I get emails telling me about dangerous and unusual situations on or near the campus where I am teaching a seminar this spring. The headline for one caught my eye because I would have thought it was more than common among college students. It said, “Crime Alert: Fondling.”


Pleasuring yourself.  Self-abuse.  How can these mean the same thing?


During my first spring in New York, I spotted in a deli a tray of triangular cookies or pastries that had a prune or poppyseed or apricot jam filling. I liked them, but after a few weeks they disappeared only to reappear again the following spring. I heard them called hamantaschen. (The spellings vary. And although hamantaschen is actually a plural, it is often used as the singular—thus, “I ate a hamantaschen.”) I learned that these delights were part of the celebration of Purim, which honors a story in the Book of Esther where Haman is the bad guy. (Purim is also celebrated in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods by children wearing costumes and masks—something like Halloween.) Hamantaschen like crocuses became for me a sign of spring, but soon many bakeries abandoned their seasonality and had them throughout the year. Although they tasted the same, they seemed less special now that I could have them at all times. Even so, each spring I seek them out. Besides their yearroundedness, they have changed in another way. Recently I went into a bakery in a desirable, but not particularly Jewish, Manhattan neighborhood for my springtime fix. I found many, many varieties of hamantaschen. They were filled with the likes of brownies and coconut cream and red velvet cake, and they were very expensive. Somehow this offended me, and I almost said aloud, “Jesus F. Christ! These are not traditional!”


“Obscenity is the distinguished hallmark of a sadly limited vocabulary.” Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.


The handwritten sign in the bar’s window said:

Here’s to Strong Women

May we know them

May we be them

May we raise them

When inside, I said to a favorite server that the sign was offensive. She asked if that was because there was no reference to men, and I replied, “No. Because there should be another line: ‘May we love them.’ ” She gave me a thumbs up and a fist bump. When a bit later I saw the at-least-once-burned owner and said the same thing, she snapped back, “No one believes in love anymore.”


“To experience it stoned, in the company of a charming, totally delighted schizophrenic girl—that’s the only way to see Disneyland.” Jean Stein, West of Eden: An American Place.

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