Saturday, December 31, 2011

A boy, his horse and the war to end all wars

As an editor, back when I worked for that place with a printing press, I occasionally would piece together a story by writing an expansive first paragraph, then tack on vignettes – often from other reporters working on the same project – that fleshed out the article.

That’s pretty much the approach Steven Spielberg has taken with his latest film, War Horse. Instead of taking the time and effort to develop characters and background stories for context and to create a sense of time, place and drama, Spielberg has us dash along with Joey as the horse gallops across one little vignette after another.

Collectively, the film manages to capture the absurd and grisly nature of war, the capriciousness of death and the anguish of loss. At times it even manages to do all this in a grand and entertaining fashion. But ultimately, War Horse comes off feeling like a collection of short stories that is attempting to play out like an epic novel.

It all begins when Joey is purchased, ah, cute and comes to live with the Narracotts. Son Albert quickly takes charge of the animal, forming a special bond that will have you laughing, cheering and reaching for your hankie before the final credits roll.

The opening scenes – the warp and woof of life of a poor farming family in rural England, struggling financially in a world that is on the brink of a world war – end abruptly when Joey is sold off to the British Army. We had just settled in with the Narracotts and their problems, met up with one of the film’s villains – the local landlord – and started to lose ourselves in the lovely English countryside. Suddenly we are off with Joey, charging into battle.

Over the next two hours or so, Joey becomes the focus of all those little vignettes I mentioned above – facing off against the Bosch, an army that has gone high-tech, taking part in the end of a quaint bit of warfare played out with sabers and swords; running away with a couple of deserters, then finding a moment of peace with a young French girl and her grandfather.

Each story brings with it new characters and new problems. The pieces are much greater then the whole, small bits that push along the story and pull at our emotions.

Spielberg raises questions but spends most of the film grazing the surface. Then he snaps his fingers and works his magic, capturing the absolute absurdity of war in a harrowing scene that has Joey wrapped tightly in bands of barbed wire, lost, frightened and wailing on a muddy battlefield before two soldiers – one German, the other British – come to his aid.

Albert, of course, becomes part of the fight eventually. All the emotion created in the opening scenes between boy and horse has to land somewhere, right? The landing offers few surprises, which is not to say it’s not satisfying. Go figure and grab a hankie!

Despite its problems, the beautiful scenery, rich cinematography and John William’s soaring score make War Horse a film worth spending a few hours with this holiday season. After all, Spielberg firing only on one or two cylinders generally manages to produce films that are entertaining and emotionally compelling – a trick many other Hollywood directors have yet to discover with all their special effects, car chases and explosions.

A footnote: Spielberg paints with heavy and broad strokes in the closing moments of the film, pulling together the musical score and cinematography in a nifty homage to another war movie – Gone with the Wind. Sounds weird, but it works.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Back to the future: Politics, the economy, faith

Blogger’s note: Listening to the current crop of presidential candidates reaching for the golden ring, raising issues of religion and faith, reminded me of another presidential race a few years ago. Once upon a time when I worked for that place with a printing press, I wrote a column about presidential politics and religion. The year was 1996 and Bill Clinton and Bob Dole were hot on the campaign trail.

A funny thing happened on the way to electing a President this year. All the talk about the candidates catering to the cares and concerns of the religious right never materialized.

It’s been months since anyone has spent much time debating the religiously-infused topics of abortion, prayer or family values. God has remained an impartial spectator to this point.

Both President Clinton and Sen. Dole have allowed the deity to remain on the sideline, resisting the urge to attach their campaign bandwagons to cosmic coattails. That the economy remains the most pressing concern to many Americans may be one factor the religious card remains on the bottom of the deck.

Worry about the future economic health of the country means most voters are more interested in debate over taxes and the budget, than family values and prayer.

And both men realize that talk of Christian ethics and values might elicit a chorus of amens, but talk of balancing the budget while lowering the deficit will mean votes in November. It could have been different.

Clinton and Dole could have easily spent the last several weeks lacing their speeches with talk of faith and the need for a return to a nation based on Christian ethics and values. They are both men of faith who are comfortable sharing their religious views. Both have quietly called upon such beliefs for strength and guidance during moments of doubt in the past.

The importance of God and country rests easily in the heart of Dole. The same can be said of Clinton.

One story holds that Dole goes nowhere without a prayer tucked away in his shirt pocket. Once asked how he was doing in the campaign, he pointed to his pocket and joked all he had was a prayer. Insiders say the story is true.

That much of his life has been a struggle, that without faith he might still be battling the demons of war and the horrific wounds he suffered in World War II, makes it all the more remarkable that he holds tight and keeps quiet about his religious beliefs. And yet perhaps such reasons are exactly why he refuses to mix religion and politics. Some things are just too important and too personal to share.

Clinton’s angst and spiritual beliefs are linked with his personal and political life, failures and sins that are all a matter of public record. He, too, jokes when asked about such faith. His religion, he says, gives him a second chance. He smiles. But then his eyes begin to water and you realize he’s not really joking, that he
really means what he says.

It takes little effort to see the Methodist in Dole, the Baptist in Clinton. Their lives and personalities are the product of their religious upbringing – Dole, forever the pragmatist, quiet and straightforward, a man who believes deeply in himself, his country and in God; Clinton, fiery and passionate, different personality, different political philosophy and agenda, same religious convictions.

And perhaps that, as much as anything, is why God remains on the sideline. Dole is a conservative republican. Clinton is a liberal Democrat. But both men recognize God is neither.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

All not what it seems when visiting Hiriya

Several friends and relatives will be traveling off to Israel this summer, taking part in a congregational trip sponsored by my synagogue. I won’t be one of the lucky adventurers this time around, visiting all the hot, cool and happening places in the Jewish homeland.

The trip’s itinerary offers up a euphonic blend of ancient and modern sites, all simmering in a spiritual stew that promises to fill the heart and soul – Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberias and Jerusalem; Caesarea, Sfat, Masada and the Kotel; the Kinneret, Jordan River and the Dead Sea; Yad Vashem, Mount Herzl and the Israel Museum.

Hiriya, however, is once again being ignored. I spotted this, ah, special place on my first visit to Israel – it’s just outside of Tel Aviv, only a few miles from Ben Gurion International Airport. Most everyone passes the site, certain they are missing out on something special.

You can spot it from the highway (photo above), a distant mountain rising up from the horizon; a surrealistic vision that captures the imagination. Certainly this must be some sort of major archaeological site, a place where our ancient ancestors once settled and lived, right?

In profile it seems to be a tel, a craggy mound of debris, created by generations of humans going about their lives. Over time, the level rises, forming a mound. Archaeologists spend years sifting through such sites, attempting to figure out the distant past.

I know all this because James Michener focused his epic novel “The Source” around a tel in Israel and the generations that called it home. Like any good journalist, I also checked out Wikipedia! But I digress.

For years I wondered about the huge mound in the suburbs of Tel Aviv. On my most recent trip to Israel, volunteering on a military base in the area, I passed the site once again – in fact, passed it at least a half-dozen times, always wondering what secrets the tel held in its guts.

For whatever reasons, I never got around to asking any of my guides about the massive mound; at least not until I was on my way back to Ben Gurion Airport, headed home after a month in Israel.

As we passed the site, I pointed it out and asked my Taxi driver if he knew anything about the mound and the work being done there. He sort of grunted and I figured his lack of English and my lack of Hebrew was the problem.

I persisted, asking if he knew anything at all about the archaeological site. This time he laughed. Then, in absolutely perfect English, he explained that Hiriya might be an archaeological site one day; maybe in another thousand years.

Truth to tell, he explained, Hiriya is a landfill that was closed about a decade ago, the place where the bulk of trash from Tel Aviv had been dumped since the 1950s. Who knew? Like many such places around the world, it has been covered up with dirt and topsoil and plans are still in the works to turn it into some sort of city park.

Despite the hard-to-define vibe – mystical, spiritual, smelly – that spills across the dump, Israelis pretty much ignore the place. Tourists continue to wonder about its secrets, but I’m thinking it will take a few centuries before archaeologists start sifting through the junk.

All that stuff – plastic bottles, tattered clothing, broken cookery; you know, garbage – will probably be worth a fortune one day. Like a really fine wine, the crap of life just needs a little time to properly age. I’m guessing it’ll all end up in a museum or whatever they’re calling e-bay in 2300.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday adventure: New coat both hot and cool

It’s the day after the most wonderful time of year and time to do a little shopping. Some people are into shoes, others sweaters. Me? I believe in that ancient Talmudic saying: You can’t be too rich, too thin or own too many jackets!

So it was that I spent the morning checking out all the special after-holiday sales here in the Land of Cotton. For some bizarre reason, the Sears store in my little corner of the world is selling off all its merchandise, tinkering about with its space and reopening in the early spring as a K-Mart. I understand such things happen. What makes this bizarre, however, is the store was a K-Mart a year or two ago before it closed and reopened as a Sears outlet. Go figure!

Sears mostly offers up, ah, Sears stuff. But they also sell goods by Land’s End – that would be all the warm, comfy, sort-of-rustic-in-a-good-sort-of-way clothing that generally has me thinking of snowy nights sitting beside a crackling fire. But I digress.

I bought a pair of pants – actually, if you only buy one, shouldn’t the proper reference be I bought a “pant”; just wondering. The lovely Miss Wendy was along and also doing a bit of browsing – we’re sort of co-dependent shoppers. She needed to run some errands, so we headed off in different directions.

I ended up at Kohls, a happening place that offers sales on top of sales on top of sales. I can’t imagine why anyone would ever buy anything from this place at full price. Then again, I imagine the store’s full price has been jacked up a 1,000 percent so the merchandise can be discounted and sold off at reasonable sale prices. Oops, I digress yet again.

I spotted a winter jacket, something I need like a new hairbrush, which is to say, ah, not much. I’m pretty certain if I took inventory of my closet, I’d find something like three windbreakers, two leather jackets, three dress coats – two dressy and one sort of casual – a puffy winter parka and at least three light-weight fleece jackets.

But, well, the windbreakers are a little too light, the parka too heavy, the dress coats, um, too dressy. The winter jacket at Kohls seemed to be right in the zone – rain-resistant, not too light or heavy – and just the right size and fit. Besides, I liked the brand name – zeroXposur!

I’m thinking if I wear it along with my new “pant” from Land’s End, I’ll not only be enjoying a snowy evening and crackling fire, but I’ll probably be planning my next snowboarding adventure at the next X-games. Can anyone out there say RAD?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

God only knows what I'd be without you

Blogger's Note: It's that most wonderful time of the year and the lovely Miss Wendy and I spent the evening staying warm, comfy and entertained. I shared our holiday secret last year. I'm sharing it here yet again – the start of a new tradition.

Spent the other night in a lovely way with the lovely Miss Wendy watching “Love, Actually”! It’s become a Grebnief holiday tradition. The film is light and fluffy with a killer soundtrack and a message that goes just as far as you’re willing to take it.

The 2003 romantic comedy, written and directed by Richard Curtis, features an ensemble cast of iconic pros – Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Kiera Nightley, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Billy Bob Thornton – whose lives criss-cross in all manner of ways. There’s at least a half-dozen or so story lines that play out during the movie, focusing on the joy, pain and messy madness of love.

Of the half-dozen or so tales that play out during the movie, the one that’s lingering about in my noggin today is the laugh-out-loud funny connection between Jamie and Aurélia (Colin Firth and Lucia Moniz). They meet when Jamie escapes to his cottage in France to work on a novel and lick his wounds after being betrayed by his girlfriend. He meets and pretty quickly falls for Aurélia, his Portuguese housekeeper. Jamie speaks no Portuguese and Aurélia speaks no English. Hijinks ensue!

Jamie makes his way to Portugal on Christmas Eve to ask Aurélia to marry him, a hilarious, joyful bit of filmmaking. The dialogue is sharp and witty and the director manages to add an extra layer of energy by cutting back and forth between this story line and another involving two kids and first love. Trust me, it works!

Starring right along with the great script and wonderful acting is the city of London, all gussied up and twinkling for the holidays. And let’s not forget that killer soundtrack I mentioned earlier, a euphonic blend of pop hits and memorable classics. Highlights include Kelly Clarkson and “The Trouble with Love”, Norah Jones and “Turn Me On”, “Jump (for my love)” by the Pointer Sisters and Joni Mitchell doing “Both Sides Now”. Don’t look now, but I think you’re tapping your tootsies.

Push aside the feel-good vibe of the movie and there’s a little message all wrapped up at the end. The last scene returns to the opening of the movie at Heathrow, most of the film’s characters stumbling into one another – greeting or being greeted – at the international airport outside of London.

As the Beach Boys’ hit “God Only Knows” plays out, the bigger than life vignettes give way to real-life portraits of folks greeting one another – husbands and wives, friends and lovers, people! The screen splits, then splits again; then again and yet again. Hundreds of people hugging, holding tight and living out the lyrics that poignantly explain each of the stories in the movie..

Recall the refrain? If not, check out the headline to this posting to help jog your memory. Now go hug that special person in your life and happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holidays often the most confusing time of year

Blogger's note: Instead of thrashing about a bit and coming up with yet another Hanukkah posting, I've decided to reach back into my vault of golden goodies and reprint my holiday offering from last year. Chag Sameach!

The search for meaning is a constant struggle. Around this time of year, when days grow short, nights long, and the world seems to overflow with things of the spirit and holiday cheer, such philosophical concerns become even a greater problem for some.

Unable to capture just what it is they believe, many people thrash about a bit, taking a little of this and a little of that. They close their eyes and shrug their shoulders, and mostly come up with a whole bunch of nothing.

Such efforts generally are of little import. A person looks, explores, and comes up empty. Maybe next year. No wonder people suffer from holiday depression. They eventually grab hold of only the superficial elements, ignoring the transcendent beauty and wonder to be found during this, um, most wonderful time of the year.

Occasionally all this effort runs amok. In the rush to belong, to understand, and feel good about who and what they are, people sometime forget that ritual and belief need to have something meaningful at its core.

Several years ago, when I was getting paid to write and still worked for that place with a printing press, I received a publicity kit for a new children's book, "Blintzes for Blitzen." I tossed it atop a growing pile of letters, bulletins, books and press releases, planning to study it when I got a moment.

As Hanukkah neared – btw, the eight-day Jewish festival begins this evening – I remembered the colorful cover that featured a drawing of a reindeer and a Menorah, and dug out the promotional material.

At first glance, "Blintzes For Blitzen" seemed to be just another holiday offering; a cute, brightly illustrated children's book that explored the beliefs of two dramatically different religions, capturing the seasonal cheer and worth of both.

But it became clear, very quickly, that mostly this book was filled with a discordant mishmash of this and that, devoid of meaning, message, or cosmic belief.

That the story is moronic – something about one of Santa's reindeer, Blitzen, stumbling across the house of Bernie the deli owner, who is busy making blintzes for Hanukkah – only reinforces the notion that nothing of lasting worth is being offered.

The motives of the book's publisher, MixedBlessing, seem noble enough. "The book blends the traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah into a heartwarming tale of discovery and joy," the publishers write, and is aimed at the "growing number of interfaith families."

Phooey! Raising children of faith is a difficult problem these days. Helping them understand the wonder and beauty of different traditions is a worthwhile undertaking. But trying to blend the disparate traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah is a mistake that honors no one.

Hanukkah has nothing to do with Christmas. Christmas has nothing to do with Hanukkah. Placing a Star of David atop a Christmas tree might seem like a good idea that offers a message of understanding and tolerance. But it trivializes the holidays for those who take their religion seriously, lacks any depth of meaning or transcendent worth and confounds and confuses the brightest of children.

The search for meaning and faith is a struggle that involves understanding who you are and your place in the world. Coming to such belief might begin as an exercise of intellect – a product of the mind – but ultimately finds a resting spot in the heart and soul.

Standing off in the distance and appreciating the beauty of the holiday season is okay. I got no problem with anyone enjoying Christmas Carols and Hanukkah lights, sharing festive meals and handing out gifts to family and friends. It's when some folks try to smoosh everything together, creating Hanukkah bushes and Christmas menorahs, that the season grows bizarre, silly and meaningless.

Hanukkah and Christmas aren't just words, devoid of meaning. Both holidays offer something special for those who are interested in hearing the message. But there's a price that must be paid to appreciate the holidays as anything more than one-dimensional, festive happenings. You have to figure out what you believe and make a choice.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Toe-tapping, feel good flick for the holidays

The lovely Miss Wendy and I were channel surfing earlier this week, in search of something – anything – to distract us for a few hours before calling it quits for the day. The major networks are mostly featuring holiday cartoons and reruns; so it was that we ended up reaching way back into TMC’s vault of golden oldies and spent the evening watching White Christmas.

Just as I clicked onto the movie channel, the opening credits of the holiday classic were playing out and we were once again back on a battlefield in Europe, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye performing for weary troops thinking of home and a “White Christmas”.

The unit's commanding general – a hard but very lovable Dean Jagger – is being replaced by a hard and not so lovable officer; and in these final moments of his command he’s sent off into retirement by his men wishing him well in a teary and musical sort of way.

A decade later, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis – that would be the Crosby and Kaye characters – have become a hugely successful song and dance team. They meet up with the Haynes sisters – Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen – in that oh-so cute way that only happens in Hollywood.

In just about the same sort of cute way, the guys and gals end up stumbling into Bob’s and Phil’s former Army commander who is now the owner of a picturesque – if financially failing – inn in Vermont. Song, dance and hi-jinks ensue.

The film, directed by Michael Curtiz and produced by Paramount Pictures, offers up a toe-tapping, upbeat story that had audiences in 1954 laughing, crying and cheering. It would probably be universally panned and ignored today – no car chases, explosions, shaky camera work or moral ambiguity. Go figure!

What White Christmas does have is the music of Irving Berlin. The film is built around a play that Wallace and Davis hope will save their general’s inn and provides the foundation for a dozen or so classic Berlin tunes – “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep”, “Snow”, “Heat Wave”, “Love, You Didn’t Do right By Me”, and of course, “White Christmas”.

I know exactly what’s going to happen when watching the movie, but still I tear up when the general is escorted into his inn’s dining area and is greeted by the men who had served under him a decade earlier in World War II.

It all gets a little – well, actually, hugely – sentimental and gushy when snow begins falling and the final number has Wallace and Davis, the Haynes sisters and a cast of hundreds singing “White Christmas”. In some fashion, I’m thinking the melancholy yearning for family and home; the holiday spirit, love and friendship that’s captured in the movie’s closing moments are exactly what people needed a decade or so after World War II ended.

White Christmas creatively offered up the idea that life had been tough, but that it was getting better. I’m thinking it’s a message – at least for me – that still seems valid and important today.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cool, crisp days with a chance of Ladybugs

I usually don’t think of bugs being a problem when the weather chills out, but in the last week or so an entire generation of Ladybugs has moved into our little corner of the world.

I imagine there’s a good chance I’m noticing the little critters because our home is light and bright now – this is our thanks for dusting things up! The orangey thingies are easily spotted traveling from here to there in search, I reckon, of even smaller critters – aphids, scale insects – to gather up for dinner.

They don’t pose much of a problem and I’m fine with their buggy presence as long as they remain outside. Not being sentient beings, however, the itty-bitty beetles don’t seem to grasp the concept of being unwelcome guests. So I’ve been forced to escort dozens to the door, thank you very much!

This just in to news central, with a tip of the hat to Wikipedia! Apparently, here in the Land of Cotton, Coccinellids – aka Ladybugs – usually begin to appear indoors in the fall. They leave their summer feeding sites in fields, forests and yards looking for a place to spend the winter. Who knew?

I guess that means I should be gussying up the guestroom and stocking up on aphids. I imagine it also wouldn’t hurt to buy a few extra bottles of gin so I can make a few dozen – wait for it – Pink Ladies. Of course me and my ladybug friends will be enjoying cocktails while vegging out to – that’s right – Lady Gaga!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Here’s the inside story on the weather outside

I looked over at the near wall in our beautifully redone kitchen, checking out the temperature outside. Only problem, is in our little dust up recently of our aging castle we decided to toss a few things, including the ancient inside / outside thermometer that came with the house when we bought it – that would be early in the first Reagan administration!

It was old, rusty and featured a dangling bit of wire that snaked for a foot or so across the wall, underneath a window and connected to a metal thingy that registered the outside temp. The unit was paired with an inside thermometer; so I could see both inside and outside temps at a glance.

Practical? Why, yes. High-tech and aesthetically pleasing? In make believe Army speak, that would be a big negatory!

Of course, all I really need do to find out how hot or cold it is in my little corner of the world is log onto my computer and check out any number of weather sites. With the click of a mouse I can find out all sorts of interesting and informative data – including up to the minute temperatures for my region, state, county, city and neighborhood.

The problem is that I still keep glancing over my shoulder when eating breakfast, staring at a blank – if freshly painted – wall in search of weather info. Change, someone once said, is difficult; and habits are hard to break.

So it is that the lovely Miss Wendy and I are now the proud owners of a little bit of high-tech magic – Brookstone’s Wireless Weather Forecaster. It’s a sleek little box that offers up all sorts of data – inside and outside temps, humidity levels, daily forecasts and the time.

The base unit syncs up nicely with a smaller satellite box – it’s about the size of a flip phone – that is placed outside. It quickly provided basic info – outside temperature and humidity – and in another day or so the forecast feature will kick in.

I’m told there are now a veritable cornucopia of devices that offer high-tech solutions for comfy living – portable phones that sync up with base units; sound systems that wirelessly link to stereos and TVs; security and lighting systems that can be controlled remotely through smart phones.

The problem? Check out that bold bit of info I detailed earlier about change and habits. The lovely Miss Wendy and I might have weather info flowing into our home now, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before anyone mistakes us for high-tech geeks!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Didn’t know painting could be so entertaining

Not at all sure of the point of today’s post; but you might file it away under the rubric: Everyone is good at something.

For weeks – months, years – workmen have been zipping about our home, ripping stuff down and nailing stuff up. In recent days a crew of painters has taken center stage and I’m fairly certain that very soon – if and when it quits raining – the final touches of our remodeling plan will be finished. Can I get an Amen out there!

Perched in my small office, I’ve watched in wonder as a small army of worker bees circled my house, caulking every opening, then whizzing about with a super-charged sprayer, laying down a fresh coat of primer.

One fellow seemed bored with all this activity, off by himself as his co-workers dashed here and there doing this and that. The first act complete, the idle guy all of a sudden took charge, grabbing a ladder that stretched out forever, centering it at one end of the house and grabbing hold of the sprayer.

In an act of madness and with the help of his painting troopers, he proceeded to lay down a fresh coat of fresh paint, zipping up and down the ladder and quickly covering every inch of siding before maneuvering the ladder a few feet further along the house.

The mad and amazing part of his work is he never completely left the ladder and never touched the ground once he started his little dance. Occasionally he had to call for help when a bit of landscape blocked his path and he was forced to swing around a bothersome bush or tree.

For an hour or so he hopped, skipped and painted; the sprayer and artist managing to complete a task at warp speed that once upon a time took days. Another group moved in a day later to handle the trim, the aerialist momentarily free to tidy up his equipment and practice his amazing moves.

I haven’t checked out the invoice from the painting contractor yet, but if he reads this blog I’m guessing he’ll be adding a 10 percent surcharge for entertainment. In the overall scheme of things, it would probably be money well spent.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Whoa-oa-oa! I feel good, I knew that I would

I had a little medical malfunction for most of November, a bothersome ache that appeared suddenly to remind me that I’ll never see the other side of 60 again. It all began with a nagging soreness in my hamstring that lingered for weeks.

Once upon a time, when I was young and had hair, I dashed about a bit; running most every day and taking part in weekend races. Pounding the pavement became an obsession and I eventually became crazy enough to run several marathons. This madness went on for well over a decade.

Aches, pains and the occasional pulled hamstring was the price I paid back then to be a jogger. As often as not, the remedy for such injuries was an icepack, a shot of gin and a few days of rest. Well, I iced down my leg for weeks in early November, drank a bottle of gin and rested until I was tired of resting. My leg still ached.

The week before Thanksgiving, the pain began shifting about; shooting into my hip, then lower into the area around my knee. It all became such a pain that I actually started thinking that I might need to visit a doctor.

Instead, I replaced the icepack and booze with drugs – Tylenol and Advil. Bingo! For a day or two the ache continued to rattle around. Then, ever so quietly, it was gone. A miracle!

I have no idea what caused the problem and even less idea how it was cured. I’m thinking there’s more of this sort of thing in my future and I’m not at all certain that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Little aches and pains can sometimes remind us all how good it feels to feel good; words of wisdom from me – and James Brown!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why, it’s a house of a different color – almost!

So I’ve been hunkering down for the last week, waiting for the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel to shine in my direction. Unfortunately, the glimmer I spotted turned out to be a train – metaphorically speaking.

The lovely Miss Wendy and I have run into a few small roadblocks in recent days in our efforts to update and modernize our home. It’s been an adventure, dealing with a dozen workmen plastering and painting; installing appliances, new light fixtures and electrical outlets; ripping off the warm and comfy siding that has protected us for years and replacing it with new stuff that will be hanging tough long after I’ve called it quits.

The little issues – a cabinet door butting up too closely to our lovely new backsplash, some sort of putty glop spilling out of a drain in the kitchen sink, a slight crack in a small bit of crown molding – have been tidied up nicely and it’s time to address the one major problem that has been dogging Wendy and me for weeks.

Now that the house is covered in a fresh layer of siding we need to figure out what sort of fresh new color we’d like to paint our home. The good news is we have an embarrassment of choices, the full spectrum of colors that add zest and zing to life. The bad news is all those colors are giving both of us a monumental headache.

The living room carpet is covered in dozens of paint cards from at least a half-dozen different paint companies – greens and grays; browns, taupe and beige; at least a dozen different varieties of white! I feel like the kid who has stumbled into a candy store, has a quarter to buy one piece of candy and keeps changing his mind.

At least Mother Nature has come to my rescue for the moment, covering the Land of Cotton in gray, turning down the thermostat and offering up a little rain and a few more days to ponder our colorful future.

Right now it’s looking like Cincinnatian Hotel Briggs Beige, Light Raffia and Del Coronado Tequila hold an inside edge to cover our home – and, yes, those are real names of paint colors. Go figure – and stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hidden costs of home renovation – bon appetit

So after crunching numbers for a month, I thought I had a good handle on what it was going to cost to update the castle that Miss Wendy and I call home. Wrong!

Forget all the little extras – bits of trim and paint; additional siding for areas that had rotted years ago; sheetrock to provide a pristine surface for our pristine new black splash. No, it’s the stack of cash Wendy and I will be dishing out for the next 10 days or so to eat that is playing havoc with my fine-tuned renovation budget.

The kitchen is a mess. New appliances will be delivered late today, but it will probably be at least another week before they are installed. Meanwhile, unless Wendy and I plan on living on cereal and cookies, we’ll be doing our bit to pump up the local economy by visiting neighborhood bistros.

Our culinary adventure began Monday night at La Madeleine, a Frenchified café that features soup, salads and sandwiches. We both had a bowl of mushroom soup and a Ceasar salad. The soup was heaping and hot, the salad green and ceasary!

Tuesday we drove an extra two blocks and dined at Panera’s, an Americanized café that features, well, soup, salads and sandwiches. We both had soup; Wendy opted for some sort of veggie sandwich and I, once again, went with a Ceasar salad. The soup was, you guessed it, heaping and hot; the salad green and ceasary; the sandwich green and crunchy!

For all these good eats we’ve managed to pay out about $40 – for those keeping track, that would be $20 each night. I’m not all that good with higher math, but if Wendy and I continue eating at this mad pace for the next 10 days or so we might be forced to have the contractor paint only half our home.

Of course there’s always the option of saving on our energy bill, turning off the lights and dining by candlelight at home. I imagine under those circumstances, cookies and cereal might be a fun, tasty alternative to breaking the bank. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ups and downs of spiffing up the home front

The banging began on Monday and I think / hope that I can just make out a bit of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. It all began quietly and quickly enough. A dumpster and modest pile of building supplies were dropped off at the end of my driveway late last week.

Early on Monday, just as the sun was peeking above the horizon, a team of worker bees descended on my mighty castle, the place the lovely Miss Wendy and I have called home for nearly three decades. The plan all along has been to fix a few problems and update everything else – new siding and a few new windows; new granite countertops and appliances in the kitchen; a bit of fresh paint from here to there! Hey, we’re not going anyway. Might as well make what we have as nice and comfortable as possible.

I’m happy to report that the workers are, well, working. They’re energetic, banging away at various tasks from early morning until darkness sweeps across the Land of Cotton. The problems, and there are always problems when ripping apart stuff, have been relatively minor. But the devil’s in the details and I’m the sort of guy who straightens photos on the wall, lines up my shoes and hangs shirts, pants and suits according to color and style.

All of that is to say that I’ve been busy stressing out over siding that isn’t perfectly aligned, bits of trim that doesn't come together nicely, and paint that has sprinkled onto light switches and door hinges. Then there are the dozens of endless decisions – what style to use in placing accent shingles; what color to paint the house and use inside; how best to coordinate new hardware for the cabinets with all the new appliances; where best to cut the granite and place the seam on our new countertop; what sort of lighting fixtures and sizes to purchase for outside? Well, you get the idea.

Meanwhile, dealing with the team of international workers handling all these chores has been challenging. They nod mightily when I make a suggestion, but I’m thinking they don’t have a clue what I’m saying. I certainly don’t understand them. In fact, it took me two days to realize they weren’t speaking Spanish. Turns out the crew doing the bulk of the outside work is from Brazil and speaks Portuguese.

Hunkered down in my little office, I spotted at least a dozen workers from three different companies yesterday. At one point the noise was deafening, a jarring symphony of pounding, banging, hammering, ripping and shouting. But at day’s end, I could start to see all the little pieces falling into place.

In a week or three the work will be complete and Wendy and I will be able to settle back with a sigh – for a moment or so. Then, unfortunately, the real work begins. Somebody has to go through all those boxes we packed up filled with stuff from drawers, cabinets and closets and put everything back. I’m thinking that’s a job that we’ll still be attacking when 2011 has become a fading memory.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Interesting, informative and really lame

I’ve waited a week to comment on NBC’s latest news magazine programming, “Rock Center with Brian Williams”. I figured I should take the time to watch at least two shows before offering up a review. Big mistake!

I imagine if NBC really supports the program while it finds its stride, we all might be speaking well of the effort a decade down the road. But, truth to tell, I’m thinking “Rock Center” is already sinking like a rock and will be a fading memory in just a few months.

That’s a shame. I like Williams and think he’s a solid journalist who manages to bring both gravitas and a light touch to the evening news. If the rumors are true, he’s also a very likable, friendly and funny guy. He’s managed to show off that side of his personality on various late night talk shows, bantering with David Letterman and Jon Stewart, and even hosting Saturday Night Live.

Williams and the producers of “Rock Center” have offered up several interesting, even compelling segments on the first two shows – sneaking into Syria to get a behind-the-scenes look at an embattled people and country; exposing a cottage industry that plays to wealthy foreigners wanting to have “anchor babies” in the U.S.; profiling a woman in North Carolina who got caught up in a morally repugnant eugenics scheme that led to her being sterilized.

Here’s the problem. The Syria segment offered no new information and felt like a stunt – hey, look at us, we can sneak into Syria! The “anchor baby” story, outrageous and infuriating, involves only a handful of people and, like the eugenics piece, didn’t go deep enough. Both would have played better on the evening news.

If handled by that other, more successful news magazine, “60 Minutes,” the segments would have been fleshed out, featured more interviews and reportage and run three times longer. All of this can be fixed. The greater problem, cutting to the chase, is Williams.

He’s got a dry sense of humor that, in the right venue, makes him likable and fun to watch. On “Rock Center” he’s simply lame. His segues into segments, commentary and interaction with correspondents seem forced and contrived. The end of the show each week is, simply put, embarrassing.

Last week Williams spent a few minutes chatting with Jon Stewart. Last night he chatted with Tina Fey. Williams ain’t Johnny Carson. The very best I can say about the conversations are that they were silly. Actually, the banter was cringe-inducing nonsense. He and Stewart discussed Halloween, beer, their kids and, ahhh, socks. The ups and downs of “The Real Housewives” franchise was the focus of his conversation with Tina.

Because there is no audience, there’s no energy in the room. The small talk just sort of hangs in the air, met by an expansive wall of utter silence. About the only sound I fear echoing in the background is the clicking of remotes, viewers in search of something – really, anything – entertaining.

Monday, November 7, 2011

On the tube: Good, bad and a really hot actress

One of my absolutely favorite ways to spend Sunday evenings is with Alicia Florrick, Will Gardner, Kalinda Sharma and all the other characters of The Good Wife. The legal drama is smart, funny and always entertaining. It also helps that the role of Alicia is played by Julianna Margulies who is seriously hot!

Occasionally the show’s writers, producers and director also get me to think. That was the case Sunday when the firm of Lockhart & Gardner took on a client who was suing the feds for really bad behavior. He was essentially kidnapped and tortured because there was the slimmest of evidence that he had ties to a terrorist group in Afghanistan.

Basic rights are ignored by the government, and the accused and his attorneys find themselves momentarily tumbling down a rabbit hole that can only be described as Kafkaesque. Justice Department lawyers refuse to offer up any information, citing national security issues. They eventually are ordered to turn over all files related to the case and send over boxes of material that have been carefully redacted.

Once upon a time, simply because I worked at a place with a printing press that bought paper by the ton and ink in barrels, I had government documents cross my desk that had been edited by censors. As often as not, the info needed by editors and reporters was clear and blacked-out portions were of little import. Not so in the lawyerly drama.

Alicia and her colleagues had to piece together what they could from the info provided while maneuvering their way carefully through a byzantine government maze filled with arrogant bureaucrats and toads – the Man run amok!

The constitutional issues raised are the stuff of headlines in recent years – suspension of habeas corpus, warrantless wire taps, enhanced interrogation. It’s all a messy business that flies in the face of all those beliefs and rights that, like Superman, define truth, justice and the American way! But I digress.

The Good Wife’s fast pace, sharp dialogue, wit and humor remind me of The West Wing, one of my all-time favorite TV dramas. The show’s ensemble cast, Josh Charles, Archie Panjabi, Christine Baranski, Matt Czuchry and Julianna – I did mention she’s hot, right? – seems to have found its stride and offers a really nice break from the mindless mess of reality TV.

Sadly, life often seems like it’s become a mindless mess. Unfortunately, our collective problems and challenges can’t be neatly wrapped up in an entertaining hour. And so it goes.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Healing, redemption and absolute stupidity

It’s Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories and Facts. Today we visit Israel and open up a can of worms.

There are about 13 million Jews in the world today. For all sorts of reasons, only about a third are affiliated with synagogues. That means that two-thirds of the people who identify as being Jewish know little about the religion, its ancient laws, rituals and beliefs.

Meshulam Nahari is one of the reasons many Jews have no desire to join the faithful. He’s the leader of Shas, a political party in Israel that represents the Heredim, the ultra-orthodox in the Jewish homeland. He’s a nut.

His nuttiness made headlines recently when he lashed out at Gilad Shalit (photo above) for spending time with his father at the beach. Nahari thinks Gilad, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped and held by Palestinian terrorists for over five years, should have been in shul on the first Shabbat after his release by Hamas.

Gilad, like the vast majority of Israeli Jews, isn't religious. He wasn’t observant before he was kidnapped and apparently his years of captivity hasn’t turned him into a shokeling believer – trust me here if you’re not a Member of the Tribe; it’s a Jewish thing.

The absolute gall and complete lack of sensitivity by Nahari is just the sort of nonsense you’d expect from a fundamentalist wacko. But it gets worse – or better, depending on your sense of whimsy!

The minister without portfolio, who spoke during a Shas convention earlier this week, said that the party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has charged him (Nahari) with the task of bringing Shalit closer to Judaism.

That’s a juicy bit of news I spotted on a blog recently and verified on an Israeli wire service, Ynet. I’m thinking Nahari, Rabbi Yosef and Shas have a little fence mending to do before they’re going to manage to show Gilad the light.

I’m also thinking that after spending five years in a hole, away from family and friends, suffering an assortment of physical and emotional problems, that God was smiling when he spotted Gilad with his dad at the beach.

Fundamentalists, no matter their religious affiliation, are convinced God only spends time in their particular house of worship, probably focused on their individual pew. They’re wrong and they’re sucking the spiritual life out of Judaism.

Here’s an idea. Just maybe Nahari and some of his followers ought to be spending more time on the beach. They might be surprised what they discover in the Synagogue of the great outdoors.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mid-palates, lingering finishes and cupcakes

Cutesy name for a so-so wine.
Nibbling away at taters, beans and burger at lunch earlier this week, I spotted a bottle of vino in the middle of the table. It was a recent gift at a recent happening, a little offering to celebrate my successfully circling the sun yet again. I’ve managed the trip 64 times and still seem to stumble onto new and interesting situations with each passage.

But I digress. The daily paper got me through the taters and half the burger and there were a few bits of mail to check out before finishing up the beans. The silence of the early afternoon had grabbed my attention. It spilled about, broken only by the distant static of a nearby radio and the tinny noise of my fork scraping across my luncheon plate.

Peering just slightly above a euphonic blend of burger, tater and beans balancing nicely on my fork, I was devilishly drawn to the bottle of wine. It was produced by one of those wineries with a cutesy name – Cupcake Vineyards. I wasn’t thirsty, just looking for a little something to read as I polished off my lunch. Go figure.

Turns out I was checking out a Pinot Grigio. If I’m thinking wine, especially one of the white persuasion, it’s probably a Pinot. More than the taste, I just like saying Pinot Grigio. It rolls off my tongue with a cosmopolitan flair – Pee-noh Gree-gyee-o! Salute.

Checking out the label, I quickly learned that the folks at Cupcake traveled to Trentino, Italy in the foothills of the Italian Alps in search of the perfect grape to create their special wine. I then learned that Cupcake’s Pinot is “full, with the flavors of ripe pears, a creamy mid-palate and a long lingering finish.” Right! The, ahhh, copy writer adds that the wine is “reminiscent of a pear cupcake with white chocolate.” Really, that’s what’s on the label. You can’t make this stuff up.

Bizarrely, the label then suggests that the wine works well with bay scallops in a cream sauce. Does anyone really want to chow down on pear cupcakes, white chocolate and scallops? I’m thinking the marketing folks had just polished off a case of Pinot before writing this messy message. I’m also guessing that if I ever get around to popping the Pinot’s cork that it will be lovely – fresh, fruity and firmly acidic.

BTW, next week I’ll be focusing on Manischewitz Concord grape and its iconic sugary high that features a creamy, ahhh, mid-palate and a long lingering finish. L'Chaim!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I guess it was my lucky day; youngsters, too!

So I was out running a few errands this afternoon when I decided to satisfy my craving for a cup of Joe. There was a coffee shop nearby on one of the main thoroughfares here in the Land of Cotton; that place with the fried dough that once called my name.

As I neared the shop, I noticed a group of youngsters walking along the sidewalk with two adults. I’m thinking the children – giggling and playful – were probably students at a pre-school housed in a nearby church and were off on a little adventure.

I mention the kids simply because I was forced to halt in my tracks and wait for them to happily parade by before I could make a right turn into the coffee shop’s parking lot. I glanced into my rearview mirror and was happy to see that the road was empty.

That changed in an instant. After noting there were a few stragglers attempting to join the other students, I glanced once again into my rearview mirror. Several cars were headed in my direction; a white sedan leading the pack.

Instead of slowing, the sedan accelerated and I realized that even if I jammed on the gas there was no way I was going to be able to outpace the couple of tons of metal headed in my direction. In a panic, I started to tap my accelerator and pull to the right, only to jam on my brakes because several kids blocked my path.

A surge of adrenalin shot through my body and I braced for impact, thinking this might be the last seconds of my life. Worse, I was certain my car would be hurled into the children and we’d all be whipping by the pearly gates of heaven in a moment.

Instead, the white sedan just managed to cut off a car in the left lane and whip passed me in a blur. I’m not certain, but I think I heard a sonic boom. Then again, the noise could have been my heart thumping away, merrily announcing that I was still alive.

All of this happened in an instant, but this much I know is true. The driver of the white sedan was a young girl with longish hair, holding, as the Swedes might say, a mötherförken cell phone in her hand. I hate to end any posting with a cliché, but the only thought that comes to mind at the moment is “there but for the grace of God, go I” … and those happy youngsters!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Granite, tile, new appliances and Green Stamps

The lovely Miss Wendy and I are buried in remodeling hell at the moment. Having nothing better to do we’ve decided to tinker around with our home – patch up all the problems and add some fun and sparkly stuff mostly because we can.

We spent an afternoon earlier this week like kids in a candy store, exploring the bowels of a granite company. It was an eye-popping exercise maneuvering out way about slabs of cut stone; shiny, colorful pieces of rock, each weighing hundreds of pounds, tossed about by a robotic arm that allowed for easy inspection.

I’m familiar with museum fatigue, and now can report that the same sort of problem can become part of the house fixing-up process. After checking out a dozen or so pieces of granite, the colors and intricate patterns of our top four choices had become a darkish blur. Fortunately, the sales associate tracking our journey had chipped off samples to jog our memories.

Earlier in the afternoon we spent an hour or so at an outlet specializing in tile. We’ve been this way before and know it’s important to have at least an idea of what you’re hunting before beginning the process. In the brave new world of remodeling, choices are unlimited – colors, shapes, sizes, materials.

The good news is we have an idea of what we’re hoping to create in our kitchen and both Wendy and I have spent hours googling our way through online remodeling sites, magazines, new homes in our areas and shops offering a wide assortment of splashy and sparkly stuff.

The not so good news is we probably need to win the lottery – any lottery – to pull together the bits and pieces to capture our fantasy. That said, contractors have been hired and the work begins the second week of November. Donations are welcome and can be sent directly to the Grenief Family Fantasy Fund – don’t you just love the alliteration!

Oh, for every donation of $10 we’ll be providing a full book of S&H Green Stamps. If you have no clue what I’m referencing, check out the web or ask any old geezer hanging about your home.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

At a glance: The 411 on Herman Cain’s 9-9-9

Herman Cain seems to be the flavor of the week as the Grand Old Party goes about its tortured efforts to select a presidential candidate. The election is still way off in the distant future, but the political battle has already shifted into high gear. In another few months, I imagine the candidates and their strategists will be in overdrive mode.

The only reason I dabble my metaphorical toe in this political stream is to take note of a report I heard on CNN earlier this morning while running errands here in the Land of Cotton. The reporter / commentator was gushing on about Cain and why he has managed to momentarily leap to the head of the pack. For months he had been stuck back with all the other single-digit wonders as Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts with the really good hair, held tightly to the lead among GOP contenders.

Then Cain revealed his three-number plan to fix all that ails the country’s economy by updating the nation’s outdated tax code. Overnight, 9-9-9 turned Cain into a frontrunner. The plain – a 9 percent business flat tax, 9 percent individual flat tax and 9 percent national sales tax – is easily understood and seems to make sense.

It’s also a really catchy, memorable phrase; the sort of easily digestible name thingy you might expect from a guy who made a fortune selling pizzas. It certainly has helped Cain stand out among a field of politicians who collectively fade into the background among an electorate with the attention span of your average toddler.

The problem is once commentators, economists and other politicians started ripping away at the details of the plan, Cain has been forced to rethink many of the bits and pieces of the proposal. At least one alternative, the 9-0-9 iteration, is aimed at aiding the working poor – they would be exempt from the individual flat tax portion of the proposal. I’m guessing in another few weeks that 9-9-9 will be a fading memory.

Of course, sounds bites and catchy phrases have been the meat and potatoes of politicians selling themselves and programs to voters since the days of Washington – First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. In the middle decades of the 20th century there was Roosevelt’s New Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier and Johnson’s Great Society. More recently there have been the less grand, more amorphous concepts and selling points of Reagan’s Morning in America, Bush’s Shock and Awe and Obama’s Dare to Dream.

I fear 9-9-9 might not have the heft and staying power of Tippecanoe and Tyler Too or Remember the Maine. Then again, our grandchildren might be writing essays on their iPads – or whatever high-tech gizmos are the hot and new thing a generation down the road – about Cain and how he managed to salvage the nation’s economy with a cute phrase and a few simple ideas. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gilad is home, back with his family in Israel

Gilad Shalit is home. After being held for over five years by Palestinian thugs, the young soldier was released to Israeli authorities today and quickly reunited with his family.

There is much to be thankful for – Gilad is alive. There is much to be angry about – a 1,000 or so terrorists will be freed over the next month, all part of a deal made with the devil that seems bizarrely out of whack. Such is life in the Middle East!

For a moment let’s push all the maneuvering, the wasted years and fear, the politics of the region aside and focus on the gentle scene of light and love captured in the photo above. Take a second and share the joy of Noam Shalit embracing his son; a moment that finally ends a nightmare that has lingered for 1,941 days.

For anyone with children, anyone with a heart, it’s clear that a measure of grace surrounds both Gilad and Noam; their lives are no longer on hold, hope has been rekindled in a world once gray and the future seems bright.

Bibi, that would be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stands nearby. He wears a smile and I can only imagine what he’s thinking. Certainly there’s a sense of joy and elation, perhaps a momentary feeling of victory.

The dark stuff – the deals and compromises to make this day happen, the problems already casting shadows on the borders around Israel – can wait for a bit. Today let’s celebrate with Gilad, Noam and Bibi. One of our sons has returned to the warm embrace of his family. Gilad is alive and well and, in the words of psalmist, my cup runneth over!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Heebs among us; and happy New Year!

The lovely Miss Wendy and I are deep into home remodeling mode at the moment. Our collective wish list includes updating the kitchen, adding crown molding in the living and dining rooms, ripping down wallpaper in the foyer and breakfast nook and adding a few fresh coats of paint from, ah, here to there.

We’re also planning to replace the wooden siding that has lovingly caressed our castle with a happening new covering – HardiePlank. It’s a move, we’re hoping, that should add value to our home while protecting us from the elements for years to come!

So it was that a salesman from one of those mega-home construction firms came knocking at my door this morning. He was big, burly and filled with good cheer. He introduced himself, made a little small talk about the Falcons and Braves, then asked where I was from.

I mentioned that I had lived in the Land of Cotton for decades, but grew up a hundred miles south of here in a little village nestled along the Chattahoochee River just this side of the Alabama border.

“Didn’t know there were any Heebs around these parts,” he said. Ah, right. Check please!

For a moment I felt like I had tumbled down Alice’s rabbit hole in some sort of alternative universe where up was down and down was up. We both continued talking, the sales guy detailing the merits of HardiePlank, me mostly nodding my noggin in a distracted fashion.

The anti-Semitic blip continued to echo in the background as we walked around the house, checking out gutters and soffits, discussing various options for updating and beautifying the house. Mr. Sales Guy took a few measurements, called for a timeout and played around with a calculator in his van before presenting me with a formal bid.

He spent a few moments talking up the merits of his company, wished me a grand day and said goodbye. Five minutes after he’d left, all I recalled of the visit was his belief that there weren’t any “Heebs” living in the Land of Cotton.

For the next hour I tried to make sense of what he’d said. Did he really say what I thought I’d heard – was he serious; was he joking; was he a raving anti-Semite hiding out in the burbs? Then I spent another hour playing out how I should have responded. That conversation usually began with “beg your pardon” and ended with me showing him the door!

Finally, I simply picked up the phone and called him. I explained there was something he’d said when we first met that was troubling me, then outlined the bit of small talk we shared. When I asked if he recalled his comment after I mentioned growing up in the South, there was a moment of dead silence, then a whispered “oops!”

What was the Heeb thing all about, I asked, and Mr. Sales Guy revealed that, well, ah, he was also Jewish! Strained laughter, then he offered a rush of words – silly, stupid, unprofessional, sorry, strange sense of humor.

We both chuckled, then played a little Jewish geography before he apologized yet again. Just after saying our goodbyes and just before hanging up the phone, Mr. Sales Guy-itz added, “Happy New Year.”

And so it is – now !

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One good reason to observe High Holidays

I received an e-mail solicitation yesterday and was just about to tap the delete button when I noticed it was from Yad Vashem, the world-class Holocaust Museum in Israel. They were asking for money and sharing a story. It’s a story worth repeating and remembering as many of us prepare to observe the Jewish High Holidays in coming days.

Naftali Stern visited Yad Vashem on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, in 1978. He had a gift, a few pieces of crinkled paper filled with Hebrew prayers. It was a precious gift, something he had created years earlier when the world had gone momentarily mad and a little light was needed to brighten the darkness.

In the spring of 1944, Naftali, his wife and four children were swallowed up by the Holocaust, arrested in their little village of Satu Mare in Romania and deported to Auschwitz. His family was murdered when they arrived at the Nazi death camp in Poland and Naftali was shipped off to a forced labor camp in Germany.

He was depressed and alone, each moment filled with memories of all that was lost. His world had become a nightmare – little food, no shelter, brutal guards and backbreaking work digging tunnels and trenches around German fortifications.

Surrounded by misery, a vague and distant memory took root in Naftali’s mind. The days were growing shorter and there was a slight chill in the air. Something stirred inside his heart and Naftali recalled that soon it would be Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Many would have easily pushed that thought aside, buried it along with their families, neighbors and villages.

Naftali clung to the thought; a very small light in a very gray world. He sold a bit of the food he received one day for a pencil, sold a bit more and managed to purchase some sacks that had once held cement. He ripped the sacks into small squares then slowly began to write the entire Rosh Hashana service.

Perhaps it was simply something that was meant to be. If not, why then did the thugs running the labor camp allow Naftali and other inmates to hold a short service? It was Naftali, of course, the chazzan in his little village shul, that led services that holiday season, his sweet voice chanting the words he had scrawled from memory.

For three decades – years after being liberated, starting a new family and immigrating to Israel – Naftali held onto his special mahzor, bringing it out on Rosh Hashana to both mourn and celebrate his life and faith. Three months after he donated the document to Yad Vashem, Naftali died.

It was okay. He knew that his special mahzor – time worn and frayed, created with love for a people and faith – would be protected. Now, three decades later, it remains on display at the museum.

Over the next several days, during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, as you struggle with the liturgy and ancient beliefs of Judaism – trying to make sense of the inexplicable – recall Naftali, his story and his final words.

“I pray,” he told Yad Vashem officials, “that each subsequent generation will stay true to their Jewish identity and be a link in a long chain.”

It seems to me, if nothing else, simply sitting in shul will honor Naftali’s prayer. That's a good thing. I'll worry about figuring out the more cosmic issues next year. L'Shanah Tovah Tikatevu; May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Video offers fun way to approach holidays

It’s Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts. Today, let’s sing our way into the High Holidays.
Don’t look now, but Rosh Hashana is only a week away. That means the days are growing shorter, the nights cooler and The Fountainheads have released another delightful video celebrating the Jewish New Year.

The artistic troupe, a group of young Israeli dancers, singers, actors and artists, are all students or graduates of the Ein Prat Academy for Leadership. The goal of the non-profit is to create a new Israeli-Jewish identity and build a strong and diverse community that celebrates Jewish life.

That’s the sort of formal mission statement you might find on the organization’s website. Okay, that’s exactly the sort of statement you’ll find on the group’s homepage at You’ll also spot their new video, Dip Your Apple. You can check it out right HERE.

It starts off with a blast; a loud and wailing note from a shofar, spilling off across a distant landscape. Then a talented group of young performers take center stage, backed up by a pounding and spirited musical beat. In just a few seconds you’ll probably be tapping your tootsies and thinking it’s time to figure out what you’ll be wearing at services next week.

Hopefully the easily digestible lyrics will also have you thinking about how best to change your life to embrace the coming year.

“A New Year’s rising, a new beginning; lift your head up, turn yourself around, the world is spinning; fill the magic of a new day, open your heart to a fresh start … open your heart to one another … it’s Rosh Hashana."

The Fountainheads have stayed busy the last year or so producing similar videos for Purim and Hanukkah, reaching out to the global Jewish village on YouTube. It’s an idea they share with plenty of other organizations in search of an audience.

Depending on where you sit on the cosmic spectrum, The Fountainheads offer a fun and entertaining way to engage with Judaism – if, in fact, you’re so inclined. What they sing about is grounded in Torah, but their message easily stretches across religious divisions.

For a moment, especially as we near the High Holidays, it’s nice to simply sit back and relax, take a deep breath and open our hearts to a fresh start. After all, it’s Rosh Hashana.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Feel-good flick all about the human spirit

I was surfing the web, hidden away in my little office at home when the lovely Miss Wendy yelled something from across the hall. Little did I know that we’d be crying just a few moments later.

“What’s that movie about the guy who wants to play football at Notre Dame,” Wendy asked. She was sitting in our upstairs den, apparently stuck on a movie channel that was stuck on playing a film from the early ’90s.

Truth to tell, the moment the missus mentioned movie, football and Notre Dame my throat began tightening up. When I made it across the hall, Rudy was all suited up, standing on the sidelines of Notre Dame Stadium, waiting for a bit of magic to come his way.

There was only five minutes remaining in the film and only 30 seconds or so left before Rudy’s chance faded away to ever take the field as a member of the Fighting Irish, a dream he had cherished and nurtured for years. Despite not having the grades to get into Notre Dame, nor the size or talent to win an athletic scholarship, Rudy was about to grab hold of the golden ring.

All it took was grit, determination and a heart the size of Texas. Cue the music and grab hold of your box of Kleenex!

It was the last game of the season; Notre Dame was ahead by two scores, time was running out and the coach, Dan Devine, decided to send in all the seniors who had yet to play. Well, what about Rudy?

In the mid-70s, Daniel Eugene "Rudy" Ruettiger really did attend Notre Dame and actually did manage to talk his way onto the university’s “scout” team. Basically that meant he was used as cannon fodder during practices, essentially a human tackling dummy. He was only 5’6’’ tall and weighed about 165 pounds. There were 300-pound linemen on the team who crapped turds bigger than Rudy.

He took whatever punishment came his way. There was no quit about Rudy and, bit by bit, he became part of the team, the feisty little guy with the really big heart. His dream remained to actually suit up with the squad and, just maybe, be allowed to play in a real game.

Still got the tissue handy? Coach Devine, in real life, was planning to get Rudy into the game if possible. Filmmakers, however, have never let facts get in the way of a good story. A little dramatic tension was needed, so in the movie Rudy is left standing on the sidelines, his dream slowly fading away.

That’s where I picked up the film over the weekend. Of course I already knew what was about to happen; I saw the film when it was released years ago and have caught bits and pieces of it dozens of times on the tube. One of those ginormous linemen quietly begins to chant Rudy’s name. Another player joins in, then yet another. A moment later the crowd picks up the chant and soon the entire stadium is calling Rudy’s name.

The coach finds himself between a rock and 70,000 chanting fans. Rudy is sent into the game with only seconds remaining. The crowd cheers. His family cheers. The chief grounds keeper, a gruff and cynical guy, smiles and raises his arm slowly in solidarity. The game ends and Rudy is carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates, his name still ringing around the stadium.

I’m pretty sure if you look up “feel good movie” on the web, Rudy will pop up high on the list. The film, btw, was named one of the best 25 sports movies in two polls by ESPN in 2005 and was ranked the 54th most inspiring film of all time by the American Film Institute.

So, the next time you spot Rudy on TV and you need a little lift, take a few moments and enjoy the drama. Just make sure you’ve got a tissue nearby.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A-mazing: Finding friend turns into journey

I spent the early afternoon today visiting Anita, a friend and former colleague from my days at that place with the printing press. She’s a patient at Emory University Hospital, a large and sprawling medical facility here in the Land of Cotton.

The university campus was teeming with students and the hospital area was filled with doctors and nurses; patients, their families and friends. Traffic was heavy and I only had a slight idea where I was headed. I spotted a sign pointing to a parking area, made a swift left turn, then dipped into the bowels of a mega-parking deck.

I passed through a floor or two reserved for health care professionals, then ignored a sign that said there were absolutely no available parking spaces for, um, regular people. Somewhere deep below the surface, dank and dark, I circled about hundreds of cars in search of an empty spot. When I spotted it, I said a little prayer, parked and then realized I had no idea where I was or how to make my way back to the street.

Off in the distance I spotted an exit sign, then spotted yet another sign pointing in the opposite direction. Fortunately before trekking in either direction, I saw another “regular” person popping into a nearby concrete bunker that turned out to be an elevator. When I reached the lobby, I walked over to the information desk and told the clerk my friend’s room number. She smiled and handed me a printed note. I offer its contents here with no editorial comment other than, WTF!

 Press “T” on elevator
 Make 2 Lefts off the elevator
 At the end of hall, turn Right towards EUH
 Dead end at Emergency in EUH
 Receive further info from Guest Services on the L

Up to this point I hadn’t realized that I was in search of buried treasure or, perhaps, on a holy quest. I managed to find my way up a few elevators, then along the halls and corridors before, yet again, I found myself chatting with another “Guest Services” worker. She offered up another half-dozen directions and, voila, only 30 minutes after parking I walked into my friend’s room.

Anita and I go back together lots of years. She’s battling cancer; filled with courage, hope and humor. Inspiring. I was feeling a little sad as we said our goodbyes, but energized by her good cheer and willingness to continue the good fight.

A few moments later, headed back to my car, I realized yet again I had no idea at all where I was. It would take another half hour, roaming around endless halls and corridors, then strolling about the campus before I managed to spot the mega-parking complex where my journey had begun. Exit signs were still pointing in two directions and I had to backtrack more than once after driving into an area that came to an abrupt dead end.

As I finally made it to the main thoroughfare on the campus, I couldn’t help but wonder if Rube Goldberg had worked as an architectural consultant when Emory planned out its hospital complex. The place is filled with more twists and turns then a Daniel Silva novel.

When next I visit, I’ll make sure to drop bread crumbs along the path. My only fear is that other visitors, lost for days in the dark and dank parking area for “regular” folks, will gobble up my trail markers.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Funky video reminder High Holidays are near

Here we are well into the Hebrew month of Elul, time yet again to take a hard look at our lives and souls as we prepare for the Jewish High Holidays. The faithful have already begun the onerous task of cleaning up their stuff – misdeeds and missed opportunities – making amends and figuring out a better, spiritually lighter and brighter path to follow in the coming year.

Then there are the rest of us, especially here in the Land of Cotton, who might be praying a bit harder these days, but mostly for the Dawgs, Falcons and Braves. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a grand time to catch up with friends and family, but the spiritual stuff is buried in the background noise of life. Go figure!

That’s why the folks at Aish HaTorah, a Jewish educational and outreach program, make an effort each year to find a fun and creative way to remind us the High Holidays are nearing and we should be willing to spend at least a little time getting our spiritual homes in order. They’ve just released a new video that you can find right HERE.

It’s fun and funky, featuring a bunch of yeshiva borchers shokeling to the beat of a yiddishe hip-hop tune and offering up lyrics – stand up, sit down, pass the prayer books all around – that might get you to tapping your tootsies, and certainly will bring a smile to your face.

It will also, at least for a moment, get you thinking about the High Holidays. Do that and Aish HaTorah has accomplished its mission – again.

A footnote: I’m always amazed at the first-class editing and production values Aish HaTorah captures in its videos. They obviously spend big bucks in their media work and it shows. I’ve got some problems with their theological beliefs but quietly embrace their outreach efforts. It’s also pretty cool that they can demystify and humanize a bunch of frummies wearing black pants, white shirts, tzi-tzi and kippot. That’s a good thing for Aish HaTorah, but also for the greater Jewish community. Yasher Koach.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Moment of madness transforms the world

The few blind spots that linger around my memories of 9/11 were filled in over the weekend as the media focused on the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. The day has remained part of my life, a defining moment of the madness unleashed by terrorists across the world as we entered the 21st century.

I have little to add to the mix of remembrances from those on the scene – survivors, first responders, area residents, spectators and tourists. Meanwhile, a colorful assortment of bloviators – commentators, essayists, columnists and bloggers – have spent the last several weeks exploring and examining the impact of 9/11 and how the world has changed.

There’s been lots of arm waving and talk; politics as usual from the usual suspects and a few memorable, poignant scenes and memories from family and friends of the thousands who died on that cool, crisp morning exactly 10 years ago today.

About the only words lingering in my noggin at the moment about 9/11 and what's followed is a short chat between Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams during a segment on NBC’s evening news last Friday. Asked if 9/11 had the same sort of impact on the country as Pearl Harbor, Brokaw captured something painfully true about the epochal events that informed and defined two different generations of Americans.

Pearl Harbor, he said, was the opening salvo of World War II for the United States. The entire country was mobilized and the impact of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval base was immediate and sustained. The sleeping giant had been awakened and virtually the entire country became part of the war effort – men were drafted into the armed forces, industries retooled to produce war materiel, food and consumer goods were rationed; there was a sense of national purpose and unity.

After 9/11 there was also a sense of national purpose and unity, Brokaw said. It lasted for about a month or so. Today, about the only people making a real sacrifice are the soldiers and their families actively involved in the war on terror. They represent less than 1 percent of the country.

It took allied military forces about five years to destroy the axis powers during World War II. To use a silly analogy, it was like ripping off a sticky band-aid – intensely painful, but quickly done. The war on terror, meanwhile, is akin to gently pulling away a bandage from the skin of the world – a painful process that seems to go on forever. My greatest fear is that a decade from now we will still be yanking away at a soiled bit of sticky stuff that is barely covering a growing and festering sore.

It’s been 10 years. I mourn and remember the victims, salute the heroes and offer my thanks and praise for those putting themselves in harm’s way. These warriors, let's not forget for an instant, are all that stand between us and the evil that remains a palpable force in the world today.

Monday, September 5, 2011

1948: Year filled with hope – and Miss Wendy

The country had regained its equilibrium. After a decade of economic collapse, followed by years of war, the United States was once again moving ahead in search of greatness. It took a cataclysmic war to pull the country out of a dark and bleak depression that had taken hold of the world in 1929. That same war demolished old empires and created new alliances and federations.

Hope once again could be felt across the country, a hardy land filled with men and women who came of age when a darkness huge and mighty hung heavily on the horizon. Teetering on the abyss, this greatest generation struggled and fought and suffered. They found strength in one another and the rightness of their cause. And when the battle had been won, they quietly returned home – to their cities and towns, to their families and friends.

In 1948, life, yet again, was grand! Vast fields of acreage were being covered with homes in something called the suburbs; business was good and employment soared. A huge assortment of consumer goods – dish washers, refrigerators and electric stoves; portable air conditioners, radios, stereos and tiny TVs – were spilling off assembly lines like stink off poop, all aimed at making life easier and more enjoyable. And please forgive the simile!

The American dream was alive, well and affordable – at least for the rich and the growing middle class. The average cost of a new home in the burbs was only $7,700 – three bedrooms and a bathroom, living room, dining room and kitchen – and a new car could be had for $1,250. A gallon of gas was only 16 cents and a loaf of bread a dime. All of that could easily be handled by most families when the average worker was making just under $3,000 a year – a small fortune in 1948!

Roosevelt was still being mourned by the masses three years after his death; Truman was in the White House and the cold war was growing chilly. Israel was declared a country and the summer Olympics was held in London.

The game of scrabble was introduced, an exciting way to spend the evening while listening to soap operas and comedies on the radio. Frank Sinatra remained hot and happening; so too Dean and Jerry, Jack Benny, Sid Ceasar and Arthur Godfrey. South Pacific opened on Broadway and Hamlet won the Oscar for Best Picture – go figure.

The mood in 1948 was festive and upbeat. Love was in the air and there was a birthrate so large and vibrant that people born during this period are now known as baby boomers. Among their numbers are politicians and artists; the rich, famous and infamous – Al Gore and Alice Cooper; Bernadette Peters, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Billy Crystal; Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ozzy Osbourne; Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower; Richard Simmons and Jerry Mathers – that would be The Beaver!

It was also in 1948 that the lovely Miss Wendy found her way into this world, taking her very first breath exactly 63 years ago today in, well, Brooklyn. She was born a Yankee but her parents, Roz and Joe, had the good sense to whisk her south to Jacksonville a few years later. It was there that I met and married her in 1975.

If you do the math, that means we’ve spent nearly 36 years together – our anniversary is in November – and celebrated 35 birthdays with one another. I was lucky; I managed to pick a mate from a vintage year. And after all these years she’s managed to both mellow and hold onto her bubbly effervescence. I think maybe it’s time to, um, pop the cork!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ritual, tradition and a final goodbye

It’s Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories and Facts. Today we explore life, death and the inexplicable.

The entire Grebnief family will be visiting the ancestral burial site on Sunday, gathering for the unveiling of our mother’s matzevah – literally monument. She died last October and was buried next to my father in the family plot that is nestled comfortably under a towering oak tree.

The area, just off one of the major thoroughfares in Columbus, is a few hours south of the Land of Cotton. It’s part of a cemetery managed and maintained by Shearith Israel Synagogue, the shul we all attended decades ago when the Jewish community was large and vibrant, a piece of the cultural fabric of this west Georgia city. Much of that community – relatives and family friends – is now at rest here.

Judaism is an ancient religion filled with laws and customs that have evolved over thousands of years. Unveilings are relatively new, a practice that has become popular only in the last century or so.

There is no prescribed format for the ceremony which, according to Jewish law, can be performed by family. Typical services are short, somewhat informal and consist of Psalms, prayers, personal reflections, the Mourner’s Kaddish and El Malei Rachamim – the memorial prayer for the dead. Unveilings can be held as early as a month after the funeral. Tradition suggests, however, that the ceremony falls at least within 11 months of burial.

During minyon recently, a friend saying Kaddish for his father mentioned that his family had no plans to hold an unveiling. The ceremony, he feared, would simply toss everyone back into mourning and the world, once again, would turn bleak and gray. I imagine that’s a possibility.

I also think that the ceremony can serve as an exclamation point, a bit of emotional punctuation that brings an end to the mourning process. Judaism, I’d argue, gets the whole death and mourning thing right. It offers up a period for grieving and rituals to handle both the mundane and cosmic.

As we lift the veil from my mother’s marker, this last ceremony pulls us together as a family and community. We are given the opportunity to say a final goodbye. My mother is at peace, no longer suffering the pain and torment of a chronic disease, and we pray that she finds infinite rest in the sheltering presence of God.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hot coffee, cold reality and crossing the street

I can file this away under the heading “Will he ever learn?” Despite my rant just yesterday about the poor service at the place with the golden arches, I still stopped by this morning for a cup of Joe. Big mistake!

After standing about at the front counter, waiting for someone to take my order, I was put on hold when the cashier opted to wait on one of her colleagues. While I cooled my heels and the line behind me grew – both in length and impatience – the McBurger putz first told her friend to input his order in a nearby register, then left us all dangling to handle the chore herself.

In fact, what should have taken only a moment, turned into clerking 101, the cashier explaining in detail to her friend how best to place an order on McBurger registers and, in the doing, how best to tick off paying customers.

After five minutes or so she returned to take my order, took my money, let the register figure out my change, then informed me that the coffee pot was empty and it would take only a few moments to brew a fresh batch! For an instant I thought all this was being taped and I was part of a new reality TV show.

I sort of smiled, then explained I didn’t have any more minutes to wait around and asked that she return my money. That of course involved her calling her manager, getting the boss to open the register and fiddle around with the gizmo so it would register that someone – that would be me – interrupted a transaction in process.

I took my buck and change, drove across the street and stopped at QuikTrip (see Tuesday’s blog posting), said hi to the cashier who greeted me with a smile, then poured my own cup of coffee. I was in and out in less than two minutes and can now report that, yes, I have finally learned my lesson!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Winning formula: Good service with a smile

I spotted a news brief recently that reported service station convenience stores are stealing customers from fast food chains. In fact, the story suggested that even some family restaurants offering moderately prices meals – Applebees, Chili’s, Houlihan’s – are losing business to folks chowing down on nachos and burgers at corner gas stations.

Of course such neighborhood gas stations include mini-marts featuring fruit, veggies, candy and snacks; hot dogs, hamburgers and sandwiches; coffee, lattes, espresso and all manner of sodas and frozen treats. And, at least the one I visit regularly, cheap prices and great service.

In my little corner of the world, right across from that place with the golden arches, is A QuikTrip. The clerk behind the register always smiles and says howdy when I visit, actually makes eye contact when I step up to pay or ask a question, then – and this, I know, is hard to believe – manages to handle cash and make change using his noggin instead of a computer.

The clerk does all this while handling a slew of other chores – printing out gas receipts and lottery tickets, monitoring the dozen or so gas pumps out front and making sure the shop is clean, neat and fully stocked.

If three or more customers back up at one register, another clerk automatically – I swear I’m not making this up – stops whatever he might be doing, opens up a second register and keeps things moving smoothly along. I’ve never waited more than a minute or two at a register. Obviously, the bosses at QT’s corporate headquarters know something about customer service.

It’s a lesson the toads running the golden arches have forgotten – and it’s costing them money. Everything that QuikTrip does right, the burger drones across the street get wrong – no smiles, no eye contact, no service.

I actually like the coffee at McBurgers. As often as not, however, when I stop by in the late morning they pour out the last dregs from the pot then sheepishly tell me they’re out and need to make more. Ah, that never happens across the street at QT.

Now, if filling stations can just figure out how to make decent fries, cheap apple pies and start offering plastic action figures with kid meals, I could fill up my tummy and my tank in one quick stop!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion

I’ve been itching to stop itching. The scratching began with a little reddish patch that worked its way over one shin, jumped across my crotch and took over a thigh, then rapidly took hold of small bits of turf around my belly, arms and neck.

Can you say uncomfortable? The problem, as usual, can be traced back to that moment after I left the place with the printing press two years ago and decided I would conquer my lawn. As I’ve reported here ad nauseum, the war with my yard has taken a toll – bumps, scrapes, cuts and falls; mosquito and tick bites; sunburn, battle fatigue and, now, poison ivy.

Ignoring all those three-leafed weeds as I go about pulling them from my lawn doesn’t mean they will ignore me. In fact, I’ve scratched my way across my yard for two years, breaking out now and again with small signs of the toxic stuff. I won those battles, suffering only a little discomfort. Not this time.

After nights of little sleep, bathing in calamine lotion and becoming addicted to Benadryl, I finally waved the white flag and called for medical assistance. My doctor sent in the big guns – Prednisone, served up in massive dosage. After just a day, I could sense the tide of battle was turning and victory seemed possible.

Now, a week later, the battle of Ivy fields is a fading memory and mankind, yet again, has prevailed over the expansionist hopes of plant life – at least its impact. Unfortunately, the war rages on; my yard calling out to me for help. It remains a gruesome mess of damaged turf, weeds and debris.

My days of rest are coming to an end and I will soon be grabbing my weed wacker and heading back into battle. I know that glory hides in the dawn, tucked behind a fallen pine cone, buried underneath a blooming dandelion. I can hear the mowers starting up now, my neighbors puttering about in support. Damn, how I love the smell of exhaust in the morning!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

'One Day' okay way to spend an afternoon

It turns out that One Day is an okay way to spend a hot afternoon in the Land of Cotton. The film, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, is a meditation on friendship, love and loss; the stuff – big and small – that defines that thing we call life.

The film plays out around one day each year over two decades or so, introducing us early on to Emma and Dexter meeting cute on the night of their college graduation. They stumble into bed only to decide to cuddle and sleep. They become buddies and a special friendship is kindled.

The relationship grows and wanes over the years, at times awkward and confusing, filled with laughter, tears, loneliness and fear. Em and Dex, as often as not, are headed off on different paths, but their love for one another has a way of tossing them together – such is life.

What makes all this minutiae palatable – even quietly serene and enjoyable at times – is, in the words of A.O. Scott of the New York Times, a lush, swooning, deliciously anachronistic orchestral score by Rachel Portman. I concur. I’d also add that the film’s evocative and richly colorful settings in London, Scotland and France offer up a pleasing cosmopolitan vibe.

All of this, in a fashion, has been done before. The movie, at its best, often seems a euphonic blend of Two for the Road; Same Time, Next Year and When Harry Met Sally. I’m certain there are others. In fact, the 1999 romantic comedy Notting Hill plays around with much the same themes. Worth noting, Hathaway and Sturgess are younger versions of Notting Hill stars Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant; a long and winding way simply to say there is very little new under the celluloid sun these days.

There is much to like about One Day. Its third act, however, takes the effort off into a dark and dangerous direction for a film that’s built on fluff. Not wishing to give too much away, I’ll simply finish by suggesting you might want to bring along a box of Kleenex and a friend with an available shoulder to cry upon.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More attacks and the world remains silent

It’s Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts. Today we glance at the news and see that Israel is once more under attack.

Israel once again is mourning the loss of life, victims of Palestinian terrorists striking at civilians in the southern region of the country. Seven people were killed and over 40 wounded earlier this week in five separate attacks.

The terrorists slithered out of Gaza and made their way south along the Egyptian border, slipping into Israel just north of Eilat on Thursday. Around noon they opened fire on an Egged bus that was traveling from Be’er Sheva to the resort community.

Over the next several hours, the terrorists managed to pop up in several different areas, firing an anti-tank missile at a sedan carrying civilians, setting off an explosive device next to an IDF patrol and exchanging small-arms fire with Israeli troops.

Those are the facts. Now let’s suppose for a moment that all this loathsome activity was happening closer to home. What if you or I, family or friends were headed south along I-75 to Florida? Our car is packed with luggage and good cheer, the AC set on chill and a CD blasting out our favorite holiday tunes.

Just South of Valdosta, as we cross into Florida, we spot a Toyota Tacoma in our rearview mirror, a silver blur advancing wildly in our direction. Hanging out of the passenger window we can just make out the metallic glint of a weapon and then we see two thugs, their heads wrapped in keffiyehs, standing in the cargo bay.

We notice a puff of smoke blossoming in our direction and then suddenly the asphalt to our right explodes. We press down on the accelerator and our family sedan lunges forward just as a few bits of shrapnel ping off the back bumper and crack a side window.

Despite our best effort, the Toyota pulls alongside. We glance quickly to our left and in sheer terror spot the front end of a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) launcher. Time slows and we can actually see the first fiery exhaust of the weapon being fired. Absolute madness!

And it is – madness. Of course life in the Land of Cotton is often hot, but not deadly. Politics here can get rancorous but we don’t often have to worry about our neighbors trying to kill us off. Just imagine if they tried – the immediate response from civil authorities; the media coverage and headlines; outrage and support from around the world.

Yes, the world has taken note that Israel was attacked – again. The international press has printed a few stories and television networks have offered a few minutes of coverage. But where’s the outrage and condemnation. Even though it’s been two years since the last major attack, it all feels like business as usual in the Middle East. Madness!

A footnote: Exactly a week earlier, a friend of mind was a passenger on the Egged Bus that was attacked on Thursday. David P is a retired NYC policeman who is in Israel to take part in a program, Sar-El, that places volunteers on IDF bases to help with menial chores. He, like the injured civilian passengers, was headed to Eilat for a weekend holiday.