Sunday, November 25, 2007

25 on 25 (i made it a quarter century)

Numbers have always been quite present in the Liebovich household, mostly thanks to my dad. He sends me e-mails with odometer updates about his car and he also informs me of how close I am to the next age on the 25th of every month.
While sitting in Rosh Hashanah services back in September, he turned to me when the little kids came in for the sounding of the Shofar, shook his head back and forth and muttered, "Twenty-five," already in anticipation of my 25th birthday which was still two months away. "I can't believe it--you used to be that big," motioning to the children.
Just after the stroke of midnight on November 25, I received the following text message:

Dear Lyse,
happy golden, silver, quarter century birthday.
and many, many more!
love, dad

Amidst Belly's Bar, at a 7-way birthday celebration, and slightly intoxicated I paused to smile at my phone, knowing my dad most likely waited up that late just so he could acknowledge the exact moment when I finally turned the big 2-5.

The party was fun, I'm glad I went. I was two weeks into a horrible, relentless cold/cough and was on the verge of not attending my own party, but my dutiful friends

insisted I go.
Lots of laughs,

lots of drinks,

and lots of ridiculous dance moves later,

I was glad I didn't waste the night away sleeping. I took Goldschlagger shots, symbolic of my golden birthday, and became mystified with the floating flakes of gold.

I even thought it was a good idea to put one of the flakes on my face.

(i don't recommend this. it burns.)
A few times I hid in the corner and watched everyone, satisfied, thinking, "Good. Everyone's having fun." At midnight, people sang "Happy Birthday"

My sister took a picture of me taking that picture, which pretty much sums me up in a photograph.

We stayed at the bar till about 2:30 in the morning. Even though it was the first year my sister was old enough to celebrate with me, she remained sober (thank you, Sheri!) and let about seven of us pile into the faithful minivan. Before dropping most of us off at Amy's to sleep, we made a pizza pit stop at the famous Bacci's next to Wrigley Field. While my sister and I were in line to get our slices, two guys got in a physical fight right next to us, knocking into us as one guy held the other up against the counter. My wallet fell out of my hand and its contents dispersed all over the floor. As my sister and I bent down to collect it all, one guy said to the other--
"Say it--say one more bad joke about Jewish people and I'll punch you in the face!"
I yelled up from the floor, "Hey! It's my birthday AND I'm Jewish AND you're stepping on me and my sister! So you better shut the hell up or I'M going to punch you in the face!"
I stood up and stuck my long, skinny arm in between their angry that was going to do anything...I don't think they even noticed.
Finally they left and we got to eat our pizza in peace. They were the biggest slices I've ever seen and they had a bucket of red pepper.

As soon as we got to Amy's, Jenny and Ryan crashed on Amy's pull-out couch and Carrie built a bed on the floor. I brushed my teeth with my finger (I remembered everything but my toothbrush), put a Band-Aid on my bleeding (from unknown causes) finger and passed out in Amy's bed.
At 7:00 I woke up to Amy mumbling, "I don't feel good."
"I don't either," I mumbled back.
But I succeeded in not puking, which I was hugely grateful for. Jenny, Ryan and Carrie left around 9:30. I drove Amy in my sweats and heels (also forgot normal shoes) to the airport and continued on to my parent's house.

My actual day of birth was pretty uneventful, that is until my sister gave me my birthday present. But in order for her to finish making my birthday present (I found out later), my dad spent over an hour driving me around town, obviously stalling. First he offered to take me to lunch, which was suspicious because he hardly ever eats that meal and we were having an early dinner just a few hours later. So off we went to Portillo's...or so I thought. Instead of turning left on Golf, he continued going straight on Roselle.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"It's a surprise," my dad smiled.
"Well I'm not really dressed for a surprise. I haven't even showered."
"I don't think it's going to care."
So the surprise is an "it," I thought. Visions of puppies and drumsets played out in my mind. (I wouldn't tell anyone what I wanted for my birthday, but finally said those two things, both of which I knew I wouldn't get.) He turned down Wise Road, and I said aloud, "I think I know where you're going but I'm not sure why." I knew the Great Frame Up was on Wise and thought maybe they did something creative like frame the page in the issue of JPG Magazine I was recently published in.
Then he turned into a neighborhood. And I realized he was going to our old house.
Sure enough.
"Well here we are--surprise!" my dad said, gleefully as he pulled up in front of 922 East Point Drive. The surprise was that the current owners made our old split-level into a full two-story house. "Cool," I said. We then drove past the hill I used to sled down, which barely constitutes as a hill, then past the playground, where my dad narrated, "...and this is the park where you used to play...25 years ago." We then drove to the Osco where my mom works and went inside to visit her at the pharmacy and waste more time until I complained that all I wanted to do was shower. So we left. But once again did not go straight to our destination. This time we had to drive past Walter Payton's house and sit and stare at it like his ghost was going to appear in the yard. Even though we both knew he was stalling, he made up for it by saying he "just wanted to have some bonding time with his daughter." Thanks, Dad.

This brings us to the Cheesecake Factory. Shawna stopped by to give me a "small gift" as she called it. The bag was huge and thought behind what was inside was anything but small. She instructed me to read the quote inside the shadow box first:
A journey of thousand miles must begin with a single step
"Now read the tag on the slippers," she said.
"Rainbow sandals..." I read aloud and realized immediately what she had done, while my family donned the same confused look. I almost started crying. At some point in the last year I expressed wanting to frame my Rainbow-brand sandals because although they're destroyed, I can't bring myself to throw them out because they've taken me so many places. Most people would have rolled their eyes or ignored me or would have "you would" or "you're a freak." But no, not Shawna. She's one of the most thoughtful, supportive people I know.

She had to leave and unfortunately couldn't join us for dinner. While we waited for the delightful avocado eggrolls appetizer my mom handed me a small gift bag. I opened the card first which started loudly singing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Inside the bag were the CD soundtracks to "Across The Universe" and "I'm Not There" as well as my annual symbolic turkey gift--this year a beanie baby named "Leftovers."

Then my sister handed me a giant unwrapped Carson Pirie Scott box with a wide gold ribbon holding it together. Inside was an oversized blue scrapbook. Now before I get into the details, I have to admit, I knew she had some kind of surprise collaborative gift in the works. What happened was the night she asked me for my contact list, she accidentally sent me the email that said "DO NOT TELL ALYSE ABOUT THIS E-MAIL!" We were talking on gchat and I said, "so am i not supposed to look at the email you just sent me that says don't tell alyse about this email?" I didn't realize why she wanted my contact list, and my address was embedded in the "Shorashim" listerv (from my Israel trip this summer).
I wanted to be surprised, so I immediately deleted the e-mail and tried to forget about it, assuring Sheri that I would not venture in my "trash" folder to dig it out. So in the back of my mind I've known she's had something up her sleeve...but I never ever imagined the project would be so meaningful (I pictured her asking everyone to send a quarter...don't ask).

Because I was already overwhelmed with Shawna's thoughtfulness, it didn't take long for the tears to start spilling over. Midway through reading the first page of the book, which was the e-mail Sheri sent out to everyone, I lost it. The only other time I cried out of happiness was on December 12, 2000 when I got my acceptance letter to NYU.
I was shocked at not only how many people people contributed but also at the variety of people who did! Not just my best friends, but my best friend's fiancée, my sister's friends, a college professor, high school teachers, a former employer, my current employer, and both people I haven't talked to in years as well as a bunch from people I just met THIS year--whether from being in art shows or from my Birthright trip to Israel. I barely ended up eating anything because I amidst all the excitement, I lost my appetite.

I don't have the time now to scan each page for public viewing, so I'll share a few funny/interesting pieces of the puzzle.
My dad (who said he requested being placed first in the book--"I told her, 'She wouldn't have made it to 25 without me, so i think i deserve it.'") wrote about our first Indian Princess campout in the Fall of '88. This particular excerpt made me laugh so hard, I started crying again, rolling around on my sister's floor, trying to breathe. I so remember this happening and it just proves that some people never change:
"I still remember vividly the first campout, about a month after we joined. We arrived about an hour early at Camp Duncan, a Y camp about an hour away. I wasn't quite sure how Alyse would do, being the first thing like this she ever did in her little life, and with most of the other girls in the tribe and nation being as much as five years older. Sure enough, the first thing she did was wander into the forest, where she spent the next half hour or so collecting acorns. I tried to get her to join the other members of the tribe as they arrived, but all she wanted to do was collect more acorns. So I'm thinking, hmm, this is going to be fun. She might just want to stay out here forever."

My mom reprinted her graphic Lamaze labor and delivery questionnaire. I didn't have to get much past "mucous plug" in the first sentence to make me never want to be pregnant. On the opposing page, though, she put a picture of me in the infamous turkey outfit that the nurses dressed me in after putting my mom through 27 hours of labor and finally making an appearance at 7:13 a.m. on Thanksgiving of '82 (I still do things at my own pace, she'll tell people today). Every Thanksgiving her relatives say, "I remember when I first saw you dressed as a turkey." I guess they weren't lying.

Dana, my former SNL boss, who I became good friends with, recounted some funny memories together. This was my favorite--so typical:
"Me telling you to 'take it down a notch' about 25 times at the Kate Hudson shoot...only you found it physically impossible to not dance and sing and were therefore sent to Starbucks."
What can I say? I loved my job!

My friend Alex painted me a portrait of Bob Dylan!

Stephanie created her own monopoly board based on where the four of us (me and my sister, she and her sister) went to college and vacations our families have been on together. This is also significant because I taught her how to play the game when she was four or five.

Abbi wrote this absolutely hilarious play based on my clothes using quotes from my 8th grade poetry book (which I mistakingly let her keep a few years ago) and her own inner monologue, entitled: "Best Friend and Secret (girl) Crush: A Legacy and (jealousy) of Clothes."

Zach turned me into a freaking ipod ad! About a week ago he asked me if I had any pictures of myself "dancing crazy" to make a "spec ad." Thinking nothing of it, I sent him about a dozen pictures of myself tearing up the dance floor at various weddings and events. This is also fitting because my mom used to say the people on the ipod commercials reminded her of me.

(you can see the tears)

One of my college roommates, Tina, wrote:
"Alyse and I both had a love for sign language and an unabashed penchant for activities which others might deem 'corny' or just plain 'uncool.' I was ecstatice to find a willing participant for my sing-alongs, and Alyse knew exactly whose door to knock on at one in the morning during a snowstorm.
*Tap tap tap.* 'Tina?...Are you up?' Alyse whispered. I opened my door. 'Do you want to go out and play in the snow?' she asked. Hell yeah I did! Of course I contained my enthusiasm to a whisper until we got outside. There we played with the abandon of six-year-olds in foot-high drifts and winds that whipped around the piers of the South Street Seaport. We made fun of the Abercrombie models in the store windows. Tragic figures, really. Those cool, jaded faces had no idea how much FUN they were missing!"

One of my roommates from Madrid, wrote:
"Alyse, you impacted my life more than I think you understand. You, ironically, are responsible for my current career choice and direction. Because of that one fateful lunch at Isla del Tesoro in Madrid and the subsequent hospital experience that followed it, I became a Spanish medical interpreter and am now in nursing school. Without that experience, I don't think that I would have realized the need for professional interpreters and would never have pursued it further."
Who knew that walking nose-first into a glass door would lead to such life-altering changes!

My friend Christopher Rawson from my final photo class at NYU included a black&white photograph he took of me at a jukebox, a moment I remember, a photo I never knew existed.

Even my 13-year-old buddy, Max, participated with inside jokes galore, intertwined with some really heartfelt sentiments, which really validated what I've been doing with my life the past year and a half.

All in all, it was the most beautiful, touching, meaningful, inspiring gift I've ever received from the best sister I could ever ask for!
I will end this with the short anecdote I sent as a thank-you to the book's contributors.
After a belated birthday sushi lunch with Shelley, I got caught in a whirlwind of Chicago's first seasonal snowfall. I walked through a deserted park, gloveless and holding the Carson's box--the one containing my sister's gift to me--in both hands.
I paused a moment, twirling around myself, my head thrown back letting the snowflakes gather on my glasses. And I thought of one of my favorite (although brief) poems (by Taneda Santoka)--Here in the stillness of snow falling on snow.
I completed his thought and said..."all I need in the world is inside this box."

Thank you to everyone who made this momentous birthday the best and most memorable one thus far.
If you wish to view the birthday album in its entirety, click here: more birthday photos

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

i support H.R. 676

I finally rented Michael Moore's latest documentary, Sicko, something I've been wanting to see since it first hit theaters earlier this year.

In the remaining five minutes of the movie my phone rang. 8 pm on a Tuesday from an 847-number I didn't recognize. Usually I'd just let it go to voicemail, but I paused the movie and answered. The voice on the other end belonged to my overly-exuberant gynecologist informing me that she's "sick of scanning" me (I've had about 10 ultrasounds in the past year) and wants to just go ahead and perform laparoscopic surgery to remove the cysts on my right ovary (which have been there since I was 19) and plans to "spare the ovary."

"I can't even believe you're calling me right now," I said. Here I am watching a documentary about these poor people who either don't have health insurance or whose health insurance has screwed them over by denying them benefits, and she wants me to just jump into the O.R. like I'm a millionaire.

Upon graduating college or maybe it was extended a few more months to when I turned 23, I was dropped from my mom's insurance. Despite her incessant warnings to me that I "need to get a job with benefits," I opted to not care. Of course that was the year my cysts decided to start attacking me once a month again. Now a few days away from turning 25, I am embarrassed to say that my parents have had to pay for virtually all of my medical bills. I admit, my mom was right; she usually is. But here's the problem. It's not my fault that what I want to do in life will probably never involve working for a large or rich enough company that provides insurance for their employees. So what am I supposed to do? Get a job doing something I hate so I have insurance in case I need surgery one day? Or just continue doing what I love to do and hope I never need to see a doctor?

When I lived in Madrid, Spain for almost five months, I had an embarrassing accident where I walked face-first into the solid glass door of a restaurant. (You can read the full story here: isla del tesoro) and subsequently had to take a painfully bumpy cab ride to the E.R....where I was seen in less than an hour, had my face x-rayed (and got to keep the x-ray), my nose bandaged, had one-on-one time with a doctor, and got a prescription for extra-strength Ibuprofin.

And I did not pay a single cent.

Here's the thing. I know Michael Moore's repertoire doesn't exactly have the best reputation. And I realize the international medical personnel who he interviews in this movie aren't going to say anything unappealing about their health care system vs. ours when the main audience is Americans and the U.S. government.
But, you can't really argue with the basic point of this documentary. Our health care system sucks. Insurance companies exist only to make money (and lots of it!) and don't give a shit about helping their clientele. This is exactly why Dr. Linda Peeno quit her job as a medical reviewer for Humana.
This is her statement when she testified before Congress in 1996:

DR. LINDA PEENO: I am here primarily today to make a public confession. In the spring of 1987, as a physician, I denied a man a necessary operation that would have saved his life and thus caused his death. No person and no group has held me accountable for this, because, in fact, what I did was I saved a company a half a million dollars for this.

Interestingly enough, Humana One is my current health care "provider," except all they've provided me with is an outrageously high ($5,000?!) deductible and months of panic that they were going to drop me altogether when they sent me a memo stating they were "investigating" my medical history for "pre-existing" conditions that I may have failed to mention.

With the primary elections right around the corner, I think this is an important issue to take into consideration. We are spending billions of dollars to kill both our own soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians overseas, yet we can't seem to find the funds or decency to provide health care here at home.
As Tony Benn, the British, socialist diplomat says in the movie, "If we can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people."

Watching Moore take 9/11 rescue workers on a boat to Guantanamo Bay was one of the most depressing scenes I've ever witnessed in a movie. And this isn't just a movie, this is about real people, real people who volunteered their time to save others at Ground Zero and are now debilitated from their respiratory ailments.
I remember my dad calling me on September 12 when I was holed up in my dorm room on 5th Ave. and 10th St.
"Lyse, don't go outside. And if you do go outside, be sure to not breathe. But if you do have to breathe, please cover your nose and mouth! You wouldn't believe what they're saying is in the air there."

"Permission to enter," Michael Moore yells from a fishing boat across the Cuban water border as they approach Guantanamo Bay. "I have three 9/11 rescue workers. They need some medical attention."
Then he picks up a megaphone.
"These are 9/11 rescue workers," Moore repeats, amplified. "They just want some medical attention--the same kind that Al Queda is getting [i involuntarily shiver]. They don't want any more than they're giving the evil-doers. Just the same."

Now I'm all for treating human beings equally, but how is it that these terrorists, who helped plot and/or participated in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, are the only people now on U.S. soil receiving "universal health care." I bet you won't see them complaining about waiting rooms or insufficient medical supplies.

Furthermore, watch this. Then be embarrassed to be an American. This clip was only in the "special features" portion of the DVD because supposedly Moore didn't think people would believe it.

At the end of the movie, this website appeared on the screen:

I know people would argue that Moore paints an idealistic picture of universal health care, but I'll tell you one thing....I'm thinking about looking up laparoscopy in Canada.

Monday, November 19, 2007

where the deer and the antelope play

[self-portrait with scrunchy, our 14-year-old pug, 2006]

My first word was not the anticipated "mama" or "dada." So the story goes, my mom was wheeling me down the pet care aisle in a grocery store, I pointed to a bag of dog food and subsequently announced, "daaaaw-gie" ("doggie").
I've always been an animal-lover, so much so that I'm pretty sure I was an animal in a past life--probably a dog. Violence or cruelty towards our furry (or not-so-furry) friends has always had a huge effect on me. The first time I saw Bambi, I was traumatized for life after the hunter shot and killed his dad. Same with Dumbo (when the circus takes his mom) and The Lion King (when Simba watches his dad fall to his death among a stampede). All these poor baby animals losing their parents, 2 out of 3 due to idiotic human beings.

[i just found this t-shirt design (by: Chalermphol Harnchakkham) on after originally publishing this post. how beautifully appropriate.]

These haunting animated scenes were manifested in real life when I was home one summer from college. I was driving my friend Abbi home, who lived in the neighboring subdivision. While we were turning left onto Algonquin Road, the main 4-lane road connecting our two neighborhoods, my headlights shone on what looked like a bloody massacre. "What the..." I had barely expressed my thought, when large pieces of deer carcass scattered about the road and the median came into view. There was a large piece in my way and I came close to hyperventilating. I thought if I aimed the car correctly so that the remains went in between the wheels, we'd be fine. But I underestimated how close we were to the pavement and the sounds of bones crushing was enough to almost make me throw up on the spot. It was like straight out of a horror film. I knew I wasn't the one who originally caused the wreckage, but I still felt so guilty for even witnessing the result and couldn't even begin to imagine what the driver (assuming this was caused by a car/truck) had felt like...although maybe he/she never even knew what happened?

[i love this picture, taken by one of my parents. i probably thought the bear and i were telepathically connected.]

Recently I went to coffee with someone, and somehow Africa came up in conversation...
boy: Africa's pretty much at the bottom of my list of places to go.
me: Really? That's at the top of my list. I would LOVE to go there.
boy: Why would you ever want to go there?
me: Well partly because I'm a huge animal-lover and I think it'd be incredible to see those particular animals in their natural habitats.
boy: I may be skating on thin ice here, but would you shoot the animals?
me: Shoot them?? Are you kidding me??
boy: Yeah--you know--like the people who hang the heads on their walls.
me: Um, NO. I would not shoot them!
boy: Well if I went on a safari, that's what I would do.
me: That's not even what a safari is!
boy: Well what would you do, just look at them??
me: YES! That's the point of a safari!
boy: Well I'm just saying, Ernest Hemingway did it...
(in my head: Yeah, well he also shot himself, so...)

[my first trip to the zoo? screw the camera, i want the giraffe!]

Tonight I was driving back to the city from Amy's parent's house and as I was about to merge onto I90E from the Roselle on-ramp, Amy pointed at something off to the right side of the road. Suddenly a large deer began bounding across the four lanes. "Woah!" I exclaimed and held my breath as the animal approached the daunting concrete median. Flashes of the bloody, mangled deer flashed through my mind, but with a majestic leap, she sailed right over the roadblock. What a magical moment! "I can't believe she made it!" I sighed with relief. "That was incredible. I have never seen a deer on the highway. Where the heck did it even come from?" "BMW dealership," Amy pointed out, jokingly. "Poor thing has nowhere to go," I added, sadly, knowing that just beyond the trees she was headed for the giant monstrosity that is Medieval Times. But I was glad that she timed her journey advantageously and silently wished her safe travels.

When I arrived home I dug up a poem I wrote the summer after graduating high school:

Deer Park

A new outlet mall
had its Grand Opening

They named it
Deer Park

The entrance sign had a sketch
of two deer leaping

All around there was
Mauled Dirt
that used to be
Forest Soil


Deer leap loose
around town

And people complain
about the overpopulation

But it wasn’t so overpopulated
when the animals had a home

And then they bother with
the needless sign
sort of as a consolation gift

for the Deer to look at
and feel special
Right before they jump

Into headlights on
Dundee Road

And rot
a bone sketch