Tuesday, September 7, 2021

SIMANIM

Why do we eat apples and honey? 
It’s an answer you all need to hear. 
Like the honey, the apples are sweet 
 To ensure for us all a sweet year.

But that's not all of the foods
That we eat at the head of the year.
While simanim are ritually eaten,
Their meaning is not always clear.

So, let us start with Rosh Hashanah
If that is what you would wish.
Rosh is the word meaning "head."
That's the reason for the head of a fish.

Symbolically, we often eat dates.
T'marim is the word in Hebrew.
The letters suggest the word "end"
Of bad things that make us feel blue.

Even the challah we eat at our meals
Is round, not oval, for a reason.
It reminds us that a year, like a circle,
Continues from season to season.

Now pomegranates, that is a mouthful.
The rabbis say each of those seeds
Is an opportunity to do mitzvahs –
What we all know as doing good deeds.

in Yiddish the word meren means two things
It means increase, but it also means carrots.
So we eat carrots in the hope that this new year
Will see increase in our worth and our merits.

The last item on the menu is your selection
The pri chadash or "new fruit" you must choose.
That completes the cycle of new foods
That are sampled at new year's by Jews.

©2021 Alan Smason






Saturday, August 1, 2020

Condiments



Condiments

 

I asked the man for mayonnaise

He gave me mustard instead.

I told him I prefer white, not yellow

To sit upon my bread.

 

To see him look at me in disgust

As he handed me that jar

Made me wonder what it was I did;

Had I really gone too far?

 

But, no, I was in my rights to say:

“I do not like that spread.

And as for ketchup, I confess

I just don’t like that red.”

 

“Some would grab a packet or two

Of spicy barbeque;

But brown is ugly and not right.

I see it. Why can’t you?”

 

“Relish on a sandwich with a shade like green

Is not understandable.

And orange is a color I won’t allow

To pass my mandible.”

 

“That Thai satay is much too brown

And srahacha is just too pink

Salsa is crimson; it’s out too.

That’s just the way I think.” 

 

“’You are what you eat,’ as the pundits say,

Which is why I won’t eat black.

 The colors of the rainbow may appeal to you,

But they’re not what I will snack.”

 

“So out with chutney and out with honey

They will never be on my diet.

Just give me my white mayonnaise

Or I will not be quiet.”

 

The man with the mustard heard my thoughts,

But I was shocked by what he said.

“I don’t hate those condiments half as much

As the color of your bread.”

 

©2020 Alan Smason

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Worst of Times

CHARLES DICKENS 
Dickens needs a rewrite. "It was the worst of times. It was the worst of times." I'm sorry, but this pandemic has turned me from the most hopeful of optimists into the most despairing of pessimists. 

What started out as a reasonably expectant period of one, two or three months of sequestration has dragged on now through a fourth with no end in sight. 

What began with just a trickle of cases of coronavirus in February rapidly increased to a scenario where hospitals were bursting at the seams at the end of March and early April. Nursing homes shuttered as the virus began to ravage elderly populations most at risk from the disease. Outside visitors there and access to prisons were denied to all but essential employees. Personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, gowns and gloves were in such high demand that hospital workers and frontline medical staffs were asked to reuse the items against common practice and safe and sage medical advice. 

Spare ventilators became the rarest of medical items and states competed openly on both the worldwide market and within a system for federal allocation of these life-saving devices. Doctors were fearful they would have to decide which of the sick were more deserving than others to receive vital health services. Would a 75-year-old cancer patient be passed over if a 29-year-old athlete were also sick? Epidemiologists predicted overrun ICUs and emergency rooms bursting at the seams. Doctors, nurses and medical administrators worried about which patients they would have to turn away.

It was a national nightmare.

But then, people began to respond. They stayed home. They washed their hands regularly and became mindful of not touching their faces. When they did journey out to a store for food or water, many of them wore masks so they wouldn't spread the virus if they had it. They wiped down their bags and washed off milk cartons. Schools shut down and students came back home. This was a picture of a united America that, like hard-ravaged Italy and Spain, was intent on keeping the future infection rate and deaths down.

A steady decline occurred. At one point, New Orleans held an unenviable position as one of the worst rates of infection in the country. It now boasted a remarkable turnaround. No one ran out of ventilators and a field hospital located in the Ernest Morial Convention Center set up strictly to treat COVID-19 patients, was shut down. Clearly, several markers showed remarkable progress being made in the city and throughout the state. Still, the death toll was huge.

Louisiana prepared to enter Phase I of a return to pre-pandemic normalcy. The numbers of available testing kits went up and more and more people were testing to see if they were infected. The crisis seemed to have abated, even though the death toll continued to rise.

But then, around the time of Independence Day, Louisiana began to take its eye off the ball. Residents outside of New Orleans began to let down their guard. They gathered without masks and celebrated the nation's birthday with abandon. Large numbers of residents openly questioned the wisdom of wearing masks, relegating it not to a health matter, but to an exercise of political freedom.

The infection rate began to climb again and with it more deaths. 

Recent news reports suggest the state's previous reports in April may have been underreported by a much as 16 times the actual incidence of infection. Another recent day showed more than 3,000 cases of COVID-19 as having been recorded, a record that stretched all the way back to the end of May.

We are making progress, but it is in the opposite of our desired direction. Instead of being squarely into Phase III, we are still in Phase II throughout Louisiana and the City of New Orleans has pushed back on an easing of regulations for bars and gyms so that they are either closed or are only operating at the 25% capacity allowed under Phase I. 

Many businesses are on life support and many others, like world famous K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, have announced plans to shut down entirely. Federal subsidies to keep employees hired and unemployment benefits for millions of Americans are all running out within days.

On top of all of this we have an ongoing  national discussion on Black Lives Matter, how to reshape policies that unfairly profile segments of our society and how to stop systemic racism. Mobs tearing down Confederate statues are understandable, but those that select targets like the Lincoln Monument need to check their motives.

Then there's a presidential election going on too. In a normal election year, tensions would be heightened and rhetoric would be sharply up. This year is no different and, indeed, medical life-saving measures such as wearing a mask have become highly politicized. As we move toward November, this national discussion will become more contentious. 

If there is one department, where hope remains high it is in the spirit of Americans to rise above the derision and to connect through social media and apps like Zoom. If we are ever to come out of this fray with our heads held high, it will be because of our listening to one another and becoming part of the solution, not continuing the problem.

So, Dickens was wrong. It is the worst of times and the worst of times. How we deal with it may help shape what America looks like on the other side of our recovery. And when we do look back on this, may we recall that it is a far, far better thing that we do than we have ever done before.



Thursday, March 19, 2020

Cabin fever coronavirus style

Seen under an electronic microscope, the virus that causes COVID-19.

You can't see it. You can't smell it. You can't taste it or hear it approaching. And if you should touch it, you won't even know that you did until two weeks later. That's a pretty accurate assessment for what we are all fighting with the threat of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

For good or bad, we have taken collective action in what may prove to be a judicious application of resources available to us now or, conversely,  might later be viewed as a set of grossly overprotective and unnecessary medical measures. In any case, I would rather err on the side of overkill rather than be caught unprepared and unable to respond to this very real threat.

The danger to me personally is minimal. I am at the age where authorities say I should be concerned, but I am in very good health and have a better than average immune system. The threat is not only to me; it's to my elderly loved ones and friends, most especially my 88-year-old mother, who is now in frail health.

I would not want to put her at risk due to my careless and unthinking actions. Also, who knows? Statistically, most victims have been elderly patients. Yet, the first two people who have died in New Orleans since the outbreak of COVID-19  were both in their 50s, one 58 and the other 53 years old. While they did each have underlying medical problems, the threat to middle-aged adults is very real. One of the more recent victims – a member of my own religious community – was 84. Others were octogenarians and nonagenarians. That does not give me a reason to be consoled in any way.

The problem for me is that I am by nature a very gregarious creature. I enjoy meeting people and talking, walking and greeting them. I find nothing more frustrating than to keep myself entertained and in a virtual bubble.

But this is the new normal and I am going to have to make the necessary adjustments to accept this as both necessary and in the best interests of all concerned.

Except for take out, there's no restaurants. No bars. No parades. And, for me, the worst reality check, no theatre. For a theatre critic, the thought of how to cope is almost surreal. Given the lack of open theaters, it is understandable that the public would be less focused on the plight of the actors, producers, technical and administrative staffs who collectively are the grease behind the monolith of local theatre.

But theatre is the salve that calms society in hard times and we need it during this crisis more than ever. The sooner theatre is restored to our city, the sooner we will know we have weathered this storm and moved past it.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

For Leigh


You were just a kid when we met
I wore my hair high and wide.
And you were still a blonde –
And not yet a bride.

Our love of music sealed the deal
You just had to sing out loud.
I knew what I liked to play
And you made me proud.

The blues you found in your soul
Would flow out from your heart
And mine would quicken its pace
Whenever you would start.

You sang on table tops
You sang on a makeshift stage
The crowds would gather for you
Your name became the rage.

Through the times we lived,
We suffered great loss.
You through division
And mine with a cross.

But the progeny you had
Meant love would survive
The red-headed mama
In her joy was alive.

You practiced your art
And drew crowds late at night
You slept through the day
Dosed, dazed – a sight.

But there was glassy truth
In your voice of purple hue
You reigned o'er the land
And then they crowned you.

When the waters rose high
You were chased far away
Another blue called out
And there you would stay.

So the Queen was in exile
And her sullen people mad
The times were brown, dead
Interminably sad.

When the dipsy pain raged on
You fought it with pride
You gave us the truth
You never had lied.

When out in the hemlock
You floated into mist
Into the aether of the heavens
With love you were kissed.

I miss you, my darling
Your haughty hands, your smile.
We are destined to reunite.
Just wait. Wait a while.

©2019 Alan Smason

(Photo ©2018 Winston-Salem Journal)












Wednesday, September 4, 2019

To blog or not to blog?


It's been more than a year since I posted to this blog.  For a very long time this was my sole outlet for writing my most personal of musings and insights. It was where I felt there were no barriers for me to make comments, lash out or to release in cathartic fashion whatever it was that was foremost on my mind.

The fact is I have many more outlets to write these days and the time to delve into my inner psyche has become limited in more ways than I can readily admit. My writing has brought me awards in journalism I could never have envisioned three years ago. I have seen my stock rise high despite the fact that my value as a writer is still under appreciated and barely compensated.

Of course, writing a blog rarely leads to untold wealth or riches. What has been essential in these postings is that I write the truth as I see it, unfiltered or unaffected by the opinions of others.

In these days of highly charged politics and ultra sensitive social media trolls, it has become increasingly difficult to feel comfortable to speak my own mind.

And yet, I must.

If there ever was a time when I should be speaking out about the climate under which America lives these days, it is now.

We have become so intolerant of each other that an errant phrase on social media can bring about immediate doom to celebrities and politicians alike. Of course, there are some politicians who are Teflon-coated, who it seems escape scrutiny and condemnation despite egregious rantings. Again, these are the times under which we live.

But Tweets and viral posts notwithstanding, I am finding myself discomfited in the lack of a sense of humor in America today. I am afraid that few can recall Will Rogers and his simple take on what made our country and our people great. Even the affable and kindly Fred Rogers would take exception as to how hardened our nation has become and how we have passed the innocence of our most precious resource – our children – into the flames of fear and mistrust and tempered them with credos of greed and self-absorption.

Perhaps it is the knowledge that our government has separated innocent children from their parents and imprisoned them without the benefit of trial and a sense of fair play. Maybe it is the senseless loss of life at places like night clubs, supermarkets, movie theaters, outdoor concerts, shopping malls, workplaces or any place where gatherings of people enjoying life or going about their business become soft targets and part of an ever spiraling list of mass shootings by assault rifles.

The rise of organized hate by small-minded men and women who blame the ills of the world on religions or people whose skins are a different hue is something I could never have fathomed as a child. We had fought two world wars stamping out the designs and encroachment of foreign powers on faraway shores in the first and halting the spread of governments that fostered genocide and glorified killing in direct conflict with our ideals of freedom and liberty in the second.

During the Cold War, I believed that the good of humanity promoted within a system of capitalism where individuals could better themselves would eventually defeat the premise of Communism that  men had to share what they earned or wait for the government to parcel it out. That belief turned into reality in the 1990s and America seemed to be a beacon for the world again.

I would never have considered that the America of my youth could fall from its pedestal of being the leader of the Free World and a moral nation that others would want to emulate and morph into a nation led by the super rich and super greedy with corruption and amorality as its most prominent features.

We have become a litigious society where juries are awarding incredible sums of money to victims of corporate greed which have addicted thousands in order to fatten their wallets or who have looked the other way when putting products on the market. There is little chance that tort reform will reign in the rampant filings by hungry attorneys hoping to find their pot of gold at the end of the judicial rainbow.

Doctors are also under siege by self-appointed financial wizards who have managed to administer health organizations on their behalf and perpetuated a system wherein they realize greater profit by denying benefits to those in dire need. Medical malpractice costs have forced many physicians who might have established solo practices in the past into forming corporate partnerships as a measure of self-preservation and protection. The days of a kindly Marcus Welby, M.D., who makes house calls is sadly over. Instead, new concepts like urgent care centers have sprung up and patients are paying visits to emergency rooms in droves due to the demands of insurance policies.

Health care has become a major determinant in keeping a job or seeking employment elsewhere and programs like Medicare are having to raise the age levels of those seeking benefits. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that my child will have to wait until 70 years of age or higher to qualify for Medicare.

As a boy, I was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout. Even the simple nature of Scouting for boys and girls has become shrouded in controversy. For decades, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was vilified for its standards for adult leaders and youth which prevented gays from entry into its membership. After protracted legal challenges and a historic plebiscite by its members, those policies were eliminated and membership extended to those who had formerly been shunned.

Today, the BSA and the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. (GSUSA) are embroiled in a new legal battle over which gender belongs with what organization. Facing historic lows in membership, the BSA announced plans two years ago to open its entire ranks to girls, notably in the Cub Scouts and the newly-renamed Scouts BSA (formerly the Boy Scouts). Even though co-ed units are the standard around the world, including in England, where Scouting was founded, the GSUSA has challenged the BSA in court.

Due to that battle and the inordinately burdensome task of paying out millions to victims of alleged child abuse, the BSA has already announced its own plans to declare bankruptcy should they need to protect their assets. Many alleged victims of abuse have recently been given a second chance to charge individuals and organizations by legislation passed on a state level such as in California, New York and New Jersey. Victims need to be compensated, of course, but in many cases the problems arose within religious organizations who partnered with the BSA and the alleged incidents occurred as far back as four decades ago. Sadly, many of the offending adults were often sheltered by those who wished to not visit scandal or shame upon their religion and the BSA was never informed of these crimes at the time they occurred.

Throughout the course of writing these words, I feel the same outrage as when our nation was shaken to its core through assassinations and divided by waging a war on many fronts in Southeast Asia and against each other at home.   

Those were certainly not the good old days, but even then I knew we would get better as a nation and move past the division and derision. These days I am not so sure.

We have never become more connected through devices and the media that update us as to our world in ways we could only have imagined two decades ago. Yet, despite this connectivity, we are a nation of lonely people, seeking to live out life vicariously through these devices while hardly lifting up our heads to acknowledge one another at the dinner table.

Thus I find myself sitting at a computer adding more words to the blogosphere while mulling all of this over.

Am I being authentic and genuine? Yes.

Will these musings convey my angst and disdain for where we are as a nation? Probably.

Do I feel better? Maybe.

Does any of this make sense? Doubtful.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Among the hills, amidst the critics

When summer meets the rolling, unglaciated hills of Wisconsin, the heat and humidity inextricably rise in the land Frank Lloyd Wright called home. The songbirds sing out and the mosquitoes buzz in their mad bloodthirsty dash at twilight and dawn in Spring Green for as certain as the season is the promise of hundreds of anxious patrons looking forward to the outdoor spectacle of theatre at American Players Theatre (APT).

With such an appropriate acronym, APT continues to mount stellar productions in two theaters - one, a 1,089-seat outdoor amphitheater and the other, an intimate indoor arena of more than 200 seats. With an annual budget of more than $6 million and a dedicated core staff, the company's repertory of as many as nine plays attracts more than 100,000 people to this quaint and sleepy town from June through November.



In recent years, the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the professional organization of theatre reviewers, writers and journalists, has held its annual conference in cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia and New Orleans. This summer, however, they have taken to the Wisconsin woods to partner with APT so that its membership could take advantage of five of its offerings: Shakespeare's As You Like It, Eugene Ionesco's Exit the King, Athol Fugard's Blood Knot, George Fuquhar's The Recruiting Officer and Garson Kanin's Born Yesterday.

In addition to the lifeblood of theatre offerings, APT has brought dozens of its own staff and nearby theatre critics, artistic directors, theatre podcasters and designers to inform and inspire ATCA attendees. Among the topics covered were sessions on copyright law, racial equity, period comedy productions and what is happening in the heartland of theatre in America's dairyland.

The beautiful setting of The House on the Rock Resort replete with a Bobby Jones-designed golf course has served as the nexus for ATCA's members to engage in heated debates about the future of the organization and its direction. Members are passionate about the organization, but in these perilous times when traditional journalism has given way to modern means of expression on the Internet and through social media, there are questions that must be posed and the very nature of theatre criticism examined.