Saturday, February 28, 2009

If Katy Perry was a frum girl, she would sing this

I happened upon this video while searching for breaking videos online (Don't know how this came up, but it did). Anyway, embedded a below is a parody of the ubiquitous, ever-annoying Katy Perry video. Instead of another girl, the object of forbidden desire is a yeshiva bocher, who is definitely treif, according to the illustrations. He is in the same class as seafood, pig products and cheeseburgers. The pictures are all done by hand.

In some of the diagrams, boy is spelled "boi," which suggests that Flavor Flav perhaps had a hand in producing this track.

Favorite lyric:
"You boys you are so beautiful,
Black pants, white shirt so removable."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

If I was seven, this would've been me

Below is a video of the 2008 Olympic All Around Champion, Nastia Liukin doing a dance-thru of her floor routine. And on the sidelines, a gaggle of little girls parrot her every move, down to the final pose.

Gymnastics Videos on Gymnastike

But I didn't come of gymnastics age during the Nastia era. Back in the day, I was a devoted Shannon Miller fan. I had her 1992 Olympic floor routine memorized. I performed it (sans tumbling) in my family's living room every Shabbat, frequently bumping into the coffee table and television stand as I performed on the non regulation beige carpeting, ending with a salute to my mother who was napping in her recliner. Another embarrassing tidbit- I tried to do my hair as Shannon, which meant that I fluffed up my bangs and pulled my hair back into a ponytail that I then braided and rolled into a bun.

The routine is embedded below. I still know it by heart.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Foxes also explain shomer negiah

Portions for Foxes, that is. When I first heard this Rilo Kiley track a few years ago, I became convinced that the song's writer/singer was a lapsed Orthodox Jew speaking about negiah (which is explained in the previous post.) because of the chorus, which describes the same exactly "slippery slope" my rabbis had warned me about- conversation that leads to casual contact that leads to less casual contact. But then after I discovered the most Jewish thing the lead singer, Jenny Lewis has done was star in a movie about bratty girls in Beverly Hills (Troop Beverly Hills- please don't tell me I'm the only one who remembers that movie!), I realized that she probably had something else in mind when she penned those lyrics.

Anyway, after the last post one of my readers, Sgt. Cheese Fondue (U.S. Marines, ret.) reminded me about this very relevant song, and so I've pasted the lyrics below.

Tell me what you think. Song about shomer negiah or a vision of a post-apocolyptic hellscape where humans will be torn apart by fox like predators?

There's blood in my mouth 'cause I've been biting my tongue all week
I keep on talkin' trash but I never say anything
And the talkin' leads to touchin'
and the touchin' leads to sex
and then there is no mystery left

And it's bad news
Baby I'm bad news
I'm just bad news, bad news, bad news

I know I'm alone if I'm with or without you
but just bein' around you offers me another form of relief
When the loneliness leads to bad dreams
and the bad dreams lead me to callin' you
and I call you and say "C'MERE!"

And it's bad news
Baby I'm bad news
I'm just bad news, bad news, bad news

And it's bad news
Baby it's bad news
It's just bad news, bad news, bad news

'Cause you're just damage control
for a walking corpse like me - like you

'Cause we'll all be
Portions for foxes
Yeah we'll all be
Portions for foxes

There's a pretty young thing in front of you
and she's real pretty and she's real into you
and then she's sleepin' inside of you
and the talkin' leads to touchin'
then touchin' leads to sex
and then there is no mystery left

And it's bad news
I don't blame you
I do the same thing
I get lonely too

And you're bad news
My friends tell me to leave you
That you're bad news, bad news, bad news

That you're bad news
Baby you're bad news
and you're bad news
Baby you're bad news
and you're bad news
I don't care I like you
and you're bad news
I don't care I like you
I like you

Here is a live performance video of the band performing their shomer negiah hit song.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Do you love the chicken or the way the chicken makes you feel?

Last night I was having dinner with two Jewishly rebellious friends when the conversation came around to our Orthodox education and its absurdity. This time, absurd was represented by the concept of shomer negiah. Hebrew for "protected from touch," it refers to the set of laws that prohibits contact between members of the opposite sex, excepting those in your immediate family. That's all contact- hugging, hand holding, arm punching- not just kissing or sex.

The seminal work on negiah is called The Magic Touch. This book, written by Gila Manolson, is often taught in ultra-Orthodox schools to fulfill the state's sexual education requirement. (Just think of it as an extreme version of the "Abstinence Only" curriculum favored by the Bush Administration.) My friends had studied it for six weeks in their Los Angeles yeshiva. I had been fortunate enough to have this book read to me while at overnight camp in the Catskills during the summer before I started high school. My counselor, recently returned (and inspired) from a year spent studying in Jerusalem, read a chapter to us every night, a bedtime story of sorts. Instead of ushering away thoughts of monsters as the tales of our childhoods had done, these chapters were meant to play keep away with our libidos until we were old enough to marry them. Or something.

My companions of the evening recalled two sections of the book as being particularly absurd. In one, Manolson recalls an anecdote a rabbi used to tell his students.

"'I want to tell you something,' he'll say to a group of students. 'I love chicken. My wife makes the greatest chicken. I don't know what she does to it, but it comes out really tasty and I love it. But does that mean I love the chicken? Of course not. If I did, I wouldn't want to eat it! I would want to put a sweater on it, make sure it's not cold in the winter, take good care of it. So when I say 'I love chicken,' what am I really saying? I'm saying that I love the way I feel when I eat chicken. In other words, 'I love chicken,' means I love myself.'"
What I believe that this rabbi (and Manolson) intended to convey to his students was that sometimes we can be confused. We can believe that we love something or someone- in his case, fowl, and the case of his students, a boy- because of how they make us feel, but not for who they are. If he loved his chicken, he would've dressed it. And if we loved the boys we wanted to touch, we wouldn't want to undress them. We'd want to dress them somehow, if we could do so without touching them?

Manolson believes that casual contact can cause a spark. She writes:

"You hand the slow moving cashier your money. Usually, you have to pick up your change off the counter, but today the cashier places it in your hand, and for a brief moment, you feel the warmth of his (or her) hand on yours. Outside afterwards, you sense something strange. For some reason you're feeling more warmly towards this store."(Italics mine)
As we recalled this section (quoted above) in an Upper West Side restaurant, my friend C. dragged her fingers across her palm to demonstrate the sensuality inherent in such an exchange. To which I said, "Yeah. Whenever this happens I cream my panties."

In the clip, embedded below, Andy Samberg, who also seems to be a student of Manolson, sings, "And when we're holding hands it's like having sex with me." Indeed it is, at least according to The Magic Touch.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Boy Slime

Yesterday I was in line for the bathroom at my local Starbucks, standing behind a barista I know well since I write there every day. There is just one restroom at this branch and we were waiting quite a while, ten minutes at least. "What's going on in there?" I wondered aloud.

The barista laughed and began to tell me about the worst thing she ever found while cleaning the bathroom. "I was removing the garbage and I put my hand into boy slime." She dropped her voice as she said the last part.

"Who comes to a Starbucks bathroom to masturbate? Don't these people have a bedroom?"

Just as we were beginning to ponder the kind of person who would go to Starbucks to jack off, we heard a flush. "Hallelujah!" I proclaimed. The door swung open and out walked a Hasidic Jew wearing the guiltiest expression imaginable, sort of like the one that must've been on my face the first time I deliberately turned on a light on the Sabbath. Tucked inside his bekeshe (which is the long black coat that certain kinds of Hasidim wear) were magazines. I could see the head of a woman on one. I doubt it was the Ladies Home Journal.

As the barista walked into the bathroom, canister of air freshener blazing, I said, "I bet you're about to find some more boy slime."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Faux Proms

Last year, I hosted a small prom in my apartment for my nearest and dearest. There were decorations, cheap prizes, even crowns for the king and queen. Everyone had to wear formal attire to hang out in my cramped Upper West Side living room. I wore a bright pink dress to match my then magenta hued hair.

The reason for all the fuss- I never had a prom when I was in high school. I had gone to a very religious all-girls’ yeshiva in Brooklyn and instead of being awkwardly groped on the dance floor while swaying to cheesy early 90s tunes, we had a senior awards dinner. Our dates were our parents. There was no music, no poufy dresses. I wore an outfit with a modest neckline to receive a plaque for my poem that had placed third in the school poetry contest. Sixteen Candles it was not.

When I told C., a friend from high school about my faux prom a couple of weeks ago, she made an unexpected revelation- our school had in fact had a prom.

(Though this is not a photo from the actual event, it does allude to two trends from the mid-late 90s- Boy Band frosted tips and Sun In highlights.)

It took place in the basement of a Flatbush shul after graduation so if word leaked, all of the participants would already have their diplomas. Expulsion was a legitimate concern for the organizers.

“It all happened in a magical place for horny young adults,” she told me wistfully- “Etz Chayim”. This phrase translates to the “Tree of Life,” and is a liturgical reference to the Torah sung every Shabbat as we return the scrolls to the ark. But on that night in the early summer of 2000, a different kind of life was being anticipated, and it didn’t have anything to do with the Bible. Or perhaps it did- but only the naughtier passages.

The girls baked homemade goodies and hired a DJ. They even rented a smoke machine. Most wore outfits purchased for the senior dinner and modified to appear sluttier. C. was wearing a tube top with her long skirt with a strapless, backless adhesive bra underneath. At some point during the evening, her date gazed down and said, “I can see your stickers.”

(This is clearly not a photo from the Jewish prom. Not a single person has curly hair.)

Not many girls attended, she told me. “Perhaps it was because our grade was small to begin with, and minus the ‘good girls,’ it was even smaller.”

I had been one of those “good girls,” which is why I was never told about the shindig” I guess we thought you’d tell on us,” she explained.

Did no one know about my double pierced ears? About the almost black nail polish I wore daily? Was this not enough to show that I was not “good,” or at least that I wouldn’t be good indefinitely? If only my rebellion in high school had been less covert, a yeshiva boy more used to staring down at a page of Talmud could've looked down my dress. Sigh.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I was cheap in high school

A friend from high school and I were having coffee the other night when I pulled out one of my moleskin notebooks to jot down an idea. "I recognize that handwriting," she said when she saw my tight cursive scrawl, a result I achieve by writing perpendicular to my body with my left hand. (This is how I avoid the lefty "claw" hand which is so common amongst southpaws.)

"Really?" I asked. "How?"

"Your notes!" she reminded me.

In my grade, I had been one of two girls who took notes. Around midterms and finals time, I experienced a surge in popularity when I was repeatedly asked for my notebooks. The sheets were then photocopied over and over again until at least half my class was memorizing my words as though my notes were the commentary on the Torah. I pretended to be annoyed at the repeated pestering but really, I was pleased that my notes were so in demand.

But not everyone liked my notes. My handwriting was accused of being cramped and headache inducing. Racheli's notes were the alternative. She wrote in print and in font size 50. Basically, she wrote three sentences per page.

This old high school friend, who is also off the derech (with a hard CH) said she always copied mine. "Why?" I asked.

"Cause yours were cheaper!" she replied.

When I heard this, I swelled with Jewish middle class pride when I heard I was the choice of the budget conscious.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

One Last Wish

When I set my Ipod to randomly shuffle and play my music, an embarrassingly large number of Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant and Tori Amos songs come up. Most of these CDs were purchased in the depths and doldrums of high school when I spent hours alone in the basement moping to the husky, melancholy tunes. I even ran on the treadmill to this music, belting out "Building a Mystery," McLachlan's most up tempo track. I favored this song for my workouts because it contained the word "vampire." I was deep in the throes of my Buffy obsession.

But Sarah and Co. did not represent my first foray into the artistic genre, "Prettified Sadness/Lesbian Experimentation" (check your local Virgin Megastore- you will find it right nex to Pop). No, I had been primed for this solemn, self-serious music by a series of books I was hooked on as a preadolescent, called the One Last Wish collection.

These YA novels, written by Lurlene McDaniel, were about a group of young girls facing terminal illnesses who receive a $100,000 gift from an anonymous donor in order to fulfill their final wish before passing bald, yet still beautiful and luminous, into the Great Beyond.

Yes, most of the stories revolved around cancer- brain, bone, leukemia- you name the cancer, these mostly white, upper middle class girls had it. The rarer, more untreatable, the better for the narrative. At least to me. For some reason, the stories that did not end with a death were not satisfying. (For instance: I didn't like that one book featured the story of an angry, Type I diabetic. What I knew about the disease I learned from The Babysitters Club and the pretty, blond Stacey who couldn't drink regular soda. It didn't seem like such a big deal, certainly not as serious as Cancer or Cardiomyopathy.)

I've often wondered why I was so drawn to these books that I often read cover to cover over the course of a single Shabbat afternoon. It probably had something to do with the fact that my mother battled breast cancer when I was young. But what about the other readers? I doubt that all of McDaniel's fans had been personally touched by cancer. I don't think a book marketed just to the children of cancer survivors would've been profitable for the publishing company. If the media business had been willing to entertain such a small market share, I would've been able to watch that all-gymnastics channel I dreamed about as a child.

If kids (and teenagers) tend to view themselves as immortal and therefore engage in reckless behavior, how do you explain the appeal of a series of books that made life the exception, not the rule?

(this could've been the title of the all the books in the series)

Perhaps McDaniel understood that all pre-teens (and teens), no matter how idyllic their lives may be, feel inexplicably and hormonally sad. Her books simply gave readers a reason for their unreasoned sadness.

What is certain is that Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, Natalie Merchant and more recently, Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles all owe a debt of a gratitude to Lurlene McDaniel. Without her books, gloomy teenage girls (and their adult counterparts who have never quite left their adolescence behind) probably wouldn't be enamored enough with their own sadness and depression to purchase their songs on Itunes. live One Last Wish!

Conjuring the Dead

Last night I paid a shiva call to a close family friend who had just lost her son. He had been running on the treadmill when he collapsed, possibly due to an aneurysm though I suppose we'll never know since no autopsy was performed. He was 21. (It seems so wrong to use the past tense to refer to someone so young.)

When I entered the house, which is across the street from my mother's, I wordlessly hugged K., the young man's mother. This is how I had been taught to deal with shiva. (Judaism 101: Shiva translates to "seven" and refers to the week after burial when the immediate family is in full out mourning mode and when the community comes to visit with them.) I was told not to say the first word but instead let the grieving individuals do the talking.

Not that I had any words of consolation. I'm a good enough writer to recognize when language falls dreadfully short. When the stories we tell ourselves and others just aren't enough. K. repeated the explanation she had heard from rabbis and friends- that her son was such a tzaddik, such a righteous person that he had already completed his mission. So God had taken him. When I heard someone explain this to K. yet again, I wanted to pull her aside and tell her that she doesn't have to listen to this man's well-intentioned advice if she doesn't want to. That his explanation of what had happened wasn't the only one, that whatever idea gets her through one minute and then the next, that's the truth. But I stopped myself. I was just there to listen.

Eventually K. told stories about her son. How he had purchased a personalized pen for his younger sister. How he had given up late night basketball so he would not be tired for early morning Torah study. How he preferred jogging to taking the city bus. With each little anecdote, she tried to conjure her recently deceased son, to make him tangible if just for a moment.

And then she cried and us along with her. I think we wept at the recollection of this young man and life ended too soon. She cried because these stories were woefully inadequate. Parents do not love their children for what they do. They love them because they exist. You can't tell a story about mere existence. The anecdotes pirouetted around who he had been but did not penetrate his essence. Those stories were not her son.

It takes a mother to realize that.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Gymnastics Branding Opportunity

Gymnasts have been used to peddle a whole host of products from cereal to makeup to tacos, each with varying degrees of success. A match between Mary Lou Retton and Wheaties seemed appropriate. After all, one has no problem believing that the toothy West Virginian chomped down the "Breakfast of Champions," before she vaulted to Olympic victory. (Well, that is if her coach, Bela Karolyi, who once famously told his stocky protege to "eat air," was allowed to digest solid food. But I digress.) Ditto for the recent marriage between Covergirl and members of the 2008 U.S. Women's Gymnastics team. The females of the sport, who seem to buy eye glitter in bulk from Costco, are not known for subtle makeup application.

Less successful, at least in my not so humble opinion, was the recent ad for Ortega. As Paul and Morgan Hamm crunched on some processed corn taco, 2008 Olympic champion Shawn Johnson chirruped, "Ortega makes my taco pop." Not that I have a hard time believing that the Iowa and Wisconsin natives eat a lot of quality Mexican food...well, actually I do find that hard to believe.

Also (and this pains me to admit this about my childhood idol) Shannon Miller's recent spot for Claritin was especially grating and not necessarily applicable to gymnastics. (this goes double for the Ortega ad). Maybe I just don't get it. Perhaps her allergies posed a major competitive challenge. I mean, what do I know about allergies? I'm just a Jewish girl who used to get thrice weekly injections to control my "sniffles" and to keep me from clawing out my eyeballs when they itched.

So if Mexican food and anti-allergens are out, which products should the Olympically successful gymnast push before his/her 15 minutes of fame are up?

How about Metamucil? Or Fibercon? Or any type of laxative?

No, I'm not suggesting that female gymnasts, long thought of as anorexic, push products that may/may not promote weight loss. This is actually an opportunity for the male athletes, who wear a pained expression when holding strength parts on rings that is not dissimilar from the face you make while on the toilet after a steady diet beer, white bread and cheese.

Yes, male gymnasts are the poster boys for constipation!

Yes, Blaine Wilson holding an iron cross on the rings. But from his expression, I would have no problem imagining that he's also trying to push a big dookie out. Gross but true.

Now, put that face on the next FiberOne campaign. It's gold, I tell ya!

Here is Dave Durante representing Chevron. No doubt the look on his face is meant to demonstrate the difficulty the energy company is experiencing in squeezing every last drop of oil from the earth and money from consumers. I have no complaints about this sponsor-sponsee relationship.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Best. Bboy. Name. Ever.

My friend Beth likes to introduce me to guys at bars and parties like this: "Hey, have you met Dvora? She break dances." Which of course elicits several obvious questions: how did you get into break dancing, can you do a head spin, and are you the only white Jewish person there? (That last one is my favorite.)

Tonight at a friend's birthday party at Stitch (just half a block from Zipper. We searched for Button or Seam but found neither. Someone should get on that). Anyway after one of these introductions, a guy told me about his foray in breaking. Back in high school, he explained, he and some friends used to lay out cardboard in the hallway of their Orlando school and attempt some moves. His b-boy name. "Smuckers," he sheepishly confessed.

"Why?" I asked.

"Cause of the slogan. 'With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.'" He laughed and remarked on how stupid he and his friends had been.

I don't know. A name that comes with its very own slogan? Doesn't sound too terrible. Maybe I should switch my name from Tastic to Smuckers.

Perhaps I should switch my name from Tastic to Blossom since tonight I was mistaken for the actress Mayim Bialik (of Blossom fame). Even when I said I wasn't, the guy insisted on a photo. So I posed with him and a friend and then showed him my license to prove I wasn't Mayim.

I'm not sure he left convinced.

Anway: Blossom, Smuckers or Tastic? You vote (if you care).