17

Memories Down Field Trip Lane

Hmm…what to write about for today?

How about a story?

It’s the reason I started this blog anyway.

Oh, how about terrible school field trips? That’s a good one.

Let’s see.

::dig dig dig into the past::

One of the earliest ones I can remember was our sixth grade camping trip to Genessee Valley. Genessee Valley is a large park in rural Maryland, with a lot of things like ropes courses and zip lines. It was also my first time camping. It was a little scary, but my dad was one of the chaperones so that was comforting. Anyway, it was just one overnight, and for most of the time, we were split up into groups for things like trust exercises. (Crap, I realized I should probably change everyone’s names, so all names from now on are pseudonyms). I don’t remember anything too remarkable about my group, except that I stupidly dropped my cap in a rushing river, and in an astonishing display of friendship, two of the girls in my group, Natasha and Sally, fished it out with a stick. The group my dad chaperoned had a little more excitement; in the very first activity, which involved the whole group attempting to stand on a platform together by swinging on a rope and landing on it, they decided to do it from smallest to largest. The tiniest girl in our grade, Elizabeth, went first, and everything was going well until Michael, the biggest in our grade, swung, and like dominoes, knocked everyone over on the platform and poor Elizabeth ended up breaking a tendon in her foot – all this a few hours into the trip. She didn’t go home, but someone had to carry her around for the rest of the time there. Also, there was a tree-climbing activity, and one of the taller kids in the grade, Ivan, was unexpectedly nimble at tree-climbing. He was almost at the top, and couldn’t figure out how to get to the last rung, which no one else had been able to do. The instructor yelled up, “try to straddle it!” Of course, she didn’t know that Ivan had moved to America from Russia five years ago and had no idea what straddle meant.

Seventh grade was our class trip to Washington DC, and probably one of the worst field trips of all time. We were learning about the government, so we had plans to see the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the Senate. As a bonus, we were to visit the FBI Building if we had time. I can’t remember the exact order of the sites, but I think that was it. At our first stop, the Capitol, our tour guide had a bad head cold and almost no voice. With sixty-something middle schoolers, and several teachers/chaperones, not to mention other tourists, guides, and tour groups, it was pretty futile to try to hear what the guide was saying. I wandered off to get a closer look at some of the artwork/statuary, and got yelled at by several teachers. When we got to the Supreme Court, we all had to go through a metal detector, which took at least 45 minutes, mostly because 3/4 of the class set it off in some way, including Tyler, who wore a collared shirt with metal buttons, which it took the security guards fifteen minutes to figure out. By the time we all got in, we were pretty antsy – plus it was almost time for lunch, so we were hungry – so naturally we were on the talkative side. We got about ten minutes in, down a stairway…and promptly got kicked out for being too loud. We were supposed to eat our lunches in a room there, but of course that was a no-go, so we ate lunch on a moving bus on the way to our next stop, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. And another metal detector, so we had to go through that drama all over again. What I remember of that stop, I liked, but we were “running late,” so the teachers practically pushed us through with fly-swatters. Finally, we made it to the Senate, and it just so happened that we were…running early. One of the teachers asked the lady behind the desk what we should do, and she suggested watching the movie about Congress in the little room next door. So, we sat through this rather uninteresting movie, and when it was over, we came back out, to find that the lady who was sitting at the desk was gone, and in her place were two security guards. When the teachers told them who we were, they told us that the last tour for the day had left, and we’d missed it (thanks to “running early” lady). Of course, the FBI Building needed reservations for a tour, and nobody had thought we’d get that far, so we piled back on the bus and got home two hours early. Oh, and at some point, one of the girls got whacked in the head by an automatic parking gate.

Eighth grade was the big trip – the Big Apple, New York City. Like the camping trip, this was also an overnight, only this time we were in a decent hotel just across the water in New Jersey. It was mostly touristy things, but I remember really enjoying going to the Planetarium the first day. We also got to see Les Miserables on Broadway, which was really special, despite the fact that I saw it again on Broadway a few months later. Of course, it wasn’t fun being with a bunch of…people my own age who talked through most of the show. To make it even better, as we left the Imperial Theatre, I tripped and fell on a crack in the sidewalk, and it wasn’t until we got back to the hotel that I realized my sock was filling with blood. Luckily, it was just a bruise, and even more luckily, one of my hotel roommates, Sam, was an Eagle Scout, so he called room service for a First Aid kit and patched me up, which was super nice of him. With a bunch of rowdy eighth-graders spending a night in an out-of-state hotel, the teachers were probably as thrilled as the staff, but I don’t remember anything of that night – the room assignments were across three floors, with most of the boys on one floor, most of the girls on another, and the teachers and a few leftover rooms on another. Fortunately, my room ended up being one of the ones on the “leftover” floor, along with 1 room of girls, a room of teachers, and a bunch of regular hotel guests, so we tucked into bed right after the show and had a relaxing night’s sleep, unlike the other two floors full of kids. I must have been really tired, because apparently a lot of running and door-slamming occurred, all night long. Other highlights of the trip were shopping in Chinatown, where I bought the first of my wind chime collection, and for some reason, stopping at a pickle stand, where a bunch of kids with a video camera tried to sell us condoms.

And that’s what kind of field trips my school went on.

Ah, I miss the days when you could just get on a bus and have a bunch of grown-ups do all the planning for you.

Advertisements
5

Turbulence: You May Experience Jerks

The title pretty much says it all.

But to give you some context, it started this morning, when I was supposed to be getting ready for class but reading Facebook on my phone as usual, and I came across an article from a newspaper in New Zealand about this. By the time I had thought of a response, I had long lost the link, so I found an almost identical article here, in the Washington Post.

The article I linked above adds some scenarios that I didn’t encounter in the New Zealand article, so I’m just going to focus on the first one. It happened on an El Al airplane leaving New York (Kennedy, presumably) for Tel Aviv. Several dozen Orthodox Jewish men, some of them rabbis, refused to take seats near women, as Jewish law forbids close contact with non-related women, see one of my negia posts for more on that. After getting all the men seated, the plane finally took off, only for the men to stand back up during the flight and congregate in the aisles, rather than sitting next to women. This made life difficult for everyone else on that eleven hour trans-Atlantic flight, especially when the men offered passengers money to switch seats before takeoff.

I have to say, well done rabbis. You sure showed that plane full of people your true colors. Well, your true monochrome, that is. Now, you’ve not only gotten yourselves a reputation for being jerks, but this stunt will absolutely do wonders for the image of Jews, specifically the Orthodox, around the world. The world is not tailor-made for Jewish people; I’ve learned that the hard way, going to school on Jewish holidays and not being able to eat much from menus in places like Applebee’s, Wendy’s or the entire state of Louisiana. You’re right in the fact that it’s just not fair sometimes. But you have to pick your battles, and when you’re faced with being stuck in a giant metal tube for eleven hours with one hundred or so other people who are trying to live their lives, just sit your ass down and make your your seat belt is securely fastened. This whole not-sitting-next-to-women crap has gone way too far. The Talmud says that men and women may touch in unavoidable situations or during goal-oriented tasks, such as passing plates around a table, doing the laundry, or moving furniture. Why can’t travel fall under the same category? After all, nobody goes on a plane just to sit there and do stuff for the rest of their lives; it’s a temporary situation, so open your book, crank some Miami Boys Choir up to full volume and suck it up. The fact that it’s almost Rosh Hashanah makes it even worse. It’s like, you want to get written in the Book of Life? Try acknowledging other human beings.

I actually have two personal stories about this. The first happened in Israel. I was flying back from Cyprus, and my then-girlfriend surprised me at the airport to accompany me back to Jerusalem in a sherut (shared taxi). The principle of the sherut, especially at Ben Gurion Airport, is that you hand the driver your suitcase and pile in, sitting wherever there is a seat. Not a hard concept. It was late at night, and in our sherut there happened to be, other than us and the driver, five others: an elderly couple, a secular Jewish guy, another guy, and a younger Haredi woman traveling alone, which is a rarity. There were plenty of seats in the van, so we clambered into the back row. The couple sat in two of the front seats, and the Haredi lady sat alone next to a window. The secular Jewish guy enters the van and sits right next to Haredi lady, who asks him to give her some space, because she’d rather not sit next to him. He moves, but as soon as we’re all packed in and the motor starts, he lets Haredi lady have it, laying into her for being a Haredi, always wanting her own way, not living in this century, having so many extra privileges for being religious, and so on. Keep in mind that it’s creeping close to midnight, and we’re all tired. Haredi lady says something back to him, and he keeps going. I can barely see her face in the moonlight, but she looks like she’s on the verge of tears, so the other guy and the elderly couple come to her rescue, while we watch bemusedly from the backseat. It basically lasts the whole ride back to J’lem, not letting up until he gets out. Thankfully, he’s the first stop. After he is off, she breathes a sigh of relief.

The second story happened at Kennedy Airport on New Year’s Eve. I was on my way to Vienna, Austria, to meet DAT for the Slovakia Winter Retreat and I was boarding the plane for the first leg of the trip: New York to Zurich, Switzerland on Swiss Air. Not a lot of people fly on NYE, which is fantastic, because there is plenty of leg room. It seemed like I was among the only American on the flight. Everyone else was either going back to Switzerland, a religious Jew connecting to Israel, or a brightly-clothed African who, as I later learned, were all connecting to Douala, Cameroon. I get to my seat, and there is a super-religious Israeli girl about my age sitting in the window seat of the row. In my pajama pants, Edward Gorey t-shirt, and bright green DAT headband, I look anything but Jewish. She very visibly rolls her eyes and starts chattering in Hebrew to her friend who is standing right there. I did not catch all of what she was saying, but she was mostly bitching about having to sit next to a boy the whole time and how much this flight was going to suck. All while I’m sitting right there, pretending to stare off into space but actually listening and understanding most of their conversation.

People are starting to settle into their seats, and a lovely flight attendant comes over to me and asks me for my meal preference. She then asks if the religious girl is also sitting in this row; by this point, she has gotten out of the seat and is standing in the aisle pouting. She then addresses her directly, that she needs to sit down so she can get her meal preference, and the girl either ignores her or does not understand her English. I whisper to the flight attendant that I can speak Hebrew, and I proceed to get Miss Orthodox Jewish Bitchface’s attention by locking eyes with her and saying in rapid and pretty-well-accented (if I say so myself) Hebrew something along the lines of:

“Listen, honey. This nice lady wants to know if you’re sitting here, so you can get the food you want.”

The religious girl doesn’t look so much surprised as she does disgusted that I’m even talking to her (in her own language!) and says something like:

“Maybe I’ll sit here, maybe I’ll sit over there with my friend, I don’t know, whatever.”

I translate this to the flight attendant, who tells me she needs the girl to sit down in a seat because we are preparing for takeoff and she needs to know what the hell this girl wants to eat. Just doing her job. I translate this into Hebrew and convey it to the religious girl, who walks off in a huff with her nose in the air. Turns out I will not be seeing her for the remainder of the flight.

I turn to the flight attendant:

“Yeah, so from the bitchy display we just saw, I take it she’s not going to be eating on this flight. And if she gets hungry, well, tough luck.”

I earn some brownie points with the flight attendant, whose life is made easier by drawing a line through the religious girl’s name on her list. I feel powerful, and a little bad that she won’t get any food, but frankly, with the way she talked about me in front of my face and how she brushed off both me and the flight attendant, she didn’t deserve the delicious hot rolls and free champagne. If you don’t want to cooperate with me, someone who is trying to help you potentially get the food that you want/need, fine. But don’t take it out on a lady who’s just doing her job.

People. Entitled people.

Anyway, gentlemen…you can always swim across.

***

Works Cited

Sullivan, Gail. “Ultra-Orthodox Jews delay El Al flight, refusing to sit near women.” Morning Mix. The Washington Post. 26 September 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/09/26/ultra-orthodox-jews-delay-el-al-flight-refusing-to-sit-near-women/&gt;

4

My Redheaded Firecracker Grandmother

Today would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday.

She was my mother’s mother, and my last surviving grandparent, whom I affectionately called Mimi because my oldest cousin couldn’t say “grandma” when she was a toddler.

Over the course of her very full life (97 years and 89 days) she accomplished an amazing number of things before she succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.

Here are ten of them.

 

  1. She was remarkably well-educated at a time when not all women in America had that kind of luxury, drive, or wherewithal. Not only did she complete high school, but studied accounting at City College, today known as City College of New York (CCNY). 
  2. She was a member at the workforce at a young age; we think it was 16 since she lied about her age to get a job as a saleslady at Macy’s in Herald Square, which started her lifelong trend of denying her age. A true lady never reveals her age.
  3. She helped with the war effort; after seeing an ad in the newspaper, she moved to San Francisco to work as an accountant for a meat-packing plant. She lived with a cousin, and remembered how she got chauffeured to work every day in a private company car; a luxury. She also fondly remembered how her employers offered her a competitive salary.
  4. After the war, she returned to New York City, where she worked in accounting at a private hospital on Park Avenue in Manhattan, where she billed the rich and famous. One of her favorite memories (which she told me, and only me, over a plate of pasta at Noodles & Company) was the day she met First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. In those days, hospitals had doormen, and one day, one of the said doormen came into her office, saying that Mrs. Roosevelt had walked in with a bouquet of flowers. Along with all the other hospital staff, she went down to the lobby to catch a glimpse of the First Lady, who had just finished visiting her friend and was walking down the stairs. I like to picture it as a Hello, Dolly! moment, only in more sensible shoes. All the staff members lined up and Mrs. Roosevelt went down the line, shaking everyone’s hand. Mimi also remembered that plenty of other celebrities came in as patients and visitors, but by the time I asked she had forgotten who else she had met.
  5. She traveled around the country and around the world, managing to hit up most of Western and Eastern Europe, China, Japan, and Indonesia, as well as visiting Israel six times.
  6. Her skills with numbers won her money in canasta and gin, and though she always liked bridge, she never replicated the same success. She was also a gifted singer. My grandfather, who was obsessed with audio/video recording, made a record of her singing some pop songs. My uncle found the records a few years back and shipped them somewhere (Wisconsin, I think) to have them converted to mp3 files. I heard it once, but since then I don’t know where that recording is. I wish I had it.
  7. She was strong in faith and in giving; she was a lifelong member of Hadassah and loved all Jewish holidays, especially the ones with sweet treats. One of my favorite memories of her later in life was Chanukah 2010, where even though most of her brain was gone, she still remembered the blessings over the candles and said them out loud, in Hebrew, without any help.
  8. She was also strong-willed; she gave up smoking in 1949 when smoking was the glamorous and popular thing to do. She did it when she got pregnant with my mom, her first child, because her doctor suggested that smoking while pregnant might be harmful to her and her baby’s health. After my mother was born, she lost interest in cigarettes.
  9. She was beautiful, with short, fire red hair and a New York accent and was often compared to Lucille Ball. She was also known to crack a good joke in her time. Her fiery hair and personality made her my “firecracker grandmother.”
  10. She always had a good sense of humor. At her 97th (and final) birthday, after the cake was served and eaten, I turned to her, saying “Thank you so much for inviting us to your party and being a wonderful hostess. Same time next year?” Her response: “Absolutely!”

Mimi, I miss you, I love you, and I will always love you.

Ruth Ellen Feingold Wilen Cooper

4/18/14 (The Bronx, New York, USA)  – 6/18/11 (Baltimore, Maryland, USA)

0

Road Trip 1: New England, 1999

Our first official road trip started on June 13, 1999. With a tank full of gas and hearts full of hope, we headed to nab our first stamps of the day, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After driving through Maryland and Delaware, we arrived in Philly just in time for lunch.

Our first stop was the Gloria Dei Church. It wasn’t too interesting – just an old church with a graveyard. We didn’t see a visitor’s center, so we asked around inside, and the church workers had no clue what we were talking about. It was listed online, but not in the book, so I thought we had a chance of scoring one, but alas, we failed. (A few years later, they did indeed get an official visitor’s center with a stamp. I need to go back.)

The rest of the day went very smoothly. We picked up the first stamp of the trip at Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, home of a supporter of George Washington, then another at the Liberty Bell (Independence National Historical Park) and at the home of Edgar Allan Poe. There, one of the rooms had a rubber “telltale heart” hidden under a plank, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. Later that day we hit Valley Forge before stopping for the night in Fort Washington, PA.

Day 2: More of the same. We hit three: Morristown NHP, Morristown, New Jersey; and my first brown stamps (as opposed to Mid-Atlantic light blue) were Ellis Island (new to my dad but old hat to me, having visited it with my 4th grade class), and the Statue of Liberty (which we climbed up to the base). But that didn’t matter because we got to spend the night in a state I’d never been to before: Bridgeport, Connecticut. I had finally visited a state that my sister hadn’t. Moving on to:

Day 3: Bright and early to capture Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Our first stop was the historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, where we got to see the secret passageway beneath the bimah (another historical thing that BLEW MY MIND) and say hello to the oldest still-standing synagogue in the USA. It’s also the only Jewish-themed national park, so, bonus. Once we hit Massachusetts, we made an unplanned stop in New Bedford and got the stamp for the New Bedford Whaling NHP, which remains one of my favorite national parks to this day – the town was so cute and little and New England, and the huge whale skeleton suspended on the ceiling didn’t hurt either. We spent the night at the Suisse Chalet Inn in Cambridge – I didn’t mind it so much (probably too high on having fun) but my dad remembers it as being a roach motel.

Day 4: Boston Day. This was also no-car day, which was less expensive and easier on my dad. We walked the entire length of the Freedom Trail to get the Boston NHP stamp, as well as the Black History Trail to get the Boston African-American stamp. I wasn’t interested in anything other than the parks and the stamps, but upon my dad’s insisting, we strolled around Boston Common and made a stop in Harvard Yard. We took the T to Brookline to see John F. Kennedy’s home, and then headed to Dad’s favorite part of the trip, a Red Sox game at old Fenway Park. They played the Twins but I can’t remember who won.

Day 5: Boston Suburbs. We hit up the Salem (Salem Maritime NHS), Saugus (Saugus Iron Works NHS) and Lowell (Lowell NHP) AKA home of the cotton mills. This is the only time on any of the trips I remember having a serious breakdown (I was totally a crier as a kid) – I think it was because of traffic. I was surprised at how little we fought throughout the entire eight-day trip. We also veered up to New Hampshire, just so I could say I’d been there, even though the only stamp was much further up.

Day 6: Goodbye Roach Motel, hello central and western Mass. We excitedly hit up Minute Man NHP in Concord/Lexington and the Springfield Armory in Springfield, ending the day with Weir Farm in Wilton, CT, before stopping at my cousins’ place in the Bronx for Shabbat.

Day 7: Shabbat. No parks.

Day 8: Last day. We bid the cousins goodbye, visited old Great-Aunt Yetta (think Yetta from The Nanny, only in real life), who lived in Washington Heights squalor complete with faded photos on the walls, furniture held together by duct tape, and a funny old-lady smell in the whole apartment, and got two stamps (Grant’s Tomb and Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace) before heading home. Where I proceeded to tell the whole story to my mom and sister, and anyone else who would listen, numerous times.

Overall, we had a great time. My dad is very much into history, and learning about American history with me was as much fun for him as it was for me. He viewed it as an “educational experience” for me, but I had my stamps and some other souvenirs so I was happy enough. He had been to NYC and Boston before, but hadn’t gone to any of the battlefields, presidents’ homes, or even Fenway Park before. He and I quarreled very little, and with my old-style, Pre-GPS maps from AAA, I managed to navigate us the whole way, even leading my dad on a shortcut once and redirecting him after he almost missed the exit off the New Jersey Turnpike going towards NYC. Even though I had such fun as the navigator, the driving did take its toll on my dad, who spent the next day or so sleeping it off.

We took a break in the summer of 2000, while I prepared for my Bar Mitzvah, but resumed our road trip with a Part II for four days in June 2001, heading toward the Midwest – the second of 5 official road trips we took together.