0

Sweat + Small Stuff = …

It’s almost midnight, once again, and I got back from two hours at the gym about twenty minutes ago.

As I am actually sweating, today was just one of those day where the small stuff really made me sweat, with a few panicky moments.

For starters, today was one of my favorite days of the semester, Mafia Day, where I get to discuss the play Trifles with my sections, and reward them with a game of Mafia to bring out their acting skills. In my first section of the day, it was pretty much dead (no pun intended), but in the second section, it got rowdy, boisterous, and fun, with wild accusations being thrown across the room, friends becoming enemies, enemies becoming friends, and of course, in the last few minutes of class, I screwed up the game.

We were down to 11 students: 4 mafia (1 had been discovered) and 7 townies. The two students up for “the pit” were the Milliner, who was innocent, and the Lounge Singer, who was in the mafia. The vote was cast, and 6 hands went up for Milliner, and 6 for the Lounge Singer. I was confused, but then someone pointed out that the Librarian (who’d been killed in the round prior) had stuck her hand up for the Lounge Singer, so her vote did not count, putting the Milliner in the pit by a vote of 6-5. Unfortunately, stupid me got caught up in the heat of the moment and announced that the Lounge Singer had been killed when it had been the Milliner. That mistake caused the Lounge Singer to reveal that he was in the mafia, significantly changing the outcome of the game: now, 3 mafia and 6 townies were left alive. We only had about one minute remaining, so in the fourth round, obviously the mafia chose to kill the Milliner since I obviously did not do a good job of it, leaving 3 mafia and 5 townies. A quick round of accusations resulted in the Town Mayor and the Welder up for “the pit” (which didn’t matter, since both were innocent), ultimately ending our game with 3 mafia and 4 townies. Had the game been able to continue from that point, the mafia would have one final chance to win, if they were to successfully nominate and vote out one more townie, they would gain control and win the game; but the remaining townies could also have won as well if they managed to guess correctly.

If we press the rewind button, and I’d announced the correct death, we’d have been down to 4 mafia and 5 townies. Again, same scenario as above, only with fewer people dying. Either way, it’s likely that the mafia probably would have won, but the surviving townies were rather outspoken and might have knocked off the remaining mafia, who were all keeping to themselves.

Fail on me, number one.

The next two were even smaller, but still stung: first, as I walked into my office, I heard a crunch – I stepped on an assignment that one of my office-mate’s students had slipped under the door, tearing a hole in it with my boot. I fired off an apologetic email to my office-mate (who was gracious enough to respond, saying that it was not my fault), and went to copy said torn paper. On my way to the copy room, I walked past one of the other offices. Its door was propped open, and it was dark inside, which is quite unusual. Knowing that there were several expensive things in that room (a desktop computer, a coffee maker, personal items), I knocked on the door, causing the light to turn on…startling one of my colleagues, who was taking a quick nap at his desk. I shrank back and apologized for disturbing him, even though he told me that the door was propped open because he was expecting a student anyway.

Ay-yay-yay. I gotta stop saying that.

And I gotta stop sweating the small stuff, once I apologize to my student for accidentally pushing him into the pit.

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4

Theatre Thoughts n Things: Trifles, The Mafia Game

As some of you may know – well, anyone who reads me knows – I’m teaching a course at my university this semester, an introductory theatre course. I have 4 sections of students, and it’s my job to keep them occupied and discovering the wonderful world of theatre and plays during a weekly 1-hour supplementary discussion section.

This morning, I woke up with two realizations. First, I had to lead 2 discussions today on Trifles, by Susan Glaspell. Second, I had no idea how to do it and was scared like no other. I pictured myself, stammering and staring in front of a room full of bored college students, watching the minutes tick by on the clock, and then lowering my head in defeat as the bell rang.

However, I came up with a plan. A lesson plan, incorporating both Trifles and a super-fun party game.

Introducing: Trifles, the Mafia Game.

Essentially, it’s a simple version of Mafia. I dealt out a deck of cards, one to each class member. 5 of them were clubs; those 5 were the Five-Club Mafia. Their goal: eliminate all the townspeople, AKA the rest of the class, who were all dealt spades. We started off in “night” mode, with everyone asleep on their desks. I asked the Mafia to wake up, and by silent gestures, decide on a victim. Then, they go back to sleep, and everyone wakes up for “day” mode, in which we find out which townsperson has been “killed,” and they are now “dead” and out of the game. Together, the townspeople must put in three nominees for lynching, and by a majority-vote, lynch one of their own, who then reveals his/her status. If the townspeople eliminate the mafia, they win. If the mafia gain a majority in the town, they win.

This ties back to the play Trifles by Susan Glaspell, in which a murder has been committed, but the sheriff, county attorney, and a farmer overlook key pieces of evidence, disregarding what two women find (a dead bird, a knotted quilt) and referring to those items as “trifling,” when they are indeed pivotal to the case. Subsequently, the two women make off with the evidence.

In my first section, I think the discussion went on a bit too long because we only ended up having time for two rounds, which is a problem when you have 14 students. However, after two deaths, and two lynchings of townspeople who turned out to be innocent, we were left with 5 Mafiosos and 5 townies. Technically, a stalemate, but I awarded the win to the Mafia, who largely remained out of suspicion. I think that only maybe one of them was even suggested as a potential Mafioso.

My second discussion section yielded a more interesting result. In that section, I had 15 students: 7 male, and 8 female. As luck would have it, unlike the previous section, whose Mafia was 3 male and 2 female, this section’s Mafia ended up being 4 female and just 1 male. In the first round, the victim was male, and another male (innocent) was lynched. In the second round, the victim was again, male, and another male was lynched, but he turned out to be one of the Mafia. In the third round, the class woke up to find that the third victim was – once again – male. Now, down to 2 men and 8 women, I put forth the suggestion to the class…

“Notice that the men are being taken out one by one? Maybe, just maybe, there’s an all-female Mafia that’s slowly eliminating the guys, continuing the work of the ladies from Trifles?”

After that suggestion, the townspeople lynched a female classmate, who turned out to be one of the Mafia. We only had time for one more round, and with 9 students left (2 male, 7 female; 3 Mafiosos and 6 townspeople), the townies had already decimated the Mafia and had a higher probability to win, but I decided to see what would happen. We went to night, and the ladies of the Mafia switched it up and eliminated a female townie. When we switched back to day mode, I think that the townies caught on that the mafia were trying to cover up their identities even further, so the only names that were nominated were girls. Oddly enough, of the 6 girls that were left, the three names that the townspeople offered up for nomination were the three innocent girls, so the townies ended up lynching one of their own. If we would have gone on one more round, the Mafia could have turned the game around, but since class was over, I ended up giving the win to the 4 remaining townspeople, despite the 3 remaining Mafia ladies never really arousing any suspicion from the rest of the class. Even though the townspeople won by default, I think that had we gone on one more round, the Mafia would’ve taken control.

Overall: Had we more time (and if I had more time to think and be creative) it could have been more successful, but I think that it was a good exercise, involving acting, entertainment, strategy, and a little reference to the play we were studying. It worked better when the Mafia happened to be (almost) all-female, like what happened in my second section, but I think that people enjoyed it, even if they did not get too much out of it.

For a homework assignment, I asked them to reflect on their experience, and connect it to performance and to Trifles.

Which I kind of just did, myself.

I give myself an A.

Good job Jacob!

16

That’s SoMG: The New Jersey Horse Meat Mafia

It all started with a pot of coffee.

Last week, on my way back to Madison, my dad and I were sitting at the rest stop on I-90 northbound in Belvidere, Illinois, having some Starbucks and gearing up for the final leg of the trip. My dad does not drink coffee anymore, but he did in high school. So, I asked him if Grandma drank coffee. He said that she always had a pot of coffee ready, and usually she and her step-niece Ida from down the street (all names hereinafter have been changed due to protect the privacy of the individuals, and also because it’s fun to make up names) would spend the afternoon in one of their kitchens, drinking coffee and talking for hours. I had never heard of Ida, so I asked the question that launched the story of the century.

“Ida who?”

“Your grandmother’s step-niece.”

“Yeah, Grandma had a step-niece, Aunt Susanne’s stepdaughter from her first marriage.”

“Aunt Susanne had a stepdaughter?”

“Yeah, from her first husband, Alfred, you know, the one who committed suicide.”

“…”

“You don’t know that story?”

“Well, obviously, no, I don’t.”

“Oh, goodness, it’s a long one. Once we’re back in the car, you drive, and I’ll tell you the story.”

<pause button>

That was the beginning of what turned out to be an interesting and very juicy family scandal that was too good to keep to myself. So now, I share it with you all in the first ever episode of…

That’s So Jacob presents:

That’s SoMG: Scandals, Secrets, and Shockers That Will Make You Slap Your Hand Over Your Mouth

Imagine, if you will, Are You Afraid Of the Dark? meets E! True Hollywood Story.

Now, onto the show.

<play button>

Episode 1: The New Jersey Horse Meat Mafia

Bavaria, Germany, 1898.

It all started in a tiny farm town where a young Jewish woman named Huldah was spending another summer helping out some local families. Huldah was from a farm town of about 1,000 people, but this town’s population was even smaller, barely in the triple-digits. Every summer since she was old enough, Huldah would go to the smaller town, stay with a family, and do various chores around the house and farm. Over the years, she came to know most of the people in the town, to the point where she felt comfortable just walking into someone’s house to say hello and ask if they needed some chores done. There were only a few girls her own age in the town, and one of them was unusually fat. This girl’s name has been lost to history, so we’ll just call her Fat Girl.

One day, Huldah was just walking around town, and she decided to call on Fat Girl. She goes to Fat Girl’s house, opens the door, and hears a bloodcurdling scream coming from the kitchen. She runs into the kitchen to find her friend giving birth on the kitchen floor. Apparently, Fat Girl’s weight had been sort of an advantage in the predicament she’d found herself in; she had slept with one of the non-Jewish farmhands, and was able to hide from everyone the fact that she was not just fat, but also pregnant. That afternoon, she gave birth to a fair-skinned little boy.

Well, once the baby came, she couldn’t keep the secret for much longer. As was the custom in those days, she and the baby disappeared for a little while, “to an aunt’s house,” until the storm blew over. By the time she returned home, a young Jewish bachelor had moved into town, and with much prodding from Fat Girl’s family and friends, the two were married, and soon had children of their own. After awhile, another child showed up at the house one day: a little blonde boy whom they called Ernest.

Now, back to Huldah. She got married and had a family of her own, giving birth to three children. The oldest was a girl called Susanne, then a boy, and the youngest was my grandmother.

In the early 1930s, Susanne came of marriageable age. Through the grapevine, Huldah found a young man called Alfred, and the two were married, and not long after, they welcomed a child of their own, a little girl they named Penny. Soon after Penny’s birth, Alfred went to visit an uncle he was quite close with who ran a furniture store in America, in Baltimore, Maryland. He stayed for a short while with him before returning home to Susanne and Oenny in Germany. Alfred and his uncle corresponded frequently via mail, and one day in 1933, Alfred gets a very short letter from his American uncle, saying:

“Alfred: Come back to America. Take your wife and your daughter and leave Germany at once.”

The family had been aware of the rise of the Nazi Party in their country, because, well, how could you not. Their lives were not as affected as others, and until this letter came, they had no idea of how dangerous the Nazis actually were. So, the whole extended family made plans to immigrate to Baltimore, leaving Europe for good. Through good planning, the first to make it out of Germany were Alfred, Susanne, and baby Penny, setting sail for Baltimore in 1934. Penny celebrated her first birthday at sea, becoming a minor news story once the family landed in Baltimore.

The whole family, being farmers, was familiar with the cattle business, so as the rest of them trickled over – my grandmother, her mother Huldah, and all the rest – Alfred decided to set up a meat processing center in Baltimore. Through friends and acquaintances, he found a business partner who had come from a nearby part of Germany and also knew the meat industry. His name?

Ernest.

By the time Huldah finally made it over in 1938 – the last one – Alfred and Ernest’s meat business was hugely successful, churning out sausages and bratwursts for the people of Baltimore every day. When her son mentioned his business partner’s name to his mother, her eyes lit up.

“Ernest, from the next town? The blonde one? His mother was my friend!”

Yes, after close to fifty years, the boy born on the kitchen floor, and the boy of the woman who helped bring him into the world, became business partners.

As stated before, the business was hugely successful. Ernest kept a relatively modest lifestyle, but Alfred showered his family with money and expensive things: a house, cars, clothing. Susanne didn’t have to work, but she owned and ran a small grocery store while she raised Penny.

The reason Alfred and Ernest’s business was so successful was because of the source of their meat. Unlike other local meat markets, they cast their net somewhat wider, finding a supplier in New Jersey who offered them meat for extremely low prices. Once in Baltimore, Alfred, who was more of the businessman of the two, marked up the price of the meat to align with the higher prices in Baltimore and earn them an incredibly large profit.

Meanwhile, a journalist sniffs out a news assignment based on whispers and rumors; that A & E weren’t getting their beef from local farmers, but from some place in New Jersey. Undercover, the journalist acquires the name and address of the New Jersey meat suppliers, and goes there to find two incredible, game-changing secrets.

One: the meat they are selling was not beef – rather, illegal horse meat.

Two: the whole operation was run by a New Jersey mafia family.

Needless to say, the news breaks in a grand fashion back in Baltimore. People, some of whom have become ill from the company’s meat, are outraged at this deception and demanded answers. The newspaper prints the offending meat packers’ names, and Alfred and Ernest were now on the front page. Of course, Alfred and Ernest hired a lawyer to handle their case, one of the best lawyers in the state of Maryland. He agreed to defend them in court, telling them the best possible result (a minor fine) and the worst (three to five years in prison). But the damage to their business and social reputations would be irreplaceable. Confident as ever, Alfred invested in the lawyer, and everything was going to turn out most likely in their favor, due to lack of concrete evidence other than newspaper reports.

The trial came closer, but it became too much for Alfred. As much as he maintained that he was going to win the case, he was growing increasingly paranoid and upset, and Susanne was starting to worry. However, as comforted as she was in her lifestyle, worrying was not something she did often. Alfred began staying home for longer and longer periods of time. On one of the days leading up to the trial, Alfred went to work. That afternoon, he was found dead, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound from a gun he’d purchased without Susanne’s knowledge and kept in his office.

Susanne and Penny were in shock.

The trial, however, went on without Alfred. As it turned out, Alfred was the one who communicated with the New Jersey supplier, and the details of that arrangement went with him to his grave. Ernest testified that he knew nothing about Alfred’s dealings, and got off with a minor fine, no jail time. His reputation and business suffered a bit, but ultimately, Ernest lived to see the daylight, daylight that Alfred would have most likely seen had he managed to stay alive for the trial.

By this point in time, Penny had grown up and moved out of the house, and down to northern Virginia. She blamed her mother Susanne for her father’s death and all that went along with it, and they maintained very little contact over the years. Though Penny retained friends from childhood through high school and frequently came to visit them in Baltimore, she rarely visited my grandmother, who helped raise her, nor her own widowed mother, who married Irving, a neighbor and widower himself (his wife, whom Susanne had known, had died of cancer at a relatively young age) living with three children of his own. Penny never accepted her stepfather and step-siblings, who came to appreciate Susanne and eventually, regard her as their own mother. Though Irving was a decent husband and father, he also led a flashy lifestyle, financing it through his new wife’s money; money that was not going towards Penny herself.

Through the years, my father and his sister kept in touch with their first cousin Penny, but from a distance. She married a man called Woody, who was not particularly religious and also not a particularly…well, let me put it this way. Ernest, her late father’s business partner, remained in business but never offered Woody a job, as he had to other family members. Eventually, upon Ernest’s death, the business and the money stayed in his family. Her father’s uncle, the man with the furniture store, hired Woody as a salesman, but Woody did so poorly that he had to fire him. So, they kind of did their own thing, now living in the Washington DC area. My father and the others in the family remained in contact with Cousin Penny and her husband Woody, but they never quite found out how they got their money; Penny didn’t work, and Woody only gave vague answers about “business,” saying “it was fine.”

The final chapter of the story commences one hundred and one years after it began, in 1999. My aunt, now a mother herself, became a grandmother for the fifth time, to my little cousin Emily, that January. By this time, communication with Cousin Penny had slowed to a trickle; interaction happened only at a select few “state occasions,” weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. No letters, phone calls, or emails, otherwise. The new baby’s parents – my cousin Hillary and her husband – live in Washington, DC, not too far from the suburb where Cousin Penny resided. As a gesture of good faith, Hillary picked up the phone and invited Penny to a baby naming party they were holding for Emily, in May of that same year. Penny said she couldn’t come, her husband was sick.

Well, sometime later that year or in early 2000, Woody died. My aunt, father, and grandmother did not hear about this until many months later, around the time my father was preparing the family invite list for the Event of the Century – okay, it was for my bar mitzvah, that November. The three of them sent Penny a sympathy card, and received not a thank-you note, but a very long and nasty letter, accusing my grandmother and aunt of abandoning her in her time of need (this is the woman who abandoned her own mother), not visiting Woody when he was sick, not bothering to attend his funeral (which no one on our side of the family knew about, since no one had even told us how sick he was, or when he died), and other things that were apparently so rude that the three of them came to a decision to unceremoniously declare Cousin Penny and her children persona non grata.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my father quietly deleted Penny from the invite list, and my bar mitzvah was the first major family event that Penny was not formally invited to.

They have not attempted to contact her again.

Growing up, I knew of Penny’s existence and the fact that she was Aunt Susanne’s daughter, but nothing else. After Aunt Susanne died in the 1980s, we gradually lost contact with anyone associated with her, including my grandmother’s close friend and step-niece Ida, who was somewhat younger than her. My grandmother would have been 103 last year, so it is quite possible that Ida is still alive somewhere, in her nineties. Over the years, some of my father’s cousins have had brief contact with Ida’s children, but not for many years now. Their many afternoons of coffee and conversation are now lost to memory.

By the time Dad finished telling the story, we had driven over an hour from Belvidere to Madison, and were only a few blocks away from my apartment.

So there’s that.


Now that it’s inordinately late, off to bed for me. Once again, only a five continent day for me (no South America) but let me acknowledge those that did check in today from North America (Canada, USA, Mexico, Guadeloupe [first time, welcome!], and Puerto Rico); Europe (France, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein [first time, welcome!], Italy, Norway, Sweden and Spain); Africa (Mayotte); Asia (India, Vietnam, and the Philippines) and Oceania (Australia).