Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gluteus Maximus

Published in Miami Today August 20, 2014
It’s hard to be me. My exercise and eating habits are a constant source of aggravation. I go to the gym every day and I eat well, but instead of feeling good about myself I feel miserable.

Every day my sexy 122 lbs. of muscle go through the humiliation of being the skinniest athlete in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, I’m healthy, but I have yet to encounter a woman in the gym who would ask me about my biceps, serratus magnus or pectoralis major, let alone my gluteus maximus. I keep telling myself that I’m beautiful and strong on the inside, but women at the gym prefer a big gluteus maximus.  

Not only do I worry about myself in the gym, I worry about athletes without diapers. I see lots of guys lifting weights and making faces like they are about to soil their pants. Have you ever seen the faces of babies pooping? That’s exactly how these guys look as they lift the equivalent of a small Toyota. I fear that as they lift some things others will drop, and God knows I don’t want to be there when that happens.

At the gym, I keep looking for something that I can be the best at, but I’m at a loss. For a while I kept thinking that I was probably the most obsessive compulsive person in the entire Wellness Center at the University of Miami. That was a source of real pride, until I saw a couple of guys compulsively recording their every move. They extend an arm, they write it down. They lift a ten pounder, they write it down. They smell their armpit, they write it down. Much to my chagrin, I lost that competition too.

Then I went for the best dressed athlete. That was an easy one. I spent $4,592 on Nike shorts, shirts, shoes, and socks. The only problem was that I had to get rid of all my Adidas shorts, shirts, shoes, and socks. I’ve seen enough people mix Adidas with Nike to give me an esthetic thrombosis. What I still can’t reconcile is the fact that now I’m wearing a Nike shirt that says Pro Combat. For the life of me I can’t imagine anyone taking me for any kind of combat, other than a self-deprecation duel.

In all honesty, that was not a difficult contest to win. Other than women, who spend on athletic wear almost as much as I spend on brown Tumi bags, I knew I could beat the guys. There are two types of guys in the gym: those who don’t know how to match colors, and those who use their t shirts to clean their garage. This one was easy.

But if you thought that going to the gym was tough for me, going to restaurants is a nightmare. There was a brief period of time when my eating disorders were a little out of control (1963 - 2012). Concerned with the unpleasant side effects of white flour (obesity, constipation, and sudden death syndrome), I used to spend hours searching for bagel places that served 100% whole wheat. Much to our son’s mortification, I used to go to bakeries and ask what percentage of the bagel was whole wheat, and if the poor folk at the counter didn’t have an answer, I used to send them to the back to read the list of ingredients. While my wife and son pretended they didn’t know me, I kept pressing for an exact answer.

I’m happy to report that I stopped eating bagels altogether, but not before bakeries in all major North American cities put a picture of me next to the cash register with a warning DO NOT SERVE THIS CUSTOMER.

Being a vegan is tough, especially when you’re on the road. About two years ago we took a vacation in the Blue Mountains of Virginia. We flew to DC and rented a car. On our way to the hotel we got hungry. After a futile search for gourmet vegan restaurants in rural Virginia we settled for a Cracker Barrel. We discovered at the end of the menu a section called vegetables with three items: macaroni and cheese, sugar-added apple sauce, and green beans with pork. Following a conversation with the manager, you can now find my picture next to cash registers in Cracker Barrels all around the country with the warning DO NOT SERVE THIS CUSTOMER. 




Sunday, August 10, 2014

Prenatal Chutzpah

       My first memorable act of Chutzpah was competing against 300 million sperm to fertilize an egg, and winning. I’m not making this up. It’s a fact. I looked it up on YouTube. Before I watched the cute animation I used to think that I competed with like, 20 sperm, but 300 million, that’s Chutzpah! I only wish I had been a sperm with smaller ears and a manly voice, but what can you do. I’m sure I got a girly voice because of all the screaming that went on in the fallopian tube while other sperm were pulling at my ears to stop me. Come to think of it, my voice and ears are not sources of shame; they are war wounds. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sense of Community

Published in Miami Today August 6, 2014

I have a confession to make. I’m a community psychologist, but I don’t like people very much. I like the idea of people, but actual people is something else: They smell, talk too much, don’t know how to spell, and wear Nike shirts with Adidas shorts. 

For me, ideal encounters with other human beings are short, funny, and focused; except with my own family of course, which are distressing, chaotic, and way too long (I love you honey!). No, seriously, I love hanging out with my immediate family because it consists of only three more people, big enough to qualify for a community, small enough to care. Bigger than that and you risk lack of focus, solemnity, and overtime.

At home, our day consists of me making funny faces, singing made up songs in various languages, some of which I actually speak, and talking about irreproducible topics leading to nowhere in particular. At work, my day consists of me making serious faces, suppressing my funny accent, and talking about reproducible topics leading also to nowhere in particular. I succeed pretty well at looking thoughtful but I’m a total failure at suppressing my Argentinean-Israeli-Canadian-Australian-Nashvillean accent, which may prevent me from being President one day, although I do have good hair.

But despite my allergic reactions to certain smells and spelling mistakes, a sense of community is really a good thing. Take Colombia for example. In the 1990s, Colombians reported the highest level of happiness in the world. This was at the time that Colombia experienced the highest rate of random violence, kidnappings, and murders in the world. How do you explain that? Too much cocaine? No, the answer is that family cohesion and social support compensate for the violence around them.

Look at Mexico now. In the first decade of this century Mexicans reported the highest level of happiness in the world, at the same time that gang violence was rampant. What happened there? Too much tequila? No, as in Colombia, sense of community makes people happy, which is not to say that a little tequila doesn’t help.

Incidentally, in the same survey where Colombians came first, Moldovans came last. Although I was personally offended at this finding, as my ancestors came from Moldova, this is no surprising, considering that Moldova is almost as corrupt as Miami.

My ancestors were very lucky; they escaped pogroms and the Cossacks in Kishinev to move to Argentina, which later became a haven for Nazis and a fascist dictatorship. Don’t get me wrong, Cossacks, Nazis, and Fascists had great sense of community, but they had a very bad sense of humor, and a very bad genocidal streak; two things that we Jews don’t really like. Besides, they had bad breadth. 

You would have thought that all these multigenerational traumatic experiences would have made me into an antisocial, paranoid lunatic. Wrong. These experiences made me into a RABID antisocial, paranoid lunatic. But I want you to know that I’m in remission. After consulting with my doctor for side effects such as pancreatic cancer, fusobacterium, leprosy, Fanconi anemia, fetal alcohol syndrome, hepatolenticular degeneration, and testicular evaporation, I decided to take communophilicon, by injection, in the eye, four times a day. I’m telling you, I’m a completely new person. Now I’m raising funds to rehabilitate homeless Nazis in Argentina, I’m creating a prison visiting program for former dictators, and I’m shipping 40,000 cases of Listerine to Moldova. It feels great to help the community. Thanks communophilicon!


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Parental Fitness

                If you are thinking of having children, take this test first. If you already have children, the test will tell you whether you need to: (1) issue a recall, (2) check your mental health, or (3) replace Mother Theresa.   

1. Would you enjoy observing your child throw a temper tantrum in the middle of a supermarket?

a.       Yes, I’m a masochist

b.      Yes, provided my child has a good reason for it

c.       No, I rather have a colonoscopy in the woods

2. Do you enjoy feeling guilty?

a.       Of course, I’m Jewish 

b.      Yes, I’m Catholic. It’s a cultural tradition

c.       No way

3. Do you enjoy eating leftover spaghetti with snot sauce?

a.       Yes, my mother never let me eat my snot

b.      Yes, provided it’s from my baby’s plate

c.       No, I’m allergic to gluten

4. Would you enjoy worrying about your baby?

a.       Yes

b.      Absolutely, my life is too boring

c.       What’s there to worry about?

5. Do you enjoy spending weeks without sleep?

a.       Yes, provided I can watch Lingerie Football reruns

b.      Yes, I’d do anything to be near my baby at night when she screams

c.       No, I operate a nuclear reactor in the morning

6. Do you enjoy smelly bedrooms?

a.       Totally, they turn me on

b.      Yes, in my family we bond through odors

c.       All of the above

7. Do you enjoy being ignored?

a.       I’m never ignored

b.      Yes, provided I’m ignored by my precious creature

c.       It depends

8. Would you enjoy driving a group of seven year olds in your van for hours from soccer to Kumon to SAT classes?

a.       Definitely, especially in Miami traffic

b.      How else are they going to get into Harvard?

c.       What am I, a sucker?

9. Do you enjoy gossiping about lousy teachers?

a.       Only about Mrs. Rivera

b.      They deserve it

c.       What else is there to do while we wait for our kids outside school?

10. Do you enjoy talking with kids about the importance of using a condom?

a.       What is a condom?

b.      I’d ask my Rabbi to do it

c.       Why should I do that?

11. Would you enjoy getting calls at work from your babysitter that you must run to the emergency room?

a.       It’s always good to take a break from work

b.      No big deal

c.       I rather die

12. Do you enjoy cleaning poop?

a.       Yes, my mother never let me play with mud

b.      My baby will be born toilet trained

c.       Isn’t there an app for that?

13. Do you enjoy punk music?

a.       It’s the only kind we play in our house

b.      I’m open minded

c.       I hate it

14. Do you like a neat house?

a.       Are there any other kinds?

b.      I’m OCD

c.       Neat houses are repressive

15. Do you enjoy hosting wild parties?

a.       We never stopped

b.      Anything for our gem

c.       I hate noise

16. Do you enjoy science projects?

a.       I’m a humanist

b.      I’m a rocket scientist

c.       Science is a left-wing conspiracy

17. Do you enjoy self-abnegation?

a.       Self what?

b.      I’m a Jewish mother; is there any other way?

c.       I’m big on selfies of any kind

18. Would you enjoy working until your eighties to fund your child’s education?

a.       Ignorance is bliss

b.      Anything for my baby

c.       I hate elitist snobs

19. Would you enjoy seeing your daughter go out with older men with chains and tattoos in a Harley Davidson squad?

a.       I’m not having a daughter

b.      I ride a Harley Davidson

c.       I rather be dead

20. Do you enjoy reading about parenting?

a.       I used to until now

b.      I love parenting surveys

c.       I rather get a pet

21. Do you enjoy peace and quiet?

a.       I love it


c.       I cannot live without it

22. Would you enjoy seeing your child in competitive situations?

a.       I cannot bear the thought of my child losing in a competition

b.      It’s all about the journey, not the result

c.       My child will never lose

23. Do you enjoy arguing?

a.       Yes, it builds character

b.      No, it drives me crazy

c.       Only against people I can prove wrong

24. Do you enjoy punctuality?

a.       We are German

b.      We are Mexicans

c.       I’m late

25. Do you enjoy feeling insecure?

a.       It’s my favorite state

b.      I wish I knew anything else

c.       I ride a Harley Davidson

                If you answered mostly b, you are ready to be a parent and to be admitted to the nearest sanatorium. If you answered mostly a, you might be able to be a parent AFTER you are admitted to the nearest sanatorium. If you answered mostly c, you ARE in a sanatorium and I hope you never have children, especially if you operate a nuclear reactor.

                Immanuel Kant was totally wrong. Human beings are the most irrational species on the face of the earth. Before our son was born, there was order in my world. I used to get up at a certain time, eat breakfast at a certain time, and go to the toilet at a certain time. My life was a sanatorium: orderly, clean, and predictable, with a fresh scent of febreze. I was happy. The arrival of our lovable son changed all that, especially the orderly thing. Order turned into chaos, predictability into pandemonium, and febreze into acrid vomit. Nobody should undermine the adorability factor of babies. Without it, it would all be too much to bear, especially for sanatorium lovers like me.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Messianic Times

I waited for months. I read up on it. I cleared my calendar. I talked to my friends about it. I was ready. I actually became quite religious about the whole thing. In fact, I turned into a fanatic, a true believer. I even bought a 46 inch TV for my exercise room, just to make sure I did not miss any of his appearances during my futile attempts to build muscle. Messi was about to deliver spiritual redemption during the last World Cup. For us, Argentinians, Messi was to bring salvation. We felt that we scored with Pope Francis. It was now time for Messi to score.  What could be better than the world talking about how great Argentinians are, instead of all the talk about defaulting on international obligations?

                I even thought of buying one of these ridiculously expensive Argentina shirts, which cost more than the 46 inch TV we impulsively acquired, but I resisted. Matan, our son, caved in. After the first match that Argentina won, he went to the closest Adidas store in New York City and dished out half of his teacher salary. Although Matan was born in Canada, and never lived in Argentina, he absorbed my irrational love of soccer. After leaving Argentina at the age of 16, encouraged by the fascist dictatorship, I renounced most Argentinian traditions, except soccer.

                My productivity during the 2014 World Cup plummeted. Thank God it was during the summer, when the university slows down. Otherwise I would have been fired. But truth be told, most of my colleagues did the same thing, running to meetings and finishing papers in between games. To make sure I did not miss any games I blocked my outlook calendar with all the relevant games and I set up my DVR – successfully I might add – to record all the games. My assistant knew not to schedule any meetings during the 84 games.

                During the final game against Germany I was a nervous wreck. It was good Matan was here in Miami to debrief. He gave up playing in chess tournaments to come home and watch the last week of games with us. We are both equally irrational about soccer. When Higuaín scored during that game, the two of us jumped up and down like kangaroos. When the referee disallowed the goal, we were crushed. I used Spanish vocabulary unbecoming of a Dean of Education. Ora, my wife, did her best to console us.

                My behavior during the last game was consistent with the overall regression I was experiencing. For the entire World Cup I went back to childhood, when my life revolved around soccer. During the tournament I woke up thinking about soccer, spent hours watching reruns, and -- something that did not exist when I was a kid -- wasted valuable time following blogs. Matan, who is an elitist, insisted that we follow The Guardian’s blog. But let’s be honest, he is right. No American commentator really understands soccer.

                On ESPN, we were served Alexi Lalas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lalas used to be a decent soccer player, but is highly irritating as a commentator. You see, we are not just any kind of soccer fans, we are soccer snobs. The only redeeming quality of Alexi Lalas is that he speaks English. To comment on the games, ESPN invited foreign players, mostly from Latin America, whose English did not bring much pride to their educational systems.

                Despite the terrible defeat in the final game, and the ensuing depression, which lasted several days, I benefited greatly from the World Cup. For once, I could speak authoritatively about sports in the United States. I could show off in front of colleagues. I could say things like “the 4-4-2 formation is working defensively” and “Sabella needs to bring Gago to reinforce the midfield.”

                In addition to these displays of sublimated testosterone, my mental health also benefited greatly. Not since I was nine did I take such complete leave of my senses. For four weeks I showed complete disregard for work, responsibilities, and anything resembling mature behavior. That proved to be very therapeutic for a workaholic like me. I also gained a lot of sympathy from friends and colleagues who wanted Argentina to win, just to make me happy. Bonding with Matan over soccer, that was priceless.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Patriotism: Moldovan Style

Last year Moldova won the distinction of having the highest rate of alcohol consumption in the world by a huge margin, which makes it a favorite destination for college students. A few years earlier, it ranked last in the world in terms of life satisfaction, which makes it a preferred destination for suicidal people. It is also the poorest country in Europe, attracting many destitute people who want to feel in good company. In 2008, Eric Weiner documented in The Geography of Bliss the utter desperation most people experience there, which makes it a Mecca for existential writers. Finally, a couple of years ago Transparency International wrote a scathing report about the level of corruption in Moldova, which makes it an excellent training ground for Miami politicians.  

For the past 54 years I have managed to hide the fact that my ancestors were from Moldova. When people detect an accent I tell them that I was born in Argentina and lived in several places, like Nashville, which have influenced the inflection of my voice. My parents were already born in Argentina; so technically I’m not lying by hiding my Moldovan roots.

I managed to keep my Moldovan secret for years until I found myself in a restaurant with friends in Boca Raton a few weeks ago. My friend asked the cheerful waitress were she was from, and the next thing I know I’m telling her that my ancestors were also from Moldova.

Irina (not her real name, her real name was Ioana) told us that she came to the US from Moldova a few years ago. She was ecstatic to hear that my grandparents were from her country and proceeded to share with us The Encyclopedia Britannica version of Moldova’s history. For 24 minutes she stood next to us and gushed about the many atrocities that were bestowed upon her countrymen and women since the establishment of the Principality of Moldavia in 1359. As a former history teacher in Moldova she was obviously starved for an audience, while I was starved for lunch. While she was getting hotter and hotter with the telling of every invasion by Crimean Tatars, my entrée was getting colder and colder. When she got to the Treaty of Bucharest in 1812 I decided to start eating between calamities. Unless I started eating I was going to become the next victim of the Russian Empire, which annexed Moldova and gave it the name Oblast of Moldavia and Bessarabia. When Oblast was converted to the Bessarabia Governorate in 1871 I decided the hell with it and attacked my food with the same vigor that Romania went after Bukovina and Transylvania.

When she got to the beginning of last century Irina went back to get us deserts. I used the opportunity to finish my plate and recover from the carnage. After serving desert Irina went straight to Bessarabia’s proclamation of Independence from Russia on February 6th 1918, conveniently skipping the first 18 years of the century, at which point I asked her about the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 in which dozens of Jews were murdered and hundreds wounded. It turned out that our adorable hostess was never taught the incident that prompted the exile of my ancestors. When she started squirming I asked her about the second pogrom that took place between October 19th and 20th of 1905. At that point she told us that she needed to serve other customers, to which I said if she knew of the Jewish community in Kalarash, just outside Kishinev, which is where my ancestors were from. While I was relishing my revenge, unbeknownst to me I gave her more ammunition. Kalarash, she told us, is where the best cognac in the world is distilled. She went on and on about the cognac, and like many of her compatriots, she completely forgot that Jews were massacred there by her Cossack ancestors.

Thursday, July 24, 2014



         The reason I move continents every few years is to get rid of junk in our house. It’s the only way I can manage to dispose of shoes, unfashionable clothes, linen, work documents, pot and pans, and matzo meal for Passover. If we just make a domestic move, my adorable wife Ora wouldn’t let me get rid of anything; but a transcontinental move, that’s another story. Still under these circumstances I have to make sure that I have at least one day of packing when Ora is out of the house. That is my opportunity to throw away things Ora would never let me touch, such as matzo meal.

My approach to clutter extermination is to open a big garbage bag and empty most drawers into it for quick disposal. This is the reckless approach. Ora’s melancholic approach is to examine old pictures, our son’s report card from grade 2, mother’s day cards, and immigration applications going back four countries. She peruses everything very slowly and methodically, only to proclaim after hours of careful review that she will make up her mind tomorrow! This attitude is especially problematic in our house, where we have a number of drawers where a lot of procreation takes place. I have proof that if we put in our drawers old paper clips with Mexican coins, they will have sex and produce “Triple A” batteries. This is in the Kitchen. In our bedroom, my night table is a site of heresy. In its top drawer, nail clippers have regular intercourse with old socks to produce Bic pencils.