Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pocket Review of Dating Younger

In August of 2007, after living in New York for the better part of a year, I found myself between travel jobs, bored out of my gourd, and in need of extra income. I was shopping in my favorite market, Trader Joe's, when, on a whim, I asked for an application. It included questions that required a working knowledge of multiplication, long division, and fractions in order to provide the correct answers. This is knowledge that I possess, though barely. I have always cusped on retardation where mathematics is concerned. In any case, within three days, I was screened, interviewed, and hired. When David, one of the supervisors, called to tell me when to report for duty, I said, "Great! What do I bring? Just myself and my remedial math skills?" he laughed and disconnected.

I had shopped at Trader Joe's for all of my tenure in Los Angeles, after being introduced to it by my friend, Niambi, and the employees there always seemed happy to be at work. Still, having spent years cobbling an income out of this or that acting, decorating, catering, floral design, or travel gig, I was nervous about taking anything resembling a real job. I mean, there's a time clock, for God's sake.

My third day on the job, I was lunching in the break room when a beautiful girl in dreadlocks and multiple tattoos sat down at my table. Her name tag identified her as "Kim C."

Me: "How's it going?"
Kim C.: "So, what's your deal? Are you into guys or girls, or what?"
Me: "Ummmmmm....."
Kim C.: "Both?"
Me: "Ummmmm...."
Kim C.: "It's cool, either way."
Me (thinking she was trying, albeit clumsily, to pick me up): "I skew towards straight."
Kim C.: "That's cool."
Me: "Yeah."
Kim C. :"I have to ask, I mean it's Trader Joe's."
Me: "Umkay."

This was my first indicator that the Joe is an incestuous sex pool. I decided in that moment that dating at work was a loser move. I also decided that, being a bit older than the average employee, the chances of me meeting someone there with whom I shared any interests were pretty slim. (I was wrong, though. Dead wrong. Two of my dearest friends in life are former Joeworkers.) I later learned that Kim also skews straight, and was undercover in an attempt to gather info about me for some of the male employees, (these days, though, she assures me she is no longer a double agent, but only works for me).

One such employee, Chuck, was kind of a mystery to me. He was really nice, and as he had been working there for over a year, seemed to know all the ins and outs of the Joe. He was always willing to share this knowledge, and always in a good mood. Still, I didn't quite know what to make of this big white kid in his giant pants, XXL T-shirts, and Yankees caps. His constant hip hop references also threw me. I mean, was this just the way native Manhattanites dressed and behaved, or what? I was forced to rely on "Urban Dictionary" and other similar websites in order to decipher phrases like, "Good lookin' out," and "What's good?" or, "Fall back a little."

I was further confused when, towards the end of my first week of work, I was ringing up a customer on register one, and Chuck walked up and grabbed my cheek saying, "Look at that face. If I weren't so broke, I'd take you out for a drink after work." I said something along the lines of, "I don't think so, Jr. In Arkansas, where they start in the tweens, I'm almost old enough to be your mother." He didn't give up easily though, and proceeded to tell me all about himself while we were stocking chips together a few nights later. Mostly, his stories were of his checkered youth, (his "youth" transpiring maybe two years prior to this conversation). As his diatribe continued, I also learned that he was adopted, had Jewish parents, and became obsessed with hip hop music and culture after discovering the Wu-tang Clan at the ripe old age of ten. The whole time, I kept thinking, "I am not attracted to this person." And, "Why is he telling me this? We have nothing in common."

Later in the week, I went out for a few drinks with some of my new co-workers, Chuck among them. He spent most of the evening trying unsuccessfully to convince me that he wasn't too young for me. I had purchased toilet tissue and a few other necessities before leaving work, and had these items with me in a paper shopping bag (this would mark the beginning of a long tradition of my never going out after work without being saddled like a burro with groceries I had purchased prior to closing). One drink led to another, and me being a lightweight, I ended up on the street outside a bar called Finnerty's, having been ushered out at closing time with my comrades. Though many of the details are fuzzy to me, I do remember seeing my six-pack of toilet tissue lying on the sidewalk like roadkill, and then slowly realizing that I was holding the handle - just the handle - to my paper shopping bag in my left hand. Somewhere in the midst of this, Chuck asked me for a good night kiss. I refused, slurringly telling him that I wasn't really interested in him, or in being the office skank. He suggested we walk around the corner, out of eyeshot of our colleagues, and apparently, I did kiss him, though I have no memory of it. That evening ended with me illegally packed into a yellow cab with six other people (Chuck not among them), sitting on the lap of a man named Dwayne (who had the actual black power pick with the clenched fist handle protruding from his hair), and racing uptown to 57th street, A.K.A. the opposite direction of where I live. (Note to self: Do NOT go out drinking with the crew from the Joe).

Chuck asked me out several more times, and I turned him down several more times. My reasons were varied: he asked me out via text message instead of calling, we had nothing in common, he was far too young for me, I didn't want to date someone from work, etc, etc. In the midst of this flirtation, Chuck got promoted to supervisor, which means he is not allowed to date anyone who works in the same store with him, and he stopped asking for dates. I chalked it up to all for the best, since I couldn't even decide if I was attracted to him or not.

Over a year went by, during which we would periodically text or chat for a few days here and there. Or, we would go on break together occasionally. I always found him easy to talk to, though I could also find him extremely irritating. More than once, I deleted him from my phone. All of this culminated in Chuck being the one to take me to the emergency room when I fell at work at Thanksgiving, and since then, I have looked at him in a new way. I realized I was attracted to him, and even worse, that I actually liked him. After more than a month of negotiations (with him about our relationship potential), I transferred to the Brooklyn store in January, and we started to date in earnest.

Though I would definitely not classify myself as a high school teacher from Florida, or anything, this is not the first time I have dated someone younger. My senior year of high school, I dated a sophomore, which at a magnet school full of nerds is not as socially suicidal as it sounds. Also, my long term beau, Ryan, was four years younger than me. I never gave our age difference much thought until we went to see Prince in concert at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. He was performing for five nights, and every night, he had a different opening act, which was not posted or announced prior to show time. As the usher directed us to our seats, I asked who that night's opening act was and was thrilled when he said, "Morris Day and the Time." I turned excitedly to Ryan and said, "Did you hear that, Buddy? Morris Day and the Time!!!" He replied, "Morris who and the what now?" Other than that incident, though, there were few times when our slight age difference occurred to either of us, and our relationship lasted for nearly eight years. Our common desire not to reproduce was a significant contributing factor to the longevity of our relationship.

However, with Chuck, (or Charles, as I prefer to call him) the child issue has reared its ugly, baby-powder-smelling little head again. Not once, but several times. Chuck would really like to have a child, and I have long thought that I really wouldn't. Though having seen baby pictures of Chuck, I am willing to at least consider it (he was EXCEPTIONALLY adorable). But, this is a deal-breaker issue after all, and to that end, I have initiated a few serious discussions about it. After the last time we talked about parenthood, I had the following dream:

I was in labor, but rather than taking a taxi or ambulance, I was making the entire journey to the hospital in a wheelchair. Chuck was pushing me, and as we finally crossed the threshold of the emergency room, a nurse at a huge circular desk said, "Oh. Hello there, Ms. Wood. We were expecting you. Can I get you anything?" I said, "Yes. I want this exact CD (and I held up and shook a copy of a mixed disc that Chuck made me in real life), and some PLAN B, Goddammit!" The nurse responded, "Oh, I'm afraid it's a little late for that. You see, you're already in labor." I replied, "You asked me what you could get me, and I told you. I WANT the morning after pill, NOW!!!" The nurse insisted in an infuriatingly cheerful, singsong voice that it simply wasn't an option, and furthermore, that they had no CD's. I said, "Well, I guess I just won't get ANYTHING I want today!" Chuck started to push me towards the operating theatre (A big one, surrounded by stadium seats, and huge plexiglass windows - reminiscent of the Junior Mint episode of "Seinfeld", or a hockey rink), but to get there, we were required to descend endless cases of M.C. Escheresque stairs. It was a bumpy and disconcerting ride. A white coat-clad doctor was waiting at the bottom of the last flight of steps, and after merely glancing at me, he told me that my appendix was going to burst, and that we would have to take the baby out immediately, even though my labor had not progressed to the point of birth naturally. In the same, irritable voice I had used with the nurse, I yelled, "My baby should get to come out when SHE wants to, and not when YOU say she should!" "She should only come out when SHE'S ready!!!" Then, I woke up.

I'm no psychologist, but it seems pretty clear that I have some deep and conflicted emotions about becoming a parent. I know that those emotions are rooted in my experiences with my own parents, and that makes sense to me. I also know that I don't believe it is necessary to become a parent to be truly fulfilled in life. Even though this is by no means a decision I have to make right now, I do feel that it is a decision I need to ponder as I am not inclined to invest a lot of time in something that is doomed to fail because we know at the outset that we want different things.

Chuck is a truly wonderful person, and I have an attachment to him that is always surprising to me. We are constantly told how cute we are together. I would like to believe that age doesn't matter, but it probably does. We are in radically different places in our lives. He is juggling two careers - supervising at Trader Joe's, and being a hip hop producer (he has his own studio). We spend very little time together, especially now that I am also a supervisor at Trader Joe's (our average shift is ten hours, and usually a bit longer, not including commutes). And very often, lately, I feel like the me in my dream: a petulant child having a tantrum because she can't control things that are already WAY beyond her control.

My mood is no doubt influenced by the fact that I never expected to be managing a grocery store for a living, especially at this point in my life. There is zero shame in this occupation - it is a wonderful company to work for, and filled with great folks. It's just a different destination than I had envisioned for myself. A few days ago, when a customer came up to me and asked where she could find the "vanilla abstract," it gave me pause. I am not gonna lie. I took a minute to reflect on exactly what I want my life to look like.

Here's what I came up with:
I want to own a home (preferably a brownstone).
I want to write for a living.
I want to have a long term relationship with someone whose core values are in line with mine. Marriage is OK, but not necessary, as long as this partner and I are committed to sharing our lives together. (I am over the long separation bullshit, and the no time for the things that really matter crap. I have done those themes to death.) And, a single child is up for discussion, though I am making no promises.

I always believe that things happen as they should, so I am certain that reconsidering what I truly want in life is a big part of why I am in this particular job at this particular time, and in this particular relationship at this particular time. However, more and more recently, it seems that Chuck and I do not want the same things, and that saddens me. I genuinely love this guy, but I wonder: how do you know when something is irresolvable? At what point do you call it? How does anyone do a good job of caring for themselves and also caring for a partner? Everything seems a bit indecipherable to me just now. It seems that everyone I know is at some sort of crossroads, and struggling mightily. My big wish is for it to get MUCH easier for us all. Easy is something I could definitely have sex with, right now. Definitely.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pocket Review of the Hearing Impaired

From the age of five until the age of 12, I lived in a part of Birmingham called East Lake. Now, it is a drug-infested ghetto - I drove through with my half brother a few years ago, and it was all listing, fatigued houses with peeling turquoise trim; sofas sagging under the weight of stray dogs, and porches sagging under the weight of stray sofas - but then, it was a fun place to play; what with the actual lake (man-made) and a separate creek (naturally occurring) nearby.

Every Saturday during these years, my mother would wake me by blasting The Fifth Dimension.  "Up, Up and Away" still sends chills down my spine from our 8 track player. Not content to merely wake me, she would insist on serenading me (read: torturing me) by intermittently popping into my room on the choruses. From my larvae sac of bed linens, I would hear a click followed by a whoosh of air as my door was flung open, and the previously dulled voice of Marilyn McCoo sharpened and filled my chamber, my mother, mostly tunelessly, joining in: "...less egg to FRYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY..." This cycle was repeated until a loud "KaTHUNK" signaled the end of the track, or I agreed to help her clean the townhouse we shared with my stepmonster. The reward for this enforced labor was a shopping trip to one of the many local malls (one of which is unfortunately called "Brookwood Village." I was mocked unmercifully all through school), which usually resulted in me receiving an ice cream cone from Baskin and Robbins, if nothing else.

When I was about six years old, mother and I made one of these Saturday excursions to a store called World Bazaar. A forerunner to Michael's or World Market, World Bazaar sold things like silk flowers, baskets of every description, and giant feathers on sticks. It was the type of place with papason chairs scattered throughout, and the scent of sandalwood leaking from every macrame'd plant holder. My craft-oriented mother, who was going through an "ethnic" phase at the time, and whose palette of choice was salmon, navy and chocolate, felt right at home there. It was the mid-seventies, after all, and nearly all of our home furnishings involved wicker.

On this particular trip, I was hanging out on the dried flower aisle, amusing myself by shaking a variety of pods to see which made the most satisfying rattle. Mother was elsewhere in the store, purchasing supplies for her ceramics class.  She was notorious for leaving me on my own while shopping. More times than I can count, I turned to find I was asking a complete stranger if I should get Fruity Pebbles or Honeycomb, or worse, found myself totally alone on the aisle. While conducting my own symphony in pod minor, I failed to hear an older gentleman with straggly white hair and graying Neil Young sideburns approach me. He had on a chambray work shirt and jeans, and was extending a small, yellow business card to me. I took it, and he smiled. I smiled back. Then suddenly, all of the warnings my young brain had been filled with kicked in, and I ran like hell until I found my mother, leaving the rustling "flowers" spinning on the sales floor in my wake.

When I caught up with mom, I looked at the card in my hand, and noticed that it featured a series of tiny drawings of hands in different positions. This was the American Sign Language alphabet, and there was a type-written message on the back that said, "Hello! I am deaf! Have a nice day!" with a little smiley face. My mom saw what I was looking at, and said, "Where'd you get that?" When I explained, she said, "He just wanted money."

In retrospect, I doubt that's true. I mean, nowadays, a six year old is likely to have at least a sawbuck on them, as well as a cell phone and ipad, but not so back in the day. The chances of me having had shoes on my person are slim; being as it was hotter than the hinges of hell in Alabama in the summertime, let alone discretionary income. Also, he seemed very benevolent, this deaf man. 

Sidebar: This is not true of the "deaf" that I encountered on the New York subway, however. Instead of cards, they have mimeographed (wait, does that still exist? Or is it just photo-copied? Is my brain just damaged from all the purple ink I inhaled in elementary school?) pieces of paper that they have copied until the ink is faded in every word. There is no alphabet, but merely a blatant request for money. If you fail to meet this request, the "card" is jerked away. 

A few hours later, when I realized I had had an encounter with an actual deaf person, my first grade self felt thrilled, and just a teensy bit repulsed. Against my mother's wishes, I kept the card and learned the alphabet, practicing by signing the names of the actors in the credits of M*A*S*H and Barney Miller, which I watched every night after the evening news.

Several years later, as part of my seventh grade gifted program, we did a section on sign language, and my interest was renewed. I had kept up with the alphabet, and picked up a few other signs along the way, "turtle" and "shoes" being my favorites. In Mrs. Burch's class, we were introduced to the SEE method - "Signing Exact English." The signs I learned in this course have stayed with me, predominately the entire Pledge of Allegiance. In fact, while tipsy in a Los Angeles karaoke bar, I accidentally discovered that if I sign the pledge while someone else is singing, it looks as if I am signing the actual words to the song. (This and coaster flipping are my only real pub tricks.)

I would be a senior in high school before I had another encounter with a deaf person. At the beginning of that year, I dated someone who was two years younger than me. His sister, who was my age, was working in a factory on the weekends, but making good money which she was saving for a car. The factory was part of a company called Snow's, which was a local version of the Hallmark Store. In addition to the greeting cards and stuffed animals that they sold year-round from their storefront in Century Plaza mall, Snow's sold shoe bows (hideous plaid accessories that looked like they belonged on a gift, not a sneaker) and jingle bell pendants (giant brass bells hung on red or green satin cords) at Christmas time. These were handmade in a warehouse space in downtown Birmingham.

I was also in the market for a car, and applied at Snow's when I heard that they paid "incentive income" in addition to the hourly wage for every bow/bell that one made over the expected daily quota. I was hired, and after the initial Laverne and Shirleyness wore off, I hated nearly every second of it.  We were actually called to and from breaks with a clanging bell. We were allowed to talk only on our half hour lunch breaks, or one of our two daily 15 minute breaks. All of our actions were rigorously monitored by a rigid, heavyset forewoman named Debbie.

However, one day early on, I met an older, timid, African American woman in the ladies' room of the factory. It was immediately clear that she was hearing impaired, so I timidly signed her a few questions. I learned that her name was Flora, the same as my maternal grandmother, and a friendship was born. On subsequent breaks, I sought Flora out in the restroom, and learned that she had attended a well-known school for the deaf and blind in the nearby town of Talladega, where she had met her husband, who was also deaf. She was kind and interesting, telling me all about her children; five - all hearing, and patiently correcting my clumsy signing. She was forever reminding me to speak as I signed, because she was also very proficient at reading lips. Typically, I was so intensely focused on my hands that I failed to do this, and this prompted a young, redneck, co-worker to take time out from applying lipstick in the mirror to loudly comment, "Who does she think she is, talkin' with her hands like that? Is she talkin' about us behind our backs in front of our faces with that colored woman?" I quit Snow's soon after, and lost touch with Flora.

About a year later, I was in the East Lake Krispy Kreme, purchasing doughnuts for my then boyfriend, who wasn't feeling well. This was our spot, and we spent many an hour there, sitting at the counter eating "hot now" original glazed globs of heaven, and speculating on why it is necessary for the employees to wear hard hats while working in the kitchen area. (I mean, what's in those doughnuts?) Still, though, I would totally have sex with a Krispy Kreme fresh off the conveyor belt, so take THAT, "America runs on Dunkin'." In any case, on this occasion, the woman ahead of me in line was deaf, and was having difficulty communicating her order to Eunice, who worked behind the counter. I intervened, forgetting as always to speak while I signed. In the middle of this exchange, the bell on the door tinkled, and a woman joined the queue behind me. Just as I was turning to Eunice to give her Deaf Woman's order, I felt a hand on my arm, and the new arrival leaned into my face and bellowed, "YOU ARE SO PURTY! IT'S A SHAME THAT YOU'RE DEAF!!!!" I wanted to explain to her that she was mistaken, but I was struck speechless. I mean, really, what do you say to that?

My final brush with deaf occurred in 1997, when I was hired along with several college friends to assist with an event at the new Mercedes plant in Tuscaloosa County. This two million dollar party was orchestrated in conjunction with the release of the film, The Lost World, and was intended to promote the new M Class vehicle. Originally, Whitney Houston was slated to be the entertainment, but at the last minute she was replaced with a local employee singing, "Mercedes Benz," and Heather Whitestone, the deaf Alabamian who had been awarded the title of Miss America a few years previously. This news surprised those of us on the crew, who had seen several rehearsals, and were expecting a broadway-esque live music show. When he heard the new roster, my friend, Jim, (whom, it must be said, REALLY wanted to see Whitney) said, "What is she gonna do? Say, 'This is the quietest car I have ever ridden in?' " It's beyond wrong, I know, but seeing Jim say this complete with with his own version of sign language was one of the funniest things I have ever seen, especially after an exhausting week of ten hour shifts in the September sun. In the end, Miss Whitestone's talent was a dream ballet, which was nice, but bland, and provoked at least one co-worker to ask, "How does she hear the music?"

I have forgotten many of the signs I learned over the years, though there were moments in the past when I considered becoming a certified interpreter. However, I occasionally still wonder what it is like to be deaf, like when I am on an exceedingly loud train platform, or when I am trying to sleep through the fifth car alarm of the night. Most often though, I ponder this when I find myself on crowded planes with screaming youngsters. Something about that particular situation turns me into Samuel L. Jackson, and my internal monologue becomes: "GET THESE MUTHAFUCKIN' KIDS OFF THIS MUTHAFUCKIN' PLANE!" Ultimately, I just plug in my ipod, which amounts to the same thing, and feel grateful that I have a choice about when to employ the insulation.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pocket Review of Passover, or "A Gentile at the Table"

Passover (Hebrew, Yiddish: פֶּסַח, He-Pesach.ogg Pesach , Tiberian: pɛsaħ, Israeli: Pesah,Pesakh, Yiddish: Peysekh, Paysokh) is a Jewish and Samaritan holy day and festival commemorating the Hebrews escape from enslavement in Egypt, and is the seven day Feast of the Unleavened Bread (it lasts eight days in the diaspora).[1]
My young man is Jewish. Well, at least his adoptive parents are. Really, he's Jew...ISH. Before I ever met them, his parents invited me to the Passover dinner they host at their home every year. After some discussion, Charles (aforementioned young man) and I decided maybe it would be better if I met them in a more intimate setting, versus being overwhelmed with his entire extended family at one go. As a result, I first met his parents (and sister) several weeks ago, when I attended a Shabbos dinner (Shabbos being the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaesim) at their Manhattan apartment.
I was nervous for several reasons; the predominant ones being that I haven't met a boyfriend's parents in over ten years, and (mostly) that I was unsure of how they would receive my gentile self. I told my guy that if they didn't dig me, he was welcome to tell them that I am merely his "goy toy." Happily, that was unnecessary, as we had a very nice time. His parents are fun, interesting, and well-traveled. His father, Michael, is a judge, (which prompted me to tell Charles that I would be addressing his dad as "Your honor," but in a Brooklyn accent throughout the meal, saying things like, "Yo, ya honuh, can I holla at that challah?"), and his mother, Jacqueline, is a research chemist turned lawyer who works for the office of the Attorney General. They are also (to my relief) quite liberal. Apparently, I got the Kosher for Passover seal of approval, because when I asked Charles what they thought of me a few days later, he patted my cheek, and said, "They're feelin' the kid. They're feelin' the kid."

Because Charles was unable to get the first night of Pesach off from work, I ended up attending a Thursday night seder with him and his family at the home of some old friends, instead. When he first extended this invitation to me, some low-grade anxiety took over, and my mind unwillingly conjured an image of the worst possible seder ever, myself cast in the role of most obnoxious Passover guest in history.
In my mind's eye, I saw myself in a skimpy black dress, patent leather boots, and lots of make-up, angel food cake in one hand, and a spiral ham in the other with a giant, emblingened (another word I made up, meaning to be encrusted with Bling) crucifix swinging from my neck. I would bray things like, "Is this seat taken? It's not, right? Whaddaya mean it's for Elijah?" through a wad of gum. Or, "Stop talking funny, and let's eat! Jesus, I'm starving over here!" or, "What are you doing with that knife? I'm circumcised, alright?"
On Thursday, I met Charles at work in Union Square, and as it was a lovely afternoon, and we had lots of time, we decided to stroll up to midtown, where the dinner was taking place. On the way, we passed a bakery that (according to him) has the best red velvet cupcakes in the city. While standing on the sidewalk with our noses pressed to the glass, we debated going in, but decided against it. Charles said, "We probably shouldn't eat cupcakes before a seder. They'll smell the leavening on us, and all eyes will go to you, gentile." I replied, "Hey. You still have plenty of time to push me into traffic, and grab a nice Jewish girl that you can pass off as Brooke Woodenberg, but do not underestimate my shiksappeal." He noted that the bakery closed at ten, and suggested we try to duck out of dinner in time to head back there for dessert.
We were the first to arrive at the rambling apartment of our hosts, and were immediately greeted by three hopping, barking dogs, ranging in size from large to extra small. The hostess, Joni, crossed the kitchen with her hand extended to me, saying, "We have lots of dogs!" I responded, "Oh, I love animals, obviously," and gestured at Charles, who is currently sporting a beard of Paul Bunyan proportions. So magnificent is his facial hair, that, mid-seder he was introduced as, "All the way from ancient Egypt, ladies and gentlemen, the hero of our story, Moses!"
Charles's old school friend, whose name I will never spell correctly, and therefore will refer to as Jeff Jr., led the seder. He is smart and extremely charismatic and did an excellent job of guiding us through each step of the meal. He and his family have a more modern take on Pesach, as they quote Leonard Cohen, and sing the Jeff Buckley version of "Hallelujah," one of my most favorite songs, ever. There was lots of humor and love involved in addition to the Hebrew prayers that are said and sung. Jeff Jr. said that it was his hope that everyone present could use this time of togetherness to air their tensions with one another as a family, and come to one another with an open palm instead of a closed fist. I thought this a lovely sentiment, though I was momentarily concerned that the evening could turn into an episode of Jerry Springer: bubbes pitted against kinder, brothers slapping sisters, husbands leaping over the table for the throats of their wives...gefilte fish and bitter herbs flying in their wakes and scarfed down by one of the three dogs or the geriatric cat.
The first hour and a half to two hours of a seder is devoted to distracting the guests from their extreme hunger by offering them wine and decoy food, such as sliced vegetables dipped in salt water, while stories are read. I myself demolished almost an entire plate of kosher dills in this interval, hoping that the sound of my teeth tearing the crisp pickle flesh would drown out the growling triceratops I had stowed in my stomach prior to arriving. Charles's sister, Simone, sat on my right, and after realizing that I had never attended a seder before, took time out from her love affair with Monroe (the newest puppy in the house), to explain the meanings of the stories and questions to me.
Jeff, Sr. also made a point to include me, as he brought a bowl filled with photographs down to my end of the table, and instructed me to choose one. This was to put a face with the segment of the meal in which examples are given of the wise child, the simple child, the wicked child, and the child who doesn't know how to ask. Since I chose my picture, I was able to categorize my child and explain why I did so. The photo was of Jeff Jr. and his great grandmother. He is smiling and happy and standing beside her on a porch. I proclaimed him to represent the wise child, as he looks loving and respectful, and his bond with his elder is apparent. Michael, Charles's dad, complimented me, saying my comment was astute (a statement with which I didn't necessarily agree, as I was faint with hunger, and not at my best; but I was glad he noticed that I was making an effort to participate).
Michael ("Ya Honuh") is a lovely man who is all the dearer to me because he is blind in his left eye, and therefore has no depth perception. This consistently makes him the only person at the table who is klutzier than I am. I also admire his unfailingly positive attitude, and his love of music (Charles inherited both of these qualities, though he loves hip hop and his dad loves opera.) Another quality Charles shares with his dad is an appreciation of cornball humor. E.G.: there is a segment in every seder when a large round of matzoh is broken into one small piece and one large piece, and passed around the table symbolizing how the Jews fled Egypt so quickly that they didn't have time to leaven the bread. Matzoh is dry, bumpy, and let's face it, a bit cardboardy. As we prepared to bite into our pieces of matzoh, Michael told the following:
"Two friends are at a seder, and one of the friends is blind. The sighted man passes a piece of matzoh to his friend, and after feeling it for a moment, the blind man says, "Who wrote this crap?"
Michael and Jacqueline gave us a ride back to my Brooklyn abode, and as we crossed the Manhattan Bridge, Jacqueline asked me what she referred to as the "litmus question" - "You didn't vote for George W. Bush, did you?" I replied, "God, no. I had to stop listening to the news, because the sound of his voice made me want to puke blood." We had an interesting chat about politics and the election while Charles alternately dozed and gazed at the full, buttery moon with me. It was a lovely evening, made even lovelier when Charles surprised me by pulling a bag of red velvet cupcakes from the trunk of his mom's car (that he had secretly purchased while "walking his sister out" after dinner).
I am not religious, preferring mainly to stick with the golden rule, though I do believe in the divine. It's just that the how and the why and all of the ritual associated with most organized religions is not necessary to me. I was happy to discover that Charles feels the same. That said, it was truly wonderful to be able to observe first hand the deep and historic rituals associated with someone else's faith, and to be made to feel so welcome in the course of it.
My own surrogate parents, Kay and Barbara, faithfully attend a Methodist church in my hometown of Birmingham, in spite of the fact that they often disagree with the messages issuing from the pulpit. When I asked Kay about this, she replied, "Going there for that hour or so every week prompts me to think on what it is I DO believe." Passover provided the same for me. And, I would definitely have sex with those red velvet cupcakes.