Friday, November 18, 2005

Call Your Mutha

The other night I called my mother while waiting for the train, interrupting her Lost viewing time, to complain about my various ailments. “And my throat hurts, and my ears hurt, and my—”

“Have you been Vicksing your chest at night?”

“Um, well, no.”

“Have you been taking your Airborne? You know handling all that dirty money means that you should be taking Airborne the moment you start to feel sick and not waiting.”

“Yeah, Mom, I know, but—”

“But you haven’t been doing it, have you?”


“You haven’t been taking it.” Long sigh. The disappointment. Oh, the disappointment, which was not what I was going for at all. I was going for sick kid who has a dirty apartment and whose house elves or brownies or whatever they are left nothing but a note saying something about not doing windows and dusting. Oh, the guilt on my part.

Okay, she wasn’t disappointed with me at all. She knows the stuff tastes nasty, but I’m trying to go somewhere with this guilt thing because lately I have been feeling guilty.

Really guilty.

We have no Jewish calendars up in our calendar store, you see.

We’ve put in for them, requesting a shipment each week for the last three months, but we’ve got nothing.

And when your store is in the 20 block proximity of three synagogues, you hear about it. First it was just a well placed, “So when are your Jewish calendars coming in?”

Perfectly reasonable.

Then it was, “You know, all our calendars are going to run out soon, right?”

We made some calls, talked to some people. Still nothing.

“What do you mean you don’t have that calendar? Mine just ran out! Why no Jewish calendars when you’ve got one of everything else around here?”

Yep, the conspiracy theory came next. Not long after we had a woman accuse us of being antimilitary because we didn’t have a Marine calendar, so the poor girl up at the store was already on edge. To have yet another woman yelling at her about being part of the anti-Jewish conspiracy was almost too much. Thankfully she was never down stairs when we were accused of being anti-Republican, so we haven’t lost her yet.

But oh does she feel guilty.

Now all we hear are long sighs. We get the disappointed glances. The customer who opens her mouth to say something, then stops, shakes her head, and walks away.

So to assuage everyone’s guilt, especially my own because we still don’t have those calendars and by the time we do get them no one will want them. Here are a few books to check out. If only to get a better handle on Yiddish.

Born to Kvetch by Michael Wax ($24.95)

I say:

Check out this book. Sure the kid on the front looks like a little rascal, but the book itself is a funny exploration of Yiddish words and origins. Nothing is sacred.

Publisher’s Weekly says:

Starred Review. Fortunately, despite its title and cover photo, this is not a kitschy book about a folksy language spoken by quaint, elderly Jews. It is, rather, an earthy romp through the lingua franca of Jews, which has roots reaching back to the Hebrew Bible and which continues to thrive in 21st-century America. Canadian professor, translator and performer Wex has an academic's breadth of knowledge, and while he doesn't ignore your bubbe's tsimmes, he gives equal time to the semantic nuances of putz, schmuck, shlong and shvants. Wex organizes his material around broad, idiosyncratic categories, but like the authors of the Talmud (the source for a large number of Yiddish idioms), he strays irrepressibly beyond the confines of any given topic. His lively wit roams freely, and Rabbi Akiva and Sholem Aleichem collide happily with Chaucer, Elvis and Robert Petrie. Academics, and others, will be disappointed at the lack of source notes, and a few errors have crept in (the fifth day of Sukkot is not Hoshana Rabba, for instance). Overall, however, this treasure trove of linguistics, sociology, history and folklore offers a fascinating look at how, through the centuries, a unique and enduring language has reflected an equally unique and enduring culture. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz. Translated by Nicholas de Lange. ($26.00)

I say:

I’m usually against translations, but de Lange does an excellent job of capturing what makes Oz an amazing writer. This tale of his life and what it was like to be a small child in newly formed Israel is not to be missed.

Publisher’s Weekly says:

Starred Review. This memoir/family history brims over with riches: metaphors and poetry, drama and comedy, failure and success, unhappy marriages and a wealth of idiosyncratic characters. Some are lions of the Zionist movement—David Ben-Gurion (before whom a young Oz made a terrifying command appearance), novelist S.Y. Agnon, poet Saul Tchernikhovsky—others just neighbors and family friends, all painted lovingly and with humor. Though set mostly during the author's childhood in Jerusalem of the 1940s and '50s, the tale is epic in scope, following his ancestors back to Odessa and to Rovno in 19th-century Ukraine, and describing the anti-Semitism and Zionist passions that drove them with their families to Palestine in the early 1930s. In a rough, dusty, lower-middle-class suburb of Jerusalem, both of Oz's parents found mainly disappointment: his father, a scholar, failed to attain the academic distinction of his uncle, the noted historian Joseph Klausner. Oz's beautiful, tender mother, after a long depresson, committed suicide when Oz (born in 1939) was 12. By the age of 14, Oz was ready to flee his book-crammed, dreary, claustrophobic flat for the freedom and outdoor life of Kibbutz Hulda. Oz's personal trajectory is set against the background of an embattled Palestine during WWII, the jubilation after the U.N. vote to partition Palestine and create a Jewish state, the violence and deprivations of Israel's war of independence and the months-long Arab siege of Jerusalem. This is a powerful, nimbly constructed saga of a man, a family and a nation forged in the crucible of a difficult, painful history. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

And because we need to have something a little off beat and fun:

Yiddish with Dick and Jane by Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman. ($14.95)

I say:

We laughed so hard reading this that customers bought it just to see what the commotion was about. The boss lived in South Florida for years so whenever we “didn’t get it” she would explain, but there is also a lovely glossary of terms in the back. I recently sold this to a man who planned on giving it to a couple he knew who’d just had a baby. So the baby could “Start learning early,” he said. Somehow I think the parents will get more enjoyment out of it, but whatever. The book has taught me that I must “Schmooze, Dick, schmooze!”

Publisher’s Weekly says:

Dick and Jane are all grown up, and they're living in the real world-and it's full of tsuris (troubles). That's the premise of this hilarious little book, which functions both as a humorous tale and a genuine guide to a language with a sentiment and world view all its own. Jane is married to Bob and has two perfect children. Dick schmoozes with business people over golf: "Schmooze, Dick. Schmooze...." Their sister, Sally, who teaches a course in "Transgressive Feminist Ceramics," can see that life is not perfect, even though dear Dick and Jane cannot. Their mother has a stroke ("Oy vey, Jane," says Dick when he learns the news). Bob's best friend's wife is having an affair because the best friend himself is gay ("'Tom is more than gay, Sally,' says Dick. 'He is overjoyed.'... 'Oy Gotenyu oh, God help us,' sighs Sally.") And purse dealers take advantage of the gullible. The brief story is priceless, but the equally funny glossary is a great reference to which readers can return any time they need the right Yiddish word-or whenever they need to determine whether the jerk they just saw is a putz, a schmo or a schmuck.Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Hmmm, still feeling guilty. Perhaps I’ll call mom and apologize for maligning her to the internet. You should too.

Call your mother, that is, not mine.

I’ve gotta lay off the cold meds.


Kate R said...

I rose to the surface to laugh at Dick and Jane but you basically lost me at the Jewish calendars. Huh? Wouldn't they come out in September?

Bookseller Chick said...

Yeah, they would, they do. We should have had them (and sold them all) in September, but for some reason my company is completely unable to get them for me. Why? Who knows? I've just started handing out the customer complaint number when people ask now. I have this bad feeling that it's going to be like the advent calendars last year: we didn't get them until January.