Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: September 2009 (page 1 of 3)

Don’t Stop Believing

It is Midnight, the last day of September. My September journey is over. In the beginning of the month, I agreed to blog every day of September, and if I did, a certain female blogger would tell me her bra size. It was a noble cause and I fought hard till the very end.

One of the things I learned on this blogging journey is that you end up writing a lot of bad stuff when you blog every day. But I also learned something else. There is a truth to these bad posts that you don’t always find in polished work. Most of us are filled with anxiety and fear. And this sneaks out, like a sly fox, when we least expect it.

Unfortunately, my journey this month was not a success. I missed two days this month, where I didn’t write. I didn’t know this until I glanced at my archives. I’m not sure how this happened. I screwed up. I will never find out this blogger’s bra size.

But maybe it is better. Lately, I have been feeling down about blogging. But with the Holy Grail still out there, calling my name, I must continue, like the Knight who vowed his unrequited love to Guinevere.

“Don’t Stop Believing,” she says to her loyal Knight.

The Journey remains. Just not every day, cause blogging seven days a week really sucks.

Virtual Blogging Conference – Day One – “Being Practical”

I was reading some of tweets from a recent blogging conference, and the tidbits of expertise sounded pretty trite.

“Find your tribe.”

“Comment freely.”

“Give to the community and the community gives back.”

C’mon, we all know that shit already. I knew that stuff when I was blogging for one week.

I remember during BlogHer, when Amy and I were doing our storytelling session, a new blogger stood up, asking an earnest question. After hearing the two of us talk for a while, she wanted to know if she was “writing her blog wrong.” This freaked me out, because I had just spent the last fifteen minutes “explaining” the rules of good storytelling, and I suddenly realized that this woman had actually LISTENED to what we were saying and was taking it seriously, as if we actually knew the definitive answer to the question, “What makes a good story?” I found myself getting pissed off at this woman. Couldn’t she see that Amy and I were nice people, but ultimately frauds?

“Don’t listen to what we are saying,” I told her. “If you follow what we tell you, you will write a crappy blog. You need to listen, understand it, and then say, “F*ck you, I’m doing it my way.” Then, you will have a good blog.”

Of course, I didn’t really believe that either. So much for being a good teacher.

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about the practical aspects of writing online rather than artistic ones. Let’s face it. Having a personal blog just doesn’t bring in the chicks as much as it used to. I met these bloggers last week, and there was little interest in personal blogging. Most of the talk was about book deals, blogging conferences, blogging summits, marketing opportunities, and staffs of writers on blogging magazines. Half of my blogging friends have moved away from their personal blogs to primarily write elsewhere. They are smart. Everyone needs money to live, including bloggers.

I have no complaints. Blogging has been good for me. I like my personal blog. But for many of us, especially if you have some ambition, it is not enough. Most of my writing for pay has nothing to do with blogging, so it has been a vanity publication for myself. Am I the only one who is noticing a growing lack of respect for the old-fashioned “blogging for self-therapy?” Even mothers, who used to say they blogged for “community,” now say they are in it for commerce. A mompreneur is cool. Blogging because you are lonely at home is kinda pathetic. Male bloggers have the most pressure. What male blogger hasn’t been asked by his buddies —

“So, dude, how much do you make on your blog?”

“Uh, nothing.”

“So, why are you doing it?”

“It is a creative outlet.”

“Man, if I had all that free time, I would at least be watching porn and jerking off!”

“I don’t really consider writing my blog as “jerking off.”

“I see. What you are saying is “Blogging” IS a code word for jerking off. I knew it! That’s cool that you can be home and jerk off. You had me there for a second with that blog writing shit. No real man is gonna be working for no money unless he lost his dick down the drain.”

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Today, I will be running a Virtual Blogging Conference on this blog. There will be only one person attending this conference. His name is Mike.

Here is Mike.

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YOU — all of you who have come to this post — have been hired as speakers at the conference. There will be no pay, but free virtual potato chips will be available in the lobby.

Today’s session is titled “Being Practical.”

Our job is to help Mike.

Mike just started blogging last week. He is a nice guy. He has a funny and likable writing style. He lives in Tulsa. He writes about his wife and his dog. Sometimes he writes about the funny things that happen at his office, where he is a graphic designer.

As a blogger, he has a goal. Within one year, he wants to have an extremely popular blog, make at least 500 dollars a month in ad revenue, win a blogging award, be written about in the New York Times, have an article published in the Huffington Post, be a keynote speaker at BlogHer, have a book deal with Random House, get a free trip to Disney World to blog about my experience, be followed by big-shot tech blogger Robert Scoble on Twitter, and gotten drunk with the Bloggess and French-kissed her at a Christmas party.

You may not care about any of these things. But Mike does. And he has paid good money to come to this conference. Our job is to figure out the best way to help him accomplish his simple goal. Seriously. In the comments.

Eh

I’m overly-emotional today. I wrote four posts, and none of them felt right, so I trashed them. And I’m having one of those “what the f*ck am I doing online?” days that we all have at least once a month.

Here are two photos of me singing karaoke on Saturday night. While I was singing, a woman I didn’t know jumped up and started bumping and grinding against me. You can see the fear in my eyes.

(photos courtesy of Yvonne)

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The Last Few Days

It was a wild last few days, and by wild I mean I left the house and spoke to people.

On Wednesday, I had a long lunch with my friend Noel, who is an extremely talented and funny musical theater composer.  He told me what to see and what to avoid on Broadway this year. Here is one of his songs I found on YouTube —

“Marry Me” by Noel Katz

On Thursday, I sneaked into the end of a corporate demonstration of some new-fangled kitchen blender. The event was being held at the ritzy Mandarin Oriental.  A company had FLOWN female bloggers from around the country into NYC for the big moment!  I have a feeling you are going to be seeing a lot of “positive” reviews for this “mind-blowing” kitchen appliance this week on about fifty blogs.  I was there to say hello to some blogging friends, and procrastinate from writing.  After their catered lunch, I guided a few into Central Park for a “tour” until I realized that I had nothing of historic or city lore to convey.

“Uh, and this is a TREE in Central Park,” I told Sarcastic Mom.

On Friday, I went to a reading at a small theater downtown.  The show was titled Expressing  Motherhood.  Ten mothers of different ages and styles told stories, some funny and some sad, about motherhood.  It was terrific.   It is an on-going event, and there is a new cast each time, so you can audition yourself for the next LA production!

In this NY cast were Liz of Mom101 and Kristen of Motherhood Uncensored.  I wanted to support my fellow bloggers, even if they are evil mommybloggers, even if most of my recent interaction with them was complaining about their “Blogging With Integrity” badge.  It was certainly difficult to reconcile my previous image of them as mommyblogging dictators with the friendly mothers on stage, telling funny stories about their kids (even though Mom101 was wearing these cool leather boots, but they were way more sexy than anything Mussolini ever wore). Both bloggers were wonderful on stage.

On Saturday, I met more bloggers.  Yvonne of Joy Unexpected, a long-time online friend of mine, was in town visiting HER buddy, Isabel of Alphamom.  The night with this group of bloggers such as HeatherB and Torrie (so many freakin’ names and links to remember!)  is a bit of a blur.  I know we started out eating cheeseburgers at the Shake Shack,  which is a snootier NYC version of California’s In-N-Out, but without the New Testament quotes on the wrappers, but somewhere, somehow, there is apparently a video of me singing Prince’s Little Red Corvette at a karaoke bar.   I didn’t get home until 3AM.

I hope one day to get drunk and sing karaoke with all of you.

Tonight is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.  I don’t want to give the impression that I am religious in the traditional sense, but I do fast during the day, and I like the idea of the High Holidays.   It is also a day of remembering family members who passed away.  You light small candles, called yahrzeit candles, that stay lit all day.  It made me a little sad to see how the number of candles has increased throughout the years.

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48 Rolls

Are there winner and losers in this world?  The importance of success in life weighs me down, like a ship’s anchor.   Is it all a matter of fate?   Or attitude?  Or is it choice?  Do I always make the wrong choices?   The loser’s choices?  Can I change my ship’s direction, from losing to winning?  And how?

On Tuesday, I had two offers to attend different networking parties in Manhattan.   It would have been a good opportunity to meet some editors and publishers.   But I already had plans.   I went to a NY Mets game with an old friend.  I had fun with my friend, but was it the “winning” choice?   Probably not.   No networking possibilities.  No new connections.

I grew up in Flushing, Queens, so it was natural for me to grow up being a Mets fan, despite them being famous for their losing.    In elementary school, all my friends were Mets fans.  But as the years ticked off, my friends would switch sides and root for the Yankees, the “winning” New York team.   I clearly remember when Russell T arrived in class wearing a Yankees jacket and cap!

“Hey, Russell, what the hell are you doing?!”

“I’m done with the Mets.   I’m for the Yankees now.   They’re winners!”

It was Russell’s first step to a winning philosophy.   Russell was the Tony Robbins of Parsons Junior High School.

“Think about it…?” he asked.  “Why hang out with loser friends or follow a loser’s team?   I’m choosing “winning.””

At the time, I saw him as a sell-out , but perhaps he was the smart one.   It didn’t surprise me when I recently found Russell on Facebook that he wasn’t 300 pounds and divorced four times like I had hoped — but a freaking ultra-successful partner in a law firm married to a former Miss Connecticut!

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My father had some issues with winning and losing.   The first time we went to Las Vegas as a family on a summer vacation, we played the slot machines together, my parents and I, sitting around the machine as a family unit.  I remember how fun it was to pull down the lever.  My father “allotted”  us each $25 dollars each to play with, which lasted about an hour.   In the elevator going to our hotel room, we encountered a sharp-looking guy who had just finished playing black-jack.   He had slick-backed hair and looked like a gambler you would see in old movies.

“How did you do?” asked my father.

“Pretty good,” replied Mr. Slick, flicking a chip with his finger.   “And you?”

“We were LOSERS!” said my father, proudly.

It might seem odd that my father was so confident in his response, but in his mind, he was bragging to the other guy.   Sure, the gambler might have won today, but my father was smart enough to know that the casino always wins.   He also wanted to teach me an important lesson — don’t strive for the unattainable.    If you know your limits, you will be happier.  He had zero belief that we could ever hit the jackpot in a casino, so only fools would try.  To this day, I don’t gamble when I go to Las Vegas.  I eat and go to see the latest show by Cirque de Soleil.   Gambling is a waste of time.   I can hear my father in my head.  Why waste your money if chances are that you are going to lose?

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I was over at my mother’s home yesterday in Queens.  She was playing cards with her friend, Laura, a seventy-ish, white haired woman who lives on the third floor of the same apartment building.    Apparently, my mother, unlike my late father, does gamble, at least with pennies and nickels.  As my mother dealt the cars, she asked me to go over to Walgreens to pick up a few items.  She handed me the sales circular that we received in the mail.  She  had circled what she wanted — laundry detergent, toothpaste and a 24-roll package of toilet paper.  It was a good buy for the toilet paper.

“It’s for one of the good brands!” she said.

“That’s a good price for the toilet paper,” said Laura.  “Would you mind getting me one, too?”

“Sure,” I said.

I walked the three blocks down Kissena Boulevard, entered Walgreens, and bought the items.  After the salesgirl rang up the items, she slid the two 24-roll packages of toilet paper towards me.

“Sorry,” she said, “but we don’t have bags that are big enough for these.”

“So, I’m supposed to take it outside like this?”

“You still want it?”  she shrugged.

It annoyed me that Walgreens would offer a sale on 24-roll packages of toilet paper, and then not supply the store with large enough plastic bags.   This is going too far, even for the Green movement.  If I was still living in Los Angeles, I would just throw the packages into the trunk of my car.  Here, I had to walk home.

I took my items and went into the street, a 24-roll package of toilet paper under each arm.  It was the longest three block in my life.  No one wants to be seen walking down the city street carrying 48 rolls of toilet paper.  It destroys all street cred.  I could see the stares, both from strangers and residents of my apartment building.

“How often does that Neil take a crap?!” I could hear them muttering.

I made it into my apartment building, and sighed with relief.  As I walked to the elevator, I faced my last obstacle.  It was the sexy single black mother with the short black hair and the beautiful eyes, who had recently moved into the apartment on sixth floor.  I had always wanted to say hello to her — and here I was — holding 48 rolls of toilet paper.

LOSER.

That word was immediately flickering on my forehead, like a neon sign.

I tried to make myself feel better by finding humor in the situation, much as my father might have done.

“Just my luck!” I said to myself.  “For months I’ve been waiting to talk to this woman — and now, here I am, the ultimate sucker, holding 48 rolls of toilet paper.  Funny.”

But it wasn’t really funny.   I wasn’t put on this earth so I could come up with funny stories about my life and write them in a blog which makes me no money.   THAT is being a loser.   I am living my life for ME.  I was going to TRANSFORM this LOSER moment into a WINNER moment.

I took a deep breath and turned towards the woman, the gigantic toilet paper packages gripped in my hands.

“Hi there,” I said smiling.  “There’s a big sale at Walgreens!  Can you believe they didn’t have any plastic bags for these.”

I rose the toilet paper packages into the air, like dumbbells.

“Not good,” she said, shaking her head.

“You should go to Walgreens yourself and buy one.  This is a good brand.”

“I know.  I use that toilet paper brand too.”

Wow.  We both use the same toilet paper.   We were bonding!  I continued on with this intriguing conversation.

“I buy a lot of off-brands products at the supermarket,” I said.  Like for paper towels and dishwashing liquid.  But I think it is important that when you buy toilet paper, you buy the best!”

“I agree.  I’ll go to Walgreens later and buy myself a package.”

“Good for you.   Although you’re going to have to take the walk of shame home, carrying the toilet paper without a bag.”

“Well, you did it… and you survived.”

By this time, we were in the elevator, and it had just stopped on the first floor.  This was my floor.

“Have a nice night,” I said, as I stepped off.

“Thanks.  You, too,” she replied, smiling.

This was not a great story.  But as I walked into my apartment, carrying 48 rolls of toilet paper, I felt like a winner.

The NY Mets vs. My Feet

met

On Tuesday, I went to see the Mets play the Atlanta Braves. Since the Mets are 25 games out of first place, long-ago eliminated from winning their division, I was able to get a ticket for 96 cents on StubHub. The Mets lost the game 3-1.

The next day, I wrote a post about the Mets. As if their loss to the Braves and the 96 cent ticket price weren’t humiliation enough, my post was the least read post in six months, with half the amount of readers than the DAY BEFORE, and comments that mostly talked about my beautiful “family” in the photo, and the lovely video of my “daughter.” I had to beg on Twitter for people to comment on the post because it was so embarrassing, especially after Robert, the friend who I went with to the game, sent me an email, wondering if the low amount of comments was because my readers hated his guts.  I told him it was not because of him.  It was because of the Mets.

Had the Mets hit a new low?

As an experiment to see if the Mets have indeed reached their lowest depths, I would like to see if I can create more interest with a photo of my feet than yesterday’s post about the Mets?  Can my feet beat the New York Mets?

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Let’s Go Mets!

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It was the bottom of the ninth.  The Mets were losing 3-1.  The young player from the Dominican Republic stepped up to the plate, a former star in his own country, now playing in the major leagues in America’s largest city.  He gripped his bat and whispered a little prayer to Jesus.  His team was 25 games out, so there was little external pressure on our young star.  All of the demands came from within.  It was Hispanic Night at Citifield.  Mariachi players strolled through the food court, playing their heartfelt tunes.  Young dancers performed traditional Puerto Rican dances on the field moments before the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, the anthem of his adopted country.  The singer was a Latina herself, a rising star in the Metropolitan Opera.  The sign behind home plate read Los Mets.  The crowd was larger than usual for a last place team, as the Spanish speaking baseball fans of the NY Mets came to pay homage to their team, and to pay respect to all of the baseball greats of Hispanic heritage from Roberto Clemente to Keith Hernandez.

The crowd was on their feet as our Latino baseball star swung his mighty bat in preparation for his showdown with the ace pitcher of the Atlanta Braves.  There was a fire in the pitcher’s eyes.  He was a real southern boy, a redneck, who would sometimes make fun of the “greenbacks” and “burrito boys” who had taken over the major league, wishing a return to a time in baseball when it was dominated by the good ol’ boys.

The count was 3-2.  The tying run was on second, as the player had just stolen second base.  The momentum was with the Mets.  The crowd chanted the player’s name.  It didn’t matter it the Mets fan was from Colombia or Cuba or Mexico.  Tonight was a night for miracles!

And then he struck out.  The Mets lost.  The crowd shrugged it off, as it was pretty much expected by the loyal fans, and everyone left for the subway.

Which proves a point about about people.  We ARE all the same, despite our cultural differences.   Whether a player is English speaking, Spanish speaking, Japanese speaking, white, black, mixed-race, or whoever — whenever he plays with the New York Mets, he sucks.

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Yesterday was my first visit to CitiField, the brand new stadium for the Mets.  It is the last week of regular season play.  I went with my friend Rob.  I had some ribs and two beers.  The Mets were awful.    The park is much more comfortable and sophisticated than Shea Stadium, with many places to hang out and eat.  It just seemed a bit corporate for my taste, and this ballpark could have been anywhere.  It didn’t read New York or the Mets.   Shea Stadium was definitely old and clunky, but it had the cool 1960’s vibe going for it, still there from when the Mets were young.  When the Mets sucked at Shea Stadium, it was endearing.   When they suck at Citifield, it is depressing.

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Rob and I had planned to go to Citifield before the season was over, and this week was our last chance.  He told me he was going to buy the tickets.  A few hours before the game, Rob called me and said that he bought the tickets online at a site called Stubhub, where ticket holders can sell their unused tickets.

“So how much do I owe you for the ticket?” I asked.

“96 cents.”

“What?”

“96 cents.  Each ticket was 96 cents.  The Mets paid millions of dollars on a new stadium and fancy new players, and you can now get a ticket for the game for 96 cents.”

Next year!

Disclosure and Transparency

My blogging friend, Mocha Momma, was on NPR yesterday talking about the topic of the day (actually it has been a topic for five months now):  “Are Marketers Ruining the ‘Mommy Blogosphere?”

This “disclosure” issue seems to be embedded in the a rock, stuck without movement.  How can we keep the blogosphere “transparent?”   Is a blogging with integrity badge enough?   As I sat here pondering this, I thought of Shakespeare.   If he were writing a sponsored review of a product, how would he proceed?

As an English major, I am uniquely qualified to answer this question.   I can safely say that I know exactly what William Shakespeare would do in this situation.  Just look at the opening scene of Hamlet.   In that famous scene,  the Sentinels wait for the Ghost of the King.   We do not meet the main character, Hamlet, as of yet.  Instead, Shakespeare uses these secondary characters for exposition, setting up the scenario BEFORE we meet the star.

The same technique can be used in a sponsored review.  Rather than jumping right into the meat of the post with the review, jarring the audience with an overload of information, the blogger/reviewer could take his time, much like Shakespeare does, setting the stage and the atmosphere, and drawing his audience into the story with suspense and needed exposition.

Here is an example of an updated Shakespearean-type introduction for a sponsored review of Welch’s Grape Jelly, using the American English of today, that solves both the disclosure AND the transparency issues in one swoop.

“The following is a review of Welch’s New and Improved Grape Jelly.  The nice people at Welch’s sent me a case of their product, as well as invited me to their headquarters in Concord, Massachusetts, paying for my airfare and hotel, where I enjoyed a blogger get-together and lunch with the entertaining and gracious Mr. and Mrs. Welch.”

BOOM.  That’s it.  This “intro,” as we might call it nowadays, would “set the scene,” explaining to the audience the backstory.   If I was this writer’s friend, I will probably go, “Oh, how nice for you!  I’m curious to hear more!” And I will read your review, and I will believe what you say, because I have seen your integrity IN ACTION.  You have set up the story properly, right from the beginning.   Shakespeare would never put essential information at THE END, like so many of you do, because it makes for bad drama.   I don’t want to read about a product and learn at the END that the writer was paid to write it, or got some freebies!  That is like watching King Lear for three hours, being totally confused by the plot, and only finding out in the last act that he has three daughters!  That is poor playwriting!

So let’s thank Shakespeare for a simple and effective solution to our blogging woes.  Why don’t we just make this the standard, like the intermission at a Broadway show, so then we all are on the same page and there is no confusion?

Or as Hamlet told Horatio in his final moments, “If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, / Absent thee from felicity a while, / And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain / To tell my story of Welch’s Grape Jelly.”

I Went to Temple in Cincinnati

There was some discussion about Sophia coming to New York for Rosh Hashanah, but I said I wasn’t in the mood, because when she is here, it requires a big readjustment in my mind, so we ended up being separated during the holidays — again.  I was home with my mother during Rosh Hashanah, and was too unorganized to find a temple to go to for services.  Luckily, I follow a female rabbi on Twitter of all places, named @RabbiBaum, who is involved with an organization named ourJewishCommunity.org .  During the High Holidays this organization video streams Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services from Congregation Beth Adam in Greater Cincinnati .  So, for the first time in my life, I (and my mother) participated in Rosh Hashanah services via the Internet!  Talk about being geeky with God!

Conservative or certain religious Jews who won’t be thrilled with this concept of a streaming service.  It is not exactly “kosher” to be making a video of a live service on Rosh Hashanah or on Shabbat.   This temple’s brand of Judaism also wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of Manischevitz.   This is a temple serving “Judaism with a Humanistic Perspective,” and the first thing I noticed is that most of the men were without yarmulkes.  Over the Torah ark were stain-glass windows, which isn’t unusual in a synagogue, except when one is an image of the Big Bang, signifying the congregation’s adherence to science over Biblical thought.

I’ll let others get involved in the religious arguments.  I thought it was a cool and generous gesture on the part of this unorthodox temple, and it brought a bit of Rosh Hashanah into our home when otherwise we would have just ignored the holiday.  And that is a mitzvah in itself.

If you are Rabbi Baum and you are reading this post, you might want to skip the next paragraph.  No, I changed my mind.  You should read it.  You might as well know the true story of how we experienced your temples’ unique experiment.

As we all know, whether you go to synagogue or church, there is a social dimension to attending a religious service.  There is the connection to God or something bigger in ourselves, but there is also the human contact, which elicits the eternal questions about our fellow congregants, ranging from, “What type of shoes is HE wearing?” to “”She’s pregnant AGAIN?!”   Normally, you save all this gossiping until you get back home, or at least into your car.   When you are watching a service in a streaming video, the experience is more akin to watching the Oscars on TV, and you feel you have the right to talk about Nicole Kidman’s latest gown.

“No one is wearing yarmulkes in this temple.  They must be very reform.” said my mother.  “I don’t like it.”

“There’s a guy in the front row wearing a yarmulke.”

“Good for him!”

My mother is not religious at all, but she seems to be stuck in thinking that only those doing things the old-fashioned ways are the “real” ones.  The choir began to sing.   One of the women in the choir was wearing a sleeveless dress.

“She shouldn’t wear that dress to temple.”

“Why not?”

“You don’t show your arms like that on Rosh Hashanah.”

“She’s not wearing a bikini.”

“It’s just disrespectful.”

“She’s in temple singing in a choir, and we are sitting here eating breakfast, and SHE’S disrespectful?”

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, even though we had already finished our real breakfast, we were munching on toast and jam, and drinking coffee as we were at “services.”

“Did you know when I was in Rome…” continued my mother, “…before you go into the Vatican, if you are a woman who is sleeveless, they give you a shawl to cover your arms?”

“I thought you never made it into the Vatican?”

“I heard about it from some other couple on the ship.”

“This temple is not the Vatican in Rome.  It is in Cincinnati.”

Eventually, the woman in the choir put on a sweater.  Either she was cold or she felt the evil eye of my mother on her from the streaming internet.  Whatever it was, it made my mother happy.

The synagogue had two rabbis, Rabbi Barr and Rabbi Baum.  Rabbi Baum read from the Torah.  In the temple, this is a time when most of the congregation is quiet, listening intently.

“So, this Rabbi Baum…” asked my mother. “Is she single?”

“I don’t know.”

“I thought she was your friend.”

“I follow her on Twitter.”

“So you don’t know if she’s single?”

“Do you know all the details of everyone you talk to on email?”

“Yes.  Isn’t that the normal way?”

There were about 330 people following the service.  We know that because there was a counter on the video feed.   Sometimes the counter went up, and sometimes the counter went down, especially during a lull in the service.   This made my mother chuckle.

“Uh-oh, the rabbi better tell a joke,” she said.  “We just lost two viewers.”

Thank you Rabbi Baum and Congregation Beth Adam for letting us participate.   There were other virtual congregants on Twitter during the service, which was somewhat odd, but added to a sense of a community.   I hope my talking about the experience in a true, and somewhat humorous manner, doesn’t take away from the feelings of gratitude.   The sermons about the Torah passage were inspiring, and the choir was excellent.   It was a innovative and refreshing high-tech religiously geeky experience, and actually made me WANT to attend your service in real life!

For a good year — here’s a repeat of my fake Hassidic tale from August.

David, Fake and Faker

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My mother recently returned from a two week cruise along the Mediterranean in Europe.  When she first told me that she was taking this trip with a female friend, I thought it was a crazy and worthless trip — Barcelona, Nice, Cannes, Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples, Croatia, and Greece — each location for less than a day, sometimes for only a  hours.

“Why not just go to one place?” I asked her.

Now that she has returned, and told me stories of her travels, I am less cynical about her cruise because, for some, it is an ideal way to travel without the hassle.   If all you care about is a “taste” of a new locale, it is comforting to come back each night to your floating hotel.

I figured that it was seniors that mostly go on these types of cruises, but apparently I am wrong.  Families enjoy this type of trip because the kids have activities on board.   Young couples and groups of singles pre-arrange for a taxi or car service to meet them as the ship docked, and then sightsee at their own pace.  The local driver can give them insights into the city that are more personal and accurate than the script read by the typical tour bus guide.

My mother had a great time, although, as I predicted, she could hardly remember what she saw in each city.

Her travel review of each city was amusing to me because it was primarily based on the brief overview she got from looking out of  bus window and visiting tourist spots.   That’s why you need to be wary when someone gives you their opinion of a city or a restaurant.   You are never sure if  the person view is solely based on something so individual, that it makes no sense for YOU.

For example, if you asked me if I enjoyed visiting Seville, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, I would say, “No, I hated that city.”    But you would have to push me to get me to admit that the reason for my hatred of the city has nothing to do with the architecture or people, but with this hotel concierge who told Sophia and me to go to some “authentic flamenco club,” which ended up being terribly overpriced with atrocious food, and employed a dancer who was an elderly woman wearing a cast on her arm.   I hate Seville.

On the other hand, imagine some guy gets laid in Podunk.  That city could be now be THAT person’s favorite city EVER.

Are you thinking of taking a European vacation this fall?   Here are a couple of recommendations from my mother:

Barcelona:  “Loved it.  So easy to get around.  Amazing architecture.  Saw the “King Tut” exhibit that I missed when I was in New York.  Found a really cheap “chicken place” for lunch.  Would definitely return.”

Nice and Cannes:  “Pretty, but looked a lot like California by the ocean.  Not essential to go back.”

Venice:  “The most unique of all the cities I saw.  The water didn’t stink like you told me it does in August.   Elton John has a home there, but I think he mostly lives in Los Angeles.  I didn’t see too many pigeons in St. Mark’s Square.  I got tired from walking around because there are so many stairs.  Everyone needs to come to Venice at least once in  their life, although after a day, you’ve pretty much done it all, and can leave.”

Rome:  “I have to come back to Rome.  I honestly saw nothing because we were in and out of the city in a few hours.   You cannot see Rome in a few hours.    We went, we saw, but we didn’t conquer.  The Colosseum is a marvel, but I didn’t go inside.  I could spend a week in Rome.  And I had a gelato.”

Naples:  “I do not remember what we did there.  Italians put olive oil on everything.  Even at breakfast, they put their toast in olive oil.  The pizza was very thin.  I like the pizza more at Valentino’s in Queens.  We went to a leather factory, but I don’t remember if it was here or Florence.  It was way too expensive.  But the leather was as soft as butter.”

Dubrovnik, Croatia — This was the biggest surprise of them all, because I  hardly heard of the place.  Very quaint.  It feels like you are someplace exotic.  The tourist thing is this giant wall, but it is very interesting.  Not just a wall.  And they also had an old Jewish section that I heard was very interesting, but it was too far to walk.   Nice place to just relax.

Corfu, Greece — Corfu wasn’t particularly nice, and a bit dirty, but I took a bus trip up this mountain and it was beautiful.  We kept on going higher and higher and then you would look down at all the white homes and the ocean behind them, and it was like a postcard.  Or like that scene in Mama Mia.  And then we went back.

Florence, Italy – I know Florence is very famous and important, but I was not impressed.  The bus driver got lost.  There were so many churches.  Not that I have anything against churches, but there were  TOO many of them.  And we were supposed to see the David, so the tour guide brought us to see the David, and as we are all standing there, the tour guide  says that is not REALLY the David, but a FAKE David, because they moved the REAL David inside to the Accademia because it was wearing away, and we didn’t have enough time to wait in line and see him, so the first thing that comes to my mind is, “Why are we standing around looking at a FAKE David?”   And then, as we walked around courtyard some more, we saw ANOTHER David, and our tour guide said that this was a FAKER David, because at least the FAKE David was standing in the original spot where the REAL David once was once standing, so he was FAKE, but this one was FAKER.  So, we never saw the REAL David and we never found out why he wasn’t circumcised, since he was Jewish, so my impression of Florence was colored by that.  I don’t need to return to Florence.

mike

Barcelona, Spain – A+
Nice/Cannes, France – B-
Venice, Italy – A-
Naples, Italy – B
Rome, Italy – A
Dbrovnik, Croatia – A-
Corfu, Greece – B+
Florence, Italy – FAIL

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