Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

May the Answers Be With You

I got nine questions this year, which is fitting, since that’s exactly how many commandments Moses had on his tablets, more or less.

A couple questions were more about me than Judaism, which isn’t entirely kosher — their creation wasn’t overseen by a rabbi — but I’ll start with those:

Carolyn asks:
What’s your favorite part of being Jewish?
For me, the most fulfilling part is being able to act as a sort of unofficial Jewish ambassador, answering all these questions for you fine folk each year.

But if that answer feels like a cop out... I suppose the best traditional part of being Jewish would probably be all the money.
Alex J. Cavanaugh asks:
Do you ever feel left out at Christmastime?
No, I don’t. Of course, that may be because I married a Catholic.

So, did I feel left out before I met my wife? No, I didn’t. Of course, that may be because I started celebrating the traditional Jewish Christmas (movies and Chinese food) at age 13.

So, did I feel left out before the advent of our Jewish Christmas? No, I didn’t. Of course, that may be because my entire childhood was magical and nothing bad ever happened and fa la la la la I can’t hear you.

And now we’ll get to the seven questions about Judaism, which is a fitting total since it’s the exact number of nights in Hanukkah, give or take:

Sam Cook asks:
How do I know if my children are Jewish? I wouldn't want to be presumptuous and assume they aren't just because their parents aren't.
First, look for the horns.

No, but seriously. Look for them. Every Jew has horns. From an early age, we’ve learned to hide them, disguise them, but they’re there.

If you don’t see any horns, look for a tail.
Carolyn asks:
Is there a traditional Hannukah meal?
Yes. Yes there is.

The traditional Hannukah meal is made of finely minced potato. It’s not as popular as other traditional meals (e.g. corn, oat, happy), which is why it’s typically only available this time of year.
Gillian says:
[My daughter’s band director said] they couldn't play any traditional Jewish songs, because traditional Jewish music is played in keys that 7th grade band students haven't learned to play yet. Please explain, in terms that the non-Jewish and non-musical among us can comprehend.
Like your car or house keys, keys in music are also used to unlock things. The difference is in what they unlock: emotions. Moods.

In our history, Jews have become extremely familiar with suffering, heartache, and fear, often intertwined with seeds of hope. These feelings are ingrained in our genes (i.e. our JDNA), and thus woven into our music as well. Since most 7th graders have yet to experience such raw emotions, they cannot fully grasp the nuances of traditional Jewish music. Only later in life, once they’ve unlocked these emotions, will they be able to play with the proper mix of somberness and joy. While standing on a roof.
Denise’s Aunt Sharon asks:
So, which day of Hanukkah IS the most important???
The middle one.
Scott asks:
Why do we learn that the Menorah is lit at Hannukkah, when, traditionally, a Hannukiah is used for the holiday? In other words, what are you hiding!!??
We learn this because that’s what happens. We light the menorah at Hannukkah.

Think of it this way: Traditionally, the three Magi are pictured riding dromedaries. But we call them camels, because they’re a type of camel. It’s the same thing with hanukkiahs and menorahs (except the Magi don’t ride them).

So, to answer your question about what it is I’m hiding... it’s a horrible book, somewhere in your new house.
My sister Naomi asks:
How do Jews celebrate Christmas when it falls on the first day of Chanukah? Is the traditional movie and Chinese food sufficient? Or does the movie need to be Chanukah themed? Are there Sweet and Sour Latkes?
When Christmas falls on the first day of Chanukah, the traditional Jewish manner of celebration does indeed need to be tweaked:
  • You must wear the socks and/or underwear you received the first night of Chanukah.
  • To determine who gets the Chinese appetizers, play a game of dreidel.
  • The movie(s) you see must already have been in the theater for 8 nights.
Oh, but I don’t get your last question. Latkes are always sweet and sour. That’s why they’re always served with apple sausage and sauerkraut.
And finally, John asks:
Why are there two spellings of 'Hannukah/Chanukkah?' Silly question, I know, but I've always wondered about it.
It’s not a silly question at all. I may have explained the correct spelling of Hanukkah in my primer years ago, and then later revised my answer, and re-revised it, but now all of those are woefully outdated. You’re right to seek a more timely answer.

The reason it can be spelled both ‘Hannukah/Chanukkah’ and ‘Hanukkah/Chanukah’ is because Jews have always been way ahead of the game on lax spelling. Long before verbage, supposably, and whatevs were added to the dictionary, we knew this was the route humanity was heading. So we made the spelling of our most well-known holiday flexible. That way goyim such as yourself can never get it wrong.

You’re welcome. Obvs.

Thank you all for your questions! I’m glad I could help keep so many of you so well informed! And as always, we’ll do this again next Hanukkah... which for all we know may be starting any minute now.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Keeping Han in Hanukkah

Remember that part in The Empire Strikes Back where Leia tells Han she loves him and he says, "I know"? That's what I want for you. I want — when someone brings up something interesting or profound about Hanukkah or Judaism — that you'll already know it.

With that in mind, it's time for my 7th Annual Jew & A! In other words...

I will answer any question you have about Judaism.

Post any questions you might have about Jews or Judaism in the comments section before Hanukkah begins (i.e. sundown on 12/24), and I will answer them for you.

Perhaps you've always wanted to know what the Jews were really doing in that desert for 40 years. Or how to tell the difference between a regular Jewish American girl and a Princess. Whatever your query, send it my way. Even if it's been asked before, don't let that stop you — much like the Jewish calendar, the answers to such questions are in constant flux.

So, what do you want to know?

The Original Primer and Past Jew & A's:

Thursday, November 24, 2016

I'm Full of It

Wherein it = thank. I am full of thank.

Yes, the next four years are going to be scary. When a man who believes in gay conversion therapy is considered the sane one in the bunch, we've got problems. But as worried as I am about the coming Trumpocalypse, more than anything else I am thankful.

For what am I thankful? I'm glad I'm pretending you asked.
  • Everyone who voted for those turkeys, because without them we wouldn't yet know just how broken our country is, and now we can work to fix it.
  • My son, because to him I'm the funniest person in the world.
  • Improv, because sometimes a guy just needs to pretend he's plankton for a while, or to sing of the many benefits of a lost toe.1
  • Friends and family, because alliteration? Awesome.
  • Those times when you think you're out of cheese but it turns out you still have some cheese left, because mmm cheese.
  • Cats and kittens, because they make absolutely fantastic hand warmers during the cold winter months.
  • Cold winter months, because of what I already said about cats and kittens. Do I have to draw you a diagram?
  • Epiphany moments, because, I mean, c'mon.
  • And of course, my lovely wife Denise, because even after all this time, her taste in husbands has not improved one bit.

Happy Turkey Day, everyone!

1 You save money on nail polish, for instance. And pedicures. Toe stubbings drop 10%. Plus, now your foot will fit into that dashing prince's glass slipper.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I Went and Did It Again

Longtime readers hate know that I crave the opportunity to like to show off share my brilliant creations humble stories whenever one knocks the judge's sox off ekes out a contest win. Unsurprisingly Unexpectedly, a few weeks ago I won another much-deserved victory again.

Normally, I'd hype the unfettered creativity of explain the thought process behind my genius winning entry, but today I'll just let you revel in its glory leave you to it.

(Instead needing to work five specific words into the story like in my past wins, the sole requirement this time was to start with the phrase "No questions asked.")

No. Questions Asked: 5
No. Clear Answers Received: 0
Q1- 911. What is the nature of your emergency?
Q2- Understood. What's your location, ma'am?
Q3- I assume you cannot speak freely?
Q4- Are you in immediate danger?
Q5- Last question. Does he have a gun?
A1- No, I don't really have time for a survey.
A2- I thought our landline was on the no-call list, but if there's a prize...
A3- Beats me. Maybe... once a week?
A4- Come now, don't be rude.
A5- That's no defense. She and I always--I've had enough. *click*
No. Vehicles Sent: 3

My prize? Burning Bright by Nicholas Petrie, whose writing rivals my own makes my prose feel small in comparison. It has perhaps the best opening to a novel not written by me I've ever read. If I were you, I'd steal my copy the first moment I look away buy it when it comes out in January.

And of course, you should visit Janet Reid's blog to laugh at all the lesser entries become awed by all the other amazing tales, including one sharing the top honor. Go, right after you reread every single post on my blog now.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pictures Or It Didn't Happen

That used to be a thing. Someone would share something they did or witnessed, and then someone else would say, "Pictures or it didn't happen." Basically, calling the story-teller out as a liar. It was a dick move.

Since I don't have photos to illustrate any of this, here's a bunch of stuff that didn't happen over the past couple months. You know, if you're a dick.
  • I ordered a small dish of ice cream for myself for the first time ever.1
  • My son learned how to play checkers, chess, Stratego, Sorry!, Catan Junior, and Battleship. He's 5, so he doesn't yet understand the strategy for the first three games, but if you're playing him in any of the others, watch out.2
  • The imaginary superhero my son named after himself and told stories about for over a year was killed off by his new imaginary superhero.
  • My brother-in-law wore a dress on stage. Again. (He's not an actor, a cross-dresser, or transgender. He's just a guy who is far too willing to follow scripts I write.)
  • A squirrel drowned in our pool. It's a small inflatable pool, and the squirrel should have easily stood on its hind paws and clawed its way out. Since it didn't, this was obviously a hit by the Squirrel Mafia.
  • My son and nephew gained new amazing abilities. They could see a road from the top of a mountain using their far-away vision, the backside of a building from the front using their see-everything vision, and who was behind a door using their x-ray vision. Denise had to keep telling them to stop using that last one in the restrooms.
  • On my birthday, I took the day off from work for the first time in ten years. I didn't replace a toilet ring like last year's birthday, but I thought about it.
  • I replaced a toilet ring.3
  • Over the span of one month, we found 3-4 dozen dead bees in our sunroom (and a few in our kitchen). They each succumbed in a different spot, showed no signs of cat attack, and only twice did we see one alive. These were obviously hits by the Squirrel Mafia.4
  • Oh yeah, and I took a bunch of pictures.

1 In my defense, the shop's "small" is larger than most places' larges. Their "large" can feed a family of 4 for a week. (Yeah, I still regret not going with the large.)
2 Especially in Battleship. He cheats.
3 Also its innards. Or, if you'd prefer, the toilet's reproductive organs. (Because, you know, those parts are how it reproduces the same flush every time.)
4 Don't even try to say it was the Bee Mafia. Everyone knows there's no such thing. Here in New England, the WASPs have the power.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Best of the Best

In 1st grade, my best friend was a kid named Dave. Halfway through the year, his family moved to another town. I visited once, and never saw him again.

In 3rd grade, my best friend was a kid named Matt. Halfway through the year, his family moved to another town. I visited once, and never saw him again.

After that, I gave up on having a best friend.

Eventually I ventured into adulthood, where best friends weren't as big a deal, probably because of Facebook. I had close friends, good friends, high school & college friends, and volleyball friends, but I stuck to the decision I made when I was 8. No besties.1

And then I met Denise. I've never called her my best friend. Honestly, I've never really considered her to be my best friend, because my brain had wiped the very concept from my perception decades earlier, but yeah, that's what she is.

There are plenty of people who love to tell the world "I married my best friend," but I've never cared much for that sentiment. It's too sappy for my taste. Maybe I'm still jaded from my youth, or maybe I simply don't like sap.2

Nevertheless, today being what it is, I'm going to go ahead and say it. Six years ago today, I married my—no, no, I can't do it. Too damned sappy. Need to boil it down.

Six years ago today, I married the love of my life.

And they lived happily ever after.

There, much better. Sap free, and with a fairy tale ending.

But wait: There's more! For the low, low price of reading the last two footnotes, you can also learn more about my former best friends Matt3 and Dave.4

1 Also, no Super Friends. Marketing teams in the 70s sure made some odd name choices.
2 Not till it's been boiled down into sweet, sweet syrup. Before that, it's just a bitter, sticky residue I can't wash off easily and makes me feel unclean.
3 I never saw Matt again, but 20 years later my dad saw him semi-regularly. Same Masonic lodge.
4 I never saw Dave again, but 20 years later Denise saw him semi-regularly. She dated his older brother.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Real-Life Locked Room Mystery

A couple weeks ago, I decide to take the day off to bring my son and his cousin to the aquarium. But as I try to transition the boys from pajamas to clothes after their breakfast, my son steps into the hallway and closes the door on us.

His bedroom door has a lock on it, facing the hallway. We have no idea why. The previous owners had no children, so as best we can figure they enjoyed locking their house guests in at night.

Anyway, it turns out my son hasn't actually locked the door. But as I usher him back into his room, I stupidly tell him not to play with the lock.

I say stupidly, because—well, if you've known any 5-year-old boys, you can guess what happens next. That's right: My son immediately stops playing with the lock and comes into his room to get dressed.

Then my nephew steps into the hallway, turns the lock, and comes back into the room, closing the door behind him.

So yeah, that happened.

Denise had left for work 10 minutes earlier, so there's no one in the house to let us out. My phone is downstairs. The lock's "safety" mechanism — as I'd already discovered weeks earlier with the bathroom door — cannot be popped with a paper clip or wire hanger; it needs to be turned with a tiny screwdriver. A tiny screwdriver I don't have in my son's bedroom. Nor is there anything I can use to remove the hinges.

But. But! It isn't all bad. It's beautiful out, and my son's room faces the front of the house. Joggers pass by every day. Dog walkers, too. At least two families had walked or biked their kids to school the previous morning. And best of all, our neighbors across the street have a small dog, who they let out into the front yard several times a day. Despite our large front yard, certainly I'd be able to get someone's attention, and we'd be rescued in no time.

A half hour in, my nephew hits my son in the nose with a plastic toy. The crying distracts me long enough for the morning's lone jogger to pass the house before I see him.

No kids walk to school that day. No dog walkers. Plenty of vehicles drive by, but all have the windows rolled up or the music too loud to hear me.

After an hour, the boys are deliberately doing things to annoy each other. My back and shoulders ache from leaning out the second-story window waiting to flag someone down. I start to contemplate tying bed sheets together. Problem is, all I have to work with is the single set on the bed, plus a bunch of little kid clothes. Perhaps the material can hold my weight, but my knot-tying ability is highly suspect. No, our situation is not yet dire enough. Maybe when one of them needs to use the potty.

The neighbor on the corner walks to the end of his driveway to get the paper. I yell to him, but we've never met, so I don't know his name. He looks toward our yard, but for some reason doesn't think to look up, through the branches, to where I'm waving frantically from the second floor window. After a second (at most), he shrugs and heads back inside, ignoring my screams beseeching him not to go.

At ninety minutes it feels like it's been four hours. Being stuck in a room with warring boys will do that to you (even if, technically, half of you is outside the window). My son is bored and only wants to go to the aquarium. My nephew, on the other hand, is loving every minute of it. He feels we're having a grand adventure.

A man in a small white sedan drives by, driver-side window open. I call out, "Hi! Hello! Can you help us?!" and barely manage to catch his eye. He slows to a stop in front of the next house down, then puts his car in reverse. He listens to my story with a healthy amount of skepticism, but the kids' faces at the window are enough to convince him I'm not just some nut hanging out of a second-story window.

Okay, maybe he's not fully convinced, but he does agree to enter a stranger's house by the back door (which I'd luckily left unlocked after letting the dog out earlier), get trailed all the way through the house and up the stairs by a dog barking menacingly ("she's loud but friendly," I tell him), and release us back into the wild.

The man (henceforth to be known as "Mike, the Reluctant Savior") then wisely makes his own escape as fast as he can. (Pro tip: Don't stick around after saving a guy trapped in a room in his own house.) Yet before he's even reached the door, my son is sitting by the first-floor closet, getting his shoes on. So we can go to the aquarium right away.

Which is pretty much what we do.

... right after I remember to run back upstairs and close the window. We were moments away from losing a cat.


The lock is now on the inside of the room, where it belongs. Actually, it doesn't belong on the door at all in my opinion, but we haven't yet had the chance to do it in with a sledgehammer buy a new knob.

The kids loved the aquarium. My son would still be there feeding the rays, if he had his way.

Also, he now plays with locks far too often.