Thursday, September 29, 2011


It doesn't seem like over thirty years but apparently it is.  I can't say that I've known him all that time.  I can merely say that we've had the same abbreviated  conversation for probably about that long. Ritualized. Mumbling. Not really checking in. Rote. Playing our roles. Routinized.

But sometime this past year something changed.  Is it that he looked up or that I did? Not sure.

"You're that doctor," he said, actually looking in my eyes.  "Wait, don't tell me ..."

I waited. But the line was going to get restless.

"Anthropologist," I said.


And the conversation for a few months went like that—

"Wait, don't tell me—"

I'd wait.

"Archaeologist?" he'd say.

Close enough.

And after all these years of mumbled, "debit or credit?" the conversation took a turn at the check out line.

Slowly, I learned that he had been a history major at San Francisco State. That what he loved most was history. And that he had over three hundred history books in his apartment. And that he spent four to five hours a day reading.

"I have a book for you," I'd say. But invariably I'd left it in the car. And thought it obnoxious to go back out to get it. And then at a certain point, not standing it any longer, Rh cleaned out the back of my car — and I couldn't find the book.  Still can't.  But I've got another copy.

So. Today's conversation took another turn.

"Archaeologist?" he said — after we went through the preliminaries.

"Close enough. Anthropologist."

"Right," he said.

"I still have that book for you—"

"Today's my last day," he said.  "After thirty-three years, I'm retiring!"

"Mazel tov," I said, realizing that was culturally inappropriate. "Congrats," I said. And "yikes— I still have that book for you—"

I ran home with my four bags of groceries and left them in the car.  I scoured the garage. No Ibn Khaldun.  The one I wanted to give him was pristene. I'd given it to bio-father about thirty-five years ago. It had never been opened. And yet Al-Muqaddimah is one of the most profound takes on world history that ought to be read in the West.  It was written in 1377, and — and you're probably sick of hearing me talk about it.

Scoured upstairs as well. All I could find was my own home edition of Al-Muqaddimah. You know, the one with all the paper clips, stickies and underlining.  It was sitting on top of the three volume edition that I hold as close to sacred as I can manage.

I took a breath, and grabbed my own copy. And headed back to Andronico's.  He still had five more hours before leaving the grocery forever. Yet still, the line before his register seemed as endless as it did every single time I'd stood in it.  Wow. In a few more hours, no more Mark! But the uncaring line would pile up anyway.

I handed him the book.

"Do you want it back?" he asked, noting the clips and stickies.

"No, keep it," I said, hoping that my notes might help.  I realized suddenly that he too might not read it, just as biofather had not. But that the notes might help him engage and make it more user-friendly.

"It's written in 1377," I added, hoping that would help.

"A primary source!" he said.

And he beamed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

cut off kid on extreme left

I don't have a date for it.  I don't remember it. I don't know who gave me the photograph. Probably T who found it among the last remnants of my dad's stuff. But there it is in black and gray and white. A telling photo circa early 1950s.

The kids look like the seven dwarfs lined up in a line that surely lasted no longer than it took the photographer to snap the picture over and over and over again until they just couldn't stand it any longer.

Starting from the right, there's:

Pretty: The adorable little 7 year old dwarf holding one of the two piggy banks for this obviously staged kid-tzedakah Zionist Kodak moment.  And then there's:

Fatty: No more than 8 years old, but with a well defined double chin and bushy hair not quite tamed by her mother's desperate and likely painful comb. My guess is that her parents are both Holocaust survivors. She's got that overfed precious-child next generation look. And then there's:

Nosy: Looking over her shoulder to the end of the line, at me, it turns out.  I don't remember this at all. Not one face rings a bell. This one's got a superior look on her face, but I could be wrong.  Pretty, Fatty, and Nosy curiously all have the same little ribbon-tie peaking out of the collar on their blouses. Is this called style for little kids in the early '50s? And then there's:

Sharpie: The only dwarf looking straight at the camera, as if to say WTF are we doing here? Of all of these kids, I imagine that she's done by far the best. Become a journalist, maybe. Or more likely a social worker. Which was de rigeur for 1950s Jewish girls who grew up and wanted to work.

Who are these people? Were we a class? Or just Zionist guinea pigs taught that it was our duty to give give give to the Zionist enterprise.

The sign in the back says Keren Ami which means 'The Fund for my Nation' — and a bunch of coins are spread about the table in front, clearly emptied from one of the two piggy banks.  There's a male teacher (or something) standing benevolently in the back with his arms around all the lovely dwarfs, save one.  He has a pencil moustache and looks a lot like Walt Disney, only Jewish.

The next dwarf is a boy dwarf:

Goody-Goody: The tallest of the dwarfs. He stands there looking older, maybe 9 or 10, leaning on the table with his fabricated smile plastered on his face—like he could hold (or maybe has been holding) that pose all afternoon as the photographer tried to capture something print worthy. And next to him, another boy dwarf:

Clueless: Tabula rasa of the lobotomized sort on his round little 6 year old face. This little dwarf has got an actual suit jacket on, and a white shirt with cufflinks.  He's one of the two littlest ones. Him—and the last little dwarf next to him on the left. This photo shoot must have been a dress up affair. Somebody actually cared.  Looks to me like the little dwarfs had been told to look their best. Or rather, their parents had been told.

And that leaves the last little dwarf.

She's the one not encompassed by the arms of the Disney grown-up.

She's apart. Other. Like the others, dressed up for this moment by her mother. Evidence: The done-up knotted scarf around her neck— but not the same kind Pretty, Fatty, and Nosy have on. And instead of light colors, she's been done up in darkness.  And on the way far left is this last little dwarf, and who (in shock) I recognize to be a 6 year old me. But here, we'll call her:

Downer: This little dwarf has eyes of resignation. And there's that wholly recognizable melancholic mouth. Not even trying. Her hands are folded around each other dutifully set—but in her right hand, she clutches a tiny envelope. Her tzedakah offering for the piggy bank, which is for the Keren Ami, which is for the building up of the Zionist entity. And the indoctrination of little Zionist children. And little Downer dwarf has the look of utter despair on her dark little face and her deep little eyes. Unable to attempt pretense—in that sense, just like all the others.

And so there they are in the photo, starring—from right to left—the seven little dwarfs, six of whom are enveloped by the warm embrace of the Disneyesque indoctrinator into the faith:

Pretty, Fatty, Nosy,  Sharpie, Goody-Goody, Clueless, and Downer.

And written in pencil on the back of the photo is:

                                           Cut off kid on extreme left.
And that would be me.

And of them all, I know only what happened to me, know only what I've become. Professional Other. Woman in Black. Professional Mourner in a Kaddish in Two-Part Harmony.  Morose little Downer that I am— The unenveloped kid to be cut off on the extreme left.

And I'm okay with that. It's somehow fitting, somehow just and right.

I don't have a date for it. Don't remember it. But this snapped moment captures us all midstream in the delicate art of becoming.  Or perhaps we always were, and never changed at all.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

god forbid you should have a good time

Does this happen to you? It happens to me every single time — and I can't seem to ever remember that it does. And then (for some reason) I'm actually surprised by it. And then mad at myself for being surprised. Because (after all) I should have expected it. It happens every time, right?

The point being that I should just never take actual vacations. Not even a weekend's worth. And definitely not at my favorite place in the world (apart from the Sahara), and that would be Big Sur.

This time it was a camping trip with the new girlfriend. I'd made reservations for this camping spot long before I'd even met the new girlfriend, that's how determined I was to take a couple days off.  Don't get me wrong, I DID bring work with me. Papers to grade, because it's already that season. So. I felt pretty protected from god forbid having too much of a good time.

Unfortunately, I had a good time.

More than a good time.

And when the weekend was over and I got home — there was a flood in the garage. And no, I won't describe it.

So. Instead of taking that well-needed post-camping shower, I got out the good plunger and worked at the drain in the garage.  After about an hour, the flood subsided, but not enough to proclaim it cured.  After all, this has happened before. After a trip to Paris (for work, of course) and some other trip I don't remember, except that I had fun. Fun being the operative word that brings down the waterworks chez moi.

I'd been warned the last time or two that the sewer pipes (like the water line before it) was in far from stellar condition.  The house is, after all, over a hundred years old.  The pipes may or may not be original, but they're old. And ceramic. And broken. They've been at war with the tree roots out front for decades. I've observed their war up close and personal when I had to replace my water line.

So. Was I surprised at the diagnosis? No. Sticker shock, yes.  Half my savings, down the drain — literally.

Is there a point at which everything that can go wrong will already have done so, and I can go away for two days of camping in the dirt and smoke and pretend I'm relaxing, and not come back to some portion of my 1907 cottage having a little shit fit?

Is it just bad timing? Am I unconsciously going on vacation exactly at the time my house most needs my attention? Is my house really a big furry cat who needs to make a fuss every single time I go away? Or am I supposed to go away more often in order to train it?

I'm pretty sure that if I'd had a crappy time, I would have come home to an intact house.  I'm pretty sure it's the fun my house is complaining about.  I'm pretty sure. But I just can't prove it. The experiments are just too costly.

All I know, is that next time I plan a trip just for fun, I'm going to sneak off and not tell my house at all.

Except that now, with a broken sewer line, there's not going to be a next time any time soon.

This has all happened before. And it will all happen again.  Just when we're the most decadent. The cylons attack.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The INTP — INTJ interface

I'm completely unfamiliar with the Myers-Briggs inventory, but have friends who use these blasted initials all the time to explain what on earth is going on between people (or between them and me). Another model.  And, well, I am a model-junkie.  Any model that helps explain human behavior is okay in my book, as long as it doesn't pathologize everything in sight.  Insight, however, is welcome.

And as a result of my first contact and thinking (of course, thinking, what else would it be) about the model and four-letter reductionism, I came up with (not intentionally) my first joke ever.

INTP:  I don't know what I feel —

INTJ:  I don't know why I'm crying —

Both:  Let's analyze it!

This, essentially, (in slightly more words, pretty much) was real (so I guess I didn't make it up).  But I do recognize that it is funny, at least.  Which keeps it from being tragic, perhaps.

Or not.  The point is, I now believe that it's just not so terrible to not know what you're feeling or why you're feeling it.  With the help of Myers-Briggs, I can now just think of it as 'just' another pattern worth exploring.  No pathology. No self-recrimination. No blaming the other.

Just something to explore.

And another came to me about this Myers-Briggs thing, apart from worrying that I might have spelled it wrong.  And that is:

Why are all my friends Introverts?

That part kind of sucks.

I'll have to analyze it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

gone fishing: excuses for september

Here's a list of the September blog posts that haven't made it here for one reason or another.  I'm not sure if it's downright laziness or too much sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Or if it's about being all blogged-out. Or if it's because of some existential malaise. Or if I can blame it all on the new-girlfriend, or lack of sleep, or generalized ennui, or — back to laziness.  I don't think it's laziness, however, so that leaves everything else.

But I do have them.  Written down, even.

Here are the titles:

—— What Jews do when they're happy

——  They suck petroleum d[u]ck

—— The good thing about Qaddafi

—— The sleep study

—— Upping meds / downing meds

—— That bummer happiness

—— my Kettler

The question is — does it matter if I write or don't write? Does anything change at all.  How self-indulgent is self-expression, anyway?  Oh. And is that last one bloggable or just worth fretting about while on the Kettler?  And can I blame the Kettler for lack of writing?  Is there anyone/thing available for a good blame?  And then there's the old why-bother?

School started.  That's really what September's all about.  School plus everything else.  Looking to get my sea legs back.  But in the meantime,

Gone fishing.