Jewish Journal


May 4, 2000

Something New

Doling out the Swiss banks' Holocaust money is turning into dirty business


I think "Automotive Denial" should be entered into the American Psychiatric Association's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders." Telltale signs you are suffering from the disorder include uttering the phrases, "I could fix this thing today, but I don't want to," "I'm sure it's nothing" and the all too common, "This is just a loud car, there's nothing wrong with it."

I had a bad bout of AD when I was driving through the desert this past weekend. The words "preventive maintenance" were ringing through my head as the universal joint and attached drive shaft fell right off the bottom of my car. There I was, broken down once again, waiting for another crooked tow guy to take me to his garage where they couldn't fix my car without waiting for parts from a wrecking yard in Banning. This is the fifth tow guy I've encountered this year, and there's only so much conversation I can make about four-wheeling.

Still, not much gets me down in the desert, maybe because I am a Semite, after all.

I made my desert pilgrimage to see some pioneer town I read about in a book. I never made it, but I did have an adventure, which was all I really wanted. I was on a quest to see something new, break out of my rut, take advantage of the cultural offerings available to me and stop thinking so much about what my life is supposed to mean.

Babylonian rabbi Abba Arikha once said, "Each individual will be called to account in the hereafter for every pleasure he declined without sufficient cause."


My world can get really small. I have a tendency to eat the same foods, listen to the same songs, read the same magazines and generally skip over the event listings in newspapers as the province of more interesting people.

With an abject fear of change stuffed into my back pocket, I tried to take some baby steps toward pleasurable expansion.

I started with the Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival in Santa Clarita. As for cowboy poetry itself, how many words can you rhyme with range? Still, the festival was at a breath-taking ranch that served as a movie set for old Westerns. I walked around at dusk, drinking a mug of "Cowboy Coffee" and watching kids scuffle around in their little cowboy boots. I bought a poster of three cowgirls from 1890 with the inscription "Ride the Trail of Truth."

That was an auspicious beginning. Maybe there was no life-changing epiphany to be found on the range, but the trip made a little room in my head for some new thoughts.

Next, I went to the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival where a friend of a friend's documentary was showing. The film, "Amargosa," tells the story of 74-year-old Marta Becket, a dancer who lives in Death Valley Junction where she bought an old opera house and decided to put on shows. When there was no audience, she painted her own on the theater's old walls. I don't know what came over me. The story was so moving I had a crying catharsis the likes of which I haven't experienced since "Terms of Endearment." One day, I hope to make it to Death Valley for one of her now packed performances, when I have a car that proves desert-worthy, that is.

When a friend invited me to a debate between "Kosher Sex" author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, I resisted the impulse to stay home. I don't know if I got any insights on pornography, what with the rabbi pointing out such shockers as "Porn is about sex" and "Porn is a visual medium." I did find myself unexpectedly inspired by special guest Roseanne, however.

"I have to correct the rabbi," she said. "Size does matter!" There was clapping and some uncomfortable shifting but there was no denying Roseanne says just what she means. I was inspired. I'd like to be a little more like her some days, minus the alimony payments.

In the past few weeks, I have purchased a new CD by songwriter Lucinda Williams, a book on the history of Cambodia and an Indian cotton skirt in a color I never wear -- bright red. Maybe I haven't exactly turned over a new leaf, but I'm at least picking it up and checking out the veins and stem.

And then, there was the ill-fated voyage to the pioneer town I may never see. The best part of the whole debacle is the rental car I'm temporarily driving, a stubby white Geo Metro that feels like a BMW compared to my deafening, shuddering old Datsun. My love for this rental car obscures the tribulations. It's a $24-a-day tabula rasa, uncluttered and unfamiliar. That rental car reminds me that sometimes you have to give your life a tune-up before the bottom drops out.

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