Sunday, June 29, 2008

American History 1863

The parking lot at the Gettysburg National Military Park is completely full when I arrive. I turn down the local radio station oddly enough it's blasting Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and I enter the 6,000 acre complex that bore witness to the bloodiest battle of the Civil War (July 1-3, 1863). Up to 51,000 Americans from the Union and Confederate armies lost their lives in the battle and the site was almost instantly memorialized by Abraham Lincoln with the infamous Gettysburg Address in November 1863.

This sense of making Gettysburg into the epitome of historical markers lives on today in a strange stew of kitchy nostalgia and honest reverence. A host of parents, children, senior citizens in scooters and sullen teenagers wander into the brand new Visitors Center "Refreshment Saloon" to dine on inspiringly good burgers (according to the brochure) and to absorb the copious air-conditioning.

Clearly, I made a mistake thinking I could just pop into Gettysburg, snap a few pictures, score some souvenirs and pay my respects. Gettysburg is a day unto itself - complete with a 30-minute feature film entitled, "A New Birth of Freedom," narrated by none other than Morgan Freeman and costing $8. After lunch and a movie, you have several options for exploring the battlefield, by car, bus or on foot - all of which I missed because they take about 2 1/2 hours.

With people to see and parties to attend down in Maryland, I hastily left Gettysburg, but not before cruising the aforementioned gift shop. An unassuming and kinda cute Army officer on leave from nearby Aberdeen Proving Grounds invited me to lunch after making casual conversation in the poster aisle, but I declined and focused on the magnets instead.

For myself, I scored another bumper sticker, expertly placed to conceal the many nicks on my car that bad parallel parking has wrought. For the host and hostess with the mostest who kindly put me up, I bought a deck of Civil War Battlefield playing cards. While we didn't play poker at last night's gathering, I know whenever they do, I hope they'll think of me and the day I almost went to Gettsyburg.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Shh... It's a Secret

On the advice of more than one friend, I recently read the much-hyped self-help book of the moment, The Secret. Please note, I borrowed this book from one of the aforementioned friends and I read the entirety of the book on the 9:11 NJ Transit train from Penn Station to Morristown.

Rooted in the age-old law of attraction, The Secret asserts you can have all that you desire in life simply by focusing on positive thoughts. Likewise, negative thoughts can bring about illness, accidents and other crap.

Featuring a whopping 2,168 customer reviews on Amazon, clearly this book must be helping some people. While I won't argue with the concept that giving good spin to life's inevitable bummers makes one generally happier, I can't buy into the notion of preventing those bummers from ever happening because of my thoughts. I have certainly taken some of the book's recommendations to heart and now when I start worrying that I will end up alone and with "no mans," I instead start to conjure up my vision of some happy partnership with a wonderful man who loves me and makes me chocolate-covered strawberries and crepes on a regular basis.

But then there are the downsides to the book. The part that says overweight people are overweight is because they, "think fat thoughts," didn't exactly make me smile. Clearly, the plethora of authors (and why does it take 20+ people to write a 150-page book???), are all svelte and simply think thin in order to burn off all those crepes their perfect partners served them.

Also, if you happened to have the insatiably shitty luck of being born in a third-world country, then just don't even bother to read The Secret. But, maybe you don't even need my warning because you're already dead since your negative thoughts have brought a military coup, tsunami or plague upon your nation. See, in The Secret, there are no accidents and no one is in the wrong place at the wrong time - their thoughts of generalized death and destruction have led them there. Nice, huh?

I hope that in the coming months, I can harness the good aspects of The Secret to make some positive changes in my life. However, I am also keeping in mind the sage wisdom of our recently and dearly departed George Carlin. "I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, 'Where's the self-help section?' She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Early Morning, April 4

Come on, children of the 80s, sing along with me... "Early mornin, April 4, shots ring out in the Memphis sky. Free at last, they look your life, they could not take your pride."

Thanks to the inimitable Bono, these words from U2 are ingrained in my mind so I can never forget the day and the location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed.

As a blogger who periodically writes about race, I would be remiss if I didn't in some way comment on the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination. Initially, I felt guilty that I was not able to post this piece on the day itself. Yet as that Friday wore on and as I heard countless mentions of the anniversary, my guilt diminished and now I think it's better to have held onto this post for a few months.

Too often, the media latches onto a cause or issue and barrages us with information until. we have little emotional choice besides rage or complacency. I am hard-pressed to find two states of being less compatible with the legacy of Dr. King than rage or complacency. Rather, by hanging onto this post for the past few months, I hope to achieve something far more in synch with what Dr. King preached - I hope to bring about awareness, to remove ambivalence, to incite action.

One need not look deep into the psyche of America in 2008 to realize race is still a volatile, visceral and immediate issue we all encounter. Today's Washington Post and MSNBC featured an article reporting that nearly 50 percent of Americans believe race relations are in bad shape and three in 10 acknowledge feelings of racial prejudice. And while 51 percent of people described race relations as "excellent" or "good," that's an average across all people - when you break down people's perceptions by their race, it becomes apparent that white people still take a much sunnier view on the state of our nation than do racial minorities.

As Barack Obama shifts to a national campaign for president, it's high time we all look at ourselves and our neighbors and recognize that while we've come a long way, we still have a bumpy road ahead of us on the journey to actual interracial understanding. And with increased immigration and migration among Hispanics and Asians, that great big melting pot is going to get stirred around quite a bit more before it all becomes something palatable.

I scanned Wikipedia for some special connection June 22 might have to the idea of race relations and actually came up with a few (albeit slightly random) connections. One, today is St. Thomas More's feast day and he created the idea of a "utopia." Of course, in this worldview any challenge to unified Christianity (aka Protestantism) was keenly rejected, so he may not be the best example. June 22nd also marks the death of Judy Garland who sang about a perfect life over the rainbow. Then again, she died of an accidental drug overdose.

Maybe the best connection to the legacy of Dr. King lies in that fount of great wisdom, my friend and yours, James Brown, who always reminded us to "Say it loud - I'm Black and I'm proud."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Introducing Mr. Ambassador

I've long said that my cousin Philip takes all the pressure off of me to be the family overachiever. Well today he really has a chance to prove it as he will be confirmed this afternoon as the U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia, provided the junior senator from the State of Maryland Ben Cardin (and fellow BHU alum) is in a good mood. Check it out here.

For all of you who don't know where Macedonia is, I've got a little info here from the good people at Wikipedia. All the countries in the former Yugoslavia are very happenin' right now, so book the next flight to Skopje, Dubrovnik or Belgrade and tell my cousin hi!

Congratulations to Philip and to his good buddy Tina - I can't wait to come visit.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bloggin' Birthday

Well, it's somewhat belated, but happy birthday to the wonderful (albeit virtual) world of Shtetl Fabulous! My blog celebrated its first anniversary without me on June 12. I'm told a whole host of people were invited to Il Cantinori and unlike some people, they actually showed up and paid for the $75 birthday cake.

Since I missed the actual day, I wanted to give an official shoutout to my blog and to all my readers. Thank you for indulging me every few days with coming to visit and to read about what's happening in my world. An extra big thank you to my loyal commentors - it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to see comments. What can I say, I'm an oldest child and I like attention?!

But seriously, a year ago, I began writing in this forum as a bit of catharsis and creative exercise because I no longer had to write essays and term papers on a regular basis. A year later, I have hit a record 30 visitors in one day and receive about 300 visitors each month. I'm trying to get cross-listed on more sites, so if you have one and wanna link up, comment and give me your URL!

I hope you've enjoyed reading my rants and observations as much as I've loved writing them. I've tried to make Shtetl Fabulous a unique place in the blogosphere where politics mixes with fashion and pop culture in an irreverent tone and featuring well-written prose... or at least that's what I was going for.

Leave your birthday wishes, future post suggestions and any feedback you so desire. I'll put it all together in a scrapbook I'm sure my blog will love.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Food Fight

Tonight marks the finale of Bravo's fourth season of Top Chef - the foodie's answer to Project Runway that perhaps also makes a bit more room for heterosexual men to like a show on Bravo. Even though I often can't eat the dishes the competitors make (last week's all-pork episode was a little tough on my kosher diet), I find myself tuned in on Wednesday nights as these epicurean craftsmen and women battle it out under grueling circumstances and given formidable odds.

Though what strikes me more than anything about the show, more than the time constraints, more than the drama between chefs, more than host Padma Lakshimi's scar is the potential impact Top Chef may have already made on the American menu. We've come a long way since the days of Julia Child and even since the more recent adventures of Emeril Lagasse.

Now anyone who gets cable can learn about such foodstuffs as sweetbreads, yuzu and ras el hanout that previously may have been reserved for those with big budgets and access to the finest restaurants. Beyond access and knowledge of "premium" or "ethnic" ingredients, Top Chef also brings highly sophisticated cooking methods into our living rooms, the likes of which would make Ferran Adria (the Spanish chef who innovated molecular gastronomy) proud.

Admittedly, I have yet to see all these effects trickle down to the chain restaurant or average neighborhood grocery store, but when you look at the show and then look at other phenomena like the locavore movement or the greater diversity of recipes in cooking magazines and across the Web - you know something is happening.

As I publish this post, the final episode is set to air in one short hour. Will Richard, Stephanie or Lisa (hooray for women having the upper hand!) have a profound impact on the food culture and eating habits of the American public? It could happen. And as Napoleon once said, "A revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets." Maybe this revolution will come at the point of a chef's knife.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Reflections, Revelations and Regrets

I felt it even as I got off the plane at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport on Friday afternoon. No, not just elation over the celebrity sighting on my flight (none other than Terrence Howard). It was something more than nostalgia but not as weighty as dread. Cautious excitement probably best encapsulates the whole smorgasbord of emotions rolling around in my head and stomach as I faced my high school reunion.

Buttressed by afternoon manicure/pedicures with fellow alumnae, dressed to accentuate my best assets and fortified by a few pre-party drinks, our motley crew of six Toros and two spouses ventured to the Phoenix Zoo on Saturday evening. We were greeted by former student council representatives who weren't actually members of our class which made me very glad to never have served on the student council. They handed us nametags, a bridal shower-esque bingo game with a matrix of questions asking if we had graduated from college or had three children and ballots for voting on the most successful, least changed and overall biggest overachiever from among our classmates.

Predictably, I refused the ballots and bingo games and went into the ballroom to select a table. Our location had to be strategic – not too far from the door or else we could not escape at critical moments, but also close to the all-important bar – our group found a good location and began the unenviable task of mingling. Being a natural schmoozer, I took to the room of people like Carrie Bradshaw at a Manolo sample sale.

Maybe I've been watching too much Top Chef, but I failed to see the connection between the zoo location and our chuckwagon-inspired menu. Was the mac-n-cheese a cheap side dish or a highly-thoughtout throwback to our lunch lady days? Also, I found the door prizes baffling. I won the dubious honor of having traveled the farthest to attend the reunion and my reward was two gift certificates to a local salon and full-size bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Since I only have a carry-on bag, my friend reaped the benefits of the TSA's draconian 3-ounce rule. Mesa, Arizona is hardly the birthplace of irony so I still wonder if this gift was planned or not.

As the night wore on, I careened between balding jocks, pregnant (or just plump) cheerleaders, reformed stoners and several rounds of red wine, my former unease yielded some bonafide joy. I got lots of compliments and avoided any awkward moments. Many of the hardfast clique boundaries had softened during the past decade and I was able to engage in nice conversations with classmates from all points on the life achievement and high school status spectrums. (Note: these two measures usually have an inverse proportion.)

Of all these quick catchups, I found my chat with a former wrestling champ who I had always found kinda cute the most inspiring. Back in 1999, he suffered a workplace injury that left him blind and he now uses a cane and seeing-eye dog to get through life. Rather than allowing this accident to make him bitter, he truly believes that it (and anything else that doesn't kill us) only makes him appreciate what he has. He might never read this blog, but I hope Geno knows that he was a major highlight of the reunion for me.

Falling into the regret category are all the people who did not or could not make it. The could nots I fully understand and really hope to catch up with in the months ahead. Being nine months pregnant, living really far away, attending your medical school graduation or suffering from uncontrollable vomiting are absolutely viable excuses and those who fall into this category know who they are. Then there are the others who live in the Phoenix area and yet decided not to go for no other reason than being "too cool" or, dare I assert, too fearful. I'm definitely disappointed about these cases and I hope the coming weeks and months bring them out of the woodwork because I'd really love to catch up.

In the end, I guess the old adage about nothing to fear but fear itself really does apply. All my neuroses about facing up my 18-year-old self and her peers quickly vanished and for better or worse nothing majorly dramatic or juicy happened at the reunion (as far as I know). There could have been some illicit makeout sessions behind the zoo and I suppose there was a minor controversy when a girl who was crowned rodeo queen eight years ago emerged as the most successful female, but that pales in comparison to the crazy things my imagination had cooked up.

Maybe you can go home again, as long as you accept the past for what it was and give yourself a little freedom to be who you are in the present. Just be sure to look the part.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Reunion Playlist

I don’t generally write posts like this, but so much of my high school experience (and probably everyone’s) was shaped by music. So in honor of my high school reunion and all my fellow Toros from the Class of 1998, here’s a little playlist. Feel free to add, make dedications and serenade me on Saturday.

Caress Me Down – Sublime (best when danced to in Mamata’s living room)

Shorty Wanna Be a Thug, Wonder Why they Call You Bitch, Seven Deadly Criminals – TuPac (why did my crew of suburban white, Indian, Persian and Jewish friends LOVE this album so much?)

Bulls on Parade – Rage Against the Machine and Going the Distance – Cake (must be accompanied by a Dodge Caravan outfitted with camouflage-painted cardboard as in our junior year Model U.N. float for the Homecoming parade)

Firestarter – Prodigy (dancing in a circle)

Whatever our prom song was because clearly it worked for a LOT of people in my class. There at least a dozen married couples among the alumni of my class and another eight to ten if you include people who married fellow Toros from classes a few years older or younger. I obviously missed the boat on this one, but happily so.

The entirety of One Fierce Beer Coaster by Bloodhound Gang (preferably while in a school-rental van that accidentally rear ends someone in Tucson)

Ice Ice Baby – Vanilla Ice (but only in the yearbook room and with everyone singing along)

The entire soundtrack to Can’t Hardly Wait (This movie came out about two weeks after I graduated and it just really encapsulated whatever je ne sais quois the Class of 1998 embodied across America)

Whatever random songs guys in my class played in their garage bands. Sophomore year I totally hung out with dudes who had their own band. Unfortunately, my groupie years involved no play.

And finally as a little shout out to multi-class unity… Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin to Fuck Wit (best danced to either in a black Infiniti G20 or in aforementioned living rooms)

So there you have it - a little musical trip down the quirky and slightly rocky memory lane that was my high school experience. Unlike my graduating class, it was relatively diverse and hopefully both the music and I will stand the test of time.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

It’s the Final Countdown!

Get your air guitars ready, because there are only 6 days left until this whole reunion thing jumps off, folks. As part of the somewhat neurotic countdown to my high school reunion, I pulled out my yearbook last night.

Once I got over the initial shock of facing my senior photo (really, why did people let me get that haircut?), I began reading the various dedications from acquaintances, long-lost junior high classmates, teachers and best friends.

Most of the people who signed my yearbook, I actually remember (apparently the memory advantage of waiting to smoke pot until college) and many I recalled fondly. Several made me feel a tinge of disappointment that we had lost touch almost instantly following graduation, even though they had given me their home phone numbers. A small part of me considered playing detective and calling their parents for current information, but I’ll wait until after the big day.

As I thumbed through the pages, a few common themes emerged. One, I’m super sweet, loud, fearless and should always stay that way. Two, I’m funny (No, really. I won most sarcastic in my class and everything.) . Apparently, I took this one to heart and have spent the past 9 ½ years building on that concept so I could produce this blog for your general amusement. Three, people seem to think I will achieve some modicum of success in this world.

Even though I had no idea where I was going to college as of graduation, my classmates still sensed that I would “go far” in life. Maybe they just meant the approximately 2400 miles separating my New Jersey address from my mom’s house in Arizona. My signers took it more literally – one suggested I would become a newspaper editor and another said I was “destined to be a wonderful, outspoken woman of the 21st Century.” Granted, she is now a lawyer.

So can people really figure you out in high school? If so, what do we spend all that money on therapy for in our 20s and 30s? Maybe we need to revisit a teeny taste of the past every once in a while to get a little guidance for the future. Or maybe these long-lost voices of encouragement (plus my best friends and a little liquid courage) are all I will need to get me through for another 10 years.