I attended my first in-person Mitzvah ever this weekend, a Bat Mitzvah. I attended at Bar Mitzvah a couple of years ago, but it was on Zoom because it was during COVID. I’m not even sure if I’m supposed to use the word “Mitzvah” alone? Is it only correct if I say it with the “bar” or the “bat” in front of it? I don’t know. Wikipedia’s definition looks like this:
A bar mitzvah (masc.) or bat mitzvah (fem.) is a coming-of-age ritual in Judaism. According to Jewish law, before children reach a certain age, the parents are responsible for their child’s actions. Once Jewish children reach that age, they are said to “become” b’nai mitzvah, at which point they begin to be held accountable for their own actions. Traditionally, the father of a bar or bat mitzvah offers thanks to God that he is no longer punished for his child’s sins.
Why or how it took almost 52 years for me to attend one of these is a question in and of itself. Perhaps it should be tackled in another blog post? Does it signal a lack of culture on my part? A lack of friends, maybe? Don’t answer either one of those questions, thank you.
The service itself was really quite nice. I might even say it was uplifting. As a child, I attended a Greek Orthodox church, but those trips were very much few and far between. My immediate family was not particularly religious at all. I’d have to ask my parents, but I sense that maybe we went a few times when I was very young because my dad felt some sort of obligation or pull, as his parents were devoted. And as I got to be 7 or 8 years old and older, Sunday mornings found me at another church of sorts – a hockey rink. Our weekly games or practices were often right at the same time as church service. A kid my age did not mind that at all.
Back to the Bat Mitzvah. I must say I found myself very interested in the whole thing. The cantor, playing guitar and singing, and the Rabbi, both working together in a comfortable synagogue on this happy occasion. The focus was on the 13-year-old girl, who is a family member on my wife’s side and just a tremendously impressive person. I admired her ability to stand up in front of a fairly large group of people and recite all kinds of things, sing in Hebrew, and inject her own perspectives and thoughts into some of the Torah passages she was reading. I can’t even imagine myself at 51 being able to handle that.
But funny things happen to me when I am at a church service of any kind. I am, as mentioned above, an outside observer. Not religious. I have my issues with organized religion. But I do seem to have very specific memories of certain services I’ve gone to as a tag-along. I distinctly recall going to a church service with my then-girlfriend in 1989, when I was 18. I remember being so struck by the…collective harmony. There was a peace in being there, a calmness. That a large collection of people gathered together, unrelated, from all walks of life, could leave whatever issues they had outside the door and share some kind of oneness inside a church was something that really resonated with me. I felt the same this weekend. I’ve been to a few services in between these two, and have felt the same. I still haven’t really figured out why it strikes me so much.
While it does make me occasionally wonder if there’s a religion out there for me, it would have to be something different than mainstream, organized religion. I find myself believing more in something and becoming more open. But I don’t yet know how that is going to formulate itself. Time will tell. It’s more the community and togetherness aspect for me that I’m after, not the specific beliefs and rules.
I don’t consider myself to be overly dramatic, and I’m happy to say that a few people on my team at work have told me that my relatively calm demeanor is one of the things that makes being on our team enjoyable. I’m always glad to hear that. My general approach at work is “take it seriously, but try to have fun doing it.” This morning I was browsing through my daily online bookmarks and I came across this article, another hard-hitting news piece from CNN, about how sighing is good for you. The premise is that sighs historically indicate some level of stress or anxiety, it should be viewed as a form of stress relief.
I had to laugh at that a little, not because CNN is wasting yet more space on dumb articles and not because I agree or disagree with their position on sighing. I laughed because I am known around my own house as a person who adds a high degree of melodrama to the noises that I make. For example, when I sneeze, I really let it loose. And on purpose, I will make it way louder than it should be, because a) I think it’s funny and, b) I do think there’s some sort of subconscious *release* happening for me there. Like, it’s an excuse for me to not be calm for just a fleeting second, so I can continue on my path of trying to be calm and collected. The other people who live with me, however, are often startled when this happens, though I think they’ve now adjusted to it, perhaps begrudgingly.
The other noise that often raises eyebrows around the house is yawns. I do like to add a little drama to those as well by, um, a significantly enhanced and high-volume exhale. I find this to be quite funny, but again, my family finds it to be quite ridiculous.
I do think there is something to my theory, though, that these over-dramatized expressions are subconscious ways of giving my introverted self a good dose of quick yet effective scream therapy. I don’t particularly know what I am trying to get out of my system, but I know that it’s helpful somehow, if only to elicit a laugh – usually from myself, but sometimes from my family. And if I’m alone in the car and there’s a good song playing, well, all bets are off. That’s a longer and very satisfying therapy session.
The hockey locker room is such an interesting place for so many reasons, many of which I won’t talk about in this post. Haha. But two things struck me over the past few weeks about the locker room. You see, I’ve been playing in this early-morning league for the better part of 8 years now. We play at 6:30 in the morning, which I love, and then I presume we all go off to work or whatever it is we do in our daily lives. It is great fun and I can’t think of a better way to get valuable exercise and cardio. I do not like the gym and I’m not particularly interested in things like CrossFit. I’m blessed and so incredibly grateful that I still have the physical capability to do this three mornings per week.
It’s also important to note before I get into the two things that every few months, they basically mix up the 4 teams and re-draft. So over 8 years, you end up playing on the same team with pretty much everyone. And you end up playing against everyone. It’s the perfect setting to get to know all kinds of different people.
So first, it occurred to me that, for the most part, I know very little personally about this group of people. You catch a little here and there through locker room conversation, but the oddest thing to me as I looked around the room was that I still don’t know what 90% of them do for a living, and I don’t really know what town they live in. You think that would have come up at some point. And hockey locker room conversations are not and should not be about deep feelings. There is a high level of amusement to them, another part of why I value being able to do this. But then I double-take and realize, “oh, maybe it’s ME?” Perhaps, because I’m more on the introverted side, I am the one not making enough of an effort to find out? I do think it takes most people longer than usual to get to know me. And that’s probably on me. Last year I recall talking to a referee who mentioned that I was always “serious” or something along those lines. If you know me well, I think the last thing you might say is that I am serious. I have, in fact, the maturity level of a 12-year-old. I guess it just takes five+ years to get to know me? I don’t know. You are reading inner-conversations with my brain right now! Congratulations.
The second thing is more specific. The conversation in the room a few weeks back turned to beer, local breweries, etc. So, history lesson for you, my life trajectory with alcohol looks very much like this:
This trend-line is relatively normal, yes? Late teens and 20s were copious. There are a lot of good stories from college and in my 20s. My 30s were a dramatic ramp-down and I’d say since the age of about 40, I have a single beer with dinner and that’s it. There are definitely days when I’ll have 2 beers, there are days when I will have no beers. But on average, it’s one a day. There’s probably a whole different blog post on why I’ve taken this approach, but to put it succinctly and simply, a lot of it has to do with my overall physical wellness, keeping weight down, and just…here we go again…risk aversion. I definitely do not want to deal with hangovers, either. The last time I was probably drunk, I mean really getting after it, would have been New Years Eve of 1999, Y2K! That’s now 23 years ago! I think that part is probably not as normal, but also not crazy. “Getting hammered” is just not something that interests me as it did in my 20s. But I love, I mean really love, a good beer. So that’s my alcohol track. Now, back to the locker room. So I shared that rough history with my current teammates in the room and it was an interesting moment. A few of the guys expressed real surprise about my non-hammeredness for 23 years. There were a few other good laughs from guys who said “yeah, it’s been a while for me, too, I think since last Thursday.” One other person said “well, we know who’s on the no-fun list now.” All this is why I love a good hockey locker room. It’s all in good fun and jest! Put me on the no-fun list! (please don’t)
I love all the hype around Cocaine Bear. It’s not going to slot anywhere in the pantheon of the top 10 movies ever made, but I do think it checks a post-pandemic box – a movie that is made to be consumed in a theatre with a bunch of strangers. Perhaps aside from Top Gun – Maverick, and maybe even more, this movie is made for theatres and I think we need more of those. That’s where I plan to see it. It’ll be funny, gory, campy, and super fun.
In the same breath as Cocaine Bear, I came across this New York Times article this morning about the growing number of animals making their way into places where there are more people and how that has increased the amount of weird food and other objects that animals are ingesting. I had to laugh at a few parts of the story where they cite a few real examples. A skunk in a panic because it couldn’t get a McFlurry cup off its head, or a bear who entered a house several times and *only* took vanilla ice cream. Raccoons, in particular, were the most amusing: dazed and zoned out on marijuana and benzos, one had a soda can stuck on its leg, and another had it’s head stuck in a container of peanut butter. Animals are funny. And dumb.
I listened intently to The First Person podcast on my way to and from work this week, featuring a high school senior named Logan Lane, who seems to be wise beyond her years. She recognized early in high school that, ick, smartphones, endless scrolling, and non-stop screentime made her feel like a non-functioning, brain-dead zombie of sorts. So she did something that 99.9999% of kids today would never do – she gave it up and started “The Luddite Club,” a group of kids who approach screens and phones the same way that Straight-Edge kids avoid drinking, smoking, and drugs. She spoke eloquently about how life’s beauty and the meaning of real interaction and connection with others in the group have proven far more satisfying to her. At a cost, of course. She lost some friends and was probably subject to some ridicule, but gained other meaningful connections. I’m toying with making my kids listen to it. Not because I want them to STOP all screens and join the Luddite Club, but because I’d like to see better balance, I guess.
I’ve already watched the Pavement appearance on Austin City Limits twice. It’s sooooo good. I sometimes really miss the anticipation of knowing a favorite band was releasing an album, that I would have to plan a trip to the record store, of getting it off the rack, buying it, getting it home and experiencing the art, reading the liner notes, experiencing the music. It was a more full-on experience than it is today. I’d love for Spotify or some other entity to somehow bring that experience back to me in some way. There must be some methods to make that happen. I don’t really even know the individual names of members in new bands anymore. I don’t like that. I used to know ALL the names of the players in the bands I like!
Several times a year, I am asked what my favorite bands are. Or I’m sucked in by some kind of Facebook post where people are talking about their favorite concerts ever. Or their top five songs. Then there’s always the “desert island disc” thing, where people ask if I was trapped on a desert island, what 10 albums would I bring with me. These are all fun exercises! I certainly don’t mind doing them, but there’s also a tiny bit of stress in them, especially for a person like me who enjoys so much different music. These are truly first-world problems. So my approach to these types of things is to enjoy them. I view them as a snapshot in time. Because for me, my top anything when it comes to music is different on an almost day-to-day basis. I also know that 12 years from now, nobody is going to remember or hold me to it.
I say all this because the other day I was driving and decided to put my ’70s Spotify playlist on shuffle. Yes, I am the person who has built Spotify playlists by decade. All my favorite songs, seperated by time period. I have playlists for the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, ’10s and an ongoing one for the ’20s. I also have playlists for my favorite bands – all my favorite songs from each of those bands. It’s like my own little greatest hits collection because surprise! – my greatest hits for a specific band are generally not the songs that were continuously pounded into our heads on the radio. And truth be told, most of my band-focused Spotify playlists are bands that were never “famous” or on the radio anyway.
I’m getting off-topic, sorry. Ah yes, the ’70s. It hit me to write this blog post because I heard two consecutive songs that I just love so much. And as I was driving, I was singing them out loud and thinking these two songs belong on a top list somewhere for me. Don’t know what that list is and now I don’t really care as it’s been a few days. It just prompted me to write this post. So I’m sharing them here. Have a listen. Or don’t!
Richard & Linda Thompson’s “Hokey Pokey” from 1975 always hits me in the right place. Thompson’s guitar playing is just incredible, as always, but the fiddle and Linda’s singing really just turn it into a masterpiece. And the lyrics, well, you can interpret them how you please, but it’s clear there’s a double entendre going on here. It’s a song about ice cream…or is it? Sing along with the lyrics.
The second one is more well-known. Elton John’s “Country Comfort” (1970) feels like wearing a pair of old jeans and a hoodie. Just warm and snug. The piano is crisp and I just love how the chorus is sung. It’s “homey.” I love a song that can really take you somewhere, and this song does.