Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Beneath the Planet of the Nutmeggers

I take great pleasure in life when I can think, "This is something I have never done before." That happened yesterday when Shmoikel and I went on a cave exploration trip sponsored by the Bruce Museum of Greenwich. Other than a 1971 visit to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico -- hardly rigorous, more a stroll along well-lit underground paths -- I have never entered a cave.

Two dozen of us, split between adults and kids on their spring break, boarded a bus in Greenwich for the 75 minute drive to Litchfield County's Tory's Cave. An instruction sheet told us to wear layers of clothes and bring our own food and water. We were ready, to some extent.

Once we arrived, we met three skilled guides who just returned from a cave trip to Belize. After historical and safety remarks, we donned hardhats with small flashlights taped to them and began the descent. Whatever Shmoikel and I expected, this wasn't it. Rather than a chilly but dry, dark but wide cave entrance, we slithered down a narrow mouth of rock, past stubborn ice (the cave temperature stayes around 45 degrees). Feet first, stomach down, we slid into the unknown. Very fortunately, we had fantastic guides who were patient and knew every inch and rock ledge of Tory's Cave.

Once down, our group of a dozen (the others were doing a park walk segment) heard more cave lore. The kids asked lots of questions about bats. We divided again so one group went to through a crawl space to the "throne room," a silo-like area that extended 20 feet up for a good view. Those of us in the main room waited, while the kids wiggled through the "Lemon Squeeze," a short but tight tube too small for adults (except for one of the leaders). Shmoikel, the intrepid explorer, jumped right in and with some guidance from a girl who had gone before him worked his way out.

The other group returned and we clambered over a watery patch to the throne room. Then -- back to the surface, the same way we came.

This was the tough part. Coming down, we had gravity to get us to the bottom. Now, we had to haul ourselves up holding a rope and clawing for hand and foot holds. A guide gave a tired but determined Shmoikel step by step guidance while I waited below, the last to climb except for the final "sweep" guide.

Back at the surface, I gave Shmoikel a big hug and congratulated him on the considerable accomplishment. Before long he shucked off his drenched sweat pants and socks for track shorts and fresh socks.

We've built a wonderful memory of a father, a son, and a cave beneath the Planet of the Nutmeggers.

When Retailers Give Up

Twice lately I've gone shopping for basic household items. My default retailer is a local hardware store here in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I always try to support the small guys. The results are sometimes discouraging.

First, I wanted an over-the-door towel rack from my bathroom. The plastic one I bought at this store snapped within five minutes. I took it back for a refund. Then I tried Home Depot. After circling the store and consulting a half-dozen orange-aproned associates, somebody told me to go to Wal-Mart. And this was Home Depot! Sure enough, I found a cheap plastic over-the-door at Wal-Mart. Which also broke. Finally, I found exactly what I wanted at Bed Bath & Beyond.

This week I needed a water bottle to take to a cave exploring trip with Shmoikel. Again I returned to my local store. Again, it stocked nothing I wanted. "Oh, the Rubbermaid company is having a lot of problems," a sales associate told me. "Try Wal-mart."

I don't want to try Wal-Mart! At least consult your catalogue and see if you can order the bottle for me. Is it that difficult to satisfy a motivated customer? At what point did retailers give up and send customers chasing to Wal-Mart? I wonder how many sales Wal-mart gets simply because other retailers can't be bothered to stock or order products that they don't always carry?

I didn't go to Wal-mart for the elusive water bottle. Supermarkets didn't have it, and outdoor-goods stores in New York had wildly expensive $10-$12 designer bottles that were outlandish in their costly pretentiousness. Finally, a CVS drug store had exactly what I wanted, a 34 oz. bottle for $1.99.

It took visits to five stores to find that?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Fatherhood on the Margin of Memory

My parents separated before I was three, and I have not a single memory of my family as an intact unit. Indeed, my father moved far away from my mother, brother and me before I was 5 years old, and I didn't see him for eight years.

Against this background of my parents' divorce and my divorce, my heart sank when my son, not quite a teen, told me he could not remember me living at home, with his mother and him. I moved out in 2002, when he was just past 8. Shmoikel knows me only at a distance, not the dad at home, but the dad on the phone, the dad with his other home.

Fortunately, I've worked hard to maintain a relationship. He may not remember me at the house, but he has a rich store of continual contact. I call every night, even if I'm on a date (what better way to show my solid parenting skills?), and maintain a clockwork-like visitation schedule.

Still, the sadness lingers, somewhere between a bruise and a shiv in my ribs. Surely my son benefits from growing up without the house full of marital tension, but couldn't I have broken the generational curse? I tell myself I've done that in my own way. He knows I love him and care -- a day doesn't go by without that, and our time together is full of hugs and private jokes. So I do the best I can.

And with a gentle reminder, I can bring memories of family time together to the surface. This weekend I mentioned Labor Day 1996, when the three of us went to a beach in Rhode Island. Schmoikel was barely two then, but fully capable of walking bareful on a splintery boardwalk -- and getting splinters in his little feet. We took him to a walk-in clinic to get them removed.

And you know what? He remembered.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

PARODY: Harvard, Yale Team Up to Produce Deluxe Edition of "Israel Lobby" Paper

[UPDATE: The April 12 New York Times carries an article titled, "Essay Stirs Debate About Influence of a Jewish Lobby." It's worth a look to see how brave Dr. Mearsheimer and stalwart Dr. Walt are holding up to the onslaught of attacks by "the Lobby." Why, they knew they were committing "career suicide in terms of getting a high-level administrative job in academia or a policy-making position," Mearsheimer said. What, provost of King Faisal University isn't good enough for you?]

Just in time for Passover, Harvard and Yale Universities are collaborating on a deluxe edition of the best-selling (in Saudi Arabia) scholastic paper "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy."

Announced at a press conference today in Cambridge, Mass., the book promises to bring the Harvard-published pathbreaking research of John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Joseph Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to a wider audience of readers.

The book will feature a lengthy introduction by the boola-boola mullah, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, now a student at Yale following his earlier career as a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"Feel the fine Corinthian leather cover, run your fingers over the rich gilt edging of the pages," said Yale president Richard Levin. "Truly this is the most beautiful book, the Gutenberg Bible of modern anti-semitic studies. It simply reeks of quality, and that's the type of project that deserves a Yale-Harvard collaboration."

Levin appeared at the event along with Mearsheimer, Walt, Rahmatullah, and political commentator David Duke, PhD, who contributed a book-jacket blurb to "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy."

"Jews everywhere, Jews, Jews," observed Duke, recently named the Mearsheimer-Walt Lecturer in Political Philosophy at Harvard, adding, "Jews, Jews, and more Jews. But I like Levin."

The book runs 150 pages and would normally sell for $49.95, but it is being retailed nationwide at only $9.95 "thanks to the gracious support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was eager to bring this serious, rigorous scholastic masterpiece to a broad audience," said Levin, who appeared at the event without his outgoing counterpart from Harvard, recently purged president Lawrence Summers.

The two Ivies plan a major marketing campaign in collaboration with Borders, which recently won acclaim for its brave refusal to carry Free Inquiry magazine's issue with the Motoons. "Borders showed it's the kind of politically aware, culturally sensitive, retailer that we feel comfortable with," said Mearsheimer. "Borders stood up to the Jewish lobby, just like we did. Borders refused to bow down before Jewish pressure groups, with their whiny voices and Holocaust-this, Holocaust-that attitudes. They're the force behind secular humanism, anyway."

Duke agreed and noted that he is giving the paper's thesis a major promotional push on his website.

Following its release, the book will enjoy a second wave of publicity during Ramadan, and it will be distributed in "goodie bags" given to pilgrims making the hajj to Mecca. The New York Times Book Review also plans to highlight the book in its "gifts for the holidays" section in December.

Harvard and Yale's royalties from the distribution of copies purchased by the Saudi government "should make our endowments go through the roof," said Walt.

Levin also expects many Jews to buy the book to "express solidarity with progressive attitudes toward Israel and support for the precious right of free speech."

He added, "I'm so enthusiastic about this book that I'll have Rahmatullah pass out copies of it tonight when he comes to my seder."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Repentence, 26 Years Later

March 24 marked the 26th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador. Now, one man involved in the murder is speaking out and asking for forgiveness. Alvaro Saravia, an aide to death squad leader and politician Roberto D'Aubuisson, acknowledged his role in the killing. Speaking with El Nuevo Herald in Miami, Saravia used striking language to make his point. Note the response from the current Archbishop of El Salvador:
As to his request for forgiveness, ''that's a moral obligation I have, as a human being, to society, to the Church and myself,'' Saravia said in an interview recently in a Latin American country he asked not be identified for his personal security.

Saravia said he is willing to appear before the Archbishop of El Salvador, Msgr. Fernando Sáenz La Calle, to ask for forgiveness. Sáenz La Calle said the offer brought him surprise and joy.

''God always forgives when there is true repentance and a desire to make amends,'' he said in a phone interview. ``How good it is that someone who bears so heavy a load on his conscience can lay it down and find peace and God's friendship.''

Can anybody imagine a member of Hamas or the PLO ever following Saravia in repenting for their crimes?

Car Stories

[For an open-mic performance of this essay, follow this link .] My name is Van. I’m named after a car, the 1950s British racecar called ...