Posted by Elliot Steingart
I’ve reached the age when I can relate to my parents’ friends as much as my own friends.
My parents are still friends with the same crew they rolled with in Pittsburgh, and now a slew of South Africans in San Diego where they’ve lived the last ten years. My parents are pick-up artists. At parties they run game, get numbers and set calendar dates to experience Ethiopian cuisine with other baby boomers who tuck in their shirts.
For every Maxine and Richard, there is a Steve and Suzie and a Diane and Howard. Then you throw Rick and Elyse into the picture or Marissa and Paul and you best believe you’ve found someone to bring a bowl of orzo to a party at your house like the party my parents threw last weekend for their friends to meet my baby niece, Dylan. I was meeting some of their new friends for the first time. My mom told me Greg was coming with his wife to the party.
“Since when are you friends with a Greg?” I asked.
Greg from Mexico came to the party wearing a sport coat and also a hearing aide. I guess he didn’t hear that the party was casual.
Maxine and Richard were early arrivals. Maxine and Richard are like doppelgangers of my parents, Judy and Marc. Maxine and Judy dress similarly and Richard and Marc tell the same corny jokes.
Last summer the furious foursome met me for dinner at Cha Cha Cha in Silverlake. Maxine asked me to tell my best joke. I told a joke about Israel. Maxine smiled politely. Breaking the silence, Richard told a joke which made the table laugh. Maxine followed with a funny joke of her own. I’ve performed at the Hollywood Improv and the Comedy Store, but how many comedians have opened for Maxine and Richard?
“I have to tell you. I loved your blog about your mother,” shared Maxine. “And congrats on the promotion. That is so wonderful!”
“That’s nice of you to say,” I shared.
Because of Maxine’s excitement, news of my recent promotion spread like wildfire around the party. Diane, my mom’s close friend, also from South Africa was the next to congratulate me. “Great news! Congratulations.”
Most of the others heard the news, except for Greg.
Our family friend Larry attacked the veggies with great fervor. It was a pleasure seeing Larry, one of our first friends in San Diego. In 2002 my mom launched her personal errand service “Mission Accomplished” and began preparing large quantities of vegetarian chili for a Spanish woman who lived in the neighborhood. Sara enjoyed my mom’s chili so much that she mentioned that her husband, Larry was looking for someone to help do some landscaping in the backyard. Unequipped for physical labor, my mom offered my services, “Shleps for Less.”
I met Larry in his garage where he was listening to doowop, the music of his youth. Incidentally, I preferred doowop to hip hop, the music of my youth.Larry explained to me that I would start out making minimum wage. If I worked hard and proved my worth I could make a tiny bit more than minimum wage. Under Larry’s scrutiny I learned the proper way to wax a car.
“Elliot, you must understand the value of precison,” he exclaimed as he pointed to a speck I missed on his Jaguar’s rear bumper.
While I borrowed one of Larry’s bathing suits to clean his pool, Larry was out at the pool with me telling me about his childhood in Jersey, and his travels to Spain where he met his wife Sara. Larry taught me how to use a chainsaw and a tree trimmer, and the two of us built a fence that still stands to this day.
“Elliot,” he said to me one day. “You are such a good kid. I’d love to meet your father.”
I didn’t know how well of a match Larry’s intensity would be for my easy going dad. Larry invited my dad to a bull fight and the two have been friends ever since.
At the party Larry invited my dad to see the Three Stooges. I told Larry about my blog and Larry told me about his son losing his virginity.
I ate some carrots and watched the Pens give up some tough goals to the Flyers. Richard sat next to me and asked me about my dating situation. I told him that I was starting to see someone, and we were having a lot of fun together.
“That’s great,” he said. “You just want to make sure you have common interests. Some women are great in the bedroom, but outside of the bedroom they don’t have anything interesting to say.”
Richard told me how he and Maxine were high school sweethearts who lost touch, moved across the country from one another with spouses they eventually divorced.
“After emailing for a year she finally agreed to meet me half-way,” Richard told me. “I was in San Diego and she was in New York. Half-way was Philadelphia.”
“My second wife wanted me to be someone I wasn’t. Maxine loves me for who I am.”
“You need to find someone who likes you for you,” Maxine chimed in.
Baby boomers are among my favorite people. Not just because I have some grey hairs and they do too. And not just because I, too, wear Land’s End. They are the kind of people who share wisdom and are genuinely happy that you have a good job and are sleeping with somebody. And who else brings the banana bread?
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April 18, 2012 | 11:43 am
Posted by Elliot Steingart
As an adult you realize that sports don’t mean as much to you as they did when you are a kid.
Watching the Steelers lose to the Cowboys in the Superbowl in 1995 was one of the most crushing moments of my childhood. Ten years later while in Vancouver, Canada I watched the Steelers beat the Seahawks to win their first Super Bowl in my lifetime. After the celebration I stood outside in the rain waiting for a bus. That’s when I realized I didn’t win the Super Bowl or have an umbrella.
I look at sports differently now. If the Tigers beat the Blue Jays, so be it. I am okay flipping past an inconsequential regular season ball game without feeling emasculated. I’ll see the score at the bottom of the ESPN ticker.
If names like Rich Tocchet and Ron Francis aren’t familiar to you, I accept that your childhood was different than mine.If you didn’t accuse NBA Jam of cheating and immediately curse and turn off the Sega, I understand. You probably don’t know why Ronny Seikaly was the only basketball player in the history of NBA Jam incapable of heating up. Neither do I.
I appreciate sports in context. Trade deadlines excite me. Who announces the game is just as important as who wins the game. I’ll watch any game called by Gus Johnson, Doc Emerick and Brent Mussberger and wish Bob Costas could permanently host every telecast.
I’m a more self-aware sports fan. I no longer collect Fleer Ultra inserts or act as a play by play announcer when I play NHL ‘94, but I still care about sports, just not as much. Granted, no matter how hard I try, I know at least one segment on “Real Sports With Bryant Gumble” will always make me cry.
And I know that Steve Novak is the Knicks best spot up shooter. I can tell you that Lamarr Woodley graduated from Michigan, boarding can result in a game misconduct, and Jerry Tarkanian lead the UNLV Running Rebels to a national title. I can even tell you that New York Giants Linebacker Jason Pierre Paul’s father is Jean Pierre-Paul and New Jersey Devil’s Center Zach Parise is the son of former Minnesota North Star, JP Parise! It’s just that I don’t think it matters that I know these things.
I was a talented athlete as a kid capable of playing most of the major sports. I excelled at booting a soccer ball and played good enough basketball to swat Jordan Marks at the JCC. I showed potential as a youth squash player, but quit taking lessons because I feared Dulio, my instructor, would beat me with his squash racquet if I did not hit a hard enough boast of the side wall.
Over the years I’ve matured as an athlete. I have a better sense of gamesmanship. I’m the 6th best player on my men’s over 30 soccer team. We don’t have a coach so Kenny, our best player, will make a speech at half-time suggesting adjustments we should make in the second half. I’m the next person to say something like “Oh yea, and I’m open.”
I know that my role is to set up my teammates with long crosses, and if the opportunity presents itself, blast one from the 18. I’m not a dribble first kind of player. I play with a ball hog. He doesn’t even pass in practice. He yells, “Come on guys! What are you doing?”
“It’s called passing.”
You can tell a lot about someone by what kind of teammate they are. I’m not Tim Tebow or Jeremy Lin. I’m more like Mike Alstott or Fred Hoiberg. I can contribute, but I haven’t yet had my career defining moment.
At my last job my boss called me into her office and said, “We don’t think you are a team player.”
This was shocking to hear since I did whatever was asked of me.
“I’m a team player. I just don’t want to play on your team.”
I’m sure this is how Lamar Odom felt about playing for the Mavs.
Not everyone is Tebow or Jeremy Lin, even for a few weeks, but all you need is a chance.
A few days ago my team was called into our large conference room where our V.P. made a surprise announcement.
“We are searching for someone to manage Sports and Attractions.You are all welcome to apply.”
Upon hearing the news I made a case for the value I could bring given my previous accomplishments and my knowledge of the national sports landscape. I waited for the sports trivia portion of the interview. Ask me how many goals Pat LaFontaine scored in his career! I’ll even take the football quiz in Diner: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xS3VuRbizDs
I presented myself the best I could and tried not to think too much about the position. I had sports to watch. I was on pace to become the first Los Feliz tenant evicted for yelling during a Pittsburgh Penguin playoff game. After the Pens three goal collapse I flipped to the end of the Clippers/Thunder game where my Clippers (die hard bandwagon since 2009) triumphed over the #1 team in the west.
I listened to Dan Patrick and Colin Cowherd on the way to work and checked espn.com throughout the day, per usual. After lunch I was pulled aside.
“I’d love for you to join my team,” said John.
I shook his hand and said, “I just want to thank you for the opportunity.”
I’m ready to step up to the plate and hit one out of the park. I also want to play more basketball. And I’m stoked to come into work and prove myself to the good people giving me this chance much like Lindsay Jacobellis did at Winter X Games XII back in ‘08. All or nothing.
April 11, 2012 | 12:20 pm
Posted by Elliot Steingart
My new co-worker is a perky 26 year old gal who lives in Los Feliz. She is nice looking and normal. We walked to Starbucks where I popped the question.
“Want to carpool?”
“Sure!” she said.
It’s a big commitment to carpool to work with a total stranger. You really have no idea what to expect. You just assume that because you are both adults you are mature. You also assume because you have a license you know how to drive a car.
What if that wasn’t the case? What if she starts driving and I start screaming, “Get in the left lane!!!” Go, bitch! We can’t be late!!”
And that’s just on the way to work. What if on the way home I make more demands? “Get off here. I have errands to run.”
I make her take me to Albertsons, then H & R Block. I get back in the car and say, “We gotta stop by Leroy’s house.”
She’s waiting in the car while Leroy and I go on all night bender. She is still in the car waiting for me until the following morning.
The next day it’s my turn to drive. I pick her up, and then drive us off a cliff. All you see is the car burst into flames. She agreed to carpool with me knowing this is the stuff that I think about.
I respect her for taking a chance. This is my first real adult carpool, the first time I initiated driving with someone to work everyday. Growing up you don’t have a choice with whom you carpool. It’s kind of the same idea as being friends with your neigbhors. You have no say. You live close so automatically are forced into friendship.
Your new friend is the kid digging for earth worms in the front yard. His name is Yuval. He’s not good at sports. He’s good at nature. You just want to play hide and go seek. “You hide. I’m going to seek out some new neighbors.”
Or in high school when you carpool with Maya, the girl who asks too many questions about your weekend. After she parks, you tie your shoes and rather than wait, she accelerates straight to homeroom!
Because I sought out the carpool, I’m responsible for its future. For the sake of rising gas prices I must maintain the carpool at all costs. I have made concessions. I let her choose the CD this morning. She picked Best of Talking Heads. A great selection. We talked about how she is adjusting to the job. She told me about her volunteer work. I told her how about the $4.99 deal at Albertsons.
She said, “You already told me about that.”
“Your choice of two chicken breasts or wings, and two sides?”
“Yea,” She said. “I’ve heard this from you.”
She is an adequate driver. Not the best. I have a better command of the wheel, and how far behind you should be from the car in front of you. You can’t call out her driving on the first day of the carpool. It comes gradually. The second week once you too have a few inside jokes, you find yourself becoming more vocal.
“You may not want to tail this guy,” I said.
“I swear I’m not a bad driver. You don’t think I am. Do you?”
“No, you are good.” I lied.
I understand that there is added pressure driving someone you want to impress. Driving becomes a performance. I drive with more gravitas. I speed and mouth the words to “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog.
She takes alternate routes like the 5 instead of the 2. We joined the slow moving traffic at which point I said, “It’s okay. This is a teachable moment.”
I’m carpooling with the girl next door. Granted she’s the girl next door who probably didn’t pass her driver’s test on the first try, but neither did I.
What’s important is that we’ve come a long way since our first week in the carpool. That first week felt like each leg of the trip was a date. “What’s your favorite restaurant in Los Feliz?”
“Do you like Mad Men?”
It’s inappropriate to mix business with pleasure. Besides we are friends, and she will read this blog because I asked her permission to write about the carpool. If you are reading this, I have forgiven you for the time you almost rammed us into a Mazda and then said, “Wups!
Lately, we walk out of the office at the same time as Kimi and Mishi. They started carpooling from the Southbay over a year ago. They listen to KPCC’s Steve Inskeep and play on their phones. We are still in the talking to each other and making jokes phase. We both know our carpool is the best. It’s a matter of time before we challenge them to an after work drag race, and leave em in the dust and then give them the finger.
I’m glad our carpool is a source of pleasure and that I haven’t driven us off a cliff.
April 4, 2012 | 3:30 pm
Posted by Elliot Steingart
My mom is Judy, the foodie. She is the Mr. Yuk of sodium nitrates, and high fructose corn syrup. I think she’d rather I marry a non-Jewish woman than have me eat anything with partially hydrogenated oils.
I want to make my mom proud but it’s easier to invite your buddies out for beer and wings than beer and quinoa.
I live with a double consciousnesses of knowing that my food choices are informed by the omnipresent judgmental shadow of Judy, the foodie, the health food crusader who hasn’t eaten red meat since ‘72. She is the baby boomer carrying reusable grocery bags to the farmer’s market where she buys produce like jicama,persimmons, and watermelon radishes. When I visit she feeds me parsnips.
I am very lucky Judy cooked nutritious home made meals five nights a week. I just didn’t see it that way. While she baked lemon pepper chicken and stir fried Chinese vegetables, simmered Thai coconut bowls, and boiled tortellini, I wanted out.
“F*ck salmon croquettes!” I pouted.
Red meat wasn’t allowed in our house. If I was lucky I could sneak in a Stouffer’s Pepperoni Pizza. I waited for the day when I could feed my insatiable appetite for frozen pepperoni.
At age 16, I spent a summer living with my Aunt Barb and Uncle Larry in San Diego. I found refuge in carne asada, and prime rib. I ate meat with meat with a side of meat. I spent so much time in the men’s room you could’ve easily renamed it “Elliot.”
I became self diagnosed with Irritiable Bowel Syndrome. Every time I ate red meat, especially coupled with cheese, I suffered physical pain. Though I did get my summer reading done rather quickly.
While in the midst of my beef binge, I gave up chicken, my first true love. I don’t like to get into it, but there were a few troublesome experiences that culminated in a nightmare I had during which I awoke to find a flock of chickens pecking at me. I did not eat chicken from August of 2000 through my freshman year of college in 2004.
In college I ate like a monster. My buddies and I nightly trecked up the hill to Crown College at UC Santa Cruz for late night cheeseburgers and Sierra Mist, and ice cream and cookies because we weren’t under the influence of anything.
I even recorded a Youtube video about my love for Gummy Bears: Gummy Bears
Around this time Judy, the foodie, self-published “The I’m Out on My Own for the First Time Cookbook,” to inspire young people to eat healthy by suggesting affordable and nutritious meals. I never opened her cookbook. When I studied abroad in Vancouver all I kept in my house were hot dogs and oatmeal.
Judy, the foodie, warned me. “Watch what you eat.”
As I became further entrenched into the dark underbelly of spicy salamis, my mom’s diet shifted further to the left. She read a book by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who prescribed a clinically proven diet to prevent heart disease: no meat, and no oils. Bill Clinton followed the diet first helping convince my Uncle Larry, Aunt Janice and Uncle Rich. Judy the foodie ate some oils but said goodbye to chicken and fish. Judy, and the rest of my relatives on the diet say they feel their energy has increased and since starting the diet, no one has suffered a heart attack.
Last Sunday I watched Sunya Gupta’s special report on 60 Minutes addressing America’s sugar epidemic placing much of the blame on the ubiquity of high fructose corn syrup Toxicity of Sugar Judy, the foodie, brainwashed CNN’s Sunya Gupta!
Maybe Judy, the foodie, had been right all along. I thought about it. I never got IBS from a parsnip.
It is a process to change your eating habits. It happens gradually. I am now a closeted healthy eater. I’m a 147lb IBS survivor who eats Kashi and brussel sprouts. I no longer live by the promise that a “Jersey Mikes is coming soon.”
I’m also a problem solver. I’ve had trouble sleeping the last few nights. I wake up in the middle of the night, drink pineapple juice and then fall asleep. It’s nice falling asleep with the taste of fresh pineapple to guide me into dreamland.
I still drink and eat chicken wings because I’m a guy, but I try not to buy snacks with high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oils.
I’ve recently discovered turkey pepperoni, a step in the right direction even if the pepperoni is filled with sodium nitrates. I’m trying, but sodium is still my favorite nitrate.