Thursday, February 20, 2014

Alumn in my Throat

She was mysterious. I later found out that mystery she was wrestling with is “Why am I taking a class that starts so early?” but all I saw was a beautiful, mysterious woman habitually late for English 11A. When we finally, officially met, it wasn't fireworks but laughter; it was shared TV time and Shabbat meals; it was long talks between friends and it didn't become anything more for a while. There was no sweeping off of feet or whirlwinds (romantic or otherwise). There was the marriage of true minds. The compatibility borne of conversations sans romantic subtext. Two friends, busy with our lives, but willing to take the time to share a story or provide a sounding board.

Julie and I found each other because we weren't looking for anyone. There was no pressure because there was no agenda. I like to imagine that that’s how it was with my parents (themselves a Brandeis couple) but who knows. Maybe we stumbled on a formula that others weren't fortunate enough to find. Maybe my parents had their own kind of magic. I try not to think about it…that’s icky.

From the info booth to the radio station, BEMCO to Boris. From unnatural triples to singles to suites. From Sherman to The Snackerie. Julie and I grew together before we knew that we were even doing so. The decision to date was easy because when we finally realized that there was something there, we were already beyond that. There and back. And we’re still there – 20 plus years later, still watching TV together, doing crosswords as a competition and making each other laugh. Sharing our lives on a satellite Brandeis campus we have made for just our family.

And Julie? Still mysterious, still habitually late and she still hates mornings.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


I found myself reading the newest edition of Brandeis Magazine (otherwise known as "Look at what all your friends and fellow alumni have accomplished while you sit there biting your toenails Magazine") and I stumbled upon an article. No, not the one about the graduate who wrote a book about the Pope and Mussolini. Not the one about the current track star who survived growing up Sierra Leone. Not even the one about the U.N. Undersecretary or the one about the doctor from the class of 1973 who also won the lottery. This is a small article (page 39) about a manuscript by Herbert Marcuse.

Please excuse my ignorance. In my extensive world travels (Israel and Florida) I have never run into any mention of Prof. Marcuse. His name has never come up over dinner, or even after dinner. But, hey, he must be somebody important because there it is, his long forgotten manuscript recently found, gracing the pages of my University of You Suck at Life alumni mag.

But here's the thing. Why is it worthy of note? Is there something revelatory about the content? No. Does it change the way we live our lives now? No. Do we have to rethink our approach to Hegelian philosophy because of it? Well, I'll give it a try. What's Hegelian philosophy? Time to check the google. BRB.

That's it? Transcendental idealism? Why didn't you just say so. No, no change.

Anyway, do you know what the big deal is about this manuscript that garnered it two thirds of a page while my recent cold didn't merit a mention?

They found it.

Yup. That's it. They found a manuscript. It had been placed in a box and the box had been stored "off site" (which means "in my mom's attic and she finally told me to clear out my junk") and now it has been found. It was so important that when they got it they put it in a really secure box and then forgot about it for 50 years. Big news...we screwed up 50 years ago and now we found it so, yay. Should I be burying my pearls of mediocrity in the hope that in 50 years someone will "find" it and it will then be considered genius?* Should I be mailing my words to the most irresponsible person I can imagine so that when his heirs come to their senses and finally pry the top off the coffee can in the crawl space, they will "discover" my work? Aren't we just rewarding the sloppy record keeping of the previous generation? This shouldn't be an article but an apology. What kind of confidence can I have in an institutional library that lost something which is supposedly so essential to its collection? What else have they lost that we get to celebrate when we get lucky and find it? Maybe we should stop looking for things so that we don't find them for another 50 years. Then that would be really neat.

So congrats to the university library for undoing a 50 year old error which has no real consequence other than make me think that the hiring standards for librarians were ridiculously low. Good job taking pride in admitting that you can't keep track of what people give you. Kudos to the magazine for spinning what should be an embarrassment into something to crow about. I'll keep my Gutenberg Bible and my First Folio until you people get your act together.

*It is genius now. If you can't see that, maybe it isn't my work which should be forgotten about for 50 years. Nyah nyah.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Self Help

I have decided to write a self help book. I encourage you to go out and buy many, many copies.

I often stumble upon truths which, if widely disseminated, might help avoid conflict and line my pockets with royalties and I would like to start listing some of these truths.

As I stated on facebook recently, the thing that gets men in trouble with women is "adjectives." Tell a man to do something using nouns and verbs and BAM, it gets done. When you start describing details, that's when things get dicey. And adverbs? Chuck 'em. Don't tell us how to do it because that will just ensure that we do it wrong since men and women speak different languages. Raking the leaves is quite different from "rake the leaves well" and that "well" is different to a man and a women.

Also, women, understand that men don't feel the need to wash clothes that they just bought before they wear them because they don't buy clothes to take home, wear and return. We buy the stuff we want. If it is in the store, odds are, no man has tried it on. So when I decide on it, I can be pretty sure it is clean. Women use the store as a warehouse and the bedroom as a dressing room to try on 10 dresses for their friends and decide on 1. They then return 8 because they might change their mind about the block one with the lacy thing on. Damn adjectives.

It is completely impossible to share a tube of toothpaste with someone without one of the involved parties being unhappy with the way the tube is handled or used. To avoid conflict, keep separate tubes of toothpaste.

If you were on Atkins, you wouldn't care about why hot dogs and hot dog buns have different numbers in their packaging. Simplify, man. Simplify.

Every person is required during his lifetime to buy 12 pens. After he meets that quota he is allowed, nay, expected to pick up any pen he finds on the ground and use it until he forgets it somewhere and someone else picks it up.

The following things only matter if they are followed by a particular phrase: furniture, paper weights, rental cars, turtles, diet salad dressing. The required phrase is "when they explode in a movie."

Professional athletes, movie stars and political figures have a job to do. Pay attention to the job they do and not their personal habits. Your life will be much less cluttered.

Emotional baggage should have wheels. [I'm still working on that one]

Child safety caps for pill bottles wouldn't be necessary if we developed the habit of putting pill bottles away someplace where kids don't play. Putting a safety on a gun encourages us to leave the gun on the dining room table.

Squirrels are just so damned cute. If you think otherwise, you are wrong.

Pie is not easy. If it were easy, it wouldn't be pie. It would be a piece of cake. A piece of cake IS easy. That's why it is a piece of cake and not pie.

Girls always tilt their heads to the side when they get their picture taken. Girls also like The Kiss by Klimt. Now you know why.

It's a cell phone, not a life support system. Your social life should not demand that you interrupt your social life to be anti-social and check your phone to comment on your social life.

Left turns use more muscles than right turns. If you want to lose weight, make more left turns. And frown. Frowning encourages weight loss because no one asks you out to dinner.

Children are a gift. When you leave the hospital, keep the receipt.

These will be in my self-help book. By buying it, you will give me money and that will be a help to me, myself. I hope you didn't think this was an "Other Help" book. Charity begins at home. My home.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

This year, do us a favor and stay home

I received an email this evening which has me mad. It touches on a topic which has inspired my ire in the past (and actually prompted an anonymous contribution to a local paper) but now I wish to step out of the shadows and proclaim to the 3 Armenians who regularly read this blog exactly how incensed I am.

The email was from a “Kosher Kouponz” site which provides deals of interest to the Jewish community. This one was entitled “WITH THESE PRICES YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO STAY HOME FOR PESACH!” and it was offering a travel plan for the Passover holiday. I don’t know where and I don’t know what is included, but the price for the 9 or so days was about $3100 per couple. Let than sink in.

Three thousand, one hundred dollars per couple for 9 days. Do the division – over three hundred dollars a day.

Now, I know what you are going to say (in Armenian, no doubt) -- $300 covers a hotel room, endless food, religious services, speakers and classes plus, probably, all sorts of other things like child care and nightlife; not a bad deal.

I don’t care.

I’ll tell you why. Passover is a big deal. We clean the house pretty thoroughly, buy all sorts of special food and really, try to raise our level of awareness and spirituality for the holiday which commemorates our Exodus from slavery and our national move into the care of God, becoming His people. It is a pretty big deal. And maybe it is more convenient not to have to cook and clean as much. And maybe, it is nice to get away and have horse back riding in between brunch and lunch. And maybe the idea of having to wash our own lettuce and fluff our own pillows is just too daunting for the current Jewish people. And if so, that’s just sad. And disgusting. We may be a free people serving God but we don’t have to serve caviar. We may be a holy people consuming ritual foods, but since when must there also be conspicuous consumption? And how can we, as a people, ever choose to spend three grand PER couple (kids extra) when there are those in our communities and our world – Jewish and not – who can’t afford to eat a simple meal? How can we say the text of the Seder in which we invite the poor person to eat with us when we are insulated by a squadron of waiters and bellhops? Where is the sincere wish to join our brethren in God’s service when we are more interested in being served?

Currently, there is what we call a “tuition crisis” in the religious Jewish world. The cost for private education is daunting with yeshiva costs running over 20 thousand dollars a year. Just to make ends meet is becoming more and more difficult. So, yes, I appreciate that there are those who have made it big – who live in grand houses with nice cars and who can afford to go to the spiritual homelands of the Bahamas or Arizona (or in the case of this ad, scenic Trenton), which is exactly what Moses and the Sages of the Great Assembly had in mind, but for this email to assume that the price point which makes it reasonable for everyone else is 3k? That’s a slap in the face of the religious Jew who struggles and has to explain to his kids why everyone else bugs out in the spring and yet still says that there is a tuition crisis while they have to stay at home.

Are our priorities so out of whack that we can’t tolerate being in our own homes? Do we really think that the, I guess five thousand dollars that a family of 5 (pretty standard in this neck of the woods) has to lay out to go away for a week and a half is really best spent on such a trip? Could that family choose to stay home, buy even $1000 worth of food, spend $500 on a house cleaning service and attend their own synagogue and religious classes and donate the balance to a charity? Are we really that superficial and foolhardy? Even if I did have the money to go away for Passover (and trust me, I wish I did and I wish I could go be pampered for 10 days) I wouldn't do it because it would send the message to my kids that money is best spent not on education, or bettering the lives of those around us, but on room service and massages.

Religion may be communal, but there is nothing wrong with the local and established community. We don’t have to fly elsewhere just to find God. And we can’t fly elsewhere to try and escape Him.

So please – if you read this and are considering going away for Passover (to ANYWHERE that isn't the private house of a family or friend) reconsider. Passover does not have to break the bank. It does not have to force anyone to mortgage our collective future to keep up with the Cohensteins. It should be about how we express what is truly important, and that doesn't require turn-down service and day spas.

Make a matzah sandwich for yourself, read a book in your own living room and give some money so starving babies can live.