Friday, April 10, 2009

Change for a Dollar

Change for a Dollar
The morning of erev Pesach is also a Birkat Hachama, celebrated every twenty-eight years when the sun returns to its same position as at the moment of creation. Everything that may impede me from getting the fuck out of Egypt this Passover week has been sold for a buck to a gentile and I hope when the sun sets on the last night of Pesach, that I am rich enough to buy back what I need. It seems that I've been stripping away for the journey for months but when I look at getting from here to there, I still feel encumbered by fear, selfishness, anger and self doubt that I hope are not beyond the scope of a single dollar.

We make a family outing to the Long Beach Aquarium where Spuds projectile sneezes over a group of pre-schoolers and we are all sort of spastic and high pitched when faced with lorikeets landing on our hands to sip the nectar we hold in a tiny cup. Himself and I hadn’t been to the Queen Mary since high school and remember only vaguely the Cousteau exhibit. The attraction now is The Ghosts and Legends of the Queen Mary, the wildly imaginative adaptation of an existing space into a dark ride. It’s campy and not at all scary and completely entertaining. It’s fun but doesn’t compromise the ship’s character. After the Ghosts show we are free to roam the ship, which is beautifully preserved and I swoon with fantasies of staterooms and maids unpacking technicolor ball gowns from steamer trunks and close dancing to the strains of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.

There is a tiny chapel, dedicated to the "Immortal Chaplains," with a Roger Whitakeresque (Himself counters Slim Whitman) ballad braying about their bravery and Vaaaaa-lor. But for the song (which would probably be really knee slappingly funny if one were in an altered state of consciousness) it is a very moving tribute to four naval chaplains: two ministers, a Catholic priest and a rabbi, who gave other sailors their life jackets on Feb. 3, 1948 when the USAT Dorchester was sunk and there weren’t enough to go around.

Kim, who turned me on to Ru Paul’s Drag Race, was not at bootcamp on Saturday and we presume she was either attending Opera for Educators or being slothful. What I am about to relate was told by Mimi, who said that the story was related to her by Kim. Her memory is that the incident involved Kim herself and was not related by Kim to her as about having happened to someone else. Kim and Mimi are both above reproach which is the only reason I post the following here. Kim’s dog came home with what was left of the fluffy bunny beloved of the little girl next door. While it was important for the child to know the pet was dead lest she search, eyes brimming with tears, futilely, Kim knew that in its current condition the critter would be a cruel thing to lay eye upon. Bunny was shampooed and blown dry and in the dark of night returned to his patio cage. The next day, Kim saw the neighbor who reported being completely freaked out. "Last week the rabbit died and I buried it in the yard…."

If this weren’t from unimpeachable sources I would relegate it to the status of the Mexican pet. Nevertheless, I thought it a cute Easter story for my genteel and gentile readers. Actually, as I type genteel and gentile I realize that I strongly connect one characteristic with the other and always have. I find no strong etymological connection between the two qualities of being but to me they are inseparable. Add a smidge more of that self-hating Jew thing to that buck that is already over stretched.

My mother spent the afternoon in little California bungalow on a leafy Eagle Rock street with three other ladies and the owner of the home she is moving to. There is a snow white Pomeranian named Precious, dressed in a different frilly seasonal outfit on the two occasions I visit. There is lots of Jesus and saint stuff which is good because she always glamorized Catholicism, thinking I had married up, until Himself converted.

Richard and I will cull again through her things and I still can’t get over how filled with blazing rage she would be if she knew what more we were going to throw out. It is extraordinary how malleable she has become. The IT of her is gone. She will no longer wander the long halls of the hotel. Living room, dining room, bed and bath are all she will have to navigate. I had no idea when I moved her to the hotel how her decline would transpire and I cannot bring myself to think forward to the inevitable progression of her crumble. She will share a room with another lady, which I am iffy about, but after sleeping mostly alone for over forty-five years, to hear someone else breathing and alive might be comforting.

My stepmother, who makes me insane and knows it, but we love each other, brought to the office her usual Passover gift of baked goods and a DVD for the kids. She suffers, now that my dad is gone, from Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy via Sally her cat. Have I mentioned here before that both my mother and my stepmother have very old cats named Sally? Nevertheless, my stepmother and her cat ail and both are too brittle for much other human contact. My stepmother calls to comfort me about my mom. She says she feels guilty for my father’s treatment of my mother and she is deeply concerned about her comfort. She has never encouraged me to be anything but loyal to my mother and a good daughter, even at times when this was to her personal detriment. We cry on the phone. I haven’t been crying that much lately but it was good to cry with someone who actually cries back.

Through the Aleph Foundation I sent three letters to three Jewish California inmates who had requested Jewish penpals. Three responses arrive exactly one week after mine were mailed. None of the three prisoners were raised as Jews, although born to Jewish mothers. They find, in prison, a strong desire to connect. One writes that there are about fourteen other Jews on his yard. They are visited by an Orthodox rabbi once a year and told by him that God only hears prayers in Hebrew. The letters are all very sweet and I am aware that their writers have heaviness and that has perhaps hardened into chronic falsification. Still, it makes me feel good about being Jewish, at a time when this has challenged me, to reach out, with no judgment, as a Jew.

My beloved survives another Seder, even though the guest list increases a bit from the initial negotiation phase. The sprats are commandeered for kitchen crew. Spuds peels zillions of cloves of roasted garlic and I can smell him three floors down but he complains not. The 16 year old masters the pastry bag in case he gets a hankering for deviled eggs in his dorm which will be fully paid for, in addition to his 100% academic scholarship. Maybe some place nippy. Harvard? He also accomplishes the perfect caramel chocolate matzoh assbuilder which is why we get more fat on these nights than on other nights.

We have eight teenagers and one preteen at the Seder. Only two of the kids, a brother and sister, are born of two parents who were born Jewish. No one argues when I posit at the Seder that most of the kids there would probably intermarry. Some of them might take partners whose faith is stronger than their own in Judaism and agree to raise their children as something else, or nothing. If my child is in love with someone good and kind and worthy I would not make faith an issue and I don’t think any parent at our Seder would act differently.

The Ultra Orthodox, boycott the national airline, of the country that funnels tons of money into a separate and definitely not equal education system and offers them deferments from military service, because movies are shown. A photo of some politicians is photoshopped to remove images of women before it runs in an Ortho paper. While our kids go out and marry for love, these isolated crackpots breed with frenzy. There are nearly seven billion people in the world and with a mere 14 million Jews for all they go at it, the Orthodox aren’t going to make much of a dent.

I pontificated again at the Seder about the horrible labor conditions at the ostensibly kosher slaughterhouses in Iowa and that in the Orthodox version of Kashrut, a non-Jew is of less value then a cow. We were strangers in Egypt and now are mandated to live with compassion and welcome the stranger. We sell our chametz to a gentile for the days of Pesach. Trust is implicit to this transaction with our gentile friends. They underpay us for our leaven and could turn usurious when we need to buy it back. Trust leaves us open to love and intermarriage seems inevitable if we are to live peacefully among strangers. My kids are going to love for love but we tell the story every year. We cook together and maybe the flavors of Passover will be sweet enough for them to remember to tell the story and teach it to their children.

Jimmy, the Thai mechanic down the street, fixes a turn signal for me and will take no money. He has a Buddhist shrine, glowing red and gold, next to the cash register. A customer needs a close up of church bells ringing and the boys climb to the roof with the camera and we ask the priest of the Polish Catholic Church next door to ring the bells. He rings them with enormous delight and abandon and all the neighbors run out assuming there is a funeral. I pack up two big boxes of the assbuilder matzoh and drop it at the mechanic’s and the church, and briefly explain it is matzah from my holiday. But all I really have to say is "chocolate."

Every twenty-eight years the sun returns to where it shone at the creation. Every year we remind ourselves of the journey from Egypt and we sell temporarily, to a trusted gentile that which weighs us down while we navigate the arid desert to our freedom. Christians wash the feet of the destitute on Maundy Thursday and wait hands and heart open through the Easter vigil for the Resurrection. Every faith welcomes the spring with rites of cleansing and sacrifice. We are all desperate to feel God’s love and I hope that in the twenty eight years it takes for us to arrive again at the moment of creation, God's children learn that this love is infinite and not subject to border, race or secret handshake.

Good Friday and it is the shabbat of the third night of the Passover journey. There is a harmony, perhaps a fragile one, but warm and palpable here in our home as we prepare to break the bread of affliction instead of sweet challah. May this be the first shabbat of our exodus and the resurrection of sweet new creation. I’ve got serious dough riding on it.

Shabbat shalom.

1 comment:

FionnchĂș said...

1) I can tell you hung out for church hijinks around Bob before me. Only a schismatic or a High Anglican-- with much better ecclesiastical finesse and theological insight than I possess admittedly-- would mutter "Maundy" instead of "Holy" for the Thursday of the Paschal Triduum. I think that my mother used to say that her mother or some close relative, so shatters my family history's shards forever-- who may have been a former Christian Scientist or refugee from some other cult even worse than Protestants-- "was baptized on Spy Wednesday (spy=Judas' doing the set-up for his 30 pieces of silver deal), confessed on Holy Thursday, and died on Good Friday."

2) At least Aliki did not give us the usual challah for Pesach.

3) How those schismatic Polish Catholics and that Thai mechanic will deal with a box full of candy-coated bread of affliction is beyond me. My cheek lining and tongue are all torn up inside already from matzah munching.

4) I am relieved that the eighteen person Seder has concluded. My thoughts not unrelated naturally to yours can be found on my blog entry today, revised and revamped over the hours between noon and three, when as a kid nobody who professed the One True Faith was supposed to have any fun.

5) How was that day different than any other day in my boyhood household? xxx me