The Moll

The Palo Alto Police Department just reported the city’s annual crime statistics.  Turns out residential burglaries are up 52% over the past year.  This doesn’t surprise me.  Not at all.  I imagine the growth is even greater in my building where theft has become so common that most of my neighbors don’t bother to contact the police anymore.

Talk about your rude awakening.  After me and my apartment were bonded together in legal union, we did not enjoy a honeymoon period.  Within a few short few weeks, three crimes touched my new home.

The first was the break-in of our private storage unit.

My neighbors informed me that this is a frequent occurrence because we have homeless people squatting in the rooms.  Our cages may lack the luxury found throughout the fine homes and estates of Palo Alto, but these indoor accommodations still beat the lawns and benches available across our outdoor parks and avenues.  Call me a NIMSU (Not In My Storage Unit), but this is not acceptable.

The second was the forced entry to my car in our secure parking garage.

This event was so mundane that the police were not willing to investigate.  Their facilities at city hall are only three blocks away, so at the very least I expected they would come to take fingerprints.  But no.  Guess I should be grateful that the thieves stole my garage gate clicker.  Next time they want to burgle our building, they will be spared the inconvenience of smashing my car windows.

The third was the robbery of the locked apartment located right above my own home.

Since I had heard the events in real time, I was asked to give an account to the police, as were a few of the other neighbors.  Actually, I missed the first several minutes of the episode because I was talking on the phone with a friend.  Nevertheless, I had tuned in by the end of the first commercial break and was immediately riveted by the unfolding drama.

The police arrived with blaring sirens, screaming bullhorns, and barking lupines.  When they sent in the attack dog, it was extremely disturbing to hear man and canine rolling around on the floor directly overhead.  The ferocious beast was savaging the intruder.  There was growling, snarling, biting, and ripping.  The intruder wailed in pain for a seemingly endless period of time.

Neighbors reported that a second intruder got away by scrambling down a tree.

A third intruder — a woman who was heard laughing raucously and believed to be drunk or high — presumably absconded by climbing down the fire escape.

In due course, the public defender requested my statement.  We reviewed the events moment by moment.  When we finished the chronology, the PD returned to the very beginning of the timeline, asking “would you say your phone conversation was a quiet one?”

In that moment, one aspect of the crime was resolved.  It became all too clear that the so-called “laughing woman” was not an accessory partying with the intruder in #407, but was in fact me, talking on the phone in #307.  Me!  I was the moll.

The intruder and his runaway accomplice were convicted of burglary and sentenced to serve time.  Despite my impassioned appeals, the homeowner’s association refused to undertake a single measure to improve building security, insisting that living with crime is an unalterable attribute of living downtown.  I do not agree.

So, would be burglars of Palo Alto, consider yourselves warned: I own a regulation major league baseball bat and have surprisingly good eye-hand coordination.  Do not dare and mess with me.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Church and State

Today is a day to feel proud.

Our first African-American President took the official oath of office for his second term.  Our first Latino Supreme Court Justice gave the official oath to our Vice President.

Today is a day to celebrate.

But we are not celebrating.  We are not celebrating because today is Sunday. “Tradition” demands that when the inauguration day falls on Sunday, the Christian sabbath, all ceremonies and festivities be delayed until Monday.

With so many major violations of our constitutional guarantee to separation of church and state tarnishing our daily lives, perhaps this rather minor infraction shouldn’t bother me.  But it does.

It bothers me because the presidential inauguration, an event we witness but once every four years, is the only day we set aside to honor our constitution in public for all to observe, here at home and around the world.  Violating the constitution, it’s a funny way to show honor.

It bothers me because it favors a single religion, admittedly one that is not my own.  Of course, Christianity is the dominant faith in our country.  But when you consider the people who are Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or Atheist and the people who are Christian but do not keep Sunday as a day of rest and prayer, there would not seem to be a groundswell of demand for the delay.

It bothers me because the move to a weekday diminishes the number of citizens who will be able to view the events.  Most adults will be at work where their jobs do not allow access to television or the internet.  Most children will be at school where their teachers may not have flexibility for the extra-curricular happenings.

Yes, today all of us can feel proud.  And tomorrow, some of us can celebrate.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Why Do You Ask?

Pauline Phillips, better known as the syndicated columnist Dear Abby, recently died.  Her witty advice concerning private matters and personal deportment made her beloved by millions.  Me, not so much.  Lately, I’ve become severely skeptical of the presumed words of wisdom dispensed by the alleged experts.  Let me explain.

Philip Galanes, entertainment lawyer, media executive, two-time novelist, interior designer, funny guy, and true Renaissance man, writes the Social Q’s column for The New York Times offering “lighthearted advice for awkward social situations”.

Some while back, Mr. Galanes addressed the circumstance where you are asked a question that makes you uncomfortable — most commonly because it feels too personal for the level of intimacy you share with the asker — but the reason doesn’t really matter, assuming you are not under oath in a court of law.

He concludes that the most appropriate reply is “why do you ask?”, for two reasons.  One: the asker can decide that the topic is really none of her business and gracefully change the subject.  Two: the askee can understand the asker’s motivation and, with this new information, decide whether or not to answer.  It certainly sounded like a good idea.

As it happened, the occasion soon arose to try out this response with an acquaintance.  During a period of vulnerability, our interactions felt increasingly inconsistent and confusing to me.  When she asked her question, Mr. Galanes’ advice popped into my head and with no snark in my heart his words popped out from my mouth: “why do you ask?”

Well, it turned out this was not such a good idea.  No, not at all.  In a rather perturbed manner she exclaimed, “Nobody talks to me that way.  NOBODY.”

Well, certainly I don’t.  Not anymore.  My advice is to keep your mouth shut and act like you don’t understand.  Because you don’t.  Understand.  At least I didn’t.  And I still don’t.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Doping for Dummies

Major-league jerk and minor-league athlete Lance Armstrong has finally confessed his use of performance-enhancing drugs.  Who cares?  Why cheaters like Armstrong, Barry Bonds et al get so much attention is beyond me.  Throw the bums out and be done with it.

It’s hard for me to understand why these guys do it.  Granted, my body type — petite, inverted triangle — is custom-made for my sport of choice: women’s indoor elliptical with moving handlebars.

As it happens, my lightning speed and perpetual motion are so natural they call me “The Hummingbird”.  Many times seeming strangers have approached me around town and exclaimed “I know you!  You’re the girl from the gym!  How do you go so fast and for so long?”

Alas, there is a down side to such organic athletic prowess.  Recently, the gym owner, ordinarily a darling man, called me into his office, shut the door, and asked me to sit.

Having been summoned to the principal’s office numerous times in my youth, I knew I was in trouble.  He told me that he’d been looking at the cost of wear and tear and needed me to go easier on the machines.  (Hmm.  The manufacturer says my favorite model is rated to support a 450-lb person.  That’s more than four times my size!  It’s not me making the depreciation!)

Anyway, back to trying to comprehend why the drugs.  Of course, some people will cheat to win even the most meaningless competition.

Shortly after arriving at college, my dorm had a contest called The Roommate Game, patterned after The Newlywed Game TV show.  Ostensibly, the purpose was to test how well each pair of roommates knew one another, but the real goal was to get the roommates to reveal embarrassing details about each other.  My roommate stole the questions from the Residential Advisor.  For what?

Perhaps the motivation to cheat feels irresistible to some professional athletes because they believe the sizable rewards of fame and fortune outweigh the momentary penalties of admission and awkwardness.  Or maybe they are so arrogant they never even consider the possibility of getting caught.

Still, I wonder how they tolerate the repeated injections and nasty side effects.  See, despite my staunch opposition to drugs, there are times when there is no alternative for me but to resort to corticosteroids.  For treating a chronic medical condition.

Sometimes this means injections to my spine, a procedure so excruciatingly painful that general anesthesia and intravenous morphine are required.  Maybe it doesn’t hurt so much when you get the needle between your fingers or toes.

Other times this means pills, swallowed by mouth but wreaking havoc throughout the body.  Really, I have enough body fat, facial hair, and sexual frustration without the benefit of supplemental testosterone.  Maybe designer drugs don’t come with the same perils as generic pharmaceuticals.

As far as I’m concerned, voluntary doping for non-therapeutic purposes is just dumb.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Farmyard Friends

In a recent interview with The New York Times, US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who grew up in the Bronx, noted that her childhood was so urban that she was “known to confuse cows for horses” when she arrived at college.

Don’t get me wrong.  I admire Justice Sotomayor.  But this really strains credibility.  It’s hard to believe a wise Latina with the wits to escape the projects and the smarts to go to Princeton managed to get her diploma without being able to identify the farmyard friends.  Sure, toddlers today may be lords of Farmville, but even in Ms. Sotomayor’s day, there wasn’t a kindergarten in the country where kids didn’t become masters of Old MacDonald’s Farm.

Seriously, until we were presented with scalpels and a frozen porker of the fetal variety for dissection in high school Biology class, I had never met a genuine pig in the flesh.  Still, I had seen the Three Little Pigs illustrated in my Little Golden Story Book.  I had seen Arnold on Green Acres.  Piglet!  Porky Pig!  Miss Piggy!  Pigs were everywhere.  I would know a pig if I saw one.  Come on, Madame Justice!

Not sure how Justice Sotomayor finally came to get acquainted with the cows and horses of New Jersey, but it would take relocation to California before I got up close and personal with living and breathing livestock.  (Livestock is what they call the animals that humans work, shear, milk, and eat.)

So one day my boss invites me to see his horses.  The equines lived at a kennel, a short drive up the nearby hills.  I wondered if this was how the people “out west” demonstrate their status.  By showing you their horses.  Like the way people in New York exhibit their Rothko paintings or the way people in Boston display their Mayflower genealogy.

Anyway, it scared me a little, being so near to such large animals.  The horses were kept in these booths with only their heads and shoulders sticking out.  It seemed they would not be able to charge our bodies but could easily chomp our arms.  Even so, I petted the horses and fed them some carrots and returned home with both hands and all ten fingers.

The bovine encounter came just a few weeks later.  Me and the ex-man were taking a hike in some other nearby hills.  (There are a lot of nearby hills in California.)  When you visit a natural habitat here, there are signs warning you to watch out for mountain lions and their various cousins.  They make no mention of cows.

Unbeknownst to us, however, the state has this program where they let the farmers graze their cattle on protected park land.  And this is how it happened that there were three cows standing in the middle of the trail.  (Trail is what they call the sidewalk when there is dirt instead of concrete.)  I froze dead in my tracks, afraid to approach the ferocious beasts.

The ex-man insisted cows were quite gentle; we could walk around them.  I was sure the cattle would think we were predators; they would surely stampede if we got too close.  He said they were lazy; we could outrun them.  But with three XXL-size cows and only two 40th percentile-size humans, I didn’t like the odds.  But what I liked even less was the smell of the manure and so we made our maneuvers to safety.

I’ve long since become accustomed to seeing horses and cows in the distance but when it comes to close encounters of the animal kind, I’m sticking with the small fluffy dogs that like to nap on my lap.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Rock the Schoolhouse!

Hard to believe, Schoolhouse Rock is celebrating its 40th anniversary.  Instead of commercials, these short music videos were broadcast between the Saturday morning cartoons to give kids edu-bites about grammar, math, history, etc.

The songs were great.  When called to the blackboard for that most loathsome task of diagramming a sentence, my mind would play “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?  Hooking up words and phrases and clauses”.  And certainly anyone from my generation can still sing, I mean, recite, The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States without hesitation.

Unfortunately, Schoolhouse Rock did not cover math topics beyond multiplication.  This lack of an “advanced” curriculum would leave a sizable gap in my education.

See, I went to one of those 70s experimental-type elementary schools.  Most of the day we spent sitting on the floor in a circle, writing and performing plays with socially-relevant themes.  For example, a takeoff on The Wizard of Oz where the land of Oz was a drug-induced hallucinatory state and the horrific things that happened there were sure to convince kids to stay far away from drugs.  Needless to say, very little time was spent on math or science.

So when I started 7th grade at the junior high school, I was in for a real shock.  This sitting in the midst of a 6 x 5 checkerboard of desks listening to teachers pontificate on and on from 8:02 am until 2:41 pm really sucked the life out of me.

Especially first period pre-Algebra.  Without the basic math skills, I didn’t understand a word.  Or rather a symbol.  Soon, I was failing.  Despite my mother’s geschreis and my tutor’s exercises, I got a D and would not move on to Algebra the next year.

Anyway, the fall comes and I am repeating pre-Algebra and feeling quite ashamed.  The year starts in the now-familiar boring and droning way, but one day something interesting happens.  My 8th grade math teacher — Holla, Ms. Krone! — brings her guitar to class and teaches us math songs that she had herself written!

My favorite was called Flip, partly because I really liked the upbeat sound, and partly because I finally learned to divide the fractions.  Listen:

Well, I didn’t become some kind of mathematical maven, but I did hold my own in the many math classes that followed at the high school, college, and graduate school.

More importantly, I came to appreciate the value of math in real life.  Yeah, no one is likely to hold a gun to your head and ask you to whip out the side-angle-side postulate and prove two triangles are congruent.  But, then again, you can’t really weigh the pros and cons of taking this mortgage or that one without applying a little numerical reasoning.

It pleases me to see contemporary secondary schools are still singing for the math.  In Silver Spring MD, Jake Scott, aka 2 Pi, raps quadratic with his students.  We could use this kind of engagement in every school.  Maybe it would help stem the STEM problem.

For the message rather than the melody, my pick for best Schoolhouse Rock video is Sufferin Till Suffrage…

Oh, what the heck, if we gotta rock the schoolhouse, you know we’re gonna rock the casbah…

If you are still sitting down, something is seriously NOT KOSHA!

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

My Old Hood

Ah, the old neighborhood.  Wonder what’s happening back there now?

Well, at the behest of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the FBI recently deployed helicopters and SWAT teams to nab 58 members of the Bloods and Latin Kings on racketeering, conspiracy, and drug charges.

The indictment described the gangs like a machine pushing cocaine, marijuana, and heroin from the Bronx into New York’s northern suburbs.

Street gangs!  Phone taps!  Hidden cameras!  Just like The Wire!  My old hood!

The authorities were particularly pleased they had grabbed some of the real movers and shakers.  Because these kingpins could be facing decades in federal prison, officials are hoping they would be willing to cooperate and help solve an assortment of cold cases including numerous homicides.

See, the drug crime isn’t really the priority.  It’s the stabbings and the shootings and the bloodshed.  Of course, the gangs are always going to beef on each other, but the level of violence against citizens is on the precipitous rise.

It’s not safe to go outside.  Not to walk to school.  Not to hang at the diner.  Not anywhere at night.

Jimmy, Bunk, Kima, Omar!  Forget Baltimore.  You’re gonna love New York.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Childhood Mementos

My mother kept only three mementos of my childhood, all from the very earliest school days.

The first, a Mother’s Day portrait.

It was not difficult to make a good likeness of my mother.  Her hair she colored flaming orange, structured into what we called a “high hairdo”, but was more commonly known as the “beehive”.  Her eyes were green.  Not hazel.  Crayola green.  Technicolor green.  Green green green.

The second, a short essay.

Just a few hand-written sentences about the weekend.  That elementary school paper with two solid lines cut horizontally by a dashed line.  The single page was notable only because it was filled with spelling errors.  My mother always took great pleasure in my failings.

The third, my kindergarten report card.

Mrs. Schupp reported that I played well with others and was an accomplished storyteller, but could not tell my left from my right.  I still can’t.  Just ask anyone who has tried to give me driving directions.  It isn’t pretty.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Backwards, Baby

So I was walking down University Avenue, a few blocks from my home, when I passed the T-Mobile store.

In the window, my eyes were drawn to a super-size poster showing a photograph of an Asian girl and her cell phone.

The girl, who looked about fourteen, was wearing a parochial style school uniform.  Or maybe more like a Manga-style sexual fantasy version of said uniform.

The pink skirt was plaid, only very, very micro.  The white blouse was form-fitting and unbuttoned to show her micro-cleavage.  The black tie was loosely knotted and curled around her micro-breast.

This girl’s bare legs were spread wide open.  Using both hands she held her cell phone right up to her crotch.  The intended message of the imagery was extremely clear and highly offensive.

Of course I marched into the store, asked to speak with the manager, and politely requested he take down the poster.  He refused.

When it became certain that he would not listen to reason, I told him that until he complied, I would be exercising my First Amendment right to freedom of expression, loudly, in front of the store.  And so he did.  Comply.

It felt good that my small action yielded such a quick and successful response.

Still, I couldn’t help thinking of those Jean Kilbourne films they’ve been showing at high schools for more than twenty-five years.  The ones about the objectification of women in advertising.  Killing Us Softly.  We saw the first one when I was in school.  They’re up to Volume 4 now.

Guess we’ve come a long way backwards, baby.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.