Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Brian, I beat you to Brooklyn mockery

I want to marry Brian Williams. Not only did he appear in Judd Apatow's video for AJWS singing "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof and not only does he make cameo appearances on 30 Rock, but now he mocks the New York Times' obsession with Brooklyn. On Friday's Morning Joe, he declared, "I think the biggest media story in 2010 was the New York Times discovering Brooklyn." Even bigger than the iPad.

I've often joked that Times never fails to report an event, no matter how mundane, that occurs in my fair borough. I look at the headlines in the morning half expecting to see, "Woman pushes stroller across a Williamsburg street. A new trend." And if that event involves both Brooklyn and Jews -- well, somewhere I'm positive an editor just piddled herself before running the story on the front page.

Brian went onto to list the wondrous things that can be found in the borough -- fancy cheeses, outdoor markets where you can barter goods for beads (just like the Native Americans!) before heading back to your apartment where you live with nine other people. Brian even confessed that he was about to head to the outer borough to go to a "flash artisanal market."

As witty and brilliant as this is, I just want to note that Brian is jumping on my bandwagon. Back in June, I published a piece about this Brooklyn nonsense in the New York Times that I called "Fakelyn." It was not well received the readers. (I was called "whiny" "narcissistic" amongst other things.) So while I welcome you Brian, my brother in Brooklyn mocking arms, I must warn you that you may have just incurred the wrath of some skinny kid with a lumberjack beard and a pair of dark rimmed glasses that he doesn't need since he's blessed with perfect vision.

Here's the awesome clip:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What's a windmill you ask?

Today I went to see a scoliosis specialist for the first time in 13 years. The last time a professional examined my spine was one year after the skilled and eminent Dr. John Hall fused it at Boston Children's Hospital in 1997. When he sent me on my way, he gave me permission to resume gymnastics. Basically, he told me, anything I can manage to do with my new stiffened spine, I'm allowed to do. When I asked if I could somehow dislodge the rods they had screwed into my vertebrae, he said, "It would take a truck hitting you to knock the rods out of place." (He was pretty confident in his handiwork.) To which I replied, "If that happens, I imagine I'll have bigger problems." I was cynical even at 14.

Thankfully that has not (fingers crossed, pu pu pu, toss salt over my shoulder, knock wood - is here some cultural tradition to ward off the evil eye I'm forgetting? Please submit in the comments!) happened but I do live and jaywalk in New York so anything is possible. And in the 14 years since that surgery, I've had very few problems with my back. Unless you count extreme frustration at not being able to arch enough to do a back handspring anymore. It seems that Dr. Hall did his work too well.

A few months ago I started having pain in my ribs and sternum. I thought it had something to do with the windmills I had just learned. Well, to be honest -- windmill. Just one. I could never connect them to do the move continuously. But even just one is an accomplishment and I would've felt better about it had my ribs not ached constantly. I asked the other b-boys if this was something that happened to them when they were learning their mills. Though sore shoulders, backs and hips abound during this painful learning process, no one else seemed to be suffering from tender ribs. I decided to take a break from the move to see if the pain abated.

It did not. And the discomfort was badly situated -- the ribs right under my left breast -- so if I wanted to rub it to provide some relief, I'd have to seem to fondle myself in public. It was a problem.

One morning I awoke with pain in my sternum so severe I thought I was having chest pains, which in a way I was. The bones above my heart hurt a lot and I couldn't distinguish between skeletal pain and cardiac arrest. You'll have to pardon my ignorance. It was my first time thinking that I was having a heart attack.

I rushed to my doctor who told me I wasn't likely having a cardiac issue. (An important note- if you go to your doctor complaining of chest pains, you get sent to a cardiologist, who then puts you through the whole battery of tests. Fun times. So be sure you're having an actual cardiac event.) From my general practitioner, I went to the orthopedist at a dance clinic, who x-rayed my spine. What he saw was alarming and he made sure to present it in the scariest possible terms -- the beginning of arthritis in my upper back (the only part that can still move!) and a little loss of height (I'm 5'4" and shrinking apparently). Basically, I was 27 going on 67. Oh, and he didn't think I should break dance anymore. Cue the tears.

Thankfully, he did prescribe physical therapy. I went, utterly hopeless that it could help manage my pain or keep me from aging 20 years in the next 5 but my therapist is a wonderful, kind, patient woman who slowly started to work on my aching ribs. Your ribs, she explained, are connected to your thoracic spine, which in your case, is mostly immobile. So they've stiffened up a bit and we've got to get them moving again.

Though I had started my twice weekly appointments with no faith in medicine (Black Stripes anyone?), I started to see improvement in the acute pain and stopped taking the anti-inflammatory drugs I had been prescribed. I even began to dream about returning to dancing. I peppered my PT with questions about what I could and couldn't do but she was at a loss. You should probably see a scoliosis specialist, someone who sees this surgery regularly and years down the line. He'd be able to tell you what the future holds.

Which is why I found myself today at NYU's Hospital for Joint Diseases with a friend (for moral support). When I explained to him the type of movements I would like to do, he asked, "What's a windmill?" It's a difficult maneuver to explain so I pushed my chair back and got down on the floor and did a mini demonstration in the examining room. My friend started cracking up but the doctor quite admirably kept his composure. "Okay, I think I get it."

This specialist was much more positive about my future. No, I would not soon be hunched over and crippled. And yes, I could return to breaking (though sans the windmill in my repertoire). And he explained something that should've been obvious -- of course my left side hurt. Dr. Hall had removed half a rib from that side and put it into my back and now there was nothing there to support some of the muscles. Now it all made much more sense.

So now I've got a clean bill of health (or as clean as it can be for a girl with a bisected rib and two rods attached to her lumbar and thoracic spine) and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to dance again.

And here's a windmill done properly (this guy thinks he is a comedian):

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Jewish State Brings a Dysfunctional Family Closer Together

So last week (I know that it's been ages since I posted - apologies), my mother called me. That in and of itself is not worth noting since she calls me at least twice a day. "Are you sitting down?" she asked. As it turned out, I was at the local pharmacy waiting for a prescription and they provide chairs so I took a seat. "So I received a phone call from your father yesterday."

My parents have been divorced for over 20 years and spoke infrequently since the split, and even less so since my sister and I entered adulthood. But about five years ago he began a custom of calling her once a year to thank my mother for raising us to be Orthodox Jews, which always angered me even back when I was observant. I wished the thank you call gone something like this instead - "Thank you for raising my children since I left and failed to support them financially or otherwise." End of sentence. What did it matter if we turned out religiously observant, especially when his own adherence to halacha had been in flux over the years?

When I was senior in high school, my father went to Israel for the first time in years and came back religiously renewed. He grew disgusted with his Reform Jewish wife (his third) whose children had married non-Jews, which is something he spoke about with me often. But I was more interested in where he had found the funds for a lavish trip. (By his telling of it, he had spared no expense.) Every time I had importuned him for some money - whether it was for a computer when I started high school so I could do my assignments or help with college application fees, he had pleaded poverty. But now it seemed that he had money to go on a fancy trip to Israel. I hadn't yet been there. My mom couldn't afford to send me so I was waiting until I was age eligible for Birthright.

"I cashed in my life insurance policies," he said bluntly. "I know it was selfish but that's what I had to do for myself," he explained as though this was new behavior from him. I said nothing at the time. I was visiting him in Florida in the home of his third wife and I just looked down at my cuticles. Selfish was all I ever knew from my father.

In the years since that visit, I've been in touch with him less and less until our contact, whether face to face or on the phone or over email had dwindled down to nothing. Now most of the information I get about him comes from my older sister, who remains in touch for the sake of her children -- she wishes them to have contact with all of their grandparents -- and from the annual calls to my mother.

So why had he called her this time? It has been a few months since Rosh Hashanah and he no longer called to thank her for our Orthodoxy since one of us very publicly fell off the observance wagon. "He is considering making aliyah and needs a copy of our get to prove that he is Jewish." For Jews wishing to move to Israel and be granted immediate citizenship, they need to prove their Jewey bona fides to the ultra Orthodox authorities and since the rabbi who performed his bar mitzvah in the early 50s was probably dead, he needed some other way of showing the authorities that he is indeed Jewish. Hence the call to my mother, who thankfully was also sitting down when she received it. The logic goes something like this -- if he hadn't been Jewish then he wouldn't have been able to get a Jewish divorce. She agreed to go to her safety deposit box to retrieve and xerox the document and send it to Savannah, where he now lives.

My mother and I had a bewildered chuckle at all of this. That my father, at 71, would be moving to Israel where he didn't know anyone and his financial situation, which is precarious in the States would be all the more so in the Middle East. And that the fundamentalist policies of the Jewish state would force such an unusual phone call between former spouses.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Two Hanukkah Videos, Lots of Dudes

Last year, Tablet brought us Sen. Orrin Hatch's Hanukkah song, a gift from the Mormons to the Jews. And then Max Weinberg of the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (do you remember that simpler time when not everyone was yet aware that Jay Leno is a douche?) wrote his own song about the Latter Day Saints in appreciation for Hatch's contribution to the admittedly thin Hanukkah song canon. So what has the 2010 (or 5771) version of the holiday brought us?

All the way from Washington Heights and the hallowed halls of Yeshiva University, we've got the Maccabeats singing "Candlelight," based on Taio Cruz's "Dynamite." It's a little Torah and mada. (Well, technically not really Torah in the Old Testament sense of the word. There is the Book of the Maccabees but that falls outside of the canon. But I digress.)

As you can see, you've got 12 of YU's smooth cheeked finest singing high enough to make Justin Timberlake proud. Am I saying that they sound a little girly? Well, yes. Not there is anything wrong with that. The first concert I was ever taken to was a Miami Boys Choir show so I have soft spot in my heart for boys or men who sing like boys who sound like they haven't gone through puberty. And I know that somewhere out there yeshiva high school girls are swooning over the Maccabeats (especially the one with glasses who looks like Paul Rudd) just as women in Europe used to swoon over the castrati or teen girls went all high pitched for Menudo.

No matter how much I make fun of the video and song, it is undeniably catchy and will be stuck in my brain for at least the next week. Damn you, Maccabeats! (Paul Rudd lookalike, call me.)

I will have a much easier time forgetting "Miracle," Matisyahu's foray into the Hanukkah song genre if not the video, which looks and feels like a bad trip.

It begins with a blond guy in Christmas attire seeming to deliberately attack Matisyahu. (Where is the ADL when anti-Semitism afoot? Abe Foxman, attack!) Our hero hits his head and wakes up in bed next to his assailant, who is wearing a white cinched bed sheet and an olive wreath so obviously he's Antiochus. Matisyahu is now dressed in a sleeping bag with legs (or a North Face onesie) and hockey skates. Antiochus, who is being fed grapes tells him to come to his frat party where there will be grapes, chocolate stuff "and babes" (but in the same way that Rod from Avenue Q told everyone about his girlfriend. You know, the one in Canada).

Modern day Matisyahu is tempted by the "chocolate stuff" (which is hopefully not a euphemism) until historical Matisyahu arrives to set him right. They skate off together into a winter wonderland -- an ice rink filled with snow covered evergreens -- until Antiochus captures them with a net and locks them in Santa suits in a human size birdcage guarded by a demented toy soldier. (There's also a Wookie in there with them.) The video ends with a hockey match, which the Jews win, of course, our own trippier version of the "Miracle on Ice." The metaphors here are subtle, like a hockey puck to the teeth.

Okay, so perhaps both videos are high on cheese and silliness, but sadly both are devoid of women. Matisyahu, I know that the battlefield back in the Maccabees' time was low on women but what about an ice rink, circa 2010? (I know that there was one woman in the video but of course she played a slut at the start and we got only the slightest glimpse of her spinning at the end.). And to the YU boys -- isn't at least one of you dating a Stern girl? I'm not asking for a lot of women -- I know that Judaism is strictly a bromantic affair -- but how about a few ladies who are not scantily clad and dispensing food to a faux Greek while he comes onto another man in bed? Weren't we women part of the miracle too?