Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Philadelphia, I Am Going There

I'm going to Philadelphia this weekend. I don't know if I have any readers there or not, but if I do I'd love some advice from locals on what can't be missed, especially in the food department. I'm going to the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art hopefully and will see the touristy stuff like the Liberty Bell and all that.

Husband just finished watching all of his Tivoed episodes of "John Adams" so he is really excited about this trip. Much of the mini-series took place there, but I think they had to film it somewhere else since John Adams lived pre-cheesesteak. Now Husband wants to see the real historic sites where all the drama on the show went down. I really wanted to watch "John Adams" too. It seemed so intellectual. Stuff White People Like (which is not as funny or cool post-gigantic book deal and I guess I understand that, but it makes me sad anyway) should do a post about John Adams. White People love John Adams. Not the man, the mini-series. It has that guy from "Sideways" in the starring role even. But anyway, I wanted to watch "John Adams" in the same way that I sometimes long to be the sort of person who can listen to an entire Terry Gross interview and then go talk about it at a dinner party where the host, who is not Morroccan, is serving couscous out of her new tagine that she just got at Williams Sonoma. This is, however, not my life and as much as I wanted to I couldn't get through "John Adams." It didn't involve any poop humor, so it didn't hold my attention, although everyone had authentically disgusting teeth and everyone, except semi-hot Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, were really damn fugly looking and I think Jefferson and Hamilton were only decent looking in comparison to their company. So try as I might I couldn't suffer through "John Adams." Husband joked that if someone was able to watch the entire series that they should be able to list it on their resume under accomplishments. I guess he'll be updating his soon.

Please give me your suggestions for what to see and eat in Philadelphia in the comments section and thanks in advance. I'll take pictures.

Oh I Almost Forgot - The Green Eggs and Matzo Because Ham Isn't Kosher

I can stand the prunes. I can stand the flanken, the boiled chicken and ok well, not the fish, but this needs to stop now and no one in my family will listen to me. You are not supposed to boil eggs for three hours until they turn a dark and dismal shade of army helmet green. This is really not ok and everyone in my family, including my own parents boils the ever loving crap out of their eggs. Look, this poor egg has been cooked for so long that even its white has turned brown. I didn't even know that was possible. The egg looks like a science experiment. I remember in 8th grade Chemistry we cooked some sulphur to see it turn from yellow to greenish-gray. This was fascinating to a bunch of thirteen year olds who loved sulphur because of its seemingly unlimited potential for "who farted" jokes, but for some people who just want a decent meal, it's really not acceptable. Eggs aren't chemistry experiments. Eggs need to stay yellow people. Ok? All you have to do to boil a daggoned egg is to put it in water, bring it to a boil, turn it off and let it sit in the pan of hot water for about ten minutes. That's it. Please, if anyone that I am related to is reading this, I implore you desperately to follow my directions and don't make me eat or have to even look at another hard boiled egg that is so overcooked that not a single spot of yellow remains in the yolk. Please.

Oh Yeah Baby - Stewed Prunes for Dessert Here I Come

At some point in my life I made the fateful mistake of briefly and vaguely mentioning in the presence of my grandmother that I might enjoy the occasional small portion of stewed prunes. Ever since she has responded by cooking up vats and barrels and cauldrons of stewed prunes every time she knows I'm coming over. While I appreciate, adore even, the fact that I have a grandmother who is so thoughtful and caring to make large amounts of something she thinks I like, the sad truth is that I don't particularly care all that much for stewed prunes. It's not that stewed prunes are horrible, because they aren't. Stewed prunes are definitely edible, far more delicious than gefilte fish or flanken any day, but there's a certain richness about them that makes it hard to eat a lot. If, by mistake, one does happen to eat a lot of stewed prunes, it's best to understand that there are certain...ummm... consequences. There are side effects to eating a bowl of stewed prunes. So if you really like stewed prunes as much as Savta thinks I do, you really need to make sure you have two or three days free to spend housebound. In my case, I can't really afford that much time off, but yet to be polite and to show my love for my grandmother who so selflessly cooks me stewed prunes I have to eat a lot of them. As I've said before, thank heavens there is a rest area on the highway halfway between my grandparents' house and my house. You may be saying that the above dish does not look like stewed prunes. I assure you it is. This is a celebratory dish called compote (how festive does it look, come on) and is not only stewed prunes, but also some stewed dried pears and apricots to boot. Should you choose to eat something like this don't come crying to me. I warned you.

Yes Readers, we've made it to the main course. And this is it. Chicken from the soup (that means chicken boiled for 17 hours straight) and Flanken, which is pronounced "Flonken" and is not good. Not even a little bit good. It is, in fact, completely nauseating and no one except my grandparents likes it. Can you see why? But I eat it anyway and if you don't look at it, the chicken is at least tender (disintegratingly so) and it tastes like the soup, which isn't terrible, although it certainly isn't a pizza. I thought a lot about pizza during Passover. Also in case you have ever wondered about my mother - here you can see her hand modeling the boiled meat. She has lovely red nails doesn't she?

This is Our Table Setting

I thought you might like to see our pretty table setting. In the middle we have a Seder plate with symbolic food items. This is the centerpiece. The book is called a Hagadah and it has all the words to the songs and prayers in the right order for the meal. This year mine was missing pages and I tried to use this as leverage to speed up the ceremony but had no such luck. Alas. You may also note that the table is covered in plastic. My grandmother has OCD and there are two reasons for the plastic, which I couldn't resist poking holes into. Her first reason is that someone may spill Fish Jello or wine on the table cloth. The other reason is that there could be the remote possibility that the tablecloth could have molecules of wheat or yeast dust on it from another, non-Passover meal. If this happened the Seder would be irreparably contaminated we would all have to go to Hell which would be Savta's fault and she could never live with herself if she doomed her family to eternal damnation at the hands of bread molecules.

Gefilte Fish

Because in the other picture you just couldn't see the whole thing and you really need to see the whole thing in order to fully understand my horror. The purple stuff on the side is a strong combination of beets and horseradish. My theory is that people pile on the beets and horseradish in order to sear their tastebuds off so they don't have to taste the cold carp cake.

The Best Part of the Meal

This is the matzo ball soup that my grandmother makes and which is far better than the matzo ball soup that anyone else's grandmother makes. Really. It's good and it's the only part of the meal that I enthusiastically eat.

Fish Jello: The Evidence

This is a piece of the gefilte fish that always causes such a stir when I refuse to eat it. I don't like this - it's grey, gelatinous, cold and fishy. Imagine not liking that. I know, it's shocking.
Monday, April 28, 2008

Best of Widelawns - Leg of Wheel

I wrote this last year at Passover, but you know what? This year not a single thing had changed so I'd like to post this piece again, especially since there are so many new readers. And can I just say that oh my God I am so glad Passover ended last night and that I ate some wheat bread and bean soup to break the fast and it feels like a stone in my intestines.

I like Passover. I'm really glad it's over, but I do like it. Mostly. I think. I like the songs. We do a lot of singing and its way better when we do it at home because I like how my family sings the songs better than how everyone else's family sings the songs. I also like my grandmother's matzo ball soup better than everyone else's grandmother's matzo ball soup. That's because it's better. Everyone says their grandmother's soup is the best, but they don't know anything. MY grandmother's soup is the best and that's all there is to it. I have no idea what's actually IN the soup and I will never attempt to make it because I don't WANT to know what's in the soup. I have this terrible feeling that if I knew what lurked in that broth I'd never want to eat it again.

You have to be careful what you eat at my grandparents' house. They come from a different world where people ate things that frankly, horrify me, and although my grandparents can now afford all sorts of good things to eat, they got stuck eating the things that horrify me, to the point where they love the things that horrify me and actually choose to eat them. I know it came from living in WWII Europe when people were starving to death. My grandmother told me stories about how her family had one chicken to stretch between 15 people. If you have to stretch one measly chicken between that many people you'd be amazed at what parts of said chicken suddenly become appetizing. I suspect that some of these parts are in Savta's soup and I don't want to think about it.

Saba and Savta like to eat the insides of bones. They adore fish skin and fish heads and fish eyeballs. They eat things cooked in stomachs and don't bat an eyelash at innards, organs and offal as long as they come from kosher animals. The kosher part is of utmost importance because my family is Orthodox (not my parents, just the rest but we've been through this all before).

Because of my grandparents' propensity for eating gross things, you have to be extra careful when you're at their house because they WILL try to feed you some nasty shit, and you never can tell what it is. You could think something was a perfectly innocuous brisket and then it'll turn out that what looks like brisket is in fact braised cow hoof, tail and colon. You might like cow hooves, tails and colons, but I don't and I don't want to take that kind of a risk. The first rule of eating at Saba and Savta's house is to always ask what something is before you take a bite. Always. Sometimes it's best to ask three or four times because they don't speak English that well. This has caused a few misunderstandings in the past.

I've always had a mild sense of culture shock within my own family, which is a strange feeling. I didn't always have this family, as you might recall. I was a little hick from Millpond, a place where there are no Jews and certainly no dang foreigners, except for them Mexican pickers who come in the summers. I went to go live with my parents when I was 11. Until then I had never been out of Millpond, and then all of sudden there I was, living in New York, with a new last name and a whole new religion that I knew nothing about. It's taken me 20 something years to catch up and figure it all out and I still feel a little behind. I don't know the songs that well. My family speaks Hebrew and I've learned to understand a lot, but I can't speak it and I can't do the "Chhhh" bone-in-the-throat sound very well. Their food always seemed weird to me, although there are things I really enjoy. I grew to love of all the strangeness though and what I don't love I respect, yet still, I always feel a few steps behind and even after all this time, I'm still a little bit of an outsider.

For instance, I hate gefilte fish. No one in my family can understand that I refuse to eat this mess. Gefilte fish is horrendous, vile and should not be consumed. Basically, it’s a cold, carp cake, boiled in juice made of fish bones and fish heads, fish skin and fish behinds, along with some onions and carrots. The little cakes are chilled and served with beet horseradish and slices of mushy, cold carrot. This is the kind of food that one simply has to be born into to enjoy, except my mother who has long since proven that she will eat anything. My mother is the last person you'd think would eat this, being a born and bred Southern lady and all, but she likes it because she likes everything. So if a boiled cake made from the discarded bits of a pond fish that eats poop, topped with beets and horseradish isn't gross enough, the juice that it's boiled in, is then chilled and then through a process with which I want nothing to do, it suddenly turns into fish flavored Jell-O. Where I come from, Jell-O is not supposed to taste like fish. No. You go to the store and you see all the little Jell-O boxes lined up and you see lime, cherry, strawberry-banana and orange. You don't see black cherry, grape, lemon and FISH!! Jell-O is also supposed to be clear, bright primary colors. Fish Jell-O is grey. You can only imagine my utter horror, when, as an innocent 11 year old, I was first confronted with a plate of gefilte fish with a side of fish Jell-O.
I've never forgiven my parents for this, but they tried to trick me and tell me it was a chicken croquette. How mean is that? That is so wrong to tell a child that a gross food is something not gross. The fact that you'd even have to lie about it at all proves that gefilte fish is vile and shouldn't be eaten. Yet, every year Savta tries to hand me a plate of gefilte fish and fish Jell-O. This has happened at least 75 times and every single time Savta and everyone present expresses utter shock and disbelief that I don't like gefilte fish and then it causes a scene.

"Why is she not eating the gefilte fish?"

"You don't like gefilte fish?"

"How does she not eat gefilte fish??"

"EVERYONE eats gefilte fish!!"

"She's not eating the gefilte fish??"

"Something is wrong with the gefilte fish?"

"Something's wrong with the gefilte fish?? Oh my God!!! I ate some!!"

It's utter, overwhelming chaos. It will happen again tonight. Then my mother will chime in and try to convince me that I actually LOVE gefilte fish.

"You always eat it!" she'll say, "It's delicious. You LOVE gefilte fish!"

"I do not."

"Be quiet, you do too."

Every single year I go through this.

Although my mother will eat just about anything, a few years ago Savta made something that we all had to draw the line at.

A strange grey, gelatinous substance arrived on the table. It was ominously reminiscent of fish Jell-o, yet, somehow different. It had long strands of grey, shredded meat suspended in its jiggling, quivering depths. It was cold with slick, oily surface. EVEN MY MOTHER WOULDN'T TOUCH IT. This is huge. My mother eats organs and animals feet. She will kick your narrow ass for a chicken neck, but still she wasn't going near this stuff. Finally my father asked Savta what it was.

"Leg of Wheel," Savta replied, matter of factly.

"Leg of who?" my mother asked.

"I swear she said Leg of Wheel," I said.

"What is it again?" my mother asked.

"Leg of Wheel," Savta repeated, as if we were all complete retards who should have, duh, obviously known that this was Leg of Wheel.

My mother and I looked at each other.

"She did say Leg of Wheel," we agreed.

"Wheels don't have legs," my mother stated the obvious.

"Wheels aren't edible," I added, "and I am not eating it."

Since we still couldn't figure out what the hell this was, and by now Saba and Uncle Mendel were tearing into it and putting ketchup on it, we tried a new tactic. We made my dad ask.

"It is LEG OF WHEEL!" Savta was very exasperated.

My dad shrugged.

"How do you make it?" we inquired.

"On the stove," Savta replied tersely, "You put Leg of Wheel in pot. Add onion, garlic. Boil, and you must to skim the top. It gets ehhhh, how you say....like thees, on top and you must to skim."

We just gave up. My dad told her to tell him in Hebrew and he attempted to translate.

"It's bones of a baby cow," he said.

"Leg of VEAL!!!!!" I shouted.

We figured it out. Leg of Veal. It certainly didn't look like anything's leg and knowing what it was made me even less inclined to eat it, but the mystery was solved.

This year the whole above scenes pretty much played out in exactly the same way as they always do, except that this year I took pictures. Photo essay forthcoming. Did I say I was glad that Passover was over? Because I am.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Still Passing - The First Night

It's still Passover for a couple more days, but I've survived so far and it's almost out of the way for another year. Luckily for you all, Dear Readers, although it's Finals Week and I really should be writing that Postcolonial Theory paper, I managed to take several pictures (which is strictly prohibited and I did it anyway so I'm going Hell where I'm sure I'll see most of y'all anyway) and I thoroughly documented the entire holiday as best I could.

For the first Seder, as I described in the last post, we go to my grandfather's temple. We have to because this is my grandfather's job. He's a cantor, which means he's the Rabbi's right hand man and he sings all the prayers. As a clergyman it's his job to be at all temple events and services, so if we want to spend the holiday with him we have to go to the temple Seder too. This is not good.

Saba, my grandfather, works at a temple in a part of town inhabited exclusively and densely by very old, Jewish people and the temple serves these individuals. There is not a single youthful member of the congregation and they all live close by in large retirement communities where the old Jewish people pack together in low-income apartment complexes. Since they all live so close together they all gossip and fight and get on one another's nerves to no end. They're quite vicious. If you remember, the TV show Seinfeld did a great job of recreating this world. Jerry's parents lived in Del Boca Vista and periodically he would come down to Florida to visit and end up embroiled in some old people drama. The show used to crack me up because it was EXACTLY in every way like where my grandparents live and work. Exactly, and my grandfather is constantly in the middle of some old person drama at the temple or in his community. So if you remember Seinfeld you'll get a good idea of what I'm dealing with during the Jewish holidays.

It took us about twenty minutes just to get inside the temple rec room and to our table because the sea of the elderly in front of us could only move at an arthritic shuffle. All you could hear was the rattle of walkers, the occasional bang of a cane against an oxygen tank, some wheezing and a great deal of initial complaining (much more would come later, so this was just a warm up round of bitching). These people were so slow that if they were the group making the original Exodus out of Egypt it would have taken about 400 years instead of 40. They can only move at about .5 miles per hour. Anything over that and people start breaking hips and having chest pains.

Since I got stuck behind this sluggish group I had plenty of time to survey my surroundings. To say the temple decor is outdated is too mild. I'm actually not even sure if the decor was ever up to date. It looks like a mishmash of crap donated by people, which I'm positive is how the walls turned out Pepto-Bismol pink. A few years ago when we had the big hurricane there was a lot of damage and I was sure they'd get the insurance money and fix the place up, but they were too cheap, so they hired someone to patch the ceiling and replace the water-damaged parts of the drywall and then they all congratulated themselves on making a profit on the insurance company and then complained that they had to pay the repair man anything at all. So the walls are still Pepto-pink except in the parts that had to be replaced. Those are white. The effect is rather like a pack of Necco wafers - pink and white blocks. I guess they don't care because half of them can't see anyway.

Another odd thing I noticed is that just about every part of the temple's structure was donated by someone and old Jewish people can't stand to donate something and not get resounding credit for it. Apparently they missed that part in the Bible where it says you shouldn't advertise your charitable contributions. Maybe that's in the New Testament. Maybe Jesus went into a temple 2000 years ago and looked at it like I did and said "Man, we need to make a rule about this."

They really do need to make a rule about advertising your generosity in my grandparents' temple. It's to the point of utter absurdity. Every little thing has a brass plaque on it that says who donated it. "Windowsill courtesy of Saul and Rhoda Tiskowitz." "Windowpanes made possible by the generosity of Saidel Mermelstein." "Next 15 square feet of carpeting donated by the Rottenkatz family." "15 square feet of carpet after that purchased with money gifted to us from Hymen Hackberg." It kind of makes me wonder whose money made all the brass plaques possible. They should have extra signs saying "Picture frame donated by Hilda Gold" "Plaque saying that picture frame donated by Hilda Gold donated by Yenta and Isaac Hirschenfeld." Then they could have a plaque for that plaque until, as seems to be their ultimate goal, every wall, floor and ceiling could be covered in brass plaques with people's names on them.

As much as old Jewish people love to have plaques with their names on them, they also like to be honored. At my grandparents' temple they are constantly coming up with very arbitrary and meaningless awards and honors to bestow upon people to make them feel hugely important. But inevitably when one person gets an award and gets to feel hugely important a whole nother faction gets jealous and pissed off that they didn't get an award. Much infighting follows. People threaten to remove the windowsills they donated which would leave the temple tragically sill-less and then a committee must be formed immediately to come up with some new meaningless awards and honors lest the donations be rescinded. It's an endless cycle. My grandfather has been honored at least eleven times since 2001. Because of this desperate need for honor and recognition, we have to begin the Seder dinner at the temple with a good thirty five minutes of thanking, honoring and awarding. It takes so long that inevitably someone will go into diabetic shock from not eating and the ambulance will be called before the gefilte fish even comes out of the kitchen.

After that we have to endure a service. Another big giant deal to old Jewish people during the holidays is getting the opportunity to come up on stage, get the Torah out of its case and stand up in front of the congregation holding it. The Torah is two large scrolls wound around two inch wide wooden rods and encased in silver. It's a good thirty pounds at least, which is just an estimate on my part, and is way too heavy for frail old Jewish man to hold. Don't try telling them that though. They pay good money to hold the Torah up there. They get these bloody bidding wars going, each trying to top the others in donations just to get to carry the Torah. Then eventually someone will win and they will get to partake in the service, carefully removing the Torah from it's case, heaving it up on their bent shoulders before fainting dead away on stage sending the Torah flying to the floor and probably breaking at least three major bones. So then we have to call the ambulance again. Every year this happens and still they never learn that they are too old and too weak to carry thirty pound parchment scrolls rolled in wood and encased in metal.

After that things begin to settle down and we start the Seder. By this time we're all starving enough to actually eat the food, which I like to describe as jail food, if the jail were Conservadox and had only a very small food budget.

Our family sits at the head table with the Rabbi's family. The rabbi and his wife are about 75 years old and they have a retarded daughter who is exactly, to the day, my age, but as she is retarded and spends her entire existence surrounded by old people, she too looks, dresses and acts exactly like she is 75. Her name is Heather. I'm not exactly sure with what Heather is afflicted. Sometimes she seems autistic. Other times she seems like Forrest Gump, but I don't know what he was supposed to have either. No one has ever said if Heather's condition has a name or if anyone ever diagnosed her. I can only describe her as a strange combination of a kindergartener and a geriatric. She is socially awkward and robotic like some autistic people, but she seems more calm and doesn't do any of the repetitive actions sometimes associated with that condition. At times she seems so sedate that I wonder if they drug her, but Heather is very friendly and seems to really like interaction although she isn't good at it and doesn't understand a lot of things. She really, really likes me. I really like her too. She is the most refreshing part of the evening and I look forward to seeing her each year because she is innocent and not jaded, mean or complaining like the old people. I feel really badly for her, although I'm not sure she knows the difference, because she is constantly around old people and they have turned her into an old person in the body of a young, mentally challenged girl. I often wonder if she were in a more lively environment if her condition, whatever it is, might improve some. I also wish someone could give her a makeover and fix her up because she'd be cute. They let her grow a beard, dress her like she's 90 and cut her hair off and style it in one of those round, sprayed to death helmets old ladies love. I'd love to take her and put a hipper outfit on her, paint her nails and give her some lipgloss. I bet it would make a world of difference. I've always felt a connection to Heather because we have the same birthday.

Heather can't seem to grasp that two people can have the same birthday, as she and I do, so whenever she sees me she remembers that she and I do have the same birthday and then goes on and on questioning me to make sure it's true. Then she goes through a random list of questions for me, which I answer happily. None of the questions are really related to one another. They go something like this:

"Do you use nail polish? Do you work retail? Can you use computer software? Do you enjoy television programs? Where is the train station? Are you able to count money? What is your favorite color? How much did your shoes cost? Would you like a cold beverage?"

She reminds me of a cassette tape from the 1960s designed to teach people how to speak a very formal, stilted English. I don't know what to make of it, so I just answer her. Then she, without fail, asks me about soda. Soda is her favorite thing in the entire world. Heather loves soda, and she can talk for hours about it.

"Do you like soda? I like soda. I like Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Diet Sprite, A&W rootbeet, Barq's rootbeer, 7UP, diet 7Up, Gingerale, Orange Crush, Sunkist, Diet Sunkist, Mountain Dew, Cream Soda, Black Cherry soda, Grape Soda, Dr. Pepper..."

Her mother stops her because she'll go on and on and on and get too excited and have to be taken home. Heather's other obsession is shaking hands with people but she can't figure out how much pressure to use so she accidentally squeezes too hard and let me tell you, Heather is no waif. She's a big girl and has quite a grip. She broke the wrists of two old ladies with osteoporosis, so now they don't let her shake hands but you have to really watch her because she'll try. I made the mistake of letting her and I couldn't type for three days.

After Heather's mother distracts her, in the middle of the Seder, which I assure you is long enough on its own without any distractions, the old people always decided to have an impromptu talent show. God freaking help me. Heather's mother always puts her up on stage, hands her the microphone and lets her go to town. This is really not a good idea. There is something very troubling and sad about the whole thing and it creates one of those moments where you feel kind of nervous and try to look away but then you feel the uncontrollable compulsion to laugh but you can't do that because laughing at a retarded girl singing and dancing is the epitome of asshole-ness especially when it's during the soup course and you have already described the soup as salty piss water with toilet paper in it on your blog. It also doesn't help when your three teenage cousins are busting up and poking you under the table. Because I don't want to laugh because she's funny. I want to laugh because I'm nervous and the situation is painfully awkward. I feel like her mother exploits her in some way by putting her up in front of everyone and making her perform, but what the hell do I know? Maybe she enjoys it. I applaud enthusiastically.

Poor Heather with her old lady, sprayed up beehive hairdo, her full beard, off tempo clapping and warbling falsetto is endearing up there. I love her to death. I don't feel the same affection for all the old people who decide then that if the Rabbi's retarded daughter can get up on stage and sing in the middle of Seder, that certainly they too can sing. Oh readers. It becomes an hour long Elderly Idol. The old people hobble up on stage, yank the microphone from whomever had it before them and start belting out Yiddish folk songs with no music. They mostly sound like goats. They often pause halfway through their songs to tap the microphone and wonder if it's on because they're deaf and can't hear themselves. Sometimes they'll sing a song wrong and the old people in the audience will start shouting about how they messed up and then someone will start a screaming match and someone will threaten to have them removed from a committee or their condo association board.

Finally they will run out of breath and my grandfather will get the Seder back on track before we have to call 911 again because someone might be having a stroke. By the time it ends it's 1 in the morning and we're all starving and wondering what we did to deserve this and if maybe slavery in Egypt wasn't as bad. The second night isn't so bad because that we get to do at my grandparents' house. Night Two though has its challenges and those I will recount tomorrow.
Saturday, April 19, 2008

For More on Passover...

I just discovered Green's Passover post, so for more on this holiday than old people and salty piss water, please pay her site a visit and check it out. It's detailed and funny and can I just say that I love Green and you all should be reading her.

Why This Night Is Different From All Other Nights

I realized that I have a lot of goyim reading my blog. That means non-Jewish people. I thought I should give you a little primer on the holiday of Passover, which begins tonight and lasts for the next 8 days, so that you will know what I will be going through for the next eight days. Add to this that it’s also Finals Week and I have about 385 deadlines to meet, along with most of my distant family members visiting from out of town. It’s also my husband and sister’s birthday today, so we must wish them both a very Happy Cakeless Birthday!

Passover seems to cause mass hysteria both in South Florida and in my family. This is the holiday where Jewish people in this part of the world re-enact the biblical legend of Moses and the Israelites, by creating their own mass Exodus from New York to South Florida for the next week where they will make everything crowded, hectic, even more annoying than it already is, and not eat bread. That’s basically it. The kids are out of school, everyone has relatives visiting and everyone expects to be entertained. Passover is like a Jewish Atkins Diet and for the next eight days Jews are supposed to fast by abstaining from all foods containing wheat and grain. Instead they eat matzo which essentially is little more than a bland saltine. Saltines are already bland, you say. Yes, and matzo is even blander than that. It’s ok for a day or two but then you start to crave buttery crust and the moist, stretchy insides of good French bread. Then you want cupcakes and pancakes, paninis and brioche. By the end of eight days you never want to see another matzo again.

The first two nights of Passover we suffer through a very long ceremonial dinner called a Seder, in which we eat bad food and drink even worse wine. It seems to last 40 days and 40 nights though in reality the Seder is about four or five hours. When it ends everyone is drunk, in diabetic shock from the sweet wine and in a bad mood because they know they have to suffer the whole thing again the next day with the relatives from out of town who they have already fought with ten times since they arrived from LaGuardia Monday afternoon. This is a universal experience in all Jewish families in South Florida.

Most South Florida Jews are all in a frenzy this afternoon making their last minute holiday preparations. Passover is a big holiday for Jewish people, pretty much on par with Christmas or Easter for Christians. My Publix has been an absolute madhouse and I made the mistake of needing to go there at the last minute for some birthday supplies. First I couldn’t get a parking spot. Then inside the store geriatrics were practically falling over jars of gefilte fish and cardboard boxes of matzo, yet wondering where the Passover section was. Through the crowded aisles I heard frantic calls of "IRVING, IS THIS SOWA CREAM KOSHA Fuh PASSOVA?" and "Bernice, you didnt fuh-get the macaroons this yee-uh? Rememba last yee-uh you forgot the macaroons. You cant fuh-get the macaroons. My sista Phyllis will never fuh-give you if you fuh-get the macaroons again."

I was nearly assaulted in the parking lot as I made my way to my car. An old man in a gigantic Town Car nearly ran me down, and then shouted for me to get the hell out of his way because he needed the handicapped spot I was walking in front of. When I gave him a dirty look and moved, he proceeded to hit the Navigator next to the space he was trying to pull into, and then curse at me as if it were my fault.

Tonight to celebrate I will agonize through a Seder at my grandparents' temple. Everyone there will be a hundred years old and furious about something. Most will be hooked up to oxygen and blind and/or deaf. The dinner will be held in the rec-room of the Temple which was built in 1956 and is Pepto-Bismol pink. Everyone will complain that it’s too cold, it cost too much, was better last year, and that they can’t hear the ceremony. Our meal will be catered by a nearby convalescent home for aging Conservadox Jews. It costs $7.00 per person. We get hardboiled eggs that have turned green inside, mashed beets from a can, matzo ball soup from a powder mix which resembles salty piss water, with a matzo ball that reminds me of a wadded up ball of wet toilet paper soaking for hours in the salty piss water, gefilte fish from a jar wiggling in its own grey, slimy, fish flavored Jell-o (yum, fish jell-o), thin strips of roasted tongue, or a thigh of baked chicken (last year's still had clumps of feather attached), a few leaves of dry iceberg lettuce and canned carrot rounds suspended in a weirdly gelatinous goo, studded with a few soggy raisins. For dessert we get sawdust-like squares of Passover marble cake with a pink icing that contains no actual edible ingredients found in nature, but is instead a conglomeration of chemicals. It is of course, sugar-free because old people can’t eat sugar and because sugar free food tastes worse. Evidently the goal of this meal is for the food to be as bad as possible and the dessert must confirm this lest you might accidentally enjoy something on your way out. The meal is exactly the same every single year and I have endured it for the past eight years straight. This is what I have to look forward to this evening. Please pray for me dear readers.
Thursday, April 17, 2008

Only in My Neighborhood

This is entirely too many peacocks to be standing in the middle of one street, in my opinion. The nerve of them. They're looking a little rough at the moment because they all molted and shed their long, pretty tails. They're in the process of regrowing them for the summer I think.
Friday, April 11, 2008

My Professor Would Be Proud

I had a horrible day, and it's not important why, and it will pass, but one thing just got me out of it and I have to share it with you real quick.

Now I once had a professor whose biggest pet peeve was the improper use of the word "impacted." He hated when people said that things "impacted" them. He didn't particularly enjoy when people said that things even HAD an impact on them, because apparently, although we use that in conversation all the time, it isn't proper. I'm guilty of occasionally saying that things had impacts on other things, but the professor's voice always echoes in my head telling me that I can find a better word. Because of him the only time I have ever used the word impacted was in reference to my wisdom tooth that needs to come out. Impacted means that something is stuck or jammed into something and can't get out.

So here I was in the midst of my bad day driving and listening to the radio and all of a sudden this commercial came on that was about some wonderful organization that does all kinds of great things for at risk kids. I think they were asking for donations, but I'm not sure. It might have been some service that cost money. It doesn't matter. The last line in the commercial was this: "bring your child to XXX Organization and see your child positively impacted!!!!"

I could not stop laughing. I began to picture some place where you take your child and they feed them nothing but cheese, rice, bananas and pepto-bismol.

At the end of two weeks you go pick your child up and they tell you:

"Mr. or Mrs. your child is now positively impacted! Congratulations! He won't crap for a month!"

Please think of this the next time you tell someone that something impacted you.
Thursday, April 10, 2008

Conservative is a Big Word

I guess I've been in a kind of graduate school fog for the past couple of months. Couple that with my parents' return and all the chaos that brought, and well, I realized I kind of neglected my duties to make fun of South Florida. Yesterday I heard a conversation between two young women who looked to be in their early twenties or so and they reminded me why I started this blog in the first place. I was in the fine city of Basura with its gigantic pink villas, small, pure-bred dogs wearing jeweled collars and women who have had so much plastic surgery that they are now cyborgs; Darth Vader women who are more manufactured substance than actual flesh. The two young women were having a conversation and I heard it.

Girl 1: You can totally put that on your MySpace.

Girl 2: I know, right. I'm so excited. Can you believe it?

Girl 1: So in St. Maarten you can seriously like walk around totally naked? For real?

Girl 2: Yes! That's why Sammi and I wanted to go. We're gonna take pictures.

Girl 1: I know! Wow. I want to go too. I'm going too. Ok, so you can, like, really walk around naked in St. Maarten?

Girl 2: YES! I told you. It's Europe. Europeans aren't conservative like Americans.

Girl 1: Ohhhh. St. Maarten's Europe?

Girl 2: DUUUUHHHH. Of course it's in Europe. God, it's not like England or something.

Girl 1: England's not Europe?

Girl 2: NOOOOO!! You need to like study geometry or something.

Girl 1: Yeah. So you can't walk around naked in England?

Girl 2: No. Only in Europe.

Girl 1: I'm so booking this trip. I can't wait to put the pictures of us naked on the beach on my MySpace. That is so cool.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Very Scary Spider, but Happy

I took this picture last week. This spider set up shop outside of my apartment building and I thought I might photograph it in order to show you how very scary some of our Florida bugs are. As if spiders aren't scary enough on their own, this one has sharp red spikes coming out of its back to make it even more terrifying and threatening. Then when I put the picture in the computer and looked at it all enlarged and up close, I noticed the spider has kind of a smiley face pattern on its armored back, and it was even kind of cute in a way. But still very scary.

Before I Go Any Further - Violent Acres Charity Challenge!!

I can't write another thing in good conscience until I tell you all about Violent Acres' Birthday Charity Challenge! I'm really excited about this because she has the potential to raise way more money than I did last year and her charity of choice is an organization that helps abused children.

V and I are different in a lot of ways but one thing we have in common is that we know what it's like to be one of these kids and we know what it's like when the people who are supposed to take care of you (in this case my biological father and stepmother) treat you like shit. We have felt all the confusion, shame, guilt and anger and while some of you may not agree with a lot of what we say (in my opinion this is rooted simply in poor reading comprehension 90% of the time) V and I both feel very strongly about helping out abused children and doing whatever we can to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.

Please go to V's Charity Challenge and donate, even if it's just a little bit. She says if she raises over $10,000 she will post a picture of herself. I know there are a lot of people who are curious about what she looks like, but to me that's really beside the point. It's about helping out kids who need it.
Sunday, April 06, 2008

One of Those All Over the Place Catch up Posts I Hate

Jeez, where the hell have I been for the past two weeks? Everyone has been asking me, so I guess I owe you an explanation which is about to be lame, I'm warning you.

I had things to do. One of them was the workshop with the famous writer, to which I devoted myself entirely. Then I had to figure out my schedule for the summer and see if I couldn't maybe get myself a teaching job and into a summer program at the University of Iowa. I got the job and haven't figured out Iowa yet. I'm not worried though. Things always work out how they should.

The other thing I had to do was finish Lost, which I did. They say the definition of a disorder is if it interferes with your life. I qualify for a serious case of Lost Disorder. I think my muscles atrophied from sitting on the couch watching so much damned TV. I have the equivalent of bed sores on my ass.

Once I caught up on Lost I started to feel guilty for my excessive TV watching and refused to sit on my behind any longer (as one does when one writes) and I tried to restore the imbalance I had caused in my universe by doing all sorts of things and spending time outside like a normal person. The weather has been perfect here so I went to beach and did homework out in the sun on several occasions. Then I tried to justify my Lost habit because I still felt guilty and I decided that I was actually watching it to become a better writer. I even toyed with the idea of creating an entire creative writing class called "How to Learn to Write Stories From Watching Lost" but then scrapped that idea because I can just imagine trying to pitch something like that to a college English department hoping to get a job and having them call security to get the crazy woman out of the office. The crazy woman who insists she's here from 1997 and whose consciousness is trapped on a freighter somewhere outside of the normal space time continuum.

So now I'm back and in the meantime I accomplished all sorts of boring, normal life kind of things and continued to observe the chaos and disorder common to my family members.

Mini-T my jackass brother committed a felony, and not even an interesting one, and almost got arrested and ended up costing my parents a ton of money. It was one of those idiotic felonies that you hear about and you're all like "THAT is a felony? For real?" So it wasn't even a good story, like if he stole a car or robbed a bank, which would be incredibly awful, but at least more interesting than what the asshole actually did, which was put some old junk in someone else's dumpster instead of hauling it to the actual dump as he had been instructed.

In addition to that he is really on the family's shit list because he taught his illegitimate 3 year old son to say the N-word. Now before you go thinking he is some sort of white supremacist, let me remind you that my brother is African American himself and knows full well how it feels to be called the N-word and how we don't allow that word in our family. I think he feels that because he is black that it's OK to say it, that he has somehow reclaimed the word. I disagree. No one needs to say that word. It is rooted in evil. It has bad energy. It shouldn't be in rap songs, it shouldn't be slang and it sure as hell shouldn't be coming out of the mouth of a 3 year old. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT email me or comment about how graduate school should expand my horizons and how I don't know what I'm talking about and how African Americans are exercising their agency and free will over language by recoding and how they are expressing their culture or any other idiotic white guilt bullshit like that. My moron brother doesn't know what recoding is. He wants to be a rapper and he listens to rap songs that use the word, as well as some other words, and he lets his child listen to that music and he's just imitating something that sounds glamorous and powerful to him because he feels powerless. And the reason he feels powerless is because he came from a terrible background of violence, abuse and horrible choices. When my mother heard about this she almost turned completely inside out and so did I. I haven't been that disgusted in a long time. Also, if you want to defend black people's use of the N-word, I'd like you to know that a few years ago I went to hear Maya Angelou speak for nearly two hours on this very topic and she agrees with me. You can't argue with Maya.

In other news my sister is doing well. My husband, who is also doing well, has become as obsessed with nut brittle as I was with Lost. Every day for the past 3 weeks my husband has made a new batch of nut brittle and every day it's different. I found a legal pad which he had hidden from me and it had 17 different recipes written on it. I guess he's experimenting and writing each version down and comparing notes. Personally I thought "Nuts #6" were the best. I don't know where this man's passion for candied nuts came from but he's had it since we met, though in the past month the problem has certainly escalated to a new level of caramelization. I asked him and he said he's trying to perfect it. Because, I think, perfect nut brittle is the key to world peace. If he doesn't come up with the ideal composition of nuts, butter, sugar and salt then perhaps the future of civilization will be in danger. This is the level of intensity and obsession to which my husband has succumbed. I just wish he'd stop adding cashews. I hate cashews.

My parents haven't set their alarm since the former catastrophe. Someone asked me about that last week. I think they're traumatized. My last post got me to thinking about the unbelievable number of bizarre animal names we've had in our family. I really wanted to share some with you. In the alarm post I listed the names of our cats, but we've also had a number of dogs throughout the years. We're animal lovers, although by some of the names we've given our pets you might think we hated the poor dogs and cats. Mostly, I blame this on my sister. Or at least my parents for letting my sister name our pets before she was able to form coherent sentences. We had a dog named Ragmop, another named Toots Louis. Toots Louis' wife was a white pomeranian named Deirde Ann, but that somehow morphed into Frying Pan, so we had a dog who actually answered to the name Frying Pan. Frying Pan, in yet another bizarre twist, ended up nursing the cat whose name was Purr Machine, which then eventually shortened into Purrma Jeanne because that was more feminine. Yes Readers, even our animals are weird. When I was about 11 and my sister was three my grandfather gave us two golden puppies and my parents let my sister name them. Puppy 1 became Buckles and Needles (because that is a name, right?) and Puppy 2 was Hearts and Sausages (in keeping with the Something AND Something that has nothing whatsoever to do with the first something theme). Calling the puppies was a hell of a mouthful. Then we moved into an apartment that wouldn't let us have five dogs so Ragmop, Hearts and Sausages and Buckles and Needles "went to a big farm with lots of other dogs."

Toots Louis and Frying Pan had puppies and we gave one to Aunt Kiki, who is just as ridiculous in naming her pets as we are, and what did she do? She let her daughters Alexis and Fallon name it. They named it Kiki and nothing we could do could convince them to not name the dog after their mother. This caused all sorts of confusion.

"Kiki DAMMIT! Don't you pee on that floor! No, not you, the dog!"

Sometimes it was the other way around.

Aunt Kiki currently has a dog named Poo-yayna (no idea but weird shit comes out of people's mouths when they're on Vicodin) and a cat named Kitty Robert.

We've also named a lot of our pets human names. My dad went on this back to his Israeli heritage kick and named two Dobermans Esther and Moishe. Moishe died last year. That name was a disaster. Can I just warn you now in case you too were considering naming your dog Moishe? It's a bad idea. For the 11 years of this dog's life no one except Orthodox Jews, who don't even like dogs, could pronounce his name. Most people called him "Mush." It got on my nerves. The name belongs to a Rabbi in Crown Heights, not on a Doberman who had a brain defect that caused him to have to walk around with a shock collar lest he try to kill someone unexpectedly.

In my last post I mentioned that we had a cat named Gray Kevin. Kevin was Purrma Jeanne's daughter but she looked like a boy so we gave her a boy's name. Then she started acting strangely and we felt badly about the name and tried to feminize it into Kevina, which was stupid, so we tried to shorten it to Kevvi, which also didn't work, so we went back to Kevin and she ran away. Cats are sensitive about what you call them.

When we first moved to Florida we got a Yorkie puppy and named it Scotty Andrew. Then the dog had an accident which left it with brain damage and my mother swore that it was unable to recognize a complicated name like Scotty Andrew, so she renamed him Gaga because she said he could understand that better. Gaga was a really dumb name for a dog and I was always embarassed to tell people he was called that. Poor Gaga, rest his soul. He passed on four years ago. He was 13.

I don't have to tell you all about the current dog Bomboclaat. You already know about that hot mess of canine dysfunction. Some of it has to be related to his name.

Now that my sister and I are adults we've tried to name our pets sensibly. She has a cat named Puss. When I lived in Atlanta I had a cat named Black Paloo, which made me feel a little odd, so we called him Blackie for short. It made me feel more normal. Comfortably boring even. He was, of course, black. Then I completely fell off the wagon and got a kitten and named it Peekytoe Johnson. It's a hard habit to break.

The only pet I have now is Canela, which means Cinnamon in Spanish. She is the color of many spices - brown and peach and speckled. Sometimes I lose my mind and call her Tuna Roll, which has somewhat to do with the fact that I taught her to roll over on command. First I called her Cinnamon Roll, then El Rollo and somehow it ended up as Tuna Roll and occasionally Tuna Salad. Last week I think I may have called her Stink Butt Fish Face once or twice.

I'd love to hear some more crazy pet names. I like Whiskey Marie's cat. Her cat never fails to crack me up. She named it Pooter. This makes me laugh because when Aunt Kiki's oldest daughter Alexis was little, Pooter was her nickname. I have a cousin named Pooter. In the South it translates to "Farter." We usually just called her Pootie. Other children teased her. I think to this day she isn't quite right because of it.

Make me feel better. Tell me your own crazy pet names in the comments section. I missed you all.

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