Our family had a great time last night watching a fictional family on TV, the Dunphys and their extended clan in the popular show Modern Family. A hallmark of great fiction is that it feels true to life. Several of the characters in this popular sitcom in particular resonate with us, as we have gay son (TV analog: Mitch, Cam) and two adopted kids (Lily).
One of the episodes in last night's mini-marathon involved the drama of a non-working car in the garage that had clearly outlived its usefulness, but to which the mom, Claire, carried a sentimental attachment, based on her fond memories from when her kids were younger. Among those memories were the many times her youngest child, Luke, vomited while in transit. Logic dictates the car needs to be discarded, but as is often the case in human affairs, emotion rules.
Wouldn't you know it: we have a non-working car in our garage, a twelve-year old Honda minivan which I unfortunately totaled in a fender bender. And our youngest child also made a career out of barfing in it. Trips required a couple of plastic bags be on hand at all times, given his propensity to toss his cookies.
The collision which rendered our minivan undrive-able involved a minor level of force. However, the other vehicle was an old pickup truck, apparently made out of lead, and as if that weren't enough, with a discarded washing machine in the flatbed. The truck, with its massive weight, hit me at a sharp angle,and the laws of physics, which state that mass times velocity times the stupidity of the driver at fault equal force, caused it to crumple a substantial amount of sheet metal along with my gas tank. The body work required to bring the car back to health exceeds its market value by approximately nine thousand dollars.
However, like the fictional Claire, my wife clings to fond memories which the car contains. The mess of life with small children: stinky diapers, barfing, fighting in the back seat.
Fiction generally follows a neat formula, and the dictates of a half-hour program require resolution before the last commercial. The fictional Dunphys dispose of their old wreck before the credits roll.
Meanwhile, we still have an old car in the garage collecting dust. Maybe life can imitate art for our family.
So here’s the thing about the Bible. Even if you don’t believe the Creator of the Universe revealed himself (or herself) to an ancient Near Eastern tribe of Iron Age nomadic pastoralists, the Jewish Bible still represents an amazing mirror into pre-modern society. Turns out those folks had exactly the same types of problems we face today: lying, stealing, drunkenness, worship of false gods, prostitution, poverty, adultery and unprovoked violence. Of course, that the one true God had a hair trigger temper of his own, exemplified by his napalming of Sodom and Gomorrah, is a small detail we might want to gloss over.
Somewhat less well known than the spectacular theatrics of many Biblical events is the story of Joseph. You remember Joseph, the guy with the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat from that whole Jesus Christ, Superstar Andrew Lloyd Weber we’re all groovy period of the late 1960s – early ‘70s, don’t you?
Here’s a quick refresher, in case you weren’t paying attention in Sunday school (or even worse, didn’t attend, may the Good Lord have mercy on your soul). Joseph was Jacob’s youngest son, and his favorite. To demonstrate his love for Joseph, Jacob gave him a special coat of many colors. Today we would refer to Joseph as being “pimped out.” As if the coat by itself didn't sow enough jealousy, Joseph told his brothers about two dreams he had, one in which each of them had a sheaf of wheat and their sheaves all bowed down to Joseph’s, which was the tallest, and another in which Joseph was the moon and the brothers were eleven stars who bowed down to him.
As you can imagine, the brothers got mighty ticked off, and did what any rational set of siblings would do in a period when disputes were often settled by running a sword through someone’s gizzard: while out in the fields during the day, Joseph’s siblings threw him into a pit, and sold him into slavery to a passing band of traders. They then took his multi-colored coat (moral lesson to any current or prospective parents: tell all your kids you love them equally, and then act like it’s true). They covered the coat with blood from a sheep of the flock, and then brought the garment back to Jacob, telling the poor old man his beloved son had been killed by a wild beast, another one of those relatively commonplace annoyances which made the “good old days” a source of such unending misery.
Through a series of adventures, Joseph ended up in Pharaoh’s dungeon in Egypt. While there, he developed a bit of a reputation as someone who was good at interpreting dreams (must be a Jewish thing, as this was a gift of Freud’s, as well). Eventually, he was summoned by Pharaoh himself and asked to provide an explanation for a very troubling dream, as recounted in Chapter 41 of Genesis:
And Pharaoh spoke unto Joseph: 'In my dream, behold, I stood upon the brink of the river… And, behold, there came up out of the river seven fat cattle; and they fed in the grass. And, behold, seven other cattle came up after them, poor and lean, such as I never saw in all the land. And the lean cattle did eat up the first seven fat cattle… And Joseph said unto Pharaoh: The seven good cattle are seven years; … Behold, there come seven years of plenty throughout all the land of Egypt… And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and famine shall consume the land.
In other words, Joseph became history's first known financial prognosticator, and predicated a long-term business cycle: seven good years followed by seven bad years. Can you even begin to imagine how much money Joseph could make trading the stock market if he were around today? He would have shorted Internet stocks like nobody’s business when the Dotcom bubble popped.Joseph and his amazing economic prediction probably wouldn't sell as many tickets as a show about his technicolor dreamcoat. But he was the world's first economist, and we should heed his advice, or at least wear a colorful coat.
As a small child, I had no concept of puberty. Oh, we had the obligatory film strip with the school nurse, with the class segregated by sex in those more puritanical times. We boys learned, among other things, that the testes were soon to grow larger. What the girls learned I have no idea, because they refused to tell us. This provided an early introduction into how the world is mostly separated by gender (not counting the LGBTs), and conflict this separation inevitably leads to.
My testes did indeed get bigger, along with a few other relevant body parts, and life took on new meaning. My goals and interests changed in concert with hormonal changes delivered by my endocrine system. A few years earlier, comic books provided me all the entertainment I needed. But by the end of seventh grade, I wondered how much a pretty home room classmate would ripen over the summer, giving me a reason to look forward to returning back to school. Indeed, she ripened as I had hoped, but unfortunately so did my urges, which would remain unfulfilled for years. There wasn’t much of a market for boys who were bad at sports and had crooked teeth and acne.
Back then, the passage of time meant progress: taller, stronger, bigger testes. And then suddenly time going by became a negative. My body entered a period of stasis lasting through my college years, and then a gradual decline set in.
I’ve fought the battle against aging with determination and resolve. I maintain a high fiber diet, as evidenced by my daily intake of prune juice. I exercise. I try to keep a positive attitude. Being Jewish helps, as millennia of suffering have allowed our people to develop an inherent cheerful pessimism, as displayed by an old Jewish joke: A telegram arrives with the following message: start worrying, details to follow.
There is much still to look forward to. Thank goodness I remembered to stock up on prune juice.
Willie Mays, one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game, started his career with the New York Giants, who, in 1957 in tandem with the Brooklyn Dodgers move to Los Angeles, relocated to San Francisco, thereby breaking many hearts in the process. Mays did, however, finish his storied career in New York, signing with the Mets at age 41, and playing two desultory seasons, hobbled by age and his performance a mere shadow of his former self. Years later he met a fan who told Willie he had seen him play. “Where’d you see me?” the Hall-of-Famer asked.
“In New York, when you were on the Mets.”
Oh, then you never saw me play,” Mays replied.
I often feel the same way about my Seattle friends. You think you know me, but you’ve never really seen me in my prime. I moved here in my early thirties, prematurely aged by a baby daughter who defied modern medicine by never sleeping. She cried fitfully through the night and then awoke at 4 am, trying to figure out which of her two parents would break first under the psychological pressure. Like Shackleton making his way across the frozen Arctic wasteland, my existence had shrunk to mere survival. And, like the “Say Hey Kid” my physical skills had greatly diminished since my prime.
As a teenager, I was one of a very small number of high school boys with enough gumption to streak, a social phenomenon then very much in vogue.
I’ve always maintained that if I sported the same trim physique as I did back then, I would still be inhibition-free. My abdomen resembled an ironing board, providing a straight drop down from my sternum to the naughty regions. I seized each new day with a sense of adventure. Life was fun and exciting.
Today I am nudgy, cranky and easily irritated. My physical frame has battled Father Time and Newton’s concept of gravity and suffered a resounding defeat along the way. I diligently monitor my fiber intake. No one else in my family takes this responsibility seriously. Would it kill someone to check if we needed a new bottle of prune juice before heading to the grocery store?
No, the folks who know me from Seattle have never seen me play.
A friend of my son’s recently uttered a remark which in one sentence reflected the ultimately comic nature of the human condition.
The young man in question grew up in Seattle and moved to a different city, as young people are wont to do. My wife wants our kids to stay close to home, but forgets that she boarded an airplane to a foreign country the day after her high school graduation. And the man she chose to marry – yours truly – did the same, except I waited a full week before I hit the road, neither one of us bothering to look back over our shoulders at the suddenly abandoned parents we left behind.
My son’s friend is an adventurous fellow (much like I was at the same age), and demonstrated this in relocating to a new town, where he subsequently found two jobs, an apartment and, of interest to this story, a girlfriend.
The friend recently came back to Seattle for a visit, and my son had a chance to catch up with him. “How are things going for you?” my son asked.
“Pretty good,” the friend replied. Except for one odd thing, we went on to mention. Before leaving to visit home, he mentioned to his new girlfriend that hadn’t made any decisions regarding plans for next summer. Specifically, his words were “I don’t know what I want to do during my summer.”
She replied, “Don’t you mean our summer?”
All of the tragi-comic nature of life is expressed in that one short question. The lad, a mere stripling, wants to be carefree, and anticipate his next adventure in life. She wants to build a relationship with the young man she –presumably – is sharing a bed with. Who does he belong to: himself or someone else?I've been married longer than the average life span of a sea tortoise. Take it from me: there is no "mine" in a successful relationship.
New York City mayor de Blasio, under fire by the city’s police union, recently announced a decision to rescind a ban on student cell phones in public schools.
This antiquated law stands as a perfect example of racial injustice. Officials freely admit schools in well-to-do, predominately white neighborhoods did not enforce the ban and why should they? As a parent, I can attest to the fact that the ability to be in immediate contact with your children, from a safety measure, is about on a par with wearing a seatbelt. Deliberately failing to do so borders on lunatic.
Of course, only in poorer, mostly African-American neighborhoods, where metal detectors and a heavy police presence are common, did schools deprive students of what these days is tantamount to a basic human right, the ability to have ready access to a cell phone. You know, the kind of neighborhoods where black men are, or until recently, were routinely illegally stopped and searched without probable causes for marijuana possession, and arrested for hypothetical offenses such as loitering.
The tragic deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police, and the wave of protest they engendered, may have allowed our nation to reach a tipping point in regard to the horrific “broken windows” policy of policing. A heavy-handed approach to so called quality of life crimes served to make for more arrogance by law enforcement, more racial injustice, a shocking increase in the number of incarcerated Americans, and finally a diminishment of the quality of life for blacks in urban areas, a cruel irony indeed.
We ended up with an Orwellian type of outcome, where War is Peace. We broke windows to avoid broken windows, like making love to advance the cause of virginity. Two decades of a dumb policies wrought catastrophic consequences to its victims.
Maybe now the madness is finally beginning to end. Hold on, I just got a text from my high school son: he needs to stay late at school today, pickup delayed. Thank goodness he has his cell phone with him.
One of the most significant challenges in any religion is determining how much latitude an adherent to the faith has regarding individual choice. In other words, do you have to accept every single precept as unquestionably true, or are you allowed to use you own free will and intelligence to determine right from wrong? Among members of the Church of Rome there is a derogatory term, “cafeteria Catholics”, for those who follow only the practices they deem worthy. Many present-day Catholics have read the Bible, listened to the arguments, and, to pick one example, not been convinced modern methods of birth control should be forbidden. The counterpoint is, apparently, believe what you are taught by the leaders in charge, regardless of your own opinion on the matter.
Another way to think about this dichotomy is to consider whether truths are immutable across time forever or whether they evolve as human wisdom does. For example, the Roman Catholic Church believes in the concept of “papal infallibility”, meaning that the Pope cannot be wrong on matters of faith and theology. So while if you asked the Pope who holds the Major League Baseball record for RBI’s in a single season - Hack Wilson for the Chicago Cubs with a remarkable 191 in 1930 – if he guessed Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth, the history books would not have to be rewritten, a la George Orwell’s 1984. On matters of religion, however, the Pope’s answer is not only final but true beyond doubt. Unless, that is, you don’t believe in this notion in the first place.
For example, the Catholic Church burned witches and heretics at the stake during the Middle Ages. Did God require such actions half a millennium ago and then subsequently change his mind? And when did he send the memo letting us know about the new policy?
Of course, I don’t mean to imply Catholics are the only religious group facing this dilemma. The Mormon Church excluded blacks from the priesthood until 1978, when they received a “revelation” that God had changed his mind. Interesting how the Good Lord waited until after the Civil Rights movement in the US and the expansion of the Mormon Church to African nations. The alternative would have been a Mormon community in Africa where the locals would be allowed to sit in the pews but not lead from the pulpit.
Lately, all religions have struggled with what to do about the fact that humanity, which the Bible tells us God created in his own image, currently includes somewhere around half a billion gays. Clearly, this can’t be an accident, plus he’s God, of if he didn’t want the world teeming with sexual diversity, then what was he thinking in the first place?
Condemning gays, like burning witches, used to seem like a good idea to religious leaders, including my own community, Jews. Then, gradually, the world changed. Mainstream preaching from a generation ago now sounds like hate speech. Even the Pope Francis appears to be nudging the Catholic Church in a new direction, saying in 2014, “"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
Which forces one to wonder about this new Pope: is he a cafeteria Catholic?
Advice on parenting is overrated. Take it from me: it’s all about the food.
I am writing this post in Vancouver, WA (aka “the other Vancouver”), where my youngest son is attending the Monsters of Hip Hop dance convention. The schedule over the weekend is akin to military basic training, with nearly every minute of each day jam-packed with dance instruction, punctuated by short breaks, including one for lunch. Throw a couple of hundred teens into a hotel ballroom, pump up the music and aerate the chamber with the aroma from a mass agglomeration of adolescent sweat, and you have the general idea. The concept must have been devised as a mechanism to tamp down their libidos, as the kids are reduced to disheveled messes, and so exhausted they can barely move (or so I pray, given all the hotel rooms a short elevator ride away). Idle hands are the devil’s plaything and all that.
The job of the parental unit while their son or daughter is expending calories to the music of Nicki Minaj and her ilk and simultaneously kneecapping the household budget is to keep the calories and lubrication flowing. Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach, and so does an army of youthful athletes. Last night’s intake involved a 12-inch Subway sandwich and a Jamba Juice. I purchased breakfast this morning at Starbucks, because the free meal at our hotel’s morning buffet was deemed “gross” by my discriminating child. Oh to be young and filled with preferences that others will satisfy at your merest whim, regardless of effort or expense!
After a vigorous shvitz of my own on the treadmill at the hotel gym (during my workouts I perspire so much I create my own ecosystem), it was off to Panera Bread for lunch. The ultimate indignity: he is going out with friends for dinner, and simply needed a cash infusion to fund the evening’s festivities. His mother and I can go to the Olive Garden for all he cares.
Tomorrow will most likely be a repeat of today, with strategizing over where to procure the required fuel. Jesus displayed wisdom when he advised praying merely for one’s daily bread. Unfortunately, we belong to a different Abrahamic faith tradition, and a generic request to Heaven for bread will need some degree of specificity. Does that mean ciabatta, or a bagel, or a bialy, or a croissant, or honey whole wheat, or a Kaiser roll, or wrap, or an English muffin, or sour dough, or what exactly?
In any event, I know exactly what I will be asking His Highness tomorrow morning: May I take your order?
Here is a list of some of my most important New Year's resolutions over the course of my life:
Age Four: Pee without pulling my pants all the way down to my ankles.
Age Six: Take the training wheels off and learn to ride a bicycle.
Age 15: Lose my virginity.
Age 16: Lose my virginity.
Age 17: Lose my virginity.
Age 18: Travel the world.
Age 25: Get a real job.
Age 30: Have kids.
Age 35: Blessed with two small children, get a good night’s sleep at least once.
Age 40: Lose weight.
Age 45: Lose weight.
Age 50: Avoid going broke.
Age 55: Lose weight and avoid going broke.
My current New Year’s resolution for 2015 is become a grandpa. I think I’m finally old enough to handle the responsibility.
Best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous new year to my loyal readers, all dozen of you.
My bathroom scale is broken. That’s the only possible explanation for a recent strange turn of events. According to this devilish device, I register five pounds more than I did only a few weeks ago. Like the HAL 9000 computer in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, a mere machine has apparently developed its own secret agenda and ego-maniacal ambition, and is willing to crush any human who dares cross its path.
The only other alternative to this sudden escalation in measured body mass is that round-the-clock snacking and a couch potato lifestyle has something to do with it. Nah, too farfetched to be believable.
I think my jeans also shrank in the wash. I'm losing my faith in mechanical contraptions.