4

Oh Say, Can You NVC?

Just realized that it has been five days since I’ve posted anything, and I’m already halfway through Leg 2 of my Summer Odyssey…well, completely through with the first part of this leg, but I guess I was just too busy having fun.

Anyway.

I’m posting this from my parents’ kitchen in Baltimore, Maryland, also the location of APO NVC 2015 (Baltimore, not my parents’ kitchen – we’d have to move the potted plants around a bit) facing two days of mostly sweet nothing before heading out to Montreal for ATHE.

But first…

Day 4 (July 22): Last full day in Utah (which seems like ages ago already even though it was only Wednesday). We all slept in and enjoyed a pajama breakfast/brunch and a day of general relaxation after two days of strenuous hiking and traveling. I got in some geocaching with Julie and Iris, and then went out for more geocaching, some Starbucks, and some food-shopping with Julie, who prepared a lovely dinner of tuna steaks. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone, but hopefully Julie will rally the troops together to get to next year’s ATHE, which will be in Chicago, a much more feasible road/plane trip. I arrived at the Salt Lake City Airport in plenty of time for my 11:55 PM flight to Philadelphia on US Airways. The last thing I experienced in the Beehive State was one of the loudest cheers I’d ever heard in my entire life for four Mormon missionaries returning from overseas. And…back to the East Coast I go!

Day 5 (July 23), or the 22 hours I had of it since I crossed two time zones, began with a flight to Philadelphia which was actually not as bad as I thought it would be. Probably the worst part was being in a middle seat between a grumpy-looking but silent Hispanic girl and a chatty Mormon guy. The guy was actually pretty nice, and thanks to him, I got to watch the second half of Little Miss Sunshine with my own iPhone as soundtrack; thankfully, I’d seen it before. He also tried to give me his self-recorded album, to which I politely said no thank you, because for some reason it’s a gut reaction when a Mormon offers me a gift. I’m still not entirely convinced it wasn’t actually a Book of Mormon on a CD in a case with his likeness on the cover wearing angel wings. We arrived in Philly about 30 minutes early, making it only about 3 and a half hours of actual flying time, which was much more palatable than last summer’s Phoenix-Charlotte slog.

Even though we got in early, I still hustled over to my next gate. I had to take a bus to the next terminal for that one, which kind of sucked because it took forever to find a place to get coffee and food. Oh, did I mention that they didn’t even give us water on that CROSS-COUNTRY flight? Anyway, next up was my second and final flight of the day, a whopping 20 minute flight to Baltimore. The plane was about the size of my apartment, and I ended up in seat 1C, so I got plenty of legroom but had to gate-check everything. I actually managed to close my eyes for a few moments. This flight seemed longer than the previous one, maybe because I was just so ready to be home.

And then…Baltimore, at 8:30 AM local time, 6:30 AM body clock time. Dad picked me up and took me home, where I laundered what I’d worn since leaving Madison (remember that place?), took an inadvertent several hour nap, and wound up at the hotel just in time to pick up my registration information for APO NVC, aka Alpha Phi Omega National Volunteer Conference, the reason why I came back to Baltimore in the first place.

To get you in the know, APO NVC is an every-other-year summer opportunity for alumni, advisors, and staffers of the fraternity to get together for some brotherly bonding, workshops, seminars, and listening to the national board members make jokes about each other in speeches. Even though I’ve been in the fraternity for 9 years and attended 2 national conventions, this was my first NVC, and hopefully not my last. It’s like a microcosm of Nationals; basically, around 200 people, all college graduates, with interests in helping others and sharing stories of doing so, without any of the drama of college students. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I had happy reunions with, some of whom I haven’t gotten the chance to catch up with in person since Nationals in Boston in 2008! But that first night, at least, I went to dinner with Kate and my fellow Region IX-ers whom I got to know very well, our region director Ding from Minnesota, and section chair Eden, also from Minnesota. After, I went up for the night to room 732, where I was surprised to have no roommate, and just as I was about to celebrate this fact at 11 PM by taking off my clothes and going to bed, the door clicks and in walks my roommate for the conference: David, all the way from Quincy, Illinois. He had actually come from New York City on the Megabus, though, after visiting friends, so he’d been traveling almost as long as I had. Though initially we were just going to go right to sleep, of course we stayed up talking and getting to know each other until 2 in the morning. We both set alarms but agreed to let the other sleep if the occasion merited it.

Day 6 (July 24): Up and at ’em at about 8 AM. David stayed in the room, but I went downstairs and liberally doused myself in coffee and pastries from the buffet, sitting alongside, Kate, Eden, and Ding. After a fun speed-dating activity, it was time for the first slate of workshops. I am glad that I took tons of notes in my little yellow notebook, because at the moment I’m blanking on details of most of time, but suffice it to say, they were informative. (Side note: I skipped the morning lecture to meet and catch up with a few other people, and had a fantastic lunch with members of Region I). There were five concurrent sessions offered at each time slot, and I’m proud to say that out of the 7 slots, 4 on this day and 3 on the next day, I managed to make it to 6, only skipping one on the 24th because I was engaged in conversation with a fantastic brother from Pennsylvania called Jessica. My three sessions of this day were Essentials of Advising, National Policies and Paperwork (an EXTREMELY informative session led by Ping and mrn, aka Region 1 and Region 10 directors), and after a break, Developing Leaders and Mentoring, a new session led by the conference’s chair.

After that, we were on our own for dinner. I spent a little while catching up with Fulori, who was probably the only person there who I knew from Texas, then went back up to the room. While reorganizing my bag, I decided to call my dad, who suggested that I could come home for dinner via train.

And you know what?

I did.

Once I got down to the lobby, I found out that the airport shuttle at the hotel was free and ran every five minutes, and once at BWI, I could just hop on the Light Rail and be home in under an hour. As I never like to travel alone at APO events, I managed to convince a group of six brothers who were indecisive about where to go to dinner to take the train into Baltimore with me, so we did. It turned out that out of those six, 3 were from Maryland schools (2 from College Park and 1 from Towson) and 1 was a New Yorker working in Baltimore for the summer. The other two came from Virginia and New York; not too far, but they hadn’t been to Baltimore before. I probably made way too many suggestions about what they should do (they wanted to see the Inner Harbor), but I set them loose at University of Baltimore/Mount Royal station, telling them to walk down to Mount Vernon for dinner at XS and hoping they’d make it back to the hotel okay. After a seeming eternity, I got off at Mount Washington station where Dad was waiting for me. We had a quick dinner and then Mom drove me back to the hotel.

Day 7 (July 25 – Wow, this post is getting really long. Halfway done, I promise): Decided to sleep in, since I brought some breakfast from home and I’d had a big day the day before, and it didn’t seem like there was much going on in the morning. In the obverse of yesterday, David got up really early for breakfast. At about 11:30 AM, I got myself together for lunch just as David was returning to the room with a large bag from CVS; poor guy had an ear infection. I headed down to lunch, which was a delicious buffet.

Three afternoon workshops were in store for me: Working Directly with Chapters/What Would You Do? (basically, a worst-case-scenario thing), Recruitment and Retention of Volunteers (something I probably could have skipped in favor of another session), and finally, Dealing with Difficult People (which was led by this incredible, kick-ass, take-no-prisoners presenter who really told it like it was).

In the meantime, I had caught up with Adrienne and David, two of the six brothers whom I’d sent off to Baltimore the night before and had thankfully gotten back. It turns out they didn’t end up taking the newbies to the Harbor, which was probably filled with tourists anyway, they ate at XS and stayed there for two hours, walked back around Mount Vernon to the Light Rail, and went back to the hotel. Their only complaint was that I didn’t join them (aw, shucks) but at least I made great new friends and they had a good time. Oh, and I’m also in debt to Adrienne for saving me by looking up my phone number on Facebook and calling me after I left my credit card at the crappy coffee kiosk in the lobby, so thank you Adrienne!

The final event of the evening was the big dinner banquet, at which I said my goodbyes to everyone until next time. Even though the conference didn’t end until the next day, after having dinner on Friday with my parents, I realized that if I stayed until the next day (the events were only until 11 AM), I’d only have about two and a half days with my family and three short nights in my own bed. It’s always that weird thing, do you leave early on a high note with a lot of goodbyes in a short amount of time, or stay longer, and say an entire cascade of goodbyes over the course of the afternoon? This time I chose the former (and it’s getting super late as I type this, so I’ll be brief) but it was probably one of my favorite APO banquets ever. First, I got mentioned in the speech; the program director picked a person from each of the 11 regions to highlight, and Region IX was me, so that was pretty sweet, and I ended up sitting with Jessica from Pennsylvania on one side, and on the other side, Arturo and Crystal from Puerto Rico who got mentioned for their region’s highlight, so it was definitely a cool kids’ table. And then, wouldn’t you know it but the 2015 Region Cup, having something to do with chapters in good standing, went to…Region IX! I was so proud when Ding went up to accept the trophy. The rest of the evening was a blur of pictures (both Blondie AND Lillian from Region I made sure I was pulled into the giant Region I picture despite not having been in Region I since 2009) and probably the funniest and most poignant Maggie Katz soapbox talk ever. It made me wish I could stay and sing the toast song, but I guess that will have to wait until the next Nationals, which will be in Pittsburgh, PA in December 2016. Mom came and picked me up around 11:00 PM and it was just nice to have a little bit of an extended stay in my own bed.

Day 8 (July 26, finally, as the clock on my computer rolls around to July 27): HOME! I forgot what it was like to be in “home mode,” as I call it; sleeping in and generally being lazy, with my parents close at hand to hug or bug, whichever the case may be. We had brunch at the club, after which Mom swam while I was going to exercise at the gym but took a nap on a comfortable chaise instead, followed by watching a movie and having dinner back at the house. Tomorrow: NOTHING, except for a few errands, and hopefully becoming at peace with my ATHE presentation, and maybe writing a few posts to make up for my near-week of non-posting.

And that brings me to an hour later, still in the kitchen when I could be in bed. Good night everyone!

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13

I Won’t Back Down

Sometimes, you have moments where life just stops you in your tracks, and I had one today.

Recently, I’ve been worrying and fretting and just being a fearful, nervous wreck about so much – school, the show, dancing, my self-image – that I just lost sight of reality, the here-and-now. This morning, I got out of bed at 11 AM, finding every excuse I could to not do anything but stay in my warm cocoon of blankets.

When I did get up, I went over to my computer, logged on Facebook, to be met with some unfortunate news; the death of my friend and fraternity brother, Brendan Conway.

I normally don’t give out real first and last names of people in my life here on That’s So Jacob, but I feel like I must salute this friend and gentleman. A strong Irishman from Dorchester, Massachusetts who could drink you under the table, he had beaten cancer once, and we all thought he’d beat it again. I knew he was in trouble, however, when he posted on Facebook a few weeks ago that he was back in the hospital, at Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston, and the doctors were saying “we’re trying to make you as comfortable as possible.” That is never a good sign. And then late last night, it happened; his 32 years on this Earth came to an end. I only hope it was truly peaceful, as peaceful as is humanly possible for an individual with debilitating cancer.

My first instinct was to call Dan. Dan, my grandbig, was Brendan’s big when he pledged APO, and I knew that the two of them were close. After a rapid fire texting session while I was on my way to Modern Indian Theatre class, I told him to call anytime to talk, and he said he would later on tonight. When he called I was in dance class, but as soon as class let out I grabbed my sweatshirt and phone, and we talked for over an hour, mostly about Brendan and all the good times we had with him. It’s always sad when something like this is what makes people crawl out of the woodwork and reconnect with one another, but at least we had plenty of happy memories to laugh about, which made the fact that he is no longer with us seem more palatable, and in a way, almost made it seem like he still was with us. Someone who was as boisterous and opinionated and upfront as Brendan never really dies, I suppose; his body and soul are no longer with us, but his spirit certainly is. He told it like it was, but for a big guy, he had a big heart, a servant’s heart, one that was loyal and true and really cared deeply about his friends, more than he cared about himself.

I talked about one aspect of my undergrad APO experience awhile back, one that was not the most positive memory, but talking with Dan made me realize something about Brendan, about friendship, and about people in general. A lot of the people who gave me a hard time also gave Brendan a hard time, and some of the more “Popular Patty” types in the chapter were less than kind to him because was unique and he did things or said things that were very honest and not always the best choices, and they didn’t even attempt to get close to him or even give him the time of day. For those of us who got to know him – we loved the guy. Honestly. Once you got to know him and understand his sense of humor, he was the perfect big brother/frat bro/drinking buddy who was always up for a party and a beer but was very compassionate, reverent, and gentle in private. For those in the chapter who didn’t get to experience those sides of Brendan, they missed out. And I’m talking about a big time missed opportunity, an opportunity to really get to experience a different kind of friendship. A Brendan Conway doesn’t come along every day. I wouldn’t say that I feel sorry for them, because I don’t, that was their choice. But if anyone asks, they just really missed out, and now his true friends and brothers, like me and Dan, get to laugh and revel in the happy and fond memories while they…well, they don’t.

So they’re really the losers here.

I like that.

But back to Brendan. One of the things I liked about him the most (and I took advantage of the most) was his game face. Being 100% Irish Catholic, he never backed down from a dare. It’s like it was coded in his DNA or something; just a complete inability to say no, no matter how ridiculous. Whenever a bunch of us from the chapter would go out to eat, I would find the grossest sounding item on the menu and dare Brendan to order it. And to my surprise, he always, always did. One time, at Panda East in Amherst, I found “sushi nachos” on the menu. I said the magic words, “I dare you,” and he actually followed through. When the waitress brought over a roll of mushy fish slathered with orange cheese, I couldn’t do anything but laugh and feel sorry for making Brendan order this failed fusion that barely qualified as food. He didn’t have to take the dare, but he’s Brendan, so no harm, no foul, all in good fun. He never backed down from any dare or any challenge in life, and I can say with confidence that he went down fighting with all he had.

This song’s for you, Brendan Conway (6/22/1982 – 3/23/2015).

Miss ya like a brotha.

4

The Struggle is Real

Sometimes, it’s Passover, and you have peaches for dinner with tuna for dessert.

And you have your apartment being shown tomorrow and everything is covered in matzah dust or books. Or both.

And you’re pulling out every trick in the book (games, food, Golden Girls, blogging) to avoid finishing your paper which you could do in about five minutes but you just don’t want to.

And you realize you can’t make matzah ball soup because you don’t have Kosher for Passover cooking oil which costs like $12.99 at the store.

And you realize you have about six hundred pages of reading over the next few days, in addition to APO and dance obligations.

And you’re having trouble enrolling for next semester because you probably waited too long to make up your damn mind about which classes to take.

And you just kinda feel like you’re waiting for something to go wrong.

Well, more wrong than being grabbed around the waist and freaking the fuck out in front of your entire dance class.

1

Blue Sunday

This isn’t going to be a fun or happy post, even though I did, for the most part, have a nice day and spent it with some really good friends. I know I should probably be reading for class or writing for class or something right now, but the thoughts are in my mind and I want them to be in my blog. This post may disappear without warning. Okay, now I’m just being supercilious, so here it goes.

I have a confession to make.

I have been a brother of APO since 2006. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Since then, I have been active in 3 chapters and am now working with one in an advisory role. I have traveled to Louisville and Boston for national convention, and I have made friends across the country and around the world. I have done hundreds of hours of service, attended crazy and fun fellowship events, created and carried out service projects/fellowships of my own, have collected two awards and so, so many memories.

Most of them are good, but some of them are bad.

Here’s one of the bad ones.

During my final semester as an undergraduate, I was abused by a brother.

It was not physical or sexual in any way, and since I was not a pledge, it was not technically hazing. But I was still hurt, mentally and emotionally, and I should have seen it coming based on something that happened at a meeting in an earlier semester. We were planning to hold a ritual on a Saturday night, but due to a pledge’s conflicting schedule, we moved it earlier in the week to Thursday so all the pledges could attend. Everyone else in the chapter was on board…except me. I had won a playwriting competition in Baltimore, and the show was set to open that Friday. Since I wouldn’t be able to attend the show on a Friday night, I planned on flying down Thursday afternoon, seeing final dress rehearsal that night, and getting back to Amherst on Friday morning to make it to my Friday afternoon class. When I brought this up at the meeting (which I had mentioned at the past two meetings, at least), I knew that I would probably be overruled. Unsurprisingly, I was, but not before a brother yelled out, “Well, you’re not important.” That kinda hurt, but I brushed it off as just something that came out at the wrong place at the wrong time, and in the wrong tone of voice.

In my final semester, this brother started opening up to me, or so I thought. She would call to see how I was doing, she would invite me to eat lunch with her, and was generally nice to me.

I really thought she’d changed.

I had been lulled into a false sense of security.

Over the next few weeks, things got worse. She began to be “honest” with me, and told me about what she perceived as flaws in my character, some of which I agreed with and some of which I didn’t agree with. When pledging started, she emailed me, telling me that she heard that I said something inappropriate to a female pledge. When she mentioned the name, I was taken aback: I had barely interacted with this pledge. She also said to stay away from her, and not to apologize, because that would make things worse, and warned me that our president knew and was watching me, so don’t talk about it. Puzzled about what I did or when, I just kept to myself, and since nobody ever brought it up, I assumed it had either a) fizzled out or b) been taken care of. I also avoided this pledge, making an excuse to leave whenever she was around and deliberately not talking to her, for fear of making anything worse.

That semester was also the beginning of a service project that I created with the help of the Chabad House at Amherst, Loaves for Love, a program involving brothers coming to bake challah on a Thursday night, taking some home, and taking the rest to a long-term care facility or a nursing home in nearby Hadley. I was unsure of the project at first, fearing that people would not like it. The first time, only six brothers showed up, but they had so much fun not only baking but learning the Jewish traditions behind the taking of Challah from the dough, different braiding patterns, listening to folk tales told by the rabbi’s wife while the challah was baking, decorating the challah with sesame and poppy seeds when it came out of the oven warm and fresh, playing with the children of the house, and of course, eating challah – for some of them, it was their first – and taking some home to enjoy later. The five other brothers who attended had such a great time that they told the other brothers, and for the remainder of the semester, everyone jumped at the opportunity to do Loaves for Love, and together with Chabad we made hundreds of challah rolls and heard so many stories that made us all feel good inside. Oh, and the warm bread helped too.

Then, I received an email from you-know-who. Very bluntly, she accused me of pushing a religious agenda on the brothers and pledges. As one of the few brothers to never cross the threshold of the Chabad House, I’m not sure how or why she claimed that about the project, but she used the magic “they,” so I became very nervous at future Loaves for Love events, especially around pledges. I was kind of freaked out. More than freaked out, I was terrified. The thought of me pushing religion on anyone, as a member of a religion that forbids proselytizing of any kind, was unacceptable. I continued planning and facilitating events, passing the project down to my little, but each time I went, I was petrified from the moment I rolled up my sleeves to the moment the last challah roll was bagged. But I could never let it show, because I was trying to be brave, be strong, and be a leader.

Things progressively got worse. This brother confronted me directly after meetings. After one meeting, when I refused to speak with her, she followed me around the room as I talked to other brothers, stalking me silently, waiting for me to break a conversation so she could slip herself in. When she made an attempt to butt in or start a conversation with me, I just said, “I don’t want to talk to you right now, we’ll talk later.” I successfully managed to avoid her that night, bundling myself inside my coat and briskly walking out of the room, out of the student union, and out of her clutches.

I thought I had made myself clear to her, and to the rest of the chapter, that I did not want to talk to her. I guess she felt embarrassed when I shut her down after the meeting, because what came next almost pushed me over an edge and made me want to quit entirely.

Not long after, I received an email from her. I opened it, knowing I’d be horrified, but this email left me gasping for breath. I have blocked most of it out of my memory, but not only did it bring up the pledge thing and the religion thing, it also included, well…hate speech is the best way to describe it. It was cruel, mean, and nasty. It was sexual in nature, but her usage of words was clever enough to mask her true feelings (claiming, again, it was the chapter’s feelings) that it made my eyes water and my blood drain from my face.

What happened next?

Something I’m proud of, and something I’m not so proud of.

I’m proud of the fact that I a) did not respond or retaliate, b) did not confront her publicly or privately, c) did not bring it up at chapter meeting.

I’m not proud that I a) did not share my feelings with any brothers, and b) deleted the email, hoping that no one would ever read it, ever again.

I still regret those two decisions.

Even though this was between me and her, I felt stripped of any humanity or self-esteem I had left. I was emotionally wrecked. Between plugging away at academics and being scared at the prospect of graduation, I looked to APO for service and friendship, and it had let me down. I still went to meetings, but finished my requirements quietly and then stepped away from the chapter for the remaining weeks of the semester, putting all my focus on my schoolwork.

Before the semester ended, however, I decided that I wanted to graduate from school and APO with my head held high. I had done a lot of service that semester, and I thought I’d helped start a good project. An advisor showed up at a meeting one day, someone who was relatively new to the chapter, and mentioned that she’d be available to talk to anyone, giving out her cell number and email address. I took advantage of that, and called her immediately, setting up a lunch date away from campus to talk about things. I didn’t tell her everything, but what I told her confirmed similar things she’d heard about this brother. She advised me not to listen to that brother anymore, and that her magic “they” was, in fact, nobody at all. Nobody! She continued by saying that she hadn’t heard any complaints about me from anyone else in the chapter. After that lunch, I felt so much better. I didn’t pursue anything further, even though I could have and should have. I just didn’t want any additional drama.

Whenever you become the receiving end of any abusive words or actions in your fraternity, sorority, or any organization, tell someone.

Don’t do what I did and suffer in silence; you are important and so is your voice.

Never accept hearsay.

Be true to who you are and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

You are important and you deserve to be treated with respect; if you are being treated otherwise, that person is not your friend.

Stand up for yourself and inspire others.

And most importantly, SAY SOMETHING. And not to yourself, to SOMEONE ELSE. ASK. FOR. HELP.

But this story does have a happy ending – sort of. Right before banquet, the pledge who I’d been avoiding approached me to interview me for her Pledge Book. I was tense, but I answered her questions through a poker face. At the end of the interview, I told her that I was sorry for whatever I did or said to hurt her in any way.

Her response: “I’m not mad at you…who told you that?”

0

Things I Saw at the Student Organization Fair

Before I forget, again, two new flags have popped up this week so bine ai venit to Romania and a warm and sunny welcome to Barbados.

Another lame post for today; I haven’t finished any books recently and for some reason I didn’t think of any stories worth telling today. In fact I didn’t think much about anything today. Also, I woke up at noon and barely did anything but for some reason am exhausted.

The only real bright spot in my day was the student organization fair. After going to the gym, I decided to stop by to see if I could help out at the APO table for a little while. This past fall, I went to the fair and it was so packed with people you could barely breathe. This semester, there was quite a fair amount of breathing room. It wasn’t hard to navigate and was more fun than the craziness of last fall.

So here’s a rundown of my thoughts on the fair.

  1. So. Much. Candy. It’s a shame there wasn’t a Student Dentistry Group there, because they could’ve had quite the field day. Every table was overflowing with candy. My sweet tooth knows no bounds, but I controlled it pretty well, only consuming some Laffy Taffys, some Airheads, and some chocolate. Lollipops seemed to be the trendy thing this semester. I have to say, I’ve never been a huge lollipop fan. Too sticky for my taste, and the jagged edges when they break off in your mouth are quite unpleasant. If I wanted to eat broken glass, I would find some.
  2. The more extreme the group, the more militant their marketing strategies. Of all the groups, the only one that actually accosted me – as in, started talking to me without me even initiating or permitting contact – was the political one about how Obama is messing up this country. The College Democrats and Republicans on either side spoke to me as well, but thrusting a book in someone’s face while asking him/her a really loaded question is clearly not the way to gain friends and influence, people.
  3. People are either super-involved, or just come for the free stuff and breeze right past everyone. There were some people that I saw (friends of mine) at different booths on different floors, and those are the ones who seem to devote their lives to the groups that they’re involved with. I didn’t see anyone I knew walking around just talking, nor did I see anyone I knew manning just one table. Yes, it’s a Thursday, and it’s cold, but for goodness sake, UW students, put down the beer and come to this event so the desperate ones are less predatory towards the innocent.
  4. Approach = everything. After I settled down at the APO table, I developed what I thought was a good attention-getting strategy. Rather than just stand there and watch people pass or yell, I held out a single flier and just asked people how they were. After they stopped, I told them more about APO or passed them to another brother while I looked for another person. I think it worked because we did draw a crowd at one point, and we didn’t even have a whole lot of free stuff.
  5. It’s always fun to pretend to be a student. Technically, I still am, but something like this is not geared towards the graduate student. But if you look young and dress young, it’s funny seeing the reactions when you tell people who you really are, or let them believe you’re a student so they don’t give you a hard time when you really want that cool pen.
0

26 Years Ago Today…

1:35 PM EST. Baltimore, Maryland.

I don’t remember it, but I was there.

Happy birthday to me.

I woke up this morning, not feeling much different than I normally do, only rushed, because I had to get my checkbook (which I couldn’t find) and hightail it to the hotel to rendezvous with Mom and Dad to go to the bank, because my credit card got cut off through no means of our own, so basically, I have no credit card until next week. We then went to Starbucks, where my parents gave me a card and a 25 dollar gift card to Starbucks, which was really nice 🙂 and then I took them back to the hotel, they checked out, and we parted ways as I headed to kabuki class. It was fun, as always, and afterwards I grabbed a tuna sandwich at Walgreens and treated myself to a French Press at Starbucks on State Street – though actually, getting a French Press is not a bad deal, given the fact that it’s about two grande cups of coffee for $3.69. I shared it with Vincent, then went to find an awesome geocache at the top of a parking garage, then back home to eat cupcakes with Vincent again. Then I headed off to rehearsal, during the middle of which I jetted across the street for the APO meeting to which about fifty or so people showed up, and I gave out mass quantities of candy and then hustled back to rehearsal. Then, at 9, I went BACK to APO – not to the meeting, but the fellowship afterward at Forever Yogurt, where a LOT of brothers showed up, and then home, where I am right now, and I should be working on my presentation for tomorrow, but I’m not at the moment because it’s time to blog.

I feel like I should tell a story, so I’ll talk about how I got my name.

My full name is very very long and I almost never use it. It’s so long that it takes up my whole driver’s license. In fact, I once bet a Bulgarian women at the airport in Hartford that my name had more letters than hers, and I won. I used to hate my name, the fact that it was too common, easily confused with Jason/Jared/Jonathan/Johnny/Justin (and once, Judith, in a returned phone call, which is kind of ironic in a creepy way), and just too damn long to write on any form. But here, for the first time ever, I’ll break it down for you:

Jacob is my first name. I was named after my mother’s father, Jack, who died in 1971, long before I was born. He was born in Bryansk, Russian Empire (today: Belarus) and came to Baltimore at a very young age. He was obsessed with photography, video, and all things technological, which explains why we have so many strange and random home movies of my mom as a child in the 1950s. He worked for a uniform company in downtown Baltimore. My mother’s brothers both look a lot like him; he was very tall, and fortunately I got enough to the tall genes to make me the height of a normal human. Oddly enough, in my teenage years, we found his birth certificate, and we learned that his name was not, in fact, Jack; it was actually Jacob the whole time, with Jack as a nickname. Funny how that one turned out.

Richard is my first middle name. It’s the one I usually use. It’s also my paternal grandfather’s name. He was born in Gunzenhausen, Germany, and along with my grandmother, took the family out of Europe after Kristallnacht occurred in November 1938. He also died long before I was born, in the 1970s as well, I think.  Before the war, he was a viehhandler, or cattle dealer, and in America, he also worked in clothing, just like my other grandfather. He and my grandmother loved each other very very much, and he was very treasured and well-liked in the family, and also, reportedly, a good dancer. I have not seen many pictures of him, but when he was young, he was very, very good looking – unfortunately, I didn’t inherit all of his good looks, taking after my own dad, who looks like…who knows, someone in the family.

Aaron is my second middle name. It was a last-minute addition, due to the death of my great-grandmother on my mother’s side, Anne Gelb Feingold aka “Gigi.” She died shortly before I was born, either in late 1986 or early 1987. She was a tough lady, and reigned supreme as the queen of her family. She was born in Bystra, Austro-Hungarian Empire, and immigrated to New York City via Ellis Island. I never knew too much about her, and my sister doesn’t even really remember her. Before I went to Slovakia in January 2012, my dad told me that he thought that my grandmother had possibly come from Slovakia, and once there, he did some investigating, and emailed me that the town she was from was, indeed, in Slovakia, effectively making me one-eighth Slovak. Ironically, I was sitting at a bar in Levoca, Slovakia – about 60 miles away from Bystra. She spoke English and Yiddish, and once she got to America, told everyone that she had come from Austria – even the customs agents at Ellis Island – but she had in fact come from what was, at the time of her departure, Poland. I guess she didn’t want to endure the Polish stereotyping. She was a homemaker, and raised my grandmother and great-uncle. She was a very religious lady. I dislike the name Aaron, but the more I learn about my grandmother, the more interested I become in why she was the way she was.

Hellman is my last name. I am not related to Lillian Hellman (sigh), Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, or most likely any Hellman (or Hellmann) you know. It comes from the German word holle (her-la), meaning “the intersection of three streets,” specifically, the intersection of three streets in Gunzenhausen, the town where my grandparents fled from as a married couple, and the area where my family had lived since the 16th century. My dad and his father always were at loggerheads about how to actually spell the name. My grandparents always used “Hellmann” with two n’s, and my dad insisted on only one, because at one point in his life he saw my great-great-great-grandfather’s voting registration card from the 1850s, and he used only one. This is disputed, however, because we have not been able to locate said voting card, neither in Baltimore nor in the archives in Gunzenhausen. But, then again, my grandfather always spelled my dad’s name wrong, on everything, so maybe my dad has a point.

With that said, I should probably go back to working on my presentation for tomorrow, but before I do, I’d like to wish a happy birthday to: Benyamin Netanyahu (former Prime Minister of Israel), actresses Patti Davis and Carrie Fisher, richest woman in the world Liliane Bettencourt (owner of L’Oreal), Kim Kardashian (who wishes she was Liliane Bettencourt), and Judge Judy. 

Also, the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), the Battle of Aachen (1944), and the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in NYC (1959).

Oh, and apparently it’s also International Day of the Nacho in Mexico and the USA. Olé!

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That Other Time I Saved Someone’s Life

Then there was the other time I saved someone’s life. It wasn’t nearly as high-stakes or as dramatic as the other one, but in the interest of fairness and preserving this story, here it is.

(Oh, and welcome to my blog, viewers from District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania who all showed up on my flag counter today 🙂 )

This time, it was 2009, and I was living in Israel. It was pretty much an ordinary Monday morning (or whatever day it was, I think it was a Monday but that’s not important to the story) and I was walking down Rechov Rivka in Bak’a, just past Ba’kafe, when an Asian girl ran up to me, screaming for help. Her plea was something like “help, help, English, my lady fell, she fell, my lady fell.” After I got her a little calmer, I found out that her name was Sharon and she was a mitapelet, or caretaker, for an elderly lady that lived in the apartment building adjacent to Ba’kafe. She was pretty new at the job, and it became obvious when she told me what happened. She left the apartment for a few minutes to get some cigarettes or gum or something from the handy-dandy makolet. In her absence, the lady she was supposed to have been watching fell, somewhere in the apartment. When Sharon returned, she heard the lady yelling out in pain and beating on the floor, And then she realized that she had left her keys in the apartment after locking it from the inside. And to make things worse, the apartment was on the second floor, so there was no way for Sharon to pry or break open a window and enter from the outside.

And that’s when I showed up.

We ran up the stairs, and we could still hear her mumbling in Hebrew, although her voice was pretty faint. Sharon was panicking and on the verge of a total meltdown, and I knew that kneeling at a locked door in a stuffy stairwell wasn’t going to solve anything at that point in time, so we went back downstairs into the open air. I was pretty new to Israel, having been in the country for maybe two months or so, but fortunately I knew enough to call 100, which is Israel’s equivalent to 911, which apparently Sharon had no idea existed. I encountered a dispatcher who couldn’t speak any English, so I had to rely on my Hebrew skills to describe what exactly had happened, ask for an ambulance, and let them know the exact address and some local landmarks in case they got lost. I also told them I’d be wearing a red sweatshirt and dancing around in the street so they’d know where to find us.

I hung up the phone, looked behind me, and saw that Sharon, at this point, was a total mess, because not only was there a lady howling and kicking in pain, but she was probably going to lose her job and be sent right back to the Philippines with no paycheck and probably not a sparkling recommendation for future employment. I asked her if she wanted a hug, and she got up from the stoop where she was sitting and threw her arms around me, sobbing, so I ended up holding her for awhile, first on the sidewalk, then out in the middle of the street while we waited for the ambulance to come. I felt horrible for seeing her like this, even though I had only met her moments ago. I patted her hair and whispered to her that help was on the way, so we shouldn’t cry or worry because everything was going to be okay. While we waited, I struck up a conversation with her, learning that she did not speak any Hebrew and had just arrived in the country relatively recently from Iloilo, Philippines. I  told her than I was from America. I said “mabuhay” and told her that I knew some words in Filipino, which made her smile a little bit. She asked me where I learned them, and incidentally, I happened to be wearing my APO letters sweatshirt, so I asked her if she’d heard of Alpha Phi Omega (APO) when she was back in the Philippines. She had heard of APO before, but didn’t really know what it was about, so I told her that we were friendly people devoted to the service of others, and she nodded in agreement.

Then, the ambulance showed up, with two firemen inside. Unfortunately, one of them had a broken hand and couldn’t hold or climb the ladder, so guess who had to go out in the middle of the street where suddenly a bunch of cars were going by, help lift the heavy ladder off the truck, and set it up so that the fireman with two functioning hands could climb up, pry open the window, and get into the apartment. After the fireman disappeared into the apartment, Sharon, for some reason, decided that she would do the same, and I was immediately all “nooooo, don’t even think about it,” at which point I actually put grabbed her around the waist and physically pulled her off the ladder because with her luck, she’d trip and fall into the bushes surrounding the building, and we already had one out-of-commission fireman on the scene and I did not want to have to call another ambulance an explain why there was a stupid girl bleeding from the head.

So then, the fireman leaned out the window, reporting that everything was okay. He climbed back down the ladder, saying that there was no blood, and that the old woman was conscious, responsive, able to walk once he got her back up on her feet, and he’d gotten her to sit on the couch. He then told Sharon that she could go back inside (via the now-unlocked door, not through the window). so she could sit with her while he prepared the stretcher to take her to the hospital to get her checked out. We thanked the fireman, and Sharon thanked me for saving her hide in the nick of time, asking me to exchange numbers so that she could repay me by taking me out to dinner one night (when she was off duty, if she still had the job). We did, and had one more big hug before she disappeared up the front steps and I went on my merry way.

Later, she called me from the hospital, thanking me again and letting me know that her lady was fine, with just a few light bruises on her head and that the doctors were getting ready to send the two of them back home for the night with some over-the-counter pain meds. We promised to meet up sometime, but we didn’t until she showed up at an audition I was proctoring because she wanted to see me one more time before going back to the Philippines because the job was over. Maybe her lady died, or maybe she got fired from her agency or the family for some other reason but either way, it was clear that she’d remained in the country and working – and incredibly lucky, given the circumstances of what happened. She and I were Facebook friends for awhile until she deleted her profile, and her full name is pretty common so it’s unlikely we’ll ever cross paths again.

Oh, and I also got my bus pass that day, which is the reason why I was walking down Rivka in the first place.