I’m nervous. I don’t want to make a fool of myself.

On Saturday morning at around 9:00 a.m., I will be chanting words from the weekly Torah portion. Well, chanting is what I am supposed to do, but with my voice, that is an optimistic thought. Anyway, I will be doing this in front of a small group, maybe 20 (my wife and children won’t even be there). The portion I am doing is tiny – less than 100 words and will take me (should at least) less than two minutes.

So, there is no real reason to be nervous, but yet, I am.

What’s the worst that could happen? I could butcher the words, sweat profusely, or choke uncontrollably.  Or, I could feel embarrassed and disappointed in myself.

Why am I putting myself through this? Am I a glutton for punishment? Maybe, but I have a reason for wanting to chant the Torah. I’ve never done it before. My bar mitzvah was nearly thirty years ago. I did not read from the Torah but instead read the haftorah. I was nervous. While sitting in front of the congregation, which included all my family and friends, awaiting my moment, I got the hiccups. That helped my nerves. I used to get the hiccups all the time as a child, and they could last for up to an hour. Somehow, I overcame the hiccups and got through the reading. The reading went pretty well, though I could have been louder, if I do say so myself.

Since I became a regular synagogue goer about 15 years ago, I have wanted to read from the Torah. It is an honor and a privilege. I have been especially thinking about taking the leap this summer. I had some time to put into study, and I am not sure when this spare time will come again. So, now I find myself anxiously awaiting Saturday morning. Till then, I am practicing and practicing. Well, at least unlike my bar mitzvah, I don’t have to worry about my voice cracking though I do still get the occasional zit and hiccups.

Uggh, more things to worry about.

Wish me luck.

Stretching My Memory

Me: I went roller skating with my friends.

Grandfather: I haven’t done that in 60 years.

Me: Then we went to the movies.

Grandfather: I haven’t done that in 20 years.

Me: Then we had a snowball fight.

Grandfather: I haven’t done that in 50 years.

As a child, I had many such conversations with my grandfather. It seemed whatever I told him, he had not done in some amount of years which were impossible to conceive for a nine year old boy. It was as if time had frozen for him about 20 years before. To be fair to him, he did spend his days taking care of my grandmother after she had a second stroke which proved debilitating. However, I could not conceive of 20 years let alone 60 years passing.

My birthday passed earlier this week. I am at the age where the celebrations are low key except when you get to a number that ends with zero. Anyway, my memory is stretching back further and further. Recently, my mother mentioned a plate that I made in kindergarten. On the plate, I traced my hands and wrote the year – 1977. That was 35 years ago, and I remember making it and seeing it in our kitchen underneath the hanging cabinet and next to the yellow flowered shape clock. I remember going on an airplane for the first time – 31 years ago. I remember my first time driving a car myself – 25 years ago. I remember moving out of my parent’s house (for the last time) – 17 years ago. I remember when my father passed away – 15 years ago. I remember when I got married – 10 years ago. Strangely enough, there are days when I can’t remember what pre-children life was like, but that’s another story.

This summer, marks the 20th anniversary of a significant event in my life. In July of 1992, I completed college, boarded a plane, and began a string of traveling summers. For a kid who had rarely left Pennsylvania, my world truly grew. I met people who were just like me and yet so different. I saw places that before seemed to exist just in books or movies. I experienced cultures which made me curious and empowered me to both question and more appreciate my own. You could say that I found myself via my travels to the Middle East, Europe, and the West Coast of America.

So, as I blow out the birthday candles on another year, I stretch my memory a little further. I appreciate the people in my life now as well as in the past. I consider my experiences and how they have shaped me. I look forward to another year and wonder what I will take from it to share when I am the grandfather.

Very Manly, I Must Say.

Men, hide your women. Women – go into your homes and lock the doors. I am feeling virile.

Let me explain – I’m not necessarily the typical guy that you see pictured on Father’s day cards — I don’t own power tools, I don’t eat red meat (I don’t even own a barbecue), and I feel great indifference towards cars.

All that changed last Friday. My family and I were on the way to my sister-in-law’s house for the Sabbath when, all of a sudden, the car started making noises. At first, I thought it was another car on the road but then realized it was our own Honda Accord that was experiencing a malfunction.

When we got to our destination, I got down and looked under the car. That’s right, I did – damn it! Okay, so I was still in my suit and put a towel under me, but I still had a faint smell of grease on me afterward.

The next night, along with my brother-in-law, nephew, and I jacked up the car and took a look underneath. There was not much we could do. However,I had  to fix the car so that we could get home safely. So, I did. My fix — which included duct tape, McGyver-style — lasted until about two minutes into the drive home.

The next morning we were supposed to go to a pool party at my brother’s house, several hours away. After some research (thanks to my wife and Google) we determined that the culprit was the heat shield, and that it could be safely removed. So, once again I jacked up the car (on my own, thank you very much) and — with the proper tools — I removed the part.

I saved the day. My family and I were able to go on our road trip. Pretty manly, I’d say.

But wait, there’s more.

This past week, I got a power tool for father’s day. I really wanted it too. I now am the proud owner of a weed whacker. I look forward to using it and whacking some weeds. They’ll know whose boss after I’m done.

Then, there was yesterday. My neighbor and I rented a power washer. There was no stopping me. I cranked that sucker up so that the dirt and mold that had invaded the siding of my house didn’t stand a chance. No sir, not on my watch they didn’t. I pushed into bushes and climbed the ladder all in the name of cleansing my home. I even washed the car and cleaned up the oils that formed on the side walk. This is my castle, damn it.

I insisted my boys take a turn using the power washer despite their fear of the noise it was making and the vibration. After all, one day they will be men too, and I must prepare them.

So, how do I top off this manly feeling? I was thinking of grilling up a steak and watching Gladiator. Unga Bunga!

Dinner With the Clampetts

It was new money, oil money, dirty money that led the Clampetts to pack up their truck and head to Californy. Anybody of a certain age either saw the original show (it ran from 1962-1971) or the reruns. Jed and his family were simpletons with crude backward ways. However, the Clampetts were decent moral people and a little smarter than Mr. Drysdale and the slick city folk gave them credit for. Despite all of this, there is no denying they were like fish out of the water.

SY, my younger son, attends two different preschools – in the morning he attends a religious preschool, and in the afternoon, he attends public school. This week is graduation week. My wife and I are very proud of SJ and wanted to celebrate this momentous occasion. So, I decided to take my family out to dinner. Now, this is a very big deal for us. Prior to this most recent occasion, we have gone out to eat together just one time. ONE TIME! We get take out once a week, and my wife and I go out to eat occasionally but as a family it has been only once.

There are many reasons for this infrequency. Firstly, I don’t love going out to eat. I know some people love going out to eat – my mother, for instance, thinks it’s the greatest luxury. Now, if I had cooked as many meals as she had for a family of six, maybe having someone waiting on me would mean more. My mother has conveyed to me that the joy of going out stems from being waited on and the relaxation that goes along with that. So my wife and I have always had the thought if the point of going out to eat is to relax, why bring the children? They don’t know how to relax without a television or some other form of entertainment. Therefore, when my wife and I do go out to dinner, it is alone and peaceful.

However, between SJ’s graduations, BR’s big day at school (an author celebration where each student read something they wrote aloud, and a competition where the 2nd graders defeated the 8th graders) and me completing another school year, we had a lot to celebrate. So, off we went.

SJ choose a restaurant that serves bagels and pizza – two foods the boys generally eat. Before we left, SJ kept requesting a snack. Though we were going out soon, he is not especially reasonable when it comes to food. So I gave him a snack and figured he would be calmer and refrain from constantly telling me he’s hungry. The first thing the boys saw when we entered the restaurant was the drinks, and of course, they wanted soda. We rarely let the kids have soda during the week, so this was a treat. After we placed our order at the counter, for BR a bagel and fries and pizza for the rest of us, we found seats in the corner and sat waiting for our food. The boys were content to sip their sodas (they had already mouthed the bottles while waiting for me to open them) as we waited for our food.

Within a minute of the food arriving, it began – the burping, that is. Not just a little ‘excuse me’ burping. It was table-shaking, glass-rattling, turn your head and look at the classless people in the corner burping. They must have burped 20 times in the 20 minutes we sat there. The boys actually tried – somewhat – to cover their mouths but their hands never seemed to get there in time or were not sufficient to stifle the monstrous sound. Thankfully, fighting was kept to a minimum – only one kicking match under the table which turned into ‘I hate you’ and my wife and BR switching seats. Then BR picked up a fry from the floor and ate it — “Why not? No one stepped on it!” he explained as my wife told him he should not eat food off the floor. Couple all this with my children’s inability to master an inside voice and it is no wonder the restaurant was near empty when we left.

As we left the restaurant my wife tossed over her shoulder, “The Clampetts are leaving now.” The boys said thank you – hey even the Clampetts had morals – and SJ asked can we go out again to a restaurant that has Coca Cola. I’m not sure I can handle all that relaxation.