Sunday, September 20, 2009

Back, for a Change
A long-overdue ramble by Simon

illustration by Fred Zinn

Let’s say a writer reappears after a long absence. A voice that wraps itself around you, a style you missed not just in a warm and affectionate way but maybe just a little bit in a peevish, WTF kinda way – like, what else that scribbler got to do but scribble? And how long’s it been? LONG, is how long, and him with a “blog,” which used to mean “weblog,” which once upon a time meant regular, even daily, updates, right? Maybe even some kinda PACT with the readership, uh-huh? Why, pray tell, should I now pay attention to his prosy meanderings? And hasn’t his irreligious ass got some nerve, scuttling back to the surface on the Jewish New Year like he’s begging for a fresh start? L’shana to-vomit!

I have no excuse, my sorely missed mishpuchah. But here I am, blithering blithely as though nothing has happened. Actually, I lied just now – excuses I’ve got, and plenty; I’m a major-league rationalizer, as many of you are well aware. So I might as well count off a few reasons for the absence of your MIA and, one hopes, not estranged VHJ.

  1. Clickity-clacking away at paid gigs in hopes of keeping lights on. Elbows hurt. Wrists hurt. Ice and ibuprofen. Ice and ibuprofen.

  2. Kept coming up with ideas for posts but feeling too exhausted (see #1) to reach for them as they drifted across the outer atmosphere of my weary mind like evanescent balloons.

  3. Who wants bloggy bloviations clogging up their in-box these days? Are we not all inundated by message pollution 24/7, all those maniacs vaulting over your transom with their doomsday petitions and creepy robo-calls and revolutionary new weight-loss erection pills and e-flyers for soporific singer-songwriters? Why slay a forest of virtual trees to sling one’s blogorrhea atop that festering pile?

  4. Lazy? That’s a bit judgmental. More, what, mellowing like fine old booze. Or in it.

… and what have you. But then a writer returned to me and for the first time in a long time my nose is buried in a book, rather than print-outs of client notes or Entertainment Weekly or, heaven help me, the Facebook, which is not a book at all. His style wrapped itself around me and I stopped sulking about all things I’d been missing and just let the stylus of this po-mo mystery noir passion play run across my grooves until my heart was bouncing like an old soul record. And suddenly it seemed natural as a four-sided leaf to roll up some words and pass the reeking bundle over to you.

So, yeah. Happy “New Year,” which I never intended as a new beginning but here we are: I want to tell you hello and let you know I’ve been thinking about you.

I thought about you at the party where Sera and Julia and I all had weird plastic letters stuck to our foreheads like day-glo golems (it was all Matt’s fault; long story), where Julia came over to give me a kiss and there was some dreamy Sinatra standard misting out of the iPod speakers and it was a moment of perfect and all-encompassing love and revelation and then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and remembered I was wearing a goatee made of fluorescent green Play-Doh (same long story), and it was even more perfect. Because she loves me, putty beard and all.

And my mind went to you as news cycle after news cycle was hijacked by scores of mentally ill, frightened, gloomy, racially heebie-jeebied whitefolk, whose cult-like jabbering resembled a sheet of Republican talking points after it’s been eaten and pooped out by a Rottweiler.

I thought about you also when the gnarly rot of mortality grew in my thoughts like a poison mushroom and I envisioned all that I was and all that I loved withering away – not gracefully as in a fairy tale but all at once and messily, in the fashion of Poe’s M. Valdemar.

My ruminations turned to your kind selves when I saw a Spanish music website announcing a gig by the renowned Russian jazz pianist Simon Glickman, and there was a picture of me, and I momentarily considered the possibility that my life leading up to that moment had been a dream or some absinthe-fueled hallucination, and now I was coming back to myself and must simply wait until I could remember the Cyrillic alphabet and modal scales, when I could stride onto the boards amid the Andalucian hush and dive, fingers first, into some Bill Evans etude.

And you were in my to-do pile during my 45th birthday party, as I looked around at the beautiful faces of some people who mean a lot to me, and vowed to hold onto that dazzling feeling even as I knew it would be eclipsed by the next pile of bills or implacable deadline.

So, I was, like, mind-blogging, is one way of looking at it. Telepaths: back me up!

But, oh yeah – I turned 45. So I’m “middle-aged,” if that means I’m going to live to 90, which would be incredible, but it was certainly the VHJ version of a come-to-Jesus moment, because if you’re living and working in the airless youth arcade that is pop culture, ringed as it is with botox snipers, that’s a big fuggin’ number. So I’ve been giving myself those little talks: Now’s the time. Go for it. Make your move. Now or never. No guts, no glory. Stop using so many clich├ęs in these little talks.

Change, baby! It’s what we worked for, and ostensibly achieved last November. And though we were constantly being shown a vision of change as visionary policy frictionlessly carried out for a shinier world, sung by multicultural choirs and spelled out in elegant, iPhone-friendly fonts, that isn’t really the essence of change, is it?

Change is generally painful, disorienting, even bloody and traumatic, like war or childbirth. Sometimes it’s hella weird, like what happens to Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly.” And the change we want is often accompanied by changes we don’t expect. We can have a change of the guard, but we too will change when the guard is us.

And our expectations of what society is supposed to be? Those change too: Joe Wilson? Kanye? Tourette’s-like interruptions are the new press release if you want to rule the Twitterwaves, bubby.

Our bodies change, and the climate’s changing, and what lies ahead will most likely not be utopia OR doomsday, just a lot of tumult, confusion, absurdity, silliness, poorly staged sociopolitical theater, occasional spasms of mind-blowing heroism, surprisingly good cable TV shows, really sucky weather, touchingly idealistic young people, ragingly incoherent talk-radio hosts, excellent wine, disappointing health-care legislation, starvation, charity, military “interventions,” and – in the middle of it all – Jews, who see days of awe in every year, regardless of how predictable that year’s events might be.

Yep, shit’s changing – that’s the only thing we can count on to stay the same, except that however we change, we’re still gonna be us.

Sera’s day job, I need hardly tell our regular readers, is dreaming up the apocalypse (for entertainment purposes only). Days of awe, indeed – particularly if you’re a TV exec.

And I’m as faithful a viewer as you are, but in general I’m kinda thinking the End Times are about ready to jump the shark. Maybe it’s the spirit of this holiday I don’t believe in and this pending ritual of atonement I don’t subscribe to, but contemplation, renewal, rededication in the face of change? I guess I’m going there. In other words, not to put too fine a point on the pencil: The world ain’t comin’ to an end, my friend,/the world is comin’ to a start./I feel it in my heart. (Tell me where those words come from and you’ll win our grand prize, which is a big ol’ kiss. Sorry, but our prize budget got hacked to bits this quarter.)

To recap: I missed you and I’m really going to try to be a better correspondent; I grow old, do I dare to eat a peach, etc.; I’m still Jewish; a book can still rock my world, and nobody’s more surprised than I am; I still don’t believe in an omniscient Spacegod but see some lingering value in traditions constellating around same; shit’s changing, so hang onto your hat and, if possible, values; and let’s see if we can’t put all the end-of-the-world scenarios on hold for a minute and dream up a few beginnings.

In other words: Happy New … something.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hi, Guys!

I know, Simon and I don't call home enough. You have every right to feel like my neglected Jewish mother.

It's not that we don't write any more. We write all the time. Just, usually stuff we already cashed the check for that's, like, due. Sorry, Hotties. Food, shelter and premium cable don't pay for themselves. Sadly for the Collective We, our foignant ruminations on all that is tangentially Jewy tends to get scrawled on a post-it for "when we have time to blog." Which, apparently? Not so often, these days. Though who knows what the future holds. Perhaps... posts! Weirder shit has happened! But, um... probably not this month. Just being honest.

Anyhoodle. I did want to pop in to let you know that if you miss me, or if you're bored of the inferior gothic erotica you've managed to scrounge up without my guidance, or-- best possible combo-- both: I have a story in the just-published Susie Bright anthology Bitten.

You can buy it here.

Hope your Jewiness is going swimingly! We think of you often. Especially when we're drunk.

xoxo till we blog again,


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Just in Time for Pesach.
a long-overdue missive from Simon

Yeah, we know. We know! It took us until April to get a 2009 post on the board. Do we feel guilty about it? Ordinarily I'd say yes, but ya gotta wonder: How much more online crap do you need to look at? I mean, the freakin' ocean of status updates and e-mail circulars and IMs and whateverelsethefuck that keeps overtopping your digital levees must keep you plenty busy.

And why update a blog just to update it? Do you need to see daily or weekly or even monthly updates from your scribblin' Hebrew pals if we're just bitching about how busy we are or how much we're diggin' on the Ethiopian coffee my mom's friend brought all the way from Addis Ababa or how way-shocked we were by what happened with Kutner on House?

Probably best if we just wait until we have a longform screed like this one to unleash, even if it's once a year, right? Come to think of it, an annual online publication would be kinda unique, whereas any twit with two thumbs can tweet every two seconds.

So here's the thing: It's Passover once again, and Jules and I will take refuge in the generous familial bosom, pore over the photocopied anarchist-atheist haggadah my Dad cobbles together, hear the four questions as warbled, more charmingly than ever, by the youngest of the tribe. We'll stuff our faces with all the accustomed treats and wash it all down with some concord grape. We'll wish each other well and tell stories and watch the nephews play "Extreme Horseradish Challenge." And if that's the extent of it, it'll still be a nourishing hang.

But this year I'm thinking a bit more about the angel of death.

You know the guy: Flies over the village and kills the firstborn in every unprotected household. But these days it's increasingly unclear how to mark one's doorpost.

This is the first post I've written since my guy got elected President. And it truly feels like he's my guy most of the time, and I've been kleibing naches, fo' shiz. But of course there are a lot of folks out there -- many of them with TV and radio outlets -- who aren't so happy, and they've been saying stuff like it's time for an uprising and arm yourselves and it's socialism and you'll all be sent to re-education camps and it's the end of the world and they are coming for your guns.

And weirdly enough, when these words go out into the world and march, ant-colony-like, into the ears of credulous, frightened, isolated, wound-too-tight heartland bunker-dwellers, you get eruptions of crazy violence. Where, like, whole families are slaughtered and cops are mowed down because of the "Zionist" threat and churches full of "liberals" are massacred.

The radio and TV hosts, after scoffing at the very notion that their dire warnings have any causal relationship to the actions of batshit crazy people who happen to be armed to the teeth and listen all day to aforementioned radio and TV shows, continue issuing their dire warnings. Gosh, what'll happen next?

Then there's Israel. Have you noticed how little we've talked about Israel in this ostensibly Jewy blog? There's a reason: I don't want to deal with pain-in-the-ass jingoistic members of my tribe (especially that one schmuck who always comments on Jewcy) who won't tolerate the slightest criticism of Israeli policy, and tar every Jew who breathes a word of protest as a self-loathing enemy of the state. Which makes no more sense there than it does here; remember how if you disagreed with Dubya you couldn't possibly be patriotic?

But you know what? Avigdor Lieberman, the new foreign minister, is a war-mongering shitbag. And the new ruling coalition might not even support a Palestinian state, which is beyond nuts. So let me be super-clear: I love and support my Israeli mishpuchah, but to hell with the Israeli government, straight up. A pox on them and on Hamas. Unless somebody works up some diplomatic miracles , the angel of death is gonna be busier than ever over there.

It's all the more galling when you see grown-ups representing the U.S. around the world and get an inkling of how much more harmoniously things could work.

Combine aforementioned cuckoobananas militiamen, trigger-happy, Arab-bashing Israeli powercreeps, the resurgent fuckwads of the Taliban, clammy-sickmaking economic-spiral news, and melting ice shelves; set blender to puree, and voila! A state-of-the-art, state-of-the-world anxiety smoothie. Only not so smooth. In fact: Ew.

So much for my hope that in 2009, with my guy in the White House, I could take a breather. So when does the perspective truck pull up with a sixer of solace? Just about ... now.

The world is not ending. It is changing, in ways both tumultuous and gradual. But there's every reason to be hopeful. Know why? Well, two reasons.

One is that hiding behind that grim wall of violent douchebags and monetary chaos is all the stuff that makes life worth living, like your hilarious kids, your dear friends, spring flowers, lamb chops, beer, romantic caper movies and rock and roll.

photo: Mollie Johnson

The other is that you have no fuckin' choice. You can live on the side of the wall where you're hoarding ammo and weeping bitter tears of despair as the paranoia ants march two by two into your auricular cavity, or you can live on the side with the stuff you love. It may not feel like you have a choice, but it's kinda like diet or exercise: Limit your exposure to the toxic and increase your indulgence in the beatific.

The latter, by the way, can come from anywhere. How often have I snorted derisively when someone e-mailed me a YouTube video I just had to see? But yesterday my buddy Jim included me in the routing list for this (with the subject line "worth watching," for crying out loud), and it was what finally got me off my ass, after lo these many months, to write to y'all.

If you've seen it, pardon me for being Mr. Two Years Ago. If you don't feel like clicking the link, I'll summarize. The clip starts with some shlubby dude dancing awkwardly in various foreign locales. It's amusing enough, but about 28 seconds in I was about ready to return to my regularly scheduled microdiet of tweets and blurts and e-yawps. Slowly, however, more and more people begin to join him. Soon he's doing his clunky white-boy moves amid throngs of raffish Parisians, frenetic Madagascar schoolkids, London famililes, Papuan tribesmen, Tokyo girls, Texas college students, Jordanian moppets, Mexico City cosmopolites ... all hoofing with the same full-steam-ahead joy. Holy shit, I thought as the video neared its end, this guy is uniting the entire world in a moment of sublime, full-body silliness.

And since, on Passover, we celebrate freedom, this is the kind of freedom I choose to think about. Not just reclining at the table, and not just keeping "my people" safe from the angel of death. But joining the world in defiant, ridiculous joy.

It's the only ammo we can count on.