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A Story


Jackson Gillman, Stand-Up Chameleon


L'shana Tova, or
Blowing in the New Year 

© 2012 Jackson Gillman

September 18, 2012

"What is...

...leprosy?" my 12 year-old daughter asks me.  We both just heard the word on a radio program.  I explain it, and add that when I first heard it mentioned, I thought they were going to say "leprechaun."  "So did I!" Jillian exclaims. 

You have to realize the speed at which this mutual auditory detour occured.  It was in between "lepro" and "sy".  I have long been aware of how my mind can instantaneously jump ahead and process a falsely anticipated word or phrase.  I even came up with an original term for it: Premature Tangentiation, or P.T. for short.  I describe this odd propensity of mine to my daughter. "It happens to me all the time!" she giddily replies.  Oh dear. I had no idea that my daughter has inherited this quirk from me -- to have such a quicksilver capacity to image a bouncing leprechaun in the millisecond between syllables.  And is it a lucky charm or a curse?  As we start rattling off similar examples of when this has happened to us, we're both amazed, and it's a bonding discovery.

Fast forward 60 mph driving west to spend Rosh Hashanah with my 88-year old mother in Connecticut. The sun has just set directly in front of me, and I realize that the Jewish New Year has begun.  Time to reflect upon life.  A propitious time for me to do so, as I have just been hammered by a barrage of professional rejections. 

Rejections happen all the time in the entertainment business and I've learned to take them in stride. But when I am blindsided by so many within so short a time, I can't help but wonder if the universe is trying to tell me something.  Most of the jobs were for successive weekends, and though funding was uncertain, they looked very likely with sponsors who had hired me many times before.  My autumn schedule showed promise, but one by tentative one, the gigs on my dance card fell, leaving me to feel like the deck had been stacked. The sudden cumulative losses made me wonder whether I should fold and find a new game, or try to deal myself a better hand.

Driving solo during this brooding, I've got the car radio on, a newfangled one which displays the song title and artist.  Even though the station is in the midst of a long commercial break, GET USED appears on the radio screen.  How appropriate.  That's exactly how I feel. To wit, exacerbating my financial downturn, my Maine tenants have fallen so far behind in rent that I recently hired a mediator to help shake down some shekels. 

Usually after a song title appears, it cycles along at a good clip to show the artist's name, the station i.d., then continues looping until the end of the song.  In this case however, GET USED just stayed there during the entire commercial.  Kind of an ironic message to play during a commercial, no?  Another commercial starts, and the display finally changes: TO LOSING.  That's even more apropos to how I've been feeling.  Given the long time between the two parts of the song title, I don't even need my flash P.T. to wander on personal tangents.  What a pessimistic song title by the way -- who wrote it?  YOU.  Me? Do I have a psychic radio?  Oh, it wasn't over yet. "Get used to losing you" must be the full name of the song. 

I still don't know what sad sack wrote this downer.  A new commercial and a new word: HAPPY.  The writer doesn't sound too happy to me.  Oh, that's probably the name of the next song, though no songs have even played during the couple of minutes I've been tracking this display.  I wonder what the next word will be? --Birthday? -- Together?  Neither: HEART.  Happy Heart -- that's a nice name for a song, and how I usually feel about myself -- kind of my default setting when I'm not bombarded by blows of bummers. 

Seeing as this is happening right at sundown on the Jewish New Year, perhaps this is a digital sermon customized for me.  Despite the setbacks, I should remember that I have a happy heart, and simply need to exercise my innate optimism and resilience.  That's it.  What a sign.  I can do it.  I CAN'T.  (I swear to g-d I didn't make any of this up.)  Is this cosmic digital guru sending me mixed messages, or testing me now?  Yes, I can! 

A song finally starts to play -- first, the instrumental part while the artist's name appears: ANDY.  My P.T. kicks in gear and needs to because the radio is back to its normal quick cycle.  Warhol?  Griffith? McDowell? -- ooh la la -- my silver screen hearththrob.  -- WILLIAMS.

Oh, Andy Williams, why didn't I think of that?  Probably because I haven't heard him on any playlist for 40 years.  And finally, here he is crooning "I can't get used to losing you, no matter what I try to do." 

Wow, that was an interesting few minutes.  And something to ponder while I sit in the Rosh Hashanah service.  Since I can't understand the Hebrew, let's see if I can make any sense out of this.  Or at least some humor.  I actually started to compose this very story then.  Okay, not where my head is supposed to be at the beginning of the High Holy Days, but a good use of time in my own Book of Life. 

What I like best about the Rosh Hashanah service is the blowing of the shofar. Before the CT trip, I got a homeblown preview by my 9 year-old son, Avery. His shofar was homemade from a cardboard tube and plastic seltzer bottle, and his first few blows were charming. However, positive reinforcement led to him follow me around the house, blasting away. As the volume and duration increased, charming is not an adjective that comes to mind.  I didn't want to rain on his spirited parade of course, but I was looking forward to the stirring sound of a real ram's horn in the familiar pattern.

On Rosh Hashanah morning, my sister, Cherni, brought me to a Jewish student center on the Yale campus where two services were being held, Orthodox and Conservative. Though my level of observance has evolved into a sort of earth-based Reform, we landed in the Orthodox chapel thinking the Conservative one had ended.  I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting to feel when the shofar was blown, but I wasn't expecting to be disappointed.  Whether it was the blower himself, or the particular instrument, it sounded like a sick cow, a sort of cattle-wauling with a mournful descent at the end.  Nothing like what I was expecting or remembered. Oy.  But soon I caught wind of another ram's horn and discovered that the Conservative service was being held upstairs at the same time. So, Cherni and I jumped chapel.

When the shofar blowing came during that service: Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah -- with that uplifting rise at the end -- ah, that was more like it!

Looking back on the two (three really if you include Avery's), I realize that I can choose what I'd like to bring into the new year, similar to my earlier perceived song choices: Get Used to Losing, or Happy Heart.  Blow on my son -- with a Happy Heart.  L'shana tova!

(photo by Susan Mann)

Avery blowing in the new year with me, his sister Jillian, and my sister Cherni.
Wishing you health and happiness in the renewed Book of Life. Shofar -- so good!

 

 

 



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