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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

REGARDING ODD JUXTAPOSITIONS

I saw a handsome fellow once
A-sitting at the bar
And sipping on a single-malt
While smoking a cigar

I was so bold to ask him
How he had achieved success
Perhaps in scientific fields
Or writing for the press

And then he told me, “I’m a man
Born of good Southern stock
The kind of wholesome yeoman
Whom the damned elitists mock

“I’ve served my country and can shoot
A squirrel from a tree
And yet I studied history
In University

“The people who don’t know me
Might assume that I am crude
Yet I quite admire the finer arts
Like poetry and food

“I’m comfortable with weighty tomes
Sometimes I’ll read all night
Yet I retain my combat skills
I don’t shy from a fight

“But knowledge, wealth, celebrity
Are things that do not last
As soon as you achieve them
They fly, they fly so fast

“The wisdom I will share is that
In Life you will go far
If you don’t forget the humble Spam
While eating caviar”



Monday, October 16, 2017

ON THE VIRTUES OF BIBLICAL BREAD

“Take also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel and make bread of it." - Ezekiel 4:9



Apparently, a lot of folks look at the Scriptures as more than nourishment for the soul: they’re a cookbook as well. At least, that seems to be the thinking behind Ezekiel Bread, which is made from a variety of sprouted grains that includes the above-mentioned wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt.

Sprouted grain bread is actually pretty nutritious, even though it contains millet, with which I first became familiar when we fed our parakeet. A sprouted grain contains less of the carbohydrate-rich endosperm than does its unsprouted comrades, while providing a higher proportion of protein. Good, and good for you!

I’ve eaten Ezekiel bread and breakfast cereal, and it’s reasonably tasty. The cereal bears a superficial resemblance to Grape-Nuts, with only minor differences in texture and flavor. Fortunately, it does not give me the kind of hallucinatory visions that are familiar to anyone who has spent a lot of time reading the Book of Ezekiel.

Basing your recipes on the Bible is tricky business, though. Just look at us Red Sea Pedestrians: we follow in the steps of our ancestors who were in so big a hurry to get out of Dodge that their dough had no time to rise. Thus, we eat the famously constipating unleavened bread known as matzoh.

And if you put the proper context around Ezekiel’s recipe, you find that it was intended as a punishment: a bread to be baked over burning human excrement.  This gives a whole new meaning to the time-worn expression “holy shit.” Perhaps it explains those hallucinatory visions, too.

Hey, we now know that Flavortown has been around for a loooong time. Take that, Guy Fieri!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

ARSE ELECTRONICA, or THE OUTSMARTUS PHONE

She lies in repose, with her face all aglow -
Aglow, but not with desire.
She is lit by the Super-Smart Handheld Device
With its world-containing screen’s fire.

A political rant? If you wish to indulge,
Just tap a few taps on the screen.
You can read any screed ’til your eyeballs will bulge
And you stand on your sofa to scream.

There’s a recipe there that is tasty, no doubt:
It uses some livers and leeks
That are free range, organic, and GMO-free,
And are grown by some real hippie freaks.

The pictures of cats, they are thick on the ground
(Or more properly, thick on the screen)
This one flushes toilets while riding a Roomba!
This video has to be seen!

O, look - here’s a quiz that’s purporting to tell
Me what famous personas I share;
Or who I most resemble, or how much I dissemble,
Or if I like Yogi the Bear. 

We go out for dinners with fam’ly and friends
And at some point (it’s hard to predict)
The smartphones come out and the talking all stops
And I think to myself, “We’re all licked.” 

“I contain multitudes” - so the glowing screen says.
O, how can we hope to compete?
We are only human - we’re not all that smart -
And constructed of fallible meat.

So she lies in repose, with her face all aglow -
Aglow, but not with desire.
She is lit by the Super-Smart Handheld Device
With its world-containing screen’s fire.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A REFLECTION UPON COMPLETING THIS LATEST SOLAR CIRCUMNAVIGATION

Time Marches On
or
It Sure Beats the Alternative

It’s hell, they say, when you get old.
Your toenails all are caked with mold,
Or maybe other kinds of fungus.
It’s hard to breathe with ancient lungus.
All bloodshot are your rheumy eyes,
All weak and stringy are your thighs.
Your pancreas is stiff and sore,
And buttocks droop towards the floor.
With exercise, your muscles ache,
It feels like all your bones will break.
You day by day get soft and flabby,
Your disposition loutish, crabby.
Digestion, once a simple task,
Becomes a chore (and please, don’t ask.)
Shoulder joints all get bursitis.
Your bladder wakes you up at nightis.
Your backbone gives you many pains.
Increasingly sieve-like grow your brains,
Until you cannot keep in mind
that “this is your elbow, that’s your behind”:
Getting old, it is not kind.

But whene’er these thoughts go thro’ my head,
I think: “It sure beats being dead.”

[Last posted about a decade ago, on a certain young lady’s birthday]

THE MEDICARE YEARS BEGIN


A sign of the times.

Why, yes - it’s my birthday. However did you know?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

HOME OF THE GRAVE

In America, we know how to have fun
From the ski slopes of Utah to Florida’s sun
You can gamble in Vegas with your girlfriend or wife
And if you lose the bet you can pay with your life

In the U S of A we know how to have fun
We’re all sitting ducks for a nut with a gun
For the sociopath fellow who’s living next door
Who looks at a concert and thinks “killing floor”

REFRAIN:
In the land of the free and the home of the brave
We can help you book space in a premature grave
Oh, you’ll get your repose in a box six feet deep
In the land of the free and the psychopath creep

Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Columbine
They massacre dozens, but we act like all’s fine
There’s a sickness that gnaws at our country’s inside
And no more safe places to go run and hide

In the land of the free and the home of the brave
We can help you book space in a premature grave
Oh, you’ll get your repose in a box six feet deep
In the land of the free and the psychopath creep

[This would make a dandy country song. Anyone wanna put it to music?]

Monday, October 2, 2017

BEHIND THE CURTAIN: A 100-WORD OBITUARY


Monty Hall (1921-2017). Requiescat in pace.

Monty was having the dream again, but it was different now.

The curtains were there, as always... but this time he was one of the contestants. Standing on his usual mark was a guy with glowing eyes, leaning on a scythe. And the curtains were black, so black they seemed to suck the light out of the room.

“What’ll it be, Monty? Curtain One, Two, or Three?”

“Curtain Two, please.”

Curtain One opened to reveal a shiny Cadillac hearse.

“Wanna change your mind?”

Monty knew the paradox that had been named for him. “Three,” he croaked.

Of course. The goat.

[Monty Hall, noted game show impresario, passed away Saturday at age 96. Now he gets to see what’s behind the Final Curtain. Ave atque vale.]

Friday, September 29, 2017

AFFLICTION, BENEDICTION

This evening at sunset Yom Kippur begins
The Day of Atonement to wipe clean our sins

We consume no water, and also no booze
We wear no leather on the soles of our shoes

Twenty-six hours without any rations
No shaving or hot baths or sexy relations

And the point of all of this lengthy affliction
Is to focus the mind for the day’s benediction

May the day bring clear conscience and a happy decree
May we enter our new year with hearts that sing free

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

THE GIRL WITH THE CHEESEBURGER TATTOO: A 100-WORD STORY

The world goes on, the world changes, thought Lisbeth.

Technological revolutions within her own lifetime had altered society beyond imagination. Smartphones. Social media. One tyranny after another.

In a twisted response to Trump’s brief administration, Joyce “Granola Granny” Munchisson had run for President on the PETA ticket and had won handily. Animal protein was now strictly forbidden; hot dogs and hamburgers had gone the way of the dodo.

Lisbeth was the hostess at Charlie’s. She loathed their vegan food, but it was good cover for her role as leader of the Veal-vet Underground... the girl with the Cheeseburger Tattoo.

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.

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.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

SUPPER AT STARBUCKS



Let’s have supper at Starbucks
We’ll stay awake all night
We can drink caffeine
’Til our teeth are green
O, won’t it be a delight

Let’s have supper at Starbucks
Bring your laptop along
The WiFi is free
And there’s a place you can pee
’Cause, man, that coffee’s strong

There are muffins and cakes and protein bars
But there’s no valet to park your cars

Let’s have supper at Starbucks
We’ll be up the whole damn night
And when we get to our house
My beloved spouse
You know I’ll treat you right
You know I’ll treat you right

ADVENTURES IN DEMENTIA

Dee and I were driving around, running a few errands, when she turned to me and asked, “Where were we coming back from Monday night when they had Johnson Ferry Road blocked off?”

My Ivy League-educated brain shifted immediately into overdrive. I knew this. I had this.

We had been out to dinner with friends at a popular Italian place... one with which we had been very familiar when we lived in Sweat City. It had gotten its start there, beginning with a single restaurant downtown and later adding a second location outside the I-610 loop on the west side. And then came the deluge: a deal with Outback that resulted in massive expansion across the country.

Now, what the fuck was the name?

Me: “Carraboogio’s?” (Ohhh, so close!)

Dee: “Carrababba’s.”

We looked at each other. Of course, it was Carrabba’s.

Derp!

HAPPY STAR WARS DAY



“May the Fourth be with you.”

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

CARS ON THE FENCE: A MEDITATION ON HUMAN BEHAVIOR

Albert Einstein once famously said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

It could also be said that it is the definition of how a four-year-old plays with toys. Call it discovery rather than insanity, the latter of which is a condition more descriptive of full-grown adults.

Consider the case of a small child playing with toy cars. “If I put these toys on the top of the fence where they often fall on the other side and become unreachable, should I (1) continue putting the toys on top of the fence, or (2) stop putting the toys on top of the fence?”

Ahhh, the tenuous connection between action and consequence: That connection is the great undiscovered country for a four-year-old, and learning how it operates is a Critical Life Skill. Some little ones figure it out pretty quickly, while others take a bit longer.

And some of us adults never quite get it. Being human dooms many of us to living on the slack side of the learning curve.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

BLACK BEAR


“Did someone just try to poke me? I hate it when someone pokes me.”

Black bear growling in the dead of night
Eat a moose in one big honkin’ bite
O, the fright
You are always prowling in the middle of the night

Black bear growling in the dead of night
Take my pen, but you can’t learn to write
Yeah, that’s right
Stick to what you know and take a great big honkin’ bite

Black bear bite
Black bear bite
Eatin’ that moose in the cold dark night

Black bear growling in the dead of night
Eat a moose in one big honkin’ bite
O, the fright
You are always prowling in the middle of the night
You are always prowling in the middle of the night
You are always prowling in the middle of the night

[Semi-sincere apologies to John Lennon and Paul McCartney]

Friday, April 14, 2017

from BREI


Houston Steve prepares a whole mess of matzoh brei on the flat top.

But hark! A sound is stealing on my ear—
A soft and silvery sound—I know it well
Its tinkling tells me that a time is near
Precious to me—It is the Breakfast Bell.
O, blessèd Bell! Thou bringest Matzoh Brei,
Thou bringest good things more than tongue can tell:
Seared is, of course, my heart—but unsubdued
Is, and shall be, my appetite for food.

I go. Untaught and feeble is my pen:
But on one statement I may safely venture:
That few of our most highly gifted men
Have more appreciation for the trencher.
I go. One plate of Matzoh Brei and then
A recitation from my food-stained bentcher;
That, shulward-going, I may safely say,
Kein ayin hora, I have dined today.”

(Apologies to C. S. Calverley)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

MATZOH BREI MORNING

We’re three days into Passover, a festival that runs for eight days here in the Diaspora. (It’s only seven days long in Israel, for reasons that I will not waste your time explaining right now. If you’re that curious, drop me a comment.)

The salient feature of Passover is its especially stringent dietary laws. Jews are forbidden to eat anything containing leaven - fermented or fermentable products of wheat, spelt, rye, oats, or barley. Those grains may only be consumed in the form of matzoh, a cracker-like concoction made with the addition of water only, and which must be baked within eighteen minutes of being moistened lest the tiniest trace of fermentation occur.

It is not a bread-lover’s holiday. Nor is it a whisky- or beer-lover’s holiday.

One is only obligated to eat matzoh twice: during the Passover Seder meals on the first two evenings of the holiday. The rest of the time it is optional. Actually, though, matzoh isn’t too bad. It is crisp and tasty in its own way, and it’s an excellent butter conveyance device. I don’t go out of my way to consume it during the rest of the year, but I enjoy it for the duration of the Festival of Unleavened Bread despite its legendary constipating effects. (Pro tip: eat plenty of fruit compote or prunes.)

A popular breakfast dish that makes excellent use of matzoh is matzoh brei. (That’s “brei,” which rhymes with “fry.” People who spell it “matzoh brie” have forgotten their English phonics lessons.) Think of it as French toast with matzoh in lieu of bread... or, as the French might say, pain perdu dans le désert pendant quarante ans. It’s versatile, as it can be served up sweet or savory as one wishes.

This morning I cooked up some MB, a dish for which there are as many recipes as there are Jewish grandmothers... and this is how I did it:

Take a couple of boards of matzoh, Over a bowl, crumble those bad boys up into nice little shards. Big chunks, little bits, your choice. Feeling lazy? Use matzoh farfel, which has already been crumbled for you. Pour over it a little boiling water and let it sit for a few minutes to soften up. Let cool. If you’ve overdone it with the hot water, squeeze the excess out.

Drop in a couple of eggs. I used one egg per matzoh-board, but you can adjust this based on how eggy you like your matzoh brei. Mix well, add salt and pepper, and then drop it into a preheated skillet that has been greased up with a little butter, ghee, olive oil, whatever. Scramble it or cook it pancake-style - however you like it. (This ain’t Julia Child, you know.) When it starts to get nice and brown, you are good to go. Serve it forth.

I like my brei savory, so I jack up the salt and pepper content. You can add a dollop of sour cream, or you can take the sweet route with sugar, jam, or syrup.

Now eat, bubeleh!

Monday, April 10, 2017

THE RITE OF SPRING

When Igor Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring, he was doubtless not thinking about the Passover festival, but our seasonal holiday - our Rite of Spring - creates its own musical masterpiece every year, in smell instead of sound.

I’m upstairs while Dee is beginning the lengthy labor of preparing for our Passover Seder tomorrow. There’s a humongous slab of beef brisket in the oven braising merrily away, while a massive skillet of matzoh farfel with onions and mushrooms adds to the symphony of cooking aromas.

They’re the aromas of the season... the distinctive (and beloved) Pongs o’Pesach.

Soon we will introduce other aromatic grace notes. The sweet medley of fruit compote as it simmers. The apple, cinnamon, and wine of the charoset. The sprightly fragrance of asparagus, the vegetable that - more than almost any other - connotes springtime.

The lower register of our symphony will be composed of the deep, mellow aroma of onions caramelizing in goose schmaltz, a key ingredient in the chopped liver I’ll be making later this evening.

Matzoh
Handmade shmura matzoh. The snap of breaking matzoh provides a crisp percussion element.

There’ll be other additions to the program. Dee has already prepared the gefilte fish, which will (when served) provide the overture to the festive meal, with its sting of horseradish. Houston Steve has a vat of chicken soup (with caramelized onion matzoh balls) that will likely require a tanker truck to transport it here. And there will be a mountain of sweet stuff as well, provided by our friend Debbie.

I’ve heard variations of this symphony all my life... and I look forward to it every year.

Regardless of your religious or family traditions, this time of year is one that is filled with taste memories. Why not share yours in the Comments?

Friday, April 7, 2017

GOLF SEASON... AGAIN

Bernice 1943
The Momma d’Elisson of blessèd memory, in her college yearbook photo.

We Red Sea Pedestrians are a strange lot.

Birthdays don’t matter all that much to us.  Sure, we celebrate ’em... but that’s a secular activity that is driven mainly by our participation in the American popular culture.  There’s no religious observance that attaches to birthdays, save for the recognition of a child as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah at the age of thirteen (for boys, and as early as twelve for girls).

We pay more attention to the date on which a person moves on to Olam ha-Ba, the World to Come.

The anniversary of a person’s death - the Yahrzeit - is observed by the people who mourned that person in life, a permanent ritual of remembrance.  Traditionally, one lights a candle that burns for a full twenty-four hours. It is also customary to attend services so that one may, in the presence of the required quorum of ten worshipers, recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer which, despite its name, is not an expression of grief but rather a call-and-response expression of praise.

It was explained to me once that birthdays are less meaningful than Yahrzeits because a person is, at birth, a mass of unrealized potential.  Upon his or her passing, however, that person has (it is to be hoped) affected other lives and brought some measurable change to the world.  He or she is, at least to the extent possible, has become a sort of Known Quantity.  You can take that explanation or leave it, but it does - at least, to me - make some sense.

If you translated Yahrzeit literally, you’d get “year-time” - anniversary.  But the term has a further implication, that of “season,” rendered Jahreszeit in German.  It’s not just that a year has passed; it’s that a particular time of year connects us to our long-gone loved ones in a unique, powerful way.

With my mother, that season is the springtime, the days leading up to the Passover holiday.  It’s a time when the days get longer and warmer, when trees are in bloom, when the yellow blossoms of forsythia (one of her favorites) paint the neighborhood.  (Yes, I know we throw a memorial dinner for her every year on the first night of Chanukah, but there’s another story behind that peculiar observance.)

I suspect that this time of year, she would have mostly been thinking, “Golf Season is here!”  She was, after all, an inveterate golfer, playing two or more times a week at a time when most of the neighborhood’s housewives were deciding whether to fix a meatloaf or hot dogs for the family supper, or what kind of pie to bring to the school’s bake sale. Always athletic, she also played tennis and bowled, covering both the white-collar and blue-collar sides of the sports spectrum.

We can only speculate upon what she would have been like in her Golden Years, had she lived to enjoy them.  Would she have slowly grown cranky and obstreperous like her own mother had done, or would she have continued to be the fun-loving Doting Grandma to her beloved granddaughters?  We can only wonder... but I like to think that she would have avoided the trap of Excessive Cantakerousness.

Tomorrow is Mom’s twenty-ninth Yahrzeit.  For almost three decades now, she has been playing her heavenly Golf Game from the side of the fairway where the pointy part of the tee goes, and we who have been left behind to mourn her have had to do without her warmth, humor, and common sense.

This evening I’ll light that candle, and I’ll be at shul tomorrow to say Kaddish.  Perhaps I will toast her memory with a perfect Rob Roy - her favorite cocktail - and ponder the bittersweet realization that I have even now walked the Earth over four years longer than she had the opportunity to do.  Alas.

[Adapted from my original post dated March 22, 2013.]

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

ECCLESIASTICAL EMPLOYMENT

Every religious institution has a cadre of employees and functionaries without whom it could not function. For example, a Roman Catholic church would be in big trouble without its priest, its altar boys, and whoever gets to swing that incense censer.

The synagogue, of course, is no exception.

Most people, when asked to name the essential personnel at the Jew-Church, will put the rabbi at the top of the list. Not so! It’s nice to have a rabbi, of course - having someone who holds ordination papers lends a certain amount of gravitas to the proceedings and is also handy if you want to conduct a wedding - but he or she is not necessary. Same goes for the chazzan (cantor), whose voice is as superfluous as it is mellifluous. Lay people can perform these roles.

The real essential personnel are the ones who work behind the scenes: the custodial staff. These are the folks that see to all the daily operations of the building without which there would be disorder, filth, and discomfort. These functions overlap to an extent with those of the “Shabbes goy,” a function that really deserves its own category.

“Shabbes goy” is a term that literally means Sabbath Gentile: a non-Jew who performs functions on the Sabbath that are not permitted to the observant Red Sea Pedestrian. It is, of course, not that simple: anything having to do with Jewish law never is. A Jew cannot simply hire a non-Jew to stoke the fireplace on the Sabbath in his stead, for that is equally forbidden. But he might say, “Gee, it’s awfully cold in here (wink wink, nudge nudge),” and the implicit assumption is that the non-Jew, unconstrained by the rules of Sabbath observance, might take it upon himself to throw a log on the fire. The same rationale allows lights to be switched on or off, thermostats to be adjusted, and so on.

Being a Shabbes goy is a respectable profession is its own way, and there are several people who served in that role before achieving fame and fortune in other fields. Perhaps you’ve heard of them: Elvis Presley, Harry Truman, Al Gore, Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Thurgood Marshall, and Mario Cuomo.


“I wanna hunka hunka hunka burnin’ chopped liver.”

There are other jobs as well. The shammes (AKA beadle or sexton) may perform minor functions such as ushering and assisting with religious functions. In our congregation, we call these folks the “go-getters,” and their job is to ensure that religious honors are distributed properly and that the service flows smoothly. You would be surprised how much subtle choreography is involved in a religious service.

The gabbaim (singular: gabbai) officiate during the ceremonial reading from the Torah scroll, ensuring that any errors in the reading or cantillation are corrected, and announcing page and verse numbers so that the congregation can follow along in their printed books. Because the scroll contains nothing but consonants - no vowels or musical notes, which must be memorized by the reader - the function of the gabbaim is essential.

And yet perhaps the most unsung (and critical) role in the synagogue is that of the Haisse Dondeh. It’s hard to imagine any Jewish house of worship functioning without at least one Haisse Dondeh, and I suspect that many of our Christian friends may have a person (or persons) with a similar job in their congregations as well. What does he do? When someone is standing at an inappropriate moment, he shouts, “Hey! Siddown there!”

[H/T: Joe Saruk z''l]

THE PERIPATETIC SOCK

Waldo and Carmen Sandiego have nothing on Edith’s big blue stocking.

Waldo. Remember him? He was that douchenozzle in the round spectacles, wearing a stripèd shirt and matching stocking cap, always lurking in the midst of a crowd in various bizarre places. The kind of guy who gets around despite having no visible means of support. These days, he’d probably be on the terrorist watch lists of twelve different countries just for showing up.

And then there’s Carmen, a five-year-old kid with the travel budget of the entire Belgian parliament and the kind of precocious geographical knowledge that only an autistic savant - or a highly educated dwarf - could muster.

What they have in common is their seemingly miraculous abilities to move from one place to another... like Sean Spicer sensing a truth-molecule in an enclosed space and frantically attempting to dodge it.

Which brings us to Edith’s sock. Stocking. Whatever.

The stocking itself was a long-ago gift from our friends Laura Belle and Donnie Joe. They had gotten our girls a matched set of fuzzy blue Christmas stockings for the express purpose of packing them full of holiday tchotchkes. Blue, of course, because of Chanukah. Both stockings are still in use for their original purpose, but Edith has apparently discovered the one that the Mistress of Sarcasm had buried deep in her bedroom closet.

Stella has never been a cat that evinced any interest in schlepping stuff around. She’s more involved in typical Ragdoll behavior: grooming herself, leaving steamers atop the litter in her box while making no attempt to bury them, looking gorgeous, harfing up the occasional hairball, and napping frequently. For that matter, none of our Kitty-Companions have been schleppers. Stripes, Hakuna, Matata, and Levon were all content to leave stuff where it lay.

Edith is different. Edith moves things around. Edith modifies her world to suit her own desires.

Yesterday evening, for example, the Blue Sock had been downstairs. But as I arose this morning, Edith greeted me with an unusually loud series of miaows. Was she alerting me to Stella’s presence? No, she was informing me that she had delivered unto me a gift: the Blue Sock, which now lay atop our bed, placed neatly in Edith’s sleeping-pad.

By mid-day, it had worked its way to the Mistress of Sarcasm’s room on the other side of the house’s upper level. It’s anyone’s guess how long it will stay there before migrating back downstairs.

We’ve caught her in transporte delicto, so to speak... with the sock hanging from her mouth as she trots from room to room. It’s hysterical.



I suppose I can’t complain. Outdoor kitties bring all sorts of presents to their human parents, some not particularly welcome. And as Kitty-Gifts go, I’ll gladly take a migrating sock over the occasional eviscerated mouse or decapitated bird.

Postscriptum: The sock continues its journeys. Bedroom, breakfast room, entry hall... who knows where it will appear next? 

Monday, March 27, 2017

DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY



Edith and the Mistress of Sarcasm enjoy a Tranquil Moment together. It’s the picture of poifect contentment, I tells ya!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

FUNNY VALENTINE


Eli (hizzownself) in the Army Air Force...all of twenty years old. [Photo: Ansalone’s Studio, Brooklyn, NY]

This evening marks the onset of Dad’s third Yahrzeit... the anniversary of his passing according to the Hebrew calendar.

I am a skeptic in matters supernatural - I am my father’s child, after all - but I still believe that there are mysteries having to do with the World to Come. Those mysteries might explain the peculiar earworm I have been dealing with these last few days: a piano rendition of “My Funny Valentine.”

He played the piano, as many of you know. And out of all his repertoire, “My Funny Valentine” is the song that most stood out to me. Whether the piano was in tune or not (“Desafinado,” the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic, was another favorite), it would drift through the house whenever he sat down to play.

I miss hearing my Daddy play the piano. I miss his convoluted jokes, many of them told in equally convoluted Yiddish. I miss his incisive mind, his menschlichkeit, his willingness to do what he believed was right even at personal cost. I wish he were here to see his granddaughters again, and I wish he could see how happy my brother - The Other Elisson - is these days. Alas, he is at an impenetrable remove: so much for wishes.

But when I hear that earworm, I know he is not far away. Perhaps he will hear me chant the Memorial Prayer and recite the Kaddish... and he will know that we remember him.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SUPERTASTER


“Hey, I canna taste that whisky - it’s frozen!” [Photo of Eric at his 2010 birthday party courtesy of Erica Sherman.]

The Mistress of Sarcasm - our younger daughter - is a woman with many talents, but the one most people are not aware of is her prodigious ability to detect the subtlest nuances of aroma and flavor. She is a supertaster.

It’s an ability she most likely inherited from her mother, who is also blessed with a remarkably capable palate. Dee can detect certain flavors with the same precision as a 200-inch telescope peering into a field of distant galaxies. Woe be unto the butcher who grinds up a pile of beef hamburger without thoroughly removing all traces of the batch of ground lamb immediately preceding it: Dee can sniff that lamb out at concentrations of mere parts per billion. I’ve seen her do it. Liver, lamb, onion - any of the Foods that Dee Will Not Consume can and will be detected and rejected in minute concentrations that normally require a mass spectrometer to measure.

In this regard, The Mistress is an apple that fell very close to the tree. She could have made a career out of being a cognac or whiskey blender... or a wine expert.

Recently, as I was sipping an Islay malt, she complained that my drink smelled like a Band-Aid. And it’s not a bad characterization, in its own way. She had managed to sniff out the trace aroma of iodine in my whisky... from several feet away. It was a masterful catch: peaty Islay malts typically have a noticeable iodine pong, probably owing to the amount of seaweed that finds its way into the peat used to dry the malted barley.

I’m telling you - the kid could’ve been a master distiller. Too bad she doesn't drink.

MODUS CACARANDI

You’ve no doubt heard of tag-team wrestling. Here at Chez Elisson, we have tag-team boxing. Specifically, we have tag-team catboxing.

I’m not referring to the occasional times that Stella will try to swat Edith... or vice-versa. That happens from time to time, especially if both of them are on our bed simultaneously. Proximity amongst kitties is a bit like a chunk of plutonium: Too much, and it becomes a bit tetchy.

No, I’m talking about the remarkable spirit of caca-cooperation that has manifested itself in recent weeks.

Caca-cooperation? Whuddat?

Well, it has to do with the different toilet styles exhibited by Stella and Edith.

I’ve written about this before. Stella will make, at most, a token effort to cover up her, ahhh, by-products, either not trying at all or scratching ineffectually at the edges of her box. Is she merely being prissy (as befits a Ragdoll), or is she just clueless? Ragdolls, after all, are known for weird catbox habits. It’s not that they’re the Irish Setters of the cat world, but the box seems to be the one area where they’re intellectually challenged... and save for the box, Stella is a pretty bright kitty.

Edith, meanwhile, will bury her sculptural works to depths just north of the Mohorovičić discontinuity, which is a mixed blessing: It keeps unwelcome aromas down, but maintaining the box requires the discipline of an archaeologist
or a West Virginia coal miner.

Amazingly, though, the cats have developed what I can only call a Modus Cacarandi.

When Edith hears Stella in the box, she comes running. As Stella finishes up her work, Edith will give her the stink-eye (so to speak) and will inspect the scene after chasing Stella out of the way. If the Cat-Product has not been interred to her satisfaction - which is most of the time - she will promptly jump in and bury it herself.


“What the hell is the matter with you?”

It’s pretty amusing to watch - amusing enough to be worth putting up on You-Tube save for the repulsive fact that it involves Kitty-Dookie.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

BEWARE THE IDES


Julius Caesar. [Image courtesy Ohio State University.]

Today being the Ides of March, I thought it would be appropriate to resurrect this little gem from last year. Perhaps a Caesar salad with dinner would also be an appropriate comemmoration.

Caesura

They prophesied to Caesar thus: “In March, beware the Ides,
When Senators you thought were Friends will perforate your Sides.”

And sure enough, that fateful Day, right in the Roman Senate,
They poked Holes in Caesar’s Body until not much Blood was in it.

He looked less like a Dictator and much more like a Sieve,
And Caesar came to realize he’d not much Time to live.

He saw that Brutus was among the Members of the Plot,
And whispered softly, “Et tu, Brute? I think you missed a Spot.”

Then as Brutus thrust his Dagger with a sharp and sudden Thwack,
He smiled and said, “No Worries, Mate - because I’ve got your Back.”

[Originally published January 1, 2016.]

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

THREE POINT ONE FOUR

Summer Berry Pie
Tarte Tatin, the celebrated French apple-caramel upside-down pie... not to be confused with its Irish brother, ’Tater Tatin.

Today is Pi Day, March 14, so named because the date is traditionally rendered as 3.14 in American English. By sheer coincidence, it’s also the day on which Albert Einstein’s birthday is celebrated in his adopted home of Princeton, New Jersey.

Pi Day is not quite a holiday. Rather, it’s one of those days that come from the same people who bring you those incessant dopey Internet memes, such as Star Wars Day (celebrated on May 4, as in “May the Fourth Be With You.”) There is, however, a theory that Pi Day is the brainchild of the famous Greek mathematician and philosopher, the great Pi-thagoras.

Tomorrow, we should note, is another minor holiday: EATAPETA (Eat A Tasty Animal for PETA) Day, observed by consuming animal protein at every opportunity. Meat pies would allow you to kill two birds (more animal protein!) with one stone.

Monday, March 13, 2017

SHOE STORE OF THE GODS

The first thing you notice when you open the door at Tops for Shoes is the aroma.

It’s an intoxicating pong, consisting mostly of Kiwi shoe polish with a soft undertone of leather. It whispers, “Come on in. We will be selling you a few pairs of shoes today, won’t we?”

Yes. Yes, they will.

Tops, for those who have never visited Asheville, North Carolina, is an enormous Shoe Emporium. It is not a discount store, simply a shoe store that has grown like a testosterone-laden high-school football player into what may be the largest such enterprise on the eastern seaboard. They claim to serve a six-state area, and I have no trouble whatsoever believing them. 

By far, most of the store’s square footage is taken up with merchandise for women. This only makes sense, because on that little extra snippet of X-chromosome that distinguishes ladies from gentlemen there must be a gene that creates an irresistible desire to own as many handbags and pairs of shoes as possible. And thus it is that at Tops for Shoes, roughly two city blocks are completely devoted to women’s footwear... with the mass of the merchandise contained therein actually sufficient to warp spacetime itself, creating a gender-specific gravitational attraction capable of drawing women from a thousand-mile radius right to the beating, bumptious heart of Asheville.

Lest you think Tops is sexist, I should also point out that they are also considerate enough to provide a (closet-sized) space devoted to men’s shoes. I refer to it as the Island of Lost Soles, where husbands and boyfriends congregate while their Significant Others convert any available liquid assets into Pedal Extremity Clothing.

To the store’s credit, the men’s offerings are reasonable in extent and depth, leaning mostly toward hiking models, peppered with the occasional dressy style. And (ahem) they offer my favorite walking shoe, the redoubtable Pikolinos.

In case you are wondering, I ended up getting a pair of those Pikolinos. It was the least I could do, considering the enormous pile of shooey swag Dee had purchased.

Tops for Shoes is for mortals who aspire to the status of Olympians. Well shod Olympians. It is the Shoe Store of the Gods.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

THE PRIMATE AND THE AIRLINER: A FABLE WITH NO MORAL

“Allowing a monkey to drive a race car sounds like an amusing idea, but only to those who have never tried it.” - The Bard of Affliction

The great Airship of State had been flying for 241 years now.

It wasn’t always an airliner, of course. Back when it began to function, a hot-air balloon was sufficient to hoist its machinery. As the years flew by, however, and new technologies became available, it eventually transferred itself into ever more efficient aerial transports, the better to float high above the hostile environment below. Propellers, in time, gave way to propjets, then to high-bypass turbojets, and the Airship moved faster and faster over the land and sea below it.

The Ship was an expensive proposition, cost-wise. More passengers joined it every year, some born on the craft and others from every land in the world boarding it. There were even a few stowaways, desperate people who were happy to perform the most menial tasks in order to stay on the Airship. Surprisingly, most of the new passengers contributed to the Ship in unexpected ways, creating improvements in fuel efficiency, or entertaining the other passengers with their literature or acting.

Remarkably, for an increasingly complex piece of machinery, the Airship had managed to stay aloft for well over two centuries thanks to its well designed mechanical systems. There were actually three linked, semi-independent control mechanisms, each designed to adjust and correct serious problems in one or both of the others. Over the years, a succession of (mostly) skilled pilots worked in concert with the control systems to navigate the Airship successfully.

Once in a rare while, a pilot would die unexpectedly while in the cockpit. In those cases, the copilot would immediately step in, sitting at the controls until the regular shift change came along. Except for such unusual situations, each pilot would work tirelessly for the duration of the shift, whereupon a replacement would be selected by the passengers. And many times, a pilot would pull a double shift if the passengers so willed.

There were some times when turbulence of one sort or another would sicken many of the passengers. There were also times when hostile forces threatened to shoot the Airship down. Fortunately, its skilled pilots - and its ability to cruise at an exceptionally high altitude - kept it safe.

Perhaps it was the length of the flight, or perhaps it was a growing diminution of the quality of the food in coach class (where steak had gradually given way to pretzels and peanuts), but eventually a significant number of the passengers grew dissatisfied with the course that the Airship traveled. They decided that dramatic change was necessary. Scraping the thin layer of stowaways off the Airship was one solution they proposed. The stowaways, of course, thought this was a bad idea. Most of them kept a low profile and paid their fares like everyone else, but now they were being accused of lurid crimes, such as farting in the galley. Rational discourse was becoming more difficult.

And then the shift change was upon them, whereupon the dissatisfied passengers proposed that an Orang-Utang be allowed to pilot the Airship. The proposal - no doubt a measure of its proponents’ disaffection - was derided by most of the passengers, but the selection process weighted votes by seat row, not simply by numbers.

It was a shock to almost everyone, not least the Orang-Utang, when the beast won and was immediately placed in the cockpit.

Entranced by the pretty lights and instruments, the russet-haired primate immediately began pushing buttons. The Ship began to lurch and whine, but the dissatisfied passengers figured the noises to be from the long-lost steaks being shifted around and moved into the galley. The triply redundant control system, meanwhile, kept things flying despite people on the ground becoming increasingly nervous about the unusual noises coming from the craft soaring above them.

Goaded by his trainer, the Orang-Utang kept pressing more buttons and banging on the dials. Many were delighted: Things were going to change, by God! Others, perhaps less sanguine, began to wonder. Would the triply redundant control system hold? Would the instrumentation continue to function? Would the great Airship keep airborne until the next shift change, or would it come crashing down? They had been unhappy with the pilot that had been chosen, but now they were in the peculiar position of having to pray for his success.

[Cross-posted at Like the Dew.]