Monday, April 27, 2009

The Rabbi Who Tried to Kill Me

Its 5:30 on a Friday morning. I am sitting in the basement of Holy Blossom wondering half consciously to myself how I got talked into doing the morning shift of the Temple’s Out of the Cold homeless shelter.

At about 5:45, three men walk into the program. The first two look about as bad as I do—like they just rolled out of bed. The third is wearing a seriously coordinated running outfit: black running shoes, black socks, black running tights, black t-shirt with a black running vest with the fashionable mid-80’s neon green stripe made famous by the fashion criminals that ran amok just after the release of Flashdance.

The only coherent thought I have is how the hell did this guy have the presence of mind at this hour to actually get himself into something so coordinated.

One week later and the scene repeats itself. At 5:45, the same three men walk into the program. The first two looking just as bad, but the third is wearing the exact same thing. And the next week, and the week after that.

After about 4 weeks, I think the guy might be a bit obsessive.
After about 2 months, I imagine his closet to be like that of Mickey Roarke’s in that salute to soft core porn known as 9 1/2 Weeks: hangers filled with black running tights and running vests with neon green stripes.
I have no clue who this guy is but I suspect strongly that he is certifiable and that something needs to be done.

One Friday morning, I summon up my courage and go into the kitchen where the Gang of Three are theoretically making breakfast. The first guy is attempting to open up a can of apple juice and mumbling about being in the South African army. Somehow, I can’t see this 50-something Jewish guy hanging out in Soweto but who knows these things. The second guy is on the kitchen phone yakking about human rights and the UN and The Hague. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there are about 50 homeless people waiting for their eggs. I am relieved to note that the third guy is attending to the task at hand and is busy scrambling. There is a large aluminum bowl filled with the first batch and I go over to take it out to our starving buddies.

Oh my God…so gross I can’t even speak. The eggs are greenish and overcooked and I see shells on the sides of the bowls.

“Umm Kids…”

No response.

“Yo…guys…hello…these eggs suck…I mean seriously, these are inedible eggs…”

Bang Bang Bang with the can opener, “But Madame Justice… Article 69 of the Charter…”and the third member of the Gang of Three stirs obliviously…

I pick up a red, white and blue rubber ball that had probably been there since 1978 and throw a wicked fastball against the wall.

What’s a girl to do, I ask you? It’s 6:00 in the morning, I’ve got a bunch of homeless people waiting for breakfast and three Jewish males who can’t get it together.

“Whadya do that for” asked one of Pik Botha’s finest.
“What in God’s green earth do you want me to do with these eggs…these are a human rights violation…”
“Human Rights violation…did you say Human Rights violation…” the other guy has just got off the phone.
“Who are you anyway…”
“Who cares who I am…we have a situation gentleman, now I know your wives aren’t here to help you function but can you attempt to finish making breakfast…”
“Listen sweetheart, says Apple Juice man…just chill out..

There is nothing that will make me roll my eyes faster than an over-40 year old using the expression “Chill Out”.

“Jesus Fucking Christ and all of the Saints and their wives…you go and “chill out” and while you’re at it, why don’t you go and employ some Township Rules to the riot that’s about to erupt outside…”
“Relax”, says The Hague…and by the way, have you met…

Now..for all the women out there…you will appreciate this moment. It was one of those where you have two thoughts going on in your mind that completely contradict each other. Because just before the third guy turned around, I kind of thought to myself: “You know…that guy’s got a nice…” and then he turned around.

“the Rabbi…”

Oy and Veh.

I crossed myself and began saying 30 Hail Mary’s and a few Oh Father’s—why wait until confession…and got myself right out of that kitchen.

It took me two years to get back into that kitchen—two years before I thought the Almighty would forgive me my moment of mild salaciousness directed at one of his Representatives on Earth. Many have suffered His wrath for far less.

Two years later and Gang of Three are short a toast maker and dishwasher. Putting bread in a toaster obviously not a skill picked up the SA army, The Hague, or the Seminary. The toaster is off to one side so I don’t have to talk to any of them and I wash my dishes quietly.

And then one day, He speaks.

“Miss Fingerhut..”
“Yup.” Wash, wash, wash.
“How are you Miss Fingerhut?”
“Can you pass the soap.”

“So..Natalie…what’s up”

These God types. They like to get into your head very quickly. If you ever notice, when you talk to one of God’s representatives on earth, they love to make direct eye contact and ‘cess you out. Hence, if you’re smart, you keep your answers short.


They also want to find out how committed you are to the Tribe. They usually have creative ways of getting that out of you, as you will now witness:

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“Yeah…a sister…but you wouldn’t know her.”
“Why is that?”
“Cuz she aint into the God thing.”
“And you…are you into the God thing.”

See what I mean.

“Towel please…these dishes are dripping all over the place” And God isn’t going to provide maid service at this hour.

“Where did you go to school?”
“Well, I did nursery school at Hillcrest, then moved onto Steelesview, then Harrison Rd Public School, then ….”
“Actually, I mean university.”
“Some left-wing loonie bin in New York—you’ve probably never heard of it”
“Really…I went to a left-wing loonie bin in Califonia.”

OK..I have to admit at this point that I’m mildly interested. I actually contemplate a response.”

“Really, which one.”
“You’ve probably never heard of it.”
Ha, Ha, Ha, you are so funny…
“Well, I went to Sarah Lawrence.”
“Really”, he looks amused. “I went to Pomona.”
“No way…Pomona…and in the 70’s…man you must have had fun…what did you study?”
“Who said anything about studying.”

Uh-Huh. OK then. The Rabbi at the Holy House of Forest Hill Village in Toronto Canada was a pot smoking hippie slut dude. I’m riveted.

“What do you do now?”
“Computer stuff.”
“What kind of computer stuff.”
“I help people figure out how to use their computer.”
“I don’t know how to use a computer.”

Long pause.

“Sorry, did you say something.”
“I said: If you need some help one day, let me know.”
“We’ll be in touch”.

And indeed he was. A few days later, I receive this call from his assistant imploring me to do something about His Rabbinical Lord’s inability to perform the most basic tasks on his desktop.

Now, you’d think a guy who can read a book written in an archaic language could learn Microsoft Word but that was simply not the case. Typing was not the issue, no, that would have been at least mildly understandable. It was things like “Save” and “New Document” and “File Name” that really got him messed up. And as for formatting, forget it.

We start very slowly. Like as in how to turn the computer on and off. I direct him to open up the Pandora’s Box that is Word.“OK now what.”
“You type your sermons.”
“How should I type my sermon.”
“Well, you put your fingers on the keys and allow your thoughts to penetrate through your cerebellum and onto the screen. Let your fingers do the talking.”
Ha Ha Ha—OK, he’s not laughing. I’m going to hell—I know it this time.

He types a sentence. Its all in small letters and the occasional period has gone missing but it’s a sentence and I feel like we have made progress.

“Terrific. Really, that’s great.”
He’s totally non-plussed. “I could have written it faster…why do people say this is such a time saver—its taken 15 minutes to write one sentence. Really, this technology is very stupid.”

I try to motivate him. I try and explain that people in their 80’s are capable of using Microsoft Outlook and Excel and that if he would just give his computer a chance, he would find life much easier. One of the other rabbis came in one day as I was explaining the print function and told me, in that kitschy rabbinical way that I was doing “God’s work.”

“I’m an atheist.” I responded.

One Sunday morning, after a particularly awful Saturday night at the Wheat Sheaf Tavern where I had decided that scotch had replaced my water glass, I stumbled into his office nursing my Orange Gatorade which incidentally is the only thing to cure a hangover, and began the odious task of explaining italics and underlining. No matter how many times I showed him how to highlight words with his mouse and hit the “I” on the menu bar, it simply evaded him. After about an hour, I needed to get out of there or I was going to throw his mini Torah at him.

“Do you want a ride to the subway?”
His driving was legendary, but I was in no state to argue.
“Yeah sure…Eglinton West would be great.”
I mean really, the subway station was about 5 minutes away—I saw no downside.
We get into the car. There is paper everywhere. I could have sworn that I was sitting on a tallis of some sort which incidentally looks cute as a wraparound skirt. As we get to the corner of some street in Forest Hill and Eglinton, he makes a right. I let him go a few blocks and say kind of shyly because its bad karma to correct a member of God’s team:

“Ummm, you’re going the wrong way.”
“No, I’m going to Eglinton subway station.”
Being a typical female, I start to apologize profusely.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry…I actually need to go to Eglinton West subway station.”
“Eglinton, Shmeglinton…its all the same thing.”
No —they ain’t the same thing. Time to come down from Mount Sinai and come back to Bathurst St.
“Well, no, not really. One station is at Yonge St. and the other is about 25 blocks west.”
“Fine, fine…I’ll turn around.”

He drives down Eglinton to the station. But instead of dropping me off in front of the station like the rest of Toronto, he casually speeds past a 10 ft. sign that reads and I quote verbatim:


He pulls into a bus lane and looks at me expectantly.
“Well, here you go.”

I have turned white.

A bus drives slowly behind us, the driver and passengers stare open-mouthed.
“Miss Fingerhut…what seems to be the problem..I need to go.”

Excuse me. You have just tried to kill me .I could have been mowed down before I reached 30 by a bus, and you are asking me what the problem is?

“Didn’t you see that sign?”
“What sign?”
“The 10ft sign that says this is for buses only.”
“Oh…I don’t pay attention to signs like that…they don’t interest me.”

“OK…well, that’s beautiful, truly, that’s great. I’m leaving now…I’ll catch you later…much much later.”

And he drives off, past another bus who has also stopped in shock.

I stand alone knowing that I had better think and think very fast. Because if I do not, if I do not use my brain to its maximum, the headlines on tomorrow’s Canadian Jewish News are going to read:

Ignorant female drives recklessly and gets Rabbi of Holy House of Forest Hill fined $500.

And I’ll have to leave town and move somewhere like Iqaluit where the circulation of the Canadian Jewish News is limited and often used to wipe the paws of the resident snow dogs.

A security guard, kind of cute in that security guard kind of way, greets me as I enter the subway station.

“Miss…do you understand what you just did.”
When in doubt, play the helpless female, there is no other way. Trust me.
“Sir…Oh Sir…my brother, he’s just visiting here from LA…and he doesn’t know from subway stations because you know in LA because of the St. Andreas Faultline, they can’t have subways and really its not his fault that he drove into the bus lane because he’s from LA—didn’t I mention that—and they are all crazy there anyway…really seriously nuts…think OJ.
“Miss…calm down…just calm down…”
I touch his shoulder slightly hysterical but also kind of flirty.
“ have to believe me…my brother didn’t know, he just made the turn to drop me off so he could go home and see our poor mother who hasn’t seen him in months because when he was about 25, he got hit on the head and ever since then has become this total religious nutcase.
He touches the large gold cross around his neck.
“You know…you shouldn’t call religious people nutcases.”
“Oh yes Sir…you are so right. I cross myself desperately hoping that my 15 years of Jewish education would not prevent me getting the right to left part across my chest correct.
“Is your brother a priest?”
“Oh yes sir..I mean no sir…well kind of sir—in a matter of speaking..
“What do you mean—it’s a basic he or isn’t he.”
He looks like he’s bought Vatican Two so here goes.
“Well…he’s a priest whose Jewish.”
“Oh a Jewish priest…I get it.”
I desparately need to sit down so I motion to the bench just beyond the turnstiles.
“Sir…I’d love to expand upon this fascinating subject, but I really need to sit down…my brother almost killed me and I’m feeling a little funky and a bit confused and wondering who should I tell first: my poor mother or my shrink.”
“OK Miss, can I get you some water…you look a little pale...”

He goes off to the little store in the subway—I need to get out of there. Should I make a run for it…jump the turnstiles like I did as a nouveau riche punk rocker in 1980’s York Mills…
“Here you go Miss.”
“Le What…sorry my French isn’t very good…anyway, you were saying that your brother is a Jewish priest.”
He is so very interested and I am so very tired.
“Yeah…they call them Rabbis…they are basically Jewish priests.”
“Rabbits did you say…hmm…and can they marry?”
“Oh yes…absolutely…I mean you wouldn’t want to marry one of them because as you can see they are complete maniacs…”
He touches his cross again.
“Sorry…right…yes they can marry and have children—In fact I think both are highly encouraged-you know, Be fruitful and multiply and all that.”
“I have a wife and two kids…one on the way.”
“That’s terrific…Mazel Tov!!”
“Muzzle who.”
“Just an expression” I pat him gently on the shoulder. “Listen, sir, I really appreciate the water and have enjoyed our little conversation but my husband is waiting for me at home so that I can prepare Sunday dinner…”
“What do you Jewish people have for Sunday dinner.”
“Oh the same as you…usually some ham, potatoes, I like Baskin and Robbins for dessert.”
“Well then you run along and make sure to tell your brother never to go in the bus lane again. Its mighty dangerous and while I know the Lord Almighty would protect him, he still should be careful.”
“Oh I will Sir…I promise Sir…really Sir, you are most kind. I’ll say a prayer to my God to tell your God that you did a good one…I promise Sir…thank you.”
“Quite allright Miss…but do me a favour, don’t be forceful or anything with your brother, I don’t want to get on the Good Lord’s bad know with the baby coming and all…just tell him gently..thank you kindly.”
“Will do Sir…Ciao”

I stumbled down into the underground, my brain completely messed up. Thankfully, the roar of the Southbound train silenced the noise in my head and it was only when a nice 80 year old Asian man typing on his Palm Pilot offered me his seat, was I finally able to laugh.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hockey Night in Jerusalem

Middle East Conference: Barrie, Ontario. Winter 2009

“Ladies and Gentleman, the President of the United States, Barack Obama.”
We have a problem in the Middle East.
In the Middle East, there is tumult, torture, and trouble.
In the Middle East, and not in the Middle West
Or the North or the South
There is trouble.
Trouble is brewing in the Middle East.
Ladies and Gentleman: we can rebuild the Middle East.
We have the technology to make not only the first bionic man
But also the first stable peace in the troubled Middle East
We can kick the can’t and make it a can.
We can make it so for today’s children
And not just for their children
Or their children
Or their children’s children.
We can do it Now-and not in 60 seconds or 60 minutes.
Together, we will break bread, or challah, or pita.
Together, we will eat apple pie, chicken soup, and kebab.
Together, Americans, Jews, and Muslims
We will eat together
And the obesity problem will spread to the Middle East
And then we will all be (Ara) fat like Yasser-Avehu Shalom.
Peace will be with you.
You will be at Peace.
Help you I will.

“And now, a woman who needs no introduction, she has as many Nobel Peace Prizes to her name as there are bathrooms in Chelsea lofts, Natalie Fingerhut.

(Entrance is made to the combined sound of cheering and Hockey Night in Canada)
Dear Esteemed Leaders of the Middle East:

I have an idea.

Let’s turn the Old City into a hockey arena.

OK. You’ve had your moment of looking at each other in disbelief rather than in disgust. You’ve had your first moment in eons of actually being on the same page at the same time. Don’t try and get along now because I need your competitive spirits to make this work.

As you know, hockey is on the decline in North America having been upstaged by men getting into expensive racing cars and driving around in circles and occasionally blowing up. Just themselves though. Not women and children and innocent bystanders.
Hockey needs to expand somewhere and where better than the Middle East. The MHL if you will.

I mean let’s all be serious for a minute. The Old City is a dump, a 2-mile dry, dusty, unhygienic shithole. When was the last time the carpets were cleaned in the Dome of the Rock from all those stinky sweaty feet. Never mind the potential for a mass outbreak of Athlete’s Foot!! And the Wall needs a wash.

I remember the first time someone dragged me from the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv where I happily checked out the cute guys . This 45 year old divorcee from South Jersey had taken my 25 year old self under her wing which was unattractively adorned in a turquoise wife beater that did not do wonders for her fleshy forearms. Bobbi decided that I needed to “Experience the Wall.” Though I protested loudly that I would have preferred to experience some hot Israeli ass, she ignored me. I even suggested a foursome but she declined.

Bobbi rented a car from a friend, stuffed me in her car, and drove along this road that has been graced with the classification of highway when in fact it is really just a death trap. Apparently, and I have no formal proof for this, more people are killed in highway accidents in Israel then in terrorist attacks. So, Arab leaders, take a note: more highways = more dead Israelis. If I wasn’t standing here trying to get you guys to kiss and make up, I’d advise a change of tactics.

When we got to Jerusalem, Bobbi took us to some hotel in that part of town that some of you really like to blow up. She told me that I needed to cover my shoulders which I did with my Sarah Lawrence College sweatshirt that I think I had used as a pillow one night when I slept through one of Sarah Lawrence’s horny and fun Saturday night invitation-only orgies. On my head, I donned God’s preferred head covering: a Toronto Maple Leaf’s hat.

Hey Hey Mr. Israel Security Guy..big gun back in pants. . .Why are you flailing your hands around, Mahmoud I’m sorry I can’t pronounce your last name. It’s more complicated than Khabiboulin whom I think hails from your sphere of influence. Not that he would know having spent 2 decades between the pipes. Not oil pipes, Sheik One and Sheik Two. Pipes. As in a Net. An innocent snarl of ropes that men stand in front of to prevent the puck from sailing past them.

Sorry, Mizz Livni. Are you trying to get a word in? You ask if women stand between the pipes. Well, they do. They do. But not as well as the men. Sorry, on this I have to agree with the more misogynist elements here today: in sports, women are not equal. I mean really, even Hayley Wickenheiser can’t make the NHL and her slapshot is 80 miles an hour.

Anyway, back to me. Bobbi and I walked to the Old City. She told me that I would remember this moment for the rest of my life. She was indeed correct. I remember beige. Beige everywhere. Dust, heat and beige. Nothing like the beautiful cafe that I had left back in Tel Aviv with its gorgeous view of the Mediterranean and the gorgeous men wearing red and blue Speedos reminiscent of the 1970s when I was only a toddler. And yet I remember them.

In the Old City, there were a lot of men but not a lot of Speedos.

We walked down some steps and emerged onto a very clean floor. The books that I had read as a kid were indeed correct; the area in front of the Wall was split in half by those dividers that one sees at concerts used to block high teenagers from jumping the stage. On the left were the men and on the right were the women. It felt very Josef Mengele and I wanted to tell Bobbi, but Bobbi was in the opening phase of a transformative moment . She had wrapped her pink with black polka dots shawl over her head and around her shoulders. I had another momentary memory recall – this time of Barbara Streisand on the cover of The Way We Were 8-track also from the 70s. Her face was the epitome of every cliché that I know you know: glowing eyes, mouth slightly open, nostrils flared (and she had a real shnib ifyou know what I mean—a real snout). And then I had a vision.

“You feel it too?” she whispered as though talking to a lover.
“I know. I feel it every time I come here.”
“A new start”
“Tell me more.”
“I feel hope....and sportsmanlike conduct.”
“Hope yes. I always feel hope here.”
“Men, women, children cheering together.”
“A sound from heaven.”
“Everyone welcome; none turned away at the Gate.”
“We can do it.”
“The men section could be the penalty box.”

Needless to say, after I had been removed by security guards for drawing centre ice in blue indelible ink (which happily cut across both the male and female sections), and explaining that since there was already space dug out under the wall, we could easily put in dressing rooms and then players could make their dramatic entrances out of the Wall, Bobbi disappeared into the dull night of Friday evening in Jerusalem never to be seen by me again.

You don’t mind if I sit down and put my feet up on the mic stand, do you? .Now let me all tell you something and you listen. You all listen up good. You guys remind me of Madonna. Whenever you feel like you’re not getting enough attention, you go ahead and blow something so that the media notices you. But you know what? This is getting old-like really old. No one’s interested anymore. We are looking at Stan these days, and I don’t mean Lee or Rogers . I mean Stan as in Afghani, Paki, Tajiki, Kazakh and it goes on. They are the ones making all the big noise now and since most of them, unlike yourselves, actually have something called winter, we should really consider expanding the MHL to Kabul. Apparently, there are lots of young guys hanging around there dying to learn how to shoot.

That Wall that has you all up in arms, let me tell you the truth about it. A Jew named Herod who spent his days kissing the Roman Empire’s butt built this temple that you refer to as the Second Temple; the first one destroyed by some extinct people called the Babylonians. Took Herod 50 years to make this thing and fifty years later, guess what happened. The Romans destroyed it. Razed it to the ground, in fact. And they left..a wall. A wall, people. And not even the wall of the temple itself, just a supporting wall. A supporting wall, people. You likely have them in some of your houses.

And for you Muslims, the story is equally pathetic. One of your caliphs, Umar, ordered the building of a mosque on the Temple Mount. Do you know what the Temple Mount was used for before it had a mosque: it was a garbage dump. And even more insane, on this garbage dump, your ancestors found a rock—a big rock for sure—but a rock nonetheless. And they decided that this rock was the very rock that Muhammad was lifted to heaven on.

So basically, you guys, you’re killing each other’s kids for a former garbage dump and a supporting wall.

Let’s get those Romans back and do some razing people. It’s arena-building time.

No more drowning in blood. Let’s drown ourselves in Labatt Blue. Your sons should be shooting pucks not shooting each other, and your daughters should wear less not more and set themselves the goal of becoming puck bunnies.

You think blowing yourself up is painful? Try getting a puck in the face and having King Clancy stitch your cheek up on the bench as you get ready for your next shift? Or worse, forgoing the stitches and using a styptic pencil. with the Yasser scarf that you bought in Greenwich Village for 10 bucks...please send your scarf to Don Cherry care of the CBC so that he can have a suit made from the same pattern.

It’s time to move on everyone. Time for The Jericho Red Wings vs. The Tel Aviv Lightening.

And it’s going to happen you guys. Really it is. As you all sit here in Barrie, Ontario , 2 Zambonees together with 2 drivers are making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem . Please don’t mistake them for tanks and blow them up. Next month, the good folks from Tim Horton’s will be doing a pitch for us in the atrium of the Al-Aqsa mosque. We’re going to make Timbits a part of the Middle East’s vocabulary. We’re going to replace your Turkish coffee with Turn-up- the-Rim to win contests. One God is going to become One Game.


It’s Gut Checking Time.

Time to shut up and lace up.

Shalom and Salaam.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Me and Rabbi P

I drive up Bathurst St. blasting rap music laced with profanity out the window. This is how I prepare myself for the quiet and painful experience that the 6th floor of the Apotex Centre at the Baycrest Centre for the Aged guarantees.

My visits with Rabbi P typically consist of hanging out with Rabbi Plaut’s caregivers, Ray and Arlene, for half an hour while holding Rabbi P’s hand. Occasionally, I get a “Hello Dear” or more often a smile. After almost 20 years of knowing each other first as editor and author and now more like grandfather and grandaughter, this is where we are at.

This time when I walked through the doors, there was a crowd of people gathered in the beautiful foyer. “Right,” I thought. “It’s Passover”. I looked down at my clothing which consisted of a dirty black coat with a few buttons missing, an old black sweater, jeans, my decade old combat boots, and then remembered that my hair was tied back with the elastic band that had recently held together a manuscript on medieval monasticism.

“Is it OK if I come in? I’d like to look for my friend?”
“Of course”, said one of the women in charge. “They love having guests for services.”
“Even guests who haven’t showered yet?” She motioned me inside.

Now, in the last two decades, I had often sat in the majestic sanctuary of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto and found Rabbi P quite easy to spot. Today was a little different, but I still found him easily. He was comfortably snoozing during the sermon and I sat down beside him, and put my arm around him.

“Wow, Rabbi. Sleeping through a sermon. Times have certainly changed.”
He opened his eyes. “Hello Dear.”
“That’s OK. You can go back to sleep. I’ll let you know if the rabbi says anything you don’t already know.”

The rabbi doing the service at Baycrest did an admirable job considering the audience. Another rabbi, accompanied by his wife, was able to come to the front of the room and say a blessing for the Torah. Another man was able to chant from the Torah. Rabbi P’s caregiver proudly told me that when the Torah came around the room for people to touch, Rabbi P did so.

The rabbi drones on about embracing the present moment. I am flashing forward four decades. My primary school nemesis Lara and I sitting next to each other in this same foyer with the same trees that somehow grow inside. She in the final stages of Alzheimer’s and I am afflicted with something sexy like a slow progressing space occupying legion in my left hippocampus. And since it is slow moving and since I am still consumed with the rage of a 10-year old, I am trying to figure out how I can remove the brakes from Lara’s wheelchair and send her careening off the 6th floor balcony of the Apotex Centre where we are, as we were 70 years ago, neighbours.

Rabbi P coughs. His nose is dripping again. I reach for his towel and wipe his nose. What’s a bodily fluid between buddies. I pat his knee.
“I love you Rabbi.”
A moment of clarity comes and goes.

Services end. We go upstairs for lunch. Rabbi P begins feeding himself so I check my work e-mail on my iPhone. An author in Chicago has sent an e-mail with a red exclamation mark. “Where are my proofs?”

I should get back to it but the chocolate ice cream has arrived, and I’m on call.
“OK Rabbi. Chocolate ice cream. Let’s do it.”
Yes I infantalize him. He requires more attention than my 2-year old. He also has the Order of Canada, authored a commentary of the Torah, 30 plus books under his belt, numerous honourary doctorates....

“Rabbi”, says his caregiver. “Open your mouth and Natalie will feed you.”
“Down the hatch, Rabbi.”

I remember 20 years ago when we first met. He was about to turn 79 and I had just turned 22. After firing two research assistants, he took me on to help him research a book on refugee law. I was at his house one late afternoon, and he invited me for dinner. I called my mom to tell her I wouldn’t be home.

“Natalie, don’t forget to use a napkin. And the outside fork is for salad.” My mom was more intimidated by Rabbi P than I was. He was just my boss.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t worry about it.”
“And say please and thank you.”
“Miss Fingerhoot.” came the voice from the kitchen, the German accent thin but present. A voice so gruff, so absolutely un-lyrical and so unforgettable.

“What do you want on your pizza?”
He gave me The Look. The one that he gives when he is displeased by my 20-something Canadian mannerisms.
“We are ordering pizza Miss Fingerhoot. What would you like on it. No pepperoni.
“Ummmmm...mushrooms are good.”
“Thats can have anything on your pizza and all you want are mushrooms. You’ll have what we order.”
“OK. That’s totally cool with me.”
The Look.
The pizza shows up and Mrs. P brings out TV tables from the 1960s. They are brown and yellow and have leafless trees on them.
“Gunther, ask Natalie what she would like to drink.”
“What would you like to drink, Miss Fingerhoot.”
“Water would be great, thank you.” My mother would have been proud.
“Water...”he paused. His clear blue eyes narrowed - a hint at the mischief that I’m sure at one time defined him before Hitler sabotaged his life and the rabbinate got to him.
“I’ll get you water.” He went into the kitchen and came back with two full glasses. Thrusting one at me, he declared:
“Here, Miss Fingerhoot. Here is your water. L’chayim.” He downed his glass and wiped his mouth with his sleeve like a soccer player chugging water after being on the field on a hot day, which he had done before Hitler sabotaged his life and the rabbinate got to him.
I followed suit. And then started choking quite violently.
“Gunther! What are you doing to her. Maybe she’s allergic to vodka. Now what are you doing to do.”
“She’s not allergic to vodka, are you Miss Fingerhoot. I bet you’ve drunk plenty in your short life.” He became serious for a minute: “Would you like another?”
“Gunther!!” Mrs. P whacked me a few times on the back. Finally, the fit subsided. I had drooled vodka down my shirt, my nose was running. He wiped my chin: the party girl and the almost octogenarian.
“Someday, you’ll tell everyone that you had a drink with the old Rabbi.”

The ice cream is finished. “Water, Rabbi?” I ask. He takes some gratefully and closes his eyes. The visit is done. I say goodbye to Ray and leave the lunchroom, but can’t get out of the 6th floor. They lock the patients in here.
“Ray...what’s the code. I keep forgetting.”
18. Chai. Life. “Give me a fucking break.” I say under my breath.

The Look. Will I ever escape it?

I leave the Baycrest Centre for the Aged, get in my car, put on 50 Cent , and cry.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I’ll perfume your pig if you perfume mine: My 11-month stint as a Management Consultant

Executive Summary
Management consulting is a scam. It is a scam because people who have worked in a company for most of their lives occasionally suffer a brain cramp and decide that someone who has never worked in their company has the ability and experience to tell them how to run their bazillion-dollar business.

Now this might be somewhat understandable if the following was true:

Bring up Powerpoint Slide #1:

• The person being asked for advice a.k.a the consultant has some relevant experience

I have an undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts, an M.A. in History and half of a Ph.D. in Genocide Studies. I have worked as a secretary for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Manitoba and have dressed up as a HeartSmart chicken. I have never paid some pseudo academic program a metric ton of cash to obtain a pseudo academic degree from a pseudo academic institution named after some business guy with a small penis who obviously felt that this inadequacy could be compensated by donating his name to a building.

Yet, despite this completely devoid of any relavant business background, several CEOs and CIOs and various other Cs willingly paid me $1500 a day to help them fix their business problems.

Is it just me or is that insane?

Given my 100% billability rate, I gather it’s just me.

On my first day on the job, I am given a 200 page document known as an SLA.

Bring up Powerpoint Slide #2:

An SLA is NOT one of the following:
• The Salvation Liberation Army of the country formerly known as Rhodesia
• Sexy Lingerie Apparel
• Stupid Lying Asshole

Bring up Powerpoint Slide #3:

An SLA is a:


Bring up Powerpoint Slide #4:

A Service Level Agreement is:

• A legally binding document between Company A and Company B whereby Company B does work for Company A
• A legally binding document that spells out the type of work that Company B must do for Company A and how that work must be done
• A legally binding document that contains merits and demerits should Company B succeed or fail in doing work for Company A

Let’s say Company B is a prostitute and Company A is her client. Prior to engaging in business, they call in a management consultant to help them draft the terms of their business.

Bring up Powerpoint Slide #5:

Service Level Agreement for engaging in consensual sex for money

Parties to the Agreement:
A: William Goldburger
B: Suzy Sonshine

Section A: Foreplay
Company B will perform oral sex on Company A twice a week at 6:13pm.
Merit: If oral sex results in orgasm within 5 minutes, Company B will receive an extra $5 plus the weekly special Blizzard from Dairy Queen.
Demerit: If oral sex results in an orgasm beyond 5 minutes or not at all, Company B will be deducted $5 and will not receive the weekly special Blizzard from Dairy Queen.

This example would have cost you about $500. Oh, and did I mentioned that was in US dollars?

So there I am reading my lil ole SLA and as I peruse through it, I notice that in some sections, sentences were missing. Important sentences that had to with merits and demerits. Confused, I waited patiently outside the door of one of the Directors who, in my naivite, was the supposed go-to-guy on this engagement-as they call it in the biz. He was e-mailing one client in Argentina and talking to another in Des Moines.

“Umm…can I ask a question?
”Yeah sure…but can you make it quick. I have a flight to catch in an hour.”
“You have a flight to catch…but I thought we were going to work on this project. I think the client wanted to meet early next week…”
“Oh don’t worry about it…I’ll talk to you about it remotely.”
“What do you mean…remotely …I thought “we” were going to work on this together?”
“Well we are…I’m going to talk to you about it, you’re going to talk to the clients, and then you’ll do the work, and I’ll check it. Then you’ll meet with the client.”
“What work are we doing for them exactly…I just got this document with some sentences missing…”
“Oh…didn’t I tell you…that’s the work we’re doing?”
“What is the work we are doing?”
He looked up from his e-mail.
“We are filling in the blanks for them.”
“Why don’t they fill in the blanks for themselves?”
“Because they want to have someone to blame in case something goes wrong?”
“So they’re going to blame me…” I was beyond confounded. My stomach was exiting the premises but I somehow found the clarity to ask the following.”
“Let me get this straight. I am responsible for filling in the blanks for this agreement—the terms of which I don’t understand—and responsible for communicating with the client whom I’ve never met and the person on whose head blame will drop should I screw up…Have I understood you correctly?
“Don’t worry…I’ll call you from Manilla.”

By Thursday, I had not heard from him. But the clients called every day wanting a “progress update.” I made stuff up. I had to. They set a meeting for Monday at 10:00. I e-mailed my Director frantically. Friday at 5:00, he called to say that we would have a conference call on Sunday night at 10:00pm.

Sunday night used to be a time when my husband and I hung out and watched The Simpsons followed by The X-files. We did not work on Sunday nights.

My weekend is ruined before it starts. I’m so stressed over this conference call. I call my sister who has a degree in computer science at 9:00 to do a crash course in technology. She tells me it’s hopeless. I have smoked a pack of cigarettes in the course of half a day and haven’t eaten since Friday. All this for $62,000 dollars a year.

The phone call consists of two Directors talking about perfuming pigs, low hanging fruit and quadrants. I keep interrupting to ask about merits and demerits. I am ignored. Finally, at about 12:00, my husband passes me an Ensure protein shake so I don’t pass out. I mention that we have a meeting tomorrow at 10:00 that I am supposed to be running but I don’t know what we are meeting about. All I know is that someone is coming in from California and he is expecting answers to questions that I don’t have.

“Don’t worry. We’ll talk at 9:00. Meet me at the coffee shop at the Royal York and we’ll go over it.”
“What is ‘it’?”
“Don’t worry.”

I don’t sleep. I get up the next morning and go to the coffee shop. I am presented with a Powerpoint Presentation consisting of 30 slides.

“Just present this to them.”
“What is this?”
“It’s the merits and demerits for the SLA’s”.
“You need 30 pages for this?”
“Not exactly….see, we have to tell them who we are, then we give them the answers.”

I have never given a Powerpoint presentation. We used to make fun of them; rolling our eyes whenever someone put them on an overhead: Moron Technology, I believed we called it. And here I was, about to deliver one to a bunch of techies and business men.

Oh joy, Oh bliss.

The first slide was a little backgrounder on the Company.
As was the second slide.
The third slide.
And the fourth.

When the fifth slide appeared, the business man who had flown first class from California shouted: “I did not come here from L.A. to hear about motherhood and apple pie.”

I looked at the slide. There was nothing about motherhood and apple pie. I rubbed my eyes. Maybe there was something on the screen I couldn’t see. Maybe I was so sleep deprived, I was hallucinating. Or maybe, motherhood and apple pie, like perfuming the pig, was code. From Mr. L.A.’s tone, I gathered that “motherhood” and “apple pie” meant information that was not relevant. I quickly summarized the motherhood and apple pie and moved on.

To make the information seem weighty, the Directors had taken the five paragraphs with the five blanks and devoted one slide to each paragraph. They first wrote the paragraph with the blank and then directly below, rewrote the paragraph with the blank filled in and in bold:

Company B will perform oral sex on Company A twice a week at 6:13pm.
Merit: If oral sex results in orgasm within 5 minutes, Company B will recieve ______________
Demerit: If oral sex results in an orgasm beyond 5 minutes or not at all, Company B will be deducted __________________

Company B will perform oral sex on Company A twice a week at 6:13pm.
Merit: If oral sex results in orgasm within 5 minutes, Company B will receive an extra $5 plus the weekly special Blizzard from Dairy Queen.
Demerit: If oral sex results in an orgasm beyond 5 minutes or not at all, Company B will be deducted $5 and will not receive the weekly special Blizzard from Dairy Queen.

I let the information sink in and then proceeded to turn off the presentation. All of the sudden:

“So Miss whateveryourname is, how did you arrive at these numbers?”

Ummmmmmmmmmmm….huh. I don’t remember going over that at our midnight meeting. Think Fast, Think Fast, Think Fast. It’s no use. I don’t know how we came up with those numbers. I don’t know what they mean. I don’t care what they mean.
But before I can happily burst into tears, leave the business office, take off my business clothes, and start singing Jimmy Crack Corn, the two Directors stand up in unison, take off their suit jackets, in unison, push in their chairs, in unison, and begin walking around opposite sides of the table-their rights hands cupping their chins in serious thought pose.

They looked like something out of the Muppet Show. Truly they did. And after one of the Directors responded to the question, they sounded like something out of the Muppet Show.

“Well, you see….” and then turned into the Swedish Chef.

And the second Director added: “I might also suggest that you”…and then he turned into the teacher from Peanuts.

After a few minutes, all assembled seemed in agreement-to what, I don’t know but that was clearly irrelevant since by this time, I might as well have been invisible.

After the clients’ thanked us profusely, we left the office tower and headed out to the subway. As I proceeded to get off at my stop, one of the Directors looked at me and said: “Told you not to worry…we always get the job done.”

I muttered under my breath: “But what was the job?”

My next engagement as a management consultant involved learning forensic accounting driving from Toronto to London, Ontario at 11:30pm for a meeting at 8:00 with a large insurance company.

Forensic accounting, for those of you non-eggheads out there, occurs when an accountant runs diagnostics on another accountant’s work on a company’s balance sheet. Such talent usually involves some aptitude in math, maybe even a university degree in something appropriate, like I don’t know, maybe accounting…maybe even actuarial math. I quit math in Grade 12 and never looked back. Until this trip to London.

“Natalie,” the Director said, “it’s like this: ‘It is verboten for the IT department to go over 1 cent in their IT spending.’
“What happens if they do?”
“They don’t.”

“Here, take a look at their budgets from the last few years.”
“Its kind of dark in here…I’m not sure I can read it.”
“Oh…here…use the car lighter to read it.”
So, I took the lighter from him and began to look at the budgets. Look is probably not totally accurate…more like scanned in between trying not to burn my fingers off.
Predictably, they were in the red but not by much.“Big whoop” was my non-MBA comment.
“Natalie…please don’t say ‘Big Whoop’ in front of the client. They are going to spend most of the day tomorrow showing us problems in their budget and we need to tell them how to reduce their deficit to zero.”
“And how are we going to do that?”
“Oh…its easy…we’re going to tell them to perfume the pig.”

There’s that phrase again.
Perfume the Pig.
What pig? What perfume? Eau de Cochon? Chanel #Piggy?
Maybe I’ve never heard of it because pigs aren’t kosher.
Don’t pigs smell bad? Maybe we should perfume them. Maybe this is actually a great idea.

“Not to sound stupid or anything, but what does Perfume the Pig mean exactly?

He stopped the car suddenly. Very suddenly. And then moved off to the side of the road.
He turned to me.

“What do you mean? Are you trying to tell me that you don’t know what Perfuming the Pig means?”
“Can you name all three of the Operation Reinhard death camps?”
“Whose Reinhard?”
“You know.. Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s go-to-guy for helping to arrange the murder of a few million of my people. The Holocaust—maybe you’ve heard of it?”
“Whatever…now look Natalie…tomorrow we have to go in front of clients from all over Canada who want us to direct them on how to get their budget down to zero…our advice will be to tell them to perfume the how pray tell are we going to advise them of that strategy if you don’t know what it is?”
“So tell me what it means.”
“I can’t believe you don’t know this…really, I can’t believe it. What did they teach you down there at that fancy schmany all-girls university?
“How to organize orgies every Tuesday night.”
“OK…now listen..and listen closely. Perfuming the Pig means that you upgrade your computer systems and technologies so that they are functional but you don’t go out and make major purchases.”
“Oh that makes sense…so you just do some el cheapo improvements but no mega buys.”
“Correct…but please don’t use words like “el cheapo” and “mega”—we need to be professional, they are paying a lot of money for our advice.”
This coming from a man who talks about putting cologne on pork.
“Anyhoo…we are going to listen to them make their presentations, knowing what our answer is going to be, and then we will make our presentation.”
“But do we have a presentation to make?”
“Oh, of course, we will just tweak one of the ones we have used before…it’s all about re-using our materials…cookie cutting if you will.”
“So, why bother listening to their presentations if we already know the advice we are going to give them?”
“Because that is how we make money. We put on a bit of a show to let them think that we’ve done a lot of work—get it?”
Oh man do I ever. This is the best scam I have ever heard of. Really, this is the best scam.
“So then why do we all work so hard?”
“We don’t work hard…we just look like we’re working hard…don’t you get it?
Yes Yes…I totally get it. This is so great. Wow. Scam, scam, scam.

We flew all over Canada interviewing all of these senior staff to get their perspective on their problem. We charged the client for our airfare, our hotel, our time, our meals. And boy did I work. I took notes at meetings, summarized interviews, and even asked a question or two. All this for an answer we already knew.

At our last meeting, we put up a slide with a picture of a pig and what looked like a perfume atomizer. It actually looked more like a bong but that was just my opinion. My Director had brought along another Director to make the client feel more important. And again, after I did my little slide show lingering on my little sow slide, they both got up at the same time, and at the same time, they pushed in their chairs, and at the same time, they started walking, in different directions, around the table, one hand cupped under their chin.

I felt like I was watching the final dance sequence from Cats.

Just so you know, at the end of the day, they opted not to perfume the pig, instead they opted to pick the low hanging fruit.

I spent the rest of the godforsaken year writing strategic plans for hospitals having neither a clue about strategic plans nor about hospitals. My mother, one of the pioneers of women in Information Technology, with over 25 years experience, was mildly shocked at what I was doing. Unconscionable, I believe was the word she used.

I lost 10 lbs, started smoking a pack a day, drank scotch and water for breakfast and basically was very close to being divorced by the age of 32. Then I paid a shrink a few hundred bucks to hear her tell me that I had to quit.

I know the cardinal sin in writing is telling and not showing but I have to tell you this. The CEO’s, and CIO’s, and C3PO’s all knew I didn’t know what I was doing. They knew this because I had a permanently stunned expression on my face. Yet knowing this, they still paid my fees, still let me see their highly confidential documents, and still let me waste their time.

This kills me.

Speaking of killing, my last engagement as a management consultant involved interviewing Coroners across the country on how they maintain data records for victims of car accidents. I had to fly to Ottawa for a presentation of our results by another consultant en route to a meeting in Vancouver later than afternoon. The consultant doing the presentation, for reasons that I am still unclear about, delivered a presentation not on our results but on data management computer systems. The client, however, sat through the presentation, thanked us for our work, and now that consultant is a Director.

Go figure.

I went to Europe for three weeks on a vacation. After about 48 hours in Prague, I decided I was going to quit. The morning I came back, the Vice-President called me into his office.

“You know, Natalie, sometimes when people go away on vacation, they have the time to really think about what they are doing with their lives…”
“You are so damn right…I am outta here!!!

I left that afternoon. I decided to walk home—about a 2 ½ hour trip. Just before I started walking down Yonge St., I lit a smoke, inhaled about half of it, and then threw it still lit, at my old office.
Then finally, the rich sounds of Gloria Gaynor ‘s “I Will Survive entered my audio memory, and I marched home looking at all the Staff Wanted signs on the bookstores on my way.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why should this Leafs Season be different from all other Seasons: a Tale of Matzah, Maror, and 42 years (and counting) of wandering.

Some people equate Passover with Matzah. Some people equate Passover with marathon seders. Me, I equate Passover with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

My earliest memories of Passover are arriving at my aunt’s house and hearing the curses of my cousins yelling at the Blue and White who were, as usual, being smote by Les Habitants. I recall at more than one seder, my cousin (who later became a hockey play-by-play announcer) whispering to me that the Ten Plagues over Toronto were really: Lafleur, Robinson, Lapointe, etc. I imagined Darryl Sittler was Moses, parting the Red, Blue, and White defense and blasting the puck past Drydan.

And just like the Jews who wandered for 40 years in the desert, the Leafs seem destined to do the same.

Several decades later: I still connect Jewish Holidays with the Buds. Rosh Hashanah, for example, occurs right around the beginning of the season. As I stand in synogogue remembering the good and the bad of the previous year, I take several minutes to do the same for the Leafs. Recalling the sins of the past 365 days at Yom Kippur, I recall the sins of the Leafs’ past 100 plus games. And as I engage in the ritual of self-flagellation and ask forgiveness for my lack of discipline, laziness, and stubbornness, I always give myself a few extra little smacks (my mother thinks I am being really hard on myself) for a transition game that is as weak as my five year old’s, for the slothfulness displayed on the power play, and for our defencemen’s skill at passing the puck right in front of our own net.

During the year, I attend Friday night services depending on how poorly the Leafs are doing. After all, what else should one do during Silent Prayer except to pray for a win during Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada.

By Chanukah, I can figure out by the standings how reverent I have to be in the next few months.

But by Passover, all is revealed as the teams vie for playoff position-the Leafs trying to claw their way into the final playoff spot. Even the Passover rituals get into the spirit: The dry crumbly constipating matzah prepares the way for the ulcer that sits in our stomachs in those final games; the four glasses of wine which numb us knowing that the Leafs-if they even make the playoffs- will be out by the First Round; the Bitter Herbs which represent the suffering of all of us die-hard Leaf fans; the Charoset that provides a bit of sweetness when we don’t go down in four straight in the first round; the green that symbolizes the year-long colour of the grass in the inevitable home of the Stanley Cup somewhere in the Southern US; the Passover Sacrifice….need I say more.

And every year, as everyone looks at each other with hope in their eyes and recites. Next Year in Jerusalem. I look toward the Air Canada Centre, and say: Next Year the Cup.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Hora....The Hora

After about 2.5 hours into our flight from Toronto to Vancouver for my cousin's wedding, I punched my husband Rob and said: "Oh my God…I bet that I am the only one of the seven bridesmaids who decided that wearing a dress the colour of tinfoil was super tacky. I bet that I am the only one who decided to avoid looking like a freak and used the non-shiny side of the material to make my dress." And Rob said: "Yeah...probably..whatever", and went to sleep.

"Carol…Carol…" I am hyperventilating into the phone.
"Who is this calling? Is this a crank call because if it is I'm calling the police."
"Carol…its me, its Natalie. I need help."
"Who the fuck is this."
"Carol…its Natalie. Remember me from three years ago…red hair, big boobs, you made my wedding dress."
"Oh Natalie. Right. What's up."
"Carol." I gasp.
"Ok girl, chill out. What's the problem."
What's the problem. OK. Here's the problem. I'm lying on my bed in the fetal position holding the phone in one hand and a piece of what I think is aluminum foil in the other.
"I need you to make me a dress out of tinfoil."
"Say what…"
"I need you to make me a dress out of tinfoil."
"Are you going to a drag queen's coming out party or a Jewish wedding."
Oh Carol…I love you.
"The latter…" I said. "My cousin is getting married in Vancouver. There are seven bridesmaids. I need to wear a silver dress."
"Silver on red hair.." Now Carol is gasping into the phone.
"Yes." I manage.
"Come and see me immediately."

"Silver on red hair." Carol is holding the material up to my face, my pale, pale, skin. "Oy and Veh."
Carol is a 6ft1 absolutely gorgeous black woman. When she says "Oy Veh", she means it.
"I know." I said.
"OK…right." She thinks for a minute. "I can't make this dress."
"I know."
"Can you get sick for the wedding."
"Possibly but…"
"Wait…I have an idea…lets use the other side."
She turns the material over. The other side is atrocious but in a less disturbing way.
"What do you call this colour?" I asked trying to figure out how to explain this to my cousin.
"I call it Grey Matte."
Grey Matte. I repeat this over in my head a few times.

"Joyce, hey its me". Can I wear the Grey Matte side of the material to the wedding."
"Yeah sure…that's fine."
"What's everyone else doing…"
"Um…I don't know exactly…but that's totally cool if you wear the other side."
On the West Coast, everything is preceded by "totally". It’s the East Coast's version of "like."
"Thanks…that's are you doing with all this wedding stuff." I ask.
"Its totally awesome. I'm so happy, y'know. Its going to be totally great."
I hang up the phone relieved.

After about 3.5 hours into our flight from Toronto to Vancouver for my cousin's wedding, I said to Rob: "Rob...I bet you this is going to be some totally flaky, totally pseudo hippie feel the love type wedding ." And Rob said: "Yeah...probably...whatever", and turned on the French news channel even though he doesn't understand French.

When we finally got to Vancouver, we went right to my cousin's house where everyone was completely hung over from being at the strip club the night before. I was quickly briefed as to what the deal was with this wedding. Apparently, my cousin had spent the previous evening in not one, but two strip clubs. However, prior to going to the second strip club, she had decided to go to the mikvah a ritual bath that ultra-religious Jewish women go to purify themselves before they get married.

OK...let me give you a little context. These two go to synagogue less than I do. They do not observe any Jewish rituals to the best of my knowledge. Thus, her decision to do the mikvah thing was somewhat interesting to me. However, I said nothing. I showed restraint. I did however, roll my right eye slightly into the back of my head but I don't think anyone noticed.

I was then informed that my cousin Joyce had recently discovered and/or decided that she came from a particular sect of Judaism that has this tradition of putting a henna tattoo on one's hands and feet. This was all brand new to me but since I know squat about this kind of stuff, I said nothing. I showed restraint. I did not roll my eyes. But then that familiar feeling that starts at the base of my digestive tract and winds itself into the base of my gut started to emerge. And in such a moment of direness; in such a moment of distress, I resorted to habit and began composing a letter to Prudence, my beloved college roomate.

Dear Prudence.
Oh my Jesus Christ Lord and the saints and their wives and mistresses. I am about to commit a fashion faux pas the size of Manhattan including all boroughs and White Plains. I know you thought it bad taste when I wore sweaters the colour of the residuals of a bad stomach ache but this is beyond even that.
"They" are making me put this red shit on my hands and feet. My hands and feet are going to be exactly the same colour as my hair. With a little grey matte added in for extra effect….

I paused mid-sentence and scrounged around the house for a cigarette, tossing their diminutive dog out the window in the process. No smokes. And why would there be… this is flippen Vancouver. There is anti-smoking legislation up the wing-wang.

The West Coast is uptight you know-they just hide it behind a thin mask of pseudo sophisticated mellow-ness. Inside, they are all seething-seething like the anal retentive a-typed coffee obsessed crazed maniacs that they are. How do I know this, you ask naively. Well, I answer you. Think about it. Who lives on the West Coast. In California---its all ex-New Yorkers. In Vancouver, its all ex-Torontonians. All this means is that you have a bundle of nerves concentrated in an area condemned to certain death by unfixable fault lines. What could be more hellish--I ask you thusly. What could be more hellish.

I found an old butt and sat on the step when Joyce came out. She asked me how I minded going barefoot for the ceremony and I almost kissed the ground. Finally...a tradition that works for me. I had previously been told that I needed to wear heels which was the closest thing to a sure guarantee of a broken ankle. No shoes sounded good to me. I did however inquire politely if I could wear my white Chuck T's.

That was Friday: I had been in Vancouver exactly 3 hours. I had lived a lifetime.

Saturday morning, we all took the ferry to Galiano Island (Galiano being the key ingredient along with vodka and orange juice in a Harvey Wallbanger). We got to this island which was, and I quote, "picture perfect." Things that are picture perfect are frightening. Especially when they are deliberately picture perfect because you have to take a moment and wonder how it got that way. What are they hiding exactly? Contemplating that thought, I headed out to the Bed and Breakfast thing where the wedding was supposed to be.

People who own bed and breakfasts are all axe-murderers. Every time I wind up in a place like this, I take a moment and look around the grounds for potential hiding places for dead bodies. It is at times like this where Rob just sighs quietly to himself.

Saturday afternoon: we have a rehearsal for the wedding at 2:00. At 3:30, we are still waiting to start. This guy named William is running the show. William is Joyce's best friend. William has recently decided he is gay and has decided that everyone needs to know. I want to ask William desperately if he's a top or bottom, a giver rather than a taker, but once again I keep quiet.

I notice right off the bat that in fact I was right. I am the only bridesmaid wearing the other side of the tinfoil material. I am also the only bridesmaid not wearing a strapless dress. I am also the only bridesmaid with hair past her shoulders.

"Dear Prudence: Oh boy, did I fuck up. All the other bridesmaids are wearing strapless tinfoil dresses. They look like leftovers from dinner…OK..that wasn't nice, I know. But this sucks rocks, like rocks the size of Stonehenge. And get this…these chicks are all Jews but they are all kinds of blonde with little perky boobs. How is that possible, I ask you? They have mange-cake boobs. And to go along with their perky little boobs, they have perky little voices. And their hair is perfect. How can you have perfect bobby-pinned up hair with the wisps exactly positioned to blow sweetly in the wind. I haven't brushed my hair in months, much less cut it. Who wears bobby pins in the year 2001 anyway-didn't that go out with blue eyeliner?

Normally, wedding rehearsals take about 30 minutes. This one took 2 hours. It took 2 hours because there were 20 people in the wedding party. It took 2 hours because Gabe and Joyce had seemingly bought a book on Jewish weddings and arbitrarily decided what rituals they were including. Apparently, this had all been approved by the rabbi whom, we were told, was quite a character- a "free spirit" were the actual words used.

I did roll my eyes noticeably when I heard that. I had to.

Then there was the consummation business. Apparently, after the ceremony, the bride and groom were going to leave the wedding scene for about 20 minutes and go upstairs somewhere and "consummate" their marriage. Apparently, this ritual is done to show that the bride was in fact a virgin at the time of her wedding.

As this was being announced to us, another cousin, Beth, and I looked at each other. Beth and I are complete opposites. Beth is very tall, very thin, very beautiful: a very well put together by-product of the Jewish community. But at that moment, we had a total meeting of the minds. She said: "I know exactly what you are thinking." And I said, "I know exactly what you're thinking." And she said: "Are you going to say something?" And I said: "Oh, do I want to." And she said. "Oh, do I want to." And I said: "Ok, you're older, you say it." And she said: "No, you saw say it." And I said: "OK." And I looked toward the wedding party, on that beautiful rainy afternoon, overlooking some flippen' West Coast water body, and I said very loudly and very clearly. "Ladies and Gentleman, I am hear to share with all of you a very important piece of information that may come as a big surprise to you. Gabe and Joyce live together. They have been doing so for the last 3 years. There is exactly one bed in that apartment and they share it. And even if some of you may think that for the last three years, they have done nothing but sleep in that bed, I am here to tell you that you are deeply mistaken....I know that you are mistaken...Why do I know that...I know because one night about two years ago, I went downstairs to get something and I saw them having sex. Yes...caught them right in the act. I have indeed borne witness."

You would have thought there may have been silence. You would have thought that maybe there was a point to my little soliloquy. But was told that in fact, this little twenty minutes of whatever was, are you ready for this, a symbol of them consummating their marriage.

And then it was evening
And then it was morning
The day of the wedding.

I decided within exactly 25 seconds that I did not like Rabbi Yitzchak Horowitz. At the age of about 55, Rabbi Horowitz was still cultivating a very serious, very pretentious, very self-righteous, self-centered hippie look that in my somewhat intolerant frame of mind was just stupid.
When I got married, the ceremony from beginning to end was exactly 17 minutes.
About 45 minutes into this ceremony, Rob totally forgot that he was standing in front of about 100 people and began a fascinating conversation with himself about something that only he can tell you about. About 60 minutes into the ceremony, Rabbi Horowitz had read from about 5 books including something by Judy Blume and was now talking about his mentor Father Moshe who had taught him everything he knew. About 75 minutes into the ceremony, Rabbi Horowitz pointed to the musicians and introduced Brother Shugie. Brother Shugie was the musician playing the hand drums with the coolest, longest braids I have seen outside of the NBA. As I was counting Brother Shugie's braids, one of the perky boobed blonde bridesmaids started laughing. And then the perky boobed blonde bridesmaid standing next to her started laughing and so on and so on until it got to me and even though my boobs haven't been perky since puberty, I started laughing also. Rabbi Horowitz was not pleased with us. Rabbi Horowitz decided to make us all suffer a little longer.

90 minutes later...the wedding ceremony is over. A woman comes around with champagne. I needed something stronger. I located the bottle of scotch Rob had brought for emergencies like this. Looked for a glass, couldn't find one. Didn't care. These were desperate times. Took the bottle in hand and downed it. Forgot that scotch is strong. Forgot I had not eaten in about 6 hours. Felt great. Went to find Rabbi Horowitz. Had a question for him.

Rabbi Horowitz was jamming with the band. That's exactly what he said to me when I said hello. "Hey Holy Sister," he said to me, I'm jamming with the band.

Don’t you $#$#$@ call me Holy Sister, sweetheart or I’m going to stuff your Birkenstocks down your throat.

I didn’t say that.

I said: “Hey Rabbi…listen…I totally dug your service man and I really gotta ask you where all that groovy talk comes from”

And he said: “Hey holy sister… let me finish this tune and we can hang by the tree over there.”

I gave him the two thumbs up and proceeded to sit under the designated tree.

Rabbi Horowitz saunters over to tree and he puts his hand on my shoulder and looks at me soulfully right in the eyes and says. "So holy sister what’s on your mind."

I gently slide my shoulder out from under his hand and look at him soulfully right in the eyes and I say: "So Rabbi…I know a bit about Judaism though obviously not as much as yourself and I’m just curious as to what kind of Judaism you practice? Is it Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Humanist, Reconstruction, Deconstruction, Egalitarian, , make-it-up-as-you-go-along?"

"Holy sister," he says, "its all of those. It’s the whole thing. Its anything. Its everything. It’s the whole Garden of Eden."

"Really. So, what school did you graduate from?"

"Well…sweet sister …its like this see…I was ordained as a rabbi three times. Three times. The last time, I was ordained by Father Moshe right hear on Galiano Island."

"There is a rabbinical school on Galiano Island?"

"Sweet Sister, there is a rabbinical school wherever you want there to be a rabbinical school. God is everywhere, on this island; on that island, in between all the islands-He is everywhere."

Dear Prudence
Did you know that God is everywhere. I think one night you decided that you saw God. I think we had decided to take mushrooms that night and you gave into primal instinct and began cleaning our room for the first time that year. I think when you got to my hairbrush and saw that in fact it contained enough hair to help the patients down at the Mayo Clinic, you announced that you had seen the Lord himself.

"So would you consider yourself to be a real rabbi?"

"I am whatever you want me to be sister. I can be whomever you want me to be. I can be your Adam, your Eve…"

I finished his thought in my head: your Sonny, your Cher, your Donny, your Marie, your Captain, your Tenille.

"That’s beautiful," I replied. "That is really really beautiful. I need to go inside and write all of that down."

Dear Prudence:
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy. And its not over yet. Not by a long shot. Remember my friend Danny. You know, the one who slept with everything that walked, that did it with some married chick on the airplane on the way to my wedding; who at my nice Jewish camp in the middle of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin got caught sleeping with a 15 year old. Yes him…He's getting married next week and so I get to do this all over again on some flippen beach in Southern California, on yet another West Coast waterbody, in yet some other tacky coloured dress.

When will it end, dear Prudence, I ask you: when will it end.

The Sheik and I

The Sunday afternoons of my youth were reserved for a particular torture known as religious school. Those memorable occasions were spent with the nice Jewish princes and princesses of Toronto at the Church on the Hill, a.k.a. Holy Blossom Temple or as my father called it, the Holy Bosom. My father was part of a car pool involving several Mercedes –he however preferred driving his Army Jeep down Bathurst St with York Mill’s finest in the back seat. Sometimes, my father would drop all the other kids off and then announce that he and I had some serious business to attend to. This would involve him driving further south down Bathurst to College where we would dine at The (Dirty) Bagel and I would get thoroughly grossed out by his inhaling of intestines with a side of kasha. After lunch, we would continue east down College to the Gardoons a.k.a. Where God’s team used to play. My father would escort me through the front door, and down onto the floor of the arena and locate our chairs which were usually in the second row right behind some generic blue haired caned women whom you know had spent the previous night smoking Vantage at the local bingo hall.

At approximately 1:30, some guy in brown polyester (this is the mid-70’s) would come down the raised aisle with a mic: Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to Maple Leaf Wrestling…and the ladies in front of us would bang their canes again the floor and spit out peanut shells, and I would take off in my godawful clothes to hang out just behind one of the turnbuckles. Being approximately 5 years old, the security guards weren’t exactly concerned about my presence and left me alone. For about 3 hours, I would watch Dominic DeNucci, Lord Athol Layton, the Beast, Waldo von Erich come down the aisle and beat the shit out of each other. At the end, all of my testosterone exorcised, my father would take my hand and escort me outside and back into civilization. Just before we left the ring area, he would point to the centre of the ring and ask me if I would like to get in there one day. Yes Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a wrestler. My father gave me the nomme de guarre of The Hut and would spend the car ride back to suburbia announcing me to the multitudes of my fans.

The end of the matches conveniently ended just as the final notes of the Israeli national anthem was being played at Temple so my mother had no clue where we had been and, of course, I wasn’t going to tell her.

Edward Farhat was a nice guy from Michigan. Eddie’s alter ego, however, was not. Every so often, Ed would don the tights and turn into one of wrestling’s legends, The Madman from Syria: The Sheik. Now Mr. Farhat should not be confused with the other Sheiks that came after him: Sheik Adnan al-Kaissie whom my husband and his friends in their Scarborough dinner jackets would chant mercilessly at Winnipeg’s only arena: “Sheik has AIDS”, nor should he be confused with the Iron Sheik whom at some point teamed up with Nicolai Volkoff or was it Ivan Koloff and were the champs during the 80’s. No, Edward Farhat was the real deal. The Sheik would come out in his black speedo tights with a little turtle on one side. Usually he was accompanied by his manager, Eddie “The Brain” Kreetchman who wore a very large Mogen David around his neck and later The Grand Wizard of Wrestling with his purple fez. The Sheik’s shtick was to walk down the aisle covered in his Yasser scarf and a snake around his neck and occasionally drift into the crowd where the old ladies with the blue hair would spit peanut shells at him and grown men would cower. After his manager reigned him back into the ring, The Sheik would remove the snake that was around his neck and wave it at the ref and then sometimes if the mood hit him, he’s breathe a little fire at the crowd. When the bell rang, he would pummel his poor opponent senseless in minutes and then take out the dreaded “Foreign object” and rip open whatever forehead got into his way. The whole spectacle lasted about five minutes. The Sheik was then soothed back into his corner as his manager dangled his snake hypnotically at him. The crowd would cheer as the bloodied loser was carried from the ring and then would boo vigourously as The Sheik walked out.

Religious school would just have to wait.

One Sunday, my father comes into my room and tells me to get ready for school. He helps me pick out my dress, which should have clued me in that something was up. Name a father from the 70’s that even knew where their kids clothes were. He selects my red strawberry dress and attempts to put me in it—then he decides to put my hair into two pigtails. Now why my mother didn’t pick up on this was beyond me but perhaps she was so in shock that she let it go.

So we get into the Army jeep that my father has recently procured. He in his raccoon coat and Russian hat with the floppy ears and me in my sensible blue coat. We pass Temple going south and make the turn onto Carleton. At that point, as though I couldn’t have guessed, his says to me: We’re going to see The Sheik.

Now I have to tell you that The Sheik at this particular juncture is not in my good books. He’s not in my good books because a few weeks prior, he had the audacity to break Mark Lewin’s leg. And Mark Lewin, was not just your average punching bag, he was Mark Lewin nee Moshe Ben Lewin hailing from the wrestling Mecca of Israel.

So as the Rabbis at Holy Blossom were reading that week’s Torah portion to my classmates, I was watching Goliath destroy David.

I knew that I would be atoning a lot that Yom Kippur.

I sat down in my seat and watched Billy Red Lyons with his partner Dewey Robertson in the corner contend with Stan the Man Stasiak and his dreaded heart punch; cheered when the 400 lbs that was Haystacks Calhoun sit on Abdullah the Butcher, and got a little ferklempt at the sight of the Flying Frenchman Edward Carpentier doing a back flip off the top rope. But that was all foreplay.

The lights went out. The man in the brown polyester suit stood alone in the centre of the ring.

Ladies and Gentlmen..this is the duration match with a 20 minute time limit. Introducing first in the red corner, from Hamilton, Ontario, weighing 285lbs, Angelo “King Kong” Mosca.

The crowd went nuts for Angelo, a former Canadian Football League player turned pro wrestler. As he hulked down the aisle, I screamed: I love you King Kong!! My father just looked at me bemused. “Do you want to get a little closer”. Being female and in short supply of the requisite amount of testosterone that would have allowed me to jump up and say: YES, YES, YES at the top of my little lungs, I looked a bit nervous and said OK, Daddy, sure, let’s get a little closer. So clutching my father’s hand, we moved right up to the front right behind…

And in the blue corner, from Syria, weighing in at 262lbs, The Sheik.

The Blue Corner. Yes, that’s where we were. And there was The Sheik being led to the ring by The Brain. And there was me in my crooked pigtails and strawberry dress half ready to pass out, my nails digging into my father’s hand.

The Sheik made his way through the ropes and knelt in the middle of the ring on his prayer mat offering prayers to Allah. He crawled back to his corner and as he reached down to deposit his snake, my father pushed me between the ropes and I came face to face with the Madman himself!!

Our eyes met—the Sheik’s crazed expression slipped slightly and he looked puzzled like why is there a small child in my corner…

I started screaming—mass hysteria, right at the Sheik. His expression gave way to concern and he reached out to touch my cheek showing yet again that bloodthirsty foreign object wielding Middle Eastern madmen do in fact have a heart.

I screamed louder and after what seemed like an eternity which was probably about 20 seconds, my father removed me from the ring and escorted me back to my seat.

The Sheik apparently recovered from having a small redheaded pigtailed child in a strawberry dress shoved in his face and started decimating King Kong Mosca.

I continued to yell, unconsolable even as my father hugged me against his fur coat. Finally, as my tantrum turned into the arrival of the Fourth Horseman of the Apocolypse, he took me outside to the nearest Beckers and got me a chocolate sundae—as though that would alleviate the post-traumatic stress disorder.

On the way home, just before we turned into the driveway, my father stopped the car and looked at me. “Don’t tell your mother.”

Up until he died, my father and I ditched the Jews of Forest Hill and went to the Gardens every few Sundays. I still turned a little pale when the Sheik came out but secretly he was my new favorite and once or twice, I think he looked at me.

My father, who was not apprehended by Children’s Aid, did not shove me through the ropes ever again. However, on one of our last trips, he took me out during intermission and led me down a very quiet hallway and pointed to one of the many closed doors—I could hear mens voices inside and lots of laughter—he said: do you know whose in there, I said no, he said very quietly..its Ox Baker…do you want him to come out and you can say hello…you can say: Hello Mr. Ox, My name is The Hut…and before he could say anything more…I fled back down the hall and hid under a cotton candy stand.

Both my father and The Wildman from Syria have long gone up to the Big Wrestling Ring in the sky. I picture them reminiscing about how a little redhead in a strawberry dress freaked The Sheik.