Sarah Zuckerman, Amateur Defective

Last week, I finished a book that I’d encountered after reading an article on the Internet. More on that article later, but for now, a brief review of said book, You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt.

You Are One of Them is told from the point of view of Sarah Zuckerman. As a young girl in 1982, at the height of the Cold War, Sarah made friends with a girl called Jennifer Jones who moved onto her block. They decided to write letters to the Premier of the Soviet Union, and though Sarah never heard back, Jenny’s letter received international fanfare and resulted in an invitation to go to the USSR. Some time after, Jenny and her parents perished in a plane crash, resulting in Sarah and her mother creating a foundation in Jenny’s name. One day in 1996, Sarah receives a mysterious email from a woman called Svetlana, who hints that Jenny might still be alive and living in Russia. Sarah follows the trail, tracks down Svetlana, and suffice it to say, has quite an interesting adventure with an unexpected outcome.

That’s all I’m going to say because you should definitely get your hands on this book.

However fictional the book might be, it is based on the short life and tragic death of Samantha Smith, a girl from Maine who exchanged letters with Russian premier Yuri Andropov, and traveled to the Soviet Union as “America’s Youngest Ambassador.”


Money, Honey

I’ve had my mind on my money and money on my mind recently, due to some surprising new developments in my life (only good things, don’t worry). But that did remind me of something.

The other night, Alec and I went to the Steepery Tea Bar on State Street after a particularly taxing Latin dance class. I was in the mood for some green tea with honey. I could almost taste it.

And then, when I got to the counter, and perused the list of flavors.




and then…

next to the word Honey, a sticker: $.25 extra.

I don’t know the ins and outs of economics like I know the ins and outs of Fiddler on the Roof, but why, honey, why? Was there some sort of honey shortage? A worldwide bee strike? Why, whenever it is that I want you, or anything else, the price automatically goes up?

Or the product gets discontinued (India Hicks Island Night body lotion)?

Or becomes unavailable for consumers (Altoona Hills Red Wine)?

Or is only sold in Puerto Rico (Luna di Luna Moscato)?

Or is dropped completely (Whole Foods Vitamin Club punch cards, AKA the prime example of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it)?

Why, why, why does this always happen to me?

I don’t know where it ends, but I know where it started: Bibelot.

Once upon a time, when I was young and still begging my parents for contact lenses, was a Baltimore-based bookstore chain by the name of Bibelot. They started out with a small store on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville, which ended up getting bigger, then expanded to three more locations: one in Timonium, one in Cross Keys, and one on Boston Street, Canton in downtown Baltimore. They each had a unique look, a funky vibe that was cool for kids, teens, and adults, and a quaint cafe at each location. Most of all, they had an eclectic selection of books. Rather than featuring the latest movie tie-ins, the storefront was usually shelves of local authors, from Baltimore and the rest of Maryland. They also hosted cultural events like open mic nights; now that I think about it, I remember singing there with my choir one afternoon with shoppers browsing around us.

As my bar mitzvah came around, so did the gifts. A safe bet was a gift certificate to Bibelot; they had all the best books and music for the best prices. It was always exciting to open the Bibelot envelope, and see which store the person had been to by the pastel marble background of the gift certificate. Pikesville, the most common, issued them in light pink, Timonium did so in yellow, Cross Keys’ were a pale seafoam green, and the Boston Street store had them in a bright blue. When all was said and done, after my bar mitzvah, I had a rainbow of gift certificates, with enough money to buy whatever I wanted from the store for a good long while.

And then, one day, it happened.

Not long after my bar mitzvah, I was sitting on the toilet one Sunday morning (I am not making this up) when my mom knocked on the door.

“I’m in here,” I responded.

“Jacob, did you hear the news?”


“Bibelot is closing. All of its stores.”

The sound that came out of my mouth was akin to a dying vacuum cleaner. “Nuuuuuuhooooooooooo.”

It was true, and all over the news. The company was folding. Rumors were flying everywhere, and the biggest one was that all those lovely gift certificates would soon be worthless pieces of colored paper, since some stores were no longer accepting them, cash or credit only. It happened really suddenly, and all four stores went under simultaneously. I was resigned to the fact that I would probably never get to spend them, until my nosy cousin called, telling us something that was actually beneficial to the situation: the store in Cross Keys was going to stay open all night tonight, and would honor gift certificates.

So, armed with more gift certificates than Deutschmarks at an East German flea market, my dad and I headed over to Cross Keys as soon as we could. However, the rumor, which turned out to be true, spread (I blame my cousin) and the parking lot was full of cars, stuffed with parents, teens, and kids. Quite a number of them had also recently had bar/bat mitzvahs, all of them speeding towards the door.

Inside, it was insane.

Books were flying off of shelves. CD racks were being emptied.

And, for the first time in my life, I had no idea what I wanted to buy at the bookstore.

It was a very scary feeling.

I don’t even remember most of what I bought that night, I just knew that I had to pick out several hundred dollars’ worth of stuff, and fast. I bought a completely random selection of books whose titles I have long forgot. I bought CDs for about 12 different musicals that I could download today for free. I bought some magazines, and a cool poster that’s still in my parents’ kitchen. I bought a cookbook, for reasons I do not know. And after much struggle with different cashiers who kept saying different things like “we can’t give change for partially-unused certificates,” “we’re only accepting green Cross Keys certificates,” and “all sales are final.”

It was probably the worst shopping spree ever.

Hours earlier, I had several hundred dollars’ worth of gift certificates. Now, I had a bunch of random shit and no money left.

Eventually, the store in Pikesville became a Barnes and Noble (of course), and the one in Cross Keys became offices, but Donna’s, the cafe, remained open. I’m not sure what happened to the ones in Canton and Timonium, but suffice it to say, they were all victims of corporate America, and the “as soon as you’re into it, let’s take it away from you” consumer conspiracy.


Opted for a green apple slushy instead.

And now, exhausted me is going to attempt to sneak into bed. I didn’t get the kitchen completely clean, but I vacuumed the living room and also had my first six-continent day in a while, so hello to North America (Canada and USA), South America (Brazil), Europe (UK, Liechtenstein, Ukraine, Spain and Georgia), Africa (Zambia), Asia (Pakistan and Philippines) and Oceania (Australia). Yay!


Sign of a Bright Future?

I mentioned conspiracy theories today in a conversation with someone, so I’d like to address another that recently came into my mind, both while shopping at Marshalls and then later when I was bored because of course, I have a million things that I have to do but end up slacking on.


I never liked sunglasses growing up, because I had actual glasses and could never wear real-person sunglasses until I was a teenager and contact lenses saved me from hating myself forever. I kind of have a thing for really funky, almost girly sunglasses, but never granny glasses, never. Actually, I really like the free plastic ones they give away at events – I have one on my dining room table that says “I ❤ ISRAEL” on the side – but I’m a little too old to be wearing them in public and be taken seriously at the same time. Ever since I moved to a very sunny place (Houston) followed by a place that’s not sunny but when it is, it’s blinding due to the snow (Madison), so sunglasses have been nice for things like driving and walking and avoiding eye contact with certain people. Sunglasses are also probably useful in Vietnam and Guyana, the two newest countries on my traffic (welcome!) There are so many cool kinds out there, and they’re usually pretty cheap.

The problem?

Every time I buy sunglasses, just as I start to really love them, they either a) break, or b) disappear. Usually it’s the first one.

I could give you a rundown of every single pair of sunglasses that I ever bought, but suffice it to say that they’ve been stepped on, sat on, crushed in a bag, and of course, forgotten somewhere. It’s almost to the point of laughter – every time I’ve taken a big trip, my sunglasses have been the first thing to go. I lost them early on in Ecuador, someone sat on them when we got to Slovakia, and I sat on them my first day in Israel. Occasionally I acquire new ones before the trip is out, but usually, I wait until I’m like “gee, now that was a situation where sunglasses would have been helpful, and I didn’t have them.” And then I get them, start to really like them, wear them everywhere, only to have something happen to them. And since the cheapest ones at the west side Marshalls (yes, I actually went to both) were over $15, I think that I have solid proof that I have, indeed, purchased and lost/broken all the $10 and under sunglasses in the world.


Just bought soap.



This morning’s grocery shopping trip was for fresh food: eggs, vegetables, fruit, et cetera. All told, I got $40 worth of delicious healthy eats. I get in my car at about noon, hit up a few more stores, get home in time to grab coffee with Vincent, head over to the department to do some stuff, stop at the post office, and then head back home to take the groceries out of the car. It’s about 4 PM – a fact I remember since my building manager was just leaving for the day and I said hey to her as we crossed paths and I pick up my mail. Ooh, yay, a book.

I get upstairs, and unload my groceries. The eggs survived the trip. The spices smell great. The strawberries look so good that I wash one and eat it immediately, reveling in the goodness. The last thing out of the bag are one of the best sources of fuel and potassium, and…

All. Brown.

They were NOT like that when I bought them. If there was ever a food-related conspiracy, it would be bananas. I just paid for them and they couldn’t even make it home before turning on me. What gives? I thought we had a deal, ‘nan? So there’s money thrown away.

Just for fun though, I open the brownest one…and it’s not even ripe inside. NOT. EVEN. RIPE.

I can’t even.

So now I have a bunch of sad, brown bananas that need to ripen.

Yellow Fruit: 6, Me: 0.

There are some battles in life that you just can’t win.