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

Monday, January 16, 2017

AVE ATQUE VALE, CIRCENSES

’Twas tea-time at the circus: King Jimi, he was there
Through hoops he skipped, high wires he tripped, and all the while the glare
Of the aching, baking spotlight beat down upon his cloak
And though the crowd clapped furiously they could not see the joke

’Twas tea-time at the circus, though some might not agree
As jugglers danced, and horses pranced, and clowns clowned endlessly
But trunk to tail the elephants, quite silent, never spoke
And though the crowd clapped desperately they could not see the joke

- Procol Harum, from “In Held ’Twas In I”

“The people who have conquered the world have only two interests – bread and circuses” - Decimus Junius Juvenalis

“Heffalump is better than none.” - Winnie the Pooh

It’s getting harder and harder to take tea at the circus, especially so now that the famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus plans to fold its tents in May of this year after 146 years in operation.


Who’s laughing now?

The circus - at least, in the form we’ve all come to know it - is a most peculiar and somewhat archaic form of entertainment. The Romans had circuses, of course, but they were typically bloody affairs: gladiatorial combat, people facing off against wild animals, chariot races, and similar mostly violent amusements. And no Roman circus was complete without the beloved “clowns exiting a chariot” act.

Modern circuses typically have elements in common: trained elephants, wild beasts, acrobats, horse-and-rider acts, and clowns, with the action taking place in one or more circular arenas - thus, “circus.” Sometimes this is accompanied by a carnival-style midway with rides and games.

Circuses are, by nature, traveling shows: after entertaining the villagers in a given spot, they would literally pull up stakes and move to another town - sometimes in haste. “Running away and joining the circus” was a real thing, back when the occasional visit of the circus to a backwater town seemed to offer the promise of an exciting life of travel and adventure. In reality, what it mostly offered was abuse, low and very intermittent wages, physical danger, and mountains of elephant shit. Always elephant shit. And thus, Esteemed Readers, it offered a veritable Lesson in Life.

I still remember - with as much crystal clarity as can be mustered after close to sixty years - my first experience with a real, honest-to-goodness circus. A traveling show (Cole Brothers? Clyde Beatty? I cannot recall) came to our town and set up shop in a large field, back when such things as large fields still existed there. Copious amounts of hay were laid down; then the tents went up. Dad - Eli, hizzownself - took me and The Other Elisson there one evening, accompanied by our next-door neighbor and their two boys Jon and Chris, who were roughly the same ages as we were. There were elephants, wild animals, clowns, trapeze artists, and acrobats. There was a ringmaster just like Claude Kirchner on Terrytoon Circus, a TV show we watched religiously in the afternoons mostly owing to its time slot immediately following Mickey Mouse Club. And most clearly of all, I remember the guy getting shot out of a cannon.

Yes, that was a pretty standard circus act - The Human Cannonball. He would get catapulted out of a device that looked a whole lot like a real cannon (provided you didn’t look too closely), fly through the air and through a hoop to land on nice, cushy netting. Of course, gunpowder or other pyrotechnics were used only for sound effects, compressed air or a spring providing the real propulsive force - but we kids didn’t know the difference. The sound (“BOOM!”) was loud enough to send our little neighbor Chris into a fit or hysterical weeping, but all was well after a dose of cherry sno-cone (most of which ended up on his nice white shirt, as I recall.)

The reason hay had been laid down became immediately apparent when the elephants came out. There was always some clown walking behind the huge beasts, vainly trying to keep up with their Prodigious Output with a shovel and bucket, but the hay served as a (mostly ineffective) way to neutralize the barnyard pong. At one point we were permitted to ride atop an actual elephant, which provoked little Chris to yet another bout of hysteria.

After that long-ago adventure, I never felt the burning urge to see the circus again... until the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey show landed in Atlanta in the mid-1980’s. By this time, our daughters were both at prime Circus-Viewing age, so off we went to the huge downtown venue where the show was to be held, vacant fields being both thin on the ground and insufficient for the job at hand. And it was all there: the clowns, the elephants, the wild beasts, the trapeze artists, the motorcycles speeding around in a spherical cage (human cannonballs having been taken off the menu), and the acrobats.

Ahh, the acrobats... one of whom performed an act in which she was suspended by her hair by a long cord, rotating and spinning high over the ring. She was there in the spotlight, a sparkling human jewel... and then she disappeared. Her hair had slipped out of its bindings and she had flown out of the cone of the spotlight, landing hard on the ground. We saw none of this - all we saw was the army of clowns, presumably released from the Volkswagens in which they had been imprisoned, trying to get our attention away from whatever terrible thing had just happened. We discovered later that the young lady acrobat had broken her neck... and we have never gone to the circus again.

What killed Ringling Brothers? There are, no doubt, plenty of explanations for the decline in ticket sales that ultimately doomed the show. Last year the elephants were dismissed, mainly due to ongoing outcries from animal rights activists... but that alone doesn’t explain it. I think the Ringling Brothers circus was a victim of its own success.

The circus - as I experienced it as a young snot-nose, anyway - was a personal experience. You sat in hastily erected bleachers. You smelled the hay, the elephant shit, the greasepaint of the clowns, the sweat of your fellow attendees. But the modern circus was a huge affair, mounted in humongous arenas like Madison Square Garden, or the Georgia Dome. And in our device-driven ADHD world where most kids would rather chase Pokemon than crack a library book, what chance does such an old-fashioned amusement delivery device stand?

Today, professional sports and Facebook have become the circenses to go with our panem, alas. (But you can keep the elephant shit.)
  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

BAKER’S TWINS

Two loaves emerged from my bakery
Alike as twins, as I could see
But their aroma displeasèd me
So I pulled the handle and set them free

Friday, January 13, 2017

THE HOLIDAY AFTERMATH

The other day I found myself thinking about a certain seasonal matter: the removal of Christmas-related detritus.

It cannot be easy, this cleanup. After spending what must be weeks, putting up outdoor decorations, wreaths, and (of course) the Tree Itself with all its assorted ornaments and shiny gewgaws, breaking everything down and putting it all in its appropriate storage boxes cannot be a trivial process. And then there is the Tree Itself, which (if artificial) must be taken apart and stored, or which (if real) must be taken out and mulched.

No wonder people procrastinate.

With me not being a Christian, I observe all of this at a slight remove. When should you take your tree and decorations down? Is there an appropriate time window? Is Boxing Day too early? How about New Year’s Day? January 6? And when does it start looking like you are shirking your Christmasly Responsibility? Is January 31 too late? These are matters about which I have minimal knowledge.

What I do know is this: We Red Sea Pedestrians have the advantage here.

All we have to do is scrape the wax off of our Chanukiyot (Chanukah menorahs) and go on about our business. For me, it was a matter of some fifteen minutes with a blowtorch, a toothpick, some hot water, and a few paper towels. (Had we used oil lamps instead of candles, as we’ve done in prior years, there would have been no need to clean anything up at all.)

Waxy Buildup
This takes all of fifteen minutes to clean up.

Of course, you could legitimately ask me why it took me until yesterday to do this. But we’re not gonna go there, are we?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

FLATBREADS? WE GOT ’EM


Pletzel (not pretzel). [Image credit: Scratchin’ It.]

There is a lesser known breadstuff in the Red Sea Pedestrian lexicon, one that is generally unfamiliar to those who have come to know and love products like the bagel.

Ahh, yes, the bagel. It has become a genuine American product, another ethnic food sucked into the great maw of American cultural appropriation. This is not a bad thing, by the way. Cultural appropriation is how our society takes diverse ingredients and melds them together into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts: not a melting pot, as the old analogy would have it, but a stew pot in which individual ingredients retain their identities, yet work together to create a flavorful result. Think of some of the foods you can now find almost anywhere in America - pizza, spaghetti, falafel, eggrolls, and tacos. And then there’s the bagel, which now is available in places like McDonald’s, where you can purchase one festooned with bacon, egg, and cheese - a combination unthinkable to the people who first brought this unique toroidal treat to our shores.

But, as usual, I digress.

I wanted to talk about a lesser known breadstuff. I wanted to talk about the pletzel.

No, not the pretzel. Everyone knows about pretzels, those knotted little suckers available in all sizes and textures: crisp and crunchy or warm and soft (Philly style!), even with all kinds of flavorings and toppings thanks to Auntie Anne’s mall outlets. Not pretzel... pletzel. With an “l.”

The pletzel (also spelled pletz’l or pletsl) is a flattish affair looking something like a Jewish foccacia, generally festooned with dessicated caramelized onions and poppy seeds. It puts me in mind of the bastard child that would result from the union of a pizza and a bialy, one that was subsequently adopted by an Everything Bagel. Pletzels are usually round but not necessarily so, and their degree of both thickness and adornment by toppings varies.

Pletzels are siblings to the bialy, a breadstuff that is, in turn, a cousin to the bagel. To tell them apart, use this handy field identification guide:

1. If it is toroidal (i.e., doughnut-shaped - a ring with a hole in the middle) with a glossy, well browned crisp crust and a chewy interior, it is a bagel.

2. If there is merely a dent instead of a hole and the crust has a lightly browned matte finish, it is a bialy. (The dent is usually filled with caramelized onions and poppy seeds.)

3. If it is flattish, has no hole, and is topped with caramelized onions and poppy seeds, it is a pletzel. (If it is really large, flat, and topped with tomato sauce and cheese, it is a pizza.)

Bialys and pletzels are made from a slightly different dough than a bagel; in addition, they are not boiled before baking. This means they lack a bagel’s hard, glossy crust, which in turn means they need to be eaten while they’re fresh. If you can find a good bagel place that also offers bialys and pletzels, you should give them a try!

Speaking of bialys, the owner of the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium gave us a behind-the-scenes tour this morning. We got to see the whole works: the huge hundred-year-old dough blender, the new bagel-forming machine, the proofing racks loaded with slowly rising bagels, the enormous walk-in fridge where the bagels are left to rise overnight, the boiling tank, and the oven. But what really caught my eye was the bialy machine, a device that dated from before World War II and that bore an astonishing resemblance to a certain cinematic robot - enough make me wonder whether, at some time long ago in a galaxy far, far away, one of R2-D2’s cousins made a living in a bialy factory on Tatooine.

And it even had a name. Lookee:



Monday, January 9, 2017

I’VE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR YEARS


“Mutts” by Patrick McDonnell, January 8, 2017. ©2017. [Clicky for biggy.]

You want to know one reason I favor cats for household Animal Companions as opposed to dogs? This.

(Yes, I know dogs can be trained to use the loathsome “pee-pee pad.” Feh in extremis.)

Friday, January 6, 2017

OUR NEWEST DOODAD DE CUISINE


The OXO Spiralizer, our latest household gadget.

Dee, in her desire to drop a few excess holiday pounds - a desire shared by all too many of us in January, including Yours Truly - got it in her head to purchase a spiralizer. I agreed that it was a capital idea for pretty much the same reason. We found one at a local Household Goods and Kitchen Doodads Emporium and grabbed it immediately.

A spiralizer, in case you are unfamiliar with the concept, is a contraption that converts cylindrical vegetables into ribbon- or noodle-like spirals by passing said vegetables through a set of blades. It’s something akin to a mandoline slicer, except that it works by twisting the veg against the blade rather than using a reciprocating motion. (It’s also a bit harder to slice your fingertips off with it.)

You can shred zucchini with a box grater or with a food processor, or you can slice it into paper-thin discs with a mandoline, but with this gadget you can convert it into flat ribbons or long, spaghetti-like strands. Throw on some ragu bolognese, and bingo! You’ve got a Pasta Sauce Conveyance Device that is not only tasty and vaguely pasta-like, but that has a fraction of the calories of actual pasta. Winning!

Pretty much anything that is round or cylindrical can be spiralized. Potatoes (both sweet and white), squash, zucchini, beets, carrots, whatever. You can use it to make interesting looking salads or to hack up ingredients for fritters (this last being an application that defeats the “drop a few excess pounds” objective, alas.)

But I have my sights set on more perverse interesting goals. It is only a matter of time before I try to spiralize an entire salami. Hey, it’s cylindrical!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

LOATHSOME, YET COMPELLING

An article in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal the other day caught my eye. “Caught my eye” is an understatement: As soon as I saw the headline, I knew that I would have to read every single word of the piece immediately.

Americans Eat 554 Million Jack in the Box Tacos a Year, and No One Knows Why.

I’ve linked the article, of course, because I want you, Esteemed Reader, to go forth and enjoy it yourself. But bear with me as I pick apart some of the insights I gleaned from it.

The Jack in the Box taco is one of the great success stories of American fast food, selling in numbers roughly equivalent to the Big Mac despite there being fewer of JitB outlets versus behemoth McDonald’s. 1,055 tacos a minute. Chew on that statistic for a while.


The infamous Jack in the Box taco, a strangely attractive “wet envelope of cat food.” [Photo: U-T San Diego/Zuma Press]

And that is all in spite of the fact that the JitB taco is mostly horrible. It is one of those foods with little socially redeeming value... and yet it is mind-bendingly addictive.

I love the way hard-core aficionados describe the taco. Quoth one Mike Primavera: “The secret to the tacos’ goodness may be the juxtaposition of the ‘soggy, nasty middle’ and the ‘rim of crunchiness on the outside’ that comes from deep-frying the tortilla with the beef filling already inside. One key, he said: “You can’t look at it too long before you eat it. You just kind of have to get it outside of the sleeve and into your mouth.”

My experience with the JitB taco is not by any means recent, given that the last time I had one was probably about forty-five years ago... and yet the WSJ headline rang true with me the moment I saw it. In my recollection, these bad boys were terrible and yet strangely attractive.

In my days at Tiger University, there would be times - almost always very late at night - that we would develop an inexplicable jones for Something To Eat. We were, on such occasions, frequently under the influence of something-or-other, even if that something were simply too many fucking hours in the E-Quad library. We wanted something that was both inexpensive and satisfying, with actual quality being a secondary or tertiary consideration at best. The Jack in the Box taco fit the bill perfectly... especially the inexpensive part, for these babies were (if I recall correctly) available for the now-astounding price of three for a dollar. For that price, we didn’t care that they were probably made of sawdust and ground cat meat.

The only problem was getting to Jack in the Box. The nearest one was in Trenton, a fifteen-mile drive away. This meant (1) walking to the parking lot, which was on the far eastern edge of the campus, (2) driving to Trenton, (3) loading up on tacos, and (4) repeating the whole process in reverse. It was a huge pain in the ass, but we didn’t care. Because tacos!

Those tacos... they were strangely compelling despite their loathsomeness, like the last girl in the bar at closing time. Were they good? Of course not! And yet, they were crunchy. Greasy. There was a nominal amount of shredded lettuce packed into each one, no doubt for moral support. As I said above, we suspected that the filling was compounded from sawdust and cat meat. Some kind of meat, anyway. Perhaps something grown in a lab, or roadkill. Good enough to warrant a thirty-mile round trip in the dead of night.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A DARK AND WINDING JOURNEY

Yesterday I ate some black-eyed peas.
Today those eyes stared up at me,
And said, “We just took a dark and winding trip...”
Then I pulled the handle and let ’er rip.

Monday, January 2, 2017

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 28

Yet more stuff that should be in the dictionary but isn’t.

Long-time readers of my previous site may recall the Blog d’Elisson Dictionary, installments of which may be found in that site’s Archives. For other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary, simply click on the sidebar link for Cheese-Dic.

Our latest entries:

edifice rex [ed-i-fis rex] (n) – An exceptionally large or opulently designed building, esp. one designed by an architect with ideas more grandiose than warranted by the project.

taquerrhea [ta-kuh-ri-uh] (n) – Unpleasant digestive condition, generally resulting from the consumption of excessive quantities of Mexican food.

“I’m staying away from Fred’s Cantina for a while... had a horrible case of taquerrhea last night. Must’ve been the Extreme Fajitas.”

DUCK, DUCK, GOOSE, WAFFLE


Goose & waffles, with poached egg and goosey giblet gravy.

I’ve had chicken & waffles.

I’ve had duck & waffles.

And now, I can happily announce that I’ve had goose & waffles.

Chicken & waffles is a dish with a long Southern pedigree, most notably within the African-American community. (It also, apparently, was also a favorite dish in Pennsylvania Dutch country, owing to its popularity among tourists there.) Typically, it consists of your basic breakfast waffle - think Waffle House - decorated with syrup and butter, served with a few hunks of tasty Southern-fried chicken alongside it. Nice.

A few months ago, I had an upscale version in one of those modern Southern locavore places: duck confit served atop a waffle. Savory and mind-bendingly tasty, it was. (To me, “duck confit” are magic words that will attract me to a menu item like white on rice.)

So much for the backstory.

Yesterday - New Year’s Day - Dee wanted a special breakfast. Pancakes? No, not pancakes. Waffles! (I love making waffles, even though I do it but rarely these days.) And so, the waffle iron was brought forth and waffles were produced in abundance. There were leftovers. What to do?

That is when the proverbial light bulb flashed on above Mister Debonair’s pointy, colander-clad  head. Goose!

Lovely, yummy goose. It’s what duck wants to be when it grows up. It’s what turkeys worship from afar. It’s what the lowly chicken can only aspire to be in the World to Come. Ahhh, goose. Wonderful goose. And having roasted one of these noble fowl only a few days ago, I had tucked away a plastic sack of Goose Remnants in the fridge. It was an easy matter to carve off a few beautiful medium-rare slices from one of the legs, perfect for crisping up in our carbon-steel skillet.

Not only was there goose, there was giblet gravy made from (of course) the bird’s gizzard, heart, neck, and liver, along with stock simmered down from the carcass. And thanks to its surface depressions, AKA Syrup-Traps, a waffle makes an excellent Gravy Conveyance Device. That was what converted what would have been a merely exceptional breakfast dish into one that was Food Network-worthy. Topping the whole affair with a poached egg - the ultimate hipster decoration - didn’t hurt one bit.

Yeah, I ate it. I ate the whole fucking thing. Mister Debonair could do no less.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

ON THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY

The Persistence of Memory
The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dalí’s masterwork of surrealism.

Salvador Dalí’s painting The Persistence of Memory is familiar to anyone who has studied Modern Art - a strange term, by the bye, for something over a century old.

But I wasn’t thinking of Dalí last night when I was meditating on the persistence of memory. I was thinking of Mad Magazine. Really.

The neighborhood, you see, was echoing with the sound of various explosives - firecrackers, cherry bombs, et alia - as the locals celebrated the arrival of the New Year in their time-honored fashion. Occasionally you would see the colorful burst of an aerial shell, but mostly it was just the sharp report of a noise-making device.

Inevitably, when I hear the sound of fireworks, I think back on an article that appeared in Mad Magazine. Specifically, it was the October 1960 issue - number 58 - and the article was the kind of thing that only Mad Magazine would think to publish: “Carols for All Occasions.” Written by Phil Hahn and illustrated by the immortal Mort Drucker, the article’s premise was that singing Christmas carols was so much fun, there should be carols for other occasions during the year. By way of example, the article had carols for Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day, Tax Day, and so on. But the one that stuck with me was the carol for the Fourth of July:

(To the tune of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”) 

Boom! The cherry bombs explode,
Blowing potholes in the road;
Tiny bits of dynamite
Sure can give a guy a fright!

One went off by Irving’s mama;
Poor thing almost had a trauma!
Gad! What simple-minded Je-erks
We turn loose with fireworks!

Refrain:
Boom! The cherry bombs, etc.   

Never mind that when this first appeared in print, I was all of eight years old. (If I remember properly, I had to look up the word “trauma” in the dictionary.) But here it is fifty-six years later, and I can recite this little bit of doggerel word-for-word. And whenever I hear a fireworky explosion, I do... at least, in my head.

Persistence of memory, indeed.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 - AVE ATQUE VALE


Rainbow over Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, symbolizing the calm after the storm. Maybe.

Today is the last day of 2016.

It is the forty-first anniversary of my meeting Dee for the first time. It is also the penultimate day of Chanukah. The final day of Chanukah rarely coincides with the secular New Year’s Day, 1979 being the last time it happened... but here we are. 

Many of us will be more than happy to see this year depart, for this was a year in which the Grim Reaper’s scythe fell heavily in the fields of celebrity, especially among the musicians who provided so much of the sonic landscape of the past thirty-plus years. David Bowie. Prince. George Michael. Leon Russell. Leonard Cohen. Merle Haggard. John Berry. Maurice White. Paul Kantner. Glenn Frey. Frank Sinatra Jr.

Not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea.

Other pop icons were not exempt. The final week of the year saw the demise of Carrie Fisher, carried off by a heart attack at the age of sixty... and then joined the very next day in the World to Come by her mother, Debbie Reynolds. Tragic.

The year 2016 also saw a Presidential election in these United States that will be the subject of innumerable history books for decades - perhaps centuries - to come. Not even Marty McFly could have imagined that Biff Tannen (for whom Donald Trump was the inspiration) would be elected President a mere year after 2015. Interesting times.

On the personal front, the year brought its share of challenges as well. The first four months were almost entirely occupied with Dee’s painful recovery from a Christmas Eve fall that broke her left hip and simultaneously shattered her left wrist. As if that were not enough, both of her brothers had major health issues early in the year (from which they have since recovered, thank Gawd, kein ayin hara.) The only good thing you can say about health issues is that if you survive them, you can either live in terror of the next problem to come along, or you can appreciate life and its manifold daily blessings a little more. 

But it hasn’t been all thorns in the Elisson rose garden... not by a long shot.

Elder Daughter has kept a busy frantic schedule, developing performances and bringing them to the stage in places such as Berlin, Ljubljana, and far flung Philadelphia. The Mistress of Sarcasm is now ensconced in Kingston, NY, where she and her boyfriend are modifying a building to house them, their respective studios, and a few paying tenants.  Meanwhile, The Other Elisson - my kid brother - has had a wonderful year, not only celebrating having logged six decades’ worth of Circumsolar Voyages, but finding a Special Someone who, to all appearances, has brought real delight into his life.

Chez Elisson is now home to two - count ’em! - two kitties. Edith, a muscular tuxedo shorthair barely out of her kittenhood, joined us in September, a gift from the Mistress of Sarcasm. She and Stella have gradually worked toward a modus vivendi after an initial period of mutual loathing. Together, they provide endless moments of amusement... and together, they generate massive amounts of Kitty-Waste, thus providing continuous employment for our Litter Genie.

A wise woman once told us that love is a verb... and it was in the early weeks of 2016 that her words took on a deep and resonant meaning for me. Love is a verb, and it’s the things you do that matter far more than the things you say. As I have observed previously, the Cocktail of Life is inevitably a mixture of the sweet, the sour, and the bitter, and it is the balance between those elements that allows us to taste joy to its fullest. May your 2017 bring you joy in its greatest measure... with health, happiness and fulfillment, without limit to any good thing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

FAREWELL, PRINCESS


Carrie Fisher (1956-2016) as Princess Leia in Star Wars, the film that instantaneously transformed her into an icon.

2016, with less than one week left to go, has claimed yet another pop culture luminary in a year that saw the Reaper’s scythe especially busy among the greats of music and film. Carrie Fisher, the daughter of Hollywood royalty and herself a filmic icon owing to her roles in the films of the Star Wars saga, has passed away at the age of sixty.

Most of us of a certain age remember the first time we saw Fisher - the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds - onscreen. It was in Star Wars (the first, the original Star Wars, when it was the only Star Wars, before the nonsense of calling it “Episode IV - A New Hope”) shortly after the implacably evil Darth Vader made his appearance. Darth was Bad News, and we knew that Princess Leia was in Big Trouble... but there was a steely resolve in her character that belied the outward tropes of the standard Damsel in Distress archetype. Dressed in flowing white raiment, she was the representative of all that was good in her cinematic universe... unlike the stormtroopers surrounding her, whose white outfits were simply there to offer a photographic contrast to their evil, ebon-clad Department Manager.

Fisher did not have the easiest life: Children of Hollywood royalty seldom do. The sudden shock of unexpected fame? Not exactly, because Carrie was famous simply by birthright. After the huge success of Star Wars, she was more than famous - she was instantly and forever a part of the popular consciousness to a completely unprecedented degree. But add to that problematic degree of celebrity a cocktail of drugs, inappropriate relationships, and bipolar disorder, and it’s a miracle she survived the 1980’s. Thanks to rehab and a sardonic wit that blossomed when she began to write, she did.

Sixty is far too soon to move on to the World to Come. At least, so it seems to me, someone who lost his mother when she was that same age. We will miss you, Carrie.

Ave atque vale, Princess - may your soul plumb the deeps of space and those galaxies far, far away.

Postscriptum: One day after Carrie Fisher’s untimely passing, her heartbroken mother joined her in the World to Come, having suffered a stroke. Or was it a broken heart?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

WHAMMY


George Michael, 1963-2016. [Image credit: CNN.]

George Michael, he dropped and collapsed to the floor.
His heart stopped its beating, his lungs breathed no more.
And as his form slumped to the floor with a slam,
The last word that fell on his ears - it was WHAM!

(2016, with only one week left to run, claims yet another victim in the music business. Ave atque vale, Mr. Michael.)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

THE DAY EVERYTHING CHANGED

Forgive me if I don’t always welcome the arrival of Christmas in the spirit appropriate to the season.

It’s not because I’m a Red Sea Pedestrian. Sure, Christmas is not my holiday... but what gives my neighbors and friends joy gives me joy as well. And besides, it is just as well that we Jews do not celebrate Christmas: If we did, the observant ones among us would find ways to inject an unbelievably complex layer of laws, regulations, and customs into the proceedings.

No, it’s simply that Santa has not been especially nice to us lately. Christmas has brought us a few unpleasant lumps of coal in our figurative stockings.

Christmas Day 2011 was the day my dad - Eli, hizzownself - suffered a massive stroke. He lived a little over two years after that, but never again was he really hiszzownself, having been changed instantaneously from a vigorous, athletic man into a hemiplegic invalid.

And it was exactly one year ago today - Christmas Eve, 2015 - that Dee suffered the fall that simultaneously shattered her wrist, broke her hip, and left lasting scars on her self-confidence.


No, not the door to a stateroom on a cruise ship, alas.

It was rough going for a while. A Christmas Day surgery to put bones together and implant the necessary plates, screws, pins, and spikes, followed by months of recovery. It made the transition into 2016 challenging, with yet more challenges to come as the new year wore on.

Dee is doing much better now, and this evening we enjoyed our traditional first night of Chanukah dinner - takeout Chinese food and Dee’s incredible potato latkes, a bizarre combination with which we memorialize my mother, gone now for twenty-eight years. Yes, it was Christmas Eve. But we were celebrating with dear friends, and so I did not fear the arrival of the Man in the Red Suit with his sometimes perverse gifts.

Happy Chanukah to our fellow Red Sea Pedestrians... and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it! May the holidays bring blessings of health and peace to you and all you love.

(And for the rest of us, there’s always Festivus.)

A CHANUKAH EDITORIAL



[If Dear Abby can get away with reprinting the same frickin’ Holiday Columns every stinking year, why not Elisson? We are therefore pleased to offer this twelve-year-old Editorial Response previously published here and at Blog d’Elisson, one that is both timely and appropriate to the season. Chanukah begins at sundown Saturday evening, December 24 this year, its first day coinciding with Christmas for the first time since 1978.]

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the electronic-mail communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of Lost in the Cheese Aisle:
“I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there was no Judah Maccabee and that Chanukah is a load of crap. Papa says, ‘If you see it in Lost in the Cheese Aisle, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, was there a Judah Maccabee?” - Patty O’Furniture
Patty, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All they care about is that fat red-suited guy who schleps presents to Yenemvelt and back. All minds, Patty, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, goornisht, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Patty, there was a Judah Maccabee.

He existed as certainly as dedication and courage and devotion exist. He kicked some serious ass back in the day, Judah did, throwing the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and reclaiming the holy Temple. His struggle was a struggle against assimilation, against those who would be seduced by the pop culture of the day. He fought his battles so that we Jews would retain our cultural identity and not be swallowed up in the prevailing pagan mainstream. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there had been no Judah Maccabee! It would be as dreary as if there were no Pattys. (Or furniture.) There would be no candle-lighting then, no singing Ma-oz Tzur (or even those stupid dreidel songs), no commemoration of the miraculous rededication of the Temple. No Judah? We would even today be schmearing ourselves with olive oil and burning pig hearts as sacrifices to Zeus. And our Christian friends would have no Christmas - for the culture that gave rise to Jesus would have been wiped out. The eternal light - the ner tamid - with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Judah? You might as well not believe in fairies. Or the Matzohball That Does Not Sink. Or Eliyahu ha-Navi. You might get your papa to hire men to watch all the seder tables of the world to catch a glimpse of Eliyahu, but even if you did not see him, what would that prove? Nobody ever sees Eliyahu ha-Navi drink his wine at the Seder table, but that is no sign that there is no Eliyahu ha-Navi. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. (Although those footprints in the grass were more likely made by your Papa as he tried to sneak back into the house with a snootful of booze after the office Xmas party.) Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You can tear apart the knish and see the tasty filling inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Patty, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Judah Maccabee? Thank G-d he lived - and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Patty, nay, 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to chase the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and combat the forces of cultural assimilation, making glad the heart of childhood.

Happy Chanukah!

[Originally posted on December 25, 2004.]