Thursday, April 20, 2017

My Son's Pretty Perfect Day

Every once in a while, you get a perfect day.  Everything seems to go your way, and you get to fit a little bit of all of your favorites in.

You can't quite plan it like that.  It just happens.

Yesterday, there was no school because of Report Card Pickup, so we planned accordingly.  Everything fell into place, and  here's the rundown of my son's perfect day.

Helping me with my Blog Project (more to come soon!)
  • Got to sleep in until around 7 (he's normally up at 6 am, as school starts at 7:30 am)
  • Then he got to play video games until about 8:30
  • I made him his favorite breakfast (pancakes and a cereal bar and strawberries)
  • After that, he helped me with a blog project/household project.  He got to use my video camera to help me document stuff for my blog.  He also got to pretend to be a superhero, and fight off the evil Toilet Fill Valve of Doom.
  • We got dressed and went to Report card pickup, where he got straight A's.
    Straight A's for the bear!
  • After that we went to the Post Office to get his passport taken care of so that we can go on a wild European adventure this summer.
  • We then went to his friend's house in preparation to going to our first Cubs game of the year.
  • It was a little cold, so his friend gave him a jacket that was too small, and is now his to keep!
  • At the game, he got to eat his favorite meal (chicken nuggets)
  • At the game, we hung out with his friend for a while, and then also saw his cousin, and her boyfriend, who had great seats behind the dugout.  The boyfriend is kind of a kid rockstar. While we were visiting them there, an opposing player gave my son a game ball!
  • It was getting too cold, and the Cubs were losing 4-2, so we left the game in the sixth inning and got a donut on the way back to his friend's house.
    At the Cubs-Brewers game with his friend.
  • At his friend's house, the friend realized that they'd bought some extra Skylander games at a flea market that they already had and he generously gave them to my son.
  • We left the friend's house to purportedly get a special treat for having straight A's.  What my son didn't know is that we had tickets for the opening night of Aladdin.  The Cubs were still losing.   
We arrived at Aladdin.  He had no idea!
  • We had dinner at Roti, and my son got to eat his favorite Pita.

  • Our seats were in the dress circle, so were EXCELLENT!
  • The show was phenomenal (Look for a review coming soon!)
  • At the intermission, he got M and Ms.
  • At the end of the show, we took the subway home, where a very nice lady let him watch the end of the Dodgers/Rockies game on her phone. (I allowed it)
  • While we were on the El home, we discovered that the Cubs scored 4 in the ninth inning to come back and win the game!
  • When we got home, his mom was waiting for him to give him a big hug and kiss and ask about the show.
We planned some of this, but not all.  Some of it just happened.  It wasn't until it was almost over that I realized that he had a nearly perfect day, and got to do just about everything he loves to do in one day.  I mentioned it to him and he agreed.

What's in your perfect day?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Passover has passed me over

NOTE: This post is going to get a little more personal than I normally get, so feel free to skip if you choose to.  I know that some of my readers are primarily about the cultural stuff I write about, or maybe the parenting tips, or who knows, even the sponsored stuff I occasionally do.  But this is for the ones who might be interested in the personal.

This one is about my relationship with my religion.

 I've got a hard relationship with Judaism.

On one hand I feel very Jewish- my identity is very much as a Jew, at least culturally.  I had a Bar Mitzvah, I went to Israel, I can read Hebrew (although my understanding is limited) I went to Hebrew High School (The Harry Elkin Midrasha), and even taught there for two years.  I know the blessings by heart, or mostly, I have Passover Seders in my house, we occasionally have Shabbat, and I can "Oy vey" and "Nu, so..." with the best of them. I married a Jewish woman, and we stepped on the glass. I cry at Fiddler on the Roof.  I'm also a big fan of Bagels and Lox, brisket, and knishes. Kashe not so much.  And guilt?  Do I know about guilt! Well, that's part of the reason for this blog post.

 I want my son to know Judaism.  I want him to have a Bar Mitzvah, and know the blessings over wine, and bread, and matzah.  I want him to know what a lulav and an etrog are, to know the sounds of the Shofar being blown, I want that to be part of his identity, for him to feel connected to this group of people who have struggled over great adversity and managed to survive for thousands of years.  He is part of that struggle, as I am, and as my parents were before me, and their parents before them.

On the other hand, I am not a practicing Jew. I don't fast on Yom Kippur, don't eat matzah at Passover, don't regularly stop working on Shabbat, or even light the candles.  I eat pork and shellfish with abandon.  I'm not a member of a synagogue, I don't go to synagogue with any kind of regularity (and when I do go, I kind of resent it)  I have a great doubt that any of those things will help me in an afterlife I don't think I believe in and haven't gotten much spiritual comfort from.

I don't think I'd go so far as to say I'm an atheist, I believe there is some Creator, but not one that I have a "personal relationship" with or cares whether or not I work on Shabbat, or eat cheeseburgers. And while I feel a part of the grander scheme of Judaism, I have never felt a part of an individual community of Judaism.  Maybe for about 10 minutes, but certainly not on a sustained level.

The most spiritually moved I've felt has been at the theatre, and occasionally while sitting on a rock jetty with my back to the shore, watching the waves roll in.  (Oh my god, my spiritualism is a tampon commercial!)

When my parents were alive, I went to synagogue, and fasted at Yom Kippur, and didn't eat bread during Passover, and all those other things. I didn't keep kosher, but neither did my parents.  But I kind of felt that I was doing it for my mom, and not for me, and when she passed away, I decided to stop.  Since then, I have become increasingly more ornery about practicing Judaism.

When my wife and I lived in NY, we were part of a synagogue, but I never felt very close to that community.  Perhaps because it was my wife's community, perhaps because soon after I started going there was a great deal of flux due to the spiritual leader leaving, perhaps because my wife got involved in the behind-the-scenes of synagogue politics, and I saw the worst of it.

In the Passover Haggadah there is a parable about the four sons, the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who doesn't know enough to ask.  Each has a question about what is going on, and you are supposed to answer each differently.

When I was younger, I always cast myself as the wise son, the one who includes himself, and asks the question "What did God command us to do?"   but now I'm pretty sure I'm the wicked son, the one who holds himself apart from the group, and asks the question, "What did God command YOU to do?"

(a kind of funny film demonstrates this parable below)

So I'm in a quandary-- I feel like I'm Jewish, but don't really believe in (or do) all of the stuff that makes one Jewish.  And I want my son to be Jewish, or at least know about Judaism.  But I'm setting him a bad example, at least as a Jew.  

I'm sure I'm not alone.

I feel like I have two choices--

1) fake it 'til I make it.  Set a better example as a Jew, even though I am not getting much out of it. That might mean more synagogue time for me, more fasting, more "Religion for the sake of religion" instead of for the sake of me.

2) Don't fake it. Explain as best I can why I want him to be involved and knowledgeable, and when the inevitable charges of hypocrisy come, parry them by letting him know that when he's18, he can make his own decisions.

Is there a third option?  Or a fourth option? For those of you who are religious doubters, what are you doing to help give your child/children a basis in religion?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


While Ringling is closing, (last performances are in early May in NY and Providence, RI) I just got word that tickets for two circuses in Chicago are apparently going gangbusters.

Cavalia's Odysseo (the horse circus that I have raved about) is getting extended an additional week. It now closes April 30.  You should definitely see this show.  I saw it and it was fantastic.

Find out more about Odysseo on my blog.

The other circus that got extended hasn't even arrived yet!

Cirque du Soleil has a show that is coming in June called Luzia which is Mexico inspired, and ticket sales must be good- they are planning on being here for most of the summer! It will now run July 21-Sept 3. It will perform in the parking lot of the United Center

Here's a little bit more about Luzia, from their recent press release.

Through a series of grand visual surprises and breathtaking acrobatic performances, LUZIA takes audiences on a surrealistic journey filled with wonders, playfulness and striking artistry. Smoothly passing from an old movie set to the ocean to a smoky dance hall or an arid desert, LUZIA cleverly brings to the stage multiple places, faces and sounds of Mexico taken from both tradition and modernity. Rich in awe-inspiring moments, LUZIA enchants by incorporating rain into acrobatic and artistic scenes – a first for a Cirque du Soleil touring production.
Find out more and buy tickets: 

Here's their promo video!

Saturday, April 8, 2017


Over on my clown blog, I reviewed the latest and greatest circus show to hit Chicago: Cavalia's Odysseo.

You can read my full review over on that site, but the long and the short of it is,  you should see it.  It's a type of circus that you probably have not seen before- it's focused on horses and acrobats and music and sumptuous visuals.  The horses are so beautiful and strong and powerful and individual.  You definitely feel like the horses are individuals that enjoy performing. And the performers are amazing as well. And the set is just astonishing.

They bill themselves as the Best Show Ever, and while I am not willing to concede that, it is a very fine show.  As I told a friend of mine, it's like a beautiful gypsy horse opera.

Here's a promo video from when the show first opened.:

There's a VIP option, that gives you a pre-show buffet, and a tour of the stables after the show that is pretty great.

The show is at Soldier Field in a giant tent, and runs through April 23.
Purchase tickets and get more information about the show here:
These photos were taken on the opening night of Odysseo, and provided to me by their PR team.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

REVIEW: BattleField by Peter Brook at the MCA Chicago

Battlefield is a production of Stunning Beauty and Simplicity.
30 years ago, I saw a 9 hour play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  It was Peter Brook's Mahabharata, a play in 3 parts that spanned an entire day, and in the play, spanned centuries and years as it told the Indian epic. It was a seminal moment for me, a young theatre student.

 Director Peter Brook was my hero, I'd read his books, and I saw him put his ideas he'd written in the Empty Space into practice. It was also one of my first forays into New York, my first foray to BAM

a 6 hour movie version of the 9 hour play is 
available via Amazon
It's 30 years later, and Peter Brook is still at it, weaving fantastical theatricality with extreme simplicity and extremely powerful acting.  And I'm still at it, too, being amazed by his work.

I found out yesterday that the new show Battlefield was here in Chicago, and the next day I changed my schedule so that I could see the show.

The new show Battlefield (by the original collaborators of the  9 hour producton- directed by Peter Brook and his collaborator Marie Helene Estienne, and written by Jean-Claude CarriĆ©re) is only 70 minutes long, and is a fractal of the epic 9 hour saga.  Despite the fact that it deals primarily with the last portion of the original show, the entire story is also somehow magically encapsulated in this smaller rendition.

In the original 9 hour production there were over 20 actors playing all of the roles, in this new play there are 4 actors and a drummer.  They are all wonderful.

To view photos of the original Mahabharata directed by Peter Brook, visit Wikipedia

The plot:  Battlefield is set after the epic war between the cousins Pandavas and Kauravas.  The Kauravas are 5 brothers, and their brothers, sons of the blind king Dritarashtra.  The Pandavas win, and the blind king Dritarashtra has lost all of his  sons, killed by their cousin and Pandava Yudishtra, who now must become king.  The blind king must accept this bitter defeat and embrace his nephew who has killed his sons.  The nephew feels the victory is hollow, especially after he learns that not only are his cousins dead by his hand, but his half-brother as well.  The play explores the bitterness of defeat and moving on, and the immeasurable costs of victory.


The cast (of four actors and a master drummer) are all phenomenal and play their parts with somberness and artistry.  The play itself, although essentially Indian in story, has deep allusions to the story of Oedipus, and later of Antigone.  Especially Anouilh's Antigone, who must struggle after the war with her deceased brother on the losing side, and not able to receive a proper burial, and Antigone has to risk all to give him the burial he deserves.

As I mention all of the actors are amazing, and their props are simple- a long cloth, a couple of sticks.  Of particular note is the work of drummer Toshi Tsuchitori, who improvises his drumming throughout the performance, and has an ending solo that poignantly winds down the play into a tableau that left the audience breathless.

Also of note, during this story of war and battlegrounds and its aftermath, my watch kept on vibrating.  I looked down mid-show to discover that Donald Trump had dropped 59 missiles on Syria during the play.  This put this story into a contemporary perspective.  Where will the aftermath end?  Whose hundred sons will lay strewn across the battlefield?  And to what end?

I highly recommend seeing this play.  It runs two more nights in Chicago (through April 8) and then has at least two more American cities.  Click the name of the venue to find out more and get tickets.

April 5-8, 2017 Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
April 13 – 23, 2017: Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis
May 26 – June 21, 2017: American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco

There have been a number of great reviews of the show:


And here's a video from Japan (I think) of a promo of the production

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Nine Years- Happy Anniversary to Us!

It was nine years ago today that my wife and I got married.

Congratulations to us!
Our wedding invitation.
I feel that so far we have delivered
on our promise.

 I joke that it simultaneously feels like yesterday and forever.

The real joke is that it's true.

The time has flown by, but at the same time, I don't feel like I really remember what it was like before I met her.  I know I had other girl friends and that my wife was married before (but like Rick Reynolds says in his masterpiece Only The Truth Is Funny "She didn't enjoy it.") Read his hilarious book here.

Anyway, my point is that I remember those times, those times before Stephanie, but they feel like they happened to somebody else. Not to me.

I'm not saying that our life together has been perfect.  It has not.
Our wedding article in
NYT.  Click to make larger,
or read online.
 We have had our fights, and our issues, and our disagreements, and we continue to have them, and we have had terrible things happen and we've faced adverse situations and we've made lots of mistakes (probably me more than her)  And there are moments when I have had doubt.  And I am sure that she has had those moments too.

But we have also had wonderful things happen, and great moments, and more importantly fantastic little moments.  Moments where I am reminded how and why I love this person. And those moments heavily outweigh the negative.  Overall,  I know that my life is better, richer, and more meaningful because of her. At this point, I'm not sure who I would be without her (and I'm sure I don't want to know!)

I am looking forward to the next 9 years, and the next 9 after that, and god willing, 9 more, and then 9 more, and then 9 more. After that, I'll be 97 (oy, my back), she'll still be 29, and we'll see how it's going.

You can click the image to the left to see our wedding article in the NY Times. (or just click here)

And here's the video they made: (It's dated a week later, because that's when the article came out) It was shot the day after our wedding, just before we went to Paris for our Honeymoon.)

We are still a good team.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The April Fool's Joke This Year: Logan

April Fools jokes are a little cruel.  They are designed that way.  In some sense, you are lying to a loved one in order to fool them.  On another sense, it is all in good fun, and as long as no one gets hurt physically or emotionally, I can justify it.

For me, some of my favorite moments growing up were little practical jokes that we played on each other-- especially hiding when somebody comes in, and then jumping out and scaring them.  My dad used to love to do that, and he would laugh uproariously when you got fooled, or when he got fooled.  Sharing a joke together is to me an important part of being a parent.

They are now some of my favorite memories of my now-deceased father.

I guess I'm hoping that likewise, these moments, even if they can be a little frustrating in the short-term, will turn into some of my son's favorite memories of me.

An April Fool's Pranks from 1857- there is
no Washing the Lions Ceremony.

Each year, I've played some pretty good practical jokes on my son-- one year, I brought him to school even though school was closed for the day (which meant he had to wake up super early!)  I made up for that by letting him have donuts for breakfast.

Another year, I convinced him it was snowing and he put on his snow boots and all of his other stuff to go to school and went outside only to find out that it was a beautiful day. (Here's that video below)

He's tried to get me too, (when he was two he told me (pretty unconvincingly) that he had pooed in his bed.  It's all in the delivery.

You can read about (and see some video) of some of my best April Fool's pranks here

This year,  no video.  I decided to try a different tack.  It's a Saturday, so school was out. I knew he knew it was April Fool's Day (we had discussed planning to play a trick on my wife, but it didn't really pan out).  I didn't try to surprise him with something crazy.  Instead, after breakfast and he was busy reading, we had this conversation, very casually.

Here's our conversation (with my thought process)

ME: "Okay, Mom and I've discussed it, and we've decided to take you to see the movie Logan. I think you are able to handle it. We'll go to the matinee today."
HIM: "No, I don't want to see that, I want to see King Kong." 

MY THOUGHTS: What? He wanted to see King Kong? I thought he wants to see Logan. I'm sure he told me he wants to see Logan." King Kong might have worked. OH well, too late now. 
ME: "No, I've already bought the tickets, we have to go."
HIM: Starts to cry and whimper
MY THOUGHTS: I can't believe he's crying about this. He must have figured it out. What? He's really crying? I better go tell him. I walk over to him on the couch. Those are real tears! He's really upset!! I pick him up in my arms like a baby and say:
ME: Guess what, little bear. "April Fool's! "
HIM: More crying, and then finally laughing that he really got got.

I had no idea he was going to take it that way.  I really thought he'd be excited about Logan. I'm glad we got through it, and I was able to make him laugh at the end, and of course to REALLY get him, but felt bad after I made him cry about going to the movies.  Not that he should cry over something so ridiculous. And I have lots of experience making kids cry. I am a professional clown after all! Anyway, it's making me re-think practical joking.  I am sure I will still do it, but I don't want to make the kid CRY.
What do you think? And what was your prank for April Fools?