Monday, December 24, 2012
As I showered this morning, I started thinking about when this morning torture would end. I started computing a few things. I figured that when my younger (who can memorize the lyrics to any song she hears twice but cannot remember how to spell the word "family") enters college I will finally have the luxury of sleeping a bit later and being able to wake myself up in the morning and get to work on my own schedule. Doubtless, this will involve waking at exactly the same ungodly hour as I do now, but it will be on my own terms. We could shorten this time by taking our vast holdings, liquidating them, and adding a bathroom so that I have a fortress of smell-i-tude which is all mine, but that would still require that I go from room to room waking and shaking every morning so it would not solve everything.
And please do not speak to me of such other expedients as louder alarm clocks or personal responsibility. The elder can sleep through anything which isn't the subtle buzz of a device indicating that someone, quite possibly a boy, wants to say "wussup" and the younger has inherited the ability to sleep 18 to 19 hours a day and still wake up angry at having been interrupted.
But how long will it be for #2 to shuffle off to SUNY Buffalo or the like so that my mornings can be less about them and more about me? Five and half years.
That's it. 5.5 years. And that isn't very long at all. Let's think about that, shall we?
Five and a half years until my second is in college. We have lived in this house for 13 years. In under 6 years, I will be in the same decade as I am now. Probably at the same job. Possibly driving the same car. Watching the same TV, and knowing that the Mets will have to wait for next year, again. Five and a half years is a blink of an eye. It would be just enough time for me to conceive of and write a poem like Tintern Abbey if it hadn't have been written already. It is enough time for me to go on strange new missions, to explore new worlds and alien planets, and enter syndication. Five years ago, I was doing exactly what I do these days -- wake the kids off and stumble to my job. This isn't like a period of time which will redefine my existence by moving me into another phase. I'll be the same. It isn't much time at all.
And in that short moment my second will be entering college, I expect. Now, maybe we'll enroll her in our own "College of living in the basement" but I doubt it. She and her sister are quite sharp and I expect them both to qualify for admission to some our nations most seemingly-select schools like Harfard or Yail, or maybe even (dare I dream) Ruggers. In five and half years I will have an empty house, with my new, private bathroom mocking my selfishness. I miss them already.
It isn't that long and I shouldn't be shooing them out so quickly. I can't wait till early tomorrow morning so I can tell them I love them while trying to steal their covers away.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
I am 25, I am 6, I am 40, I am 83. I am a child, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a spouse. I am a teacher. I am a student. I live nearby. I lived nearby. I am from far away. I am far away. I will wake up crying for 6 months. I will wake up screaming for the rest of my life. I will not wake up. I will have scars. I will have to explain myself to everyone I meet. I will never grow up. I will listen while every argues how and why this happened. I won't understand why people fight. I will stay silent as others tell me what I will feel. I will be silent because I will never feel again.
I will look at an empty room. I will hear stories about people I have never met. I will bear an impossible burden. I will never go on a date. I will never go beyond this feeling of pain and fright. I didn't have a chance and I never will. I don't care who is to blame. It is my fault. I will recover. I will never recover.
I don't want to hear about other people. I can't be comforted. I will never be normal. I will shake and cringe. No one will ever get to know me. I will be in the eyes of everyone you see. I will be everyone and I will never get to be anyone. I am angry and I will never forgive. I will forget in time and I will try not to forget. I will be a picture in a book or a name on a screen. I will be an ache. A fragment. A reminder.
I don't care about the gun control debate. I don't care about parents and professionals. I can't care about anything right now. I am on all parts of the political spectrum. I don't understand what people are talking about. I won't ever get to vote. I have no past, present or future. I want to stop crying. I want to start crying. I want people to cry with me and for me. I want the cameras to record and I want them to turn off, or at least away. I want to hug and be hugged. I want to punish and I want to sympathize. I will never get married or have children of my own.
I am a victim. I am lucky. I am guilty. I am alive but I am dead. I am dead but I will live forever. I am already gone.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Combine that with my lack of interest in the aforementioned loud conversations. What is the value of sitting around and picking sides...arguing with someone when the mode of rhetoric is more likely "he who is loudest wins" than "let's have an open dialogue and not persuade each other but realize that we should be united by the disparity of our views and how we explore and cherish that difference, rather than see those divergent positions as a cause of more rancor." Listening to someone make long winded arguments full of holes I could drive a truck through (if I held a CDL)and knowing that when I try to mount a "defense" the other person will not be listening to the underlying logic of what I say but rather will be looking for the little flaws so he can discard the whole. And I suspect that I'm doing much the same thing. I mean, what's the point. Did you know that people get angry at me because I refuse to engage in these conversations? They yell at me because I won't tell them what I believe. No matter how much I try to explain that I see too many problems with any point of view and don't want to open myself up to criticism because it won't help solve any problems, they rant and rave and insist that I say whom I vote for or where I stand on other issues. As if that will help the world solve its problems. Trust me -- I'm not that important.
Have you ever watched C-SPAN. Silly question. I know no one has. I saw a bit of it. It was live coverage from the senate floor. Politician after politician got up to say his piece about some item of legislation. But whom was he arguing with? Whom was he convincing? No one. No one was listening. The exercise was in saying your side without engaging in a dialogue. It was sad, really. But that's what all this cross talk ends up being. I don't care what you say, but you need to hear what I say because you are wrong simply by virtue of holding your position.
We are so interested in assigning blame because we see it as a way to solve our problems. Associate the problem with a source and we can remove the source. Isn't that simple. No. It isn't. Sometimes blaming doesn't solve anything. Finding a solution has nothing to do with going backwards and deciding why things happened.
The children of Connecticut will not return to us if we yell enough about gun control. The people of Sandy Hook will not be comforted if we present slogans or cite statistics about mental illness, about the second amendment or school lockdown procedures. These 20 children who were killed were all our children. And the shooter was our child as well. And as grieving parents we have to put a hold on trying to explain the unexplainable or find reasons for things that defy us. We have to cry, and wake up tomorrow and try to be better parents without getting on a soapbox and saying "I told you so." No one wants to hear that or listen to partisan statements.
Let's take this tragedy as a chance to come together and stop trying to tell each other how wrong everyone else is. Let us honor these children by sitting at a table and moving forward and talking about how we can envision a stronger world without focusing on why anyone who disagrees is actually part of the problem.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
I was going to rant about the bar that has been lowered for benefit concerts and my fear that in the future, there will be a sense of obligation to have a concert for most any bad thing. But I won't reflect on that -- I leave it up to you to imagine the lineup for the benefit concerts for Nor'easter Ralph, Heatwave Myrtle, Fender Bender Simba and Hangnail Persephone.
My problem today is with the selection of artists for last night. You have to understand, I am a music fan. A big one. And my tastes do run to the 60's to 70's classic rock so last night's artists should have been right up my alley. But I felt more let down than anything else. In my mind, these artists all have good voices and, well, hair (except Roger Daltry who has been nairing his chest every morning since 1955). What I saw last night really made me sad. It was like watching a teaser for next year's obituaries. I almost tweeted to the Who that I'd hoped they'd died before they got old. Then I realized that I don't have a twitter account.
But then I got to thinking. If these monsters of the rock-age hadn't shown up, who would have been the stars of the show? Would we all have rallied around Justin Bieber and One Direction? Or would the phone lines had lit up if Ke$sha was up there? And what will happen if (God forbid) there is a storm in 40 years? Who are the big name stars who will have the staying power to hobble onto stage and play a spate of their hits from what will then be yesteryear, but which is not just "year." Who is around? Tom Petty? The Foo Fighters? Weezer? Graham Nash (that guy never seems to age)? Do we really expect that Limp Bizkit or Eminem will galvanize future America? Who will show up for a fund raiser in 2040 starring the Goo Goo Dolls, Metallica, Guster and Dr. Dog (h/t Rabbi Fleischmann for those 2)?
I think that this, more than anything, should drive our scientists and super villains to develop weather control devices so we can avoid the kind of concert that did not seem out of place on public television.
Monday, December 10, 2012
In my school we have a policy regarding teachers -- if a teacher is absent, especially short term and on short notice, we don't give the students a sub. Subs are hard to manage and the students do need some down time as our school day is approximately 23 hours long, give or take a day. So how do students know who is absent? We have a board/TV screen which shows the list each day. Students make it a habit to check the board daily and see if the gamble not to do last night's homework paid off or not. What I don't think they understand, though, is how to temper their emotions.
I was walking past a knot of students staring at the board this morning and when they reached the name of a teacher out for the day, they started jumping for joy. Absolute joy. They ran through the halls shouting the news to the farthest reaches of the building. It was like a banner waving scene from Les Mis (before you insult me, I saw it on a TV commercial years ago while watching something uncultured and unwholesome). Does one person's absence mean so much? Does his mere presence in the school so destroy a student's day that that student has to cheer like he has been given a reprieve from the death sentence when the teacher's name is posted? When I am absent, are there parties, and guest speakers, and champagne flowing? I never really thought of myself as such a drag on student emotions. Maybe I should call in sick occasionally even when I'm healthy so that the students have a break from my oppressive regime once in a while.
On one hand, it is nice to know that my presence or absence would be so closely followed. This makes me feel important. I never realized the impact I have on the tenor of the entire school community. But on the other hand, I have to say, it hurts. The thought that I bring such sadness to young lives that the possibility that I am not around is cause for celebration is disheartening. What if, god forbid, a teacher on the board is absent because he was struck by lightning? How should a student react? "He's not here!! Woo-hoo! Yeah! Huh? What? Lightning you say? Oh. That is really sad. Is he dead? Oh. Will he be in tomorrow? WOOOO HOOOO!!!"
When students see me, do their hearts sink? Do they wake up hoping that my car breaks down, or that overnight I got bitten by a rabid squirrel? Do I really want to live a life where, when I walk in the room, there is a sigh of disappointment? Why don't they throw a party when I show up? Where's my parade? I am NEVER LEAVING. That'll show 'em.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Technology is a neat thing. It is so broad a term as to include every invention and innovation which allowed people to deal with their world. On a side not, "techology" is not a word but I am laying claim to its coinage (the 28,000 or so google hits be damned) as the study of technology. Recent improvements in technology, especially with the introduction of electronics and the computer have changed how mankind deals with the world and other mans-of-the-kind.
But criticisms seep in. This reliance on the web and computers actually, according to recent news stories, makes us dumber than cavemen who had to solve problems themselves. Yeah, but they also lived in caves. Sure, having guns makes us less physically able to kill dinosaurs with our bare hands, but I'll stick with the gun approach, thanks.
So here are some of the ironies I have noted based on anecdotal observations, not cold, hard statistics.
We read fewer books and thus fear a loss of literacy. But increased texting and the proliferation of smart phones increases the amount we have to read and write.
Texting and such allow for a sloppiness of spelling. And yet the built in dictionaries increase the chance tha our finished product will have properly spelled words.
We spend so much time staring at the screen that we increase isolation from other people, yet we now interact with more people in constant ways than ever before because the web allows us to send our thoughts around the world to complete strangers.
Facebook and its watered down notion of "friend" cheapens the import of actual human bonding. But through the FB system we can connect with people from our pasts who, a generation ago, would have been wiped from our memories, thus limiting the number of "friends" we could connect with.
The electronic age has fostered a need for immedate gratification -- the web means I want to know everything and get answers right now. But the immortality of material online means that I can make comments on a year-old story or read over comments made years ago and see how they compare to subsequent growth in the world, or the person who wrote the ideas.
Ever present technology leads to a laziness of intellect and body but the constant stream of new products and devices requires a flexibility and need to assimilate new skills and vocabularies unheard of in the past.
A lack of online gatekeepers makes it difficult to distinguish quality of information, but that same lack removes the censors, blinders and limitations and exposes us to voices which we would have not heard of otherwise.
So it looks like all this computer stuff is a double edged sword not seen since the invention of, well, every technology that came before it. From TV and radio to refrigerators and double edged swords, themselves, it seems that every shift in technology has made humanity adapt when it adopts.
I think one could start a class about this -- maybe even an entire Techology department. Dibs.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Verb it shows
Do it (as long as it is unusual)
With him/her/them shows (though some are "for" not totally "with")
Live with 
Date with 
Drink with 
Sleep with 
Race with 
Compete with 
Fight with 
Sing with 
Search with 
So there are still openings for
Deal with (both  and it)
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Truth is, she has little choice. I teach in her school and if she didn't accept my presence and even talk to me, how would she be able to soak me for money during the course of the school day? Also, I teach many of her friends and they don't say universally negative things about me so she has to deal with the fact that, though I'm her father, other teenagers think I'm not all bad.
I am interested, though, in the psychology of the parent-child divide. I have spotted a whole mess of reasons why adults and kids argue, some general and some specific to the dynamic in my house. I won't bore you with the details. I'll bore you with the generalities. Or not. I'll stick with the details. Feel free to be bored.
This morning, I was sitting in the car with my elder-spawn. I drive her to school every day. This way she doesn't have to catch the bus and I can be sure she gets to school on time. Win/win except for the part where I have to wake her up every morning and get her to be ready for the car ride. So this morning we were leaving extra early as she and her class are departing for a grade trip to Canada, our suburb to the north. The Great White Away, Land of Maple Flags and secessionist thinking. You know the place. I think there was a National Geographic special about it.
While waiting in the car, the youth spoke to me (huzzah). She said (and I quote), "I feel that Verizon texts are free in Canada." I paused and considered her statement. I know nothing of charges in Canada or of Verizon's pricing structure there. I barely know about them in America and I live near America so you'd think I know. I kept thinking about it while staring off into the distance in the car. I realized, though, that one should not completely ignore comments made by children as the day will come, too soon, that said child will refuse to talk to me all together. So I gave a phatic response of "mmmhmmm" to show her that I was listening. I imbued it with no emotion and said it in the noncommittal way you'd answer someone who says, for no reason at all, "I think that tulips are the tastiest flower."
Silence followed. A nice awkward, heavy silence. Then my daughter's friend, who was also in the car (as I was driving her to school for the trip as well) said "How do you know texts are free in Canada?" Child-A responded "My dad said so."
I pounced. "I said NO SUCH THING." I spoke now EMphatically. I did not yell, but I was speaking in all caps. "Yes, you just did" she insisted. Now, I know I was there in the car. And I know that not 30 seconds had elapsed, and I haven't had a drink in days, if not days. I stuck to my guns. "No, I never, ever, said that. I have no idea about Canadian texts -- why would I say that?"
She wheeled around to her friend, "Didn't he just say mm, hmm when I mentioned it?" Her friend agreed that I had said "mmm hmmm."
I said "I said that the way you would say 'mmmhmmm' if I were simply to say something crazy like 'I feel that the moon is made of green cheese,' or 'Clean your room' and you didn't want me to claim I am being ignored."
She came back with "You said texts were free." Very witty that child.
"No," I explained, "YOU said it. Did you ever hear me say those words?"
She admitted that she hadn't heard me say those words but ended with "But you told me that they were." We were getting nowhere, and not even all that quickly.
I tried to explain that I would have understood had she said "When I made my comment you didn't disagree and made a sound which I thought was agreement." I tried to explain that all she could attribute to me was (at best) corroboration, but to claim that "I said" it to her was incorrect. I tried to explain that this is why, in 100 other cases, she insists that "I said" something when I know I didn't, and I'm not a lying lunatic. I really didn't say them but she is projecting her having said it and not (caring to hear or) hearing a clear objection, imputing the actual saying to me. She interrupted me with a classic teenage response.
"Fine! Whatever!" That's kid-speak for "shut up jerkwad, if I wanted to hear you have an opinion I wouldn't have become a teenager."
Then the kicker. She tried to sum the entire experience up with "We just had a misunderstanding."
This is not a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding is when two people who generally share a common dialect find that one semantic tool within that dialect actually has divergent meanings and they do not encode/decode using identical schema. We would have had a misunderstanding had she attributed to me the validating "mm hmm" when I was using the phatic "mmmhmmm." What actually happened was that the teen aged brain created a reality -- she called an entire universe into existence in the car. She revised history to fit with her new universe, and then dragged me into it as the guilty party.
So if you want to know why parents and their teen-aged kids argue, don't ascribe it to some generalized age gap, or cultural differences or anything as mundane as that. The cause is simply that teen agers are insane and adults are not.
I'm glad I cleared that up for you.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
I wanted to put that out there because I need you to understand where I'm coming from in this post -- it is a very well established position. Those of you who know me probably aren't surprised that I don't like Glee and are wondering why I felt the need to put that sentiment out there. I really just wanted to make sure that the 6 viewers who drifted in from China over the last week know what they have gotten themselves into.
So anyway, I wanted to explore this idea before the world realizes that Glee's 15 minutes of fame are up (ironically, Fame had only 10 minutes). So why do I dislike Glee with such a passion? We'll ignore that I don't enjoy lip syncing (cf ), musicals (with the exception of Singing in the Rain, The Muppet Movie and The Blues Brothers), teen-angst driven soap operas and any combination thereof. I don't like Glee because it takes the songs I hate and drives them down my throat and mixes it up by taking songs that I grew up with and like and watering them down so that my pre-teen walks around humming them.
I'm OK that my brood can appreciate some Foreigner or Beatles, but I'd like to think it is because she heard it in its original form and appreciated quality -- not because she saw some guy singing it on TV and he's just so dreamy. It is disconcerting when a 12 year old hears a song from 1972 and says "Oh, they're covering that Glee song." Music is part of a continuum and one has to appreciate the whole to connect fully with the parts. To take a song out of context, sanitize it and then stick it in the mouth of some actor so that the Kidzbop generation can latch on to it irks me no end. Then I considered that, eventually, the show will run out of classic hits to rip-off and will either have to write new songs and live or die on the strength of its own performance, or it will start to sing songs that it can't mask as being pop pap. Sure, they can find a way to incorporate Conquistador into a show but will they have Bridge of Sighs? I'd even like to hear them do Seven Bridges Road, but can they tackle Journey of the Sorcerer? When is there going to be a theme show dedicated to the songs of Bob Dylan? Can I set my DVR for the show based on the musical stylings of Gary Numan?
And another thing -- this is not life. When we sing in real life, it is in the shower and even to ourselves, we sound mediocre at best. Set pieces don't erupt from no where and accompaniment doesn't materialize when we, in the midst of a tense class, find the lyrics to some song by Jo Jo Gunne are hauntingly relevant. Also, I don't want my young 'uns singing and dancing to One Toke Over the Line because there was a 'very special episode' on about drug use. So until Glee decides that they can make Boris the Spider into the next big thing, I'll pass.
And finally, Glee glamorizes the songs already glamorous. I have had the good fortune of hearing many un (or under) signed bands. If the Glee people want to perform a service, adopt some great music from small bands and make them famous instead of jumping on the most popular bandwagons in town. Sure, anyone can have a Madonna episode, but what about a Gripweeds episode? Trust me -- it would be awesome! So if anyone out there knows someone who works for Glee, pass along my credentials -- I'm an angry old man and I have great ideas for how we can finally run that show into the ground but regain musical integrity.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
Sandy is gone. Bluster and brute force that she was, she has moved on to kill greener pastures. In her wake (an eerie word to choose) she has redrawn the map of the east coast and left a swath of devastation. I don't think we use the word swath enough so we have that to be thankful for. But while I like to think globally I really can't get past the local angle.
In case you are wondering, and even if you're not, I am writing this on my phone as I sit in my brother's house. You see, I am still out of power and heat. I used to look at people who were later to receive utilities and think, "wow, how rustic." Now I'm one of them and I'm just annoyed. But every time I get ready to complain about it someone posts something on Facebook or in an email reminding me of how many people have it worse than I and how appreciative I should be that I am alive and all that.
Sure, I am glad that my house isn't under water. I am glad that I had the foresight to fill the cars with gas and assemble flashlights, batteries and candles. I am glad that no tree or powerline fell on me or anyone or thing that I love. But come on. Isn't enough already? Must I continue to be so appreciative or can I finally shout "well, having no power or heat is pretty bad too, you know!"
I don't want to sound selfish. I know I have so much to be thankful for (including good friends and wonderful family all of whom have opened their houses to us) but there comes a time when I want to stop being reminded how bad off someone else is and be allowed to acknowledge that my situation is pretty stinky as well. I'm not wallowing or looking for pity. I just want permission not to feel guilty when I consider my own problems and ignore, at least for a time, anyone else's. I want to look out for my own family's lack of shoes and not have anyone tsk tsk me for not recognizing that some people don't have feet.
Monday, October 22, 2012
I need to tell you some stuff -- sort of clear the air. I want you to know where you stand and what kind of a father I expect to be. No surprises.
First, I intend to cry at your weddings. Being your father is a rare and special privilege and anything that marks the end of that era, like the finality of your moving in with a suitable replacement, will reduce me to a blubbering mass of appetizer sneaking tuxedo. This also explains why I get teary eyed at all the precursor milestones like when you go away for a weekend, or when you no longer need me to tuck you in and say "goodnight." It does not absolve you of the responsibility to wash the dishes, though. And please make sure to have a carving station at your weddings.
Next -- I hear you. I really, really do. I may be doing something else. I may even be watching football. But I hear you. This does not mean that what you say registers, but I hear you. If you say something problematic, it might take some time, but it will sink in.
I will always be ready to help, no questions asked. At least not at that moment. Once things calm down, we're gonna have a chat.
Every moment with you is a teachable moment. Whether you know it or not, I'm trying at every second to model behavior, explain situations or anticipate questions so that you can maximize how often and how much you learn.
When you shut me out, it hurts. When we fight, it hurts. When I have to be the bad guy, it hurts. Just understand that you can never really appreciate how bad it hurts until you have your own kids and they ignore you or think you are an idiot.
Some of the television shows you choose to watch really are truly and objectively terrible. When kids say "parents don't understand," it most often means that parents thought you were better than that and yet you choose to wallow in silliness. Of course, when my parents mocked the shows I liked, they had no idea what they were talking about. But this is completely different.
I don't think you need to wear makeup. Yes, I say that primarily because I'm your dad, secondarily because it makes you look like a female hooker clown, and thirdly because, whether you choose to believe it, you really are beautiful, inside and out, without it.
Same thing with heels.
Someday, someone will choose to be with you not because of the product on your face or the shape of your calves but because of who you really are, and you will be happy. And I will cry. But then I'll wander to the carving station and be ok.
Keeping your room neat is important. It teaches you responsibility and organization and prevents me from breaking my neck when I come to wake you up each day.
Yes, I will continue to embarrass you in front of your friends, be neurotic about being places on time, make bad jokes (though I know they are brilliant), demand that you use proper grammar, and expect you to clean up after yourselves. I want your future behavior to reflect well on you and on me and my parents.
I admit -- I have made some mistakes and questionable choices in my life. This is not to be viewed as permission to you to make the same or similar choices. It is my goal as a result of experience and my wish, after years and years of developing hindsight, to help you avoid the problems and mistakes I have made. I want better for you than I have and am and not because my parents were at all even remotely deficient (they weren't -- they are my heroes) but because every parent should want better for his or her children.
I will continue to make mistakes. I am human (no matter what I claim to the contrary) and will try to do better. Bear with me as I bear with you.
Sometimes I will have to let you make the mistakes and it will kill me inside.
I am so proud of both of you every day.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
In any human (complex) system, any causal link established or any conclusion drawn from a single dimension or variable will undoubtedly be incorrect and any attempt to account for all dimensions or variables when explaining a causal relationship will undoubtedly fail. Statistical snapshots, cross sections and samples cannot be extrapolated from and multidimensional aggregate data cannot be used to prove conclusively any single point, or even explain definitively any trend.
Why not? Because I said so.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
1. A chair
2. A scholarship
3. A building (with chairs in it)
4. A disease
5. A celestial object
6. A species
7. An element
8. A sports trophy
9. A recipe
10. A hat
I understand the drive to require people make donations to get on this list, or make some contribution to society in order to qualify but I would like to side step those conventions.
If you can think of anything else that should be named after me, please comment and tell me how great I am.
Friday, October 12, 2012
I have been using the Galaxy Nexus for a few months now and have grown to like it. Not to love it, mind you, and not even to adore it on the level that I adored my Blackberry Curve before it, but I do like it more than I thought I would. The lack of customizable notifications and the virtual keyboard are both limitations, and there also seems to be some sort of glitch in the switch between WIFI and 4G. This last issue becomes apparent as my internet at home cuts out at odd intervals so if my phone can't sense that the WIFI is out, I manually turn off the WIFI on the phone and hope the phone can fall back into 4G mode so that i can still use the web. Often, i have to restart the phone to force it to recognize that I have a phone signal and until I remember to do that, I get access to nothing in terms of data.
I think that part of this can certainly be traced to the problems with the internet connection. Surely if I had a more stable DSL (not "DSL line" as the L stands for 'line') I wouldn't run into this problem nearly as much. At work, where being on the local WIFI means having to sign in and reauthenticate every 30 minutes I like to leave the radio off as well and use the 4G so I guess I can't sidestep the issue simply by calling Verizon and demanding that they, once and for all, fix the DSL at home. I mean, I have been dealing with this issue for years now. Every time I call, I go back to the beginning with some level 1 tech support person (after getting through the automated fixer who recommends that I GO ONLINE for fixes! Duh! If I could go online, I wouldn't need any help because my DSL would be working) and I have to explain the situation over and over again. The very nice person hired by Verizon to frustrate me (this was the help wanted ad: "Wanted, someone to frustrate Dan Rosen") restates my problem and either gets it completely wrong, or hangs up on me. And never calls back the call-back number I provided.
So last year I took to emailing every executive i could find on any webpage put out by Verizon. I figured out the format of their corporate email addresses and started complaining to the top. And I mean THE TOP. Very quickly I was contacted by "Executive Customer Assistance" and the problem was solved. At least for 9 months. It is back and I still have that phone number, so I'm going to call the executives again and whine like a first-world, spoiled American as is my god given right.
I don't generally call to complain about things. As vituperative as I appear on these blogs, I am actually quite reserved in real life. Both cars and a computer had to be repaired recently. My method? Take it in, tell the guys "do whatever and charge me whatever, and wipe the drool off your chin. I'll be back in a week. Please don't give me any details." I can't haggle, I never return stuff to a store, I never offer to pay in cash to save the taxes and I really hate complaining. This blog helps me vent because, not only do I get a special kind of solitude which one rarely finds, considering that the 20 or so "readers" for any post seem to be me (reloading from different computers to edit my misspellings) my mom (hi, mom), my 1 subscriber, and a guy from Estonia who, I believe, thinks that (via his poor English skills) my ramblings are some sort of post-modernist erotica, but also because I work better being able to formulate thoughts and write them out and revise them. Speaking to live people also exposes me to their responses and, often, their stupidity. I have no patience for stupidity which means I usually have no interest in responses. So I cave quickly to end the conversation. Good talk Russ.
And that's why I like pancakes.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
And on Sukkot, we suddenly take four different kinds of plants and shake them all about while we sit in a makeshift hut. The non-Jews must look and say “what comes next? Are you going to dig a pit and juggle a cat and 2 chainsaws next month?” And we do all this (OK, not the chainsaw part) in order to be part of a community! We aren’t lone wolves following personal and individual practices, but acting in accordance with the rules of an entire congregation!
I think that some of this traces back to something I heard from Rabbi Jon Schachter, though I assume that this isn’t his originally, but I give credit where I can. He pointed out to his students that we are part of a Tzibbur, a community. The word Tzibbur, ציבור, is made up of the letter Tzadi, which stands for צדיק, a righteous man, the letter Reish, which stands for רשע, a bad man, and a Beit, which stands for בינוני, a middling person who is neither fully righteous or evil. The idea is that we must include all 3 groups to make for a complete community. But I commented that that seems to ignore all the letters. The word also has the Yod-Vav which is a name of God. To be a complete community we all must include God. Four separate components to a congregation.
Those 4 groupings seemed to me to link to the 4 species which we take on Sukkot – the lulav branch which stands tall and represents the spine and the righteous who stand tall like angels as they pray, the aravah, the willow, doesn't smell or taste good – it lacks all connection to “goodness” and represents the evil man, while the hadass has some positive and some negative quality is the middle-man, the beinoni. God is the etrog, full of flavor and smell and all the goodness one can imagine. All four must be taken together for the individual to fulfill the mitzvah. Thinking of this, I went back to the 4 holidays all jammed within the month of Tishrei and looked at the differences. Rosh Hashana, it seems, is a day of judgment and closes the book on those who are clearly righteous, like the Tzaddik. Yom Kippur is a day of somber judgment which clears up the fate of the middle man, the beinoni. The evil person, unpersuaded, is still given more time to repent, and has until the end of Sukkot (hoshana rabba) when the gates are finally closed. Then, Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah is a day when all the groups come together to celebrate the ultimate gift of God, the Torah.
In a parallel sense, the four holidays demand different modes of behavior to appeal to all of the segments of that community. On Rosh Hashana, we use a single accompaniment to our davening, the Shofar, named in the written Torah to inspire us. On Yom Kippur, nothing. On Sukkot, we are chock full of external symbols, and Shmini Atzeret, just the Torah, which is around us all year long. Again, four modes of expression to reflect the 4 groups: the righteous man sticks with the single Torah mentioned symbol, one which proclaims throughout the day, his place in the book of life; the middling man must remove all distractions and find his inspiration from within – he has to make a decision about his life and only he can change it but by the end of the day, there is a single Shofar blast commemorating his forgiven state (he goes from being one of the avaryanim, sinners, to being written in for a good year); Sukkot fills the rasha, the evil man with outside inspiration to complement prayer in order to infuse his life with meaning, because without it, he has not found his connection to God and Shmini Atzeret centers it all around God’s Torah, not as inspiration to man, but as an expression from God. We need all these parts of observance before we can complete the process of repentance – to be a tzibbur, all of us must be allowed to connect to the divine and we must then celebrate the divine’s expression of connection with us.
Tishrei is a microcosm of us as a people and of the entire of the year. It is about including everyone in our community. It is about finding a path which will help guide us throughout the next 11 months. It might be by recognizing the penitence from within or from without. It might be by looking at the Torah and letting it inspire us. Maybe it will be by seeing someone who lives his life, daily, in accordance with halacha. Whatever it takes during Tishrei must be pursued so that the rest of the year can flow smoothly.
Friday, September 28, 2012
I realized that Yom Kippur should be like that. As of now we take one day and make it special. We focus on our prayers, we fast, beat our chests, we wear Crocs just like they did in biblical times. We then run as quickly as we can from it to resume our humdrum lives. Well, mine isn't humdrum, but I'm thinking of all you people. But in the same way that we shouldn't run from synagogue after services, and the same way that the Children of Israel disappointed God by running from Sinai after the giving of the Torah, we should not run from Yom Kippur. Its effect should be lasting, and its presence, felt constantly. We should be trying to make every OTHER day of the year a celebration of Yom Kippur as well.
God gives us elements in our ritual and practice to make this apparent. On Yom Kippur, we fast. Well, Orthodox Jews do not eat in the morning until after prayers. And every time we eat, we make sure to say a prayer asking permission: without that permission we must not eat. On Yom Kippur we confess. But confession and supplication are an important part of the daily prayers. In every Shmoneh Esrei we strike our chests in a reminder of the confession of Yom Kippur (some even say an actual daily confession identical to the text in the Machzor). On Yom Kippur we abstain from sexual contact with our partner. This same sense of exerting self control is expressed throughout the year in terms of the time of separation during a woman's time of Nidah. Yom Kippur may be a temporary intensification of these ideas but it is not a stand alone moment.
In fact, this tendency to spread our Yom Kippur into other contexts is integral to our other holiday performances. We wear a kittel on Pesach, thus drawing a connection to Yom Kippur. We also eat matzah, lechem oni (a bread of affliction) which reminds us of the commandment to afflict ourselves (v'eeneetem, same root) on Yom Kippur. Even at a time of our greatest joy at the remembrance of (and anticipation of) our redemption, we connect to the somberness of Yom Kippur. And the rabbis make a connection between Yom Kippurim and Purim. The overlapping names allow us to see Yom Kipur as a day of joy (and, conversely, Purim as a day of judgement) and this would then drive us to infuse the rest of the year with the same religious joy.
So today is my unbirthday. Tomorrow is also. Day after that as well. They might be yours as well. If so, a very happy unbirthday to you. But remember, it is also your un-Yom Kippur. This doesn't mean that we live life with reckless abandon and wait until next August to start the process of repentance over. It means that we should take every day as an opportunity to do a little better and bring the concerted effort which we all expressed on Yom Kippur into our daily practice.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Here is my fear. I see all these news stories about cars with sensors and computers in them; they can see in the dark and apply the brakes before a driver can and they can keep us from bumping into the cars around us on the road. Heck, they can even parallel park for us. This, my friends does not pose a threat to our safety on the road. It does, however, pose a real threat to a major part of our way of life - the motion picture industry.
Imagine watching a film in which the teenagers accidentally hit the stranger on the highway and then horror ensues. That cannot happen anymore. Movie done in the first 10 minutes. Chase scenes where one car bumps the other off the road? Sorry Mr. Bond but your car won't let you do that. Comedies which have the inept driver bang up the other cars when trying to fit into the tight spot? Gone once a computer takes over. This spells doom for many major genres! How many cop chase scenes would be interrupted by audible alarms from proximity sensors? How would we hear the witty banter?
Computers have their place, no doubt: spaceships to Jupiter, chess matches and the Jetsons' apartment. I just don't want them stealing from me my freedom to run over Cujo if the need arises.
Monday, September 24, 2012
Insomnia means something very special to me. Actually, after not sleeping all night, nothing means anything to me anymore. My sense, dulled to a sharp point and my understanding of complex math gone, the world promises to be a bright blur following an extended dark blur today. But insomnia means never having to watch TV shows in prime time.
When I finally gave up trying to sleep, and finished shaving (3:48 hack)I went to watch television. None of the 3 movies I have any interest in fast forwarding through has come to on-demand yet so I started scrolling through the regular shows. I found 2 shows I hadn't watched but about which I had heard claims of existence. I dove in.
First up was Animal Practice. In a nutshell, the plot involves a guy who doctors animals. How crazy is that? I mean, animals. Really. He's like House but with not-people. They could have called him "Zoo." The show was actually very funny. I especially liked the fact that he's a sociopath but is very good at being a sociopath. Role models are important. The writing was crisp and slightly burnt at the edges. In the end, he had a heart but I'm hopeful that the heart will be fired when they retool the show for the second season.
Then I watched 2 episodes of Mr. Matthew Perry's new sitcom, "Go On." I held back the vomit every time I thought about the show's name, but it was also really amusing. It is about a guy whose wife died so it is a comedy. The second episode already felt tired at spots and I foresee a pattern of "he tries to do things his way and things get worse so in the end he gains a little respect for the group leader." I found that same pattern in the Star Wars movies except with more limbs.
I realized something -- what makes a show really good is not having to care about characters over extended story arcs. I don't want to delve into their crises and see how they deal with challenges. I want the wittiness of superficial knowledge during character establishment. I believe that the greatest season in television history would be one in which one network did nothing but run failed (or untested) pilots, week after week. New characters, new zany plots. And at the end, the audience could phone in and vote on which one should be produced, and then, pizza for everyone.
Yes, this is my plan. I can't wait for this dream to be over.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
For Jews, this is a very intense time of year. From the start of the month of Elul through the end of the holiday of Sukkot we focus on repentance and self improvement. We use this time of year to recharge ourselves spiritually for the rest of the year. We increase intensity in our prayers and spend more time shedding the errors that cling to us from the previous year and prepare to go out and have an even better year to come.
But almost two months of this? Really?
Yup and here's why.
This time isn't just two months. It actually works out to (in Israel, where the lunar month holds sway and Sukkot is 8 days long) 51 days: the 29 of the month of Elul and the 22 from the 1st of Tishrei to the 22nd at the close of Shmini Atzeret. That 51 is close to one seventh of the 354 day lunar calendar. This period is a Sabbath for the year. It is the one out of seven which clears us up, helps us refocus ourselves and preps us for when we go back into the world. Our religious shift during this Sabbath mirrors the weekly pause that refreshes.
And outside Israel, where the lunar calendar is less prevalent than the solar, 365 day one? The extra day of Sukkot makes the time of repentance 52 days. Almost exactly one seventh of 365.
No matter where we are, let's experience this Sabbath of our souls, immerse ourselves in the spiritual rejuvenation and come out ready to take that uber-sabbath straight through the next "week."
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
What is important for everyone here is to understand something which I think we have already forgotten -- "Everything Changed on 9-11".
I know. It's a cliche. We all say it, but really, wasn't the point of our so-called victory over terror that ultimately, nothing changed? Isn't the point that we still go on with our lives? Shouldn't that be our cold comfort? The terrorists lost because everything has remained the same? Maybe, but it rings hollow in the face of the truth that Everything Changed on 9-11.
I don't mean this as a joke. I think that every year, we should go through a particular intellectual exercise: think about life before and after 9-11 and reflect on what changed. See how the world is no longer the same because of the events of that morning. It isn't nothing. It is everything. Change was forced on us and we can't deny it.
I know I changed. I can't look at people, places, politics, travel, professional sports, or the trivial bits which separate people the same way. I can't look at a skyline of any city the same. I can't watch a fireman walking down the block the same way. I can't cross a bridge, pray to my god, or watch a child smile the same way. I can't watch the TV news, enjoy a tourist attraction or look at a stranger on a train the same way. I am a radically different person. 9-11 aged me. It wore me down and yet it restored my faith in humanity. It made me appreciate what I have, who I am and where I live. It made me reconsider the importance of the freedoms I have and hold dear. It made me a better driver, friend, husband and a better father. It made me love my fellow man more sincerely and made me more aware of the need to be sensitive to all around me.
9-11 changed everything, and because of that, the terrorist lost.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
I was walking around scenic Teaneck in my t shirt and jeans on a random Sunday. At the time the Sunday wasn't random but in the grand scheme of things it wasn't grand either so there you go. While walking around a square I noticed a couple dressed very nicely. I assume they were on their way to some celebratory event, some simcha. Good for them. But I felt bad for them. Here I was, enjoying the weather and being dressed down and they had to get all dolled up to sing and dance for someone who won't know they were there.
Truth is, any particular person is irrelevant at a simcha. There are a couple hundred similarly festive guests and a host who is so worried about the catering and keeping track of the gift envelopes that he or she can't pay attention to who is there. And who even wants to go? Same songs, same food, same dances. Odds are the invite comes five minutes before you get invited to something which is actually fun on that same afternoon. But you just have to go because supposedly, this is "more important" than sitting around and enjoying yourself.
So here's my plan.
We turn the attendance into something akin to jury duty. You get a piece of mail which tells you that you have been selected to attend an event on some Sunday. If it conflicts with other plans, you can defer. If not, you go. Isn't each simcha really a celebration for the whole community anyway? So you go and sing and eat some chicken in between sweaty circle stomping and the hosts have a room full of random dressed up folks who are having the standard good time.
And gifts? Either forget them completely or pay into a central pool of money which is apportioned to each host based on the invites. So if I invite 100 people I am paid a certain amount and I am charged a certain amount. Think about it; each year I pay out a certain number of checks for events and those hosts then pay out some of my money to the next host when they are the guest . That cash goes around like some regifted fruit cake. I'm just streamlining the process. Maybe, the more events you volunteer to attend, the less you have to pay per event. I don't know, I'm just an idea guy in a T-shirt while you are reading this to avoid listening to another generic speech at some event that you wish you could have skipped.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
I woke up Friday with a pain in my right eye -- like I had been punched. The kids weren't home and the wife insisted that she hadn't punched me in the eye the night before. She giggled a bit but I chalked that up to the fact that she was still asleep when I asked her and she was probably dreaming of something humorous I had said right before bed, like "please don't punch me in the eye tonight." I'm a laugh riot before bed. I looked int he mirror (usually a mistake) and saw what looked like a white pimple on the top lid. Not on the outside and not on the inside, but in the edge. It didn't look like or hurt like a stye would (I get plenty of those) but it hurt. So I did the unthinkable and I called a doctor.
Later that afternoon, I went to the doctor and he spent a minute and a half with me, including introductions and the exam. I have, it seems, a small infection of the oil gland in the eye lid. Oh. That doesn't sound all that appealing, but whatever shall I do? He recommended warm compresses and gave me a prescription for an antibiotic ointment which I was to apply to my eye. He didn't exactly say how to and when I asked he made it seem obvious and easy, like putting a bottle or my finger in my eye or on the edge of my eyelid is the most obvious thing in the world. He even told me the technical term for the infection which I promptly forgot. I have since looked it up and found that one name is the "chalazion." There is another word starting with an M but I shall explain why that doesn't matter.
I'm not sure how to pronounce chalazion -- is it like "kuh-lay-zhion" which sounds like a social event? Is it "challah-tziyon" which is egg bread from Jerusalem? Maybe it is "ka-li-zone" which would make it rally delicious. But at least it isn't "chilazon" which would refer to a snail. Anyway, I have enough questions about pronunciation to make the name memorable. A meibomian gland lipogranuloma is not nearly as easy to remember.
I put the ointment stuff on that little white bumpy thing starting Friday afternoon, and by Saturday evening, though it stung and itched and hurt most of the day, the bump had gone down. I continued applying the stuff through Sunday to fill out the course of treatment even though by Sunday mid-day, all seemed right with the world. By Monday morning, it was coming back (maybe in a slightly different place?) and by Monday night, a new, large bump had developed and getting to sleep Monday night was very difficult. The lid above has also begun to swell. By now, Wednesday morning, with repeated treatment with the tube o' goo, the bump has receded and the lid, though swollen and incessantly itchy, has turned a lovely shade of purple. It makes me look, well, less adorable. "Posh," you say, "You couldn't look any less adorable!" Thank you, I think, but it is true. Even my asymmetry is asymmetrical now.
What I do know is that this is not pink eye. I am not a girl so I don't get anything pink. I won't even buy Songs from the Big Pink, or drink pink lemonade. Why is it that pink eye isn't reserved for girls? So this isn't catching, it has no long term ill effects, it can't turn into anything else and it just hurts, itches and is annoying. Just like a man.
I'm sure that this should be motivating me to be introspective about the value of binocular vision or vision on the whole, or at least made scads of dumb jokes about lacking vision, seeing only one side of things, ignoring things on the periphery or such but I just can't see myself doing any of that.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
I have become more and more annoyed at people who take songs and completely misunderstand their meaning or intention and celebrate them in all the wrong ways. "Freebird" is about being unable to commit. "Living on a Prayer" is not about spirituality but about living with failure, "Born in the USA" is NOT a celebration of America but a condemnation of it. Stop dancing to "We Are Young"! It is about drugs and domestic abuse. Don't wave your fist to "Won't Get Fooled Again" idiot. It is about the inevitability of getting fooled again.
Remember, I'm not talking about songs that have double entendres and people ignore them (or focus solely on them and forget that sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar)or songs which wear their hearts on their sleeves and let you know exactly how depressing they are (I'm looking at you, Billy Joel's discography). I'm also not talking about songs whose lyrics we mishear. These words are crystal clear and we just ignore what they are saying because the music is so upbeat or compelling. I am talking about the songs we dance to, or hum to, or feel revved up by, which are actually meant to tell us something quite different. Songs whose point we collectively miss.
So don't stop enjoying your music. But please, don't try to get me to sing along to "Lola." That's just sick.
[I invite your input as to what songs might go on a list such as this]
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
That's not huge news to anyone but it points to a serious change in my character. I used to be a rock, an absolute tough guy. I could scoff at emotionality and sentimentality and while I liked kids, I could do with out them. I won't say when it changed but it changed; I know exactly when and why but I don't want to talk about it. Stop asking...geeez. And it continues to change.
As my kids get older I miss them more and more. Sure they were cute as babies, but dirty diapers put a damper on the whole "I like to spend time with you" thing. Now, as we near the time when the dirty diapers are more likely to be mine, I miss them and worry about them constantly. I want to hang out with them as they suddenly don't want to be seen with me. I used to be cool to them and now I'm a curiosity at best and a liability most often. My value is in the money in my pocket and my driver's license. They need me less and I feel it more. I also become wiser and more aware of the threats in that big bad world. How can they ever deal with the stuff I am ready to deal with? They are just kids! And as they stop being kids, it is important to remember, THEY WILL ALWAYS BE KIDS!
Hey, world. These are my babies. I still want to cuddle them and protect them. I still want to make sure they are sleeping well, and enjoying a warm sunbeam. I want them to succeed and appreciate their worlds without having to hurt. So be nice to them. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.
Monday, August 6, 2012
A long time ago, the means of communication were relatively tightly controlled and access to them was limited. It took money to start a newspaper, and only the select few got into the paper. Books publishing was limited to those who had run the gauntlet of the publishing game. Movies were made by studios and distributed to approved theaters, and music came from the big labels. When Andy Warhol made his "15 minutes of fame" statement, fame meant something. Sure, it was fleeting, but it meant being in the public eye for a quality 15 minutes. It was a function of supply and demand -- there was a limited supply of public renown and thus, the demand for access to that elite status of visibility was desired by many and achieved by few. Celebrity meant having access to that position as visible.
Over the last 30 years, a major aspect of technological innovation has been the decentralizing of the celebrity business. Sure, this wasn't the intention or goal of technology, but the democratization of access to technology has made the notion of celebrity obsolete. Music can be recorded with the same fidelity in the garage as in the studio, and distribution streams have multiplied -- the proliferation of channels, on TV and on computer which are available to any content creator and not just the "approved" one allows for more final product int he public sphere. Book publishing is now available to most anyone -- heck, even I have a couple of books out there, self published. By the way, buy my books. Books can be sold alongside "real" books and even the idea of the "real" is losing steam as the lines between the traditionally produced and the new-technology products have blurred. Most every type of communication media has been ripped from its safe haven among approved content producers and been cast about for all to see and share. Social media makes everything we do public so we can become the center of attention until the next guy posts on Facebook about whatever is on his mind. We all end up living in the public eye.
One end result has been the compromising of quality of those products and media which find their way into our collective face. There are fewer gate keepers selecting the "best" so we are hit with so many bits of content all vying for our attention. This has also caused an overload in the eyes and minds of the public -- with more songs, books, movies, and products available, and with no intervening agency vetting content to limit my choices to things that the culture creators think I would prefer, I get swamped with choices. My money can no longer go to one of a few choices and show that that particular option outstrips the rest. If 1 million Americans each have 1 dollar to spend, it will no longer be the case that one of 5 available products gets more than 1 fifth of the money and shows its superiority. Now there are ten thousand products so each one gets less of the pie (the revenue pool has remained the same) and each content creator gets less, and has less certainty that his product is demonstrably better than his competitors'.
And of course, with anyone and everyone being able to be thrust into the spotlight as the meme of the moment, the entire notion of the elitist celebrity is gone. When only 10 people starred in movies, they were the A list. Now, anyone can star in a video or a movie which sweeps the nation, and as there are more outlets, content creators have to generate more content. The "57 channels and nothing is on" problem becomes 300 channels and everything is on. Content becomes recursive (there is a reality show coming out where some of the new contestants are the "superfans" whose claim to fame is that they have enough social currency to cash in and be famous). Celebrity for being celebrity evens the playing field. It takes less to separate yourself from the field because there is more demand for personalities. Think of it as adding teams to the league -- more minor league pitchers get to the majors, true, but most of them would otherwise never make it because they simply aren't good enough. Every cook is on a cooking show and only the best becomes a star and then helps choose the next star while every other cook still gets on a show. The star production system becomes transparent and in the meanwhile, more of the runners-up also become famous.
So the upshot is that more people become "famous" but fame becomes less special. Too many roads leading to being the public eye mean that the public stops seeing it as anything out of the ordinary to be visible. Sure, there will still be a cachet to certain flavors of celebrity and the "official" famous people will strive to separate themselves from the nouveau rich-and-famous, but it will become harder and harder for the common man to keep track of all the people he is supposed to admire, and the people who achieve fame will be less and less deserving.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Usually, I get good and angry on the weekends because that's the only time that I read the newspaper. And the newspaper is full of people doing and saying stupid things, god bless 'em.
Today I got mad because I thought about the newspaper. Not about the newspaper in general, but about the comics. When I was young, the comics were hilarious. Some were dry, some silly and some, too intellectual for me even though I knew they were supposed to be funny (Doonsbury, I'm looking at you). But for the most part, they were funny. As I grew older, either my sense of humor dulled or the comics did, because I found that they became more hit and miss. And they all seemed to collude so that when one, especially on a Sunday, wasn't funny, none was, so as not to make that one feel bad. I mean, it is nice to think that Nancy and Dennis the Menace, or Marmaduke and Garfield and Heathcliff all got along for long enough to plan their being collectively unfunny but I wish that they could have agreed that a little kid in Westchester deserved a smile considering he has been waiting ALL WEEK for godssakes.
Comics now are, for the most part, uninteresting. My daily life provides more than enough yucks and I find myself skipping most of the comics (except for Prince Valiant which has, strangely enough, become FUNNIER than I recall from when I was a boy). One which I can't help but look at (like a train wreck) is "Love is." I think I became interested in love at two particular times: the first was when I fell in love. At the time I never read the newspaper so the couple of times I saw the comic, I thought "that's adorable and, gawrsh, spot on." The second time was when Homer Simpson referred to it as "about two naked eight-year-olds who are married" (A Milhouse Divided). That got me thinking. So I started looking at it more and my anger grew into the healthy adult vitriol that typifies my life.
Here's why I hate it.
Let's look at the facts as elucidated by the sage Homer. They are 8 or so. What do they know from love. The girl loves Barbie dolls and the boy loves playing baseball and putting mud on himself and others. This is not the love to which we aspire (I hope) though if you do, more power to you but please don't invite me to dinner. They are naked. I'm not annoyed that they lack genitalia -- that's their choice and I applaud them for being so forward thinking. But I don't like that sometimes the boy wears a hat. A HAT! (find the joke with the punch line, "nu? Maybe someone should visit?" and share my indignation)
I'd like to present my list of things that I can say are what "Love is." I say these with over 19 years (and counting...constantly counting) in the being married business. They are real and reflect more accurately what being married is all about. Some are romantic and some aren't. But I hope most are the kind that you can't tell if they are romantic or just plain gross. Feel free to draw the cartoon for each of these. Just don't tell me about it.
The pronouns here are interchangeable. If it says "he" feel free to replace with "she" or "it." These are not based on anything or anyone in particular, besides, of course, Prince Valiant.
Love is...accepting her flaws because you know, deep down inside, that she is the only one in the world who accepts yours
Love is...defending him even when you know he is wrong
Love is...knowing when not to comment on the stain on his tie
Love is...sitting together and laughing at the other couples who are so, so doomed as they begin their lives together
Love is...still craving attention
Love is...considering a trip to the basement together to do laundry as a date
Love is...tracing the wrinkles as an expression of affection
Love is...eating all the ice cream but being considerate enough to lie about it, or at least not say anything because you hope that she will forget that there was any ice cream
Love is...not commenting about the smell
Love is...fixing the computer for free
Love is...saying she looks good in that dress and meaning it, no matter what dress she's wearing
Love is...pretending to listen, but pretending really sincerely
Love is...having a night out with the girls, but remembering his name when you get home. And not telling what you said about him and that little problem he has
Love is...the inertia of being in a comfortable rut
Love is...leaving a fifty, instead of a twenty on the dresser
Love is...not talking politics
Love is...finding common enemies
Is there more to love than this? Of course. There are the practical jokes, the ruthless jabs and the comfort of knowing that at least one of you will remember to pick up the children, eventually.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
I'm a fairly ok middle aged guy and I have picked up on a few things during my time so hear me out:
1. read, a lot. And read things that don't look interesting. Go to a doctor's appointment and be early so you have to read the magazines there. They won't be familiar to you. Read them.
2. be aware of your surroundings, always. Watch people, listen to sounds. Keep track of what is going on around you.
3. enjoy the weather. Watch clouds move, listen to the rain, see how the sun makes things glint.
4. try things out. If I made a list of all the things that I tried just once or twice, you'd be amazed. I'm not talking about illegal things, but about new experiences. Put yourself in a difficult situation and learn from it.
5. do things people wouldn't expect that you would do. Surprise them and surprise yourself with what you are capable of.
6. consider other people and the effect of your actions on them.
7. combine things that others don't combine. I can't explain this any more fully but when it happens, you'll know.
8. respect your heritage and value your faith. Peple wiser than you have seen the value of religion so don't discount it because something seems difficult or strange to you. 'nuff said on that.
9. anticipate and account for other people's shortcomings. Sometimes you will have to do the thinking for the whole world.
10. listen to the Beatles. Heck, listen to music in general. But really listen. Take it apart and get a sense of the pieces. Do the same for movies, books and everything else. Break everything down and categorize the pieces. See how things reconnect or parallel each other.
11. ask for help. You will rarely be the first to try something. But if you are, volunteer to help others.
12. in general, help others.
13. don't ever think you are done. Everyday starts a new adventure.
14. listen and learn, and appreciate.
15. play catch and don't talk while you are doing it.
16. be you. you don't need make up and product, or an affected personality. Let people meet you as you are. You are worth knowing.
17. eat. eat.
18. don't rely on technology to do all the work; be it for school or amusement, do some of it longhand, yourself.
I'm sure someday I'll think of others but in the meanwhile, consider these.
Tisha B'av is a day on which we remember the pain and suffering of the Jews over the generations. We center on the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem but there were other historical events which shook us as a people. For these I should be sad. For the destruction of the tempole, my eyes should well up with tears. I should be sitting on the floor feeling a sense of personal loss -- a loss I can easily explain and understand, a loss which I know is profound and important in terms of me and my family. And though I observe the restrictions fo the day, and suffer in the limited way which is imposed on me, and though I do, truly yearn for a messianic age I feel the deepest sadness for a different reason.
I am sad because I am not sad.
I am sad because, though I am in touch with the loss that my people have suffered, I can not reject the relatively comfortable position in which I find myself. I am sad because on one, very honest level, I do not want to change a thing about how and where I live. I know I should want to. I know that the dream of return to Zion is central but I am sad that I cannot remove from myself the sense of comfort and complacency which comes from living in the USA. I am not sad that I live here but I am sad that I cannot fully want to live anywhere else. And I say this quite deliberately. I think I WANT to want to live in Israel in a messianic age, but that selfish and lazy part of me celebrates that I live somewhere where I am relatively safe and able to practice my religion and language of choice. I admire those who move to Israel and I do see the allure but I can't get myself to drop everything, express the truest form of faith and move to Israel with no plan because I know that things will work out. I know I should want that and I know that I should be bemoaning my fate that I can't. But instead I am ashamed because I don't want to.
But then I remember that Tisha B'av is destined to be a day which marks the dawn of redemption. What does that mean? Does it mean the birth of the messiah? I hope so. But I hope that the sadness I feel over not being sad gives birth in me or in others the right kind of sadness which motivates us as reunite as a people. Maybe by suffering a bit I can remind myself that my position in the USA is, while comfortable, one of being a guest. I hope that this day and the introspection and self realization which I am sharing drives one person to look at the day and say "I do feel that I should be elsewhere and I'm going to do something about it." Or at least "I do see that I should be sad about the sins which put us in this situation, and instead of saying I like my life too much and it is easier to keep doing them, I am going to stop committing these sins."
May we all suffer a little so we can refocus and feel the losses which have crafted our identity, and feel those losses in a way that teaches to feel sadness in a real, affecting way. May we all say next year in Jeruslaem and mean it. May our prayers reflect our souls not just our lips.
Friday, July 27, 2012
I work in a school [note that one could put each word in that sentence in quotes and get a wonderful range of sarcastic meanings out of such a short sentence]. Over the summer, there is less to do in the way of actual teaching (though the empty classrooms often provide a better environment) so the school opens itself up to a summer camp. Thus I find myself hip deep in little kids. They are, I guess, the future of my people. They also give me an insight into the developmental stages of the human brain.
I walked through the cafeteria to snag some of the mediocre coffee which the camp provides for its counselors and staff. I have no guilt about this -- students take stuff from the teachers' room with my permission throughout the school year and I'm just saving them from drinking mediocre coffee. They should be thanking me. On my way through I passed a table of young 'uns. The first lunch shift had begun and these 4-5 year old boys were eagerly scarfing down their plates of plain noodles, and (I discovered this by asking) their french toast and maple syrup. The syrup comes in packets which look like those freezer pops -- long, thin, soft plastic tubes. Most of the campers simply ripped open one end and dumped the syrup on the plate or at least the table and dipped the french toast in. Others dipped their fingers in either to then suck the syrup off or to wipe their fingers in their friends' hair. They are, after all, boys, and if they don't do something dirty and destructive every few minutes, they disappear. So on the scale of inventiveness, I saw these boys as the average: syrup is applied to surface and then manipulated.
A bit higher up on the scale is the kid who took the packet and treated it like the freezer pop or the portable yogurt, by sucking on the package and drinking the syrup directly. This is the child who recognizes the instant gratification of the maple sugar rush and who skips the intermediary. He isn't pouring it out and then slurping it up -- he is getting it from the source. Already by the age of 5 he has developed a different sense of how to satisfy his needs. Super to him, I say. Normally, these are the two groups -- the average and the different. Today, I saw something which amazed me -- a third group.
One little boy took his packet of syrup and (stay with me on this because it's brilliant) poured it into his water bottle. He then sipped at the water bottle. You hear that? He combined two unrelated lunch items to create a totally new product! MAPLE WATER! This is the kind of thinking that demonstrates that this kid sees the world very differently. He is a giant among 4-5 year olds and though that isn't really all that large, it still is something! Others tried to laugh at him and he persisted, selling them on the idea by drinking and commenting on how delicious it was.
How do this bravery and innovative thinking develop? Did his parents foster this by forcing him to do something or watch something? Is it just an inborn and unique trait? What, if it is encouraged, will this thinking outside the bottle lead to in the way of great inventions in the future. Where can I invest in this boy?
What kind of a lunch is french toast?
Monday, July 23, 2012
Unless you're a bug. God, how I hate bugs.
Mostly, I hate spiders. With all those legs and their smug sense of satisfaction. But bees are pretty high on that list also. And flies. And those bugs that we call godzillapedes because they have all those legs and rumor has it, they tend to destroy Tokyo. And you know what other bug is on my list? All of them.
"Sure," you say, "They are small and for the most part, harmless. They are afraid of you more than you are of them."
See, here's the problem with your logic:
1. their brains are teeny-tiny. There is no place in there for awareness of me and my bug-squashing potential, let alone a complex emotion like fear.
2. if they were that afraid of me, they would stop coming near me and into my house which is clearly marked with my name on the front door.
I once heard some statistic that you are never more than 6 feet from a spider, even in your house. I had to go buy a new house. (Notice how I avoided the "6 feet but 8 legs" type of joke. Your're welcome.)
So this morning, I went into the bathroom to do the kinds of things one does there and I heard a buzzing. Since we have recently been infested by flies, I expected to find a fly. Instead I saw, buzzing against the window, a bug which I recall from my time in the Paleozoic era. It had a wingspan of about t---h---i---s and a long translucent body and spindly legs. I tried taking a picture of my phone and then using the Google Goggles app to identify it. The phone came up with the message "Man, that's a huge bug. Don't stand there taking pictures. Run." I tried opening the window so it would fly out. Though I hate bugs, I do usually try to set them free. I hope they will report back to their superiors that I'm a good egg, and they will leave me alone in the future. I remember when we were first infested with Indian Meal Moths. We trapped them in cups and eventually, Cosco ran out of cups. Only then did we buy spray. And move out of the apartment.
I opened the window, but if you recall, bugs have those teeny-tiny brains. It ended up falling in between the panes of class and was unable to climb out. I tried lifting it up by closing the window, hoping that if it didn't get lifted up, at least it would get smooshed. That way, I could claim that I didn't mean to kill it and it was the window's fault. Apparently, whoever designed our replacement windows factored in a bug-haven -- a gap just large enough to hold this particular bug safely and snugly. So I have a stupid, but comfy bug. I'm planning on starving him out or possibly smashing the window with a hammer and hoping he gets cut on a shard of the window plastic and contracts some infection and eventually gets gangrene and dies. Again, not my fault; I was trying to set him free.
And anyway, how in the world did he get into my house and all the way upstairs to the bathroom (the door of which was closed)? This is a bug which couldn't find the open window in a closed room, but somehow he got IN to my house? If I had found him near the front door I might have assumed that he had a key, or came in on that day's mail. But he ended up in a closed, interior room. I have visions of a Mission Impossible type group of bugs sneaking into my house. This is not the image of safety and security I had in mind when I invested in real estate.
I was at my brother's house yesterday and he commented that he had had problems with various bugs. He mentioned carpenter bees (I think it is a union thing) and he had a can of spray so he could take care of the problem. This can, according to its own PR, sent a spray up to 27 feet in order to kill bugs. I like that. No bug getting within 25 feet of me would be excellent so I'm thinking of attaching a set of cans of this spray to the exterior of my house and making a chemical perimeter. Just call before you come over so I can create a channel for you to enter through.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
I have been following all the fooferaw surrounding the inclusion of a moment of silence during the opening ceremonies of the upcoming London Olympics to commemorate the murder, 40 years ago, of the 11 members of the Israeli team. There seems to be a concern on the part of the IOC that such a display would politicize the games. This is, of course, hogwash but the tension over having the moment is real and has significantly more reasonable roots.
The IOC and the Israeli government are operating from opposite sides of a cultural rift that neither will acknowledge. In the secular world, happy events are kept happy and sad ones, sad. This is the emotional equivalent of either the hot side staying hot and the cool side cool, or east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet, depending on your position on the ladder of cultural elitism.
Judaism believes just the opposite. We are commanded at the moments of our most profound joy to inject reminders of sadness: the breaking of a glass at a wedding is the prime example. We are conditioned to temper our happiness and never forget national tragedies (Bill Shakespeare tapped into this in the beginning of Hamlet as Claudius insists on mixing happiness and sadness. Look it up).
So what we have is a disagreement not about politicization but about completely different understandings of the place for tragedy in the realm of celebration.
And, sadly, when it comes to disagreements based on entrenched cultural positions, never the twain shall meet.
Now, four days after writing this I realize what a poor, pathetic and uninformed sap I have been. I put the dan in dan l'chaf z'chut.
I read the following statement:
"It wasn’t inappropriate to have a moment of silence at the Vancouver Winter Olympics two years ago in honor of Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili, a luger who died in a training accident. It wasn’t inappropriate ten years ago during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, to parade a 9-11 flag during the opening ceremonies in honor of the victims of the World Trade Center Bombing."
in this website (not, i do not condone the use of foul language). If this is all true, then the decision is no longer about the cultural separation between the two religious worlds, but is an intentional insensitivity (at the least) towards the plight of Jewish victims. I apologize for my naivete.
they had a moment of silence during the opening ceremony. For the Londoners killed in the terrorist attack of 7/7. Let's see. They have a moment for another olympic athlete who died. They have a moment for people killed by terrorists. But they don't have a moment for athletes killed by terrorists. Interesting loophole.
Friday, July 13, 2012
Because I'm crazy.
Yes, that's right folks, I'm taking inventory of what makes me nuts and number 1 on the list is my thing about time and deadlines. If we get a bill, I prefer to pay it at that moment. If we have to be someplace, I like to be there 15 minutes early (to acclimate!) and I get all antsy and can't breathe when it becomes possible that I will be late to something. I just hate it. If I have tickets to a baseball game at 7PM, I'd rather leave home at 3:30, avoid the traffic, get my choice of parking spot and beat the crowds even if it means I get to the stadium before the players. But once I get in to the stadium, do I walk around and admire things? NO. I must get to my seat and sit in it. So what if nothing is happening. That's my seat and I'm gonna use it. If I go to the movies, now, understand, I KNOW that there are 15 minutes of trailers and movies at 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon are rarely sold out, I need to be in my seat about 10 minutes BEFORE the listed start time. Is it about getting the best, or the right seat in the theater? No -- that would be rational. It is simply about being there.
A vacation? Don't take me. I'm hopeless. I'll be done packing 4 days in advance and will be sitting holding my ticket by the front door 3 hours before taxi is due. And I asked the taxi to come 2 hours before even the most conservative estimate said we had to leave to get to the airport on time. For a short vacation, I'm often packed and ready to leave 5 minutes after we arrive. Relaxation is not an option. [n.b. this is why when people ask whether I'm going anywhere for vacation I say "no -- being here is vacation if everyone else goes away; I'll relax when I don't have to be ready to do anything."]
Shabbos comes every Friday night (and, as I have noted in an earlier post, Judaism coddles my OCD-ness by having precisely calculated start times that are ever shifting but printed on myriad calendars with which I can surround myself) and at about 12 noon, I start getting into a pre-Sabbath frenzy. No one should leave the house, make appointments or do ANYTHING which is even potentially unrelated to Shabbos preparations.
And when my favorite TV show comes on, I want to be in the proper seated position with the phone, the remote and a snack all around me so I don't have to move or miss anything. Could I DVR the show? Yes, but then watching it isn't "at the moment" and is an inauthentic experience. It doesn't count.
I'd tell you more but I just heard a motor which might be the truck which the mailman drives so I have to run and get my checkbook. I want to pay the bills as soon as he gets here.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
I like to have access to a lot of stuff and this is one of the strengths of the internet as it appears on my computer. Instead of having to close a page whenever I want to go somewhere else, or open a new browser (which then soaks up more memory) I have been advised to use the tabs on my (Opera/Safari/Firefox/IExplorer/Chrome) browser. I do that, keeping between 4 and 40 tabs open depending on where I am. And what I'm about to say has nothing to do with the computer I am on -- this is a function of the internet itself.
There is too much stuff being thrown at me and it is getting on my nerves.
Look, I understand about feature rich content and ad driven sales and click throughs and multimedia and all sorts of other words which are codes for "suck the money from my pocket" but this is getting ridiculous. When I try to open up a series of tabs which I am browsing through the news, I should not have to wait 5 minutes until my computer unfreezes. Too much stuff is being attempted and the computer just can't do it all, in the background, the foreground, uptown and downtown. Between the ads, frames, forms, videos, slide shows, applets and plug-ins, I end up losing interest in the actual stuff I wanted to read! When I say 5 minutes, by the way, I am exaggerating -- today, and this is truth time, the computer froze for 3 minutes while it attempted to open a window and access all the stuff around the article I wanted to read. This is while I'm working on a fancy computer on a fancy work network, not some netbook with 16k of RAM and a dial up connection. Some sites don't work at all and I just give up. This can't be what they are going for. And then, in teh corner it says "Done" but it isn't done! That little progress bar reappears and then I get "done but with error on page" or "waiting for..." something or other. Then "done" and then not. All while I am frozen out of anything I have been trying to work on.
I don't want all that junk. I know that ads and linked videos and sharing apps are all so important to the economy of the future, but they end up frustrating me and making me resent (and thus ignore) all those other bells and whistles and accoutrements to a web page. Just give me the content and move on. I'll appreciate it more, I promise.
And here is a website I stumbled on while I was checking my spelling http://www.accoutrements.com/shop/ .
And that's why the internet is a computer's best friend. About the title? I didn't write that. Blame the internet.