Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Warning: T.M.I.

I'm always on the look-out for new and interesting stuff to snack on that doesn't have a lot of carbs.  The other day I was at the store and happened to notice a little round tin of candies in the impulse rack next to the cash register.  I wish I hadn't.

Be Right Back.

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Sorry about that... anyway as I was saying, this candy came in a colorful circular tin and went by the catchy name:

Klipp Klapp ... der magische Verschluss (the magic lock)

          ACE-FIT DROPS

Bonbons Aux Vitamines A C E

How could I resist?  Three languages... three vitamins and a magic lock (whatever that is) to boot!  The clincher was looking at the side of the tin and seeing that it contained no sugar whatsoever and was, instead, sweetened with something called 'Isomalt'.

Now, I don't know much about sweeteners, but, um... Be Right Back!

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Like I was saying, I don't know much about sweeteners, but if there's no sugar in there it's gotta be OK, right.  RIGHT?!!

Um, now that I'm lying here next to my desk in the fetal position I'm guessing I should have maybe, kinda, sorta taken a moment to look up 'Isomalt' before popping these things like, well, candy. 

Here's the belated wisdom, courtesy of Wikipedia:

"[Isomalt] has only a small impact on blood sugar levels, does not promote tooth decay, and has one half the calories of sugar. However, like most sugar alcohols, it carries a very real risk of gastric distress, including flatulence and diarrhea, when consumed in large quantities." [emphasis mine]

I don't know what constitutes 'large quantities' over at Wikipedia, but I had like 8 or 10 of these little orange sucking candies over the course of the morning and the results have been, well, dramatic.  The only thing that might have enhanced the overall affect would have been the presence of a heavy sedative in the ingredients so that I could pass out and lose all control of my bodily functions!

BRB

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Oh G-d make it stop!

I think know the pretty electrical engineer whose desk is next to the bathroom is never going to be able to look at me the same way again.  The first couple of times I forced myself to believe that nobody could hear the motorboat sounds what was going on in there... but walking out this time, I could see written on her face a silent plea not to make eye contact.  Ever.  Again.

What the hell is this Isomalt, and why haven't I ever heard of it???  Is this like the Olestra of the Atkins crowd?  At least with Olestra there was that helpful warning on the label (again, thanks to Wikipedia):

"This Product Contains Olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients. Vitamins A, D, E, and K have been added."

As a follow up, the Wiki people helpfully point out "This condition became popularly known as "anal leakage", though those words never actually appeared on the label."   

Shyeah, I think the words 'loose stools' appearing on food packaging is pretty much all a consumer would need to read... er, BRB

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Look, a word to the wise.  Stay away from 'Klipp Klapp ACE-FIT' (more like A$$-FIT) candies... and for G-d sakes, stay the hell away from anything containing Isomalt.  Unless, of course, you enjoy feeling like that guy in the movie 'Alien' just before the space monster came poking out of his stomach!

Uh, I gotta run...

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Posted by David Bogner on May 22, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pros and cons of the low-carb lifestyle

I have to admit that as much as I love Passover, it wreaks havoc with a low carb diet. 

Oh sure, I could have ignored my Zahava's heavenly mandel bread, merengues and pesach blondies... and I could have had only the minimum required amount of matzoh to fulfill my religious obligations to the holiday.

But then it really wouldn't have been Passover, right?  I mean, what would have been the point if I couldn't sit around with my family and slather big globs of jam on enormous shards of buttered matzoh in the morning???

Anyway, so now post-holiday I have had to go back to my low-carb diet, forcing me to once again become exquisitely aware of the various pros and cons:

Cons:

  • Strong urge to shoot anyone seen eating pasta or pizza
  • Total avoidance of the candy aisle in the supermarket due to the acute sadness it causes
  • Lying awake at night trying to figure how to make low-carb ice cream in our home machine.
  • Near total boycott of office birthday parties
  • Grocery bills took a noticeable jump
  • Occasional metallic taste in my mouth from the ketones my body is producing
  • More frequent, er, 'calls of nature' due to increased water intake

Pros:

  • No more drugged feeling grogginess in the morning
  • No more hunger pangs/cravings between meals
  • No more post-lunch coma weariness
  • 15% cream in my coffee = Good.  38% cream in my coffee = Great!
  • Eggs for breakfast nearly every morning!
  • Meat for dinner nearly every night
  • Old snack = half a bag of cookies and a glass of milk.  New snack = hunk of Emmenthaler and a glass of Merlot.
  • A euphoric feeling of total control

All-in-all, not a bad trade-off.  Especially since it is getting easier (both physically and mentally) to look at the scale in the morning.

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Posted by David Bogner on April 19, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Monday, March 05, 2007

Photo, um, Monday

Trust me when I tell you that hitting the delete key was the most merciful thing I could have done to today's post.  The lack of sleep and multiple time zones have given me a serious case of the dumb... so instead of a post I'll give you some pictures to pass the time:

First up are a couple of pics from Purim (OK, a couple of days before purim, but who's counting?).  This is Ariella in her very modest Batgrrrrrl costume:
Batgrrl

And Gilad, being the wise a$$ that he is, decided to dress up as 'a good question'... as in; whenever someone would ask him what he was dressed as, he'd answer; 'good question'.  That he didn't get beat up this year is proof of G-d's mercy! 

You can't really make it out in the picture, but he has a big question mark on his face and the words 'good question' written in Hebrew and English all over his shirt:
Good_question

The view from my hotel room today is sorta neat... if you're into big golden idols, that is.  My room looks down into the courtyard of a Buddhist Temple of some sort, and I've been watching a small army of monks in orange robes come and go.
Goldbuddha

By way of introduction to this last picture, I should probably apologize in advance to my Buddhist readers for the proximity of some potty humor so close on the heels of the previous picture.  Sorry... There's really no good way to segue into this.

I spotted this poster in a mens room this afternoon.  Luckily I was alone in there when I saw it because it gave me a really bad case of the giggles... and as everyone knows there is no talking, laughing or giggling in the men's room. 

The bad part is that just as I was snapping the picture I heard the door to the bathroom open, and a second later a very grim looking Asian businessman came walking around the corner of the partition. 

The look on his face said 'please take your European perversions back to wherever you came from', as clearly as if he had said the words out loud.  There simply is no plausible way to explain away flash photography in the men's room.
Urinal_sign

It's worth noting that both of the people in the poster - the one breaking the 'no talking' rule, as well as the one who has just peed himself - have Caucasian coloring/features.   For context, imagine this sort of poster in a public restroom in say, Chicago... and both characters have Asian features.  'Nuff said.

I have to go pack my bag for the last leg of my trip.  Seeya.

Posted by David Bogner on March 5, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Saturday, March 03, 2007

No, Zahava didn't toss me out of the house

Given the snarky comments on the last post, and a few days of no new content here at treppenwitz, I didn't want anyone to get the idea that I'd been tossed out of the house.

Yes, I happen to be out of the house, but it had nothing to do with my post... or Zahava.  In fact, Zahava gave me a nice big smooch as I dashed out of the house 30 minutes after Shabbat to the waiting taxi.

Here's the deal:

I'm posting this from the travel lounge at the Airport.

I found out just before the weekend that I had to fly Saturday night... yes, that's right, on Purim!... for work.  Instead of spending Purim with my family and enjoying a relaxing holiday watching the kids dressed up in costumes and eating my sweetie's scrumptious cooking, I will be reading my Megilla to myself on an ElAl plane and 'celebrating' the holiday (what remains of it after I land, anyway) in Bangkok.

I'll be hopping around Asia all week, but I hope to be able to toss up a few posts... or at least a few pictures.

Thanks in advance for your patience with whatever disjointed crap I may throw up here on my journal this week.

Purim Sameach!

Posted by David Bogner on March 3, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Conflicted

Our house is what is known in Israeli parlance as a 'cottage'.  In the US it would probably be called a 'townhouse', meaning it is one of several attached multi-story, single family homes that sit beside one another facing the street.  The layout inside is not particularly unique:

Main Level - Living-room (what Israelis call a salon), dining-room, kitchen, pantry/laundry room and half bath.

Upper Level - Three bedrooms, two full baths (Ari & Gili's bedrooms plus the guest suite)

Lower Level - Master bedroom suite (including full bath) and two smaller bedrooms (Zahava's office plus Yonah's nursery)

For the purposes of today's post let's confine ourselves to the present and future disposition of the lower level space.

In principal Zahava's office is supposed to be 'our' shared office.  But in reality her graphic design business has completely taken over the room to the extent that it has become her studio exclusively.   I didn't really make much of a fuss about this since in my mind Yonah's nursery would become my office/workshop as soon as he was old enough to move in with Gilad.  Unfortunately, two issues have conspired to keep me office-less for the foreseeable future:

1.  Zahava and I aren't quite ready to move our 'baby' up to the big kid's floor.  First of all, Yonah still requires a lot of extra 'handling' (a post for another day) before bed as well as first thing in the morning.  These are responsibilities that, in my mind, really shouldn't fall on the shoulders of the 'big kids' as they have enough on their plates just keeping their rooms neat habitable from becoming an environmental disaster zone... not to mention getting their homework done.  Also, there is the small detail that I'm not prepared to give up views like this in the 'wee' (pun intended) hours of the morning:

Yp2_1

2.  Now that Yonah's move upstairs has become imminent rather than some theoretical future event, Zahava has started demanding dropping hints that the nursery be converted into a walk-in closet for her rather than a study/workshop for me.  Right now all of my shop tools and beekeeping equipment are stacked in the back hallway, and my computer lives on a stand next to my bed.  Don't I deserve a space of my own??? [~pout~]

So in short, while we may be conflicted over when to finally move Yonah upstairs... the future disposition of his nursery seems set to be the site of a looming conflict all its own.

Not looking for anyone to take sides here or anything, but if you feel like offering an opinion...

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Posted by David Bogner on February 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 22, 2007

One step at a time

"Diet & Exercise"

Those are the two ugly words that get tossed at me by my lovely wife (she of the regular Pilates and yoga work-outs) whenever I express dissatisfaction with my, er,  'shape'. 

It's not that I've been living under a rock and somehow wasn't aware of this important formula... but it's still frustrating to have it thrown in my face since even if you add the prefixes; 'poor...' and 'lack of...' to those two magic words, they still cover a significant portion of my waking existence.

Think about it... to change the way you eat requires not only a drastic departure from well loved routines and menus, but also a change in planning and shopping so that the new, healthier food choices are always readily available when all you really want to shovel into your maw is 'crap'.

As to increasing the amount of physical activity one performs, that's far easier said than done.  You see, most of us have little or no 'down time' in a typical day just waiting to be filled by some new exercise regimen.  So finding time to exercise means foregoing something that we're already doing (and presumably find important).   

Or does it?

I've mentioned on a few occasions that I look to a few online physicians (Book of Joe, Doctor Bean, Pyschotoddler and Dr. Albert Fuchs, to name a few) to help demystify some of the medspeak on the web... and to occasionally offer unsolicited advice on how to keep my aging carcass on the green side of the grass.

Well, a couple of months ago I noticed a little blurb on Dr. Fuch's site about a 'pedometer project' he was setting up for his patients, and I decided to send him an email to ask him what it was all about.

Long story short, he said that he was giving his patients pedometers (a tiny device one wears on their belt) so that they (and he) could monitor how far they walk, and (hopefully) use this new awareness to constantly increase the amount of walking they did.

It seemed like a brilliant idea to me.  I mean, we all walk a little bit, don't we?  The problem is that we don't really quantify this mundane activity so we don't count it as exercise..  It stands to reason that if you become acutely aware of how much you're walking... y'know, some concrete benchmark (i.e. how many steps you are taking in a given day, week or month), over time you will naturally want to make small improvements and constantly 'beat your record'.

I asked Dr. Fuch's if I could take part in the project, thinking that I would pick up a pedometer for myself at the local sporting goods store.  But to my surprise he told me he would be happy to send me one.  When I got back from my trip to India it was waiting on the kitchen table for me!

[Important NotePLEASE don't ask him to send you a free pedometer.  They are really cheap and every camping and sporting goods store on the planet carries a nice selection... so be a sport and go buy your own.  The only reason he sent me - a non-patient - one is that I once carried him over the border from Tijuana on my back after he had passed out drunk in a little cantina we had been visiting together.  Oh yeah, and I arranged to have his Mexican marriage annulled on the grounds that he wasn't technically awake when the wedding vows were exchanged.]

Anyhoo...

Having this tiny little plastic thingy clipped to my belt has given me a profound new awareness of when and how far I walk.  Not only that... I find myself creating new excuses to walk where I might have otherwise put something off or combined it with another outing.

Every 15 days all the participants in the pedometer project email their results to the Doc (obviously it is run on the honor system) and at the end of each month he announces that month's winner.

Even without being enrolled in the project, I can't get over what a motivator it is having this tiny thing on my belt. You can get daily, weekly and even monthly readouts of steps taken or distance walked (in km or miles)... so as long as you somehow make note of your results on a regular basis, the motivation to constantly improve is built in!

Since putting this little device on my belt I have discovered all sorts of reasons to walk.  I have also figured out that a stroll around the the perimeter of my company's campus is exactly 1 km... and takes less than 10 minutes to complete.  I now do 'a loop' either before or after lunch and don't miss the time at all.

I don't know about any of you but in my experience, buying an expensive Nordic Track, elliptical trainer, Stair Master, treadmill or stationary bike is doomed to failure.  Been there, done that, got the tee shirt!  Sure, you use the thing like crazy when you first get it home... but our Nordic track served as a very handy coat and hat rack for most of the years we lived in Connecticut (not to mention that it took up valuable space that we couldn't really spare). 

This tiny, nearly weightless, pedometer has done more to motivate me to get my fat arse out of my office chair during the day than all the exercise equipment I've ever owned... combined!

So consider this a resounding endorsement of pedometers in general... and of Dr. Fuchs in particular.

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Posted by David Bogner on February 22, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The colossal arrogance of an 'E.R.' junkie

[Any physicians out there can feel free to distribute and/or link to the following cautionary tale]

It likely started the same year I was born with 'Dr. Kildare', and progressed through scores of other shows like 'Marcus Welby, M.D.', 'Quincy', 'St. Elsewhere'...  culminating with sophisticated medical dramas such as 'Chicago Hope', 'E.R.' and the diagnostic equivalent of CSI; 'House'. 

By 'it' I'm not referring to medical entertainment... but rather to a growing suspicion (and arrogance) among the TV-viewing public that we know a thing or two about medicine.

For the record, we don't.

First the troubling stuff:

I was talking on the phone with my dad a couple of evenings ago and he was recounting some innocuous details about his day.  Almost as an afterthought he added:

"Oh, I wanted to tell you about something strange that happened earlier.  Mom had to go over to the hair dresser so I went home to check on the dogs and have a rest.  After only 15 or 20 minutes at home I realized I had forgotten to go pick up the results of a medical test and the doctor's office was going to be closing soon.  So I got up to get ready to go back out. But when I stood up I realized that I was having trouble seeing out of one eye."

Now, I have to stop the story here to explain that my dad is legally blind and has only minimal sight in either eye... and I half-jokingly reminded him of this.

"No", he continued, "I mean it was much worse than usual. It was so bad that as I walked to the doctor's office I couldn't see the dial of my watch, much less the usual landmarks I use to navigate my route.  In fact it was so bad that I had to wait for other people to cross the street or I wouldn't have had any idea when it was safe to cross!"

By now the hair on the back of my neck was starting to stand up as my mind started to collect and catalog all the information I've gleaned from my years as an E.R. junkie.   

As sat in front of my computer listening to him talk, my fingers began feverishly Googling 'stroke symptoms' and the rest of my hair (what little I have) stood up as I saw the list of classic stroke symptoms which included: "blurring or loss of vision in one or both eyes".

At that point I shared my suspicions and told my dad to put the phone on speaker and lay it on the table so both he and mom could hear me.  Then, reading off my computer monitor, I told him to smile and asked my mom if his smile was even on both sides.  (It was.)

Next I told him to stick out his tongue and move it from one side of his mouth to the other, asking my mom if it had traveled evenly to both extremes of his mouth.  (It had.)

The last test I was going to ask him to perform was to say a simple sentence in order to check for slurred speech, but I had been talking with him for almost ten minutes and his diction was crystal clear. 

But my eyes kept going back to that item on my computer screen about 'loss or blurring of vision' and I again shared my fear/amateur diagnosis that he had likely suffered a small stroke and that it was important that he get to a hospital as soon as possible to be evaluated.

Everyone reading this... please take note of this next bit so you are never, ever tempted to do anything this bone-headed.  You see, it was at that exact point in time where I ceased helping and began to make and compound mistake after arrogant mistake. 

There are patterns of behavior between parents and children that never, ever change no matter how old/mature the individuals and relationships become.  Among those patterns is the certainty of all parents that they know better than their children.

My parents immediately began 'pooh-poohing' my suggestion to go to the hospital, insisting that dad's eyesight was almost completely back to normal (at least normal for him, anyway).  Furthermore [they argued], it was late and they were already in their pajamas having a late dinner.

I started to waffle [stupid, stupid, stupid!] and instead of insisting that they call an ambulance (as new immigrants they didn't even know that dialing 101 would summon emergency transportation to the hospital of their choice), I began second guessing myself .  I asked [idiotically] if they were sure his vision was pretty much back to normal, and they insisted that it was.

I then misread a passage on a web site about strokes and heart attacks and told him I would speak with him again before he went to bed, but in the mean time he should take a few baby aspirin [colossally, DANGEROUSLY, stupid!].  In fact, had I not been so rattled I would have read more carefully and noticed that  aspirin was indicated before, and sometimes after strokes... but NEVER DURING!!! 

You see, there are two different kinds of strokes; ischemic, which are caused by blockage of blood vessels in or leading to the brain... and hemorrhagic, which are caused by rupturing of blood vessels in, or near the brain.    If my father had been suffering a hemorrhagic stroke, my arrogant advice would have probably doomed him right there and then.

I reluctantly let them off the phone and promised to speak to dad before bed time. 

As the evening passed I did more 'research' on the web.  But for some reason the more I read indicating that my dad should already have been in the hospital being evaluated... the more I tried to rationalize my having given in to their reluctance to get dressed and call an ambulance. 

By the time bedtime rolled around and I spoke with my dad again, I had fully convinced myself that since his eyesight was completely back to normal that everything was fine. [idiot!]

I let him off the phone after extracting a promise that he would see a doctor the next day. [complete idiot!!!]

In hindsight, no matter how well-intended my advice may have been, it is only through sheer dumb luck that I didn't kill my father through a deadly combination of arrogance, ignorance and confidence in my diagnostic skills!

Over the next couple of days my father did see a several physicians as promised, and although he still has several tests to be performed, the results so far indicate that he probably did, in fact, suffer a 'mini-stroke'.

Trust me when I tell you that there is absolutely no satisfaction in hearing my arrogant amateur diagnosis confirmed by a professional member of the field.  It just makes me sick.  You see I have since read most of the stroke related websites with calmer eyes and better retention.... and first and foremost, I was an an imbecile to have relented over the issue of going to the hospital. 

I was also criminally negligent (if a layman can be guilty of such a thing) for suggesting he take a couple of aspirin and call the doctor in the morning [how idiotically, criminally cliche!]. 

In fact, if I had placed a revolver with 5 loaded chambers against my father's head and pulled the trigger, his odds of survival would have been only slightly worse than with the aspirin I 'prescribed' since statistically roughly 20% of strokes are hemorrhagic... and aspirin's blood thinning properties could have sped this type of stroke towards it's terrible conclusion rather than lessening the symptoms.

What I now know from my reading (and which I have related to both of my parents) is that the biggest risk factor for strokes is HAVING ALREADY SUFFERED ONE! 

I told my parents in no uncertain terms what an idiot I had been for backing down instead of calling the ambulance myself and sending dad to the hospital the other night.  I also told them that now, more than ever, they need to be aware of all possible signs of a stroke. 

I have told my mom to ask their doctor what signs to look for (and write them down) since in some cases my dad might not notice subtle things such a slurring of speech, asymmetrical drooping of facial features, etc.. 

I also told them that in spite of my bumbling, they had dodged a huge bullet the other night.  However, when they decided to pooh-pooh that one, isolated symptom (vision loss) instead of dialing 101, the 'coin' they tossed could have very easily come up 'tails'.  There could be no more such foolishness [they've both agreed].

Now that I know that my dad has no lingering signs of his brush with tragedy and that Israel's wonderful socialized medical system is running an incredible battery of tests and evaluations on him (prodded along with a little gentle help from our modest 'protexia' in the medical community), I can breath just a tiny bit easier. 

But the shame and guilt I feel over the tragedy I almost caused with my arrogant confidence in TV medical knowledge is something that will be with me for a very, very long time to come.

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Posted by David Bogner on February 13, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Monday, February 12, 2007

OK, maybe a tiny bit odd

[Warning:  This post will almost certainly bore you to tears.  However there's a joke at the end so it might possibly be worth the slog]

There are bound to be times in every marriage where one half of the couple will look at the other in frank amazement and silently wonder 'what the hell was I thinking?'

I'm sure my wife has had more than a few of these moments, but if one were to look for one of the themes that has topped the list of 'David's odd fascinations', Stanley Kubrik's masterpiece film '2001 A Space Oddysey' would have to rate high on the wierdness scale.  If you haven't seen it you have missed out on one of life's important experiences.

This fascination goes back a looong way. 

When I was attending University, the library had a whole bank of cute Macintosh computers (yes, we had computers back then... albeit primitive ones).  I found it endlessly entertaining that you could change the sounds for pretty much any event on these Apple computers.  Guess what I changed some of them to?   

You see, in addition to the standard menu of default sounds with which every Mac person is familiar, I stumbled across a collection of 2001 A Space Odyssey-themed 'event sounds' that someone had loaded onto the machine I usually used.  Needless to say, I set up the computer to employ many of these sound clips. 

For instance, when the computer would first boot up it would say:

"Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it I can sing it for you."

Also, instead the default error sound, I set the computer to use the HAL 9000's voice saying "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that", whenever I inadvertantly tried to perfrom a function that wasn't allowed.

Admittedly, it wierded out some of the other students (remember this was still the dawn of the computer age) to the point that they often avoided this machine... but as more and more demand was placed on these handy little computers for word processing and such, this was definately a plus for me.

Why have I bored you to tears with all this today?

It's because I am shopping for something to replace my cell phone's long-standing ring tone (the current one is still 'La Valse D'Amelie' from the film Amélie) and I really, REALLY want to get my hands on one of those old '2001 A Space Odyssey' clips.  The problem is that I haven't been able to find them anywhere.

Back in June when I wrote about Israelis and their cell phones I mentioned in passing in the comments that I had a 'jones' for a 2001-themed ringtone, one of my faithful readers sent me a link to an online program that would adapt pretty much any sound file to pretty much any polyphonic phone.  However - surprise, surprise - Mr. organiziation over here misplaced it.

So I'm asking:  Can anyone help me out?

Anyhoo... you've been very patient with me so here's your reward (a joke a recieved from my friend Heshy):

Why men make better friends:

Friendship Between Women:

A woman didn't come home one night.

The next day she told her husband that she had slept over at a friend's house.

The man called his wife's 10 best friends. None of them knew about it.

Friendship Between Men:

A man didn't come home one night.

The next day he told his wife that he had slept over at a friend's house.

The woman called her husband's 10 best friends. 

Eight of them confirmed that he had slept over, and two claimed that he was still there.

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Posted by David Bogner on February 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Color me confused (and frustrated)

OK, here's the deal.  As you know, I'm new to this whole eyeglass-wearing thing.  Not only that, I don't wear my specs all the time... just while reading.  This has raised a bunch of issues that I simply didn't anticipate, and have no idea how to resolve:

Issue # 1: Where to put the glasses when not in use? - When not wearing reading glasses these delicate instruments need to reside safely somewhere.  Where is the best somewhere?  On a librarian chain/lanyard worn around the neck?  Loose in a shirt pocket?  In their case (possibly to be forgotten)?

Issue # 2:  The damned case! -  My glasses came in a big rectangular case that is roughly the size of a coffin.  Even if it did fit in any of my pockets (which it doesn't), did the manufacturer really think I want to schlep around a fancy display case that resembles Fidel Castro's humidor to protect my specs?  I don't feel like having to carry a man-purse just to accommodate my glasses!

I went to every optometrist in a 20 kilometer radius and the smallest cases available seems to be the standard kidney-shaped model that could easily accommodate a large pair of 1970's-era aviator glasses.  Sure, such cases can be shoved (with some effort) into a pants pocket, but the resulting bulge is likely to raise some eyebrows with the ladies... not to mention making one persona non grata in the locker room down at the gym. 

Isn't there a place to buy small, slim eyeglass cases that will protect both my glasses and my dignity?

Issue # 3:  Endless fussing and unconscious fidgeting - Please tell me there will come a point when I will stop inadvertently touching (smudging) my glasses every time I go to rub my eyes. 

Also, I feel like I'm raising my eyebrows so much in an involuntary twitch ( intended, I'm guessing, to get my glasses to settle more comfortably on my nose), that it probably looks like I'm attempting something between a bad Groucho Marx impersonation and a leer.  If I had to look at someone doing this all day long I would probably start to think it was a lewd, interrogative gesture.  I think I need to have a word with my assistant.

Issue # 4: The 'What if' gesture - OK, this isn't so much an issue, but I wanted to mention it anyway.  What's that... you aren't familiar with the 'what if' gesture???  This is one of the big reasons I have envied people with glasses most of my life. 

Picture the following scenario:  A crowded conference room where an important project is being discussed.  There are several armed camps that have taken opposing viewpoints on how best to proceed... and as an impasse looms tempers begin to flare. 

Just then, a bespectacled individual who has remained silent throughout most of the meeting clears his throat for attention.  When people around the table start to turn towards him he casually removes his glasses in a smooth, one-handed gesture (holding them by the bow next to the hinge) and points the extended glasses at the now-attentive crowd while saying "What if...". 

It doesn't matter what comes after that gesture/statement... he has won the point before he even presents his full thesis.  Now that I have glasses I can finally get to be that guy!  :-)

Anyway, feel free to poke fun at #4 all you like, but I really need your help and advice with the first 3 issues.

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Posted by David Bogner on February 4, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 01, 2007

'Shenkin Glasses': Real and political dyslexia

Back in 2005 I finally admitted to myself that I hadn't been able to read small print for several years.  It had happened so gradually that I hadn't felt compelled to act... but when I couldn't read the instructions for one of the kid's electronic gadgets I finally threw in the towel and picked up a set of cheap, off-the-shelf reading glasses.

I have also mentioned on several occasions that I have lived most of my life with mild dyslexia which has made reading of any sort a chore.

Anyway, the drug-store reading glasses weren't much of a success.  Sure, they allowed me to see the small print again, but they also seemed to oddly intensify my dyslexia and even gave me headaches after long reading sessions.  The result was that I pretty much gave up reading for pleasure and only hauled out the reading glasses when I absolutely had to decipher something small.

A few months ago I finally decided to bite the bullet and get prescription reading glasses.

Now every eye exam I've ever had has lasted no more than 10 minutes, and has gone pretty much like this:

"Read this line... read that line... cover your left ye... now your right... don't mind these drops (although they might make you look like a junkie for a an hour or so)... put your chin right here... just a little puff of air... nope, no glaucoma here... sorry, no pot for you (ha ha)... OK, we're done.  You have healthy eyes... but you'll probably need reading glasses in a few years... but no more than a prescription of .75 or 1.00... have a nice day."

So this time when I went to a friend / neighbor's optometry practice in Jerusalem to be tested I was expecting more of the same.  I was shocked by the thoroughness of the exam as well the array of tools and tests that were employed.  The whole exam took almost an hour!

When we were almost done my friend sat down across from me and handed me a page of text and asked me to read it to myself while he watched my eyes closely.  When I finished he asked me if I had ever had problems with dyslexia or other difficulties reading.

I was a little shocked at the question and answered in the affirmative... giving him the full run-down on my difficulties in school and how I found reading to be a cumbersome and exhausting activity.  But at the end of my description I asked him what my dyslexia had to do with my eyes since it was a mental problem.

He smiled knowingly and said, "Is that so?  Here, let's try something."

With that, he popped a couple of lenses into the enormous 'monster glasses' he had used while testing my eyes and handed me the page of text again.

I nearly fell off the chair as my eyes raced effortlessly down the lines of text.  Instead of wrestling with each word and plodding through a sticky quagmire of individual letters I was suddenly seeing whole words flash by in crisp, obvious sequence.

I put down the page and stared at him.

I must have had a pretty comical expression on my face because he laughed out loud.  He told me that my problem with reading and dyslexia wasn't mental, but rather was caused by my eyes not being able to perfectly align and focus on the same point in space.   Not only that... he said it was not at all uncommon.

He explained that when looking at things in the distance, perfect eye alignment isn't crucial since the dominant and non-dominant eye can pass their respective images to the brain without much perceived shift in the picture you see.  But when focusing on something like a page of printed text a few inches in front of one's face, this struggle between the eyes for dominance and the misalignment of the focal point becomes much more noticeable and can wreak havoc with the final image the brain wants to 'show' you.

He confirmed what other optometrists had told me; that my eyes were quite healthy and that I only needed a mild prescription for reading.  But he said that he wanted to put a prism in one lens to bring my left eye into better alignment with my right for reading.  I eagerly agreed and walked out of his office walking ten feet off the ground (and not because of the drops)!

Now came the daunting task of selecting frames. 

I hadn't liked anything in the display case in his office so I promised him I would find a set of frames elsewhere and bring them to him so he could have my lenses ground. 

The problem was that for anyone just starting to wear glasses in middle age, pretty much all glasses look odd in the mirror.  I didn't want anything too big.... but most of the smaller frames sat too high on my nose and forced me to either rest my chin on my chest to look through them (while holding a book in a typical reading posture)... or to lift the reading material to an uncomfortable level in front of my face. 

Someone suggested 'half-lenses' (granny glasses), but I rejected those out of hand.  It's bad enough being 45... I didn't want to add 15 or 20 years to my appearance overnight.  So the search continued.

Finally I wandered into a trendy eye-glass emporium in the German Colony and noticed a set of small frames on display.  They were fairly simple... perfectly round... wire frames.  The nice thing was that the bridge was fairly wide which allowed them to sit relatively low  This allowed my eyes to look directly through them at an object held out in a comfortable reading position in front of me and a few inches below my chin.

Just my luck, the frames were made by a trendy designer (Jacob Jensen) and would normally have required a small mortgage to purchase.  But the shop owner told me that almost everyone wanted the color-tinted versions and that if I wanted the display pair (a simple bronze tone set) he would give them to me for a very reasonable price.  We 'haandeled' a bit and arrived at a price we could both live with and I walked out with my new frames.

Jj521_1 

On the way home, however, I realized that Zahava would almost certainly hate them (yes folks, I bravely/stupidly picked them out without her).  Zahava had been pushing for me to get a pair of larger rectangular frames... and she had rejected out-of-hand any of the less-obtrusive models I had tried on for her in the past.

When I walked into the house with my new frames on, the first thing my lovely wife said to me was, "Hey, look who's here... it's Yoko Ono!"  It just went downhill from there.

Anyway, I stood my ground and gave the frames to my optometrist friend to have the prescription ground, and eagerly awaited their return.

I got them back just before I left for my India trip and was delighted to find that I could now read so fast that my brain seemed to be literally struggling to keep up with this new, unexpected rush of information.  Even though it was an overnight flight to India, I stayed up and read the entire way.  I read every evening in my hotel, and I read on every flight within India.... as well as on the flight home. 

It was such a wonderful and liberating experience to be able to effortlessly read that at first I didn't take much notice of the comments I got. 

The Indian's with whom I met unanimously loved the glasses as they thought they looked like those favored by the late Mahatma Ghandi.  But the real eye-opener was the reaction I got from my coworkers when I returned to Israel.  A few people confused me by asking me if I had 'switched sides'.  Another person jokingly asked if I had moved out of the 'shtahim' (territories).  Still another asked rather bluntly when I had become such a 'lefty'.

But the asimon finally dropped when a young Tel Aviv resident I work with (the sort of woman who makes middle aged men involuntarily suck in their gut when she passes) sat down across from me at lunch one day and complimented me on my 'funkie Shenkin glasses'. 

For those outside the country, Shenkin is much more than the name of a well-known street in Tel Aviv.  It is the epicenter of a very specific liberal, sophisticated, ultra-hip Israeli mentality.  This pretty young woman had taken what I considered to be stodgy, old-world frames and plunked them down in the heart of Israel's premier café district.  Suddenly, all the previous comments I'd gotten made sense.

I don't think it is much of a secret to anyone living here in Israel that various religious and non-religious factions adhere to fairly specific 'uniforms'.  At a glance it is pretty easy to figure out if someone is religious/observant or not... and to what 'camp' they belong.  One look at the type of clothing and hair style (or type of hair covering) gives away pretty quickly to the casual observer where the person falls along the religious spectrum... not to mention on which side of the green line they probably reside.

To some extent, accessories are also a dead give-away as to an Israeli's political leanings. I accidentally found this out with my new frames... frames that seemed to be sending out confusing messages to the casual observer. 

Apparently my check shirts, kippah and pistol clashed with my 'Shenkin glasses'.  Who knew?

People, both at work and at play, suddenly didn't know quite how to pigeon-hole me.   Personally, I couldn't care less... I now have the incredible ability to read whatever and whenever I want.  If this means that others have a little trouble 'reading' me... I figure that's their problem.  :-)

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Posted by David Bogner on February 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (37) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Two truths and a lie...*

...or perhaps the other way around.  You decide:

[Today's real post has been indefinitely relegated to the 'cooling-off' file.  Sorry.]

1.  I drank my very first full cup of coffee (as opposed to taking a sip of other people's coffee and grimacing) when I was 20 years old.

2.  After a 'hazy' weekend spent in Tijuana with some sailor buddies, I once woke up with a marriage certificate stuffed in my pocket bearing my name and the name of a woman I had no recollection of ever meeting.  I haven't been back to Mexico since.

3.  I didn't have a 21st birthday.  I lost it while my ship was crossing the International Date Line.

Fellow bloggers/journalers: Feel free to try this one out on your own readership.

* shamelessly ganked from Lachlan

Posted by David Bogner on January 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Thank you to everyone for your patience with my spotty posting while I was away these past couple of weeks.  A more loyal and supportive group of readers a writer couldn't hope for!

I can't tell you how nice it is to be home.   My flight landed a few minutes before 4:00AM on Friday morning and after only a modest wait for my bags and the short line to clear customs, a waiting car took me on the hour drive to my house in Efrat. 

Stuck to the front door was a handmade 'Welcome Home Abba' sign which Ari and Gili had prepared. 

On the door was also a formidable lock.

Note to self:  In the future, make a note of where you put the house key so that you won't have to dump out the contents of your suitcase, laptop case and carry-on bag in the front yard at 5:45AM in order to gain access to your sleeping house.

Once inside (6:05AM), I got a proper welcome from the only member of the family who was awake at that hour; Jordan the wonder dog!  I stowed my bags out of the way and went around the house looking at my sleeping family.

Ariella and Gilad were snuggled deep under their comforters and each got a soft kiss on the forehead.  Yonah was in his bed doing his impression of a sleeping sky-diver with all his covers having been long-since kicked onto the floor.  I re-covered him and went to snuggle in next to Zahava.   

The last thing I remember before drifting off to sleep was Jordan jumping up onto the foot of my bed and curling up behind my knees... and resting her head on my foot.

In a few hours there would be time for kisses and hugs and lots of gifts to give.  But for now I was back where I belong... safe among those that I love.

Posted by David Bogner on January 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Why didn't I think of that?

The other day I was driving through the outskirts of Be'er Sheva with one of my regular carpool-mates - an Israeli who was born and raised in London - in the passenger seat when we passed a Bedouin woman who was covered from head to toe in traditional  black veil and robes (niqāb and burqa). 

As we passed her, all sorts of thoughts swirled through my head:

  • How do her friends and family recognize her?
  • How does she recognize her girlfriends?
  • What kind of picture would they put on her driver's license or passport?
  • Is she cold or hot in that thing?
  • What if a Bedouin woman is claustrophobic?
  • Is that even a woman under there?

I've come to recognize that this sort of free-associating inner monologue is typically American, as we tend to be a bit more sheltered from other cultures in our formative years. 

On the heels of this jumble of unspoken questions came a mild wave of frustration that we Americans seem to lack the ability to exercise the economy of speech so  common amongst our UK counterparts.  I  tried to imagine how succinctly my British carpool-mate might have summed up the same observations I had mulled over as we passed this specter in black.

As if on cue, my passenger glanced casually over at the woman and remarked "Hmmm... she looks familiar."

Now why didn't I think of that?!
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Posted by David Bogner on January 14, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Friday, January 12, 2007

Photo Friday (vol. LXXXVI) [Snowstorm edition]

I feel guilty that I haven't been able to pull together a Photo Friday in several weeks.  It's not that I haven't had pictures... it's just that I haven't had time to post them.

A couple of weeks ago we had a nice snowstorm here and I have been sitting on the pictures ever since.  So without further ado:

Here is a shot of the valley behind our house and a neighboring community community here in Gush Etzion (Neve Daniel):
Nevedaniel_1

Here is another view of the gush in the snow:
Snowygush_1

Our poor Lemon tree was buried... but seems to have survived the storm:
Snowlemons

Of course, as soon as the snow began to fall heavily the roads were blocked with Israeli drivers who had no idea what to make of the white slippery stuff.  But that didn't stop some of us from putting on the X-Country skis and enjoying the lack of traffic!
Ski_dg2

Shabbat Shalom!
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Posted by David Bogner on January 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Brother-In-Law

The annals of family humor are chock full of anecdotes about brothers-in-law. These stereotypical ne'er-do-well are traditionally a source of embarrassment for the long-suffering sister... and consternation (or worse) for her husband. 

In our family I'm the brother-in-law. :-)

You see, my younger sister married well. Very well.

Her husband seems to have succeeded at pretty much everything that has ever caught his interest... and his interests seem to know no bounds.

Food - He's a gourmet chef with a cutting edge kitchen and several complete walls full of cookbooks.

Wine - His 'EuroCave' is stocked with vintages I can't even pronounce, much less describe.

Sports - He's an avid cyclist who seems to hardly break a sweat riding a 'century' up to Bear Mountain and back.

Clothing - Jesse used to wear bespoke blazers and perfectly creased slacks to Sunday brunch at our place when we lived in Connecticut!

Erudition - Well, here's where I really start to fade fast in the rear-view mirror.  You see, my brother-in-law is a world-renowned lexicographer... not to mention one of the smartest people I know. 

I fancy myself rather adept with words.  For years I've been reading the NY Times - not because I like their editorial line - but for the high level of writing.  One day I opened up the Times to find a two-page center spread advertisement for the IBM Thinkpad featuring - you guessed it - my brother-in-law!  Nice!  Self-esteem takes a nice hit.

Speaking of 'The Times', I followed William Safire's 'On Language' column religiously for years... just to keep abreast of the latest buzz in the word dodge (it's always fun to get all snobby about some mistake in usage you were making until last week).  Then one day I found out that when William Safire needs an authoritative citation for some obscure slang word, he often quotes my brother-in-law. 

See what I mean?  How do you compete with that?!  :-)

The good news is that Jesse is pretty much impossible to dislike... and so far he has been nice enough to politely overlook any disparity in our respective book-learnin'.  And as a cherry on the cake... how can you not like a guy who wrote the authoritative reference book on the word 'F*CK'?

Anyway, I just wanted to alert you all to Jesse's latest interview on NPR.  He seems to get more press attention than Paris Hilton on a windy day.   But unlike Paris, Jesse's media exposure tends to excite the cerebral cortex rather than sending the viewer into 'libido overdrivus' (yes, all my Latin is borrowed from the sub-titles in Road Runner cartoons). 

I don't know what you call it when someone is unreasonably proud of a family member's accomplishments (for a parent, I think the technical term is 'Kvelling'), but if there is such a word, I'd bet money that my brother-in-law Jesse knows it. 

What, you're still here?  Go listen!

Posted by David Bogner on January 9, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The significance of routines

I'm sometimes surprised at the extent to which my children notice my little routines and semi-secret rituals.  For instance, one of the big kids is certain to comment if I fail to shake the packets of Splenda and flick them with my finger-tip before tearing them open for my coffee... or if I open a can of soda without tapping the top first. 

But the other night I realized that there was another set of eyes in the house taking note of my every move and gesture.

I've mentioned in the past that one of my evening rituals is to make a tour of the house to check that the doors are locked, the lights are out and that everyone is completely covered with blankets. 

This last bit is particularly important since all of our kids are pretty active sleepers.  Rare is the visit to one of the kid's bedrooms that doesn't require at least a small tug on the corner of a blanket.  Yonah takes the cake when it comes to being an active sleeper.  Even before he is fully asleep he has usually kicked off his blankets and knocked his toy cars and stuffed animals to the floor.  As a result, if I happen to get up for a drink while Zahava is doing her pre-bedtime NY Times crossword puzzle I will usually make an extra side-trip to Yonah's room to redistribute his toys and cover him up. 

This little ritual - whether coving up Yonah or one of the big kids - always ends with me giving the sleeping child a kiss on the cheek.  It never occurred to me that any of them might be aware of this... after all, the kiss was more for my enjoyment than for theirs.  And besides,they would always be fast asleep when I made my 'rounds'.

Well, the other night I went upstairs to the kitchen to get a drink for Zahava... and after giving it to her, I decided to duck into the nursery to re-cover Yonah.  Sure enough, his blankets were on the floor and I could just barely make out his sleeping form on the mattress. I covered him up quickly and stood there for a few seconds letting my eyes adjust to the darkness so I could see where his toys and stuffed animals had fallen.

Just then, I noticed two dark little eyes staring up at me from the pillow.  I wasn't sure if he was really awake so I stood silently in the dark waiting for him to return fully to sleep.  After a few more seconds had passed and he still hadn't closed his eyes I turned to tiptoe out of the room so I wouldn't further disturb him.

Suddenly a groggy little voice from behind me said, "Abba... my kiss."   

I guess one of my secret rituals wasn't so secret after all.

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Posted by David Bogner on January 3, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Monday, January 01, 2007

A year of wine... not just bubbles.

Here are a few odds and ends for the first morning of the [secular] new year:

1.  I feel like I totally caved by feeling compelled to insert the word 'secular' in brackets (above).  However, I know from experience that if I didn't do it, some zealot would bend my ear about "this isn't our new year, it is 'hukat hagoyim', yadayadayada...".  Note to zealots:  Please get over yourselves.  Unless you write '5767' on your mortgage checks you have absolutely no reason to get your panties in a twist over a total stranger (me) mentioning the start of 2007.

2.  I woke up feeling a bit nostalgic this morning... not so much for those innocent days when I had to beg my parents to let me stay up to watch the ball drop on TV and have a sip of 'Cold Duck'.  OK, maybe there was a little bit of that too... but mostly I got nostalgic for those moon-bats who created a whole cottage industries around Y2K back in 1999.  Remember them?  Not the computer geeks who actually had something constructive to do to make sure all our software kept working when the big odometer turned over... but rather the self-appointed prophets who came out of the woodwork to run $eminar$ on how to survive in the howling wilderness that would be left after civilization as we knew it came to an end.  These clowns were literally omnipresent, telling us to build shelters and stock them with food and weapons... convert our savings to precious metals... buy electrical generators and enormous fuel tanks to run them.  One pundit even predicted that in the wake of Y2K Duct Tape would become the new currency!  Where are these idiots now?  What turned out to be the next big batch of snake oil they went on to sell?

3.  Zahava and I didn't manage to stay up 'til midnight last night (old fuddy-duddies' that we are), but before I drifted off I was surfing my regular reads and noted a little tidbit on 'Book of Joe' about how to make your Champagne more bubbly.  Helloooo, is this really a problem?  Is there really a chronic lack of bubbles in the typical glass of sparkling wine?  Now don't get me wrong, I'm a HUGE Joe-head and usually can't get enough of the stuff he posts, but this one just didn't speak to me.  For those too lazy to click over, the solution is to wipe down the inside of the glass with a cloth or paper towel before pouring the Champagne.  The microscopic hollow bits of cellulose left on the glass apparently "act as 'nucleation' (bubble formation) sites".  My personal take on this is that anyone who feels the need to coax excessive bubbles from their 'bubbly' probably considers it more of a prop than a beverage.   Missing the point, people... missing the point.  [shakes head]

To everyone out there who is reading this on the groggy morning of 01/01/07, Happy [secular] New Year!  Look outside and marvel at the fact that civilizations continues to purr along quite nicely, thankyouverymuch... and if there is anything effervescent left in the fridge after last night's bacchanalia, pour yourself a bit and raise your glass to a year filled with wine... not just bubbles.

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Posted by David Bogner on January 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Wishing I were in hot water [for a change]

Burst pipe repaired... water mopped up and water damage seems to be limited... phone/Internet cable temporarily mended (thanks Avi)... plumber due out today to look at hot water heater/tank.

I honestly don't have anything meaningful to offer this morning.  I do, however, have a few questions:

Does anyone out there have any experience with on-demand gas-fired water heaters?  If so, I'm specifically interested to know about the following:

1.  Savings (over traditional tank/electrical element system): big, small or a wash?

2.  Shabbat:  Is there a way to use hot/warm water on shabbat for washing dishes?

3.  Regulating output temperature:  I've heard that output temp. can vary based on demand (i.e. how much water is being used at any given moment).  Are there units that compensate for this and maintain constant output temperature?

4.  Any other reason I should/shouldn't consider one?

Thanks in advance for any and all information you would care to share.

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Posted by David Bogner on December 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Friday, December 29, 2006

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Let's see...

Burst pipe... water cascading down stairs into living room... drilled through phone/Internet cable... hot water heater died...

You get the idea.

Shabbat Shalom

[posted from my trusty Nokia cell phone]

Posted by David Bogner on December 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Monday, December 25, 2006

It's a guy thing

There's just something about a barbershop.  I'm not talking about those precious salons you'll find in tony, gentrified neighborhoods or the shiny plastic 'super-cuts' at the mall.   No, I'm referring to the venerated, exclusively-masculine institutions that smell of talc, bay rum and hair tonic;  A barbershop.

When I lived in the US I frequented a few different barbershops, depending on whether I found myself in Connecticut or New York City when the need for a trim arose... but they all shared these common features (in no particular order):

Storefront location - Whoever heard of a barber shop on a second floor or inside an office building?  Unthinkable!  Half the charm is the walk-in traffic and having passers-by be able to see you tipped back there in the chair.  This is a social occasion!

Old fashioned chairs -  No improvements of any consequence have been made in the barber's chair since about 1930.  They need to swivel, go up and down, recline (with reversible foot pad for ankle comfort while tipped back), and weigh roughly a half ton.  A respectable barber shop will have a minimum of two or three such chairs... even if only one barber is on duty at any given time.

Additional seating - Those who are 'on deck', as well as the inevitable retirees who congregate in barber shops to gossip, must have ample seating in vinyl seats (with chrome trim) as well as a few handy Formica side tables strewn with newspapers and sporting/motoring magazines.

Pictures - Any barber shop worth its salt must have faded photographs on the walls showing haircuts that have been out of fashion for at least two decades.  A minimum of one 'mullet' picture is de rigueur!

Barbicide (no, this doesn't mean 'killing your barber after a bad haircut') -  The counter under the mirror must have at least two vats of this mysterious blue liquid with combs and scissors soaking in them.  Never mind that the comb and scissors the barber used for you were grabbed off the counter.  Not seeing that magical blue sanitizing liquid there in plain sight is a deal breaker!

Razor & Strop - When I was a kid I loved watching the barber 'fix' the edge of his straight razor with a few confident swipes at the leather strop hanging from the side of the chair.  He did this after he had used a badger brush (or his thumb) to dab warm shaving cream on the back of your neck and behind your ears.  One of my most closely kept secrets (until now, that is) is that the only reason I grew a beard when I became observant was so I could continue letting the barber use the straight razor on my neck (front and back) without worrying that he would accidentally stray to one of the areas forbidden under Jewish law.  These days for hygienic reasons most barbers use a straight razor handle fitted with disposable blades... but finding a barber who uses an autoclave for his collection of fine old straight razors is a rare treat indeed.

Hot towels - Even if you aren't getting a shave, having a hot towel from the warmer/humidifier tossed on your face and/or neck for a few minutes gives you a whole new lease on life!  Any airline that would give me a hot face towel at the end of the flight (instead of just a skimpy hand-cloth) would have a customer for life!

Wisdom - George Burns once remarked that it's "too bad the only people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair."   Truer words were never spoken.  In my humble opinion, anyone who complains about a too-talkative barber is probably one of those sad cases who thinks he has nothing left to learn.  Along with the whole visual and olfactory experience of visiting the barbershop, one should come to the occasion prepared to soak up all sorts of wisdom... supplemented by additional commentary and sub-text provided by the retirees hanging out in the 'on deck circle.  I recall vividly going to the barbershop with my dad when I was perhaps 6 or 7 and imagining I would one day be wise enough to join the banter of these learned sages.  I still do far more listening than talking.

In the old city of Beer Sheva, not far from my office, there are at least five barbershops within a two block radius of one another that fit most or all the criteria I have listed above.  I try not to play favorites, but in truth I end up going to one in particular most of the time for the following reasons:

a) All of the other barbers seem to wander over to this shop when their trade gets slow in order to soak up the wisdom (basically catch up with the latest gossip).

b) The owner of the shop is an older Moroccan man who speaks in the slow, deliberate, richly accented Hebrew of an immigrant, even though he moved to Israel in 1964. 

c) He has two fine old barber chairs but I have never seen another barber at work there.  This means that while I wait my turn I can stretch out in the other barber chair and have a short snooze.  Inevitably the owner will pause from whoever he is working on to toss a couple of hot towels over my face and neck even if I'm just there for a trim.

d) All the barbers in the old city keep to the old habit of closing down for a few hours in the middle of the day and then re-opening from 4:30 until 7:30 or 8:00PM.  This allows me to wander over after work and not feel rushed.

e) I find myself drawn back there for a haircut when I feel news-starved, not necessarily when I need a haircut.

Guys, feel free to share... I'd love to hear about your favorite practitioners (and memories) of the tonsorial arts.  Girls, just relax... I don't necessarily expect you to contribute.  Just as we don't 'get' the 34 pairs of identical black pumps you have in your closet or your never-ending search for the perfect little formal black handbag... I don't expect you to 'get' this whole barbershop thing. 

Trust me, it isn't supposed to make sense. 

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Posted by David Bogner on December 25, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack