Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Moving Day

I went for a jog in Riverside Park today. It's been days and then weeks and even, yes, a few months of indolence, ever since my beloved 37-year-old bike's pedals broke off and I landed first on a car and then bloody on the pavement and returned the damned antique deathtrap and became bikeless.

I went for a jog in Riverside Park today, my head aswirl with a million little things, and as I thudded my way north toward the tennis courts, a falling leaf hit my cheek. It caught briefly between my eye and glasses before it slipped away in a whiff of sycamore. That was the first contact I've had with sycamore since my backyard, where every year around this time, a strange double-trunked tree kept the lawn covered in spikey seedballs and wide dusty leaves. Then I looked up and saw thousands of fallen leaves, flattened on the muddy running paths, littering the grass, cluttering the gutters where the paths meet pavement, and dotting the air between the trees and grass as they transitioned from sky to mulch. And though the park is still a rich deep green underfoot and overhead, I realized that yes, fall is on its way. Ta-da. As if yesterday's cataclysmic thunderstorms hadn't already told that tale.

And time is passing. Today presents a momentous moment in that passage, because it was nearly 21 months ago that I drove away from my house in the Hollywood Hills for the last time. It's taken this long to settle, in both senses of the word, in/on an apartment in New York. And o, the circularity! Twelve blocks from my grandmother's old building, three blocks from my own first NYC apartment and two from the last place I lived while at college. And to get really maudlin and encyclopedic, about two miles from where I was born. Whillikers!

Why is today is a big day? Today, all my things will be delivered after 21 months in storage. And this pristine, booming space that I've considered more a locker than a home for seven weeks while I was traveling will suddenly be choked with all the artifacts of my life. All those things I left behind -- and some I even missed -- will be within striking distance once again. Blender. Art. Giant ceramic carp head. CDs. Coffee table. Bed. Octopus plate. Rugs. Full-size speakers. Bike. A dresser again, jesus christ, a dresser. It has been weird living without socks and drawers drawers this long.

Actually, it's been weird being transient this long. I'm looking forward to seeing the things from my old house transposed to my new one. I anticipate both a deliverance and a burden. And then, after the challenges of assembling the new mise en scene, a season of parties. Now that I practically breathe wine, I have an obligation to share it via festive occasions. And as a party-thrower who's been limited by location until now, I'm starting to feel very festive all over again.

The mover just called. They'll be here between noon and 5.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

For Your Wish List

Here's a strange corner of the mercantile world for your viewing pleasure: used amusement park rides for sale. If you've already seen that site, kindly disregard this post.

But if you haven't, you may be interested to know that poor beached Willie the Whale and his cephalopod pals can be yours for a trifling 32,000 clams. But don't believe me -- believe this: "Vehicles are in great shape, this ride has great potential with an hourly capacity of over 640 per hour."

(Sorry -- owing to hasty typing, the above link was broken upon first posting. It works now.)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Working for the Yankee Hairspray

I wrote a short promotional video for a social / contest site, and it ties in with a new movie this week. You can see the video, as performed by Nikki Blonsky, Ricki Lake's successor in the newest version of "Hairspray," plus a short ditty I wrote, on this page.

Update (3/21/09): That website was eliminated a few months ago by its corporate overseers to cut costs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Dear Angeleno friend,

It’s true, I’ve been gone for a long time. But I haven’t forgotten you, or the city where you live and I don’t. Hope you’re thriving.

Here’s a link to a 1972 love letter to L.A., as conceived by an English architecture professor who was besotted by the city long before people like him saw anything worth looking at in its helter-skelter welter. Tons of great footage, from Watts to Hollywood to the Gamble House (where he stayed) and the Eames house, long before scenesters were crawling all over it (you know who you are).

I saw this lively, nostalgic program at the Getty a couple years ago, but now -- thanks to the Internets -- you can see it in the comfort of your own home or office.

“You see, I think freeway driving is interesting in and of itself.”

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles (52 min.)


Sunday, April 08, 2007


A few dozen writers responded with extreme care to a challenge in the Guardian:

    Ernest Hemingway once said his best work was a story he wrote in just six words: 'For sale: baby shoes, never worn.' We challenged some contemporary authors to be equally economical

(So economical they forgot the period.)

I like Blake Morrison's. See for yourself.

The Passover Diaspora

(The following essay ran in Hebrew this past weekend in the magazine section of Yedioth USA, a Hebrew-language paper read by about 30,000 Israelis living in the U.S. The editor asked me to write about Passover from the perspective of a half-Israeli American, a POV his readers rarely see. I'm not sure I fulfilled the request, but he was happy with the result. I would never have written so openly for publication in English, but now that it's done, and it's too late to flog it elsewhere, I decided to air it here. Translations follow Hebrew and Yiddish words.)

The Passover Diaspora

If you're reading this, you have your own story of exodus and struggle, of shaking off the bonds of history and forging a new identity in a promised land. As a refugee people, Jews are forever applying the exodus metaphor and a new meaning to the modern diaspora. We do it to remember … we do it to make the next generation remember.

I have my story too. I'm the American product of an Israeli-American marriage, and I am not like you. I am not quite an American, either. I am an other, in between, for various reasons, and Passover always makes that very clear.

The Last Seder

When I was seven, just a few years after their divorce, my parents staged a final seder for my sake … even though they barely knew what they were doing. Dad forgot the kippot (yarmulkes), so I made sailboat-shaped hats out of newspaper for us and our three guests. He led the blessed event, but because he'd actively rejected religion his entire life, he lost his way occasionally, and one of his Israeli friends had to keep jumping in to help him. Mostly, what I remember is the hats.

Jews and hats. My saba (grandfather) Avram wore a hat every day. He was a tzaddik (righteous man) who walked to Jerusalem from Vilna in 1926 and basically spent the next 60 years in a shul (synagogue). My dad was a "wild kid" who hated shuls and hats and eventually fled from Katamon (a poor, older neighborhood of Jerusalem) to Manhattan with $50 in his pocket. He left behind a huge family and 5000 years' worth of religious observance. Feh! Out with the Old World, Into the New! Sound familiar?

Dad worked at the Israeli Ministry of Defense on 57th St. as a night guard, went to college, and did electrical work on the side. That's how he met my mom -- he was doing some work for her parents. My grandfather Leo was a socialist and an atheist. He didn't bring a lot of kippot to the table either. Nobody in my family cared about religion, except for a little lip service and shul time three days a year.

Clearly, the odds were against me hooking up with god. I dabbled a little (a Thursday bar mitzvah, a month at Camp Ramah, a visit to the Aish yeshiva (a center of intramural proselytizing in the Old City), but it meant nothing to me. I've never liked prayer, never felt moral uplift, and never felt a sense of belonging at a shul or any other Jewish organization. And that was fine for a long time.

Return of the Prodigal Father

Then, after 25 years of living the American dream and what he now calls a "pagan" life, dad moved back to Israel. He started to reconnect with religion after his father's death. And his observance grew and grew and it's still growing to this day, like some kind of science fiction movie monster that just won't stop growing. He's not wearing the beaver hat and probably never will -- don't exaggerate! -- but once the Rabbis have their hooks in you, Boom -- game over. High on religion, armed with the delusion of the true believer, dad decided he could just restart my Jewish education.

This happened when I was in my 20s, and it caused some friction, to say the least. Religion is inclusive and exclusive. You're either inside the shul or you're outside. I poked my head in briefly, but it's not for me. I'm outside, and I like the fresh air. It doesn't make him happy, but dad understands now that I will probably never come inside. I want to jump out of my skin when he starts to explain some point from the gemara (Jewish books of learning), but I've trained myself to sit still and let him go, because some day he won't be around to bore me with his god talk … and then I might miss it.

So I'm a sport. If you're thinking of inviting me over for dinner, don't worry -- when I'm a guest, I play along. And I've been playing along for almost 40 years. Which brings us back to Passover.

The Eternal Guest

Ever since that paper-hat seder 38 years ago, almost my entire life, I have been going to other families' seders. I used to go to other families' seders with my dad, but from the year I went away to school at 14, I've generally been on my own. That seemed normal when I was just another kid. It was still pretty normal when I was a college kid. In my 20s, I started taking my girlfriends along, and we'd be like any other visiting couple -- except that my girlfriends were rarely Jews. That added a little spice to the matzo balls.

Lately, I've been a freak at the seder table, a single adult male over 40, either because I was between girlfriends or didn't want to subject the lucky girl to the ritual. I'm so tired of those hardened eyes sizing up my non-Jewish date. I can barely face another year of going it solo, but hey -- I'm tough. I've been wandering in my own personal Passover diaspora for 38 years. If the story holds, I only have two to go. Then what?

The Jewish Defense Force

Until a few years ago, I used to liven up seders by reading my paragraphs in a funny accent -- either Israeli or Yiddish. People laughed and laughed. Most of them, anyway. For me, the seder was always a time for easy laughs. From slavery to comedy in five easy millennia. Then one year, after too much slivovitz (plum brandy), that shtick got tired. The hostess told me so the next day in very clear language.

I guess I grew up a little that year. I lost my taste for fun. All comedy is hostile, but my Passover comedy was becoming a transparent act of passive-aggressiveness.

Just over a year ago, I moved back to New York, so this is the second year I'll be a guest at my cousins' seder. I like my cousins a lot, and I appreciate their invitations, but every holiday dinner at their house is a reminder of my detachment, of the paths not taken. She's my age, and the oldest of her three kids is applying to college. Other guests half my age have their own babies already, and soon they'll stop coming. They'll be hosting their seders at their houses. Not me. I'll remain the constant guest as all around me the cycles of life race by like sped-up clouds in a car commercial.

I have a friend, a non-Jew. He's successful, straight, over 40, and single, and he can't stand Christmas: "I just want to take a vacation and get as far away as possible. What could be worse than having to spend time with all those families?"

Will he ever have kids? He doesn't know. Will I? My parents haven't given up hope. Never say never. But let's say I do have kids. What then? Will I lead my own seder … or will I pass on my broken traditions and raise a new generation of guests?

The Festival of Unleavened Bread

At the seder table, watching some apple-cheeked cherub stumble through the Four Questions, I feel my prolonged adolescence acutely, like an estranged anomaly, an affront to the natural order. If I were gay I'd have an excuse. Hell, if I were gay I might have adopted a kid by now. But I'm not gay -- I'm just stuck in a folded paper hat at the festival of unleavened bread.

At Sukkot (a holiday) last year, these same cousins almost sat me at the children's table. I wouldn't have minded, but I couldn't help wondering how they had arrived at that decision.

"Look, we still have too many people at the main table. Can we disinvite your mother?"

"Not again. She's still complaining about last year. What else can we do?"

"Well, Barak is alone again, and he's like a big kid. More or less…"

"Good idea! Let's put him there so the Rubins can sit together. Barak can talk about DJs with David. Or being a vegetarian."

"Do you think he'll mind?"

"Who cares if he minds? I just don't want him hitting on the Goldbergs' 19-year-old daughter."

At the last minute, I got an upgrade to the adult section.

The Three Questions

My safta (grandmother), may she rest in peace, had a little seder (not just the Passover dinner, but literally "order" or process)of her own whenever I came to visit her in Jerusalem. She ran that seder like clockwork, and it consisted of The Snack and The Three Questions. She'd feed me a crooked slice of cake and a glass of tea and ask:

• Why are you so skinny?
• Why did you come for such a short visit?
• When are you getting married? (Matai teet-khaten?)

That was the routine, without fail, for fifteen years, until the year she stopped asking questions. She never liked my answers.

Many years ago, safta told my first cousin Gila, "Marriage isn't for now. Now it's fun to be single. Marriage is for later." Gila took that advice to heart and found a guy at a religious mixer in the Catskills. They moved into the land of Queens, and she bore him five children, and there they dwelt, building a mountain of equity and a bigger mountain of disposable diapers. Amen. But Gila always wanted a family.

No Answers

Most of the time, I live my life on my own terms, and for better or for worse -- it's my life. A few times a year, our heritage reaches up like that hand from the grave in "Carrie" and drags me into the mulch of our traditions, where it rubs my nose in every decision I ever made or didn't. Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," but as far as I can tell, the examined life isn't all it's cracked up to be either.

As the seder draws close, I confess to mixed emotions. No, I don't want to pray, and I don't wish I were having my own seder, but I feel a little bad about the pizza in my freezer. I'll be eating hametz (leavened bread, forbidden during the eight days of Passover), but I wonder if my saba Avram, a man who essentially lived in a shul, was right. After all, he led a happy and fulfilled life, while I'm forever wandering through my own modern diaspora. Yet my revulsion for religion and the religious and all those easy answers keeps me from delving into the four or forty or 400 questions that nag at me. Was saba Avram right? Was Socrates?

This year, I'll be reading my paragraphs in a sober, clear voice. No jokes. I'm not going for the easy laughs anymore. No, I have a very adult seder plan this year. I'll bring a real horseradish to make sure everybody feels the pain of history. I'll have my four glasses of wine when I'm supposed to. I'll eat my matzoh, read like a mensch, and maybe help some kid hide the afikoman (a piece of matzoh that kids hide and hold for a ransom).

And I decided to invite my girlfriend. She's not a Jew, and she's never been to a seder. She's looking forward to it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Keeping Cubes Clean

Amazing. Germophobia has infiltrated the office supplies market. I gues this is how you make people buy new versions of things that never break: "antimicrobial staplers" at Office Depot.

I'm as germ-conscious as the next guy -- heck, more so -- but I am agog at the array of products that "feature a compound that is added to the plastic to prevent growth of bacteria and molds." What about the rise of supergerms? What about all those little marketing coordinators who will grow up without antibodies?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

He's a Super, Man

Home sick today. Read all of Peter Bagge's "Hate," a bday present from my Clinton Hill pal, an ex-Seattlite. Ate sparingly. Drowsed. Gave the Brita a workout. But all this laying about was good for getting out the vote. The mayoral bid is picking up steam.

In case you're not keeping up with the Zimses, I'm running for Mayor of My Apartment, in advance of Bloomberg's imminent run for the POTUS spot. Yesterday I got the endorsement of my bedside table and two pairs of shoes. The windows are still on the fence, but I see through them. They just want me to wash their backs. The magazines aren't organized, so they may never have a unified voice, but I have a back-channel plan to win over all the New Yorkers. I think the BusinessWeeks are looking for a more fiscally minded candidate. An early poll of the eggs in the fridge shows sentiment running high against me, so I ate two of them just to show how far I'll go when pushed. We'll see how they feel about me tomorrow morning. At breakfast time. Now that I have a new stove.

LordZim readers wouldn't know this, because for a mayoral candidate I've been a very slack little blogger, but my oven went down. Not sexually -- permanently. According to the mustachioed expert from Speedway Appliance, "mice chewed up the wiring." Mice! Now that would be a wily voting bloc. Happily, not one has ever shown its whiskery nose in my presence, so I bear them no personal animus.

Hey -- anagram alert. Animus = I'm anus. Were truer words ever typed? Now let's move on to palindromes. Here's the famous one: Madam I'm Adam. OK, ready? Madam I'm Anus, Tsunami Madam. (I'm also the perfect storm, a Mayoral candidate with a lot to ADD.)

But we were talking about how my oven went down for the count. Once down, it dragged the dishwasher with it. Happily, I don't wash lots of dishes or cook much (turncoat eggs aside), so the loss of these two appliances was no deathblow to my bachelor lifestyle. In fact, my bachelor lifestyle seems to have shrugged it all off and gone to Tahiti without me. Curses, lifestyle -- I'll have my revenge on you yet.

You must be wondering how an oven can break a dishwasher -- outside of Appliance Rodeo season, of course. Allow me to explain. By now you must have seen the stacking washer-dryer "units" popular in condo closets. As space-saving as these are, they are not trendsetting. In fact, these days they border on passe, now that the Europeans have brought two-in-one laundry machines to our shores.

One ring to unite them all: Preciousssss.
One big steel box to wash and dry them all: Priceless.

(To the tune of "Troglodyte," by The Jimmy Castor Bunch) But way back in the days when John Lindsay ruled New York, there was a space constraint that too many people knew about. And every night, about a quarter to ten, the doors would swing open. A hulking frame would appear. It would be none other than …

Modern Maid. Before she was swallowed up in the savage appliance-maker consolidations of the last century, Modern Maid made modern but now extinct kitchen combos like the one that used to dominate this leaderless cubby.

Ingenious solutions flourish in the space-starved shoeboxes that pass for dwellings here in the modern city, though no space-saver is as genius as the combo oven-stove-dishwasher package -- or "unit" -- I had to surrender yesterday. It was black, and it featured a dishwasher at floor level, four gas burners directly atop that, a "work area" above that, and then an oven at eye-level. It also had a clock, a timer, lights, and even a noisy fan that I always turned on when cooking -- only to discover yesterday that it wasn't vented to anywhere. (No wonder this place got so smoky.) When the "mice" chewed up the oven wiring, they wrecked the dishwasher too.

In brief, the whole thing died last month, so yesterday a guy showed up to dismantle and remove it. Why was I not surprised to find a big pink wall where the unit used to stand? (Note to Campaign Staff: This pinko streak may be very useful when I assemble my Coalition for Victory.) Once upon a time, apparently, someone painted the whole kitchen a lurid shade of bubblegum. Time passed, and soberer hues (white, white, white, and more white) prevailed in the visible areas, but no one ever bothered to paint behind the Modern Maid. Now that the Maid herself is but a fading memory, a stick of gum looms above the new oven, a Frigidaire four-burner that hulks low and white where once towered a mighty black space-saving giant.

Why have you just read all this?

I don't know. I just work here. But here's the soft pink underbelly to the foregoing. The inspirational money shot.

When I saw the super today in the lobby, he said, "You have a new stove!" (He knew the old one was shot when he looked at it a month ago. He didn't need no stinking mustachioed experts, but the landlord did.) I agreed and told him about the pink wall, saying the landlord wants me to paint the wall for her, and given the rent I pay, I don't see why I should do any work here. Then -- are you ready? -- the super channeled Oprah: "When I used to rent, this would happen to me too, but I always painted the wall or did the fixing myself. I did not do it for the landlord -- I did it for me."

Speechless, I was, before this textbook example of a fully realized, balanced adult behaving maturely. Why, this mindshift could change my whole life. It could provide a template for a new approach to the world. Though it pains me to refer to Nietzsche twice in a week, it was a perfect example of an ubermenschlich action, even if der Uberman was only ein Renterman at the time.

Did I march right upstairs and take control of my life? No, of course not. I reasoned his good sense right out of my head. Of course he painted things -- he's a super, man. He's good at painting and spackling. I am not. I have a history of postponing home repairs for years, even when the home belongs to me. If someone were to ask me to help them paint a room elsewhere, I'd be willing. That's usually kind of fun. But I'm busy. And with regard to the spackling arts, I'm lazy.

Apart from all that, to be honest, I'm not really ready to paint over the one note of delirious color in my austere precincts. When I look at that giant gumstick above the stove I have to smile. If I squint, I can almost see in its raw edges and random pencil scribblings ("19") a third-rate Ab-Ex canvas.

So maybe I don't want an all-white kitchen just yet. Maybe I'll wait till after the election. Besides, I think that wall vote is a cinch once I nationalize the Swiffer and agree to let the gays marry.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Starving the Beast

Traffic down at LZ, waaay down. They say that the Republican approach to government is to "starve the beast" -- strip Washington to so poor and impoverished a state, shuttering bureaus and weakening laws that government collapses in on itself and surrenders to the rule of business. (Worked good, guys. Make way for Dems!) And yes, that's just what we've been doing here at LordZim: starving the beast. Yes, it's true. The traffic to this blog had grown so vast and demanding, the requests for ideas so unrelenting, the requests for pages so server-crippling, that I, as Lord and Zim of all I survey, had no choice but to weaken the public's grip on my spare time.

So I went dark. Swam down to the inky depths and took my thoughts with me. The loyal audience suffered, no doubt, but you knew it was good for you. A long-needed respite from the regular luxuriant infusion of ideas and philosophy to which you and you had grown so accustomed. Dare I say addicted?

I dasn't.

So what do I do now? Well, first, I announce my candidacy for mayor of my apartment. With Bloomberg setting his sights on Washington, a void in the body politic looms ahead, and civic-minded New Yorkers are already jockeying for position. I'm warming up. I'm acting locally, thinking globally. Dig the new breed, baby!

Second, I announce a temporary abdication of the iron horse, owing to sciatic issues. This too poses a void, insofarasmuchas my recreational commutes have given way to the grimy subway lifestyle. I have to make my own endorphins in the bathtub now, employing a complicated algorithm stolen from Bell Labs.

Third, I announce a moratorium on announcements.

Thank you. Thank you for your time, and now, a few items from the news department.

1. My mom. Yes, my mom. My mom yesterday swung wide the doors of her digital domain and accepted the majesty of broadband in to her life. Praise Roadrunner! Praise the cable! Praise Nelson the installerman. Praise cable modems and pass the content, because here comes my mom, watching online video for the first time. I also explained Nietszche's concept of the superman and the slave, and it seems to have gripped her powerfully.

2. New Mac. Yes, a silvery new Mac for the new year, and soon -- tomorrow! -- new higher-speed broadband service here at LZHQ. The March of Progress is unstoppable.

Well, that's our show! Duty calls, and I must run. Happy new year to you and yours, and stay tuned.