Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Humor Me

Pesach passed in a blur. It came and went in a dizzying cycle of changing from white to floral to white to floral tichel, or in clockspeak, from night to day to night to day. Our yom tov was a lot of the ordinary extraordinary. The weather didn’t catch the drift from the fires we stoked before Pesach began, and it remained cold on most days. The seddar was uneventful; there were the loud yawns from the ladies, the red-eyed coughing fits from the men who overdosed on handfuls of bitter murrar, or the little ‘thieves’ under the table heisting the afikomen. Eliyahu the Prophet – drunk as ever - winked at me upon shuffling in at his turn in the haggada, patted his belly to indicate he’s filled it steadily, and then downed his designated extra large cup. Nothing special you see, just your typical yom tov.

On the eighth day of Pesach, when we expand our food choices to mixing matzah with liquid, we were beating up eggs and matzah crumbs in a matzah-ball kneidle mixture, when my sister mentioned a letter in the newspaper Der Blatt decrying the age-old kneidlemaker joke. For those unfamiliar with it, the tradition is to send a child up and down to the neighbors to borrow a kneidlemaker. It's a gesture that we're finally sharing food and utensils with other families, unlike the previous days of Passover. Some neighbors would remember the prank from the previous year and laugh at the innocent child in the doorway. Others would go searching their cabinets thoroughly, making a mental note to get that kneidlemaker immediately after the holiday.

Ha, ha, ha. The kneidlemaker, really, for you out there that are now digging through your shelves, is one’s hands moving in circular motion to form the ball. Ah-hahaha! Not so funny, but a good effort to coax a laugh.

My father usually entertained us during that Passover meal of hot chicken soup and freely floating grayish kneidl, by telling tales of his own kneidlmaker stories. We'd be guffawing at those mean-spirited adults. It was a legend, an old legend, from Europe even, the kneidlmaker.

In the letter to the yiddish newspaper the author calls to stop the humiliation and child insensitivity of the old kneidlemaker joke. My family discussed the argument that was raised, acknowledged the cruelty involved in it all, and then, without much opposition, murdered the tradition.

I stood by, in this egg-shell of a world, without saying anything. There isn’t much to advocate in a joke on kids, but it’s just another example of a society that lacks a good measure of humor.

Reminds me of a world I grew up in. My family is not the one to huddle around tables at family gatherings and have loud animated conversation. We don’t dance at weddings with wild steps, or make fun of ourselves. Humor, especially the effort to produce it, has been renamed ‘corny’ and partnered with a swift move of the entire mouth to one side. Exaggerations and lies have become synonyms. Making fun of yourself in Yiddish is “machsteech tsi-nar”, you're being a fool. And what’s left, ego intact, is making fun of others behind their backs.

Needless to say, I too, at the ripe old age of eleven learned to hang one leg over the other and be ‘mature’. Forget funny, big, witty, real or light. “Oy, whew.” [pull down the blouse, pat hair] “So, vooz titsech epes?” [Cock the head.]

My first movie really reminds me of how seriously we take ourselves. Ahh, who could forget their first movie, hu? I was about 16, maybe 17, and I didn’t see another show before months, maybe years, later. But that was one movie I wound up watching after a supposed shopping day with a supposed chaperon supposedly with different friends. I pounced at the opportunity.

We sat at the edge of our seats, our rears mostly in the air, eying the audience for school spies. We were ready for more action from the back door than from the screen itself. There was something uncannily similar between one lady holding hands with a bald guy in the front seats and our school principle. To this day I could swear it was her in disguise.

The film began with a wife losing all her assets to a cheating husband in a bitter divorce. I can remember every detail like today. “Shoin, at least she didn’t have children” my friend whispered to us. At least she didn’t have children, that woman Chrissie or something. 35 and divorced! How’s she ever gonna get married again? Probably gonna get a gurish. We were concerned.

In a spontaneous move to improve her life, the protagonist moved to the nowhere, doomed by a place full of bad omen. When she entered her creaky little house we were shocked to look into the screen, as a wild bird flew clear over Chrissie's head. Wide eyed and appaled, we watched. The audience chuckled.

As she trotted up for her second story, all the stairs came crumbling under her weight and she landed with a jolt. We gasped. The audience laughed.

She got her tub running for a nice warm bath, and out came blasting in every direction, gooey brown water. The faucet itself flew off straight across the room. We looked on horrified. The poor woman. Divorced and now this?

Later, her window broke in a cold and harsh blizzard. Alone, in that old house. She huddled at the radiator for a bit of warmth when her electricity went baboom, sparkle – and gone. Darkness. She sat there in the cold, curled up in a blanket, without heat. The audience giggled with every development. I dabbed myself with kleenex. My friends looked equally somber. I blew my nose. We quietly cursed the movie. A comedy? Chrissie was a walking disaster in her social encounters and said all the wrong, morbidly embarrassing things. My ego bled.

The movie ended, after many an agony, with a sour improvement. I wiped my eyes in my sleeves and we all left, red noses marking our faces.

A good few comedies later, and I’m starting to remember this first one as the best one yet. For all it’s awful events, it told me a bit about how much easier life is with tougher skin and less sensitivity. It's also told me that above all disasters, those theatre-goers must have loved the three hollering chassidic girls best. Let them audience laugh away, those child abusers, I'm writing a letter to Der Blatt about that.

In light of all this, my summer’s resolution is to use my kneidlemaker on the keyboard more often. Seriously.


Chananiah Yom Tov Lipa said...

Ahhhh Shpitz your post is better than a piping hot slice of pizza on this fine Isri Chag!

Thanks for cheering me up from the post holiday blues.
(Why doesn't my wife suffer from this?)

Anonymous said...

todays days there is a kneidel form that's a a scoper... btw since I started reading your blog you are making me be a "choshed biksheirim" cuz evry women with a shpitzle is in my eyes shpitzle

Anonymous said...

hey shpitzle, thats is you all this times and i never chaped....

stam just kidding!!!!!

great post as usual.

Thank You.

Shpitzle Shtrimpkind said...

YomTov, Chananya - Post holiday blues? I aint got none of those! Today was a holiday in itself! I visited the grocery a few times just to smell all those fresh pastries and prove to myself that they've really been put out in the open.

I'll have that pizza now!

Anon 5:58 - Hmmm, there is? Well, can I borrow it then?

(hahahahah! hahaha!) Why do I think it's funny?

Actually, it's a two way street. Since you started commenting I think that every anonymous comment is you :)
Seriously, I know what you mean. I suspect every chassid I see as being one with a pen-name. Everyone in my neighborhood is suspected of being another bloggers. Even the Jude's are suddenly living in the neighborly Williamsbug.

Anon 6:43 - That was a rude prank ;^)

Anonymous said...

yep you can borrow it!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I am out of words to compliment your posts which are all greater then great.

(in a tone of constructive criticism the humorous description of Eliyahu Hanovi was IMHO wrong to do. I understand it was meant just as humor, but still...)

the principle was right after all, u start by watching movies and then u do that even bigger aveira called bloging on the internet.
(wow i sound so typical preaching others what i do myself)

one limud z'chus i have, after all u have a special exemption signed by the rebbe himself to be on the internet for fundreising money to help his heilige Moisdes

so I have a question for you, what made your skin tougher, was it getting used to break the rules, or the toughness and hardships of life?

Anonymous said...

re: der blatt they go out of their ay to be controversial and come up with sometimes crazy or idiotic comments or topics just to grab the attention of the readers and the shmoosers. I am not sure if this is a bad thing for a newspaper but one thing is sure it's not prestigious and its sometimes very "corny"

frumhouse said...

It occurs to me that an old fashioned ice cream scoop would make a good kneidlemaker. Maybe I'll try it...

Anonymous said...

So you celebrated your sweet 16 in bad-girl style?!

Anonymous said...

I just read der blatt this shaboss I saw someone answering about the guy who wrote bout kneidel furm b 4 peasach .that there is a mekor to it. the first second I saw I touhed I have to tell it you so you should know that it is not just a joke .its a real real huge old joke

Shpitzle Shtrimpkind said...

LOL anon!!!