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.

Rabbi Broyde Got it Wrong

This is not what you think, and the sermon on Saturday was pretty good. In fact it was more than pretty good. It was what I wanted and needed to hear, at the time. We were reading the story of the Spies in synagogue, and the rabbi's sermon did not harsh on the spies or call them ingrates. His message instead was that progress was sometimes just small and it was one step back for every step forward. The point was not to fall into the trap of doing nothing, vengance, or romance.

I carried this sermon with me all through the week. I thought about it when I returned home from work Monday and Tuesday night aching all over. I carried it with me when I drank soda instead of eating lunch on Tuesday. I carry it with me when we have discussions that I can not and will not blog about here. I can be somewhat public on this blog because what happened to me is public.

I carried the sermon with me, when I went to buy junk food for my boss' retirement party. Yes, she is retiring the end of the month. And I carried it with me last night when I took two buses and a train to reach the Pier 1 Imports on my way home to go and buy a farewell gift for the retiring boss.

Pier 1 looked sad and picked over. It reminded me of how much my boyfriend, now exboyfriend, loathed the place. Those were not good memories. Since there was a shopping mall near by, I decided to try those stores. North DeKalb Mall is a sorry place. The stores appear picked over even when well stocked. No one had a brooch. The costume jewelry deparatments looked anemic. Half the smaller stores were closed.

Now I think buying and giving costume jewlery is an upper middle class, Jewish thing. My father's family both gives and wears the stuff. Even the men know how to buy it for their female friends. My father used to buy Monet for my mom who gave it to me. When my grandmother on the other side of the family had a birthday, I knew just what to buy, what she wore, and how to pick it out. Girls from the age of ten or so wear costume jewelry. When we bury our dead, teh uniform is basic black including panty hose, and a string of pearls. Those big strings of pearls are clearly plastic, but we Kramer women don't care. My Dad's girlfirend at the time he buried his father (not his current girlfriend) had real pearls, but that was different and ostentatious. She also had designer panty hose. The rest of us wore our imitation pearls and we did not look down on them. I think my family's acceptance of costume jewelry is from having friends and relatives who sold the stuff. Also, my father's side of the fmaily, has a lot of aesthetic sense, even though they pretend not to have it. There is something wonderful about wearing a set of lovely, larage beads that make a statement and go perfectly with your clothes. Real gold, silver, and jewels just does not do that as well.

At work, I always treat the clearly, nonprecious rings and bracelets I find with reverance even if I don't put them in the "precious box." I do sign them in to the lost and found just like more expensive items. I know that their wearers probably esteem them, and may well come back for them.

With a fondness for costume jewelry comes a fondness for semi-precious stones which can be good and large and not set the wearer back big bucks. Our family's women, and to a lesser extent the men (class rings and such), know how to bejewel themselves without going in to hock.

I forget this is not universal, and I forgot it last night which is why I wasted so much time in North DeKalb Mall. The stores had almost no decent, costume jewelry. They had no brooches. They had few earings that were pretty studs. The necklaces looked small. I thought: "It was just graduation. People have birthdays. People need a piece for themselves." It was as if a crucial, trade currency was missing.

It was also getting dark. My feet hurt. I dreaded the walk home. I asked around and found out where to get the bus. It was dead outside. The mall had been dead inside. The recession had really taken a toll out of the once proud mall where people from Toco Hills go to watch movies. The bus stop though still had a poop out bench.

That bench was perfect. I slumped down on it. My mind was a blank. I did not want to walk home. I wondered if I would stay there all night. I no longer cared. I was too tired, too sick, too everything. My rag tag army that was good at running away from Egyptians mired on a sandbar in the red sea, knew there was no way in the infernal regions that it could take well fortified cities manned by guards that knew what they were doing. I wasn't going to die in the desert but like the Hebrew children in the wilderness, I was going to die, or rather just collapse in my tracks. In fact, I had done so all ready.

I can still feel the stunned exhaustion that enveloped me around 9pm last night. The odd thing is now that it feels far away. I do remember thinking about Rabbi Broyde's sermon as I sat on that bench. I thought: "You really don't know what it feels like. It doesn't feel like anything. You just collapse. I just can't move. I'm supposed to cook, but where I'm going to find the energy is beyond me." Eventually the bus came, and I got home. I perked up just enough to cook. I fell asleep instead of playing Second Life, but that was OK.

Nervous prostration is a funny thing. You succumb, but the next day brings hope. I know I'll have to go shopping again for that gift. I know I wastd a night, but I'm hoping I'll find what I need, or rather what I need to give. I'm slowly getting used to the fact that my work life, and maybe my whole life will divide itself into before and after Bloody Monday (I did not name it that. The AJC did.). It's now "after." It will always be "after." One step forward and two steps back. I'm not sure I believe in progress though. Sometimes you just go whoomp. You don't care if others keep up with you. You get up again if and when you can. I'm up now, but I know there are lots of other poop out benches waiting for me. Maybe the Hebrew children in the wilderness just needed poop out benches. Hey, maybe that is an idea.

Eileen H. Kramer -- June 21, 2012

The Further Adventures of the Cheeky Widow

Some stories just cry out for a sequel, so let's set the stage with a quote from the last entry to this blog: At the time it will matter to the widow, but because she can do nothing and do everything.

Yom Kippur had come and gone. The entire, sleepy village was on tenterhooks waiting for the evil decree. One evening the Cheeky Widow placed a call on old Ms. Marmlestein with the stones in her body that should have been diamonds.

"What do you have there, Cheeky One with More Nerve than Brains?" the old widow asked. Sorry she does not say "nu?" I'm not sure why, but it's my story.

"Tangerines," the Cheeky Widow replied.

"Tangerines, and how do you get to afford tangerines?" asked Ms. Marmelstein of the diamond stones in her kidneys.

"I get them in Radom. There's a new grocery store called Bandani Provisions yet, like the scarf, and they're in the arcade by the used book sellers."

"You know that used book sellers!" Ms. Marmelstein with her stones shook her head.

"Abraham likes it. Not a problem really since he's a good student. With the right education, the boy might make something of himself. You forget I went to the girls' gymansium."

"And you don't fear the yatzer hara for the boy?"

"Not a boy who spends his time reading and doing mathematics. Any way, there was Bandani Provisions and yes, they have kosher food in cans and such, and candies, but they also have fruits and vegetables they bring in by train, quantity so their price is low, so I bought a whole basket of tangerines. I had to pay their delivery boy to take them to the coach and give a few of the coachman to have me drop them at my house."

"And how do you buy a basket of tangerines when the evil decree is tomorrow."

"The evil decree has been tomorrow six times in a row."

"And what if it really is tomorrow."

If you are expecting me to halt the story here, you are sadly mistaken. Not this time around.

The Cheeky Widow shrugged. The truth was, she did not know herself what it would do. She rose at dawn the next day, sent Abraham off to the gymnasium in the next town, and walked over to the Gas Company to her job. That was where her boss told her at noon that they were closing and all the public employees would gather in the village square. The local nobleman's spokesperson would be there to answer all questions. The Cheeky Widow did not ask what the questions would be about. She did not have anything to ask.

Somewhere far away there was a war or the rumor of one, and the Czar wanted to draft young men for his armed forces. Word had gotten out at the Gymnasium. Abraham had even talked to her of what he would do if his number came up when they drew the young men's names out of the barrel. "I'm not a rabbinical student any way and, those weaklings won't even survive. Me, I know mathematics. I could train as an artilleryman or as a navigator on a ship."

"And who will notice," the widow had asked her son. "They're just sending boys away to be killed."

"Not if I enlist."

"You're going to what!"

"I talked to the recruitment officer for the navy. I figure you'd worry less with me at sea. Besides I'll get to see something of the world, and when I come back I'll know more languages and..."

The Cheeky Widow laughed for there are times you either laugh or cry. Now she knew, but her son would not be drafted. She was still going to lose him for four or five years, and probably longer, since he would lead a seafaring life, but perhaps he would do better than be a common sailor. He was young, and maybe the world would just be his. An evil decree is only what you make it. Still, the Cheeky Widow was scaird.

A young man at sea was not really safe. A cannon ball could blow away his legs. He could slip oeverboard and drown even if he knew how to swim. All adventures are risky. All change is a danger. The wind whipped Cheeky Widow's hair. She tied her scarf more tightly about her face. She stared down at the pavement, too scaird, angry, and tired for any emotion.

And do not ask what happened to her son when he went to sea. I may write about that some day though. I never thought I'd be writing this sequel either. The Cheeky Widow knew she'd have to face life alone in an empty house. She would not have Abie to help her carry heavy packages or have him around to show her something exciting he learned or to discuss articles in the newspaper. When she went down to Radom on the coach, she would not have a young man with her who would beg to go to the used book store in the arcade. She'd stand outside the Bandani and pretend the shadows that crossed through the glass belonged to her son who would be gone. Grief is a shadow in dappled sunlight sometimes. Grief is the empty chair at the table. Grief is knowing it's not your fault but feeling rotten all the same. Grief is knowing you do not deserve to be spared.

And now for the part of the story you have all been waiting for: Read it here!. The evil decree appeared in my inbox at 8:09 this morning.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/18/12

Behind the Smile and More

A woman in the Farmer's Market on Sunday commented that I was the first person she saw who was happy. "Gratitude sucks," should have been my reply, but instead I said that I was glad I had a week's worth of groceries, including that food of the gods, English peas. These are fresh green peas you shuck. They are plump and fine, with nearly every pod perfect. Soon maybe, I will not be able to afford such luxury food.

Let's start with a story: A long time ago in a shtetl in Eastern Europe, the villagers heard rumor spread that the local government officials would pronounce and evil decree, and something very bad would happen. Being pious folks, the villagers began to pray, and since it was the Days of Awe, they each sought a blessing from the local Rebbe.

The year of the bad news, however, the Rebbe decided to charge for a blessing, and charge a meaningful amount. Now in this town, there lived a hardworking widow and her adolescent son. The widow, who was far from affluent, saved up her money and had the ten rubles for a blessing. Of course eruv Yom Kippur the widow had to put in mandatory overtime at the gas company where she worked, so she had to go pay for her blessing and her son's blessing at the last minute. It was an hour or so before Kol Nidre. The line to the Rebbe's house snaked down the block and up the nearby hill. The poor widow ended up near the end.

When she finally reached the Rebbe's house he asked her: "What do you need?"

"A blessing for my son and me," the widow replied.

"That will be twenty rubles," the Rebbe replied.

"Excuse me," answered the widow. "I know it's late, but the broadsides posted in town said you only charge ten."

"But you asked for two blessings, one for you and one for your son. Now whom do you want me to bless?"

At this point the rabbis who tell this tale, have the widow sacrifice herself, buy a blessing for her son, and through her sacrifice avert the village's evil fate. Moreover, the Rebbe reveals that he charged a substantial sum for blessings just to stimulate the villagers toward such selfless conduct to curry favor with HaShem.

That's not my ending to the story: "I see," the widow told the rabbi. Even though this was a night of great solemnity, the widow could not keep a straight face; for there are times when one either laughs or cries. And seeing the local clergy's clay feet especially when their toenails are untrimmmed and filthy can have its humorous side.

Naturally the Rebbe was quite disconcerted by the excrement eating grin on the widow's face. "Well you are hear for a blessing aren't you?" he tried to bring her back to reality.

"Not any more," the widow replied. "HaShem heard the cry of the slaves in Egypt so he'll probably hear my son and me. And I'm going to pray for old Ms. Marmelstein with the gallstones and the kidney stones, and the stones that should be diamonds, and I won't charge her one kopek. Rabbi, I know you have to eat like the rest of us, but we are taking our business elsewhere and cutting out the middle man. I'm sorry."

"But what about the evil decree?" the Rebbe asked.

"When Yom Kippur is oever tomorrow, Abraham [The widow's son] and I are going to take the coach into Radom for ice cream at Steiner's. I've been meaing to go there for ages."

"But the decree Madam?"

"If there is going to be an evil decree and Abraham and I have prayed over it. It will be in HaShem's hands, and if he has other plans than sparing this village, I figure we'd better go enjoy ourselves. Besides, I've got those ten rubles I would have given you, and who knows what they'll be worth in a month or if I'll be alive to use them.

I'll be cooking those English peas for Shabbos, regardless of the evil decree which is unbloggable and due to be out on Wednesday. Tonight I picked up my small portion of a KC Kosher Co-op delivery. I am well stocked. I feel much like the widow in my version of the tale. You'll notice I say nothing about the evil decree, not because it doesn't matter. At the time it will matter to the widow, but because she can do nothing and do everything. I don't always have a positive attitude, and I loathe gratitude because it is often one step above relief and one step just shy of disaster, but do what I do until I can't.

Eileen H. Kramer -- June 11, 2012

Back to Sunday

I'm thinking about Sunday. It is Monday so this makes sense. I was in a phone bank working for a political candidate. We were calling people in Florida. It was not likely voters or likley volunteers, we were trying to awaken the sleepers and swing those ready to swing their votes and support and....I can't say too much, but phone work means rejection.

That is not a great way to think of it at the time you do it. You drink caffeinated beverages and sit hunched over your call sheet. You worry that you'll mess up the schpiel, which does not explain why I actually support this particular candidate. The reasons in the schpiel are good and they are true. I don't like having to lie, and I don't have to, but there was something weird, ugly, and smug about the list.

You are on someone else's turf the minute you dial that phone even though your butt is firmly planted on a chair or on the floor (in my case) in Georgia. You are not welcome. Callers are sometimes polite, often smug, occasionally rude, and rarely ugly. That they are ugly at all is one ugly caller too many, but you don't think that, not at the time. Every next call is going to be a set. When you have no sets because this is new data and raw and swinging in every direction (The euphemism is "persuasion calls" and it's a euphemism!) you block it out.

I travel back in time to when my livelihood depended on setting leads or making completions. Here we don't keep score becuase it would be too dismal, but the old technique comes in handy. The next call is going to set. Every call is a potential completion. Don't think about the rude ones or prize their rudeness like an unusual rock in the woods.

In 2012 phone banking has an unusual complication. Sometimes they see your number in their caller ID and call you back. I don't have caller ID. If someone wants to reach me and I don't pick up, they can leave a message. I let the machine take calls regularly becuase I can't be bothered to be a slave to the phone. Voicemail is the best thing since sliced bread if you get my drift.

Getting called back is embarassing. I have called so many people, I don't know who is calling. I explain how the phone bank works. I explain who we are, and late in the afternoon, at the end of the phone bank, one of the callers who was not the person I intended to reach morphed into a volunteer. Way to go! I'd forgotten what success felt like.

The only problem is my lone completion made the other callers including the one who wanted to talk to me on Yahoo Instant Messanger and the other one whose colorful language was as amusing as it was ugly, and the clever lady who wanted to watch golf, all stand out in stark relief. I was too tired to move Sunday evening and it wasn't just the headache or hauling in the groceries from Kroger. It was the rejection coming back like a wave of polluted water washing over me. I hope by next Sunday this memory is not so fresh. It won't be.

I believe in this candidate. He's intelligent, reasonably honest, and also competent. I'd prefer someone more to the left, but that's not a choice I have. He also handles rejection well enough. He could have just decided to quit and teach college somewhere or go on the lecture tour. He doesn't have to be running for reelection. If he can stick it out so can I.

Eileen H. Kramer -- June 4, 2012

Everything is NOT Unbloggable

It doesn't take much of my life going black to keep me from blogging. The blackout is still in effect, but I need to be here. I need to take the work to step around the ungawa and keep blogging. This blog was built to accomodate times like these. All I need to do is use it regularly.

I've turned fifty. I'm not sure why that sounds weird. I have no great philosophical insights. I bought myself a lot of stuff. I need most of it. Clothes wear out. I may be traveling. I'm tired of the state of my wardrobe.

I bought food. I actually have a fairly large co-op order coming in on June 11. I have a long bus ride to pick up the box of blue cheese and the box of lemon pepper sauce sardines.

I bought a new grocery cart. Humping groceries in a duffle is unbearably painful. This Sunday I have wheels again. DeKalb Farmer's Market here we come, but the maiden voyage will be with the laundry on Saturday night.

I survived Passover and Shavuos. I need to break in a new pair of stockings. I need to try on one of those skirts I ordered over the internet. I have a friend to whom I owe the name of the merchant if I like the product. They have "dress code" compliant skirts for teenagers at Yeshiva High School at very good prices.

Friends have been good to me. I get to see the insides of their bubbles and wonder what they see in me that is not exactly kosher.

People have forgotten about me on Saturdays and I have half enjoyed it and half enjoyed learning just where I stand. I know that sounds terrible. I am old enough to know that nobody owes you a free lunch. There is no such thing. There is also no reason why rich people with several young children should be friends with a childless, now fifty-something, who does not live in the neighborhood.

The worst present I got from my birthday was an AARP membership card. I threw the envelope away unopened. Sorry, I am still working. Sorry, I do not ally myself with the old against the young. Sorry, I'm a bit sorry to be a boomer. Being born in 1962 means you really don't have a generation, being the last of your line means you have more in common with the people after you. I'm not ready for the AARP yet.

Eileen H. Kramer June 1, 2012