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Fifth Blogiversary!

I’m back from my whirlwind, 4-day trip to Nashville, just to say: happy fifth blogiversary to me.

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Best Friends are Best Friends

A few days ago, my best (and oldest) friend celebrated her 27th birthday. Since I’m here in Baltimore and she lives in Baltimore, I decided to attempt to get in touch with her; our busy schedules have kept us from seeing each other for probably two years or so. I always wonder if I should call her my best friend, since she was for most of my childhood and is an all-around awesome person even though we do not get to communicate very much, or merely my oldest friend, since we met in kindergarten in 1990. It was hard to get ahold of her, but once I did, she took time out of her busy life as a librarian (at a public library, and on the day after Thanksgiving, no less), so I guess that still makes her best friend material. As usual, we go to Jasmine, in the Quarry, walking distance from my house and between her parents’ place and the library.

I like everything about her, but what I like the best is her consistency. Even after all these years, she has not changed. Her hairstyle, her clothing choices, her sense of fashion, and the fact that she’s always cold. She surprised me today, though, when she deviated from her normal Philly roll and tried the Alaska roll along with it. I hope that’s the most she changes, because she’s just awesome the way she is.

Here’s a very brief rundown of all the awesome moments of our friendship. It began at age 4 when we instantly bonded over being the only two in our kindergarten class who could read. We ended up outsmarting the teachers and cheating on our worksheets by reading the answers that were printed upside down on the bottom of the page; I guess we thought they put them there to help us out. Whoops. After kindergarten, we went our separate ways, as her parents sent her to a private girls’ school, but we still managed to get together periodically on weekends for play dates, and always went to each others’ birthday parties. I would use my dad’s office fax machine to fax her hand written notes, which we thought was SO AWESOME, which it was for kids of the 90s. As teenagers, we would send each other IMs periodically. For some reason, however, we did not attend each other’s bar/bat mitzvahs – I don’t remember it being so much of an animosity thing as it was a mutual agreement since we would not know anyone else at the other’s party (on her RSVP card, she wrote “Let’s celebrate together another time!” and we probably did).  High school was busier for us, but she managed to surprise me by showing up at my school to watch me in Hello, Dolly! in senior year. I  always sent her a postcard from my vacations, and I still have the ones she sent me from Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, and Israel. In college, we sent each other birthday cards, which was always easier for me than it was for her since my address changed every year and hers was always either at her school or her parents’ house. In my junior year, she accompanied me to the closing performance of my play that was produced in Baltimore, and to the cast party afterwards, where one of the other playwrights was her seventh-grade science teacher, which was kind of cool but a little awkward. And during my senior year, she flew up to Amherst for a weekend of fun where we road-tripped through Vermont and saw Mountpelier (“the city I want to retire in” she said), the Ben & Jerry’s factory, Vermont Teddy Bear, and a used bookstore safari tour of Brattleboro, which remains one of my favorite towns anywhere. We have so many private jokes; Aladdin colorforms, Weekly Readers, “do you need a razor?”, Grandma Lois, how she will one day become a coffee drinker but not today, that picture of us from kindergarten where I look terrified and she’s just blabbing away in her favorite blue sweater, two minutes at Goucher, the creepy photograph doll, watching my first episode of Friends with her, the garage door opener story (or how her parents tricked her a lot as a child),  and as of today, real life math and Timonium chopsticks.

Wow, those were a lot of highlights.

I don’t know if she’ll ever read this, but if she does, I salute you, Flamingo Kid. We’ve muddled through 23 years together, which is longer than I have known most people. Thanks for always being the wonderful you that you are, and I hope that you and me will always be best friends. I don’t really know why we’re still close to each other even after spending most of our lives on different wavelengths, but sometimes friendship doesn’t need an explanation. It just is, and best friend-ship is even better.

And that’s the story of me and my best friend.

 

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To Grandma, On Her 103rd Birthday

Dear Grandma,

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Grandma, happy birthday to you! It’s your best grandson here, and your only grandson.

It has been almost nine years since you’ve been gone, but I still think about you all the time, especially today, on what would have been your 103rd birthday. Time flies, doesn’t it?

So much has happened since I’ve last seen you. When we last talked, I had just moved to Washington, DC. I ended up switching out schools and finishing up at UMass Amherst, when I started writing plays. In 2008, one of my plays won a competition and was performed in downtown Baltimore for a whole week! I know you would have been there with Mom, Dad, and Aunt Ruth in the front row center, and you would have been so proud. You would have also been proud when I decided to move to Jerusalem for a year, and when I would call you every week, you would immediately call my parents and all of your other friends, telling them that your grandson called you from Israel. You would have baked a challah and sent it to me and it would have been delicious. You would have been puzzled when I moved to Houston for two years, but proud when I successfully graduated with my master’s, and got into the University of Wisconsin, where I sit today, on my way to become the first of your grandchildren to get a doctorate. Well, Susan technically has a doctorate in pharmacy, but never used the title. I will most definitely refer to myself as Dr. Jacob when I get that degree in my hands. I think you might have been confused over what I am deciding to get my degree in, and what I am going to do with it. You would not have been alone. But you would be proud nonetheless.

I don’t know how you would have felt learning about our family trip to Germany and Prague two years ago. I think you would have listened patiently on the phone or on Skype (if you knew how to use it) but you would have been sad not going with us and maybe a little worried for us. You would have loved to have seen the pictures and videos, and you would have felt much better about being here in America seeing how much things have changed. You would have been amused by our dinner at the American Embassy in Prague, and you would have not wanted any souvenirs at all.

You would be pleased to know how much all of us have grown up. You would be proud of my sister’s cooking and her job, and if you were feeling up to it, you would be right there in her kitchen helping her. She might also feel better about herself, since you were really close with her, and you would probably say things to her that would have helped her get through things. You would be so proud of having a great-granddaughter with a degree (and a job!), two great-grandchildren in college, and two others in high school. You’d also be happy to know that your name comes up at every single family function, and we are constantly asked by those outside the family if we remember you, and that you are remembered by others as a “tough lady” even though we all know how much you love us.

You would be very concerned about events in Europe and the Middle East, so I am glad that you are not here to worry about those things.

I don’t know how you’d feel about my decision to apply for German citizenship. You would probably not be happy with that choice, since they gave you nothing. But you might support our decision after we explained to you about the job market. Even still, you probably would be kind of weirded out. But you would love us all the same.

You would be shocked to learn that Cookie died, among others, but not at others who have also left. You would be pleasantly surprised by some of those from your generation who’ve stuck around, like Irma and Bluma.

Finally, you’d be happiest to learn that we still celebrate Jewish holidays together as a family as much as possible. Usually we have a few who are absent (I’d be the worst offender, so sorry about that :-/) but Thanksgivukkah was a blast. You know I’d call you every week and visit when I got the chance. You’d still be happy knowing that we’re keeping the family jokes alive and passing them on to the younger ones.

From your greatest, best, and only grandson, as always, with love,

Jacob

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On The Importance of Social Time

I’ll admit it, this hasn’t been one of my best weekends. Or my most productive. Well, that’s kind of every weekend, but this weekend I focused a little bit more on the snoozing and socializing aspect of it. I caught up on sleep, and I enjoyed a good amount of social time as well, including last night.

Last night was one of those “I wish I were an undergrad again” nights, with the game and everything. I went to the Union with Kelly and some other folks to cheer on the Badgers and was, of course, disappointed at the outcome – we all know what happened – but I’m glad I can say that I was there, rather than squirreled away doing work or perusing BuzzFeed. When I walked home, I was suddenly glad to be a grad student again, passing some firemen hosing down a small fire on the sidewalk on Langdon. It was only 10:30, but I was more than happy to spend the remainder of the night sitting at home and maybe trying to get some work done, or at least get in bed early.

And then Carly texted me that she was with Alex, Jonathan, and Gideon over at the piano bar, and that was the end of that plan.

So, after Weekend Update (which was not that impressive this week, Kate McKinnon’s Angela Merkel impression notwithstanding), I headed out to meet up with the gang. Carly is one of those truly wonderful, welcoming people who is always inviting me to join her on social activities. It feels good to be part of “the group,” and I’m rarely one to pass up an invite, which is why I’m sad that she isn’t in Madison full-time anymore. But she returned this weekend for the game, and when Carly’s in town, that can only mean good things and fun times. After a quick Cabin Cooler at the bar next door to get my ticket, I joined the group, which had expanded to include Meir, inside the bar. Initially, I was only going to stay for a little bit, but if you know me at all, that usually means I end up closing the bar. I hadn’t been to the piano bar before, and it was a little cheesy but just the right amount of fun, and with a good group of people, gave me a little squeeze of love that I’d needed; it felt so natural, like I could just be myself, let my guard down a little, and not have to impress anyone. I was, by no means, drunk, but as the crowd thinned and we got a table up at the front near the pianos, I really got into the music and was singing and shimmying along, because it’s a Saturday night in Madison. I actually exchanged looks with a blonde girl whose group was at the table next to ours, and when they started “Lean on Me,” we maintained eye contact and sang to each other. A Celine Dion song came up soon after, and we two were out of our seats, gesticulating to each other, and laughing hysterically, even getting some cheers from the crowd. At 1:45 AM I decided to call it a night, and said goodbye to Carly and the group and my new impromptu overly-dramatic singing partner, telling her I’d see her next weekend. Which maybe I will.

When the social activity becomes so impromptu and apropos, that’s when the fluttery, butterfly feeling sets in.

And sometimes accompanying “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” with a stranger on a Saturday night, complete with animated gestures and exaggerating quasi-flirting is all I need to get me through things.

Thank you for being silly with me. I hope we can be silly together again sometime.

Oh, and welcome to my first visitor from Solomon Islands; not a country I expected to see show up so soon, but all the same, glad you came.

Also…wow, I just now realized what “social butterfly” refers to. SO META.

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Breakfast with Friends/Friends with Breakfast

Today I had a friend over for breakfast.

Well, technically, he came over last night to hang out, spent the night on my couch, and then I made us breakfast when we woke up, but it still counts. It’s been really tough for me lately. My friend came over last night to talk, to listen, and to help me deal with some issues, and even though I thanked him for coming over, I don’t know if he knows how grateful I actually am that he not only came over, but stayed the night to see that I was OK in the morning. It felt really nice to have a friend who would do that for me.

We woke up around the same time (where I discovered I had visitors from two new countries, Angola and Costa Rica…hey y’all!), and I offered to make breakfast. I was standing at the stove, tending to some boiling eggs as we talked about different ways to prepare eggs, then all of a sudden – BOOM – a glass dish that was sitting near the stove exploded. No, I am not making this up. I don’t know exactly what happened – maybe the counter got too hot – but the dish was empty, and thank goodness no one was hurt. I can’t say that the breaking of the glass was cathartic in any way, and now I have one less glass dish, but I cleaned it up right away, and resumed cooking eggs, which we enjoyed with some toasted wheat bread with raisins, and I just felt better. Like, yeah, bad things happen, but you clean them up and then move on with your life. And it led to me just having a really enjoyable breakfast, sitting at the real table, eating real food off real plates, just like they do in Friends.

When I was a child I loved those little moments that made me feel like a grown-up. Being a grown-up and having those moments with friends you love – just sitting at the table, eating a homemade breakfast, talking a little, enjoying each others’ company – sometimes that’s all you need, in that moment in time, to feel calm, safe, relaxed…happy.

I’ll take breakfast, with a side of friends, please.

That reminds me…I need to buy another glass dish tomorrow.

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I Like Bad Puns And I Cannot Lie…

…and pop culture references as well.

I know that just about every has some level of tolerance for bad puns, but mine is particularly high. When other people make them and they work, sometimes I can’t even think of that person without associating them with the pun they made. When I make a bad pun, usually I roll my eyes along with the rest of the world but inside, I’m cheering like I just scored a goal at the World Cup…of life. After all, what is language but a system of communication that is inherent fun to poke fun at and play around with?

As someone who’s been in school for the last, um…all of the years of my life, my usual form of writing is that of the essay/paper variety. I once read somewhere that even in the most serious of papers, the title is where the author gets to have fun; it’s the only gray area in the whole paper. It’s a shame that the one time that I actually was praying for a bad pun title was for my master’s thesis, nothing came to me and therefore the title is terribly boring. But, then again, it is an accurate reflection of my mental state at the time: just string the words together like so many popcorn kernels on a Christmas tree decoration.

So with that said, I’d like to share a list of my favorite bad pun titles I’ve produced as a writer.

  • She Works Hard For the Funny: Examining the Role of the Lady’s Maid in the Works of Moliere. UMass Amherst, 2009. Pretty self-explanatory. I guess I was feeling Donna Summer that day.
  • Tennessee, Anyone? The Life and Literature of Tennessee Wiliams. Program notes for a production of A Streetcar Named Desire that I dramaturged at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters’ Theatre in Baltimore in 2010. Many thanks to Fuzz and Sherri for controlling their rolling eyes. Or at least while I was around.
  • The Edge of Glory: Love, Loss, and What We Hear in A Little Night Music. Program notes for a production of A Little Night Music that I dramaturged at Spots in ’11. Based on Love, Loss, and What I Wore – something that exists, but have no idea of what it is. A book? A play? An article? Someone’s to-do list?
  • Looney Toons: Art, Media, and the Dreyfus Affair. University of Houston, 2011. This was about political cartoons and their role in influencing the outcome of the Dreyfus Affair in France. Reference is obvious, but I can’t remember if I was watching anything when I did my writing or not.

I’ve got another one that I can’t share right now that’s so good that it hurts, but it will appear in a future post.

To all the Bad Pun Lovers of the World: Don’t be shy – spread your wings and squawk on with your bad selves.

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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!