No Bad Habits

One day, my three college roommates are talking about their bad habits.

This one smokes.

That one binges chicken.

The other one sucks her thumb.

“Not me” I said, with the intention of making irony, “I have no bad habits”.

They discussed this for several minutes and concluded that it was true.  I had no bad habits.

In fact, I did then, and do now, have many bad habits, though perhaps they are not so apparent to the casual observer.  I don’t drink, smoke, or swear.  I under eat and over exercise.  I keep my person and surround clean and tidy.

So come the new year in general, some of the more popular resolutions are not available for me.  And come this new year in particular, one of the less popular resolutions is the clear priority for me.

The thing that really needs to get done is not a pleasant task.  But it needs to get done and pronto.  I need to put my paperwork in its place.  For the, uh, disposition of my fortune, possessions, and body.

Really, it’s a good thing that each of us has the opportunity to write the end of our story in the way we see fit.  And as my landesmen like to say, if not now, when?

© 2012 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Worse of 2012

In this last week of the year, the media is bursting with Best of 2012 lists.  Best books.  Best films.  Best songs.  Best deaths.  Well, my preferred publications tend to favor a more delicate phrasing for this last; see The New York Times’ Notable Deaths and The New Yorker’s Lives Remembered.

The names and faces on the “best death” lists are familiar to many; their highly celebrated contributions to the social good in government, education, arts, science, industry (and so on) recognized throughout the land by anyone who turns on a television or computer.  Their deaths were the result of the usual culprits: age, disease, accidents.

So soon after the latest in a seemingly endless string of bloodbaths that stain our nation’s school houses and public spaces, however, my thoughts turn to the “worst deaths”.

The names and faces on the “worst death” lists are known by few; their largely unsung contributions to local civic groups, charities, schools, businesses, sports teams (and so forth) recognized within their communities by their families, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.  Their deaths were the result of the most unexpected horror: intentional, indiscriminate gun violence.

We witnessed sixteen mass executions across our country in 2012:

Feb 22  Norcross GA health spa                4 killed   0 wounded
Feb 26  Jackson TN nightclub                  1 killed  20 wounded
Feb 27  Chardon OH high school                3 killed   3 wounded
Mar  8  Pittsburgh PA hospital                2 killed   7 wounded
Mar 31  Miami FL funeral home                 2 killed  12 wounded
Apr  2  Oakland, CA college campus            7 killed   3 wounded
Apr  6  Tulsa, OK city street                 3 killed   2 wounded
May 29  Seattle WA coffee shop                5 killed   1 wounded
Jul  9  Wilmington DE city park               3 killed   2 wounded
Jul 20  Aurora CO movie theater              12 killed  58 wounded
Aug  5  Milwaukee WI Sikh temple              6 killed   3 wounded
Aug 14  College Station TX college campus     3 killed   4 wounded
Sep 27  Minneapolis MN workplace              5 killed   3 wounded
Oct 21  Brookfield WI health spa              3 killed   4 wounded
Dec 11  Clakamas OR shopping center           2 killed   6 wounded
Dec 14  Newtown CT elementary school         26 killed   0 wounded

The NRA says “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.

Good guy, shmud guy.  Please.  Who can tell?  The only thing that stops a bad guy is to make sure he never gets a gun in the first place.

© 2012 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Food Glorious Food

For most Jewish-Americans, the eating season seems to be year-round.  We have many holidays and each one has particular foods associated with it.  Even by Yom Kippur, the day upon which we fast, most families have special traditions for the last meal before the fast and for the first meal after the fast.

For most Christian-Americans, the eating season seems to be focused around the Christmas.  The parties start right after the Thanksgiving and culminate with the Christmas Eve dinner, then the Christmas Day breakfast, and finally the Christmas Day feast.

No matter their heritage, this time of year finds friends sharing happy memories about sharing food with their families.  These stories always fascinate me because eating was such a torture during my childhood and teenage years.

My mother hated to cook.  She made only the smallest of effort and the outcome was invariably tough and tasteless.  She ate very little at all, and never her own cooking, so perhaps she was unaware, though more likely, she simply didn’t care.

Everything she overcooked.  We thought hamburgers were supposed to have a hard crust.  She served blackened chicken long before the fashion.  She did not believe in seasoning.  She kept only two spices: salt (used only during the Passover Seder for mixing with water to represent tears) and paprika (used only during the Thanksgiving to give the turkey some color).

Here is the recipe for her signature dish:

1.    Boil macaroni until it is the consistency of lumpy Farina.
2.    Sauté ground beef until it breaks down into tiny pebbles.
3.    Add a handful of frozen chopped onion and green pepper.
4.    Combine above in a baking pan.  Do NOT add any sauce.
5.    Bake at 500° until a knife CANNOT be inserted anywhere.

On the first night, it was awful.  We ate as little as possible.  My mother would refrigerate the pan of leftovers and re-heat it in the oven the next night and the night after that and every night until it was gone.  After a few days, it was inedible; truly impossible to chew and swallow.  Unfortunately, when the pan was empty, chances were pretty good that my mother would whip up another batch of her specialty.

Maybe you wonder why we didn’t offer to cook or why we didn’t have sandwiches or just make a salad.  We would never dare to give my mother a suggestion that she might perceive as the least bit critical; the consequences would be far more perilous than enduring her cuisine.

© 2012 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Butcher

Growing up, a certain time, a certain place, we had things you don’t see much anymore, anywhere.

On Sunday mornings, we would open the door to find a brown paper bag filled with a dozen fresh bagels sitting atop a black-and-white newspaper filled with a dozen fresh sections.  The smells!

The bagels were salt and egg and marble and onion.  There was no blueberry.  There was no jalapeño.

The newspaper was paper.  The sections were Arts & Leisure and The Book Review and The Magazine.

On Thursday mornings, when we were getting ready for school, Mr. Fischer, the kosher butcher, would call to take my mother’s order for Shabbes.

We always heard these calls.  We had only one telephone, avocado green, centrally located in the kitchen.  My mother spoke loudly all of the time, but never more so than when talking with Mr. Fischer.  Maybe he was hard of hearing.  More likely he was inebriated.

Anyway, this is how we learned to make an order for a basic household necessity.  At the time, meat was required and kosher was essential.

These days, we don’t have a family butcher who delivers kosher meat.  We drive to the Trader Joe’s.  The selection isn’t so good, but the quality isn’t so bad.  We make do, but still, I miss that kind of old world service.

So it came as a great relief to learn that nowadays, you can get home delivery for some indispensable items that used to compel a run to the store.  And I do mean run.

Turns out you can order feminine hygiene products for overnight shipment.  I don’t mean sealed boxes of the stuff like you get at the drugstore; I mean a highly personalized package, like what you would get from Mr. Fischer.

I can hear my mother making her order; imagine a first-generation Jewish-American lady from the Bronx.  Think Judd Hirsch but more gravelly-sounding…

Ma to Mr. Fischer:  Give me a dozen Tampax tampons.  No, the slender regular.  The cardboard applicator, not the plastic.  The pink box.  How do the panty liners look today?  You like the Carefree or the Kotex?  OK, give me five Carefree, no wings.  Mitn minut…

Ma to me:  Jaclyn?  JACLYN!  You’re hard of hearing nachamool?  You want maxi pads this month?

Me to Ma:  No, Ma, already I told you a thousand times, it’s like wearing a mattress.  No one uses those things anymore.

Ma to me:  Nu, if everyone jumped off the roof, you would jump, too?  You’ll get infected from those things and they’ll break your hymen.  No nice boy wants damaged goods.  And no boy likes to touch fat.  And do something with that mop of yours before —

Me to Ma:  Ma!  I’m leaving.  It’s time for school.

Ma to Mr. Fischer:  Mr. Fischer?  Jaclyn doesn’t want maxi pads this month, so just a small order.  No.  Be careful, there’s ice on the street.  I’ll put down the salt.  Gut Shabbes.

© 2012 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Chanukah Miracle

Under my mother’s roof, we observed the Jewish holidays but we did not celebrate them.

Chanukah, supposedly the best holiday of the year, lasted but a few moments on each of the eight nights.  At sunset, my mother would shout, “Steven!  Girls!  Time for candles!”  We would gather in the kitchen, make the blessings, light the candles, and return to our homework.  There were no latkes.  There were no dreidels.  There were no songs.  There were no presents.

One year, however, it was different.  There was a large gift-wrapped box on top of the television set.  Even though it was a holiday, it never occurred to me or to my brother or to my sister that this mystery package might be meant for us.  We didn’t get presents, not even for our birthdays.  My mother told us that we didn’t deserve them and we knew better than to suggest otherwise.

While we were entranced by some mid-70s sitcom — Happy Days or maybe Welcome Back, Kotter — my mother interrupted to ask if we were going to open our present.  Our present?  If we were confused as we tore the wrapping paper, we were stunned as the words and pictures on the underlying box revealed themselves.  This was no ordinary gift.  This was Pong.  Pong!

Pong Video Game imagePong was the very first video game, a rudimentary form of ping-pong where each player would turn a knob to manipulate a rectangular “paddle” to hit a square “ball”.  We had seen Pong by the pinball machines at the movie theater — it was all the rage, at least with the boys — but had only recently become available for the home.

When my father and brother finally got it attached to the TV, we found that this was no ordinary version of Pong.  It had four different games.  Four!  Racquetball and hockey in addition to singles and doubles tennis!  We played the different games for hours and it was really fun.  My father played a few times with us and my mother didn’t scream at anyone.

Of course, the euphoria did not last.  Even with four games, we tired of Pong in a few short weeks.  This didn’t mark some change of direction in our family life either.  The usual misery returned to our home the very next day.  Still, there had been a holiday and it had felt special and it had certainly seemed like a great miracle happened there.

© 2012 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

This Is My Blog

Photo of JaclynMy name is Jaclyn and these are my stories. Like me, they are silly and sentimental, very Jewish, and 100% true.

People are always telling me “you should do standup” — this is my favorite four words — or “go write for the sitcoms” — my favorite five.

Even so, maybe you wouldn’t find these postings so amusing or interesting.  Nu?  You want to read, read.  If not, is nisht.

But if it should happen you like and you want to offer a deal — book, movie, stage, television — well, no one is going stop you!

© 2012 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.