6.29.2007

Less than two years

Huh. I thought we started in the summer of 2005, but we really started in September. Now I feel a little bit better about how long it took us. We were ostensibly learning once a week for an hour and a half each time (give or take, mostly depending on how exhausted I was), but it worked out to a lot less than that. Nonetheless, we did keep it up, which is what really matters.

BZ and I finished Masechet Makkot (a tractate of the Babylonian Talmud) this past Sunday evening, June 24. This is the first non-Moed masechet (tractate) that I've completed. (The only other two that I've learned in their entirety are Megillah and Rosh Hashanah, both more than nine years ago. I've also learned chunks of Brachot, Shabbat, Chulin, Beitza, and Bava Metzia.)

The siyum will happen sometime when things calm down a little bit but before BZ leaves for the Holy Land.

6.25.2007

The Best Big Sister Ever

is 30 years old today. And in lieu of a gift or a grand gesture, I present this.

I have the best big sister in the world. She is two years and one week my senior, and I don't know what I would have done all of these years without her. I certainly have never done anything in my life to deserve a sister like this.

For example, she came to visit me the weekend before last. I was exhausted and stressed out about work and impending house move and my still somewhat cranky foot. And yet, I wanted to make a Shabbat meal for her, my grandmother, and some friends. A small meal quickly became a ten person meal. And what did she do? She came to town for the weekend--for vacation!--and bought all of my groceries for me, helped me cook, swept the kitchen floor, and did all of the dishes for me after Shabbat, because I was too tired. And she didn't complain at all. Not once! This is so something that I would never be able to pull off.

It's a bit astounding that we come from the same exact gene pool. I don't know how she stays so cool, calm, and collected and never whines, not even once. She's so patient. (She was the one who played the flute for years, while I only gave my musical instrument one year. It didn't hurt that she had prodigious musical talent.) I also don't know how she is as giving as she is. She's taken on all sorts of volunteer leadership roles in her community and hosted countless guests at lovely Shabbat meals without breaking a sweat. People often assume that I am a first child, but she is way more first child than I am. If you think I have typical first child characteristics, you should see her! I got mad and accused her of being perfect, actually, when she visited. Mad that she was being so nice to me! As I said, I don't know that I've ever done enough to deserve having her as a sister.

We started out as all siblings do--playing together, fighting, devising secret languages to exclude our younger brother. I used to accuse her of poaching my friends (although I believe I used the word "stealing" at the time), because when friends came over to play with me, she would join in and I was sure that they liked her more than they liked me. And who wouldn't? She was older and therefore cooler. She got to do everything before me, which I hated when we were little but came to appreciate mightily when the SATs and college admissions rolled around. Vignettes from our childhood:
  • I am about three; she is about five. She gets a tetanus shot and she cries in bed at night. I live in dread of getting a tetanus shot for the next two years until it's my turn.
  • We play house. I don't remember if one of us is usually the father and the other is the mother or if we take turns (although I do know that those are the two parental roles given out), but our younger brother is always the baby. We sometimes put him in a pink bathrobe, so that he will be a girl baby.
  • We make my father flip a quarter to see who has to take a bath first.
  • We fight over a cable-knit navy blue sweater. We each hold onto one side of the sweater and pull--with our teeth. One of my teeth, which is wiggly, flies out of my mouth, never to be seen again. Crestfallen, I accuse her of preventing me from receiving my customary gift from the Tooth Fairy. All is saved--the Tooth Fairy delivers even without a tooth left under the pillow. (My father explained it all to her, he said.)
  • A year or two later, I chase her around the house. She falls and breaks a toe. I feel bad.
  • Our desks are near each other in the finished basement. We share a dictionary, passing it back and forth across the large collapsed refrigerator box that separates our territories.
  • She always has the teachers two years before I do, and they always call me by her first name until they learn mine. Sometimes this takes months. They look at me and they see her. On a more positive note, I get the scoop about each teacher's strengths and foibles before some first-child classmates. Even better, in later years I get her chemistry notes before taking chemistry with the same teacher.
  • I wait with great anticipation for her to grow out of a purple corduroy jumper so that I can have it.
  • Starting sometime in elementary school, she hates it when we dress the same way to school. I purposely wait until she gets dressed and then I pick my clothes to approximately match for the express purpose of annoying her and forcing her to change her clothing. (She still hates it when we show up to family events wearing similar outfits.)
  • We devise a secret language as well as a secret password for entering our shared bedroom. I think that the password may have been "parrot." I don't remember much about the language. I think it either had no rules or was a very complicated variation of pig Latin, such that I had a notebook with lists of words and would have to consult said notebook in order to use the language. It wasn't very practical for communicating.
  • On a much more practical level, we rig up a device between her bed and mine in our shared bunk bed. We aren't allowed to talk after a certain time at night, so we attach a change purse to a piece of elastic string and each keep pencils and paper in our beds. We pass messages back and forth. I knock on the wall when I want to pass a message to her and she pulls the change purse up. When she wants to pass a message to me, she drops the change purse. The only downside to this system is that it is very difficult to read these notes in the dark, and the time past which we are not allowed to talk is also the time past which we are not allowed to turn on our reading lamps. Drat.
  • She is a ballerina. She has the best costumes for her ballet recitals ever. I am very clumsy and drop out of pre-ballet.

When we got a little bit older, she got more involved in school and decided that she was too old to be involved in certain activities that still thrilled me. Thus, for a few years, I spent more time playing with my brother, doing things that were too juvenile or disgusting for her, like digging up worms in the backyard to make terrariums and mixing up crushed berries from the bush in the front yard to make magic potions. There was a cousins' show at Thanksgiving, but she decided she was too old to participate, so I was stuck bossing around the younger sibs and cousins. (Oh, how I enjoyed that!)

The really great stuff started again around SAT/applying to college stuff, when my parents got trained on her and it was much easier for me. I remember the day she got into college. It was very exciting. I even stopped writing a paper for school to celebrate a little bit.

When she went away to college, her coolness factor sky-rocketed. I spent a few weekends with her, eating in the dining hall and experiencing how great it was to move away from home. (No offense, parents!) I spent Simchat Torah with her on campus and got to hold a sefer Torah for the first time in my life.

Then, when I left home, I got to call and ask her questions, mostly about cooking, but sometimes about laundry or plane tickets. She also knows about things like ironing, which I never really learned how to do. (In a further testimony to her greatness, she has actually ironed shirts for me. I don't remember the occasion, but I do remember thinking that that was never something I would do for someone else except possibly under duress or if I owed them big time.) I spent a year in Israel before college, which coincided with her junior year abroad. We spent a lot of Shabbatot together with relatives that neither one of us knew, as well as with friends that both of us collected along the way.

It's simply gotten better and better from there. We've met and befriended each other's friends. She's finally gotten to experience someone looking at her and seeing me. We live in different cities and have separate identities now, but everyone who meets us knows immediately that we're sisters. (They also always ask who is older. Always. Sometimes I get confused and reply that I am older. Tee hee!)

All of that is sort of par for the course, though. This is why she's the world's best big sister: I call her with cooking questions. I never know how much chicken or fish I need to buy per dinner guest. She always knows. I introduced her to the exquisite goodness that is kale or Swiss chard sauteed with tofu, onions, and portabella mushrooms. I am apparently incapable of following written recipes and prefer to make up recipes from scratch, sometimes resulting in minor disasters. She follows recipes to a T, resulting in always delicious food and a much calmer cooking experience. She's the only one who I can really trust to tell me that something is too large on me, or too small, or too rumpled or shlumpy. She'll support me when someone else is being an ass, yet not hesitate to tell me when I am being one. We can almost share shoes, such that we try on each other's shoes but they never quite fit. (My feet are longer; hers are wider.) She pretends not to mind when I call her too late at night. I pretend not to mind when she calls me too early in the morning. We talk taxes, Roth IRAs, and salary negotiation, and edit each others' resumes. We pass along important and unimportant news about family members, each of us sure that we're always the last to hear anything. We talk men and dating and have a good laugh when we both get set up the same person. We can't happily travel together (we've tried--I think getting slightly lost in a strange city is fun and she does not), but I would be lost without her. She's always had my back and I hope she knows that I always have hers--even though I may never do her dishes or iron her shirts.

I love you!

6.22.2007

Veils and Tsniut

I wrote about this once before, in another context. While reading the New York Times this morning, I started thinking about it again because of the front page article titled "Muslims’ Veils Test Limits of Britain’s Tolerance." My main reaction to the article was extreme discomfort at the photos of women who were covered up except for their eyes and hands. There is something extremely eerie about seeing a person whose face is covered.

It certainly has connotations of sinister men who wear ski-masks in order to commit bank robberies or convenience store holdups, if not more heinous crimes. It also reminds me of the way that a priest cannot be seen during confession--as strange as I find the idea of confession, I think I would find the idea unbearable if the confessor and the priest had to see each other's faces during the confession. It wouldn't work. The priest would betray some sort of instinctive reaction through his facial expressions and the confessor would be unable to continue. A covered up face reminds me of the way that people, especially children, bow their heads and cover their faces instinctively when they are embarrassed or ashamed, in order not to be seen. Finally, covered faces remind of how I felt when I cut my hair short and could no longer let my hair swing in front of my face as a protective veil when I wanted not to be seen. It felt like the loss of a way of hiding that had been important to me, for example, when I wanted to sleep during class.

So, with what do I associate covered faces? Let's review:
  • anonymity
  • crime
  • sinister motives
  • embarrassment
  • privacy
  • shame
  • sin
  • hiding
  • sleeping in class
Anyone have anything else to add?

Given what I think are sort of universal associates with face-covering, I think it's quite reasonable to expect lawyers to do their work in courtrooms with their faces showing, and for teachers to do their work in the classroom with their faces showing. I'm not sure how to reconcile this with a sincere desire to allow for freedom of religion and freedom of expression. I don't think that this is analogous at all to a veil that covers one's hair, head, and shoulders, which has been banned in France. I also don't think it's reasonable, really, to ban the niqab (as the full-face-covering veil is called) entirely. I do think that it's reasonable to require a certain dress code for court rooms, classrooms, and other settings where communication is paramount. This dress code can require one's face to be fully visible. It cannot require one's neck, knees, or elbows to be visible, since these parts of the body have no bearing at all (or should have no bearing at all) on normal communication. Likewise, I think you can require students, plaintiffs, and defendants to show their faces in class or while on trial, since doing otherwise could, I think, severely impact the learning/teaching/adjudicating process. Can you require students to show their faces during recess? Not so much.

On the other hand, the article stated the following, which I also find disturbing:
  • Prime Minister Tony Blair has called the niqab a “mark of separation.”
I don't think that "marks of separation" are really a problem, but that's probably my multi-cultural American blood speaking. I understand that separation is more frowned upon in Europe, where ethnic nationalism is stronger (not for long, probably, given the way immigration is going there.).

Why did all of this make me think about tsniut? Judaism, after all, does not recommend that women walk about with their faces covered. This statement, though, struck a chord:
“It [the niqab] says that all men are such brutes that if exposed to any more normally clothed women, they cannot be trusted to behave — and that all women who dress any more scantily like that are indecent,” Mr. Sexton wrote. “It’s abusive, a walking rejection of all our freedoms.”
Uh, yeah... Bingo!

This--the idea that women should exert a lot of control over their dress because men cannot exert any control over their desire--is the main thrust, as far as I can tell, behind modern incarnations of tsniut, and one of the things that bothers me most deeply about the whole concept. It bothers me that this seems to be the main impetus behind all of the rules and restrictions and it bothers me even more than it's still taught this way in school. I find this deeply troubling, and although I don't think I would ever go as far as to call even the most stringent tsniut laws "abusive," the concept of tsniut is clearly a rejection of many freedoms that are important in Western Democracies. (I've written a little bit about halacha and freedom here. It may be time to revisit the subject.)

Let's go back to the beginning. Tsniut is usually translated as "modesty," and almost always applied exclusively to women (and girls ages 3 and above). My favorite biblical verse that uses this root is from Micha 6:8, where it says:
ח הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם, מַה-טּוֹב; וּמָה-יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ, כִּי אִם-עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד, וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת, עִם-אֱלֹהֶיךָ 8 It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.
Ironically, this verse is written in large letters on the outside walls of 838 5th Avenue, the former URJ (then the UAHC) headquarters. I believe it was designated as a historic landmark, and now all of these very wealthy Manhattanites are stuck living in a building that says "walk humbly with thy God" on its outside.

Anyway, this verse has almost nothing to do with what contemporary Jews mean when they use the word "tsniut." You might also see it in the forms of "tzniut," "tsnius," or, as an adjective, as "tsniusdic." This mostly refers to a set of laws governing women's dress and behavior including at least some of the following possibilities, and in some communities, applying starting from the age of 3:
  • Women's shirt collars should cover their collarbone.
  • Women's collars need not cover their collarbone but should not be plunging.
  • Women should not wear cap-sleeves.
  • Women's sleeves should hit at least halfway between shoulder and elbow.
  • Women's sleeves should reach their elbows.
  • Women's sleeves should cover their elbows.
  • Women's sleeves should reach their wrists.
  • Women should not wear tight-fitting shirts.
  • Women's skirts should cover their knees.
  • Women's skirts should not contain slits.
  • Women should never wear pants.
  • Women may wear pants under a skirt.
  • Women may only wear pants when men are not present.
  • Women may only wear pants while skiing or working in the field on a kibbutz.
  • Women may wear pants as long as they cover their knees and are not tight-fitting.
  • Women should not wear tight-fitting pants.
  • Married women must cover their heads.
  • Married women must cover their hair completely.
  • Married women must cover all of their hair except for a tefach.
  • Married women must cover their hair with a wig.
  • Married women may not cover their hair with a wig; they must use a hat or scarf.
  • Married women must only cover their hair outside their house.
  • Married women must only cover their hair when men are present.
  • Married women must cover their hair except when they are sleeping or bathing.
  • In co-ed schools, girls should not stretch in class.
  • Women may not speak in public before men in a public setting.
  • Women may not speak from the pulpit (specifically in synagogue, as opposed to, say, the boardroom or courtroom).
  • Women may not dance in front of men.
  • Women may not sing in front of men.
  • Women may not exercise or play sports in front of men.
Obviously, some of these rules are stricter than others, if what we're being strict about is preventing women from dressing or doing (as opposed to, say, being strict about preserving their freedom). They are all things that I have been taught or observed at least once somewhere along the way. Let me know if you think that any of these are taught for reasons other than tsniut. I intend, when I have more time, to go back and fill in halachic sources for some of these. I would have to dig them up first, though, and at this point, my time is probably much better spent apartment-hunting and packing. (Eeek!)

I read this post by A Mother in Israel with some of her thoughts about tsniut, way back in April, and thought that if I were writing a meme about tsniut, I would ask an entirely different set of questions. (Her meme seems mostly to be directed at married women and/or women with children, neither of which apply to me and many of my friends.) Reading all of the responses that she got was still interesting, though. Check it out.

My own tsniut meme is below. If I may be so bold, I'd like to tag Mother in Israel, Nem, Sarah of Underground Heights, Sarah of Chayyei Sarah, Mama o' the Matrices, miriam, Esther, and N. Anyone else who wants to answer should jump in as well. Also, writing this is harder than I thought it would be, so if you want to disregard or change of these questions, please feel free to.
  1. Regarding sleeves, collars, and skirt-length/shorts/pants, do you dress the same way you did when you were five? Fifteen?
  2. If you dress differently now, why?
  3. As a child, how, if at all, were you taught about tsniut in the home and/or school? What were the rules? How were they presented?
  4. How does your dress differ from your mother's in terms of tsniut (not, say, fashion sensibility)? From your grandmothers'? From your sister's or sisters'?
  5. Do you dress differently inside your home and outside your home, regardless of who is present?
  6. Do you dress differently depending on where you are or what you're doing? Is this for halachic or social reasons?
  7. Do you dress differently if you are in a mixed (men and women) setting versus a women-only setting?
  8. How do you define tsniut as a halachic concept, either as it currently stands socially or in some halachic vacuum?
  9. If you had full freedom to rewrite halacha, what would you do with tsniut?
  10. To what extent do your decisions about dress and/or head covering reflect:
    • social reality of your Jewish community? (i.e., wanting to fit in, or, alternatively, n ot wanting to fit in)
    • an immutable halachic code?
    • personal physical comfort?
    • feelings that people should focus more on your mind/actions than your body?
  11. How would you rank the importance of following communal and/or halachic standards with regard to Shabbat, kashrut, and tsniut? (I'm not discussing nidah/negiah now, which is usually the third after Shabbat and kashrut.) Do they hold equal weight in your mind?
  12. How important is the idea of "בגד איש" to you in determining your dress?
  13. How important are the ideas of "שוק באשה ערוה שוק באשה ערוה" and "טפח באשה ערוה" (see Brachot 24a) to you in determining your dress?
  14. If you are married or otherwise in an exclusive relationship, to what extent does your partner influence your dress decisions, tsniut-related or otherwise?
  15. If you are dating, to what extent does your date influence your dress decisions, tsniut-related or otherwise?
  16. How, if at all, do your feelings about your body influence the way you dress? And how does the way you dress influence the way you feel about your body?
  17. Do you enjoy buying clothing for yourself?
  18. Do you think that looking attractive and being tsniusdic (either halachically or socially defined) are mutually exclusive or mutually inclusive? Do you think that looking sexy and being tsniusdic (either halachically or socially defined) are mutually inclusive or mutually exclusive?
  19. What, if any, do you feel are positive results of tsniut? What, if any, do you feel are negative results?
These are the questions that I want to answer myself and am also curious about how others feel. It may sound a little bit like I'm out to undermine tsniut, but I'm not. I think if done right, it can be a powerfully positive thing.

However, I'll have to leave you hanging, as Shabbat is approaching and I still have a bunch of things to do. I will try to answer these questions next week.

6.21.2007

Bicoastalism

Is that a word? Now it is!

I started writing this post in early March, but the visits to my grandmother in California over both Pesach and Shavuot inspired me to finish it off and post it.

Redoing the "states I've visited" map from way back in February and removing all states in which I've only been inside airports reveals this map:



Taking that map, and removing states that I've only been to for work conferences, and in which I've therefore mostly been in anonymous chain hotels reveals the following:



(I did check out a kosher restaurant in Cleveland, but still. I spent most of my two or three days there in a hotel.)

Clearly, I've been to a good deal of the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and West Coast, and very little of anything else, except Nebraska, where I have deep familial roots. (I have great-great grandparents buried there, maybe even great-great-great grandparents. My father will probably leave a comment clarifying the matter.) One might even say that I'm bicoastal. I feel very bicoastal. Even though I know that any California or Midwestern person would declare me a Northeasterner through and through, I also know that I'm sometimes considered "too nice" to be from Boston or New York.

Growing up, I spent about 5/6 of each year in Boston and 1/6 of each year in California, at my grandparents' house in California. Because the 1/6 of each year that I spent in California was the summer, each day filled with the possibility of new and exciting adventures, I sort of feel like qualitatively, the summers counted for 1/4 or 1/3 of my childhood, if not more. That time in California took up more brain space, filled me with more memories both good and bad, and held a place in my heart--than the actual days and weeks I physically spent there. (I wrote about some of my summer memories from California here.) That was how it went from when I was born until I was fifteen, which is the first time I spent the summer in Boston.1

Some of my early childhood memories involve packing up a small blue vinyl suitcase with my most treasured possessions to bring with me. We each got to bring a little suitcase, and I remember bringing coloring books, markers, and finger puppets when I was very small. When I got older, I brought notebooks for writing stories. Once I arrived in California, it was like full-time summer camp, perhaps on crack. First I would take a deep breath of my grandparents' house, which always smelled the same, year in year out. I can't really identify the house smell, but because my grandfather fixed up old cars, I do always think of him and his packed garage when I smell gasoline, and because I went to day camp there, I always think of California when I smell freshly-cut grass. We would go find our beds. Mine was almost always the top or bottom bunk in the "bunk room," as the room formerly shared by my two uncles was known. From the top bunk, in the shadowy night of summer bedtime, the framed photos of El Capitan in Yosemite looked like a man with a furrowed brow. It scared me when I was little, but I attempted to reassure myself by intoning, "It's just El Capitan, it's just El Capitan."

I went to day camp there--municipal camp--where I learned from an early age that I hated all athletics ("Red Rover, Red Rover," etc.) and loved arts and crafts (making candles, painting pine cones, etc.). I think I was indifferent to the songs that we sang about little bunny foo foo, ears hanging low [warning: plays music], and found peanuts. I left before lunchtime every day. Sometimes snacks were distributed and I learned to ask to see the box to check for a hechsher. Two distinct memories include one girl who claimed that she was allergic to grass (this was in the early 1980s, before everyone was allergic to everything), and thus got out of all athletic activities. I remember wishing that I had thought of that excuse first! Another distinct memory was of another little girl who would say things like, "I speak Hebrew!" and when I got excited, she would say, "Hah hah! Just kidding." She also asked me, more than once, if apples were kosher. To this day, I don't know what her problem was. I don't have too many fond memories of that day camp, mostly because as soon as I could learn to read I would rather have read all day than gone to camp. As soon as I was allowed to stop going, I did.

In the afternoons, I took art and science classes, mostly at the Junior Museum. I spent seven summers, from when I was seven to when I was fourteen, taking Japanese watercolor classes, and probably more summers than that taking pottery classes. I also built my own weather station, grew crystals, built a terrarium, made my own jewelry, and bound my own books. I took drawing at least one summer. It was heaven.

In the evenings, we sometimes had picnics with my mother and an old friend of hers in one of the local parks that had a great grassy hill perfect for rolling down, or a picnic at the outdoor children's theater, which was amazing. After dinner on days when we stayed at home, we watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune with my grandparents. My grandfather knew most of the answers to Jeopardy and my grandmother knew most of the answers to Wheel of Fortune.

When I wasn't taking art classes, I went to the library. When I was little we went to the Children's Library, which was in its own separate building. When I got a little older and started reading chapter books, I went to the regular local library, which was the first place where I saw computerized card catalogs, years before they appeared in Boston. It was also notable for having the Babysitter's Club books--my home library deemed them too trashy for taxpayer dollars--and, later on, for having a full set of Cliffnotes. After I learned to ride a bike, I sometimes went there on my own or with siblings. One summer, I decided that I wanted to read as many books as I possible could. I kept a list of the name of each book and I rated each book with some star system that I've long forgotten. I thought I would be able to read 50 books over the course of the summer, but I think I only managed to read 24. Another favorite afternoon diversion was a trip to Bergmann's Department Store, where you could buy plastic rhinestone rings, sidewalk chalk, squirt guns, bubble solution, or even googly eyes for making projects. It was quite the destination. At Midtown Drug, you could buy Atomic Fireballs or Jawbreakers, and later on, makeup applied clandestinely when my mother wasn't looking, because I was sure she would forbid it.

My grandfather also took us fishing at the local pond, where we usually had deli sandwiches for dinner. Later on, he bought an inflatable boat and that added to the fishing fun. At one point, we started going to one of the nearby creeks to pick wild blackberries, which were delicious but hazardous to pick because of the thorns on the blackberry bushes, the thorny weeds underfoot, and the steep banks of the creek on which the bushes grew. Lunch and dinner (and sometimes breakfast), were elaborate affairs, often involving red meat, fresh fish, and frying or grilling something. When I was younger, my grandmother made the best French toast--thick slices of challah with lots of eggs. Yum... We took overnight field trips, too. We went camping once a summer for several years, and also took day trips to various piers, state parks, the San Francisco Zoo, and a kiddie park called Fairyland, which was awesome (although probably entering "a state of sad disrepair").

We made an annual pilgrimage to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, where my older sister once paid me $1 to go on a roller coaster, called the Hurricane, with her. That was the first and last time I went on a roller coaster, although when I was 17 I did once go on one of those rides where they drop you from a high height, which I will also probably never do again. My favorite thing at the boardwalk was the Ferris Wheel--I'm not afraid of heights, I just don't like rides that move quickly. I also liked the old-fashioned carousel where you had to snatch rings out of a dispenser as you went around and then try to throw them at a clown and his nose or mouth. I liked the haunted house, too, and once I got a little braver, I enjoyed the bumper cars. My older sister loved the bumper cars and both she and my younger brother used to go on a water ride that I don't think I ever went on. Well, maybe once.

We used to drive down to Los Angeles every summer to see my uncle and aunts, and later cousins. We rented a big Lincoln Towncar, which could fit the six of us but always smelled of "new car," which I hated. I often claimed the front seat because I was most susceptible to getting car sick. We always took 5, the direct and quicker route. When we passed Gilroy, my mother would open all of the vents and flood the car with the smell of garlic. When we went up the hills into Los Angeles, we turned off the A/C as was recommended.

In LA, in addition to the aunts, uncle, and cousins, there were my three great-great aunts (my grandmother's aunts). I had my first experience with chewing gum at one of their apartments. I didn't know that you weren't supposed to swallow it. Whoops. Every summer, "the aunts," as everyone called them, took me and my older sister out for ice cream and to buy a book. We could have any book we wanted. When I was seven, I bought The Little Princess because it was thick and I wanted to get the biggest bang for my (aunts') buck. I didn't read it until about two years later, though, since it was a bit difficult. Their apartments, or maybe it was just the carpeted hallways, smelled like stale cigarette smoke, and sometimes when I get a whiff of that in another apartment building, it reminds me of them. One of the aunts had a swimming pool in her building, so that was always a necessary stop in LA. My uncle always served us lamp chops or steak fresh from the grill, which was a treat, and my aunt put mandarin oranges in the green lettuce salad! That was a special treat. During three summers, we took trips to Anaheim to hit Disneyland. One summer, we took a trip from LA to San Diego and went to Sea World. Another summer, we took a longer trip from LA and went to Bryce and Zion National Parks, as well as to Las Vegas. (We drove through the corner of Arizona, and that's how I have Arizona on my map of states visited. We stopped the car at a rest stop, took photos, and I bought a few postcards for my collection.)

* * * * *

So what does all of this mean?

It means that I have had many opportunities, in all of my flying back and forth between the East Coast and Northern California, to observe many differences between the coasts. In December, I observed:
The people in New York seemed somewhat more harried/stressed out than the people in California, but it could have been the 5-6 am hour vs. the noon hour that made the difference, rather than the coast. But I think it was the coast. People in California always seem more relaxed that people in New York. More relaxed and happier. Alas, also far, far more dependent on their cars. The people in California were definitely more wrinkled, on average, than the people in New York. They probably see more sun.
If California had better public transportation and more kosher food readily available (Northern California, I'm not a huge fan of LA), I think it would be a no-brainer that it is the superior place to live. For one thing, the weather is far superior, at least in Northern California, where it never seems to dip much below 50 degrees or go much above 85 degrees, and generally seems to be somewhere in the 70s. The streets are flat and wide, many with clearly-marked bike lanes, and there's a lot less honking. Sometimes I wonder why people are so slow there (in general), but mostly, I appreciate the more leisurely way of living. People seem both happier and healthier there, and that's no small feat in today's day and age. On the other hand, they do get into their cars to go anywhere, which is ludicrous, in today's day and age. But mostly, their friendly ways outweigh their dependence on fossil fuels.

If something interesting came up for me to do there, I would jump at the chance to live in the town in which my mother grew up, or anywhere nearby. On the other hand, I appreciate what I have here, on the East Coast, by way of Jewish convenience and cheap, efficient public transportation. So you can just keep calling me bicoastal.

_________________________________________________________

P.S. I'm sorry for the recent infrequency of posting, but work is very busy and I need to find a new place to live in the next few weeks, so I haven't had as much time to contemplate and write as I would like.

P.P.S. I went back to the orthopedist today and he pronounced me fine. He said that the weird lump in my ankle is probably because I stretched a nerve--that would also explain the searing, burning pain that I had there for awhile--but that it would get better on its own, although the lump wouldn't go away if there was internal scarring. He also said that I could walk as much as I wanted, as long as things don't hurt all that much, which they don't.

_____________________________________
1. Except for the summer when I was three and my brother was born.

6.14.2007

Early Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Read all about it here ("Symptoms Found for Early Check on Ovary Cancer"), in yesterday's New York Times.
The symptoms to watch out for are bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly and feeling a frequent or urgent need to urinate. A woman who has any of those problems nearly every day for more than two or three weeks is advised to see a gynecologist, especially if the symptoms are new and quite different from her usual state of health.
And:
She emphasized that relatively new and persistent problems were the most important ones. So, the transient bloating that often accompanies menstrual periods would not qualify, nor would a lifelong history of indigestion.
Ovarian cancer is one of those cancers that often isn't discovered until it's already metastasized and it's basically too late. It is also, like breast cancer, one of the kinds of cancer that Ashkenazi women are genetically more susceptible to than other women.

See:
  • In 1995 and 1996, studies of DNA samples revealed that Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews are 10 times more likely to have mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes than the general population. Approximately 2.65 percent of the Ashkenazi Jewish population has a mutation in these genes, while only 0.2 percent of the general population carries these mutations. [source]
  • Whereas the female population-at-large has a lifetime risk of ovarian cancer of 1%, women born with one of these mutations have a lifetime risk of ovarian cancer of 27-44%. [source]
I would not normally go to the UJC for medical data, but I couldn't find a reputable source that would tell me the lifetime risk of ovarian cancer for people with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.

Take care of yourselves and see a doctor if you don't feel well! (This advice is for myself as well as for all of my readers.)

6.13.2007

Still Feeling Lucky and Grateful

Nine days after the incident, I removed the Aircast and haven't put it back on since. It's true that it hurt a bit to walk until this morning, but since last Wednesday, the swelling has gone way down and the bruises are clearing up. Of my three-tiered pain system, I would say that usually, my right leg and I are down to level 3--I usually only remember that it hurts when I think about it. At the end of the day, it's probably closer to level 2 (wincing). If I bang my right toe into something or forget and knock into something with my leg right above my ankle, it's a level 2 sort of pain. There's only one spot that still produces the burning pain that I felt all over the place at first. I can't wear anything on my right foot with any sort of wedge or heel, since that makes my toe bend and puts a lot of pressure on it, both of which still hurt. (I've just been wearing Tevas since then. I haven't tried sneakers yet, but maybe I should.) I am trying to take it easy by walking less than a mile each day (preferably no more than half a mile) until it doesn't hurt at all. Otherwise, I am back to normal less than two weeks after the incident.

Yesterday, I was in the area, and I went and measured the gap between the car and the platform on Track 1, not Track 3 where I fell. I would say that it was between 9-10 inches wide, and I think that the gap where I fell might have been larger. The sandals I was wearing that day are exactly ten inches long. Yikes! I really do think that I stepped right into the space--I didn't slip and fall because I was in a rush.

However, I am not suing the MTA. Here's why:
  • There was a sign that said, "Use care. Large space between platform and train." (Although, in my defense, the sign is directly over the large space, and if you're walking quickly towards the train, you are likely to be looking straight ahead at the entrance to the car, not up to where the sign is.)
  • There are regular announcements over the intercom saying, "Be careful of the large space between the car and the platform." (Like the signs, I never noticed these verbal warnings until last week, post-incident.)
  • I knew there was a big gap there, because I've noted it (with some alarm) before. (Not because of the warnings.)
  • The bells signaling that the doors were about to close had just dinged as I got into (or in this case, next to) the train. I always interpreted the dinging as, "Hurry up, get on the train, the doors are about to close!" but perhaps they mean, "Wait for the next train. This one's as good as gone."
  • The only direct costs incurred because of the incident were $20 worth of ice packs (I got the reusable kind because I needed to use them for several days), a $15 cab ride, and a $30 co-payment. There will be another $30 co-payment in a week, when I return to the doctor. The rest was covered by my insurance company or absorbed by my employer through lost productivity. I guess the cost of the FDNY EMTs who took my blood pressure and gave me two ice packs was already paid by the MTA or the city. (Because I was curious, I tried to ask them at the time who paid for their services, and they insisted that no one did. Maybe they didn't understand the question or maybe a regular part of their job within the Fire Department is to respond to calls of people who fall into the space between the train and the platform.)
It's true that the gap is dangerously large, but it's also true that if I had stepped over it, rather than into it, I wouldn't be injured. (They warned me. It's my fault for ignoring the warning.) I think I will write them a strong letter telling them that they really ought to fix the large gap.

An additional reason why I don't want to sue is that I believe in public transportation and suing the MTA would hurt the system that gets me where I want to go each day, mostly without incident. It's not like any money they would give me in a settlement would be "free." It would be money collected from fares, taxes, and the general city coffers. While I could certainly (certainly!) use the money, and while there would be some sweet sense of revenge in extracting money from the MTA for my pain and suffering, it doesn't strike me as the ethical thing to do. The only reasons I would sue the MTA are because I could use the money and because I think they should fix the large space, and they probably won't do it unless not doing it costs them more money than doing it. Suing the MTA because I could use the money is wrong. It's like suing McDonald's because their coffee is hot--a nice way to make a few bucks, but not exactly what I would ever call the right thing to do. Suing the MTA for the second reason sounds lovely, but I'm not sure I have any reason to think it would work, given what I stated earlier in the post.

When I tell New Yorkers this, they look at me like I'm crazy and then say, "Aren't you sweet?" Or they give a little fake laugh ("Tee hee!") and say, "How generous of you." When I say "It's my fault" they say, "It's your fault? What do you mean it's your fault?"

This, among other reasons, is why I am not a New Yorker.

If I was blind, I'm sure I would feel differently. I'm also sure I would feel differently if I was the parent of a young child who had fallen into the space, or the daughter of an elderly woman, unsteady on her feet, who had slipped and fallen into the space. I would also probably feel differently if I had sustained major injuries, or even a sprained ankle or broken anything. As it was, I didn't. As it is, I mostly feel pretty damned lucky.

In addition to feeling lucky, I also feel grateful. I think of several of the ברכות השחר differently now. (As in, פוקח עורים--what if the conductor hadn't seen me before moving the train; מתיר אסורים--how great it was that I got unstuck after I got stuck, and without too much trauma; זוקף כפופים--along similar lines, I was leaning onto the floor of the train and then, a second later, I was standing upright inside the train. See :מסכת ברכות פרק ט , דף ס)

In further I-could-have-died-or-lost-a-leg-and-isn't-it-great-that-I-didn't news, on an upcoming Shabbat I will be sponsoring a very modest (after all, I'm not suing) kiddush in honor of God and in thanks to the conductor and nice people on the train. E-mail me privately for more details.

6.11.2007

אי מזה באת ואנה תלכי [or] What have I been doing with my life for the past 5-10 years and where will I eventually end up?

The title comes from the first half of the eighth verse of the sixteenth chapter of Genesis, where God asks Hagar, Sarah's maid and Abraham's second wife, after she has fled before Sarah's wrath:
ח וַיּאמַר, הָגָר שִׁפְחַת שָׂרַי אֵי-מִזֶּה בָאת--וְאָנָה תֵלֵכִי 8 And he said: 'Hagar, Sarai's handmaid, whence camest thou? and whither goest thou?'
I feel like I have been asked these questions a lot over the past few days. My tenth high school reunion1 and fifth college reunion both took place this weekend, conveniently enough in the same geographical area.

I had mixed feelings about these reunions, which mostly arose from my discomfort at having to answer: "From where have you come and where are you going?" I suspected that even those college classmates who did not "always know" what they wanted to be or do or where they wanted to go2, had figured it out five years after graduation and were well on their ways to having a career. Along the same (or perhaps opposite) lines, a majority of my high school classmates are engaged or married and some have a kid or two.3 The point is, these people are going somewhere. They have career paths or at least general life paths. They know where they want to be or what they want to be doing in five years.

I, on the other hand, do not. Yes, I have a job, thank God, but it ain't no career. Once in awhile, it is truly rewarding, but not on a daily or weekly basis. Not even on a monthly basis, come to think of it. I'm pretty good at what I do and once in a rare while someone tells me so. The job has some nice perks--a lot of vacation time, a flexible work schedule, health insurance (though no dental--what's up with that?), and a monthly subway pass paid for with pre-tax dollars. The clients I deal with at work seem to love me. I am not looking to leave.

I don't really know why I am satisfied with this uninspired state of being, but I guess I am or else I would do something to change it. Mostly, I think it's that don't know what I would want to do that would be better. I mean, I have thoughts and interests--I like reading and talking about a wide variety of topics--but I have no specific plans to do anything with these myriad interests right now.

Any field I end up in has to support some degree of creativity. It should probably involve research and writing, since I enjoy both of those things. I like synthesizing information. I'm interested in public health, watching little kids play and figure out how the world works, education, how the way we live affects both our external and internal environments, other people's letters and diaries, suicide prevention, effective communication, urban infrastructure and planning, preventing and/or prosecuting child and spousal abuse, social history, legal history, recycling, gender, Jewish texts (especially legal texts), and probably a lot of things that I've forgotten. I don't love any one or two of these things to the exclusion of others such that I would want to go to school and pursue some sort of career involving a narrow sliver of these interests. I accept that I will probably need to go back to school to be known for something other than being a damned good Word and Excel formatter (two of my current areas of expertise at work). Ideally, I would like never to have to wear uncomfortable shoes to work. I'm quite scared of math, although I seem to have some aptitude (but no proficiency) for it. I suspect that I would enjoy being in charge of something, although probably not enjoy being in charge of someones. I would like to always be able to pay my bills fully and on time, and to have money left over for tzedakah and travel. I would prefer not to have a boss, or perhaps to have a very, very good boss who was actually good at inspiring people and managing them. Is all of this possible? You've got me.

Moving onto other areas, because surely I do not and hope never to define my entire being by my work, what do I do besides work? During the week I mostly read the newspaper, do laundry, eat dinner, or go grocery shopping. On weekends, I sometimes catch a movie, shiur/panel/lecture, museum exhibit, performance, or party. I like to come home at night and blog or talk to my sister or friends on the phone. Sometimes I chill with my aunt or grandmother. I go on a date once in awhile, when someone who is intelligent and nice comes along. (When I'm in a relationship, as sometimes happens, I go on dates more than once in awhile.) Sometimes I make a big pot of brown rice to serve as the basis for my lunches for the week. When I'm feeling responsible, I file the backlogs of paper/mail that seem to accumulate with astonishing speed on all horizontal surfaces of my room. Sometimes I just collapse into bed and sleepily flip through the ever-present Macy's sales circular, idly wondering who in God's name spends $1500 on a diamond ring.

My not-too-exciting life has allowed me to spend a lot of time with my grandmother in California, as well as weekends with friends in other cities. I've gotten back into creative writing through this blog and my journal. I walk through Central Park every day and marvel at the cycle of nature. I've managed to make a few wonderful new friends (people who get me, support me, enjoy hanging out with me [and vice versa], people I can talk to about almost anything) and remain close to old ones. The little children in my life look forward to my visits and I adore buying small gifts for them. Sure, I've been working on learning Masechet Makot with BZ for far too long (i.e., we should have finished awhile ago), but I feel good that we've been more consistent lately and are set to finish it soon(ish).

Sometimes I feel like I should "go out" more, but then I remember that I am spending my time mostly the way that I want to, not the way other people enjoy spending their time. I would much rather have a chill dinner at a yummy Japanese restaurant with a good friend than go out to a movie with a few acquaintances. At the end of a day of work, I would much rather read the Science Times than shlep downtown and pay $15 to hear someone speak. I love hearing live music at small venues, but it usually needs to be someone whom I've heard and think is good (or someone recommended by someone else) for it to be worth my money and time.

I guess my life might seem a little bit boring and uninspired to others and sometimes even to me, and I wasn't entirely looking forward to sharing last weekend with other people who have led what I imagine to be fantastic, exceptional, inspirational, or merely procreative or lucrative lives since I last saw them. The people I went to college with, especially, all seem to have either gone and gotten themselves more edumacated4 or gone to Africa to help the poor or started their own businesses.

Reading over how I spend my nights and days here, it doesn't seem so bad to me. I don't know why I feel bad about all of this sometimes. I'm sure it seems quite restful and lovely to anyone who is in the throes of early parenthood's sleepless nights and dirty diapers. I think it's partly a matter of expectations produced by television and movies of the charmed lives that some people live in New York, combined with only seeing the superficial outsides of most other people's lives. If I could walk around seeing other people's small unhappinesses and disappointments the way that I see my own, I think I would feel less dissatisfied with where I am and how I live my life right now. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are mostly privy only to our own minor miseries.

In the end, though, I had a very nice time at both reunions. I found that some of the more emotionally unpleasant memories of elementary and high school (see "Embracing the Nerd Within") and college (see college transcript) have dissipated, leaving lots of warm fuzzies in their place.5 I called up a high school English teacher who was delighted to hear from me. I ran into many nice people who I failed to keep in touch with after college. I was happy to see them and they were happy to see me.

In talking to everyone about what we had done since we last saw each other, I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that nobody was doing anything so spectacular that it made me think, "I wish I had that life" and nobody was doing anything that I couldn't more or less decide to do also, if I wanted to. (And, really, there's little point of being jealous of people who are doing things that I don't actually want to do, is there?) I mean, yes, there is something enviable about people who have already gone to graduate school and finished or are about to finish, but through conversations at my college reunion, I realized that many of those people still don't really know what they're doing or what they want to do. Going to school was mostly a way to buy time for them. Now they owe lots of money and still don't know what they want to do. And while there is certainly something envious about high school classmates who are married or engaged--I am at the point of my life when I would like to meet someone worthy of marrying--it would have to be to the right person. I figure that he must be pretty special if I haven't found him yet. And, sure, people's babies are cute, but if I had a baby right now, I would be no closer to figuring out what I ultimately want to do (I mean, besides having kids, which I already know that I want to do) and I would be responsible for another human being on top of that. (And I would be getting less sleep, and puked on more.) And while one baby at twenty-seven seems somewhat desirable, I have high school classmates who have three children, and I am absolutely sure that I am not ready for that stage yet.

All in all, the weekend made me less envious6 of the generic "other" and happier with my own humble lot. I didn't expect that outcome at all. I know that I'll figure out where I want to go one day, and when I do, I'll go there. Until then, I'm happy7 right where I am, heading nowhere in particular but not satisfied to be staying still, leaving open the possibility that I might go anywhere at all.

That said, the realization that I can frame my life as going anywhere rather than going nowhere is sometimes only small consolation. From the ages of, I dunno, five to twenty-two, I always knew exactly where I was going and why. My expectation has always been that I would go to college and then to graduate school. If I wanted to take some time off in between, fine, but of course I would going back and do something great with my life.8 The past five years have not gotten me substantially closer to figuring out what I want to do with my life, other than to be self-supporting and to spend time doing things I enjoy. They have, however, brought me somewhat closer to figuring out how I want to live my life.

I certainly haven't been stagnant. I've undergone personal growth in leaps and bounds and professional growth in little, hesitant skips and hops. Looking back, it's clear that I've come quite far since I was 22, and even farther since I was 17. I'm a much happier person, with better relationships with friends and family, than I was five years ago, even without planning it that way. Given how things have gone over the past ten years, I'm banking on knowing where it is I've gone and where I've come from once when I get there, and that's good enough for now.

How would you choose answer the question, "Whence camest thou? and whither goest thou?"

______________________________________________
1. The school that I graduated 12th grade from was K-12, and I was there from 3rd grade through 12th grade, so these were more than just people I went to school with for four years.
2. "Always know" is in quotes because I generally distrust people who have known what they wanted to be since third grade. It suggests to me that they are stuck in a certain mindset, or only want to do what their parents did or what their parents expected them to do, and that they haven't considered the myriad alternative fields they might excel at. Most of these people who know exactly what's what seem to end up as doctors or lawyers. Those who don't know or aren't sure become bankers. This is probably only the particular experience that I have had at the rarified institution from which I received my "AB," but there you have it. Ugh.
3. Or three, in one case.
4. Here [PDF] is an academic paper about "Homeric infixation" for those of you unfamiliar with this grammatical construct.
5. The only thing that bothered me was some reminiscing that went on amongst some male high school classmates about people they used to make fun of. Sorry, I didn't think it was funny in 5th or 12th grade, and I don't think it's funny now. And, yes, I know I am a party pooper.
6. This is not a new problem for me. Now I'm mostly jealous of people who have spouses and careers. As a kid, I was mostly jealous of people who had more money. In all cases, it turns out that there is no guarantee that such people are happier than I am.
7. Fine. Who am I kidding? Amend to read: "trying to be happy" or "working at being happy." I am actually a firm believe that the happiness that you work for is just as valuable, or maybe more valuable, than the happiness that just falls into some people's laps.
8. Before my maternal grandfather died, the main piece of advice that he bestowed upon me personally was to go back to graduate school before too long. He waited until he had three children and that was very difficult.

6.06.2007

Equitable Distribution of Ritual

Being in California with my grandmother, mother, aunt, and sister for Pesach and Shavuot was lovely. It really was. A whole houseful of women is a very rare occurrence these days, and it's all the more special when all of the women are related and they span three generations. Over Pesach, my grandmother told some stories about what my mother was like as a little girl ("adorable"), and my mother and aunt told some stories about what my sister and I were like as little girls.1 I can see how a group of guys getting together would be nice, too, especially if they were all related. Football on the front lawn in Hyannisport or something.

However, an odd ritual vacuum has existed in my grandfather's house since his death in February 2004. Before he died, my grandmother lit Shabbat candles but my grandfather did everything else--in their case, mostly kiddush and hamotzi, but he was also the regular shul-goer and when he was younger sukkah-erector and seder-leader. After he died, beyond the usual grief over the loss of a very special man, another sadness descended upon the house, which was that my grandmother, growing up as she did in the 1920s and '30s, was never given a Jewish education and doesn't even know how to read Hebrew. She knows lots and lots of davening and brachot and things, but all by heart. Who was going to make kiddush and hamotzi for her? It was unlikely that, at 75 years of age, she was going to learn to say kiddush, but she already knew hamotzi by heart, from hearing it for so many years, so she says that for herself every Shabbat after lighting candles and before eating Shabbat dinner. But nobody makes kiddush unless the kids or grandkids are in for a visit.

When all of us women congregate in the house (often over Yom Tov), sometimes punctuated by visits from an uncle who is not versed in Jewish ritual and a brother who is although prefers not to be, there is no obvious person to take care of these rituals. The head of the household, my grandmother, couldn't do it. Of the four of us there besides my grandmother--my mother, aunt, sister, and I--three of us regularly recite kiddush and havdalah for ourselves and are equally qualified. (My father does those things for my mother, while she makes hamotzi for him. I always thought of hamotzi as a "women's thing" because of that. I thought it was weird and vaguely gender-bending when I went to people's homes and the man of the house made hamotzi.) When some of us had gone to shul and already heard kiddush, that helped. Otherwise, however, there was no clear ritual-performer. I like making kiddush and don't mind making hamotzi, and if it was up to everyone else, maybe I'd do it all the time. However, I didn't want to be the only person who performed rituals in this household other than candle-lighting, and, five kiddush-recitations in five days over Pesach was a bit much, even for me.

So every meal became a sort of free-for-all. Who's making kiddush? And who's doing hamotzi? Clearly two different people, but who? (The latter is sometimes accompanied by mute hand motions post-washing.) After Shabbat, who wants to make havdalah? You? You? Anyone? Bueller...? It sort of gets passed around like a hot potato, which doesn't seem to me to be the most respectful way to handle the situation. (It was better over Shavuot than over Pesach, perhaps because we'd all gotten used to the idea of performing rituals for each other over Pesach. It was the same four of us there both times, plus, of course, my grandmother, to whom we always offer first dibs on hamotzi, since that's the one she knows how to do and does herself when we aren't there.)

My feeling, as noted here, is that you (the generic observant woman) shouldn't feel like you can't do these things. I especially mean kiddush, which my fellow women seem more hesitant to say than hamotzi. I say, "Here's a siddur, you've heard it hundreds (Shabbat kiddush) or tens (Yom Tov kiddush) of times. Go for it!" My older sister, especially, has a nice voice and should really be the one to make all Yom Tov kiddushes ever.

I don't think that this "free for all" is necessarily the best way to run ritual things on a permanent basis, but I do like the idea of taking turns with Jewish ritual. It's really nice. I think a free for all is acceptable for short spurts, as at my grandmother's house over Pesach and Shavuot. I think it's good for everyone to get a chance to sanctify the day over wine (or grape juice), rather than have it sanctified for them.

Someone I once dated declared that he felt for women and their desire to perform Jewish ritual, but it was important to him that he be the only one to make kiddush every Shabbat for his wife and kids and to learn Torah with the (future potential) kids, which floored me. I never thought about it before he said that, but of course I imagined myself making kiddush for my future family and learning Torah with my kids. Why would I ever agree to permanently abdicate those things to someone else? I've been making kiddush for Shabbat guests and for myself for years. It's beautiful. I love it. It makes Shabbat into Shabbat. And, really, what's the point of having kids if you don't get to give them Torah? It's like saying, "Oh, by the way, I'm going to pick out all of the birthday presents for our future kids." I honestly don't need everything ritual-wise to be precisely 50/50--I have no assumptions that it could ever be that way--and I also wouldn't want a "free for all" every Shabbat and Yom Tov, but I would hope that any permanent relationship that I would enter into would feature what felt to me like a fair and equitable distribution of ritual.

________________________________________________
1. Apparently, we were pretty damn cute. Is anyone surprised?

6.05.2007

Introductory Dating Tips for Men

I mostly resist posting YouTube videos because it could really get out of hand, but I saw this at Attention Frumster Shoppers and it gave me a bit of a chuckle.



And who couldn't use a bit of a chuckle, when all is said and done?

Also, this is much, much preferable to engaging in any more lengthy discussions about how various women friends should cease and desist contact with various men who are wrong for them--so wrong for them, and also preferable to engaging in any more lengthy discussions about where a smart girl can find a smart guy who--get this--actually respects her complex, multi-faceted intellectual, emotional, and religious being, and, finally, certainly preferable to engaging in any more discussions about any so-called shidduch-crisis. I'm not bitter. I'm not even feeling all that cynical about dating right now. This is me being perky and optimistic!

Oh, yes. A bit of chuckling about basic dating dos and don'ts (do's and don'ts?) is infinitely preferable to all of that. Especially if it comes with a crisp British accent.



P.S. Is it your birthday? I had a distinct feeling all day that June 4th was someone's birthday, and now that it's past midnight I have the distinct feeling that June 5th is also someone's birthday, but I don't know who. If it's your birthday and I totally should have known, please accept my sincere apology and for the love of God make yourself known to me so I can stop trying to figure this out. Thanks!

P.P.S. Kudos to Mechon Hadar for the fabulous Yeshivat Hadar kick-off event tonight!

P.P.P.S. To continue the curious vanity plate sightings, right outside the Pakistani consulate today, I saw an SUV with a vanity plate on it that read IND PAK. What do you suppose that means? Aren't Pakistan and India mortal enemies, more or less? Anyone who reads more than the headlines of the front section of the newspaper care to enlighten me?

6.01.2007

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad 36 Hours with the MTA--warning: some graphic descriptions contained herein

It started at approximately 11:30 pm this past Tuesday night, when I left Kennedy Airport for the AirTrain station, having arrived an hour late and collected my luggage after a pleasant, relaxing, 5.5 hour flight from California. I felt good. I was still on California time so it felt like it was 8:30 pm and so I decided to take the AirTrain home. That's always my default, but sometimes I'm too tired (going home from the airport) or late (going to the airport) and I take a SuperShuttle instead. I only resort to cabs in the most drastic of circumstances.

For some reason, getting to the Terminal 5/6 AirTrain stop from the baggage carousel took a bit more winding back and forth than I would have liked. It looked like this. (Sorry for the very low-tech graphics, that's the best I could do with a mouse and the Windows Paint program.)
Fine, so I get to the AirTrain station with my backpack, bag o' food, and 50-lb suitcase (look, it had some books in it, okay?) and first I get on a train going to Howard Beach instead of Jamaica. I get off before any damage is done and get on the right one. I get to the E train platform. I wait. I wait. I wait. An E train zips by without stopping. Another E train comes and I get on. I forgot how large Queens is--this trip is longer than I would have liked. Oh, well. Soon I'll be in Manhattan and all will be well.

I consider various options for switching from the E train to a train that will take me home. After some deliberation, I remember that switching to the uptown B at the 7th Avenue stop only involves one flight of stairs. Bonus! As the doors close at the 5th Ave/53rd St. stop, the conductor announces that the E is running on the D line, next stop Rockefeller Center. Damn. Fine. I get off at Rock Center, where there is no elevator, and haul my bag up the stairs to the overpass and down the other side. It is now around 12:30 am. I consider getting out and hailing a cab from Rock Center, but the logistics of going up all those stairs and the presumable difficulty of hailing a cab in midtown after midnight on a weeknight dissuade me. So I wait for the uptown B. Oh, it isn't running. They're working on the tracks. I hear someone say that the D is running local. I get on the D. It's not running local. It's express. I get off at 59th St. I wait for whatever's running local. A billion (really, a billion!) D trains pass while I wait. I ask a man wearing an MTA vest if the A is running local, as it often does late at night. He says that it is. Finally, an A comes. It's around 1 am now. I get on. Oh. He was wrong. It is running express. I get off at 125th St on the uptown side. I press the elevator button. Nope, not working. I haul my stuff down the stairs to the underpass and up the other side. A few D trains pass. Finally, a B stops and I get on. Some stops, three more flights up, and several blocks later, it is 1:30 am and I am home. The next day, Wednesday, the elevator in my building breaks. At least it waited until I was home with my suitcase. Now, that's good luck!

What? What's that you say? That's not a 36 hour MTA ordeal--it's a two hour MTA ordeal. And what would you have had them do, anyway?

I'll tell you what I would have had them do. I would have them install digital displays at the airport, before you get to the AirTrain Station, informing you of the various changes in subway service. Then you could decide before being sucked into the seduction of a $7 trip home. The same thing would be on the AirTrain platform and in every subway station. Barring that, I would have them at least make clear announcements in the station, every 2-3 minutes, about which trains are running local and which are running express and in which direction. Also, I would have them announce route changes on the train long before the door closes on the last stop to get off before you're stuck going a way you don't want to go.
* * * * *
Now, about the other part of the 36 hour ordeal--that was more serious and frightening. This is where the somewhat graphic descriptions start. If you're prone to grossing out or having images replay in your head or excessive worrying, don't keep reading. Seriously. Stop here.

Okay then. It's pretty simple. Much simpler than the first story.

I was heading towards the last door of the third car of the shuttle from Times Square to Grand Central yesterday morning at 10 am. I stepped into the car as the bells dinged. Only I didn't step into the car. I stepped into the space between the car and the platform. And straight down I went. Or at least my right leg went, at least past my knee. I caught myself with my right forearm, on the floor of the train. Then the doors closed on me. I was leaning on my forearms on the floor of the train. My right leg was stuck with my foot wedged downward. I'm not sure where my left leg was, but I think I might have sort of been kneeling on it. I looked up to see a train-full of frightened faces rushing towards me.

The train doors opened (they do whenever they hit an obstruction). One or two men put their arms under my armpits and tried to haul me up out of my stuck position, but my foot was wedged pretty tightly and I knew I could unstick myself if they would just let go of me. I asked them to let go. They let go. With some maneuvering, I got out and stood up. I sat down on a seat in the subway car, sort of in shock but assuring everyone that I was okay. The conductor came back and asked me if I needed medical assistance. I said, "No, no, I'm fine. Really." Then she asked if I wanted to file a report when we got to Grand Central. I said no, but one of the nice men in the subway told me I should, I so I said I would. Two men were particularly kind. One picked up my lunch and handed it to me--it had flown when I fell. The other sat next to me to make sure I was okay. I lifted up my pants leg and saw some abrasions. (Good thing I was wearing pants--could have had some truly nasty scrapes if I was wearing a skirt.) Someone else noticed that my right big toe was bleeding. (I was wearing sandals.) Nothing really hurt me, though. Adrenaline does amazing stuff. Seriously. Someone should market it as a painkiller/memory eraser.

After the train started and I was safely in my seat, I started crying and couldn't stop. Kind of like when kids or toddlers fall and they're fine but they cry anyway because they're surprised? It felt that way. Also, I kept thinking about what would have happened if, God forbid, the train had somehow started moving with me stuck there. I would be, like, dead or severely injured. Another part of my brain reasoned that since I was between the doors, and they therefore couldn't close, and the train doesn't move unless all of the doors are closed, there was no way I could have ended up, like, dead. One of the guys kept talking to me to distract me, which was helpful. He told me a story about losing a toenail. (He was the one who noticed that my right toe was bleeding under the nail. It would have been a really weird story otherwise.) Then he went with me to find the person with whom I was to file a report.

I hobbled into the MTA office that's right on the shuttle platform at Grand Central. There I sat. Then my leg/foot/toe started to hurt. A lot. I held it up in the air since that seemed to help and there was no extra chair on which to elevate it. Finally an MTA guy came and took my information. I somehow remembered exactly which door of which car it was, although when the police later asked me what my work phone number was I had no idea, and when they asked me for my age I had to think about it for a minute. (I didn't hit my head at all, so it was probably just the effect of stress.) The MTA police came and took a report. Meanwhile, I was pressing my leg against the cold metal of a nearby filing cabinet, which helped with the pain, which was rapidly increasing in severity. The woman who was waiting with me found me a frozen bottle of water, which felt marvelous. Finally, a little after 11 am, the fire department paramedics came. They took my blood pressure (fine) and gave me two ice packs.

I hobbled away. It hurt a lot, but I could walk on it so I didn't think my leg or foot was broken. I sort of group pain into three categories:
  1. pain so bad I curse (at least under my breath)
  2. pain that causes wincing and other face-making and no amount of money could prevent that from happening
  3. pain that hurts when I think about it but otherwise not really
This was definitely in the first category.

As it turns out, I had an appointment with an orthopedist at 12:30 pm that day. I had made the appointment more than a month before, because I finally decided that I should see someone about my right toe. I tripped and fell (on nothing) in late January, and it still hurt (wincing pain at times) in mid-April. I couldn't wear any shoes except for sneakers. I had gone to see my primary care physician in early February, but she said that even if it was broken, there wasn't much that they could do and it would heal on its own. No one took x-rays or offered me any kind of foot support. A few weeks ago, the toe moved from the third category of pain to not hurting at all, and I was thinking of canceling the appointment. I decided to keep it, though, since it took me so long to get it and I thought they might take x-rays, which would at least let me know if it had broken in January.

After purchasing two ice packs at Rite-Aid in Grand Central, I went to work to check my e-mail and freeze the ice packs. The bus ride there was okay, although the vibrations hurt so I had to keep the injured leg in the air again. It was a bit awkward and exhausting. I decided to take a cab to the orthopedist. The combination of low air-conditioning, start-and-stop driving, and pain made me sort of feel like I might pass out, but I didn't. Yay!

X-rays were taken. My toe did have a healed fracture from January. It hurt a lot when the x-ray technician turned my foot. My whole leg was starting to get bruised and definitely swollen. The orthopedist checked it out, said I had no breaks, but that I should wear an aircast for about a week. The aircast was painful at first, but enables me to walk with a medium limp rather than a major one. The good doc also told me to elevate it and ice it until the swelling went away completely. I did that at work yesterday and then I also slept with my leg elevated and iced last night.

So, how am I today? The aircast is a bit heavy and hot and lugging it around is exhausting. I can't really go up or down stairs, and can barely flex or extend my right foot. I have bruises up my right leg past my knee and my toe is a battered and bruised mess. It hurts to move my other toes because the tendons that control them got bruised. My ankle is disturbingly swollen right next to the outside ankle bone. My shoulders/arms/back hurt from where the guys tried to lift me up out of my stuckness. My right forearm is bruised from where it hit the train floor when I caught myself. I can't turn quickly, which I am discovering is quite a liability in New York. You'll never guess how many times people rush towards you, expecting you to turn a little, but then you don't and they get disconcerted and half bump into you. I had my aunt take me to Fairway yesterday because I was scared I would get trampled if I went alone. It's also sort of hard to balance a basket of groceries. I'm not sure what happens with the aircast if it rains, but I think I'd better cover it in a plastic bag. Last night, on the way home from work, I asked someone to move over so I could take one of the front seats (and the very last seat) on a crowded bus for the first time in my life. And I hate asking for help.

Part of me wonders if it wasn't some sort of cosmic retribution for my bitching about the MTA's lousy service on Tuesday night (well, mostly early Wednesday morning). Another part of me wonders how large the gap is between the platform and the train at the last door of the third car of the shuttle on track three in Times Square. A third part of me wonders why they don't install those little ledges that pop out and prevent this sort of thing, such as exist on track one at the same platform.

Mostly, today, I am profoundly grateful that yesterday didn't end much worse, as it could have. I am profoundly grateful that I have health insurance. I am grateful that I have an aunt who was able to help me with my grocery shopping. I am grateful for my flexible employer. I am profoundly grateful for my active, healthy body that saved me from any broken bones. (I will continue to take my multi-vitamin, eat yogurt, and walk 2-3 miles a day--as soon as my foot heals.) I am grateful for my fellow commuters who stepped up to help and especially to the guy who spent the 2-minute train ride distracting me from my brush with catastrophe.

Josh suggested that I sponsor a kiddush in honor of my bronze JIB award for best personal blog. I pooh poohed him--maybe when I win a gold, I said. Well, now I want to sponsor a kiddush in honor of God, who presented himself to me in many forms yesterday. Logistics remain to be worked out.