Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Sleepy no more
Beer Sheva, the city where I work, has long enjoyed a reputation for being outside the fray of Palestinian violence... a sleepy little city outside the scope of the current hostilities. Back in the ‘80s there was an isolated attack… but the ‘Capital of the Negev’ has largely dodged much of the pain suffered by the rest of the country.
That came to an end today.
I was at lunch with a delegation from a medium sized Asian country’s Ministry of Defense when police cars and ambulance began speeding past the window of our restaurant. The manager of the restaurant switched the CD of Louis Armstrong tunes to Reshet Bet Radio where the announcer was already reporting two nearly simultaneous bus bombings a few blocks from where we were sitting.
People, and emergency vehicles continued to stream past as we explained to our foreign guests (through their translator) what was going on. While the Asians absorbed the information and talked in hushed tones amongst themselves, we Israelis made quick cell phone calls to our families to assure them that we were all right.
The rest of the lunch meeting was conducted as though under water… everybody and everything seeming to move in slow motion. At the end of the meal, we exchanged gifts and then saw our visitors into their waiting limousine.
As I sit here in my office, I am still shaking with anger… and feeling more than a bit useless. I can’t give blood, having done that just three weeks ago before going abroad. I have no particular skills or knowledge that would be of any help at the site of the two blasts.
So I sit here and wonder idly who was unlucky today. Who woke up this morning and committed the unforgivable crime of going about their business on a Beer Sheva municipal bus. Who is writhing in agony in a hospital 5 minutes from my comfortable air-conditioned office… and who has ceased writhing.
Since I can’t do anything… instead I’ll ask a few questions in order to gain some clarity:
Where is the outrage from the ‘moderates'? Where is the spontaneous condemnation from the estimated 1.2 billion Muslims who practice this so-called ‘religion of peace’? If this violence is being perpetrated by a small radical minority… surely there must be some murmur of discomfiture from the rest, right? Why can’t the world’s media machines with their ravenous 24 hour news cycles locate even one credible Muslim to make such a statement?
Actions speak louder than words… far louder. So before anyone gives me any more lectures about the silent majority of Muslims who simply want to live in peace… maybe they should take a moment to consider that the Muslims of the world seem to have a somewhat different definition of peace than the rest of us.
From this point on… as far as I’m concerned, if you are a Muslim and you do not loudly and unequivocally condemn the unspeakable savagery of your coreligionists… you are as guilty as the animals who kidnap and behead random victims… who blow airliners full of human beings out of the sky… and who strap on explosive belts in order to blow up innocent civilians on the streets of a (fomerly) sleepy desert city.
Monday, August 30, 2004
A recent comment from a DRSF (Displaced Red Sox Fan) made me go digging through my files for this. I wrote it a while back but it has never been posted… until now:
One of the simple pleasures of late spring in New England is taking the family to opening day at Fenway Park. I won’t try to go word-for-word with the many talented writers who have more than exhausted the qualities to be savored in the few remaining ‘classic’ ball parks… but I think a word is necessary for those who have never watched the Red Sox play in their home park.
That word is intimate.
While there are many ‘bad’ seats in Fenway (obstructed views, poor sight line, odd outfield angle, etc.), even these ‘bad’ seats allow the fan a more intimate sense of the game than many of the ‘good’ seats in the concrete donuts that pass for stadiums these days.
I remember sitting amongst a sold-out crowd for a screamer of a game between the Yankee’s and the Sox. Even amidst the deafening roar of that rivalry, when a base runner broke from first base to try to steal second… I could clearly hear the first baseman yell to the catcher, “There he goes” (this is done so the catcher can shift into a throwing posture without taking his eyes off the incoming pitch).
One fine late spring day, Zahava and I packed the kids into the car and drove up to Boston for opening day. It turned out to be an intimate experience we would never forget.
As we stood in line to get in, we softly catechized the kids on who was who (Nomah, Pedro, et al)… as well as the cherished landmarks of the park (the Green Monster, Pesky’s hole, the manual scoreboard, the red painted seat in the bleachers where a Ted Williams home run of 502 ft. landed, and even the spot where Duffy’s cliff used to be).
While we waited in line, two visibly inebriated fans from ‘Southie’ (a working class part of south Boston that has produced some of the best construction workers, cops, priests, drinkers, firemen, fighters… and Red Sox fans the world has ever seen), began pushing towards us. They could see an opening between themselves and my wife, but couldn’t imagine what was impeding their progress to close the gap. After a few minutes of fruitless shoving, one of them noticed our two small children who were nearly being trampled under foot.
In the contrite tones that only a good-hearted drunk can manage, the older of the two leaned over and gave both kids a heartfelt apology tinged with hops and barley. He then noticed the brand new Red Sox hats on the kids heads and asked them,
“Saaaaay now… by any chaaaance would this be yer ferst openin’ day?”
Both kids shot us worried looks and got our nod of approval to answer the man. When they had both bobbed their heads to indicate the affirmative, he plowed on,
“Welllll now… ya know whaat thaaaaat means, duntcha?”
A synchronized shake of the kid’s head … eyes as big as saucers.
“Thaaat means ya caaaan’t nevah root for nobaady else. Yer Red Sox Faaans fer life!”
When the kids looked to us for confirmation, neither of us could find fault with the beery statement we had just heard/smelled, so we added our parental seal of approval and codified it into law.
Years later, it isn’t the picture postcard weather, the near misses with foul balls, or even the wonderful Red Sox win that stayed with us from that glorious day. When we look back and reminisce about the kid’s first opening day at Fenway, it’s the intimate way in which the law was stated by that blue-collar sage that the kids invariably mention first.
OK, I have a confession to make.
A couple of weeks ago when I put treppenwitz into reruns (ostensibly because I was on vacation)… I wasn’t really on vacation. I was writing as usual, and tossing the results into 'the vault'.
However, I was on vacation over the past two weeks… and really had every intention of posting fairly regularly during that time from my supply of unpublished stuff that was squirreled away in ‘the vault’.
This little deception begs two questions:
1. Why the deception?
2. If I had stuff squirreled away… why haven’t I published for almost a week?
Good questions both!
First, I intentionally lied for the simple reason that I have no idea who the majority of my readers are. Unlike bloggers/journalers who write anonymously, I have made little attempt at anonymity. Therefore, I didn’t want to broadcast to the entire civilized world that we were leaving our house unattended for two weeks. After the break-in we had a few months ago, I wasn’t taking any chances.
The second question has a couple of unrelated answers.
The easiest answer to question '2' is that several otherwise wonderful entries died on the vine. By this I mean that by the time they would have been published… world or personal events occurred which made the original subject matter irrelevant. Any columnist who writes for publication days, or even weeks, in advance can sympathize with this phenomenon. It sucks, but if you aren’t always publishing freshly baked stuff, you risk having to toss out the occasional batch of perfectly good words.
The more involved answer to question '2' stems from the fact that I was distracted for a little while by the odd coincidence of my elderly father and my infant son occupying beds (well my son was technically in a crib) 30 feet apart from one another in the same emergency room… both with freakishly high fevers. The outcome on both counts was just fine… but I’ll admit to being a little scared as I ran some late night laps around the ER of a Cape Cod Hospital. For several days afterwards, I stayed away from the computer and spent a lot of time fussing over these two important people in my life.
More on this little drama in one of my next entries.
Anyway, we are back in Israel and settling (as always, a very poor choice of words) into familiar routines.
The kids are getting ready to start school in the morning, Zahava is creating lesson plans for the graphic design class she is teaching this year, and I’m… back at work.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
Out of sight (site) but not out of mind
Sorry I haven't posted since Tuesday. In addition to doing a bit of globe-trotting with my family, we have also gotten up close and personal with a hospital emergency room (yes, Yonah is going to be fine...now!).
On the up side, we got to spend a pleasant evening with one of my favorite journalers and her significant other. Stay tuned for updates on both stories.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
My blogroll thinks I’m gay!
Does anyone remember that article (from the Wall Street Journal) entitled, “My TiVo thinks I’m gay”? You can google the article… but for those who are short on time, here’s a quick synopsis (which falls well short of the witty original):
TiVo, for anyone just emerging from a long stay in a monastery, is a digital recording device that one hooks up to a television. It will record anything you tell it too (without commercials!), but the nitty-gritty of the article revolves around TiVo’s somewhat disquieting ability to discern your viewing preferences from the things you ask it to record. I say disquieting because TiVo uses those perceived preferences to thoughtfully record other stuff it ‘thinks’ you might enjoy. The article talks about how one owner’s TiVo started recording shows that clearly indicated it thought that he was gay. To compensate, the owner started recording programs about war and other ‘manly’ subjects. His TiVo then began overcompensating, thinking his tastes were more in line with those of a WWII Nazi official. In the parlance of show biz; Wackiness ensued!
Why, you may be asking yourself, am I telling you about this?
I’m sharing today because I recently reviewed my blogroll (which regular readers know as my ‘Good Readin’ list) and noticed an interesting trend.
Of the 40 blogs and journals that I currently read daily (or at least as often as they publish), 16 are almost exclusively about Jewish/Israeli topics... wih another two or three that deal with Jewish Israei topics on a fairly regular basis. That leaves roughly half of my blogroll about things other than Israeli/Jewish topics. I like that my blogroll is split fairly evenly between Jewish/Israeli topics and 'others'. Based on the law of averages, one should be able to assume that the 'others' would be a fairly representative cross-section of society... but if one did... one would be wrong.
Through no conscious effort on my part, it has turned out that four of the wonderful 'other' blogs are written by openly gay writers, and another two, I’ve slowly become convinced, are written by ‘closet cases’ married to ‘beards’.
While some of these writers may occasionally bring up subjects such as Same Sex Marriage… none of them are what I would call ‘issue driven’ (Heck, many of the 'hetero-writers' on my blogroll have weighed in on SSM). In fact, with a few of these writers, it took me several weeks of regular reading to pick up on their ‘orientation’ (I know, I know… I've been told that I have arguably the world’s worst ‘gaydar’).
I’m not telling you about this to show how open minded I am, or to set up some a Seinfeld-like punch line (“…not that there’s anything wrong with that.”). I just find it intriguing that my blogroll has evolved the way it has. What usually happens is that every few months I delete one or two blogs that I no longer find compelling… and at about the same rate, I add a link to one or two blogs that I have recently ‘discovered’. In short, the development of my ‘Good Readin’ list has been glacial in both its slowness, and lack of intent.
Let’s review, shall we: I’m a straight, married, father of 3… I’m an observant Jew, living in a ‘settlement’ on the ‘West Bank’… and yet, like that TiVO owner, I seem to have a cumulative body of evidence (somewhere between 10-15% of my blogroll consists of gay writers) which might suggest that perhaps my interests are, um, not so typical of 'guys like me'.
Although it’s an imperfect analogy, the ratio of gay bloggers on my good readin' list would be akin to an English Literature professor suddenly noticing that a good portion of the books on his night table are about quantum physics. When that day arrives, he has to scratch his head and ask himself (as I am now) how he hadn't noticed the trend.
I had hoped that by writing this post I might stumble upon some hint as to how things developed the way they have... but no such luck.
I'm curious to hear from any of you if your blogroll or bookmarks suggests some interest or trend of which you were previously unaware.
Monday, August 23, 2004
For those who have never served in the Israeli military, the title of today’s post probably sounds like a made-up word… a nonsense syllable one might use to make a baby laugh. But to generations of men and women who have worn the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces, the word loof conjures up sensory memories ranging from ecstasy to despair.
You see, loof is roughly the Israeli equivalent of English ‘bully beef’ or American Spam®. It really defies conventional description… but because I need to give you some idea of what it is in order to continue writing about it, let’s simply call it canned, preserved, seasoned, mystery meat.
Granted, since all rations given to Israeli soldiers need to be kosher, one can narrow down the main ingredient of loof to a fairly narrow segment of the animal kingdom. But the official list of ingredients seems to be more of a starting place for speculation than an assumption of fact.
For instance, according to the list of ingredients on the side of the can, ‘Beef’ is loof’s primary ingredient. This seems to be about as intentionally vague as saying that the main ingredient in a particular brand of hot dogs is ‘Beef’. Many pundits have speculated that the odd bits of the cow that the hot dog makers won’t accept find their way into loof. I think (hope) that this is just soldier humor… but I’ll save you the investigative trip to the slaughterhouse if we can all agree, for the sake of argument, that the term ‘beef’ covers an impressive range of meat products/ and byproducts… as well as a multitude of sins.
OK, now that we have a working knowledge of what loof is (as well as a hazy sense of what it is not), let’s talk a bit about how it is found in its natural habitat.
Loof is most commonly found in cans. For some odd reason, the net weight listed on these cans is 310 grams (just under 11 ounces). Why, you are probably asking, isn’t it packaged in a nice round weight… say 300, or even 500 grams? Nobody seems to know. One of the prevailing theories is that this odd weight is a resigned nod to the possibility that some extra scraps of ‘SOMETHING’ will inevitably find their way into the can along with the intended 300-gram serving.
All in all, the weight issue is probably best left to the side along with the issue of ingredients.
So, having decided to ignore the content and volume of loof, we proceed directly to actually opening the can. It is worth noting that there seems to be a peculiar fixation among present and former soldiers with regard to the ritual surrounding the opening of the can. For some reason, there is even something approaching superstition surrounding the cleanliness of the can itself. By this I mean that one is not supposed to wipe off the can before opening it. A dusty, mud-encrusted can of loof seems to be preferable to a shiny new can fresh from the box. Don’t ask me why. All I got whenever I repeatedly asked that very question was the classic Israeli shrug that would infuriate even a Frenchman.
Once you’ve used your pocket can opener to open the top of the dirty can… STOP! Don’t throw out that lid… and whatever you do, don’t put away the can opener… you’re not done yet. You now have to open the bottom of the can. Don’t worry about any juice leaking out. Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing in that can which isn’t solid at room temperature.
Now that you’ve opened and set aside the top of the can, and opened (but not removed) the bottom, you need to locate a piece of cardboard. Yes, as with the can, there seems to be a preference for dusty or dirty cardboard. [insert infuriating Israeli shrug here] Now, lay the can on its side, and begin pushing the loof out onto the cardboard by applying gentle pressure to the bottom of the can. As the pinkish ‘meat product’ begins to emerge from the top of the can, use the top lid of the can as a knife to cut the loof into slices.
I’ve had extensive conversations with current and former soldiers about the finer points of preparing and serving loof. As with most issues presented to a random sampling of Israelis, there is precious little consensus. Recipes and tastes seem inseparable from one’s ethnic background. Particular army units have cherished traditions surrounding ways for preparing loof, but the most common serving tips include frying chunks of loof with scrambled eggs… putting slices of loof directly on bread with the condiment(s) of choice… and of course, just passing around the the slices 'in bianco' on the dusty cardboard tray for people to grab with their fingers.
Ironically, my first exposure to loof came when I was in the U.S. Navy. A significant supply of the stuff was part of a shipment of Israeli battle rations (manot krav) that mysteriously showed up just before my ship was about to depart for a 6 month western pacific deployment (WESTPAC). I’m still not clear if it was arranged by the Jewish Chaplain in Pearl Harbor, or perhaps by the military’s Jewish Welfare Board (JWB)… but because I had recently become observant, somebody saw to it that an enormous supply of Israeli army food found its way to the dock in Pearl Harbor Hawaii… and onto my ship.
At the time, my Hebrew was almost non-existent, so opening a can from my Israeli ‘stash’ was often a game of ‘I wonder what the hell this is going to be. However, one of the words I quickly memorized was loof. It was fantastic! For as long as that supply lasted, I enjoyed it plain… on sandwiches… and with eggs. But, for some reason I quickly forgot about it once it was gone.
It wasn’t until I started swapping military experiences with the soldiers who join me on my Sunday morning commute that the topic of loof came up. I hadn’t thought about loof in years… but suddenly I couldn’t stop thinking about it! I guess they noticed the look of longing in my eyes because recently, a few of ‘my soldiers’ have started bringing home a can or two of loof when they know they are going to be riding with me. I can’t for the life of me figure out why someone doesn't market a civilian version of this stuff in supermarkets! It’s not like it wouldn’t have universal name recognition!!!
Well, until somebody has that particular marketing epiphany, I am hording my little stash of loof for those nights when everyone else is out of the house, and I can open up a can and take that sensory walk down memory lane.
Friday, August 20, 2004
Playing the cards we were dealt
The title of today’s post occurred to me while I was getting all of our documents together in preparation for our recent trip to visit family in the states. Our five U.S. Passports and five Israeli Passports were fanned out on the bed like a couple of poker hands, and there in the middle, like the ‘pot’ in a high stakes game, was Yonah’s very official looking 'Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States'.
I began thinking that just as in a hand of poker, we were dealt most of our ‘cards’ in life at the very start. Our U.S. citizenship was the initial ‘hand’ we received for the price of our parent’s ante. Then, as the game progressed, we tossed in a couple of cards (proximity to family & familiarity of American culture) and in return, the dealer dealt us our Israeli citizenship.
Up until this point, I had assumed that the game was pretty easy and that I knew all the rules. However, sitting there on my bed with those potentially winning hands in front of me (have I stretched this metaphor to the breaking point yet?), I realized that an important word, deliberately missing from the certificate in the ‘pot’, was perhaps the best indication of how serious the game had become... and how I was just starting to understand the rules.
You see, according to the U.S. Department of State, our son was born in a city that belongs to no country.
On his very official looking 'Report of Birth Abroad’ certificate, it says he was born in Jerusalem, ___________. That’s right, there is a big blank space where the name of the country is supposed to be printed!
No, this was not a clerical oversight.
For years the U.S. State Department has pursued a consistently pro-Arab policy regardless of which way the political winds have blown in the executive and legislative branches. Despite U.S. legislation (which has been signed into law, officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel), the U.S. Embassy inexplicably remains in Tel Aviv, and official U.S. documents regarding Jerusalem deliberately omit any reference to its being the capital, or even part, of Israel.
One can’t even make the argument that the consular staff chose to leave out the word Israel on the registration certificate because of the issue of East Jerusalem (which was captured in the Six Day War and subsequently annexed) vs. West Jerusalem (which has always been in Israeli hands), since the Hospital where Yonah was born (Sha’are Tzedek) is located in uncontested West Jerusalem!
Just as the words, “In the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven…” in the closing paragraph of the U.S. Constitution fly in the face of the separation of Church & State established earlier in the document… so too, the absence of the word ‘Israel’ in Yonah’s ‘Registration of a U.S. Citizen’s Birth Abroad’ illustrates that the laws and actions of the U.S. government are not always in perfect agreement.
Whatever... no big surprise there, and no real chance of a policy change in the near future. You see the U.S. is deep in the silly season... busy trying to elect the man who will do the least damage to country. Good luck with all that (for what it's worth, Zahava and I will vote absentee).
What most voters don't stop to consider is that the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November will probably have only the most superficial affect on the policies of the U.S. Department of State. However, it's nice to know that regardless of whether the Democrats or Republicans prevail... come January 20th someone will take the oath of office while resting his right hand on the only document I need to prove to the world that Jerusalem was, and always will be, the birthright, possession and capital of the Jewish people.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
A fellow journaler recently made the observation that my journal tends to be a little… um… 'chaste'. Yeah... that's the word.
I’ll admit it, treppenwitz is a family establishment, and I usually edit my expletives, and pull many a well-deserved punch (and no, I’m not nearly this PC in real life).
However, I recently stumbled across a solution for those who feel they are not getting their recommended daily allowance (RDA) of ‘potty mouth’ when they come to here.
If you click on this link, you will be able to see the PG-13 version of treppenwitz.
Don’t say you weren’t warned!
To warp your own site, or view other web sites through the prism of this helpful tool, go here and after entering the URL of your choice, select one of the ‘languages’. The ‘language’ I selected for today's post was ‘pimp’.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Amongst the flurry of e-mails that have surrounded the preparations for the up-coming Anglo (English speaking) blogger get-together here in Israel, a term caught my attention, and has sort of held it ever since.
The term is ‘Blog Crush’.
In the context that it was used (Hat tip to Bloghead via Dave), the term referred to the infatuation that several female bloggers seemed to be exhibiting towards one of the male bloggers (no, [sniff] not me) in the group. The infatuation, or ‘crush’ seemed to be purely platonic in nature (I'm assuming, since the women involved are married with families), but the concept of a blog crush made me start to think about my behavior and feelings towards the bloggers and journalers that I follow and admire.
For the purposes of this discussion, it is probably wise to differentiate between two distinct, but sometimes overlapping concepts:
Blog Envy – When a blogger views another blog with envy due to its high traffic, killer design, technical prowess, brilliant insights or some combination of thereof. At its worst, blog envy can sometimes result in poor blog-image, and even the inability to write (blogger’s block). At its best, it can inspire a writer to take his/her blog to the next level.
Blog Crush – When a reader begins to have frequent thoughts about what it would be like to meet and befriend one or more of his/her favorite bloggers/journalers. This can be accompanied by a growing loyalty to the blogger’s views, politics and even tastes. A fully developed blog crush can even result in an irrational desire to defend a blogger when a derogatory or rude comment is posted on their blog.
With rare exceptions (like the upcoming Anglo-Israeli Blogger get-together) most bloggers and journalers never meet their readers, or one another. Everything this odd global community of writers and readers knows about one another comes from a fairly heavily edited version of the writer’s (and commenter’s) real selves.
What we know about the people we read and admire (and what they know about us) is almost certainly the ‘Reader's Digest' version of reality. Anyone who spends any time on line reading blogs and journals knows this. Yet, when we begin collecting favorite reads for our blogrolls, some of them inevitably become objects of blog envy… and others become full-fledged blog crushes.
The more we read of our favorite writers, the more we like them, and imagine we know them. Thinking about the people on my ‘Good Readin’ list, I can honestly say that I would jump at the opportunity to spend an afternoon drinking coffee or beer with any one of them. I feel like I know almost enough about them to already consider myself their friend. But that important word ‘almost’ is what keeps a blog crush from becoming something unhealthy.
Earlier this year, my blog was mentioned in an article in one of Israel’s national newspapers. The resulting tidal wave of traffic included a couple of people who's attention made me a tad uncomfortable… and one woman who went way past ‘uncomfortable’ and forged on ahead into “[panicked stage whisper]:The calls are coming from inside the house!!!” Luckily, either she found someone else to stalk, or the blog crush wore off when she figured out what a troll I really am.
Also, just because I find a blogger infinitely fascinating doesn’t mean they feel the same way about me. For that matter, I'm fairly certain that several of the people on my 'Good Readin' list are blissfully unaware that I read them. That’s fine, too. I’m not one of those people who would accost Courtney Cox on the street with, “Hi! How are you? It’s me, David… You know… that was me watching you like, every Thursday night for like, 10 years!”
Clearly knowing about a person is a far cry from actually knowing them. I mean, it probably wasn’t very long before Billy Joel and Christy Brinkley stopped waking up in the morning thinking, “Holy sh*t, I’m really married to a superstar!”, and started thinking, “Dammit… That son-of-a-b*tch left the cap off the toothpaste again!”. When the mighty fall… they generally fall the full flight of stairs.
Does that mean I wouldn’t want to meet the bloggers I read (or those who read mine)? No, of course not. Like I said… I’d jump at the chance to meet any one of them! But that doesn’t mean it isn’t tempting… very tempting, to preserve that impossibly high level of esteem that can only come of not meeting them.
I’m sure one of the byproducts of this up-coming Anglo-Israeli Bloggerfest will be that my mental image of these talented people… the wise and witty narrative voices that I hear in my head when I read them… will be forever banished, leaving behind the imperfection of reality.
And I guess I’m ok with that.
After all, one day very soon some of the people who read treppenwitz (and who might have a little blog crush of their own) will discover for themselves that inside my Doc Martins… are feet of clay.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Chat List Fun
‘Chat List’ fun
Here in beautiful Efrat we have something called a chat list. It is one of those ‘Yahoo Groups’ where people in our town who subscribe share information about births, deaths, weddings, engagements, things for sale, things to borrow, things being sought, rides being offered, rides being sought, school bake sales, pick-up softball games, weather forecasts… in short, if you wait long enough, nearly anything one could possible want to know or find will eventually show up on the list.
Today as I was going through my inbox, deleting nearly everything from the chat list, my mind registered a problem a fraction of a second after I had dispatched the offending message to my ‘Deleted Items’ folder. A couple of clicks retrieved a Chat List e-mail entitled:
“Looking for a play group for babies 3-6 months”.
I’m sorry, I gotta call bullsh*t on that one! An aggregation of amoebas wearing baby gap clothing, who don’t do much more than eat, drink and defecate (the latter, inexplicably, in far greater quantities than the sum of the first two) is not a ‘play group’!
I had to physically restrain myself from clicking the 'respond' button. Good thing, too… because this is a small community, and my response would not have been charitable (or well received). In our home office, Zahava's computer workstation sits right next to mine... and on more than one occassion, my response to something idiotic on the chat list has elicited a sharp intake of breath from my wife, followed by the words, "Oh David... do you think it was a good idea posting such a sarcastic response?"
She's usually right about these things. My knee-jerk reply to the 'Play Group' post would have been something like:
“Hi… I saw your posting and was wondering…why not organize a ‘play group’ for your lawn furniture while you’re at it… that could be fun too, no?”
Don’t misunderstand me… I love our precious baby, and am convinced he is gifted beyond all measure. But it would never have occurred to me to place him on the floor in the general vicinity of a few other babies of approximately the same age and fecal output, and call it a 'play group'. That’s crazy talk!
Let's call it what it really is; New Parent Therapy.
This little bleat for help was actually saying that somewhere in our little town there is a newly minted parent who desperately needs the scheduled companionship of other similarly clueless new parents for an hour or three every couple of days. Right? Am I getting warm?
No harm in that… perfectly understandable!
I could see where the camaraderie of an intimate group of new mommies and daddies (let’s not be sexist) could wipe that slightly frantic look off the face of even the most colicky baby’s parent. There is something reassuring about knowing that other people are functioning on as little sleep as you… and that you’re not the only negligent parent whose baby scratched the hell out of him/herself because you went eight whole hours without clipping your little darling’s nails!
Of course, regular get-togethers of this sort never have much staying power. The event that inevitably heralds the demise of these little groups is the first hint that one of the little drooling lumps on the play mat can do ‘something' - 'anything' - that the other little drooling lumps are not presently capable of doing. From that point on, the get-togethers become ever-more-vicious sessions of ‘Can You Top This?’
“Did I tell you… my Jake is rolling over by himself!”
“How wonderful for you! Jared’s been doing that for a little while now, so we’ve started putting up gates near all the staircases. I can give you the name of the store where we bought ours."
“You did exactly the right thing! Last week when Gabriella started sitting up, we felt it was time to lower her crib mattress so she wouldn’t be tempted to climb out and hurt herself.”
“Oh, that reminds me… did I tell you all how Maya's potty training is going?”
…until three weeks after that initial moment when that first precocious lump raised a dimpled hand out of the primordial soup of the ‘activity mat’ … the last two parents still stubbornly attending the ‘play group’ find themselves standing toe-to-toe, nearly shrieking to gain the other’s attention… all the while waving applications for Ivy League Universities in each other's face.
As I continue deleting my way down the list of e-mails from the Chat List, I wondered (as I often do)… ‘why exactly did I subscribe to this thing?’
Sunday, August 15, 2004
The stars and the moon
[This is it... the last of the reruns (this time around, anyway). Starting first thing in the morning, there will be a brand, spanking new journal entry! For the first week or two, I may not post daily... but as I get back in the writing zone, things should fall back into the old familiar rhythm. I'm looking forward to continuing the conversation! Today's rerun was originally posted on May 5th, 2004.]
Last night provided a nice opportunity to take my eyes (and mind) off of ‘our world’ here in the Middle East, and focus (for a change) on things far off in the distance, and also right under my nose.
During the last couple of years that we lived in Connecticut, our (big) kids became old enough to be woken up at night for a ‘once-a-year treat’: viewing the Leonid Meteor Shower.
Shortly before going to bed, I would drag our big wooden Adirondack chair onto the back deck, throw a half dozen blankets onto it, and then set my alarm for whatever pre-dawn hour the meteor shower was predicted to be at its peak.
When the clock radio dragged me out of my coma, I would go about boiling water, filling a big hot water bottle, brewing tea, and then pull my sleep-tousled wife and kids out onto the deck. We’d all sit smooshed on that chair, with the hot water bottle radiating between us, sharing a couple of mugs of tea, with the wool blankets piled high. We’d watch the celestial fireworks for 30 or 40 minutes (usually the time it took for the kids to doze off), and then I’d carry them back to their beds.
Over breakfast in the morning, neither kid had a clear recollection of the entire event, but both remembered snuggling under blankets…the smell of warm tea on the frigid night air…the occasional flash of a ‘shooting star’…The good stuff.
Last night there was a total lunar eclipse here in Israel. I didn’t tell the kids about it in advance (for fear they wouldn’t go to sleep), but once the earth’s shadow began to nibble away at the moon I went upstairs to wake them.
I’d forgotten how deeply they sleep…it took nearly five minutes of kisses and gentle nibbling to get either of them to respond. Ariella took me by surprise by groggily asking me, in Hebrew, whether she was late for school. It took her a few minutes to unconsciously lapse back into English, and I’m fairly certain she was unaware of the switch. I’ve suspected for a while that the kids have been dreaming (at least occasionally) in Hebrew…Neat!
Since the moon was clearly visible from Ariella’s bedroom window, we all sat on her bed, wrapped in a blanket and watched the moon being slowly consumed. After 10 minutes (and still nearly half an hour from totality), I realized that both kids were falling asleep on my lap (taking up MUCH more room than they used to), so Zahava and I tucked them back into their beds. Gilad has grown so much this year that Zahava couldn't lift him, so he was guided back to his room under his own power.
As usual, this morning the kids were a little fuzzy about the specifics of last night’s astronomy lesson, but they both remembered the good stuff; the kisses, the family snuggle, and the peek at the moon with a big bite taken out…Enough that there is some touchstone connecting their old life to the new. It also reassured us all (I’m not sure who needed it more - the kids or the grown-ups) that things are right with our world…A world where the stars and moon still give private performances while we snuggle together for warmth.
Friday, August 13, 2004
Everything looks better by candlelight
[In case it wasn't clear... treppenwitz is in reruns this week, and last. This was originally posted on Apr. 25th, 2004.]
I think that most people would agree with that statement.
Some people might say that the only real difference between decent cafeteria food and restaurant fare is the presentation and lighting. I know from personal experience that my clumsy efforts in the kitchen are dramatically improved when served by candlelight.
The same can be said about the written word. A paragraph embossed in a leather-bound volume has considerably more gravitas than the same words printed in a spiral-bound notebook. One is classic literature…the other, homework.
Well, I finally got tired of looking at the tired old, generic-looking, page banner on my site. Not only did it mark me as a rank amateur (which I am), but it also bathed the writing beneath it in a pale, unappealing fluorescent light. The way I saw it, the writing wasn’t gonna get much better, so it was time to turn out the lights and bring out some fancy candles.
The snazzy new page banner you see here at treppenwitz, was inspired by a couple of unrelated things:
First, the banner obviously had to suggest the concept of treppenwitz…you know, the perfect retort that occurs to you only as you are leaving on the stairs. I didn’t know how to visually suggest this concept, other than to have someone stand on the stairs. That was the sum total of my big idea. Aren’t you glad you weren’t the artist given this assignment?
Another, more subtle influence entered, exited, and then re-entered, my life quite by chance.
Years ago, long before I had even heard the word treppenwitz, I saw a picture in a social studies book, taken in1939 by Marion Post Wolcott entitled, "Negro Going in Colored Entrance of Movie House, Belzoni, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi."
Something about this picture captivated my attention. Maybe it was the stoop-shouldered posture of the silhouetted man…or perhaps the battered fedora he wore…or maybe the insulting, matter-of-factness of the signage indicating who went where. In any event, I folded over that textbook page and found myself repeatedly drawn to that picture. Long after the social studies book had gone to that place where social studies books go, that image remained burned into my brain.
When I ‘discovered’ the word treppenwitz, I immediately thought of this picture because of the common element of stairs.
Anyhoo…I wanted my talented, graphic designer, spouse to design me up a new page banner, so I downloaded a couple of ‘gigs’ worth of pictures of stairs, staircases, and people on stairs from the Internet. Lo and behold, don’t you know one of the first pictures I stumbled across was my old favorite!
Last night, after I handed over my hoard of stair-images to Zahava and gave her a sketch of what I had in mind, I left her to do her magic. I was a little disappointed since I figured there wasn’t much she could do with the picture I liked (the guy was walking up the stairs and not down), but I included it just the same.
Over the years Zahava and I have developed a finely tuned partnership when it comes to design projects: I give her a tremendous amount of detail, input and direction, (including colors, images, shading, etc)…and she promptly ignores all of it in favor of what I really needed in the first place. This project was no exception.
Not only did it come out better than I could have ever imagined, but she also (without my having even mentioned my long-standing attachment) included the central character from my beloved picture!
This, boys and girls, is why she is a sought-after graphic designer, and I’m…well, I’m not.
She whipped this little baby out in less than ten minutes while simultaneously cooking dinner, nursing the baby, checking her e-mail, helping the big kids with their homework and solving the New York Times crossword puzzle (sorry Beth…not in ink)!
I bow before her designerness.
And as an added bonus…perhaps my writing will look a little more appealing now that it is bathed in the film noir-like glow of this deep blue, candlelit banner.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Holy Land
[In case it wasn't clear... treppenwitz is in reruns this week, and last. This was originally posted on Apr. 23rd, 2004.]
Hitchhiking, once a popular, carefree, youthful pastime in the U.S. (and now seemingly the exclusive domain of vagrants, runaways, and axe-murderers), is all but gone from the American landscape. However, it is an accepted form of alternative transportation for a very wide cross-section of the population here in Israel.
Lest the reader think I lack the credentials to make a proper comparison of American and Israeli hitchhiking techniques, allow me to assure you that I have more than a passing acquaintance with the subject. You see, after high school I decided to postpone my university studies and join the navy. As if this alone weren’t enough to kill my parents, I also elected to spend a good part of that summer hitchhiking around California. [Yes, I am well aware that the karma debt collector will be showing up on my doorstep just about the time my kids reach their stupid years]
In Israel, the first thing that strikes the uninitiated observer is the sheer number of people who hitchhike (called ‘tremping’ in the local vernacular). Nearly every bus stop and rural intersection has a small crowd of people waiting patiently for rides. The second thing that jumps out at you here is the variety of people that tremp. Everybody does it; Young kids, senior citizens, men, women, professionals, students…and of course soldiers.
Technically it is against army regulations for soldiers to hitchhike, and they can get in quite a bit of trouble if caught doing so (because there have been several cases of terrorists kidnapping and murdering military personnel). However, despite the prohibition, the army requires soldiers to take a course on how to safely hitchhike. This is a very typical Israeli concept…prohibiting something, while planning for the eventuality that many people will not abide by the prohibition. Go figure.
Another marked difference between Israeli and non-Israeli hitchhiking are the hand signals. I grew up with the understanding that the proper hitchhiking posture was to stand facing traffic with your thumb extended into the roadway. In Israel, I was surprised to see that they stand with their index finger pointed outwards, and slightly down, as though arrogantly saying, “I want you to stop right here”. Of course, an Israeli seeing an American hitchhiker might think he/she was either doing a Fonzie impersonation, or giving all the passing drivers a goofy ‘thumbs up’ sign. Ah yes, so fun to judge and ridicule cultural differences.
There are also a few variations and nuances to the Israeli hand signs and hitching techniques. For instance, if you are traveling a short distance – say to the next intersection or town - you would point emphatically at the ground in front of you. If your desired destination required a turn early in the trip, you would point in that direction.
However, my favorite twist is the way in which the entire Israeli hitchhiking transaction is controlled by the passenger rather than the driver.
When a car pulls over to offer a ride, it is the driver that is required to state a destination through the open window, not the potential passenger. The assumption is that the driver has seen the hitchhiker and wouldn’t have stopped unless prepared to offer a ride. However, the person standing on the side of the road needs a few moments to size up the driver and decide if he/she wants to accept the ride. If the driver seems safe (always a value judgment and not-so-subtle exercise in profiling) and the destination coincides with the hitcher’s needs, the ride is accepted. If anything about the driver makes the hitcher uncomfortable, or if the destination is not helpful, a simple “thank you…have a nice trip” is offered and nobody is offended. It’s really quite logical if you think about it.
Once a ride is offered there are a whole bunch of unwritten rules to guide the conduct of passengers and drivers. For instance, even after the ride is accepted, the hitcher is generally under no obligation to disclose a destination until the car is within site of it. Again, this keeps the control firmly in the passenger’s hands. If anything about the ride makes the hitchhiker nervous, a simple, “would you please let me off here” is all that is necessary to quickly bring the deal to a close. Something that also took some getting used to on my part was that, in many cases the accepted way of telling the driver that the desired destination is approaching is to unbuckle one’s seatbelt. This sudden clicking of the buckle made me very nervous the first few times it happened, (having been brought up with the rule that seatbelts were fastened until the car comes to a full stop), but I’ve been told by friends that this is the way things are done, so I’ve accepted it.
I remember in my hitchhiking days in the states, it would be considered strange, or even suspicious, for a hitchhiker to not offer some account of himself (or otherwise engage the driver in some sort of small talk). In Israel, the act of hitching is so commonplace that talking is usually frowned upon (unless the driver begins the conversation). Soldiers, especially those returning home from the field, have their own unique way of observing the no-talking rule: they fall immediately and profoundly asleep. For this reason, it is sometimes appropriate to break with etiquette and ask a soldier’s destination once the vehicle is moving so that the driver knows in advance where to stop.
Another modern wrinkle added to the driver/passenger relationship is the cell phone. Everyone has a cell phone here so invariably a phone will ring, or a call will have to be placed to tell family or friends that you are on your way. The rule of thumb is that one should speak quietly and not stay on the phone for an extended period of time. A close friend of mine has actually chastised passengers who were rude enough to conduct loud or extended cell phone conversations in her car.
Seating arrangements are also the exclusive choice of the passenger. Women, especially those who will be the only passenger in the car of a male driver, often elect to sit in the back seat so as to assume a modicum of control, and to provide a good view of everything around her.
I’m sure there are other subtleties that I have missed (feel free to share your own experiences and knowledge on the subject), but that should be sufficient for anyone interested in offering or accepting a ride here in the holy land.
As always…don’t thank me, I’m a giver.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
The Smoking Gun
[In case it wasn't clear... treppenwitz is in reruns this week, and last. This was originally posted on Apr. 18th, 2004.]
Despite the fact that I am 42 years old and have a family of my own, I still find myself seeking my parent’s validation – or at least tacit approval – of the choices I make in my life. To a large extent, the social conscience and values I possess, I received as part of the liberal, Jewish, suburban American upbringing they provided. Though I have developed my own views and am a thinking adult/parent, I still find myself occasionally wondering WWMADD (what would Mom and Dad do) in any given situation.
I bring this up because, as happy as I am to have my parents staying with us for a few weeks, there was a secret that I kept from them, and was completely unsure of how they would react to it’s revelation.
I own a gun.
More than that, I carry a gun during every waking hour of every day. My daily commute takes me past several Arab villages (where passing motorists have been attacked), and recent events have proven that even at home one is not entirely safe from terrorism. Also, Israel’s highest law enforcement official has publicly asked that those who are licensed to carry weapons do so at all times.
If you are a Republican or an NRA member (I know…redundant) you are probably scratching your head and asking, “What’s the problem?”
The problem is that I grew up in a household where perhaps the only civil liberty one was not encouraged to exercise was the right to keep and bear arms. If any of us had been arrested at a demonstration, or for some sort of civil disobedience, or for doing one of a hundred other things allowed by the constitution, my parents would have been proud of us. But Guns were always considered out-of-bounds…something that was exclusively the province of law enforcement officers and right wing nuts.
During the week before my parent’s arrival my wife asked me how I intended to broach the subject of my gun. This is where the child-parent struggle takes place. Part of me silently agreed with her that I should probably prepare them in some way so we wouldn’t have a ‘scene’. But another part of me was saying that, damn it, I was a grown-up and they would have to accept the choices I had made in my life. If I had decided to start smoking, or had gotten a tattoo, or voted Republican, they would have had to just accept it (no, I've never done any of those things). So how was this any different?
In the end, I opted to just say nothing and see if they mentioned it (I know…pretty mature, huh?).
They didn’t mention it at the airport, even though we had to make a detour through the El Al security office (where I had checked my pistol). In the days following their arrival, and throughout all the touring and time spent at home, they never mentioned it.
I imagine that the first time an adult smokes a cigarette or takes a drink in front of his/her parents (or does anything else that a parent might disapprove of), there is a tension in the air caused by the generations being slowly pulled apart. Although I have never smoked a cigarette, and my parents have long known my fondness for bourbon and red wine (not together, of course), I imagined I could feel their combined attention focused on the butt of my pistol each time my back was turned to them. However, for almost a week – not a word was mentioned about the gun. It was like this big pink elephant sitting in the room that nobody could mention.
In the end, it was a simple comment that Zahava made that ended up broaching the subject.
We were all squeezed into the kitchen for dinner one evening and I was standing at the sink washing some leftover lunch dishes. As Zahava passed behind me she accidentally banged her hand on the gun and let out a delicate exclamation (not printable here). Almost at once my mom asked if I always wore a gun. I explained that yes, as a result of the security situation here, I felt it was the responsible thing to do. My dad asked if it worried me to have a gun in the house with the kids. I explained that, not only had I had a LONG talk with both the kids about guns and their inherent dangers, but that when I was sleeping or showering (the only time it was not physically on my person) it was locked in our safe.
And that was that.
Perhaps they still remembered the terrorist attack that had taken place in front of the Jerusalem pizza parlor at which I had worked during my student days at Hebrew University. Two Palestinians had walked into the center of one of Jerusalem’s busiest streets and had begun calmly lobbing hand grenades at the crowds of shoppers on either sidewalk. Within seconds both of them were killed, not by policemen or soldiers, but by armed civilians. The double miracle is that not only did the terrorists fail to kill anybody (although several people were wounded by grenade shrapnel), but also nobody was wounded or killed (besides the bad guys) in the civilian crossfire from opposite sides of the street! My parents watching the news back in 1985 had recognized the front of ‘my’ pizza parlor, and had been very relieved to hear I was unhurt.
Or, it could simply be that they have a better ability to grasp the ‘big picture’ than I ever gave them credit for.
In any event, they haven’t mentioned it since.
Almost as if they were given some sort of cosmic follow-up exam, one of the guests we invited for tea & cake today arrived carrying an M-16 assault rifle. Both of my parents did a quick double-take, but acted as though it were the most natural thing in the world. After we had seen our guests out, my mom asked quietly, “Can I ask, why your friend was carrying a machine gun?”. I explained that he was part of our town’s anti-terror response unit (every community has one) and he is required to carry it while on call. Once again, information that I figured would trip my parent’s circuit breakers was absorbed and accepted in a very matter-of-fact manner.
Mark Twain once said:
"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned."
Perhaps my parents had learned a thing or two since I had grown up (or more correctly, perhaps I should finally have realized that they have been pretty sharp all along).
Five follow-up facts for the curious:
1. While I had plenty of firearms training when I was in the Navy, I don’t enjoy either the idea or the current reality of carrying a gun. I never imagined it would be glamorous or empowering…and it is neither.
2. Guns are not art. While there is an entire genre of magazines devoted to the detailed, shiny, intricate results of the gunsmith’s ‘art’, the real issue that seems to escape all of them is that guns have one purpose – to kill. I think there would be a few less deaths in the world if more people stopped ignoring that little fact. I chose the ugliest, simplest, ‘safest’ gun currently available (a Glock) in a caliber large enough to be lethal (9mm), but less likely to pass through walls and kill bystanders (e.g. my kids).
3. I don’t trust my kids (or their friends). I love them dearly and would stand in traffic for them, but I know that kids explore. The ‘talk’ that I told my parents about mainly reinforced the fact that the kids were never to touch a gun, period. That said, I know that kids don’t listen. By the time I was 8 I knew the contents of every drawer and closet in my house…especially those belonging to my parents. I wasn’t a bad kid, and my kids aren’t bad…which is why I will never put them in a position to make the potentially fatal decision to play with a gun or not. My gun is on my person…or it is in the safe, period.
4. In the states, getting a gun license means taking a safety course (once) and based upon that fleeting exposure to common sense, one can renew a gun license indefinately for the rest of one’s natural life. You can maintain a gun license longer than a Florida driver's license! In Israel, one has to undergo an extensive background check, and then every year, in order to renew the license you have to again attend a safety class and then prove to an examiner that you can still hit a target 50 TIMES IN A ROW!
5. Between private gun ownership and active & reserve army duty, nearly every Israeli household contains at least one gun. Despite this, Israel has one of the world’s lowest rates of gun-related violence (including accidents). No road rage incidents ending in gunplay…no marital disputes ending with a bang…it just doesn’t exist here! I would like to think that constantly being faced with the specter of death has had the result of reinforcing the sanctity of life.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Beggars or Buskers?
[In case it wasn't clear... treppenwitz is in reruns this week, and last. This was originally posted on Mar. 21st, 2004.]
intr.v., busked, busk·ing, busks.
To play music or perform entertainment in a public place, usually while soliciting money. *
1. To solicit alms.
2. To make a humble or urgent plea. *
If you think about it, the only real difference between these two definitions is the offer of some sort of entertainment value in return for the moolah. Hmmmmm.
I've been noticing lately that battle lines are beginning to be drawn along what should be a relatively innocuous issue. I’m referring to the growing practice of placing a ‘donation’ button on one’s journal, blog or web site.
Those who are against the practice have coined some catchy names for it… my all-time favorite being ‘Welfare Journaling’, brought to you by the landlady over at Dysfunction Junction. If you want to read her very well-considered thoughts on the subject, go here.
I’m personally torn over the issue - not because I’m considering passing the cyber-hat, but rather because I really agree with arguments on both sides of the issue. Also, quite a few of my favorite haunts on the web have already chosen sides… some by placing those snappy little ‘No Welfare Journaling’ logos… and others by placing a donation button. I should state for the record that I have never, and will never, ask you to support my web habit… but it doesn’t necessarily mean I think it is wrong.
To my way of thinking, the decision to keep up a web site, because it is a potentially expensive choice, should be made after a careful review of one’s finances. If you find that you’re eating a lot of government cheese, and buying your beer and cigarettes with W.I.C. checks, you probably want to rethink the whole high-speed Internet access /domain hosting thing.
On the other hand, there is a lot of web content out there that people willingly pay for, so who can blame a popular blogger or journaler for putting out the tip jar to help defray costs? If my wife can pay for the New York Times Premium service so she can enjoy the privilege of downloading the daily crossword puzzle, what could be so bad about my occasionally dropping a couple of bucks on a site that has become a familiar part of my morning routine, right?
Some people equate donation / welfare journaling with panhandling. I’m not sure I agree with that. If I were a good baker, and people were constantly telling me how much they enjoyed my cookies, and asking for recipes… I might entertain the idea of opening a bake shop. If I had a knack for fixing computers, and friends & family were always hitting me up for help, I might consider opening a help desk / tech support business.
Journalers… especially popular journalers (so I hear)… are also providing a service of sorts. Maybe not as essential as a computer repairman, but certainly as necessary as that morning croissant!
I may change my mind tomorrow, but for now I’m not ready to equate that donation button with an aggressive wino trying to extort pocket change by artfully rearranging my windshield grime with a dirty squeegee. Rather, I see it as more of an open guitar case in front of a good street musician... or a tattered fedora in front of a poet on a subway platform.
I used to enjoy a lot of talented buskers (street performers) on my way to and from my Manhattan office. That doesn’t mean I always threw money into their case or hat… but the really talented ones – and perhaps some of the familiar ones – often got the change left over from my morning cappuccino. How different is that from the folks I pass on the way through my morning on-line routine?
I’m not trying to influence anyone here… I’m just thinking out loud.
Feel free to weigh in on the issue. I'm genuinely interested in hearing a broader range of opinions on the topic.
* source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2003
Monday, August 09, 2004
Celebrity Endorsement #1
[In case it wasn't clear... treppenwitz is in reruns this week, and last. This was originally posted on Mar. 12th, 2004.]
I chose the title of this, the first in a series of recurring entries, with my tongue placed firmly in cheek. The mere suggestion that my recommendation might possess the cachet or gravitas of a celebrity endorsement is laugh-out-loud funny. And, the extent to which some product or service might benefit from my support is too minuscule for mathematical computation. However, my endorsement is no less genuine or heartfelt for lack of any real celebrity.
In my travels, I occasionally stumble across ‘stuff’ that is so magnificent, so completely necessary, and / or well made that I feel compelled to take upon myself the job of converting those under the sway of my negligible influence to adopt these treasures as their own.
For a product to win my endorsement it has to be more than fleetingly useful. It must become such an integral part of my daily existence that I would suffer from ‘phantom itch’ (the way an amputee feels an itch where the missing limb would have been) should I one day be denied access this profoundly functional item. It has to be so well made as to survive my careless, slovenly lifestyle unscathed (I’m rough on my stuff). It must make me want to take it out and admire it (and even show it off to friends), months or even years after the novelty of newness has worn off. And lastly, it must be produced by a company so fiercely proud of their products that they would do anything…pay anything…move heaven and earth…just to make sure that the item continued to find favor in the eye (and hand) of the lowly end-user.
Without further ado, I’d like to share a few words with you today about Moleskine®.
For the uninitiated among you, I am not talking about the tightly woven cotton flannel material used for outdoor clothing, or those soft adhesive-backed flannel patches one puts on blisters after a hike. That would be moleskin (note, no ‘e’ at the end, and no ‘®’ at the end).
Moleskine® is the name of a wonderful line of notebooks, sketchbooks, and pocket files prepared by the Italian company Modo&Modo. Unlike any notebook or memo pad I have ever encountered, Moleskine® products absolutely scream ‘quality’. These substantial notebooks, diaries and sketchbooks feature an oilcloth-bound hardcover, acid-free thread-bound pages, attached book mark, an inside pocket for receipts / business cards, and an attached elastic strap to hold the whole thing shut while it is rattling around backpack, pocketbook or briefcase.
The overall effect is one of substance. This is true to such an extent that, at first, one might be inclined to be overly careful about writing on its pages. However, like one who is initially unaccustomed to wearing fine clothing, using quality writing instruments, or mingling in good company (I’m going by what I’ve heard here, lacking even a passing acquaintance with any of these experiences), the awkwardness soon passes.
I’ve been using Moleskine® pocket notebooks for years to take notes and keep track of important action-items. I kept my gig schedule in it (my career-at-a-glance) and I kept my travel notes on my various vacations and business trips (the little pocket in the back is great for receipts). In all that time, very few people who have seen my little notebook have been able to resist asking to see it, handle it…and ask where they can get one.
While making final preparations to move to Israel last summer, I went to the Moleskine® web site to see where the Israel distributor for their products was located, and was shocked to find that there was none. No problem...I simply went to the local art shop in Manhattan where I’d been getting them all along and bought enough to last until my next trip to the ‘States.
While starting to get settled (hmmm…maybe not the best choice of words regarding living in Israel) into my new life here, I unwrapped a fresh notebook and went through the familiar ritual (which I’m told is shared by many Moleskine® owners) of numbering the pages, putting my name and contact information inside the front cover, and basically making it my own. When I was finished I hooked a finger under the elastic strap, and with a practiced flourish, pulled it around the notebook.
However, instead of the satisfying ‘thwak’ that usually results from this familiar gesture, I got a decidedly un-satisfying ‘twang’ as one end of the strap pulled loose from its binding. In all my years of using this product nothing even remotely like this had ever happened! After a few minutes of consideration I mixed up a dab of epoxy and glued the end of the strap back into place. The result was a very sound repair…but I was left feeling as though a trusted friend had betrayed me.
I sat down and composed a measured e-mail to Modo&Modo that was somewhere between ‘irate consumer’ and a ‘cuckolded lover’ in tone, and launched it off into cyber-oblivion with the full expectation that I would have to adjust to one of my favorite products having turned out to be a tin god with feet of clay.
Within 24 hours I got a response (in a very polite, perfect English) from a fairly senior person at Moto&Moto. She was very apologetic, and asked some probing questions about the nature of the defect that made it clear this was not a common occurrence.
I wrote back to her that, while I tended to be rough on my things, I had never in all my years of using Moleskines® had anything like this happen.
She responded within minutes to assure me that the fault was not mine…she was simply trying to isolate the point in the process (all of their products are hand made) that the flaw had been introduced. She asked me to forcefully test the straps on the other notebooks I had bought in advance of my trip…and I found that several of them failed in the same way. I was beyond disappointed.
Without my having hinted about a refund or replacement (after all, my little repair job had fixed the problem), this pleasant, polite executive asked for my address and said she was sending a replacement for each of the defective notebooks. She went on to assure me that there must have been a bad batch of glue, and if I had any further problems I should contact her directly.
Now I promise you, these little things aren’t cheap! It had been a real reach for me to buy a year’s supply in one fell swoop, so I was really touched that in this age of corporate indifference, a company was interested in making sure one of it’s small, unimportant customers was completely satisfied.
And I am…so I’m telling you.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
[In case it wasn't clear... treppenwitz is in reruns, this week and last. This was originally posted on Feb. 15th, 2004... the day after a snowstorm.]
It snowed here in central Israel last night. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does…people go absolutely insane.
We got no more than 5 inches (a 'dusting' that would go unnoticed by any self-respecting New Englander), but here in Israel, EVERYTHING immediately shut down.
The busses stopped running…urgent e-mails flew around the community as to whether the roads were open (for awhile the army closed them due to slippery conditions)…local stores and restaurants closed…all of the local schools announced (more than 12 hours in advance) that classes would be cancelled for the morning. Even the concert I was supposed to play was cancelled!
To ‘listen’ to the frantic tone in some of the announcements and e-mails, one would think that the Israeli equivalent of the Donner party had just called in their entrée choices via cell phone.
Speaking of food (smooth segue, no?), the kids got my special 'snow day menu' for breakfast this morning:
Fresh Orange Juice
Hot Apple Oatmeal
Pastry De Jour (Zahava has been on quite the baking jag lately so the choices included brownies and assorted muffins)
Ariella had her friend Ayelet for a sleepover last night. Ayelet now thinks our kids get the royal treatment every morning!
For the Connecticut Yankees, this storm was just a little break in the routine. I got to strap on my X-country skis and kick/glide around Efrat for a few hours last night. And, after breakfast this morning the kids got to go sledding / snowman-making in one of the local parks.
I’m working from home today since I didn’t want to contend with Israeli drivers (a daunting group under ideal driving conditions) on the icy roads. If anyone wants to try to distract me (that shouldn’t be too hard) my AOL and Yahoo Instant Messenger screen name is: BogieWorks. I'll be signed on most of the day, so say hello and maybe I’ll point the old web cam out the window for you.
In the mean time, here is a shot from the back balcony:
Friday, August 06, 2004
[In case it wasn't clear... treppenwitz is in reruns this week and next. This was originally posted on Jan. 29th, 2004... the day of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem.]
Before I clear up the issue of what the word ‘klong’ means, I should begin by saying that I was all set to post a breezy…even witty (if I may say so) entry today. I whipped it up last night, and since it was too cold to have my coffee out on the back balcony (as has become my habit), I spent my coffee time this morning ‘fluffing the pillows’, ‘straightening the paintings’, and otherwise making changes to the post that neither helped nor hurt it. When I was finished, I scheduled the publisher to launch it onto the Infobahn about the time my east coast family would be rolling out of bed.
Now, ‘Klong’ is a word coined by William Safire. It means, “the sudden rush of shit to the heart”. It is used to describe the feeling you get when you reach into your pocket at the airport and realize you left the plane tickets and passports on the kitchen counter.
Witty word...witty blog post...this was turning out to be one big witfest. Anyway, I’m not feeling very witty right now.
My boss poked his head into my office a few minutes ago and asked if anybody in my family was in Jerusalem. Here in the holy land, that kind of question can mean only one thing: a bombing.
Immediately my A.D.D.-addled brain started doing the Israeli version of that old TV ad (“It’s 10:00…Do you know where your children are?”). With sickening frequency, people here have to take a mental role call of their loved-ones. Anyone unaccounted for? Break out the cell phone numbers! Once everyone has checked in, there is that horrible mix of relief and guilt; Relief that you and yours were spared; Guilt that your relief comes only at the expense of someone else’s grief.
I knew the big kids would be in school, but I couldn’t be absolutely certain where Zahava and Yonah were. Had she said something about going into Jerusalem today with a friend? Was that my overactive imagination fabricating this recollection?
I calmly dove for the phone and dialed my home number (getting it right on only the 3rd try). One ring…two rings…shitshitshitshitshit....... "hello"….sigh. Ok, plenty of time now for that mixture of relief and self-loathing to wash over me as I read to my wife from my computer screen that there had been a bus bombing…"8 or 10 dead…50+ wounded…at least 10 critically." Like one of the town's people in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, I’m relieved that, once again, someone else's wife drew the paper with the black spot.
Now it was Zahava’s turn to experience the wonder and beauty that is klong. She had made tentative plans to go into Jerusalem with our friend Marcy, but Yonah had kept her up last night, so she had decided to stay home and maybe catch a nap. But, had Marcy gone anyway??? And so the familiar process began again and again, with people all over the country passing along the gift of klong, and calling friends and family on cell phones to make sure they hadn’t drawn the paper with the black dot.
Postscript: Marcy answered her cell phone…at home. She had decided to go into town another day. With every panicked call that was answered this morning…there came the sickening realization that amid the ruins of a city bus, there lay a shattered pile of cell phones that will never be answered.
If you have a strong heart, click on the image below.
Now go here and say thank you.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
Popping the question
[Originally posted on Feb. 5th, 2004]
Sometimes stuff happens that is just too great to trust to memory. The following occurred a few months back, but I wanted to write it down before it slipped away into A.D.D.-land:
For a while now, I have been renting classic musicals on video. My wife and I both love them, and the kids seem to really enjoy them too. There was a point where nearly every week we would have 'family musical night', complete with popcorn and soda. ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Carousel’, ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘The Music Man’…you name it, we probably watched it. It really tickles me that our kids know (and like) so many of the songs I grew up with.
However, we ran into a little dilemma when I brought home West Side Story. Great music, great dancing…great musical…so what’s the problem? The problem was that we had (as I just mentioned...please try to pay attention!) gotten into the habit of watching the musicals as a family…and we were worried that there might be too many adult themes and images in WSS for little kids (e.g. prejudice, gangs, violence, smoking, etc.). This would also be the first movie the kids would be seeing that didn't have a happy ending (ok, ok...I recognize that for you feminists out there, the plot resolution at the end of My Fair Lady qualifies it as a tragedy). In the end, we decided to let them watch, since the show could (theoretically) prompt the kids to ask consructive questions about stuff like resisting peer pressure, love over hate, and racial blindness.
The kids absolutely devoured the film. By the end, Ariella was sobbing in disbelief, (“y y you mean he’s really dead??? He's not going to wake up when she kisses him??????”) Let’s face it, West Side Story doesn’t exactly have a Disney ending.
We explained the concept of tragedy to Ari, and between sniffles she assured us that she understood it was just a story. Gilad, on the other hand, was sitting very still with a contemplative look on his face. He hadn’t uttered a word during the film, and he had remained silent throughout our efforts to comfort Ari. But, clearly something was bothering him. I can always tell when he is turning over an important question in his mind, and by all indications he was getting ready to unload a big one. Would it be about the violence? Would it be about the racial slurs or prejudice? The suspense was killing us.
Finally Gili turned to me, and with his most earnest tone of voice, he dropped the bomb:
“I don’t understand something.” he began. “If you want to be in a gang…do you have to know how to dance?”
Now, of all the possible questions that could have popped out of my little boy’s mouth…let’s just say I was unprepared for that one. Of course, I’m sure all the Ward Cleavers out there are sitting back in their cardigan sweaters and contemplating what words of wisdom they might have offered under similar circumstances. I’m confident that better men than I could have delicately balanced the subtle humor of the moment against the fragile little-boy-ego that had ventured such a wonderfully naive question.
Not being Father-of-the-Year material, I opted for spraying Diet Coke out of my nose and rolling around on the couch holding my sides.
Yeah, I know…we’ve already established that I’m going to hell. This just confirms my reservation in that extra-toasty-warm corner of hell where bad, bad fathers are sent for ridiculing their sons.
Thankfully, there is nothing more amusing to a little boy than sodapop shooting out of his father’s nose, so I was somewhat off the hook. And, yes, I explained to him that if he wanted to be in a gang, he would have to undergo years and years of intensive dance training.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
A bump in the road
[originally posted Feb 2nd, 2004]
Yesterday began as a typical Sunday morning. I got the kids up and ready for school…enjoyed my coffee and Jerusalem Post while Ari and Gili plowed through their breakfasts…and collected my kisses before heading out to the car (yes, Sunday is a work / school day here).
Each week, I get a few calls and e-mails from an assortment of soldiers who are serving their compulsory two or three year service, requesting rides. Having received ‘weekend’ passes to be with their families, they all have to get back to their bases by Sunday morning. So, on this particular Sunday morning, I collected four soldiers who had been in touch the night before. Three of the four are 18-year-old girls, and the fourth is a 19-year old boy. Some of us have traveled together often enough now to be able to have good-natured arguments over whose turn it is to feed the CD player…and to gently poke fun at each other’s taste in music.
Using the most extreme biological definition, I suppose that I am theoretically old enough to be the father of any of these teenagers. While this doesn’t do much for my youthful self-image, it does help explain the combination of paternal pride and protectiveness that I feel for these kids I see each week.
But for an accident of birthplace, these soldiers would be college freshmen and sophomores getting ready for the spring semester, rather than heading off to war. The three female soldiers are assigned to logistic units and tank instructor duty, respectively, and the soft-spoken, bookish looking boy of the group wears the insignia of an elite combat unit. All of them carry responsibilities that I couldn’t have imagined during my peacetime service in the U.S. navy. Despite the discipline of army service, some of the girls make typical teenage statements with an extra earring here, and an unauthorized bit of make-up there. The boy is the first of the bunch to drift off to sleep during our commute, but the halfway point in a typical Sunday moring commute usually finds me surrounded by soft snores emanating from heads that rest on welcoming shoulders.
As we neared the outskirts of Be’er Sheva, I glanced in my rear-view mirror and was reminded of the call I received from this sleeping combat soldier's mother, thanking me for driving him to his base each week. She told me that she worries endlessly about him while he is in the field…and she is relieved to know that at least he has a safe, warm ride at the start of the week. To his credit, he was completely unembarrassed that his mother had called me.
This momentary reverie was abruptly shattered with a loud bang, along with a spray of glass from the rear window of the car. Everyone was suddenly, and completely awake. Each person instantly reacted according to personality and training. One of the girls asked if anyone had been hurt, and without waiting for an answer, began performing a visual inspection of everyone in the car. The other three soldiers instinctively reached for their machine guns (soldiers, even those not in a combat unit, carry a machine gun during every waking moment of their service) and began scanning for immediate threats. I floored the accelerator, and pushed the car up to about 130 (kilometers per hour, thank you. I was startled, not suicidal).
After a few adrenaline-pumping seconds with no sign of additional danger, we slowed down to the posted speed limit and called in the incident so that the army could investigate and warn cars traveling along the road.
What we didn’t do was stop to investigate or retaliate. Although everyone in the car was armed (and angry), the Rules Of Engagement were crystal clear: Unless there is an imminent, unavoidable threat, or someone’s life is in immediate danger, we were not allowed to respond. The Palestinians know this perfectly well, and leverage this perceived weakness on a daily basis. ‘Rules Of Engagement’, for the uninitiated, is a fancy term that is basically analogous to hunting regulations. Every red-blooded American hunter that puts on an orange vest in the fall knows precisely what, where and how many they can legally ‘bag’. They also trek out into the wilderness secure in the knowledge that those cute little critters won’t be shooting back. Barring the vests and ear-flap hats…sound familiar? In the backwards logic of our present reality, the Rules Of Engagement are put in place to ensure the ‘animals’ don’t shoot back.
In the most asinine bar-room contest of ‘Punch-for-a-punch”, the inebriated participants have the limited comfort of knowing that, once they pick themselves up off the floor, it will be their turn to knock the snot out of their opponent. Unfortunately, according to the rules of our little game, so long as our ability to leave the scene was not blocked and no obvious follow-up attack was forthcoming, our only legal recourse was to ‘get the hell outa dodge’. Forget the fact that the rock could have turned any one of us into funeral fodder. Heck, on those winding roads…if the stone had hit me, we could have all been kicked out of the gene pool!
Now, lest someone assume that we somehow instigated this attack, let me assure you: We were not in contested territory. We were not traveling in a military vehicle (and to an outside observer, the tangle of teenaged sleepers could not possible have been identified as soldiers). The only outward indication of identity was the Israeli license plate and the kippah on my head. To borrow an unfortunate phrase from an African American comic…we were guilty of DWJ - ‘Driving While Jewish’.
After I had dropped the soldiers at their destination, I headed over to the police station to file a report. This kind of thing happens so frequently that there is actually a pre-printed form to help speed the process. The policewoman tsk-tsked maternally over the damage to the car, and made a perfunctory statement of relief that nobody had been injured before sending me on my way with a copy of the report.
The next step was a trip to the auto-glass place (imagine owning that franchise here!) where everything was set in motion to make my car whole again. Since this was technically an act of terrorism, I won’t have to bother my insurance company. Instead, the Israeli Government has graciously offered to pick up the tab. Thanks!
Over dinner last night, my wife and I downplayed the incident in front of the kids…but I can tell she was a little more rattled than she’s letting on. For the record…so am I. But the fact that nobody was hurt qualifies this as a relatively minor incident in the grand scheme of things…a simple bump in the road.