Sunday afternoon, his mood swings with the fortunes of the Dallas Cowboys at the New York Giants.
Dallas goes up 10-0. “They’re blowing ’em out!” he thinks. “I can afford another semester of Alexander Technique. Just borrow a bit of money here and there. Three thousand dollars. No problem.”
Then the Giants roar back to win the game.
He walks 1.4 miles through the cold into Beverlywood for “A Taste of LimmudLA.”
He finds his way to the kitchen. He needs a prop. He prepares himself a big hot peppermint tea.
Then he starts circling.
He talks to a woman.
“What do you do?” she asks.
“I’m a writer,” he says. “And I’m studying to be a teacher of Alexander Technique. Just finished my first year.”
“What’s Alexander Technique?” she asks.
“It’s a technique for using yourself with grace and poise. You relearn how to sit, stand, walk. I’m two inches taller since I started studying it.”
“Really?” she says. “I’d like to be two inches taller.”
“How did you do that?”
“I learned to let go of ways I was holding myself down,” he says. “When your neck is free, when your head is forward and up, your back and thighs and legs can unclench and you find the grace you had as a kid.”
“What do you notice about me?” she asks.
“Well, you seem to carry a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders. Perhaps you could stand up and sit down a couple of times and I’ll take a look.”
She stands up and sits down. And repeats.
“When you stand up,” he says, “you tend to tip your head back, compressing your neck. The neck has more nerve endings than any other part of your body. When you compress your neck, it does nothing good for you.
“The neck is vital. I learned that in dating. Several girlfriends told me, ‘My neck is my weak point.’
“When a cowboy lassoes a calf in a rodeo, he lassoes the neck and then wraps his arms around the neck to bring the calf down. When a cheetah brings down a deer in nature, it goes for the neck. If you change a cat’s head-neck relationship, it will stop moving. Tense the neck and the whole body will clench up. Free the neck and the body will free up and move upward in space so that you have more poise and freedom.”
“I often try to sit up straight,” she says, “but it’s very hard.”
“It’s one of those things where effort and will won’t get the job done,” he says. “Poise and length are only available indirectly when you inhibit your habitual responses, think your directions, and keep thinking them while you carry out your actions. If you push yourself up, you’ll narrow your back and you won’t go up. If you think yourself, then you’ll go up and your back and will lengthen and broaden. That gives your lungs more room to breathe. Constrict your neck and back, and your lungs have less room to expand. Nothing good happens from that.”
He sips his sweat tea. He remembers when his sister took him out to eat the night before he left for the United States in May 1977. She ordered lemon grass tea at the restaurant. It was sweet like this tea.
He wonders if she would be interested in this memory, but she’s not asking him many questions aside from Alexander Technique, so he keeps it to himself.
The first session is by cantor Jonathan L. Friedmann who talks about “The Maoz Tzur Melody: Sacred or Sinful.”
It turns out that the melody comes from a 15th Century German bar song. A lot of Jewish and Christian melodies come from 15th Century German bar music. It was a great century to go to the bar in Germany and sing.
Putting something down for having pagan origins is a lame putdown. Everything, be in Judaism or Christianity or Islam, has pagan origins.
Jonathan doesn’t like it when Adon Olam and other Jewish hymns are done to secular tunes that take away from the sacredness of the lyrics. But how often do regular folks in shul think about the meaning of what they’re saying? I know I do this rarely, and I’m an elevated and integrated man.
In the second session, Sinai Temple ATID director Stacey Jill Zackin coaches us to contentment in just 30 minutes.
It’s a 1.4 mile walk home. It’s cold and dark but he has his black leather jacket and four hot cups of peppermint tea inside of him.
He turns a corner in Beverlywood and the bright lights of Los Angeles spread out before him. “I will make this city mine,” he says. “The next time I walk into one of these things, everyone will want to talk to me.”
He walks past vast Christmas decorations and he remembers that December of 2003 when his ex-girlfriend wanted to show him the decorations in Santa Monica. They met at her place on 19th Street and walked to the park overlooking the beach.
They sat on a bench and she looked in his eyes and then he looked in her eyes, and despite their break-up of the past two months, despite their five break-ups in all, he leaned over and kissed her.
She kissed him back. Then they walked hand in hand through Brentwood.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” she’d said.
She was young and beautiful (and one-quarter Jewish) and their relationship was passionate and heartfelt.
It would be their last happy evening together.
A year later, he was invited to a dinner party. The host wanted to set him up with this Jewish girl.
When they finally met, the girl revealed she used to work with his ex-girlfriend. “She told me all these lurid stories about you,” she said.
He didn’t know what to say. He felt cut off at the knees.