Tuesday, February 27, 2007

CELLPHONES, DRUGS AND ROCK-HARD ABS Part Two


It has often been stated that youth is wasted on the young.
How true.

But infinitely truer…and hardly ever stated…is the fact that drugs are wasted on the young.

Remember back to your high school and college days? As much fun as it was to get totally wasted then, it is infinitely better to get trashed with the brain and body that you have now.

After all, there is so much more to escape when you are an adult.

Two nights ago, I found myself at an Oscars party on the Upper West Side. Minutes after the arrival of a giant hero sandwich stuffed with (kosher) cold cuts, the host pulled me aside.

“You seem of the generation that would be cool if I asked you something,” he said in subdued -- if ungrammatical -- tones.

“Yeah?” I was suspicious and curious all at once. Every babe in the big city knows to be on guard for pervy questions at parties.

“I have some pot-laced cookies. Would you like one?”

I must issue the following disclaimer: I am against the use of illegal substances. I have told Big Babe and Middle Babe (Little Babe is too innocent to even contemplate doing drugs…or even talking back to his teachers) that I would be most unsympathetic if they were ever busted for possession of drugs.

The only time in recent memory I smoked dope was three years ago in Amsterdam where it is illegal NOT to smoke dope. I did it more for the experience than the buzz. The truth of the matter is that, debauched youth aside, I never really liked pot. It made me feel dumbed down, like my mind was trying to run in a swimming pool.

But being offered a marijuana snack on the Upper West Side was an irresistible offer.

“Sure!” I agreed, looking towards the couch where HOBB (Husband of Bungalow Babe) was cramped uncomfortably, watching the early, irrelevant Oscar nominations and winners. The confection would not be up his alley.

“Have you eaten anything?” my host suddenly asked.

“Uh, yeah…apple slices and peanut butter before I came here,” I offered. He looked relieved.

“I meant, you didn’t have any of the meat sub, right?” he explained, “because the cookies are milchig. They're made with butter.”

I laughed. Where else in the world – outside of the Anglo-populated neighborhoods of South Jerusalem – would anyone be simultaneously concerned about his guests getting high and inadvertantly mixing milk and meat?

My host handed me a baggie filled with biscotti-shaped blondies.

“How much?” I inquired.

“I ate two before the party and I’m totally wasted,” he said, looking totally wasted. “It’ll take about an hour to kick in.”

I didn’t want to stagger home to Little Babe through the snow in a state of utter intoxication. “I’ll have one,” I said.

The blondie tasted surprisingly hearty, made evidently with whole grains, real creamery butter and actual pot. I was envious of the baker: I personally had no idea how to bake such treats, or to bake in general. Finishing the snack, I wove through the crowd, found HOBB and squeezed in next to him on the couch.

“I just ate a pot-laced cookie,” I told him. “In case I start to act weird or anything.”

HOBB looked at me like I was a teenager who had just broken curfew...again.

“Do you want one?” I asked, uselessly.

The party wore on. The Oscars unfolded. Ellen changed her outfit three times. The winners staggered to the stage, grateful, astounded, triumphant. The montages were cool…especially the one of the foreign films. Everytime the camera landed on Jack Nicholson, I suppressed the urge to leap through the television set and smash him on his billiard ball head with a golf club. Our host devised a plan whereby he would lower the TV volume and play Zydeco music during the commercials, which was clever, if a bit annoying.
Around 10 pm, HOBB stood up, stretched and announced his intention to go home. I stated my intention to stay. We arranged for me to call home at 10:30 to say sh’ma (Jewish bedtime prayer) with Little Babe. Guests came and went. I called home at 10:40 to say sh’ma with Little Babe and sent kisses over the phone. HOBB told me that Big Babe was coming to the party. I looked up and there was Big Babe, standing in our host’s bedroom.

This was the second party he had come to in search of his parents. We had left the first one, hours ago, it turned out, but he didn’t know that. He had left several messages on my Blackberry but I hadn't checked it for hours. He looked chilled and annoyed from shlepping through the snow.

Suddenly, the dope took effect.

Here’s the thing about being a parent: you have to maintain a semblance of responsible adulthood at all times. Even if your kid is 22. Even if they have probably done harder drugs than you. Even if you are at a party.

“Hey, your mom’s cool!” one cute girl told Big Babe, as we stood near the food table. She had just come over to talk to us and perhaps pick up Big Babe. I don't know what I said, or if I even said anything at all but she thought I was cool. Maybe it was the red velvet jacket I wore or my long strand of black beads from Paris or my four-inch high Isaac Mizrahi boots or my H&M black dress. Whatever. It was cool to be cool.
The dope made me dopey. I started laughing at things that might not have been remotedly funny. I cannot remember exactly what they were except for one thing, when Big Babe was leaving the party. The host stood by the elevator and it seemed like his 5 o’clock shadow had deepened appreciably over the past hour. I shared my observation and the two of us fell over laughing hysterically.

“Hey, your mom’s a real party animal,” said the host.

Big Babe left with an inscrutable look on his face.

Fast forward to later in the evening, after I arrived home to catch the final awards. HOBB was sitting on the couch, annoyed (it turns out) that I had not left the party with him. Little Babe was snuggled next to him, upset to have awakened and find his mother still not home. He had been wrested out of sleep, he reported, by the theme song to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which played during the Lifetime Achievement Award segment for composer Ennio Morricone.

(Little Babe had recently discovered this theme and had been humming if for the entirety of the previous week – one night, when I asked him to cease and desist, he claimed he was unable to get it out of his head! -- and then, on another night we had both burst out laughing when our cabbie’s cellphone rang with that very melody.)

Imagining Little Babe lying in bed, lured to the living room by that iconic cowboy movie theme, I laughed. It was funny, after all, that Little Babe was being stalked by the theme to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Then I noticed Big Babe, sitting on the other side of his dad and little brother, looking at me with disgust.

As best as I can remember, my behavior at the party earlier that evening was unremarkable. I didn’t dance on the tabletop, say anything off-color, behave in an undignified manner. Nor was I completely wasted, just loosened to the point where everything in the world seemed funny to me.

And I had returned, after all, to the bosom of my family. It was not even midnight. Soon I would be walking through our overheated apartment decked out in a t-shirt and shorts. Because he was still awake, I would shortly tuck Little Babe into bed. The next morning, I would be hauling his little butt out of bed to get him ready for school. And after the bus left, my work day would kick into motion.

It sure was great to escape the deadlines, demanding clients, difficult decisions, family responsibilities and general sense that the world sucks at the Oscars party. It was great to not think about our financial woes, upcoming meetings and programs and the terrifying To-Do list that crowns every day of my work life.

One little pot-laced cookie at an Upper West Side Oscars party. It was a milder high than two glasses of red wine. It was soothing and fun. It was unexpected.

It was great and all, yet a mom is a mom is a mom, even if she is a Bungalow Babe.

And the message I got loud and clear was that there is a motherly code of behavior that precludes the ingestion of certain substances when the kids – even if they are the same age that you were when you got married to their father – are present.
Next Up: Rock-Hard Abs
To hide her winter weight gain, Bungalow Babe opts for cellulite-control leggings at the gym while worrying obsessively about the anorexic women...and whether they will die during their workout.
Moral dilemma of the day: Do gyms have a responsibility towards their obviously anorexic clients...the ones who look like Auschwitz survivors? Should they continue to let them work out or intervene?
Personal ethical dilemma of the day: Why, when faced with these sick -- if not dying -- women, does Bungalow Babe experience more anger than compassion?
Stay tuned for the final installment of Cellphones, Drugs and Rock-Hard Abs

Monday, February 26, 2007

CELLPHONES, DRUGS AND ROCK-HARD ABS


PART ONE: Cellphones


For anyone who has doubted the existence of Divine retribution, I present the following tale:

On a recent Shabbat afternoon, Bungalow Babe found herself in a nail salon. Being shomer shabbos (in a frum Conservative way) getting a mani-pedi would not normally be on the list of kosher activities for a Bungalow Day-of-Rest. However, due to her vigorous treadmill workouts (and penchant for traipsing through the streets of Manhattan in Isaac Mizrahi boots with four-inch heels (http://www.target.com/), there were formidable calluses on the soles of her feet. In addition, her hands looked like hell from several months of nerve-wracking, business-related stress that caused her to gnaw on her cuticles and ignore her nails to the point that they had become lethal weapons.

As there was a bar mitzvah that night…and as Shabbat would be over by the time it came to paying… Bungalow Babe decided to slither inside the salon (glancing hither and yon to make sure none of her Ortho friends were anywhere to be found) and chap some Me Time.

Selecting an appropriately f*%k-me color for her toes and more understated tone for her hands, Bungalow Babe removed her sneakers, rolled her running pants above her knees, climbed into the upholstered pedicure throne, lifted her feet onto the rim of the tub -- bubbling with aromatic hot water -- and awaited the removal of nail polish by the subservient woman who knelt before her.

A shock of icy cold as an acetone-saturated cotton ball assaulted her toenails and then the hum of mindless relaxation as Bungalow Babe picked up the Us Magazine (or was it Star?) left on the pedicure throne beside her. It was the issue with a recently baldified Britney Spears. Ah, joy. Service to one’s feet and celebrity gossip. Stripped of their chipped polish, Bungalow Babe’s feet were firmly tapped, signaling that it was time to dip them into their bath.

Ahhhhhhh. Bliss so extreme that it obliterated Bungalow Babe’s desire to even open the magazine. The hot soapy water surged and swelled around Bungalow Babe’s feet, every foot-cell singing in joy. Her eyes closed, her head rolled backwards. The pedicure lady lifted one foot and then a tinny symphonic rendition of the William Tell Overture filled the salon.

“Yeah! Hiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!! How are you????? No, I’m getting my nails done. On the West Side. A little place, I don’t know the name. Hey’d you get my e-mail from yesterday???? What’s going on????????????????”

Bungalow Babe’s eyes popped open. She turned her head towards the front of the salon where the manicure stations stood. She trained her ears and focused her eyes. There were three people having their nails done: an aristocratic older gent, a middle-aged woman in a winter white corduroy pants suit and a thirty-something woman in a velour running suit – the type favored by suburban moms -- long frizzy hair obscuring her face, cellphone balanced between shoulder and ear.

“Really? That’s great!!! What are they asking per month? One thousand? For a three-bedroom! That’s amazing! You can’t get that in New York!!!”

Her voice rang out through the relaxed quiet of the salon. The elderly gentleman looked at his manicurist and raised an eyebrow. The lady in the white pants suit shuffled the photocopied pages on her lap that she was attempting to read. My pedicurist turned her head towards the front of the store, frowning. The proprietress of the store stepped outside to talk on her own phone.

For the better part of twenty minutes this one-sided phone conversation went on. Inane tidbits of some bimbo’s personal life filled the air of the salon, invading Bungalow Babe’s private space...as well as everyone else's. Even as Ms. Yappy-Pants moved from the manicure station to the nail dryers, the conversation kept going. At about the 21-minute mark, Bungalow Babe blew a fuse.

“Hey, Big Mouth,” she shouted from the pedicure station towards the dryer. “We’re tired of hearing your private conversation. Take it outside.”

The lady in the pants suit immediately smiled at Bungalow Babe and mouthed “thank you.” The storeowner gave an exasperated shrug and glanced desperately towards the inconsiderate client. The gentleman looked like he might skewer the Taliban Talker with his walking stick. The nail technicians simply seemed resigned. Having spoken her peace, Bungalow Babe settled back in her seat, opened up Us or Star Magazine and prepared to find out who’s taking care of Britney’s kids while she publicly self-destructs.

“I don’t know. It’s about an hour’s drive from the Valley. Not during rush hour, that’s longer. You should really consider living inside the city….”

A flash of rage shot through Bungalow Babe. Unbelievable. Was it possible that Motor Mouth didn’t hear her? Was she deranged? Some new breed of insensitive, self-absorbed, entitled monster? Did she have no desire for privacy? And if not, wasn’t she at least worried that someone was going to beat the crap out of her?

“Shhhhh!” At first gentle and then insistent. It was the pants suit lady, now actively upset. “Shhhhhhhh!”

“Well, first I’m going to go to the gym and then I’m meeting friends and then…”

Pants suit lady and Bungalow Babe locked steely gazes. The store manager breathed fire. The senior citizen was bursting out of his suit like the Incredible Hulk. Something was about to go down.

“When did you see him? Yeah? Did he tell you that we spoke last week?” Logorrhea Lady finally stood up and put her coat on without dislodging her phone from its spot between her shoulder and ear. Her hair still hung over her face. It was impossible to see her face but I knew exactly who she was.

She was the Avenging Angel of Shabbat, come to remind Bungalow Babe of the importance of honoring the spirit of the Day of Rest, created to protect us from the ubiquity of commerce and our contemporary modes of communication…the myriad assaults of the modern world that wear us down as we make our way through secular time and space.


Next up: Drugs


It has often been stated that youth is wasted on the young.

How true.

But infinitely truer…and hardly ever stated…is the fact that drugs are wasted on the young.

Remember back to your high school and college days? As much fun as it was to get totally wasted then, it is infinitely better to get trashed with the brain and body that you have now.


Read more in the next posting of Bungalow Babe in the Big City

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

KEEPING IT BRIEF


Brevity is the soul of wit…or lingerie, depending on whether you are Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker.

Evidently, brevity is also the soul of blogs.

Or so Bungalow Babe recently learned in an e-mail from an exhausted reader. The knackered-out reader wrote:

I read the blog post about the shabbat guest from hell when you first posted. Ok, I read about a third, and then stared wild-eyed as I scrolled through, amazed at how LONG it was. Have you read other blogs? This is a medium where brevity is prized.

Hmmm. Or… hrrrmph! Then again, hmmm.

So, my posts go on a bit, ay?

Let me think about this a bit…okay, I'm finished thinking.

As I knew the writer to be a thoughtful, friendly chap, I did engage him in an e-mail dialogue about the matter. As I also know him to be closer in age to Big Babe, I view him as a member of the Sesame Street generation, trained to tire of information unless it is being presented in byte-size snippets by Big Bird, Count Count or Cookie Monster.

Bungalow Babe doesn’t do byte-sized snippets.

Then again, because my weary reader is part of an important target audience, I will waive my commitment to ponderous, essay-length posts to present the following:


SESAME BUNGALOW
Brought to you by the letters A-Z


A is for Anna Nicole Smith, who is dead, and anti-Semitism, which is alive
B is for Britney Spears, now bald on the bottom AND the top
C is for carbohydrates -- friend, enemy, lover
D is for Death, which I blogged about yesterday
E is for England, the only place more depressing in winter than snowy NYC
F is for Fairway, where I’ve bumped into Ed Koch twice, and Jake Gyllenhaal once
G is for Gawker
H is for Hashem, because Hashem is my homeboy
I is for Israel, where Middle Babe is spending her year
J is for Jerusalem, city of my soul
K is for kleptomania, an urge I suppress every day
L is for Loehmann’s, opening “early 2007” (like, when exactly?) on the Upper West Side
M is for Mendelsohn, Daniel, whose book I intend to start reading tonight
N is for narcolepsy, a disease I used to confuse with necrophilia
O is for Oprah Winfrey, hero and humanitarian
P is for Paris Hilton, whose celebrity signals the end of civilization
Q is for Queens, borough of my yoot (youth for those who never saw My Cousin Vinny)
R is for Reality TV, a trend that makes me suicidal
S is for Sarah Silverman, genius; Sacha Baron Cohen, genius; and Sephora, the ultimate girl playground
T is for tuna, my main food group
U is for underwear, a rare article of clothing in Hollywood these days
V is for VAGINA, because it has its own monologue
W is for the retard in the White House
X is for SEX, because it is more fun than xylophones
Y is for YOU, my reader!!!
Z is for….help me out, here, reader.

Please send in your entries for the Sesame Bungalow alphabet, Letter Z.


Next on Sesame Bungalow:

Bert and Ernie, rumored to be gay lovers, apply for admission to rabbinical school.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Only Thing to Fear


Little Babe stood in the doorway of our bedroom calling to me in a stage whisper.

Mom! Mom!!!”

It was the Friday night that capped a week of endless workdays, and now sleep – overdue and entitled -- gripped me like a possessive husband. I was drugged with exhaustion, glued to my dreams but my maternal instinct proved too strong. My eyelids parted like heavy drapes. I turned my face to the door. Seeing me, Little Babe closed the door in back of him and tiptoed to my side of the bed.

Mom,” he said, leaning in towards me, sitting on the bed. “Mom, I’m scared…but I don’t know why.”

“C’mere,” I mumbled, my mouth refusing to cooperate with my wish to comfort my frightened child. I pulled back my blankets and Little Babe slid gratefully inside, molding himself to my left side. I pulled the blankets over the two of us and felt him trembling.

“Wazzamatta?” I asked, stroking his head. I heard his teeth chattering. Outside the room I could hear the voices of his sleepover buddies – all three of them. Turning to the right, I found the digital display of the alarm clock.

12:35.

It was too late for Little Babe to be awake. It was too soon for me to get pulled from sleep.

“I don’t know,” said Little Babe between chattering teeth. “We started talking about death and what happens after you die and I suddenly got all hot and cold and scared and shaky.”

Shhhh,” hissed HOBB (Husband of Bungalow Babe) grumpily from beneath twenty layers of blanket. “Shhh yourself!” I snappishly muttered. Jeez. If you’re not gonna be the go-to parent, the least you can do is be an uncomplaining member of the support staff. After all, no one is interrupting your sleep with talk of death fears.

“I don’t know why I’m so scared,” Little Babe repeated. “But I just started feeling really strange….”

“Anxiety attack,” I interrupted my small son, speaking so incoherently that the word banana came out of my mouth instead.

“What??” he asked, his body still humming, but a bit less so. HOBB grumbled in his sleep. Alfie the Pomeranian trotted out of the closet and arrived bedside, peering up inquisitively into our midnight tete-a-tete.

“Hey, look,” I told Little Babe, now fully awake. “Alfie knows you’re upset. He’s here to comfort you!”

Instinctively, we looked towards HOBB whose back was turned to us. HOBB had outlawed Alfie’s ability to be on our bed. Naturally, I defied this edict at every turn. When HOBB was not home, Little Babe and I were in the habit of jumping on the bed and inviting Alfie to join us in a big snuggle, which always ended with him licking the insides of our ears and thoroughly grossing us out.

It was too tricky to include Alfie into our family snuggle right now, so I just patted his little blond head, then turned my attention back to Little Babe, who had lowered his hand for Alfie to lick.

“An anxiety attack is when you get scared about something and your body reacts in a fight or flight way.” I could hear Little Babe listening. “Nature gave us a superpower, which is adrenaline, in case we need to run away from bears or lions or whatever. But sometimes, even when the bear or lion isn’t there but the fear is – and we aren’t using the adrenaline running away – we get an anxiety attack.”

I was impressed at my ability to give a biology lesson in the middle of the night. So, evidently, was Little Babe. At least, the trembling in his limbs stopped.
“They were talking about what happens to your body after you die and being buried and where your soul goes,” he said. “It just began to freak me out.”

Thantaphobia.

Little Babe and I looked it up a month ago when we were surfing the web in search of strange fears. Among the laughable (to our minds, at least) phobias were aeronausiphobia – fear of vomiting secondary to airsickness; aulophobia- fear of flutes; coprastasophobia- fear of constipation; Dutchphobia- Fear of the Dutch; hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia- fear of the number 666; lutraphobia- fear of otters; octophobia - fear of the figure 8; pentheraphobia- fear of mother-in-law; Walloonphobia- fear of the Walloons; and that classically inexplicable phobia -- zemmiphobia- fear of the great mole rat.

But other phobias seemed reasonable. Such as trypanophobia- fear of injections or spheksophobia- fear of wasps. Or thantaphobia -- fear of death. Thantaphobia hardly seemed like it deserved to be lumped in with phobias.

Who was not afraid of death? Wasn't the absence of a fear of death more of a pathology?

It strikes some of us sooner and deeper. One of my earliest memories is that of crying bitterly at the concept of my own non-being and my mother attempting to comfort me by painting a picture of a parallel universe: a heaven that included our house with all the furniture and toys intact and every member of the family in a neighborhood that looked exactly the same.

I remember nodding and sniffling, wishing to be reassured, failing, feeling like I was falling into an abyss.

What could be more human, more central to the human condition than the fear of death?
Wilbur’s hysterical cry, “But I don’t want to die!” in Charlotte’s Web goes straight to the heart of the matter. Whenever I contemplate the prospect of imminent death, I am certain that I would never be among the noble ones who greet the end with stoic dignity.

Instead, I envision myself like Wilbur the Pig, crying, “But I don’t want to die!!” snot and tears running down my face, making noise, screaming even, grasping onto a banister, an ankle, a tree, refusing to let go.

Big Babe was hit with severe fears of dying when he was four years old. About half an hour after I put him to bed, he used to call for me from his room, first faintly, then more vociferously. When I arrived in his room, I would invariably find my child pale and wide-eyed with fear. “I started thinking about it again,” he would inform me and we would talk about it until he fell asleep. A few years later, he became obsessed with the words “Game Over” on video screens and formulated his concept of death around this.

We sent Middle Babe to a therapist when she was ten after her teacher reported that she seemed obsessed with death. What occasioned her obsession was the fact that her beloved Grandpa Marvin had just died. Middle Babe reluctantly went to the therapist – whose wandering eye and West End Avenue hippie d├ęcor distracted her – for exactly two visits before she informed us that she wasn’t obsessed, merely sad.

Fear of our mortality seems so natural to our humanity that the consciously-dying among us need to be given special kudos. My late mother-in-law Judy summoned us to a bedside “living will” chat when she was at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital, letting us know her dying wishes. The beautiful, gifted and expressive Shira Ruskay invited friends and family to healing services led by the singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman and I marveled as Shira wept openly, knowing this was her leave-taking. Rifka Rosenwein wrote about her terminal cancer and what it meant to know that her death would leave three young children motherless.

I am breathless with awe in the face of this bravery.

“Mom,” said Little Babe, yawning as he stretched out beside me. “Can I stay here a little bit?”

I scuttled over, closer to HOBB who slumbered deeply, a log fallen in the forest of sleep. “Yes,” I said, fully awake now, my mind racing to recreate the scene that unfolded in my living room, the conversation between four pre-adolescent boys on a Friday night on death and dying.

Among the four boys was a child of a prominent family whose uncle was killed in a freakish accident a few years earlier and who just lost an aunt over the summer. Over Shabbat dinner earlier in the night, the child had made an off-hand allusion to “people dying” in his family.

HOBB and I exchanged glances; we were friendly with his grandparents, the parents of the young man who had been killed, the in-laws of the young mother who lost her battle with cancer.

Did this child, whose family the Angel of Death had recently stalked, initiate the midnight conversation? Or did the subject arise as it inevitably did after the telling of ghost stories late at night during a sleepover?

The world of Little Babe and his friends is indeed more death-saturated than even that of his older siblings. My own childhood and early-adolescence seem like a Disney dream by comparison, sheltered and sequestered from such monstrous realities as suicide bombings, terrorist seiges of schools, videotaped decapitations, pictures from executions by hanging, war casualties, AIDS, the memory of 9/11.

Outside of the warmth of my bed, the wind from the Hudson whipped the west-facing windows that overlook the Columbia campus. Alfie the Pomeranian had settled down bedside, vigilant and protective, curled up atop my discarded sweatshirt, breathing in the scent of his beloved humans.

Beyond my bedroom, Little Babe’s friends spoke into the night, their voices growing fainter as the minutes ticked past. Snuggled next to me, now breathing evenly, was their 11-year-old host, deeply asleep.

There are boys who fear ridicule, there are boys whose worst nightmare is to appear soft or babyish or uncool or tethered to their mothers. Little Babe is not cut from that cloth. His biggest fear – at the moment – is fear of death. And the comfort for this fear is not to be found within the depiction of a parallel universe, a celestial apartment overlooking the campus of Columbia university inhabited by the ghost version of our family, but in the heaven of the present moment, the tangible reality, his trust, my love, the warmth beneath the blankets.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Endless Life/Endless Lies


Earlier this week, one year after the prolonged torture and murder of Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew, at the hands of the self-named Barbarians -- a band of mostly Muslim thugs living in the slummy outskirts of Paris -- the Halimi family had his remains disinterred from a French cemetery, flown from France to Israel and buried at the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem.
It is not clear to me if this cemetery is the same as Har Hamenuchot, where my paternal grandparents and my father-in-law are buried.

Whether it is or isn't, imagining Har Hamenuchot as Ilan Halimi's final resting place brings me some solace for it is the most noble and awe-inspiring cemetery I can imagine.

After reading the moving account on JTA’s website (see the story at www.jta.org) I sat in silence for several minutes, thinking of Ruth Halimi, Ilan’s mother. I thought about her missing her handsome young son every single day, torturing herself with thoughts of how he died, “like a dog,” as Kafka would have put it, wandering naked, bruised, burned and mutilated through the Parisian outskirts, bleeding to death.

I thought about the 23-year-old Ilan Halimi slipping from life, wondering why he had been singled out for such a fate. I thought about the shoddy investigation conducted by the Parisian police who refused to treat this case as racially motivated. I thought about the mostly-Jewish crowd of 1,000 who turned out in the streets of Paris to demand justice for his murder. I thought about the myriad citizens of Paris -- passive, silent -- with Ilan’s blood on their hands.

Ilan Halimi was tormented for 24 days before he was released to die like a wounded animal in the open. Each day must have felt like a year or a lifetime, indeed, the days parallel his life exactly…24 days for 23 years, plus one for good luck, as they say in America.

But there was no good luck for Ilan Halimi. Only the hope that his posthumous homecoming would bring him, his mother and all their loved ones some peace.

May his soul be bound up in endless life.

It would have been nice to end on this poetic note and yet, the perpetuation of endless lies compels me onward.

If it weren't so serious, the surreal story about to unfold could almost be categorized under You Can't Make This Stuff Up.
I read earlier today that Israeli-Italian author Ariel Toaff, a professor at Israel’s Bar Ilan University, is “astounded” by the horrified worldwide reaction to his book on blood libels, Pasque di Sangue (Bloody Passover).

The book, published recently by a private Italian press, reportedly raises the possibility that there is a factual basis to the timeless anti-Semitic canard -- the rumor of Jews using the blood of Gentile children to bake matzot.

Blood libels run through history like a recurring nightmare, spanning centuries and countries, inspiring the deaths of millions of Jews. The recent PBS special on the resurgence of anti-Semitism had a clip from last year’s hit Egyptian mini-series that treated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as historical fact. Sitting on my living room couch, I watched in disgust and disbelief as a troupe of Egyptian actors played out a scene where a young boy’s throat is slashed by stereotypically hook-nosed Jews. The very next scene features the villainous Jews eating matzah made with that special secret ingredient -- Christian kiddie blood.

This image was broadcast around the world and seen by millions of unquestioning viewers. The series' young female producer defended the show on camera, denying that it was anti-Semitic in any way. She seemed to be affronted that anyone would view it as such.

But screw her and her Jew-hating countrymen. I’m more interested in the pathology of Toaff.

As of today, though Toaff claims to be utterly baffled by the outcry against his book, he has halted its distribution, issued an immediate apology for passages that might be misrepresented, misconstrued and used against Jewish people and offered to donate the proceeds of sales of his newly-edited book to the Anti-Defamation League.

Quite a stunning turn-around.

But here is the most stunning aspect of the story: Who is Ariel Toaff? None other than the son of Elio Toaff, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome.

Omidog.

That is no typo.

It is an expression of the world turned upside down.

I have just read a Daily Telegraph article on the affair (www.telegraph.co.uk) and pass it onto you. In this particular article, the son of the Chief Rabbi of Rome substantiates the blood libels, saying, in the same breath, that no one should take it out on contemporary Jews because those who actually crucified Christian children were fundamentalists and small in number.
A comparison is even made between these alleged blood-guzzling Jews and Muslim terrorists, that is, the college professor says that one shouldn't conclude that all Muslims are terrorists -- and persecute them -- because a small number of fundamentalists indeed are terrorists.
Omidog.
(Let me suspend my disbelief for a second and get all compassionate. Could this guy have some kind of organic mental disorder, like a brain tumor???? Is there a doctor in the bungalow? Could someone weigh in on this one??)

Even the cursory research I have conducted indicates that Ariel Toaff seems to speak out of both sides of his mouth, stating that the so-called ritual murderers both did and didn’t occur. In this vein, I must link to the following: http://krumasabagel.blogspot.com/2007/02/bloody-confusion.html, which has a good overview of this matter.

And hopping back to the Telegraph article, it states that Elio Toaff has been among those to speak out against his son publicly and vociferously.

In the hierarchy of parental pain, just a few notches beneath the rung occupied by the parents of Ilan Halimi, there is surely a place for parents whose children are murderers – or accessories to the murderers – of their own people.

Elio Toaff now occupies this place.

And the blood of Ilan Halimi, not fictitious Gentile children, has been used to bake the bread of our ongoing affliction.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I Almost Stabbed Someone at My Shabbos Table


She was 22, the same age as Big Babe, my oldest son, a senior at Columbia University. Thank G-d he wasn’t at the Shabbos table, ‘coz I swear, he woulda killed her first.

Anyway, it was a recent, freezing Shabbos afternoon on Manhattan’s Morningside Heights and our wonderfully overheated apartment was a refuge of delish smells and cozy camaraderie. Having spent the morning at our synagogue, the six-block long walk formed a perfect segue from shulworld to the sanctum of our home. We had two beloved families joining us – one with two adorable tykes, the other with an almost supernaturally beautiful baby – and then this newly-wed couple…he in his mid-twenties, she, just 22, barely out of her adolescence.

Except that she was already Lady Macbeth – calculating, conniving, nakedly ambitious.

She knew what she wanted, this little pisher* with her glam Shabbos sheitel*. And what she wanted was for her soft-spoken, pious, scholarly husband to go to Law School, make lots of money and enable her to stay home, raise kids AND have enuf disposable income to hire a housekeeper so she could go to the gym, get her nails done, go to movies, come into “the city” with friends, shop without dragging the kiddies along and generally be a pampered princess (and devoted mommy) for the rest of her life.

But it wouldn’t be like she didn’t really have a career because his career would really be her career, you see. She was pushing him to go to Law School! She helped him with a recent speech! Everything he achieved in life would be because of her! Men, especially when they were smart, were surprisingly inept in areas that women were really good at!

As her ill-informed words fell like hailstones on our Shabbos meal, I wondered if this girl had been raised by the Jewish version of Kathy Hilton. Looking across the table, I saw my other friend, an assistant principal of a high school, the one with the new baby – I’ll call her Esme – looking nauseated.

Though there was a war waging in Iraq, the recent shocking death of Anna Nicole Smith, a black guy and a woman running for US prez and the impending opening of Loehmann’s on Broadway and 74th street, my gold-digging guest went on and on, oblivious to world events other than her own.

Over salad, turkey and cholent, she laid out her life plan for us, couching it all within a campaign against working mothers, plying our full-time mother-friend – I’ll call her Jen – with saccharine praise and enthusiastic approving nods, poking her husband in his bony ribs with a triumphant “you see??” every time Jen said something remotely positive about being with her children, exclaiming “a working mother could never have made a dessert like that!” when Jen revealed her glorious chocolate cake, completely ignoring the hilariously obvious fact that most of the pre-dessert meal had been shopped for, paid for and cooked by a full-time working mother (the cholent and turkey having been shopped for, paid for and cooked by a full-time working father).

Get out, I silently implored her young husband as he sat there, conditioned into a comatose state by his relentlessly-yappy Jappy wife. Get out while you still can. I was driven to bite my cuticles listening to her grating voice hammer home each point aimed at proving the unworthiness of women who actually toil to earn money while at the same time raising their children. I glanced at Esme, evil working mom, as she held the beautiful child whose life she was obviously screwing up by supporting her in addition to breastfeeding her.

When the sweet young husband had the temerity to point out that his own mother raised him well, despite being a physician, his know-it-all bride actually qualified her mother-in-law’s achievements by proclaiming her a workaholic.

It was at that moment that I had the urge to drive the challah knife into her chest. With violin music screeching in my ears (ree, ree, ree, ree…think of the shower scene in Psycho), I picked up the knife and…

The fact that I am blogging from the comfort of my overheated apartment instead of Rikers Island is proof that I restrained myself, excusing myself from the table to bring dirty silverware and plates into the kitchen. Jen followed quickly.

“What an idiot!” she whispered, eyes wide, mouth contorted in horror. I stared at Jen who has never said anything mean about anybody in her entire life and then the two of us collapsed in giggles next to the refrigerator.

Omigod, I thought, steeling myself to return to the table. If Big Babe ever showed up with a monster like this…

But Big Babe was raised in a prince and princess-free environment, together with Middle Babe, his 18-year-old kickass sistah, now spending her post-high school year studying and raising hell in the Holy Land, and their baby bro Little Babe, an adorable 11-year-old anime enthusiast and cellist whose truest passions are for small animals.

Our home, for all its clutter and loud voices and – until last year – lack of normal furniture, dishes, tablecloths and cutlery, was built on the combined efforts of parents who both earn and nurture. It has been messy and imperfect and yet marvelous in many a way. Our kids were raised by a father AND a mother who had equal responsibility for keeping the family ship afloat, equal parenting authority and equal decision-making power.

Our kids were read to and shlepped to our business meetings. Our kids were hugged by us and by our babysitters, who were mostly terrific. Our kids overheard our business calls when we were compelled to work at home because they were sick. Our kids were raised on daddy's chicken soup and mommy's roast chicken, daddy's paycheck and mommy's paycheck.

Sometimes it was – often still is -- hard as hell. We work well past the end of conventional work hours. But everyone does. We take our laptops on vacation. But everyone does. Our kids get sick at the absolute worst times. But that is always when kids get sick. Important meetings have to be cancelled. We’ve walked into conferences utterly unprepared. Projects are done on deadline or late.

Unless you have made peace with the prospect of complete child-neglect, all efforts to balance home and work are both noble and ridiculous. There is no balance. You just have to get used to having a lumpy life with days where it feels as if you are f*&#ing up your job and your kids and your marriage and your sanity, days where simply brushing your teeth is an achievement.

And sometimes you feel literally and physically lumpy. You haven’t been to the gym or even on your home treadmill in a week…or a month. You can feel your cellulite recruiting new terrorist cells. You are developing a secretary’s spread where your firm round buttocks used to be. You are eating Doritos because you are so stressed out. At 11 o'clock at night. And you’re allergic to corn products.

And there are times that you wish you married someone rich because this truly sucks, to be working all the time…to be feeling like crap, to have to endure the glares of your co-workers who think you’re a slacker because your son’s heart has been broken and you needed to spend two hours listening to him vent on the phone, or your daughter got in trouble for sneaking her boyfriend's puppy into her Jerusalem dorm room, to have cancelled your haircut appointment more than six times in the past two weeks because you simply do not have any free time, to have not read more than three opening chapters in as many novels over the past year because you fall asleep every time you turn your attention to something other than kids or your work.

And there are times when your heart feels like it will break from the sorrow of not having the time to really do the things you consider crucial to living: time spent with friends, time spent in nature, time spent pursuing higher education, time spent fulfilling your calling as a writer if you chiefly earn your income through another means.

But that is not unique to people with children and demanding jobs. The world is filled with the heartbreak of the unfulfilled.

It just feels more pressing and poignant for those of us who have been raised with the chutzpah to envision everything we might have, everything we might be.

There is a lot to this issue of men and women, marriage and money, fulfillment and responsibility, childrearing and career-building. Yeah, the presence of a high wage-earning husband would have likely made my life much easier in many ways. I’m sure that HOBB would likewise say that a rich wife would have made HIS life easier in many ways as well.

But we married each other without a checklist.

We married each other. Complete and imperfect.

We may have argued and bemoaned our insolvency and our 24/6 work schedules and 24/7 parenting responsibilities but we never set out to mold the other into a Stepford Spouse, according to our own specifications. We made a home and a family that has felt full unto bursting with ideas and adventures and passionate discussion and friends.

And I will happily admit to a tremendous feeling of pride in my ability to provide financial support to HOBB and the Three Babes, knowing that the sweat of my brow has helped to sustain my family and create opportunities for them. And because of my work, my world has been broad and challenging, taking me beyond my own family, whisking me off to faraway places, putting me directly in touch with important issues and people who have changed the world.

Between the bleary-eyed exhaustion, there has also been a tremendous amount of soul-satisfaction.

Thinking about the transparent ambitions of Little Miss I-Want-It-All-And-Dammit-You-Better-Give-it-To-Me I want to applaud her clarity of vision, the peace she has made with her inner spoiled brat. Honestly. She knows what she wants, and it ain’t deadlines and conference calls at 8 am. She wants the decorated home and the kids and cute European fashions for them…and for herself. She wants her hair done. She wants her sheitel restyled. She wants a housekeeper. And then she can cook when she wants and keep house and boss everyone around.

The girl does know what she wants.

Still, it was a shock for this product of 1960 to hear that among people my children’s age, the Mommy Wars are more compelling than the threat of global nuclear war. It was unbelievable that a shallow girl from Queens, born in the eighties, could so easily diss hardworking women of her mother’s generation, seeing neither valor nor value in their contribution to the world she lives in.

But maybe that’s what it was about, after all. Rebelling against mommy.

And what was her mommy up to, anyway, when Lil Lady Macbeth was small and impressionable?

“My mother wasn’t really into being a mom,” she revealed at one point in the meal, tossing her fake hair and shrugging. “She would leave us with my grandparents and run around, doing stuff. She didn’t work but she didn’t enjoy being with small kids. Recently, she said that she regretted not being around for more of my childhood.”

The sins of the mothers are visited upon the daughters for seven generations.

Seems like someone should look into spending some quality time on the couch getting in touch with their inner abandonment and rage instead of trying to force their husband to capitulate to an extreme make-over while compulsively trashing working mothers whose ability to operate in two realms only shines a brighter light on her slacker mom’s inability to even be present in one.

COMING NEXT:

Hey, Bungalow Babe is back! So much to say, tons to catch up on. Yeah, yeah…I know I haven’t blogged since the summer. Life has been crazed yet interesting and some big changes are just around the corner. I’ll fill you in. Read on. Hugs.

__

*Do I really need to explain pisher??? A callow youth, based on the concept of a baby, known for wetting its pants.

*Yiddish for a wig worn by religious Jewish women, ostensibly for reasons of modestly. More often than not, the faux hair is way more attractive than their G-d-given locks. Explain the concept of modesty here, please. If ya wanna be modest, put a shmatta* on your head.

*Yiddish for rag