Those of you who spend time watching TV series know full well that new episodes often begin with snippets from the last one to serve as reminders as to what happened previously – just in case you happened to miss that show, or your real life was so exciting that you couldn’t remember. My last print excursion, It’s Snow Use, ended with Barbara and me about to head into Jerusalem on a Sunday for a much-delayed trip to Frank, our hair person. As a firm believer in praemonitus, praemunitus (in the vernacular, forewarned is forearmed), I was bringing along with me my virtual anti-B.S. shovel, just in case our tonsorialist had been over-dosing on the latest hoo-hah from his favorite invariably unreliable news source.
Turns out I didn’t need it, at least nothing that effective. Do you remembering going to the beach as a child, bringing with you a tiny pail and a toy shovel to play in the sand? That’s all I would have needed. Frank did start inveighing against renewable sources as the cause of the recent energy debacle in Texas, but I could tell from his tone of voice that his heart wasn’t really in it. It was as if he was waiting for someone (anyone!) to straighten him out. And so I did, whereupon he admitted that I seemed to know a lot more about the subject (not that I know any more than what I took the time to read) than he did, ruefully conceding the error of his ways.
Truth to tell, I had other matters on my mind that day. I was still considering something the ‘kiddush club’ had been discussing the previous day. We were sitting in our salon, when Irwin asked me, apropos of nothing in particular, if, indeed, my trousers were made of corduroy, which they were. That started him reminiscing. The trouble with corduroy pants, he suggested, was if you were a ‘chubby’ kid back then, the material would rub against your thighs, causing the pants to wear out in that area. (I wouldn’t know; no one would have called me overweight.) That got Irwin thinking about galoshes, which in The Bronx meant oversized rubber boots fastened with metal clamps, great for keeping your feet nice and dry, but not the most stylish of footwear. If Irwin was taking a trip down Memory Lane, I was going to go with him. What about the caps our mother used to make us wear, the ugly ones with the ear flaps that tied under your chin?Has there ever been a dorkier item of apparel anywhere on this planet? (Ezra, being younger, had no idea what we were referring to.)
So far, so good. Then Irwin surprised me. He claimed that funny looking hats with ear flaps – and pom poms!!! – were au courant here in The Land for both guys and gals. I tried to remember. I had a vague recollection of seeing said headwear on a few young females. But on guys? (The thought of any of us walking into P.S. 80 on a winter day with a dorky cap with a pompom on top causes me to shudder. That would have been the end of my career as a child of reasonable significance.)
As Barbara and I walked around Jerusalem before and after our rendezvous with Frank, I kept my eyes open for any signs of the aforementioned cranial warmer. However, it was much too warm that afternoon for anyone to have one on. There were tiny piles of urban slush on the street corners; otherwise, winter seemed gone – which is just as well because my virtual shovel is virtually useless against snow. What about the coming Wednesday – right before Purim – when I would return to Jerusalem to do my weekly shuk run. Would I see winter hats of any size or shape then? The short answer was no; it was too nice a day, the kind of ‘nice’ whereby it’s virtually impossible to be grumpy. (You could try, but you’d have to work at it.)
The bus ride into ‘town’ – non-rush hour – takes about fifteen minutes. Most riders spend their time staring at their portable devices. A few old-fashioned types peruse newspapers. Invariably, there’s at least one woman reciting her prayers to herself, lips flapping about with nothing coming out. Although the landscape no longer is a novelty, I prefer to look out the window. There’s often a flock of sheep or goats somewhere out there, enjoying their morning repast. Now is the perfect time of year if your main source of nutrition is the stuff on the ground. We’re now in the midst of the How Green Is My Valley time of year, those three or four months when the normally drab and dry landscape springs into life. Maybe if I concentrate hard enough, I can keep the memory of all this greenness fresh in my mind for the rest of the year. That won’t help the sheep and goats find enough to eat come August, but it’s the best I can do.
By now, my regular readers know that if I’m heading towards or near the shuk, my first stop is automatically Power Coffeeworks for the finest caffeinated beverage this side of the Rockies. I was standing at the takeout window, chatting with Tziona, the young lady working the espresso machine, serving the customers, as well as labeling some quarter liter bottles and filling them with cold brew, perfect for shalach manot.
You can easily make the case that serving coffee is a right and proper thing to do at a Purim seudah – much more so than what was available at my next stop, the large ‘candy store’ right next to Mahane Yehuda. Here you have every manner of chocolate, candy, and snack food available in the Land, and believe-you-me, that’s a lot of junk food all in one place. And, similarly, that’s a lot of people crowding the store, buying all this stuff to put into boxes and baskets and packages to give to their friends and neighbors – even though the consumption of all of this c-r-a-p is a) injurious to anyone’s health and b) would never in a million years be served at an actual festive meal (please pass the bisli this way), which is supposed to be the point of giving food as a gift. I wound up buying a few small bags of doritos and some ‘health bars’ and hightailing it out of there. We’ll also include an apple, an orange, and a persimmon in our shalach manot and call it a day. At least, no one will get sick from our offerings.
Most years, all this wasted activity annoys me, but remember, it was too nice a day to be grumpy. Besides, I could empathize with the sense of ‘we’re out of jail’ going on around me, with the throngs of people in a celebratory mood. I kept thinking of something else that Frank, our hair person, told us. When asked what plans he and his wife had for Purim, he basically pooh-poohed the holiday. It’s just for kids. There is one Purim for kids, showing off their costumes or making a racket during the reading of the Megillah. There’s also a different version for adults. If nothing else, it allows us to let off some steam, knowing that (shudder!) we’re only weeks away from being P.C., which stands for – are you ready? – Pesach clean.
The article I contributed to the recent edition of Mussar Schmooze, our shul’s magazine, contained an urgent plea: now that there are vaccines against COVID-19, how about finding something to inoculate us against having Purim on a Friday. That’s what we were faced with this year, a festive meal at 10AM. That spells B-R-U-N-C-H where I come from, but brunch with a caveat or two thrown in for good measure. Have a festive meal, but don’t eat so much that you won’t be hungry for Fri. night dinner. Have something to drink, but you shouldn’t be tipsy when Shabbat starts. The meal should be leisurely, but you need to leave time to get ready by candle lighting time. Who thought of this rigamarole, anyway? Despite all of the above, we were determined to proceed, to have an appropriate festive meal, just as we’ve done every year since our arrival in the Land.
But before we did anything else, we would need to hear the Megillah. Usually (meaning pre and post Corona), Barbara and I would head down the hill in the evening for the quiet reading that takes place in someone’s apartment. That means no stamping, no clapping, no hooting, no whistling, no grogging every time H*m*n’s name is mentioned. If you’re feeling boisterous, you can tap your two index fingers together, but that’s all. This year, of course, no such minyan, with people crowded together, would be allowed. The shuls were open for business, but that involved signing up in advance, or uploading your vaccination credentials so you could get past the bouncers at the door, or something similar. No. Just no. Barbara and I wound up sitting in our living room, taking turns reading Megillat Esther to each other, a chapter at a time – in English. Whether this qualifies as ‘hearing the Megilla’ is up for discussion, but it’s not as detrimental as giving someone you know a pound and a half of gumballs.
At 10AM on Friday, the doors to our banquet hall were opened, and our guests began arriving, mostly the same crew as before (except that Natania and Gil were stuck in Jerusalem; one of our guest’s father, with us for the first time last year, is now of blessed memory; and some of our friends have moved too far away to join us.) I felt obliged to ask those assembled if they wanted their orange juice with or without vodka, and the verdict was as you would have expected.
From there, we proceeded to the main part of the meal: the obligatory bagels with gravlax, followed by Barbara’s quiches. At which point, I excused myself and returned to the kitchen to bring out the final course. The hash brown potatoes and sauteed mushrooms were warming in the oven; all that was left to do was scramble a dozen eggs.
But what’s that I was hearing at the dining room table? Was I hearing references to a certain defeated politician? Would I have to put down my spatula and pick up my virtual anti-B.S. shovel? I hastened back and ‘suggested’ that the conversation be redirected. It’s enough that on Purim we are required to mention H*m*n. There was no reason at all to mention the other person, at least, none that I could think of. I’m glad to say that my ‘suggestion’ was accepted by all assembled. (What a relief! I could eat my eggs in the joy of the moment.) Needless to say, we finished our repast with some (store bought) hamantaschen and some French press coffee, freshly ground with my new Wilfa grinder. There was more than enough time, once everyone went their separate ways, to get ready for Shabbat. At dinner that night (just the two of us), Barbara commented on the high quality of the wine I had chosen, a chianti from Tuscany. I reminded her of the sad truth. Last June, we were scheduled for a trip to Tuscany, including that same winery. Someday…
It was almost a week after Purim, and I was ready to go to bed. There on my WhatsApp feed – which I almost never check – was something from an old, dear friend. What does he have to say? Oh no, not one of those typically stupid political memes, against which there are also no known vaccines. Why did he send it to me? It was late at night, too late to fetch my virtual anti-B.S. shovel, which is kept in our storage room, along with a very real broom and mop. All the meme could do was disrupt my already spotty sleep pattern – if I let it.
The next day I carefully composed an email and sent it to our friend. It was a joke, right? You’re not seriously suggesting that the decisions to rebrand Mr. Potato Head and retire a half dozen Dr. Seuss books were taken because the current American administration asked them to? You don’t think this would have happened if the former chief twitterer were still around? Because I was still in my Purim non-grumpy state of mind, I didn’t press the matter further. Is that the best you can come up with? You’re certain that there is some group effort, that ‘they’ are being mean to people like you? How about if we give you two more tries to come up with a more gut-wrenching complaint?
Anyone who is sufficiently agitated by this latest turn of events is free to dash off an angry communication to Hasbro, Inc. or rush out to purchase the six soon-to-be discontinued Dr. Seuss books, which is apparently what lots of folks are doing. (You could also try to find out what’s actually going on, but that’s no fun!) Just as you’re free to wander the streets of Jerusalem looking for pom poms on men’s hats, you’re also free, if you so choose, to concoct, promote, or advocate whatever cockamamie ideas you have – even if they make no sense, aren’t true, and have no relation to anything else. But do you want to? Will it improve your life or make other people admire you more? If you or anyone you know is still stuck down a rabbit hole, and the way back up is clogged with debris, I know of a virtual anti-B.S. shovel you may want to borrow. Let’s leave our tomfoolery for Purim itself, which is, once again, a year away, by which time, we will all be blessed with, as Juvenal (not ‘juvenile’) put it, mens sano in corpore sana, and let us say ‘Amen.’
Our next episode will be entitled, ‘Eighty is the new seventy, is the new sixty.’ Stay tuned.