Sunday, December 25, 2011

Don't Call Me Scrooge

Even though I’m Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, I can see why it’s a big deal to those who do.  And obviously Jews have played an important role since the holiday’s origin, as the birthday boy himself was actually one of ours.  

I have a relative who is obsessed with Christmas.  And she’s Jewish.  She grew up celebrating with an extended family member and really liked all of the traditions.  Now that she’s an adult, she has chosen to make X-mas a part of her own family’s holiday celebration. Knowing her, I have a feeling a big reason is the Gingerbread.

I don’t go to church, have a giant ornament-filled tree or wear those sweaters with the reindeers and snowflakes. I don’t know why anyone would want a partridge in a pear tree, either. Unless it is the obnoxious Danny Bonaduce. However, there are several things about Christmas that this MOT really does enjoy.  Let me tell you about a few of them.

Elf:  Arguably Will Ferrell’s funniest movie not named “Anchorman”, this flick is one that I recall nearly coughing up my spleen while watching in the theater.  When Ferrell confronts the faux-Santa played by Artie Lange and tells him that he “smells like beef and cheese”, you know something’s not Kosher.  Oh, and the movie was directed by Jon Favreau, co-stars James Caan and features Ed Asner as Santa.  All three are former Bar Mitzvah boys. 

Candy Cane Hershey Kisses:  My wife, who is (allegedly) allergic to chocolate, introduced me to these tiny bites of legal Crack a few years ago. They are only available for a limited time though, so the key is stocking up to last through most of the following year. I guess I know what I’ll be doing on the 26th.  

No Traffic in LA: OK, so this is more of a by-product of Christmas but still one of my favorite things.  Much of the entertainment industry shuts down for the last two weeks of the year and many people leave LA for better weather (I.e. Hawaii, Fiji, San Diego).  Those of us who stay are treated with short rides and easy commutes across town for the longest stretch of the year.  Driving around Los Angeles on Christmas Day is the most desolate feeling one can get in LA outside of the 9th inning of a Dodgers game. It’s fantastic.  

The phrase “Whole Half Ham”: I don’t eat ham, so I’m not really sure what this refers to or if it’s some special type of half-bred pig.  What I do know is that its’ name sounds ridiculous. Whole Half Ham? Can’t they omit the word “Whole” and still get the same meaning? If you only wanted 50% of a Whole Half Ham, would it be considered a Half-Half Ham or a Whole Quarter Ham?  My wife is a mathematics expert and I don’t think even she could figure out the calculation necessary for this nonsense.

Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album: I borrowed “Christmas in the Heart” from a friend when it came out a couple years ago because I am a huge Dylan fan. I was unfamiliar with most of the songs on it but was curious how this Jew who became a born again Christian before reverting back to Judaism would treat these seasonal classics.  Sadly, Dylan’s voice basically now sounds like gravel and screwdrivers mixing in a garbage disposal.  That combined with these festive lyrics and young perky backup singers creates an audible type of comedy that is still sounds much better than anything Justin Bieber could ever do. 

"Yes, I'm a Tool"
People wearing Santa hats who aren’t Santa:  This is actually something I hate, but I really enjoy making fun of them so it made the list. Those red hats look goofy enough on the jolly fat man sitting on a throne near the food court.  How can some nerd in a Utah Jazz jersey and sweatpants make it acceptable?  When I see people wearing these hats out and about, I like to suggest that they ask their friends and family to get them mirrors for Christmas. Perhaps then maybe they’ll realize that they look like rejects from “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.”  

I've realized Christmas can be whatever you want it to be. For many people it’s a time to get together with friends and family to drink egg nog and watch Jimmy Stewart stutter. For others it’s a time to see the latest blockbuster and fight for a table at China Dynasty.  However you celebrate, I hope you have a happy and safe holiday. And for Christ's sake please don’t wear a Santa hat.

If you celebrate, then Merry Christmas. 
If you don't, enjoy your movie and Orange Chicken. 

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is Jews

I have to admit it’s hard for me to get excited about Christmas.  I guess at least a small part of that has to do with me being Jewish.  And believe me when I tell you that Hanukkah is not nearly as exciting as you might guess.  Wooden spinning toys, greasy potato pancakes that make your house reek like an onion factory exploded in it & obligatory daily prayers are not nearly as thrilling as they sound.  If you don’t know much about Hanukkah, let me tell you a few key details.

I grew up in a place where Jews were by far the minority: America.  When I was a kid there was no real public promotion of Hanukkah anywhere outside of a synagogue gift shop. Now, even Target has a dedicated Hanukkah section. Sure it’s about 1/1000th the size of their Christmas section, but I think it’s still a bit larger than their Festivus and Boxing Day (Canada) areas.  It’s in this section where you can buy holiday classics like this book about Elmo.  I actually never realized he was Jewish.  Especially since he looks like a giant 
piece of lint from Santa’s clothing. 

The one big thing that most people associate with Hanukkah is not the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem or the Maccabees rebellion or even that the oil managed to stay lit for 8 days.  Nope, it’s presents.

Some enterprising Americans (obviously Jewish) in the early 20th century realized that they could capitalize on the seasonal timing of this minor Jewish holiday and turned it into a Jewish companion to Christmas. For that I am thankful.  Otherwise I would have been forced to watch all the kids at school playing with their new Ewoks and GI Joes while I was carrying my floppy yellow net-bag filled with gooey chocolate coins.  I was always amazed by how those things melted when it was 42 degrees outside. 

Hanukkah is also known as The Festival of Lights.  The major symbol of the holiday is the Menorah, the simple 9 branched candelabra which we light candles on every night during the celebration.  So if it’s the Jewish festival of lights why is it that non-Jews are the people who cover their homes with enough bright lights that you could spot them from Uranus?  Are their lights supposed to symbolize the number of candles that would be on Jesus’ birthday cake? 

Since we are celebrating the miracle that the oil lasted for 8 days, we are supposed to eat foods that are fried in oil in commemoration. I just realized that I effectively honor this facet of Hanukkah year round.  Perhaps the greater miracle is that my cholesterol number was 151 at my recent physical.

In addition to Latkes (potato pancakes) another fried food that people eat on Hanukkah is Sufganiyot (Jelly Donuts). One of my favorite Hanukkah traditions comes from my wife’s family. They introduced me to the mass consumption of donuts during the holiday period.  When we get together for the annual family celebration, rather than frying fresh donuts (as some people allegedly do, but none I’ve ever known) we crack open a couple pink boxes and have our way with Winchell’s finest.  The last couple of years I’ve taken it upon myself to be the donut selector. It’s a difficult job, but someone has to do it.  And I don’t want to get stuck with a box full of Crullers.  

As the Little Dude grows up, it is my wife’s and my responsibility to teach him about our Jewish heritage.  We need to make sure he carries on the customs and traditions that our people have practiced since way back in the Truman administration.  With cultural advances like Hershey’s Kisses being sold in blue and white packages, we are making an impact on society. I guess what it comes down to is my hope that he’ll grow up in a time and place where people won’t look at him strangely for playing with his Dreidel in public.   

If you celebrate, Happy Hanukkah!  If you don't, you are this week's "Other 99%".

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lost at the Zoo

One of the Little Dude’s favorite things to do is visit the LA Zoo. We first took him when he was just six months old and have been members and regular visitors ever since.   His favorite thing to see there is the giraffes, probably because he can spot them from a quarter-mile away.  Mine is the weird Europeans who wear socks with their sandals. I can also spot them from a quarter-mile. 

The zoo is great for a lot of reasons, but one of the best has to be that they don’t charge for parking. That is highly unusual in LA, where even drugstores offer valet for a fee.  Of course the generosity is revoked once you actually step into the zoo, where everything being sold makes airport pricing seem like the 99-cent store.

My wife made plans for us to meet some friends at the zoo recently for a family excursion.  When we arrived we chatted with the husband for a few minutes while the wife was changing their son’s diaper.  After a couple minutes, our Little Dude’s pal Aaron emerged from the bathroom and sprinted over to where we stood.  He is just a few days younger than BC but always seems to be twice as speedy.

We stood as a group to talk and plan our visit. We are all zoo regulars, so there was nothing urgent to see. We decided to start at the Sea Lion exhibit which was about 150 feet from where we stood. Aaron excitedly got a jump start toward the Sea Lions and we all gathered our stuff and headed in that direction after him. 

When we got to the glass-walled viewing area for the Sea Lions there was no sign of Aaron. He had been just 10 feet in front of us a few seconds ago, but now he wasn’t. Maybe he had tucked himself up in front of the glass? He’s only 2, so we probably just couldn’t see him over the other people standing there. But when we got up close there was still no Aaron.

When you are young you hear stories about abducted kids and don’t think twice.  The moment you become a parent, it scares the Bejesus out of you.  The poor parents who’ve lost kids always say that they looked away for a second and then…boom…gone.  We hadn’t looked away, all four of us adults saw Aaron head in that direction toward the Sea Lions and it had only been 10 seconds ago. Where was he?  

Even though Aaron isn’t my child, he and his family are good friends and I started to feel panic setting in internally. As I held BC close, I turned and looked all around for this suddenly missing little boy. I looked to see if there were any zoo employees or security people standing around and only saw the ones who annoyingly take your picture when you walk in, so you can get ripped off on your way out.

As his parents and my wife and I fanned out, the darkest fear started seeping into my brain.  Aaron should have been easy to spot: he has red hair and was sporting a bright orange vest, sort of like a mini-version of Marty McFly’s.  We kept looking in every direction and I could see the concern on all of our faces.  Knowing how I felt, when it wasn’t even my child, I could only imagine what Aaron’s parents were feeling at that moment. 

He couldn’t have gone far, could he?  He had run into a corner area, so the options were limited. But we searched frantically for this lost little boy. All of a sudden, Aaron’s mother spotted him.  Somehow he was standing 100 feet in the opposite direction from where we started. He was just leisurely checking out some trees and plants.  His parents rushed to his side and made sure he was OK.  Thankfully he was.

This whole situation seemed like it was about 15 minutes, but I know it was actually probably less than 1.  The range of emotions we all experienced was very powerful and I give a lot of credit to Aaron’s parents for handling the situation as calmly as they did.  I don’t know what I would have done if it were my kid, but I guess that’s where the paternal instincts kick in.  Sort of like when a father passes off a freshly soiled baby to his mother.  When the situation arises you don’t think about it, you just do it. 

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

No Day at the Park

My wife started coming down with something a few days ago and I could see where the weekend was headed. Somewhere not fun. We were all still a little burned out and sleep deprived from our recent trip to tropical Ohio, so none of us was firing on all cylinders. Except the Little Dude. Somehow he always has energy. Even when he’s tired, instead of running around, he rolls around on the floor, bed, patio or any other flat surface he can find. That way he can still move around and rest at the same time.

So while the Dudette was down for the count, I volunteered to take BC to the park on Saturday so he could expend some energy.  I had no idea what I was in store for. I should have checked the weather forecast before leaving the house which would have warned me of possible hurricane force winds.  At least it was sunny out, so when my hat blew off I could chase it and easily locate it. 

Being a Dude at the park with a toddler always draws looks from the women and couples present. And not the types of looks the guy gets in the movies when he’s Matthew McConaughey and the woman is Julia Roberts.   It’s more like women who look like Rosie O’Donnell, yet they look at me like I’m Steve Buscemi.

Yes, he’s my kid and to many people it’s pretty apparent. Yet I get a judgmental look and vibe when I take him to the park, as though I’m there to pull a Jerry Sandusky or something.  The park is supposed to be an open place for kids to run around and have a good time. If I wanted to be judged, I’d go to a nightclub in Hollywood.  Is nightclub even still the right word?  I’m much more familiar with Indoor Play Places and Babies R Us than hip bars anymore.

Anyway, I was pushing BC on the swing and didn’t have to do a lot of work. The wind was whipping fast so he was getting a lot of movement and momentum. It was like he was a human Plinko chip going side to side, up and down. Some kids might be scared, but not my 2-year old tough guy.  He was giggling ecstatically and saying “Ahh-gain!”

Geodesic Dome from my childhood. Looks pretty lame now.
After a few minutes, I realized I was the one getting the exercise so I removed him from the swing and we ran over to the toddler playground.  There are bridges, tunnels, ladders, slides and all kinds of fun stuff for those less than 4 feet tall.  When I was a kid we’d go a nearby school’s playground and climb on the jungle gym.  In retrospect the most fun game was probably Tetanus Dodge, but we were too young to know it at the time. 

When I’m at the park, I keep a pretty good eye on my kid at all times.  It seems like some parents drop their kids off, go to Starbucks for an hour, then come back and pick them up.  Usually while the parents are gone the unsupervised kids proceed to sneeze on all of the handrails and cough on the grip part of the swings.  It’s probably not a coincidence that one of us usually gets sick after going to the playground, so now I usually keep a tub of Purell handy while we are there.  Not for cleansing, but rather to throw at the cars of these negligent idiot parents. 

Going to a park in Los Angeles is like a Social Studies class. You regularly hear people speaking Spanish, French, Russian, Hebrew, Farsi & sometimes even English.  I guess we are kind of boring in comparison. That being said, BC loves the park and we’ll continue to go as he finds something new to play with each time.  And maybe sometime, when everything works out just right, he’ll be more tired than I am when we leave.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Poo on You

When I went in to BC’s room this morning to get him out of his crib, he was playing with the toys in his bed and having a good time. Suddenly he looked up at me, then pointed down to his central diaper region and made a proud declaration: “POO!”

Since we haven’t officially begun potty training him, I took it as a good sign. According to research, kids are usually ready to begin the potty training process sometime between 24-36 months. Since BC just turned 2 it’s probably time for us to start preparing for the fun.  I think the first step is I’m supposed to save my newspapers and line the floor of the house with them, right?  Obviously I’m kidding.  Who gets the newspaper anymore?

We got BC one of those little plastic training toilets a few months ago after a friend suggested it and put it in the bathroom next to my Big Boy potty.  This placement was supposed to subliminally teach the Little Dude what the potty is intended for. Unfortunately the main thing he seems to think it’s used for is a place to lounge while unspooling rolls of toilet paper.  

Our son’s pediatrician said my wife and I should leave the door open to let BC watch us go to the bathroom so he can see what all the hype is about. It seems strange that I’m supposed to talk the bathroom up to him as though it’s a great place, like Disneyland or something.  Then I lead him into a place with a grimy commode, a wet floor and some weird green stuff lingering on the sink.  Seems more like Magic Mountain to me.

When we are in a public place I usually take BC with me to the bathroom because I don’t feel comfortable leaving him with the weird old man who greets people at the store entrance. What inevitably ends up happening is I try to keep my balance and complete my mission while he simultaneously watches me and plays a game of chicken with his finger and the nearby urinal cake.

Before a recent trip, my wife went to buy some overnight diapers.  Apparently the store had run out of our usual brand so she got some pull-up style overnight diapers.  Since we were leaving the next day, we had no other option.  At least they had Lightning McQueen on them. Whatever that is.

The pull-ups worked out fine, especially since BC now refuses to lie down while being changed. I guess when your body is longer than your changing table, you can elect that option.  These days he generally wiggles and dances while being changed and I end up pulling the flaps on his diaper shut, hoping I got full coverage on both essential regions and praying for no whammies. 

So back to this morning, I was happy that he was able to convey his crucial message and hoped he hadn’t slept in it for too long, causing a mess and making him resemble Augustus Gloop after he’d fallen in the chocolate river. 

I was still half asleep when I opened his diaper to find that it was wet, but that was the only damage done.  So I looked at him and inquired about his apparently false claim. He looked back at me and reiterated forcefully “Pooh! Pooh!”  So I figured he was just being the boy who cried wolf and so I told him that the next time he said “Poo!” and didn’t possess any, I’d make him sit in it for a while as a lesson.

Then as I got him dressed and looked down at his used diaper waiting to be thrown out, it suddenly hit me. No, not the smell.  The image of Winnie the Pooh lounging next to his pal Tigger on BC’s used Huggie. Not pictured: me with egg on my face.

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--JJ aka The Dude of the House

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