Staying In and Getting Real: Current Events Roundup, Part Three, aka WHAT

I can’t believe that exactly one month and one day ago, I had the same idea for a post.

And sadly enough, it’s just as relevant.

Maybe even more so.

After the events this weekend in Sutherland Springs, this is unacceptable. I do not care who you are or where you stand, love me or hate me, but we need gun control in the United States.


There’s nothing that should need to be said, but at the same time, everything should be said. To those who lost people in Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Manhattan, anywhere that there’s ever been gun violence, if you are reading this, speak up. And if you are speaking up already, speak up more because clearly the world is not listening to what you have to say. It was a pretty productive day for me, all things considered, but I can’t help but think about all the people who will never have the chance to have another productive day, or even a lazy day, those have no more days because they are dead for no reason other than being in a specific church in Texas at a specific time and not being lucky.

People on the news are saying that this is “not the time to talk about gun control.” To that, I say…WRONG WRONG WRONG. This is the IDEAL time to talk about gun control. This is the OPTIMAL time to talk about gun control. It has been less than 48 hours since the shooting, and before everyone forgets about it for whatever reason, this is the time to talk about it. I am not an outwardly political person, I mostly mind my own business because if I didn’t, I would never stop crying, but even if I’m just screaming into the void of the Internet, maybe someone will notice me and pass the word along on their blog or to a friend in real life. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where we can speak freely about our government, and even though I am not marching to Washington or frantically dialing my Congressmen, or even bringing it up in conversations, this is my little way of adding to that conversation. Which, I repeat, should happen now, because there is not better time.

We cannot wait for things to change. We need to take charge, make good choices, and be cognizant of what is really going on in America. And for those of you who are not Americans, consider yourself lucky that your country is not going through this nonsense right now.


What Fresh Hell Can This Be: International Mailing

I sent a book to Texas this week that cost me $4.

I sent a book half that size to Finland, which cost me $22.50.

What is wrong with this picture?

**another update to this post**

One of my favorite hobbies is sending and receiving books via BookCrossing or PaperBackSwap. Now that I’m moving to a new place in August, one of my goals is to get rid of unnecessary stuff, including some of my extensive book collection. In the past few weeks, I have managed to read and send out 15-20 books to people, mostly via PaperBackSwap, which is domestic only, versus BookCrossing, which can be international.

Media Mail is one of the most wonderful things ever invented for sending books around the country. It starts at about $2.63 per package, going up a few dollars if it’s a particularly heavy book, and given that I’ve gotten a lot of books for free either as gifts or from friends, it’s a very small price to pay for the cost of a good read. However, Media Mail only exists in the USA, and I learned the hard way this week that the base price for international mailing is a criminal $22.50, which I paid twice, once to Finland and once to the UK. For that kind of money, you could probably buy at least 2 copies of the same book over there and still have enough left over for a cup of tea, or whatever the Finns drink (cocoa?) to sip while you enjoyed reading. To make things worse, while Media Mail has free tracking (which used to cost extra), you have to fill out an extra customs form to send things overseas, and there’s no tracking system, so if you’re sending something to, say, Istanbul, and it doesn’t get there, it could be anywhere from under the desk of the postmaster in Madison or in the back of a truck halfway to Syria, for what it’s worth.

One other option for international mailing is FedEx, which is also criminally expensive but at least comes with tracking. I used it just once to send something to Israel, and it cost me twice what the item was worth, but at least I got to see it bounce from Madison through Memphis, London, and Paris before it eventually arrived in Israel, safely. Never doing that again unless it’s a real emergency.

So how do we solve this? I have no clue. Write to my congressman? My postmaster? I don’t remember it ever being this costly to send stuff overseas, and at this rate if I keep offering books to people in other countries, it’s eventually going to bankrupt me.

For now, at least, I’m sticking to PBS, and the occasional domestic bookcrosser. I guess the days of fun international shipping are over. Sigh.


What Fresh Hell Can This Be: Stars

I haven’t been this inspired to write a blog post in a while, but here I am, and surprise, a rant. Well, more like a curiosity. Or a facepalm. You be the judge.

Last night, I was searching for some activities to use with my class today to teach the lesson of the day, humility. So, I do some Googling. Usually when I search for Thursday activities with ethical themes (truth, integrity, patience) I get homeschooling websites and blogs, almost always Christian. Sometimes, the activities are adaptable for a Jewish school, but if they include something from the New Testament, I click away. I came across this interesting website.

At first glance, it didn’t seem so bad. Then I scrolled down to read some of the details of the activity, and here’s an…interesting one.

Wear Humility: Cut a large star out of yellow or gold posterboard and tie yarn on it so it can be placed around a child’s neck. Explain that wearing the yellow star represents being prideful and place it around the child’s neck. Then, take off the yellow star and give the child a small star sticker to wear and explain that the smaller star represents being humble.

Image result for fran drescher

Ummmmmmmmmmm…yeah. About that.

Obviously, Stacy Zeiger, the author of this article, has either never taken a history course or has not spent enough time around Jews. For those of you who are unaware as to why this is a problem (and Ms. Zeiger, if you’re reading this), allow me to explain.

So, one time, there was this thing called World War II. During this time, the Holocaust occurred, and six million European Jews were killed. But before they were sent off to concentration camps, while they were still allowed to live in cities and towns, they were forced to wear identification in the form of a yellow star, usually saying Jude or Juif inside it, depending on the country and its language. They looked like this:

So, fast forward to now, where Stacy Zeiger is living in New Jersey and putting large yellow stars on children, as a negative symbol. If there ever was a time to clap back, it’s now.

Image result for oh no you didn't jewish

This ::clap:: does ::clap:: not ::clap:: fly ::clap::

Especially not in a Jewish school. I can only imagine this lesson being done in the classroom, and then Grandma coming to pick up little Sarah for a dentist appointment, only to see a room full of children wearing yellow stars symbolizing “excessive pride.” I think you’d need a paramedic before a dentist for that reaction.

I’m not saying that gold stars are bad. I have star stickers, some are yellow, and I use them sometimes. On papers, though. Not on humans. A yellow star on an essay says one thing; a yellow star on a person says quite another. I mean, seriously? Really? You thought this was a good idea to publish? On a website? For anyone to read?

I decided to look up a little more on this Stacy character, and I have to say, everything I’ve found is just. so. awful. Not in an evil way, but…she just sounds terrible. She lives in Bridgeton, New Jersey, even though she is originally from Ohio with degrees from Miami University and Ohio State. She’s a Christian, which goes without saying. According to her Twitter, she’s “Mother of the Year.” Her Amazon.com page is full of self-published books with crappily-designed covers.

Humility is an important lesson, but yeah, this is probably one of the dumbest ways anyone’s thought to go about it.

A gold star for you, Stacy.

Image result for fran drescher shade


What A Strange Trip

It seems like all I’ve been doing lately is reading, but that’s really not the case.

Okay, it is.

But really, is there anything wrong with that?!?!


While I was at home (for all of 36 hours), I found a few small books at the back of one of my shelves in my bedroom. One of the books was a dirty old paperback published in 1980, called The Quartzsite Trip by William Hogan. Once I read the back of it, I knew that I had to read it. I wasn’t disappointed or tickled, but it did raise my eyebrows a few times.

It’s basically Battle Royale meets Can’t Hardly Wait. Here’s the premise: It’s 1962 in Los Angeles. P.J. Cooper, a radically egotistical megalomaniac of a high school English teacher invites 36 of his students on a five-day trip each year to the wilderness of Quartzsite, Arizona. Nobody knows exactly what happens on those annual trips, but pretty much everyone suspects the same things. As did I, at the beginning of the book. I wasn’t exactly wrong, but I wasn’t exactly right either.

This was one of those books that was kinda so-bad-it-was-good, but not too bad. This was one of those books I couldn’t put down, even though I wanted to, but for some reason I didn’t. This was one of those books that was a lot racier than it came off initially. This was one of those books with repetitive sentence structures and paragraphs that go on and on and on.

Without spoiling too much of what happens, I’ll tell you this: the book is broken up into two parts. In Part One, we meet most of the characters (both those invited on the trip and those not invited) and get a lot of weird descriptive passages about penises and sanitary napkins. They fit all the high school stereotypes: an athlete, a nerd, an innocent girl, a slutty girl, and so on. Most of them are pretty cookie-cutter and interchangeable. They’re also all white, even though I found this suspect, it was 1962, and there was a line about how few Hispanic and African-American students at the school, despite being located in Los Angeles. Of course, with 36 students, we can’t get to know all of them, but we at least learn all their names in a list at the end of this part, and they’re all whiter than white bread. it’s like the author just picked the most generic first and last names out there and mashed them together. Among the boys, there are two Sams, and among the girls, there’s a Mary, a Mary Ann, and a Mary Beth, although the first Mary, aka Mary Allbright (the characters are usually referred to by their first and last names, as if we didn’t remember who they were one page later) is the only one of them whose character arc we follow. Other characters we will follow include Ann Hosack and Margaret Ball, among the girls, and among the boys, Phil Baker, Paul Darcy, “Stretch” Latham, Sid Page, Rod Barker, and the only somewhat interestingly named character, Deeter Moss. We never learn, however, whether Deeter is a nickname or just a misspelling of the actual name Dieter.

But enough about Part One. The trip itself happens in Part Two. Going along with the theme of the book, I won’t tell you what happens, but stuff does happen. It’s fairly predictable and mostly tame, but very graphic, especially for a novel written in the 1980s about kids in the 1960s. It is a relief, however, that the author shows the kids actually doing things that are against the grain of the 1960s stereotypes, even though I could do with fewer descriptions of penises (seriously, we don’t learn much about some of the guys other than about their penises) and the references to sanitary pads and the “new” Tampax.

The ending is probably the worst part; it befits the story but serves no real purpose, and the epilogue and afterward are just complete throwaways.

My biggest criticisms of the book are that it starts some plot lines which it doesn’t resolve, and leaves hints to things that don’t happen, or what happens is the exact opposite of what the hint says. I mean, the author repeats several paragraphs, but can’t manage to finish half of what he started. It almost reads like the first draft of someone’s college writing assignment, but that’s what makes it endearing.

Finally, I wondered what would happen if someone managed to rediscover the book and give it a reboot, either in book or movie form. I don’t think it would work set in modern times, at least not exactly how it plays out; it would be interesting to see how a bunch of 21st century teens would go about 5 days camping out in the Arizona desert, but they’d probably spend most of the time whining and complaining about not having their cell phones, and then once they’re through withdrawal, go crazy until they get herded back on the bus, and not the free-spirit-Boy-Scout-resourceful-fun-discovering-life crazy, but legitimate let’s-kill-ourselves-or-each-other crazy.

Overall, if you’re interested in a weird nostalgia trip to the 1960s a la Catcher in the Rye, here’s a book for you. If not, skip it.



One of the perks of my new apartment building is the underground, temperature-controlled parking structure. It costs a little extra but in a city where parking is high demand and a state where cars freeze to death in the winter, it’s an investment. When I signed the papers in December of last year, the parking spots had not been assigned yet. When I asked the leasing manager which spot was mine, she said, “They’re just about all open, so take your pick.” I selected a spot right at the front, that would be easy to get into. It’s not so easy to get out of, but I’m working on it, but it’s definitely a prime location.

I came in from shopping last night, and…there’s a car parked in my spot.

This is the EXACT reason why I didn’t want to have to deal with having just a parking lot pass again without an assigned spot. This past year, I had a pass to park in a specific lot, and if someone without a pass was parked in the lot (very easy to do, since the lot is not gated or guarded) and you were the unlucky person who didn’t get a spot, then you had to park either far away or at a meter, risking being ticketed or towed. It wasn’t really that bad until June, when summer classes were going on and since the weather was nicer more people were coming to visit the school I guess, and even though some people may have gone home for the summer, there would still be five or so unauthorized cars parked there at any given time. The company that I rented the spot from ($135 a month, thank you very much) had signs up about ticketing and towing, but there would be cars there that wouldn’t move for days. I called to complain almost every day, to the point of tears and basically got “we’re trying as hard as we can.” One day, I tried calling the number of the towing company on the sign, and found out that they had been out of business FOR A YEAR. I even called an actual towing company, only to be told that since I wasn’t the property manager, I was not authorized to do anything. Basically, there was nothing I could do other than pray for someone to leave so I could take the spot which I paid for.

Now, with an assigned spot, I was hoping that this problem wouldn’t happen again. Especially since there are only 26 spaces in the lot.

Fast forward to last night. So I get home at about 11:30 PM, after spending the day shopping, and, you guessed it, car parked in my spot. Big black Ford Expedition truck. It had a building parking permit decal in the back window, just like I have, so I gave him/her the benefit of the doubt, that maybe some jerk parked in his/her spot, so I parked in the spot next to it and hoped that I wouldn’t get in trouble.

After spending all day yesterday unloading boxes and shopping, I decided to take most of the day off, not even leaving the apartment until well into the afternoon. I had all but forgotten about the situation when I got down to the parking lot and saw the Ford Expedition still there, only now it had a sign taped to the back:

To the tenant who rents this spot: My truck will not fit in my assigned spot, so I am going to be parking here. I am working this out with the management. My spot, #24, is open. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Since it was now after hours, I had no one to complain to. Being the reasonable human being that I am, I went to space #24 to see if a switch would be possible. And…it’s a compact car only spot. Between a wall and a pole. Before I left, I tried getting my car into that spot, but once parked, there was no way I could get out the door.

I left the parking lot to do my shopping, passing the black Ford Expedition and its little “sorry” sign taunting me from the spot that I selected and signed for last December.

Okay, here’s what’s wrong with this picture…wait a minute, the answer to that would be EVERYTHING. Aside from the obvious jerk move of PARKING IN MY SPOT, you had to leave the most patronizing note ever. “Sorry for the inconvenience?” If you were really sorry, you wouldn’t have parked there all night in the first place! “Working this out with the management?” Yeah, I’m pretty sure that if there were an issue, the management would contact me before YOU PARKED YOUR BIG ASS TRUCK IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SPOT. Then comes the fact that you paid for a compact car only spot, either assuming your car would fit or blatantly forgetting that you have a truck that’s as big as a studio apartment, which you obviously need for all the hay bales, woodpiles, and livestock you have to transport here in Madison.

Anyway, when I got back tonight, the Ford Chutzpah was gone, so I parked in my spot.

I might not ever move my car again but at least I got my spot.


Hold On To Your Hats, It’s Time for Saint Pat’s

One thing I’ve been seeing a lot of lately is pictures of people wearing green and getting progressively drunker. Not surprisingly, they are in albums with labels like “St. Patrick’s Day 2014.” Yes, it’s that time of year….but it’s only March 9th. Last time I checked, St. Patrick’s Day was March 17. Every year.

I don’t know much about St. Patrick’s Day, but I think I know the rules (or what passes for them, anyway) that everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and that everyone gets green and wears drunk – I mean, gets drunk and wears green. And that it’s always, always on March 17.

Growing up as I did, there was no such thing as St. Patrick’s Day. It just didn’t exist. I think I first heard about it sometime in high school, at the earliest. One of the first things I learned was that it’s one of those holidays with a fixed date, like July 4th or New Year’s Day. In the Jewish calendar, holidays never have the same day due to the lunar dates corresponding with different solar dates every year. Thus, Passover could be in early April one year, in early May the next, and in late April the year after that.

But what confused me the most?

Not all non-Jewish holidays are on the same day every year.

It took me forever to nail down the fact that like St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas and Halloween do not change, but Easter, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday do. Which brings me back to my original point; St. Patrick’s Day is, and yes, I did check again, not this week but NEXT week. Why are you having St. Patrick’s Day parties now? Why can’t you people wait a week and THEN deluge the Internet with your drinking pics? Why does the world insist on confusing me? Why do holidays do this? Why? Why?? Why???

At least I can fall back on the comfort of Judaism, where we never know the date our holidays will be on, but rest assured, they’re always too early or too late.



One of the things I love most about going to class is participating in discussions. Since I live alone, there are only so many times I can rehash the same conversations over and over in my head, like why I should or should not sweep the floor today, or if I made the right decision about this or that in my life. So, going to class and participating in discussions is one way to hear other currents of information and contribute words of my own, words that may mean something to someone, or not. I’ve never been called out for lack of participation, and I do my best to keep my thoughts limited and on topic.

It’s rare that I have a moment like I did today.

So there I was, just sitting in class, listening in and taking notes on a discussion about societal values, symbolism, and political ideology. Even though I didn’t quite understand every word of every reading we had to do, hearing them spoken aloud helped me get a better perspective on things. This topic was one I had been unsure about, but a thought came to me as we discussed different levels of societies and the socially constructed methodology.

I raise my hand. (Even though since there are only seven students and one professor, most people just start talking, I still raise my hand, because I guess I like rules, or I’m bad at breaking old habits).

The professor calls on me, and all eyes turn toward me.

My brain says: Where did the carefully crafted thought I just had disappear to? I know it’s somewhere…and yes, it had to do with…

“The values of society can sometimes be as cut-and-dry as visual symbols, like…”

Like what?

“Like…Boy Scouts. And Girl Scouts.”

Okay, Jacob, good, keep going.


Come on, you can do it.

“Whenever they complete a task that coalesces with a positive attribute of the fundamentals of their organization, they get a badge, and I guess that these badges are a way of exposing the values behind the organization and society of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.”

Keep going, you’re almost there!

“So, my point is, it can be as simple as a merit badge that shows the values of a society that values ethics, and children.”

Okay, wrap it up.

“They promote their own cause by presenting boys and girls with badges, that they wear across their chest, on their, um, clothing, shirt, vest, that thing, wraps around your neck, shoulder, shirt, vest, thing, so that it can be easily seen and understood by outsiders…”


“…the core values of their organization, which causes a sense of pride, validating their sense of community-mindedness, to their community, and their importance within their own society, as well as to outsiders, with the badges they wear, across, their shirts, vest, chest, the thing that wraps around…”



What? Where am I? Who am I? What am I saying? What is…what? I should just stop talking, this is dumb…

“I should just stop talking, this is dumb…wait…oh my God, I’m sorry…” ::bites lip awkwardly::

At this point, the professor jumped in, and said something like “oh yes, no, yes, that’s a good example, that proves your point, you did a good job with that…” and we moved on, with me still kind of staring into nowhere.

I think I quietly said something to myself like “ugh, that was terrible, that made no sense…”

At which point the girl next to me overheard me, patted me on the shoulder, and said in a small voice, “No, you’re good, that was good, you’re okay.”

Oy vey. That’s all I have to say.