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Thursday, June 30, 2005

PT World Tour Part 4.5: Shabbos in the Old Neighborhood

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

Friday night the boys and I went to the Shul. I decided ahead of time that we would avoid the Young Israel. I haven’t yet gotten around to blogging about my experiences there as a kid. There were a few good things, more than a few bad things, but overall, the Young Israel was what I considered to be my Shul when I was growing up and becoming Orthodox. I learned to daven there, and had my Bar Mitzvah there. Over the years, as I came back to New York to visit my folks, I’d go in there to daven on Shabbos.

Considering how much time I spent there as a kid and teenager, I began to get upset at how nobody now would acknowledge my presence. No, “Hey Mark, how long has it been? Welcome back,” or “Where have you been all this time?” or "Wow, are all these kids yours?" Not even a “Who are you, anyway?” At first I thought it was just that people didn’t recognize me. After all, I’ve put on some weight, gotten older, grown a beard. But the people who knew me then still recognize me. And I always made it a point to go up to the Rabbi on Friday night and say hi, and he knew exactly who I was, since I had spent a year in his Shiur (class) at Yeshiva University. And we’d talk about my kids, and the Rebbitzen in Milwaukee (whom he knew from the old country) and sometimes about how the neighborhood had changed. Still, no welcome from the bima on Saturday mornings, no aliyah (calling up to the Torah) for the old-timer whose last aliyah was at his Bar-Mitzvah. And the decorum was just deplorable. From my seat in the back (I sat there to avoid reserved seats) all I could hear was talking and then the occasional “Shhhhhhhhhh.”

A lot of the familiar faces were gone anyway. And the ones I recognized didn’t have much connection with me. So I started attending the Torah Center. I remember the Torah Center when it was a little Shteeble which I would pass on the way to the Young Israel. It is half a block from my parents’ house. In the years since I left town, it has been rebuilt as a beautiful three-story Shul with a skylight (which still looks onto the house next door). The Shul has been repopulated with expatriates from the Young Israel, some of whom, like the fathers of kids I went to school with, are familiar. Also, I like the Rabbi there very much. His sermons are always thought-provoking, and not too long. So probably for the past 10 years or so, I’ve gone there to Daven once a year during my annual pilgrimage. Despite this, it seems every time I enter the place, someone asks me if I’m “new here.” You’d think by now they would recognize me from prior years. Am I that non-descript? I give them kudos, though, for asking, because at the Young Israel no one cared enough to ask even that.

I haven’t figured out exactly how to answer that question yet. The answer is “no”, I am not “new.” I’ve just been away for a while. But it does make me stop and think. Where is my home, anyway? I grew up a block away from this Shul, lived there for 20 years, and yet I don’t really feel at home there. My home now is Milwaukee, where I’ve lived for 14 years. So maybe I really don’t belong in Hillcrest anymore. Still, I’m not “new.” I tell people that I grew up there, but eventually moved to Milwaukee. This usually gets me a look like I’m some kind of a moron. As if I had said, “I grew up in Hawaii, but decided to move to Siberia.” Why would ANYONE want to leave the Garden of Eden that is Hillcrest? If they can get past that, we talk a little more. What’s really interesting is that I actually consider most of the people who ask me if I’m “new” to be “new” themselves. Most of them moved here after I left.

What I didn’t see is a lot of familiar people my age. I encountered four altogether, but one is actually and old friend from school who grew up in Forest Hills and moved to Hillcrest later on, so he really doesn’t count. Two of the others were single, one living with his parents. So where were the other married people my age? Moved on, it seemed. The consensus was, Garden of Eden or not, most of my peers couldn’t afford to buy houses in the neighborhood where they grew up. That’s just sad. But many other young families have moved in. I also saw quite a few more black hats than I recalled. The neighborhood, which had been a fortress of Modern Orthodoxy, is quickly slipping to the right.

The Friday night services took 40 minutes, including a 5 minute sermon. This is about half the time it takes to daven in our Shul in Milwaukee. My boys were astonished. They could barely keep up. An hour and 20 minutes is too long for Friday night services. But maybe 40 minutes is too short?

Saturday morning we had a decision to make. 9am Ashkenaz minyan, or 9:15 Sefard minyan? Both in the same Shul. The boys grew up with Sefard, but I have always preferred Ashkenaz. The Sefard minyan in Milwaukee is slow as molasses. And there’s no Ashkenaz minyan at all on our side of town. So we went with the 9am minyan. I really enjoyed the davening. It was fast, sure, but I kept up and actually got into the momentum of it, something that doesn’t happen at my own Shul. They even gave me an aliyah. Even the speech was fast. The guy actually said something like “there’s an interesting Rashi commentary on this; you can look it up on your own time.”

The Shul was not as full as I remembered it from previous years. It would be a shame if membership were declining. Maybe it was vacation time for the congregants.

Saturday night, we went out for pizza. We did pass the Coldstone Creamery (a scant 5 blocks from my house!) but the line was out the door so we didn’t stop. A nice little pizzeria had opened down the block, and we ran into some of the people from the shul, and believe it or not, they actually remembered me from the morning! There’s hope yet. We’ll see if they ask if I’m “new here” next year.

Sunday morning I finally gave in and we caught a Shacharis minyan at the Young Israel. It was another one of those “don’t blink or you’ll miss Shmoneh Esrei” minyanim that took 25 minutes, start to finish (and no one had to skip Tachanun). For my kids, it was like a ride at Disneyland. I have to say that while I generally prefer faster davening, I may have become a little too accustomed to the slow pace of Milwaukee davening. Something in between would suit me well.

One interesting thing: I did encounter an old friend who moved back into the neighborhood. He recognized me instantly, even though we hadn't seen each other in close to 20 years. He saw me with my 3 tall sons davening. He assessed the situation and commented to me about it. 4 men. One wearing a leather yarmulke, one with a black hat, and two with big felt yarmulkes. He thought it was significant. Vehamayvin Yavin.

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

please explain! please explain!

since i spend a significant amount of time with the pt (my t being for 'terror'), and therefore am the honored sounding-board for most of her widsom (quote: WHAT?), my father asked me to write up some of the more memorable conversations. i stalled for a few months, but after today's trip to the park, i think it might even be therapeutic.

as we were walking home, we passed a kid i used to babysit. he waved across the street and called, 'hi perel!', thus making the sad mistake of calling attention to himself and becoming a blip on the pt radar.

'WHAT?' the pt squawks. 'he knows your NAME?'

'who, moishe? yeah. he's my friend.'

'but he's not your age,' she pointed out.

'no, he's not. but i used to babysit for him.'

'WHAT? you mean you used to live at his house?'

'no! i used to watch him when his parents weren't home.'

'his parents left him home alone?'

there's just no good way to end these kinds of conversations, so i usually just distract her. 'oh look! we're almost home! and then you can have a popcycle. maybe you should start walking faster.'

'yeah, but not until i go to the potty.'

'right. we'll go to the potty and THEN you can have your popcycle.'

'yeah, but...it's too bad my pishy came out already.'

'your...yonina, you know you're supposed to wait until you get to the potty!'

'yeah, but my pishy doesn't care.'

'you didn't even tell me you had to go the potty!'

'yes i did!'

'no you didn't! when?'

'when we were walking HOME!'

if anybody wants me, i'll be in bed with a half-melted popcycle on my forehead.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Scrapbook

During my stay in New York I reminded myself of what a meticulous record-keeper my father was. Not only did he keep a detailed diary up until the late '70s, but he also created intricate scrapbooks documenting all the important events in the family. Family vacations to Washington, Florida, Virginia, are all recorded down to the minutest detail. Brochures from hotels and attractions, menus from restaurants, even an itemized expense listing, including money spent on gas, tolls, and tips. In contrast, I have no idea how much we spent on this last trip, and all the hotel brochures are in the trash.

With regards to my entry into the family, he kept and mounted the results of my Mother's pregnancy test, the letter from the hospital confirming her reservation for delivery and the estimated cost ($308 for a five day stay), all of the congratulatory cards (and how much each person gave), and the certificate of circumcision (so there! How many of YOU can prove that you're Jewish?)

He also kept all of the Father's day cards, report cards, etc. Here's a report I wrote in 1973:

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All About My Life:

What do I look like?

I have blue eyes.
And brown hair.
I am 43 inch is.
I have something on my foot.
It hurt's very much.
Yesterday I was screaming my
head off.

My wife says it sounds like what I usually write on my blog. Anyway, it was pretty cool looking through the book. After that we had a conversation where I couldn't remember which one of my kids I delivered. My wife said Daughter2, but I thought it was Son3.

So I guess that's one gene I didn't get.

Monday, June 27, 2005

PT World Tour, Part 5

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

Dateline: Independence, OH

Note: I bear no malice whatsoever to the people at Abba's Deli. It was very nice of them to seat us even though we were late.

We left Queens a little later that I had anticipated, but I figured, it was Sunday morning and the drive should be pretty fast. WRONG. We ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic as soon as we go off of the Frog's Neck Bridge. This continued until we got over the George Washington Bridge. I couldn't see any accident or construction, and still have no idea why there was so much traffic. I think the bottom line for NY is: There are TOO MANY PEOPLE WITH TOO MANY CARS THERE, AND SOME OF YOU NEED TO LEAVE.

Anyway, at least there was no toll going to NJ. My theory is that if they charged people to go to New Jersey, no one would even set foot in the state. Once we got there, we made up some time. Crossing into Pennsylvania, we were greeted by the sight of the Pocono mountains, still the most beautiful part of the drive. My wife is terrified of the sharp turns and steep drops on this part of the road (or is it just my driving?) so she relinquished control of the van to me and headed to the back. We got some nice pictures on the road.

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The PTMobile Cruises down I-80 in PA...NOT

Pennsylvania is beautiful, but it's also very long. We got to the Ohio border after 5 pm. At this point I called Abba's in Cleveland and reserved a table for 6:30. Normally I'd be reluctant to give a specific time from the road, but since it was Sunday night, I thought that if we showed up without a reservation, we'd be turned away. (You're saying, "No way! What kind of Jewish restaurant would turn away 6 hungry children who've been on the road for 8 hours?" This one would, and did a few years ago, so I always make a reservation now).

We got to Beechwood at around 6:30, but for some unknown reason (read: bad Karma) we took a wrong turn and headed to Highland Heights instead. It was only after repeated remarks like "wow, this place has changed" and "this doesn't look familiar" and "hey, when did they build THAT?" that we realized we were heading in the wrong direction and turned around.

We got to the restaurant 20 minutes late, and *surprise* they had given our table away (even though I had told them that I was DRIVING IN FROM PENNSYLVANIA when I made the reservation). To be honest they didn't give it away because we were late. They gave it away because they thought we were already there. What? I don't know either. Doesn't make sense to me, but the exact same thing happened last year too, and we were on time then.

Anyway, they were nice enough to give us a table (after someone else left) and we got served around 8pm. Oh, except for my French fries. For some reason they forgot about those. They also ran out of steak knives, so they gave us a boning knife instead.

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Now THAT'S a knoife!

We were seated next to a lovely couple, who unfortunately were eating with this guy who spoke very loudly and continuously about himself the entire meal. He looked like Fred Savage. I kept thinking, "Maybe they won some kind of radio station contest, like 'Have dinner at a Kosher restaurant with Fred Savage.'" Then I thought, "Poor Fred Savage, being reduced to this. He was so great in The Princess Bride." Then I thought, "Poor people next to me, this guy won't shut up." Then I thought, "Maybe I should give the husband the boning knife." Perel and I kept smiling to each other. I'm sure she got a lot of material out of it.

We had to ask 3 times for water, and the bus boy kept telling us "I'll get to it when I can" (NO TIP FOR YOU). Around 8:45, the waiter, after being asked about the missing French Fries, said, "They just dropped them into the fryer, it won't be long." To which I literally responded: "OH! I thought you were going to say 'They just dropped them on the FLOOR!!'" HAHAHAHAHAHAH.....

BTW, I did tip the waiter 15%. The food was good, and it wasn't his fault he was so overworked. Maybe some of those people clogging up the NY freeway system could move out to Cleveland and become waiters in Abba's Deli.

Tomorrow: Homeward bound.

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

Sunday, June 26, 2005

PT World Tour, Part 4

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

Dateline: Hillcrest, NY

Friday morning we did some shopping on Main Street and arranged to meet up with Shira Salamone and her husband for lunch. As I left the house, my Mom asked whom I was meeting. "Someone I met on the internet," I told her. I felt very lame as I said that. My wife went looking for "modest" clothes for the girls for school, and after buying a bunch of CDs and tztzis and other essentials at the book store, I snuck into the library across the street to answer email and get some blogging in.

Perel told me that she saw some "modest" clothes at the Jewish clothing store, but she was shocked at how "clingy" they were. They didn't show much skin, but they left little to the imagination. I told her this might be an example of adhering to the letter of the law while missing the spirit of the law.

After leaving the library, I headed towards the Pizza shop when I saw this couple staring at us. I figured it must be Shira and her husband. After all, I had posted a bunch of pictures of the family last week, and here I was walking down Main Street with the PT wearing a bright red "The Cheat" shirt perched up on my shoulders. Hard to miss.

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It's funny, but you get a certain impression of someone by reading what they write, and often when you meet them you find that you were completely wrong. I think I was pretty on-target with Shira. Her accent was pretty thick though (I must have some kind of fixation on accents) but she tells me she had laryngitis. She was also dressed very "frum", hat, skirt, etc. She tells me she was under-cover. Whatever. I felt very comfortable sitting, eating (like a slob, I might add--no neat way to eat a falafel) and talking with them. They are wonderful, warm people, and I feel richer for having spent some time with them.

Back at the house, I had to rouse my father for his physical therapy session. This was 2pm, and he hadn't gotten out of bed for the day. In a bizarre repeat of the morning session with my boys, I had to keep going into his room to tell him to wake up and get out of bed. I cut up a grapefruit for him and got his breakfast ready. My mom came home (from picking up my neice) and was alarmed, because it was already 2:30 and I still hadn't managed to get him into the kitchen. And the therapist was coming at 3, and if he's not ready, the guy will just sit there and read the newspaper and Dad won't get any therapy.

We got him ready and sat him on the couch by 3pm. The therapist showed up at 4, and my Dad was just about ready to go back to bed. My Mom was pretty pissed, but I managed to get the session going and I went outside with them to observe the session. It seems that at this point, all they do is get him up, walk him down the stairs, and then up and down the block. My Dad complained of fatigue, but actually made it about a quarter of the way around the block. The therapist told me that the fist few sessions he could only go one or two houses before being completely pooped out.

I'm not sure how he got into such bad shape, but I was glad that he is showing signs of improvement. I'm somewhat concerned about what will happen when the therapy sessions are done. I tried to make an impression on my Dad that he has to keep doing this on his own or he will end up in a Nursing Home. Nothing like the NH word to scare an elderly person. When I was a kid, I would never dream of talking to my father like this. He was a completely authoritarian, and we never raised our voices to him. I'm not sure when the roles reversed. It's an odd feeling.

Coming up Next: Shabbos in the Old neighborhood.

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

Friday, June 24, 2005

PT World Tour, Part 3

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

Dateline Hillcrest, NY

We left Liverpool Thursday morning and headed south towards Binghamton on 81. The scenery gradually changed from relatively bland tree-lined highway to mountainous twisting roads and deep plunging valleys. By the time we got to route 17 and headed southeast the Catskills were in full view and it was awe-inspiring. Now this was more like it! It was still not as beautiful as the Poconos, but much more interesting than anything we had seen thusfar. At a roadside stop, we learned that the Catskills (which is Dutch for "Cat's Creek") were opened up for vacationing in the 1800's when the railway was completed. And as people poured in from the city to escape the oppressive summer heat, the Borscht Belt was invented.

Along Route 17 we started passing many familiar town names. They were coming back to me from childhood, because we actually spent 2 summers in Swan Lake at a bungalow colony called Shreiberville. I remember that time mostly for bad allergies and good friends, and long hikes in the woods with my Shabbos shoes.

We met up with Safranit in Loch Sheldrake. She helps demonstrate one of the interesting by-products of blogging. I knew her from Milwaukee, and she was even a fan of my band and bought several of our CDs. But I don't think we ever said more than a handfull of words to each other in the past. Now, she has made aliyah, and we communicate all the time, and even arranged to meet thousands of miles away from our respective homes!

We met at Izzy's Knish stand and had pizza. She was there with her father, mother-in-law, and her two beautiful daughters (I know their names but I'll leave them out for now.

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Here we see the PT guarding the candy from Safranit's younger daughter. Not soon enough it seems.

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The old Shul in Loch Sheldrake

After a great lunch, we proceeded to NYC. I was insistant that we NOT take the George Washington Bridge. My experience last year had taught me that. We had arrived at the bridge at 3:30 on a summer Friday afternoon, and didn't get across the toll until close to 8pm. There were two cash lanes and 8 EZ pass lanes (and guess which lanes we were stuck in).

So this time, we took the NY State Thruway to the Tappan Zee bridge, then down 95 to the Cross-county, then down the Hutch until we eventually got to the Throgs Neck Bridge (note to self: not the FROGS neck bridge) and into Queens. The timing was excellent and traffic was minimal for NYC. I have intentionally tried to block out most of my memories from living in the Bronx, but the Mrs. has maintained her expertise in the highway system.

We got to Hillcrest and my dad was actually awake. The truth is, he does not look as bad as I had expected. The beard is gone. He has lost probably 30 pounds since I last saw him. He can walk very hesitantly with a walker. I plan to be there Friday when the physical therapist comes. He seems to be quite blind, and has been hard of hearing since I was a kid (and not from listening to me play guitar). He has bad peripheral neuropathy so he can't feel the floor when he walks.

Much to my surprise, he was willing to come with us to visit my sister in Woodmere. I had been under the impression that the only time he left the house was to go to the doctor. I took us about five minutes to get him into the car, which was right outside in the driveway.

We first went to Kew Gardens Hills to pick up my neice. While we waited in the car, I saw a kid (yarmulke and all, maybe 6 years old) peeing on the garbage can and car in front of mine. Welcome to NY!

My mother had this bizarre route to get to Woodmere via the Cross Island because it would avoid traffic. I can't imagine what traffic is like on the other route if it was any worse than what we experienced, because it took us an hour to get from Queens to Woodmere (must be my Karma).

My sister has a lovely house, cute kids, and internet access, so I was able to post yesterday's installment. Her husband works for Google, and he flew in from Arizona last night while we were there, and thankfully, we got to spend sometime with him as well. I feel bad for telling him that, no, he had the Pan and Scan version of Star Wars playing on his widescreen TV, not the Letterbox version, and so he was watching a "squished" version. Bubble bursted. So Sorry.

My other sister came as well with 2 more of her kids and we got some great pictures. You can thank me later for sparing you from those.

Friday I will meet with Shira.

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

Thursday, June 23, 2005

PT World Tour, Part 2

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

Dateline Liverpool...

...New York. What? Didn't know there was a Liverpool in NY? Neither did I. It seems to be a suburb of Syracuse. Personally, I was never enamored with the name 'Liverpool.' But apparently, many Americans are. According to Mapquest, there are 8 Liverpools across the US. Oh well. Could be worse. Could be 'Gallbladderpuddle.' By the way, you Milwaukeeans who are wondering what Liverpool is like need look no further than your own suburbs. It looks exactly like Blue Mound road in Brookfield. Basically one long strip mall, right down to the Barnes and Noble and Walmart.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We left Toronto Wednesday morning and headed southwest along Lake Ontario. Thanks to our 'traffic misadventure' the night before, we had no trouble finding the road leading away from Toronto. At Hamilton, we hooked back southeast towards Niagara Falls. So far, the drive has been very uninteresting. Michigan looks like Wisconsin, without much roadside scenery. Although there was one interesting sign that said, "Prison Area: Do not pick up hitchhikers" that I really wished I could have photographed. Ontario, on the other hand, looks like Ohio.

We reached the Falls on schedule. It actually kinda snuck up on us. All of the sudden, it was there. It was just beautiful.

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This sounds terrible, but it wasn't as impressive as I had expected. I thought we were looking at the smaller falls, but actually they were the main Horseshoe Falls. I suspect that I'm getting jaded by the over-the-top images from movies like the Star Wars Prequels or that giant waterfall in Moonraker. Maybe I didn't judge the scale correctly. I looked down and saw the tour boats bobbing around at the base of the Falls, and it reminded me of my daughter playing with her toy boat in the tub with the faucet running.

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My postcard picture

The area itself is a little too touristy for me. What does "Spiderman: The Ride" have to do with Niagara Falls?

We decided to take the "Journey Behind the Falls" tour, which took us down an elevator to some tunnels dug through the cliffside facing the falls and behind them. It was pretty cool.

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One thing my father instilled in me was never to take "postcard" pictures. These are landscape-style pics that every tourist takes, that you can buy as postcards anyway. My dad said the guy who took the postcard picture had a better camera, so why should I waste film in my Instamatic. Some good examples are the 10 rolls of film that I shot during my trip to Israel in 1980. All mountains, valleys, and various ruins. There's only a handful of pictures of my friends and me, and those are the only ones that interest me 25 years later. So the pictures I took on this trip are mostly of my family with the Falls in the background.

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After leaving Niagara, we crossed over to the US, and I could've kissed the ground, because we were back to feet and miles and adequate roadside signage. We headed down to Buffalo, where we came across something very important:

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Following this, we got lost for an hour trying to find Nissim's Deli, which is pretty remarkable, because it was across the street. I guess we're getting good and getting lost for an hour. From there, we drove east to Syracuse and Liverpool, where I'm sorry to say they didn't have a computer, but it gave me more time to go over this post in my mind.

From here, we go to the Catskills and beyond...

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

PT World Tour, Part 1

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

We pre-empt this regularly scheduled Psychotoddler Blog to bring you a special series on the PT World tour! Yes, the PT clan is touring the world and elsewhere, and I'll be keeping you up to date on our progress when computer time is available.

I realize that in most parts of the civilized world, vacation stories and photos are considered cruel and unusual punishment. However, if there's one thing I've learned from my buddy Treppenwitz, it's that people will happily look at pictures of just about anything if they're on the internet. So here goes:

Dateline Toronto: (that's in Canada)

The tour technically started the night before last, as we frantically attempted to get all of our stuff packed and ready to leave no later than 4:45 am the next morning. I swore to myself I would get to sleep early, but instead found myself and my wife at Pick 'N Save at 10pm buying a quart of milk and some donut holes. Then I got back home and got in the shower and went to bed, which I hate doing, and this is why: When I woke up at 4:00 am my hair was standing straight up. I looked like something out of a Final Fantasy video game. I stuck my head back into the shower and tried to straighten it out.

The Mrs. had said to me: "If you think the PT is cranky when you put her to bed, imagine what she's like when you try to wake her up." Well no problem there. I had looked forward to waking her up at 4 am for a change, but she was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to go. I guess she's finally at the age where she remembers things from one day to the next and has really been looking forward to this trip.

We davened, ate, packed up the van and managed to get to the dock by 5:15 am.

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The boat is beautiful and the boarding went smoothly. When we finally got underway, I went out onto the stern of the boat to watch Milwaukee recede into the distance.

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The boat's pretty fast (50mph, not sure how much exactly in knots), and it got pretty windy up on deck. In fact, I tried to take a picture of son3 almost getting blown overboard, but sadly, it doesn't convey well as a still frame. But out on the stern, behind the main structure, we're shielded from the wind, so it's very nice.

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The trip was about 2 1/2 hours. The PT is what you'd call "high maintenance." That means she requires a human being to entertain her or to be at her beck and call every second that she's awake. Don't try to sit down and read a book or watch TV or anything personal.

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Lighthouse at Muskegon

After we debarked the boat, (which I found out has nothing to do with trees, BTW, ok I know the term is disembark), we we were in Muskegon, MI, where I discovered two things. First, Michigan looks pretty much like Wisconsin or any other Midwest state, so no really interesting scenery on the roadside. And Second, the Triptiks that AAA sent us were completely wrong, in almost every respect. In the old days, you could really count on the accuracy of AAA maps and Triptiks. You could follow them to the foot. This year, they sent us a computer printout of what really looked like a Mapquest search, so I think they may be using the same engine. Anyone who's depended on Mapquest to get to an out-of-the way place in the past can commiserate with me. Basically, none of the street names or turns corresponded to what we were seeing out the window, so we lost the trail. Thank G-d we had the compass on board, and we basically headed east on a side road until we met up with highway. We ended up taking a longish detour, but we were going in the right direction, so I don't think it cost us much in time.

By about 1pm (figuring in the time difference) we crossed over to Canada at Port Huron and stopped at the visitor center (which had signs depicting picnic tables) for lunch. Unfortunately, only the signs had the picnic tables, since the place was still under construction. So we ate on a big rock instead. Cotton seed or something was blowing around all over the place.

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It was here that we discovered that the power doors on the van had stopped working. Everything else seemed to work, but the alarm was not happy. I checked the fuses and found one that was burnt out. Unfortunately, replacing it did not solve the problem. I queried Mission Control to determine if we should proceed or abort, and she told me we were still "Go" so we blasted off towards Toronto.

We had to stop on the road for gas, which is where we encountered the Metric system. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for the Metric system. I think it's great for medicine, and for the classroom and in theory and all, but I don't think it should ever be used in real life. I tried to figure out how much I was paying for gas and I was stumped. I know that I paid $2.27 a gallon the night before in Milwaukee. This time, I paid 91 cents (Canadian, Heaven help me) per liter. I bought 88 liters. I have no idea if I paid more or less than the night before. I called my sister-in-law to get directions to the restaurant. I was very tempted to ask if they use a different measure of time as well. I half-expected her to say "We will see you in approximately 3 of your Earth hours."

The rest of the way in to Toronto was uneventful if you don't count the driving or the highway system, and I'll leave that to my wife because she did most of that driving and I know she's dying to let off some steam about it. All I can say is, when a lane is going to end, they should tell you in advance. You should not have to discover this when you end up in the side of an 18 wheeler. And none of this "Allen Road in 100 meters" crap! Use REAL units of measure! Is that a lot or a little? How many "Earth seconds" do I have to move over 3 lanes?

Well, we made it to the hotel, but it took us an hour to get to the restaurant due to "traffic irregularities". I think in retrospect they really do use a different measure of time here, because it didn't seem that we went that far and it shouldn't have taken us an hour. But it gave us some opportunities to soak in the local scenery.

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We met my SIL, Laya (Tuesday Wishes) and her husband at King Solomon's table, where they have an amazing all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet for $20 Canadian (I think that's like 33 cents US). I'm sure when we left, the owners were saying "arghh..tis not a man, tis an eating machine..."

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The we went to Laya's Place for a while and saw the kids, who are now all taller than me (even the baby). We went for Mincha to Aish Hatorah and davened Ashkenaz for a change (I was stumbling over the missing words). Before we headed back to the hotel, Pearl stopped by. That was really nice. I know she was exhausted after her recent trip to Lala land. I could say a lot of things about Pearl, but mostly I was amazed that she didn't have a Canadian accent. She sounded more Bronx to me. Anyway, I should warn the rest of you bloggers that if you do meet me, don't call my daughter "Psychotoddler" to her face. As in, "Oh, you must be the psychotoddler." She's in the dark about that.

That's all for now. I'll try to check in from Niagara falls or Syracuse next.

Parts 1 2 3 4 4.5 5

Monday, June 20, 2005

Happy Bicentennial, Elizagerth!!!!

The following is the Father's Day card I received from my oldest daughter, Perel:

"Dear Abba,


"It never gets old, does it?

"Anyway. I thought about getting you something, but couldn't think of what...So then I wanted to get you a card, but the best I could find was, "To the Boss of the House--Mother's Day was LAST MONTH." So I thought, OK, I'll just use my own POP (powers of pervasiveness).

"I lucked out on the Dad-o-meter. People tell me this all the time and I have to agree. My dad plays in a rock band (and gets rave reviews!), loves videogames, and has entire years of Monty Python and other questionable humor memorized. You always have time and patience for all of us even though you work full-time. Some of our best conversations, and some of my most clarifying, have been with you.

"We all look forward to when you come home for supper. Just ask Elana (D2--this is a reference to the time she ambushed me on my way in the door to tell me to fix her horse-riding computer game right away or her life was ruined). She'll tell you.

"OK, I can't fit 16 years in a Thank You card. You are a fun father, and I have never met anyone--in all my years as a child (isn't that an oxymoron?)--who I would have rather had. I love you.

"So enjoy your Bicentennial!

"Yours Sequentially,


Wow. I must be doing something right with that one. I love you too, Perel.

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Picnic Pics

To make up for the last post, here's a couple of pictures of the PT clan from the School picnic today.

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CrazyTweenie at the fence. No, there's no escape...

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Daughter2 (D2) says "Chew-broccoli!" (works much better than "smile")

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Follow the bouncing ball...right over the fence...

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Some other picnickers...

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Where's he hiding the PDA????

Here's an older pic for you longtime readers:
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The Goatface Club


Father's Day. I know it's a made-up Greeting-card-company holiday. I don't care. I'm glad there's at least one day a year when people are forced to acknowledge their Fathers. I have mixed up feelings towards my Dad. He's not doing well. I called him this morning. He sounded so hoarse and frail over the phone. More than anything else, this upcoming trip to New York is about me and the kids seeing my Dad. Because I don't know how many more opportunities they'll have to see him. After today's call, I started to wonder if we would get there soon enough. I have to get rid of all these pessimistic thoughts.

I suppose like most men, I have spent the majority of my adult life simultaneously trying to be like and avoid becoming my Dad. It's easy to remember the good things. The bad things hit me when I find myself behaving like my Dad, falling into patterns and habits that become familiar to me as I see his reflection in my mirror. Then I say to myself "Stop! You are not going to do that! You are not going to follow that path!" Sometimes it works. Other times I feel powerless to change. "Well, maybe this is who I am," I tell myself. "How can I fight genetics?"

I've probably made many unconscious choices over the years that separate me from him. Did I have my kids call me "Abba" instead of "Dad" to be different? Do I dig myself in, paint myself into corners, or do I give in more? Take a nap, or play with the kids? I see the seeds there...but I'm sometimes too weak to try to uproot them. What a day for reflection.

My Dad truely is a remarkable person. A collection of pardoxes. A man who never spent a day in Hebrew School, who never had a Bar Mitzvah, and yet spent the bulk of his income on Jewish education for his kids. Someone who never had a pair of tfillin, and yet surprised me one day in 8th grade when he showed up to the school minyan wearing a pair. A person who worked on Saturdays, and who I know for a fact was very uncomfortable in a Shul, who nevertheless started coming to Saturday morning services because I, the Yeshiva-educated son, wouldn't go without him.

I also see that much of what I value in myself came from him. "No excuses" was one of his favorite sayings. He said that to me right before he was about to fire me from a summer job working in his store. "You think because you're my son you'll get special treatment. You'd be fired by now if you weren't. But I expect you to do a good job. No excuses." I shaped up. I think. "Honesty is the best policy." I never heard him lie, even when it might cost him money. He taught me that my reputation is everything.

He is also stubborn as an ox. This led to a horrible falling out almost 20 years ago. The relationship has been patched up. But it's never been the same. And so I'm determined to learn from this lifetime of experience with my Dad, and apply the lessons to my relationship with my own kids. And my guess is that I'm in denial over how much of my Dad is still in me.

Diabetes is wreaking havoc on my Father's frail body. Once my size and weight, he's down to 120 pounds. He can barely walk. He has trouble staying awake. He used to hate my beard...now he has one of his own. It's too hard to shave. I've made suggestions to him, my Mom, their doctors...to no avail. It's hard being a long-distance son, especially if you're a doctor.

To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure if he's looking forward to our visit. I think it will be very hard on him. The house is small, and we're a noisy bunch. But I'm hoping he will enjoy seeing the kids. My oldest son looks just like him. And I just have to get this horrible feeling out of my head that this will be the last time.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Dual Identities

I'm having a real problem keeping people's Blogger/real-life identities straight. I've noticed this in correspondence recently with fellow Bloggers whose real names are known to me. It's also come up in face-to-face conversations I've had with people that I more often converse with through blogs. Like I keep referring to Ralph as Fishface even though I know his name is actually Ralph. In front of his wife.

I wonder if this is what it's like when Superheroes meet in real life? Like maybe if Superman and Batman get together for coffee:

Batman: Yeah, so he wanted like $300 to come in and spray the Batcave, but I guess, who else am I going to call?

Superman: That's the problem with having a super-secret lair, I guess. Me, all I have is the shirt on my back. Say, how's Robin doing in school?

Batman: Who?

Superman: Robin. Your youthful ward?

Batman: You mean Dick.

Superman: Dick?

Batman: Yeah, Dick. Dick Grayson. He's my ward. He doesn't go by 'Robin' in real life.

Superman: Oh, yeah, I knew that. Dang. I keep mixing them up. Sorry Bat- er, Bruce. Don't want to blow your cover.

Batman: Yeah, well Alfred's cool with it, but I'm pretty sure Aunt Harriet's clueless. So I heard Lex Luthor is still pissed at you.

Superman: I thought we weren't going to discuss the crimefighting stuff in public.

Batman: No? But, I mean, what else do we do that's worth talking about?

Superman: Ask me about my reporting or something. How's work going at Wayne industries?

Batman: BOHR-RING! Look, I'm not sure why we even bother getting together if we're not going to talk about stuff we both like.

Superman: You know, you're just like Lois! You want to reduce me to some kind of 2-dimensional cartoon character. Lois is all "Take off the glasses, Clark. Fly through the window Clark. What color is my underwear, Clark!" Well, I'm more than just a strange visitor from another planet with powers far beyond that of mortal men! I have a serious journalistic career!

Batman: Well, I'm sorry if it embarrasses you to talk about our hobbies in public! Why don't you go hang out with Wonder Woman! She wears "glasses" for a disguise too!


Batman: So...same time next week?

Superman: Sure.

Three-Hundred Dollars

What $300 will buy you, in a twenty-four hour period:

1. A new ignition cylinder--

Mrs. B can't start my car. Not that she would normally want to. She drives the PTmobile, which is a fancy conversion van that just about fits the whole clan in. What I save in airfare I now make up for in car payments. But after being up there in the stratosphere while she drives on the highway, she finds it difficult to get comfortable in a sedan that is so close to the ground. I prefer to think of it as a "sports-car suspension", but basically it's just a short, small car. And now it's old enough that the key doesn't always work. I can get it to start, but I sometimes have to work at it. She can't get the key to work at all. What is it about dysfunctional locks that brings out the old men in people? Even women? It's like the opening scene of The Sunshine Boys: "Don't push it! Slide it. Call the Spanish kid." Or Seinfeld: (Just replace Morty with PT and Jack with Mrs. B)

JACK: There is something wrong with the key. The key doesn't work!
MORTY: You gotta jiggle it a little bit.
JACK: I jiggled it. I jiggled it for fifteen minutes.

She even left it at the coffee shop because she couldn't get it started. I had to walk over and get it. So I figured now is the time to get it fixed, while I'm away on vacation anyway. They can change the oil and whatever else they do at the dealership. Estimated cost: $300.

2. Reupholstered kitchen chairs--

We have these faux-leather kitchen chairs which are very comfortable and recline and swivel and are great for long Shabbos meals. But after years of use, the upholstery has split and now the stuffing is threatening to escape. We had them reupholstered a few years ago, with good results, and it was cheaper than buying new chairs. However, it was not permanent, because they look like drek again. And they're way beyond the help of anything you could get from a late-night TV commercial. So today they picked up the chairs. Cost: $300.

3. A bathroom faucet--

Mrs. B informs me that the upstairs bathroom sink has been leaking for some time. I haven't noticed (for many reasons, but mainly) because she has a pan underneath it that she empties every day. And now that we're going away, there'll be no one to empty the pan. I told her to fix it herself, because apparently she's very good with home repairs, but then I figured we'd just have to call a plumber on the weekend when we find out that something went wrong. So, anyway, the plumber's heading over to Lowe's to pick up a new fixture, so could we please have $300 ready for him?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Llama Llama Duck

Do you have a thing for llamas? If so, watch this.

Courtesy Perel and PT. Who apparently have a lot of time on their hands.

The Master Plan

I see my wife's master plan is working. I initially thought she bought me this PDA (I got the Dell Axim) out of a sense of concern for my perpetually disorganized state. I now see the real purpose: to keep me away from the musical instruments. So last night, instead of playing all the acoustic guitars and basses at the music store, I played Space Trader for 30 minutes.

I hope she's happy now!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Comment about Comments

Three months ago, fed up with the buggy Blogger comment system, I installed Haloscan comments on Psycho Toddler. For the most part it's worked out well. It's been faster and more reliable than the native blogger comments. However, I've decided to eliminate Haloscan and go back to Blogger commenting. The primary reason for this is the fact that Haloscan flushes comments that are older than 4 months, unless you pay them a yearly fee. Since I have always felt that the comments that you guys leave are much more interesting than the posts that I write, I really thought it would be a shame if they were to disappear. It would be like listening to half of a phone conversation (which I do all the time, and so I can tell you from first-hand experience that it's really not that interesting). Also, I'm satisfied that Blogger has fixed most of the problems that it was having in March.

Fear not. Those of you who have left your best work in the little Haloscan pop-ups on this page will not have toiled in vain. I have cut and pasted the majority of the comments into Blogger comments, so, although they aren't interactive, and they look like they were all written by me (and got me locked out of my blog for comment spamming--hopefully that's not permanent), they are still here for all to enjoy. Pearl.

Oh, and I know there were a few of you who were afraid to come out of the closet with Blogger, and were more comfortable with Haloscan (which doesn't require registration). I hope you will continue to comment anyway. I really enjoy hearing from you. Especially the people that I used to know, or that I actually still know but never talk to in real life, or whatever. Just register with Blogger and give them a fake email address or something. I won't tell a soul.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Travel Update Update

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For those who just have to know, the outward-bound leg of our tour has changed. We're not going through Cleveland (sorry Stacey). We're taking the Lake Express high-speed ferry across Lake Michigan (mega cool) and driving straight through to Toronto to visit my sister-in-law, Tuesday Wishes (So why isn't my wife Monday Requests or something?). Then off to Niagara Falls and down through upstate NY, possibly meeting up with Safranit and saving her from catatonia in the Catskills. Then down to NYC as before.

Don't worry, Stacey. We'll demolish Cleveland on the way back.

Friday, June 10, 2005


I think that Shavuot is probably my favorite holiday. Maybe it's the nice weather, or the long daylight hours. Or maybe it's because it's stress-free. I don't have to build a hut and eat with bees, or turn my entire house upside down and abuse my digestive system, or spend hours upon hours on my feet listening to opera. It's a time to spend with family and friends and eat yummy food (mmm....tilapia....). But perhaps it is this lack of specific character that makes the holiday somewhat underrated. Most people, even Jews, have never heard of it. Take this conversation I had with my partner today (we'll call him "Bob"):

PT: So, Bob, don't forget: you're covering me Monday and Tuesday.

Bob: Oh yeah, right, some holiday?

PT: No! I'm going scuba diving in the Cayman's!

Bob: (shoots me an incredulous look)

PT: OK, just kidding. Yeah, it's another Jewish holiday. Shavuot...you call it Pentecost.

Bob: Pentecost? That's a Catholic holiday!

PT: No, pretty sure we had it first. What's yours about?

Bob: Probably something about...Jesus...I think. Like he's rising or something...

PT: Is it about 50 days after Easter?

Bob: Yeah, I think so.

PT: Yup, you guys stole it from us, but we use it for something else. It's the commemeration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Bob: Mount Sinai? That hospital downtown?

PT: No, Bob, the mountain. In the Sinai.

Bob: Well, why did they name a Hospital after it?

PT: I dunno. Maybe 'cause they saw Moses coming down the mountain saying "Take these two tablets and call me in the morning."

Bob: ...really?

PT: No, Bob. Not really. Anyway that's what it's about. And it's only two days so you don't have to cover me for too long.

Bob: So do you have to do anything weird like on your other holidays?

PT: Not really. There's a custom not to eat meat, which is great because I love dairy. And there's a custom to stay up all night the first night studying the Torah.

Bob: Sounds brutal.

PT: Actually, when I was in 6th grade, and I first heard about this, I thought it was pretty cool. I got to stay in the synagogue all night long with my friends guzzling down coffee, eating cake, and cramming for my Gemarah final. But when I hit medical school, I learned something very important.

Bob: What's that?

PT: Never miss sleep.

Bob: Oh yeah, never let a bed pass you by. You never know when you're going to get paged by the ER.

PT: See, you do understand, Bob. Anyway, my attention span is so shot that I wouldn't make it 20 minutes without falling asleep in my book.

Bob: What are we talking about, again?

PT: See ya next week, Bob.

(cross posted on The Jewish Connection)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Bass Knesset

For those of you anxious to hear the new bass, I'll be playing this Sunday morning at 9:30 Congregation Beth Jehudah in Milwaukee. We'll be welcoming a new Torah Scroll to the Shul. Sorry, no Rock Music.

Pick a Side

Velvel raises an interesting point on his blog about American Jewish views on the Gaza disengagement plan. I haven't discussed it here because this is not a political blog and there are much better places to follow this discussion on the net. Although I did attend an interesting talk by Jonathan Rosenblum on the subject. Is it right not to have an opinion? Or is it just a polite way of disagreeing?

This is brought up specifically with regards to the inclusion of a Farbrengiton song in a newly released compilation album. Mazel Tov to Velvel on that! We hope to hear more soon!


Why does everyone who puts together a seating plan and a rubber chicken assume that people want to listen to speeches?? If I get all the pieces in place in order to get dressed up and go out somewhere with my wife, I'd much rather speak to her or the people we're sitting with than listen to someone drone on and on from a podium.

I went to a school dinner this weekend (paid good money too) and sat through about 6 speeches before I finally had enough and got up to leave. Each speaker said the same thing when he started: "I'm not going to speak as long as the last guy." But then went on to exceed the length of the previous speaker.

Last night I went to my son's 8th grade graduation (Mazel Tov) and sat through two hours of non-stop speeches. Around speech #11 I turned to the guy next to me and said facetiously, "You know what would be great right now? Another speech!" Guess what?

I didn't speak at either of my sons' Bar Mitzvahs. I may have spoken for about 30 seconds at one of their circumcisions to explain the name. I don't recall speaking at my wedding, but I don't remember much about that night...

I understand that it's probably necessary to have some speaking at public events, especially fundraisers, where you have to talk up the honorees or the school or the cause. That's fine. But how about some courtesy to the patrons? Do people think we really want to sit through 12 speeches at an 8th grade graduation? How about this:

1. Limit the number of speakers. In cases where there are a lot of deserving people, try to make them understand that there will be an arbitrary cut off and it's nothing personal. If 3 people are getting the same award, select one to speak for the group.

2. Set a time limit for speeches--and here's the important part--enforce it! Start playing the music from the Academy Awards or get some big guy to yank the offender off-stage. Or better yet, charge them money for overtime.

3. Use more multimedia! A good 10 minute video or slide presentation (the keyword here is good) is worth an hour of pedantic speeches.

4. Give your guests time to socialize. I see these people only in shul or not at all. I don't shmooze in shul. Give us a chance to find out about each other a little.

Note: This rant is by no means to be construed as an indication that I am in any way interested in planning or running these events (got that, Big Wig?).

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

"I'm Alive"

Three patients said this to me today in response to my usual opening line of "How are you?" My automatic reply to this is: "Well, that's a start."

Any significance? Maybe it's the weather.

The Mrs.

Yesterday marked 18 years of marriage to Mrs. Balabusta. And a pretty amazing 18 years it has been. It's a testament to the power of Jewish marriage that two such different personalities can stay together for so long without driving each other crazy. Yes, we're a little like the "Odd Couple." But they say opposites attract, so...

Mrs. B. has been the real force behind this marriage. I don't tell her often enough how wonderful and talented she is. And I'm not about to start here! So I won't mention how she managed to finish nursing school while still extremely pregnant with her sixth kid. Or how she teaches an aerobics class with Jewish Music to a bunch of high school girls who can barely keep up with her. Or how she recently climbed up on the roof to realign our satellite dish.

Here's a quick story from the PT files:

18 years ago yesterday we were married by a Rabbi in Milwaukee. A few days later, we returned to the Bronx, where we moved into our first apartment at Einstein Medical School. We needed a civil marriage license too for some reason, so we went down to the Queens Courthouse to get a civil ceremony. I remember we had to find some witness, so we grabbed a random couple. Then the judge, a very nice Black woman with a denim pant-suit who was standing in front of a sign that read "Please do not throw rice" said some mumbo-jumbo and pronounced us married.

A few weeks later, we received our marriage certificate. My wife read it aloud to me. It said that I was married to Isabel Cortez. I think my reaction was something along the line of, "Dang, woman, where my real wife at?" I'm not really sure who Mrs. B. ended up being married to. We never got that certificate. She had to go to downtown Manhattan to straighten it out. It made for a good laugh among the typing pool down there.

The marriage has more or less followed this pattern since then. Here's for many more years of psychotic lunacy!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

No Tachanun?

From my experience with the 5:45 minyan, I think it's fair to say that we skip Tachanun (a special prayer towards the end of the service) more often than we say it. It usually comes down to this one old guy (the one who calls me Steve), who gives a klop at the end of the Shmoneh Esrei, and utters "yisgadal" mysteriously. Normally you only skip Tachanun on special occasions, like if there's a wedding, or a circumcision, or a yahrtzeit. Most often, one of the younger guys will turn around with a confused look of "why are we skipping this." This is almost always followed by the old man saying something like, "Don't ask too many questions."

Today he just pointed at me instead. I can only assume it's because he knows that today is my 18th Wedding Anniversary.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Travel Update

To those of you who are eagerly following my travel plans (ah, the life of a celebrity), the itinerary has been updated:

We're planning to spend one day traveling from Milwaukee to Cleveland, then spend a day at Niagara Falls (I've been told to go the the Canadian side), then spend a third day driving down through Upstate New York to Queens. I'm told the Upstate NY drive is incredibly beautiful. Then back through Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio to Cleveland and points west.

I'm thinking about putting together some kind of performance in NY while I'm there, playing acoustic guitar and singing. This would be on Saturday night, June 25. My old keyboardist, Brian Gelfand, may join me. I hope some of you bloggers will come if I can get it worked out.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Nothing Changes

My hospital census has decreased to the point where I can now make it to the morning minyan for the first time in about 8 months. This is not necessarily a good thing, but it's nice to be able to make minyan again. Despite my long absence, it appears nothing has changed. The same routine greeted me the first day back:

About halfway through the service, an old man comes up from the Mikveh. Older Man #2 turns around, looks at him and kvetches out, "It's about time you got here. Did you fall asleep down there?"

To which Old Man #1 replies, "You don't like it? There's the door!"

Same routine every day, verbatum. Today there was a slight variation, perhaps in honor of my presence. This time, after OM#1 gave his reply, he turned to me and said, "Right, Steve?" He calls me Steve. I don't know why, because my name is Mark. "Tell him, Steve." To which I dutifully replied: "Yeah, you don't like it, there's the door."

Ah, Tradition!