy Awards don't last that long! As Jack Nicholson said at about 9:30 -- It's hard to give an after dinner speech when you still haven't had your dinner.

Something I've been thinking about -- from age 12 on I dreamed about living on the other side of the Hudson, which I finally managed when I went to NYU. For a long time I hated to be asked where I was from (wanting to be seen as someone more exotic?) though I never denied my Jersey roots. After all, N.J. was, and continues to be, an inspiration - so many of my books are set there, including the one I'm just starting. But lately, when someone asks where I'm from, I say proudly -- Hey, I'm a Jersey Girl! Ya wanna make something of it?