Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Gingerbread House | Lefsetz Letter

I hate arts and craps.

That’s what my sister Wendy called them, back when we all went to Camp JCC, in Stepney, CT.

When you’re a six year old, riding the bus is a big thing. It picked us up in front of our house and escorted us upstate where at first our counselors were women, but when we got older men. Teenagers, in fact, but they seemed so old to us! And that’s where I learned to swim, in the pee-infested kiddie pool, I remember the first step being the Dead Man’s Float. I remember hovering in the water inside my mind, astounding I still do that today and I’m the same guy. And right after lunch…

We had arts and crafts.

I think I went once. But I didn’t only avoid arts and crafts at camp, but in school too, I remember my third grade teacher, Mrs. Trainor, commenting on it. I just have no skill, no talent, I can’t draw, I’m always amazed at those who can.

Like Ella. She was sitting next to us at the table. It was astounding to see her build her gingerbread house, you could see she had a future in the arts. But now, more than ever, it’s a low-paying dead end, so she’ll probably be a lawyer or a banker.

So I came in from skiing, and looking for hot chocolate, I stumbled upon a gingerbread house making activity. I entered the Cucina and watched the kids build and I said to myself “Felice has to see this.”

I thought she’d resist, but I got her to come on down and…

She refused to build a house. She said I could. But I don’t like to get my hands dirty.

Maybe that’s one reason I resisted arts and crafts. And also it seemed pointless, creating something amateurish that even my mother wouldn’t compliment.

But today, I decided to dive in.

Turns out the houses are pre-built. You’ve just got to decorate ’em. But how do you do this?

Well, there’s pastry you squeeze out of a foil tube and various candies you can embed in the pastry and…

I was completely flummoxed, I didn’t know how to start.

So I looked to the kids for inspiration.

Lexi had icicles hanging from under the eaves. I could never figure out how to do that.

Ella had built a snowman in the front yard.

Max’s roof was embedded with candies symmetrically.

As for Seely… She was enjoying playing with the pastry, she was only six years old.

But they all had pastry on the edges, so I imitated that. Then I didn’t know what to do next.

So Felice picked up the reins and created a treble clef.

That begat a conversation.

Seely’s brother Max, two or three years older, told her she didn’t know what it meant. But Seely did, she said MUSIC!

Ella turned out to play the guitar. And now keyboard. Funny how they no longer call it piano. She said she was in a band. The school teacher had exited the institution and started his own business and every Saturday they got together to play music. She picked up her phone, she’s a ninth grader, and played me a song one of her friends wrote, and damn if it wasn’t good. I mean one step away from commerciality.

Then Felice asked Ella what she listened to.

She said “The Killers.”

And Lexi chimed in that she’d seen them live.

Did they like hip-hop?


Lexi’s favorite band was Led Zeppelin.

Stifling my chuckle, I asked her her favorite track.

At first she couldn’t come up with it, but then she took to Spotify, both Ella and Lexi have Spotify accounts, Ella testified about Discover Weekly, and then Lexi scrolled through her library and she found it…


I almost asked her if she knew what it meant, but then I thought better of it, especially since she wasn’t old enough to understand anyway.

And Ella’s house had a chunk taken out of the roof. She said it came that way, but she liked it, because it had CHARACTER! She knew more about art than the people spending millions to buy it. If you hang it symmetrically, I know you’re ignorant. You’ve got to hang it so there’s a tension between the art piece and the wall it’s hanging upon. I learned this in college, Ella already knew it.

Meanwhile, the kids had used all the good candy, all that was left were stars and sparkles, and lord only knows how you got the sparkles to stick.

But Ella scrounged and gave us some of her rejects, and I installed some broken candy canes, and we were having a grand old time until…

The mothers came. That stifled the conversation. Suddenly, the kids weren’t so talkative, they weren’t revealing their inner thoughts, they were playing to their parents.

And I was worried if I kept up the conversation it wouldn’t look good, so we all resorted to finishing our buildings.

Ella posted hers to Snapchat.

You can see ours here:


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