Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Original Stimulus Package

The Original Stimulus Package

I know you’re out there. Google Analytics, I discover, reveals the location by city for partakers of my self righteous tripe here. I give a shout out to friends in Eire and Kansas City and thanks to you and also to the far flung readers I have never met, who all conspire along with me to make some sense of this friggin’ journey. I write here to keep my spirits from flagging and am usually successful but faithful and beloved reader Kaz notes a subtle sense of despair in my last few entries.

I tell Spuds that I don’t know where we’ll be next year this time but that it’s a challenge and an adventure we are taking together. And it’s true. Dammit. Really. But, everyday it is harder and harder to put a positive spin on spinning out of control. I exacerbate things myself by taking weepy suffering poses to mask my paralysis at making critical but excruciating decisions. I tell the kids they can go to the movies but then the suffering glance they catch when I’m forking over the cash wrecks it for them. So, I am determined to stop with the waterworks, and stay “no drama” like someone who’s facing decisions far more daunting than my own..

Obama is moving right ahead. I am pleased about many things but particularly the allocations that the stimulus package included for alternative energy, education and healthcare. It is a gamble that throwing money at these priorities will hugely expand the future tax base. It is also obvious that the short term costs doom us to further foreign indebtedness. I wonder if in a world recession, the usual moneybags--oil rich or labor cheap countries-- are able to smack down nearly a trillion dollars. Because world recovery so hinges on the U.S. economy somehow I guess the monies will get ponyed up and within a year or two things will probably be better than they are now.

So, I’m fastening my seatbelt and putting the brakes on the theatrics. I have asked Himself, in exchange for my new zen inspired mien, to try and at least feign a bit of optimism. I promise I will not exploit this bargain by fawning too much over Obama. But, the stimulus package even includes monies for the National Endowment for the Arts. Which means filmmakers who would need footage.

On two separate Friday rush hours I drive Spuds and then the 16 year old to an audition suite in Hollywood to read for different roles in a film with Emily Watson and John C. Reilly. I recognize the casting director as the mother of a girl Spuds went to preschool with. She says to Spuds, “I don’t remember your mother looking like that,” but does not address me directly at either audition. Except for the children’s theatre, this is the first time they’ve auditioned. They want to do it, although Spuds keeps reminding me that he knows about Gary Coleman’s parents and he intends to hire an independent financial manager. Most of Spuds’ lines include “fuck” and the sixteen year old gets to say “Suck my cock,” and then later he gets his nose cut off.

I succumb to pressure a few times and show a degree of emotion that unsettles my family but for the most part we keep close. I try to inspire the belief that showing and feeling love brings out everyone’s best and fortifies us for slaying dragons and walking on water. Himself and I have one snit after a few rounds of “Who’s the Biggest Martyr.” He parks himself on the couch, pouting in my fluffy robe for a bit until we decide to stop being assholes. Our better selves mostly prevail. I read a line in a book about an old couple who had been together for years and the knowing that one of them would almost inevitably have to live without the other. We cling fast whispering under the covers. I say “maybe someday when we are really old, we will die together just like we are now.” Doubting the probability of this, I posit the slight variation, “Just like we are now, but in a running car inside a closed garage.”

The New York Times ran an article about studies of sexual response called “What Do Women Want”
A Canadian researcher runs porn for people and they indicate on a keyboard whether and to what degree they are aroused. To keep subjects honest, they are also fitted with plethysmographs. The male version fits over the penis and gauges swelling. The female model is a vaginal light probe that measures the engorgement of blood. The repertoire has gay sex, hertero sex, lesbian sex, a man masturbating, a woman masturbating, a buff naked man walking on the beach, a naked woman doing stretching exercises and bonobo apes copulating. Keyboard and plethysmographs were pretty much in agreement on the the male subjects. The females’ keyboard responses though were quite disparate to the measure of lubrication created by engorgement.

“No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, they showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men. They responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man, and their blood flow rose quickly — and markedly, though to a lesser degree than during all the human scenes except the footage of the ambling, strapping man — as they watched the apes. And with the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person. The readings from the plethysmograph and the keypad weren’t in much accord. During shots of lesbian coupling, heterosexual women reported less excitement than their vaginas indicated; watching gay men, they reported a great deal less; and viewing heterosexual intercourse, they reported much more. Among the lesbian volunteers, the two readings converged when women appeared on the screen. But when the films featured only men, the lesbians reported less engagement than the plethysmograph recorded. Whether straight or gay, the women claimed almost no arousal whatsoever while staring at the bonobos.”

When Spuds turned four we took him and some friends to Medieval Times and after the show we went to see the horses in their stables. We came to an enormous white stallion in a state of arousal and it quite jaw droppingly drove home the concept of “hung like a horse.” There was an awed silence. The bonobo article went on to explain that the naked man on the beach was not in a state of arousal. I don’t know how much research we need to fund in order to verify that a flaccid dick does nothing to increase lubricity. In fact, it is a pathetic, ridiculous, floppy thing. It is no surprise then, that the bonobo apes, that vaginal probes revealed were sexually stimulating, had enormous erections. I wonder how much it cost to design and manufacture the vaginal probe that yields the earth shattering revelation that women are turned on by big erect dicks but they are embarrassed by this and will lie about it.

My friend Mimi Pond (who has a great L.A. Times cartoon this week about parking at Trader Joe’s and I attended Curves together. It’s on the second floor and a few of the stations face a large window. Mimi and I plodded along the circuit to the blare of insufferable disco tunes. We spot a squad of fireman quelling a car fire on the street below. We are mesmerized. We would watch them for hours but for the women behind us on the circuit squawking for us to move on.

My sister cohabitated for many years with a fireman who was a nasty drunk. He pushed her down a flight of stairs and broke her collarbone. I’m sure that wasn’t all. He had that over chiseled look like Kurt Russell or Patrick Swayze that I find porcine and unappealing. I still like fireman and I like architects too. Firemen are brave and buff and they save people. Architects have a vision and draw it and then all sorts of people dance around to bring a big building to fruition. A big erection. It is nothing to do with the man himself. It’s the metaphor of a fireman or an architect. It is the big dick thing. I dig your power baby and I want you to lose control and ravish me and succumb to mine.

I don’t think my sister ever much got beyond the metaphor. Himself’s quick mind and extraordinary command of information are tres big dick to moi. Even though he has co-opted not only my sissy pastel robe but the tee shirt I won in a trivia contest at the aforementioned Curves. He wears this shirt nearly daily, even to pick up the carpool, while Spuds engages in silent fervent prayer that Dad not get out of the car. Nevertheless, I guess there is a certain self confidence and big dickedness about a man who has no compunction about driving round town brandishing “Curves for Women” across his chest and it is thrilling that occasionally I can work my wiles and distract him from his intellectual erections for commerce with my merely mortal, wily, distracting self.

Himself, with atypical vulgarity, makes a boast in a recent blog entry. He has confided in me that due to his severe myopia, he has never been able to make comparative observations in a gymnasium shower. I assume then his presumptive superiority then must be based on information gleaned from outside sources. Sometimes outside sources are impeccably accurate and honest but sometimes they just tell you what you want to hear. I dig your power baby and it turns me on but never underestimate my own.

As I prepare to publish this, I find myself feeling better for having written it and I hope the frighteningly acute Kaz finds between the lines that my despair has diminished. I am not the only one on the planet fretting about money right now but love and sex and the words I struggle with here are free. My heart is open and I have what I need.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

21 Day Fade

21 Day Fade

I shop for my household, my business, and my mother and her cat. I always tell Himself which bags are to come inside and which are destined elsewhere. Inevitably he lugs in a fifty lb. canister of cat litter, although we have never used it. I return home with the hatch full of fully sorted purchases, and stewing that Himself will undoubtedly drag in and then drag out, in a big huff, those things that were destined for Grandma at the hotel. I enter and ask my beloved to BRING IN EVERYTHING BUT THE BAGS FROM TARGET. I enunciate in that way that I enunciate proclamations I suspect will be insufficiently heeded, which I guess guarantees that they are. But I am in a lousy mood and I when I see him drag in the Target bags, I am perhaps a teensy bit unkind.

I am privileged to drive the 16 year old to meet some friends in Glendale to see Notorious which is not a remake of the Hitchcock film and is rated R, seldom a problem for him to be admitted to and I never bother to ask why it isn’t. His friends are coming in from Silverlake on the bus but have gotten a late start. The 16 year old is punctilious about his movie going and expresses a disgust with his best friend's flakey tardiness that seemed uncharitable and intolerant. I realize his tone is a dead ringer for mine when I was castigating himself for not listening to me about the shopping bags. I drop him at the theatre and head with Spuds for his ice cream consolation prize for having a more austere social life. The 16 year old calls and says he was refused admission to the “R” rated movie. I race to the theatre and buy tickets, I guess illegally, for seven barely under age seventeen kids and I end up with a $5.00 profit which makes me consider this as a fledgling service industry.

I am surprised that I am one of the only moms to keep my children home to watch the inauguration but they were sick anyway so it didn’t matter. I wake up early and bake cinnamon rolls that turn out lousy. The kids watch, sort of nonplussed but sensing this is something they are obligated to witness in order to tell their children about. Himself stays upstairs until the last minute of the inaugural address, the tacit “no Obama talk” rule still in effect. I expect to get all gushy watching the inauguration. I am particularly unattractive to himself when in gush mode, almost as abhorrent to him as when I am in “talk about my feelings” mode.

I feel miffed and excluded when Rick Warren mentions Jesus, who is, as the Doobie Brothers stated so eloquently, just alright by me, but not my guy and not the guy of a lot of other folks. This reminds me how polarized our country still is and while Obama’s election is a huge step forward in the name of equal rights, there is still a long way to go. I concede now that Warren was a lousy choice, although his counterpart, Rev. Lowery also causes my jaw to drop with “… help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right,” Didn’t these guys have to get their sermons pre-approved? Plus, who the hell signed off on Aretha’s hat?

I am underwhelmed by the inauguration and find the message warning us of all the sacrifices we’re going to be called upon to make now on behalf of the next generation frightening and sobering. I think Obama, a complicated man, had a complicated reaction to the gravitas of the day and my pure joy at the magnificence of the occasion is dampened by his honest appraisal of the trials we face.

Our carpool is a sophisticated algorithm, a fragile flower and friggin’ sacred, as in if it’s your shift, it doesn’t matter a bit if your kid is sick but not on life support. I like the kids in the carpool and take them for snacks and enjoy chatting with them. Himself drives the carpool on Tuesdays. He would rather have a colonoscopy. Spuds is splayed out on the couch, froggy and feverish but I tell him to take a ride to school with Himself for afternoon pick up and go wave at the lady in the office so the school can count his attendance towards funding. I remind Himself , expecting a big tizzy, of our ironclad obligation to pick up, despite Spuds’ malaise and but he just makes a sour face. I am relieved that the anticipation of reminding him is actually worse than the actual reminding itself. I realize that I’d obfuscated a bit with Spuds about sending him to school with Dad so I tell him that I think it will be easier for Dad with the carpool if he rode along. He shrugs, “Yeah. I knew that when you asked me.” “I just think it might be a little awkward for Dad and the carpool if you’re not there.” Spuds croaked, “It’s awkward even when I am there.”

I was with a girlfriend who’d had a big fight with her husband of many years, but knew she would return, like I do, again to do battle against ancient hurts. It’s not just that the logistics of divorce are too daunting to a working mom. The ancient hurts predate us and maybe even our grandparents. We learn more and more to navigate around them and staying on course nurtures gentleness in us and rewards us with powerful grown up love. We miscalculate inevitably and salt each others’ wounds and at our depths it sometimes seems like it would be easier to walk away. As our marriage endures though, we rise to the occasion and fall back together with greater alacrity when ancient wounds are open.

My husband isn’t withholding, just thrifty. I am his conduit to the real world and he is mine to the world of ideas. He makes terrible faces when he eats or hears something he dislikes. He attributes this to a sensory integration disorder which I have always suspected is just an excuse for being an asshole. He enjoys being with people but only very specific people, for brief intervals and in groups of two or fewer. He rationalizes this social affliction with a diagnosis of introversion, an article about which is practically tattooed on his chest. He will happily send you a copy.

I am vain and needy and a control freak.. I tell him the same trivial things, that weren’t interesting to him the first time, over and over again. I can be sanctimonious and my DON’T BRING IN THE BAGS FROM TARGET voice must grate on him something fierce. Sometimes I intentionally don’t recycle out of spite, knowing he will find it when he paws through the trash and that he’ll know I’m lying when I blame the kids. I eat rice cakes in bed. I have ruined one of his favorite bands, Yo La Tengo for him forever by playing them over and over. I beg him to have two people over for dinner and end up inviting 10. I am fussy about manners and calling a “plate” a “plate” and not a “dish” and other stuff he finds a big stupid waste of time.

We remain pretty much in d├ętente. I’ve given up on the cellphone but because I am sanctimonious and he is a withholding, er, thrifty, asshole, I make certain to inform him, and readers here, when his failure to use it has caused an inconvenience. He knows to move the decimal to the right for any guest list. We throw up our hands again and again but we also marvel at how much of the ancient crippling broken hearted loser crap that we have blown to smithereens. We have healed some ancient wounds, and staunched lifetimes of bleeding and found that even the most jagged ugly scars can fade.

We have our issues and our dark days but we fall back together, in love and even if we weren’t, we’re probably too lazy to do anything about it. The girl from Juno appeared in yet another comedy romp called Smart People, about how cool unplanned pregnancy can be and how neat it is to have a baby. The Juno girl pontificated in the movie that the time it takes to heal from a break up is half the duration of the relationship. We’d be too close to death to even ponder it. The rental and watching of this movie fulfills my beloved’s prophecy that the acquisition of the big TV would cause us to watch a lot of crap and piss away valuable reading time.

Of course the Juno half life heartache answer is pat and silly and everyone recovers at a different pace. I mentioned that no one had ever joined the Peace Corps., or for that matter, crossed international borders, to be rid of me. So even in the face of utter heartbreak, I know when to take no for an answer, unlike my poor relentless sister, smothering and clinging desperately to all manner of men, none fit even to shine her boots. The endings of her relationships were prolonged and strident and drove her to spectacular humiliation.

I don’t have a chart of how long I grieved per heartbreak. It used to be that the silent telephone was the bane of the broken hearted but now I guess its e-mail or text messages that never friggin’ arrive. I quit opiates and I kicked cigarettes but love and food, things we can’t live without, will probably fuck with me forever.

I worked for many years at a methadone clinic. We offered a maintenance program for those who chose surrender to the demon. Before being accepted on the methadone maintenance program, clients had to have two treatment failures. The most common was a 21 Day detox.. I don't know how scientific it was but the wisdom was that 21 days is enough time to titrate from a moderate dose to zero without physical risk. So, the 21 days was physically possible although most clients ended up on lifetime maintenance. But it was possible. I've always been superstitious about numbers and desperate for possibility, and I adapted the notion that twenty one days of suffering would get me over the hump and on the path towards recovering from love left to fade away. I would count each day that I heard nothing and that I didn’t cave and make contact myself, over and over again on my fingers and toes until I ran out of digits. The 21 Day love detox is about as effective as a 21 Day Methadone detox but there is no love maintenance program to fail into.

Business is lousy and the market continues to fall and Obama reminds us of the hardships ahead. We eat at home and read and watch t.v. and it is nice and as frightened as I am about economic Armageddon, this fortifies me. I have two excellent novels from the library. Himself likes my new Internet radio station at Lost FM better than my old Launchcast one so we can have music all the time and are spared his sour faced audio integration disorder. I eat too much although try to inhale rice cakes instead of bread and candy. Except maybe for internally, I do better at the love stuff than my sister did and I guess I can feel sort of superior, given that we had the same blueprints. I know I’ll never get it completely right but perhaps as I wrangle with this love thang, I’ll become less and less my mother’s vain and needy girl. In my life I have been laid low and mystified by all the love I’ve proffered that’s been dismissed or in a pathological Mexican stand off, condemned to fade. But when I stand shaky and naked at the mirror it is amazing to me that scars really do fade too.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Come a Day Early and Bring an Extra Dollar

Come a Day Early and Bring an Extra Dollar

woke up early on New Year's Day and started a pot of coffee. Something wasn't snapped in or centered and when I went to get a cup, it looked like there had been an explosion and soggy grounds and boiling coffee covered the counter and the floor and seemed to bode that everything was going to suck. The anticipation of the first week of the year did suck but after the coffee spill, things were o.k. I have gushed incessantly here about the patient love of Himself and our spawn, but friends too have blown me away me with extraordinary gestures of love. I have expressed before my sense that 2009 would define the Zeitgeist of the start of the new millennium and when I look at my assets going in, despite being manacled for life to an acolyte of the glass is half full persuasion, I feel optimism.

Griffith Park in winter is strands of trees gone bare and gray facing others still in their fall frippery, mad with electric orange green and yellow. A younger, fitter bootcamp displaced us from our usual spot near the special needs playground. One of those rail thin highly pregnant women I particularly dislike was keeping up with the pack. Thin, fit, fertile. Oh how do I hate you. The buff young things were going full throttle when we arrived at the friggin’ crack of dawn on a Saturday morning and seemed nowhere near cooling down when Coach finally released us, twenty minutes later than usual, from a particularly grueling workout. She denied that she'd been showing off in front of the other trainer. There were other bootcamps and the park was teeming with New Year’s resolutioners performing all manner of physical activity. Most will be gone soon.

I was in the middle of an annoying e-mail back and forth with a customer who wanted a lot from me but seemed to take offense at my polite insistence that I be remunerated for it. In the middle of this exchange, I received an e-mail with a Bat Mitzvah invitation attached. I had trouble opening and viewing the attachment but deciphered that the event was in a week and knew that we had either been forgotten or we’d been on the B list, invited because A list guests had sent regrets. This is a family we are fond of but don't see that often anymore because our kids are in different schools and don't travel in the same social circles. My first cranky response was to take offense and I sent a terse note declining the invitation and wishing the Bat Mitzvah girl well in language less warm than the usual mushy gushy big condescending Hebe prose I usually reserve for such occasions.

My knee jerk reaction was to get my panties in a knot and go through a mental list of people who probably received the real invitation in the mail about six weeks ago. The day wore on. My customer grudgingly accepted that we are a for profit concern. I began to evaluate my reaction to the late invite and remembered the tsuris surrounding the 16 year old’s bar mitzvah and realized how junior high it was to think that this family had dissed us when they were merely caught up in Bat Mitzvah frenzy and they like us just fine.

Why do I still do this shit? Why do I filter everything through the “do you love me?” lens when my life is filled with love that is abundant and voluntary and that I don’t have to grovel for? I still harshly apply the judgment “a day late and a dollar short,” perhaps to deflect my own desperate neediness. Selfish! Withholding! Unworthy! J’accuse!

Maybe I’ve pissed away a lot of the love I’ve been graced with by stubbornly waiting for wrenching prostrations and bushels of roses begging my forgiveness for a level of devotion that does not meet my impossible/pathetic standard. Or maybe I’ve just set the bar as high on the love that flows back as on the love I strive to send forth fervently and fearlessly. My confusion and awkwardness at this love thang is my legacy from Fulton Avenue. I blame no one. My father and my mother and my sister suffered and meant no harm. I was deeply loved by all three and I regret that it is too late for any of them to know that I know this.

I read in the New Yorker an article by a former Peace Corps. worker who pondered the reasons people have for signing on for a two year stint in some place where diarrhea is inevitable and undoubtedly there is no cable TV. One man’s main motivation for joining was that his girlfriend was showing signs of wanting a serious relationship. To my knowledge no one has ever joined the Peace Corps to be rid of me but reading this made me cringe about myself a little and remember my poor dead sister who debased herself clinging to men she coveted and loved to gamble and went through a lot of cars.

I find it incredibly boring to listen to details of peoples’ problems with their bodies and their cars and I try to avoid these topics myself unless there is potential for a useful exchange of information. I am conversant on endometriosis, Volvo transmissions and the price of dental implants, should you be interested in my opinions. True to my conviction, I will not go into detail with regard to my Volvo transmission issue; suffice it to say that Rusnak Volvo is an icky creepy secretive mean-spirited place, which led me to find myself in small claims court. The plaintiff refused to have the case heard by a temporary small claim’s judge and we were transferred to Superior Court, where I spent an afternoon.

Two guys in day-glo county jail jumpsuits were still hand and ankle cuffed to their chairs when they pleaded “no contest” on drunk driving charges, were sentenced, and then sent back to jail. A shackled woman was sentenced to thirty days for a probation violation. Her mother sat in front of me and was called upon to agree to pay for a rehab program upon her release. The woman mouthed “I love you. I love you” over and over again to her mother, until she was led, tears streaming, from the courtroom to the bus back to jail.

My own mother is no longer equipped to bail me out. I tell her, when I drop her back at the hotel after lunch, that I love her and I do, mainly for the fierceness with which she has always loved me. She beams for an instant in the glow of my affection and then immediately reverts to disoriented and befuddled by the shock that I am to go and she is to stay. I sold and saw ruined by speculators the home that was her pride and her lonely prison for most of her life. I evoke her brittle hardness, my sister’s sad desperation and my own propensity towards both. My mother cannot defend herself or refute my assumptions and accusations but to honor her love for me I am trying to get it right for both of us. I am my mother’s vain needy girl but I’ll grow stronger as the Griffith Park resolutioners thin out and winter becomes spring. My heart is filled with love and it is thrilling and terrifying but I am optimistic.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Coupon Shoes

The Coupon Shoes
I haven't seen Leslie, my most excellent shrink, in many moons and it is doubtful that I will be able to afford to see her again so I am trying to keep myself on track by summoning reruns of our conversations. The most excruciating, albeit meaningful, exercise she dragged me through was the worst case scenario. I thought business had finally recovered from the double whammy of the writer's strike and legal expenses due to problems with my father's estate planning. We had several good months. I didn't tackle anything big in the house like installing a shower in our bathroom or the repair of the crumbling deck but I splurged on the big marked down TV. at the Costco, sort of a modest acknowledgement that the worst was over. September was an excellent month and October started off just as strong until the stock market bottomed out the second week and then the phones stopped ringing. My worst case scenario vision, which Leslie dragged out of me during the dark days of the writer's strike, was pushing a shopping cart, sporting rags and filthy hair, through downtown Glendale. I laughed after telling her this, knowing that my loved ones would never let me fall so far. I still believe that there is a safety net that will protect me from descending to homeless bag lady but witnessing an astonishing 80% decline in business brings us closer to the edge than I ever would have believed. I pray I never have to make another payroll reduction.

We have never made a big deal about Hanukkah but usually there were some small gifts. This year there were no presents at all. Himself's birthmother planned a party to introduce him to friends and family in San Francisco and I bought the kids cheap outfits at Target so they'd be presentable. Their shoes were all of the sneaker variety and pretty thrashed but I had a few dollars in credit card bonus points which I redeemed to get each a pair of dressy shoes, the kind kids hate, at Nordstrom's Rack. But, they called their marked down, coupon bought shoes, a Hanukah present and they both thanked me sweetly and emphatically. The party, with much pre and post bad juju, was cancelled but I'd already made them wear the shoes to break them in. We stopped at Harris Ranch on Christmas Day. It is decorated with ancient citrus crate labels. We told them how our grandparents remembered lean years when Santa or Hanukah Harry brought only a single orange. I still wish I could return those fucking shoes.

I hope that whatever this mess we're in is called is more character building than soul wrenching for my kids. I am scared but there is a sort of beauty in the paring down and holding together. I see how strong my beloved is and how good and sweet our children are. I've spent so much of my life wishing and wanting. I am my mother's vain needy girl but I am grappling with the wantingness. There were things I thought I wanted and needed and I smashed my head against the wall and wheedled and groveled only to find myself disappointed again and again. I look now at what I have in my hand. Himself writes so beautifully that I am beautiful. My children make dogged and successful efforts to cheer me. I look at the things I've yearned for that have eluded me and suddenly I don't want them with an even greater fervor than I did.

I am trying to be chill but the office credit card machine broke and Himself was late picking up the carpool and the kids were nervous and of course I had no way of reaching him by cell phone and I worried there'd been a gruesome accident but it was just a long line at the library. We are nesting these days and have not initiated or participated in any social activities. I interact with my employees and the bootcamp girls have scraped me up again and again but otherwise, I have pretty much kept burrowed away with the immediate family. Himself and I both sleep restlessly. I talk in my sleep, repeating the same phrases again and again and am as befuddled by this as is my beloved. I was weary, bone, heart and soul but Andre is in town and we suspended our hibernation to join him for dinner.

Andre is the boys’ former Hebrew school teacher who worked with the sixteen year old on his bar mitzvah. He is now the director of the youth program at a giant shul in Toronto. He recently completed his degree in Jewish studies. Andre (despite his affinity for hockey and Allison Krauss) is African American. In the bosom of the Jewish Community, Andre conjures the spirit of Leo Bloom wandering through Dublin, a Jew in a sea of Christians but a Dubliner nonetheless.

I have mused here about the Jewish philanthropic community's laundering of dirty money. I wrote about Sheldon Adelson and Michael Milken and at the time the name Bernard Madoff would have meant nothing to me. (Although I do have a terribly cheesy cookbook his wife edited called Kosher Cooks America.) The Orthodox movement has no interest in insuring that kosher slaughterhouses don't violate basic human rights, more concerned that both the cow's trachea and esophagus are sliced through with a back and forth sawing motion. Israel has bombed the shit out the Gaza Strip, and it is true that I have never even been there and would probably change my mind about how fucked up this is if were I to visit and drink in the vulnerability of this tiny sliver that is my homeland. Lately I have been at the lowest level of warm fuzzy feeling about my heritage since my father told me, after he and Mom had foisted me off to Vacation Bible Camp for cheap childcare, that I couldn't have Jesus in my heart because I was Jewish.

It seemed that perhaps American Jews were a few steps farther out of the ghetto than our black counterparts but Bernie Madoff drags us down beneath the level of armies of bling flauntin', gun totin', trash talkin' misogynists. I told Andre that it's a rotten time to be a Jew but at least he could feel smug about being African American but he said that he'd had words with his mother because he was under racializing the presidency. I said it was a tribute to Andre's mom that she could raise a kid whose sense of possibility was unfettered by issues of race. He noted that he had been chided by some distant relatives for not "talking like a black man" and we discussed how race masks the real chasm that is economic and educational.

I was born this way but I sat with Andre and Himself, who both note the grounds for cynicism, but made the choice to become Jews. Rabbis, I believe are obligated to discourage conversion at least three times before allowing a candidate to begin the process. I presume it was the same in Andre's case as in my husband's. The process was rigorous and there was nothing pro forma about it.

It was exhilarating and raised my sagging spirits enormously to banter with two Jews by choice. I've been thinking that this would always be the Hanukah of the coupon shoes but some other memories that I'd back-burnered came to the forefront after we kibbutzed with our own African American Jewish hero and teacher of our children. The first is that even though there were no gifts, it was very important to my boys to light the Hannukiah every night. One night Himself and I were beaten down and knowing that there were no presents, I sort let myself forget and went to bed. Both kids expressed disappointment at this. We took a little Hannukiah on our trip and it shone brightly in the windows of a shabby S.F. vacation apartment and then in the ancient Mount Hermon cabin.

We do not eat pork or shellfish and even as my Judaism creeps to more and more nominal territory, I can't imagine that I ever will. I have never ordered my kids not to eat treif but except for a few accidental ingestions, they didn't. We were camping with a large group in Big Sur a few years ago and the 16 year old decided he wanted to eat bacon and I wasn't particularly fazed and he ate quite a lot of it over the course of a few days. I affirmed that it was his own personal choice but I haven't seen him eat shellfish or pork since then.

Birthmother is tetchy on the Jewish thing. When she first learned I was Jewish, she said the cruelest and most devastating thing anyone has ever said to me which is that I look like Golda Meir. She and her husband sent us some crab legs for Mother's Day and I politely told them, because I didn't want to lie about how delicious the crab was, that we observed this Jewish dietary tradition but it didn't sit well and they responded that they were surprised we observed this Orthodox (i.e. fanatical) custom. We dined with them in San Francisco. I was interrogated by the husband about why I wouldn’t eat the shrimp laden eggplant when I hadn't been reared in the tradition and I explained that it was a choice I'd made many years ago, a small gesture to honor the God of generations that comforts me, but I don't think he bought it. Birthmother went over the menu with the 16 year old and said, "Oh that has pork in it. You don't like that" and he said, "I do like it" (He really ate a ton of bacon in Big Sur) "but I choose not to eat it."

My prayer is usually multitasked with driving duties and has grown more and more free form and conforms less to Jewish rhythms lately. I try to create a space more open to navigating in God’s light but more and more I’ve reverted to immature and superstitious spontaneous divination, a spiritual practice about as profound and soul changing as blowing out candles and making a wish. The morning after our dinner with Andre, I found myself reciting the Shema,
Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad
Barukh sheim k'vod malkhuto l'olam va'ed.

Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Praised be the name of the glory of God's sovereignty for ever and ever.

It had been a long time and it is good to be reminded who I choose to be. In the face of Bernie Madoff, the obscene flouting of the spirit of kashrut in Iowa slaughterhouses and Israel’s taking of civilian lives, the imperative to live this choice authentically is even greater. Obama's election is a wonderful inspiration and also presents a big challenge for the African American community. I hope it inspires and challenges American Jewry as well and also that at this time of great shame, we remember our own many heroes too. Yeah, like Golda Meir. And yes, I am a shallow piece of shit to whither at being compared to her. I hope our financial terror is just a short bridge from an age of greed and avarice to a simpler time when we embrace only the sweet and the pure. May the light of God’s abundant love make it clear just what it is we really need.