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

Monday, February 29, 2016


Higgledy piggledy,
Emperor Julius
Looked at the calendar,
Saying, “Oh, my!

“If we add one Dies
We won’t have winter
Show up in July!”

Today is the civil calendar’s rara avis: Leap Day, the intercalary day inserted once every four years. There is an exception: Centennial years not evenly divisible by 400 do not include an extra day, thanks to Pope Gregory. That exceptional year next occurs in 2100, extremely unlikely to be in the lifetime of anyone reading this.)

By coincidence, this year in the Hebrew calendar (5776, which is also the square of 76) is also a leap year. Hebrew leap years take place seven out of every nineteen years, which makes their occurrence somewhat more frequent than Gregorian leap years (36.84% versus 24.25%), and they’re more dramatic: A whole month is added, not just a single day.

We’re about two-thirds of the way through that extra month now, which means that the Jewish holidays for the balance of the year will seem late according to their Gregorian dates. It’s why Passover will begin in late April - four weeks after Easter, rather than at roughly the same time.

In American popular culture, Leap Day is sometimes conflated with Sadie Hawkins Day, the day on which unattached women in Dogpatch would try to outrun the town’s bachelors in a footrace, the (male) losers of which would have to marry the (female) winners. Sadie Hawkins Day was the creation of Al Capp, who drew the popular Li’l Abner comic strip in which the event first appeared in November 1937. In a testament to the pop culture influence of the funny pages, the fictional “holiday” actually caught on in many places across the country.

From Li’l Abner, the eponymous Sadie Hawkins wrestles with spinsterhood at the advanced age of thirty-five.

Laughably sexist notion that it is these days, there are still plenty of locales (high schools?) that still actually celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day, usually without the finality of the original(!) While some do so on November 15, many people consider February 29 to be Sadie Hawkins Day in view of an old British and Irish tradition that held that women were permitted to make marriage proposals only on Leap Day.

Al Capp, incidentally, was Jewish - which makes one wonder whether we Red Sea Pedestrians should observe a whole Sadie Hawkins month. Yeef.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Antique Valentine
Valentine, circa 1938, from collection of Dee’s late Dad.

A woman of valor, who can find?
Well, I sure found one, never you mind.
- The Bard of Affliction

My Valentine is a Woman of Valor.

She has had to be brave this year, dealing with unexpected adversity - the kind that hits you in painful places both physical and spiritual. She who values independence and self-reliance so highly has had to allow others to care for her. But she is recovering - slowly, painfully, and yet inexorably - and my heart sings with every step she takes.

Saturday, February 6, 2016


Having recently remarked upon the astonishing resemblance between Ted Cruz and Hungry Chuck Biscuits, I couldn’t help but notice that there was another Face in the News that reminded me of a similar one from back in the day.

Sia, the pop star who famously likes to avoid showing her face while performing (perhaps she should redub herself “Nope, Can’t Sia”), has appeared on shows as diverse as SNL, the Tonight Show, and the Ellen Degeneres Show in the past few weeks. Up until her performance on SNL, I couldn’t have told you who Sia was even if she had bitten me on the ass, but now she seems to be everywhere. She is prodigiously talented, but I cannot bear to watch her perform, given that she is usually accompanied by some sort of performance artist cum dancer who writhes around on the stage while Sia sings. Even our own Elder Daughter, herself a performance artist, considers Sia’s stage act gagworthy. Just listen and don’t look, and she’s actually quite good.

The enormous black-and-white wig she has been sporting lately reminded me of an old Star Trek episode that featured Frank Gorshin, well known at the time for playing the Riddler on the Batman TV series. Lookee:

Sia (image ©2016 World Entertainment News Network) and Frank Gorshin (image ©1969 CBS Pictures/Photofest).

The ridiculous black-and-white makeup was for an episode entitled “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield,” which featured two aliens at each other’s throats in what could be considered a mash-up between the Javert-Valjean conflict from Les Miserables and a good old-fashioned race riot. Each alien, you see, was half black and half white... but one was black on the left, the other on the right.

If you think the writers of the episode were trying to convey a message of racial tolerance and opposition to bigotry in the most stupidly obvious and heavy-handed way possible, you’d be right. Not even Rod Serling at his most preachy was this bad. (Of course, it was the third and final season of the original Star Trek series, by which time any of the reasonable good SF ideas that made it to the screen in the first season were a distant memory.)

The difference between this “Separated at Birth” exercise and the one involving Ted Cruz and Hungry Chuck Biscuits? Here, it’s obvious that Sia and Frank Gorshin are not twins separated at birth. They just have the B&W theme going on. But I’m beginning to be convinced that Senator Cruz and Hungry Chuck Biscuits are not merely twins separated at birth - I think there’s a good chance they’re the same person.

Friday, February 5, 2016


Ever since Ted Cruz achieved national prominence, there has been something gnawing at the back of my brain. He looked... all too familiar, as if I had seen him before. But where?

Could it have been at Princeton? After all, he is a fellow alumnus. Might we have run into him at Reunions? Highly unlikely: it’s doubtful we would show up at Reunions the same year, since our graduating classes (1974 and 1992) are eighteen years apart. (It would be a different story had he been in the ’89 or ’94 classes, since our major reunion years would coincide.)

So, not at Princeton. But where had I seen that face before?

Just a few minutes ago, I had that “Aha!” moment. The moment where the pieces of the puzzle all lock into place. When the tumblers of the safe go click, clickety click and the door swings open. When that little imaginary light bulb above your head - the one you see in all the cartoons - sets itself to shining with the glare of a thousand suns.

And that was the key: cartoons.

Years ago, there was a distinctive-looking character in the underground comix. A feckless idiot in a western shirt who sported an oily pompadour... and, coincidentally, who made his first appearance in 1970, the year Ted Cruz was born.

Coincidence? You decide...

Ted Cruz and Hungry Chuck Biscuits: Separated at birth? [Hungry Chuck Biscuits ©1971 Dan Clyne]

The real question is whether they were separated at birth or whether Ted Cruz is actually Hungry Chuck Biscuits. I really can’t decide.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Reading table cover made by Paula Coplon in memory of “Gravel-Voice” Larry Travis.

Today we observed Gravel-Voice Larry’s tenth Yahrzeit.

It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years. A whole decade.

A whole decade in which Larry has not presided over post-Minyan breakfast, selecting the smoked fish of the day with the care and expertise of a sommelier selecting a fine wine.

A whole decade of not hearing Larry’s throat-rattling voice knocking the morning liturgy around like so many tenpins.

A whole decade of not having Larry sit beside me in the front row of the chapel.

Things just haven’t been the same without our Kohen Gadol - our High Priest - walking the planet with us. And Larry, indeed, was descended from the High Priests of old. When it came to the Law, that gravelly voice of his conveyed authority and knowledge. It didn’t hurt that he had also served as a Miami cop in his younger days.

We remembered Larry this morning, reciting the Eil Malei Rachamim (“Father of Compassion”) prayer for the departed as well as the Mourner’s Kaddish. And I had a vision of our beloved Kohen Gadol sitting at breakfast in the World to Come, helping the Most High to pick out the tastiest sable and whitefish...

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Groundhog Day
©2006 King Features Syndicate.

Today is Groundhog Day. The excitement on people’s faces is almost palpable.

I don’t know about you, but I’m almost relieved when it’s finally over.

First of all, the relentless hype has really killed a lot of the joy for me. It used to be, you didn’t hear Groundhog Day music in every frickin’ retail establishment in the world - at least, not until right after New Year’s Day, when the holiday season “officially” begins. Not any more. Now, Groundhog Carols are the order of the day, 24/7, starting right after Thanksgiving. It’s relentless.

The malls are packed with people doing their last-minute shopping for Groundhog Day gifts, and post offices burn the midnight oil to keep up with the volume of packages and Groundhog Greeting cards. And it’s almost a given in the retail business that 60% of their business is done in the weeks leading up to Christmas; most of the remaining 40% comes from Groundhog Day. A successful ’Hog Season often means the difference between success and failure for small businesses.

That, of course, means hype. Advertising. A constant barrage of TV ads. Postal workers straining under mailbags laden with massive Groundhog Day catalogs.

And then there are the decorations. It seems that everybody is constantly trying to outdo the Joneses, putting up ever-more-elaborate displays. Lights by the megawatt, inflatable groundhog lairs... sometimes it makes me yearn for a simpler time, a time when every family dug a simple hole in the front yard, and Dad was content with a handmade cardboard top hat.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m hardly a Groundhog-Scrooge. I love this time of year as much as anybody. Holiday parties, the special seasonal foods, Hog Nog - it’s all good. But sometimes I worry that the real meaning of the day has gotten lost amidst all the hoopla.

After all, isn’t the holiday supposed to be about Phil?

Not Phil as we see him today, surrounded by handlers and media flacks. Just Phil, the simple woodland creature, on a mission from God to predict the weather. His message is one of peace and dignity, one that is immune from the cares of the everyday world. Politics? Global warming? Kyoto? Photo ops? News reporters? Pfaugh. Punxsutawney Phil cares not for these things.

They are merely temporal - and temporary. But the light of Phil’s love is eternal.

Put the Ground back in Groundhog Day! And may your Groundhog Day be sweet.

[Adapted from a post originally published at Blog d’Elisson on January 31, 2008.]