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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

All right, we need to talk about modern day spam.

Here is a spam I just received. You are surely getting these too?

So I want to know - what is the idea? What benefit is derived to anybody from this mail? And, is somebody writing these in a drug-induced haze, or are they computer generated?

This sounds like something the sybils would tell me.

A stoic turkey reads a magazine, and a blithe spirit panics; however, the mysterious skyscraper writes a love letter to another turn signal.

If a graduated cylinder requires assistance from a carelessly mitochondrial wedding dress, then a somewhat cantankerous fruit cake goes to sleep.

The bullfrog living with a ski lodge derives perverse satisfaction from the obsequious tape recorder. A recliner ignores a false particle accelerator, because an abstraction knows an outer roller coaster.

When you see the chess board, it means that the insurance agent self-flagellates.

A salad dressing. A non-chalantly fat turkey. A sheriff related to the minivan. A usually fashionable crank case.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Melina's Journal: Yes, but what can you DO?

In a recent post, I mocked an online-date for being useless - unable to screw in a lightbulb without calling a superintendent. Ma and I have been discussing this concept for some time now. I think it relates to our earlier discussions on the New Etiquette.

(Speaking of the new etiquette, which I have argued is the same as the old etiquette, one of my friends recently took the concept even further toward full-circle by hosting a 12-hour birthday party: she put on a lovely dress and sat in her living room with a pack of beer and some appetizers, and friends dropped by all afternoon to see her at their own convenience - what is this if not announcing her "visiting hours," Victorian style, by eVite?)

At any rate, in my over-developed city, people tend to evaluate themselves by what they consume rather than what they produce.

A gentleman weaver bird builds a nest to impress a lady weaver bird. A New York gentleman cannot do this as it is against zoning laws, and besides, everything already exists here that she might possibly desire. He doesn't need to weave it painstakingly out of straw. So how does the New York gentleman distinguish himself from the masses? By being an extremely discriminating consumer. He finds the best restaurants, the best music, the most fabulous and obscure hideaways. He looks down on the common entertainments, unless they are so delightfully declasse as to be cool again.

I'm not blaming the gentlemen - the ladies are just as bad. Let she who has been working on the masonry cast the first stone. Ma, who has strong Pennsylvania Dutch genes, already thinks I'm pretty worthless. (I once told her that the potato-hoeing gene was recessive and I didn't get it.) I sure didn't do any construction during my summers at home - I sat on the porch, drank orange juice, and read novels (while ogling the occasional construction worker).

I'm just saying in New York it's particularly bad - and that the people I most admire are those who leave the world different than they found it - who walk into a room, or a construction site, and create something that wasn't there before. I would also argue that these are the people who are most fulfilled in their lives.

Ma designed and built her own home, landscaped her own yard, arranged her own music, mixed her own CD, etc etc.

I tried to replace my own iPod battery and permanently destroyed my iPod in the process. But at least I tried, right?

So, what can you actually do?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Science Fiction stories that are six words long.

From BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow:
Wired Magazine solicited six-word-long science fiction stories from a bunch of writers -- some of my favorite results are below:

Epitaph: Foolish humans, never escaped Earth. - Vernor Vinge

Computer, did we bring batteries? Computer? - Eileen Gunn

It cost too much, staying human. - Bruce Sterling

We kissed. She melted. Mop please! - James Patrick Kelly

His penis snapped off; he’s pregnant! - Rudy Rucker

Internet “wakes up?” Ridicu - no carrier. - Charles Stross

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time - Alan Moore

Longed for him. Got him. Shit. - Margaret Atwood

Help! Trapped in a text adventure! - Marc Laidlaw

Bush told the truth. Hell froze. - William Gibson

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"Reader's Digest" - a song containing volumes...

I've had a window open on my computer for days now with this snippet from Terry Teachout's blog "About Last Night. I really want to find and learn this song, but if he can't find it, who can?
Did Betty Comden and Adolph Green really write a song whose lyrics succinctly summarized famous books? Yes, indeed. It’s a revue number called "Reader's Digest." Nobody came up with the complete lyrics, but here are some pertinent excerpts:

Les Misérables:
Jean Valjean, no evildoer,
Stole some bread 'cause he was poor.
A detective chased him through a sewer.
The end.

Henrik Willem Van Loon’s Story of Mankind:
The rule was eat or you'll get ate.
Man came along and stood up straight.
The end.

Gone With the Wind:
Scarlett O'Hara's a spoiled pet,
She wants everything that she can get.
The one thing she can't get is Rhett.
The end.

For the record, the other books "digested" in the song are Romeo and Juliet, War and Peace, Mein Kampf, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, and the complete works of Sigmund Freud.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Movies, narrative, multi-tasking, the randomness of it all.

Joe Morgenstern, movie reviewer for the Wall Street Journal, is a fine writer. The excerpt below reflects his concerns about our multi-tasking children.

My son Zed and I laughed when we watched an episode of the old show Dragnet. Joe Friday would tell his partner, "I'm going to make some telephone calls now." His partner would stand (silently) by the desk as Joe sat down carefully, looked up a phone number, picked up the receiver, dialed a number on his rotary phone at a stately pace (remember how much time that took?), waited for the phone to ring on the other end and for somebody to pick it up, said, "Hello, I'm officer Joe Friday, blah blah blah ... ", listened (a long time) as the other person answered, then hung up the phone, told his partner what the other person said, and repeated the process. Certainly we don't need a return to that.

I also remember at least one commercial from my childhood, from the days of black-and-what tv - I remember a man standing next to a white refrigerator in a white room, pointing to it as he talked about it for a while, then opening its door and pointing inside as he talked some more, then walking around behind it and talking some more. For a full sixty seconds! Now, that was boring.

But commercials of today are so raucous and short they make my head hurt. I can't watch or even listen to them, I feel attacked inside my very brain! It must take a different kind of mind than I have to tolerate such a rapid succession of loud images, ideas, and sounds.

There've even been suggestions lately that planting young children in front of the tv can increase the incidence of autism.

What do you think about all this?

Set the DVD Player to 'Random'
The latest strike against narrative: a movie that lets you shuffle the scenes

by Joe Morgenstern for the Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2006

Until the advent of the iPod, shuffle was a word most often associated with card players, magicians, the unfleet of foot and travelers bound for Buffalo.

Now, of course, it's a keystone concept in the life of kids, who frequently free themselves of heavy choices by letting an algorithm embedded in a chip pick their songs at random.

I mention this in connection with a DVD that recently came my way. Called "The Onyx Project," it claims to be the world's first hyperlinked and fully browseable motion picture -- create your own narrative structure as you go. There's also an optional feature that shuffles the sequence of scenes, in case you want to surrender the sense of control that the links provide.

It raises provocative questions about the way visual entertainments are changing, and the way they're perceived by growing numbers of kids who live much of their lives in shuffle mode. Multitaskers, hyperlinkers, inter-actors and attention-splitters, these young people have little or no patience for the straight-line narratives that were once the dominant mode of storytelling.

Kids who used to turn out for movies every weekend now devote themselves to videogaming, instant messaging, MySpacing and YouTubeing, sometimes simultaneously, while movie executives, pacing studio corridors, worry rightly that they no longer understand how kids' minds work.

I know how they feel. I grew up on movies that told their stories in a stately procession of cause and effect, with obligatory transitions -- endless shots of doors opening and closing, in case audiences couldn't comprehend how a character got from a hallway in one scene to a living room in the scene that followed. And I came to think, in a preshuffle way, that those straight-line narratives played directly to the hard-wiring of the human brain. Children listening to bedtime stories ask their parents what comes next, how one thing leads to another. They want to understand the life around them.

Yet making sense of the modern world means making peace, however anxiously, with the randomness that so often seems to govern life. That's what some of our most adventurous filmmakers have been teaching us to do for many decades, and I've been an eager student.

Hard-wiring hasn't interfered with my enjoyment of movies that use disjunctive narratives to keep us entertained, mystified and interactively enthralled. (Jean-Luc Godard famously said that every movie has a beginning, a middle and an end, though not necessarily in that order.)

The question is whether young people, hyperlinking their way across trackless digital wastes, will come to embrace entertainment -- in whatever medium -- that conveys the complexities and consequences of being human.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Jean Lafitte, pirate, Sephardic Jew, AGAIN!!

I've written about Laffite (Laffitte, etc) several times before. People just keep arguing about this and leaving comments! A reader recently pointed me to the following article.

Extracts from
The Jewish Pirate
by Edward Bernard Blick for the Jerusalem Post, Jul. 13, 2006

One of the things I do since I retired from Philadelphia's Temple University in 1991 is lecture on cruise ships. My signature talk is the 50-century-old history of piracy, whose practitioners I call the Seafaring Gangsters of the World.

I sent a draft of the talk to my history-buff sister, Phyllis. She liked it, but she was very unhappy that I had not mentioned Jean Lafitte. She said I simply had to talk about Lafitte because he was unique. He was a Sephardi Jew, as was his first wife, who was born in the Danish Virgin Islands.

Though I didn't lecture about Lafitte at first, a circumstance of serendipity has made me do so ever since.

I was flying to Norfolk, Virginia. The man in the seat next to me, born in France, ... now lives in Switzerland. We ... had the following conversation [small talk followed by]:

"... I'll be giving lectures on a ship..."

"What do you lecture about?"

"... I always begin a cruise with a lecture on pirates. The kids love it, and the old folks like it, too."

"Are you are going talk about Jean Lafitte?"

"No," and I repeated what my sister had told me.

He pulled out his wallet and handed me a business card. It had "Melvyn J. Lafitte" written on it. Then he said, "I could tell you that as we were chatting I printed this card on a nano-sized printing press hidden in my pocket. And of course, you wouldn't believe me. But the truth is that I am a direct descendant of Jean Lafitte. Your sister, Phyllis, is absolutely right.

"Our family, originally named Lefitto, lived in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. When Ferdinand and Isabella reconquered Spain and expelled the Muslims and the Jews in 1492, most of the Jews fled to North Africa. Others went to the Balkans or to Greece and Turkey. But some Sephardi Jews, my ancestors among them, crossed the Pyrenees and settled in France, where Jean was born in about 1780. He moved to French Santo Domingo during the Napoleonic period. However, a slave rebellion forced him to flee to New Orleans. Eventually, he became a pirate, but he always called himself a privateer because that label has a more legal ring to it.

"In 1814, the British sought his aid in their pending attack on New Orleans," he continued. "However, he passed their plans to the Americans and helped General Andrew Jackson beat them in 1815. A grateful Jackson, not yet president, saw to it that Lafitte and his family became American citizens. And by the way, did you know that there is a town of Jean Lafitte, as well as a Jean Lafitte National Historical Park in Southwestern Louisiana?"

I was flabbergasted ... by the fact that the two of us had met so coincidentally in the skies over Georgia....

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ideas for staying together.

An awful lot of us are suffering from long-term broken trust issues. Interesting to me in the article below is the realization that the next generation, my daughter Melina and my son Zed for instance, have seen even more divorce than we have and have been truly frightened by it.

My parents divorced, my ex- and I divorced, divorce is everywhere. It's hard to find people who still have courage and optimism about commitment. I hope the tide turns.

Extracts from
'Honey, I'm Thinking of Having an Affair': Therapists Advise Confessing Temptation
by Sue Shellenbarger for the Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2006

Instead of waiting until after spouses stray and then attempting damage control, therapists and marriage educators are urging couples to build trust upfront by acknowledging the possibility of cheating and heading it off through explicit spoken or written agreements.

To guard against damage from affairs, experts suggest couples:

  • Acknowledge the risk of an affair occurring
  • Discuss circumstances that might pose a risk
  • Agree to talk about temptations before acting
  • Disclose any affairs promptly
  • Agree not to counterattack if a spouse strays
  • Learn to ask, give and receive forgiveness

The agreements are part of a broader emphasis on trust-building in marriage. In a pop culture ridden with images of infidelity and marital mistrust, experts are using a variety of techniques to "super-glue couples together," says Diane Sollee, founder of, a marriage-education Web site. "It's a huge crisis right now. Twenty- and thirty-somethings are just terrified. They've seen the divorce rates and they see what's happened to their parents, and they think they can't trust" prospective spouses.

Working on the knowledge that many people enter marriage with an impaired ability to form intimate attachments, therapists aim to help couples consciously construct a new foundation for trust. Dr. Van Epp uses a "relationship attachment model" -- a graphic tool that looks like a five-dial stereo-system equalizer.

Each sliding vertical dial symbolizes one of five building blocks of attachment:

  1. Knowledge about each other's past and present lives;
  2. Trust;
  3. Mutual reliance on each other;
  4. Commitment;
  5. Sexual intimacy.

When all five ingredients are present and in balance, Dr. Van Epp says, marriages tend to be strong. Couples are taught to evaluate their relationships on each of the five dimensions of attachment using a cardboard model of the tool.

People are at greater risk of infidelity when they or their family members have had affairs, Dr. McCarthy says. One couple he counseled, who had actually met each other through an extramarital affair, agreed in writing that if either felt the urge to stray, they'd talk to each other about it first.

One bonus, couples say, is that telling your spouse about an extramarital desire tends to quash it. ... "all of a sudden, that power, that pull, was gone in a flash. When you shine the light on something, then the darkness goes away."

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Adventure in Satterwhite

This is my favorite sight on the way to Satterwhite. Bob says when they modernized this building (?? was he pulling my leg?) the locals stopped patronizing it. Also, he says it used to have a front porch, but it got demolished by some inebriated hunter in an SUV.

Everybody knows I'm secretly craving a bulldozer of my very own. This is Bob's, vintage 1950s or so, he keeps it in perfect running condition. He also has a working van with half a million miles on it. He rebuilds it when required.

However, he's not that good at taking a picture in focus.

Here's Bob with our sweet young recording engineer, who was kind of learning on the job. That was my job, to help him learn how to use his equipment.

I came home exhausted and determined to sleep late but I was so overstimulated I woke up at 4:30 after having a dream that I had two gigs today but didn't know where they were or what time or who was on them with me. I eventually went back to sleep and had that SAME DREAM AGAIN. Ugh. I hope it isn't true.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Melina's Adventures at Wesleyan

I had a lovely weekend with Zed in Middletown. We went to a national security talk, an astronomy/God lecture, and a gamelan concert.

Zed lives in the Jewish house on campus, which is a kosher establishment with some modern accommodations. In the house's common areas, you're only allowed to eat kosher (no pork, no shellfish, etc).

However.... if you live in the house, maybe you don't observe those dietary laws, they have a solution for you - a gigantic room next to the kitchen known informally as the "Traif-Haven" (traif is the opposite of kosher), where you can eat wherever you want. Residents of the house have plastered stickers of pigs across the door of the room.

I think this is a charming and agreeable compromise. In a lot of Jewish communities there might be a long tiresome battle about who gets to eat what where when and who gets to be the boss of that. But in this situation - everyone wins.

On another note, a gamelan is a very cool thing.

Wikipedia Sayeth:

A gamelan is a kind of musical ensemble of Indonesian origin typically featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums, and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings, and vocalists may also be included. The term refers more to the set of instruments than the players of those instruments. A gamelan as a set of instruments is a distinct entity, built and tuned to stay together — instruments from different gamelan are not interchangeable.

"Gong" is a word that we have from the Indonesian languages, in fact. In Indonesia "Gong" is the word only for the biggest kind of gong, and there are several other names for gongs depending on their size: "Nong"(sp?) is a smaller gong than a "Gong," and "Pyang"(sp?) is smaller still. If you pronounce them with the correct Indonesian inflection, you can hear the onomatopoeia in the words: "Gong" is a deep low sound, "Nang" is pronounced mid range, and "Pyang" is pronounced still higher in your register...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Going to the land of no-signal once more...

... This morning I'm heading out to the recording studio in Satterwhite again and spending the night. There's no internet access out there, which is probably a good thing.

I'm taking a big pot of barley stew, cookies (not Oreos), eggs (to replace the ones in the refrigerator which expired last July), and lots of tea. When we get back, late on Tuesday, hopefully the new cd will be almost finished.

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Outsmarting the Drunkard Gene

When I was a pre-teen, I decided I would never drink. My mother was an alcoholic, her mother was an alcoholic, and I had an addictive personality. And still do. Back then, I couldn't stop eating Oreos as long as there were any in the house. (Now, I just don't buy Oreos.)

My rationale for abstinence, as expressed to perplexed friends, went this way: "If I start drinking, I'll be an alcoholic. Then I'll have years of misery and ruin the lives of the people around me, finally ending up in the gutter. Then, if I'm lucky (my mother and grandmother weren't) I'll discover AA and stop drinking. So why not just take a short-cut and go straight to the not-drinking part, avoiding the gutter altogether?" And so I have. Look, I was ahead of my time!

Extracts from
Prevention: Stop Before You Start
For the children of alcoholics, the best advice may be the simplest: Don't drink at all

By Kevin Helliker for the Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2006

When Dale Irwin was 10, his father left home and became a denizen of the streets, intent only on feeding his addiction to alcohol. Witnessing such slavery to booze made an impression on young Dale. "I vowed I would never become an alcoholic," he recalls.

But he became one anyway. "The only difference between us was that my father drank rotgut and I drank expensive scotch," says Mr. Irwin, a 58-year-old lawyer in Kansas City, Mo.

For three decades, public-health officials have been warning that alcoholism confers a powerful genetic predisposition. But those warnings have hardly kept the offspring of alcoholics from sinking into the same muck that trapped their parents. Knowledge of the danger, it turns out, isn't sufficient to avoid it.

Now, a growing number of addiction specialists are arguing that the children of alcoholics deserve something stronger than a warning. They say that these high-risk individuals should be advised to at least consider abstinence -- before they even know whether they will fall prey to the same disease that befell their parents.

The rationale is simple: Studies show that the biological offspring of an alcoholic parent run a one-in-three chance of developing the affliction, compared with a one-in-12 risk for the general population. What's more, the culprit appears to be more genetic than environmental. Studies have shown that when the progeny of alcoholics are adopted as newborns and raised in nonalcoholic homes, their risk of becoming alcoholic is three to four times greater than average -- the same as if they'd been reared by their biologically addicted parents.

The primary virtue of abstinence as a prevention strategy is that, like few other medical protocols, it is 100% effective. "You can't get this disease if you choose not to drink or take drugs," says Sis Wenger, president of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, which in 2002 began including an abstinence message on its brochures for youth.

A killer of 85,000 Americans a year, alcoholism is the third most common cause of preventable death in America, behind smoking and obesity. And no other disease is more destructive to families.

Nobody grows up more determined to avoid alcoholism than the offspring of alcoholics. As children, they never know when an ordinary evening will evolve into a horror show, as booze turns a loving parent into a monster.

Indisputably, abstinence represents a sure-fire remedy for the genetic vulnerability. When her son decided as an adolescent never to drink, the legacy of alcoholism that passed from both of her parents to Terry Irwin, a Kansas City woman who has been sober since 1980, didn't extend to the third generation. Today, her son is a 38-year-old physician, husband and father. "His attitude from day one has been, 'Why take a risk?' " says Mrs. Irwin.

To avoid addiction altogether, however, abstinence must extend beyond alcohol. A family history of alcoholism prompted young Carrie Schwartz never to drink. But as a 17-year-old, she began smoking marijuana, and within two years the suburban Pennsylvania woman entered treatment for a heroin addiction. "I viewed alcohol as the bad thing that ruined lives," says Ms. Schwartz, 21, and clean now for three years. "But if addiction is in your family, you need to stay away from it all."

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Greetings from Spartanburg, SC

Ken, David and I arrived yesterday afternoon (all in different cars) to find that the two older ladies putting us up had made a magnificent dinner for a big batch of people. Somebody at dinner shared this interesting news tidbit from the past which I had never heard before: that John Hinckley (the man who tried to assassinate President Reagan) was part of a wealthy family very chummy with the Bushes. I just googled the story and this was the first hit I came up with:

Bush Son Had Dinner Plans With Hinckley Brother Before Shooting
The Associated Press Domestic News, March 31, 1981

The family of the man charged with trying to assassinate President Reagan is acquainted with the family of Vice President George Bush and had made large contributions to his political campaign, the Houston Post reported today.

The newspaper said in a copyrighted story that Scott Hinckley, brother of John W. Hinckley Jr., who allegedly shot Reagan, was to have dined tonight in Denver at the home of Neil Bush, one of the vice president's sons.

The newspaper said it was unable to reach Scott Hinckley, vice president of his father's Denver-based firm, Vanderbilt Energy Corp., for comment. Neil Bush lives in Denver, where he works for Standard Oil Co. of Indiana.

In 1978, Neil served as campaign manager for his brother, George W. Bush, the vice president's oldest son, who made an unsuccessful bid for Congress. Neil lived in Lubbock throughout much of 1978, where John Hinckley lived from 1974 through 1980.

On Monday, Neil Bush said he did not know if he had ever met 25-year-old John Hinckley. "I have no idea," he said. "I don't recognize any pictures of him. I just wish I could see a better picture of him.

Sharon Bush, Neil's wife, said Scott Hinckley was coming to their house as a date of a girl friend of hers. "I don't even know the brother. From what I know and I've heard, they (the Hinckleys) are a very nice family and have given a lot of money to the Bush campaign. I understand he was just the renegade brother in the family. They must feel awful," she said.

The dinner was canceled, she added.

George W. Bush said he was unsure whether he had met John W. Hinckley.

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Melina visits Wesleyan...

I love Wesleyan. It's a little teapot, inside which very small tempests brew. If you are afraid that political correctness is destroying honest dialogue in the country, stories from Wesleyan will chill you to your bones.

According to Zed, they had a fight at Wesleyan last month over whether it was acceptable to call a certain dinner entree "Oriental Chicken."

The name was deemed offensive, and the entree was renamed "Sesame Chicken."

Denizens of Sesame Street have not yet turned out to protest.

(Posted for Melina by her mom Melinama, as blogger was down earlier. Melina is in Connecticut, I am in a Panera's in Spartanburg SC with no electrical outlet and a battery which functions for only a few short minutes ... )

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Friday, October 20, 2006

A joke from Spanish class.

I'm leaving soon to drive to Spartanburg - my band Mappamundi is doing two concerts this weekend for the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina. I'm not packed yet, so I leave you this little joke.

Customer: I'd like a loaf of bread.
Baker: OK, but it's yesterday's bread.
Customer (indignant): Well, when can I get TODAY's bread?
Baker: tomorrow

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

"You need a focus group," he said. Readers, will you join?

Bob and I (the Pratie Heads) finished recording our new cd on Tuesday and started mixing it. That was pretty fast! So now we need a title for the project.

It's hard to find a title these days because:
  1. After all these years, it seems every title has already been used.

  2. In the days of ubiquitous search engines, even words and phrases which have not yet been titles are disqualified by virtue of their unanticipated Google bedfellows.
A friend of mine told me recently that he was called by a more famous musician who had this request: "I found you on the internet. I'd like you to change the name of your band because my group wants the name you're using."

And then there are all those humble fish-and-chips and pawn-shop merchants named McDonald who can't use their own names on their businesses for fear of being sued. In the old days it would have been harder for the mega-corps to find them and bust them.

Anyway, the name I wanted to use for our album was: RAG FAIR. We recorded the song last - I suggested it because the tone of our collection was kind of melancholy and we needed a cheerful song. Bob hadn't sung it since the 80s but relearned it over his breakfast eggs which, by the way, had expired last July - "they're still perfectly good!" sez he. He recorded the song half an hour later.

In the 1700s a "Rag Fair" was like a flea market or a PTA Thrift Shop. Many people were so poor there was a flourishing business selling worn-out clothes (slightly less worn-out than the ones folks already had on their backs). The most famous rag fair was on Rosemary Lane in London. Rag fair merchants were usually Jews.

Here's the song:
Rag Fair

Well, I googled "Rag Fair" and was absolutely swamped by zillions of pages referencing a famous Japanese pop group! Jeez!

So then I thought of calling our project "Bob and Jane's Rag Fair."

That's when my friend said: "That's not a good name," and I said, "But I like it, it's kind of informal," and he said: "You need a focus group."

So I thought of asking you, my blog friends. Be honest now. Do you think "Bob and Jane's Rag Fair" is a dumb name?

We haven't really thought of any good alternatives. One song Bob sang says contemptuously, "You may moan with plaintive tone your gormless modern tunes, but I will roar along the shore beneath the blood-red moon." We love the word gormless, which turns out to be one of those words that doesn't have an opposite. So when I googled "Gormful Tunes" nothing came up, and that's good, so that's a possible title. However, Gormful would be hard to spell and looks a lot like Wormful. Just one letter different, see.

Then Bob suggested: "Hell Froze Over" because I told him once I would only play with him again when ...

And speaking of freezing, here is a tune I wrote to go with a reworked text of the traditional early American song "The Frozen Girl."

That song was recorded by Cordelia's Dad (a great, great group) and it was a great cut, but it was so so sad. See, the girl is on the way to a party in an open sleigh but it's a cold night and she freezes to death on the way.

But from my (motherly) vantage point I thought it was actually a cautionary tale, one which foreshadowed the Darwin Awards - this girl who is so vain she won't wear a coat (or a blanket) on a winter night because she wants to show off her fancy silk jacket - well, frankly she is too dumb to live.

And you immediately remember that your own kids did this, and in fact you probably did too, and so did I - I still remember shivering stubbornly all winter one year because my mother had uncharacteristically let me choose my own winter coat and I went for fashionable rather than warm. We all survived but perhaps only because they had invented heated cars by the time we came along...
The Frozen Girl

"Bob and Jane's Rag Fair"? Anybody who has an opinion, please let me know.

UPDATE: or how about "The New Rag Fair" ?? Nu?

UPDATE #2: or how about "Rosehill Rag Fair" ?? (Rosehill is the name of the street Bob lives on, and he wrote a tune called the Rosehill Reel)

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006


... after two ten-hour days in the recording studio (we spent the night there), an hour drive home, ten minutes to find my chorale folder, and then rehearsing the Triangle Jewish Chorale ...

... after coming home from rehearsal to sort a couple hundred emails (only half of them offering me an astounding flow of bodily fluid which will astound and impress my neighbors) and a relaxing hour watching the hero of "Mundo de Fieras" getting blown up in a fiery inferno (only, not really, don't worry) ...

I have Spanish class, a long rehearsal, a student, and a gig, and then a trip to Greenville and Spartanburg for two concerts for the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina.

Sorry to be lax here at Pratie Place, hope all is well with you.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Melina: Mojo and Rage

Last week I had to take a break from my online personals site. I was just getting too grouchy. A Very Creepy Guy (his profile talked about how famous he was and how much he hated most people, they were a waste of good drugs) wrote me a perfectly nice letter asking me about myself. And in response I just attacked him. I wrote him a fairly long, mean letter that said, thanks for your nice letter, but we can never meet up and here's why. The Very Creepy Guy wrote back a letter asking "What the hell is wrong with you? I am a total stranger who wrote you a very nice letter. Why did you attack me?"

And I thought - Very Creepy Guy's got a point. I am acting like a crazy person. I should not do this if I am carrying around all this anger. It's not fair to Creepy Guys or to any other kind of guy.

So I'm on a break from the online personals.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Melina: Batman's new hobby

So I've written before about the New York City Crap Fair, which is a spring through fall phenomenon wherein thousands of vendors gather on a different avenue each weekend day to sell such important items as:

Cell phone covers
Pirated music
gigantic earrings
I Love New York T-shirts

On Saturday, the Crap Fair was taking place on 8th avenue, a block from my apartment. I wandered over to see if there was any crap that I needed. Like, maybe I would need a cell phone cover.

The house salsa band from one of my favorite Cuban restaurants, Azucar, had taken up residence outside the restaurant and were playing for an appreciative crowd that had paused their tour of the crap fair to listen to this unexpectedly excellent music.

All of a sudden, a guy dressed in full batman regalia (black mask with full head covering and ears, cape, head to toe black) races into the center of the circle formed by the crowd, and starts dancing a salsa with himself. And he was shredding. I mean, he was incredible. The guy was up, he was down, he knew all the moves. All this in an ankle length cape!

The band took this completely in stride, and immediately changed the lyrics of the chorus of the song they were singing to "Que baila el Batman, que baila el Batman."

Batman danced salsa for a good 15 minutes, then saluted the band and raced away, disappearing into the crowd.

So in case any of you were wondering, Batman is alive and well, he's living in New York, and he's apparently been taking some dancing lessons.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Inscrutable t-shirt

Jaquandor alerts us to this excellent example of Engrish (English as printed on Japanese t-shirts, etc.)

Read and muse.

I'll try to write something after the next batch of days are finished (they include two gigs, Yiddish book club, a few lessons, and a two-day recording session).

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Are you local? My band, Mappamundi, is playing tomorrow night (October 14) for the Triangle Folk Music Society

At the Durham Friends Meeting House, 8 pm, 404 Alexander Avenue, Durham. Tickets $12 at the door. Refreshments at the intermission. See Triangle Folk Music Society webpage for more information. Our cds will be for sale, cheap! Come if you can!

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Jelly's what I love to eat.

Found on BoingBoing.

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"How to Ogle"

Found at Laudator Temporis Acti yet again...

Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop:

Barbara was the subject of Mr Chuckster's commendations; and as she was lingering near the carriage (all being now ready for its departure), that gentleman was suddenly seized with a strong interest in the proceedings, which impelled him to swagger down the garden, and take up his position at a convenient ogling distance.

Having had great experience of the sex, and being perfectly acquainted with all those little artifices which find the readiest road to their hearts, Mr Chuckster, on taking his ground, planted one hand on his hip, and with the other adjusted his flowing hair. This is a favourite attitude in the polite circles, and, accompanied with a graceful whistling, has been known to do immense execution.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Squeaking in under the wire...

Melina's Illustration Friday: "trouble"

Copied from a Facebook picture of a friend of a friend.

Sukkah update

I put a little bed in the sukkah and went down there to sleep. But it didn't work so well. First the bugs were too entertaining with their chirping. Then the moon came up and was very bright. Then it got colder and colder, which would have been ok, except tcondensation from my tin roof started falling on my head in big juicy splashes. So I moved the cot away from the dripline (duh), but then the sound of the big juicy splashes kept me awake. (I can't even sleep with a ticking clock in a room.) At 4:15 I gave up and came back inside. A worthy experiment.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

My Sukkah

Finally, a pretty day. I was able to practice outside under my leafy thatch this morning, as chickadees sat on the branches and yelled at me! I felt utter contentment.

Adding to my good mood:

(1) Bob and I got seven cuts done yesterday for our new cd;

(2) The eight Triangle Jewish Chorale members who are doing the "91st birthday party" fiesta on Sunday sounded like angels last night; and

(3) My dead furnace turned out to be victim of a Rhinocerous beetle which had committed suicide by bifurcation within the blower mechanism. CWJ Heating and Cooling representative John shook the blower and the two halves of the beetle fell out. He put the furnace back together and it worked. "I've found frogs, birds, even snakes in them furnaces," he told me philosophically. Beetle removal: $90. "Do you want to give him a name on your repair tag?" John asked. I love John.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

"Cringe-making, smiley, cheesy folk groups" fill the churches...

Also found at Laudator Temporis Acti. My family is firmly in agreement; my kids flee from Jewish services whenever guitars get hauled out.

Extracts from
Composer damns happy-clappy din
By Eddie Barnes for Scotland on Sunday

Trendy guitar-strumming folk groups are ruining church services by playing "embarrassing, maudlin and sentimental dirges", Scotland's leading classical composer has declared.

James MacMillan ... has described modern hymns as "excrescences" and called for a return to traditional chants and organ music. [and] confesses his despair of the "screaming microphones" and "incompetently strummed guitars and cringe-making, smiley, cheesy folk groups" which fill churches every Sunday.

The effect of this on liturgy has been a triumph of bad taste and banality and an apparent vacating of the sacred spaces of any palpable sense of the presence of God."

He declared: "The Pope is presented as a stern-faced, party pooping disciplinarian, stamping out electric guitars, pop-crooning and the sentimental bubble-gum 'folk' used in many of today's Catholic churches. The people attacking him are the very ones who were responsible for the banal excrescences enforced on us in the name of 'democratisation of the liturgy' and 'active participation' over the last few decades."

Robertson highlighted one hymn for particular criticism. "The chorus is 'Jesus is wonderful isn't he, isn't he? Jesus is wonderful isn't he, isn't he?'"

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

An excellent new word, found on "Laudator Temporis Acti"

From Dr. Johnson's Dictionary:
Seeksorrow: "One who contrives to give himself vexation."
The whole post is good. I adore Samuel Johnson. He was the man for me.
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Comment made by a new friend reflecting upon the proper procedure to follow after a relationship breaks up.

"Well, they say after your dog dies you should just go out and get another one. ... Wait, did I just say that?"

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Still raining in the sukkah....

... see, what did I tell you? It started raining the night before Sukkot and has been raining almost continually since then. You can hear the collective "GRRR!" from the local community...

There was a brief lull yesterday morning, long enough for me to wipe off a chair and have a cup of tea outside. And last night, after I got off the elliptical trainer - I'm currently watching "Lost" season two, but not enjoying it much, I'm tired of people running through the jungle looking worried - I noticed it was cold and windy but not raining, so I put on my coat, plugged in a lamp, dried off a chair again, and had dinner (a banana) and another cup of tea. And it still wasn't raining so I read for an hour listening to the sounds of the night. It was lovely.

A sukkah is not really something you're supposed to sit in all alone - you're supposed to be sharing with friends and family - so I felt a bit morose, but still, I'd fulfilled the mitzvah so I was content.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

The Sukkah Project

After the harvest from your threshing floor and your vineyards, you shall celebrate the Feast of Booths for seven days. (Deuteronomy 16:13)

You shall live in booths seven days in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:42-43)

The sukkah itself symbolises the frailty and transience of life. It also reminds its dwellers that true security comes from faith in God, rather than from money or possessions. Wikipedia

It's raining, hard, which means that the Festival of Booths (Sukkot) has arrived. In our part of the country, the weather is always gorgeous right up until this holiday begins. Then it gets cold and begins to rain.

Nevertheless, this is one of my very favorite holidays. It's a harvest festival - many people think Thanksgiving was inspired by Sukkot.

Right after the gloom of Yom Kippur, you're supposed to start building your sukkah. It has to have at least two and a half walls, and the roof has to be made of dead wood and plant stuff, enough of it so there is shade during the day but sparse enough to see the stars at night. You put a table and chairs in there, maybe a cot, and then for a week the mitzvah is merely to "hang out" in your succah - eat, play with your friends, sleep in it if you can.

Back in the old days people set up their booths in the fields. In eastern Europe, as you can see in the movie "Mamele," and today in Israel, people cram lots of sukkahs into the back alleys, all right next to each other.

When my ex-s grandfather came to visit our house for the very first time, and we took him out back where our porch terminated in an area with a wooden grid on top (maybe intended for grapevines), he marvelled, "Your house comes pre-prepared with a sukkah?"

We used to throw a lot of bamboo up there, hang sheets for walls, drag our mattresses outside, we decorated it with paper chains and fruit hanging from strings, put pictures on the walls, and ate in it with the kids sitting crosslegged on a pile of cushions and sleeping bags. It was so much fun. Even though it was often cold. And occasionally raining.

When my ex- and I split up, I went out and bought each of us a sukkah kit from the Sukkah Project people, who happen to live in our area.

Their kit makes things pretty easy, especially after the first year. First time you make the kit up, you cut the wood and attach the hardware. Also, LABEL THE PIECES so when you take it down and stow it, you don't forget how to put it back together next time.

Yesterday a friend and I hauled all the pieces out from my crawlspace and put it up. It took longer than I'd expected because my labeling system suddenly seemed quite cryptic. No matter, by dinner time it was fully erected. It had a bunch of branches on top - I had cleverly done a lot of pruning recently and left the pruning remains where they fell, so there was plenty of material - and tarps strapped to 2-1/2 sides. There was a table, and chairs, and a lamp. Vos mer darf a yid?

My crafty plan: yesterday was actually the day BEFORE the holiday begins, so the weather was still gorgeous! I outsmarted the heavens!

We ate dinner in the sukkah and listened as the sounds of the evening birds gradually melted into the chirping of crickets and frogs. The moon came up and we saw the stars. The lamp threw a beautiful shadow on the walls.

Now it's pouring rain. Isn't that the way. If it stops raining later I'll take a picture.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Putrify in hell, Doña Jacinta!

We have a bustling scene over at Caray! Caray!, the English-language blog for recapping (and editorializing upon) Spanish-language telenovelas.

I learned Spanish by watching telenovelas: my very first vocabulary set included "NO PUEDE SER" ("It can't be!") and "NO ME ENGAñES!" ("Don't betray me!") Watching novelas is a guilty pleasure which can be justified in the name of language-learning.

Anyway, while blogging "Alborada" here at Pratie Place, I discovered a seriously under-served online population: people who are addicted to watching novelas without understanding Spanish. I was getting 2500 hits a day!

It was exhausting to watch the show every night and then write it up. It was also drowning my blog! So when Alborada ended, I took the enterprise to "Caray! Caray!" where we now have a dozen recappers working on three novelas: "The Wounds of Love," "The most beautiful ugly girl," and "World of Wild Beasts."

Telenovelas are not like American shows. Longer than a mini-series but shorter by far than "Days of Our Lives," each novela has a life-span of four to six months, airing five nights a week. The bad guys are triumphing, and the good guys suffering, for most of that run. At the very end, the bad guys come to spectacular ends: they fall on sharp things, toss each other off tall buildings, they get leprosy, die of syphilis, get eaten by alligators, etc. (For more, see this post.)

Today I describe the rise and fall of a typical villainess, Doña Jacinta of Barrera de Amor. You know she's bad because she dresses in black and carries a cane.

Doña Jacinta started out poor, but married the wealthy Pedro Valladolid, on whose estate bulls are bred for bullfighting. They had a son, but husband Pedro fell in love with another poor girl. On the night he was going to leave Jacinta, he went into his arena to have a last look around. Jacinta opened the corral of a very big mean bull - it rushed out and trampled her husband to death.

She erected a sort of shrine to him and his ancestors, with big oil paintings, and spent her time talking to the oil paintings about the august heritage of the Valladolids, which she had upheld by preventing her husband from shaming the name, and also praying to God, whose humble instrument she proclaims herself to be. Her specialty: saving all the people around her from the sin of "lujuria" (lechery).

While she was busy praying, her only son Adolfo fell in love with a humble cook (who was in love with a veterinarian with a potbelly and a double chin, but that's a different story). Rather than woo this cook in the usual way, Adolfo raped her and then blackmailed her into marrying him.

Jacinta did not approve of her lowly daughter-in-law, therefore procured "powders" from a bent doctor and started poisoning her tea. The daughter-in-law became dizzy and sick and dropped her baby down the stairs, and was subsequently driven away leaving the baby in Jacinta's control.

Two women discovered Jacinta drugging her daughter-in-law and were going to turn her in, so she trapped them in a wooden shack and burned them to death.

Then she confessed all to her priest and he was so surprised he fell on the floor in diabetic shock. She stood over him and watched as he feebly asked her to hand him his insulin, which was well within reach, but she let him die there on the floor. "Isn't this the way the world works," she calmly philosophised later. "Yesterday, the priest was saying mass over [the two ladies I burned to death]. Tomorrow, we will be saying a mass over him."

Twenty years of evil mayhem pass and we find her poisoning her own grand-daughter, who has come home with a baby (Pedrito). Then she tries to kill the baby (death by opening the windows at night).

However, Jacinta's luck changes, her race is almost run. She and all the other villains are unmasked, at church, by the assembled multitude of good guys! They are accused of all their crimes! What an excellent day to go to church! The church ladies will be talking about this one for a long, long time!

A Bonny-and-Clyde pair of villains - also unmasked at this splendid event - snatch baby Pedrito, hold a gun to his head, and make a getaway which ends with driving their car over a cliff and exploding in fire far, far below.

Luckily they had put the baby down first, but this was not the end of little Pedrito's problems, because his great-grandmother Jacinta, having been called a lying hypocrite in church, and having discovered she has signed away her rights to the Valladolid estate, makes a circle of votive candles in her room, surrounds herself with the Vallodolid portraits, and sets the room on fire with the baby in her arms. Oh no, will the innocent baby die?

Well, no. The good guys burst through the door and snatch the baby as a flaming beam falls on Jacinta. She burns to death on the floor, surrounded by melting portraits of the Vallodolids. Good has triumphed over evil once again.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Most popular funeral songs

The Research for the Bereavement Register poll found these to be the songs most frequently requested for funerals in Britain:
  1. Goodbye My Lover - James Blunt
  2. Angels - Robbie Williams
  3. I've Had The Time Of My Life - Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley
  4. Wind Beneath My Wings - Bette Midler
  5. Pie Jesu - Requiem
  6. Candle In The Wind - Elton John
  7. With Or Without You - U2
  8. Tears In Heaven - Eric Clapton
  9. Every Breath You Take - The Police
  10. Unchained Melody - Righteous Brothers
  11. Danny Boy

Others in the top twenty were Knocking On Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan), I Want To Live Forever (Fame), and Reach for the Stars (S Club 7)

I've sung at several funerals - in fact, I've sung "Danny Boy" at two. "Amazing Grace" is very popular here in North Carolina. I notice there are no hymns in the list, that surprises me.

So what do you want played at YOUR funeral?

UPDATE: Some songs I've done at funerals:

Bob and I (The Pratie Heads, are currently (spring 2008) recording an excellent funeral song: "Fear No More the Heat of the Sun," words by Shakespeare (from Cymbeline), music by composer Penka Kuneva.

FURTHER UPDATE from Australia:
Hymns are being replaced at funerals in one Australian city by popular rock classics like Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and AC/DC's "Highway to Hell."

Leading the funeral chart is crooner Frank Sinatra's classic hit "My Way," followed by Louis Armstrong's version of "Wonderful World," a statement said.

The Led Zeppelin and AC/DC rock anthems rank outside the top 10, but have gained ground in recent years as more Australians give up traditional Christian hymns.

"Some of the more unusual songs we hear actually work very well within the service because they represent the person's character," Centennial Park chief executive Bryan Elliott said.

Among other less conventional choices:
  • "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" by the Monty Python comedy team;
  • "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead;"
  • "Hit the Road Jack;"
  • "Another One Bites the Dust;"
  • "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead."

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Insidious typo courtesy of Fox News

"O'Reilly Factor" [falsely] Labels Mark Foley As Democrat

It's just a misplaced letter, but what a misplaced letter: Swapping a "D" for an "R" last night, Fox News and "The O'Reilly Factor" labeled disgraced pedophile Congressman Mark Foley, longtime Republican, as a Democrat.

Apparently it happened a number of times over the course of the broadcast ... as O'Reilly railed against Foley and his actions ... the visual message to his viewers was that the perpetrator of these heinous crimes against children was a Democrat.

This comes at a time when Republicans are desperately fighting the perception that they permissively allowed Foley to go about his business (and his "business") on the hill, and that they are no longer the party of upright moral values.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Best. Buy. Ever. (Brian Sack)

From Brian Sack, the Banterist.

Employees I've dealt with at electronics mega-retailer Best Buy, placed in other lines of work.
    Tells audience he'll "be right with them" and spends the next eight minutes trying to break down a cardboard box.

    Says he needs a key for the cabinet. Goes and looks for a key. Says he doesn't know who has the key. Shrugs.

    Is adamant that SBUX is around $80 per share. Finally consults a computer and admits it's $34 and he doesn't know what happened because he's sure it was $80 yesterday.

    Can't help you with the stabbing because he's only familiar with larceny.

    Answers all questions with "Mmmmmmhmmmm." When asked directly if he knows what he's talking about, excuses himself and doesn't return.

    Knows they definitely don't carry bread because they only sell food. Checks with manager. Had no idea bread was food.

    When asked for parsley, leads you to squash.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Melina Illustration Friday: "Quiet"

About 10 years ago, my dad decided that Zed and I should learn some anatomy. To teach us anatomy, he bought a gigantic anatomically correct torso named "Tall Paul."

Tall Paul eventually got returned to the manufacturer because he was very expensive and he smelled weird. But for a period of weeks, this guy was living in our living room. Every time we wanted to put him away because guests were coming, it became a tremendous ordeal. I remember frantically trying to cram organs back into Tall Paul a la the showdown scene in "Catch-22." For each one that I put in, another two would fall out.


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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Illustration Friday - "Quiet"

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How Melinama spent her Friday and Saturday nights.

Friday I picked Menticia up from school and took her on an errand.

Several years ago I planted two bushes I'd bought, with high hopes, after doing a lot of research. The particular viburnum cultivar, "Blue Muffin," was supposed to grow LOW and have FLOWERS and BLUE BERRIES which birds would like.

MY two bushes, however, turned out to be coarse, vigorous arrowwood viburnums with thick stems shooting straight up in the air to more than six feet virtually as I watched. I kept cutting them back, hoping they'd somehow revert to the pleasing little "mounded shrubs" in the picture, but that was never their intention. I've grown to loathe them.

So I took Menticia to my favorite nursery, run by Jim Rives, out in the country. He ambled with us through his rows of plants, talking about his favorites, and we chose a couple and brought them home.

Menticia wanted a snack. Last week she was in the mood for almonds, so we went to the grocery store and bought them, and then she ate almost the entire pound while we were working on her math homework and I wasn't paying attention, so later - in the middle of the night (she gleefully reported) - she threw them up all over the bathroom! Gee, her mother must have loved me at that moment! This week's snack was a modest peanut-butter sandwich and a glass of milk.

Then we took our shovels out front and attacked those arrowwoods. I think I sounded a little like the soundtrack to a Ninja Turtle movie as I tried to chop and pry my bush out of the ground. Menticia, of course, was silent and calm, because that's always her preference. I got mine out, I finished getting hers out, we dragged the corpses out into the woods, and we got more dirt and planted the new bushes. It's satisfying to begin and complete a project in one afternoon. Then we read, ate some more, and I took her home.

Saturday night I played for a 95th birthday party. Last year I wrote about the same event:
I trucked over to Raleigh to play, with my bandmate Jim, for our customer's mother's 94th birthday. His mother, and his wife's mother, were each about 4' 9" tall and were native Yiddish speakers. He had told me: "Mother can't walk much any more but she can still dance" and it proved to be true. I haven't been singing much, lately, so belting out 3+ hours of Yiddish songs one after another was quite the workout. We also played Israeli dances and klezmer tunes and people sang along, danced, clapped, played drums (and a home-made digeridoo), and treated us like royalty.
It was a similar event this year, though the mom was strikingly less lively. I took Glenn Mehrbach to play piano this year, because I didn't want to have to turn my back on the guests. The birthday girl, too, was treated like royalty by everyone present, and in fact was wearing a tiara and carrying a sceptre. I tried out a bunch of new songs and everybody was wowed by Glenn. One of the grandsons played his trumpet and one of the sons got a bunch of movies of his mom singing along with "Oyfn Pripetshok" and "Mayn Yidishe Mome" and some other excellent chestnuts.

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