Getting Back to My Roots

I FIRST NOTICED SOMETHING WAS wrong when I felt the hole in my upper right bicuspid.

I didn’t know at first that it was a hole; I was scraping off some potato-chip detritus when my fingernail dipped unexpectedly. I must have something stuck there, I thought. Let’s take a look in the mirror.

So I did. And my stomach knotted when I saw the black furrow surrounding the base of the tooth at the gum line.

With a feeling of dread, I examined my other teeth — the ones not broken over the years — and found similar lines of decay around a significant number of them. I’ve got to do something about this, I thought. But how can I, without cash or insurance?

Why I Love: Her (30-year dance remix)

IT’S THE QUICKNESS OF HER wit. (It’s also her verbal skills in general.) It’s the way our eyes met when we first saw each other. It’s her deep appreciation of simple pleasures. It’s her courage. It’s her refusal to quit (in truth, she doesn’t even know how to quit). It’s her love for animals. It’s her love of family. It’s the way she reinvents herself. It’s her eternal search for excellence, inspiring my search for excellence. It’s her honesty. It’s her enjoyment-on-several-levels of the dramatic, comedic, written, musical, danceable, athletic, and spiritual arts.

“Tzom B’kavanna!”

A TRADITIONAL PRE-YOM KIPPUR ADMONITION is “tzom kal (have an easy fast)” But as a friend in an online forum once pointed out, “easy” misses the point. A proper Yom Kippur fast should be difficult; examining your past year’s mistakes and ethical slips is no simple task, especially if you haven’t eaten all day. His proposal: “tzom b’kavanna — have a fast with intention.” So for those of you observing this tradition tonight and tomorrow, may you find what you’re looking inside for — and may you come to some reconciliation, resolution and growth, rather than sink beneath the weight of an endless loop of it’s-all-too-muchness. You. Can. Do. This!

Live Long and Proffer

THE FIRST SOLO BAY AREA excursion I made after my mom and I moved to Walnut Creek in August 1977 was a trip to the aptly named Federation Trading Post, a Berkeley specialty store selling all sorts of Star Trek merchandise.

It was my second brush with official fandom of any sort. When I still lived back East, I had attended the 1975 Boston Star Trek convention, where my 13-year-old mind was blown by a hotel full of people who all suffered from the same obsession I did. Oh, I had it bad.

Chosenness as Motivator

ONE OF THE MORE CONTROVERSIAL aspects of traditional Judaism is the idea that “Jews are the Chosen People.” Some (both Jew and non-Jew) take this to mean “superior” in some way (I’m looking at you, Grandma), and use it as an(other) excuse to resent and revile us; some Jews are so uncomfortable with the notion that they go so far as to pretend it doesn’t exist.

I can certainly sympathize with their discomfort, but as a Religious Agnostic, I’m not sure that that isn’t throwing out the baby with the holy bathwater.

Full disclosure: I don’t believe in a G?d Who plays favorites or makes distinctions between one branch of Homo sapiens and another, or even between Homo sapiens and the other animals. But I think there may be some value in thinking there is — at least, a little bit.

First Graf(s): The Book of the SubGenius

THIS BOOK SAVED MY LIFE. Well, not the book per se — although that definitely helped — but one of the guys who wrote it. The Book of the SubGenius told me that there were Others Out There who felt and thought as I did (or as differently as I did), and when I went through a suicidal phase back in ’85 I wrote to co-author Ivan Stang explaining my position. He immediately wrote back a two-page letter asking me not to do it and saying that if nothing else, I could always live for spite — that living could be a sort of revenge against the multiform factors contributing to my wanting to off myself.

Dang if he wasn’t right.

The Name is Attinson. NEAL Attinson.

MY NAME IS NOT “NEIL ATTISON.” Neither is it “Neale” or “Niall,” “Addison,” “Atkinson,” “Atchison,” or “Adlington.” (I’m still trying to figure that one out.)

Despite these cognomenly difficulties, I have no desire to change my name to something more convenient. True, I did call myself “Neal Ross” when I was a reporter (and why I publicly go by “Neal Ross Attinson” now), but that was on the advice of my first radio mentor. “Just use your first and middle name,” he said. “Everybody in radio does that. Cuts down on the crazies who will want to call you at home.”

Even then, some people referred to me as “Neil Roth.” You can’t win.

The story is told of two prisoners condemned to death being held for 6 months in the dungeon of a castle. On the day of execution, the lieutenant leads them down the corridor and up the stairs level by level until they come to the courtyard exit. They are taken to the wall, blindfolded, given their last cigarette and their hands are tied behind their backs. The lieutenant walks back to his firing squad and says, “Ready, aim …” and one prisoner turns to the other prisoner and says, “Now here’s my plan!”

–Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Happy 5779!

MAY YOU HAVE A SWEET, joyous, happy and rewarding New Year! And may your resolutions not prove too daunting; on reflection, may you not bog down in a swamp of self-recrimination. As the Talmud says, “All beginnings are difficult.” And Rebbe Nachman teaches: “Sometimes it is necessary to start over hundreds of times a day.” Hang in there, and may the changes you see be the ones you want. Shana tovah!