Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rites of Passage

My dad always taught me to drive in the left lane. "Leadfoot," as those screaming in the backseat often refer to him, is a thrill-seeker and he ingrained in me a similar taste for adventure. Yet, he firmly believes in the importance of the "buddy plan," an invaluable lesson he carried with him since his army days.

So, after bidding a cheerful farewell to my neurotic friend who bailed on us to seek asylum with classmates in Florence, here I was in Budapest, with my one Michigan crony, Tracey, who shared my enthusiasm for mild danger and excitement. We were 20 years old, carefree, careless, totally clueless. Taking the advice of those who had come before us, we decided to do something daring--- to stay with a family. I thought my dad would have loved the idea, but I decided to wait to mention it.

Arriving at the Keleti pĂș station, we were bombarded by babbling Hungarian women offering their homes to us, through pictures and a limited English vocabulary. Shifting and moaning under the weight of our worn backpacks, we quickly chose Isabel, partly because she was the age of our grandparents, warm, spoke decent English, but mainly because her husband, Solomon, drove a car-something we hadn't been in since we'd left London three weeks before.

My first sense of uncertainty hit me with a pang when Solomon drove us "home. "Dad, if you could see me now," I laughed to myself, eyes wide, as we pulled up to a tenement in the middle of a lifeless ghetto. My eyes met Tracey's with a piercing stare as Solomon opened the bullet-ridden glass doors and led us into the building.

Packed like sardines into the tight rickety elevator whose doors scrawled with swastikas spoke to my greatest fears, I was so close to Solomon because of the enormous bags on our backs I could've kissed him. I verbalized this thought to Tracey, certain that Solomon would not comprehend a word of what I was saying. We began laughing hysterically, as did the confused Solomon. The only alternative at that moment was crying.

Solomon showed us to our apartment, which we learned that we would be sharing for the night with two overzealous Russian men in their 40s. In Hungarian, Solomon gave me a brief instruction on how to lock our five doors and then went on his way.

"Shady, shady, shady," I sang to Tracey, strumming my imaginary guitar, singing a tune which soon came to be our endearing theme song of Budapest. After introducing ourselves to our Russian roommates we dropped our bags in the large red bedroom, drew the ragged curtains which covered the window overlooking the gloomy streets below, and immediately locked the door behind us. We listened to the excitement in the voices of our roommates as they whispered in Russian and giggled like two schoolgirls up to no good. The only words that we could make out were "Terazy" and "Stazy." We decided to get out while it was still light in hell.

The neighborhood was desolate, except for a few haggard adolescents and elderly locals who seemed incapable of smiling. Dogs with missing paws and one eye hobbled by us, searching ravenously for any scrap of meat. Accompanied by the dirty crumpled map that Solomon had provided and a point in the right direction by a somber local teenager, Tracey and I set off for the Hotel Gellert, a beautiful spot on the Danube that was famous for its inexpensive but lavish thermal baths. Crossing the river into Buda, we chatted excitedly about how great the massage would feel on our twisted muscles and aching heads, and how good it was to be out of Germany and relieved of the burden who was now probably fine dining in a piazza in Florence while we were roughing it in the heart of Hungary.

Choosing a different massage option than my companion, Tracey and I were separated in the lobby of the gorgeous hotel and advanced to different locations. Sent with a grunt and a shove in the right direction, as verbal communication was completely out of the question, I first encountered masses of naked women, seemingly unaware of their lack of clothing, scurrying about the "locker room." I was unaware that nudity would be part of the deal here. I hesitantly shuffled past the massage room which reminded me of an embalming room in a morgue- naked bodies stretched across six long tables being worked on by gruff overseers.

Shocked, I silently urged my self, Keep walking, until I reached the burly woman who would give me the next clue in this surreal treasure hunt. I handed my ticket hesitantly to the first of many stern Hungarian women who worked the joint, in exchange for a triangular paper robe skimpier than anything I've ever worn in a doctor's office. The back portion was completely nonexistent, as was all rational thought by this time.

As I entered my assigned compartment and slowly yet mechanically stripped off my layers, I began thinking, "Stazy, this is crazy, this is crazy!" I rationalized to my raging doubt that while in Hungary I must force myself to do as the Hungarians do---take it all off. I stared at the ceiling of that damn cubicle at least twenty agonizing minutes before I worked up the nerve to exit.

Self-consciously walking through the locker room, the only reassuring thought I had was that my chances of running into anyone I knew were pretty slim. The fact that nobody spoke a word of any language that sounded remotely like English was now quite comforting. Seeing that there was a waiting list for massages, I was pointed towards the thermal bath until it was my time.

Entering the large steaming room in my skimpy get-up, I was met by the sight of around forty women of all shapes and sizes completely naked floating freely around the huge pool. Astonished by how casually the locals treated their nakedness and even carried on normal conversation, I felt further alienated. "You've come this far," I told my fear and embarrassment, "Don't turn back." With that, I took off my gown, which realistically served no purpose anyway, and floated to a private corner where I began to relax.

Every few seconds, while lost in my thoughts, I would glance down to find myself one hundred percent au naturel in a thermal bath in Budapest and I seriously began to wonder if I hadn't lost my mind. I quickly became overheated and because I truly feared fainting naked with confused foreigners standing over me debating what to do, I climbed out, grabbed my stupid wrap and headed into the embalming room for my massage- a prospect which no longer scared me in the least. Like a fish, I was rubbed, flipped, smacked, and pounded on by an enormous Hungarian woman with baseball mitts for hands. I returned to my compartment forever fearless, dressed and anxiously met up with Tracey only to learn that massages on her side of the hotel were done fully clothed! We dined that evening at New York Bagels, where Tracey tried to get a bite in between fits of laughter and tears of hysteria.

Later that night, locked behind our door in the projects, we watched "Dallas" in Hungarian, with Tracey translating for me a previously seen episode, while the inebriated Russians occasionally scratched at our door, their hushed voices still repeating our names. I slept no longer than twenty minutes that night as my eyes guarded the door and my mind envisioned the handle turning slowly and the foreign men creeping in, whispering "Terazy...Stazy.." The next day we bid farewell in Russian, got the hell out of the ghetto, toured the sights of Budapest and after a rare cigarette at the urging of my traveling companion, eagerly boarded the train to take us to a safer place.

The day after my "coming out" party in Budapest I rode my twentieth train in three weeks, on my final stretch of a ten country tour. Relieved to be back on the "go," I knew the motion would soon end. Just three more stops on my unpredictable adventure, Venice, Florence and Rome, and then the semester would come to a close. Exhausted, I closed my eyes on the magnificent sunset over Vienna, for the first time in three weeks allowing the moving European scenes to pass me by unnoticed.

"Stay, are you hungry?" Tracey interrupted. "I'm good," I responded, "but I have a bagel right in here, if you want it." I searched through my bag and heard a strange jingle. Carefully dumping the contents of my daypack onto the seat next to me, I was amazed by the sight of the temporary set of keys that Solomon had provided for our stay at his lovely abode.

"You will always have a home away from home," Tracey teased as we celebrated my discovery. "And you, my friend, may end up as someone's mail-order bride, Terazy, because guess who has your address?!!" I quipped, smiling. At last I spotted the day-old sesame bagel. Our eyes met with a shared laugh as I proudly held up dinner like the Olympic torch.

Caught up in the wondrous swirl of colorful faces and intriguing places, I looked back with sentiment and to the future with hope. As our chugging chariot moved us once again through the breathtaking countryside of Austria, with the tunes of the Grateful Dead flowing from our micro-speaker set-up, Tracey and I could only look at each other and grin (as we sang along) while the always prophetic Jerry crooned, "What a long.... strange trip it's been."

Hitch a Ride

I picked up a hitchhiker the other night.

Maybe it wasn't the smartest thing to do, with my sleeping 7 month old in the backseat. But, when a zoftig post-menopausal woman approached my car window as I drove slowly through my condo's parking lot, I could not resist. Her dyed black hair was frizzing up in the humid night air and I saw beads of sweat forming on her upper lip. She tapped on my window with her long acrylic red nails, panting, "I'm lost! Where the hell is 5E? I'm shvitzing out here!"

I quickly surveyed the situation. Was this really a woman or perhaps a man dressed up as a woman? I remembered how Ted Bundy used to put a fake caste on his arm just to garner sympathy from unsuspecting women right before he overpowered them.

Was this person really going to "break the fast" or was she plotting to break my neck?

Was this woman (or man dressed up as a woman) really holding a wrapped noodle kugel? Or was that some sort of concealed weapon? I made a quick decision that it was really a kugel and she was really a woman, a woman going to break the fast for Yom Kippur; a woman tired of walking around a parking lot aimlessly, anxious about being late for her holiday dinner.

"Get in," I encouraged her, "I have no idea where 5E is, but we'll find it."

"Oh, thank you, you're such a doll!!" she gushed at a decibel just loud enough to disturb my sleeping boy. Although slightly irritated by her booming voice, I admired her audacity as she hopped into my car to ride shotgun.

You see, nobody hitchhikes any more.

My great-grandmother used to walk to the grocery store and then hitch a ride home with all of her packages. Seriously. Every single week. "Times were different back then, sweetheart," my grandmom explained recently. "Nanny didn't drive, so that's what she did when she needed to go to the market." Okay.

I, myself, once hitched a two hour ride from Denver to Breckenridge, Colorado, with three teenage boys whom I befriended on the airplane. "I'll meet you at the Loaf N Jug (the local Wawa)!" I told my friend, Mindy, over the pay phone at the Denver Airport. "I thought you were taking the shuttle?" she asked, confused. "Nope, I'm hitching a ride!" I responded proudly. "Wha?" she asked horrified. I don't know if the altitude had already gone to my head, clouding my better judgment, but I sat crammed amongst snowboards, skis, and boots in the back seat of a jeep, listening to the teen boys debut their best teen boy jokes, praying that I would live to see my friend.

Hitchhiking clearly runs in my family. In the early '70s, my dad used to hitchhike all over Europe; that is, once he ran out of gas in his orange VW bus, named Clementine, and was forced to sell her on the side of the road in Germany for 500 bucks. In those glorious days before cell phones and satellites, he and his army buddy, dressed like Tom Petty, in top hats and shawls, used to go their separate ways, hitchhiking, only to meet up days later at a monument in Madrid or a cafe in Amsterdam.

My dad never forgot the kindness of those perfect strangers in Europe and he reciprocated the favor when he was back in the states, a married father. One new year's eve, mid-80s, my parents were driving home from a black tie party with neighbors, and my dad noticed a man on the side of the road, dressed in a tuxedo, with sunglasses on, well past midnight. The man held a cane in his left hand. My dad, traveling his usual 83 mph, made an abrupt stop at the man's feet, as he often did at red lights.

I'm sure someone in the car, possibly my mom, screamed, "Thomas, what the hell are you doing?"

"I'm picking up this hitchhiker!" my dad probably responded emphatically.

"He's not even hitchhiking!" my mom retorted. "He's probably waiting for a cab or a bus!"

"He's coming with us!" my dad announced.

"Don't you dare," the neighbor in the back seat, encsonced in her white mink coat shrieked. "He'll steal my coat!"

"He's blind!" my dad protested, rolling down his window. "Hop in," my dad told the man. "Happy New Year! Where are you heading?" The man climbed in, incredibly gracious.

I, too, got caught up in the spirit of the new year. "Thank you, you saved me! My corns were killing me, walking around that focacta parking lot!" the bubbe in my car complained. My baby in the back seat let out a high-pitched half-cry. "Here we are!" I said, relieved to have finally found unit 5E. The hitchhiker in my car breathed heavily, tucked her kugel under her thick arm, and opened her car door. "Happy new year, doll!" she gushed. "I've never hitchhiked in my life!" she cried, wiping sweat from her hairline. "Thank you!"

"No need to thank me," I said, "just pay it forward and pick up a hitchhiker sometime!"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Coming Down to Earth

"I went skydiving," I panted to my husband as he carefully navigated the icy roads toward the hospital.

"Keep reminding me," I told him, doubled over in my seat from the waves of jarring contractions. "I jumped out of a plane at 13,500 feet, okay? I can do this!" "You can totally do this, just keep breathing," he said, holding my hand, glancing nervously in my direction.

"I packed barf bags," I half-smiled, opening the glove compartment to expose my stash of plastic bags. I unzipped the puffy black maternity parka that I was wearing, suddenly feeling warm even though I could see my breath in the chill of the car.

"I'll take care of you," he said, his dark eyes reassuring.

I closed my eyes and remembered the plane ride.

"I'm not feeling so great," I yelled to my curly blond haired instructor over the roar of the plane's engine.

"Sit down on the floor," he hollered back. I slid from the bench I was perched on down to the floor of the rickety plane. Some skydiving regular took off his sneaker and offered it to me as a barf basin. "No, I'm good," I lied. My eyes were glued to the 5 foot wide square hole in the floor of the plane just a few feet away from me.

"You didn't just jump out of a plane, honey, you did a BACK FLIP out of the plane," my husband whispered to me as he helped me sit up straight to wait for an epidural. "This is cake." I nodded as sweat poured down my forehead and back, soaking my cotton hospital gown.

I took baby steps towards the massive hole in the back of the plane's floor with my hippie instructor, Rob, strapped to my back. Men and women dressed in colorful jumpsuits with packed parachutes on their backs looked like rag dolls as they flew out of the plane ahead of me. "Here we go!" Rob hollered as I crossed my arms over my chest as he had instructed.

"This might feel a little strange." said the mustachioed anesthesiologist. I closed my eyes and waited for the needle to penetrate my spine.

We back flipped out into the sky. I felt fierce cool wind hitting my face. And then a hand tapped me on the forehead. "Open your eyes!" yelled the skydiving photographer who was face to face with me, soaring through the air. I opened my eyes and saw wind and white clouds zipping by me, and the photographer grinning. "Awesome, right?! Grab my hand," he hollered. Through the force of the wind, I struggled to reach out for his hand with mine. Once we connected, he spun me around like a corkscrew and then let go. I was spinning like a top above the earth.

"It feels better," I told the nurse. "I feel like I'm at a Pink Floyd concert, it's amazing. I feel F-I-N-E, fine!" I whispered to my mom on the phone, while my husband slept curled up in a recliner next to me.

When the spinning stopped, I thrust my right fist out ahead of me, like Superman. I flexed my biceps up, then down, gave a salute, smiled at the photographer as my skin flapped in the wind, outlining my cheek bones. I was euphoric, weightless, soaring through the sky. Little did I know that I was falling.

"I feel nothing, absolutely nothing," I told the young blond nurse after she explained that I was having contractions every minute. "Okay, you're going to start pushing soon," the doctor said from her perch at the end of my bed. "You can do this," my husband whispered in my ear. "You jumped out of a plane!"

Rob, the shaggy-haired hippie instructor strapped to my back, interrupted my poses and grabbed my right hand and placed it on my hip. "Pull the cord!" he hollered.

"It's around his neck," I heard the doctor tell the nurse in a hushed tone. Monitors started beeping. Sweat started dripping. "The baby is not in the right position," the doctor told me. "We're going to try to turn it around."

I yanked the cord and felt a powerful force launch me high into the sky like a rocket. I soared through sky, yelling, "Woohoo!" I heard my parachute open overhead and then felt an abrupt stop. I was suspended in the air. For the first time since I had jumped out of the plane, I noticed the ground below.

"Her blood pressure is dropping," the nurse said, checking the monitor next to my bed. I watched her furrow her brow as she looked at the readings. Without warning, she fastened an oxygen mask over my nose and mouth. I sucked in smokey clouds of air and my eyes grew as big as saucers, searching for my husband's face.

"Am I still here?!" I screamed, suddenly feeling very alone. "Yes," Rob hollered back, chuckling. ""You're still here! We're floating." Our red, yellow, purple, green and blue parachute was up over our heads like a gigantic kite in the sky.

I did not recognize any of the faces in front of me, but they all seemed to be mouthing the word, "Push, push, push, push, push."

"I feel like I'm slipping," I yelled to Rob in a panic. "Here, I'm going to tighten your harness," he assured me. "Look over there, see the ocean? Isn't that beautiful?"

I finally saw something familiar, my husband's face, full of love and fear in his eyes that he could not mask with a smile.

"Forceps or a c-section," the doctor said. "First, we'll try to spin the baby around."

My body was no longer my own. Four doctors, a few nurses, residents and god knows who the other spectators were poked, prodded and watched like I was a 4th grade science experiment. I watched all of them from a place high above my bed. I felt nothing but the awful dead weight of my body from the drugs. My legs felt as heavy as tree trunks when they asked me to help lift them into the air. My mind raced and I tried to think about flying.

I was weightless, drifting through the brilliant blue sky, laughing. "Feels like a dream," I shouted.

The forceps looked like a medieval torture device. They were gigantic metal fireplace tongs, running the length of my arms. They were all I could see down at the bottom of my bed.

"I'm going to . . ." I gagged before I could finish my sentence and the nurse turned me on my side and shoved a plastic basin under my mouth. "That happens sometimes when the baby is coming down," she informed me.

The monitor went wild. "The baby's heart rate is dropping," the nurse reported in a contained panic. "We need to do this quickly," the doctor with the metal salad tongs instructed the team. I wanted to just drift away. The doctor flipped the baby with the forceps as everyone in the room chanted, "Push, push, push, push, push, push! Her voice rising, the doctor yelled, "Here comes the baby! . . . ohhhh.....look..... it's a . . . boy!" another doctor gushed. "He's little, but he has chubby cheeks," someone else chimed in.

I felt nothing. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. I waited for the cry. I waited for the cry. I squeezed my husband's hand and waited for the cry. The deafening silence overwhelmed the room, pained my heart. I saw doctors, nurses, residents, hurrying around.

I waited. And waited. And waited. "No, this must be a nightmare," I told myself. And, at last, a cry. A cry? A cry! A cry full of life, spirit, will.

"You did it!" Rob yelled as we pulled off a picture perfect landing. My feet were wobbly as we touched down on the ground."That was the most amazing thing I ever did!" I yelled as I high-fived my instructor.

"That was the most terrifying thing I ever did," I sobbed to my husband, as he wrapped his strong arms around me. "Amazing, but absolutely terrifying." The doctor walked carefully over to my bedside carrying a tiny, perfectly-wrapped gift. With my tired arms open wide and my husband by my side, I celebrated the journey. And the view, right then and there on earth . . well, there was nothing in the universe more exquisite.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Shabbat Shalom

The beat of bongos greeted us as we entered the sanctuary. Smiling little girls in sequined headbands and skirts skipped down the aisle and took their seats next to doting parents. Elderly couples walked carefully behind them, calling out, "Shabbat shalom," to familiar faces. A young woman, her bald head wrapped, but barely hidden, tried to quiet her rambunctious pre-teen son.

It was Friday night, September 11th, and this was not the Sha-BBQ that I had envisioned.

Although a driving rain and fierce winds forced the party inside, it did not dappen our spirits. I looked to my left and saw the smile of my friend, Jenifer, and her wife, Cyndi, and their beautiful baby boy, sitting on her lap, digging into a Zip-lock bag full of Cheerios.

"They asked me if I was interested in enrolling him in pre-school here," Jenifer whispered to me. "But he's Muslim," she explained of her African-American foster child. "He's just here for shabbat with us, but he has his own thing," she added, planting a kiss on his cheek. "Got it," I nodded.

"And you know me," Cyndi laughed. "I'm not into any religion at all." I caught a glimpse of the small gold necklace she was wearing.

"Wait a minute, is that a Star of David?"

"Yep, I support my wife . . . and the community. And you gotta see my new tattoo," she continued, her eyes lighting up as she looked at her wife's smile. "I got her Hebrew name written on my arm," she said proudly, pointing to her shoulder. I shook my head, laughing. "Great stuff," I responded, the wine starting to swim around my head as the Klezmer music picked up the tempo.

Two tween girls in front of me shimmied to the sounds and busted out a couple of hip hop moves as the cantor sang. I strained to see just who was rockin' out on the bongos, but it remained a mystery. I couldn't help but hear the lady a few rows behind me to the left who tried to out-sing everyone else in the congregation. I rolled my eyes in Cyndi's direction. "There's always one in the crowd, right?" I didn't know a word of the lyrics, but the vibe in the sanctuary sounded as if Jimmy Buffet might join in. It felt like we were on a booze cruise in the Caribbean.

As the music faded out, we said prayers for the sick, the dying, the departed, for our recently fallen soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, by name. A nine year old girl stood up and told the congregation that she was praying for her friend to get well so that they could go to the movies, and play games, and do the things that they normally did together.

After the service ended, we all gathered at open tables to nosh on some kosher hot dogs and burgers. Three generations of a family joined our table, thankfully without judgmental looks or curious glances at my gay friends and their baby. The mom introduced her tween daughter, dressed in a brown skirt suit, matching her long dark hair and eyes, and her own mother, with silver hair and hip glasses, and sweet blue eyes.

"Do you do timeouts with him?" the girl asked Jenifer bluntly, who was sitting across the round table, feeding small bites of a burger to her toddler.

"No, honey, not yet, he's too young for that."

"Oh. Do you do headshoulderskneesandtoes?" she asked slurring the words together rapidly.

"Yes, and he loves it!" Jenifer responded. The little girl smiled.

She told us she was twelve years old, but her speech and mannerisms told a different story, of a child delayed cognitively to that of a 6 year old. She looked in my direction and fired off random questions with a piercing stare and a mechanical tone:

"Do you have a dog?"

"Not yet, but I want to get one!" I told her.

"What does your mom say?" she blurted out.

"She says, 'Go for it!'" I told her, not skipping a beat or pausing at the oddity of the question.

I told her that I had a baby who was going to come to Sha-BBQ too, but it was past his bedtime, so he was home with his daddy.

"Did you see the play, Annie?" she wondered in response.

"Yeah, it was really cute. Did you see it? Did you like it?" She nodded.

Her grandmother exhaled an internal sigh of relief. Here we were, perfect strangers, engaging this little girl in conversation, no matter how random, disjointed, or surprising the questions. And we did so without judgment or ridicule or uncomfortable looks.

"Do you like Pepsi?" she asked me, noticing that I was drinking the same thing as she had in her hand.

"Oh, I love Pepsi!" I exclaimed. "Cheers!" I yelled, raising my soda can to meet hers across the table. She smiled at me and clinked my can.

"Shabbat shalom!" Everyone at that table raised their drinks too.

The grandmother sitting next to me turned and patted my hand delicately. "I hope you and your husband join," she said. This community? Where differences are not only tolerated, but celebrated? I nodded back at her. We are already members.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I had no idea how much I missed living in Center City until I watched an elderly African-American cowboy, ten gallon hat and all, lasso a stationary bike post on Walnut Street today. Exactly three onlookers hooted and clapped while the man smiled broadly, flashing just a few front teeth. I, of course, was one of the three freaks cheering. I even encouraged my 6 month old baby, smiling in his stroller, to clap along as well. You just don't see that sort of thing here in Penn Valley.

But before I go off on a tangent about how boring the burbs are in comparison to the city, where we used to live conveniently across the street from the sex shop, head shop and psychic (yes, all on the same block!), I should tell you that things are about to change. Someone is firing up the grill over at Main Line Reform Temple.


SHA-BBQ is coming to town. What?! At first, when I saw the big sign outside the temple, I nearly crashed my car. I thought it meant that Shaq was coming to a bbq on the main line. But, it's even better than that! SHA-BBQ is a bbq outside the temple on shabbat! This has to be the most exciting new concept to sweep the Jewish community since a bubbe accidentally dropped some matzoh in chicken soup thousands of years ago. And I wouldn't miss it for anything! I have somehow enticed my husband into accompanying me to SHA-BBQ, with the promise of kosher hot dogs and a possible game of Frisbee with the rabbi.

So what will actually take place at this shabbat bbq? Your guess is as good as mine. Will the rabbi be grilling brisket or burgers? Will we sing Shabbat Shalom or Kumbaya? And who exactly will be attending this shabbat shindig? I'm guessing Main Line families, members of the temple, well-dressed and educated, looking to spice up their usual shabbos dinner with the family. What will their reaction will be when our crew rolls up? 2 lesbians with their adorable African-American baby, 1 former alter boy turned atheist, and 1 Irish-Jew who used to cut Hebrew school. What a shanda! Will they welcome us with open arms or stare at us, wondering if this is just an ABC 20/20 "hidden camera investigation" to test their reactions? Should I introduce myself as Stacy, or my Hebrew name, Chava, or simply Chavs, the badass nickname my Italian husband gave me?

I'm wondering what I should wear to SHA-BBQ too. Typical temple clothes seem inappropriate and way too stuffy. For some odd reason, I'm envisioning this SHA-BBQ to be like a great western bbq, the kind you would find in Jackson, Wyoming, with real cowboys manning the meat and telling ghost stories of fallen heroes on the plains. I can just see the men throwing in their keepahs in exchange for cowboy hats. I picture a mechanical bull and the cantor reaching his highest notes as he fights to stay on the bucking beast. I can see the rabbi riding in bareback on a wild mustang to a roaring crowd.

I'm not sure if the rabbi will really go all rodeo on the congregation, but SHA-BBQ promises games and sports, so you never know. If the games include bowling, horseshoes, or any parlor games, my husband is sure to be a hit on shabbos. As for my lesbian friends, our gracious hosts at this SHA-BBQ, well, the last time I played any games with them, it was at their "sperm party," when they were trying to decide whose sperm to use for artificial insemination. Needless to say, I don't think we'll be playing "pin the sperm on the egg" at this bbq.

What does one bring to a SHA-BBQ? Perhaps a guitar, although I'm not sure this cantor will be as cool as the one from my temple, who promised my dad she would learn Bob Dylan's Forever Young to sing at my Bat Mitzvah service. I certainly hope that there's a vibe of peace and love in the air, and even some mj would not be opposed. I think I'll leave home the Buddhist prayer wheel that I keep in my living room, which my dad bought for me after spinning it quickly in the store and chanting, "Baruch ata adinoi......that's all I remember....." Yes, that's it. We'll just try to blend in with the people and not draw attention to ourselves. In the meantime, stay tuned for pix and tales from next week's SHA-BBQ.

Shabbat shalom, party people!