My piece in The Morning News

 

Daniel RozinSnow Mirror, 2006. Photo courtesy bitforms gallery nyc.

I’m not Jennifer Berman, the sex therapist. Or the cartoonist. Though if I were, my cartoons would be exactly like hers. My favorite is the one of a huge auditorium with only two people: a man seated in front and a woman way in back. The banner for the event reads: Adult Children of Normal Parents Annual Convention. And I love her drawing of a cat that moves when you click on the links on her homepage. Which brings me to my point. Jennifer Berman, the cartoonist, scored the website JenniferBerman.com. A blond realtor in LA snagged JenniferBerman.net. All that’s left is .org, which makes me sound like an organization, and .info, which I think is fine, but my tech-savvy friends say I’ll come up last in searches.

Not that it matters. I can always give out my web address. It’s not like people I don’t know will be looking for me. And if they do, they’ll find the cartoonist’s site first and have a good chuckle.

The most famous of us is the sex therapist. She was a regular guest on Oprah, and evenshe couldn’t get our name and had to settle for DoctorJenn.com. The cartoonist beat us all to it. I’d love to meet her. Not only is she hilarious, but she looks friendly and down to earth. Like me, she’s an animal lover. She’s pictured with two of her four dogs on her bio page, has cats, and even miniature donkeys. I’ve thought about writing her. But what would I say? I’m Jennifer Berman, too?

I did once write the woman who has the email address JenniferBerman@Gmail.com. She signed up first so I had to use my middle initial in my Gmail account. An uppercase “L” is fine, but lowercase it’s just a thin line that totally gets lost. People will say they sent me something and then realize they forgot the “L.” So I emailed JenniferBerman@Gmail.com, introduced myself, and asked if she’d forward my messages. But I never heard back.

I asked her if she was the one in publishing. She said no, but didn’t volunteer what she did. I guess I’d hoped we’d swap Jennifer Berman stories and maybe become friends.

A guy once asked me out on my voicemail and I kept trying to figure out how I knew him before I realized he had the wrong Jennifer Berman. Which was a shame, because he sounded cute. I called him back—in part because it was the nice thing to do, but mostly because I thought maybe we’d hit it off. But when he didn’t answer I just left a message explaining the mix-up, without leaving my number.

This year at temple on Yom Kippur, before the service started, a woman ran over to my seat and said she’d given me the wrong ticket. It was for another Jennifer Berman who was waiting out front. I found her at the check-in table. She was young—about 30 and pretty, with long, gold-streaked hair. I asked her if she was the one in publishing because I’m frequently mistaken for her. She said no, but didn’t volunteer what she did. She wasn’t particularly friendly and seemed to think I was a bit of a nut. I guess I’d hoped we’d swap Jennifer Berman stories and maybe become friends. At first I thought maybe she didn’t share my excitement because she got our last name through marriage. But that wasn’t it. She was born Jennifer Berman, but meeting me meant nothing to her.

A friend suggested that I add a suffix to form a domain name, like JenniferBermanNYC.com. But what if I leave New York? I was thinking of something like JenniferBerman-the-last-person-in-the-world-to-get-a domain-name or JenniferBerman-late-to-the-party.com.

The truth is, I’m not sure I’m ready for a website. While the cartoonist was building a body of work, I didn’t yet know that I wanted to write. Websites, like alumni magazines, are a good showcase for those who have stuck to one thing. But to be nearly 50 and beginning a third career—my life doesn’t translate well to an About Me blurb.

I’d like to wait until I’ve published more essays and maybe a book. But they say you don’t exist without an online presence. A website is the business card of yesterday. It’s like how we now have Facebook, when we used to have friends.

I once read an article about Betty clubs. Having the name is the only requirement to join. They had a convention in Hastings, Neb. Sixty-four Bettys bonded, sang the Betty Anthem (sung to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”), and chapter leaders reported on their groups recreational outings and charitable projects organized in their name.

The cartoonist, the sex therapist, and I—we could organize the first Jennifer Berman convention. I could host it in New York. The cartoonist could make the invitation—like my favorite cartoon, except instead of a nearly empty auditorium it would be packed with Jennifer Bermans, in seats and standing in the aisles, talking to each other, laughing, hugging, excited to pool our creative resources and do great things in the world. The banner would read: The Jennifer Berman Annual Convention, and in small letters at the bottom we’ll include our website: JenniferBerman.org.

 

My Recent New York Times Article

PRIVATE LIVES January 1, 2014 

Kale? Juicing? Trouble Ahead

By JENNIFER BERMAN
Private Lives

Private Lives:Personal essays on the news of the world and the news of our lives.

I was into health food before it was cool. There were only two other people I knew who frequented my neighborhood health food store in the late ’80s: an emaciated man with a gray ponytail and a woman with a surprising amount of underarm hair, who smelled of B.O. and patchouli.

The floor there was crowded with bins filled with grains, granola and dried tiger’s milk. And on a small shelf in back was a smattering of organic produce: tiny apples with black spots and a couple of balls of spinach so caked in dirt you had to wash each leaf separately and check for worms.

But sometime in the mid-’90s, everyone who made fun of me for being a health nut was suddenly calling for advice. Which was better, organic or local? How did I germinate sprouts? Even my grandmother, who thought I was going to die when I gave up meat as a teenager, wanted my recipe for mock chicken soup.

And now, in the Whole Foods era, as I push my shopping cart down spacious aisles stocked with nonprocessed, gluten-free, non-G.M.O., heirloom, grass-fed, free-range and artisanal goods, I am pleased to know that I was ahead of my time.

Imagine my shock, then, at my last physical, when my doctor told me I had hypothyroidism, common in women over 40. When I got home I looked up the condition on the Internet and found a list of foods to avoid. Kale, which I juiced every morning, tops the list, followed by broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and collard greens — the cruciferous vegetables I consumed in large quantities because they are thought to prevent cancer, which runs in my family. And flax — as in the seeds — high in omega 3’s, that I sprinkled on cereal and blended in strawberry almond milk smoothies. Also forbidden: almonds and strawberries, not to mention soy, peaches, peanuts, corn, radishes, rutabaga and spinach.

Cari Vander Yacht

And then, as if my world was not sufficiently rocked, I went to the dentist, who said I had five cavities and asked if I snacked on candy and sodas all day long. I was insulted. Indignant. What did he take me for? No, I answered. I don’t eat sugar and drink only fresh vegetable juices — no longer kale, of course, but carrot and celery, which I’m still allowed. And filtered water with lemon.

“You’d be better off with chocolate and cola,” he said. Apparently the natural sugars in fruit and vegetable juices can cause decay, and lemon, though high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids which may prevent cancer, had eroded the enamel that protected my teeth.

I argued that I always brushed afterward. “Worst thing you can do,” he said. “That’s when the teeth are most vulnerable. Always wait half an hour after eating or drinking anything before brushing your teeth. And don’t brush more than twice daily. You’re destroying what little enamel you have left.”

I thought he might collapse when he asked what toothpaste I used and I said non-fluoride brands from the health food store. He steadied himself on the arm of the dental chair and let out a long sigh before sending me home with a prescription for an extra-strength fluoride toothpaste, which I had no intention of filling because I was worried that fluoride, even in the smaller concentrations permitted in over-the-counter brands, might be harmful.

But by the time I got off the bus in front of the Walgreens by my apartment, I had changed my mind. I bought the toothpaste. You never know what you’ll do when you’re scared. I’d read “The Cancer Prevention Diet” by Michio Kushi, who brought macrobiotics to the United States in the ’60s. In the book, he presents numerous case studies of cancer patients who refused Western treatment and healed naturally, through macrobiotics. But when he was told he had cancer himself, he went under the knife.

I got home and looked up my new toothpaste on the Internet. There I read that fluoride is linked to hypothyroidism. In fact, it’s been used as a medication for hyperthyroid patients, who have the condition opposite to mine.

Which should I choose? My thyroid or my teeth? I suppose in the long run my thyroid is more important, though the image of my grandmother’s dentures soaking in cup of water flashed through my mind.

I considered my dilemma as I opened the fridge and took out the milk my husband puts in his coffee. Not soy, rice or almond milk — but dairy, from a cow. And then I remembered the box of Twinkies my husband had bought — not to eat, but because they were being discontinued and might be valuable one day. It was on a shelf in the hall closet, behind the old typewriter, the dial phone and his stamp collection. Carefully, with a kitchen knife, I removed the top and admired the perfect cakes of my childhood, side by side in their individual cellophane covers, like little sleeping bags. I tore the first one open.

Jennifer Berman is a writer and sign language interpreter living in New York City.

A version of this article appears in print on 01/05/2014, on page SR12 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Kale? Juicing? Trouble Ahead.

Petside.com: Deaf Dalmations

Dalmatian Club of America Encourages Euthanasia of Deaf Pets

Published October 29, 2012

Patricia Belt with Lottie Dot and Izzy

 Mary Ellen Mack, 39, was researching getting a new Dalmatian after her beloved Buster Babe died, when she learned that the Dalmatian Club of America demands that breeders put down deaf pups. According to the DCA website, deaf Dalmatians are unsuitable as pets because they are “difficult to control” and “often become snappish and overly aggressive.” Even shelters are advised “not to place the deaf Dalmatian puppies and adults that come in,” but to euthanize them and “concentrate on finding homes for the healthy, hearing dogs.”

Mary Ellen had never thought about getting a deaf dog. She hadn’t known that deafness is prevalent in Dalmatians, with 30-percent of the breed unable to hear in one or both ears. Ironically, it was reading the DCA’s warnings against raising a deaf Dalmatian that inspired her to rescue one.

“Some of the breeders yelled at me for wanting a deaf dog, and some were polite,” she said. “But they all told me they followed DCA guidelines and put deaf pups down.”

Finally, Mary Ellen found a breeder a few miles away from her home in Otego, New York, who promised to give her a deaf puppy if there was one in the next litter. When the puppies were born, she called Mary Ellen to say she suspected that two were deaf, though she wouldn’t know for sure until they were four weeks old. Mary Ellen agreed to take them both. But a month later, her calls went unanswered. The breeder eventually left a message saying: “I had a deaf boy, but I searched my soul and had him put down.”

Mary Ellen’s anger fueled her determination. She found a posting on Craigslist in Georgia by a breeder looking for a home for a 10-week-old pup. Mary Ellen told the breeder she would take it if she could find a way to transport it to New York. Through a series of online connections, she found Cathy Miller Saye, who rescues deaf dogs in the Atlanta area. Cathy picked the puppy up from the breeder, and put him on a plane to New York.

“Pirate is my first deaf dog, and he certainly won’t be my last,” Mary Ellen wrote on the Deaf Dogs Rock website, a resource for adopting and training deaf dogs, after bringing Pirate home in 2006. Since then she has adopted two more deaf Dalmatians, and also has three hearing dogs. Not only has she found the warnings on the DCA website to be unwarranted, but she said, “Deaf dogs are smarter than hearing dogs because they have to pay more attention to you; they are more in tune with you.”

Changes in the Dalmatian Community

Ariel O’Brien, a dog trainer and evaluator for The American Kennel Club and Therapy Dog International, founded Spotted Dog Dalmatian Rescue in August 2011 to give breeders an alternative to euthanizing deaf puppies. So far she has rescued 10 deaf Dalmatians. She kept a pup named Apple, and has placed the rest in homes.

Ariel said many younger breeders are against the DCA policy, and increasingly veterinarians are unwilling to put down perfectly healthy dogs just because they are deaf. She is encouraged to see changes in the Dalmatian community. Several weeks ago, a regional Dalmatian club invited her to give a presentation on training deaf dogs, and recently a breeder promised, “I won’t put my deaf puppies down. I’ll send them to you.”

The Tennessee Safety Spotters

Meg Ispas-Hennessey, President of the DCA, said she favors euthanization because she is concerned that owners of deaf Dalmatians will abuse them out of frustration. “I will not place a dog with a family that can’t be trained by normal methods,” she said in a telephone interview.

Just as a particular breed is not for everyone—Dalmatians, for instance, require a lot of attention and exercise—some people may find it difficult to adjust to communicating with a dog using hand signals. But it came naturally to Patricia Belt, 60, whose son brought her a deaf Dalmatian pup he found off the Interstate when driving to her home in West Tennessee. “It was almost like it was meant to be,” she said.

When Patricia, a former registered nurse, saw how smart Lottie Dot was and how people responded to her loving nature, she was inspired to train her as a therapy dog. She went on to adopt Dora, a deaf Dalmatian given up by a breeder, and founded Tennessee Safety Spotters, a non-profit using her dogs in educational and therapeutic programs. Last year, Dora passed away from liver disease, and now Izzy, a deaf Dalmatian found on the streets of Texas, carries on with her work.

Patricia explained how the dogs demonstrate dialing 9-1-1 on a model phone and show elementary school children how to “stop, drop, and roll” in case of fire. In anti-litter campaigns Lottie picks up paper off the floor and passes it to Izzy, who throws it in the trash. The dogs place their paws on the pages of a book, and children with learning difficulties practice reading, knowing the dogs won’t laugh at them when they make a mistake. Patients at the Veterans Hospital throw balls to the dogs as part of their physical therapy. Young cancer patients at St. Jude’s Hospital wake up from their surgeries to find the dogs at their bedside. A six-year-old boy spoke for the fist time in a week when Patricia brought her dogs into his hospital room.

Patricia has told the DCA about her dogs, but no longer tries to get them to change their position. She said she realizes the best thing she can do is set an example, being “a trailblazer for deaf dogs” and showing the world that they can do everything except hear.

“I look at them and think, how did I get to be so lucky?” she said.

Deaf Pets and Their People

Cathy Miller Saye and her deaf dog FelixDeaf Pets and Their People

In honor of Deaf Pet Awareness Week (September 23rd through September 29th) we celebrate the unique bond between deaf pets and deaf people.

Domino and Anne

When Anne Tomasetti, 38, decided to adopt a cat she knew she wanted it to be deaf like her. She searched the Internet, but was unable to find a deaf cat near her home in New York City. Finally, she saw a listing for Domino, a deaf one-year-old white kitty with black spots offered for adoption by Purrfect Feline Friends in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Anne rented a car to meet Domino, who was sleeping on a cat tree when she arrived. To make sure she was deaf, Anne put her mouth close to Domino’s ear, careful not to breathe on her, and vocalized. Domino continued to sleep soundly. Then Anne gently touched Domino, who opened her eyes to see the woman who would give her a home.

I am an interpreter fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and recently had the pleasure of visiting with Anne and Domino via Skype. Anne said that just as deaf people get each other’s attention with a light tap on the shoulder, Domino taps her with her paw when she wants something. Domino also responds to visual commands. Anne said that when she signs the word “outside” Domino runs to the door to be let out into the yard and when she asks her “Where is the red dot?” Domino searches for the reflection from the laser pen.  To demonstrate, Anne twisted the tip of her index finger on her cheek, the sign for “candy” and turned the camera on Domino, who ran to a kitchen cabinet and waited for a treat. Then Anne signed, “scratch” and Domino used her scratching post on cue.

Sparky and the Students at the Missouri School for the Deaf

Sparky, a one-year-old white Dachshund with brown ears, was slated to be euthanized because he was deaf. The Humane Society of Missouri enrolled him in Puppies for Parole, a program where offenders at the South Central Correctional Facility train dogs to make them more adoptable.

During the eight-week training the inmates taught Sparky the signs for “no,” “sit,” “stay,” “stop,” “heel” and “lay down.” When it was time to send Sparky back to the shelter, the inmates had a better idea. They raised the funds for his adoption fees and offered him as a gift to the Missouri School for the Deaf.

Barbara Garrison, the superintendent of the school, and the owner of four hearing Dachshunds, was thrilled to accept. Two and a half years later, Sparky is well loved and provides a valuable service. “Sparky was not trained as a therapy dog, but he performs therapy every day,” said Barbara in a phone interview. She recounted how she frequently observes students, who range in age from 5 to 21, “telling Sparky everything” when they are unable to open up to their counselors. Students are eager to help care for Sparky and can earn the privilege of having him spend the night in their dorm. Barbara said that the students share a special bond with Sparky, whom they describe as being “deaf like me.”

Cathy Miller Saye, a Deaf Woman Who Rescues Deaf Dogs

“Breeders and shelters are quick to put deaf dogs down,” said Cathy Miller Saye in American Sign Language via Skype. “They wrongly believe they have no hope for a good life. But just like deaf people communicate in sign language, deaf dogs respond to hand gestures, body language, and facial expressions.”

Cathy first became involved with dog rescue in 2003 when she volunteered to transport three deaf dogs from the Atlanta area, where she lives, to a shelter in the Northeast. She volunteered with a network of organizations to learn the ropes, and now works independently, taking in dogs from shelters and from individuals who find them abandoned outdoors.

Cathy cares for her fosters alongside her two deaf dogs with behavioral problems that made them difficult to place: Tiny Tim, a Maltese, and Felix, an Aussie mix with one eye. So far she has found homes for 75 dogs, and said she “wished she had more arms like an octopus,” so she could do more.

Cathy has had great success adopting to deaf and hearing people alike. She said that while hearing people are sometimes nervous at first, “once they see how easy it is to teach a dog to respond to simple sign commands like ‘stop’ and ‘come’ they get excited.”

“It’s just like having a hearing dog,” she explained, “except that the communication is non-verbal. The eye-contact that occurs with a deaf dog leads to an especially close bond.”

Resources on adopting and caring for deaf pets:

Volunteer Tail: Antinya Monroe

Photo Antinya Monroe and DuckyVolunteer Tail: Animal Shelter Volunteer Antinya Monroe Makes a Difference

If cats could design their own shelter, I imagine it would be just like Mid Hudson Animal Aid, a non-profit no-kill sanctuary in Beacon, New York. Here cats are free to roam the house, filled with toys and climbing ramps, and can wander onto the porch to enjoy the fresh air. And if cats could choose a volunteer to care for them, it would be someone like Antinya Monroe, a gentle and soft-spoken 17-year-old, who has dedicated her time to the facility for the past 10 months.“I wish shelters like this existed in every city,” she said, sitting in a large and sunny room, surrounded by some of the 160 cats currently awaiting adoption. As she spoke about her work at the sanctuary, some of the cats came up to her for snuggles while others played with each other or lounged on pillows.Antinya started volunteering at Mid Hudson Animal Aid when one of her high school classes required that students complete 10 hours of community service. Long after the semester ended, she still spends Saturdays at the shelter, cleaning litter boxes, mopping floors, washing laundry and playing with the cats during her breaks.In addition to her cleaning duties, Antinya participates in the Feral Friends Program, which pairs volunteers with outdoor cats used to fending for themselves and unaccustomed to human contact. Volunteers socialize the cats by visiting them regularly and by giving them treats and lots of affection.Mid Hudson Animal Aid takes in cats with disabilities and chronic health problems routinely put down at other shelters. Antiya pointed out Ducky, a black cat born with a deformity that prevents him from being able to stand on his front legs. It doesn’t stop him from getting around or from playing with the other cats.Sarah is a beautiful tabby who was brought into the shelter after someone abused and blinded her. Despite her past, she loves people and can most often be found hanging out with the staff in the office.

The shelter has separate rooms for cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virusand Feline Leukemia Virus. Both populations can live along time without complications and the virus is not transmitted to humans. The cats were all lively and friendly, with no apparent symptoms. Antinya said their condition does not affect them as much as people think and that they would make great pets.

While the cats at free-range shelters don’t suffer the stress and depression common to cats in cages, Antinya said nothing beats “their having a home to call their own.” While she sometimes becomes attached to the cats, she is happy for them when they are adopted.

In fact, Antinya recently adopted a cat herself. Her feral friend is a tiny kittennamed Beoncé, thought to be about six weeks old. When Antinya brought her home for a visit and her family saw how well she got along with their dog and five other cats they decided to keep her.

Antinya plans to continue to volunteer at Mid Hudson Animal Aid until she goes away to college this fall and will return when she comes home for vacations. She said she never considers it a sacrifice to give up her Saturdays. She feels like she is gaining a sense of responsibility and is glad to contribute.

“The cats need so much,” she said. “I feel like I’m giving a little and a lot at the same time.”

Petside.com is donating $500 to Mid Hudson Animal Aid as a big “Thanks!” to Antinya Monroe!

The New York Times: A Birdnapping

City Room - Blogging From the Five Boroughs

June 4, 2012, 3:00 AM

A Birdnapping

By JENNIFER BERMAN
                                                                                                                           Victor Kerlow

Dear Diary:

Last Sunday, I was walking with my husband and his mother on West 97th Street, when I stepped very close to a bird.

“Look!” I said to my husband, “It can’t fly.”

We looked down at the small brown bird. I think it was a sparrow.

“It’s not going to survive out here, is it?”

“Probably not,” my husband said.

“I’m taking it home,” I said. “I got an e-mail about it being nesting season. It had a list of places to call if you find an injured bird.”

My mother-in-law found an empty pizza box on top of a trash can, and my husband chased the hopping bird and plopped it inside. They left, and I ran across the street to my building.

Once upstairs, I raced past my two cats and closed the door to my office. I put the pizza box on the floor and opened it so the bird could get some air. Then I pulled up the e-mail and started calling and leaving messages with various organizations.

The bird, meanwhile, had hopped out of the box and scampered under my desk. It stood on a pile of tangled computer wires. I crouched down. I was afraid to touch it. But what if it got lost in my apartment? What if the cats got at it?

I reached out and picked up the little bird as quickly as I could. It felt so fragile; I could easily crush it if I pressed too hard. I put it back into the box and closed the lid.

I kept leaving messages, until finally I reached a man who told me to put the bird back. He said if it wasn’t bleeding or limping then it was a healthy fledgling.

“Fledglings are supposed to be on the ground,” he said. “The parents feed them until they’re ready to fly. We’re flooded with phone calls from New Yorkers who feel compelled to rescue them. But they’re fine where they are.”

I told him I’d heard that the mother would reject a bird once it was touched by humans. He said that was a myth.

I went back downstairs, ran across the street, and put the fledgling down near a tree where I’d found it, as the man had told me. I felt unsure about leaving it there. Crossing the street, I saw a bird flying overhead. I hoped it was its mother.