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There are certain hobbies that, while possessed of an inherent appeal, I would never take up because the subculture attached to them so repels me.

Take golf.I enjoy whacking the little white ball—I’m pretty good on the driving range, truth be told—but I would never go so far as to play the game for the simple reason that I don’t want to spend a whole afternoon with golfers.

For Sale:

2000 Cannondale SP500. Purple. Hybrid tires; perfect for streets and light off-road terrain. Climbing handles (worn), speedometer (needs new battery), pannier rack (no pannier bags) and shiny red bell (brand new, never used) included. Recently had full tune-up with no rides since.

Only one accident.

A small child.

15 months.

Struck.

The speedometer read 11.8 mph. I was flying. It was an emergency. I had forgotten the doohicky at home and rushed back to get it. I thought taking my bike would shave a few minutes off the return.

12.0 mph. NO BICYCLES ON SIDEWALKS was stenciled in reflective white block letters on the gray concrete-paved pathways. I considered it. Laughed. Surely that doesn’t apply to me. This was important. Necessary.The doohickey.

12.2 mph. My legs tingled with a lactic buzz. The park was nearly empty. A beautiful morning. Autumn sunshine filtering through turning leaves. I felt the cool October wind pep-smack my cheeks as I stood and pumped harder. I was nearly there.

12.4 mph. 12.6.

I saw her. Over by the fence. Playing with her nanny. Everything pink and cottony. Shiny tendrils. Her knees were spongy. Bouncy. She smelled, no doubt, of mushy Cheerios and Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. She smiled.She had tiny pearl-button teeth. I smiled back. She darted.

12.8.

The first tire knocked her down. Things began to move at 1000 frames per second. Endless slow-motion. I lifted up my body in a vain reversal of gravity, hoping to lessen the weight as the second tire scorched a black imprint across her perfect pink pants. Mid-air, for surely I had been able to hoist not only myself but my bicycle with the super-human strength I had acquired in this molasses-thick time-space aberration, I threw the bike into the stiff grass, far from the tiny pink ball that lay, stilled, on the cold gray pavement; the bright white stencils, nowhere in sight.

She didn’t make a sound. She just looked up at me; batted the long blonde lashes that curled away from her sapphire eyes and smiled her pearl-button smile. I counted six. The nanny, barely old enough to be without a babysitter herself, rushed across the sidewalk. She scooped the girl up. I knew the child should not be moved. Not without a paramedic. I, at least, knew that much. Before my own mother had let me baby-sit, she made me go through a Red Cross training course. I was certified.

“We should call 911,” I heard myself say, still swimming through my slo-mo water world. “Her mother should know. There could be internal injuries. I hit her with my bike.” The reality hadn’t set in. I was deep in crisis-solution mode.

“No,” said the nanny with an accent as thick as borscht. Her voice shifted into a minor key. “Not the mother.” Piano. “Not the mother.” The nanny quickly brightened and started bouncing the child up and down: a horsey ride. “She’s fine. You can forget about it. Finish your bike ride. Look! She’s not even crying!”

It was true. The child hadn’t shed a tear. But surely that was shock. There could be something internal. I stopped the nanny from her game and started to inspect the child. As I ran my hands across her limbs, checking for bruises, bumps, breaks, I noticed her tiny pants were pin-striped; ruffled at the ankle.

I gingerly touched her doughy thighs. I felt two firm, fat sausages underneath the soft fabric, now spoiled by thick, greasy track marks. As I gently applied pressure to her legs, her cherubic face turned fuchsia. She began to howl.

In the blink of her tear-soaked, blonde curling eyelash, I went from 1000 FPS to 6. Fast-forward.

“You have to get this child to the emergency room,” I ordered, “Right now.”

In a single step, I was on the curb of Central Park West – a taxi waiting at my side: trunk and passenger door open, ready to receive the bulky stroller, nanny and child.

“I’m coming with you.”

The nanny shook her head. Her eyes bore into mine. “No. Trust me. You don’t want to meet…” and her voice dropped again. Più piano. “…the mother.”

I hastily scribbled my information onto a piece of paper and pressed it into the nanny’s clammy hands. I watched as the cab sped southward; the screaming, broken child in the backseat.

I began to walk slowly back into the park. Numb. I think there was somewhere I had been going. Somewhere important. An emergency. I felt something pressing in my pocket. The doohickey. Oh. Right. The doohickey. There were people waiting for me.

The white stenciled letters started screaming: NO BICYCLES ON SIDEWALKS.

It was then the tears came. Slowly. Spontaneously. I wasn’t crying. It was worse.

Internal.
Bleeding.
Concussion.
Brain.
Damage.
Ruptured.
Permanent.
Irreparable.
Injury.
Death.

These words began to implode within me, crush me, double me over with something beyond grief. I passed the spot. My bike lay quietly in the grass: still green, but crunchy. The end of its season. Of course no one had stolen it. How could they? After what it had done.

After what I had done.

“It was an accident,” they said. “Kids bounce,” they said. “Don’t worry,” they said.

I stared at my telephone for nine hours straight. I could not breathe.

Eventually he called. The father, not the mother. Pianissimo. Not the mother. No.

“Minor bruising. No concussion. Just a little shaken up is all.”

I asked for her name.

Anya.

I’ve tried a few times since then to get back on the bike. I got a shiny new bell. A tune-up. New tires. I’ve made jokes about that nanny. About how she was probably fired. Possibly deported.

But every time I push the pedals, it’s impossible not to feel that first bump; to hear the smack of a soft skull meet the sidewalk. And then, that inevitable second, always feeling my weight sink down into her little fat sausage legs, wrapped in dough.

Only one accident.

A grown woman.

36 years.

Stuck.

Whenever I do something utterly stupid, my standby retort used to be: “I’m not your average dumb blonde, I’m above average.”

Blonde jokes have been as much a part of my upbringing as bad (read: fabulous) 80’s music, sunblock and weight issues.

A blonde and a redhead went to the bar after work for a drink, and sat on stools watching the 6 o’clock news. A man was shown threatening to jump from the Brooklyn Bridge, and the blonde bet the redhead $50 that he wouldn’t jump. Sure enough, he jumped, so the blonde gave the redhead $50. However, as friends, the two went back and forth about it; the redhead just couldn’t take the blonde’s money. Finally, the redhead confessed: “Listen, I have to tell you that I saw this on the 5 o’clock news, so I can’t take your money.”

The blonde replied: “Well, so did I, but I didn’t think he would jump again!”

“Guy” and I met while working at a tiny summer stock theatre in Vermont.

We quickly fell in love and on the anniversary of our first kiss, onstage, in front of a cooing audience of 150, Guy chivalrously dropped to one knee and presented me with a diamond ring.

He had been engaged once before, he announced, but it didn’t work out. He simply couldn’t marry her. This time he wanted to do it right.

For the right girl.

For me.

I burst into tears.

I was nineteen when we met and Guy was my first everything: first boyfriend, first sexual partner, first fiancé, first musician, first bi-polar manic-depressive, first Jesus freak and first deeply-closeted Gay. So looking back, it was only natural that the following year, his was also to be my first broken engagement.

The late-night Vermont cabarets in which we performed were loosely themed around a few staples of hard-scrabbled New England in-jokes: maple syrup, cheese, Flatlanders, fudge and cows.

I had finished my first act number and changed into my next costume before escaping to the back porch where the cast and crew spent intermissions for mid-show smokes and beers.

On that porch, in front of a cringing audience of 15, Guy cavalierly dropped the bomb.

It wasn’t going to work out. He simply couldn’t marry me.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the right girl after all.

I burst into tears.

The emcee stuck his head out the backstage door and called, “Places.”

He looked down at me, crumpled on the ground, wildly sobbing into the arms of a friend –

– in a cow suit –

– one of those black and white Holstein get-ups, complete with a hot pink boa.

The emcee put a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Can you still go on?”

I could not.

I was convulsing so hard that my chest bounced against my friend’s as they pulled the costume from my shoulders – the emcee having chosen to punt and reassign the number, rather than cut it – for as we all know, The Show Must Go On.

I vaguely recall gathering myself together to watch the end of the cabaret. I made it just in time to see someone else onstage, in my cow suit and my feather boa, singing my song: the seminal Cats’ classic: “Memories,” but revamped for Vermont audiences as “Mammaries.”

“Mooooonlight, and no sound from the pasture, all alone with my mammaries, and their days in the sun.”

It suddenly seemed so very, very appropriate.

* * *

I never went back to Vermont after that summer.

I had heard through the grapevine that Guy had gotten engaged twice more after me; breaking off each one with equal severity. Thus bringing the total number of cancelled engagements for him to four in six years.

I never heard of another cow suit, though.

I guess there’s a first for everything.

I nearly choked on my morning oatmeal when I stumbled upon this article from the BBC.

From the article:

Pet Shop Boys reject PETA request

Pop group Pet Shop Boys have revealed they have turned down a request by animal rights group PETA to rename themselves the Rescue Shelter Boys.” PETA Europe has written to Pet Shop Boys with a request they are unable to agree to,” reads a post on the band’s official website. But the band admits the request “raises an issue worth thinking about”.

Now, I’m an amateur semantician at best, but when you first heard who sang West End Girls, did the cognitive assembly of those three words: Pet. Shop. Boys. make you rush right out to the mall and pick up a scrappy pup when you were freshly into your teen years? Did you suddenly think: “I, too, want to be a Pet Shop Boy (or Girl)” and start saving up for your very own Petland franchise? Would it have made a difference if they had been called The (almost certainly career-destroying) Rescue Shelter Boys?

No. More than likely, you spent time scratching your head, trying to figure out if it wasn’t a rip-off of One Night in Bangkok.

(It wasn’t. But it’s a good argument. Chess was released in 1984, West End Girls was first released in 1984, but to little notice. So they re-recorded the tune with a new producer and released it a second time in 1985 to wider acclaim, capturing the Number 1 spot in the UK in 1985 and in the US in 1986. But I digress…)

So with this plea, 25 years after The Pet Shop Boys first burst onto the scene and 29 years after PETA was founded, what, exactly does PETA hope to accomplish now? Shouldn’t they have seized the moment when the band first came out, like the initial outrage over Joy Division? Are they suddenly running to the forefront waving long-lost statistics of the influence of a single British technopop band’s one-hit wonder on the spike in demands for puppy mill puppies? A noticeable decline in animals adopted from the pounds across America circa 1986???

Interestingly enough, Pound Puppies also arrived in the early ’80s, and I don’t know about all you other Gen X girls out there, but didn’t you hum “Pound Puppy, you’re my one and only puppy love” almost as much as you hummed the Monchichi song?

If The Pet Shop Boys drove the angsty ’80s teen-traffic to the puppy mills, I’m certain the ‘tween girl set drove equally as much, if not more, traffic to the ASPCA to have a real, live pound puppy of your very own. Why isn’t PETA, instead, focusing on the positive influence of the Pound Puppies? Or eschewing dogs altogether and instead, touting Cabbage Patch Kids for adoption?  I mean, hell, if you want to adopt something, adopt a child – and one that grew out of a VEGETABLE GARDEN to boot, thus keeping right in line with PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk’s own ‘hippo’-cratic oath: “Therefore [animals] are not ours to use – for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or for any other reason.”

Why does PETA have to be so damn preachy and negative? Ingrid Newkirk lives in Norfolk, Virginia. Didn’t all her time spent living in the South teach her that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar? But I suppose that would be inhumane to flies, so nevermind…

Now don’t get me wrong, I love animals and I sympathize with animal advocacy. I do.  I have had four animals adopted from rescue groups. I have worked with rescue groups. Hell, one of my best friends even RAN a rescue group for years and years. And I’ll confess, I like the underlying principles of PETA. I think puppy mills are bad. I think throwing bags filled with litters of kittens into the river is bad.  I think mistreating the animals used for medical advancement is bad. I think we should adopt pets from pounds, rescue shelters and directly from reputable breeders, and I think pet owners should be, above all else,responsible pet owners.

But I also wear my great-grandmother’s mink stole when I go to the Opera and, like Lenore, had a beloved white-rabbit coat when I was a little girl.  I believe that feral and dangerous animals should be humanely euthanized, rather than left to live out their days in a cage. I’m thoroughly enjoying Claire Cameron’s ongoing and highly-entertaining TNB series: A Guide to Thinking About Urban Chickens. I would rather that scientific research be tested on rabbits and chimpanzees than on my nieces. I do.

Oh. And I eat meat. Red meat.  Often. Saignant. I think it’s why we have incisors. And why God made cows and pigs and chickens and fish taste so damn delicious.

Now, I didn’t learn these things from bands’ names. I didn’t learn to eat meatloaf from Meat Loaf, I don’t appreciate fish because of Phish (truth be known, I don’t even like Phish), I don’t love bacon toffee because I also sing along to Pigoletto, and personally speaking, I prefer rotisserie chicken to Electric Chicken.

But it doesn’t mean that, because I’m a meat-eating, fur-wearing, frequent Kittenwar website-visitor and Stupid Pet Tricks-watcher, I’m going to challenge your equal right to be up in arms about leather, orBabe, or lab rats, or Steak tartare.

So give it a rest, Ingrid.  People aren’t so impressionable that we’re going to think anything of a band’s name other than it’s just another stupid band name.

Which most of us had forgotten about.

Until now.

Thanks.

TO DO:

HOME:

  • Dishes
  • Vacuum
  • Scoop litter
  • Make bed
  • Laundry
  • Repaint bedroom, or at least paint an accent wall – maybe a mural?
  • Install shelves
  • Chuck that IKEA-looking piece of shit and find a real dresser

Dear Future Boyfriend:

Please do not be nice to me.

Kindness will only be misinterpreted as interest. If you show concern when I am weary, call because you miss me, or twirl my hair adoringly between your fingers, the fortress around my fragile heart will weaken. If you remember my birthday, I will imagine you want something kinky in bed; like eating the cake you brought home off my ass. If you send me flowers for no reason, I will, naturally, assume there is a reason. And it will probably not be good. Open the door for me, and I’ll trip on the threshold of terrified; knowing that one day you’ll walk out that very same door. Buy me a present of any worth, and I’ll denounce it as one of many lovely parting gifts to come.

We both know chivalry is dead. Let’s keep it that way.

 

Please do not be a good cook.

I have worked extremely hard to keep this body nice for you. I have binged, purged, starved, counted calories, declined carbohydrates, obsessed over organics, and lived for weeks on nothing but peppermint tea and pickles. I have run to the moon and back, bicycled twice ‘round the equator and aerobicised, jazzercised – even watercised – my way to keeping this ass tight; tight enough so you can bounce a quarter off it. If you are a master in the kitchen, my resolve might wane and my caloric intake will surpass that of a sedentary six-year-old.

Before you know it, I’ll be wearing that size six and neither of us wants that, do we?

 

Please be a gym rat, muscle-head and/or marathon man.

Despite my quarter-bouncing ass from which you will eat cake, please reduce me with your bulging guns, your rippling six-pack and your quivering quadriceps. I will strive to keep up with you, but I’ll never win. Because I eat so very little, I will faint every third hour, on the half-hour, thus requiring your big strong arms to pick me up and feed me another pickle. If you happen not to be a gym rat, please then, as a courtesy, be the polar opposite. Ignore your own beer gut, love handles and man-boobs, but demand physical perfection from me regardless.

God knows, there’s always someone younger, prettier and fitter around every corner. And speaking of God…

 

Please be a religious zealot.

Chasten me with your deep and awe-inspiring faith. Belittle me with one-on-one conversations with your personal Higher Power. Strip me of my own beliefs and elucidate the error of my ways. Riddle me with rhetoric and rhyme, rationalities and reason. Inspire me with idiosyncrasy, deride me with dogma.

And then we can go to brunch after.

 

Please, please. Just hit me. 

Physical bruises heal so much more quickly than emotional scars. I’d prefer you break my wrist than break my heart. Go ahead. Get it out. Beat me, strike me, smack me down. Jump on me, thump on me, wallop me good. Use a belt, a rope, your hand, your shoe – just not your mind, not your tongue, not your wit, not your charm.

Send me to the hospital instead.

 

Maybe there I’ll find someone who will show me compassion, someone who’ll nourish me, someone who will run the distance alongside me, someone to pray with me and someone who will heal my open wounds.

I’m a big fan of SMITH Magazine’s 6-Word Memoirs. So much so, I often find myself encapsulating everyday events both large and small into six-word sound bytes without even being aware of it.

For those of you in the dark about 6WMs, Ernest Hemingway once wrote a story in six words (For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.) and is said to have called it his best work. SMITH has taken this idea and marathoned with it.

With the Oscars just two weeks away (Feb 22nd), some of you may be finding it difficult, in these trying economic times, to fork out the $12.50 on a single movie ticket.  So I present, for your consideration, a condensed review of each of the major* nominees.

All in just six simple words.

Filmmaker Kevin Smith jokes about the Platypus in the opening disclaimer to his film: DOGMA

Remember: Even God has a sense of humor. Just look at the Platypus. Thank you and enjoy the show.

P.S. We sincerely apologize to all Platypus enthusiasts out there who are offended by that thoughtless comment about Platypi. We at View Askew respect the noble Platypus, and it is not our intention to slight these stupid creatures in any way. Thank you again and enjoy the show.

The Platypus

Genus: Ornithorhynchus
Species: Anatinus

While categorically a mammal, the Platypus has physical characteristics of birds and reptiles as well. Studies have proven that the Platypus was the first species to diverge from reptile to mammal and therefore, evolutionarily speaking, it is sometimes thought of as The Missing Link.

It is also one of five surviving mammalian Monotremes – the other four are species of Echida, or spiny anteaters.  Monotreme meaning: “single hole”, from which, the female lays eggs.

The females have a pair of ovaries, but only the left ones work. Per annual mating season, that lone ovary produces 1 – 3 eggs which are fertilized in utero, gestate there for a month and then are laid and incubated for two more weeks until they hatch. The females have no teats.  Instead, the babies lick the fur around the mammary openings, where milk is secreted.

Their relationships are polygynous, so as soon as the male mates, he moves on to the next ‘single hole’, and the resulting Platypuppies are left to be raised by single-moms. And when they’re ready to go, they leave the nest forever. Platypus don’t live in packs or prides or schools. For the better part of their 15-year lifespan, they’re loners.

Platypus (note to the View Askew folks: the plural is the singular, like Shrimp or Sheep) have no external ears, small eyes and have bills, like a duck, hence the common moniker: Duckbill Platypus – regardless of the fact that there is no other kind: no Pelican-beak Platypus, Elephant-trunk Platypus or Rhinoceros-horn Platypus. Their bills are different than ducks’, in that Platypus’ are uniquely equipped with electroreceptors, a food-finding GPS, since they can neither see, smell nor hear their prey. However, since they are onlysemi-aquatic animals, they have to come up to the surface in order to grind what they catch into a mushy pulp. That’s right: along with everything else, they are toothless, losing their three measly baby teeth at puberty, never to return.

The Platypus have a fatty tails, like beavers. The tail serves as a paddle, working in tandem with their fully-webbed front feet. The back feet are pretty useless for swimming, what with only flimsy half-webbing, but instead, work as rudders. Males have an additional venomous claw on their hind foot, the poison in which is potent enough to kill a dog or severely injure a human. Which is pretty cool, considering that the largest max-out at around 5 lbs.

They were very nearly made extinct by European pelt-hunters, but in 1974 the Platypus became protected by Australian law and have sufficiently repopulated themselves in Eastern Australia and Tasmania, but surprisingly enough, not under human care. Very few have survived in captivity, and if they did, it was for considerably shorter lives. They do much better left alone in the wild.

All of that is to say, the Platypus is one egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed, feral, utterly mind-boggling animal.

Truly, one of a kind.

* * * * *

I remember first learning about the Platypus from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, specifically the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Ana Platypus and her parents, Dr. Duckbill and Elsie Jean, lived there.

They were minor players in Make-believe at best, but I remember being fascinated with the oddity of the Platypus – how it could be so many things at the same time: Mammal and Bird and Reptile.

So I never questioned the possibility of growing up to become This and That and the Other. I never limited myself to being just one thing. I could be whatever I wanted and I could be them ALL AT THE SAME TIME. I mean, if the Platypus – God’s little joke – could do it, why couldn’t I?

There are a lot of us Platypus around, I think. Oddities who don’t function quite like the rest. Who swimand burrow, who gestate inside and outside, who are shy loners and who strike out with venom, who function better not only outside the box, but without a box anywhere in sight.

And we’re doing okay.

God takes care of the Platypus.

So what if He laughs a little?

A friend of mine said something to me the other day:

“A man would rather date a smoker than a woman who is overweight.”

Another friend of mine confessed that she dislikes overweight people. “Not just the usual chubby that we all get to be from time to time,” she said, “but really fat people. “ She told me just couldn’t find anything to relate to. Felt nothing but disdain and disappointment and from the sounds of it, actual contempt.

And both of these women are people that I consider to be kind, understanding, generous, humanitarians. People who care about people. Give-you-the-shirt-off-their-back types.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. As someone who has struggled my whole life with weight issues, I have been plagued by these two conversations ever since.

* * * * *

My own eating disorder started way back in the days when my devout parents would celebrate Lent; a time when ‘Good’ Catholics deny themselves simple pleasures to commemorate Christ’s time spent in the desert wrestling with Satan before his eventual crucifixion and consequent resurrection.

During those six weeks, my family and I would strike “Alleluia” from our Lenten lexicon, we’d double-up on our cake-walk confessionals (I lied to my mom, I cussed at my brother), we’d get contact-highs from the incense overload, and we’d don our purple dresses and palm fronds for the live-action parade on Palm Sunday, complete with ugly shouts from the crowd and a live donkey.

But the biggest thing I remember, other than switching our Friday night McDonald’s orders to Filet-O-Fish Happy Meals (hardly representational of Christ’s forty-day fast-a-thon), was the easy opportunity to lose weight without the embarrassing admission of being on a diet.

I would sacrifice chocolate (or candy, or French fries, or BBQ potato chips) not because eating it was so hedonistic and giving it up was cause for canonization, but because maybe I would feel more Christ-like if my ribcage stuck out from my bathing suit bikini top – akin to skeletal representations as painted by Goya or Caravaggio.

I would be a better Catholic (person) if I were a thinner Catholic (person).

* * * * *

When one uses the words “eating” and “disorder” together, the phrase often invokes images of either Karen Carpenter** or Mo’Nique.

I was neither.

I was the girl who ate her problems.

I would use food to mask the agony of being imperfect.

When I was twelve years old, and I couldn’t lift my body in some sort of “simple” contortion that should have required hydraulics vs. mere under-developed ‘tween arms, my gymnastics coach, tired of heaving me onto the uneven parallel bars, said: “If you want to win, you have to lose weight.”

And thus, a lifetime of chronic fasting began.

I blame Mary Lou Retton.

* * * * *

That, my friends, is not just an eating disorder, it’s a billion-dollar industry.

Thinking I would morph to the shape of whatever skinny spokesmodel was hawking it, I spent years and years following one fad diet after another, each time with moderate results and the consequent return of the lost pounds, plus five.

When I was thirty-three, the same age as Christ as he hung on his cross, I was a scale-tipping 188 lbs at 5’-5”: well beyond most physicians’ recommended limit.

It was then I decided to stop the cycle.

I had to break the fast.

Just like I had lost the weight of Religion (note the capital “R”) so many years before, I had to lose the literal and figurative weight of constant dieting by — can you believe it? — eating.

However.

I had to gain control over what I was eating. How I was eating. When I was eating. Rather than stuff my face, I had to face my stuff.  Talk myself through emotional difficulties. Claim responsibility for my actions. Release myself from pressures that weren’t mine to take on. Forgive myself when I felt like a failure. Forgive others when they failed me.

Turned out, food had very little to do with my eating.

I had to ‘Let Go and Let God’ (as it were).

So NOT dieting became my new religion (note the small “r”). Never again would I categorize food as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”. Nor would I blame my problems on a hapless pork chop. I would not be afraid to admit that I wasn’t perfect to other people, OR to myself. I would not judge others based on their appearance. I would not judge myself based upon my reflection.

I would stop repeating my daily mantra: “If I could, I would liposuction my entire body.”

I would finally allow myself to fail; but in that permission, I found success.

It took 18 long months, much more than 40 days, to find that kind of self-acceptance.

I still struggle with it every single day.

It’s my cross to bear.

Comparably, my own effort may seem small next to Christ’s temptations in the desert, but I feel like wrestling with the demon of self-acceptance is a hell of a lot closer to what Christ did for forty days than what I used to do by selfishly giving up M&Ms or French fries.

I’ll happily down a Filet Mignon (4 oz, sans bacon) on Fridays since I know that I’ve long-suffered for self-acceptance.

In fact, I’ll follow it with a decadent, dark chocolate-covered strawberry, injected with Grand Marnier.

But only one though.

The fast may be over, but so is the feast.

* * * * *

**That link is to SUPERSTAR, quite possibly the most brilliant Todd Haynes film, ever. When you have 43 spare minutes, WATCH IT!!!**

Dating’s a bitch.

And this is the time of year when it’s easier to plop in front of the TV with a bottle of Veuve and watch a House marathon rather than suffer through, as the only single person* in the room, the forced jollity of holiday events.  You start to miss the days when your mother pestered you about your dating life. Anymore, she just slaps on her Colorform smile, tells hyper-enthusiastic tales of others – who got married even older than you – and passes the twice-baked potatoes with a heavy sigh; resigned to the fact that the children born to your siblings are going to be the only grands she’s going to get.

(*For the record, no, my widowed grandmother does NOT count, thank you very much and besides, evenshe has a boyfriend, so suck it!)

But it hasn’t been easy. I’ve been “out there”.  I’ve tried.  Honest I have.  I’ve just gotten the fuzzy end of the lollipop more times than I care to count.

For example:

An Evangelical jazz drummer proposed marriage twice, only to break off the engagement. Twice. Both times as dictated by God who audibly spoke to him on the bank of a lake in Texas. A scientist told me the morning after our first night spent together, that, while I looked ‘just fine’, my BMI still indicated that I was technically obese. There was a chef who would only have outercourse, even though the relationship had progressed to the apartment-shopping phase. And let’s not forget the lawyer whose break-up speech proclaimed that I was comfortable to be around, and made every event an adventure, but I just wasn’t ‘thunderbolts and lightening’.

Ahem.

Despite all of that, I persist. I am a hopeful romantic. I cling desperately to the knowledge that, in the words of Fivel Mousekewitz, “Somewhere, out there … someone’s thinking of me and loving me tonight”.

Bolstered by this ridiculous ongoing fantasy, I recently joined an internet dating website.

(I know… Please don’t judge me.)

Truth be told, however, that lawyer was wrong. am ‘thunderbolts and lightening’. I’m no gentle summer shower – I’m a torrential downpour.  I’m outspoken. Bossy. Tact isn’t always my forté. I’m a career gal. A broad. I’m definitely more Yentl and less Hadass.  Fanny Brice. K-k-k-k-k-katie. (Pick a Streisand character… any Streisand character…)

But knowing that Barbra, for all her chutzpah, is a certifiable bitch, I got to thinking maybe this time around, I should soften things a little.  Resolve to e-volve and use the internet for its Powers of Good: To help me finally find my Avigdor.

In order to do so though, I would need to get back to some basics. Take a refresher course and revisit some fundamental Junior League principles.  Try and be a lady

… for once.

So I turned to one of the classics:

Let’s see what advice Betty has that can help me in 2009…

1. Shut up and dance. Got it.  Moving on…

2. Note to self:  Wait 24 hours (or until sober) to e-mail, text or tweet.

3. The girl should make the move??? What??? Clearly Betty’s never read The Rules.

4. Good plan. Don’t let the guys know that you’re seeing more than one at a time. That’ll be our little secret…

5. If I don’t speak to men I’ve never met, how the hell is this internet dating thing going to work???  I think Betty needs to rethink things for the next edition.

6. Call me a cynic, but I think I’m going to be hard-pressed to find a Yankee who will perform his ‘manly chore’ for this nice Southern transplant…

7. So I suppose I shouldn’t keep ruling out those guys from Staten Island, eh?  You never know. Underneath those velour tracksuits, they might be swell.

8. Listen, Betty. If the guy doesn’t like me for who I am, then he can go fuc— (Deep breath…) Manners… manners…

9. Then how is he going to know I like him???

10. See #9.

Thank you for reading. I had a lovely time. So glad you came. I do hope you’ll call again soon!

– – – – –
Images (used without permission) from Your Manners Are Showing © 1946

I have long held the contention that German is comprised of merely 50 root words, endlessly rearranged and combined to make it one of the most complicated and difficult languages known to man.

Example:  The two syllable darling known in English as a “matchbook” gets expanded to the whopping five syllable “Streichholzschachteln” which literally translates to something along the lines of “box of wooden sticks that you strike”.

Seriously.

But if you break these impossibly long words down into their smaller components, you can easily suss out the definition based on the roots.

Here are a few examples.

SPIELOTHEK:

\SCHPEEL-o-tek\ noun

Lit: A chain of casinos.

Fig: A cinema where it is permissible to scream aloud (vent your spiel) at the movie screen, much like when in your own living room.  In every other cinema it is (read: should be) verboten.

 

CHRISTBAUMSCHMUCKS:

\CHRIST-baum-schmucks\ noun

Lit: Christmas Tree Jewelry

Fig: Messianic Jew-hating dicks. ‘Christbaum’… get it? No? Okay. Nevermind.

 

FREIHALTEN:

\FRY-halt-en\ verb

Lit: Keep clear

Fig: What Weight Watchers recommends you do after eating six French fries.

 

ÄSTHETISCHE CHIRURGIE:

\ay-SCHTEK-ish-uh  SHEER-ur-gee\ noun

Lit: Plastic surgery

Fig: A discussion on the aesthetic appearance of Javier Bardem/Anton Chirgurh’s controversial hairstyle in the film, No Country For Old Men.

 

AUSFAHRT:

\AUS-fart\ noun

Lit: Exit (for cars)

Fig: A fart that is released out into the world without fear of recognition.



EINFAHRT:

\EIN-fart\ noun

Lit: Entrance (for cars)

Fig: A fart that desperately needs to be released, but due to the unfortunate circumstance of being in close company, must be held in.

 

STADTRUNDFAHRTEN:

\SCHTAD-trund-fart-en\ noun

Lit: Sightseeing bus

Fig: A special bus where the trend is to stand and fart openly in the company of strangers from other countries.

 

FEUERWEHRZUFAHRT:

\FOY-er-VER-zoo-fart\ noun

Lit: Fire access lane

Fig: Where there’s fart, there’s fire.

Warning: this post is not for anyone under 18, faint of heart, or my mother.

When you think of Amsterdam, certain things immediately come to mind:

So imagine my surprise when I, for all intents and purposes, a “good girl”, was asked to be the keynote speaker at an event celebrating pubic hair (or lack thereof) at an erotic novelty shop.

You see, I made this little film that has caused quite a ruckus, tarnishing the shiny patina on my ‘good’ name.

It’s a silly film. A cute film. Despite the title and subject matter, it’s extremely innocent…

… if you also discount the pink shots and porn stars.

My very first bikini wax (at the age of 34) was a toxic disaster. No seriously. Toxic. Some people just shouldn’t do some things.

A lesson learned too late.


Image © 2007 She Shoots to Conquer, LLC.
All Rights Reserved

When infection set in, I immediately called the friend who had recommended that I try it in a full-on rage.

Words like “follicular” and “rape”, “misogyny”, and “death of feminism” spewed forth from my frothy lips. “Why do we do this to ourselves?” “How is this considered beautiful?” “What perv wants to fuck a twelve-year-old!”

After she talked me down, she explained to me that what happened to me didn’t happen to everyone. Clearly, I had a bad reaction.

This made me even madder.

“Really??? So this isn’t just one of the perks???”

She jokingly told me that I ought to make a documentary about the experience; and having just finished watching Why We Fight, she suggested I call it Why We Wax and make it a spoof; noting that these particular WMDs were obviously Weapons of Mass Distraction.

Fast forward five months.

Finding ourselves with nothing better to do that summer, we decided to turn a bad joke into a better reality. We’d make the film together. A short one. Funny. Without any man-bashing or über-feminine agenda. We’d make a fair and balanced assessment gathered from all perspectives: Gay & Straight, Male & Female. We’d tackle fashion, function, fetish, fad, feminism and fun. We’d research the origins of the Brazilian (not Brazil, btw) and dig through the annals of time to get to the root of where it all began.

And so now, just one short year after completion, our little film is in competition at the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) in the company of some of the most acclaimed documentaries of 2008 from around the world.  Cool, huh?

But not really the point of this little tale, is it?

You want to know how this ‘good’ girl ended up in the company of Candida RoyalleXaviera Hollander and Willem van Batenburg, don’t you?

You naughty thing, you.

Well, it’s simple enough. Bod-mod trends (as with most everything else) seem to start with porn, become embraced by the gay community and eventually get watered down and become acceptable for mainstream consumption.

So who better to start with than porn stars?

Candida Royalle quickly became our little porn mommy. We loved her! Candida is not only a leader in female-centric adult films, but she herself is an enlightened, empowering woman and successful entrepreneur. Hers was an incredibly intense interview and it was she who connected us with the brilliant ladies who own and operate Mail&Female – Amsterdam’s version of Babeland – when she heard the film was going abroad.

And these Mail&Female broads whipped up an event too spectacular for words: An entire evening devoted to the celebration of SCHAAMHAAR (pubic hair).

Could a little film like ours ask for better press???

There was to be a coloring contest!

Fun Betty’ give-a-ways!

Hair-based performance art!

Vintage early-80s porn with hirsute girl-on-girl action.

Just like any other cocktail party, really…

… where the cocks have tails.

And at the center of it all was… me.

The ‘good’ girl.

What would my mother say???

To kick off the evening, I gave a speech about the film and a clip was shown. After which, a lengthy Q&A ensued.

Now, I’ve done a fair amount of these sessions over the past year and American audiences have had some interesting questions that have led to evocative discussions. But Americans have been well-trained, or are too prudish, to ever ask anything too personal.

Or maybe I’ve just been lucky.

The Nederlanders were different. These people were interested in every sordid detail, from the exact (and I mean exact) description of my malady to my own pelt preferences (both personal and partner-based) and everything in between, like: “Describe how your cunt* felt without hair for the first time. Surely you enjoyed the licking much more than before.”

*“Cunt” (or “Kut” in Dutch) is considered quite harmless, but is nonetheless shocking when you’re jetlagged all to hell.

Now normally, I would have come up with some quippy retort to deflect such intimate and what some may consider rude questions, but it was as if, suddenly, in these surroundings, I was in Bizarro-world, where it was good to be bad and bad to be good.

I mean, I was surrounded by crotchless panties and impossibly long strands of anal beads.

What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam, right?

Fueled by less than four hours’ sleep in 36 hours’ time, three glasses of prosecco, the residual effects of the Klonopin/Whiskey chaser I had on the flight over ‘The Pond’ and a slight contact high from the oh-so-fragrant streets, I decided to let loose and answer each question in minute detail. These people genuinely wanted to know, and in Bizarro-world, I wanted to tell them.

In what rapidly became a lively and animated group discussion, Xaviera Hollander and I debated the best way to ‘prune a hedge’. Willem van Batenburg and I talked shop about the infamous bed scene and when someone challenged me, calling me a hypocrite based on my personal aesthetic desires vs. the conclusion we arrived at in the film, I threw my hand on my hip and saucily retorted in a manner that delighted the audience:

“Listen, sister. I judge not. I’ll take what I can get, however I can get it. If it comes the way I like it, so much the better for me… and for him!”

I made bad girls around the world proud that night.

And no one would be the wiser.

Because what happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam.

Of course, I forgot that the entire evening was being filmed, to be shown on Holland-wide television as part of the IDFA Opening Night festivities.

Bad girl.

Very bad girl.

I’m a filmmaker.

A multi-hyphenate.

Writer / Director / Producer is usually how it goes.

Except if I were to choose the order, it would be Director / Producer / Writer.

When I write, I prefer punchy, active sentences.

I don’t usually go much further than: Who? What? How?

Let everyone else fill in the blanks.

The person reading a screenplay has neither the time nor the patience for long, esoteric descriptions about the Hero’s freakish allergy to shag carpeting. Nor do they care to read extensive passages about the psychosomatic development of said allergy due to the heartache caused by one Love Interest after their first sexual encounter in 1978 in his Aunt Rita’s Airstream, which had not only the floor, but the walls lined with the stuff; and who, years later, coincidentally enough, happens to be standing across the room from Hero at a party. Unfortunately for Hero, he notices her just after having lost his trousers in a round of Strip Twister.  Having fallen on his pants-less ass in shock at the sight of her, his derriere begins to swell three times its normal size. (131 words)

FADE IN:

Hero struggles with his jeans and falls to the floor; his belt tangled around his ankles.

Shag carpet.

He cringes.

Flashback to the inside of the Airstream:  Against a background of warm, plush shag carpet, desperate teenage hands grope any available patch of sweaty virgin flesh.

He opens his eyes.

He sees…

Her.

She looks gorgeous.

Panic.

She walks toward him – easy familiarity in her azure eyes.

His ass begins to swell at an enormous rate.

Shit.

FADE OUT.

(Word count: 77)


Efficiency.

Economy.

Lazy?

Maybe. Maybe not.

“I would have written less, but I didn’t have enough time.”

Film is a collaborative medium. If you do your job right as a director, the actor and the camera can say volumes with the simple flick of an eyelash, an artful manipulation of the lens, and the lighting… oh God, the lighting!

A picture is worth one thousand words.

So what, pray tell, is one word worth?


For reasons unbeknownst to me, last November, I joined the insanity of writing fifty thousand of the little buggers for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo in the inner circles) and tried assembling those words into some sort of coherent order, hopefully with the aim of resembling a story.

Maybe it was because some friends were doing it. Professional novelists, mind you, all.

Perhaps it was because I had a story that I’d been kicking around and I thought it needed a little ‘fleshing out’ before turning it into my next screenplay.

More likely, it was because I had gotten drunk on Halloween and thought it would be something “fun” to do, while killing time at my insanely boring new temp job.

How hard could it be to write fifty thousand words?

It only meant needing to average one thousand, six hundred and sixty-seven words per day.

Piece of cake, right?

If by cake, you are referring to some sort of Red Velvet cake from Hell that used blood, vomit and vodka (not necessarily in that order) as its primary ingredients instead of red food coloring, buttermilk and cream cheese frosting, then, yes. It was a piece of cake.

(Note: cream cheese frosting could be used in either scenario.)

I started with a bang and on the first day wrote one-thousand, eight-hundred and six words. One-hundred and thirty nine above average.

Above average. Whee!

It took me three weeks and several sleepless nights to get myself back ahead of the word-count game. I mined emotional graveyards. I ran a Marathon down Amnesia Lane. I pulled out old letters, photos, journals, yearbooks; trolling for names, memories, events, people, clothing, bad hair; anything to give fodder to the Muse.

I wrote every waking moment that I was coherent. On the subway, at work, on the toilet… I wasn’t necessarily typing all the time, but I couldn’t escape this story that had caught hold of me, filled my pores and was oozing from every orifice. (Ew. Gross.)

I cried. I kicked. I screamed. I drank. I hid. I stamped my feet and held my breath. I wrote long, passionate essays that had absolutely nothing to do with my characters or could contribute in any way towards my word count.

I drank some more.

I turned to the Internet. I struggled to resist the urge to up my word count with Ye Olde Cut-n-Paste Institute of Writing, knowing the Apple-C/Apple-V keys would magically conserve innumerable keystrokes and save me the carpal tunnel physical therapy sessions.

I vowed not to cheat, but in desperation, some of my characters found themselves singing entire stanzas of Van Halen’s classic, “Hot for Teacher” or Duran Duran’s “The Chauffeur” (124 words). There was a wedding announcement ‘published’ by the local newspaper (987 words) and passionate outpourings that had once been scribbled in juvenile journals in turquoise, raspberry-scented ink, complete with open-circle-dotted “i”s found themselves suddenly converted into 12-point Courier (3,706 words).

Anything to get those fucking numbers within spitting distance of my fellow scribes whose little blue word-count-o-meters were blowing mine out of the water. Me, a mere scribbler.

And then, I fell in love.

I took the time to get to know these people. Sat down with them. Shared a few pots of coffee and handfuls of peanut M&Ms. Got under each other’s skin.

And like magic, my characters found their voices. To be certain, many were reminiscent of our favorite American Idol disasters, but a couple had some serious chops. Pav and Callas (R.I.P.) would be proud to share the stage.

Subplots emerged from the ether. Main plots got resolved. Not every ending was happy. Not every ending is.

But the demons; they got exorcized.


Long story short:  I made it.


Fifty-thousand, two-hundred and fifty-four words. In thirty days.

I abandoned my friends, gained three pounds (the M&Ms, maybe?), refused calls from my mother and wrote throughout the entirety of the WGA strike.

All for the sake of fifty-thousand, two-hundred and fifty-four separate assemblages of letters that were strung together into some sort of coherent order, resembling a story.

A novel.

I wrote one.

I’ve learned the value of a word.

If you asked me to define that value, I could write another.

Fifty thousand and more.

But I’ve decided to save my words.


Efficiency.

Economy.


I’ll need them if I decide to finish the damn thing.

“Are you Jewish?”

Believe it or not, I get asked that a lot.

Yesterday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, a pair of Lubavitchers approached me on the street, shofar in hand, and mumbled under their breath (as they do):

“AreyouJewish?”

I stopped.

“Why do you want to know?”

The young man, adorned with a scraggly beard and side locks said nothing, but a tiny smile raised from the corners of his mouth. He waved over a third Lubavitcher, an older gent, from across the street as if to say: “We got one!”

Our mini-minyan was in place.

Black Hat #1 opened his siddur and pointed me where I should begin to read the blessing.

With an apologetic smile, I said, “I’m sorry. I can’t read Hebrew.”

“Then you can repeat after me.”

So I did.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam, asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu leshoma kol shofar.  Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam, shehechiyanu v’kiyimanu v’higianu la’zman ha’zeh.”[1]

Then Black Hat #2 began to blow.

A few minutes and 100 varied blasts later, we all wished each other L’shanah tova and I went on my way to the Red Hook IKEA.

* * * * *

“But are you Jewish?”

My great-grandparents were married in Northern Poland, near the ever-changing Lithuanian border, in 1915.

A few years later, Walter and Sophia Wayner were America’s newest Polish Catholic immigrants. They settled in Connecticut and soon after, my first-generation American grandmother, Edith Stephanie, (aka “Georgie”) came along.

She converted from Catholic to Anglican to marry my grandfather, Ralph, and they had six kids, one of whom is my father, who converted from Anglican to Catholic after marrying my devoutly Catholic mother.

Every year, Dad and I shop for my mom’s Christmas presents together. It’s our annual “Daddy-Daughter Day”; a tradition we’ve had for as long as I can remember.

My mother gives us a list that usually looks like this:

  • Clinique perfume
  • Jewelry
  • New nightgown
  • Latest Danielle Steele novel
  • L’eggs (Suntan)
  • Peanut M&Ms
  • Gum

A few years ago, I thought I would mix it up and break my mother out of that darn Danielle Steele rut. I thought she might get a kick out of Carl Hiassen. So my dad and I were in the Barnes and Noble parking lot and just about to get out of the car when, for whatever reason, I asked him:

“What was Grandma’s last name? I mean, before they Americanized it?”

“I don’t know, Waynerowski, Waynerowitch. Something like that.”

And then under his breath he snarkily muttered,

“Polish Catholic my ass…”

I nearly gave myself whiplash.

I had just moved across the street from a hip Upper West Side Reform synagogue and Friday night people-(read: Hebraic Hottie)-watching was my new favorite pastime.

“Are you kidding me? You mean we could be Jewish? Do you know how that opens up my dating pool in New York? I can finally join JDate! That’s awesome!”

My mind began to spin with scenarios of Sephardic spooning with tantalizing ‘Tribe’smen. I had been attracted to Jewish men, culture, men, food, men, humor, men, tradition, men and men for as long as I could remember. I was ecstatic!  I could finally legitimately pepper my language with exotic words like Nu! And Oy! And Mishpocha! I would get into a schmozzle with a yenta who talked about my zaftig tuchas and how I would end up with a pisher if I didn’t cut back on the number of hamentashen I was noshing.

I would be a shiksa goddess no more.

My father looked at me with a sharp and uncharacteristically violent glare. He seethed through a clenched jaw:

“We. Are. Not. Jewish.”

It was said with such a note of finality, that I knew that I daren’t push the issue.

But boy did it get me thinking.

* * * * *

“So you’re not Jewish?”

Walter and Sophia were married during what was then, The War to End All Wars. As we all know from innumerable World History classes, just as that war ended, tens of thousands of people began to flee Eastern Europe because a small group of disgruntled German soldiers, led by a young punk named Adolf, decided the world would be a better place if it was Judenfrei.

The Jewish tradition to change one’s name after a change in nature dates back to the Biblical times when Abram became Abraham and Jacob became Israel. It’s also an old Jewish superstition to change the name of a sick man in order to “change his luck.”

So it comes as no surprise when Lev Davidovitch Bronstein became Leon Trotsky, Israel Isidore Baline became Irving Berlin and “Wojnerowicz” became “Wayner.”

They were so easily assimilated.

Does it prove that Walter and Sophia were Jewish, though? No. Of course not.

It was highly suppositional at best.

However, my father’s knee-jerk reaction did inspire me to write a film (fictional) about it.

* * * * *

When I gave an early draft of the screenplay I had written to my mother, she called me the moment she finished reading it. She was in tears. She loved it. She asked me:

“Would you like your grandmother’s menorah?”

WHAT????????????????

Turns out, Walter and Sophia Wojnerowicz-turned-Wayner had brought their “Polish candelabra” with them to America…

…and a pair of candlesticks.

My mother had salvaged them from the discard pile when they packed Georgie up and sent her to a nursing home, riddled with Alzheimer’s.

* * * * *

(Pause for me to reel once again from how weird that was…)

* * * * *

“So you are Jewish?”

I’m never sure how to answer that question anymore.

“Yes. Well, no. Actually, I don’t know. Maybe?”

When word got out that I was researching the subject, my father’s side of the family closed up tighter than a Kosher deli at three o-clock on Friday. This is a group of people who commonly refute things written by ‘those’ idiots at the ‘Jew’ York Times.

I have been forbidden to write about any other family nuggets that have leaked from my grandmother’s loosening lips as long-repressed memories are finally being released. I’m also not allowed to talk about it to my Dad or his side of the family, except as a total piece of fiction, and under no circumstances am I allowed to mention it to my grandmother.

It bothers me, though. I want to know. I’m dying to know.

Regardless of the answer, though, I don’t think it will change much for me. I’m not Religious. God knows I’ve tried all sorts of Religions (note the capital “R”) and nothing really fits. I’ve basically settled on the wagon wheel theory of God – so many different spokes bound together and all of those spokes leading to, essentially, the same place.

However…

On the one hand, it would feel amazing to have been a part of the crowds of well-dressed Jews on the banks of the Hudson on Tuesday night, as they performed the Tashlikh. It would be fun to hang with mychallah-back girls in the ‘chood. It would be a mitzvah to go down to my bubbe’s retirement home and convince the residents to vote for Obama – and to do so as part of a project so hilariously named “The Great Schlep.” (Be sure to click that link.  You owe it to yourself to watch Sarah Silverman’s video plea.  I just couldn’t make it embed itself on this page.)

But on the other hand, I don’t want to be like Seinfeld’s dentist who converts just for the jokes.

As a person who grew up extremely white and culturally devoid, I find my xenophilic tendencies overpowering at times. Maybe this is just the latest phase of my ongoing passion for the “other” and once I become a part of it, I will throw it away like so many other things before it.

And yet, I still can’t help feel that this might be something bigger than that.

* * * * *

“AreyouJewish?”

When the Lubavitchers have asked me that question in the past, outside of their Mitzvah tanks on Union Square where you can lay tefillin and pray in the park, I’ve always shaken my head and gone on my way.

I don’t know why I stopped yesterday.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been inventorying my life lately. I feel like it’s time to slow down a little, reflect on all the major changes that have happened over the past several months and start anew.

Come to think about it, it’s about this time every year that I tend to look back on things and reassess. I’ve always associated it with a new school year, I guess. Instead of stocking up on No. 2 Dixon-Ticonderogas and pristine spiral-bounds, I prefer to take stock and wipe the slate clean.

Reinvent. Rinse. Repeat.

I don’t know, maybe it is a Jewish thing.

Maybe I’m meshuggenah.

Or maybe it’s just because that Sephardic sidewalk studmeister was totally and completely



[1] Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has blessed us in his commandments and commanded us to hear the sound of the shofar.  Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.