Monthly Archives: December 2015

December News Quiz

1. Doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are now prescribing Viagra for some of their patients because:

a) it helps those with heart problems;

b) it lowers blood pressure;

c) it facilitates circulation of the blood; or

d) what nine-year-old boy wouldn’t want a longer-lasting erection?

2. The U.S. secretary of defense opened all combat jobs to women because:

a) it’s only fair;

b) it’s about time;

c) there’s nothing men can do in combat that women can’t; or

d) he hopes to save money by paying them less?

3. After announcing that he was going to donate 99 percent of his assets, or about $45 billion, to a charitable venture, Mark Zuckerberg was criticized because:

a) he’s greedy and didn’t give away 100 percent of his assets;

b) no support for Nigerian princes who offer a large payment in exchange for a short-term transfer of funds into a bank account;

c) people whose favorite causes do not fall within the scope of Zuckerberg’s stated interests are unhappy; or

d) it turns out that plenty of people actually CAN look a gift horse in the mouth?

4. A public school district in Virginia closed all of its schools after a teacher handed out an assignment about Islam because parents and school system leaders:

a) believe it is inappropriate for children to learn anything about Islam;

b) believe it was a blatant attempt to indoctrinate good Christian children in Sharia law;

c) are afraid third-graders will attack their classmates in the name of Allah; or

d) need time to bring in special counselors to de-program children of anything they might have learned?

5. For the first time since the end of World War II, Mein Kampf is being published in Germany because:

a) the German people need to see for themselves what a deranged mind Hitler had;

b) for better or worse, it was one of the most important books of the twentieth century and needs to be read and understood;

c) the book will be supplemented with commentary that the German people need to read and understand; or

d) with Greece, Spain, and Portugal continuing to have serious financial problems and looking especially vulnerable, the German government wants to give its citizens…options?

6. Evangelist Franklin Graham quit the Republican Party when it passed a budget bill that continues to fund Planned Parenthood because:

a) he is disappointed with Republicans;

b) he now thinks all Republicans are baby-killers;

c) he thinks he has a better chance of getting what he wants if he becomes a Democrat; or

d) ever since his son got his under-aged girlfriend pregnant he’s having second thoughts about the whole “abortion is bad” thing?

7. A norovirus outbreak that sickened more than 100 customers at a Chipotle restaurant in Boston has been attributed to:

a) contaminated food;

b) unsanitary food handling practices;

c) corporate sabotage by a competitor; or

d) the company’s decision to give some of its customers the kind of authentic dining experience they might get if they ate Mexican food in Mexico?

8. A California state employee who was suspended for making anti-Muslim slurs defended her actions by explaining that:

a) what she said is true;

b) she was simply exercising her right to free speech;

c) she’s tired of being politically correct and pretending there’s nothing wrong with Muslims; or

d) if presidential candidates can go on national television and make anti-Muslim slurs then why can’t she?

9. A Philadelphia congressman who also is the chairman of the Democratic Party in that city endorsed for re-election another Philadelphia congressman who has been charged with bribery, money-laundering, racketeering, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, honest services fraud, bank fraud, and mail fraud because:

a) he doesn’t believe any of the charges;

b) a man’s innocent until proven guilty;

c) the charges aren’t that serious; or

d) this is America and everyone deserves a second chance?

10. The citizens of Guinea aren’t overly excited by the World Health Organization’s declaration that their country is now officially Ebola-free because:

a) more than 2500 people died from the disease;

b) the 1200 people who contracted the disease and survived still face the possibility of relapse and the social stigma of the disease;

c) all of the attention and resources the country received to help fight the disease and the poverty that facilitated its spread will now disappear; or

d) they’re still stuck in Guinea?


A Leftover From “Education Week”

While preparing for his recent “Education Week” extravaganza, The Curmudgeon read a Washington Monthly magazine article titled “Rethinking the Bachelor’s Degree” in which the writer suggested that the way we currently approach undergraduate education and employment might be outdated and ripe for change.   Her argument was neither convincing nor particularly interesting, but one thing The Curmudgeon did find interesting was her use of two of her nephews as examples of individuals who might better be served by a different system. The following is what she wrote about one of them:

mathLaura and Daniel knew their son well. In fact, Allen was not burning the midnight oil in the library. As graduation day approached, all three of them were greeted with an unwelcome reminder of his distracted approach to school; Allen could not march that spring because he was still three credits shy of the requirement. Holding up their son’s transcript, his adviser pointed out that he had taken the same economics course twice—one year apart. Allen hadn’t noticed. When his exasperated parents demanded an explanation, all he could offer up was that the class had been taught by a different professor, and held in a different room. He got a B both times around.

The Curmudgeon believes he has figured out the problem in this particular situation.

The writer’s nephew is an idiot.

A Quick Thought About Professional Athletes, Performance-Enhancing Drugs, and Dangerous Painkillers

While in his car running errands last Saturday The Curmudgeon made the mistake of tuning into a sports talk radio program. Generally he limits his sports talk listening to one particular show that airs only on Saturday because the hosts, who are very good, are much too serious for the station’s idiotic listeners so they’re relegated to the weekend, when there are fewer listeners and they can actually talk about sports in a rational and intelligent way. What The Curmudgeon failed to realize was that even though it was still a few hours before the Philadelphia Eagles football team was to play a very important game, the station was already in the midst of a multi-hour pre-game broadcast.

And what The Curmudgeon heard was pretty appalling.

Four – four! – broadcasters were discussing a player with a shoulder injury that, according to one of the broadcasters, left him unable to raise that arm and therefore unable to play in that night’s game.

The broadcasters then proceeded, one by one, to criticize the player for not playing. They questioned his intentions – they said he didn’t care whether he played because he knew he would be paid regardless of whether he played; they questioned his desire – they said that every player is hurt by this point in the season and that those who want to win play regardless of pain because they want to win and that this player, because he has already been on a Super Bowl champion, didn’t care as much as his less-accomplished teammates; and they questioned his manhood – they suggested that if he was a real man – whatever that means – he would find a way to play no matter how great the pain and that his apparent refusal to do so made him less of a man.

It was pretty despicable.

When you think about it, though, it puts professional athletes’ willingness to use performance-enhancing drugs and serious painkillers, whether obtained legally or illegally, into a different perspective. No one wants to be accused of the personal shortcomings listed above, and particularly not football players because they play a game that seems to be driven as much by emotion as by ability, making them especially vulnerable to the kind of repugnant group mindset that these broadcasters were expressing. Leading the way in that discussion, by the way, were two former players – one of whom was the one who revealed that the player was unable to raise his arm and the other a former Eagle well known for his willingness to play no matter how seriously he was injured (yet who, upon retirement, was elected to Congress and lasted only two terms because he discovered that his six feet seven inches and 330 pounds didn’t enable him to accomplish anything that didn’t involve pounding someone into submission).

You can be sure, sadly, that a lot of the fans listening to the broadcast were shaking their heads in agreement, especially about the manhood part. These are the same fans who express dismay when professional sports change their rules to make their games safer for the players, the same fans who are unhappy that the sports they love have become “sissified” and insist that players in the past were rougher and tougher and real men and today’s players are coddled. These are the same fans who are going to stay away from the new movie Concussion because they don’t want to hear about the damage their heroes are doing to themselves, their brains, and their families by playing the way they play, the same fans who want to deny the science underlying the movie and that the organizations that run the sports have any responsibility to do anything about it, the same fans who gladly turn their backs to the kind of suffering a movie like that portrays because they believe the players have all gladly chosen to do what they do even though they know the damage it can cause.

thumbsThese are fans who would be at home in the old Roman Colosseum and who wouldn’t object to a new sport in which the losers suffer the ultimate loss: the loss of their lives. They want…Rollerball, if you recall the 1975 movie.

But it gave The Curmudgeon a little sympathy for the dilemma modern athletes face. They have to make tough choices, to be sure. Also, to be sure, many are still making the wrong choices for the wrong reasons. But when you read about an athlete who used performance-enhancing drugs or became addicted to painkillers, it gives you a slightly different perspective on why they do what they do. It’s the whole culture, it’s disgusting, and while the people in charge of the games are tinkering around the edges in an effort to try and change them, their tinkering is only half-hearted because they are too invested, both emotionally and financially, in the status quo, and the conversation among the four broadcasters before the Eagles game was proof that despite all of the evidence that the abuses athletes heap upon their bodies are long-lasting and serious and potentially fatal, the culture asks – no, it demands – that this abuse continue and is prepared to apply all sorts of derogatory and demeaning labels to those who fail to live up to this unreasonable, macho, foolish standard. (If you’d like to see a great depiction of this sentiment, skip Concussion and rent North Dallas Forty, perhaps the best sports movie ever made.)

Okay, so it wasn’t such a “quick thought” after all.

Tis the Season to be Punny

Courtesy of The Curmudgeonly Sister.


Taking Care of Business (chapter 42)

For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.) 

The Philadelphia Post was not a nice newspaper. As a tabloid, it bore the burden of the low expectations of its format before readers ever even opened it. For most of its history it had lived up – or, more accurately, down – to that image. In the 1980s it made a valiant stab at respectability and even surpassed the older, more staid Gazette in its coverage of local news. Perception, however, could never catch up to reality, so while the paper continued its strong local news coverage, it added a sharp-edged, almost nasty tone. The Post could be devastating in its treatment of some local figures, at times selecting the targets of its opprobrium seemingly at random. With a similar randomness it would adopt local issues – some important, some barely even rising to the level of the trivial – and then beat them to death just to prove it could exert great influence over its readers and public officials.

And in the bowels of the Post’s editorial offices, the people who decided such things selected Michael Ianucci as their next target.

The first step in that process was a candidate profile that made the Gazette’s feature of a few weeks earlier seem like a puff piece in comparison.

‘Pervert’ Allegations Seem Consistent with Idiosyncratic Ianucci Personality

 Allegations that state representative Michael Ianucci frequented local prostitutes hardly seem out of character for an unusual public figure with a vast array of personality idiosyncrasies, according to many people who know the long-time political powerhouse.

 From phobias about his height and cigarette smoke to fear of driving and paranoia about the use of cell phones, many people are surprised that Ianucci has managed to function in the world, let alone in politics, as effectively as he has for so many years.

 Born and raised in Philadelphia and a graduate of Roman Catholic High School, Ianucci is the youngest of six children of his homemaker mother and a father who spent his entire career at the old Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

 Despite considerable intellectual gifts, including a photographic memory and reported abilities to read 2000 words a minute and multiply four-digit numbers in his head, Ianucci dropped out of Temple University after just one semester. While working nights as a waiter, he spent his days at the main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, teaching himself how to read balance sheets and analyze businesses. He began investing the tips he earned waiting on tables at the prestigious Union League in stocks – and, some people believe, benefiting from inside information he gleaned by listening in on the conversations of the many stock brokers and wealthy investors who dined daily at the elite center city club. By the time he was thirty he was a multi-millionaire.

 On the surface Ianucci appears to be a model citizen: he supports his aging parents, reportedly is a doting father, never uses profanity, and attends Mass every Sunday and goes to church at least one other day every week.

 Beneath the surface, though, Ianucci exhibits a number of behaviors that people find amusing, annoying, and alarming.

 At only five feet five inches tall, Ianucci is very self-conscious about his height. Early in his political career, he was known to wear elevator shoes.

 “In his Philadelphia and Harrisburg offices, Michael has a special chair for visitors that’s set very low, enabling him to sit much higher than his guests,” explained former state senator Franklin Edwards. “So when you go in to see him, he’s towering over you. If you were there to ask him for something or seek his help, it was very intimidating.”

 While a respected and feared political powerhouse in Harrisburg – many would call him a bully – Ianucci has been known to throw his weight around in Philadelphia as well. His parents, now in their eighties, live on the kind of small street that never – until streets commissioner Shaniqua Watson came along – saw a snow plow. Eight years ago Ianucci demanded that then-Mayor David Halper agree to make his parents’ street a high priority for plowing in exchange for his support in Harrisburg for a gun registration bill – a bill that passed in the state House, mostly because of Ianucci, but then died in the Senate.

 Three years ago Ianucci made a similar deal with Halper: in exchange for a patrol car coming up his parents’ street at least once every two hours, Ianucci supported a bill that provided enough money for Philadelphia to hire 400 new police officers. In the warm weather months, Ianucci’s father has been known to sit outside his house and keep track of the passing patrol cars – and to call his son when they are not passing as often as the then-mayor agreed.

 Seven years ago, when a city trash truck chipped a street curb outside the parking lot of the St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church at which the entire Ianucci family worships, Ianucci threatened to withhold state aid to the city unless Philadelphia’s streets department repaved the entire lot.

 When Ianucci’s brother spent three days in Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for a knee replacement, Ianucci threatened to kill the university’s annual state appropriation unless the hospital put his brother in a VIP room, brought in food for him from several of the city’s top restaurants, and assigned a nurse to stay in his room twenty-four hours a day until he was discharged.

 There also have been persistent but unconfirmed rumors that Ianucci managed to get his sister moved to the top of the list of recipients for a kidney transplant when there were hundreds of candidates far more seriously ill than she was.

 Ianucci presents a bit of a contradiction in his personal appearance. A meticulous man, he receives a manicure regularly and wears clear polish on his nails; he also visited a tanning parlor twice a week for many years before purchasing his own tanning bed.

 At the same time, however, he wears a suit and tie only to weddings, funerals, and church on Sundays. Ianucci attends a lot of funerals, though: roughly one a day when he is in town.

 “Michael believes that when you show up to pay your respects, people treat you like you’re part of their family for the rest of your life,” according to Father Roy Cammarata, a retired priest who led the St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church parish that Ianucci, his parents, and his family attended while Ianucci was growing up in Roxborough. “He wants to be part of those families, so even when he can’t attend the funeral, which he always tries to do, he tries to make it to viewings or to the homes of grieving constituents.”

 Those environments pose a particular challenge for Ianucci because he refuses to be around tobacco products. That aversion, moreover, extends beyond the presence of people smoking cigarettes.

 “Michael is a total tyrant when it comes to cigarette smoke,” said Jill Lomax, a Philadelphia ward leader who has long been considered a close Ianucci ally. “I’ve seen him throw non-smokers out of his home because they smelled from the smoke of others. That may be acceptable in a very strange, over-the-top way, but I’ve also seen him throw people out of his office, including non-smokers, because they smelled of cigarette smoke. It’s one thing to be that way in your own home, but doing it to constituents in offices paid for by taxpayers is indefensible as far as I’m concerned.”

 Ianucci has more than one home in which he disciplines smokers and those who have the misfortune of being near smokers. In addition to his large home in Philadelphia’s Roxborough section, he maintains a one-bedroom apartment three blocks from the state Capitol in Harrisburg and a large home in the Jersey shore town of Avalon. He can frequently be heard extolling the pleasures of life at the beach.

 But a prominent Philadelphia lawyer who has interacted both socially and professionally with Ianucci questions the state representative’s love for ocean-side living.

 “For all of Michael’s talk about how much he enjoys his time at the shore, I’ve never seen him so much as set foot on the sand. Not even once. I’ve asked around, too, and I’ve yet to find even a single person who’s ever seen him on the beach.”

Whether he’s traveling to Harrisburg on legislative business or to his Jersey shore home, Ianucci is never behind the wheel of a car: he does not drive. While he claims this is because of poor eyesight – and his Coke-bottle eyeglasses would seem to bear out that contention – he almost always rides in the back seat of cars, even when he is the only passenger, leading many people who know him to suspect that Ianucci is afraid to drive and is even uncomfortable riding in an automobile. Those who drive him from place to place in his district have been known to refer to that aspect of their work – in private, of course – as “Driving Mr. Michael.” Despite this, Ianucci always owns a large black Cadillac, trading his car in for a new model every three years. Despite having the car, he always rides the train for the 200-mile round-trip to Harrisburg for legislative sessions and is one of just a few state legislators who neither has a state-leased car nor submits requests for mileage reimbursement for using his personal automobile.

 When attending social events, observers have noticed a peculiarity in Ianucci’s eating habits. When he has more than one type of food on his plate, he always eats all of one before even touching the next, and he then repeats that process until his plate is clean.

 “This is the kind of behavior we frequently see in very young children,” explained Dr. Melinda Sharp, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “But those children outgrow such behavior, usually by the age of five or so. When you tell me that he doesn’t drive, I see a man who still has this eating disorder as someone who wants to be in total control at all times and wants no part of situations in which he lacks such control. He controls his consumption of food. He decides he won’t be around cigarette smoke. He can’t control the behavior of other drivers on the road, so he refuses to drive. Laymen refer to such a person as a control freak, and it sounds to me like that’s what we’re talking about in this case.”

 Ianucci seems to exert similar, unusual control in another, more delicate aspect of his life: his bodily functions.

 “I’ve seen Mike stay on the floor of the House for hours upon hours without so much as a single bathroom break,” according to Mifflin County state representative Clyde Herman. “Everyone will be getting up during debate to go out, you know, to heed nature’s call, but he never budges. If you leave the floor during a debate, you always run the risk of somebody adding something to a bill that you don’t want or removing something that you like. Mike’s won more than a few legislative battles over the years simply by outwaiting his opponents. A few members of the House even gave him the nickname ‘Old Iron Bladder.’”

Although a notorious technophobe who uses neither a computer nor a smartphone, Ianucci is seldom seen without a cell phone in his hand. What casual observers do not realize, however, is that it is almost always a different cell phone. Ianucci reportedly is paranoid about people listening in on his calls, so he buys disposable cell phones and uses them for only a week or so before discarding them; he also changes his cell phone number several times a year.

Based on the recent revelation that Ianucci frequents prostitutes, however, perhaps that paranoia is understandable. While the police have closely guarded all information surrounding the alleged prostitution ring – and while authorities emphasize that they do not plan to prosecute any of the escort service’s customers – sources close to Eugene Doctoroff, the alleged ring-leader, suggest that Ianucci’s preferences were, to say the least, unconventional.

“He had some very specific requirements for the women he requested,” one source close to the accused Doctoroff explained. “He wanted short women – no one taller than five feet. They couldn’t be Catholic. They had to wear flats, no heels, and short skirts but no underwear. They were always told to bring a change of clothes with them because they’d probably need it, although none of the girls ever understood that and none ever reported needing any extra clothes.

“They were also told not to talk about money and that he would put down an envelope in front of them but he didn’t want to hand it directly to them and didn’t want them to pick it up while he was looking. He barely spoke at all when he was with them. I’m told that the girls all thought he was creepy. Considering their line of work, that’s really saying something. I mean, how creepy do you have to be to make a call girl uncomfortable?”

This is the side of Michael Ianucci that the people who have elected him to office ten times have never known, and in less than two weeks they will have more information than ever to help guide their voting decisions. The polls say he’s far ahead, and even his political opponents concede that not enough time remains for anyone, let alone an unknown and political novice like Kathleen O’Donnell, to wage an effective campaign against him.

What also remains in question, though, is whether Ianucci, who appears to have lost almost all of his political influence in recent weeks, would even be interested in returning to Harrisburg as just another rank-and-file member of the state House. He has not been seen in the state capital since the scandal broke last month and some people think he may never return. There are even rumors, which the Post could not confirm, that Ianucci has already provided his Harrisburg landlord with written notice of his intention to move out of his apartment there at the end of the year.

Two days later the Post endorsed O’Donnell in her challenge to Ianucci. While noting that “We know nothing about Mrs. O’Donnell, haven’t met her, couldn’t pick her out of a police lineup, and are unaware of her views on even a single issue, we welcome a breath of fresh air representing Philadelphia in Harrisburg and think that a native Philadelphian, mother of three, former nun, and schoolteacher is just what the doctor ordered in these troubled times.”


A Christmas Puzzle

Courtesy of The Curmudgeonly Sister.


Merry Christmas

wreathTo all of our Christian readers:  Merry Christmas!

And to our Jewish readers:  enjoy the moo shu chicken.


“Murray Christmas”

(Ever wonder what Christmas might be like for people who don’t celebrate Christmas?  The Curmudgeon is one of those people, and more than twenty-five years ago he put pen to paper and wrote the follow semi-autobiographical look at what that day is like for people who hang no stockings, eat no sugar cookies (really?  sugar cookies?  don’t you want something that has some, you know, flavor?), and drink no wassail (because they have no idea what that even is).  While The Curmudgeon is normally an incessant tinkerer with his writing, he decided to leave untouched the mistakes he made twenty-five years ago and made only one alteration to this piece; you’ll probably know it when you see it.  Finally, if you find that you don’t know the meaning of some of the non-English words, skip down to the bottom, where you’ll find a glossary.  And if you think you’ve seen this before – hey, you’re paying attention!  It ran in this space two years ago. Happy reading – and Murray Christmas.)

Bowling, movies, and Chinese food, for chrissakes.  That’s what they leave us with.  It’s like being the lone guy marooned on a deserted island with ten beautiful women and discovering that, well, they don’t really like boys.

Bowling, for crying out loud.

That’s what Christmas means to me, a Jewish boy from the old neighborhood who, as a precocious child of four, couldn’t for the life of me understand why the biggest goyische holiday of them all was named after a Jewish man.

“Bubby,” I would ask, “why did the goyim name their holiday after a Jew?”

“What are you talking?” my Bubby replied, cagily answering my question with a question of her own, as she did whenever she had no idea of what I was talking about, which was often.

“I heard it on TV a few minutes ago,” I said.  “‘Murray Christmas, Murray Christmas’ the man said.  Why is the fancy goyische holiday named after a Jew named Murray?”

Bubby, who never laughed aloud, fought unsuccessfully to hide a rare grin.

“Yes, my Yussele,” she said, “they named their holiday after a Jew named Murray.”

That was my introduction to a holiday that has haunted me, taunted me, and frequently even been flaunted to me ever since.

“What did you get for Christmas?” the kids would ask when we returned to school in January.

“I didn’t get anything,” I would reply, and they would make fun of me.  “Joey got nothing for Christmas, Joey got nothing for Christmas” they would taunt in their high-pitched, singsong voices.

I told Bubby about that, too, and she made that sucking sound with her teeth that she usually saved for when I messed up the schmatah that she threw on top of the plastic slipcovers whenever her grandchildren visited.

“Hush, Yussele, we don’t celebrate Christmas.  When they ask you what you got for Christmas, you tell them you got gornischt for Christmas.”

“Did I get some gornischt, Bubby?” I asked, a hopeful smile blooming on my face.

“Yes, Yussele, you got gornischt for Christmas.  You should live to be a hundred years old and always get gornischt for Christmas.”

And that’s what I’ve been getting ever since – that and bowling, which I shouldn’t do because of my bad back, the movies, which bore me to tears, and that ever-present goddamned Chinese food.  Some people associate Christmas with a hirsute, aging binge-eater with a predilection for gaudy red clothing; others think about spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need, and doing it in department stores – paying retail, of all things; and still others go on endlessly about the smell of pine needles, the sight of tinsel, the sound of carolers.  Me, I associate Christmas with wonton soup and moo goo gai pan.  Actually, I like Chinese food, but I resent like hell having no choice except Chinese food that one day of the year.

Even those seemingly innocent carols caused problems in our little Jewish-American family as we tried desperately, but ultimately in vain, to avoid succumbing to the influence of the Christmas season.  I remember when my little brother came home one day from the first grade, singing something about “Pa rum pum pum pum.”  Dad, who had a short temper to begin with, was not happy.

“What’s with this ‘rum pum pum pum’ crap?” he growled at my mother when he knew that my brother had been tucked in for the night.

The next day, Dad was in school at eight o’clock sharp, informing Miss Dubin – Dubin, for pete’s sake, she should have known better – that no son of his was going to sing “rum pum pum pum.”  Little brother was removed post haste from the Aloysius J. Fitzpatrick Public Elementary School Christmas pageant.

I’m glad little brother left the choir, because hearing him sing Christmas carols probably would have driven me crazy, and knowing him, once he realized the effect that his singing was having on me, he would have sung them non-stop, all day.  Over the years, I have come to loathe those perky, insipid tunes, and I never, ever even hum along with them.  I make a special point of staying out of retail establishments after Thanksgiving just to avoid hearing them, and to this day, I can honestly swear on the grave of my late, lamented Bubby that I do not know all of the words to any – any – Christmas songs.  It’s hard to prove a negative, I know, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

I grew up in mixed neighborhoods with more gentiles than Jews, and you could usually tell who lived in which house by the decorations in the windows.  Jews don’t go much for decorations; we prefer to keep our whereabouts quiet, ever mindful of the Nazi wannabes out there looking to spray paint swastikas on our doors.  A few Jewish families would put electric menorahs in their windows – “keeping up with the O’Malleys,” Mom called it – but we knew they weren’t the real Jews.  Electric menorahs were the kind of thing you picked up in reform synagogues – synagogues that were so unreligious that they didn’t even call themselves synagogues.  They were “temples,” which was a stupid word when you could use “synagogue” instead, but it’s a word that some Jews use so they don’t come off sounding too much like Jews.  “Yeah, we went to temple,” you’d hear someone say, and you knew, instinctively, that it was someone who probably owned an electric menorah.

Let me tell you about reform synagogues.  “Reform” is not a euphemism, not by any stretch of the imagination.  When a Jew calls himself a “reform” Jew, it means that if he goes any further, he’ll reform himself right out of the religion and the mohel will return and sew that hunk of skin back on.  Their rabbis rarely have beards, mostly because beards still don’t go over very well in the business world, and most of these not-so-holy men want more money than they can earn in the god business.  These rabbis, if I can use that word without choking on it, conduct their services mostly in English.  No one wears yarmulkas and men over the age of twelve don’t wear tallises.  Whenever I go into a reform synagogue, I’m always afraid I’m going to turn around and see a guy with a big nose crossing himself.  Whenever I attend a bar mitzvah or wedding celebration at a reform synagogue, I always brace myself for the possibility that the appetizer will be shrimp cocktail.

But back to Christmas.  Our rabbi, who did have a beard and did not moonlight in the rag trades, taught us clearly and beyond any reasonable doubt that Chanukah was not the Jewish Christmas.  We were not to get presents, one to a night, like our gentile friends – that is, if we insisted on having gentile friends, which he strongly preferred that we did not.  He also told us never to date gentile girls, never to go trick-or-treating on the pagan holiday of Halloween, and never to use the word “Christ,” which he explained was Greek for messiah, which we knew that Jesus definitely was not.  Christmas, he said, was all about Madison Avenue, not about god, and if that was how our gentile friends chose to celebrate the birth of their lord – by buying toys, eating extraordinarily bland cookies, and putting dead trees in their living rooms – that was their business.

As we grew older, though, we were inexorably drawn into the wider Christian world, and so it was that in my seventeenth year I broke one of the rabbi’s rules when I found myself thoroughly infatuated with a shiksa with the highly improbable name of Mary Margaret.  My Mary Margaret was an absolutely lovely creature with alabaster skin, long, silky blonde hair, no nose to speak of, enormous boobs, and by far the sweetest, gentlest disposition that I have ever encountered in any woman before or since, and certainly not at all like the dark, intense, mercurial Jewish girls who traveled in my social circle at that time.

This was during my junior year of high school, so I naturally took Mary Margaret to my junior prom.  Until the prom, I had never even mentioned Mary Margaret to my parents, and when I announced our prom plans, Dad walked around the house for days, shaking his head from side to side and muttering “Mary Margaret, Mary Margaret.”  That surprised me because Dad, alone in the family, lived mostly in the gentile world and was, or so I thought, more worldly than the rest of us, but his constant “Mary Margaret, Mary Margaret” -ing around the house suggested otherwise.

My unconsummated adolescent adoration of Mary Margaret continued halfway through my senior year of high school – until Christmas, to be precise.  She invited me to spend Christmas day with her and her family, and even I, as infatuated as I was, knew better than to accept her well-intended but extremely inappropriate invitation.  I said no, and though Mom and Dad were proud – no one had dared utter the words “Mary Margaret” in front of Bubby – Mary Margaret dumped me immediately and unceremoniously.

In hindsight, getting dumped by Mary Margaret was probably a good thing, but it certainly hurt when it happened.  At the time, all I could think of was that alabaster skin and that stupendous chest and how eventually, I would have gotten a chance to know them better.  I didn’t understand about good Catholic girls back then, but now I realize, with the wisdom of the years, that I could have stayed with Mary Margaret forever and not gotten any further than accidentally-on-purpose leaning my elbow on her sweater, which sat on top of a blouse that sat on top of her presumably enormous double yarmulka with chin straps – the “under-the-shoulder boulder holder,” as it was called by my younger brother, who was not so young that he couldn’t appreciate Mary Margaret’s considerable physical appeal.

I only learned about the bowling part of the Jewish Christmas tradition when I was in college and my younger sister was a member of one of those all-Jewish sororities that I despised only slightly less than reform temples.  On the whole, these girls gave Jewry a bad name, but they had this wonderful tradition of getting all of their sorority sisters from far and wide to join them on Christmas eve, when they rented out an entire bowling alley from eight in the evening until eight the next morning.  I gladly and proudly provided chauffeur service for my sister for several years – what the hell, it was on the way to the Chinese restaurant that had my favorite lychee duck and squid in black bean sauce.

In my first job after college, I worked in an office with a secretary I shared with four other people.  The last day of work before Christmas, she asked me what I would be doing the following day.

“Nothing,” I said, thinking nothing of my reply.

Maybe my answer had one syllable too many, because she clearly did not understand me.

“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?” she asked.

“I mean ‘nothing,’” I said, and then, to make sure I was, as a certain Quaker president once put it, perfectly clear, added “I do nothing on Christmas.  Absolutely nothing.”

“But don’t you get together with your family and friends on Christmas day?” she persisted.

“No,” I replied, now having to work to stifle the urge to get in her face.  “It’s not our holiday, so we don’t do anything.”

“You mean you really don’t do anything?  Not even get together?”

I stood there and thought for a moment, and it was like an epiphany for me.  Not only did I suddenly and completely comprehend the significance of Christmas to my Christian brethren, but I also opened my heart to the Holy Trinity as I struggled internally to find a way to explain what Christmas meant to me.

“I’ll tell you, Joanne,” I finally explained, “it’s true that you don’t leave us with a helluva lot to do.  Just about everything’s closed, so there’s almost nowhere to go and nothing to do.  We’re stuck with a practically worthless day off from work, all dressed up with no place to go.  We can sit around the house and eat and watch TV if we want, although most of the shows are about Christmas, which pisses us off to no end, or if we absolutely have to do something we go bowling, see a movie, or go out for Chinese food.”

“You’re kidding,” she said, still not quite believing.  “You mean you don’t spend the day with your friends and family?”

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“No,” I declared in a tone that made it clear that these were going to be my last words on the subject.  “We don’t get together because there’s no reason for us to get together.  You’re celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus, which to you was a wonderful event, the blessed birth of your immaculately conceived god, although, to be honest, we’ve never really understood why you would worship the son of god and not the real thing.  As far as we’re concerned, though, Jesus was just a bad rabbi gone astray.  It happens, but there’s a rotten apple in every barrel, even the rabbi barrel.  When you have your big holiday, though, you close the whole town down, and all we have left is our Jewish Holy Trinity for Christmas day:  we can go bowling, see a movie, and eat Chinese food.  As far as we’re concerned, December 25 isn’t about Christmas, Jesus, or a fat guy with a chimney fetish who abuses reindeer and overworks the vertically challenged.  For us, it’s just another day to eat fucking Chinese food.”

I slammed the file drawer over which we had been talking and went back to my desk.  Joanne still didn’t get it, but then, nine months later, when Rosh Hashanah came along and she asked why we celebrated the new year three months early and I rolled my eyes, at least she had the good sense not to pursue the matter.  I considered it a small victory in a world of small victories.

*       *       *

“Morty’s Notes” (with apologies to Cliff)

A Gentile Guide

To the Yiddish in “Murray Christmas”

*  With apologies for explaining some words that you undoubtedly know

Bubby – grandmother.

Goyim – gentiles.

Goyische – gentile, but an adjective rather than a noun.

Yussele – a Yiddish name, frequently used for men named Joseph.

Gornischt – nothing, zero, zilch, nada.

Schmatah – a throw-cloth, usually something thrown over a piece of furniture to protect it, but women occasionally use it to refer to old, worn-out dresses and especially old house coats.

Mohel – rhymes with “oil” – that nasty guy who performs the ritual circumcision.  Ouch.

Yarmulka – a skullcap, which men wear in synagogue (except in reform synagogues, where they are optional and generally frowned upon).  Women wear hats or veils.

Tallis – a prayer shawl that men wear in synagogue after they have reached the age of 13 and had their bar mitzvah.  This, too, is generally frowned up in reform synagogues.

Shiksa – a female gentile.  Like its male counterpart, “shagitz,” shiksa has become so much a part of the vernacular that it isn’t really considered derogatory, except as an observation.  It probably is the equivalent of calling a black person a Negro.  It’s ignorant, but really, it’s just an observation.  It is not the same as calling a black person the n-word, which is unambiguous in its intent.  When shiksa is used in a derogatory manner, you can tell by the tone of voice.  To demonstrate, consider how the following sentence can be said aloud to sound neutral, just as an observation, or in a condemning manner:  “My son is dating a shiksa.”

They Consider This a “Rush”?

Last week, headlines across the country told of Congress’s last-minute rush to pass what amounts to a federal budget.

For fiscal year 2016.

Which began on October 1.

Only with the U.S. Congress does anyone think that finally getting around to meeting a deadline that passed six weeks ago amounts to a “rush.”

Unless, of course, it’s the White House press corps (or is it press corpse?) that reports so unthinkingly, unanalytically, and uncritically on that Congress.

“Rush”? After blowing their deadline by nearly two months, the only thing members of Congress were rushing to do last week was to beat it out of town for the holidays.

Congress takes a lot of holidays: this time around, two-and-a-half weeks for the House and three-and-a-half weeks plus the Senate.

Nice work if you can get it.

He Should Be Fired

Ashton Carter is secretary of defense. Last week we learned that he was using a personal email account to conduct some official business.

carterCarter assumed his position in February and continued to use his personal email account for five months – including two months after the start of the fuss over Hillary Clinton using her own private email account, and her own private email server, to conduct all of her official business.

While The Curmudgeon is willing to give Carter the benefit of the doubt and accept that he used impeccable judgment in not sharing any classified information through his private email account, he thinks Carter should probably be fired.

Not for sending classified material over the account, because we don’t know that.

And not for possibly violating any government policy about the use of non-government email for government business, because that’s fuzzy at best.

And not even for the bad judgment of doing this in the first place.

No, The Curmudgeon thinks Carter should probably be fired for sheer stupidity because he didn’t stop using his personal email as soon as the Clinton kerfuffle began. A guy who can’t figure out that kind of thing seems unlikely to have the kind of judgment we need in a secretary of defense.