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

Friday, October 30, 2015


Yours Truly at age thirteen, posing next to the sign announcing my impending Bar Mitzvah. (And yes, it’s that Amityville.)

Today is a minor anniversary of sorts, it being fifty years ago that I became a Bar Mitzvah - literally  “Son of the Commandment” - an adult in the eyes of the Red Sea Pedestrian community, at least in the religious sense. You could call it our version of passing the Bar Exam.

Popular opinion notwithstanding, it’s easy to become a Bar Mitzvah (or Bat Mitzvah, if you’re female), provided you’re Jewish. All you have to do is turn thirteen - twelve in the case of females. All of the foofarah - the ceremonies, the parties, and the accompanying narrischkeit - is just gilding on the lily. But it’s a significant enough occasion that - in our tradition - one is called to recite the blessings over the Torah for the first time. If you’re a minimalist, that’s pretty much all you have to do.

Most b’nai mitzvah will, additionally, chant the final Torah reading and will then read the appropriate complementary selection from the Prophets (the haftarah), this last a tradition that arose some 1,850 years ago when the Roman occupiers of Judea prohibited the study of Torah under penalty of death. (“Honest, Officer Centurion - we weren’t reading the Torah - just a different part of our scriptures!”) And in some congregations, the young man or lady will lead part or all of the day’s services... a task I was not expected to perform back in the day.

[It’s a testament to our parents’ belief in their Jewish identity - a belief that far outweighed their belief in Judaism as a religion per se - that my brother and I received the Hebrew education that allowed us to get through the ceremonial aspects of our respective b’nai mitzvah. Speaking for myself, I had a reasonable aptitude for chanting both Torah and haftarah, but Hebrew school bored me to tears. The spring after my Bar Mitzvah, I declared that I was dropping out, and thenceforth my religious activity was minimal for the next two decades. The moral of which is, there’s hope for all of us.]

After a full half-century, my memories of the Big Event are necessarily vague. I remember reciting Kiddush - the blessing over the wine - Friday evening, after which I proceeded to drain the goblet. (Halfway through, the cantor quietly told me, “You don’t have to drink the whole thing!”) I remember standing at the reader’s table Saturday morning as I began my Torah reading, feeling my knees knocking together and watching the silver pointer bouncing up and down on the scroll like a seismograph needle as I held it. (Whether my voice betrayed my nervousness, I can only guess.) I remember reading the second half of the haftarah, the first half having been read by the other young fellow who shared my Bar Mitzvah date. And I remember the reception my parents hosted afterwards, complete with sit-down luncheon, live band (Dad and his old musician friends sat in for a few numbers), and the requisite cake shaped like an open book.

We still have the photo album from that occasion, and it’s fun to take it out once in a while to see who is still alive. Alas, all too many are not. Rabbi Spielman now sleeps in his Forever Home, just a few feet away from where my mother rests... and even Beth Sholom Center is no more, having been superseded by some sort of Science of Spirituality Meditation Center. Ave atque vale.

Fifty years later, nephew William reads the same passage (Genesis 9:29-32): “And Abram and Nahor took themselves wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and father of Iscah. And Sarai was barren; she had borne no child. And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot, the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai, his son Abram’s wife; and along with them they left Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan, and they came into Charan and dwelt there. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Charan.” [Click to embiggenate.] 

Meanwhile, fifty years later, we celebrated the occasion in the best way possible - by joining our family in Texas as our nephew William became a Bar Mitzvah. By the Gregorian calendar, his was a few weeks earlier than mine, but he read the same Torah portion I had read all those years ago, the conclusion of the famous story of Noah. As he chanted, I silently mouthed the words - there are some things you remember even after fifty years - and I smiled, tasting the sweetness of new memories being made.

Monday, October 26, 2015


When Rabbi Jacob was hired to fill the pulpit in a small Southern community, what he saw surprised him to say the least.

It wasn’t that they ate grits, greens, and cornbread. That was fine; it was expected. But he was shocked to see them eating pork in all its varied forms. Even more bizarre, they avoided all kinds of waterfowl. The very idea of consuming duck and goose was regarded with contempt and loathing.

He asked how this could be, and they drawled their answer...

“According to the Torah, we are prohibited from eating the flesh of the swan!”

Friday, October 23, 2015


Flay Bobby Flay
Flay is a kick-ass Iron Chef
Flay Bobby Flay
Flay is a kick-ass Iron Chef

Whatever cooking you have in your mind
Ribs or chicken, they’ll taste mighty fine

Flay Bobby Flay
Flay is a kick-ass Iron Chef
Stay, Bobby Flay
Stay and cook us some dinner
Until they clear the plates away
Let ’em know your dinner is a winner

His apron’s dirty but his hands are clean
And that’s the best food that we’ve ever seen

Stay, Bobby Flay
Stay and cook us some dinner

Why wait any longer for the meal to begin
You can have your ribs and eat ’em, too
Why wait any longer for that Flay-vor you love
When he’s standing at the barbecue

Flay Bobby Flay
Flay is a kick-ass Iron Chef
Stay, Bobby Flay
Stay while our meal is still ahead

I’ll wash the dishes in the morning light
And I will belch and fart all through the night

Stay, Bobby Flay
Stay while our meal is still ahead

[Inspired by our having watched three consecutive episodes of “Beat Bobby Flay” on the Food Network, in which Mr. Flay (unsurprisingly) vanquished all competitors.]

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Last week, as we were on our way to a happy family event in Texas (our nephew William’s Bar Mitzvah!), we stopped, as is our usual practice, at the Waffle House to grab a quick breakfast.

Dee and I were accompanied by Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm: an Elissonian Full House. And I am pleased to report that neither of our daughters committed the dastardly sin of trying to order pancakes at a Waffle House. We raised them girls right.

As we sat, consuming our Breakfasty Comestibles, my eyes were drawn to a device that sat near the entrance to the restaurant. It was evident that this was a jukebox - or at least what passes for a jukebox these days.

A jukebox, I should point out, is a partially automated music-playing device - usually a coin-operated machine - that will play a patron’s selection from self-contained media. (Wikipedia). The proliferation of portable music-playing devices, beginning with the transistor radio and culminating in electronic gewgaws such as the iPod and smartphones, made jukeboxes obsolete... but nevertheless, they are still seen in places like diners and bars, where they are present as much to create a nostalgic atmosphere as they are for providing audio entertainment.

Jukeboxes were the first outlet for new music, and because they were simple play-for-pay devices with no advertising, they provided excellent data on what songs were popular: they were the ones people would part with their hard-earned nickels to hear.

I’m old enough to remember the days when jukeboxes had a self-contained inventory of perhaps fifty 45-RPM records, equating to one hundred individual songs. You would drop in your coins, push the selector buttons, and then watch as the automatic machinery inside the box would grab the proper record from its carousel, flip it horizontally, and place it on the turntable. The tonearm would drop onto it and - presto! - music would issue from the speakers. It was almost as entertaining to watch the jukebox operate as it was to listen to the music.

The jukebox gave you an opportunity to share whatever music you cared to hear (Beatles! Rolling Stones! Mantovani! Bing Crosby!) with a room full of uninterested strangers... provided you got to the slot with your hoard of nickels ahead of the asshole with a roll of quarters and a Captain & Tennille fetish.

Of course, with music now available through digital media, it was inevitable that what few jukeboxes remain would evolve to take advantage of newer technologies. At first, the old vinyl records gave way to digital compact discs, which in turn were replaced by more advanced digital storage, with a single hard drive being able to hold tens of thousands of tunes. A great big box fulla choons, that’s what the newfangled jukebox is. Efficient... and soulless.

As for me, I miss seeing those little 45-RPM discs and all that machinery. That was entertainment!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Oopsie. I meant Back to the Future Part II.

Those of us who are familiar with the 1989 time-travel comedy (the centerpiece of a trilogy that began in 1985 with Back to the Future and concluded with Back to the Future Part III in 1990) will recollect that today is the date of Marty McFly’s arrival in what was then the somewhat distant future.

Somehow, 2015 used to seem so... futurey.

The future isn’t exactly like the folks back in the late 1980’s imagined it. Hoverboards and home fusion reactors haven’t quite made it yet, nor have flying cars... but then again, filmmakers have been using flying cars as a trope for Futuristic Shit since before the days of the Trylon and Perisphere. (Go look that one up, kiddies.)

Of course, nobody ever predicts the real world-changing technologies. Personal computing was still in its infancy when BTTF was made; smartphones and social media weren’t even on most people’s mental horizon. It makes you wonder what technologies will be commonplace in, say, 2045 that we have no idea of today. (Bet they don’t include flying cars.)

I wonder what’s more depressing - the dystopian Biff Tannenworld of BTTF2 or today’s real world, inhabited by zombies whose souls have been sucked out of them by their ever-present mobile devices.

Universal Studios apparently has a sense of humor about all this... coupled with a sharp business sense. Here’s their trailer for the movie that - by now - should be playing in Hill Valley at the local cinemultimegaplex:

Now, if they could only invent a “Mr. Fusion” that runs on cat turds. I could light up New York with what Stella produces.

Well, the Cubbies lost the NLCS to the New York Mets, so we’re one step farther away from the fictional future of BTTF2. But that’s hardly a surprise. There’s a difference between science fiction and fantasy, after all...

Friday, October 9, 2015


John Lennon turns 75 today. Too bad he’s not around to celebrate.

Lennon was a musical genius of the first water... but like many geniuses, Lennon could occasionally be full of himself. Satirist Tony Hendra, on the Radio Dinner album he co-created with fellow National Lampoon writer Michael O’Donoghue, used Lennon’s own words - culled from a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone’s publisher Jann Wenner - to skewer him in a delightful little piece entitled “Magical Misery Tour.”

Here’s a YouTube version (NSFW!) for your delectation:

Hendra, along with Sean Kelly, also wrote Lemmings, the Lampoon’s off-Broadway show, notable for being the first show to star Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Christopher Guest. After his stint with the Lampoon ended in 1978, he eventually went on to become editor-in-chief of the late, lamented Spy magazine. He also played band manager Ian Faith in the film This Is Spinal Tap, which also featured Christopher Guest, his old friend from Lemmings.

Happy birthday, John!

Thursday, October 1, 2015


I wished to make a Pumpkin-Ox:
I piled them like so many rocks
And made from them a bovine shape
More like an aurochs than an ape.
I carved the horns; I carved the snout,
Machete waving all about.
My neighbor came, admired my work,
And said, like an uncultured jerk,
“Why pumpkins? Why not stone or clay?
Why build your bovine beast this way?”

“I sculpt with what I can afford -
Depends upon whose Ox is Gourd.”


Death Star Jack o’ Lantern by Noel Dickover. Go here for more interesting pumpkin art.

“The only Office the good Pumpkin serveth is that of submitting itself unto the Carving-Knife, thereby to be converted into a Jack o’ Lantern. The Flesh of the Pumpkin may nonetheless be made into Pyes that are considered by most rational Beings to be Delicacies to be endured at the holiday Table more for the Sake of Tradition than for their Palatability.”

- the Bard of Affliction