Much of my TV watching happens at the gym. I go to the Y. The Y, here in this princely town, barely grades a C-: 4 working treadmills on a good day, 3 or 4 bikes, and a couple of elliptical machines are all crammed into a space roughly equivalent to that of my living room and set on a sweat-dampened carpet that should probably get Febreezed every so often. No individual TV screens. Magazines? There’s an Entertainment Weekly featuring Sawyer and a sneak-peek into the last season of Lost on the front cover. A Woman’s World promising the year’s best Christmas recipes. A 2009 New Yorker I’ve now read cover-to-cover at least 3 times. But no matter. The membership is relatively cheap; there’s a pool; and two lovely ladies watch the kids in a little playroom while mom or dad works out.
There are 3 TVs to watch at the Y, and no remote control. So here are my options: on the far left, CNN; in the middle, ESPN (and hence, my blindspot); on the right, which I generally end up in front of, Kathie Lee and Hoda. I have no idea what they’re actually saying, but I see them giggling, attempting to toss their shellacked hair, and clasping their hands together tightly on top of their legs also held together tightly. Perhaps with audio, I would find the show genuinely stimulating (is it possible?), but without, I can only concentrate on the movements of their high-gloss lips and flickering extend-a-lashes.
Ultimately, I’ve discovered something far more interesting than Hoda and KLG. The commercials.
Today I want to write about one I have watched numerous times, studying it frame by frame as I bounce along on the treadmill:
This MJHS commercial caught my attention for a series of reasons.
To begin with, it was the sepia. I am a sucker for anything that looks old. Then there’s the Mother of Exiles, the mighty woman with a torch, at the sea-washed, sunset gates. One year, my commute had me taking the subway over the Manhattan bridge every evening around sunset. How many times did I get all teary-eyed looking out at that Lady, glowing in the last light of the day, just beyond the Brooklyn Bridge (and I wasn’t even pregnant!)? There she is, offering refuge for the tired, the poor, the wretched refuse, the masses–whom we see–heads covered, indistinct, huddled over their belongings, also indistinct. Their new stomping grounds (my old stomping grounds) appear in bold at their backs: BROOKLYN.
From those immigrants, we move to the second set of women–elegant, established, hair dressed, necks adorned, American, contained in their frames of gilt and brass. These are not just any women: they are Jewish women. There is Webelovsky and Rosenthal, Berlin and Groden. And what did these women do from behind the glass? They “saw the despair.”
And here we have it again: Jewish women. The first set.
Both sets are Jewish women, but the women who appear in the first and third set, at the forefront, are not like those who keep to the safety of celluloid. These are old women, immigrant women, women adorned by babushkas and sheitels, arms weighted down with sacks and bundles. What is the story here? Is this a story of evolution? Are these indigent, religious women saved by the progressive American women who “saw the despair”? In the next generation, will their daughters, too, be able to retreat to their picture-perfect sanctuaries?
Is that the story being told by the series of sepia images for the Brooklyn Ladies Hebrew Home for the Aged?
Which no longer goes by that name. In a move made famous by Victor Fleming 72 years ago, the screen shifts from sepia to color, and a new name appears: MJHS (and in small, “Metropolitan Jewish Health System,” the name that was the transition-name between a locally-specific, ethnically-specific, gender-specific institution-specific name, and the acronym that means nothing).
The shift is to the present, and the new name indicates a new world.
Except for this “Hebrew” woman–
I guess most Jewish women, particularly the secular ones, are above caregiving these days.
Except for these angels, who have found their places in our heavens–according to and on our gym TVs: