Kim Porter Tries Manischewitz for the First Time, and Narrowly Avoids a Latke Fire

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Ah, the holidays. Christmas is all about love, sharing, sweetness and light -- and keeping the antacids handy. In keeping with the spirit of the season, Chow Bella presents "Eating Christmas," in which some of our favorite writers nosh on the real lessons we learn this time of year. Today, we begin with a tale not of Christmas, but Hanukkah. Trust us, you'll enjoy it.

Please join us Wednesday, December 12 at 7 p.m. at Crescent Ballroom, as we present Chow Bella's first-ever public reading, featuring several entries from the "Eating Christmas" series, read by the authors, including Kim Porter.

See also: - Eating Christmas: Robrt Pela, Kim Porter and Others Read at Crescent Ballroom - Six Ways to Celebrate Hanukkah in Metro Phoenix My friend Lisa and I stand on Estelle's porch between two precarious towers of unread newspapers. "Oh, no. I had an Uncle who was a hoarder," Lisa says, "I hope she's not a hoarder," and she presses the doorbell.

"Wait. She's not related to you?" I ask, still unclear how she knows this old lady.

Lisa shakes her head, "She shops at my store. I think she thinks I'm Jewish."

"But, you say she's like Maude from Harold and Maude, right?" I say, picturing the two braids that feisty Ruth Gordon wore pinned atop her head.

"Well . . ." she fumbles to clarify. "I meant, she's eccentric."

I imagine Estelle pounding out show tunes on the piano and trusting us with a peek at her newest invention. I'm going to love being friends with an eccentric old Jew.

I'm nervous. I've never been to Hanukkah before and I hope this Estelle person will be able to tell that, even though I was born in the bible-belt to Methodist parents, and that at 24 I have only met a handful of Jewish people in my life and don't actually know anything about the Jews (aside from the stereo-types made irresistible by the Woody Allen movies I consumed obsessively like an antidote to the country music I was forced to listen to as a teen) that deep down I am a Jew. I'm a Jew trapped in a shiksa, waiting to be discovered. I hope Estelle will be able to sense that.

More importantly, I am eager to finally try a latke. I've heard they are to be eaten with either applesauce or sour cream and I don't know if one is considered more Jewish than the other, so I plan to follow our hostesses' lead. I'm also hoping she'll serve other famous Jewish foods like blintz or gefilte fish or matzah balls or chopped liver.

The door opens and when I see Estelle's two naked foot-long breasts dangling to the waist band of her white cotton underpants, I realize that Lisa and I should have synchronized our definitions of eccentric.

"You're late! You're late!" she screams. And we are. Still, I can't help wondering how much more flesh we'd be seeing if we'd arrived on time.

"Come in and meet my boyfriend, " she commands, her breasts oscillating with impatience. Lisa and I exchange perfectly concealed looks of horror as Estelle trots off toward the kitchen.

"Hoarder," Lisa whimpers as we step into the living room and see the full picture.

In my experience there are two kinds of squalor: clean squalor (from too much stock-piling) and dirty squalor (from broken perfectionism). Estelle's, squalor was the clean kind. It looked like the entire contents of a Big Lots store had been dumped into a 1600 square foot house; demoralizing, yes, but not infectious. In the kitchen Estelle introduces us to her boyfriend, a silk-screened beach towel bearing the likeness of Tom Selleck. Lisa says, "Hi," but, Tom, being a towel, does not reply. Before this evening is over Lisa and I will, at Estelle's insistence, put on toy gun belts and felt cowboy hats and accompany her to her local Kosher Deli for latkes. Only, because we are so late, they will already be out of latkes. We will put out two separate kitchen fires. We will pretend to eat still bloody chicken served on a bed of chopped hot dogs, grapes, and spoon-size shredded wheat. And around midnight, when I think I might become "eccentric" myself if we don't escape this place, we will spend over an hour being shown, over and over, the same 4 tchotchkes (one of which is a happy-meal toy) as Estelle clings to our elbows begging, "Don't go! I want to show you this beautiful thing."

We will never get around to lighting the candles, which are rumored to be integral to Hanukah. I will never eat a latke with applesauce or sour cream. And, sadly, my latent Judaism will not be revealed.

But, for now, in the kitchen, Estelle asks, "Manishewitz?" and Lisa nods.

"What's Manischewitz?" I whisper to Lisa. "Another one of her boyfriends?"

"I think it's something Jewish," she says.

Bring it on.

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