Saturday, November 26, 2005

Jdate redux

I’ve recently reactivated my Jdate profile. Why not? There are slim pickings for Jew-girls in Milwaukee, but if I extend my search to include Chicago, maybe I’ll have better luck? The truth is, I’ve never had much luck on Jdate. Okay, I did manage to convince one cute single mom to have a discreet and mutually beneficial adult relationship with me, but she’s from the ‘burbs of northern Chicago and I’m usually too lazy to make the long drive just for a little afternoon delight.

The silver-lining about my bad luck on Jdate, however, is that I developed some pretty good stand-up material about it. In fact, I used some Jdate/internet dating material during my first show and it got a lot of laughs.

But I don’t expect to have much luck on Jdate this time around. Let’s be brutally honest here: Although there are exceptions, the truth is that a 32 year old man—one who is back in school, doesn’t have a lot of money and is still trying to establish a career—is pretty much a loser in the eyes of most young and hyper-driven-to-success Jewish women. It doesn’t help that I’m short, either.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Sadness Vs. Depression

On Wednesday evening I was hit with news that was extremely shocking. It was in regards to somebody whom had meant a lot to me (although I’ve never been able to figure out what I meant to her—if anything—which is one reason why I hurt). I’m still trying to digest the news. Every time I think about it I feel an incredible sadness wash over me. I almost feel like crying. I feel like crying for myself over my broken heart—and on Wednesday my damaged heart was given its final death blow—but I also feel like crying for her, because I loved her and I still can’t help but to care.

But despite this sadness, I am not depressed. I am just as excited about all of the recent things I’ve been blogging about as I was before I heard the news. In fact, I’m actually quite happy except for the moments when I think about her and it.

I wonder how I would have dealt with this news had I been in my previous dysthymic mood?

I am saddened by this news, terribly saddened. But it’s okay to be sad when something objectively sad happens in one’s life. I’m glad that I have the strength to deal with the trials and tribulations that we encounter in life.

Yes, something happened in my life that made me sad, and makes me sad when I think about it. But I am not depressed. I am far from depressed. I suppose this is sort of how the lexapro works.

A great Thanksgiving

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving. The food was excellent and everybody had such a great time. Like most years I ate until stuffed, then fell asleep on a big puffy chair. Eventually all of the yelling and screaming (we can be a very loud family) woke me from my nap, but I felt refreshed. I would give anything for some more mashed potatoes with gravy and stuffing—and some grilled turkey. Why didn’t I ask for leftovers?

I was going to go out later that night and meet a friend, but then I called him and suggested we just chill at my place. I knew last night that I would be going out tonight anyway, so staying in seemed like a cheaper way to have a good time. My buddy, brother and myself drank beers and channel surfed, cracking each other up by basically ranking on crap we’d see on TV. Sometimes watching bad TV on purpose can be entertaining if you make fun of it.

Anyway, me wants to get a workout in before going to work, so me’s gots to go—bo!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The First Step to Britishness Is Your Poppy

I am posting the following article by Carol Gould in its entirety because the writer raises some excellent points:

Writing this week in London’s Guardian, columnist Madeleine Bunting made an important observation in the context of her evaluation of television and radio programs that encourage “multicultural understanding.” She commented that one of the biggest barriers to bridging the cultural gap between non-Muslim and Muslims in Britain is alcohol.

Drinking is indeed a mainstay of British life. The pub, or “local,” has been a meeting place for generations of village and city dwellers throughout the seasons. Alcohol is the centerpiece of social life across all classes. Cocktails and wine with dinner followed by cognac are an integral part of the European dinner circuit. What Italian can live without Chianti? What Frenchman can live without wine? Germans have their beer, Russians their schnapps, and so forth. In other words, if Britain’s leaders are anxious to see young Muslims hanging out with young “typical Englishmen” their teetotaling presents a problem.

However, I would like to turn to an issue that exercises me a lot more than the prospect of eternal separation of Muslim and non-Muslim over the matter of a pint of beer.

Last week was the culmination of that poignant fortnight in which people all over the world wear a poppy in the lead-up to Remembrance Day. Nothing is more dramatic than seeing the sea of red flowers in the lapels of British men and women as they make their way to the office in the early-morning rush hour. All across the British Isles men and women of all ages wear a poppy. When I arrived in the United Kingdom thirty years ago from the United States I was so touched by this tradition that I made sure to buy one from a British Legion volunteer as soon as November rolled around.

The poppy is a symbol of the terrible loss of life in World War I in the fields of Flanders, where these blood-red flowers sprouted above the acres of corpses of fallen soldiers. As the decades have passed, the poppy has been worn to show one’s respect for the millions who have died in successive conflicts as recent as Iraq and Afghanistan. On British television, every presenter and anchor wears a poppy. In keeping with the motto of the British Legion—“Wear your poppy with pride”—every shopkeeper, publican, hotel manager and cabbie wears a poppy. This year I proudly bought mine at my local doctor’s office.

It was therefore all the more astonishing last week when I took a long walk along Edgware Road, the most densely Muslim section of London, and discovered that not one person was wearing a poppy. This all started because I was accosted on my corner, a few yards form where I have lived for twenty-eight years, by a young Arab man who began to get very aggressive with me. Was I, he demanded to know, “from the Jewish”?

He also wanted to know why I was wearing a poppy. I tried to explain the concept of the Cenotaph and Armistice Day. But he seemed determined to establish that I was a Jewess above all else. No matter how hard I tried, I could not shake him off. I began to get very alarmed. I hailed a taxi and, thankfully, my pursuer, who was by this time shouting, did not get into the taxi. The driver was enormously sympathetic but told me that I had been “asking for it” by walking in what he called “Little Beirut.” He then told me that we were in World War III. His white, working class anger at what he perceived as “the Islamic takeover” of Britain was palpable. He was not the first London cabbie who has told me he would gladly join the far-right British National Party if pushed.

(It is worth noting in this context that London Mayor Ken Livingstone is trying to institute an initiative to bring ethnic minorities into the taxi fleet, to tackle its almost exclusively white domain. Keeping in mind that Washington D.C. has one of the worst taxi systems in the world, in part because most drivers can barely speak English and do not know the meaning of the words “cordial” or “polite”, especially where female passengers are concerned, one prays the Livingstone initiative will be approached with caution.)

The driver dropped me at Marble Arch. I decided to walk back slowly should my scary have made his way in my direction. As I walked, I realized that not one of the hundreds of Middle Eastern and British-born Muslims who run all of the establishments along Edgware Road was wearing a poppy. Before shouting “Racist!” the reader must understand the nationwide atmosphere of devotion every November to the memory of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who died—often agonizing circumstances and with some in their teens—so that we might live out our lives in splendor. The fact is that most everyone wears a poppy across a grateful nation.

As I walked along Edgware Road, crossing over from side to side of the long thoroughfare I began to get angry. If one lived in Damascus and there was an annual tradition of some sort similar to Poppy Day, one would show respect for the day and join in.

I went in to a greengrocer and asked the young man at the cash register why he was not wearing a poppy. His accent indicated he was English-born. He said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” He turned to an older man sitting with him -- perhaps his father -- and asked him my question in Urdu. The man looked cross and I repeated, “Why do you British Asians (those from Pakistan) not wear a poppy?” he shrugged. “Are you not taught about the World Wars?” I asked.

I walked and walked that evening, stopping in to every hookah café, every electrical shop and every hijab boutique. Not one person was wearing a poppy.

The British government has brought in a new questionnaire for new citizens. It is full of obscure and at times outlandish questions about British culture. Frankly, I would fail on most of them. What immigrants and their kin need to be taught is that basic pride in being British with which immigrants to the United States glow with such radiance. If a whole portion of the British population does not care a toss about participating in one of the nation’s most sacred traditions, how can we ever “integrate”?

Yes, I am angry and offended that along the miles of pavement I trawled I saw not one poppy on the apparel of any Middle Eastern resident and merchant of Edgware Road.

That evening I did what millions of rapt Britons do every year: I watched the magnificent Remembrance Day concert from the Royal Albert Hall on the BBC in primetime. The Queen looked unusually tense and somber. Shortly after the event we learned that Abu Musab al Zarqawi had issued a warning that Her Majesty, leader of the Crusaders, would be the next target of al Qaeda. There she stood, amid the shower of poppies that rained down on the packed hall, looking down on the thousands of brave service people, and she seemed desolate. The sum total the Muslim world could contribute to the commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II was this ugly threat from a man whose only occupation is spreading misery in his wake, be it a wedding in Jordan or a funeral in Iraq.

When I attended the mobbed Cenotaph ceremony the next day I did not see one Middle Eastern person in the throng.

When I told my local grocer, a Muslim born in the UK, where I had been that day, he looked at me with a blank stare. I said “Cenotaph” and he changed the subject.

Why is wearing a poppy such a big deal to me? It is a tradition started in Canada and the United States that spread to Britain and to the Commonwealth nations, who had also suffered great losses in the Wars. As a Briton born in the USA I feel honored to be a citizen of two great democracies. Another point Madeleine Bunting made in her article was that the young Muslims in a studio audience had endless complaints about life in Britain. They want to change foreign policy. Perhaps learning about how we got here, with our concert halls and opera houses and theatre and art galleries -- not to mention war memorials -- might be a start.

Now think of this: I am mortally afraid to wear my American flag pin in London. What does this say about the direction Europe is going? Bat Ye’or’s “Eurabia” is already erupting in France. Politically correct Britons scream at me if I defend the right of a cabbie to have the Union Jack on his London taxi. Others lament the “appalling custom” of Americans hanging flags outside their houses.

But all I want right now is to see British Muslims wearing their poppy with pride.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Hugo Chave's Oil Gift To America's Poor

Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, is offering free heating oil to the United States—but not for altruistic reasons.

Chavez claims he is only helping America’s poor to heat their homes this winter. Certainly many of us could use a little relief with our rising heating bills, but it’s not as if anybody is going to freeze this winter because they can’t afford to heat their homes. Here in Milwaukee the local power company—WE energies—is prevented by law to cut off heat or electricity during the cold months. Yes, too many Milwaukeeans are going to have big heating bills to pay next spring, but nobody will freeze this winter.

But Chavez is a leftist and a populist. His support and popularity reside in his image as an advocate for Venezuela’s poor. As a quasi-dictatorial leader leftist, Chavez naturally stands in strong opposition to the capitalist Yankees. Indeed, soon after being elected Chavez went out of his way to stick his finger in America’s eye, meeting with Saddam Hussein and hob-knobbing with other anti-American dictators and regimes. Recently at the Summit of Americas in Argentina Chavez made one of his typical vitrolic speeches against America:

Chavez, who U.S. leaders have said is a source of instability in the hemisphere, condemned what he called U.S. imperialism while demonstrators opposed to the Iraq war and U.S.-led trade policies called Bush a "fascist" and a "terrorist."

Not surprsingly violent riots follwed Chavez’s venomous remarks. Clearly the man is no friend of America.

So why the humanitarian gesture of good will? Because Chavez hopes to embarrass America and president George Bush by cynically aiming a spotlight on our dirty laundry—on the fact that there are poor people in America.

Yes, unfortunately there are poor people in America. Most countries have their share of poor citizens. In fact, Venezuela has poor people—a lot of them. Proportionally, there are far more poor people in Venezuela than in the United States. And the poor in Venezuela live in grinding poverty. To be poor in Venezuela is a totally different ballgame than being poor in the United States.

And so it curious that Chavez, leader of a Third World country, is so happy to spend millions of dollars to aid the wealthiest country on earth. I wonder if the poor people of Venezuela are just as altruistic as their president? I wonder how they feel about tens of milions of their oil revenues being diverted to help Americans?

Viva la Revolucion!

Honest Reporting

As usual, the international media--specifically the Israel-hating bastards at the BBC--are mis-reporting what's been happening between Israel and Hezbullah. As an aside, the NYT's didn't mention ANYTHING about the recent hostilities, although they had a bunch of stories about violence in Iraq.

Toot my own horn

I just received this encouraging email from a guy who did the comedy college with me:

"Hey Zach, I had a couple of friends in the crowd on Monday night and they thought you did the best job out of everyone and so do I. I hope you have plans to do more of this. Not many people put a lot of thought into what they were doing on stage, but you did and not only that but you had to go first. Have a good Thanksgiving."

The author of this email put me in touch with a working-comic out of Madison, WI who MC's at the State Street Comedy place. I emailed the club to request a space for their Thursday open-mic nights. I'm dying to get back out on stage again.

I'm a little worried because I'm having trouble concentrating on my studies right now. It's going to take a surpreme effort of self-discipline to sit down and start researching and writing my term paper. But I have to do it.

I also want to write about what bastards Hezbullah are, but I'm not in the mood to rant about the Middle East. Maybe later.

All readers: Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Peaceful violent people

Here's an excellent quote from today's NYT's from an article entitled "Growth of Islam in Russia Brings Soviet Response."

"Mr. Golayev, 36 said the Islam he observes is opposed to violence, but he warned that the mistreatment of believers was driving men like him to desperation.

'They will pressure me enough,' he said, 'and then I will blow somebody's head off.'"

Hmm, so much for opposing violence.

The first day of the rest of my life

As you might be able to tell, I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself to do well at my first stand-up gig. To recap: I’ve been writing down comedy ideas for years. I’ve been thinking about doing this for years, but never really pushed myself to move from the realm of dreams to the realm of reality. I think it was due to fear over failure.

Thus, last night was an important litmus test. Even though I told myself that if I didn’t do well I’d keep working at it, the truth is a poor performance or bad audience reception would have really been a blow to my confidence.

I can’t deny that I’ve been comparing myself to the other guys in the class since day one, trying to figure out where I stood, who had the best material. I think most of us have been doing that. Thus, I instinctively understood that the lineup would say something about who the teacher thought had the best stuff. But was first or last the best? Don’t they save the best for last? What if I am in the middle? What does that mean? I told myself that the lineup didn’t matter, that I’d go out and do my best no matter what. But again, the truth was lineup was important to me, it would raise or lessen my confidence.

When I arrived at the theatre one of the guys said to me, “Hey, here’s Zak. You know, Jim put you down first. You’re starting out the show. How do you feel about that?” I felt okay. I just didn’t know what the bigger honor was, first or last. I soon bumped into Jim. “You’re on first Zak!” I asked, “Is that good? What does that mean?” He said, “Yeah, it’s real good. It means you have strong material and you’ll get the crowd hot and start the show off well.”

Once it sunk in a lot of my nervousness disappeared, replaced by confidence. I think I started walking with my head held a little higher. I noticed a subtle shift in the way some of the other guys in the class reacted towards me, an ever so slight deference that didn’t exist before.

I milled about chit-chatting and waiting for my family and a few friends to arrive. I was a bit jumpy, but not too nervous. I found myself eager for the show to start; not so much to go and get it over with, but actually to experience being up on stage and being a comedian for the first time (For the record: I by no means consider myself a comedian—yet. Once I start making money—any money—doing comedy, then I’ll say “I’m a comedian.” Or at least an amateur. In the meantime, for those few minutes that I’m actually up on a stage doing comedy, I’ll consider myself a comedian, if ever so fleetingly. Thus, last night for 6 minutes I was a comedian.).

The show started out with the MC, a former student from two years prior. Then Jim did a little material. Jim had asked me to operate the sound board for the MC and himself and showed me how to do it. I didn’t have much time to think about going up because I was concentrating on doing the sound. Next thing I knew, I was on deck. I took a few deep breaths to relax myself and then paused just to appreciate the moment in time. Next thing I knew, the MC called out my name and it was show time.

The routine went smoothly. I found it easier to do my routine in front of a crowd then at home. I think I had more energy. What’s also nice is the applause and laughter following a joke. Not only does it egg you on, it gives you a moment to collect your thoughts. I got the laughs I aimed for following my jokes, as well a few things I didn’t consider jokes. After one impression I really cracked the crowd up and it actually seemed to take a really long time before the laughter died down. I was almost annoyed because I wanted to keep going. But I was also happy as hell. I enjoyed being up there. I wanted to keep going, but I stuck to the 5 minute mark, like I was asked to do.

Then it was over. All of the worry, pressure, battles with self-doubt—everything I had been feeling ever since starting this course was gone, gone, gone. I felt a warm glow inside. I felt as a snug as a clam in a rug, as happy as a bug. Nah, I think I felt happy as a clam and as snug as a bug in a rug... I just felt really good!

The show seemed to really drag. A lot of the guys went well beyond their allotted time, and having heard a lot of their stuff previously, I found myself sneaking out of the room and chatting with my little sister who was actually being funnier than a lot of the guys up on stage.

By the time the last guy went up, over half of the crowd had already left. Jim, who has put together many comedy shows, must have known that after nearly two hours of acts a lot of people would leave. It was then that it sunk in what an honor it was to go first—I was ensured the biggest crowd.

Zak being Zak, I was prepared for the perfunctory accolades that I expected to receive; I had given them to the other guys that had gone up, and in some cases I was just being polite. But to be honest with myself, the feedback I received seemed heartfelt. My relatives told me I was the funniest, but then again, they’re my relatives. Then again, Jim did put me first…

Right after I had finished I was also approached by a black comic who has worked some good venues here in Milwaukee and who was slated to close the show. At the time I didn’t know he was a comic. He had come up to me and extended his hand and said, “Good job funny man. You’re a funny guy.” I thanked him and asked his name and he introduced himself and mentioned that he was a comedian. I felt honored. After the show I got his contact information. Gotta network. He said he’d tell me about open-mics around town. Pretty nice guy—and funny, even though he knew the crowd was tired and thinning out and so truncated his routine.

I was going to write, “All’s well that end’s well.” But nothing is ending. This is only a beginning. There will be setbacks. Every comic has them, and you can’t make it unless you are ready to work hard and persevere. I’m ready to do that. I realize the crowd consisted of friends and family, but I'm confident I'll win-over most crowds (although not all. I'm told that every comic has to bomb, or encounter a stupid audience at some point(s) in their career).

Look out world, here I come!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Big Day

Well, today is the big day. I feel energetic—I’m also drinking coffee—but at ease, almost serene. At about 3:30am I woke up and was thinking about some bits in my routine. All of a sudden some additional ideas came to me, and so I stumbled into the dinning room and groped for a pen and paper. This is the second time this has happened in the last few nights. I think I’m going to have to leave a pen and paper next to my cum sock (just kidding. I don’t have a cum sock… I use kleenex to clean up). Seriously, I’m sick of getting out of bed in the middle of the night, so a pen and paper next to the bed should suffice.

After this I’m going to finish putting up plastic on the windows, interspersed with rehearsing my routine. Rehearsing in front of the mirror is helpful, but so unlike the actual thing. Well, I haven’t performed in front of a crowd yet, but I have performed in front of the class, and there is a different dynamic when people actually laugh at your jokes. Obviously nobody laughs when you are alone in your room holding a lint-roller like it’s a microphone and talking to yourself in the mirror like a crazy person. Then again, rehearsing in front of the mirror looks so pathetic it might be considered funny. But whatever—it’s good practice.

So, with that said, I’m going to get to work.


Thoughts on Sharon's surprise political move

At first I was shocked to learn that Ariel Sharon was leaving the Likud to create a centrist party. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense and seems less surprising.

Sharon is a pragmatist. The Likud, or at least significant parts of it, are extremely ideological. Every time Sharon tried to make what he believed were pragmatic—perhaps tactical—political moves vis-à-vis the Palestinians, he ran into objections from his own party. He was somewhat constrained.

I think Sharon is also gambling on the middle Israel dream of finally creating a powerful centrist block or political party that will not be beholden to special interests from the right or left. Most Israelis are generally in the middle, but for numerous reasons the typical centrist Israeli voter has had to choose between Labor (center-left) or Likud (center-right), the two largest and most influential parties. Whether Likud or Labor was dominant in the Knesset, both had to often rely on smaller ideological parties in order to maintain a Knesset majority. The result was that the smaller parties were able to exert far too much influence, because they could always threaten to pullout of the government and screw everything up if their demands were not met.

I’m hoping that Sharon’s gamble will work. I have been wishing for years for a pragmatic centrist Israeli government that could act freely with very little constraints from radical fringe parties or the ultra-orthodox. Small parties that represent the interests of the settlers should not be able to determine final status negotiations or tactics regarding the Palestinians, especially because they represent a small segment of the Israeli population. Likewise, starry-eyed leftist parties shouldn’t be able drag Israel headlong into ill-thought out peace agreements.

Let pragmatic middle Israel—the majority of the population by far—enjoy the political influence they deserve. Mazal tov, Sharon!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Big Day Tomorrow

My Comedy College graduation "ceremony" is slated for tomorrow night. That means fives minutes up of stand-up in front of a big crowd. As of this writing I'm feeling very excited. I'm sure tomorrow I'll feel nervous, but for now the thought of going up there and (hopefully) getting some good laughs thrills me.

This morning I woke up early and some ideas came to me, so I had to write them down lest I would forget later today. Then I fell back to sleep and slept in. Mmmm ... :) The extra material might push my routine to be 6 minutes instead of 5, but I think it will enrich a couple of bits in the routine. What's a few seconds?

So, I'm going to take a shower and try to get the phrasing down in my head. For some reason thoughts come to me best in the shower. Tomorrow I'll rehearse.


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