Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Monday, August 21, 2017

THE UNFORTUNATE AND SHORT-LIVED ROMANCE OF MR.CHARLES BEVIS

Charles Bevis was a Man of Means, and of exceeding Taste;
And when it came to Courtship, he refused to act in Haste.

He would interview all Prospects, making all Requirements known,
Because he was particular about she whom he’d take Home.

One Day a Lady caught his Eye who answered all his Questions,
And winked at him with just the slightest Hint of warm Suggestion.

On bended Knee his Troth he pled; she happily accepted.
The Nuptials followed: Off to bed, but not there to be slepted.

For full three Nights and full three Days, with Passion quite romantic,
They made Love every Minute with a Pace exceeding frantic.

Then Nature called (as Nature must) unto good Mr. Bevis,
Who told his bride, “We must confide, it’s time that we relieve us.”

And going to the “Little Room” where stood the white-glazed Throne,
Our Mr. Bevis sat right down and made himself at Home.

But when for Paper-Roll he reached, his Fundament for dabbing,
’Twas then with pain-wracked Voice he screeched, as though he’d felt a Stabbing!

“Vile Wench!” he shrieked, “Avaunt! Away! I’ll sue you for Divorce!
And if you do not leave at once, I’ll throw you out by Force!”

A Scene ensued. His weeping Bride took neither Hat nor Pin,
A swift and shocking Consequence for her most heinous Sin -

For ev’ryone of Quality knows one essential Fact:
The Paper on the Toilet-Roll goes Front, and never Back!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A STORY, SAD BUT NEVERTHELESS TRUE

Here’s a story that, in some respects, hearkens back to the Good Old Days of crapblogging.

Crapblogging has fallen on hard times, methinks. For that matter, blogging has fallen on hard times. Rather than having to maintain a blog and earn a readership in the wilds of the open Internet, people waste spend most of their time on Farcebook, where their communications are visible to a self-selected audience. Since - in theory, at least - your Farcebook friends (”ffriends“) know who you are, nobody wants to describe details of personal excretory experiences quite the way they did on the semi-anonymous platform of a blog.

Hell, the word “blog” sounds like an excretory experience.

On Farcebook, one tends to be more circumspect. Which is why I’m writing this on my blog. Which I will most likely link to my Farcebook page, so who am I kidding, anyway?

Anyway, this is a true story, and it is more an observation on just how damned inconsiderate people can be in the Age of Portable Electronica than it is a crapblogging post...

We begin in one of the local eateries, where Dee and I are meeting a friend of long standing - technically, the daughter of a friend of long standing - for lunch. And as we wait for said friend to arrive, I hear the Call of Nature. It is not a subtle whisper: rather, it is a clarion call of the sort that requires immediate attention.

I carefully make my way to an all-too-distant restroom, only to discover that the sole stall is occupied. OK, I can handle this. I’ve got muscles in all the right places.

A few minutes go by, and I am becoming, ah, err, a bit impatient. And that’s when I hear the bippity-boop of a smartphone coming from the stall.

Son of a bitch!

I wait another minute. Bippity-boop!

And now I do something I have never had to do in all the years I have walked the planet. I knock on the stall door. Once. Twice.

“Oh, sorry!” And now the stall’s occupant scrambles to, as they say, finish the job.

My comment? “Thanks - another minute and I might have had to shit in the urinal.”

These fucking kids and their smartphones, am I right?

A COSMIC GET-TOGETHER


Moon and Sun.

These two Cosmic Objects are due to have a rendezvous in less than two weeks, an event I’ve been looking forward to for over a decade.

It is a rendezvous that depends mightily on your point of view. The Sun is about 93 million miles from the Earth - just the right distance to allow water to exist in its three most useful phases. The Moon is roughly 238,900 miles away, so it is nowhere near the Sun. But by a happy coincidence, the Moon, thanks to its closer distance and smaller size, occupies almost exactly the same angle of view from our Earthbound perspective... just enough to cover the solar disc without obscuring its corona.

It means that total solar eclipses are fleeting and rare phenomena. You have to be in the exact right place to see one, and its duration will usually be less than two minutes as the Moon’s seventy mile-wide shadow speeds across the Earth’s surface at hundreds of miles per hour like a dark finger tracing a path along a map.

We’re hoping to be right in the middle of that shadow.

Eclipses can be predicted with absolute certainty; the motions of the celestial spheres follow immutable laws. The weather, however, is another matter. Let’s hope and pray for a sunny day!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

THIS IS A TEST


Here comes the Sun.

This is just a test... of my ND100000 filter, which allows me to photograph the Sun’s disk. (Even with this much neutral density, I’m still using 1/4000 second at f22, ISO 100.)

Twenty days from today, I’m hoping to see that disk dwindle down to a crescent... and then to disappear, as the Moon’s shadow sweeps across Tennessee.

Pray for good weather, Esteemed Readers.

WHEN POP GOT DROPPED: A 100-WORD STORY

Eric “Pop” Tartz was a fixture in his small town, where he was especially loved by the local children.

He was a man of regular habits, not all of them respectable. Mornings, you could catch him getting toasted at Ernie’s Breakfast Bar.

Pop was a crusty fellow, but people who knew him would say that beneath his dry exterior lay a sweet, melty heart. Detractors, on the other hand, called him tasteless.

Tasteless? Maybe… but he must have had dark secrets. One day his body was discovered at the Breakfast Bar, bitten nearly in half.

Someone had had him iced.

Monday, July 31, 2017

HONK IF YOU LOVE...

There was a man down Cleveland way
His name was Parma John
His sins were many, men would say
For he knew not right from wrong

But heavenward his soul will go
When his last breath he wheezes
Because the Goud’ Lord told him so
And that’s when he found Cheeses.

IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN

Happy Tisha b’Av!
A completely inappropriate holiday greeting, courtesy of the infamous (and now defunct) Church Sign Generator.

There is no balm in Gilead
Doo dah
Doo dah
The fact of which, it makes me sad
Oh, doo dah day

Time again for that most mournful of days on the Jewish calendar: Tisha b’Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of two (count ’em!) Holy Temples in Jerusalem, along with various other historical calamities that have, over the millennia, befallen us Red Sea Pedestrians.

Most people are aware that Jews fast - abstaining from both food and drink from before sundown to after sundown the following day - on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. That, however, is a fast born of solemnity, not misery. The fasting of observant Jews on Tisha b’Av, though of equal duration, is a fast of grief.

There are several other traditions in addition to fasting: abstaining from marital relations; not wearing leather shoes, not studying Scripture, not greeting one another. As night falls, we gather in synagogues to hear the Book of Lamentations chanted in an ages-old, dirgelike melody, the only illumination a few flickering candles.

One can only speculate what history would have been like had the second Temple not been destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 C.E. It may seem heretical to say it, but the destruction of the Temple, painful as it was, was the historical event that forced Judaism to become a religion of prayer and study rather than one of pilgrimage and animal sacrifice. Without a focus in a single city - Jerusalem - it became a portable religion. It had to be portable, as Jews were chivvied and chased from one place to another... but with its redirection, it has survived to become the Judaism we know today. Most religions of the time, on the other hand, have disappeared. How many Mithraists do you know?

That’s the silver lining behind the terrible events that we remember on Tisha b’Av.

It’s now almost 2,000 years later. We Jews no longer have priests. We no longer have an altar where sacrifices are brought. (For that matter, we no longer have sacrifices, although we recall them in our liturgy.) But those traditions are still alive... amongst the Roman Catholic, Eastern and Greek Orthodox, and Anglican (Episcopalian) Churches.

Tisha b’Av begins at sundown. If you are a Red Sea Pedestrian of the observant stripe, have a meaningful fast, and may you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. If you are a Red Sea Pedestrian of the less observant stripe, give a momentary thought to our painful history. And if you’re not Jewish, have a nice day.

Friday, July 28, 2017

HEY, ROCKY

“Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”
...
“Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”
....
“C’mon, Rocky! Look at me do the rabbit trick!”
.....
“Rocky! Rock!”
..............
“Rock?”  



June Foray, 1917-2017. Ave atque vale.

The legendary June Foray, the human behind hundreds of cartoon characters - most notably Rocket J. Squirrel of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” fame - passed away Wednesday at the age of 99.

People often compared her to Mel Blanc, the “Man of a Thousand Voices,” the artist who brought Bugs Bunny to life. There were those who would call her “the female Mel Blanc,” to which animator Chuck Jones was said to have retorted, “Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”

My childhood was brightened in so many spots by Miss Foray’s remarkable talent. The world of animation - nay, the world - is poorer without her in it.

Rockyescat in pace, June.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

OVERCOMING A CHILDHOOD FEAR

Many of us remember the things that terrified us as children, whether it was a dark room, a gaggle of monstrous beings that resided - we were sure of it! - under our bed, or scary movies.

There was a long time when I, as my pre-teen years were coming to a close, could barely watch shows like The Outer Limits or Twilight Zone: the angst was just that great. (Dee still can’t bring herself to watch Twilight Zone, owing to one episode that scared the living crap out of her when she was barely into double digits.)

Even before that, I had a number of weird phobias. Well, phobia is maybe too strong a word for my reaction to objects that didn’t quite send me running off screaming, but for which I had a peculiar dread: mushrooms and chimneys. The idea of actually touching a mushroom filled me with loathing; and certain chimney shapes just... bothered me in a way that is hard to describe. (Strangely, I never feared eating mushrooms, only being in close proximity to them.)

Eventually, these sources of angst faded into the background and disappeared, being outpaced by the real grownup phobias: poverty, failure, disease, harm to loved ones, aging. One stupid-ass mushroom can’t keep up with those - plus, mushrooms are tasty.

As long as we’ve gotten on to the subject of Frightening Foods, I suppose we can all of us admit to having certain powerful food aversions. Some food items are loathsome to us because of our acculturation - while they may be perfectly delectable in some places, there’d be No Fucking Way one of these would cross my lips, f’r example - and others are simply outside our experience. My mother (of blessèd memory) would eat things like brains in black butter, calf’s foot jelly (AKA pt’cha, an Ashkenazic Jewish classic beloved by almost nobody), and sweetbreads. Unto this day I cannot abide the idea of eating brains (zombie food!), but having had sweetbreads at Alice Waters’s legendary Chez Panisse some 34 years ago, I pronounce them excellent.

But the greatest bugaboo, for me, has been buttermilk. Rich, creamy buttermilk. Nasty, gloppy buttermilk. Is it liquefied sour cream, or just regular Grade A that’s gone off?

I use buttermilk whenever I make cornbread or pancakes, but the idea of picking up a glass of the stuff and drinking it has horrified me since little-kid days, when I was handed a tumbler of what I expected was cold, refreshing sweet milk. Buttermilk, it was, and the sour, saline shock of it, combined with that weird creamy/gloppy consistency, convinced me on the spot that I should never let that stuff near my face again. It has been close to sixty years, and I’ve kept that promise.

Until now.

A true Southerner - and maybe even an adopted one like me - should have an appreciation of local folkways, especially where food is concerned. I like grits enough, and have even adapted them for those who want a more Ashkenazic version. I make cornbread from time to time. Why not enjoy it the way old-school Sutheners will do: crumbled into a big ol’ glass of cold buttermilk?

I had to put aside my childhood revulsion of buttermilk in order to do it, but here it is:


Home-made cornbread and buttermilk.

It was a pleasant surprise, with the mild lactic acid notes of sour cream and the crumbly texture of the cornbread that soaked up the liquid, resulting in something that was more reminiscent of a pudding than anything else. Ah, that’s it! Indian pudding meets mamaligeh, that quintessentially Ashkenazic/Romanian combination of corn meal mush (i.e., polenta), cottage cheese, and sour cream. A meal in itself, or even a grown-up dessert.

And now I need fear buttermilk no more.

[But there’s still no fucking way I’m eating a balut.]

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

THE MAN OF MANY LAYERS

I have a friend - a member of our Morning Minyan crowd - who grew up in the sunny little burg of Vidalia, Georgia.

Vidalia, as any food aficionado will tell you, is the home of the eponymous Vidalia onion, the sweetest, mildest allium cepa that you will ever put teeth to. And Richard, well, he knows his onions.

When Richard sits down to breakfast, he will occasionally get a wistful look in his eyes... especially if someone else at the table has ordered a LEO (lox, eggs, and onions, cooked up omelette style). With the slightest prodding, he’ll embark on a reverie, a recounting of the onion-based dishes with which he grew up. It almost puts one in mind of Bubba, Forrest Gump’s shrimp-obsessed Army buddy.

“Anyway, like I was sayin’, onions are the fruit of the earth. You can barbecue ’em, boil ’em, broil ’em, bake ’em, sauté ’em, grill ’em. You can slice ’em and dice ’em. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s your straight-up onions - yellow, red, white, Spanish, pearl. There’s your scallions, your green onions. You got your leeks, shallots, and garlic. There’s onion pie, onion and cabbage pie, onion tarts, onion soup; crispy onions, onion rings, caramelized onions...”

It’s enough to make your eyes glaze over. But one thing they won’t do is water. Vidalias are too mild to make you cry.

You’d think that Richard, coming from a small town as he does, would be a simple man. One-dimensional. But he is actually quite complicated. Got a lot of layers, he does...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

MIRACLES

This is a story about miracles.

When some people think of miracles, they think of dramatic events. They think of Moses standing at the edge of the Sea of Reeds as God splits the waters. They think of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana, or feeding the mulititudes with a handful of loaves and fishes. They think of Muhammad ascending to Heaven from the Rock in Jerusalem where Ibrahim was restrained by Allah from sacrificing Ishmael. Whether these events really happened matters not. These are our foundational fables. These are the Great Miracles, articles of faith.

I am a skeptic when it comes to big miracles, the wonderful stories beloved of those who share our Abrahamic faiths: I tend to see myth rather than historical truth. Nevertheless, I see the miracles of our daily lives all around me. The impossibly complex machines - our bodies - that allow our brains to function. The myriad pipes and tubes, the strands of nerves that allow us to awaken every morning. These are the everyday miracles, and they are numberless.

This is a story about miracles.

This is the story of Houston Steve, who - along with his wife Debby - purchased a house in southwest Houston in early 1979. Unbeknownst to any of us at the time, the house they bought had been ours - in fact, our very first house, the house we had purchased as soon as we had gotten engaged. But Dee and I had never sat at a closing table with them, it having been a corporate transfer... and so we had no idea who the purchasers were, nor did we care. It was sheer coincidence on an astronomic scale when Steve and I sat next to each other at post-Minyan breakfast one morning in 2002 and discovered the connection between us. After all, what were the odds?

We became good friends with Steve and Debby after that. Our friendship was, we felt, predestined... and yet it grew naturally our of our common values and interests. Besides, how many couples can claim that they each have children conceived in the same bedroom?

This is a story about miracles.

This is the story of Bonnie and Harris, with whom we became close friends in late 1987. Soon after we became acquainted with the couple, we moved to another town in Connecticut... and then, two years after that, to Houston. Dee and I were the godparents of their only son, and we were devastated a few years later when they announced - seemingly out of the blue - their intention to divorce.

The divorce created an unfortunate estrangement between us and Bonnie. We were no longer close when she remarried... and we were not there to comfort her when Bruce, her second husband, passed away after only a few short years.

Some time afterward, Bonnie moved to a different house on the other side of town. As she was describing it to a friend one day, the friend gave her a funny look. “You know you bought Elisson and Dee’s house, don’t you?” She had not known. What were the odds?

This is a story about miracles.

In 2010, Houston Steve’s beloved Debby got a bad diagnosis. She soldiered on, allowing the doctors to take out pieces of her, one at a time. What she never allowed them to take was the quality of her life.

Meanwhile, in late 2013, Dee had reestablished contact with Bonnie, who was still living in Connecticut, albeit in a different town now. They wept over all the time lost together, and their friendship was rekindled. After a visit with us in early 2014, Bonnie made plans to move to Atlanta. By Thanksgiving, she was settling in. It did not take long before she was solidly ensconced in our circle of friends and had gotten to know Houston Steve and Debby.

These are the miracles of our technological age, the Ars Electronica that facilitate reconnections and allow unlikely new friendships to blossom. (Ask any blogger... or ask The Younger Elisson.)

This is a story about miracles.

Debby passed away in August of 2015. During her five-year-long struggle with the Emperor of Maladies - throughout all the surgeries, years of chemotherapy, and, as the end neared, the Gamma Knife - she had never allowed herself to be ill. Two weeks before her demise, Debby and I had been at Party City, buying supplies for a Shabbat dinner she knew would be the last she would host. When things suddenly became dire, she retired to a room on the ground floor of her home and passed within thirty-six hours... and as was her wish, she left her house feet first.

Houston Steve grieved for Debby. Our faith prescribes a seven-day period of deep mourning (shiva) followed by a thirty-day time of partial grieving (sh’loshim) during which certain normal activities are resumed. But in his heart Steve had been grieving for years... ever since the day Debby received the Bad Diagnosis.

As Steve resumed social activities - some within our circle of friends, some not - we knew that there would inevitably be situations in which Steve and Bonnie would be together. We made sure that other friends would be around at such times. We were not going to be playing Yenta the Matchmaker.

And yet... this is a story about miracles.

One day last fall, Steve and Bonnie informed us that they were going to start seeing each other. And, some months afterwards, they announced their engagement. We were ecstatic.

This past Thursday, they were married in the little chapel in which we conduct our daily morning services. It was an intimate affair, with just a handful of Houston Steve’s relatives and a small group of friends. Despite my being skeptic in matters having to do with the Afterlife, I could almost swear that Bruce and Debby were both looking on, smiling approvingly.



One of the Great Miracles? No, this one was not quite Scripture-worthy. An everyday miracle? Absolutely not: what were the odds? But that this was a miracle, I did not doubt for one second. And we were there from the beginning.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

SMOKIN’: A 100-WORD STORY

Steampunk Kid

The Steampunk E-Cigarette Emporium was failing. Built with a massive amount of Charlie’s personal capital, the Emporium was a financial disaster, and Charlie could not understand why. 

Having procured the finest supplies, he offered an extensive selection of aromatic vapors. Madagascar vanilla, Vietnamese cinnamon, pure menthol, even good old-fashioned Virginny terbacky... all awaited his customers, who could inhale their selections while seated on plush banquettes. He had spent a fortune on rich Corinthian leather. And the steampunk theme was a natural.

Was it the sign above the entrance? “Welcome, Vapists!”

Perhaps it needed to be bigger, he thought.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

WONDER WOMAN: A 100-WORD ORIGIN STORY

According to one version of Wonder Woman’s origin story, Queen Hippolyta desperately wanted a child... so much so that she resorted to sculpting one from clay. Given the religious proclivities of the Greeks of the time, one can assume that prayers and sacrifices to the Olympian gods were employed as well.

Hippolyta’s prayers were answered. With uncharacteristic compassion, the goddesses living atop Mount Olympus brought the clay child to life.

The child, who would be known as Diana, was subsequently raised to adulthood by the Amazons on the mysterious isle of Themyscira.

Thus was born the Legend of the Girlem.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

WHAT WAS THAT, AGAIN?

In my memory, there’s something missing;
I’m not too good at reminiscing.
Pulling random factoids out of my brain
Used to be easy. Now it’s a strain.
Just like an old man is slow taking piscences,
I must remonstrate with my reminiscences.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

MOTHER’S DAY


In a 2007-vintage photo, Dee and our daughters relax on a rainy afternoon in Washington, D.C. 

Today is when we remember our mothers, without whom we would have a devilishly difficult time existing on Planet Earth. They are the ones who not only contributed half of our genetic material - the stuff that makes us us - but they’re the ones who had to schlep us around for something on the order of nine months, enduring (in some cases) nausea; bloat; enlarged abdomens (coupled with bladders squished down to the size of raisins); sleepless nights, and swollen extremities. They are the ones who cleaned us up after we crapped our diapers; the ones who wiped our noses, applied bandages to our scraped knees and - later - our scraped egos. They were the first ones we would run to for help when help was needed... because Mom!

We are fortunate to still have Dee’s Mom walking the planet with us. Mine is long gone - twenty-nine years - but she remains in my heart, always.

We have our precious Mamacita, our adoptive 89-year-old mommy, who loves her brood of “framily” children as her own.

And then there’s Dee, herself, who was, is, and continues to be a role model in the mothering business. She has many talents and capabilities, and she has given me many gifts over the years, but the gift of our daughters is one that daily brings a smile to my face and warmth to my heart.

Happy Mother’s Day, sweetheart! And happy Mother’s Day to all moms - family, friends, and members of the great human family... because Mom!

Friday, May 12, 2017

THE WISDOM OF RAV KATSCHKE: A 100-WORD MIDRASH


“They’re gonna do what?!”

The little village of Katzenellenbogen-affen-Yam was barely more than a speck on the map, but its minuscule size belied the extreme piety of its inhabitants. Yet now, as the Day of Atonement approached, they were faced with a most serious religious problem.

For reasons known only unto the Eternal One, a plague had descended upon the shtetl’s chickens, wiping them all out. Not a single pullet was left with which the villagers could purge their sins by performing the ancient ritual of sh’logn kapoyres.

The village rabbi consulted his dusty tomes and found a solution. “Use a duck,” he announced.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

ON NEIGHBORS

A couple of Words to Live By from today’s Torah reading:

“...you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” - Leviticus 19:18

“The stranger that sojourns among you shall be to you as the home-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” - Leviticus 19:34

[For those of my Esteemed Readers of the Christian persuasion, I will note that in Mark 12:30-31, Jesus refers to Leviticus 19:18 as the second most important commandment, the first being the words familiar at all Jews as the Sh’ma (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”)]

I conclude from all this that any serious Christian or Jew who gets his or her bowels in a twist about immigrants... or about people different from them in their own communities... maybe needs to go back to religious school. 

Dee and I are especially sensitive to these matters: My grandparents - and most of hers - were immigrants who came to this country in the early years of the twentieth century. Had they stayed in Europe, they would almost certainly have perished at the hands of the Nazis or their co-conspirators.

Moreover, thanks to my employment at the Great Corporate Salt Mine, we were frequent relocators. There were numerous times that we were the strangers that sojourned in strange lands, and it is owing to the communities that welcomed us and treated us as the home-born among them, and who loved us as themselves, that our family was able to thrive throughout the years.