Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Season's Greetings from the Land of Subtle Seasons

Per a sweet request from Anne Mulkern, I'm posting this very oldie (but hopefully goodie). Enjoy:

I'm back from New York, back from inhaling that telltale scent of pending rain. From gazing across undulating acres of red and gold leaves that turn common prairie into extravagant spectacle. I'm back from the crisp autumn air that pulls vapor ghosts out of your mouth. From a land where buildings are so old, there might be real ghosts inside. I'm back from a place with ``real seasons,'' and I have to say: I'm not impressed.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Beauty Is A Beast

I haven't been great about moving my columns to this here site, but the recent shooting at a LGBT facility in Tel Aviv made me feel compelled to put this puppy up. It's a bit dated, but enjoy...

It’s been a month since Donald Trump let an ugly bigot parade around as a beauty queen, and I still haven’t been able to rid my mind of the grotesque sight.

Gay hatred scares the biblically correct nipples off of me. As an American. As a human. And, particularly, as a Jew.

The insidiousness of homophobia, the casual acceptance of it, reminds me so much of how some of the Muslim world (and larger and larger pockets of Europe) talks about Jews. We’re vilified and dehumanized. Told we should be wiped off the face of the Earth. No offense.

And so when Miss California, Carrie Prejean, garbled her way through an anti-marriage-rights stream-of-consciousness bit at a recent Miss USA pageant, it didn’t surprise me that hatred could look so lovely in an evening gown.

The denial of gays’ rights is so accepted in our culture that it’s only natural to hear mention of it nonchalantly tossed off after the swimsuit competition.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Sounds as reasonable as “America wouldn’t be involved in the Middle East if it weren’t for those powerful Jews.”

Both are said and said often. Usually in the same exasperated, what-can-you-do-about-it tone. And both chill my blood.

Even more frightening is how some of my Jewish friends have sided with Prejean and her ilk. One otherwise reasonable family member of mine even said, “Gays should have rights, but only up to a point.”

“Up to a point? So, like they should they be allowed to walk on the sidewalks but only if they’re wearing a yellow star on their clothes? That kind of point?”

Of course, Prejean has every right to believe what she believes and espouse what she believes, however ineloquently. But we all have a duty to call out that belief for what it is: hateful.

Miss California USA pageant officials sorta kinda tried to do just that, saying, “In the entire history of Miss U.S.A., no reigning title holder has so readily committed her face and voice to a more divisive or polarizing issue.”

(Prejean has become a spokesmodel for National Organization for Marriage, a group that justifies suppressing gay American’s civil rights by saying, “God said to.”)

Disappointingly, though, instead of taking a principled stand against Prejean’s anti-civil rights quotes, pageant officials tried to knock the queen off her throne over a few topless photos.

Donald Trump “reviewed the pictures carefully” (tough job that guy has), and decreed that Prejean gets to retain her crown. He cautiously avoided discussing his views on same-sex marriage, but defended Prejean’s comment, saying, “She gave an honorable answer. She gave an answer from her heart, and I think for that she has to be commended.”

I understand the argument that some religious leaders still consider homosexuality a sin – and that’s, no doubt, what Miss California meant when she said her sentiments were “what I was taught.”

But those same religious leaders would recognize that hatred is a sin. The denial of civil rights is a sin. Espousing views that insight violence and dehumanize a great swath of God's creation is a sin.

At least, that's what I was taught.

Monday, August 3, 2009

An Open Letter to My Mother

Get off Facebook.

True, Facebook allows you to reconnect with former
co-workers. It lets you and your girlfriends share pictures (those who have
figured out how to upload pictures, anyway). And – yay! – you now have a forum
to tell the world exactly how you feel about Michael Jackson. 

But, Mom, please find another way to do all this. Get a
cable access TV show. Host coffee klatches. Staple flyers to utility poles.
Whatever you do, stop using social networking sites. (You may still use e-mail,
but please keep forwarded messages about killer tampons and men who hide under
women’s cars at night to a minimum.)

I’m sorry, but Facebook is not for you. You don’t get my
sense of humor. You have different definitions of decorum. And you’re kinda, a
little, driving me and Sis crazy.

Not a week goes by that Mom doesn’t call to complain about
some “outrageous” thing she’s seen or read on Sis’s Facebook page. The
conversation usually goes something like this:

Mom: “Some guy wrote to her something about she had crabs,
and she said, ‘I got it from your dad,’ or something. I don’t know. Who is this

Me: “Get off Facebook.”

Mom: “Did you see that she put on her Facebook that she’s
engaged? What does she think? That’s funny? I am so angry.”

Me: “Get off Facebook.”

Mom: “Did …”

Me: “Get off Facebook.”

Facebook equalizes the social playing field. Young, old,
friend or “friend,” everybody is invited to the party and can blather, banter
or rant with equal impunity.

But, Mom, that’s not a good thing. Your comments are often
baffling and wrong (Zev compared your car to a Transformer not a transmitter).
And just because Facebook opens a window into the candid inner workings of
adult kids’ lives doesn’t mean that parents should peer in.

When you visited us in college, did you stay a respectful
distance from our dorm rooms, or did you loaf about the residential hall TV
lounge at 4 a.m., doing bong hits with the RA and trading recipes for peanut
butter nachos?

There is a healthy separation that needs to be maintained
between parents and adult children, without which kids will never fully form
into adults – and parents will get totally grossed out. 

(Mom, you didn’t really want to see that picture of that
dude with his hand on Sis’s ass, did you? Nope. But now you have and you’re
fuming about it.) 

Thus far, Mom, you’ve ignored my campaign. But somewhere
inside you have to know that the melding of your social world with your kids’
is not a healthy thing. Did your parents know everything you were up to in your
20s and 30s? Considering we’re talking about stuff that happened in the 70s,
I’m going to guess the answer is “No.” And that’s a good thing.

So, please, Mom, please, please, get off Facebook. If you
don’t do it willingly, I assure you the Free Market of Societal Norms will
eventually correct this problem and a new, harder-to-penetrate social network
will spring up in place of the overly saturated FB. 

In fact, I get a sense it’s happening already. The other day
Mom took a break from her usual complaints about Sis’s Facebook page to ask,
“What is Twitter?”

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Dirty Little Secret

Here's a dirty secret: I haven't washed my hair in five days.

I would. I have nothing against
shampoo. But I can’t wash my hair because I no longer know how.

At some point during puberty,
my nice, normal wavy locks took a twisted turn. I woke up one morning
to find a mass of matted, frizzy poodle fur atop my yiddishe kop, and
I had no idea what to do with it.

Naturally, I did everything
wrong: I brushed it. I blow-dried it. I applied product after product
to it to make it look less… less… Jewish. But nothing worked.
Like a bat mitzvah present I couldn’t return, I was stuck with it.

Kids being the tolerant beings
that they are made me feel totally comfortable with my new look by endowing
me with such loving nicknames as “Cave Woman” and “Yeti.”

Around this time, I read about
a hairstylist named Ouidad who billed herself as a curly hair expert.
A dubious distinction, I thought. How hard is it to be queen of hair
that looks perpetually messy? Still, hearing about her helped me embrace
my twisted tresses.

I never became a curly expert,
but I did make peace with the weird stuff growing out of my head, and
I learned a few tricks (bye-bye hairbrush!).Over time, I came to see
the fuzz, the fuss, the finger-in-the-outlet mess as a fate I could
learn to live with.

Then I rediscovered Ouidad.

The woman I read about a lifetime
ago has opened a salon in Santa Monica.

I went. I got cut. I got styled.
And now I can never wash my hair again.

After "slicing" my hair, Kate
styled my locks in some magic way she described as “Rake and Shake”
that sets each curl apart like a precious little gem. I have no idea
what, exactly, she did, but I am now convinced that on the Seventh Day,
G-d did not rest. He created the Rake and Shake, and He saw it was good.

Using hair clips and advanced
calculus, she separated my tresses into little tribes across my scalp.
She then wiggled her fingers through each of them in a manner resembling
someone ringing a bell, misting and blotting and geling as she went.
When I told her that I doubted I’d be able to recreate this method
at home, she tried to allay my fears.

“Don’t worry,” she told
me. “I’ll give you a book.”

A book? Is there nothing our
people can do without text?

Sure enough, when I was done,
Kate handed me a book explaining how to wash, dry and “Rake and Shake”
my hair.

I’ve powered through medical
journals, legal briefs and Pynchon. But I can’t comprehend a manual
explaining how to wash my own hair. And it comes with pictures!

So, for the last five days,
I’ve sacrificed a clean scalp for sculpted curls. And I’m going
to keep going until I can no longer get away with it.

Sure, it’s taken me back
to the dark days of pubescent insecurity. Once again, I’m a greasy mess who doesn't know how to deal with the DNA heirloom on top of my

But at least this time around,
my confusion looks fantastic.