Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Year-End Blah-Blah, Part 2
Please scroll down and read Sera's year-end Part 1 first. No cheating!

Are you in the mood for another litany of excuses for this blog's recent inertia? Do you wanna hear about all the stuff I had to write? You do not. But like Sera (only without the studios and producers and hyperventilating webgeek fans and actors with chiseled cheekbones), I, too, have been scribbling away pert-near nonstop -- to the detriment of our Semitic sounding board. Regrets? I've had a few, Jew.

But now that 2008 has almost coughed out its last rattles, I'm finally going to crank out a post -- and, with any luck, set free some thought-bats that have been flapping around my belfry.

In some ways this last year felt like a test. Yeah, some really fucking horrible shit happened -- and keeps happening -- but by now that feels de rigueur for the Bush era (only about 20 more days, beloveds, but please keep your seatbelts fastened until we come to a complete stop). I'm talking about implosion of structures that I imagined would never buckle. I'm talking about financial shockwaves and devastation, some of them perpetrated by a Jewish investor whose name we will not invoke without spitting twice upon the ravaged ground. The icecaps kept melting. The bombs kept going off at schools and restaurants and checkpoints in countries where "American interests" required protection.

There were other, more personal losses in my circle. A family friend who'd known me since I was a fetus and who saw me get married twice and whose insight and wicked sense of humor were a bulwark against life's most heinous storms ended her days in a hospital, stricken insensate.

I'd borrowed Sera's copy of The Year of Magical Thinking and had been thinking about what happens to the mind in the face of such absolute subtraction. I had vowed to give up magical thinking myself, in all ways, and 2008 put that to the test. So, for the first time: no desperate praying, no "don't say anything, you'll jinx it," no clinging to the idea that my thoughts would affect the outcome. Giving up magical thinking has been like quitting some dependable opiate - fewer floaty moments, perhaps, but also fewer crashes of the system.

But when we went to the Day of the Dead celebration at Hollywood Forever cemetery, where costumed revelers twirled tirelessly to an endless loop of drunken mariachi music and headstones were bedecked with lace and lights, I approached one white, spartan shrine, where the dead were memorialized on scraps of paper, and scrawled my friend's name. It served no rational purpose, and I doubt that anyone who knew her saw it. But she was a writer who lived and breathed the multiplicitous rituals and turns and bends of the city. So, in this still, veiled cubicle of light in the middle of a rollicking graveyard party, I penned a message to her through the ether. Some vestige of magical thinking abides.

But all this death and bad juju aside, I remain grateful.

For my Julia and our little hilltop life with gardens and computers and plans and lists of things to do and blankets and dinners in front of the TV.

For my family, carrying on in the storm and inviting strangers to the table.

For my brilliant nephews, growing into fine young men before my eyes.

For my dear friend Sera, achieving the greatness and recognition I've known she would reach since first we met.

For my other extraordinary, talented, kind-hearted friends, who don't hear often enough about how I cherish their minds and hearts.

For my little boat of a business, still upright and affording me a chance to live by my wits, like I always said I wanted to.

For the chance to sing.

For a new government, which will have a full plate cleaning up after the old one.

For a new year, full of new possibilities. For the acknowledgement that we're beholden to one another, the intertwining of destinies. Did you notice how much more this holiday season has been about giving charitably than about getting stuff?

And for all of you, friends and strangers, who stop what you're doing to read our words when we actually get our tuchuses in gear and write them. Now that's magical.

Happy New Year. We love you and we promise to be better correspondents in 2009.

Friday, December 26, 2008

No, seriously, I’ve never been busier.
(a year-end howdy from the female half of us)

I know I’ve said it before but this time I mean it. October hit and I suddenly had drafts due for three different projects at the same time. (Including a movie, which I found out is supposed to be kind of long.) If I'm bragging, it's mostly about how stupid my scheduling was.

When have I ever written this much? Funny you should ask. The last time I was this prolific was longhand in my diary, the month my boyfriend cheated on me, summer after the 11th grade. I had a lot of angry poetry to get out of my system. This is different, though. Because, you know, paycheck. And spellcheck. And nothing rhymes, praise be to Allah. And I am to being single as naughty little shoplifting fat kids are to candy stores with sleepy cashiers: relishing the timing and smirking at my luck.

But I totally way frickin' digress. Hi. It's me, Sera. I didn’t want to let 2008 go without at least saying sayonara to my UberHot Brethren. Sistren. Whatevren.

Also, I wanted to warn you about that movie The Reader. I’ve been living in a spiderhole, so I had no idea what it was about, and I wish to God someone had told me before I settled in with a pal and a plate of sushi to watch a screener DVD.

SPOILER ALERT! After an act that’s AWESOME, ‘cause it’s all about a chick in her thirties fucking an uncomfortably hot ostensibly fifteen-ish year old boy, Kate Winslet turns out to be a FULL ON NAZI. It squicked me to the max, so, public service: SS officer. I had to wash my whole self, twice. Ew. Yeah, I know, that's a problem but I apparently have no problem whatsoever with women fucking boys half their age. In my defense, I’ve been told by more than one man to whom this happened that a) it rocked and b) it was like sex college. (Also, um... Kate's not much older than me. So let's not be too hasty with the whole "old" nomenclature.) Okay, enough of that. The movie was good. Kate Winslet is a genius. Who else would make you feel sorta kinda ambivalent (or at least less than outright murderous) about a NAZI PRISON GUARD who let two hundred people burn to death in a locked barn? Give the woman a fucking Oscar already, for the love of all that's decent. Onward.

Alrighty then: 2008, ending. On a note of exhaustion. I told you at the beginning of the year we were gonna be Dancing It Out. Remember that? All that time ago? Not to get all... Shania Twain, is it? No, LeAnne Womack, sorry... on you, but I Hope You Danced, too. Did you? If so, wasn't it great? Told you.

As for the Theme For 2009… I dunno yet. Got any suggestions? I've been tossing around a few ideas. Tempting to wrap some form of Obama reference in, but look, it's my belief that you and I, the Spicy Hot and Jewy (or Not) shouldn't depend on a politician for hope, inspiration, and general joie de vivre in the new year. No, we should depend on Singing At The Top Of Our Lungs Like The Whole Damn World Is Our Shower. Or, Bringing Back The Mixtape. Year Of The Roadtrip -- even if we only get from Santa Monica to Van Nuys? Year Of The Dog, where we all start acting more like Mojo, since he clearly has it all figured out and may well be our greatest teacher? Year Of Talking Less? (Doubtful.) Hmmm. I’ll ruminate, you ruminate, let’s meet back here to make it official.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

From 8 to Love

Hi, Mishpuchah. Sorry it's take so long to shake off the weird combination of euphoria and horror (euphorror?) that followed the election and cobble together a post.

On the one hand, welcome to the Obama era, right? Lots of good stuff is going to happen! Yay!

On the other, what the fuck's up with passing Prop 8, Cali? (For our readers in Bahrain and Dublin who've been out of the loop, California narrowly passed a ballot initiative that changed our consititution to ban gay marriage.) That's some bullshit. And though the writing is on the wall, historically speaking, and 8 will be invalidated either by a court or by another popular vote (possible slogan for the counter-initiative: This time it's even more personal), we'd be lying if we said we weren't stung by this loss, this disgusting slap in the face to our friends.

So, let's review just a bit of recent history. Gay people turn their queer eye on your crappy fashion and make you prettier so you can get laid and advise you on turning your dump of a living room into a suburban palace and pepper your lame-ass sitcom with witty dialogue and produce your awards shows and write your speeches and take your temperature and administer your company and engineer your buildings and you're all, like, what have you done for me lately? Let's face it: If the gays ever go on strike, the straight world will end up curled up in a fetal position on the floor in about 14 hours. But their pursuit of happiness? Talk to the fuckin' hand.

But ranting gets us nowhere, and there's enough of it going on.

This whole struggle is about love. Those of us who argued against 8 - and we get it, we could've been louder, clearer and more effective - were motivated by the heart.

So we're going to shine our Jew-light on love. We're going to start telling love stories - gay, straight, whatevs. Relationships and valentines and ooey-gooey tales of romance. Bring it on. Because no matter what anybody says, love is love.

Tell us your love stories.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Dear Very Hot Readers,

I just got up at five in the morning to pop a bunch of Wellness Formula, bundle up against the drizzle and walk to the polls. It was pretty awesome. I ended up standing in line with this middle-aged Black electrician from Chicago who told me he woulda preferred Hillary on account of she has more experience, stood by her man, and has a great ass. All in all, a great Tuesday morning.

Okay, this is for all you Cali wafflers out there. Or, Cali commiseraters. Or, Mormons who wanna go rogue. It's a little story I like to call "Why Prop 8 Makes Me (And The Baby Jesus) Cry."

On my last day of college (back in the *cough* 90s) I hopped in the back of somebody's crowded sedan to drive to a graduation afterparty. A tall, slender young man was sitting in the front passenger seat. He turned to me and said, "Hi, Sera."

And I said, "Oh my God, hi! It's been a while!"

And he smiled and said, "I know we haven't seen each other much, but you know-- I've been keeping a little eye on you all these years."

The reason this didn't come off as creepy was: a) he looks like a supermodel, with big melty eyes, and b) he just meant that though we hadn't hung out much since our class together Freshman year, he'd kept track of my progress through our little theater boot camp. His name was-- is-- Michael, and we'd been ships in the night for some time, but our appreciation of one another was mutual. He just had this vibe. You know how you can tell some people are totally devoid of bullshit? They're exactly what you see, from their glasses to their Vans? That's Michael.

So, I grinned and he grinned, and we wondered why the fuck we'd seen so little of each other. He just shrugged, the way a wise fortune teller might, and said, "I wouldn't worry about it. I have a feeling we'll be in each other's lives for a long time." And then he flipped on the radio, and the subject turned to the acquisition of tacos at Baja Fresh.

So, cut to... now. Years and years later. Look, I'm a nice Jewish girl, but I wouldn't take a bullet for just anybody. Michael, though? A firing squad. Of bullets dipped in death juice and cayenne pepper. Seriously. He's my dearest.

It would take way too long to explain what's happened between Michael and me in this blog post. There's been a lot of theater, good food and beverages and, okay, that one time we took that stuff and went to see The Big Lebowski. Text messages and homemade CDs and joyrides in his convertible. Also holding each other's hands through break-ups of epic gnarl, the breech births of our unorthodox careers, and the deaths of both our dads. Michael is not just my friend, he is my family. And yes, for your information, my sexy, nosy little pals, the reason he and I never fell into bed to consummate our otherwise perfect-in-every-way relationship in inevitable romantic comedy fashion is that we both prefer dudes. I guess it's lucky for him; I'm not exactly famous for keeping boyfriends around very long.

Michael, however, has been with his Sig Other for going on nine years.

I know. Who the fuck stays with one guy for nine years? In Los Angeles? They're a shining beacon of hope to us all.

You see where I'm going with this. Michael may or may not decide to pop the question. (If I were his bf, I'd be getting pre-tty antsy, but that's another post.) As of the writing of this missive, they can go ahead and do the crazy deed here in California, if they so please. Just like the rest of us. If you go to the polls and vote NO ON 8, it is my hope that the misguided souls attempting to add discrimination against my family to our state Constitution will fail.

Sime asked you to do this the other day. This is me asking you one more time, from the bottom of my heart. Regardless of your personal squicks on the matter-- look, I'm not deaf, I do hear people talking at gas stations. I get that there are plenty of earnest, hardworking people out there who cannot quite put their finger on why gay marriage makes them uncomfy. Seriously, it's cool by me if you feel weird about it. I understand, we all go to therapy for something. It's okay. Be ambivalent, but be a mensch. Vote NO because while there is a lot of emotion surrounding it, the core issue is not an emotional one: it's about curtailing rights. Evolved people are ixnay on that. Period.

In the end, it doesn't make a diff if it's separate water fountains or yellow stars. Yes, I said it. No, I'm not comparing Prop 8 to the Holocaust, relax. I'm just saying, Jews especially need to nut up when we see the persecution of minorities.

Write me in the comments that you No-ed on 8! You'll make my stressed, freaked, praying-for-Barack-and-the-queers day.

Seriously. I'll even post more, as soon as I finish my screenplay. I promise. I mean, posting at all would be posting more, but you know what I mean. I'm here to make a deal. This is important to me. Take advantage of me while you can.

Love you like a gay brother,


Monday, October 27, 2008

Sticking It to Hitler: Election Pony Edition

A Plea for Tolerance and Mr. Sparkles, by Simon

Must I begin every post with an abject apology? What's the point of not atoning at Yom Kippur time if I have to whip up a fresh batch o' sorry every time I crawl out from under the teetering pile of whatever that is my work week to blog at y'all? Zut alors, if you'll pardon my French.

But it was clearly time to say hey, because I peeked at the previous word-ball Sera and I had chucked up at this bitch and it was from, like, the Harding administration. And besides, it's election time and I've got something all-consumingly important to say.

I wants a pony. And you can help.

Y'see, the gay community (and its heterosexual minions, who slavishly advance The Gay Agenda) approached me to help do some outreach for the No on 8 campaign. And while I was sympathetic to the cause, I also felt I should have some compensation. Was that so wrong? It was not; the gays understood. So: Terms were discussed. Offers and counter-offers were tendered. And after many tense hours of negotiation, the requisite item was agreed upon.

Pony! PonyPonyPonyPooooooonnnyyyy!

Now, to be fair, it wasn't totally unanimous. Some of the gays on the gay board of directors, like JohnO., were a tough sell:

Every boy has to have a dream... but imagine if we gave Simon his pony. What's next? Botox for Billy? Disney for Danny? Italy for Ian? And none of them are even dying of cancer! There simply must be limits. If Prop 8 is voted down he'll be receiving a box of condoms and the phone number of a good divorce attorney like everyone else.
But I turned on the waterworks and he finally came around:
Alright! Alright! Don't cry. You can have the friggin' pony. Jesus. You all know what a soft touch "we gays" are when a grown man starts to cry. Especially when it does not involve a Judy Garland song, the film "An Imitation of Life" or the news that we've missed a season end sale at Barneys. Oh, to be a social stereotype.
Victory! So anyway, GayCo didn't say exactly how much I'd have to raise to be united with my fetlocked friend, but that I'd have to make "a solid effort."

I set up a fundraising page at ActBlue called Stand Up for Love. You can go there and contribute to the No on 8 campaign to stop the evil religious fuckwits from writing discrimination into the California constitution.

You can put in a few bucks to say that we really ought not to interfere with the right of same-sex couples to solemnize their relationships.

You can drop a few bills in the kitty to affirm that your gay friends deserve to pursue happiness, and the people who would try to prevent that are morally bankrupt shitheads (who, as it happens, only take the Bible "literally" when it suits them and have no scruples about resorting to blackmail).

You can deposit some dough because defeating the curdled and desperate and mean-spirited and cruel initiative known as Prop 8, for fuck's sake, is another way of sticking it to Hitler.

Or you can just contribute because every dollar brings me closer to Mr. Sparkles. I promise I'll feed him and brush him and walk him around and oh please please please please please.

OK, enough yammer. Click the thing and make with the giving. It's pony time.

Oh yeah, and don't forget to vote against Prop 8, and also for that one guy.

Update: Here's a killer new ad against 8, narrated by Sam Jackson.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Larger Family
a holiday missive from Simon

In a few hours I'll be heading over to my parents' place for our traditionally non-religious celebration of Rosh Hashanah. My brilliant nephews (including recently Bar Mitzvah'd Jonah) will recapitulate the meaning of the holiday. There will be much talk of the election (in my house, the day's political news may as well be on an ancient scroll). Apples will be dipped in honey as we wish each other sweetness at the beginning of a calendar we don't observe. That's how we secular types roll, so L'shana tovah, whatever that means.

But just because I'm not versed in Hebrew and have no metaphysical beliefs doesn't mean I'm not aware of and reflecting on the tradition.

Julia and I were cruising home from the gym yesterday afternoon and listening to Speaking of Faith on NPR; I heard a familiar voice talking about the Days of Awe and realized it was Reboot regular, IKAR luminary and Very Hot Rabbi Sharon Brous. She spoke interestingly about the scriptural legacy of dysfunctional families and about the Jews and Muslims, descendants of Abraham by different mothers.

And then I came home to a story about someone spraying a "chemical irritant" through the window of a mosque in Dayton, Ohio. As the congregation was offering Ramadan prayers. As children slept in another room. They all began coughing and flooded outside while the authorities arrived to investigate.

The incident may have been spurred, in part, by a propaganda DVD called Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, which was circulated in swing-state newspapers by a right-wing organization. And it just goes to show you how easily even folks in heartland, family-values America can get whipped up into a child-gassing frenzy for fear of the demonized Other.

No one was hurt, I'm happy to report, but make no mistake: This was both a hate crime and a domestic terror attack.

A director of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, quoted in a local paper, expressed fear that members of their flock wouldn't feel safe enough to return. I want you to think about that. I want you to imagine if such a thing had happened at your temple or church.

On a recent episode of the Showtime series Weeds (created by our brilliant, VHJ pal Jenji), protagonist Nancy's Jewish father-in-law, played by Albert Brooks, is trying to explain to his grandson the necessity of preventing another holocaust. "It must never happen again," he declares piously. His grandson is incredulous. Never happen again? What about Darfur? Rwanda? Bosnia? "No, I mean, it must never happen again to us," the grandfather huffs. I was glad to see the show puncture such insular Jewish piety. It's our responsibility to treat all the genocides in the world - as well as smaller acts of violence and intimidation - as assaults on our own family.

If these Days of Awe, which culminate in our asking forgiveness for our transgressions, have any meaning, the children of Sarah need to let the children of Hagar know this will not stand. So here's a message from the Very Hot Jews to the Muslims of Dayton and every other Islamic congregation in America: An attack on your community is an attack on ours. And the despicable hatemongers behind this heinous act deserve the same condemnation from us as if they'd perpetrated it against IKAR or the Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

To say otherwise would be a grievous sin of omission.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Great Schlep: Jew Power for Obama
an early high-holiday card from Simon

Sera's in the Holy Land; I'm sure neither she nor it will ever be the same. But I've got a Wailing Wall of my own, and it's called this blog. And I'm-a use it.

Thanks to some killer PR and the hard work of folks like Mik Moore at the Jewish Council for Education & Research, among many others, The Great Schlep goes down on Columbus Day weekend. It's a mass pilgrimage of young Jews to Florida and other swing states, where they will endeavor to convince their older, often "low-information" relatives to vote for Obama.

I attended a beautiful fundraiser for said initiative the other night. It was held at the mansion-like home of some very generous entertainment-industry peeps, and I met a couple of mega-hot Jewish celebrities there who nearly made my knees buckle. The food, provided by the reliably brilliant Provisions (aka very haute Jew Lisa Feinstein and crew), was a gourmandish series of twists on classic bubbie nosh: brisket on toast, borscht shots (with crème fraîche and orange zest), mini-kugels, paté (chopped liver), succulent smoked salmon. The wine flowed freely. Handsomely attired Hebrews strolled the lush environs.

And yet, from the cocktail-hour chatter, you'd think we were all about to be herded onto trains to Dachau. Everyone was so worried. So terribly concerned. Worried about racist voters. Concerned about easily misled voters. Worried that Sarah Palin would become President in ten minutes and life would turn into The Handmaid's Tale. Concerned about what Bill Clinton said on TV. Worried about what their neighbors said in the driveway. Anecdotal blips on the radar screen were described like incoming ballistic missiles. For sheer doom-and-gloom certainty, I'd put any random bunch of Jews, even a well-heeled, high-information batch of Hollywood activist types such as these, up against the most rabid evangelicals in full apocalypse mode.

Fortunately, the presentation — by Mik and various other folks from JCER, JewsVote.org and other cool outfits (including friend of this blog and mightily pregnant genius Jill Soloway) soothed some of these fears by describing the Schlep and making a charming appeal for support before screening this inspired, typically raunchy promotional video by Sarah Silverman.

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Before I go on, I'd like to say a couple of quick things about this video. First: Our Sarah will kick their Sarah's ass. Next: I don't wanna hear about how you found this video offensive or untoward or how it made you uncomfortable. It isn't for you. It's for the kids who are going to journey to the heart of their grandparents' couches to close the deal for Obama, and they fully get and love her spiel. So shut your homentaschen hole.

Now I'd like to speak to the kids.

We often hear that children are the future, and ordinarily I don't agree. I just don't see the proof. But in this case, yes, children — specifically motivated and liberal teenage and twentysomething children and grandchildren of poorly informed, slightly confused elderly voters in swing states – emphatically are the future.

So you know your job, right, kinder? It's up to you to convince Bubbie and Zayde (and great aunt Rivke and cousin Manny and all their friends at the Senior Center) to cast their vote for our guy. This may not be as simple as it sounds. All kinds of ridiculous lies about Obama being a Muslim or not supporting Israel or whatever have been circulating like swamp gas among Jewish retirees, fueled by the Karl Rove innuendo factory. Then there's plain old ingrained racism, about which we'd like to think Jews would be more enlightened, but there you go. You will encounter resistance.

You must crush that resistance with everything you've got.

If you think I mean "Ply nana with an extra pot of Russian tea and tell her about Barack's thoughtful foreign-policy stances," you need to get real. I'm talking about tough love. I'm talking about winning this thing. Like Sarah S. suggests, I'm talking about emotional blackmail.

Nana has to understand that if she doesn't vote for Obama she's endangering her relationship with you.

This may seem harsh, but let's face it: If McCain wins this thing, we're mega-fucked. So it's time to put all our chips on the table, including our willingness to stay in touch with low-info relatives in swing states.

Look, I just want to help. I don't have any relatives in Boca, and my peeps are all voting for Obama anyway. But I thought I'd just sketch out a couple of talking points for you.

Of course, you do want to blow away the nonsense: No, he's not a Muslim, and a prominent Chicago rabbi wrote an editorial about how spreading this smear is lashon ha-ra. Barack's been endorsed by 900 rabbis. The Israelis like and respect him. You'll also want to make it clear that McCain's campaign is full of classic Jew-haters, and that Sarah Palin is a dangerous fanatic who scares the crap out of Israel. She believes Jews must be converted, she quoted racist Westbrook Pegler in her acceptance speech, and her church hosted a witch-hunting wacko who made some classically anti-Semitic inferences that can be found here. You might imply casually that she writes erotic fiction about the Third Reich under a nom de plume; can anyone prove she doesn't?
And given the age of your audience, it wouldn't hurt to remind them that McCain, not Obama, wants to bet their Social Security check on the same stock market that just fell apart.

Still, we both know that voting often comes down to abstract, emotional issues. For whatever reason, many older Jews have inhaled enough miasmic right-wing spew to feel an ingrained distrust of our candidate. That's where the tough love comes in. So let me offer you a few constructive dramatizations.

"Nana, you're going to vote for Obama. He's a wonderful candidate and the only one who can save our country. A vote for him is a vote for my future. So if you love me and want me to have a future, you will vote for him."

Let's say she looks down at the plate of kichel, heaves a weary sigh and says, "I'm sorry; I just can't vote for him." What are you gonna do, pack up your stuff and head for the bus station? I think not. You're gonna double down.

"Bubbie, let's be clear: You will vote for Obama. If you don't, you are dead to me. Because you will have chosen your wretched fears over my fondest hopes and flushed my dreams down the crapper because some idiot alteh cocker down the hall told you the shvartzeh won't stand up for Israel. And I don't care if you call him by that vile word as you pull the lever for him, even though every time you old Jews say it the little children who died in the camps and are now in heaven cry tears of blood that stain the fluffy clouds beneath their angel feet. You will vote for Obama because you if you don't, I'm going to come back here and we're going to get a knife from the kitchen and you can stab me right in the heart, just as Abraham was prepared to do with Isaac before the Lord stayed his hand. Is that what you want to do?"

I'm thinking by this time she's going to start to come around.

Sure, it's a risky gambit to fire these emotional cannons at our frail old family members. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Plus, when Obama wins in November and you come back to show them a bunch of family videos and have a nice picnic at the wrought-iron tables in the condo courtyard, they'll be delighted beyond belief. And so will you.

If, like me, you can't personally go on the Great Schlep, why not make a contribution? Even if you're broke, you can honor the classic grandparent tradition and slip a fiver into a card like this.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Jews in Blume, Political Kvetching and Other Notes

After all that spiritual light and sound, it's harsh to have to crash y'all back down to earth. But somebody's gotta do it.

But before we do, one more note about Darshan, about which Sera has written so eloquently. There's a song in the brilliant rock musical Passing Strange that culminates with this joyous, gospel-tinged refrain: "Music is the freight train on which God travels."

K, peeps: The meeting will come to order with some new business.

First off, if you're in L.A., c'mon down to Blumesday on Fri. night, 9/19, at M Bar. It's a fantabulous tribute to author Judy Blume (née Sussman) featuring selections from Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, Forever and other perennials read by such delightful local talents as Jill Soloway, Melanie Hutsell, Maggie Rowe and our own Joanna Rubiner (among others), with music by the sly and saucy Candypants. The night will be hosted by the inimitable Ronna and Bev; it was organized by scrumptiously sexy Oregonian Jewess Joanna Miller and is sponsored by Jill's cool feminist org, Object. And if you look carefully, you just might see your beloved VHJ blogerati in attendance.

Now, on to politics. First: some Jews in New York are having a rally to express concern about Iran and invited Sarah Palin to speak.

Bad Jews. Bad.

Maybe the fact that she quoted renowned anti-Semite and avowed racist Westbrook Pegler (who cheerfully advocated the assassination of RFK) in her acceptance speech should tip off any self-respecting Hebrew that associating with Palin is a shandeh. Then there's her general religious fanaticism, her opposition to abortion even in the case of rape and incest, her sickening abuses of power, her promotion of the brutal slaughter of majestic Alaskan wildlife via helicopter.

I know, right?

Unfortunately, the organizers of this event subscribe to the misbegotten view that anyone who supports Israel (even if it's for Armageddon reasons) is also a pal of the Jews. They deserve to be kicked in the shins, but at the very least you can e-mail them and tell them what a fucking embarrassing mistake it is to make Palin their spokesmodel. Go here to find out how.

And in the meantime, we're just going to go ahead and say it out loud: Sarah Palin and her wingnut ilk are a bigger threat to the Jews than Ahmadinejad. How you like us now?

FANTASTIC BREAKING-NEWS UPDATE: The excellent activist org JStreet reports that Palin has been disinvited, thanks to lots of angry messages. Good work, Jews!

Yeah, the VHJs are ready to endorse a candidate. It's Barack Obama. Shocker. And we want you to help Obama win. Jews have a special role to play: Convincing the Floridian mispuchah – you know, bubbie and zayde and Aunt Rose and Uncle Max – that all the bullshit they've heard about our candidate is just that. This is being accomplished with something called The Great Schlep. It's sponsored by The Jewish Council for Education and Research (JCER), and you can find out more (and donate) here.

Simon went to go phone bank for Obama in the neighborhood, and guess what? He hated it! Calling two pages of swing-state voters felt like having nard surgery. Bugging strangers at home is not his thing at all. So he went to the organizers and they put him to work doing data entry. The clickity-clack? Much more comfy. Point is: We can all make ourselves useful.

And maybe this little post will do some good in this sorry old world.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Darshan, Part Deux.

Read Part One First, won't you?

So: Darshan. The Light. Spiritual It-ness. Direct transmission. It took having the high holy bajeebers freaked outta me by an actual High Holy to realize I've had my own lil' tap in the Divine Keg it all along. I got this megaswig, right? And once it settled in, I found it tasted oddly... familiar.

Here's my disclaimer: you ain't hearing this from on high, so you might find it a little... simplistic. It's all very layperson-y and basic. I may be a lot of things, but nobody ever called me an avatar. I enjoy a nice meet-and-greet with those masters -- like Mother Meera, about whom I rapped in Part One -- who traverse lofty realms. But, perhaps not coincidentally, I live at sea level. And write really violent shit, like, eight hours a day. So, nutshell: I'm not exactly Floaty Guru material. That's okay - jumping face-first into the dark side of human nature's a necessary job too. Also, fun. The swag is terrific. Free glass eyeballs! But I digress.

Anywho. Here's when I realized I actually had understood Darshan all along. I was turning left into Gate Seven at Warner Bros. The moment was profoundly rote. Swim around in purse for wallet; swim around in wallet for ID card. Meantime, hit button to roll down window, whilst hitting other buttons to turn up music to compensate for the traffic noise. And I accidentally turned the music up a little too loud, and I idly thought, as the sound swept over me, "That's what angels sound like."

No, really. I'm, first of all, not fucking kidding. And also, I am going to embed a youtube video so you can check it out.

So I park my car, and I sit there and hit "repeat" and listen again. And I think: yup, angel. That's what they sound like. I'm pretty sure.

I know - subjective. One woman's Celestial Voice Of Revelation is another chick's Whatever. But I turned this over and over in my head. Thinking that the quasi-religious overtone of it couldn't be an accident. I mean - do I believe there are little Jewy toga-clad harpists flying around singing at God? Um, nyet. But there's a reason the feeling this sound evokes in my body gets instinctively named "angelic" by the lightning-quick name-factory in my brain. Because something in me... opens up. It's a physical feeling. In my chest. Like a book flipping wide, and in the center is my heart. Things start to tingle. I wake the fuck up. I am being visited by something fierce and I know it. Suddenly, where I was crunched up... there's space. Even if I'm resisting, good music finds a way in.

Which: Darshan. Right?

And then I flashed on this night many years ago. The deets are a little too personal for this blog - I'm saving the really dramatic shit for my book deal, I'm sure you understand - but long story circumcised, I was miserable, driving way too fast down Pacific Coast Highway at night with the windows down. Rage was my co-pilot. I was contemplating all manner of bad ideas. So what I did was just... not get out of the car. I drove all the way past Malibu. The thing that kept me tethered to the Here - and, most important, to some shred of common sense (if not the speed limit) - was the song blasting out of the speakers. It was a pop song. U2. Nothing too intellectual. It said what it meant, and then Bono wailed for a bit, and then there were guitars. I drove like a maniac, and the cold wind slapped my hair against my cheeks, and I guess there were no cops on the PCH that night, and eventually the music found its way into me and I calmed down. If Bono'd decided to go all Thom Yorke and make a concept album, it totally would not have worked. If that song had tried to be clever instead of passionate, I would have been doomed.

Fonder memory: a futon on a floor, facing a window, sometime after 4 a.m. College. Me and this guy I liked, lying there in perfect stillness. (We were sober, if caffeinated.) Watching the sun come up while that old Peter Gabriel live double-album played. I think of those couple of hours as the center of the frantic whirlpool of those years. Every baby butterfly in my belly - remember being 17? Remember the constant inner-monologue about how every single everything was wrong with you? - miraculously lulled to sleep.

Like most members of the human race, I've pulled a couplea stunts in my day. Dived into some dangerous/unwise/illegal acts. Generally because I was looking for a way to get at the locked-up stuff inside. And having tried a lot of methods, I can tell you that the most reliable way to get there is music. I dunno, maybe Steve Jobs really is some kind of diety, because I realize now that when I let the Light in, it's often through my iPod.

The song I listen to driving up the coast that magnifies its deliciousness.

The mix Sukha made for my birthday last year, to bring me new love. That worked in 48 hours flat.

The six songs I've heard five zillion times each by now that I put on shuffle when I'm working on my movie script.

The scratchy ancient Chopin recording that is the music equivalent of having buckets and buckets of flowers poured all over you.

The CD I bought in China the week my goddaughter was adopted. The song that haunted me for months, a symptom of a problem I didn't know yet that I had. The CD that got me through the worst month of my life, a prickly, sticky rope in the fog. The songs that are blankets I wrap around myself when I'm lonely. That They Might Be Giants ditty my friend in junior high serenaded me with that sometimes comes on the radio, a time capsule breaking open and spilling out mirth. That song I heard at that Starbucks that one time that stunned me - so I forgot to ask what it was, and I am still fucking looking for it six years later, and it eludes and eludes and eludes me. The song I played driving to the most important meeting of my career. The song my friend recorded when she was still with that other man, that makes me shiver knowing that the worst situations make the most beautiful melodies.

Darshan; n: a glimpse of the divine. And here I was thinking I was secular-Jewly, while I'm pulling the Light lever on a near-daily basis. Taking it like vitamins. Or Ativan, frankly; people always ask me how I can stand commuting to the Valley, and I always just say, "That's why God invented iTunes."

I shared my lil epiphany with some friends. They tried to add to it: "Isn't it even better when you dance around, too?" "How bout those amazing singers in Baptist churches - isn't music better when it's, like, about Jesus?" "What about when you yourself are singing, when the music's coming out of you?"

Nah. Details. Give me a floor and a couplea cheap earbuds and I'm good.

I kinda can't believed I just typed that, it's so damn simple. But it's true. That's the entire deal: music brings in the light. I thought maybe there was a difference between the feeling of "this is right and things will be okay and I am part of something larger" that you get when listening to, say, Bill Withers singing "Use Me" (not emolicious enough? Um, Death Cab for Cutie singing "I Will Follow You Into The Dark"?)... and the feeling you get from the Real Holy Deal bathing your crown chakra with pure two-hundred-proof Darshan Juice straight from India. Can you blame me? Everyone always looks so swoony in the movies when they get whammied by the Light of the Divine.

But I just got whammied last week, so I can tell you: there is no difference. They're the same. I mean, maybe music isn't the thing that does it for you. Whatever that thing is - as long as you're not molesting anybody, obvs - go with it. 'Cause the thing you are waiting for is already here. Dive in, my Highly Attractive friend. Quit waiting for the lighting bolt. It's a marketing ploy. The good shit is exactly what you always knew it was. So eat it up, scrape the sides of the container with your spoon, get in there with your fingers. Don't hold back, and don't hold out for the next thing. There ain't one. I am here to tell you: the tools we were already given are, as far as I can tell, the only tools there are.

This isn't bad news - it's my very favorite kind: practical news. There is no next party: we are at the party: therefore, let us party! Apparently, if there is a God, he's got a sense of humor. He doesn't just zap folk in schul. He zaps them through baseball and the roar of V12 engines and the distant, holy sound of Kanye West.

And if you're like me (and I have this instinct you are - at the very least, you're Very Hot), you've got this amazing Darshan spigot at your disposal. Actually, spigot is far too crude a metaphor for the vast selection. It's like a massive Darshan Microbrew Bar, with a long row of Light on tap. Pick your flavor. Chug.

I mean, think about that. A tiny slice of what I think of as God (that's right, I said it) can be purchased for 99 cents and downloaded to your mp3 player. We live in miraculous motherfucking times, my friends.

Friday, September 05, 2008

(a little illumination by Sera)

Last weekend, my lithe, blonde, dancerlicious friend Sukha rang me, breathless with excitement.

Sukha: Do you want to come with me to UCLA to get Darshan from Mother Meera?

Me: Um... yes!

Sukha: I'll be at your house in ten minutes.

Me: Great! Let me find some pants!

Are you wondering what Darshan is? So was I. She may as well have been speaking Sanskrit. Actually, she was. But she sounded really, really stoked, so who was I to turn down the chance to go get... whatever the fuck it was were were going to go get?

From the gods of Wiki:

Darśana (Darshan, Sanskrit: दर्शन) is a Sanskrit term meaning "sight" (in the sense of an instance of seeing or beholding; from a root dṛś "to see"), vision, apparition, or glimpse. It is most commonly used for "visions of the divine," i.e. of a god or a very holy person or artifact. One could "receive darshana" of the deity in the temple, or from a great saintly person, such as a great guru.

We pulled up the sparkling UCLA curb late-late, which didn't bother me at all because I had no idea what was going on anyway. Sukha, however, seemed keen on getting in and feared we would be turned away. So we took off our shoes and ran through the unexpectedly muddy grass, up the hill to the Bradley center. We showed up to the thang a lil' dirty, a lil' sweaty, but no one seemed to judge.

They let us in to what turned out to be a large, carpeted room filled with chairs. At the front of the room, a little stage. On the stage, a big green chair. On the chair, a lady in a lovely sari. Mother Meera. She is Indian, obvs, and extremely holy - an actual avatar, apparently - and UCLA is a stop on her ongoing world tour. (I learned these pertinent deets after the adventure; for some reason I can't entirely explain, I didn't really want to ask S what exactly was going on. I was enjoying just... going with it.)

The gist: you sat your ass down, got quiet, did a little inner whatever-ing, praying or thinkifying or blanking pleasurably, and eventually (we waited about 2 1/2 hours) your turn came and you got in front of Mother Meera.

The big moment: you kneel. Touch her feet. She touches your temples. When she lets go'a your temples, you look into her eyes. You hold each other's gaze until she looks down again.

That's the whole cannoli. It takes like 20 seconds, max.

So, I did it. I had no expectation that anything much would happen. People all around me, though, were quietly, meditationally squeeing. This lady is a big deal. Whatever she's tapped into, it allows her help others by a method that includes staring down hundreds of people a day without ever losing her zen; she's serious business.

Anyway, I got up there, I knelt in front of her, she touched me. I was a little nervous all of a sudden. It felt like... fingertips. So: not magic. Not that I was trying to be skeptical. I'm just reporting. It was nice. In a brief, gentle, fingertippy kind of way.

Then I got the cue. So I lifted my head, and I looked in her eyes.

Hello, fierce. She kind of freaked me out. Perhaps I expected mushy and lovey? Like a Jewish grandma? But she was casual as a heart attack. Time stretched out, and she just looked at me, and we were very much the same, and we were very foreign to each other, and she was very much wiser than me, and she knew a lot that I may never know, and had something to give to me and was giving it to me right then; and I had this sense of her telling me I'm willing to do this for as long as it takes and it made me wonder just what it was she was doing because it must be more than just looking, and then, loud and clear, something inside me was going, what the fuck are you doing trying to crack me open like that, no no no! And then it was over.

I got up and walked back to my chair. I felt pretty good. Calm, because I'd been meditating on and off for the two and a half hours leading up to the twenty seconds. Amused with myself, because it's not too surprising that I'd balk at the intimacy of that amount of searing eye contact from so advanced and over themselves a person. ( Or, possibly, if you subscribe to that particular magazine, from the person-ish incarnation of a goddess.) So... I went and sat down and thought for a little while about how I am an eminently freak-out-able person. Whereas the lady in the green chair is the photo negative of shakeable.

I wasn't bummed, because it wasn't like I'd spent weeks anticipating the moment I received the whatdoyoucallit, and then I got up there and screwed it up by getting kind of scared of the goddess lady. Quite the contrary! I pulled on my inner lab coat and started making notes on my inner clip board. The subject is highly open to new experiences. But quickly detaches from the mood of the crowd. Also, in the face of being peered into at an alleged soul-deep level, subject went all doe-in-headlights. She is so not as chill as she thinks she is.

Sukha, to contrast, looked all dreamy and silken, like she'd been whacked upside the head by a basket of soft furry kittens. But then, unlike this Very Hot Bloggeress, she meditates daily; her every chakra was squeaky clean and ready to receive the divine news flash.

Sukha's aura.

In the car on the drive home, Sukha repeatedly assured me that the light of Darshan gets in despite one's resistance. If it couldn't, who the hell could it reach? Humans are by and large ridonkulously resisty buggers.

Sukha and I went out for tomato soup and nori rolls and talked about men, of course, and I was in a great mood; it's not every day I get to gatecrash an event like that.

Sukha: Do you feel it?

Me: Feel what? Like,

Sukha: Yes, it.

Me: Honestly, no, not really, but I feel great so no worries. This soup is really good.

But Sukha disagreed with my notion that nothing specific had been wrought within my being. At one point I said something wry and eyebrowy that involved looking her in the eye. And she squealed with joy, "You got the light! You're all full of the light! You have so much light you're just going to have to give it to people!"

Well, good news, my loin-wrenchingly attractive readers. I'm giving it to you.

Because I figured it out this morning, guys. I figured out how the light - excuse me, Light - gets passed around. I figured out what the Light is, in my world. How it works, how it's transmitted, the whole friggin' enchilada. I figured it out as I was turning left into the Warner Bros. lot and fishing for my ID card with my free hand. It just - BAM. Hit me.

I think this may just be time-release Mother Meera groove in action.

I'm gonna lay it on you in Part Two of this post.

(Don't worry, there's really gonna be a part two. It's mostly written already. I just split them up so this wouldn't be miles long. I ran into this writer at Hugo's on Riverside the other day. We were both getting breakfast in lieu of writing scripts for our respective TV shows. Anyway, he said, "I used to read your blog, but it's always so long and cryptic." So, though Josh won't be reading these words: tune in for more next week.)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Things I Love.
An off-the-top-of-my-head list by Sera.

1. Supplements you drip into your Fiji water that turn it crazy colors which freak out the people sitting near you in the park. Like: dark green? That’s not a color you want to see in someone’s water bottle. But I’m chloro-loading, baby.

2. The fact that every now and then, something wildly popular is actually worth the hype.

3. Bulldogs: when they roll upside down? Gravity makes them smile.

4. In the cheese section at the grocery store … so very many cheeses. Yes, I am lactarded. I don’t care. I’m willing to suffer.

5. The paradox of laser-clear-eyed brilliance and total-fucking-batshititide that is being a visionary. Well, more to the point, the people who document true visionaries, so my friends and I can watch movies about what they did. And go weepy bananas in the theater.

5. Watching Simon sing his fool ass off.

So, it took me a minute to get to bloggin’, but I must mention that we had a Classic Rock Singalong the other day, on the occasion of Simon’s twenty-somethingth birthday.

It was pretty awesome. For instance, VHJ inner-circlite Mollie wore this super-skintight red zip-up Dickie Girl cover-all situation that made her look like a poster girl for the war effort, or an ad for motor oil, or a zipper fetishist’s wet dream. She led us in a rousing rendition of “Hotel California.” It was a sort of post-postmodern "Happy Birthday Mr. President" moment.

What Molly looked like: a faithful recreation.

What else? Simon rocked out. That’s the major headline. I drank beer with his ravishing Jewess bride and her striking sister, and as the evening wore on and our inhibitions wore off, the singing got louder and louder. I keep telling you, these Singalongs have a cleansing effect. They’re like primal scream therapy, but hipper.

That’s the news from the Very Hot front. We’ve been singing, having birthdays, imbibing, sucking the marrow out of summer. There’s no soul-rattling politico-religious wrap-up to this entry. It was really just an excuse to post a couple pix and shout-out our dear, sweet, panty-snappingly hot Sime. More soon. Ish.

Monday, August 18, 2008

We Got a Live One!

Here's the thing: We don't invade countries and "educate" the "savages" through the use of bribes and sharp objects. We don't even dress our young in short-sleeved button down shirts and send 'em out on missions, equipped only with bicycle helmets and backpacks fulla Bibles. If you want to be a Jew, you pretty much figure it out on your own. Then, you come to us.

Which, apparently, is what Lindsay Lohan is doing.

You’re skeptical? Relax those doubt muscles – we read about it on HotCelebrityPictures.com. The news might as well have been carved on stone tablets. Here’s a fair-use tidbit to make Edward R. Murrow proud:

“She's exploring right now," [her father] says. "She's explored the Church of Scientology, she tried Kabbalah, and now this. I think it's just another phase. But either way, she's involving God in her life, and I'm happy about that.”
A phase? Hasn’t Michael Lohan ever heard the expression "There’s no such thing as a semi-Semite?" OK, neither have we. Interestingly, the story may overshadow another recently tabloided facet of the star's life: her hot-girl-on-girl mature relationship with Samantha Ronson, who – in addition to being a smokin'-hot British dyke with ultra-hip sartorial instincts – is also a DJ. How wicked rad is that? (Peep her disc of Theo Bikel remixes sometime. Challah!) And Samantha, clearly the mad-coolest person in the life of Linds, is apparently the one ushering teen-culture's erstwhile it-girl in her newly Chosen direction.

But clearly we need to say something about this. We need to welcome Lindsay in some way. Like, we need to tell her about how we're going to make her life better through Judaism.


We wish we could say we had the cure for stuff – we may have read someplace that young Miss Lohan has had some form of struggle with substance addiction – but that's more Scientology's bag. Lord only knows we wish we magically whipped parents into shape, but we don't think we can help you if they have preexisting reality TV contracts. But, never fear, Lindsay! Simon and Sera, as the Chosen Two ambassadors of all that is Jewish and Hot, can obviously celebrate your hotness.

In fact, this task is so easy a monkey could so it. After all, there was a dogged rumor that you are in fact so hot, especially around the breast area, that Disney had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to digitally de-hotify you enough to garner a kid-friendly rating for the hilariously monikered Herbie:Fully Loaded. Linds, if we may be so bold, you - or your boobs, at the very least - are primed and ready to join the tribe. And now that sumptuous rack can be freshly apprehended in the context of your strong, zesty, life-affirming Jewish womanhood.

Still, your public may wonder what manner of antioxidant, exfoliating or otherwise rejuvenating properties the Semitic Spa can bring to bear upon the dermis of your soul, even if you spring for the deluxe package.

Well, here’s the thing: Jewish thought (proffering as it does not only Orthodox, Conservative and Reform flavors but also agnostic, atheist, mystical, quasi-mystical, absurdist, Dadaist, slapstick, pork-loving and other variants) is largely about arguing, pondering, adjusting, reconsidering and deciding for yourself.

And when your young career generates bazillions of buckaroos for a phalanx of entertainment-conglomerate executives and their minions, not to mention your handlers, relatives, friends and hangers-on, all of whom expect you to be an empty chalice in which they will helpfully pour their “advice,” perhaps a rigorous path of intellectual and spiritual self-discovery predicated on slow, careful reading is a good way to tell your entire posse to shut the fuck up. In a nice way. Plus, it’ll be way helpful in contract negotiations.

One thing’s for certain: We’ll be rooting for you extra hard now that you're a Jew. It's true that we here at Very Hot Headquarters sometimes wish ... well, not anything too evil, more like just a mild pox upon the more annoying and superfluous aspirants now thrusting themselves bodily upon fame as though it were the very genitals of Johnny Depp. But there are also those tabloid regulars whom, though they seem at least as spastically cokeheaded as the rest (see Winehouse, Amy), we still love and want to see pull through with panache. And upon whom we also wish to foist a large tureen of nourishing chicken soup.

We’ll admit it: We're a little biased in favor of Jewish crackheads. And Jewish drunks. We can’t help it; it’s a family thing. Though ordinarily snobby to the core (Sime went to Oxford, for Faulkner's sake!), we'll even cut you a break if your last single/movie/graphic novel sucked ass. We do draw the line at raping and killing. We think. But anyway, you get credit with us for being a card-carrying Tribesperson. So, Linds, if this unlikely story is true, Mazel Tov. We can't help but think this will be good for your career. At least as it's reflected within the confines of this blog.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cherubim and Sera-phim: The Marvels of Comic-Con
by Simon

Where have we been, these Jews you love? What have we been up to?

Well, double duty, baby. Sera's been busy cooking up some mind-blowing shit that will be rocking your screen soon enough. Sime's been turning out all manner of commercial ephemera and prepping The Classic Rock Singalong (which goes down this Sat. night, 8/16, @ M Bar in Hollywood; please join us, Angelenos). And they've been dreaming up some other stuff too, which is all, like, ultra-classified.

But the purpose of this – our first post since, what, the Harding administration? – is to share my delight and pride at seeing Sera's panel and other public appearances at Comic-Con.

See, I've always known Sera was a superstar, and Jules and I met her back when she was a mere poppet, working in a not-very-satisfying job and writing genius works in secret. So to see the world embrace her fantabulosity makes me about bust a button.

And boy, was there some embracing at Comic-Con. Julia, Jo, Jim, Mollie and I dutifully filed into a gargantuan auditorium to watch her on the Supernatural panel (moderated by Entertainment Weekly's Alynda Wheat and also featuring series creator Eric Kripke, writer-producer Ben Edlund and a couple of actors whose names escape me); and yeah, OK, a lot of the chiquitas in that capacity crowd were screaming for the boy stars in a way that recalled Beatlemania or Hitchcock's The Birds, but the true aficionados were also palpitatin' for our girl.

Afterward, folks started lining up for autographs ... so many, in fact, that Comic-Con closed the line. And the seemingly endless throngs who trudged cheek-by-jowl through the convention center (including us) had to content themselves with viewing the signing ceremony on the Jumbotron.

Those of you who were part of that great wave of genre-loving humanity know what I'm talking about. If you weren't, imagine, thousands of fans crammed together so tightly that they make a giant hall look like a really small space, most of them dressed as Princess Leia (in near-naked Jabba-slave mode) or Spiderman or the octopus lady in The Little Mermaid.

Her Majesty's loyal subjects.

And seriously, peeps, one of the best things about Comic-Con is that the true fans of these shows and films don't just know the stars. They know the names of the people who toil away on their laptops, fueled only by specially fitted latte-dispensing helmets and muffins that have been crumbled into mouth-ready bites by a team of nubile interns, conjuring the fantastical scenarios of ghouls and vampires and ninjas and superhero vixens we depend on to make life remotely palatable.

And even in that constellation of scribes, our Sera shines brightest. If you ask me.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Center Cannot Hold.

A remembrance from Simon

This is about the day I went to the Center for the last time.

Oh, I should explain what the Center is. Y'see, in my family – for pretty much my entire life – that word signified more than just the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center on Burbank Boulevard. It was the hub of our community, our secular schul, our arts academy, sports center and hangout away from home.

I trundled into the place in diapers for day care and spent a staggering number of hours there until my teens. I made misshapen family gifts in arts and crafts classes, donned funny hats and greasepaint for rough but enthusiastic musical comedies, shot the shit with other kids and even tried my hand at improv comedy. But the Center was also where we gathered in the auditorium for political talks and bought tchochkes at the Purim Bazaar. And did every other damn thing. Most importantly, it connected us with dozens of other families - the Paleys, the Mintzers, the Shares, the Diamonds, the Beckers, the Jampols, the Browns and so many others - that formed our lifelong mishpuchah.

In the ensuing years we stayed in contact with most of those families, through tragedies, triumphs and time's other tidbits. But the Center? It became less of a hub and more of a concept. I left L.A. at age 18 and didn't come back for ten years; when I returned to the Valley Cities, the Center was no longer a center of my life. I'd stop by for an event now and then and find the place had fallen into a certain musty desuetude. The air conditioning was poor. The upkeep was spotty. The well-intentioned organizers of Center gatherings often didn't set up enough chairs, and they always seemed to throw the refreshments together at the last second without the slightest inkling of what human beings might want to consume at all, let alone at the same time. It became a trifle depressing, though the idea of the place still glowed in the furthest reaches of my consciousness.

At last, many years on, the time had come for the operation to move to a new location in the deepest valley. A farewell brunch gathered the tribes in the poorly cooled auditorium, in front of the very stage that had been the fulcrum, for me, of a thousand pre- and post-pubescent dramas (scripted and otherwise).

There were round tables. Mailing list forms. A refreshments area groaning with a random array of recently unfrozen cakes, midcentury coffee urns and cartons of Minute Maid orange juice. (What, no sardines or diet Fresca?) Reminiscences and photo ops. A wake, in short.

I felt ambivalent about even showing up, and a few old Center pals I spoke to in the days beforehand said they did too. I expressed these mixed feelings the old-fashioned way: by rolling in super-late. At one of the round tables, fanning themselves gloomily in the sweltering heat, I spied my parents and siblings. My dad, the first to see me creeping up, flashed an inimitably dark "join the fun" expression, much the mien one might expect to see on the puss of a dear old friend one chanced upon in some stifling ring of Dante's Inferno.

Dad, a Center president back in the '70s, glumly assented to appear in a group photo. Various luminaries of the organization were extolled from the podium. We heard about matching contributions for the new Center. Then my brother, ever the thoughtful time manager, suggested we make our way to the other side of the building, where a videographer was recording testimonials from Center stalwarts.

We trudged down the hallway I'd traversed hundreds of times in my life. We passed the room where I'd made construction-paper assemblages; the room where we had naptime, stretched out on mats on the tile floor after our graham crackers and apple juice; the room where I'd rehearsed songs from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown when my voice was changing. The rooms of my first true socialization, my first creative experiments, my first romantic stirrings.

"Sime," my mom said, having dipped her Madeleine in the tea of memory, "I could just see you running down this hallway, with your full diaper."

"You mean just now?"

When we arrived at the surprisingly dark videography room, they were finishing up with someone else. I went to use the bathroom; when I flushed the urinal it overflowed, sending a symbolic flood cascading over the deteriorating floor. I reacted with a kind of wounded hostility: For fuck's sake, I know they're moving out, but this is just pathetic.

Then we made our way into the videography room, wherein the only chairs were only big enough to house the tuchuses of preschoolers. You could sit in those, the videographer lady said unhelpfully, or you could maybe sit on a table.

I was about ready to just go out to my car and drive away at that point, so fully had I let the half-assed planning and crumbling interiors become a scapegoat for my sense of loss about the place (and, via the transitive property, the salad days of my youth). But instead my brother and I hustled back to the auditorium (in which, I shit you not, somebody was by now at the microphone singing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone"), grabbed some adult-sized chairs and schlepped them back down the eternal hallway of my childhood and into the underlit videography room.

They arranged the five of us in a line and the little red light on the video camera went on. And then something happened.

The memories came tumbling out.

First my parents described the early days, the "red Center" days when progressive, secular Jews were a thorn in the side of the conservative Jewish establishment; when Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, poverty and feminism galvanized these suburban liberals. My siblings remembered their adolescence there, playing music and making friends. And I talked about the kaleidoscopic experience of growing up amid the songs and stories and possibilities ... and kind of lost it.

It was the first time the five of us had said a lot of this out loud, at least at one time, but it flowed like some kind of jazz threnody, a stately groove with bits of elegantly laced improvisation. We were alternately laughing and weeping, spinning yarns and riffing and eulogizing.

This too was like a wake. But the good part of the wake, when everyone's had enough bourbon to start telling the real stories.

The Center is moving and it won't be our Center. I'm off at the other end of the city, and the rest of the family, though still living in the Valley, has become a hub of its own. But other stories, other childhoods will start at the new building. I hope they're as indelible as the ones we unspooled on that last day.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Laura Kightlinger: Half-Jew, More Than Half-Hot

We get it, America: There's too much ranting in the blogosphere. And we think you'll agree that our Semitic scribblings tend, by and large, to be more kvell-y than kvetchy.

But as we're more than tangentially connected to the world of TV, we do feel qualified to air a loud complaint against the cancellation of a truly funny, original show: The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman.

This punishingly funny half-hour series on the IFC sprang from the brilliant, sick mind of Laura Kightlinger, who gained national attention as a cast member on Will and Grace and Lucky Louie and whose deadpan standup routines have delighted us for years (and whose smoldering hotness has long haunted Sime's dreams). She claims to be half-Jewish, which is reason enough to put her on the ol' Heeblog.

On the show, she plays a spectacularly self-involved aspiring screenwriter who makes a staggering series of bad decisions, frequently in collaboration with her best friend, the equally narcissistic Tara (Nicholle Tom). Rather than rabbit on about it all day, we'll just offer you a couple of tasty tidbits:

See what we're sayin'? That's some funny shit (and that's the great Mary Kay Place as Jackie's mom). The show's improv-friendly vibe and anything-goes approach to subject matter have also prompted fantastic work from such folks as Ray Wise (as a right-wing radio commentator) and Sally Kellerman (as herself - and please, call her Sally Kellerman), not to mention inspired cast regulars like Azura Skye, Patrick Bristow and Jeremy Kramer.

It couldn't hurt to contact the people at IFC and urge them to revive this fantastic show: programming@ifctv.com. And no matter how that noise plays out, you'll want to grab the DVD toot sweet.

In the meantime, though, you can check out Laura's bizarre and hysterically funny faux-reality "Cat Demon" shorts (featuring stellar work from Laura herself and her fellow national treasure David Koechner) on FunnyorDie.com. You can also periodically catch her at the amazing Uncabaret.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

You Deserve to Sing.
An invitation/invocation from Simon

What's a pragmatic, empirical, non-mystical, irreligious, secular Jewboy to do?

I'm generally the most skeptical dude in the room when my tousle-haired Cali friends start spewing some Age of Aquarius doo-dah about the coming transition in human consciousness. If I happen to hear a TV preacher yappin' about the End Times, it makes me giggle. But there are moments, my Very Hot darlings, that give even a hyper-rationalist like me cause to pause.

Like this dream I had the other night.

It was a typical low-level anxiety nightmare, one of those sweaty mini-disaster flicks of the unconscious. You know the kind: normal space-time is like existential quicksand and accomplishing the most basic tasks is fraught with absurd difficulty. In this case, I was trying to find my car and walking around in circles. And then, in the midst of my hyperventilating despair, I had a realization.

It was pretty much this: Wait a minute ... this is one of those low-level anxiety dreams.

Textbook lucid dreaming, people. Once I made that connection, I simply pointed to an area behind me and said, "The car is over there." And it was. (To my delight, my dream ride was a shiny new red VW bug, not the Pleistocene-era Nissan Sentra, currently bedazzled with birdshit, that is my waking-life model.)

Then I opened the door of the car and said, "While we're at it, there's going to be a briefcase full of money on the front passenger seat." And there was.

The dream was pretty much over then. I had made my point.

You don't have to be a psychoanalyst to agree that cars and cash in dreams don't stand for cars and cash. And whatever it ultimately means when one has a successful lucid-dreaming experience, it felt like a breakthrough.

Controlling the content of a dream is rather like taking the helm of a starship and finding that it's no more difficult than riding a Big Wheel. And the feeling of not only infinite possibility but unlimited potentiality is thrilling.

I awoke, how you say, pumped.

My life has not irrevocably changed since that revelatory sleep-space adventure. But it has caused me to reflect on the ways that we hold ourselves back. How can I share with some of you the opposite of holding back?

It's a humble offering, but it's the best I can do: If you're in L.A.*, come sing with me.

You know you love to sing. It's fun. It feels great. But even as we're surrounded by karaoke bars and TV competitions that purport to invite Joe and Jane Six-Pack onto the stage, it's always about whether you're good enough. It's always "Don't quit your day job." Either you're a world-class undiscovered superstar with incredible pipes who can wrestle a classic soul anthem into submission with your crazily overwrought melismatics, it seems, or you should shut the fuck up.

It's kinda like saying nobody should be allowed to have sex except porn stars.

Well, here's what I'm saying: Singing is your right as a human being. You are fully entitled to express your joy in being alive, however fleeting that joy might be, by lifting your voice in song.

And our little party, The Classic Rock Singalong, is the place to do it. Sera's written about it in this space before, so a lot of you have already gotten the lowdown. But here it is in a nutshell: classic pop hits, the ones that you know from the radio and sing in the shower. A great band and a bunch of cool singers on stage leading the songs. A book of lyrics for everyone. The entire freakin' bar wailing their hearts out, borne aloft by power chords and (with some sober exceptions) the disinhibiting effects of liquor.

It's seriously fun, like a lucid dream. See you there?

*If you're not in L.A., why not have your own Singalong? All you need is a few musicians, a bunch of friends and a couple of bottles. I guarantee your guests will remember it (if they remember anything) as one of the best parties ever.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Oh, L.A., How I Heart Jew.

(a mash note from Sera)

A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting with a couple of exec-y types, chatting about movies. We'd narrowed it down to one movie in particular, a theoretical one based on some manga they'd sent me (that's "Japanese comic-booky-type novels" for those of you born before the year 1990). I said, "You know, I'd set the movie in Los Angeles." They were like, okay, cool, we were thinking the same thing, we want to shoot it here, but can we ask you - why do you feel it should be set here? And I was like, "Duh, L.A. is made of magic."

That's where I lost them.

They were nice guys, though, so they weren't all snide and elitist about it. The more recent transplant gave me a surprisingly candid, sad look and said, "If there's magic in L.A., please show it to me, because I haven't found it."

So I went off about, you know, blah blah, various iconic movies set in L.A. I referenced the many books of Francesca Lia Block, a Very Hot Jewess who made her name describing the flowering freeway vines, canyons and hot dog stands of the city in postmodern, punky fairy-tale terms. I talked about landing here at 17, in awe of Venice Beach, the turbaned roller-blading guitar player, the chainsaw jugglers, the entertaining crackheads, the murals, the punk girls with straw-stiff candy-cane hair, the surfers with impossible underwear-model bodies, the glittery red snake of Mulholland, the sculpture garden at UCLA that is awesome whether or not it is midnight and even if you are not tripping on acid. Basically, I blabbed until they shrugged and conceded the point so we could move on.

But their eyes were still clouded over all smog-like, and I don't blame them. Being a grown-up sucks ass, man. You get up, hit traffic, hit work, field a zillion phone calls, attempt to mitigate your stress level, then hit more traffic upon leaving. Especially city denizens like these two gentlemen I was talking to - they have to do drinks meetings all the time, so their evenings are clotted up with trips to trendy WeHo eateries on streets made perilous by paparazzi SUVs ready to kill for a single snap of Heidi Montag, whoever the high holy FUCK she is.

I know how those two gents feel, in that I live exactly one mile from the beach and have visited said beach exactly twice in the last three months. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that Los Angeles is just what those high-and-mighty people from, oh, everywhere else on planet Earth say it is: crowded, sprawling, smoggy, fake, centerless, cultureless, magic-free.

But they're wrong, and I'm right. I remembered this the other day, quite by accident. Here's how it happened:

Hiatus was ending. I was about to go back to work, whereupon I'd be expected to report to an office and act more or less like a grown-up five days a week until May of 2009. It was my last chance before the first day o' school to do the following: pamper myself; get a much-needed pedi; go to Barnes and Noble and sit on the floor flipping through lots of books I have no intention of buying (or, full disclosure, of reshelving); travel ridiculous distances by car to indulge random food cravings. So: I ventured deep into the wilds of Hollywood.

First, I went to the best Thai restaurant ever. It'll fool you from the outside - it's in a strip mall, next to a storage facility. But enter, and you are greeted by a ten-foot-high trash-metal sculpture of Elvis, and that is your first clue that you have come somewhere special.

I'd say go at night, for kicks, because a tiny, sexy man in a Nudie suit performs several shows each evening. He is known as Thai Elvis. I have a huge crush on him. There's also a guy who wears bowling shirts cut out of holographic-shiny material of the type most often used in the manufacture of stripper thongs. He does impressions, notably a poignant Kermit the Frog, all competent, all with the unwavering, morose expression familiar to everyone who calls L.A. home: the look of the failed actor. But anyway, enough about them; during the day it's all bright and sunshiny in there, a bunch of lightning-quick waiters talking to each other through secret-service earbuds.

I go there for this dish they call Morning Glory. I don't know if it's really the stuff that grows in your grandma's yard. It is green and stemmy and crunchy, made with lots of garlic and chili and I don't know what else, I can only assume sweet sweet crack because I will happily drive for an hour to get the stuff when the urge hits. Sometimes I'll mention to a friend or a coworker - oh, I'm thinking of going to this Thai place I like for some dinner, they have this vegetable dish ... and they'll get this dreamy look and go, "Are you talking about Palms Thai? The Morning Glory? Who the fuck knows what that stuff really is, but I ate it every single day of my pregnancy, and now the twins are geniuses."

So, that was lunch.

Then I went to a Korean spa to have the entire top layer of my skin scoured off my body by a small, brusque lady in a transparent black bra and panties who speaks zero English. In a room surrounded by naked old ladies, staring at my naked self.

Yeah, it's not the sexiest place to go for a massage, but you know what? Fuck that. I live in Schmancyville, I make a decent living, if I really wanted to I could go to one of those very very nice cushy hotel spa places. In fact, I do, once in a while; but when the classy, oh-so-corporate Burke Williams brochure talked about a treatment where they'd beat my ass with wheat stalks and I'd come out all smooth and fresh as a baby, I was expecting some kind of serious, borderline-kinky Russian-bathhouse exfoliation. Instead, a bored lady wisped soapy water on me with plastic car-wash fronds. Meh. I'm about the real thing, bitches.

Which you can actually get, in L.A. If you seek it. You receive my meaning? You getting the magic, yet? It's not everywhere in America you get to lie on a massage table and have someone leave no inch un-buffed (I betcha they skip the boobs at The Four Seasons - but don't boobs need scrubbing and oiling as much if not more than the surrounding skin? I mean, you gonna wax the car but skip the hood ornaments, people?), the chatter of half a dozen Korean ladies floating over your head? I love that - I love it when I don't speak a word of the language. No one will call an HOA meeting, or ask me to give them notes on their script, or fail to mention our dinner together is in their mind a date date, or on the other hand say they'll call and then never ever ever call, ever. My Korean buff lady is awesome, she makes no promises, she scrubs me, turns me over, washes my face with a little squirt of a cleanser called Naive, kneads my scalp so adeptly that I instantly forget I have anything in my life to stress out about, and hands me a tip envelope. Relationship over.

From there I was led to another room for a massage on my newly-exposed fresh and silky skin. Again, this massage was not polite. There was climbing on the table, and there were feet involved. Oh, don't be a pussy. Everything's clean, guys. And effective. Errant vertebrae snap back into line. I get off the table ready to produce twenty-two episodes of televised entertainment.

Are there Thai restaurants and Korean massage grottoes elsewhere on this green earth? But of course. Maybe there are even Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. If so - run, don't walk. I mean, you'll be risking a tummy-ache so intense you'll mistake it for organ failure, but it's worth it.

Sera and Dinda, suffering after a delicious meal at legendary Roscoe's.

These are just the outlines of my magical L.A. constellations. There are lots more, of course. I would do a whole series of posts about this, except... let's be honest, I totally won't get around to it.

Instead, I conscripted Simon into service. He's a lot cooler than I am. He lives on the cool side of town and goes to cool restaurants people like me haven't heard of yet because he has yet to email me about them. I called him and asked him to finish this post for me, which he has done in natty bullet-point fashion below. I like that. It serves to jog the brain. Inspires one to ask oneself, "what does my bullet point list look like, and why have I been ignoring it in favor of whining like a little bitch about traffic?" Maybe even nudge one to include one's Very Hot pals on one's next adventure into the secret heart of L.A., where celebs fear to tread.

Because ultimately our point here is that our city is a veritable onion of magic. There are layers galore, for anyone who is willing to drop the 'tude and embrace the perfect weather and beautiful light and vast ocean and 90-something languages and impressive cache of competent tattoo artists that is the city of angels. So, here's Sime's House Blend of magical goodness:
  • Red-tailed hawks, Griffith Park coyotes and twilight owls.

  • Ancient stone steps that lead up to overgrown, abandoned estates. (NOTE FROM SERA: Harry Houdini used to live in one of them!)

  • Seedy-looking, neon-lit clubs blasting live salsa music through the wee hours.

  • Snowy peaks and sunny beaches visible from the same hilltop.

  • The afternoon parade of dogs and owners on the winding hilltop streets.

  • Neighborhood bars that play old monster movies with the sound off and have a DJ spinning vintage hip-hop.

  • Tacos off the truck ... just outside the bar playing the monster movies.

  • Naked pool parties that somehow end up as philosophy seminars, and vice versa.

  • Funky little art galleries curated by chatty women who turn out to have been legendary punk rockers in the '80s.

  • Getting lost in some neighborhood and stumbling on a soccer game in progress: fierce Latino kids in uniforms flying at each other.

  • The sound of a train chuffing through the rail yard when the air is thick with night-blooming jasmine.

  • Sitting on a concrete ledge and eating kettle corn at the farmer's market between the pupusas bar and the kim-chee booth.

  • The way the downtown skyline powers up at night like a parti-colored electric grin.

  • Standing on Fairfax or Silverlake or Ocean with a cocktail buzz on, feeling a mellow breeze on your skin and not wanting the night to be over quite yet.

  • That sense of infinite possibility that swings up like the lantern moon just when you surrender your plan for a quiet evening.

So corny. So poetic. So outside the circuit of expensive car - expensive restaurant - expensive home. But the magic is there if you're ready to let it scrub you clean the way a fierce yet tender Korean lady works over a weary pilgrim from the distant shores of TV land.

All you have to do is get lost. In your own backyard.