October 31, 2004

A family affair?

No, I was not asked to be part of the family for photographic record. Neither were the bat mitzvah girl's paternal grandparents; her maternal great uncle, his wife, and their son; nor her paternal aunt, uncle, and their two children.

So I'm in good company: who counts and who is decorative is clear as water. (I confess I do not know the specific gravity of blood vs. water, but evidently blood doesn't count for much in the photo op category.) Family there was defined as the relatives who will be in the Christmas (yes, Christmas) photo sent annually by my aunt and uncle (the bat mitzvah girl's maternal grandparents.) Genetic links were strictly by request, and I didn't fall into the pool.

Might I suggest that your granddaughter's bat mitzvah may not be the most "appropriate" location for a secular Christmas photo? That it may be an insult to the child who has worked long and hard to learn Hebrew, study Jewish history, chant a Torah portion, and understand the cultural traditions in which her immediate family is raising her?

What the photo op suggests about my cousin, age 52, and her husband is that they don't think they can afford to decline participation in a photograph manufactured to celebrate a holiday antithetical to their own religious practices. Or, they fear being cut out of the will.

Whatever other motivating factors exist in my family, generally money talks. It speaks volumes. In this case, apparently the photo op is part of the price of having one's parents pay for one's children's private-school education.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the one cousin I love and his family have never taken a dime from his parents. They are the family with whom I celebrate Christmas. It's a holiday I was raised with, and, no, Jesus has nothing to do with it.

We are long-time assimilated German Jews. That's my heritage, Christmas tree and gifts included. Hanukkah presents are sold to a completely separate audience, although my mother and I have been known to light the occasional candle.

My cousin's wife is Protestant, and while it has been hard for her to grow accustomed to Christmas as a secular occasion, she is more than happy to welcome me for their festivities.

I wished her children a very happy Halloween. The little one is going as an angel.

October 26, 2004

...You got to have friends...

An old friend of mine -- we've known each other for 25+ years -- sent me an e-mail today. The sentiments resonate within me -- and the "simple" friend category is a test that most of my blood relatives could not pass. "Real," for them, would be out of the question.

It's quite apropos this week: my extended family could fit in a minivan, but if we hadn't buried my grandmother together 20 years ago, I don't see that we would have had any further connection to one another. As a group, they have less compassion than a piece of cardboard. Cardboard bends; they don't. When my dad died, if they had stayed home, we wouldn't have noticed.

Through one familial extortion (from my mom) , I have become the designated family representative, obligated to go to my cousin's daughter's bat mitvah this coming weekend. My cousin's sister says, "it's for Rachael," the bat mitzvah girl. When I last saw Rachael, five years ago, she didn't know who I was. I somehow doubt that has changed. On Friday, the farce begins. Saturday, the charade ends. I suppose I can sustain it for 24 hours this time, but I'm not likely to repeat the experience. The trick question is, do they plan to invite me to be part of their family's photo op.

When my father was my age, we started leaving the country in lieu of having Christmas with his sister's family. Her three offspring are my only cousins. I can consider only one of them my friend -- and his sister, mother of the bat mitzvah girl -- sent him an audio tape with a recording of the Hebrew he needs to memorize to participate in the ceremony. For all he knows, he could be singing, come to a white sale at Bloomingdale's. No wonder you can pick your friends, but not your family.

But I digress. Here is the full e-mail my friend sent:

A Real Friend Test!! This is good ... I expect it back too!
A simple friend has never seen you cry. A real friend has shoulders soggy from your tears.
A simple friend doesn't know your parents' first names. A real friend has their phone numbers in her address book.
A simple friend brings a bottle of wine to your party. A real friend comes early to help you cook and stays late to help you clean.
A simple friend hates it when you call after he has gone to bed. A real friend asks you why you took so long to call.
A simple friend seeks to talk with you about your problems. A real friend seeks to help you with your problems.
A simple friend wonders about your romantic history. A real friend could blackmail you with it.
A simple friend, when visiting, acts like a guest. A real friend opens your refrigerator and helps himself.
A simple friend thinks the friendship is over when you HAVE an argument. A real friend calls you after you had a fight.
A simple friend expects you to always be there for them. A real friend expects to always be there for you!
A simple friend reads this e-mail and deletes it. A real friend passes it on and sends it back to you!
Pass this on to anyone you care about......if you get it back you have no beginning, no end.
It keeps us together, like our Circle of Friends.
Today I pass the friendship ball to you. Pass it on to someone who is a friend to you.....

October 25, 2004

The Color of Trees

Away from the city, on the train to Connecticut, I notice that it is leaf-peeping season, and that I had forgotten its existence. I remember the smell of autumn as one of burning leaves, but I'm sure all that is different now, that the orange, red and yellow piles are now carted away by a truck emanating a less pleasant scent than the true odor of fall.

In Connecticut I was at a professional conference, where I barely had time to leave the hotel for a breath of honest air (the hotel being one where the windows don't open, and the air quality was questionable, oxygen seemingly an optional component). When I smoked, I always had to go outdoors for a cigarette, so I got more breathable air than most of the attendees. Now that I don't, I need to rethink how I pace myself, since it has suddenly dawned on me that perhaps I would have more energy if I gave my neurotransmitters the occasional rest from indoor air, something I never needed to consider when nicotine fired up my brain.

October 17, 2004

What make strange bedfellows

These days, I tend to be among those who stick to checkbook activism. Rarely have I been embarrassed to be an American, except this past summer in Canada, when I was asked questions about U.S. foreign policy I couldn't answer in any way that made sense to me or the questioner.

Too young to protest the Vietnam War, I did have some awareness of it, and grew up as a war-is-not-healthy-for-children-and-other-living-things child. I did all my marches on Washington in the Reagan-Bush years. My excuse for missing D.C. in this administration is that none of the marches has coincided with time I was in the U.S.

Iraq, to me, has been Vietnam redux -- except now I'm considerable older, I've been voting for 25+ years, and I am not a happy camper.

I am of the travel-before-you-get-too-cranky-to-sit-in-coach school, and after I turned 40, it seemed time to hit the sky, as it were. In retrospect, it was an inspired choice, particularly as I turned 40 the year little boy Bush slid in to the Oval Office. Thus far my world tour has included China, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the Galapagos Islands. In prior years, on multiple occasions, I covered Western Europe and numerous Caribbean islands

Last night I was invited to a screening of "Bush Family Fortunes," and what that family has done to make money isn't pretty. Cold, hard cash and greed, more than politics per se are what make strange bedfellows. Either that, or ethics is neither on the syllabus at Yale nor on the menu at any Bush family holiday celebration.

The way things are going, I might actually be shopping for a new country after the election, particularly after reading a poll from U.K.'s Guardian, published Friday.

It concluded: "The results show that in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Spain and South Korea a majority of voters share a rejection of the Iraq invasion, contempt for the Bush administration, a growing hostility to the US and a not-too-strong endorsement of Mr Kerry. But they all make a clear distinction between this kind of anti-Americanism and expressing a dislike of American people. On average 68% of those polled say they have a favourable opinion of Americans."

My friends who have dual citizenship are seriously investigating their options. Yet, for better or worse, I am home. And it is hard to imagine "home" being anywhere else.

October 14, 2004

My blog and welcome to it

Why through a looking glass? Most people see the place I call home, the place I was born, the city where my great, great, great grandmother is buried, as one unlike any other. Many can't understand why I stay. I can't see that there is anywhere else to go.

Perhaps we do look at life differently here, or I do, which explains the looking glass: life mirrored, slightly askew. It's not how you might assume from TV, whether "reality based," i.e., news, or fictitious.

Today? It's the second anniversary of my having quit smoking, and of one of my closest college friends, then age 41, e-mailing to announce she had stage 4 breast cancer. It's the day after my mom's birthday; a week after my own. Twenty-two years since I have moved to this block, twenty-two years with the same phone number, in the so-called real world, where my mind is prone to wander, and my synapses misfire with some consistency.

It is a strange world, when life's most intimite details are proclaimed in cyberspace -- but since I gave up cigarettes (without becoming an irritating "reformed smoker), I need a hobby. More precisely, a place to talk to myself, and, I hope, to you, whomever you may be.

It is a challenge, to understand why smoking indoors has been outlawed here, when the average person who stands on the street will breathe in more carbon monoxide in 20 minutes than I would exhale in 200. I get it -- that I am smaller than the average car, much less bus or truck, so it's easier to try to make me conform to a new social norm than to force the average driver to make an effort. (Car does beat pedestrian; bus beats car, and so on in the run-me-over sweepstakes.)

One caveat: despite or because of all the techno-changes since my brain was young enough to absorb them without forgetting what to eat for dinner, I remain technologically challenged. It wasn't my intention, but there's just TMI out there. I realize I'm adding more, but no one ever said irony wasn't my strong suit -- it's one I wear well, one that escapes many people in many places, but its absence would be stranger here, particularly at this time in our political landscape, to put it politely.

Word for the day: VOTE!