Sunday, December 30, 2012

The American Idol

You are not the most beautiful. 

You are not the smartest.

Or the the most talented.


Contrary to what your mother has told you.

You are not the best. 


If you have ever been told otherwise, you have been lied to.

Not only are those "compliments" untrue: they are harmful.

Why? Because those statements are not compliments; they are expectations. They are demands for perfection.

It all began when you were just a helpless infant. “You are just the cutest little thing, aren't you?” they cooed, planting the seed that would only continue to grow. Not only were you the cutest, they told you; you were also the smartest and the funniest. Your identity and self-esteem grew to be wrapped up in being "the best". The pressure to stay on top was reaffirmed each time you were convinced that you were better than the rest. You were taught that your self worth was to be measured by how far your success outweighed the success of your peers. 
Eventually, you started to believe that your champion status was what made you special, and often felt inadequate when you could not measure up. 


Society is obsessed with the pursuit of perfection. We extol success and idolize winners. Consider the Olympics, or the tens of reality shows that have people vying for the ultimate title; a medal for every talent you can imagine is fought for and coveted (even marriage is competed for!). Never mind the fact that next season there will be a new winner, and each season after that. Never mind that the best will always be replaced by better.

Ever wonder why celebrities appear the least secure? Why supermodels do coke in the bathroom at the party? Why talented artists are found dead in their mansions and accomplished actors check into rehab like the rest of us go to the spa? These people are decidedly the closest to perfection as humanly possible, so why are they the most miserable?

Why? Because people are not meant to be perfect, and even if airbrush and plastic surgery can fool their audience for a while, no one can keep it up forever. One day they will be photographed with no makeup on. One day someone younger and more talented will replace them at the top. Grammys and Oscars will just serve as reminders of their "shortcomings". They are miserable because we have placed unfair expectations on them, and the pressure to live up to those impossible labels is just too much to handle.

So if being a gold medalist is your dream, if only coming in first is acceptable, you are setting yourself up for failure every day. It is a fools game to try to be "the best". It is impossible. You don't have to be better than everyone else to be great or virtuous; you have to try to be better than you. There is always going to be someone more beautiful, more intelligent, and more talented than you. And that's okay. You are not the best, and the good news is, you don't have to be. There is nothing perfect about perfection.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Of Prayer


Some prayers are to be played in double bass, low and intimate; whispered like secrets. 

Others are to be played on black and white keys, loud and lyrical; lighthearted. 

And some few are to be screamed, raised from the ashes of the core. They are to be performed on a stage of thousand violins. And they are to reach a pitch so high, only G-d can hear it.


 ***

Mystical Marijuana



We are broken
Well-intended, still we're flawed
An Illusionist performs before us
But we're seldom ever awed

We search for other spirits
Place our faith in clever frauds
We trip on magic substances
Lest we ever trip on G-d

The hunger is profound
It consumes us from within
For it is born of a desire
Far more potent than even that of sin

The lust for any drug
Is a spiritual facade
For it is simply the soul's craving
For a relationship with G-d


Friday, August 10, 2012

How I Feel About Things

How I felt when I thought I was going to Israel for $350:



How I felt when I learned I would not, in fact, go to Israel for $350:




When I'm on a date and a guy asks me what my hobbies are, I'm just like:




















When I accidentally came to work an hour early and was confused about how I was the first one there:


When my friends mock me for riding a shopping cart down Kingston in high school, I'm like:


When someone in CH says "Good Shabbos" to me:



When people don't get my sarcasm and assume I'm just mean: 



When a cop gave my friend a ticket for putting her feet up in the subway she was like:



But I was like: 




When someone who isn't religious asks me what Sukkos is: 




Simchas Beis in crown heights:



Friday night at CAY:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Goyah

If you’ve ever invited an illegal alien to your home to clean for a rate slightly above minimum wage then you should know she's probably stealing from you on the side.

Most of the cleaning ladies we hired practiced thievery. I attribute it in part to the fact that my mother called them collectively “the goyah”. [Thee Goyah] It wasn’t like she pointed at gentiles at the supermarket and called them ‘goyahs’; it was a term specifically reserved for cleaning ladies.
It was epic to watch her fumble for a good term to dub our next ‘goyah’ when Katya informed us that she was Jewish. 
My mother was not prepared to handle this kind of situation, so she did what she normally did with strangers who showed up unannounced at our door; she made Katya part of the family. I would often come home from school to see Katya forcing my mom into her special Russian massage or engaged in a competition to see who can destruct one another's language more better.
You can imagine our shock and dismay when we learned that Kayta was neither Jewish nor trustworthy. Katya was said to have allegedly fled to Vegas, with a handful of goodies, probably to con another family- bribing them with massages and tile cleaner- only to later betray them.

Upon her departure, we went back to trailing the maids as they cleaned and my mother went back to calling them ‘the goyah’.
I suppose I can understand why so many people use this slightly derogatory label. It must be uncomfortable to refer to people who clean our toilets by name; it's hard enough to look them in the eye and ask them if they'd like a glass of iced tea. It's just easier to dehumanize them than to face the fact that we order little foreign people to our homes to do things we deem much too icky to do ourselves.
Since Katya, we’ve employed one cleaning lady, who didn’t steal (that we know of), but it's probably because she was wealthier than we were. Natalia was a pretty Russian girl in her early twenties. She was in college at the time, which was more than any of us could say, and she drove a more luxurious car than my parents did. The fact that she was willing to scrub our floors for ten dollars an hour- when other than that she led a more privileged life than we did-was confounding to us. But she religiously used deodorant and she hadn’t taken anything from us, so as far as goyahs were concerned, she was the cream of the crop.
You should know, however, that she is a stark distinction from the norm. Most of them do not possess a bachelors degree and a great deal of them actually do steal. You make it crazy easy to do, especially since you kind of degrade them, and also diamonds are oh-so-pretty. There's a reason they charge minimum wage, and it's not because they're worried about your finances. Don't let the accent fool you.
*Disclaimer: I am in no way a xenophobe. My mom is foreign and I think the absolute world of her. :) Also, this is all "alleged" as she was not tried in a court of law.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Adam & Eve...and Steve

The Garden of Eden was nothing like I expected. I looked down at Google Maps on my iPhone and it assured me that I had indeed arrived at my destination. 

But something wasn't right. 


For starters, I imagined I might be greeted by an angel of some sort, or at the very least, Adam and Eve themselves would usher me into paradise. Instead, a man named Ty welcomed me into an air-conditioned glass cube. Ty was dressed in a suit. 

I felt like Alice when she’d just been plunged into the rabbit hole. Where were the turquoise skies, the picturesque gardens and manicured lawns? There were no lush green trees, in fact, there was little trace of greenery at all. Luscious plants were substituted with silver gizmos and richly pigmented flowers were replaced by rainbow hued gadgets with white nuclei. And in lieu of succulent red apples, in the center of nirvana, there was a great big monochrome Apple suspended in the air like a shrine. 

Ty led me down a spiral staircase and through rows of wooden tables boasting the latest technologies. Then we arrived before the MacBook Air.

My breath couldn't help but escape my lips in a whistle. It was amazingly, provokingly, arrestingly, beautiful; I wasn't sure whether to cry or bow. 

“Lift it,” he urged softly.

I looked at the price tag.

“Oh no, I couldn’t,” I responded, shaking my head, “I couldn't possibly afford it.”

Ty smiled.

“That’s okay,” he said, “You don’t have to buy it; just feel how light and feathery it is.”

I was tempted. But I knew how these salespeople worked. First they would assure me that I wouldn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to. They would then take me through a Powerpoint presentation, illustrating the kind of life I could have if I were to indulge. A good salesman would make me wonder how I lived for so long without the product. And in the end, when I swiped my card and took home yet another toy I never needed, they would lead me to believe it was my idea in the first place. Then they would pocket the commission.  

“Go on,” he coaxed, gently nudging me toward the mouthwateringly thin, gorgeously sleek laptop.

Despite my better judgment, despite the voice in my head, and despite my celebrated self-control, I reached down and picked it up.

It felt like a cloud in my hands.
  
I thought about my chunky HP back at home; a heifer in comparison. Although I had to admit I liked the comfort of the familiar operating system, PC’s just seemed  so- I don’t know…90’s. In the war of Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs, it was obvious which would win. 

Ty’s coaxing had absolutely nothing to do with this decision. I came to this conclusion on my own. My PC was constantly contracting viruses and more importantly, it didn’t have an Apple logo on its face.

I needed MacBook Air.

Oh come on, don’t judge me.  You’d have done it too; in fact chances are you already have. Even Eve understood the lure of an Apple…

***
Moral of the story?

Never trust your GPS. My iPhone hadn’t led me to paradise. It certainly wasn’t the Garden of Eden. But there were snakes. Tens of them. Charming, cajoling, sweet-talking serpents.

And they’re not just at the Apple store- they’re everywhere. They’re in the dressing rooms at Barneys. Driving glossy Mercedes’ on your way to work. They broadcast on your LED flat-screens and parade on the billboards at the side of the Manhattan Bridge. They’re dressed in suits on Wall Street and wearing Chanel on Fifth. They convince you that the key to happiness is everywhere but within you.

So you want the real moral?

Never trust a serpent in a suit.    


Monday, March 5, 2012

When Stealing is A Mitzvah Part Deux

When I was a kid my father called me “Mushka Pushkah” and it gave me a sense of entitlement to all things Pushka-related.

One day I was playing in my father’s office when I saw the very thing that rhymed with my name. It stood there enticing me, teasing me with delicious coins and beautiful green bills. “Free money!” it seemed to call, “Mushka Pushkah’s free money!”

Although the ramifications of stealing had not yet fully matured in my conscious, I was aware that it was considered undesirable behavior. But here was the good news: a) I was alone b) we had a plethora of tzedakah boxes in my house and c)  my parents believed Mushka Pushkah could do no wrong and didn't believe in punishing cute things.

When I was sure the coast was clear, I scooped up the canister in the bottom of my dress, folded it up and scurried behind my living room couch. Once in hiding I dumped the contents on the floor and began to gleefully count my treasure.

I had not yet gotten to five dollars when I felt something breathing on my head. Startled, I looked up to see my big brother Nochum, who appeared extremely triumphant to have found me in this compromising position. My face grew hot and I got a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. An odd sense of shame came over me when I realized that my parents would soon learn that Mushka Pushkah could, in fact, do wrong.

“Omigosh, you’re a ganiv!” he shouted.  

“No, I amn’t!” I countered defensively. I wasn’t entirely sure what “ganiv” meant but from the tone in which he said it I was roughly certain it didn’t mean “bubalah” or “tzadeikis” or any of the other things my parents told me I was.

I tried to think of a good reason for why I was counting tzedakah money in secrecy but before I could get another word in he had already skipped into the kitchen, chanting, “Ganiv, ganiv,” and other things that made me feel very uncomfortable. My indiscretion seemed to both excite him and bother him a great deal.

Timeout gave me time to reflect on what I’d done and consider what it was that had led me to this particular act of immorality. I did not need this money, I reasoned. I had other means of obtaining things I wanted without paying for them myself. When my mother took me to Tops I would sneak Gushers and Fruit-Roll-Ups on the conveyer belt when she wasn’t looking. In addition, I solicited money from guests who frequented my home- a rent fee, if you will. Then of course there was the allowance I earned from entertaining my father when he was bored. I was wealthy kid, with over ten dollars in honest savings, so it was difficult for me to pinpoint the psychological implications of my behavior. But the thing about soul searching is that it is awfully exhausting, so after counting to twenty a few times in my head, I attributed my delinquency to the adrenaline rush and promptly released myself from Timeout.

I left a new person. I was rehabilitated and ready to put this incident behind me. But it appeared that Nochum wasn't quite as ready. The next day at school, a random boy marched over to me, said, “I heard you’re a ganiv” then walked away. Now I had forgiven Nochum for lots of things in the past, including but not limited to subtly pinching me in the hallways between classes, attacking me with a bomb called eau de toilet and demonstrating the art of Indian Burns on my arms . But this was a whole nother level of cruelty. This was the end of my reputation at Jewish Heritage. I was finished. I would not be able to sit with the cool kids at lunch or participate in Elimination at recess…unless something drastic was done to divert attention away from my questionable ethics. I had to reinvent myself- and quickly- before I was outcast. Goody, I thought to myself, here was a chance to showcase my spectacular talents. 

The Boss of Me

"What is the name of the account holder’s first childhood friend?’ inquired the Sprint customer care representative, assisting me on a case of unlimited texting. How Nochum came to acquire the noble position of account holder, I'm not exactly sure, but in any event, he did.

I took a moment to recall the crowd Nochum ran in back in the day. Easy. I was there.  

“Jonathon,” I offered.

Incorrect.

“Aaron?”

Also not true.

“Is it me?” I asked, hopeful.

“Possibly. Who are you?” she asked.

“Mushka.”

“Oh, then no.” 

I went on to name all the kids he went to preschool and elementary school with. None of which unlocked the account. After my sixth or seventh try it had become evident that I did not know the account holder’s first childhood friend and likely that I did not know the account holder at all. 

Puzzled, I called Nochum. “Who was your childhood best friend?” I asked.

“Why?”

“You know why.”

I could practically hear him smile over the phone. Oh, the quality of our Sprint service. 

"Ah, you want the answer to the secret question..." 

"Yeah."

There was a short pause as he debated whether I was worthy to be granted permissions to enter the sacred Sprint account. 


"Fine," he said.


"Shmuel Munkis."

He said it matter of fact, like perhaps I should have known. Of course I should have. This had Nochum written all over it. He has that subtle kind of humor that makes you wonder if he's trying to be funny or actually is. It was also obnoxious. But I had to commend him for his genius. He made complete fools out of every one of us, including my parents who listed about ten different nicknames for Jonathon. Jonny, Jon-Jon, Jono were all tried, in desperate attempt to break the code. But Nochum was always one step ahead and now find it nearly impossible to answer the secret question without giggling, which in turn means I can’t add more ‘’amenities” to my plan. Was this the idea all along? Possibly. I believe Nochum to be the secret family mastermind. For all I know he pays my tuition, runs the Jewish Discovery Center, wires us weekly allowances and collects our airline miles all from his dorm room in 1414. 

Thanks bro. You're all kinds of hilarious, smart and ridiculously good looking....

Ps. Can I get unlimited texting?