Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007: The Year that Wasn't

Every year, along about December 15, its seems we all take a collective look back. The magazine racks are littered with double-thick issues devoted to heartfelt farewells to deceased celebrities, poignant reveries of world events and photo montages on myriad sporting events, wars and fashion trends. Meanwhile, every channel from the networks to the premium cable brands devote hours of programming to keenly edited and thoughtfully soundtracked nostalgia.
It's tempting to luxuriate in this tepid bathtub of warm, fuzzy memories, straight through to New Year, but why be typical? Plenty of others have allocated ink (or in this case, font-space) to the topic and many have done so better than me. Rather than wax rhapsodic about the year that was, I think it might be more interesting (and funnier) to pine away about the year that wasn't.
2007 was not the year I set aside time each week to clean my apartment. Try as I might, my upbringing in a home exclusively cleaned by people who got paid to do the job did not prepare me for a life of scrubbed floors and dust-free cabinets. My apartment is hardly filthy, mind you, but I just can't seem to get motivated enough to spend my free time engendering a spotless shower.
2007 was also not the year I made a significant dent in my Netflix queue or my reading list. Alas, the lure of Project Runway, 30 Rock and The Office or the incessant pings from my IM often distracted me from such highbrow pursuits as reading the poetry of Neruda or finally watching Hotel Rwanda. With the writers' strike on shaky ground, there's some hope for me in 2008. But, with Facebook and Sex and the City reruns as ever-present and mentally unchallenging distractions, you might see this pop culture-ridden confession appear again next year.
This year also proved a failure for many broad-scale endeavors of humanity. Beauty pageant contestants the world over must be uttering a communal "aw shucks" for not achieving world peace; just as hippies and their patron saint cum sellout Al Gore must kick themselves over the latest energy bill. Citizens of the globe did not cure cancer or AIDS and Bono still didn't clinch the Nobel Peace Prize, but at least we're still fighting the good fight.
2007 was not the year I got engaged or married or had a baby as so many of my friends did. Thus, I did not make my debut appearance in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times, much to my grandmother's chagrin. Of course, it was also a year wherein I did not get divorced or fired or shot, so I avoided those sections of the paper too. By this accounting, as of December 30, I'm probably ahead of the game on the milestone scores.
It was not a year where I learned from all my mistakes, but now I get to write about some of them for your general amusement and possible education. I'm not one for resolutions - lofty, fanciful or plainly obvious - though I will say that I am optimistic for 2008. I don't expect clear answers to life's burning questions over the next 12 months, but I sure as hell better have a good time trying to figure it all out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Just because it isn't my holiday doesn't mean I can't celebrate

There are tons of obvious post topics for me today. There's the lonely lament of the token Jewish kid who grew up in suburban Arizona and didn't learn who Mary and Joseph were until the fourth grade. There's the post-capitalist outrage over a holiday that began as a celebration of someone's messiah's birth and morphed into a consumer-driven shopping frenzy. And there's the fond memories of the way my family celebrated Christmas: a late night drive through our neighborhood with the windows rolled down and Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" blaring on my mom's stereo.
Following the trend of my last post, there's also the obvious wonderment at the way most Jews choose to celebrate Jesus's birthday: with Chinese food and a movie. When I was a kid, there weren't too many people at the local theater on Christmas. It was fantastic! The random non-Christians in our town, an assortment of Jews, Hindus and atheists mingled with divorced dads who lost the custody coin toss as we watched movies in relatively empty darkened rooms. Nowadays, the theaters are packed as the afternoon hours approach and the novelty of everyone's new gifts wear off. People flee their families, held captive for the past 18 hours, because of a shared love of ham and some dude from Bethlehem.
Then there's the Chinese food. Used to be these were the only restaurants open, either because of the Chinese owners' keen business sense or Buddhist religious observances. The places are universally packed and in some parts of the U.S., it's hard to find good Chinese. But the world of restaurantuers has diversified since the 1970s. So this year, consider some vindaloo instead of egg foo young.... or some pad thai instead of beef chow mein.
While so many things about Christmas divide us - the whole Jesus is the son of God thing coming at the top of the list - this year, I hope we can all find a sense of unity at the nearest ethnic eatery and local megaplex. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Heartburn and The Heeb

As the iron-stomach clad daughter of a Crohn’s patient, the sister of an IBS sufferer and a lactard, and the former owner of a gall bladder, I know (mostly second-hand) the long-wrought agony of Jews and their digestive issues. Among ethnic groups and their various health ailments, Ashkenazic Jews definitely picked the short straw when it came to gastrointestinal disorders.

So it might come as a bit of a surprise to the Semitio-philiac newbie that despite these would-be setbacks, Jews (of all ethnic flavors) are obsessed with food. Maybe it’s because the framers of our whole religious shtick, the Torah and Talmud wrote so many laws about slaughtering animals, preparing food, eating food, mixing food and sacrificing food. Maybe it’s because stuffing ourselves full of lamb, lentil soup and bread was the best way to deal with all those people who kept trying to kill us. Or, maybe it’s just because bagels, bourekas, latkes and matzah balls just taste so damn good and we developed the culture around it. It all begs the question, “Which came first? The chicken soup or the egg?”

In thinking about Jews and our relationship to food, I did what any 20-something does when she wants to know something and I Googled “Jewish food blogs.” My search yielded a bevy of results both inevitable and eyebrow-raising. Certainly, there are enough Jewish vegans to begat such tomes as The Jew and The Carrot and sufficient carnivores to sustain no fewer than three blogs devoted to the delicatessen and its preservation. However, there is only one blog devoted to kosher soul food and not much of anything about Sephardic cuisine.

Clearly, I’m not the only member of the tribe who occasionally has food on the brain. Though I cannot imagine solely blogging about one topic, this little research project has lent some credibility to my hypothesis that Jews have an unnatural obsession with all things edible. Then I started thinking about all my non-Jewish friends… particularly the Italian ones… and the Indians… and the Chinese… and I realized that pretty much every ethnic group has an unnatural obsession with all things edible that stem from their native cultures. Perhaps because food is such an incredibly powerful and potent link to one’s heritage, that many of us feel a great sense of pride in our respective cuisines. After all, how many Irish Catholic girls can even pretend to make matzah ball soup as good as a nice Jewish boy’s bubbie?

Lest you think this posting purely existential and without any base in current events across the tri-state area or the world – allow me to direct your attention to a post on December 13 on The Kosher Blog. Apparently, the much-missed Second Avenue Deli is set to reopen today in Murray Hill with a ceremonial salami cutting and 24-hour service. If you’re in the vicinity, do what you can to throw a little business their way and let’s keep ‘em open. If you don’t happen to live around here, then get out there and explore a little Jewish cuisine. From cholent to challah, from apples and honey to the afikomen and from hummus to hamentashen, it all tastes good and this girl is hungry for more.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Shout Out

Since my big mass media debut last week (my two years of student journalism at the Arizona Daily Wildcat doesn't really count), I've installed Google Analytics on this site. Now my stalker tendencies and the B I got in graduate-level statistics can finally be mixed together and put to use via the miracle of blog analysis.
Through this fantastic invention of the chronically unsure-whether-anyone-reads-his/her-blog, I can magically track where my readers come from geographically, how they stumbled upon the Shtetl Fabulous universe and whether or not they used a Google search to find me. The location stats include such far-flung destinations as Kuala Lampur, Malaysia; Dublin, Ireland and Kansas!
But even more exciting than these Carmen Sandiego-worthy shenanigans is the Google search section. From this realm of cyberspace, I've discovered that someone actually decided to click on my blog after searching for the term, "fabulous fuckers." Oddly enough, it's the number two site suggested... as long as you don't search with the quotes.
My new friend Greg wisely pointed out that this fact will probably disappoint many a horny teenage boy seeking porn and not pithy comments on news items, pop culture and relationships. But for this reluctant pleaser, I couldn't be happier to underwhelm some pre-pubescent's nascent hard-on if it directs them to my humble home of wordsmithing.
Regardless of whether you got here because I not-so gently cajoled you into reading or because you had a genuine intellectual curiosity for how a shtetl could become fabulous - thanks for reading and come again.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Almost as good as Passover Bread

This is THE funniest Hanukkah story I have ever heard.
It reminds me of the time that my brother, sister and I changed all the "kosher" signs at the old Food Emporium on First Avenue and put them by all the pork products.

Happy Chanukah/Khanuka/Hanukah!!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Shtetl Fabulous in the news

Well, I have either acheived some modicum of fame in the Orthodox Jewish community here in New Jersey or I've just gone and pissed off a whole other group of people.
Apparently, people besides my mother and my close cadre of friends read this blog because someone decided to interview me for an article after reading an earlier post I wrote called, "Splitting Hairs." Here's the link to the Herald News of Passaic story from today's paper.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Winter Wonderland

Woke up in the middle of the night (OK, it was 5 a.m. but when you go to sleep at 1:30, it counts) to snow falling for the second time this season. Technically, it's not winter for another few weeks, but the white stuff on the ground would argue otherwise. Plus, Hanukkah starts in two nights and the Christmas marketing extravaganza is in full swing. So, imbued with a bit of the holiday spirit and forgoing my usual snarky sentiment, I figured I would offer a little ode to winter as a way to ease the transition.

1. Presents. What can I say - I like getting stuff, and giving is good too.
2. Snow angels and snowball fights. I didn't get to do this much as a kid and it makes you less pissy when you work up a sweat in your good clothes cleaning snow off your car. Plus there's the actual potential for snow days.
3. Cashmere. I love this stuff so much, I will literally sleep in it... though not in March through November.
4. Food. While I like to think I cook well, I am not the most refined chef. Wintertime is perfect for the rustic, country, informal type entertaining and cooking that I love best.
5. Parties. Last year, I made my Kwanzaa party debut and this year I'm hosting a Hanukkah shindig straight outta da shtetl. Though it sucks that the cold weather makes it harder to work off the extra calories by pounding the pavement, the social butterfly in me will happily log in the necessary gym hours to compensate for goodies and beer.

So maybe winter isn't too bad after all. Of course, I might feel differently come mid-February.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Subtle Mother Fuckers

Maybe it's just because it's so hard to make a feel good movie when abortion is involved, but I'm starting to think the pro-life lobby is infiltrating the multiplex. I first noticed this phenomenon with the release of "Knocked Up." A fantastic movie, if for no other reason than it gave Seth Rogen his breakthrough performance. But still, not too many women in America would have a one-night stand with a shlub like that and decide to give birth to and raise the child that was spawned through such a union.
Now, my hackles are raised again with a new movie called "August Rush." For those who haven't been forced to sit through the trailer on this one a dozen times over the last week - let me give you the synopsis, courtesy of the MSN Web site. A "charismatic Irish guitarist" and a "reserved cellist" share a "passionate night" but are "forced apart by fate." Otherwise known as - he was hot and foreign and she was the perfect hard to get mark. They fucked, she got pregnant and probably never even told him.
The pro-life twist (yet again) is that she gives birth to the child and charitably gives him up for adoption. A few years down the line, his musical genius is bringing cheer and joy to the massses in a "We are the World" worthy worldview that music connects us all.
So the lesson we take away is that you shouldn't abort your totally unwanted kid whose father was in all likelihood a drunk and low wage earner because he could be the universe's gift to symphonic peace and harmony. Or who could cure AIDS. Or who could turn out to be a little shit who prevented YOU from curing AIDS because you were too busy changing diapers. Just a little thought and movie judgment for the holiday season from the Shtetl Fabulous perspective.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I choose my choice

The avid "Sex and the City" watchers among my readers will recognize the title of this post from a particularly profound episode where Charlotte decides to exit the workforce and to devote her energies to volunteering, home redecorating and bowl glazing. Naturally, her friends question her choice after so many years devoted to her career.
It seems since the inception of the feminist movement, we women have found a way to use our new-found choices as weapons against one another. The decision to work, not to work, to work part time, to job share, to have kids, to not have kids, to telecommute, to adopt, to surrogate, to marry, to marry someone with kids, to marry someone with a vasectomy or hysterectomy, to marry someone of your gender, to marry someone of the opposite gender, to marry yourself and register only at Manolo Blahnik - the possibilities are endless.
Whatever choice women make for their own lives, other women seem capable for the most part of using those choices to chastize one another rather than to celebrate the diversity of options that a generation or two ago simply did not exist.
This all came to a head in the last few weeks on a blog created by high school classmates of mine. For the first few months, everyone who posted comments and pictures on the blog had chosen to marry and have more than a few kids (one had 5 and we're only 27!). So, I posted a shout-out to those who had made different choices and had instead gotten advanced degrees and delayed the kid/marriage thing. Several supportive posts from friends who are either doctors, lawyers, or lobbyists followed and all seemed equalized. Until some anonymous fuck posted that there's clearly a "reason" my friends and I are unmarried or without kids. My reply - yeah, I CHOSE that!
As long as women denigrate the choices of others, call each other sluts or fail to support one another - we all lose. At the risk of ending this post with some total Girl Power-esque bullshit message here's my final thought: Make your choice and stand by it!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Splitting Hairs

Admittedly, I've struggled with making time to post lately. My apologize to whatever three or four loyal readers I have who actually check this site periodically. And mad props to people like Josh who manage to write every day. So without further ado...

The following post is excerpted (and slightly modified) from an email I sent to an Orthodox Jewish female friend of mine struggling with her interpretation of the halachic commandment that a woman cover her hair. After a few weeks of engagement, my friend was having a difficult time finding a wig that matched her dark hair color exactly.

Maybe it's Hashem's way of telling you to wear a tichel (head scarf)... or change your hair color. I think if I had to cover my hair I would totally play with it. I could see you looking really cute with dark brown hair that had some solid red undertones/highlights in it.

While I cannot relate to the challenges of undertaking this mitzvah, I can certainly understand that it must be very difficult. We as women spend a great deal of our lives managing our hair and it's an extremely personal part of who we are. How we choose to wear our hair says a great deal about us and how we want to portray ourselves to the world. Plus, there are all the implications of what it means to be covered and that our bodies can be imbued with such erotic power - whether real or imagined.

Also, what you choose to do with your hair and the extent to which you choose to cover it is a fluid thing. I know women who wear a sheitel (wig) and then switch to a hat/fall/tichel or do the baseball cap thing. Don't look at this as a permanent, set-in-stone mitzvah like not killing people. Take it as something that you will still have to work out the parameters that work best for you. And that, I guess is THE most important thing - you have to do what works for YOU, not anyone else. If you hate it, then you and your husband will work it out to whatever works best.

What always strikes me most about this mitzvah is that it places so much of the burden on the woman, arguing her modesty shows allegiance to her husband and makes her less an object of erotic interest than a woman who doesn't cover her hair. Unfortunately, the reality on both sides of this argument is that Orthodox women still cheat on their husbands (sometimes with women, but that's a subject for another post) AND that women of all levels of religous observance are still raped.
Why don't we place some of the burden of modesty on Orthodox men? I mean, they don't even wear wedding rings as a general rule.
Besides, real hair looks bad some days. Real hair often looks a lot worse than wig hair... so why is a sheitel more modest?
Finally, as I've mentioned before, women and the ways they relate to their hair can have political ramifications. In the black community, a woman who chooses to relax her hair can be seen as trying to "pass" in American society whereas one with dreadlocs may be seen as more "savage" or "dangerous." So when that argument is placed in this context - what does it mean when Jewish women are covering up entirely, and with another person's hair at that?!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Update on an earlier post

Waaaay back on June 15, I posted about a case in Georgia involving a 17-year-old boy receiving a 10-year sentence in prison for aggravated sexual assault because he received a consensual blow job from a 15-year-old girl and the incident was videotaped.
Well apparently, not everyone in Georgia is totally backwards when it comes to sex and a new judge has reversed the sentence: Nice to know that justice has been served.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

When Harry Met Sally it was Love Actually. Then she became Sleepless in Seattle until Bridget Jones's Diary turned her into Something New

Whew! It's amazing to me how those damn movie titles just fit so perfectly together.. it's almost as if they were all just trite phrases strung together?
So the past weekend got me thinking about that much maligned genre of film known as romantic comedies, aka chick flicks. We all know them and many of us shell out our hard-earned cash to watch these frequently formulaic 90-minutes of fluff at our local multiplex or on our personal television sets (Christina, I'm looking at you). We tend to think of them as harmless. Light. A great alternative to those "serious" movies, that more often than not tend to feature male characters in leading roles and are likewise marketed to men. But what are we buying into when we buy our ticket to "In the Land of Women Something's Gotta Give because While You Were Sleeping she gave him a French Kiss and now everyone is singing Sweet Home Alabama?"
Now, I will admit to owning and enjoying a few of these so-called romantic comedies. It's true - they are escapist and fun and often feature fabulous outfits. Though, I do often wonder what impact they have on our "real" lives and relationships and the fantasies that they perpetuate.
For example, a certain gentleman caller gave me flowers on our first date this weekend. They were carnations. Would I have wrinkled my nose at them just the same if they hadn't become a part of dating mythology thanks to the romantic comedies of the world?
Floral misgivings aside - back to those clothes. Has anyone noticed that regardless of what job a woman in a romantic comedy holds, she always has fantastic clothes?! With the possible exceptions of Anne Hathaway for the first part of "The Devil Wears Prada" and Julia Roberts for the first part of "Pretty Woman," NO ONE in a chick flick cruises the clearance racks at Old Navy or waits until all the big sales at the department stores. And forget complusively collecting those 20% coupons at Bed Bath and Beyond, that is something only chicks in the "real" world have to struggle with, all the while striving for the perfect home and clothing collection since that's how the movies portray us.
Of a far more nefarious nature is the subgenre of chick flicks where our plucky, beautiful and lovelorn heroine wrests her man from the altar at the last minute, saving him from the wrong marriage and bringing herself the object of her desire. For examples, see "The Wedding Planner" and "The Sweetest Thing." I think these give women the worst illusions about the realities of dating, marriage and love because in real life - when does that ever happen? Kudos to "My Best Friend's Wedding" for denying Julia Roberts's character her man. Besides, who needs a roaming sports reporter when you can have a fabulous gay boyfriend like Rupert Everett?
This is hardly an anti-chick flick manifesto and I don't expect to affect ticket revenues or DVD sales with my above rant, but I do want to raise a little hell. Think about the messages behind the movies. What does it say when a whole rash of movies appear with dead paramours (Just Like Heaven, Catch and Release)? Or when our pets start to claim film titles (Must Love Dogs, The Year of the Dog)? Just a little something to think about.

Monday, October 15, 2007

It's New Jersey - who knew?

Look out across the Hudson. Look beyond the industrial wastelands in Newark and Elizabeth, the sprawling monuments to capitalism in Paramus, and even beyond the paragons of suburbia that crowd the landscapes of Bergen, Passaic, Essex and Union Counties. Look about 40 miles inland and keep looking until you get to the Susquehanna River. There you'll find the reason they call New Jersey the Garden State. Hundreds of farms grow vegetables and fruits, raise animals, create various animal by-products and many open their doors to the public on a regular basis.
Just a 25-minute drive from my suburban hamlet takes me out into the rolling hills of Morris County and within easy access of fantastic opportunities to get in touch with nature. This weekend being the first for me in a month that hasn't included a Jewish holiday and/or a trip out of town, I was able to head west to check it all out.
First, on Saturday night I did my very first corn maze. For those unfamiliar, corn mazes involve hapless individuals (or teams) willingly entering an labyrinth made entirely of corn stalks. The farms lay out intricate patterns and have themes that guide both the design of the maze and various clues found therein. We went to a place with a Manhattan theme and absolutely nothing in common with the borough's famed grid system. Two hours later, we emerged - slightly frustrated, rather hungry and with new-found respect for corn stalks.
Then on Sunday, I ventured out to the Valley Shepherd Creamery - the only sheep dairy in the State of New Jersey. Truly an artisinal place of business where they literally do EVERYthing pertaining to the process - they breed the sheep (you should hear the owner's story about bringing sheep semen over from the Netherlands), they raise the sheep, they milk the sheep through a highly-advanced automated system, they slaughter the lambs, they make the cheese, age the cheese, sell the cheese, sell the wool, sell the manure... and the work goes on.
I highly recommend their cheeses - you can get them in their store in Long Valley, at many farmers markets throughout New York and New Jersey, and this year only they are selling a cheese in the Williams-Sonoma catalog.
If none of these options work for you, take an afternoon and check out what IS in your area. Most cities are not so far from working farms and I think it's important that we remember food doesn't come from a grocery store. It comes from the incredibly hard work and dedication of people who do this because they love it. Find organic, artisinal, locally-produced purveyors near you and support them. Visit them. Take classes. Use their products whenever you can (even in favor of organics sometimes since shlepping organics from Florida cancels the earth-saving benefits when a conventional product from New York is available). Get involved. Or, as Nancy Botwin might recommend - grow your own.

Monday, October 8, 2007


So maybe you've been reading this blog since I began it (because I cajoled you or you're related to me), or maybe you stumbled upon it from a link or Google search (p.s. I'm the first hit you get - take THAT JewWatch), or maybe you actually found something I wrote remotely interesting and have stuck around. Regardless of the answer - thanks. In return, I thought I'd spend a little time on how the name for this blog (and my somewhat assumed identity) came about.
Most people have heard the term "ghetto fabulous." The African-American community has used this to describe a certain style of dress and attitude informed by the urban landscape to which they have historically been confined and elevated to a higher level with the addition of "bling," in the form of jewelry, cars, cribs, etc. Just like jazz music, hip hop and many popular cultural phenomena, ghetto fabulous represents a co-optation of an already co-opted term. The ghetto originally referred to city-based areas where Jews were confined in Eastern Europe. Today, ghetto fabulous has a derogatory undertone at times, but is also celebrated in song, fashion and style.
The counterpoint to the ghetto was the country-style shtetl. Since many Jews in America, post World War II live in the suburbs, it seemed fitting that describing a larger-than-life Jewish persona should only be called "shtetl fabulous." Makes sense, right?
The shtetl fabulous look has its own bling to be sure, but maybe it doesn't have to feature perfectly highlighted hair; pert, post-operative button noses; and a Long Islander accent. MAYBE, it could be something far less based in Philip Roth's shiksappeal fantasies... maybe it IS super curly, unstraightened brown hair; big noses; Naot-based sandal tan lines; big boobs and hips and this time a Brooklyn accent. However, my decision to call this blog Shtetl Fabulous, goes beyond the sartorial.
I have often identified with the African-American experience having grown up as a token Jew in heavily-Mormon Mesa, Arizona. I wasn't simply another type of Christian and I wasn't a clearly marked racial minority - I was "other." Being of a community and still not entirely belonging is often characteristic for many types of marginalized people, but somehow blackness spoke to me even though there were only 3 black students in my graduating class of 850.
I also think questioning, pushing the envelope and identifying with other oppressed people are big in the Jewish community and it's something we have in common with our black brothers and sisters. By using the term "shtetl fabulous," I hope to reference our Jewish history, engender a little discussion about labels, demonstrate some hardcore Jewish pride and make a few people smile.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sin City Summary

Well, I have returned to Jersey from my vacation in Las Vegas with a little less of my liver, tons of new photos and only 33 cents lost to the gambling gods. Of course, I spent a whole lot more money on food, drinks and a fantastic hot stone massage - BUT only 33 cents on the slots. Since I'm still working off some of my red-eye flight's jet lag, I figured I'd offer my trip high (and low) lights here in a condensed format.
FRIENDS: I managed to see all the ones I had made plans with during my trip, which was totally awesome! Thanks to cell phones we met up in various locations throughout the city for drinks, laughs and pics.
BOOZE: My first night in town I discovered a stellar drink special in the most unlikely of places - Wolfgang Puck's Chinese restaurant in the Caesar's Palace Forum Shops offers $3 Fat Tire beers during happy hour! Then, on my way out of the mall, I stopped some gentlemen sporting badass grills and bottles of Fat Tire. They told me that the Tourneau watch store was inexplicably offering free beer and food. Score!!!! Besides the opportunity to enjoy my favorite brew at a reasonable price, Vegas offered some solid buzzes, but no major binges.
FOOD: A lot of mediocre and overpriced crap, but also some redeeming meals including super tasty tuna at a fancy steakhouse and animal style veggie burger at In 'N Out.
GAMBLING: A friendly dealer gave me a brief craps lesson that sorta cleared up the intricacies of the game for me, but it still doesn't really make sense. Ultimately, I bet $6 on the slots and won back $5.67.
DIGS: We stayed at the Planet Hollywood Resort which is conveniently located across from the Bellagio and next to the Paris, but costs a lot less. However, the hotel lacks the nightclubs offered by many of the others on the Strip and isn't as big or as glamorous. Also, since it used to be the Aladdin, the rooms still feature magic carpet decor elements and genie-esque lamps. But the price was right and who spends that much time in their hotel room in Vegas anyway?
SIGHTSEEING: I gotta give it to Steve Wynn, the man designed a fucking beautiful hotel. I loved the floor tile, it was so fabulous. Props also to the Venetian for major glam without typical Strip excess. I liked it better than the Bellagio, which is only cool for its Chihuly ceiling and dancing fountains. Thanks to everyone who offered tips in this arena - they were much appreciated and put to good use.
BOYS: The trip started slow with no discernable prospects, and honestly that was OK. Then on our last night in town, a pre-partying excursion to a Mexican restaurant revealed a very cute guy. We began chatting across the bar and when he and his friend got up to leave, we exchanged phone numbers. Myriad text messages later and we made plans to rendezvous in the Planet Hollywood casino since both of us were staying in the hotel. We hit the bar and settle into a black leather banquette with a few beers. However, rather than swap spit, I manage to pick up the one guy in Vegas who only wants to talk. Apparently, he likes me for my intellect, which at home would be flattering but in Sin City this is beyond frustrating! He leaves me with a quick peck at my hotel room door and my conquest is over.
All in all, a great trip and a definite fulfillment of spending Sukkot the way G-d intended - in the desert.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Vegas, Baby!

Because I'm having a little trouble these days remembering how "money" I am (and because I have two days off from work), I've decided to embark on a trip to Las Vegas on Wednesday with my friend Dana. I haven't been outside the airport in Vegas since I was 16, so I'm pretty sure this will be my best visit to Sin City.
Thanks to my adventures in the Ukraine and in Israel on the famed MLOS 2005 trip, I possess some basic poker skills that have been further honed with episodes of Celebrity Poker on Bravo during slow afternoons in grad school. I have a suspicion that the Lost Wages reputation may fall upon me, I plan to lose greater funds at the spa than at the tables.
Besides Dana, my aforementioned travelling companion (shout out to San Diego), I'm looking forward to seeing a few other friends during this trip, including my friend Danielle who I last saw in Prague shortly after MLOS. Hopefully, Cho and Maggie will make an appearance on my itinerary as well.
I have downloaded ample Elvis tunes onto my MP3 player, started packing up my carry-on suitcase and reminded myself not to come home married. In 36 hours, I'll be there!!!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Whole Wide World

As we all learned in the fourth grade, the French gave the United States the Statue of Liberty back in 1886, as a gesture of friendship. Marking the 100th anniversary of our country's formation, the Statue symbolically welcomes visitors, returning Americans and immigrants. It's this last group that Emma Lazarus (another fiesty Jewish chick) honors in her poem, "The New Colossus" which is engraved on a plaque mounted inside the Statue. The poem describes Lady Liberty as the Mother of Exiles and includes the oft-quoted line, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," thus solidifying the United States' reputation as a haven for immigrants.

Fast forward 121 years and while the numbers support Ms. Lazarus's vision, that reputation is on shakier ground than Liberty Island itself.

In March 2003, the most recent year that statistics are available, the U.S. Census recorded the civilian, noninstitutionalized foreign-born population at 33.5 million, representing 11.7 percent of the total American population. Of these, more than 50 percent were born in Latin America (including South & Central America and the Caribbean), 25 percent were born in Asia, 13 percent in Europe and eight percent in Other Regions. While I could get sidetracked by the incredibly uniformative "Other Regions" designation that includes Africa, Oceania and Northern America, that's for another blog post.

The Census also recognized that among the foreign born in 2003, 13.6 percent entered the United States since 2000, 36.6 percent came in the 1990s, 24.0 percent came in the 1980s, 13.7 percent came in the 1970s, and the remaining 12.2 percent arrived before 1970. For this earliest wave before 1970, 80.9 percent had obtained citizenship by 2003. The report goes on to compare income earned, education level and poverty between the native and foreign born populations. To spare you the nitty-gritty, let me tell you that overall , those of us who followed Bruce Springsteen's example and were born in the USA, fare better on all the measures.

With all these people constantly coming into our country and with the native born generally faring better, you'd think that most Americans would recognize their own immigrant pasts and embrace these newcomers. But, as anyone who follows the news knows, that sadly is not the case. Americans bemoan the latest waves of immigrants and berate them for failing to learn English quickly enough, not sufficiently assimilating into our culture and taking away resources from deserving naturalized citizens. From a Jewish perspective, where so many of our ancestors came to this country seeking liberty and freedom under duress of war and/or pogrom, these attitudes are especially disturbing. While I'm not arguing for flinging our doors open like a Toys R' Us on the day after Thanksgiving, I am unequivocally demanding a comprehensive, cogent and compassionate set of new immigration policies. And, since according to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, I know a few things about public policy, here are a few suggestions... presidential candidates take note.

According to the 2000 Census, 18 percent of the American population (or 47 million people) speaks a language other than English at home. The most widely-spoken language is Spanish, and Chinese, French, German, Italian, Polish and Korean rank in the top 10. Speakers of these languages, whether foreign or native born, speak English with varying degrees of ability that 99.9 percent of the time vastly outrank our abilities to speak their languages with any level of fluency.
So my first suggested policy is sorta like a foreign exchange student program done with a much more local focus. For every 10 kids who need to learn English, take another 10 and teach them a foreign language and make them fluent. Don't let them stop when they know how to ask where the bathroom is and don't wait until junior high to get started. Begin in kindergarten and dual-language track where possible. Are there lots of Spanish, Chinese or Russian speakers in your school district? Great, you have free tutors! Are there three kids floating around who speak something a little less universal, like Gujurathi? Great, teach everyone a little Chinese? Bottom line - we Americans have GOT to stop being monolingual. It's embarrassing and it's beginning to affect our ability to compete in the increasingly global marketplace.

Now that more of us can communicate with each other, let's talk about hanging out. Very often, immigrants cluster in specific neighborhoods because of the availability of services and friends with similar experiences. The entire immigrant generation might not leave that designated area until the next, native born population ages into the public school system or goes to college. This isolates immigrants and provides few opportunities for interaction. Unique cultures and values absolutely merit a place in American society - but we seldom understand them because of geographical separation (even of a few blocks). So I encourage people to venture into these areas, eat some food, shop in the local stores (they are usually a great source of cheap goods) and make some friends. This isn't so much a policy as a recommendation... but maybe if more people try this out, we won't need so many cumbersome policies.

Finally, rationing services such as health care, education and police and fire protection between legal immigrants/citizens and undocumented immigrants becomes incredibly daunting when there are already substantial gaps in access between various groups of Americans. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation determined that immigrants are twice as likely to not have health coverage because of fear, language barriers and other factors. So what to do? How about remembering our obligation that Emma Lazarus pointed out and stop using citizenship as a determinant for helping people! We need to help our own, and as immigrants, these people are now our own and therefore merit the services that Americans receive.

All right, enough ranting for one night.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Shana Tova

A happy and healthy New Year to everyone out there in blog-land! Thanks to everyone for their support, readership and excellent comments (I like the comments best). I hope you all enjoy a year of blessing, peace, success and joy!
Check back for new and deeply insightful posts in 5758, including: "Babies, Seriously?" "The Nasty Side of the Ethiopian National Project," "Sukkot the way G-d Intended - in the Desert of Las Vegas," and "Whole Wide World - My Rantings on Immigration."

Shana tova from the Shtetl!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Good on Paper

There's a widely-circulated theory in the world of dating about the "good on paper" guy or girl. The general gist is that given the right pedigree of education, job type and status, domicile and family relationships that one's dating target will yield suitable results. Of course, with the law of averages sometimes the person may prove better on paper than in real life.
Case in point: a few years ago I dated a classically attractive guy who was about to embark on a master's degree in international relations, had traveled throughout Thailand and called his mother weekly. Too bad he had no sex drive and treated me badly. So much for all those Ivy League dating advertisements.

But what happens when you encounter someone who isn't necessarily good on paper? Does that mean that perhaps he/she will prove all your preconceived theories wrong and be that incredible person you've been waiting for? I guess I ask because my current dating scene has put me in that milleu.
Bachelor #1 is 30, Jewish, an accountant in New York City and has a ragingly bad Jersey accent. He comes from a similar Jewish background to me. He's a huge Giants fan and even has tickets, but is overweight, lost a year of salary to disability and lives in an apartment with his mother. In the algebra of good on paper dating, this guy barely makes the grade.
Bachelor #2 goes against every logical assumption I've made about the kind of guy I want to date. He never went to college, isn't Jewish, served 2 years in the Navy, doesn't own a car and I had to drive on our first date. Oh, and did I mention he lives above a funeral home where he also happens to work? And yet, it was a great date.

I think at the end of the day, the theories about dating and relationships are simply that. Human chemistry often overrides any conceptual or pre-ordained objections and generally finds a way to bite you in the ass when you least expect it. Who knows where any of these entanglements will take me in the new year, but they're sure to provide excellent material for this blog.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What Year is it?

Admittedly, I consume a bulk of my news diet from a strange blend of the Daily Show, the Times, the Post, NPR, Slate and MSN online, the morning TV news and of course, The Onion. I find it gives me a reasonably full dose of the hard information, the quirky features, the slightly parodic, and my grandmother's second favorite - the wedding section.
Generally, I can peruse these with a minimal of outrage, these less-calm moment most frequently sparked by the misadventures of the current presidential administration. However, in the past week I came across a few things that raised the proverbial eyebrow and forced me to question what year we're living in.

Item One: Larry Craig's Resignation
In case your end-of-summer vacation did not involve any connection with the outside world, let me recap. Veteran Republican Senator, Larry Craig, resigned under extreme pressure from his party following an arrest in an undercover vice operation in an airport bathroom well-known for George Michael-esque activity. Over the years, people have questioned Craig's sexual identity, despite his avowed statements of heterosexuality and staunch anti-gay rights voting record.
My question for Sen. Craig and the entire Republican party is why? Why continue to live an ugly, closeted lifestyle and vote against your own civil liberties? Why force people into secrecy about whom they love and how they choose to express it? Is this 2007 or 1950?
This issue concern us all and it hurts me to see that as far as we've come in the quest for equality we still have such a long way to go. Public figures - be they politicians, athletes, actors or celebutants should feel able to come out without fear of scorn or ridicule. Besides, it helps thin out my dating pool.

Item Two: First Female Beefeater
In a far less hyped story across the Pond, Britian appointed its first Beefeater at the Tower of London to have two X chromosomes. Since 1485, all the guards at the Tower (who routinely pose for pictures in their adorable fuzzy hats) have been men and Class Two Warrant Officer Moira Cameron was selected over 5 men who also applied for the position.
First off, a big up to Moira for breaking down a centuries-old barrier on what is ostensibly a ceremonial position. Secondly, I have ask again - why? Why did it take more than 500 years to break through those thick Tower walls? Sure, I'll give them the first 450 years on the whole, men ruling the world thing, but why not any other women in the last 30?
Overall, my purpose here is to just broadcast the excellent news and to suggest that feminism and women's equality are far from dead issues. There are still many arenas in which women have yet to achieve parity including politics, the pay scale, professional sports and many of our daily work environments. To all my ladies reading, I hope you take this small victory and use it as inspiration to keep up the good fight. And to the fellas, you've been warned.

Item Three: Don't like abortion? Don't have one.
This one I can barely even blog about it makes me so angry. Just when you think we've won a tiny victory like item two, the man seems to have a way of telling those of us with a vagina that we simply can't own it. In the real estate metaphor of sexual politics - it seems I often have a tenuous, illegal sublet situation going on with my own reproductive system and that certain legislators periodically swoop in to conduct raids as some perversely-motivated landlord of Cuntsville.
I guess that sage who said "if you're not angry, you're not paying attention," was right after all. Here's some sites if you want to take action:,,

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Recently, I Netflixed a DVD of Henry Rollins’ stand-up. I’ve always thought of him as the archetypal post-modern badass, what with his prodigious tattoos, swarming use of profanity mixed with SAT-worthy words and charmingly liberal politics. His persona is that of literate, hyper-aware, angry white guy which sharply contrasts with the mass of other angry white guys in the public light who generally espouse shtick on intellectual par with the average FM radio morning show.

Amid stories of ill-advised adventure on the Trans-Siberian Expressway, Rollins related his extreme devotion to keeping busy at all times. His rationale for this dogged devotion to activity is that if he slows down, he’ll delve deeply into introspection, realize his misery and his mid-life crisis will finally catch up to him. As someone borderline struggling with a self-indulgent, thinly-defined quarter-life crisis, I instantly related.

I’ve long said that having too much time on my hands equals bad; but I found in this former punk rocker an incredibly kindred spirit and some sage advice. “What doesn’t kill you makes you a funny mother fucker,” Rollins quipped and suddenly it all made sense.

In this strangely consoling worldview, my frequent feelings of general malaise of late are really just fantastic fodder for this blog and my readers’ collective entertainment. Maybe the daily insanity of my job, such as the regular discussions of tablecloth colors at meetings I helm, is a disguised blessing since it will surely yield treasure troves of bar-night stories. I’ve heard on more than one occasion that my dating stories are received with delight – though mostly by my friends who are either married or in long-term relationships. Maybe every bad date I endure is truly a gift to the world transfigured by my gift for bullshit and eloquence.

Either way, as another season and year (at least according to the Jews) slip away – it’s certainly cause for some bizarrely warped and yet refreshing optimism.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Because "Legally Brunette" doesn't have the same ring to it

Do you ever wonder if people suggest you should enter a specific career because it's either what they do or what they want to do? In "The Graduate," Benjamin was urged into the growing field of plastics, probably because Mr. McGuire had found some amount of personal satisfaction and monetary gain in the field of plastics. Likewise, I suspect my grandmother's sporadic suggestions that I become a lawyer stem partly to her own thwarted (the 1940s and the Nazis tended to derail women's dreams of the bar) career aspirations.
This advice comes with recognition of my opinionated nature and my lack of fear about voicing said opinions, and with praise of my ridiculous ability to memorize seemingly useless information. All skills that serve a lawyer well. However, my grandmother also knows I recently graduated with two master's degrees in fields wholly unrelated to law - she even went to my graduation ceremonies - and knows I have two years left on a commitment to working in Jewish federations.
My standard protests to her prodding include the financial (I never paid for undergrad or grad school so why start paying tuition now?), the chronological (I'll be 29 when I finish my existing indentured servitude, putting me a few years beyond the average first-year law student) and the self-preservational (why subject myself to endless lawyer jokes?). Beyond that, I simply have no interest in pursuing the legal professions.
All this career-based navel gazing has, well, made me navel gaze about what I really do want to do with my life. I do enjoy working for some sort of greater good, no matter how disconnected I sometimes feel from that lofty goal. So in the short term, I definitely see myself doing some sort of nonprofit, foundation or philanthropy-type job; likely with a development and fundraising focus. Beyond that - who knows?
My fanciful notions range from wine store owner (with my sister) to professional foodie to paint chip color namer (seafoam frost anyone?). With full understanding of my original statement that people often recommend either their own jobs or their optimal jobs to those soliciting career paths - anyone got some ideas for me???

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Why I hate shopping in Summer/Fall 2007

Read the tabloids while standing in line at the grocery store and you will notice that "the bump" is THE best fashion accessory these days. J-Lo has one and so does Angelina. Nicole Richie's has morphed into a full-blown bulge, but look back a few months into the People archives and you'll notices that subtle little bump curving over the top of her low-riders.
First it was heroin chic, then boho chic. Now it seems we've shifted our sartorial focus from the drug addicts and trust-funders to the nascent soccer moms.
Numerous dressing room encounters over the past few months have convinced me that I am not the only woman in America who looks 3-months pregnant in all the latest tops available at the local mall. It appears that some bizarre consortium of designers (no doubt led by the evil Mugatu) got together and decided to take their inspiration from Katherine Heigl's wardrobe in "Knocked Up" and have unleashed a torrent of empire waists and flowing mumu-esque concoctions upon the world.
Having reconciled my recent sexual past and having regained some modicum of my self-esteem, I have conclusively determined I am NOT pregnant and am now left wondering why clothing manufacturers would have me believe otherwise. Sure, it's great to give all those women who are pregnant some additional clothing options, but does our collective fertility have to be called into question as a sacrifice?
While I've never had someone ask me if I've got a bun in the oven when I don't, I can only guess it is an unpleasant and thoroughly embarassing experience. So why force many women (and the general public) into awkward social situations? Is the empire waist garment the stirrup pant or unitard of the new millenium? A cruel joke by the fashion designers to find out just how stupid women are willing to make themselves look? Or, as my cyncial tendencies would have me believe, is it just another example of society forcing women back into their bygone role of barefoot maternity?
We burned our bras in the 1970s protesting those who would try to restrain us. We asserted ourselves and literally took up more room in the 1980s with our shoulder pads, proving we could fight with the "big boys" in the boardroom. Now in the 21st Century the pendulum has swung to the other side with a parade of baby-doll dresses that help women remember the clanging biological clock that we've neglected these past years, what with our careers and ambitions.
As you head out to conquer all those Labor Day sales, be sure to stash your family planning calendar in your ginormous purse, you might need it to determine if that telltale bump is due to bad fashion or an impending bundle of joy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Name Game

Let me start with a disclaimer - I am not getting married any time in the near future (unless Tyson Beckford converts in the next few weeks, moves to New Jersey and develops an affection for mouthy, zaftig Jewish girls), but still this entire idea of name and identity fascinates me. So, why not blog about it?
For centuries of human existence we didn't even have last names. We were Dina bat Leah, Sadaam from Tikrit or Lothar of the Hill People. Somewhere along the line, there got to be too many of us so we started using last names to differeniate between all those Jennifers and Williams running around. And, the world being what it is somehow linked those names to men and assumed women would be more than pleased to take their chosen (or not-so-chosen) man's name upon marriage.
Rich people, being rich and all, didn't always think these rules applied to them and plenty wealthy broads kept using their "maiden" names, with or without their husband's names. Then the 1970s and women's lib brought Peggy Guggenheim's bright idea to the masses and 30 years later, young women across America struggle with what exactly to name themselves.
This past weekend, I had a conversation with my cousin, an Orthodox Jew since birth, whose serene ability to accept patriarchy and feel comfortable with her uniquely feminine role I both envy and fear. She said that when you get married, you naturally give up a bit of yourself (i.e. your name, sometimes your job and sometimes your hometown), and if it's the "right guy" it's a small sacrifice. My mother, who despite her attendance at Woodstock gladly changed her name to my father's, said that one's name is not the only mark of one's self. There's also the voices who say it's easier on the kids, on various bureaucratic forms and - as I know from professional experience - on socioreligious institutions whose databases and short-term memories cannot always comprehend multiple last names per household.
OK, these are valid reasons and if you're a married woman reading this post and you changed your name on one or more of these grounds, cool. It doesn't really offend me or raise my feminazi hackles, I just don't know if it jibes for me.
Truth be told, I've said many a time that I don't even like my last name. For those readers who happen not to be personal friends, my last name fits nicely in front of the word "toe" and after the words, "scud," "nuclear," or "heat-seeking." It wasn't a fun time in the fifth grade being chubby and having the first President Bush invade Iraq with explosive projectiles more popularly referred to by a word homophonic with my last name. However, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around changing it to someone else's. On that note, I have also blatantly refused to change my name to one worse than my own such as Lipschitz or Weiner.
The entire semantics buried into this issue even bothers me. Why say I'm loyal to my "maiden" name? At 27, I don't think my mother will blush at the notion that I'm no longer a maiden.
Further blurring the boundaries is the revelation that our name has only been in my family for about three or four generations. Like many Jews, neither side of my family tree has a last name that goes back further than a few branches and at Ellis, everything inevitatbly changed. So is there a sense of loyalty to my father at the root of this nomenclature problem? I guess not.
More than anything, I think it comes down to a sense of equality in marriage. Why should I be the one to go through the hassle of a new driver's license, passport, social security card and email address when he goes right along as if nothing happened? Why am I as the female expected to sacrifice a sense of my identity - risking envelopes addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jim Smith where I don't even get a first name?
I have plenty of friends who've gone the triple name route and some who have simply kept the names they were born with. My aunt, a well-known cardiologist, uses her name professionally, but doesn't mind the occasional letter using her husband's last name with her first name.
As for me, I like to think out of the box. Maybe we'll combine names - I always liked being an M in the middle of the alphabet. Or maybe we'll just pick a new one. I can just imagine the Seinfeldian response when my white, Jew-fro'd spouse and I arrive at a restaurant claiming the 8 p.m. reservation assigned to the Chang Family.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Back in the Garden State

After a week in Mexico, five days in Chicago and two-and-a-half in New York City, I have finally returned to Jersey for a stretch of at least a week. To those of you who read my blog for its scintillating political commentary and searing indictments of our modern dating system - I apologize for veering off into travel journal these past few weeks. When you're alone in a non-English speaking country, it helps to jot down some thoughts in your mother tongue.
Hopefully with the last dregs of summer upon us, I will have more than a few opportunities to comment on current events, update you on my love life (truth be told I can give you the high points of that right now: dating sucks when you have no chemistry with the guy, professional conferences rock when you do have chemistry with the guy, and half-Dominican, half-Honduran bartenders can be really hot!), and generally rant about the state of our society.
Thanks for reading and check back soon!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Last Day

It's the last night of my vacation in Cancun and while I'm not overwhelmingly stoked to return to work in 36 hours, I am most definitely ready to come home. I feel disenheartened to complain so much about this trip for which I invested a great deal of time, money, energy and enthusiasm. To all those who treated my pronouncement of a solo vacation with awed epithets and adulations of bravery, I feel almost humbled. Sure, I made the bold choice to take this trip and fling myself in, full of unbridled spunk as I do in so many of my life's endeavors.
Given the description of my accomodations by my travel agent - great location, lots of singles, built-in activities - all the variables should have fallen into place with a few "alone days" sandwiched by outings to local drinking establishments with my new-found, if temporary friends. Unfortunately and rather cruely, this did not come to pass. My hotel is located far from Cancun's many nocturnal attractions, making a late-night bus trip back alone potentially dangerous. Additionally, the hotel seems to attract mostly couples, either on a honeymoon or another type of getaway that makes 3rd or 5th wheeling awkward. While I have met some good people, spending time with them occurs by pure happenstance. No one has made solid plans with me, meaning the choice of eating alone or with live humans depend solely on timing.
Making my hotel even more frustrating is the sudden appearance of scores of children, white trash (complete with mullets) and scantily-clad Italians (travelling in co-ed packs, meaning no Paolo for this Rachel). While the basic rules of human harmony prevent me from castigating the latter two groups, the hotel's supposed "adults only" policy gives me plenty of room to gripe about the prescence of rugrats, rapper poseur tweens, crying babies and unwanted pool splashers.
In the interest of learning from my own mistakes and of helping you, dear reader, avoid making your vacations anything less than fabulous, I offer a few quick travel tips:
1. RESEARCH! Read, check everything out on the Internet, make some calls, ask some friends and then read some more.
2. Always wear sunscreen.
3. Remember that "all-inclusive" is a relative term.
4. Approach boats, motorized vehicles and escalators with appropriate caution and respect.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lesson Learned

Blogger's note: The computer ate this post the last time I typed it up and I've been out of town for a few days so it has taken me a while to catch up. Only one or two more left from Cancun, I promise!

There are times when even the most rebellious among us must concede that our mothers were right about something... never talk to strangers.
Tonight I made a little excursion downstairs to find out if my calling card worked. It didn't, so I made a stop at the bar because I'd seen someone there who I'd met earlier in the week. My acquaintance was talking to some guy I hadn't seen yet and who was both a little drunk and very European. It was quickly mentioned that I am single which was both slightly embarrassing and rather inconvenient. The dude, who's half-Polish, half-German and inexplicably speaks Spanish, speaks very limited English but knows enough to randomly invite me to his brother's home in Spain. He also begins to quiz me about my dating status. In light of the fact that he kept touching my arm, hip and shoulder, I quickly invented a boyfriend. "Why is he not here with you?" he asked."Oh, well I planned this trip 6 months ago and I've only been seeing this guy for about 2 months so it was too late for him to make plans," I quickly replied, mentally patting myself on the back for such quick thinking.
"Do you think he is the one?" he inquired. Drawing on my Spanish skills, I said, "Vamos a ver, we'll see."
He then asked, "Will you go directly to the priest for a blessing when you get home?"
In Spanish, I answered that I'm not Catholic and that I'm a Jew.
He literally backed off about six feet. This, not the revelation that I have a boyfriend is what finally got him out of my face. Already plotting my escape, he proceeds to call my fictitious boyfriend a “pussy.” Of course, he knows this English epithet.
Here I draw the line and to quote Carrie Bradshaw, I can’t have anyone talking shit about my boyfriend. I thank him for the company and hightail it out of there.
Comfortably ensconced in my hotel room with Saturday Night Live reruns, I wanna give a little shout out to my mom who taught me to never talk to stranger. Happy Birthday Mom!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Dia Cinco: La Isla Bonita

Still on detox from an overly ambitious meals in downtown Cancun, I ate a granola bar, OJ and one of those Dannin Activia drinks in my room rather than putting my body through another morning of fried food and processed fruit at the buffet. Satisfied by the bounty of the local 7-11 equivalent, I headed out to Isla Mujeres.
I got thoroughly snookered by the tour operators into taking this excursion for $60 on their boat versus jumping on the $8 public ferry as I'd originally planned. Despite the cost, there were some positive outcomes. On the pleasure boat ride over, I met two guys my age from LA. Though they never got my real name and spent most of the day under the impression that I had come to Cancun with friends who were back at the hotel pool, they became great traveling companions. We quickly decided our docking site and its attractions were too family-oriented and too hot, so we eventually got a taxi into town and rented mopeds.
All my readers who know me personally can attest to my klutziness and incapacity to grasp anything too technical (ironically, I AM coordinated enough to African dance). Therefore, it should come as no surprise that early into my moped excursion, I jumped a curb and fell off the bike, seriously bruising my legs below the knee and getting a nasty cut. This, just as my shins had finally recovered from December's infamous escalator incedent!
Despite this initial setback, I got the hang of things and had a great time cruising around the five-mile island, stopping to take pictures with my new friends, visit one last set of Mayan ruins and feel the island breeze.
Friday evening, I magically timed my dinner in the hotel buffet to coincide with many of the people I've met so far. I pulled up a chair to eat with one couple and then traipsed around the dining room to chat with other friends as they chomped down copious amounts of shrimp and plasticine-tasting cake.
After dinner, we cruised up to the outdoor bar and I finally slugged back enough watered-down Corona served in plastic cups to get a mild buzz. Rounds of stories about work, dating, high school football, bad movies and differences between British and American slang (a few guys were from England) followed, much to my conversationally-deprived delight. Though not the prototypical Cancun evening, I headed back to my room feeling for the first time on this vacation like I'd had a great night. This day and night were finally representative of the kind of vacation I'd anticipated.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dia Cuatro: Que Lastima

Apparently, even on vacation it's possible to have bad days. Today started well enough, breakfast at the hotel and then the pool and beach. I've tried to be a responsible tanner during this trip with plenty of SPF 45 applied multiple times daily. My best efforts failed me and I got burned quite a bit today. I'm holding out for this to turn pleasantly golden soon enough.
The brightside of staying at the hotel all day was that I saw the people I've already met and made some new friends. Plus, I got to speak English all day which was a welcome change.
From there, things have gone downhill. I've battled waves of nausea, had $40 stolen from my room (which the hotel staff doesn't seem to care much about), and on the way back from dinner, my sandal broke. It is currently held together by a staple and scotch tape arrangement worthy of McGuyver.
Because of the theft, I only have $20 US to last me for the rest of the trip and the ATMs here only give pesos. I've paid for a lot with my credit cards and luckily they haven't yet minded all the charges from Mexico.
Thus, at 8:30 p.m., I have (wisely) retired to my room to watch tv and order room service. Besides, tomorrow I'm off to Isla Mujeres.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dia Tres: La Ciudad

Today I decided to do some more sightseeing of the adventurous variety. Fortified by a random collection of breakfast foods, I set off for Ruinas del Rey a small Mayan site about 2 kilometers from my hotel. I didn't stick around too long since the site was full of iguanas who chased me and the extreme heat didn't help either.
I pressed on, this time by bus, to a big shopping center complete with a drugstore stocking cortisone for my mosquito bites, an Internet cafe and the nicest bathroom I've seen in Mexico. If you are ever in Cancun, I highly recommend Plaza Kukulkan.
My next stop was the Embarcadero and the Museo del Arte Popular. For $5 US, you get an audio guide (in the form of an old-school Walkman) and admission to this fascinating and charming museum of folk art from all over Mexico. The museum is sorted by object type: musical instruments, masks, nativity scenes, gourds, etc. The also have life-size scenes of pastoral Mexican life in the mercado, the home kitchen and the church. It's not a big space, but the collection is staggering. Here are some pics.
Another public bus ride takes me into downtown Cancun, which I am pretty much the only white person randomly walking around. As I mentioned earlier, my Spanish skills have proven invaluable and today they got put to the test since I had to ask no fewer than four people for directions to a restaurant I had read about in my guidebook. Specializing in Yucatanean cuisine, Labna lived up to its expectations, even though I was the only person in the restaurant at first. My waiter, Tomas, proved that Mexican hospitality is supreme and he even walked me through the kitchen in order to give me better directions to my next stop.
Market 28 is similarly hyped in the guide books as THE place for souvenirs and it sadly does not live up to the hype. It's one tacky shop after another and if you don't have the stomach to say no a lot and to haggle, then don't come. (Plus, I found out later that the bargains are sometimes better in the Hotel Zone.) Luckily, I can count in Spanish and have some balls so I found a few good gifts.
Desperately needing some lighter, healthier food, I retraced my steps to 100% Natural, a local chain of sandwich/smoothie/granola-type shops that has tons of vegetarian options. I got a snack and waited out the day's second rain shower. A short walk takes me to the appropriate bus and I make it back to the hotel in time to catch a few rays.
Now I'm relaxing with a little Mythbusters (in English!) before dinner and a possible dancing excursion. Tomorrow I'll finally channel my sister and have a lowkey day by the pool and beach... of course, I may still try to sneak in a trip to the gym.

Dia Dos

Tonight's entry is bound to be shorter because I've been up since 6:45 a.m. (no thanks to the wake up call I had requested for 6:30 but didn't get until 6:50), because it's now 12:30 a.m. and I've been up meeting new people AND because really bad porn is on TV.
Why get up so early? Today, I went to the Mayan ruins at Tulum which were amazingly set on cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The ruins are small compared to other sites in the Yucatan, but are still architecturally and archaeologically fascinating.
After Tulum, our bus went to Xel-Ha, a water park on steroids. Imagine Sunsplash, Raging Waters or whatever you had where you grew up with real, natural water, a picturesque setting and free Mexican food! You can go tubing down a river, snorkel, play with dolphins and snuba which is some bizarre combo of snorkeling and scuba that I declined to try.
Since I'm not such a fan of swimming in non-chlorinated bodies of water, I opted for tubing and then lunch, a massage and a little laying out. Everything was great and I was the most relaxed that I've been in ages... until I realized that my massage exposed me to crazy mosquitos who took advantage of my partially clothed status and bit me! Sadly, the most action I've gotten on this trip is having the first aid guy at Xel-Ha dab antiseptic and cortisone on the top of my right breast. Fun!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Shtetl Fabulosa en Mexico!

Just a preface.... the next several posts are all dispatches I wrote while in Cancun. I've tried to back date them appropriately, starting with "today" - July 16 - my first day away. If you have no interest in my vacation travels and only read this blog for my rants on race and a few good laughs at the expense of my love life, then come back in a week or two. I should be up to something new by then.

Well it's about the end of my first day in Cancun and I've learned a few things. One, my originally buoyant enthusiasm has been somewhat dampened bt the ubiquitous humidity and the absent A/C in my hotel's lobby. Two, I found the hotel staff doesn't always tell you critical pieces of information. Such as: you have to make dinner reservations several hours in advance. In order to receive a towel, you need a towel card, but the hotel only has towels until around 5:30 p.m. Three, the Casa Bonita episode of South Park is even funnier in Spanish. Four, I remember quite of bit of my high school Spanish which is great for watching South Park. It was also useful during dinner tonight with my new Mexican friends from the city of Monterrey. Leave it to me to find the one fag and hag posse in my hotel. This is actually a boon since my new amigo Pedro speaks enough English to make up for my Spanish, and of course, thinks I'm fabulous.
Thankfully, the exchange rate is approximately $1 US to 10 pesos which is good because while my Spanish has evolved, my math skills never really got past junior year and have certainly deteriorated since.
The people here have been mostly nice, though the copious married couples are a little less friendly. Tomorrow I'm off to the Mayan ruins at Tulum and snorkeling at the Xel-Ha water park. The tour operator told me my travel companions are four guys - this should be interesting.
So far, my solo status has been met with varying degrees of disbelief, but not outright horror. On two occasions, Mexican men have asked me if I am married or have a boyfriend. When I say no, they say why. I reply as my grandfather taught me, "Because."
Also, I have been using my new identity as "Ava" so far. It's a little tough to remember my own name, but I am enjoying the oppportunity to experiment with being someone else. Who knows how long it will last, but who cares? I'm on vacation!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

South of the Border

As many of you know, I'm off to Cancun tomorrow for a much needed (and solo) vacation. It's my first time traveling alone and I'm taking only a carry-on bag and a backpack for a week-long expedition. Hopefully, I will come home with plenty of stories, new friends, minimal sun damage and enough fodder for a few good blog spots. Have a great week everyone!

Monday, July 9, 2007


I'm going to start off this post with a disclaimer - if the comedic works of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Sara Silverman, or Carlos Mencia offends you deeply then stop reading now. I can't promise that I will be as eloquent as these people have been about issues of race in our society, but I am gonna drop a few "n-bombs."
Today, the NAACP held a symbolic burial for the word "nigger." Citing centuries of whites using the term to racially disparage blacks and blacks using the term to denigrate themselves, the NAACP chose a formal funeral procession, complete with coffin and headstone, as a way to end their use of the word.
I don't want anyone to interpret my comments as racist, and I am 100% in favor of black Americans claiming the dignity and respect they deserve as citizens of humanity. That said, I have a really tough time with the outright elimination of a word from our common usage. First, as the Daily Show pointed out - rappers simply need "nigger" for their lyrics. Case in point from Kanye West... "I ain't sayin' she a gold digger, but she ain't goin' for no broke..." I mean, "bum" doesn't really have the same effect.
Every racial and ethnic groups has various epithets, slurs and insider terms that when used within the group bear greater social acceptance then when used outside. For example, Jews using the term Heeb as the title of a magazine, good. The KKK calling us kikes, bad.
Spike Lee created one of the most powerful racial films with "Do the Right Thing," and its montage of really damn hateful speech culminated with a good ol' fashioned riot. It got us talking about the words we use to describe ourselves and others rather than silencing people and wrapping them in a fuzzy little blanket of ignorance. Back in the 1970s, Mel Brooks created his genius work, "Blazing Saddles," that likewise skewered blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Native Americans and whites - with the latter group hilariously enduring the greatest abuse. What do we learn? Racism CAN be funny and if we lose sight of that, we lose a bit of ourselves.
Finally, words are simply collections of letters strung together until humans embue them with meaning, power, significance, shame or glory. They may go out of style, they make take on implications of badness, but rarely are they stricken from the record OR the dictionary (and yes, nigger is in the dictionary). When we ban words or make them "dirty," we give them the extra power of the forbidden. So what to do about nigger? Or for that matter - chink, spic, WOP, towel head, fag and Republican? While I have no intention about spewing them out the next time I pass a playground, I'm not throwing out my copy of "Straight Outta Compton" either.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Catch my Disease

No, this isn't a post about Michael Moore's latest opus, Sicko, though if you're looking for an interesting and appropriately skeptical review of that movie, check out this article: Rather, this is just a little post about the ridiculousness of today's globe-spanning Live Earth concerts.
Billed as 24-hours of self-righteous pop starts blathering about climate change on all 7 continents, including a performance for an audience of penguins in Antarctica, apparently this one day and concert will magically change the world, turn back the clock of impending global warming doom and make everyone under the age of 30 a blissful little environmentalist. Yeah, and Woodstock ended Vietnam. Oh, and We are the World really ended all those starvation problems in Africa.
Forgive my sarcasm, but wouldn't the planet have been better served if everyone hadn't driven themselves to the damn concert?! While it's great to hope to enlighten a whole generation and pray for the best, they aren't the policymakers, they aren't the "deciders," and they don't vote! Personally, I am doing my part today by not driving to Giant Stadium. And one last thing - stop saying Live Earth North America is happening in New York. This is Jersey, people, and if I gotta rep the Garden State, then so do you Al Gore.

Friday, June 29, 2007

A Year in the Life

As I reach the first anniversary of my moving to New Jersey, I feel compelled to look back and examine what has happened in my life during the past year. It’s a Jewish thing. However, this being a blog and not a Hebrew school class, I’ve decided to focus my reflective post on some of the high(low)lights of my recent dating past. All dates have received nicknames to protect their innocence, though sometimes I don’t know why.

August 2006: Three dates in one week, and I whittle the field down to Jersey Guy. Nice enough, balding a bit, but he owns a condo and seems to dig me. Things progress along over the next few weeks, I meet his friends, we hit the shore, celebrate his birthday. Then, he drives me to the train station. As a “When Harry Met Sally” devotee, I should have known better. But, I am dumb and so I’m not terribly surprised by an awkward email breakup message in my inbox that Tuesday.

October 2006: Best date EVER with Graphic Designer Guy who lives in Brooklyn, digs Ethiopian food, is well read, has a great relationship with his parents, is employed and artistic. After another, more lukewarm date 5 weeks later, I never hear from him again.

December 2006: My date with Homophobe Guy is over before it even starts. We have plans for Friday and Thursday night we are chatting on IM. I excuse myself to go watch TV, telling him, “I’m going to go watch the gayest show on television.” This is a direct quote from me. He never asks what show and I don’t volunteer the information. The next day (i.e. the day we are scheduled to go out) he sends me an email saying he doesn’t want to meet because he “doesn’t like how I used the word gay.” Little does he know the show in question was “Queer as Folk.”

January 2007: A new year, a new resolve to “get out there.” My initiative is cruelly rewarded with a date that has ever since been referred to as The Rabbit Guy. No, not the rabbit made famous by Sex and the City. These were actual rabbits. Two of them. And they roamed freely in the basement of this guy’s grandmother’s house. Oh, and he slept on the hide-a-bed similarly located below ground. That afternoon, I suffered through lunch at a steakhouse (I don’t eat non-kosher meat) and awkward drink at a coffee shop. He calls the next week to ask me out, and luckily I get his voice mail when I tell him I never want to see him again.

March 2007: Tattooed and Jew’d Guy is sensitive (his tattoo says “strength” in Hebrew) and according to a co-worker he’s a really nice guy. Though we meet on JDate and he now lives in Central Jersey, he’s from the area so I figure the reference speaks well for him. Two awesome dates, including one where he brings his dog over to my place, and I never hear from him again. Detecting a pattern?

The next few months play host to a cast of characters that rivals the best chick flick montage. There’s Beige Guy, Indian Guy, Doorman Guy, McJewy, and my personal favorite Overly Flirtatious Orthodox Brotha Man Guy.

As I head into Summer 2007, a few prospects are lingering on the horizon. In a rare feat of optimism, I’m going to refrain from mentioning them here… for now. Maybe one of these guys will want to stick around and I will actually want him to. Or maybe he’ll have some bizarre aversion to the color yellow. You never know.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Going green

I'm a little late for Earth Day, but I saw this article today and it put me in an environmentally conscious mood...
Apparently, those good ol' liberals in San Francisco have decided to ban bottled water (even in water coolers) from all municipal buildings because of the amount of waste created when people throw away water bottles AND because of the gallons of oil it takes to truck in the bottles.
With everyone in the US lately waking up the environmental disaster we've engendered in the last several decades, I figured I would offer my own little ecoconscious tip sheet. Nothing too "off the grid," or radical, I hope. Please feel free to add your own suggestions.

1. Recycle. Yeah, we've been hearing it since grade school, but here are some easy ways to do it. Use a mug for your morning joe at work instead of a styrofoam cup. Reuse your plastic bags at the grocery store. Hell, Whole Foods will give you cash back for bringing in your own bags.

2. Reduce that carbon footprint. Netflix saves you from driving to the store. Put your car in park when you're waiting (say in an another stupid jughandle). OK, carpooling can be a pain in the ass. At the same time, so is 100 degrees in April. If you can't manage to plan with a friend, then live closer to work, use public transit or WALK.

3. Drive with the windows down instead of using the AC. It does save on gas, as does keeping your tire pressure in check. Mythbusters has proven this one, thought I don't recommend it for my Arizona friends.

4. Damnit if those funny-looking lightbulbs don't work! They are actually worth the investment because they last forever and I swear my electric bill has gone down.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Health Update

Thank you everyone for all your kind thoughts and prayers these last few days. My grandmother is still in the hospital but she is recovering well from her surgery. Hopefully in the next few weeks she will achieve a full recovery.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Say a little prayer

Over the next few days, please keep my grandmother (Liba bat Rivka/Susan Schaffer) in your thoughts and prayers. She is having back surgery on Thursday to hopefully correct a sciatica problem that is causing her significant pain.
While I don't plan to make this blog so personal in the long term, I am extremely close with my grandmother and figure she can use all the positive energy she can get. Thank you!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Let's Talk about Sex

Get out your law books, go to "miscarriage of justice," and you're likely to find this story.
To summarize the story - a 15-year-old girl gives a 17-year-old boy a consensual blow job at a party that is caught on videotape. Both teens are black and the act occurs in Georgia, not exactly a state known for its progressive policies on sex or anything else. In hyperinflated response to a new law on aggravated child molestation, the 17-year-old honor student and athlete is given a mandatory 10-year sentence. To date, he has served two years and Georgia passed a new "Romeo and Juliet" law that would exonerate the young man but the Attorney General in Georgia has appealed his release.
You can get caught up on where the story is at by clicking on the link above, but here's some musings on the whole balagan. ...
What if they hadn't videotaped it?... What if they were white?... What if he was black but the girl was white?... Why, if the state has admitted there are problems with the conviction to the extent of enacting a law that would free the young man, have they not released him?... Where is our nation headed in terms of sexual politics, sexual expression, sexual aggression?... Are we too oversexed or are we still Puritans who merely allow sex into certain regulated areas?... Why do we market shockingly sexual lyrics and lingerie to teens (see Victoria's Secret Pink line if you don't believe me) and then act so surprised when they choose to have sex?!... What might come next?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My cousin rocks!

I think this is as close as any family member of mine will make it to being on Page 6.
If you go to the second page and scroll all the way down to the last item, you can read about my Cousin Phillip and his wife Solveig who are currently working in Iraq. Those who've known me for a while might remember these relatives from their bout in Budapest where their accomodations were quite nicer and there was no irrational, unjustified war going on.
I'm not going to launch into some anti-war rhetoric, since if you're reading this blog, you probably hate the war too. All I ask is that you keep my family and all the other soldiers, government personnel, clergy members, volunteers, journalists, contractors and peaceful citizens of Iraq in your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Welcome to my blog!

I'm a Southwestern girl trying to make it on the East Coast. A white girl testing the boundaries of race and identity. A wannabe iconoclast working within the establishment. A Jewish woman negotiating between modernity and tradition. And meanwhile looking for "someone to love," in the immortal words of Freddie Mercury.

Hopefully you and three other readers I have will identify with something I've written and my rantings and life events will touch a nerve somewhere in the blogosphere. Enjoy!