Friday, October 30, 2009


I am a single mom for a week. Himself, after delayed flights, is outside of Dublin, where due to his friend’s illness, he has been commandeered to babysit two squabbling tots. In his absence the sprats and I are enjoying salads, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, meatloaf and myriad other foods that induce a greenishness in my beloved should they appear on our table. Ironically, the night of our cauliflower fest, Himself reports he was served self same vegetable there across the sea by his hostess and he ate it, to be polite. Based on two decades of experience, I am concerned that his countenance, upon eating the vegetable, which is in the top ten of the phone book length list of foods he will not abide, may have frightened his young charges.

After his conference he will be hosted by an Irish writer that he’s corresponded with but has never met in person. He was graciously asked in advance if he has any dietary preferences and I wince upon learning this. Receiving an enumeration of verboten foodstuffs, before laying eyes on the man might plant the seed that my husband is a complete whack job. This isn’t really a false impression but there are good qualities that mitigate the whackness and I hope his host is able to appreciate these and also find something that he will friggin’ eat without looking like he is on the verge of hurl.

I have been bailed out of many a mess by my pals and particularly now with a partner thousands of miles away, it is nice to know that chances are there will always be someone I can call when I am stranded. I hope my friends feel the same, and while I wish no one adversity, it feels good to be able to swoop down for someone and make it better. My friend calls. She has left her car in a supermarket parking lot, thinking it would only be a moment, to pick her elderly mom up from a medical appointment. Unfortunately, the medical appointment is at the behemoth Kaiser and it takes far longer than expected to locate the old gal and navigate her and her walker back to the car, which they discover has been towed. I go to fetch them at about 3:30. Granny’s appointment was at 10:00 and she is frail, even when not out in the world. She hasn’t eaten, is wan and our windstorm has taken a cruel toll on her hairdo. Her daughter looks pretty thrashed too and having known her as cheerful and mild mannered for a number of years, I am surprised, when for a nanosecond, she expresses irritation at her mother who dithers over helping assemble the cash necessary to bail out the car.

It’s been a while now since I’ve had that flash of exasperation with my own mother. Per devastating hindsight, I realize she had been declining for years before the extent to which her cognition had diminished became obvious. I wrack my brain now trying to separate my frustration at what turned out to be early signs of dementia vs. her just being the way she was. Somehow the forgetfulness, self centeredness and confusion sort of morphed from narcissism into a terminal illness. It is better going to visit her at the little house, where she gazes at herself in the mirror all day than at the steaming cesspool of now that was her first post Fulton Avenue residence. I do not like it though and I avoid going alone, bringing Richard and or the kids. We sit on the couch and watch old movies. I try to hold out for at least forty five minutes once a week but if it’s a bad movie, I may only last thirty. I read an article about the physical deterioration that accompanies dementia. She seems ok physically to me but apparently, given the severity of her dementia, statistics suggest that she probably will not live for very long.

I clean over the weekend and store some old family photographs in the garage and find a case with a few silver serving utensils. There are a couple pieces of furniture in my house and some stuff at the office. She has a closet full of clothes, a purse with make-up and broken sunglasses and the napkins that she hordes. Every physical manifestation of my mother, except me and my children and my niece and grand niece, will fit, with room for the dog, in my Volvo wagon for the trip the thrift store. How this would have broken her heart. How it will break mine.

I have more childhood memories of being humiliated or screamed at than of having fun with my mom. But, I do not trust that this is true to the actual experience. I scream at my kids and the 17 year old goes at me about THAT voice I use and I wither. I wake up in the morning and the living room is filled with their cast off shoes, the lights blaze and the sink is filled with dirty dishes. I have a sense finally of what made my mother so angry so often and maybe it’s my comeuppance. I try to remember what was inside my head when I was fourteen or seventeen. I like to think I am more in touch with my kids than my own parents were with me but perhaps I am just as blindsided as they were. I do not remember my mother ever demonstrating empathy but maybe, this memory too is unfair to her. It terrifies me that my boys may become so beaten down by the weight of my decrepitude that any sense of my character and my love for them will fade and skew. Will I be reduced to harsh words said in exhaustion and a wagonload of clothes and knickknacks?

There will be no celebration of Shabbat a Casamurphy tonight. The 17 year old is off to the theatre and Himself is travelling by public transportation with only a thin raincoat and a single pair of shoes through Ireland, on the verge of a predicted torrential rainstorm. He is attending a conference on Alternative Spirituality in Maynooth and presenting paper on the invention of the concept of “Celtic Buddhism.” Spuds and I are attending a potluck dinner at the school where I anticipate sitting like a lump and pretending to be working on my Blackberry but really playing Brickbreaker because I don’t know another soul.

Spuds is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah and now attends Saturday services at the little temple. We attended regularly for many years. I felt guilty about our diminished attendance for a long time and while I still realize that it’s not the best example for Spuds, I do accept being at a place in the journey where communal prayer is not as resonant as it once was or perhaps will be again. A student asks Himself about his belief in God and he responds that he is uncertain. I am suspicious of anyone who answers this question with unwavering confidence and yet I am wounded a bit to hear his doubt expressed so clearly.

I am weary of all of those who are certain they hold the only reliable understanding of something that by definition defies definition and is unknowable. It frightens me that more and more organized religious groups’ fiscal survival seems dependent on insularity and zealotry. The neo-atheists are just as scary, and just as insular and zealous, as they paint anyone with any degree of faith as a simpleton who buys into the old dude with the long white beard calling the shots from heaven mythology. It’s true that a lot of the faithful are in sort of an arrested development but even way back in the12th century Maimonides noted the folly of ascribing human attributes to God. I guess it’s good to be sure, but maybe not too sure or so sure as to denigrate the sureness, or the uncertainty, of others.

I fully accept the scientific explanation of how the universe came to exist but I believe that there is something vastly beyond my comprehension that caused the science to fall into play and for the sake of convenience I refer to this as God. I believe it is important to live in a way that respects this creation. I pray but perhaps referring to the thing I do as prayer might be lazy shorthand too. I guess many people pray expecting intercession from a force or being or THING outside of themselves. Wittgenstein’s analogy is kissing the picture of a loved one. With the possible exception of my stepmother, who kisses pictures of my dead dad all the time and dances around the house with the urn of his ashes, there is no expectation that the person represented will be effected by this, it is for personal satisfaction. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read Wittgenstein, although I love to SAY Wittgenstein as Germanicly as I can, but am paraphrasing from an article from the far more accessible to middlebrow moi, New Yorker.

In my heart of hearts I am just a Jewish girl from the valley and no one I ever knew would have been surprised if I’d ended up married to an Encino dermatologist, living for annual plastic surgery and amassing Hadassah pins. Actually, this would not have surprised me, but in a world of karmic hilarity I ended up with a highly neurotic diehard intellectual. I am so good at being shallow and I would be excellent at driving carpool south of Ventura in my Escalade. This God and idea stuff is harder and not what I was bred to cogitate but my beloved has shown me that my ideas are worth nurturing and he loves that I struggle with them. I am his puppy and it makes me sad that tonight when I go home we will not be there and he will not have read these words and pat my furry head. It is also scary because he generally reads what I write here immediately after publication and identifies and corrects any egregious errors, so not only do I lack the immediate gratification of his praise, he is gone and I am writing naked.

We can eat whatever we want. Friends are coming for Halloween. I do not wake in the morning freezing with a snoring lump beside me swaddled in my covers. I hope that next Shabbat there will be Challah and my three men at the table. My next blog entry will be tidied up before you read it and when my beloved returns safely to my arms, perhaps he will believe, maybe just for that moment, with a bit more certainty.

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, October 23, 2009


It is 9:40 Friday morning and between work and calls and spaced out internet ramblings it is my self imposed obligation to create before leaving the office, my 2000, more or less, word offering of gratitude for having survived another week on the planet. This hangs over me all week and usually I clip articles or jot down ideas but there are only a few notes about neighbors which might inspire some possibly amusing vignettes but any thread to unify them with anything else that’s salient eludes me. Once I got all bollixed up by starting a piece without clear direction and couldn’t get it into publishable form until Saturday. I told myself it didn’t matter and that the publication time was arbitrary but readers complained so I am trying my best to adhere to the Friday afternoon deadline.

I read two entries on Himself’s blog, one about two of his students and an ill fated romance which reminds me that he is not a total asshole and how tender he can be and how sad it makes me when he is sad. The other is his review of the Yo La Tengo concert we attended in Santa Cruz which is so dead on and precise in describing that and the other pleasures of the weekend that I don’t have to bother now, even though it could pad this out by at least four hundred words. For the second in a row Santa Cruz weekend we fly and due to the stupid travel agency he is manacled to by his employer, we must leave earlier than is convenient and I am concerned about the office. I check the Blackberry while on the tram to the rental car and receive an email that our application for loan modification has been approved.

I have existed since February primarily to implement mortgage modification. Dozens of phone calls and letters. Sheaths of documents whisked off to Fed Ex. Thick legal pads of notes with conflicting information. Madness endured but too mundane and boring and terrifying to write about. Perceivable beneath the enormous relief and thankfulness is a weird emptiness, this having been my raison d’ĂȘtre for so long. I know that our ultimate satisfactory result is due to my many years of experience in business and the free professional advice of banker and real estate friends. There are many who lack the sophistication to play at the deafeningly squeaky wheel level and I wonder how many homes, as unemployment rates rise, will be lost to foreclosure by people lacking our informational resources.

I am up and down these days with eating mindfully but after the last year I think for the rest of my life I will spend money mindfully. I have always hated the Galleria but if there were something not available via mail order, I would often shop at Nordstrom. Instead of frequent flier miles, I get Nordstrom scrip with my credit card and I have amassed a goodly amount. Even with a wallet full of scrip, I just haven’t been able to go to Nordstrom, like the security would sniff that I’m really poor and kick me out. My bras are all stretched out and ratty with mangled hooks and would humiliate me should medical personnel need to slice one off my bloodied body after car crash. Given the good fortune of the loan modification, I decide to break my shopping moratorium and use up my Nordy’s bucks. I park right at the entrance and enter a frighteningly deserted mall. Bored looking salesgirls chat on cellphones in empty shops. Many storefronts are vacant.

I sort of wake up one day and realize that all of my make-up is Neutrogena but when I self define, my brand is MAC. I still have a dozen bottles of MAC polish I hoarded before it was discontinued. It’s been years since I was in a MAC store and the salesgirls and clients have grown very young and they all look like sluts and suddenly I am so Neutrogena and much more comfortable with the Target point of purchase than the swanky/arch shop milieu. I manage to find two nice bras at the Nordstrom, and after bagging my own groceries at warehouse stores and foisting 50 lb sacks of Costco dog kibble for eons, it makes me feel nice when the salesgirl walks around the counter to hand me my bras, wrapped in tissue in a silver shopping bag.

Rover is covered with dust bunnies because the Chihuahua who terrorizes him at the office has now commandeered his bed. Her name is Little Bit but we have abbreviated it to Bitch, trying to keep the “ch” silent if her custodian is in earshot. If Rover is already in his bed, she lies down next to him but if she has arrived first, he will curl up on the linoleum. I walk them together daily, she with her pink polka dot leash and matching poop bags. She is having a fit at someone with the temerity to get out of his car and manages to get her leash tangled with Rover’s and hogties herself. She extricates quickly but just before there is a satisfying splat when the side of her dense little torso smacks the pavement.

The dogs have been berserkly happy with Polish snacks all week. Our office neighbor is a Polish Catholic church, of which there are only a handful in the U.S. We let them use our parking lot. The priest rings the bells and we stand on the roof and film him for a footage job. I bring them chocolate matzoh at Pesach. I cry with the wife when their cat is run over and bring a bag of treats for the replacement cat. They bring me tomatoes from their garden. They borrow the opener to our lot one weekend because they are concerned that a nearby street fair will make it difficult for their parishioners to park. We drive by over the weekend and see that they are using my lot for street fair parking and charging $20 per car. This ends my decade of romanticizing the woebegone little church next door.

Several months later, their bishop is coming and they want again to use our parking lot. I tell them they can but add very firmly that they are not to charge for parking. This is the first they know that I know about the street fair and they are embarrassed. They return the parking lot clicker with a huge box of Polish pastries. They look like sweets but my excavation reveals that they are not filled with fruit or custard or cream cheese but meat. And generic, unidentifiable meat is usually pork. They are gone now and the dogs are back to Milkbone rations but they enjoyed the Polish treats so much that I guess I forgive the church folk for the street fair parking fib.

Two elderly women lived next door to us during my childhood. They wore orthopedic shoes and support stockings and rayon old lady dresses but we almost never saw them. My mom said that they said they were sisters and she said it suspiciously and I never knew what that meant. She also reported that they were Birchers and I knew that was bad and the reason we couldn’t buy Welch’s Grape jelly or Junior Mints or go to Knott’s (Nazi) Berry Farm. I returned once from school to find our house burgled. My mother said years later that it had been one of my sister’s boyfriends but my mother’s veracity was just as suspect as my sister’s taste in boyfriends. Afraid to go inside by myself, I sheepishly knocked on the door of the elderly sisters’ house to call my mom at work and the police. One of the ladies let me in and let me stay until my mom arrived. There were issues of American Opinion on the coffee table. I sobbed that $40.00 I’d saved had been taken with my piggy bank and she promised she’d replace it but she never did. This was the only contact I had with them from the time I was born until I started college, during which time one of them died and the other was sent to a rest home.

We’d had better luck with the neighbors on the other side at Fulton Avenue. The first I remember were Elsie and Howard, an older, childless couple. He had a naval tattoo, the first I had ever seen. They had a dog named Strong Heart who always wore an Elizabethan itch collar. Howard worked at the DMV and my mother would stop by with me often when I was a baby and he would pass me among the other workers. Next to them was the family of the manager of Billy Barty and the King Sisters. The daughter Paula was 6 months to the day older than I and my best friend. When Elsie and Howard moved to a retirement home, the house in the middle was purchased for Paula’s grandma. The whole family broke my heart and moved to Lake Tahoe the following year and another pair of “sisters,” as my mom said sneeringly, moved in. One was a botanist who fussed in the yard incessantly and made my mom nervous about the upkeep of ours. The other was the genuine author of Concepts In Science, the series of books actually used in my school and I was proud to have the association with the celebrity writer.

After college I lived in a number of different places but the only neighbor I recall is from a cute but threadbare court of tiny houses in Studio City. The manager had bleached white blond hair and a deep tan. He was shirtless in stretch pants and slippers most of the time. There was a photo of someone in a coffin taped over his dining table. I lived here with a boyfriend and we were miserable and fought a lot and the place was a total pigsty and we were not favorites of the management. My boyfriend had a huge black dog and instead of walking her, he would just open the front door and let her out until she came back. It was one of those lazy fuck things that people rationalized with some sort of harebrained connection to hippie freedom. Our neighbor in the tiny court was sixties singer Bonnie Bramlett, of Delaney and Bonnie. She later became famous for beating up Elvis Costello when she took offense at his ironic treatise on black American music. She came pounding on our door one morning to complain that my boyfriend’s dog was wantonly shitting all over. I moved out within days.

In a quadraplex near the Rampart police station, I befriended a cineaste neighbor who drove a taxicab. I was in my early twenties. He was interesting but I knew there was something weird about him. In my fifties I have learned now that no one is interesting enough to trump something weird but I was less cautious in those days. I had never lived in a place with shared walls before and our bathrooms were contiguous and I didn’t realize we shared the same water heater. One day I turned on the shower and apparently caused his hot water to turn cold. He called me, absolutely irate and I burst in to tears. Fortunately, he moved out shortly after this, taking with him about a dozen of my film books.

I moved from here to my beloved tiny house on a walk street in Elysian Heights. The neighbor in the house above was George, a Chinese-American man who bred spectacular germaniums and nasturtiums all over the hill. His pink and mint house was like a fairy cottage. He would open his front door on warm evenings, don a flamboyant kimono and sing sopranic arias at the top of his lungs. He vigorously hated dogs, and when ours would bark at him from behind a fence, he would scream and gush tears and pelt them with tiny clods of dirt he scraped from the geranium bed.

The neighbor on the other side was Sam, a Japanese man of remarkable cheapness. He refused to chip in for light bulbs to light our dark path from the street and doggedly failed to grasp the notion of “easement,” threatening to charge us rent for walking down the portion of the walk adjacent to his property. He would return annually to Japan for cut rate dental work but one year he apparently waited too long for a cheap fare and died of gingivitis.

Now there is a Mexican family next door to us. They moved in about 18 years ago, just when we did. They feel awkward speaking English and I feel patronizing subjecting them to my 3rd grade level Spanish so we wave and smile and if there are any issues, we tell the kids. Spuds is close friends with their son and the boys float from his house to ours and we express our neighborly conviviality by sending food back and forth.

The house on the other side was occupied by a number of renters for years, until the Chinese owner and his wife moved in. He was a screamer. He would scream at his wife. He would scream at his dogs. He would scream at our dogs, our kids and us. Once he accused one of our guests of denting his car and called the police who could find no evidence of this. Himself woke up one morning to see him standing smack in the middle of his yard, directly outside of our kitchen window, in his pajamas and holding a door. He stood like this for a very long time.

We returned from a trip and two policemen knocked on the door and asked if they could come in and talk to us. “We were wondering if you know anything about your neighbor,” one began, pointing to the angry man’s house. “Is something wrong?” I asked. “He’s been murdered” was the response. Both of my kids burst into spontaneous applause but luckily the cops didn’t feel that this implicated me. The murder was never solved and the house was purchased by our current hippie neighbors, Paul and Inga. He is a mellow U.C. Santa Cruz grad. She is one of those Soviet Jewish immigrants we all wore wristbands for in the 1970s. American Jewish organizations saw the Soviets as a great way to increase participation but it didn’t pan out that way and very few now have any affiliation with the Jewish community at all. Inga is the one woman neighborhood watch committee and we call her Mrs. Kravitz, after Bewitched which I think she is too young to have seen.

We have good neighbors now at the house I have lived in longer than any other place. I am the mother, as of this week of a driving permitted seventeen year old and his fourteen year old brother. Our bank has adjusted the principal of our mortgage to more accurately reflect the value, since banking malfeasance caused the bottom to drop out of the housing market. After months of doubt, we know now that we will be able to keep our home. My beloved is off for a week in Ireland. We are separated only about once or twice a year and I miss him ridiculously and am thankful that neither of us have jobs that require a lot of travel. I am over my personally imposed word count requirement now and it is starting to dawn on me why the concept of neighbors resonated this week and there is none of my usual political, religious or social issue bombast.

We have good neighbors. We watch out for them and they watch out for us. They are not privy to our sleepless nights and private terrors nor do we know what goes on behind their doors. We live side by side and wave and unload groceries and borrow olive oil and we watch out for each other and everyone seems fine. After seeming fine for many months, now, knowing we are able to keep the only home our children have ever known, the place where we both have lived the longest, suddenly, blessedly, miraculously we truly are fine. Next week I will remind you about upsetting things you should be upset about but for now, I will buy my Friday challah, go home, wave at the neighbors, go inside and shut the door and what has seemed for so long fine from the outside, is fine on the inside too. Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More More

More More.
Our enormous hibiscus hedge has been shorn and ravished to please the neighbors and I am happy that this week’s rain will help restore it to showy pink blossomed brilliance. Himself works nights and alone in our bed, the pounding rain agitates me with visions of a car hydroplaning on the flooded Long Beach freeway. Finally I hear him on the stairs, tuck him in next to me and hold him through fits of sleep and wakefulness; the typical restless night he has when he must teach early in the morning the day after teaching late into the night.

We drive a different route to the north, going through the hair’s breadth short of twee wine town, Los Olivos. There are many motorcycles. When did a long line of bikers stop being fearsome and start screaming mid-life crisis? Accountants and architects with tricked out Harleys wander from tasting room to tasting room, tallying case discounts and shipping charges. There is a ginormous public portapotty and oodles of winery rooms but we are unable to find a restaurant. We continue north to our usual stop in the town of Guadalupe, a time warp agricultural community at the very northernmost portion of Santa Barbara County. We dine there in a family run vinyl boothed formica tabled restaurant on the type of Mexican cuisine I remember from childhood at Ortega’s on Ventura Blvd. when it was called “Spanish” food.

East of the erstwhile Ortega’s, on Ventura Blvd is the Sportsman’s Lodge. This was the center of valley society. Robert Kennedy stayed there on the 5th floor the night before he was assassinated. Swans and ducks roamed the property and machines dispensed popcorn for a nickel so you could feed them. You could catch a trout with a tiny pole from the pond and it would be whisked off to the restaurant and served “to your taste.” The fancy “for the valley” as my mom would always qualify, restaurant had an accented maitre d’ and finger bowls. My graduation from ninth grade was a big event because it was the first celebration since my graduation from elementary school that my parents would both attend. I poured frequently over the old family albums and it made me happy how handsome and perfect they looked together. I selected the Sportsman’s Lodge, not having the vaguest clue that the fancy restaurant did not serve lunch during the week. My parents got off cheap and fast in the coffee shop, where at least I met my friend Paul Harter, who had been similarly duped by his family. The Sportsman’s has been closed for remodeling for nearly a year and it will reopen this weekend. I looked at some photos on their website and they are hideous but I do not know if they date pre or post refurbish.

Bob and Chris’s celebration is at Quail Hollow Park which is fortunately not done over ala Beirut, like the Sportsman’s Lodge, and is a well preserved slice of old California. The lodge and ranch there were originally owned by the Lane family, founders of Sunset Magazine. There are people I haven’t seen in years and no one looks as old as I’d expected when I’d mentally evaluated the guest list in the weeks prior to the event. A Tibetan friend, now of Northern California, blessed the 16 year old with a Tibetan kiss when he was a tiny infant and I implore her to grant one to Spuds too and she obliges, rubs her forehead against his and blesses him as he glowers at me.

Although most people call Bob “Bob,” I have always called him Harry, as he is Harry Robert, son of Harry Otis. I have a nickname habit and it is probably rooted in some sort of control freaky pathology, and is on the long list of topics to explore if ever I am able to afford therapy again. I started calling Bob “Harry” when we were impossibly young. It was the old man name of an old man, Bob having been, like me, a late in life baby. Calling him Harry was a smug reminder, from me, seven years his younger, of his inevitable decline into decrepitude. He writes about discounting his father’s prayers as simplistic although we never questioned his goodness, just his relevance. Thirty years later, Bob is still Harry to me but as we have both gone gray despite our morbid dread of it, I call him by his father’s name without the irony I used to. We are old enough now to drink in old Harry’s relevance and marvel at the grace and serenity that defined him until he breathed his last and that he is still remembered for. I still call Bob “Harry” but now it is something triumphant, something we’ve both earned.

We stay in Felton at the Fern River Inn, a group of cabins in a beautiful setting on the river and one of the few accommodations in town. I realize after I booked that there are a number of complaints on Trip Advisor and Yelp about the management and inflexible rules and inordinate bullying signs. The section of their website explaining the Internet service soberly disclaims any responsibility for the consequences to minors of surfing the Internet on their premises. In the office the signs overlap. One indicates that if guests come to visit during your stay, there will be a $10.00 per person charge after two hours for wear and tear on the septic system. The utility and laundry bills are prominently displayed, lest you consider leaving the heater on when you go out for dinner or using separate towels to dry your hair and body. The cabin itself is actually fine and while the signage dire and imperative, it is kept to a minimum. The blankets however are of the cheapest polyester pilling variety but if you covet one anyway, get your stinkin’ hands off. They are hugely emblazoned Fern River Inn in red spray paint.

The Dow hits 10,000. The 16 year old passes the written portion of the driving permit exam and is now a (n extremely) provisional driver. We receive a sane and fair letter from a real live person regarding our frustrating attempt at mortgage modification. I remind the assembled at Chris and Bob’s celebration about others who are now denied the privilege of state sanctioned marriage. Judge Vaughn Walker rules to compel supporters of Proposition 8 to substantiate their claims. It is strongly intimated that the measure will be proven unconstitutional. Oddly, as Secretary of State, Jerry Brown has been named as a witness by the defense. Having publicly supported the plaintiffs, he is unlikely to be called to the stand.

I write an e-mail to my beloved that concludes with “I am happy” and realize that this is something I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say. I have learned to accept this, given his “expect no rewards in THIS world” papist brainwash. There is much buzz on the net this week about an Ariana Huffington piece regarding a study revealing that women’s happiness has decreased since the 1970s. In counterpart, Gail Collins has just published “When Everything Changed,” a history of how radically the role of women in this country has shifted since 1960 when a woman in New York was kicked out of a courtroom by a judge who ordered husband to come fetch her and set her straight. On a work errand to pay her boss’s traffic ticket, she outraged the judge because she was wearing pants.

Los Angeles Unified schools would admit new kindergartners in the fall and then again in the spring so there were A and B grades. The year before I began junior high the district decided to streamline and eliminate the B section. This meant that all B students would either leave the sixth grade after one semester to enter junior high or finish out the year and then spend three semesters in the seventh grade. An official announcement was made of the students chosen to advance sooner to the seventh grade and about seven of the smartest boys were named. Then the honorable mentions were cited and I was named, along with a couple of other girls. The counselor added that they’d felt the boys would be more up to the rigors of 7th grade, what with algebra and geography and all, even though most of us girls already had boobs. To illustrate though the beginning of a condensed period of radical changes for women that Gail Collins chronicles, my friend Julia was also on the B track at a different elementary school just a few blocks away and she and other girls were indeed selected for early junior high entry.

The three semester 7th grade program at Millikan Jr. High was filled out by a ton of electives. I took cooking but having cooked meals at home since age seven, it wasn’t very challenging. I took sewing with Miss Cornelius, a former Southern beauty contestant with an enormous stiff flip hairdo. I got a “D” on the gym bag project although it only required sewing two seams. When I attempted to make a jumper, she glared at me and said, “These darts are lousy.”

I completed a semester of typing and never got above 30 wpm because I liked the boy who sat behind me. At the beginning of my final semester of 7th grade, I received my programming card and saw that I had been scheduled to take Floriculture. This was off at the far edge of the campus in the fenced garden area and taught by Mr. Ito, who was never seen without a bright blue smock. I would have liked to plant things but the actual agriculture classes were comprised of boys who had already been relegated to the “occupational” track. Floriculture meant making corsages. We were given stacks of flowers, green floral tape and stick pins and then instructed to copy designs from a book. Adapting the expression my mother vociferated in a crowded theatre when I took her to see Slumdog Millionaire, thinking it was a big colorful Bollywood dance movie and it opened with a scene of the main character being tortured with electrical diodes, Floriculture was not my cup of tea.

I had run through most of the electives but I begged my counselor to save me from learning to coordinate a corsage and boutonniere with the color scheme of the event. I suggested woodshop and she laughed at me. “We’d no sooner have a girl in woodshop than a boy in cooking.” My mother took pity on my desperation and got a note from one of the doctors she dated asking that I be removed from the garden area and attendant flowers due to seasonal hay fever. To fill the slot I was assigned as teacher’s assistant to Miss Gray, the aptly named, quintessential old maid in orthopedic shoes choral teacher who collapsed into a heap of tears when someone played “In-a-Gadda Da-Vida” on student choice Friday.

The Gail Collins book nails how the status of women since the beginning of time was completely redefined in mere decades. I am watching the brilliantly acute series Mad Men, which is set on Madison Avenue in 1960. The pill was available but professional options were still limited. In 1960, women accounted for 6 percent of doctors, 3 percent of lawyers and less than 1 percent of engineers. These percentages are way up now but apparently this hasn’t made us happy. Before 1960 women were very limited in what they could do and I guess if you did what you were supposed to-marry someone presentable and bear kids who weren’t axe murders- you were entitled to consider yourself happy. Now we create our own expectations and apparently we have gotten less happy since the 1970s and some attribute this to the greater stress inherent in trying to do it all instead of ascribing to the preset, limited and pretty trivial criteria of what women do. Did our compartment corrupt our notion of happiness so our idea of it was trivial too or is the whole concept of happiness a trivial one?

My husband doesn’t bring me flowers or open the car door or pull out my chair at a restaurant. At the risk of embarrassing both of us, although I am pretty uptight and usually scrupulous about such things, once I accidentally left a blood stained undergarment soaking in the bathroom sink. He washed it. At first I was mortified but then it seemed tender and natural and a potent symbol of how we take care of each other. Sometimes this simple, almost trivial, feeling of happiness rushes through me but more often I am aware of the safe sureness of being loved for who I purely am. Maybe we are less happy but there is so much more more. And anyway happy would seem trivial to describe the sound of regular breathing as I hold my beloved, home safely on a rainy night.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

And Finally, On a Postive Note

And Finally, on a Positive Note
My friend Iris Schneider has been photographing Bruce Lisker, who was recently released from prison where he served 26 years for murdering his mother, as he adjusts to life in Los Angeles. Reporters for a 2005 L.A Times Magazine discovered that a bloody crime scene footprint, which was presented as primary evidence at his trial as being’s Lisker’s, was not. Furthermore, Lisker called to report the crime and said he saw his mother’s body on the floor through a back window when he arrived shortly after her attack. The prosecutor claimed that based on measurements at the house, it would have been impossible for Lisker to have seen the body through the window. The reporters visited the Sherman Oaks home, and using the same measurements presented in Lisker’s trial, determined that the body indeed would have been visible. It would be impossible to not conclude from reading the article than an innocent man had been imprisoned since the age of seventeen. Nevertheless, from the publication of the findings that supported his innocence, Lisker’s exoneration would take over four years. A perusal of justice center websites across the country reveals that published exposes actually sped up the process for Lisker and it is not uncommon for innocent prisoners, who lack the benefit of investigative reporters and private counsel, to languish away for decades before new evidence is even considered.

Iris snapped photos of Bruce as he shopped at the Target which stands now close to the location of the Fedco we both remember from our childhoods. He is exhilarated, after subsisting on prison canteen and the quarterly shipments of 70 pounds or fewer that inmates are allowed to order from a small selection of prison approved mail order houses. Lisker is articulate in a radio interview on KPPC’s Airtalk as he describes the combination of exhilaration and sensory overload he experiences his first few days at large after having been imprisoned for his entire adult life. Lisker was 17 and heavily involved in drug abuse at the time of his mother’s murder. The stormy relationship between Lisker and his mother, which resulted in screaming fights, was documented and Lisker was living in an apartment. How culpable is a seventeen year old? Lisker made the choice to use drugs and the attendant lifestyle led him to an affiliation with a man who was glaringly not a Boy Scout. He had been Lisker’s roommate. He apparently murdered Lisker’s mother and Lisker is not a murderer. Does he have some culpability though because choices he made at the age of seventeen directly resulted in his mother’s murder? Does his youth or perhaps the outrage of serving 26 years as an innocent cut him some slack or does successful reintegration into freedom and society require that he take this on?

In the further annals of justice miscarried, the New Yorker ran an extremely disturbing piece about Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texan, who was executed for the arson murders of this three children. It turned out that arson investigators employed completely unscientific methods and a follow up revealed conclusively that the fire had not been arson. This evidence came to light before Willingham’s execution but the courts and governor refused to consider the new findings and it is impossible to refute that the state of Texas executed an innocent man. The article mentioned that Willingham had been a substance abuser but there was no mention of his criminal history, which was pretty extensive and mostly drug related, before the fire. A letter to the editor by James P.O. Paquette notes, “I feel the author’s decision to abbreviate Willingham’s final words in order to exclude his less eloquent statements served only to entrench a widespread notion that anti-death penalty advocates are disingenuous about the character of the condemned. This is a description of Willingham’s complete final statement. The parts excluded from the New Yorker article are in italics:
“The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do. From God's dust I came and to dust I will return so the Earth shall become my throne. I gotta go, Road Dog." He expressed love to someone named Gabby and then addressed his ex-wife, Stacy Kuykendall, who was watching about 8 feet away through a window and said several times, "I hope you rot in Hell, bitch." He then attempted to maneuver his hand, strapped at the wrist, into an obscene gesture.

That Willingham was not particularly an upstanding citizen almost makes this wrongful execution more tragic, for it is often those on the margins and lacking savvy and vocabulary and resources to navigate the justice system who are more likely to end up being swallowed whole by it. The perspective of sociologist Egon Bittner is cited in Dreams from the Monster Factory by Sunny Schwartz, “The consideration extended to the seemingly undeserving person is not intended for his or her personal benefit, but expresses the moral integrity of one who extends it. It enhances the dignity of human life, especially in situations where extending it appears to be hopelessly misspent.”

Schwartz implemented the RSVP program in the San Francisco jail system which aims to help inmates explore and own up to their violent behaviors and find alternatives. A Restorative Justice component in which violent felons are confronted by their victims is often included in the program. Professional agreement is that a person’s violent tendencies diminish as empathy is nurtured and this inexpensive program has an extraordinary track record in reducing recidivism. Despite awards and glowing press, RSVP or similar programs are offered only in three jail systems nationwide. This protocol is proven to work but because it helps our prisoners learn to become whole and actualized, it is regarded with suspicion because our prisoners are bad guys and they deserve to suffer and feel like garbage and chronic recidivism pays for Correction Officer’s vacation cabins.

The cuts here in California Corrections are being felt by all three of my penpals. All mention that less food is being served. Inmates who work, or have relatives or friends to deposit money in their trust accounts, can purchase items from the canteen. Large restitution requirements are added on to most sentences and 33% of all deposits to inmate accounts are garnished for this. Additionally, trust accounts carrying a balance are debited $5 or $10 for each medical or dental visit. With prison jobs paying an average of 30 cents an hour, many inmates are left indigent and unable to purchase canteen items to supplement the reduced mess hall offerings. For those able to afford canteen, the most popular item is Top Ramen noodles. I have a list of items inmates can order from the canteen and all items are shelf stable and mostly loaded with fat, salt, sugar and/or preservatives. The lack of basic nutrition is particularly scary as inmates avoid medical visits due to the expense and the medical services available have been determined so inadequate the California Corrections Medical division has been in Federal receivership.

The cuts have also resulted in fewer overtime hours available for corrections staff, which means there is inadequate supervision for yard time and inmates remain on lockdown with greater and greater frequency. Recent letters from inmates, who now have even more time to write than ever, are long and while all strive for a cheerful tone, more and more bitterness seeps from between the lines. Visiting has been reduced from 3 to 2 days a week although flu scares have resulted in some yards having all visits cancelled for several weeks in a row. It gets so crowded that often visitors who have travelled hundreds of miles are sent away after only an hour or two. From San Diego I learn there has been a huge rash of officer “blue flu” every Sunday during football season. From Tehachapi the news is that most vocational and all ESL courses have been eliminated and in Level 4, where men with particularly violent histories or long sentences are confined, all educational programs have been completely eliminated.

The conservative anecdote to Wikipedia, Conservapedia attracts a lot of law and order types who would support nothing the least bit resembling pillow fluffing in our corrections system but has an even broader agenda apparently, having commissioned a way better translation of The Bible:
As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the 1. Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:[2]
1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]
4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".
5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots";[5] using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census
6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story
9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels 10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God."

Despite the Reverend Wright, I assumed Mr. Obama would be more of a beacon of religious tolerance than his believing in The Rapture predecessor Mr. Bush. But while W may have spoken in tongues, despite objections from China, he met with the Dali Lama. Obama, given our enormous debt to the nation, lacked Bush’s courage. China will undoubtedly be enormously enriched by the growing U.S. obligation and even if this were not he case, it is immoral, and perhaps my biggest disappointment with Obama, to play ostrich to the country’s blatant flaunting of human rights violations. Further testament to his heartbreaking wussiness is that his refusal to meet the exiled leader of Tibet is referred to as a new policy of “strategic reassurance.” We are into China for half a trillion dollars but what can they do if we stay on their case about human rights? Foreclose?

We travel this weekend to Felton and because the Harper Berry manse and our usual rental cabin are both otherwise occupied, we are staying in a motel chosen for convenient location that has horrifying reviews pertaining to scary management and spray painted bath towels on Trip Advisor. A year ago when I drove up the coast, it seemed impossible that Proposition 8 could actually be approved by California voters. Bob and Chris were not as confident as I, and after 14 years together decided to partake in the legal sanctification of marriage, lest the window slam, and they managed to schedule a wedding at the very tightly booked Santa Cruz City Hall for which I drove from L.A. to serve as lone witness. Over 18 years ago, Bob stood beside me at my wedding. Being asked to reciprocate was an honor and one of the happiest experiences I have ever had. After the shotgun thing, right under the wire of Prop 8, they are hosting now a celebration at the occasion of their first anniversary. Bob asked me, along with a few other friends and relatives, to deliver a few words for a ceremonial portion. He e-mailed me a tidy list of participants and their designations. I am referred to as “witness.” I’m not sure if I should limit my words to only the brief ceremony outside City Hall, among the homeless lolling, on a warm day, by the river or if there is a broader expectation. I have known Bob nearly 30 years. A lot of what I have witnessed is not appropriate for sharing at a celebratory event.

The “witness” distinction leaves Bob open to be fodder for a lot of cheap laughs and what party would not liven up with a colorful recounting of the exploits of one determined to redefine the art of self destruction? While Scary Bob captured my attention and caused me to jump at a ringing phone for years of my life, he now seems pertinent only because from his rock bottom would be like Everest place, Bob clung to a glimmer of God’s light and mustered the courage to surrender to it. It is a long and hard journey when you are guided only by an infinitesimal crack of light in skies dark with fear and self loathing. Bob moved north and stayed on the road and met Chris, whose own journey too was not always illuminated by clear and certain light.

Bob’s dad Harry spoke at my wedding. I cannot remember his words but his spirit lingers sweet and large enough now so that I can share some with Bob and Chris as they celebrate their own union, a celebration Harry would have attended joyfully. Early in their relationship, Harry, in his 90s, spent some months of his final year living with Bob and Chris. Before I met Chris, Bob described his tender care of the frail elderly man so even if he wasn’t smart and funny and extraordinarily handsome, I would have loved him anyway.

That these two paths converged and burst bright with the perfect light of grace is sweet to celebrate. There is injustice and intolerance in the world and I am mindful of this and also of the many victims of fear and ignorance who are arbitrarily deprived the sacrament of marriage. But in this world that seems particularly lacking in sweetness now, may we not lose hope and allow ourselves one pure joyful breath for a union that is blessed and righteous.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

In a Beginning

In a beginning
It is a new year and we have celebrated the birthday of the world. I like being outdoors but prefer to experience it with nothing more taxing than a meandering stroll on smooth flat ground. I know I should be concerned about the physical environment but when the gung ho recycling guy is not in the office I am relieved that we can use paper plates at lunch. And that we don’t have to use MY water to wash them.

At home I have been pretty well trained because Himself, knowing how laissez faire I am, scrutinizes the trash can and it is easier I guess to deposit recyclables in the bin on the porch than endure his wrath. I am aware of the moral imperative to heal the planet but for some reason I do not fathom, I simply cannot muster genuine enthusiasm for committing to fulfil this in practice. Furthermore, and I know it dumbs me down, I couldn’t care less about science except when it pertains to medical maladies that could possibly afflict me. I cannot commit any sustained concentration to science or nature shows and while I like cats and dogs and sometimes if there is a bird I will look at it, generally, I don’t really care about animals. I particularly dislike rodents and sure, the other species are entitled to survive but I have no particular desire to see or commune among them.

I have always loved dogs and I was chastised in some sort of college organized confrontational therapy session for keeping my dog with me (Gladys-a toy poodle) all the time to cushion me from what was referred to as my terror at honest human interaction. Until recently, I had never encountered a dog I could not find some quality in. I even held affection for Sonny, the high strung toy poodle of my childhood who would nip me and draw blood, for which my mother would slap me on account of making him nervous. Rover now goes most places with me. A couple of excellent dogs preceded him. A long time researcher at the office is baby sitting his daughter's Chihuahua while she serves the army in Kuwait. The dog gets extraordinary care and attention in her absence, a tribute. It is called “Little Bit.” I have never found the breed to be the least bit attractive, but even as Chihuahuas go, this one is particularly ugly with vacant bulging eyes and spindly legs like small fryer wing bones. Sometimes, when home on the couch I see rats scurrying over the phone wires through the grapefruit tree and they are more appealing than Little Bit. Usually homely dogs compensate with sweet, obsequious dispositions but this one is vicious and spiteful. She befouls the bed in the shrine which my late father’s office seems to have become.

When 75 lb. Rover approaches, she lunges and snarls and leaps to bite him. He is a good boy and does nothing to retaliate but looks at me imploringly and stricken that I have allowed in his office such an unfriendly hideous beast. I graciously drag the animal along on Rover’s walk but I am embarrassed to appear in public with the thing that everyone, when its custodian is out of earshot, refers to as “Little Bitch.” She has a pink collar with matching leash and pink plastic poop bag reticule. She yaps furiously at every cat, dog, human and sometimes at seemingly nothing. Rover could permanently dispatch the thing in less than a second. And as much as I would like to support our troops, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if he did. I admire his restraint.

As much as I like dogs and cats (exception noted above), I don’t go out of my way to read about them. The list of topics I will not read about is much longer than the list of topics that I might. I call Himself a freak due to the expansiveness of his reading and writing. I also refer to the Dalai Lama as a freak and compare him to the Dionne Quintuplets, but more about that later. I lack my beloved’s intellectual rigorousness and my interests are idiosyncratic and shallowly narrow. And narrowly shallow. I am fascinated by India, Africa and China but I will add, to this confession of intellectual sloth, that I read practically nothing pertaining to the Middle East, including my homeland. I have trouble remembering if we are fighting in Iran or Iraq. I spend several hours a week, under the aegis of a Jewish service agency, writing letters of comfort to Jewish convicts but the Jewish content of these letters is sparse.

I read headlines, but seldom whole articles, about Israel. I do intend to travel there one day and no, I am not qualified to form opinions until I have experienced the tiny sliver surrounded by nations whose faithful pray for its annihilation. An Iranian diplomat speaks in response to accusations about their development of nuclear weapons and cites “the Zionist threat.” There are approximately 13 million Jews in the world to threaten 1.5 BILLION Muslims. Stuff like this makes me feel very Jewish, but the headlines from periodicals of left, right and centrist persuasions regarding the settlement program, the treatment of the Palestinians and the chasm that apparently exists between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews within the nation of Israel, cause me to read no further.

Spuds is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah and I want him to be proud of this commitment to the covenant. But I struggle with my own. I am proud of Jewish accomplishments and I feel an elevating connectedness when I remember all the Jews who have changed the world for the better. Unfortunately, thinking about scoundrels like Sheldon Adelson and Bernie Madoff and the abuse heaped on human beings in name of kosher slaughter in Iowa makes me squirm.

We attend Yom Kippur services at our little temple. Up until very recently the regular and High Holiday prayer books used there were published in 1937. For nearly eighteen years we have been using a prayer book that predated the Holocaust and the creation of Israel. This year, new High Holiday prayer books have been donated and it is cool that God is not referred to as “he.” I couldn’t help being distracted by, despite the modernity of the crisp new siddur, the repeated imprecations for God to smite our foe. Christian prayers are more likely to be for Christian light to open the eyes and hearts of those who would seek to do us ill. Christianity is for everyone but with the small exception of those, who seek themselves, with little encouragement (except perhaps by future in-laws) to convert, Jews are created in blood. This, exacerbated by centuries of atrocities inflicted on the Jewish people makes for the complicated onus of having no choice in the matter.

I think many Jews ricochet between pride and self hatred and this duality manifests itself in a distinctive pugnacity. The scant 13 million of us navigate the world of billions of non-Jews and are regarded with a mixture of respect, suspicion and resentment. Still, even though we are dissed, I was really put off by all the smiting and yearn for liturgy more focused on mercy and forgiveness. I also pray for righteous Jewish acts to counter Jewish financial malfeasance which has been the focus of so much press lately. Maybe with this we will be perceived as less of a threat.

The main character of the lugubrious and aptly named HBO comedy Bored to Death, is asked by an Israeli mover if he is one of those New York self hating Jews. Although not even made aware of his mother’s Judaism until a teen, Bill Maher, to me is the quintessential self hating Jew. He is even receiving an award by Richard Dawkins’s Atheist Alliance. His film Religulous was a shallow, mean-spirited jab at organized religion that sought out the most extreme crackpot elements from a number of faiths to build the case that all believers are dumbfucks. His simplistic cheap shot dismissal of religion rankles but recently an ill informed nasty rant about obesity upped the ante of my ire at him. Maher, recently on his RealTime series:

President Arugula is not gonna tell Americans they're fat and lazy. No sin tax on food on Obama's watch. And at a time when it's important to set new standards for personal responsibility, he appointed a surgeon general, who is, I'm sorry, kind of fat. Certainly too heavy to be a surgeon general, it's a role model thing.

Fat and junk food are as high on Maher’s list of evil forces in the universe as faith. The evidence is clear though that obesity is not caused by a lack of self control or deficiency of personal character. There are many healthy fat people who do not consume junk food and there are many malnourished thin people who do. I would be in favor of taxing foods that have no nutritional value but all evidence suggests that this will not, er, tip the scales on obesity statistics. I don’t think the vitriol Maher spews at religion will be of any consequence to the faithful, but to encourage discrimination and the promulgation of disproved mythology about the overweight is far from harmless.

Buying into society’s messed up notions about weight, I have been drinking only protein shakes for two weeks and decide that the break the fast potluck at the temple at the end of Yom Kippur will be as good a time as any to break my own. I make an industrial sized potato kugel with tons of onions and an amount of butter that I blush to recall in the face of having railed recently at prejudice against the overweight.
I am distracted by the thought of eating it all day.

At the end of Yom Kippur a congregant leads a Sephardic closing service in Spanish , begging God in simple declarative song and prayer to hear our prayers. The temple is jammed. The shul has struggled for survival for decades in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood, but since an article in Los Angeles Magazine and some tireless, well organized outreach, suddenly it’s hip and crammed to the gills with young families. We have attended the temple for 18 years. Early in our membership we attempted, when approached by a group of neighbors, to begin a children’s program with a number of local families. For a few months there were family services and kids running through the shul and climbing on the bimah but the old members were rigid and doctrinaire and after some ugly, contentious meetings, all of the young families, except us, broke away.

The shofar is blown to mark the official beginning of the New Year and the metaphorical closing of the gates. Havdalah, the end of the end and the beginning of the beginning, follows. The temple is bathed in the light of three huge braided candles. The memorial boards shimmer with the names, birth and death dates of the old congregants who, paranoid and pugnacious, drove away the group of young families over a decade ago. The candles are doused in wine and there is a moment of darkness before the lights come on. By the time we get to the buffet table, the kugel is gone. I take the kids for tacos, ok, but not kugel.

While my allegiance to Jewish foods is sure and strong, it is easy to be conflicted when it seems we are not being advanced by rubbing the world’s face in the injustices our people have suffered. Yet, soundbites pertaining to the Zionist threat air on our morning commute. We are Jews and I will never in my life claim otherwise, but this has become a loaded thing for me and poses an obstacle to fully immersing myself in Jewish worship. Himself wrote a very thoughtful piece about Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk who embarked on the exploration of Zen Buddhism and the Dalai Lama and the paradoxical public life of the contemplative.
"Merton, Buddhism, Tolkien & Second Languages" I wonder if Merton, like the young people who were driven out of our temple for audaciously questioning the way things are done because we’ve always done them that way, was discouraged by his Trappist order for embarking to enrich his personal spiritual experience and explore a different path.

The Dalai Lama makes me sad, not just because he is a ruler in exile but because he was he was determined to be a physical manifestation of God and plucked from his family’s mountain farm at the age of 2. The Judeo-Christian thing is that we are pretty much bad but if we, despite our postlapsarian taint, struggle down the righteous road, the Messiah will embrace us at journey’s end. Tibetan Buddhists start with the precept that we are good and for this, God’s emanation, in the form of the Dalai Lama is here on earth, right now. The challenge then is not to confront and wrestle with the evil that besmirched us all when Adam bit into the apple but to nurture our natural goodness, as evidenced by a God who blesses us with a human incarnation. Still, I suspect it may be a bummer for the Dalai Lama.

It is hard for me to understand any kind of spirituality that doesn’t spring from the seeking of it and I wonder how being regarded as God since the time of your earliest memory would color one’s personal spiritual process. I have always admired religious denominations that recognize the righteousness of the choosing, and don’t confer full membership until adulthood. The Dalai Lama is a beacon and a comfort to people of many faiths but I wonder how it is to be thrust into this role without ever being afforded the choice. Our bloodlines, like the omens and portents that led to a Tibetian baby on a remote mountain, determine what we are. Our DNA can be traced back to the 12 tribes, Jewish indelibly, whether we opt in or out of religious observance. I am compelled by the thought of a baby being snatched from his mother and permanently denied the possibility of opting out and deprived the blinding light of epiphany that pressages opting in.

My beloved and I pillow talk until two a.m. about faith and God, fortifying ourselves for the journey, whispering in the dark, arriving at no conclusions. I am shallow and it is the great blessing of my life that he takes me seriously and that he loves me. I worry about the Dalai Lama and how much guff the church gave Thomas Merton for his fascination with Buddhism. I am a Jew but sometimes it is hard to pray as one. I read my horoscope in two different places first thing every morning. A recent prediction is that I would finally be able to prove my love to someone skeptical. I chew that around to conclude that while I may not win a prize for being a custodian of the planet, the people who I love know with certainly that I love them. Horoscopes are bullshit except maybe to show me that while the journey is infinite, I am, we are, on a good road. Shabbat Shalom.