Saturday, December 30, 2006

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Thanks Mom

As I've been surfing the blogosphere I've noticed that there are a lot of single moms blogging. This is for them.

And for one former single mom who's as likely to sprout wings and take up aerobatics as she is to ever read a blog. (For her, I'll print this out and send it by "snail mail.")

In 1964, my mom became a widow. I was 26 months old. For the next 15 years, our household consisted of her and me.

And, though I was, of course, the perfect child, I was precious little help in terms of keeping a roof over our head, clothes on our backs and food in our bellies.

Mom taught kindergarten part-time until I was old enough to go to school myself. Thereafter she taught full time. She also earned a masters degree, participated in community theater, served on the board of her credit union and carried on a normal social life.

She made me feel so special and supported and loved, that it never occurred to me that she might have anything else to do besides supervising my upbringing.

When, in the early years, we all ate Shabbat dinner at Grandma and Grandpa's house, and then she left me there overnight, for Grandma to take to religious school on Saturday morning, it never ever occurred to me that, for her, Friday night was adult-time.

She could see a movie with a friend, go on a date that didn't require getting home in time for a baby-sitter (or the cost of a baby-sitter), or just enjoy our apartment without worrying about what I was getting into and whether I was ever going to stop with my incessant jibber-jabber of questions and comments. (I haven't yet.)

She made me feel so secure that I thought she was making a great sacrifice by letting Grandma and Grampa have me one night out of most weeks. The idea that leaving me with her folks might be a relief, rather than a sacrifice, never entered my David-centric consciousness.

Looking back, I can see hints that her task wasn't so easy. But only with my 44-year-old eyes.

At the time, I was sure my mom could solve any problem and that our life was smooth sailing.

(She remarried when I was 17 and I was best man. He's a spectacular guy and I was honored. I was also honored to ask him to return the favor more than a decade later.)

Talking to my mom about the 15 years she raised me alone, I can now see there must have been a gazillion times she felt uncertain, alone, frustrated and overwhelmed. There are undoubtedly dozens of decisions she'd like to get a "do-over" on. Maybe hundreds.

But I'm here to tell you, the love, firmness, humor, consistency, standards and security she conveyed to me (even when she didn't always feel these things herself) gave me the best foundation a guy could hope for upon which to build his own adult life.

Words are inadequate to express the depth of my gratitude. So instead, with this post, I'm trying to pay it forward.

Let me express my gratitude to all the single mom bloggers I've read in the past month.

You're doing for your kids what my mom did for me. Don't waste too much time second-guessing yourself. You're doing the best you can with what you've got. You're juggling bills and jobs and appointments and you're trying to live some semblance of an adult existence while putting your kids' needs first.

Thank you.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I Heart YouTube

I first saw this video at mamamusings.

YouTube Video Description

A comedian rants about how much it sucks to play Pachelbel's Canon in D on a cello. Recorded live at Penn State, this piece by comedian/musician Rob Paravonian has been a favorite on the Dr. Demento Show.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Exercise

One prescription for battling the blues that came my way from wildly divergent sources, after I posted about feeling bleak, was exercise.

I definitely feel better after I've run around a field tossing about a Frisbee with Monkeyboy in DC.

Part natural endorphins being released through exercise part parental glee, I'm guessing.

Maybe I'll join a "35-and-over" county basketball league.

I'm a triple-threat player. I can kill a team with my errant shot, my inability to play defense or a vertical leap that even Caucasian guys laugh at.

O.K., maybe not basketball.

I had fun at Monkeyboy's youth choir swim-and-sing party this past Sunday. And the county pools are dirt cheap to use. I oughtta get there more often.

On the other hand, I've spent a lifetime denouncing exercise as highly overrated. Jim Fixx and Euell Gibbons both died of heart attacks when I was a teenager and Keith Richard is still alive.

And it seems as if everyone I know who's physically fit is also injured (or recovering from an injury, or rehabbing one.)

Besides, I AM in shape. Round is a shape.

O.K., I've reached a compromise. Thanks for listening while I worked this out. I'm gonna start swimming regularly, but, in the interests of comedy, I'm going to deny doing it.

Got my resolution resolved with a week to spare.

Cool.

Monday, December 25, 2006

I Put My Name Into Google Images

This is what I found.

(Also a bunch of pictures of the Director of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.)

When I looked like that, I was usually told I looked like one of three characters:

1) Jesus
2) Charles Manson
3) Animal, the drummer for the Muppets.

I'll leave it to you to guess which comparison I preferred.

Now I have a bald spot that's got me seriously considering becoming a more observant Jew, just for the camouflage.

It's a trick I learned from Arafat. You don't think he wore that khaffiyah for style, do you?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Season's Greetings

I harvested most of these from here:

Merry Christmas (U.S.)
Happy Christmas (U.K.)
Gezur Krislinjden (Albanian)
Kamgan Ukudigaa (Aleut)
Melkam Yelidet Beaal (Amharic)
Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah (Arabic)
Feliz Navidad (Argentine)
Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand (Armenian)
Tezze Iliniz Yahsi Olsun (Azeri)
Luzihiro Lwa Krismas (Bantu - Kipare Dialect)
Kwa Beno Banso Bwanana (Bantu - Chinayanja)
Na Bino Banso Bonane (Bantu -Kikango)
Zorionak eta Urte Berri On! (Basque)
Shubho Barodin (Bengali)
Vesele Vanoce (Bohemian)
Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo (Brazilian)
Nedeleg laouen na bloavezh mat (Breton)
Tchestita Koleda; Tchestito Rojdestvo Hristovo (Bulgarian)
Bon Nadal i un Bon Any Nou (Catalan)
Feliz Navidad (Chile)
Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun (Chinese - Cantonese)
Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan (Chinese - Mandarin)
Yukpa, Nitak Hollo Chito (Choctaw)
Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo (Columbia)
Nadelik looan na looan blethen noweth (Cornish)
Pace e salute (Corsican)
Sretan Bozic (Croatian)
Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok (Czech)
Glaedelig Jul (Danish)
Woof (Danish, Great)
Miet puou yan dhiedh Banyda tene Yin (Dinka)
Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar (Dutch)
Colo sana wintom tiebeen (Egyptian)
Gajan Kristnaskon (Esperanto)
Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi (Estonian)
Cristmas-e-shoma mobarak bashad (Farsi)
Hyvää Joulua or Hauskaa Joulua (Finnish)
Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig nieuw jaar (Flemish)
Chchghrchrg (Phlegmish)
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année (French)
Bo Nada (Galician)
Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ur (Gaelic)
Gilotsavt Krist'es Shobas (Georgian)
Merry Christmas, Y'all (Georgian)
Froehliche Weihnachten und ein gluckliches Neues Jahr (German)
Kala Christougenna Kieftihismenos O Kenourios Chronos (Greek)
Juullimi Ukiortaassamilu Pilluarit (Greenlandic)
Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian)
Mo'adim Lesimkha (Hebrew)
Shubh Naya Baras (Hindi)
Nyob Zoo Xyoo Tahiab (Hmong)
Kellemes Karacsonyiunnepeket & Boldog Új Évet (Hungarian)
Gledileg Jol og Farsaelt Komandi ar (Icelandic)
Selamat Hari Natal (Indonesian)
Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah (Iraqi)
Nollaig Shona Dhuit (Irish)
Ojenyunyat Sungwiyadeson honungradon nagwutut. Ojenyunyat osrasay (Iroquois)
Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo (Italian)
Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto (Japanese)
Sung Tan Chuk Ha (Korean - North)
Sung Tan Chuk Ha (Korean - South)
Seva piroz sahibe u sersala te piroz be (Kurdish)
Natale hilare et Annum Nuovo Latvian (Latin)
Erry-may Istmas-chray (Ig-pay Atin-lay)
Prieci'gus Ziemsve'tkus un Laimi'gu Jauno Gadu (Latvian)
Linksmu Kaledu (Lithuanian)
Streken Bozhik (Macedonian)
Nixtieklek Milied tajjeb u is-sena t-tabja (Maltese)
Meri Kirihimete (Maori)
Zul saryn bolon shine ony mend devshuulye (Mongolian)
Krist Yesu Ko Shuva Janma Utsav Ko Upalaxhma Hardik Shuva (Nepali)
God Jul og Godt Nyttår (Norwegian)
Bikpela hamamas blong dispela Krismas na Nupela yia i go long yu (Papua New Guinea)
Maligayang Pasco at Manigong Bagong Taon (Philippines)
Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia (Polish)
Boas Festas e um feliz Ano Novo (Portuguese)
Nave sal di mubaraka (Punjabi)
Mata-Ki-Te-Rangi. Te-Pito-O-Te-Henua (Rapa-Nui - Easter Island)
Legreivlas fiastas da Nadal e bien niev onn! (Romanche - Sursilvan dialect)
Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom (Russian)
La Maunia Le Kilisimasi Ma Le Tausaga Fou (Samoan)
Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou (Sardinian)
Gaelic Nollaig chridheil huibh (Scots)
Hristos se rodi (Serbian)
Subha nath thalak Vewa. Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa (Singhalese)
Vesele Vianoce. A stastlivy Novy Rok (Slovak)
Vesel Bozic in Srecno novo leto! (Slovenian)
ciid wanaagsan iyo sanad cusub oo fiican (Somali)
Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo (Spanish)
God Jul och Gott Nytt År (Swedish)
Wilujeng Natal Sareng Warsa Enggal (Sudanese)
ºKrismas Njema Na Heri Za Mwaka Mpyaº (Swahili)
Sarbatori vesele (Rumanian)
Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan (Mandarin)
Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon (Tagalog)
Ia ora i te Noere e ia ora na i te matahiti 'api (Tahitian)
Nathar Puthu Varuda Valthukkal (Tamil)
Suksan Wan Christmas lae Sawadee Pee Mai (Thai)
Kristo abe anduwe muciindo ca Christmas (Tonga)
Kilisimasi Fiefia (Tongan)
Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun (Turkish)
Veseloho Vam Rizdva i Shchastlyvoho Novoho Roku (Ukranian)
Naya Saal Mubarak Ho (Urdu)
Bon Nadal i millor any nou (Valencian)
Chuc Mung Giang Sinh - Chuc Mung Tan Nien (Vietnamese)
Nadolig LLawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda (Welsh)
Gute Vaynakhtn un a Gut Nay Yor (Yiddish)
E ku odun, e ku iye'dun! (Yoruba)
Cestitamo Bozic (Yugoslavian)
Sinifesela Ukhisimusi Omuhle Nonyaka Omusha Onempumelelo (Zulu)

G-d Bless Us, Every One - Dickens.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Yes, A Boy CAN Do That

EK was absolutely right. No one batted an eye when the Cantor called on me to light the candles.

Friday night was wonderful. I got to sit on the bimah with a neighbor I hardly know, who was up there in honor of her recently-celebrated "special birthday". She was a delight, and seemed delighted at the recognition from a synagogue she's been a member of for more than half a century.

The Rabbi had a well-deserved night off and the Cantor delivered a heartfelt and moving D'var Torah (translation for non-M.O.T.'s = sermon, more-or-less) on the topic of assimilation --- and the gulf that sometimes exists between the community and its leaders --- that had conversation buzzing at the oneg Shabbat (cookies and punch after Sabbath services).

She also led the choir in a set of non-traditional musical settings for a number of the prayers that were just beautiful.

As soon as my sentence (oops, I meant term of office) as a synagogue V.P. is over in June, I'm joining that choir. At the moment, it's all women. The ones who have to sing tenor have been especially supportive of my plan.

Bloggers Are Nice II

Your response to this post has been overwhelming. From both likely and unlikely sources.

In addition to what you've seen here in the comments section, I've got a couple of e-mails I will treasure for some time to come.

I'm less blue now.

Thank you for your part in that.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Can Boys Do That?

Tonight's one of the nights I sit on the bimah at my synagogue to make announcements at the end of the service.

"Thanks to the Rabbi, Cantor and accompanist who lead us in worship; please join us in the social hall after services for wine, challah, punch, pastries and camaraderie; please try not to run over the other children in the parking lot when you drop your own kid off for Sunday morning religious school." You get the idea.

Near the beginning of our services, a congregant lights candles and recites a prayer to welcome the beginning of the Sabbath. In traditional Judaism, this is a commandment fulfilled by women. Men lead most every prayer in traditional Judaism, but not this one.

Anyway, because I have bimah duty this weekend, the synagogue kindly offered the candle-lighting honor to my wife (or, as she prefers to be called, my reason for being.)

She was honored, but our erev Shabbat services don't start until 8:15 pm and niether of us really wanted to keep Monkeyboy in DC out until eleven when his bed time is nine o'clock or so.

I conveyed her thanks and her regrets to the synagogue office and asked, what if I do it?

A friend who's a former president of the shul told me he'd stood in as candle-blesser at least once when he was president, so I knew I was not proposing something unprecedented, just rare.

They said sure.

So I'm lighting candles tonight. We're Reform. We can do that sort of thing.

At home, the three of us always recite the prayers over the Shabbat candles together, in Hebrew and English, holding hands and followed by a cascade of kisses. So I'm pretty sure I'll get my lines right.

But I'm very curious about whether a man in this role usually fulfilled by women will cause consternation, commendation or curiousity.

It'd be nice if, in Reform Judaism at least, we've reached the point where it's of no concern at all.

I'll be interested to see.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Enough Wallowing

After my last post, Playtah was kind enough to offer a comment of encouragement. I really appreciated it.

Other friends just sent me silly stuff directly. Much of it would offend one side or the other in the various culture wars, gender wars and political wars that rage around us. But I think this one should offend no one.

It made me laugh out loud, which was a big help.

Still, I sure hope it's an Internet legend:

After every flight, airline pilots fill out a form, called a "gripesheet," which tells mechanics about problems with the aircraft. The mechanics correct the problems, document their repairs on the form, and then pilots review the gripe sheets before the next flight.

Never let it be said that ground crews lack a sense of humor. Here are some actual maintenance complaints submitted by pilots and the solutions recorded by maintenance engineers.

P = The problem logged by the pilot.
S = The solution and actiontaken by mechanics.

P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire

P: Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
S: Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.

P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on back-order.

P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200 feet per minute descent.
S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.

P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
S: DME volume set to more believable level.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That's what they're for.

P: IFF inoperative.
S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Suspected crack in windshield.
S: Suspect you're right.

P: Aircraft handles funny.
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.

P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

P: Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer.
S: Took hammer away from midget.

And one dear friend sent along this sage advice:

Emotional Weather Report: Bleak and Bleary

Today's one of those days that I wish I'd never gotten out of bed.

I feel like tears are just beneath the surface, eager to break out at the first provocation.

Yesterday all of my tasks at work felt like I had them humming along, 50 channels of multi-tasking juggled as deftly as Michael Davis ever handled chainsaws.

Today I feel like every damn one is behind schedule, I can't possibly complete them, more work is spilling over my transom every minute and my next task will be the one that shows everyone around me that I'm average and weak and I've been faking excellence my whole life.

We always seem in a rush at home. When I'm not depressed, that feels like we're living a full life. When I'm tottering, it's just a source of more stress.

Untreated depression is just a slow march to suicide.

But even depression that's well under treatment --- and between my pshrink and my meds, my depression IS well under treatment --- rears a nightmarish head every once in a while.

I've been awake during many of the same hours as our pet hamster Ted this week and it's catching up with me. I'm finally losing the 5 pounds or so I've been trying to diet off for months, but it's because I have little appetite. My temper is short.

Still, the meds help put a floor under things. There's no spiraling downward past sad.

I feel blue, but not anything much worse. I get up, feed Monkeyboy, shower, put on a suit and run him to school. I resist the temptation to dash back home, call in sick. I attend committee meetings at shul, continue my tutoring and tend to the laundry and trash at home. I trust that tomorrow, or the next day, will be better than today.

I recognize the anchors my dear ones provide to keep me upright and weathering another day. I'm grateful.

I just wish the clouds would dissipate faster.

[Note to ANON1: I know this looks like a softball. Please do me a favor and resist it. Thanks.]

Monday, December 18, 2006

Go See Happy Feet

Happy Feet is the best movie I've seen this year.

This movie is so great, on so many levels, I'm hard-pressed to know where to begin.

Animated tap-dancing penguins: Mumble, the penguin protagonist of Happy Feet, dances like Savion Glover. For good reason. Glover's moves are Mumble' s. The geek in me has read how this is the product of sophisticated "CGI" and "motion capture" technologies. Feh! It's magic.

Glover also choreographed a couple of old-style movie-musical production numbers for the movie that simply cannot be described. They're raucous and precise at the same time. You've gotta see them to believe them.

Robin Williams: The various characters he voices (especially Lovelace, the evangelical penguin guru and Ramon, a latin hip-hop penguin who helps Mumble get his groove on) are Williams at his manic hilarious best.

Kick-ass soundtrack: Besides tap, this is a movie about rhythm and blues, soul, funk and about 53 other kinds of cool music. I wish there was a radio station in DC that played this wide a variety of tunes.

Slapstick: 1st rate, inventive slapstick. And lots of funny voices. I enjoyed both elements as much the two 9-year-olds in my party.

Sophisticated themes: Mumble's banishment by a rigid council of elders, simply because he dances instead of sings, and their eventual comeuppance. The romantic notion of one true love. The classic arc of a child who sets out on a journey wins a battle and returns home a man. The hazards of over-fishing in the waters off Antarctica. The complicated relationships we have with our mothers and our fathers. Motown vs hip-hop.

I'd go see it again tomorrow.

Update: Rachel just reminded me that someone else posted on this first, including a very funny picture.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Chag Sameach

Or if you prefer Gut Yontiff.

If neither one of those makes sense to you, please wait 9 days. I can do Merry Christmas in a ton of languages. And Happy Christmas for my British friends.

I will need some schooling on the date(s) and proper greetings for Kwanzaa. Anybody?

Common Decency

For a while there, I was pretty sure there were no depths to which our current popular culture could not sink.

This was confirmed for me when the OJ book was announced.

But then a shocking thing happened, and it made me smile. We finally hit the point below which even a vulgarity-soaked American public would not go.

The public outcry caused Rupert Murdoch, of all people, to discover a sense of shame. He nixed this obscenity of a book and reined in the charlatan of a book publisher who'd engineered the whole damned circus.

Yippee!

But I think I was overly optimistic. The coverage of Senator Tim Johnson's collapse and subsequent brain surgery has been truly and dispiritingly abysmal.

I understand the importance of every vote in a Senate split 51-49. But simple common decency demands that, at least in the first few hours after a man is stricken, we not all publicly engage in guessing games about what will happen in the political horserace if he dies.

There's ample time for that when his condition is clearer. And absolutely nothing to gain from the folly of putting this cart before this particular horse so blatantly.

Let the Carvilles and Matalins and Roves and Emanuels of the world plot out all the possible variations and permutations of this political Rubik's cube in private, as they must - by the nature of their jobs and by their own idiosyncratic immersion in the 24/7 world of the Permanent Campaign.

But is there no way for the rest of us, the news media most definitely included, to agree to a moratorium on this worse-than-unseemly public reckoning while the man's still in surgery or just settling into ICU?

Obviously, a law about this would do way more harm than good. But it didn't take a law to deep-six OJ's latest travesty --- just sufficient public revulsion.

Maybe we can muster it again, to try to make sure no one else's family has to go through the grotesqueries that Tim Johnson's family have seen on every TV screen and front page since their private ordeal began.

I'm probably hoping for too much.

But how about this. Let's at least hope (and if so inclined pray) that he recovers well enough to make all this ghoulish public prognosticating moot. If public revulsion isn't enough now, maybe it will be when the "reporting" turns out to have been not only unspeakably inhumane, but pointless besides.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

King of the Hill

There's a great profile of Charlie Rangel in today's Washington Post. When the new Congress convenes, he'll become Chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Rangel is an unreconstructed, old-style, big city liberal whose occasionally over-the-top rhetoric is a real tonic for knee-jerk, bleeding hearts like yours truly.

When he ascends to his Chairmanship early next year, he will become the most powerful black man ever on Capitol Hill. We ought to have come further than that in the 140 odd years since Appomattox, but it beats losing.

Rangel's place in history, however, was secured earlier in the demented presidency of George Bush the Younger.

Rangel, the congressman who represents Harlem, was appearing on a local NYC public broadcasting station, WLIW, in March of 2005 when he was asked to give his quick thoughts about various political figures. The first was Dubya.

His response, while accentuating the positive, was as devastating as it was accurate:

"Well," Rangel said. "I really think that he shatters the myth of white supremacy once and for all; it shows that, in this great country, anybody can become president."

I'm sure glad he's on my side.

The Worst Office Party Holiday Gift Game Ever

O.K. Here's a game designed to foster ill will and bad cheer.

Unbelievably, I've seen it in two different offices over the years. Whoever thought it up should be required to watch all 24 hours of A Christmas Story on TBS every year from now until eternity, and even after that.

Everyone gets a gift of as close to X dollars as they can. Nothing too expensive so everyone can join in the fun. X was usually 20 or 25 bucks and people generally spent that much. At least the first year. That's because their souls have not yet been sucked dry from the sheer cussedness of what now ensues.

Everyone places their wrapped present on a table.

Everyone draws numbers out of a hat. It turns out the highest numbers are the best, but not everyone understands this at first.

Number one chooses from any one of the presents.

Number two may either unwrap a new present or take the unwrapped present from person number one.

This continues until all the presents are unwrapped. Friends steal cool toys from other friends. The first few to pick see good stuff pass through their hands or off of their laps several times before they get the bath soaps someone threw in because their cousin Edith, with the impaired nostrils, sent them as a birthday present three years ago.

And the guy who opened the envelope with the X dollars worth of state lottery tickets is enraged the next day to learn that the richest guy in the office, who took the lottery tickets from him on the very last "take" of the game, leaving in its place a Weird Al Yankovic album, won $1,500.00 on the tickets.

Please join my crusade to stamp out this ill-conceived game whenever and wherever it rears its twisted, ugly head.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Commuter Comedy

My morning commute today was plagued by having to participate in a teleconference. Thank goodness for hands-free cellphones. But attending committee meetings by phone while you're trying to pay due attention to D.C.'s omnipresent rush-hour nut-cases does feel like adding insult to injury.

The good traffic fairy must have known I needed a lift. She placed a car with my new favorite bumper sticker directly in front of me:


You can get it here. I'm gonna.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Groan :)

What does an agnostic, dyslexic insomniac do?

Stays up all night, pondering the existence of Dog.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Thou shalt not steal

Nine-year-old Monkeyboy in DC was explaining what he'd learned Sunday morning at Sunday school as we were driving home to mom and lunch.

What about in Dr. W.'s class I asked. (Dr. W. is a physicist who moonlights on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings to teach nine-year-olds, G-d bless her.) Aren't you guys still learning stuff about the 10 commandmants?

Yeah, he sort of grunted over the bleeps and blorps of his PSP.

You guys get to the one about honoring thy mother and thy father?

No, I don't think we've done that one, we're kind of skipping around. We learned about the second one today.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me?

Yeah, but we've been skipping around.

Well, I know you guys covered coveting right? (Dr. W. and I had talked and laughed about this a few weeks earlier.)

Yeah, but there was an interesting point in the one about stealing.

(When Monkeyboy starts off with an introduction like "...there was an interesting point...," I know its something he's been scheming about. The nine-year-olds I talk to don't talk that way in the normal course of things, Monkeyboy most definitely included.)

Did you know, he said with eyes twinkling, that even waking somebody up is considered stealing, because you're stealing their sleep?

We had a bad few mornings last week about him getting up for school with a minimum of stalling and whining.

I never heard that one before, my friend, I told him. I'm sure it doesn't apply when you have a responsibility to be someplace, or I do.

He agreed, and we talked some more about why we need to get up when we do.

This morning, he got up with the barest minimum of difficulty.

And on the Internet, I found this.

I also found this and this, if you like learning your Bible without cartoons.

Every kid in the world understands wanting to sleep later. (So do many grown-ups.)

Dr. W. hit on a detail that was sure to catch a kid's attention. And once you've got their attention, you can teach them the more important stuff.

Thank you Dr. W.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Prayer for Darfur

What follows is a Jewish Prayer for Darfur. Its authors are listed at the end.

For additional prayers --- Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American, Shinto, Sikh, Jainist or Zoroastrian --- click here and download the Faith Action Packet from the website of the Save Darfur Campaign.

We fear that the people of Darfur will be forgotten.
They are so far away.
They are so different.
We are so busy and it is hard to disrupt our own lives.
It hurts to think of them, and so we put them out of our hearts.

Though we remember being slaves
we do not often think of the horrors of slavery.
We pray because there are limits to what we can do.
We appeal to Adonai to accomplish the impossible,
to bring compassion to those who have none,
to move governments to action and to relieve the immensity of suffering.

How can one look upon the faces of children and peaceful adults
and respond with violence, death and genocide?
How do we understand the hearts and minds of the oppressors?
Are they ignorant of their victims' humanity?
Do they not see themselves in their victim's eyes?

The suffering and pain is so overwhelming that we feel powerless to make a difference.
But we know that our tradition teaches that it is not necessary to finish the task,
but that we must begin!

We admire the young people who care enough to leave comfort and safety
in order to see and feel and learn the horror of Darfur.
May their example inspire us to begin to help in whatever way we can.
Please let us see the hope that resides in the refugee camps.

We pray that these innocents will begin to forget the horrors they have suffered,
that they may soon resume the order of their daily lives.
We pray that the people of Darfur regain their lives, their land, their hope.
We pray too, that the Sudanese military and the Janjaweed militia regain their humanity.
We pray that the World's leaders will not allow genocide to become an economic tool.

We must become tools of justice on behalf of these victims of genocide.
We must shed light on the darkness of neglect and anonymous suffering.
We must raise our voices to speak out on behalf of the oppressed,
for the victims who have no voice.

May what has happened in Darfur move the citizens of the world to intervene,
to take responsibility, to ensure that such horrors cease to exist.

Our time may be limited: the climate of our planet is changing.
We may not inhabit this earth much longer.
May we learn to live with one another in peace for the remainder of our days.
Amen.

Morris Deutsch, Sherm Edwards, Barbara Luchs, Virginia Murphy, Fred Reiner, Melinda Salzman, Lynn Sweet, Nelly Urbach

Friday, December 8, 2006

Darfur: "Not On My Watch" Wrote Bush - Let's Hold Him to It

The following comes from a book review in the journal of the Hoover Institution, about as right-wing a think-tank as they come:

"Last fall, after the Atlantic Monthly excerpted [Sandra] Power’s chapter on Rwanda [in a book called “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide], a National Security Council aide sent a memo to President Bush summarizing her argument and detailing the Clinton administration’s reluctance to act. President Bush’s four-word response to this failure to stop genocide, which he jotted in the memo’s margins, could not have been clearer: “not on my watch.”

Would that Dubya's actions kept pace with his margin scribblings.

The Save Darfur Campaign is calling for a "Weekend of Prayer for Darfur" this weekend.

Please check out their website with an eye toward doing whatever you can do to get the president to be a man of his word.

Why is confronting genocide in the vital interests of the United States?

Here I defer to the German theologian Martin Niemoller, who wrote of the Holocaust:

In Germany they first came for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me—and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Offensive Bigotry - ANON1 Penalized 15 yds and the Loss of a Down

Frequent commenter ANON1 offered up this gem, at the end of a long string of comments, yesterday:

"Who owns most of the media in America? The Jews. Most of the time jewish people are democratic and their view are to the left. So I don't think the press is as free as you think David."

Unbelievable.

Bigotry, factual error, unsupported stereotyping and unpleasant condescension, all in less than 40 words.

Imagine if the Mind of Anon1 had access to a brain. Nah, that seems unlikely.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Nature vs. nurture

Imaginary Conversations got me to thinking.

Nature vs. nurture is a false dichotomy.

I don't doubt that genetics plays a huge role in who we turn out to be.

Lord knows, as I've typed elsewhere, two generations of suicide before me (my father and his mother) fairly screams "genetic predisposition to depression". Recognizing that predisposition and getting the proper meds to assuage it are the only reasons I'm stopping the death roll at two generations.

But nurture also shapes personality, character, outlook and development.

Nearly every day, Monkeyboy in DC demonstrates behavior or attitudes that he could only have learned by virtue of the fact that children are incredible little sponges, soaking up, contemplating and spitting out (usually at the most embarrassing moment possible) everything that goes on around them.

When you know they're watching and --- especially --- when you don't.

I firmly believe he's a more resilient and inquisitive fellow because he spent the first 26 months of his life at home with me, going to formal "Mothers First" play groups, impromptu play dates at the neighborhood playground and running my errands with me and watching me do household chores.

He'd be a different kid if he'd started day care when he was 2 months old rather than 2 years later.

I don't think nature had a helluva lot to do with his bravery to participate in, and enjoy, an otherwise all-girl dance and movement class for three years. I think it was watching me be at ease in a group called Mothers First when he was knee-high to a grasshopper.

Examples of obviously genetic contributions to his make-up abound. His looks favor his mom, thank heavens. If, after adolescence, his beard has five o'clock shadow at one pm, and his back is as hairy as an ape, that's my contribution. And, someday, he'll be sorry for mocking my ever-growing bald spot.

But examples abound too where the best explanation is nurture. He negotiates about getting extra video time or a later bedtime or a bigger allowance or permission to buy a hamster using words, phrases and gestures he's seen his mom and me use with one another all his life.

His ear for music is probably nature, but his willingness to go up onstage with me and my guitar, without fear, at Celebrate Fairfax! or at our shul, to sing Puff, The Magic Dragon and The Hammer Song looks a helluva lot more like nurture to these eyes.

Bottom line: Neither nature nor nurture has exclusive bragging rights for how we turn out. Both exert influence, and both, together --- along with random chance and the laws of unintended consequences --- account for the whole.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Webb Right - Will Wrong

Going into Iraq was wrong and President Bush lied to get us to go in.

The valiant soldiers we've put in harm's way deserve better. There are things worth going to war for, but ousting Saddam Hussein was not one of them.

And protecting the Sunni minority that prospered under Hussein from reaping what they've sown is not worth one more American life.

Since our Soldiers, Airmen, Navy and Marines got there, they've been hampered, harrassed, maimed and murdered for political goals that are unacheivable and political figures too stubborn or stupid to recognize their initial error.

The emporor has no clothes, and James Webb has the balls to say so.

The quote below is the lede to a story about Webb in a Washington Post article by Post Staff Writer Michael D. Shear.

"At a recent White House reception for freshman members of Congress, Virginia's newest senator tried to avoid President Bush. Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a presidential receiving line or to have his picture taken with the man he had often criticized on the stump this fall. But it wasn't long before Bush found him.

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House."

George Will has it exactly wrong. Webb brings to the Senate exactly what Washington needs more of.

In the next six years, I expect him to give liberals like me plenty of heartburn; Webb is no lefty.

But he's served this country admirably, as a warrior, a novelist, a journalist and a Secretary of the Navy.

I'm proud of the way he's representing Virginia, even before being formally sworn in.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Law School: It's More Than a Residual Career Path for the Directionless

White Dade got me to thinking.

(I'm finally remembering to type here when I find myself responding to other people's blogs with more than a couple of sentences.)

The nice thing about my JD is that now, when it's placed after my name, it no longer stands for juvenile delinquent.

I went to law school wanting to be a lawyer. But a public defender or a civil legal aid lawyer.

I wound up doing six years in the trenches at Legal Aid trying to explain to my dates the difference between a poverty lawyer and an impoverished lawyer. I didn't have a lot of luck coming up with a distinction between the two.

Since then I've worked as a temp/contract attorney, as the manager of a trinket store selling the political paraphrenalia of a presidential re-election campaign (a time-limited but very fun job, you also get to sell tchotchkes at inaugural parades and balls too, if your candidate wins), as a stay-at-home dad for Monkeyboy in DC's first two years, in the press office of a labor union, and at a bar association.

The JD was useful at every stop along the way, even the two years at home with diapers and Teletubbies.

Law school sucks, because a high percentage of your classmates got "does not play well with others" on their grammar school report cards.

But out in the real world, a JD is a useful degree to have, whether you practice or not. Or at least it has been for me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

G-d Bless Canonist

He's said it all. It doesn't get any crazier than this.

Very cool 5-minute diversion

This penguin is hilarious and totally safe for work. It's worth the 20 seconds or so for your personalized animation to start.

Check it out.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Under where?

Earlier today, Wonkette posted a piece about Mitt Romney. It was typical Wonkette, snarky and funny and about 15 minutes ahead of the political curve.

But it included a photo I thought insensitive. The photo displayed what are known as Temple garments. They are the undergarments worn by observant Mormons and are viewed by Mormons as a private, sacred matter. It's considered distasteful by Mormons to display these garments, or to inquire about them in a light or joking matter. They aren't exactly secret, but they are sacred.

I spoke my piece in the Wonkette comments section, calling the photo choice "indecent and ill-advised" and was roundly hooted down. So be it.

But one commenter hit a nerve.

Said schvitzatura: "Would it be over the line/"indecent and ill-advised" to show a Scientologist wired up to an e-meter during his/her audit on Wonkette?..."

Given my comments here about Scientology:

So fuck you Tom Cruise. Your know-nothing, yahoo view of psychiatry and psychiatric drugs stem from the teachings of a scam artist. Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard announced to the world in the 1930's that, if one wanted to be truly rich in America, one should found a religion. Then, proving P.T. Barnum's dictum that no one ever went broke underestimating the American public, he founded a religion and got rich.

L. Ron now lies mouldering in his grave and idiots like Tom Cruise continue to act as loony prophets for this false messiah.

One can reasonably ask why I expect Wonkette to show sensitivity toward Mormon sensibilities when I permit myself so much license toward Scientologist ones.

My answer is that I think showing the hypothetical picture shvitzatura posits would be a bad idea too. I think Scientologists view their audits in much the same way as Mormons view their Temple garments. So I'd hesitate to display their ritual the same way I'd hesitate to display a Mormon's ritual clothing.

But I think there's a fundamental difference between Joseph Smith's followers and L. Ron Hubbard's. If Smith was running a scam, there's precious little evidence of it. I think disinterested observers believe he believed what he preached. He and his early followers surely suffered for their doctrines.

Hubbard, on the other hand, announced his scam ahead of time, and proceeded to milk it for all it was worth. Eventually, greedier and more ruthless followers wrested control from him, and milked it for even more. Their successors do so, to this day. For more evidence than I can possibly summarize in this post, check out Operation Clambake.

But maybe the fundamental difference here is not between Smith and Hubbard. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has critics as zealous as any you'll find at the Clambake site. For instance here.

Maybe the fundamental difference is between robust criticism and desecration.

No institution, especially one claiming divine inspiration or exclusive access to the one Big Truth, should be immune from the former. But we should all tread lightly before we needlessly engage in the latter.

What we ourselves view as sacred may be the next ox to get gored. When we squawk about it, it would help to have clean hands.

What's it like up there?

In the comments to Is there a cantor in the house?, Migdalor Guy wrote

I'm always thrilled when congregants get the opportunity to walk a mile in the mocassins of those of us who spend our lives on the bimah. What lessons did you take away, other than your gratefulness to be out of the limelight next Shabbat?

That I had no opportunity to feel prayerful or in any way spiritual. I was entirely focused on getting cues right and where I should stand and whether I was using the mike correctly. And whether I was singing the right notes and pronouncing the words right.

As an officer of my shul, I sit on the bimah fairly regularly (at least twice a month and sometimes more often.) I'm there to make announcements on Friday night or to give a bar or bat mitzvah their certificate and some coupons for things like a year's teen membership at the local JCC and part of the cost of a Birthright or youth group first trip to Israel.

I'm focused on the mechanics of those functions when I'm doing them, but during the rest of the service, I'm able to feel like I'm actively worshipping.

(I also kvell a little if the bar/bat mitzvah is someone I tutored. And sing a wee bit louder at parts I know they've found challenging, so they can hear my unmiked voice over their right shoulder if they need some back-up.)

But as emergency back-up cantor, I got none of the spiritual charge I get from praying. I did get an incredible sense of pride at being asked (and trusted) to step into the breach, and the gratification I get --- as the planet's foremost kosher ham --- from just being "on stage". I'd do it again, in a New York minute, if asked.

But it made me appreciate even more what our Rabbi and Cantor do for us, week in and week out. And it made me wonder where they get their moments to just pray, and connect with the solace and rejuvenation that I get from prayer.

I'm pretty darn sure it's not at the interminable committee meetings and board meetings we attend together, or the fifty-seven other mundane minutiae we demand that they tend to every day.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

It's a small world after all

Time from my first post until the first comment by a friend who discovered my blog on the internet: less than two weeks.

Yikes.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Note to Self: Type Here First

Campaign Finance Reform

You can have all the lobbying reform you want, but so long as the federal government is in the business of deciding how huge sums of money are distributed in our economy, people and institutions with a stake in how that money is distributed or redistributed will find a way to try to influence the folks who decide how these gargantuan sums of money are Doled out.

We've had lots of versions of campaign finance reform since the first set of reforms were inspired by the excesses of the 1972 Nixon re-election campaign. (Was there ever a more apt moniker than the one for Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President - CREEP)? The reforms have never worked well because trying to keep money out of politics is like trying to nail Jello to a wall. Whatever clever rules government functionaries and bureaucrats can devise to stem the flow of greenbacks, even cleverer operatives for the folks with the money can figure out how to work around.

The internet is a powerful tool for identifying who's getting what from whom, more quickly than ever before. If voters bother to inform themselves, they can factor this in when the decide on who to vote for. If voters don't, they get who they deserve.

I rarely stand with George Will on things, but I agree with his comprehensive campaign finance reform proposal. It has only three rules.

A) No Cash.
B) No money from foreigners or foreign interests.
C) Immediate, comprehensive, transparent reporting of who's spending and who's receiving, available on the internet, in as close to real time as technology permits.

[ANON1 has announced a platform from which to run for President. I reacted with a comment on his blog. Then I thought, you dope, you haven't gotten this whole blogging thing down yet. Hence the title of this post. Above is a version of that post, with minor edits.]

This may only be of interest to M.O.T.'s

The other third of the bloggers who inspired me to try blogging myself is back posting regularly.

I serve as a vice president of my synagogue, but fear that the paradigm of big expensive houses of worship that 20th century non-Orthodox Judaism was centered on may be a recipe for 21st century irrelevance. Reading Steven I. Weiss's Canonist and CampusJ gives me hope that thoughtful people my age and younger are actually trying to do something about it.

Check it out.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Let's All Be Merry and Gay

Recent posts, here and elsewhere, have got me thinking about the use of the word 'gay' as a pejorative.

Nine-year-old Monkeyboy in DC brought a book home a few months ago called Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. It won the Newberry Medal for American Children's Literature in 1928.

He assured me that this wasn't the bad meaning of the word gay in the title, but rather that it meant the story's protagonist had a brightly colored neck.

Aha, thunk I, here's one of those "teachable moments" the early childhood education nabobs are always yammering about.

(Which reminds me, I need to post some time about another "teachable moment" --- the day he and I went to the new Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Annex out near Dulles. I was all set to talk about space shuttles and Concordes and the Spirit of Saint Louis. The first thing I was called upon to explain was "What's that funny symbol on that fighter plane?" It was a swastika.)

I assured him I understood what the "gay" in "Gay-neck" meant and asked him what he meant about the "bad" meaning. He got uncomfortable. He knew it had something to do with sex, and with boys liking other boys, and with Michael Jackson, but he wasn't too sure on the specifics.

He knew for sure that it was an insult to call someone gay, and that gay was sort of an all-purpose word in elementary school circles that means gross or stupid or not cool enough or tough enough.

I started out by telling him that, in our family, it was not o.k. to use gay to mean something bad. I told him it was a word with a specific meaning, that it applied to perfectly normal people who loved each other the way mom and dad love each other, and that to use it to mean something bad was an insult to gay people.

I explained that some men and women fall in love with people of their own gender and that there was nothing wrong with that. I told him that not everyone agreed with us about this, but that gay people faced a lot of discrimination in society and it was part of our job to work against that, just like we marched in D.C. at the Million Mom March for gun control and against the war in Iraq. Just like when dad got arrested in front of the South African Embassy before he was born.

He's already learned about the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and the Reform Jewish concept that tikkun olam requires us to be involved in social action.

I told him that he already knew and loved gay people and it would be mean to use this word as a way to call someone something bad.

His eyes had started to glaze over and I was pretty sure he was hearing that "wah-wah-wah" sound adults make in Peanuts cartoons.

Until I got to the point where I told him he already knew and loved people who were gay. All of a sudden it was personal for him and he was riveted.

I asked him to think of relatives of the same gender who lived together. He was stumped for a minute. Then he remembered his learning disabled aunt who, well into middle age, still lives with his grandma. But he knew their relationship wasn't like mom and dad's.

Then the lightbulb went on.

His coolest uncle --- the one who's a veteranarian and has pets like snakes and iguanas, the one who was a navy pilot before he became a veternarian, the one who's even sillier than dad --- lives with his life partner who's just as cool, only in a more understated way. Monkeyboy is nuts about them, for good reason. They're great.

Monkeyboy had never had occasion to wonder about their relationship before. He knows some of my poker buddies who aren't married still have roommates, and until this moment, if he'd ever thought about Uncle L. and Uncle B., he'd probably figured they were the same.

Now he knew different. And, G-d bless him, he understood. I've never heard him use the word gay as a pejorative, and I don't think he does it when I'm not around either. And he's just the sort of kid who would call one of his friends on it too.

At Halloween, on the way to a friend's house for trick-or-treating, I cited the statistic to him about 5 kids dying every year in preventable Halloween collisions with cars. When his group of kids started running out into the street later, I heard my "5 kids die every year" lecture come out of his mouth word-for-word.

I may be putting him in line for some razzing, or worse, if he ever feels moved to criticize a peer's misuse of the word gay, but I've warned him that not everybody feels the way our family does, and that what I expect of him is that he not use the word that way. He need not take up all of my crusades at age 9.

Hell, by the time he's a teenager, I'll probably be playing Michael Gross to his Michael J. Fox in a twisted 2010's version of Family Ties.

I'm sure I'll be just as proud of him then, if a tad vexed.

In the meantime, all of us here in cyberspace are adults, more-or-less. Can we agree that it's not cool to call someone gay as an insult?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I Heart ANON1

I feel like Steve Martin in the Carl Reiner movie "The Jerk" when the new phone books came out. And to think, I called him an asshat. What could I have been thinking?

Adulthood - Chewing the Fat

I've always felt that a central attribute of adulthood is the ability to disagree, even vehemently, without being disagreeable. For an example of said attribute, read this post and then this one.

The commenters, not so much.

And for a real lesson in compare and contrast, check out this asshat

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fuck Tom Cruise

I've been pissed off at Tom since his tirade against Brooke Shields for taking medicine for post-partum depression.

I take one pill each nite and up to four each day for depression and anxiety. I fully believe that, if a kind and wise pshrink had not helped me find this regimen of drugs in combination with regular sessions of traditional talk therapy, I would long ago have become David Six Feet Under DC.

Looking back, I realize I suffered my first bout of clinical depression in my teens. The bleakness and hopelessnes you feel in such an episode is impossible for me to describe. What the hell, I'm not William Styron.

It took me 10 more years to find my way to my first therapist. And 10 more after that to be finally willing to try medication. By then, my depressions were becoming more regular and more frequent and I'd already walked myself into an emergency room when my thoughts of suicide scared the bejeebers out of me. That bought me a two week stay on a locked ward and delayed my graduation from law school by six months.

(It's funny how you associate personal milestones with external events. My hospitalization coincided with the 1988 Winter Olympics and the campus protests that led to the selection of the first deaf president at Gallaudet University. In my mind, skater Katerina Witt and outgoing Gallaudet President I. King Jordan are inextricably linked with being locked up on the sixth floor of a hospital that's since been torn to the ground.)

Even after my voluntary commitment, I balked at taking medicine. I saw it as a defeat, an admission that my internal resources and the feedback of a therapist I trusted were not enough to quell what I still thought of as the product of force I should be able to control.

My family history screams "genetic predisposition to depression." My father grew up in an orphanage because his mother killed herself after his father died in an accident. He committed suicide himself before I hit 30 months old.

Nonetheless, I stubbornly refused to look at my depression as what it was --- a treatable, potentially lethal medical condition that required medication in the same way diabetes requires insulin treatment.

When I was at my bleakest, I finally gave in and consulted a psychiatrist. My first therapist, a psychiatric social worker, helped me cope for years, occasionally suggesting that my view of my depression as a character flaw was self-limiting. She waited a long time for me to be ready. When I was, she pointed me at my current psychiatrist.

By then I was married and my wife is entitled to equal credit with my therapist for helping me see the need to at least try a psychiatrist and an anti-depressant.

My life has never been the same. Thank G-d. I still get to feeling bleak sometimes, but the meds keep the bleakness from descending into a death spiral. I honestly believe they've saved my life.

So fuck you Tom Cruise. Your know-nothing, yahoo view of psychiatry and psychiatric drugs stem from the teachings of a scam artist. Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard announced to the world in the 1930's that, if one wanted to be truly rich in America, one should found a religion. Then, proving P.T. Barnum's dictum that no one ever went broke underestimating the American public, he founded a religion and got rich.

L. Ron now lies mouldering in his grave and idiots like Tom Cruise continue to act as loony prophets for this false messiah.

There, I feel much better now. Thanks for listening.

G'nite

Monday, November 13, 2006

Is there a cantor in the house?

So, on Friday, about 11:00 a.m, I got a call from the Religious School Director at my shul (That's Yiddish for synagogue.) He knows I'm the original kosher ham, so I'm guessing he knew I'd say yes when he told me we had a laryngytic cantor, and would I please fill in for her at the Family Service that night?

This erev Shabbat (Sabbath evening) was to be the debut of the new family choir and the first graders were to be singing a special song about Creation. The cantor, despite being deathly ill, insisted on attending to play guitar, but would I please sing? I made sure this commitment didn't extend to the grown-ups' service later in the evening and said yes.

At about three that afternoon, I got a call from the Executive Director. Would I be able to stand in for the cantor at services? Happy I could tell him the problem was already solved, I told him of the arrangements that were made earlier in the day. I would sing while the cantor played, then we'd both leave and a professional singer, who'd led our soprano section in the High Holidays choir, would work with the Rabbi that night.

But he knew all that. He was calling to ask about Saturday morning. My knees started to knock. The Friday night family service is one thing. But Saturday morning is an entirely different matter. Especially with a bar mitzvah scheduled that would draw nearly a hundred friends and relatives, and a baby-naming.

With a mixture of pride at being asked and certainty I couldn't pull it off, I said yes.

I pulled it off.

The rabbi smoothed out the rough edges and missed cues on Friday night, and the first graders were adorable. They sang a song about the creation of the world that came complete with hand gestures and pantomime. They were the sun and the moon and lions and tigers and bears. (Oh my!)

The chorus was the phrase "This is very good" repeated a number of times. The kids each put out two thumbs up for this lyric and looked like a bunch of pint-sized Arthur Fonzarellis. It was great.

The cantor played guitar and I played Charlie McCarthy to her Edgar Bergen. I'd give my performance a C- but the whole service a solid A anyway.

I was determined to do better on Saturday morning.

I arrived at shul an hour early on Saturday morning and my friend the cantor, who ought to have been home sleeping and drinking chicken soup, silently coached me through a dry run of everything I would have to sing. She transposed the chords to a number of tunes and prayers to better accommodate my more limited vocal range. She assured me it would be all right.

With her beside me strumming out the tunes, it was. At the reception afterward the lox and bagels tasted as good as they ever have. The family of the young man who celebrated his bar mitzvah were appreciative and some of my fellow congregants were unduly lavish in their praise.

I'm looking forward to next Saturday morning and the relative anonymity of the pews.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bloggers are nice

I met 2 thirds of the bloggers who inspired me to start a blog tonite. So I figured there's no time like the present to get started. I've been reading them for months. They've enriched my life. Occasionally, they've provided the break in the middle of a particularly dismal or pressure-filled day that's made the rest of my workday bearable.

In reverse order of my meeting them, Ashburnite, was as wonderful as I'd imagined her. Tonight was the monthly Hater's Happy Hour, an event where DC bloggers meet to imbibe in adult libations and kick back. I'm an occasional commenter on Ash's blog and had asked her if non-bloggers were welcome. She said yes, supplied me with the wheres and whens and assured me they were a friendly bunch.

Her blog, Neurotic in Ashburn, should be on your must read list. It details the thoughts, actions, reactions and life of a person of substance. She's funny, insightful, strong, vulnerable, self-depracating, life-affirming and inexplicable. Sometimes all in the same paragraph. She has set the bar high for this admirer. I hope this blog, over time, occasionally hits notes as true and clear as hers does regularly.

My other inspiration is an entirely different kind of writer. When White Dade announced on his blog that he'd be making a guest appearance in DC, I had to be there. You may agree with him or disagree with him, but you should be reading him regardless. He's just finishing his first year of writing on the web and his archive reads like a training manual for literary fearlessness. He skewers sacred cows, mentions the unmentionable, and generally rants his way through the ether in the way I imagine Hunter Thompson would have if the Internet had come along before the the gonzo life caught up with him.

I had a great conversation with him, was tickled to realize he really knew who I was from my comments, and I hope his team wins tomorrow.

As for Ash, my conversation with her sucked and it was entirely my fault. I was tounge-tied, awed and embarassed. We've never met, but I feel like I know her a bit from her writing. I solicited an awkward hug of greeting. She introduced me to her friend as a commenter extraordinaire and my mind went utterly, totally, irretreivably blank. I stammered out how glad I was to have a face and voice to put with her writing, told her I loved her blog, shook her friend's hand goodbye and beat a hasty retreat to suburbia.

I got home in time to see the end of the SpongeBob movie with my wife and nine-year-old (hereinafter referred to as Monkeyboy in DC). I've never felt so old in all my life.

Next time I go to a Hater's Happy Hour, I hope to have at least a month's worth of posts on this blog, and a bit more courage.

In the meantime, as my Teamster friends say "keep the rubber side down and the shiny side up."

Good Night.