Staying In and Getting Real Night, Part 7

I haven’t had the inspiration to write much recently (either here or on my dissertation), so I decided to look back, and the last time I did a post like this was exactly one year ago today.

But here I am, once again on February 19th, once again staying in and getting real, albeit in different apartment, in a different zip code. And I still have trouble concentrating on writing when the TV is on and not muted.

Things here have been pretty normal, I guess. But only here.

Ever since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school massacre last week – a Columbine for the 21st century – things have felt as eerie as they did back in the 1990s. Granted, I was only in elementary school and I did not understand its impact on American life as much as someone a few years older than me would have, but even so, the topic came up in my fifth grade classroom. I remember how it opened up an entire conversation of violence in schools. I remember the images from the news; the low-res CCTV camera footage of the shooters walking down the halls in trenchcoats, the still image of the library window, the video on the news of students in sweatshirts and turtlenecks running away from the camera, their hands covering their ears.

Things should have changed then, but obviously, they didn’t. It’s happened so many times since, at all types of schools, most prominently universities, but something of Columbine-like proportions occurring again – in almost the same manner, just at a different school in a different state – just makes a person feel like they live in an illogical, unfeasible, chaotic world, a world where something like this, which shouldn’t happen, happens. It’s interesting to note that once again, most of the deceased and most of the people speaking out are white, but that’s beside the point. At least this time, social media has captured the unseen angles, the perspectives of the students who were there, in clear and concrete photos, videos, and tweets, and it’s actually done some good for once, helping to spread the word of how these teenagers feel. Who knows what will come of this – sadly, probably nothing – but at least the higher level of visibility is keeping the issue afloat for longer, and reaching farther than Columbine did.

Today, at my office, the fire alarm went off. I didn’t pay much attention to it; I was packing up to go home anyway, so I just hustled a little bit to get my things together and get out of the building, but for a split second, I felt this weird fear, the same kind of fear I felt in the first fire drills after Columbine, and 9/11 (the day which, by the way, the electricity shorted out in my high school and the fire alarm set itself off and everyone went crazy for about ten minutes), and I silently wondered what it would have been like if it was something unthinkable. What would I have done? Hiding under the desk wouldn’t have done much good, at least had I not slammed my door shut first, which is locked from the outside, but who knows if I would have even had the time. All I would have had to defend myself would be a backpack full of books and my students’ work, and maybe two chairs if it came down to it. It’s a thought that now, sounds silly and strange. But due last week’s event, that fire alarm kicked in a reminder, if only for a few seconds, that we still live in a world where things like this can happen and do happen.

Say what you will about guns, mental illness, bullying, but point blank – whatever the reason, there is no excuse for mass shootings.


Masterpiece YouTube: Double Feature – KOLture Shock/Wootton Acabellas

This week has been rough in more ways than one, as you know, and I’ve kinda been scrimping on new content. I found out about another death today (my friend’s husband, after a short bout of lymphoma) but I had a really positive and enlightening meeting with one of my professors yesterday, so that kinda makes up for it a little. So, to make up for it, I’m putting out a double feature of Masterpiece YouTube; I know it’s my “fall back content” when I haven’t read anything new or can’t think of a rant or a fun story or anything. But here are two YouTube Masterpieces to enjoy.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 20/21: KOLture Shock, “Hatikvah” 2015/Wootton Acabellas, “Troublemaker” 2013

With all the bad rap Israel’s been getting lately (and by lately, I mean, since the beginning of the world), along comes a video that makes me proud to call Israel my spiritual home; something that could only happen in Israel, nowhere else in the Middle East.

We open on an ordinary Jerusalem Light Rail trip (side note: I never got to ride it because it was not finished until a little while after I left) and it’s chock full of commuters from all walks of Israeli life. Suddenly, a chick in a violet top soprano-belts the first line of the Israeli National Anthem (Hatikvah). After a moment of silence, the percussion kicks in and she starts over, this time with accompaniment from a bunch of other riders and stares from…other, non-singing riders, who pull out cell phones. One older lady with glasses and a curly ‘do is singing along, although clearly not as part of the group because we later see her clapping. After a final crescendo and an awesome percussive coda that sounds like a slowing-down train, they get applause and are greeted by a cheering audience from the platform.

This is a masterpiece for two reasons: the a cappella is not bad, could be better, but the camera work is really top notch. A great mix of shots of singers and bystanders, edited together to show a range of emotions. Plus, singing on public transit has always been a fantasy of mine (come on, who wouldn’t want their everyday life to turn into a musical?).

Final note: I actually know one of the people in the video; the skinny chick in the headscarf at around 1:30 is my sister’s best friend from growing up, the one she went to Israel for in December for her wedding. Also, I’m not sure, but the rabbi at 0:30 looks an awful lot like my Chabad rabbi from UMass.

Now for a different type of a cappella; the video quality is poor but the sound is amazing. It was filmed at Wootton High School in Reston, Virginia, and it’s the Wootton Acabellas singing Olly Murs’ “Troublemaker,” a totally underrated pop hit from the early 2010s. The choreography is cute, their outfits are simple yet elegant and age-appropriate, and the lead singer isn’t too bad.

But then there’s the rap soloist.

She is AWESOME. According to the video, her name is Rahila O. Olanrewaju and if she doesn’t have an album in the works, she better start on one because I would pre-order that. Seriously. And I buy a CD about once every five years. Plus, if you listen closely, she is also beatboxing for part of the song, which is also awesome.

The masterpiece about this is that it’s so simple and humble yet these girls can sing. For most people, it’s amazing; for a high school group, it’s outstanding


On High School P.E. Class

I saw a video online today that made me think about something that I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Well…I kind of spoiled it with the title, but yeah, everyone’s favorite, high school P. E. class.

The video was of a school in the 1950s-1960s called La Sierra High School in southern California. You can search for it online, because I’m too tired to link it after spending 6 hours in the theatre today and another few at the APO meeting, but basically, it’s a group of high school students working out and exercising like crazy CrossFitters, only in teeny shorts and no shirts and bad composition. The high school closed down in the 1960s (not sure why) but their athletic programs went down in history as being legendary, and now there’s an indiegogo fund going to make a film out of them, along with interviews of living alumni. If my P.E. classes were like that, I probably would have been more interested in it; it looks tough, but more fun than what we did, which was usually just “here’s a basketball, go play.” Why weren’t my P.E. classes like that? Have we gotten weaker/lazier as a society, placed less value on physical education, or did my high school just suck? Probably all three.

As I was saying, growing up, gym class was awful. It was my least favorite thing about school, and I was relieved when after 10th grade, we did not have to take it anymore, thanks to state requirements. I was terrible at it; I didn’t get along with anyone, so I was always among the last picked for teams, usually actually the last, which didn’t make me any more inclined to participate at all. Usually, I just sat down on the sidelines or stood near the goalposts, or refused to play at all. I probably attempted to feign injury at least once a week, or hide in the bathroom, and there really wasn’t much anyone could do about it. It was “just gym class” after all, and the gym teacher had 30 or so other boys to look after, so me crying or yelling or sitting in a corner by myself didn’t really register on the charts.

First, there was changing into the gym uniform. I hated that, because I hated taking my clothes off in front of anyone, anywhere, including in the old, smelly locker room of my high school, the one with the “spit wall” (yeah, I have no clue, other than it was a really gross, discolored wall with the occasional chewing gum stuck to it), because the shiny, airy new locker rooms hadn’t been built yet. The smallest size of gym uniform didn’t fit me, so I had to bring in my own shorts from home. Interestingly, I was not the only one with this problem; I don’t know what company they used, but even my “size small” hung like a tent on me until high school. I usually preferred changing in a closed stall, imagining it was a mall dressing room, and again, I was not the only one who preferred this, there were usually a few of us who waited to do the same.

Then, there were the activities. Usually, it was just “play soccer or baseball or volleyball or basketball or hockey with tiny plastic sticks” in the gym while the gym teacher watches and reads or listens to music or sweeps the gym floor (yes, this actually happened a few times) or something. On the few nice days we had, provided the fields were free, we would do said activities outside. It was always the same thing, and usually ended up being the same people playing the most, scoring the points, yada yada, while I made conversation with others or sat by myself or something. What was worse was high school, when gym class became optional if you were on a team that semester (you got to sit in the cafeteria and have a free study hall, which I would have loved), so it was basically all the less athletic kids running around doing things. I guess the one good thing was that I was very rarely asked to do anything at all, so if I was in my own world the whole time, it didn’t matter. I was never passed the ball or the puck anyway, and the few times we did play hockey, I usually either got hit by a hockey stick or got mine taken away from me for hitting someone or throwing it at someone. When it was football, I wouldn’t even try to understand the rules and would basically run around in circles if the gym teacher asked me why I was just standing there. One semester, I had this thing where I would decide to “accidentally” run into, hit, or throw the ball directly at the gym teacher. I don’t know why I did it, but at least it got me in enough trouble to get me out of gym class that semester.

Sometimes, we shared the gym with the girls, and I was always jealous of them, because their gym teachers seemed to care, and they did fun things like tumbling, handstands, and learning/choreographing dances to the songs of the Spice Girls, the Backstreet Boys, and cartoon theme songs; all things that us boys never got to do. I actually think I got more of a physical education from my physics teacher who had us test mass and velocity and stuff by doing long jumps and holding ourselves between two lab tables, iron-cross-style.

And then, there was physical fitness test week. They always sprung this on us every spring with no real warning or reason as to what we were doing and why it mattered. This was the one time each year when we did supervised things like pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, and the dreaded mile run. I hated that mile run so bad; it’s kind of amusing to think that these days, running a mile doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal to me (well, if it’s on a treadmill and I have music and water, I can go for awhile). But usually they picked the hottest day of the year, and it was basically running around our big field six times, which was just so darn boring. Usually I ran for maybe two minutes, then just walked because I did not care anymore. One time I actually just lay down in the field somewhere and hoped that no one would notice the human being lying face down on the ground as they walked by.

Fast forward to me in 2015. Even for hating gym class and refusing to participate, I’m not that much taller or heavier than I was in high school. I even sometimes wear clothes from middle school, and yes, I still go to the gym in my high school gym shirt sometimes because no one in Wisconsin has ever heard of my high school, so I’m safe. I look at other peoples’ photos from my high school, and some have just really let themselves go; I don’t know if it’s because they’re married or what, but other than going to the gym sometimes and dancing a few days a week, I’m not that physically active, and these days, when I’m not on my feet at the show, I’m on the couch with my feet up.

But getting back to P.E. class in the old days, and that La Sierra video…here’s why it worked the way it did.

1. Those kids lived in California, where it is beautiful, warm, and sunny every single day. I come from Maryland, where the weather’s made up and the seasons don’t matter.

2. Those kids probably walked a lot more, and the way things are these days, being a pedestrian is…pedestrian.

3. Those kids didn’t have the Internet as a distraction.

I want to say that life in America was simpler back then, but actually…it wasn’t. There were more diseases, like polio, and fewer vaccines. Sure, people recovered, but not as quickly. Kids today worry and stress over school, but it’s always been like that. Only kids in the 1990s and today are luckier, because there’s no Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, or getting drafted into the army and shipped to Vietnam. In fact, I don’t even know one person my age in the American army. A few people from my high school were/are in the Israeli army, though, including one younger than me wounded in Gaza. Yeah, all American kids have to worry about these days is bandwidth and wi-fi and test scores.

So yeah, maybe we’re just lazy, and our gym teachers are even lazier. Especially my middle-aged, out-of-shape gym teachers.

Then again, all the coaches in the NCAA are middle-aged out-of-shape men.

So at least there’s a reference point.


Tick, Tick…Oy.

I’d like to return to my current read, Elana Maryles Sztokman’s The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World. I’m still about halfway through, and while Sztokman is dealing with a limited perspective of mostly Israelis, some of the larger concepts about Orthodox Jewish men that she tackles in the first half of the book (Chapters 1-5) are, for the most part, true. Some of those reasons are why I feel the way I do about things, why I’m annoyed at Orthodox Judaism today, and why I continue to identify as Orthodox in spite of all those feelings.

On page 36, Sztokman cites Paul Kivel’s “Act Like A Man” box, and through the remainder of Chapter 2 (and bleeding over into the next few chapters), creates what she calls the “BOMB” or “Be an Orthodox Man” Box. Kivel’s box consists of three concentric rectangles. The innermost contains the things that men try to hide, such as anger, love, and sadness; the middle box contains actions that men do to protect themselves such as yell, fight, and be stubborn; and outside the box are the abuses which men (usually boys) are subject to when they fail to meet these criteria such as name-calling, hitting, and sexual abuse.

So, yeah. Rough stuff.

I can definitely see where Sztokman finds her parallels. Instead of quoting her, however, I can use hers and Kivel’s information to synthesize some thoughts of my own.

Let me start off with a story.

It was senior year of high school, and the junior and senior classes were all going to a pro-Israel rally on the grounds of the Capitol in Washington, DC. It was mandatory, and with the world being the way it was in 2005, everyone was pretty much on the edge about coming back alive. So we loaded ourselves into buses with posters and set off for DC. We got to the rally and it was a lot bigger than most of us expected. High school students had come in by the busload from as far away as Boston, New York, and Atlanta, not to mention all the families that attended. It was also longer, hotter, and sunnier than most of us expected, and a lot of people, including myself, came home that day with horrible sunburns. As anyone who’s been to a rally knows, when the rally ends, people disperse en masse, and this dispersion was of Pamplona-proportions, only with Jews running down the street and not bulls. We were put into groups to make it back to the bus, and hopefully find some cold beverages along the way since those of us who brought water had finished it long ago. I was in one of the smaller groups, about six guys and one of our teachers, who was also a rabbi. Of course, where there are Jews, there are Chabadniks, always trying to engage Jews in conversation at inopportune times and places. As we walk/jog down the street trying to find a 7-11 or something, a Chabadnik pulls aside our teacher – who is a rabbi – and asks if he put on tefillin that morning. My teacher didn’t respond and just kept moving, probably because he was as hot and tired as us students and was wearing a suit, looking very much like a rabbi, which he was.

A few blocks later, when the crowd thinned out and the stragglers caught up, my teacher turned to me and said, “Can you believe that guy? Asking me if I wore tefillin this morning. Just look at me; who does he think I am? Who does he think he is? Bastard.”

Okay, so I added the “bastard” in there for effect (although I’m not entirely convinced he didn’t say it under his breath as we were walking or in his mind) but he was insulted. He didn’t know the guy, but it sat on his mind for several blocks and he felt so challenged that he had to blurt something out to his students. His sour reaction to the event is a good lead-in to the concept of competition in Orthodox Jewish manhood – a topic which Sztokman heavily focuses on in her book.

It’s the truth. Orthodox Jewish men are competitive, from childhood to adult. It’s about how high your education is, how young you were when you got married, how many children you have, how much halacha you observe, how much you pray, how much you study, what you do for a living, what you look like, what you eat, and what you wear. People say that these things don’t matter, but to Orthodox Jewish men, they do. Looking at myself through this “be an Orthodox man” box, my score is pretty low. I am 26 years old with no wife and children (practically “old bachelor” age in the Orthodox world), I don’t wear a kippa every day, I don’t observe all the laws of Shabbos every week, I don’t wear the Orthodox Jewish uniform (white Oxford, black jacket, black pants) 24/7, I never went to yeshiva or did much in the way of Jewish learning/limmudei kodesh past-high school, I don’t go to minyan three times a day, and I got my education in non-Jewish colleges (pretty much anywhere besides YU, Brandeis, Touro, or an Ivy) and I studied theatre. At least I have an advanced degree and am working on my second, I still observe kashrut, and I have a mezuzah on my door; those things should count for something, I guess. Still, if I were to register myself with a shidduch, I’d probably strike out before getting up to bat.


On Colorblindness in the Theatre

Today, one of my friends posted this as his status on Facebook:

You know what really grinds my gears? When all white high schools put on black shows like Aida and The Wiz.

I’m not usually that person who goes there with someone’s Facebook status, but I found this to be somewhat offensive and felt the urge to say something.

So I did a little research, and responded, saying something along the lines of:

I don’t think that this is a fair statement. MTI, the company that holds the rights to Aida and is very strict about their rules, suggests that ethnic actors would be good for the show, but does not say that the director must cast actors of color; that would be discriminatory. Plus, if it’s high school, it’s for educational purposes, and some rules may not apply.

By the time I pressed the comment button, several other of his friends, black and white, commented similarly, saying that The Wiz was based on The Wizard of Oz, Quvenzhane Wallis is going to be the next Annie, Broadway had an all-black Hello, Dolly!, that not all schools have black students (or enough interested in the arts to cast the show), etc. I was not alone.

His response to me?

Jacob, when did I say MUST? You’re the only one talking about licensing; I’m just saying that they shouldn’t be putting on shows about my people. White people telling the stories of colored people is wack.

My response?

Maybe directors at these schools choose those shows because they like the beauty of the story, not to mention the music and the message. Aida and The Wiz are just as much part of the American musical theatre canon as My Fair LadySouth Pacific, et cetera. They have all the rights in the world to put on whatever show they like; you don’t have any control over that.

His response?


Over that?

A little background: this friend, whom I’ll call Kevin, is an African-American guy I met at the 2006 APO nationals, and again at the 2008 nationals. When I met him, I thought he was funny and nice. I haven’t seen him for a long time, but we’ve remained friends on Facebook. His posts are, one could say, inconsistent. One day, he’ll post something about how black stereotypes are wrong, and the next day, he’ll post something that is a complete stereotype (one of the hard things about Facebook: detecting sarcasm), something like “Oh honeychile’ there is some fake weaves in this here bar.” I always thought that if you’re a person who hates stereotypes, don’t go slinging them around, and then get offended when someone calls you out on it.

The topic of colorblindness in show selection and casting is something I’ve wanted to write my thoughts on for a long time, and I guess now is as good a time as ever.

Since Kevin started us off with high school, let’s rewind to the early 2000s, aka my high school days, where I was so involved in theatre that I actually got a little plaque about it. 100% of the students in my school were Jewish, and 98% of the school was, you could say, white. That didn’t stop us from putting on shows with nonwhite characters. I mean, what are we supposed to do…Fiddler on the Roof every year? Sure, we did some very white-bread shows (Hello, Dolly! and Bye Bye Birdie come to mind), but we also did West Side Story and South Pacific, despite having very few students of color in the school. We didn’t do Aida or The Wiz, but I don’t think anyone would have stopped us had we done them. The two shows Kevin chose, actually, are particularly bad examples…Dreamgirls and Hairspray would’ve been harder to pull off, owing to the racial nature of the plot, but apart from blackface, I don’t see a problem with a school that is entirely or predominantly white putting on Aida or The Wiz.

Kevin, you are a well-educated and well-spoken person, but this is not the 1990s and you’re not Lauryn Hill (who, by the way, apologized for her remarks about white people). If high school theatre went by your logic, does that mean that high schools that don’t have any Asian students shouldn’t put on Flower Drum Song or The King and I? Or that a predominantly black school shouldn’t do My Fair Lady or The Sound of Music?

Sheesh Louise.

Back to my high school days. In my freshman year, we did both West Side Story and South Pacific. Our West Side Story, in particular is a great example of exactly why casting should be talent based, and not looks-based. Two of the main characters, Maria and Anita, are quite clearly Hispanic. We only had one girl with a Hispanic background in the whole school, and even though she auditioned, she didn’t get either part. The part of Maria went to a white girl, who I think did a pretty good job of playing Maria. She was not wearing any sort of makeup other than stage makeup, and she didn’t speak with a Puerto Rican accent, but she got the job done. Anita, on the other hand, was played by one of the only other non-white girls in school; a girl of East Asian descent who happened to be a very talented dancer. Though the character of Anita does a lot of dancing, she also sings. The girl who got the part did not. In fact, she refused to sing, period. For “America,” another Shark girl took her role, and for “Tonight,” Anita sat onstage while the other Shark girls sang around her, as if she was getting ready for a party. I can’t remember what they did for “I Have A Love,” – that number might have been cut for time – but she didn’t sing a note. It was a shame; even though she is a very talented dancer and looked beautiful in the part, she was not cut out for Anita at all. Several of the other girls could have done that role even better, and would have loved to have Anita’s singing lines all to herself. For South Pacific, the girl who played Anita didn’t get Bloody Mary or Liat, roles she probably wouldn’t have liked anyway, instead, she danced in one number while other non-Asian girls played those parts. In contrast, when we did Bye Bye Birdie, the Hispanic girl I was talking about was a front-runner for the role of Kim McAfee, arguably one of the most white-bread roles in the American theatre, and when I’m talking front-runner, I mean that out of all the girls who auditioned, she got called back and was probably in the top four of the director’s choices for the role.

Moving right along, you also say that ever-so-problematic phrase “my people.” Okay, so you’re saying that these are the stories of “your ancestors,” like the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow? Let’s look at the facts. Part of the beauty of The Wiz is the inventive music, which makes it different from The Wizard of Oz but does not make it exclusively for one race. And funny you should bring up Aida, a story from Africa with music and lyrics by “your people”…Tim Rice and Elton John. The original Aida is about as black as a lightly toasted pizza crust; it was a story created in Italy. Furthermore, the story is about Ancient Egypt, and even though Aida was Ethiopian, the other characters may or may not have been dark-skinned. Traditionally, Cleopatra is thought of as “black” or “African,” but even though she was born in Africa and lived there, she had Macedonian and Greek ancestry through Ptolemy. She was most likely olive-skinned if not white, and possibly had green or blue eyes and blond hair. In all likelihood, she probably looked more like Jennifer Aniston than Cicely Tyson.

Now, I don’t know your actual ethnic background, but I do know that you were born in America, and that were you to go to Jamaica or Ghana or Kenya and proclaim them to be “your people,” they’d probably all either laugh at you, or think that you were weird without saying anything to your face about it. The Wiz is as much your story as The Wizard of Oz is my story; basically, not really. All the people in these shows are fictional characters who have been and will be portrayed by actors of many ethnicities, and even mixed ethnicities. I think that’s as far as I’m willing to go in this post about defining ethnicity/race, so let’s move on to another topic.

Before I left Houston, my friend Monica and I were having lunch and talking about musical theatre. Monica is a singer and actress, and I was working on Fiddler on the Roof in Baytown. She also happens to be African-American. When Fiddler entered the conversation, she said something along the lines of how she wouldn’t fit into that show; if you put her in villager clothes, she’d probably look like a slave, which might be true. I agreed with her, saying that even though she could sing and act Golde, it would be tough for her to pull it off. In hindsight, I think I was wrong. In fact, I think she’d make an awesome Golde, regardless of whether Tevye or anyone else in the cast was black. In fact, we did have a black girl in the chorus; granted, she was very tiny and hardly noticeable onstage, but she was there and dressed like a villager. Furthermore, when The Crucible was done at U of H, there were many black actors among the citizens of Salem, and not just Tituba; in fact, the girl who was initially cast as Elizabeth was not only black but of Caribbean descent, and race is very much an issue in that show. Had she stayed, she would have made a wonderful Elizabeth.

If an actor can do the part well, they should indeed, regardless of color. And if a mostly or all white high school wants to do The Wiz, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

Oh, and Kevin? Good job showing your true colors; defriending someone who disagrees with you on something in a very nice way without getting riled up about it is obviously a sign of maturity.

That was sarcasm.

And I probably didn’t want to be friends with you anyway.


Platinum Child

You’ve heard of the Golden Child, right? All-American, popular, wealthy, straight As in high school, perfect attendance, grade point average, teeth, and hair?

And that phrase “born with a silver spoon in your mouth?” As in, the top 1%?

Well, this series of interconnected memories is about a person I went to high school with who was neither one of these.

He was worse.

Meet…The Platinum Child.

Disclaimer: For fear of being sued, I’ll just call him Platinum. If you happened to have gone to high school with me or are slightly older or younger, you may or may not know who I’m talking about.

Platinum showed up in my high school in 7th grade. He came equipped with a laptop. He said he had a “learning disability,” but it was basically to show off that he was loaded and not shy about it. Also, that his parents would get for him everything that he wanted and more. His parents also must have given generously to the school, because his behavior was tolerated by just about every teacher. This was in the time before laptops, so everyone was naturally jealous of how we’d be taking notes in history and he’d be playing around with his webcam.

The first time I knew something really wasn’t kosher here was in 8th grade. By this point, we all had laptops and since it was the golden age of AOL Instant Messenger (long before Facebook!), we were constantly chatting on it. So constantly, in fact, that the school completely blocked anything having to do with AIM or AOL. Fair enough, given that five years later, the rest of the world would too, so I guess they were ahead of the curve. For me and most of my other classmates, it was like “well played, school. It was fun while it lasted,” and went back to taking our notes and writing our papers. Platinum and I were in the same science class, and as the teacher was walking around the room while talking about something having to do with physiology, Platinum’s screen caught her eye. His Yahoo! was open (a no-no), and the search term? She helpfully enlightened the rest of us. “AOL Firewall Hacking Technology.” BUSTED. Infuriated, she stopped class and called the principal over the intercom. Well, actually the vice-principal. He came down and took Platinum out of the class for about 90 seconds, and sent him back into the room, saying “we talked about it, and he won’t do it again.” Okay, maaaaybe a first strike, but had it been me? Who knows.

Next stop: 10th grade. Same science class together, same teacher, same room even. It’s first period, and we’re taking a chemistry test. I’m not the best science student, but by this point in my high school career, I’ve figured out what to study and how to take this teacher’s test so that I will get an A (aka, the normal high school student thing). Writing, writing, writing, la dee da…then a tap on my shoulder. It’s the science teacher, and she takes my test away and leads me outside the classroom. I am about to pee in my pants, wondering what I did wrong, when she sits me in a desk, saying “Platinum was sitting behind you copying your answers, so for the rest of the semester, you can take your exams in the hallway so nobody will copy you.”


I didn’t really care that much at the time, I was just happy that I wasn’t really in any trouble (even though it sure felt like it!) and what do you know, I did well on the test and got to have my own little bubble while taking it. Later on, I realized that I’d been completely scapegoated by Ms. Science Teacher. For one thing, HE was the one cheating, so shouldn’t HE have been excused from the room, the class, the school? As far as I know, nothing happened to Platty.

And every science test until the end of 10th grade, I had to sit in the hall like a naughty puppy. And it doesn’t even stop there.

Fast forward to 11th grade. By then, Platinum’s got cheating down to an art. His strategy? Whenever we had a test in any period before lunch, he would say something to the teacher along the lines of “I don’t feel ready to take the test, can I take it in the library during lunch?” Of course, the teachers would say yes, and of course, before lunch, he’d have a cheat sheet ready, or an old copy of the same test. The librarian (read: barbarian) was supposed to “watch” student test-takers in this situation, but she usually had better things to do. No, not tequila, but usually harassing all the students, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyway, Platinum’s cheating was a known fact among the students by this point, and for one guy in our grade, it ground his gears so much that he set up a sting operation. Camera phones were not too common by this point in time, at least not among us high school students, but he had one – no word on whether it was his or his parents’.

I’ll call him Cam.

So here’s what happened:

Platinum did his normal lunch-test-taking thing. As he entered the library, Cam was already there, just hanging out at a computer nonchalantly, doing his thing. Platinum pulled into a study carrel, took out several pieces of paper, and started with the dirty deed. While he was setting up shop, Cam had pulled a book out of a nearby bookshelf a short distance away, and was pretending to read, but instead focused his camera on Platinum and acquired the incriminating evidence. That night, he uploaded them onto his computer, enlarged them, cropped them, and made them black-and-white to really bring out the contrast. The pictures clearly showed Platinum with his test on the desk, a pencil in his right hand, and another piece of paper marked with a big bold A across the top. It’s almost like Platty wasn’t even trying to hide it. The next day, Cam brings in the pictures and shows them to a few students along with an anonymously written letter addressed to our principal (who was a complete moron) explaining exactly what was going on in the pictures, as if it wasn’t evident enough. Between classes, he pulled aside some students, showed them everything, and asked them to sign along the bottom, so Cam could maintain his identity should the plan backfire. As head of the high school photography staff, I was impressed with the results, and this combined with my complete dislike of Platinum made me grab the first writing utensil I saw (it was a black pen, I remember) and sign my name in the boldest letters I could. By the end of the day, he’d gotten a bunch of signatures from students, and at least one teacher, who all promised to keep his secret. He slipped the items into a blank manila envelope and under the door of our principal’s office. Mission complete.

The result?

Well, the next day, we went to school. It was a normal day, and then…

…we went home.

Nothing happened.


Granted, we don’t know if he’d had some sort of parent-teacher conference, or had an out-of-school requirement, but as far as we could see, nothing, nada, zip.

And that’s not even the worst part.

Here we are, first semester, senior year. Platinum and I are in the same second period class taught by Rabbi Awfulbaum. Rabbi Awfulbaum was probably not a horrible person, but he also had a pulpit that semester, therefore rendering his unable to teach 75% of his classes. So, it was basically either study hall or take a quiz on the homework and readings under the “watchful” eye of a sub.

So, one day, Rabbi Awfulbaum is out on official rabbi business (big shocker) and we’re given a quiz, overseen by today’s patsy, Rabbi Naiveman. The quiz is relatively short. Among the first to finish are Platinum and a friend of his. He goes to turn in his paper, and asks if he and his friend can go get a drink. “Sure,” says Rabbi Naiveman (spoiler alert: bad move). The rest of us keep working.

Time ticks by, and most of us are done with the quiz and are either doing homework or just sitting and talking. Rabbi Naiveman realizes he hasn’t seen either of the boys since the first ten minutes of the ninety-minute period, and he’s starting to wonder how getting a drink could take so long. Another student leaves the room for the same purpose and comes back a few minutes later, upon which Rabbi Naiveman asks him if he’s seen the two of them, to which the student says no. He asks one or two of the boys in class if they could go find Platinum and Friend, who are probably just roaming the halls or making trouble. They return after a walk around the school, and like the guy before, they haven’t seen them. It’s been an hour at this point, and Rabbi Naiveman is getting nervous. He intercoms the main office, asking them to make an announcement for Platinum and Friend to return to the main office. He lets us out a few minutes early so he can go to the main office and explain that two students left class and didn’t come back.

Third period happens, then lunch, then fourth period. Several more announcements go over the intercom. The two students are officially missing. Fifth period comes and goes, and no one can say that they’ve seen them either in or out of school, and nobody knows where they went.

I don’t actually know exactly how things unfolded after that. I believe that the police came, or at least a call was made. Students and teachers were genuinely worried. School ended, and we all went home, wondering what became of Platinum and Friend. Rabbi Naiveman was probably crying off in a corner somewhere, or at least redoing his resume and looking at the want ads.

The next day, I went to school, and still knew nothing, but that they weren’t there. As usual, the school did a crappy job of covering up what actually happened, but word got around that they’d been found, at a 7-11. Just hanging out, or whatever it is that scummy 18-year-olds do when they cut school and nearly give the administration a heart attack.

Here are two versions of what I heard happened:

1) Someone (a parent, or a student who’d left early that day) had seen them at the 7-11, and either called in a tip or came to school to give them the news, whereupon one of their parents or someone from the school went out to said 7-11, found them there, and took them home. And then spanked them and sent them to bed without supper.

2) They actually came back to school after the school day had ended but before everyone had left, and walked in as if nothing happened, got busted, and sent straight home to get spanked and sent to bed without supper.

Either way, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although Platinum’s Friend rejoined us for the remainder of the year, claiming “it wasn’t his idea,” and getting to graduate with us but not attend graduation, this was the end for Platinum. He was finally gone. Kicked out. Expelled. Game over.

I didn’t shed one tear for him, but I did wonder what would happen to his life now that his permanent record included getting kicked out of a private high school, where he lied, cheated, and broke the rules constantly. Plus, he had a horrible personality. And he was not nice, either. I wondered if I’d see him serving me pizza, or bagging groceries down at the store.

Well…I was wrong.

In 2005, Facebook happened. As college freshmen, all of us added each other as friends. I searched Platinum’s name…and learned that he was indeed attending college, a private university somewhere in New York.

An actual university.


He wasn’t the Devil Incarnate, but you tell me: if you or I pulled all the crap that he did, where would we be right now? Probably in prison, or working at a K-Mart somewhere.

And all because his mommy and daddy had enough money to get his record expunged, or at least the connections to get him into a university.

I don’t like to use the word “hate” anymore, but I’m at about one level separated from using the word. I dislike this. I dislike him. I dislike him. This is just plain wrong.

Am I just jealous? No, not in the least. I had my own issues in high school, but managed to get myself together enough to survive without much carnage. Am I bitter? Not really, no. Yeah, I was made to feel like a dog, but since high school, I’ve gotten to go to university, graduate with honors, spend a year overseas, and be awarded things based on merit, talent, and hard work, rather than a trust fund. So, how do I feel? Other than disgusted at him, his family, our school, and the system that rewards people who behave badly if they can afford to pony up the green, I kind of feel sorry for him. I wonder if he’s reflected on anything he’s done, anything he’s done. I wonder if he wished he’d done things differently, and regretted. I wonder if he’s found fulfillment in something, and if he’s become a better person.

And then I usually think of something else. Crap, it’s 1 AM, I’m still on the couch in my sweats and I need to shower and get into bed so I can get some reading done or something.

The last time I ever saw him was at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. My dad and I were driving from Amherst to Baltimore during a break, and while stuck in a horrible clog of traffic, my bladder decided to turn into the Hindenburg, so we drove illegally on a shoulder until we got to a rest stop, whereupon I ran through the building, clutching my stomach, to the nearest toilet. While I was running, he was walking in the other direction and I’m sure he didn’t notice me but I immediately recognized him. Only now he was much taller, thicker in the chest and arms, had a little more facial hair, and clad in a standard scumbag-possibly-still-living-in-the-90s ensemble: oversized white wife beater, baggy jeans, cap turned to the side, and a Jewish star on a chain around his neck, walking with the swagger of someone who used the word swagger in daily conversation. It was just a brief glimpse, but it told me all I needed to know about who Platinum was today.

Anyway. I made it to the bathroom on time, and had such a relieving post-urination afterglow that I forgot all about what I just saw.