Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Friday, March 27, 2015

CHEERY CHERRIES


Cherry blossoms brighten up a hazy day in our neighborhood.

Springtime is cherry blossom time in Atlanta.

Usually, there is a sort of sequence to the blooming of the local trees: first redbuds, followed by Bradford pears (phewie!), followed by forsythia and cherry blossoms, with the azaleas and dogwoods bringing up the rear. This year, however, it seems the trees have all suddenly exploded into clouds of flowery gorgeousness.

Is there a downside? Perhaps. It might be the pollen. The really nasty stuff - tree and ragweed pollen - comes along later, though. Right now, we don’t have to deal with the Green Cloud o’ Doom - just falling petals.

If you have never experienced springtime in Atlanta, you are really missing something special. It’s bewitching, and even the occasional threat of the dreaded Funnel Cloud does not suffice to break the spell.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

COMMODIOUS: A 100-WORD URBAN LEGEND

Urban legends circulated for years concerning pet alligators that, having been flushed down the toilet by their erstwhile owners, grew to fearsome size in the dank New York sewers.

The truth was far worse.

When, in 1984, a malicious lad eighty-sixed his kid brother’s pet iguana, the reptile survived its journey through the sewer pipes and soon learned to hunt the rats with whom it shared its vile habitation.

It grew crafty and voracious, eventually developing a taste for human scrota which it would nip off after swimming upwards through toilet drains.

To this day, people fear the Commode-O Dragon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

WHEN OY-RISH EYES ARE SMILING


The Star and Shamrock in Washington, D.C. Yes, this is a real place.

They say everyone’s Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day, and I suppose there is some truth to that. Yesterday, I ate a potato, had corned beef and cabbage for supper, drank Irish coffee, and wore green. About the only thing I didn’t do was get in a fistfight with an Englishman or bake my semi-traditional green bagels.

My old college buddy Urethra Franklin really celebrated the day in style, though. He had lunch at the White House with his girlfriend, the ambassador of Ireland to the United States. Now, that’s what I call the luck of the Jewish. Er, ahh, Irish.

Monday, March 16, 2015

FIRST YEAR IN ORPHANTOWN

Eli, 1950
Eli (1925-2014) in his college graduation photo.

Today is my father’s Yahrzeit - the first anniversary of his passing.

It has been a strange and sad year, my first year without either parent. I am at an age when becoming an orphan is normal, and yet it still seems a strange thing to be cast adrift in the world. The familiar lights and buoys are no longer there to help me navigate: I have been cast off from my moorings.

Yes, I am sixty-two years old. Not a kid by any means. I’ve been on my own, living my own life in my own family, for something on the order of four decades. Mom’s been gone for more than a quarter-century, but we were blessed with a Dad who made old bones and who, up until his stroke in late 2011, was robust and energetic. Larger than life, so it seemed.

Now he is gone, and my brother (the Other Elisson) and I take our place with the others at the head of the generational queue as we march toward an invisible, fog-shrouded precipice.

For eleven months I recited Kaddish. Today the formal trappings of the prescribed year-long period of mourning for a parent are ended. Today mourning becomes remembrance. From this day on it is personal, internal, and eternal. 


One life begins, another draws to a close. Eli cradles the infant Mistress of Sarcasm in 1982 (top); thirty-two years later, the Mistress comforts Eli in his last days (bottom).

The Memorial Prayer

Eil maley rachamim, shokhein bam’romin, ham’tzei m’nuchah n’khonah tachat kanfei ha-sh’khinah, b’ma-alot k’doshim u-t’horim k’zohar ha-rakia maz-hirim, et nishmat avi v’morati Eliyahu ben Ya’akov she-halakh l’olamo, b’gan eiden t’hei m’nuchato. Ana, ba’al ha-rachamim hastireihu b’seiter k’nafekha l’olamim, utz’ror bitz’ror ha-chayyim et nishmato, Hashem hu nachalato, v’yanuach b’shalom al mishkavo, v’nomar amen.

Exalted, compassionate God, grant perfect peace in Your sheltering Presence, among the holy and pure who shine with the splendor of the firmament, to the soul of my my father and teacher Eli, son of Jacob, who has gone to his eternal home. Master of mercy, remember all his worthy deeds in the land of the living. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life. The Lord is his portion. May he rest in peace. And let us say: Amen.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

EATAPETA DAY!

Today is EATAPETA (Eat A Tasty Animal for PETA) Day, when we carnivores make a special effort to consume animal-based protein - the better to stick it in the eye of PETA.

Why? There are plenty of reasons, all well-documented in the Elissonian Archives

Now: What shall I have?

Skirt steak with garlic and thyme.
Scored sea kitten flounder with apricot sauce.
Eggs - nascent chickens! - with sambal udang bercili and Sichuan hot oil.
Homemade duck breast pastrami.
Betcha can’t eat just one!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

THANK GAWD IT’S PI DAY

Summer Berry Pie
Summer berry pie... an appropriate way to celebrate Pi Day even if it isn’t quite spring yet.

Today is Pi Day, March 14, often rendered as 3.14 in American English. Coincidentally, it’s also the day on which Albert Einstein’s birthday is celebrated in his adopted home of Princeton, New Jersey. I guess that makes it a relatively significant holiday.

This year, Pi Day falls on 3.14.15, so we have a few more actual Pi Digits to play with. It’s the most pi-like Pi Day we’ll see for 100 years. Huzzah!

My friend Radio Richard reminds me that March 14 is also Steak and BJ Day. Celebrated exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, Steak and BJ Day serves as a male-centric counterpoint to the Holiday of Hearts and Flowers.  To wit:
Over the years, Valentine’s Day has become a commercial holiday for women. On February 14, intimate couples celebrate their love with candy, flowers, greeting cards, and other gifts of affection. Men do not want candy. Men have no need for flowers or teddy bears. There are two things men want: steak and a blow job.
These days, I’ll settle for a steak... especially because tomorrow is EATAPETA (Eat A Tasty Animal for PETA) Day.

In any event, to celebrate the occasion I am once again happy to trot out one of my favorite 100-word stories: Pie-Eyed Jeremy, originally posted in June 2006.  Enjoy.

PIE-EYED JEREMY: A 100-WORD STORY

Jeremy loved pie.

Jeremy loved pie with a white-hot passion.

No birthday cake for him. It had to be pie, only pie.

Dutch Apple. Mince. Blueberry. Rhubarb. Pumpkin. Coconut Custard. Steak and Kidney. Chicken Pot. If it was a pie, Jeremy would seek it out and devour it.

But pies were expensive. Fillings and crust cost money, which Jeremy had in short supply. Eventually, to support his pie habit, Jeremy turned to crime.

During a botched heist at Entenmann’s, two hostages died in a hail of bullets. Jeremy was arrested and convicted.

His last meal? Pie, of course. Cyanide pie.

Friday, March 13, 2015

UH-OH... AGAIN

Churchy Panic
Churchy LaFemme, famous triskadeikaphobe. Borrowed from an early 1970’s Pogo strip.

Yes, it’s Friday, and as Churchy LaFemme was wont to exclaim, “Gyack! Friday the 13th come on a Friday this month!”

Even better: Since there was a Friday the Thirteenth in February, a month that is exactly four weeks long in non-leap years, we get to have another one today!

(Yes, I think about these things so you don’t have to.)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

SOMETHING FISHY THIS WAY COMES


Ceviche peruana - Peruvian-style ceviche.

Last week when I was down in Tampa visiting with my legendary Aunt Marge, we dined at a little hole-in-the-wall Peruvian steakhouse. Given that it was, indeed, a steak place, I opted for Red Meat - a cut of flank steak known as vacio. But Marge loves a Peruvian ceviche, with nice chunks of fish in a marinade of lime juice, garlic, onion, and a touch of fiery capsicum... and our little steakhouse did not disappoint.

Ceviche, AKA seviche, is a sort of gateway drug, overindulgence in which may lead to the eventual consumption of sashimi and sushi. The fish is raw, but marination in acidic citrus juice seemingly “cooks” its flesh by denaturing the proteins. (Since no heat is involved, the fish used - as in any raw preparations - must be free of bacteria and parasites. But if you’re eating ceviche, you’re clearly not the type to worry overmuch about a few bacteria or parasites, now, are you?)

After tasting the restaurant’s version, I wanted to try my own hand at making a Peruvian ceviche. My mind was made up when Dee and I saw a nice hunk of corvina - a firm-fleshed fish traditionally used for the dish - at Costco.

My only recommendation? Make plenty. It’s good and good for you, too. And now I can make it for Marge next time I visit, whether we go to that little steakhouse or not.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

IT’S PURIM. DO SOMETHING FOOLISH



Not everything in the Cheese Aisle Kitchen is a roaring success, just so you know.

This evening at sundown marks the Jewish holiday of Purim, a post-biblical celebration that follows the classic “they tried to kill us - they failed - let’s eat” model. And hamantaschen, a three-cornered pastry, is a traditional holiday goodie. I rarely bake ’em myself, but... 

...this recipe sounded irresistible. Chocolate-Chili Hamantaschen with Dulce de Leche Filling made with cinnamon, three different kinds of chile peppers, and a shot of Kahlúa, stuffed with yummy caramel... holy crap! A whole different animal from the usual hamantaschen filled with mohn (poppyseeds), apricot, or prune jam.

Well, they look pretty horrible. Ugly as Death backing out of an outhouse reading Mad magazine, as the saying goes... but they do taste rather nice. I’ve saved the remaining dough to use when I feel like having a cookie.

TODAY’S HERO

“Look - up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!”

“Where? I can’t see for shit in this fog!”

“That’s right - it’s Pea Souperman!”

Sunday, March 1, 2015

HE’S DEAD, JIM

Leonard Nimoy, RIP
The late Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, striking his famous split-fingered pose in a 1960’s vintage publicity shot.

When you reach a certain age, you come to realize that life is impermanent. You attend funerals ever more frequently, but you are comforted by the knowledge that if you are at such an event, you are there either as a guest or as the Guest of Honor... and most of us prefer the former. The little threads that make up the background tapestry of our lives begin to fray as the icons of our popular culture disappear into the Great Unknown, one by one.

Star Trek TV Guide Cover - March 4, 1967Those are some of the thoughts I had upon hearing of the passing of Leonard Nimoy several days ago. Smoking-related COPD did him in at the age of 83 despite his having quit the habit decades ago, alas.

Nimoy, of course, is best known as the actor who portrayed the implacable and ever-logical Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek series, a role that both bedeviled and enriched him and which he came to accept, in his later years, with a certain amount of resigned and self-deprecating humor. It was in that unlikely role that he left his permanent imprint on American culture, what with his Vulcan catchphrase “Live Long and Prosper” (accompanied by a split-fingered hand gesture lifted directly from that used by the ancient Israelite priests as they bestowed their Priestly Blessing); his Vulcan Nerve-Pinch; and his emotionless reliance on logic.

The Audi ad below features both Nimoy and Zachary Quinto, his successor as Mr. Spock in the rebooted Star Trek movie franchise. It hits all the high notes of Treknis, even incorporating a sly reference to Nimoy’s infamous Bilbo Baggins video.



There was, of course, a lot more to Leonard Nimoy than the pointy-eared alien alter ego that brought him the most renown. He played numerous other roles in TV venues as diverse as Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Mission: Impossible, Rawhide, and Sea Hunt; as well as in films: The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Them! just to name a few. He was a poet, a gifted photographer (his controversial book Shekhina was an exploration of spirituality and the feminine aspect of the Eternal, mainly by way of photographing women clad in phylacteries and little else), and, perhaps less successfully, a singer. Regardless, he was a man in full... and he will be sorely missed.

Spocky Music
Ditching this would have been logical.
Ave atque vale, Leonard. The Star Trek-derived term “Final Frontier” will be used again and again as pajama-clad Online Journalists try to come up with appropriate phrases to include in their various tributes and encomiums, but what’s wrong with that? You have finally crossed that Final Frontier from which none of us ever return, and may your exploration of the Undiscovered Country beyond it be a happy one... despite happiness being the kind of illogical emotion with which Mr. Spock would have little acquaintance.

Postscriptum: My friend Kevin Kim’s take on Nimoy’s passing is here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

AN EVENING WITH MARGIE, or
THE GREAT FUCKO MYSTERY

I’m down in Florida right now visiting with my Aunt Margie, who has recently relocated to what is known in these parts as an independent living residence.

There is an orderly progression in these matters. When everyday life in one’s own residence gets to be too challenging, one relocates to independent living. When medical issues dictate additional levels of help with the tasks of daily life, the next transition is to assisted living. When that is still not enough, the next stop is the nursing home, AKA “very assisted living.” One of our doctor friends has characterized the residential progression as “Go-Go - Slow-Go - No-Go.”

Margie still has all her shit in one sock, to use a vulgar expression: Her main issue is difficulty in walking, with the attendant risk of falling. Fortunately, she is a wisp of a thing, and when she falls she generally doesn’t get too banged up. But you do not want to (Gawd forbid) break a hip, and so it is best to be in an environment where you have plenty of help getting around.

We had a delightful home-cooked meal this evening: roasted sausage and grapes in a wine reduction, steamed artichokes with melted butter, tossed salad, and a nice Merlot. And, as always, good food brings out the stories.

I love Margie’s stories. Back in the day, she was one of my mother’s closest friends, a connection that ended up with her marrying my mother’s elder brother - Uncle Phil! - and becoming family. And now, with both my mother and Uncle Phil gone, those long-buried stories are getting more and more interesting.

Margie grew up in Atlantic City during the latter days of Nucky Johnson’s reign, moving to Brooklyn when she was a mere sprat of nine years. And right away, she discovered that Brooklyn people sounded different when they talked. One of her young friends, on their morning walk to school, announced that she wanted a “fucko.”

Not wanting to appear ignorant, my little Margie did not ask exactly what said “fucko” was. That was a question she saved until she got home, lobbing it out as her mother was mixing the water for Margie’s bath by swishing her hand back and forth in the tub to blend the water from the separate hot and cold taps. The shocking enquiry caused said hand to stop dead in the water. “Don’t use that word. It’s not nice!”

But the Great Fucko Mystery was resolved the following week, when Margie’s friend showed up for the post-luncheon walk back to school... wearing a brand-new rabbit coat. “Look, I finally got my fucko!” she said, with a runway twirl.

Fucko, indeed. Is it any wonder I’m crazy about my Auntie?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

DEAN MARTIN MEETS H. P. LOVECRAFT

Fhtagn-Dazs
 [Sung to the tune of That’s Amore]

When the Old Ones, asleep, lie in wait in the deep
Cthulhu fhtagn
When you lie in your bed with your mind filled with dread
Cthulhu fhtagn

Elder Things – ring-a-ding a-ding, ring-a-ding a-ding
They don’t like you
And when you hear their call you will fall
Madness strikes you

When that vile protoplasm crawls out of its chasm
Cthulhu fhtagn
Then your mind, it will crack - you’ll be some shoggoth’s snack
O, the pain

When the Old Ones stop dreaming, that’s when you start screaming
O, R’lyeh!
’Cause when you hear their greetin’ you’ll be first to be eaten
(That’s scare-ray!)

[More Cthulhu-related foolishness here.]

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015

ASCENSION DAY

Eli at Shabbat services, December 2012
Eli (z''l) attends Shabbat services at the Veterans Home, December 2012.

In Jewish tradition, a person mourns a deceased relative for a prescribed period: A seven-day period of intense bereavement (shiva) is followed by thirty days (sh’loshim) during which certain restrictions are observed. A mourner does not go to movies, concerts, or other amusements; males typically do not shave. In addition, the mourner recites Kaddish.

Kaddish yatom - the form of Kaddish recited by mourners - does not mention death or loss. It is a doxology, a verbal expression of praise to God. In its various forms, Kaddish is used as a sort of punctuation for worship, indicating a transition between one part of the service and another. It’s not obvious why Kaddish should have especial significance for mourners, but perhaps it is because the highest evidence of one’s love for God is the ability to speak His praise after suffering loss.

The customs one observes for mourning a parent are different than those for other relatives. One mourns for a full year, not just thirty days - but recites Kaddish daily for only eleven months of that year. Why stop at eleven months? The Sages believed that the souls of the deceased endure a year-long period of judgment after death, but that only the wicked are judged for the full year, the righteous presumably being allowed to ascend to Olam ha-Ba - the Next World - after only eleven months. The implicit presumption is therefore that one’s parents, because they are emphatically not wicked, only need eleven months of human intercession for their souls.

Both my parents would have dismissed all of that as complete mumbo-jumbo. They were very aware - and proud - of their Jewish identity, whilst simultaneously being quite irreligious.

My Dad - Eli, hizzownself, of blessèd memory - would inevitably decline my invitations to attend morning Minyan with me on those infrequent occasions when he would visit us in Atlanta. “It’s not my thing,” he would protest. But in the last years of his life, after he suffered the stroke that eventually landed him in the Long Island State Veterans Home, he found religion of a sort, deriving a measure of enjoyment from the Sabbath services a visiting rabbi would conduct Friday mornings. “I can’t stand all that Hebrew,” he would tell me, “but I really like how the rabbi explains the weekly Torah portion.”
* * *

Today was the last day of my eleven-month Kaddish recitation period. I marked the occasion by leading the morning service and then taking the Minyan Boyz out to breakfast afterward... a small “thank you” for being present in sufficient numbers to enable me to fulfill my obligation of reciting Kaddish. The next time I say Kaddish for Dad will be at his Yahrzeit, the anniversary of his passing, a month from now. 

If I truly believed in all of my ancestral traditions, I would be able to take comfort in the knowledge that this is the day on which my father’s soul finally is granted permission to ascend to the Next Level of post-Earthly existence. But that doesn’t comfort me much... because I am a skeptic, and I know mumbo-jumbo when I see it. And Dad would agree.

No: I take comfort in knowing that my Dad had a long and (mostly) happy life, and that he instilled in me a certain love for my family, my country, and the people I come from. And I take comfort in knowing about my people’s traditions, even if I am generally not scrupulous about following all of our rules and regulations. (I like to be educated so that I know what laws I am violating at any given moment.) I am grateful that he was who he was, and that in his final years he himself was comforted by my visits and the memories we would share.

Ave atque vale, Daddy. I’ll never forget you.

UH-OH

Churchy Panic
Churchy LaFemme, famous triskadeikaphobe. Borrowed from an early 1970’s Pogo strip.

Yes, it’s Friday, and as Churchy LaFemme was wont to exclaim, “Gyack! Friday the 13th come on a Friday this month!”

The late Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo (one of the great comic strips of the twentieth century, for you young ’uns) used to milk this gag regularly, no matter what day of the week the thirteenth actually landed on. When it actually coincided with a Friday, well then.

If you are a confirmed triskadeikaphobe, stay home. But everyone knows that the fourteenth - specifically, February 14 - is waaaay scarier than any Friday the Thirteenth.