Friday, September 29, 2017

"Yom Kippur Conundrum"

Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, the finale of the ten “Days of Atonement”, at which point your name is inscribed in the “Book of Life” for the following year, or it isn’t. 

So you do not want to make any last-minute mistakes.

The thing is…

The Jewish religion requires people to fast on Yom Kippur, and by the scholarly definition, “fasting”, in this case, means not only no food for about twenty-seven hours – spanning the time you leave for the synagogue the evening before to the time they blow the shofar the following night; not that you sleep over in synagogue, you go home and come back – fasting also includes no drinking.  By which they do not mean no alcohol or Pepsi.  They mean no anything.

That’s the “Yom Kippur Experience”:

A day of fasting – where you can’t eat, and you can’t drink.

And you sit in the synagogue all day, though I think even the rabbi takes a short break.  But certainly not to eat and drink.


Which I italicize because of the Yom Kippur dilemma that creates.

It’s sort of a “Science Versus Religion” kind of a thing.  If you consider “Nutrition” an actual science.  (Instead of a food choice.  Minus the allergies that can kill you or give you a stomachache or some really bad hives.)

Here’s the problem.

My pilates teacher is also a certified nutritionist.  She insists that although fasting can’t hurt you – and can, in fact, actually help you, but I will settle for “can’t hurt you” and not get crazy about fasting – it is physically unhealthy not to drink.  For an entire day.  You must, under all circumstances, remain hydrated.

Which brings to mind my primary care physician who, when I am under the weather and I email him my symptoms (at a additional stipend), he invariably replies, “You may be insufficiently hydrated.”  It sounds like remaining hydrated is important; otherwise, you’ll get symptoms. 

Truth be told, however, my primary care physician has been wrong every time – once, “insufficiently hydrated” turned out to be “Legionnaire’s Disease”, and another time, a troublingly elevated, non-dehydration-related red blood cell count.  Sooner or later, he’s going to be right about being dehydrated.  And I do not want it to be tomorrow.  (Making my inscription in the “Book of Life” definitionally moot.  I was an apparent "late cut" in the last cycle.)

So what do I do?

Follow the rules of my religion?

Or follow the advice of a nutritionist?

Those sound superficially unequal.  But maybe they‘re not.

Remember, the original Twelve Tribes of Israel were longtime denizens of the desert.  Maybe they were habitually used to not drinking.

“A day without water?  That’s nothing.  My camels do that for a week!

Who knows?  Maybe they could and we shouldn’t.  There were no nutritionists back then; those desert Jews didn’t know any better.  Somebody dies of dehydration, they go, “He probably ate pork.”  We’re talking thousands of years ago.  They got a lot of stuff wrong.


My confirmation in the “Book of Life” may hang precariously in the balance.

Do I really want to mess up because I drank water?

And there you have it,


Or Religion?

Which way do I go?

You know what I’m thinking?

It was easier when there was just one of them.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

"Goodbye, Columbus (The Explorer, Not The Movie)"

(From the people who brought you “We closed down the ‘Petting Zoo’ because the baby goats looked depressed.”)

Dispatch from the “Misplaced Attention” Department…

I just sighed. 

And I haven’t even started yet.

You may not sigh when you hear about this.

You may, in fact, sigh that I sighed.

It could be a good day for sighing all around.

Here’s what I’m talking about.  (Before you sigh at my beating around the bush.)

On August 30, 2017, the Los Angeles City Council voted to henceforth eliminate “Columbus Day” for their official calendar. 

Hence, the above title,

“Goodbye, Columbus.”

I just sighed again.  (And only partly because of the less than memorable play-on-words.)

I don’t know when it began, but at some point in our recent history, people of a certain ideological leaning started going after Columbus, making him the “Poster Boy” for the devastation – human and otherwise – that followed the European immigrants’ arrival to this continent.

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:  “That’s a-crazy!  What did I-a do?”

Good question. (And my apologies for the “a-crazy” and the “a-do.”  It is comedy heresy to bypass the opportunity for a laugh, if only a cheesy “dialect laugh.”  I shall try to keep those to a minimum, but ingrained – and remunerative – habits die hard.)

There were arguments disparaging Columbus’s accomplishment, beginning with deconstructing the statement we all internalized in school:

“Christopher Columbus discovered America.”

Columbus, it is revisionistically explained, did not discover America.  America was already there.  (Ignoring the validity of alternative definitions of the word “discover.”  (See:  “I discovered my sister was actually my mother” – a preexisting reality, although it still comes as a surprise.)

Acceding to the argument-backed definition of the word, exemplified by, “Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine” (which was not already there),

There goes “discovered” from “Christopher Columbus discovered America.”


Columbus’s ships never reached America, dropping anchor instead on what became later the Bahamas. 

Meaning Columbus was close, but not actually here.

Leaving, from that longstanding, educational dictum, “Christopher Columbus discovered America”,

“Christopher Columbus…”

... and that’s it.

(“Christopher Columbus discovered the Bahamas” is factually accurate, but who cares?)

By the way – exposing a logical contradiction – if the man never actually landed in this country, how could he possibly be responsible for what subsequently transpired?

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:  “’Atsa right.  So what did I a-do?”

Check out this accomplishment.  And it struck home to me “first hand.”

Once, while visiting Chicago, staying in a hotel abutting the river, I looked out the window and saw a replica of one of Columbus’s ships, bobbing sea-worthily in the water.  Elated by this fortuitous happenstance, I immediately raced (as best I could) over, to get a closer look at this (reconstructed) historic artifact. 

The first thing you notice about the replica Nina – or was it the replica Pinta? –

The thing is really, really, tiny!

Donald Trump has bathtubs bigger than that boat!  (He would probably brag.  Or maybe actually has one.)

Think about this, before throwing Christopher Columbus to the wolves.  (Or, keeping with the nautical motif, overboard.)

An Italian adventurer sets off from the south coast of Spain, sails across a vast ocean he is not at all sure won’t drop them over the edge of the earth, guided only by the stars above him – and not even by them when it was cloudy; he could only approximate where those guiding stars probably were – suffering capsizing waves and no available fresh fruit (“How come my teeth are falling out?” – “I don’t know; must be the sea air.”), heading for a place no one but Vikings had ever visited before – and they never went back, preferring Swedish maidens to their American counterparts… maybe – without any assurance they would arrive safety at their destination – albeit the wrong destination – without succumbing to a myriad of unknown dangers – and then makes the return voyage safely back to Spain. 

In that tiny little boat!

I say,

That guy deserves a commemorative holiday.

And if you don’t think so, naysayers, try doing that yourselves.

There’s a “Part B” to this story.

The Los Angeles City Council plans to re-label “Columbus Day” “Indigenous Peoples Day.” 

Yeah.  That’ll sufficiently balance the books.

“Hey, it’s a step.”

No, it isn’t.  A “step” would be actual policies, bettering their condition.  Not “I know we decimated your culture and came this close to erasing you from the planet, but we’re giving you a (used) holiday, and if we can swing it, a commemorative stamp.”

The gesture is made, and everybody feels better.  Next up?  “No Indian-identified sports teams.”

Here’s me.  Honoring American Indians? – I’m all for it.  (Check out our living room; it’s like a Native Indian museum.)  You want to give them a holiday, count me in. 

But not at the expense of poor Christopher Columbus.

Because, paraphrasing the intrepid explorer himself (at least in my imagination)…

What did he a-do

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"The Curious Incident Of A Guy Who Didn't Like A Play Everyone Else Liked And The Ongoing Mystery Why"

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (a play written by Simon Stephens based on a novel written by Mark Haddon, but I am talking about the play I didn’t like rather than the novel I did.)

Winner (the play, not the novel) of…

– Seven Laurence Olivier Awards (and he was good, so you know they’re important), including “Best New Play”, and running in the West End (England’s Broadway) for over 1600 performances, meaning not only did the critics enjoy it, regular people did too.)

– Five (Broadway) Tony Awards, including “Best Play”, where it ran for two years, meaning not only did regular Englishers enjoy it, regular Americans do too.

– The Drama Desk Award for “Outstanding Play”, the Outer Critics Circle Award for “Outstanding New Broadway Play”, the Drama League Award for “Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play.”

Plus glowing critical accolades, such as (As seen plastered on billboards):  A brilliant production!“Dazzling!” and “An extraordinary accomplishment!”  

So there is the possibility I am wrong about this.

(One critic called the show “manipulative” but it feels like me and that guy against the world.)

It’s a funny thing, to respond to…

Wait.  Two other things first.  Possibly three.  I haven’t decided yet.

I realize, accept and unquestionably acknowledge and that any creative endeavor triggers a limitless possibility of individual reactions.  The artist puts something out there and, since it is not a math problem or “What’s the capital of Romania?” (Bucharest; I looked it up), there is no “right answer” to “How did you like it?”


Even though there is no “right answer” to “How did you like it?” it remains difficult for me to understand how a single artistic entity can generate not just disparate but diametrically opposite responses.  (See: The “all-over-the-map” reviews for Best of the West.  Which you probably can’t actually see anywhere; I used “See” as synonymous with “Consider”, or “For example:”)

How, I have always wondered, can they have such contrasting reactions to the same program?

If something is good – “good”, for me, meaning it ably achieves its creative intentions – I can understand a positive or negative or mixed reaction based on, “Although they admittedly did a good job achieving their creative intentions, I am unenthusiastic about ultimate result.”  Possibly because, although those “creative intentions” are satisfactorily achieved, “I do not give a hoot about westerns.”  Or because “I understand what they were going for but their approach is not exactly to my liking.”  Or “Because the neighborhood kids refused to allow me to play “cowboys” with them I have taken it out on everything ‘cowboy’ ever since.”

That person wasn’t reviewing the show.  They were essentially, unconsciously, reviewing themselves.  Which… wait a minute… may be the source of my reaction to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  (An explanation that came to me – swear to Gosh – just now.  Well not just now, but as I was writing the previous sentence.  A surprising insight.  Startling and gratifying.)

Considering my assessment of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I have the belated feeling that, like the reviewer experiencing a coloring “intervention” in the normally objective evaluative process, I too may have indeed been “reviewing myself.”

To this point, I have cleverly – or annoyingly, depending on your proclivity in this regard – written… hold on, I am checking the “Word Count”…okay…  567 words – not including “hold on, I am checking the ‘Word Count’… okay…”  without mentioning anything about the play, except that I did not like it.

Briefly, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time concerns a fifteen year-old boy, diagnosed as being on the more…I don’t want to say “disturbed”… diagnosed as being on the more afflicted end of the “autistic spectrum”, who discovers a dead dog that was killed with a “garden fork”, and is determined to uncover the mystery of who did it.

I actually remember that plotline from the book, which I read years ago, and, as I said, thoroughly enjoyed at the time.  (I may have neglected to say “thoroughly” but I did.)  I was intrigued by the idea of an imperfect narrator/slash/crime solver.  For who is this story’s afflicted protagonist other than a more extreme version of the character’s fictional hero, Sherlock Holmes?

But where the book describes the character’s braving the intense “sensory overload” of a solo excursion from a relatively protected local community to the chaotic cacophony of megalopolis London (to locate his mother), the play physically “duplicates” that disorienting experience, via imaginative lighting and theatrical “effects”, which, themselves, garnered numerous awards.

Why did that, and many other elements depicting the character’s “autistic spectrum” condition so discombobulate me to the point where, on several occasions, I wanted to escape the pummeling stimuli of the production?

The answer, it now occurs to me, is that, somewhere along that “autistic spectrum” though to a demonstrably lesser degree, the character portrayed in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

… is me.

A fact I unconsciously reacted to as I was watching it.  As the play unfolded, many of the protagonist’s defining characteristics appeared eminently familiar to me, the need for “comforting order” being a primary, though not singular, example.  (There is also the sense of personal isolation and a nagging obsession with the truth.)

I found myself viscerally identifying with the protagonist’s effort (in London) to combat the crippling confusion of a dizzying “Unknown.”  When the play’s bombarded lead character felt maddeningly “close to the edge”, sitting in “Row C, Seat 4”,

… so did I.

But at least I realized that.  I have never once read a review that said, “Hey, don’t listen to me this time.  My reaction to this production is… let’s just say, because of the way I am, I cannot be close to objective in my critique.  Come back when what I am reviewing is less about me and more about the show.  I promise, this will not happen that often.  Though it did happen this time.”

Have you ever seen anything like that?  I haven’t.  The phenomenon must occur sometimes, don’t you think?  And yet not a peep from the reviewers.

As contrasted with this post, explaining that although The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been widely praised and commercially popular,

I really wanted to go home.

But we didn’t. 

Because we had paid for the tickets.  And, because of the personal reaction it set off, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was, in fact, successfully

… doing its job.