Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Diary of a Move

I’m starting to believe that the worst problem with moving is that you can never get much satisfaction by telling anyone about it – no matter how horrendous your own move was, just about everyone you meet has a story that tops yours.

Good thing I have a blog!

Day 1 – Monday. Moving day
The movers arrived as scheduled at 6 am. The plan was for them to load the truck with my full house of furniture and appliances – plus something like 150 boxes of books. They would drive to my new address just a few kilometers away, unload, and be done no later than noon. What could be simpler? I think this is where that ‘Man plans and Gd laughs’ line came into being.

The loading of the truck went pretty much as scheduled. The problems cropped up when I used my key – first time – to open the door of the new apartment. The previous tenant had moved out – allegedly moved out – the day before, so neither I nor the agent had seen the apartment she left.

On opening the door, what did I find? She had taken all her personal items – but left an entire household of furniture.

In one bedroom there was a waterbed – a waterbed! -- a closet covering one whole wall, a chest-high dresser and two nightstands. The room was full to capacity.

In the other bedroom there was another large closet, plus a floor to ceiling cabinet/desk structure that pretty much filled that room.

In the living room stood a sofa and loveseat and a couple of other tables. “Where shall we unload?” Pinchas, my moving man, said, attempting to be serious. He was a flummoxed as I was. The only unoccupied space was about a third of the living room.

I started calling the owners agent – who, just the day before, had assured me I would find the empty apartment I had contracted for. Call after call went to his message service – and over the next hour, none of my panicky calls were returned. Fortunately I’d rented a car for the occasion, so I threw my two dogs into the back seat and we drove to his office. I walked in. “Hi, how’re you doing?” was his cheery greeting. “Not well,” I responded, and set about explaining. To start with, he flat out didn’t believe me. Then he called the tenant himself and asked her. Yes she’d left the furniture, she said. “I didn’t need it anymore, so I just left it.”

Now there were two of us with smoke coming out of our ears.

“Go back,” the agent told me. “Stall the movers. I’ll be there by noon. We’ll figure something out.” That was about an hour away, which seemed reasonable enough for a man who was obviously busy. I returned to the apartment, only to find that the movers had stopped snorting and pawing the ground, and were now deep into discussions among themselves as to just what extent our contract should be renegotiated. They’d planned on being done by noon – clearly that wasn't going to happen. But their tone was a little threatening: Which did I prefer? Renegotiate, or shall we unload right here on the sidewalk?

We renegotiated the contract.

I’ll spare you the litany of phone calls, excuses and prevarications that followed, but suffice it to say it was well after 3 pm when the agent finally arrived – but then I must say he redeemed himself. Taking a sledge hammer from his trunk, he went into the apartment and in a fit of Samson-like strength and fury, proceeded to simply break up all the furniture in pieces small enough to carry out by himself – all except the two sofas. The movers, desperately trying to salvage their day, had started moving whatever they could into the space available in the living room. The tenant’s sofa and loveseat were no longer visible.

“Don’t worry,” the agent said, “I’ll come back and take them out later, when you’re all settled.”

Now Gd and I were both laughing.

By 6:30 pm, the truck was empty, but the apartment was way beyond capacity. Boxes were piled to the ceiling in the living room – that’s about ten feet tall, for those of you in Rio Linda. They’d even completely filled the bathroom with stuff – the only open space was a tiny area around the shower. In what was to be my bedroom, I’d insisted that they put my bed and mattress on the floor – no matter what, I was going to have a place to sleep. So they did that, but then piled boxes and pieces of furniture high on all three sides around the bed.

They were ready to leave. I paid their renegotiated price, then tried to figure out what to do next. It was getting dark. It was right about then that I discovered that the previous tenant – who’d left the furniture – had taken all the light bulbs. She’s also left all the cupboards grimy and greasy condition, and hadn’t even tried to wipe out the crumbs.

Too exhausted to think straight, I made my way through the 20” wide path to the bathroom, where I took a very careful shower – trying to avoid the boxes. It didn’t work – they got wet, but I was too tired to care. I finally located my birds, parakeets, whose cage was sitting on top of a stack of stuff about two boxes in, right where the dining area would be. I lifted the cage out and at least put it on the edge of a stack. Poor things couldn’t exist with boxes on all four sides of their cage. Then, after taking the dogs out for a short walk, they and I dragged ourselves, single file, to the bed. With no sheets, no light, no fan, no AC, a rolled up towel for a pillow and no dinner for any of us – we slept.

Day two: Tuesday
Emerging from my bedroom cave the next morning was profoundly depressing. The situation was worse than I remembered. I couldn’t even imagine where to start – except that I’d be darned if I was going to go without light another night. Of course I had light bulbs – somewhere. The first course of business that day was to go on a basic shopping trip – bulbs and cleaning supplies of all kinds. I couldn’t start without that.

The other kicker for this whole episode was that Beersheba was in the hold of a totally ridiculous heat wave with temperatures exceeding 100 and humidity hovering in the 70% range – very unusual, but there it was. The heat and humidity made everything exhausting. By the time I got home with the carfull of stuff I’d bought, fed and walked the dogs again, I was wiped out. I still couldn’t think. So all I did for the last couple of hours that day was to sit and stare at the 50-60 pound boxes of books that were now hovering several feet over my head. How was I going to get them down? Especially when all the space I had was a narrow pathway to the bedroom and bath?

I put the entire situation on the ‘too tough to work’ shelf, and picked up a book. Much better.

Day three: Wednesday
This is when the miracles started. Even though my ancient cell phone hadn’t properly functioned for years – it doesn’t work at all unless it’s connected to a power source – now, by some miracle, it rang. The Chinese are famous for their notion that if you ever save someone’s life, you assume responsibility for them forever. I think there’s an Israeli corollary: if you ever rent an apartment to someone, you assume landlord responsibility for them forever. There on the phone, impossible though it was, was Cyril, my very first landlord in Israel. “How’s it going?” he said. “Is there anything I can do to help?”


Cyril came, managed to get the stove – which the moving apes had manhandled -- hooked up to the gas. He showed me how to restyle some of the electric plugs, which were the old type that accepted only rectangular plugs, not the newer rounder ones. Now I could connect a fan! And he fixed the washing machine – also seriously abused and battered – so it didn’t leak.

Amazing. Inspired by this bit of progress, I called a local charity that helps new immigrants. Within ten minutes, they arrived and hauled away my own sofa and loveseat. I really had no choice – I’ll have to use the tenants. But that helped. With those two enormous pieces of furniture blocking everything, I couldn’t even start unpacking. With them gone, I was in business.

I started in, box by box. I had no plan, except to unpack the next box. Whatever it was, wherever it went, I unpacked it and put it generally in the direction it was going to be. Books went almost randomly on shelves, kitchen stuff anywhere I could put it down. By the end of the day, I had cleared the bathroom – those boxes that had gotten wet held pots and pans, so no serious damage was done. I’d also cleared a small part of the living room. I felt pretty successful.

Day four: Thursday
At 9 am sharp, the door buzzed – there was the Bezeq man, just as I’d previously scheduled. The only problem was that in this new reality, I had no idea where to find either a phone or the computer for the internet hookup. I’d packed both in an old trunk, but I couldn’t even see the trunk under the mounds of everything else. I told him I’d have to reschedule.

All in all, that was probably my biggest mistake. From the day I moved until the day I had a ringing phone again, 21 days would pass. The thing is, August is the big moving month in Beersheba. The technicians are heavily booked, day after day. First I couldn’t get an appointment, then when I did, they couldn’t get anything to work.

I worked steadily all that day, eventually discovering that a box of books, toppled from a height of eight to ten feet, doesn’t really suffer all that much damage. The biggest frustration was, my cell phone had now given up almost completely – now it blinked “low battery” even when it was connected to the power. How long would it hold out?

Day five: Friday
The one thing different about this move was the psychology of it. Normally most of us humans seem to get depressed at the end of the day, whereas in the morning, everything tends to look better. For this move, it worked the exact opposite. At the end of each day, I’d be pleased with my progress, thinking I was doing pretty well. But when I’d walk out into the living room in the morning, I was depressed all over again. By Friday morning, the whole situation looked impossible. I was totally knackered, no reserve of energy left at all.

Quite frankly, I lost it. The months of stress, the weeks of packing, the trauma of the move itself were too much. I took the day off. I shopped a little, walked the dogs – who were getting increasingly frustrated at being confined in such tight quarters. I’d managed to build a path to a window and put the birds there, but by Friday they still were not chirping and now I was afraid they’d stopped eating, too. All five of us were all stressed beyond capacity. As I made minimal preparations for Shabbat, I simply chose not to see our living conditions at all. If I don’t see it, it’s not there.

Day seven: Sunday
Shabbat was restorative. The house was still in utter chaos, but Friday and Shabbat off helped. I started in with new vigor, working as fast – and as long – as possible. Without overplaying the ‘age’ card, I will merely note that there is a definite limit to how many hours a day I, well beyond retirement age, could struggle with boxes of books. Six hours was my maximum. After that I was dangerous to myself and everything else.

Days eight, nine and ten
Lait, lait, we say, slowly, slowly. Box by box, room by room, order was being restored. While it’s true that everything takes longer than you think, progress seemed excruciatingly slow. I finally located the trunk with the computer and recalled Bezeq to come back, but now they were totally booked for the next full week. So still no telephone, still no internet.

Fortunately, a very kind lady called to say she’d had a message from my daughter on Facebook, asking if she knew me, and if she knew if I was okay. “I know she expected to be off line for awhile with the move,” my daughter in California wrote, “but this is taking too long. Is she okay?”

With my family overseas assured that I was okay -- just without phone or internet – I relaxed a little, which in retrospect wasn’t wise. That created another problem entirely, but not one relevant to the move.

In any event, both my bedroom and my office room were now almost clear of boxes. The only major problem was getting the closets reassembled, something the movers hadn’t been able to do the day we moved – there was no place to put them. Pinchas, my mover, promised he’d come back and do it later – and I was na├»ve enough to believe him. He agreed to come three separate times, but didn't show up. He was done, I guess. He’d been paid. He’d moved on.

There are times when one has to remember that the goal is not to prevail but merely to survive – this move was one of them.

Epilogue: It’s now three weeks since moving day. I have five boxes of books left to unpack – which will have to wait for a trip to Ikea. There are only three other boxes of miscellaneous stuff remaining – I suspect most of it will end up by the dumpster.

Yesterday I had another “free stuff” day, offering things for which I had no room to anyone who could use them. I found good homes for my dining room table, my beloved trunk, two kitchen stools, several chairs, lamps and a big closet I simply had no space for. It’s good – most of those things were items I’d acquired when I was a new immigrant. Now others – mostly new immigrants – can use them again.

The good news is, it’s over. The move is over. Period.

The bad news? There isn’t any. Not really. I like the new apartment, it’s just deliciously quiet. The neighbors – mostly Russian, except for energetic young Hugo upstairs, a very new immigrant from Argentina – are friendly. I like the neighborhood. The dogs are learning that life on a leash – as compared to running free in a yard – isn’t all that terrible. The birds are both singing and eating.

Life is good.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The birds are coming home to roost.

So to speak. For incumbents, many are starting to think that their futures are being designed by Alfred Hitchcock, not Rachel Carson.

For anyone who cares about Constitutional government in Washington DC, that’s barely-in-time good news. The runaway madness that’s inspired the Community Organizer and his minions in Congress must be stopped if the United States of America – as we know it – is to survive.

Yesterday was an especially delightly rout. There’s lots of good news, but let’s start with the victory of Sen. Sam Brownback in Kansas’ Gubernatorial race. As Senator, Rep. Brownback has been one of Israel’s strongest supporters, including being a very public and vocal backer of Benny Elon’s ‘Israel Initiative’ certainly the most sensible proposal for establishing whatever passes for ‘peace’ in these parts. http://www.israelinitiative.com/

While it’s admittedly a loss that Senator Brownback won’t be in Washington protecting our interests and promoting an actual viable peace plan for this part of the world, it’s good to have him in an influential position in politics. Brownback is a fearless leader and a powerful supporter of Israel – and he’s young enough to still have a solid career ahead of him.

Taking Sen. Brownback’s place in the US Senate will be – absent some kind of massive upset (you know, when the morning newspaper features a nominee coming out of a dark park at midnight with a small boy in one hand and a chicken in the other) – Rep. Jerry Moran, who toppled Rep. Todd Tiahrt for the Republican nomination.

Who’s the Democrat nominee? Probably doesn’t matter – Kansas voters, to their eternal credit, haven’t sent a Democrat to the US Senate since 1932, when Democrat George McGill was elected, only to be defeated by a Republican in 1938. Kansas voters hardly seem primed to start electing Democrats now. Personally, I might have preferred Todd Tiahrt, who had Sarah Palin’s backing, but Jerry Moran will be just fine.

In Michigan, Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick lost her bid for an eighth term – defeated in the Democrat primary. The party line excuse for her defeat is that she was bogged down by her son’s legal problems – her son Kwame, Detroit’s former mayor, is in prison for corruption. But it’s just as likely that voters were on a ‘Throw the bums out’ rampage. Kilpatrick had been following the Community Organizer so close that if he weren’t giving hand signals, she’d have plowed right into the back of him. Couldn’t it be that isn’t what the voters want right now?

After all, Kilpatrick is the sixth incumbent -- fourth in the House — to lose so far this year. They didn’t all have crooked sons in prison.

Republicans in Michigan also picked a newcomer -- Rick Snyder, who ran with the tagline, ‘One Tough Nerd’ (he’s the CEO of Gateway, Inc, computers) – as their nominee to succeed term-limited-out Governor Jennifer Granholm. Snyder is now the favorite to win over Democrat nominee Virg Bernero. Michigan boasts a 13.2% unemployment rate – just the sort of statistic that might encourage voters in November to sweep out the stables.

Come January, lots of all-too-familiar faces will be gone – although most likely, the defeated will secure lucrative lobbying jobs and remain in Washington. Already Sens. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, and Arlen Specter, D-Pa. know they’re toast, defeated in their respective primaries. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., Parker Griffith, R-Ala., and Bob Inglis, R-S.C., all lost in their primaries.

Missouri voters also held forth on the desperate unpopularity of Obama care, with 75%voting for what they called ‘Proposition C’, which prohibits the government from requiring people to have health insurance or from penalizing them from paying for their own health care. Whap! Take that, Community Organizer!

It’s going to be an interesting November. Dingy Harry Reid is in deep doo-doo, too, although with the tens of millions of non-district money flowing into Nevada, we’ll see. I once heard a political consultant say, “Give me enough money, and I’ll elect Adolph Hitler”.

This may be a test of a similar kind. Can Nevada voters be bought off?

Although it doesn’t seem likely at the moment, it’s even possible that the Botox girl herself, Nancy Pelosi, will be spending more time with her family after November.

Even the cows are hoping…..

Monday, August 2, 2010

Aprons have been figuring prominently in my mind lately – I love aprons. Not the silly little ruffley things Lucy Ricardo used to tie around her waist, but real aprons, working aprons. The kind with a bib.

I guess I was thinking about it because my friend Sally posted a link to Beaver Lake Aprons on Facebook – I loved the one pictured above. Cows! What could be better for an apron featuring your basic Holstein? The only thing this otherwise perfect apron is missing is a pocket on the top of the apron as well as the big ones on the bottom. Why does it need a top pocket? So you have someplace to put your iPod!

Who cooks or cleans or does anything else sufficiently messy as to require an apron without listening to an iPod while you’re doing it? Certainly not me. I go through book after book from Audible.com when I’m doing any of those things – but that means I need a top pocket in the apron to hold the expensive little device.

Stupid, isn’t it? The iPod alone among contemporary listening devices lacks any means to attach it to your person. Any of us who want to listen while we do something else have to find some other place to tuck it -- modesty prevents me from disclosing where I occasionally do put the thing. Only when absolutely necessary, of course, times when I can’t be wearing an apron.

Anyway, the need to have a place to put my iPod is admittedly about half the reason I wear the apron.

Of course I didn’t realize that when I first got here and sewed up my first set of Israeli aprons – I hadn’t taken any with me, so one afternoon I sewed up a few using some scrap fabric I’d salvaged from other people’s cast offs, oddments thrown outside near the dumpster. I put big pockets on the bottom of most of them, but when I made that first set, I had a different MP3 player, one with a belt clip. It never occurred to me to sew in an additional pocket on top, to hold something like that. Then, after I graduated to an iPod, I had to go back and redesign the aprons. All the original fabric was gone, so I just cut up an old red pillowcase and sewed a bright red pocket on the top of each one. Some look pretty strange, others look better than they did before. It doesn’t really matter.

Or so I thought, yesterday, when I heard someone banging on my front gate. I’m still packing for the move and in this heat and humidity, I was way beyond filthy, but there I was, in my raggy hard-work clothes topped off with a pretty snazzy apron. Turned out it was my across-the-courtyard neighbor who wanted his mail. They’d been away for a few days and I’d been collecting the mail.

I opened the gate, and the look on his face when he saw me in the raggy clothes and the bright green apron with its classy red pocket was priceless. I didn’t know it, but apparently aprons in Israel – or some of them, anyway -- are items of serious cultural curiosity. My neighbor had never seen anyone – let alone a crazy Americaine – decked out that way.

Kol hakavod,” he laughed, throwing his arms in the air. “Look at you!” I thought he was referring to the filthy clothes. But no – it was my magnificent apron that caught his attention. “What is that you are wearing? You wear a dress over your dress?”

“No,” I explained, still a little befuddled over all this fuss. “It’s an apron. Just an apron. I used it to hold my iPod.”

“Turn around!” he insisted, absolutely fascinated. “Oh! It only covers your front?”

Well, yes.

“And you wear that all the time?”

“No. Only when I’m doing something really messy. Or when I need to put my iPod somewhere.”

He still couldn’t get his mind around this amazing garment. “Do all American women wear these – how you say? -- aprons?”

“I don’t think so. Actually, I think it’s only older women who do, but I could be wrong. You’ve never seen an apron before?”

The Iraqi-born, now-retired Israeli Army general howled with delight. “No, no, no. Never. I guess my mother just let her dress get dirty.”

“So where did she put her iPod?” I asked. He threw his head back and howled again, shaking his head as he walked away, marveling at the vast array of odd people who manage to make their way to Israel.

Well! As far as I can see, it’s a darn good thing there are some of us crazy Americaines around here – we sure do liven things up. What would they do without us?

All in all, it's probably a good thing I wasn’t wearing the ‘cow’ apron. That might have been too much for him to handle.

If Beaver Lake Aprons has a website, I can’t find it. But here’s a YouTube video with more information: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ai0TtRs33RM

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What an odd book! I didn’t even know I had it, to be perfectly honest, but it’s probably a good thing no one claimed it at last Friday’s Free-Sale.

I don’t blame anyone for not being attracted to it – it’s a hardback, dates from 1993, but has a very uninspiring cover, just bland. Mostly white, blue lettering, nothing to attract anyone’s attention. It’s by Irma Kurtz – previously unknown author, to me anyway – and the title is, “The Great American Bus Ride”, subtitled, ‘An intrepid woman’s cross country adventure.’

I can’t imagine where I would have acquired such a book, although I suspect it might have come from one of Hebrew University’s Friends of the Library book sales, when I have been known to pick up almost anything in English, seeing as how on the last day, everything sells for about a shekel.

Unclaimed as it was at the Free-Sale, it should have been tossed out. That’s what I promised myself. But when it came to actually throwing this nice clean book away, I couldn’t do it. Instead, I put it aside, one of those “I’ll think about this later” moments. But then a few nights ago, I idly picked it up and started reading.

It’s a ‘road’ book. Kurtz, pictured above, is an American-born ex-pat living in London, who decided to return to the US to ride Greyhound buses all over the US, essentially marking a “Z” for Zorro slash across the map. She offers casual commentary about what she sees, the people she meets and the oddities her travels offer – a nice blend of things that are truly odd (like “Vera”, who attaches herself to Kurtz at the beginning of the journey, and has to be almost literally pried loose) as well as things that are just snapshots of Americana, old and familiar, fun to be realize someone else remembered the same thing.

This isn’t a ‘Travels with Charlie’ book by any means, but still, it’s seriously addicting. Several times I’ve kicked myself, ‘I should stop reading this thing – what’s the point?’, only to follow that up with a second thought, ‘I will quit reading it, but not quite yet. Just a few more chapters….’

There’s no index, no preface of chapter headings, so you can’t pick and choose which of the hundreds of destinations she passes through, but I did get a few giggles out of the several pages she wrote about Fargo, North Dakota, a city (probably about 70,000 people when she was there) I know very well. While still plotting her journey back in London, Kurtz chose it as one of her destinations, because, she says, “I thought it was one of the least likely places in which I would ever have found myself.” In fact, Fargo ranked as such an oddity in her mind that before she left, she actually promised her son, still in London, that she’d send him a postcard from there.

“And what makes you think there are any postcards in Fargo?” the son asked.

“Listen to your mother and learn,” she replied. “There is no place on earth with a view, a church or even just a population of 25 that does not consider itself worthy of a postcard.”

Except Fargo, as she eventually found out. She ended up mailing a postcard from Fargo that featured a picture of London Bridge.

Not that she didn’t like Fargo – quite the opposite. “From the moment I arrived in Fargo, I felt happy and at home,” she wrote. “I love Fargo, North Dakota. Who can explain it?”

One of the things she loved was Duane Johnson’s used book store – she seems to have sought out used book shops in each location she visited, which might well account for my newfound affection for her book. Johnson, who passed away just last year, was an iconoclastic local hero -- one wonders the Coen Brothers didn’t hunt him down and make a film. With his long white beard and philosophical outlook -- “I am a skeptic, a pacifist, and a liberal in the Great Western tradition. I regard myself as a sane man,” she quotes him as saying. Johnson became known as North Dakota’s “bookseller emeritus” even though his shop was repeatedly threatened with closure by the fire marshals because of the fire hazard. Books and magazines were stacked and piled haphazardly everywhere, spilling into the already narrow pathways among shelves, something Kurtz loved. “At first it seemed like chaos,” she wrote of his shop. “But then gradually order emerged, shaggy, as a garden gone a bit to seed.”

One of Kurtz’s funniest stories involves the village of Elwood, Indiana, where her mother, Minnie Kessler, grew up, and of which her mother had few fond memories. Still, Kurtz wanted to see it for herself, to check out the actual locale where some of her mother’s stories took place, to see if the scenes she’d imagined were anything close to the real thing. Kurtz even went so far as to brave the cemetery in a monsoon-like rainstorm to hunt down the grave of one of her mother’s teachers, Miss Small.

She recalled her mother’s tale of what took place during a 4th grade school day. “To be a good American,” Miss Small announced to her class, “a person must be Protestant, white, and born here.” Whereupon the teacher whirled around and pointed her finger at Kurtz’ then nine-year old mother. “And Minnie Kessler, you wipe that grin off your face!”

Kurtz braved the rainstorm and found Miss Small’s grave. “Seventy-odd years later, I stood at the foot of the former teacher’s grave, and with the mud sucking at my heels, I pointed to her gravestone and said aloud, “Miss Mary Small, Minnie’s girl has come all the way to Elwood, Indiana, to tell you: Wipe that grin off your face!”

Back in her motel room, doing her best to dry off and warm up, Kurtz decided to call her mother – who was then living in Southern California – and tell her of Miss Small’s posthumous comeuppance. “Remember the story you used to tell me about Miss Small, in your 4th grade civics class?” she asked her mother. “So you know what I did? I went to the cemetery and found her grave. I told her from you that she should wipe that grin off her face!”

Kurtz’ mother paused, then said, “Well, that was a very nice thought, Irm. And I don’t suppose it makes any difference, seeing as it’s all in a good cause. But that teacher I used to tell you about? Her name was Miss Little.’

There now – aren’t you all sorry you passed up this book? You just never know what wonders lie a book might hold, even if the cover art doesn't look very interesting.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I probably inherited my love for garage sales from my mother, who surely ranked as the queen of the art during her younger days. “Let’s just go see what they have,” she’d say, the gleam of cheap acquisition in her eyes. “I’m not going to buy anything – goodness knows, there isn’t anything I need. I just want to look.”

With that, we’d set out, only to return hours later with all sorts of things we certainly didn’t need but couldn’t resist anyway – it was such a deal!

She -- and my father, too, who eventually got into the spirit of the thing – later refined the art to a science when they were snowbirds in Palm Springs. Nothing is more fun than going to the yard sales of the rich and famous -- and if you think rich people don’t love to make a few bucks as much as anyone else you can think again. I used to laugh that their four-month sojourns to sunny Southern California were really nothing more than buying trips – they’d hit the Palm Springs garage sales, haul the loot back to their native North Dakota home and then sell off the treasures at garage sales. After all, who could resist a flower vase that Red Skelton had once owned? A velvet hat with feathers that had been worn to the Oscars? A brooch Doris Day once owned? Whether any of it was true was another question, of course – we’re talking Southern California, where imagination reigns supreme. It might have been true, and that was close enough for everyone involved.

I had my own first garage sale when I was in college, selling off stuff in front of the Alpha Phi house. A few of my sorority sisters thought I was nuts – until they saw how nice it was to get rid of that skirt that never fit or the shoes that pinched, and pick up a few quarters in exchange. Little by little, several of them decided to join me and then the sales became a social event as much as anything else.

Of course calling these things “garage sales” is usually a euphemism, since I haven’t always had a garage. Although one time in Sacramento, I literally did sell the garage, not to mention the house. I’d bought a new home and was getting rid of stuff prior to the move. My old house was for sale, and the people who eventually bought it saw it first the day of the garage sale.

Much of the fun is the social aspect. Selling stuff in the front yard is unbeatable in terms of meeting the neighbors, but even more fun when a bunch of friends do it together. Maybe the best sales I ever had were in Monterey, when my friends Theresa and Mary Alice and I would band together and have what we called “Pack Rat” sales – they lasted all day, and we made hundreds of dollars each. We all had our dogs there, and one year, my garden was really overproducing, and I sold fresh zucchini, carrots and cabbage right along with the old books. When one lady lamented that she’d buy my zucchini if only she knew how to make it into bread, I went to my freezer, took out a loaf of my own zucchini bread, and sold her that, too, then gave her the recipe. There’s no limit to what you can sell.

My first Israeli garage sale was last Friday morning, and it was a blast. This time “garage sale” was pure fiction, since not only was there no garage, but also about 80% of the stuff wasn’t for sale at all, it was free. I have to move in a couple of weeks, and there were a lot of things I won’t have room for – or don’t need -- so I decided that since the primary objective was to simply get rid of stuff, I had two choices: I could haul it all out to the dumpster, and it would disappear in a heartbeat. Or I could make a social event out of it, put it all out, and invite my friends on the local email list, Anglobeersheba, to come and help themselves. That’s what I decided to do – one last hurrah at this house.

I did have a few bigger things for sale, but most of it was just freebies – which made it so much easier. Every other time I’ve hosted a garage sale, I’ve insisted that every item have a price on it, which takes an awful lot of time. With most everything free, I didn't have to do that.

The first people to come arrived just before the scheduled starting time of 8 am – they set the standard for the day. One of the things I was selling was my beloved Cocker Spaniel Guinness’ aliyah dog cage, the airline-approved crate where he spent the long hours in the belly of the airplane on the way to Israel. Since I have no plans whatever for making a return trip – at least with my dogs – there was no need to keep the big cage anymore.

It made my day that Guinness’ cage went to a new puppy -- “Tia” -- recently adopted from the “Beersheba Loves Animals” folks. “Tia’s” new human mom is in a wheelchair, and Tia is being trained as a service dog. Sometimes the puppy needs a safe place of her own to get some rest, and the airline crate was perfect. I was so delighted that the cage went for such a fine purpose and to such wonderful people. They also claimed some extra dog toys, eating bowls and other doggie accessories. Made my day!

My old bike – which I won’t have a safe place to keep – went to a second-year medical student at BGU, who recently had her bike stolen. Good deal! We were both happy with that exchange.

Other odds and ends: a whole bunch of extra cups and mugs (what do they do? Reproduce, when they get shoved into the back of the cupboard?) were claimed by a family where I’m frequently a Shabbat lunch guest. What could be more perfect than that?

That friend also claimed a black “Princess” telephone that had a great history: Many years before I made aliyah, I bought the phone from a ‘Dollar Store’ in California – that’s right. I paid $1.00 for it. I used it for several years, then, in a ‘Why not?’ moment, decided to take it with me on aliyah – and it worked perfectly here. But when my daughter bought a new phone system for her house, she shipped me her old cordless phone system, so I replaced the venerable black handset with her castoff cordless ones, which I’m still using. But the old black phone still worked perfectly – now someone else can use it for a few years.

A young man I hadn’t known before walked off with two bags full of ‘maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t’ cameras, electronic odds and ends and photographic equipment. I only need one working camera at a time – who has room to store more? He was giggling with delight.

The people who found books and tapes they wanted were the best – what fun to pass on good reading material to someone else.

And then of course there were the friends who came to help me – one family arrived, found a few things they could use, but then also carted off some of my plants I won’t be able to take. That was the ultimate mitzvah – throwing away growing plants is much more painful than throwing away other things. Their act of kindness meant a lot. And then there was the really good buddy who just came to help and keep me company all day – wow! A gift of time like that -- What great friends!

Nor can we forget the man who arrived with information – not that he intended to educate, probably, but as we were talking, I complained that as much as I like watermelon (watermelon in Israel is unbelievable, for you guys still in galut) I never have room in the fridge for it. So I rarely buy it, even though vendors drive around the neighborhoods with trucks, their loudspeakers barking, ‘Amatia! Amatia!’ selling the just-picked luscious things, two for NIS 10. “Why don’t you cube it and then put it in the fridge,” this genius suggested – DUH. How could I have not thought of that?

Then he went on to say that he’d seen an amazing way to cube watermelon: cut a slice off the top and bottom, stand it on end, then slice the rind off in strips, top to bottom, until you have a barrel-like piece of pure watermelon left. Then just make a few crosswise cuts to cube it perfectly. Wow! This afternoon I’m buying watermelon!
Nor was that all – he also told how he’d seen someone buttering hot corn on the cob: what you do is butter a piece of bread, then rub the hot corn on the bread, buttering it in the process – plus you can eat the bread! (Needless to say, corn is also on my shopping list.)

Amazing the things one learns at garage sales.

So for everyone who came, for everyone who helped me unload, thank you so much. It was fun – and you can be sure I’ll be doing it again.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It used to be that people were ashamed to be caught in an act of hypocrisy – not anymore. Now, in some circles – like Jordan and BGU – it’s held out as a virtue.
Let’s be very clear about that word, hypocrisy: The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess.

Because she’s so much prettier than anybody at BGU, let’s start with Jordan’s Queen Rania – there she is, above, in all her royal glory.

What did she do? Taking a page out of the Protocols for American First Ladies, Queen Rania decided to write a book for children. She -- or rather Kelly DiPucchio, who’s listed as co-author -- wrote a warm, cuddly feel-good little book called, “The Sandwich Shop”, which someone described as “the kind of book that gives you goose bumps and motivates you go outside in the rain to kiss your neighbor then sing Kumbaya.” To one-up that, in the US, the book is published by Hyperion, part of the Walt Disney Company.

Even the idea is innovative: comparing a lunch sandwich of peanut butter and jelly – as contrasted to one of pita bread and hummus – the Queen uses the sandwiches to talk about the differences between two very different cultures. It’s all about how to get along with people who are different. It’s about multiculturalism. Tolerance.

Prime virtues to those of the liberal mind-set. Or to quote the US’s wife beater supreme, Rodney King, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’

Apparently not.

Israel’s left-wing rag, Ha’aretz, just published a story about the Queen’s real level of tolerance: Despite many offers to have the book translated into Hebrew for distribution in Israel, she’s rejected all offers.

There is, after all, a limit to tolerance – and having her golden words (or those of Ms. DiPucchio) translated into the infidel language of Hebrew, where it might delight Jewish children, too? Well, that’s beyond the pale. Tolerance, certainly. But not toward the Zionist Entity.

The funny thing about this is – well, we may as well laugh, because it beats crying –BGU, the famed Beersheba University named after the Zionist Supreme, David Ben Gurion, is doing pretty much the same thing. There’s no tolerance for Zionists there, either.

We’re back to Neve Gordon again, that bad penny that keeps popping up. Neve Gordon is the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel Jewish professor at BGU who keeps doing and saying dastardly things against Israel – and getting promoted by BGU every time.

Neve Gordon has made a career out of calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, the very state whose protection he enjoys and whose bounty pays his salary. Yet every time Gordon’s antics hit the front pages of newspapers around the world, BGU officials find a way to promote him.

After Gordon joined hands in solidarity with Yasser Arafat (as Arafat’s minions were blowing up Israeli cafes and buses) BGU granted him tenure.

After the Holocaust-denying Gordon denounced Israel as fascist, terrorist regime, one that “resembles Nazi Germany”, BGU President Rivka Carmi promoted him to chair the University’s Department of Politics and Government.

After Gordon called for a world-wide boycott of Israel -- a call on “foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel”, BGU promoted from ‘lecturer’ to ‘professor’.

In defense of all this, Prof. Carmi and her press agent, Faye Bitker, repeatedly resorted to heated press releases in which they insist they had no choice. It’s all about ‘academic freedom’, they declare. The standard line from BGU is: “Ben-Gurion University of the Negev supports freedom of expression, opinion and thought.” The consensus among BGU powerbrokers was best expressed by Isaac Nevo, a senior lecturer in philosophy at BGU who organized support for Gordon: “Dr. Gordon has the right to publish his views on any matter, has done nothing wrong and should not be censored or sanctioned.”

So from that, you’d figure that any professor would have the right to express his views, wouldn’t you? Whatever they are? Academic freedom must operate as a prospective cure-all. Say -- or teach – any darn thing you like, because BGU faculty members obviously enjoy absolute freedom of expression.

Well, if you thought that, you would be wrong. At BGU, academic freedom extends only to the haters of Israel. Not to anyone else.

Case in point: BGU just fired another professor for expressing his opinion on a completely different topic. Dr. Yerucham Leavitt, teaching a class in medical ethics, responded to a student’s question and in the process, expressed skepticism as to whether it was healthy for children to be raised by homosexuals. Certainly there are those who disagree with Dr. Leavitt on that point, but understand, too, there is credible scientific research that supports what he said – it wasn’t just a personal opinion.

Not that it should matter, according to BGU’s standards of ‘academic freedom’. Many professors found Neve Gordon’s remarks reprehensible – including President Carmi, who called his views “destructive”. But, in Neve Gordon’s case, even “destructive” views must be tolerated in the name of academic freedom.

But when it’s an opinion favored by a non-leftist? Ah, well. That’s different. Then the rules change.

It’s perfectly fine to call for a boycott of Israel, to denounce Israel as a ‘fascist apartheid entity’ and to call for its elimination. That’s all protected speech.

But heaven forbid you question whether it’s healthy for children to be raised by homosexual couples. That gets you fired.

So there you have it: the Queen of Jordan waxes eloquent about tolerance, multiculturalism, of loving one another – except when it comes to Jewish kids. That’s different.

At BGU, the faculty enjoys complete and absolute academic freedom to say anything at all – so long as they’re leftists and anti-Israel radicals. But it you’re not an Israel-hater, then forget it.

Hypocrisy thy name is Queen Rania -- and BGU.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Moving gives me way much too much time to think.

A lot of the preparation is mind-numbing. How much concentration does it take to tape the bottoms of a box and fill it with books? So as an attitude adjustment maneuver, I’ve tried seeing moving as an opportunity to indulge, darn near non-stop, in listening to audio books, downloaded from Audible.com.

I figure this will be about a seven-book move -- I’ve already gone through two.

But even at that rate, there’s extra time around the edges where one’s mind tends to wander. The last book I was listening to was one of the culinary mysteries – there’s an amateur detective, a caterer in this series, who finds a not-terribly-bloody murdered body somewhere in her work space, and then the game’s afoot.

These are nice tame little mysteries – usually more interesting because of the continuing saga of the characters than for the quality of the detecting involved, although admittedly some are better than others. Plus, of course, you get the recipes, some of which are pretty good.

Listening to this book, I first noticed that when the protagonist was preparing a luncheon salad, she’d referred to “the luscious nutty flavor of the creamy avocados.” That struck me as a little odd – nutty flavor? Avocados? I’m not a big fan of nuts – given a chance to take ‘em or leave ‘em, I’ll usually pass. But I really like avocados – it just never occurred to me they tasted “nutty”. Huh. How about that?!

The book continued. I kept listening. Another 20 boxes or so later and then there we were again, back to nuts. This time the protagonist was waxing eloquent about how delightfully the “nutty flavor” of the Kona coffee she was drinking blended with the chocolate cookie she was eating. Nutty flavor? Coffee tastes like nuts, too?

But then I started really thinking about it – lots of people say rice has a “nutty flavor”. I started to wonder how many other things people think taste like nuts.

I put down the boxes, wiped my hands and went to the computer. I googled “nutty flavor” and came up with the standard 3.6 million hits in roughly 2.03 seconds. In the first two pages of hits, here are some of the foods people have described as having a “nutty flavor”:

Cheddar cheese
Soy milk
Sesame seeds
Porcini mushrooms
White beans
Hemp seed – ho ho!
Gouda cheese
Burgundy wine
Whole cumin seeds
--- Not to mention actual nuts, of course – which presumably taste like nuts, too.

How can that be? How can foodstuffs as distinct as asparagus, Burgundy wine and Gouda cheese all taste like nuts?

Or maybe the better question is, what does a nut taste like? Well, let’s see: it takes like cheddar cheese, avocados, white beans, Kona coffee, dal…..

This was getting a little silly. What? Does everything taste like nuts?

Then it started to remind me of the days when my daughter JJ was little and obsessed with peanut butter – honestly, I think she existed mostly on a diet of peanut butter for the better part of one whole year.

But we were trying – so when we’d put a plate of something else in front of her and encourage her to take at least one bite, she’d always ask, “But what does it taste like?” To which there was only one unified parental response: “Peanut butter. It tastes like peanut butter.”

Listen to us, and you’d hear us insist that everything from poached salmon to broccoli to sliced apples tasted like peanut butter.

Maybe that’s what it is with nuts, too. It’s assumed, for whatever reason, that people like the flavor of nuts. So when asked what something tastes like – a question that’s clearly impossible to answer anyway – it’s easy to say, “Like nuts. It has a nutty flavor.”

Could that be it?

Okay, okay – obviously I’ve spent too much time on this issue. But oh – by the way – the caterer figured out that it was the boss’s secretary who bumped him off, right before he was going to expose her embezzlement to the world at the lunch the caterer was preparing.

I hope the caterer got paid for the lunch, that’s all I can say.