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Standoff At The Gardens

Cathy Seipp and I didn't exactly bury our differences in Westwood Wednesday afternoon.

A few weeks ago, author David Rensin invited me to lunch along with Emmanuelle Richard, Amy Alkon and Cathy.

Earlier this week, he emailed us: "See you all at the gardens on Glendon at 12:30 Wed. Luke, since you'll no doubt be there early, grab us a good table where we don't have to yell too loudly to be heard."

I determine to not arrive early. I take a nap until 11:45AM, then get ready, check my radiator and drive away just before noon. I take the slow route, Wilshire Blvd, and arrive in Westwood at 12:10PM. I park on Wilshire and walk to the restaurant and it is 12:12PM. I walk around the block twice. I don't have the guts to go inside and get a good table. This sort of assertiveness does not come naturally to me. I could never send back a plate of food I find disgusting.

Outside I pull out my guide to writing fiction and study it for ten minutes until David walks up at 12:30.

Five minutes later, Amy arrives.

12:38PM Cathy leaves a message on my cell phone that she and Emmanuelle (who both live in Silver Lake) have finally found parking and will be here in ten minutes.

David, Amy and I walk in. We're shown to our table. It's in the noisy section.

David asks for a better table and gets one, right up near the entrance.

12:50PM Cathy and Emmanuelle walk in. I make some light jokes with Cathy. She looks in the nether region between thrilled and angered to see me.

Cathy sports a new fake tattoo on her left shoulder - a bloody sword piercing a peace symbol.

David propounds a thoughtful line of inquiry about older men's desires towards teenage girls. Mine don't go below 16. The women said that was disgusting. David and I agreed that it was wrong to act on these yearnings.

The women said it was disgusting for men in their 40s to only want to date women in their 20s, women who can't "call them on their shit."

I lay into Cathy. "There's nothing wrong with men not wanting women who don't call them on their s---."

Who wants a nag?

We discuss and praise the French for their many admirable qualities. Amy says makeup for American women means 70% lipstick and eye work and 30% skin care. The French do the inverse. Amy praises the many terrific looking older French women.

All the time, I notice women praising all the wonderful older women around. Women wonder why men are not interested in them. Because we're biologically programmed to pursue fertile women. This is a truth most females over 30 don't want to accept. Life is harsh.

We discuss the importance of women staying in shape for their man. A woman who goes from a size zero to size twelve after a pregnancy and then decides to stay there is seriously risking her relationship.

Look at all the schlumpy women who are divorced and then decide to shape up and look good. You can only imagine that they might not have been divorced if they had taken better care of themselves. The last Mrs. Gingrich is an example.

Cathy gives an amusing anecdote about borrowing High Holiday tickets to synagogue. I say she should've bought them.

Cathy: "You're already skating on thin ice with me, buster. If I were you, I'd skate back to shore before I call the paramedics."

Seipp is a long suffering women, almost endlessly tolerant of eccentrics like me. She's difficult to rile. There are a couple of areas, however, guaranteed to anger her. Suggest she did something morally wrong is one of them, especially if you are not of sterling character yourself. She'll put up with almost anything from me but a challenge about her ethics.

At our last lunch, Cathy had me admit that she is more moral than I am.

Cathy reprimands for posting the nasty and unnecessarily personal email to her site written by her ex under the name of Cathy's daughter. I respond that her blog is her responsibility, and that if she can't see fit to remove inappropriate comments after many days, then she should not scold me for quoting one. Cathy says she does not know how to remove comments. I suggest she learn.

Cathy: "I'm right. You know I'm right."

A familiar phrase from Cathy.

I yell: "Take responsibility for your life Cathy. Take responsibility for your blog."

A familiar phrase from Luke.

The table convulses in laughter. Everyone says that Cathy and I fight like brother and sister. True. We're both slash and burn journalists.

There's speculation that we're twins separated at birth. I was sent off to Australia. I found my way to America, to Judaism and to Cathy relatively late in my life.

Cathy had an amusing conversation with Rob Long Monday night:

Cathy: "My ex-husband hacked my blog. He invaded my privacy."

Rob: "He didn't invade your privacy. He invaded your publicy. Three years ago, if you had said, 'My ex-husband hacked my blog,' everyone would think you were back together."

Cathy may write about disgraced Variety editor Peter Bart's new Hollywood novel but she doesn't want to ask him for an interview because she believes he still hates for a piece she did on the trades for Buzz.

Dear Peter, if you are reading this, and I know you are, why don't you drop Cathy a line so the two of you can kiss and make up?

The table finds it interesting how Cathy's life plays out in cyberspace on her own blog, my blog and her daughter Cecile's blog. Many of us have come to calling Cathy's daughter by her pen name rather than her real name.

Amy Alkon went to a community meeting in Venice and let slip the "f-word," as she is prone to do. A man behind her reprimanded her for her obscenity in front of his 10-year old daughter. Amy hates it when kids are imposed on her, crimping her freedom. I hold that you should never use profane language with strangers.

David Rensin picks up the check. We begin the meal on my suggestion with a big guacamole dip prepared in front of us and chips. I get a mini pizza and an excellent tortilla soup. David and Emmanuelle get vegie burgers. Cathy orders a steak, done rare. The waitress says that it is against the law for the restaurant to serve that. Cathy is eventually satisfied by the bloody nature of her almost-raw meat.

Emmanuelle finishes off with an espresso, David with a bowl of a coffee drink, and Cathy gets a regular coffee.

We discuss how rude it is for people who don't know you well pry into intimate and painful parts of your life. David says it is the Katie Couric, Barbara Walters, Oprah culture.

During one painful anecdote, I bury my head in my hands.

Cathy has a large "no soliciting" sign on her door. Still, today, she was interrupted by religious solicitors. She reprimanded them and closed the door.

I run off at 2:15PM.

To the best of my knowledge, Cathy consumed no alcohol over lunch. She doesn't have a problem.

David Rensin is voting no on the recall, Cathy is voting for Tom McClintock and Amy and I for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I Tried To Read A Romance Novel

I started reading Where You Belong by Barbara Taylor Bradford and I gave up after a few pages. I just couldn't read anymore when the boyfriend held his girlfriend and told her how he didn't want her to go up the Kosovian street alone. I've tried several times to read romance novels so I could better understand what women fantasize about but I never get further than a few pages.

Matt Drudge, GOP scourge?

Noah Shachtman writes for Salon.com:

The online enemy of the Clinton White House has found a new target: The bumbling Bush administration.

In the '90s, Drudge and...gossip Luke Ford were the harbingers of a new, fast-moving, link-rich form of Internet journalism. Today, there are millions of blogs that owe at least some debt to Drudge and Ford's examples.

During that time, Drudge was also at the forefront of a sharply ideological movement to skewer the Clinton administration on moral issues. Will he be as influential in the effort to impale the Bush administration on its policy gaffes? Probably not. But for Republicans, long used to a reliable, 7 million-visit-per-day ally, having Drudge as a critic -- even an occasional one -- cannot be good news.

The Los Angeles Times - A Symposium

Following up on the success of my "Spiritual Bootycamp for the High Holidays," Your Moral Leader's Sisterhood presents a symposium on The Los Angeles Times Monday, November 17, at 8PM at my hovel.

Learned laymen Cathy Seipp, Mickey Kaus, and Allan Mayer will present sharp but respectful critiques of the regal institution followed by spirited rejoinders from that kindly old Jew Robert Scheer, editor John Carroll and sports columnist T.J. Simers.

This event promises to be a meaningful dialogue, a frank exchange of ideas, and a delicious comingling of intellectual fluids. Modeled on the Ramparts symposia of the early '60s, this discussion will combine Christian charity, Jewish justice, Southern hospitality, Northern efficiency, white brains, asian inscrutability, Mexican stealth, black athletics and vintage prejudices.

Tickets are $25 for white males, $20 for white females and asian and hispanic males, and free entrance for blacks and sodomites. The event promises to be fun for the entire family. Free CA drivers licenses will be given away to the first 50 illegal aliens.

Afterwards, we will do an Arnold Schwarzenegger and follow a black girl upstairs into a new edition to my hovel - a bowling alley - to enjoy a roast of that Los Angeles journalistic hero Alex Ben Block, former editor of The Hollywood Reporter. It is with great sadness that I have taken over the tribute to this local icon, whose humble request for some sort of honor was coolly turned down by the troika of LAPC party-givers.

Block was skewered in a mischevious Seipp email as "Alex Ben Blockhead" a year ago. In 1981, Seipp questioned the integrity of the man whose veins flow with the milk of journalistic integrity in an article on The Hollywood Reporter, revealing that Block had demanded that his three-year old daughter be included in a Reporter article on child stars.

Dave Robb (to whom Cathy Seipp now feels fondly because she's mad at me and would like to see me beaten to a pulp) and Anita Busch will speak.

Closing out the festivities, a kosher desert reception will include cake, balloons, dancing monkeys, punctured windshields, tinfoil baking trays, dead fishes and roses.

"Please put me down for cookies x Nancy Rommelmann."

November 17th is Cathy Seipp's 40 something birthday.

Cecile du Bois writes:

Dear Luke,

Thanks for adding my father to the post mentioning "my" comment on Mom's blog. When mom expressed her irritation with the comment, assuming it was me, I was very upset because I have a bad memory and a troubled conscience. I was relieved that while scrutinizing the comment, that it wasn't me. I would never say "third of a million dollars" and "great dad" not that my dad is bad or anything. Dad's a man of contradictions who can occasionally go too far as to write using my name, which in some offences can be illegal.

But on the other hand, earlier when you posted "my" comment, you ignorantly forgot to mention my father, thinking it was me. (I heard this from my mom who was "a little pissed" at you.) When I heard that this afternoon, I was shocked to learn that you would go as low as you did to grab material for your blog. If I learned that you had a fight with your mother etc, I would not grab that info and publish that on my blog. I have something called r-e-s-p-e-c-t. As long as my mother is upset, I am upset. Maybe it is Jung's defintion of "Passive Daughter Complex" in which I, subconsciously intimidated by my formidable mother, obey Her every command and automatically follow in her footsteps.

Best wishes, CD

My mother is a wonderful mother, and lets leave it at that. My father is a man of contradictions, and my parents can be nutty sometimes.

John Connolly Finds Arnold Schwarzenegger Scoop?

John Connolly, who wrote that killer article on Arnold in Premiere magazine that Mickey Kaus called "dubious," has apparently nailed further scoops on the Terminator.

The 55-year old gruff ex-New York policeman tells acquaintances that he's found Arnold's first wife (but this is false). John has apparently tape recorded a telephone interview with the woman. (Connolly denies this to MSNBC.)

The problem is that no major American outlet wants to pay for this scoop. So it may end up in the Daily Telegraph of London.

Connolly has reportedly been chasing this particular scoop with Nikki Finke (who's says she's been on vacation for three weeks not chasing anything) and Michael Isikoff of Newsweek.

Connolly-hating attorney Marty Springer has said that while 80% of John's stuff is bulls---, 20% of the stuff he comes up with, nobody else could ever uncover.

According to Connolly, Arnold never got a divorce from his good-girl first wife (who does not exist).

John lives in New York. You just need one-party consent to tape a phone call. John taped a call with this woman. I'm not sure how much paperwork Connolly has to back this up, but according to one source, he has all he needs.

Apparently, Connolly's agent William Morris is shopping a Connolly book on Arnold.

Jeannette Walls writes for MSNBC:

Don’t hold your breath waiting for juicy details about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s supposed first wife.

An Internet site is carrying a detailed story claiming that investigative reporter John Connolly has “found Arnold’s first wife (married in Austria) and their son.” The report continues: “John has apparently tape-recorded a telephone interview with the former wife.”

Connolly is reportedly shopping around the story, and the Internet report has been picked up in chat rooms and linked on other Web sites.

Problem is, the reporter who supposedly uncovered this scandal says he knows nothing of the story. “Never looked into that, and never even heard of it,” Connolly told The Scoop.

Connolly is the author of a hard-hitting, controversial profile of Schwarzenegger than ran in Premiere several years back, and he has recently been looking into various rumors about the gubernatorial candidate — but not this particular one. “Someone’s imagination has gone wild,” he said.

Luke says: Two reliable sources report that John told them exactly what I printed above, that Connolly talked to what he said was Arnold's first wife. So John's lying to MSNBC. John Connolly no longer answers my emails or returns my calls so I could not confirm this story with him.

I attend a Los Angeles Press Club party at the W Hotel in Westwood Monday evening. The heavy hitters all turn out - Jill Stewart, Mickey Kaus, Rob Long, David Rensin, Kevin Roderick, Cathy Seipp - to honor Virginia Postrel's second book, "The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Style is Remaking Commerce, Culture and Consciousness."

I've forgotten Virginia's beauty and her gracious manners and charming Southern accent. She has a lovely figure and a brain to match. She's 30-days into her book tour. Her book got trashed in Sunday's LA Times in an eloquently-written review.

About 200 persons, most of them in the news media, come to the party by the pool. The drinks and parking are expensive but the hors d'oeuvres are free. Author David Rensin and TV writer Rob Long dine out on them, eating a complete dinner of finger food.

New Times film critic Luke Y. Thompson wears an obscene black T-shirt that read "F--- Bush."

How can someone sink so morally low so as to wear such a T-shirt in public, polluting the moral atmosphere, dirtying others souls, fouling the climate of decency, and just generally defecating on everyone who has to look at such a thing? This kind of soul pollution is a bigger threat to America than air pollution or water pollution, says Dennis Prager.

Cathy Seipp prances around with her pagan fake tattoos, like an inked Hittite priestess on the way to an invigorating orgy and human sacrifice. Such fun! Bring back Aztec civilization. Let's all desecrate our bodies, piss on the sacred, wear obscene T-shirts, support obscene movies and music, drink ourselves silly and act like apes. Love that secular culture.

Cathy is in particularly ripping form, dismissing many of her peers as idiots, while an indulgent affable Kevin Roderick looks on.

It's amusing to see Cathy Seipp and fellow females flee from an overbearing old man who keeps lecturing people on how important he is.

Cathy chides me for fantasizing about bathing topless at Venice Beach with Emmanuelle Richard while my fantasy with Cathy is to have lunch at Souplantation, a place she hates along with The Cheesecake Factory (because they serve big portions of crappy food).

Emmanuelle writes: "Hey Luke, Why not swap fantasies: I love Souplantation and I could go there and you go sunbathing topless with Cathy!"

Eccentric publicist Michael Levine works the crowd with his beautiful young date.

Several writers want to see me come face to face with Mickey Kaus. A couple of weeks ago, I published a satirical interview with the author and Slate.com blogger. I leave Mickey alone for about two hours and then finally approach him. He's friendly. He shakes my hand. We talk for a few minutes. He says he hasn't read my piece but he's heard from mutual friends that it's funny. Gracious of him.

A dignified sort, ol' Mickey, quite different in person from the writing. One woman I meet tonight does not want me to point out Mickey because she has an elegant image of the man that she doesn't want spoiled.

I'd love to disect people and papers in the elegant style that Mickey uses but I always end up making a bloody mess. There are parts of me that seek approval from the big shots like Kaus.

I spend most of my time with Roderick, Seipp, Rensin, Moxie, Matt Welch.

Moxie looks happy and slim. How can a secular person be happy? Slim, I understand. You don't have to sit all day in shul and then eat big festive meals for days on end. But happy? With no ultimate meaning, purpose, direction, moral code? No trace of the transcendent? No pipeline to the divine? How can you be happy?

I talk to secularists who engage in regular adultery and birthing of children outside of marriage. Once you abandon that transcendent moral code, anything goes.

My arches hurt for most of the night as I wear my fancy schmancy shoes, rather than my normal Klondike Klodhoppers. Only when the conversation turns particularly sterling do I forget my discomfort. I have one drink - an iced tea.

I don't think I made any enemies tonight.

Director Barry Levinson spoke at Book Soup on Sunset Blvd tonight. He refuses to answer the tough questions about what happened to his directing career.

I meet attractive Santa Barbara journalist Kathleen Sharp, who has a new book coming out on Lew and Edie Wasserman.

Provocative Matt Welch says I wouldn't vote for Cruz Bustamente because he's Latino, and that Cathy Seipp is a political neanderthal. She supports Tom McClintock.

I inform Welch that the race for governor is over. Monday Dennis Prager came out for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I told Mickey Kaus that while the Bob Baker (LA Times) and RJ Smith (LA Magazine) profiles of him were well written, they didn't get personal and inside enough. They told me little I didn't already know about Mickey. The pieces lacked those killer anecdotes that Nikki Finke comes up with all the time. She has great sources and writes well.

TV writer Morgan Gendel (husband of former LA Times editor Debbie) tells me I look better with my hair slicked back [with gel] than falling down my forehead.

Emmanuelle Richard comes over and runs her fingernails over my back. I shiver for ten minutes.

I spot Jeffrey Wells, returned from France for a few weeks.

I guess the place to be for Rosh Hashanah was at David Poland's place (where everyone could hate themselves for being Jewish and present at Mount Sinai 3000 years ago).

Nobody comments on the splotches of chalky white on my neck. I want to tell someone that I'm covering up a hickey (not true). I'm using CompoundW Wart Remover to get rid of something that bleeds almost every time I shave.

Friday evening, I've showered and am putting on my best daks to get ready for shul and Rosh Hashanah. I shave and cut myself. I dab it with toilet paper, then put on a white shirt. I put on my tie. I see drops of blood all over my nice clean white shirt. I take off my tie and shirt and put the shirt aside to take to the dry cleaners. Then I dab my wound again until it dries. I put on another shirt and the tie. I notice new splatches of blood.

I get frustrated. No more new shirts. I grab my 409 All Purpose Cleaner spray and rub away the blood stains. I walk to shul nursing a wad of toilet paper against my neck.

When I come home five hours later, I notice new splotches of blood on my shirt.

Ergo, I become more frustrated and swear to remove whatever I keep cutting while shaving. I go to the drug store Monday and all the anti-wart applications say not to use on moles. I don't know if the dark little thing on my neck is a wart or a mole. Probably a mole. I use the application anyway. I'll keep you posted. Is there anything over the counter for moles?

It may be the caffeine from my ice tea that causes me to imagine things, but I believe the W has a policy of charging different prices for drinks based on race. So my ice tea cost me $3, while black male Rishawn Biddle paid $1, while a hispanic female paid $1:50. This causes an energetic discussion on the merits of affirmative action and all involved felt enlightened afterwards, and slightly tipsy.

Cathy Seipp's ex-husband Jerry posts under the name of their daughter "Cecile" on Cathy's blog:

Mom, it's really tasteless to publicize dad's financial situation on your blog, especially knowing that I'm going to read it. Please take it down. Also, he really loves the Barbara Kasten piece, and the only reason he kept it at your house all these years is because you wanted it on your living room wall. Ditto for his David Hockney lithograph. It has nothing to do with his other ex-wife. Plus he's already paid you more than a third of a million dollars, and is a really great dad, so why not cut the old man some slack, rather than publicly try to embarass him? He's MY father, you know.

XXX writes Luke: Wow, you seemed sour today [on LF.net].

Luke replies: I may seem sour, but at least I wrote up a report, providing light-hearted and good-natured entertainment to families around the world to discuss over their breakfast. Given the LA bloggers on strike (Matt Welch, Ken Layne, Emmanuelle Richard, etc), I liken my writing to feeding the starving in Ethiopia.

Tales from the Darkside:
Confessions of an Erstwhile Jewish Web Site Editor

By Sheldon Teitelbaum

As my final “Teitelbaum’s Take” column in Virtual Jerusalem (which as resident wit and raconteur I was going to call “Teitelbaum’s Final Take”) I planned to take members of the purportedly largest online Jewish community in the world to task for invariably being dead wrong in virtually every opinion I have seen them voice on the in-house opinion poll. Wrong not in any ideological sense – though there was no shortage of that – but in a manner defiant of chance and logic alike.

Typical was the instance, well after the CIA’s so-called Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction vanished into a puff of Jules Verne-era gun-cotton, that they defied the Mossad, the Shabbak, the Jaffe Institute of Strategic Studies, the Dayan Center, the NSA and the entire staff of my neighborhood Supercuts by insisting that Iraq remained, hands down, the greater strategic danger to Israel than Iran.

The idea was so ludicrous; I suspected that one of VJ’s in-house drones had spent the night clicking himself into terminal carpal tunnel syndrome to engineer a 98-to-2 percent vote favoring the dangers of the defunct remains of the Osiraq reactor, which now purportedly ply the Iraqi highways in rusty ’83 Winnebagos. This on their way (conceivably since during the First Persian Gulf War, the Iraqis handed over their entire air force to their former arch-enemies in Teheran) to the multi-billion-dollar underground facility where the pugnacious Persians now allegedly burn up the midnight strontium 90 in a bid to turn your Jewish state and mine into an obsidian skating rink. One where your intrepid bul-bul (Hebrew for hummingbird, children’s slang for penis) and mine will glow in the dark entirely unaided by battery-powered thrill-and-chill accoutrements.

Ludicrous, that is, until it dawned on me, shortly after being fired on the Fourth of July without stated cause that indeed, as goes the VJ Poll, so goes the VJ CEO, Jess Dolgin. It was reported to me only last week at the Beverly Hilton by as recent a casualty of his callousness and calumny as the current president of the American Jewish Press Association, for instance, that the diminutive and rotund Mr. Dolgin almost never comports himself in a manner one would deem de rigueur for the scion of Simon A. Dolgin. A brilliant local rabbi, as rabbi of the Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills from 1939 to 1971 and as founder of the Hillel Hebrew Academy in 1949, the Chicago-born Simon Dolgin, a graduate of the Hebrew Theological College, reputedly stood among the greatest and most erudite Orthodox rabbis ever to grace Southern California – that is, before taking his wife Shirley and his children off to live in Jerusalem in 1971.

Reading the combined works of the late Chaim Potok, you will probably discover that not every great rabbi’s son can be expected to fill his father’s shoes…nor even his dog-bitten slippers. And so we must temper justice here with kindness, and even empathy. It cannot have been easy not being the sharpest tool in the shed of a Gaon (a Jewish genius), although admittedly I can find no documentary evidence for Jess’s repeated contention that his father was in fact a Knesset member (he was, however, director general of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Jerusalem from 1971 to 1976, and in 1978 became chairman of the World Mizrachi –Hapoel Hamizrachi Movement). Still, it takes a rare talent -- or at least a perverse nature – to emerge from the court of a revered Jerusalem rabbi to develop an unstinting ability to outsmart yourself in virtually every and any key personal and professional decision you will ever be called upon to make.

Certainly in the year I spent working closely with the esteemed Mr. Dolgin to try to turn VJ (or so I mistakenly believed my mandate – his was to milk it dry) into a site worth visiting, Reb Dolgin Jr., to use the words of Abba Eban, rarely missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. And the reason for that was that despite growing up with decidedly meager inner resources in any number of crucial cognitive areas, his own sense is that there was no bullshitting a bullshitter. And it that area alone, Jess deluded himself into thinking that he was “sans pareils.”

There was nothing, he used to boast to me -- no connection, no deal, no one in within the “Frum,” or Orthodox community -- that he couldn’t gain access to simply by dropping his father’s good name. And no special reason, having gained that which he had set out to secure, to do other than use, abuse and ultimately discard those whose good will he had exploited and expended.

His father, Jess told me, used to say it didn’t matter what other people might have to say about him -- this, apparently, because he scandalized some Orthodox Jerusalemites by being seen playing basketball when he should obviously have been studying Gomorrah -- only what he himself could say for himself. His mother Shirley, who apparently had his number cold, used to make jokes about the BMW he used to “shvitz” with whenever she came to town. “How many Jews,” she quipped, “were sewn into the upholstery?”

Jess told me this wasn’t merely a reference to the Jews who had succumbed to the Holocaust. For his mother, that was hardly a matter for humor, although jokes of such unrelenting blackness are not unheard of, even among Holocaust survivors. Humor, after all, was a weapon in the war to preserve sanity. I thought, though, that she must be referring to the hapless souls Jess himself had figuratively driven over in pursuit of whatever hare-brained scheme motivated him at the time. In the Jewish business world, I proclaimed, he was the Halle Berry of hit and run. God forgive me, but I remember both of us laughing so hard at this we could barely walk off an elevator.

I took the job with VJ at the behest of Rob Eshman, the gifted, brilliant and always empathetic editor of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal who, I am told, may be persuaded to become the very next President of the American Jewish Press Association.

The job, alas, meant some $25 K less in annual salary than my last position of eight years as a science writer with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), and fewer perks than those afforded Hispanic sharecroppers during the Steinbeck era. Although sustained by a number of prominent Orthodox Jewish wine-makers and purveyors of kosher condiments, VJ’s job of Editor-in-Chief offered no pension or 401 K, no medical or dental insurance, no sick days of any length or kind, and no respite from the demands of a workweek during which 40 hours ostensibly represented a starting point for acknowledging you might have shown up, and light years from comprising an appropriate work schedule.

To say that I had a bad feeling about signing on is to sound like a poor imitation of Harrison Ford in one of the “Star Wars” movies. But I had a sophomore in college and a freshman soon to join him, so my options, like those of so many of us, were limited. I did, however, take careful notes during the interview. And one of sticking points for me was yearly holiday. Having worked my way up to four weeks off per year after 15 or so years toiling on the local labor market, I insisted I had no intention of returning to a dismaying two weeks off. Jess explained that Virtual Jerusalem, which he had purchased in a moribund state, was not yet making money. Therefore, I would not be able to anticipate longer than two weeks of regular vacation time until such time as the business unit had slowed its burn rate to a tolerable state.

I would be gratified to learn, however, that the employees (including a gaggle of Philipino techies), were all required to abide by Jewish holidays, no matter how obscure or whatever anyone’s personal predilections. The fact that most of these holidays seemed to take place on weekends during the early months of my sojourn merely added insult to injury. Indeed, while everyone else headed for home by one p.m each Friday to prepare to greet the Sabbath bride, my own responsibility in getting the voluminous Shabbat issue up and running often put me in serious arrears of company policy.

Working on the Sabbath or any other Jewish holiday was a firing offense at VJ. But as long as I wasn’t blatant about it, informed Jess, he wouldn’t make any more of a Federal case of it than his and his employees’ constant pilfering of such badly needed software suites as Dreamweaver or Photoshop. Or of absconding with the intellectual property of various commercial content providers, which he obtained through pirated databases like Nexis-Lexis. Indeed, it wasn’t until he had been read the riot act apropos proper attribution that Jess was given permission, reluctantly, to reprint materiel from the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.

Bad feelings burgeoned, alas, when I took an unpaid day of leave in early September to take my four-year-old to Disneyland. This was on a Friday. I had made sure on Thursday that my weekly newsletter went out, including the latest “Teitelbaum’s Take.” This one warned against the problematic alliance growing between American Jews, Israeli Hebrews and Fundamentalist American Christians who saw Jews as actors in a bloody-minded End-of-Days scenario that would result (with no small gusto in the florid descriptions they tendered) in the slaughter of two thirds of World Jewry and the conversion, forced or otherwise, of a third.

Jess read the piece (or at least he said he did – more often than not, he said he couldn’t ready anything more demanding than the newspaper funnies, and frequently asked me if I would be affronting any of his maybe 15,000 readers weekly with my column, to which I replied that I certainly hoped so) and said nothing. The next day, however, complaints from two irate Christian readers came in to my mail, which it turned out, this being the modern American work place, he was actually reading, dyslexia or no. Unknown to me, that is, until Tuesday, when I rummaged through my own e-mail. Thence did I discovered that Jess had written an apology for the column, signed it as Sheldon Teitelbaum, VJ Editor-in-Chief, and sent it out to thousands of newsletter subscribers.

To say that I was incensed is to say that Grieber Wormtongue was mildly annoyed by the sudden appearance of Aragorn and Gandalf at the Court of the King of Rohan in Tolkien’s “Twin Towers.” This creature, as I now began to think of him, this Gollum (the Tolkienesque one, not the Rebbe of Prague’s clay protector, despite their common lumpishness, inherent stupidity and soullessness) had absconded with a name I had spent 30 years imbuing with some modicum of value, integrity and meaning. Using that name without my knowledge or permission, he wrote a political apology-cum-rationalization entirely athwart of my own stated position and in nauseatingly servile deference to vociferous anti-Semites. In this fashion Dolgin made me a part and parcel of their anti-Semitism, hoping in the process to preserve the three or four readers who might otherwise be induced to remove themselves from that list. The idea that ANYTHING I wrote would eventually offend someone he refused to understand. And the idea that challenging someone’s preconceived notion might be doing the community a service, not a “shonda,” was something that gave him the willies.

“Our readers are idiots,” he told me. “They want to read something that will make them feel good, not something, God forbid (about our running wars on the nonsense of hyphenating the word GOD in English, don’t get me started, save to say it drew more mail and argument than any other issue I broached for a full year) that may make them think.”


Still, when I confronted Jess with his perfidious act, which I learned about going through my computer – the “yotz” had sent me an apology in my name too -- he denied the actions outright. That was followed by a partial admission, insofar, he said, that he had written out an apology in the name of the company, but had accidentally affixed my own name and title to the e-mail, and then clicked the wrong button. When I explained that this was not possible given he claimed a degree in computer science as well as law from Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, he came clean. He said that as CEO of Virtual Jerusalem, a subsidiary of E-Shops Enterprises, he had every right to do anything he wished for the good of the company, including impersonating me online.

When I told him that I believed there were some possible criminal ramifications to his actions, and that I was inclined to pursue them in the appropriate forums, he apologized and, near-weeping, claimed he would never do anything like this again. With a child in college, I did not feel I had much recourse but to keep my eye on him henceforth with the eye of a Ringwraith. But the power of a web site – even one attracting a paltry 2000-or-so visitor a day -- was invidious and corrupting.

Dolgin subsequently retracted his apology, returning to the contention that as CEO he could do anything he damned well saw fit. And if I didn’t like it, I could walk, forfeiting a week of severance and anything in the realm of a decent work reference. Meanwhile, he continued to blanket his employees with sheaves of Lesbian pornography created, he said, by his former graphics artist, who produced this stuff on the side to support a drug habit – that is, before she was arrested for stealing his fax machine. I asked him to spare me the deluge, as my 17-year-old daughter could well have been (well, no, she couldn’t, because quite apart from her beauty, she is brilliant, accomplished and both her parents would kill her) one of the poor depleted souls depicted in this depravity.

Because Jess was determined to spend as little money on editorial content as possible – VJ was about filling holes and boxes, not winning writing awards (which has doubtless come as news to reporters since the early Hearst papers) -- he regularly resorted to questionable, if not illegal, practices to fill the ever voracious mandibles of his insatiable web site. Mostly this involved trolling for commercial copy and handing it over for me to emplace.

Moreover, despite VJ’s oft-stated leaning to the Jewish and Israeli Far Right (and the endless lectures that it could never be my place to criticize government policy in Israel unless the government decided to turn territory, and especially settlements, over to a Palestinian entity, in which case there would be a civil war… and a reassessment of my own editorial line, should left wing reprobates like me survive it). How had we ascertained I was a left-wing reprobate? Because when I first asked for a raise, he showed me an e-mail from one of his partners saying that since I did not share their values, “and did not even hyphenate G-D,” I should in fact be sent packing. When I threatened suit in Rabbinic and Civil court for religious discrimination, mind you, I received, after my first three months, a full 20 percent raise.

Within a week of starting the job, I decided to punch up the site with a humor section that would be anchored by the collected works of one of my best friends and former roomie while we both worked at the Jerusalem Post, Sam Orbaum. Sam had graciously handed over the reprint rights gratis, in return for which VJ agreed to build him his own web site. Week by week and month by month I pushed Jess to get his designers moving on the humor section (never mind Sam’s own site). And week by week and month by month Jess procrastinated, meanwhile lecturing me daily on the pressing need to beef up content. It was my job, he said, to “scavenge” and grab what I could, legally or otherwise, which I repeatedly refused to do. “The Hebrews will make no bricks without the appropriate straw,” I decreed in one of my frequent e-mails, designed to torture him because of his near-inability to read. “Why don’t you stop trolling your chat rooms for young kids and just finish the Orbaum site?”

One Monday morning in January, I get an e-mail from Tom Tugend, the Post’s longtime L.A. correspondent and my first-ever friend in L.A. “Terrible news. Sam died.”

I had known that Sam’s lymphoma had gone out of remission, and that he was awaiting a marrow transplant at Hadassah. What I didn’t know, and what his former wife Wendy Elliman later told me, was that he had contracted an infection after the chemo designed to kill off his existing marrow, and after several God-awful days, he died. I let out a wail. Jess ran into my office asking what was wrong. “Sam Orbaum died over the weekend,” I replied. Dolgin broke out into a beaming grin, and then began to giggle and cavort around the office like a demented monkey on a stick.

“A Jew just died and you’re laughing?” I said.

“Don’t you understand – now we’re off the hook?”

“What you don’t understand, you loathsome toad-eating piece of shit,” I replied, “was that he was my best friend. Now get the fuck out of my office before I throw you out!”

Jess blanched, and left. Later, he came back to apologize. “I never realized he was your best friend,” he pleaded.

“No excuse Dolgin – you have the “menschlichtkeit” of a hydrocephalic troll. From now on you want to talk to me, talk business. None of this huggy-bear kissy face shit of yours. We are not friends. We will never be friends. Schnell!”

“You can’t say that to me,” he replied. “If we’re not friends you can’t work here.”

“Show me where it says that in the labor code. Meanwhile, stop being a little girl and let me do my work. Nebbish.”

Subsequently, I paid Jess’s minor tantrums and fits of giddy goose-stepping scant regard, since he regularly deflated like a puffed up toad whenever confronted, and since it was usually easier to run rings around him with a concept he had never heard of, notably irony.

It helped as well, alas, that Mr. Dolgin, whose entrance to Bar Ilan Law, if it ever happened (the Law School refuses to confirm or deny his attendance or graduation), could not have been a mean feat given, by his own admission, an abysmal performance in high school and almost endemic inability to read and comprehend English (and perhaps even Modern Hebrew). I suspected his father’s the so-called Knesset Member had administered a dose of Vitamin P – Proteksia -- which given the lack of berths in all Israeli law schools, the Great Dershowitz himself probably couldn’t have gotten into without friends in high places. Maybe being a prominent Jerusalem Rabbi was enough in an Orthodox redoubt like Bar Ilan, whose law school included the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, Yigal Amir. Ironically, Jess claims to be fluent in Aramaic. This makes him Mel Gibson’s loss, as he would have made one heck of a Pharisee in the “Passion,” never mind seeming to embody nearly every anti-Jewish calumny and canard contained in the lexicon of Mel’s spiritual sources, the Spanish nun Mary of Agreda and the German sister Anne Emmerich. It did not render him fit for a job in a dotcom killing fields.

To my endless amusement, Mr. Dolgin relied almost exclusively upon the Left Wing Haaretz Israeli newspaper for VJ’s daily news supply. These items initially cost him a pittance, if anything at all, in their English translation. This and the Jewish Journal, which despite endless Brandeis University press awards for excellence (three of them awarded to this writer, one as recently as last year, I hesitate to mention except I need a job now), has traditionally and profoundly been reviled by elements within the Orthodox Jewish community of Los Angeles.

That community, alas, considers the roughly 600,000 majority Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated Jewish presence in Los Angeles as quite beyond the Pale. Moreover, it often resents any genuine journalistic scrutiny of its own community organizations and institutions. This did not stop the young Reb Dolgin, however, then as now, from filling his Friday issue with sufficient Jewish Journal freebies to wrap enough virtual gefilte fish to feed the entire Falashmura population en route to Israel for an entire year. That is, if they don’t burn down the dining room after being asked to ingest what my Iraqi mother-in-law disparagingly refers to as “sugar fish.”

Unfortunately, there is a Jewish proverb that states that the fish always begins to stink at the head. My own wife recalls having had a rather vociferous argument with me about accepting two weeks in annual vacation like some “friar” (Hebrew for sucker, a term far more egregious to any self-respecting Israeli than anything I can think of using in a ritualized dissing match with an African-American).

Some months later, when I announced I would be taking a family visit to Canada on behalf of the LA Times Travel section. Jess informed me that there was actually no California law requiring him to provide me with any paid vacation time of any amount. And even if there were, he had never agreed during our work interview or at any other time to give me even a day’s paid vacation. Demurring at his memory and offering to provide my voluminous job interview notes proving otherwise, I implied that sticking to this line would render Mr. Dolgin, in my book, an outright liar, reprobate and sleazebag who could only bring opprobrium upon his long-suffering father by this behavior. Jess told me to leave his father out of it. I suggested in turn that I couldn’t do that since the lamentable Gaon was badly reflected upon by every lie and perfidy performed in his and the family name.

Unknown to me at the time, Mr. Dolgin was calling my wife at home shortly before the entrance of the Sabbath. In warmly conversational Hebrew, he asked her if, as an R.N. at Kaiser, she made more money than I did. My wife is quite naïve. And Israelis are always comfortable asking each other what they make, mainly because in the Israel of yesteryear, so few of them made enough to speak of, so even minor differences were worthy of conversation. Unsuspecting any trickery, Lilith answered him. Had I known he was up to this, I would have hit him with a hockey stick.

Jess’s reason for asking? Apparently he now felt empowered to practice psychotherapy without a license, even as he insists in California, where the only bar he’s likely to see will be in a prison cell, that he is a lawyer. My outrage at being financially outstripped by my wife, he told her, was probably the reason I was making such an unseemly issue over vacation pay. My wife informed him that she recalled the discussion of the loathsome two weeks salary offer as if it were yesterday. Dolgin promptly hung up on her (later informing me “she was a nice lady” and “ever so forthcoming.” I promptly informed Mr. Dolgin I would be taking him to the Labor Board for unseemly practices, and that if he spoke again to my wife or children about anything comparably outré, I would use him as a hockey puck.

Jess responded to my outrage by throwing in a “free” week of vacation, if for no other reason, he said, than not to be known as a sleaze. I told him it wouldn’t help but I’d take the money anyway.

Intending to renegotiate my work agreement due to the worsening of a 25-year battle with Cluster headaches -- a genetically inherited neurological disorder that is to migraine what Beluga Caviar is to fish eggs-- I informed him I would no longer being driving 75 miles from Agoura Hills to Mid-Wilshire every day for no good reason. I would henceforth maintain the site from my state-of-the-art home office, since the drives back and forth were becoming dangerous. There were moments spent at the side of the 101 or along Highland when I was, for all intents and purposes, blind. I had no need to interact with anyone at his office, I told him. I possessed years of successful corporate experience telecommuting. Indeed, I had delivered corporate seminars on the subject nationwide.

Jess said that despite the fact that I used software in England to manage a site in LA intended for Israelis using servers in Las Vegas, his partners required a warm body chained to a desk so they might have the sense they were getting their ha’penny’s worth. I retorted that soon they might well find themselves instead with a cold body chained to the table. In any event, my headache specialist -- a researcher of world renown who had treated me for 21 years -- could place me on permanent disability the next morning. This would make Jess’s attempts to refill my job legally difficult for six months, possibly longer. Indeed, my physician and I had already discussed me coming in the next day with the requisite paperwork.

At that point, Dolgin asked me to consider working at home for a week and see how things went. I refused. A week would make no difference to my condition or decision one way or another. I was able to juggle my daily duties at home despite levels of pain certified by the AMA as worse than abnormal child birth, and only slightly more tolerable than terminal spinal cancer. I could not continue working 9-5 in an office. He succumbed. Indeed, he asked me to cut a contract changing my status into that of a subcontractor. We went back and forth on that contract for months. He subsequently reneged, announcing that “things were up in the air with the partners.”

Whenever Jess had to announce an unpleasant decision, it was always the partners who were responsible. On those few occasions there might be good news in the offing, however, Jess was quick to point out that he alone among the partners possessed two votes on all decisions, and was therefore, as he put it, “da Man”.

Yet our relationship subsequently worked better than it ever had for the next three months. Partly this was because I was spared the added stress and nausea of dealing with his physical presence, which had become insufferable. Indeed, I insisted he e-mail me rather than call when possible, since we invariably disagreed on what had been agreed to afterward. Failing that, I said, I would be sending him a memo after every call recapping what had been determined. “Your failure to correct my version of events within six hours will stand as automatic substantiation of what was agreed upon,” I declared.”

For his own benefit, moreover, I had responded to yet another budgetary cut for editorial material by staying up late each night translating articles from the Hebrew and Arabic press (I learned Arabic in the Israeli Army, “inal dinak!”) and reporting on their contents as news, a legal though time-consuming endeavor. I figured if I could demonstrate I had brought some new value to the table, I could make a better case for my annual raise, which was coming up at the end of the week.

This weekend, alas, when I objected to being called early in the morning on the Fourth of July to be harangued on a purely personal matter he had initially asked to be kept out of the loop on, the sunufabitch apologized…and then fired me. Jess said that he resented the fact that I had taken his friend, the editor of an absolutely first rate web site called Debka, to task for refusing to answer my own emails about a book-indexing job both had asked me to undertake in my free time a month earlier. Book-indexing, I would learn to my great fascination, is a thought-and labor-intensive endeavor requiring close and intimate collaboration between client and contractor. More ironically, it is one that has not become appreciably easier with the advent of computers. Without involving a Yiddisher “kopf,” or any other varient, in the process, it was the quintessential example of garbage in, garbage out.

During five weeks researching the subject on my own dime with out-of-print books, discussions and emails with members of the American Society of Indexers, and appropriated mastery of the software I’d need with an available demo called Cindex, I sent in weekly e-mails to my prospective client reporting what I had learned and presenting options for future approaches. The fellow, Giora, refused to acknowledge a single e-mail, though he told Jess he indeed received them.

I responded at the end of the five weeks by begging out of the project in an e-mail. I no longer had good feeling about this fellow by then, however admirable his site, and even less about Jess. I don’t know if the friend of my enemy is indeed my enemy, but Giora’s apparent disdain in not sending me the most perfunctory e-mail indicated he might be another in a line of Jess-like jerks). I told him I was doubling my fee and wanted the $750 I would need for the indexing software up front. In essence, of course, we both knew I was simply backing out of the project (not that there was much to back out from since we hadn’t exchanged tete-a-tete discussions on the matter so much as once).

As a result of this – and notwithstanding his apology for being out of line on the question of my dealings with Debka -- Jess chose the occasion of one of the few national holidays he had to pay me for to indicate he that he was firing me. Since the Giora business could no longer serve as a causus beli for firing me, he claimed, instead, that “ our relationship has never been ideal.”

“What relationship is?” I asked. “Isn’t the issue, especially since we never see each other anyway, supposed to be performance? Doesn’t your head programmer live in Vegas? And your content management system guru in England? Are your relationships ideal? For that matter – and I ask this only because I’ve watched you closely for a year – have you ever had an ideal, or even a satisfactory, relationship with anyone?”

“Well, there’s also this headache thing,” he said.

“That has only rarely stopped me from fulfilling my duties,” I said, actually having just come off three nights in hospital on I.V. drips, as Jess well knew, in an attempt to abort the latest spate of headaches with some newfangled drug cocktail. Indeed, I had rarely let the clusters get in the way of my completion and updating of the site, although truth to tell they had been coming fast and furious in the previous two weeks, sacking my energy and sometimes, I felt, my will to live. Yet there are aborting agents that can sometimes postpone to worst of some attacks until later in the day, allowing me to maneuver around them in a sufficiently timely fashion (since the site must be updated by noon Pacific Time each day, doing it the previous night was actually a boon, news-wise). And believe it or not, I can write lucidly on amounts of morphine that would make an elephant want to try on a too-too.

Yet there he was on line, this pusillanimous pudknocker, engaging in paroxysms of unutterable abuse over a matter he had asked me to keep private between me and his friend and client. I dispatched an e-mail to Jess lamenting his tantrum and another of explanation to his friend, which I had not yet sent when I received the call. Jess said he forbade me to write or otherwise convey any secrets, information or protected information to this fellow or anyone else at all involved in his companies E-Shops and Virtual Jerusalem because I was contractually bound to keep a lid on privileged information. I demurred, telling him I knew he and his lawyers, such as they might or might not be, were lying through their mangy teeth. Having never signed an agreement of confidentiality nor engaged in any kind of proprietary research or production, I remain a free agent with full First Amendment Rights. Secondly, in the face of wrongdoing or illegality, I was compelled to speak out. And thirdly, as a working journalist, I am bound first by my own sense of decency – my “Derekh Eretz” -- and secondly by the libel laws of this country.

But rather than fire me for standing up for my First Amendment Rights or because, as he indicated, I had demanded a year’s end raise for the extra work I was putting in, it might have occurred to Mr. Dolgin that if he no longer wished to work with me for whatever reason, he could have asked me what it would cost to secure a confidentiality and/or non-compete agreement, and hence decide if that was something he wished to pay in lieu or severance. Alas, Mr. Dolgin is, above all things, a miser. He reiterated his ridiculous offer of a month’s severance.

As I mentioned earlier, Dolgin’s ability to make the wrong decision in almost every instance involving right, wrong and his own personal wellbeing, is simply uncanny. It is especially pointed, for some reason I cannot fathom, since he has never got away with the slightest fast one in my regard. My own sense while pursuing a permanent state of disability for these cluster headaches, suffered since joining the Israeli paratroopers but abided through six long years of service and three decades of ensuing hell on Earth, is that I am now going to sue Mr. Dolgin for various forms of harassment the courts can consider, including religious discrimination in Rabbinical and Civil court, denial of contractual obligations wrongful termination and, best of all, criminal forgery.

Meanwhile, I am taking time from my current book on the history of the Israeli Submarine force, called “Force Leviathan” to return to Israel for some research intended to discern precisely how this withered and diseased apple fell so very far from such an upstanding tree. Because as I have explained to Mr. Dolgin any number of times in a manner he has construed as an outright threat, legal battles are dry, boring and entirely too common in this country. But a Damon Runyanesque story that can be developed and expanded into, God willing, a thing of art – that’s a gem of rare quality and one I intend to cut and polish lawsuit or no lawsuit.

Also meanwhile, I am repeating my longstanding offer to Jess that I buy him a copy of the AP Style and Libel Guide. This is because the last time we discussed my memoirs, he said that the laws in this country were such that all he had to do was bring suit for libel and it would be incumbent upon me to prove myself innocent. My retort that while perhaps true in Israel or even my native Quebec, this is baseless blather in the United States, where truth is an absolute defense against libel of a public figure, and where malice, which must be established in the absence of truth, has nothing to do with the fact that my gorge rises every time I look at the malodorous wretch. Indeed, it has to do with whether one makes reasonable efforts to verify facts when one is unsure of them. In this instance, Mr. Dolgin declined to respond to a registered letter offering him an opportunity to go over the article to that he might respond to any contentions he disagreed with or to offer his own version of events. He declined to respond as well to a subsequent email repeating the offer. A copy of the piece sent to his father in Jerusalem via registered mail for the purpose of fact-checking also failed to elicit a response. Under these circumstances, he forfeits any and all possible claims of malice, thus rendering any potential charge of libel insupportable.

Meanwhile, in deference to the Napoleonic code I grew up under in Quebec, where one is indeed somehow presumed guilty until innocence can be established, I shall begin practicing La Marseilles. As if one Napoleon weren’t enough to deal with. Dash it all -- Where’s Horatio Hornblower when you need the scurvy swab?

Sheldon Teitelbaum is a Los Angeles-based senior writer for the Jerusalem Report and was a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times, Wired, Time-Digital, the New York Times, the LA Daily News, the Jewish Journal and the Montreal Gazette winner of Canada’s First Northern Lights Award for Travel Writing, he is now on the market for an editorial position that provides a minimum of two week’s annual holiday, if only for the sake of continued “shlom bayit” (household harmony). All other matters, with the exception of involuntary influxes of lesbian pornography, are negotiable.

Variety Editor Says Blogging Does Not Equal Literature

Patricia Saperstein writes: Luke, As much as I love reading Cathy Seipp, Emmanuelle Richard, Matt Welch et al (ok, and even you), I'm afraid bloggers don't constitute a "literary life." Although certain blogs (Nancy Rommelman's new "Leaving Los Angeles" springs to mind) are written with a very nice turn of phrase, I'm afraid "literary" and "blog" are not exactly the same thing. You can't compare Joan Didion and Thomas Mann to L.A. Observed, just as you can't compare the L.A. Times to Susan Sontag.

In the same way that L.A. doesn't really have an independent film community, compared to New York, it doesn't have much of a literary community, in the sense that the writers all hang out together and feed off each other's work. But it wouldn't be fair to ignore T. C. Boyle, Ray Bradbury, Janet Fitch, Michelle Huneven, Susan Straight, to name just a few, when discussing L.A.'s literary life. It's the people making literature that make a literary life. Blogging is rarely literature, it's much closer to journalism. Perhaps some bloggers will eventually create literature, but in most cases this will mean revising, rereading and rewriting, so that the result is far from the near-instant gratification a blog provides.

The Path Of Torah Is Not The Path Of Popularity

I spent Rosh Hashanah winning friends and influencing people.

On the first night, the host and I were the only religious persons at the table. A practical joker, the host seated me, the world's biggest homophobe, next to a homosexual couple.

I asked this gorgeous blonde across the table, a former model, at what age she became interested in boys. The guys next to me interrupted with their answers before she could say, "15 or 16."

I asked a 13 year old girl at the table what her ideal first date would look like. She replied I was intrusive. Good boundaries.

Second night, I lugged along a book on Mussar to the table and read selected passages that specially moved me.

First a story about Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, founder of the 19th Century Mussar movement (character development):

The new synagogue building in one of the cities was completed, and some bricks were left over. R' Yisroel was asked what should be done with them. "Seal the entrance to the women's section," he advised, "so they won't gather during davening to gossip and speak lashon hara."

This anecdote elicited boos and anger from the women at the table. So a few minutes later, I tried again:

"In worldly matters," taught R' Yisroel, "it is proper to heed the advice of one's wife. But in spiritual matters, one should take no notice of her opinions even if the floor is washed with her tears."

At this point, I detected definite signs of hostility towards me from many female points around the table. The hostess approached me and demanded my book. "I will not have such a hateful book in my house."

I looked at the group and intoned: "The path of Torah is not the path of popularity."

Then I ate three helpings of dessert while the host read a book of sayings of the Rebbe (Menahem Schneerson) in praise of women to try to calm tempers.

After the readings, I felt a distinct cooling in the attitudes towards me of some of the women at the table. It was a long walk home. Why do I need to test and provoke people? When will I be relieved of this compulsion? How long oh Lord, how long? I only wish to share a little Torah.

PS What does it mean when you keep intending to kiss a woman on the cheek and she always turns her face so you end up kissing her full on the lips? I feel like it's a hint but I'm too shy to explore further.

Khunrum writes: Wild guess. No one is calling her for a date and she is tired watching reruns of Seinfeld. Even a lovable kook like you is better than nothing...

Blacks and Murder Rates

Susan Granger, a white woman living in fear in Pasadena, CA, writes:

While you were in shul, I was reading in The New York Times how witch doctors [in South Africa] kidnap and vivisect live victims - kids are their favorite - for their rituals. What a racist article!

I'll bet you missed the most interesting statistic in that article. That about 22,000 South Africans are murdered every year. This in a country of 44,000,000. that's about one South African out of every 2,000. Were the united states to have such a murder rate, we would have about 140,000 killings a year, or about seven times our current rate.

There is another correlation here to be made, but on account of its invidious nature, I shall refrain from making it. But....what do D.C., South Africa, Detroit, and South Central LA have in common? Two things that I can think of - racial composition, and murder rates.

Los Angeles Literary Life Redux

Rodger Jacobs writes:

Los Angeles has a full intellectual and literary life of merit and great potential but, to my thinking, it is all in the past. A bunch of bloggers sipping Guiness and iced tea on the patio at the Cat and Fiddle is hardly a literary life worth exploring.

In the 1940s and into the 50s, Santa Monica and the Palisades were a crackling scene of creativity, the hub around which the European emigres settled in their flight from the conflagration in Europe. You could always find Brecht, Mann, Schoenburg, Viertel and Isherwood hanging out at each other's homes or in the boulevard cafes and bars (Aldous Huxley lived in the Los Feliz district but tended to hang with his Euro brethren in Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades).

Musso and Frank's, of course, was a literary hot spots for generations. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, O'Hara, Nathanel West ... they all bent their elbows at Musso and Frank's long mahogany bar more than once. But nevermore.

In the 1920s all the way through the 50s, bohemianism flourished in Echo Park. Jake Zeitlin, arguably the most famous book seller in L.A. history, explained to author Lionel Rolfe ("Notes of a California Bohemian", "Literary L.A.") why Echo Park attracted the likes of Carl Sandburg, John Huston, Carey McWilliams and Louis Adamic (to name a few):

"The rents were low, the shacks on the tree-filled hills afforded more privacy than flatland apartments did, and people could conduct their individual lives in peace. Bohemianism thrives on adversity. You have to have a concentration of people practicing their arts, people with superior endowments who don't necessarily fit into society, and who are, in fact, often engaged in rebellions against convention, creating a symbiotic society where not only can they go and eat at each other's houses when they're hungry, but where they can also spark each other and be each other's critical audiences. To such people, money is not the main motivation; they may like spaghetti and wine and conversation and not getting up in the morning to go to a job, but all believe in practicing something that is their justification for being, whether it be dancing, writing, sculpturing or music."

Consider, too, that many writers associated with the City of Angels beat feet out of here the first chance they got. Raymond Chandler lived most of his life in La Jolla near San Diego. Ross MacDonald lived in Santa Barbara. Joseph Wambaugh high-tailed it to Palm Springs ages ago. Joan Didion lives in a glass and steel monstrosity above the streets of Manhattan, along with her husband John Gregory Dunne, whose novel "True Confessions" is considered by many to be the best fictional exploration of the Black Dahlia murder. (Forget James Ellroy's novel and, yes, even Ellroy departed the grimy streets of L.A. for more pleasant soil somewhere back east.)

Lastly, L.A. is simply too far flung, a series of suburbs loosely strung together, to ever breed a true literary scene. Contrast L.A. with, say, San Francisco where City Lights Book Store is the flag ship of that town's literary life.

"Movie life" has always supplanted "literary life" in this desert by the sea, and that's perfectly understandable because L.A. is an industry town and that industry is making movies. I can tell you where the hip midwestern-transplant-screenwriters hang out but that would hardly constitute a literary life, would it?

Joyrides Without Maps

Joseph Mailander writes on his blog Joyrides Without Maps:

I like Luke Ford's utterly deranged blog, even though people, especially other bloggers, tell him to shut up about them all the time. You may think Luke talks about other people, but I think that even when he talks about others, even when he's skewering them, he's talking mostly about himself in a way that discloses all the tensions within his interior--which to me is arresting writing.

Luke gives you Luke's noneconomic interior all the time, and someone's noneconomic interior is the most interesting thing they have to offer the world. The whole purpose of liberal education, after all, is to get people to think in a noneconomic way. Neurotic or no, these interior blogs are the kind that are most likely to go as long as someone psyche goes on, and make for good reading; the self-promotional blogs are the ones that appear to be looking for ego gratification, and therefore difficult to sustain over time.

And his recent fake interview with Blogger Bloggorum Mickey Kaus, really a deconstruction of blogging in general, writ large in Luke's own insistent rabbinical terms, which so many found offensive and were angered by--I found this piece an absolutely hysterical marvel, the perfect state-of-the-art fulcrum taking the locals somewhere they hadn't been, the fell-swoop violation of sanctity that so often changes Art. Nothing inspires the kind of emotional discharge and creates a better subterfuge for artistic and even personal conflict more than a hoax in which people who should know better are taken. Hoaxes, after all, play on inexpertise and distance--to have fallen for one is to own up to one's own hoaxing, one's own delusions. The fact that even some of the most experienced bloggers could not separate fact from fiction here demonstrated the superelasticity of the medium, and took the local community to a place it hadn't been.

The Literary Life In Los Angeles

I constantly receive emails from readers who believe that the literary life in Los Angeles consists of "lollipops and blowjobs," to quote the sage Michael Louis Albo.

Alas, this is not true.

Still, I must devote countless hours each day to battling the misperceptions fostered by Los Angeles Times media writer Tim Rutten and LA Observed's Kevin Roderick that the reason the big LA bloggers (Amy Alkon, Cathy Seipp, Matt Welch, Emmanuelle Richard, David Poland, etc) do not get published in mainstream outlets like the Times and Los Angeles Magazine is that their prose is too clear, their souls too pure, and their perceptions too keen.

As I walk and talk throughout greater Los Angeles, I'm amazed at the number of people who believe that LA bloggers are the sacrifical redeemers of modern society. That we bleed our emotions on our websites so that the rest of the populace can live in peace.

Alas, this is not true. After exhaustive research, I've found that many LA bloggers, even Yours Truly, write crappy pointless prose filled with errors of logic, style, grammar, spelling and punctuation.

My readers seem to think that I eat breakfast with Arnold Schwarzenegger, drink wine with David Shaw (of the LA Times), sunbathe topless on the Venice Beach with Emmanuelle Richard, lift weights at Golds Gym with Mickey Kaus (and then follow a black girl upstairs), drink at the Polo Lounge with Variety editor Peter Bart, bungy jump with Nancy Rommelman, shop at Nordstroms with Michael Collins, dine with Cathy Seipp at the Soup Plantation, drink at the W with author David Rensin, and then come home to emails from beautiful women who enclose photos.

Instead my days are spent slaving at my computer, honing my prose, strengthening my writerly muscles, lifting my paragraphs up to my site so the world can read what I ate for lunch (a tofu scramble at Kokomos).

The Literary Life in Los Angeles, for me, consists of fortnightly lunches with Cathy Seipp, whispers with screenwriters at shul, monthly drinks with the Los Angeles Press Club, and topless bathing at Venice Beach with Emmanuelle Richard's husband Matt Welch.

As I wander among the crushed beer cans, discarded pizza boxes and clouds of marijuana smoke at LA blogger parties, I often wonder - is this it? Surely there's something more? What libertarians like Eugene Volokh and Virginia Postrel refuse to address is this great looming ennui hanging like a nuclear cloud over the secular blogs of California bloggers.

Is there a Literary Life in Los Angeles? Email Luke

Joseph Mailander writes: "This is a koan. If you write, you can't say yes, but won't say no; and if you don't, you can't say no, but won't say yes."

Pillows Stained With Sweat

I've been told that my pillows, stained with sweat, and my pillowcases, stained with sweat, are not a turn-on.

So today I made a pilgrimage to K-Mart, the savings place, and bought two pillows for $5 each and two pillowcases for $20 each. What the hell is up with that? When did pillowcases become so expensive?

I need two average-sized pillows under my head to sleep. These new pillows are slightly larger, and far puffier, than my older cozier pillows. This will not help my insomnia.

I put my two old stained pillows in the back of my van and threw out the older, more stained, pillow. I got rid of the mattress years ago. Too tacky. Too impure.

In my hovel, I sleep on a sheet on the floor. I want to be a missionary when I grow up.

Man Crashes Female Freelancers Gathering
Greeted With Chocolate Chip Cookie

Random thoughts:

* Why do most features editors weigh over 300 pounds?

* Why are most of the LA Times Calendar folks so long in the tooth? If journalism is a young man's game, then entertainment journalism is particularly for the young, because most consumers of pop culture are young.

* Is it gay for a man to repeatedly claim he has moxie? [I don't mean a man boasting of intimate knowledge of a prominent blogger.]

* Luke Ford and David Poland remain good friends despite their blowout on LAObserved.com.

* Luke Ford will always make us feel uncomfortable. "If for no other reason than when you visit him at The Hovel, you have to sit on the floor," writes Khunrum.

* It now takes two seats to accommodate my expanding posterior. I'm beginning to resemble Chaim Amalek.

Ninety minutes in, I crash a gathering of female freelance writers engaged in hot girl-on-girl action over brunch. I order a tofu scramble. One woman proposes that I be regarded as an honorary member of the female freelancers group. What does that say about my masculinity?

Aaron Stack writes Cathy Seipp: "I've been to my share of these L.A. Press cocktails and got a whiff of the smarmy stench given off by you and your valueless lot. You all talk a lot of shit on your blogs mainly because you are all malcontents in an industry that you collectively feel does not really recognize your merits as writers. Such as the amoral Mr. Luke Ford, an anti-Semite in Jew's clothing who claims to be your friend on his blog, and yet never fails to exploit you (and other Jews), drudging up your ex-boyfriends and going on and on like a horny 14-year-old about your physical attributes, all while trashing you and your Jewish culture. Ever notice how anti-Semitic his writing comes off, whether trashing the Farmer's Market as provincial, or criticizing other Jews for not being holy enough at religious gatherings, all while gawking at the cleavage and short skirts of the females in attendance? These are the kind of wits you associate yourself with, whose morality you do not seem to question or put in check. All this for a link to your blog? Don't you have any self-esteem at all, on a personal or cultural level? Not even a shred?"

Dave Deutsch writes Luke: The next time you are called an antisemite, please feel free to cite me as your lone Jewish friend that you trot out to counter the slur.

Dennis Prager On The CA Governor's Debate

* I remain a skeptic of the recall.

* I would rather have spent the hour playing Spider Solitaire.

* The only one who came across badly was Arianna Huffington. Her remark to Arnold, "So that's how you treat women?" was particularly obnoxious for two reasons. One, I'm a woman, so you have to treat me more delicately. Two, to use that argument is so obviously demagogic. She's an angry woman. She interrupted Arnold about a dozen times during the debate.

* I'd have all the candidates as next door neighbors. They seemed pleasant enough.

* Two candidates had an inspiring aura - Arnold Schwarzenegger and Peter Camejo (Green Party). Camejo seems like an unreconstructed Marxist.

* I agree with almost everything Tom McClintock says but I don't find him inspiring.

* The thought of Cruz Bustamente as governor of CA is frightening. He'd be another Gray Davis.

* Tom McClintock had more knowledge and solutions than the rest of the panelists put together. He speaks in a monotone. He recites.

* Why aren't I more excited about Schwarzenegger? I don't believe you should go from actor to governor.

Dildos Of Shame

Fifty years ago, Edward R. Murrow made television history with his "Fields of Shame" investigative report on the plight of the migrant farm worker.

Now Luke Ford, in the first of a series, looks at the plight of the migrant dildo worker in Chatsworth and her chance at the American dream.

I went deep under cover at Topco to produce the closest, most intimate, most shocking view of the production of sex toys by hardy Hispanic workers for pudgy middle-class Caucasians. You will never experience a blow-up doll in the same way again. This article is The Jungle for the 21st Century.

By the time you've finished reading, you're guaranteed to be as happy as an illegal Mexican immigrant with her first CA drivers license.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003. 9:45AM.

I run across the six lanes of De Soto Blvd in Chatsworth and charge into the Topco parking lot. On the second story of 9401 De Soto, on the balcony in the sun, I spot Jennifer Gorman, Topco's PR gal, and Scott Tucker, Topco president.

I wave at them. They ignore me and talk to each other. I keep waving.

"Hi, it's Luke," I yell.

They give me polite but apprehensive smiles.

How's that for a warm welcome? I'm right on time.

I walk into the sales wing. The pretty Latina receptionist phones Jennifer to fetch me from the lobby. The lady asks for my car keys and in exchange gives me a guest badge. I was told yesterday not to wear open-toe shoes in case a dildo falls on my toe and breaks it.

Jen walks into the lobby. She's wearing a black dress with a plunging blue collar that offers a few square inches of sneak previews of her hidden treasures ("fitted black number with an open collared neck" says Jen). Her feet are bare on top, with heels underneath ("low strappy sandals" says Jen). She's blonde, about 30 years old, with an oval shaped face and medium length hair. She's intense, hyper and [a quality Jen won't allow me to mention so she doesn't get teased about it endlessly, guys, you can't tease girls like you can other guys], with a type A personality.

She takes me upstairs where we run into Scott. He explains that he thought I was a hobo and that they had too many of them hanging around already and they didn't need anymore, which is why he didn't wave back. Also, he doesn't know me.

Scott seems like a Bible-believing fundamentalist speaking-in-tongues Southern Baptist who runs a dildo company. He's dressed in a suit and tie and has a marine's haircut.

Tucker says he's read an article or two of mine. I bet he's going to read this one.

Scott disappears into the conference room for a to-do meeting. His father Marty, the founder of the company, is there from China. Marty, dressed colorfully and casually, looks like a much wilder guy than Scott. He must think, while looking at his son, "Where did I go wrong?"

Jen takes me into her office, which is next to sales guy Cory. While she gets changed (into her tennis shoes), I look at Cory's putting green on the balcony next door. His office is covered with Rolling Stone regalia.

Jen has her own balcony where she can smoke and look out on a beautiful view of De Soto Avenue and the humming city of Chatsworth, the Memphis of the West.

Topco has 450 manual labor employees (it appears to me that 449 of them are Mexican and the other is a Caucasian who feels like a loser) and 50 administrators who are all white.

All the white employees work on the top floor in offices and all the Mexicans stay on the bottom floor in the three-football field-sized-warehouse.

You could make a cool sitcom about this place called "Upstairs, Downstairs." Have the white president of the company fall in love with an illegal Mexican dildo maker.

All jokes aside, it is moral that Topco employs Mexicans to screw the tops on lubricant bottles rather than employ Chinese slave labor like all the other sex toy companies do but Doc Johnson (all American).

Jennifer Gorman takes me to places I've never been before - like the sex toy showroom. There's a swing. She got into it, wearing a skirt, on her first visit to the company, before she even filled out an application. It might be some kind of job requirement for white women at Topco? She's a good fit for the place, though I'm not sure what's going to happen to her after this article comes out.

I'm about to ask her to get into the swing again so I can take photos, but subdued by my lithium medication, I decide discretion is the better part of valor.

Jen leads me downstairs. She pushes through a door marked in red "Emergency Exit Only - Alarm Will Sound." Then she puts her hand on some detector and takes me into the warehouse. Fat blow-up dolls are the first things to catch my attention. Then there are the hundreds of Mexicans, the most I've seen in one place since I went to Home Depot.

There are many blow-up dolls. What kind of loser uses these things?

We wander the aisles, avoiding the onrushing forklifts. Stacks of sex toys loom precariously above us. One of those big boxes falls and we're history - killed by a dildo.

I'm instructed by a pretty Topco employee to make Topco sound nice.

Jen hunts down some cool gifts for me that I can give away to my lady friends - vibrators that come in containers that appear to carry lipstick and nail polish. Man, with these, I will turn into a real lothario.

Most of the Topco administrators seem so square, I doubt they ever use their own products. At least I hope not. I really don't want that picture in my mind.

I make some insinuating comments to the pretty PR gal about vibrators but she brushes them aside.

If you looked in most of the Topco offices, you'd never know it was a sex company.

There appear to be several Tuckers in the top administrative positions.

All Topco employees I meet are nice. Nothing I write should be misconstrued so as to put them or their fine God-fearing company in a bad light.

Rest assured, that when you diddle with a Topco dildo, you're diddling righteously.

I believe the above paragraph contains a pull quote that will appear in the next Topco catalogue, if there's any justice in this world.

Could you truly have a satisfying orgasm if you knew that your vibrator was made by a woman paid a few cups of rice a day?

Notes on method: I walked around Topco with the lovely publicist Jennifer, with the blessing of its gracious president Scott, and then afterwards I went home and wrote things I thought were funny but they thought were crap.

Dave Deutsch writes:

Outstanding bit of investigative reporting. For too long, Americans have been able to fool themselves into thinking that illegal immigration did nothing for them. At last, you'll show them just how intimately intertwined they are with illegal aliens.

Two thoughts: 1. Scott Tucker--Baptist dildo magnate? Could this be Luke Ford's soul mate? 2. I think that you'd better get on the horn with your buddies in the Republican Party. I mean, with millions of industrial jobs disappearing, and the American sex toy industry almost extinct, the Tuckers are exactly the kind of entrepeneurs the president should be showcasing. Can you imagine the photo ops? 3. Topco--is it possible for a producer of strap-ons to have a better name?

I just got the photo op. The president, in a play for the Latino vote, standing next to one of the few legals at Topco, as he proudly displays her handiwork:

President Bush: For Conchita Gonzalez, this isn't just a fisting sling; it's her part of the American Dream.

He Whose Name I Will Not Utter before Rosh Hashana Writes Luke: "Concerning your "dildos of shame" piece, you should not be suffusing lukeford.net with such sexual content. It is read by minors, and such material does not reflect favorably on you. Ever. Stick to discussions of immigration, Wogging, and the validity of the Oral Law."

The Hidden Moshiach on Liberal Jews, Mexicans, Israel and Palestine

The Hidden Moshiach writes: Why is it that liberal jews who excuse and otherwise look the other way when it comes to the illegal immigration of third world peoples into the United States (all of this IN ADDITION to the millions who come here legally) cannot find it within their hearts to support the immigration (repatriation, really) of non-violent Palestinians into Israel? Yeah, I know that certain such folk claim that within the chest of every Palestinian beats the heart of a killer of Jews, but is there any statistical evidence that Palestinians on the West Bank commit murder any more frequently than Mexicans in LA? My gut familiarity with the statistics says that Mexicans have commited more mayhem here than Palestinians are responsible for over there. Besides, if Palestinians were treated by Israel the way liberals like for us to treat Mexicans, they would have substantially less reason to be so angry at the Jews and would be better behaved.

This suggests so obvious a solution to the Jewish/Palestinian problem of the mideast - one binational state, encompassing present day Israel, Palestine and Gaza - that I cannot help but wonder why it is not more frequently discussed here in the United States.

Best wishes to all for a Happy Jewish New Year and remember - you don't have to be Jewish to participate in this discussion!

Jen writes: As a "liberal" Jew, I do believe in one binational state, open to palestines and israelis. I hope it happens. It's the only way for peace in my opinion. Israel was named a Jewish State partly because all other countries had some base religion in it's creation, and none of them were started with Jewish leaders or based on Jewish principals.... as a result, Jews became scapegoats, the holocaust happened, and on and on. Does that make me a non-Zionist? Because I believe that more people than only Jews should be allowed to enjoy Israeli citizenship? There's no room in this world for extremists- people have to work together. I don't mean assimilation, I mean compromise and dialogue.

Dave Deutsch writes: As to reader Jen's comments on Israel that everybody, not just Jews, should be able to "enjoy Israeli citizenship." I don't think think I've ever met a citizen of Israel, Jewish or otherwise, who particularly enjoyed it.