Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Year of the Hot Jew

Perhaps we flatter ourselves, but we like to believe that this blog's end-of-2007 message is something special – unlike, say, the typical year-end roundups of what Britney said and what Barack wore and who Paris vomited on – if only because this was the year in which our humble blog was born.

As devotees of are well aware, we hadn't intended to be online pontificators. Sera and Simon had every intention of funneling their wet, wet opinions into a shimmering infinity pool of a book. It was only the parched and parsimonious (and, I might add, pusillanimous) paucity of publisher pelf that evaporated their dream and its accompanying aquatic metaphor.

But enough about Sera and Simon. In the third person, that is. We'll now switch back to the royal "we," because thanks to wonderful, steadfast and hot readers like you we feel royal.

In this, our first year, we stuck it to Hitler; praised bacon; bemoaned the vicissitudes and extolled the virtues of the writer's life; pondered religion and loss; prodded our emotional gums, as it were (thanks for the genius expression, Julia), in contemplation of sexual vanity and romantic mysteries; mused about dreams and pitch meetings and French bulldogs and Harry Potter and our gratitude for the compassion of Gentile friends. We wrote about the writers' strike and the unbelievably powerful support expressed by our readers for the strikers' cause. We kvetched about dentistry and sewer pumps, kvelled about love and New York and singalongs and gourmet food, and most of all carried out Phase One of our mission: Carve out a space in the blogosphere for Hot Jews and those who love them.

We also got a lot of warm fuzzies from our cyber-pals. Sera was interviewed by the one and only Susie Bright, among other admirers, while the VHJs were featured on Susan Henderson's wonderful LitPark site and contributed to Jewcy's "Most Awesome Events of Jewish 2007."

We hope that our readers of the Tribe have been able, in some measure, to claim it, to work it, to own it. Because you don't have to be the protagonist of The Bluest Eye to feel that the popular definition of hotness is invariably something we are not.

(Which is not to say we think all Jews are hot. Quite the contrary. But we hope we have gone some distance in helping to define Jewish hotness, in part by identifying the smokin' Semites in our circle.)

So thank you for being you and for being hot – and for making our first year a bloggy miracle.

But we can't jump into the champagne fountain that is our New Year's birthright without reiterating our code one last time:

Own it.
Live it.
Be it.

We love you! May 2008 bring blessings in abundance.


Thanks again to Josh Pickering for the photos.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Faith of Habitual Liars
Simon's final rant of 2007

Spoiler alert: This post says unkind things about religion, and some things about avowedly religious people that make my words about religion look practically glowing by comparison.

Regular readers will have gathered that I'm one o' them pinko relativist humanist atheist Jews, the cultural bête noir of choice for today's crop of asshole demagogues. The advantage of hewing to this despised set of beliefs is that it clears up all the ambiguity: What you see is what you get.

Not so, however, for more than a few of the ostensible humans now seeking the job of President of the USA.

Sadly, it is now a prerequisite for politicians to parade their religious beliefs (though it's de rigueur to employ the nauseating euphemism "faith") as a cornerstone of their campaigns. So we are treated to the spectacle of these office-seeking ghouls touting the spiritual values they hold so deeply as they grub for votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other primary states.

"Hold on there just a minute, Jew," I hear you object. "MY candidate isn't like that. MY candidate is a genuinely spiritual person for whom church attendance and quiet contemplation of the scriptures are the purest sustenance – and his/her pious nature, once apotheosized in the presidency, will fill the world with magnificence."

It's awfully sweet of you to believe that. But let me tell you something really, majorly super-important about your candidate, no matter who he or she may be.

Your candidate is a sociopath.

Please, don't get upset; I'm just stating facts here. In order to seek the presidency in this day and age, you have to have something horribly, terribly wrong with you.

I don't simply mean the hoary old truism that politicians are largely corrupt, hypocritical, whore-mongering shitbags who are about as spiritual as a CIA plane stuffed with black-tar heroin (and let's face it, things become hoary old truisms because they contain some measure of truth).

Nor do I mean the freaky, frisky underbelly of righteously religious pols, who swarm like sexually stunted moths to the lurid light of men's-room trysts as soon as they've finished delivering their latest sanctimonious soundbites.

I mean that in order to seek the presidency in the 21st Century, you have to have a personality disorder. And let's be clear about which kind. You know those people who bottle up their rage and then one day snap and take out a fast-food joint with an assault rifle? Not that kind. More the kind who serves you a couple of scotches and then kills you in your sleep for the insurance money. The kind that can justify the most grievous misdeeds, the most shocking atrocities with a chilling sangfroid and some elevated language about the national interest.

A sociopath regards any obstruction to his/her desires as something to be annihilated. Unfortunately, this has also become the model for a U.S. president, as fed to us by the bloodthirsty bobbleheads of the punditocracy and a political process in which one's opponents are to be dispatched with a rhetorical bayonet. Indeed, a sociopathic personality is the very zenith of what our noxiously reactionary political culture would call "a thick skin."

And just look at those thick-skinned candidates go on and on and on and on and ON about their, ahem, faith. In fact, they're all in the midst of their Christmas messaging, perhaps the most puke-inducing phase of the piety wars so far. There was much ado, in particular, about Mike Huckabee's Christmas ad, a sickeningly effective "let's all put politics aside and love Jesus together" spot that was the folksy state of the art of American Theocracy.

Huckabee projects a self-deprecating charm and WWJD compassion that's political gold. He almost convinces me that he's genuine. So it's important to remember that grinding away beneath that smiley layer of aw-shucks is something akin to the servo-mechanism of The Terminator. I strongly believe that Mike Huckabee would tear a baby's heart out of its chest cavity and eat it like a fuckin' apple if he thought it would help him attain the presidency.

Even with his new diet.

To say that Huckabee is genuine because he seems so is the most lethal mistake of all. Sociopath George W. Bush as Mr. Born Again won two elections; he is a far less capable liar than is Huckabee, but the difference is entirely one of polish. You may laugh at the poor schmucks who are taken in by a crappy home-made commercial for a used-car dealership, but there is a Jaguar ad out there that has your number.

Perhaps you're enchanted by the oleaginous Willard "Mitt" Romney, who has brandished his personal relationship with JC in hopes of charming evangelical voters who might otherwise wish to exterminate him on the grounds that he's a Mormon. Romney is all "faith" all the time, and his recent, ballyhooed speech on the topic essentially said that if you weren't religious you had no role to play in America.

Oh, and fightin' the icky Muslims requires us to flush our values down the toilet; hence Mitt's declaration that he'd like to build multiple Gitmos. Meanwhile, ol' Huck says the prisoners at Guantanamo are being treated, if anything, too well.

Jesus Christ would be so fucking proud, right?

John McCain, who once criticized the religious right as "agents of intolerance," needed to curry favor with evangelicals for his presidential crusade. So he came crawling back to Jerry Falwell and all but fellated the good reverend at Liberty Baptist University. He also begged the odious James Dobson for forgiveness. Because beneath the Straight Talkin' Maverick's facade is the same grasping, clawing appetite for power at any cost.

(Fred Thompson, who returned from doing nothing of value in the Senate to read his lines off other actors' foreheads on Law and Order, made similar gestures; he'd be more germane to the conversation if he hadn't displayed all the political initiative of an Arizona State freshman with a Hefty bag full of weed.)

Hillary Clinton, with typically corporate aplomb, hired a "faith guru" to appeal to evangelicals, appeared on Fox News to talk about how faith saved her marriage (I'd rather hear Ladybird Johnson describe how Mint Juleps dulled the hellish sound of Lyndon's ecstatic cries while he was serviced by truckloads of hookers, but that's just me) and generally attempted to soften her image with the bigoted throngs of the right by talking about how much time she's spent in church. I believe Hillary Clinton would swim laps in an Olympic-sized pool filled with goat's blood to win the Presidency. Fortunately for her, that won't be required.

Barack Obama, to his credit, at least uses religion as a way into discussing his party's obligations to the less fortunate. But the man wants to be President, so who knows who or what will get thrown under his bus?

Wait again, Jew, you object. What's wrong with the compassionate example of Jesus, undeniably a VHJ (veritably historical Jew, and certainly hot if you think he resembled Ted Neeley), guiding our leaders?

Actually, nothing. In fact, even a gimlet-eyed nonbeliever like me can be moved, mesmerized and motivated by religious passion. Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted scripture in a way that could wring tears and commitment from the most mulish rationalist.

But MLK wasn't running for high office. He sacrificed pretty much everything to lead the greatest American social movement of his century and a grateful nation repaid him with a bullet.

If you think any of the faith-espousing pols now slouching toward primary season would take that deal you're high on crack.

Am I cynical? Not in the least. In fact, I'm the veritable orchid of optimism, pushing out of this shit-covered ground. You know what's cynical? Airing clips of these candidates and asking without a scintilla of irony how their "faith" will factor into the election.

And lest you accuse me of picking on Christians – and really, heaven forfend – I give you our featured socio-politico-path: Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Joe makes a great spectacle of his Jewy piety, but he has demonstrated time and again that he will stab anyone and anything in the back, front or sides to perpetuate his ongoing project of self-empowerment, self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement. He has fucked his own party six ways from Sunday (ultimately endorsing McCain after promising to help elect a Dem in '08), lied through his teeth, agitated for preemptive war with Iran, and crawled joyously up the asses of Dubya, Cheney and the rest of their loathsome circle. The fact that he does it all while wrapped in the prayer shawl of righteousness only confirms his utter lack of principle.

And he 's not even running for President.

Like all of his buddies in "faith," Senator Joe regularly and lustily violates the First Commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." You cannot have this kind of political career without putting the exaltation of yourself above all other considerations.

That would be the "me" with the small "m."

Since we're supposed to be electing a President and not a High Priest, let's just make the rules a little more explicit. By voting I'm entering into a contractual relationship with a self-interested party. That party is not my friend. He or she does not embody my deepest hopes and ideals. I will join like-minded people to exert pressure to make that party do what I want.

But the idea of selecting a candidate based on his/her professions of cosmic belief is pathologically stupid. Even Jesus thought so, peeps – that's why he drove the moneychangers out of the Temple.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Letting It All Go.
(by Sera)

It's been a weird week.

I know, "weird" is a strangely non-descriptive word. It tells you nothing about the quality of the week. It could mean pretty much anything. Paranormal events are weird. Grey pubic hair is weird. Supermodels are weird. Okay, let me start over.

Maybe because it's the end of the year, people seem to be making a lot of amends this week. Some are working a 12-step; I just had breakfast with a friend who told me her ex-husband had written a classic amends letter. It was apologetic, non-blamey. I asked her if it made her feel better, and she said no, not at all. She cried and felt angry and disappointed. Amends letters are one of those things in life that remind us that no matter how optimistic we start out, we all fuck up and get fucked with. We're born into these smooth pink or caramel bodies, and no matter what, they're going to end up scarred.

Though I don't work any particular program, I wrote a similar letter this week. The end of my relationship with the person to whom I wrote was somewhat heinous. Kind of Richard III meets Heathers. It was hard to write the letter. I kept wanting to be right about stuff. I wanted to enumerate the many ways I've risen above, like a pale, frizzy-haired Al Gore with a Semitic butt. Instead, I sat still for a long time. It was kind of like meditating, except I try not to call it that because the word makes my nose itch and then I can't sit still. I repeated a phrase to myself, which is sort of like a mantra except I don't call it a mantra because that makes me want to drive down to Main Street, Santa Monica and pick a fight with the first dreadlocked white dude with a yoga mat slung over his shoulder. Considering how ill-at-ease I am with the terminology and trappings of the New Age, you will find it amusing that my Repeating Phrase was get over yourself, get over yourself, get over yourself.

So I did my best, and I wrote a letter to Let It All Go. Of course, unlike in that legend they tell you on High Holidays about some holy tome into which final conclusions about you are inscribed forevsies, there is no real "closing the book" in life. I got a long, amendsy letter back, which was mostly decent and thoughtful but had one or two things in it I'd love to have argued about. All in all, I felt less cleansed and more depleted. Who started that lie that closure feels awesome? To me, closure usually feels like the tail end of a bad flu.

Which is how I found myself at this breakfast with this Very Hot Jewess, comparing notes on Letting It Go. "It's so weird," she said. Which hopefully now you understand means queasy and ambivalent. We agreed: acting like a proper fucking grownup in difficult moments feels less like a party and more like taking a kickboxing class so hard you vomit in the trash can.

Cheery. Anyway. Here's where I'm going with this: life is hard sometimes. By my estimation, life is really ridiculously hard between three and five times a year - the kind of hard that could lead you to burn all your diaries or get jiggy with a crack pipe or bang a lot of skeezy chicks or something. Pick your poison.

Time was, the Jewish culture had its finger on the pulse of Really Ridiculously Hard. We were so on the ball about the toughness of getting through a calendar year that we constructed several holidays that mandated indulgence. Purim is a perfect example. In theory, the celebration of a ballsy Hot Jewess who married a king, then risked beheading when she revealed her true Hebraic ID and asked King Hubby to save her peeps from the Hitler of the day. Drink till you can't tell the hero's name from the Adolf's! We survived! Thanks in large part to the fact that Jewish chicks are so blindingly attractive they can actually save thousands of lives with their hotness! Woot!

I have another hypothesis about Purim. I don't think it's really about the story in the scroll, any more than Hannukah's really about a dram of oil and not Xmas envy. My theory: human beings living in a society that requires daily repression (i.e. any civilized society, or we'd all be fucking and murdering each other till the cows came home. And saw us and ran away again) need a certain kind of periodic release. That release can only be achieved by singing at the top of your lungs and dancing till your legs buckle. Since we repressed civilized types tend to be a wee bit shy, the catharsis is facilitated by getting shitfaced.

Jews knew this. We didn't just get our drank on, do the mashed potato and croon - we did it in synagogue. With friends and family. As a community. A community made stronger because that bitch you were mad at is now hora-ing sweatily at the bimah, that guy who was too shy to ask you out is earnest-jokey serenading you, the strictest of parents is handing their kids frigging noisemakers which were invented to make loud, irritating noise, your exhausted business partner has stopped stressing for long enough to throw his arm around you and sing till he finally does what he needed to do all along, which was have a good laugh or a good cry or both.

Do they still conduct Judaism like that anywhere? All I know is, I've attended schuls reform, conservative, and even on a few distinctly weird occasions orthodox... and I've never experienced that epic, as-one Letting It Go.

That is why Simon is a genius. I'm sure you've gathered by now that he's a man with a formidable brain, but I attribute his creation of The Classic Rock Singalong to his deeply Jewy, ferociously hot little soul. I went to the shindig last night. Sime was onstage with the Singalong's co-founder and amazing musical director, VHJ and bandleader extraordinaire Josh Pickering (who, it should be said, did the lion's share of the musical heavy-lifting) and other assorted Jewish and Jew-adjacent musicians, rocking the fuck out to the Beatles, Springsteen, Oasis, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar - you know, all those songs that are really good to sing drunk and at the top of one's lungs. M Bar, where the festivities were held, was packed with happy, tipsy folk singing along with sexy gusto.

I sometimes get drunk. I sing at the top of my lungs frequently, alone in my car. But: the twain haven't met since a regrettable performance of Bye Bye Birdie in high school. (Actually, I totally just made that up, but if I really had been drunk I don't think the performance would have been any worse.)

Please enjoy the sight of Sime, age 14, as Hugo in Birdie.

But last night? Bitch, please. I was a rock star. We all were. All the serious adult crap of life - foiled relationships, difficult letters, amends that don't fix jack about the past; plus strikes, stress, your dog managing to shit all over not just your carpet but also your wall, that thing where you keep getting older and requiring more expensive face creams, the price of oil (not at the gas pump, but in human lives) and whatever else burns a hole in your duodenum at three in the morning - allllll that crap? Melted away like so much pinkberry. We all just Let It Go. I leaned against my dear pal Dinda; stretched my arms wide to serenade Sime's smokin' lifemate Julia, decked out in spiky Billy Idol hair and a bedazzled AC/DC shirt; tilted my head back, forgetting utterly that in life I am more self-conscious than anyone knows; and SANG.

I feel much better now.

So - all you guys who were there and are reading this, thank you for participating. Thanks for standing on tables and shrieking Don't, don't you want me. Thanks for banging drums. Thanks for putting on funny wigs. Thanks for laughing your asses off. You guys rock.

Here in LaLaBurg, when you go looking for a healing, you can easily throw down several hundred dollars an hour for a little touch or talk or bottle of pills. Last night, the healing could be had for a five-buck cover charge. If you were lucky enough to be me, you even had your own precious Dinda who bought you drinks as a gesture of solidarity with the Writer's Guild of America. The hoarseness and hangover were a negligible surcharge.

Back in the day, those genius old Jews had a name for it: temple. If the English translations are right, they even used the word awesome. I mean, what is "Don't Stop Believin'" but a modern psalm? Okay, and also the soundrack to that baffling Sopranos finale that stressed us all out. Modern life is complicated. My advice is to concentrate on the music. It'll help you let it go.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Eight Days a Week
a Chanukah ramble from Simon

Thanks to devoted VHJ reader Julietta Appleton for passing this pic along.

I suppose it's a measure of my feelings about Chanukah that it's taken me this long to do a post about it for our ostensibly Jewy blog. This is not the kind of holiday that inspires great passion in me, though I've softened a bit – there was a time, not long ago, when I bored the pants off my inner circle with my patented "Chanukah is bullshit!" rant.

It went something like this: What a lame holiday! We had more oil than we thought? Swell! What is this, some ancient fundamentalist-Jew military thing? Compare it to Christmas, which is so freakin' excellent, except for the Jesus part ... why try to compete? Why do we have to have a Jew-mass holiday just to have an excuse to give Jewish kids presents? The rest was incomprehensible, even to me, though it did involve some excellent foaming at the mouth, teeth-gnashing, my head spinning around 360 degrees and, occasionally, doing that Curly Howard running-while-lying-down routine.

I had a lot of anger, I guess. As I said, I don't feel that way now. Or at the very least, my reaction to the whole thing is less Linda Blair-ish. But I should say a few words about the goyische elephant in the room first.

I still think Christmas is a superior holiday. Except for the Jesus part. (And really, why ruin a brilliant gift-exchanging seasonal party with a religious bum-out?) I mean, maybe it's because we didn't have it as kids, but I love the Xmas vibe. The smell of spice and vanilla. The lights on the houses. The tinsel-strewn, ornament-studded tree, with all those parti-colored packages arrayed at its base. The mistletoe. The way people mellow out and drink eggnog and play games. Those insane cookies. That kind and charitable mien you see on people's faces. Even the goofy sweaters.

There's something about Christmas that kinda crystallizes (not to be confused with kristallnacht) the metaphysical essence of being a Jew, particularly in America. Because the reason for the season, if you will, is that Messiah has come and all is well. This is naturally not a view that we Chosen-ites can embrace, given our traditional view of the New Testament as a sort of unauthorized sequel. But here's the thing: Tons of gentiles get way into the Christmas spirit without an ounce of religious belief. Therefore, I feel, so can I.

Still, the spiritual component of the season is hard to resist, even to an old implacable heart such as mine.

Thought exercise for you non-believers: Imagine a messianic figure (doesn't have to be Jeebus) has waved a magic wand and made everything OK. No more atrocities in Darfur, no more racism, no more waterboarding or Alzheimer's or Elizabeth Hasselbeck. Everything glows. Everyone feels sparkly and loving and there's no guile in anyone's eyes. This is the ideal of the holiday, and it exists so far over the rainbow from the non-magical, social-Jew cosmology I live that it holds an exotic allure.

Since I'm apparently in full disclosure mode, you know how a lot of Jews bristle when someone says "Merry Christmas" to them? I can't lie, y'all. I like it. Maybe it's because I'll take whatever merriment I can find.

OK, moving on. In my secular upbringing, Chanukah was when we lit candles and ate chocolate coins and spun the occasional dreidel (not keeping score, though, since none of us kids could read Hebrew). We spoke vaguely about the tradition, but I don't remember much context. Unlike Pesach, which was filled with intense, largely bleak historical significance, Chanukah felt like holiday lite, the Xmas surrogate.

I've certainly never enjoyed the yearly barrage of lamely recycled Chanukah "humor" found in so many cards, e-cards, and novelty songs, with their cut-rate Yiddishkeit and ain't-Chasids-hilarious punchlines.

Antiochus, as pictured on his very unsuccessful line of Chanukah gelt.

It turns out, though, that what this holiday celebrates is an instance of Jews doing some ass-kicking, the asses in this case belonging to the ancient Zeus-worshipping fuckwads (led by the extremely douche-like Antiochus) who punished the practice of the Jewish faith with death. Said fuckwads happened to be Syrian, but history has supplied an international potpourri of sanctimonious asshats bent on extinguishing the Torah and its fan club.

Unfortunately, the secular Jews of the classical age frequently serve as secondary villains in the telling of this tale (plus ça change, right?). And a certain strident minority of contemporary Jews (who harbor certain draconian geopolitical views as well as exclusionist social beliefs) would like to tell us modern secular Hebes that we don't count. As far as I'm concerned, they too deserve a stomping.

So let's make a deal: Chanukah is worth celebrating as an example of our people defending our faith and traditions. But let's reserve at least a single candle on the menorah for those of us who are part of the tribe but not part of the temple. When the next Antiochus comes along, you won't win the battle without us.

'Nuff said. Merry Christmas, everybody!

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Guess where I am?

That's right, you jealous beyotches, New Friggin' York.

(Perhaps you are not jealous. My guess is that's because you already live here, and you are reading this post whilst taking a leisurely soak in your bathtub which is in your kitchen which is separated through clever use of planters and an Ikea Expedit bookshelf from the other side of the room, which is the rest of your apartment. If so: hi! And, if you're the one I accidentally tripped when I failed to jaywalk on Christopher St. this morning, sorry.)

I hit pause on LA and put down my mighty picket sign for a couple of days in order to come here, for sundry personal reasons I won't bore you with and one reason that sounds glamorous - so let's go with that one: because I'm on strike, I finally have time to work on a labor-of-love project I've been too busy to even contemplate whilst writerproducering what averages out to a script about every 6 weeks. A trip to the big city was necessary research for said project. I have decided that a room in a funky-hip hotel over a fantastic Italian restaurant that provides 24-hour-a-day room service is also absolutely vital. What can I say. The muse, she is demanding. Also, I recently discovered, she's partial to a complicated cocktail called "The Bowery," which involves gin, champagne and brown sugar and retails at $18 a glass.

(Is it possible that I've already discovered the key to feeling comfortable in Manhattan - order a drink, and it will make cab fare seem positively frugal?)

While I'm in the hizzy, I plan to seize the opportunity to wander around and get more lost than seems possible on an island where the streets are numerically labeled, and perhaps scope out some interesting ways in which New York Jews stick it to Hitler.

For my first few hours in the blustery city, I concentrated on walking fast; the pace around here couldn't contrast more sharply with the beach-bum gait we sport 'round Santa Monica. I guess my newly minted big-city-stride is fairly convincing, because several people tried to ask me for directions. Satisfied that I didn't look like an utter tourist douche, I pulled out my camera and started doing what I do. Which is less snapping pix of iconic landmarks, and more of this:

This is a photo of the strong Irish coffee I drank whilst sitting in a lovely little cafe brimming with NYU students, jotting. (Though the "good morning" you can read on the page is from the breakfast spot I'd visited earlier, which was empty save a glowy couple in matching Fraggle Rock t shirts who had gotten married twenty minutes earlier; those newlyweds had good cause for whiskey at nine in the morning, but even on the road I do wait till noonish to start spiking my beverages.) I have to admit, I take pictures of my food all the time when I'm traveling alone. It's kind of like... having a conversation with myself. It keeps me amused. Maybe it's boring to you, but I suppose if I were that interested in entertaining other people I would bring them along when I travel.

As you may have heard, you can take the girl out of the Equity-waiver 99-seat theater, but you can never quite take the theater outta the girl. Put another way, I feel instantly at home in any city's gayborhood. I knew immediately when I'd hit it. The men were hotness on a stick and groomed to a Seacrestian level; ads admonishing people to fuck safely appeared at subway entrances. Soon enough, I was deep in rainbow-flagville, vehemently missing my dearest friend, a Very Hot Irish-American who's straight as a three dollar bill. Because when you find yourself in the very nest of fabulosity, you can't help but wish to be there with a companion who totally gets it when you deadpan, "You shoot an arrow, and if it goes real high, hooray for you." To commemorate the moment, I ate a creampuff. No, I'm not making double entendres at you, silly. Look:

It was vanilla custard. It was the best creampuff I've ever tasted. The bakeries in Chelsea rock.

Though I was decidedly traipsing the traipse of the fresh-faced foreigner to this exotic shore, I didn't shirk my blogsponsibilities. I knew I'd need to report back to you, my Disturbingly Fine Reader. So, I've been doing my Jew dilligence, as it were - scoping for synagogues; it's refreshing to see some religious architecture not constructed entirely around walls that fold back for High Holidays. I spotted this:

How convenient! Get right with G-d, get some sweet ink, then go drink yourself to death in the Dylan Thomas room.

I admit I dallied at the Hotel Chelsea like any old tourist shmoe, reading the plaques and wondering if I should quit my digs at Chez Swank and move in here, ideally to the room where Arthur Miller wrote All My Sons. Maybe some form of artistic awesome would soak into my pores through the mattress. Maybe I'd breathe one or two leftover microscopic particles of Leonard Cohen's shed skin cells, which doubtless still held at least a smidge of creative mojo. Maybe someone would give me head on the unmade bed; did Leonard ever tell us where they were supposed to be going in that limousine that was waiting in the street while they got naked and flaked on that evening's plans?

And, hey, remember way back in the day when I went to Esalen and easily coulda been stuck with a bitter aging hippie roommate who snored like the reverb at a System of a Down concert? But instead, I got to room with this shiksariffic Manhattanite chickie, "P"? Well, P and I met today, far enough uptown that I took the subway and yes, I saw rats, and no, I ain't scairt; I used to live in the wilds of Van Nuys.

This is where a photo of a subway rat would go,
if I were quicker on the draw with the ol' digicam.

P, a VHJ reader as avid as she is stunning, was keen to provide me with East Coast-specific blog fodder. She was literally jumping with excitement to take me to one of the most Jewlicious spots on planet Earth: Barney Greengrass.

All I can say is, our people really know how to do a nice piece fish. When P attempted to order the pastrami, our delightful waiter, a poindextery lad with a smattering of zits that couldn't detract from his startling charisma, politely informed her that Barney didn't win the title of Sturgeon King for his way with garden-variety cow meat. "There's a reason," our Mysteriously Attractive And Quite Possibly Hebraic Waiter told us, "a real good reason the sturgeon's fifty three bucks a pound. Trust me on this."

We bent easily to the waiter's will, ordering exactly what he recommended, right down to onion over plain in the matter of bagel flavor. He delivered the goods - a generous plate of sturgeon and salmon galore - and we constructed architecturally sophisticated stacks of fish, fixin' and schmear, and we bit in... and...

It sucked.

Just kidding, although that would be the way I'd go with the story if I were writing a TV script and needed to put in a twist that led to a development more interesting than us rolling our eyes in delight and stuffing our faces with orgiastic gusto. But I am on strike, so I shall not devise compelling drama; if you want me to think up clever Act Three reversals, send some pencils to the moguls so I can get back to work. Till then, I will refrain from professional embelishment and merely report my findings. The report is as follows: holy Christ that was some good goddamn sturgeon. Are you Jewish? If not, try the fish plate; you'll convert.

So, New York: so far so good. I have top secret mission type shit to do while I'm here, so blogging may be spotty. (Like that's anything you aren't used to.) But the cool thing is: over the next few days, when I'm not blogging, I'm failing to blog on the streets of the Lower East Side, where millions of Jewish immigrants (my own folks included) have walked. And chatted, and haggled, and fallen in love, and adjusted to their new, Ellis Island-ed surnames, and perfected this city's signature cuisine. Pretty sweet, right? 'Kay, go with that. I'm off to imbibe a Bowery or three. L'chaim, yo.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's Raining Words.
musing about the muse, from Simon

Strike or no strike, writing seems to be in the air.

As I write this, Sera is ensconced in some top-secret East Coast garret, summoning the muse in a highly classified way. I envy her the novelty of the setting; I imagine (though she's temporarily incommunicado) that she's inhaling a plume of steam from her mug of jasmine tea and gazing out at some byzantine Manhattanscape, letting the view summon the words.

Seemingly in sympathy with her NYC adventure (or perhaps bereft at her absence), the L.A. skies have been emptying bucketloads of rain – a relief to my garden, though the drops fell with such violence this morning that our downspouts began a gargling metallic song that woke Julia and me from our fitful, cold-addled slumbers.

The prolific raindrops make me think about writing, naturally.

You see, I started a project eight or nine years ago that never really got going ... but never really went away, either. It stalled after a few dozen pages, and my attempts to revive it with writing workshops, vacation laptop marathons and copious pots of coffee all failed. I just couldn't move ahead. Partly, I guess, because I'm better with the moment-to-moment details than with the whole narrative-structure thing (in case you hadn't noticed from my very hot rambles).

I'd return to the thing every couple of weeks, dropping in tidbits but not making any substantial headway. Still, the enterprise wouldn't leave my brain. And don't get me wrong: I don't believe in completing something just to say it's done. If the passion is gone, forget it and move on. But it kept haunting me. My iPod features a playlist that forms the intended soundtrack, and every time I listen to it the faint outlines of this ghostly scriptive entity sparkle in the middle distance.

But recently I found that whatever brain blockage had prevented me from moving forward had come unstuck, and I made a huge amount of progress in a short time. It's not quite done yet, but the end of a draft is, for the first time, in sight.

I say this not to elicit congratulations (why, after all, should you care?) but to underline a point: If there's a piece of art in your mind that won't go away but won't fully arrive either, don't despair.

No drought is forever.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

a little stuffing-day meditation from Simon

Last night Sera came over to hang out at our place with the crew (Jules; sister-in-law Jo; her wiener dog, Wiener; Jim Dinda; Mollie). We chatted. We ate Vietnamese take-out and sipped bubbly. We watched an episode of the super-scary TV show Sera writes and screamed at all the appropriate moments (and several inappropriate ones).

Dinda regaled us with a virtuosic reading from the Wikipedia item on "Turducken" (which stretched far beyond the literal confines of its compound-bird entrée entry to encompass multiple-fowl hyphenates worthy of Caligula — bustergophechiduckneaeal-
, anyone?), leaving us breathless with laughter. We spent an extended period freestyling on this culinary sport: "What if you stuffed a chicken and a Great Blue heron in an albatross and then shoved the whole thing in an owl?" mused Sera. Later on, Wiener climbed in Jules' lap and they both caught a few winks.

It was a million miles from today's flurry of preparation and relatively dressed-up revelry, but it definitely felt like Thanksgiving.

Because when it comes right down to it, hanging out in my own place in my sweats with our little bunch ... let's just say: Zing! Went the strings of my heart. And not because of a gravy-saturated, artery-plugging bolus of turkey.

Don't get me wrong: I love the traditional bird-a-thon with the whole mishpuchah. But I'm also digging on the low-key living-room gathering big time. And feeling ever so grateful for my friends.

As I write this, Julia is laboriously buttering yams for my family's T-Giving chowfeast, while Dinda is prepping an apple pie for another event.

No doubt you are all girding yourselves for a stuffing-stuffing. Rest assured, wherever you are, that we're hugely grateful to have you as part of the VHJ community.

When we recover from the national pastime of gorging ourselves, we promise to get back to such core issues as the strike, everyday anxiety, the hotness of our tribe and stickin' it to Hitler.

Monday, November 19, 2007

La Luta Continua
a sugary selection from Simon

First things first: For you L.A. peeps, VHJ and genius comic Jill Kushner will perform Tues. night at a strike support show with several other funny persons. If you've got five bucks — and I know you just spent at least that much on a venti half-caf no-foam soy macchiato — head on down to show strike support at the strike support show.

Details can be found on this flyer, which is so classic-labor in its spartan layout that it gives me a rush of righteously indignant nostalgia:

OK, it's Small Jewy World time. We got a super-sweet note from Elaine, one of the two Portland, Ore., Jewesses behind the extremely funny and acerbic GirlGoneChild blog, which suggests what Sex and the City would be like if it were about real chicks in a real city, rather than newspaper columnists who are somehow able to afford sprawling Manhattan digs and stuff their regal walk-in closets with Jimmy Choos (I'm keeping up the "writers don't get paid nearly as much as some people think" theme as best I can, in case you hadn't noticed).

Anyhooze, Elaine writes in and says, we're two of the 12 Jews in Portland, and I'm all, uh, there are a lot more than you think — in fact, Jules and I just had a lovely visit from our Portland-based pal Joanna Miller, a ravishing Semitic goddess (and inspired candy blogger). And Elaine's like, nope, I've known J-Dog since we were micro-'brews at Camp B'nai Brith together. She's one of the 12.

So I stand corrected. All I know is, I have even more reasons to revisit the town where I spent my undergraduate years becoming lysergically attuned to Pink Floyd and learning my one true skill: dancing to the B-52's without spilling my beer.

Oh, that Joanna Miller. In addition to being the only person I've met who can converse as volubly as Julia and her littlest sister (also Joanna) about the relative merits of "real" vs. "fake" buttercream frosting (the true adept will prefer the latter) or the best way to eat candy corn (hint: keep those incisors sharp), she also engaged us in an endlessly enjoyable sitcom-trivia game. Where did Full House take place? Huh, you don't say.

And who dreamed up those countless sitcom scenarios? That's right, the writers. And what do they want? A little cheddar from the new-media taco stand, bub. The struggle continues.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Not Kvetching.

I was listening to the radio on my drive home from picketing the other day, and the radio lady was interviewing a writer, asking his opinion about the strikeness. "One thing that people say," she said, and I'm totally paraphrasing, "is that writers make a lot of money and they shouldn't complain."

I can say to you, Very Hot Reader, that I am not complaining. Striking ain't kvetching.

And I should know. My people have cultivated the ennumeration of complaint to levels of complexity and sophistication far exceeding my meager blogging abilities. Especially since I don't speak Yiddish, a mighty language when one is inclined to bitch.

Look, I make a nice living as a writer. I'm not a millionaire. (Not even close. More like, "I'm finally outta debt.") I live in a cute apartment, I have a cute dog, I own some cute shoes, I drive a Toyota. Most of the writers I know live comfortably but by no means extravagantly; they live and die by Trader Joe's and Targay same as everybody else in La-La-ville. And a few writers I know have made great successes of themselves. You've watched shows they invented in their massive, labyrinthine brains; you've stood in line to watch their movies. They are to the writing of scripts as those Top Gun fellows were to the flying of fighter jets. Those particular specimens, I must report, are quite well-to-do. They live the life I assume Radio Lady was talking about. They have lovely houses with furniture so velvety you wanna French kiss it; their cars are precision-German; their superfierce shoes are Italian.

Maybe I'll one day make the kind of money they do. Maybe I won't. Who can say? All I know is, I didn't get into the writing racket just to bank. And I'm not striking out of greed.

I recently experienced a chance litmus test that enabled me to take my own true temperature about the money thing. I was at some casino in the desert on the Fourth of July (long story). I was waiting to hear if a network wanted to buy my pilot idea. I passed a flashing neon sign that said

I envisioned winning four million dollars. Pretty sweet, right? I asked myself, what would I do? Buy a shiny boat? Shopping spree for purses made of weird exotic leather? Trip to the land of the Euro, which is kicking the American dollar's tuchus ten ways from Sunday? And all I could think was.... GodDAMN I hope I get to write this pilot.

But, Sera, I reminded myself (silently, though I do sometimes talk to myself aloud like a crazy beyotch).... no pilot would ever earn you anywhere near that. In fact, you could successfully produce the subsequent show for a long-ass time and not rack that level of cheddar.

And I realized that someone could walk up to me right at that moment and hand me a check for ten million buckaroos, and I would still just want to write my own TV show. I wouldn't switch careers. I wouldn't quit and live the life of a character on Dirty Sexy Money. I'd write, and I'd write, and I'd blog about writing. I dunno, maybe I'd be writing with like a really expensive pen or something, but otherwise... I'd keep on keeping on. Because I am doing exactly what I want to be doing with my life, and the fact that it affords me a not-too-shabby lifestyle is a thick buttery layer of frosting on an already delicious slice of Fuck Yeah.

This makes me a lucky person. I don't do what I do for the dough. And when I look at my career - in fact, every single time I crack open my paycheck - I feel the same feeling. The feeling is the opposite of kvetchitude. It is gratitude.

So hell no, I am not complaining. Not by a mile. And I am not assuming that any of this is my right. I knew this was a competitive, poodle-eat-Frenchie biz when I jumped into the dogpark. There's no real job security in script writing. Every gig could be your last. Cancellation and bum box office hover in every shadow, staring at you like that evil subway guy in Ghost. That's the real reason the strike isn't freaking me out as much as one might think: I never assume I'll have a job in six months.

That's me in a nutshell: plum whackadooed that I managed to pull a fast one with this script thing and avoid having to go to law school/med school/ acupuncture college. And, on the other... half of the nut, or whatever, aware that with good fortune comes a certain degree of responsibility: when the contract being offered stinks up the joint, I gotta stand up about it. Not just for myself - we've already established I still look around corners waiting for Candid Camera to jump out and go Surprise! We totally fooled you into thinking you could make a living writing scripts about tragically misunderstood werewolves! But for my peeps: the writers of yore who stood up and got me pension, health and residuals. The writers of Tomorrowland, who will be writing snippets to be downloaded directly into your cerebral cortex, and need to be paid for that. The writers of Right About Now, even.

I'm not going to try to convince you that we're in the right here. I'm not here to explain the pie that is Hollywood and why we deserve a slice. There are plenty of hilarious and/or informative youtube videos that do it better. This strike is not fun, and it is not cute. It's serious shit, and it's a damn shame it's come to this. Layoffs. TV shows stalling at the starting gate. Incredibly talented writers holding signs when they should be typing something incredibly incredible. I mean, I was on the line this week with the guy who created one of my fave shows of all time (hint: high school; nerds; cancelled in one season). It took a lot of willpower not to gush about the level of influence his work has had on mine. I can't get over what a waste it is that all of us are standing around getting crispy in the Burbank sun when we could be merrily pulling our hair out over some form of filmed entertainment.

On said picket line, I've heard a lot of worry and guilt about having to fire below-the-line employees. Speculation about the fate of the holiday movie season. Frustration as another day goes by without new negotiations. Forced optimism. Only slightly less forced humor.

The only thing I haven't heard? Complaining. Not from the Emmy winners, not from the Oscar nominees, not from freshly-minted newbie staff writers or plucky middle-management hyphenates (that would be me) or guys whose show just got cancelled (sorry, staff of Viva Laughlin. You seem nice). Hollywood writers, from what I can see, know they're lucky. The (often Very Hot) ones I've met in the past two weeks remind me of no one so much as... me. They work constantly; they take little for granted; they're proud of their work and hope to sustain their careers. Oh, and when they introduce themselves to the man standing next to them and he says he's Peter Filardi, they fall all over themselves like geeky 13-year-olds to tell him how fucking awesome Flatliners was.

And if they are indeed like me, then I can safely say none of this has sprung from a place of egotistical entitlement. It's not about getting a pile more money and rolling around in it Demi Moore style and spending it on stuff that increases our carbon footprint or what have you; it's about protecting ourselves down the line. We - understandably, I think - want a working contract that prevents us from sustaining crippling losses as the industry evolves and the distant future becomes the regular old present. Writers like me want to negotiate. We want to come up with a fair compromise. We just want to get back to work.

You know, so we can settle back in to our comfortable routine of staring at our computers in caffeinated horror, agonizing over our scripts and kvetching.

Friday, November 09, 2007

From a Fellow Traveler
a strike-supporting salvo from Simon

I can't let Sera do all the heavy lifting on the blog just because she's in the middle of a historic strike. So I thought I'd jump in to say that I, too, am astonished and inspired by the number of people who've written to express their support for her and for the other striking TV writers.

A doctor's appointment in Burbank (don't worry, mom, it was totally routine) actually lured me out of my media batcave yesterday. It took the Jules and me past several throngs of picket-walking scribes; we dutifully honked, but we also had occasion to observe the seemingly VERY high morale of the strikers.

"It's because the producers don't have a leg to stand on," Julia noted with her typical alacrity. "I've been looking for one press statement where they make their case, but they've been almost completely silent. Everybody knows the writers deserve to win."

Her point was underscored by a quote from Weeds creator and smokin' Jewesss Jenji Kohan in Variety:
"This is a war against corporate greed, and we're on the side of right," she said. "The producers are being completely unreasonable and incredibly greedy and piggish. They're making enormous amounts of money, and we deserve a share."
(Can I name-drop for a sec, since we're all sharing a venti Hollywood bloggiato with extra foam? We totally know Jenji and are kinda sorta crushed out on her. Sera tells me she was walking the picket line with her yesterday, gabbing about the shortfalls of the cable residual system, reminiscing about our seder last pesach, and admiring her "totally sweet sexy-secretary glasses. They have, like, little stars on them!" Anyway, she stokes our fire. There; we said it, it's out in the open and we can move on.)

While writers strike to make more on these, you can get a bunch from Netflix.

The self-evident rightness of the writers' case is clear. Still, it seems to me — I almost said it strikes me — that some of the solidarity we've been seeing is due to the existence of blogs.

Here's the thing: Blogs are a powerful organizing tool under ordinary circumstances, even if you're running for city countil in Des Moines. But Hollywood writers are, well, writers. And people want to read about entertainment anyway, so there's an incredibly energized platform in the hands of people who really know how to tell a story and make an argument.

Meanwhile, video bloggers, indie filmmakers and online documentarians are taking their cameras to the picket lines and telling the story from an anti-corporate perspective. Not only that, but they have groovy media tools like this one at their disposal:

Meanwhile, the blogs enable writers to stay in touch with the show's fans in an unmediated way. Hence the aforementioned extremely touching and wonderful displays of support.

So yeah, that's all good. But just because morale is high now doesn't mean this thing won't drag on and start to really hurt the people who write your favorite shows. Here's the blog as soapbox: Writers are striking to pay their rent, their mortgages, their health coverage, their kids' day care, their treats for their dogs named Mojo, their vodka that is so essential for the 3am story-breaking. Most of them are not rolling in money and for them there is no such thing as job security. Your support isn't just appreciated — it's vital. So keep on honking and writing and making online videos and signing petitions and telling your friends. It's going to make a difference.

And since we've been talking about blogs and precious little about hot Jews, we're delighted to introduce you to the sassy online stylings of Katie Schwartz, whose All the Way From Oy to Vey is so Hebrewliciously up our alley it's not even funny. Except that it's really funny. Like us, Katie works blue, so if you're put off by the dirtiness, don't blame us (but really, get over yourself, because dirtiness is where it's at). Check it out, you righteous hottie, you.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

No, You're Very Hot.

Wow. Thanks for all the love, guys. We're so touched by the show of support for the Very Hot On-Strike half of this duo.

Before Sera became a screenwriter, if you'd asked her to name five writers, she'd have said, "Matt Damon... Ben Affleck... um..." So we are as surprised as we are verklempt that the online world is so replete with writer-friendly mensches (both Hebraic and Scintillatingly Attractive Non-).

So thanks ever so for the kind words, sweet comments, mash notes, and Wiccan contract-negotiation candle rituals. You make us proud to be types who type.

P.S. (added on Thurs., November 8) Thank you to the show fans who brought the fruit to the picket line! The writing staff of my show will be out there this morning, at the Warner Bros Studio Gate 5. Some of us will probably be out there next week too, on the morning shift that goes till 1 pm. Feel free to come and join the picket line, if that sounds like a bitchin' good time to ya. We're out there commingling with Pushing Daisies, Gossip Girl, Mad TV, ER, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Smallville, and other very hot shows. Yes, actors stop by too. Yes, they're fucking gorgeous. Plus assorted luminaries; I got to meet Garry Marshall on the line yesterday, which was pretty cool. He's a spry guy, and does it get better than Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and the best rainbow-suspendered alien show ever, Mork and Mindy? The answer, my very hot friends, is nyet.

P.P.S. If you think the logo above is cute, get it on a t shirt here. We didn't put it up there to shill it - we found it googling for an appropriate image to open this little postlet with - but we do like to give credit where due.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

My Very Hot Pencil Is Down.
(by Sera)

So as of 12:01 Monday I am, for the first time in my life, on strike. Which is weird. Is it good? Is it bad? It's good if it works. It's probably going to be difficult in the short term. If it doesn't wrap up right quick, it's gonna play hell on the Hannukah shopping season in Los Angeles. Bad, for sure, for that post on dreaming that's been pending for over a month now (I'LL GET TO IT!). I suppose the best question is: necessary?

A: Yes.

More on that... probably not here, because I am not a Very Hot New Media Expert Jew. There are better places to go if you want to plunge into the heated debate. For instance:

The Writer's Guild, Nikki Finke, Defamer, The WGA Strike Captain Blog.

Many, many Smokin' Fierce Jews and Gentiles will be picketing. You will see them on the news. You may think we writers are passionate and righteous; you may think we are spoiled, overpaid, and by and large pasty. You may think movies and episodes of television spring fully formed from the lucious mouths of your favorite actors, and have never really thought about s0-called "writers" at all. Think what you will, I am all for this strike. It's necessary at this point, because the contract we were offered was somewhat like being told to turn around, touch our toes, and perform a certain famously uncomfortable sex act, without the benefit of lubrication.

I missed the first day of school on the strike line. The weeks leading up to the expiration of our contract was a harried sprint on all fronts (including a front or two that exposed me to whatever virus is goin' round), and now I'm paying the price in sheer physical exhaustion. But my comrades are there, and so I shall join them. Though probably not wearing a red shirt, since they flash me back to my unhappy past life in Communist China.

I may or may not blog more about le strike here at Very Hot Headquarters. Just because I'm fighting for a cause doesn't mean I'm any more reliable than I used to be. But the silver lining for our blindingly sexy readers is, Simon and I don't get paid a bum nickel to write this stuff, so I can keep doing it while still striking against the conglomerates. We do it for love, we do it for fun, we do it because there's shit we really should be doing and we take procrastinatory activities where we can find 'em. So I thought, hey, check in, say yo to the readers, and tell you I'm alive and well and ready to stick it to The Man.

Till then, I leave you with two pieces of good news.

1. You can get the new Radiohead album online for as little as 46 pence , because they too are grooving on the sticking of It to The Man. So they released the album themselves, and - I dunno why, but I like to think it's to prove to all the player haters that they didn't just do it to be greedy - they let YOU pick how much you pay for it. And... it is beautiful. It is the kind of album that makes you think of staying up all night with someone you just met, talking and talking and falling more and more in love. So, go experience the wonders of new media in the hands of the creative at their website.

2. Mojo spent Halloween trick-or-treating with my goddaughter. (I wasn't there, 'cause of the aforementioned work sprint.) My mom emailed me to ask for my permission to... put clothes on my dog. Which I am against as a rule; I feel dogs should be given their dignity. But since it was only a costume, I decided it didn't count. So, the upshot is... photos of Mojo dressed as the devil. Gaze upon the sheer hilarity every time your morale wanes.

Mojo says you're welcome.