Friday, October 29, 2010

Holy Cards, Batman!

This past summer I went to a wedding in El Dorado, Kansas. El Dorado is not only home to the Kansas Oil Museum, but is also the childhood home of President Obama’s mother. As El Dorado is good GOP territory, there is not, and will never be, a sign commemorating the event. But the wedding itself was really very nice. The bride was beautiful, the groom nervous, the parents proud, and the priest did a great job of explaining the process of the mass as well as the rationale why only practicing Catholics were able to have snacks in the middle of the service. (No word of what the Catholics who are done practicing and actually good at it are allowed to do.) And like most houses of worship there’s a lot of literature scattered throughout the pews. I was especially taken by a small card with a photo of Pope Benedict XVI on one side and a prayer for his wise guidance of the Church on the other.

I had seen Holy Cards before with pictures of saints on one side (like Saint Dominic, Saint Theresa, Saint Pierre, Saint Thomas, Saint Pierre Thomas, Saint Brees, and Saint Whodat) and appropriate prayers on the other, but the Pope card was a new one. This got me thinking that maybe there’s a market out there for Pontiff Trading Cards. You’d have a picture on the front of the Pope in full regalia, and on the back you’d have his stats and a small vignette:

Leo XIII (Vincenzo “Prayin’ Vinny” Pecci)

Year Team League SS EW SC WB IT

1901 Papal Catholic 4,800 2 18 7,010 0

Leo XIII was the first Pope to have his voice recorded on a phonograph, reciting “Maria ha Avuto un Piccolo Agnello” into a tinfoil cylinder. Or maybe that was Thomas Edison. They looked a lot alike.

(In case you were looking for the code:
SS = Souls saved
EW = Encyclicals Written
SC = Saints Canonized
WB = Wafers Blessed (in thousands)
IT = Impure Thoughts
The latter is the equivalent of fielding errors.)

I see real potential here, especially with the rare and collectible rookie cards.

I’m not sure that this idea translates well to Judaism. We really don’t have designated rabbis in charge of the whole shebang, and while congregations may belong to an umbrella organization for their own theological bent each temple or synagogue pretty much runs its own show. (Old joke: Name the kinds of Jews. There’s Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews, Orange Jews, Grapefruit Jews, Apple Jews, Grape Jews…)

The closest thing we have to folks who are “card-eligible” are the leaders of the ultra-orthodox Chasidic sects, who from an outsider’s perspective seem to spend a lot of time out-davening and out-fruitful-and-multiplying each other. I’m thinking that while the front of the card would again feature a picture in complete uniform (which, with black coat, long bread, and hat would look pretty much like all the other uniforms), the back might look something like this:

Shmuel “The Kreplach” Kapowitz


1964 Lubavitch 8 613 11.5 7 3 2

Rebbe Shmuel once smelled bacon, but studied the Zohar to obliterate the memory and then soaked in a mikveh for a week to ensure his place in the world-to-come, Ha-shem be praised.

As usual, there’s a code:
NC = Number of Children
CO = Commandments Observed
BL = Beard Length (inches)
DPH = Davens/hour
PS = Pigs Seen
PA = Pigs avoided

I thought about adding a “Circumcisions Performed” category, but ran out of space and snipped it off at the end.

(One last saint story. I went to ninth and tenth grades at Brebeuf Preparatory School, a Jesuit high school in Indianapolis, Indiana. The school was named after St. Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary to the native peoples of Canada who died a martyr. I know this because on the wall of the cafeteria was painted a mural of the saint tied to a stake, flames around his feet, red-hot hatchets strung around his neck, while half a dozen hooting Iroquois danced around him in glee. Forget the total lack of political correctness in the picture…learned white man tortured by savages, that kind of thing. Can you imagine trying to eat lunch looking at that? Understandably, there was no hot lunch line. Hail Brebeuf Forever!)

Thursday, October 28, 2010


The astute readers of this blog (and by definition that’s everyone, because if you read this blog you automatically fall within the category of “astute”) will have noticed that this writer has been, to put it mildly, dysfunctional over the past few months. Those who know him personally have seen in it his failure to engage in society in any meaningful way save occasional cryptic notices on Facebook (the modern day gossiping fence); those who know him only from afar have probably noticed little change except for a lack of those annoying “New Post up on The Blog!!!” notices accompanied by a proliferation of what Everett Rees, my high school English teacher who had a habit of massaging his male student’s shoulders and whom we used to call eccentric and now call someone who can’t get married in California, would have called “cheerleader exclamation points.”

(I would beg to differ from the venerable Mr. Rees’s contention, though I continue to hold him the highest regard for sponsoring the Categories Team, a quizzical celebration of useless trivia in which I proudly claim two District Championships. The Categories Team was one of the Three Pillars of Dweebness at our high school. The others were the AV Squad, to which I did not belong, and the ZITS team, to which I did. ZITS stood for Zoo In The School, and basically consisted of feeding and cleaning cages for a host of mice, lizards, and snakes that occupied a back room in the biology departure. We would also give monkey chow to a simian named Houdini, which is why I knew before The Animal Planet that bored capuchins have a keen interest in self-pleasure.

But back to punctuation. They’re not cheerleader exclamation points because 1) I have never changed the text color to pink or purple and B) I haven’t figured out a way to make my fonts put a smiley face within the circle below the bottom-pointed oval forming the bulk of the exclamatory sign. And yes, the itemizing was on purpose, ‘cuz it’s a cheerleader thing. Ready? Okay!)

So why the absence of the blog? (This question assumes that you’re wondering why, and have not already concluded that the absence of the blog is my own way of doing a remarkable service to mankind). In short, it’s because the last three months of my life have been an unmitigated disaster. It has been a series of personal and professional catastrophes that has not been a slow progression, but has occurred on specific dates such that one can actually draw a line graph charting the time on one axis and the damage on the other. The details are and will remain mine, but the events are of the magnitude that I am angry…no, that’s too light a word, but it’ll have to do…at the world for what it’s done to me. I think I’ve played by the rules, done the right things for the right reasons, and lost everything. I had a plan; now I have none. I used to be somebody; now I am nothing. I see those of lesser ability succeeding while I drift backwards; I find my fate is no longer my own but is controlled by the insecurities and vicissitudes of others who see me as a source of…well, I don’t know what. Those things that gave me purpose and validation have been taken from me, and what results is the guy eating day-old bologna sandwiches on the airport floor and checking the meat to make sure it hasn’t changed color. (And for what it’s worth, I’m probably not very good at rhetorical hyperbole, either.)

Different people do different things when they fall apart. Some yell and scream. Some are able to refocus and find new challenges. Some count their blessings and accept their new lot in life. Some spend recklessly, drink, or gamble. What I do is nothing. I sit, I brood, I glower, and I don’t talk to anyone. Paradoxically, I talk less to those closest to me, friends and family than I do to the odd acquaintance at Golden Corral. Which is why I haven't been blogging, because blogging is talking to myself, and I’m about as close to me as anyone.

I got to thinking about this a few weeks back during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. There’s a wonderful prayer in the holiday liturgy called the Al Cheit. (Don’t worry about how you say it…Hebrew doesn’t transliterate well in to English, and if you’re not semetic in some fashion you can’t pronounce it anyway.) It can be very roughly translated as “all sins,” and depending on who’s counting it reels off a list of 23 or so separate kinds of sin that we’ve managed to stray into over the course of the previous year. Usually I can find at least three that I’ve stayed away from. Not this year, I’m afraid. What I’ve been thinking and feeling over the past three months has gotten me a perfect score. Batting a thousand made me realize it's time to move on, and restarting the blog is one way to forge ahead.

(Okay, one funny story about this prayer. I grew up in a tradition of liberal Judaism. But when I first moved to Florida the only synagogue in Gainesville was a conservative one. Conservative services involve a lot more ritual and Hebrew than I was used to. So when they did this prayer on Yom Kippur, not only was it done in Hebrew of which I had a poor understanding, but it was accompanied by rocking back and forth on one’s heels and a beating of the breast that for all the world seemed like something out of a National Geographic Special on the Plains Indians and had me looking up to the sky for rain. Now, of course, I recognize that the ritual comes from the movie 300, and what I was hearing must have been Hebrew for “We are Sparta!”

By the way, while I recognize that all faiths have some ritual of repentance, I really like the way we Jews do it, and that’s not just saying so as an MOT (Member of the Tribe). It always made sense to me to do all your confessing on a single day and with all the other Jews at the same time. That way, the chances of God singling out your sin for punishment amidst the cacophony of guilt are relatively less.)

So for those of who feel like I’ve done wrong by not blogging, I truly apologize and hope that resuming our online discussion will serve as a small effort at atonement. And for those of you who thought this blog was a load of bull to start with…well, I suppose I’ll just keep on sinning. I’ve got to have something to repent for next year.