Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Treppenwitz in Hebrew! Who knew?!
A sharp-eyed reader of this blog emailed me to tell me he'd come across the phrase; “חוכמת חדר מדרגות” ... [which translates as 'the wisdom of the stairwell'], while reading an article in the Israeli daily Maariv.
How cool is that? Obviously I knew about the word treppenwitz [duh!]. I'd also seen the French expression 'esprit d'escalier' [staircase wit/spirit]. But who knew that Hebrew had gotten so hip?!
Hat tip to Elli
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
The Lost Sunday
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a Sunday in Israel. Or more correctly, we have nothing exactly like a Sunday in the American sense of the word/day.
Oh sure, most of us here in Israel have Fridays off and could theoretically indulge in the kind of laying about… leisurely breakfast eating… casual newspaper perusal that Americans take for granted on the Christian Sabbath. But when theory comes into practice, this doesn't really work out since we have the pressure of getting out to the stores before they close early for Shabbat. And, of course, there are the Shabbat preparations themselves (cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc.).
Shabbat itself is everything a day of rest should be. But for the observant, there are synagogue services to attend, scheduled meals to be eaten, and often guests to be entertained. In short, it's a far more structured day than the typical lazy Sundays of my past life.
But every few years the stars align and Yom Kippur will fall out on a Sunday night/Monday, causing most businesses to give Sunday off as a 'bridge day'… resulting in a long weekend and an honest-to-goodness Sunday like in the old country.
Such was the case this past Sunday. For almost a week I was looking forward to sleeping in… eating a big American-style breakfast with the family… sitting out on the back porch and thumbing through some back issues of 'The New Yorker' that my parents had brought for us. Seriously, that was the plan for the day!
You know the expression 'man plans and G-d laughs'? Well, I heard the first of G-d's chuckles Saturday night right after Shabbat ended. It sounded just like the special ring-tone I've assigned for when Ariella calls. Ariella had been away for several days at a 'Seminarion' (a school trip), and all her reports up until Shabbat had been that she was having an amazing time. Saturday night, it turns out, she was calling to say she thought she'd broken her finger playing catch [what is it with my kids and fingers?!].
After I'd brought my parents back to Jerusalem (they had been with us for Shabbat), and picked up Ariella where she had been dropped off with her classmates, we headed over to Terem (a non-hospital triage and treatment center) to have her finger X-rayed. The wait wasn't too long, but by the time we'd gotten the good news that she'd only bruised the finger, it was well after midnight.
I had just pointed the car in the direction of our home when Ariella mentioned that she was starving. I decided if we were already in Jerusalem I'd treat her to a late snack at Burger's Bar in the German Colony. I'd already eaten at home so I sat and watched her enjoy her burger and onion rings.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, Ariella excused herself to go to the ladies room and left me standing at the entrance to the restaurant. There was a gumball machine there so I bought us a couple of pieces of gum for the ride home… popping mine into my mouth.
Just as Ariella walked up I heard a loud 'crack' inside my head and nearly passed out from a blinding flash of pain that was coming from the shattered place where one of my molars had been. The gum had been perfectly chewable and soft… but apparently that tooth had decided it wasn't up to any more work and nearly a third of it had simply sheared off leaving a razor sharp field of wreckage in its wake.
I managed to drive home, but barely slept a wink that night due to the electric-like shocks I was getting any time saliva or my tongue touched the damaged tooth. Around 8 AM I started calling my close friend and neighbor Ari Greenspan, who also happens to be my dentist (I've written about his simian exploits here). To my frustration he didn't answer! What the heck... where could he be at that hour?! Suddenly it dawned on me that we'd moved the clocks back an hour during the night, and I was calling at 7 AM. No wonder nobody was answering! I was probably the only person in town awake at that hour!!! So I sent him the following text message:
"Ari… I know you weren't planning on going into your office today, but I broke a tooth last night and the only alternative to immediate treatment is euthanasia"
Finally around 8:30 I reached my friend/dentist and in a sleepy voice he told me to come over to his house. One look in my mouth confirmed that we couldn't leave it the way it was, so we made preparations to go to his office in Jerusalem. As I left my house, the rest of my family were enjoying the casual Sunday morning I had been dreaming about… and I couldn't even have a cup of coffee!!!
Once in the dentist office, Ari turned on the lights, powered up the compressors and put me into a chair with some music. We were alone, so I had to double as both patient and assistant; holding tools and passing him instruments while gurgling around the cotton and suction device. To his credit the only time he actually asked me anything was to inquire if his smoothing of the edges of the broken tooth was causing me any pain.
In less than 15 minutes he'd checked the tooth, smoothed out the sharp edges, bonded a temporary cover in place, and explained to me that I'd need to schedule time with him for a full crown sometime in the next month or two.
Luckily, instead of requiring several trips for fitting and adjusting a temporary and then permanent crown, Ari is one of three dentists in the country who has a special German machine in the office to manufacture the permanent crown and install it in one visit!
And that, as the saying goes, should have been that.
Since this is Ari Greenspan we are talking about and not your average dentist, we didn't return home immediately. Instead, we headed over to the Buchari Shuk in Mea Sha'arim in search of a special kind of tree growth for making scribe's ink (did I mention that Ari dabbles as a Sofer?).
From there we noticed a second floor balcony in the heart of this ultra-orthodox neighborhood littered with antiques and junk of every description (did I mention that both Ari and I are inveterate junk hounds?), so we went down an alley, climbed a flight of stone stairs and basically forced our way into someone's home to check out their hoarded goodies. The Hassidic family who lived there were very gracious, letting us poke around their tchotchkes… and even gave us cold drinks while we invaded their privacy erev Yom Kippur! Ari asked our hosts if they had any Brit knives lying around (did I mention that Ari is a trained mohel?) – as if this was something that most people keep in their homes – but sadly we struck out on that front.
Once we'd finished with our home invasion exploration, Ari got a call from a friend who was in the area… asking if we could he meet him to slaughter some chickens (did I mention that Ari is also a certified Shochet/ritual slaughterer?).
We ended up walking around a few corners to where his friend was parked. They grabbed a hand-full of chicken from the back of the car and headed over to a small vacant lot. Ari's friend waved the bird over his and his children's heads in a small ceremony which was a tad too close to Santeria for my taste, and then Ari did a quick check of the bird… a more thorough check of the knife… and within a few moments the chicken had been dispatched in front of a small crowd of curious onlookers.
Finally we hopped back into Ari's ancient VW (painted to look like Herbie, the Love Bug) and we went back to Efrat. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and famished from lack of food… so I had a banana and some eggs (over easy) and went to lie down for a little while.
No sooner had I gotten comfortable when Zahava reminded me that Gilad had spent the night at my parents the night before... and I would need to be picked up. I badly needed a nap, but after a glance at my watch I heaved my carcass into an upright position and put on my shoes.
As I was coming up the stairs, the doorbell rang. It was a neighbor from across the street reporting that a swarm of bees had alighted on a bush in front of the entrance to his apartment building and nobody could come or go. Would I come and help them?
I put down my car keys and turned to get my veil and gloves form my pile of beekeeping gear. On the way out I grabbed a 'nuc box' (basically a half-sized hive) and headed across the street. Sure enough, even though it is less common for bees to swarm at the end of the summer than in the spring, there, hanging from a vine was a humming ball of bees about eight inches in diameter.
Half the neighborhood was gathered (at a respectful distance, of course), and a few pundits started asking why I wasn't in my full bee suit. The truth is, I really didn't need the gloves or veil at all. Most swarms are very docile.
If you've ever seen a circus performer make a beard of bees… it is the same thing. swarm is not usually a dangerous thing. A queen outside the hive with a large number of loyal workers clinging to/around her have almost no defensive instincts. They have no hive to protect and are simply waiting for the scout bees to report back that they have found a new home for the colony to occupy. However, since that search for a new home can take days, and the swarm is a frightening thing for people to encounter near their homes, beekeepers often get panicked calls to remove them.
I put down the nuc box on a wall next to the bush where the swarm had alighted. I grabbed the vine on which they were hanging and in one quick snip, removed the branch and put the entire swarm into the box. When the top went on the box and I took off my gloves and veil, the crowd was shocked. They were expecting a pitched battle between man and nature. What I had done must have seemed like a card trick.
As I walked back towards my house with the box of bees, one of the neighbors asked what I was going to do with them. I hadn't really thought that far ahead, but I gave him the obvious answer: I told him I'd take them out to my bee yard and start a new hive with them.
And that's what I did.
On my way out of Efrat to pick up Gilad, Yonah and I stopped off at my hives and he watched closely as I set up this new swarm of bees in a full sized hive and stole a little honey-filled comb from a neighboring hive so they'd have something to eat while they began foraging their new territory. The whole transfer took less than 20 minutes.
By the time I got back from picking up Gilad, it was an hour before the fast was to begin. I quickly helped Zahava get dinner on the table…we stuffed ourselves to the point of discomfort (a mistake a promise myself every year that I won't repeat), and then showered and dressed just in time to run to shul.
So much for my restful, American-style Sunday.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Receiving an unexpected dividend from the karma bank
More and more lately I've been trying to get to and from work using a combination of tremps (hitchhiking) and public transportation. I've been doing so partly to reduce our fuel bill (gigantic), and partly to give Zahava a little more mobility.
I genuinely enjoy my regular drive and have always liked being able to give rides to soldiers and others who need to travel the same beautiful roads that I do. So it feels odd to suddenly find myself looking for rides instead of giving them.
The typical routine on days when I don't have the car goes something like this:
In the morning I hitchhike or get a ride from Zahava to Kiryat Arba (about 20 minutes south of us) in time to catch the 6:40 bus to Beer Sheva (another hour and a quarter ride). In the evening I catch the bus to Kiryat Arba and then either hitchhike to the Gush or wait half an hour for the bus that passes outside our town.
Today as I left work I was exhausted and found myself at the bus stop really not looking forward to a two hour commute. When the bus finally pulled up, I got on, went to hand the driver my fare. But instead of taking the money and handing me back my change, the driver looked at me and asked (in Hebrew, of course) "Where are you from?"
It was an odd question considering that most bus drivers only care where you are going... not where you're from.
I answered "Efrat".
Without missing a beat, the driver smiled and said, "I thought I'd seen you in the supermarket. I live in Efrat too. When we get to Kiryat Arba, stay on the bus... I'll take you home".
Many Israeli bus drivers take their buses home with them at night, so instead of having to hitchhike home or wait in the cold for a connecting bus, I was dropped at my door (or as close to it as a bus can get)!
On the ride from Kiryat Arba to Efrat, the driver and I sat together at the front of the now-empty bus and chatted about our families and who we knew in common. By the time we entered our town he had given me his schedule and his cell phone number.
As the bus pulled away, all I could think was that after all the rides I've given to strangers - many of whom have become friends - it felt nice to have the karma bank pay a little dividend.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
If you thought Carter was bad...
It's not bad enough that Dhimmi Carter refuses to stay put wherever it is that they billet past presidents when they begin to embarrass themselves and their country. But now the man who was Carter's mentor - the architect of some of his worst policies - has reappeared and is vying for the ear of yet another inexperienced president. [Note: I am using the word 'inexperienced' objectively and without prejudice]
This past Sunday, Carter's former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, announced in an interview that he feels President Barak Obama should order U.S. forces to shoot down Israeli jets in the event that they try to over-fly Iraqi airspace on their way to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities.
Here is his exact statement:
"They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch? ... We have to be serious about denying them that right. That means a denial where you aren't just saying it. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not. No one wishes for this but it could be a 'Liberty' in reverse."
Just take a moment to re-read that quote. This is an angry man talking. If you didn't know the context you could be forgiven for assuming he was talking about an enemy. Not only is he speaking about an ally in a completely belligerent tone, but he seems to have an axe to grind over the USS Liberty.
Not incidentally, it was under the watchful eyes of Carter and Brzezinski that Iraq was allowed to develop the Osirak nuclear facility. So it isn't a reach to figure that both men are still stung by the prevailing school of thought which holds that Israel was forced to 'fix' a mistake that was allowed to happen on their watch.
Yes, I know that technically Israel bombed Osirak after Carter left office. But hanging Iraq's nuclear program around Ronald Reagan's neck would be about as silly as giving Jimmy Carter credit for the release of the US hostages from Iran. The mistakes were made on Carter's and Brzezinski's watch. The problems were 'solved' by others who came after.
Getting back to Mr. Brzezinski, it wasn't that he simply announced that the US should shoot down Israeli planes. He actually went so far as to suggest that if such a military show-down came to pass, that it would be a payback for the 'Liberty Affair'.
Now, for those not in the know about the fate of the USS Liberty, I suggest reading what's found at this link. But if you are tight on time, the short version is that in June of 1967 during the Six Day War, a US Intel Gathering (i.e.spy) ship entered an area that Israel had declared a closed military zone and was mistakenly identified as an Egyptian warship. In a tragic case of mistaken identify, the Liberty was bombed and strafed by Israeli planes resulting in the loss of the ship and the death of 34 men (171 others were wounded).
Israel apologized, took full responsibility for the accident, and paid compensation to the families of the dead, to the wounded and to the U.S. government for the loss of the ship. After two decades of independent US and Israeli governmental investigations (and countless conspiracy theories that still abound) the Israeli and US government's officially closed the books on the incident with an exchange of diplomatic notes on December 17, 1987.
Apparently Mr. Brzezinski didn't get the memo... or is still carrying a grudge.
I say this because threatening deliberate US military aggression against Israel in the same breath as one mentions a tragic friendly fire accident makes absolutely no sense. Unless, of course, the speaker doesn't think of it as an accident.
The only way you can find logic in his juxtaposition of these two events - one in the past and one in the future - is if Israel's attack on the Liberty was as premeditated as, say, the theoretical downing of Israeli fighters by US forces in Iraq.
I mean, think about it for a moment... he isn't suggesting that the US accidentally [wink wink] mis-identify and kill Israeli pilots, is he? No, of course not. He clearly sees the Liberty incident as a score that requires settling... and is among a dangerous breed of US diplomats and political scientists/advisers who view Israel exclusively through the lens of whatever preconception(s) and/or grudge(s) they may hold.
Aside from the fact that the outcome of a hostile encounter between Israeli and US warplanes over Iraq would be far from a turkey shoot for the American aviators... the idea of rattling a sabre in the face of the US's only stable ally in the region is just plain wrong-headed. Unless, of course, the sabre-rattler doesn't consider Israel an ally in the first place.
Fortunately, much of the world views Jimmy Carter as little more than a failed president taking un-earned curtain calls on the world stage in order to salvage some sort of legacy. But what few people remember is that Brzezinski was essentially calling the shots for Carter even before he declared his intention to run for president. He placed Jimmy Carter on the world stage by inviting him to join his newly formed 'Trilateral Commission' while he was a relatively unknown governor of a state most foreigners couldn't find on a map. And from that point on, Carter acknowledged that he was "an eager student" of Brzezinski; making him his primary foreign policy adviser during and after the presidential election.
My greatest fear is that another neophyte president with limited experience in the international arena will turn his attention to the architect of Carter's failed presidency. Seriously, it could happen! If you thought Carter was bad... try to imagine how bad things might get if someone like Brzezinski were to gain Obama's ear.
Update: A reader sent me the following cartoon that fits nicely wit the theme:
Sunday, September 20, 2009
You Can Not Make This Stuff Up….
A guest-post by a bewildered Zahava
[note from the management: Those of you who are not designers and/or do not use computer design/layout software on a regular basis will find this post, er, mysterious.]
I confess. I love to make people laugh. I love a good tale, and have been known to, um, enhance certain details if it will make for a better story than the original. I state this preface so that those who know me well will understand that I am aware of the poetic license I often employ, and that I am being completely truthful when I insist that the following is the unvarnished (and un-enhanced) truth….
Here is a snippet from a real live conversation I had with a production artist at a publication with whom I filed an insertion today:
Production Artist (PA): Zahava, there is a problem with your file.Me: Really? I saved it as a black plate through separations. What is the problem?
PA: It isn’t black. It also has cyan, magenta, and yellow in it.
Me: That’s not possible. When you said there was a problem with the original file, I re-saved it as a separated black plate postscript file and ran it through Distiller® as a press-quality file.
PA: Yes, but when I open the file, it shows the black as being made up as CMYK.
Me: Huh? How can you see the CMYK values in the PDF file? Is there a densitometer tool in Acrobat® that I don’t know about?
PA: Huh? What’s a densitometer?
Me: A densitometer is a tool that measures ink values in printing. You are looking at the file in Acrobat, right?
PA: That doesn’t concern you.
Me: (beginning to lose my patience) Ummmm, you call me and accuse me of saving a file incorrectly, and then you want to tell me that how you are viewing the file ‘doesn’t concern me?’
PA: No one is accusing you. We want this to look good. We are on the same side.
Me: (with a real edge in my voice now) What program are you using to view the file?!
Me: WHAT?! WHY?! Why would you take a vector-based PDF file and open it in a raster-based software?! You are aware that this degrades the clarity of the text, right?! RIGHT?! It also is a color-based program which reinterprets straight black into process values!
PA: (now also exasperated) This does NOT concern you.
Me: (yelling now – and for the record, beginning to worry that blood will begin to seep from under my eyelids and out my ears) This most CERTAINLY DOES concern me! Why the h3ll are you opening this file in Photoshop?
PA: Because the page layout application we use doesn’t support PDF.
Me: (now completely unable to control my temper) Then why, WHY, for the LOVE OF MIKE do you request insertions to be sent in PDF?!
PA: (now returned to a non-plussed state) Because it is an industry standard! Don’t you know that this is the best way to save files?
Me: (spluttering with complete and utter frustration -- and wondering how this woman managed to dress herself and find her way to work today, not to mention fervently hoping that I will soon awaken from this tedious nightmare and yet feigning a calm I can’t achieve) Yes. But the industry standard only works if the page layout application actually supports it!
As I said at the beginning… You. Can’t. Make. This. Stuff. Up.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Everything happens for a reason
I woke up his morning expecting to have a leisurely erev Rosh Hashanah (or as leisurely as any pre-holiday can be). I didn't have to be at work, and the kids were all off from school, so it should have been the first really slow paced morning around here in weeks.
Then I checked my email.
It turns out one of my foreign clients needed a signed form from me to clear a shipment from customs (his clerk had lost the one I'd sent and hadn't saved the email. Normally this wouldn't be so bad since I usually take copies of most of my current files home with me. But this time I hadn't.
My office is an hour from home. Zahava wasn't pleased.
I ran out to do some quick grocery shopping for her and then jumped into the car heading south towards Beer Sheva.
Almost immediately I picked up a car full of soldiers who had been released unexpectedly for the holiday and needed to get home to Beer Sheva, Dimona and other points south. I don't know what they'd done to suddenly have earned a pass for the weekend, but I felt good being able to help them surprise their families.
Once I got to the office I found several other small emergencies that needed to be dealt with and was able to deal with the emails and phone calls in short order.
As I was locking up my office my cell phone rang. It was my barber. Apparently I had been abroad the last time I'd needed a haircut and he was calling to make sure I was OK... and to wish me a happy new year, of course.
When I told him I was in Beer Sheva unexpectedly and that I was actually long overdue for a haircut he said, "So come on over... My son and I were just going to close the shop but I'll wait for you." When I pulled up he was standing in the doorway and welcomed me like royalty.
On the way home I couldn't help marvelling at my good fortune to live in a country where army commanders sometimes look for an excuse to send a few extra soldiers home for Rosh Hashanah, and where barbers call to wish their customers a happy new year and offer to keep the shop open a little late so you'll look presentable in shul.
I know there are lots of pretty greetings floating around this time of year, but I like the one Zahava made for her graphic design company (Zatar Creative).
Here's wishing all of you a new year filled with everything you need... and most of what you want!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
A piece of cake
Zahava and I don't normally make a big deal of our anniversary (secular or Hebrew). The point being that, like many of the 'Hallmark' holidays, we feel like anniversaries should not be the only time that a couple celebrates their marriage. In fact, if a couple celebrates their union but once a year it is probably a sign that all is not well.
That having been said, we certainly don't ignore the date. We mark the passing of each year together with at least a small token and/or a nice dinner out... and marvel that we've built so much shared history together.
Today is our 18th wedding anniversary; at least according to the secular calendar. We were actually married on the Sunday between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur... an un-orthodox date we chose by default because it was the only one that we could be sure my musician friends wouldn't be booked to play elsewhere.
It rained so hard that day that the parking lot of the synagogue flooded... a sign that many who attended assured us was a fortuitous one (although they were rather light on sources for their insights).
My Grandma Fay, who had been told to wear 'something black & white' complied with the letter of the instructions if not the spirit. She arrived during the pre-wedding photo session wearing a see-through black and white cocktail dress... and a bright red slip underneath. Classic Grandma Fay!
Grandma Fay was also given strict instructions to leave hear little lap dog (to whom she was devoted) at home or with a sitter. When she arrived at the hall it seemed at first glance that she had complied. But when we went to eat our meals during the reception, Zahava and I were told that they had already been eaten and cleared. A glance at the video later on revealed Grandma Fay sitting alone at our table feeding our meals to her dog (she had smuggled the tiny mutt into the wedding in her purse).
My groomsmen accidentally destroyed the wedding canopy's beautiful floral accents when they tried to hang up my Tallit... and spent some feverish moments carefully reconstructing it before the ceremony. Two of them were tasked with keeping my soon-to-be mother-in-law away from the sanctuary so she wouldn't have a heart attack at the carnage.
Zahava dressed her bridesmaids in matching black & white dresses that can best be described as 'Snow White' meets 'The Wizard of Oz'. My older sister - whose taste in clothing is probably closer to mine than to my wife's - was a good sport about her
costume dress, and even wore heels (for probably the only time in her adult life!). However, she nearly decked me when I walked up to her, took in the vision of loveliness from head to toe and asked "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"
At one point I thought that my groomsmen had played a practical joke on us by graffiti-ing our wedding cake. Instead of the simple white tiered cake that had been described to me (about a dozen times), the bakery crew wheeled in a multi-colored nightmare with our names written in 6" neon pink and blue script. It wasn't until I saw my Mother-in-Law's head nearly explode that I realized there must have been a mis-communication with the bakery. It tasted delicious anyway.
The day was a blur of friends and family... dancing and music. Although we only had a 6 or 7 piece band, there were never less than 10 or 12 musicians on stage at any point. You can take musicians out of the band but you can't keep them off the bandstand. A high-point was a jam session (in which I took part) where we serenaded Zahava with a jazz version of Eishet Chayil called 'Sheker haChen".
At the end of the affair Zahava and I went outside to find that our friends had dutifully decorated our car (in the rain!), and as we approached it I handed Zahava the keys. She protested that she didn't know how to drive a manual transmission. I protested that I didn't know how to drive drunk. I won.
In truth, I'd only had a few drinks during the affair, but it was a fun opportunity to teach my lovely bride the graceful Pas de deux of gas and clutch. She did fine (mostly) as we drove to our honeymoon hide-away in Saratoga. And nobody was more surprised to see us drive up the next day with Zahava behind the wheel than her father (who had lost most of his hair trying - unsuccessfully - to teach her to drive stick when she was in high school).
Oh, and on the way to our hotel after the wedding we stopped off at Zahava's parent's house in Schenectady to raid their refrigerator (remember Grandma Fay's dog had eaten our meals). When her parents arrived home to find us stuffing our face in front of the fridge, her mother asked "Isn't there some place you'd rather be? Isn't there something you'd rather be doing?!" We both took our faces out of the fridge just long enough to shake our heads. We had our whole lives to fool around. Right that moment we were starving!
That day is burned in my mind as the jumping off point of an adventure that just keeps getting better. Oh, there have been bumps in the road... and challenges of every sort. But like the cake at our wedding, the bad stuff and ugliness has been incidental... cosmetic blemishes to be overcome or overlooked. The the multi-tiered confection itself - our relationship and our life together - remains as delicious as that very first bite we shared 18 years ago today.
Happy anniversary honey!
Monday, September 14, 2009
Conversation with a 13-year-old
[Sound of mobile phone ringing. I know it's Gilad calling because his ring is set to the theme song to 'Our Gang' (The Little Rascals)]
Me: Hi Gili... what's up?
Gilad: Hi abba, I'm calling from the school office.
Me: [after long pause] What happened?
Gilad: Nothing. My teacher said I should call you.
Me: You want to be more specific? You're calling me at work in the middle of a school day at the behest of your teacher to tell me something... good?
Gilad: [sensing the extreme sarcasm in my last remark] No, I mean yes... I mean, I'm not in trouble, if that's what you 're worried about.
Me: OK, so you have my undivided attention. It is the second week of school and your teacher asked you to call me in the middle of the school day. Did you win some sort of award?
Gilad [sensing that my sarcasm is now off the scale]: He thinks I might have broken my finger.
Me: He thinks? What do you think?
Gilad: Well, it hurts pretty bad... and it's swollen to almost twice its normal size.
Me: I'm guessing this was one of those study-related injuries we're always hearing about?
Gilad: [missing the sarcasm altogether now] Huh? No, I mean it happened playing basketball during our break.
Me: Okay, which finger are you talking about.
Gilad: The fourth one.
Me: You have ten fingers. Five on each hand. Can you throw me a bone here?
Gilad: My fourth finger... on my right hand.
Me: You mean your right ring finger?
Gilad: Um, I don't know... I don't wear rings.
Me: You are aware that most people who wear rings tend to wear them on the finger next to the pinkie, right?
Gilad: I guess... I never noticed.
Me: Never mind... so you were about to tell me which finger you broke?
Gilad: They're not sure it's broken...
Me: [Yelling into the phone] Gilad, if you don't tell me which finger it is so help me G-d...!
Gilad: Oh yeah, sorry.... it's my fourth, um I mean my right ring finger. But like I said, they aren't sure it's broken. That's why they asked me to call you.
Me: Because they know I have magical diagnostic powers on the phone?
Gilad: No, because they don't know whether to send me home.
Me: Let me ask you a question: Does it hurt?
Me: Will it hurt less at home?
Gilad: No... but they think I should have it seen by a doctor.
Me: Oh, I'm sure you should. But I'm in Beer Sheva and Ima is teaching today in Jerusalem. So you aren't going to be able to get to a doctor until after school anyway. Why not just put some ice on it and wait a couple hours until we can actually do something about the problem?
Gilad: They don't have ice in school. And besides, I can't write.
Me: That must have been a hellava basketball game... your ears and eyes also got hurt?
Gilad: No, but it really hurts and I can't ice it here. Besides, if I go home I can take something for the pain and put an ice pack on it. I'll get all my assignments before I leave.
Me: [Relenting] Okay, let me talk to the secretary... you can go home... but I'd better not find out you didn't do all your schoolwork.
Postscript: I ended up leaving work early and told Gilad to meet me at the Jerusalem Terem (like an emergency triage clinic). Gilad's finger was indeed quite swollen. It looked like one of those really big hot dogs - the kind my Grandma Fay used to call 'specials' - albeit a hot dog that had been left in the sun to swell and blacken. X-rays showed that it wasn't broken, but he had certainly jammed it pretty badly.
While we were waiting for the nurse to come tape his swollen digit to it's larger neighbor, I gently explained to Gilad that he needed to work on his phone manner.
I asked him if he'd ever watched ER on TV. When he nodded his head, I asked if he'd ever noticed that when the paramedics were wheeling in a new patient, they would pass on a bunch of relevant information in an information-packed stream of vitals and medical history called a 'bullet'.
I told him that if he was well enough to call me to tell me about an injury, he'd better take a moment to collect his thoughts so he could give me the bullet... a nice succinct, information-rich description of the situation. Otherwise if I had to drag the information out of him like I'd done that afternoon.... a broken or sprained finger would be the least of his problems.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Can we talk?
I think we've known each other long enough that I can be honest with you. Brutally honest. Mmmmkay?
It's about the, er, smell. You know, that stale, unwashed pong that makes me want to roll down the windows, and hang my head into the slipstream like a dog.
No, not you, silly... you smell fine. I'm talking about your car!
If you're like me, you enjoyed that 'new car smell' for the first few months that you owned your current transportation. And from then on, you've done nothing more in the way of 'hygiene' than to run the vehicle through the local car wash a couple of times a month.
Oh sure, once or twice a year you're a big sport and spring for the deluxe 'inside & out special' to clean away the accumulated crud under the seats. But by then it's too late. Months (or years) of dropped food, spilled drinks, @ss sweat, pet drool and of course the flatulence that you held in all day, every day, at the office until you were safely alone in your car... all conspire the form the above-mentioned 'pong'. Add to that the damp, moldy smell you sometimes get from your overworked A/C in the summertime, and... wow, your car stinks!
What can you do about it?
We'll first of all, forget about getting back that new car smell. It went to the same place as your high school figure. Most of that new car smell was just the out-gassing of the new plastic components in the car interior, as well as the nylon carpet/floor mats, anyway. I'm guessing that isn't very healthy to be breathing in so it isn't the worst thing in the world that it's gone..
But there are a few things you can do to make your car interior a little more bearable:
1. Periodically steam clean the seats. I haven't done this yet, but it is on my list of things to do in the next week or two. A friend did it for his old jalopy and the difference was amazing.
2. Leave the windows open on warm sunny days. Parking the car with the windows open (or at least cracked) can let the wind and sun undo a lot of the damage you've done to the aroma-sphere of your car.
3. Every time you wash the car have it vacuumed too. You wouldn't believe the stuff that gets ground into the carpets and shoved under/between the seats in the course of a week or two. If you have kids and/or pets, multiply the problem by a factor of 10!
4. Whatever you do, stay away from those heavily scented pine trees and other stinky cardboard figurines that hang from your rear view mirror. They smell OK for about 10 seconds, and then immediately start to smell like the janitor's closet at an under-funded public high school. And those little bottles of liquid 'air freshener' that you see in auto-supply stores? Unless you are a gypsy cab driver and also have the beaded seat cover (to keep your butt from going numb on those long night shifts), eschew that stuff. The only reason deodorant works on your pits is because you wash them every day or two before applying a fresh coat. Your car interior is a perfect proof that more is sometimes less. Much less.
5. Tea Bags. I can't remember where I read this tip (and it's driving me crazy because it was definitely in one of my regular blog reads), but a neat trick that flight attendants sometimes use to deal with stinky airplane bathrooms is to hang up a couple of herbal teabags; the kind with orange, cinnamon, or other similar pleasant flavor. This isn't the cure, mind you. But it will make the sickness bearable until you get the caar interior properly cleaned.
There now, I'm so happy we had this little chat, aren't you? Oh, and don't thank me... I'm a giver!
Sunday, September 06, 2009
A nice surprise
It is very typical for Zahava to send me an email during the week saying something like this:
"I just got a [call/email] from [name of friend or neighbor] asking if we can host a few [soldiers/seminary girls/guests] for [a meal/all the meals/the whole shabbat including sleeping accommodations]. Can I tell them OK?"
It isn't that Zahava needs my approval, mind you. She's the family social secretary/cruise director and has a much better handle on our calendar than I do. But she and I both have frightful memories and often neglect to tell the other one that we've invited someone for Shabbat, or that one or more of the kids will be bringing home friends.
My typical reply is "No problem... go for it."
That's pretty much how it went down this past week, when a friend contacted Zahava to find out if we could host a couple of girls for Shabbat at our home and have them join us for lunch (the other meals were being arranged as part of an organized program in the neighborhood). So Zahava emailed me to make sure I hadn't made other arrangements and neglected to tell her about them.
I sent back my standard affirmative reply and promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward to Friday afternoon as I was getting into shorts and a T-shirt in preparation for doing sponja(basically spilling soapy water on the floor and then squeegee-ing it out the door).
Suddenly the doorbell buzzed and the dogs (our two plus a friends dog that were were dog-sitting) lost their collective minds... barking and throwing themselves at the front door as if the chuck wagon had just arrived.
Zahava yelled out from her studio that it must be the girls we're supposed to host for Shabbat, and could I go let them in and show them to their room. So I went to the front door, opened it and found myself face to face with a smiling married couple... clearly not the sem girls we were expecting.
It turns out that the person coordinating the group's visit to our community had done some re-arranging and these were our guests.
Personally, I was delighted. Don't get me wrong... I don't mind having seminary girls stay with us. But with this new turn of events, I went from being an invisible old relic that likely reminds the girls of their fathers, to having a couple of people closer to my age with whom I was much more likely to have things in common.
How much we had in common turned out to be the real surprise.
You see, this nice couple standing at our door (with three barking dogs vying for their attention) were/are both regular readers/commenters here on treppenwitz. I'll leave it to them to 'out' themselves if they like... but suffice it to say we went into what turned out to be a perfectly lovely shabbat already knowing a great deal about one another and having a host of interests in common.
I should really try to put together a list of all the bloggers/commenters who have graced Chez Treppenwitz with their presence over the years. The list of online connections that have become real life friendships is a long one that is still being written.
I wonder who'll be next?
Thursday, September 03, 2009
A question of ethics
As I've mentioned on numerous occasions, I am a member of a free web site called Walker Tracker. The purpose of the site is to give people who use pedometers a place to log, track, graph and compare their walking stats. It is a really nice place, and over the course of a few friendly competitions/challenges, I've started to enjoy the sense of community that exists among the walkers from around the world who gather there.
One of the neat functions of the site is that for each time you log your steps, meet your goals, win a challenge, etc., you are awarded a few points. When you accumulate a certain number of points, you move up to the next level.
Each time you move up a level, you are awarded a small bank of extra points called 'giveaway' points that you can gift to other users of the site to help them reach the next level. All in all, it is a very nice system that feels like a game, but actually keeps the motivation level of the users very high and lends a sense of community.
Here's where the ethical question comes in.
When I reached the last threshold to move up a level, instead of the site awarding me the usual 30 or 50 giveaway points... it gave me 4,294,966,915 giveaway points. No joke. More than four billion points!
Now, if this were an ATM machine that suddenly started to spit out money, or a banking error that suddenly deposited 4 billion extra dollars into my account, there would be no question what I'd do. That is not a victimless crime and someone would be held responsible for that money if I didn't return the money.
But walker tracker is a site where the points are made up out of thin air by the site-operator. They aren't even analogous to 'Monopoly Money' because there is no winner in this game... and having more or less points does not put anyone else on the site at a disadvantage.
However, it still feels wrong. Theoretically I could use the points to catapult myself to the highest level (I'm currently at level 9 of 21), or I could monitor my friends on the site and gift them points whenever I see them coming close to a new level... y'know, just to give them a little boost .
I've been tempted to contact the site operator to tell him about the error that gave me over 4 billion points. But I'm wondering if that would make me a really good guy... or a sucker.
What do you think? And more importantly, what would you do in my place?
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
An observation. Nothing more and nothing less.
It has often been observed that Israelis (as individuals and as a nation) are masters of extricating themselves from difficult situations that no normal people would ever allow themselves to get into in the first place.
I can't really allude to the specific incident that inspired this post, but suffice it to say that it constantly amazes (and frustrates) me that we are a nation of MacGyvers... actually proud of how little strategic thinking we do because it gives us endless opportunities to demonstrate our incredible tactical problem-solving skills once the inevitable sh*tstorm results from our lack of anything even approximating planning.
When you add to this the fact that everything from our impulsive lane changing on the highway to our international relations on the world stage seems to be governed by the simple-but-overriding imperative not to be anyone's 'frayer' (sucker), it is nothing short of amazing that this tiny country of ours still exists!
And if you ask any Israeli about this incredible state of affairs, they are likely to shrug and say 'Kacha zeh hayah... v'kacha zeh yehiyeh l'olam'" (that's the way it's been and that's the way it will always be).
[shakes head in loving exasperation]