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Sometimes You Need an Unexciting Holiday

So, today was Purim, and for the first time in a few years, I didn’t overdo it.

Well, most of it was due to the fact that I was tired and loopy for most of the day, after the wretchedness that was yesterday, but after an appointment with the eye doctor, and lunch at Atwater’s (Baltimore cuisine for the win) I spent the afternoon grading, and then put on my monkey mask and headed out with Dad for megillah reading. I guess I’ve gotten used to lightning-fast Chabad megillah readers, but it seemed to take forever. Then, we had some hamantaschen and called it a night.

And now, to go back and edit my trip log post from Florida, and others if I have the energy.

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Home Mode

Nope, I didn’t make ice cream today. But I did help make fake candy bars.

More on that in a minute.

But first…

I think I’ve discovered why I get so bummed spending large amounts of time at home. I love my parents and I miss them so much during the school year, and it’s just so nice to have home-cooked meals and sleep in the bed I grew up sleeping in, but that’s usually where it ends. I don’t usually have too much time to see friends when I am here, and I’m constantly reminded of what I dislike about this place: despite the great kosher restaurants, it’s the “oh how’s your mother doing (fine, thanks, you see her more than I do, how’s yours?),” the “are you still in Baltimore (yeah, I have, and I’ve just been hiding in my parents’ refrigerator for four years),” and in general, the great blanket of blah and boredom that envelops me. Call it languor, call it torpor, but it just kind of invades and sops me up.

This, my friends, is Home Mode Jacob.

Take these last few days as an example. Yes, I’ve been riding high off of seven days of pretty much nonstop action and being Travel Mode Jacob, but I feel like I’ve been asleep more than I’ve been awake in the 72 or so hours I’ve been at my parents’ place. Maybe it’s living with two retirees that has been slowing my pace down, but on Sunday, I slept until 1 PM, then went out with my mother, had lunch, and instead of exercising at the club, laid down on a chaise and woke up several hours later; yesterday, I managed to get up for some early errands with my dad and some geocaching, but after he dropped me off at Walgreens to get some stuff of his own done, I barely had enough energy to walk over to Starbucks before I had to sit for a while and nurse a coffee until I got the strength to walk home; and today, not only did I close my eyes in the car on the way to Rockville with my mom to help out at my sister’s school, but completely passed out asleep on the ride home, and had barely enough energy to exercise for 20 brief minutes before dinner. If I were in Madison, I probably would have been way more active, reading books, doing chores, going to the gym, and eating real meals rather than whatever my parents have in the house. Plus, I’m super nervous about the next two and a half weeks of really living out of a suitcase, when I probably should be more excited than scared.

So maybe that’s one reason why I don’t like coming home too often for too long.

But it’s almost midnight here, and I have to get up at 7:00 tomorrow morning to catch my 10 AM flight to Toronto, Canada, and then onto Montreal for Leg 3: ATHE 2015! Wahoo! It doesn’t feel real, even though I’ve spent months planning and anticipating, especially as I sit here on the floor of my childhood bedroom. Hopefully, I’ll magically wake up in Travel Mode, aka Super Happy And Ready For Anything Mode. Travel Mode Jacob is way more fun than Home Mode Jacob.

But now, time for Sleep Mode Jacob.

A demain!

And even though nobody from South America viewed my blog today, I got a lot of great views from every other continent, so big hellos to North America (Canada and USA), Europe (UK, Norway, Belgium, France, and Poland), Asia (Singapore, Philippines, and India), Africa (Kenya and South Africa), and Oceania (Australia and Vanuatu, my first new country in quite awhile!)

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I Am From Baltimore

My name is Jacob, and I am from Baltimore, Maryland.

There, I said it.

Even though I was born in Baltimore City and lived in Baltimore County for the first 17 years of my life, my connection to my hometown has always been strained, at best. I don’t eat crabs, drink Natty Boh, or watch The Wire. People tend to think what they want about Baltimore; that it’s dangerous, that it’s ghetto, but to me, it’s my childhood and adolescence. It’s the little suburb where I grew up and couldn’t wait to leave, yet now look back at it with affection; true, it was stifling, but it was also sheltering. I had a stable home life, which helped, but I also had a stable community life. I resent the school I attended from 1st grade through 12th grade for not preparing me for the real world, a world with Christians, drug addicts, sex, and gangs, none of which existed in that little bubble, but on the other hand, I’m grateful that I never had to make the tough choices that other kids must have had to make in high school and the dangers that they faced both in and out of school. I had no clue that my city had as much crime and terror that it did, and how, as a Jewish and Caucasian person, how much of a minority I was in my own hometown. My Baltimore is Formstone and identical houses, nasal consonants and snowballs. My Baltimore is a nest. My Baltimore is a vortex. Most of all, my Baltimore is boring, banal, blah. And I’ve tried to distance myself from it.

I haven’t called Baltimore home for more than a few months at a time in the past ten years, and I haven’t thought of myself as being from there. When I moved to Israel, I was from Amherst, Massachusetts; when I moved to Houston, I was from Israel; when I moved here, I introduced myself as coming from Houston – which is not a lie, because I did drive up from Houston and spent more time there in the past two years than I did in Baltimore. But the past few days have changed things for so many, including me.

Baltimore has always been ghettoized. North of Northern Parkway, it’s all Jewish; south, it’s all black. In the city, it’s even more ghettoized. Racial violence and murder are nothing new; rarely does a day go by without a lengthy police blotter in the Baltimore Sun.

But for every negative story, there’s a positive one.

Baltimore is just not like that. It’s my home.

My beloved Baltimore.

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Happy Places

Getting in bed late last night, I was trying to calm myself down after a hectic day (well, mostly a hectic three hours’ worth of throwing a six-page paper together), and decided to travel to my happy place.

What is a happy place?

A “happy place” is something that I first heard on Friends, in the episode where Phoebe is trying to calm Monica down by asking her to access her happy place. Monica admits she doesn’t have one, so Phoebe lends her her own happy place, but admonishes her friend “…but please don’t move anything.” Phoebe then goes on to describe the happy place, which includes a waterfall. This fails to make Monica calm down, but does make her want to pee. Actually, I kind of have to pee now too, but I’ll finish writing first.

Probably not a great idea, but we’ll see what happens.

So, back in bed last night, I was attempting to find my own happy places, and realized that I don’t have that many. Then I really took a good long flip through my memories, and found that there are plenty of happy places for me – I just fail to recognize them as what they are. For a place to count as a happy place, it must be a concrete memory, and not just “the beach” or “in a garden.” It’s gotta be personal.

I’ve been short on stories lately, so here’s a list of random memories of times and place where I felt best, my true “happy places.”

Childhood

  • Not in my memory, but a picture of myself sitting on a brown blanket at the park near Wellwood Elementary, with my family. There are two pictures of that day that conjure up only happiness in my mind. In the first, I am a chubby toddler in a striped shirt and tan shorts, laughing and looking slightly south of the camera. In the picture, it’s just me, and for a moment, I am just happy with myself, by myself, just enjoying life. The second picture is one from that same day that my dad probably took. I am sitting on my mom’s lap at a picnic table. I know it’s from the same day because I’m in the same outfit. She’s bouncing me on her knee, and I’m laughing, and she’s looking down at me and laughing. In that frame, there’s no worry, anger, anxiety, or stress, just happiness.
  • Evenings spent sitting by my mother as she graded her third graders’ work. She sat, as my dad says “like a deer, on her haunches” on the blue bedroom carpet by the heater with her work in very specific piles around her, and usually me among them, talking to her or just sitting and reading or watching whatever channel my dad has decided on for the moment. Being situated between my parents was comforting, and such a familiar scene helps me feel like I’m right at home, in an easy part of my childhood.
  • Riding in the car with my mom, wherever, whenever, but listening to good oldies music. It seems like many of my childhood happy places seem to be close to my mother. I wasn’t really close with my father until I entered adolescence, really. Also, no school memories come to mind at all.

Adolescence/Teenage Years

  • Spending a peaceful Shabbat at home, usually involving a rotation between the couch, the brown chair in the basement, the plaid chair in the living room, my parents’ bed, and my bed. Extra happy if I got to finish at least one or two books.
  • Spending Shabbat in Ocean City. I’m not as huge on sitting on the beach reading as my dad is, usually because it’s cold, but coming with a suitcase of books and between the beach, the deck, the couch, the chairs, my bed, my parents’ bed, and my parents’ deck, worming my way both around the house and through several books could only be described as happy.

Amherst Years

  • Being lost in a bookstore. Any bookstore. Food for Thought, the big one on Pleasant St., the one in the mall in Northampton, some of the little ones in NoHo. Brattleboro, Vermont? Even better. A warm cup of something from Postcard Cafe, or Sylvester’s, (or Mocha Joe’s in Brattleboro), and a quick duck into Acme Surplus, just celebrating my freedom by hopping between stores.
  • Friday nights with any arrangement of Daniel, Goldie, Nora, Neta, Sarah, Cory, Kelsey, and Zippy on the couches at the Hillel windows for our weekly entertainment: cars getting towed on Phillips Street with their owners absent, standing by, or the best kind – running shoeless and coatless from a frat/sorority house only to watch their ride leaving without them – literally; or, watching guys pee in our parking lot, banging on the window and catching them midstream, and seeing their reactions. Pure fun with pure friends.

Israel

  • Midnight to 2 AM in the Nahum Lifshitz apartment, watching marathons of Hannah Montana, That’s So Raven, and Lizzie McGuire with Rael (and later, Adina). The routine: I get home from whatever I’m doing that night at the theatre or at the gym; if it’s the theatre, I put on the pasta and make the salads. If it’s the gym, I get out the veggies, put on the pasta, and leave the door unlocked for Rael so she can let herself in to check on the pasta in case I’m not out of the shower yet. In either scenario, at this point I take out my pasta and bring it to the table, as well as our salads and beverages. We watch show number one while Rael’s pasta continues to cook (she likes it stringy and mushy – I still don’t understand why, but whatever suits her appetite) and usually by the time show one is over, her pasta is ready and I focus on my salad or eyeball whatever dessert Rael has brought. The company, the conversation…man those were happy times. I can’t believe we’re so far away now. We did the midnight walks through Jerusalem as well…okay, this is bordering on tear-worthy nostalgia…
  • Being busy at the theatre. The busier, the better – I’m in control, I feel alive, and I’m in a million places at once, doing it all as hard as I can. Dedication, commitment, and in spare moments, a sweet garden to lounge in, or my insanely large office with the couch that served as a nap spot for myself and numerous others. Everyone comes to Jacob’s office.
  • Sunny days off, wandering around Jerusalem. Old City, New City, a different neighborhood anytime. The Old City’s the best though, the shuk, the Western Wall, getting lost and meeting locals and tourists, on the precipice of both myself. So fab. And in my happy place, I can have less acne.
  • Sitting by the sea in Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus, with the whole sea to myself. Sketching, reading, white wine, Mediterranean breeze – it was just one afternoon but it couldn’t have been more perfect. A language I don’t understand? Perfect for zoning out and being in the moment.

Houston Years

  • Hanging out in the apartment. Just knowing that I have this luxurious nest that I can go to and just lie on the couch watching TV, sit on the porch, or holing up in bed.
  • Studying at the Julia Ideson Library in downtown Houston. Leather couches and chairs, Greek statues, old bookshelves, roomy tables, free wifi, picture window views of Houston. Usually alone –  Houston’s hidden gem. Sometimes I just couldn’t sit still and got up and danced around the room – quietly, of course.

Bonus Happy Place: Vacation

  • Prague. A bench along the Vltava. A sunny Saturday. Getting lost in a book – but then looking up and seeing the most beautiful picture postcard in the world. And not only can I see it, I can feel it, I can touch it, it’s all there. I could sit on that bench forever.
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Today

Today I wished that I could go home. Then I wished I could stay here. Then I wished I could stay here, but without the heat, the bugs, and the traffic.

Wherever I go, I hope I will find Home.