Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Smile! You're an Idiot!

I was born and remained gullible and earnest, a wide-eyed innocent. Tell me something, and chances are I will believe you. It was a lonely state to be in, this extended childhood, and my more street-wise contemporaries laughed at my constant naivete. 
But, as I was gleeful to discover, technology is making everyone around me the same stupid. That was what Peter Funt concluded while creating Candid Camera ("Curses, Fooled Again!") He thought technology would make people sharper, less likely to fall for his traps; they are actually now more susceptible to them.
That may seem counterintuitive, but I’m certain it’s true. Much has to do with multitasking. When my dad, Allen Funt, introduced the show over six decades ago, he had to work at distracting people. Nowadays they do it to themselves.
Many people we now encounter are fiddling with cellphones and other devices, tackling routine activities with less-than-full focus. That makes them easier targets for our little experiments, but also more vulnerable to personal mishaps and genuine scams.
I worried briefly that people are now so tech-savvy that some of our props and fake setups wouldn’t be believed. Instead, we found that the omnipresence of technology has reached a point where people will now accept almost anything . . .
I don’t necessarily believe 21st-century Americans are more gullible, but they tend to give that impression by protesting life’s little insults without taking time to fully digest the situation.
People accept because they don't think. Interesting
I don’t mind the smartphone obsession in our scenes; it’s rather funny. It is a shame, though, that so many people now interrupt real life — in effect hollering “cut” — to record what could be called Act One. In doing so they spoil their own Act Two.
Why must everything be recorded? Chances are, that video file will never be played. It seems so important right then to preserve this hysterical/cute/outrageous moment forever, but it's not. The moment is being ruined by holding up that smartphone and tapping. 
Much hasn’t changed over the years. For example, I expected to encounter more profanity in everyday conversation, but it’s really not there. I also wondered whether young people would be less spontaneous and engaged when caught in our scenarios, yet there’s no hint of that whatsoever. I thought in these litigious times fewer people would sign a waiver to appear on our show, but the percentages have stayed about the same over the years.
I do note that today more people step out in public looking a bit disheveled and unkempt and are then hesitant to sign because they’re not happy with their appearance.
Hey, that's why it's always important to look good. You never know when a film crew will have you in their sights.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

"Don't Waste the Pretty"

"Have you tried _________?" they ask.

I always have tried to take care of that which is in my sphere of influence. Diverting meteorites doesn't fall within my purview, so I do not spend sleepless nights pondering the implosion of the universe. 

I concern myself with returning library books on time, babysitting to the best of my competence, and if I tell someone I will be there at 10:30, I aim to arrive by 10:20.

The question is, where does meeting, wooing, and marrying one's life partner come in? Is that under the "alien invasion" category, out of my hands, or is it a task to be resolved, like doing laundry?

"Did you go to this shadchan?" 

"Have you gone to a singles event?" 

"Do you even want to get married?" 

I found some comfort in, of all places, He's Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt (I posted about this book before and before.) 
Greg presents the being of men as follows: Guys, when they want a gal, will do their darnedest to get her. That's how their minds work. If they are the ones being actively pursued, but it's not mutual, while they may go grudgingly along with it initially, chances are a long-term relationship will not ensue. 

While women today can be anything they can be, that has not changed the embedded caveman mentality of the modern male. So, ladies, you have to quit being overt in banging-heads-with-frying-pan tactics. If a dude likes you "that" way, he will not let anything stop him. 
If a woman is currently in a "I don't know where we stand" crossroads, the fellow is just not that into you. He won't say it, because he doesn't want to have to explain himself, or awkwardly comfort, or deal with messy emotions; he'll drift along until matters peter out or the woman takes a hint and cuts him loose. 

Ever heard a story of a couple who dated for months, years, and the guy won't propose, but as soon as they break up he's engaged to a gal he knew for a couple of weeks? 

Girls like to make excuses, to find reasons. 

"Well, he would have gone out with me again if—"

"His brother got divorced, so he's scared." 

"I know he will propose. I know it. Soon. I just have to—" 

"Don't waste the pretty," Greg says.

Women, your job is to look fabulous. 

That's it.

We like to think we have evolved, or something. But the dating mores weren't much different on the Starship Enterprise. Women still wore makeup, and Riker was the master of the pickup line.
Am I doing "enough"? 

I think so.       

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Links

And you thought Jewish singles had it tough. 30,000 possibilities at a singles event? Hoo-ee. 

Did you do your good deed for the day?

The below sounds so familiar: 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sleep, the Magic Drug

I'm serious about sleep. I need it the way an infant does, and I cry if I don't get it, the way an infant does. Every evening, I slowly power down like an obsolete computer, complete with checklist. No liquids past 7:30. TV off at 9. 15-30 minutes of reading, in dim, non-stimulating lighting. 

I can then reboot to greet the new day early and cheerfully.
Ergo, I am always a tad baffled when conversing with those who sleep in short, casual sequences: typically, guys. Many, many a date has told me these exact words: "Sleep? Five hours, that's all I need." Uh-huuuuuh. 

I couldn't help but think of these fellows when perusing an interview of Arianna Huffington and Kobe Bryant.

Philip Galenes (interviewer): Next up: Sleep. How much do you get?

KB: I’ve grown. I used to get by on three or four hours a night. I have a hard time shutting off my brain. But I’ve evolved. I’m up to six to eight hours now.

PG: What changed?

KB: Growing up and understanding the importance of shutting down and unwinding.

AH: Which is huge in a culture where people brag about how little sleep they get, like a macho thing: “Oh, I only need four hours.” And it coincides with the new science about the connections between sleep and health, cleaning out the toxins of the day, the connection between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s.

PG: Sounds like a miracle drug.

AH: But I was one of the delusional ones. It wasn’t until my wake-up call of collapsing from exhaustion in 2007 that I started prioritizing sleep.

PG: Any sleep rituals?

AH: My transition is a hot bath and absolutely no devices. All phones and computers are escorted out of my bedroom at least an hour before bed. And real books that have nothing to do with work.

Getting too little sleep results in . . . well, death, new studies are showing. Our bodies and minds need it. Claiming to be above sleep is just macho posturing. Macho posturing rarely ends well. 

I've heard from a number of people how they suffer from insomnia and are simply bad sleepers, but when I ask them what their sleep ritual is, they have none. Makeup doesn't just happen, healthy diets doesn't just happen, being fit doesn't just happen, and sleep doesn't just happen. There's even a term for it: sleep hygiene. If there is a nightly protocol, it works, studies also show.
Now how attractive is that?
Pack away anything with a screen, read or meditate to clear the mind, 3 mg of melatonin prior can also help, and go to bed and get up the same time.

It's okay. You can still be cool and sleep seven hours a night. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

It's Not You, It's Not Me

"Thank you, really, for thinking of me, but he's just not for me."
"But why don't you want to go out with him again?" 

"Thank you, really, for thinking of me, but he's just not for me."

"But why?"

I keep verbally dancing back and forth, continuing to thank, refusing to detail. Please don't make me say why. 

What I really, really, really hate about dating is how it forces me to judge people. I, the self-professed loather of labels, am now the owner of a theoretical label-maker. 

"Eeeeeh, look at his information. He's way too yeshivish/modern/I don't know what that is, but it's not me." 

"Eeeeeh, look at his Facebook page. Look how he chooses to present himself, knowing girls who are redt to him will see this." 

"Eeeeeh. Just 'eeeeeh.'"

Some things can't be articulately defined. Very often, I have a sense before the date, but it's not a valid enough excuse to opt out, so go on the date anyway. And, I was . . . right. 

"But why?" 

 People rarely believe me, but when I went on my first date at 19, I had it all figured out: Marriage is based on a choice, and therefore I can marry anyone and make a good life. 

B'H, I got wise. Eventually.

Yes, marriage does involve choice, but it is also a wee bit more complicated than that (the Gemara backs that up). It's not so simple, whatever anyone says. Matching up two people for life shouldn't be simple, if you think about it.

I want to be able to crawl through this minefield without beredting anyone. Let's be honest, beredting will happen. Maybe one out of twenty was a wonderful guy but just not for me. The other nineteen . . . well, what did I ever do to them to get treated like discarded gum? 

Don't demand that I explain my reasons, just to defend them point by point. This is not a debate. Issues won't magically evaporate in a "Well, in that case . . ."

I will thank you for thinking of me. And I am (often) very grateful. Someone made a potentially awkward effort on my behalf, and I do appreciate it. 

Your suggestion has someone out there for him who will not have the complaints that I do. She won't be bothered by what I am bothered. She will be able to drop the label-maker, smashing it to bits. 

Which is what I want to do.       

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Friend-Ship, Not Friend-ing

The word "friend" seems to have lost its meaning. The title's potency has diminished over the centuries, and getting verbed by Facebook was the final nail on the coffin. When I looked it up in the dictionary, the definition was rather dispassionate. 
Is it just me, or should "friendship" evoke a great attachment, a sincere mutuality of love and caring? A friend is not merely someone with whom to go shopping and a movie. A friend is not the poor sucker you call up and kvetch to after an unpleasant annoyance, then don't contact when something good happens or when the other could use an empathetic ear. A friend is not someone who has a place in another's life only when it's convenient.
Friendship is not a one-sided state of being. It shouldn't serve only half. It should bring out the best in both parties, not the worst. It should mean fierce loyalty and deep compassion.

David Brooks' "Startling Adult Friendships" lists the benefits of friendships (better decisions, freedom to be oneself, improved character). I tried to think of those examples in real life, not just in terms of my own relationships, but of others. I couldn't really come up with any couple that I have observed in its natural habitat that truly represented selfless, transcendent friendship. 
In the first place, friendship helps people make better judgments. So much of deep friendship is thinking through problems together: what job to take; whom to marry.
You know how many times I read in frum forums: "I met this great girl/guy. I'm so happy. My friend, though, says I'm making a mistake, but doesn't give me any reasons why." 

Are those "friends" really looking out for their swooning pal, or are they simply jealous and fear being alone after their chum prances off into the sunset? 

Brooks' solution—if he was magically granted millions, mind you—would be to built a friendship retreat, mixing up a diverse group of individuals and allowing them to get to know each other. 

While friendship does need time and joint activities to form, just because twenty people are thrown together doesn't necessarily guarantee a relationship. "See you soon, keep in touch" is uttered often, but rarely the promise is practiced. Friendships cannot be forced. There is an element of bashert, there, too. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Cheater's Way

Giada de Laurentiis, Ina Garten ("The Barefoot Contessa"), and Rachael Ray were cooking together on a talk show. Each of them topped their dishes with copious fistfuls of parmesan cheese.
Besides for my annoyance at this traifening of potentially kosher meat dishes, I consider parmesan cheese to be the cheater's way out of cooking. Let's be honest: Shredded cardboard would taste fabulous if flavored with that much cheese.

When watching true chefs, like Jacques Pépin (Fast Food My Way, Essential Pépin) and my newly discovered runner-up, Michael Smith (Chef at Home), parmesan rarely gets any screen time. They concoct supreme deliciousness without relying on—in my opinion—the cheater's way out by adding unnecessary sodium and calories.

I am equally unwelcoming to soy sauce, in which one tablespoon contains at least one-third of the daily value of sodium. The reduced version brings it down to one-quarter. 
Via guymeetswok.blogspot.com
Food does not have to be salty, fatty, or cheesy in order to dance upon the tip of the tongue. It does require a little technique, an awareness of what general flavors work well together, a willingness to learn, and a dash of patience. Sometimes one even discovers an easier, yet tastier, way of doing things.

Example: For years, Ma would mince onions before sautéing, which can be a hassle. But from Laura Calder (French Food at Home), not even one of her usual quotable television chefs, she learned that simply slicing the onions thinly—into half-moons—results in a different, yet heavenly result. 
Via ohmyveggies.com
She also found out that by mixing a serious spoonful of paprika (regular and smoked) into the oil gives her staple paprikás fabulous flavor. 
Ma is a fan of shortcuts; it could be said, even, that she often cheats. But her cheats results in succulent, yet nourishing, meals.   

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Baba Ganoush

Eggplant has been an under-appreciated vegetable in my house. Ma's lecho/ratatoullie always featured zucchini alone. Until recently, it never even crossed the threshold.

It was at my sister's house that Ma was introduced to baba ganoush, albeit store-bought. She frankly admitted that it was the mayonnaise content, but she was taken. 
Well, why couldn't we make our own? 

It was a gradual process, pinpointing the seasoning we like for our tame Ashkenazi palates. After some experimenting, we concocted a version that suits us quite well. 

Like the happy-accidental incorporation of roasted orange pepper. After cleaning out Mrs. H's supply on a visit to her house, it became clear we dig roasted orange pepper, which is now a Shabbos staple. Since the eggplant and the pepper are in the oven at the same time, why not chuck some into the baba ghanoush?

For those not familiar with nutritional yeast, allow me to acquaint the two of you. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that is chock full of nutrients while being a complete protein. "Nooch" has a cheesy, salty flavor while conveniently pareve and devoid of actual sodium. (I've heard it's great on popcorn.)
Most baba ganoush recipes call for tahini, but hey, we're Hungarians. I used mayo instead, obviously much less than the store-bought version. But after a sisterly visit, a container of tahini was left behind (her kids dig dips), much to Ta's delight. I purchased a jar online to compare the flavors.

Apple cider vinegar is one of those miraculous entities that supposedly cure everything. I use it on my hair and my face, and in my food. I've been using it to pickle my cucumber salad, to flavor cooked beets, and now, for baba ganoush.

Tool of choice: I hate using a blender for this—actually, I hate blenders altogether—although if you don't have an immersion blender, get two. 
Cleanup is much, much easier than with blenders.  (Chef Michael Smith whips up his smoothies, marinades, dressings, everything with a ball jar with and an immersion blender.)      

Baba Ganoush

2 medium eggplants
1 or 2 orange peppers
1 head of garlic
Squirt of Sriracha sauce (or hot sauce, chili sauce)
Hefty shakes of nutritional yeast
Dollop of mayo or tahini
Splash of apple cider vinegar 
Black pepper, just a touch

Cut eggplant any which way, stab all over with a fork, and place in pan to roast in the oven. Cut off the top of the garlic head, exposing the cloves within, drizzle in oil, and wrap in foil. Chop up the orange pepper, toss in oil, black pepper, and garlic powder (that way it tastes awesome in and out of the baba ganoush). 

After an hour or so, if everything looks nice and roasted, take everything out. (I would recommend waiting for it to cool but who actually waits?) Scrape the flesh off the eggplant skin, although if any clings on that's fine. The flavor is pretty awesome in the skin, too.

Blend together. Tastes better after chillin' in the fridge for a bit. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


The Ebola sourge has, b'H, passed. Not so many months ago Ebola was decimating Africa, inspiring Americans to go bonkers. 
There were a number of articles about the misapplied terror over a possible U.S. Ebola outbreak. The ones that I noted were "Scarier Than Ebola" by Frank Bruni; "The Quality of Fear" by David Brooks; and "What Are You So Afraid Of?" by Akiko Busch. 

Bruni dryly lists the more common dangers to Americans that appear to be unnoticed: flu mortality rates (which could be rectified by actually getting the flu shot), car crash victims (more than 50% die unbuckled), and the top cancer, skin (have you been on a summer beach lately? They splay themselves on the sand and roast). And what the hell is it with people not vaccinating their kids?!

Brooks attempts to explain the Ebola frenzy by delving into the current cultural mindset: our "segmented society"; those who are averse to globalization; instant news; and our fear of the inevitable, death. All those factors, Brooks writes, festered into a perfect storm of fear.

Busch utilizes the Ebola reaction to write about the concept of fear itself. Fear originates in the biological drive to survive, flight-or-fight. But it seems completely arbitrary in how it grips; childhood experiences can cripple adults, who ignore more frightening matters that require immediate damage control. 
We have clear directives about what is really worth our fear. Participants in the real parade of horrors include radical changes in the carbon cycle, the rate of species extinction, extreme weather, genetically modified food, institutional financial misconduct that puts our security at risk. The archive of very real menaces threatening us now is so full, it would seem we hardly know how to choose what to be scared of.
Except that we do choose, and what we choose are generally the ordinary fears such as heights, public speaking, insects, reptiles. They are all things that have about as much chance of harming us as the characters behind some of this season’s top trending scary costumes: zombies, werewolves and cast members from “Duck Dynasty.”
Confession: I hate the dark. I require it to sleep, but being out at night really gets to me. I'm ecstatic when the daytime is extended, when I can arrive home from work with a touch of sunlight illuminating my path. 

I know (now) that there are no such thing as spontaneously generating monsters under my bed. But my feet remained fully protected, every night. If they protrude from the blanket, I frantically cover them again. It's insane and ridiculous and pointless, but glancing at my family tree, I shall forever shield my toes from nightly exposure. 
We all have our own skeletons of horror rattling in our heads. But we shouldn't allow them to distract us from the really important matters that must be tackled. Additionally, we shouldn't allow ourselves to become unduly absorbed in the un-important. (Yes, I'm talking about you, "shidduch crisis.")
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
— "The Litany Against Fear," Dune by Frank Herbert.