Friday, August 22, 2008

You're Welcome to My Week

I wearied of the me me me quality here and aspired to loftier writing this week, a piece about Religion and China and the Holocaust and what the African American community faces if Obama is elected, and if he isn’t. I did a lot of poking around about Hannah Arendt on the net. I wanted to be a serious writer for a moment and have these notions stirring about, but my self consciousness about writing that begs so much more sophistication than my usual blather about what an asshole my husband is for refusing to use the cell phone just made the writing get more and more stupid. It bothers me if I don’t have at least one finished 1300 word piece a week and posting here at the end of the week is always a nice way to get into a Shabbat mode. I have no great philosophical treatise and my time is limited. Let me tell you about my week.

The kids came home. I did a lot of laundry. The refrigerator, my gas tank and my wallet have emptied quickly. They have been taken to medical and orthodontic appointments and to movies, and sleepovers and last night, from the acme of end of summer boredom, to the Paseo to “hang out”. Spuds has undertaken the real guitar although we are about 900 pages behind schedule on War and Peace. He can pick out Smoke on the Water on his real guitar. We all hope he learns to tune it soon. That is one advantage of Guitar Hero.

Spuds and I were excited about seeing our first Manny Ramirez game. He recently came on board and has really turned the team around and we were in a tie for first place in the division for nearly two weeks. The vendors were already selling long black braids sewn into doo rags ala the ones Manny sports, and many folks were wearing them. Manny only managed a single and it was a big mess of a game but Greg Maddox, another promising player, was on the bench and will start over the weekend. I missed our Dodger ritual while he was at camp and am wistful that there are only a few games left, not deluding myself that we will be playoff, let alone series, material.

We enter the stadium from the same entrance and Spuds holds the parking pass. We park in the same area and establish points of reference with the letters in the Think Blue (this week changed to Think Cure) sign imbedded in the hillside as latitude and specific palm trees (the one with the baby tree growing out of it…the second tallest one) as latitude. We go to the only friendly guard to have our bags searched. He is always interested in new products from Trader Joe’s.

We bring our own snacks, having not spent one penny on the Dodger concessions, all season. We noticed that when there was a promo on the jumbotron for stadium concessions, none of the foods photographs are art directed, and we laugh hysterically at how disgusting the Philly Cheese Steaks, and the Nachos and Panda Express plates look Spuds brings Skittles and Diet Dr. Pepper and I have black licorice and Coke Zero. We share a bag of popcorn. I listen, with headphones to Vin Scully on the radio and report his interesting tidbits about the players to Spuds.

We watch the jumbletron between innings and always ace the Disney animated hat shuffle game. The Coke Challenge baseball trivia game has become a bit more challenging and I usually get the wrong answer. We like the fan-cam.. Sometimes they play California Girls and the camera travels in search of attractive gals of all ages. There is one segment sponsored by Delta Dental which has people smiling and my favorite, sponsored by Smash Box Cosmetics is the Kiss cam. Although, sometimes it lands on couples who obviously don’t like each other and sometimes people kiss with blatant tongue.

A few times, a man has proposed to a woman on the At the last game the man and woman were probably in their sixties. She seemed shell shocked. It was hard to tell if she was happy. Usually the proposee starts to blubber and of course, Spuds and I blubber too. They did hold up a big heart stickered sign that said , “She Said “YES.” I wonder if they have a sign that says “She Said NO” too. Evidence that the question popping wasn’t totally planned in advance was that the enormous ring he presented was too small and when she tried to jam it on, the camera cut away abruptly.

We put our arms around each other and sing and raise our fists high at the word “Dodgers” when Nancy Bea plays Take Me out to the Ball Game on the organ for the seventh inning stretch. Sometimes we’ll stay to the end but if there is no drama, we’ll leave during a pitching change in the eighth or ninth. Usually we’re home in time to pick up where we left off, having a record of seven minutes from Stadium to Casamurphy. We watch the end of the game on t.v. We promise to read War and Peace after but we don’t.

I attended Poppy’s packed funeral mass in a big modern Catholic church. The priest spoke about being broken hearted and confused about God at times like this. He assured us that Poppy, a Christian, was being welcomed into heaven. The word “heaven” has always conjured a pre-Raphaelite tableau of chubby angels and tables laden lavishly with food, heavy on grapes, which I don’t particularly like. Religious scholars state, that while it is seldom depicted in art, there is sex in heaven. We are reminded though that the sex worthy of heaven is more about the mingling of souls than the congress of bodies. When the priest said that Christians will be welcomed into heaven, I wondered if it were only for the sake of brevity, he didn’t add, “as will anyone who honors the creator of the universe be welcomed into heaven too”. I’m sure he meant that. Poppy wouldn’t keep me out of heaven. The thought of Poppy’s death and her children and her brave husband and her non-Christian father and the fucking inexplicable hardness of it raised, at that funeral mass, my consciousness about heaven. Heaven must be the absence of consciousness.

I am reading a book of stories about African children by Uwen Akpan, a Nigerian Jesuit priest. These are the saddest stories I have ever read. A few times in my life I have read something that I wish I had not read. There are some images of degradation from Akpan’s tales that I will never be able to erase. Nor, will I ever be righteous enough to respond to them in a meaningful way. But Akpan, a Catholic priest, like the man who comforted the mourners at Poppy’s funeral, makes me hate him for telling me things I do not want to know but also comforts me with the certainly and promise of gentle redemption. The mass for Poppy may have neglected to mention that heaven is for those who are righteous or would be righteous but Akpan assures us that heaven is for everyone.

Clara and I drove through heavy traffic down Wilshire, close to where my father, dead now nearly a year, lived. I thought about Poppy’s funeral and her scrapbook pages which decorated the foyer of the church, pictures from her life there on a few dozen brightly colored cardboard pages. I thought about the children in Akpan’s fictional stories and knew that real children, children whose mothers love them like I love my children, will be debased and ruined. I asked, “How, in a world of unspeakable sorrow and misery, should I live?” Clara, circumspect as ever, had no response. The answers change with every step of the journey. We were late, delayed in traffic on the Miracle Mile.

Shabbat Shalom.

1 comment:

FionnchĂș said...

I'm trying to compose in Irish on my little read blog (gee, I wonder why?) about L's China & Religion thoughts that she shared with me if not above. I think she should!

We encountered an article on our little beleaguered temple in the current issue of "Los Angeles" magazine by Ed Leibowitz, from of course N.J. Like every transplant, he tells us natives about what we overlook. He also has come to middle-aged Jewish life confronting the same questions most of those MOT's I know do, and Layne herself discusses here.

The lengthy article touched me, but I admit I was very disappointed that the quondam congregant whom I'd never met (no surprise as he comes about as often as we do of late) failed to mention Layne among those who helped the temple survive. The missus, I hope, is not numbered among the "hordes from Mt. Washington" blamed for trying to make the temple hipper in the mid-90s. Or at least to have a hostile takeover of it for their own guitar-playing singalong Shabbat. Au contraire, she remained loyal to the oldsters now commemorated on the memorial plaques, and I wish Layne got a nod, not that she'd ever want one.

The problem at the little temple in hispanized L.A., as always with Judaism: what about the kids? Leibowitz' news that there's a kiddie cohort again for his son Isaac-- as there was when we helped start one in those mid-90s-- is great. The cycle we were part of a decade and more ago repeats, and this for Judaism however attenuated does bode hope. However, we live in a neighborhood sharply divided by demographics, poor public schools, and cultural divisions. It's a nice place to settle in when you're a couple, but ten years on, many families drift off to upwardly mobile 'burbs, or at least spend more time and income in them than closer to home. So, once the kids mature past tot Shabbat, will they stay for the traditional service with the elders? Here's the test. Perhaps we flunked it.

As I think about Leo and Niall and our own less-than-enthusiastic reactions to the meager fare spiritually available on the average Saturday at any synagogue we've found, I wonder if my skepticism's to blame for our fate. But, I can't fake it. As a harsh critic, I suppose I'll never find my niche. Layne's also searching for hers, and we find much solace in our shared quest. It's taken us far in our twenty years, and its very presence sparked our romance and commitment on a profound if inarticulate level.

I guess the combo of guilt inherited by me (and Henry bless him is noted for his "pitch-perfect" Belfast brogue used to chide we laggards and no-shows when we do skulk into the shul) and adopted by me burdens me again. I'd prefer a Quaker meeting! I long for silence and time for introspection, but a Jewish service emphasizes the communal effort, the tribe, the heritage celebrated anew among insiders and adherents.

It can be a daunting service for the uninitiated, those with short attention spans, or the young.
Should I castigate myself for Layne's confusion, my inability to buy into any denominational program, my aloofness from those with whom I sit in a pew? Or, have we as a family matured to be able to take our own questions more often into the home-- which is the heart of the Jewish experience anyway, not a temple? (The $100 million sought for the triple-campus building plan by the only temple older than TBI surviving in L.A., Wilshire Blvd., a bit to the contrary, perhaps?)

For Layne, there's the ancestral link she's recharged, and my sons at JCA camp I think caught energy off this thread, if by clutching a pro-IDF strand from some sabra counselors! Still, such awareness of mispocha and pride in belonging ties together the hundred generations since the Hebrews wandered, their very name tied to "border-crossers," three thousand years ago. I'm proud of Layne and my sons for this tribal tie, and for her perceptions of it passed on to me and our blue-eyed boyos.

So, Layne, tell us about Arendt and bibles and Ukan Akpan's stories. You ask tough questions on the endless 101 to Oxnard that I want you to ask your readers. Don't keep them just for me. (Ask Dr. Bob, for example!)

I find myself writing about and reading about religion more and more, even if my own search on myriad paths does not further a Yiddishkeit which inevitably could not nourish Irish-addled me. Intellectually, I tend to connect with belief. My soul, chilly if you'd ask my spouse, remains harder to wear down to anyone's ministrations. Yet, we deep down, I as with my family, do identify at a nearly subcutaneous level, as when I read the "Forward" or think about my soul's orientation, with those who gather more faithfully than we can at Temple Beth Israel.