My Ten Plagues

Waters turn to blood

There’s a park I used to frequent called Cedar Lake Wildlife Management Area in Buena Vista, New Jersey. The lake itself has a tea-colored (or cedar) water as a result of the tannic acids present in some of the flora surrounding the lake, as well as some naturally occurring iron. Although it’s not truly red, it resembles something more of a coagulated blood that will also stain your skin and clothing when you swim in it. Yuck and eww!

Frogs

This would have to be my all-time favorite. Back in 1983, I was travelling with my then boyfriend and our male friend, returning to Phoenix, Arizona from Tucson where the friend had supervised visitation with his two young children (that’s a completely different story for another posting). On the way, I really needed to use the bathroom, holding my bladder as best I could. I don’t know what that route looks like today, but 40 years ago there was nothing on that highway, except a gas station or two, one of which we stopped at for me to use the facilities while the menfolk peed amongst the cacti. We were in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night. If you’ve ever been in the desert in the middle of the night, you’ll know how dark it gets. The ladies’ room light wasn’t on, so I had to fish my way around the walls to find the light switch – yuck and eww! After nearly wetting my pants and feeling every and any kind of germ known to man festering on my hand, I found the light switch…and one bazillion frogs! I had and have never seen that many frogs in one place at one time. Naturally, I ran screaming from the bathroom, sat in the car and held it in until we got home.

Lice

Okay, don’t get me started on every lice epidemic I have witnessed and, thankfully, have not suffered personally from. The worst scenario occurred at summer camp in 2006 when I was the parent liaison for the 15-year-olds. For those of you who haven’t been to a Jewish summer camp, the first thing they do when you get off the bus is sit you down and check your head for lice. One boy came from Israel with a pretty bad case, he deciding it was easier to shave his head rather than go through treatments, which was a very difficult choice on his part because he had a beautiful frock of hair, black and full, falling down to his shoulders. In solidarity, his entire bunk decided they would shave their heads as well, which meant I had to call every single one of their mothers and ask permission to have their sons’ heads shaved. All in all, that event went very smoothly. And then it was time for the girls…one of the American girls came off the bus with a head full of spiders – holy shit! A head full of fucking spiders! I had and have never seen that many lice on one person’s head at one time. And, of course, the girl’s mother refused to admit her daughter had lice (G-d forbid), making treatment very difficult. And, of course, several other girls in the bunk ended up with lice. And, of course, every single one of them had thick hair down to their butts that they refused to cut. I spent the entire summer helping nitpick these girls’ heads. Yuck and eww indeed!

Flies

Back to summer camp for this one too. Remember the story about the old lady who swallowed a fly? Well, this was a cross between that and the introduction of rabbits to Australia. I think it was about my third or fourth year in when camp was taken over by moths. Not really sure why, but the suckers were everywhere, making it almost impossible to walk around at night, there dead lifeless bodies covering the grounds each morning, the maintenance crew driving around on their golf carts shoveling up the debris – yuck and eww. I had and have never seen that many moths at one time. So, by the next summer, someone had discovered that flies are the natural predators of moth larvae – enter Mr. Fly. And guess what happened? Yup, that’s right – camp was infested with flies that summer and, for the record, they don’t die daily… I had and have never seen that many flies at one time. The following years introduced black bears, but I don’t think they count as livestock.

Disease of the livestock

Mad cow disease, swine fever, avian flu, West Nile Virus, rabies, anthrax, botulism, just to name a few. And the list is endless. Shall I continue?

Boils

Okay, come on, who hasn’t had a boil or two in their lives? Even a sty on the eye is considered a boil folks. My worst boil episode occurred after having a spinal tap and a ridiculously humongous boil developed on my lower back. After suffering great pain for about 10 years, I finally decided to have the thing exorcised from my body. I won’t go into detail, but, in the words of the surgeon, “Oh man this is one angry guy!” That sucker spewed forth for at least a week – yuck and eww for sure.

Hail and Fire

Although I’ve witnessed hail many times, I can’t say that I’ve seen hail and fire at the same time. However, while in Jerusalem last month at the peak of the corona breakout, a freak hail storm developed out of nowhere. Perhaps COVID 19 counts as fire? Hmm…

Locusts

The 17-year cicada swarm in New Jersey, 2013. The kid and I were joining my sister and her friends on a cancer walk three years after my sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was amazing on that walk. Despite the pain and side effects from chemo and the unrelenting heat, she walked the entire 5km, even stopping to take a shower when the fire engines sprayed us with their hoses. Ever present that entire walk, the noise the locusts made was deafening. I had and have never seen that many locusts in one place at one time. And what about the locust plague in Africa right now?

Darkness

Aside from that frog-littered gas station in Arizona, the darkest I’ve ever experienced happened in Inishmore on the Aran Islands, Ireland. A friend and I were walking back from a pub where they were filming a documentary about island life (my friend actually got to dance with the director). It was 3:00AM and we were certainly not not a little tipsy. As we moseyed our way back to the bed and breakfast, we talked about how safe we felt, despite the late hour and the complete darkness, me holding my hand in front of my face and declaring, “I literally can’t see my hand in front of my face!” I had and have never felt that safe in my entire life.

Death of the First-Born

My brother, Michael, October 27, 2015. Today is his birthday. He would have been 65 years old.

COVID 19, you suck חלק רביעי

March 6, 2020

Many homes in Israel are equipped with motorized roller shades on their windows, mostly because the heat of the sun is unbearably hot throughout most of the year; however, in some cases, they could potentially provide some protection from rocket attacks. In our case with the apartment, it also provides shelter from the crazy high winds we get on the 12th floor. Either way, these shades create complete and utter darkness in whatever room they’re installed, which would explain why we didn’t wake up until after 9:00AM. What finally woke us up were our upstairs neighbors who we have lovingly nicknamed “the chair people.” At all hours of the day and night, regardless of what room we’re in, all we hear are chairs being dragged across tiles. If not for them this morning, we wouldn’t have gotten up at all.

The worst thing one can do while staying in Jerusalem is to wake up late on a Friday when you didn’t go shopping for Shabbat on Thursday. To make matters worse, it’s pouring rain…and hailing Biblical proportions. What’s next, locusts?! Naturally, motivating ourselves to even get out of the house to shop at Machane Yehuda for our Shabbat food wasn’t working out so well. Sure, we had a fully stocked fridge and pantry, but for us it’s tradition to shop for Shabbat at the local shuk. Besides, we hadn’t gotten our Levy Brothers Falafel yet – the best falafel in Israel! And we would arrive just in time for a late lunch.

Getting back to that unbearably hot sun – I have been told to never pack a raincoat because it is sunny with a 0% chance of rain at least nine months out of the year. On six of my trips to Israel, I did not pack a raincoat, but this time I did. Remember that conversation with the taxi driver two days ago? The rain this past winter in Israel was insane. Not only did it fill the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), the only potable water source in the country, it overflowed and water had to be diverted to the Jordan River through the Dganya Dam. Knowing this ahead of time, there was no way I wasn’t packing my raincoat.

Opting to take a taxi, we made our way to Machane Yehuda, me donned in my full-length raincoat visiting Israel for its first time ever. First stop, on the kid’s insistence, Hummus Arbase (Chick Pea) on Shilo Street across from the shuk. According to the kid, it is the best hummus in Jerusalem. Believing in my daughter’s taste in hummus, we ordered a large container with sautéed mushrooms. Not only was it the best hummus I’ve ever had, I went back the following week to tell the owners that it was the best hummus I’d ever had after being told it was the best hummus in Jerusalem, the old man next to me declaring, “It’s the best in Israel!” And it is.

Second stop, Levy Brothers Falafel, the best falafel in Israel. For several months I’ve been learning Hebrew online, most of my ability being the ordering of food. Not only did I order for me and the hubby in “perfect” Hebrew with my “perfect” Israeli accent, the falafel guy was truly impressed and understood every word I said. I was proud of myself, despite major eye rolling from the kid cuing me to stop trying. Shoveling down our falafel in the pouring rain while standing under a tiny awning of the restaurant next door, we were amazed by how many other people had not shopped for Shabbat and were willing to be out in this weather. Within minutes we were walking up and down the streets in search of Shabbat food while fending off vendors who insisted we needed whatever they were selling. Not only did we need to get out of this rain, the clock was ticking louder and louder, reminding us that we also needed to cook the food we were buying. Opting, once again, to take a taxi back to the apartment, the frantic cooking began.

The issue surrounding my hysteria was thanks to the kid deciding she was now a vegetarian. Being able to slap together two complete meals as carnivores is a piece of cake, but coming up with vegetarian ideas requires at least a day’s notice for me. Thankfully, she decided to help cook…an hour before candle lighting. As we cooked, we listened to the news about the new cases of COVID 19 cases cropping up throughout the world. So far, so good in Israel – no cases whatsoever.

I joked that Purim would be cancelled, which it can’t because it’s on the calendar regardless of corona, right? Then we started to hear that Purim events would most likely be cancelled. What?! It’s the only reason we came here! Well, that and the kid’s birthday. And now they’re talking about closing the borders?! Will we be able to get home in two weeks?! The hubby reassured me that “this will all blow over by then.” On the other hand, I guess being stuck in Israel indefinitely wouldn’t be such a horrible thing – the apartment was available thanks to the next tenant’s inability to occupy upon our departure. And now schools in America are starting to close…

I still feel like I’m missing something…

I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’,
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world…

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall – Bob Dylan

COVID19, you suck…חלק שלישי

March 5, 2020

While the hubby davened (prayed) in the hotel shul (synagogue), I made myself my very first Nespresso (Mr. Clooney would be proud) and watched an old lady feed the stray cats and pigeons across the street while I checked the headlines and caught up on whatever English-speaking news I could find on the television. The United States had already shut its borders to most Southeast Asian countries a month ago, but now various flights to/from and events in Israel were being cancelled in response to this new, quickly spreading coronavirus. I began to wonder if we had made a mistake in travelling while all this is going on, yet secretly wished we would “get stuck” here.

In just the past 24 hours, COVID 19 has spread to most western European countries, Italy being hit the worst. Why Italy? And now anyone coming from outside Israel must quarantine themselves for two weeks, a situation we missed by one day. Gatherings of more than 5000 people are now prohibited. This would explain why the michve alon tekes was cancelled. I also heard there was a new case of corona in New Jersey, a woman just having been in Jerusalem last week, and a case in New York, a man who also had been to both China and Israel in one trip. What am I missing here? Everyone’s walking around Israel like nothing’s happening. I’ve done my research. Coronavirus is nothing new. It’s been around since at least the 1960s, and that’s just when it was finally given a name. I lost a great number of relatives in the 1918 Spanish flu (H1N1) epidemic, which killed between 50,000,000-100,000,000 people. My parents still talked about it decades later. H1N1 was much worse in 2005. People still die from H1N1, and we have a vaccine for that! H3N2, which is the vaccine we can get now, has killed more people this year than COVID19. So what am I missing? I need to walk away from this…

Since we wouldn’t be able to occupy the apartment until 4:00PM, we decided to have brunch at a restaurant called Roladin located in the Mamilla Mall next to the Old City – the perfect distraction. The hubby and the kid had eaten breakfast there last year while I stayed at the apartment nursing the respiratory illness passed from the kid to the hubby and then to me. They made sure to send me multiple photos of the wonderfully fun time they were having, along with all the food they were consuming in my absence. For the past year, the hubby has promised to take me there so we could have our own wonderfully fun time. I was looking forward to it.

With Bibi announcing a 2-meter social distancing today, the streets are almost completely empty, including the restaurant, which has always been packed with a line out the door every time we’ve come to Israel. Today there were a few people eating on the patio and inside we had to spread out – not a difficult task, considering we were only one of three couples in the entire place. If this had been my first visit to Mamilla Mall, I wouldn’t see this as a raving endorsement, wondering why there were so few people in the restaurant. However, I will tell you it is definitely worth checking out.

Still needing to kill some time, the hubby and I decided to visit the Old City. We were swiftly turned away from our usual portal without explanation and redirected to the one and only entrance to the Kotel. At the security check, two b’nai mitzvah were in progress and holding up the line to enter. Once inside, dozens of b’nai mitzvah were taking place in every nook and cranny imaginable. What is going on here? We’ve never seen more than a couple at a time, if any at all during our visits. Do these people know something we don’t? My mind keeps wandering off to World War Z. I’m not liking that thought process…

Needing to have some fun, I suggested we walk over to Mike’s Place. In case you’re not familiar with my story about Mike’s Place, I’ll give a somewhat brief synopsis: My brother, Michael (for whom I started this blog in the first place), was a big beer aficionado. After he died in 2015, my sisters and I have looked for pubs with Michael, Mike or Mikey in their title and have a beer in Michael’s memory. On March 1, 2018, Purim day, the hubby and I walked by Mike’s Place while shopping for costumes, me immediately telling the hubby that we were going to go inside at some point during our visit so I could have a beer on Mikey Bro. Mentioning the bar to a friend who was studying in seminary, she took us later that day to check it out, saying she wanted us to meet a friend of hers who was bartending there. In the end, I learned that the bartender, Jamie, went to high school and graduated with my sister, Kathy, both having seen one another three years earlier at their 40th class reunion. The other bartender on that day was the son of Rabbi Mike Stern (Rabbi Without Walls), who the hubby knew from the Philadelphia area. And sitting at the end of the bar was Chaim, a man from Ohio who knew the parents of a friend/neighbor of ours back home. This wasn’t all just simple coincidence – this was meant to be! What are the chances?! Needless to say, we have gone back to Mike’s Place during every visit to Jerusalem.

IMG_2814 (2)

Arriving at Mike’s Place, I immediately attempt to hug Jamie, only to be informed that “Bibi says, ‘Namaste’,” both Jamie and Chaim making “folded hands” (two hands pressed together with fingers pointed up). Getting away with a quick hug, the hubby and I sat down for a “quick beer” before heading back to the hotel to meet the kid, collect our belongings, move into the apartment and make our way over to Zappa Jerusalem for Shushan Fest, a four-hour music fest with an open bar and kosher chow featuring the Moshav Band, Portnoy Brothers, NURIEL and Solomon Brothers…but then the hubby met Travis, a U.S. Marine working at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. For the record, the hubby was in the U.S. Army as a young man and loves to talk about the military with other comrades-in-arms, thereby turning our “quick beer” into several beers, wines and whiskeys in honor of Michael and Travis, who was celebrating his last day working at the Embassy, leaving Israel the next day and returning to the United States for the first time in three years.

Then a man with a guitar case slung over his shoulder came in to tell us that the Shushan Fest was being cancelled because the crowd restriction was now changed to no more than 100 people in one gathering…and on the way back to the hotel, we started noticing face masks and vinyl gloves strewn throughout the city. I’m beginning to think again that this might have been a really bad time to travel…

Meeting up with the kid at the hotel, we took a taxi to the apartment in Talbiya, where the owners left a special package for our little lone soldier, a fully stocked fridge and pantry and an arrangement of nuts and dried fruits to welcome us back. Now that the concert was cancelled, we decided to check out Luciana for dinner, an authentically Italian dairy restaurant with fresh ingredients and homemade pastas. And the place was packed, no one seeming to care anything about coronavirus. Am I missing something here?!

I was walking alike a zombie toy
They gave me pills to kill with joy
They said it’s alright

Song for the Sun – Namaste

COVID19, you suck חלק שני

March 4, 2020

Our flight somehow only took 9 ½ hours. I do believe this is the fastest flight to Israel we’ve ever had. Either way, the hubby and I were very comfortable in our two ridiculously reduced priced front row premium class seats where absolutely nothing went wrong. We were in heaven! So maybe this trip isn’t cursed…

I already discussed (i.e. you’re doing what I say and that’s that) with the hubby about us taking the train from Ben Gurion Airport to one of the stations in Jerusalem in order to save some cash. “Piece of cake!” I kept telling him, “Everyone we know has done the train to Jerusalem and had absolutely no issues.” I spent my entire trip last May riding the train all over the country. “It’s great!” I kept telling (read: convincing) him. You can sleep if you want to, charge your phone while looking at social media or look at the beautiful scenery. Then we would simply take a taxi from the train station to the hotel where we would be spending the night.

Slowly passing through customs, we managed to retrieve our luggage without incident and found our way to the train station outside the terminal. I knew exactly where to go and how much we would spend after reading another traveler’s blog about his family trip to Israel and taking the train to Jerusalem from the airport. If two parents can manage two young children and their luggage, what could possibly go wrong?

Getting the train to Jerusalem was a piece of cake, us easily finding the ticket machine and the elevator that would take us down to the platform. Unfortunately, the train was running late for some unknown reason, but we managed to figure out which side of the platform to stand thanks to Martha and Joel’s older son who lives in Tel Aviv, reassuring us because they were heading to Tel Aviv, the opposite direction of Jerusalem. Piece of cake…and then both trains arrived at the same time…

Let me start by saying, both of our suitcases weighed almost, if not exactly, 50 pounds, the hubby also dragging along his carryon suitcase and a suicidal hat box that leapt to its death and shattered every time we moved. As the train doors opened, we noticed that there were two steps leading up into the car…ugh…and then two yeshiva boys knocked me and my suitcase down as they frantically tried to board the train. Naturally, everyone was pissed at me for blocking the doors. Once inside, after scraping my body off the train car floor, there was a sudden commotion. A number of people looking confused and distressed abruptly began running back to the doors, the yeshiva boys, once again, shoving and pushing me and my suitcase back to the floor in an attempt to exit the train before it took off. And then there were more stairs…

Barely executing the stairs with our heavy loads and the suicidal hat box, we sat in the first seats we could find…and then we noticed the LED sign telling us the next stop was Tel Aviv. Fortunately, sitting next to us was an English-speaking man who could obviously read the uncertainty on our faces as to whether or not we were on the right train and informed us that we were, indeed, on the train to Jerusalem, he further informing us that the trains had been all mixed up all day today for some reason. Oh, I can tell you why. Because we’re here, that’s why. Because I convinced the hubby to take the train, that’s why. No further explanation necessary…

Schlepping our baggage up and down stairs took so much time that the 26-minute train ride passed in the blink of an eye, leaving us navigating the up and down once again, along with the suicidal hat box. Pouring our bodies out of the train, we soon discovered that finding our way out of the train station was like tackling an Escher Relativity drawing – stairways, escalators and elevators, oh my! Up feet, down feet, here comes clown feet! – only to be stuck in an elevator with Tangina Barrons screaming, “Oh my god, oh my god!” in response to the recent recommendations regarding social distancing of 2 meters (6 feet).

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I have no idea how we found the exit from that train station, but I found my memory pulling me back to April 2019, our last trip together to Israel. Our first Shabbat, 24 hours after arriving in Israel, we had gone to the kibbutz in the Negev where the kid was now living. We had hired the same driver (Ari) from Friday morning to return us to Jerusalem on Sunday morning. Come Sunday morning, some guy named Benny was waiting for us, informing us that Ari’s car had broken down. The hubby quickly called Ari to confirm that a new arrangement had been made. As we entered Jerusalem’s city limits, Benny notified us that he would be stopping at a nearby bus station so that his brother could take us to the hotel, Benny explaining that he was late for court. At this point, succumbing to exhaustion and defeat, I would take three taxis over stairways, escalators, elevators and an hysterical Poltergeist lady.

Finally receiving a Gett acceptance informing us that he was at our pick-up location, the hubby and I attempted to figure out where the taxi was parked, as the suicidal hat box made one last attempt at destroying itself. Several frantic phone calls later, we found our driver, who proceeded to berate us regarding our actual location and not what the Gett app pulled up. Within seconds, our driver was no longer angry with us and began talking about President Trump. For the record, I do believe that every single taxi driver in Israel is pro-Trump. They LOVE talking about Donald Trump. Our 10-minute drive that turned into standstill traffic covered conversations from the miraculous rainfall in Israel this past winter filling the Kinneret for the first time in almost 30 years to the sudden onset of COVID19. Frustrated with the traffic jam coming from every direction, our driver asked if we didn’t mind getting out a block from the hotel and walking up, to which we gladly obliged.

During that month of frustration leading up to the purchase of our airplane tickets back in January, it didn’t really register that this “novel COVID19” might be the reason flights kept booking up fast, with only two flights departing from Newark to Tel Aviv daily – very unusual. The original plan was to fly on March 4th and land on March 5th, arriving just in time to occupy that already paid (in full) apartment in Jerusalem without bothering to make sure I could even get to Israel in the first place…hindsight is always 20/20. And, of course, both flights on March 4th had been booked weeks prior, leaving us no choice but to fly on March 3rd and stay in a hotel. In the end, we saved several hundred dollars flying a day early, only to spend most of it on the hotel. I honestly didn’t mind. We were staying at our favorite hotel in Jerusalem, where I have apparently been carrying on a secret love affair over the last three years with the manager, Avi, my hotel boyfriend once again leaving me a letter inviting me to the executive lounge (i.e. free endless food and booze), along with a free dinner for two.

In the end, after 48 hours of travelling time, the hubby and I unanimously agreed that burgers were on the menu for tonight. We also agreed that Burgers Bar was not going to be on this trip and that McDonald’s wasn’t even a remote option. Lucky for us, I do a lot of research when it comes to food in Israel. Segev Burgers outside of Machane Yehuda claims to have the Best Burger in Town – I’m down with that! As we made our way through an empty Machane Yehuda, I began asking myself again, “Am I missing something here?” Being the only patrons in the restaurant, we wondered if indeed these would be the best burger in town. I will say it was the best burger I’ve ever eaten out, period, end of story. But where is everyone? Am I missing something here?

Completely drained of any energy, we returned to the hotel and attempted to find something on television. Having to choose between Russian, French, German, and Hebrew on channels such as ONE and ONE2, I ultimately gave up, the hubby passed out beside me. And then I got the notice that the michve alon tekes had been cancelled as a result of the new restrictions prohibiting gatherings of more than 5000 people due to fears of spreading COVID19. I immediately texted Martha. This was the only reason she and her husband had flown to Israel. And so it began.

COVID19, you suck…

She packed her bags left me behind
She bought a ticket on the Central Line
Nights as I sleep, I hear that whistle whining
I feel her kiss in the misty rain
And I feel like I’m a rider on a downbound train

Downbound Train – Joe Pug

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNMNmcaw28c

COVID19, you suck…חלק ראשון

March 3, 2020

Of course it’s raining! I feel like this trip is already cursed. Every time I looked on line, the planes to Israel kept filling up quicker than I could pull up Google Chrome. The month leading up to my plane ticket purchase found me anxiety-ridden, knowing I had already paid (in full) for an apartment in Jerusalem without bothering to make sure I could even get to Israel in the first place. (In hindsight, it never occurred to me that coronavirus might be the culprit in my inability to snag a couple of seats to the Motherland.) Daily, for over a month, I would go on El Al’s website and search for a plane leaving anywhere from the east coast to Tel Aviv. Miraculously, on January 12th, I managed to find two ridiculously reduced priced front-row premium class seats on a flight to Israel from Newark, New Jersey – holy s**t! As soon as I clicked on that “Purchase” box, I immediately said to myself, “You get what you pay for.” One week later, the first COVID19 case would be diagnosed in the United States.

So, in any other lifetime on any other day, saying, “You get what you pay for,” has become a standard motto in our household. From plumbers and electricians to hotels and car rentals, the hubby and I have been mostly happy with what we have gotten for what we paid, even if it means spending more than we should. This seems to be a 99% accurate motto, the other 1% reserved for airplane travel…

It all started with the  plane returning back from Tennessee in October 1996 that had to circle Philadelphia International Airport for over an hour for some “unknown” reason during the era of “suspicious packages” prior to 9/11 thanks to the Unabomber, and following a panic attack overcoming me when boarding the plane after the flight attendant found a small unlabeled, cardboard box in an overhead compartment to which no passenger could claim. I didn’t fly again until 2010…

Following the advice of a psychologist friend who specializes in fear of flying, I planned a trip to Milwaukee to see my brother and sister-in-law as a precursor to the very long flight I would be taking to Israel for the first time in 2011 in celebration of the kid’s bat mitzvah. This friend warned me that my anxiety would be at peak levels during this flight because of the short distance. He said it takes approximately 20 minutes for anxiety to cycle from start to finish. Looking at a 2 ½ hour flight, I would have at least a third of the flight in a state of pure anxiety. Lovely…but I was prepared…or so I thought…

The flight to and from Milwaukee came from the depths of hell, the hubby organizing the flight plans while the kid and I lived a Lord-of-the-Flies-existence at summer camp. Needless to say, we flew from Philadelphia to Chicago on a bus with wings – a very noisy bus with wings that rattled and shook for the entire 2 ½ hours it took to fly from Philadelphia to O’Hare International Airport. And then we had to switch to a commuter plane…

To this day, I’m amazed that I, let alone the hubby, survived that plane ride. We still mention that trip every time we plan to fly. A scheduled 45-minute flight took 10 minutes…WTF?! What the hell kind of winds were those?  Needless to say, the hubby hasn’t been allowed to make travel arrangements since 2010.

Then came that very long flight to Israel for the first time in 2011. Wanting to fly locally and wanting to spend as little cash as possible, we chose U.S. Airways out of Philadelphia…you get what you pay for…

It all started with the family sitting behind us – Mom, Dad and their two kids, Sissy and Bro, Bro absolutely refusing to sit in his own seat, opting to sit on mom’s lap instead, and the flight attendant repeatedly requesting the parents immediately put the child in his own seat with a fastened seat belt or the flight would be delayed. “Delayed” was not the word I wanted to here, sitting on the tarmac at the precise time the plane was scheduled to take off. The mother begged to hold her son, warning that the child would scream if he had to sit on his own. And this argument continued for 40 minutes, my anxiety about the flight nearly burning a hole in the roof of the cabin. Remember, this is only the second roundtrip flight I had taken in 15 years. I don’t know what came over me, and I seriously didn’t (and still don’t) care about the way I reacted (this is where the hubby and the kid facepalm). I unfastened my seatbelt, stood up, turned around and said, “For the love of G-d, put the f**cking kid in his seat and let him scream! At this point no one gives a s**t if he screams! Let’s just take the f**k off lady!” I do believe I received a standing ovation in the minds of those poor flight attendants, as well as the other 400+ passengers onboard. And that was before we even took off…

Two brothers, not older than 10-years-old, reclined their seats to their fullest capacity the entire 10+ hours flight, their heads completely visible to us as they literally slept in our laps while their parents, sitting in the row in front of the boys, not understanding why I complained about not having enough room. On the way back home, I had a man with the world’s largest hands sitting in front me, he seemingly only capable of sleeping with his hand hanging over the seat that was also reclined to its fullest extent, blocking my entire view of the t.v. screen. But the crème de la crème was the man sitting next to me…

After sitting down, my seat partner proceeded to take out a Jordanian newspaper. It wasn’t so much that he was reading a Jordanian newspaper, but more so a reaction to the situation in Israel at the time becoming increasingly tense with multiple terrorist attacks taking place in Jordanian controlled areas throughout the country, some happening while we were there. I will also admit that my knowledge of Israel and the conflict was in its infancy.

And then he took out a liter-sized bottle of water, which was completely banned on all flights to/from Israel after 9/11. My anxiety taking over (along with my inability to keep my mouth shut), I questioned my new friend about the bottled water, to which he proclaimed, “It’s “bullsh**t!”

Okaay…and then he took out a whole cooked chicken…

This is the point where the hubby and the kid usually tell me to just shut the hell up and mind my business. But then I wouldn’t be me, right?

Seeing my reaction (which I would give anything to see now) to his “carry-on luggage,” my new friend began to chuckle. He then proceeded to tell me the story of his life. See, this is what you get when you “talk too much” and have a degree in Anthropology.  I don’t recall the village from whence he came, but he grew up somewhere in the West Bank north of Jerusalem on the Jordanian border. He identified with being Jordanian and did not call himself a Palestinian but complained that Israel considered him a Palestinian and “treated him as such” whenever he crossed the border. He was proud of his Jordanian heritage and didn’t wish to be associated with being “Palestinian.” He then filled in the gaps about the whole cooked chicken while offering me raw cucumbers and tomatoes his relatives had grown in their backyard gardens. I learned how he migrated all by himself to the United States at the age of 16. How he ended up in Baltimore, Maryland and slowly found his way, completing his GED, graduating college, getting married and having children, ultimately finding himself owning several businesses and becoming “quite wealthy” in the process. In return, he flew back to Israel four times a year for a month at a time to assist his two maternal aunts, his female cousin and his sister, all of whom suffered from dementia and/or Alzheimer’s Disease. Wow

Then there was the 2017 flight to be with the kid when she made aliyah – very last row in front of the toilets with the toothless dude on the aisle seat slurping and chewing ridiculously loud (yeah, I’m one of those people), then falling asleep for the entire flight. I had to keep reminding myself that we originally weren’t sitting together, and that the ticket supervisor managed to rearrange seating so that we could sit together…until the woman whose seat we booted started to complain about not sitting in her originally assigned seat. Oh, and, by the way, the very last row seats don’t recline. And, because we are who we are, we had the same seats coming back, another dude sitting in the aisle seat who slept the entire flight. And don’t forget about the woman sitting in front of me who kept reaching back to poke my knee, insisting I was constantly pushing her seat. Yeah…good times, good times.

Then there was 2018…

Despite scoring economy plus seats round trip, we quickly learned that every single person in economy likes to congregate and socialize in the two feet of extra leg room afforded to us for an additional  $110 per seat. I would later learn in 2019 that economy plus is also where the men like to daven (pray) – you get what you pay for…

However, I met a man named Ben, the passenger sitting on the wing side. The good thing about Ben is that he also “talks too much” and never sleeps on planes – the perfect partner. Ben was originally from New Jersey and moved to South Carolina. He was currently an Uber driver and loved his job, explaining to me how Uber drivers should behave (but don’t) and how passengers should behave (but don’t). Ben had been a cavalry scout in the United States Army. He later obtained his private aviator license and continues to fly planes as a hobby. He’s also a big gun aficionado and 100% supports the NRA and every American’s right to own a gun. Another hobby Ben actively participates in is Civil War reenactments, he opting to dress up in confederate garb. But the most interesting facet of Ben’s life was his return back to Judaism.

Ben was primarily raised by his mother after his parents divorced, his father disappearing from their lives. His mom was originally a Christian from Columbia and met Ben’s father after immigrating to the United States. She would later convert and get married to his father. Up until 2019, Ben had no idea where his father might be living, let alone if he was still alive. I don’t recall how Ben found his father, my memory telling me he discovered a half-brother on Facebook or possibly through a genealogy search. Either way, the father was now living in Tel Aviv and Ben now had an instant family, including several half-siblings.

Six months prior to our departure, we were all still recovering from the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting where eleven people were shot dead by a lone gunman. Ben disclosed that because of this event he found himself rediscovering his Judaism and was becoming more religious, a local Chabad guiding him through the process. Ben and I spent the entire flight talking about our lives, making the 10-hour flight seem like minutes, the only thing breaking up our conversations being the massive minyanim (prayer groups) taking place in front of our seats; that, and the cranky flight attendant who refused to give me any cream cheese for my bagel and told us to stop talking – you get what you pay for.

In April 2019 we managed to score a couple of premium class seats for a nominal fee, my aisle seat companion being a Polish man with dementia who only spoke Polish and some unknown form of Hebrew no one could understand. He spent most of the flight yelling at me for not understanding him or seemingly complaining about the flight attendants not understanding him either – you get what you pay for.

May 2019, travelling to Israel alone this time, I managed to upgrade to an economy plus seat. Of course, much to my “surprise,” the 10-year-old boy sitting next to me was an uncontrollable vomiter – you get what you pay for.

On the way back home, I won a lottery for premium class – woohoo! Not…the drunk man sitting behind me complained about me “talking too much” the entire flight – you get what you pay for.

So, here it is, March 3, 2020. Why should anything be any different?

Driving in the rain, in and of itself, is bad enough, but driving in the rain at night totally sucks.

Despite scoring my premium class seats two months prior, our plane had already been changed, albeit retaining our fabulous seats. Except for our 9:00PM flight, the airport was empty, us swiftly passing through TSA with absolutely no issues, all along me asking, “Am I missing something here?”

Not having eaten for most of the day, the hubby and I bought a couple of sandwiches and sat at a communal table next to a couple who were eating salads. Our table neighbors, Martha and Joel, are from Maryland and were flying to Israel to see their son, Danny, graduate from michve alon (a pre-army Hebrew language school). This was the only reason they were flying to Israel. We completely understood. We did the same thing a year ago to see our daughter graduate medic training. In talking, I discovered that Martha is also a lone soldier mom on what the hubby and I refer to as “the mommy site” on Facebook. While we talked, the hubby recognized a gentleman from our community also sitting at the table. We discovered that our neighbor’s son is not only in michve alon with Danny, but they also live on the same kibbutz. As we were getting ready to board, Martha introduced me to Michelle, whose daughter lives on the same kibbutz as the son of a mutual friend. An only-in-Israel-but-not-yet-in-Israel moment. There are no coincidences in life…

The plane was half empty with a number of people wearing surgical masks and latex gloves, me continuing to ask myself, “Am I missing something here?” And then a child in economy started screaming as the flight attendant closed the curtain to separate the cabins, the screaming child now barely audible – you get what you pay for.

The plane was 25 minutes late taking off, but the hubby and I didn’t care as we knocked back some bourbon and red wine at no extra cost. So far this flight might just be our best yet, the hubby letting me talk as much as needed to ease my anxiety.

Despite leaving 25 minutes late, our plane arrived one hour earlier than expected, but I’m not complaining.

And Ben Gurion was empty too…am I missing something here?

The days quickly pass, he loves making her laugh
The first time he moves it’s her hair that he touches
She asks “Are you cursed?” He says “I think that I’m cured”
Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bull rushes

The Curse – Josh Ritter

COVID19, you suck…

A memo to all you assholes out there who are hoarding the entire supply of America’s toilet paper:

F**K YOU!

Two weeks ago, the hubby and I left for Israel to visit with the kid, who is currently serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. This trip was in the making for almost a year. The kid’s birthday was on Shushan Purim, so we thought it would be a blast to spend Purim and her birthday in Jerusalem. It was the first time we would be together on her birthday in three years. I even started shopping for costumes at the tail end of Halloween in anticipation of our celebration. Completely certain this trip was going to happen, I contacted the owner of the apartment we rented last April, making a deposit mid-November of 2019. We didn’t even have plane tickets yet, but I was determined to make this trip happen.

On January 12th, one week before the first case of COVID19 appeared in the United States, I finally bought our plane tickets. Less than three weeks later, the United States banned all foreign nationals who had traveled to China from entering the country. By the time we got on that plane, on March 3rd, over 47 countries had been affected by COVID19 and the list of banned foreign nationals was steadily growing, along with daily travel advisories for American tourists. At that point, most of the cases in the U.S. were on the west coast, leaving us east coast folks not too concerned. Seeing that Israel wasn’t anywhere near the top ten countries on the forbidden list, we breathed a sigh of relief and went ahead with our travel plans.

Needless to say, over our two-week “vacation,” we were bombarded by constant news about COVID19 and watched the list of countries affected increase on an hourly basis. Restrictions in Israel were appended almost daily, news anchors repeatedly assuring the Israeli population that there would be enough food and other essential supplies to last long enough to get through the pandemic. Walking the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, you would never know anything was going on. For the most part, people remained calm, some following the letter of the law, others thumbing their noses at the prime minister. All in all, I didn’t feel worried at all and couldn’t understand why the rest of the world was losing their minds.

And then we started hearing about all the crazy Americans, their appalling behavior disgusting us and the Israelis alike. We weren’t looking forward to returning to the United States as it was, let alone finding ourselves head first into what was perceived to be the next Zombie Apocalypse.

And then I started reading the memes on Facebook about toilet paper. Toilet paper? What’s this about toilet paper? And then I started reading all the complaints about the lack of toilet paper, accompanied by photographs of empty toilet paper shelves at the local supermarkets. Wait…WHAT?! Toilet paper?! Am I missing something here? Toilet paper?! Toilet paper was everywhere in Israel. Israelis weren’t freaking out over toilet paper. WTF is going on in America?! Toilet paper?!

By the time we got back to the United States on March 18th, over 160 countries had multiple cases of COVID19. Every single state in America had at least one case of COVID19 with over 16,000 diagnosed and over 200 deaths. Facing possible quarantine, the hubby decided to venture out to the supermarket to pick up some much-needed supplies the following morning. Due to jet lag, we both awoke at 3:00AM, the hubby already scheming the battle plan in his head. Having picked up some medication for me the night before, the hubby discovered the empty toilet paper shelves in every store was a reality. Really?! Toilet paper?! Then the hubby was advised by the pharmacist to arrive to the supermarket as early as possible because of the lines. Lines?! What lines?! There’s lines now?! Yup…there are lines now.

So, the hubby left at 6:30AM the next morning in order to wait on line for the store to open at 7:00AM. There were actually two lines, which were apparently alternated daily, the hubby, of course, not getting on the “right” line that day. The hubby calmly walked over to the paper products, picked up a package of toilet paper, just enough for the two of us to get through a possible two-week quarantine, paid for said toilet paper and left the store, returning home to brief me on his toilet paper excursion and relaying the appalling behavior we had heard about in Israel. By 7:13AM the toilet paper in the store was completely gone, the hubby describing a scene only comparable to The Walking Dead. By all accounts, I now believe the Zombie Apocalypse has begun…

Seriously, people – toilet paper?! WTF is wrong with y’all? So, to all you assholes out there who are hoarding the entire supply of America’s toilet paper:

F**K YOU!

Try thinking about the other 327,199,999 other Americans who might need a roll of toilet paper once in a while…assholes

And don’t get me started about the avocados…

It’s getting kinda lonely out here by myself
Food’s running low, there’s dust on the shelf
But at least I have the voices arguing in my head
Which is much better than being undead

Zombie Apocalypse – Kirby Krackle

 

Listen up!

I see no reason to keep silent about my enjoyment of the sound of my own voice as I work. Muriel Spark

I worked my way through college at the performing arts center located on campus. For the most part, I worked in the box office during the day taking ticket orders by telephone and keeping the place as organized as possible, slowly advancing to Assistant Box Office Manager before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology/sociology within a three-year period (bragging rights after graduating high school in three years as well). Cell phones (let alone smartphones) and the internet didn’t exist to waste my time. Nor did we have a computer (that didn’t arrive until after I graduated and hung on for a few more months). Everything was done by hand, so, needless to say, I always seemed to have something to do. Up until a few days before an event, most of my time was spent in solitude studying, with the occasional friend stopping by to say hello or asking to score free tickets on their way to class and/or another work-study student coming in after realizing they had hours to make up in order to get their tuition paid.

I enjoyed the solitude…most of the time. However, I preferred having someone at my side to chat up a storm. Throughout my three years in that box office, there was a steady stream of work-study students coming and going on a regular basis, all assuming it would be a cake job and loads of fun…until their first event. At least I had the radio to keep me company in between co-workers, a habit I still hold today to ward off the loneliness.

I don’t like empty silence (which is why I would’ve made a terrible outpatient therapist). One of the numerous secretaries at the performing arts center described me to a tee the day she met me.

Secretary: You’re that four-year-old kid standing in the middle of the room, stomping her feet and waving her fists, shouting, “Pay attention to me!”

Yeah, she pretty much nailed it. I was the youngest of five children, seventh on the list of priorities. By the time I had anything important to say, my three oldest siblings were out of the house, leaving me mostly alone to my own thoughts.

Very often I am told I talk too much. From my parents and siblings to distant relatives and close friends (and the occasional stranger), I am fully aware that everyone thinks I talk too much. For years and years, I allowed my feelings to be hurt by this one criticism. And ya know what? I don’t care anymore. I know I talk too much. It’s who I am and for as long as my voice can be heard, I will continue to talk too much. Get over it.

So, now for that radio habit…

Music has always been present in my house, regardless of where and with whom I lived (which includes living with a coke-addicted rock band in Arizona that never left the ground). Of course, as a child, and most definitely as a teenager, my eyes couldn’t have rolled higher when forced to listen to my parents’ choice of music on the car radio, especially on long road trips in the family station wagon. Now, as a middle-aged adult, I find myself listening (and actually enjoying) “the classics” of my parent’s generation – Perry Como (mom’s absolute favorite), Tony Bennett (my secret fantasy husband), Andy Williams (the King of Christmas) and Mel Torme (the Velvet Fog). My musical palate is much like my taste in wine – it’s all over the place. My godsend was when Alice Cooper finally admitted he liked the Bee Gees. If that Alice could like the Bee Gees, this Alice could like anything.

My radio is on (99% of the time to WXPN, the other 1% Pandora) from the time I open my eyes in the morning to the minute I go to bed at night, the only sound supplementing the silence being my sound machine of crickets chirping. Music has helped me through many a hard time in this life of mine. But now it serves a greater purpose – I suffer from chronic tinnitus…24/7, every second, every minute, every hour, every day of every week for over 25 years. Music pleasantly drowns out the incessant noise emanating from my brain. So nowadays, when the music isn’t playing, I talk too much to distract my ears from hearing my brain’s babel. Plus, I’m just a social creature. Deal with it.

On January 21, 1989, the hubby and I had our first date at the performing arts center where I had worked a year before, me then working at a drug rehab in Atlantic City. It was the Hartford Ballet. They sucked (sorry guys). Their stomping feet so loud above the orchestra and smoking backstage in between scenes just didn’t do it for us…but it’s a story we tell to this day, thirty years later…thank you Hartford Ballet!

I’ve met some famous people because I talk too much. But, of course, I don’t have pictures to prove it because there weren’t any smartphones hanging around in those days…you’ll just have to take my word for it (wink, wink)…

Gossip, gossip, we want gossip!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_ZwWwsqPtw

Arlo Guthrie is a beautiful human being. He performed at the PAC when his son, Abe (in his teens), first began touring with him, and Arlo made sure no one was getting anywhere near his kid. I actually had a picture taken of me with Arlo but the photo didn’t come out. Despite his refusal to sing Alice’s Restaurant, Arlo was very polite and a majorly decent human being. He later played the PAC again in the fall of 1987…and played Alice’s Restaurant…while I was studying in Ireland. However, me, the hubby, Kathy and her husband, Joe, went to see Arlo during the 50th Anniversary tour of Alice’s Restaurant. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the show…except Alice’s Restaurant. Dude, I totally get why you don’t wanna sing that song no mo’…

What can one say about Richie Havens? He is one of the most-humble human beings I’ve ever met. One of my closest friends at the time was a member of the Lenape tribe. He swore he was best buds with Richie since the Civil Rights Movement…and he wasn’t lying! Richie, you are so missed. A beautiful spirit.

When I heard that Judy Collins was coming to the PAC, I immediately called Kathy, who was a big fan. At that point, our tickets were free (wink, wink). I had arranged for Kathy to meet Judy in person (wink, wink). Prior to bringing Kathy backstage, I met with Judy to let her know how much my sister loved her and how much she wanted to meet her…and she was a total bitch. Not wanting to ruin the moment, I didn’t dare tell Kathy about my meeting with Judy (I apologize Kathy that you have to hear this now, thirty-five years later).

Unbeknownst to me, the hubby was in the audience when Miles Davis performed at the PAC. We had to create a private space for Miles because of his active recovery and chronic shyness. He only came out to perform. It was enough for both of us. One of the best jazz musicians of all time.

Marvin Hamlisch…I don’t really want to say anything else.

Pilobolus…I saw you practice naked…oy!

Sophomore year I told the school photographer that my name was Alice Cooper. She believed me…and my mother worked in the attendance office…too funny.

10th

I met Glen Buxton in 1984 at a party somewhere in Arizona…maybe the Phoenix area? Either way, he was seriously f***ed up and had no idea how he ended up at the party and ultimately passed out in a chair while I stared at him. Alice Cooper seems to be my legacy.

Okay, so I didn’t get to meet my fantasy husband, Tony Bennett, but I did meet his son at the Bat Mitzvah of a friend of the kid’s because he was married to her aunt (not the kid’s, the friend’s). This was the year that we took the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon challenge.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rmn-amJ9UA4

So…

  • my daughter was friends with
  • the daughter
  • of a woman
  • whose sister was married to
  • Danny Bennett, the son of Tony Bennett,
  • who met at the Spirit of Independence honoring Clint Eastwood in 2007.

Oorah!

I said you talk about this, and you talk about that
When the cat took your tongue, I say you took it right back

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EheLN-MDzrA

 

F you

Warning: I apologize ahead of time for cussin’ like a sailor (no offense to all you naval peeps out there – respect). I’m a little grumpy today…

Coming home from grocery shopping, I was stopped at a red light preparing to turn left and decided to send a quick text to the hubby letting him know what I was making for dinner. When I looked up to check the light, I was startled by a person on a bicycle staring at me through the passenger side window. This person was visibly upset and seemed to be yelling at me, repeatedly looking underneath my car and continuing to berate me with words I couldn’t hear over the traffic or the rain. It finally dawned on me that my car was on top of the crosswalk, which wasn’t actually at the corners of the traffic light, leaving me completely unaware that I was parked on top of it. The cyclist walked around the back of my car and continued to yell at me through the driver side window, me finally capable of making out some of what this person was upset about. Apparently, it wasn’t at all cool that I was on top of the crosswalk because this person couldn’t just ride their bicycle straight across and remain within the lines of the crosswalk. Not wishing to interact, let alone having the energy to argue with a complete stranger who was observably not in their right mind and thought way more concrete than I was capable of at that moment, I simply chose to ignore them and turned when the light changed to green, watching as the cyclist pointed fingers and attempted to take my license plate down.

So, here’s what I would have said to this person if I truly had wanted to bother…

  • Angrily berating another human being in the middle of a busy intersection, let alone in the pouring rain and wearing a cycling outfit entirely made of black is not only 100% foolish, it’s downright dangerous. Someone could have run you over because they couldn’t see you as you were crawling underneath my car.
  • I could have been that person who ran you over because I didn’t know you were crawling underneath my car.
  • Yelling at other human beings, regardless of how you’re feeling today, is just not nice.
  • I could have had a gun and shot your face off because I didn’t like what it was saying to me.
  • I did have pepper spray in my pocket and was actually getting ready to launch if the light had not turned green.
  • I, too, am a cyclist and fully aware of the rules and laws of the road. Not only were you illegally riding your bicycle on the sidewalk, you were riding your bike against traffic, in the rain – foolish and dangerous, once again.
  • You would have been a lot less saturated by the rain if you had just kept going and not stopped for at least five minutes to berate me about my faux pas.
  • Go ahead, take down my license plate – see who gives a shit.
  • FYI, the cops don’t give a shit, that’s who.
  • Fuck you…

So, it’s not working out, this whole cycling thing. I see people riding in 20-degree weather or, like today, in the pouring rain. Fuck you. You make me feel bad about myself and I don’t like that you do this to me. Of course, it’s not your fault. I’m just grumpy today and wish I had the stamina and/or motivation that I had prior to 2019. I’ve started at least a handful of times since January 1st to train for the Bike-a-thon Bridge to the Beach ride scheduled for June and have failed miserably. I just don’t want to do it and couldn’t understand why…until I talked it over with the hubby.

What came out of our conversation was that I didn’t want to ride to raise funds anymore. I already knew from the get-go that I didn’t want to race for any reason whatsoever. Deep down inside, I realized that my motivation to ride had become selfish – simply ride for the pleasure of riding. I want to join a group of other people who feel the same way – find a beautiful place and just ride recreationally and look at the beauty that surrounds us. I also discovered that they exist and was determined to find the right fit…until Kathy sent me an email…

There’s this thing called the Great Cycle Challenge – a cycling challenge to raise funds for kids with cancer. As sick as it sounds, cancer is so very near and dear to my heart. For over 20 years I’ve been forestalling my own personal battle with pre-cancer, thank G-d successfully. My Irish twin battled cancer and won. My nephew-in-law also beat his cancer into submission. Several of my closest friends have cancer and struggle every day to keep it at bay. My brother, Michael, fought cancer and lost. The idea of children suffering what I witnessed adults go through just kills me.

So, when Kathy sent me that email, I found myself motivated once again to raise funds and challenge myself at the same time while taking in the beauty of the world at my own pace.

There are no coincidences in life.

So, here we go again…and fuck you…I’m still a little grumpy…sorry…

I apologize again for cussin’…

P.S. Rea (despite how you feel about yourself today) and Judy (you rock), you two are my inspiration today…

Look inside
Look inside your tiny mind
Now look a bit harder
‘Cause we’re so uninspired
So sick and tired of all the hatred you harbor

F You – Lily Allen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8VZX4sHn-4

Moo!

Warning: I tend to be overly friendly. Part genetics and part upbringing, I learned the true meaning of random acts of kindness from my dad. Don’t ever go shopping with me if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. Always expect that moment in the store when I stop to chat with complete and total strangers. And, (G-d forbid) I should run into someone I know, don’t expect to be home on time for dinner.

The majority of the people I tend to strike up a conversation with seem to be senior citizens. I think it comes from the last few years I spent with mom and dad, taking them on their weekly grocery shopping trips once dad was completely incapable of driving. Dad always socialized at the store. For many senior citizens, it might be the only time in their day, week or even the month, where they get to be out and about among other fellow humans. Some only want a hello. Others may need a little more than that. I don’t mind either way – I’ve got time to listen.

So, shopping at the local Wegman’s a couple of weeks ago, I was perusing the bulk aisle in search of macadamia nuts for the monthly brownie recipe the Food Network magazine had convinced me to make for the month of January – Snowy Day Coconut Brownies. As I weighed my macadamia nuts, an apparently unconscious sigh broke the silence.

Joe: You’re way too young to be making that sound!

Me: You’d be surprised…

Joe looked like a man who should be the one sighing, but he was smiling instead. Then Joe asked me a question that I absolutely hate being asked, let alone answer…

Joe: How old do you think I am?

Ugh…either way, you’re wrong. If you say they’re way younger than they are just to be polite, you’re insulting their intelligence. If you guess way over, you’re just plain ignorant (or under the age of 30). So, swallowing an insult to injury along with my ignorance, I guessed Joe was about 75 and, of course, I was wrong. Joe is 90-years-old. Honestly, he didn’t look a day over 80 and actually did look like he could be in his 70s. Joe proceeded to listen to my sighing justification as a result of many personal tribulations over a short period of time, I, in turn, hearing about the deaths of everyone in his life as a result of living as long as he has.

Somehow, we steered ourselves onto a conversation about smoking. I told Joe how I had quit smoking over 25 years ago and subsequently developed a rare neurological condition. Joe then told me how he had only quit 10 years ago at the age of 80 and only because he was having open heart surgery. According to Joe, his doctor warned him of the need to stop smoking two weeks prior to surgery in order to be anesthetized properly without ramifications. Joe claimed he quit “just like that” without any kind of physical or mental support. And after the surgery he figured he hadn’t smoked for at least a month so why go back…and that was that. I praised Joe for this incredible feat, and blessed him for making it this far in life still looking like he was 75…

Asking Joe about his heart condition now, he said he never felt better, despite feeling all of his 90 years at this point regardless of how he looked. He told me how the doctor had to replace one of his heart valves with a cow’s heart valve because of severe aortic stenosis, something I had never heard of before.

Joe: Yeah, now whenever I go to the doctor for an examination, he takes out his tongue depressor and tells me to open up and say, “Moo!”

“Put them out, out to pasture, beneath the olive trees.
That line the hillsides of a distant gracefulness.
So they might feed and flourish in abundance.
And you and I may live.”

 Cows of Gladness – Seals and Croft

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVqQYKPXuvY

2019…in a nutshell

December 31, 2019

It’s New Year’s Eve. I want to watch When Harry met Sally and not pay for it, but it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen tonight. Feeling slightly nostalgic, I wanted to watch it because it came out shortly after New Year’s Eve 1988, thirty years ago, a month after the hubby and I started dating. Not having free access to the movie and the hubby being asleep since 8:21PM, my New Year’s nostalgia bubble has quickly burst. Looks like I’ll be the only one in the house up at midnight again this year. Even after the kid fought tooth and nail to stay awake for New Year’s Eve her first time back in 2010, she passed out on the family room floor at exactly 11:45PM, the hubby snoring faintly by her side.

At this point I’ve settled on The ‘Burbs (which I own, of course). For those of you who don’t know the movie, it’s a film directed by Joe Dante during the writers’ strike of 1988. Although there was a script written for the movie and the writer of the script appeared in the film, he was not allowed to contribute any ideas while on set, so most of the scenes were completely improvised by the actors. In a nutshell, the story revolves around the Klopeks, a strange foreign family who have moved into a typical suburban neighborhood located somewhere in middle America, and how their neighbors respond to them. All kinds of theories involving the Klopeks abound after an older neighbor has gone missing without a trace, from which the entire movie is focused.

Since birth, I’ve lived in the ‘burbs, except for a brief stay in Astoria, Queens when the hubby was in law school, our neighbor across the hall being the Egyptian taxi driver who fashioned a hookah out of car parts and smoked the finest Turkish tobacco only money could buy the equivalent to the best cocaine on the planet. At the time we lived in Astoria, our apartment was located in the primarily Greek Ditmars/Steinway neighborhood, a large portion of our neighbors being widows who spoke little English. We knew they were widows because it was explained to us that after their husbands died, they would only wear black clothing. We lovingly referred to the old widow who lived in apartment A1 on the first floor as “The Mayor.” She knew everyone in the building and everything about them, regardless of whether or not you personally spoke to her. Once The Mayor knew who you were, your business was everyone’s business by the end of the day you moved into the building. During the warmer months, the widows spent their days sitting outside in chairs brought from their kitchens, no doubt gossiping about the neighbors. I wouldn’t know because they only spoke Greek, which we sadly never learned to speak the entire 2 ½ years we lived there. I also assumed they were gossiping because numerous times we were confronted by a member of the widow gang who would ask questions they could only ask if they knew personal information about us. I will admit, after a while it didn’t bother us having our laundry aired out in this small slice of gyro heaven. Having lost all of our grandmothers years before, it was kinda nice having so many built-in bubbies who actually did care about and watch over us.

One of the things I loved about that neighborhood in Astoria was its diversity. Aside from the widow gang, our building was filled with four stories of mixed nuts, each floor containing six apartments full of life. Living on the second floor, there was Muhammad, the Egyptian taxi driver who lived across the hall. Muhammad had moved to the United States with his wife some years before, wanting a better life for his family. Despite having an engineering degree obtained in Egypt, Muhammad could not find work, his credentials seemingly useless in America, forcing him to start driving a taxi, making chump change on the side repairing cars for friends and neighbors. Eventually, his wife would give up and return to Egypt with their two small children, leaving Muhammad alone, he questioning us as to the protocol for hiring a live-in woman who could cook and clean for him. Next door to Muhammad was the young male graduate student who loved arguing creation versus evolution with the Jehovah Witnesses, groups of two or three adults and children somehow finding their way into the building every Sunday afternoon and who we ultimately discovered were getting into the building via our neighbor upstairs we affectionately  referred to as “the prostitute,” thanks to her stiletto stomp on the wood floors above us at all hours of the day and night. Next door to us was the Saudi couple we could hear shouting over the telephone on a nightly basis as they spoke to their families back home during the first Iraq war, Operation Desert Shield. In the 2 ½ years we lived in our apartment, I never once met the wife, nor had anyone else. However, the husband was very friendly and conversed with us often. The occupants of the other two apartments remains unclear to us. I’m not sure if we ever met them or just simply forgot who they were, their life stories not being indelible enough for us to recall.

The other thing I loved about that neighborhood was its relative safety. I never felt scared walking the streets alone, regardless of the time, day or night. We rarely heard of any criminal activity, mostly thanks to the Catholic high school across the street keeping us out of harm’s way. And we never heard of or saw any kind of neighborhood strife thanks to the increasing diversity of the community. Despite being a part of New York City, it still felt like the ‘burbs to us…until the day we moved out.

At the end of June 1991, upon graduation from law school, we hired Israeli movers to pack up and move us back to New Jersey where the hubby would begin his lifelong career as a legal aid attorney. We knew the day wasn’t going to be one of our best when the movers showed up four hours late, announcing that they were going to breakfast. Reluctantly sending them to the Pakistani-owned market on the corner where we had shopped for 2 ½ years without incident, our Israeli friends abruptly returned, relaying their story of the Middle Eastern conflict having just taken place at the corner market. I quickly went down to the market to demand an explanation from the man whom I visited almost daily to buy a cup of coffee on my way to work, but he refused to speak to me and looked past me as if invisible. That’s when I went back home and brought my friends to the Greek market around the block. While out, there was a shooting at the Catholic school across the street…and then we discovered that all the moving boxes were labeled in Hebrew…after the movers were already gone. Vowing to never live in the city again, we moved ourselves back to the ‘burbs, where we believed it was going to be a lot safer.

Returning to the pinelands where we first met while attending college, the hubby and I moved between several different apartment complexes in search of the perfect location. Of course, as our luck would have it, each residence brought with it those interesting characters we just couldn’t avoid. In our first apartment, there was Ingrid, the single mom living below us who drank herself into oblivion on a daily basis while listening to music that bellowed throughout the entire complex, oftentimes leaving her 10-year-old daughter to fend for herself on the weekends she wasn’t visiting daddy. Ingrid literally howled when having sex with whatever man she brought home on the weekends her daughter was absent. Whether it was the loud stereo, the neglect of her child and/or enraptured squeals, calling the cops was a fruitless effort. It seemed the entire local police force was either a relative of Ingrid’s and/or a sexual partner. There was no getting around it.

At our second apartment, a gang of kids hung out with baseball bats in the parking lot on a nightly basis, leaving us hostages in our own home. There was also the “family” across the landing who seemed to grow in number, despite the legal maximum capacity never enforced by the management. And then I discovered that a client was living in the building next door.

We weren’t in our third apartment long enough to even meet a neighbor, the hubby and I breaking the lease after discovering the bedroom flooded every time it rained. Having one of my clients, a budding child arsonist and his adoptive father, moving into the complex also definitely rushed the process.

Ultimately landing in a house for rent, we had moved four times in as many years, each home being within a five-mile radius. Unbeknownst to us, the owner decided to secretly divorce her husband and offered to sell the house to us, wanting to pocket the money that was rightfully hers before escaping with her son and leaving her abusive spouse. We were thrilled to finally be “home.”

It wasn’t just the ‘burbs, it was the boonies…and we loved it. It was a small ranch house situated on a cul-de-sac filled with a mélange of families. We had the Burnes family, a blended family of four. The wife, Patty, had a daughter name Caroline from a previous relationship, the father having died in an automobile accident shortly after Caroline’s birth. Patty later married Bill, with whom she had given birth to Robert, a boy who would become the kid’s very first true best friend. Sandwiched between us and the Burnes’s was Mr. John, a widower whose wife had passed from cancer several years earlier and was now remarried to his wife’s best friend Georgia. Mr. John was another transplant evacuee from the city of Brooklyn, also looking for the safety of the ‘burbs. Mr. John insisted on doing everything himself, refusing to hire anyone to repair anything or to work around his home, his penultimate moment being the night he got stuck on the roof of his house in an attempt to clean his gutters, Bill coming to his rescue with a ladder.

When the kid turned 2-years-old I decided to quit working in order to stay home. The measly salary I was making was basically paying for childcare, so there really was no point in me working, plus we had finally paid off the hubby’s student loans. Of course, the upside to being a stay-at-home mom is being a part of your child’s development, something you never get back once missed. But the biggest downside to being a stay-at-home mom is having too much time on your hands while your child is sleeping. This is when my imagination takes over and fills in the blanks of the neighbors I don’t really know. Kathy, the single mom lawyer who lived next door seemed normal enough, but she decided to sell her house and downsize upon empty nesting. When the new owner, Sharon, moved in, I was convinced that she was a prostitute because she only went out at night, only to learn that she was a recently divorced single mom working in the local casinos in order to support her teenage son.  Before I knew Georgia, I also believed that she was a prostitute who made house calls because she only came over to Mr. John’s at night. There was another Sharon, who I insisted was some kind of drug addict and/or dealer because she rarely left the house, had two defunct cars in the driveway and had various unknown visitors throughout the day. I would later find that she was also a single mom whose joint pain prevented her from moving around, hence not leaving the house. And, so it went, from house to house, my brain inventing scenarios that never really existed. All in all, despite my creativity and some unleashed crazy neighborhood dogs, I never felt unsafe. I walked daily for miles within the community, alone or with the kid, without a care in the world.

Our second purchased home was also on a cul-de-sac the neighbors lovingly called “The United Nations” due to its diverse inhabitants. To one side of us were the Franks, a typical southern New Jersey Italian-American nuclear family of four – mom, dad, brother and sister. Next to them was the Andersons, empty nesters with two beautiful but dimwitted Samoyeds and who ultimately decided to move because of the shenanigans of their neighbor, Mrs. Chang. Mrs. Chang was a single Chinese woman who, not unlike Mr. John, insisted on doing everything without the help of others and was often seen climbing around on her roof, her piece de resistance trying to pull a tree out of her front yard with a tiny Toyota Corolla, ultimately ripping off its bumper. Some years later, she would be found in bed by her sons on Christmas Day, two days after dying of natural causes. The Andersons sure felt like shit wanting to move after that day. There were the Filipino grandparents on one corner and the French widow on the other. Jack the Filipino was a jack of all trades and drove a jitney in Atlantic City for a little extra cash in his retirement, his son and grandchildren also living in the home. Jack would later die unexpectedly from a stroke while driving with his wife on the highway. Renee, the French widow who chain smoked, rarely came outside, especially after some car randomly plowed through the front room of her house years before. Renee’s next-door neighbor was the Wu family, a typical Chinese-American nuclear family of four – mom, dad, brother and sister. Mr. Wu would later die from cancer. In between the Wu home and ours was another Sharon who lived with her elderly mother. Sharon and I never got along, basically because she was an outright bitch. She didn’t get along with anyone else either, so I didn’t feel singled out. It wasn’t until the Andersons moved out and the new inhabitants moved in that my imagination took over once again…

I just knew they were mafia or, at the very least, some kind of gypsies (thanks to My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding series that I was obsessed with watching at the time). Despite the parents’ claim to being involved in some kind of real estate business, doubt was immediately cast when the former owner, Mrs. Anderson, who was a long-time realtor in town, claimed she’d never heard of them and couldn’t find them anywhere in any listings. On any given day, a family member could be seen chasing their pedigree terrier dog and/or the baby sister out of the cul-de-sac, sometimes having to make the choice between the two after both sprinted in opposite directions. The dog pretty much always won that bet, the mother reminding us of how much she paid for the dog. Besides, at some point the baby would plotz and just come home, the dog, on the other hand, running as fast and as far as it possibly could in seeking refuge. But my breaking point was the day I saw the father dressed in a white suit, running from his house carrying a violin case…

And then there was the murder of Gerardina Garcia, a neighbor around the corner. I remember it was on Shabbat in the middle of the day when I, the hubby and the kid were all taking an afternoon nap. As I slowly awakened to the faint sound of a nail gun compressor followed by the crack of a nail hitting shingle at the neighbor’s house replacing their roof, a sudden louder blast repeatedly interrupted the sequence. I immediately jumped to my feet, checked on the hubby and the kid and ran out the front door looking for the source of the blast. Unbeknownst to me, Mrs. Garcia had just been shot in her SUV, her 8-year-old son in the back seat watching every moment.

https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/homepage/20091019_5_killingshaunt_Egg_Harbor_Twp__neighborhood.html

The final straw occurred the day we moved out of that second cul-de-sac house before leaving that house one last time. Another neighbor and her daughter had been found that morning, shot to death by the daughter’s jilted boyfriend. I thank G-d every day that our buyer didn’t back down on the deal. I was no longer feeling safe – it was time to go…

“I hate cul-de-sacs. There’s only one way out, and the people are kind of weird.”

Image result for garbage man i hate cul de sacs the burbs

Thankfully, we moved into a community that was (for the most part) safer, relatively free of death by shootings and not on a cul-de-sac. I wanted the busiest, most traveled street in town with the local hospital and fire and police departments within walking distance.

Of course, that didn’t stop my soap opera brain from fabricating the tales of our new neighbors: the Russian spies who “worked from home” and made Cirque de Soleil look like amateurs; the other Russians and/or gypsies who stole cars, refinished them and sold them to Chinese mobsters; the drug dealer across the street who snuck out at night with a duffle bag and had numerous visitors throughout the day; and the paranoid two-time Iraq war vet who convinced me the government dropped camera probes into my sewer system. To this day, the hubby and the kid tease me about my fantasies…however, they still can’t prove that I’m wrong…I wonder what the neighbors say about us?

Since the age of five, when Kathy taught me how to ride that little red Schwinn bike, I had always owned a bike, until 1984, having sold my last bike back in Arizona in order to make some fast cash to buy a plane ticket home after becoming suddenly homeless. I didn’t buy another bicycle until 2003, when I moved into that second cul-de-sac home. Since then, I’ve spent many hours on my bike exploring the surrounding neighborhoods to see what’s what. Aside from the occasional loose dog, I’ve rarely been afraid to ride my bike alone – which is always. Many times, I’ve been asked how I can ride so freely without any protection or fear of something happening to me, to which I admit my need to believe that most people in the world are inherently good and decent people. Plus, I’m not an idiot – if it feels unsafe, I don’t stick around. However, as I’ve mentioned, those bike rides have been few and far between over the past year due to medical issues preventing me from riding, but I did manage to get in my scheduled 10-minute stationary bike ride at the gym earlier today.

There was something else I did today – I bought pepper spray at the local Target. Why did I buy pepper spray at the local Target on New Year’s Eve? The seed to that answer was planted way back when on that day in June 1991 – the day I was refused because of who I am. As if Pittsburgh and San Diego (and countless other incidents throughout the world over the past year) weren’t enough for me to fear the need for increased security in my house of worship, it was no longer about feeling unsafe – it was about the focus on a specific population of which I am a part. Sure, I have fallen guilty of judging others with my imaginative life stories, just like the neighbors in The ‘Burbs, but I never wanted to hurt, let alone kill, someone based on whatever beliefs I had about them – I am Ray Peterson.

Diversity has been one of the most important factors in every neighborhood within which I have lived. But, at some point outside my little universe, acceptance included everyone EXCEPT Jews – except me. I bought that pepper spray today because I am afraid. I’m afraid because I am a Jew. I’m afraid because there is a growing worldwide populace who hate me for who I am. They hate me because I’m a Jew. I no longer feel safe exploring my neighborhood alone. I have become a Klopek – a member of that strange foreign family who moved next door into your suburbia. On every single night of Hanukkah 2019, Jews were attacked in the New York Metropolitan Area. Jewish men, teens and boys were punched in the head and viciously attacked while innocently walking down public streets during rush hour. Jewish women, teens and girls being smacked, punched and hit in the head while shopping with their babies, children and siblings in broad daylight. Israeli tourists being verbally and physically attacked and robbed on public trains, chosen because they were speaking Hebrew. I could be in the kosher deli up the street on any given day and gunned down or attend a holiday party and be stabbed with a machete simply for who I am – a Jew.

All this because we are Klopeks…

This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo)
Don’t catch you slippin’ now (ayy)
Look at how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now (woo)
Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy)
Guns in my area (word, my area)

This is America – Childish Gambino