Sunday, December 31, 2006

I Went And Saw Borat

I won't even get into why, except that we were going out with friends to the newly reopened Cerrito theater, where you can sit on couches and eat pizza while watching the movie. Anyway.

I am still not sure what to make of Borat.

The impression I had of the 'point' of the movie from reviews was that by being outrageous, Borat gets Americans to reveal themselves as messed-up bigots. This, to my eye, did not occur. In fact, the majority of the Americans Borat encounters behave with an almost superhuman dignity and patience in the face of absolutely ridiculous provocation. He does find a couple of genuine bigots--one genial Muslimophobe homophobe at a rodeo, a couple of frat boys who get very drunk and moan about minorities having all the power. He finds a couple of guys who carry on straightfaced (although rather dour) with their sales routine, (car and gun), while Borat asks about how to kill Gypsies and Jews. But the reviews led me to believe that, for example, the people at the rodeo he attends screamed with approval while he talked about drinking the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq. Actually, they scream with approval when he talks about supporting the troops. As he gets weirder and offensive, they quiet down. The scans of the stands reminded me, in fact, of the scene in "The Producers" where the first big Nazi-musical number goes on. Faces sober up, and get baffled. One man tentatively claps, and then stops when his wife glares at him.

The guy whose Civil War memorabilia place gets trashed is quite calm, and simply asks that they pay for the damage. Alan Keyes and Bob Barr, plus the veteran feminists, behave with dignity in the face of aggressive weirdness. (One thing I did not expect was that Borat would make me feel admiration for Alan Keyes.) The teenagers hanging out in a black neighborhood in the dead of night are quite kind to the nut passing through, and teach him some hip phrases. The Southern etiquette expert he consults is kind too, and when showed obscene family photos, calmly tells him that Americans will not appreciate these. The people whose dinner party he attends are almost superhumanly nice, only kicking him out when the situation becomes intolerable. The Pentecostals are nice to him while speaking in tongues, and tell him that he should forgive the woman (Pamela Anderson) who has betrayed him.

And so on.

So, um, is there a point to this, except for the tasteless over-the-top physical humor? I'm really not sure. None of the 'explanations' of what we're laughing at, or not supposed to be laughing at in Borat really ring true to me.

It's a gross-out fest. It's funny. But it's not 'edgy', 'smart', or 'transgressive'. And it's not all that clever. If you want a really good wacky foreigner's-eye road-trip view of America, watch "The Leningrad Cowboys Go America", which is a much finer movie, even if there are no naked hairy men in it.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Shul Search Continues--Beth El, Berkeley

A year and a half after moving to the East Bay, I still don't have an East Bay shul. I realize that this is my own damn fault. I am still waiting for--oh, I don't know what I'm waiting for. I'm waiting for an absolutely perfect shul to open up down the street from me, and send a delegation to tell me that I can be their first president or something.

Anyway, I got to thinking, how about returning to my roots in Reform? Or at least giving my roots in Reform a chance? So I checked out Beth El, in Berkeley.

There's Torah study at 9:30, Shabbat Shacharit at 10:30. I decide to give myself the benefit of the extra hour...unfortunately the buses are not running perfectly, but at almost exactly the right time I am schlepping up Oxford Street, keeping an eye out for the shul.

And then I see the shul.

It's big. Ummm...yes, it's big. It's modern. And it looks more like part of a college campus than a shul, but I'm pretty sure it's got to be Beth El, not least because there are huge signs up on the fence all around it explaining that Beth El is using green building techniques.

Then I discover that I can't find the service.

Clearly, Torah study was happening in the small chapel that is now full of people talking and laughing, but where the hell the davening is happening, I cannot ascertain. All the doors to what looks like the main sanctuary are locked, and there are signs telling me that due to heightened security, I should go in through the North Gallery doors, but these seem to be locked too.

I meander around for a while, and eventually figure out how to get into the building from the other side, and drift up, until I find the sanctuary. There I discover this:

1. Davening is happening.

2. Davening is happening with a VERY SMALL circle of people.

3. Davening is being led by an ex-employer of mine.

4. I knew she worked there of course, but had forgotten.

5. I don't have warm feelings toward this person.

6. She has noticed me, although I don't know if she recognizes me. She is making eyebrows at me.

7. Possibly because they don't have a minyan.

I tallised up. I joined them. Maybe next week I try the Torah study.

It was distinctly weird, though, davening in such a small group with Ex Employer. It has been nearly ten years. I can't say I was comfortable, but I wasn't that uncomfortable either. More uncomfortable that I didn't know anyone. Maybe it would work out. I found myself thinking that if we didn't have bad blood, I would be fine with what she was actually DOING and SAYING as a leader of the congregation.



1. Not too hard to get to.

2. They appear to have a really good social action committee, with projects I can get behind.

3. The building is weird, but kind of pleasant.

4. The Torah study seems to draw a crowd, and enormous energy.

5. They have a great gift shop. I realize that this is not exactly the most important thing, but...

6. I like the way people dress.

7. It's near Saul's Deli. I had lox and scrambled eggs for brunch.


1. Someone who I really don't want to talk to or see is a spiritual leader there.

2. They got a minyan plus one for the Torah service on a Shabbos morning.

3. The affluence might kill me.

4. They don't have much of a welcoming committee in place. Granted, I could have asked for help.

Does anyone know if there's a way to get to Beth Hillel in Richmond on public transit? transit.511 can't find them.

Friday, December 29, 2006

My Big Fat Jewish-Irish-Scots Irish-Cherokee-Hawaiian-Southern Wedding

This is where we seem to be:


The wedding will be, probably, August 12. I am planning to doublecheck this with a lot of people, but basically, August. We were planning on October, because we have always celebrated October 8 as our 'anniversary'. However, by October he'll be back to school, midterms will be approaching, I'll be working--it will be crazy. If we want a small honeymoon, it will be hard.

I proposed bringing the wedding forward to August, and was met with resistance. This is not because Groomra is sentimental--no, it is because Groomra has learned the October date, and cannot be expected to learn a new anniversary.

"All right," I said. "Why don't we just say that we will keep October 8 our anniversary, regardless of what day we actually get married on?" We've agreed to this, and have worked out that it has some additional nice advantages. To wit, if we forget one, we have a chance with the other, and also, this way we will get to celebrate our first anniversary two months after getting married.


I have invited about six of my girlfriends to be bridesmaids, matrons of honor, attendents, mamans d'honneur, color guard--whatever they want to be called, it's all good. They will wear whatever they see fit--if they want to buy a new outfit, excellent, if not, whatever's in the closet is fine. All of my friends work hard for their money. Many have small children. They all have good taste in clothes. I am not going to make them spend money on a taffeta nightmare they will never wear again. (and there is NO color that will look good on all of them).

However, since Bridezilla secretly wants to put them all in taffeta nightmares WITH BUTT BOWS, I have given some thought to getting a half-dozen taffeta butt bows, with no dress attached, and pinning them to the bridesmaids for the photos.

The groom has invited a couple of friends to be attendents. I think the whole wedding party will gather at the chuppah, and we'll dispense with this business of matched attendents. Too Roman, anyway.


San Francisco City Hall is beautiful and neutral. May be too expensive, may be hard to get the date we want. Golden Gate Park? The Clement Street Bar and Grill? All I've ruled out for sure is the city offices of El Cerrito, CA. NO.


As God is my witness, I haven't the slightest idea.

Here's the problem:

I am, as you may have noticed, Jewish. Groomra is not. Groomra is a cultural Protestant of some sort, but hasn't got the slightest interest in religious matters.

The rabbis I feel close to won't marry me to a Gentile. I don't feel like paying to be married by a Reform rabbi whose sole connection to my family and wedding is that he or she will do the ceremony.

We have friends with Universal Life Church ordinations, and the county of San Francisco will empower a civilian to do marriages for a day. But who? One parent rather than another? One of my friends but not his? We don't have a mentor in common.

Currently leaning to the idea of having a City Hall employee do the wedding, and then we can hand out ceremonial duties at the chuppah later.


(Not imminent, but my mother-in-law-to-be called last night with a list of possible names. No pressure. No pressure!)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Silver Balabusta

I found my second gray hair yesterday. Actually, it could be my first gray hair again, the as the first gray hair disappeared into the hair as a whole, and could not be found again. But second gray hair sighting at any rate.

The fella asked if I wanted him to yank it, but I declined. For the moment I am preserving it. It's an attractive color--my hopes of inheriting my grandmother's seriously silver hair seem to have some possibilities still. (However, the hair starts to go really salt-and-pepper in the forties and then takes about thirty years to reach its peak, so I have some time to go.)

On the one hand, there is the kind of excitement I remember from my period first beginning--and much less discomfort and embarassment. This is a new thing that my body can do, and it's kind of exciting. It's absolute proof of being a grown-up.

It opens a whole new set of questions. Will I dye it? Will I start yanking out the gray ones? How fast is it going to go? Will it get kind of salt-and-peppery before I get into my forties, or will it just stay at a scattering for a while? (My mother's, I recall, did scattering in her thirties, and only really became salt-and-pepperish in her early fifties. My grandmother's ditto. And my hair is really from that side of the family. However, I do have a whole set of other genes, and they're harder to track--my father's hair is such a light brown that we've hardly been able to see the beginnings of his silvering sideburns, and my father's mother has been dying her hair since before I was born. Don't know a thing about the English side's graying tendencies. Genes are a mysterious thing.)

And there's also a sense of regret, maybe even a little bit of panic. My hair is already turning gray (OK, two hairs are), and I haven't even won a Pulitzer yet, or published a novel, or had a baby, or gotten good at a profession. HURRY UP! the hair seems to be notifying me. We're supposed to be in the prime of life here. MOVE! I've hit some kind of Solstice-y balance point--the beginning of wisdom, maybe, and the beginning of the end of hair pigmentation.

But it really looks way cool. I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow. Must ask the hairdresser if she can spot any more in there.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Joseph of Nazareth and his rotten relatives

I have a question about the Christmas story.

Luke says: "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."

Joseph, of the house of David, goes to Bethlehem, to be counted in the census. Presumably, even if his immediate family live in Nazareth, he has extended family in Bethlehem. He shows up in town with a pregnant fiancee..not merely pregnant, but seriously pregnant. And they let her give birth in a barn outside a cheap motel? What is WRONG with these people?

Granted, the town may be jam-packed, but still--"OK, Uncle Yehuda has the couch, Eleazar is in the bathtub, Auntie Chloe is going to sleep in Batsheva's bed, and Batsheva will double up with Devorah. Shimon! Pack up your spare undies. Joe's found some room in the inn's stable, and you'll share that with him until everyone goes home. Whaddya mean, why? Miriam's practically in labor already, and you ask why? She needs your bed, genius! She should give birth in a stable? Your cousin Yosef's first son is going to be put in his swaddling clothes into a feedbox maybe? Aaah, use some common sense!"

It's been suggested to me that the family disapproves of Mary's pregnancy, but why to such an extent, if they assume it's Joseph's child? (I assume Joseph has had the common sense not to go around telling everyone about the virginity, and the dreams, and the angels and everything.) I have to assume there is some famiyl stuff going on here that Luke either doesn't know about, or doesn't care about.

In any event, makes for a much more gripping story than the traditional version, with just the two of them gliding through an angel-filled night--to my mind, at any rate.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


The Balabusta and the fella are engaged.

To be married.

Shortly before the chagim.

In the coming year.

I have decided to embrace becoming Bridezilla. The fella has announced himself as "Groomra", the tuxedoed equivalent to Mothra. Mrs. Bluejeans says there is no such thing in Western culture. Currently we are fighting over the number of people to be invited to the wedding. Groomra feels that any number that goes into double digits is too many.

I want to invite the entire Western half of the United States, plus various East-Coast relatives to share in our happiness. Well, not really, but I think seventy-five is a nice number for a wedding.

Groomra reports that if I think I am having him lifted in a chair, I can forget about it. He will punch, kick, and if necessary, kill.

Perhaps separate dancing is the answer.

Anyway. Details to follow.

I'm happy.

December Highlights

December 6th: Feast of St. Nicholas. Vice Principal only remembers this fact at prayer service. Runs out of building to buy 200 candy canes. With the eighth grade, I put a shoe out in the hall. We are each given a candy cane by the saint.

December 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Watch incredibly cute children do a presentation on the Immaculate Conception.

December 12: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Kindergarten presents. "Juan Diego jumped up and ran all the way to the bishop," intones Ms. K. Juan Diego jumps up, slips, and flops to the floor. Then gets up and runs to the bishop. The bishop does not believe in his vision. "Juan Diego CAREFULLY ran all the way back to Tepeyac," Ms. K announces.

Later on December 12: Feast of the 7th and 8th Grade at St. Colmcille, martyred for doing a very bad job singing a very silly Christmas carol in preparation for the Christmas concert.

Ms. Balabusta helps out with that carol, and following ones, as best she can. During "Silent Night", the choir director leans over to her. "Great," she whispers. "The Jewish teacher knows all the words. And the Catholics..." She glares at the Catholics.

"Learned it in public school," I whisper back, truthfully. Choir director giggles insanely.

I even helped out with "Go Tell It On The Mountain", although I only know the words to that because of House reruns.

It was a bad day. But the occasional insane giggle helps.