Archive | Past Matters

Atonement Isn’t Just a River in Egypt

Around lunchtime today, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why Whole Foods was so empty. When I finally remembered, it was nice to realize how many practicing Jews still populate New York despite our ever-dwindling supply of Good Bagels.

On the train home, my bounty in bags around my feet, I thought about why I don’t observe Yom Kippur any more. The fasting part is obvious: I was anorexic for long enough that taking a day off from eating is like trying to smoke crack casually after years on the pipe. Even now I carry my extra 15 pounds around with a measure of pride, as proof that I love myself enough to tolerate my (vast) imperfections.

I suppose too there’s a feeling that this last year—the last four, really—has been a nonstop, involuntary period of atonement. Every day I pay the bills for which I’ve been delinquent most of my adulthood, literally and figuratively. Every day I amend for how I catered to my pettiness, my vanity, my greed, my fear, and my rage so long as I believed the world owed me anything but wonderfully impersonal love.

On this September 23, this autumnal equinox, this day of atonement, I also relish what is here to be relished. I eat apples, I drink wine, I have color in my cheeks. And I send courage and compassion to everyone, even me. Gmar Chatimah Tova.

So Here’s This Bird

My godmother M., from whom I take one of my names and most of my subversion, used to tell the best stories, usually about her run-ins with people whom she considered “dolts.” First she’d settle in at our kitchen table, kicking off her shoes and tucking her feet beneath her. Next she’d light a cigarette and take a long, theatrical drag while shaking out her thick black wig and eyeballing my mother, who’d quit smoking but still luxuriated in the secondhand smoke. Then, only then, would M. start her stories. Invariably they’d begin like this: So here’s this bird…

Today I have a story that begins exactly the same way. I’ll tell it like M. would. Pretend this pen I’m puffing on is a cigarette.

So here’s this bird, and she’s spoiling for a fight. I can tell right off the bat, and honest to Godfrey, I can tell I might give it to her. I’ve been feeling off all day, partly because of the indecency of this New York weather. Partly because I have worries that have just about hit the boiling point. Continue Reading →

Rest in Power, Chocolate Thunder

When I was growing up, Darryl Dawkins always captured my imagination. Arguably less skilled than some big-name players, he had so much heart and so much beautiful jive–not to mention that signature backboard-breaking slam. Consider his nicknames: Doctor Dunkenstein, Sir Slam, Chocolate Thunder. (Stevie Wonder gave him that last one.) His patter: If you ain’t groovin’, best get movin’. And then there was that outta sight Globetrotters stint. I loved the 6’11” Dunk so much that I channeled him every day on the playground (Rump Roastin’ Rosperson flyin’ at ya!), maybe because I knew how much he loved kids. Loved everybody, except for refs. And there’s so much about Dawkins’ story that didn’t get much airtime, like why he became the first high school player to go straight to the NBA in the first place. He may only have been 58 when he passed today but he covered more terrain than most will ever imagine. Rest in power, Chocolate Thunder.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy