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.

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9

Hotel Show and Tell

I actually finished not one but TWO books this week! The first was over a scrambler at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner on the East Side, and the second was during a two-and-a-half hour lie-down on my new gravity chair out on the sixth floor balcony after dance class. An hour of samba really does a number on the hip flexors.

The first book I finished was one that I picked up a while book at The Book Thing Baltimore (RIP) and have had on my shelf for who knows how long: Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.

Written in 2009, this book takes place in Seattle, Washington, and flashes between the war era and the present day. Henry Chen, the main character, is a jazz-loving Chinese-American teenager in a time when Americans were suspicious of “the Japs,” – his traditional parents included. Through his job at the cafeteria of his upscale middle school, he meets Keiko Okabe, a Japanese-American, and predictably, red flags go up everywhere. Eventually, Keiko and her family get shipped out to an internment camp; first one at the state fairgrounds, then to Minidoka in Idaho, one of the major camps. Back in Seattle, Henry has to deal with not only his judgmental parents who want to send him to China for school and bullying from the other kids in his neighborhood. In the present day, Henry hears about a trove of Japanese suitcases discovered in the basement of the Panama Hotel (see title), and enlists his son Marty and Marty’s fiancee Samantha to help look for some clue to Keiko’s whereabouts, in the wake of the death of his own wife/Marty’s mother, Ethel.

I really enjoyed this book, despite the awkward title, which really doesn’t have too much to do with the book other than the fact that there is a hotel in it. I would definitely read more by Jamie Ford. The chemistry between Henry and Keiko was so natural, and I was cheering for them. The Okabes seemed like an awesome family, while the Chens, not so much. I don’t want to reveal too much of the book, but suffice it to say that the Henry/Marty/Samantha quest is kind of pointless (they don’t really know what they’re looking for) until the last quarter of the book. Japanese internment camps are something you don’t read about very often in literature, I think that this might have been the third book I’ve ever read on the subject, and only the second fiction work, if you count Farewell to Manzanar as a memoir/nonfiction. Probably my least favorite part came in the last few pages, when we found out what Henry’s father was responsible for, and on his deathbed, no less; again, trying not to spoil, but he did a great job of screwing things up for his son.

This book review is brought to you by the rice I just made, then threw away; it looked great but smelled terrible. Turns out it expired in March. Maybe I haven’t been reading the right things.

10

Traveling and Things I Thought Were True When I Was Little

Well hello there, and greetings from the Eastern Time Zone for the first time since January. After a day and a half of travel, I am finally lying in my own bed and should probably be asleep but it’s been too long since I wrote something or updated on my life.

Yesterday, I packed (light) and flew from Madison to Washington-Reagan. The plane was tiny, of course, but I had a row all to myself. Not bad, even with a baby right behind me. Only about two hours of flying time though. My ears popped like crazy; we had a relatively quick and steep descent over the Potomac. I’ve never flown into Reagan before and I did not see the ground until we were literally on it; seriously, I was about to get my flotation device out.

It was a gorgeous day in Washington, so upon my sister’s advice, I took the Blue Line to Foggy Bottom and walked to her place in Dupont Circle along 22nd Street. After meeting her at her apartment, we had a quick dinner at CharBar (kosher meat, and Jack Lew was sitting at the next table!) and came back to clean a little and pack up some stuff.

This morning: time for kindergarten! Yay! Up and at ’em at 6:30 AM, leave at 7:30 to get to her school in Rockville, with a Dunkin’ Donuts stop on the way, and arrival right on time at 8:30. Surprisingly, one of her boys remembered me, and was all “hi, Jacob!” as if I was there every day (for the record, I have visited exactly once before, and that was back in the fall). The kids were mostly good today, and when my mom showed up (she drives down and volunteers there every Thursday) it was even better. I did a lot of reading, spelling, and adding; all helpful things in life. There’s something that’s just so exciting about that age, and the whole kindergarten atmosphere is just so colorful and fun you want to stay and play forever. The kids were done at 3:30, but my sister does tutoring after school, so I transferred my stuff to Mom’s car and we headed back to Baltimore, a trip that took us TWO. WHOLE. HOURS. Just from Washington to Baltimore. Of course, my sister left later and made it in record time, missing all the lovely traffic we suffered through. We had our traditional pre-Passover country club dinner with half the people we’re going to see tomorrow night anyway: my aunt, uncle, and two cousins. Tomorrow night’s seder will be a whopping 23 people, 21 family and 2 friends, which is probably the most people that I am related to being in my house at the same time (if that sentence makes any sense outside of my tired little brain), but Saturday night’s seder is going to be 11; the four of us plus 7 people we’re not related to (2 sets of family friend couples who are related to each other, 1 of my mom’s friends, 1 of my sister’s friends, and 1 of my friends). So that should be fun.

That should get you up to speed on my travels.

Now, for some fun…last week, Jenna Marbles did a video about things she thought were true as a little kid. Here are some of mine:

I thought that:

1. Harriet Tubman was the inventor of the bathtub.

2. Madonna owned McDonald’s and McDonough (a local private boys’ school that my cousin attended). Don’t blame me, they all sounded the same!

3. A cuticle was a short newspaper article.

4. Chartreuse was a word you used when you couldn’t remember what color you were trying to describe.

5. If you named a character after yourself or someone you knew in The Oregon Trail computer game, and they died, that person would die soon in real life. I had several macabre nightmares about dying of malaria, dysentery, and snakebites.

6. If you took medicine and were not sick, it would make you sick.

7. It took me awhile to understand what someone meant by “having something up their sleeve.” Apparently, I was so confused that my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Rubenstein, actually asked me to look inside her sleeve (don’t worry, all I saw was the amount of arm you normally see when you roll up your sleeve) and tell her what was in there. When I saw nothing, that’s when I learned what a figure of speech was.

8. Lemonade was actually…something else yellow in a bottle, and that only boys drink Coke and only girls drink Pepsi.

9. You graduated elementary school at age 10, and high school at age 20 (thank God I was wrong about that).

10. My stuffed animals came to life after I went to sleep. A lot of kids probably thought this, but I was totally invested in it. I remember taking their temperatures to make sure they were not sick when they came out to play, slept with my door open so they could find their way back and get back in easily, and that if they were lying face down, I should leave them alone for awhile because “if they fall forward that’s okay, they need their sleep during the day.” They also all had last names and home addresses and phone numbers; originally they were random collections of letters (one was Sallesam, pronounced “sawl-sam,” something my dad still teases me about today). But, after I took a summer class in mythology, their first or last names changed to Greek and Roman gods/goddesses; for example, I had a stuffed snake that was named Anthony, who gained the Greek name Hephaestus and the Roman name Vulcan, and I had a feminine looking bear who got Juno as her Roman name and Hera as her Greek name, and I called them those names depending on what I felt like calling them that day. I had so many stuffed animals that at one point I made them all name tags. FACT.

2

Tick, Tick…Oy.

I’d like to return to my current read, Elana Maryles Sztokman’s The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World. I’m still about halfway through, and while Sztokman is dealing with a limited perspective of mostly Israelis, some of the larger concepts about Orthodox Jewish men that she tackles in the first half of the book (Chapters 1-5) are, for the most part, true. Some of those reasons are why I feel the way I do about things, why I’m annoyed at Orthodox Judaism today, and why I continue to identify as Orthodox in spite of all those feelings.

On page 36, Sztokman cites Paul Kivel’s “Act Like A Man” box, and through the remainder of Chapter 2 (and bleeding over into the next few chapters), creates what she calls the “BOMB” or “Be an Orthodox Man” Box. Kivel’s box consists of three concentric rectangles. The innermost contains the things that men try to hide, such as anger, love, and sadness; the middle box contains actions that men do to protect themselves such as yell, fight, and be stubborn; and outside the box are the abuses which men (usually boys) are subject to when they fail to meet these criteria such as name-calling, hitting, and sexual abuse.

So, yeah. Rough stuff.

I can definitely see where Sztokman finds her parallels. Instead of quoting her, however, I can use hers and Kivel’s information to synthesize some thoughts of my own.

Let me start off with a story.

It was senior year of high school, and the junior and senior classes were all going to a pro-Israel rally on the grounds of the Capitol in Washington, DC. It was mandatory, and with the world being the way it was in 2005, everyone was pretty much on the edge about coming back alive. So we loaded ourselves into buses with posters and set off for DC. We got to the rally and it was a lot bigger than most of us expected. High school students had come in by the busload from as far away as Boston, New York, and Atlanta, not to mention all the families that attended. It was also longer, hotter, and sunnier than most of us expected, and a lot of people, including myself, came home that day with horrible sunburns. As anyone who’s been to a rally knows, when the rally ends, people disperse en masse, and this dispersion was of Pamplona-proportions, only with Jews running down the street and not bulls. We were put into groups to make it back to the bus, and hopefully find some cold beverages along the way since those of us who brought water had finished it long ago. I was in one of the smaller groups, about six guys and one of our teachers, who was also a rabbi. Of course, where there are Jews, there are Chabadniks, always trying to engage Jews in conversation at inopportune times and places. As we walk/jog down the street trying to find a 7-11 or something, a Chabadnik pulls aside our teacher – who is a rabbi – and asks if he put on tefillin that morning. My teacher didn’t respond and just kept moving, probably because he was as hot and tired as us students and was wearing a suit, looking very much like a rabbi, which he was.

A few blocks later, when the crowd thinned out and the stragglers caught up, my teacher turned to me and said, “Can you believe that guy? Asking me if I wore tefillin this morning. Just look at me; who does he think I am? Who does he think he is? Bastard.”

Okay, so I added the “bastard” in there for effect (although I’m not entirely convinced he didn’t say it under his breath as we were walking or in his mind) but he was insulted. He didn’t know the guy, but it sat on his mind for several blocks and he felt so challenged that he had to blurt something out to his students. His sour reaction to the event is a good lead-in to the concept of competition in Orthodox Jewish manhood – a topic which Sztokman heavily focuses on in her book.

It’s the truth. Orthodox Jewish men are competitive, from childhood to adult. It’s about how high your education is, how young you were when you got married, how many children you have, how much halacha you observe, how much you pray, how much you study, what you do for a living, what you look like, what you eat, and what you wear. People say that these things don’t matter, but to Orthodox Jewish men, they do. Looking at myself through this “be an Orthodox man” box, my score is pretty low. I am 26 years old with no wife and children (practically “old bachelor” age in the Orthodox world), I don’t wear a kippa every day, I don’t observe all the laws of Shabbos every week, I don’t wear the Orthodox Jewish uniform (white Oxford, black jacket, black pants) 24/7, I never went to yeshiva or did much in the way of Jewish learning/limmudei kodesh past-high school, I don’t go to minyan three times a day, and I got my education in non-Jewish colleges (pretty much anywhere besides YU, Brandeis, Touro, or an Ivy) and I studied theatre. At least I have an advanced degree and am working on my second, I still observe kashrut, and I have a mezuzah on my door; those things should count for something, I guess. Still, if I were to register myself with a shidduch, I’d probably strike out before getting up to bat.

0

Klallam Me Maybe

Those who say you can’t take it with you when you go obviously never met Hazel Sampson.

Three days ago, Hazel Sampson passed away in Port Angeles, Washington at age 103. This is not a surprising occurrence, given that the number of 103-year-olds that are still hanging around is relatively small. However, Sampson’s death is the end of an era. She was the last native speaker of Klallam.

klallammemaybe

 

I hadn’t heard of the Klallam language before today, nor the Klallam people. As it turns out, they are related to the Salish and their territory straddles the borders of the USA and Canada, with communities on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Like many other Native American languages, Klallam was thought of as inferior to English and survived the government’s attempts at elimination. The 1990s Native American Language Act helped the Klallam cause, gaining the interest of scholars such as University of North Texas professor Timothy Montler, who operates a compelling website for the language. According to Sampson’s obituary, written by Jonathan Kaminsky, the majority of Klallam people today do not speak their language, although due to the dying-out of speakers (Sampson, of course, being the last), has been added to the curriculum at Port Angeles High School.

Language loss is a problem, even in the 21st century. People are beginning to embrace cultures whose members are dying out and trying to recapture days gone by, when the British, French, Americans, et. al., were trying to impress their own culture and drive out anything else. Fragments and even whole books of some languages without native speakers still exist, but it’s not enough to make up for centuries of forced linguistic genocide. I wouldn’t be surprised if several languages die out each year – or each month, for that matter – and Hazel Sampson’s story is no different. Back in 2008, a similar story emerged with the death of Marie Smith Jones of Alaska ending the line of native speakers of Eyak, an indigenous Alaskan language. Even though Eyak is still spoken and taught, it is officially on the list of dead languages – a club in which Klallam is now the newest member.

Just like peoples and cultures die out, I suppose that languages have lives too. Klallam has served its purpose, and now is a language of the heavens, along with millions of others. However much we may have of it, we’ll never have a native speaker, someone who learned it first, before any another language; someone who can compose love songs and secrets; someone to think and to dream in it.

Rest in peace, Hazel Sampson, and rest in peace, Klallam. Or, as Hazel might say,

húy̕ kʷi nəsčáʔčaʔ

(Goodbye, my friend.)

Works Cited

Kaminsky, Jonathan. “Last native speaker of Klallam language dies in Washington state.” Reuters.com. 6 Feb 2014. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/07/us-usa-klallam-death-idUSBREA1605W20140207&gt;.