Monday, November 30, 2009

Shoes, Jews, Booze.... and a final project

When I was on the east coast in Oct., I talked to my friend M about starting a blog; I even had a title in mind: Shoes, Jews, Booze and News. I think it was there in the dog park that we decided it would be too much to cover in one blog, and so, I told her my second idea, which was the Rat's Nest, about my children leaving home. This, we agreed, would be more manageable.

But the idea of shoes and Jews still persisted, esp. after learning someone had actually edited a book on the subject, aptly named, Jews and Shoes, by Edna Nahshon. When we were assigned a final project, in my multi-media journalism class at UCLA, that topic was the first thing that jumped to mind. To help me out, my good-natured walking buddies contributed their own audio shoe stories as well.

The pressure of doing this final project over Thanksgiving weekend led me to buy a big bottle of Johnny Walker at my local market (on sale!). Thank G-d I didn't open it; I'd never have finished this project, which I present to you now.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Two Poems (to be thankful for)

I teach at a school that could easily stand in for the American Night Preparatory School for Adults found in The Education of H*y*m*a*n K*a*p*l*a*n. But instead of teaching Jews from Europe, living on the Lower East Side in the '30s, I'm teaching Jews from Iran, living on the outskirts of Beverly Hills in 2009. I also teach a lot of Koreans, and one of them— I'll call him the Professor—is one of my most devoted students.

When I started teaching I used Shel Silverstein's poetry to stimulate conversation. One poem in particular drove the Professor mad. The title of the poem was a play on words, but he couldn't understand what 'a play on words' meant. "God's Wheel," I told him, "could also be taken for God's will." He fought the idea like crazy, telling me I was wrong, but then a little while later I saw that he'd gotten it. His eyes sparkled and his whole body softened. For the next few weeks the Professor brought in poems he'd written, powerful poems, deep poems, poems that must have been burning inside of him for a long time.

Here's one he brought in a few weeks ago:

"The Ocean you can't see"

You walk,
eat, and sleep on the bottom of an ocean.
The ocean is really
an invisible ocean of air
that covers the world like the skin of an orange.

The air you breathe,
the air that blows in your face as a breeze,
the air that smells like dinner cooking,
and the air that can carry the sound
of your voice when you speak.


Last week Lu sent an exuberant email from NYC, a poem in itself. Here it is (taking liberties with phrasing):          

[I]t is brilliant fall                                                                
and the ginkgoes in Central Park are ablaze                        
and the river
the river is surging and swelling


Happy Thanksgiving!            




Monday, November 23, 2009

Afternoon Tea

For months now I've been trying to get my German neighbor, Thea, to come for afternoon tea. It gives me an excuse to bring out my mother's teapot, bone china from England, that I use for special occasions. But every time I ask her she has a reason why she can't make it: in the summer it was too hot; in Sept. she was too tired; on Halloween her daughter was in town; I called her this weekend but she was feeling a little under the weather.

Thea was a refugee after the war, forced to leave her home in Silezia and head south with the clothes on her back. As a young school girl, she remembers getting up early in the morning and tuning into the Voice of America from London. Her uncle, who was also up early to feed the goats, would shake his finger at her and warn her not to play the radio so loud, "I will not turn you in, but we have neighbors!" Since losing her husband three years ago, she's been feeding all the wild animals in the neighborhood: phlegmatic raccoons, waddling skunks, and about a dozen stray cats. She's like St. Francis of Assisi, the animals just come to her. The only problem is that all those animals leave a terrible stink that filters up into my office window. I thought at tea I could gently mention it.

Instead I saw her this morning while I was sneaking around taking pictures of her strays.

She stood in her driveway with binoculars searching for the hawk circling above her house. I shouted out to her and she walked over to my side yard, down below. We talked about how she was feeling, the books she's been reading when she wakes up in the middle of the night, her need to get out once in a while to the hairdresser. She looked worn out and thin, standing in the morning light, but beautiful. Thea has a lot of stories to tell, but maybe she doesn't want to tell them anymore. She's old, she's tired, perhaps she's content to stay home with her cats.

My mother's teapot will have to wait.

Friday, November 20, 2009



When my daughter left for college she left behind her pet rats Luna and Malka. If you've ever had rats you know what great pets they make. Albino rats have been bred since the early 1900s for their docile natures, thus what's followed is totally different than NYC sewer rats (although if you cleaned up those little fellows who knows how well behaved they'd be?).

Domesticated rats bond with you. For instance, when I sit at my computer Luna sits beside me while I scratch behind her ears; she responds by closing her eyes and making teeth chattering noises (a rat's bliss). Malka is the more active rat, but when she's feeling affectionate, she'll patiently groom Tom's nails. Both wait to hear my car at night then scurry to greet me at the door when I come home from work.

Lately, they've taken to nesting under the orange couch. I found this out the other day when I walked into the room and thought, "Now, why is that dishtowel moving across the floor?" I looked under the couch and saw a pile of old newspapers, dishtowels and rags wrapped around each other in a huge rat's nest. I had to take it apart yesterday, it was getting so big, and then this morning I found they'd dragged all the folded laundry under the couch to start again.


Nothing makes me happier than waking up in the morning and saying hello to my rats— nothing, that is, except for writing this blog, which has cheered me beyond belief, giving me a way to deal with my own rat's nest and the day-to-day of missing my kids.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Traveling East

Sunday was a day for celebration. Finally, the Gold Line extension into East L.A. opened to what the LA Times claims was 50,000 free riders. Man, it was more like 500,000! I've never seen so many people crammed onto a light rail car. Huge lines formed in Union Station and snaked their way back through the terminals and out the parking lot. Proud parents brought the kids along like they were going to a historic political rally, and in a way they were. Angelenos rarely travel east to East LA, but East Angelenos travel in droves to downtown Los Angeles, and neighborhoods beyond, for work. Up until now commuters had to deal with crappy public transportation—slow buses, inconsistent schedules (to be kind), over crowding, and on some days, no transportation at all. But the Gold Line has brought change to East LA, plus the hope of the City Fathers that the rest of us will travel east to help in that part of the city's economic revival.

After eating at King Taco (Maravilla stop), we walked to the East LA Civic Center and lined up to come home. We decided to skip Union Sation altogether and walk to Chinatown through Olvera Street, where they were having a festival of their own.

All in all, a great day!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Freak Show

I've never gotten used to L.A.'s weather, never, especially come fall and winter when exotics are in bloom. This isn't natural— this is a freak show!

Not that Louisville got that cold in the winter but, G-d-damnit, we had seasons— four of them!

A lizard sunning itself in a cool 69 degrees:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dodger's Dicey Divorce

To some people divorce has a big appeal.

The rich and famous for one. They get divorced a lot. The "it" divorce couple of the moment are Jamie and Frank McCourt who own the Dodgers. Although Jamie McCourt was denied her CEO title by a judge last Thursday, if her lawyers have their way, the Dodgers will be lumped in with other community property and split in half.

This idea, that you could split the Dodgers in half, intrigues me. Not that I give a rat's ass (Sorry, Luna and Malka!) about baseball, but how would you split a baseball franchise in half? I decided to go to Dodger Stadium, a mere ten-minute drive away, to imagine it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Care Package

I miss my daughter.

They are just so far away, as Jeanne writes in an email about our girls who are both at college.

I'd emailed Jeanne earlier that I wanted to send a care package to Maya and she sent me a good way to wrap cookies, back to back, using her recipe for chocolate chip cookies from her scrumptious cookbook, Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes.

So on Thursday I went shopping in the a.m. and made the cookies in the afternoon, which took a lot longer than I thought. Maybe I'm just out of practice (confession: who am I kidding? I've never sent a care package in my life), but I ended up making only two things after four hours, with every pot dirty and every cabinet open and everything everywhere. I rushed around like crazy to get the box to the post office before I had to go to work, and then realized, too late, that the care package probably wouldn't get there until Monday. The cookies will be fine in their cling wrap, but I don't think the matzo balls are going to make it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Look at A Serious Man

A group of us mothers have been walking around the reservoir on Sat. morns. After our walk last week, Julie S. and I began discussing "A Serious Man," the new Coen Brothers' film, based loosely on their lives growing up in Minneapolis during the sixties.  We found we'd both been unnerved by seeing our Jewish childhood up on the screen: the paranoia, the goyim neighbors, that whole world-unto-itself mentality, the sexy temptress lurking next door. J's husband thought that scene was over the top—the temptress seducing the protagonist with marijuana—but J remembers her mother had a friend just like that. Which got me thinking about Gloria Cole, a friend of my parents' back in Louisville, the sexiest woman in their circle. Gloria had teased-to-perfection peroxide blonde hair, gargantuan tits, tight 60's cocktail dresses, stiletto heels... and a husband named Leonard.

One night, a few years ago, Gloria showed up in my dream, still young still shapely, attending a party for my father. Everyone was socializing, Gloria knocking the men out cold with her figure, except for my father who sat up on stage covered in a wool blanket, with one bulging furious eye peeking out at the crowd. That one eye bulging out so reminds me of this film: how Jews of a certain age look out through the metaphoric kitchen window —Larry Gopnik is always peeking out at the goys next door— and feel the weight of their accursed history upon them, fearing the worst.

Postscript: Immediately after seeing the film (which was torturous to watch, but, given the Coen brothers' ability to capture angst, quite enjoyable), my right eye imploded with a flashing white light, and the next day I had floaters. I looked online and found that floaters are caused by degeneration of the vitreus gel or head trauma. I'm thinking head trauma. Your thoughts?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween at SRF

It's interesting (well, at least to me) that I chose to do my first interview in two years with Tigger the Tiger. I don't know how it happened; I was all geared up to do it with someone of note, but then I saw this friendly tiger walking down the street, and since my journalism chops were rusty, I thought, what the heck, I'll give her a try. Tigger didn't have a lot to tell me, but she didn't bite. And she invited me back that evening to the Self-Realization Fellowship Center's Halloween celebration, a yearly event on top of Mt. Washington. I used to bring my kids up here when they were small, until SRF closed down the party. Tigger didn't come clean on that point, but it's a fact that the monks and nuns were somewhat pissed at those in the community who fought against bringing the remains of their beloved guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, (Autobiography of a Yogi) up to the Mt. Washington headquarters. I distinctly remember a few years without Halloween.

But this year's celebration was terrific and brought back so many happy memories. The SRF works hard all year long to put on a really good show. Kids as well as adults run around excited to see the Queen, hear the talking pumpkin, watch fairies blow bubbles and be awed by the magician with his slight of hand. I kept looking around for someone I might know but it's a whole new crowd.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Worrying-from-a-distance stage

This morning I was talking to my good friend Mary, whose son Ben was my son's best friend in school— now studying to be a neurosurgeon. We were talking about how much we still worry about our children. She told me that when she read about the suicides in Silicone Valley, of the four teenagers who walked onto the RR tracks, she wondered what her son would do. Would he follow his friends if he were feeling pressure from his medical studies? I reminded her that she worried like that in sixth grade when he was 12-yrs-old; he's almost 23 now, no longer a follower. That calmed her somewhat.

Then I told her how I worried, how the worry moved around from one thing to another, like a pain that starts in your knee, moves down to your ankle, then to the bottom of your foot. If it isn't one thing, it's another. Sometimes I think I'm a curse, like the time I took my son to get his driver's license; he failed three times, but when my husband took him on the fourth try, he passed. She said that was merely a case of redundancy, that once the test clicked in, he got it—no curse. She told me I worried like that when he was in kindergarten, afraid he couldn't make it on the playground. That made me feel a little better. I think if I worry I can control things so nothing bad will happen, but, of course, that bad thing is called "life" and no matter how much I worry, I can't protect my children from getting hurt. Mary and I call this the "worrying-from-a-distance stage," the stage we find ourselves in now.