Monday, December 17, 2007
Yesterday afternoon, a dozen or so of HOBB's graduate students traipsed through the Urban Bungalow for a holiday brunch. What struck me instantly was their sincerity...and youth. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they were not much older than our oldest son, 23-year-old Big Babe, now living the life of the expatriate American writer-at-large in Berlin.
The presence of so many young adults who technically could have been my children made me feel a bit like The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. The presence of Little Babe, Middle Babe and Alfie the Pomeranian completed the domestic tableau.
Then again, in my high black boots, black tights and black and purple dress, I felt more like the Bungalow Babe Who Lived in a Platform Shoe and the tableau was more punk than pastoral.
After the students had all cleared out, I fell into conversation with one of HOBB's colleagues. A former editor of a community newspaper, her part-time position at the university was her only current means of employment. She had three small children whom she was devoted to raising, nevertheless, her minimalistic working status gave her "an inferiority complex" around her colleagues at the school, she confessed, many of whom were high-powered, high-profile, high-achieving journalists.
While I was inclined to protest the very notion that she should suffer from intimations of inferiority, as a forty-something who has been waiting for her "real" life to begin for, oh, the past twenty-something years, I knew exactly what she meant. For a variety of reasons -- some very different from hers (I've been horribly over-employed for much of my adult life, for instance), others similar (I am often in the company of well-known, successful writers) -- I, too, have had a complex about my personal achievements.
And I insist on the legitimacy of my feelings. After all, though I've worked hard most of my adult life and kept our family solvent and even been reasonably successful in my chosen field, what I've really wanted is something quite different: reams of articles, stories, a bestselling book or two, a writer's life, a writer's legacy.
And though I am prone to falling into the gloom of under-achievement, I still believe that my life can change course any second now.
We talked for a while, this mother/journalist and I, trading details of our lives. She described herself as coming late to journalism, to marriage, to motherhood. My trajectory was completely opposite, I said. I did everything early. Married at 22, I became a mother at 23 and freelanced my way as a journalist until it became clear that I needed to get a full-time job or my children would go naked and starve.
I changed professional course when I was 32, opting for full-time work outside of journalism.
Because of financial constraints, I didn't have the opportunity to pursue my writing, I said.
No, she corrected me. You did. But you chose something else at that stage of your life.
Her honesty took me by surprise. I resisted the idea, then considered it and finally embraced it. She was correct. I decided to pursue another means of income for a variety of well-considered reasons.
Anyway, there we were on a frigid and overcast Sunday afternoon in mid-December: two writers with six children between us, confessing our feelings of inadequacy. Physically, we could not have been more opposite; one of us is small with long blond hair, the other tall with short dark hair. One of us feels under-employed, the other over-employed. One of us is raising small tykes, the other has two children who are no longer minors and another on the verge of becoming a Bar Mitzvah. I don't know her age exactly but I doubt there is a decade between us.
I look at this woman and see an enviable, balanced life -- marriage, children, a part-time job at an Ivy League institution, an apartment in the greatest city in the world. And I cannot guess how I appear to her but know that similar elements are also present in my life.
And while I will happily accept praise for any of my achievements -- including my ability to pair high black boots with a purple and black summer dress -- I retain the right to hold onto my sense of sadness in the face of unfulfilled personal ambitions because it is this very sorrow that has the power to propel me forward.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
It was cute for about three minutes.
While stepping out of the steam room at the locker room of The JCC in Manhattan, a tiny, tinny voice singing faux arias reached my ears. Walking to my locker, the sound grew stronger and soon I passed a dark-haired little girl singing to herself while her mother sat quietly beaming by her side, helping her get dressed.
At first I smiled. It was sweet, this screechy, off-key voice in baby falsetto. Opening my locker, I was therefore surprised to see women around me rolling their eyes, pursing their lips and even setting their teeth with displeasure. Wow...what a bunch of misanthropes, I thought, retrieving my knapsack from the locker. Ladeez, I wanted to say to them as I applied my body lotion, don't you feel recalled to your own childhood at the sound of this innocent child chortling to herself, oblivious of her surroundings? How could you begrudge a little girl her self-expression?
Within another five minutes or so, I found myself joining my sisters in sourness. The voice of the little girl swooped and soared with fake fealty with nary a peep from the mother to the effect that her little darling might want to keep her voice down as they were in a public place. As I hooked my bra, the screeching soprano bounced off the metal walls of the lockers in a manner reminiscent of fingernails on the blackboard. A woman next to me actually placed her hands over her ears, grimacing. I nodded in sympathy, furrowing my own brow in annoyance as I spritzed on perfume. Struggling into my pantyhose, I thought I discerned vibes of pride radiating from the silent, doting mother as she presented her little vocal prodigy to the public of the JCC's locker room.
If you want a laboratory of life on the Upper West Side, you might do well to spend a day inside the women's locker room at The JCC in Manhattan. I love this place and often plan my professional appointments around making it to my beloved 5th Floor gym (not to mention the numerous cultural programs at the facility) but after several years spent hanging out there, listening to conversations and observing behavior and interactions, I feel ready to deliver some jeremiads to my fellow Upper West Siders.
The theme of this series of sermons is Self-Absorbed Lack of Consideration.
Sermon number one would be directed to the preteen girls on the swim team who talk at ear-splitting decibel levels and generally leave their sopping towels on the floor, obviously awaiting the ministrations of the cleaning staff.
Sermon number two would be directed to moms of babies and young children who tend to occupy miles of locker room space with their paraphernalia, seemingly oblivious to the needs of anyone else.
Sermon number three would be directed to these moms and caretakers who do not seem to notice their kids running amok, popping in and out of lockers and flipping open the curtains of the supposedly private section of the space.
Sermon number four would be directed to the girls and women who hold forth on their cellphones as if they were in the comfort -- and privacy -- of their own homes, revealing details about their lives you never wanted to know.
Sermon number five would be directed to the girls and women who feel moved to leave disgusting personal items in the shower stalls and damp towels in the steam room.
And finally, my last sermon would be directed to the mother of the mini Maria Callas and all of her sisters in crime. The central message of this missive is as follows:
Your kid's singing is cute for about three minutes and we will smile in friendly acknowledgment of their innocence, charm and precocity.
After about three minutes, however, we start to entertain severe doubts about your intelligence and maternal fitness and self-esteem. It will become clear to us that you are actually getting off on the exposure your extraordinary offspring is getting by screeching to a captive audience that is trying to simply get dressed in peace. And because you remain so oblivious to the fact that the locker room is, indeed, a public space, we will fantasize about sending you and your singing darling "straight to the moon, Alice!" as Ralph Kramden so memorably and poetically put it.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Little Babe is in seventh grade at a Jewish day school that has four classes per grade, which means that, as of last winter, his weekends have been consumed with the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of his one-hundred or so classmates.
No matter where HOBB and I go on the weekend, we need to arrange driving and carpooling, as a great many of these events take place outside of Manhattan. So, last night, following the conclusion of the trippy and hard-to-follow Bob Dylan-inspired flick I'm Not There, we drove up to Dobbs Ferry to retrieve Little Babe and some Upper West Side kids from a partay at a club on the banks of the Hudson.
Because of the freezing temps and the morning snow, however, we found ourselves in one of those Holy Freaking Mother of God!! kinda skid-spins while pulling off 87 in Ardsley.
And once we stopped shaking and shouting and saying Shema and realized we had not been hit by oncoming traffic after all (though dozens of cars drove past us with drivers shouting and swearing and giving us the finger), we drove like geriatrics the rest of the journey, esp with Little Babe and his friends in the Bungalow-Van.
With each passing year, as I identify yet another fear I harbor, I become more firmly of the opinion that phobias have gotten a bad rap. While they are presented as some kind of pathological state of mind, what could be more rational than fear of a harmful object or substance?
Googling "fear of ice" earlier today, I found out that, indeed, there is a phobia named in its honor -- namely, pagophobia. However, I beg to differ with the classification of this fear as a phobia. Fear of ice is not a sign of mental illness but intelligence. People actually die from encounters with ice. In their vehicles or on their own two feet.
I am still traumatized by Dr. Atkins's death which resulted from a fall he suffered while slipping on the notorious "black ice," that in turn resulted from snow that fell, freakishly, in New York several Aprils ago. In fact, the word "black" coupled with "ice" sends shivers up my spine. No pun intended.
Many years ago, when we lived at the American Museum of Natural History, Little Babe developed a fear of Black Holes. Late at night, he used to call me into his darkened bedroom to express his fear of getting sucked into one and having his atoms crushed. Though I did the motherly thing of calming him down by reassuring him that he was in no danger of encountering a Black Hole anytime soon, I completely related. My fear of Black Ice is pretty similar. I am afraid of slipping on it and having all my bones crushed.
Which brings me to the ridiculous concept of Ice Skating.
Skidding on ice is a terrifying occurrence that I try to avoid during winter time. Indeed, since first observing it in my early childhood, I have failed to understand how this prelude to broken bones actually became a sport. And an Olympic sport, no less.
Yes, yes... I can understand that in the time of Hans Christian Andersen, in a place as freezing and backwards as Copenhagen, skating down frozen boulevards made sense. However, with the advent of the modern taxicab, bus, subway and car, there is no excuse for risking one's life in this manner. In fact, I think it's time to proclaim people who pursue figure skating professionally as judgment-impaired -- nay... stupid -- a view confirmed by the film Blades of Glory.
Skating parties were one of the banes of my bane-filled childhood. The skating rink was either populated by show-off skinny girls in Olympics-style skating dresses or maniacs bent on knocking you down on your butt. The music in the rink was always tinny and demonic; indoors, there was a damp, foot-scented ambiance that was only slightly mitigated by the promise of hot chocolate. The hot chocolate served by the emporia in question, however, was inevitably the rip-off version of Swiss Miss, manufactured by Pathmark supermarket.
Though I was an accomplished swimmer, cyclist and tree-climber, I was utterly unable to balance on the invariably too-tight skates that bound my ankles painfully and subjected my feet to frostbite while exposing the rest of my body to uncomfortably cold temperatures.
Fortunately, none of The Three Babes developed a fondness for skating and I can count on the toes of one, still-frostbitten foot the amounts of times I have taken my offspring to a skating rink over the two-plus decades of my mothering.
Anyway, two news stories today affirm the wisdom of my unpopular anti-skating point of view:
- A report of a girl who drowned trying to save a dog who had ventured out onto a pond covered with a film of thin ice and,
- A CNN report of an exploding Zamboni at a skating rink in Philadelphia
While there's an element in this story that hearkens to the science fiction theme of "our machines are turning against us," I discern the hand of God in the exploding Zamboni.
Obviously, the technological advancements of the 21st century have done nothing to dissuade human beings from voluntarily subjecting themselves to the dangers of ice. This failure has made God completely meshuggah with despair. Out of this sense of cosmic desperation He/She has now concocted a new and dramatic warning sign perfectly in sync with the early 21st zeitgeist, that is to say, something explosive.
I predict, however, that wily psychologists are already hard at work coming up with a snazzy-sounding phobia to signify the "irrational" fear of exploding Zamboni machines, thus training us away from our innate, natural -- and potentially lifesaving -- fear of ice.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I was running late by about 15 minutes and had just emerged from the subway station at Times Square huffing, puffing and utterly stressed out. This was the third meeting with an important client on an important project and I could not seem to arrive on time.
Walking westward along 42nd Street while facing eastward (in other words, walking backwards), I was delighted to see a cab pull to the corner, about to discharge a customer.
Instantly, my hand went up in the Nazi-salute that is the time honored way of hailing cabs in New York City and sent a silent prayer of thanks to The Almighty.
But what was this??? A blur of big blond hair ran past me towards the cab. Astonished, I broke into a jog and overtook the poacher.
"Excuse me," said I, "but you must have seen me waiting for the cab."
An overly-made-up fiftysomething woman snapped at me with a Texas twang, "Waaaalll, it's not like you were running for it!"
"Hailing cabs doesn't entail outracing other people," I sputtered as we strode shoulder to shoulder, jostling one another. "I was ahead of you, I hailed the cab and it's mine!"
"I'm taking it!" the Southern Belle from Hell proclaimed as we approached the car. I reached for the door and threw it open but the hussy jumped inside. I was stunned, then infuriated.
I've had yuppie scum steal my cabs; I've had hostile rapper-types steal my cabs; I've had little old ladies steal my cabs...but I have never lost a cab to a big-haired out-of-towner.
Fury boiled up in me, threatening to pour, lava-like, down the streets of Times Square, drowning New York's entire theatre district... which would hardly have made a difference yesterday since the strike was still in progress.
"I hope you die," I said calmly, then slammed the door shut on the hem of her coat.
And walked on to my important meeting, horrified yet oddly elated.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I love this guy, which probably explains why I married him.
Well, not him exactly, but his Jewish counterpart.
Yup...Husband of Bungalow Babe is the Hebrew cousin of Reverend Billy, preaching his own brand of anti-consumerism from the pulpit of our home.
I love that about him but as someone who also understands the concept of retail therapy, HOBB's religious zeal against buying makes me want to bolt from his synagogue from time to time.
We saw Rev. Billy in action in the new documentary, What Would Jesus Buy? which I loved from start to finish. Anyone who has sensed the apocalypse -- which Reverend Billy brands the Shopocalypse -- walking into a Costco will adore this movie which explores not only the mindless acquisitiveness of the American Christmas season but the disturbing provenance of much of our cut-rate goods, the closing of Mom and Pop stores when big box retailers gallop into town, the misguided impulse of parents to buy their kids "everything," and naturally, the out-of-control debt racked up by many Americans.
Oh, and the positing of Mickey Mouse as the Christ Child, the deification of this cartoon character in plush form, the alternate reality created by the architects of Disney Land and Disney World and all things Disney.
Perhaps my fave moment in the movie is when Reverend Billy bursts into a Disney Store at a mall and holds up a stuffed Mickey Mouse, proclaiming, "Mickey Mouse is the Anti-Christ!"
Gotta love this guy.
Though HOBB has not been known to launch proactive anti-shopping offensives in malls, he has nearly fainted in Macy's, broken out in hives in Gap, experienced low-blood sugar at Tiffany's, bolted out of Target and wandered in a fugue state through malls. He owns about 2 items of clothes, doesn't crave electronic toys or gadgets and don't even get me started on the state of our minivan, one television set (hint...my late Grandma Dorothy bought it for us in 1984) or much of the stuff in our home.
And though I, too, loathe mindless consumerism, I am also a willing practitioner of mindful consumerism from time to time, distinguishing between good shopping and bad shopping in much the same way as nutritionists divide good carbs from bad.
For instance, while Walmart is surely Purgatory, Target is Paradise and Loehmann's is often a glimpse of The World to Come.
While spending an entire Sunday at Woodbury Commons is a pathetic waste of time, dashing through it for an hour or two at the end of a day can be fun.
Snagging a great Isaac Mizrahi dress (bought for $24.99 from Target) is often more therapeutic than a month of psychotherapy.
And discovering cut-rate treasures at thrift shops is the most orgasmic experience outside of sex.
Not that I would ever confuse shopping with sex.
I must say that I do find HOBB's hatred for purchasing an attractive character trait and now that my kids are no longer little, I can concede how much I hated going into stores like Toys R Us or even FAO Schwarz, which I have always found obnoxious...hardly the wonderland everyone seems to think it is.
And though I stand four-square with HOBB on the evils of acquisitiveness, I have also determined that what often draws me to shop recreationally is the guarantee of easily-acquired happiness. The dress I am likely to find on sale at Banana Republic or the furniture that Ikea is offering hardly ever fails to bring me a small measure of joy.
Naturally, it's all about having a sense of perspective. These are things, after all, and just the icing on the cake of life. The happiness of finding that fabulous black velvet party dress that fits like a glove (and only for $58!!) does not begin to compare with the happiness of artistic achievement or human connectedness or the joy of travel or finding oneself in the midst of a magnificent forest or on a beach at sunrise or sunset or holding your newborn child in your arms or having your child graduate from elementary school/high school/college/graduate school or really great sex, or all those wonderful key moments in life, etc, etc, etc.
And one last thing...sometimes, the act of "going shopping" is less about the stuff and more about providing a context for something else...talking about difficult matters, for instance. Sometimes, launching on a quest for a new coat or pair of shoes with one's child provides a venue for having important conversations that would be difficult or awkward to have while sitting on the living room couch or facing each other down at a restaurant.
At times like these, the longed-for object is really a McGuffin...Alfred Hitchcock's term for the illusory goal that drives the plot of his movies... creating an opportunity to spend time together in the real quest to bring more happiness into our lives.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I feel bad for MOBB but in truth, I cannot talk during work hours and often find myself trying to ascertain the urgency of the matter without sounding snooty or impatient or disrespectful. And many times, what is NBD (no big deal) to me is a BFD (big frikkin' deal) to her.
Naturally, there is stress. Stress is my oxygen. And I'm not downplaying the deleterious effects of stress or the fact that those nearest and dearest to me have seen me utterly break down in tears over the stress or simply act psychotic, and yes, some days or weeks or months have been impossible and I have a huge sleep debt and I've made myself meshuggeh and seen my skin break out and gained or lost weight and felt deprived of simple pleasures like having the head-space to read fiction at the end of the day and screamed at my husband for not being an international banker and said that I'd rather be a corporate drone than run my own business for one more second but five years into this adventure I have determined that either I'm masochistic or I actually like the mare-on-speed sensation.
Which makes me smile and regard her acknowledgement as a true sign of the success of feminism. And while I was driven at first by the sheer necessity of working hard to bring in the funds that would help keep our family afloat, I see the payback in ways that exceed the joys of solvency. It is gratifying to be a grown-up in the financial sense and enjoy the autonomy that comes with owning my own business.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Investigators with bomb-making components in their luggage and on their person were able to pass through security checkpoints at 19 U.S. airports without detection, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Passengers pass through security at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois.
GAO officials are expected to testify about the investigation Thursday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
In other words, La Guardia Airport: I want my frikkin' pink sparkly lotion back!
Thursday, November 08, 2007
(LaGuardia Airport, NYC) -- I am really annoyed.
The TSA clerk at security confiscated my favorite lotion from Target, a shimmery pink confection that couldn't be transformed into an explosive for all the science in the world.
Naturally, I should have thrown the bottle into my check-in luggage, but having just flown back from Berlin with the lotion in my carry-on, I hardly foresaw a problem. Nevertheless, the high school drop-out who screened my bag most certainly did, triumphantly removing it AND the carton of organic half and half that I had taken with me to improve the horrible in-flight coffee.
I am not being paranoid when I note that she did so cheerfully.
Most assuredly, one of the perks of her job is throwing out the expensive "dangerous" belongings of utterly innocent passengers. Who have interesting jobs and lives. Who are educated. Who travel. Who had a momentary lapse in packing judgement either because they were hurrying or had no problem transporting such goods on international flights or simply wanted the stuff with them.
So annoyed was I to see my lotion in the trash bin that I contemplated retrieving it. Foreseeing a Page One picture in the Daily News -- featuring me stoically clinging to the lotion bottle while being escorted out of the terminal by security police -- I returned to the reality at hand.
Besides, I didn't want to miss my flight.
Still, I tried to reason with the clerk even asking if I could transfer the contents of the lotion to a smaller container. She said that "the rules" were that I had to do this outside of the security checkpoint. I informed her that her "rules" were retarded. The elegant, grey-haired businessman next to me cracked up while tying the laces of his oxford shoes.
Eyeing my tossed lotion longingly, I trudged to the gate nevertheless, drawing the looks of fellow travelers, most likely due to the steam coming out of my ears and the dangerous gleam in my eyes.
At the gate, I questioned the US Airways personnel about recourse and was told that they had nothing to do with the (retarded) rules...but that I should approach a TSA supervisor. The flame of hope was rekindled in my heart! Swiftly, I envisioned a librarianish older woman, wise and seasoned, to whom I might present my case.
No such luck.
Arriving at the security check-in, I found the supervisor, a dumpy Hispanic woman sorely in need of braces. Again, she cited "the rules," shaking her head in a practiced, infuriating, mock-sympathetic way.
Rolling my eyes at her and informing her that both she and her staff had no idea what they were doing, I gave up and went to my gate, fuming. I love that lotion and really depended on it to enhance my already sallowing NYC skin in LaLa-Land, where I am headed for a music convention this weekend.
I am now at the gate, waiting to board my plane. Logging into CNN.com, I see that the lead story is about a bomb scare at La Guardia on an incoming flight from Chicago. Even as we speak, the bomb-sniffing dogs are leaving the terminal, having successfully determined that there is no bomb. All incoming flights are being delayed.
The sad reality is that the TSA security drones have no skills other than rule-following and it is doubtful that they would catch any terrorists looking to blow up aircrafts unless these terrorists were transporting bottles of pink sparkly lotion.
I place my trust with the bomb-sniffing dogs and would like to borrow them to sniff out my lotion and return it to me.
And then, when they are done sniffing, I'd like to turn them on the TSA staff.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Exactly one week ago, I was on my way back to NYC from Berlin where I had gone to visit Big Babe who has embarked upon the life of a Starving Expatriate American Writer only a few short months following his graduation from Columbia University.
My trip to Berlin was less about sightseeing and more a one-woman Red Cross mission. Meeting Big Babe at Alexanderplatz, I was horrified but not really surprised to note his resemblance to Franz Kafka...all sunken cheeks and haunted eyes. Plus, he was shivering in his thin jacket. My maternal radar had told me (even as Big Babe kept denying) that my beloved firstborn had run out of money, oh, about two weeks earlier and I came prepared to stock his pantry, supplement his inadequate wardrobe and bring him the books he simply could not live without.
The second of my suitcases was so laden with wares that I had to pay a $50 overage fee at JFK. Contained therein were not only coats and jackets and jeans and socks and blankets and sheets and books but also a bag of bagels, a tub of scallion cream cheese, a tub of smoked salmon spread and a pound of French Italian Roast from Zabar's -- soul food for a homesick and broke Manhattanite.
With a surplus of work and back-load of projects, I had come for an extended weekend visit, leaving NYC Thursday night and returning by Tuesday. I spent the last minutes before boarding on the phone with a NY Times reporter and sat whispering in my seat into my Blackberry in the seconds before take-off, terrified that I was going to be thrown off the plane for the security breach by the German flight crew.
My time in Berlin was a magical blur of museums and opera (Carmen) and classical music (a Brahms program at the Philharmonie) and bars (most notably, Hairy Mary's) and cheap restaurants and rides on the S-Bahn and U-Bahn and counting Arab kaffiyehs wrapped rattily around the necks of Berliners (27 in four days) -- evidently, this season's must-have accessory. I logged untold kilometers walking on Berlin's cobblestoned streets and untold hours of Skype conversations and Blackberry conversations and innumerable e-mails and Sh'mas whispered over the phone to Little Babe back in New York.
Berlin always hits me like something familiar and alien all at once. I thought I was so bloody original to frame it as "New York in the Seventies," until I saw this very phrase pop up in an article in this past Sunday's Home magazine supplement to the NY Times. With its cheap rent, preponderance of graffiti, ubiquitous smoking, restless youth culture, dangerous undercurrent and fluid economy, Berlin does zap me back to my days as a teen navigating my way from the nondescript streets of my native Douglaston and Forest Hills to the thrilling landscape of Manhattan, finding stories on every street corner, falling in love with the unknowable yet endlessly fascinating people I would pass hurrying down West End Avenue or up Madison Avenue, scripting screenplays and melodramas, hoping to rewrite the story of my life any minute now.
Berlin is the blond and blue-eyed Irish-Italian boy I used to make out with on the floor of his Corona, Queens living room with a black velvet Jesus -- complete with bleeding heart and a crown of thorns -- watching pitying from a nearby wall.
Dangerous, forbidden, repellent yet undeniably sexy.
Berlin is a lure for young Americans, particularly of the artistic bent. Big Babe loves it; this is his fourth visit there and he is conversant in German, has written and published articles about the culture and life in this city. This trip, I met his friends, a loosely-connected group of semi-and underemployed smart kids in their Odyssey Years as David Brooks so memorably put it. Many of them look like Big Babe -- undernourished and ill-clad. They share large multi-room apartments with each other or sublet rooms from Germans. Rental for a large room in a decent neighborhood is low...about 150 to 250 Euro per month.
So, here too, is a throwback to New York in the late seventies when studio apartments on the Upper West Side could be had for $300 a month and a rented room could cost as little as $200.
Because of the famously difficult task of getting employment as a non-German, Big Babe and his friends often face cash flow issues, starving while they wait for payment from the States for articles written, trying to find internships with visiting American academics or teaching at English language institutes or doing babysitting for American families or having some kind of steady gig from abroad, like website design or another skill that travels well through cyberspace.
If you ever need your maternal instincts reawakened, go to visit your kid in a foreign country about two weeks after they have run out of money.
My time with Big Babe was filled with hilarious dysfunctional moments. One day we came back to his room in Kreutzberg to find half the furniture missing...including the couch I was sleeping on. His friend, who sublet the room before him, had come to reclaim his furniture. The following day he claimed his down comforter. (I will spare the reader any discomfort by refraining from describing the sleeping arrangements minus the couch and blanket.)
And Big Babe showed me a hand-drawing made by his depressive roommate Helena that is so bizarre as to be a potential Exhibit A in her forthcoming trial for insanity. Evidently, Helena has an issue with men peeing while standing up. She has spoken about this repeatedly with Big Babe but not even on the level of "please do not leave the seat up."
Instead, Helena has told Big Babe that it is unnatural for men to pee standing up and has waged a campaign against this.
Her latest salvo is this drawing that features a standing man urinating with a big diagonal line drawn through it, Ghostbusters-style. If memory serves me correctly, there are droplets of pee coming out of a downward-pointing ween.
Penis-hating German roommates aside, the trip contained numerous discussions about making money and solvency and the viability of Big Babe staying on in Berlin. And while I was zapped back to my own adolescence and post-college experiences where I, too, never had enough money and often starved between dates with men I didn't really like and trips home for Shabbat where my mother picked fights with me because I had broken some kind of parent-child contract by moving out of the house before marriage, I nevertheless was able to toss off the memories of myself in the New York of the 1970's and embrace the reality of being an adult in the 21st century and pass onto my son some critical advice:
Money is essential.
And whatever you think is your bottom line is probably too low.
While it's great to opt for a life of meaning and art and adventure over affluence, poverty sucks.
Besides, you are too much of a bon vivant.
On Tuesday morning of last week, I left my bon vivant in Berlin and caught a flight back to Kennedy. Once back, I hit the ground running, attending Little Babe's orchestra practice, starting him on homework and then running out to a client meeting which lasted until 10 pm.
Berlin is an experience I need to process. Though I have an aversion to the city, it is fascinating to bear witness to its reinvented life in the 21st century. It is especially fascinating to see Berlin through Big Babe's eyes and to add my commentary to his observations. I fully understand his kinship with the city even as I find it personally repellent.
And then, there is the matter of being an American Jew in the Berlin of the 21st Century.
Coming from Manhattan, it all seems so pathetic. There are well-meaning but futile attempts to revive Jewish life in Berlin, but the synagogues remain largely empty, the community largely uneducated and the glorious Jewish museum preserves the memory of a community that was completely destroyed.
Leaving the Jewish museum on Saturday afternoon with Big Babe, I felt my insides scooped out. While it had reminded me somewhat of the new Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, there was hardly the triumphant emergence through the halls of despair into the sunshine of the present-day Jewish holy land.
Outside the doors of the Berlin Jewish museum resides no such hopeful view. Instead, there are the paved-over ashes of the Jewish life that had once thrived in this city -- bone shards of the countless Jewish artists, musicians, writers, teachers, doctors, rabbis, radicals, business people, politicians and young intellectuals like Big Babe who found themselves seduced by Berlin, believing in it even unto death.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
The last time it happened was two summers ago when Katrina devastated New Orleans and now we are in the throes of another such moment as the nation -- nay, the entire world -- watches San Diego burn.
Because The Colbert Report was replaying last week's shows, HOBB and I tuned into CNN last night at 11:30 and spent an entire hour glued to the tube. First, America's sweetheart Anderson Cooper collected dispatches from San Diegans who had fled their homes while camera crews filmed scary reports from correspondents in the field, fire fighters and officials. Then, at midnight, as if America hadn't had its fill of tragic scenery, the baton was passed to a funereal Larry King who emceed the horror show from the safety of his CNN studio.
Naturally, the televised images were not the first I had seen, in fact, I had spent most of the day flipping computer screens between my email and the homepages of foxnews.com; cnn.com; nytimes.com; latimes.com; in addition to Reuters; the AP; the local San Diego paper -- the Union Tribune; blogs; sites belonging to local synagogues, the local Jewish Federation and the JCC; and other venues from the purgatory that has become San Diego, California.
Like the death toll in Iraq, the numbers of evacuated residents kept rising, the number of homes and businesses destroyed kept getting higher.
Friends who felt safe on Monday were packing their vans up by Tuesday and heading to hotels or family in other states. In my mind, I transported myself into their beautiful homes, recalling my last trip to the area, how I marveled at the flawless weather, the utterly calm feeling of Southern California.
How I indulged in that snide, Woody-Allenesque East Coast supremacy, secretly curling up my lip in disdain for the utter lack of stress or adversity in the lives of our San Diego friends.
Remembering how I scoffed at the fact that there were even weather reports on the news, how I quipped that television stations would save a bundle by firing their meteorologists and simply printing a sign that contained a single word -- PERFECT -- which they could flash on the screen to report describe the day's weather.
And perfect still applies, as in perfectly horrible. Perfectly shocking. Perfectly devastating.
Or, as some have said, The Perfect (Fire)Storm, the confluence of all the factors that culminated in this holocaust.
The way that the flames of the San Diego wildfires have moved over the hills and through the canyons reminds me of nothing more than SS stormtroopers moving in on the unsuspecting and innocent populace.
Yes, this is the way events appear to this Jewish New Yorker as she witnesses the devastation of San Diego: Mother Nature has turned into a Nazi -- homicidal, hateful, bent on sheer and total annihilation.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Because I fell asleep on the black leather couch last night while Anderson Cooper was replaying Matt Lauer's cringe-worthy interview with international laughing stock and Republican liability Senator Larry Craig and his pretending-to-trust-him-and-trying-really-hard-not-to-grimace wife, I missed Stephen Colbert's announcement on The Colbert Report that he was kinda considering running for president of the U.S.A.
However, through the magic of YouTube and my ability to spell Stephen Colbert's name correctly, I was able to recapture this media moment where ingenuity, satire and the dawning realization "hey, that's not a half-bad idea!" merged in simultaneous orgasmic oneness.
But "hey, that's not a half-bad idea!" is the understatement of the 21st Century.
Colbert's prankish announcement is the most uplifting, greatest, fully flipping amazing news our nation has had since September 10th 2001.
We all know that Stephen Colbert (previously referred to in this blog as my BF, a fact that I'll just have to confront honestly yet noisily in the media) is a natural winner. However, to win the election as the first Democratic/Republican presidential contender, he'll need a brilliant campaign manager -- a well-connected, Manhattan-based strategist whose thinking is so far out of the box as to be off the wall.
Such a campaign manager would ideally be a woman, prefer short skirts and boots, possess a supernaturally high energy level, be madly in love with her client, have a way with words, be capable of courting the press, love to travel, have, oh, about three photogenic children and a husband with no pending lawsuits against him and be able to hide evidence of her past unpaid parking tickets, ignored jury duty summonses, unreturned library books, unpaid pledges to college radio stations, under-decorated apartment, penchant for watching YouTube videos of questionable artistic and moral value, the kitten she once abandoned in a Westchester parking lot, her fondness for visiting Before and After plastic surgery websites and refusal to buy age-appropriate clothes or even shop at any store other than Target, Old Navy, H&M, Loehmann's and Forever 21.
In other words, I hereby announce my candidacy for the position of Stephen Colbert's campaign manager.
And if I haven't managed to convince you that I would be the most kick-ass campaign manager ever, here's one more unique selling point: the smart-aleky yet Catholic Colbert would benefit enormously from teaming up with a smart-aleky yet Jewish gal.
Together, we would epitomize the Judeo-Christian image America likes to have of itself.
So, Comedy Central and Mr. Colbert, I hope you are reading this.
America is hot for Stephen and so am I.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Okay, this one is simply too easy.
The poster grrrl for neocon outrageousness, the horsey Ann Coulter, opened her yap again, this time to Donny Deutsch on national television.
This dispatch, from CNN.com:
Conservative commentator and best-selling author Ann Coulter may find herself in the midst of a controversy for comments Monday suggesting America would be better if everyone was Christian.
Asked by CNBC host Donny Deutsch what the U.S. looks like in her dreams, Coulter said it would look like the Republican National Convention in 2004
"People were happy,” she said, according to a transcript provided to CNN by CNBC. “They're Christian. They're tolerant. They defend America." (Video: Watch Coulter's comments on CNBC)
When Deutsch responded, "It would be better if we were all Christian?" Coulter said "Yeah."
Deutsch, himself Jewish, continued to press Coulter on her remarks, asking, "We should just throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians then?"
"Yeah," Coulter responded, adding "Well, it's a lot easier. It's kind of a fast track."
"You can't possibly believe that," Deutsch responded. “You can’t possibly. You’re too educated.”
"Do you know what Christianity is?" Coulter replied. "See, we believe your religion, but you have to obey. We have the fast track program."
Later in the interview Deutsch asked Coulter if she doesn't want any Jews in the world, Coulter responded, "No, we think — we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say."
"Wow, you didn't really say that, did you," Deutsch said.
Oh yes, she did.
Knowing that the cameras were rolling and the eyes and ears of the nation would once again be trained on her.
No surprise with this calculating fascist media whore, just the latest in a series of verbal scud missiles.
Who knows what the hell she really believes and who the hell cares?
But since we're talking about getting perfected, I've got a great suggestion for Ann Coulter:
Silence is golden, but duct tape is silver.
In other words, shut your stupid mouth.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Whilst walking Alfie the Pomeranian at 7:30 this morning, my Crackberry vibrated with the promise of a new incoming e-mail.
Digging the addictive device out of my raincoat pocket (hastily thrown atop my shorts and bra-less t-shirt so as not to scandalize Morningside Heights, esp my disgraced neighbor Lee Bollinger), I saw that the new missive was from none other than Big Babe, my firstborn, recently graduated from Columbia U and now based in Berlin.
Two days ago, I bought a mega-cheapo ticket to Berlin (Delta, direct, nonstop, round-trip for $450!!!!!!!) to see my son and the news of my impending arrival awakened that instinctual impulse shared by offspring of all ages: the instant awareness of things lacking in one's life and the composition of a list of such items to be shlepped by one's parents, often internationally.
With Big Babe's permission, I am hereby reproducing his request list:
1. Books from that bag I left in the dining room: Updike collected stories, a few others that can be chosen at random. I forget what's there...possibly Schnitzler and Svevo? Naked Lunch??? I really am at a loss.
2. Gap 3/4 peacoat (hanging in front of house)
3. A couple of scarves (you know 'em)
4. My leather gloves (should be in some coat pocket)
5. A few blazers from my closet. Green corduroy banana republic one; somewhat stiff brown cord one w/big pockets (you know it)...whatever else you feel is classy enough.
7. A couple button-down shirts (same instructions)
6. Some more Henley shirts (in hideous cupboard next to closet)...and another sweater or two (black wool turtle-neck and maybe a zip-up or two)
7. My pleather fender shoes (ersatz converse)
8. a pound of Zabar's coffee (F.I., ground for Melitta)
9. More pairs of socks!!! (alle Farben)
10. A warm cap / hat - like that stupid black thing with the pompom
11. Anything else that you think would improve my quality of life here
12. My portable typewriter - only if it isn't too much of a pain in the ass
14. The Complete New Yorker - it's on the shelf in the livingroom. If the whole things too much of a hassel, then take the discs out and put them in the protective vinyl sleeves I have in my room inside that CD / DVD storage box.
15. Before I left, I was looking everywhere for a notebook that says "World Turned Upside Down" on it. It's a thin (50 sheets), beige and classy notebook with non-recycled paper...It should be 1/2 filled up. Maybe it made its way into the piano bench or with elsewhere with sheet music. No need to turn the house upside down to look for it...but if you do see it lying around, please bring it.
16. My opera throw with the Chagall design on it. It's rather light and non-bulky.
OK...I think that's about it. Remember, all these items and quantities are negotiable...and Dependant on what you can physically bring with you. I can even meet you at the airport if you need help!
So....there you have it. The modern Wish List of an American in Berlin. To learn more about Big Babe, visit his amazing blog at ajg2106.blogspot.com.
And stay tuned for word of Middle Babe's Wish List from Towson, Maryland. We're planning to visit her the weekend before I fly to Berlin. She has warned me that her list is extensive and might require many trips to Target.
Donations can be made to Bungalow Babe in the Big City.
Earmark the funds Hello Muddah.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Next to me, Little Babe is plugged into his Mac, watching the Top Ten Naruto Jutsu.
The Jews, state Mearsheimer and his writing buddy Stephen Walt, exert this supernatural control over things. And with their amazing power, which is wielded chiefly through this dangerous entity called THE ISRAEL LOBBY, they control YOUR life!
Thankfully, in the United States, Mearsheimer and Walt's poorly-researched, outrageous book has not gotten rave reviews. A recent, measured New York Times Book Review by Leslie Gelb basically decimated the work. Also, check out Jeffrey Goldberg's whip-smart write-up in The New Republic.
Monday, September 24, 2007
It was supposed to be BritBrit's comeback performance at MTV's Music Video Awards ceremony earlier this month, the show-stopping dance number for her new single Gimme More that would put an end to the endless tabloid trashing of the Pop-Tart.
It was supposed to be BoBo's career-making moment earlier today, the world premiere of Gimme Mahmoud, the biggest, baddest and boldest move a university president had ever undertaken, a tactic that would prove so brilliant that it would make Harvard rue the day it rejected him as president. It was a counterintuitive and thoroughly post-modern seduction strategy.
Instead, poor, incompetent Britney found herself at the receiving end of a tsunami of media criticism and ridicule and today's MTV (Meshuggeneh Talking Vile) performance at Columbia's Lerner Hall hosted by the Bo-Man has largely been hailed as an exercise in failure by bloggers, pundits, observers and journalists alike.
Yes, there are some well-scripted soundbytes delivered by the white-tressed Columbia president that will live on in cyberspace and have the ring of J'accuse. And there are those who give the Big LeeBoskie high grades for his harsh dressing down of AhmadI'msickofevensayinghisname in his introductory comments.
Still...the misguided decision to grant a public forum to a world leader who is a Holocaust-denier, has the chutzpah to claim that homosexuality doesn't exist in Iran (that's right...homos are killed when they are outed), making a bizarre claim that some people blame the Palestinians for the Holocaust, chews out Bo-Bo for his lack of good manners and attempts to portray Iran as a pro-feminist, peace-loving nation is dangerous through and through.
If you think I'm being hyperbolic, read the comments on www.nytimes.com by readers or hear from some of the students at Columbia who felt that their minds were opened by coming to hear Ahmadinejad. Inviting this maniac to speak at Columbia sullies the university. It is an act akin to the desecration of a holy temple.
I have this little suspicion, though, that the judgment-impaired LeeBo is probably so pumped right now that he's camped out in the corridor of his mansion on Morningside Drive -- where we take Alfie the Pomeranian to poop daily -- just waiting for the phone to ring.
Freshly-showered. LeeBo will keep Harvard waiting when it finally works up the nerve to make the call. He will let the phone ring five, six, seven, eight, nine times. Then, just on the brink of the tenth ring, he'll pick up the receiver, say hello with studied nonchalance and pretend to check his calendar for about half an hour when Harvard asks him out.
Of course, he'll go to bed on the first date.
Well, I guess one good thing came out of the Columbia carnival today and that is that the appearance distracted Mahmadman from his To-Do list, where written in extra-big block letters are the words: Wipe Israel Off Map. For his forgetfulness, I breathe a deep sigh of relief for I am watching the Manhattan madness unfold from a quiet hilltop on the outskirts of Jerusalem, City of Gold.
Little Babe and I arrived in Israel about eight hours ago. Since that time, I have spent most of my time working feverishly, punctuating e-mail, research and phone conferences with visits to the Internet to read up on The End of Days at Lerner Hall.
When I spoke with him two hours ago, HOBB was breathless, describing the frenzy of the day... and its horror as well. A professor of journalism, he dispatched his students to cover the story of Ahmadinejad at Columbia. They created a blog for the event, http://apresidentvisits.blogspot.com/
Uh... guys? A president visits? Not only is that lame but isn't that a huge insult to, like, regular presidents?
Watching Bollinger introduce today's event, I thought of Britney, tottering around on stage, lip-synching, twittering to herself, raising suspicions that she was on something.
Watch LeeBo's mouth and body-language when he lobs his Hardball questions at MahAh.
It looks like he's lip-synching.
Or hoping that Harvard is watching.
Or on something.
Coming Soon: The Leave LeeBo Alone video.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
The intellectual and moral dishonesty of this argument is staggering. Since when do our democratic principles demand that we give an audience to an international criminal and genocidal madman who has stated his ambition to kill us?
And by "us" I mean Jews and Americans. I am guessing that for MahAh, the two are virtually indistinguishable.
Yet Free Speech must prevail, state LeeBo's faculty supporters on campus, those staunch men and women charged with educating the next generation. Ideas must be free to be expressed in a university setting, they whine. Even controversial ones.
When was the last time Columbia gave a forum to the leaders of Gaymarriageno.org or Focus on the Family...with their anti-homosexual agenda? Why don't we host a panel discussion for advocates of Female Genital Mutilation? Hey, when Warren Jeffs finishes his trial, why doesn't he stop on by to chat about how amazing polygamy is? And wouldn't it be cool to have some Aryan Nation dudes come over and talk to us about why black people are inferior and should be shot?
And I'm not even going to bother discussing the hypocrisy of barring ROTC from campus while inviting the man from Iran.
Today's NY Times magazine had an article on honor killings in Syria. The article focuses on the tragic case of 15 year old Zahra, whose crime was having been raped. Well...her brother Fayyez set that little whore straight by stabbing her to death while she slept. And he believes that Islamic law mandates his actions. Certainly, his entire village celebrated when he relayed the news, by cellphone, that he had succeeded in killing her, thus clearing the family name.
Hey, LeeBo, why not invite Fayyez to Columbia so that our minds can be expanded by his understanding of Islamic law? Maybe he can even share the podium with Mahmoud? I'll bet the two guys would have lots in common!
If there were no limits to the concept of free speech, our society -- let alone the Columbia campus -- would be a complete circus. I'm fairly certain that 9/10th of the writers/thinkers/leaders who request a speaking gig are denied one for a variety of reasons, including ideological.
Universities tend to invite A-list speakers whom they find valuable for their students and faculty. These people include world leaders, authors, performers, scientists, personalities, celebrities, inventors, businesspeople and others.
Certainly, people with controversial views have spoken before and will continue to speak at Columbia as well as other campuses.
But to call Ahmadinejad's views merely controversial is to deny a dangerous reality: his aim is to kill us.
If his long-range missiles fell on Columbia University, he would proclaim a national day of celebration. Fayyez's village in Syria would probably be celebrating as well.
There is humor in the fact that the milquetoasty LeeBo is trying to spin the coming circus as a public tribunal/Hardball episode with him as an upper-crust Chris Matthews lobbing tough questions at MahAh to get things started, putting him in the hot seat, taking off the kid gloves, turning the spotlight on, giving him the old third degree, showing him what for.
The problem is that Ahmadinejad deserves a public hanging, ala Eichmann.
Not a Q&A at an Ivy League institution.
Well...clearly, my point of view will not prevail and alas, I'm not even going to be here to watch the circus.
By the time Mad Mahmoud arrives on campus, I will be walking through Jerusalem with Little Babe. At this time tomorrow evening, the youngest Babe and I will hopefully be aloft, en route to the Holy Land for this pre-Bar Mitzvah visit that coincides with the Bat Mitzvah of his cousin.
Yet, HOBB will be here on Mahmoud Monday, as he is a prof at this noble institution across the street from our home.
He promises to call me with news from the Big Top.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
You gotta hand it to the Daily News.
They know a madman when they see him.
Shockingly, the white-tressed Columbia U president, Lee Bollinger, whom I often pass on runs around the Central Park Jackie Onassis reservoir and whose manse is located down the block from my own Columbia U. apartment, lacks that good judgment.
Evidently, he has invited Ahmadinejad to speak on campus next Monday as part of the World Leaders Forum, to be held at SIPA: The School of International and Public Affairs.
Sadly, I'll miss this partay as I am leaving for Israel on Sunday night, unless Ahmadinejad succeeds in wiping it off the map, as he has publicly pledged to do.
Anyhoo...things seem to be getting more and more interesting...in that break-out-into-a-sweat-and-contemplate-moving-to-Israel kind of way.
And there is a ring of deja vu to this forthcoming event, reminding me of an infamous evening in the winter of '05 when Daniel Barenboim turned a lecture on playing Wagner in Israel into a demented rant against Israel...with Bollinger aiding and abetting him from the front row of Miller Theatre.
This incident, witnessed by your own Bungalow Babe and HOBB (husband of Bungalow Babe), resulted in a sleepless night where the two of us wrote furious e-mails to Whiteylocks, resulting in a personal meeting for HOBB and a personal email to me wherein LeeBo claimed he, too, was horrified by what Barenboim had to say and deliberately did not clap at the end of his presentation.
Wow. You gotta be impressed by such a courageous act of public dissent.
This incident, incidentally, formed the inspiration for The Jerusalem Lover, a novella I recently completed. At the end of this posting, you will find an excerpt.
Meanwhile, here's how the acting SIPA dean, John Coatsworth rationalizes the school's decision:
"Opportunities to hear, challenge, and learn from controversial speakers of different views are central to the education and training of students for citizenship in a shrinking and dangerous world."
And I would have provided a soundbyte from LeeBo himself, but the Spec website appears to be currently unavailable, inundated, no doubt, by incredulous reporters, producers, editors and regular ole folks, thinking, say it ain't so, LeeBo!
I do, however, recall reading shizz earlier where LeeBo promises to hit up mah main man Mahmoud with difficult and challenging questions during the course of this circus...uh, event.
Too bad I can't be here to lob my own question at the madman. It would be:
"Could you stand really still so I can wipe you off the map?"
Giving up the fight to convince LeeBo of the error of his ways, Columbia/Barnard Hillel's Israel Va'ad sent around this emergency memo last night:
Ahmadinejad’s views on Israel, Women, homosexuals and his denial of the Holocaust have been called “repugnant” by many leaders, including our own President Bollinger.The event is surely a contentious one and pressing for the entire Hillel community. We wanted to alert you to this and give you the opportunity to register for the event so that we can all be there to challenge Ahmadinejad on his objectionable views.
And here you have it...another reason why it's increasingly hard for Jews to look inward this Yom Kippur.
The madman of Iran is coming to town. Speaking at the Columbia University campus, directly across the street from the Urban Bungalow. At the special invitation of President Lee Bollinger.
Looking inward at such a time could be harmful, or fatal to one's health.
I'd like to conclude today's post with the aforementioned excerpt from The Jerusalem Lover, coming soon to a bookstore near you. You will recognize Bollinger as the inspiration for the fictional character of Martin Holloway, Columbia U president.
And with a reminder that the root of evil is not supernatural.
Evil happens because otherwise good people allow it.
From The Jerusalem Lover
The line outside of Miller Theatre snaked up Broadway, ending at the tip of West 118th Street. Holding a ticket and shivering, Dan Seligman wondered why the theatre’s public relations office couldn’t get their act together. It was ridiculous, really, how they had failed to furnish press tickets or a press kit or even answer his e-mails or phone calls. The entire episode was either an exercise in stonewalling or sheer incompetence. Perhaps both.
Appearing tonight at Miller Theatre was controversial Columbia professor, Elisha Rosensweig. His subject for the evening was “Israel/IsNOTReal.” The copy on the fliers, posted all over the campus, promised a “provocative evening from a provocative thinker.” One week before the appointed evening, the event had sold out.
Dan, who was on assignment from the Columbia Spectator that evening, was three months into his college career, a wide-eyed freshman hailing from Oakland, California, madly in love with New York. One year earlier, he had traveled east with his mother to see twelve campuses forming a protracted triangle from Maine to Chicago to Maryland. Columbia was the first stop on their trip. After spending six hours on the campus, Dan declared the college tour officially over. He would be applying only to Columbia University, he informed his mother. If he didn’t get in, he would apply for a job there and spend every waking hour on campus, auditing classes.
An exceptional student, Dan was admitted to Columbia on early decision and granted a freshman dorm in Carmen, the ugly-as-sin building fronting West 114th Street, designed for first-year-students. His roommate was the son of a folk musician from New Hampshire and the roommate’s friends became Dan’s surrogate family. He loved every one of his classes, including the First Year writing seminar, considered a deadly requirement by every member of the student body. Following the recommendation of his writing professor, he joined the Spectator as a feature writer.
This Monday night’s event constituted Dan’s fifth assignment for the Spec. His beat was loosely defined as cultural events that fell outside of film, dance, music, theatre or art. Though the staff argued at some length over whether Professor Rosensweig’s lecture was culture or news, the assignment was unanimously handed to Dan, who had been hearing wildly conflicting reports about him since virtually his first week on campus and had been curious to hear the man and draw his own conclusions.
The night was icy-cold for early November and Dan could have kicked himself for running out of Carmen dressed only in a t-shirt, jeans and thin blazer. On his feet were his over-worn and much-loved Birkenstocks, bought in Berlin the previous summer. When a matron joined the line, wrapped in a fur coat, Dan forgot his anti-fur sentiments and coveted the dead animal with all his heart.
After an interminable crawl towards the entrance, Dan was inside Miller Theatre. He strode to the staircase, scoring a front-row seat in the balcony. On his way, he passed the audio-visual crew setting up their recording equipment. Stepping gingerly over the wires, he patted his microscopic tape-recorder, nestled in his breast pocket next to his thin reporters’ notebook.
A flow of humanity filled the theatre. Seats were snatched like life rafts on a sinking ship and students sat on steps and lined the back walls. In the front row orchestra, Dan made out the form of university President Martin Holloway, the provost Marlin Jennings and numerous faculty members of the university. Opening his notebook, he began taking notes.
Within minutes, the program began, with an introduction from President Holloway about the value of an academic institution such as Columbia hosting events wherein controversial views were to be aired. “What is a university, if not a universe of forces and ideas, often colliding?” he asked rhetorically and rather moronically, thought Dan. The mike was handed over to a young girl whom Dan recognized from the spate of anti-Israel protests on campus that fall. She was fair skinned, freckled and tall…saved from boring Mid-western wholesomeness by the ratty black kafiyeh wrapped around her curly red hair.
“I’m Claire Bernstein?” she squeaked into the microphone. “As founder and president of CSAZO? -- Columbia Students Against Zionist Oppression? – it is my great pleasure to introduce to you a modern hero? a man who is not afraid to stand up to the fascist regime of Israel? a noble truth-seeker who has risked his life to transmit his message and hope for peace? an important thinker who will reveal the racist policies and programs of the country that is the worst violator of human rights today?…Dr. Elisha Rosensweig!”
Dan swiveled his head around, eager to catch the audience’s reaction. Claire Bernstein seemed to him a caricature of an activist, light on the facts, heavy on the moral outrage. Last year it was Take Back the Night, this year it was The Unpardonable Crimes of Israel. She probably spent her school breaks denouncing her parents’ Zionism to their faces, screaming at them for being such hypocrites. Next year she might be marching with PETA and pouring buckets of red paint on fur-wearing women. Who could take her seriously?“Free Palestine!” screamed a girl directly in back of Dan. The theatre reverberated with lusty applause as Claire Bernstein sashayed off the stage, passing the lumbering Elisha Rosensweig who paused to hug her before assuming the podium himself, powerful, erect, electric. He gripped the sides of the lectern as he scowled out at his audience. Learning over the railing, Dan saw President Holloway, returned to his front row seat, clapping vigorously, his face frozen in a mask of sheer and abject terror.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Going to shul on Yom Kippur is the ultimate paradox. On the day we are called upon to do the most personal act of worship -- confession of our sins coupled with the resolve to repent -- we leave our private abodes and come together in our places of prayer.