Back in School

Tonight was curriculum night at our son’s school.

The teachers tell the parents about what the kids are learning and the year’s goals.  As if I know whether it makes any sense or is grade-appropriate.  Nevertheless, I go because, well, you know the adage, “be there or be talked about”.  In fact, POB (partner of blogger) and I did talk about those who weren’t there over dinner later.  Let’s face it, we are all just children with graying hair.  So, if you put us in a gossip-y environment, then you better run for cover.

We were at the school for two hours, during which I slipped into the slouching, smart-mouthed, bored student of my youth.  I was disruptive during the reading teacher’s presentation because I was joking back and forth across the table with another mother (who has made a cameo in prior blogs — the mother of our son’s future wife).  Later, I was whispering to the father of my son’s best guy friend (who also has made a cameo in prior blogs — he was the one in need of adult male bonding rituals after months at home with the kids).

During the math teacher’s presentation, I was getting antsy and was counting ceiling tiles.  During the art and music presentation, which was last, I stared at the clock until there were ten minutes remaining and then I started packing up.   Just the kind of child that makes teachers leave teaching.

POB took notes throughout and asked pertinent questions.  She elicited smiles and positive reinforcement from the teachers.  She was like that as a kid.  Remember we’ve known each other since we were ten years old and I know that she always did her Hebrew school homework.  Her Hebrew school homework, for G-d’s sake (in a manner of speaking).

If there is a test on the details at the next parent teacher conference, POB will ace it and won’t let me peek at her paper.  I just know it.

My poor son.  I sure hope nature (POB’s genes) beats nurture (my overbearing personality) because otherwise he is toast.

SPAM is so much more than lunchmeat

Has anyone looked in the spam catchers lately?  It isn’t about genital sizing anymore.  In fact, it has been months since someone wanted to help me up-size my non-existent male genitalia.

The new spam scam craze is selling credit reports, which of course means that you have to give the company all the information it needs to steal your identity.  Hey, as long as the economy is bad, only the size of your bank account matters.

It never occurred to me that spam is subject to the shifting tides of public opinion and concerns.


You may wonder why I am focusing on this.  Well, it is too exhausting to contemplate the insanity of world events and the inanity of our nation’s politics.  Anyone notice that no one is talking anymore about the mosque at Ground Zero that isn’t a mosque and isn’t on Ground Zero?  That’s because it lasted for the requisite news cycle and national attention span and now everyone is on some other made-for-TV-sound-bite faux issue, such as: was Sarah Palin booed when she appeared on Dancing With the Stars? (Was she there to tell her daughter to shimmy less and wear more clothes?)

It is so aggravating to watch the focus shift to meet the needs of a 24 hour news recycle that I have retreated into my spaminator.

Flying into the Wild Blue Yonder

So, I was coming home from an interminable conference on Saturday night.  I knew I was in trouble when my row was called right after first class and those needing extra help or assistance.  My row was the last row in the plane.  The seat doesn’t recline.  The bathroom was behind me and, behind that, the flight attendant service station.  It was 8pm and I was exhausted.  Someone used the bathroom while the plane was on the ground so I could get a preview of the wooooooshing waterpark experience that would almost consume me by the trip’s end.

I wanted to scream.  The flight attendants were gossiping in loud, high-pitched voices that made me understand air rage.  Luckily, the seats next to me were empty.  At least, I would not feel claustrophobic.  But, wait, a couple changed seats so they could sit together — next to me.  The man sat next to me and sat “wide” in that way that makes you wonder if there is something horribly wrong with his testicles.  Then he opene food that he bought in the food court in the airport, overwhelming me with the smell of deep-fried, faux Mexican food.   So, no sleep for me on this plane ride.

Luckily, Jet Blue provides free TV (it charges for the headphones ($2) and the blanket and pillow ($7)).  So many channels, so little to watch.  I was desperate so I watched a Nicholas Cage movie.  I am sure he is a fine actor, but all I can think about is his financial problems.  (Why do I know this about him?) The man made millions and didn’t understand that buying multiple, multi-million dollar homes could bankrupt a person, or at least cause a cash squeeze?  It is hard for me to watch someone who is either a raving idiot or a male version of a prima donna who can’t take responsibility for his decisions.  The saving grace in the movie was Téa Leoni, who was just enchanting.  She made me think of Ingrid Bergman.  The movie was so plodding that I had to turn off the sound.  Then I remembered (ok, I googled it) that Téa Leoni is married to David Duchovny.  All I know about David Duchovny other than he starred in the X-Files is that he was at some point being treated for a sex addiction.  Why do I know that?  The same way I know about Nicholas Cage and that Lindsay Lohan has a drug problem even though I could not pick her out of a crowd and have never seen her in a movie.  Popular culture seeps through even my best defenses.

My head aches from all of this useless information.  I hope someone devises a brain dialysis soon so we can flush out useless information and reinvigorate those sad brain cells that have to hold that useless information.  Poor, poor, brain cells.  Help is on the way.

Orlando — Mundo Bizarro

I was in Orlando, FL, for a month these last few days.  It felt like the End of Days.

First, swarms of insects that are called “Love Bugs”.  Why? Because they are always in pairs, attached at their rear ends.  Ok, I need to ask that again, but the answer is weird.  Why?

I don’t know why insects attached at their butts would be called Love Bugs.  Maybe, “Push Me Pull You” after the Dr. Seuss creature.  Or, Fred and Ginger, since one of the insects does everything the other one does, only backwards (but probably not in heels).

The Love Bugs SWARMED-the-place-it-was-so-gross.  And they looked wasp-like and menacing even though they apparently don’t bite.  There was no place to sit without swatting away battalions of them.

Here is another crazy thing.  Adults are dressed head-to-toe in Disney wear.  Even the Mickey Mouse ears.  Middle-aged people walking around with those things on, even though their own children are not.  I guess if you are at the Disney attractions, a person (not I, because I am the living, breathing Grinch) could get caught up into it.  But we were in a hotel conference center that was not near the Disney attractions.  Still, I saw Mouseketeers of every age.

I can’t show a picture of the Mouseketeers wearing their Mouseket-ears, but imagine Annette Funicello but not cute, pretty or young.

I am sooooo happy to be home.

Ask about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Yesterday I arrived in Orlando for meetings. My driver was a burly man named Johnny. I asked him if he were a native Floridian and he said he and his wife had moved here a few years ago after he retired from the military.

So, I asked him what he thought of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” (now, back to a theoretical issue).  I had to ask.  I know, it is like picking a scab but I couldn’t hold back.

He said that he is a Christian and that homosexuals were deviants and introducing sexuality on the battlefield was wrong. I mentioned that homosexuals already serve in secret and many with distinctions for valor.  He said that it was as wrong as having women on the battlefield because, in both cases, you’d feel the need to take care of them and as a result you were putting yourself in even further danger. I wondered whether this man had ever been on the front lines.

He couldn’t get past his views that homosexuality was an offense before G-d and that gay men were somehow less than men.

When we got to our destination and he handed me my bag, I said “Johnny, I appreciate your honesty. I am gay and I don’t agree with you. Thank you for your service to our country.”  He was a little shocked but he shook my hand.

I hope he remembers me.

Sunday night dinner chez nous

Further reinforcing my hypothesis that older people progressively allocate more time to traveling and invariably arrive early, our fathers came for 6pm dinner at 4:30pm, which coincides with the time-honored “early bird” hour.  Which makes one wonder whether restaurateurs named, rather than caused, the phenomenon.

I don’t know about other Jewish families, but the first dinner after the Yom Kippur holy day involves comparing Yiskor books (books of remembrance for those who have died) and book plate honors (having someone’s name put in a prayerbook) from the various synagogues to which various members attend.  It is a morbid combination of “Bingo”, “Wheel of [Mis]Fortune” and “Celebrity Match-ups”.  I like to think of it as “Did You Remember to Name that Dead Person?

My dad was upset that he forgot to list POB’s (partner of blogger’s) mom (z”l).  I said, “Don’t worry.  You’ll remember next year, Dad.  We had her covered.”

I mentioned that we also covered several uncles and cousins and he mentioned a few we forgot and also the grandparents.  Oooooh.  Darn!!!  Missed that!  Harumph. We need to have a huge list for next year, even if the dollars pile up (wait, you thought it was free?).

But we had a book plate put in a prayerbook for Dad’s 90th birthday.  SCORE!!!  (POB is sooooo awesome.)

POB’s father and our son were watching the football games.  The other Jews shrugged and then started to talk about concussions and debilitating diseases, as a way of showing interest in the football game.

Then SOB (sister of blogger) wanted to take out the old family pictures so we can mount them on poster board for my Dad’s birthday party.  We all got a little teary-eyed about how young and vibrant everyone looked and how most are now gone.

So, to recap:  we have talked about death, destruction and death again.  Just what Jews need to work up an appetite.

POB made a delicious dinner, over which we discussed the importance of building that Islamic Cultural Center right where they planned it and argued about the meaning of life, chaos theory and the mysteries of the universe.  It got rather heated when we were contrasting a Jewish, G-d-centric approach that assumes that actions have meaning and can cause change versus the view that most of what we do doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.  I ventured that, while I am not so sure that I believe the former, if I in fact believed the latter, then what’s the point and POB should just get my life insurance.  At that point, POB’s father then asked, “how much?” in a very oddly interested tone.  My brother-in-law (the bird nerd from other entries), quietly advised me not to go anywhere alone with my father-in-law.  All this while I was choking over the salad course.

Dessert brought calm to the table as we talked about the Million Moderate March on October 30th and exhorted our TV-challenged relatives to tune into Jon Stewart on the web.  (I could not speak to Stephen Colbert, because I remember him when he was really a right wing-nut at Dartmouth.)

So, death, destruction, death, religion & chaos, politics and comedy.  Another excellent family dinner with the extended family.

This Atonement Day and Beyond

Yom Kippur started Friday at sundown.  We have our services at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.  It is a free service — no one is turned away.  Keeping an open door policy is part of who were are as a community because the synagogue was started nearly 40 years ago by gay Jews who were not welcomed anywhere as gays, as Jews or as gay Jews.  Now our synagogue welcomes people of all sexual orientation (including straight) and all gender orientations (I only know the two main ones, but I am told that there are as many points on that spectrum as, let’s say, colors in the rainbow).  Almost 4,000 people attended Kol Nidre on Friday night.

The senior rabbi is a woman in her late forties but she looks like a pre-pubescent, book-ish boy.  She is a thoughtful and insightful speaker.  And, she does have moments of levity, as when she announced that she would like to be known now as “Lady Syna-Gaga“.  Ok, there is a reason why our synagogue can never really go mainstream.

We ended around 10pm last night and started up again this morning.

This morning, we all went to the children’s service which had a fair amount of substance.  The rabbis talked about seeking forgiveness, saying, “I’m sorry,” etc., and otherwise tried to distill the elements of the Holy Day without dumbing it down too much.

Then we came home and I fixed our son a sandwich for lunch.  He is 8 years old, so he does not fast but we do put techno-toys away for the day.

I was about to sit down at the table to keep him company while he ate, but he said, “E-Mom, I would like to eat alone so I can think about all of the things I need to say sorry for and all the things I need to do better.”

Ok, my son is wonderful and all, but this is out of hand.  Reflexively, I asked, “Really?”

Right after blurting that out, I thought “I need work on not being so cynical and more trusting of my son’s motives, because we were at this substantive kids’ service and maybe something spoke to him —-”

My thoughts were interrupted by my son — ever the honest little boy, “Nah, I just want to play with the iTouch and I didn’t want you to see.”

At least he is honest.

We returned to synagogue for the late afternoon service through to the end of Ne’ila, the last service of Yom Kippur.  After services were over, as we poured into the street to find our ways home, two attendees who were, just minutes before, wrapped in prayer shawls, stole cabs from us. I started screaming at one in the cab that was then stopped for the light, “Yom Kippur is just over and this, this, is how you act?”

Then, I realized that my son was watching me and I thought to myself, “Yom Kippur is just over and this, this, is how you act?”  So, I stopped.

We hailed another cab and we went home, a tired but happy family.

A National Day of Sanity

It has been said that uncertain times make great leaders.  That was said about FDR.  But it can make for deranged leaders, like Hitler, and their followers.

The fevered pitch of the extremists in our society have enabled ill-qualified, borderline personalities like Glenn Beck to figure front and center in our national discussion.  (I might add, to give the appearance of even-handedness, that Keith Olbermann didn’t have appropriate credentials when he started Countdown.)

It has even forced a comedian — Jon Stewart — to sponsor the Million Moderate March on Washington on October 30th.  

A totally average (yet incredibly funny) man is taking a stand to tell everyone to sit down, shut up and chill out, complete with signs like ” I may disagree with you, but you’re not Hitler,” and “Got Competence?”

If this goes off well, October 30th should be celebrated every year as the “National Day of Sanity” because, at least, once a year, America needs a reality check. 

Instead of saying things like, “Happy Thanksgiving” or “have a great Memorial Day weekend,”  our national greeting on that day will be:

“Really? really?  You think so?  Really?” 

The Children’s Hour

Every year, before and during Yom Kippur, I wonder if I will forgive G-d.  Then, I wonder if I believe in G-d.  (Ok, the order makes no sense.)

I wonder whether either or both statements are blasphemy, although the rabbi of my synagogue believes that G-d accepts non-believers.  Ok, so I may be in trouble for the first statement.  (Big trouble.)

And even if anyone (other than me) would venture that I had the right to stand in judgment, one has to tread lightly with the One who created Heaven and Earth, etc., because, well, power is as power does.  (If I were to make these statements in my sister’s presence, she would step away from me in anticipation of a lightening bolt striking.  It has gotten so routine that, with an almost imperceptible nod to her, she knows to move for safety and brace herself for the heresy that will follow.)

(As an aside, I wonder why G-d or anyone else would want to hear from me if I don’t have caffeine in my bloodstream and my teeth brushed.  Also, Yom Kippur is the one day each year when you have a guaranteed, no cancel-at-the-last moment date with G-d.  What’s wrong with a little lipstick?)

I recognize that humans created most, if not all, of the problems that are endangering our planet. But G-d let evil and injustice in the world, assuming one accepts the existence of G-d.  (You can see that I am having trouble both believing and not believing.)

Ok, so where are the miracles?  Where is the redemption?

Children.  They are the miracles and they are humanity’s redemption.  (Let me say that I feel this mostly when I am cuddling with my child or checking in on him after he is asleep.  Some of the time I think the devil lives in our house and he is our son, as evidenced by unseemly tantrums.)

Children.  They have wonder in their eyes.  Their emotions are real.  They play with any kid who is around, without regard to differences that parents point out.  They embody the best of humanity, until we ruin them.  They also embody the frustration and angst that we all feel, except they do it in tantrums in shopping malls or in front of our in-laws.  But, compare their tantrums to those adults in politics these days and you’ll find that they are more becoming on a 5 year-old than a 50+ year-old.

Children.  My mother (z”l) and my father always worried about what we were teaching “our” children.  They always looked to the children as a measure of society’s successes and failures.

Children.  Jews only believe in original guilt, not sin, so we are responsible for how our children treat Earth and each other.  In these times, when I feel a little lost and a lot hopeless about our country, our world, our common humanity, I look to the children.  My child, your child, our children.  They can change the world and we have to do our part.

G-d bless the children.

G-d, (assuming you are there), are you listening?  If so, tap me on the shoulder and freak me out.