Saturday, July 26, 2008

Consider this a shameless plug for a certain coffee chain

It had all started at Starbucks, so it seemed only appropriate for it to end there too. OK, so technically we'd met in a bar, but our first date happened at Starbucks. There we were, unashamedly making out on the couch, oblivious to the other patrons and the cold outside, feeling like anything was possible.

Fast forward seven months and there he went, walking out past the sleek faux maple furniture, leaving me with the books and house keys he'd been holding onto far too long past the duration of our relationship. As I watched him push the door open, likely never to cross my path again, I could only think what a perfect post-modern end to it all.

There I sat alone, sipping the dregs of my iced tea and listening to some random world music, and all that occurred to me was that this Starbucks (like all Starbucks) has probably seen its share of perfect post-modern beginnings and endings over the years. I wondered how many other awkward exchanges, how many anxious first glances, how many final nails in the coffin had been hammered in over caramel macchiatos or the latest tune from Feist. Surely mine could not be the only relationship to be book-ended by sips from paper cups festooned with topless mermaids.

When we move or think about where we went to college, we build so many memories into that place. We remember where our little brother chipped his tooth or where we met our best friend and even where we were when we found out someone famous died. But what about those really anonymous places - like Starbucks - that play host to so many points in time both momentous and mundane to so many people? Do they hold on those memories the way that our houses do? Or do they release them quickly like a subway car, almost spontaneously vacant and ready to be refilled with someone else's life?

Luckily for me, only the Starbucks where our relationship began falls into a regular travel pattern of mine. I guess that makes me an optimist. Luckily for all of us, there's always another Starbucks right around the corner (yes, even despite the recently announced closures) for us to fill with new memories, new encounters, new experiences and even new relationships.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What I'm Reading, Watching, Doing - Redux

It's been a while since I've done one of these posts and since we're now in the throes of the summer heat, here's a little sampling of what's going on in the world and my life to hopefully cool you off.

WHAT I'M WATCHING... on the Internet
Yeah, I know it's been ALL over the place, but I can't resist the sheer happy stuff that comes with watching those "Where the Hell is Matt?" clips. You know, the ones with the really goofy white guy exhibiting some stunningly bad dance moves in front of various monuments, landscapes and famous sites around the world. My favorites feature him with other people, also dancing badly, and somehow actually give me hope in some form of humanity. Incredibly hokey as that is. If you want to know Matt's backstory - NPR did a piece a few weeks back. You can check that out here.

I've also been turning to those Flight of the Conchords clips proliferated on You Tube. Who knew New Zealanders could be so funny and yet so lousy with chicks? They provide my friend Andrew with an endless source of awesome Facebook status updates and they just make me giggle. Besides, where else can you hear a pickup line telling a woman that she's so beautiful she could be an air hostess from the 60s?

WHAT I'M not WATCHING... at the multiplex
Well, everyone else saw The Dark Knight this weekend while I was being a dutiful daughter and spending quality time with my mom. I was also scoring a mega-bargain at Banana Republic, but that's for another post. Yes, I've heard Heath Ledger (and his voice) are amazing. Yes, I know all you other girls have had a crush on Christian Bale since Newsies. Personally, I think he's a little too pretty and brooding, but I'll still see the movie. Who wants to be my date?

Thanks to my local library, I'm reading two books right now - one is a compliation of short stories from young Jewish writers called Lost Tribe. The other is The Insiders Guide to Portland. I'm going there next month to see my best friend from college and I want to know the scoop on everything. P.S. I'm hoping Voodoo Doughnuts and Powell's Books live up to the hype!

Besides enjoying the aforementioned quality time with my mom and finally getting to see some friends this weekend, I'm keeping ridiculously busy. Last week, I started a homeownership class and while I have no intention of buying any time soon, it was really informative. If you live in Morris County, I highly recommend it. Next Sunday, I'm taking off to Boca (the land of old Jews) for a professional development conference. Good opportunity for some networking and for working my tan!

OK, this wasn't in the title, but who cares, I'm in charge here. Recently, I've had some more time on my hands to take a step back and think about my life. Perspective, you might call it. Overall, I'd have to say I'm pretty happy with the general scheme of things. I might not have everything I want, but what I do have is kinda nice. In the next months I'm going to at least try tackle a few goals like polishing my Spanish skills and learning to bake better - plus I hope to spend some more time with my friends. All the summer travel (not to mention weddings!) has taken its toll on my friend cohesion and I'm looking forward to kickin it with my peeps in the coming weeks.

Well, I've pseudo-rhymed so I think it's time for me to sign off. Hope this somewhat random and rambling post has given you more than just a voyeuristic glimpse into my life... maybe it's even inspired you to make an oddly-endearing You Tube clip or to Netflix those zany Kiwis or to start planning your next vacation. Even if it just made you think about how you need to Netflix American Psycho again, enjoy it and whatever is left of your summer.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What Shtetl Fabulous Looks Like!

As you may have noticed, I'm sporting a new look here at Shtetl Fabulous. Thanks to those wonderful guys over at Element 6 Creative Group (seriously, Keven and Keith, you're AWESOME), this blog is putting the fab in Shtetl Fabulous in a big way.

I don't generally like to do back-to-back posts two days in a row... it sorta blows my wad for the rest of the week, but I was so completely in love with this new banner that I had to get it out as soon as possible, and had to give props accordingly.

It was a bit of a challenge to figure out how I wanted to visually represent myself in the blogosphere. There's the whole Jewish element from the menorah seal of the State of Israel to the Stars of David floating around. While I had originally wanted the cityscape to be more reminiscent of an old school European country town, there just aren't so many of those floating around in the clip art collections out there. But I like the lines and some even resemble the Bauhaus look that's so prevalent in Tel Aviv.

Finally, there's the cartoon image. Forget Wii Miis and Simpsonizing yourself - I can't imagine my Shtetl Fabulous persona animated in any other way. From the character's voluptious proportions to her fierce punim and of course the Black Power fist, it's just perfect.

OK, enough kvelling! Thanks again to Keven for his patience and please use Element 6 for all your graphic design needs. Cheers!

Monday, July 14, 2008


This past weekend I took the Turnpike down south to Baltimore, and spent all my time where I used to live in the predominantly-Jewish neighborhood of Pikesville. As I visited with old friends, walked the streets of my old neighborhood and ate in my old bagel shop, I experienced a pronounced sense of nostalgia. I stayed with a friend I've known for six years, but whose apartment I haven't entered in more than two years and found I remembered the strangest things. From the scent of the candles to the flavor of the toothpaste to where the forks are kept, I remembered them distinctly and realized that none had changed.

Being Jewish, nostalgia is a pretty familiar emotion. We Jews pine for a Temple that was destroyed more than 1900 years ago, we mythologize times when we were ghettoized in the urban centers of Europe (or in my case, the suburban areas), we build culture and educate our kids around notions of the past Shabbat and holiday meals we experienced as children.

Languorous and cozy as it felt to be surrounded by people who knew shared my faith and with whom I had spent so much time in the recent past, it gave me more of a chuckle than a tear. It was hilarious to see how little my friend had changed in the past two years and how little I had changed in some of the same respects. I loved my time in Baltimore, developed incredible friendships over the years and had some fantastic experiences - but I'm also glad I've moved on to a new stage in my life.

While I don't know when I'll next make the trip, but whenever it happens, it's nice to know that as much as the buildings, the restaurants and the living arrangements might change - it's also comforting to know that the warmth, hospitality and affection of my friends will stay the same.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Very Narrow Bridge

On Monday night I had the opportunity to attend my cousin's wedding in Brooklyn. Many of you are probably wondering about the kind of people who have a wedding on a Monday, and maybe some others are wondering who goes to a wedding on Monday for that matter. Well, in the Orthodox Jewish world where Fridays and many Saturdays are off limits and myriad other days don't work because of various holidays, fasts and observances AND on top of that you have to coordinate with the bride's cycle - you tend to get creative and a Monday wedding certainly qualifies as creative.

While not my first Orthodox wedding, it still felt like stepping into another world and I almost think of this post as something akin to a travel essay. Out of respect for my family and my desire to blend, I wore very conservative clothing - high-necked t-shirt, blazer and skirt that hit at mid-calf with some closed-toe shoes. My outward appearance altered, I "passed," and no one would know on sight that I am not an observant Jew.

As for behavior, four years living in the Pikesville neighborhood of Baltimore taught me all the Yiddishisms, expressions and gestures I would need to get through most of the evening. I'm familiar with the rhythms and rituals of the different parts of the wedding ceremony and their concomitant foods - except the chopped liver piped to spell, "mazal tov," that one threw me.

For all intents and purposes, I'm just another cousin, another Chaya or Blima, from Toronto or Lakewood; completely interchangable, if a bit old to not be sporting a ring and a wig... Except that I'm not just another cousin. I'm this weird cousin, this single woman, claiming to be a family member but bearing no pedigree and no history of attendance at various family events.

Because of pure coincidence, I found these cousins six years ago and they took me in despite our incredibly distant shared past and welcomed me despite my lacking observance. Yet no one else in my immediate family (or any of my aunts, uncles or first through third cousins) have any connection to this enormous circle of people who do consider me family. How did I end up bridging this seemingly impregnable gap? How can I explain to my Haredi family who only interact with other Haredi Jews (and won't even consider speaking to some Jews) that my first cousins (who I love dearly) are Catholic?

At dinner, I'm seated at the cousins' table. They huddle at the next table over while I pick at my personal challah and chat with an old friend. Finally one comes over and asks if I'm from Arizona. She remembers me from the last wedding I attended three years ago (the sister of today's bride). When I say yes, her sister says, "Oh, I've heard about you." Clearly, my reputation preceeds me. They're friendly and congenial and two cousins even take my name and number so they can have me over for Shabbat sometime. If they call, I might say yes - it's always a little like taking a trip to a foreign country without getting a stamp in my passport.

I know this post has rambled quite a bit more than normal and maybe a stream of consciousness style is the only way to process being in a such an unusual position of briding two worlds and two peoples that are truly of the same family. And just to prove my Jewish street cred, I'll leave you with a quote from Rabbi Nachman of Bratislav, "The whole world is a narrow bridge and the main thing is not to fear."

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Coin of the Realm

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, the U.S. Mint recently released a special $1 coin with a picture of Braille and his eponymous creation embossed upon it. According to an article from the Associated Press, "On the back of the coin, the Braille code for the word Braille — or 'Brl' — is inscribed, above a depiction of a school-age boy reading a Braille book with a cane resting on his arm."

Oddly enough, the coin comes with a $10 surcharge and any proceeds will go to the National Federation for the Blind. While an interesting fundraising tool, I'll admit I'm concerned the Mint will have a tough time selling a $1 coin for $11.

Even more bizarre is the idea of a coin with Braille on it all together. In one of the smarter moves by the U.S. Mint, American coins come in different sizes and sometimes with ridges on the side to help the blind accurately determine payment. If we really wanted to help blind people, why don't we focus on our paper money instead?

Since 2004, newly designed $5s, $10s, $20s and even $50s have begun a colorful circulation through wallets, cash registers and banks. The overhaul was intended to make increasingly sophisticated counterfeiting harder and perhaps it has. But why not take the opportunity to help out our blind citizens in the process?

Many other countries feature paper money of varying sizes as an aid to the visually impaired. How else do you know if you're giving someone a $20 or a $5, let alone 5 euro or 20 forint? I really believe the U.S. missed out on a great chance for an even bigger public relations moment. They say they're helping out the blind with the proceeds from this new coin, but how many collectors are really going to buy it? Everyone would be much better off if our bills were actually usable by blind people. And hell, it's easier to print braille on paper anyway!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Caveat Emptor

Not much of a post today, just a strong warning to anyone out there who is moving, contemplating a move or has ever moved. Whatever you do, DO NOT use World Wide Moving Systems.

Unfortunately, my good friend (and former roommate) found out entirely too late about this wretched and infuriating company. She hired them to move the contents of her one-bedroom apartment from Baltimore to Boston. Reasonably easy task. No complicated furniture. No baby grand piano or antiques. Should take a day to a day-and-a-half maximum.

WWMS picked up her stuff on June 16 and estimated they would be in Boston by the 17th or 18th. This was perfect as my friend had until July 1 to settle into her new home, unpack, organize, etc. But her whole plan came crashing down as the moving company kept delaying delivery, again and again and again. Finally her stuff arrived yesterday, July 2.

Not only did they repeatedly delay, but they also damaged numerous items beyond repair. Three of the four legs on her kitchen table were broken as were the chairs. Boxes appeared to have been sat upon by the likes of Shrek, the Jolly Green Giant or some far more nefarious creature. Bookcases and storage shelves were busted apart and rendered useless. She estimates the damage at nearly $1000.

I know moving someone else's stuff takes a certain amount of panache. I've helped plenty of people move and I know that sometimes little things can be broken. I would completely understand a folding table getting trapped in a compromising position or wine glasses breaking. But how does a licensed and bonded company take 2 1/2 weeks to drive a mere 400 miles and arrive with items that seemingly survived the siege of Beirut?

This holiday weekend, do yourself a favor and save yourself a lot of headache - don't use this company. EVER.