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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

REGARDING ANTHROPOMORPHIC VEHICLES

Ever since the dawn of the Automotive Age, people have found ways to project human characteristics onto their automobiles. Animated cartoons a century old have shown cars as living, breathing, sentient beings. It’s hardly a surprise, when so much of our collective lives is suffused with our personal means of transport.

When visualizing cars as Cartoony Metal People, there are two divergent styles: the Chevron, in which the headlights serve as eyes and the grille as mouth; and the Pixar, where the windshield represents the eyes.


Chevron (top) vs Pixar (bottom).

If one were to rely solely on these examples, one would conclude that cars using headlights for eyes have personalities befitting normal, matter-of-fact suburban humans, whereas windshield-eyed vehicles are far more exaggerated. It's not clear whether this observation is borne out by reality, but how much reality can you ascribe to a sentient vehicle, anyway?

There is something comforting about the Chevron model. Me, I think it’s the eyelids. They seem to convey a certain relaxed - almost sleepy - air. The Chevron car is homey, nonthreatening. This is the kind of car you would take with you to run a few errands in the neighborhood. It’s the car next door. It needs a nap.

The Pixar car, though - is he happy? Is he insane? He looks like he’s up for adventure - an adventure of the sort Thelma and Louise might involve themselves with. He runs on Hi-Test, which he guzzles by the six-pack.

This business of anthropomorphizing our vehicles is nothing new, as I mentioned above, but I suspect it will really get a shot in the arm as we take our first tentative steps into the age of self-driving cars - automobiles in the truest sense of the word. Ascribing a persona to a car that drives itself is really nothing strange: in fact, it seems perfectly natural.

Meanwhile, what say ye? Are you a Chevron or a Pixar kind of person?

Postscriptum: I’ve been reminded of other anthropoid cars by commenters here (thanks, Kevin!) and on Farcebook - specifically, Herbie the Love Bug and My Mother, the Car.

“My Mother, the Car,” was a TV series that aired during the 1965-66 season with a total of thirty episodes. The mid-1960’s were notorious for their horrible sitcoms, and MMTC, which featured a superannuated jalopy ensouled with the protagonist’s dead mother, was one of the worst. Even die-hard TV nostalgia freaks throw up a little in their mouths when they think of this show.

Herbie was the star of six Disney live-action feature films between 1968 and 2005 as well as of a five-episode television series in 1982. You’d think Disney would avoid the concept of an animate vehicle after having seen how badly MMTC bombed, but that didn’t faze them... and Herbie, surprisingly, was a success. Of course, Volkswagen Beetles have a certain cuteness factor, and then there was that dead mother business.

But both Herbie and MMTC’s Gladys, despite being sentient, were cars in their outward appearance. They looked, respectively, like a Volkswagen Beetle and a 1928 Porter. No cartoonishness... but it’s appropriate to give them a passing mention. So there you are.

Monday, September 11, 2017

UNDER THE BED: A 100-WORD STORY

Jeffy hated second grade.

He was younger and smaller than most of the kids in his class. He was also very intelligent. These characteristics made him an all-too-frequent target of bullies: It was as predictable as sunrise that the Stoopnagel twins would make his day unpleasant. Between the incessant spitballing and the abuse on his homeward walk, it made Jeffy loathe school.

Abruptly, the bullying stopped. After recovering from broken kneecaps, the twins never pestered Jeffy again. And every day, they nervously presented him with their lunch money.

Jeffy liked second grade now, thanks to the mobster under his bed.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

AN EVENTFUL WEEKEND

Twenty years ago today, Dee and I were in Boston, depositing Elder Daughter at what would be her new home for the next four years: Boston University.

We had done the obligatory College Search Trip, E.D. and I, the previous summer, visiting several schools in the Northeast. But it was pretty clear from the get-go that she was interested in one college, and one college only, from the moment her feet touched ground on campus - and that college was Boston University. And so that is where she decided to go.

The intervening year - Senior Year! - passed all too quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to transport our daughter and her Critical Belongings to Boston.

Logistics were a bit tricky, since we were living in Houston at the time - a Gawd-awfully long distance away by any surface transportation. Fortunately, since E.D. would be living in a dormitory, there was no need to schlep furniture. We would simply pack whatever miscellaneous clothing and supplies she would need in boxes and ship it up there by UPS, freeing us to fly without a monumental amount of checked baggage.

What we didn’t plan on was a UPS strike. Ah, well. The stuff got there eventually.

It was an eventful weekend, what with our scurrying about and helping to get our daughter situated in her new digs. Still there was more: It was Dee’s birthday.

And then came the shocking news from England about the tragic accidental death of Princess Diana.

The United Kingdom and the remnants of its Empire mourned... and we Americans mourned with them. It was a sad coda to what had started out as a fairy-tale story, one that had gradually developed darker tones as the years passed. Ah, well. Sic transit gloria mundi.

But our concerns were more immediate. We had a birthday to celebrate! And we had the bittersweet task of getting our firstborn settled in to her dormitory room, ready to begin her independent adult life. It was a bittersweet day.

I’ve written about that day before, and yet I can still conjure up the emotions I felt back then, a peculiar stew of joy, agitation, horror, grief, excitement, and unabated love. What else can you expect from an eventful weekend?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A HOLE IN THE SKY


The total eclipse of 21 August 2017, photographed in Englewood, TN by Yours Truly. Several prominences are visible on the right limb of the Sun: these could be seen as red flashes by the unaided eye.

...Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there’s only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the heart...
 - Bonnie Tyler, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

...I’m being followed by a moon shadow
Moon shadow, moon shadow...
- Cat Stevens, “Moon Shadow”

...Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun...
- Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain”

...Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the Sun
 Oh, but Mama, that’s where the fun is
- Bruce Springsteen, “Blinded by the Light”

There was a small crowd of us gathered together in front of Eric the Blade’s Tennessee compound to see an event some of us had been anticipating eagerly for years. I speak, of course, of the total solar eclipse of 21 August 2017, the one christened by the Newsertainment Media as “The Great American Eclipse,” a blackout of the Sun that would cross the entire width of the continental United States. Meanwhile, the parts of the Lower 48 that did not see totality would at least experience a partial eclipse.

Partial solar eclipses aren’t that uncommon, as it happens, but the difference between even a 99% partial eclipse and The Full Monty is, well, all the difference. The first is interesting; the second, utterly mind-boggling. For that reason, I had been looking forward to this day for over ten years, ever since I learned that the path of totality would be just a short drive north of Chez Elisson. Even better, the centerline of that path would sweep through Tennessee, passing just a couple of miles north of Eric and Fiona’s place. It would be hard to find a better excuse for a blogmeet.

Dee and I arrived early, as did K-9 and Red, his elusive (and lovely) bride. Sunday night, Tommy and Shyam stopped by, and in the wee hours of the morning, the Mistress of Sarcasm cruised in after having dropped Erica and The Other Elisson off at the infamous Red Roof Inn. And on Monday - Eclipse Day! - we were greeted by Eric’s Sainted Mother and her friend Barb.

Everyone was well provisioned with the requisite eclipse glasses, with Tommy and Shyam having brought a couple of colanders as well. (Colanders, aside from being a Dubious Fashion Accessory, have small holes that cast interesting diffraction patterns during the partial phases of an eclipse.)


Totality Ridiculous: Dee and I sport the latest eclipsy fashions. Eclipse Glasses and Colanders protect against both eyeball-sizzling solar radiation and Mysterious Chemtrailz ’n’ Kozmik Rays! 

August in Tennessee can be a blast furnace, and Eclipse Day was no exception. We could almost feel our faces sizzle as we took brief peeks at the Sun through our eclipse glasses, waiting for the first chip of moonshadow to appear. It did, and we all watched the slow progression of partiality, the Sun’s weirdly obese crescent gradually looking more and more like some sort of astronomical Pac-Man and then becoming the thinnest of slivers. Even so, it was too brilliant to gaze upon without those nearly opaque eclipse glasses.

As the eclipse progressed, we all could see diffraction patterns take shape in shadows cast by the leaves, an array of crescents. Even Tommy’s colander could throw a skein of crescents across the driveway.





It was Eric who first noticed the cicadas, who had begun thrumming as though it were twilight. And, we realized, it was twilight. The Moon’s shadow was rushing toward us, a dusky umbrous darkening of the Western sky.

Then, suddenly, totality.


It got plenty dark for a couple of minutes.

The last brilliant sliver of sunlight vanished and the eclipsed Sun appeared in all its magnificence: a jet-black disc surrounded by the pearly solar corona. It was like nothing so much as a glowing hole in the sky. And the corona! White it was, bluish at the edges, with barely discernible reddish flickers appearing intermittently at the edge of the Moon’s ebon surface. It was a sight for which I had waited all my lifetime.

We watched, jaws agape. And then, as the all-too-brief time window closed, we could see dawn approaching... out of the west. In a twinkling it was over, and the cicadas ceased their song.

It had been awesome in the truest sense of the word, a rare glimpse of a near-miraculous phenomenon. And being able to share the experience with Dee, the Mistress of Sarcasm, my brother, and a handful of good friends? Priceless.


Composite photograph of the eclipse as it progressed from partial to total. Don’t let those thin crescents fool you: Even the thinnest sliver of unobstructed Sun was too brilliant to look at without eye protection.

I can now check “See a total solar eclipse” off my bucket list. But there’s another one coming down the pike in seven years (8 April 2024) and it’ll be a doozie, with totality lasting about four and a half minutes. The centerline of totality will pass almost right over Kerrville, Texas; just a hair west of Cleveland, Ohio; right over Buffalo and Rochester, New York; and will touch the northernmost tip of Prince Edward Island. Plan ahead!


Big Jack sez, “Hey, did I miss something?

Monday, August 28, 2017

GEORGE’S RAFT: A 100-WORD STORY

George was a pirate, but he wasn’t a very good pirate.

He had, somehow, managed to get himself marooned on an island. That’s standard pirate fare, except his island was in the middle of one of the largest cities in North America.

There were several cats on hand, and George briefly considered lashing them together to make a raft. But after pondering this idea, he thought better of it. Even a bad pirate, he thought, wasn’t that stupid.

Who will be eaten first? he wondered. Him, or the cats?

At least he had plenty of Jack around. Damn that Harrrhvey!

[Lashed together to honor the king of 100-word stories, Laurence Simon, and his creation: George, the not-very-good pirate. About a dozen years ago, Lair inspired me to begin writing my own 100-word stories, all of which are conveniently accessible both here and at my old blog. He’s dealing with Hurricane Harvey right now, and we hope he won’t have to lash his cats together to make a raft.]

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.