Sunday, April 8, 2007

A steak the size of my head?

Why we root for the hometeam, why we have Easter bunnies, how Esther became Queen #2, why I ate meat Good Friday.

Which is the phrase used by my commenting helpmeet below about that interminable set of philosophical digressions from two days ago, the blog piece immediately preceding this shorter entry. My head admittedly is smaller than my sons will be, as they have the same hat size of Large/ 59 cm./ 7 1/4 " if you are interested in getting us caps, fedoras, or Stetsons. And not as large as my wife's own cranial circumference, although she "hates having anything on her head." Tomorrow I will wear my Dodger hat with Niall wearing his as we attend Opening Day and I pray for a day as dreary and overcast as can be. Since we will be up one higher tier this year and closer to the sun.

Yes, after I ate the sizable steak-- I was hungry, the potato nicely baked was a good match as it soaked up the detritus from the meat, and all that writing had made me work up an appetite despite a few handfuls of trail mix earlier as noted-- I did ponder my folly. So, am I a hypocrite? If I don't see the bovine's gaze, do I then find it easier to eat Bossy or Bessie? Ok, give me an alternative. The kids won't eat Boca Burgers. I love fish; they do not. Come to think of it, that old restaurant of overwhelming noise and 90s-barren interior City that my wife loved featured a baseball steak, the size of the ball. Although the government tells us in the less frenzied consumerism of the 00s not to consume a piece of meat bigger than a deck of cards. What's a bit ironic is that the wife is now the #1 adult meat-eater in the house and out on the town by far. I rarely order meat while dining. I find I do not crave it like I used to-- perhaps a result of my wife's healthier cooking that she after all had to adjust to since I could not be a vegetarian. In my next blog entry I link to an article on introverts and there's a sidebar to two follow-ups with the author. Both of these gave me insight into the frustrations, burdens, and added energy that an extrovert has to shoulder to carry along, he in this case kicking and screaming, into the world. So, let the record state, on what the introvert author calls the ideal medium for introverts the Net, that I do cherish her herculean (or the Greek superheroine equivalent-- amazonian?) efforts to clean out the Augean stables of my mental and psychological self to get me romping on the turf now and then rather than snuffling in the stable gazing at "wife cancellers" (for this [out of] contextual scene, as I was merely lost in thought as my son #2 also often is-- see her blog entry on me the past couple of days that mentioned my admiration of that introversive manifesto). Thanks, bloggette, for your support and your love for cranky muttering yours truly.

Back to what vegetarians if not our neighbors the vegans prefer, there's other standbys. But, dairy and cheese fattens, and as with eggs tips up my cholesterol level which I have to watch-- must be heredity dealt me a bum deal. Is knowing your progenitor better or not in this regard?

I could keep living on chocolate-covered matzah, trail mix, and apples, pineapple, cherries, or berries for the rest of my born days. Or vary this with a more leavened diet the other 357 days each year. The resident cook has over the decades enhanced exponentially my culinary bravery and gustatory satisfaction, at the comparatively small price to pay of my SID-afflicted resistance which she cruelly weakens by her dubious claims to prolonging "my health." My range of grazing is rather circumscribed as you can see, as I mosey to the shrubs rather than the crops, the grains rather than the cruciferous, the beige rather than the green.

Why can't there be grainarians, and why can't those of us who dislike our veggies survive for more than a few weeks presumably sans vertes? Is this part of nature's tyranny? At least I am thinking about all of this once in a while, so this paschal season of spring pilgrimage and ancient fertility and nutritional commemoration has not been totally secularized into an Easter egg hunt or spring cleaning for me. I did have to haul the chametz out to the cupboards in the garage, which I sleepily wondered about this morning: did rodents get in? Even in the less frenzied manufactured holiday season of the other half of the year, merchants long have thrived on the Peeps (there's a deadpan website about all manner in the lab of testing them for Truth & Science at: ), "kosher for Pesach" potato chips which the wife buys I know not why as she doesn't eat them the rest of the year and I can't figure out what makes chips non-kosher for P anyhow.

As I told Niall over our dwindling portions of ungobbled steak after the missus had daintily retired upstairs, religions all invent rules like players come up with sports. Niall brightened, assuming I had made up the analogy specially for his favorite subject. I said I had it in mind for pedagogical efficiency, in so many words, but that the comparison had long been in my mind. Asking why no swordfish (rabbinates are still not sure about that one as I understand) or dromedary or porker may lead us into anthropological, symbolic, anti-pagan, medical, sanitary, or aesthetic reasons or it may not. It's like testifying why it's wrong in soccer to pick up the ball unless you have a different set of clothes on. You get it and go along or you shrug and play golf.

Some of the 613 mitzvot have a ritual purpose. A second section requires a universally applicable, moral prescription incumbent upon all those numerically representative of a multitude, the 70 peoples of the world as conceived a couple thousand years ago. A time when the monotheists were getting from the elohim-- plural gods-- to the singular noun, clearing the surplus inventory as young Abraham in the midrash swept clean the shelf of dad's Ur-idol workshop. That brings me back to the Ju-Bu statue conundrum that I mentioned last post. Visual reminders of a presence, like snaps of kids in your wallet or photos on my wife's blog, do not attest to slavish adoration of those people or items represented. It isn't like a favorite image means we are praying to it. But, I do understand, having said this, what is the message behind the medium. Our lust for acquisition, of a pantheon, a partner, or a product, is part of that atavistic urge to accumulate, the opposite of a tough-minded, kill those who cavorted around the Golden Calf, orgy-denying, kibbutzim kick-ass, sabra not shetl, desert-forged, anti-urban, IDF vs. everlasting foes, strict rules that you damned well better follow or else, Mosaic monotheism.

Which the Xmas Tree, the kiss under the mistletoe, and the hamentaschen all silently witness to as the danger: the lure of this same Pharaonic, Germanic, Pheonician, Philistine hedonistic past when longings were fulfilled by more organic touts of PR. The idols of the marketplace, long before Francis Bacon. Finally, the third category of mitzvot is that Nobodaddy Abba Pater Noster Deity-driven parental 'because I told you so' lack of a good reason. Kosher (Mary Douglas' learned and personally convincing cogitations notwithstanding), may have been simply a way to keep the Hebrews away from mingling with the Astarte-loving, feminine fertility symbolic Hamen's pocket-munching, promiscuous, child-sacrificing, uninhibited tribes that were constantly on the Palestinian sidelines taunting and tempting the constrained self-proclaimed chosen people. One interpretation of the Mogen David (contrary to sword & sandle pics not a popular Judeac logo, but one that emerged as the recognizable device in early modern times) is that the two triangles represent earth up, sky down, human reaches up, divine leans down, and, most provocatively, aura of Shekinah: male triangle up, female triangle down. Or vice versa?

Yin-yang. Us vs. them. That's the tension in the Torah and the Nevarim, the writings of the prophets, the chronicles when Mr. Unutterable rewards the kids for obeying the house rules, and punishes them if they play at the neighbor kid's house and start talking back: "At Jezebel 's shul or Ba'al's bet they never have to go steady, the guys and gals flirt, they can share their pork pita, and/or happily hump whoever they want. Foreskin not a problem." As then, so now for so many adherents to a code: Hasidism, Shi'ites, Trotskyites, creationalists, Annales historians, Irish Republicans, vegetarians, Marines, jeerers of Barry Bonds, Friends of Hillary, NRA members, and don't forget PETA. Boo Giants & USC. Go Bruins & Dodgers.

We may draw the lines differently for our own battles d'jour, but we love the fight, the loyalty to the Cause, and us vs. them. We value a native who supports the place of his birth, and suspect he (or less rarely she) who has abandoned the home team for that of their new dwelling-- although the traitor in fact is only proving my point of how chameleon-like we must blend in to survive. Shibboleth appropriately connotes this fraught time in early Canaan when the Hebrews hit upon a clever tongue-twister to brutally if permanently separate landgrab MOT from covert goy. Marlene (sorry I keep spelling it the way it IS pronounced, y'know) and I chatted at yesterday's brunch (pics galore at ) on how early the re-invented although barely out of his teens Bob Dylan was able to thrive as a fresh fish in coolsville Greenwich Village by his amazing skill at mimicry, observation of his elders, and habit of never returning hundreds of LPs "borrowed" from his (perhaps short-lived and endlessly shape-shifting) circle of new friends.

We stick to our own, we distrust the interloper, and we expect our records back if we want to keep the trust of our hunting buddies and get a chunk of steak tartare from the zebra. I suppose all the Kumbiyah aside, it's back to those savanna millennia when that one proto-humanoid, female from whom 170,000 years ago left her mitochondrial DNA for all of us to perpetuate unwittingly and often witlessly. Nature's venus fly-trap: sex. And we are told by archeologists and psychologists and neurologists that our brains got assembled to favor our band of brothers over the guys in the next rift valley, our side over theirs when jostling for the hyena's leftovers.

We love to nurture and complicate this tendency towards self-definition within the clan, the team, the fans, the co-religionists, those who vote like we think everyone should. Universal claims to our shared jostle with our drive to seek safety, companionship, mates, and perhaps I hope an evolved sense of humor and inside jokes with a smaller, more manageable, and less homogenous scout troop of identifiably safe humanity. A uniform, a cap logo, a circumscision, a kippah, a burkah, or a t-shirt from the last Cradle of Filth tour may help this search for those non-conformists just like us. Jews separate themselves defiantly from their own Middle Eastern suspect, polytheistic, and happily festivious shepherd nomadic pagan roots. Christians multiplied this divinely sanctioned division into the hundreds of varietals that spring from the root of Pentecost and the upper room. Muslims took it further still, if not as liable to denominational duplication due to their huddling (akin to the local rabbi's coterie) ideologically and practically around a local imam, back to the trusty pre-Mohammedan tribal solidarity rather than the imperium Rome then and now superimposed upon diverse masses, those 70 ancient peoples.

But, as with those primitive, uncontrollable, and attractive urges, the shadows or the neon beckons us back into the rawer, harsher, more severe or luxuriant scenario that we thought by our careful codification of jot and tittle (a phrase deriving from scrutiny of vowel markings on the Torah scroll if I am not mistaken) we had escaped and eradicated after all those centuries. The sly demons and seductive sprites swirl about us from a simpler, if not easier, prequel to our complicated games and laws and stadiums and doxologies and commentaries that we shelter within today. We claim the Hebrews survived while the Pheonicians and Philistines did not. But the mercantile wares of modern traders certainly have enticed many over thousands of years of ten tribes' mythic and mapped wanderings. Palestine jostles still with Israel, and the resolution of this shoving would only lead to what the ancients feared, the dispersal by that mitochondrial DNA into the infants of the race of Ishmael. Or, in Oscar terms, why "East Bank Story" won the short film this year for a comedic look at the yarmulke and the kaffiyeh, Shark & Jet, next to the Jordan rather than the Hudson or the Mediterranean. The appeal of the elemental that mocks our efforts at shomer shabbos or halal makes the minority more militant and the majority perhaps more intolerant. The fence around the Torah: to keep us in or keep them out? What was the official GDR rationale for their wall? Even though all of the defenses were on the side of the people for whom the wall was supposedly erected to protect from outside aggression-- again by the forces of capitalism vs. the embattled seeking a higher ideal of equality, that in turn thwarted and twisted by cynical commissars who entered to become new boss same as old boss.

The clash of such forces scares us and cajoles us. We think we are beyond the clash of conformity vs. consumption, tradition or liberation, saving vs. spending. But, we by our very calendar are tied still to the moon and its reckonings. The stores stock chocolate. The merchants announce sales. The churches and temples proclaim joy. Somewhere, we fit in still-- as post-moderns despite our identification or its lack this holy Spring season. As does Easter, as in teutonic Eostre, as back to Astarte via our heroic and beloved and undoubtably very sexy queen Esther herself.

(P.S. Image 1 from kidschristianunite site: "Esther coming before the King." This innocent caption, for I will not be the one to suffer the little ones to come unto me or risk the sin against the Holy Spirit, reminds me admittedly out of earshot of the sprats of the Victorian pornographic-- or is it erotica-- anthology "The Pearl." Within is a tale of how Queen E. got King A's groove back by decidedly libidinal manipulation and multiple permutation involving not only herself but, before-hand, her seven vestal virgin handmaidens to stir up the jaded satrap-- suffering from if not ED than a prolonged case of "is that all there is" after decades of Hefnerian excess-- for herself as the Purimfest's sweetest hamentaschen. (Which Jewish feminists in Judy Chicago-neé Cohen Dinner Party Georgia O'Keefe inspiration assure we post-Victorian liberated supposedly the first generation ever liberated moderns is more than "Haman's pocket." More like Esther's between the pockets. If our kinder were taught this in training for their bar/bat mitzvah, would this make this ancient faith truly relevant to their own supposedly pre-'tween starved rainbow party crowd?) Tale also relates why Vashti was banished for not putting out for the royal stag party. This part of the midrash may not be as accepted by our fertility-symbolic, fethishistic feminists as canonical, or as one of the duties enjoined upon a devoted helpmeet by her male partner.

(P.P.S. Image 2 from Marc Pedersen's heroic, in Estherinian spirit of rebellious Purim against despots, anti-Peeps research site , which in fairness I must place on this blog along the PETA-defying Peepsresearch site cited earlier. Apparently bunnies, chocolate perhaps, are also victims of this New Pogrom, this Confectionary Holocaust of the Paschal Season and Spring Harvest and Pilgrimage Festivity and Silly Purimspeil-induced sugar hangover.)

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