Goodnight, Dave

Snapshots from Late Show with David Letterman

On the evening of David Letterman’s last late night appearance before retirement, I wish I could easily access the press clipping from my college newspaper of the behind-the-scenes story we published. I didn’t get to meet Dave during that taping and visit to the set—but I had my photo taken with Paul Shaffer backstage! Did we have anything profound to say at the time? Probably not.

But there is this: I grew up with Dave as my late night TV host and I’m so glad I did.

Like so many others, I tuned in to unwind after a long day. To listen and to laugh—and to discover musicians and bands, too. I was lucky to be in the audience a few times, once during a wild Howard Stern appearance. As a New Yorker, I loved when he chose to put the spotlight on his neighbors, from Meg in the office across the way to Rupert Jee in the deli down the block—and I cried during his first post-9/11 show. I was entertained by regular guests, from Bill Murray and Chris Elliott to Teri Garr and Regis Philbin. Then there were the things we came to count on: like the Top 10 lists and hearing Darlene Love sing “Baby, Please Come Home” year after year. He famously flirted with female guests like Drew Barrymore (who famously flashed him), and he let down his guard to connect with regulars like Warren Zevon (who provided us all with a profound final appearance).

It was okay when Dave was moody—even grouchy—because he was always sharp and he didn’t stand for BS and always found the humor in things. (Also: it was late at night.) He was obviously hilarious and insightful and he would also surprise you with his sheer silliness or his warmth and affection for guests. At the end of the day, it was the right time to welcome a mixed bag of emotions and tricks. What a great run.

A Holiday Gift Guide for Giving Better Stuff

I heard someone joke about going to the local thrift store the day after Christmas to donate the just-unwrapped and unwanted bounty of gifts. Yes, we definitely have a collective problem with too much stuff (and too much waste), which is why it’s great to give experience gifts or contributions to good causes in the recipient’s name. But sometimes the best gift really does come in a package you can hand to your loved one for opening. For gift-giving that’s more meaningful, ’tis the season to:

Give twice.

When you buy items from thrift stores or auction sites that benefit nonprofits, your dollars support their work. A few favorites even have online shops, including Housing Works. When you shop online while logged in to Amazon Smile, you can choose a nonprofit to receive a small portion of sales. Also, sites like Bidding for Good offer products and experiences that benefit a variety of organizations.  

Another way to give back is by buying from gift shops for museums and parks, in person or online. (A few favorite museum shops: MoMAThe Metropolitan Museum of ArtLACMAThe Getty.)

Stay local.

Support the independent businesses in your neighborhood by shopping local—especially at book stores and sources that sell the works of local artisans. Even better if you can shop on foot or bike, leaving the car behind.

Be a maker.

Homemade gifts, including food and personal care items, are twice as nice. Extra touches: attach a recipe for the recipient and consider a vintage glass jar, container, or tin that can be reused.

Celebrate good taste.

Put another way: give tasty edibles. Choose locally grown produce, sweet treats, and other items for out-of-the-ordinary dining experiences at home. First stop: food vendors at your local farmers’ market. A farmers’ market basket or bag with fresh and local produce and a cookbook is a perfect gift. My grandmother always said, “Food is love.”

Make it an experience gift.

Give movie, concert or theater tickets, restaurant gift certificates, or museum memberships and you’re giving the recipient an experience to enjoy. The same goes for magazine subscriptions, books, music CDs, and DVDs of movies or TV shows. Also consider giving games or a puzzle from a photo-printing service that allows you to create one with personal photos.

Go green.

One size fits all: House plants, herb gardens, and seeds or outdoor plants for loved ones with yards.

Buy better products.

It’s true about one person’s trash being another’s treasure—and when you buy from antique markets, consignment and thrift shops, eBay, Etsy, Craigslist, and other sources of second-hand items, you do your part to reduce waste to landfills. Think of it like the island of misfit toys from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”—there are worthy, good-as-new items out there looking for a home.

Another factor to consider: the maker of the products. Give from companies with responsible business practices—organic, Fair Trade, sweatshop-free, environmentally-friendly, sustainable, etc. (Look up B Corps for more.)

Choose Not to Be a Lady: Nod to Nora Ephron

Not being a lady

Reading the remembrances of Nora Ephron, I am reminded about how much I like her work. And because I was a kid who dreamed of growing up to be a writer, I also admired her.

In one piece, I stopped on this quote from a commencement speech she gave to Wellesley graduates in 1996: “I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.”

That made me smile — and feel grateful for strong and trailblazing women like her. When I was in high school, I was told to be a lady by an authority figure and I still remember the feelings of outrage and confusion from the exchange.

“Stefanie, cross your legs,” I was told by an assistant coach of the track team. “Be a lady.” He was the grandfather of one of my teammates and was a supportive and kind man — but old-fashioned and, well, sexist.

Luckily, I had parents who raised me to be independent and to believe that I did not need to behave differently because I was a girl. I knew to assert myself and question authority if necessary (see my fashion rebellion story).

“Why do I have to be a lady?” I remember asking. He was surprised. I recall trying to explain, but I’m not sure how articulate I was. I might have asked why the boys weren’t told to cross their legs. After all, we were both wearing our shorts and track jerseys on the bus.

What I knew but couldn’t say was this. When boys and men are told, “Be a man,” it is to fight for something, to reach down into the depths of their beings and emerge stronger to do the right thing. When girls and women are told, “Be a lady,” it is to delicately suggest we be demure and adhere to rules that are, frankly, pointless. Why would I want to be constrained and controlled? Why on earth would I want to be a lady?

I hope for more commencement speakers like Ephron and parents like my own to encourage girls and women to break the rules when the rules need to be broken. That’s a good kind of trouble to get into.

Reaching for the Stars with Casey Kasem and Teddy Roosevelt

I grew up listening to Casey Kasem’s weekly radio broadcast of “America’s Top 40,” even after my musical taste evolved and I began to broaden my horizons by listening to music by artists that did not often top or even enter the charts—usually the music was labeled “alternative” and could be found on radio stations on the left of the dial. The show aired on Sunday mornings where I grew up and I remember bringing my transistor radio—it was hot pink and fabulous—with me to the beach to listen during the summer months. Kasem ended each broadcast with this message for listeners: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” I loved that. During a recent visit to Teddy Roosevelt’s childhood home in NY, I found the quote that must have been his inspiration (pictured above).

And here’s the song that popped into my head when I began to write this post: “Left of the Dial” by the Replacements.