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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