January 02, 2016

Time and Place


Always, always, always, Sir Duke.  


During my childhood in Maryland, my family would often visit my grandparents in Washington Heights. My brothers and I would sit in the back seat of our AMC Matador, seatbelt-less, and endure the 250 mile ride to New York City.  And though I can’t prove this to you, I swear that every time we approached the George Washington Bridge and caught our first look of Manhattan, the car’s AM radio would emit that trumpet line.  


Dah-dah-DAH-Dah!  
Dahdahdahdahdahdahdahdah.
Dah-Dahdahdahdah-dahdahdah-DAHHHH-Dah.  


Sir Duke.  Every time, as if the Port Authority had been waiting for us to arrive.  Seeing the city skyline from the back seat, looking up at the grand parabola of cables and wires that spanned the bridge.  They can feel it all over, they can feel it all over people.


The bridge, the song, riding the giant elevator at the 181st Street subway station, trips to Liebmann’s Deli in Riverdale: from these bits I fell in love with New York City.  Even after my grandparents died while I was in high school, I continued to return to the city, to THE city.  Weekend road trips, New Year’s Eve rampages, whatever and whenever.  


In June 1994, I was living in Washington D.C. and studying for the New York bar exam when I got a call from my friend Mike, offering me a ticket to Game 3 of the NBA Finals that night.  I slammed my test prep book shut, ran out the door, and got on the next train to New York. It was at least 95 degrees that day and the train’s air conditioning was broken.  I sweated through my shirt just sitting on the train.  When we arrived at Penn Station I remember feeling hotter and thirstier than I could ever remember.  I was late to meet Mike but desperately dehydrated.  


I exited Penn Station at 32nd and 8th and sitting right there, in the shimmering heat, was a refrigerated truck.  From the back of the truck they were giving out ice cold cans of Schweppes grape-flavored ginger ale.  New product promotion.  I grabbed a can, guzzled it and asked for another, guzzled that one too.  It was incredible - maybe not the soda itself, but the moment.  New York City knew what I needed and somehow it provided for me.  I couldn’t imagine finding that truck, at that moment, in any other city.


That summer I moved here without a job, an apartment, or any real sense of what I wanted to do other than knowing I wanted to live here.  I moved around a lot the first couple of years.  I lived in Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx, and Brooklyn (but never Staten Island).  Then back to Manhattan, uptown and then downtown and then uptown again but always the West Side, like my grandparents.  I have now lived in New York City longer than I lived in Maryland.


The town I grew up in was known mainly as “the Washington D.C. area,” a swath of Maryland and Virginia as ill-defined as what it meant to be a Washingtonian.  People identified themselves as transplants.  Their origins lay elsewhere.  That lack of place was only magnified for me by the dichotomies in my own upbringing.  I was raised in a small rural town among rednecks, where the biggest local attraction was 7-Eleven.  Yet we were the only kids in our neighborhood who went to private school, and a Jewish day school at that.  We attended an orthodox synagogue, but didn’t observe Shabbat or eat only at kosher restaurants. Always I felt my place was neither here nor there.


Then there is New York City and its cemented, relentless sense of place, the pride people take in calling themselves New Yorkers.  In New York City there is always a “there” there.  And the promise of belonging, the manifest self-identification - more than the culture, more than the diversity, more than the bagels - is why I never seriously considered living anywhere else.


After a long search, we recently have moved into a house in Brooklyn.  Forty years after I first fell in love with New York, and twenty years after I moved here, I have finally put down roots.  And on the very last night before we moved into our Brooklyn home, I spent the evening seeing Stevie Wonder at Madison Square Garden.  He played Songs in the Key of Life from start to finish.  Duke Ellington started in Washington D.C. and ended up in New York City.  Stevie played Sir Duke for me.  And I got to feel it all over.


Even now, however, I know this feeling of arrival is a chimera.  The ball moves.  The ground shifts.  


A couple of years ago I thought about writing a paean to the annual traditions I had established each December: A dinner at Carmine’s with some of my college roommates; the Yo La Tengo Hanukkah shows at Maxwell’s; and the Holidelic concerts fronted by Everett Bradley.  I loved my personal New York at the end of the year.  


But then Maxwell’s closed down, so YLT doesn’t do the eight night run anymore.  My friend is no longer a musician, so Holidelic doesn’t have the same hold on me that it once did.  Only Carmine’s remains on my schedule, and even then we don’t all live in the area anymore, and each year it becomes more difficult to keep things going.  


There are more reminders.  Layla’s friend lost her mother to cancer last month.  My friend’s father died yesterday.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  Nothing lasts forever.  Even the big moments are momentary.  


The city I fell in love with has largely gone extinct too.  I still can’t live anywhere else, but it’s no longer because of the place.  It’s because of the people.  I like our friends here.  So many of them chose to move to Brooklyn and make sacrifices to stay here. There’s a kinship in that.


Stevie isn’t from New York City.  Sir Duke isn’t about coming to New York.  It’s about music and Stevie’s musical heroes.  I can’t imagine Sir Duke evokes the George Washington Bridge for many other people.  A few years ago, however, I heard a new song that more literally captured my feelings:


Load the car and write the note.
Grab your bag and grab your coat.
Tell the ones that need to know.
We are headed north.


One foot in and one foot back.
But it don't pay to live like that.
So I cut the ties and I jumped the tracks.
For never to return.


Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.
Are you aware the shape I'm in?
My hands they shake, my head it spins.
Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.


  • Avett Brothers, “I And Love And You”


What do you want, Beastie Boys?  


Happy New Year 2016….




July 31, 2014

Homelands

To paraphrase Chris Rock, you know the world has gone crazy when my father celebrates for Germany and criticizes Israel.  But that is where we are.

Not this or that; this and that.
Not right and wrong; right/wrong.
Not either/or; (either)(or).

My father is a Holocaust survivor.  He was born shortly before World War II began.  He made it through the war hiding out on a farm in Germany with his father and mother, while his half sister escaped on the kindertransport and ended up in pre-statehood Palestine.  The rest of his extended family perished, both sides killed by the Nazis.  My grandfather brought them back to Berlin after the war, where they lived together until my grandmother died.  A few years later my father made his way to New York City.  My grandfather lived in Berlin until he died.  During my father's formative years in Berlin, you could count the number of Jewish youth in the city on your fingers.

My father almost assuredly befriended many children whose fathers had served in the Wehrmacht a few years earlier, and others whose families supported the Nazi regime.  Yet my father never describes feelings of self-consciousness when he describes his childhood.  He remembers friends from growing up, mischief he got into, vignettes that could have happened on Pelham Parkway just as easily as the Kurf├╝rstendamm.  

I am old enough to remember when many Jews would not buy German products. My father was always opposed to any boycott. Where does that get us, he would ask.  How do we move on if we do not accept them.

During the recent World Cup I knew of many Jews whose rooting interest was "anybody but Germany." Not so my father, who is disinterested in most sports but who giddily tracked the Germans' success, drove down to the German consulate to watch some of the matches, and even rooted for Germany when they played the United States. Deutschland Vor! Noch Ein Tor! World gone crazy.


Not this or that; this and that.
Not right and wrong; right/wrong.
Not either/or; (either)(or).

At some point in the last few weeks I decided I had on obligation to engage people in talking about the crisis in Israel.  I had to hear the different sides, find the fissures between people's opinions, learn more, read more, feel more.  Israel has forced people to confront their beliefs on military force, Zionism, anti-Semitism, democracy, security, peace.  How to balance all of those things.  How peace comes at a price, as does war even when you are the stronger side.  From everything I have read Israel is going through an existential crisis as it tries to retain a calculated morality while it defends itself.  The threat of rockets being fired at your home; can we even imagine this happening in Brooklyn?  In Park Slope we argue about bike lanes, the best frozen yogurt, where to go for a massage.  

But contrary to what you might have read, Arabs love their children too.  When I was in Israel last year, the Arabs we met all wanted peace, wanted to find a solution.  They were angry at the leadership for both sides, desperate to find one courageous politician who could take the first meaningful step towards peace.  Israel's hands are not clean.  Gaza is a large, outdoor prison and its captives have suffered for eight years.  Of course Hamas bears much of the blame for that, but not all of it.

My father has worked at the World Bank for 30 years.  He is now semi-retired, but from 2003-2008 he worked in Israel, especially Gaza, monitoring construction projects and verifying that they were proceeding as expected.  It was my father's dream assignment.  He has had a lifelong love for Israel. My parents met there in 1963.  My father almost moved our family there around the time I was born.  For many years he planned to be buried in Jerusalem.  To this day he talks about picking Jaffa oranges straight off the trees in southern Israel and the rapture of eating one, and then another, and then another.

Something changed though, and in 2008 my father requested a transfer to the India bureau.  He saw too much.  Israeli soldiers harassing elderly farmers, making them wait out in the hot sun for six hours or even longer while their fruit rotted.  Israeli agencies refusing to allow Gaza construction projects to progress, blocking water supply studies, power grid proposals.  Not everything built in Gaza was a tunnel.

My father became fed up with both sides.  He despaired at the West Bank settlements that hogged the most arable land, hogged the infrastructure at the expense of the Arabs living in the territories.  He became, in a word, disillusioned.  He wants Hamas gone.  He wants the right wingers who control the Knesset out.  He wants security.  He wants peace.  He bought a burial plot in Maryland a few years ago.  His Israel is gone.

Not this or that; this and that.
Not right and wrong; right/wrong.
Not either/or; (either)(or).

Broom clean, is how she put it. "Buyers will do final walk through at 3 pm.  Broom clean."  Our realtor's words ran through my head as I sat in synagogue on Yom Kippur last year, just one night after we moved out of the apartment we had owned for nine years into a small two bedroom rental in Gowanus.  The move had suffered from delays and had to be finished the next morning.  The new apartment was crammed with large boxes that needed to be unpacked.  Even though we had rented a storage space, finding room for everything seemed impossible.

There were other issues.  Problems to spare.  And with all that, it was time for the annual fasting.  I sat in synagogue with more weight on my shoulders than I could ever remember. 

The call and response of the Yom Kippur prayers.  Al Chet. Avinu Malkeinu. Phrases that start each and every line of prayers that can run thirty lines or longer.

Desperately needing to close the book, to wipe the slate.

Broom clean.
Broom, clean.
Broom clean!
Broom: clean.
Broom! Clean!
Broom-clean.
Broom...clean.
Broom clean?

If only they made a broom like that.

Nine months later, at 4:00 am on a Saturday morning, in our cramped two bedroom rental, Archie woke me up and climbed into bed.  In a few hours we would start the drive to Rochester, to drop him off at sleep away camp for the first time. He asked if we could talk.  We started with sports, as we often do.  Then we talked about how you can feel excited and nervous at the same time.  Archie did the talking.  He told me he was excited but more nervous as the big day approached.  He talked about what camp might feel like, what challenges he might face.  Then he told me he loved me.  My son is strong and sweet.  I held on tight while we hugged,  mostly so he wouldn't know I was crying.  

Tears of privilege.  Privileged tears.   We don't own our house but we have a home.  It could be worse.

July 15, 2013

Us and Thames

"Apple Customer Service, this is Steve."

"Yeah hi, I'm calling to replace my iPhone."

"I can help you with that.  Can you give me the serial number please?

"BCG dash E2430A."

"...no, that's not it."

"IC579C dash E2430A?"

"That's not showing anything either.  Can you go into your Settings, and under General if you scroll down..."

"I can't turn on the phone."

"Is that because you don't have it or because it won't turn on?"

"It won't turn on."

"Okay.  Did something happen to your phone?

"It suffered water damage."

"And you haven't been able to operate it since the water damage?"

"Right."

"Have you tried to dry out the phone or shut it down for 24 hours? Some people also use uncooked rice."

"Rice?"

"Sometimes the uncooked rice soaks up enough residual moisture to..."

"I never would have thought of that."

"It wasn't my idea either, I've just heard that some people have had success with it."

"I dont think rice is going to work."

"Why not?"

"It's been a while since my iPhone stopped working."

"How long has it been?"

"Four months."

"Oh.  Probably not.  Let's see if we can find your account on the system.  Can you give me your Apple ID?

"Ivymount915@yahoo.com"

"Thank you.  I'm looking up your purchase history."

"Where are you located?"

"Where am I located?"

"Yeah.  Are you in Cupertino?"

"All customer service calls are routed through our central call center."

"Right but where are you located at this moment while we are having this conversation?  I don't mean it like "I'm not talking to someone in INDIA am I?" or anything like that.  I'm just curious."

"We aren't supposed to disclose our location."

"Okay, sorry.  I wasn't trying to be weird."

"No that's fine.  Regarding your Apple account, I see you purchased this iPhone in November of last year."

"I don't remember."

"It says November 14, which means your warranty expired a few weeks ago.  I'm sorry."

"That's fine.  I still need a new phone."

"If you don't mind my asking, why didn't you contact us sooner to replace your iPhone?"

"I don't know.  I just didn't get around to it."

"Of course, of course.  I wish we could have submitted this for you under the warranty.  It doesn't look you purchased the Apple Protection Plan, which would have..."

"That's not why."

"Excuse me?"

"It's true I didn't get around to it, but that's not why I haven't replaced my iPhone."

"You aren't obligated to provide a reason if we can't apply..."

"I haven't replaced my iPhone because it's a reminder."

"I thought the phone doesn't work."

"Not calendar reminders.  It reminds me of my daughter drowning."

"Oh my god.  I am so sorry."

"No I mean thanks, but she's fine.  She's alive.  Sorry about that.  She almost drowned, in the Thames River, while we were on vacation in London.  We were on the terrace of a local pub, sitting with friends at the end of a perfect day.  All the kids wandered down to the bank of the river to feed the ducks.  Layla was 5 years old.  She couldn't swim at all.  We were all talking at the table, eating and drinking.  There was a white picket fence separating us from the riverbank.  Thankfully it wasn't a kosher mechitza."

"A what?"

"A mechitza is the wall that separates the men and women when they are seated in an Orthodox synagogue.  It is supposed to be at least five feet high."

"Oh.  Got it.  You were sitting down but this fence wasn't very high, so you could see the kids."

"Right.  So for whatever reason, I tracked the kids as they made their way to the riverbank and onto the wooden pier that jutted out just slightly.  It wasn't really a pier, it was horizontal to the water.  Is there a word for that?"

"It's hard for me to visualize what you're describing."

"It was a wooden pier but it didn't extend out over the water, so I guess it wasn't a pier. It ran parallel along the side of the river, and extended maybe a foot over water's edge."

"Where was this?"

"A town called Kingston on Thames, southwest of downtown London."

"I spent a semester abroad in London my junior year, but I don't think I know where that is."

"Did you enjoy it?"

"I loved it."

"Is this your first job after college?"

"No.  I've only been here five months."

"Do you like it?"

"No.  Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you."

"I am drinking my pint, quoting The Big Lebowski with my friend, but keeping an eye on the kids.  Ducks are swimming up to the pier thing because the kids have a loaf of bread and are throwing pieces into the water.   I see Layla moving closer to the edge, leaning over to feed the ducks, leaning over too far.  She loses her balance and pirouettes into the water.  As I remember it, I jumped out of my chair, yelled "Layla's in the water," ran around the fence, down to the water, and jumped in."

"What do you mean 'as you remember it'?"

"Apparently I did not yell anything.  And I didn't run around the fence, I jumped over it."

"Is there a word for that?"

"When you don't remember details of a traumatic moment, even immediately afterwards?"

"Yeah."

"Probably."

"Could you see her?"

"No.  I just ran to where I thought she fell in.  I didn't know how deep the water was.  I just jumped in  and reached down."

"And you grabbed her?"

"And pulled her out of the water.  It was just like the moment she was born.  She was a c-section.  The doctor pulled her out, all wet and slimy, and there was a moment of silence before she took her first breath.  It was terrifying.  And again in the Thames, that silence.  But then she breathed, and choked, and coughed a lot.  I swam us over to the pier and handed her off to someone, and yelled at myself to stay calm and not scare the kids."

"By yelling?"

"I didn't actually yell.  It was like a self-admonition to keep it together."

"So Layla was fine?"

"She recovered quickly.  Just needed some warming up.  For a while she had nightmares that she was being bitten by ducks.  But now she knows how to swim."

"And your iPhone was in your pocket."

"It's the only tangible thing I have from that day."

"What was so perfect about the day?"

"It was just...the weather was perfect, a warm summer day but not too hot.  In the morning we toured Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII lived.  Then we went swimming at a local pool.  In the afternoon we made our way to the local park, which had carnival rides for the kids.  My son and I found some people playing a hybrid cricket/baseball game, and they invited us to join them.  We played and everyone had a big laugh trying to learn each other's rules.  The pub was located right behind where we were playing.  We all walked right onto the terrace and the best table in the place was waiting for us.  Thank god it was right by the fence."

"And now your daughter swims?"

"She loves the water."

"Aren't you scared?

"Of what?

"The water.  Her."

"Why would I be scared only of the water?"

"So are you over-protective now?"

"No.  I don't think so.  I just feel...humbled.  Helpless."

"But you weren't helpless."

"Do you have kids?"

"No. Not yet."

"Parenting is an endless process of letting go.  Letting go means you can't always protect them.  It didn't matter that I pulled her out of the water.  I mean it mattered, but the lasting feeling wasn't relief, or pride.  Ever since it happened, I've been trying to accept what I can't control.  It's terrifying."

"But you got her out, and she's fine."

"When I got out of the water someone handed me a bar towel to dry myself off.  It didn't help much, but I did what I could with it and then walked back into the pub to return the towel.  A lot of people started crying when they saw me.  At the time I thought that was a strange reaction, seeing as how Layla was fine.  But afterwards, when I had time to think about it, I understood."

"Salt Lake City."

"Huh?"

"I live in Salt Lake City."

"Thanks."

"If you've waited this long to turn in the iPhone, you could just wait longer at this point.  Nothing's going to change in terms of what it's going to cost you to get a replacement."

"Thanks, but I'm ready."

"Okay, then I just need to ask you a few questions."

"And uh, thanks for listening.  Sorry to take up your time like that."

"No worries, really.  I've never had a perfect day."

"Maybe tomorrow."

"Probably not.  I'm working 4 pm to midnight."







February 13, 2013

Something About Larry

We all have a calling, but few among us ever find it.  Larry Greenstein found his calling.  Thirty years ago he made me a man, which is to say he was my bar mitzvah teacher.  And as a bar mitzvah teacher, he had no equal.  I loved him, I hated him, and in the end I appreciated him.  I have attended three bar/bat mitzvahs in the past month, and even now, thirty years after my day on the stage, each time I think of Larry.

Though not officially a cantor, Larry sang the Shabbat service with rare beauty.  He had a very large nose, the kind of nose whose affinity to stereotype even a fellow Jew could not deny.  Armed with this nose, Larry could unspool a cantorial chant of unmatchable warmth and depth.  He would sing the words of the Torah, dragging every ounce of pathos from each word, a kind of nasal melisma; slowly, deeply building whorls of ancient phonetic melody into plaintive crescendoes, beseeching God and man to open their hearts and raise their eyes to the heavens, until even the most stiff-necked of congregants had no choice but to join in on the chorus for Eitz Hayim or the Kedusha.  

And even when he was merely a participant and not the leader of the service, Larry always stole the show with perfectly executed refrains.  At those moments, when it would be time for the congregation to respond to the prayer, Larry would wait an extra beat as those around him began to sing and then, with his eyes closed, smiling beatifically, he would lean his head back and join in, slowly and softly at first but before long, his harmonies were the magic carpet that carried the voices of the congregation to weekly redemption.

Larry was a bachelor back in 1982 when my parents, who belonged to the same synagogue as Larry, asked him to be my bar mitzvah teacher.  Larry accepted, and a ritual quickly developed: We would sit at the dining room table.  Larry would sing a portion of what i needed to learn onto a tape recorder.  I would then attempt to recreate what Larry had sung, and during the week would use the tape as a reference point for my practice.  

"It is January 23, 1982, bar mitzvah lesson of Joshua Kranz, the parsha is Ki Tavo, this is D'varim Chapter 26, verses 8-14."  Larry would initiate each tape with the same formal introduction.  For our first few lessons he would sing each note I would encounter during my Torah reading, but where another teacher might have sung "Etchana-ah," Larry would sing "Etchana-ah-ah-ah-AH-ahahah......" Though I lacked any natural singing ability, Larry would drill me until I sang the notes the way he wanted them sung.  And he wanted them sung beautifully, each and every note.

I went to a Jewish day school, and my familiarity with Hebrew served me well in the early lessons. Too well, because Larry went to my parents and recommended that I prepare to lead the entire service, start to finish.  This meant learning the morning service, Torah reading, Haftarah reading and the supplemental, or Mussaf service.  Total running time = 3 hours, with only a break to deliver my bar mitzvah speech.  My parents thought this was a brilliant idea.  This meant longer lessons and more weekly homework, and each new prayer was addressed with the same rigor and devotion.

After each lesson, Larry would stay for dinner at my parents' invitation.  I don't remember there ever being any other adult who was casually invited by my parents to stay for dinner during my entire childhood.  My father would glare at my brothers and me when we would reach for the food on the table before Larry had been served.  My mother would ask Larry how his mother, who lived nearby, was doing.  Larry was the first person I ever knew to use the "X is X" non-explanation that says it all; each time he would answer "Mom is Mom," and it was left at that.

A few months before my bar mitzvah, Larry came into the house and asked my parents if they could speak privately.  When they emerged from the living room, the mood was calm but serious.  Larry had realized that on the day of my bar mitzvah, I would not actually be bar mitzvahed, in the sense of being legally qualified to lead the Saturday morning service, until I was called to the Torah for an aliyah, which takes place in the middle portion of the service, and therefore I would not yet be a BM when the service began that morning, and since I was already committed to leading the entire service soup to nuts, something needed to be done to make me legal from word one.  Hence the conference with my parents, and the decision that I would have to be called to the Torah and read a second Haftarah on a Shabbat prior to my bar mitzvah date.

The Haftarah is a reading of a section of the Book of Prophets, part of the Old Testament. It changes weekly, usually 25-30 verses, and it calls for a different set of notes and melodies then the Torah reading.  In other words, I was screwed.

My bar mitzvah was set for Labor Day weekend.  My parents and Larry checked their calendars, which back then meant pulling out a velo-bound 12 page calendar out of the desk drawer.  The scheduling options were limited.  Larry was going out of town for part of the summer.  Only one Shabbat was going to work, in July, and even that meant shortening our family beach vacation.  It also meant even more time cooped up indoors, chanting, while my friends fired off bottle caps and chased ice cream trucks.

"You get bar mitzvahed ONE TIME in your life.  Get over it," counseled my mother.

My father concurred.  "You're going to learn whatever Larry tells you to learn.  End of story."
The next week brought even more bad news.  The chosen Shabbat fell during the week before Tisha B'Av, the second most important day of mourning on the Jewish calendar, marking the destruction of both ancient temples.  Accordingly, the Haftarah for that week had to be chanted with a special trup, or melody, called Aicha that is used only during that one week of the year.  So the new tally was two Shabbats, two Haftarahs, and three different trups.  

Larry started a fresh cassette and plunged the red Record button and black Play button simultaneously.  This new Aicha trup was very different from the other melodies and I had only a few short weeks to learn it, in addition to everything else I was trying to learn.  I played the tape, rewound it, played it again.  

Two weeks before I was scheduled to chant the Aicha Haftarah, Larry asked me to read it through. As I chanted, I could hear him sigh through his nose, a human foghorn.  I struggled with some notes.  Glancing across the table, I saw that he had taken off his large, pale-colored eyeglasses and was massaging the bridge of his nose, and then his temples.  Larry said nothing until I was done, but then delivered his verdict. "Given where you are at this point with your reading of the Aicha Haftarah, and given the importance and sanctity of this reading, I cannot in good conscience allow you to recite it in synagogue in three weeks."

Looking back, I realize the proper response would have been elation.  Instead, I turned beet red and at Larry's suggestion, excused myself to the hallway bathroom to collect myself.  When I returned, Larry declared that he was willing to work hard to get me where I needed to be, if I could similarly commit.  With a nod of the head, we set to it.  

Two weeks later, I chanted the Aicha Haftarah for a sparsely attended Shabbat morning service in the 95 degree humidity of a Maryland July, and in the most technical and legalistic sense of the term, I became a man.  Larry had been appeased.  

In September,  my bar mitzvah went off without a hitch.  But something else happened in between, an event I remember more clearly than anything that happened on my bar mitzvah day.  My parents, you see, had become overwhelmed with the stress of bar mitzvah planning and had decided to take a long weekend vacation.  There was no way they could take my brothers and I with them, not so close to my bar mitzvah date and with all the studying I had to do.  Larry had quickly offered to stay at our home and take care of us while they were gone.  

I had just turned thirteen, naturally.  Jonathan was eleven and Jeremy was seven.  We were all huge pro wrestling fans at the time.  Jonathan subscribed to several pro wrestling monthly publications, and every weekend we watched WWF and NWA action.  Jonathan and I were watching pro wrestling this particular weekend in August - Jeremy was napping upstairs - when Larry walked into the room and declared all pro wrestling to be fake.  With the benefit of thirty years of perspective, I now realize that Larry was merely uttering a true statement.  At the time, it was taken as a challenge.

"IT'S NOT ALL FAKE," yelled Jonathan and I.

Yes it is, said Larry.

"ARE YOU SAYING THAT THEY DON'T GET HURT???"

That's what I am saying, said Larry.

"YOU DON'T THINK THE CAMEL CLUTCH HURTS????"

No, I do not, he said.

Something in me bubbled over.  I challenged Larry: He would let us execute a series of wrestling moves on him, and we would see if he could withstand it.  Larry, to his eternal credit, agreed.

We cleared some extra space in the family room.  We ordered Larry to lie on his back so we could administer the Figure Four, at the time the signature move of several pro wrestlers.  Larry was built like a cube.  Everything about him was broad: ears, nose, shoulders, back, chest, thighs, calves, feet.  As Larry laid on the ground, Jonathan and I strained to lift his right leg, which we then bent ninety degrees and laid over his left knee.  I then slid one leg in the triangular space between his thighs (thus the "four" shape), slid the other leg over the overlying right foot, hooked my left foot behind his left calf, and leaned back as hard as I could.  The effect, as seen on television, was excruciating pressure on the person's knees and groin.

Larry didn't flinch.  "Nothing," he said.  "I don't feel anything."

Jonathan and I moved on to the Cobra Clutch, a chokehold synonymous with the legendary Sergeant Slaughter, who was at the height of his villainous popularity at the time.  For this hold we hooked one arm underneath Larry's right arm in a kind of half nelson and then brought his left arm all the way across his body, locking my hands behind Larry's neck while Jonathan stretched Larry's arm as far as it would go."

Larry's voice was muffled by his left arm but we could make out clearly what he was saying. "Nothing again."

Jonathan wanted to try a Superfly Splash, the Jimmy Snuka finishing move that won him worldwide fame, but Larry vetoed it because it involved jumping off the couch, which was forbidden by my parents.  We tried a sleeper hold.  Nothing.  Camel Clutch.  Larry giggled.  The Texas Cloverleaf.  The Chickenwing.  Mandible Claw.  Tongan Death Grip.  Larry would tolerate the move, sigh, shake his head and wait for our next failed maneuver.

Finally it hit me: the Boston Crab.  Frankly, it was the last arrow in our quiver.  "Okay but this is the last one and then we're done," said Larry.

Larry was asked to lie on the ground on his stomach.  I stood over his legs, facing his feet.  With Jonathan's help, I lifted up his legs, leaned back and bent them toward his head.  Jonathan moved around to the other side and started to pull up Larry's shoulders.

"Okay guys, I think I proved my point," said Larry, but did I sense a shortness of breath?  Was he feeling some bodily stress? I tried to pull higher and further but Larry's stocky build was proving resistant.  At this moment, Jeremy bounded down the stairs.

"JEREMY COME HERE," said Jonathan and I simultaneously.  

Jeremy ambled into the family room and found his two brothers, grunting and tugging on the prone, arced bar mitzvah teacher.

"JEREMY, push Larry's legs up! Now!"

Smiling, ingenuous, Jeremy ran over and slammed his small frame into Larry's upside-down thighs.

"PUSH Jeremy, PUSH!"

Larry's legs started to bend further.  His knees creaked.  He let out a loud groan.  "GET OFF!" he whispered.  "GET OFF!" 

We released our collective grip, perhaps involuntarily due to the convulsive laughter.  Larry writhed on the ground for a minute, then slowly got up off the floor.  He sat on the couch and, staring off into the distance, asked us to just go upstairs and go to sleep.  None of us, including Larry, breathed a word to our parents about what had happened.

Shortly after my bar mitzvah, Larry decided to move to Israel.  He married an Israeli woman and they started a family.  I only saw him one more time.  In 1989, my family traveled to Israel to visit Jonathan while he spent a semester there.  My parents tracked down Larry and we had a nice dinner in the shadow of the Old City.  At the end of the dinner I looked at my brother, he nodded, and we approached Larry while my parents were talking to his wife.

"Hey Larry," we whispered.  "Do you remember the Boston Crab?"

Larry stared at us, then after a long pause muttered "it was great to see you both again" and said his goodbyes to my parents.  

Oh Larry, what I wouldn't give to hear you lead the congregation just one more time; your voice rising to the stars, the moon, the sun and the heavens as you pray for us all.

December 20, 2012

Rush Ordered

On October 22 I went to see Rush at the brand-new Barclays Center with my college friends Mike and Rob.  Mike and I went with a different Rob to see Rush in Binghamton's Broome County Arena back in 1988, which is also when Rush was last relevant.  It was a trip to see them again with Mike 24 years later, and having Rob there was the perfect addition.

The concert ran three hours and unfortunately, two of those hours were devoted to a complete, start to finish performance of Rush's new album, which isn't bad but also isn't exactly on heavy rotation on my iPod.  I think it's fair to assume that most people were there to hear the old classics that we remember from our FM classic rock radio days.  Still, there were some great drum solos, and when Rush did play an old classic it sounded great.

Nonetheless, unintentional comedy ruled the evening, inspiring me to send out 58 Facebook status updates during the show.  That's about one per every three minutes of the show, but  I didn't send out very much over the last hour of the concert so my posts were even more frequent than that for most of the evening, which many friends enjoyed and a few probably could have lived without.

I had fun posting all night and figured I'd save the posts on my blog for posterity.  Smithsonian Foundation, you're welcome:





RUSH. No not the balding paunchy guy. The balding paunchy trio.
Time to start love blogging
I think I am relieved that I haven't heard of some of these songs.
Live. The stage design is somewhere between regional theater and Norwegian cruise. There are several appliances from the near future stacked together. Not exactly The Wall
What CAN'T the man do on a tom tom
The guy in front of us just asked my friend to stop talking. White guys ROCK.
Having said, in their collective defense I have not seen one person air drumming. Not a one. Credit where it's due.
Seriously my mother's Monday night mah Jong game was rowdier than this.
Hey I know this song! I'm 14 again! It feels weird!
Dammit. Jinxed it. Some serious air drumming is happening. It's like Stomp but even more pointless.
Surprised that Deron Williams isn't here. He could sit in on Power Windows.
My status updates ate being blocked. Someone call Dokken!
I keep trying to post using the word "shr-dded" and it keeps gettin blocked.
Everyone here looks like John Candy or Michael Imperioli, with no in betweens
My face. Just. Melted.
Greatest drum solo. Greatest.
"No I'm fine thank you. A little jet lagged. Just got back from Neil Pearts drum solo and it takes a little while to get used to the earths atmosphere again.

Thought I knew what a drum solo was. I had not Even the slightest.

Loud fireworks. Half the audience was so shocked they dropped their air drumsticks. The air clatter was very loud.

Canada, thank you

Intermission. I think the line for the women's room is going to be very tolerable.

Please don't tell my children I am here. I want them to have a better life than I have.

The house lights are up. Not a good decision

I am missing the debate and a Game 7. This is like a debate multiplied by a Game 7. But even better.

They are about to come back out for second set. Gird your loins. And don't stop girding, Geddy

I went to a Magic the Gathering convention and a Rush concert broke out.

In the video Rush plays a trip of munchkins wearing astronaut helmets and prison stripes. Yes really.

Video. Man rings doorbell that chimes Closer to the Heart. I need to get me one of them there doorbells.

Trying to remember when I took acid today. Munchkin felons with big mustaches. The left side of my body has gone numb.

Not sure Geddy Lee is wearing any makeup for the munchkin role. Some things can not be unseen

Violins. Fireworks. Orthopedics. Smoky, very smoky. Nathan's fries. More video. Many in the crowd own Battlestar Galactica DVD set. The violin players are mostly female. That's what passes for irony here.

Some say Neil Peart is the Pablo Picasso of drummers. I say Pablo Picasso is the Neil Peart of painters.

Awesome medley....YYZ right into AARP....

My friend here is a Rush expert. It's like a whole other language. Kind of Klingon, or Esperanto

Of course there are women here. We have binders full of women who love Rush.

Have they asked Romney about his policy on shredding?

Rush is the soundtrack of our lives. Sorry, that should read "hives."

Move over Cream. Have a seat Green Day. Back of the bus, Police. Not this time, Yo La....ummm, sit wherever you want YLT. I can't even joke about that.

I could have sworn "Stonehenge" was going to be the encore.

Those fireworks are loud. I see people left an right turning down their hearing aids.

So they HAVE done new music since 1987. Huh.

Drum solo is on amber alert

We have drum solo.

What do we really know about Alex Lifeson?

Geddy Lee's big break was playing the grandma on Beverly Hilbillies.

They just played the new album in its entirety. Way to know your audience fellas.

I'm going to go home, put on Music Metal Machine, DVR Godfather 3 and YouTube Michael Richards doing standup.

Rush prevented more teen pregnancies than...

Very cool third drum solo. I am going to name my next pet Pearty.

Two stages of life: before you hear Subdivisions live for the first time, and after.

Spirit of Radio. Could be the title of this concert. Crowd clapping in rhythm, albeit rhythmlessly

Tom Sawyer. Back in 12 minutes.

I can't believe how many people are leaving right now. Then I realized they want to get home for the 11 pm King of Queens.

2112. This song will end in 100 years. The Iditarod will not be televised.

One of the greatest concerts in Barclays Center history.

I don't even know if I'm here ironically anymore.

I just wish Ayn Rand were here to enjoy this.

All I know is I am not the same person I was three hours ago.