Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Honey, I'm home!
OK... According to the 'June Cleaver-esque' information at the other end of this link, it would appear that, sadly, feminism is officially dead. Everyone stop CPR... I'm calling it... Time of death: 5:38 PM.
The [apparently all-male] editors over at Family Circle Magazine seem to think that women's suffrage means being able to vote on which presidential candidate's wife has the tastier cookie recipe!
What's next, a contest to see which potential First Lady can look more solicitous handing her hubby his double martini as he walks through the door after a hard day at the office?
I have to say... it's gonna to be really hard to decide who to waste my absentee ballot on this November!
Monday, June 28, 2004
sur·ro·gate* (sûr'-gt, -gt', sr'-)
1. One that takes the place of another; a substitute.
a) A person or animal that functions as a substitute for another, as in a social or family role.
b) A surrogate mother.
3. Psychology. A figure of authority who takes the place of the father or mother in a person's unconscious or emotional life.
Over the past year, I have noticed a perplexing phenomenon which seems to be uniquely Israeli…your feedback may help me determine the truth of that supposition. If I were a psychologist or a social worker, I could easily justify undertaking a respectable doctoral dissertation on the subject…but since I’m just an untrained observer, this blog entry will have to suffice.
Several people I know have lost teenage children. Our neighbors lost their son in an army training accident. My secretary lost her daughter to a sudden, previously undetected, heart defect. A department head in my office lost his son in a tragic car accident. All of these unrelated deaths have something in common: The friends of these deceased teenage children have continued to maintain extremely close, almost familial, relationships with their departed friend’s parents.
The friends come by before Shabbat to say hello and share a cold soda… they invite themselves over for holidays… they include one-another in family celebrations. And it's not a one-sided thing... the parents of the deceased seem to seek out the friends as well.
I’m not talking about dropping by a few weeks after the funeral, or sending cards at holiday time. In each of these cases, the friends (schoolmates, army buddies, neighborhood playmates) have continued, for years, to stop by for ad-hoc meals, to introduce boyfriends, girlfriends, and eventually spouses and their own children. When I asked an Israeli friend about what I had observed, she said it was not at all uncommon … although having no other frame of reference; she couldn’t begin to imagine why it would be any other way.
To an outside observer, it seems as though a surrogate relationship has developed which allows both the friends and the parents of the deceased to partially fill the jagged hole in their lives. However, as an American, I can’t fathom why the parents and friends would actively seek out a relationship that would constantly remind them of the missing friend/child.
I’m stumped. I can't figure out why seeing their dead child's friends going on with life... going to university, getting married, having children of their own, is a comfort rather than a horrible reminder of things that can never be. I don’t necessarily think these relationships are a bad, or unhealthy thing… on the contrary; this proxy relationship seems to provide a powerful salve on an otherwise unbearable wound. But for someone who was raised in a culture where every reminder of death is banished from sight, this is somewhat bewildering.
If you’ve had similar experiences or can shed some light onto this phenomenon of surrogate relationships, please feel free to share.
* The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Company
Sunday, June 27, 2004
File this one under, “Are you sh*tting me?”
I read the 'teaser', "Arafat offers Olympic Truce!", and actually started giggling.
As I settled in to read what I thought was a very well written parody in the Jerusalem Post, it slowly dawned on me that it was supposed to be a serious (I won’t use the word legitimate) news article, and not a joke.
Here are the highlights of Arafat's remarks for those who don't like following links:
"On the occasion of lighting the Palestinian Olympic torch, I declare our respect and commitment for an Olympic Truce..."
"We hope that the revival of the ancient and noble Greek tradition will help in creating a world that enjoys peace, justice and security for the coming generations"
It seems that Abu Amar (I love the fact that Arafat and his thugs all use noms de guerre… tres révolutionnaire!), has extended the olive branch to Israel, offering the 'traditional Olympic truce of ancient times' during the upcoming Athens Olympics.
No really... I'm not making this up, he really said this!
He is probably perfectly correct in assuming that everyone except Israel will have forgotten about that little faux pas in 1972 when he sent a band of his terrorists into the Munich Olympic Village to kidnap and murder a fairly significant portion of the Israeli contingent.
C'mon... don't act all surprised... I mean sure, you can get banned from the Olympics for life for taking the wrong kind of cough medicine (illegal substances and all that... very serious business!), but if you 'only' kill off a few of the competition… “That’s ok, all is forgiven… welcome back to the bosom of international pageantry that are the Olympic games. This time you won't have to break into the Olympic Village... we'll give you your own keys!”
Go here and read the entire article. You’ll immediately understand why I thought this was some sort of elaborate spoof.
[As a reward for slogging through yet another political entry, anyone who leaves a polite, coherent comment can request a gmail invite for themselves or a friend (great gift idea!). Please people, I'm not asking you to jump through hoops, write compelling essays or do any sucking-up...just a complete, coherent, sentence :-) An extra invite goes to the first person to politely point out any errors in my French!]
Friday, June 25, 2004
The 'Aha!' factor of question #10
First off, I wanted to thank everyone who extended birthday wishes. Receiving comments and e-mail from family, friends, and lots of new acquaintances was the perfect antidote to my annual birthday depression.
As my wife can attest, I become a 'not-so-nice person' to be around during this time of year (she might even use a term of endearment that rhymes with grass knoll). You see, around my birthday I become hypercritical of myself, and I nearly always look back on the previous year and wonder how the hell I managed to end up with so little to show for such a big chunk of time.
Over dinner the night before my birthday, my wife asked me one of her typically 'bright-eyed' questions (presumably to try to cheer me up): "Tell me something you have to be thankful for this year?" I was in no mood to be trifled with... couldn't she see I was already in the throws of my pre-birthday funk?
It wasn't until I sat down at the computer to write my list of 'things' for my birthday post that I realized that my heart really wasn't in it... my funk, that is... not the list. I was moping around more out of habit than from any real malaise.
However, as I was writing my list, I had an epiphany when I came to #10, the ‘Ginger or Maryanne’ question. It is such a neat pop-culture question because nearly everyone immediately understands the reference. More than that, every adolescent girl had decided early on who she wanted to be… and every adolescent boy had simply decided whom he wanted. As a cultural touchstone, few three-word phrases are so immediately and universally understood.
So, where’s the epiphany? The ‘aha!’ factor of the ‘Ginger or Maryann’ question is the rarity of its universality. Great...one shared cultural moment and everyone is high-fiving one another. Here in Israel, there are literally hundreds of shared cultural touchstones, any one of which would elicit the same instant connectedness in any random group of Israelis. I realize that whenever someone relates one of these ‘Only in Israel’ anecdotes, I have one of those ‘aha' moments... and I'm home.
And that, my friends, is what made me start to understand that I wasn’t really feeling down (your comments and e-mails did the rest!).
I guess moving to Israel this year has opened my eyes to my good fortune. Everything I want or need, I have. Things I don't have I’ve learned I can easily live without. And most important, I have begun to think of myself as part of a larger whole... a citizen of a country, rather than just a sojourner in its midst. A person who is connected with the ‘aha!’ factor in not one, but hundreds of shared cultural experiences.
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
43 years and counting... So far so good (ptu...ptu...ptu!)
As the title of today's post suggests, I have attained yet another plateau in my continuing quest for immortality… so far so good.
In honor of this occasion I have finally decided to do that, oh-so-bloggy thing, and post an introspecive list of random ‘things’ about myself.
However, I wasn’t up to the customary ‘100 things’. That seemed so final. So instead I settled for a workable number... a number that corresponds to the sum of the years I've lived... but which also subtly suggests that I still have 'miles to go before I sleep.'
For those of you who enjoy the Harper’s Index - that venerable list where the reader is free (even encouraged), to draw inferences from the order and proximity of ostensibly unrelated factoids... this is nothing like that.
All of these ‘things’ are offered ‘as is’… ala carte… with no conscious rhyme or reason to the order or proximity. There has been no editing or rearranging (except to fix my horrendous spelling). I started with ‘1’ and stopped writing when I’d finished ‘43’. It took me just under 30 minutes. My brain (and ego) hurt when I was finished.
Those of you who are mental health professionals may now begin your analysis… Please show your work:
1. I was born on June 23rd, also known in parts of Scandinavia and Europe as Midsummer Eve.
2. I have an older sister, a younger sister, and a younger brother… and our parents have been married for almost 50 years.
3. Each of us went through periods where we thought that mom and dad loved one of the other kids more.
4. Each of us was wrong.
5. I’ve always secretly thought of myself as ‘special’... a main character in life's great novel.
6. I'm terrified that I may one day find out I was just a bit character in somebody else's story.
7. One of my most enduring early sensory memories is the smell of bubble gum on baseball cards.
8. I have always loved my first and middle names (David Lindsay)... Thanks Mom & Dad!
8. Things often come too easily for me… as a result I have ‘follow through’ issues.
9. Almost every limitation I have is of my own creation.
10. Ginger or Maryanne? Maryanne. Really!
11. I was always labeled an ‘under-achiever’ by my teachers.
12. If I were in school today, I would be instantly diagnosed with A.D.D.
13. I am an observant Jew (some would call me Orthodox)
14. I hate the term Orthodox… it sounds judgmental.
15. I am very judgmental, but not about any of the things people would expect.
16. I did not grow up in a religiously observant family.
17. I am neither ‘anti-abortion’ nor ‘pro-choice’. Judaism values the life of the mother over that of the fetus… so I am in favor of any law that makes it legally possible to save a pregnant woman’s life.
18. In Judaism, a (would be) murderer’s life is considered to have less value than the life of the person he/she would try to kill… so, I (very reluctantly) carry a gun.
19. I am a terrible speller (due to mild dyslexia)
20. I am nearly innumerate (also due to mild dyslexia).
21. I am not afraid of new things… but I nearly always order the same thing in restaurants.
22. I swallow my gum. Always (this drives my wife insane).
23. I love bourbon and wine in moderation (although not together, of course).
24. I pretend to like single malt scotch.
25. Most of the time when I tease my wife for crying during movies… I’ve been secretly crying too.
26. Most vivid spectator moment: Being close enough to the field at Fenway Park (13 rows behind the Red Sox dugout) to hear the first baseman yell, “There he goes” to the catcher when the base runner tried to steal second.
27. My family moved six times while I was growing up.
28. People think of me as steady and reliable.
29. My greatest fear: Letting people down and being unreliable.
30. I am a member of Mensa.
31. I almost didn’t graduate from high school.
32. Even with my university degree, I sometimes feel like a fraud.
33. I feel secretly ashamed and angry when people ignore my advice or don’t agree with me.
34. I can’t stop myself from picking up other people’s accents.
35. I overuse parenthetical asides (as if you didn’t already know that).
36. I served four years in the U.S. Navy.
37. I have never slept as well as I did aboard my ship at sea.
38. I played trombone professionally in New York City for 17 years.
39. During those 17 years, I created less than 24 hours of what I would consider ‘truly great music’.
40. Given the chance to relive my life with that knowledge, I would gladly spend another 17 years for the sake of those 24 hours.
41. My wife and I both secretly think we were the one who got the better end of the deal.
42. I’m right.
43. My kids think I am a much better father than I really am. No matter how smart and well educated they may become, I hope they never discover the error of this particular assumption.
By the way, about that immortality crack earlier; Just kidding!!! I don't want to give myself an 'Ayin Hara' (evil eye) or anything, but just between us... I feel pretty lucky to be able to look back on 43 years and say without a moment's hesitation, "So far so good, ptu...ptu...ptu!"
Monday, June 21, 2004
Warning: Politics Ahead
Gee wiz! For a blogger who repeatedly claims to eschew political content in favor of humor, Israeli culture (I know, redundant), and family stuff, I sure seem to post a lot about politics! Sorry. You see, living full time at the center of a political sh*tstorm will occasionally necessitate some sort of comment… if for no other reason than to point out what an awful lot of sh*t there is flying around!
For some time now I have prided myself on remaining something of an enigma… meaning nobody (online or off) seemed to know exactly how to pigeonhole me. Those who divide their blogroll or bookmarks politically (by left and right wing) have me cautiously listed simply as ‘Israeli’ or ‘Jewish’. Visitors to treppenwitz who think of themselves as residing in the anti-Israel, or at least pro-Palestinian camp (I’m honestly glad there are some who drop by) probably think of me as a rare ‘good Israeli’… a ‘safe Jew’. That’s OK. I am… sign me up for a double portion of both. However, that does not mean that I will stay silent forever in the face of indescribable stupidity.
Today’s post will officially break my long silence on the whole topic of disengagement.
Do I want to disengage from the Palestinians? You bet I do. Do I want to do it unilaterally… under fire? Only if it makes sense from a strategic/military point-of-view. How did words like ‘strategic’ and ‘military’ get mixed up in this discussion? Because Israel (and oh, by the way… most of the western world), is at war… and nations at war make strategic military decisions, not pie-in-the-sky, theological, ‘only our opinions count’, spoiled-child-ultimatum-driven decisions.
That doesn’t mean that the prospect of unilateral disengagement doesn’t injure my sense of justice. It does…beyond description! I mean, I can’t fathom why Israel is the only country in the history of the entire world that wins its wars… and then, in order to sue for peace, has to offer up land, money, and arms, to the people who instigated the conflicts. And now, here we are in the aftermath of a gesture that would be roughly analogous to the U.S. offering the Great Plains back to the Sioux (even though most of our 'indians' came from somewhere else), yet here we are, once again circling the wagons! To use a well-loved bloggerism: WTF!!!
For those of you who aren't regular readers, my viewpoints here are somewhat strange, because I am (by current definition) a ‘settler’ [boo, hiss]. Just between the few of us, my town (Efrat) is no more a ‘settlement’ than San Diego or Los Angeles. True, it sits on territory captured from a neighboring country during a war … but hey, so do S.D. & L.A (the big difference being that SoCal was captured in a war of aggression). The fact is, I earned this ‘settler’ label by living in a town that sits just outside the ‘green line’. This magical line (also know as the 1949 armistice demarcation line) that coincides with no natural topographic feature, was never meant to be a final border (at least according to the document that created it). Rather, the final borders were to be negotiated by the parties to the conflict. From that time to this, there has been a profound lack of negotiating from any of the parties except Israel.
For example: In return for something sort of resembling peace with Egypt, Israel negotiated away an enormous piece of real estate (along with the homes of the Israelis living there) called the Sinai Peninsula. What did Egypt have to bring to the negotiating table? A pen.
A few years back, in hopes of a poorly defined peace, Israel sat down at Camp David and offered Arafat all but 3% of what he was asking for (and to offset that 3% of land he wasn’t going to get, Israel offered him a 3% land swap as compensation). What was Arafat asked to give in return? A vague promise to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Apparently even that was too much, because he chose that moment to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the present intifada.
OK, so Arafat declared open (albeit unconventional) war on Israel when he stormed out of Camp David. So why are we still debating national policy like a country at peace? Soldiers on a training exercise can debate and critique the merits of one tactical maneuver over another. But soldiers in the heat of battle better shut the ‘F’ up and let the people with a clear view of the big picture call the shots!
Why am I telling you all this? Because the news today is full of shrill and strident left and right wingers who are arguing as though they are in a kibbutz dining hall rather than on the front lines of a war. They are also stupidly couching their pronouncements in such absolute terms that for anyone to publicly take a baby step towards the ‘other side’s’ platform, it would mean admitting some sort of ideological or religious failure… like an alcoholic standing up in a crowded AA meeting and admitting he’s been hiding bottles of vodka in the toilet tank.
Why does it have to be like this? The Israelis who live in Gaza were encouraged to live there by their government. They are not renegades or outlaws... in fact when they moved there it seemed like a sound, even heroic decision, since that is where it looked like the final border was going to end up. But just as generals on the battlefield sometimes have to redraw their battle lines, so too, the government of a country at war sometimes has to make sickening decisions about its borders in order to safeguard it’s citizens.
My feelings on this issue brand me a pariah in both camps. The left-wingers will continue to vilify me because I live in one of Jerusalem’s many bedroom communities over that Red Herring called ‘the green line’ (despite the fact that we chose to live in Efrat specifically because it was in that 3% Israel always intended to keep). The right-wingers will now vilify me because I dare to publicly admit my desire to excise the Palestinian cancer called Gaza from the body of my country.
Well, there it is… my dirty little secret. I am that most reviled of all Israelis: I’m a centrist. I hope against hope that I am not alone here in the middle.
Sunday, June 20, 2004
This just in...
I was all set to post a fairly monumental personal revelation... a 'coming out' of sorts, but then I read this and decided it was much more important than anything I might have to say.
Plenty of time for me to 'out' myself tomorrow (stop back... you won't be disappointed). In the mean time, follow that link in the first sentence, above!
Have a nice day.
Friday, June 18, 2004
The honchos over at google seem to be loosening their grip on the gmail invites because I am positively swimming in them!
Anyone, friend or foe, who would like an invite is welcome to leave me a comment (or send me an e-mail) with your name and e-mail address.
The more I use gmail, the more I like it. You know yahoo is running scared because they just upped their free storage to 100mb... still only 1/10th of gmail's free storage. And of course there is the great way gmail associates all related e-mails into 'conversations'.
All this and spell check too!
What are you waiting for?
Thursday, June 17, 2004
Well that was instructive! Yesterday’s little foray into the wonderful world of religious history probably cost me about a quarter of my readers (and if you believe the pundits; eternal damnation). My poor gmail inbox looked at me last night and asked if all Catholics had such potty mouths… I didn’t know what to say!
Anyhoo… now that we’ve firmly established that I am personally guilty of Deicide, and that I’m going directly to hell, let’s talk about something a little less provocative, shall we?
How about eggs?
Now don’t worry, I’m not segueing into a discussion of Darwin. I think treppenwitz has been host to enough theological controversy for one week, don’t you?
Actually, I’m talking about the good old, popped out of a chicken’s butt, incredible edible® egg.
I thought I knew just about everything I needed to know about eggs. You can fry them (sunny side up, over easy, etc.), poach them, hard or soft boil them, scramble them (with salami!!!), stuff them (cheese omelets, Spanish omelets, etc.), and my all-time favorite… coddle them! All of these preparations (and more I’m sure I’ve never heard of) are based on the premise that one can walk into any supermarket and find ‘fresh’ eggs in the refrigerated section.
Guess what I found out when I moved to Israel? Truly fresh eggs aren’t found in the refrigerator section! They are stacked at room temperature!
At first I was horrified. Visions of salmonella and other bacterial beasties danced in my head. What kind of a backward, third world country had I moved to??? Needless to say, once I got over the initial shock of seeing flats of eggs sitting out without any refrigeration, I started asking questions.
After much research (and a lot of funny looks from the staff at the local supermarket), I found out that eggs have one of the best natural protections available against contamination: a shell. They really only need to be refrigerated if they are not going to be consumed within a week of being laid. The only exception to this is if they get wet (which apparently makes the shells permeable to bacteria).
So why are eggs always in refrigerator cases in the U.S.? Two (related) reasons:
1. The time between chicken and consumer in the U.S. is often two, or even three weeks!!! Therefore the egg producers plan for a worst (i.e. longest) case scenario.
2. Once you refrigerate eggs, you can’t stop refrigerating them, because condensation will form on the shell and - you guessed it - bacteria will get inside.
Here in Israel, the typical time between chicken and consumer is somewhere between 8 hours and a couple of days (the latter in the case of big cities). Therefore, in small grocery stores and makolets, you’ll find the egg cartons stacked neatly in an un-refrigerated display. And, in large supermarkets, instead of a refrigerator for the eggs, you will see them stacked in an open dehumidifier (to make sure the shells stay dry).
So, besides the ‘gee wiz’ aspect of this whole science lesson, I’ve also come to appreciate the look, and more importantly, the taste of truly fresh eggs.
When you crack a really fresh egg, the bright orange-yellow yolk stands up tall and round (instead of settling into a flat yellow pancake. And the taste is something indescribably better than the tired, two-week-old variety.
The only downside that anyone has been able to come up with seems to be that very fresh eggs that are hard boiled can sometimes be more difficult to peel.
I can live with that.
[A reward for anyone who has made it this far: I have several gmail invites to give away! The first few people to leave a comment or e-mail me with their favorite way to prepare/eat eggs get the invites.]
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
Heh... Well, that title ought to bring in droves of confused Monty Python fans…
[Disclaimer: although there may be a few sections of this post that make some of my Catholic readers 'uncomfortable', I hope you will read through to the end and try to understand what has gotten under my skin. No offense is intended.]
Actually, today’s blather is about an article that appeared in today’s International Herald Tribune (hat tip to Expat Egghed & Cathy for pointing it out) about the Vatican’s recent statement regarding the Inquisition.
To quote the opening lines of the article:
Vatican City: The Vatican said Tuesday that fewer witches were burned at the stake and fewer heretics tortured into conversion during the dark centuries of the inquisition than generally believed, but it also sought renewed forgiveness for sins committed by Roman Catholics in the name of church doctrine.
Let’s set a side for the moment exactly what ‘fewer’ might mean. I’m more interested in the fact that the Church still thinks there are witches and heretics. Did it ever occur to anyone that the very concept of witches and heretics as 'others' was the reason for the Church-sanctioned policy of torture and murder?
It’s all fine and good that the Pope has finally acknowledged that burning people at the stake or pulling off their skin while they are still using it is a bad endeavor for organized religion to be sanctioning. But he hasn’t really said that, has he? What he said was that there were less of these than previously believed. The Vatican is also strangely silent on the root issue of what caused this behavior in the first place; namely the belief that people who are [perceived to be] outside the belief system of the church are somehow lesser humans.
When people think of the Inquisition (in a context other than Monty python or Mel Brooks, of course), many probably conjure up (sorry, bad choice of words), mental images of a short brutal period in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. They’d be wrong.
The inquisition was actually a long continuum of overlapping Church Doctrines stretching (again, I’m sorry…very poor choice of words), over a very long period of time. It started in 1231 when Pope Gregory IX kicked off the Medieval Inquisition. In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV authorized the Spanish Inquisition… and in 1542, Paul III established the Roman Inquisition. Pope Sixtus V then breathed new life into the Inquisition in 1588 with the creation of the Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition (also known as the 'Holy Office'). In fact, the Inquisition didn’t officially end until 1834.
But wait…it didn’t really end there. That neat little trick where the Inquisition became the 'Holy Office' allowed the Church to call off the one while continuing the other. In 1908, the Inquisition officially became the 'Holy Office', and as recently as 1965, Pope Paul VI reorganized the 'Holy office' and renamed it 'Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith'.
I’m not really good at math…but I do have a pretty good eye for misdirection when I see it. I think a statement meant to downplay the actual number of people targeted, tortured and killed by the Inquisition is less than helpful when the causes and duration of the inquisition are nudged neatly out of the discussion.
Now granted, the methods used by the Inquisition in the last century have not been quite so draconian, but the motivation and theology has not really changed. The prevailing sentiment is still, “Those people are not like us…they don’t believe what we believe…therefore they are not deserving of the consideration, respect, and protection that we afford our coreligionists.”
They have a word for this in my part of the world: Jihad. When will people learn?
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Holy exclamation, Batman!
For those who keep track of such things...so far the last post garnered two 'yikes' and an 'egads' in the comments section. Not bad for one post. Can I get a 'croikey', 'gadzooks' or 'yowza', please? Oh never mind, that's just silly...nobody says 'yowza' anymore (Hi Dad!).
As far as the 'psak' (religious ruling) on using force during daylight goes, Jennifer... the tidbit I mentioned doesn't rule out using force during the day, (One is always required to defend oneself since 'turning the other cheek' is not a Jewish concept), but rather allows the assumption of a physical threat at night even if the person hasn't actually attacked you.
[Warning: This blog is not meant to be a substitute for proper rabbinic/pastoral advice... please consult your community's religious leadership before blowing anyone away!]
With that last though in mind, I wanted to share a funny list (thanks to BrownTown), that seemed to have just the right feel for my present repressed Jewish fantasies of revenge:
The Top 13 Rejected Action Hero Catch Phrases
13. "Let's agree to disagree, punk."
12. "I'll be back. As long as I'm going, do you want anything from the Bath and Body Shop?"
11. "Use the big-ass gun, Luke!"
10. "I'm about to give you one more reason to vote for universal health care!"
9. "I know you are, punk, but what am I?"
8. "You just messed with the wrong motivational speaker, my friend!"
7. "A little song, a little dance, a little can of Whoop-Ass down your pants."
6. "You're going to want to put some ice on that."
5. "Yippie Ki Yay, Mother Superior!"
4. "Where do you want to hurt today?"
3. "Let's mambo with Mr. Pain!"
2. "Do you feel like chicken tonight, punk?"
and the Number 1 Rejected Action Hero Catch Phrase...
1. "Justice? You're soaking in it!"
Monday, June 14, 2004
Trouble in Paradise
It seems that we are destined to have our first year in Israel packed with as many ‘experiences’ as is physically possible. There are only so many days in the year…so thank G-d for that.
Last night, sometime between midnight and 4:00AM, somebody broke into our house. In fact several other houses in our neighborhood were also broken into during the same time period. There seems to be a crime wave underway here in our town, as the past few months have seen over 50 burglaries!
My theory is that it has to be drug addicts. Who else would be so bold (stupid) as to break into houses in a community where literally everyone has a gun!? It brings up some rather complex issues of civil and Jewish law, as well.
According to Jewish law, if a burglar enters your house during the day, it is assumed that he is not expecting anyone to be home and therefore you are not allowed to attack him. However, if he enters at night, when people will usually be at home, one should assume that he is armed and willing to confront the homeowner (and therefore you should kill him before he kills you). When I learned this tidbit years ago in a lecture on Jewish law, it never occurred to me that there would come a day when the practical application would present itself. I have to look into the civil statutes on confronting a burglar, but an attorney with whom I work says that it is not quite as clear-cut as the religious law.
Our (big) kids sleep upstairs on the third floor and we sleep on the first floor with the baby. The main entrance to the house is on the second floor, and that seems to be where the thief limited his exploration.
We were lucky, in that after looking through all the cabinets and closets, the thief only took Zahava’s cell phone and a relatively small amount of cash.
The town’s security office and the police responded within minutes of our calling, but this was probably hours after the actual break-in.
Suffice it to say that my dog (who normally sleeps downstairs with us) and I will be sleeping in the living room for the foreseeable future.
I am going back and forth between feeling furious and feeling particularly violated/vulnerable.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
You guys kill me...
One of the witty readers here at treppenwitz seems to have taken to heart my mention (last week) of the fact that funerals here in Israel are often performed 'sans coffin'. His theory is that this must somehow create a surplus in the world's supply of 'cemetery gift wrap' (thanks Chuck... after all these years that's still one of my favorite expressions).
Hey, I don't make this stuff up... I just pass it along.
Friday, June 11, 2004
It has been brought to my attention that many people have gotten an error message while attemtping to leave messages here at treppenwitz. The message tells them that their computer and/or ISP have been identified as potential SPAM threats.
Call the Comment Police!!!
Here's what you do if you get one of these messages:
1. Scroll down to tthe bottom of the message form and you'll see a picture containing a word. Type that word into the space below the picture. This shows the Comment Police that you are a person and not a malicious computer. Now you can submit your comment.
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Walking around with my chips
Wednesday felt so much like winning an unbelievable string of poker hands that I decided to get up from the table and walk around with my 'chips' in my pocket for the day. As a result, I didn’t even turn on a computer until very late Thursday evening. It felt good…but now I’m back, and I’ll tell you all about it.
It started out with things going eerily right at home. The big kids got out of bed after only one round of kisses (it usually takes two or three, and then some idle threats) which allowed me to enjoy my first cup of 'jo' at home rather than in the car. Also, the baby was a good egg and cooed contentedly (rather than screaming), as I went about my morning routine.
When I got to the office, the planets and stars all lined up, and a project I've been obsessing over mysteriously turned out they way it was intended to. Leave it alone…don’t anyone touch it… Perfect! I’m still waiting for lightning to strike on that front.
And then Wednesday evening, a speech I was asked to give (in Hebrew), to the teachers and students of a local school came off without any malapropisms (a problem that seems to haunt me in my adopted language).
This is without mentioning (which is why I’m mentioning it now) that throughout the day, somebody kept shaking the Internet tree and all manner of good things kept tumbling my way:
First off, a gmail invite fell out of a clear blue sky from mittengirl, a talented writer who I have been reading for some time. No special reason given… just an extraordinary gesture from an extraordinary person. I have never, to my knowledge, shared my secret, burning desire for a gmail account (her blog entry today not withstanding), but this special person somehow thought it would be a nice gift… and boy did she hit a home run! [heck, as long as I’ve already thrown in a baseball reference, I can point out that she’s even a Red Sox fan! Wicked Good!!!] So naturally, going forward I can be reached by writing to treppenwitz at gmail dot com (obviously, replace the words ‘at’ and ‘dot’ with the things they describe). I feel like I just won lotto!
The next bit of good news to pass me on the Infobahn: A scarily bright guy who I’ve known by reputation for some time (and met only once) sent me an e-mail saying he had been enjoying my blog for a while, and maybe I’d like to stop by and sorta kick the tires on his blog. Yeah right...my mouse left skid marks getting over there! I got so engrossed in his archives that I forgot to eat lunch… he’s THAT good. One of the more memorable things I gleaned from his blog is the phrase, ‘Teaneck Sh’nishba’ (Anyone who needs an explanation as to why this is laugh-out-loud, food-spraying funny, can e-mail me at me new gmail account and I’ll be happy to walk you through the humor). Needless to say, there is a new kid on my Good Readin’ list.
Next, a blog I (regretably) haven’t visited in a while, and which I won’t mention by name because it will attract the search engines and pr0n junkies like moths to a flame (hint: it’s the 7th ‘haunt’ listed on the 12th blog on my Good Readin’ list), seems to have retired from her former um, vocation. This woman is one of the brightest writers I have ever read (although be warned, the blog is more than a little bawdy), and I sometimes spend as much time looking up words as I do actually reading her entries. A word I learned from her on Wednesday: Harridan. Why yes, I’d be happy to tell you what it means… glad you asked, (since I already looked it up):
A woman regarded as scolding and vicious.*
Now there’s a scrabble word for you! I really hope she's quit her um, job because that book deal, she so richly deserves, has come through.
[Birthday hint: If my friends and family wanted to chip in and get me a subscription to the online OED for the big event coming up on Midsummers Eve, I wouldn't have to constantly rely on these provincial lexicons]
And, Lastly (although chronologically it was the very first unexpected thing to go ‘right’ on Wednesday morning), I found a nice chatty comment from Jennifer on Tuesday’s blog entry. While I always enjoy getting comments (I can’t fathom those monastic ascetics who blog without allowing comments), this one was especially nice since Jennifer was supposed to be on a self-imposed weeklong hiatus from the blogging world. Apparently not! So instead of having that missing tooth in my morning web crawl… I even got a few personalized pearls from Jennifer.
That, my friends, is what I walked around with in my pocket all day today.
* The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
Nothing like a soft touch
So I finally heard from Maariv (albeit via a friend who also wrote to the paper)... in fact, from the Editor-in-Chief, himself! Let's just say that I hope he considers delegating the tactful, customer-service type communication to others in the future, because he sort of stinks at it himself. Here was his response:
"We credit our readers with some common sense. This was not a detailed article with precise instructions on how to observe the phenomenon, but a brief news flash. We certainly did not recommend staring at the sun, and anyone who suffered damage as a result of doing so on the basis of this news flash has about as much common sense and legal case as people who sue McDonalds because they are overweight. We provide accurate news, and credit our readers with enough common sense to know what to do with it. We do not feel it is a newspaper's job to tell people to refrain from doing things that are obviously foolish. By the same token you would regard us responsible for someone cathcing [sic] a cold in winter because an article published on a rainy day did not specifically mention one should not go out without a raincoat.
Jonathan Ariel, Editor-in-Chief"
Smooth. In other words, this 'news flash' was not meant to inform...only to amuse. If this had been an actual news article, readers would have been provided more accurate information. Most troubling is the fact that he feels that Maariv's published instructions to view the sun wearing nothing but dark sun glasses is the same as not telling someone to wear a raincoat on a rainy day. I'm assuming this guy wasn't on his school's debating team.
Note to the Editor-in-Chief of this brand new English language news source:
1. Get a sense of humor about yourself and learn to laugh at your own mistakes. Even the best make tons of them.
2. Read the 'news flash' that there are a few other news sites competing for your market share. Don't reply to good natured criticism as though you are the only game in town.
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
I hope they have a Braille edition
That sizzling sound you hear is the collective retinas of anyone who followed the instructions in the following Maariv (online) article:
"Venus set to dive in front of Sun
As of 8:19 this morning and until 14:19, Venus will pass between the sun and earth. The rare astronomical occurrence happens every 122 years. To watch the spectacle, one must use dark sun glasses. (2004-06-08 08:27:55.0)"
Yeah, that sounds like fun... I'll just throw on my RayBans®, stroll outside and stare at the sun for a little while! Just how stupid does the science editor (assuming there is one) over at Maariv have to be to allow this one through?
"The spectacle", as they called it, is actually going to be the scene as the courtroom is called to order to hear the class action lawsuit... and the judge instructs the bailif to show the white-cane-tapping former Maariv readers to their seats.
[Update: My e-mail to the editors this morning has, so far, gone unanswered... and as of the latest time for viewing 'the spectacle', the article remained unchanged.]
Monday, June 07, 2004
When I posted yesterday’s entry about obituaries, I had no idea that today I would be dealing with death.
A close friend, who moved to Israel with his family around the same time we did, lost his brother to a sudden, massive stroke. Just like that, in the blink of an eye, a family is making plans to bury a man (younger than me) who was at once husband, father, brother, son, and friend to a universe of people.
I left my office in Beer Sheva a couple of hours early and drove up north to the small community where the funeral was to take place. Israeli funerals, like most everything else here, are not the structured, somber affairs that I had attended in the states. There are no hushed, air-conditioned funeral chapels for the carefully choreographed death ritual. Things are messy.
Instead of the de rigeur American funeral attire of dark suits and somber dresses, people come to attend to death directly from home, from work, from life… dressed as they always dress: For life.
To my new ears, the customary quiet American statement, “I’m sorry for your loss”, seemed oddly inadequate. The 'sorry' seems designed to separate the speaker neatly from the mourner. So, instead I offered the common Israeli statement that translates roughly as, “I participate in your grief/misfortune”, which seems, by comparison, to use the word 'participate' to somehow join the speaker and the mourner. It is intrusive, and messy, and somehow exquisitely intimate.
A week ago I met a businessman across a conference table and began discussing the preliminary details of a multi-million dollar deal. He was a stranger and the discussions were neat and orderly and clean. As I stood in a strange town a week later waiting for a funeral to begin, this businessman approached me out of the crowd and tearfully explained that the deceased had been his neighbor… his best friend… his study partner.
Such is life (and death) in a tiny country. Nothing is neat, and no two worlds are distinct. Generals and Knesset Members call each other by preschool nicknames… and often act as though they are still on the playground. Many of them have danced at each other's weddings and shared tears at funerals. Even if they came from different communities, they know enough childhood secrets about one another to be as cruel as siblings. Maybe this is why Israeli political discourse is so emotional… so personal… so messy.
And next week I will sit at a conference table, across from a man who cried on my shoulder. It wasn’t supposed to be like this! We should be able to look at each other with cold detachment… playing the game cleanly, with rules. Instead, we share a tear-stained history…our worlds have overlapped and mingled. I am at once at an advantage and disadvantage. Everything here is so messy.
When the service begins, there is no funeral director and no staff oozing silently over immaculate carpets in polished shoes. There is no wooden coffin to offer misdirection or act as an oblique metaphor for death. Instead, the body, wrapped lovingly in its shrouds, is carried in on a stretcher by the earnest hands of friends. Death is carried in... and it looks like a body. Everyone is forced to confront the messy reality we call mortality. The friends and family who eulogize the deceased speak directly to the living… knowing full well that their words also fall on newly deaf ears.
There are no shiny hearses or orderly processions. The crowd walks clumsily behind the body as it is carried to a waiting ambulance. At the cemetery there is no manicured lawn… and there are no Astroturf mats to hide the dirt or frame the hole. The tombs are stone and the cemetery is dirt, and the hole in the ground looks like a wound that will never heal. The body is placed gently in the ground, and those who knew him best take turns with the shovel, covering the body… filling the grave. It is messy, but like life and love, hard work is necessary in order to heal the wound.
Sunday, June 06, 2004
Obituary or Curriculum Vitae?
With the passing of Ronald Reagan, several bloggers have weighed in on the slightly ghoulish practice of preparing obituaries for famous people well before they actually take the old ‘dirt nap’. Among the best so far has been Allison’s sharing the [one would hope, unofficial] motto of the New York Times’ obituary department: “When they’re ready to go, we’re ready to go.”
Yikes! Just the idea of one of these journalistic vultures writing about the present me in the (very) past tense is enough to throw ice water on any desire I might have had to become famous.
Now granted, it didn’t take a crystal ball to realize that it might be wise to keep Reagan’s obit within easy reach. But it does raise the interesting issue of how similar those preemptive obituaries are to the typical Curriculum Vitae.
Webster’s Dictionary defines Curriculum Vitae as:
“A brief biological summary of the main points of a person’s life… job’s one has held … notable activities one has participated in… honors one has received…”
If viewed from the vantage point of those doing the writing, these pre-mortem write-ups are really just CVs; chock full of accomplishments, honors and experience, with a short-list of friends and family thrown in as references.
Now, provided one believes in some sort of afterlife (or even the concept of trading up to a higher rung on the food chain in some future life), one’s obituary could be seen as a resume for that next big position. The only difference being that no amount of action verbs or fancy font selection can stand in for actual accomplishments. You either did… or you didn’t. No thanks, references won't be necessary.
Viewed in this light, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for each of us to occasionally sketch out our own CV/obituary… you know, just to sort of keep it current… if only as an exercise to make sure we’re always ready for that Big Interview.
Friday, June 04, 2004
Smeared faces and tummy aches
This actually ties in nicely with the whole 'fruit theme' going on over in Allison's Unsealed Room.
It’s Friday afternoon and we, meaning the entire family, are laying about the house concentrating on little more than digestion. About an hour ago we returned from kibbutz Rosh Tzurim (located less than 10 minutes from our house), where the annual Cherry Festival is in full swing.
Let me just say for the record that we all love cherries. However, despite this deep affection for them, cherries have always been an expensive indulgence… something that we serve a few times a year and horde our small portion until nothing remains but a bowl of pits and an unsatisfied longing. Each time we get cherries I silently wish that I could eat until I was truly satisfied.
All I can say is, “Be careful what you wish for.”
This Cherry Festival is an ‘all you can eat’ affair, with white and deep red cherries dripping from trees as far as the eye can see. We also purchased a few containers to take cherries home with us, but the real attraction was being able to eat cherries to (and beyond), the point of discomfort. It was a perfect late spring day, and a pleasant breeze rustled the leaves as we walked, picked and ate…and ate… and ate. There must have been several thousand people wandering amongst the trees, unabashedly stuffing themselves.
Once we had finished picking and eating, we wandered over to a big grassy area on the edge of the kibbutz where music was playing, arts & crafts were being shown and sold, and kids could enjoy horseback riding, cotton candy, and various carnival-like pastimes. I bought a bottle of local wine (made by a French immigrant who makes a very respectable Cabernet in a local cave), and Zahava sat in the shade with Yonah while the kids ran around and played.
With our distended bellies and fruit smeared faces, we must resemble those pygmies from old issues of National Geographic. Even Yonah got to enjoy the event with the kids taking turns peeling cherries for him and feeding him little bits of the sweet fruit flesh.
I really need to go grill the chicken for dinner tonight but the thought of actually moving is almost painful. I could say that I’ve learned my lesson – that I will never do this to myself again - but it would be the worst kind of lie. With New Year’s resolutions and diets we lie to ourselves with the purest of intentions, never expecting to backslide and relent. But right this minute… I know perfectly well that come next spring I will be sitting right here with my face and hands smeared with cherries, and waiting out a familiar tummy ache.