Thursday, November 12, 2015

To P.T. Barnum: Wish You Were Here

A profound and thought-provoking piece has been making the rounds on Facebook and other social media sites for a while now, BUT IT DID NOT ORIGINATE WITH THE DALAI LAMA. There is no denying that the Dalai Lama is an amazing, brilliant, and compassionate man. Still, I believe in giving credit to whom it is due, and it isn't due him.

That it has been attributed to a man born in 1923 named John James (Jim) Brown -- pen name James J. Lachard -- and is said to be part of a piece he wrote, An Interview with God, is also not entirely confirmed, as it was never actually published by him. But at least there are some clues.

The piece was allegedly found by a woman named Reata Strickland, who supposedly posted it in an online Alabama church bulletin in 2001, never claiming to be the writer. She did, though, have it published a year later, but with her name as editor. The piece ended up making its way around the internet, and as the internet is sadly filled with idiots who have nothing better to do with their time than (at their least) attribute actual quotes to people who had nothing to do with them, and at their finest, pass around miraculous "cures" involving cinnamon and honey for everything from ear infections to cancer, these words ended up superimposed on a photo of the Dalai Lama -- and if it's on the internet, then of course it must be true. Even worse, is that these hoaxters (big success stories!) rely on those who don't check facts to perpetuate these myths, and all I can say is that P.T. Barnum sure had it right. And if you were born in this country and still don't understand what I just said about P.T. Barnum, then you're truly a sad case of the stupids. 

In the early 2000s, three former colleagues (from the mid-80s) stopped speaking to me, because one of them -- a journalist and published author of children's books, mind you -- kept emailing hoaxes to a bunch of people to warn them of any number of things, and believe me, even then all it took was a relatively quick search to find out that these were hoaxes. (She also regularly included me in group emails to participate in prayer chains involving Jesus and saints, knowing very well that I'm Jewish.) The only reason I say "relatively" about doing a quick search is because of the load time back in the day of 64-bit processors, and a lot of people even still had 32s. Why did they all stop speaking to me? Because I responded (to all) that not only was the Klingerman Virus a hoax (if you receive an envelope with a small blue sponge in it, RUN!), but that it didn't take much to find this out before forwarding it, and that a journalist -- of all people -- should know this. Oh, and please stop sending emails to me asking me to pray to Jesus, because I wouldn't send emails to you or any non-Jew requesting that you fast on Yom Kippur.

Being shunned after that -- by people I truly loved and cared about, just because I pointed out that it was a hoax and not only easily checked out, but surprising that it wasn't especially from a journalist -- sent me into a spiral of depression that was probably the second worse I ever suffered. Even after I got help for it, the hurt remained. It took a long time before I became at peace with it; in fact, it took well into the Facebook years until I started seeing this kind of nonsense perpetuated on a daily basis, and thousands-fold. I still try to be diplomatic when pointing these things out to people I know who repost them, but I am starting to feel less compelled to even bother as time goes on (really, where did it ever get me, anyway?) Instead, I figured I may as well air my grievances on my own blog -- after a two-and-a-half year absence! -- despite the fact that Festivus is still a good month away. 

Here is the piece in its alleged entirety, or at least as best as I was able to find. Both line and paragraph breaks may not be true to the original. That is, if there is an actual, documented original somewhere out there. Whatever the case may be, I'm glad I came across this even in its abbreviated, erroneously-attributed form, because it led me to an even deeper truth than the truth of by whom it was authored, although the latter still is of great importance.

An Interview with God

“Come in,” God said. “So you would like to interview me?”

“If You have the time,”  I said.

God smiled. “My time is eternity. That’s enough time to do everything. What questions do you have in mind?”

“What surprises you most about mankind?”

“Many things...
 That they get bored of being children, are in a rush to grow up,
 and then long to be children again.   
That they lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore health.

That by thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present, and live neither for the present nor for the future.

That they live as if they will never die, and die as if they had never lived.”

God took my hands in His. We were silent for a while, then I asked,
“As a parent, what are some of life’s lessons You want Your children to learn?”

God replied with a smile.
“To learn that they cannot make anyone love them.
They can only let themselves be loved.

To learn that what is most valuable is not what they have
in their lives, but who they have in their lives.

To learn that it is not good to compare themselves to others.
All will be judged individually on their own merits,
not as a group on a comparison basis.

To learn that a rich person is not the one who has the most,
but is one who needs the least.

To learn that it takes only a few seconds to open profound wounds
in persons they love and many years to heal them.

To learn to forgive by practicing forgiveness.

To learn there are persons who love them dearly, but simply do not
know how to express or show their feelings.

To learn that money can buy everything but happiness.

To understand that two people can look at the same thing,
and see it totally differently.

To appreciate that a true friend is someone who knows everything
about them, and likes them anyway.

To learn that it is not always enough that they be forgiven by others,
but that they have to forgive themselves.”

I sat there for a while enjoying the moment. I thanked God for this time and for all that He has done for me and my family.

Then God replied, “Anytime. I’m here twenty-four hours a day. All you have to do is ask and I’ll answer. 

People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

-- attributed to James J. Lachard (Jim Brown) 

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Past Imperfect

Another sign that you're getting old: In the car on the way to school this morning, my son mentioned my father (who died many years before he was born), and we somehow touched upon what he did for a living (he was a sheet metal worker). Sam asked if he liked his job...and when I began to answer, I started to cry. I guess I never really thought much about it before. His life was interrupted by the whisperings of war and persecution to come; he left his parents and brother in Europe, where they perished. He ended up doing whatever he could to survive by himself, and then later, to support a family. I remember hearing him eating breakfast in the dark at 5am, and leaving at 5:30 for a long subway ride into Manhattan, and then another subway back into another part of Brooklyn (we lived in Brooklyn, but the area he worked in wasn't directly accessible from our neighborhood). The shop was freezing cold in winter, sweltering in summer. The clanging of metal on metal was deafening. In 1975, I came across documents showing what he had been making in 1973, when he was laid off after so many years, and also his age, which was always a huge secret (my family had a lot of secrets, one of which later proved to be pretty shattering). His salary was $6.50 an hour (still not a whole lot even in 1973), and at the time I found the documents, he was 65 years old. I was 15. I freaked out at that last revelation, and erupted into the kind of hysterics of which only a teenage girl is likely capable, screaming "I've been cheated!" over and over again.

Now, of course, I realize that if anyone had been cheated of anything, it was my father. But he never complained. I suppose it takes a certain amount of living, along with both parents gone, to realize that our parents weren't necessarily happy with their lives. Certainly, they weren't perfect, and I'm not about to follow in the footsteps of those whose who, looking through the misty lens of nostalgia, tend to find themselves rewriting history. (My family was famous for what one cousin referred to as "throwing another length of footage onto the life editor.") But they did what they had to do, and they did it for their children. Meanwhile, whatever hopes or aspirations they ever might have had receded into the distance, never to be revisited. And as they are no longer here, neither will I be someday. I can taste not only my own mortality, but my own failings, my own imperfections. And they all taste like tears.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Next Stop, Assisted Living

I've been getting mail solicitations to join AARP for a few years, but this recent one in particular caught my eye because it included a free gift with membership -- something that actually looked useful. My daughter saw it laying on the counter, and laughingly asked if I was going to join. I told her I might, because the trunk organizer was kind of neat. "Trunk organizer?" she exclaimed. "I thought it was a diaper holder!"

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

From the Diary of Osama Bin Laden

Earlier today, while listening to the news on my car radio, I heard it reported that Osama Bin Laden had been keeping a diary. If it's anything like most people's diaries, one might assume that he kept an account of his hopes and dreams, as well as his day-to-day happenings, both exciting (to him) and mundane. Needless to say, I couldn't help but imagine what some of those entries might look like. Not only that, but just imagine what the diary itself looked like! Was it simple and utilitarian, made of goatskin? A fuzzy purple and glitter-accented number from Claire's? Or perhaps pink and pretty, with Hello Kitty on the cover. Tasteless? Maybe, but just think of the possibilities.

July 30, 2001: Dear Diary...One of these days, I will crash not one, not two, but at least three -- maybe four! -- planes into filthy American landmarks.

September 12, 2001: Dream has (mostly) come true!

December 13, 2001: My video was released today by the imperialist government of the United States and was a rousing success, but I still can't help but think that the caftan I was wearing made my hips look big.

November 3, 2004: This cave is cozy enough, but terribly dreary. It definitely could use a woman's touch. Perhaps it is time that I take a new wife.

January 19, 2006: So some news agencies are claiming that the voice on the tape released today is not, in fact, mine. Of course it is! Everyone knows that the Jews control the media!

August 24, 2007: Stewed goat, roasted goat, braised goat, goat in a blanket, goat fricassee, goat a-la-orange -- when will it end?

March 11, 2009: Abbottabad is rather charming for such a provincial town, but the view from this villa is lousy. Who thought to build an 18 foot wall? Stupid architect!

April 30, 2011: I am thinking of taking on a seventh wife, but my advisors tell me that it would mean I have to up my life insurance policy and pay higher premiums. Bah! What could possibly happen?

May 1, 2011: I have this funny feeling today that I just can't shake. Oh, never mind!

May 2, 2011: It's hot in here.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

In My Wildest Dreams

Although this didn't happen yesterday -- it actually took place about a year and a half ago -- I still find myself sighing in wonder about an event I never could have imagined. Not that what took place was truly unimaginable in any way, but given my family history and all that it involved, I feel like the luckiest person in the world. And it all comes down to this (much abandoned) blog.

On August 12, 2009 I received an email I almost didn't open because from the address and title, it appeared to be spam. The name, although not necessarily a common one like Smith or Jones, wasn't all that unusual, and the subject line said, "It's been a very, very long time." I figured it must be from a company I might have ordered something from way back when or, more likely, some kind of come-on for a sex site (I am forever getting emails offering me the opportunity to increase the size of my non-existent penis). But for some reason, I actually opened it.

It said:


I read your blog today for the first time and I could certainly relate to some of your insecurities, especially since we share some of the same genes.

I'm your long lost cousin Lori, yes your uncle Bernie's daughter.

Oddly enough, I live pretty close to you, in North Hills.

Would you be interested in meeting for a cup of coffee?


Lori, my first cousin, who along with her sister Carol, I hadn't seen (save for one brief meeting in 1989) on any regular basis since 1975.

I was stunned, immediately knocked into a daze. All I could say aloud was "Holy shit," which I continued repeating both outwardly and inwardly for some time afterward. But it sure didn't stop me from responding, and I dashed off an email immediately. We made plans to meet the following Sunday for breakfast at a nearby diner.

It was one of the most wonderful days of my life. And not long afterward, I saw Carol again, too, who as it turned out originally found my blog and passed the information on to Lori. And since then, we have been together on every Jewish holiday -- Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, Passover -- holidays that long held emotionally-loaded memories for me of my immediate family in all its dysfunctional glory, but were now replaced by a sense of peace I never could have dreamed possible. And every bit as wonderful, my children have been afforded the opportunity to celebrate these occasions as well -- with others, not just us, alone -- creating for them warm memories that will hopefully remain with them for the rest of their lives.

Life is good.

Monday, October 12, 2009

On what it's like to have a pathetic, cyberstalking relative

I've been wanting to update my blog for some time now (as you can see, I haven't written anything since back in March), and although I have a lot to say, a certain member of my family often leaves bizarre and "hijackish" comments based on my posts, some of which I have had to delete due to their inappropriateness. Lest anyone imagine that no one could be more inappropriate than I am with some of my observations, I don't use ugly and inflammatory words and phrases like this individual chooses. I also don't try to top the words of others by echoing their style in my comments with imagined cleverness.I realize that what I write is out there for the world to see, and believe me, there are certain topics I have chosen to stay away from out of respect for this person and his issues, but also have had no choice but to stay away from because of this person and his issues. This behavior has even extended to following comments I've posted on other people's blogs, and returning here to echo my words (words which I have chosen to delete, but may retain from now on for legal/security purposes).

What isn't so apparent is that I have software that allows me to access the IP address and roughly pinpoint the location of anyone who as much as opens a page here, if even for a split second. It also tells me the pages viewed and how they got there, as well as entry and exit times, among other things. It has been in place for many, many months. I initially decided to use it because I thought it would be interesting to see where some of my readers are coming from and how they happened upon me, and indeed it has been -- from all over the world, in fact, and just as often accidently as intentional. But then it proved to have a higher purpose of sorts, as sad as that is.

I've changed my comment settings to exclude anonymous comments, which is rather regretful, as there are actually people out there who aren't registered but have valuable things to say, and whose observations and experiences I welcome. Of course, there's a chance that this, too, leaves things open for one to comment using a phony and no doubt, inside joke-type web address (which would be so like him), but then again, I'm watching.

If this person wants to write missives based on his own experiences (individual or shared), starting a blog of his own would make way more sense. This blog may be publically accessible, but it isn't meant to be a playground for the manically mentally ill. There are better ways to be heard, and a good place to start would be in a psychiatrist's office.

Believe me, I have been more than kind.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Oracle at Benson

Although I have been acquainted with a number of my husband’s family members for many decades – long before I actually knew even him – it wasn’t until I became a member of the family myself that I began to realize that just as water seeks its own level, the dysfunctional manage to somehow land smack dab among the similarly blessed, despite all clearly illusory attempts to the contrary.

Like many families, his was largely led by a figurehead, in this case a matriarchal font of wisdom – and for some progeny, one of seemingly bottomless pockets -- known as Anna. As my husband’s maternal grandmother, she was always pleasant to me, and I truly enjoyed the times I spent in her expansive and antiques-filled apartment in Brooklyn, a fortress of a building on the corner of Bay 28th Street and Benson Avenue. She raised three daughters – my mother-in-law, along with her twin sister and an older sister – all of whom I had long been familiar with. While their father was an attorney, it seems he wasn’t a particularly successful one due to certain vaguely described aspects of his personality. So Anna always worked, took care of her family, and ran an all-around very tight ship. In her prime, she loved entertaining, and her house (and later, apartment) was always a place where relatives and friends would congregate and enjoy her skillful cooking and baking.

With such a formidable figure at the helm, I suppose it was understandable that she attained something on the order of living-legend status while she was alive, and sainthood (as is usually the case, unfortunately, even with total bastards) when she was no longer. But also as is usually the case, how things appeared weren’t exactly aligned with how things were, and as wonderful as she was, little by little the reality of how she operated was revealed.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing about her; in fact, it was largely good. However, it might have been a case of good gone too far, which further reinforced her matriarchal status, hard-earned as it was. In every family roles are appointed or otherwise settled into and played out, and Anna's was that of both leader and rescuer. She became so accustomed to earning and saving, that she became for some a secondary (or even primary) source of income -- extending even into succeeding generations. My mother-in-law, along with her husband and children, was not among those benefitting from such generosity, which is certainly to her credit. My in-laws were always hard workers, and instilled the same shared ethic in their children. While others were helped along in many ways, from rent paid, to grandchildren’s camp and college tuitions covered or subsidized, to vacations treated to, no such rewards – none at all, in fact -- were accorded to the ones who displayed any measurable amount of independence and success. Although it was clear to those not so munificently anointed, as well as to others (like me) on the outside looking in, her canonization remains intact to this day, a good 16 years after her death.

To those who benefitted from her financial generosity, she cooked enough for an army; according to my husband and his cousin Saul (son of my mother-in-law’s twin sister, unquestionably the most loving and dutiful of daughters), she served a pound of fish for a dozen guests, exclaiming, “Take, take – there’s plenty for everyone!” To those who made unfortunate choices, she was exceedingly unsparing, resulting in subsequent offspring to expect – and receive – the same. Those who ordinarily neither needed nor expected anything of the sort from her were, however, rebuffed when even a short-term loan of relatively small significance was timidly and respectfully requested. Failure, great or small, was amply rewarded; success of any noticeable degree was punished. Her role as leader of the family was, without question, carved in stone.

A few years ago, shortly after Jeff’s cousin Saul bought a house in our town, our family moved in with him for about a month or so until we transitioned to a temporary apartment, due to unexpectedly having to vacate our home during a large-scale renovation. Our children took up residence in a bedroom housing a lovely maple dresser that had originally been in Anna’s bedroom until she passed away. Like most children (and even some adults), they couldn’t resist peeking in closets and opening drawers. It was in that very dresser that they uncovered a small, robin's egg blue plastic box. Excited at the prospect of what they imagined might be a treasure even Saul himself was not aware of, they opened the box – and found inside a set of false teeth, the sight of which immediately elicited from them a very audible, and in unison, sound of disgust.

Repulsed, and at the same time clearly enchanted by the very personal nature of their discovery, they ran to all three of us – Saul, Jeff and me – to show off their find, with which they made sure not to get too up close and personal. “Are these your teeth?” they asked Saul. “Certainly not; mine are all in my mouth,” he answered. “Those are grandma’s teeth – my grandma, who was your great-grandmother.”

It was a shared moment of absurdity, combined with a certain measure of poignancy, and one I could not let pass without comment. Although she was long gone, a strangely important part of her remained, symbolic as it was. When alive, she dispensed not just money, but her own brand of wisdom; dead, a conduit through which that wisdom was transmitted remained, revealed through the surprising disclosure of her dentures.

“Why in hell would you want to keep something like that?” I asked Saul, laughing. “I don’t know,” he answered. “It’s hard to let some things go; I just couldn’t bring myself to throw them out.” My husband chimed in, “Does she talk to you through them? Give you advice? ‘Saul! Why did you need such a big house – it’s a waste of money!’” he mimicked.

And there it was, the greatest treasure of all, somehow discarded by those who in their frantic scramble grabbed whatever appeared most valuable, leaving behind that which continues to represent Anna’s unending source of knowledge and wisdom. Thanks to the goodness and sentiment of Saul, this relic remains, forever to be regarded by our small cabal with much reverence and joy -- an archaeological find we now refer to as The Oracle at Benson.