Writings

The Story That Moved Me to Write

I didn’t think I wanted to be a weekly columnist until I read a column by comedian Mark Schiff. I’ve never told him this, but I’ll tell him now. In August 2006, I had just moved with my kids to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood when, on a whim, I decided to write a column about our new life in this very Jewish ’hood. It was a one-off, just something to get out of my system, but the Journal asked whether I could do it weekly. I agreed to try, but I wasn’t sure my heart would be in it, week after week. Then I read this poignant column by Mark Schiff. It was about his father who had died of cancer years earlier. Let me share some highlights. When Mark found out his father was ill, he spent a lot of time in New York, where his parents lived. “One of the good things about being a road comic is you can live anywhere and book yourself out of wherever you are,” he wrote. “Road comics have no office. So New York became my base.” His father loved watching him perform. “He thought I was the funniest person in the world,” Mark […]

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Great Catch, Champ

For the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of watching my neighbor Aaron teach his kids how to catch a ball. When a father is playing catch with his son or daughter, there are few things in life that bring more happiness. It’s total enjoyment to the max. It’s amazing to see the smile on a child’s face when he or she looks into his or her baseball glove and unexpectedly sees the ball there. Then when they grab it and hold it up in triumph, it’s unbelievable. What’s better than that? After a child learns how to ride a bike or catch a ball, life moves quickly from there. In a brief span of time, there’s a good chance my neighbor’s kids will be as good as, if not better than, he is at games they play. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Soon after teaching my kids pingpong, they were all beating me at the game. I rarely win when we play Rummikub, a tile-based game. I hate losing to them and they hate losing to me, so at least we are even.  When my kids were little, on Saturday […]

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What’s All the Complaining About?

A waiter comes over to a table where old Jewish women are seated and says, “Excuse me, ladies. Is anything all right?” Jews have a history of complaining. They complained to Moses about not having bread, meat or water. But complaining isn’t always a bad thing. If we complain to our politicians, that’s sometimes a good thing. Complaining to your neighbors about late-night noise or a dog barking nonstop is also OK. If you knock on your neighbor’s door ready to kill them because they don’t mow their lawn, that’s not OK. If you’re calm and explain the situation, then most people will understand. These days, people complain about things that aren’t important. The chimney sweep scene in “Mary Poppins” is racist. Plastic straws are an environmental hazard. And, of course, airplanes are ruining the world. As my mother used to say: “People have too much time on their hands” or “They have nothing better to do than complain.” Because the United States is a great country and basics such as food, water and shelter are taken care of, we tend to look for things to complain about. You’ll never hear someone in the Sudan grumble about something green growing […]

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Here Comes the Judge

Everyone hates to be judged, yet most of us do it.  Hillel wrote in “Ethics of Our Fathers”: “Do not judge your fellow, until you have reached his or her place.”   My cousin Sarah recently died five days short of her 34th birthday. She left behind a 12-year-old son, the father of the boy, and her divorced mother and father. She had a brother who killed himself a few years earlier, another brother with heart issues and a close family member who is a pill addict. Sarah’s life was not an easy one. When Sarah (technically, my first cousin once removed) was around 9 years old, my wife and I offered to have her mother — my first cousin —  and Sarah fly out from Long Island all expenses paid to sunny California and stay with us for a week. Just come and have a good time. The plan was Sarah would go to Disneyland and see a taping of a TV show. The works. When Sarah and her mom exited the plane, I noticed that Sarah was holding a small bag over her face — an airsick bag. Her mother said Sarah had been sick during the entire flight.   Heading […]

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The Nearness of You

A few weeks ago I was at the  funeral of a good friend. His wife and three children got up and spoke about their husband and father. It was a truly beautiful and moving event. They spoke of how much he meant to them and how he was a friend to all who met him. They spoke of his unwavering support for them and their dreams in life. They spoke of how they would not be who they are today without him. They spoke about how much they loved him and how much they missed him just one day after he was gone. They already missed not being near him. Almost everyone was crying. My father died when I was 36 years old. He died before he met my future wife. He died before I got married. He died before he got to see his grandchildren. He died before he got to really see the type of husband and father I was to become. He died not really knowing who I was or what I was capable of. Did I really get to know him? No. I had only a few facts about his childhood and adolescence. My father was a […]

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Oy Vey Iz Mir I’m Getting Old

I have a friend who told me he takes three pills a day to help him increase his saliva. His doctor said that as you get older, sometimes your saliva dries up. Nice; something new to worry about as I age — a saliva shortage.  My next birthday is big one. I pray I still have enough saliva to masticate my lunch that day. Now when I must add my age to an online form, it takes me 45 minutes to scroll down and find my year of birth.  When it comes to aging, people have a lot to say about it. For instance: “You’re as old as you feel.” “Age is in the mind.” “What’s the alternative?” And the funny ones: “Don’t let aging get you down. It’s too hard to get back up.” “Respect old people. They graduated from school without Google or Wikipedia.”  Recently, I noticed that my skin is slowly drying up, so I glob on Regenerist anti-aging cream every night. All I get out of it are pools of expensive cream stuck in the cracks of my wrinkles. And I’m still aging.  I found exercise and diet help keep my body looking young, but only […]

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Proof That There’s a God? I’m Still Married

“Before a man gets married, he is incomplete. After he’s married, he’s completely finished.” — Borscht Belt comedian The fact that I got married and have stayed married is proof there is a God. When I asked my rabbi what God was doing these days, he said, “arranging marriages.” He also said that arranging marriages is harder than splitting the Red Sea.  To have continued marital bliss, all I have to do is forget most of what I saw and heard while growing up. My parents, aunts and uncles, though nice enough people, were not the best examples of happy and healthy marriages. I remember being at my aunt and uncle’s 55th wedding anniversary. I said, “Uncle Louie, congratulations.” He said, “I haven’t killed her yet.” She fired back, “Go ahead and try.”  I think I’m a very different person today than I was when I got married. Hopefully, a better one. I credit my wife and many other people with helping me make a lot of the necessary changes. For me to have stayed married for close to 30 years, I had to grow up. My mother warned me that I had a lot of work to do if […]

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Consult a Doctor Before Buying Another Gadget

Don’t get me wrong. I really like my iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Dell laptop, smart TV and Alexa. I’m connected, baby! I recently took an EKG from my Apple Watch, downloaded it to my iPhone, and then emailed it to my cardiologist. After viewing it and consulting with him, he took a photo of my bill, downloaded it and emailed that to me. I almost had a heart attack.  It’s not unusual to see people davening with their iPhone and trolling eBay at the same time. Guilty.  Recently, while my wife and I were watching Netflix at the airport waiting to board our flight, I got updates on my watch that our flight was on time and our bags were loaded. Thirty seconds later, United Airlines let me know that it had a hummus plate on board for me. We were in Group 4 and, when we inadvertently tried to board with Group 3, the scanner that reads the bar code started to ding and we were busted. We were sneered at as we crawled to the back of the line, covering our faces like mobsters coming out of a courthouse.  When my son was in Cuba a few weeks ago, […]

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Paramount Hudson Valley

PARAMOUNT

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Jews, Non-Jews and Weight Loss

A little more than four years ago, I was walking on Cashio Street and I dropped something on the ground. When I bent down to get it, let’s just say it wasn’t easy to stand back up. I was almost 200 pounds with a big puffy face. I was really starting to feel old. A day or two later, as I was being introduced to go on stage, Dom Irrera, a comedian friend, said to me, “Look how fat you are.” Soon after that, I was with another friend when he pointed to an old guy using a walker while crossing a street and said, “We don’t want to end up like that.” OK, message received: Lose weight. So the next day, I decided to crawl out of my fat suit and do something about it. It took a year, but I lost 50 pounds and have kept those 50 pounds off for more than four years. Losing the weight was not hard. It was exciting. But keeping it off is murder. I now exercise seven days a week. That’s good, but the food is where it’s at. I have been an overeater my whole life — still am and […]

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