Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Saturday, December 31, 2016


Rainbow over Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, symbolizing the calm after the storm. Maybe.

Today is the last day of 2016.

It is the forty-first anniversary of my meeting Dee for the first time. It is also the penultimate day of Chanukah. The final day of Chanukah rarely coincides with the secular New Year’s Day, 1979 being the last time it happened... but here we are. 

Many of us will be more than happy to see this year depart, for this was a year in which the Grim Reaper’s scythe fell heavily in the fields of celebrity, especially among the musicians who provided so much of the sonic landscape of the past thirty-plus years. David Bowie. Prince. George Michael. Leon Russell. Leonard Cohen. Merle Haggard. John Berry. Maurice White. Paul Kantner. Glenn Frey. Frank Sinatra Jr.

Not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea.

Other pop icons were not exempt. The final week of the year saw the demise of Carrie Fisher, carried off by a heart attack at the age of sixty... and then joined the very next day in the World to Come by her mother, Debbie Reynolds. Tragic.

The year 2016 also saw a Presidential election in these United States that will be the subject of innumerable history books for decades - perhaps centuries - to come. Not even Marty McFly could have imagined that Biff Tannen (for whom Donald Trump was the inspiration) would be elected President a mere year after 2015. Interesting times.

On the personal front, the year brought its share of challenges as well. The first four months were almost entirely occupied with Dee’s painful recovery from a Christmas Eve fall that broke her left hip and simultaneously shattered her left wrist. As if that were not enough, both of her brothers had major health issues early in the year (from which they have since recovered, thank Gawd, kein ayin hara.) The only good thing you can say about health issues is that if you survive them, you can either live in terror of the next problem to come along, or you can appreciate life and its manifold daily blessings a little more. 

But it hasn’t been all thorns in the Elisson rose garden... not by a long shot.

Elder Daughter has kept a busy frantic schedule, developing performances and bringing them to the stage in places such as Berlin, Ljubljana, and far flung Philadelphia. The Mistress of Sarcasm is now ensconced in Kingston, NY, where she and her boyfriend are modifying a building to house them, their respective studios, and a few paying tenants.  Meanwhile, The Other Elisson - my kid brother - has had a wonderful year, not only celebrating having logged six decades’ worth of Circumsolar Voyages, but finding a Special Someone who, to all appearances, has brought real delight into his life.

Chez Elisson is now home to two - count ’em! - two kitties. Edith, a muscular tuxedo shorthair barely out of her kittenhood, joined us in September, a gift from the Mistress of Sarcasm. She and Stella have gradually worked toward a modus vivendi after an initial period of mutual loathing. Together, they provide endless moments of amusement... and together, they generate massive amounts of Kitty-Waste, thus providing continuous employment for our Litter Genie.

A wise woman once told us that love is a verb... and it was in the early weeks of 2016 that her words took on a deep and resonant meaning for me. Love is a verb, and it’s the things you do that matter far more than the things you say. As I have observed previously, the Cocktail of Life is inevitably a mixture of the sweet, the sour, and the bitter, and it is the balance between those elements that allows us to taste joy to its fullest. May your 2017 bring you joy in its greatest measure... with health, happiness and fulfillment, without limit to any good thing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Carrie Fisher (1956-2016) as Princess Leia in Star Wars, the film that instantaneously transformed her into an icon.

2016, with less than one week left to go, has claimed yet another pop culture luminary in a year that saw the Reaper’s scythe especially busy among the greats of music and film. Carrie Fisher, the daughter of Hollywood royalty and herself a filmic icon owing to her roles in the films of the Star Wars saga, has passed away at the age of sixty.

Most of us of a certain age remember the first time we saw Fisher - the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds - onscreen. It was in Star Wars (the first, the original Star Wars, when it was the only Star Wars, before the nonsense of calling it “Episode IV - A New Hope”) shortly after the implacably evil Darth Vader made his appearance. Darth was Bad News, and we knew that Princess Leia was in Big Trouble... but there was a steely resolve in her character that belied the outward tropes of the standard Damsel in Distress archetype. Dressed in flowing white raiment, she was the representative of all that was good in her cinematic universe... unlike the stormtroopers surrounding her, whose white outfits were simply there to offer a photographic contrast to their evil, ebon-clad Department Manager.

Fisher did not have the easiest life: Children of Hollywood royalty seldom do. The sudden shock of unexpected fame? Not exactly, because Carrie was famous simply by birthright. After the huge success of Star Wars, she was more than famous - she was instantly and forever a part of the popular consciousness to a completely unprecedented degree. But add to that problematic degree of celebrity a cocktail of drugs, inappropriate relationships, and bipolar disorder, and it’s a miracle she survived the 1980’s. Thanks to rehab and a sardonic wit that blossomed when she began to write, she did.

Sixty is far too soon to move on to the World to Come. At least, so it seems to me, someone who lost his mother when she was that same age. We will miss you, Carrie.

Ave atque vale, Princess - may your soul plumb the deeps of space and those galaxies far, far away.

Postscriptum: One day after Carrie Fisher’s untimely passing, her heartbroken mother joined her in the World to Come, having suffered a stroke. Or was it a broken heart?

Sunday, December 25, 2016


George Michael, 1963-2016. [Image credit: CNN.]

George Michael, he dropped and collapsed to the floor.
His heart stopped its beating, his lungs breathed no more.
And as his form slumped to the floor with a slam,
The last word that fell on his ears - it was WHAM!

(2016, with only one week left to run, claims yet another victim in the music business. Ave atque vale, Mr. Michael.)

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Forgive me if I don’t always welcome the arrival of Christmas in the spirit appropriate to the season.

It’s not because I’m a Red Sea Pedestrian. Sure, Christmas is not my holiday... but what gives my neighbors and friends joy gives me joy as well. And besides, it is just as well that we Jews do not celebrate Christmas: If we did, the observant ones among us would find ways to inject an unbelievably complex layer of laws, regulations, and customs into the proceedings.

No, it’s simply that Santa has not been especially nice to us lately. Christmas has brought us a few unpleasant lumps of coal in our figurative stockings.

Christmas Day 2011 was the day my dad - Eli, hizzownself - suffered a massive stroke. He lived a little over two years after that, but never again was he really hiszzownself, having been changed instantaneously from a vigorous, athletic man into a hemiplegic invalid.

And it was exactly one year ago today - Christmas Eve, 2015 - that Dee suffered the fall that simultaneously shattered her wrist, broke her hip, and left lasting scars on her self-confidence.

No, not the door to a stateroom on a cruise ship, alas.

It was rough going for a while. A Christmas Day surgery to put bones together and implant the necessary plates, screws, pins, and spikes, followed by months of recovery. It made the transition into 2016 challenging, with yet more challenges to come as the new year wore on.

Dee is doing much better now, and this evening we enjoyed our traditional first night of Chanukah dinner - takeout Chinese food and Dee’s incredible potato latkes, a bizarre combination with which we memorialize my mother, gone now for twenty-eight years. Yes, it was Christmas Eve. But we were celebrating with dear friends, and so I did not fear the arrival of the Man in the Red Suit with his sometimes perverse gifts.

Happy Chanukah to our fellow Red Sea Pedestrians... and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it! May the holidays bring blessings of health and peace to you and all you love.

(And for the rest of us, there’s always Festivus.)


[If Dear Abby can get away with reprinting the same frickin’ Holiday Columns every stinking year, why not Elisson? We are therefore pleased to offer this twelve-year-old Editorial Response previously published here and at Blog d’Elisson, one that is both timely and appropriate to the season. Chanukah begins at sundown Saturday evening, December 24 this year, its first day coinciding with Christmas for the first time since 1978.]

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the electronic-mail communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of Lost in the Cheese Aisle:
“I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there was no Judah Maccabee and that Chanukah is a load of crap. Papa says, ‘If you see it in Lost in the Cheese Aisle, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, was there a Judah Maccabee?” - Patty O’Furniture
Patty, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All they care about is that fat red-suited guy who schleps presents to Yenemvelt and back. All minds, Patty, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, goornisht, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Patty, there was a Judah Maccabee.

He existed as certainly as dedication and courage and devotion exist. He kicked some serious ass back in the day, Judah did, throwing the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and reclaiming the holy Temple. His struggle was a struggle against assimilation, against those who would be seduced by the pop culture of the day. He fought his battles so that we Jews would retain our cultural identity and not be swallowed up in the prevailing pagan mainstream. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there had been no Judah Maccabee! It would be as dreary as if there were no Pattys. (Or furniture.) There would be no candle-lighting then, no singing Ma-oz Tzur (or even those stupid dreidel songs), no commemoration of the miraculous rededication of the Temple. No Judah? We would even today be schmearing ourselves with olive oil and burning pig hearts as sacrifices to Zeus. And our Christian friends would have no Christmas - for the culture that gave rise to Jesus would have been wiped out. The eternal light - the ner tamid - with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Judah? You might as well not believe in fairies. Or the Matzohball That Does Not Sink. Or Eliyahu ha-Navi. You might get your papa to hire men to watch all the seder tables of the world to catch a glimpse of Eliyahu, but even if you did not see him, what would that prove? Nobody ever sees Eliyahu ha-Navi drink his wine at the Seder table, but that is no sign that there is no Eliyahu ha-Navi. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. (Although those footprints in the grass were more likely made by your Papa as he tried to sneak back into the house with a snootful of booze after the office Xmas party.) Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You can tear apart the knish and see the tasty filling inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Patty, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Judah Maccabee? Thank G-d he lived - and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Patty, nay, 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to chase the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and combat the forces of cultural assimilation, making glad the heart of childhood.

Happy Chanukah!

[Originally posted on December 25, 2004.]

Friday, December 23, 2016


The sparkling blue waters of St. Kitts.

The ladies of the Caribbean
I just can’t wait until I see ’em

The ladies of St. Thomas
All brim with lustful promise

The ladies of St. Kitts
They have such lovely tits

The ladies of Barbados
Wow - look at them tomatoes!

The ladies of St. Martin
They just can’t wait to start in

The ladies of the Caribbean
I just can’t wait until I see ’em

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


USS Arizona

Oil still seeps from the grave of the USS Arizona.

Seventy-five years ago today was “the day which will live in infamy.”

A lot changes in seventy-five years. A lot changes in just a few decades, for that matter... a thought I had back in 1992 as I was eating sushi in Düsseldorf, Germany. Generations come and go, and hateful feelings become distant memories. And that is, perhaps, as it should be.

But always - always! - we should remember those we have lost. And, as George Santayana famously observed, we should remember history, lest we be condemned to repeat it.

Monday, December 5, 2016


Theatrical posters, Mexico City. Photographed in December, 1977.

Is it just me?

Thirty-nine years ago, my in-laws celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with a week-long trip to Mexico City... and we, being relative newlyweds at the time, were invited to join them.

For the most part, it was a delightful vacation, certain infamous parts of which I have described previously. It was on that trip that I discovered my father-in-law’s foolproof method for coping with exotic, unfamiliar Mexican cuisine: at all times, order the carne asada. Bill and I became veritabobble connoisseurs of grilled meat that week.

Back then, the Mexican peso and the US dollar were trading at a ratio of roughly 8:1. One dollar would buy about eight pesos, so prices in most places were expressed with numbers about eight times higher than the same prices back home.

It occurs to me that, with the gradual inflation that has taken place over that roughly four-decade span, that our prices today in US dollars look an awful lot like those peso-based prices did then.

Go to any white-tablecloth restaurant and an appetizer will set you back six to eight pesos - er, dollars - maybe more, even in the lowly suburbs. A mixed drink is now routinely more than a half-sawbuck, a tariff that until recently would be seen only in major urban centers like New York.

Concert tickets? They’ve gone up too, way more than even college tuition. Seeing the Grateful Dead in a gymnasium cost me all of three bucks back when I was in college. Now that Jerry Garcia actually is dead (and the rest of the band is fairly decrepit), you need to shell out $150 to see them at Lakewood Amphitheatre, where you need a set of binoculars to see the stage. That’s fifty times more expensive for a show that (nowadays) consists of a bunch of grandpas ’n’ guitars. Yeef!

Some of this is due to Starbuckization: our willingness to pay high prices for everyday items because they provide an artisanal touch that we value... or simply because they’re marketed effectively. The cup of Joe squirted out by a barista is so much nicer than the stuff the local luncheonette pours out of the Bunn carafe, and we are willing to pay for it. That nice bottle of water that costs two bucks at the gas station (or five bucks at the movie theatre) isn’t all that different from the stuff that comes out of the tap for almost nothing... but we buy it.

And some of it is due to the tendency of us Old Mature Folks to use the prices we became familiar with in our younger days as the measuring stick with which we assess everything around us. Of course I don’t expect to pay the same 25¢ for lunch that I did in grade school... but that memory stays with me anyway. The $20 that bought me a week’s worth of groceries in college now might cover a single meal’s worth of provender... and I remember that, too. I remember how much I paid for my first apartment... my first car... my first house. (I also remember how much my first annual salary was. It was, as you’d expect, proportionately minuscule.) Everything costs more now.

Look, price inflation is not surprising. Hell, when I visited Rio de Janeiro in 1988, prices in Brazil were inflating at the rate of one percent a day. That meant that every three years, the value of your money would drop to one-tenth of one percent of its earlier value. You would spend every paycheck immediately: Use it or lose it. And every three years, the government would lop three zeroes off its currency denominations and give it a new name. Cruzeiros. Cruzados. New Cruzados.

We haven’t had to do that here. Yet.

So when I go to the mall and gape, horrified, at every price tag, part of my horror is simply because those price tags look like something I might have seen in Mexico almost forty years ago. For those of us of a certain age, sticker shock is simply a way of life.

Now, get the hell off my lawn!


Mom, age 21 - her college graduation photograph from 1949.

Today is Mom’s eighty-ninth birthday. Too bad she’s not around to enjoy it with us.

On the first night of Chanukah, we will celebrate her special day the same way we’ve done for the last twenty-nine years - by eating potato latkes and Chinese food. But since the first night of Chanukah coincides with Christmas Eve this year, we have a few more weeks to wait.

On birthdays, most of us have cakes on our minds. While a potato latke is, technically, a sort of cake, it is not what we think of when we think “birthday cake.” We usually imagine some sweet production, often with icing or a glaze. And candles... because birthday.

Mom wasn’t much of a cake person... at least, not in my recollection. (The Other Elisson may remember things differently.) As far as I know, she baked one - one! - cake in the entire time I lived at home with her, a rather tasty spice cake. She bought enough coconut custard pies and blueberry tarts to keep the Dugan man in business, but her favorite treat was a bowl of ice cream, devoured in front of the teevee set in the late evening.

So I suppose it would be entirely appropriate to celebrate her Special Day by having a nice big bowl of ice cream, perhaps with a forest of candles crammed into it. Burnt Alaska.

A perfect Rob Roy - Mom’s favorite.
But no. Anyone can eat ice cream. Mom’s special pleasure, though, was a perfect Rob Roy, best described as a Manhattan made with blended Scotch in lieu of rye or bourbon. It was an occasional treat, something she would enjoy for the odd celebratory evening... such as her birthday. And that’s what I will use to toast her memory this evening.

Ut absente mater mia. I hope you’re enjoying a Rob Roy in the World to Come.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Father Succos flies his sleigh
To celebrate each festive day
He visits all the girls and boys
And brings etrogim ’stead of toys

When children see him, they cry, “Looka!
Will we get s’kach upon our sukkah?”
Both Easter Bunny and Santa Claus
Say, “Father Succos? He’s the boss!”

[Yes, I know I’m almost two months too late. Or maybe three weeks early. But inspiration strikes when inspiration strikes, if you can call it that.]