Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Short Like My Uncle Murray, alav ha-shalom

There are short stories. And short-short stories. And flash fiction.

And then, that most particular of all forms, the six-word short story. Believed to have been invented by Ernest Hemingway when he penned this ditty:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Although some sources give it as For sale: baby carriage, never used.

Amazing, you can put a whole story into just six words.

And still people misremember two of them.

In the age of SMSing and Twittering and generally not bothering to read any print, there's been a renewed flurry of (short-term) attention for six-word stories. But it never really resonated with me, until the Hipster Yidsters over at Reboot published a bunch of Six Word Jewish Memoirs.

The potential of this genre has me starry-eyed. Six point-starry eyed, to be precise.

Here's the first batch I've come up with. They're not all memoir, inasmuch as they're not true-to-my-life, but they're true to Jew life more generally.

(Caveat goyim: there's a lot of Jew-specific humor here, so some of you may want to wander out for a mayo on Wonderbread sandwich rather than reading on)

Parents forbade intermarriage. Living with Sheygetz.

I got it all on sale.

What goes with everything? Sour cream!

Brit milah: unkindest cut of all.

My father, circa 1977: midlife Jewfro.

If my mother called once, dayenu!

Double unveiling: Bubbe's tombstone, sister's nose.

Six words? That's SO not Jewish.

I cordially invite you to add your own. You know you want to . . .

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Art Lovers, Unite! And Then, Disperse!

There's someone I'd like you to meet.

I'll call him The Silver Fox.
He's South African.  Ex-military. 

But he's got his sensitive side.  

The day that photograph was taken, he was on a romantic weekend away with his wife.  They'd left their three kids with a babysitter overnight, and were planning to take in the opera, then stay in a fancy hotel.

One more thing about the Silver Fox:  I'm sleeping with him.

Oh, don't be so shocked.  My squeeze the Cheez knows all about it.  In fact, Cheez is sleeping with him too.

Fear not—we haven't gotten caught up in the Twisted Triangle of Polyamory/Star Trek Convetions/Society for Creative Anachronisms.

We just went to the art museum.

Well, actually we went twice.  The first time was in November, for our annual SFMOMA visit, as part of our annual Thanksgiving sojourn to San Francisco.

The museum had an exhibit called The Art of Participation.  It included a re-creation of a piece by Jochen Gerz entitled The Gift, in which museum visitors could pose for a photographic portrait, which would then be hung in the museum gallery for the duration of the exhibition.  

Which, being the attention hound I am, I was totally excited to do.

So were almost 2000 other people.  They didn't all get their pictures taken that same afternoon, but still Cheez and I waited for about 20 minutes for our turn, chatting away with the people in front of us on the line.

And then we came home to Portland.

And then my brother and I were supposed to go to Mexico, the frequent flyer-ticket being his "let's get out of the gray Pacific Northwest winter for some Vitamin D-enriched tequila" birthday gift to me.  

Except he flaked out and the trip never happened.  Which means: 

1.  my brother may not quite be dead to me (yet), but he is definitely on the No-Fly-List with me.  

2.  I needed some fun in the sun.

So the Cheez and I decided we would go to California for a week.

Where we managed to personally end a two-year drought by bringing in rain 5 days out of 7.

We also managed to personally attend the closing event of The Gift, in which anyone who had their photograph taken got one of the photographs to take home, personally presented by Gerz himself.

Normally Jews have a general aversion to taking gifts from Germans.  But luckily, I got over it.

It was an amazing scene, somewhere between one and two thousand people lined up, waiting to get their pictures.

Which was a source of some consternation, because quite a few of the people in line thought they were waiting to get the photograph of themselves.  

Thereby demonstrating that Americans are suffering from an epidemic of:

1. inability to read a single page of information (i.e., the invitation to the closing event, which explained the project in full)

2. such a deep lack of appreciation for art, that they cannot imagine wanting to own a portrait of anyone but themselves

And this among SFMOMA patrons.  Who you'd hope would be a little more interested in fine art than their own fifteen minutes of fame.   But apparently even modern-day Rembrandts can't stack up in the age of Reality TV.
Still, I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, even if the mouth turned out to not be my loud Jewish one.  

Really, most people thought it was cool to get a portrait of a random stranger.  Here's some Supersized-Swede displaying "his" portrait to us, as we waited our turns to get ours.
No way that could be him, not even in the Walk on the Wildest Side of Lou Reed's imagination.

For the rest of the afternoon, the portraits were everywhere.
Dining together like old friends in the Museum cafe.

Carefully filed away in the coat-check.  Be sure to keep your claim ticket, because now that you've been randomly given that photo, you want to be sure to get the right one back.

Caught up in spontaneous sidewalk converations.

Shlepped home along the city streets.

People quickly became attached to whomever they'd received.  

Mine is great one guy told us, holding the picture up so we could see it.  I can't even tell if it's a male or a female.
Just call it Kim Cheez suggested.

I stood outside the museum taking pictures of just a few of a thousand-plus people leaving with their pictures.  
Who'd you get? I asked this woman as she was walking by.  

She looked down at the picture in her hand.  

Then up at me.  

Then she turned the picture around so I could see it. 

I got you! she said. 
And she did!  We screamed.  Must have been pretty loudly, because Cheez had wandered around the block to make a phone call, and he heard us.

So now a piece of me is living in Burlingame, California.  

We have no idea where the Cheez's picture ended up.  

With all do respect to Benjamin Franklin, we do not hang together, so surely we must hang separately.

And the Silver Fox is here in Dutchboy, propped up on Cheez's dresser waiting for us to hang him on our bedroom wall.  

I was pretty thrilled when Jochen Gerz handed him to me, because he happens to be the person who got his picture taken right before me and the Cheez way back in November - the person we were chatting with while we waited, which is why I know his whole life story.  

Except for a few details.

Like his name.  And where he lives.

It's all the mystery of a one-night stand, except that now we're living together.

That's a heckuva finale to a week spent traveling around the Bay Area, seeing a lot of wonderful art and making some new friends.  

All because we decided to go back for the closing of the Gift.

Thereby proving that art is the greatest gift of all.

Or at least way better than the promise of a frequent flier ticket that never actually materializes.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rhymes with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Day 14 of the Obama Presidency, and my government-issued unicorn still hasn't arrived.

I know, he has a lot to do, what with restoring the Constitution and achieving world peace and enacting job stimulus and all.  

But think about this for job stimulus:  UniCorps, a sort of domestic peace corps, employed to clean the poop from all our brand-new unicorns out of the streets.  

Really brings new meaning to the phrase make work project.  And since unicorns poop gold nuggets, the economy will go from in the dumps to propelled by dumps in no time at all.

So what has been slipping through my mail slot, if not gold-pooping, government-issued unicorns?  

Poems!  Yes, I have signed up for a Poetry Pyramid Scheme.   Or, as those of you who were paying a little too much attention during 11th grade English class might think of it, iambway.

But it's not all just sitting around waiting for the mailwoman (speaking of job stimulus, there's a title which sounds very trans-trans; at least it's less apocalyptic than calling the carrier a post-person).  If you want to be part of Ponzi poetry, you have to pen the poems too.

Which I have thus far done in several manic moments.  I'll spare you the first result, a rant against cancer and the ironic timing with which it killed off my friend Gloria, who was a professor of Africana history, the day before a certain unicornilicious president took office.

It's not a bad poem, but this is after all a humor blog. So here's some of the more light-hearted verse I've dashed off.

Genetic Indisposition
In my family
having kids
is like a disease
that skips generations

Well, I thought that was funny.  Of course, in my family, killing off the relatives can also be funny.

And speaking of dark humor, here's another ditty:

The Patient Rooms
When I ride my bike
past the Alzheimer
care facility,
I wonder
about the mementos
lining the windows
of the patient rooms.
I sense I'm not the only one.

My squeeze the Cheez said those were both kind of depressing.  But the Canadians have no sense of humor.  Or, as they would put it, that's humour, and it's not funny.

Of course, some people believe poetry should be more obscure, less narrative.  

For those of you who have been diligently reading this blog for a year, just hoping for an obscure, less narrative poem, today is your lucky day!

Philology Recapitulates Poetry
Donka Minkova,
world's leading
export on the

That's an A-B-C-B-A rhyme scheme, if you pronounce the as thÉ™ (those of you too prosaic to enjoy the obscurity of poetry can read up on my obsession with Donka Minkova elsewhere).

But clearly my best postcard-poetry product so far was the truly inspired verse. 

Inspired by me thinking what the hell shall I wrote a poem about now, then looking out the window and writing about the first thing I saw.

Walloon at Walgreen's
Nobody loves the
neon-lit drugstore
more than the
Belgian immigrant
next door.

Okay, so I admit, my efforts so far are more chapstick than chapbook.  But at least I am reading great poetry, if not writing it.

And not just reading it, I am teaching it.  In the perfect course:   fantastic topic (Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and the invention of an American poetic voice), motivated students, glamorous setting, and no grading.  

The very antipode of academia, to use a word I had to look up when I came across it in Song of Myself.  (If there really is an afterlife, I can only hope that somewhere my friend Gloria is teaching such a class herself; after years as a department chair, she earned it). 

Yes, it is nice to dwell in the highbrow world of literature.  Which for me means obsessing about the shopping mall and singing the Gilligan's Island theme song.  Both of which I managed to cover in the first class meeting.

By the second class meeting, which was last night, we had moved on to Dr. Seuss.

Portland does seem ripe for a Green Eggs and Ham parody

I am Sam.
I am in a 
political jam.

I did not do Beau here or there.
I did not do Beau anywhere.

Well, I guess I kissed him in the john,
But only in the john with clothes on.

I did not do Beau when a minor!
I did not do Beau dressed as a Shriner!

Okay, so maybe that isn't exactly Whitman's Calamus.  

I guess it's less poetic when there is an entire media frenzy documenting who you've soused with spray.

But the real reason my poetry is so wanting may be that I've never taken a poetry-writing class.  Which is hardly my fault.  When I was in graduate school, the department's poetry professor was also the department's most egregious sexual harasser (although academia being what it is, he had plenty of competition for the title).   

In addition to teaching poetry and sexually harassing every female under the age of his-own-age-minus-twenty-years (which on the campus of a large public university gives the aging professor an awful lot to do), his job duties included judging the annual poetry prize.  One year I considered making an anonymous entry, entitled Do All Great Poets Sleep With Their Students?  

The original is, alas, lost to posterity, but I think I can whip up something that will give you the basic gist:

Do all great poets sleep with their students?
Is the genus of genius
such a drive undeniable?
O how the pen is 
a tool to be reckoned with!
And what is spilled 
upon pages, unto the ages?
When gripped by the muse,
what doth the poet grip and use?

It's no small feat to coerce
true genius in verse
When he goes about it
he needs sexual outlet.

Tis a measure of talent
to be so carnally spent.

So do all great poets sleep with their students?
Or only the mediocre ones?