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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Showdown

The sun had long since set when I rode up to the old shul. The smell of quiet expectation was in the air. Maariv was aproachin'.

I swung the double doors wide open and walked into the sanctuary. The regulars were all there. Respectfully, they tipped their hats at me, then went back to what they were doin'.

I sidled up to my usual spot...at the front of the minyan, ready to begin the service--

--and then, outta nowhere, there mosies up the most ornery varmint ya done ever see in the whole Midwest--and he was-a gunnin' fer me!

"Hold on there, pardner," I said to him, my hand slowly reachin' fer my siddur, "that there's my spot."

"Not tuh-day, pilgrim," he retorted. "I'm takin' the stand today. I got me a Yahrtzeit."

A Yahrtzeit! Well shiiiiiinolah! Ain't no Yartzeit gonna stand 'tween me and my rightful place.

"A Yartzeit? You got no jurisdiction here, cuz. I'm in the middle-a shloshim."

He didn't like that answer. He didn't like that answer none-attall.

I could see it was gonna come to fisticuffs. I rolled up the sleeves on my blue blazer and prepared for the showdown.

Then, outta nowhere! The Preacher come and stand a-between us!

"Hoooooollllldddd onnnnn brothers!" he said. "I don't think we need tuh resort tuh fightin, here! I think we can resolve this all civil-like. I'm not a rabbi fer nothin', y'know."

And with that, he pronounced his judgment:


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Bernie the Cuban

Lester and Rose, 1959

My father, Lester Lyon Skier, was born on September 16, 1923 to Lithuanian Jewish immigrants who moved to Brooklyn around 1910. He passed away May 18, 2006, the twenty-first day of the Jewish month of Iyar. His parents spoke exclusively Yiddish in the home, but did not lead a religious lifestyle, and my father had no Jewish education. He never learned Hebrew, never attended Sunday school, didn't have a Bar Mitzvah.

He sold papers on street corners at the age of six, as the depression was beginning. He worked in a movie theater as a young adult, repeatedly watching King Kong from the front row, something he relayed to me after observing how I ran straight to the front row to watch Star Wars some 44 years later. He served as a meteorologist in the Army Air Corps during WWII.

During much of his adult life, he worked in the family business, Skier Manufacturing, a clothing factory. They produced such diverse products as Army Uniforms and oven mitts. Eventually he ran his own businesses. I remember the basement being full of stock-sheets of uncut trading cards from various 60's TV shows.

During my lifetime, he was a fixture on Lefferts Blvd in Kew Gardens, NY, where he owned first a health and beauty aids store, and then a video store. The video store eventually went out of business, courtesy prolonged construction in front of the store by the Long Island Railroad (owners of the bridge on which the store was built), and competition from new video upstart Blockbuster.

He despised how people mispronounced the family name, and went as far as spelling it phonetically as Skyer on the official business documents. As proud as he was of his name (I have no idea of its origins, BTW), he was even prouder to be identified as a Jew. A salesman never left the store without knowing how he felt about Jews and Israel. Perhaps it was his marriage to a Zionistic Holocaust survivor that made him more intent on passing his Jewishness on to his children. I don't think I'll ever know, because it never occurred to me to ask him this. But he was determined to have Jewish children and Jewish grandchildren.

And somehow, again, maybe it was my mother's influence, he figured out that the key to having Jewish grandchildren was Jewish education. So he spent every penny he made on tuition to Jewish Day Schools. He sent his 3 children to Dov Revel, then to Yeshiva University High Schools, and then to Yeshiva College and Stern.

This was certainly radical in the 60's and 70's. None of his friends or relatives did the same. They thought he was crazy, particularly since he didn't seem to be a religious man. He worked Saturdays. He went to non-Kosher restaurants. But he sent his kids to Yeshiva. And over the years, he convinced others to do the same.

And so it was that when I was eight years old, he instructed me to go to the local synagogue, the Young Israel, to learn how to pray. I went. I was shuffled into the Junior Congregation. I had frightening, almost scarring experience. I refused to go back.

My father soon learned of this, and made a decision--a difficult decision, as financially we were not well off--to stop working on Saturdays and accompany me to Shul. Did I mention that he knew no Hebrew? That he had never learned to pray? That Modern Orthodoxy is far from warm and cuddling to those who don't know the ropes?

The two of us sat there in the back of the Men's section, as the crowds around us chatted for hours about their cars or their businesses, occasionally suddenly stopping to chant something in a foreign language or say "Amen," then resuming their conversations.

I can't imagine that he felt in any way comfortable in this setting. He certainly didn't seem to get much out of it. But he never stopped going, and he never worked on Shabbos again. Eventually I found my courage and went down to the Junior Congregation, later the Teen Minyan, and became more and more comfortable in my observance, until it became second-nature to me.

And then, like a man who had thrown an anchor overboard, but forgot to let go of the chain, he got dragged in after me. I made demands on the household. No more TV on shabbos. No more trips to the Italian restaurant for veal parmigiana. No more eating "fish" at the diner. And my parents, like it or not, complied.

And so now they, kenaine hora, have 12 Orthodox grandchildren, soon to be 13. And my father has someone who can say Kaddish for him.

I have many interesting memories of my father doing surprising things, some of which I shared at the levayah. I have a distinct memory of him showing up at a father-son breakfast in eighth grade, wearing tfillin. I never knew he even had a pair. I remember him teaching me to make change as I worked the register in his store, before I was 8. I remember him convincing a waiter at a hotel that, yes, they do indeed have steaks in the kitchen; he just needs to take another look.

My father was, apparently, a blogger. He kept detailed diaries for most of his life. He was a man of few words, verbally, but he wrote extensively.

An entry from January of 1950:

"Just for fun, I'm going write down everything I do today." He did. It was excruciating.

October 12, 1969 (9 days after the birth of my sister):

"I hope the new baby is affectionate, because if Rosie is waiting for affection from Mark or me, she is going to have a long wait." This so succinctly crystallized the family dynamic that it is chilling. He saw things very clearly, and described them simply but accurately.

So, I have to give you a little story about my Father, one that I heard for the first time during shiva. We'll call it

Bernie the Cuban

Mom and Dad, 1962

My mother tells me that my father was never one to pass up a "get rich quick" scheme. So when his friend, Bernie the Cuban (to differentiate him from Bernie the Frenchman) came to him with a plan to smuggle hair straightener into Puerto Rico, he jumped at it, borrowing $5000 from the uncle of my mother to buy product and to rent a warehouse in San Juan.

They made a preliminary trip, in which they traveled from drug store to drug store and were assured enthusiastically that Puerto Rican women were in dire need of American hair straightening products and they would buy as much as my parents could provide.

Once the merchandise was in place, they made a second trip to try and sell it at a steep profit.

Nada. Gornisht.

Nobody would buy from them. "What? Hair straightener? What am I supposed to do with that? Give me two jars."

"TWO JARS?? I brought you 15 DOZEN!"

In store after store, on both sides of the island, they heard the same story. They were miserable. Bernie the Cuban was dejected. My mother was in a panic that whomever her uncle had borrowed the $5000 from would want it back quickly or possibly body parts instead. Reluctantly, Bernie offered to buy my folks out. (As a side note, Bernie eventually sold the products and went on to make millions).

All was not lost, because my mother had a "Plan B". She had also brought along some wiglets and sun-dresses that her cousin gave her on consignment. She decided to try to sell them in beauty parlors.

My father at this point was resolved to call the trip a failure, and wasn't interested in going into beauty parlors. So he waited outside while my mother, who spoke fluent Spanish, went from store to store to sell her stuff.

So, they would approach a row of stores in a seedy neighborhood of San Juan, the sun now starting to set, and my mother, dressed in a tight-fitting dress and high heels, impeccably made up, would go up some stairs to the store on the second floor, while my father would lean against a tree, smoking cigarette after cigarette.

In about fifteen minutes, my mother would come down with a wad of bills. My father would take the cigarette out of his mouth long enough to utter, in his American drawl, "Did you bring the money?" And then proceed to visibly count it.

As my mother told us this story over Shabbos, our mouths were hanging open.

"Do you know what your father must have looked like?" she asked.

She answered for us. "Like a pimp!"

Saturday, May 27, 2006

En Inglais, Por Favor


My Pocket PC died in the airport. I'm not saying it just ran out of power. It died. Wouldn't start up, even after I docked it in the charger back home. It wouldn't bother me that much, except that I had gotten email addresses from a bunch of my relatives back in NY and not had a chance to back them up on my computer.

So I called Dell's "award-winning" support department (one can only wonder what the award was), and was pleased to find out that I had another 15 days left on my service contract.

So they sent me out another Axim. Just one problem. It's in Spanish. And there ain't NO WAY it can be changed back to English. I tried. Tech support tried. This baby's meant for sale in Spain. Region-specific.

Anyway, some "award-winning" tech support later, and they overnighted an Engrish version to me.

I thought about writing up some witty recounting of my dialogue with Dell, but I think it will be better if you just watch this instead.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Don't Make Crumbs

I’m not going to write about the funeral.

I’m going to leave that for my daughter Fudge. She is a great writer and will do the event better justice than I ever could. I will just say that I was very satisfied with the levaya and the cemetery service, and due to emotional, logistical and meteorological circumstances, I am very confident that it was a day that none of the participants will forget. Especially poor Rabbi Weiss, who had to ditch his car somewhere in Bayside and walk home on Friday night.

In fact, I intend to write only two posts about the whole affair. Obviously, becoming an orphan is going to have many profound effects on me over the coming months, and I intend to pepper my observations over this blog, but in between the usual meshugaas that you all know and love.

Shiva has gone well, and I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve enjoyed it much more than I intended to. I’ve seen friends and relatives that I’ve not seen in many years, and it has been more like a reunion than a mourning.

Don’t make crumbs

This has been the unofficial theme of my time in New York. During the 20 years that I lived with my parents, I was apparently oblivious to many things that outsiders have since pointed out to me. Such as the fact that my mother has an accent. Or that none of my Polish relatives are capable of using apostrophe-s as a possessive. EG: the brother of Rachel instead of Rachel’s brother. Or the auf ruf of Ari instead of Ari’s auf ruf. Or, “How are we related to cousin Henry? He is the grandson of the sister of the grandfather of the mother of my father.”

And of course, I never realized that my mother is constantly saying, “Don’t make crumbs.” Until I heard her complaining about Fudge. “Oh My G-d. That Fudge. Your Daughter™. Does she make crumbs! From the kitchen to the dining room to the living room. Crumbs and crumbs and crumbs. I have to clean up after her. Have you ever seen such a thing? How does a child make so many crumbs.” Maybe I didn’t realize there was anything unusual about this, since, well…I make crumbs. But apparently not as much as Fudge. I don’t think Fudge was aware, when she first started spending Shabboses in Queens, of the ferocious nature of my mother’s need for cleanliness. But I did notice over the week that she seems to say this to everyone. “Take a piece of cake. Don’t make crumbs.” It got to be a little joke between me and my siblings (unfortunately at my Mother’s expense, but only out of love) that we started to chime in too as guests would come over.

But that’s my mother in a nutshell. She desperately wants you to have some cake, but she’s just as desperately concerned about you making crumbs. In trying to find some inner meaning in this…I start to wonder… Is it really possible to have your cake and not make crumbs? Or is it possible to enjoy your cake if you’re always worried about making crumbs?
Maybe it would be better to not worry about the crumbs, but just make more of an effort to clean them up afterwards. You have to enjoy life, yes. But crumbs are inevitable. Mistakes will happen. If you’re not making crumbs, making mistakes, then you’re really not living. So maybe you should make your mistakes, but learn from them, and clean up afterwards.

My father and I, we made some crumbs. But that was not our problem. Everybody makes crumbs. The problem was that neither of us wanted to be the one to clean up the mess. And when we did, it was a little too late.

I want to thank the many people who spent time to wish me condolences and to make this transition easier for me. Thank you to all of you who prayed for my father and made mi shebeirachs for the last few months. It warms my heart, and the hearts of my mother and sisters, to know that people all over the world were concerned about my father during his illness. And thank you to all of you who left your nechamas (condolences) on this blog. I read each of them and found comfort in them.

My extended family has been amazing during this time, from my Mother-in-law who drove me to the airport at 6 am to the in-laws of my sisters who, while not my “blood relatives,” went out of their way to make us comfortable and well-fed and attended all the minyanim in New York. And also my brother and sister-in-law from Monsey who came for funeral and shiva calls.

And while we’re at it, let me thank the men who came out at 6:50 am and at 8 pm so that I could daven and say kaddish for my father. I was especially touched to see the father of my sons’ rebbe attending all the minyanim. What a mentch.

Speaking of mentches, I was wholly impressed by the Rabbis from the Young Israel of Hillcrest, Rabbi Weiss, and from Congregation Eitz Chaim in KGH, Rabbi Rosenberg (who also left a comment on the prior post), for their ehrlichkeit, their menchlichkeit, and their repeated service to my family and to me. I expected to see them at the funeral (and Rabbi Rosenberg spoke beautifully). What I didn’t expect was that they would show up again and again at the house for minyanim and visits. Makes me think there is indeed hope for the future of Modern Orthodoxy. (BTW I apologize to my readers who don’t speak Yeshivish. Maybe somebody can translate all of this in a comment?)

Thanks to all of you bloggers who took time to call or visit. (If I forget someone please do not be insulted; I had all the names on my Pocket PC, but it died in the airport). Thanks to Treppenwitz and Jameel who called from Israel, and Doctor Bean, TorontoPearl and (Ask)Shifra who called from North America.

Thanks also to BloginDM, Shira Salamone, BrooklynWolf, and Nati who took time and went wayyyy out of their ways to come to Queens and make a personal shiva call. It meant more to me than I can possibly express.

I also had the pleasure of seeing some dear old friends, my old college roommate Ed, whom Doctor Bean so reminds me of, and ex-Kabbalah keyboardist Brian Gelfand, an amazingly talented musician who lost his own father many years ago. Also Gary Wallin, Danny Block, and Yonah from my old band Shlock Rock (Yonah coming straight from the airport after having flown in to make the shiva call from Israel). And although I know it must have been very painful for Lenny to miss the funeral (he had just returned to the Holy Land), he did the next best thing by sending his mother, Mrs. Solomon, who not only made it to the levaya, but came to pay a separate shiva call as well. The woman is a tzadeikes and a gomelet chessed of the highest degree, she should live long and be healthy. You can clearly see where Lenny gets his mandate to spread yiddishkeit from.

And while I’m talking about Lenny, I have to mention that he lost his father a few years back, and since then I don’t believe he has ever missed a minyan. He has inspired me greatly by his example.

Most of all I want to thank my daughter Perel (Fudge). She was there for the funeral and for Shabbos, and although she had finals at Stern she came back and forth on the bus to sit with me. She was a comfort to me beyond all words. She is beautiful, funny, intelligent and talented, and I don’t know what I ever did to merit such a wonderful daughter. There, I’m getting all farklempt now.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

shiva calls

fudge here. my father is sitting shiva at his parents' house in queens until tuesday at noon. he completes shiva at his home in Milwaukee on thursday morning. he has read all your words of comfort on the blogs and they comforted him greatly.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Terrible News

Psychotoddler has asked me to let everyone know that his father passed away last night.

The funeral is today in New York.

Please join me in wishing him and his family G-d's comfort, and may his father's memory be a blessing to all those who knew him.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Yeshiva Hagedolah Saudi Arabia?

Hey! Monsey Internet Banners!

Have I got the perfect country for you!

Saudi Papers Told to Stop Showing Women

The king told editors on Monday night that publishing a woman's picture was inappropriate.

"One must think, 'do they want their daughter, their sister, or their wife to appear in this way?' Of course, no one would accept this," the newspaper Okaz quoted Abdullah as saying.

"The youth are driven by emotion ... and sometimes they can be led astray. So, please, try to cut down on this," he said.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Origin of Psychotoddler

I can't believe I've never gotten around to posting about the origin of this Blog's name, but to be honest, NOBODY EVER ASKED!

Until now.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I Got Your Blog

Psych-O Records and Tapes

For the very first time in almost 5 months!

Doctor Bean

Together again for a special rendition of their classic hit single,

I Got Your Blog!

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Not available in any stores!

Order now and receive a free set of Ginsu knives!
cover by Chaim Rubin

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Detective Psychotoddler

Observation: There seems to be garbage strewn about on the ground in a linear fashion just outside my back door. It consists of business cards, gum, candy, some tissues, other paraphernalia.

Conclusion: My garbage can must have blown over.

Confounding observations: My garbage can is a good 30 feet away, behind a wooden fence. And it appears to be undisturbed.

New Conclusion: My son Curly must have taken out the garbage last night and dumped half of it on the ground.

Observation: There is a bicycle in the backyard.

Conclusion: Curly forgot to put his bicycle back in the garage last night.

Confounding observation: That doesn't look like Curly's bicycle.

New Conclusion: What the heck does Curly's bike look like anyway?

Observation: My wife is on the phone. She says there are 3 police squads at the house. The bicycle is stolen. The garbage near the back door appears to be the contents of someone's purse.

Conclusion: That's not Curly's bike. And he didn't take out the garbage last night.

Secondary Conclusion: My wife hasn't been teaching aerobics 3 nights a week. She's secretly been involved in a crime spree!


...with PsychoT

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sabbath Mode Revisited

Blogger being what it is, this site scores high on Google searches for certain topics. Everyday I get several hits on this post that I wrote about the Sabbath Mode feature on the oven we bought last year. And every so often I get a new comment. Here's an exerpt from one I received over the weekend (from "Dan"):

I have issues with the notion that God cares if you turn on the
oven during the sabbath, and I seriously doubt God approves of the waste and pollution that goes along with leaving the oven running all sabbath long, and I would love to know how pressing a button is work but opening and closing a door is not, but I'm just a lapsed *reform* Jew who's in it for the food and never goes to synagogue, so what the hell do I know, anyway.

Even knowing how various details of halacha end up being reinterpreted to apply to modern technology, I still can't necessarily disagree with what he has to say. In particular, because we hear every year about houses burning down and people dying because of ovens left on for cooking purposes over Shabbos or Yom Tov.

What do you think? Is this a case where safety issues should trump the halacha establishment? What can or should be done to reevaluate the situation?

Monday, May 08, 2006

My Daughter, the Doctor

The PT (age 4): Oooo....Abbbaaaaa.....my pinkie hurts.

The PT: It hurts when I move it like this.

The PT: Maybe I should stop moving it like this.

Crossposted at Our Kids Speak

Boyz Night Out, take 2

OK, I understand that some of you were a little disappointed with the quality of the last post, specifically the film quality. I've heard some requests for a better picture of Dilbert and Doctor Bean.

Well, your wish is my command.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

It's Talking To Me

Our new kitchen comes with a new microwave. I don't know why, but this really creeps me out. Appliances that seem to talk with monotonous mechanical voices somehow make me worry that I'll come home one day and my kitchen will try to exterminate me.

The weird part is that the microwave doesn't really talk. It just flashes this ALLCAPS message at me. But my brain gives it this evil robot voice.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Chidon HaTanach

Mazel Tov!

Tuesdaywish's son took first place for the Diaspora in the Chidon Hatanach in Israel!

I'd like to share some credit for his superior intelligence, but unfortunately he's only my nephew by marriage.

My blood-relatives still can't decide if it's called the "Batmobile" or the "Batmanbile".

Monday, May 01, 2006

Leaders of the Free World

Presidents Bush at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.

(the good stuff is about halfway through)

Worlds are Colliding!

You better clean house
You better bake pie
Right-wing you'll espouse
I'm telling you why
Doctor Bean is coming to town

Mrs. Balabusta and I are soooo excited to be hosting Doctor Bean this coming Shabbos! We're also saddened that Ball-and-Chain can't come as well, but at least Psychotoddler and Bean will be together again! And that can only mean one thing:


I'm also looking forward to a Boys Night Out with Bean and Dilbert this week. We'll be going out to eat at a fancy restaurant, and then I'm going to take Beanie to this strip-joint I heard about, and then we'll play some poker, and---



Yes, dear.


I promise.

No, I understand.

Uhh...folks, forget all that. Doctor Bean is coming for Shabbos! Yay!