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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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

We Didn't Start the Video

Great animated video for the Shlock Rock song "We've Got a Strong Desire." I think I'm supposed to be the spikey-haired dude on the bass.

via Chaim

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New York Report part 1

So many things happened during this past trip to New York that I've decided to break this post up into sections:


When I was a little kid, I used to love to fly. See, I always wanted to be an astronaut, and I looked at flying in an airplane as the next best thing. I'd insist on getting the window seat, then spend the entire flight with my little face plastered up against the window, staring down at the buildings, cars, lakes, bridges, mountains, clouds...until I couldn't tell what I was looking at anymore. And then I'd still stare.

Then came the 90's. Flying became all about keeping little kids quiet. And in their seats. QUIET! And STAY IN YOUR SEATS! By the time the plane would land, both me and my wife would have aged another year or two. We began to despise flying.

But then came the late 90's, and I stopped flying with children. They got older. Or we drove instead. And flights for me became infrequent, or associated with business, and again I found myself staring out windows, or relaxing with a good book.

Until 2001, when those horrible terrorists destroyed not only the World Trade Center, but the airline industry and my enjoyment of it as well. Long lines at security checkpoints, tests of coordination juggling multiple belt and pocket items and shoes while simultaneously attempting to get through metal detectors, humiliating searches, all conducted with a forced smile on my face, lest I anger the all-powerful security guards and risk missing my flight, and attempts at keeping my pants up while putting my belt through the XRAY machine became the theme of airflight. I again found myself avoiding flight.

However, over the past year, I began to fly more frequently, as my Father's illness became more intense and I was summoned to the East coast more often. So this time I was better prepared. I brought a backpack along, and shoved all the items usually attached to my Bat-Utility Belt into it. My pager, phone, PDA, wallet, keys, camera, etc, and just put the whole thing on the conveyer belt. I wore not my dress shoes, but my sneakers, which I could slip in and out of easily while standing. I put my luggage under the plane instead of trying to sneak in on as a carry-on. And it was remarkably stress-free.

The only question was the bass guitar. Since I was hired to play bass, I had to bring one with me. And I just couldn't see letting a bunch of luggage carriers throw it around or step on it or pile suitcases onto it. So I didn't bring my new bass. I broke the old one out of storage in the boiler room. Just in case.

I walked up to the curb-side check-in station.

"How many bags are you checking?"

"Oh, just this one, and...I guess I'll check the guitar at the gate."

"Nah, don't worry 'bout that. Just carry it on."

And I did.

And they sat me next to a nice young lady who spent the whole flight trying to keep her two young children quiet. And in their seats.

Little Poland

A trip home is really a chance to reacquaint myself (and my daughter, Fudge, who joined me for Shabbos) with my Polish relatives. I feel now that my accent is fully recharged. Fudge got a lot of exposure to this side of the family, and heard some interesting tales.

For example, we were flipping through my Bar Mitzvah album. We did this because Fudge had just attended a wedding at the same hall where my Bar Mitzvah reception occurred. It appears they have not changed the grey crushed velvet wallpaper in the past 27 years. Some few pages after the candle-lighting ceremony, and a little before the picture of me and my sister doing The Hustle, were the table pictures. My mother stopped us at one, and went into this unbelievable story about one woman in the picture, who came from her hometown in Poland. Apparently, this woman had a first cousin in another town, whose parents took him to Paris just before the Nazis arrived in Galicia. However, as we all know, the Nazi's soon came to Paris as well, and these Jews could not find safety there. So they gave their son to the French maid, asking her to pass the 5 year old boy as her own. The parents were then deported to Auschwitz.

The maid began to panic, fearing she would be discovered and sent to a concentration camp as well. So she gave the boy to a monastary, where he spent the remainder of the war. The boy's father survived Auschwitz and eventually came looking for his son. He traced him to the monastery and demanded his release. The Priests refused, saying he had already been baptized and could not leave the Church. The man went to the boy, but the boy refused to see him, stating he was a Christian and would never go and live with Jews. The man was heartbroken.

My mother then took out a copy of the latest issue of a Jewish magazine, which indicated that this boy had in fact grown up to be the Archbishop of Paris and was now a Cardinal, and had come to the US for a Jewish/Christian Conference! The woman in my Bar Mitzvah picture had refused to see him when he was in town.

The time spent with my relatives could be subcategorized into guilt and health, and frequently the two were connected:

On Shabbos morning I went to the Young Israel, because my Mother told me my Uncle Sam would be there. As is my (new) habit, I showed up bright and early. Sam was already there.

Uncle Sam (age 91): Where were you last night?

Me (age 40): I went to the smaller shul. It was raining and it's closer. They let me daven Mincha from the Amud.

Uncle Sam (obviously not impressed): I vuz here. I looked for you. You never came.

Me: You were here? You told me you weren't coming because it was raining.

Uncle Sam: Fela drove me.

Me: And you walked back?

Uncle Sam: Yes. I almost didn't make it.

Later that day, we went to visit Sam and Fela at their home, and we had a nice visit, in which I was instructed to FORBID my Uncle Sam from fasting on Yom Kippur, lest he fall again like he did on Tisha B'av. After all, I'm a doctor. He'll listen to me. Feh.

As we walked back to my Mother's house, we passed some older ladies sitting on a porch.

Mom: Oh, this is Mrs. Bernshtein. You remember her, Markie? When you were two, she asked you for a kiss. And you were so smart! You told her if she gave you a horsie, you'd give her a kiss!

Me: (I wanted a horsie?) Good Shabbos Mrs. Bernshtein. You can have your kiss now.

Mrs. Bernshtein (to my Mother): Did you see Boba (my Mother's Aunt)? She is dying.

Mom: WHAT?!

Frieda (another lady): Yes, she is on her last breath! (giggles)

Mom: What?! Boba dying? She didn't call me!

Fudge: Maybe that's because you're not talking to her.

Me: Yes, remember, you have broiges. You don't talk now.

Mom: What?! She would call me if she were dying.

Mrs. Bernshtein: Why don't you go over there?

Mom: You don't go over to someone without calling first!

Me: Yes, but she's dying! Maybe she can't answer the phone. We're going to pass the house anyway!

Mom: OK, we'll call from the sidewalk.

(a block later)




(suddenly a head pops up into the window)

Boba: Ruszia? Is that you?

Mom: Yes, it's me! I brought my son! Mark! He's a doctor! Are you dying? Open the door!

Boba: I don't know if I can make it. I'm too sick. I had a doctor's appointment yesterday, but I canceled it because I'm too sick.

Me: Can you let us in?

Boba: Wait. I...don't know. Wait. I'll try to make it to the kitchen.

(a minute or two later)

Boba: Come in. Sit in the living room.

(the room is immaculate)

Me: Boba, how do you feel? You're breathing is very shallow. Are you having a hard time breathing?

Boba: No, it's just this cough! And the cough syrup makes me dizzy! The doctor thinks it's an allergic reaction.

Me: Do you want me to call an ambulance?

Boba: No, I'll be fine.

Mom: Boba, do you want me to take you to the hospital?

Boba: No, you're too busy. You have a lot to do. You're occupied. Like Poland.

Me: If you change your mind, call me or call 911.

Boba: OK.

So we walked to my mother's place, somewhat concerned but mostly thinking this was just some anxiety. And I chuckled a few times about Boba's Occupied Poland line. She's a real character.

On the way to my Mother's house, we passed another woman sitting on a porch.

Mom: Markie, this is Zosha. Do you remember Zosha? You used to play with her daughter when you were two. Very sad. She had some problem with her brain. She had to have an operation. Terrible. She was just sitting there all the time. She couldn't talk or walk. But now she is walking again. Zosha! Look who is here! Do you remember Mark?

Zosha: Ah, Mark! Do you remember me?

Me: (lying) Of course!

Zosha: Give me your hand!

Me: Uhh...

Zosha: Give it to me!

Me: Ok...here...

Zosha: Do you feel this? (puts my hand on her skull)

Me: Wow. Bumpy.

Zosha: I had too much water on the brain! But they made an operation and now I am better! I have a...a...a...

Me: A shunt?

Zosha: Yes! How did you know?

Mom: He is a doctor.

After Shabbos I went out with Fudge and my sisters and we had a nice evening. And then I went to Slichos and came home around 1 am.

Of course, Boba had the last laugh on all of us, because at 2 am my mother came into my room and told me that Hatzoloh was over by Boba and I should go over there. So I did and Boba had an oxygen mask on and was already cracking wise with the EMTs, who, when they found out that I was from Milwaukee, started playing Chofetz Chaim Geography with me.

"Do you know Rabbi H?"

"Yes, my son is in his shiur." Etc.

We spent the rest of the morning at an ER on Long Island, where the ER doc had vivid memories of my Aunt and soon diagnosed her with a touch of heart failure which responded very rapidly to a little diuretic. Then they decided to admit her, so I called a cab home. By the time I left, Boba was already complaining bitterly about the nurses, so I figured she was doing better.

I crawled back into bed at 5 am, ready to face the day to come...

To Be Continued....


Ahoy!! Today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! I kenna believ' I almost missed it! In honor o' this occasion, I direct you t' me bucko's SNL archive!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Blogger Meeting?

Yes, you read that right! Psycho Toddler is making a live appearance in New York! (Note, I will NOT be in Teaneck as previously posted).

The best opportunity will be to meet up with me at the Shlock Rock Concert (which is free) where I will be playing bass. Here are the details:

Utopia Parkway Jewish Center
Queens Jewish Community Council and NCSY Present
Shlock Rock in Concert
64-41 Utopia Parkway
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Show Starts at 2:30 PM
For more info call 718-544-9033

If you would like to coordinate something with me specifically, email me at mskiermd at gmail dot com.

UPDATE: If for some reason you can't be there (boo) here's a little clip from last year's show with Shlock Rock.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Zathras and the ATM Machine

A little something for the Babylon 5 fans out there...

Me: Hello?

Mrs B: Yes, what now.

Me: I'm at the ATM machine. What's our PIN number?

Mrs B: Don't you know our PIN number?

Me: I thought I did.

Mrs B: It's 1234.

Me: I tried that. It didn't work.

Mrs B: Are you sure?

Me: Yes, I tried over and over! Did you change it?

Mrs B: No, why would I do that? Are you using the right card?

Me: Yeah, it has our bank name on it....It's grey with a VISA symbol.

Mrs B: That's not the bank card. That's a VISA card. The bank card is blue and says "Check Card."

Me: Hold on...let me look. Wait. What's this? Oh. Here it is. What's that other card?

Mrs B: It's a VISA. We don't use that one.

Me: Why do we even HAVE that one?

Mrs B: It's a backup in case we get overdrawn on that account. If you want I have a little sticker I can put on that says, "Not the One," or "Never use this."

Me: Zathras can never have anything nice.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Where Were You When the Planes Hit?

Like many of you, I recall exactly where I was at 7:46 CST on September 11, 2001 when the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center. Oddly, it was the exact same place I was at 7:46 CST this morning. Southbound on Highway 41 on my way to the hospital to make rounds. Unusual only because these days I get to work much earlier. For some reason, I was running behind this morning. But I really need to back up about 2 weeks to fill out the story.

In the waning days of August 2001, I was on a family trip to New York to visit my folks. The words "September 11" came up as I was sitting in a bagel place on Union Turnpike, getting breakfast for the kids. An old friend, whom I had not seen for 20 years, came over to me and handed me a leaflet, asking me to vote in the September 11 election in which he was running for some public office. I told him I had moved to Wisconsin 10 years earlier. So much for leaving a lasting impression.

A few days later, we were debating our sightseeing trip. Yearly, we would pick a "tourist" destination to entertain the kids and show off the city. One year it was the Circle Line. A year before it had been the Empire State building. This year it came down to either the World Trade Center or the USS Intrepid.

We had been to both in the past. I was always partial to the Twin Towers. They were born roughly the same year I was, and they grew in height as I did. By the time they were open to the public, I was dying to get in and take an elevator to the observation lounge and ogle the city. I loved looking down at the tiny yellow cabs as they crawled around, imagining they were small toys that I could pick up and play with. I loved seeing the bridges, the Statue of Liberty, even trying to see my house from the unbelievable vantage point of the building. The last time we had been there, Curly was in a stroller.

Still, having seen the city from the top of the Empire State building the year before, we wanted something different, and walking amongst jet fighters on the deck of an aircraft carrier seemed just the thing to keep a bunch of young boys and girls interested. Next year, we figured, we'd go to the Trade Center.

So, two weeks later, I was back in Wisconsin, and driving down the highway on my way to work, listening to the morning show on the local Classic Rock station. I was nearing the Stadium interchange when the "color" guy interrupted some celebrity report with something like "What the--do you guys see this?" He was commenting on the TV in the studio. There was an image of flames coming off the top of one of the Twin Towers. The conversation then turned to this, the announcers trying to figure out what was going on, finally finding a report that a plane had apparently struck the tower.

My first thoughts were that some private two-seat plane must have strayed off course and hit the building. It didn't occur to me that a large airliner could crash into a building and it could still be standing. They had some confusion on the matter as well. The gist of the conversation at that point was that this was a small plane and a freak accident. I continued driving.

I made my way into the Hospital parking structure and then up to the 4th floor in the North Building to see my patients. I walked into the room of Mary T., an 80 year old woman who'd suffered a mild stroke. I spoke with her. She was doing better. She asked me about my trip to New York, about my kids. I turned to look at the TV suspended over the foot of her bed.

There was smoke rising from two towers now. The crawl at the bottom of the screen indicated that a second plane had hit the other tower. I don't remember the rest of that hospital visit. Mary eventually went to rehab but later suffered a more massive stroke and ended up in a Nursing Home. All I remember from that point, though, was that was when I realized that this was NOT an accident, that somebody had specifically aimed for and hit the World Trade Center, with not one but two planes, and that suddenly, the world had changed.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Found a Job

I don't think there's such a thing as a "bad job." Sure, there are plenty of things you can do for a living that are unpleasant. But whether a job is "good" or "bad" has more to do with your attitude towards it than any specific property of the job itself.

And when discussing first jobs, they are all good, because really, what you get out of your first job isn't money, but experience. It's something no one can give you, that you can't learn in school. Having a boss, being responsible, and bringing home that first paycheck. You have to experience this yourself to really understand it and make it a part of your being.

I think back to my first jobs. Working for my Dad in the store, marking up merchandise, running the cash register. Making change (yes, I can make change). Then setting up and working at the Video Store later on.

Working in the Operating Room at Long Island Jewish, stocking the carts and wheeling patients around.

Waiting tables at a camp in Israel.

Working for a used auto dealer. Shoveling up after the guard dogs at the beginning of the day.

I learned from each of these jobs and grew as a whole. What I learned from that last job was that I was glad that I had been accepted to medical school.

So I'm really excited to learn that my daughter Fudge, a sophomore at Stern College, found a job.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Plaque

My father's memorial plaque has arrived. For those unfamiliar with the custom, synagogues usually have one or more walls of memorial plaques, which are embossed with the names and dates of death of former congregants, relatives, ancestors, etc. Next to each plaque is a little lightbulb which can be turned on during the month of the anniversary of death, or yahrtzeit, so that shul members know when to say kaddish for these individuals. In newer shuls, there may be only a few such plaques. In older, declining shuls, the plaques may far outnumber the amount of living congregants.

Longtime readers of this blog may recall the saga of my downsized row, wherein the row I had called my home in the shul for over 10 years suddenly disappeared, and I was forcibly relocated to a row of tables in the back. When this row was appropriated by others (primarily because, in those days, I was too lazy to get to shul early enough to claim my seats), the Rabbi relocated me to a new row with a table closer to the front of the shul. It so happens that this new row is right next to the wall with all the memorial plaques.

Normally, this would have little effect on me. Nowadays, as I spend much more time in the shul, and as I spend much of this time preparing for or saying kaddish, I find myself looking at the plaques more and more frequently. I read the names. I look at the dates.

Some names are familiar. A very small number are people that I knew, that have passed on. People whose funerals I attended; shiva calls that I've made. Even a few that I've named children after. A very few.

Other names are known because I make connections to the children who still pray in the shul. Ah, this one must be Reb Yaakov's mother. This looks like a grandfather.

Other names, maybe a slightly larger group, belong to families that I recognize from the community at large, but no longer belong to our shul. I find these names to be the most interesting. Hmm, I know this guy. He's a big macher at the Conservative place in Glendale. His family's plaques are here? His parents and grandparents must have been members at this shul. I wonder what made them leave?

Still others, perhaps the largest group, belong to family names that are totally unfamiliar to me. Some go back to the 1800's. Others are all in yiddish, all terminating on the same date, people who perished in the Holocaust, no doubt. Many, many unfamiliar names. Stretching up towards the ceiling. Who where these people? Where are their children? What is their legacy? Did the family names simply get lost, as daughters married and took husbands' names? Did they move away, out of town? How many of their children intermarried, and no longer have Jewish descendants? Is anyone saying kaddish for these people? When the man who, month after month, dutifully combs the rows of plaques and turns the lights on for the appropriate ones, says the kaddish, is he the only one thinking of these people? How many of these plaques are the end of the line, I wonder.

So, my Dad's plaque is here. And I guess I'm being sentimental, or silly, but I asked the Rabbi to put it up near where I sit, so that I can gaze up at it during one of the many lulls in the service. He told me no, all the spots on this board were reserved, but he can have my Dad mounted a little further back.

Reserved. Huh. I guess I find that a little funny and a little morbid at the same time. People who are still alive. We've got a spot picked out for you. Any time you're ready.

Ach, this whole thing is morbid. I know it's silly for me to want to have my father's plaque nearby. There is no Jewish significance to the plaque. It's just a placekeeper, to remind people to say kaddish. But it's all I have of him, right now. His grave is 1000 miles away, in Farmingdale. I can't run over there for a quick visit. For me, his final resting place is on that wall.

Well, maybe I can move my seat.