« December 2018 | Main | February 2019 »

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Farewell to Elisson

There's a fraternity of sorts that exists among those who were early adapters of online journaling / blogging.   Even if we didn't 'follow' one another closely, we recall the people we tuned into each day; if not by name, than by online moniker.

Back when this medium was new-ish and not everyone who had embraced it had a clear understanding of what they really wanted to say, a few clear, strong voices emerged from the clutter... and Steve Krodman (AKA Elisson), was as strong as he was prolific.

While some people wrote about politics and others shared food porn or did mommy/daddy blogging, Steve wrote a funny, irreverent, unblinking account of both his current world and his most cherished memories.  By making it clear that what he shared on his blog were his own impressions, recollections, and experiences, he headed off any potential arguments, disagreements or naysayers.  After all, how can you argue with something so subjective?

I won't try to summarize who Steve was in a few short paragraphs.  After all, most of us who followed his prolific output for years can't claim to have truly known the man.  But there were certain inescapable conclusions one could jump to after reading him for even a short time:

For instance, Steve was a family man, in the old-world sense of the title.  His self-applied moniker - Elisson - was, first and foremost how he saw himself; Eli's (his father) son.  He also frequently referenced his role as husband and father through the mention and frequent referencing of his wife and two daughters.  But he chivalrously shielded them with their own loving code-words ('She Who Must Be Obeyed', 'Elder Daughter', 'Mistress of Sarcasm').

He also wrapped himself warmly and un-self-consciously in the religious and cultural heritage of his fathers.  The observances and celebrations of the Jewish calendar were beautifully described - as they should be - through the lens of food and drink.  Even the weekday morning minyan, of which he was a regular, was framed lovingly as the precursor to the post-prayer gathering at the local 'smoked fish emporium'.

Steve sought out and savored tastes and experiences related to food and drink.  I don't think of him as a 'foodie', though.  His posts about food and drink were about sharing his deep enjoyment, not about showing off or putting on airs.

And even his tastes in food and drink were of the old world sort.  Yes, he like good wine.  But, long before it became hip to do so, he was describing his favorite tipples; classic cocktails, aperitifs and digestifs

And his sartorial tastes likewise reflected a respect and longing for the past; with seersucker suits and straw fedoras on unabashed display.  Admittedly, the colander was a decidedly modern touch... but we all have our eccentricities.

I only met Steve and his wife, Donna, in person on one occasion, during a trip they took to Israel a few years back.  But, aside from having my pre-existing impressions confirmed, that meeting was just another layer of the onion that I'd been peeling for years with each tidbit that was revealed in his writing.

He called his blogging "exercises in time-wastage and self-aggrandizement", but it was neither; not for him, and certainly not for the reader.  As his daughters so correctly pointed out in the announcement of his passing:

"[his blog was]...a repository for all of his warped humor and twisted rants. Suddenly - and finally! - an audience for his schtick beyond his nuclear family. Over the years this creative outlet grew from a little hobby ...into a fertile space for him to mold his rich internal life and tremendous stores of knowledge into beautiful and humorous pieces. We believe he got to know himself more greatly through writing this blog. It, along with family, friends, and Jewish Life, gave him purpose. We also believe that he was/is a man worth knowing, and so we are glad he found a way to generously share himself."

Just to give you an idea of how he reveled in outlandishness and the popular perception of him as its chief purveyor, here are some 'pull quotes' from the sidebar of his blog:

“Got-dam Philistine! Is NOTHING sacred to you?” - Acidman 

“The Bard of Affliction...” - Houston Steve

“My hat’s off to Elisson! All hail Elisson!”
Laurence Simon 

“Elisson’s blog: mysterious...like unraveling a turban and finding a moist dildo inside.” - Kevin Kim 

“...Obi-Wan Kenobi of Georgia...”
- Cowtown Pattie 

“The Shakespeare of poop jokes.”
John Cox 

“...when I grow up, I want to be Elisson.” - MetroDad 

“Elisson ain’t right. We know that.”

“Elisson...has totally gone off the deep end.” - Dax Montana 

“...of many talents...”
Rahel Jaskow 

“...the ever insightful Elisson...”
David Bogner 

“...Elisson, my man...I’m impressed...you are the man...” - Straight White Guy 

“You make my heart sing.”
Sissy Willis 

“...maniacal, obsessive rants about duck fat...” - Steve H. Graham 

“In a world almost entirely without heroes, Elisson stands alone...”

“I really want to whup [Elisson] upside the haid...” - Meryl Yourish 

“The world is a much stranger place since I began reading your blog, Elisson.”

“…the cat’s ass in his trademark white fedora…” - Jim 

“...R’ Blog Shem Tov...”
- Erica Sherman 

“By gadfrey, sir...You’re the most amazing character... there’s never any telling what you’ll say or do next, except that it’s bound to be something astonishing.”
Ivan G. Shreve 

“Elisson, you are such a Renaissance Man you make Newton, Descartes & Copernicus look like Larry, Moe & Curly!”
El Capitan 

“You... are a plethora of useless information.”

Steve showed us all that being grown up didn't need to mean abandoning our childish sense of humor, or the child's innate ability to identify and point out the absurd.

And in the online world where - based just on their writings and correspondence - platonic 'blog-crushes' and deep 'bromances' could blossom between people sharing this new cyberspace, Steve became a good friend and generous mentor to me. 

For years he used his personal example to demonstrate the careful balancing of grown-up responsibilities and childish irreverence.  Fine dining experiences and scatological humor shared pride of place on his blog, as he virtually dared the reader to play the straight man to his clown.

Steve was the uncle we all wish we'd had; the one that parents became worried about if their children were left too long unattended in his charge.  New vocabulary words and a precocious understanding of excretory functions would certainly result from an afternoon spent with 'Uncle Steve'.  But he would also doubtless return the little dears with a newfound respect for the value of family... and for pickled herring.

And when, a few short months ago, Steve announced to the world that he had been diagnosed with ALS, he effortlessly pivoted from using his blog to show us how to live well... to showing us that it is also possible to die well. 

He generously let us in on what he was thinking and feeling throughout his descent into stillness... and in so doing, he spared us a tiny bit of the terror that is inevitable when confronted by the finality of what southerners call 'that sweet by-and-by'.

Steve, I will deeply miss your unique and unbridled spirit in my online wanderings.  Nobody else seems to have the courage to point out the many emperors without clothes.   I look for an offered finger to pull... but propriety seems to have suddenly taken hold.

My heart goes out to your family; I know that their loss is incalculable.  But if stories and fond recollections can keep a person's memory alive, you will have achieved immortality through the many generations who will doubtless continue to share accounts of the wonderful husband, father and friend you were during the all-too-short arc of your time here on this mortal coil.

Rest Well, my friend.  I will raise many a cocktail to your memory in whatever time I have left... until we meet again.


Posted by David Bogner on January 13, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Should Old Antagonists Be Forgot...

[I’ve written about this in the past, but it has been increasingly on my mind lately as a read the news.]

New Year’s is a time to ponder, compare and contrast… it is a time to take stock of the situation, and to try to discern trends.  One inescapable trend is that anti-Semites are feeling less inhibited and restrained in expressing their Jew-hatred in voice and deed.

I know we Israelis tend to sound preachy and condescending to our coreligionists in the diaspora when we point to antisemitism as a contributing factors to our decision to move/remain here in Israel.   But then again, I suppose any uncomfortable truth sounds a bit preachy when one is on the receiving end.

Of all life's moments that flash through my mind on New Year’s eve, there is one that is so sour and negative that it cancels out virtually all the wonderful and positive nostalgia I have for the date:

Back in the early '90s, I played trombone in a ‘rehearsal band’; a jazz big band that met in a studio on W42nd street in Manhattan once a week to play through charts from the Big Band era of the '30s and '40s. 

The bandleader was an older musician from that bygone era who had acquired most of the original Count Basie ‘book’, as well as a nice sampling of music from the other top-tier (Miller, Goodman, Ellington, et al), bands' repertoires. And the players were a mix of professional and amateur musicians ranging from college age to retirees. 

Those few hours playing big band jazz with serious musicians were the highlight of my week.

Once in a while the leader would get a call for a gig and we would get to play the old tunes for an appreciative audience.  One such gig was the annual New Year’s Eve Black Tie Gala at the exclusive Downtown Athletic Club.

There’s an old joke about the Downtown Athletic Club posits that the only minorities one is likely to spot inside the hallowed halls of the club are the wait-staff… and the recipients of the Heisman Trophy (which is awarded there every year). 

We Jews tend to ‘pass for white’ in the modern world, so we largely see such discrimination as a cause to be championed rather than a first-hand problem to be overcome.  This gig changed that worldview for me.

The event was as glitzy and high society as you probably imagine, and it felt like time traveling to be playing WWII-era jazz in such a historic NYC setting on New Year’s eve.

While the band was on a break between sets, the bandleader came over to me and a trumpet player who was also religiously observant musician and told us that we would have to take off our kippot (yarmulkes).  It isn’t clear to me now if the demand came from the party host, a guest, the bandleader himself or some combination thereof.  What was clear – and remains so – is that someone took exception to a barely noticeable scrap of black cloth in a sea of black tuxedos, starched white shirts, champagne and party streamers, and felt empowered/entitled to demand that the offending religious article be removed from view.  

That was then. 

Now, more than 20 years later I don’t think anyone can reasonably deny that Jews in America (and elsewhere in diaspora), are less secure or less apt to experience discrimination and attack in the course of their daily lives.

Antisemitism has never disappeared, or even waned. It has been a historical constant; perhaps the oldest hatred in recorded history. What some mistake for it waxing and waning is it going through periods of being more or less socially acceptable to express in public. 

It may surprise you to hear that I honestly don’t mind Antisemitism or anti-Semites.  I've come to accept it as a constant reality that will never go away.   

What I do mind is having to face anti-Semites on their own turf and on their own terms. 

Over here, I know I am hated for being a Jew (even though they give that hatred the fig leaf of calling it anti-Zionism).   But as an Israeli, I have the privilege of ignoring the haters who no longer hold power or influence over me… and of defending myself - without explanation or restraint - against those who still operate under the misconception that they do.

Just something to ponder as you go about your rationalization of how 'it isn't as bad as it seems'.

Happy New Year!

Posted by David Bogner on January 1, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (1)