October 14, 2006

New Yorkers are very rare and delicate creatures

As Andrew Holleran said in Dancer from the Dance about Sutherland, we're like sea urchins or other fragile underwater creatures. Remove us from our pressurized environment and we perish.

Greetings from Portland, Oregon. I just spent five minutes trying to figure out how to exit a mall.

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September 4, 2006

A Potpourri of Nether Garments

Click me.

No, click me!

No, I insist, click ME!

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September 2, 2006

Eye of the beholder

Last night, I was heading home after dinner with my friend Andrea, a classmate from ballet days and class with the formidable Madame Darvash. Can’t recall the name of the restaurant, the credit card receipt only lists them as “Vietnamese Food”, but it’s at 121 University Place. Excellent Bo Luc Lac, reasonable prices, but it was a busy Friday night and the waiters practically grabbed plates away from you the moment you didn’t seem to be finishing it and cleaned the table up around you.

On the subway ride back, I was working on the last sleeve of the Bamboo sweater. The car was relatively empty at West 4th, and filled a bit with each subsequent stops. Two twenty-something guys sat next to me at West 14th. A man got on at 34th. He looked as if he had come from a fantasy equestrian event; thigh high leather boots over khaki pants, blue blazer, green walking stick, straw hat with what looked like Christmas ornaments decorating the brim.

I’m thinking, “Work the outfit!” I notice one of the twenty something kids stealing glances at him too. My guess is we’re both thinking the guy is a bit of a New York character – a freak. I think about this for a moment. I’m sitting here like the screaming faggot I am knitting on the subway and the boy next to me has a ring through his nose. And we’re all over the equestrian freak across the car?

The moral of this subway story is either: Scratch a normal person and there’s a freak underneath, or scratch a freak and there’s a normal person.

You pick.

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August 8, 2006

Kill Me Now

You'd think if I had spare time, I could blog. . .but no. . .I go on youtube to terrify myself.

So I thought I might as well terrify you.

I apologize.

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July 18, 2006

Dialogue with the Cat II - Summer grooming

Because of the heatwave I decided to give She Who Must Be Petted a thorough brushing. Cats are completely overstimulated by brushing, so I gently put a finger on either side of her neck to stop the squirming as I brushed out about half a cat's worth of hair. If I could translate the meowing into English, I think it was:





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June 17, 2006


Days like this that convince me that like Sutherland in Dancer from the Dance, my years in New York City have turned me into some sort of sea anemone that can only live in a pressurized environment, and removal from that environment can be potentially hazardous.

I spent the afternoon in a mall.

I. am. traumatized.

Mom needed to buy a water heater so we went to Sears in White Plains. It took some finding as it had been in the same place since I was a child but was no longer there. A quick phone call indicated that it was now in the Galleria Mall a few blocks away, having moved about 3 years ago.

While Mom was haranguing the poor sales clerk about the warranty on a heater, I hadn’t eaten lunch so got some food at the Food Court. I know there are a few food courts in Manhattan, but they don’t have their full effect here. You need a big one with Dunkin Donuts and Sbarro and Wendy’s and McDonalds and Nathan’s and Cinnabon and Manchu Wok and Sayonara Sushi and every mediocre dining chain and ersatz ethnic franchise in the book. Obese people were trundling around with large plates of fried chicken wings and pork fried rice. Children were racing around, honking toy cars while their parents ate. I grabbed a small burger at Wendy’s and contemplated my fate. One floor up, I could see Piercing Pagoda.

I don’t think I am meant for Mall Culture.

Today was also the U.S. Open. It was held at Winged Foot Golf Course in my home town, Mamaroneck. I don’t get golf as a spectator sport (it moves at such a deliberate pace, what is there to watch?) but golf fans probably don’t get watching ballet. Metro-North had extra trains to accommodate the spectators but it was still a mob scene at the train station. I’ve already been traumatized at the food court, so I was contemplating darkly the suburban hell at the train station. Acres and acres of heterosexual drones wearing polo shirts with logos and khaki shorts and baseball caps. . .

About at this point I noticed what I was wearing – a polo shirt and khaki pants.

But my shirt was black and without a logo, so it’s O.K.

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April 20, 2006

Laundry Angst

As I came home today Alfredo, the doorman, handed me a large black plastic garbage bag; something straight out of Jumpers. It was for the trash, in case of a strike of building staff, which looks like it will happen at midnight. I threw out whatever trash I could before that point and tossed my laundry together.

I do laundry as if I was in college; when the pile takes over the floor and the cat nests in it, I load it into an old-lady shopping cart and wheel it downstairs. Our building has “enhanced” the laundry machines with chip-cards instead of coin slots. Today I noticed that they were .10 more per load. The cards eliminate searching for quarters, but allow plenty of unannounced price increases and breakage for the company as laundry now costs $2.10, $2.60 or $3.10 and the charging machine for the cards only takes cash and only accepts $5, $10 or $20 bills. My card has .50 on it, so I add $20.

I load the first machine; my card now reads $18.40. I load the second machine. The card reads $1.60. What is going on? I’m leaving for Philadelphia tomorrow. There’s about to be a strike; who knows if they’ll lock the laundry room. I don’t have time for this. I run upstairs to get another $20 bill, because I don’t know where to get a new chip-card. When I come down and stick the card in the charging machine, it reads the card correctly - $18.40. The big machine still reads my card as $1.60 however. I take all the laundry out, and carry it in armfuls to a medium sized machine and jam it in. It’s packed solid, but I’m past caring. I dump in detergent and borax, insert the card, start it and leave.

When I come back down to load the laundry into dryers, of course half the laundry from that machine has not even touched water from being packed so tightly. Argh. I try to separate out the dry stuff to put in another wash. I bring it over to another machine . . . and once again my card reads $1.60. First I try moving my clothing from one machine to another – a messy process because I already added borax. No dice. Still $1.60. And I’ve left my cash upstairs.

I race upstairs and get two $5 bills. Mercifully, the machine reads them, and so does one of the laundry machines, so I start up a new load and go back to loading my wash into the dryers, trying to pick out the unwashed items.

A lady comes in and peers dubiously into the washing machine I couldn’t use. There’s borax left at the bottom. As I shuttle more unwashed laundry over to the washing machine, I apologize and tell her it’s borax, thinking she’ll just use the machine.

“Are you going to clean it up?”

Something inside me snaps. She reminds me of the girls from Long Island I used to loathe in college, only grown older but no less entitled and prissy. I just lost more than $15 from these fucking bandit machines and now she wants me to clean borax out of a washing machine. It’s a laundry booster, she might as well just use the machine and consider it a bonus. I look at her as blandly as I can manage and say, “No, I’m sorry.” This is my fault, I should have communicated better, because instead of “borax” she apparently thinks I have said “anthrax”. I go back to loading my wash into the dryer as I hear her explaining to someone that I refused to clean the machine. She then goes out to get paper towels to scrub the machine out and quietly but obviously suffers through the task. I am just too pissed off at this point to try and apologize or even reason with her.

I hustle down to take the final wash out of the last machine, then once it's dry I bundle it into my old lady cart to fold it in my apartment. I always fold it in the laundry room, but I just didn’t want to deal with her.

I'm still surrounded with laundry. And of course some of it is still damp.

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March 29, 2006

Knitta, Please!

Mike Bryant presents "A gangsta rap song about the most hardcore craft at the craft fair."

Scroll down and look on the right hand column for mp3 downloads.

Don't take no flack from the crochet bitches.

Not entirely work-safe. It's gangsta knit rap, after all.

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March 4, 2006

In a crowded and noisy bar, things sound different

After seeing him last week in San Francisco David came here with his boyfriend Duane to visit.

We went first to Pam Real Thai and then out to Therapy for drinks.

I don't know where or why in the conversation (or after how many cocktails) David asked if I were a gerontophile.

I thought he said Torontophile.

Of course I said, I've been there several times.

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January 31, 2006

When your editor calls, don't answer the phone

Because if you do, you will somehow end up agreeing to knit matching toilet paper roll covers.

You think I'm kidding.

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January 11, 2006

To the IRS:

I would like to commend the security guards at your Midtown Manhattan branch for preventing me from entering your building to get 1099-MISC forms today [January 10, 2006] because I had in my possession a fork.

This fork, with its five metal tines dangerously blunt, looked like a common lunch fork. Most people might have mistaken it for that. But sharp-eyed security guards and Jewish mothers know, “You can put an eye out with one of those things!” Who knows what havoc I could have wreaked with that seemingly ordinary fork? I had been in two banks prior to attempting to enter the IRS building and amazingly enough the tellers did not object to my fork, even though I might have robbed either of them with it.

I asked the security guard if he would let me leave the fork and go up and get the forms, but bravely, he would have none of that. He knew the rules. The Fork Must Stay Outside the Building. Chastened and banished, I left, but the building remained fork-free and safe.

Your guards are admirably vigilant in protecting the Internal Revenue Service from potentially dangerous lunches (though were that the case, I’m amazed they missed the beans I was going to eat with that fork) but would it be at all possible to inject a bit of common sense in your otherwise understandable desire for safety?

Very truly yours,

Leigh A. Witchel



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December 23, 2005

Great moments in copyediting

Yesterday while typing and proofreading a motion for summary judgment, I told the lawyer who wrote it that "motherfucker is one word, no hyphen."

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December 4, 2005

Bold advances in audience development!

Kudos to the Royal Ballet of Flanders for targeting the most fruitful new audience for ballet: people who don't like it!

Does the Royal Ballet of Flanders only perform classical ballets?
No! We perform contemporary works as well as the classics. We want to present a range of styles which appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

What I really like is that No! to start. Maybe you could sex that baby up with "God forbid!" or "Ugh!!!!" instead.

Let's try another version of this:

Do the Mets only play baseball?
Gentle potential sportsgoer, No! Ptah! Icky icky oobly oo! We do lots of other things like fire-baton twirling and motocross as well. To present a range of styles which appeal to as wide an audience as possible, we also play football and hockey as well. Let's face it, sports is sports. They're all the same. We know you don't like baseball anyway. We don't either. We never have. Really. We know we can't get you to actually like baseball. We're not even going to try. The truth is, we're kind of ashamed we do it in the first place. Our mothers forced us before we knew better. We wish we were taller, then we could play basketball. We just do baseball because of those stupid folks who like it and for the subsidy.

The Royal Ballet of Flanders. We just call it a ballet company™.

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November 21, 2005

Latest Bloodcurdling Google Search

I guess this is Part 2 of an unplanned series

Welcome (from a safe distance) to the person from India who found this blog by searching for i like men rubbing their penises against me in crowded buses

Remind me to think twice before getting on a bus in India.

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November 18, 2005

Baked LifeForms

Move over Merce. You may have pioneered the use of computer assisted choreography, but here comes Pillsbury.

Via The Poor Man, who will probably sue me.

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October 5, 2005

Will you just DIE already?

I have this odd fascination presently with execrable songs.

I just downloaded Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks. It's easily one of the most loathsome songs of the seventies. A man looks back on his life and says goodbye to his dearest friend, his father, his beloved wife, his pets, his neighbors, his dentist, the milkman, and several people he met once on the checkout line at the supermarket but didn't speak to . . .

All in an extended grating whine.

There are three verses. By the middle of the second you may find yourself screaming, "DIE! DIE ALREADY! DIE!!!!1!" And each time you listen it seems to take him longer to kick the bucket. Most horrifyingly, the song sold over six million copies worldwide. What were people thinking? Then again, I downloaded it, but were all those sales for kitsch value, or to torture unknowing friends? According to the link it was the largest selling single in Canadian history, again proving the correlation between long winter nights and suicidal tendencies.

Every performing art form seems to have the overextended death scene. Opera has its consumptive arias. How long does Violetta or Mimi take to die, and wouldn't it be hard to sing if you had tuberculosis? The champ in ballet is probably Mercutio, who gets goblet after whore after goblet while he's staggering about the stage for about three weeks. Tybalt's death scene is relatively faster, except for the endless drum tattoo where I find myself idly counting the drum rolls until he bites the dust. I swear in some productions they add extra ones.

It's not often seen here, but Ivan the Terrible (also with a score by Prokofiev) has a poisoning scene for Ivan's wife, Anastasia, that lasts several days and includes plenty of high kicks before she finally drags herself to the throne and gives up the ghost. You have to love Stravinsky - while Maria Tallchief was trying to die for all she was worth to his beautifully restrained score for Orpheus and Eurydice, he asked Balanchine, "How long is Maria going to take to die? She needs to be gone by count five."

My attitude is the one I recall from Phil Gardner's shirt. In the eighties, the Joffrey Ballet stage hands would make irreverent T-shirts for their tours. The dancers had them also and Phil would often wear his to class. It was from the tour of the Cranko Romeo and Juliet and said, "Why doesn't she just stab herself now? Then we could all go to the movies."

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October 1, 2005

I am SO gay

While doing bicep curls tonight I caught myself lip synching.

To Nancy Sinatra.

These Boots are Made for Walking.

I am SO gay.

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September 7, 2005

Dialogue with the cat: A brief, repeating drama

Scene: The kitchen. I am making khatte channe (chickpeas in tamarind).

I open a can of chickpeas. Even before I pierce the lid She Who Must Be Petted comes racing into the kitchen with her tail twitching.

SWMBP: Meow?

Me: It's chickpeas. Not cat food.

SWMBP: Meow!

Me: You don't like chickpeas. Besides, what's with the can opener deal? I don't even feed you canned catfood.


Me: It's chickpeas!

Repeat until fadeout.

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September 3, 2005

Are you in Birmingham, AL or New York, NY? A simple quiz:

If you answered "yes" to these questions, look around you. You are not in New York City. You are in Birmingham.

I have answered "no" to all these questions today; I'm already home. It was a very short business visit.

Birmingham was not in the path of Katrina's full fury; it's well inland to the north, due west of Atlanta. I was told that trees had fallen in surrounding environs and power was out for a bit, but by the time I visited on Wednesday night I saw no traces of the storm. I only got to see the city briefly in transit, it reminded me a bit of Lexington, Kentucky, where I danced in 1990-91. The most difficult aspect was the plane ride; two five-hour flights in two days was not great for my back. I'm resting it today. For the first time in a long time I needed to eat in the airport - Northwest only serves snack boxes and I got to the airport 3pm CDT and landed in NYC at 10pm EDT. It was Memphis, I got Barbecue. I tried to be good and get the Barbecue salad instead of more starch. It was a heap of pig on top of iceberg lettuce with BBQ sauce on the side. And no fork. I had already traveled far away from the BBQ stall, so I raced around the concourse desperately with my luggage and found a friendly Starbucks just as my connecting flight was boarding.

I also had the pleasure on my final leg from Memphis to La Guardia of sitting next to the stereotypical young Italian couple from Hell. Marcello and Sophia, or whatever their names were, went through this process: Chatter. Fight. Make Up. Suck Face. Chatter. Fight. Make Up. Suck Face. Repeat, at top volume (yes, even the face-sucking), ad nauseam. I must be getting misanthropic as I get older. I like having a pleasant conversation with my seatmate on a plane, but barring that, I just want to be left alone. They got on the M60 bus into Manhattan as well. I admit it gave me guilty pleasure to watch them wander off the bus in the middle of nowhere on 125th Street. Enjoy the Harlem tour, Marcello!

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September 1, 2005

Cell Phone Etiquette Lesson 435a

It's bad enough to have a long cell phone conversation on a crowded New York City bus. It's worse to have a long conversation about reassuring your friend about his potency ("You had Melanie last year. Your stuff works.") and asking "Is your urine dark or clear?"

Because if you do, the person sitting next to you, whose ear you were shouting in while you talked at the top of your lungs about urine, might blog about it.

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July 15, 2005

Sometimes threats are useless

My friend David, an orchestra conductor, just called to cancel dinner. His reason was perfectly satisfactory, but naturally I gave him a hard time anyway.

Or at least I tried.

Me: I'm setting your baton on fire.
Him: It's fiberglass.

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July 10, 2005

Dance Advice: A guide to tipping your partner

A young ballerina writes in and asks:

Dear Mr. Witchel:

I am about going to be dancing my first Giselle in a week with a new partner. Is a gratuity expected at the end of the performance? If so, how much should I tip?

Yes, young ballerina. Tipping your partner is a polite way of thanking him for his services and always appreciated by a hardworking porteur.

How to know how much to tip? Length of dance and number of lifts are your best guide.

Here's our rule of thumb for tipping partners:

Tip 20% if the lifts have been exceptional. These include perfect pops in helicopters, or any one handed presses.

Tip 15% in standard situations, such as the grand pas in Nutcracker.

You may tip lower amounts for perfunctory partnering, excessive moping and/or groaning, clammy hands, narcissism, egotism or inattentiveness. You do not need to tip at all if your partner drops you.

Tip 50% "combat pay" if:

You should also offer to pay any chiropractor bills.

You can print out this list and carry it in your dance bag so it's handy when you need it. Use clean new bills for gratuities, but it is considered bad form to slip them into your partner's dance belt. An envelope will suffice.

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July 5, 2005

Separated at Birth?

George Bush


And Mother Ginger?


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June 27, 2005

Dick Bars

The weather in DC had cooled some by the time Tom and I went out for the evening. I didn't know where we were going; we got in his car and I followed the route as best I could. We drove along the Tidal Basin and the Washington Channel. My memories of that are Fannie Fox, the Tidal Basin Bombshell, and Congressman Wilbur Mills.

We came to a non-neighborhood of low industrial buildings. Tom told me we had crossed just into SE. I looked it up on a map the following day; the dividing line is South Capital Boulevard, which we were just off of. This no man's land was where the strip clubs are.

(R-rated, so continued as an extended entry)

Tom didn't call “Secrets” and the other bars there strip clubs; neither did my other friend in DC. It isn't an accurate term, since there was no stripping going on. They called them more accurately “dick bars”. Guys stand up on platforms, naked. Well, they aren't naked. That's illegal. They're wearing shoes and socks. Most of them make a pretense to dance while they're up there but mostly they rub or stroke themselves in the hopes of attracting a tipping customer. I assume more could happen, but I didn’t see more than someone fondling a dancer’s legs or butt, and then slipping a folded bill into the guy's sock. I did see one guy attract a dancer's attention in a novel variation of blowing in his ear; only that wasn't the hole he blew into.

The dancers seemed to be in their twenties with different body types, both taller and skinny and short and more developed. Almost all of them had flat stomach muscles; for that I hated them. My favorite guy was of medium height with nice pecs. He danced on occasion – he vogued, and did it like it was his one good dance move, but he was endearingly bad. Mostly he would play with his nipples or stroke himself (for those needing details, he was the “beer can” sort), and that did get him quite a following, even more than the skinny boy clambering up on the poles above the bar like a monkey. Impressive, but I’m not going up there to put a bill in his sock. Voguing wasn't Nice Pec’s only dance move. He did do a sort of shake-and-bake thing that looked kind of how-does-he-do-that? hot from the rear view and kind of wanga-wanga-wanga funny from the front.

There’s a second half to the bar, named Ziegfield’s. This is where the drag shows are, starring Ella Fitzgerald (no, not the real one), who’s a local legend. She’s a formidable little drag queen; her best and most evil moment came when she dragged three (biological) females on stage to a version of the theme song from “Bonanza” sung with only one word: “Poontang”. You can guess what this involved for the poor humiliated women. The place had a reasonable amount of straight women in it; they seem to go for bridal parties. Go figure. Other drag queens included a HUGE Latina mama in some sort of fuzzy purple vest that made her look like a Care Bear and the tall skinny black queen who did the repent-and-find-Jesus gospel lip synch. She did it absolutely without irony, and either it was a coup of performance art or it just didn’t matter to her that she was singing about finding Jesus while there were naked guys stroking themselves on the other side of the bar.

Tom thought this would round out my dance experience in DC, and he was right, but how could I tell him in the middle of a Dick Bar my dark confession that only a few of my gay friends - and now the whole goddamn internet – know:

I think penises are funny.

Well, think about it. They are.

It's not like I don't like them; I've been best friends with my own for years. But, I mean, this skinny wiener thing either hanging or sticking out there unprotected? I'm not sure in which state it looks funnier. Who thought up this design?

I'd only been to a Dick Bar once before in my life and that one was a strip club: the now closed Gaiety in New York. Again, it wasn't my idea. It was about a decade ago and I was going with a female friend to meet her then-boyfriend, who danced there. Honest.

The Gaiety presented a show on a stage and the guys came out one by one. They'd dance around briefly in front of a silver glitter curtain, disappear for about a minute behind the curtain and return erect. The atmosphere was dark and seedy, and it was expensive (I think $15 even back then). I don't recall the other men that well, but I do recall Tony, the guy I had come to see, because he came out with a goofy he-has-to-be-straight grin on his face and his schlong sticking out in front of him. It was just enormous. Hilariously so.

I collapsed over hooting in the Gaiety.

"YOU PUT THAT WHERE????" I started howling to my friend, who turned several shades of red, poor dear.

"Please stop laughing." she pleaded. I did my best, but was practically hiccupping instead.

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June 26, 2005

The Princess Packs

I generally describe my packing skills as being like a princess on the Titanic, though I enjoy almost as much another description from the same thread - "Joan Collins on safari".

I'm in Washington DC right now seeing Suzanne Farrell's revival of Don Q - on duty for Dance International. I've been good, honest. I only brought my smallest 18 inch carry-on, my laptop and my usual knapsack. It still amazes me that for one weekend I somehow managed to convince myself I needed three pairs of shoes and get them packed.

And I did wear all of them.

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June 16, 2005

You may never think of kiwis the same again.

Just what the world needs. A new product specifically for shaving your balls.

Bodygroom may be a relatively pointless device, but the animation is hysterically funny. It can be cranky on Firefox, and do navigate through, the animation is not only on the index page.

Link via Stay Free Magazine, which is hereby added to the blogroll. I've been a regular reader for about a month since a discussion on Steven Berlin Johnson's "Everything Bad is Good for You". I agree with their cynicism on commercialism.

Besides, they mentioned Dirty Martini today - and that reminds me, I should link her as well.

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June 12, 2005

An open letter to Robert Parker, Principal Dancer, Birmingham Royal Ballet

Dear Mr. Parker:

I was sitting in the upstairs circle of the Hippodrome Theatre in Birmingham last night watching you perform Scènes de Ballet. I’ve been pleased with all your performances this weekend and decided to ask some nearby audience members for their reaction to you. I wanted to see if you were a “favorite son” with the local audience.

I asked the neat looking lady in front of me what she thought of you.

“I’ll tell you what I think.” She said as she turned around. “I think he’s God’s gift to women and I’ll not hear a word against him.”

Luckily, I wasn’t about to say one, although between you and me you were slightly off in your tours and the switch-leaps in Scènes could have been a bit bigger. But you’d done the lead in two other ballets that day along with fine performances every day of the run before and you deserve to be cut some slack.

So there you have it, Tiger.

I figured that on days when life is bleaker than others, it wouldn’t hurt to know that somewhere, someone out there in the audience thinks you’re God’s gift to women.



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May 27, 2005

We come here via the most unexpected paths

A hearty, if ambivalent, welcome to the reader who found my blog via Google with the following search:

cooking women's tits for dinner

As they said in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, "Bon Appetit!"

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April 25, 2005

What says the Gentile Child? Or: Attack of the Killer Seder

As I was coming back to my apartment after the Great Matzo Ball Debacle at Cousin Janet’s, I ran into one of my neighbors. Nancy had an awful, splitting headache to which I lightly remarked that so did 1/3 of Manhattan, and indigestion, to boot.

Suddenly, she stopped me and said, “then I can ask you this about that . . . meal.” I had assumed up until this point that Nancy was also Jewish, which was evidently incorrect. “Do people always stick their fingers in their wine glass and throw wine on their plate?” She asked this the same way I might ask if one really ate dog brains with a grapefruit spoon. I assured her that, yes, it was traditional and out spilled the litany of horror.

Evidently Nancy had never been to an actual seder before. They ate parsley (I mean, who uses it as anything other than a garnish?), but first they did something to it, dipped it in something or other. Then there was this awful looking stuff they put on a cracker.

“But that’s charoses, Nancy. It’s just apples and walnuts; it tastes good.”

“But they ate it with this purple stuff and I thought that was disgusting. And there was no bread. And then they read for hours from this book, and they wanted me to read as well! I said I did not have my reading glasses.”

I didn’t laugh once, much as I wanted to. As my stepmother (who, bless her heart, has participated with good will in many a Seder even though she’s Catholic and also doesn’t like the traditional food) says, “Nothing is obvious to the uninformed.” And in this case, the uninitiated. It would have been more charitable if someone had given her a quick rundown on what would happen before inviting her. Poor woman, she must have felt like Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. All you want is a plain bowl of soup and they’re serving you monkey, or worse, matzo balls.

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April 18, 2005

Deeply, Fabulously, Wrong.

Abstinence Only

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