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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


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]


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


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


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


“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.


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


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.


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


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


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


“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.]


I think that I shall never know
A treat quite like a CheddarBo.

With golden crust and gooey cheese,
Its flavor brings me to my knees;

With gooey cheese and golden crust,
O, must I eat it? Yes, I must;

A biscuit like a fluffy cloud,
That makes my taste-buds shout aloud;

The perfect blend of grease and salt;
With which we mortals find no fault.

Poems are made by fools, I know:
Bojangles makes the CheddarBo.