Friday, January 20, 2017

"I Once Stiffed A Nun (Conclusion)"

While perambulating the Old City of Jerusalem on a visit to Israel back in 1970, I am – probably “accosted” is the wrong word considering the nature of the unexpected approacher – I am unsolicitedly engaged by a nun, wondering if I was interested in visiting the “Stations of the Cross.”  I don’t know if this matters, other than as a standard for calibrating my startled bewilderment, but I had never had any involvement with a nun before in my life.

Her age was indeterminate to me.  Dressed top-to-toe in the traditional “habit”, all that was availably visible – I did not look at her hands unaware if that was permissible – was her face.  Which was entirely unlined.  I had previously witnessed a similar phenomenon, struck by the startling unfurrowed countenance of an enderly… I don’t know, monk, I guess… while visiting a Santa Barbara-based mission. 

It appears a belief in the Deity eradicates wrinkles.

Okay.  I am a stranger in a strange land, and a – respectfully – Daughter of Jesus has just offered me a tour.  Though I was understandably nervous in the company of… wait, was I nervous?  Thinking back now, I surprisingly wasn’t.  An emanating placidity relieved my habitual discomfort… with people I don’t know… more so people of other religions… and even more so than that, people who do “religion” for a living.  I’m not even that comfortable around rabbis.

But I love history.  Stepping into the past, rubbing shoulders with Antiquity, getting “B.C.” dust on my loafers.  What then could be more up my proverbial alley than visiting “The Stations of the Cross”?

The path Jesus walked on the way to crucifixion…

And the sanctified stops along the way.

Casting reticence aside, I excitedly said, “Sure!”

And off we went. 

Me and a Sister.

It’s funny.  As I recall – and I could easily be mistaken; it was more than forty-five years ago – there were thirteen designated “Stations of the Cross.”  But I consulted Wikipedia.  There are apparently fourteen. 

Since my visit, could they have possibly have added another “Station”?  Or could my tour guide have hastily skipped one, figuring, “He’ll never know the difference, and I am late for my Vespers.” 

Nah, there were probably fourteen.  (What was I thinking, impugning the integrity of a nun?)

My reaction?  I guess I/m kind of a sucker for these things.  Abraham’s Cave.  The Sea of Galilee.  “The Stations of the Cross.”  I once stood next to legendary Maple Leaf goalkeeper Johnny Bower and I was literally shaking in my sneakers.  “The Stations of the Cross” are on exponentially loftier plateau.  (Although that Johnny Bower experience was pretty amazing.) 

So there I am, traveling the “Via Dolorosa.”  That’s not Penny Lane or Route 66.  That’s in the New Testament!  

Jesus, dragging the cross, stumbling, pulling himself up, getting some water.  I am visiting the epicenter…

Where the Giant of an Enduring Religion once trod.  Possibly the Creator’s offspring.

Him.

And now, me.

The last stop on the tour was a hole in the ground, thought to be the spot where the actual crucifixion took place.  As with each “Station” along the way, I was duly educated, with illuminating specificity.  My guide unquestionably knew the terrain.  Lucky me.  Were I a believer, I would have attributed our encounter to being more than simply an accident.  Sidestepping the “spiritual”, I appreciated the random fortuitousness of the event.

And now it was over. 

I enthusiastically thanked my theological companion for her wonderful presentation.  And went happily on my way.

Only recently, nearly half a century later, did it occur to me:

“I should have given her something.”

Not meaning to blame her, but that’s the trouble with the pure in heart.  They never ask for anything.  Not even a donation for charity.  Somehow, you are simply supposed to know.

I swear to you, it totally never crossed my mind.  “Tipping a nun?”   How much do you give them?  Maybe I was too excited to think about it.  Or maybe I’m just cheap.  No “maybe”, however, about this one: 

That Sister needed to be compensated.

I wonder what she thought of me.

“Hey!  I just spent an hour showing him the holiest landmarks in our religion.  That’s got to be worth something!

No.  That’s me, projecting.  The woman was too nice to have thought that.  She probably just prayed for my eternal soul.

And I’ll tell ya.  If it turns out there’s some post-corporeal reckoning…


I’m going to need it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"I Once Stiffed A Nun"

I don’t know if it’s anywhere in the Bible or if it’s just “conventional understanding” amongst the Believers.  But I imagine there is a nasty afterlife “payback” exacted for deliberately stiffing a nun. 

And I’m gonna get it.

Because I did that.

I am hoping this confession will mitigate the prescribed penalty.  But I don’t know.  The “Confessional Drop-Down” is unlikely to traverse ecumenical boundaries, applying only to “team players”, not to culpable outsiders, notwithstanding the fact that the predominant character in that celestial scenario was originally one of us, before things took a startling, inspirational “turn for the better.”  See (the definitive):  “How The Jews Lost The Lead”, written by Earl Pomerantz.

1970.

I go to Israel with my grandfather.  He’s affiliated with a tour; I’m not.  We fly there and back together, reconnoitering regularly during the two-week excursion.  The rest of the time I am entirely on my own, following an itinerary tailored to my personal specifications.  (It is unlikely I would embark on such an independent undertaking today.  You get old, you want to tour guide and a bus.  Due to an predictable dip in “adventuresome-osterone.”)

I like history, including Biblical history.  I visit “Abraham’s Tomb”, hoping it is actually Abraham’s tomb, not some randomly selected hole in a mountain they slapped an “Abraham’s Tomb” sign in front of.  It looked believably “tomblike” to me, but, hardly an archeological authority, I could have easily been hoodwinked.

I visit, more confidently, the Sea of Galilee because it is demonstrably the Sea of Galilee and not a giant hole they filled up with water and said, “Jesus walked on this.”  At least I don’t think they did that.  The place is basically a desert.  Where would they get all that water?

Here’s how small the country of Israel is.  My self-styled itinerary called for me to fly to the northernmost region of the country to visit a never-met cousin who lived in kibbutz Kfar Blum since the earliest days of Israel’s existence.  When inclement weather conditions caused my scheduled flight to be cancelled, I was surprised when they offered to drive me there instead. 

Imagine!  A plane flight to the northernmost boundary of the country, replaced by a doable four-hour car drive.  It’s over a six-hour drive from Los Angeles. to San Francisco, and you are still deep in California.  You drive north six hours in Israel and you’re in Lebanon.   

Anyway, I am “foot-dragging”, dreading my unpardonable “Moment of my Shame.”

All right, said the Nike slogan swallower, let’s Just Do it!  Swoosh! 

While staying in Jerusalem, I found accommodation at the East Jerusalem YMCA (which they anagramically called “Eemka.”)  Our trip’s timing was fortuitous.  We went three years after the 1967 war.  With Israel’s victory, the captured Old City of Jerusalem was now available to all travelers.

Unlike, say, the New York YMCA, which looks like a building – and a somewhat seedy building at that – the East Jerusalem Y of that period – Internet pictures reveal a less evocative replacement – reflected the architectural configuration of a traditional Turkish palace, replete with wicker window treatment accessorizing and multiple, spiring minarets.  Nothing grand, like a potentate’s residence.  A diminutive replica, housing the potentate’s gardener.

Anyway, the primary appeal of the place, beyond its Y-appropriate pricing, was its incomparable location, two blocks from the Ancient City of Jerusalem, adjacent to which stood the redoubtable “Western Wall”, a two-millennial-old construction, which, along with “Stonehenge”, are the only landmarks I have ever visited generating a palpable, electrical “Force Field.”

There is little that is more exhilarating for me than to walk in a place people walked in in Antiquity, a place that, minus the neon, felt intrinsically unchanged.

So there I am, exploring the Old City.  And I hear a voice say,

“Excuse me, sir.  Would you like to visit the ‘Stations of the Cross’?

I turn in the speaker’s direction,

And it’s Sally Field, from The Flying Nun.

Except it’s not.  It is instead the genuine article.  Speaking to me, from the Cradle of Religiosity.

So, as it was Biblically foretold:

“He wandered aimlessly in the Land of his Ancestors, and lo, a voice from the multitudes offereth a tour.”  

To Be Continued…


God willing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Missing The Joke"

Or so it might seem.

It is always helpful when a reader suggests an idea for a possible blog post.  I have little difficulty eating out virtually anywhere… with the exception of “TRAIF” – The ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ Pig Parts And Bottom Feeders Restaurant.” 

The hard part is deciding which restaurant to select. 

I have frequently experienced myself and my spouse agonizing over where we should eat, the decision-making process becoming so arduous, we stay home, settling for toasted cheese covering “borderline” white bread.   (“Is that green or is it just the lighting?”)  But at least – accompanied by a relieving sigh – the night’s dinner venue has been finally determined.

Such is the paralleling arrangement in this context.  The writing process itself is comparatively doable.  The “what to write about” process? – A neverending conundrum.  So when somebody selects a subject for me, I say an appreciative “Thank you” and I get down to work.

Which is my backdoor imprecation, saying, “Feel free to suggest.”  

In the recent post “Horsing Around” (1/16/17) – chronicling the counterpart equine incarnation to Cirque du Soleil – commenter Stephen Marks detected an available joke opportunity and wondered, if, ajudging the available joke negatively, I had deliberately let it go by.

As if it were a fish I had caught and had immediately thrown back, braying blood-lustily,

“NO MINNOWS!”

Well… sometimes it works that way and sometimes it doesn’t.

Let us break the thing down.

The Times When It Works That Way

You have a funny joke idea but your execution is a “3.”  Trusting the underlying concept, you try to rework it into a “7”or an “8.”  If you can’t, you discard it, sallying forth in more profitable directions.  

The underlying idea may have worked.  But the consequent payoff did not.

That’s the “No minnows” determination.

The Times When It Doesn’t Work That Way

“Missing a joke”, alluded to by commenter Marks, suggests, you know, like a miner panning for gold missing a nugget nestled in the riverbed.  I submit herein that jokes differ significantly from nuggets.  And not only because there has to my knowledge never been a “Joke Rush.”

I have mentioned elsewhere – possibly numerous “elsewheres” – and this could well be a minority opinion – that a joke is not funny until somebody laughs at it.  Preferably somebody not the originator of the joke; otherwise, it’s babbling, followed by a self-conscious giggle.  (In mining patios, these are the “iron pyrites” of jokes, otherwise known as “Fool’s Comedy.”)

Unlike gold – which can be objectively recognized as gold – all jokes are not similarly valued everyone.  Or, more significantly in this context, even recognized by everybody as jokes.  Or more significantly in this context even more so perceived as agreed-upon areas to find jokes.  You miss it, not because you find it comedically unworthy, but because your particular joke-finding machinery does not identify it as a joke. 

I do not wish to list the categories of jokes I do not engage in, fearing sounding condescendingly “superior.”  The relevant point here is, it’s not that I “miss” them.  Or that I am “above” them.  Being distinctively who I am, I just have no idea that they’re there.  (By the way, that’s why sitcom rewrite rooms have different varieties of writers.)

Commenter Stephen Marks devised a joke, premised on a “play-on-words” intersecting a mathematical discipline with the name of Roy Rogers’s horse.  When I read it, I laughed a significant amount.  (Check it out.  You might like it.)

Commenter Marks wonders if I deliberately left the joke out, a question based on the assumption that that joke was available for all to see, implying, therefore, that the reason I excluded it involved a negative judgment concerning its funniness.

That is not at all the situhaytion.

I occasionally include “plays-on-words” when they occur to me, which is rarely.  Other writers – that’s their specialty.  Our local newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, employs such a person whose seeming sole responsibility is to devise word-playing headlines for its various articles.  Today’s entry, referencing Clippers’ superstar Chris Paul’s distress over injuring his thumb during last night’s game: 

The Thumb of All Fears For Chris Paul

I believe I went “Ugh!”  (Simultaneously wondering if the newspaper’s limited resources might not be better served paying investigative reporters.)

My point parenthetically proving, that in every comedy substratum, some jokes are punnier than others.

Sorry.  It seems to come with the territory.

The “play on words” commenter Marks suggested, for which he deserves credit for noticing and successfully executing?  I did not miss it.  And I did not reject it. 

I just had no idea of its existence.

If I had, as the sole determiner of what goes into these posts,

I might well have included it.

But then I wouldn’t be me.


I would be more like commenter Stephen Marks.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"Word Ripples"

You know, like a pebble tossed in a pond, those concentric circly things emanating from where it went plop.

Some words are intrinsically frightening.   Others are intrinsically not.  “Umbrella”:  Oooh! – Scary. 

No.

For me, words that send the most shattering shudders through my emotional ecosystem come from medical health arena.  I would offer examples but then I would read them and frighten myself, and that is a price I am currently unwilling to pay.  Even for specificity. 

I am thinking today of a third category of word that, in itself, being a word – and “words” cannot break in and wreak devastating havoc upon you and your loved ones, or just damage your property which is considerably less serious although a destroyed six-foot cardboard cutout of Hopalong Cassidy can be terribly difficult to replace – words themselves are intrinsically undangerous.  However, over time and repetition of their negative connotations, these “third category” words have developed an effectively persuasive “scarability.”

One word rising to mind from this category is the word

Socialism.

A brief but relevant side-trip.  Sometimes words convey frightening connotations because we are generically ignorant of what they actually mean.  (Note:  I traditionally make a distinction between “ignorant” and “stupid.”  “Ignorant” means “I don’t know.”  “Stupid” means “I don’t want to know.”  “Ignorant” is curable.  You simply find out.  For example, in the context of this exercise, I Googled the difference between Socialism and Communism.  Truth be told, after reading several entries, I was only minimally enlightened.  Proving ignorance is curable, though not necessarily easily curable.  And also proving that if I don’t wish to be stupid, I am going to have to work harder.)

Socialism – or possibly Communism – or possibly both – has to do with workers owning the means of production and sharing the profits, thereby eliminating class distinctions based on an unequal distribution of wealth.  You do what you can and you get what you need.  Socialism.

We don’t do that, and we don’t want to.  Sparing an examination of the reasons, which may be open to dispute, Socialism has collapsed elsewhere, and before doing so, seems to turn everything in those Socialistic experiments gray.  Still, there are areas, like health care and Social Security that even we, within our capitalist parameters, have adopted.        

My country of origin, Canada, has a legal Socialist party.  (And a legal Communist Party, so, though I do not get it at the moment, there must definitely be a distinction.   The most apparent one being hardly anyone voted for the Communists.  No one was troubled by these parties’ existence.  Like the Mormon evangelists ringing your doorbell you just politely said “No.”)

Despite legal Socialist and Communist parties, Canada’s capitalist economy was not toppled.  In my day, the Socialist New Democratic Party (formerly the CCF party) captured, like, twenty-two percent of the vote and that was that.  As part of a “coalition government”, the NDP promoted and helped pass a Canadian universal health care system so nobody went bankrupt when they got sick, as they do regularly in places where the word “Socialism” prevents a clear-eyed examination of what to do when you are sick and you cannot pay for adequate health care.  Other than succumb.

Being a “middle of the road” kind of a guy, my policy is invariably “pick and choose” – relax on the label and try and determine what’s best.  And if you believe, “What’s ‘best’ in one place may not be what’s best in another place”, remember – sick is sick everywhere.  And other places have embraced alternative solutions to “Tough noogies.”

To defuse its negative connotation, how about offering examples where that vilified word is, in another context, an unqualified positive?

Where, say, in this great country of ours is there a situation in which Socialism is not only not opposed but is instead spectacularly appreciated?

One ready example is an American institution bordering on a religion:

The National Football League.

That’s really American.  Before games, there are jets flying over the field, with, sometimes, red white and blue smoke blowing out of their tailpipes.  What is more “Yankee Doodle” than that!

Maybe you knew this already.  Maybe you didn’t.  Maybe you knew it but it did not register as Socialism.  But it is.  More Socialist, in fact, than anything avowed Socialist Bernie Sanders ever promoted in his Socialisticalest moment.    

Check it out.

There a thirty-two teams in the National Football League.  Each of those teams gets an equal cut of the revenues the league receives, selling NFL broadcasting rights to television. 

Every team receives the same amount of money.  That’s how a team from Green Bay Wisconsin has a chance – and was actually better this year – than a team from New York City.  Lacking any financial imbalance, “large market” and “small market” teams can pursue the same top available talent, producing – at least the possibility of – parity on the gridiron.  

Note:  There is no major league baseball team playing in Green Bay Wisconsin.  Why?  Along with crying, there is no Socialism in baseball. 

Isn’t it great that a small community like Green Bay – population, just north of one hundred thousand people – can participate on the same financial footing as New York City – population, almost eight and-a-half million?  You cannot do that unless you share the dough equally.

And that, sports fans, is Socialism.

A thing is good or bad depending on the example?

Mayhaps, like a kiss is just a kiss,

A word,

It is possible,

Is just a word.


Except for those scary medical ones.