Monday, January 28, 2008

Jew Gonna Eat That?

When the Whole Foods supermarket opened in Portland's Pearl District some years back, it happened to be right before Passover. And there were big signs that said Please Visit Our Bakery for All Your Passover Holiday Needs.

Which should have made me suspicious. I mean, you do not need to say please in the same sentence as bakery in order to get a Jew over there. But I was youthful and optimistic. I wanted to believe there could be a nice Pesadich sponge cake right in the Pearl.

"What Passover desserts do you have?" I ask bakery dude. Bakery dude points to some exceptionally unappealing dessert squares. Which does not discourage me. If you have ever eaten Kosher for Passover desserts you know appealing isn't actually part of the conforms-to-religious-law appeal.

"Those are vegan," sayeth the bakery dude. Oh. Um, that's the wrong kind of unappealing, alas. I try to explain this to bakery dude, who then points me toward some extremely leavened spelt items. I find the manager and suggest they just take the bakery invitation down.

It's tricky, I know, with us Jews. For a people who like to eat, we have a helluva lot of rules about what we can't eat and when we can't eat it. And then there's our tendency as individuals to break those rules.

Equally confusing, even to us, is the stuff that isn't law but is custom. Not long after I graduated from college, my cousin Jeannie reported to me and her sister Amy, "You know, goyim don't just have sour cream in the fridge at all times."

Actually, I didn't know this. Neither did Amy. "Are you saying sour cream is a Jewish food?" she asked.

"Well, think about it," I reasoned. "Which of the following does not belong? Matzah brie and sour cream. Latkes and sour cream (with nu a bissel apple sauce). Blintzes and sour cream. Hot dogs and sour cream." Cousinly recognition was shared. Clearly sour cream is at least a fellow traveler of Jewish food, even if sour cream itself is not a card-carrying member of any of the Twelve Tribes.

But here's one nobody could have suspected. I was at New Season's tonight, and check out their Hebriac Foodstuffs Shelf.

Nothing so shocking, unless you are shocked by the hideous orange/green combo that is Manischewitz (Jews are not shocked by this because we know that both orange and green go with faux leopard, which is the universal solvent of Jewish color schemes).

But wait, look closer, down on that bottom shelf.

Fluff? What the? Funny, you don't look Jewish.
I suppose the real name was Fluffstein, and they changed it for business purposes.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Comfort Food, Flapping in the Breeze

There is a nation to the north of the United States. It is called Canada.

Its products include maple syrup, hockey, and Canadian Content, aka can-con.

By law, a minimum 35% of all songs played on every Canadian radio station must be content deemed officially Canadian by government regulators. It is a patriotic impulse to protect the writers, musicians, and producers of the frozen north against hot-blooded American cultural imperialism. Unfortunately, the can-con law has had some tragic effects, most notably the insidious rise of Celine Dion.

On the bright side, it means that novelty numbers by Canadian bands get a lot of airplay. Take for example this hit by the thrash metal band Annihilator.

Macaroni maniac
a cheddar cheese heart attack

I love, I love, I love, I love

Boiling water
I can't wait

It's getting hotter
it feels so great

Macaroni maniac
a cheddar cheese heart attack

I love, I love, I love, I love

Wily thrash-metal Canucks, see how they use a typo to protect themselves from lawsuits by aggro American conglomerate Kraft Foods?

For the record, my moniker of macaroni maniac doesn't just come from this song. It actually comes from being half of a couple that (let me warn you, this is so cute it is disgusting) uses the pet names of Macaroni and Cheese.

Disgusting is of course endemic to macaroni and cheese. How better to describe the eerie nuclear-orange contents of the cheese packet that comes in every box?.

My family ate so much mac and cheese out of the box, we created little tricks like sprinkling bread crumbs (also out of a box, or rather out of a Progresso cardboard cylinder) on top. These pseudo-culinary innovations were always heralded with the proclamation, Makes it more of a meal.

The Cheese's mother once said about marriage, "It is not always easy, but it is always satisfying." Macaroni and cheese out of the box is exactly the opposite — not always satisfying, but always easy.

In point of fact, I would rate our (non-marital) relationship pretty satisfying. And as a krafty noodle, I find the macaroni and cheese theme a great inspiration. For our tenth anniversary of living in sin, I made these rings.
The Cheese is similarly inspired. A couple years back, he made us our own crest.

I liked it so much I said we should put it on a flag. I said it like 6,743 times, over the course of nearly two years. Finally in December we got around to finding a flag maker who could make it for us. It's a bit disturbing outsourcing fabrication of your romantic impulses, but we wanted to entrust the mission to trained professionals.

Actual trained flag professional,
Elmer's Flags,
Portland, Oregon

They called last week to say it was ready (apparently the flag making industry is a little slow moving). So now we are proudly flying the Macaroni and Cheese flag. It's a nice ritual, putting it out in the morning and taking it down at night. An ensign announcing we are awake, and the house is open for business. Makes it more of an embassy.

But please don't take it as overly jingoistic. It's not like we'll have macncheez-con playing inside 35% of the time. No one can listen to that much Annihilator.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hester Prynne Rhymes With Sin

[Back story: Venerable institutions of Portland include:
1. Literary Arts, a lovely nonprofit that promotes, as you might guess, the literary arts. Among their programs are the Delve seminars, in which a literarily learned guide leads a group of avid participants in a six-week exploration of one or more great works of literature, e.g. The Scarlet Letter.
2. The University Club, a club not affiliated with any particular university but catering to the upper crust, with meeting rooms and dining rooms and a dress code so stodgy it forbids about 68.43% of my overall wardrobe. I knew not of the existence of the UC until this winter, when it was selected as the location for the Delve seminar I am leading.
I made it through the first meeting at the UC without twisting a metaphorical ankle trying to pass myself off among the well-heeled. But the second meeting . . . well, let's just say it ended with the following email going to the executive director of Literary Arts]

Surely the moral of The Scarlet Letter is to confess one sins publicly and repent forthwith.
And thus it is with great regret and humility that I must admit a grave error, not an intentional sin to be sure, but a transgression nevertheless.

Once upon a time, there was a stimulating discussion about a Great Work of Literature amongst engaged and engaging minds.
And then the two hours were up. Which led to a repairing from the seminar room down to the bar for continuation among a smaller group of the stimulating discussion. Things grew more stimulated with the aid of stimulants, in the form of some martinis and a glass of wine. Braced for the cold and the week ahead, the group called for the check. Which is when Rocky, barkeep extraordinaire, explained that one cannot actually PAY for drinks at the University Club bar. Drinks can only be billed to the "host" at the University Club bar.

Looks of horror were exchanged. Great regret was expressed. A desire to confess and repent was generally expressed. One sinner did declare it was too bad that a certain Finance Director [i.e. a fellow member of the seminar] had not joined us in our errant ways, as invited, instead of begging off with a cold. It would be almost as ironic a sin as shtupping the minister.

All that we can offer now is:
1. Reimbursement in full of any charges made to "the host" for our imbibing
2. A sincere apology and promise not to do it again
3. The following rhymed couplets, of which we are not particularly proud:

Observed tonight during Delve
(though by another and not by ourself):
the name "Hester Prynne"
doth rhymeth with sin.

But afterward we did learn
when cash and credit card were spurned
that "I had the martini"
rhymes with time to come clean-y.

Yours in deepest penitence and eagerness to pay up,
et cetera

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Knock Knock. Who's There? Art. Art Who?

For the record, this is the worst way to start a piece of writing. Seriously, if I were my own comp student, I'd downgrade me a full letter grade. But nevertheless, here goes.

Augury means an omen or an interpretation of omen.

So isn't it ironic that when Anna and Leo decided to make an art piece about art and art galleries and the question of what art is and why people go to see art, and they decided to call the piece "Augury" (well, actually "Auguri," but let's just overlook that because either it's a typo or pretentious, and since I like Anna and Leo, better not to point out if they were being either haphazard or grandiloquent), nobody could have predicted that the gallery that had chosen to exhibit the piece would close before the piece was even made.

But there it is. So I spent the evening being videoed with a bunch of other art-types speaking about the nature of art, including a somewhat heated (thank heavens, it's really cold today) discussion about whether art is just the artist's expression or whether it needs an audience. And not one of us in the damn piece thought to mention postmodernistically speaking that the piece we were in seemed a tragic statement on art making and audience, inasmuch as thanks to the gallery closing the piece as it stands now is pretty much 10 characters in search of an audience, not to put to fine a Pirandello on it.

Let's assume that this oversight was due to the cheap wine with which they had lured us all to the studio.

If I were to go all theoretical, I might note that Anna and Leo are also named Daedalus. Daedalus as in the craftsman who was so fine a craftsman that he was imprisoned. Only to escape through his craft, specifically those magnificent wings. But they were a little too well-crafted, and boom the next thing you know it's sun on son violence, good-bye Icarus.

It seems that there is some brilliant statement that can be made about art/craft and hubris, the making and the showing, the fall into the abyss. I, however, am not prepared to make it. Let's assume that this oversight is also due to the cheap wine with which they had lured us all to the studio.

On the bright side, I did make two spontaneous knock-knock jokes on tape. I got to see a bunch of friends who came down to be in the video. And I got to meet some other folks who also came down to be in the video. Including Barb Tetenbaum, who actually was at the Norse Hall this weekend and was working door for the sold-out square dance and who though neither of us augured our upcoming connection sold me two tickets to said sold out square dance because I made puppy eyes for like half an hour I was so desperate to get in. Here's to Barb Tetenbaum, without whom the last blog entry would have been naught. Barb Tetenbaum, you are the wind beneath my crinolines (way better than wax wings).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dig for the Oyster, Dive for the Clam, Shoot for the Hole in the Old Tin Can

Me, squaredancing
Chesnut Hill Elementary School
Dix Hills, New York

Me, squaredancing
Old Time Music Festival
Norse Hall
Portland, Oregon

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Lesbiriffic Mommy Merch

What do you get for the new mother who literally wrote the book on modern parenting?
Could little old childless me actually help Ariel Gore (who, to be precise, has written/edited five books on parenting, plus a zillion issues of Hip Mama zine) with a parenting issue - by creating a styling gift for her new baby?

Does a bear breastfeed in the woods?

Let's start with a little background. Color it lavender. Because Portland is a veritable modern day Land of Lesbos. And we've got the subarus, comfortable footwear, and womyn's softball league to prove it. Halloween in my neighborhood is a steady parade of adorable Chinese adoptees ringing the doorbell while their proud mommies watch protectively from the sidewalk.

But it turns out that when a couple of nice gals get themselves knocked up by a friendly volunteer donor, it can still cause confusion for the community at large. When we met up with Ariel and Maria for what I like to think of as Baby's First Happy Hour (it's not exactly a bris, but still we should observe its ritual importance), they reported that the staff at their pediatrician's office was unclear on the lesbian parenting concept. The staff was so hung up on the traditional hetero familiy model, they assumed Maria was the mother and Ariel was the grandmother. Such ignorance is terrifying. Mostly because Ariel is younger than me, which is way way way way way too young to be a grandmother.

Oh yeah, and because it ignores that whole Love Makes a Family, rainbow supergraphics in the nursery, Every Lesbian Mother is a Working Lesbian Mother reality.

"I just want to get a pin or something we can stick on Max, so we don't have to keep explaining," Ariel said.

And that's what made me think up this.

It's not exactly haute couture, but then again, this kid is going to be dressed by lesbians. As long as it doesn't clash with Guatemalan pants, he's good to go.

And the best part is, you can get one for the child in your life by clicking here. Available in both infant and kid sizes. No verification of actual maternal sexuality needed. In fact, my friend Holly said she wants to get one for her daughter just to see how her husband's mother will react. So get yours today!

And send one to every Tom, Dick, or Heather who has two mommies you know.

Because wouldn't it be nice if the Sapphic sartorial splendor of this family

could be shared by this family?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Listen Up, Bozo

Transcript from NPR:
Morning Edition, January 18, 2008 · Researchers have finally hit on the essential truth previously known to horror film makers: Clowns are not necessarily funny. Britain's University of Sheffield wanted to find a way to improve the children's wards of hospitals. They conducted a survey of 250 kids. Every single young patient disapproved of using clowns to cheer them up. The big painted smile didn't persuade them, and even some of the older kids found them scary.

Ah yes, the fear of clowns. It's official. It's been quantified.

Note those filled in dots are someone else's answers. Not mine. Because I don't fear clowns.

I loathe them.

All of my siblings do. One of my friends from college, extrapolating from her mother's PTSD horror of dentists, assumed we'd been molested by a clown. But unless you count my dad dragging us all to the Ringling Museum on one of those horrible family vacations, there was no circus-specific abuse in our family. Nevertheless, our hatred of clowns runs deep.

I was once at a reception celebrating the end of a certain liberal art college's 100 million dollar capital campaign, where for some ungodly reason they had clowns circulating through the crowd. I was talking to a friend and this freakin' clown came over to interrupt. So I said, in a tone far more polite than someone with oversized shoes and a fake nose really warrants, "Please go away. I don't like clowns." Immediately it starts making that clown crying gesture. Thereby proving how insufferably annoying clowns are. Which I pointed out, which finally got the clown to move on to harassing someone else. The friend I was with said, "She was pregnant. How could you treat her like that?" I thought the fact that she was breeding more clowns made my action all the more valiant and satisfying, like when you step on a pregnant spider.

I've been known to chant "Down with the Clown" at the mere glimpse of a red fright wig.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of clowns, and one I only became aware of recently, is that they are often represented with accordions. Which is weird because think about it, you are stuffed in a car with 347 other of your miserable clown breed, you'd be lucky if you could play even the harmonica. Pumping open the bellows on an accordion? I think not.

There is no one I'd be more upset to see playing my beloved squeezebox than a clown. Well, maybe a crazed Ugandan dictator. But otherwise the clowns are definitely the bottom of the damn heap.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Volkswagen Vigilantism

Urban life is a life full of danger. This week's example: the seamy underside of living on the same block as the public library.

Oh sure, it's all well and good when you need to return an overdue book. Or if you like seeing young children gleefully clutching their newly checked-out books as they skip down the sidewalk. But what they never show you in the happily-ever-after fairy tale world of pro-library propaganda is . . . the evils of on-street parking.

The Multnomah County Library is one of the two busiest in the country. The other is in a little burg called New York City.

EXHIBIT A: Thanks to manipulated perspective, you might actually believe these two libraries are the same size. But don't be fooled. The single-story brick one accommodates way more facial piercings.

Our local branch is one of the most popular in the Multnomah County system. On any given morning, you can see teens and elders, hippies and hipsters, chatting together as they wait outside for the library doors to open. The only thing more crowded than the library is the library parking lot, which has something like eight legal spaces, half of which are filled at any given time with Subaru station wagons. And all of which are filled all day long.

Which means a lot of library goers park on the street. On our street. In front of our house. Which I normally find quite charming, not in the least because I can spy on the library goers from my office window while I should be working. Last week, in the time it took me to compose a single email, I watched not one but two different Priuses (or is the plural Priui?) park in front of the house, discharging library patrons.

But then comes the rain on this Better Together, civic-minded parade. And it comes as a knock on the front door, from one Kevin Swartzlander. Kevin has just parked in front of our house. He is on his way to the library. But he's not the only one. Because he has witnessed another driver attempt to park in front of our neighbors' house, hit our car, damage our car, and then drive off. Kevin is knocking on the door because he's got the scofflaw's license plate number and a description of the vehicle.

"It was a Volkswagen van," he tells me.

Kevin cannot know that this is my least favorite automobile, owing to it's being 1) invented by Hitler and 2) driven throughout my childhood by my father - though admittedly my father's pop top camper was not the same model Der Fuhrer used to gas the undesirables.

What Kevin does know is that the owner of the van just parked around the block, then headed for the public library. So I grab my cell phone and call 911. I report a hit and run, give them the license plate number and the vehicle description, tell them the car is in the neighborhood. And then I head to the public library too.

Kevin is thrilled. He's hoping he can give me the signal if he sees the bad guy. But the bad guy is already back in his van, driving down the block. I give chase on foot, while hitting re-dial on the cell phone. With the 911 operator on the line, I confront the driver. He pulls over. He pulls out his insurance card. He acts as though he didn't know he'd damaged the car, although he was clearly circling the block, guilt ridden. I act as though I think it's sweet that he stopped when I was chasing him, although really it has just saved him from being in a whole lot more legal trouble.

So we still need to take the car to be repaired, but at least the scofflaw's insurance will cover everything - $1,129.94 in parts and labor, plus a rental car (semi-hilarious since we drive so infrequently, they could just Flexcar us for a few hours).

Despite the library scofflawism, I guess I'm still pretty civic minded. Why not look on the bright side. See the fender half-dented, as it were. Without our public library, Kevin would never have been here, just in time to save the day with his quick wit, pen, and scratch paper.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why I Won't Be Going Negative During the Presidential Campaign

If only Barack Obama had skipped a grade somewhere in elementary school, I'd be set.

I didn't skip a grade, but since my birthday is late in the fall, I was always younger than most of my classmates. That means I was all of 17 (a dopey, suburban 17) when I entered college. Not just any college. Twas the hallowed halls of Harvard. And I was in more hallowed halls than most, since during all four years I was there, I worked part time at the Harvard Law Review, the most prestigious legal publication in the country (crap, I just know someone at the Columbia Law Review is going to sue me for saying that).

It's not like I was an editor of the Law Review, of course. I was just working in the business office, giving administrative support to the circulation director. Still, it was a bit intimidating. I once took a phone message from a subscriber who was irate about an issue that wasn't delivered on time. I wrote his name down on the pink While You Were Out message pad as George McBundy. For all I knew, the former National Security Advisor could double as a goofy uncle on Married With Children.

McGeorge Bundy: Advised American President during Bay of Pigs.

Al Bundy: Amused American TV audiences by acting like a pig.

The only real skill I brought to my job at the Law Review was my patience for dealing with the rather bitter and difficult circulation director. That and my penchant for practical jokes, which amused the rest of the staff, often at the expense of the circulation director. By far the most notorious of these jokes was a pin-up calendar I photographed entitled The Men of the Harvard Law Review, which was presented to the circulation director at the annual winter banquet. She was mortified and refused to speak to me or any of the rest of the staff for about three months. Boy were we sorry when those three months ended.

The most fun was taking the photographs of the selected male editors. True works of genius in the days before digital photography, Photoshop, and desktop publishing. They were tasteful skin shots, with props covering the "genital region" . . . and thus hiding the fact that all the guys were actually wearing shorts. There was Mr. February, who had his bag of golf clubs slung across his waist. Mr. April, who twirled an umbrella over his lower torso.

And Mr. Didn't-Make-It-Into-The-Calendar-After-All. That was the best shot of the lot. Editor seated sideways to the camera in an official Harvard captain's chair. A stack of bound Law Reviews piled strategically in front of his mid-section, from which protruded at a suggestive 45 degree angle the Presidential scepter. It was a truly memorable pose. So memorable that after the posing editor saw the prints, he freaked out that one day it might come back to haunt him professionally. After all, he was the first person of color to be president of the Law Review, surely he was going places.

But not as far as the second person of color to be president of the Law Review, who was elected the next year. Barack Obama.

If only Barack had skipped a grade, maybe he would have been the first person of color to be president of the Law Review. And those negatives I've hung onto all these years would really be worth something. Alas, the first person of color to be president of the Law Review was born in India, which means that until we repeal Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the incriminating photos of him wearing next to nothing will continue to be worth next to nothing.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Like Fred Rogers with a Canon PowerShot SD 750

Sunday was a sunny day in Sunnyside. A perfect opportunity to stroll about and remember all there is to love about the neighborhood.

See the sunlight glinting off the "we carry fairly traded toys" sign in the locally-owned toy shop?

And on the Master Peace sign in the locally-owned Hemp Clothing store
(oh, are you voting Kucinich, my hemp wearing friend? what a surprise!)

The elephants are abloom with kale.

Not everyone in the neighborhood is vegan, of course.
Check out the butcher's lunchbox.

But now, Monday, it is once again pouring rain.
I suppose I will comfort myself by having some indoor fun.
Perhaps slipping on my hemp apron and cooking my special kale and kialbasa dish in my fair-traded Easy-Bake oven.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Nazis Hated It, It Must Be Good

Old joke:
What are the two things Jews know?
Suffering, and where to find good Chinese food.

So when the first three words the musician sings are, "Suffering, suffering, suffering," you know it's got to be a Jew onstage. And not just any Jew.

Do you love William Shatner, Paul Shaffer, and Geddy Lee?

Of course you do. But do you know what they have in common? They are all CANADIAN JEWS. And so is Geoff Berner, singer of the suffering, suffering, suffering (as Berner put it, it's not repetition, it's insistence - though actually he was talking about the chorus of another, equally brilliant and depressing ditty in the Hebraic tradition, "Weep, Bride, Weep.").

But Berner is special, because unlike Shatner, Shaffer, and Lee (could be a law firm, but isn't), he plays the Jewishest of all instruments, the accordion. And he plays the Jewishest of all music, klezmer. Klezmer is life celebrated in the minor key, with a shlivovitz chaser. "Suffering," for example, is a song for all those who won't come out drinking because there is too much suffering in the world. I would quote some lyrics, but having had two martinis before Berner took the stage, it turns out I woke up this morning a little fuzzy on the details.

Forget monotheism, Torah, and the Covenant. What really defines Judaism is suffering. As another hipster Jew music act, What I Like About Jew, attests, you can celebrate just about any Jewish holiday (except maybe Yom Kippur) with the refrain "They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Let's Eat." Berner is more interested in drinking than eating, and keeps his take on Jewish suffering focused on the Holocaust, which he is personally avenging by playing the accordion (an instrument the Nazis hated and outlawed) and whipping out Hebraic hits like "Half-German Girlfriend," about his quest to mischling the purity right out of Aryanism.

There is a reason that Charlton Heston, Lawrence Olivier, etal. are goyim. Jews can do melodrama, but not drama. But what we do best is comedy. Berner's comedic timing is impeccable, both in the songs and in the patter in-between. The best part was the encore, which he had to re-start three times because he kept screwing it up. As a mediocre accordionist, I couldn't have been more inspired.

"I'm a little emotional," he said, after the show. "That's what the British journalists say so they won't get sued for libel, when they're really saying someone was drunk." I held up the copy of his CD Whiskey Rabbi, which I had just purchased, and said, "Maybe you're just a little rabbinical."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

City of Rosenaks (and chocolaty snacks)

Why do I love Portland? Because David Rosenak called me yesterday.

Summer 2006: I go to the Oregon Biennial at the Portland Art Museum. Most of the stuff I find underwhelming, but there are a few artists who really stick out in my mind. The person who made the big bang out of gummi candies. The person who created the interior of a donut store by carving out vinyl contact paper. And the guy who made these quiet, stunning, totally representational small paintings of Portland backyards.

Late 2006/Early 2007: I want to buy my honey a present. Something really special. And I can't get those paintings out of my head. I've never bought a painting before. So this is a big deal. This could mean I am a grown up. Not to mention on my way to being a Medici, a patron of the arts.

I try googling the artist, but all the links seem to be for the artistic director of the performing space at Bloomfield College in New Jersey. Not my guy. I go to PAM, comb the giftshop for the Biennial catalog, discover I have the artist's name right, but there is no gallery or other contact info for him. The woman at the giftshop takes my name and number, checks with someone in curatorial, calls back to say they don't know if he's represented. Finally I call the only person with the name in the Portland phone book, and leave a voicemail saying, "I'm hoping this is the the same David Rosenak who is a painter. Whose work I saw in the Oregon Biennial. I really liked it. I'd like to maybe buy a piece." More than Medici am I! No mere patron of the arts. I am a STALKER of the arts.

Within a few hours, I get a voicemail back. It's the right guy. He's flattered. But he doesn't sell his work. He doesn't get to paint very much, and it takes him so long to amass work, and so he likes to hold onto it.

(This, btw, is the one advantage of being a writer. You can have my work and I can too. If someone would publish my novel, then hopefully everyone including Oprah could have a copy, and it wouldn't be any less in my possession. But not so for visual artists - they sell it, and it's gone - someone else has it. Of course, that beats the performance artists. They perform it, and it's gone - and nobody has it.)

David Rosenak does invite me to come by his studio sometime, if I want. Which I never do. I save the message for a while, thinking maybe I will go, but at some point the voicemail somehow gets deleted.

And then yesterday, a year later, David Rosenak calls. Because he's saved my message all this time. And he's calling to ask if maybe I wouldn't mind him putting me on the mailing list he has, for when he shows work. Which he hardly ever does, so it wouldn't be so burdensome to be on the list. He also apologizes for leaving me a message before, rather than waiting to speak to me directly.

Last night we went to a tamale party. The party was packed. The serving platters were not. Tamales were coming out in batches of 25 tamales every 30 minutes. You have never seen a ravaging bunch of tamale waiting like this in your life. I've been to true East LA tamale parties, pots that cook a hundred unbelievably spicy good tamales at once. In Portland, the tamales are slower coming, and while they were lovingly handcrafted and perfectly fine to eat, they weren't hot tamales in any sense of spice or excitement.

But while we were waiting for those tamales, we all talked. Old friends and complete strangers, everyone talked to everyone. I talked to a chocolatier about literature about the holocaust, great places for a ladies' weekend away, and her mother's recent trip to the ER. I talked to a school nurse about an artist who handcrafts viewmaster reels. I talked to a politician about the time he hitchhiked through Newfoundland during a winterbreak in college.

I talked to a lawyer in the juvenile justice system about being a starving artist. She was asking about my writing, and telling me about when she used to be an actress. It turns out she and I lived in the same neighborhood in LA, during the same gang war. We compared notes - her block got strafed in some of the drive-bys. Our alley was used to dump bodies. With tamales nowhere in sight, I ate a big piece of chocolate cake (think of it as "pressert," the hostess, who was enjoying a corn-infused facial steam in the kitchen, said), and thought about why I love Portland.

And then I came home to David Rosenak's email:
You've probably received this note because you gave me an email address when you visited my studio recently when Troy Studios had an open house. I thought I'd let you know that one of the paintings you saw (crummy jpeg attached) will be displayed as part of the annual unjuried City/County employee art show "All The Art That Fits" in the Portland Building's lobby exhibition space from December 20th through January 25th. (I'd tell you who the other participating artist are, but I won't know until the show opens on Thursday). It's true that you just saw this painting but I don't show much so I'm plugging it for all it's worth (besides, this is the first time I've assembled an art notification list and I want to try out my new toy). The painting was unframed when you saw it and now it's framed and looks sharp, if I may say so, if that helps (it may also be unfinished, but that's another story).

I may have mentioned this, but in case I didn't: a couple of my paintings are now hanging with the Portland Art Museum's permanent collection of contemporary Northwest art on the 4th floor of the old wing (across from a couple of pieces by the great Michael Brophy, I'm happy to say). You may remember these paintings from the Biennial if you caught it last year.

Okay. Anyway, thanks for your interest -- the open house was fun and I'll let you know when it comes around again (though you are welcome to visit anytime). When it does I won't have made much progress in the studio but at least I'll have snacks -- chocolaty snacks.

City of Roses and Rosenak and such, how I love thee. And chocolate.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bob Denver, Little Humanities-Type Buddy

I spent the evening with a friend who is very smart and very kind but does not comprehend what "you humanities types" do. We read a couple of my favorite short stories (Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and Stephen Crane's "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky") and discussed them over dinner. An extremely delicious dinner she cooked in exchange for me sharing my literary expertise. Eleven years of higher education — a Bachelor's degree magna cum laude, two Master's degrees, and a Ph.D. — you can damn well bet I had seconds on the eggplant dish.

The crux of it was that she wanted to know what the stories meant. I tried to tell her it's not like 8x7=56. There isn't an instructor's copy with the One True Answer in the back. She looked at me with the suspicious eyes of the social scientist. "But what did Hawthorne think the story was about?" she asked. "Who cares?" I answered, "he's dead."

We laughed. We sipped more wine. I took what I thought to be a rather delicate portion of thirds on the eggplant. And then my friend said, "Really? I mean, you really mean it? You DON'T CARE what he thought?"

So let me just say it right out. Hawthorne was a good writer. I mean, if you are looking for some overdetermined symbolism, just put down that cigar Dr. Freud and cast your eyes upon Young Goodman Brown as he cries out for his beloved Faith. Hawthorne's ability to churn out a good story is why I read him. And it's not like I am completely uninterested in what concerns an author brings to the work, or in the historical contexts for understanding literary production. But whether what turns Young Goodman Brown into a maudlin and miserable old man is that he loses his faith or that he retains it, whether the story is an attack on religious fundamentalist dependence on pure faith or on the Enlightenment belief in the truth of observable phenomena ... I'm not asking Hawthorne to answer that one for me. Seeking out an interpretation for yourself, that's the point. That, ultimately, is the true joy of literature.

That and the fact that you can sing most Emily Dickinson poems to the tune of "The Gilligan's Island Theme Song."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

That Time of the Month

Why am I so happy? Because the January issue of Downhome has arrived. Downhome is like the Reader's Digest of Newfoundland and Labrador. Newfoundland and Labrador, mysteriously named for two different breeds of dog, is the easternmost province of Canada. Canada is the country attached to the giftshop on the far side of Niagara Falls.

Each issue of Downhome contains heartwarming tales about how great it is to live in Newfoundland and Labrador, sandwiched between ads for moving companies and out-of-province realtors, because the inhabitants are outmigrating in droves, in a desperate search for employment.

Although the magazine has a circulation of 50,000, it reads more like a a smalltown newsletter. The letters to the editor are addressed familiarly to "Dear Mr. Young," or "Dear Ron," regardless of whether the writers have actually met the editor. Each letter warrants a personal response from Ron Young, which he prints along with the original missive for the greater edification of the province and its expats. The letters often contain inquiries, usually from adoptees looking for their birth families or adult offspring trying to identify the figures in a deceased father's war photos. Last month there was a seasonal variation, a reader seeking the lyrics to "Santa Claus is a Newfie." The letters invariably include the writer's email address and home phone number, so readers with information can get in touch.

My second favorite letter this month is from a guy who's collecting donations to send Tim Horton's gift certificates to Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Tim Horton's, if you don't know, is a chain that brings together Canadians' two greatest loves: Timmy Horton was an Ontario native who led the Maple Leafs to four Stanley Cup victories before founding his own donut empire. It was a major foreign relations coup when they opened the Timmy Tent for the troops in Kandahar. Perhaps even as you read this, a Canadian stands proudly in uniform, scarfing down a couple of honey dipped, thanks to Dave Murphy.

Here is my favorite letter for this month:
Hello Ron,
I lost my world when my father, Jim Mithcell of Twillingate, died in July 2000. I am starting a memory album of him, and I am wondering if any of your readers have something to share with me about Dad: a story he told them, a trick he played on them, or maybe they heard him play the accordion. People who worked with him on the sealing ships or fished with him may have photographs or a video that they wouldn't mind copying for me. I know there are lots of people who knew Dad and have beautiful memories of him.

The plaintive request from a daughter who misses her dad. The image of an accordion-playing raconteur and trickster. The unselfconscious reference to the sealing ships. Does it get better than that?

Yes, it does. Because here is Ron's response.
Actually, Linda, your dad's mother, Rachael, was my grandmother's sister, making you and me second cousins. Nice to hear from you coz, even if we've never met. The last time I saw your dad was at my grandmother's funeral in 1997.

Ron goes on to provide Linda's complete contact information. But I'm not typing that all up here. If you want it, how about you get your own subscription to Downhome?

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Lollipop Guild is for Suckers

So ABC is likely going to cancel the broadcast of the Golden Globes, because the Screen Actors Guild members refuse to cross the Writers Guild picket lines. Great news. Now if only the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild and mayhap the Lollipop Guild would further bond together to get all the other crap on tv canceled.

Then there would be more air time for quality things. Like reruns of The Ropers.

The strike has gone on for a zillion years now. The writers seem to be bearing up okay, even though it's costing them a fortune. Rachel and Bill told me their nanny was on vacation for a couple of weeks at Christmas. But I don't know . . . what if she was actually furloughed?

Another friend, David, said he wouldn't pay me if I played accordion at his daughter's bat mitzvah. And not just in the old gag about someone getting paid NOT to play the accordion. David was responding specifically to my offer to play the great Simcha Trifecta. Meaning, Havah Negilah, Sunrise Sunset, and Celebrate Good Times - because it just isn't a bunch of Hebes hoofing the Horah till you hear Kool & the Gang. Apparently David actually told the DJ at his wedding that he wouldn't be paid if he played CGT. He just wanted me to be forewarned.

The matter isn't too pressing, as David's daughter is all of about 15 months old right now. But I am already looking forward to her bat mitzvah. I think bar/bat mitzvah tourism is hilarious. Have everyone who's ever met the kid come visit when she is at her absolute gawkiest. Because thirteen is truly the the least attractive age. As you can see here.

That's me on the right, wearing the baseball jersey with what I can just barely make out is a "The Best Man for the Job Is Probably A Woman" iron-on decal (I can still smell the melting plastic from that booth at the mall). Clearly I modeled myself more on Maude than on Mrs. Roper.

I can't remember whether this picture was taken before or after my bat mitzvah, but it is definitely of the era. The other hair-nose combo belongs to Michelle Exelbert, a junior high friend about whom I remember very little except that her grandmother knitted a couple hundred two-tone (light blue on dark blue) yarmulkes for her bat mitzvah. Each one had a tag that said "Lovingly knitted for you by Grandma Exelbert." My grandmothers were both dead long before my bat mitzvah, so I just had the standard fake satin numbers.

Not that it mattered, because who among the lucky congregants could be looking at or thinking about anything except that mouth full of metal?

The real reason I dug this photo out today is that my friend Brenda, who has been sporting adult braces for the past year, was just told by her orthodontist that she needs to wear elastics. She is mortified. She asked me if I had ever had them. Her question immediately brought back a host of visceral, spine-chilling sensations.

  • The feel of the elastic snapping against my tongue as I shot my mouth off in the most literal way.
  • The horror of the elastic flying across the junior high cafeteria, sending a spray of saliva toward panic-stricken onlookers, as I shot my mouth off in the most embarrassing way.
  • The scrape of the braces brackets against my inner cheek.
  • The metallic taste and aching from the headgear I had to wear every night for two years. And the rubbing of its blue elastic brace on the back of my neck.
  • The molded plastic of my retainer sticking to my palate, thank to some youthful bubbalicious Blow Pop indiscretion. Damn you, Lollipop Guild.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Not the Usual Two-Bit Office Party (be ware: more puns follow)

Talk about a bright spot on the calendar. Last night, sticky, which elusively describes itself as "a creative agency," had a pixel party.

Please join us for an evening of digital delight
drop in anytime for a drink and quick byte
You're welcome alone or with a date

We're looking forward to seeing you pixelate

Although I didn't have to consult my Portland bitmap to find the studio - I'm usually there at least once a week - I still didn't exactly arrive on the dot. But in the brighter late than never spirit, I did have a good time. Inasmuch as an evening in which conversation topics include everything from the choreographic genius of Tahni Holt to the historical import of Fort Ticonderoga constitutes a good time.

Plus, how often do you get to see the sort of person who would draw this

looking like this?But the highlight of the evening was playing with the online pixelator. Here I am (having reclaimed my Japanese hair adornment) dancing in front of it:

I thought that was pretty groovy. Of course, that could just be because the closest I ever come to doing X and going to an all-night rave is popping a couple of Omega-3 fish oil capsules and then maybe going into an all-night rant.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

I ain't yellow, I tell ya, except in the litter box.

Movie Madness, our local (and quite excellent) video store, has an Edward G. Robinson shelf. I'm telling you this because no one on the staff seems to know about it. Or at least no one we asked knew about it. Which makes you wonder how anything ever gets shelved there.

But we didn't have no time for yellow-bellied wonderin. We'd come for Little Caesar, see, and we weren't gettin out of the joint till we had it, and had it big. I'm the boss of this DVD player, and when I want a three-day rental, nobody better stop me, get it?

Little Caesar is the best movie ever. And I'm not just saying that because Edward G. Robinson looks so much like my cat Isabelle (aka The Ugly Mug).

Yeah, I know, now I'm that person blogging about their cat. But for the record, I was really blogging about Edward G. Robinson, who just happens to look like my cat.

It's always upset me that Edward G. Robinson is like the only actual Jew in The Ten Commandments, yet he plays Dathan, who's pretty much the Kapo of the chosen people's Egyptian sojourn. But it turns out Robinson got the role because Cecil B. De Mille was a big anti-communist, and Robinson had named names to the House Unamerican Activities Committee in order to avoid being blacklisted. Which maybe isn't Kapo level exactly (and doesn't make him the worst person to look like your cat) but still is nisht gut.

Mervyn LeRoy, who directed Little Caesar, belonged to the same synagogue as Robinson, Hollywood Temple Beth El. Other well-known Hebes in the congregation included Carl Laemmle, Max Factor, Eddie Cantor, and the Warner brothers. I lived across the street from HTBE for years, but by then it was past its era of glamor. The only time I ever went there was to vote (it was the local polling station). Oh, and once for a rummage sale, where I bought my favorite armchair. It was, needless to say, a bargain - after I Caesared them down on the price.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


I'm a little envious of Iowa.

By the time the Oregon has its primary, it will be so late in the spring everyone will already know who's going to be Prom Queen and King, let alone who the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees for president are.

I wish I could be part of the communal democracy of the Iowa caucus. Thinking of those hardy Midwesterners, neighbor joining with neighbor to debate the merits of each candidate, warms my heart. Especially because I figure a loud, pushy Jew from New York could easily argue them under the table.

After the last presidential election, I did a piece for The Bear Deluxe, a magazine dedicated to "exploring environmental issues through the creative arts." Since recycling is environmental, if not creative, here it is again:


When I was sixteen, I got a job at the local donut store. Weekend mornings the line was so long, it curled back and forth until it curved right out the door. Customers waited twenty, thirty minutes, maybe more, for their turn. But when at last I asked, "What can I get for you?" whoever was next in line usually seemed a little startled.

"Three Boston Creme." A pause, a furrowed brow. "Two of the pink, with the sprinkles." The pause lengthened. The customer frowned. "A couple Dutch Apple . . . Is that a dozen?"

Turning from the donut case, I'd look across the counter, a half-filled donut box flapping open in my hand. "Only seven. Five more to go." Wait a beat. "How about a cruller? Maybe some jelly?"

It always amazed me. In all the time they waited, the patrons hadn't thought about which donuts they wanted. Once it was their turn, they froze over having to choose.

That's what made me doubt democracy. If the average person couldn't pick out a dozen donuts, should she or he really be allowed to select world leaders? Give me oligarchy! And a small box of assorted Munchkins.

I quit the job before I was old enough to vote.

I'm kind of pleased to have the caucus turnout prove me wrong. Iowa's not donutcracy.

Weirdly, it's a much more phallic political feast.

(Thank you, New York Times - all the news that won't fit in your waistband)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Damn, there goes my New Year's resolution about not plagiarizing Roger Miller.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Year of the Aging Vacuum Cleaner

At the New Year's Eve party on our block, my neighbor Claes confided that he's feeling very optimistic about 2008. "I'm pretty sure it has to suck less than this last year. Or the one before ."

And thus we ring in 2008 as the year of the aging vacuum cleaner.

Though he's been in the US for a zillion years, Claes is actually a Swede, and like a lutefisk swimming upstream to spawn, he's recently started working at the local IKEA. Nevertheless, he joined the rest of us in celebrating in that most American of fashions, by setting stuff on fire.

This was fun and all, but didn't hold a roman candle to the party I'd been to earlier in the evening, where the celebrating really took off. As in, took off every stitch of clothing.

What's most disturbing to me about this image is that it was snapped just minutes after I left the party. Were the guests waiting for me to go before they got naked? Is this what happens when you lose porno-charades, which is what everyone was playing when I left? Is it maybe what happens when you win porno-charades?

Or had
Marc just torn his clothes off and started running down the street hoping to call me back to him? It's a flattering thought, but honestly I doubt it, as he himself is no aging vacuum cleaner, if you know what I mean.

Still, whichever party you prefer, it's an auspicious start to the year.