A perfect sea urchin

My Evil Thoughts

Welcome to where I air my evil views, proud, uncowed, unbowed, and absolutely evil, superficial, and ignorant. Get used to it. To return to the main blog page, just click here.

It's Easy to Forget the Rain

The sun is shining. The sky has clouds in it, but there is something cruel about its shade of blue. Soon the air will be dusty again, if it is not all ready so. Yesterday, though, was different. I figured I could get out to Whole Foods and buy some spinach penne before the thunder storms predicted for the evening moved in. I did not move fast enough. Around five pm, the gray clouds rolled in. Then the banging began, and the wind, and the rain.

I retreated to the leather couch upstairs to read professional literature and wait for the storm to blow over. I could not take my eyes off the windows even though the sight of the wind whipped branches terrified me. Each clap of thunder made my stomach tighten in fear. I realized my evening's plans and my weekend cooking were about to get washed out. Of course I had time. The storm might blow over. In the end, the thunder quieted a bit. I waited to hear it go silent. It never did. I decided to brave the storm.

It took an amazing amount of courage to get up off that couch, go back downstairs, hide my flash drive from the rain. I thoroughly anticipated looking like a drowned rat. The trip to Whole Foods on Ponce, which sells spinach penne at a reasonable price, which is why I was going there to get it. On a normal night, this would have been an arduous commute due to all the moving parts. First there was the bus to Kensington Station, and then a train to Candler Park, four stops down the line, and then yet another bus to Ponce. Then the whole thing could reverse either with a bus and a train or a bus and two trains. Well with a nasty, thunder storm in progress, you can picture what this was going to do to the trip, but first I'd wait for the express or #121 bus outside and get good and soaked. That was the price of admission.

Then I noticed the train was making funny bumping sounds. Rain like snow wreacks havoc with electrical train systems. Then we picked up speed, made it through Avondale Station, and on into the tunnels that led to Decatur station. Then we pulled to a stop in Decatur Station and stayed there. I watched an engineer pass through our car and into the one ahead. He opened an electric panel and did nothing. The train was going nowhere. The car door was open. I could have gone home. I thought about going home, but I was not going to give up that easily.

That is what I told myself as the train restarted. The overhang at Candler Park was dry. The #2 bus, the last leg of the trip to Whole Foods, was late. That was kind of to be expected. It was a very new bus that did not bump too much along the pot holes. I managed not to get soaked as I crossed into the shopping center that has Whole Foods. They had my spinach pasta. They no longer sell their famous stoplight peppers. I found some peppered kippered herring in a can, and I bought Spike and glycerine soap. It was not a bad haul.

Then the trip back began. The thunder which had banged away over the roof of Kensington Station had let up, and it was reasonably dry except here in Atlanta it takes the streets forever to drain. A man and his little boy played outside the westbound bus stop. It was full though the bus should have passed five minutes ago. That meant the west bound bus would probably arrive before the eastbound. That it would add an extra train to my trip, didn't matter. Waiting inside North Avenue and even Five Points stations beet waiting at Candler Park which is open air. It was better to be dry the whole way home and have less time waiting on the street as well. Five minutes later, I got a bus.

The storm made people friendly. It also kept most of the women inside. I was probably the oldest person out in it. The trains were more crowded than I expected, but the ride home and even the walk back to the apartment were uneventful, except the place smelled of Wednesday night's roast beets and radish which I made for Shabbos. It is an interesting smell, but it is different. My bedroom smelled of human, wet and dirty shoes, purse, backpack, an occasionaly sweaty nightie. I always notice the smell after I've been out. There was more thunder later that night. I did not lose power, but I know people who are still without it. It was some storm, and I was fool enough to go out in it. There is spinach penne and pink eyed pea salad for supper for Shabbos and part of me is glad I got up off that couch. I couldn't have spent the night there anyway.

Eileen H. Kramer -- May 27, 2011

Empty Dance Card

I've had one of those for two weeks. Mostly, going out of town throws off the schedule. Also, I am not a very social person with the synagogue crowd during the week. It is not that we are not in the same neighborhood or put more ominously that I "don't live in the community." I think things would be a ton more awkward if I lived in Toco Hills. The reason is demographics. I'm nearly forty-nine and either child free or childless, and I'm a spinster. Most of the adults I know at the synagogue are parents. That does not give us a lot to talk about.

Second I work. I am a professional with a real degree and a real job. There are some professional women in Toco Hills, but then there are others. I'm a bit stuck on my credential even though I should not be. Call it pride, but it is a minor problem. The fact is I am busy forty hours a week elsewhere and would be even if I "lived in the community." Being busy, means personal calls end up becoming phone tag. Also, parents are busy in a different way in addition to working at something. Phone tag is not my favorite game. Social phone calls just don't seem to be on any one's plate, and phone tag to make social phone calls just doesn't happen.

This demographic is not on Facebook, at least not among the adults, so bumping into Toco Hills types, with a few exceptions doesn't happen. Bseides, just as with phone calls, you have to take the initiative, friend people, join groups, visit walls, send messages etc... Facebook and I are at war these days anyway.

As a result, I don't see a lot of the synagogue crowd socially during the week. That means the ties stretch and fray. If I'm out of sight, I'm out of mind. You get the idea. No one owes me a free lunch anyway, when you really think about it. I've thought about it. I have a "place to go," for Shabbos next week. The "place to go" gets "quotation marks" because I always have a place to go. I have home cooking. I have two cats. I have juicy novels. What more could any one want, except a free lunch. And yes, I find talk about other people's children and philosophy of education, unless it is higher education, boring. I just don't have a dog in the fight, so any views I have are worthless. I know nothing of young kids either, and now that my biological clock has finally run out (what a relief!) I don't have to even talk about trying to conceive them or worry about wanting them. This is a big relief, but none of this makes me a great friend during the week.

And I'm not mad. I think everyone is trying to be as friendly as they can be. If I were a different kind of person with more of a certain kind of social gamesmanship, a love for phone tag, and a persistance about the phone, I could swing forging friendships that are probably there for the taking, but beyond my meager skills or beneath my priorities. On the other hand, if I were the world's best glad hand and social butterfly, I might end up fiercely disappointed, and what would I do when my schemes and phone tagging failed? I might actually go looking for that free lunch which we all know does not exist.

Eileen H. Kramer -- May 22, 2011

Let's Talk About Continuity

I'm not going to call it mesoros. Other faiths and ethnicities have it too, but as a bala tsuva, a Jewish person who chose to become religious as an adult, continuity and its lack is an issue that comes up again and again. To become a bala tsuva takes work. You have to knock on the door. Judaism does not make it easy. Services are in Hebrew. One of the most useful resources is a class in the siddur or prayer book. I apologize for all the Hebrew. I am trying to keep this as much in English as possible. Much of what applies to me probably also applies to those in other faiths, except that mine is not the majority religion, so the door on which one wants to knock is not always there. The internet hasn't changed things that much. Judaism needs flesh and blood. It needs peers and role models. You'll see why.

I remember getting angry and disillusioned after my first synaoguge services due to the language barrier when I was fifteen and again at eighteen. I did better after a friend at Young Israel of Cornell, now 107 West, showed me how to navigate a prayer book. Orthodox prayer books offer the full service translated into English rather than a butchered liturgy. If you are going to go to services or pray at home, why not have the whole liturgy? And yes, God understands English. I hope none of this sounds too controversial. Anyway, the door got opened. I had Orthodox friends.

I also brushed up against Chabad which offered a friendly alternative to Hilel which I considered mercanery and too big. Going to regular relgiious services helped a lot. Then there came Young Israel Sharei Torah in Syracuse, New York (now just Sharei Torah but still in business). They lent me haggadot for a low budget off night seder. They did it no questions back. I brought back the haggadot and thanked them and started going to service there. I remember the rabbi giving a memorable sermon on the Rosh HaShannah. I remember the three mile walk from East Hill to Dewitt with graduate students. Once again, I knew Orthodox Jews. I remember my first taste of home hospitality. If you wonder how people become Orthodox, peers play a big role. Education also plays a role. I remember a class on the High Holy Days service. It was really helpful and afterwards there were bagels to eat. One of the women in the kitchen sent me home with a huge bag of leftover bagels. I was the poor exstudent, but people did not injure my dignity in any way. That memory has stuck with me. Young Israel Sharei Torah planted the seed that I wanted to get under the soil, but it would be years until I lived in a community that had a vibrant orthodox community. It also took getting kicked out of Chabad Intown (A long story and one I'll blog), but I found my way to Young Israel of Toco Hills.

Once again there were classes. I was interested, but what tipped me was another excellent sermon with which I'll credit Rabbi Broyde. On Rosh Hashannah of 2007, the eruv, a barrier that permits carrying on Shabbos, blew down. I was carrying my purse anyway. I might need money for cab fare. I needed my cell phone to feel safe. Of course I did, didn't I? The rabbi explained how to carry housekeys in a halachicly acceptable manner, and I gave my purse a second thought. Think Linus from the Peanuts comic strip and his security blanket. Well, I was not Linus. I decided to ditch the purse for Yom Kippur and just wear my keys around my neck, tied with a shoe lace so that untying the lace, broke the necklace. I was all ready living as if I was kosher and trying to keep Shabbos. It took several months, and it was a slow, thought out process, but faith has a momentum of its own as does having religious peers. Between those two things, I corssed a four generation continuity break.

Only when I look back, do I see a vast gulf. Now this is not going to be one of those: "I was a sinner and now I'm saved," articles. It just isn't. I do remember sometimes being at loose ends and how I amused myself. Those were good memories. I also remembering wasting time, but sometimes that is fun too. Your ideas about time change when you start keeping Shabbos, but that is for another article.

What I am aware of, especially in dealing with my mother is how few secular Jews have anything to do with religious Jews. This results in an ignorance of simple things. My mother, for example, did not know that the Four Questions asked at the Passover table are actually a song. She, and she was right, said: "These are not questions. They're statements!" My mom taught high school English for years and has a B.A. in English from Cornell. She was absolutely right. We edited the questions and asked them as questions. This approach is as good as singing them, but the fact that my mother did not know the song speaks for itself.

My father suggested we do the ritual handwashing in the bathroom at another seder. This is not the washing after using the toilet, which by the way you are supposed to do over hands that are physically clean. I learned that from a Chabad rabbi in Syracuse. I used to show up Friday night with ink stained hands. Live and learn. You are not, however, supposed to do ritual washing for bread or for the relish tray (karpass) in the bathroom. You are supposed to do it in the kitchen or at a washing station. Whoops.....

Then there is the bottle of Kedem grape juice. Choose red, white, or even sparkling. Think concord, niagara, or something else if you want. I wonder how long it has been since either my parents or grandparents have been to a home where they were offered a choice between wine or grape juice for making a blessing or drinking a ritual cup if they did not feel like participating in the table grace. I suspect this has never happened to either of my parents or even my grandparents, at least not at home on Friday and at least not for years. My Uncle Henry said you have to go back four generations to my late Grandpa Kramer's mother to find any one practicing Orthodox Judaism.

What this means is cultural loss. Table grace with wine and bread, the Four Question song (It's perfectly OK to ask well edited questions in English instead if you prefer, but you shouuld still be aware of the song.), and other hymns sung at various times, Purim packages (mishloach manot), etc... are all parts of Jewish culture. Religion and culture mix for other ethnic groups and faiths. Culture changes, but there's a core that survives. That's why I could find my way back.

The other reason I could find my way back is that my mother gave me the tools, both moral and practical, to cross the continuity break. She taught me about honesty and respect for things of the faith, even when she did not share the faith. She hates a fire and brimstone God. I don't think much of that concept either, but I do think you have a duty to be honest with yourself and your peers when you can be. The baking and marketing skills, and the neophilica ability to read and adapt recipes, I learned from my mother. These help me keep kosher.

I probably also have absorbed the tradition of working on myself from her as well, though this is more indirect. She took courses. She did her homework for CAU, even though it was noncredit. I remember the books in the green antiqued valet in the bedroom at Highland Lakes. I wanted to borrow them. Sometimes I did. I read anything. Mom also learned about nutrition. I remember giving up all Jello flavors except lemon, because the rest were artificial, and then switching to juice Jello made with Knox to get natural flavored product. My mom works on her diet due to health. We are both produce warriors and food freaks. Why do those in the same camp fight the fiercest?

One can make a very good argument that working on yourself with practices such as kashrus and keeping Shabbos is beneficial, not because it avoids a wrathful God. Denigrating those practices, speaking out against them, and then refusing to do them out of spite, might be another matter, but just not doing them because one doesn't understand them, one doesn't feel up to doing them etc... is another matter. God is pretty forgiving. We are human and weak after all, but the practices themselves bring rewards that are part of a divine system. First if you work on yourself, you have less time to bash on others. There is remarkably little public Christian bashing in my synagogue. Is that a coincidence? I don't care what others eat, as long as I don't have to eat it. I'm busy making sure I get food that I can eat and enjoy. I'm not going to be talking gossip (lashon hara) if I am busy working on preparing a Shabbos meal, learning something religious, or figuring out how to juggle my time so I can keep both important commitments and Shabbos. Humans have only so much energy, and working on yourself, keeps you from using that energy in less than moral ways towards others. Call that a divinely inspired opportunity or a reward if you want. Humans are weak, crappy, physical creatures who understand draw closer to the Divine better when they can work on something physical. That is what the story of the Tabernacle in Leviticus and Exodus teaches us by the way.

By the way, I don't care if you accept the above theological argument. It is my experience. It is not fire and brimstone, and there are plenty of nonreligious people who believe at working on themselves and find it beneficial. I'm not so far from the mainstream, but sometimes it feels like I've traveled a million miles away.

Eileen H. Kramer -- May 11, 2011

I Don't Think I Can Scream Loud Enough

And there is no alley remote and quiet enough to hold the kind of howling yell I want to scream at the moment. Where do I begin. A week ago, I learned I lost a friend. Wednesday something bad happened that I can not blog. Friday I took the cats to the vet and they cried in their crates. There is a tenant on the island where I act as landlord's manager in Second Life who wants to get into the free rent club. There is no such thing as the Free Rent Club. Landlords close it down and put it out of business when they see it forming. Then Sunday night my mother would not pick up the phone. Saturday an insurance agency left a message on my cell phone. I put two and two together and you can guess what I started worrying about. Suffice it to say, my mom was not in an auto accident. I won't blog the rest, except I'm not nineteen and home for the summer and she's not in her fifties any more either. She forgets one. I forget the other. I wish I knew where boundaries for adult parent child relationships existed.

Anyway, at least Mom is alive and kicking and unhurt. I ought to be grateful and not pissed off. She can be her old cussed self. At least she goes for her morning walk and dates her boyfriend and doesn't know thing one about observant Jews because she does not associate with them. This is a huge cultural gulf. I'd love to have my mother speak to some of my friends in Toco Hills. She still wouldn't understand, but it migh be a start. I guess it's time for another internet search, but it beats having to undo a whole trip I am making to a conference in Texas because Mom got sick or hurt. I don't have a sense of perspective any more.

The rope is pretty frayed and I am hanging by a thread. I just want to scream at fate. I close my eyes and think of the friend I just learned I lost. I see him on the patio behind Mary Helen's house playing his guitar. I can hear the strumming but not his voice. I remember his hair which he wore long. It was scraggly but pretty in an off beat kind of way. He had long hands with long, slim fingers. He was blond that had gone grey with blue eyes. He lost patience with Mary Helen's dogs and loved them too.

I was able to talk out some of the other stuff with my friends. I should be grateful the cats are in good health. Hertzel is twelve, so I should especially be grateful. He has some tartar on his teeth and acne under his chin, but the acne doesn't bother him, and my vet won't do anything about it unless it does. Acne medcine for cats must be very nasty.

Saturday night, I got back late from the laundromat, broke down, and put on Lady GaGa. I got the clothes folded. My coat, one skirt, and two sweaters are rehabbed. I have food for the trip. I found my favorite duffle. Everything is going to fit. I've learned a lot about Fort Worth by looking at Bing, but gratitude is an elusive emotion. I think I hve to get done screaming first.

Eileen H. Kramer -- May 2, 2011