• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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If You Don’t Know Me By Now

At what point do you stop saying, “Happy new year?”  I always feel kind of like Eddie Haskell. Worse, is saying happy new year to Jewish colleagues at Rosh Hashana. It’s like all that brisket stinking up the room. Where am I going with this? Work protocol? Agent banter? Greasing the wheel. Sending out first project of the year. Getting back to work. Getting it up. Hey, happy new year. How was your vacation? If you consider gaining six pounds a plus, it was great.

Happy new year. Same to you. I’m not joining Weight Watchers again. No, I’d rather get the extra large casket. Do you even know why we’re human? Why we take out our teeth at night and wait for the killer inside us? Happy new year. Same to you. You look marvelous. My dad had a lumber yard. He wanted me to work with him. I said, Dad, I’m not interested in lumber. He said, it’s not about lumber, it’s about people. Dad, I said, I’m not interested in people. I’m interested in books.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A literary agent? A bookseller? A librarian with an oxy habit? A printer? A poet? A mohel? A painter’s model? A fire truck?  Keanu Reeves? A writer?

72 Responses

  1. HAHAAHAH! I’ve been thinking this since Tuesday. Let’s take a stand. No more wishing Happy New Year.

  2. My dad had a bar. I didn’t want to work for him. Life is cruel. He died and I had to run the bar. In Detroit. Happy New Year.

  3. I think the wish was only for me to marry well. Like a Jane Austen character, except from below the poverty line. MY wish though was to be Kurt Vonnegut. Immediately. Or Maya Angelou. They didn’t know what I was reading, thank God.

  4. My dad wanted me to be a CPA. I said, I’m not interested in accounting. I like books. He said, you’ll make money as a CPA. I said I’d commit suicide by the time I was 30. He then declined to pay for college so I paid my own way — and I pay my own CPA, too.

  5. The first thing I ever wanted to be was a rabbi, which quickly changed into actor. Writer was last. I never wanted to be a writer. I’ve been on writer’s strike for months. No writing, no reading. This was not a conscious choice, it’s hard to explain. No reading on summer trains, just looking out the windows and into my soul.

    The most memorable line from the Philip Larkin one-man show I saw in London was: “The day my novel was accepted!” You had to hear Tom Courtenay say it: blew me away. Well, I’ve just had that day…and I think I’m ready to write again.

  6. I have this memory of lining up my dolls (4 for the 4 children I was going to have) on our sofa for a flight (we were going on vacation to “out there”, just me and the girls) when the plane started to shake. I, the uber-mommy wannabe, calmly took over for the conveniently unconscious pilot and steered the plane to safety while doing some flips and faux-dips to the delight of the rest of the passengers. They applauded. My girls looked unfazed when I returned from the cockpit cushions. This was before I began reading so I think that’s about when I decided to become a fiction writer when I grew up – the applause for the implausible was addictive. (And I think I married the pilot later.)

  7. I wanted to be a teacher and I don’t know why, I hated teachers as a kid. I still hope to some day get there, but life happens when you’re making plans.

  8. I don’t remember what I wanted to be . . . except maybe Will in The Dark is Rising or Tali in Mind-Call or Lucy in Narnia. I studied, but discovered that there ‘s a permanent hiring freeze in Terabithia and Oz . . . so I wrote myself some new places to play in.

    Somewhat later, my parents wanted me to be a music teacher. I hated music theory and practicing , so I switched to the English department. and wrote stories. They told me to get a teaching degree. I hated the idea of having to control large groups of children, so I decided to earn my certification in remedial reading and wrote stories.

    They told me to get a teaching job. I sabotaged myself during interviews and got a job in a bookstore and wrote stories. I hated the manager and selling those damned discount cards. But I loved the books, so, so much.

    Finally, my parents told me to suit myself and I became a librarian. And started calling myself a writer.

    And now they’re proud of me.

    So am I.

    But I still miss the bassoon sometimes.

  9. I always wanted to be a writer. I have a photo of me at about age 6 where I’m scribbling a story in a yellow legal pad, and covering it up with my arms, a look of desperate protection on my face. I wrote stories for my grandfather to read, and I guess I’ve been seeking attention from strangers both foreign and domestic ever since.

  10. I wanted to do anything where I could be clean — dress up, wear pantyhose and heels, not sweat — and my mother wanted this for me too.

    I had it. And hated it. But it sure beat what Mom had had, so do we call that progress?

  11. Me? A poet and a princess. And at one point an Olympic horsewoman.

    And here it is, another year. I’m sitting in my ermine ensemble while the wind blows fiercely outside buffeting things about. Why can’t the new year be in August? It’s so much easier to smile and wish people well with an ice cold lime rickey in hand, yes?

  12. For a very brief period in first grade, I wanted to be an architect. I’m fairly confident I can blame this short delusion on a field trip downtown, talking to architects.

    A week or month later, we wrote, illustrated and bound our own books. I’ve been hooked on that ever since.

    Until I finish a manuscript fit for agents’ eyes, I’ll settle for kindergarten teacher and aspiring author.

  13. I wanted to be a toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike, but I ended up becoming a writer. I’m going to be 55 in two weeks. I often wonder if it’s too late for me, too late to chase my dream of making change at Exit 8A.

    Hey, I waited till 3 o’clock in the morning on Long Island to read your blog. Jesus. What does a girl have to do to be the first Commentor around here?

    • Is it just me or does the blog appear early and then vanish for the rest of the evening? I kept refreshing after I made my comment, but it was gone until this morning. It’s a funny thought: staying in New Jersey, becoming a rabbi, and giving my toll money to you…another reality, perhaps more real than this one.

    • Go for it! You can do it! Think of all the people who will say “have a nice day!” as you hand ’em their change. It could be tough, though; more and more states are going with automated machines at toll plazas and it’s just sad the personal touch and fixed smile will go the way of a 50 cent cup of joe. Follow your dreams, I say.

  14. I wanted to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live. Now I just want to be Tina Fey…


  15. Forgive me but I rather like saying, “Happy New Year.” It gives me something to offer when usually I’m blank.

    I always thought I’d be a stage actress. I didn’t think I was fit for anything else.

  16. As a child I used to pray for wisdom and hide out in books. But I’m agog at all the information awash in the world today. I never wanted to be a writer. I just can’t not do it.

  17. I wanted to be writer when I grew up. Specifically write and publish books. Still trying to get there…but maybe I’m not grown up yet 🙂

  18. I wanted to be a vet until I hit puberty and joined a kid’s theater company. Then I wanted to be a stage actress, and became obsessed with Brecht. Then I majored in theater and figured out I couldn’t stand the company or the hours, and decided I wanted to be a writer. I had been writing all along. Then I had to get a divorce and deal with my life. Took about 10 years.

    I got a library degree, but only because I wanted to know where my groceries were coming from. That turned out to be a bad joke. We’ll see how long publishers keep paying for book indexes.

  19. After I stopped wanting to be a spy or an archeologist I wanted to be a legal secretary, which I did become and now I’ve segued into transcribing murder trials at home. Murder trials are surprisingly boring. Meanwhile, I always had a secret desire to write amusing novels with treasure hunts and fun with words. I’m writing one now, in between convictions, but it’s slow. There are lots of trials to transcribe and I need the dollar a page.

  20. I wanted to be not afraid anymore.

  21. I wanted to be a ballerina. At 17 I was ready to run off to NYC and do the thing. My mother said, “Do you know how many dancers go to NYC and fail? Learn to type; the world will always need secretaries.” Jesus Christ, I listened to her. Luckily, my secretarial career was short-lived; I sucked at taking phone messages.

    Now I write magazine articles about granite countertops and hardwood floors. It’s not Hemingway, but people actually pay me to write.

    And I go to the ballet.

  22. “I’d rather get the extra large casket”

    Oh you make me laugh.

  23. I wanted to be Hank the Cowdog.


  24. I’ve wracked my brain, and am mildly chagrined to admit that the only career goal I can recall from an early age always involved the post of being someone’s wife. Specifically, and in order: Mike Nesmith’s, Shawn Cassidy’s, Lee Majors’s (Farrah beat me to it) Tom Wopat’s…

    By ten, my list of hopefuls unresponsive, I moved on to wanting to be a writer. Or an archeologist. Or Princess Leia.

  25. My parents were teachers. I wanted to be a photographer, a poet, an actress. I went to college and became a drama teacher. Twenty years later, I’m writing. I take pictures for fun.

  26. I wanted to be an archaeologist, but my father told me I wasn’t smart enough. He wanted me to be a concert pianist, but I didn’t want to. So I just got married and had kids.
    NOW I’m a writer! Why didn’t I think of that in the first place?

  27. i was raised in presbyterian household and that means guilt and duty, duty and guilt. i remember i wanted to be a meat cutter, i was fascinated by little blue trays of pork chops whizzing along the roller line and wrapping, i remember the saran wrapping was beautiful.

    i became a nurse and grew to hate the big hospital machine, where no one knows your name, they just bellow out “NURSE” and you run down sticky linoleum hallways.

    i came to writing in my thirties and can safely call myself a fucking writer.

  28. Books are trees, at least for now, so the publishing business is sort of like a lumberyard.

    I always wanted to write, probably because I like reading so much, loving where the words take me, although some books I’ve picked up would’ve been better off if they remained trees. At one point I wanted to be an astronaut, then later, a cowboy. Instead I’ve worked as a laborer, planted trees, washed dishes, ran a golf course, worked as a counselor and painted houses. Now I do landscape work, some carpentry and caretaking homes for people with disposable income. My mother referred to people like me as jacks of all trades and masters of none. I still write, but the other stuff puts food on the table and a roof over our heads.

  29. Oddly enough I always wanted to be a middle manager working at a huge soul sucking corporate juggernaut struggling to pay my mortgage and raise 4 kids while I secretly try to write the next great novel. Golly, sometimes dreams do come true !

  30. Shoulda just gave it to your dad unvarnished and said, ‘Dad, I’m just board with the lumber business.’ That would have nailed it for him. Sometimes you just have to level with people. As for what I wanted to be when I grew up: an actor or a writer. Got a taste of both. Writing has earned me a living for much of my life and now I’m striving to kick it up to novel lengths. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  31. I found a book I wrote when I was six–it had a table of contents etc, but the story was only one line long. I’ve always loved books and ended up working in books (librarian, book publishing, printer)…I think I love books more than writing. I also wanted to be a veterinarian and an archeologist, but……

    I gained at least six pounds, too, and looked up the schedule of the Weight Watchers meetings the other day. Can’t decide if I want to do that…ugh…

  32. Senior year of high school, I took a job as a p-t secretary at a telephone sales company. Ten guys on Watts lines, hawking off-brand copy paper and stick pens by the gross. I married the owner. My writer dad, dying of cancer, said, “And to think, you could have been a copy girl at the [LA] Times.”

  33. I wanted to be an artist (a famous one) or a chef so I could wear a tall, white, pleated hat like the head chef wore when I was a waitress at The Colony in Kennebunkport. Instead, I became a teacher. When I finished that, I became a writer. Dead is more than likely next.

  34. Wanted to be Miss America, and thought it was a full- time job with continual applause as the centerpiece of the benefits package. Started practicing for it by carrying around a plastic tiara and making people listen to me warble Bette Midler songs at all hours of the day.

    Probably the nicest thing my dad ever did for my future was when he informed me at six that I should probably consider a different vocation. Otherwise, I’d probably still be mock- waving to a disinterested audience of stuffed animals.

  35. I always wanted to be a lion. That never worked out.

  36. in disorder: archaeologist, sculptor, painter, actress, veterinarian, sea captain, tennis player, therapist, teacher, marine biologist, comedian, writer.

    writer was first and something i avoided as my mother wrote. she took me to breadloaf readings when i was 9 i think (she was a scholar there in ’76). went back more than a few times during my childhood, teens, as my mom’s grandparents lived in vermont and we took vacations there most summers. magical times, really extraordinary. remember them still. my impression of writers when i was a kid: lively, fun, good storytellers and jokers (of course), terrible dressers, accomplished drinkers, kind and abrupt (usually in a self-conscious somewhat protective way). always ended on kind, warm, loved to laugh.

    not much has changed in that respect.

    and i am finally almost out of the writer closet. i can see the light beneath the door.

  37. Betsy– “a fire truck,” “Keanu Reeves” really fucking funny.

  38. No, I’d rather get the extra large casket


    I wanted to be a judge. Isn’t that something. Now, I just admire Judge Judy.

  39. Forgot Sherlock Holmes. Not just any detective, only him.

  40. Betsy liked books, not people. I liked horses more than people and best of all, books about horses. Huh, maybe that’s what I should write about now that I’ve moved back to Kentucky…

    • I can so relate to liking horses better than people…I liked dogs better, too. I remember standing at my bedroom windown when I was about 7-yrs-old scared shitless that God was going to send me to hell right then and there because I loved my dog more than I loved him (I was definitely a ‘victim’ of the Catholic Church then). Anyway, dogs are now an integral part of everything I write…

  41. I wanted to be an astronaut. But I think what I wanted most, was all the attention I got from grown-ups when I said it. It seemed an epic thing to want to do, and It was a real crowd-pleaser. I remember looking at the moon, and thinking “someday, someday.” But I was totally faking it.

  42. I wanted to be an astronaut. But I think what I wanted most was all the attention I got from grown-ups when I said it. It seemed an epic thing to want to do, and it was a real crowd-pleaser. I remember looking at the moon, and thinking “someday, someday.” But I was totally faking it. I dated a man once who told me that he’d wanted to be a bald eagle.

  43. Growing up I wanted to be a jockey (but I’m way too tall) or a pilot (but my eyesight sucks). Later in life I wanted to help animals (which I’ve succeeded in doing through hands-on work and my writing).

    As for saying “Happy New Year” ad nauseam: The other day, my neighbor asked me if I’d had a happy new year. I told her I’d let her know in December 2011.

  44. mother, lawyer, writer….all three boxes checked (assuming being an unpublished writer counts) and I still want to be.

  45. “What did you want to be when you grew up?”

    God. Job was already taken, though. Long waiting list, too, for any possible openings.

  46. I have stopped wishing people at work “Happy new year” and here’s why: the majority of my co-workers are French-Canadian (needless to say, I am in Canada) and it is apparently their custom to kiss each other on both cheeks when the greeting is exchanged. I can barely stand working with these people, let alone kiss them.

    • I just reread my comment & realize that the tone may come across differently than intended. Didn’t mean for it to sound anti-French, just anti-kissing-the-people-I-hate-with. I hope I did not offend.

      • correction: ” just anti-kissing-the-people-I-hate-WORKING-with.”
        Note to self: re-read comment before posting.

  47. my dad wanted me to get an mba and be a “gal” corporate mogul but first he thought I should go to an all women’s college like Wellesley–I’d just rocket to the top he said. So it was a question of what I DIDN’T want to be….

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