Bar Mitzvah Tale

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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?