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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I'm uh....RO..cket.....Maaaannn....

I was hoping to keep the Summerfest post up top for a while, but I mean, nothing--NOTHING--stands in the way of Bill Shatner doing "Rocket Man!"

Thursday, June 22, 2006

It Feels Like the First Time

photo by Gregory Titievsky

The Band is unbelievably excited about our upcoming gig at Milwaukee's Summerfest, the World's Largest Music Festival, on July 5, 2006, at 12 noon. We will be playing on the Classic Rock Stage, a few hours before headliner Foreigner takes the same stage. Wow.

Now, we don't expect to be able to fill even the smallest fraction of the venue, especially not on a Wednesday afternoon. Just playing the festival is exciting enough for us. Playing on the same stage as Foreigner makes it exponentially more exciting for me, since that band was a huge influence on me when I was developing my musical style. (Listen to Barchi Nafshi or Aniyah and you'll be able to hear it).

What's interesting is that despite living in Milwaukee for 15 years, I've never felt the urge to play or even attend Summerfest. I thought, "Why would a predominantly non-Jewish audience want to hear us play Chassidic Rock (Mendel's unbelievable guitar chops notwithstanding)?" Credit a certain Chassidic Reggae Superstar for showing me the light.

So what will the speakers be blaring? A really tight mix of Diaspora Yeshiva Band, Piamenta (oh yeah), Aron Razel, Shlock Rock (Clapton and Setzer covers), Kabbalah and of course Moshe Skier Band originals. We've been rehearsing once or twice weekly, which, given my very tight minyan schedule, has been tricky, but thanks to our very understanding drummer (who has to shlep an hour each way just to rehearse), I haven't missed a Kaddish.

Which brings me to the really weird part of this whole thing, and that is that I am still very much in mourning for my Father. So much so that I don't listen to music for pleasure now. I listen to Right Wing talk radio (WIND out of Chicago). Or rather I listen to commercials punctuated by the occasional 2 or 3 minute Right Wing Rant/Abusive Phone Call. But that's a subject for another post.

So it took a little soul-searching for me to figure out what I want to do about my music. Of course, anyone who makes a living playing music is allowed to continue during mourning. You are not required to lose your job when you lose a parent. Professional musicians are even allowed to practice as much as necessary to keep up their skills. The question is, am I a professional musician?

I've been playing music in bands non-stop since I was seventeen. I've never played less than 3-4 gigs a year, even when I first moved out here and was a medical intern. More recently it's been more like an average of 1-2 gigs per month. So while I don't rely on music for my livelihood, I do make a significant amount of money performing (so much so that it has tax implications), and more importantly, music is a very big part of WHO I AM. I have defined myself as a musician for a lot longer than I have defined myself as a doctor, father, husband, or a blogger. I don't think I could give that up for a year.

The only thing I've been longer than a musician has been a son. So the issue for me is what would my Father have wanted me to do? He encouraged me learn the guitar, he bought me my first microphone (I still have that feedback-prone Shure mic), and he generously lent me his car as I stuffed it with amps, guitars, and teenage musicians and drove to far-off places to play. So I think he'd be OK with this.

And the Rabbi said it's OK as long as I get paid, so...get ready for some hot-blooded-double-vision as the Jukebox Hero takes the stage July 5th!

Three Great Posts...

...that I was too chicken to write. Although each topic is near and dear to my heart:

Ralphie writes about talking in shul in a post that is actually about repressed anger.

Jonah Halper writes a pair of articles about Jewish Federation Bashing in response to this article by Eli7, which incites me and Mrs. Balabusta to bash our local Federation.

DovBear tries to goad me into finally writing about taking call on Shabbos.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

My First Father's Day

A co-worker told me an old Irish proverb yesterday. He said you don't become a man until your father dies. I don't think I can agree with that. I can think of many occasions that might have marked my entry into manhood. My Bar-Mitzvah. My wedding day. The birth of my first child. Graduating Medical School. Buying my first new car. But my father's death...that diminishes me.

But I might be able to apply his proverb more readily to Father's Day. Despite being a father for more than seventeen years, I've never felt that I was the object of Father's Day. Father's Day was the day when I called my Dad, not the other way around. My wife or my kids might wish me a happy Father's Day, but frankly I never felt that it applied to me. But to my Dad, it was everything. He looked forward to it, and to the cards we would make for him. They're all still at the house.

So my role in Father's Day has always been more of a conduit. Channeling the accolades up the chain to my own father.

Except now he's gone. This is the first year I won't be wishing him a Happy Father's Day. And now, suddenly, I'm up on the top of the chain. There's no one above me. I'm the oldest living patriarch in this family. So I guess it's time to face the other way.

It's time to be a man.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Immigration Policy Reform

It has become clear to me that the biggest issue facing our great nation today is the illegal migration of clothing from my wife's portion of the closet to my own. This clothing is increasingly displacing the native wardrobe, causing great hardship to the existing clothing which must now be compressed more and more to accommodate the extra burden of clothing on my rack. Access to my clothing is becoming more and more difficult as it is progressively being pushed farther and farther to the right, to the section of the closet that is not easily accessible from the door.

Her clothing shows no signs of respect for my part of the closet. It refuses to learn the categorization by which my clothing is sorted, e.g. pants on one side, shirts on the other. It also misappropriates valuable resources, i.e. hangers, while contributing nothing to the rack on which it is hanging.

My wife regularly derides my choice in clothing to family and friends alike. But I submit that if my clothing is so offensive, then why does she insist on illegally crossing the very specifically delineated border (she gets the bottom rack, I get the top) to store her clothing with mine?

It's time to get tough about illegal clothing immigration. It's time to close the border. A closet which does not control its own borders can scarcely be called a closet at all.

I know there will arise the issue of amnesty. The problem of what to do about the existing illegal alien clothing already residing on my rack, using up a formidable percentage of the space there. One could argue that for humanitarian purposes it should be allowed to remain. After all, there isn't any room left on her rack for those articles.

But I say NO! If this clothing refuses to integrate into the existing clothing, if I can't walk around in one of her frilly shirts, for example, then it does NOT deserve to stay on my side of the closet.

It's time to TAKE BACK MY HALF OF THE CLOSET! Who's with me?

No Road Trip

For many reasons (mostly the fact that I took off 8 days to go to NY and sit shiva) the PT clan is not planning a cross-country road trip this summer. Which means that you will not get to read my snide comments about various towns we pass through on the way to New York.

But, being the considerate guy that I am, I will provide a link so that you can re-read last year's PT World Tour, which in retrospect is actually fairly entertaining. And if you haven't read it before, it's NEW TO YOU!

So, enjoy your vicarious virtual vacation.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Minyan Man

At the kiddush this Shabbos, one of the rabbis came up to me and asked how I was handling the minyan schedule. I answered him, half-jokingly, with the truth.

"It's been grueling," I told him. "I'm exhausted. My whole day revolves around the minyan schedule. I mean, I haven't had time to play video games and I haven't watched TV in a month."

I realize that this will not engender much sympathy from those of you who somehow have already been managing to make it to minyan two or three times a day. But this is really new for me. Yes, I've been in the morning minyan before, and yes, I sometimes make it to mincha/maariv at night. But somehow always there was this knowledge in the back of my mind that if I couldn't make it one day, no big deal.

All that has changed. I feel trapped by the minyan schedule right now. When I took my wife out for our anniversary (just for a drink, and I drank Pepsi), we left after mincha at the kollel and I had one eye on my watch the whole time so I wouldn't miss the 9:45 maariv. I haven't missed a single service since my father's funeral. I would sooner skip a meal than miss a minyan at this point.

And this is not me. My M.O. has always been to get there late and leave early. Now I'm getting there early and leaving late. I'm in the shul at 5:40 a.m. and I leave the kollel after maariv at 10:10 p.m. And somewhere in the middle I chap a mincha. And I can't be late, because I need to lead the service. And I have to stay to the bitter end, to catch that last kaddish. I'm exhausted.

And yet, I don't seem to mind so much. I'm getting into it a little. I've never been one to covet the amud, but I really look forward to getting up there and leading the davening. And I find myself cherishing each and every Kaddish. If we have to skip one, because we don't yet have 10 guys in the room, I really feel disappointed.

I don't know exactly what it is. I'm not alone, I know. People who have lost parents take this very seriously. People who have been lax about their davening and their attendance suddenly turn themselves around and buck up. Maybe it's because it's not only about one person any more. Now I'm davening for two. There's another soul involved here, and I have a responsibility to that soul that sacrificed so much for me, and who made it a point to tell me when I was eight years old that "a boy needs to go to shul."

The rabbi told me about his father-in-law. He said that when his father-in-law was in mourning for his own father, he too started to attend minyan much more punctually and regularly. He pointed out that his father was able to accomplish something in death that he was never able to accomplish in life: to get his son to show up to shul on time.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Whaaar's The PT??

With everything that's been going on recently, this blog is looking less psychotoddlerish than it used to.

Don't worry, you can still get your dose of PTisms regularly. We've just been spreading them over the franchise more evenly. Here are a few recent ones:

My Daughter, the Doctor

Yoda, She Is

She's Got a Point

We Erupt this Program to Bring You a Special Announcement


The PT S-u-p-e-r Genius

Too Many Videogames?

For the past few weeks, my chevrusa and I have been trying to get through this very long sugia (section of Talmud) in Bava Metziah. It spans three or four pages and is a series of arguments, proofs and comparisons where each one springs off of the one preceding it and there is no good place to stop.

For several weeks, we tried to get from the beginning to the end but never made it. The following week, we would try to pick up where we left off, but it was so complex that we invariably found ourselves starting over. As you can imagine, this became somewhat frustrating. The good news was that each week we got a little faster at it, so that we incrementally made it farther and farther into the sugia with each try.

This week we reached the "two dots", signifying the end of the sugia.

"Finally," I said, "a

My chevrusah was not amused.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Happy Anniversary Mrs. Balabusta

This picture frame was made by her co-workers. Nineteen years of marriage, six kids, and not a hair out of place. Hee hee.

What? You were looking for something romantic? Read last year's post.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Reading Masters

Baal Korehs, or those who read the Torah in front of the congregation, are a special breed. I've always had a high level of respect for these people. They have chosen to devote time not only to something that is incredibly difficult, namely the virtual memorization of the whole Torah, but also one which is so useful to the community.

Lest you say that they are not actually memorizing the Torah, since as you can see it is written on a parchment which they are obligated to read as they chant the Torah portion aloud, let me clarify that while the words are there, there are no vowels, no punctuation, no indication of the beginnings or ends of sentences, paragraphs, or sections, and no musical notes. All of these must be memorized by the Baal Koreh, and practically speaking, he has to memorize the words along with them.

And it is so useful to the community. I've been to many minyanim, and I've never failed to be impressed when, during a pivitol portion of the service, somebody asks, "can ANYBODY layn (chant) this?" and some fellow gets up and sings the section flawlessly.

Once upon a time, after my Bar Mitzvah, I entertained the notion of becoming a Baal Koreh myself. But I soon found out that this fell under the heading of "a lot of work" and abandoned it.

The Baal Korehs that I've known have all been exceptional people. They excel at whatever they do, whether it's business, medicine, law, rabbinics, etc. These people tend to take whatever they're doing and do it very well. You could argue that this is a chicken and egg kind of thing, i.e. the kind of people who can be very successful in their fields also have the brain power to memorize huge portions of text. Or maybe it's the mental calisthenics of learning to read long portions of Torah that give them the discipline to take any endeavor to its extreme.

I don't know. All I know is that at some point in my life I figured out that I wasn't going to be one of them. I realized that I'd have to make due with my midget-sized mind and make the most of what's left of it (of course, after having memorized all of Star Trek and Monty Python).

I had hoped that my boys would become Baale Kriya themselves, as so far they have shown some aptitude for layning, but none of them seems particularly interested in the "a lot of work" aspect of it. Oh well.

This past Yontiff I was asked to do the Torah reading for the first day minyan in the Shteeble, and although there was this persistant siren going off in my head that kept saying "SAY NO SAY NO SAY NO" I agreed, since it appeared I was the last on a long list of people being asked.

Of course I had no time to prepare, and to be honest, I had mistakenly thought it was another reading that I had once learned many years ago, so I spent an hour or two Thursday night going over the reading about 5 or 6 times. Now, I'm not bad at making a dry reading as long as all the punctuation or trop (musical notes) are in front of me. I am a musician, after all, and I pride myself on my ability to read the words and music correctly. However, it became painfully obvious to me as the night wore on that I was not making any progress towards memorizing it. I resigned myself to doing a crappy job in the morning, which I didn't feel all that bad about since the rabbi had told me, "Don't worry, Steve, everyone will be asleep."

Well, they weren't all asleep, and it turned out that I did a lot more than I had expected, including Akdamus (a tongue-twister in Aramaic) and the Haftorah. And as expected, I fumbled my way through the layning (which unfortunately included the Ten Commandments. I may have skipped one or two). However, the congregation was more than gracious, and a few people even told me they were impressed with the job I did. I can only assume they were the ones who were asleep.

I don't think my brain is as receptive as it was 27 years ago. That would have been a good time for me to try to do this kind of thing. As it is, although I did a passible job (and I enjoyed it), I think I may have sprained my brain or something. It makes me a little sad to think that I'm on the downhill slide of my intellectual capacity (something I noted as well when I tried to learn new music earlier in the year). I can only hope that by increasing my measure of mental exercise, I may be able to stabilize the decline.

For the rest of you Baal Korehs out there, yasher kochachem (may your strength be firm)!

Thursday, June 01, 2006


I MADE it! I made it all the way through sfira without missing a day! Thanks to the OU and the Internet! First year EVUH! (And a good thing too, since now that I daven every night for the amud, it would have been very embarrassing to have to admit that I lost count after day 2)

Happy Pentecost, everyone!