Oh, What a Lovely War

Has it really been almost a whole month since I’ve posted? It seems like That’s So Jacob is turning into something akin to a monthly blog, judging my summer posting pattern…

Things are just chugging along at my end. The weather is staying kind, even if the mosquitoes are not, and I’m attempting to keep up with all of my TAship responsibilities.

I did, however, finish a book this month, finally. And it only took me until September 20th but I did it. Names on a Map by Benjamin Alire Saenz, done.

Image result for names on a map by benjamin alire saenz

Names on a Map tells the story of the Mexican-American Espejo family, who are living in El Paso, Texas in 1967, with the Vietnam War looming over their existence. The story is told mostly from the perspectives of young adult twins Gustavo, a rebellious pacifist, and Xochil, who is trying to take control of her life. They live with their parents, Octavio and Lourdes; their younger brother, the westernized Charlie; and their grandmother, Rosario, who dies 3/4 of the way through the book and spurs Gustavo’s main actions. In addition, a side narrative occurs in Da Nang, where Adam and Abe are fighting, although their connections with the Espejo family seem rather slim, other than Adam referencing having met Xochil one time in El Paso.

Mostly, the book revolves around the main characters’ relationships with the wars going on both in Vietnam and in their own lives. We find out that Xochil was raped as a young girl, and that Gustavo is attempting to dodge the draft because of a previous disillusionment with violence. In between the twins is Jack Evans, a white, Vietnam-bound schoolmate of theirs who is a former friend of Gustavo’s and a current boyfriend of Xochil’s. He seems to embody all that is the opposite of Gustavo, from white privilege to American machismo, as he faces off against Gustavo and convinces Xochil to “make him a man.” What is interesting about that relationship is that even though Gustavo is devastated once he finds out that Xochil and Jack Evans sneaked away to do the deed, Jack Evans doesn’t come out on top, as Xochil explains to him that she wanted to avenge her rapist on her own terms, and has no intention of marrying Jack now or after he comes back from Vietnam. As Xochil leaves Jack Evans behind, so does Gustavo to America, escaping over the border to Mexico.

Even though the plot is difficult to follow at times and goes in so many different directions, the writing is so poetic and you really get a feel for what this family and the people around them endured in such a turbulent time in America, when lines were drawn in the sand, and twice as deep for minorities such as Mexican-Americans.

I had never heard of this book or its author before I plucked it off the shelf of the Madison Public Library, but it will definitely not be the only Benjamin Alire Saenz novel I read. I’ve already picked up another for my never-ending pile of books.


Lucky Pen

While walking home from APO meeting tonight, I dropped one of my absolute favorite pens (my blue pen from Island ETC in Galveston) while crossing busy Dayton Street.

I didn’t realize I wasn’t holding it anymore until I had crossed the road, turned around, and saw about seven cars drive over it.

When the light turned red, I strolled to the middle of the intersection, expecting to pick up the sad plastic remains…only to see that not only was the pen still intact but the ETC logo and address was still visible. I tested it, and it still wrote.

I hope this is a good luck sign from God, or that Island ETC will be around forever.

Or maybe they just have awesomely durable pens.

Also, I must mention, yay for a six continent day! Greetings to North America (Canada, USA, and Jamaica), South America (Brazil), Europe (UK and Slovakia), Asia (Israel, Philippines, and UAE), Africa (South Africa and Mayotte) and Oceania (Australia and Papua New Guinea)!


In-Flight Entertainment

One video I’ve been seeing a lot of on my Facebook feed lately is that of the funny Southwest Airlines flight attendant whose safety lecture is basically like spending three minutes with Kristen Wiig as all of her characters put together. Naturally, I watched the video myself, found it utterly hilarious, and for some reason made me desire crackers, but maybe because it was still Passover when I watched the video. In case you haven’t yet seen what I’m talking about, here it is for your enjoyment.

Yes, this is a real video, shot on an actual Southwest Airlines flight by someone with a very thin cellphone camera. Didn’t anyone on that plane manage to record it on HD? Anyway, this fantastically funny flight attendant was on Ellen today, where the world learned that she is 49-year-old Marty Cobb of Dallas, Texas (color me unsurprised; even the humor is bigger in Texas). Despite looking very young, she has three kids, two of whom were on the show with her today. Ellen DeGeneres, in typical Ellen DeGeneres fashion, was extremely generous, giving her an Ellen luggage set stocked with Ellen souvenirs and $20,000 dollars in gift cards from Target, RadioShack, Shutterfly, and others. She seemed like a terrific lady; not like she didn’t deserve those prizes (she totally did) but there are tons of funny flight attendants out there. Most of them work for Southwest Airlines. Personally, I love flight attendants because not only do they help keep the plane safe, but if you’re on their good side they will be the kindest of kind to you.

This reminds me: one of my two favorite flight attendant stories happened on Southwest Airlines.

When I went to UMass Amherst, the closest airport was Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut. Because there are so many colleges and universities in Connecticut and western Massachusetts, during weekends like Thanksgiving and Spring Break, the airport is full of students. A good number come from the DMV, and since Southwest offers cheap and quick flights from Hartford to BWI, students tend to use them frequently. At that time, Southwest didn’t offer flights to Dulles or Reagan (this may have changed) so for anyone from within a few hours from Baltimore, it was worth it to fly there and then take public or private transportation to elsewhere in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington DC. Since I went to one of the biggest schools in the area, chances were that I saw at least one familiar face in the terminal or on the plane, and usually we were actual friends, not just acquaintances. This is also how I ended up sitting next to the most insufferable girl in my major for four lovely hours in the air, but I digress.

I believe it was the end of Spring Break, and I was on my way back to school. The entire Trinity College men’s basketball team ended up being on my flight, coming back from a game with some school in Baltimore/DC. Just about everyone was settled on the plane, when the intercom system crackled, and a flight attendant’s voice rang out.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Kevin? Kevin Miller? Is there a Kevin Miller on this plane?

Behind me, I heard a shuffle of sweatsuits, and various voices saying, “Kevin, wake up, they’re calling your name.”

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Passenger Kevin Miller…if you are on this plane please press your call button immediately.

BING! A call button comes on a few rows behind me, as I hear Kevin saying, “I’m here.”

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Passenger Kevin Miller, we have a message for you from Baltimore. Your mother just called, she said you left your Spider-Man lunchbox on the kitchen counter. She did talk to the pilot, and unfortunately, he has decided that we cannot delay the flight to wait for the lunchbox to arrive, but she is checking it through on the next flight out, and you should be reunited with it at baggage claim in Hartford. She also wanted me to tell you that she cut the crusts off of your peanut butter sandwich, and remembered the Double Stuf oreos, and she loves you very much.

His friends sitting behind me started cracking up, as did most of the rest of us on the plane. Somehow, they had managed to pull this flight attendant aside and convince her to play along with their prank. The best part was that she was a big, sassy black lady who didn’t miss a beat. That is how it’s done.

And that’s how to properly prank your friend on a domestic flight. International might be a little tougher.


Geocaching Milestones: #600-#1000

Good morning from Omaha, Nebraska, where we’ve been for a couple days and hopefully only an hour or two more. Actually, it’s not so horrible here – the hotel I picked turned out to be pretty awesome, if not for the many guests under the age of 3. Omaha is pretty and full of hills, a welcome change from the flatness of Kansas and Missouri. 

I found my 1400th geocache a few days ago in Oklahoma City, so I thought I’d share some more geocaching adventures.

#600 Henry Woodfin Grady (Houston, Texas)

This one was pill bottle not far from my apartment. I remember having to rush to school afterwards so I just got a quick pic and left.

#700 Bellaire Nite Owl (Houston, Texas)

This one was a large protein powder container hidden in a tree in Bellaire. Again, nothing too out of the ordinary here.

#800 The Last Bodiddle! (Humble, Texas)

I hadn’t ever gotten any caches in Humble, a northern suburb of Houston, so I went to grab some, including this one. It was a nano on the grounds of an old high school. Not a fantastic hide, but it served its purpose.

#900 Sesquicentennial Summer (Austin, Texas)

This was probably one of the most memorable milestones. I had about 15 to go, and I went to Austin that day for an ill-fated research trip. All was going well for the first 10 or so caches, but then the skies opened up and it started to pour. The last few caches involved me running through the raindrops and probably angering people with my frantic cache-to-cache driving. Though the rain had just let up when I found my 900th cache, a tupperware outside of the Texas School for the Deaf, it was still pretty dreary. The sun came out somewhere on the ride home. I posted on Facebook something like “cold, wet, miserable, but I found my 900th cache.”

#1000 Landman Lounge (Columbus, Texas)

Turning into the big four digits was something that I wanted to share with friends, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. One of my good friends, Julie, is based in Arlington, TX, but comes from Columbus, about 45 minutes outside of Houston. She was visiting her parents that weekend with her husband and kids, and as a new geocacher, she invited me to spend the day with her geocaching. I had a job fair in Katy to go to that morning, so I picked up about 10 or so there before heading out to Columbus, where this was the first cache we found together along with her daughter and brother. I actually got the pleasure of finding it, which was even better. Even though it was just a magnet attached to a fence post, it was in a pretty garden and the fact that I was with friends made it a sweet victory.

Back to the hotel room to finish packing up I go – next stop, Iowa, then on Monday, Wisconsin.


Houston, We Have Liftoff

Today was more difficult than I could’ve imagined. I left the apartment and city that has been my home for the last two years, and I’m not sure when I’ll be back.

I realized while I was packing just how materialistic I am. I had to get rid of some stuff, and even though I didn’t care too much for it, it was still hard. Most of my flatware and kitchen items are gone, and I gave away about three boxes of food. Also gone: cleaning supplies, and three of the four card tables that belonged to my grandmother.

I also observed the difference between packing fast and packing smart. It took us until a little after six to pack up the car and leave for good. Dad thought I took too long, but you spend a few moments not panicking or throwing stuff away. You may be able to think of solution to the problem if you take your time and put in the answer. Case in point: dad kicked a box to close it and not only hurt his foot but the box too.

Falling asleep here at our first overnight stop: Hampton Inn in Corsicana, TX.


Things I Like About Houston

I know this is another extremely late night post, so let’s see how much I can get done in 10 minutes:

5 Things I Like About Houston

  • The weather. I like how we have summery autumns, somewhat-summer-like winters, and summery springs. That last one sounds like a place where English teachers go to retire – Summery Springs. Heh. I like bragging to my parents during the winter months. I like being able to go out and walk and enjoy the sunshine and do the geocaching every day of the year, if I want.
  • 24/7 everything. I like how this city is alive 24/7. I like knowing that I can get Starbucks at 3 AM and I like that I know exactly where to get it. I like how if I need paper clips or envelopes or licorice, I can go to any CVS, except the one on Westheimer that closes at 10 for some reason.
  • Wide open spaces. I like the varying terrain types – big city to trendy hot spot to suburb to small town to open highway stretching as far as the eye can see.
  • The people. I like how most people here will take the time to stop and help you.
  • The pride. I like how I can call it “Planet Houston” and not offend any locals, because it’s true.

5 Things I Don’t Like About Houston

  • The weatherI don’t like the brutal summers. I don’t like the humidity. I don’t like the gasping-for-air feeling after walking for 10 minutes outside.
  • The bugs. I don’t like the roaches, the mosquitoes, or the ubiquitous gnats.
  • Wide open spaces. I don’t like how it takes FOREVER to get anywhere. I don’t like that everyone lives far away and in a different direction.
  • There is nothing to do here. I don’t like how when people come to visit me, they are disappointed because there are few good museums and nothing really historic. I don’t like how ashamed I felt after I showed Kate the Menil Collection, or how I couldn’t think of that many decent bars to take Dan to.
  • 610. I don’t like 610 (The Loop). I can do 10, 45, 59, 90, 290…but 610 is bad news, all day every day. You can stay here when I leave.

Endings and Beginnings

I know that I’m nowhere near the ending of Houston nor the beginning of Wisconsin, but today, my thoughts are on beginnings and endings. I am a nervous person by nature, and though change excites me, it’s also worrisome. Will I be happy? Will I find purpose and meaning? Will I find friendship? Will I find love?

Words I dislike: schematic

Throughout the past 8 years, I have moved several times – from Baltimore to Amherst, back to Baltimore, Baltimore to Jerusalem, back to Baltimore, Baltimore to Houston, now Houston to Madison. Each move has been good and bad in its own way.

Moving to Amherst was my first big move. I knew basically nobody there and was totally unsure. My dad told me that he remembered me saying at a stop in Connecticut on the way, “This is the first time it feels like it’s really happening.” When I came back from dropping my dad off at the airport, I was really alone for the first time. Leaving Amherst was tough – mostly because I had become so comfortable there.

Israel was a slightly different story, although I probably had more attachment there.

Houston…I love it there, and over these past two years I’ve found I’m becoming even more and more of a Texan and specifically a Houstonian. I will miss it terribly, but hopefully the good memories will stay with me and the bad memories will stay there. Must make the most of the remainder of my time there and make even better memories.