Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You have a man on the inside joke

I like to think about language. i like to think about languages also. And dialects. And sub-dialects. They interest me because they unite us and divide us constantly. One of the terms I learned in grad school (or maybe after grad school, in grad school) was "code shifting," the need to switch sub dialects seamlessly as we move from one cultural context to another. After speaking with my kids, I turn to my wife and speak with her. After writing this blog post (is it ironic that this interface underlines "blog" as a misspelled word?), I have to write a formal letter to someone. Each social interaction requires a subtly different language/dialect, so I have to be able to assess the need and adopt the write vocabulary and tone.

One of life's challenges is being able to code shift as quickly as the world demands. I work in a school with over 600 students and about 100 faculty and staff. With each one, I have crafted a dialect based in the words, expressions and experiences I share with each one. That isn't particularly unique -- people in any workplace have to flip in and out of conversations and code shift. But some of the extremes here can be difficult.

When one student comes up to me and expects me, while I am in mid-sentence with another teacher, to remember the 3 minute conversation I had with him or her the day before, and be able to flip over to that, answer the issue and switch back, that is tough. When 15 students surround me while I am on the phone with a parent, and each wants me to solve a particular issue, it isn't about the issue, it is about lacking the foundational context to process each, but being able to jump to that scenario in the middle where I left off, speak to the student as if we are the closest of friends who know exactly what we mean, and then move to the next. This the inside joke theory. You see, everything is an inside joke, and most of the time, only two people are inside. I think that the definition of crazy is that you can't understand that no one else is inside (or that you imagine that others who don't exist are inside).

One thing which makes my job tough is that other people seem to think that their universe/context is the only one anyone else knows or should know so they jump into it with no explanation or pause. Even if I share that context, I can't always know what they are working on. When I don't share that context, the task becomes even harder.

The moral? I'm rarely if ever in your brain, so don't yell at me that I didn't wipe my shoes off.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The greatest words never spoken

One thing which fiction writers have done is imagine the incredible conversations which would have occurred had some of histories greatest minds ever had the chance to sit and talk. Bridging both time and space, these writers pull together personalities from disparate cultures and areas of expertise and consider the kind of deep and meaningful cross pollination of ideas which could have taken place had the two sat together. I too have been thinking about such an event and would like to present what I think might have transpired so that others can benefit from the natural flow and progress of the hypothetical brilliance.

I imagine what would have happened if an incredible composer who shook the very foundations of music were to sit down with a leading scientist who, with his inventiveness and revolutionary vision, changed our physical world.

Edison: What?
Beethoven: What? [but in German]

Wow. Just wow.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


For a long time I have wanted to be like those people on television - the men who surprise their wives with boxes wrapped in pretty ribbons, full of shiny rocks set in shiny metal, or the women who blindfold their husbands and walk them outside to a driveway occupied by a fancy car in an oversized box and with a Paul Bunyan-esque bow. We have the blindfold and the driveway, but that's where it ends.

Thing is, the wife and I have an understanding about that. First off, my taste in jewelry doesn't really exist. If it is shiny, I think it is adorable and want to buy it. This explains the basement full of tin foil. Well, that and the alien satellites. Foil hats dent so easily. The wife, thoughn is the one who has to wear the jewely so she wants a say in its shape or design. And, she doesn't to wear jewelry anyway.

Additionally, the money I make is ours as is the money she makes. So when I buy a gift for her, effectively, she is buying a gift for herself - there is no sacrifice on my part; I'm using her cash. Same with that car. We both drive and we both earn the money to pay for insurance, gas, upkeep etc. If she surprises me with a car, shouldn't it be a car I have vetted and we both can enjoy? And considering that the financial hit is shared, shouldn't she have consulted me? Didn't I have to sign something?

The entire idea of gift giving once you are married and have a joint account seems ridiculous. The better gift is to say "I haven't spent on myself recently so you have access to more to spend on yourself." Or maybe we should tell the IRS that we are "married filing surprisingly".

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mythed again

I have spent more time thinking about myths and have come to what could be a startling conclusion. I'm not saying that what I have come up with is all that revolutionary, but that I'd be shocked if it ends up that this concludes my thinking about it.

I was in a meeting today and my co-worker made reference to the "myth of the pioneer." Note that this does not recall a specific event or person who lived on the prairie. The stories about life way back then have sort of come together and provided us with a general summary or shorthand to help us think about an era or a group. And a quick look online shows that the phrase "the myth of" is used online some 28 million times. Somehow, if you remove the word "Greek" from the results, the phrase is used 108 million times.

Everything, it seems, is a myth.

Charter schools, alzheimers, Lilith, fingerprints, independent voters, mean girls, Samhain, racist Republicans etc.

It seems like everything is a myth. And this leads me to my conclusion.

Nothing has actually ever happened and nothing actually really exists. It isn't my fault you believe in the myth of Descartes.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, December 10, 2010

mythos (pl, sing mytho)

I was sitting in the car this morning, explaining to my daughter about the word narcissistic and its connection to Greek mythology (didn't I know all this stuff already by the time I was her age?) and a thought hit me. Bam, it said.

The cultural myths from many cultures seem to share a particular theme -- explaining elements of the natural world by tying them to events or people in the myth. How did the elephant get its trunk, the giraffe its long neck, or the zebra its stripes? Read the cultural myth. How did Devil's Tower come to be? Read the story from the Native Americans. Why is that constellation shaped that way, or does that flower grow that way? Read about the mythological characters who inspired that natural thing.

So I aimed that lens at my own culture and I discovered something -- Jewish cultural myths do not seem purposed to explain elements of the natural world. They aim to explain the behavior of people. What is the Amaleki mindset? Why do liars act the way they do? Torah stories rarely give the origins of things, but of nations.

Now I could be wrong, and if you ask certain people, odds are I am wrong, but what's important is that I'm not wrong. Unless I am.

Behold the beholder

Sometimes we run into people who are truly beautiful - model beautiful. These are the people who leave others on campus with their mouths hanging open. The ones all the mortals are afraid to approach and whose entrance into a room forces conversations into jealous silences and makes stolen glances legal tender. In the workplace they inspire a combination of fear and lust and at school they become the focal point for a thousand excuses. Why take this class, join this club or sit in that part of the library? Because maybe, just maybe, that divine being will see me and lightning will strike and somehow I will connect with him or her. They are the objects of myriad Mitty-esque fantasies and yet their true personality remains a mystery. And then, years later, people sit around and wonder "where are they now?" "How did someone so perfect fit into everyday life?" "Did that model find another model and have model babies?"

So for those who wonder about that, I just want you to know

I'm right here.

by the way, this was
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Monday, December 6, 2010

I mall tired out

I found myself at the mall today. I guess I didn't find myself there. I drove myself there intentionally. Anyway, while I was there, I realized a few things. First, time spent wandering at the mall could be better used doing most anything else. Second, mall time is dangerous for me because it gives me time to let my mind wander and get cynical impressions about most everything and this leads to sneering and nasty comments. And when I'm alone, and I start mumbling, eventually, security has to get involved.

Next, if you aren't buying something for your cell phone (or aren't a cell phone yourself) or don't need clothes or mall food, the mall is pretty boring. A huge chunk of the stores sell clothes and upscale accessories for parts of my body I didn't know I had. I saw the massage kiosk (because when I want to relax, i go to the mall). I saw the navel piercing station (nothing like an Orange Julius and a hole in your body). I saw fancy cars parked indoors, stores selling nothing but perfume, or Legos or hats (or some combination of those three). I saw the mindless consumers weaving in and out of retailers who were all selling the same things just with different labels on them. I saw conformity personified selling itself as individualism.

The sad part was that I didn't want to buy anything. There I was, with cash in pocket, a checkbook handy and 3 credit cards, all ready to be amazed and driven into a frenzy of spending. I bought a bargain book and a replacement set of earphones, plus a little plastic screen cover for my phone. Woo-hoo.

I can't figure out if it is that the stores have nothing for me or that I simply am at a point where I don't really need much. Or maybe I'm just cheap. I'm not sure, but the whole experience was really worthless. I could have stayed home if I wanted to feel empty.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I'm a tame and sane guy

I write this as a fan of Steve Martin so I cannot lay claim to being unbiased, but what happened recently at the Y is ridiculous. Mr. Martin. Pardon me, Mr. Steve Martin, was discussing his latest book with Deborah Solomon when the web audience decided that he wasn't being the Steve Martin they wanted so they tweeted or emailed or did whatever it is that they did to send him a message demanding that he talk about something they wanted to hear about. Now, I am fully conversant with the consumer based economy and I know that we all get sad when we shell out eight million dollars for tickets to the Dinosaurs of Rock and they don't play our favorite hit from forty years ago, but at some point we will have to admit that WE DON'T OWN CELEBRITIES. Sure, they make their living making us smile, laugh, cry, move or think but we can't expect them to respond to our every whim like some sort of marionette. The true Steve Martin fan has one of two choices: either go to every performance and appearance and love him for his ability to change and grow, or stay at home listening to his LP's over and over and laughing at all the same jokes which , I heartily admit, are brilliant and funny. One can either read his new book and follow him around the country as he promotes that which makes him new and different, or watch The Absent Minded Waiter. Yes it is genius, and if that's what you want, then go for it, but don't demand that he stops being a real human being.

Now clearly, Mr. Steve Martin does not need my defense of him. His recent OpEd in the NYT makes his case brilliantly ( And surely I could rant about how the technology which we have access to is not only shortening our attention span but giving us a false sense of control over our world but I am simply going to end by pointing out that Picasso was brilliant through many stages and it would have been a real loss to the world had someone who was a fan of his early work stood over his shoulder as he moved into more adventurous work and demanded that he stay within a tried and true style.

Yes, we run the risk of not liking everything our idols touch, but the return is well worth it when we discover a talent which is not locked in by time or limited by two dimensions.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

One is a lonely number

I was watching a TV show on public television, all about the New Jersey Turnpike. The narrators and the various experts reflected on how the turnpike somehow represented an American ethos or something. They blathered on about how there was a code of the highway and the egalitarian nature of this project made America strong and crystallized the identity of the New Jersey psyche.

One thing they said was that part of that code of the highway dictated that the truck lanes were for real men and only less-than-real-men use the "cars only" lanes. Now I have driven (and been driven) on the turnpike for 35 years and I have never heard that line. I live in New Jersey as do all of my neighbors here in New Jersey and none of them had ever heard of that. It got me thinking, and that's never a good idea.

And another thing...when I listen to the radio business reports the reporter tells about "the market" and what "it" does as if the traders all get together and vote on a course of action and a reason for it, then act in unison and file a report. It just doesn't happen that way.

You see, there is no singular collective voice that can be caught and printed on bumper stickers. The mass consciousness is really all about a bunch of individuals none of whom has an opinion that anyone would care about were anyone to speak with this individual one on one. All of these phantom groupthink ideas are the projected ideals of the sociologists who report on them and the wishful philosophers who need to claim they have their fingers on a pulse which doesn't really exist. We can't know what we all think because we don't all think and if we did we wouldn't all share what we think or even get any sort of summary of all the things we think. And we certainly don't agree.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lost skills in America

and another thing...
when was the last time you pulled out a paper map and tried to read it? I do frequently because I'm a fan of the map but I see the following as lost arts or arts we will lose soon.
1. map folding. gone the way of newspaper folding for easy reading on the subway
2. map printing
3. map reading

I went to a driver of a class truiip and asked him if he wanted my set of printed directions. He said "no thanks...I have a GPS." So maybe I should include "preparing for a trip by reviewing directions" to my list.

Will we become so dependent on GPS devices and directions that we won't even be able to find our around the block without a soothing voice reminding us to take a right turn in 300 feet? Will those crazy people who go orienteering no longer need a compass and map because their cell phones will tell them what to do and where to go? Don't we need to be able to read a map, find a street and judge distances on our own? It is bad enough that students insist they don't need to learn to spell because of spell check, but will a 2nd grade geography class begin with "OK kids, now log onto google earth"?

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I'm trying to quantify how different proclivities see the same event differently. This made perfect sense about 4 Red Stripes (and half a bottle of Pinot Grigio) ago.

A leaf falls from a tree.

A physicist computes the acceleration.
A climatologist considers the change of seasons.
A poet writes about the cycle of life.
A philosopher thinks about the concept of death.
The writer creates a story from the leaf's point of view.
A gardener bemoans the extra work.
The child jumps into the pile of leaves
The theist thanks god.

Add more as you see fit. I need to lie down.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Old News

So I'm sitting here at the computer, engaged in my standard evening activities of using the internet to get good and angry. Out of the corner of my eye, I'm watching one child studying and searching the world on Google Earth while the other works on her application to high school. In a few short years she'll be working on applications to college.

Where did my babies go?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What circle of hello am I in

So there I was in synagogue today and a gentleman gets up to lead services. Now you have to know me to understand that, as an orthodox Jew living in my neighborhood, I hear many people lead services. While I had seen this guy around, I had never heard him sing. And sing, he did. So I asked a friend whom I respect about such things as singing, prayer and people. I respect him, by the way, in a completely reasonable way, as much as you can respect someone and not sound crazy or simply star struck.

My friend looks at me and says "you don't know?" He fills me in that this guy is some world renowned cantor guy who happens to live in our neighborhood but he and his father are some top tier cantors (if such a thing exists). I felt like a fool for not knowing, by sight, that this guy is someone but I realized, I don't really keep myself in that particular loop. I tried to imagine a situation that my friend would have to ask me to identify someone and I could look at him disdainfully and ask "you mean you don't recognize _____?"

Then it hit me. I don't really know anyone, especially not anyone who wouldn't already be recognized by anyone else. I have friends who can spot a third string minor league baseball player from three cars away when we are on the Van Wyck and I wouldn't know the president if I was locked in my bathroom with him (note, my bathroom is very small and this should not be construed as a terroristic threat against our president. I have no intention of kidnapping him and subjecting him to being in our small bathroom with me). I know some stuff -- teaching English, reading biblical texts, playing hangman on my Blackberry and watching reruns of police procedurals. I can bake a cake, fold socks and juggle but I'd have trouble identifying any of the "top people" in any of these fields, or any other.

For years, the wife has been able to point out celebrities she sees on the street or make connections between people from her past and I need a cheat sheet to remember my own birthday. So if you are famous, and you see me, introduce yourself and wait a couple of minutes for me to place you. Then I'll be real nice and stuff. Maybe even bake you a cake or fold your socks.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I MUST have that recipe. No really. I MUST.

Another poor night's sleep, another major revelation. I think there is a connection but I'm not sure. Maybe I'll eat spicy food tonight and find out.

It seems to me that a major component to marketing is the reassurance of the common consumer that he is not crazy. It is as if someone sat with the draft copy of the DSM V (due out May 2013) and went through each condition, tying its symptoms to a product. The point is to reassure the consumere that when he has his delusions, he is not insane but actually just interested in spending his money. You think you hear your cereal talking to you? Good, buy some Rice Krispies. Do little people invade your house at night and bake? fine, buy some Keebler products. Are you being stalked by your own mop? Buy a Swiffer. My beer bottles have been coming to life and playing football. OK. Who's winning? Bud or Bud Light? Is your dog running around for no apparent reason? Don't worry...he sees the Chuck Wagon. he isn't crazy either. So when he tells you to burn it all down, better listen.

Even for objects like a car...doc, I have this urge to veer into oncoming traffic and crash head on into another car. Well then, perfectly normal. Just buy a Honda with new airbags. I can't stop chewing gum! No problem, just follow what 4 out of 5 dentists would recommend in that case and chew more of a certain brand. All of our body image obsessions are assuaged by ads telling us either to eat more or less. Kill someone? Airline tickets are on sale. Whatever mood we are in, we can be validated by a commercial. Name an addiction and I'll find a commercial which tells you that you are actually OK. List an obsession and I'll list products to make you feel normal.

Without ads we would realize just how mentally messed up we all are. It's a good thing we have advertising to save us from realizations of ourselves.

Buy me dat and buy me dys-function.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Waxing Build up

So recently, as part of my new regime of self loathing, I went to the doctor so I could have official documentation and quantification of how much I am destroying my body. I mean, without numbers, how can I do worse or know I'm doing worse. Because I think that one can study for blood tests, I have been eating better and trying to be better to my body by not drinking lighter fluid every 20 minutes. I have also been practicing peeing in a cup. It isn't that easy, especially from a distance.

So the doctor poked and prodded me. He performed a series of medical tests which required that he rub my stomach, pat my head and mock me for the 15 pounds I should lose. Then, as part of the plea agreement, he sent a nurse in to stick a needle in me and take some of my blood. I'm a fan of my blood. It does stuff like circulate and keep me from not having any blood. I was reluctant to give it up not only because it is one of the few things that I have created that has not tried to make me feel guilty for not going to the mall (children, take note), but also because I don't like the idea that it will turn states' evidence and tell the doctor all about my bad habits like cookies and more cookies. I like cookies.

I reluctantly gave the blood. By reluctantly I mean I sat there and let some woman I don't know stick a needle in me. And to think...I paid her for the privilege. Seems somewhat sordid. Then I left and decided to spend a few days bingeing, figuring that once the blood came back, the world would have the proof that I had such a bad level of cholesterol in my blood that the doctor simply turned the beakers into decorative candles.

Note -- in case you didn't know, and haven't looked up on wikipedia, cholesterol is a waxy substance. So I'm taking the liberty to make jokes about wax. No one makes jokes about wax these days. Apparently, that is still true even after I type this. Hmmm, sad.

I got a call from the nurse on the home answering machine the other day. She said "this is _______ from the doctor's office. He said that your blood work is fine." Click. That's it. Now that might be enough in general, but I am sure that I need more detail in order to be positive that I am not already dead. So I called back. Eight hours later, my cell phone rings and the doctor identifies himself. He asks if I got a call and I said I had but the nurse only said that the levels are fine.

"Yes," he says. "She said that because that's what I told her to say."

"OK" I say lamely. Well what would you say? (apologies, Mr. Mandel)

"What I should have said is that your numbers are superfine" he continues. Now I'm intrigued. Very few things are superfine. Either I have photographs in my blood or I got a transfusion from Kal-el.

"Your cholesterol number might sound like it is high, but don't worry." So I ask what my number is that might sound high.

"220" he says.

"That sounds high" I think, but I say nothing because I don't want to validate his expectation of my reaction. I bet you thought I'd say it. You don't know me at all.

"Your HDL, the good cholesterol, is fantastic."

Now I don't know what the norm is for the numbers but I'm assuming that by fantastic he means it is in the good range (which I later discover to be 50 or above).

"Your HDL is 91. Unbelievable." I'm starting to feel pretty good. He tells me that this is probably genetic and affords me a goodly amount of protection from heart disease. "Your LDL, the bad cholesterol, is 118." That is a touch above average (115) and not a bad thing.

He continues to tell me that my liver and kidney and other vital organs seems to be working at optimal levels and I can have warp capacity within 2 days.

So what would you do in that case? Would you continue to eat reasonably, with salads and balanced, measured meals? Or would you think "Hey - I'm doing great...I don't even need to try!" and then eat a copious amount of cookies and candy?

I did both, just to be sure.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wheat for it

So here's my question. If more and more products are emphasizing whole wheat then the flour industry has to change. When whole wheat is turned into white wheat, something is taken out. That something is either thrown away or sold. Use more whole wheat and the business model for what you do with the rest has to change.
If that extra is sold, then there being less of it, the price should go up so we should buy into it now.

‎​If it is thrown away then the disposal needs are eiminated and we should advise clients to reduce holdings in that position.

‎​And the companies which make the equipment which turns whole into white? We have to run from those. And of course, we need to invest in white whole wheat futures and not in the bleaching process.

‎​There will also be a mad demand for conversion of recipes from white to whole wheat, and a new demand for innovative whole wheat recipes!

‎​Are there whole wheat pie crusts commercially available? Whole wheat cookie dough tested and pre made? To market! To market!

By the way, standard rules apply - if anyone reading this uses my idea and makes money, I get 10 percent. Anyone not reading this only has to give me 5. Heaven help the person who approaches me with 5.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Stuff that makes me feel guilty

In some way, anything which gives me the slightest pleasure makes me feel guilty. There is almost this sense that I shouldn't be enjoying myself. But what is interesting is that, even knowing that there is an inevitable sense of guilt, or worse, a real world down side to enjoying myself, I still go ahead and do what I do. I KNOW that tomorrow, i have to be up and in a room I can't leave because I have to proctor SAT's. And I KNOW that I have been gaining weight and my overall health is not as good as it could be. And yet, even knowing that I'd hate myself, I ate like a pig. I ate what I shouldn't, and lots of it. I hid and ate like a rat who suddenly got his paws on whatever it is that rats love so much, but isn't as good for them as cheese. And I ate.

So now, I feel sick. i feel guilty. I feel dread, knowing that tomorrow, while proctoring, I'll feel sick. But I did it, and I can justify it to myself in a hundred different ways. Begin self loathing in 3, 2, 1 and now.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Where a guy can be a guy

So anyways, last night, late, late at night, when all good children are asleep and mine are up bugging me, I decided to swim against the tide and catch some zz's.

Then it starts. The wife, whom I love dearly, asks me about an area rug she wants to buy. "Which one do you like?" she asks as I try to smother myself with a series of pillows and small appliances. So I look over. It looks like a rug.

Thing is, we already have a rug. We have 2 rugs! We just bought a rug to replace a rug we already have and now she wants my opinion about another rug. Let's break this down, shall we.

1. We already have a rug
2. We just bought another rug
3. It is a rug.
4. I step on rugs, dump stuff on rugs and otherwise treat them like rugs.
5. I am a guy.

I'd like to dwell on number 5 for a second. I know that I'm not the most masculine guy around, but I have retained my absolute lack of interest in home decoration. The world knows this. I have made it clear that my idea of a shelf or a wall unit is a board and 2 concrete blocks. And my idea of a table is a shelf or a wall unit. I think that walls and ceilings should be white and dishes, paper. OK, plastic for fancy guests. So back to the list.

6. It was late at night.
7. I was tired.
8. All rugs look the same to me.
9. My opinion as a man is often ignored.

Lather, rinse. Repeat.

So the bottom line is that the wife is asking someone who doesn't care or have an opinion, his opinion (which she won't really listen to) on a piece of home decoration that we don't need, and which I will walk all over, all when I should be asleep.

To sleep, perchance to dream.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What do you know?

My children are smart in ways that can’t be tested by multiple choice questions and it scares the hell out of me. I’m not worried because they know more text language or because they have been exposed to more episodes of television shows via their computers than through the TV set. I’m not worried because they are aware of more hatred and violence, sexuality and drug use than I was at their age. I’m worried because of balloon animals.

My elder daughter, just becoming comfortable as an angry teenager, was helping out with my younger daughter’s birthday party. We went shopping for party supplies and she insisted that we buy the long, skinny balloons and the pump so that she could make hats and giraffes for the younger guests. I humored her, figuring that she saw someone on Top Chef or Cops making balloon animals and convinced herself that she could do the same. I bought the balloons convinced that this 7 dollar object lesson would serve everyone well. The party began as scheduled. Cake, pizza, candles, and manicures and makeup treatments. And balloon animals – real honest to goodness balloon animals. I have no idea when and where she learned to do this but it struck me (and I’m sure parents everywhere have faced this same paradox) that this is a child who can’t remember her math lessons from day to day and who struggles in science and social studies. My other child is much the same; she can reel off lyrics galore and retell an entire movie’s plot line without taking a breath, but she can’t spell.

The children, it appears, are not idiots. Anyone who knows them sees how they have sharp wits and make insightful comments. But when those tests come around, they both flounder. As an educator, I fear that my children will fail at the conventional testing schema and will be pounded down by the system which values numbers and data over whatever it is my kids seem to have. I worry about high school (can my kids handle the volume of work when they struggle with the elementary and middle school demands?). I worry about college admissions (SAT’s can’t measure what my children have to offer). I worry about their finding a direction in life. I worry. Now, I know that as a father, it is my job to worry and that I’m not going through anything particularly unique. But I see as a teacher that students have to be able to take tests, memorize formulae and somehow develop an understanding of something more practical and somehow elusive than balloon animals.

I’m not sure how we can check for “knowledge” and sometimes I’m not even sure what knowledge is. Does it somehow have something to do with geometry, chemistry and history? Sure. Does it have something to do with coping skills, working well under pressure and memorization? Yup. Is it somehow bigger than all of those things and, in a very important sense, immeasurable? Absolutely. Find me someone who can remember, understand, and DO and I’ll show you a person who has something to contribute to the world, no matter his standardized test scores.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Semi serious thoughts about language learning

I remember when I was a boy in Jewish Day school. While I loathed all homework, I recall reserving a special place in my bowels for Hebrew homework. I guess part of that had to do with the teachers and maybe part had to do with what we now call "trouble with languages." I was never really sure. But I have been spending some serious minutes wrestling with the idea of why it is tough to learn a language. Some has to do with the various physiological and chemical processes of the brain which I will never fully understand. Or at all.

But I was sitting having lunch with Muzzy, the poorly animated multilingual bear who tortures my mind with the phrase "bonjour, je sui Muzzy" over and over and he mentioned something that resonated. He talked about small children learning language in a natural way, the way they learn their first language.

Now that's nothing new. Everyone knows that smaller children pick up a second or third language easier than adults. We also all know that learning a language by immersion and use, the way we learn our first language, is most natural (my friend Rosy T. Stone taught me that). So what was the a-ha moment?

It has to do with the gap. It's always about the gap.

Why did I get frustrated by writing Hebrew essays? Because I didn't get frustrated by writing English essays! It is all clear to me now. Learning 2 languages at the same time is easier because your ability to express yourself grows in parallel and there is no gap. The more the gap widens between the ability to communicate expressively in one and the other, the larger the frustration index. If I can say "the breathtaking explosion of colors in last night's sunset left me awe struck" in English, but only have the vocabulary to say "the sun was nice" in Hebrew, I will dread trying to write in Hebrew. The wider that gap (either because of a predilection for native expression at a young age, or a significant number of years of practice at native language before the introduction of another language) the less likely the success for language learning, unless someone happens to be wired in a way which allows for language acquisition.

So if you start early when there is no difference between the complexity of vocabulary in the two languages, or any real depth to the thoughts which prompt the writing, languages can be acquired naturally. The vocabulary in the 2 languages grows in the same fashion and both (and either) develop as the innate need to express grows. I wonder two things:

1. could this be used to explain frustration in other fields -- gaps between an understanding and a discipline-based vocabulary or mode of understanding make for difficulty

2. could this be tested by tracing language expression/acquisition among young learners who acquire native language expression skills at different paces? Theoretically, the ones who develop as (in my case) English writers more slowly should have less trouble (paradoxically) acquiring Hebrew at the same rate. Stronger English students should see the gap with vocabulary and expression in Hebrew unless instruction is ramped up to keep pace with English development (the slower the class, the harder?) How very counter-intuitive.

Linguistics/Sociology/Psychology students, you have your orders.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A TV show idea

All you TV execs, listen up. This is the idea of a lifetime, and I don't mean Lifetime TV because no one meets a mysterious stranger. If you want to start a TV show which is a guaranteed hit, this is it.

Broadcast a football game, but instead of having proper sports commentators, have 3 or 4 regular guys watch the game and let the viewers watch the game with them. While they should make sure to punctuate their comments with actual play by play and explanation of stuff but wouldn't it be great if you could watch "along with" some guys who are regular people. Let them make small talk. Let them eat food and talk about their jobs and families. Let them drink beer and burp and enjoy the emotional roller coaster that is football. Let them get angry and overjoyed when it is called for. Enough of the sterile professionals -- let's turn football watching into a reality show. You want story arcs? Any guy has, over the course of a season, enough mini crises and dramas that viewers can empathize with. Make football watching real.

That's my idea. I think it is brilliant. If you don't you are clearly wrong. If I see this idea transformed into a TV show, I will sue everybody until someone admits publicly that it was my idea and gives me something other than angina. So there.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's all I can do

I have been thinking recently about what I can do and also what I can't. Sadly the list for the latter is a big more sizable unless I start adding the little things on to the "can do" list, you know, like "breathe." Somehow that doesn't seem to balance out that I can't crochet. I know...only one of those is life sustaining, but it would be really neat to crochet.

I was sitting with a teacher recently and she was trying to teach me how to use a sewing machine. I have tried over the years to master the sewing machine. It is my Everest, except that you can sew with it. The problem I have is that i can't visualize how and why it works. The needle pushes thread through a hole and then comes up from the same hole. So why doesn't it pull the thread right back out? The teacher explained that it had to do with their being a lower thread which somehow gets pulled up. But how does it get pulled up, I asked? By the end of the lesson, she had successfully forgotten how to sew. My work there was done so I moved on to befuddle others.

The thing is, I really need to understand how something works to be able to work it sometimes. Not always. The internal combustion engine is only somewhat clear to me but I drive. I also have to be able to visualize myself doing something. If I can't picture myself doing it, I know it will never happen. I know that this smacks of self-defeatism and that it bespeaks a lack of imagination but I have found it to be a very good indicator of my success at something. I see myself working through it and I know I can do it, even if not well. Maybe this all points to why my list of "things I can do" is so short. Now, if that was all, then I could just go to bed comfortable in the knowledge of my own shortcomings. But that's not why I asked you all here this evening.

This morning, at around 10:30, I was walking through work and I burped. Not one of those little "pop" burps, and not one that I had to work at. And not one which I could foresee as a result of recent swallowing. This was a full tilt belch which just appeared out of NOWHERE.

[note: In my capacity as a male, I am bound by law to make some sort of gratuitous comment like "and sadly, no one was there to appreciate it"]

I can't figure out why I burped. I'm sure there was some physiological reason as to "how" so save me your medical jargon; I said I don't know "why." I just didn't realize that I ever had the capacity to burp spontaneously with such force, depth and character. If I could just take that skill and bottle it, I'm sure it wouldn't smell good and I'm not sure I could use it to teach myself to use a sewing machine.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Missed Opportunities

For those of you keeping score, you can file this on under "moderately serious" (and stop reading now if you are looking for goofiness. I intend to be intentionally unfunny. As opposed to...oh hell, you finish the joke; I'm trying to be good).

I have been wondering if I have missed any opportunities in my life. As with most other contemporary opportunities for self reflection, this comes about because of Facebook. I look at people I knew and that triggers memories and I wonder about the Road Not Taken (not the misinterpreted "unpopular choice" version, but the more accurate "choices you can;t take back" version). Have I missed any opportunities in life, or made choices which I wish I could have made differently? How would my life have been different.

I am not talking about made choices I have made. Sure, if I could have stopped myself, I wouldn't have hit that woman with that Frisbee, or gotten that speeding ticket or any number of other stupid moves I have made. But I'm talking about when I had a choice and made it to go one way or the other. Did I miss something by not choosing otherwise?

Example -- I chose to go to a particular grad school when I had a choice of 3 others. Did I miss an opportunity? No. The other schools simply didn't have what I was looking for, so that's a bad example. I don't know why your brought it up.

Better example -- should I have pursued a particular career without going to grad school? I had the opportunity to continue to struggle fiscally but get my foot in the door professionally if I skipped grad school. Did I miss out on a potentially life changing decision? Maybe. My life would be different had I succeeded at that point but that success was by no means guaranteed, and going after that might have foreclosed something else which ended up being rewarding.

Do I wish I had the guts to approach a particular pretty girls 25 years ago? Do I wonder what would have happened had I gone to a different high school, or joined a different club, or took a different class in college or grabbed some brass ring along the way?

On one hand (and be prepared, I think I may have 3 or more hands here) the answer is "sure" - I would love to have seen what I could accomplish if I tried something else or, effectively, was a different person.

On the other hand, "nope" -- I am pretty OK with who and where I am in life. Worrying about how things could have been different is a fool's errand. And I'm nobody's fool.

On the third hand, "who knows" -- the fact is, my decisions have been pretty premeditated and I am who I am because I made choices based in balanced reasoning. I don't think I could have made any different choices along the way.

On the fourth hand (I wasn't expecting 4, but during the writing experience, stuff happens), "what choices?" -- I haven't really been faced with monumental choices that could have been altered. There hasn't been some brass ring that I turned my back on.

So I leave you with all my hands intact, and will continue being whoever it is I am. If you see me, wave.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My body is revolting

As I grow older, I notice that more and more parts of me begin to hurt, and most often, due to no particular stress or exertion. Now I guess that some of these parts are allowed to wear out. Sure, as a nearly old man, my back hurts. I think that by law every nearly old man's back has to hurt. Who am I to argue? And my knees. Creaky as the day is long, but that's part of getting old. But then I get hit with an ache or a pain in an area of my body that I didn't even know existed, let alone know that it was capable of hurting. I have to draw the line there.

When the headaches started, I thought..."Oh great. Now I'm one of the [insert statistic here] percent of people who get headaches." I guess I got used to that. And then my foot started hurting. Really? My foot? So I'm in the midst of a series of visits to the podiatrist who has said that I have any combination of tarsal tunnel, heel spurs and plantar fascitis. No reason, no cause. But the bottoms of my feet which I admittedly take for granted now hurt. I never even thought that the bottoms of my feet had such a distinct identity that they could just hurt.

Then my thumbs. Huh? My thumbs? What's up with that? I know I've done some damage to my thumbs for out of no where for them to start hurting? Is that really part and parcel of aging? I think not.

Now my jaw hurts. It started one morning a couple of years ago when I woke up feeling like I had been punched in the face repeatedly. Now my jaw clicks and pops and recently it has begun just hurting. Have I forgotten how to chew? Why would my jaw just being to hurt on one side? I think that bodies should wear out in logical and predictable ways. I am not good to certain parts of me and those are the ones that should fall apart first and I'll deal with that. But if I have to start worrying now about the parts of me that I have been good to, also, then I'm calling a foul and demanding my money back.

Gads, my spleen itches.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Do I have the right to rant?

I have been going through some old posts and it seems I complain a lot. Now I'm not apologizing for that - complaining seems to be the one thing I do well ever since my omelet flipping skills deteriorated, but I'm sure that someone out there, having stumbled across a random whining session of mine, must be asking "why does he think he is in any position to complain?"

Let me be clear. I am not talking about a person who asked "Why should I care about his complaints?" You shouldn't. I can serve as a cautionary tale or a source of amusement, but you are under no obligation to care one whit about what bothers me. Feel free to go to a different blog and read about someone else's complaints. Or just type about:blank in your navigation pane and stare at an empty screen. I'm not writing this for you.

I am talking about the person who says "there are so many people with real problems and here you go ranting about trivialities! why don't you appreciate what you have?" OK, point taken. I do lead a relatively charmed life and I appreciate it as such. I have my health, a great family and a house; I know that this puts me square on the happy side of the line, but still I complain.

I complained about being on a cruise when god knows how many people can't afford to go on a cruise. I complained about the kosher foor when my ancestors would have killed for the convenience of pre-packaged kosher food, and poor people worldwide would have happily eaten anything I was served and said "thank you" instead of complaining that it tasted like undercooked shoes. So what makes me thing that I should complain?

I guess the answer is that unhappiness finds its level. Do those same people who tell me I should appreciate everything tell people who complain about being mugged "at least you had something worth stealing" or people who get hit by a bus "at least you live in an industrialized society with forms of mass transit"? I think not. We are all entitled to feel entitled sometimes as long as the line is reasonable and we whine within the context of knowing that, on the whole, we have it pretty good, but there is always room for dissatisfaction. So I will continue to complain, continue to point out how the world has destroyed my hopes and dreams, and continue to know that I have it pretty good. You can choose to read or not read. To wallow in your own sadness or laugh along with me at mine.

I'm still dizzy, my foot hurts, my job is a pain and I can't find one of my pairs of glasses. Come along for the ride, won't you?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Boat blog 4. The voyage Home

No Bermu-duh

Friday afternoon castoff was anti-climactic as we were all bermudone already. The constant threat of rain and the pre-shabbos rush made the whole afternoon seem well...who am I kidding? There was no cooking to be done and cleaning would wait so it was chill as chill can be. The weather, drizzly but warm with a strong breeze, was fine. The whole family scarfed down a dinner and I made my way to davening.

Remember, while we were eating kosher “meals”, we were not part of the group which had booked together, davened together and basically, it seems, spent every waking moment together. Hen I got to the Cinema where davening was called for, I was alone. OK, I'm used to being early so no worries. Slowly but surely the place filled with people looking for mincha. A few introduced themselves and I promptly forgot who they were. The ship was making way and I was still full from dinner and wanted to get to my reading and sleep. What got to me was that by the time we got into kabbalas Shabbos (1) the place had near 35 guys and probably a similar number of women. Now I have been on this boat since last Sunday and have been walking around and doing stuff but I haven't seen these people before. And trust me, with the number of black hats and peyos (2) I would definitely remember seeing these people. So the options were limited. Either the frum of the seas stayed only with themselves and didn't engage in the too-worldly life on the boat (and were there as mashgichim (3) or some other religious function so they weren't really involved in the cruise part, or they have been spending more time in the casino than I. The others were the more modern orthodox looking people which means that if they weren't eating or davening or in classes with their group members, they were eating treif food by the pool assuming that no one would recognize them. And at the casino, but that's understood. Now I'm no religious zealot, but I am visibly Jewish when I walk around a boat. I have a kippah on all the time (I bought a bathing suit with a pocket so that when I went Snuba-ing, I had it in my pocket for right when I finished) and I don't shy away from being an obvious Jew. I'm not judging but it seems that unless the people were streimel wearers all the time, they were religious only at shul times and at others, you couldn't spot them amidst the throng of thongs. OK, I AM judging. Hell and damnation on all of them and a pox on both your houses (the one on Long Island and the one in Boca).

After a nice davening, I went back to the room, made kiddush and motzi, then Julie and I went to go read for a few minutes. The wind and rain were too strong to allow us to go out on deck and the constant rocking of the boat made going to bed a much better option. I awoke (for the 5th time) a few minutes before 9AM. The clocks had been moved again (either forward or back, I don't remember, but the one where we get an extra hour of sleep) so I got ready for shul pretty much refreshed. My breakfast was the usual pill cocktail plus extra dramamine. The boat rocking had moved from gentle and soothing to something out of the X games. While it was interesting when half asleep, it was downright nauseating any other time. I noted to Julie that when I was lying down, the motion of the boat was uncannily like the sense of the room spins after drinking way to much and then lying down. And when I stood up, the sensation was uncannily like the room spins also. The captain, it seems, was trying to answer the constant question “why did it take us 2 plus days to get TO Bermuda, but it is only taking us 1 plus day to get back?” Apparently the answer is that on the way back, the captain is taking some back country road as a shortcut because he has found the only patch of ocean with potholes. As we pursued the Dukes of Hazard approach to boatsmanship I sincerely felt occasional moments of weightlessness. Now that was all well and good except that the food in my stomach kept saying “more more, higher higher” while the rest of me was trying to return to earth. Shacharis was interesting to say the least. I stood still and let the boat shuckle (4) around me. Seriously, there were points during which I thought I was up my chuck imminently. I davened while the various other group people regaled each other with stories of last night at the raffle or in the casino, or about life back home in Chicago or Merrick or wherever. I just wanted to lie down.

Bizarre side point. At the beginning of davening (before I turned a particularly Bermudan shade of green) a man walks over to me and introduces himself. His name is not important (or at least it must not have been because I forgot it before he had even finished saying it) but he then asked [I kid you not] “So, are you here on the cruise?”

Now, I know that there are many ways in which I could have understood either his intent or his meaning, and many ways I could have answered but at the moment, I was so taken aback by his absolute stupidity that I, shocked, simply said “well, I'm here on the boat.” I don't know what I meant but it was good enough to get him to leave me alone. I want to break down what he could have meant and why there was no way in which this could have turned out well.

A. “Are you a passenger on this boat?”
answer – “No, I just walked over from the other boat.”
answer – “Yes, but not right now.”
answer – “No, I'm a stowaway and I'm hiding out by pretending to be a Jew. No one ever picks on the Jews.”

B. “Are you part of the Kosher Cruise group?”
answer – “Well, you haven't seen me at a meal or other Kosher Cruise event for the last 6 days...what do you think?”
answer – “No; I'm not even Jewish. When does the movie start?”

C. “You are on this ship and didn't join the Kosher Cruise – How Jewish are you?”
answer - “My ancestors hated your ancestors because they were pompous conspicuous consumers just like you.”
answer - “ Maybe I just like eating food out of plastic.”

Anyway, I staggered my way through davening (didn't get a kibud (5)) and wandered back to the room. Julie and the girls were suppsoed to go on a tour of the bridge and I was hoping that they went and asked the captain to stop trying to impress some hottie by popping wheelies. The girls had gone somewhere but Julie was still in bed. The rest of the afternoon was a series of kids and Julie (and eventually me) napping, waking, going in and out of the room to do a whole lot of nothing and then napping again. Funny lines include Maddie's offer, when Talia had closed the bathroom door [the bathroom was our only source of illumination] to be the Light in Shining Armor.

Just to remind you, we had an interior stateroom. If you imagine an airplane with two aisles, the center set of seats has no access to a window. Our room, therefore, was crazy dark when the door was closed. This is great when trying to fall asleep or stay asleep in the morning, but it makes it impossible to know what time it is (the room had NO clock in it) and difficult to convince anyone to stay awake when there is no light at all. For all those people who say that you spend very little time in the stateroom, that was not so true today. I spent hours in there until I went to the poolside to rest. I got thrown out of there when they had to move all the chairs in order to wash the deck so I returned to the room.

We planned out the evening. We hadn't ordered much for food but we have the La Briut meals (they are self-heating but taste horrible so Julie calls them self-hating) and some last minute crackers and peanut butter. Our room has been packed up so our 4 main pieces of checked luggage are already gone and we have only the 13 carryon pieces to schlep out bright and early tomorrow.
On the whole (and I may change my attitude after we have one more night's sleep and disembark in the morning,) I just don't get it. We spent 3 days in a floating hotel, then 3 more in Bermuda and now another floating, but for what? So we can go to the beach and the aquarium, watch cheesy entertainment and snorkel, plus get seasick and be too close together? Yes, there were very relaxing moments but there were also moments of incredible tension and frustration. Sure some of the events were fun both on and off the boat. But having to worry about schedules and finding stuff and arranging details and all that trivia is just really annoying. We could have spent 3 days at the shore or in a hotel in NYC and seen as much, but eaten better. I know I'm not a good tourist and I know that this was really a trip for the kids and not for us, but I just don't get it and I hope that the kids remember this for a long time, cause it isn't happening again.

So between the album I'll make of receipts and selected photos, the blog and the online hundreds of pictures, I hope that everyone gets a real comprehensive sense of this trip so that you can avoid taking one yourselves. Glad I could throw myself on my sword for all of you. I can't wait to see what Bayonne has in store for us tomorrow morning.

Home sweat home

Well, we made it. The morning was the usual rush of last minute details and checking every drawer so that we weren't leaving the staff anything worth selling. We had been told to assemble in the theater by 8:30 so we woke up and got everything together nice and early. Then we sat. I guess the saving grace was that even though we were in the theater, there was no one performing so we were spared that final indignity. In the 9:15 range the crew member punished by having to be around us started calling out luggage tag numbers and colors. This was our first cruise and no one told us that were supposed to take note of the color and number so we didn't and we had no idea which of the various color/number combinations was ours. We took our best guess and worked our way downstairs. Even though we ate much of our food, we somehow had MORE carry on luggage than when we started. Between that and the time difference in the travel back, I believe that the laws of physics were suspended on this trip.

We moved off the ship and went to claim our luggage. It was sectioned off in a rectangle area like some sort of bad puppy behind an invisible fence. We claimed it and told it the worst was over and we would never let it get hurt again. I got the car from the unmarked lot, snaked my way through the traffic to the loading area, and then we drove home.

A few very final thoughts. First, there is a factual mismatch which I have been trying to reconcile:
fact A: the pants I brought fit at the outset of the trip
fact B: the food was horrible except for the ice cream and cookies so I couldn't have eaten much
fact C: the pants don't fit anymore

I conclude that I gained weight and I blame this squarely on the cookies and ice cream. Not on my eating them, but on their mere existence because that seems to have had a pronounced effect on my waistline.

Also, two things that have stayed with me have been the sun burn and the vertigo from the movement of the ship. These things cannot be bought in some store and, unfortunately, cannot be sold in some store. I need meclizine just to get through the evening. I'm doing lines of aloe off of a mirror. If I really wanted to get the room spins and sunburnt, couldn't I have just drunk too much vodka while lying in my own back yard this week? Did I have to spend upwards of $4,000 for the same result? If I want airplane food, I can just eat an airplane.

Well, it is done and I can now look ahead to my next vacation when I crawl across the Sahara and let fire ants eat my brain so I can avoid having to get on another boat.



(1)I'm not explaining this. Google it.
(2)Come on. I didn't explain the other one. I'll give you a hint, it is a plural word.
(3)What do I look like, a dictionary?
(4)Op cit (and I don't even know what that means)
(5)turn to page 34.

Friday, August 13, 2010

On the undersea road again

Installment 3 of the mobilog. CLT is fast approach as Bermuda recedes in the marine equivalent of the rear view mirror. Happy trails.


Night and day

This evening marked something of a turn around for me on this trip and I'd like to share that with you if I might. I also want to put out there that my observations should provide ample fodder for any number of psychological or sociological studies leading towards a PhD dissertation. So if you do get the idea for your doctorate from one of things I have noted, show a little love. Just saying.

When I came back to the room after connecting to the real world, I found Julie mostly asleep in bed while Talia was in bed as well, watching a horror movie. Maddie came in an announced that she wanted to go to an earlier illusionist show with me since Julie obviously looked like she was going to pass on the evening's festivities. I had already agreed to get Julie and Talia's food and deliver it to the room so when Maddie reported this change I didn't fight it. So Maddie and I went to dinner. We found that our table was actually beautifully set with our plasticware (instead of having to ask for it and having it splayed across the table haphazardly). Maddie and I sat for a meal that, at least on my end, was actually pretty good. Maddie's lasagna was not so good she reported but my beef was warm, tasty and filling. The only glitch was that when all the waiters came to the table to sing Happy Birthday to me, they delivered a piece of non-kosher cake so I couldn't top the meal off with celebratory cake. But on the whole, I left happy. This was the first satisfying meal I have had all week. When I came back to the cabin, I gorged on cookies only because I wanted to, not because I had to. Refreshing. This is good because today's research indicated that there is no chabad in Bermuda. On the plus side, there is no chabad in Bermuda so the position is available. I'm about one beard away from working in paradise.

Upon our return, Maddie and Julie had one of their 'conversations' about the evening's plan which we knew was over when Maddie went to go read in the library. Things have to be pretty tense for Maddie to go to a library. I went to the hot tub because why not? Hot tubs and sun burns don't really mix but once you get past the shock and initial searing pain, you can really enjoy the dull throbbing ache. I soaked until the time approached for the family disco night which was right at the pool so I met Julie and soon Talia there. We hung around – there was some dancing, some games and some running back to the room to get this or that. All of this killed the hour until it was time for the illusionist. We sat in our seats in the theater and I discovered two things about life on the ship. Sociology students, begin

1. Bingo is frigging huge. I mean, I know some people like it, but the line for bingo cards, and even the fact that we were having a quick game in the theater before the illusionist indicates that people just can't get enough bingo. This might be an independent phenomenon, or might reflect that the ship's casino is closed while we are in port and people feel the need to throw money away and bingo fills that void.
2. People aren't just friendly, they feel the need to share their life's story. Just because I'm sitting next to you in a theater, sharing a bus ride or waiting in line for an attraction doesn't mean I care anything about your life. Stop asking me where I'm from or how I like the trip and don't tell me about your life (and any connection you have to Judaism). If I wanted friends, well, I would be someone else entirely.

The illusionist had a combination of card tricks, audience participation, sleight of hand, levitation and big prop-illusions. Not bad at all. I could have done without some of the music and histrionics but it was very pleasant. I'm thinking of going out and getting a night cap and then falling asleep. All in favor say aye. The ayes have it. Not a bad few hours.

And Aweigh we go
At the bar, I watched a young man get carded and he commented that I was probably no older than 25. What a nice kid. Sadly, the future of our country is doomed because the youth can't spot a 41 year old, but whatever. I got back to the room a bit later and we all writhed ourselves to sleep as the light sheets rubbed viciously at our sunburn.

The morning was stressful as we rushed to get out for the 8:45 meeting time. The drizzle made us wonder about whether our Snuba experience would go off as planned but we trudged outside to the boat. We sat up top as the sun and clouds chased each other around but 20 minutes later (after the 9:15 start) we got off at the Nine Beaches resort area. As resorts go, this was fairly, um, understated. Each of the nine beaches (naming in Bermuda is pretty literal) was fairly small and the amenities were a small giftshop, a wooden bar, a changing area and the dock. We were broken into groups and introduced to the various activities. The instructor (Eric on the beach and Michael Dudley something in the water) taught us about our equipment. Snuba, for those of you who haven't googled it yet, is like Scuba except the air is on the raft and each swimmer is linked via a hose to the air. All this seems perfectly reasonable except for one thing. None of us knew that this is what we signed up for and none of us was ready for it. We aren't really the adventurous family and we thought that some sort of snorkeling was what was going to happen. But after some bumps at the beginning, we did it and it was way cool. There wasn't too much fish-life (not a single fish disco or fish bar) and we didn't go too far out but it was really neat! Talia had some difficulty so she stayed above water for part of the time, but still enjoyed it. I'd have to say that while I really had a pleasant time, Sponge Bob completely inflated my expectations to unreal, almost cartoon like levels. When we got back to the beach, Julie and Maddie went for a more traditional snorkeling while Talia and I explored the food we had packed in our bags.

On the boat ride back, we struck up a conversation with a woman on the Kosher Cruise and then after a short dip in the hot tub (Julie went into a thelassotherapy pool – saltwater with jacuzzi bubbles at 95 degrees) and some ice cream, we met one of the parents of a girl Maddie met on board. We chatted until it was time for his massage and then we returned to our room. The woman we met on the boat delivered some extra food from her snack tables so we could see how real Jews eat and then Julie went to go work out. I haven't the slightest idea where the girls are. We are preparing to say goodbye to Bermuda and begin shabbos on board.

On the sea plus more

We have just recently cast off from Dockway and a whole bunch of people made sure to watch because the most exciting thing is moving away from shore. It is so much more exciting than moving once you are away from shore. The band even stopped and told everyone to move to the port side (that’s ship-speak for “the side with the stuff”) to watch as we moved to the starboard. All very spiritual and (wait for it) moving.

As we drift off into the wide Saragasso sea and the Atlantic ocean, thoughts abound in my head. And I was just told that this Internet lounge will be used for a class in 10 minutes so I have to pontificate quickly or the people who came aboard a cruise ship to learn how to use a computer might be disappointed.

People everywhere on this ship are wearing uniforms. This has a couple of effects. The first is that I give everyone more respect than I would were I to know their true rank and job. A maintenance man gets me to salute when he was epaulets on his shoulder. But the flip side to that is that I start to lose respect for all the people in uniforms because I can’t tell who truly deserves it. Is that guy the captain or is he coming to pick up my used towel? Is she the cruise director or the waiter? So I have found the perfect compromise. I meet everyone I see with a smart salute and an empty glass. Then I flip them all the bird. The great equalizer, I am.

It is a relief to be back at sea. Now when I wobble, I can blame the movement of the ship, not the gravitational pull of planet X.

I’ll try to update this now and then take a shower and get to shul. Good shabbos all and I’ll see you after the return to NJ.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Paula Shore

Here is the second installment from Bermuda. Hope it tides you over until the next. HA! Tides you hour east and I still got it.

You say Bermuda

Last night while the kids did their thing, Julie and I went to a comedian. He was moderately humoresque (that is, approaching or approximating humor) and then we hit the free coffee, walked out on deck to look at the blackness of our own souls and then listened to a guy play guitar. He wasn't bad at all and I'm sure he had a name and everything but sometimes, you just skip the details. He did manage, though, to turn Prince's “Purple Rain” into a song, so super to him for that. We tried to get to bed at a reasonable hour in anticipation of the morning's arrival at the island which our waiter characterized as “like home, but paradise”. I don't know how to react to that.

By the time we awoke and got the kids all together, we had already docked but we were awaiting permission to leave. Once granted (and big, political “mother may I” no doubt...what are they going to say? “Leave your American dollars and tourist sensibility on the boat; the global recession skipped us anyway) we got our bags of food, clothes and towels and headed out. The dock is interesting and quaint and not all that interesting, really. We found a cab and decided it would be faster and more direct to go via taxi instead of bus or ferry. So a guy named “John” drove us out to Horseshoe bay, pointing out the scenic sights along the way. John is near retirement (he plans on retiring to Alabama where he wants to, you guessed it, drive a cab), has 12 kids (7 girls, all married) and holds citizenship in the US, Bermuda and England. His accent is a combination so it sounds totally unlike all 3 of these places. We discussed our alternatives with him and stuck with the Horseshoe plan. He drove on the wrong side of the road but we chose not to say anything. It seems that everyone was doing it, so instead of lecturing him about not giving in to peer pressure, we let it go. We passed pastel colored houses which were dilapidated but redeemed by a coat of day-glo green or soft purple paint. The locals (most of whom are employed in the tourist industry or something one step removed from the tourist industry) were similarly dilapidated but brought back to life when presented with a similar coating of “the green” if you know what I mean (“money” if you don't know what I mean). The trip was about 20 minutes and 29 bucks plus tip. At the beach, we stopped by the 'conveniences' (the public bathrooms/showers) and then rented 4 beach chairs at 10 bucks each plus the 5 dollar deposit each. We found a quiet portion of the beach and set up shop.

A note about the beach. Big deal. It is a beach. Yes, the water is clear. Yes, the sand has flecks of pink, yes the sun is hot when not obscured by clouds and drizzle, yes the breeze is soothing. Yes, yes, yes, but so what. A note for the uninitiated: I hate saltwater, get nervous around open bodies of water and don't like broiling in the sun. The beach was so nice, though, that I thought, “wouldn't it be nice if we had something like this in America”? Oh yeah, we do. So why did I spend those thousands of dollars on Dramamine for the opportunity to sit on a beach? The kids did enjoy splashing about while I fretted and Julie also seemed to like swimming out to sea. We went through the usual stages – excitement of discovery, hunger, sheer boredom, rediscovery of excitement, whining, one last dip and then we found John, returned our chairs, brushed the beach off our legs and got the ants out of our clothes and headed back.

John told us that the population of Bermuda has the highest per capita rate of alcohol ingestion. It certainly appears that the roads in Bermuda were designed by someone who was drunk. Two lane roads that all squiggle and twist and turn all over the place. Now, I'm not looking for grids and strict parallels, but the place was founded in then England had some basic idea of city planning on an island. Unless you tell me that horses enjoy curves more than straightaways, I won't accept that here was no choice. We passed and we passed by the horses, the moped, the pink buses and the occasional taxi or private car. We asked John what else there is to do (after he pointed out the two banks and the gas station – gas at $1.79.6 per gallon), and he said “ did the best thing to do today.” He views Bermuda as a senior citizens village. People who aren't catering to tourists get up and the conversation goes something like this
A: What do you want to do today?
B I don't know. What do you want to do today?
A: I don't know. We could go look at the ocean.
B: Well, we did that yesterday, but OK. Maybe we can swim in it also.
A: Fine, but then won't be leaving ourselves any options for the rest of the week.

The drizzle continued as all of our sunburns began to kick in. We stopped at the Bermuda glass works to watch the glass blowing. Pretty and pretty expensive. We looked at the mall which is a set of indoor tourist traps. It was convenient because it allowed us to compare prices on shot glasses and floppy hats saying “Bermuda is my second home.” We wouldn't want to jump at the first vendor. I want to design a shirt for my parents which says “My kids went to Bermuda and they didn't even get me a lousy T-Shirt. I had to buy this myself. Lousy, ungrateful kids.” Maddie bought Talia some earrings (which means I paid for some earrings so Maddie could give them to Talia and get the credit) and we started to wander back to the ship through the dockyard. I truly believe that we saw most of what this area has to offer in the first 6 hours we were here. The day started cloudy and turned sunny and hot. Thus here is strong like bull. So people will ask if I got any color and I like to say that I tried to color myself like the houses, so I acquired a glow of bright red. Is ouch a color? That's what I got.

A quick shower/hot tub later (I went to the pool, jealous that the ladies all swam today and I didn't, but when I got in the pools I discovered that they were all chlorinated salt-water...ugh) and we are getting ready for dinner. Julie wants to go to the Harbor Lights festival 25 minutes away by ferry, in Hamilton. It seems that we aren't having enough overpriced trash hawked at us around here so we are going to go elsewhere so we can decide not to buy a light-up keychain. Maddie wants to stay on board and “hang out” with her friends and Talia is undecided. Maddie had been complaining about her ear's hurting so I took her all the way down to deck 1 for the medical service. Before anything got started, the nurse from South Africa informed me tat to see the doctor would start at between 100 and 150 dollars. Then, any medicine would be additional. I asked Maddie if her ear really hurt that much and we bopth decided that she was cured.

We had a pleasant dinner during which we actually found some of the food edible. The sliced turkey was hit or miss, and I didn't miss enough of it. The apple strudel dessert was pretty darned good and they nuked the chocolate chip cookies so they were that much better. Other main courses were as expected – ranging from painfully bad to badly painful. After dinner, Julie and I returned to our room to find it had been cleaned and the bed turned down for the 17th time today. We then went to hear the jazz quartet doing an hour of Beatles music. It was really nice but there were two little problems. The first was that, while I got a drink, I have some angry thoughts about it (big surprise).

I ordered a double Stoli (they had the Elite) in a glass, no ice. In terms of effort, this is not that tough for the bar tender. As he was pouring the vodka, he was getting near the end of the bottle. In fact, he finished pouring my drink and there was very little (I mean VERY little) left in the bottle. I figured he would just top off my drink with the drips from the bottle because, hey, I'm the customer and why quibble. Not so. He stopped pouring my drink when my allotted vodka was there and replaced the top and put the bottle back, almost empty, all just to stop me from possibly getting a couple of cents of vodka for free. Now, just to remind you – a shot is 7.50 so a double is 15 dollars. 15 dollars. I'll let that sink in. Then they add on the mandatory “gratuity” of 15% so I'm paying who knows how much for a quick pour. Then the charge sheet that I have to sign (since I'm not on the alcohol plan) asks for “additional tip.” Really? The guy didn't pour a few remaining drips and I'm supposed to give him MORE than a forced tip? Not happening.

Then, the show. The jazz versions of the Beatles were actually really nice (the deeper cuts like I'm only Sleeping and “I feel Fine” were better then the standards but I did get a nice slow dance with Julie to “Something.” George Harrison, you rock). In front of us was a group and their baby. Now, I like babies but come on – it's a jazz show. Did you really think that junior was going to shut up? And when the mom finally walked the kid out, the brother in law sat down and proceeded to lecture his brother on the specs of his new digital camera. At top volume. It's a musical performance and now I know about his job, his family and his camera. Julie was working on a crossword puzzle and wouldn't let me borrow the pen top stab him in the eye because she said it wouldn't write well after that. Tonight's “entertainment” was a musical comedian. At least that's how it was billed. In fact he was a guy singing lots of songs and being silly in imitating the original musicians. The whole thing culminated in an Elvis impersonation. So let's work backward. He is an Elvis impersonator who only knows two Elvis songs so he built his show by learning 1 song by 10 other singers so he impersonates all of them for an hour first. He does an OK job pretending to be a couple. Some he totally fails at. I'd say that the nicest compliment I can give is that the venue is not that far from our room.

A day in the wharf

The morning started inauspiciously as I forgot about the clock change so I checked my watch and read 7:40 when the time was 8:40 and we were supposed to be outside meeting our tour at 9:15. We rushed (the girls didn't rush) and made it with all the needful things packed in a carryon strapped to my sunburnt shoulder. A short walk over to the ferry boat and a 30 minute ride across the bay to Hamilton later and we were ready to go on a bus. We got onto our pink bus and began our trip to the aquarium and zoo while our driver explained all about Bermuda, actually fascinating stuff which I had to make a special effort to forget as it took up precious space which I would need when I memorized the prices of liquors at the first store we found. He did point out one important clarification – the price I saw for gas (1.79 and 6 tenths) was per LITER, not gallon. He also said that the crime rate is near 0 as is the unemployment rate. The crime rate is low because the mandatory punishment for every first offense is hanging and it seems that being unemployed is a crime.

We wove our way to the aquarium on roads not much wider than our bus, but quieter, and when we got there (on North Shore road, off of Parliament Road off of Church Street, off of Front Street) the driver told us we had 45 minutes for the entire establishment. He assured us that that would be more than enough time. Either he thought we were all just using the bathroom, or the aquarium was destined to have 3 fish and the zoo, no animals. I'm still not sure if we missed a huge chunk of the zoo in our haste, or if the 2 turtles, the mouse deer and the snakes were the entire of the facility. We made it back on to the bus and began the drive to the subterranean caves. He gave us 30 minutes there which was troubling because the tour was to take 30 minutes and we didn't start immediately upon our arrival. After waiting in the gift shop (what a coincidence...they weren't ready but the gift shop was right there) we walked down the ramp, then down the 80 or so stairs into the stalactite/stalagmite cavern to hear the story of how this cave was discovered by accident by two fool hardy boys in 1905 while their parents were being negligent elsewhere. The water was crystal clear and the rocks were white red and gray and the only way out was the same way as in and back up all those stupid stairs. Just as fascinating was the cat sleeping outside.

As we started driving back (and I'm ignoring all mention of the lovely couple next to us in the bus – they had a 3 year old and a 2 year old and their parenting approach was exactly what would lead the children to discover underground caves) we took tour short detours. The first was to a little beach so people could get out and splash in the water and take more pictures of themselves splashing in water and then through the botanical gardens so we could gawk at a banyan tree and a golf course. Maddie pointed out that we have been in Bermuda for 2 days and we haven't seen a single squirrel. I did, however, get a bug bite, but the bug was careful to wish me a nice day after he finished. By the time we got back to Hamilton we had missed the ferry (actually, we didn't, it was late, but we decided not to rush back). We chose to walk into a few stores on Front street and buy gifts. Overpriced junk across the board, except in the really fancy stores. There the junk was WAY overpriced. Maddie bought perfume and Talia bought something touristy. I couldn't justify buying books or kitsch and, as I have said elsewhere, you either buy something you want and which is unique to the location, or that you need, and odds are I could get that closer to home.

We did buy some fruit to munch on, and then we pushed through the assembled masses to get on the ferry back. We walked back to the boat and showed our various ID's. On our way to the room, we had them deliver our lukewarm lunches to the room. If we have to eat junk, at least we should be able to do so in relative comfort. Next up, dinner, a family disco and an illusionist and tomorrow, snuba. I don't hold out much hope for the disco. I proved to the world that I lack and Bingo skills a couple of days ago and I hear that disco is like Bingo only with standing.

I have been noticing a few random things about both Bermuda and our ship. First off, Bermuda is clean but has no sidewalks. Also, everyone speaks with some strange hybrid accent and seems to know everyone else. On the ship, the constant politeness seems to belie an undercurrent of superficiality and possibly, ironic disdain. I mean, how much can you care when you engage yet another couple from suburbia in a conversation about pretty houses? We saw a crew member who was, shall we say, not to be taken near natural gas pipelines because he was well, you know, and he had plastered on a scarily wide smile and was laughing it up with a couple whom he was destined never to see again. I welcomed the few minutes today which I spent with that negligent parent because at least he was vicious and mean and didn't care who knew about it. Ah, tones of home. More, maybe after shabbos. If not, I'll keep writing, and upload after we return.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I'm on a boat with limited connectivity, so I'm writing things as they happen and occasionally getting to the computer center to cut and paste from my running Word doc into the blog, so here is the first installment (Tuesday afternoon after leaving from Cape Liberty, Bayonne, on Sunday mid-day).

And it was evening

It is post dinner and we are basking in the glow of a meal eaten out of plastic, with plastic and which tasted like plastic. Our trip began with some traffic on the highway, then we dropped the bags off and parked the car in the large, unmarked lot. Remember kids, we're in the Itchy lot.

Through the various security lines where we re checked repeatedly and pretty much superficially. Finally, it was on to the ship, so we could stand on a whole other set of lines. We borrowed a shoehorn and entered our room and proceeded to move the bed into our luggage to save space. We walked around parts of the ship to establish a baseline disdain for most everyone and found our way to the gym where Julie proceeded to learn all about one of the miracles of the high seas, Pilates.

We then met our first major success, confirming that the soft serve ice cream is kosher. We had to taste it repeatedly to be sure. We ended up on deck way up high to watch our embarking. The tense 45 minute wait was well worth it as we did eventually leave, just in time for the nausea to begin en masse. Julie and Maddie took a gym class while Talia and I stayed on deck to confirm that weren't going to turn around and redock in Bayonne. Eventually we came back to the cabin and killed a few minutes trying to fit in the room at the same time. The kids ran off to join some youthful program and Julie and I went to eat dinner. There were no signs and no one who spoke English with an accent I even recognized so we had to wait on a series of lines and explain to anyone who would listen that we keep kosher so we had to find a way to choose our food. We spoke to 4 different people and finally, Ahmet, the assistant Maitre D (which is, I guess, a Maitre E) explained in English which we all joined in in breaking about the food situation. I still don't understand most of it but the bottom line is that we change the clocks, they aren't offering breakfast tomorrow, unless you ask them to serve brunch for breakfast and then the same food is on the list for lunch and dinner. By the way, we had the brisket and chicken dinners tonight. Absolute fail. Just saying.

So we are back in the room chilling out while Talia watches Back to the Future and Maddie has yet to return. More updates as events warrant.

Mid day - 24 hours and counting

It is a bit after noon of the first day on board and the air is thick with discontent and chlorine so I'll update. I took a walk last night and found myself on deck watching the absolute blackness of the ocean and thinking all sorts of dire and romantic poetic thoughts about throwing up over the side but I resisted all temptation. I went to a bar and had an overpriced drink. The bartender compensated for the exorbitant price by reducing the side of the drink so for that I thank him.

Once I returned to catch the end of the poorly transmitted movie (extreme video and audio glitches along the way) I tried to catch some z's, explaining to my family that “boat” time is an hour ahead, so we would lose and hour of sleep. They ignored me as usual and stayed up doing who knows what while I drifted off. The room was very dark. Now that's nice and all but when there is no clock or window, it is hard to tell when morning has broken. And with the white noise machine on, we couldn't hear any hubbub in the halls. By the time I woke up to daven it was 8:45 (Boat time) and we were supposed to eat breakfast (brunch, whatever) at 9. We would be late, but dammit, I was sure we would represent! Julie asked me to go get the food and save the seats by the pool and she would get the girls up and we would all eat and swim. Poolside seats are apparently a hot commodity. In fact, it isn't unusual to have someone walk over to you and look at the seat you7 are on and say “are you using that?” or simply sit on you. So I went to the Waterfall Grill and explained that I eat kosher and needed my food. I waited, and eventually, a tray of an omelet, 2 sets of pancakes and some blintzes arrived. I walked over to the pool and snagged 3 prime lounge chairs. I scarfed down my egg tinged sponge and waited expectantly for Julie. While I did, I busied myself by looking at the sea of humanity we had unleashed on the sea of water. Men with hair where there should rightly be no hair, and women showing parts of their bodies that would make a gynecologist blush. Many of them were quite shapely but for some, the shape was of a hippo. They, too, were wearing swim suits which demand the use of the word “skimpy” even though the Union of Skimpy bathing suits has asked not be affiliated with them. The kinds of revealing clothes that would make a groom, on his wedding night say “whoa....let's take this slow...I'll get the lights and a burlap sack.” The men ranged from the geeky, tattooed anti-social to the buff tattooed to the elderly tattooed. I watched people (for lack of a better word) for two hours, each time I turned, hoping to see Julie and the girls. Eventually I ate one of the other breakfasts out of sheer boredom. By 11AM I had had enough and I took the remaining food back down to the room. It was still really dark. It was still fool of sleeping people. I tried to wake everyone up and told them that they were about to miss our docking back in Bayonne. They rattled around and arose, confused by my existence and asking why we couldn't check our email.

Maddie ran off to go do some teen-thing but returned briefly to say that no other teen showed up as they were all still in their cabins fighting with their parents. Only because she argues at an 11th grade level was she e able to show up so promptly. By the time Talia and I left to go to swimming and trivia respectively, Julie was well on her way to turning the light on and Maddie was moping to beat5 the band. Trivia was fun – 20 entertainment questions which proved that Celebrity cruises has such a limited budget that it couldn't buy a Trivial Pursuit game since 1999. Julie and Maddie joined me as I got 13 out of 20 right (though I still believe that the pop singer with the shaved head as of 1999 was Sinead, not Brittney). We looked around for Talia and, though it took a while, we all found each other near the ice cream station. We asked for our kosher lunches and were told we would have to wait. 3 minutes in a microwave and 1 in the elevator up, plus the 15 minutes it took to get the order substantially wrong really add up. The girls got pizza and, if I can be so bold as to say, I no longer believe that there is no such thing as bad pizza. This was offensive. Italy is justified in hating Jews because of this pizza. It might have been good had it been labeled “tangy pancake” but even then, it would have been a crap shoot. This was some flat out bad pizza. Maddie tried the (incorrect) salmon order – Ginger Salmon. And she thinks she liked it. I happen to know that this salmon is not capable of being liked so it is a good thing that Maddie isn't in touch with her taste buds. This was some nasty salmon. I tried a bit and went back to the pizza. It was just that bad. We washed it down with ice cream and all was right with the world. There is nothing that soft serve ice cream and candy can't fix, except a fleishig dinner, so I dread this evening.

During our meal (or better, or collective punishment) we looked through the afternoon's offerings. I didn't see “nap” listed but I insisted that it was there. Julie kept suggesting that we do things that require getting up and doing things, and I had to show her my ID so she'd remember that she married me, not the guy with the interest in stuff. We went over to the pool (the light rain which had plagued the morning was near stopping but not before forcing the cancellation of the line dancing activity...thank you, God) and got chairs. Julie returned to the room and I dozed a bit while listening to the endless loop of smooth jazz. The kids went off somewhere and Julie got involved in the Music Challenge where she had a run in with one of our oversized co-cruisers. Apparently, the rule of “touch the MC and give him the right answer” was interpreted by this plus sized lady to mean “touch the MC and do nothing as long as you prevent anyone else from touching the MC.” Julie stood her ground in the face of a gravitational pull and was awarded her keepsake pen (to complement the one we had already stolen from the room).

Now the sun is occasionally out, Julie is reading and the horizon stretches out as far as the eye can see. We are over a third of the way there and we have ordered brownies as our dessert this evening. Mor news, after this.

A Late Note

I just wanted to pontificate a bit about a few other and a few of the same things that I have run into. I know I have mentioned the utter disappointment that the food has engendered thus far, and the small size of the stateroom. I have even mentioned that the activities are not uniformly my cup of tea (family Bingo was not quite my speed but it was as close as we have come to something that the whole family could endure together). But I wanted to return to the dress code here.

A word about bikinis. Now I am the first to stand up and applaud the bikini. I mean, until the internet came along, going to the beach was the best chance a repressed little kid had of seeing any part of the female anatomy aside from the Sears catalogue. Now I find myself as a scary old man, sitting on the deck of a cruise ship, surrounded by women of all shapes and sizes wearing dental floss as a fashion statement. Why would someone choose to wear so little? The best I can figure, it is because the aforesaid woman is proud of her body and wants to show it off. Super to her, I proclaim. And in fact, instead of being ashamed and averting my eyes so I won't be caught admiring what I see and imagining the rest, I should be staring openly! If I choose not to look, I am insulting her! She wants to be looked at and who am I to say no to that? It is just a matter of common indecency. Now guys are a whole other story. That stuff's just nasty.

Back to accents. I know that internationalism is important and diversity is lovely blah blah blah. But if you are working on a cruise sailing from the US, with English as the lingua franca (and I don't even know what that means) then it is essential that you speak English with not accept that will get in the way of your being understood. I'm on vacation – I don't want to have to work at deciphering a waiter or room attendant. Aren't there enough teenagers in the US looking for gainful employment? I don't recall ANYONE on the love boat having an accent besides Charo. And occasionally a Gabor sister. But they were guests. No one on that ship had to listen attentively to the first 3 words out of an employees mouth and play “guess the accent” so as to be ready to translate into American.

Now, the water plan. While guests are allowed to gorge themselves on untold quantities of food – from the dinners to the grill to the snacks and on and on, drinks cost. Even for those of us on the “Chosen people eat from plastic” plan, we can get loads of microwaved meals and soft serve ice cream, but if we get thirsty, we have a problem. So every guest, except for one who wants to drink from a water fountain or a bathroom tap, pays for drinks. Even in the middle of a meal which is all inclusive, if you get too much peanut butter, better have your room key handy if you need to wash it down. From a plan that includes unlimited sodas, to one which allows for all the bottled water you can drink to one that allows for a wide selection of wines and liquors. The room card is encoded with some sort of drink plan and if you want something, you go up to any guy wearing a white shirt and say “gimme” and hand your card. It is better if he works on board but after a couple of drinks, it really doesn't matter.

So we signed up for a $77 plan per person for all the Evian and Pelegrino we want. This sounds great, especially because the bottles on board start at $2.50. But we really could have gotten 2 plans and let the children drink from our bottles (and fooey to those who would then accuse us of theft). Or we could have bought bottled water on board. But to drink that much water, whether still or sparkling, would require that each of us drink 3-4 liters every day. Not gonna happen. So that's more money down the drain.

Anyway, Maddie won the last round of Bingo and I bought lanyards so we can wear our key-cards around our necks. I noticed that duty-free vodka is dirt cheap and phone service is expensive. The world is a crazy place. I have now been fighting with the wireless system for an hour, and I have successfully wasted 75 minutes. True fact and I still can't get online for longer than 3 minutes to see that there is email that I need to deal with. Till next time.

Day 2, Rosens 0

The first full day on this vacation is nearing a close and before I go on my evening walksies, I'll fill in some angry gaps and lay the ground work for the next exciting chapter. When I got back to the stateroom, expecting a quit egress to another plastic dinner, I received a shock. Julie and the girls were putting on their finery in preparation for the formal evening. Now you have to understand: we worked hard last night to convince Maddie not to worry that she didn't have the proper clothing for formal night. We told her that if she didn;t dress formally, we would still be able to eat. It took a while but talked about alternatives and clothes and so on, and she was finally convinced that we wouldn't let her starve. So when I walked in and saw everyone getting dressed I became annoyed. I don't have more than clothes for shabbos and I thought we had accepted that we could dress down. I was wrong. Up we gussie ourselves and off we head to the dining room. After getting the wrong food at lunch (somehow the asst. Maitre D confused “1 eggplant” with “2 chicken”...a natural mistake) I was less than excited at the prospects. Of course, the only thing worse than getting the wrong food with these meals is getting the right food.

We walked in on the 4th floor and asked if this is where we were supposed to be. Eventually we made ourselves understood and were told that we had to enter on the 5th floor. OK, we said wearily, and we trudged upstairs. When we entered on the 5th floor, I asked where we would be eating the next night. The woman insisted that we were always to eat on the 5th floor. But, I insisted, last night we ate on the 4th floor, having been moved from the 5th floor after waiting there on line. No, she replied, you ate up here. I gently tried to convince her that I really did know where I ate. She was sure that I didn't. I find that kind of annoying. Then, just for fun, we had to go through the near pantomime of “we keep kosher.” They got it tonight and cleared off all of our silver and glasses. Then, in quick succession, they brought out our various courses. Now, nothing says formal dining more than wrestling with multiple layers of plastic wrap in order to get to some nasty food. I mean, why the facade of fanciness when we are not eating anything fancy, and sing plasticware to do it? Why couldn't we just get our food delivered to another place so we wouldn't have to put makeup on to chow down that makes airline executive say “what is this crap?” But Julie wanted to make sure we had access to the gentleman who would write down tomorrow's orders and we didn;t want to risk not giving him the chance to screw it up; and if we were going to be in the main dining room, Julie wanted to follow the suggested dress code, so we did the spiffy thing and got fancy. Tonight's abominations included dried out salmon, bad tasting shwarma, chicken cacciatore which Julie characterized as “least offensive” and Salisbury steak which might have been passable had someone simply named it meatloaf. All of this surrounded by crinkly plastic and wrappers while everyone else stares at us over their elegant salads and martinis. Yeah...the formal dress really kept us from seeming out of place while we ate packaged meals.

While we waited for Ahmet to come and write down what we didn't want for meals tomorrow, we looked forward to dessert. As the time grew, we became more and more frantic. Brownies, we figured, could not be screwed up. A waiter came over and explained the delay (“On a scale of 1 to 10,” Julie asked, “Where is my brownie?”) – it seems that the brownies are kept in a separate area and they had only taken out 1 for us (even though we ordered 4) and so a special trip had to be made, to fairy land, I think, to get the other brownies. Then they showed up, recently nuked. That's nice and all but these brownies were not packaged nor designed to be eaten hot. OK, I can forgive this trespass. But while I was thinking, I decided to check for nuts. With a nut allergy, I usually shy away from desserts in anticipation of an attack but I thought it might be nice to eat tonight. I took the one brownie that looked different from the others – fancy and labeled “with sauce.” The kids, I resoned, would not be able to appreciate it. So I looked at the ingredients and noticed the non-fat dry milk. I rechecked and say the OU Parve marking on the other side. I didn't know which marking was correct. SO I looked at the other brownies. They didn't have a company name, nor ingredients, but were from the same city as the one I knew was a problem, so they were out as well. So the brownies might end up being good, but who can tell yet? Tactical mistake – while I brought peanuts to nosh on, and we have chocolate health bars which are dairy, we have no parve chocolate chips. Argh.

We came back by way of the internet cafe and logged onto the web through the local computer instead of the netbook. It was slow but it worked, so I hope to upload this at some point on Tuesday. Julie is taking Talia to a movie and Maddie is going to a teen event, so I may walk into the casino and beg. I figure if these fools want to lose their money so much that after handing it over to the cruise, they are willing to hand it over to the casino on the cruise, maybe they'll just give me some. I might head to the library or the botanical gardens, or just sit outside and watch the nothingness. As the gentleman in the internet room said, “to appreciate the ocean, you have to lose sight of the shore.” Except I don't think he was quoting anything, just making a literal observation.

Julie and I walked around last night before bed and discovered he “Card” room. It has tables and cards and board games. Pleasant enough so we planned for shabbos afternoon there. And if the a capella group is singing outside then also, that'll be nice, too. We tried to catch a Beatles sing-along but arrived with Talia too late. The only thing we heard was the singer being a bit strange as he confided in us about how tough it is to make photocopies on a boat. We did stumble on the big song and dance revue. Medleys of a variety of performers with fancy costumes and high kicking dancers, plus women. Ttfn.

Pool sideways

I couldn't sleep last night. Julie was watching a movie and Maddie stumbled in at 3AM just in time to stay in her bed and read by the light of the flashlight. Her bed and the intermittent flashes of light are about 3 feet from me so there was no chance for me to sleep. At around 3:30 I got up and went out with all my stuff to the pool. The night was windy and clear and I was out while some revelers from the evening before had yet to retire. There weren't many people around but some still dressed formally drunkards were stumbling about trying to bum smokes and matches. I read a bit and wandered around, making sure to visit the all night free coffee where I met the mashgiach for the kosher contingent. We chatted about life and stuff and drank coffee (if we were to plan this now, we wouldn't pay for food or drink packages – we would live on free coffee and ice cream) from paper cups and then I went to the front of the ship to daven and watch the sun rise. Of course, I was an hour early because there was some confusion about the time of sunrise and its relation to NY time or ship time so I think God might have still been asleep when I was saying all those important things. I left a message at the divine beep so I'm hoping I'm clear.

I watched from a deck chair as the attendants opened the various pools, and I stared out of an open window at the endless ocean and got a quick panic attack. The idea that I was surrounded by all of this potential death and hopelessness really got to my very soul. I moved away before I did something rash like spit out the window. That'd be gross. At 6:55AM, I got into a hot tub and proceeded to cook myself at about 100 degrees (F) for 45 minutes, turning occasionally. I was the only one in any of the pools and I enjoyed the absolute silence. The wind was still kicking up so whenever I lifted any part of my body out of the Dan Soup it dropped in temp quickly and that felt really neat. At a bit after 8 I called the room and no one answered to I went back to my chair and read some more. My quiet reading 7 decks up also didn't wake anyone up so I went back to the room at 8:15 to get everyone's day started. That didn't go over so well. I did get Talia up and secured a promise that, were I to call back in an hour or so, the others would arise and seize the remainder of the day. Talia came out with me and I went back in to the hot tub to reheat as she ate her rubber pancakes. Afterwords, she came in with me for a bit and we talked about life and boys and ponies and rainbows. I then took a series of power naps as she rested and went to some sort of child based events including arts and crafts. The rest of the morning was a series of phone calls, sending Talia to the room, getting in and out of the hot tub and trying to wake Maddie and Julie up. Eventually, Julie found us in the hot tub and said she had been looking for an hour. As she hasn't seen me in a bathing suit in a hot tub, it is no surprise that she didn't recognize me. Talia left so I sat with Julie and we worked on a crossword puzzle. As she had only recently awoken, she was not hungry for lunch, but by that time (12:30) I was. We got our food poolside and I chowed down on two servings of Eggplant Parm. It was actually quite edible, not award winning, but I could actually distinguish that it was a specific food product so kudos to Weberman for their Eggplant Parm. We went back to the room after lunch so I could shower and get dressed for real and Julie expressed concern about the lack of coldth of our minibar (into which she had placed all of her yogurt). We walked over to Guest Relations (not at all what I thought it was when I first saw the name) and explained the situation so they said they would send a technician to adjust the fridge. They said it, but after an hour of waiting, I decided that they didn't actually do it. I called back and they said they would send a technician. I resisted the sense of deja vu and waited some more. It took another 30 minutes but then, a gentleman with an accent Imagine my surprise) knocked on the door and very po9litely asked to come in to check the fridge.

A word about politeness.

It is everywhere. Everyone who works for the cruise checks to make sure everything is OK and wishes us a good day, a good evening and a good night. When someone asks you “how are you doing?” you almost certainly smile and say “everything is great.” Does the average pool attendant want to hear me complain about the internet connection? Does the waiter want to hear that the food which he did not cook and over which he has no control or interest is considered a crime against humanity? So we fight politeness with politeness and get into the habit of wishing every one and thing we see the best day possible so that the circle of insincere well wishing remains unbroken. Now, back to the story.

The technician took a quick look and said “it's working just fine” (or something to that effect) and explained that this is not a fridge with a compressor, but a minibar (which, without a compressor, keeps things cool through wishful thinking and the Fonz's leather jacket in a central facility). He suggested that we put our food int e”pantry” by giving it to the steward. I asked at the front desk and they explained that the pantry is an ice chest so any food placed there would freeze. Our choice was frozen yogurt or no yogurt so Julie chose the former. Other than that, the day has been uneventful. The soft serve ice cream machine isn't currently working so I have had to forgo the snack that I usually schedule between my post lunch snack and my early evening but pre-dinner snack. We are calling for a team meeting at 5:30, dinner at 6-ish and a stand up comic at 7:30. Then a night of dancing and avoiding dancing. We dock at 8:30 AM so I hope to be up early to see that happen. Maddie is already making plans to stay up till 1AM. I expect that tomorrow will be a complete fiasco which is good because it will fit right in. I'm hoping to stop by the internet cafe and move this file to a memory stick so I can upload it later this afternoon. I know you wish me the best of luck. Did I mention that we met another Jewish guy who is just a bit to weird for my tastes? He has told me about his family, his birthday and anniversary, his uncle and all that. He keeps starting conversations with me about everything, and he throws in a bissel Yiddish to establish some kinship. Sweet in a desperate sort of way. I'm sure his wife loves him.

End part 1. Please remove tape and turn over for part 2.