Two Of Them Almost Kissed Last Night…

I went to Chabad for the first time in awhile tonight. It was the “midsummer Chabad event” thing or something, I don’t know.


I was going to save this story for the first Shabbat of the school year, but I can’t wait that long, so here it is.

Shabbat is a time for seeing and greeting friends, especially those you haven’t seen for a while, or at least since last Shabbat. I think it was one of the first Friday nights of my senior year at UMass Amherst. I was (and still am) a pretty affectionate person, and at Hillel, the rules of negia were not always in play. I mean, I usually messed up the first time I met anyone because I have terrible negia-dar, but after awhile, you know how to greet which friends, and you do it the same way every time. I would do the man-shake with a male friend, or a quick hug. With a non-shomeret female friend, I’d do the squeeze thing and maybe an air kiss or a cheek kiss if I felt close enough to her.

So, one Friday night, I was greeting people like I usually do, but with a bit more enthusiasm since it had been a while since we’d seen each other. I went to hug one of my female friends, who was similarly happy to see me as I was to see her, and with our heads turned to our left, I kissed her cheek briefly without my lips directly touching her face. Like I usually do, I exited the hug by stepping directly backwards, keeping my face turned away from hers until I was out of her personal space. Only this time, as we released the hug, she turned her head to the right, and her lips brushed against mine for a millisecond.

I know, I know, accidents happen, and this is nothing to write home about, but it was one of those moments that’s so sweet that it’s awkward and so awkward that it’s sweet. Her eyes went big as did mine, and we looked around; thankfully, everyone around us was talking and hugging each other so nobody noticed.

Well, until she started giggling awkwardly, and someone near her said “what?” and she said “Nothing, we almost kissed.”

Then it got a little awkward. I started apologizing, and she said something like “no, I know you weren’t trying to kiss me, our heads just went in the opposite direction.”

But fortunately, it was only awkward for like five minutes. Then everything went back to normal.

I will not be identifying said friend, but should she read this, she’s a pretty cool chick and a good sport. This story had no point, I just wanted to tell it.

Please enjoy this clip from Friends.



One of the things I love most about going to class is participating in discussions. Since I live alone, there are only so many times I can rehash the same conversations over and over in my head, like why I should or should not sweep the floor today, or if I made the right decision about this or that in my life. So, going to class and participating in discussions is one way to hear other currents of information and contribute words of my own, words that may mean something to someone, or not. I’ve never been called out for lack of participation, and I do my best to keep my thoughts limited and on topic.

It’s rare that I have a moment like I did today.

So there I was, just sitting in class, listening in and taking notes on a discussion about societal values, symbolism, and political ideology. Even though I didn’t quite understand every word of every reading we had to do, hearing them spoken aloud helped me get a better perspective on things. This topic was one I had been unsure about, but a thought came to me as we discussed different levels of societies and the socially constructed methodology.

I raise my hand. (Even though since there are only seven students and one professor, most people just start talking, I still raise my hand, because I guess I like rules, or I’m bad at breaking old habits).

The professor calls on me, and all eyes turn toward me.

My brain says: Where did the carefully crafted thought I just had disappear to? I know it’s somewhere…and yes, it had to do with…

“The values of society can sometimes be as cut-and-dry as visual symbols, like…”

Like what?

“Like…Boy Scouts. And Girl Scouts.”

Okay, Jacob, good, keep going.


Come on, you can do it.

“Whenever they complete a task that coalesces with a positive attribute of the fundamentals of their organization, they get a badge, and I guess that these badges are a way of exposing the values behind the organization and society of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.”

Keep going, you’re almost there!

“So, my point is, it can be as simple as a merit badge that shows the values of a society that values ethics, and children.”

Okay, wrap it up.

“They promote their own cause by presenting boys and girls with badges, that they wear across their chest, on their, um, clothing, shirt, vest, that thing, wraps around your neck, shoulder, shirt, vest, thing, so that it can be easily seen and understood by outsiders…”


“…the core values of their organization, which causes a sense of pride, validating their sense of community-mindedness, to their community, and their importance within their own society, as well as to outsiders, with the badges they wear, across, their shirts, vest, chest, the thing that wraps around…”



What? Where am I? Who am I? What am I saying? What is…what? I should just stop talking, this is dumb…

“I should just stop talking, this is dumb…wait…oh my God, I’m sorry…” ::bites lip awkwardly::

At this point, the professor jumped in, and said something like “oh yes, no, yes, that’s a good example, that proves your point, you did a good job with that…” and we moved on, with me still kind of staring into nowhere.

I think I quietly said something to myself like “ugh, that was terrible, that made no sense…”

At which point the girl next to me overheard me, patted me on the shoulder, and said in a small voice, “No, you’re good, that was good, you’re okay.”

Oy vey. That’s all I have to say.


How Do You Pronounce Your Name, In Your Country?

Today, I hosted the sixth and final film in this year’s Madison Israeli Film Festival. It was a Sunday matinee showing of the 2012 film Foreign Letters by Israeli Filmmaker Ela Thier.

A still from the film

The film takes place in the USA in 1982 and centers around Ellie, a young girl who has recently emigrated from Israel to America with her family. She struggles, but is curious to learn about this strange new place called America where supermarkets give away bags for free and schools have libraries and cafeterias. While at school, she befriends Thuy, a girl who has moved from Vietnam to America with her family several years prior, due to the war. The girls have an unlikely friendship but bond over being outsiders in an America that is predominantly white and English-speaking. Their close friendship is tested by Ellie’s self-proclaimed “boyfriends,” Thuy’s shy and protective nature, and ultimately, betrayal, when Ellie spills one of Thuy’s secrets. But the film ends on a happy note, when Ellie makes a sacrifice in order to win her friend back.

After the film, I gave a short speech and invited some students from our school’s Vietnamese Student Association to the front of the room, where they talked about their lives and their different connections with their own Vietnamese culture and heritage. The two members of the group who were born in Vietnam (including one who just arrived in America this past year for school) wore spectacular Vietnamese outfits called ao dai just like Ellie and Thuy wear in the film when they are dancing together on the rooftop of Thuy’s apartment building. They gave a really solid presentation about Vietnamese culture and traditions, connecting it to things that we saw in the movie, such as Vietnamese clothing, food, and family values.

We had a small crowd, of only about 40 people, but I think any more than that would’ve been overwhelming. After their presentation, they took questions from the audience. All in all, it was a really fun event and I got more than a few compliments from people who attended and those who worked at Hillel.

From the moment I read the description of the movie, I had to see it, and after the first time I saw it, I knew I wanted to see it again and that I wanted to be the host for this one (there were six students on the film committee, each of us hosted a different night) because I love films that have a happy ending but still an urban, gritty atmosphere. Life is awkward sometimes and watching Foreign Letters again helped me feel like even though I’m an awkward person, I’m not alone. I also feel like this film really shied away from stereotypes, and showed a slice of life, something real. The Jewish/Israeli perspective was spot on, and I hope that the Vietnamese perspective was shown accurately, which I think it was. This film is definitely among my all-time favorites.

And of course, there’s the background soundtrack, featuring the fabulous vocals of Chava Alberstein. Watch the trailer here:

Oh, and welcome to my newest country, Latvia (laipni lūdzam!). Maybe I’ll get my first blog hit from Vietnam?


What’s in the Box?

In my never ending pursuit of procrastination, so far today I have dropped off my parking space rental check, chatted with a friend at the department for an hour, gotten coffee at Memorial Union (where not only did I pick one wrong lid but after picking the right lid, I realized that THEY HAD ALREADY GIVEN ME A LID AND I HAD TAKEN IT OFF TO PUT IN SOME SUGAR AND SET IT RIGHT NEXT TO THE CUP), walked home and hung out with a friend, gone back out for Lao cuisine for dinner, ate (but in my defense, spent the whole time reading and came out with a paragraph), went to College Library to get a book (but in my defense, wrote two whole pages), then came home and talked to my dad for a while before watching Family Guy and doing today’s crossword puzzle.

So, obviously, it’s time for a story.

It was…well, I can’t tell you the year, as well as some other details in this story.

Wow, great start.

So this one time, I was working in the costume shop of one of the 43981058 universities that I have attended. I wasn’t on the payroll, just a volunteer, so I got kinda the random tasks, but I never minded because they were always fun. Out of nowhere, a bunch of boxes appeared. They were, apparently, “donations.” It wasn’t just one or two boxes; it was about five HUGE boxes full of stuff. My task was to sort through them and “put like things together.” All I was told was that it was the belongings of a recently deceased faculty member, donated by her son. I opened one box, and out came blouses and lots of t-shirts referencing Frankenstein. So apparently she was either an English professor, or had a weird obsession with the macabre. The next box had skirts and dresses, including a beautiful red chiffon cocktail dress that I immediately put on a mannequin so that everyone could see it in the morning. It ended up replacing a dress in the upcoming show (unfortunately not The Dress From Hell, aka a lightly stained baby-blue lace dishrag that was so old and decrepit but the director loved and insisted on putting on the tallest and prettiest girl in the cast, who looked amazing in it, but tore at least three holes from dancing in it every night, so that by the end of the run was more a collection of stitches than a garment) so that worked out great. I was having a good time.

The next box, I reached in, and pulled out…


Yes. Panties.

Not only that, but pantyhose, leggings, bras, swimwear, and an ugly neon sweatsuit from the 80s.

But seriously, panties? Who in their mind would donate something to charity that you can’t even return to a store even with a receipt? Obviously, this lady’s son, or whoever packed and sealed the boxes. I sure hope they washed everything. Just typing that sentenced made me realize that…::gulp:: you know what, let’s just assume it was all clean.

The other three boxes were of no consequence.

Then, I found out who the clothing belonged to. I’m not going to reveal her identity, but she was a very well-known member of the faculty who was not only a professor in the English department, but at one point the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and one of the world’s leading experts on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. And just for kicks, I googled her about thirty seconds ago, and…she even has a Wikipedia page. She’s a real person, as far as the world’s concerned.

And that’s how I got in the dean of my school’s underpants.


Awkward Miss Estonia, American Girls Losing the Fight Against Gravity, and Friends

First, bienvenue and merhaba to my first visitors from France and Turkey, respectively.

Second, I promise this will be my last post about beauty pageants for awhile. I swear.

With that said…

One of the things that I enjoy about watching a beauty pageant is its spontaneity, and with Miss Universe, it’s even funnier, since it’s on a global stage. Horrid talents amuse me, and some of the most defining pop culture moments of the year happen in beauty pageants, from wretched talents, awful final question answers (Miss Teen South Carolina and Miss Utah being special moments of complete WTF), and of course, everyone’s favorite, falling over.

Walking is probably the easiest thing in the world for most people to do, yet somehow some of these young women can’t even do that. Well, they can, but sometimes gravity is just not their friend. And when it happens twice, even funnier. Let’s revisit Miss Universe in 2007 and 2008, shall we?

In 2007, Miss USA Rachel Smith had made it to the evening gown round in Las Vegas, and while Sean Paul played in the background, she tripped and fell on her rear end halfway down the runway. An audible “ohhh” erupted from the American audience as she fell, but she gamely got right back up and continued walking as if nothing happened. She even made it to the next round over girls that stayed on two feet, which some people were up in arms about. Then, in 2008, Miss USA Crystle Stewart walked onto the Miss Universe stage in Vietnam in her evening gown and made history by falling again, and this time not even as gracefully as her predecessor. In some ways, this was even worse: Stewart had barely made it onto the stage with her feet when she met it with her bottom. As she got up and walked it off, she actually clapped for herself to keep the audience energy up and maybe help them forget the last five seconds (Note to Crystle Stewart – it didn’t. Nice try. Still love ya though homegirl). Something was clearly wrong as she tripped a little and almost fell a second time while turning to walk down some steps, and you can see her grasping at her dress, which was clearly the problem here.

Unfortunate? Of course. Statistically probable? Almost nil. Hilarious? YES.

And then, there’s my favorite beauty pageant contestant of all time. She didn’t place and she didn’t do anything particularly spectacular, but she won my heart.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Kirke Klemmer, AKA Awkward Miss Estonia.



First of all, your name is Kirke Klemmer. There are three “k”s in your name, which is one more than kohmakas, or the Estonian word for “awkward.” Your first name is kind of like Kirk, so for some reason I picture Kirk Cameron, who is an absolute nut. Your last name is Klemmer, which is just funny, and when combined with your first name, is extremely funny to say out loud. When I put your name into Google Translate, it comes up as Norwegian for “church clamps,” which is a completely random phrase that is also funny.

Second of all, you’re from Estonia. The most random country in the world. I can’t think of a single famous person from Estonia. When I think of Estonia, all I can imagine is you and a country full of people like you, frolicking around the countryside without a care in the world. And all of you have funny somewhat Nordic or Russian-sounding names.

Third, look at you here. You are pretty and have a nice smile, but something else is going on behind those eyes. That something just might be nothing, but that’s all right with me. If you took some lithium to survive the evening , I don’t blame you. In fact, you should have received some sort of award for being making it through without falling asleep or interrupting the telecast with what was probably an epic acid trip. Your hair is styled in devil-may-care curls that make me want to say “yodel-ay-hee-hoo.” Your dress is something else. It is the color of puke. And the fabric makes it look like a rug, right down to the fringe at the bottom. It looks like something one might wear in the North – with a jacket, of course – with a kind of woolly texture.”Puke, “Woolly” and “Miss Universe” are not things that go together.

The glory starts at 2:50, when we see her for the first time. She’s the one dancing awkwardly in the yellow skirt, spinning in circles. She has an expression on her face that says, “I have no clue what I’m doing but my body is just moving around and I’m smiling like they told me to.” Then, about eight seconds later, we actually get to meet her. She’s playing with her skirt, staring off into space, and turns to face the camera at the last moment. In a monotone that sounds like she’s so strung out she might start guffawing at any given moment, she says “Kirke Klemmer, 22, Estonia” and lifts her hands to the world as if saying “I present you with my imaginary unicorn, which is ironically how I’m getting home tonight.” Also, honorable mention for looking particularly out of it: Miss Slovenia. At 8:19, she returns to the screen, bobbing around and making derpily perky Miss Czech Republic look somewhat normal in comparison. 8:21 is her shining moment, where she is seen in the background, blithely doing what looks to be the hokey-pokey in her own little bubble by a column, completely lost in her own little world. She appears again about ten seconds later next to Miss Chile, playing with her skirt and looking nowhere in particular. Sadly, that’s the last we see of her all night, but she was fun while she lasted. I can imagine her wandering around backstage, licking walls or asking people where her lollipop went.

I did a quick Google search for her and I couldn’t find much, but according to a casting website, she got a degree in acting in 2013 from Tallinn University and is doing something in London. She has a Facebook but it doesn’t have much on it but a current picture of her with another girl looking incredibly derpy in black. I’d add her as a friend, but that would be weird since I don’t actually know her. If anyone reading this does know her, tell her to contact me because she just looks like a barrel of fun. Maybe if I type Estonia a few more times, I’ll get a visitor from there. Estonia. Estonia. Estonia. Estonia. Estonia. Estonia. Estonia. Estonia. Estonia. Estonia.

And that’s my tribute to Kirke Klemmer, Awkward Miss Estonia, briefly featured while possibly stoned on the Miss Universe stage in 2006, possibly stoned right now, and awkwardly dancing through my heart.



Strategies for Talking with the Socially Awkward (Written By A Socially Awkward Person)

Awkwardness is alive and well in all levels of conversation, especially in 2013, when we can rely on text messages and emails to do our talking for us. The face-to-face is becoming rarer, and as we move towards an age of total social isolation, talking with people can be rough. I’d say about 75% of people out there would describe themselves as “socially awkward.” I am in that 75%. There’s no denying it; I am so socially awkward, most of it stemming from a childhood of limited social interactions with people (especially those my own age). Where I feel socially capable, however, is talking to the similarly socially awkward person, with hopes of decreasing or completely negating the mutually felt so-called social awkwardness. I had a conversation today with someone who is undoubtedly as socially awkward as I, or even more, and it went off beautifully, in part by employing these strategies:

1. Open with a fun greeting. Regardless of your mood, smile and say “Hey there!” or “How goes it?” or “Howdy!” Something to briefly catch the person off guard, showing you put some forethought into your greeting and are, dare I say, excited to meet/see the person.

2. Ask about the person, avoiding questions that leave room for a one-word answer. I personally love “How ya doin’?,” and saying it in a peppy manner is all the better, but opening the conversation with a prompting question rather than a…regular question…helps you glide right into actual person conversation. If you haven’t talked to the person in a really long time or are meeting them for the first time, sometimes you gotta reach a little bit. Saying “How’ve things been going?” or “Tell me about yourself!” works – something that’s inviting and lets them know that you want to continue the conversation, and are focused on them. “If you have talked to the person recently, you can ask them a question relating to something that happened in the interim since the last time you talked. For example, “How was your weekend?” or “What’s new in your life?” or “How’d your visit to the abortion clinic go?” Not the last one, but you get the point.

3. Focus on them, but not too much. I was seated at my conversation today, and I found that leaning forward and nodding my head was way more effective then sitting back and shrinking from the conversation. Also, because the chair was comfortable, and I didn’t sleep well last night, the sitting-back position was more likely to put me to sleep, so I adjusted myself periodically. Don’t always worry about sitting up straight, and if you need to adjust, don’t question yourself, just do it. Eye contact is important, but looking too intensely may scare him/her, so it’s okay to look down or to the side for a second. I was teaching a class once, and a guy in the front row was half-smiling and nodding and making eye contact with me, so as I was looking around the room doing the teaching thing, I kept coming back to him, and it made me feel a little bit special inside knowing that as awkward as I am, someone cared enough to listen to me. Either that, or he was a really convincing actor.

4. Listen until the end of the tape. If you remember cassette tapes, at the very end of the song, there’d be a tiny bit of empty hissing before the tape snapped and you had to rewind it. (God I feel so old.) Let his/her speech run its course, and then a few seconds longer, as if you’re waiting for the hiss or you’re on a three-second broadcast delay. (Better metaphor.) Don’t chomp at the bit with the next thing you’re going to say, even if you already know what it is – dial it back, son. Don’t make them feel like you’re controlling things; let him/her know that you’ve processed them for a second before opening your yap. Buuut…don’t wait too long, and create the Awkward Silence of Death (see number 6).

5. Be animated while you talk, but again, not too much. Nothing is scarier than a monotone, because most socially awkward people like myself get scared easily. Using your hands to gesture is fine. I’d suggest giving yourself some room lest you hit him/her in the nose. Act excited to be there, like “I’ve been so looking forward to this, and you, conversation partner, are just the bee’s knees, and I’d rather be nowhere else right now.” If you’re not, fake it, damn it. Don’t obscure your feelings; try putting your heart on your sleeve for a moment. Be vulnerable for a moment or two. Allow him/her to see your inner monologue and how what he/she is saying is directly influencing your processing of thought. Give them that power – for now – and then you’ll be like “ha ha, I am the puppet master of social interactions!” But don’t say that out loud.

6. Awkward Silence of Death. So many people have told me that silence is good in a conversation, but unless it’s with someone you’re really close to, it’s not. Keep silence at 3-4 seconds, max. Keep the conversation going, or you may let your guard down or allow them to retreat back into doubting their own social skills. I’ve been interviewed a lot of times, and the ones with awkward silences are the worst. Keep it light, and say something to bring your minds back into the conversation.

7. Know when to switch topics, and when to cut bait. Don’t EVER say “let’s change the topic…” that implies that you are either uninterested or insulted by what he/she is currently telling you. Try “In other news…” or “just apropos…” or if you’re feeling irreverent, “And now, for something completely different…” And when you switch the topic, don’t come out of left field, it might leave your awkward person tongue-tied. Ending conversations is tough…if you have somewhere to be, or something to do, or you run out of things to talk about and fall into the trap of “so…yeah… [trails off into nothingnowherenadaland]” make a move and a cheery exit, maybe even with a flourish, making your conversation partner look forward to the time when the two of you can be socially awkward together again.

Above all, keep it positive, light, upbeat, and breezy…the more you pretend that you’re a socialite, the better it works! But you’re obviously in possession of more intelligence than your average socialite (whoops, almost typed socialist) so you got it made in the shade.

If you’re talking to a person who thinks they’re not socially awkward, then either a) these strategies will not work for you, or b) it is likely that he/she is, in fact, more socially awkward than you.

This was a weird post, but if you’ve learned nothing, know this:

Social interactions are only as terrifying as you make them. Most people don’t have two heads, one speaking to you and one judging you. If you are in a conversation with a person with two heads, run and get your camera because you’re obviously going to want a selfie. If you are in a conversation with a zombie, just skip to number 7, cut bait with a cheery exit and a flourish, and then just run away because otherwise they will eat your brains.