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Archive for July, 2011

The other day, I was sitting the lawyers’ lounge at one of the local courthouses, chatting and joking around with friends and colleagues after a morning in bail court when I suddenly remembered that I’d not turned on my cellphone after coming out of the courtroom.

No sooner was the little gizmo was up and running than I received that tell-tale sound and vibrating buzz which heralds the arrival of a new text message.

It was from my daughter, Exhibit One. “Picked up my diploma today!!”

I immediately sent her a reply “Mazel tov!” text message telling her how proud I was of her.

Sitting there, I took a deep breath as the moment washed over me. Four years of university. Four years of high school. Eleven years of Hebrew elementary day school, including nursery, junior kindergarten and senior kindergarten.

Surely it was only a couple of years ago that I stood on the sidewalk outside the Hamilton Hebrew Academy waiting to pick up my little girl from kindergarten.

Surely it was only a few years ago that I stood in a basement apartment in Montreal, holding my three-week old daughter at three in the morning, humming an old Fats Waller tune to get her to sleep after I changed her diaper.

Next week, she flies off for her second trip to Israel this summer.

In September, she turns twenty-two.

My thoughts then turned to my son, Exhibit Two.  A real mensch. A genuinely good young man – kind, sweet, generous, big-hearted, loving, tall, smart, handsome. In two years, he will graduate university as well. He has far exceeded all of my hopes and expectations for him. I could not be prouder of him.

I am overcome with how truly lucky I am to have such wonderful kids.

May G-d continue to bless my children, now and always.

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Breaking up is hard to do, as Neil Sedaka will freely attest. (Ask your parents)

How much more so when the object of your former affection is one of the living dead or even one of the undead.

Every relationship has its ups and downs and being involved with the ‘less than alive’ is no exception. But even within the most committed of couples, we sometimes find that, over time, the ‘significant other’ is not the only thing dead in the relationship.

It’s at times like these that warm-blooded partners must come to a decision… how to break up with the vampyre or zombie in their lives. It’s fraught with danger… both emotional and physical.

Ending a vampyre-human relationship is, in many ways, the trickier of the two. Many vampyres are quite old and if anyone’s heard the “It’s not you, it’s me!” line more times than they’d like to remember, it’s them. Unless skillfully played, you might find yourself in the unenviable position of trying to speak without vocal chords.

Here’s a helpful hint. Before breaking up, chow down on a big caesar salad with extra garlic, some garlic bread and… why not go for broke… pasta with a zesty garlic tomato sauce. Being dumped by someone with toxic breath takes a bit of the sting out of it for the vampyre.

If it seems that you’ve tried every break-up strategy in the book, you might want to resort to more drastic measures. Try ‘absent-mindedly’ opening the drapes on a sunny morning. If not fatal, this technique might prompt the vampyre into breaking up with you first. Win – win!

Be warned, however. Vampyres have been known to become attached to a partner to an unhealthy degree. It is not uncommon for a vampyre to consider a 30-year-old relationship as still being in the honeymoon phase. But with patience, a steadfast determination and some wooden stakes as back-up, you should be able to navigate the break-up with your heart (and throat) intact.

Zombies are a different kettle of rotting fish altogether.

The bad news is that, for almost every human involved in a zombie-love relationship, things begin to deteriorate at about the same time as… well… the zombie. This almost invariably begins at the time that the significant other begins to show signs of going flat-line. You need to act fast.

Subtle hints won’t work. Obvious hints won’t work. Often times, spelling it out in no uncertain terms won’t work.

Also, as with the vampyre, timing is key. You don’t want to wait until your partner goes The Full Zomb. Just before your former soul mate starts thinking of you less as the love of its life and more of the main course of its dinner, you need to take drastic action. Use the last shred of the almost-zombie’s humanity against it. Give out with the big puppy dog eyes, the trembling chin and ask for one last loving hug. Just as the soon-to-be-ex-partner is about to come in for the final snuggle, put the barrel of your .38 snub nose to its head and give ’em two in the hat.

It’s not easy… but it has to be done. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

There is no room for hesitation. No room for second thoughts. You may only get one chance. Don’t wimp out.

Your love for the rapidly vanishing human that your partner used to be may, at this stage of the relationship, be your worst enemy.

Remember these important words… “It is our inability to guiltlessly murder loved ones that will bring about our ultimate downfall!” [1]

Good luck!

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[1] For this and other bon mots, see Cracked.com’s  “Which Apocalypse Would Be The Most Fun?

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Around noon this past Friday, I had the great pleasure of getting together with my dear friend, XUP.

For those who may not know her, she is the blogger par excellence of XUP (aka Ex-Urban Pedestrian). [1]

It was great seeing her again.  She chose the spot. A little joint not far from her office. Nothing fancy. Just a nice place to sit down for a while and chat and get caught up now that she and her daughter, XUP Jr, FINALLY moved down to Toronto.

She was gorgeous, as always. Radiant good looks. Engaging smile. Lovely outfit highlighting a delightful frilly sleeveless top. The whole bunch of bananas.

Looking back, I think at least some of what happened afterwards involved that frilly sleeveless top. Emphasis on the sleeveless.

As some of you may have noticed, much of North America has been groaning under an oppressive heat wave. Last week was, so far, the worst with record highs and a heat index well over 110 F. Judge my exultation, then, when I discovered that the air-conditioning in the above-mentioned little joint was operating at mid-season form! Expecting that my dear friend was not yet used to the sub-tropical climate of Toronto, I thought she would be grateful for my choice of a table at the cross winds of two powerful A/C units, liberated, no doubt, from some industrial meat-packing establishment.

It was not long after this vision of a woman slunk down into her seat, all languid and wan… wilting, I presumed, from the scorching day outside… that I noticed the tiniest of shivers in her delicate bronzed shoulders. I didn’t think that what I was saying at the time was particularly gripping, so I wrote it off as ‘one of those things’. Then a few moments later, another shiver… followed closely by a tremble, then another very distinct shiver.

“This place is <expletive deleted> FREEZING!”, she exclaimed.

I was nonplussed. I hadn’t expected to hear those words for at least another six months.

I stared at my dear friend as she hugged her arms together.

Understandably perplexed, I was about to offer her my suit jacket in a manner that would have made Sir Walter Raleigh proud when suddenly I realized I hadn’t worn one on the walk from my car. This was most likely due to the sweltering heat.

And yet, there she was… trembling like a leaf. Or rather, like the last leaf of autumn clinging to a wind-blasted branch in late November.

“May I get you a hot beverage?” I asked, watching her lips turn blue.

She shook her head, her teeth beginning to chatter.

We cut our reunion date short and walked outside where she seemed more comfortable. We sat in the charming little square in front of her monstrously huge and imposing office building. I was relieved to see some colour return to her cheeks and fingers.

I suppose our first post arrival get together could have done a bit better. We’re going to plan another one soon. I doubt we’ll be returning to the little joint. I’m sure XUP will pick another place with fewer climate control issues.

This time, I will remember to bring along a parka for her. Perhaps some stiletto mukluks. No sense throwing Form under the wheels of Function.

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[1] Shameless plug alert! You HAVE to read this woman’s work. She is an inspiration to me and many others. It was, in fact, XUP who provoked me into starting to bl*g myself. If you hate my writing, don’t blame XUP. If you like my writing, she gets much of the credit.

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My house is over 100 years old and doesn’t have central air. And I don’t have air-conditioning units hanging in my windows. (Long story. Don’t want to get into it right now!)

On weeks like this past one… and especially on days like today when the temperature is at about 95F and the heat index is over 110F, I hide. Preferably someplace cool, dark and underground.

My basement is sometimes a good hiding place but this year, I thought my 3-H (HHH = Heat & Humidity Hideout) should have a more social element. Much as I enjoy the solitude of my basement, I felt that I would try and add a new dimension to it, at least until I can learn to master estivation. [1]

I decided to hole myself up in one of the local courthouse libraries. I could hang out, socialize with my fellow criminal defence lawyers and, best of all, catch up on my reading (6 back-issues of Rue Morgue magazine, The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War as well as Incubus Dreams, an Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novel by Laurell K. Hamilton).

The next decision was… which courthouse library? The one closest to me was literally underground but somehow not as refreshingly cool as another courthouse about a 20 minute drive away.  The closer courthouse library had fewer people coming in which presented a bit of a problem in that, while it would be quieter and would not interrupt my reading, it would by the same token not afford me with the much-desired aforementioned social element. Also, being underground, cell phone reception was non-existent.

The farther courthouse it was then! I headed up there with the A/C unit in my car on full blast.

The one block walk from the parking area to the courthouse was most definitely hot but manageable. I went up to the third floor, grabbed a seat strategically located in between the cross breeze provided by two electric fans and settled down to a nice day.

It was great! Went through all my copies of Rue Morgue. Read quite a few pages of both The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z. I even managed to get through several chapters of the Anita Blake novel. The problem arose just after 5:00 pm. According to reports, the day was scorchingly hot. Even the slight breeze did nothing to relieve the oppressive heat. I now had to face the prospect of walking a block in the blistering heat only to arrive and an equally blisterlingy hot car.

I could have stayed in the library longer and, given that my house was not air-conditioned, probably have stayed until well after dark, but I promised to meet someone at a cafe at 6:00 pm. I was also expected for afternoon and evening prayers at the Chabad shtiebel in Niagara Falls.

When I got to the cafe, it was closed as a result of the excessive heat. I guess the air-conditioner and ceiling fans weren’t enough to keep customers cool. So my friend (and Upcoming Zombie Apocalypse co-conspirator) retired to a nearby restaurant which was dark and relatively cool, albeit not underground. Hey, you can’t have everything.

Finally, off to afternoon-evening prayers at the Chabad shtiebl in Niagara Falls. Definitely underground… by two floors. Not all that dark, really. But while the little room we use as our synagogue is generally quite cool and comfy, something went awry and the place was rather toasty and muggy. Add a dozen or so fervent hasidic Jews plus about 90 minutes or so of prayer time and I was almost looking forward to getting out into the night air.

Made it home after a luxurious 25 minute drive with the A/C on full blast once again! Flopped onto my bed with the electric fan beside me and tried to get as much sleep as I could.

And that is how I managed to make it through the hottest day (so far) of the summer of 2011.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… Each city should erect a statue to the man who invented air-conditioning!

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[1] To spend a hot, dry season in an inactive, dormant state, as certain reptiles, snails, insects and small animals.

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The Twilight phenomenon… the four-book series by Stephanie Meyer and the Twilight Saga films based thereon… have not only achieved an astonishing popularity especially among teenagers and young adults but also a commercial success that is impressive, even by publishing and Hollywood standards.

As a confirmed Vampyre Snob [1], I have so far resisted both reading the books and seeing the movies.

What I have done over the last few years is speak to many people, mostly teenagers and young adults, about their personal opinions on the Twilight phenomenon. As a vampyre enthusiast, the whole spectacle intrigues me, albeit not so much as to make me want to partake in it myself… at least not yet.

What I immediately observed was the great divisions splitting the readership and viewership of the entire Twilight experience. I noticed many groups and sub-groups, some quite hostile to one another.

One of the first people I had occasion to speak with extensively on the subject went on at great length about the first book in the series, Twilight, published in 2005 and the film adaptation thereof, also entitled Twilight, released in 2008. The conversation took place within a month of the release of the movie and she was livid. She loved the book and looked forward to the movie with great anticipation. According to her, she could not have been more disappointed. This observation was fairly wide-spread within the sampling of Twilight fans with whom I spoke. There was general agreement, however, that by the second film, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, things had improved and the movie was of better overall quality and was more true to the book. Most viewers agreed that the success of the first movie gave the studio more confidence to give the film version of New Moon a bigger budget and better quality of film making.

One of the most amusing of the divisions, for me at any rate,  was the ‘Team Edward’ vs ‘Team Jacob’ split. Edward Cullen is the lead vampire of the series and Jacob Black is the werewolf. Both young men vie for the attention and affection of the female lead, Bella Swan. It was natural that Twilight fans would split, one side rooting for Cullen (Team Edward) and the other supporting Black (Team Jacob). The Onion produced a very funny ‘news piece‘ in June of 2010, about Al-Qaeda calling off an attack on Washington to spare the life of Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, parts of which deals with the Team Edward – Team Jacob split.

What is less discussed, perhaps for obvious reasons given the age of most Twilight fans, is the departure from the classic gothic paradigm of the vampyre as both a sexual and quite literal predator. From what I understand, the Edward Cullen character does not drink human blood but instead consumes animal blood. Also, based on my conversations with Twilight fans, much of the Twilight books and movies are taken up with Edward and Bella’s unconsummated love and yearning for each other. This, to my mind, misses the entire point of vampyre fiction. A vampyre that is not out to bite you and drain you, or anyone else for that matter, of blood? A vampyre that is both virtually toothless (pun intended) and celibate? A vampyre that is not destroyed by sunlight but merely ‘sparkles’? From all I can gather, the Edward Cullen character is the decaffeinated espresso of vampyres. Sure… you could have a decaf espresso and I am sure more than a few people do but… what’s the point?

I am not sure if I will ever read the books. I doubt it. My impression from the conversations I’ve had with Twilight fans is that they are written pretty much for teenage girls. I may break down and see the movies at one point but probably not for a while.

The two-part film adaptation of the final book, Breaking Dawn, is presently being filmed. Part 1 is expected to be released in November 2011 and Part 2 in November 2012. I’ll revisit the subject then to see how the Twilight fans react and if there is anything there that will cause me to change my mind on whether I will either read the books or watch the movies.

Right now, I am reading the Anita Blake: Vampire Slayer series by Laurell Hamilton. Much more my speed. [2]

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[1] See my previous piece on the subject of my vampyre infatuation and snobbery.

[2] ‘Speed’ is a very loose word when describing my reading of the Anita Blake series of novels. One vampyre girl I know (who, btw, provided me with much of the information for this piece) constantly mocks and ridicules me for how long it takes me to finish one of Hamilton’s books. I basically read at the same speed it takes one to recite the book outloud. She, on the other hand, can polish one off over the course of a long weekend.

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This is a nice way to serve chicken and potatoes. It is my own variation on one of my mother’s recipes. Makes a great Shabbes dish.

Ingredients:

One kosher chicken, in parts; or 8 – 10 chicken thighs

8 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths

4 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed and minced

2 sweet onions, diced

one medium-sized celery stalk, finely diced

4 tsp dried rosemary, crushed a bit, (fresh rosemary optional)

6 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt & lemon pepper (optional)

fresh lemon juice (optional)

baby carrots (optional)

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F  (190 degrees C). In a large mixing bowl, add half the garlic, onions, celery, rosemary and olive oil. Put the chicken pieces in the bowl and toss to coat all the pieces of chicken thoroughly. Remove spiced chicken and set aside. Add other half of garlic, onions, celery, rosemary and olive oil to mixing bowl. Add potatoes and toss or stir to coat all the potato pieces thoroughly.

Empty chicken and potatoes into a large baking pan. [1] Add a bit of water to prevent sticking. Bake covered for 30 min.

Remove cover and bake uncovered for another 20 minutes. Check to see if water is almost gone. If so, add 1/2 cup of dry white wine. Turn chicken pieces to brown the other sides. Bake for another 10 minutes.

Notes & Observations:

For extra flavour, baste chicken and potatoes every 15 minutes or so. This will also help you keep an eye on whether the liquid disappears too early.

Sometimes, I like using small red potatoes, quartered. You can even try it with white or red (or white AND red) mini potatoes or fingerling potatoes.

If you are using fresh rosemary, add half the amount as dry rosemary. Also, you might want to add two sprigs of fresh rosemary on top of the chicken and potatoes. I crush the dry rosemary a bit, braking up the leaves since a nice long dry rosemary leaf can act like a little spear in your mouth. Not nice.

I like adding a bit of coarse kosher salt and lemon pepper into the mixing bowl along with the olive oil and vegetables. That way, the chicken and potatoes are evenly coated. If you prefer, sprinkle a tiny bit of salt and lemon pepper onto the chicken and potatoes once they are in the baking dish.

If you like, add several baby carrots in with the chicken and potatoes.

Sometimes, I shpritz a bit of fresh lemon juice onto the chicken and potatoes when I uncover them.

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[1] I like to place parchment paper along the bottom of the baking dish to prevent sticking… and the awful pain in the tush it is to clean a baking dish that has chicken and potatoes baked and caked onto it.

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It was about the year 1979.

At that time, I was working as a stage manager and lighting designer for Theatre Passe Muraille in downtown Toronto. Often times, work would end after dark unless we were running a show, in which case I’d leave the theatre well after midnight.

I’m not exactly sure how I first started noticing Goth Girls. I seem to remember catching them out of the corner of my eye, just at the edges of my peripheral vision.  A streak of black… a blurred white face as I turned to look, not quite knowing what it was I was looking for.

But I do remember the first Goth Girl I saw head on. It was on Queen Street West, between Bathurst and Spadina.

And it was just like in a movie. Everything else blurred and went into slow motion as she approached, walking toward me on the sidewalk. She was a vision in pale white face and black mascara. Lacey Victorian-style top with a large crucifix of pewter or stainless steel and big black and red stones around her neck. The skirt was full and came to just below her knees. Tall heavy boots with big heels. She wore these lace things on her hands that continued up past her wrists.

Her skin was alabaster. Her lips were blood-red. Her eyebrows were heavily penciled.

I walked slowly towards her, transfixed. Just as she was about to pass, she looked at me, one eyebrow arching slightly… and then she was gone… a dark shadow dissolving into the night.

I was smitten.

I remember having lunch with a friend the first time I saw a Goth Girl during daylight hours. She was sitting alone at a booth, reading. I’d like to think she was holding a copy of The Collected Works of Edgar Allen Poe but in all honesty, I can’t remember the book. I couldn’t help staring at her. I was mesmerized. At one point she glanced over and must have noticed my embarrassed look at having been caught gawking at her. She gave the tiniest of smirks before returning to her book.

Over thirty years have passed since those very first briefest of encounters. I see a goth girl occasionally but it seems to me that these days, it is more a fashion choice rather than a lifestyle choice. They’re dressing goth and acting goth without actually being goth.

To my mind, those first Goth Girls weren’t kids in from the suburbs. And they weren’t high school age either. They were in their 20s and appeared to be downtown girls. I saw them reading or going to experimental theatre productions, ‘art house’ movies and poetry readings. They weren’t bored eye-rolling teenagers. They appeared to be intellectuals who were rebelling against societal and fashion norms not because it was ‘cool’ but because it was who they were. The black ‘ugly’ (to my mind, beautiful) exterior was meant to be an outward manifestation of what was going on inside.

I once heard Goth Girls compared to stained-glass rose windows in cathedrals. From the outside in the daylight, they look dark, ugly and unimpressive.

It is only once you step inside that you can see the exquisite artistry of the rose window. Only from the darkness within can you truly appreciate its elegant beauty.

Over the next few months, I saw more and more of these dark angels of the night. I never spoke to one. Never approached one to speak. Never went goth myself. I just admired them from afar.

I don’t know how many (if any) of those original style Goth Girls exist. I’d like to think that despite all the wannabees, there are still a few young ladies out there who exemplify the ideal characteristics of what it was to be a ‘real’ Goth Girl.

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