Friday, September 30, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XLI) [roadside edition]
One of the neat (and occasionally frustrating) things about living in Israel is that you can't turn over a shovel of dirt without discovering something of historical significance. For amateurs archaeologists and history buffs this is totally neat because it means that all over the country there are excavations and ruins in various states of preservation.
But for the people who are responsible for repairing and developing Israel's modern infrastructure - roads, sidewalks, bridges, tunnels, buildings, etc. - it becomes a nightmare because any time you uncover anything of potential historical significance, all work has to stop until officials from the Department of Antiquities come to determine if a full-scale excavation needs to be performed.
All over the country there are roads that take odd jags around or over archaeological ruins, and shopping centers that have incongruent roman columns in the corners of parking lots. In fact, consturction on a segment of the new Israel super highway system that runs through Emek Ha'Elah (the Elah valley) was stopped for a good part of last year while an enormous tent was erected by the archaeologists, and a full scale excavations was carried out beneath it. It wasn't until after they had completely finished with the site that the highway construction was allowed to proceed.
I mention all this because any time I drive into Jerusalem I pass what looks like a big vacant lot next to a gas station. For quite some time it surprised me that such prime real estate hadn't been developed... that is, until a tour guide friend of ours took my parents, Zahava and the kids on a walking tour of the site last spring. It turns out that when Derech Hevron was widened, the foundations of a Byzantine-era church were discovered hiding inches below the dirt of a small roadside olive grove. According to some traditions, this was a church that marked the spot where Mary rested on her way to Bethlehem (which is just less than an hour's walk from the spot). There is also a Greek Orthodox Monastery called Mar Elyas that sits a hundred yards or so in the direction of Bethlehem.
I wasn't with my family when they toured the site (I had to work), but since they told me about it I have been sorely tempted to get out and take some pictures every time I pass by. This morning while we were on our way to do some shopping I finally succumbed to temptation.
This is some of the ancient paving outside the church next to the edge of the olive grove. You can see from the tiny amount of soil that has been removed at the base of the trees how close to the surface this site was:
Here is a shot with my back to the trees in the previous picture, looking out towards Derech Hevron (the street whose widening prompted the discovery of the site). Again, if you look at the grade level of the road' shoulder, it is amazing how near the surface this site was for over 1500 years and nobody knew it was there!:
Here is a close-up of a mosaic floor inside the church. The colors in the mosaic tiles have long ago been bleached from the stones, which is probably why no restoration was attempted (it would have been like trying to put together a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle where all of the pieces are the same color!):
Last but not least is something that caught my eye as I was about to leave the site. Near one side of the church was a hole leading down into the ground. I didn't have a flashlight so I have no idea if it was a water cistern or some underground rooms under the church. I thought that getting out and taking a few pictures would get this site ou t of my imagination. Now I have something new to think about as I drive by.
[Note: In anticipation of comments that might be left inquiring why a Jew would have any interest in a Christian archaeological site, I would answer as follows: There is a culture (I'm not naming names) that denies the existence of any other culture in the history of this region other than its own. Not only does it not respect any intrinsic importance/holiness of any other religion's sites, but it actively destroys any traces of non-Musl... er, I mean archaeological records that might substantiate any other people's historical claims. As a Jew, I am secure in the knowledge that my people have a peerless claim to a share of living space in this part of the world. This knowledge comes not from the denial of any other people's historical presence in the land, but rather from knowing the unbroken history of my people in the land of Israel... as well as that of the other cultures who were part and parcel of that history.]
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Great minds think alike...
I really wasn't going to post anything today.
I woke up too late to write... so I went and checked the news... as well as my usual 'intellectual reading'. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Stephen Pastis and I seem to have been wrestling with similar demons:
Click to Enlarge (See more 'Pearls' goodness here)
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
The fine line between consumer and voyeur
Today's journal entry is rated:
I was over at the mall earlier in the week picking up something for the office during my lunch break and decided to take a quick look around for a new pair of sunglasses. I haven't gone shopping for sunglasses in ages, but since I finally seem to have lost the pair I brought with me to Israel I figured 'what the heck'.
Most Israeli malls have between 5 and 35 stores dedicated exclusively to selling sunglasses. I suppose this is because sunglasses are such an essential part of the Israeli wardrobe. Anyhoo... I had maybe 15 minutes to kill so I picked one sunglass store at random and did a quick walk around to see if anything seemed likely.
I've already expounded on Israeli 'tastes' in outdoor eye-wear so I won't belabor the point here. Suffice it to say that I found nothing that I could imagine myself wearing in public.
As I was walking towards the door one of the pretty young store employees asked me if I needed help. I told her that I hadn't found anything I liked and she helpfully mentioned that there were more styles in the front windows of the store.
I went out into the mall and walked back and forth looking into the store window. After a couple of minutes of looking I actually spotted a pair that looked nice.
1. I tend to like smaller sunglasses rather than the large wrap-around ones favored by most Israelis, and the pair that had caught my eye seemed to be a women's style. I figured this out because they were perched on the sculpted face of a female mannequin.
2. The pretty sunglass store employee had followed me out into the mall and was standing next to me ready to offer helpfully advice. This wouldn't normally have been a problem, except that the pretty young girl cleared her throat and mentioned in an embarrassed tone that I was no longer looking at her store's merchandise.
Sure enough, I had unknowingly drifted a few feet to the left and was now standing in front of the neighboring store's display window. In my defense, all of the mannequins in the window were wearing sunglasses... but I probably should have noticed that they weren't wearing much else. I was looking longingly at a nifty pair of sunglasses poised on the face of a scantily clad lingerie mannequin.
I probably wouldn't have been quite so embarrassed if:
a) ...the store employee hadn't been so young and pretty.
b) ...I hadn't been old enough to be her father.
c) ...I hadn't been wearing a kippah on my head.
d) ...the lingerie on the mannequin had been even somewhat tasteful.
This last point was probably what did me in.
Israeli lingerie shops are not very um, subtle. In the US there is a pretty broad spectrum of tastefulness in lingerie shops. At one end of the spectrum are lace emporiums such as Victoria's Secret... and at the other end there are, er, less classy shops such as Frederick's of Hollywood.
So I'm told, anyway. [ahem]
If one were to continue walking down the 'class spectrum' from V.S... passing F. of H. ... and then continue walking for, oh, about ten years, one would eventually arrive at the typical Israeli lingerie shop.
On the many occasions Zahava and I have gone to a mall with our kids I have been tempted to cover their eyes as we pass these lingerie shop windows. The 'fashions' (if one can call them that) on display in these places are what I imagine a sex offender might dream up for hookers to wear. Except, of course, that no self respecting hooker would ever wear this stuff!
Again... a supposition on my part. [ahem]
In the blink of an eye, by simply taking two or three steps - maybe 4 or 5 feet in all - in the wrong direction, I had gone from being a discerning consumer to being a creepy middle-aged voyeur.
So here I was standing next to a pretty young store clerk in a crowded mall, in front of an unbelievably graphic lingerie display... and blushing so deeply that I could feel myself starting to sweat.
Under any other circumstances I probably would have just turned and made a run for it (and then never shown my face in that mall again). But the kooky thing is that I really, really liked those sunglasses.
So, in an attempt to pretend that I hadn't made a really embarrassing mistake I said to the pretty young thing, "Oh, I know this isn't your store... but you see those (pointing directly at the sunglasses on the mannequin)... do you have any like that?
Not only did I not immediately appreciate how that sentence might sound if the girl happened to miss my hand gesture towards the sunglasses... but as if to confirm this, the pretty sunglass store employee asked icily, "We're still talking about sunglasses, right?"
That was all I could take.
It may be that the sunglass store had the exact sunglasses I was looking for... and had maybe even supplied all the sunglasses to the lingerie store... [side point: who wears sunglasses with push-up bras and thongs???!!!]... but I'll never know. At that point I looked blindly at my watch, did a fake double take and mumbled something about being late for an important meeting.
As I hurried away I felt as though every shopper in the mall had turned to watch the creepy guy in the yarmulke who had been leering at the hooker-wear in the store window.
I think I might just be able to manage for a little while longer without new sunglasses.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
You may already be a winner!*
Most of us grew up seeing statements like today's title splashed across the junk mail from places like Publisher's Clearing House.
Not only did the law require an asterisk at the end of such a pitch (so that the company could place some microscopic caveat at the bottom of the envelope), but it also forced the advertiser to use obfuscating words like 'may already' in their come-ons.
From an early age most kids became adept at spotting the catch... pointing out the trick... pulling back the curtain to reveal the impossibility of the offer. It was all part of the cat & mouse game between consumers and advertisers.
But for some reason the Internet seems to have changed all that.
Banner ads now say "Click here for a free digital camera!". No asterisk... no caveat... no fine print. But when you click the banner you find out that you have to enroll for some kind of offer for a chance to win the camera... or you need to sign up for a credit card in order to get the promised pay-off.
Up until now I've noticed that the more brazenly deceptive ads tend to be hosted on the less-scrupulous web sites. I suppose this make sense since there is a certain honor among thieves... or if not honor, then at least professional courtesy.
But today I noticed a huge blinking banner ad at the top of the Jerusaelm Post web site screaming:
"CLICK HERE FOR A FREE SUKKAH"
No asterisk... no caveat... no fine print.
For the record, Mrs. Bogner didn't raise any idiots. I knew without a doubt that this wasn't some philanthropic organization that had sprung up overnight to provide free sukkot for the asking. But it bothered me that they weren't playing by the rules. No sneakily worded come-on... no asterisk... no fine print.
I was also bothered because not only was this bait-and-switch banner hosted on a main stream media outlet, but it was clearly targeting the observant crowd... a group presumably a bit more trusting by nature.
After a few minutes of reading the news I finally decided to confirm my suspicions and clicked on the banner.
Sure enough, I found myself hijacked to a site called Virtual Jerusalem, where I was told that not only was I not getting the promised free sukkah... but I would have to submit my name, email address and geographic location in order to enter a raffle in order to have a tiny chance of getting a sukkah.
What had started out as:
"CLICK HERE FOR A FREE SUKKAH"
(Do 'A' and get 'B')
had suddenly become:
"GIVE US ENOUGH PERSONAL INFORMATION SO THAT WE CAN SPAM YOU INTO THE STONE AGE AND YOU MIGHT POSSIBLY WIN AN UNSUPERVISED RAFFLE WHOSE PRIZE IS A FREE SUKKAH"
Are there no consumer laws on the Internet? What happened to the fine art of obfuscation? What happened to the surreptitiously-placed asterisk?
Being the curious sort, I typed in a fake name and email address... y'know, just to see what would come next. I wasn't disappointed.
The next screen read:
"Thank you for participating in the Virtual Jerusalem
Sukkah Center Raffle. We wish you the best of luck!
You can increase your chances of winning by entering the sweepstakes again! No signup necessary! Once per day, you may return to Virtual Jerusalem and enter the raffle!"
OK, so the point of the exercise was to provide contact information for the folks selling the sukkot and to drive traffic to the VJ home page. But if you think about it, what they are saying is that not only did you not get the promised free sukkah, but if you don't return and enter the raffle multiple times your chances of winning will become increasingly slim.
I honestly don't know what, if any, consumer protection laws exist in cyberspace. But I think I have a right to expect certain minimum standards of honesty from a site like The Jerusalem Post. If the Internet is metaphorically the 'wild west'... then at least some of the more legitimate sites can be assumed to be isolated outposts of law and order, no?
When I called the Post to complain, a polite gentleman named Derrick Fattal stated firmly that he saw nothing misleading or dishonest about the banner ad, and even went so far as to suggest that there was insufficient room on the banner for the advertiser to place a disclaimer or clarification.
I'm a big boy.
I can accept that I haven't really won the Sweepstakes.... that in fact I am simply a finalist (along with Robert Tepkins of Pasadena CA, Beulah McAftok of Wichita KS, and Peter Pritchard of Fort Smith AK).
But tell me honestly... am I expecting too much here?
For a better understanding of what a sukkah is, please go here.
Monday, September 26, 2005
Elroi Refa'el *
Over the past few weeks I have been getting an increasing number of comments and emails asking after the welfare of Lieutenant Elroi Refa'el Mizrahi; 'Is he OK?' ... 'Is there any change in his condition?' ... 'Any Improvement at all???'
For those of you who have been following along, the reason I haven't posted any updates about him is that it tears my heart out to see the words 'no change in his condition' written down in black and white.
After someone sustains such a serious head wound/brain stem injury, 'no change' can sometimes be a blessing in disguise because changes can happen in the blink of an eye... and not always for the best. But it is still a terrible thing to watch a vibrant young man's life hang in the balance.
Elroi Refa'el's friends have continued to gather at the hospital, and his family has held a vigil by his bedside in hopes that their voices will stimulate his unconscious mind and bring comfort to his undamaged soul.
A couple of days ago Elroi Refa'el was transferred from Soroka hospital in Beer Sheva to Beit Lowenstein Hospital in Ra'anana for intensive rehabilitative treatments. This move was made possible because this brave young lieutenant fought his way back to the surface... opened his eyes... and rejoined the world of the conscious!
This is not to say that he is out of the woods. He is not.
Although he is awake and has been able to recognize and speak to his family, one side of his body remains paralyzed.
It is not yet known whether this paralysis is temporary or permanent, but he is now in one of the best rehabilitative facilities in the world... and whatever function/mobility he is destined to regain will come as a result of the highly skilled staff at Beit Levenstein, your continued prayers/good thoughts and the mercy of the One who created the world.
I am 100% convinced that the many thoughts and prayers directed at this young man from around the globe have allowed him to reach this important crossroads.
Please don't give up on him now.
Please continue to have Elroi Refa'el ben Galia Glynis in your thoughts and close to your hearts.
* The Hebrew acronym for 'Until one hundred and twenty years'
Sunday, September 25, 2005
I'm really such an idiot sometimes.
I have a couple of pairs that have been resoled six or seven times, and just keep getting more comfortable with age!
Even on the rare occasions that I have had to settle with another company's penny loafer, one feature that I have always insisted upon is the 'beefroll'.
Here's the problem: For as long as I can remember, I have been mentally pronouncing this as 'Bee-Froll'.
Maybe I had bees on the brain even as a pre-teen. But for whatever reason, I somehow managed to work out that this particular feature had earned it's name because it looked like the striped abdomen of a bee... y'know... because everyone know that the striped part of a bee is called the 'froll', right?
It wasn't until I started reading up on beekeeping that I noticed with growing horror that this term was mysteriously absent from all discussion of Apis Mellifera's anatomy.
Then I started thinking back on all the times I'd called LL Bean's wonderfully friendly customer service department to order a new pair, and began mentally replaying tape to figure out if I had ever asked for shoes 'with a froll'.
"No ma'am... if you look further down the page... all the way in the lower right hand corner of page 167 in the fall catalog, there is a pair... yeah, that's right... the ones with the 'froll'.
They must have had quite a laugh up there in Freeport, ME every time I called:
"Pssst... hey everyone, it's that 'froll' guy again... get over here and listen to this!"
I'm such an idiot sometimes I can't even believe it.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XLI) [gift edition]
Yesterday seemed to be a day for gifts.
First and foremost we received the gift of our faithful dog Jordan's life. What could have ended with a jagged empty hole in the middle of our family instead ended with a reassuring call from a gifted vet telling us that we would have Jordan home with us for shabbat.
Another gift that came my way yesterday was from an unlikely source; my employer. I still can't get my head around the fact that one of the world's most well respected aerospace and defense companies hands out Rosh Hashannah gift boxes to all its employees the week before the holiday.
For most of my working life I've had to deal with resentment and suspicion when asking for the Jewish holidays off in the fall. I always wound up having to use most of my vacation days and still was looked upon as something of an oddity. I now have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming when my employer passes out thoughtful gifts as a way of wishing everyone a Shana Tova (good year).
Then when I got home from work I noticed that the bourbon fairy had visited the house. A good friend from the neighborhood returned from a business trip to the US and left a couple of bottles of Knob Creek bourbon sitting outside our door. Talk about thoughtful (and timely)!
And lastly, while opening the mail I noticed a familiar return address. I opened the envelope to find something for which I'd registered a while back.
An old friend of mine, J.J. Greenberg, was killed while riding his bike here in Israel several years ago. While I still haven't entirely come to terms with his death, I was quite moved to read on his memorial site about how his parents had donated many of his organs to people who desperately needed them.
Many observant Jews are not well-informed about the issues surrounding organ donation, and consequently opt out by not finding out what is and isn't permissible under Jewish law. After reading about J.J. parent's decision, I visited the web site of HODS, an organization whose stated purpose is to disseminates information regarding Halachic issues and Rabbinic opinions on organ donation. *
I can't help thinking that the potential to save / improve countless lives is squandered at the hour of many terrible tragedies simply because many of us find the topic either too daunting... or too depressing to address while we are alive.
What finally made up my mind was thinking how horrible it would be to (G-d forbid) have a loved one waiting for a life-saving organ donation that never materialized.
So this last gift isn't something I received, but rather it was a small reminder of a gift I might one day be called upon to give.
* While this organization is primarily intended to address Jewish issues surrounding organ donation, I strongly urge any of the non-Jewish readers to consult with their clergy, their families and their conscience about the whole 'what if...?' question.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Stuff I didn't know yesterday
There is a certain colorless crystalline alkaloid that is one of the bitterest substances known to man. It is so bitter that it's taste is detectable in doses as small as one part per million (1PPM).
This crystalline alkaloid is also quite deadly, having a lethal dosage of just 1 mg/kg. As if that weren't scary enough, you don't have to eat it to die. It can be inhaled or even absorbed through the skin!
As quickly as 20-30 minutes after exposure to this substance the muscles in the head and neck begin to convulse and the victim starts to become hypersensitive to external stimuli (sound, touch and noise)... any one of which will trigger a new round of seizures. The convulsions start out relatively mildly, but quickly progress in intensity and frequency as they spread to the rest of the body... especially the spine.
The process by which this substance takes control of, and ultimately kills the victim can best be illustrated by thinking about an electrical circuit. A circuit can be either open or closed. Our body functions through unimaginably complex electrical impulses sent to the muscles by the brain via the central nervous system. Nerve synapses are constantly being issued with momentary instructions to either close or open... which causes the related muscles to either contract or relax. As this poisonous substance is absorbed by vulnerable receptors in the brain and spinal chord, increasingly frequent signals are sent to all of the synapses to close, causing powerful full body contractions... otherwise known as convulsions/seizures.
As the frequency and intensity of the convulsions/seizures increase, the body becomes increasingly fatigued. One of the larger muscle groups in the body - those associated with the diaphragm - are particularly sensitive to these signals to contract. Picture involuntarily exhaling all the air in your lungs at the same time that all of your body's muscles tense up in unison. Now as the seconds tic by and you can't get a new lungful of air, the world starts to turn sparkly and gray as unconsciousness threatens. Each subsequent convulsion is worse than the last and brings both physical exhaustion and suffocation close enough to touch. It is as if you are experiencing the worst possible labor pains... but with no hint of joyous relief.
If you've figured out that what I've been describing are the attributes and effects of Strychnine, give yourself a gold star! You know way more than I did at this time yesterday.
The reason I didn't know any of this yesterday is that I am not a big fan of crime/detective stories (other than Sherlock Holmes*), and Strychnine has been so carefully controlled as a pesticide that few people can legally obtain/use it.
However, late yesterday evening my wife asked me to take a look at our beloved Black Lab mix Jordan. Zahava said that she'd heard Jordan fall down and she was now acting very strangely. When I went to have a look, Jordan was having trouble standing and was shivering rhythmically.
I tried to coax her into having a drink from her water dish... and she really seemed to want to... but she was having trouble bending her neck down far enough for her tongue to reach the water.
For almost 30 minutes we all fussed over Jordan in the well lit kitchen, petting her and speaking to her in reassuring tones. I now realize with horror that each touch... each sound... and even the blinding lights were triggering ever more powerful muscle convulsions.
Remember... yesterday I wasn't the fountain of knowledge you see before you now.
Finally, after even more time had passed a very dim bulb began to flicker in my head. I realized that she had no sign of physical injury or bite. I realized (with Zahava's help) that Jordan was getting worse, not better. I realized that she most likely had been poisoned.
After a few frantic phone calls we found a veterinary clinic in Jerusalem that had a 24 hour on-call number. I phoned and described Jordan's symptoms. After a few pointed questions ("When did the symptoms start?"... "Do I know what she might have eaten?"... "Is anyone else in the house experiencing similar symptoms?") the vet told me to put her in the car and get to the clinic as fast as I could. Within moments our two tearful big kids watched as a more tearful Zahava helped me load a twitching/seizing Jordan into the back seat of the car.
Throughout the endless 15 minutes it took me to get to the clinic, I listened helplessly to Jordan grunting and thrashing on the seat behind me. When I arrived at the clinic she couldn't walk and was having trouble breathing.
The vet looked her over for less than a minute and told me she was most likely suffering from Strychnine poisoning. He explained that the only way to fight the nerve synapses convulsive closing was to force them open using heavy and constant doses of anesthetic.
As he set up the I.V. drip and began pushing first Valium and then Nembutal into her vein I watched as Jordan relaxed and drew a normal breath for the first time in over an hour. She still twitched from time to time, but she seemed to be getting relief. When I pointed this out, the vet warned me not to take this momentary relaxation as too positive a sign. He described how the next 6 - 8 hours (at least) would be a very serious tug-of-war between the Strychnine's attempts to cause convulsions and the anesthetic's ability to relieve them.
Every 20-30 minutes the effects of the anesthetic began to wane and the effects of the Strychnine became more pronounced. First the trembling and twitching would begin... and then her body would start to involuntarily arch and stretch. Each time this happened the vet gave her a little more narcotic and the tremors would subside. He explained that this was a dangerous game to play because too little anesthetic would allow the Strychnine to cause death by asphyxiation or exhaustion... but too much anesthetic would cause death by overdose.
The entire clinic was not even as big as my bedroom. The vet and his two attendants worked on Jordan and several other late-night casualties simultaneously. In between the tidal flow of seizures crashing on Jordan's convulsing shore, I watched the vet sew a cat's mostly severed ear back on, euthanize an ancient Poodle while its head lay in its sobbing Russian owner's lap and remove a Golden Retriever's horribly bloated/infected uterus... all the while talking non-stop to all the owners.
Before sending me home, the vet told me that he was optimistic about Jordan's chances... but said that there were far to many unknowns and variables to make any guarantees. He said that he had seen dogs come in to the clinic in worse shape survive... and others who had seemed in much better shape succumb. What he promised was that he would watch her all night as if she was his own, and continue the tug of war with the poison for as long as possible.
At 6:30 this morning I spoke with the vet again and he told me that Jordan had made it through the night and that he was no longer giving her anesthetic. He said she still had mild tremors, but that he was relatively sure that the fluids were starting to wash the poison out of her system and that Jordan would pull through. The way he put it was, "Go ahead and buy the champagne, but don't open it just yet."
Another conversation at noon was even more encouraging. He said that the lingering anesthetic in her body would keep her sleeping for at least another day, but that the combination of the I.V. drip and a diuretic would continue to flush out Jordan's system. He reassured me that he felt she was now completely out of the woods.
We still don't know who put Strychnine out in our neighborhood. I am horrified to think that Yonah could just as easily have come in contact with the poison as Jordan. in fact, fatherly pride aside, at this age Jordan probably has considerably more common sense than Yonah when it comes to ingesting unknown substances.
While we have reported this to the local authorities and hope they get to the bottom of how this deadly poison came to be so close to where we live... a part of me hopes that I never find out the guilty party's identity. Right now I don't know if I can be trusted not to give the culprit a taste of his own medicine, so to speak. Obviously these kinds of thoughts are neither rational nor helpful, so instead of eating lunch today I decided to provide you all with this educational public service announcement.
After all... I didn't know any of this stuff yesterday. Maybe you didn't either.
* Yes, I am aware that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle makes reference to a 'strychnine-like substance' in 'The Sign of Four'. However, he doesn't describe the early onset of symptoms so I never made the connection.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
I hate when that happens!
Yesterday while paying my daily visit to 'The Sneeze' I read with amusement Steve's pet peeve about the excruciating slowness with which pedestrians transit the crosswalk without any regard for the cars waiting to proceed. He expressed outrage that they don't even make a token attempt at showing a little hustle.
But the truth behind the humor got me thinking about the things that elevate my blood pressure in traffic. Obviously, some of the problems I'm about to describe are cultural, and I've really gotten much better about 'accepting the things I cannot change' here in Israel.
But I swear to gawd that one day they'll find me dead in the driver's seat from a heart-attack due to a few of these infuriating violations of the most basic code of etiquette:
First a list of stuff I've mostly gotten used to:
1. Signaling a lane change: An invitation to be cut off. I'll admit I have gotten very selective about using my 'blinkers' since moving here. I used to be quite conscientious about broadcasting my intentions to all drivers in the vicinity. But I now realize that this is universally seen as a sign of weakness. I now use my directional indicators only when a police car is traveling directly behind me. Even so, it is worth noting that 8 times out of 10 the cop car will rise to the challenge and rush up to block my indicated lane change.
2. Safe following distance? What's that? Having grown up in the US I was taught to maintain a safe 'buffer zone' between myself and the car in front of me. This would be a minimum of one second... but ideally two ("one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand..."). However here in Israel other drivers see this 'buffer zone' as an invitation (or even a challenge) to pass you. I mean really... why else would someone foolishly leave such a big space in front of their car if they didn't want someone to fill it? Right??? I've shared this story before but it's worth repeating: A friend had to take a 'driver's education' class here after accumulating too many 'points' on his license. During an attempt to teach the idea of a safe following distance, several of the students strenuously objected because to them it was obvious that someone would immediately pass them if they did as the instructor suggested. The instructor said, "Fine, so then you back off to create a new 'buffer zone'". The students were incredulous since this would mean that a driver would keep slowing down to create each subsequent buffer zone and eventually end up moving backwards as more and more cars filled the gaps. It's nice to know that the instructors are interested in changing the driving culture here, but based on my own experience it hasn't yet 'trickled down' to the man/woman on the street.
3. The world is your trash can! Having grown up under the tearful gaze of 'Iron Eyes' Cody, I am part of a generation that was hard-wired to find the idea of littering personally offensive. Yet I don't know anyone who, in a moment of weakness, hasn't tossed something small (e.g. an apple core, a wad of chewing gum or the paper sleeve from one's straw), out of their car window. However, if/when we actually littered, it was something deeply shameful that one did only if nobody was looking. Unfortunately there is no such stigma (that I can discern, anyway) here in Israel. I can't tell you the number of times I've been driving in heavy traffic and seen drink cups, paper bags, cigarette packages, and even soiled diapers come flying out of the car in front of me. Once or twice I used a red light to take someone to task for littering, but the look of utter incomprehension on their face told me that this particular stigma hasn't yet scratched the surface of the culture here.
Now the stuff that will most likely be the end of me:
1. The casual U-turn. Like littering, we have all executed U-turns in places where they aren't necessarily practical, much less legal. And like littering, it's something done only when nobody is looking... and certainly never when there is following or oncoming traffic. Yet here in Israel there is absolutely no shame in executing an impromptu U-turn... even at the height of rush hour. Not only that, but it is executed in the most unhurried, casual fashion possible. Once or twice I made the mistake of beeping to show my disapproval and was rewarded with that patented Israeli look of utter incomprehension, as if to say, "What? I had to turn around! Are you an idiot that you couldn't see that I needed to turn around right this second???"
Reuniting with long-lost friends. In a country this small it is inevitable that people will constantly run into old army buddies... distant relatives... and friends from the past. Yet, no matter how statistically improbably, these chance meetings always seem to take place while driving on narrow roads and in parking lots. Two cars will be traveling slowly towards one another when the drivers will suddenly recognize one another. Without a thought for who might be behind them, windows are rolled down, handshakes are exchanged and long, unhurried conversations ensue. Apparently it is considered very bad form to interrupt these chance reunions because whenever I've used my horn as a gentle reminder of the passage of time, I've been met with icy stares from all parties.
A little gratitude is all I'm saying! Whether letting a pedestrian cross in front of me in a parking lot or graciously giving another car the right of way, I end up screaming obscenities at my windshield when I get absolutely no acknowledgment from the recipients of my courtesies. Not once since moving here has anyone looked up and waved a thank-you, or even smiled to show their appreciation. Not once. I've held doors open, let little old ladies push their shopping carts slowly in front of my car, and even slowed down to allow cars to merge into a congested lane. Not once has one of these gestures be acknowledged! I mentioned this to a native-born friend who just shrugged and said, "Al tihyeh kazeh frier!" (don't be such a sucker!). Apparently courtesy is also considered a sign of weakness here... and as such is overlooked in much the same way that it would be impolite to point out a kid with a hair-lip.
I guess this is what they meant when they told us that no matter how well we learned the language or studied the culture we would feel like immigrants 'til the day we die. I just hope that day doesn't find me suffering a stress-induced heart-attack behind the wheel of my car!
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Things that go 'bump' in the night
Yeah, yeah... I know. No need to remind me that Friday's post is starting to get a bit stale.
I actually wrote a wildly incoherent post on Sunday attempting to fisk a BBC 'human interest' story that had gotten under my skin. However, I deleted it because it simply sounded angry and unfocused. Trust me when I tell you that the only thing less attractive than an angry rant is an unfocused angry rant.
So why the silence since then? The answer can be found in a bit of unwelcome excitement.
About 9:30PM Sunday night I was driving home from work on an unlit section of road next to Hevron when I drove over a pretty nasty pothole with a sickening bang.
The result was the instantaneous deflation (ok, explosion) of both right-hand tires.
There are few things scarier than having a double blowout at 100kmh. However, having a double blowout at 100kmh at night on an unlit section of road less than 50 yards from Hevron just might qualify.
Fortunately, a couple of things were working in my favor:
1. I didn't lose control of the car.
2. I was able to stop in a place where nobody was likely to run into me (not that there are many cars on the road at that hour).
3. My boss was driving behind me and stopped to lend moral support.
4. Nobody from the adjacent neighborhood in Hevron seemed to have noticed us stopping.
After a quick walk-around, it was clear that both tires were a total loss. As if that weren't bad enough, my boss's spare wouldn't fit my car.
Leaving the car there was not an option because there would be 0% chance that it would still be there in the morning... and no tow truck was going to come out to Hevron in the middle of the night.
This left me no option but to crawl along at 5-10kmh on the rims for the next 15 minutes until I reached a gas station in Kiryat Arba. I locked up the car there and my boss gave me a lift home.
By the light of day yesterday morning the damage was much worse than I had originally thought. Not only were both tires shredded, but the magnesium rims were badly dented (apparently beyond repair) from the impact.
Luckily, I have a very smart wife who suggested I speak to our insurance agent to see if this kind of thing might be covered. Here are some of the things I learned (directly or indirectly) as a result of my wife's sage advice:
1. Not only does our insurance cover this sort of thing, but insurance agents are remarkably good sources of information.
2. I learned that here in Israel, a flat tire is called a 'pantcher' (obviously from the word 'puncture'). A person who makes his livelihood from repairing and/or replacing damaged tires is called a 'pantcher macher' (literally 'puncture maker'). Don't ask.
3. Magnesium rims are only sold in sets of 4. Worse yet, a set of four costs almost NIS 7,000! That's before even thinking about replacing the expensive tires!!!
3. When the 'pantcher macher' says that magnesium rims can't be repaired, he not only might not know what he's talking about... but he might actually have a vested interest in selling you 4 new ones. Hard to say.
4. It turns out that at least one 'pantcher macher' has a machine specifically designed to repair magnesium rims... and that the insurance adjuster just happened to be related to the owner of a 'pantcharia' where this nifty new machine had just been installed.
5. Instead of having to submit a claim for NIS 8,000+ to my insurance company, I was able to handle everything privately and got away with a relatively light out-of-pocket expense of NIS 1,600. for two new tires and perfectly repaired magnesium rims. That still hurts, but at least my premiums will not go up.
Hmmm... looking back over this wandering narrative I'm starting to wonder if you wouldn't have been happier reading the wildly incoherent political rant!
Friday, September 16, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XL) [honey edition]
Thank you again to everyone who left comments and sent emails with good wishes and congratulations on the occasion of our 14th wedding anniversary.
Like birthdays, anniversaries often get short shrift since they are really nothing more than a celebration of hanging on for yet another year. But when you think about all the people whose relationships (or sadly, lives) don't stand the test of time, you realize how important it is to commemorate this 'hanging on', as well as to celebrate the gift of life and love.
As the summer days 'dwindle down to a precious few'*, honey harvesting season is upon us.
Throughout the spring and summer months, my bees have been busy as, well... bees! They have been tirelessly pollinating the local fruits and vegetables... and of course foraging for nectar to convert into delicious honey.
One of my neighbors has a backyard full of fruit trees. While proudly showing off his garden to me the other day, he mentioned that in previous years he has had a moderate fruit crop, but for some reason this year there is so much fruit that the branches are in danger of breaking! He honestly had no idea why he suddenly had a bumper crop, so I explained that my little friends had been by to lend a 'hand' in the late spring while his trees were in blossom. The slow dawning of comprehension on his face was priceless. My guess is that I might be getting a fruit basket from him in a few weeks.
Anyway, many people have only the vaguest idea of where honey comes from. Without going into too much detail about the biology/chemistry of the process, I'll give you a rough idea by showing you a couple of 'frames' from inside a hive.
First of all, inside most standard hives there are 10 narrow wooden frames on which the bees build their wax 'comb'. They build it of perfectly symmetrical interlocking hexagons. Each hexagonal cell is tilted slightly upward so that as the bees fill it with thin nectar, it won't dribble out. If you look closely you can see nectar in some of the cells. The upper right hand corner also shows some cells that have been capped with wax to seal in the matured honey:
The way the bees make nectar into honey is really quite amazing. First they mix in an enzyme that they secrete, and then place the nectar in a cell. Then the bees fan the nectar (which is over 80% water) with their wings to dehydrate it until it bocomes honey (which has less than 18% water content). Once this is accomplished, the cell is capped with more wax.
Once a frame is completely capped, it is mine to take. Don't worry about the bees though, the honey I harvest is from the upper part of the hive known as the 'Super'. The honey that the bees need to make it through the winter is safely stored in the lower part of the hive where the queen and her brood live. The bees will instinctively gather and store as much honey as the local environment provides, and for which they have sufficient room in their hive.
The entire hobby of beekeeping can be summed up as simply giving the bees enough space to do what they would do naturally if left alone.
This year I got about 11 kilos of honey from my bees. This is not very much considering the wealth of flowering plants in the area, but I have a feeling that the move to the new location in early summer may have disrupted things a bit. In addition to the 11 kilos (which was extracted from the comb by spinning it in a centrifuge), I also kept back a few frames of 'comb honey' because Ari and Gili love to chew the cut honeycomb as a treat on shabbat.
As hobbies go, this one certainly pays a nice, sweet dividend.
* Lyrics from the last verse of 'September Song'
Thursday, September 15, 2005
I may write it in a slightly different order than I used to, but the date is still very much worth noting.
It is now 7:00AM and waiting upstairs on the breakfast table are:
- Freshly ground/brewed Sumatra Coffee
- Fresh orange juice
- Eggs (kid's omelets & 2 'over easy' for Zahava)
- Toasted rolls
- Butter and fig jam
- Jerusalem Post
It's time to wake up Zahava and remind her that it's been 14 years (according to the Gregorian calendar), since she agreed to become Mrs. Treppenwitz (OK, maybe she didn't anticipate that particular honor).
Miraculously we haven't (yet) killed each other... and whatever damage we may have inflicted upon the children can (hopefully) be sorted out by a few competent therapists.
Here's to [G-d willing] many more years of making it up as we go along.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
A belated response
This past Sunday several of the bloggers/journalers I read posted moving commemorative tributes to the events of September 11th, 2001. A few others made note of the day and wondered aloud how the day had managed to pass them by without the impact of previous years. One of those was Ralphie of The Kerckhoff Coffee House.
After making the difficult admission that he didn't really know what the proper way to mark the day might be, Ralphie asked an honest question:
"Did anyone out there make an effort to do something relevant?"
As I browsed around the blogosphere on Sunday and Monday, I noticed a growing number of people who had simply rehashed their personal recollections of the attack... or who were wrestling with their own frustration at not having made more of an effort to mark the day properly.
I'll admit that I came away from every one of these well-written posts feeling troubled... but it took me several days to figure out why.
Now I know.
The real question jumped out at me during my drive home last night:
Why are we making such an effort to single out the events of 9/11 for national commemoration?
Don't get me wrong, having watched the events of that day unfold from my mid-town Manhattan office. I was/am as horrified as anyone by the viciousness of the attack and the horrific loss of life.
But still... why have we chosen that specific event?
One could argue that we do so because it was the opening salvo in the current war. However, not only would that be incorrect... but most people still refuse to openly admit (even to themselves) that there is a World War underway.
It might be that some people see 9/11 as the first big event of the current conflict to take place on American soil. OK, that's fair... but so what? Does that mean that the Marines who died in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia... the U.S. Embassy workers who have been targeted for death in various locations around the globe... the passengers on various airliners that were blown out of the air... a certain wheelchair-bound cruise ship passenger who was murdered and tossed overboard, aren't also casualties of this same war?
I could go on and on... but the question remains: Why do we insist on narrowing the focus of our national attention rather than widening it?
If we were to have a single day on which we remembered all victims of the current war against Militant Islam, complete with a long list of names, dates, locations, etc.... I think it would go much further towards finally waking people out of their complacent idea that 9/11 was horrible a fluke... or a one-off attack carried out by a handful of dedicated fanatics.
With all respect to those who died on September 11th, 2001, as well as those who lost loved ones in that horrible attack... I think we are doing them, and ourselves a grave disservice by glancing sadly back through self-imposed tunnel vision at the events of that single day.
America has had rallying cries in the past such as "Remember the Maine" and "Remember Pearl Harbor" which helped focus the nation on the deeds perpetrated by those we sought to defeat on the battlefield. But we immortalized and commemorated those attacks specifically because they were clear casus belli - events that required us to respond with declarations of war.
Continuing to commemorate 9/11 as an isolated event, divorced from any larger conflict and without a formal declaration of war on Militant Islam, does nothing for those who died... and actually perpetuates a growing danger for those of us left alive.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
This & That
Just a few odds and ends to share today... nothing overly exciting or worthy of a full-blown journal entry:
1. I finished the latest Harry Potter book ('...The Half Blood Prince') last night. Don't worry... I'm not going to throw out any spoilers (for all 3 of you out there who haven't yet read these wonderfully entertaining stories), but I do have a pressing question after having finally completed all 6 books:
Q: What is the difference between a 'git' and a 'prat' (and which one is considered worse)?
2. I have to say for the record that Israeli women must be the most secure, well-adjusted human beings on the planet. How else can one explain the prevalence of 'tummy shirts' and 'hip huggers' on women who weigh roughly what I do? It stretches the concept of 'if you've got it, flaunt it' to include heretofore unimagined vistas.
3. One of my regular hitchhikers pointed out a recent trend here in Israel of commercial vehicles (trucks, buses, company cars, etc.) sporting stickers on the back bumper stating (in Hebrew, obviously): "How is my Driving?" followed by a phone number. This is presumably to allow the driving public to report rude or dangerous incidents. On a whim I started calling the numbers whenever I spotted one of these stickers. Guess what? The overwhelming majority of the numbers are (according to my very unscientific survey methods) either:
a) not in service.
b) some overworked secretary who has no idea that her phone number has been posted on a fleet of vehicles.
c) connected to a fax machine.
I suppose it is too much to expect the western concept of customer service to spring up overnight here in Israel. First comes the infrastructure; the stickers... the phone numbers... in short, the intention to provide a necessary service to the public. Then 'le'at, le'at' (slowly, slowly), actual customer service might one day evolve. Don't believe me? Go ahead and call!
4. As I've previously mentioned, whenever a commenter on treppenwitz includes a URL, I almost always wander over and check out their site. I do this for a few reasons, first and foremost among them is to make sure I'm not opening a dialog with a raving lunatic. But more generally, I've found that it's helpful to get a better understanding of who left a comment before replying. A side benefit of this practice is that I have discovered many wonderful and interesting bloggers/journalers whose lives and experiences have broadened my horizons beyond measure. A few days ago someone calling herself 'jg' wandered over from Lachlan's blog and left a thoughtful comment on my 'Prophets & Losses' post. When I clicked over to her blog to 'check her out' I found a veritable gold mine of funny/interesting links, and a delightfully well-written site. Go check her out!
5. I continue to get at least 3-5 requests a week from people asking me to add them to my blogroll (A.K.A. my 'Good readin' List'). I solemnly promise that whenever I get around to updating my 'about' page I am going to include a 'linkage policy'. But until that happens here it is in a nutshell:
a) I read a lot of people who are not on my blogroll. Some end up on my blogroll... others don't. Just as treppenwitz is not consistently interesting to most people... I am not in the practice of filling up my blogroll with people who are not consistently interesting to me.
b) I use my blogroll as a way to quickly visit my favorite reads. Many of those writers don't have me linked (or even know that I read them), and that's fine. Reciprocal linking is high school sh*t and doesn't do anything except slightly improve one's Google rating. News Flash: I don't know what my own Google rating is... so I hope you'll understand that your Google rating and traffic aren't very high on my list of priorities.
c) I add and remove links from my blogroll every few months... sometimes out of boredom... and other times on an impulse/whim. Falling off the list doesn't mean I've stopped reading you. It just means I've stopped reading you every day (and often means you've stopped updating regularly). Being added to the blogroll means I've been following you for a while and find you consistently interesting. Again, I don't expect that my interest in someone's writing or subject matter will be either eternal or reciprocal. In fact the odds of either of those things happening are really pretty slim.
d) Lastly, my blogroll consists of stuff that I like and find interesting. Please be warned: Many of the people I read regularly are of interest to me, specifically because of how different their life experiences are from my own. If you are narrow minded or easily offended by different religions, worldviews, sexual orientation, or political views... please don't click on any of the links in my blogroll. If I ever find out that someone coming from treppenwitz has 'trolled' a site that they discovered via my blogroll, they will be banned from here forever. [Not sure what a troll is, or if you might qualify as one? Probably the best real-life example of troll behavior I have ever seen can be found here.]
Well... that's about it. Sorry to be such a buzz-kill there at the end, but I've been wanting to get that off my chest for some time now, and today just turned out to be the day. Lucky you.
Monday, September 12, 2005
I need to ask (beg) a favor from some of the older folks out there.
I woke up this morning with vague sense of having dreamt about coin-op vending machines (of all things). I'm fairly certain that the germ of the dream was planted by Elisson who wrote a great post about a very specific vending machine memory of his own. But my recollection/dream seems to have been much more general than his.
I remember dreaming about going to the Horn & Hardart Automat with my Grandma Fay (A"H), where with a couple of coins we could open any of the gleaming chrome and glass doors and free the sandwiches and slices of pie from their little see-though compartments. To this day I've never tasted macaroni & cheese that comes even close to what I ate at the Automat!
I also dreamt about the vending machines that used to be bolted to the upright I-beam supports on many of the NYC Subway platforms which dispensed those little boxes of gum (I don't remember the brand, but each tiny box contained two pieces of Chiclets-type gum). This was back in the days when NYC Subway platforms seemed to be paved entirely in discarded chewing gum. [shudder]
But the part of the dream that has been bothering me since I woke up is yet another vending machine memory dredged up from my murky past. This last part of the dream was about 'rest-stop vending machines'. I don't know how to describe them any better than that.
Before highway rest-stops started putting in video arcades and a gazillion different types of electronic beverage / snack machines to shake travelers down for their last bit of pocket change, there was something else... something far simpler and much more innocent.
Just about anywhere you were likely to stop back when I was a kid, there were these neat little vending machines strategically located just inside the entrance to the rest-stop bathrooms... and they contained everything from pocket combs to toenail clippers to small novelty items. These novelty items are what always grabbed my attention... and what I used to beg my father to buy me.
However, I can't for the life of me remember what these novelty items were!
Before any wits decide to make a funny guess... let me say for the record, 'no, they weren't condoms!' (although some day I'll share a funny story about the first time I saw a condom machine in a public bathroom and didn't know what it was).
Anyway, back to this rest stop vending machine whose contents I can't remember.
I have a vague sense that there might have been some kind of magic tricks in there... but I just can't get my mind's eye to focus properly. All I can recall is that vending machine standing there... containing a few things that I couldn't possible live without.
So why can't I pull up that memory? Maybe it's been over-written by having to conjugate a few too many past- and future-tense irregular feminine verbs in Hebrew. :-)
So... did you and your family travel the American roads before the age of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Burger king? My family's idea of a vacation involved piling into the car and driving for days... and sometimes weeks, to arrive at some exciting destination. We made a science of touring via family campgrounds, and cris-crossed the continent twice while I was growing up. We even made it up to Canada a few times!
Therefor... the people who are most likely to be able to help me dredge up this missing memory are those who took these same kinds of trips back in the 60's and 70's.
If you have any recollection of what the hell I might have found so fascinating in those damned vending machines, please let me know!
Sunday, September 11, 2005
When someone moves to a new place there is an adjustment period during which he/she becomes acclimated to local customs and fashions.
Our move to Israel has proved no exception to this rule.
Over the past two years I have embraced many of the local customs and um, fashion statements.
For example, I have become more flexible with footwear... being equally at home in my old choices (penny loafers by LL Bean or well-worn Topsiders by Sperry) or the more Israeli look (sandals by Teva).
However, having grown up in New England, I have been deeply indoctrinated in the 'preppy' school of dress and some of my old habits have proven harder to break. For instance, the color palette of my slacks ranges anywhere from khaki to, well... um, khaki.
In addition, all but a handful of my shirts are button-down oxfords (most of which are light blue)... and all of these oxfords - without exception - have long sleeves.
Herein lies the cultural problem.
You see, Israeli men seem to overwhelmingly favor short-sleeve shirts.
Another small issue is the collar buttons (I'm talking about the buttons that hold the collar points down, not the topmost button that closes the two sides of the collar together!). I was raised to understand that the collar buttons are buttoned whether or not you are wearing a tie. I mean, hellooo... they don't call it a 'button down collar' for nothing! But good luck trying to explain that to a typical Israeli!
One Israeli friend of mine actually presented his rationale for wearing the collar buttons undone by saying, "What if I needed to put on a tie? This way I can put it on quickly." I asked him when he had last worn a tie and he admitted that it had been perhaps 15 years... but he wouldn't back away from his argument (that too seems to be very typically Israeli!)
Anyhooo... I'm really fine with an untucked shirt once in awhile... you know, like on Shabbat afternoon on a hot summer day. And I can even ignore the Philistines who insist on walking around with their collars unbuttoned.
But short sleeves??? All I can think of when I see these shirts is Detective Andy Sipowicz (of NYPD Blue fame).
I've tried... I've really, really tried. But every time I come close to buying a short-sleeved dress shirt, all I keep asking myself is, What Would Sipowicz Do*?
Maybe by next summer I'll be better acclimated.
Image is by Danny Feld/AP
* No connection whatsoever to the book by the same name.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Photo Friday (Vol. XX*XIX) [small world edition]
I apologize in advance to most of the readers. Sometimes you find yourself at a big dinner party where you know it would be rude to whisper some private story to friends sitting nearby... but you just can't help yourself. The host glares and some of the guests feel (justifiably) excluded as you and your friends share your private joke.
This is going to be sort of like that... except in this case it's the host being rude.
A million years ago, in another life, I was a professional musician. I didn't depend on music for my livelihood... but I was very fortunate to be paid to do something I enjoyed as often as I liked (2-4 times a week).
Well, a friend from that former life was nice enough to email me some pictures from a photo shoot we both attended for an album cover about 16 years ago. It was for my friend Lenny Solomon's 'Sgt. Shlocker' album and it should be obvious what look he was going for. I'm on at least one other of his albums... but this was the only one where I made the cover. :-)
The funny thing is that present at this shoot were a blogger I follow regularly... his wife... two of his kids... and about 7 or 8 of the people who regularly comment here at treppenwitz. Who would have ever guessed that even though our lives all went in very different directions, that we would all still be connected so many years later?
Here are the pictures (sorry about the quality... these are old, scanned shots):
First up is your host (on the right), and my good friend Jordan.
Next are a couple of kids who some of you may know in the blogosphere as 'Fudge' and 'Moe'
And this is my fellow blogger... the man now known as Psychotoddler (a name by which he also refers to his youngest daughter) That's his wife (Mrs. Balabusta) and Moe behind him. Yes... he looks a bit like Captain Crunch:
And finally, a really bad scan from the web of the album cover (I'm in the back row... 6th from the left). There is also a tug at my heart as I look at the last picture since the guy standing two people to MY left (right as you look at it) is an old friend, J.J. Greenberg (OB"M) who was killed in September of 2002 while riding his bike. I can't look at this album without being reminded of what a terrible loss the world suffered that day.
Well, there it is... If you'd like to see what the psychotoddler kids look like these days, go here.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
What was I thinking?
I very rarely get to drive by myself anymore. It's not that I mind the hitchhikers, but they do tend to cramp my musical style a tiny bit. By this I mean that I am less likely to explore the dark, dusty (even embarrassing) corners of my iPod's music collection when I have a car full of people.
I know for a fact that most of you also have very different standards for your 'private' and 'public' listening, so just pipe down! No matter where we get our music; radio, CDs, cassettes, MP3 player, etc., it is inevitable that some of it will make us cringe. How we react to this is what I mean when I say we have different habits depending on whether others are around.
A couple of examples:
Cringe & Stab Example 1: Most of us own at least a couple of albums or compilations that contain a song or two that are excruciatingly embarrassing. At the time that they were 'popular', these songs may have been tolerable... but the passage of time has transformed these unfortunate tunes into the punchlines in long-standing musical jokes. So, if we are alone we might listen cringingly just for nostalgia's sake to 'Saturday Night' by the Bay City Rollers ("S...A...T.U.R...D.A.Y... Night!"), but if anyone else was around we would instantly stab the skip/scan button and move quickly on to safer musical ground.
Cringe & Stab Example 2: When I lived in Manhattan's Washington Heights I used to occasionally stumble across a salsa or merengue station while scanning for something to listen to on the radio. If I was alone in the car I might listen for a few minutes and marvel at the complicated rhythms and the percussive effect of the unintelligible(to me) lyrics. But if anyone else would be with me, the sound of Spanish lyrics and/or syncopated sax lines would have me instantly stabbing the scan button. That simply wasn't 'our' music.
Clear so far?
OK, so yesterday I was driving to work in my oddly empty car and decided to put my iPod on the 'shuffle' setting and let it decide what to play from among the 7000+ songs I carry around with me.
I promise you that if I had tried to create a play-list of the most embarrassing and cringe-worthy songs and named it 'Cringin' & Stabbin', I couldn't have come up with a better first four songs than what my iPod decided to serve up... one right after the other:
- 'Billy don't be a hero' by Bo Donaldson
- 'Loving You' by Minnie Ripperton (this is the one with the ear-splitting shriek at the end of each chorus)
- 'I am woman!' by Helen Reddy
- 'Afternoon Delight' by The Starlight Vocal Band ("Thinkin' of you's workin' up a appetite...")
The worst part is that, because I was alone in the car, I actually listened to them all the way through!
[hangs head in shame]
I could have easily purged these songs from my iPod ages ago, but every couple of years... when I'm all by myself... it is kinda neat to hear them again. It's sort of like looking at old pictures of myself from the '70s. The powder blue tux from my senior prom... the qiana shirt I wore for my Jr. yearbook photo... yikes! The point is that while I cringe at the horrible clothes and bad hair... it's still kinda fun to reminisce.
Anyway, during lunch yesterday I scrolled through the rest of my iPod to see what other cringe- or stab-worthy songs were lurking there. Mind you, I would probably listen to most of these songs if I was by myself in the car...but if anyone else happened to be with me... well, you know...
Anyway, here's what I found stinking up my iPod (in alphabetical, rather than cringe-factor order):
- Alfie - Dionne Warwick
- Barbie Girl - Aqua
- Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown - Jim Croce
- Bad Blood - Neal Sedaka
- Betcha by golly wow - The Stylistics
- Boogie Oogie oogie - A Taste of Honey
- Electric Avenue - Eddie Grant
- Everybody have fun tonight - Wang Chung
- Ghost Busters - Ray Parker Jr.
- Greenback Dollar - Kingston Trio
- Having my baby - Paul Anka
- Hooked on a feeling - Blue Suede (the 'ooga-chaka' version)
- Iron Man - Black Sabbath
- Knock three times - Tony Orlando & Dawn
- Love will keep us together - Captain & Tenille
- Luka - Suzanne Vega
- Mexican Radio - Wall of Voodoo
- Mmbop - Hanson
- Midnight at the oasis - Maria Muldaur
- Muskrat Love - Captain & Tenille
- Rock the boat - The Hues Corporation
- Saturday Night - Bay City Rollers
- Say you'll be there - Spice Girls
- She blinded me with science - Thomas Dolby
- Smokin' in the boy's room - Brownsville Station
- Sodomy - Original Soundtrack for 'Hair'
- Theme from Hawaii 5-0 - The Ventures
- Too Shy - Kajagoogoo
- Torn between two lovers - Mary MacGregor
- Why don't we do it in the road - Beatles
I'm sure I must have missed a few... but this begs the question, "What was I thinking?"
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Chalk it up to the long commute, but my mind picks over some really odd topics while I'm on the road.
The most recent odd topic I've been thinking about is that, as a group, Israelis don't put 'things' in their yard. This isn't to say that Israeli yards/gardens aren't beautiful... they are! Israelis do incredible things with relatively little space; flowers, fruit trees, trellises, grape arbors, etc. But, as a rule, they don't put 'things' out there!
I know I'm not expressing myself well... I'm just as frustrated as you are.
By 'things' I mean the kind of ornaments and statuary that are common in many of the places I've lived and visited. These objects are for the home-owner what 'bling-bling' is to a rap star; It is supposed to focus the onlookers attention and provoke envy. Needless to say, the reaction depends heavily on the tastes of the observer.
For the purposes of this discussion, I'll simply call all of these 'things' 'yard candy'.
Here is a partial list:
Lawn Jockeys - These small statues used to be found everywhere around the US until it became very un-PC to have them. Those that held onto these cultural relics dutifully painted the Jockey's faces white... but very few are still out there waiting to greet visitors at the end of America's walkways.
Pink Flamingos - There are several areas of the U.S. where these are a very common sight on people's front lawns, but Maine seems to have taken perverse pride in making itself the Pink Flamingo capitol of the country.
Garden Gnomes - While these are also (or perhaps first and foremost) a European tradition, I have seen them in gardens and yards all over the U.S. and Canada. I had a sense that their popularity was waning... but the wonderful film Amélie seems to have created a revival of sorts.
Wishing Wells - In many rural areas these wooden wells with small roof, bucket and windlass actually sit atop functioning or defunct wells. But in more suburban settings people have inexplicably decided to place fake wells on their lawns. I don't understand this trend... but in truth it isn't any worse than gnomes or flamingos.
Windmills/Pinwheels - I've grouped these two together because they tend to give the same general impression; That the owner of the house really wishes deep down that he/she owned a putt-putt golf course but can't get the zoning changed to accommodate the dream. There are rarely just one or two of these wind-driven items. If there is one there are sure to be several dozen in dazzling paint schemes spread around the yard.
Wooden Barrel halves - We actually had one of these in our front yard in Connecticut. It was full of orange Day Lillies (long before orange became such a political hue), and its wood took on a nice iron-gray color as the New England winters aged it.
Wagon Wheels - Like wooden barrel halves, wagon wheels give the yard a rustic feel... even if you happen to live in South Central L.A.. The passage of time gives the item a nice weathered appearance and makes it nearly impossible to properly trim the tall grass and weeds that spring up in between its spokes.
Gazebos - Like the Wells, these tend to be the centerpiece of a yard. You need a lot of property to pull off a gazebo, so you don't see too many of these in suburbia. I've actually been dying to build one out in West Turdistan overlooking the vineyards in the valley behind our house. Maybe some day...
Old cars (up on blocks) and Appliances - This is mostly a tradition in the rural south. I haven't quite figured out the attraction of this 'look', but many people seem to find that the rusting chassis of a 1956 Ford pick-up or a couple of old refrigerators lends the family estate that certain je ne sais quoi.
But for some reason, you won't see this sort of thing in Israel, and I can't quite figure out why I haven't seen any real 'lawn candy' here. For the most part people seem content to let their flowers and trees be the focal point of their yards and not clutter up the place with 'things'.
So, I have two questions for you out there:
1. If you live in Israel, is there some lawn ornamentation I've overlooked?
2. If you live outside of Israel, what is the most common 'yard candy' in your area?
Monday, September 05, 2005
For more information see...
I happened to glance at my referrer logs this morning and noticed a link coming from eBay. I couldn't imagine what possible connection my site could have with an online auction so I followed the link.
I turns out that some guy up in Hedera is selling a can of Loof on eBay and had linked to an entry I wrote last year about this wonderful stuff. When I checked, his can of Loof had only garnered one bid (for 99 cents). So even though the IDF is no longer issuing the stuff to the troops, it doesn't look like these cans are going to be collectors items any time soon.
That's good news because I only have about 20 cans left in the pantry... and I'll probably have to score some more before the supply really dries up.
Once in a while I open up a can, slice it into small cubes and fry it with onions. I then add it to scrambled eggs for a wonderful mid-week dinner. The kids love it too (not that I share, mind you)!
It's not even 6:15 in the morning and I'm already hungry for dinner!!!! Oh well... one thing is certain: You won't be seeing any of my loof up on eBay!