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Ghost Fleet? Spooky!

(in case you doesn’t get that joke, just listen to the bonus track on the [title of show] album)

HI.

So.

I actually finished a book the other day. Despite today being the last day of September, I think it was just the second or third book I finished. I found it on the Maryland shelf in the Wisconsin Historical Society library stacks, and it’s actually inspired me to want to a) read more books on the history of my home state and b) maybe even read a nonfiction book on the history of every state.

More on that later, but first, a recap of the adventure that lies within the pages of Donald H. Shomette’s Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay.

In a nutshell, Ghost Fleet explores a small part of the Chesapeake Bay near the town of Nanjemoy, Maryland, which is home to an inordinate number of shipwrecks at a remarkably easy-to-access location. The chapters go between various topics. My favorites were Shomette’s fascinating descriptions of the contents of the sunken ships, the ways that current Americans were mapping the ships on the sea floor, and his unexpectedly humorous interactions with former Maryland governor William Donald Schaefer AKA “Willie Don” on a guided tour of the area of the shipwrecks. Schaefer ended up being so fascinated that he practically catapulted money towards ship preservation in Maryland, which came as a surprise.

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A Just Right Thanksgiving

After a crazy few days of travel and stress, enter Thanksgiving.

In our times, Thanksgiving is thought of as such a holiday of excess. Too many people, too much food, too much consumerism. But this year, it was just right.

I flew back to Baltimore two days ago via Detroit, spent the night at home, then yesterday we drove down to Ocean City, and then today, up to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for Thanksgiving. There were 25 of us, which is almost everyone on the planet with whom I’m related. My cousins have the most gorgeous beach house, and there was just enough food that I felt satisfied without overeating. Plus, it was nice enough outside afterwards to walk around in short sleeves, and I caught up on some sleep while we had our traditional post-dinner Sharknado marathon. One of my cousins said that it was nice that nobody was gluten-free, but there’s more than that. This year, there was no whining or crying, no cringeworthy or awkward conversations, it just kinda flowed, like the ocean right outside.

Right now, I’m listening to the waves of the Atlantic that I’ve missed so much crashing just outside the house here in Ocean City. I’m still overloaded with stress thinking about work and school and everything, but at least I’m not alone and I’m in on of my most favorite places on earth.

Yeah, kind of sappy, I know, but hey, it’s just been a long few weeks, in many ways. November’s taken a lot out of me, and hopefully December will put some of it back.

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Surely You Joust

No weekend is ever complete around my parents’ house without the local Jewish periodical, which in Baltimore is bears the ever-so-creative title of The Jewish Times. Technically, it’s Baltimore Jewish Times, and around here, it’s known as the BJT, for short. And speaking of short, is it ever these days; the economy has administered a beating to print publications, and what used to be a thick volume is now smaller than some of the folders I got when I was apartment hunting.

Though they’ve had some good stories over the years, they’re not exactly known for their editing process. Growing up, it was a Friday-evening post-dinner game, “find the errors in The Jewish Times.” Usually, there were only a few, and sometimes they were funny. But sometimes, completely wrong. For example, when my family’s synagogue hired a new rabbi a few years back, someone wrote a lovely article about him and congratulated him on his new position as rabbi of Ner Israel. Except…the synagogue’s name is Ner Tamid. Ner Israel is a school, specifically a yeshiva, that is just as well respected as Ner Tamid, but is not at all related despite having a somewhat similar name. Anyone who’s Jewish and from Baltimore could tell you that. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it was just once – everyone makes mistakes – however, it was sprinkled throughout the whole article. Whoops. Sometimes the most interesting things in there are the letters to the editor pointing out the flaws and mistakes. Those are always fun.

Anyway, this week, I opened up to this article, entitled “Maryland’s State Sport Takes to the Holy Land,” by Simone Ellin.

“Wonderful!” I thought, as I prepared to read a lovely piece about our illustrious and unique state sport.

But there were no foils or fillies to be found: it was about lacrosse.

WHAT?

Our state sport is not lacrosse, it is jousting. Every fourth-grader in Maryland knows that. Even my mother, who in all her years of teaching never made it past the third grade, knew that’s what our state sport was. That’s one of the few things that we have that makes us cool. Sure, we have an awesome flag, great shellfish (from what I’ve been told), and daytime talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford, but jousting is what gives us the edge; it makes up for our boring license plates, our crappily-designed state quarter, and the fact that there is no clear consensus on how to even pronounce the name of our state. Unlike most major sports, however, jousting never really took off recreationally. None of our schools have jousting teams. Dick’s and other fine sporting goods retailers do not carry lances in their stock. And, sadly, even though equestrian events have a place at the Olympics, jousting has never been one of them.

This led me to wonder: what would it be like if we took our state sport as seriously as our state bird, the Baltimore Oriole? The Baltimore Oriole has not only lent its colorful wings but its name to our sports community, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the state who isn’t aware that our state’s baseball team = our state bird. We’ve already got the horse entertainment market partially covered with the Preakness Stakes, so expanding our horizons to jousting can’t be that much of a stretch. What would our state’s jousting team name be? The Maryland Marauders? And of course, there would need to be a commissioned league or something, so we could lord over (no pun intended) the New York Knicker-Knights (pun…intended?). Schools would need more green space in order to keep the horses. There would be jousting scholarships. There could be all sorts of medieval merchandise sold at games, like big turkey legs, and you’d have to dress up in period attire to attend, because that is what you do, obviously. And of course, there’d be the first thrust, done by some famous celebrity associated with horses, like…Benedict Cumberbatch from War Horse. Kids could join in the fun too; we’d have Little Leagues for aspiring knights in shining armor. In these times of equal opportunity, the sport would be open to women and girls as well. Reruns of The Saddle Club would have ratings that went through the roof. All disputes would be settled on horseback. Instead of voting for mayor or governor, there would be a duel. Somehow, I think Stephanie Rawlings-Blake could totally hold her own.

Back in the real world, I glazed through the article and then decided to look up Ms. Ellin. According to her Facebook, she’s not even a born and bred Marylander, she’s from – you guessed it – New York. And yes, that did need both highlight and underlining because this explains a lot. Apparently she’s lived here since 1997, but she’s clearly still got a lot to learn. What she definitely needs is a fourth-grade teacher – or a fourth-grader – to look over her work.

Although, to be fair, later that night my dad and I looked it up and though jousting has been our official sport since 1962, lacrosse has been our official team sport since 2003, by which point I was already a sophomore in high school and therefore past the point in my life where I was taught such information. Even though Ms. Ellin squeaks by on a technicality the title is still incorrect, it should say “Maryland’s State Team Sport Takes To The Holy Land.” That would solve the problem aptly even if it did destroy the flow of the title or cost the JT an extra eighty-five cents in color printing per issue. However, this doesn’t address the overarching problem with this situation.

I still want to see an article about Israel’s next Ivanhoe.

Works Cited:

Ellin, Simone. “Maryland’s State Sport [sic] Takes To The Holy Land.” 2 January 2014. Baltimore Jewish Times. <http://jewishtimes.com/marylands-state-sport-takes-to-the-holy-land/#.UsjgGPRDs_Y>

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Masterpiece Youtube: Secret Jewish Guilty Pleasure Christmas Video Song Countdown

Well, I guess the secret’s out now.

I am beginning this entry at 4:37 PM EST, Christmas Eve, from the road in someplace called Newton Falls, Ohio, where families are putting the final touches on their Christmas decorations, wrapping last-minute gifts, and setting out cookies and milk for a man who breaks and enters their houses every year to leave a mess on their living room floors. And that’s not including the reindeer poop that undeniably on the bottom of Kris Kringle’s boots.

But this story does not take place in Newton Falls, Ohio. In fact, I barely even knew there was a town called Newton Falls, Ohio, until I checked my location on my phone a few minutes ago. In fact, this story doesn’t have a specific location at all.

Growing up near Pikesville, Maryland (okay, I lied, there just so happens to be a location), we didn’t have Christmas. As in Christmas didn’t exist. Everyone I knew was Jewish. Nobody put up Christmas lights on their home or business. No one went a-wassailing door-to-door; the only Christmas music came from the car radio. In general, it was just another day. Back then, I didn’t even really know what Christmas was, why people celebrated it, or what day of the year it was; since it was a religious holiday, I thought that it changed every year, like Hanukkah or Rosh Hashanah or Passover.

Christmas was especially verboten in my household. My dad hated Christmas and anything to do with it, and still does to this day, refusing to acknowledge its existence except to complain that things are not open. This meant no Christmas books, no Christmas songs, and no Christmas movies. Exceptions were made for movies where Christmas appeared but was not a central theme, like Home Alone, or Christmas episodes of cartoons and sitcoms . I don’t really know the reason, other than the fact that we are Jewish and proud of it. My mother always said that it was because my dad’s father didn’t like Christmas or allow him to participate in any Christmas events at his public school when he was a kid. But thanks to my dad’s abhorrence of the holiday, I always associated it with Hitler or the Holocaust, which were the other things that he could not tolerate. That and the New York Yankees.

As I left the fold and entered college, I became acutely more aware of Christmas (except for the year I spent Christmas in Israel, where, ironically, it all started) and found myself enjoying some Christmas classics, like Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

So, in today’s Masterpiece Youtube, we look at the great Christmas moments in television, film, and music, as determined by me.

10. The Hanukkah episode of Rugrats

Even though the Passover episode came first and is far superior, in the mid 1990s Klasky-Csupo Productions gifted all the Jewish children of the world with a holiday special of their very own, with as few Christmas references as possible, exceptions being, of course, the unmissable Cynthia Saves Christmas special and Stu referring to the synagogue as a church. Highlights of the episode include the presence of Grandpa Boris and Grandma Minka, Didi’s hilarious old-country parents who are probably both dead now; Stu’s epic menorah invention fail; and the scene where Angelica thinks she’s getting pancakes for dinner, only to discover that they are latkes, “Tapato pancakes? Who would make pancakes out of topatos?” Your Jewish cousin’s mom, that’s who. The cherry on top is that unlike all the rest of the cartoons of the world, Rugrats came out with episodes for both Passover and Hanukkah years before it aired a Christmas special, probably due to appearances/popularity/external pressures. To this day, I believe that except for a few mentions in Family Guy and the bizarre As Told By Ginger “Even Steven Holiday Special,” no other cartoons have expressed their love for the Festival of Lights. Even though Spongebob has outlived its usefulness (a topic for another time), they’ve had at least two Christmas episodes and the world continues to wait for Bikini Bottom’s Hanukkah festivities – which should occur, obviously, at their local Jewfish Community Center.

9. “Last Christmas,” Wham!

Unlike Band Aid’s lame attempt to bring Christmas cheer to the world in the wildly inappropriate “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, this masterpiece by Wham! truly launched the spirit of Christmas across the world, even in places where Christianity is not the dominant religion or even a state-approved tradition. I’m pretty sure I heard it in the airport in Zurich, Switzerland, when I flew there on New Year’s Day, and friends of mine who have been to China say that they play it all year long, which is surprising considering China’s historical relationship with Western religions. Even one of my non-English-speaking friends posted it on his Facebook on Christmas Day last year despite not having a clue as to what the lyrics referred. The first truly international Christmas song. Take that, “Jingle Bells.”

8. Elmo Saves Christmas

This Muppet-ized take on It’s A Wonderful Life put the furry red monster in the position of control of Christmas, which is a very scary thing indeed. By making it Christmas every day, Elmo thought it would bring eternal joy to the denizens of the Street. It did not, doing the exact opposite: making everyone depressed that it was Christmas every day because it meant no work could get done and everyone had to shop for presents all the time (couldn’t they have just been like, screw you, Christmas, Sesame Street is open today?) making Elmo realize he made a horrible mistake. The best part of the movie is when my mom starts to cry, which occurs towards the end, every single time it comes on TV.

7. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Darlene Love

It’s weird but there is something about this song that just works for me. Maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t include any religious references except for the chorus singing the word “Christmas” every now and then. There was a remake of it done recently by either Beyonce or Mariah Carey, and even though it’s far superior, there’s just something about Darlene Love’s voice that makes it so classic. Maybe it’s because when Darlene Love recorded it, we didn’t have Skype or Facebook to connect us like we do today.

6. Phoebe’s Christmas songs from Friends

Even though Friends, unlike Monica’s Mocklate, made Thanksgiving its holiday, with classics ranging from “More turkey Mister Chandler?” to Joey sticking his whole head inside a turkey to scare Chandler to Monica and Ross’s epic football rivalry, it didn’t skip Christmas. In one episode, Phoebe tries to create a Christmas song for all the friends with their names in it, and it goes through many transformations before becoming the definitive version that plays over the ending credits. How can you not love a Christmas song with the word “crap” in its first line? Honorable mention for Friends Christmas song is “My Mother’s Ashes,” from another episode, although I’m not entirely sure that it was a Christmas-specific episode or just a winter one.

5. “Santa, Teach Me To Dance,” Debbie and the Darnells

I discovered this obscure Christmas novelty song through a BuzzFeed article last year, and it’s stuck with me ever since, for the sheer oddity and hilarity of it. This song, which makes absolutely no sense, was written and performed in the 1960s, I believe, around the time dance movies were popular. Dancing lessons for Christmas seems like a strange request coming from the teenage girls who were singing this song. The only thing stranger than this song’s existence are the group that performed it. When I imagine Debbie and the Darnells, I imagine a group of four white girls with embarrassing 1960s Motown hairdos, possibly with reindeer hairbands or Christmas tree barrettes, and most definitely wearing smart sweater sets and staring off into the distance, much like pictures of the Shirelles or the Supremes. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever know who Debbie and her Darnells were, much less looked like, because when I searched for a Wikipedia entry or any other songs performed by these girls, this song came up and nothing else.

4. White Christmas and its dance sequences

Okay, so they really don’t have that much to do with the holiday itself, but they are in a Christmas-themed movie. My personal favorite is the “Abraham” number performed by a young and good-looking Vera-Ellen and John Brascia. Vera-Ellen, known for her tiny waist, incredible talent, and sad life story, is particularly on point here. I’ll elaborate more on her in a future post. John Brascia, on the other hand, didn’t become a star, or least not a major one by any means; I looked him up a few years ago and he was ancient, but still alive in California, having only made a few films. A recent Wikipedia search shows that he died between then and now. It’s such a shame; he could dance like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and in my opinion, is way better looking…wait a minute…where was I? Oh yeah, Christmas…

3. “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas,” Gayla Peavey

This delightful song is not only adorable; it has an equally adorable story behind it. Though it sounds similar to Shirley Temple and is often mistaken to be her, it was sung by a young girl named Gayla Peavey in Oklahoma, who was known for absolutely nothing else, it’s pretty easy to understand: a girl wants a hippopotamus for Christmas. The lyrics are silly, fun, and bouncy. I wonder who came up with it – “hey, can you give me the name of an animal with five syllables, stress on the fourth, for a Christmas song?” All kidding aside, apparently there was a real hippopotamus like the one described in the song – it had been in an Oklahoma zoo, and then removed for some reason. Eventually, it was returned to Oklahoma, but after hearing this entreaty, I’d just give the girl her damn hippopotamus for Christmas.

2. “Up On the Housetop,” Gene Autry

Ho, ho, ho…w inappropriate is this song? Before I heard this song, I had no idea how much innuendo was in Christmas; I thought it ended with “Santa Baby.” I mean, Santa comes down the chimney, bringing a “doll” for little Nell, and a “whip” for little Bill. Seriously, “fill it well?” This song is just so hilarious in its hidden message. If anyone was going “click click click” on my housetop, I’d go “bow chicka wow wow,” and then call the police. Except if it was on the rooftop of my apartment building, in which case they’d freeze to death before they got caught.

But the number one Masterpiece YouTube? Well, you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow for that one.

God bless us every one.

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Anecdote on a Downward Spiral turned Mini-Crisis

One of those things that gets me down is when things go wrong. That kind of gets everyone down, of course, but making things seem like the absolute worst seems like something that habitually happens.

So, the mini-crisis of the day?

I flew home to Maryland. That’s not the crisis (well, except for the overpriced airport pizza from Wolfgang Puck, the mocha frappuccino I spilled on the floor of the Duty Free, and coming out in departures instead of arrivals for some reason, confounding my parents). After four hours in the air, it was time for four hours in the car; first to Chevy Chase to say hi and bye to all the family members I haven’t seen in a year or more (sans my sister who I saw in March, and my cousin Jenn who randomly showed up in Madison a month ago), we turned the car around, crossing Maryland and Delaware and back into Maryland again, arriving at the beach house in Ocean City, where I sit typing this, and no further along on my paper (crap crap crap..::hand to forehead::) After a disappointing Thanksgiving dinner (deli sandwiches, donuts, and some drinks purchased at the Royal Farms in Bridgeville, Delaware) eaten mostly in the car, we got here and as I went to show my mother my brand new iPad…boom. Dark. Dead. Not turning on. I have a paper to do…WTF. Dad looks up the closest Apple store, and though there are computer stores here in town, the two closest Apple stores are in Annapolis, MD, and Newark, DE. And it’s also Thanksgiving. Dad says that we can go back to Baltimore tomorrow or the next day, and I can even go back to Madison if need be. Then, I turn on the TV, and we find out that the cable’s been turned off because it’s winter.

At this point, my mood is just sour. I felt bad for leaving my laptop at home and having nothing to write my paper with but a pen and paper. I can’t do anything but sit on the couch and scrunch my eyes. No crying, fortunately, but I just felt disconnected. Lost. How am I going to get my paper done? I’m not, and I’m going to fail the class, and then fail out of grad school, and then…

So I called Rachel for help. She suggested holding the two buttons on the iPad to reset it. WALLA.

Things immediately get better. My face loosens up, my jaw unclenches, my appetite returns, and now I can do my paper. Or at least find other things to distract me. We can stay here in Ocean City until Saturday night/Sunday morning as planned, and all is right with the world. I still have a paper to do, but now I can actually do it.

This story had no point but at least now I can rest easier tonight knowing that things are working. Also, I’m so mentally drained I can’t think of anything creative to write about, and I haven’t even finished a book so I can’t even do a book review.

In other news, my mother just told me that my father woke her up at 5:00 this morning with a gigantic fart, after which she couldn’t fall back asleep. More details as the story breaks.