Sunday, April 30, 2006
I've been seeing a new shrink and we've concluded I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. That's why I have such a high startle response and grind my teeth at night and am sensitive to loss, attachment and commitment.
I don't want to talk about the painful experiences of my life on my blog. Suffice to say, the last 17 times I put my arms around a woman and she rejected me, I've not gotten over it.
My shrink wants to know: "Do you toss the covers a lot at night too or get creepy/crawly feelings in your legs. Has anyone every told you that you snore?"
I cry out a lot at night, frequently uttering obscenities that would never pass my lips during my waking hours. According to informed sources, a favorite topic of mine during sleep is the Dallas Cowboys.
Friday. 8 a.m. Four Seasons Hotel on Doheny Dr. in Beverly Hills.
I note with satisfaction that David Horowitz's assistant Michael Finch (the longest lasting? certainly the most easygoing Horowitz assistant) has ceased cutting himself. But the scars of working for David remain.
David's other assistant, Elizabeth, is late because she's getting a facial peel.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Michael claims he's never had a facial, facial peel, pedicure or manicure.
He's been sleeping well. It's his wife who bears the brunt of getting up at night to look after their 12-pound infant.
I had a girl who wanted to buy me a lavender facial spray and I really want it but I resist her offer because it's too swishy and my credentials with the Republican Jewish Coalition might be rescinded.
I find it hard to get going in the morning without an invigorating round of, "You know you're gay because..."
I sip my peppermint tea and eat fruit. My figure has been bulging alarmingly around my stomach of late. That damn lithium.
I remember what it was like to be with a woman. It was good. I want to go to that promised land across the Jordan River once more. I thought the LA Weekly cover and VH1 appearance would do it but no luck.
I'm gonna join that immigrant protest Monday because those things attract hot chicks.
I can forgive a woman for her misguided political views as long as she's hot.
Really, you know you're gay when you start refusing hot women because of their politics.
I'm determined to raise the tone of political discourse on the web.
The Prostate Cancer Review meets in the grand ballroom where the Wednesday Morning Club meets. Shelby Steele speaks to the WMC May 18.
Despite advertising to the contrary, Center Breakfast Clubs are not great places to meet hot chix in their twenties. But they are great places for a free prostate exam and to compare notes on dribbling vs a full healthy stream.
There's a full healthy stream of people pouring into our breakfast looking for the prostate cancer meeting. At least one person signs up for our breakfast.
I'm able to provide moral guidance to an impressionable friend that the hotties at our breakfast are very married.
I make a gentleman's wager with a mate over who will be the first to seduce Tammy Bruce the lesbian (she interviews Dr. Wafa Sultan May 3 for the WMC, four security guards have been hired for the evening).
Dr. Trifkovic says that no religious Muslim can be fully loyal to the United States and its oath of citizenship because Islam requires him to give his utmost loyalty to Sharia (Islamic law) and Islamic world domination.
Couldn't you make a similar argument about religious Jews? Their ultimate loyalty has to be to God, Torah and the Jewish people? We don't seek world domination except for ethical monotheism, which should rule.
Serge says that in France more people will go to mosque on Friday than church on Sunday.
Serge says porn and decadent western values won't moderate Muslim immigrants. In their search for meaning, in their frustration at being on the bottom rung of Western society, they're more fanatically devoted to their religion than their Arab/Muslim brothers in the homeland.
"When a Christian returns to his religion, he finds the prince of peace. When a Muslim returns to his religion, his finds Mohammed the Terrorist.
"...More democracy in the Middle East means more political Islam and more death sentences for apostates. Look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan..."
Serge says the riots in French suburbs were Muslims self-rule according to Sharia.
He says we should refuse citizenship to all Muslim activists. "No Muslim can take the US oath of allegiance in good faith. A faithful Muslim can't help but strive for the introduction of Sharia. Islam introduces a cataclysmic mindset of us vs. them. It cannot rest.
"No law enforcement agency can function effectively if it admits Muslims."
We should reform immigrations laws to refuse Jihadists.
Serge is Bosnian. He says we should embrace Russia. He advocates surgical airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. No use of ground troops.
"Nothing short of a cataclysm will help the West realize the war its in [against Islam]."
Serge says we have to get over this notion that Islam is the religion of peace and our real war is against terrorism. Nope, it's against Islam.
Instead of invading Iraq and guarding the Euphrates, we should've used those resources to guard the Rio Grande.
Serge speaks for just over 30 minutes and then takes almost 30 minutes of questions.
He says the debate on immigration is depressing because everyone is talking about the economy and nobody is talking about identity and the quality of life.
I ask: "Why should we become friendlier with Russia? Isn't it becoming more of a dictatorship?"
Serge: "Let's stop once and for all judging our external affiliations on the basis of the domestic nature of that regime. The messianic notion that only with democracies can we can be friends should be denied by Brussels (center of the European Union), because the EU is becoming a dictatorship. It is mandating gay marriage, totally bypassing national assemblies. The Czech Republic four times rejected that proposal but now a court in Luxembourg is overriding that.
"Russia is not becoming a dictatorship. It's becoming more authoritarian. That's neither here nor there in the American security calculus, which supported South Korea, Singapore, Chile under General Pinochet, and various unsavory characters around the Middle East such as General Musharraf [in Pakistan]..."
Luke: "What do we get from being friendly with Russia? What's in it for us?"
Serge: "Alternative sources of energy. After Saudi Arabia, Russia has the biggest oil reserves in the world. There are enormous natural resources in Siberia. We have common [Islamic enemies]."
My friend tells me I've matured since he met me eight years ago.
I ask him if Reform Judaism was responsible for the Holocaust.
He gets all offended and claims it was Hitler's fault.
In the mens room, I shoot him a glance and ask him if he's considered doing movies.
It takes him 15 seconds to get it.
As we walk out, my friend says, "Did you see that Asian girl? Did you see how she looked at me?"
I get anxious when I arrive home and see that I'm overdue with the following library book -- How to Control Your Anxiety.
'Sex and the City Wasn't Naked Women'
Dennis Prager: "Sex and the City wasn't naked women. It was a raunchy comedy. I didn't like it."
Sex and the City was filled with naked women, at least the episodes I saw.
Perhaps Dennis has the kind of elevated mind that remembers the comedy while I, in my base state, remember the nudity (particularly Charlotte, yummy, she's worth a mass if you're a goy).
A secular caller said that religious people should live up to their religion. Where in the Bible does God say it is OK to screw around?
Dennis does not answer him directly. Dennis says the human being is a pressure cooker and needs to let off steam.
Dennis: "Why is watching Sex and the City a sin? Why is gambling a sin? I didn't say sin was OK. I don't believe these are sins. Anyone who believes these things are a sin should not engage in it."
Caller: Is it OK for a religious Jew to eat pork once in a while?
Dennis: "I need ever eat pork, but it is an interesting question. I argue that God prefers a lot ove rnothing. Better to keep kosher 80% of the time than 0%. God has common sense. God is not an idiot."
On a Friday night in March 1995, I met Leonarto August aka Shimon Saadi at the Westwood Chabad. He was an Israeli movie director who made his living selling electronics. I lived with him until May 31, 1996.
He often told people he was from Italy, thus the fake name Leonarto August.
Shimon (1994-95) said he sensed something sweet about my aura. I was living out of my car at the time. He invited me to move in with him in exchange for helping him twenty hours a week with a screenplay.
I was amazed by Shimon's success with women. They flocked to him. I heard he had a prodigious endowment.
A couple of times I got Shimon's leftovers, for which I'm eternally grateful because these ladies were hot.
He was also blessed with some keen perceptions into life. He had a mystical gift. He taught me many practical things, including that I could call my credit card company if I felt I had gotten ripped off on a purchase (this saved me hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars).
I helped him too. One Shabbos afternoon, I bailed him out of jail. He'd been pulled over by the cops and because he had unpaid traffic tickets, he was jailed.
He had a daughter (circa 11yo) from his first marriage. She lived in South Africa.
Shimon said he'd been with about 500 women in his life.
We'd go to Jewish singles events and I'd get nothing and he'd get blown in the parking lot.
I've never been blown in a parking lot.
Shimon returned to Israel in the summer of 1996. Essentially secular when I met him, he eventually became Orthodox. He davened regularly at the Kabbalah Centre (picture) on Robertson Drive and took classes in Jewish mysticism.
Shimon had a friend named Robert Goodman, who was vastly more successful and classy than we were. Robert was finishing off a documentary (1996's Choke) on no-holds-barred fighting centered on Rickson Gracie.
Shimon borrowed Robert's money and his Mac computer which we used to write a never-finished screenplay. I also used it to write most of my first book.
After Shimon and I moved, I rarely saw Rob (the last time was probably 1999).
I always felt out-classed when I talked to him. I felt like he was leagues above me socially.
He had a girlfriend that I still see in Jewish life. I feel like she's leagues above me socially.
Shimon had a girlfriend who married a friend of mine.
Rob Goodman and I met up again Wednesday night, April 26. We talked for almost two hours at my hovel.
He gave me a copy of his 24-minute documentary 180 Degrees to Jerusalem. It's hilarious.
The old hustler Shimon, now about 46, has turned charedi (ultra-Orthodox) and now goes by "Shimon Sade." He's remarried and has four kids. He looks as grumpy as ever. In his own way, he's probably still hustling the Israeli welfare system to get by financially. The clothes change but Shimon's tendencies to mysticism and fanaticism don't.
The Hebrew version of the documentary played on Channel 2 in Israel. Now it's seeking an English-language American release.
Rob's the narrarator, and strictly speaking, most of the documentary is about him, though it's posed as a search for his old friend Shimon.
I don't have a lot of friends, so I hope nothing here costs me my chance at a new one in Rob.
"Wow," he writes me Thursday morning, "I don't think I've ever been blogged."
Rob begins the documentary: "Page one. The family photo album. My great grandparents escaping Europe."
Rob was initially going to do a documentary on the visit to Israel and search for spirituality by the adopted daughter of Roseanne Barr. He got 40 hours of footage of her over two weeks but it was dull. So by piecing together his family's photos and home movies with his wedding video and a few interviews, Goodman made something completely different.
Rob: "They came for the promise of the new world. The irony is that they only exchanged one ghetto for another. My grandfather...was just another immigrant kid trying to get uptown. And that he did. He never looked back.
"By the mid-thirties, he and his brother were the biggest rubber importers on the East Coast.
"Sidney Segal had arrived.
"Fast-forward to the sixties. My turn. [Rob's born around 1963.] Long Island homes. Summer camp. Games at the club.
"Religion? My grandfather and his pals invented the three-day-a-year Jew thing [Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur]. And that's what he passed on to us.
"The American dream -- make up the rules as you go."
The screen flashes to pictures of LA highway interchanges.
"So of course I ended up in LA -- the world capitol of calling your own shots, inventing myself as I went along. That's where I met Shimon Saadi, an Israeli ex-pat living on nothing but balls and an expired Israeli tourist visa. My grandfather all over again. I couldn't help but look up to him."
Shimon's friend: "Shimon's out there hustling around, trying to scrape together money. He thinks he's going to come over and get over. Everyone's a millionaire. He's going to outhustle everyone. But this is a city built on hustlers."
Rob: "I swore that if anyone was going to pull it off, it was him. And for a while, he did. Then it all went to hell.
"Shimon and a few of his Israeli buddies tailed a group of starlets to the Kabbalah Centre. The beginning of the end."
Shimon's friend: "He would probably tell you himself that in the beginning it was so he could meet chicks. So he could hang out. And then it took over and he was hooked."
Rob: "Was it something they were putting in the water? Because after a month at the Kabbalah Centre, the chicks were out, the Zohar was in, and Shimon wasn't returning my calls.
"From there, it was only a matter of time until he was keeping kosher, wearing a yarmulke, and praying non-stop. And before I knew it, he was on a plane back to Israel.
"That's not the way it is supposed to happen. What if my grandfather had given up and gone home? What happened to Shimon?
"I dropped everything and followed Shimon back for some answers."
Rob visits the town where Shimon grew up and Shimon's old shul. The town is a dump. Only old men go to the shul.
Rob visits "what everyone says is the heart of the new movement -- The Purple Festival [at Atlit Beach in Israel."
A wave hits some of the women and they start choking on sea water. The men, 20 feet away, rush over and help their big-breasted Israeli sisters and bring them to shore.
Rob: "No wonder the old synagogue is empty. I'm all for smoking weed and dancing but when did that become religion?"
This festival is filled with hot chicks. It's presided over by homely old folks such as Gafni. Why must he get all the hot chicks? What happened to "From each according to his ability to each according to his need?"
Gafni: "Let's say, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Shabbat shalom."
Rob: "Me and my friends chose Disneyland over Jerusalem for our bar mitzvah trips. All Yom Kippur meant was sitting in traffic on the Long Island Expressway and going to our cousins in the city.
"My grandparents died maybe 20 blocks from where they landed."
Aish Ha Torah Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser (formerly Johnny Glaser, surfer): "This is Judaism and there's nothing else really. You're either in or you're out."
Aish Rabbi Avi Geller: "What do you really know about the essence of God?"
Rob: "Mix an identity crisis, a slick talker and a few select Bible quotes and the statistical chances are 23.7% that you'll succeed in adding a member to the team. And that's the program whether it is Aish Ha Torah, the Kaballah Centre or Scientology. Belonging feels good."
Rabbi Avi Geller: "A Jew has a more sensitive soul."
Rob: "It's not breaking news that my friend Shimon became religious after he woke up one morning in LA and saw 40-year old hustler staring him in the eye. And didn't like him."
Rob: "It gave Shimon shivers that men and women weren't separated and women were singing and other things that weren't by the book.
"He made his choice. And I made mine."
Little Blue Footballs
If I ever start a political blog, I'll use columnists named Dennis Praeger, Mark Stein, and Viktor David Hanson. Subscribers will get a free copy of the beloved classic - A Tale of Two Titties.
Cathy Seipp writes: "And you can't get even ONE of their names right?"
Meet Gary Kremen
My friend is a millionaire. He's fallen in love with Israel. He wants to meet a nice Jewish girl and get married.
gkremen: At the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem
Dennis Prager says the bassoonist threw his instrument at police officers.
It took riot police over an hour to arrest the "20-stone men", who were then led out in handcuffs, with one shouting: "This is how it goes down in LA."
'If he's not into me, he must be gay'
Chaim writes: "Women are always saying stuff like that. Just because she discovered semen leaking out of his crack one night does not mean that he is gay."
Luke Ford Gets Results
Dave Deutsch writes:
Who Do I Love The Most?
I used Google Desktop search to see which people I have mentioned in files (emails, cached web pages, etc) on my computer:
Cathy Seipp: 5,304
A friend writes: "When women begin to talk about their orgasms, I reach for my penis."
This website by Nomi Fredrick was named best website of the month by the May issue of Los Angeles magazine.
From BUZZCUTS: "Web site of the month: Go to sinhablar.com for a crash course on the hot Hollywood topic that is fallen celeb private eye Anthony Pellicano, from his 112-count federal indictment to his "plausible Mafia connections" to his ancient testimony supporting the lone-gunman theory of the JFK assassination."
The impetus for the Pellicano scandal, Anita has a case to justify her longterm paranoia and should get a fat settlement.
I believe that her legal case is her fulltime occupation these days.
A reader writes:
Novelist Binnie Kirshenbaum Interview II
Luke: "How do you know so much about loneliness?"
Binnie: "I grew up in the suburbs? I was a lonely kid. I always had friends but I never felt like I belonged. There was a side of myself that I kept to myself."
Luke: "When did you feel like you belonged? College?"
Binnie: "I'm not sure I've ever quite felt that way. But certainly when I got to college it was much better. I found kindred spirits. I could express myself. Existential loneliness is something we all suffer but we tend to turn away from it and I like looking at it."
Luke: "You suffer more than most people."
Binnie: "It's not something I talk to people about. Usually, when we're together, we don't talk about loneliness. Perhaps?
"I was a middle child. Middle children tend to get ignored. I had two brothers who were probably more difficult children than I was.
"The neighborhood [Westchester, New York] was all-white but very mixed with different religions. I was the only Jewish kid in my age group in my four-block radius. There was a fair amount of anti-Semitism. I felt excluded until I got to highschool, which was 50% Jewish.
"I like being alone, so maybe I feed it?"
Luke: "How did the anti-Semitism manifest itself?"
"I had no idea what anybody was talking about. I was clueless as to why anybody would say that to me.
"I remember kids throwing pennies at me.
"There was one scene I used in a story about a neighbor who wouldn't let me swim in their pool."
Luke: "What do you love and hate about growing older?"
Binnie: "Not much I love about it.
"I'm more secure and confident. I'm more confident about my own attractiveness even though I know that by and large youth and beauty are synonymous. I don't know that I got better looking as I got older but people respond to me as if I have. I believe my own attractiveness in a way that I didn't when I was younger."
Luke: "More men hitting on you?"
Binnie: "Yeah. Or better quality."
She's been married 15 years to a non-Jewish professor of medicine.
Luke: "Tell me about you and God."
Binnie: "I'm a believer in a strange little way, certainly not in an any fundamentalist way. I subscribe to evolution. The world is a miraculous place. That nature happened as it did is mind-boggling. I allow for the idea that there's some grand plan, not necessarily a grand being. I believe in inherent good and evil and that the inherent good is god. I try to live as good a life as I believe in and there's some idea of serving this greater good, this god, by doing that. I believe in trying to leave the world a better place than you found it."
Luke: "Have you had a relationship with God? Do you talk to God? Does God to talk to you?"
Binnie: "He definitely doesn't talk to me. Occasionally I've asked for a favor.
"It's more when I'm faced with a moral dilemma. When I'm less than perfect. I'm a vegetarian because of my religious beliefs but I wear leather. But when I put on leather, I get this twinge of guilt. That may be my god admonishing me for being a hypocrite."
Luke: "What's your relationship with organized Judaism?"
Binnie: "There really isn't one. My family was irreligious. We were Jewish by cultural identity. We never went to synagogue. We were Christmas Jews. One or two years we gave Chanukah a shot and everybody was disappointed.
"We didn't have a tree but we had stockings, Santa Claus, gifts, Christmas dinner.
"We didn't decorate the house.
"When I was younger, I didn't have much of a Jewish identity. I didn't like being Jewish because I associated it with being a Jewish [American] princess. It wasn't until I got older that I embraced being a princess. That people would make jokes about Jewish women wanting to marry doctors, I resented that. Misguidedly, I didn't resent the person saying it. I resented my being Jewish.
"Then I got older and read more and was out in the world more and realized that Jewish women do other things aside from marry doctors. I learned more about the religion and learned that whatever beliefs I had about the world and God, they jelled more with Judaism than with any other religion.
"I took it upon myself to observe a few rituals. I don't eat bread during Passover. I don't have a seder either. I light a [yartzheit] candle for my mother. I named my cat in memory of my mother because I don't have children. I got dispensation from a rabbi for that. A lot of the rituals about death. I never leave flowers at a grave. I always put a stone down."
Luke: "Do you think you have an eternal soul?"
Binnie: "In an abstract way.
"I abhor cut flowers. Planting things is wonderful. Using one's money to perpetuate betterment."
Luke: "How do you determine what's right and wrong and how do you know when you've done something wrong?"
Binnie: "I think a lot about what's right and wrong for me. Largely what's wrong has to do with causing suffering. I'm devoted to Peter Singer that way. To do nothing about suffering is wrong. Hypocrisy bothers me.
"You know when you're being hypocritical. Your conscience tweaks and tells you.
"I don't think I've ever done anything that causes active suffering (that I'm aware of)."
Luke: "You've never stabbed anyone?"
Binnie: "No. I've punched a few people but I'm so tiny (5'2") it doesn't hurt. I have no physical strength. In that way I'm a real Jewish girl. I've never deprived anybody of their food or their livelihood."
Luke: "What are the ways you've caused others the most pain?"
Binnie: "Withholding of love.
"I feel bad when I look at the newspaper and I see there's genocide in Darfur and I know I'm doing nothing about that."
Luke: "Do you think it is possible to be sexually promiscuous and not wreak vast amounts of hurt?"
Binnie: "Yes. Absolutely. 'Don't ask, don't tell' is probably always a good policy.
"Somebody can be faithful and more hurtful by giving affection elsewhere or other kinds of loyalty elsewhere. An example that always cracks me up -- someone once wrote an essay that was published in an anthology about how she no longer has sex with her husband, and that she wasn't having sex with anybody else either. She signed it.
"I figured everybody would've been happier if she had just been having an affair. If she had been having sex on a regular basis, she probably wouldn't have been compelled to dishonor her husband in that way.
"The humiliation, the traditional cuckolding, is far worse.
"I don't think promiscuity and adultery are such terrible things. Society has made more of it than it is.
"I don't know that I'd be terribly bent out of shape if my husband slept with somebody else. I might be bent out of shape if gave the affection he gives me to somebody else. Or the loyalty or if he left me. But if he slept with somebody else now and again, I wouldn't get worked up about it.
"I suppose emotional adultery is worse.
"We all have a multitude of relationships in our lives for different reasons. I have a best friend but she doesn't fill every need I have for friends. I have other friends that I do other things with.
"If my husband had something that he needed to talk to someone about and that for whatever reason he didn't feel like he could talk to me about, I'd rather he'd have someone to talk to about because I care about him."
Luke: "What's it like for your husband to be married to Binnie Kirshenbaum the novelist? How does your writing affect him?"
Binnie: "He's good about it all. He reads none of it, which isn't to say he doesn't know what's in there. When we were dating, I gave him a short story I'd written. He read it and told me about the three words I'd misspelled. That was probably the last time I showed him anything.
"He writes [scientific] papers I don't read. He just doesn't read fiction.
"He comes to readings I give if I ask him to. He's supportive that I do what I want. He's happy for me when things go well. He's not all that terrific when things don't go well because he's a pragmatist.
"I've told him many times that if I get a bad review, he's supposed to tell me that that person is stupid and nobody reads that paper anyway. As opposed to saying, 'Oh God, Binnie, you must feel awful.' That's what he's thinking."
Luke: "Is there gloom around the house when you get a bad review?"
Binnie: "Sometimes. It depends on where it is. If it is in a major publication, I feel bad. Sometimes it is only a few hours. Usually it gets offset if a good review comes in.
"Nothing could make me give it up."
Luke: "Tell me about you and Germany."
Binnie: "That's a strange relationship. I think it's over. My earlier books were translated there and did wildly well. I was invited over to give readings. It was just a strange experience. I never felt so Jewish in my life. In some ways very cliched. You can't help wondering what people really think. What their parents taught them.
"At the same time, shamelessly basking in the philo-semitism. A man there once said to me, 'All Jewish women were phenomenally brilliantly and unbelievably sexy.' I liked that people did think that.
"I never felt so desirable. There was a lot of electricity with German men in that this was the ultimate forbidden fruit on both sides. Yet I don't find them particularly sexy.
"It was fraught with complications. In the end, there's a culture clash.
"I haven't been over there in a year-and-a-half. From 1998 till 2004, I was going over a lot for conferences, panels, literary festivals. I made a lot of friends there. There was a time when Munich was my second home.
"The first time I went I was 16. I went on a teen tour."
Luke: "Have you had many romantic relationships with German men?"
Luke: "Do you find WWII German military uniforms sexy?"
Binnie: "No, because what's associated with them. On the other hand, from just a purely aesthetic point of view, they had it down."
Luke: "I find tremendous despair in your writing. Am I misreading you?"
Binnie: "No, it is there."
Luke: "Where do you find your reason for being?"
Binnie: "Despairing? The same place the loneliness comes from. I think about life like being the last person at the New Year's Eve party. There's so much going on and everybody's happy and then it's over and you're sitting there with a hat on your head and the balloon is floating past and there's this ultimate emptiness. That's how I see the human condition."
Luke: "I want to shake all your protagonists and say, 'Commit to something.'"
Binnie laughs. "Yeah."
Luke: "Commit to a community or a religion or a club. Make a bunch of attachments. They are all lacking attachments."
Binnie: "They are. If you can make attachments, you are no longer lonely. Or maybe it's that all attachments are ultimately false. We're born alone. We die alone. All connection that we make is fleeting and superficial.
"I don't know that we all speak the same language, that anybody else completely understands us. That's where the desire to write comes from, the craving to be understood.
"It's hard to commit to a group when that sense of hypocrisy always eats at you.
"If I had committed to what you had committed to, I would think, 'This is wrong. That's wrong. This is bulls---. Look at how you live your life. You're telling me how to lead my life.' I don't think I'd be able to reconcile it well enough.
"Writers are always outsiders and have to be. It's the only way we can write and it is the reason for our writing. We're outsiders and we need to connect, but we can't connect because we write."
Luke: "What about you and joining things?"
Binnie: "I'm not a joiner. Somebody I know is doing a book on clubs. He emailed me. I said, 'Not since six weeks of Girls Scouts in fourth grade.'
"I go my own way.
"I belong to the Democratic party."
Luke: "Do you do things with them?"
Binnie: "No. I give them money. That's the whole of my affiliating and belonging.
"I was a member of PEN. I believe in a community of writers doing favors, sharing contacts, work. I don't go for the formality of groups. Once you organize and set down some rules, things are bound to go wrong. Once you have a power structure, things are bound to go wrong.
"I see it as a tribe as opposed to a family, and a loose community as opposed to an organized one."
Luke: "How does your family like your writing?"
Binnie: "They don't. I'm sure my brothers have never read anything I've written. They're not literary. Years ago, I gave my younger brother a book that was wrapped. He said, 'This isn't one of yours, is it?' It wasn't.
"Before she died in 1998, my mother was mixed. She was nervous that I would tell family secrets. If there was a lot of sex, she'd roll her eyeballs. 'What are people going to think about you?' At the same time, she was kinda proud.
"I don't think my father has read anything specifically but he knows what's in there. He's proud like my husband. If I get a good review in the Forward and his friends call him and tell him, he's pleased.
"It pleases him that I am more Jewish because he was raised more religiously than my mother was. Even though he's not observant, he has more of an attachment.
"I'm not especially close to my father. I'm not at all close to my brothers. Friends were always more important than family."
Luke: "All of your characters are alienated from their families?"
Binnie: "When I was young and wrote stories, people told me that all my characters were orphans or only children.
"I don't fully get family."
Luke: "Was there anything autobiographical in any of your mourning scenes? Not showing up to the funeral? Or not being notified."
Binnie: "My father had a stroke a few months ago and it was three days later before anybody told me. When my mother was dying, I was in Europe. When I left for Europe, she was in remission. I didn't get the call that she was dying until she was in the hospital and no longer conscious and that I should come back. She'd been in the hospital for several weeks and nobody called to tell me to come back.
"I always felt like an afterthought.
"My mother used to tell stories that they'd be halfway home and realize I wasn't with them. There was always that feeling that I didn't quite belong to that group."
Luke: "Did your family sit shiva for your mother?"
Binnie: "Yes. We didn't cover the mirrors but we did stay in and spend a week of mourning. I even gave the eulogy at her funeral. That's because my brothers couldn't write.
"There's a scene in a book I'm working on now about sitting Shiva for the mother."
Luke: "Your publisher concludes in its blurb for your book Pure Poetry: 'Lila knows that she has to take action, and in doing so learns some startling truths about herself, her capacity for love, and the nature of true freedom.' Is that true? I don't remember her learning startling truths about herself."
Binnie: "Those things get written by somebody else. If she learned anything, it was that any freedom she's going to have is from within herself. Maybe she learned that loving someone does come with commitments and maybe she wasn't the one to make them."
Luke: "She seemed as lost as ever. It's not like there was redemption."
Binnie: "No, except that she's ready to rid herself of the ghost."
Luke: "There's not a lot of redemption in your books?"
Binnie: "Yeah. I don't believe people really change."
Luke: "Can you give any turningpoints in your life where you were never the same afterwards?"
Binnie: "I always likened going to college to someone who was gay coming out of the closet. There was so much of myself that I kept hidden growing up. There were political awakenings. But no."
Luke: "Surely you had to let some things die to get married?"
Binnie: "Sort of. I always put weddings and funerals in the same box. When somebody marries, lots of things die."
Luke: "There are aren't dramatic realizations in your books."
Binnie: "No. I'm thin on plot. For me, it's the people, not even so much what they do but learning about who they are."
Luke: "I always want them to change their lives, be redeemed and have dramatic realizations."
Binnie: "Hester has one."
Luke: "She doesn't belong in Germany and that German."
Binnie: "And she's no longer ashamed of her parents."
Luke: "All your books are depressing."
Binnie laughs. "They are. I write black comedy."
Luke: "What about you and therapy? Have you had a lot?"
Binnie: "On and off over the years. I'm tired of it. Now I see somebody periodically because I'm medicated. To get my drugs, I have to spend a little time chatting. This is the first person I went to who I think is smarter than me. It's only been nine months.
"One I stayed with for five years but I was definitely smarter."
Luke: "Did you ever put off going on medication because you thought it would diminish your creativity?"
"I remember getting a book accepted by a publisher and thinking, 'I should be really happy now and I'm not.' That was the catalyst [for getting help].
"A friend of mine who went on medication says, 'She's completely the same person only she used to have a headache and now she doesn't.'
"I think that's true. I'm very moody still. I have very dark periods."
Luke: "How long do they last?"
Binnie: "Anywhere from a few days to a year. I just got out of one that was heavily on and off for the last year-and-a-half. It would go away for a few days and come crashing back again.
"I don't worry about killing myself.
"I'm more productive when the medication's working. My work is as dark as before."
Luke: "How does your husband handle you being in a dark place for months?"
Binnie: "He's good about it.
"I remember when Primo Levi killed himself, somebody wrote an op/ed about how terrible it was that somebody who survived what he survived then killed himself and that this was a terrible message to survivors. My husband said, 'What a moronic thing to say. The man was sick.' I remember thinking that was a lovely compassionate way of looking at it.
"He sometimes became impatient with me when I would resist going for help.
"My cycles of depression got worse when I first got married and I resisted going for a couple of years."
Luke: "How much has therapy and medication helped your happiness?"
Binnie: "Medication a lot. I don't know that the therapy has made any difference. I know that is not a Jewish thing to say.
"I hoped that therapy would unlock something in my unconscious that would make a difference in writing but that never happened."
Luke: "Have you had phases of hope in your life that this is the meaning of life?"
Luke: "You've never been a true believer."
Binnie: "I'm a true believer that there are many paths to happiness."
A female friend writes: "Racy little article! I would say that it definitely makes you seem like a bad boy to a certain extent. You will probably get a lot of attention, just from the wrong kind of gals. A good Jewish girl is not going to run to mommy and daddy about the man who has lawsuits against him, sleeps with a gun under his pillow, has death threats against him and has an extensive ---- publication past. BUT, you are pure in your faith, so you have that for sure. It HAS to be tough living in between a rock and a hard place Luke. I don't know how you do it."
Cathy Seipp calls me on her cell phone Monday at 1:38 p.m.
Cathy: "Why did you call last night?"
Luke: "About your LA Times article."
Cathy: "What do you think?"
I believe in an unfettered free market in medicine as in other things but I'm not going to argue this now.
Luke: "It was a good solid piece."
Cathy: "Obviously. Is that it?"
Luke: "I can only imagine the reactions you got."
Cathy: "On Daily Kos, they say, 'She deserves it because she's a Republican.'
"Hold on, they're taking my temperature. Do you want to talk to Lewis?"
Cathy: "Lewis is being sulky and awful. He's here to keep me company but he refuses to keep me company and call you. He won't talk to you. He won't get on the phone and say, 'Miss Seipp is on the line.'"
Luke: "I feel like the magic has gone out of my relationship with Lewis."
Cathy: "He's given up on therapy. He thinks he's perfect."
Luke: "What did you do yesterday? Bask in your glory?"
Cathy: "No. There's no glory. I'm a professional. I just need to get my opinions out there.
"Howie Kurtz called me and interviewed me. It was stupid. I said, 'You know everything I think from my column.' He said, 'I just want to have it in quote form.'"
Luke: "I wonder if Michael Hiltzik will get fired."
Cathy: "I hope so. It's interesting that his column wasn't there today. He may be having a nervous breakdown as we speak. He calls me a tool?"
The Source Of Temptation?
No moral backbone
Longtime journalist and Orthodox Jewish resident of San Francisco, Yisroel Pensack, writes Rabbi Zarchi (a Lubavitcher who is the rabbi of Cong. Chevra Thilim) and a couple of other people:
Joel H. Siegal responds:
Yisroel Pensack emails:
I write to him: "I read your entire section on white nationalism. As a religious zionist, I see striking similarities. Do you?"
This is a great book which begins with a great opening sentence: "Nothing to me is so erotic as a hotel room, and therefore so penetrated with life and death..."
Hotel Honolulu is filled with love, sex, jealousy, drama, and adds a gay quarrel and an adorable kid who says she's "stoked."
The story line: A blocked writer becomes a hotel manager and finds love and great stories from his guests' secret lives.
I can't get a room in a hotel without developing excitement (even in a two star hotel). Next door you often hear people getting to know each other. Usually you're in a strange city and you feel like the ordinary moral rules no longer apply to you. You can do what you like without running into someone from your religious community.
Rabbis Who Grandstand
People grouse to me about rabbis who grandstanded on controversial issues and get media coverage for it.
As someone who usually enjoys attention, I can't find it in my heart to blanketly condemn grandstanding. My whole life is a grandstand.
The word means "to play or act so as to impress onlookers."
Yes, it is not an attractive quality, but what matters is how it is done and for what cause.
Wanting to impress people is a terrific motivator to doing good things. Much of my motivation for blogging is that I want to impress certain people (hot fertile Jewish chicks ready to marry an Aussie eccentric).
Judaism tends to be an insular religion focused on the performance of detailed and minute commandments of daily living within a tightknit community. But there's nothing wrong with raising a ruckus about human rights issues abroad as long as you are right and what you advocate does good (and not just feels good).
People expect too much of their rabbis (and clergy). I know people would cross the world to see my father. I have many issues with my father but in all the cases I know about, he gave good advice (or at least not bad advice). Still, most of the time, I think these petitioners could've found just as good advice closer to home. They just wanted to get it from my father because he was such a dynamic, charismatic and eloquent public speaker who turned their hearts upside down.
Partly as a consequence of being constantly hunted down, my father had a part of his personality that hated people. "Hell is other people," he often said, quoting Sartre.
Most clergy are not going to be your friend. Most dynamic public speakers are cold fish in person. I'm a cold fish in person unless I'm with that tiny percentage of people that I really like (Cathy Seipp, etc). Most effective clergy are not going to be the type of person you want to have a beer with and share stories about your life.
I remember a woman I knew in temple who was profoundly moved by our rabbi's teachings. She wanted to go up and tell him how appreciative she was of his sermons. After a few months, she finally realized the rabbi didn't really give a damn whether or not she or 99% of people loved his sermons. He just wanted to keep the synagogue's bills paid and his wife from having a nervous breakdown.
One of my big problems is that I seek too much from my romantic relationships. When I fall in love with a woman, it shatters me and turns me inside out. All my repressed feelings pour out and it's usually too much for the poor chick. I become insecure and clingy and jealous.
Battling Cancer -- and Blue Cross
Khunrum writes: "Quote of the week comes from a long term reader and contributor to the site. He was talking about Phuket, but the comment applies equally as well to Thailand in general. "This is a great place to live, but only if you have no ambition.""
She says she married him out of desperation over her right to work and live in the United States.
Jeff started out as charming. He said he'd take care of her. She was a divorced mother.
At a meager salary, Jeff worked as a secretary for William Morris, but he was funny, bright and handsome.
Jeff tracked her down. He beat her at chess. He was great with her three-year-old daughter Traci.
He lied about his age (he was only 22 but said he was older).
He got her to move in with him.
He wasn't threatened by her intelligence and drive.
Traci began calling Jeff "daddy."
The cover of People magazine about Helen's divorce from Jeff read "Hollywood's Dirtiest Custody Case."
From her publicist:
I'm a very private person -- modest, polite, self-effacing. I write of the quiet, contemplative playful moments in life. I eschew the sensational, and I refuse to discuss blogging in anything but the most simple, straightforward language.
When asked about my blogging, I'm terse and direct. "I really don't have much to say about that, because in a way I work organically. I don't have any fixed ideas about style or form. When the impulse comes and I have an idea or a perception, I let it take me wherever it will go. The form follows that."
I'm a pale cocksman -- a poet of the gentle, comic, grandfatherly demeanor and pastoral tone and setting always close to the sexual impulse. (Meaning and Memory by Gary Pacernik, p. 22)
'Any Kids In This Shul?'
A stranger is early for mincha (afternoon prayers). He asks if there are any kids in this shul.
I laugh. It's overrun with kids on Saturday mornings.
The stranger says he's from San Francisco. Some Orthodox shuls there don't have kids.
"There's no Torah in San Francisco," I say.
"Because I've had only one day's rest," said the rabbi Saturday morning (Passover ended Thursday night), "I'm only pitching four innings today and maybe one batter in the fifth."
He said he won a trip to Universal's theme park in a silent charity auction so he took his family over chol chamoed (one of the intermediate days of the eight-day Passover festival). He took his family into Fear Factor Live.
Any time an Orthodox rabbi talks about doing anything worldly, from listening to the radio to mentioning some pop culture figure such as Britney Spears, it's funny.
I started listening intently.
"I figured it couldn't be too bad with all the kids around," said the rabbi.
But it was very bad. The contestants ate disgusting animal parts and one risked electrocution.
"I've never been in an audience so far from God," reflected the rabbi.
"What a giant opportunity for teshuva (repentance)." Only there was no opportunity to bring the audience to repentance because nobody seemed disturbed, or even ill at ease, by how far they were from God.
The rabbi reminded us that in every conversation, in every email, we had the opportunity to choose between holiness and profanity.
God, I got some great bon mots from this sermon I will pervert and use on friends. "Cathy, you don't seem in pain, or even disturbed, by how far you are from God."
Or, "Do you realize that this is an opportunity to choose between profanity and holiness?"
Or, "Every moment is an opportunity for a mitzvah."
Or, "I don't boast about my study of Torah, for why else was I born?"
I'm going to be insufferable.
Claude Broedesser On LAT Columnist Michael Hiltzik
You can't post anonymously to praise yourself and to attack others and maintain credibility. Only a weasel acts as Hiltzik did. He's scum for numerous reasons such as this. He deserves to get fired.