Saturday, November 24, 2007


Jews own the world. We dominate science and literature (even science fiction!). Particle physics and cognitive psychology. Banks, news-media and the entertainment industry. So how come I can't find a single nice Jewish gymnast? We are a failure!

Chanukah is a beautiful holiday -- it truly is. The lights, the songs, the family parties. But we do need a Santa figure to complete the picture. I think I'll tell the little ones that the Rebbe comes down the chimney to leave them presents under the menorah. (They already know that he knows who's been naughty or nice, so we've got that part covered.)

After some experimentation, I can report that Jingle Bells is a nice song to sing to yourself while soaking in a hot bath, particularly when it's snowing outside. For the shower, I recommend singing Hava Nagila -- dancing a little jig doesn't hurt. But don't slip!!! (I can't overstate the importance of this last step.)

Xenon forms way too many compounds to be called a noble gas. I mean, xenon hexafluoride? Come on!

A tetrahedron is a beautiful thing.

Is the fact that as pervasive and important a mathematical constant as Pi is an irrational number a simple cosmic accident, or a sign of an intelligent designer with a wicked sense of humor?

Is the fact that sex is messy and sticky and makes you assume weird and bendy positions you'd never assume otherwise a sign of an intelligent designer with a wicked sense of humor, or a sign of an intelligent designer with an adolescent sense of amusement and a slight sadistic streak?

Does Jacob Stein really mean all the mean things he says, or is he simply a misunderstood soul in desperate need of a hug?

Thursday, November 15, 2007


He's dying, apparently.

"Eight months -- at the most." The doctor, wearing a cool matter-of-fact demeanor wholly inappropriate to the words coming out of his mouth, shifts from foot to foot, eager to run to his next patient. He's a busy man; he has additional death-sentences to deliver and poisons that bring destruction but with it, a hope for that most precious of commodities, life, to administer. There's no time today. He rushes off -- morphing from angel-of-death to bearer of good news and later back again, like some grotesque gargoyle sprinkled with pixie-dust -- leaving only shocked silence behind.

Impossible! He's much too young!

"Six months," the second-opinionator said, a bit more glumly. "With treatment."

"And without?"

"Two months. And," he adds casually, "that may be the better option from a quality-of-life perspective."

"No way!"

Yes, way. And so it is. Another person falling victim to the vicissitudes of an indifferent universe. As much as it sucks watching someone close to you watch someone close to her die a slow, painful, confusing death, I imagine it sucks even more to actually die a slow, painful, confusing death. 'Suck it up,' I think to myself. 'Try to lighten the mood. Where's the wit and the humor? Leave the gloom for the blog!' Indeed. Jokes are easy. Some understated absurdities delivered with a twinkle and a phony oh-I-just-thought-of-that spontaneity and you're set. He laughs and laughs, and I feel much better about myself. But when nobody is watching, I can't help but think.

And think.

And think.

What will I tell the children? They're very close to him, and they'll have questions -- lots of them. Even if they won't articulate them, it'll probably be better if I speak with them about it eventually. Of course, we'll need a different approach with the teen-aged children than we do with the younger ones. I cannot in good conscience reinforce the nonsense everybody else will be selling -- heaven and hell and eternal life. Although, I will not be cruel and contradict it -- that wouldn't make any sense either. But I doubt that brings much comfort anyway. All it does is cause you to make stupid decisions.

Like, deciding treatment based on what this or that Rebbe said -- someone they dug up from the far sides of the earth. Are you frigging kidding me??? We're talking about life-and-death here, and you're making decisions on a senile old man's word because you think he is holy and has a special connection to God? The same God that brought this on in the first place! I seethe and simmer, but I don't say anything; it's futile. I have no real word in this, and it'll only cause further pain and suffering. I calm down when I realize we are really talking death-and-death here, not life-and-death. When you don't have much to lose, making decisions based on whatever brings you comfort makes logical sense. Even lighting candles and promising to be good so God won't punish him anymore. Wait....... punish HIM??? Why, you think God misplaced your address and decided to punish him to get back at you? He can't find you on Google? What kind of pathetic deity is that? Oh well. Anyway, what to tell the children? The best approach is probably to explain your own view of life (and death) and how you deal with it yourself, made more palatable for younger ears of course. So, how do I deal with it myself? Good question!

Life is fleeting; death is inevitable. We all need to live a life meaningful to us in the here and now, and enjoy every day as it comes. Life is a wonderful gift, not to be squandered on ruminations of fear and death. Live a good life as best you know how, and you'll have no regrets when the inevitable catches up with you -- be it today, tomorrow, or hopefully, many many years from now. Grab life by the horns and enjoy the ride, because all too soon you'll be thrown off. Most important, make sure people around you enjoy your ride as well -- bull riding in an empty arena is a joyless and meaningless and pointless exercise. Live every day as though it is your last, yes, just like our sages said. You will not go wrong.

What a hypocrite!

What would I do if I knew I'll most probably be dead in, say, eight months? I'm pretty sure it will not be what I'm doing now. There are things I need -- absolutely need -- to say, things I must -- must! -- do, places I'd like to go, before I'm finished here. So what am I waiting for? For a death sentence lovingly delivered, wrapped in white and green with the sweet-sour smell of disinfectant and the cacophony of beeping machinery all around? Or maybe death will come suddenly, like a silent monster sneaking out of a child's worst nightmares and with a sudden whoooosh! is gone again, taking your most prized possession with it? Who really knows? Why am I not taking my own advice? Maybe because some things are best left unsaid and undone. Or maybe, just maybe, because I'm a cowardly fool. Perhaps something in-between those two?

Meanwhile, watching a car roll off a cliff in slow motion -- getting increasingly battered on the sharp and menacing rocks on the way down, each dull thud! a sure sign things are worse and the bottom is closer, waiting for that final terrible sound it makes when it reaches bottom, soon, soon, too soon -- just makes me cringe. Poor passenger. What can I say? Death just puts a crimp in my step.