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Friday, December 29, 2006

Call Schedule Sudoku

A chance meeting in the hospital hallway:

Mark: Hey, Jeff.

Jeff: Hey, Mark.

Mark: Do you know who's on call this weekend?

Jeff: I guess it's not you?

Mark: No...and I guess that means it's not you?

Jeff: No. What about Bob?

Mark: No...Bob is on vacation this week.

Jeff: And it can't be Rob, because he was on last week.

Mark: So it has to be Dave!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Monday, December 25, 2006

To Beta or Not To Beta

That is the question.

Now that Blogger is supposedly "out of beta" for the new version, it keeps trying to get me to convert to the dark side new version. I have to say, I did make a new blog (good luck trying to find it) and used the beta, and liked the new toys, like the sidebar customizer. But I have otherwise not been too impressed with the new version (why does it keep asking me if I want to see the non-secure data?) and it seems unstable to me.

Of course, as an added incentive, "old Blogger" seems to have some new quirks, like the new feature that quits your browser altogether when you try to add a picture to a post you're working on (grrrrr).

So what do you guys think? Switch or not? And will it totally screw up my sidebar links?

Mug Shots

I'm almost afraid to type this, but right now the Mrs and I are working on a scheme to bring the PT Clan to Israel this summer. It's almost like an impossible dream. The "Family Trip of a Lifetime." Literally. There may be no other time to do this. The PT is just about old enough to make the trip and not whine continuously, none of the older ones are married yet, and we have only one kid in college. Another year and we'll have two, and it will be too cost-prohibitive. Even now we cannot afford it. I will have to figure out a way to make the Geo last at least one more year.

But I think this is SO important. There are so many things we want to do. I want the kids to see their Israeli cousins and their kids while they are still...kids, y'know? I want to show them the beauty of their homeland. I don't mean to take anything away from the greatness of American Orthodox Jewish Life, but you can't really understand what it is to be a Jew if you haven't spent time in Israel.

So we're going to go. Period. We'll somehow make it work. There are a bunch of steps we have to take. We'll need to find an apartment. We'll need to book tickets. I have to find someone to cover my patients. I have no idea how we'll pay for it.

But first, we need Passports. With the exception of our little trip to Canada last year, none of the PT kids have ever left the country. So we're getting them Passports. Which means....mug shots. In the old days that required a trip to the AAA or DMV or someplace official, but we live in the digital age. So I lined 'em up and shot 'em.

They say you're not supposed to digitally edit your photos when you submit them, but I took the liberty of removing the Kool-Aid stain from the corners of The PT's mouth in the above photo.

At some point I'd like to write about my previous four trips to Israel. They were...interesting.

Detour (or, Rockford is Lovely This Time of Year)

When Adam Davis of Kfarcenter asked me to play Knishmas this year, he gave me a choice of three time slots, and I chose the first one, I'll admit, for purely selfish reasons: I wanted to get on and off stage quickly, and not have to drive back to Milwaukee at 3 in the morning. We're all a bunch of old men, I told him, and need our sleep. Let the young whipper snappers run and jump around the stage in the wee hours. Us old guys need to be in bed before Midnight.

So, that's what we did. And the show was great, by the way. We had a sax player with us for the first time and there were several moments when the audience started cheering mid-song after a particularly intense solo. There was a professional videographer there so I hope to get you some video at some point.

After the show, the sax player and I got in my car and began the drive home, about 90 miles, so maybe 90 minutes at most. I should mention that we got lost on the way down from Milwaukee. Yes, I've made this trip hundreds of times. But there's been a major construction project going on the Marquette Interchange up here and all the on and off ramps have been closing and opening and generally changing almost daily.

And then you get on these temporary ramps that swoop and curl around the construction zones like those old Hot Wheels (TM) tracks I used to play with as a kid. Really quite cool actually, when not terrifying. Anyway, apparently the one that used to go South towards Chicago now goes North towards Green Bay. And it took us about 10 minutes to get off and turn around.

Then we headed down towards Chicago, and I took my wife's advice and used 294 instead of the Edens to reach I-90, the Kennedy, which ran past the Club. We got there without incident.

So, after the gig, we got in the car and drove to the Kennedy, figuring to reverse our route. I could have sworn that I was paying attention to signs indicating turn-offs to I-94 and Milwaukee, but apparently, either the signs aren't there (there is construction down there too) or I just missed them.

Because after about 10 minutes I realized that nothing looked familiar. And there weren't any more exits. And we were still on I-90, which we should have left when we got to 294. Bryan, the sax player, took the map out of my glove compartment and gave me the bad news: we were on the way to Rockford, Il.

Now, I have nothing against Rockford. In fact, my wife's family comes from Rockford, but I really thought it would have been much better to try to tour the city in the daylight. At night, there's not much to see. So I tried to get off the highway. Unfortunately, there were no exits for about 50 miles. For some reason, this really irritated me. I started to talk like my mother.

"What kind person makes a highway with no exits?? Jerk! Have you ever heard of such a thing??"

Well there was an exit, eventually, a "Belvedere Oasis", but it was about 2 miles from Rockford, and if we just stayed on I-90, eventually, it would curve up towards Wisconsin again. So that's what we did.

We drove through Rockford at night. It was kind of like a yellow, glowing ozone cloud.

"Well, Rockford is everything I thought it would be," Bryan said.

"Yup." I replied. And kept my eyes peeled for the turn-off to I-43 at Beloit.

Here's the detour route. It's not hard to figure out how much shorter it would have been had we gone straight North:

For perspective, here's a Google Sattelite map:

And for even more perspective on our journey, here's a zoomed out map:

Grand total of 270 miles added to the Geo last night. Which wouldn't have been that bad, except that the old girl's not what she used to be. In the category of "strange things that break on old cars", my rear-view mirror broke while I was adjusting it to get the glare of some idjit pickup driver's brights out of my eyes. Well, at least the new tires were a blessing.

We got home at 12:40. But hey, we got to bypass the Marquette Interchange!

Ho Ho Ho!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The 2006 Christmahannukwanzakah Online Holiday Concert!

Come on! You know you want to go!

Update: Believe it or not, I found this link through Neil's concert post: It's a video from fellow Midwestern J-Rockers Even Shesiyah! Talk about your small blogosphere!

Sunday, December 17, 2006



And for your listening pleasure, I have recorded a new version of the olde tyme Channuka classic, Sevivon, for Neil Kramer's upcoming Christmahannukawanzaka Holiday Concert Program.

Friday, December 15, 2006

No Tachanun

I may have let it slip in the pages of this blog over the past few years that I daven (pray) at an early minyan (prayer group) that ostensibly starts at 5:45 every morning. You may even recall that after years of being, well shall we say...less than dedicated...to showing up consistently and on time, I rededicated myself in full force after the death of my father this spring. That's because one of my obligations as a mourner is to say the Kaddish and lead the davening every day.

One of the things I love about this minyan, aside from the fact that it is slightly faster than the other minyanim, is the cast of characters. Perhaps my favorite is the Rabbi who stands in the back of the room and implores me, every day, to skip tachanun.

Tachanun is a part of the service which means supplication and it is not infrequently skipped for various legitimate and some questionable reasons. There are different customs. The one thing that seems to be universal is that, whenever the ruling comes down that tachanun is to be skipped, there is near unanimous rejoicing. I even managed to find this essay on "Why We Hate Tachanun."

To the various reasons discussed there, I will add my own, which is that I hate tachanun because it adds between 5 and 10 minutes (depending on the day) to my already overbooked early a.m. schedule. To put it simply: the days that we skip tachanun are the days that I am more likely to get to work on time.

Which is why it is now so complicated that we have one guy in the back urging me to skip tachanun while the rest of the minyan thinks we should say it. Because as the chazzan, I am the final arbiter of whether it is GO or NO-GO. I feel like I'm in that scene in Animal House where I have the good angel on one shoulder and the bad one on the other. And I kinda prefer the bad one.

I really dislike being in the middle of this conflict. The shul doesn't help, because as a Chassidishe place they skip tachanun frequently to commemorate the yahrtzeits of rebbes whose names I can't even pronounce much less recognize. And they never say tachanun at all by mincha. So who am I to say that tachanun should be said on one guy's yahrtzeit and not another's?

It's getting to be kind of a joke around the community. "No Tachanun" is becoming a generic "Mazel Tov."

The Cohen's had a baby boy! No Tachanun!
The Shapiro's kid is engaged! No Tachanun!
Happy St. Patrick's Day! No Tachanun!
I think my boss is going to give me a raise! No Tachanun!
We have Heros to watch tonight on the TiVo! No Tachanun!

You get the gist.

I joke but the tension level is starting to rise in the 5:45 minyan, which, because daybreak is getting later and later, now starts at 6:10. The Rabbi REALLY wants me to skip tachanun. And some of the other guys REALLY don't want me to.

Today I thought it might come to blows. After I finished shmoneh esrei, before I could start the viduy (confession) before the tachanun, the rabbi yelled "yisgadal" from the back of the room, his prompt to skip tachanun and proceed directly to Kaddish. This caused a moment of doubt, because I didn't see today's date in the authorized "No Tachanun" list (yes, we have one) but then, it is the day before Channukah, and maybe that's one of those days that it's not said? So I went for it, and said Kaddish.

Afterwards there was a large argument out in the hallway between the Rabbi and the others and I knew that if I didn't get out of there soon that I would get caught in the middle. So I bundled up, put my shoulder forward and broke through like a quaterback trying to make a rushing play.

Believe me, if we never said tachanun again, I wouldn't miss it. I think the davening is too long already, but I just hate being in the middle of these things.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bagel Parts

Have I mentioned how much I love the J-Blogosphere? Yes? Well, anyway...

One of the things I love about it is the way that it enables people with different backgrounds to come together and learn something from each other. People who would never meet or speak in the real world can suddenly interact with each other in a meaningful way.

A Chossid in a Shtreimel in Milwaukee can now collaborate with prospective convert in Australia on a website dedicated to Torah. I really wish the Agudah could see this and tell me why the blogosphere should be forbidden.

But anyway, you may have noticed an addition to my sidebar for the last several weeks directing you to a website called Parsha Parts. This site is run by a dear friend of mine here in Milwaukee, who wears a Shtreimel (but I won't hold that against him), and who is a fascinating individual in his own right. Maybe one day we'll coax him into telling the story of his journey to frumkeit, but until then, it may interest some of you to know that he was the keyboard player in an earlier iteration of the Moshe Skier Band, and wrote one of my favorite MSB songs, Ki Vo Yismach Libenu. And no, I'm not going to tell you why he left the band. To quote the great Del Paxton, "Ain't no way to keep a band together. Bands come and go. You gotta keep playin', no matter with who. "

Parsha Parts started off as one of those leaflet publications that would get handed out in shuls on Friday nights many years ago, but disappeared after a while. With this New Year, he has restarted it, and added an internet version as well. I encourage you all to take a look at the site and sign up for the newsletter (and consider supporting it financially if you wish).

I agreed to help promote the site (well, as much as a link from psychotoddler can be called promotion), but the image he gave me to use as an icon was a bit of an eyesore.

I guess in the pre-blogosphere days we would have just left it alone, or maybe seen if one of our amateur artist friends was interested in playing around with it.

But all I had to do was look around the J-Blogosphere, and ask nicely. And Bagel Blogger responded. If you want to know a little about the Bagel Blogger, check out this great interview here. He and his wife Baleboosteh have been tremendous additions to the J-Blogosphere, and I think they'll make tremendous additions to the Jewish People when they get signed up for the program. BB (as I like to call him) did a terrific job on not only the icon for this site, but he went above and beyond the call of duty by redesigning the masthead on Parsha Parts as well. So if you have some graphic art needs, please consider hiring him!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Fortress of Solitude

Iguana: Where is Superman going now?

Abba: To the Fortress of Solitude.

Iguana: What does that mean?

Mommy: It's like the place he goes when he wants to be alone.

Abba: Like the bathroom.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Chassidisco Fever

Yes, in case you were wondering, I did actually buy this album when it came out. Or, rather, my parents did. What? It was a pretty good album. It had a hot rendition of Riki Gal doing Shma Yisroel. Kinda Rod Stewart in his disco "If You Think I'm Sexy" days. I still cover that song to this day.

Anyway, since you've been good, and I've checked my list (checked it twice), here ya go:

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Verdict

Curly gets a Gold Star for his performance this Shabbos! He layned beautifully, with very few errors (which I corrected instantaneously since I was by his side). Even more impressively, at the 11th hour he decided to chuck most of the written speech and talk off the cuff, which meant that he spoke clearly and convincingly like he knew what he was talking about. He looked very at ease up there and despite the Orthodontic Hardware was quite intelligible (moreso than some of the others I've heard). I'm so glad we were "grandfathered" in and are not affected by the new "takanah" against layning! Curly is like a different kid than he was before this endeavor. I really think this did so much for his self-confidence.

We were very saddened that my sisters got stuck in NY. But at least my Mom was here.

Here's something: Guess which movie my Mom and her 86-year-old Aunt Boba went to see? Extra points if you can tell if they liked it or not.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Your Daily Dose of The PT

She's too much PT for one blog to contain.

Good Shabbos.

Ich hob nicht kain Mazel...

Remember last year?

My sisters were supposed to fly in today. So naturally we have a blizzard here. So much for that. Meanwhile, my brother-in-law is trying to make his way up here from Chicago before Shabbos.

At least Fudge, Grandma, Laya (and the rest of the crew) and the Miami squad are here.

Be good!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More Exploding Toilets

Just kidding.

There are no exploding toilets in this post. I was going to call this one "Light Blogging" but for some reason that brought to mind "Light Rock--always on at work!" and I fell asleep three times while I typed the title in.

So yeah, blogging's been a little light lately, not because I have nothing to say (when has that ever stopped me) but because I've been very busy at work and at home and preparing for various musical adventures and most especially Curly's upcoming Bar Mitzvah this week.

This is my fourth Bar Mitzvah (including my own) so I don't stress over them anymore. It's really quite nice that I live in a community that pish-poshes extravagant parties and keeps the shenanigans to a minimum. So we're just doing a kiddush in the shul and some meals for the out of town guests and family (just because we can't fit them all in my dining room).

I actually much prefer this to the "royal wedding" approach that seems to be en vogue on the East Coast (my Bar Mitzvah "reception" was at Great Neck Synagogue and we had a disco orchestra and a shmorg with veal scallopini [mmm.....veal scallopini....] and a candle lighting ceremony and I danced the Hustle with my sister while I wore a white three-piece tuxedo that would have made John Travolta jealous, and if you're very good one day I will scan in a picture).

To me, the main purpose of the Bar Mitzvah is to get the kid ready to participate in Jewish services as an adult. So over the past year I've worked with him on finding a teacher for layning, then listening and being unbelievably critical of his performance, buying tfillin and a black hat, working on the speech, etc.

There are those around here who are not only into pish-poshing the affair, they are now preparing to pish-posh the layning too. They say that not everyone is cut out to layn and it puts an unfair pressure on the kid, particularly the one who is not ready to be embarrassed in front of the whole congregation and especially his grandmother and why don't we make it optional or have him layn but not on his Bar Mitzvah and blah blah blah. I could make a whole post out of that, but let me just say I think it's a bunch of feel-good hooey. I think in general we are short-changing our kids and giving in to the popular sentiment of "if it's hard then it's not worth doing." Yeah, some kids SHOULDN'T layn. There's no shame in that. But for the ones who can, they SHOULD. Kids need to be pushed to perform. Otherwise they'll just sit around all day and play videogames. Wait...

Anyway, all I can say is that Curly has had his challenges with regards to this (not the least of which is this mondo dental appliance which his orthodotist has cemented into his mouth) and has had to work harder than his brothers just to be intelligible. But you know what? He has risen wonderfully to the occasion, and I challenge him or anyone else to tell me that he hasn't grown by leaps and bounds from this experience. He's been able to learn and memorize the ENTIRE parsha, the Haftora, and he wrote his own speech which, as of right now, he can deliver with barely a glance at the notes. If that's not an accomplishment to be proud of, I don't know what is. Of course it remains to be seen if anyone will be able to understand a single word he says, but who cares, they'll all be asleep by then anyway.

The other big issue with the BM as we like to call it is that my family is coming in from NY, and Mrs. B's from Toronto and Miami. Most notably my Mother is coming. This means that the house has to be ABSOLUTELY SPOTLESS. My daughter Fudge tells me to relax, my Mom will love me anyway, but she is WRONG WRONG WRONG!!

Trust me Fudge, you may have gotten a mega dose of Grandma Rose recently, and I'll admit you have captured her essence nicely, but I lived with her for 20 years. That woman can spot a piece of lint at 20 yards. She's Polish, for cryin out loud! Those people can see things that are invisible to mere American mortals!

So the plan right now is to get a cleaning lady in (we have a cleaning lady?) and clean the place up real good on Thursday. Then my plan is to lock the doors and wrap the whole house up with Celophane until my Mom shows up. That way it'll be like, y'know, sanitized for her protection.

And it is key to keep the kids out of the house. Because, love them as I do, they are all slobs, evey last one of them. And The PT is the worst. She walks through the door, and there's crap all over the place inside of 15 seconds. I don't know how she does it. She's like a slug leaving a slime trail behind. Shoes here. Jacket on the floor. Backpack on the couch. Notes on the stairs. Wrappers and crumbs follow her wherever she goes. Shudder.

Anyway, that's what's going on. Wish us luck, er, Mazel Tov. See you on the other side...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

Acoustic Songs

So you missed my recent acoustic gig at the coffee house. I don't want to hear your excuses! How much can a ticket from Israel or California possibly cost?? Wouldn't it have been worth every penny spent to put back cup after cup of strong coffee while listening to the soothing sounds of Psychotoddler and his buddy? So what if I happened to block off the Men's bathroom with my equipment? There's no shame in going to the Lady's room if it's a real emergency.

But anyway, I digress.

I guess I could be like all the other stars out there and tell you "too bad, go buy my album." Or "you'll have to wait till the next time I'm playing in your town (which is never)." Or "just in time for Chanukah, Psychotoddler's LIVE ALBUM!"

But I am nothing if not magnanimous. So I lugged a video camera and tripod and forced a member of the audience to stay till the end of the show (even though I'm sure he really needed to use that blocked-off bathroom after the 3rd cup of coffee) so that I could bring you these great video recordings.

So here are a few songs. Picking between them is like picking between children for me, so if you want to see more, go to the archive.

Adon Olam (compare to the Summerfest version if you like)


And if you live near Chicago, you'll have another chance to see me perform with Shlock Rock on December 3rd in Northbrook. Check MosheSkier.com for details.

(OK, I really like how this one came out)



All I ask is a little privacy...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Doctor Who

I went and saw a patient this morning on the Orthopedic ward, and as I was leaving I saw an older man in a white shirt and tie walking towards me. As our paths converged, he said hi to me, and as I am a friendly Midwestern type, I said something to the effect of "hi how are you" and continued out into the hallway.

To which he had a whole response about life and appreciating what you have and not complaining and I nodded and said it was nice, and then unfortunately he changed directions and started walking with me.

He then started asking me how I was and how my practice was going, did I like it where I was now, how is my family, and I did my best to provide very vague answers, because although it was becoming very apparent that he knew who I was, I was pretty certain that I had absolutely no idea who he was.

The conversation then moved into doctoring and it became evident that he was in fact another doctor, one who was apparently "following my career" over the years and happy that I was doing well. I picked up my pace, attempting to indicate that I had to get to another part of the hospital to continue my rounds. He kept up.

I started to wonder if he was one of the new hospital administrators, trying to get friendly with the staff. Or maybe he was one of these specialists that I refer to but have never met. Or even seen pictures of. I couldn't figure it out, and I was beginning to get very concerned that he would catch on to the fact that I was totally clueless about his identity. Maybe I could have let on earlier that I didn't know him, but now we were a couple of minutes into the conversation and it would be too awkward. I saw an intersection coming up and moved to the left on a path that would take me to the new wing, praying that our shared journey would end there.

Much to my chagrine, he turned left with me and we continued down the long series of hallways that would lead to the new patient tower. During this time he went on about "the life we have chosen to lead" and being a "slave to the pager" and I was really trying to guess at what specialty he might be in, hoping for a hint that would allow me to look him up on the hospital web site, but he kept any references to his own identity very general.

What really worried me was that we'd end up stuck staring at each other waiting for an elevator or on a long ride up, but at the last minute I turned left into the Tower elevator banks and he kept going.

Another bullet dodged.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Am I Flipping Out?

A comment on my last post:

Anonymous said...

PT-I have to say that I just don't buy this. Up until your pop passed away, you came to minyan when you could, certainly davened, but were not in up to your neck with doing all sorts of public worship type things (at least that is what it seemed like to me). And I thought that was cool, because evidently you had come to a level of Yiddishkeit that worked for you, your family, and your place in the community. I thought it was even cooler because you did NOT hop on the bandwagon like everyone else here and shave your head, grow payos down to your bellybutton, wear garb from the 1800s, and somehow discover that you were the scion of a lost dynasty and reclaim your rightful heritage.

But then your pop passes away. Okay. I get trying to make minyan and say kaddish, but why feel bad if you miss one or two? Or you cannot make minyan for once and have to daven b'yichidus? And this leining thing - what is up with that? What is making you say that your Yiddishkeit as it was before your father's passing was not good enough? (Bad grammar)

Maybe just as big a question to me is why the need to PUBLICLY express this newfound Yiddishkeit (assuming that there is justification for it - see my questions above)? That is something that really bothers me - why can't people have a good relationship with Hashem and leave it at that? Why do they need to flaunt (sp?) so that we can all see it? I am not inspired by them; my connection to Hashem comes from my own awareness, knowledge, and learning. It almost is like they are trying to prove to me that they are frum.

Whatever. I sign this as anonymous but I think you might know who this is. If so, when you see me in the AM (not in either minyan but learning) then we can schmooze about it, although probably not then since you need to get to work and so do I.Sorry for being such a party-popper. Maybe it is that time of month for me.

My response:

PsychoToddler said...

Anonymous: “I sign this as anonymous but I think you might know who this is. If so, when you see me in the AM

I THINK I know who it is but I’m a little thick and I may be wrong. I’m confused because the person I think it is had more positive things to say the last time I wrote about layning. I’m sorry I didn’t see you this AM; we had trouble getting a minyan in the beginning.

“Up until your pop passed away, you came to minyan when you could, certainly davened, but were not in up to your neck with doing all sorts of public worship type things (at least that is what it seemed like to me). And I thought that was cool, because evidently you had come to a level of Yiddishkeit that worked for you, your family, and your place in the community.”

You were wrong about me. I was in a bad place. I tried to act like that was the practice of Judaism that I preferred because I was too lazy to do anything about it and too resistant to change. There were a lot of inconsistencies about me that were eating away at me and having negative influence on my family. I needed to change. My father’s death was the kick in the butt that I needed.

“I thought it was even cooler because you did NOT hop on the bandwagon like everyone else here and shave your head, grow payos down to your bellybutton, wear garb from the 1800s, and somehow discover that you were the scion of a lost dynasty and reclaim your rightful heritage.”

Scroll down a few posts and read the one about my new HDTV, and go over to DovBear and read my post about hats, and tell me if you really think that I’m “flipping out.” Because I’m not. The problem is that I think YOU have bought into the program a little more than you realize. You’re starting to think that putting on a uniform equates with higher frumkeit, and you’re confused about me being more stringent with certain things while still not adopting the “levush.” Well the truth is that I allowed my resentment of that attitude to be a barrier that prevented me from observing Judaism correctly. I came from a background of Modern Orthodoxy, where people who went to movies and rock concerts still managed to make it to minyan twice a day and could layn and lead the services, and from that perspective I have been a disappointment. It’s not a matter of me being yeshivish or chassidish and failing to live up to THOSE standards. It’s that I have my OWN standards and have failed to live up to even those. I’m sorry if I can’t be as much of an inspiration to slackers as you’d like me to be.

Go back to the beginning of this post and read why I think that layning is important to ME. It’s because I have a certain potential and I’ve used all kinds of excuses to avoid reaching it. I’m not saying that layning=higher observance. For me it is something that I was once good at, and that serves the community, and therefore I think for my own benefit (and yes, maybe to serve as an example to my children) I should try to maintain. To quote our favorite alternative rabbi, "It's not for everyone."

“It almost is like they are trying to prove to me that they are frum.”

You’ll get no arguments with me there. I have written over and over on this blog and elsewhere what I think of that attitude. Your actions tell people who you are, not your hat.

“why feel bad if you miss one or two?”

Because that’s just the way I am. I am a creature of habit. I know that it’s either all the way or not at all. If I take a very lackadaisical approach to minyan, I will have plenty of excuses to blow it off, and eventually I will stop going altogether. I am capable of looking at myself analytically and realizing what my strengths and weaknesses are and addressing them (no matter what some of my relatives might say). I may be wrong, but I think most people are this way about habits and momentum. Employ a little intellectual honesty.

“why the need to PUBLICLY express this newfound Yiddishkeit”

Other than the fact that tfilla betzibur is by definition “public”, I don’t think that I’m publicly flaunting anything. Aderaba (on the contrary), I am painfully aware that the other people who make up my minyan (and you, too) have been doing all this for years, and without the excuse of having to say kaddish. If anything, I still have a ways to go to make it to their level.

If by “public” you mean putting it on this blog, maybe you have a point. Except that this blog is still MY private home on the web, and nobody is forcing anyone to be here. Also I have found that the blog by its nature has helped me to reexamine myself, my priorities, my excuses, and by holding them up to the light, see which were valid and which were empty. The blog keeps me honest.

I’ve made many changes in my life that go beyond shul. I’m exercising, I’m taking care of my health better, and there are other aspects that still need a lot of work.

Look, as a human being, you’re either growing or you’re dying. You have to decide which side of the line you want to be on. My father spent his last 20 years on the wrong side of that line. I’m not going to let that happen to me.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Stage Fright

I layned this morning at the early minyan. As part of my “continuing improvement program,” I’ve made a commitment to keep up my layning skills and read a parsha whenever feasible. This has to do with the “being useful to the community” or the “use it before I lose it” or the “I can therefore I should” philosophy that I seemed to have picked up when I approached 40. (They say 40 is the new 25. Kreplach! 25 was much better!)

This isn’t as impressive as it sounds, by the way. I volunteered to layn this one because I had layned it in the past. About 27 years in the past, but it was still up there in the recesses of my brain waiting to be reactivated. On Shabbos I went over it 5 or 6 times and felt pretty confident that I had it memorized. And then, when I got up to layn this morning, I got a sudden case of stage-fright.

My pulse quickened, my palms got sweaty, and my voice began to quiver. And with the accompanying nervousness I forgot the trop about halfway through the middle aliyah. Fortunately I was able to fake my way past a few words until I caught the rhythm again and I managed to make it to the end of the reading correctly.

This may seems surprising to you. I know it surprises me. After all, I can get up in front of thousands of people and play bass and sing and I don’t break a sweat. And I can lead the congregation in the normal davening without feeling self conscious or nervous. In fact, I had just done the entire service up until the layning without any difficulty. I didn’t panic until the Torah was rolled open in front of me.

I can’t be sure, but I think it has something to do with being up there on my own, working without a net, as it were. When I’m playing with the band, I’m never alone. I always have my mates up there. So I don’t obsess over making a mistake, forgetting a line of verse, blowing a chord. I know someone will be there to pick up the slack. And when I’m leading the minyan, I have the siddur in front of me, and everything is there, and there’s nothing I need to juggle in my mind. In fact, when I’m leading the service, my mind is totally clear. Unlike when I daven on my own, where my mind is constantly wandering, when I’m up there, I focus only on the words on the page, so as not to get distracted and lose my place.

But with layning…I don’t know. The words are there, but I have to memorize the melody and punctuation and I have this constant fear that I will forget it in the middle, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy as I actually get more and more nervous about it. I realize it’s silly because the guys in the minyan don’t care, and it’s rare that I get totally screwed up, but still….I want to do a good job and I’m finding myself a little lacking here.

This is making me even more determined to keep doing this. I see this as a personal mountain for me, and I know I am capable of climbing it. I’m not talking so much about the layning now. It’s the stage fright. I know I can get over it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Report Card

We just got back The PT's K-5 (kindergarten) report card. This is the sixth of our children for this teacher, and so far, she's hit the nail on the head every time:

[The PT] is an individualist who has her own sense of time and space. She hums to herself frequently. She has worked hard on overcoming her fear of being in the bathroom alone and is very proud of herself for that (her teachers are, too!)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Acoustic Gig

I'll be doing a free acoustic guitar gig on November 18 here in Milwaukee. As usual, details are available here.

It'll be a duet featuring me on guitar and vocals, and a friend playing mandolin and slide guitar. We'll be doing a bunch of my original tunes (including blog-exclusive Aniyah) plus some classic Jewish folk and klezmer tunes, and even a song off of MoC's new album.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

My New Hat

A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

In the Beginning...

...there was only me, and Velvel, and occasionally MOChassid would drop by. And then, Safranit left a comment and after a while I figured out that some of my old friends had found the blog.

So for old time's sake, I'm responding to the meme she tagged me with. Because you all know how much I love these things.

4 jobs I've had

Video Store Clerk
Used Van Lot Employee

4 movies I can watch over and over

Can I count Star Wars Episodes III-VI as all 4? No? Well, here are 3 more:

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Alien + Aliens (but all the rest suck-- clue to Siggy Weaver--don't let the French anywhere near your franchise!)
The Hunt for Red October (Ach! Sean Connery as a Lithuanian!)
That Thing You Do (ok, that's five, but it's such a great movie)

4 places I have lived

The Bronx

4 television shows I love to watch

Battlestar Galactica (new one)
Heroes (Save the Cheerleader, Save the World!)
Get Smart (FINALLY coming out on DVD!!!)

4 places I've been on vacation

Miami Beach (every year while my Grandma was alive)
Acapulco (almost drowned and got a nasty case of diarrhea--now that's a vacation)
Washington D.C.
Wisconsin Dells

4 favorite dishes

General Tsoa's Chicken
Eggplant Parmesan

4 websites I visit daily

Leaving off blogs...

Google.com (it's my home page, for crying out loud)



Oh FINE! All my blogs!

4 places I would rather be right now

Orbiting Saturn

4 bloggers to tag

No thanks, I can't afford to lose any more friends...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hits = Miles

I did hit 100,000 visits earlier today (page views are more like 190,000). It's amazing how many people still haven't figured out that there's nothing going on over here.

The winning visit was by a nice person from Carlstadt, New Jersey, who was searching on Yahoo for "Jewish Yamaka," which is how most of my random visitors find me. Welcome!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mazel Tov

What is the appropriate response to Mazel Tov? I've always wondered.

A. Mazel Tov

B. Thank You

C. G-d willing bei you

D. Yes

E. Right back at you!

Any ideas?

Well, in any event, Mazel Tov to Curly on putting on Tfillin today!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Aggravating Assault

Just what I needed.

I left my office about 4:40 last night, excited about some evening plans (the nature of which will be revealed in a future post) and ready to head to shul for mincha. However, what I saw when I approached my car led to several perplexing and even disappointing observations.

The first thing I noticed was that one of my windows was shattered.

Crap, I thought. Someone has broken into my beautiful car.

But as I got a little closer, I saw that someone was actually sitting in the passenger seat. This could have elicited many reactions. Like maybe I should yell, or run back in the building, or whip out my phone and call 911, or call Mama and Papa Bear.

But the thought that actually emerged was this:

Oh, this is not my beautiful car. That guy is just waiting for someone.

I know, I know. Disappointing is an understatement. I am apparently not the guy you want to have around when quick and decisive thinking is called for.

Of course, that assessment didn't last more than a fraction of a second as I realized, S***! That IS my car! And there's a guy in it!

By then, the guy apparently noticed me coming, and opened the door to get out. To which I said:

"HEY! What the frak are you doing in my car!!"

Intimidating, isn't it? I'm surprised the guy didn't pee his pants. What he did was get into his car and calmly drive away.

In retrospect, it has been pointed out to me that I had a cell-phone camera on my belt and there was plenty of time to snap a picture, but naturally that didn't occur to me as I stared intently at his license plate quickly receding from view.

So, I went back in and called the cops. They came, eventually, but while I waited I got more and more pissed off. First, because I realized that I was going to miss what would probably be the last weekday mincha I could make before the clocks change. Second, because I was now trapped at work at the mercy of the Milwaukee Police response time, which in my experience for this type of crime, has not been very good. And third, my plans for the night, which relied heavily on swapping cars with Mrs. B, were most likely ruined.

While I waited I served myself an additional dose of aggravation, as I discussed repairing the glass with an auto glass specialist, and with my insurance company, the net gist of which was that although it would be expensive to replace the window, it wouldn't be expensive enough for my insurance to pay for it. It would in fact be just a few dollars short of the deductible. Meanwhile rain was pouring into my car as I waited for Milwaukee's Finest to take my report.

Eventually a bright young officer showed up and took a statement from me. And to his credit, he showed significantly more interest that I would have expected.

I, of course, in my vast knowledge of police procedure and crime investigation, was putting a lot of stock in having the perpetrator's (that's what they call the criminal in Police parlance) license plate number. The officer, not so much. He called it in, and confirmed that it was registered to the owner of a '95 Geo. That, unfortunately, was not the car that drove off with the perp. How do you know, he asked me. Because I drive a '94 Geo and, to paraphrase the famous quote on pornography, I know one when I see one (as a side note, a '94 Geo Prizm was apparently stolen from the parking lot of the VA later that night).

So then he asked me to describe the guy. Were you ever in one of those classes where a guy randomly runs through the room, and then somebody comes in and asks you to describe him exactly? I have to confess I never did well in those situations. I would usually write something like Did somebody run throught the room? When?

Some details I had down, like his race, hair (skin head type), approximate size and age. It got fuzzy when he asked me to describe the clothes. Sweat suit...maybe? What color...? Uh...grey...maybe? Possibly some green in there...I mean blue...could have been yellow...hood...? I think...so...Shoes...? Ye....no. Sneakers. Maybe.

He took down the info. He promised he would investigate the stolen plates and file a report.

"So will you call me if you catch him," I asked. He smiled.

As Bill Cosby would say, "Riiiiiiigggghhhht."

Bill Cosby on the Parsha

Hat tip Yitzi

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fudge Strikes Again

I just want to say that it takes real talent to be able to reference Strong Bad, Monty Python, Peter Sellers, and Sesame Street all in one post and not have anybody catch on. Strong work!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Letter From the White House

Today I received a letter from the White House. I have to admit, I found this to be a bit of a head-scratcher. The letter started like this:

"Dear Mr. Toddler:

"Thank you for sharing your views on the crisis in Sudan. The President appreciates your taking the time to write about this important issue..."

It then goes on to outline the Administration's approach to the Darfur genocide (which, admittedly, doesn't amount to much).

After reading the letter, I stared at it for a while. And tried to remember exactly when it was that I wrote to the White House about Darfur. Because I don't write to the White House that often. In fact, I never send written letters at all. If anything, I may have emailed something. I recall reading on the J-Blogosphere about a Jewish response to Darfur, so maybe I filled out an online form letter somewhere? But no, that wouldn't be it, because the response from the White House came to my office, the address of which is in my email signature.

Not taking anything for granted (my memory just isn't what it used to be), I went to my "Sent Items" box and searched for "whitehouse." This is what I found:

"I want to thank the President for his steadfast support of Israel in its fight against Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists. Israel’s fight against Islamofascism is the US’s fight as well, and we need them to win this battle or we are next!"

Puzzling, to say the least.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sheitels--For Men!

And now! The latest product from Boro Park what every frumme yid will need!

Conspicuous in your Cap? Self-conscious about your Shtreimel? Bashful in your Black Hat?

Being an Orthodox Jew used to mean covering your hair with a Yarmulke or Cap or Fedora, but that made you stand out in a crowd! In the old days, when you didn't want anyone to know that you were frum, you had to take off your Yarmulke and go bareheaded! Or wear a hat to work, but let's face it, Gentlemen, the only people who wear hats are frummies! You might as well show up in a Turban for all the anonymity that would give you!


Now you can be Modest AND Modern! Stylish AND Tznius!

Introducing, the world's first Sheitel made exclusively for MEN!


The "Shaitner"

The "Koisel"

Don't let your wife tell you you don't need one! You deserve it!

Remember, Frum doesn't have to mean Frumpy!

payment plans available for all budgets

Update: I may have competition

hat tip Yonah

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

Battlestar Galactica Season 3 Opener

Spoiler Alert: I don’t think there are any actual spoilers here, but if you haven’t seen the episode yet, come back and read this after you have.

I love Battlestar Galactica. It is the best-written Sci-Fi show ever made, possibly the best-written show on TV altogether. One of the reasons for this is that the producers and writers have decided not to rely on cheap Sci-Fi clich├ęs and technogimmicks, but rather to write believable characters, story and dialogue. Within its own universe, everything that goes on makes perfect sense. They don’t need to invent wormholes or alien space clouds or visit the planet of the week to create drama. They set events in motion and let them play out naturally.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they haven’t thrown in some unexpected twists. I myself was somewhat concerned about last season’s cliffhanging episode, in which the entire setting of the story was more or less flushed out an airlock, and the crew was land-locked on some dismal planet like a bunch of intergalactic trailer park trash. I had hoped that the end of the episode (or perhaps, the start of the new season) would prove this to be a dream sequence or some alternate reality. Well guess what. This ain’t Star Trek. It’s real. Maybe a little too real.

See, this is what disturbed me about the season opener: The producers seem intent to use the show to draw parallels to current events, in order to make us think about them in a different way, much as Star Trek did during the Sixties. But the parallels are imperfect, and the viewers need to be aware of that, lest they allow the show to draw them to false conclusions about what’s going on in the real world.

To wit, this appears to be what the current season is about:

There are insurgents, and then there are insurgents. There are the insurgents who rose up against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, who fought them in the forests of the Ukraine, who fought off 5 invading Arab armies in Israel. And there are the insurgents who blow up armored personnel carriers and mosques in Baghdad. Some are heroes and some are terrorists. What’s the difference?

There are collaborators, and then there are collaborators. There are collaborators who tell the Shin Bet when a terrorist strike will occur so it can be stopped, or who risk their lives to patrol the streets in Iraq. And there are the collaborators who welcomed the Nazis into France, or who saved their own skins in the Concentration camps by oppressing their fellow Jews. Some are heroes and some are traitors. What’s the difference?

The simple answer would be that it depends on what side you’re on. If the insurgents are blowing up an Arab armored column to prevent it from taking over a Jewish town (I’ve been watching “Cast a Giant Shadow”), then we call them brave heroes. If a Kapo is ratting out someone who gave an extra potato to an old woman, then she is the most evil of traitors. And on the surface, this appears to be what Battlestar Galactica is going for. It spent two seasons introducing us to these characters that we care a great deal about and sympathize with. And now it has suddenly placed them into new roles that, while they do make sense given the story, make us very uncomfortable. We don’t like to see our friends strapping bombs on and blowing up policemen. But in the context of the story, it makes perfect sense. How then can we feel so differently about Islamic suicide bombers who at least, on the surface, have similar motivations?

But this reasoning is flawed. Because saying that it’s just a matter of which side you choose to identify with raises the ugly specter of moral equivalence. Both causes are the same, both situations are the same, toss a coin and pick a side. And more disturbingly, it assumes that given the same situation, you would act no differently than the terrorist. But the causes are not the same, and the situations are not parallel.

The producers fill the screen with imagery and a dramatic set-up which is evocative of the Warsaw Ghetto at times, a Concentration camp at others, but then use terminology pulled directly from contemporary conflicts such as Iraq or Israel. The metaphors are most certainly mixed.

I think that it’s the context that makes the difference. What are the insurgents fighting for? Are they fighting for freedom for their people against an oppressing occupier? Or are they fighting to intimidate their people and force a rule of tyranny? What is the end result they are after? And will it justify the means to get there?

I wonder where BSG is going with this. Even one of the characters says that suicide bombing can never be justified, regardless of the cause. But of course, there is another character who says that there’s no difference between sending a soldier on a suicide mission in a Viper and strapping a bomb to him. I think the difference depends on the target. If your target is a bunch of strollers in a market, you’re no soldier.

It’ll be interesting to see how this ends up.

Your opinions?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sukkah Rorschach

OK, what does this thing remind you of? Special bonus points if you can link to a matching picture in your comment:

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chabad Sukkah Gig

For those who are around Milwaukee, I'll be playing at the Chabad Sukkah next Monday, Oct. 9. Details to be found here and here.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Knob Covers

Amp missing Doohicky

Closeup of missing doohicky

Musicians who play gigs know that a hazard of shlepping amplifiers in cars is that sometimes they don't make it back home all in one piece. At particular risk are the knobs or the knob covers that seem to disappear forever into mysterious places. You can go through the trunk of your car with a bloodhound and a magnifying glass and you'll never figure out where that little doohicky went.


Someone who is all too familiar with this (and maybe a little too unhealthily fixated on it) is my friend David Margulis, who is the very talented bass player for Chicago's Jewish Jam Band, Even Sh'siyah. So disturbed was he by the missing volume knob cap on my amp when I stayed at his house (for a gig with Piamenta) that he immediately grabbed a spare whatsitz (he had the same amp) and stuck it on mine.

Amp with Whatsitz restored

Now, this blissful state of completeness did not last very long, and I soon found myself asking for any other spare parts he could...spare. He was out, unfortunately, and so for the longest time I've been afraid to turn various settings on my amp because I couldn't tell what they were. Until I received a surprise package in the mail last week. From my email with David:


I don’t know if you remember: I think about a year ago I asked if you had any more of those knob covers for the GK 400RB and you told me to contact the company.

I did at the time and got a nice email from a lady there saying they didn’t have any.

Today I got 8 of them in the mail!

Gmar Chatima Tova!



Wow! 8 knobs during the Aseres Yemai Hatshuva is a real segula! Kabbalistically, knobs are a siman of 'control', whether it is compression, overdrive, or our yetzer hara. The bottom line is we have to be master of our own neshmas.

Of course, the number eight is one more than seven, which represents the natural world. Therefore, eight represents the supernatural. So, we see that with these eight knobs you can exert control over yourself in this world in order to acquire the next.

That's the best I can do right now. Please feel free to riff on it.

G'mar chasima tova!


Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Year in Review

As we move into the third cycle of Psychotoddler, I thought I’d do a “Year in Review” post. But I’m going to start it a little more than a year ago, to pick up after Psychotoddler 102. Feel free to read that one and Psychotoddler 101 if you want to experience me in my “angry young man” phase. This past year saw many interesting posts (you may want to set some time aside for this):


Not surprisingly (given the title of this blog), the topic with the largest amount of memorable posts has to do with my kids. Many of you identified with the post about the quintessential psycho-toddler who gets stuck on something and can’t shake loose. A first driving lesson with daughter fudge yields painfully hilarious results.

I’ve left comments around the J-blogosphere about my conviction that a Jewish education is vital for perpetuation of our people, but in this post, I try to sum up just what it is I want that education to provide.

A trip to the photography studio is always good for high blood pressure and stomach acid, especially when you try to get six children to smile at the same time. However, the resultant pictures give me a good excuse to come up with handy blog-names for my kids. In the end, however, I decide that kids look their best at the age of four.

In October, The PT reminded us why she’s the Melodrama Queen of the blogosphere. Finally, in February I discovered the wonders of Google Video, which allowed for the posting of this vintage PT Clan Movie, the first of many, and paved the way for this little gem.


I wrote surprisingly little about Judaism during the past year, or little that was good, at any rate. Desperate to come up with SOMETHING related to the Holidays, I finally concocted this post justifying my choice of Machzor (Holiday Prayer Book). With pictures! I also came clean about my difficulty with learning Talmud. Despite this, I managed to make and videotape a siyum on Masechet Bava Kamma. And to highlight my sense of inadequacy, I lamented never becoming the Baal Koreh I thought I would become.


It wouldn’t be Psycho Toddler without a bunch of self-promotional posts regarding my music! A big one for me (but maybe not for you) was this one describing the various bass guitars that I have owned. Last August, I wrote a song inspired by Hurricane Katrina.

Shlock Rock came to town in November, allowing me to post some video and proclaim people who help me shlep my stuff to be the ultimate mentches. Speaking of video, I reached back into the vault again to find this adorable video of daughter Iguana, then age 5, singing Louis Armstrong’s “ What a Wonderful World.” Take two was even better. This one touched more than a few heart-strings.

Summer came and I had a major gig at Summerfest “opening” for Foreigner. My daughter fudge managed to capture a side of this Prima Donna that you don’t always see in this behind-the-scenes clip from the dressing room. Many songs were also posted, too many to list here, so you may just want to peruse the archive for July 2006, but these two were my favorites.

Finally, a post that was overshadowed by some very sad events which followed, but at the time Doctor Bean and I thought this was pretty clever: I Got Your Blog.


Psychotoddler is a Gadget King! Do you doubt me?

Read on about how I agonize over where to put yet another device on my Bat-Utility Belt! Yes, I still pine to THIS DAY for the Wide Screen HDTV of my dreams. Too bad the people I care about most are CONSPIRING AGAINST my ever getting one. Do they understand me so little? Do they think I will be appeased with a measly new cell phone??

And, believe it or not, every day I still get more than a few hits on this post about Sabbath Mode Ovens (oops, I guess this one will get hits now too).


I started this blog for kvetchin’, and kvetchin’ I did aplenty!

First, for no apparent reason, I complained about speeches at Jewish Events. If I had a pulpit, I’d probably make a speech denouncing speeches! And I’d be more than happy to tell each and every one of you why I hate speeches, except, I’m sorry, I can’t remember who you are! I’d like to blame it on too much medication from my dental exam, but more likely it’s because I’m preoccupied trying to figure out how to pay for my kids’ education.

But why should I bother telling my opinions in person to people I actually know, when I can blurt them out loudly in public places to complete strangers! While I’m at it, why don’t I just yell into my new cell phone at the auto show and tell the world about how sad it is that a middle aged doctor like me can’t afford the sports car he’s been dreaming about getting since he was 2 years old!

Yes, this world is patently unfair. And when I say “patently unfair,” I mean it in the “I don’t really know what patently means in this context but it sounds like it usually goes before the word unfair” way. If I were elected to Congress, I’d change the World. And I’d start with Immigration Policy Reform. But that sounds like, y’know, a lot of work.

Illness and Death

In all seriousness, this has been a bad year for me and my family. I began writing last year about my father’s illness. In November, I traveled to New York to see him. I went back in January. It was the last time I ever saw him.

He passed away in May, and my friend Doctor Bean was kind enough to announce this on the blog. I was touched by the number of well-wishes that were left. I also heard from and received shiva calls from many bloggers, and not always whom I expected. I heard many interesting stories during my stay with my mother and sisters, and wrote one up a little while later. My life has changed dramatically since then. I’ve begun to pay attention to things that I’d ignored in the past, like the wall of memorial plaques near my seat in shul.


If there’s one thing that bloggers like to write about, it’s blogging. And bloggers. And blogs. I guess that’s more than one thing. Isn’t it interesting that blogger’s spellchecker never recognizes the word blog?

I wrote about the dual identities that bloggers develop, and compared them to superheros (we are, aren’t we)? When a blogger who is very close to me got “outed” in the real world, leading to much embarrassment and anguish, I admonished the perpetrator that what happens in the blogosphere stays in the blogoshere. I launched a new group blog. I fantasized about one of my favorite bloggers meeting my wife for lunch, and the embarrassment that it would likely cause for me.

Speaking of embarrassment, don’t you hate it when you show up for a chat and someone is wearing the same avatar? Once again having nothing to say about the Holidays, I mixed Passover and Star Wars and came up with the story of the Four Bloggers.

Bloggers also obsess about meeting other bloggers. Why is not entirely clear. HINT: YOU CAN MEET REAL PEOPLE ANYTIME YOU WANT. IT’S CALLED “GOING OUTSIDE.” When that fails, you can try to arrange a transcontinental meeting of Orthodox Jewish Blogging Physicians.

Finally, proving once and for all why I have no life and neither do any of the people I’m related to, I posted a list of at least ten people who are first or second degree relatives who blog. Which is already out of date since Curly started his.


There was a time when hearing about and seeing pictures of people’s vacations was considered cruel and unusual punishment. That time was before blogs! Because if it’s on the internet, by definition, somebody wants to read it!

So you read eagerly about my family’s trip to New York last year. I gotta admit. I still go back and read it. And in all seriousness, I wish I had done this for my other vacations, because it’s a great way to remember them (stay tuned in October, hint hint).

In December, Mrs. B and I went to LA to meet the Bean Clan, and we had a great time, and generated 15 different posts. This was definitely one of them. Doctor Bean and I fought the Healthcare Battle so you don’t have to.

And more recently, the PT Clan took a trip to Minneapolis, on the way to which we encountered THE EXPLODING TOILET.


There are a number of posts in which I describe conversations with various members of my family, but I think if you really want to understand how screwed up I am, you need to examine the relationship between my mother and her Aunt Boba, as well as my other Polish relatives.

BTW everyone has Polish Relatives ™. They just aren’t all from Poland.


Cro Magnon Man made his debut last year, a stand-in for the Middle-Aged cranky caveman in all of us. CMM proved to be a popular character, and went on to do a review of King Kong and to describe his grooming habits in excruciating detail. He was featured in a pictorial over Purim. Little known fact: CMM was born in a series of emails between myself, Mrs. Balabusta, Doctor Bean and his wife Ball-and-Chain, in which Mrs. B stated that only a Cro Magnon Man would invite dinner guests to someone else’s house, which is of course what I was trying to do.

For some reason that now seems obscure even to me, Sean Connery did a guest post, too. I also had a guest-post by PsychoBarbarian (who was not officially named at the time). We later learned that PB has a regular Backgammon game with CMM.


Comedy comes from the most mundane sources. Is it funny to go through the contents of your wallet? Does food poisoning make you guffaw until you lose your lunch? Do you prefer high-brow humor or are you satisfied with a string of four-letter words? You decide(d). And you laughed.

Last year I also received my own authentic (unpronounceable) Indian name. I also explained why December 25th is so special to me. A trip to the Chicago Field Museum led to a kvetchy post. Finally, in the TMI department, I described the horribly wrong thing in the new work bathroom.

Tata till next year's roundup!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dubious Decision

Shifra has decided to follow up a really excellent post about Jewish Debt (which has already garnered 121 comments) with a typically Blog-killing Psychotoddler Crossover post.

Maybe A Simple Jew, or Doctor Bean, or Treppenwitz can tell you what a toxic effect that has had on their blogs.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Stacking the Odds

"I thought you should know," he said to me, "that your hair looks funny. It's standing almost straight up." It was 5:40 am.

"I know that already," I replied. We had just finished saying Slichos. For some reason, his remark seemed completely rational to me. "I took my shower before I went to sleep. It was like this when I woke up."

"Huh. Maybe your t'fillin will flatten it."

That was the plan. Well, as much of a plan as I was capable of at the time. The fact is, I am exhausted. It may not be a secret to my regular readers, but I have never been much of a "minyan" man. I have actually spent much of my adult life studiously avoiding minyan. I have had many good reasons. During my residency training, I frequently spent the night in the hospital. And other days I was expected to make rounds before the minyan would even start. And since starting practice, I've also found myself in the hospital daily at very early hours.

But I would be lying if I told you that I had missed going to minyan. I didn't enjoy it, and I had a good excuse to avoid it. I may also have let it slip that the thing that I dreaded most about the impending death of my father these past few years was the looming obligation of going to minyan three times a day to say Kaddish. I didn't know how I would find the time, and even if I did, I didn't know if I could stand it.

As it turned out, I ended up embracing the minyan vigorously with both arms and a leg or two a few months back. I surprised even myself with my ferocious dedication to it. And even more surprising has been the fact that...I like it. I like going. I like what I'm doing. G-d help me, I even like the people I'm spending all this time with. People I see more often than my wife, as one Rabbi proudly chided her.

Much like embarking on a new exercise program or a strict diet, I am getting a sense of accomplishment, a boost to my self-esteem, an indication that I can approach the sheer wall, and with enough determination and self discipline, I can scale it.

But it doesn't mean that this has been easy. I started this in May, when the sun was up by 5 am and so was I. As it has gotten colder and darker, it has been more of a challenge to rouse myself, shower, brush my teeth, and make it to shul by 5:45 to start the service. But I've done it.

And then, two weeks ago, they started saying Slichos. And minyan was pushed up to 5:15. And I started getting up at 4:30, when it was pitch dark. And still I roused myself.

And now, minyan starts at 5 am. And I have forgone my morning shower and just roll myself out of bed, with my unruly hair, and make my bleary-eyed way to the car and to the shul. And I'm trying very hard to get to bed by 9 pm, but there are many other demands on my time, and I'm not really making it. And I'm becoming very aware of the fact that I am increasingly sleep deprived and possibly getting sick.

It really feels like someone is stacking the odds against me. Oh, think it's easy, do you? Try getting up thirty minutes earlier! Now forty-five! Now try to get to mincha over lunch!

So I wonder. Is this what it's supposed to be about? I always thought the Holidays were hard, but it seems in retrospect they were a lot easier when I was a heathen. Am I supposed to be wearing myself this thin? Can I make it to the end? Will I have the strength to keep going at the end of my 11 months of Kaddish?

I looked at myself in the mirror a little later. The t'fillin had flattened the hair over my forehead, but two stubborn tufts remained standing on either side, like a pair of horns.


I'll make it. If I've got to look like an ox, I might as well be stubborn as one.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New York Report part 2


So with a good 2 or possibly 3 hours of sleep, I awoke early enough on Sunday to get Fudge to the Express Bus and then make minyan to say Kaddish. From there, I went to the bagel place on Union Turnpike and got a fresh onion bagel with lox spread and an enormous cup of coffee, which completely mortified my mother.

“Are you crazy?? Why did you go and buy a bagel? I have bagels in the FREEZER!”

“Mom, I can have frozen bagels in Milwaukee.”

I dunno. I have this same discussion with her EVERY time I come to NY. Normally I just go with it and eat the frozen bagels. But I was tired and I needed a good jolt of caffeine anyway.

Afterwards we went back to the hospital on Long Island to check on Boba and got stuck in traffic going both ways. I LUV NY!

Finally, my mother dropped me off at the Utopia Jewish Center, a structure I had not been in since my friend Joseph’s Bar Mitzvah in 1979. And only a few blocks from where I grew up.

What can I say about the show? It was a blast! You can read Shira’s account. The musicians were fantabulous. I was especially impressed with drummer Roy Weinberger, who is a much-in-demand session player in NY. Bass and drums have a very special relationship in music. The goal is to get them to sound like one instrument. Although I had never played with him, we locked in immediately.

Roy and I also apparently share another trait, in that we’re both anal retentive when it comes to being prepared for a gig. We both obsess over set lists and prepare rehearsal tapes and practice the songs on our own. If you’ve read my prior Shlock Rock posts, you know that I routinely beg Lenny for advance lists of songs so I can bone up on the material. And routinely, he gives me ridiculously long lists of songs that I spend hours preparing, and that he generally ignores when we’re on stage. This show was no different.

Here’s a little example: At the start of Act 2, Lenny was off stage. Somebody started to reintroduce the band for the next set. As Lenny was making his way back through the crowd, I spontaneously started to play the Blues Brothers theme (and Roy joined in perfectly). When Lenny got up on stage, we finished the riff, and then he introduced the song “Kohain”, which is based on the Blues Brothers tune “Soul Man.” Only problem was, this was not one of the songs on his set list, and I hadn’t played it in years. I wasn’t even sure what key it was in! But as he counted it in, he turned to me and yelled “In C!” And we launched right into it. And did one of the best renditions I had ever played. I doubt anyone knew the difference. But the first song of the set was supposed to be “Rejewvenated.”

The rest of the band was great, too. Long-time Shlock Rock arranger Steve Bill was on guitar, and believe it or not, this was the first time I had ever played with him. Mark Infield was there on a variety of wind and percussion instruments, and sang his trademark “Under the Chupa.”

The crowd was wonderful and included children of all ages, although I think that I have to take credit for bringing in all of the younger kids, since most of those were either directly related to me or children of bloggers. Yes, there were quite a few bloggers there. More on that later.

Probably one of the best things about the show was that my little nephews got to see me perform for the first time in their lives. In an instant, I became “The Cool Uncle.”

After the show, I did my usual combination of packing/schmoozing, and a woman from Alabama came up to me and told me that I looked no different than I did the last time she saw me, 15 years ago (presumably, this was a compliment). That’s when it hit me. Fifteen years? Had it been fifteen years since I last played in New York? Is that possible? I’ve done a lot of gigging in these last few years. But I guess it’s all been in the Midwest. And believe it or not, this was the first time that I had ever played in my own neighborhood. I had NEVER played there before! Not when I was growing up, not when I lived in the NY area and gigged with Kabbalah or Shlock Rock, and certainly not since leaving. What a strange feeling.


In the weeks leading up to the trip, I racked my brain trying to think up ways to get together with my New York/New Jersey blogging friends. Because I really do think of you all as friends. You’re actually better than real friends. You come visit this blog day after day, looking to see if I’ve written something new, or if there’s been a new development in my life, or to participate in an ongoing discussion in the comments. My real friends mostly just ignore me. And they never call or write. But to be fair, neither do I. OK I’m a rotten friend and it’s no wonder nobody calls me on my birthday. I deserve what I get.

There. I got that off my chest. Where was I? Oh, yes, bloggers. So, how to get together with them in the short time that I had. I figured eventually that the best way was to have them come to the concert. That way, even if they traveled a long distance only to discover that I’m actually quite boring in person, they could at least get a nice show for the kids out of it.

The truth is, I’m happy about all the bloggers who came. And I hope they had a good time. But it probably wasn’t the best forum for a “Blogger meet.” First, there were many other people there besides bloggers, and these people wanted my attention, like fans or family or other musicians. Ideally a Blogger meet should be just bloggers. Second, many of the bloggers didn’t know or read the other bloggers’ sites. So it’s nice that I read Shifra and I read Shira, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Shifra reads Shira (I don’t know if that’s the case BTW, I’m just using it as an example). And while it was clear that all the bloggers who came wanted to talk to me, there wasn’t much indication that they wanted to talk to each other. In fact, there was some pretty clear indications that some of them did NOT want to talk to the others, because while some, like Mark Frankel of Beyond BT might not be anonymous, others, for example Eishet Chayil, are very protective of their identities and do not want to be “outed” to other bloggers. (In fact, EC was so secretive that she apparently chose to show up AFTER the concert was over and not even introduce herself to ME!) Still others, like Queeniesmom and Nati, while they may be regular commenters on various blogs, don’t have their own blogs, and are not really known to each other.

So the net result was that I was the host of this particular party, and I ended up ignoring pretty much everyone. For which I feel really, really bad. Bad Psychotoddler! I promise to learn from my mistakes and do it better next time!

Oh and Steg…you’re not excused until I see a note from your doctor.