What People Do When They Have Too Much Money

The population of Aspen comprises two types of people: the Very Rich and the Very Intelligent. The Very Rich go to Aspen to ski, golf, and to check off items on the list below. The Very Intelligent go to Aspen to attend meetings at The Aspen Institute, or simply to be Very Intelligent in a mountainous setting.

Being neither, it is quite surprising that I got there at all, and further yet – on a private jet. Somehow I did, and although I learned a thing or two from the Very Intelligent people, what I really gained insight on is the lives of the Very Rich. Here is what they do with all of their rich-ness.

My feet getting accustomed to luxury

  1. Get facelifts.
  2. Attend dinner parties, benefits and other events they cannot stand.
  3. Host dinner parties, benefits and other events they cannot stand.
  4. Buy a dog of an obscure breed and show off that he is superb at doing X. Usually something unheard of, like fetching a ball.
  5. Send the dog to a spa.
  6. Actually, I am not kidding.
  7. Get their kids tested for ADD, ADHD, Stupidity and all sorts of conditions that we all have, just don’t have the money to know about.
  8. Buy only organic food.
  9. Buy only organic food for the dog.
  10. Buy second homes.
  11. Buy third homes.
  12. Buy Ferraris.
  13. Buy yachts.
  14. Buy private jets.
  15. Buy good ol’ pickup trucks.
  16. I am kidding.
  17. Eat gourmet.
  18. Hire personal trainers to get rid of the “gourmet” around their waists.
  19. Hire a nanny (Hooray for nannies! Hooray for people with too much money)!
  20. Hire a chef.
  21. Give the chef a list of allergies and restrictions regarding each member of the family. During a different nannying job, I was warned about a kid who was “allergic to caviar”. If I would have been asked what “caviar” was when I was his age, I probably would have said a musical instrument.
  22. Hire a cleaner.
  23. Hire a driver, pool person, accountant, gardener, personal shopper…
  24. Hire a house manager.
  25. Above all, hire a shrink.
  26. Buy top of the line kitchen appliances and never touch them.
  27. Buy top of the line bike tools and never touch them.
  28. You get the idea.
  29. Shop for clothing at stores with Italian names.
  30. Eat at restaurants with Japanese names.
  31. Bite out of snails, slugs and other slimy creatures with French names.
  32. Swear by gurus with Sanskrit names.
  33. Engage in an activity in which you have to pay for the upkeep of tens of grassy acres, buy special old-people clothes, lots of little sticks, a little cart to drive your little sticks around, hire a person to drive your little cart with your little sticks around and throughout the whole day not even break a sweat – and consider it a sport.
  34. And then, due to all the stress caused by completing this whole list – get another facelift.
  35. Repeat until money runs out.

No, those little hairy things in the stroller are not humans.

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Jewish Grandmothers 101

*Note to my own grandmothers: this is not about you!

I am not particularly fond of generalizations, but I think a few things can – and should – be said about Jewish grandmothers as a whole. I am excluding the fit blond ones I saw in Aspen because I think most of their Jewishness was taken away with their face-lifts. They are loving and lovable, but they can, in some cases, be somewhat unbearable (anybody read Portnoy’s Comlaint?) In order to understand their behavior better, we must understand the two intrinsic fears that guide them through life.

  1. The child/grandchild will go hungry.
  2. The child/grandchild will not get married/marry a goy.

All the following actions are directly linked to Fear #1:

  • Forcing food down your throat, verbally or physically. Physically includes that guilt-inducing glare.
  • Having three refrigerators, all full. And a barrel of cranberry juice and a lifetime supply of almonds in the pantry.
  • Giving you second and third helpings and then asking you why you are not hungry.
  • Freezing food. Some even slip into an unbreakable cycle of putting all fresh food into the freezer, and eating only defrosted foods.

In order to demonstrate Fear #2, I will share a real life example.

It is a Friday evening in Aspen, and it is my day off. Since I am Jewish, I figure the coolest thing to do would be to go pray. The woman next to me strikes a conversation, and within a remarkably short time, collects all the information she needs:

  1. I am Jewish
  2. I am a girl

After double checking that all of this is true, we move onto the next topic: her grandson. He has a college degree! He’s smart! He’s handsome! So, what do I think? I’m single, right? I would love him, she says knowingly. “But… you know, he really loves Florida. I don’t think he’d ever move from there. So if you’re not planning to move to Florida, don’t even bother.”

I breathe a sigh of relief. But she continues.

“No, you know what? You should still call him. I want you to call him. Here, I’ll get his number…” and she runs off to yell at her husband. “Okay, here’s the number,” she says, pleased with herself. “Will you call him?”

Um.

No.

1. I do not want to.

2. We are at shul, it is Friday night and you just said he was religious.

3. I am not looking to be set up with the grandson of a woman I just met. This ties into issue #1.

The husband settles the dispute: I am to email him after Shabbat.

“Okay,” I finally say, wondering how harshly G-d will judge me for lying to two nice people on a Friday night, in shul. Yeah, I’m probably going to hell. I walk over to the kiddush, happy to get a chance to get a better look at the food. As I am happily noshing on some cheese and crackers, I see the grandfather walk over to me. I look around. No grandmother. But what’s that in his hand?

And before I know it, a man I do not know is waving a photo of his grandson in my face.

Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I know not how, but you must be punishing me for something! A few days later, as I am walking around town, I see them on the other side of the street! I duck back into the store I was in, casting furtive glances and practicing my James Bond moves, until I am certain they are out of sight.

Suess. Doctor Suess.

When you spend your summer with people who still laugh uncontrollably at the word “fart” and consider booger a legitimate food, you have to find ways to stimulate your mind while keeping them from killing each other with spitballs. Dr. Suess was the answer to our troubles. I had the audacity to propose that we read all of his books. The nannying gig is over but my mission is not – so look out, unsuspecting children who need to be read to! You could be next…

I’d always been dimly aware that Dr. Suess was talented, but never realized just how brilliant he was. In every book, he leads us into his colorful, whimsical world and teaches us something new about life, or shows us something we knew in bright, new colors. He puts things upside down and convinces us that we are the ones who are not right side up. He sprinkles magic over mundane moments, splashing colors and music all over the place. The books I’ve read recently and what I see in them:

I discovered this one this summer. It’s about appreciating where you are and what you have. Although the message is ancient, it comes to life in a funny, colorful way. The kids loved it (and if they’d had their way, we’d be reading it every night – but I was on a mission).

This one is a similar idea. Just stop complaining and look at what you’ve got.

If you’ve never read this book, you’ve probably never learned to read, and it is unlikely that you are reading my blog. So assuming you’ve all read (or at least watched!) this one, I will admit that I think it is overrated, but still a good story with a memorable main character.

I do, however, recommend the Jewish sequel written by my dad and myself: The Cat in the Hat Kept Shabbat. Not kidding.

The pinnacle of Suess-ness. The ultimate birthday/graduation/new job/anything gift. You can read this one on the bus and not get looked at like the guy reading Spot Goes to School.

The pictures in this one are less appealing than those in his later work, but the story is complex and funny with an unexpected (and somewhat sinister) ending.

This is the one for those of us who are afraid of trying new things. Um…everyone? After reading this too many times, one of the kids decided he wanted to eat green eggs and ham for breakfast. For those of you in a similar situation, I will impart some of my wisdom: 1) Cabbage makes eggs go green. 2) Five year olds are likely to believe that salami is ham.

This is a collection of stories, the best of which is King Looie Katz. It paints a ridiculous picture of the working world and hierarchical society with lots of cats holding up each other’s tails…

Another one that makes the world as we know it look like a joke. There’s no way this was written for kids.

Different from his others – this one hardly rhymes and is quite long. It’s about the power of words and how to say sorry.

I can recite most of this by heart. Sometimes I find myself saying, involuntarily, “So-o… if you want to go bump bump, just jump on the hump of the wump of Gump”. One could argue that this book teaches about diversity, but mostly it’s a stage for Dr. Suess’ brain to dance on. His imagination is doing cartwheels.

A little boy with an imagination like Suess’.

Another place for Dr. Suess’ imagination to go wild.

Once again, he shows us his crazy universe and makes us feel silly for not knowing it existed.

And so my blog-reader, now I ask you,

to please leave your comments and tell me your view!

Do you agree that the Doctor’s fantastic?

Or have I once again been a little bit drastic?

How do you think I should continue my quest?

And which book is his worst? Which one is the best?

Helmet Hunting

Mom, Dad, grandparents: You don’t need to read this one.

Before coming to Africa I vowed I wouldn’t get on a motorcycle. There were enough other ways in which I would probably die and I felt no need to add a new one.

And if, for some strange reason, I would ride one, it would be with a helmet. Duh, I don’t ride a bicycle without one.

Well, plans change. One day in the first week of the trip, our tour guide informed us we’d be going to a lake. He then introduced us to our mode of transportation. A young, unhelmeted boy sitting on a wannabe motorcycle. “We go?”

Since then, I don’t want to tell you how many of those little things I’ve ridden.

Three people on one boda has become the norm, but I’ve been on ones with more.

At some point, I could no longer tell myself I wouldn’t ride bodas. When my mother said she’d pay for it, I decided a helmet really was pretty important.

So off I went. I stopped in Katwe, just south of Kampala, where I was told all the motocyclers buy spare parts and helmets (the few who have). I entered the store and as handed a very light, plastic-y thing. “Hmmm… do you have anything better?”

“You want a good one?” she asked, somewhat surprised.

“Um… yeah.”

“We don’t have. You go into town.”

I was directed to the street in which helmets were sold, near the taxi park. The taxi park is one of the least relaxing places to walk in, and I am constantly dodging curious men and comments like “ohhh, mzungu”, “I love you,” “Come here baby”. This time though, I was hot , sweaty and on a mission, so when one held on to my arm and said in a deep voice, “Mama… hello” and held my arm, I lost it completely.

I swung my arm away from his grip, and with a disgusted face yelled, “fuck off!” As I was walking away, I remembered I was in a bad area of a crowded African capital. And I had just told a big black man to fuck off.

When I reached the area where helmets were sold, I learned that they were charging around 20,000 shillings, meaning 10,000 post-bargaining, meaning four dollars.

I’m cheap and everything, but I am willing to pay more than four dollars for a motorcycle helmet. I WANT to pay more than that.

I picked up one helmet. “Which company makes this?” I inquired. He lifted the helmet and looked at the sticker on the back. “Ah, this one is made by XL.”

Tact is not my forte; I laughed in his face, thanked him and walked out.

In the next shop, I changed my question. “Which country makes this?” The man shook his head. “It is from no country. It is from China.”

I snooped around and was led to Verma, the best store in Kampala. There was a big price difference (presumably to cover the cost of having 50 useless empoyees – the one helping you, the one helping the one helping you, the one giving the form, the one stamping the form, the one putting the helmet on your head and the one throwing out the box) but it felt good to think my life was worth more than four dollars.

So if you’re still reading this, Mom, I have a helemt and that is why it’s okay to go on motorcycle safaris.

Shmura Matzah in Rural Uganda

I am in straw-roofed hut. Three windows overlook a vast empty field. All is dark, save for a kerosene lamp, white eyes brightening black faces, and a handful of white visitors. We are about an hour’s ride on dirt roads from the nearest town. I look around me, wondering if things will ever get stranger. And then I am handed matzah.

Matzah! Putti village is an orthodox Jewish community in the rural areas of Eastern Uganda. People are wearing kipot, dresses and greeting me with the words “Shabbat shalom ve’chag sameach”. No, I have not had too much to drink. Yet.

They conducted services in Hebrew (with a few mispronunciations, but I come from a very Anglo Saxon part of Israel which has trained me to be tolerant of terrible accents) and then went on to the Seder, which was conducted in Hebrew, English and Luganda (or some language I couldn’t understand).

The highlight was when the Rabbi yelled in every language “all those who are hungry, should come and eat!”, and broke the matzah for the entire community.

We were served a balanced meal of rice and posho (the Ugandan form of Ugali, which is the African form of Grits, which is the American version of cornmeal with water). The animal-eaters got fried fish, as well, but I didn’t mind the food much – how much can you expect from a Kosher for Passover meal in the middle of nowhere, Uganda?

The air was special. Everyone was smiling. Tens of children flocked to me with glittering eyes, trying to get as close to me as possible. And lo and behold – they didn’t call me mzungu. They didn’t ask for money. They just wanted to look at me – a white Jew. From Israel.

After the Seder people continued to encircle me. They wanted to learn Hebrew songs. With my terrible voice and worse sense of rhythm, I conducted Jewish folk dances, and even showed off my knowledge about Ugandan pop songs, but one of the women informed me with a smile that those were “not Shabbat songs.”

The next day was a slow, Shabbas-y one. Everything was Jewish and beautiful and heartwarming. But it’s been a while since I had a slow Jewish day, and when I was informed that there was going to be another Seder that night – I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle it. I am an Israeli (we only have one Seder and we have ants in our pants).

So I decided I would do a little Seder hopping and head over to a nearby Jewish community (did you know that there are five Jewish communities in Uganda? We’re taking over the continent!)

The Abuyudayah are real Jews. You know how I know? We were greeted in the entrance to the guesthouse, next to the gift shop. And were informed that a night there would be 25 dollars. Unless we wanted to eat the guesthouse food, in which case it would be more. (25 dollars is more than I would’ve paid for five nights at the guesthouse overlooking one of the most beautiful valleys in the country, where I stayed the following night).

Okay, fine. I would camp out.

20,000 shillings.

Are you kidding me?! Fine, whatever. I’m already here.

But I don’t have a sleeping bag.

But my friends do, and they have already paid the 25 for a bed, so I’ll use theirs.

But I have lice. So Iwon’t use theirs.

But if I pay 25 dollars to sleep inside, I will have two worthless coins left in my wallet.

Okay. Let’s just enjoy the Seder and celebrate the fact that they are a conservative community by taking photos. Hmmm… where is my camera?

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Did I actually let the boda boda driver hold my bag for me, after he saw which pocket the camera was in??? Why am I so trusting?

Phone call. Hi Danya! It’s Dad. How are you?

Crap. (Fill in all unfortunate events here)

Oh, sorry. Wait – I can’t talk, I’m golfing. Here, take your brother.

Hey Danya, what’s up? Oh shit – gotta go, take Dad!

(Repeat)

(Again)

Click.

But… everything worked out fine. My lice and I slept in the guesthouse, and I had enough money to make it to an ATM the next day. The camera was never found, but I think one Ugandan motorcycler had a really happy Pesach thanks to me.

The next day I hiked around Sipi Falls – three enormous and spectacular waterfalls. And if G-d thought he hadn’t been miraculous enough in those three days, in the last and largest waterfall, I swam, in freezing pool of water, into a full circle rainbow with droplets and mist splashing all over my face. It was magnificent.

What a very spiritual of very high person might look like. Strangely, I am neither.