from Sandy Needham

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Newton Dispatch

SCENE: February 1981 NYC. The Waldorf Hotel

My friend Terry, a salesman for the textile company where I worked in the design studio, organized 10 people to pay for a table at the Brazilian Carnaval at the Waldorf Astoria. His Upper West Side neighbor was a crazy Brazilian named Malu – one of the ten participants. Our studio was good for several more slots; Malu’s Brazilian friend, Newton, was a student at Fairleigh-Dickenson University in NJ and he was one of the ten. We all dressed up. We met for caipirinhas (made by Newton) at Terry’s apartment, then hit the Carnaval in the big ballroom at the hotel. There were Brazilian mulattas dancing samba to traditional live Carnaval music, all arrived from Brazil. Conga lines formed, since Amernewton 1978icans don’t know the difference all that well between Cuban and Brazilian traditions…Newton was right behind me. Afterwards, I got a ride home to the Upper East Side from Newton, who was a skinny 21 year-old, but very sweet I thought as I gave him a little kiss on the cheek before hopping out.

SCENE: 1981 NYC. Various Friday nights and Sunday afternoons

My gang of friends met up every Friday night after my Afro-Brazilian dance class at a bar called Jimmy Armstrong’s. Sometimes Malu and her Brazilian friend, Eliza would join us; sometimes Newton would arrive from NJ. We often went to Central Park on Sunday afternoons to hear this great Brazilian “samba school” – large samba percussion band – called Pe de Boi (“foot of the bull”), who played there and passed the hat. Malu, Eliza and Newton sometimes joined the gang for that, as well.

SCENE: March 1982 NYC. Jimmy Armstrong’s Saloon

It was another Friday night. I had recently returned from my second trip to Rio de Janeiro. The gang met up at Armstrong’s. Newton was looking more filled out these days, more like a grown man. We all went THE GANG downtown to a Spanish restaurant, and Newton and I seemed to be drawn together like magnets. We have been together since that night. [And, whether it has to do with the electro-magnetism of a Vernal and Autumnal Equinox couple - he’s April and I’m September…who knows, but to this day, this force of magnetism puts us on frequently colliding vectors as we move between the stove and the frig, for example.]

→What I had gradually gotten to know over this time was Newton’s sense of humor, his readiness to laugh, and his level of sophistication in both English and humor. This is a characteristic I really love about him because we have some good laughs, especially when he comes up with priceless rejoinders. He’s also good for laughs when he infrequently – though increasingly now that he’s back in Brazil – fractures English in some way. The usual is to invert the noun and the adjective, such as “control remote,” or to change a well-known expression by even one word, “He wanted to get that out of his chest,” or “Buckle up” for “Buck up.” The very fact that he can laugh at himself along with the family at these moments is another reason to love him!

SCENE: September 1982 Jugg Island, St. Lawrence River

I had some great friends from my Cleveland days who rented one of the small islands in the Thousand Islands for many years –Jugg Island. It has a small cliff on one side, a large cabin, and smooth rocks sloping out to the cold, clear water on the other sides. On a Labor Day trip there, Newton and I were invited to remain on the island, if we wished, after all the friends went back to work. I was between textile studios at that point, but Newton, as a Masters in Electrical Engineering candidate, was supposed to start teaching a couple of classes later in the week at Fairleigh-Dickenson. We stayed. There was the remainder of a case of champagne, gourmet leftovers from our serious-cooking friends, a small motor boat for supplies, and basically, our own version of “Blue Lagoon.” We just couldn’t leave in time for Newton’s class, so he called in to report a car breakdown in Alexandria Bay. We had champagne for breakfast, swam and explored, jumped off the cliff, boated around, and made caipirinhas and played cards every evening in front of the fireplace. We discovered that our compatibility was a pretty sure thing. Too bad the photos are in our storage bin in NY. [Update: if you can believe it, the daughter of my Cleveland friend who rented the island eventually married the son of the island’s owner!! We were back years later with our kids.]

→I was finding out something truly amazing about Newton: We all know I am wordy, but whether it is my usual over-analyzing, my effusive enthusiasm over art or natural beauty, or my reporting what I read in the Times – Newton is right there with me, listening. He is the most attentive listener I know. How could I be so lucky? How can he be so patient? He’s a mouthy person’s DREAM. I love him for that. And he is comfortable and graceful for this reason in any group – arty, sporty, political, philosophizing, jokey, boring, or business-related.

SCENE: Late August 1983 NYC

Newton was hired by a small progressive computer hardware and software company, HHB Systems. He was starting work in September, but his student visa would be expired by then. We decided to get married fast. We told my roommate she had to move out. I had to go to a textile printing mill in South Carolina the Monday he started work. My boss was out of town, what luck, so I could leave the studio early on the preceding Wednesday to go downtown to the marriage license bureau with Newton. Then I left the studio early on Thursday so we could park for 20 minutes in the diamond district to grab two gold wedding bands before getting our blood test downtown in the same building that houses the NY Stock Exchange. I left the studio early on Friday with two bouquets – one from this studio and one from my previous studio down the block – and we went to City Hall to get married. Our friend Joe met us there to be the witness. We were in a large room filled with all manner of couples. When it was our turn, the man officiating in a small “chapel” read the lines while Joe leapt around with his camera. It was done…we were married! The three of us went to a swanky French bar in Soho – Le Zinc – deserted on a Friday afternoon, but good for champagne and crusty bread and such. On Monday I was off to SC and Newt was off to work in NJ.

→At this moment I can comment on Newton’s driving because he was adept at maneuvering through Manhattan traffic as only a Brazilian or a mad taxi driver or a Formula I driver could be. He somehow managed to be stuck in NYC traffic almost never. This is not my favorite thing about Newton as I’m a chicken about physical risk, but it brings out another aspect of our workable yin/yang, as well as a couple of my very favorite things about him: 1) He is, thankfully, a good driver, and we’re still here! 2) As a longtime, huge fan of Formula I racing, especially the Brazilian drivers, Newton sometimes seems to have a Walter Mitty quality as he careens around a curve. I just love this quality, because, once again, he laughs about that, too!

SCENE: August 1984 NYC. Lenox Hill Hospital

I gave birth to Elise Needham Abdalla. Newton had contracted Hepatitis from beach shrimp in Rio during my pregnancy, so I had to stay in our 2nd bedroom for a month or so and cook the meals after I got home from work. After recovering, he got some kind of rash so we had to go buy condoms, even though I was standing there next to him clearly pregnant when he requested them from the person behind the counter (he had hoped it wouldn’t be a woman, but it was). We’ll never forget that the woman then asked, “What size?” We froze. They came in different sizes? She corrected the question to “What size box?” after she noticed the blood draining from Newton’s face. I went into labor at a Broadway play – “Hurly Burly” with Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt. We stayed till the end and Newton got me home. Elise was born the next evening. Her pediatrician at the hospital made sure everyone knew that he was also the pediatrician for Mick Jagger’s baby.

→Newton was (is) the calm one through my hormonal crazies. I just love that about him.

SCENE: November 1985 NYC and Hewitt, NJ

Newton and I decided to move out of the city now that Elise was over a year old. We had found a darling little house on a small lake in NJ, having been heavily influenced by Jugg Island. Only a large U-Haul truck was available, so the evening prior to our move Newton told me to run down to the entryway of our building where it was parked and see how big…except that there was no truck in view. He went out and discovered that the truck had rolled backward down the incline of the street and smashed into a parked car. We were still able to take off the next day. Terry, Joe and our French friend, Roch, came to help us move. It was cold and rainy, but we got the truck loaded and drove to Lake Lookover. It was dark and the rain was freezing by the time we were unloading furniture down the steep stairs that led from the road to our house. Our friends’ feet were drenched and freezing, so I found the box with socks. The guys expected to return to the city that night, but the truck wouldn’t start. We found a roasted chicken at the supermarket and all tore into it with paper plates and plastic forks, set up the beds and unpacked blankets, got the wood-burning stove lit and somehow did not lose our friends!

SCENE: December 1985 Lake Lookover

I was looking out the second floor window at Newton across the road. Now he was a woodsman with flannel shirt, jeans and boots. He had a new wedge for log-splitting and was ready to strike. That first blow did miss, and he instinctively looked around to see if anyone was watching in the deserted clearing in the woods. He didn’t check the second floor window! Second strike was dead-on. We always had wood for the wood-burning stove.

→Newton has physical abilities from precision, surgeon-like dexterity to multi-scoring in a soccer game. He can cut garlic to an almost infinitesimal size by hand – with that patience of his; he can treat my cuts (I’m clumsy with scissors and knives) better than a doctor, and before I faint! He can body surf better than anyone on the beach; he’s a good tennis player; a good skier; he’s expert at installing a beach umbrella in the wind (care and patience, again); and he can wire or rewire anything. His mental abilities go without saying.

surfpipa beach

SCENE: October 1986 Hewitt, NJ

I gave birth to Jake Needham Abdalla. Newton tried some of the Lamaze coaching from before while I screamed through labor. We made jokes about Jake’s wide nose as they lifted him up… we thought it might have been long, like Newt’s Arabic nose, but no, it looked “like Michael Jackson’s before plastic surgery,” we said. [Jake quickly grew into his nose.] We liked living on the lake with a canoe and little beach, a snow mobile and ice skates for the winter.

→Newton is the one who sculpted a sled run in the yard for the kids and joined them on it, World Cup Loosers the one who raced go-carts with them, took them skiing. Elise inherited his love of ocean waves and Jake inherited his love of roller coasters and other heart attack-inducing rides. I like to hike!


060313-08 Steepest slope in Austria

SCENE: May 1987 Hewitt, NJ and Tokyo

I found the demographics of that neck of the ‘sticks’ challenging, so when Newton was approached at work to take on an assignment in Tokyo, I encouraged him to do so. Jake was 7 months old, breast-feeding at 3:00am and 6:00 am every night; Elise was 2-1/2 years old. We had rented the lake house to a wonderful couple from Manhattan who wanted to use it on the weekends. We had packed away many items to keep at a storage company. When the limo arrived around 7:00am to drive us to the airport for our move to Japan, we had not yet been to bed. Newton was on one last run to the storage bin, I was trying to finish up everything and get the kids ready. The patient driver waited an hour and we luckily still had time to make the flight. Japan turned out to be both wonderful and difficult, navigating the city with two little kids, but the kids were great, and my lifelong love of Japanese art and design was well-indulged. Newton had his own version of the Japanese experience by way of being part of a company – lots of bowing, lots of hesitation over who could politely rise first from a conference table, some traditional nights out with the guys after work till the last train home.

→Newton is able to communicate well internationally in English because he knows all too well how fast talk and idioms can cause confusion. He brings his calm deliberateness and extraordinary listening skills to bear, and successfully conducts business in Asia and Europe. I love him for his great skill at this, and for the way he and the others all misuse English prepositions, which turns out fine!

SCENE: April 1990 Rockland County, NY

We decided to move to Pomona, NY, about 50 minutes north of NYC. We found a beautiful, woodsy home built by architects in the mid-‘60’s, so it combined the good sense and aesthetic of a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house with some funny hippy-dippy and Mylar wall papers from the ‘60’s. We spent ten years here raising our kids, watching skunks and wild turkeys in the yard. Newton’s division at his company was completely sold off, so in this basement the new virtual CAST, Inc. began with four partners, each working in his own home. The timing meant that we were stuck with the metallic silver and red wallpaper in our bathroom until we sold the house in 2000.

at show speaking


→Tech-weenie Newton has always been cracker-jack at computers and electronic gadgets (ham radio in his youth!). Of course that designation comes from my college days when tech-weenies literally had slide-rules in their pockets…the designation went the way of the slide rules, I believe. He is so fast at manipulating keypads of any sort, that with the two old touch-dial telephones he had on his desk in those days he managed to win free tickets to Brazilian concerts no less than six times! The Newark jazz radio station WGBO had a Brazilian hour on Saturday nights. They would ask some simple question about Brazilian music and then say the 8th, or the 2nd, or the 11th caller who could answer correctly would win. Between the two phones and the “redial” button, Newton managed to be whatever caller number was required! The free tickets were always for the 11:00pm show on Wednesday nights, so we’d put the kids to bed, let the babysitter in and run off to some of the best jazz clubs in Manhattan or to Carnegie Hall to see some of Brazil’s biggest stars. The station discontinued the offer after Newton’s 6th win.

And annoying as all those wires are that inevitably show up in Newton’s wake wherever he lives, I love the way he loves wires and splitters and connectors, etc. Like I love shoes. He tries to conceal them along walls and control them initially, then gradually, as he adds on, they start to show. My tolerance mostly grows along with the gradual increase and only hits a wall when I must step over a wire in a major traffic aisle. He sold a big box of wires at our departing yard sale to an anonymous soul mate and has been replenishing his supply ever since!

SCENE: July 1997 NY

AT LAST both of our children ended up at Unirondack camp upstate NY the same week. Newton and I could go out without arranging overnights or a babysitter, and actually skip two weeks between the 10-hour drive up and back to camp. We went out every night but the one where we stayed in with champagne. This included a couple of evenings in the city: we couldn’t help but notice that the crowd in the West Village was considerably younger than we, but we had our first Stella Artois on draft and loved the whole scene. We went to Lushane’s in Nyack – the coolest town in Rockland County - on the river and full of great restaurants. The bartender was George from Egypt, and they were playing the soundtrack from “Saturday Night Fever.” We just loved it there. We moved to Nyack in 2000 and lived across the street from Lushane’s, although we could only afford it once a month. Luckily, the town offered great choices in every price range, so with our kids in high school, we had a dinner ‘date’ every Friday night. George is still at Lushane’s and a dear friend we visit when in town.

SCENE: July 2004 Italy

Newton was determined to get his Italian citizenship by way of his Mother’s grandfather from Sardinia. [He had been a US citizen since 2000.] We decided to go to Italy for the five weeks he believed it would require, according to the rather dubious Brazilian-Italian he had hired to make this possible. Well, that citizenship eventually did work out, though it took years instead of weeks, but we had our ideal trip in the meantime. We had a car and just drove…no reservations except at the beginning and the end, even though the beginning reservation for Cinque Terre was for the wrong day. We checked out the waves on the Mediterranean, then drove across to the Adriatic to see if they were better for Newton’s expert body-surfing…no, but what food and wine!! We pursued our mutual love of going out for great meals and discovered our favorite wine, Brunello di Montalcino. We fell in love with the nightly ‘passeggiatta’ in the piazzas of every town – where the locals dress to the nines and parade back and forth. We even adopted the habit of dressing up for those Friday nights out in Nyack, trying to perpetuate everything Italian.

→So while Newton likes adventure and a degree of physical risk, and I love dancing on the floor…no big heights or drops or speed by way of a motor, you can see what we both really love is great food, great wine, and great music. Our move to Brazil where the food is delicious and cheap (especially in the Northeast) and the musicians are excellent has been perfect for our mutual sport. With a budget of US$100 per week for going out, which meant 250 reias/week a couple of years ago and means 175 reais/week right now, we are able to go out three times in a week. Since Natal has some really good restaurants that are not so cheap, we sometimes hold back some weeks and splurge on a Saturday night, dressing up, of course! I prefer good food and music with Newton there.


And I cannot omit another thing I love about Newton: he can cook! From the early days when he made Brazilian barbeque for the gang to his current moqueca of shrimp recipe, his homemade salsa – just excellent! – his weekend shrimp with garlic and oil, his perfect flan!! – his instinctually perfect grilling…he has real talent. And he prepares food calmly, as if having three things on the stove while chopping is not a reason to panic! I’m not modest, I have some talents, but I can’t cook.another flan

SCENE: July 2005 Aguas Bellas in the Northeast of Brazil

We took a long trip to the Northeast of Brazil – somewhere we had never been, at least not above Bahia. After making our way from the white dunes of Maranhão to the wind-surfing destination of Jericoacoara in Ceará all by hook or by crook (boats, busses, hitched rides in dune buggies and hired rides in 4 X 4’s), we arrived in the city of Fortaleza. There we rented a car to check out the beaches to the south. On our return to fly home, we stopped for lunch on a beach called Aquas Bellas. It was pretty deserted, as most of the houses were vacation houses used only in January, but we had never seen such turquoise water or tasted such fresh lobster. It was while looking and tasting on Aguas Bellas that Newton proposed the idea that we move to the Northeast of Brazil! DSC01423 - Newton @ Beach

SCENE: September 2006 Atlantic Ocean

We moved to the Northeast of Brazil. [See September 2006 blog entries.]

→Newton and I have entire days together week in and week out. I have the privilege of listening to him, too, and discussing the daily problems that crop up in his work (China and Poland come to mind). Even if our life together cannot sustain the youthful romance of Jugg Island, we do get along just as well as we did then, and the beauty around us is just as wonderful!

I admire the kindness and generosity with which Newton deals with our caretaker and maid. He is always willing to help them however he can, whether keeping track of a bill online or advancing cash or just listening, often at inopportune moments. I love this about him. I love his incredible perseverance for any task, his physical beauty, his elegance, and his easy-going companionship.silhouettes I don’t know why I got to have Newton for a husband, but I am grateful every day. He is the love of my life and my hero.

Happy 50th Birthday, Baby!




  1. Wonderful story that fills in a lot of the details that I've wondered about, but mostly why it was written. Sounds like the two of you have a wonderful life together. Happy birthday Newton.

  2. Sandra, you make my eyes tear and my heart joyful with your wonderful tribute to Newton. Thank you for allowing me to celebrate a little along with you, and happy birthday to that beautiful young man who swept you off your feet and has kept you there ever since.


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