Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ice Capades

I know every kid thinks her family is the most bizarre family on the block.

But mine really was.

Don't believe me? Then take a peek at my family album.

Okay, so maybe my father's Volkwagen Camper wasn't exactly the Death Star.

Maybe he never tried to impose his evil rule throughout the Galaxy.

Maybe even the name Myron isn't quite as weird as the name Anakin.

But my father did put on that brown polyester sweat jacket more times than I can count, albeit without the mask. If you want to know why, check out the current issue of the Oregon Literary Review.

And then tell me who on the block had a more bizarre family than mine.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I Cannot Tell a Lie . . . I Final Cut™ Down the Cherry Tree

I celebrated George Washington's birthday by working on my children's book about an elementary school kid who gets p.o.ed when she finds out our first president owned slaves.

Pretty heavy stuff for a kid's book.

Even heavier stuff for a humor blog.

So I thought I'd do a lighter something RE:George Washington to post here.

I turned to one of the Great Jewish Rock Stars for inspiration.

So ladies and gentlemen, without further ado,
First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of His Countrypeeps

Oh man, the zero tolerance crusaders are right! Hemp growing is a gateway drug to heroin!

Monday, February 18, 2008

I grew up in the cultural desolation of suburbia. But at least the urb we were sub was New York City.

Culture could just come trickling east along the freeway, oozing its way into the subdivisions like so much ChemLawn runoff. Which may be why I was such a sub-urbane adolescent.

Other girls may have spent those years totally crushed out over a pretty face, or two . . .

But I wanted more sophistication.
Not to mention shapely thighs and a package that may have defected but was clearly not defective.

Even out in the suburbs, I was a full century ahead of a certain denizen of (Sex and) the City.

So how do you think I felt this Saturday night, to at last have fulfilled that long ago fantasy of a dancer writhing around the floor of my own home?

Somehow my fantasy always seemed, um, less flannel than this.

Portland may not be New York City. But what in Portland is the walk-in closet off my bedroom in Manhattan would just be the bedroom (or maybe the whole apartment). And my living room is big enough for an entire dance performance. So that's what we had this weekend - a fundraiser for Performance Works Northwest.

Fundraising is nice. Though maybe not quite as nice as nut-cracking Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hey Jewdy, Shall I Smoke that Wild Caught Chinook For You?

Personally, I find the phrase Jewish foodie redundant. But I guess Oregon Jewish foodie has some cachet, given that Oregon Jewish anything is a rare and wondrous thing.

And apparently I have earned some internet renown as an Oregon Jewish foodie (or Oregon Jewdy, for short - but you can't write it as Oregon Jewdie, I just realized, because that looks disturbingly like a meeting of the Klamath Klan). My cousin in Seattle even emailed to say I'd brought nachas (not nachos, which, though tasty, are more Mexicoodie than Jewdy) on our family.

So if an Oregon Jewdie tells you that one of the highlights of Friday night was 91 year-old Harry Rabinowitz, you might imagine some sweet little old Ashkenaz AK intoning the kiddush before Shabbas dinner. "Vat a lovely meal ve have. Pass to me the herring and a bissel Pepcid AC."

But Harry Rabinowitz was born in South Africa and moved to England in 1946. So instead of sounding Canarsie, he sounds Cary Grant (I'm not saying Cary Grant was Jewish, but it would explain the whole "Jewdy, Jewdy, Jewdy" obsession).

Harry Rabinowitz was on last night's LiveWire. An Oregon Jewdy might think LiveWire is just Liverwurst that changed its name for business purposes. But LiveWire is actually a super hilarious radio show hosted by Courtenay Hameister, quite literally the meister of Ha.

Courtenay has a history of Jewish Harry's, having locked horns, as it were, with Harry Shearer on the November show. But last night's rendition of When Harry Met Courtenay was exceptional.

Harry Rabinowitz is a film conductor, and if you've seen any movies in the past sixty years or so, you've probably heard some of his work. But you can know a conductor's entire oeuvre and still have no idea if he can string together a coherent spoken sentence . And most 91 year olds are not known for their witty repartee. So the interview could have gone over like an egg kichel on Yom Kippur.

But Harry "the Brit" Rabinowitz was more like lemon curd on rye bread. Tangy yet sweet, unexpectedly delish. Even if he didn't let Courtenay get a word in edgewise. When she finally had to seize control to wind up the segment, all she could say was, "It's been nice sitting here," because that's about all she'd been able to do, unable to keep up with the nonagenarian who'd played the whole interview shtick like it was a finely tuned fiddle.

It went so well they even let another Jew onstage, to exercise our tribal penchant for gathering the gelt (gelt is for gathering, guilt is for dispersing). Dave Weich of Powell's Books exhorted the audience to support LiveWire by telling us that he likes Portland because, "People here do such interesting things with their brains and their bodies."

Dave "If you want my body, and you think I'm brainy, come on baby, read a book" Weich

So with our brains we enjoyed the show, and then with our bodies we enjoyed some martinis. I got so emotional, as they say in the British press, I started doling out seder invitations two months early.

We may not have a lot of Jews in Oregon, but damn, we know how to use them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Erev Valentine's Day

Is Valentine's Day just a cheesy put-on?

Apparently, yes.

Because it turns out that Valentine's Day, or VD as the skeptics (read tragically single) have been known to call it, was more or less invented by Geoffrey Chaucer. In the Parlement of Foules, a poem that you probably haven't read, unless you happen to be Geoffrey Chaucer's doting mother, appear the lines:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese
his make.

Chese his make? What the rennet in milkfat is going on here?
You always thought Valentine's Day was a Hallmark invention. Turns out, it's a Tillamook invention.

Oh Geoffrey, you shouldn't have!
You are such a romantic devil.
You know how Triscuits drive me wild.
Next up: the Wife of Bubble Bath's

When I was growing up, Valentine's Day was on the list of holidays we didn't observe because we were Jewish. Christmas and Easter, those were obvious. Valentine's Day, you get a little suspicious . . . it's not like the Pope ran the local florist or even tithed every sale of the Whitman sampler. Boycotting Valentine's Day, wasn't that just my dad being cheap and unromantic, under the guise of some super-Semitic stance?

As if that weren't bad enough, my father also insisted Halloween was a goyishe holiday, and therefore not for us. Not when I was really little, but at some point when I was in about sixth grade, the perfect age for Halloween - young enough to trick-or-eat but old enough to shaving cream and TP somebody's house - he decided we couldn't celebrate it anymore.

Clearly this wasn't about being a super Jew or even just being cheap (not that the two are mutually exclusive, by any stretch of the dollar - I mean the imagination). Banning Halloween? This was a full out war on fun. It was like the Taliban outlawing bite-size Snickers.

The ostensible reason for cordoning us off from all things was Christian was so that we wouldn't make ass-imilationists of ourselves. That is, so we wouldn't grow up and marry goyim.

As ridiculous as it sounds, it worked. I haven't married a goy. I've just been living with one for eighteen years (which, Jew that I am, I think is especially lucky, 18 being the lucky number 7 of we desert-wandering, sour cream-loving tribes).

But I do celebrate Halloween. This year I came up with the scariest Halloween costume ever. It's great because it works as a group costume, any number from 1 to 1 million can wear it.

Meet Cathy with a C, Kathy with a K, and Kathi with an i,
the Girls from HR!

Did you know that the Goodwill has an entire aisle of Christmas sweaters? Did you know that my house has an entire closet shelf of cheap blond wigs? Did you know that Kathi with an i was breaking her diet with that big ol' carbaholic beer?

Well now you do.

So if I can make Halloween as Christ-ian as Christ-mas, what can I possibly do to Valentine's day?

Can you say crucifix-shaped cheddar pasties?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ingmar Bergman Was Never Called An Asshole

My college roommate came to visit this weekend. I promised her three things.
  1. I wouldn't mention her name in my blog.
  2. She wouldn't have to sing karaoke.
  3. We could go see the Swedish film that was playing at the International Film Festival.
Let's get number 1 right out of the way. My college roommate was born with red hair. Her mother decided to name her for a certain red-haired character from the comics. For the purposes of this blog, we shall call her Little Orphan Annie.
The comics in the New Yorker, being black pen-and-ink drawings, do not feature red-haired characters. But, as has already been keenly observed all over the internet, they can all be summed up with the caption "Christ, what an asshole."

We confirmed this phenomenon when Little Orphan Annie and her boyfriend arrived, bearing their airport reading - the two most recent issues of the New Yorker.

It turns out, most photos taken during karaoke can ALSO be similarly captioned.

"Christ, what an asshole!"

That's Little Orphan Annie's boyfriend, who until this weekend's visit was a karaoke virgin. They say you never forget your first time, and I think being deflowered Saturday night at The Hutch will indeed prove memorable.

But not as memorable as Sunday night. That was when the Swedish film played.

Not that we went. Because I persuaded Little Orphan Annie to forgo the film and come to True Stories instead. True Stories being the wickedly funny reading series organized by Courtenay Hameister in which talented Portlanders read stories too filthy for Courtenay's wickedly funny radio show.

I felt kind of bad about breaking the promise, so when we bumped into Marc Acito, one of the readers, before the show, I explained the situation and asked if he could work some reference to Swedish film into his story. Marc is a consummate performer (and also fastidious - a regular Liberace on two counts; three if you count that he was dining with his mother), so he actually got every writer who was reading to work a reference to Swedish film into their stories, on the spot. Courtenay even announced this at the beginning of the show.

That's the kind of moment when you think you are really impressing your out of town guests.

Then there's the moment five minutes later, when one of your out of town guests inexplicably turns sweaty and incoherent, momentarily loses consciousness, then pukes all over the place. The place being an extremely small venue in which you are sitting maybe ten feet from the stage. Upwind.

Break a promise to Little Orphan Annie, and Daddy Upchucks will get you.

So we missed most of the reading anyway. But not before disrupting the show for the rest of the audience, who probably thought our friend was drunk (which he wasn't). When the woman in the row in front of us turned around to glare in horror as we hustled him out of there, you could pretty much see her thought bubble. Christ, what an asshole.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Take a Gander at My Survivalist Gear

It's been a week more punderful than wonderful. First the local purveyor of used accordions put the squeeze on me. And then the editor of a certain literary journal tried to subject me to his own peculiar submission policy.

But the world is not coming to an end. Okay, well, global warming and all - maybe the world is coming to an end, but no faster just because my week stank. The sun is out and I know every word of every line of "I Will Survive." It is time to blog on!

What do these two men have in common?

Besides the look of surprise, I mean.

On the left we have Joey Smallwood, petite but potent Provinicial Premier. Joey was such a devoted politician he pretty much hand-crafted a constituency by convincing Newfoundland and Labrador to become part of Canada in 1949. He went door to door lobbying for Confederation, and as soon as it passed, he got himself elected premier of the province (that is how they say governor of the state in Canadian. They say lieutenant governor as lufftenant governor).

On the right we have Metro President David Bragdon. President sounds pretty top dog, although the glory of the title is perhaps undercut by the fact that even fewer people know anything about Metro than know anything about Newfoundland and Labrador, including the people who live under Bragdon's iron-fisted ruled (let's just say, he makes the zoo train run on time).

But the real connection is that Bragdon is as obsessed by Newfoundland and Labrador as I am. Just ask him about the time he spent in jail in Grand Falls.

It's always nice to meet someone who knows the Rock means this

and not just this

So what better way to overcome a lousy week than to kick back over a dinner of cod, turnips, and parsnips and talk about the Rock?

I trotted out The Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Everything (and they do mean everything . . . on page 43 we learn "there were no chipmunks on the island of Newfoundland before 1962." Who knew? Moreover, who cared? Besides a few competitive squirrels, perhaps).

I also displayed my extensive collection of back issues of Downhome. Bragdon, ever the politicians, was immediately drawn to the January 2007 guest column by current Premier Danny Williams outlining the political agenda for the province, where the unemployment rate in the province is about 16%.

"Gee, do you think he'll focus on economic revitalization?" wondered Bragdon.
"Re implies there was economic vitality in the past," I pointed out.

But what the good people of Newfoundland and Labrador lack in fiscal solvency or employment opportunity they more than make up for friendliness. On September 11th, when the US closed all its airports, thirty-eight jetliners were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland. Almost seven thousand passengers and crew members, displaced in a town with a population of ten thousand. While America was saying, "These planes may not come into our airspace, they might have terrorists on board," Gander was converting its schools, government buildings, Lion's Club, and houses of worship into emergency shelters. The locals were cooking up meals and lending their linens and even their clothing so the seven thousand strangers could eat and sleep and have something clean to wear. When passengers needed showers, townspeople brought them home - or just told them to drop in whenever they wanted, since the front door was never locked and there was always a stack of clean towels in cupboard.

"Is this the book about Gander?" Brandon asked, pawing my copy of The Day the World Came to Town, which details the whole 9/11 in Gander tale, right down to the CEO of Hugo Boss, stranded between Milan and New York City, having to shop for off the rack underpants at the local Wal-Mart.

"Yes," I said. "You have to read it. I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats." I read the book in one afternoon, which I never do. Bragdon read a good chunk of it on my couch. He even took notes.

The most amazing part of the story is realizing what it must have been like to be on one of those planes, landing in a strange place only to be told about the terrorist attack in the US. It was terrifying enough to watch it all from home on the TV news, but to be trapped in a place you'd never heard of at such a scary and isolating time . . . and then to find out it is populated by the kindest, most welcoming people in the world. What better way to restore one's faith in humanity.

So yeah, I had a crap week, but the sun is out and the dinner was fun, and the February issue of Downhome magazine just arrived. I will survive . . .

Thursday, February 7, 2008

In the Buff!

Who would you rather see in the buff?

Option a: Avant-garde playwright
sporting fishing vest
Option b:
Humorist blogger
sporting tiara

Great news! You don't have to choose. You can see us both in the buff.

Even better news: we will not be naked. Cause the buff we will be in is the Boston Underground Film Festival, which will take place next month at the Brattle Theatre (known to the hard up undergrads in Harvard Square as the place to go on a date with that pretentious guy from discussion section).

Besides being a sporter of fishing vests, Richard Foreman is a freakdog playwright, and I mean freakdog with the highest level of admiration. Discipline is the key for a writers, and good ol' Richard, he gets up every morning and first thing, before he walks the dog or reads the Times or cashes the latest check made out to "Genius" from the MacArthur Foundation, he writes.

He writes dialogue. Not for any particular characters in any particular setting. Just dialogue. Then when he's got about 50 pages writ, he gathers it up and puts it on the internet for the free use of anyone interested in disembodied freakdog dialogue. This being America, home of the freakdog and the brave, a surprising number of people are interested.

One of them is Linda Austin, artistic director of Performance Works Northwest. Every year, PWNW hosts a Richard Foreman festival. Linda chooses a random section from Foreman's journals, lines up a bunch of artists (dancers, poets, etc.), and gives them 10 days to make some work based on the selection.

The performers bring a range of talents to the project. Or at least most of them do. Me and my squeeze the Cheese, we just brought a lot of crap we had lying around the house, and of course my predilection for the digital camera.

Guess which of the following items we did not have in the house before the 10 days of awe:

Hello Kitty head on musclebound transformers body
? Had that.
Two-headed red corduroy cat? Had that.
Sword-shaped letter opener commemorating the Alamo? Had that.
Staghead candle holder? Had that.
Now Serving sign from the California Department of Correction permanently stuck on inmate 66? Had that.

What we didn't have was the goldfish, in either medium (cracker or rubber). But since we wanted to depict a Foreman poem called "The Goldfish King," we ran right out and got them.

With these treasures and our usual collection of plastic astronauts, plastic bison, and of course the head of Farah Fawcett on a pencil, we were able to cast a nice five-minute, four-act video. Although the closing credits did acknowledge, "Some goldfish were eaten in the making of this film."

Anyway, if you have ever wanted to see the marriage of a transgendered Hello Kitty to Farah Fawcett as set to accordion music, then the Boston Underground Film Festival is the place for you. Fishing vest and tiara optional.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Good Gray Poet of the Guyland

I was a child in a time of great deprivation. A time when Amy Fisher, Chuck D, and every last damn Baldwin brother had yet to garner fame/notoriety. Which meant that there was only one cultural icon we Long Islanders could claim as our own.

"Who can tell me who Walt Whitman is?" asked my Brownie troop leader of our brown polyester-uniformed brigade.

How embarrassing that only one girl could answer.

How much more embarrassing that her answer was, "He owns the pharmacy."

An innocent mistake, given that the local pharmacy was named for Whitman, by far our town's most famous native son (at least until the Karate Kid catapulted Ralph Macchio to national prominence).

Even after the Brownie troop took its field trip to Whitman's birth place, I'm not sure any of us really understood who Whitman was. When we were older, we read Whitman in our English classes. Every year. And we hated him. Because what eighth-grader wouldn't rather hang out at the Walt Whitman Mall than read a Walt Whitman poem?

A&S does not stand for "Apostrophe" and "Simile"

Unlike Whitman, who dropped out of school long before the eighth grade, I stuck it out and eventually escaped the Guyland to go to college. Imagine my surprise when even up in Boston we had to read Whitman. Imagine my greater surprise when I actually enjoyed it. I called my high school friend Irene to tell her Whitman wasn't boring after all.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "I was there. I read Whitman. I was bored. You were bored too. Don't you remember how we used to cut out of class to go to the mall?"

It wasn't Whitman's fault, I insisted. The problem is that when you bowdlerize the sex stuff, the race stuff, the political stuff, and the war stuff — which our public school did — there isn't much Whitman left. They must have had us reading his grocery lists and laundry receipts all those years.

I like to think that if Whitman had been alive in the 1970s and 80s, he would have been hanging out at the mall himself. It was kind of the Brooklyn Ferry of its day, a gathering place where one might observe the masses.

Oh you acid-washed jeans wearing teen,
Oh you harried mother with stroller,

Oh you security guard letting a young shoplifter off with a warning,

Oh you lamp store sales clerk on a brief
smoking break,
I walk with you all along faux-travertine floor-tiled avenues of commerce

Together we go to the food court, celebrated provider of sustenance,

Together we eat of the bounty of the food court,

Quenched are we by the flowing waters of Orange Julius,
Quieted are we by the injudicious ingestion of Carvel soft-serve
The last hot dog sits lonely beneath the heat lamp,
The man will come along who will eat it

What sturdy youth flock to Spencer's for novelty gifts,

What aging fellowhood seeks out the toiletries aisle of CVS,

The poet walks with them singing their sorrows and singing their joys,

The song of the people rings out from emporia
Attention shoppers we have a special today

Sunday, February 3, 2008


The Fruit-of-the-Month-Club is not just a handy way to sum up my friend Clark's dating habits.

Clark, a one-man cornucopia, on Thanksgiving 2006

The Fruit-of-the-Month-Club is also a mail-order bonanza, as invented by brothers Harry and David Rosenberg of Medford, Oregon, better knowns as

Yes, that's right, there were Jews in Oregon in the early 1900s. And in southern Oregon no less. With the world as their orchard, they came up with the lucrative idea of sending people gifts of fresh fruit throughout the year.

You can practically hear their mother kvelling! My sons, not only are they earning a nice little living with this mail-order mishegas, but thanks to these little mensches, people across the can enjoy a healthy nosh, even if there are maybe blizzard conditions in their own backyards.

And I must admit, when my friends Paula and Eve served up a lovely dessert last night of fresh-from-who-knows-how-far-away peaches soaked in wine and dolloped with mascarpone cheese, I was glad they had blown their monthly postal produce allotment on me.

But on the way home, I started to look that gift peach in the pit. Yummy, yes, but was it ethical? Shouldn't we be eating locally? Isn't the trans-hemispheric transporting of food a major contributor to environmentally-devastating climate change? Oughtn't we support family-owned farms by eating whatever organic produce is in season in the region?

Then it hit me like the Godzilla of Global Warming . . .
the mighty, mighty roar
the Locavore!

(That Locavore is taking out the Rosenbergs like he is some sort of reptilian Roy Cohn)

I guess the safest bet is to dish up some parsnips in wine with mascarpone for the next couple of months.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Because We Are Living in a Cartoon World, and I Am a Cartoon Girl

I swear on my stack of Mother Jones, I'm not one of those people who's californicating Oregon. True, I lived in LA for seven years before moving to Portland. But that was for grad school. I was just a two-door hatchback among the Humvees. A reader of Barthes and Bakhtin among adherents of Botox and breast implants.

Los Angeles v. Portland. The classic Tale of Two Freddies.

Fred Meyer store, flanked by bus shelter used by shopper who's just spent $300 on a week's worth of groceries, plus a can of zero VOC paint, two sets of moose-themed flannel bedsheets, the DVD of "An Inconvenient Truth," a supersoaker for the kids (you can't have too much airborne moisture in Portland), and a four-pack of florescent light bulbs.
Official slogan "What's on your list? You'll find it at Fred Meyer."

Fred Segal store, flanked by expensive Mercedes convertible driven by shopper who's just spent $300 on a designer tshirt.
Unofficial slogan "Who's on the A-list? They're shopping at Fred Segal."

Green in LA means the moola, the bucks, the dead presidents. Green in Portland means tossing your used herbal tea leaves in the compost bin, so you can use them to fertilize your organic garden.

True, I wasn't rolling in the green when I lived in LA. I had friends who made made in a week writing for TV what I made in a year slaving as a TA. But still it was glamorous. Cause my well-remunerated friends put me in their TV in show, Mission Hill.
I was Natalie, neighbor of the main characters. Natalie was a loud-mouthed women's studies professor. At last my childhood dream of growing up to be Rhoda Morgenstern, the wise-cracking, Jewish feminist next door had come true!

Of course, being television's most animated feminist has its drawbacks. When they were casting for voices for the show, I auditioned for the part of me, but was turned down. That's a real ontological crisis. And then we were canceled after two episodes. That's another ontological crisis. This in a city where most people thing ontology must be an obscure plastic surgery sub-specialty.

But don't cry for me Angelenos. Here in Portland, life is just as animated. (Turn the volume up before you hit play. It'll be worth it. Even if you do get busted for reading blogs at work)

So what if the green rewards for writing that song (which I did! at last my childhood dream of growing up to be Darrin Stevens has come true . . . wait a minute, I never dreamed that) aren't anywhere near the green rewards for writing TV.