Monday, February 28, 2011

Esther Speaks: The real dope about Purim

     You know that scroll that Jews read every year at Purim? Well, in Chapter 9, verse 29, it is written: Queen Esther, daughter of Avichayil and Mordechai the Jew, wrote about the enormity of all the miracles that established the holiday. 
      The one that got codified was written by Mordechai. But there was another version by

Esther the Queen 


I did, indeed, write about the affair in Shushan,

It was about a month after the hubbub, the fighting and killing and burying the poor dead gentiles; Uncle Morty came to my chambers and told me to write an executive summary about what happened, with a shout out to him and how the Jews owed him their lives. He was in a big rush, too; he needed a good story to send along with his letter to the landsmen, asking for donations and sponsorships for the first annual Purim memorial donor dinner.

I told him fundraising wasn’t my job but he said he was too busy running the kingdom and what else did I have to do anyway?

He had a point. By then, King Achash-horn-dog had moved on to another princess, or as we called them in the harem, ‘fresh meat.’ And Morty had good reason to ask me to write the executive summary. I have a degree in public relations and the king did love my pillow talk.

But Morty’s request set me to thinking; if I put in all the sex and back-stabbing, I might be able to sell the tale to a bigger audience, which of course meant non-Jews. And why not? This story had all the makings of a best-seller: sex, wild parties, discarded wives, secret identities, and court intrigue up the ying-yang. Everyone loves it when the bad guy gets hoist on his own petard, or dangled from his own gallows as the case may be.

So I told the uncle I’d do it. I had Timmy bring out the best fountain pens and a ream of clean scrolls and get ready to take dictation. Poor Timmy never gets the credit he deserves, which simply isn’t fair. He didn't only clean up my grammar; he remembered some extra- naughty details and helped polish the whole thing to a high sheen. One thing about eunuchs, they have great memories. In the world of the harem, they also make the best girlfriends: loyal for life, very funny and with an unerring fashion sense.

Timmy is the one who dressed and coiffed me for my encounters with King Ah-just-leave-me-alone, which means he deserves some credit for the salvation of the Jews. There really ought to be a Drag Queen Timmy beauty pageant at all Purimspiels. Sure would spice things up.

Before Timmy and I started writing, he poured us a couple of martinis and after a few rounds, the juicy details began to flow. Like how I used a push-up bra to catch the attention of King Achash-lecher. Persian women are nice-looking but they’re mostly a flat-chested bunch so there’s no surer way to nab a husband than to show off the girls. And as for my royal husband, well, you recall that enormous golden scepter he was always waving around? Timmy and I told the truth about that, too, and not in the most delicate terms.

Did you ever wonder why I took an extra night to play King Achash-dumber-than-a sack-o’-doorknobs before I spilled the beans about my ethnic identity and need for royal intervention? I certainly could have gotten it all over with on that first date, but Timmy explained that I could hold onto the jewelery I wore to those soirĂ©es. You never know when you might need some extra cash; look what happened to Vashti -- thrown out without a pension or anything.

 Timmy and I had a lot of fun writing the memoir. We stayed up late scribbling and drinking and laughing like hyenas. That’s the state we were in when Uncle Morty arrived to pick up his scroll. When he read it, he turned blue and started screaming. ‘If this gets out, we’re all going to be spitted and grilled blahblahblah.’

He tore my version in two and threw it into the trash. That account of our eventful season in the palace—the thing you read every year? That was all Mordecai’s work. The funny thing is, even my priggish uncle couldn’t avoid all of the smutty stuff; you just can’t put lipstick on a pig and not see the pig.

Thankfully, Timmy, always alert, rescued our draft from the wastebasket, glued it together, and tucked it away for happier times.

And so it came to pass, King Achash-cirrhosis died of drink and was replaced by a ruler who knew Esther not and I was out of a job.

That’s when I put on my power suit, pulled out the old Wonderbra, and strolled over to Simon & Shushan with my sexy scroll. They knew a money maker when they saw one and snapped it right up. The notices were nasty. The Persian Times challenged my grasp of reality, never mind history. Even The Urdu Tattler said I was crude and tasteless and hated my explicit descriptions of royal foibles and hanky-panky. I really should have sent thank you notes to those reviewers; sent sales right through the roof.

The book tour was a smash; huge crowds everywhere. And after my hour-long interview with Orpah we sold enough copies for me and Timmy to buy a cozy little villa on Lake Urmia, where we lived happily ever after with Miguel, my special friend, if you know what I mean. And Timmy’s too.

Uncle Morty comes up once a year to kvetch about how the Jews turned Purim into a whoop-de-doo, Mardi Gras, Persian-style New Year springtime bacchanal.

Morty wanted Purim to be nothing but a day of sackcloth and fasting to thank God for sparing the Jews. As I’ve told him a million times, God didn’t have anything to do with this one. He knew it too; God doesn't make an appearance even in his version.

If it wasn’t for me and Morty—and Timmy—there would be no Purim, no Persian Jews, no chicken with preserved lemons on Shabbos, no gifts for the poor in the middle of getting ready for Passover.

Besides, who needs more misery in the Jewish calendar?

I’m all for making Purim into a frat party. I’ve even written a few editorials—under assumed names— supporting the laissez les bon temps roulez approach. Let the wine flow until you don’t know Mordecai from Haman and a nice dollop of cross-dressing in honor of Timmy. Gambling! Burlesque shows! Unbridled hilarity in the sanctuary! You only live once.

Poor Uncle Morty would be furious that the great and learned rabbis of ages hence agree with me on this. Indeed, they decreed that the only Jewish holiday to be celebrated in the event that the Messiah actually shows up is not Yom Kippur or even Passover. It’s Purim!

Smart rabbis. Who needs 70 virgins if you have silly, loud, raunchy, godless, Adar-able Purim?

So make your Aunt Esther happy; pour yourself another glass of champagne and kiss that masked stranger. Party on. We’re still here.





This piece was adapted from an appearance at Purimspiel, Jewish Book Week 2010. A version appears in http://jewishquarterly.org/2011/02/esthers-version/

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Real Simple -- Age 38

     A few months ago, the editors at Real Simple magazine invited me to write a short essay about a year I remember with special fondness. The result appears in the current issue, along with wonderful pieces by five other writers.
     Roger Rosenblatt wrote about Age 4. Francine Prose wrote about Age 64. The first number that popped into my head was ... 38. 
      Here's why.

   By any meaningful measure, most of my years have been pretty damn good: healthy, blessed with a loving husband, a beautiful child, loyal friends, and sweet dogs.
    But 38 was golden. I had a wonderful job writing a weekly newspaper column, in which I had the freedom to take on virtually any subject. Constantly coming up with something intelligent, original, and/or amusing turned out to be a spiritual challenge of sorts. Because I was always prowling for the next topic, I couldn’t sleepwalk through my days. There was a potential column in everything that crossed my path: headlines, the meals I cooked, TV ads.
 
     To read the rest .... click on the link.

http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/inspiration-motivation/an-age-to-remember-00000000053345/index.html