Jericho

In the Book of Joshua, the Israelites destroy the walls of Jericho by walking around it with the Ark of the Covenant for seven days, once per day for the first six and seven for last, blowing the Shofar (rams’ horn) and shouting to make the walls fall down (Joshua 6:14-15).  [Courtesy of Wikipedia].

Well, I wasn’t so lucky.  Or maybe that Jericho was an easy mark.  Jericho, Long Island ain’t no biblical anything.

I was cleaning out a storage room of deceased family friends (don’t ask), in central Long Island.

SIDEBAR:  There is a reason why their remaining worldly possessions are house in mid-Long Island.  That is for another blog (maybe not; too boring even for this blog).

Almost all of the valuables have been sold; I must go through the rest to make sure that there are no undiscovered valuables wrapped together with the bed frame.

[NYCFOB: I could not even ask your help until I gain control of the contents.]

Yes, I am insane to take such a curatorial tact with this stuff.  But they were a very special and wonderful couple, deserving of love and care even with the disposal of the detritus of their lives.

BUT THEN I HAD TO GO TO JERICHO, LONG ISLAND. A decidedly, non-biblical place.

WHYYYYYY?

The nearest Good Will drop-off was along the Jericho Turnpike.

The Jericho Turnpike.

The Jericho Turnpike?

The Jericho Turnpike was a thing a folklore, where 1970s radio advertisements told you to go to get the best deal on 8-Track tapes and Betamaxes and shag carpets [yes, yes, we are THAT old].  It WAS the place for all things advertised on the summer Top 40s radio shows.  Casey Kasem was the king of Pop and the Jericho Turnpike.

Still, still, while I am not “Legally Blonde,” I am the quintessential “Parochial Manhattanite“.

As a proud and parochial Manhattanite, I go through life without owning a car, without thinking before hailing a cab and without wondering that I am lucky that everything I want is within three blocks (or it must be delivered).

So, the CITY GIRL INVADES THE MID-ISLAND.

There couldn’t be a better horror story.

There should have been a travel advisory.

And, my rented minivan (which takes TWO parking spaces on a Manhattan street) didn’t have GPS.

AND, NO, GOOD WILL DOES NOT PICK UP EVEN IF YOU ARE UNLOADING APPLIANCES, FURNITURE, CLOTHES, ETC. IN BULK.

SO I GO TO HEMPSTEAD, ON THE JERICHO TURNPIKE (so why is it called Hempstead and not Jericho?)

And I have to look for the Sleepy’s across from something else and turn off into the mall to get to the Good Will place. [The people there seemed to be out of the good will stuff.  Just sayin'.]

Did the customer service guy ever hear of map coordinates like, say, 56th Street between First and Second Avenues???  NAAAAHHHHHH.

And, so, I have to turn off at Sleepy’s.

As if I know where the Sleepy’s IS.

As if I have GPS.

As if I could tell the difference between the Sleepy’s and the OTHER bed store across the way.

Ok, I unload all of the stuff, valuable to someone but unsaleable in the conventional sense.  Then, back to the storage room to get the rest of the items that can garner some money for the estate.

Except, I am stuck in Jericho.  Prisoner of a Biblical tale.  Without the Ark.  Without a Shofar.  Just a lot of traffic and malls.

Joshua, Joshua, Joshua!!! where are you?  Didn’t the Israelites conquered Jericho?

Then I remembered that I believe that the Bible is a written collection of oral history and legend.

OOOPS.  Bad time to be a Conservative-yet-Reconstructionist Jew

Ain’t Biblical justice a b*tch.

 

And the White Knight is Talking Backwards

What do Grace Slick (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Slick) and Dad have in common?

Ok.  It sounds like a trick question.

Grace Slick’s nickname was Acid Queen.  Dad’s nickname was Nachy, short for his given name Nachum (his older brother later changed it to an American name).

She was the doyenne of Acid Rock and her heyday was the 60s.  Dad’s heyday was the 40s and 50s.

Grace Slick tried to slip Nixon LSD (we later learned that he was on far better stuff).  Dad made a killer Rob Roy — very, very dry, with a twist of lemon.

Grace Slick’s songs had surrealistic, metaphoric lyrics, sometimes using the mundane as “cover”.  Dad, a sculptor, was firmly rooted in realism but sought to imbue a sense of emotion and motion in his work.

But both believed in change; both were against Vietnam.  Grace protested on stage.  Dad marched on Washington.

I loved Jefferson Airplane as a kid because it spoke to my as-yet-unidentified angst and different-ness.  When things didn’t make sense, I would think of the lyrics of “Go Ask Alice” — “and the white knight is talking backwards. . . .”

And when, as a preteen and then a teenager, I knew I didn’t fit into the heterosexual world and felt let down by everyone and by G-d because I was different, the first lyric of “Somebody to Love” reverberated in my head:

When the truth is found
To be lies
And all the joy
Within you dies

Don’t you want somebody to love?
Don’t you need somebody to love?
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love?
You better find somebody to love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug32SjIWfKs

So, what does any of this have to do with Dad?

Well, it is complicated.  As little as Dad understood about the turmoil in me, he was my champion.  He held me once in what was almost my rock bottom and said, “hold onto me.  And nothing bad can happen.”  He held onto me then and so many times thereafter when I thought I would have otherwise been consumed by my demons and by my different-ness.

Over these few years, Dad’s mental capabilities have diminished.  Most times, in person or on the phone, he gives me enough reality so I can make a conversation around it and maybe even garner a laugh from him.

In the last week, it has become almost impossible to identify something in what he says that I can’t spin back to reality and bring him back to us.  And I keep thinking, “Oh shit, the white knight is talking backwards and I hate Alice in Wonderland.”

And Dad probably hated Alice in Wonderland.  We are too logical.  Which makes this most recent decline even more difficult.  He is still razor sharp on some things, but those things have become islands in an archipelago, where once the archipelago was a seamless land mass.

And so Dad is talking backwards.  And he lost his love, my Mom.  And he lives a psychedelic existence that is not tethered in reality or surreality.  But is not just a “bad trip” in 60s and 70s parlance.  It is old age and the vagaries that come with a life (maybe) too long.

But he is truly happy when his family is around him, even if he cannot follow or contribute to a conversation.  I feel it in the hug and our saying, “I love you” to each other.  And through the haze, he sometimes says that he knows we are here and he is grateful for our love and support.

And I cry.

Because he lives life like a Grace Slick song.

Because my white knight is talking backwards and it is my turn to save him.

 

FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT

Early last week, before the city emptied out for the long holiday weekend, the west side subways were few and far between during the height of morning rush hour.

Apparently, our ancient and under-maintained system is sensitive to heat and humidity, just like its average rider.

When the train finally arrived, there was barely any room to squeeze on, even to this experienced native.  We were so packed in that no one could feel the air conditioning.  And I was too close to someone whose bathing rituals are far too intermittent for a New York City summer.

The car started to clear out a little at 96th Street, as people ran across the platform for the express train.  I moved into the middle of the car, where there was a little room to breathe (other than in someone else’s arm pit).  There was even more room than usual because I was standing in front of half a seat, you know, what remains after “spill-over” from adjoining seat holders.  A regular size human could not wedge into that space with a crow bar.

An old woman boarded the train. She looked like the kind grandmother of a Hallmark TV movie (and not the hatchet-bearing psycho nana from a “Lifetime Original” one.  And I am not talking about a buxom Yiddisha bubbe.  She was frail, diminutive and wore a sweater she could have knitted.

The half-seat was just right for the old lady.  I motioned to the people closer to Grandma to get her attention.  Only one man in his early 40s saw me and asked her if she needed a seat.  She smiled in gratitude and maneuvered in front of him.  He looked up and pointed her three more seats down to the half-seat.

DUDE:  ARE YA KIDDIN’ ME?  REALLY?  AN OLD WOMAN MISTAKES YOU FOR A HUMAN BEING AND YOU DECLINE THE COMPLIMENT?

OK YOU ARE MARGINALLY BETTER THAN THOSE WHO REFUSED TO LOOK UP FROM THEIR GADGETS, ETC., OR DIDN’T CARE THAT SOMEONE NEEDED A SEAT.

Luckily, the old lady made it to the half-seat.  And, it turned out that she was more of the hatchet-wielding psycho nana than the sweet old doting kind.  (She got a little nasty about the train not going fast enough and the appointment she had.)

BUT IT ISN’T ABOUT WHO SHE IS.  IT IS ABOUT WHO WE ARE.

SO, TOMORROW, IF SOMEONE MISTAKES ME FOR A HUMAN BEING, I AM JUST GOING TO FAKE IT. AND IF I AM LUCKY, IT JUST MIGHT BE HABIT-FORMING.

Party of One

Lunch with Dad today.  As he declines, he looks so forward to an activity with family on each weekend day.

I decided that I would run to Dad’s house through in Central Park, and then all the way east to Dad’s house.

As I was running, things seemed a bit off.  I didn’t know why.  There were people all around doing usual Park things — running, skateboarding, picnicking — and East Side things –  shopping and arguing and looking at maps to figure out their bearings.

All the usual sights and sounds . . .

EXCEPT

I was surrounded by straight people — couples, singles or with their families.  Ok, maybe not all straight.  Just not embracing their inner gay.

Where were the other gay people?  WHERE WAS EVERYONE?

Did I not get the flyer?

Wait, ah . . . 

They were downtown at the biggest NYC outdoor party of the year!!!  Celebrating the revolution and evolution of gay rights, which feels a little like this photo:

10488404_10152589639573854_7060073252843280101_n

In truth, I haven’t marched in a Gay Pride parade in many, many years.  Because, to riff on the old ACT UP chant:

I am here, I am queer and I am soooo used to it.

I hope it was a fun party.

And don’t worry, I kept things integrated uptown.

 

Father’s Day 2014

Hallmark holidays suck.  At least on Father’s Day.  At least for this mother of a father-less son.

I block it every year.  I can’t ever remember that it is Father’s Day until we trip over it.  And then I think,

“Oh shit, will SOS be ok?”

Ok, I am not a good planner when it comes to this “holiday.”  I block it because I cannot conjure up a facsimile dad.  There is no vegan turkey for this thanksgiving holiday.

And then I fixate on our aging Dads.  Because it is easier.

SOS was not in a great mood today.  But, thank G-d, he spent some special time with Cousin Gentle.

The clan gathered for dinner.  Still, SOS was in a whiny mood.  I assumed it was the Father’s Day thing, but interestingly, he was very cuddly with me. I could not read the signals because usually when he is feeling different about having two moms, he is mean to me. I was bracing for that treatment all day.

At dinner, we toasted our fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, sons and grandsons.  Dad was disconnected and confused.  FOPOB was surprisingly present and engaged.  The world was upside down.

After the ganza mispocheh (the big family) left, I went into SOS’s room to talk.

“Dude, I want to talk about Father’s Day.”

“Why?”

“Because this is one of those days when I regret that you don’t have a dad, because it feels like everyone is celebrating having a dad and, so today, but really only today, I hate that you don’t.”

“Really, E-Mom?  It is ok.  It is like being Jewish at Christmas.  Is that what you wanted to talk about?”

Ahhhhh. I made special note of the “OMG-you’re-so-lame-how-do-survive-a-day-in-the-world” tone.

I smiled to myself.  (I couldn’t give SOS the satisfaction.)  And I thought of Crosby, Still, Nash & Young:

And you, of the tender years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
they seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

SOS, my best and toughest teacher, in the subject of life.  I learn these lessons because my happiness depends on it.

Happy father’s day to all, whether or not it applies.

The War that had to be fought

It was the war that America won.

It was about good versus evil.

It was about humanity versus genocide.

It was about right versus wrong.

And, G-d was our co-pilot.

And it started with D-Day, our shining hour.

Our Greatest Generation.

Those that did what had to be done and those that paid the ultimate price.

For freedom.

For liberation.

For the fate of peoples they didn’t know in a land they’d never been who were being conquered and killed for reasons they did not understand.

These were the sacrifices of our soldiers.

The soldiers fought the war we remember, commemorate and celebrate.

Our government fought the war, as governments did and continue to do.  And, to win the War, the US:

made a pact with the murderous Stalin; and

dropped the Atomic Bomb.  Twice.

Because “the enemy of our enemy is our friend.”  True for dictators and explosives.

 

*************************************

This is still the cornerstone of our foreign policy.  Only now, the calculations and murderous and duplicitous actions of our “allies” don’t take decades to come to light.  They take mere hours.

And even the “good guys” in World War II were not always so good. Still, the monumental evil on the other side silenced even some pacifist.

Had we not carved up Europe and aided Stalin’s brutal rule, would we have won the War?  And if we had won the War without an alliance with the USSR, would we have immediately had to fight Stalin?

Wars since then haven’t been so easily waged.  And they haven’t been won.  Not a one.  Because World War II was the exception: war is so rarely about good versus evil.  War is usually about politics, property and market share.

Recently, radical conclusions are bubbling to the surface: the enemy of our enemy is just as evil as our enemy. And, if we arm the enemy of our enemy, they may become our enemy, too.  And we will have given them the tools of war.

And when that war comes, it will not be a cold one.  It will be a nuclear one.

*************************************

G-d bless the Greatest Generation.  May we learn war no more.

That Moment

That moment when you are bare, when you have nothing else to give, when the walls are closing around you.  When everything you believe in, every milestone you marked, means nothing.  When you are about to lose your foundation and you lie bare in all your awful and selfish thoughts and all that you would never were, but could have been.

All that you are, with all the lumps, with all of the triumphs and with all of the shortcomings.  And it is not your time to answer for your life.  But, almost. It is your mother’s reckoning, which is also in that weird mother-daughter/sister-woman way, a referendum on you.  It is titled, “Mom’s day with G-d’ but it is the start of your days piecing together her legacy, to you, to your children and to the world.  And, oh, yeah, to your siblings and your father.

But a mother’s death is principally a demarcation in the relationship with her mother and her daughters.  And the dialogue doesn’t end with death.  Not even the heated ones.

The joke that your arms are too short to box with G-d is all about how you can’t land a left hook, but your mother has arms so long she can reach your most tender places at will.  Yes, Heaven (or Hell) has a huge advantage over us mortals.  Take the punches, but wear boxing gear.

The judgments don’t end.  They just have this $1.99 halo attached to it.  Don’t be fooled.

But be humbled. A life, perhaps unfulfilled, has ended.

And it is not your job to fulfill that life.  Each life must be lived by the owner. 

But it is your job to pick up the part of the legacy that you can advance.  Not fulfil.  Don’t think about fulfilling.  Just embody it forward.

It may be achieved in your child’s extended hand to a friend that evolved into her changing the world.

But every moment is not a success or failure.  In fact, only with the passage of time, and the graying of your life, will you know whether you advanced your mother’s mission or, in fact, healed the world a little, in spite of your mother.

Life is a journey and death a destination and, if we are lucky enough, we leave a legacy of love, grace and healing.

And today, it is time to redouble our efforts, for our own mothers and for the mothers of our friends who have fallen recently.

May they rest in peace and their memories be blessings for us all.

Snakes and their charms

I envy snakes.  They shed their skins every year (or so).

Sidebar: I have no idea about timing, but I know that some snakes molt at some point in their life spans because I took enough science courses to meet the prerequisites to graduate from college.

Sider-bar:  I will confess to taking “Holes and Poles” (Human Sexuality) and “Oceans” (Oceanography) and, for the latter, doing a project called, “Songs, Jokes and Catch of the Sea,” where I played sea shanties, served the professor a gourmet lobster meal (purchased from a fancy restaurant) and, while he was dining (linen napkin and all), I told him jokes related to water. 

Sidest-bar:  As disgraceful as it is, it would be more disgraceful if I hadn’t been graduated from college and then my parents’ hard-earned money would have seemed like even more of a waste.

SIDEBAR uber alles:  Are you rethinking the importance of an Ivy League education?

[Oh, dear, I even digressed from sidebars!!!!  It will get worse, still, I promise.]

Snakes don’t get younger.  Their skins just lose the scars and damage of the year’s mistakes, fights and punishments.

And the snakes begin again.

Older, and

maybe wiser, and

surely as venomous or constrictive as the year before, but

certainly, EXFOLIATED.

And, when my skin is exfoliated (and, ok, throw in a collagen treatment, just for grins), well, there is NOTHING that this 50 year-old can’t do. (Except afford the next facial.) And I can dust myself off and try again to be all I could be.  

Ok, some boys and girls won’t understand this.  But, those who do, and YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, know that I am right on this.

Life Is Beautiful

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the immense joy in seeing my nephews happy and proud.  Never did I think I would have a child, much less adore him, warts and all.

Never did I imagine that I had warts.  (Ok, we ALL grow up.)

Never did I imagine that my brother-in-law would be my brother, too. Or that my sister-in-law, 7 years my junior, would evoke such respect, love and awe for her “male management” in the Shap Shack.  [I wish we were closer in geography, time and heart.]

Or that my brother and I, sometimes so diametrically opposed yet so alike in manner, in humor and in comic timing, would sit companionably at a table where he and my son were feasting on pork in a Jewish home.

Or that my brother’s son would come north and share sleep away camp with my son, his cousin.

These are the gifts of family.  Gifts of age. And, with age, the gift of perspective.

But most important, these are, yes, the gifts that make life beautiful and bountiful and safe.

The gifts that wait for us to grow, change, reject what was, and then, coming full circle, accept what was and, as a consequence, what is.

And the gifts for which, even in the moments of sorting out the affairs of the living and the dead (and those hovering in between), I am grateful.  Because it means that SOB, BOB and I will have each other. And, that, in bad times, in desperate times, in unfair times, we can rely on each other. 

Because no matter how far off any of us travels, or how bad things get, there is, at long last, the ties that bind. The door that is wide open.  Even more important, the loving arms that beckon us into a secure embrace.

And that makes life, indeed, beautiful and full.

[P.S.: I rented a Texas-size car for visiting day at camp.  Just in case SOB and HOSOB want to join the road trip.]