Shopping for Inspiration

Our weekly writing assignment recommended that we ‘experiment with senses you tend to ignore by going to a supermarket with no intention of shopping, and concentrating on listening’  ‘I always go to supermarkets with no intention of shopping’ I thought to myself, ‘but listening to the aisles and become a writer, now there’s a concept.’ The more I thought about it the more excited I became. ‘How could I have overlooked the storytelling potential of listening-in-a-supermarket?’ So successful that all great writers did not take on the challenge and left their protagonists out at sea, slaughtered them on the battlefields and sent them upstream on rafts or down waterfalls in canoes. ‘Could it be a coincidence the Oliver Twist had to be bullied into asking for more gruel? Was there any reason why Injun Joe died of hunger in McDougal’s cave? Why did Jake Barnes roam the restaurants of Paris with Lady Brett Ashley only to eat Hungarian Goulash? Why did all these people have to eat so poorly?’ The pieces of evidence were accumulating in my head like a fast-forwarded movie showing termites building their mound. Could it be that so much genius stepped aside only to allow me to park my story telling abilities in this vacant literary parking spot? Were they all were calling to me to rise up and unravel the mysteries of the whispering supermarket aisles with my yet-to-be-discovered story telling voice? How could I shy away from such an opportunity? But am I worthy?’ I was intimidated by the notion that the ghosts of dead Nobel Prize laureates were waiting for me to free them from their limbo between the aisles of ‘Safeway’. ‘Will it be my quarks of literary brilliance that will let the soul of Hemingway finally come to rest in a jar or peanut butter?  Being a sworn shopping-hater how could I spend time in the aisles without arousing suspicion?

Destiny takes care of the blessed – my writing opportunity presented itself a week prior to my son’s Bar Mitzvah (the Jewish coming of age ceremony for thirteen year old boys). A Bar Mitzvah is the most important events in the life of a Jewish family second only to marriage. The importance of the event is celebrated with amounts of food to match. Somehow you never have enough time to prepare even though you know the date thirteen years in advance, so it all came to the last week, the week of my literary inspiration.

‘I have a busy week with my students’ Imma (Hebrew for Mom) turned to me, she did not even bother to soften the blow with ‘I know you hate it but’ She went right to the verdict: ‘…you’ll have to help me with the shopping.’ There it was in all its bluntness. I turned slightly to the right and lifted my head exposing my jugular, the universal sign of surrender. Then I turned back slowly to face her, stopping the turn when our eyes locked. Inside I was rejoicing: ‘a last minute state of mind, where the sense of urgency dulls the sense of quantity, what could be better?’

‘We need soft drinks, and paper plates, and disposable utensils, and cream cheese, and meat, and ’ Did Imma expect me to memorize all this? She must have read my mind. ‘Let me write down what you need to get.’ She started to work down a ‘hers-his’ task list. ‘I could help with the strawberries’ I offered, knowing that strawberries would be the enablers of my literary quest. The Bar Mitzvah happened to fall during a rare period of strawberry shortages inflicted by unprecedented weather patterns. The news channels made it a point to mention that strawberry fields were no longer forever. ‘Good evening I’m Leslie and I’m Dennis soggy ground prevented the pickers from going into the strawberry fields the second week in a row Those that ventured into the fields drowned in the mud or were swept away by torrential water.’ My sense of reason was telling me that I would have to constantly buy strawberries.

‘You never know when the supplies will dry up.’  I argued.

‘You don’t have to keep buying’ Imma said, ‘all you need to do is get a large quantity a day or two before the party.’

‘Are you aware of the shortages?’ I asked raising my voice as if to say ‘do you want me to help or not?’

Not a muscle moved in Imma’s facial expression. This was the stone mask of disappointment, which was her way of saying ‘Why is it that I always regret having to ask you for help?’

‘Strawberries have a half-life of thirty two hours’ I began, eager to make amends. ‘Which means that one out of eight strawberries I get a week in advance will still be edible by the time it gets to the party.’ I was speaking as fast as I could, hoping to complete my argument before the contempt in her eyes crushed my ability to speak. ‘With the current shortages there is no telling if there will be any strawberries in the stores two days before the Bar Mitzvah’.  Imma was more concerned with the half-life we still had to spend together ‘get as many as you want’ she said.

I bought strawberries in quantities that allowed us to control their price in global markets. I bought them in every aisle of every store that sold them. I walked the aisles from dawn till dusk, listening, lifting boxes, playing strawberry Tetris with green plastic baskets rearranging the strawberries into more appealing formations, anything that would appear to have purpose; as long as I could walk the aisles a little while longer, but my listening were left unanswered. Imma sensed that there was something going on. As I was about to leave the house on another strawberry mission, she moved to the doorway and stood in a hug-timeout position. I held her close, our bodies touching, my cheek touching hers, with my hands holding her shoulder blades. Her arms were tucked under mine. Imma released her grip, held my elbows and pulled them towards her, indicating that I should complete the hug with my hands around her back. She released my left elbow and raised her right arm behind my neck, resting her hand on the back of my head. Her fingers tightened slightly around the back of my skull, repeating three light squeezes with the tips of her fingers her way of saying ‘deep inside there is a man I love’ A short tender moment that would help us keep moving through the shopping days that lay before us. I pressed my head closer to hers feeling the softness of her cheek against mine.

The rains stopped on the day of the Bar Mitzvah. My son read his designated portions from the Prophet Ezekiel beautifully. In a clear strong voice he sang about the revival of the dry bones, the dry bones in the valley ‘These bones will rise’ he sang with an innocent young voice. I was too absorbed in my offspring’s performance to realize that the prophet was speaking to me. It was during Kiddush (the blessing over the wine and bread) that my vision cleared. ‘Dry bones rising from the valley dry bones rising from the aisles, the souls of literary genius rising from between the wines to the right and the bread to the left provided that one was facing the dairy products.’ I had to get to the aisles one more time, but how, the day’s schedule was full. There was a reception following the Kiddush, continuing to lunch, followed by speeches and songs we had prepared for the Bar-Mitzvah boy, then coffee and some cakes, and finally sitting with the guests through the afternoon and into the evening forcing them to eat the strawberries. The next day was Easter and the aisles would be closed. It had to be that night or there was no telling when the next opportunity for resurrection would present itself.

Fortunately there was a dance party for the kids scheduled for later that night. As we prepared the party hall at the community center, hanging balloons, laying out soft drinks on the tables, filling bowls with potato chips, gummy bears, m&m’s and cookies Imma turned to me: ‘Do you think we have enough soft drinks?’ she asked. ‘Not only are we missing drinks, we are also missing ice and bowls to put it in’ I lied to the woman that would be at my side come what may. ‘Very well, go to Albertson and get what you think we need.’

I entered ‘Albertson’ with trembling knees, leaning heavily on the shopping cart in front of me. I had no intent of buying anything; I was there to listen. I headed straight for the aisle with the strongest voices. The only sound I heard was the repetitive clicking noise of an employee stamping price tags onto a new load of bars of soap. Somewhat annoyed, I moved to the utensils aisle. For a few minutes I pretended to compare identical plastic bowls, while I listened. Every minute or so I would put a bowl into the shopping cart to make things appear natural, not wanting to draw attention to myself. With five bowls and no revelation I moved to the ‘picnic’ aisle. ‘Where can I find a disposable table cloth?’ I asked a passing worker hoping to set a casual atmosphere and ease Hemingway’s tension. The employee shrugged and I quickly thanked him with a nod, not wanting to disturb the silence any further. But Hemingway did not take the bait. I moved to soft drinks to pick and choose between the diets and the regulars, between Pepsi and Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew and Sprite, added a few bottles to my cart still nothing. Half an hour later, with five plastic bowls, seven bottles of soft drinks and four ice bags threatening to melt I had to start heading back. It was then that I heard a voice a coming from in front of me and a little to my left:

‘Would you like paper of plastic, sir?’ The tone was detached without sentiment. It was a rude awakening. ‘No need for bags’ I replied softly, too devastated to make up my mind. Mechanically I loaded the redundant products into the car and headed back to the party. I had listened to so many senses: the sense of ‘urgency’, the sense of ‘quantity’ and the sense of ‘reason’. Yet revelation continued to elude me. Did I misinterpret the location of the aisles? How dry was my valley? Imma thanked me for the extra drinks and ice, all of which remained untouched and had to be taken back home later that night.

‘You haven’t eaten all day’ Imma said as we walked in, ‘Would you like me to heat you some chicken?’ ‘I’m not all that hungry’ I answered. ‘How about a peanut butter sandwich?’ she asked. ‘Fine please do.’ She knelt down to the cabinet and poked around a bit:  ‘You’re not going to believe this; we’re out of peanut butter.’

‘I’ll run to the Safeway to get some’

Writers Block

I wake again in our bedroom, vouchsafed another day,

‘Vouchsafed’ is a verb, or so it seems; that’s all I know of what it means.

But if I guess I might be wrong, the story might become too long.

Despite my age I am no sage my ignorance might waste this page.

Go look it up but there’s a twist – I cannot move without its gist.

 

My wife of many years wakes up. She looks at me I’m frozen stuck.

I am still groggy she assumes; her normal ritual resumes.

She draws the shade; she puts on cloths; she rubs my nose – It seems that I am  comatose.

‘Can you hear me dear’ she asks; her voice so tense it croaks and rasps.

 

I can’t confess under duress, which tantalizes her distress.

She grabs the phone and calls real quick ‘my husband’s stiffer than a brick!’

‘Is he cold and blue, or warm and breathing? Are you sure that he’s not sleeping?’

‘His eyes are open’ she replies tears are welling in her eyes.

 

The sirens come and then the engine, the yellow one, a sign from heaven.

Bill and Jack are dressed in black; they come with their survival pack.

They are well-built and reassuring; if all was normal, quite alluring.

They take my pulse, they watch me breath: ‘He’s stable ma’am just hold on, please.’

 

Then the ambulance arrives, its crew determined to save lives.

There are two of them as well, Leonor and Isabel.

All four in boots, with radios – they stand there tickling my toes.

They check my kidneys, liver, spleen; my heart is metered on the screen.

 

My heart is ticking nice and strong, a sinus regular and long.

They are perplexed with my condition ‘perhaps he has a drug addiction?’

Bill looks up and clears his throat ‘Has he left you with a note?’

‘There is that page; he made some signs; it doesn’t say much, just two lines’

 

Around the page they congregate to see if they can guess my fate,

‘Vouchsafed’, they read, ‘why it is clear for all to see that this has got to be the key.’

‘But we have never heard this word before’ moan Bill and Jack and Leonor,

‘It means to grant’ Isabel chimes, ‘I hope that gets us off the dime.’

 

Before another word is said I am erect and out of bed,

Nature calls I must respond, I rush outside to the fishpond,

I lean relaxed against a tree; It is a great relief to pee

Our day could well have gone to hell had it not been for Isabel.

 

With my bladder back to normal, I gain composure, acting formal,

Pulling up my underpants, I shake my saviors’ strong right hands,

‘Grant’ is what it means she said; that’s all it is

and we are saved.

Through My Eyes

‘But if you could see her through my eyeeees…’ the master of ceremony’s voice carries over the hall-turned-cabaret of the Imperial Theater in New York as he cradles a gorilla in his lap. The theatre is dark, dim lights on the stage; the orchestra is arranged as a café, the audience is seated at coffee tables, ‘…she wouldn’t look Jewish at all’. I bite my lips, my older daughter’s left hand tightens around my knee; the younger one leans her head on my shoulder. The theater is silent; only one man laughs. Drowned by silence his orphaned laughter stops abruptly; skipping over the die-down giggling that would normally follow such a cheerful out pour. The man is seated at one of the tables in the right corner of the orchestra. ‘If only he knew,’ I hiss, breaking the theater’s civil code of conduct, there are certain things which civilization cannot tolerate.

Dear insensitive, the humor in this musical is ironic and morbid, intended to shock rather than amuse. The plot is about the crumbling of civilized society setting the stage for an ideology of a master race, ruled by a tyrant seething with hatred, that orchestrated a genocide callled the holocaust. You can find a brief summary of the plot in program which was handed to you at the entrance. Watch the gorilla as it walks off the stage, climbing hunched down a stairwell into an alley of no return. Don’t you wish you could disappear as well? Do you feel eyes boring down on your table, staring into the back of your neck? These are my eyes, I am looking for you; I want to see who you are. I want to see your face. I want you to see the faces of my daughters. I want you to see what Jewish women really look like. Did you know that Jewish women and Christian women are not different species? Having descended from identical apes they are biologically identical; you cannot distinguish among them. I hav e no i ssue wi th that, do you? I guess you have never taken the time to study the holocaust, nor have you been touched by the pain it inflicted on so many.  I am quite certain that this is our first and last meeting. I will never again hear you laugh at our holocaust; this is my only chance to deal with your ignorance, so please pay attention.

I am here because I am obliged not to forget how it started. Remebering and educating is an aquired survival skill which I am obliged to pass on.  I was fifteen when I first watched the master call the gorilla Jewish; it was on a movie screen. How dare he? I thought to myself, forgetting that you cannot argue with a movie. This was how it started: German society crumbled, seeking refuge in drink an d sex an d cabarets, signaled out the Jews as the cause of their maladies, nurturing hatred. ‘Dehumanizing’ is the term research papers that would follow y ears later would coin as humanity searched for explanations. At the age of fifteen I didn’t care for an explanation; I was angry, frustrated, wanting to fight back, wishing that the screen would come to life; wishing that we could rise from our seats and attack the stage with a vengeance; that we could strike back at the evil that threatened our existence.

We grew up among people who lived through those times in Europe. Sonia Rakover from the third-floor apartment was old enough to be on that stage back in 1931 being mocked as the gorilla.

‘She lost all her family at Auschwitz’ my mother would say each time we asked why she never smiled at us when we met on the stairs. Everyone else did.

‘But she has two daughters,’ we chanted in harmony typical of twins.

‘Nehama and Gallia are her new family.’

‘Why didn’t she look for the old one?’ We were eight years old; too young to understand what it meant to lose a family.

They killed her family; she is a survivor but she doesn’t talk about it’, my mother used to say, stopping the stream of questions. Perhaps she didn’t want us to hear what they did to twins.

Only as adults would we begin to piece together what happened there. It was three years after my second daughter was born, standing by my father at my grandmother’s grave, as he was singing Kadish, that he mentioned her parents who died in Auschwitz. My grandmother never said a word just li ke Shy ke’s father never spoke of the labor camp; and Boaz’s father did not speak of the ghetto. Ronny’s father broke the code of silence from ti me to time with stories of the partisans. To this day many remain silent, refusing to speak about the ghettoes, the camps, the gas chambers. Some are here with us today, even in this theater. This is why the audience was so silent, when you laughed.

Dear Ignorant, the girl to my right is called Yeela. You pronounce it Ye-e-la. It means doe, a female deer as you might recall from the Sound of Music, seeing how fond you are of the arts. A year from now she will graduate from high school in California and go back to Israel by herself to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. No, she doesn’t have to go; she will go because she feels obligated to do so. Less than a year into her service she will be called upon to speak before an international convention of Jewish organiz ations in Jer usalem. She will stand alone on a stage in front of four thousand people, that’s three times the number of people in this theater. She will tell them her st or y. She will tell them that in Israel, when two stranger s chat on the street, they will always try to find how they are connected. If they are civilians, the first question following the introduction is likely to be: ‘Where did you serve in the army?’ If they’re soldiers they will recognize their unit insignias or the colors of their berets and the conversation will begin with: ‘what part of the country are you from?’ She will tell the audience that this is the question she has trouble with. She will continue by switching to dialog between herself and an imaginary person in the street:

‘I was born in Jerusalem, but I’m not from there. When I leave the base I’m mostly in Tel Aviv, but no, I didn’t go to school there.’

‘Why?’ The imaginary listener will ask.

‘I moved to California when I was six.’ She wi l l answer.

‘Why?’ The listener will ask again.

‘My father was offered a job in the Silicon Valley.’

‘So when did you come back?’

‘I came back in August 2002, to serve in the IDF.’

‘Where does your family live now?’

‘They are still in the states.’

Mimicking growing disbelief she will mimic the listener: ‘So you are here by yourself?’

‘Yes.’ Sh e will say, taun ting the l istener, she will imitate a puzzled, skeptical, cynical look, one eyebrow raised; eyelids slightly lowered and crack the final question: ‘You left Amer i ca for thiiissss?’

The audience will burst out laughing, four thousand mouths will laugh. Don’t you wish you had at least one more mouth laughing with you here tonight?

She will wait with a smile on her face, not wanting to cut the laughter short, knowing what she is about to say, and then she will answer the question:

‘I love watching the sunset as evening falls on the base; this is the sunset in my sky over my desert, my mountains and bone dry stream beds. Every patch of land is linked to lives dedicated to this country. Lives of generations of my people who fought to gain, and to preserve, to shape and develop a Je wish homeland. The feeling th at I am a part of something so immense, part of the ongoing legacy of the Jewish people, is my source of strength. My home is here. I belong only in Israel.&# 39;

By the time she will be done speaking eight thousand eyes will be moist. She will scan the m one more time from orchestra to mezzanine, Prime Minister, Chief of Staff, ministers, mayors, heads of congregations, rabbis, citizens, soldiers people from all walks of life. She will nod as a sign of appreciation and will go back stage, not waiting for the thunder of applause to subside. With tears in her eyes she will call Imma on her cell phone and cry because it’s painful to be fulfilling one’s obligations at the price of being away from her family.

Her sister will hear the conversation, and many more like them. She will listen quietly as she makes her own decisions. Right now she is the one sitting to my left. She is two years yo unger tha n Yeela. Her name is Tal which means dew. I am telling you their names because I want you to remember that Jewish women have names, many of which have litera l meanings. May I call you Clod?

Clod, you should make a mental not to remember Tal; she will be back in New York three years from now after she graduates from Homestead High School in Sunnyvale. She will be a freshman at NYU, its down by Washington Square. She will choose to study the holocaust.  Let me share a snippet from one of her papers with you right now, I hope you don’t mind:

At the end of the day’s killing and torture, after clubbing children to death for hiding a piece of bread and shooting a man as a form of target practice,  they went home to their families, where they were compassionate fathers and loving hu sban ds; they too where hum an.

This is how she will start an es say about the Buchenwald concentration camp, telling the story of h er uncle Gideon Hadda. ‘One of them saved me,’ Gideon will tell her. ‘He recognized me from our home town. You see, the people doing the slaughter where people from the same walks-of-life as their victims, they were their neighbors and co-workers. He saw to it that I received extra rations of food enabling me to survive while thousands died of hunger. The rations were just enough for me to carry the loads of dead bodies as I heaved them on to the carts that we pushed to mass graves. An extra dry piece of bread would give me just enough strength to maintain pace during the marches in the snow as others legs gave way under them. Those who could not keep up were shot on the spot.’

‘Gideon, why don’t you write your story?’ Tal asks.

I am a graduate of ‘Buchenwald High’ he answers, his eyes smiling his fingers tapping ever so lightly on the table, the only vis ib le evidence of his pain.

She will add another line: Gideon writes fluently, but the Buchenwald high-school-of-death system saw to it that its surviving graduate would find it too painful to put a scalpel-pen to his scar tissues and dig up his curriculum – one story of survival thanks to a murderer’s compassion.

While stale life preserving tidbits where being doled out to Gideon at Buchenwald, Sarah Suliman, was picking oranges in her family’s citrus orchard in the coastal Town of Rishon Le-Zion, south of Tel Aviv. Back then the cities where much smaller and the citrus plantations much larger. Sarah, and her five brothers and sisters laughed when they heard the about death camps; waiving them aside as Mid-East ern yarns. You s ee, they did no t know. But you, Clod, cannot claim such ignorance in your defense. Now, fifty five years later the truth is known. By now Sarah and Gideon have been ma rri ed for fifty years.

If you ever visit him, Gideon he will welcome you like you were his family, his compassion for people knows no bounds. Gideon offers hospitality with food; he knows how far another pastry will go. Sarah will bring in cakes and soft drinks lay them on the table in front of you. If you know Mid-Eastern dishes you know the dry, hardened slightly salted pastries which you have to soak in your tea in order to soften them, unless you have canine jaws. ‘Sarah, why don’t you bring your Buchenwald cookies?’ Gideon asks with a broad smile. Gideon has earned the right to crack jokes about food, his finger tapping ever so lightly on the table.

After a year at NYU Tal will ship two cartons of books back to California a nd take a back pack to Israel where she will join the IDF.

‘Why are you doing this?’ Andy, her classmate, wil l ask.

‘The dorms are too big for me.’ Tal will answer trying to joke her way from the subject; the decision will be hard for her.

Lauren, one of her roommates, will fire back: ‘How can five hundred square feet be too big to share among four people?’

Both Tal and Lauren know it’s not the reason, but they never leave the challenge of a debate lying on the table.

‘I’m going to have to do with fifty,’ Tal answers.

‘That’s like two phone booths and a manhole,’ Lauren will say, hoping to keep the debate alive, needing m ore time to com e to grips wi th the idea of having to say goodbye.

Andy is the first to recover and redirects the c onver sa tion: ‘What will you do there?’

‘I’m going to train the trainers in the armored cavalry.’

Her friends would not completely understand, but they will respect her courage. After a few weeks she will send them with a letter with instructions as though they were in her shoes: Don’t feel bad about the futility spending hours cleaning a war machine that is forever destined to be filthy and noisy and hot. The truth is that the cannon will continue to operate until you have five feet of sand in the turret, and the engine will start as long as the batteries are not clogged with dust. There are five gallon water containers tied to the back of the turret; use them to take showers. Learn to enjoy getting by with th e basics. A fe w weeks from now you will learn how to drive this oversized play station over any terrain; you will learn to operate its firing systems, communications and op tics.& amp;nbs p;Learn how to use your monster toy well, humor yourself that it’s just a big toy, but do not ever cease to respect the complexity of the machine and the dangers of letting your guard down. Use your teaching skills to share your knowledge with others. Teach them to laugh at hardship and support each other in the fifty square feet which they will have to call home. Let’s hope that it does not ever become more than a toy; that none of you ever has to use it for what it was built to be. Watch your fingers when you close the hatches. Never ever forget your ear plugs. She will conclude by promising to return two years later after her tour of duty is done.

Are you asking yourself why teen age girls voluntarily veer from the safe path to financial success to the road of personal sacrifice? Hav e you stopp ed to wonder what gives them the strength to march all night long in full battle gear? Do you wonder why they struggle, in spite of ind ividual twe nty poun d loads, to replace the stretcher bearers at the front of the marching column? Why don’t those who can, fade into the darkness at the rear of the column, just like you are trying to do at your table? Could it be that they are determined no to become Anne Franks? Let me tell you, with sixty pound loads tearing into their shoulders they do not think of the survival of their people. Each girl pushes beyond thresholds of pain she never imagined she could endure, to ease the pain of the girl next to her. The bigger picture comes in bits and pieces when they have time to rest, or during the ride home, when they look out of the window of the bus at the sky and the mountains and the bone dry stream beds. What’s at stake emerges during memorial services, or when a bomb goes off, or in the theatre when a Jewish woman is likened to a gorilla and someone la ughs.

Dear Clod, do you see the cast standing on the stage in pajamas? Look at th e fabric the pajama i s made of you wouldn’t wax your car with such cloth lest the rough fibers scratch the metallic paint. Think what such fabric does to skin, not having been washed in years, passed on from a body that died in it to a body that will soon die in it. Do you see the yellow stars of David over their hearts? These are the stars of the night that has fallen over humanity; stars mark Jews for death. Have you noticed that the stage is no longer a cabaret? Do you see that it’s a train station? Soon the trains will leave for Buchenwald and Auschwitz and Treblinka and Sobibor and Birkenau and Mauthausen and Bergen-Belzen and Dachau and… Where did you say you were going?

Clod, could you d o me a favor? When you walk out of the theatre please don’t take a taxi, walk down to the subway. You don’t like the s ubway at nig ht, please do it anyway, what’s the worst that can happen? Pick a subway car. Imagine that it’s a boxcar, no seats, nothing to hang on to. Imagine how more and more people come into the boxcar, pushing you closer and closer. You’ll need air, but there are no windows in the boxcar save for a small hatch in the far front corner. There are a hundred people between you and the hatch, and a hundred more between you and the doors behind you. You would like to think that it’s not so bad, that you get off in thirty minutes, but the train ride will last three days, that’s as long as it takes to kill the weaker people. It’s more efficient that way, less people in the gas chambers. Six million of our people rode those trains. Do you understand what that number means? It means that every subway leaving Manhattan takes the people to a death camp. After Manhattan is cleared the trains start clearing Queens, and then Brooklyn and then the Bronx. For two years trains loaded w ith people he ad out of the city, and come back empty. An entire population disappears, hardly a laughing matter wouldn’t you say?

Perhaps I have been harsh. Perhaps people like me are products of defense mechanisms which need fine tuning. I don’t expect you to understand what happened here tonight; all I am asking is that you do not forget. As you walk out, turn your head I want you to see my daughters – the duo of the doe and the dew. I hope you can see them through my eyes, proud and Jewish and all…

Bar Mitzvah Tale

Full coverage

Tintin did not want a Bar Mitzvah ceremony; a typical starting point for most of his life endeavors to date. The risks of standing in front of an audience and not giving a perfect performance outweighed the benefits. To us it was simply a matter of getting ahead of him in the negotiations, finding a win-win compromise which would put his cunning young mind at ease and satisfy tradition and provide substantial financial rewards. Starting a year ahead of time, Ima timed the debates over the issue at monthly intervals. Months into the debate Tintin conceded to have the ceremony ‘as long as its not hundreds of people’ which was his shrewd way of saying ‘no’ given the size of the synagogues in the valley. As family history shows, no child of ours ever threw into the spokes of the wheels of history a monkey wrench which Ima could not unlatch. If Tintin would not allow himself to be stripped of his dignity by hundreds of pairs of eyes at ‘Beth David’, ‘Temple Emanuel’ or the ‘Hebrew Day School’ synagogues, so be it Ima turned to Habbad. By the time it was all said and done Tintin had less than eight weeks to prepare. A few short meetings with a Rabbi, long hours in our bed with Ima reading and reciting blessings, maftir and haftarah, ups and downs,  smiles and frowns, days of hope, days of despair, ‘Can’t you see I’m not prepared!…’ We had another Bar Mitzvah in the air and it would be during Passover.

The Habbad synagogue is small and cozy camouflaged as an office in an aging two story condominium on Sunnyvale road between Fremont and Remington Avenues. Locating a synagogue in an office complex is Habbad’s way of acknowledging the times: people just don’t take time off to pray anymore, perhaps if they could worship while they stop by to take care of something else. And so one can visit a dentist on the floor above or get some tax consulting across the hall. To turn the two offices that it was into a place of worship all of the interior walls were moved to one room, creating a single confined area with a walk-in space, a small office in the back and a storage room to the left, all three crammed into a space smaller than a common kitchen. A small table with a basket of Kipots (prayer caps) stands next to the entrance. You need the head gear to enter; you can pick up the rest of the worshiping equipment once inside the prayer room. The prayer room is the size of a king size bedroom. Office windows that rise from the floor to the ceiling are located in the corners of the room, covered by graceless-yet- functional blinds made of aluminum strips. The floor is covered with an industrial bluish-green carpet which over time built its own odor and character. Whoever chose the carpet did not want the worshipers to pay attention to the floor. Neon lights stationed at regular intervals between grayish ceiling panels shine white light at the carpet. Three rows of simple reception seats face the fro nt of the room. What used to be a six-panel sliding door of a walk-in closet zigzags down an Aisle symbolically separating the seats into two groups the left for woman and the right for men. Bookshelves with Sidurs (prayer books) and Talits (prayer shawls) stand against the back wall behind the seats. Three columns of extra seats, taller than any man are stacked in the far back corner of the room, in case there is a rush on this house of prayer. The seating arrangement faces a crate like ark which houses two Torah scrolls. During prayer the Torah scroll is rolled open on a podium which stands between the ark and the right seat section, covered with red velvet. The un-matching velvet colors stand out, drawing attention to the ark and the podium, away from everything else.  This is barebones Judaism as it was intended to be, cases are settled before god and your pears – the setting is irrelevant.

The Bar Mitzvah took place three days after the Passover Sedder. We arriv ed at the synagogue a few minutes before the ceremony. Saturday or not, we cleaned matzah leftovers which stood out against the dark murky color of the carpet. The Rabbi looked the other way, adapting to our need for basic esthetics and cleanliness. Nowadays the call to rescue faiths that hang by thinner threads overrides the Sabbath holiness. Besides, we were alone with the Rabbi in synagogue. The Rabbi started the ceremony without waiting for his congregation to convene; they would gather as the prayer went on and on. Tintin sat between Daniel and me in the front row two feet behind the podium, staring straight at it as a condemned man stares at the gallows, rubbing his hands and jiggling his knee. Ima and the girls occasionally peeked over their shoulders through the ‘mehitza’ with encouraging smiles. I put my arm across his shoulder stretching over to Osmo’s back an eagle wing over the chicks. Osmo put his hand on the yearling’s shaking knee. Tintin avoided eye contact, buried his eyes in the Sidur pretending to read, refusing to fall for the false solace offered to him by family love. His business was with the podium and the scroll which lay open on top of it. At times like this he views the world in two colors black and white. Seven ‘aliyot’, seven condemned men, the first six would be spared, and he would be the seventh. As far as he was concerned there was nothing that we could say or do to save him. Fearing shame he wanted to run, yet the same fear kept him is his place. There were more than forty people in the room when the time came to bring out the Torah.

The Rabbi turned to me: ‘Can you call someone in your congregation to open the ark?’ This was not a question I had no choice I sent Yair. Yair did not hesitate for a moment. With a slight nod of his head the Rabbi offered Tintin to pass the Torah through the congregation Tintin passed. The Torah was brought out and opened on the Podium.

‘Ya-aleh hhh’ he was looking at me trying to remember my name, or pretending not to know it.

‘Yiftah’ I said using the correct pronunciation.

‘Yiftah Ben’ ‘Amatzia ve ‘

‘Yiftah Ben Amatzia Rishon…’ He cut me off.

I stood up and took a step forward to the podium waiting for further instructions.

‘Hold your tzitzit to the beginning of the reading portion’ he instructed, pointing with the metal finger to the middle column of the open scroll.

I did as I was told.

‘Kiss the tzitzit’ he continued in a tone which I told myself was full of fervor.

I did.

‘Now here’ he pointed again to what I assumed was the end of the portion. I made a mental note that he did not say ‘here where it says’, he did not expect me to try to read.< /p>

I did.

‘Now kiss the tzitzit’. I made another mental note that he did not use the word ‘again’, this was not repetition; each step of the ritual was unique.

‘Barechu’ I began

‘Baruch Adonai’ the congregation answered

‘Baruch Ata Adonai’

 

He then read the Torah, not for one minute assuming that I could have read it myself. We repeated the tzitzit touch-and-kiss, again the Rabbi avoided saying ‘again’, and showed me back to the Sidur for the blessings when the kissing was done. ‘Stand here’ he instructed when I was done reading the closing blessings, positioning me at the right corner of the podium. He scouted the room for the next ‘Koreh’ (reader). His eyes locked with Motti’s.

 

‘Ya-alleh’

‘Morde chai’ Standing before god, Motti reverted to his god given name.

‘Mordechai Ben”Nahum ve’

‘Mordehai Ben Nahum – Shenni’, the Rabbi cut Motti off.

 

Motti received the same instructions what to touch and when to kiss, making me feel better about myself. As the Rabbi read for Motti my ego rose even higher, only to crash in shame when I remembered that this was not all about me, we were all preparing for the seventh Aliyah – Tintin in front of God, or in front of himself. I looked at Tintin who was staring at a point right in front of him, more or less at Motti’s rear end. I looked at Osmo, he smiled, I winked, Motti continued to read while Tintin continued to stare at his read end not seeing it. Motti complete his part, we shook hands as he took my place at the right of the podium, and I went back to my seat. Haim was summoned third.

Daniel was quite surprised when he was inv ited to read ‘fourth’. He gave the Rabbi a ‘what the hell’ glare, stared at me, saw my ‘you gotta take one for the team’ look and rose from his chair assuming the big brother role with honors. As he pulled his Talit closer over his shoulders, I could read his mind. He was quickly reciting the verses he had heard in the house so many times over the past few days, polishing his own Bar Mitzvah memories. He read very nicely, with the Rabbi standing guard ready to help him along should an unfamiliar word and a memory blank meet. Osmo did not need any help. He read the blessings, touched, kissed, replaced Haim and waited for the next ‘Koreh’ (reader) to be called.

‘Ya-alleh’ As the Rabbi turned to scan the congregation, pulling his Talit back from his head, I finally understood his pattern, too late to do anything about it. He was calling upon those in the room whom he did not know, triaging the flock, discerning between those who could still be save d and those that were too far gone. His eyes fell on Hanan. God alone would not have called on Hanan to stand before him, but with the Rabbi at his side, God was willing to give it one more shot. Hanan stepped up to the plate without a Talit, hands in his pockets, signifying defiance with every step. The Rabbi thought nothing of it, a quick flick of a hidden finger and some loyal follower quickly shed his own and wrapped Hanan in the prayer shawl. Touch-kiss-read that’s all there is to it, but there is always one more bug It doesn’t say where to stop and Hanan went right on to the closing blessing not stopping for anyone to read the Torah. To a bystander this kind of reading could have been received as a mix of piety and ignorance. Knowing Hanan, piety had nothing to do with it. The Rabbi let the benefit of the doubt win over the embarrassment and intervened to calm the fervor of the runaway payer. He was more specific when it came to the closing: ‘read from here to here’ he said pointing to the closing blessings in the Sidur. Now that I understood the pattern it was obvious that Gadi would be called next.

‘Ya-alleh’ the Rabbi did very little scanning, he had memorized the faces and focused on Gadi as he clung to Hanan who tried to bail to his seat, rather than remain at the side of the podium.

‘Gadi”Ben’

‘Ben-Zion’ this was a tricky one

‘Ben Ben-Zion’ I made one more mental note congratulating the Rabbi for his correct management of ‘double Ben’.

Humi sauntered in when Gadi was done. Humi was still wearing his traveling pouch to indicate that he had come directly from the airport. His timing was too perfect to fool anyone. Seeing how pale Hanan was he broke into a broad smile and took a seat in the front row as if to say: ‘I would have loved to be called up, but I just arrived from Israel thirty minutes ago’&n bsp;

Then it was Tintin’s turn. He rose tense and miserable. His hand trembled when he held the Tzitzit to the scroll; I wondered how much visible trembling bothered him. It runs down the father side of the family, Suma and Tintin got stage-fright induced hand-trembling from me. We can play our stage parts perfectly, but it takes a few minutes for the trembling to stop. Tintin sang with a strong steady voice, a higher pitch the only vocal indication of his tension. To the rest of the world this seemed to be his regular singing voice, common to nervous Bar Mitzvah boys whose voices have not yet changed. If not for the carpet, you could hear a pin drop. Congregations are silent when a boy sings his portion, cheering him on with their silence. We all reflect on our own anxieties when we read our Torah portions, the older ones forty years ago, the younger ones forty days ago. As the ‘maftir’ went on the hand holding the ‘Etzbah’ became steady, the knee stopped moving as he read the blessings after the ‘maftir’. Half way into the Haftara his voice settled to its normal pitch. I read ahead, searching for potential pitfalls, and reading back to where Tintin was reading. I counted the verses that still lay ahead, the lines, the words, realizing that I wanted this to be over for Tintin’s sake, feeling remorse that this was all I wanted. ‘Ben Adam ha-atzamot ha-eleh kol beit Yisrael hemah’ Ezekiel’s prophesy of the resurrection of the dry bones, a prayer of hope for a better future, a belief that there is a future, and my only concern was to put it in the past. I snapped out of my guilt trip to scout the text ahead. Five more verses: ‘Here comes a munach revi-ih’ I worried, I didn’t like the way the Rabbi taught him to sing the ‘munach revi-ih’. Tintin read past it without a hitch, his tone rising and falling perfectly. ‘What an ear’ I thought, thanking Ima for the kids’ musical education. I read on to wait by the ‘sof pasuk’. ‘ el admat Yisrael.’ Two more verses, any hard words, any ‘mapik ba-hei’, which robs you of your breath just when you need it to finish off a verse? No mapik, no double ‘yod’ god name traps, just a few ‘pashta’s’ which Tintin had no problem with. ‘We should be ok.’ ‘dibarti ve-asiti neum adonai’. Tintin cinched it and without much ado went on to read the blessings that follow the haftarah. ‘Baruch asher bahar binvi-im tovim’ Tintin was calm you could hear it in his voice. ‘Zur kol haolamin’ I had to stop and wonder about the repetitive content. ‘Rahem’ Can we really be expected to recite this every day? ‘Samhenu’ Do we need a king? Isn’t it time we gave the prayer book a little overhaul? ‘Al hatorah mekadesh hashabat ‘ and it was over.

‘You’re hired’ the Rabbi congratulated Tintin smiling. Tintin stood under a shower of candy.  I recited ‘Baruch sh-ptaranu’. The Rabbi opened his ‘drashah’ by blessing us and thanking us: ‘When the Porat family came to me forty five days ago…’ You see in America you begin preparing for a Bar-Mitzvah a year in advance if your average, six months in advance if you are sworn optimist, three months is advance reckless forty five days is considered impossible. ‘…But I am a man of faith’, the Rabbi continued ‘and Amitai came through beautifully’. ‘Yes, Rabbi’ I though to myself, all it takes is a mother with the talent, patience and strength to cuddle, cajole, reward and reprimand her cantankerous offspring. All it takes is a mother who understands her child’s fears and aspirations, who will not let him give up on himself, who will help him bring out his best no matter how hard he tries to wiggle off the hook. A mother with unsurpassed teaching skills, knowing that she has to push and keep pushing hard so that the child learns that he can live up to the challenge. There were so many times that I wanted to step in and give him a break. I can only be thankful that I didn’t. It would have sent the wrong message, making the task at hand appear daunting. ‘It’s all in his head’ Ima would have said. I could only marvel at the simplicity of the conviction.

We had kidush, the girls stayed to clean the bluish-green carpet while Ima rushed home to prepare for the main reception. I followed with Tintin and friends in the other car. I contemplated the Rabbi’s closing words: ‘at times this ceremony is both the grand opening and the going out of business sale of a child’s brush with his Jewish tradition’.

Time will tell.

Hey Dude

Full coverage

Hey Dude,
We’re kinda sad,
We thought you’d always
Stay seven years old
But even when all is said and done
You will still be our little one.

Hey Bro,
We hope you know
That we’ll always
Stay by your side
The day before your homework is due
We will be there,to do it for you

And even if we make a scene
Don’t bust a spleen
Hey Dude, it’s just love
Please show affection.
And though we know that we are crude
And mean, and rude,
It’s all for your good
Trust us we’re older

Hey Flink,
You know we think,
There is no one
Quite like you in this world.
You’re funny, and charming, and hip
But sometimes you really should get a grip.

And anytime you feel some strain
Don’t try cocaine.
Just stick to your sports
You are our champion.
Some more advice from us to you
Hey Dude, stay true
Stay caring and kind
Don’t pass the ball too much.

Hey Dude,
Let’s wrap this up,
We’d like to wish you
A Happy Birthday
Remember that we will keep having fun
Cause you’ll always be our little one.

כנגד בן רביעי דברה תורה
אחד חכם
ואחד רגיש
ואחד שעושה עצמו תם
ואחד שיודע לדרוש

עוד מינקות כשהיית יוצא לקניות,
ודורש מאמא ממתקים ושטויות.
כשנוכחת שהיא נחושה לסרב,
ביקשת “אז קני לי דבר שאינני אוהב”
כמו כל בן-זקונים החי חיי מותרות
המודע שלאחיו אין כאלה זכויות
ברשותך, אנחנו רשאים כל יום לבלות
אבל רק כמה דקות. quali ביחד ב-

זו לצד זו שוכבות בסל התכונות
דקות הבחנה, מקוריות, ובגרות,
אינטיליגנציה רגשית, נחישות וזריזות
ומה לעשות, קצת “פיין-שמקריות”.
תפוח תאכל רק אם הוא חתוך,
בשנתך תתכסה רק בשמיכת פוך
נעליך עולות סכומי עתק,
תסלח לנו טיןטין אתה מפונק!

פורט על גיטרה, מנגן על פסנתר
למד קרן-יער, .
זנח את התופים לטובת סקסופון
כנראה שרצה למנוע אסון.
מתאמן שעות על מגרשי משחקים
בשארית כוחותיו קורא בספרים.
מה הפלא שצריך לעשות בשבילך שיעורים…

אך עם כל זאת, אין ברירה אלא להתמודד
seniority ו-shit cycle עם חוקי ה-
שלא תתישב באוטו מקדימה בשוגג.
קצת לא נעים על שעלייך היינו עובדים
ואתה ילד טוב, ולאחים גדולים מאמינים.
זה לא טעים, מצטערים. Wassabe כפית של
מה שאתה מוכן לעשות בדולר זה פשוט מזהים.
ובנסיעות ארוכות לא משתעממים
כי תמיד לך אנחנו מציקים.

אם ננסה למצוא מסעדה בה תאכל
תהיה ברירת המחדל.Tony Romas

אתה יכול להרגע, “לשיר” סיימנו,
אך את מילות הברכה, רק התחלנו…
קצת קשה לנו לעכל
שאחינו הקטן מצוות מקבל.

We have so many things that we still want to say
That go on and on, and we can’t sing all day.
So instead, we will do our best to speak from our heart,
But who the hell even knows, where to begin? Where to start??

Though you are the youngest, from you we have much to learn,
You have excellent taste, for which we all yearn.
And by excellent taste, we mean anything expensive
For the “פיין-שמקר” you are finds cheap things offensive.

At Payless, for instance, where our shoes we go buy
You spit in disgust, glance away and then sigh.
Perhaps in Nordstrom, you’ll find something nice?
Though something from a catalogue online would suffice.

We should learn from you that presents should be hoarded
No holiday or birthday, goes by unrecorded
Come summer vacation, when Ima thinks she’s in the clear,
You come with demands, which you’ve “saved up” all year.
Only you have the will power, to delay your pleasure,
Knowing that if you wait a bit longer, you’ll double your treasure

Can you also please teach us to play all your tunes?
Guitar, french horn, and piano on late afternoons.
We’ll save the mornings for the sax and the flute,
For practicing three hours you deserve a salute!

And how do you get Osmo to forgive you, after you guzzle his drinks?
You drink all your Gatorade, and then gulp down his when he blinks.
Let us know how a strawberry dipped in wassabe you managed to eat,
For the single dollar we offered? I’d say it was an impossible feat.
A cruel combination, but a true story still,
We’re sorry you ate it, and became quite ill.

So we ruined sushi for you, but beef you still like,
Tony Roma’s, you want? Or a hunger strike?
You’re going to need a much stronger case
That includes something other than sauce on your face
Even now, after you’ve been “Tony Roma’s” deprived
It seems that somehow you actually survived!

Please teach us your ways, of how you always win,
Even when Ima is fuming, you can get her to grin.
How? We all ask… a minute ago she could kill…
It’s a wonder how charm and humor become a life skill.

I suppose that your humor is an unteachable trait
So we’ll leave the jokes to you; you were the funny one since you were eight!
Your wisdom is also a quality that is rare,
You know when to glance, when to look, when to stare.
You know whose buttons need not be pressed
And when to back off, when your siblings are stressed

We rapidly adopted “qualie”- your greatest invention
It’s brilliance is completely beyond comprehension
The best way, by far, to discuss what went on in our day,
It is our time to catch up, to laugh, and to play.
Though you’re always in the middle, and this you’ll deny
But since you’re the creator, you can have it, no lie.

Unfortunately you’re stuck with three siblings that are older,
In order to sit shotgun, you’ll have to be bolder.
The law of seniority is one set in stone,
And knowing us, we probably won’t throw you a bone.
But we aren’t too worried, knowing how stubborn you are,
If you set your mind to something, we know you’ll go far
(even, in time, sitting in the front seat of a car)

Tin Tin you know, you’ll always be seven to us,
Even on your bar mitzvah, we’ll make the same fuss.
We will try our best, and try to learn how you do what you do,
We probably wont succeed, but in any case, just know we love you.

So Many Things

We have so many things that we still want to say

Those go on and go on, and we can’t sing all day.

So instead, we will do our best to speak from our heart,

But who the hell knows where to begin? Where to start?

Though you are the youngest, from you we have much to learn,

You have excellent taste, for which we all yearn.

And by excellent taste, we mean anything expensive

For the a ‘fine-shmeker’ you are finds cheap things
offensive.

At Payless, for instance, where our shoes we go buy

You spit in disgust, glance away and then sigh.

Perhaps in Nordstrom, you’ll find something nice?

Though something from a catalogue online would suffice.

We should learn from you that presents should be hoarded

No holiday or birthday, goes by unrecorded

Come summer vacation, when Ima thinks she’s in the clear,

You come with demands, which you’ve saved up all year.

Only you have the will power, to delay your pleasure,

Knowing that if you wait a bit longer, you’ll double your treasure

Can you also please teach us to play all your tunes?

Guitar, french horn, and piano on late afternoons.

We’ll save the mornings for the sax and the flute,

For practicing three hours you deserve a salute!

And how do you get Osmo to forgive you, after you guzzle his drinks?

You drink all your Gatorade and then gulp down his when he blinks.

Let us know how a strawberry dipped in <i>wassabe</i> you managed to eat,

For the single dollar we offered – I’d say it was an impossible feat.

A cruel combination, but a true story still,

We’re sorry you ate it, and became quite ill.

So we ruined sushi for you, but beef you still like,

Tony Roma’s, you want? Or a hunger strike?

You’re going to need a much stronger case

That includes something other than sauce on your face

Even now, after you’ve been Tony Roma’s deprived

It seems that somehow you actually survived!

Please teach us your ways, of how you always win,

Even when Ima is fuming, you can get her to grin.

How? We all ask, a minute ago she could kill…

It’s a wonder how charm becomes a lifesaving skill.

I suppose that your humor is an unteachable trait

So we’ll leave the jokes to you; you were the funny one since you were eight!

Your wisdom is also a quality that is rare,

You know when to glance, when to look, when to stare.

You know whose buttons need not be pressed

And when to back off, when your siblings are stressed

We rapidly adopted ‘qualie’- your greatest invention

It’s brilliance is completely beyond comprehension

The best way, by far, to discuss what went on in our day,

It is our time to catch up, to laugh, and to play.

Though you’re always in the middle, and this you’ll deny

But since you’re the creator, you can have it, no lie.

Unfortunately you’re stuck with three siblings that are older,

In order to sit shotgun, you’ll have to be bolder.

The law of seniority is one set in stone,

And knowing us, we probably won’t throw you a bone.

But we aren’t too worried, knowing how stubborn you are,

If you set your mind to something, we know you’ll go far

(even, in time, sitting in the front seat of a car)

Tin Tin you know, you’ll always be seven to us,

Even on your bar mitzvah, we’ll make the same fuss.

We will try our best, and try to learn how you do what you do,

We probably wont succeed, but in any case, just know we love you.

Inner Voice with Vowels

Software engineers are taught to reject things that are not well defined. My likes are trained to shun concepts that cannot be expressed in diagrams – pictures not more elaborate than road signs. Our ideas can be summarized on billboards, in short phrases supported by acronym, animated with a few rectangles connected by stubby ‘Fedex’ arrows, sufficient to convey the ‘universe of the problem’ at a glance. I come from a world of ‘soundness’ and ‘completeness’ with ‘truth tables’ and ‘derivation rules’ with precise mathematical reasoning for everything that is worth mentioning. I do not have a writer’s voice; I have ‘communication skills’ – clear, succinct and convincing. There is no room for second thoughts, the evidence has to drive to a single conclusion; it must be simple and focused. What would I do with an inner voice that would bring me to life? A voice that might speak in ambiguous terms; a voice that would not use terms at all; a voice that would express itself in dialog instead of hyphenated bullets; a voice that would make the listeners’ minds wander. This is a voice that lets the audience decide for themselves. A voice that laughs, and cries, that could be angry or sad or harsh or cruel or comforting, supportive or reprimanding. A voice that could keep quiet and just listen to other voices like it without an ‘agenda’…

Speaking with an inner voice would require that I use more vowels. Most people take vowels for granted, never stopping to thank these few letters for the wonders they enable in the English language. In my world it has been decided that what is not pronounced is redundant. Consequentially vowels were hunted down with a vengeance. The hunt left us with a language of acronyms like ‘JSP’, ‘XML’ and ‘CSS’. Did we not know t hat a culture, which abolishes its vowels, loses its ability to create meaningful names? How can we speak of anything living without names? Is a name too much to ask for? As parents we all shuddered when a child was called ‘IT’, yet, as engineers even ‘IT’ is too much to ask for. Instead, we recycle the vowels and use them to name the main figures of our discourse. We managed to reduce ‘IT’ to ‘i’; a little ‘i’, not a capital I. We traded an ‘I’ for an ‘i’… If only it were a fair trade. Capital ‘I’ has flesh and character. Little ‘i’ is a ‘variable’ that, in spite of its atomicity, is many different characters on the same page – all of them doing the same thing. Little ‘i’ counts how many times our stories go through ‘loops’. If little ‘i’ needs help we summon little ‘e’ to keep track of ‘errors’ while little ‘o’ references ‘objects’, o bjects that are ‘modular’ software machines. We take great pride in the ‘reusability’ of our software machines – which in-and-of themselves cannot create anything. We have promoted these machines to double-capital-o’ed OO (object oriented). We hail the predictability of double-O’edness as emotionless plots go predictably through the loops that little ‘i’ watches over.  Every step is known in advance, surprises are unwelcome. Without an ‘i’ and ‘e’ we cannot call them ‘surprises’ so we called them ‘bugs’. These are not living bugs. We do not wince when they buzz past us, or scream when they walk with impunity across the bathroom mirror, or beg God for forgiveness as we move out of their way when they swing on a web strand from the mirror to the shower curtain. You do not need a voice when these bugs appear, errors which little ‘e’ failed to catch. There are ‘best practices’ to ‘fix’ these bugs putting everything back to its predictable order, repeating itself a hundred, a thousand, a million times over, one CPU cycle at a time. Vowel-less acronyms stand like sentinels in our midst for reasons we no longer question. Our centerpiece acronym – CPU (central processing unit) – no longer means what it once stood for and the world is silent. Most computers have more than one CPU – which one of them is ‘central’? Can there be more than one ‘central park’ in Manhattan? Can a physical object have more than one ‘center of gravity’? So how can a computer have multiple CPUs? Can’t we just give ‘C’ back to Cinderella where it used to be, and put ‘U’ back as the vowel in the pumpkin and ride of to the ball with the Prince? If this is too radical, can we simply say ‘processor’ where ‘p’ and ‘c’ have a meaning and ‘u’ is free to do what it wants? Can we start using real names and real words; will they help us find our inner voice?

One step at a time, reviving words is not as simple as it might seem – some have already been lost. Take one of the better known word trios in our culture: ‘PHP’, ‘MySQL’ and ‘Apache’. The first two are beyond hope lacking vowels, meaning and life, but what about ‘Apache’? When you hear ‘Apache’ your mind rolls through visions of life on the run, desert trails passing through deep canyons, men on horse back riding up these steep ravines, following passages known only to them. Riders grim with determination to escape the posses tracking them, posses whose dust clouds are visible in the distance. You feel involved, you have an opinion; you either want to ride with these figures or with their pursuers. A Horse’s hoofs gallop past a sidewinder that slithers quickly out of their paths. The snake will live to see another day, will the Apaches? Unfortunately we have come too late. This is not a living, breathing Apache. ‘Apache’ is the name of software, lifeless, ‘tuned’ and ‘configured’ – yet in ‘runs fast and efficient’. Ask ‘runs where?’ and the answer is ‘On Linux’. Wasn’t Snoopy the last thing that ran on Linus? Your ‘s’s and ‘x’s are crossed. It’s not the ‘Linus’ you grew up with, and there is no ‘Snoopy’. ‘Linux’ is an ‘operating system’ – a piece of ‘software’ that makes ‘hardware’ become more than a pile of metal junk. Software does not run ‘to’ places, it runs ‘on’ things. What is left for the inner voice if prepositions are gone with the words and words are gone with the vowels?

Yet there is more that needs to be undone. We have retaliated against the possibility of language revival by combining acronyms into super- acronyms which look like words. ‘Linux’, ‘Apache’, ‘MySQL’, ‘PHP’ have been combined into ‘LAMP’ an acronyms of acronyms – a linguistic abomination which will be all but impossible to undo at the price of another word lost to the language. This is not the lone lamp never turned off, whose bare bulb swings from the concrete ceiling of a cold Gulag cell, tingeing with yellow the ashen faces of starved humans stacked on wooden bunks. Gone are the neon lights that split the nights, the subways, the malls, and the tenement halls. These ‘lamps’ are no longer the headlights that illuminate the lion pack on the buffalo carcass. This is not the lamp in the searchlight that could have saved the Titanic. This is not even the lamp that you changed for the third time this month, wondering why it is that the new long-live-screw-in-neon-technology burns out faster than the older tubes it replaced. This is just an acronym of acronyms, shrinking the spoken language in to boilerplates of technical expressions devoid of living attributes. How will we get our words back? Perhaps in the plots of the books we read?

Not if you read our books. If you read the books that we read you do not come across characters or conflict or climax, or resolution. The only living creature is the writer whose picture you find smiling at you from a ‘thumbnail’ on the backside of the cover. Our writers are not narrators. The writers in the books I read take no part in the books plot. How could they, there is no plot, there is nothing at stake; just a list of instructions and examples and diagrams. There are no characters with a point of view. You do not have to form opinions; you only have to memorize. You do not have to follow a storyline; each chapter is an independent section of instructions to follow. You do not read for enjoyment. You do not expect to become enriched in ways you did not expect. You know exactly why you read each book. Each book is a recipe to ‘fix’, ‘change’, ‘configure’ or ‘fine tune’ something that was written in an older publication. After you read these books you are better equipped to search for minute differences in lists of ciphers that tell a machine what to do. You have a much better chance of placing little ‘i’, ‘e’ and ‘o’ where they will be most efficient. Our books are not the answer to finding your voice. Perhaps associations are?

As diabolic as it might seem, associations have not been spared. Squads of acronyms fiendishly organize in manners that seem to form sentences that tickle the imagination: ‘JAVA’ and ‘PERL’ and ‘RUBY’ and ‘PEAR’…  Think of what it would have been like on the shore of the island of Java, savoring the moment you will present your love with a necklace of rubies and pearls which for now i s hidden in a bowl of tropical fruits – pears, mangoes, papayas and pineapples. For now you sit watching on a white strip of sand between the turquoise waters of a lagoon and the green line of palms behind you. You are watching a perfect red sphere slowly sink behind the waves, coloring the line of clouds in the horizon with orange and crimson searchlights towering into the evening sky. You sit and wait for the right moment to ask her to pass you the papaya ‘just beneath the pineapple’ so she would have to move the fruits… You watch her eyes reflecting the glimmer of the sunset, waiting for the moment they see, waiting for the jaw to gently drop, the eyes to open wide, the light gasp, the hand to reach out to pull the gems up and hold them to the last rays of light, a ring of fireflies glittering as the light plays tricks through their intricate cuts, a kaleidoscope of sparkles swaying gently in a trembling hand aided by the evening breeze. You watch the hand. This is the hand with the wedding ring , the ring that is twenty-five years old. You watch as she raises her other hand to spread the necklace to the light. You watch the hands as they move behind her head, coming at each other behind her neck to tie the necklace. You wonder about the power to calm these hands have when they gently stroke your cheeks, circling up and around your eyebrows and over your head. These are the hands that held the children close to her when she nursed them, the hands that clothed and patted, that played the piano and corrected spelling mistakes, hands that hugged and cuddled and carried and supported. The hands that held you close when you danced fumbling over your feet and hers. The hands quickly tie the tiny necklace buckle; women work their hands behind them so much better than men. The hands now come back to rest on yours. You see the scar on the thumb where the bread knife cut deep, there are so many stories that the skin on the hands of mothers has to tell. You lie quietly in the sand; she is on her side leaning a gainst you, her head resting on your chest, her hand across your body, your arm around her, feeling each other breath. You raise your head; your eyes meet. After being together for so long, are your eyes are all she needs to hear your inner voice?

But it is not to be.

JAVA, RUBY, PERL and PEAR are all illusions, mirages of beauty that dissipate into colorless technical detail:  ‘PERL’ into a programming language, which lost its glory to ‘JAVA’ which succumbed to ‘RUBY’ – a newer programming gem, the silver bullet that supersedes even ‘PEAR’. More software, software that runs on ‘Linux’ which runs ‘Apache’ which runs the meaning away from the spoken language, shrivels associations to lines of code, diluting similes into configuration changes, emotions into performance statistics. No characters, no theme, many beginnings with no end in sight, a rat race of technology feeding on itself. Mechanical, methodical, measurable, reproducible, yes, reproducible, many times over, the only challenge is to keep up with the pace; irrelevance is to fall a few acronyms behind.

Perhaps if I went to that computer of mine, dialed into the VPN, opened an SSL connection over an MPLS circuit, ignored the RSS feeds, and dub-dub-dubbed to ‘Amazon’-’dot’-‘com’. Perhaps if I waited for a fraction of a second for a ‘Linux’ server running ‘Apache’ on the other end of Internet to return an ‘HTML’ page which allows me to search for an anthology of ‘Contemporary Short Fiction’ and to order the book from between the acronyms. What would happen if I read the stories? Isn’t each on of them a wealth of vowels with which to re-hydrate the dried flesh of the skeleton that is my language? Would I be able to revive the words, the sentences, the themes, the characters, their struggles, their victories, their ambivalence, their imperfect relationships and their noisy dialogs? Would I be able to listen to words and voices that sound from the pages, laughter, whispers, and shouts of joy and cries of anguish? Will all these rekindle my associations; will they open a porthole into a tunnel of imagination? If I dare crawl into that tunnel, will I not find my inner voice?

Cross Cultural Dog Sitting

Now that Suma is deep into mechanics and Yeela is into forms of government and how they came to be, it is for me to bring us all back to earth and talk about the ‘yom-yom’. I would have written sooner about the yom-yom but I had to wait for Lulu to leave. You cannot use double syllable words around Lulu because it thinks you are talking to it. All the animal knows are combinations of doubled syllables, ‘nay-nay’, ‘treat-treat’, ‘chi-chi’, ‘yum-yum’, ‘go-go’, ‘pu-pu’ and etc, etc. Normally who would have given such an anecdote a second thought, but its not taking things for granted that makes us better people. Why not ponder the reason behind the fact that every word is doubled when Chinese speak English to Irish poodles? Not wanting to take this for granted I thought about it and came up with a plausible explanation – bear with me.

When the Huang family first got custody of the dog they named it ‘Lu’ which is a nice short Chinese name. All Chinese names are short and for a reason. If neither Sabba Amatzia nor Michal nor I have not told you the story behind the reason then I will tell it to you now. If you have heard it skip a page.

Many years ago the Chinese people had no checks and balances regarding the length of the names they used. Consequently it just so happened that in a small fishing village along the banks of the mighty Yang-Ze river lived a boy whose name was: Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad. One day Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad and his friends went down to the river to play. As they were playing Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad walked into the water and was swept by a wave. Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad Called for help . Not everyone noticed that Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad

‘Who is calling?’ asked one of the boys. ‘Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad‘ answered another. ‘Can’t Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad swim?’, asked a third. None of Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad could swim well enough to help Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad. We should run to the village and tell the Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad‘s parents that Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad is in trouble’.

So they ran back to the village calling out for Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad‘s mother. At first no one could not hear them over the cackling of the chickens and the squealing of the pigs, but as they got closer to the out-skirts of the village where Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad lived, people heard their screams and came out to see what was wrong. ‘What is the matter children?’ asked a passerby. We are looking for Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad‘s house they shouted. ‘Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad lives down the street’, answered the man. So off they ran to Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad‘s house. When they got there they all chanted as one ‘Mrs. Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad‘, ‘Mrs Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad, please come out’.

When Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad‘s mother came out the boys quickly told her that Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad was in trouble. Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad‘s mother quickly summoned Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad‘s father who together with Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad‘s mother ran back down to the river where the children has said that Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad was struggling in the water. By the time Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad‘s parents got there Uzu-Ruzu-Kuku-Ruzu-Yenta-Bela-La-Ma-Ne-Te-La-Va-Le-Ya-Na-De-Vo-Ne-Do-Za-Mini-Grad drowned.

Sensing that time was of the essence in this case, and seeing how a tragedy could have been avoided has the story fit into a short paragraph, the Chinese reverted to short names like ‘Ho’ ,’Chi’ and ‘Ming’.

Five thousand years later here was the Huang family with a dog they happily named ‘Lu’. To their dismay they found out shortly thereafter that that ‘lu’ means ‘toilet’ in the dog’s mother tongue. Imagine their plight. On one hand they did not have a lot of leeway to stretch the name. On the other hand they could not leave the name as is and have the dog find out what it meant when it grew up. Walking a fine line between the cultures they came up with the idea of doubling the name. Not too long, and nobody in their right mind would think of translating it to ‘toilet-toilet’. Just to be on the safe side and assure that the dog would not one day become suspicious they double everything they say to it.

Which brings me back to the point I was trying to make about discussing the ‘yom-yom’ in front of ‘Lu-lu’. The dog is a nervous wreck as it is. I don’t know if you noticed that the dog has a rag doll that squeaks when bitten. Lulu thinks the doll is bubble gum and chews on it to calm itself because the squeaking is very aggravating. The closest I could come to a double-sounding short sentence that the dog could understand was ‘Lulu’, to which it would look at me with its watery brown eyes that have no eyeballs, ‘GFUCK-ADUCK’ to which it would cower for a moment and resume it chewing all the more nervously. Heaven knows if ‘yom-yom’ means anything in the dog’s doubled language, so I chose to wait.

All this drama to get to the yom-yom, when the yom-yom is mundane otherwise it would not be called yon-yom, but I’ll try to focus on the more exciting events. For example I finished reading Hemingway’s the ‘Sun also Rises’ which should have been called ‘This Book also Ends’. Of course it would not be prudent not to praise Hemingway’s writing and his ability to vividly portray a group of the careless, unattached, spur-of-the-moment life style of a group of Americans in post WWI Paris and small towns in Spain. A portrayal which is achieved through brilliantly simple dramatization that puts the reader in the cafes of Paris, streams in the Pyrenees mountains and bull-runs in the small towns of Western Spain. Indeed a great example in story telling and character building – but its the reader’s character that is being built most of all as you struggle through yet another page of agonized undecided love washed down by another casual glass of bourbon. Encouraged by my achievement, I started reading ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. The opening was familiar. The setting is very similar to Alistair McLean’s ‘Force Ten from Navarone’ (the sequel to ‘The Guns of Navarone’). The task is to blow up a bridge which spans a deep gorge in a mountainous area behind enemy lines. The wars are different but have been raging for quite some time and in both cases its the underdogs that needs to destroy the bridges. The difference is that Hemingway writes about real people and what war does to them. MacLean writes about war with stereotyped heroes and villains playing out their expected roles. We’ll see if I am mature enough to handle the difference in perspective. On a side not the Hebrew translation is called ‘For Whom the Bells Toll’ so as to avoid confusion with the door bell, and have every husband avoid reading the book saying ‘it’s for you dear’.

Osmo had a brief bout with literature which ended on the dark side of the moon. Osmo read ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ and wrote a book report about role models and inspiration – a topic which I assume was dictated by the teacher. Freshman year book reports are graded on mass as well as content. Sufficient mass assures some content so in order to beef up his paragraphs Osmo borrowed quotes from his learned literary critique ‘Reedy’ – who goes by a first name only like ‘Madonna’ and ‘Oprah’. Reedy who is of Asian-Latino origin, was randomly raised in Singapore which is an ideal place to hear about European culture and history. When he moved to the United States with his mother, Reedy literary criticism became known thanks to the fact that he lived right around the corner. The scholar that he is, Reedy reviewed Osmo’s work and generously gave it a final touch by adding a conclusion that Hitler was a good example of an inspirational leader – period. After all, if Mel Brooks could propose ‘Spring Time for Hitler’ why can’t Reedy propose ‘Hitler for Inspiration’?

Personally I would have had more respect for Reedy’s work had he not terminated his closing statement with such a shallow conclusion, and had added that this inspiration, which he held in such regard, was one of History’s most brutal examples of influence towards racial hatred, taking intolerance and prejudice to unprecedented extremes which resulted in cataclysmic destruction and loss of life. It would have been nice if Osmo had connected the dots and shown that it is Atticus Finch (that’s where Gregory Peck comes in) through his courage, stands up to such injustices and through his actions inspires us all to recognize once again the fundamental principles of equality and justice which are the cornerstone of any moral society. Principles which millions died to defend against Hitler’s ‘inspiration’. To make a long book report short – Ima blew a gasket, Osmo removed the jewel-statement from the crown, Reedy moved on to work on Mao, and the dots remained unconnected. Perhaps this writing gives us some closure, given that Osmo has time to read it.

To be fair to Osmo I have to say that he was struggling to draw the right balance between English literature where he was on the cusp of intellectual achievements compared to his friends, and ‘World of War Craft’ where he was lagging far behind them. In fact he was lagging father than I had dared to imagine, but I’ll get to that. WoWC is a computer game. Need I say more? Not really, except for explaining why Osmo was lagging behind the pack. Approximately two weeks ago Osmo approached me: ‘Bushy, Casey just got this top of the line computer’. Knowing that Casey did not need a top of the line computer to calculate the speed of expansion of Super Novas I was inquisitive: ‘What will he do with this top-of-the-line computer of his?’. ‘There is this new cool computer game which you play over the Internet’… The picture was crystal clear. There was a new social habit which mutated from the computer saloons that flourished a few years ago and used to lure the boys likes flies to cow dung with a similar social effect. Thankfully for technology, the saloons have pretty much varnished when Internet bandwidth increased and prices of home computer power dropped below the four digit mark. Nowadays you are able to have your own personal high end play station within the convenience of your home- you meaning all but Osmo. Osmo helped me along with my thinking: ‘Brandon’s dad built Casey’s computer from top-of-the-line parts for a thousand dollars’. I responded with a resounding ‘Hmmm’. Osmo knew that you don’t just hmm things away – I owed him a course of action, and continued to lay the ground for a fruitful discussion: ‘Casey’s computer has one gigabyte of RAM’. To which I proposed that we would add more memory to his computer. Knowing the future tense meant anywhere between here and eternity, Osmo needed something more tangible on the table: ‘Can we go and buy the game so we can try it?’. This was a low risk gamble on his part. Having the game would be a small investment which he might have to pay from with his own money, but it would assure the future of his computer. This is a principle he learned from Ima known by the general term ‘Hahanah Le-Video’ from the days when video cassette players were the luxury high tech gadget of the house. At that time buying a video cassette player was a major investment, which many would payoff over the course of a year or two in monthly installments. It was a big deal, however buying a few cassettes to show your friends you were serious about the device was quite affordable, and provided for some social headroom while postponing the financial burden by a few weeks. Its been years since people with any dignity have done anything with video cassettes but the term stuck. Nowadays its DVDs that are the real thing. Based on the same principle you first buy or rent a movie on a DVD for ten dollars, then in order to make good on your investment you buy the DVD player. Osmo was applying the logic to computer games and computers. I liked the way he optimistically played the numbers regardless of his benevolence towards our spending on his behalf. To put myself on the side of responsibility I calculated that a price tag under four hundred dollars was something to hope for. Not that is was negligible but if all his friends had computers that could play the game, and his not having one put Hitler on the role model list, then it was worth the cost. Needless to say that we got the game without Osmo spending a dime. Needless to say that it did not run on his computer, that I tried to tinker with the computer myself, and that six hours later I had a computer which would not even boot.

I took the comatose machine to ‘Compurun Systems’ on El-Camino which was right around the corner as the car drives. It was the Friday before New Years eve and I wanted to fix the machine in the same year that it was broken. The owner greeted me with an accent that comes from beyond Israel’s eastern boarders – probably Iranian. ‘We charrrge seventy five dollarrrs which arrre un-rrrefundable to assess the prrroblem’ he explained. I was familiar with this logic and decided to bite the bullet – given the understanding that the machine would be ready the next day. Wishful thinking. On Monday, a day into the new year, I came into the shop to inquire about the machine only to hear the owner’s future plans for the machine: ‘I will have to rrreinstall the operrrating system and install 512 MB of RRRAM’. When I mentioned that he was two days late and he still hadn’t done anything with the machine he burst out: ‘YESTERRRDAY WAS A HOLIDAY, EVEN TODAY STORRRES ARRRE CLOSED’. Given our ethnic backgrounds he allowed himself more than he could afford, thinking that I would be swept into his emotional tantrum and we would both be on a level playing field. Little did he know that that Ima had primed we with tools of self control second to none, by sending me to a whole day workshop at Stanford a few months earlier. The workshop was called ‘Assertiveness in Business’, a means to tame the madmen of the orient and train them in the subdued rituals of the west. The workshop focused on techniques for getting what you wanted in varying business scenarios. It was more helpful than Anger Management’s ‘gooozz-fraaava’ chant. Just like Jack Nicholson’s workshop, it was a way of selling a formalized form of the obvious over a period of time which justified the price. The point of the workshop I attended was to waste an entire weekend hearing about having to be nice, focusing on your goals, not being petty, argumentative. The lessons all proved themselves worthy as I stood facing the raging Ayatollah.

I stared at him, not batting an eye, ‘gooozz-fraaavaing’ to myself. It took all but two seconds to crush him. I could tell he knew he lost. He lowered his voice and continued as though nothing had happened. ‘You can take the computer back whenever you want, but these things take time’. I knew I would take the computer back, but not before I drove a nail through his stingy heart. ‘Can you please give me an estimate of what it would cost to fix it’, I said, mustering my wealth of natural sweetness and humility. This put him on the spot – if he refused I could dispute the money I had already paid just to get an estimate. That was not an option I was sure. If he gave me a low quote he would be trapped into working for less money than he was used to, if he gave me a high quote – that would be the amount he would have to be prepared to see fly away. He opted for third trying to sweeten the blow: ‘Two hundred and fifty dollars for the extra labor, including the seventy five you already paid.’. ‘What about the parts?’ I asked just as sweetly, prepping his hopes. His eyes became moist with the prospects of our renewed friendship, which he blew away in an instant: ‘I’ll have to call you back.’. This was one of the oldest tricks in the book, and I was not falling for it. ‘Let’s assume one hundred and fifty dollars for the parts’, I said – ‘Does that seem fair?’. He was reeling with greed and gratitude and all too quickly agreed assuring my hunch that he would have ripped me off for the parts as well. I figured he had me suckered for three hundred dollars, high enough for the fall to be painful. I pretended to think about it for ten more seconds. ‘That’s a lot of money to invest in such a machine, I’ll take it back’. He brought out the computer from the back room, placed it on the counter, showed me where to sign the paperwork – all without saying a word. I thanked him politely forcing a nod out of him and left him a little dusty man in a little dusty room (the closing sentence of ‘The Dark Crusader’ – I just had to stick it in somewhere). We never spoke again.

It took Bill, Branden’s dad, ten more excruciating days to fix the machine. It was Thursday when it was ready. We spoke on the phone, he had the machine in his hands. I paid with a credit card, believing that it worked and he delivered it to our house that evening. Osmo installed the game and yet it would not start. He summoned Casey over, but still the game would not start. Osmo woke at nine the next day and came to me. From his looks I knew the game was not working. ‘Bushy…’, ‘MAAHHHHHHHHH‘I regained control, the passing two weeks had frayed my nerves, but it was not Osmo’s fault. ‘Why don’t you call their technical support?’, I suggested, rationalizing that I was not just passing the buck, the child needed to assume responsibility where he could. Osmo came back five minutes later: ‘Its the graphic card’. I really wanted this game to work for all our sakes. It was Friday morning, a week and a half into the new year, my resolution long over due and the levels of stress rising. It was Stuff-learning-day at Homestead, so Osmo had the day off with nothing to do but fret about the machine. The weekend was in jeopardy I had to act.

‘Call Bill up and ask which card to get.’.

‘AGP with 128 Megabytes of RAM’.

‘Did he say where you can get them?’

‘Best Buy, Office Depot or Frys’…

‘Let’s go to Best Buy’ I said but Best Buy would not open until 10:00 AM.

‘Let’s go to Frys’ I said circling back in the parking lot.

Osmo felt uneasy ‘Don’t you have to be at work?’

‘It can wait’ – I genuinely wanted the game to work, there was a lot hanging in the balance.

On the way home from Frys I glanced at the instructions and confirmed my worst fears that replacing a graphic card would require mucking with the BIOS. ‘Just pull out the card and insert the new one’ I told Osmo. I dropped him off at home and continued to work. He called half and hour later. ‘The computer smelled like something was burning with the new card, so I put everything back the way it was’. ‘Call Bill and ask if he can guide you through the process’, I said with dwindling hopes. If the card was fried because it was not wired properly when installed it would be another long weekend. Thankfully the divine had concluded that we had paid our dues. Bill had a technician in the area whom he diverted to our house. That evening when I came home I went to see how Osmo was doing. He was sitting in front of his screen clicking on the keyboard with the concentration of a concert pianist. On the screen I could see something that looked like it walked off the good old Pokemon cards (remember Blastoise?). The thing was running through a turquoise-colored forest with its back turned to us. The bottom left corner of the screen showed a scroll with a message inscribed on it. All games that respected themselves used images of decaying scrolls to print the message of the day.

‘Bushy, this is awesome, I’m at level six…’

‘Is the Internet connection working OK’

‘Are you kidding me, it hella fast’

‘So everything is working’

‘This computer kicks ass!’

‘So we’re good?’

‘Peachy’

‘What is he doing?’ I asked hating myself for making a gender judgment without asking.

‘He is on a quest’ Osmo answered authoritatively.

Pokemon was not turning his head as it ran which confused me a bit. If you were on a quest wouldn’t you be looking left and right for whatever it was the quest sent you to search for? But I was too drained to ask questions. Happy that a load had been lifted from my shoulders, content that I had given the child a fighting chance, I sat down on the corner of his bed, closest to his chair, gawking at the screen, catching my breath. Fifteen minutes later we were off to see a basketball game between Stanford and their arch rivals CAL. On the way I learned more about levels and quests. I learned that Osmo was at level six, Osmo was at level six, which sounded very high to me. Perhaps I was swayed by the scale which is grade river rapids. Grade one is dead still water. Grade six is every thing that falls into that water ends up dead.

‘What level are your friends at?’

‘Sixty’

‘Sixty’ I repeated stupefied by the magnitude of the gap I had allowed between my child and others.

‘Sixty’ he assured me in a voice which was surprisingly devoid of frustration.

‘All of them at level sixty?’ I continued to press the point hoping to find stragglers.

‘All of them’

This meant that Tom and Casey and Mike and Brandon and Yoav let alone intellectuals like Doron had Osmo rolling in the dust. I swallowed hard, thankful that we had the game and it was working. How could we have possibly let the child fall so far behind?

‘What level is Reedy?’ I asked.

‘He doesn’t play’.

‘Why’

‘He thinks its a stupid game.’

I had a negative opinion of a computer game from a scholar who had a positive view of Hitler’s personality. I was all for negative opinions of computer games, but the Hitler part eroded the judgment of its credibility. Between me and myself I agreed that the game’s quality was not an issue at all. What mattered was getting Osmo back on track with his cohorts. As we drove into the campus I got more of my academic bearings together and continued to probe into the the new world that was opening to me. The fact that all his friends, regardless of their skill sets were at level sixty was perplexing.

‘Is sixty the highest level?

‘Yes’

‘So what happens after?’

‘You get to go on quests’

‘So that was not a quest we were looking at?’

‘Not exactly’

‘And these quests are what?’

‘Well, I’m not sure really but you get to play against other players’

The good news was that there was an upper limit which bound his friends and he could catch them. The bad news was that this game would most likely exhaust itself before the winter was over. I made a mental note to ask about Chess over the Internet, and found a parking spot somewhere in the middle of a dark wooded grove of the campus East drive which was packed with cars headed for the game. We left the game early so as to avoid the traffic which could have kept Osmo away from the game for another hour. Over the course of the weekend Osmo progressed from level six to level ten. All indicators are green, at least on Osmo’s front.

Tintin’s game still does not work, not even on Osmo’s machine. I won’t let that trouble me for now, we’ll learn over the course of the years whether I made the right decision.

I think Ima told you all the rest of the yom-yom details over the phone.