Hasidic Jews: A tale and some gedanken

hasidic jews

For a year I lived in Do-or-die Bed-stuy, Brooklyn on the border of the largest Hasidic Jewish community outside of Israel. There are between 90,000-100,000 Hasidic Jews in North America and 25% of them live in Brooklyn. Of these Brosidic Jews (Brooklyn Hasidic), 90% of them would blush, whisper yiddish curses, and turn away when I’d sprint shirtless through their tightly-knit, amply-covered communities. And 95% of the chaste women would shriek, clutch their wigs, and huddle on the opposite side of the sidewalk when Hank would strut and swagger past their cloistered, crowded homes.

During this time I worked as bartender for a place called Wray’s in the hood (outbreaks of violence were frequent…WHY YOU LOOKIN AT MY GIRL?!) and as a busboy for a restaurant called The Runner. On my walk home from both of these places I’d pass right through the center of the Hasidic community. One time I stopped to buy a loaf of wheat bread for my daily pbj and didn’t have enough money. WHAT TO DO? The Hasid cashier said it was fine and let me go. So much for the stereotype of Jewish stinginess…then again…I’ve had numerous people tell me that I look Jewish (my nose is slightly big and my red hair becomes a curly afro). Whatever the motivation, I still left the kosher grocery store with a warm feeling in my heart. And I returned the next day to pay back the difference.

A week after this friendly exchange I was walking home late on a Saturday night when I was accosted by a Hasidic Jew. He was very short, on the cusp of midget, wore spectacles, and had a long, gray beard.

“Please, please help me!” he yelled.
“I…I’m just walking home. I’m tired. Leave me alone.”
“You’re not Jewish, are you?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes! Please! Five minutes of your time. Please.” I thought of the Hasid generosity from the week before. I believe that acts of kindness ricochet in life..so you know what? Fuck it. I’ll help this devoutly Jewish man.

He led me into a building, into an elevator, and we traveled up to the place where I might be murdered. He didn’t tell me why he needed my help. He was emotional and kept talking incoherently (my fatigue and apprehension might have been blurring his words), “We’re here visiting…at a friend’s place…can’t do this…”

We entered his apartment. The place was freezing. Three children squealed and scattered into dark corners. The hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. I was ready to defend myself against an ambush.

“Follow me,” the man said. He led me into a bedroom which was connected to a kitchen. A butt naked woman was passed out on the bed (just kidding). I saw a women timidly poke her head around a corner. The man opened a closet and pointed at a button. “Please. Turn it off.” I looked at the switch. It was for the air-conditioning. I pressed the button. “Thank you! Thank you!” I learned later that it was The Sabbath and that Hasidic Jews are not allowed “to do work” during The Sabbath (which includes using electricity). The man offered me cookies before I left. “No thank you.” In my mind I though they might be poisoned. Nonetheless, I was tempted. I like cookies.

I’ve always been interested in Jewish culture. My high school was 1/3 jewish and growing up I attended many Bar/Bat mitzvahs. I’ve dated a couple of Jewish girls. So…to temporarily quench my curiosity concerning the Jewish culture, here are the haphazardly-picked fruits of my research-labor on the this extreme sect of Judaism:

hasaid jew 2

Who’s hungry? For dinner we’re eating…white tablecloth!

Hasidic Judaism was started 250 years ago by Baal Shem Tov:

Baal Shem Tov

True dat Baal…true dat. Everybody around me stuntin.

Boys and girls are segregated at an early age and never participate in activities where the sexes are mixed. Dating and falling in love are as foreign to them as it is common to our wider culture. A mate is arranged through the aid of family, friends, and members of the community who act as a shadchan, or a marriage broker. Before the arranged marriage, the prospective pair engage in “sit ins” where they talk to one another for a couple of hours. Then they get married and spend the rest of their lives…

For boys, learning the Torah is the main the objective. They often spend 10-14 hours a day praying.

They average 8 people per family. They are strong proponents of birth control and planned parenthood.

They live each day according to the 613 commandments.

They thrive under and enjoy this framework for living: what to eat (no pork or shellfish), no mixing dairy with meat, what to wear, respect parents, etc. It’s nice, comfortable, and easy following a prescribed framework for living.

Western culture is considered shameless and dangerous.

kim k

 

Modesty is very important. “What secures us and others.”

So what about the women wearing wigs? All Hasidic women must cover their hair…even at home, in case of an unexpected male visitor…hair is the crowning glory of a woman…hair is sensual…she wants to keep her hair for her husband.

So what about the men and those funny, curly sideburns? Those are called payots:

payots

Check out my payots…ladies

They exist because the Torah says, “You shall not round off the pe’at of your head.” (Leviticus 19:27)

What about the funny hats?

had hat

Covering your head is honoring god.

Marriage is about eternity.

“We don’t marry the one we love. But we love the one we marry.” Those two sentences, I think, encompass why some people can become so extremely religious.

During the reception the men and women are segregated.

What about Hanukkah?

Hanuka-Menorah-by-Gil-Dekel-2014

Hanukkah is celebrated because of an ancient, Jewish victory over the Greeks, when the Greeks wanted the Jews to assimilate. Meanwhile, us Christians celebrate a fat man squeezing his way down a chimney in the middle of the night to eat cookies.

The most fundamental theme underlying all Hasidic theory is the immanence of God in the universe.

Hasidic masters exhorted their followers to negate themselves. They want to create a seamless bridge between physicality and spirituality, body and soul, earth and heaven.

A feature common to all Hasidic sects is the view that secular education is a threat to their traditional values.

In Hasidic Jewish schools words are blacked out in textbooks such as dinosaur, universe, and gymnasium…why? Those words would bring up subjects they don’t want to talk about it.

I watched an interview of a man who left his Hasidic community. He said the thing he missed most was a sense of belonging. “Who’s gonna look after me if I’m in danger? No one.” When you’re in the the Hasidic community people are looking after you, caring for you.

In another interview of a couple of people who left the Hasidic community, the question was raised: How do they keep you in? “Well, they say things like, ‘The Gentiles will kill you.” But believe it or not, they don’t usually say it’s forbidden to leave. It’s more that they stress: why would you even want that? The lesson of the Holocaust: stay as insulated and isolated as possible.

But wait…why is the word gymnasium blacked out of textbooks? Because gymnasium means exercise…exercise means body (the rude and callous flesh)…and exercise means secular, western culture.

So if you practice Hasidic Judaism…you’re frowned upon if you run?

To each his own…but not for me.

 

Sober vs. Drunk #1

sober vs. drunk

Sober:

Tickle your ass with a feather?

What did you just say to me?

It’s particularly nice weather.

Drunk:

Stick a feather in your ass.

What?

It’s fucking raining.

Fred and The Trap House

Traphouse

The nighttime chef at my restaurant is more hood than a pile of empty 40s and torn blunt wraps in the back of a stolen mini-van. He’s more hood than the Sunday morning ghetto noises of rusty church organs, wailing babies, thug music blaring from busted speakers, and toothless men sitting on stoops cat-calling passing women. He’s more hood than fried chicken doused in hot sauce served with Sunny Delight with a side of yo mama’s got a fat ass.

I’m not talking about the hood you hear about in radio-rap-pop songs, the ones associated with wasted white girls dancing in college…the ones where rich black men squeak their auto-tune nursery rhymes through diamond teeth while wearing tailored clothes and bright bling-bling, those lil johns, lil waynes, lil durks, young bucks, young jeezies, young dolphs…those little-young kids who sing their songs at nice burfday parties.

I’m talking about real hood, half a century of hood, 10 years in prison for manslaughter and nobody to help you or give you a record deal when you’re out…hood, working 2 minimum wage jobs, 6 days a week…16 hours a day in cramped, steamy kitchens…hood, can’t see your five year old son because your baby mama is blowing a guy who works for child’s services…hood, choked out on a subway by a police officer for looking at a white girl…hood, a lifetime of poverty, grinding with no end in sight, and oppression…hood.

That’s my chef. He’s real hood. We’ll call him Fred. Most of the time we get along quite well.

But Fred has his mood swings (10 years in prison for manslaughter mood swings). One moment he’s kind, friendly, and obliging…the next he’s screaming in my face (I don’t know why), convinced I’m racist, blind with rage, on the verge of attacking me, and storming out of the restaurant in his Tims.

I’m convinced he likes me, though. We’ve had many pleasant conversations.

Fred is 47 but looks like he’s 27 (black don’t crack…why? future blog post). I’m a curious person and when we take out the trash each night I like to talk to him about his life.

Fred has a wife who’s 23. One night I asked him, “How did you meet her?”

“At a trap house.”
“What’s a trap house?”
“You don’t know about trap houses?” Fred was appalled at my ignorance.
“No.”

Before I give you Fred’s explanation, let me inform you that a trap house is NOT this:

 

This is that radio-rap-pop song trap house. “My trap house a waffle house.” Sure it is, Young Durk. But this is not real hood.

Even urban dictionary has it all wrong: “Term used to define a crack house, or the surroundings in which a drug dealer or (trap star) would use to make their profit.” Romanticism sometimes bastardizes truth.

When I later told Fred about this definition he laughed, “Yea, that’s the rap song trap house, the south trap house, in NYC it’s a whole different thing.”

In reality, or at least, in NYC, a trap house is a place where an older gentleman with money opens his doors for young people/partying people to come in and enjoy themselves with booze and weed. These young people get intoxicated and hook up until the sun rises. A trap house is a modern-day, ghetto salon. 

When Fred got out of prison he spent a lot of time in trap houses. One night he went to a trap house and saw a young woman who was sitting by herself in a corner. She wasn’t “all up on the other men,” like the other girls. “That’s the one for me,” Fred thought. “I will make her my wife.” They blazed, discussed various topics, discovered shared philosophies, and fell in love.

Their marriage has not been easy. Fred’s wife, let’s call her Martha, is still a 23 year old woman learning about the world. Martha likes to attend rap concerts with her girlfriends. Fred doesn’t go. “Why not?” I asked. “You think I’m gonna waste my time at one of them shows? Give my money I sweat for to Kanye or Jay-Z? Hell no. What has any of those niggas ever done for me? Nothing. You think I’m gonna give my cash to those niggas and stand around while those niggas jump around a stage? Na.”  Despite his mood swings, Fred has his own wisdom.

Fred also doesn’t go to the club with Martha. “I’m done with that shit,” he said. “I’m too old and tired for those games. It’s always the same shit. Females get drunk. Then they start flirtin’ with other guys. Then they men get angry. Then the men fight. Somebody gets hurt. Always the same shit.”

Sometimes Martha threatens to hook up with other men. Fred is 47 and has been around the block. “Look, Martha, if you wanna do that, fine by me, but I’m out. You know I can find my own pussy. I’ll go on backpages tomorrow and have 2 girls all up on me in no time. You think another man will support you like me? Pay your rent? Buy you shit? Na. Those niggas that givin you attention, they don’t care about you like I do. They goan sing you a song, tell you a story, bang you out, and kick you out the door the next day.” Again, Fred has his own wisdom.

What provoked this post was a conversation I had with Fred last night. Lately, after long shifts, I’ve been joking around with Fred and saying,

“After we close this restaurant down, I’m going straight to the trap house.”
“Haha. Crazy white kid like you in a trap house? They’d love you.”

So tonight Fred says:
“My wife and I were actually talkin’ bout the Trap House this morning.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, we was talkin about this video some niggas took of me and posted online. Shit was crazy.”
“What kind of video?”
“So it’s like 4am in the trap house, right? And everybody high as shit. This girl goes into the bathroom and comes out buck naked, “I want a nigga to eat my pussy right now,” she says, and sits on the couch. So I start eatin’ it and these damn niggas start taking a video of me. Then they posted that shit online.”
“Wait, were you married to your wife at this point?”
“Na. We was only talkin’.”
“And what’d she think of it?”
“She thought it was funny. She know I’m a freak.”
(Side note: Fred is a devout muslim who doesn’t drink.)
While helping Fred throw trash into a dumpster I start beat-boxing.
“Damn, that’s pretty good.”
“Practice.” Then I start to spit:

Quiet as a mouse
White kid sneakin’ into the trap house
He starts to beat-box

All the bitches drop (Fred chuckling)

They panties
Martha got a nice fanny
 (Fred: Woah woah woah)
Lookin’ for a pretty slut
Smokin till the sun comes up

While in the elevator Fred says,

“You gotta be careful, though, if you go to a trap house and start makin a scene like that.” (Fred often takes me more seriously than I intend.)
“Why?”
“Cause if all the girls start payin you attention, then the niggas will get jealous and try to fight you.”

Note to self: Do not beat box too enthusiastically when visiting a trap house.

Because this is not a rap video…

This is the hood.

Biggie smalls bedstuy

 

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Who is more courageous?

Who is more courageous?

The man who quietly and patiently endures
his daily struggles and hardships
or the man who recklessly throws it all away
and explores?

The man who looks for beauty, hope, and truth
in the mundane, dreary routines of his life
or the man who refuses to settle, accept, and obey
and takes risks by journeying into the wild unknown?

The man who steadily waits through temptation and pain
for the opportunity and light to arise
or the man who seizes the day
and with desperate frenzy creates his own path?

Courage is the ability to do
something that frightens one.
It is the ability to fight through
obstacles.

What is more frightening?
Trying something new and leaving it all behind?
Or facing the challenges and difficulties of the day head on?
Do you know the difference between obstacles and signs?

True Love is rare…herpes sucks

 

True love is rare. Life is short. And human beings have incredible powers of self-deception.

There’s a regular at my bar who has herpes simplex and is having difficulty finding love. I like the guy. He has an interesting story. (I believe everybody has 1 great novel inside of them…if they only took the time to put it down.) I’m often his shrink when the bartenders are busy.

Joe Smo wants to find true love again SO MUCH…he’s 31 and has been dating like a fiend. But it’s difficult when your pool is mostly limited to other people who have annual outbreaks on their private parts. Luckily, there’s a website where people with herpes can meet. It’s called OKputrid. (Joke.)

herpes forever

Joe has an ex-wife who has full custody of their two kids. In his early 20s he traveled the world with an Emo band (until they kicked him out for inadequate keyboard skills). When he met his future wife she was in college. They fell head over herpes in love (she was ok with him transferring the venereal disease). Joe was now about to join the military. During basic training his future wife wrote him everyday (41 times). They moved to Hawaii together and life was going to be perfect and wonderful amongst the cool, island breezes.

hawai

Then Mrs. Smo got bored. Perhaps she was a little too excited to begin with? After having two children…things changed.

Obviously, my perspective is biased through the storytelling-lens of (often drunk) heartbroken Joe, but I can read people and situations fairly well despite a lack of details, and it sounded like Mrs. Smo became a cruel, conniving, rapacious cunt.

She lied, cheated, and deceived. She brought men back home who were “just friends,” flirted with them in front of the kids, and stayed late at their apartments. Poor Joe was still desperately in love with Mrs. Smo and didn’t know what to do. He still wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. And think of the children! Joe grew up in a broken home and didn’t want the same for his boy and his girl. But this rapacious cunt was treating him worse and worse. The walls were closing in…the fuse was getting shorter…

short fuse pic

Begin soap opera violent drama. Joe lost his shit. He took to the bottle. There were fights, yelling, the police were called. Joe was almost kicked out of the military, but due to a previous flawless record, he was demoted to a desk job at a gym.

Mr. and Mrs. Smo went to court. Joe lost the kids. Now he struggles to see them once every couple of months. This past Valentine’s Day, he was in the bar by himself muttering under his breath and in tears, texting his ex-wife nasty things.

We all know the justice system favors the mother in these instances. The judge doesn’t care about Joe catching his wife kissing another man at 1am on a street corner when she said she was just taking a dog for a walk. The judge cares about Joe screaming in the middle of the night, waking up the neighbors, and throwing plates against the wall. YOU RUINED OUR MARRIAGE YOU SELFISH WHORE!

Now Joe is trying to find love again. But it’s difficult to meet someone spontaneously and then have to drop the herpes bomb. How soon should he tell a girl? 2nd date? 3rd? As they kiss in the elevator?

Yesterday, he told me about a promising date in which he drove to Delaware (2 hours) to go on (they met on the herpes site). He thought the girl was pretty and nice, but the fire wasn’t there. Joe wondered if he would ever find the kind of love that he had with his first wife again, where they just KNEW it was right and jumped right in.

Hmm, but how they did know it was just right?

First, I told Joe that love is rare. He may have found it in the past, but he has to be prepare to never have it again. Perhaps the first love was a byproduct of the reckless hopefulness of his youth?

It’s a pity that our society says that everyone can/should find love. Marriages that work and deep, true love are the exceptions, not the rules. I think if we all thought this way much suffering would be alleviated and more love would be found.

Then I thought:
Yes, Human beings are masters of self-deception. How easily it is for many people to convince themselves that their significant other is the “one.” I think much of it is biological.

If you read my Death on Wednesday Morning philosophy post, you will remember that I discussed peoples’ mental susceptibility for religion and believing in God. There is also a susceptibility towards lock down love. The first person you consistently fuck and date IS THE ONE NO DOUBTS OR QUESTIONS ASKED. Life is nice and pleasant that way if both people are on the same, simple page.

“You got the blinders on?”
“Yes, you too?”
“Yes. To the grave!”

This lock down love susceptibility goes hand in hand with religion. People who marry their first loves have also fascinated and confused me because I wonder, “How do they know what they like if they haven’t dated other people? How are they not curious? How do they separate the good qualities of the person with the pleasurable, love-blinded show in general? Why do they throw away their life on the first person who comes around who is nice and makes them feel good?

Because not only are people afraid of the dark, most people are afraid to be alone.

But hovering above self-deceptions and the rarity of true love is this: time is short and the clock is ticking. You can’t keep on saying “the grass is always greener on the other side,” and never get to the other side!  The phrase “nobody’s perfect” is often a justification for people to reconcile to themselves their shitty partners. But if you keep searching and discarding rather than compromising and accepting your entire life, pushing and pushing…what’s the point? Maybe Wilma with all her flaws would have made you happy…

I’m not a relationship guru by any means, but the last cliche thing I told Joe was this:

You can’t be desperately pining for love. You’re either gonna scare the great girls away or attract ones that are gonna be bat-shit crazy and hurt you again. You have to get yourself right first before anything will work.

“Yeah…you’re right, the problem is, after a date, I’m always worried if the girl had a good time or not.”
“Nay, Joe Smo, nay. A part of you can think this, but the bigger part has to ask yourself whether YOU had a good time. Whether the girl resonated with YOUR standards…which brings me to my final two points…

1.) Standards/values: Relationships are confusing and complicated. And timing plays a big part. But I think all you can do (or at least I’m gonna do) to navigate this fog is know deep down how you look at the world, what you value, and who you are. Those things take time and effort to understand, but the better you can grasp it, the better chance you have of recognizing someone who is similar/has reached similar conclusions about life. For example, I value curiosity and someone who never stops learning, hard work and striving towards something…kindness, intelligence, reflection, strength, endurance, exploring…these things are personal to me, are unspoken and felt, and don’t pass away with time.

2.) Patience: I may never find what I consider “true love,” but I’m willing to wait. There’s a chance I may die before I find this person…but I’d rather wait and search than settle for someone who doesn’t share the things that make me who I am.

Joe paid the check and left the bar. As he walked away I thought, “We pay for things we do in this life. If someone destroys you like Joe’s ex-wife and you survive it, I really believe you are stronger and better on the other side. When someone/something fucks you over…something inside broadens/opens up. I hope Joe figures out who he is, deep down, and finds someone who can set him on fire…

“But Jesus Christ,” I couldn’t help but mutter under my breath, “I’m glad I don’t have fucking herpes.”

doctor herpes

 

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The Verrazano Bridge…and ball sacks

IMG_3494

There she is…what a beaut…she spans from Staten Island to Brooklyn.

Named after the lesser known Italian explorer, Giovanni da Verrazzano,

Giovanni de V

He was commissioned by King Francis I of France to explore the New World and occasionally rape and pillage. His most known voyage was along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to New Brunswick, where he stopped in the New York Bay in 1524 to eat some overpriced pasta in Little Italy. In 1528 he was killed and eaten by Carib natives. According to long lost texts recently discovered in Guadalupe in 2012, Verrazzano’s ball sack was roasted over an open fire and sprinkled with cloves and nutmeg.

The Name Controversy:

In 1951, the Italian Historical Society took a break from doing each other big favors and murdering snitches and requested the new bridge be named after an Italian. After 9 years of picketing outside of government buildings and yelling, “Hooooo, C’mon, I says whaddu mean?! You fuck my wife?! Get outta here…” in 1960 a bill was passed for the name Verazzano and signed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller:

gov rockafeller
“Hyeh Hyeh Hyeh. Yeah I’ll sign that shit.”

 

But during the last year of construction (1964) JFK was assassinated and a petition to name the bridge after him received thousands of signatures. John N. Lacorte, the president of the Italian Historical society, was enraged and started violently throwing his brother-in-law into garbage cans. (He was also a wealthy man and in 1987 he announced a plan to give $1,000 to teenage girls who remained virgins until the age 19…that’s actually true.) Since his hit men just couldn’t get the job done, John contacted the U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Bobby didn’t want to sleep with the fishes beneath the bridge, so he promised to make sure the structure wasn’t named after his brother. The compromise was to change the name of NYC’s international airport from Idlewild to JFK. A small group of hippies began protesting against the loss of the name, Idlewild, but nobody paid any attention to them.

And get this…after all that….the explorer’s name on the bridge is misspelled.

IMG_3480

It cost $320 million to build in 1964, which in present dollars is $2.44 billion/annual GDP of Liberia.

At the time of construction it was the largest suspension bridge in the world, surpassing the Golden Gate Bridge by 60 feet (Fuck you west coast. East Coast build bridges fuck bitches till we die.)

About 12,000 men worked on it, 3 men died. After the deaths of the 3 men the workers protested, demanded safety nets, and walked off the job for 4 days. The safety nets were granted and 3 men who subsequently fell were saved. The workers were not invited to the opening. Instead they attended a mass for the 3 victims. Hooray.

cool v pic

It is 14 football fields long and weighs 2.8 billion footballs (inflated)…was the heaviest bridge in the world when it was built.

Today it still has the largest bridge span in the Americas, but it is #11 in the world. C’mon American Government. We’re bigger than that. Round up another 12,000 workers to exploit and let’s get to work!

The diameter of each of the 4 suspension cables is only 36 inches, yet EACH cable is composed of 26,108 wires…which amounts in length to 143,000 miles…5.7 times around the globe.

Due to the height of the towers and their distance apart, the curvature of the earth’s surface had to be taken into account when designing the bridge. The tops of the towers are 1 and 5/8 inches farther apart than at their bases. They are not parallel to each other.

Due to thermal expansion of the steel cables the bridge roadway is 12 feet lower in the summer than in the winter.

170,000 people cross it per day. 5,000 of those people are middle-aged women listening to Adele and tearing up in their car. The toll was 50 cents when it opened ($3.84 today adjusted inflation) now it is $16 per car. When Uncle Sam grabs your balls, he doesn’t let go.

uncle sam money
hair ballsack

When I first wrote this essay, a couple of sources stated that researchers were taking part in a collaborative project on the conception and construction of the bridge.  Supposedly, in-depth interviews were taking place of surviving participants to compile an oral history of the architectural landmark. On November 29, 2016 a commemorative plague, in tribute to all the people associated with the construction of the bridge, was supposed to have been revealed…

But now it’s 2018, and I’ve yet to read, see, or hear of such a plague. WHERE IS IT STATE OF NY?! WHERE IS IT?!

tanuki-pulling-boat

Like the magical Tanuki Yoaki and his expanding scrotum, we cringe and move on.

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A Brief History of Braces…ending with some family notes

jan_miense_dentist2

If I lived a hundred years ago, without all of the benefits I’ve received from technology and modern medicine, I’d be an ugly-ass man.

I’d have thick glasses, asthma, allergies, scoliosis, recurrent ear infections, a speech impediment, acne vulgaris, consistent rashes…and yes, mangled buck teeth.

Growing up, I had an overbite and my two, front teeth pointed in towards one another…sort of like a bunny rabbit.

bunny braces

I wore braces for a couple of years. When and where did this technology begin?

Some ancient Egyptian mummies were found with crude metal bands around their teeth:

egyptian braces

Looks like humans have been going to great lengths to satisfy their vanities for thousands of years.

The Greek and the Roman thinkers wrote about tooth irregularities (Hippocrates) and altering tooth position by regularly pushing them with your fingers (Celsus). This latter technique still exists today in the hood. Instead of going to the orthodontist they go to the “or-just-push-it.”

The father of dentistry, Pierre Fauchard, in 1728 invented a device called the bandeau.

early-orthodontic-braces Wheresgz the damselssgz at?

Some braces contain nickel titanium…which was developed by NASA.

-8 million people are wearing braces right now.
-75% are under 18.
-100% have to lie to their orthodontist about their salt water taffy consumption

It takes 17 muscles to smile, 43 to frown, 71 to make an “O” face.

25% of people who wear braces have to wear them again because they didn’t use their retainer.

dos equis retainer

Wearing braces in American culture has a nerdy, ugly stereotype…as captured by this 6 second vine:

 

But in the last decade wearing braces has become a fashion trend in China and Thailand.

asian braces smile

Hot.

100% of orthodontists are dentists.

About 6% of dentists are orthodontists.

About 99% of dentists continually refer to themselves as doctors despite everyone else saying, “You mean, you’re a dentist?”

(Note: my grandfather is a dentist. We haven’t talked in years. He lives in Arizona and he likes to gamble and golf. I remember his two favorite quotes:

Analysis is paralysis.

Don’t laugh when you win, don’t cry when you lose. 

I’ve tended not to analyze our relationship. And I tend to laugh when I lose and cry when I win.)

My sister (who’s a real doctor) got her braces off on the morning of 9/11. When she returned to school that day, nobody knew.

 

Thoughts of Death on a Wednesday Morning

skull and hourglass

I’m obsessed with death.

I’ve been that way since I was a little kid.

death guess who

Perhaps it is one of many reasons I’ve chosen the path of the pen…a book is a life that doesn’t die…no serious author doesn’t at least play with the idea of immortality.

When I was 6 years old my grandmother’s sister died. My mother tells a story of talking to me about her death:

“Great-Aunt Mami passed away today, Jack.”
“She’s gone?”
“Yes.”
“Where did she go?”
“To…to heaven.” I paused. “Mommy?”
“Yes Jack?”
“What if nothing happens to us after we die?” My mother was taken aback and surprised.
“We..we just don’t know Jack. We just hope that the people we love go to a better place.”

Since I can remember I’ve had the unwavering conviction that death is a dreamless sleep, game over, total blackness. Which is part of the reason why I’ve often been confused and fascinated by religious people…in the beginning I thought it was plain silly that people actually believed in life after death. Now, after years of reading, studying, living, and questioning I’ve come to some conclusions concerning why people can have this belief.

1) Some minds are just set up for it. Just as some people are tall, short, inherently strong, or weak…some minds are susceptible to certain ideas, thought patterns, and illusions. And believing in a higher power and life after death is an excellent survival tool. “God loves me and is watching over me…there is a better place than this hazardous, tragic world,” these ideas give people strength and hope. What is better for finding a mate and having children than unreasonable, unaccountable, unquestionable strength and hope?

I’ve slowly and meticulously read almost all of Victor Hugo and Dostoevsky’s books. They were both extremely religious, but extremely different men. They gave their lives to their writing and opened themselves up in ways few humans have. I learned many things from their novels.

Hugo woman quote doy saraBut concerning their faith…despite being intelligent, expressive, well-read men…it came down to this:
Believe me…trust me…God exists!!! Faith was just a part of who they were. They couldn’t defend their faith beyond: this is how I feel. Nonetheless, I remember thinking while reading their books that if a belief in God could produce/contribute to such powerful, intense, soul-shaking works…are the authors right? Was Jesus actually the son of a higher power because Jean Valjean got up from his deathbed, took down a copper crucifix, and said, ‘He is the great martyr.’ (A surprising, out-of-left-field moment amidst a life-changing scene which had me crying in a diner: “A lower murmur escaped his lips. ‘To die is nothing, but it is terrible not to live.'”)

But then I realized that I was merely worshiping their creative skill. Being able to write a great book has nothing to do with the ultimate, unknowable truths of the universe…it’s a single person mastering a limited perspective and communicating it powerfully and clearly.

2.) Life is suffering. La luche de vida. Because of this fact….reality and our minds are constantly in flux. When we experience conflict in reality…something in our mind has to give/has to cope/has to figure this shit out. I think a belief in God can begin when a susceptible mind interacts or clashes with uncertainty and conflict in the outside world.

This idea was summed up for me in an interview I watched of Stephen Hawking. He was asked about why people believe so strongly in religion. He replied, “People…are…afraid…of…the…dark.” Some people can live in the darkness, some people can’t. In a different interview Stephen Hawking was asked if he ever became angry at his body/ his life because of his Motor Neuron disease and being stuck in a wheelchair. His response: “Who…could…ask…for…more?”

stephen hawking

But regardless of your susceptibility, sometimes I think the level of suffering and uncertainty becomes so much that something has to save you…no matter how irrational that something is.

I’ve also been interested in people who either convert to Christ or convert away from Christ. One of my friends, Sean Ewart (writer), was raised by two pastors in the boonies of northern NY. Yet he somehow became an atheist. While I can’t fathom all of the experiences he had growing up which pushed him in this direction…I do know that he is a questioning, exploring, curious type of individual. Perhaps his inner susceptibility for faith was minimal. Which brings me to my last point…

3.) Community. Humans are highly social animals. The people who orbit our susceptibilities and experiences (suffering) influence how we look at life and death. If you don’t have an independent, questioning tendency inside of you, there’s very little chance for you to rebel against your family and friends.

Growing up, my parents were open, inquisitive, and challenging. They read books and explored. I remember a game my father used to play frequently with my sister and I…he’d point at something like a dog and say, “Look at that cat over there!” My sister and I were laugh and say, “No, dad, that’s not a cat, that’s a dog!” This may seem like an innocuous, childish game, but this kind of environment fosters and develops a person who doesn’t take beliefs for granted. Compare this to Christian families who tell their children that Jesus died for their sins and that this is the only truth.

So what does this all have to do with death?

In reverse fashion, here were my motivations for this post:

On Monday night I had an interesting conversation with a regular (Bill) at the bar. He told me a story of someone dying in his restaurant (Battery Gardens) a few years ago when he was working a catering event for a wedding party. The man who died was 55 and had stomach problems. Bill was going to tell the party (they were upstairs) that there was a bathroom on this floor, but he was too busy. The man with stomach problems began walking towards the staircase. “Excuse me, sir, there’s a bathroom on this-” The man clutched his stomach, leaned forward, and THUMP THUMP THUMP. The man fell down the stairs. Bill ran after him and saw that the man was foaming from the mouth and bleeding from the eyes. Dead. He was the uncle of the bride. Screams. Wailing. The family sued the restaurant. They didn’t win.

I told Bill about an experience I had in India. My father and I were in taxi and the taxi swerved around a form in the middle of the road. I turned around and looked out the window. The form was a dead man, still bleeding. Death in India means much less than death in NYC. Not only was nobody suing anybody else, but nobody was even moving the body out of the road.

India train

The bartender in my restaurant on Monday night interns in an ambulance during the day. For the first time that day he had “pronounced” somebody dead. He arrived at a beautiful apartment in Brooklyn overlooking the river and found a 98 year old woman with one foot out of bed. Her jaw was stiff. She had passed.

On Wednesday morning I woke up with a bloody nose. As I stepped out of bed to find a tissue to shove up my nostril I remembered the 98 year old woman. My mind became flooded with thoughts of my mortality.

I’m not sure how to end this post. I sort of jumped all over the place and I’m not very satisfied with how it turned out. I’ll do a better one tomorrow…

Because I’m still here…alive…

Not dead.

Marijuana

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Marijuana is fun. Like candy or masturbating. Warning: if you’re part of the rapidly dwindling camp that still believes cannabis should remain illegal, please leave my blog and never come back…loser.

You may be thinking this post is about to promote the glory and joys of the halfling’s leaf. Nay. In the last couple of years I’ve come to a gradual conclusion concerning the chronic and my life: it’s just not my thing. Or at least I use it very, very sparingly, on rare and special occasions, either by myself or with select individuals.

Before I explain my loss of interest let me emphasize: I hold zero judgements concerning people who use weed habitually. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly in the past, have close friends who use it everyday, have had girlfriends who have used it, family members, etc. But I’ve dropped it from my life for the following reasons:

1.) As a writer, my mind is my workshop and my future means of income. Just as a serious, endurance athlete can’t be crushing candy and fast food consistently and perform at their best, I can’t be submerging my mind in a pleasurable THC bog on a frequent basis. Dope isn’t like it was in the 1970s…today’s strands are 50x to 70x more powerful. When you blaze you go a little insane. Then, after the insanity subsides, my head is in a daze for a week. I can hardly put my thoughts in order. My writing suffers. The vibrancy of my perceptions and emotions are dulled.

2.) Memory loss: everybody knows the space-cadet-forgetful stereotype of the stoner. For me, this is terrifying. I like my memories, the good and the bad. I use them to create art. And perhaps this is a character flaw, but I enjoy (even if it’s an illusion) mental control.

If you feel pain or have a past that haunts you, herb can be a brief release (until it all comes rushing back when you’re sober). If you’re trying to be aware of what’s around you and soak in life to the last, bitter drop…then drifting in a cloud will not be valuable or amusing.

3.) Energy decrease. Again, people know about the stereotypical stoner-couch-lock and loss of motivation. Of course there are exceptions: I’ve met productive, professional, active stoners. But would they be more active without ganja? Who knows? But I’ve observed a subtle, insinuating part of reefer inside of myself…if I’m smoking it more than occasionally, I don’t try. I don’t care. My life blurs. My will sags. I don’t like that.

Let me reiterate: I am not condemning the use of Sticky icky, I’m only, to understand myself, elaborating on my own decision to refrain.

Being a human being is fucking difficult. Someone commits suicide every 20 minutes. We all have to figure out ways to get through the day/our lives. If burning tree fits into your formula for well-being, enjoy it.

People have discussed with me Bobo bush’s positive affect on creativity…sure, it does jostle your mind, but so does reading a book or traveling someplace new. If you want to create music like Willie Nelson or Kid Cudi, smoke away. But if you’re trying to create something in a different vein or learn particular things about yourself and life…I’d suggest you treat bud as an irregular getaway rather than a key to inspiration.

Three, final points:

1.) The clock is ticking. Mercilessly. Perhaps in the future when I’m an established scribbler I’ll let myself indulge more with grass. But right now, while I pay the bills through restaurant labor, sleep 5 hours a night, and am fighting to publish stories, I can’t afford to numb myself with blueberry yum yum.

2.) What if you miss it? My experience in life is severely limited, but already I’ve had the entire course of my life veer in a different direction because of a small and simple (seemingly innocuous at the time) movement, thought, or emotion. Ever been with a group of people when someone decides to go back to their apartment to smoke kush? Or have you ever invited someone to hang out when they decide to stay in and get torched instead? What if THAT night would have changed their lives for the better if they decided to leave the bong? Of course I’m amplifying the significance of everyday experience, but as a writer who realizes that a passing perception can ignite creativity…when the way something sounds or looks might be used 3 years later when you’re sitting at a desk…when a phrase or a glance is fodder for the pen…you can’t let yourself be blindly, blissfully hovering in a haze.

3.) That all being said, I can still roll a mean, fat blunt (see above).

 

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