Thursday, March 26, 2009

Brave on (virtual) Paper

Brave on (virtual) Paper.

I have been trying to get my friend Valerie to come to bootcamp. She is, after being a drive around mom for many years, working now and her husband has retired. I will be discreet about her employer and say only that it is an organization that attracts philanthropic types and most interaction is with a Junior League-ish demographic. She is the only African American at the worksite. She is miffed because she had looked forward very much to watching the inauguration quietly cocooned in her private office but the entire staff barged in, wanting to watch it with the black girl, and she was rendered numb by self consciousness and pressure to provide a photo op reaction.

When I first met Val she sported a cutely trimmed little afro. Now her style is like Michelle Obama’s, just a bit shorter. This new look prevents her from attending bootcamp and demands a 7 a.m. Saturday three hour hairdressing marathon. Her husband and I both suggested she go back to natural but it absolutely unthinkable to her with THIS job. She’d sooner turn up in a dashiki. I asked, if she has to spend three hours a week straightening her hair so that she could work with white folks, what in God’s name was this whole election was about?

I have watched hours of cinema verite life in prison on plas. I have attempted to wear down my hard assed beloved on the merits of Obama. I snapped smugly, “We no longer torture, “ but after reading an article in the New Yorker by Atul Gawande about the devastating psychological effects of solitary confinement and the large percentage of U.S. prisoners who are subjected to it, I realize that this is not true. It has been proven in every civilized nation in the world that meaningful activity, education and psychological support reduce prison violence and decrease recidivism. The U.S. has five percent of the world’s population but twenty five percent of its prisoners. I hope the Obama administration takes this on as a critical human rights issue, the correction of which happens to be essential to building infrastructure.

My mother always groomed herself fastidiously and with enormous vanity. Bushels of makeup were sent to the dump when we dismantled her home. Now her lipstick is always askew and her wardrobe mix and matching is luck of the draw. I don’t have the heart to say anything. She has been deprived of all cutting devices including nail clippers because on several occasions she severed the telephone cord in her boyfriend’s room to protect him from his annoying daughter’s calls. I noticed that her toenails resembled the claws of a large avian. I considered, very briefly, trimming them myself but made a pedicure appointment, bringing Marlene to help wrangle. My mother suffers from edema and her translucent old skin bruises easily and is mottled. She is very thin. A small wound on her foot is bandaged. Suddenly she is frail and hunched and for the first time, old. It is a challenge to get her from hotel to car to salon but the pedicure is administered with such gentle kindness, she falls asleep.

With pretty nails, she handles and examines everything on the lunch table. She mutters inchoate sentences. She pours water onto her meal. She was diagnosed with irreversible dementia and moved to the “hotel” over two years ago. When I closed the door and left her locked in there for the first time I felt that she was lost to me. I see her dutifully every week and am astonished by the manifestations of her decline. For the first year and a half or so she knew where she lived and which room was hers. She basked in the constant presence of her gentleman friend. Now she is befuddled when we return home and when asked about her companion, she doesn’t remember him. The honeymoon simplicity and safety of the hotel has ended. Now she does not know where she is and therefore isn’t confident that she is in a safe place. She grows more and more agitated when I leave. I was happy she was able to have a nice period of romance and security. I only realized when I broke down her home how frightened and distressed she must have been. But now she has so little memory that she reverts back to her former natural state of anxiety. Emphysema causes frightening shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. The hotel staff is pressuring me to remove her eighteen year old cat, as, although I have installed an automatic feeder, they feel her care of her is inadequate. I have sweet talked them out of this before but this time I will probably have to comply and there are not myriad options for the disposition of an eighteen year old cat. There is no happy outcome here and there is nothing I can dare myself to wish for. She was lost to me a long time ago but now the loss continues to wound as it becomes so exaggerated and extreme.

My weekly posting here has taken on a form and rhythm. I make a few notes on Monday and Tuesday. I record disparate things that are salient to me and usually on Wednesday I begin to shape paragraphs. Normally on Thursday morning I have a sick feeling I’ve made a mess and accomplished nothing. I review the previous day’s work, edit and trim and by doing this fine tuning I attain an intimacy that helps me tie things together. The connections made, the piece is written except for a closing paragraph or two which serves purely as my pep talk and as close a substitute for therapy as I can contrive. The formulation of conclusion is an emotional exercise that helps me find the reasons to be thankful for the near completed week and go into the weekend fortified to face my mother and then relax and enjoy my family. I lamented at the end of last week how treading water is growing wearisome. The standards I use to define survival are lowered a bit each week.

The sixteen year old is on vacation and doing time at the office, helping with an inventory and removing films that have rotted beyond salvation. Film cases have to be lifted off high shelves. Each weighs close to twenty pounds and is stored in a fiber case, the straps of which are tricky to open and particularly to close soundly. Every reel of film is enclosed in a metal canister, also sometimes frustrating to open and close. The odor of rotting films is sort of a hybrid of decomposing eggs and the vomit of someone who is severely dehydrated. There are cases stacked high in the aisles, my dwindling equity, destined for the dumpster. The 16 year old clocks about two hours a day, but most of the time seems spent making selections on his Ipod or disentangling the cables of his headphones from a film strap. The rest of his eight hour work day is spent snoozing in his grandpa’s little cot or computing. I don’t much like having him at the office and he doesn’t much like being there but we are so desperate to make an impact that we are willing to curtail his freedom, and therefore our own, to get his attention. I have provided a better than average lunch on his office days and let him buy a diet Dr. Pepper at the 7/11 but other than that I haven’t been very nice to him.

Spuds complains about an infected cuticle on his big toe and I make him sit in front of plas with his foot in a Tupperware with hot water and Epsom salts after which Neopsporin and a bandage are applied. I feel very confident and momlike. It is beginning to look better but Spuds is skeptical of my hubris and demands an evaluation by a medical doctor. I keep him out of school and we are referred to a licensed physician in Century City, in the same building that houses the hospital where my mother had a bad reaction to anesthetic, punched me and required four chunky nurses to restrain her. Similarly, my father flipped out once at St. Vincent’s and threw a telephone at me. Is there something anesthesiologists don’t get about old folks? The podiatrist has the requisite hodgepodge of foot and shoe art. He boasts to Spuds that one of the patients in the waiting room was the stand-in for Magic Johnson on a Morongo Indian gambling spot. He pokes around a bit and trims a particle of dead skin and prescribes soaking in Epsom salts and applying Neosporin and a bandage.

I am the only person on the earth my mother recognizes now. She gets in the car and I am surprised at how automatically she fastens her seatbelt. She pays attention to the things I eat. The “mom” instinct is indelibly engrained, like breathing or seat belting. This week finds me at sea and approaching this writing like the last two paragraphs will never come. But as I write about my mother and my sons I begin to see what will form it.

I arrive at the office Monday morning and find the same sad state as Friday when I admitted that my pep talks to self were getting harder and harder to muster and make effective. I send out some sad e-mails and a few are responded to with loving comfort and crushingly, a few were not responded to at all. I fear that those whose strength I need the most find my despair beyond hope of comfort and so mutely recoil. These are extraordinary and fucked up times but I am also paralyzed and gun-shy by a pernicious sense of personal failure. I am not very nice to be around. I have barely spoken to Himself, afraid that if I attempt more than a curt sentence the dam will break and I will cry and momentarily glimpse his stricken hopeless look before he steps to hold me.

He is at work on a paper about a place he loves in Ireland and when he emerges from the bunker I will edit it a bit. Words have been the foundation of our relationship for over twenty years and returning to our most comfortable milieu our conversation will resume. I’ve had it with compulsive eating and sitting catatonic in front of the computer looking at Facebook, reading my horoscope, doing crossword puzzles and writing pathetic needy e-mails while praying for orders to come in. I have a Blackberry and can monitor business correspondence from anywhere and maybe I will be less mopey and nasty if I work a bit on my own infrastructure. I am exploring the possibility of doing some outreach to the prison population but in the meantime it was suggested that I volunteer at 826LA a literacy program for children started by Dave Eggers. I will either tutor individual children in writing skills or teach a workshop. It seems that no one is earning a living right now and I am certainly more confident at present about my teaching skills than my ability to run a small business.

Things that are important to me seem to be slipping away and I am often shrill when those who love and trust me need me to be tender. I do not know how much the conclusion I struggle with here will fortify me. I wait puppylike for e-mail life preservers and physical manifestations of love and comfort too. I see my morose indolent teenage self in the sixteen year old and while sometimes we are not very nice to each other, he knows and I will continue to remind him, whether he likes it or not, how fiercely I love him. Spuds may be skeptical of my medical knowledge but he doggedly trusts my momness. My mom’s momness is less and less distinct and for the rest of her life and after it, there will be the sorrow of watching her become brittle and hollow. It is wretched to witness this and my ritual weekly visit does the double duty of self mortification and feeble attempts to mold the compassionate person I long to be. I believe that words can heal and that they will and that bleeding wounds can be staunched by deft and naked sentences. Teaching children about writing words at 826LA will reinforce this most of all for the teacher. My beloved will be the first to read this post and he will know first hand the struggle it’s been to put these words to (virtual) paper and his face will soften and he will step forward to hold me in (real) love.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Pictures, Shorthand and the Black News

Happy Pictures, Shorthand and the Black News

Our mayor is a good friend to the charter school Spuds attends and the Faustian bargain is that the school is obliged to kiss ambitious ass and facilitate (surrounded by multicultural children) photo ops. A new dance studio and science lab is to be dedicated and while I generally shun such events, Spuds pesters me because Mayor Villaraigosa is allegedly traveling with an entourage that includes will i am from the Black Eyed Peas. The director of the school advises us that we are to remain seated when the mayor arrives. The orchestra will play and then the mayor will go to a table where a piece of wood, a nail and a hammer are poised, so that he can be photographed working on the school’s new addition. Derisive snorts erupt from my section of the bleachers at this announcement. The orchestra breaks into Vivaldi’s La Primavera and the mayor, will i am and several local politicians and a few celebrities I don’t recognize and Big Boy from Power 101, not so big after bariatric surgery but a crowd pleaser nevertheless, arrive on a bus painted to resemble a trolley. The mayor is photographed hammering from a variety of different angles. He recounts his apparently single handed creation of the charter school and also of the careers of the local politicians who grin sheepishly behind him. Spuds and the 16 year old get autographs from Big Boy and Will i am, whose genuine warmth gets them stoked up and slightly assuages my own cynicism. The assemblage is herded back on the trolley for the next photo op at another neighborhood improvement project.

I bake hamentashen and a casserole for a Purim potluck at the little temple. Plas keeps me company and in between some Cops episodes I hit a weekend news commentary show on CNN. It is hard for me to listen to the NPR these days and a story about a Hooverville on the banks of the Sacramento River nearly put me over the edge. Still, I need an audio background for the filling of hamentashen and masochistically, go for news. But I like this news. One story after another tells about how things are really not bad. The stock market has rallied. Housing starts are up. Banks are starting to lend. Everyone loves Obama. A survey of African American’s hopes for their children’s futures reveals that over 65% are confident that their children will prosper. Then it is revealed that only 34% of white people polled feel the same way. I look up and notice that both anchors are African American and it registers that most of the calls are from African American viewers. If a Jew, and it would have to be a theoretical one because I can’t think of a real Jewish politician I could support, were elected to the White House, I would be Sally Field “You like me! You really like me!” happy. Being hated and disrespected by the prevailing culture can make you feel like shit about yourself. Of course black people are happy. Himself rumbles up from his bunker, the walls of which are not thick enough to shield him from his hearing impaired wife’s need to crank up the volume. Befuddled, he asks, “What in heaven’s name are you watching?” “The black news,” I tell him. And I’m going to keep watching it.

I drag my family to the little temple for Purim, only to arrive twenty minutes late, missing a puppet Purim spiel performed for the children. We are in time for a brief havdallah service and a potluck. Judaism is so very food driven that I am always surprised by the meager offerings at a temple potluck. I brought about five dozen hamantashan and a casserole with about forty servings but others arrive with thimble sized bowls canned bean salad and small foil tins of Swanson’s lasagna. I am reminded of the quintessentially Jewish lament, “such lousy food and such tiny portions.”

The medical staff at the hotel is concerned about my mother’s weight loss and she has been prescribed an appetite stimulant. She’d kill me if she were lucid enough to know I’d signed off on that. The zipper on the Sport Sac purse she’d carried for years broke and I forgot to bring her another purse but am surprised at her resourcefulness because when I arrive to fetch her, she’s found in a drawer an ancient hideous Gucci knockoff. She expresses delight about it again and again. “Do you remember this bag Layne?” the narcissistic disorder intact, expecting me to have recall every article in her wardrobe. Which I do. We have taken her to McDonald’s a couple of times as she has eaten there with greater √©lan than anywhere else in our repertory. She weirdly lists to the side now, when walking or sitting, practically on top of me in the booth at Mickey D’s. She examines the purse over and over again. She has neglected to transfer the contents from the old purse into it, so it is empty except for a tiny bound memoranda book, dated 1979, when she was 59 years old and I was 22. This might be the missing link, the last insight I will ever have into what made her tick and I distract her a bit and snatch it. I pull it out when I get home and recognize the graceful penmanship she’d learned with pen and inkwell but discover that it is written in shorthand.

I remain her needy vain and shallow girl and the little memoranda book brings me no closer to understanding or forgiving. My beloved writes about the satisfaction he takes from writing for his blog and the exchange of ideas it foments. It is some of the finest writing he has ever done and it is written for himself and an exclusive cadre of kindred spirits. We both bemoan our meager readership and that there is no Fullbright for bloggers, but I would take no less joy in my writing if it were for his eyes only. It is a great pleasure to begin to mention something and be stopped by a companion who has already read the account here. Sometimes my feelings are hurt when I write about someone I assume reads here and receive no acknowledgement and realize I’d assumed incorrectly.

Mimi Downey has bailed from Facebook. I am underwhelmed with it myself. I began using the Internet in 1990. Social connections, in the early days were made via newsgroups and chatrooms and I was hooked right away by the harbinger of the cyber social revolution. I started self publishing personal essays on My Space about three years ago. There was a schism and MySpace evolved closer to social networking and serious writers, moved to Blogspot or other sites. Facebook came on the scene and MySpace has become more of a music networking niche. Facebook is attracting more new users in my age group than any other. About half of my friends are on it and a handful seems to spend a good deal of time there daily. Himself and I have both connected with some old college friends but Facebook seldom consumes more than 30 seconds of my day. I am asked to participate in quizzes (I should live in Paris. The punk star I most resemble is Patty Smith.) but there is a childish neediness the site exudes that feels treacley and cloying. Be my friend. I’ll send you virtual cookies and hugs and shamrocks.

I am as needy as the next guy and have used the web for social networking longer than just about anyone I know, but the networking I’ve done, from chatgroups to listserves to blogging has depended on words and not icons or avatars. Facebook has reduced our desperate human quest for connection to rapidfire, kneejerk, superficial and banal. Facebook is a huge success because it relies very little on the intimacy of words, and doesn’t foster the scary intimacy of intimacy.

I discover a compromising photograph of the 16 year old posted there and I point it out to him. Apparently the photograph was captured at an extremely strange angle because it was the other kid holding the beer. The consequence of my skepticism is that I am deleted from his friend list on Facebook. The result of this is that cable for his computer is relegated to the trunk of the mudmobile. I have been reinstated, as has been the cable. I am not, however on his top five friend list. I take opportunity of our renewed friendship to peruse his photo library.

When I shove the 16 year old to take off his headphones so I can inquire after him, the response is monosyllabic and bears little resemblance to human speech. The information I get from other sources is often justification for concern. The optical illusion containing the forty has been removed but there were several years of photos of the 16 year old, many with the same friends he’s had since nursery school, whose parents, also on occasion are contacted with less than flattering reports regarding their own sixteen year old’s deportment. I haven’t seen photos of my teenage years for a long time. I don’t even know if there are any. But I don’t think they would be filled with the pure joy of the 16 year old and his large group of friends goofing around and hugging and dancing. I think the teen job description prohibits any display of happiness in the vicinity of those who bore him into a life of love and privilege. It is good to see in the photos a good and happy fellow.

I like to drive the car and choose the music. There are very few people I am comfortable with as drivers and even fewer as d.j.s. The 16 year old is into music and has that guy thing. In the film Diner, a newlywed berates his wife for screwing up his arcane and complicated system of record classification and the 16 year old failed to glean the irony of this. He lists titles and dates and side projects and displays, like his dad, an extraordinary memory for minutiae. He also has a very sophisticated ear and his preferences in alternative rock are somewhat a hybrid of Him and Myself’s with a healthy smattering of Uncle Bob.. Himself totally lacks the hip hop gene and while I am more open eared, I really only enjoy stuff that’s been whitened up, like Kanye and Bow Wow and Gym Glass Heroes. The sixteen year old has tried to get me to better appreciate hardcore, more authentic artists but the result has backfired and I am reluctant to cede control of my car stereo to his IPOD. As a teen, I was blown away by the exquisite beauty that was rock n’ roll. My mother was indifferent to all manner of music but my dad had a fine ear and a wonderful collection of big band and popular vocal open reel tapes. The music, I longed to share with them, to touch them with, was just so much irritating noise and I was crushed that they were too deaf to be lifted by what I found so exalting.

In my campaign to be a less shitty mother, I agreed to IPOD domination by 16 year old daily for the 40 minute morning school run. There is a no Hip Hop rule although he sneaks in a tune or two but nothing that has addled me to “turn that shit off!” level. He has good taste and has played me a couple of bands I really like. A lot of his explication leaves me cold and he still won’t talk much to me about anything else but I suspect that I probably am more familiar with the music he likes than most of his friend’s mothers and while I still drive the car, I am happy much of the time to listen to his music, with him.

I lock the office door on Friday night thankful to have made it through another week but every week it seems so much more friggin’ barely. I return home, more and more determined make shabbat and chill and restore my soul. Before dozing I hear Spuds downstairs sprawled on the couch happily jabbering on the phone. I see the 16 year old in photos that explode with pure joy. My Beloved, weary with my worries and the comically dystopian direction his employer has taken, still shines, the brightest light in the whole fucking universe, with every word and every embrace.

I am the needy fat daughter of a beautiful woman. I will not send you good karma on Facebook but I write here, and sometimes it is hard, every week, not in shorthand, to tell you who I am and challenge you to love me.
Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fer Sure

Fer Sure

My beloved makes a good point in his blog about the smug obnoxious certainty of neo-atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. He, also, to my surprise, lauds Obama for his inaugural address nod to non-believers. I compliment him on complimenting Obama and his reaction hammers in that this is a mere aberration and that it is still not okay to express optimism about Obama. He is however a total cuckold to Obama’s other competition for my affection, when the kids work the remote for me, Plasma. Oh, Plas, I yearn for you and even watch an interview with Octomom. Dr. Phil, America’s stentorian judgmental father, morphed from referring to Octo as a deranged sicko to being her best friend and touting a charitable organization for her little darlings and I’m sure the ratings have nothing to do with it.

Spuds and I attend a Friday night Shabbat service at our little temple and it weirds me out that every prayer seems to end with “for Israel.” Maybe it is the luck of the draw with this particular service but with 1.5 billion Muslims, 2.1 billion Christians, 900 million Hindus and only 14 million Jews in the world, I get the special requests for Israel but maybe it would be prudent to pray for everyone else too. The thought of the teensy proportion of the world population represented by my tribe makes me tetchy and I am guilty of overplaying the Holocaust card. The word “Jewish” conjures from me the most graphic of concentration camp imagery. When I see Haredi vans with dozens of children, I feel a pity for the little girls in their frumpy long skirts and little boys with their conspicuous earlocks and yamulkes for their forced separateness, their narrow world. What is unimaginable to me as anything but metaphor is taught to them to be the true and only word of God. I believe in zero population growth and while I know it sucks for the planet, part of me is grateful for the ultra Orthodox overachieving breeders. The Holocaust resonates and the future of 14 million Jews feels fragile. There is a tacit obligation that people who practice their religion moderately keep mum about zealotry at the other end of the spectrum and while this doesn’t sit well, I wonder who would be qualified to determine the point at which religion crosses the line from benign to extreme?

I don’t eat pork or shellfish and haven’t for a long time although I still remember a delicious scallop cerviche I used to make. The meaning is different now than it was when Himself came home, newly Jewish from the mikvah, eschewing treif and I joined him, honoring his choice to make a Jewish home and family with me. It was a step toward becoming more observant, during a time when we even flirted with membership at a modern Orthodox shul. Now it’s just a twitter. While we attend temple a few times a year, we are for the most part unaffiliated and it is unimaginable for me to forgo bootcamp and weekly post bootcamp gossip/therapy breakfast in favor of the Saturday morning service that I used to attend, ahem, religiously.

Choosing what not to eat is a subtle reminder, and there isn’t much else to remind me these days, that I am a Jew and the God I beg for strength and mercy is Jew-ish. This is not by virtue of current commitment but because this is the tradition that ushered me to prayer. It’s a mixed bag for me being a Jew in a world where the Orthodox refuse to codify humanitarian labor practice into the tenants of Kashrut and Bernie Madoff smirks on the front page. I long to feel good, particularly because Spuds has set an autumn bar mitzvah date, about being a Jew.

Purim approaches. The apocryphal book celebrates feminine smarts but climaxes in a ghastly bloodbath of cruel revenge. We embrace the getting drunk enough not to recognize the name of bad guy Haman part but go over the icky denouement real fast at our temple. The Orthodox, all boozed up, manage to read the whole Megillah. Women are seated separately in most Orthodox congregations. The Torah is interpreted to forbid homosexual relationships. Families sit shiva, as they would for a death, if a child marries a non-Jew.

I probably wouldn’t have made a big deal before we married if we hadn’t agreed to raise the sprats Jewish. It became important as we embarked on it but early on, I probably would have opted out. I have produced two Jewish children. I sprang for one Bar Mitzvah and the second one looms. I do not know for how long my kids will identify themselves as Jewish or if any children they have will feel a connection. Nevertheless, I have done my bit towards the six million but many other Jews, if they have kids at all, don’t raise them towards any particular Jewish identification.

What will become of Jewish? Is it doomed to wither into some a vague cultural remembrance, latkes on the Christmas buffet? I don’t know if Judaism’s legacy fading into little more than culinary tradition is any more objectionable than the ultra orthodox repopulation project and a resulting hegemony of zealots who forbid the ordination of women, and renounce homosexuals, gentiles and fellow Jews who are more moderate in belief and practice. It is a new millennium and the nature of faith and religion will inevitably change. I hope that someone says the Kaddish for me when I die and I hope that the force of religion in shaping the world during and after my days, is a good one.

Bernie Madoff, it seems, will never walk free again. He is told before the hearing that his bail may be permanently revoked. Is he hyperconscious of every morsel of food, the comforts of bed, closets of fine clothing, wife Ruth breathing next to him? Do they make love? Does he love her? Is his love for her his great redemption or is he, cynical and mercenary, merely using the attractive affable blonde? Ruth interviewed two writers pursuant to creating a tribute to honor Bernie’s sixtieth birthday. Later she notified them that she’d rethought the project and jettisoned it because Bernie is such a private person. If you know your husband had a fuck of a good reason to be private, you wouldn’t go around telling people that he’s private, let alone consider subjecting him to the scrutiny of biographers.

Is Ruth in on it? Does she love him? How does she feel when the courtroom bursts into applause when bail is revoked? Will she love him when he sits, fate resolved, in prison and she is left to endless legal brokering which will probably result in her ending up with a lot less money than she would like to have? Was he her hero, lifting her out of lower middle class stultifying Queens? Was Madoff so fearful and ashamed that he shielded her completely from his criminality? “Honey, just a little business technicality, it would help me with a bit of red tape. Go to your brokerage account and take out ten million. It’s too boring to explain why. Just help me out.” Or has she known for months that the heat is on and forever that this was a possibility?. Many Madoff victims report that the conversation in which Madoff indicated that the fund was closed was followed by a very pleasant interaction with the warm and charming Ruth. Bernie, later, and apparently at Ruth’s behest, capitulated and magically the closed fund opened. Was Ruth in on the con or was she proud of her sway with her otherwise hard as nails businessman husband? Did she make his last breakfast or did the cook?

My Volvo is returned to me with new transmission and new expensive other part. I test drive the new transmission in Griffith Park, a bit of recreational driving it is fortunate that only coyotes are witness to. I am free too of the tyranny of driving Himself’s car. Aside from the mud and brisket stains on the upholstery which I know he resents me for, having borne the mudbearers and baked the brisket, it is kept pristine. The coin holder and its contents is removed before I am bestowed the key. Himself, consumes in his car nothing other than an occasional sugar free mint. My car, on the other hand, is an all you can eat buffet.

One does not use the heat or air conditioning in Himself’s car unless there is a radio alert for weather related health risks. The radio switch, and any knobs moved to a position of temperature alteration, which must have been the result of an extreme life-threatening climate emergency, must be returned to the neutral position when operation of the vehicle ceases. In that no eating or drinking is to take place in or within 25 feet of the vehicle, the removal of litter is, of course, unnecessary. Used Kleenex is what pockets are for although Spuds advises the 16 year old never to accept a Kleenex from Dad because it will have been used previously to clean bird droppings from the windshield. I survive an entire two weeks of car sharing. busted only once for not setting the trip odometer to zero upon filling up, as this provides a back up representation of gasoline supply because while the arrow that drops from full to empty appears functional, it is apparently suspect.

I stop on the way to rehearsal at the Home Depot and there is a truck selling hotdogs and they smell good and hotdogs, because they can be eaten without utensils, are good to eat in the car. I tell the guy to garnish ‘em light because these are contraband in Himself’s car and we discover that hot dogs have been not at all lightly garnished. Gallant Spuds, rather than further mar his dear father’s upholstery, sacrifices his white t-shirt and clutches his script to his chest concealing his ketchup spattered shirt for the entire rehearsal. Having dodged the bullet on that one, all senses must have taken leave when a few days later, I allow Spuds to select at the Farmers Market a bag of popcorn and a bright blue Freezee and a hot pink Freezee and they are so bright and I remember which car I’m driving and the lady has no cup lids. God is on our side and we arrive in Hollywood sans drip and popcorn sea. Alas, now my wagon is returned, minimizing a bit my occasion to sin.

I struggle with the Jew thing and I struggle with the car thing. I love cars. I especially love American cars of the fifties and sixties. Enormous, gas swilling, road hogging cars that would make a Prius owner puke. I know better and I do strive to be a better citizen of the planet but I love to drive and I love to drive fast and even though it’s been decades since there’s been an American car cool enough to fuck in the back seat of, I hate to think of this mythical American enterprise ceasing to be. The golden age of the automobile is so quintessentially America, big, brash, sexy, solid. It saddens me to think of the U.S. car industry disappearing but I am unable to think of a single beautiful American car manufactured since the 1960s, so maybe it really is time to pull the plug.

Christopher Hitchens avers with certainly that there is no God. Dr. Phil tells octomom she’s a crazy skank and then later with the same self righteousness, encourages viewers to donate money for her brood. The Orthodox are sure that if only men form a prayer minyan and that the same men fuck only ritually pure Jewish women and that the Torah they teach to their scads of children is absorbed as literal and not literature the Messiah will come, which will be good for the Jews. The big three automakers arrive in Washington, hangdog and via commercial air, to beg, confident that they will absolutely be able to turn things around and create an American car that the world will fall in love with.

I have made it through another week. There is a stack of bills on my desk but the utilities are on. Himself is weary from his soul sucking work and we are frequently shell shocked by teen troubles and the travails of a small business. I have felt lonely for him, such has been the weight of his cares. I lack Christopher Hitchen’s certainty that there is no God and even though we put the extra plate on the Passover table, I’m not holding my breath for our messiah. I do not know if my pal Obama can fix the economy. I don’t know if the big three automakers can ever again make a car worth fucking in. I do not know if there will be any movies or cop shows worth watching on Plas while I sit weekend vigil with grounded sullen teen. But despite the pernicious doubting and in a time of such uncertainty, I am certain that my beloved’s darkness will lift and our companionable companionship will be all the sweeter, for having slipped for a moment from our grasp. In this certainty that my beloved agnostic cynic will shine with me again in the white light, I am certain too that God has blessed me immeasurably.

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rodents and Religion

Rodents and Religion

We are plagued by raccoons. They get tangled in the bougainvillea outside our bedroom window and their unearthly screams in the middle of the night unnerve us. The dogs go berserk, causing neighbors to respond in kind. I step onto the first light of dawn on our deck and a raccoon far larger than the corgi glowers at me from very close range and then proceeds to fight loudly and viciously with another, even larger raccoon. I do not know if this is a male territorial dispute or raccoon schtuping foreplay towards the procreation of more of the horrid things.

I banned war toys and I have never had any desire to hold or fire a gun and in fact, have always been repulsed by the prospect, but I want to shoot the raccoons. I want to borrow a BB gun and set them in my site and cock the trigger and not kill the odious rodents but cause them enough pain to opt off our deck. I am somewhat disturbed by the amount of satisfaction I take in this fantasy.

Himself helped me make a fun potluck and presentation of the finished kitchen at Casamurphy and it was wonderful to visit with folks we’ve known since Mommy and Me at the JCC some fourteen years ago. We came together during a Silverlake Jewish Center maelstrom which began with a kid getting kicked in the balls, segued into a secretly Jew for Jesus center director and climaxed with the whole J.C.C. getting sold down the river by the local federation, only to go independent. More than a decade plus after all the drama, it thrives now. There are fewer kids at these parties now, many who sported diapers at first acquaintance are away at college. I like to entertain grownups grownuply and while Himself does truly enjoy himself during the actual event, the anticipation weighs heavily on my dear introvert, who will probably post another link to his “get out of jail” be tolerant of your introvert, even if you suspect he’s really just an asshole article. The years have etched into us pre-party personas that surface, and then we inevitably come to blows. I am self righteous. Himself is anxious. Bang. Bang. Bang. Although this time our battle is separated by the flight of stairs from his office to my kitchen and is conducted via e-mail.

The sixteen year old made some less than considerate choices and distracted us from the testy hostess vs. testy introvert, cusp of entertaining dance we’ve done for decades. Once the front was unified in furor at the 16 year old, we got rid of some of the last of the crap that had been displaced by the remodel and even the kids noted that the house wasn’t an embarrassing shithole for a change. Himself enjoyed some conversation beyond the ken of his essentially middle brow wife and was sweetly happy at my happiness, particularly when the party ended and a few good bottles of wine and some cinnamon roll bread pudding remained.

I am content now to tread water. I work forty hours a week and attend bootcamp regularly and if I don’t get any poorer or any fatter I will not curse my fate to the Gods. Harry noticed recent rambling reactions to couchtime with the big t.v. but while I am watching my weight and my budget, I am not on any big campaign to not get any dumber and when bootcamp is cancelled due to rain, I look forward to a date with my plasma pal, as the New Yorkers gather dust on the nightstand.

We watched Religulous for which Budget contributed a lot of footage. Parts are hilarious and it is a great example of how archival stock footage can enrich a project. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing it but Bill Maher went in with an axe to grind about religion and sought out fringe crackpots to insure he could portray it as ridiculous and dangerous. There are two cool Jesuits who say that of course, they don’t take the bible literally, but Maher includes them only for a bit of color, using only the briefest snippets and giving them no opportunity to present the case for a rational approach to faith. Maher’s allegations against religion becomes nothing more than cheap shots and the film is more (very) effective as a comedy than as a documentary that seriously substantiates Maher’s contempt for religion. The fake working title, which was used to reel in unwitting religious interviewees, was Spiritual Journey and I think the film could have been effective in at least provoking serious consideration of Maher’s allegations, if the project had been approached with more honesty and open mindedness and less of a preset agenda.

Spuds is getting ready for Bar Mitzvah and studying Hebrew and Torah every week with Bill, the president of our little temple. I cook Shabbat dinner and listen to them talk about Methuselah who lived for 969 years and the gopherwood Ark on which the animals refrained from breeding until the floods subsided. I know that this is the only time gopherwood is mentioned in the Torah and that cats are not mentioned at all. After being regular minyanmakers for years, we are now High Holiday Jews. We were alienated and uninvolved at the large Hollywood congregation to which many of our friends belong. We feel stifled by the intimacy of the tiny shul we love, where eccentrics and the mentally ill are treated with a patience and loving kindness I can’t muster with any kind of genuineness. Bill noted that in the middle of a service he was offered a blow job by a congregant from a nearby board and care. During the High Holidays another mental health challenged congregant continually berated me and violated my personal space as I toiled in the kitchen. The final straw was while I wrestled an enormous poached salmon, my skirt became wedged in my butt crack and she attempted to dislodge it, pawing me and breathing hot on my neck. It is lucky the fish survived but since then, it is hard to think of temple without thoughts of being manhandled and not really being able to slap someone off, it being temple at all. Nevertheless, in support of Spuds, we’ve agreed to attend a small Friday night informal Shabbat service on a regular basis..

The plasma and Obama are Himself’s rivals for my affection, the later having made two more promising appointments, Julius Genachowski, the technological visionary who masterminded the Internet component of the Obama campaign to head the stuck in the Eisenhower era F.C.C. and Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Sebelius is a Catholic supporter of abortion rights and she’s been refused communion by the Archbishop of Kansas City. Nevertheless, there are more moderate Catholics rallying in her support. While governor of Kansas she made reducing abortion a priority which paid off with 20% fewer procedures performed when other measures to prevent unwanted pregnancy were adopted..

Obama, unlike Mr. Maher, recognizes that most of America’s faithful do not take the bible literally and are tolerant of the beliefs and practices of others. Obama aims to mobilize these communities to spearhead neighborhood improvements. I think that religious organizations should be required to perform some ecumenical local outreach and participate in interfaith activities that nurture religious tolerance in order to maintain tax exempt status.

When the 16 year old was a baby we attended services every Saturday morning. We chauffered elegant, eloquent 90 year old Ida, who refused our help in ascending or descending the 100 steep stairs to her craftsman on Mt. Washington Drive. We brought opera tapes to brothers Hank and Morrie, who in their late 70s and reliant on cane and walker, were still called the boys. They had attended weekly services at the temple for so many years that they’d memorized Siddur page numbers and called them out as necessary. The Kiddush centered on gefilte fish and herring bought in cases when discounted on Fairfax or with a coupon from the Jewish Journal, and freezer burned challah.

No one in the congregation much minded that the baby 16 year old ran amok for most of the service and they called him the future. The old congregants glowed in rays of light through stained glass as they struggled with the heavy Torah and crouched and squinted to make out the voweless, punctuationless parsha. All over the world, Jews, illuminated by streaming morning light, read the same weekly portion. Most of the minyan are dead now and the temple is maintained mostly by people our age and younger. I’m not sure exactly how we faded out of regular attendance. Part of it was being burned out from being on the board of directors and attending to political issues. Part of it was the kids having other things to do Saturday mornings. But for me that main thing of it may have been guilt. I always felt that the woebegone little temple, with its fridge full of flat Shasta soda and assemblage of misfits required more of me than I felt like giving and more than it could ever offer in return.

Our participation has waned now for over ten years and in many ways the temple has flourished. There is a large influx of young families, and regular Friday services in addition to the weekly Saturday morning minyan. There are discussion groups and plant sales and education programs. The kitchen is still disgusting and the refrigerator is filled with moldering things but the shul is definitely in a time of renaissance and all of the positive accomplishments came to fruition many years after we tried very hard but faced an uphill battle, to revive the place ourselves.

Himself professes to a skepticism that I am skeptical about. He is an intellectual first and foremost, and it is hard for him to surrender to the knowing of God that I know he knows because it taxes his lexicon. The day the 16 year old was born Himself bathed him and then sat stone still in the nursery at Cedars holding the tiny infant for several hours. I was asleep but this was described to me and when I summon the image of my beloved clutching the swaddled newborn, in my mind’s eye they are bathed in pure white light. The infant 16 year old made it a bit easier to tap into that perfect white light which I’ve grown into the habit of referring to as God, than the 16 year old 16 year old who is more likely to tell us to go fuck ourselves than inspire a brush with the divine. We return to the little temple where our efforts were ineffectual. The congregation has done just fine without us and we slog along, marginal Jews, skeptical but open to the white light. Perhaps we will be able to overlook the crazies and the filthy kitchen. There is no need for us there but maybe returning there we will find something that we ourselves have forgotten to need.

Shabbat Shalom
In keeping with my theme of the week-I cannot recommend this video more highly: