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The Color Red

4

I am seeing red this morning. Mostly because I am looking out the window at my car in the driveway.

I’ve parked it in the worry spot: the place where I regularly execute three-point turns to ensure its safe passage from the edge of my driveway onto the busy street. The same place where I cracked its rear bumper just two weeks after I purchased it, just two days after I received the registration and license plate in the mail.

According to Jewish folk religion, thresholds are dangerous places because demons can cross them, entering the world inhabited by humans and causing misfortune.

Standing in a doorway or under a huppah (marriage canopy) makes you vulnerable, unless you take certain precautions. It is also a well-known tenet of folk religion that loud noises and bright colors scare away demons.

My dad taught me many of these folk traditions—which some people disparagingly call superstitions—in my childhood, and I dutifully observe their attendant rituals as an adult, transmitting them to my own children. Every new car gets a red ribbon, either tied to the steering wheel or placed in the console. But I didn’t have one handy on the day I purchased the car.

I emailed a photo to my dad before I drove it out of the dealer’s parking lot.

“Nice color, isn’t it?” I asked. “It’s called Barcelona Red.”

His response included a quip about the vehicle parked next to it.

I thought I would be protected without the red ribbon. After all, the whole car is red.

Two weeks later, as I affixed my new license plate, I made a mental note to stop at Target for a red ribbon. But the demons had already infiltrated my home through the open garage door. I ran many errands that day, but forgot about the ribbon. Perhaps I should have tied a string around my finger.

The next morning, the demons would deliver a more permanent reminder:

Ignore their presence in your life at your own peril.

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Crossing Water

4

I never much liked tunnels. Or driving under overpasses.

Dad would make a game of it, bellowing good-naturedly in one long exhale: “Gangway: Tunnel…” Often he would draw out the word until we emerged into the light of day.  But not in the Lincoln Tunnel. His lung capacity did not allow for 1.5 miles of entertainment.

I didn’t mind bridges. We drove across the newly-constructed Verrazano to see my grandparents in Brooklyn every weekend. I remember thinking it stretched on forever, and I couldn’t understand why my dad called it “narrow.” It was long—the longest suspension bridge in the world, he liked to remind us—but not narrow.  It stood gracefully tall and spread widely across the water.

By the time the toll was raised to more than $1.00, my family had moved to New Jersey, where I was busy learning about the state highway system: Odd numbered routes run north/south; even numbered routes run east/west. Except for Route 18.  Our travels occasionally took us across the Raritan River, but for the most part I was finished with tunnels and bridges.

When I moved back to New York City as an adult, I discovered a new kind of tunnel.  Trains hurtling through confined spaces, electrified by a hazardous third rail, inevitably filled my life with miles of anxiety.  My heart raced along those tunnels, as if set to a different frequency underground.  My preference for traveling in tunnels under dry land was secured.

But when it came to crossing water, I chose suspension over submersion.

Of all the news I heard following the storm, the closing of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge most ignited the imagination of my youth.  I understand now that “narrows” refers to the water spanned by the bridge’s 48-year old road, the water over which its 27,000-ton towers preside. I’ve crossed that bridge so many times. The first time was probably only a few years after it was built. Then, I was crossing water to connect to my grandparents, to my past.

Perhaps, after it reopens, I will find myself suspended above the narrows connecting to my future.

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Gravitas

2

It’s been about six months; plenty of time to adjust expectations. Yet, with each glimpse in the mirror, I am brought up short. I had no idea how much gray Dennis was hiding with his expertly applied dye.

It’s been about six years. Acting on impulse, I combed the dye through the white streak along my part, turning it a dazzling shade of fuchsia. Dennis had warned me earlier in the day: “When it starts to fade, it’s going to look horrible. You’ll have to let me fix it.”

I did not heed his professional advice. I was walking 60 miles to honor my loved ones who had fought—and some who had succumbed to—breast cancer and I was going “all out,” from the tips of my calloused toes to the roots of my pink scalp.

After many weeks of wearing headbands and hats to hide my faded pink-to-orange locks, I finally succumbed to vanity. I called Dennis: “Are you free tomorrow morning for a cut and color? I need you to fix this.”

He was a good sport, only gently teasing me about my self-inflicted clown look. Once he had worked his magic—returning me to my natural shade of brown and disguising me as a 30-something—I couldn’t stop myself from scheduling regular appointments.

Until one day, when I said, “Let’s just cut it today. I’m going to let it grow out.”

Packing for summer camp—where I work in the ceramics studio with my unruly curls tucked under a headband and walk the hills wearing a hat to protect my skin—I’d decided it was time to embrace the gray.

Dennis protested: “But you’ll look so much older.”

That’s okay. I am older.

I am lucky to have inherited my Grandma’s skin. With the exception crow’s feet earned honestly through smiling, I have no wrinkles. But I also inherited my Grandma’s hair. Recently, I did the math: she was 55 when I was born, and already quite gray. But in this picture from her 80th birthday, I see more pepper than salt framing her youthful face.

One camper admired my new hairdo, telling me that it gave me gravitas. “That’s a ten-cent word for a 12-year old,” I told him. I’m not sure gravitas is what I was aiming for, but I’ll take the compliment as it was intended.

Dennis is right, of course, I am too young to be so gray.
But I can’t simply climb out of the genetic pool into which I was born and dive into another.

Maybe next month I’ll ask him to apply some Blue Envy to my streaks of white.

It would be fun to go “all out” for Hanukkah.

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