Don’t Text Me, Bro!

Someone asks me why I never text.  My reply: “What, I seem like the kind of person who wants to condense her communications to 160 characters?”

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

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Outdoor Education

I am a person who does not like to be removed from human-made structures for extended periods of time.

So you may wonder why I would elect to fulfill my high school physical education requirement with the Outdoor Education module.

Odd as this may sound, it was the only gym unit that did not require shorts or running or sweating.

See, this was New York.  Outdoor Education was held in an indoor classroom and involved only sitting in street clothes and talking about the outdoors.

Sitting and talking are areas in which I usually excel, but the topics discussed in this class were completely outside of my experience and utterly beyond my imagination.

One day, for example, we considered the type of food that would help you survive if you got lost in the wilderness.

Our instructor, Mr. Gage, suggested that Spam would be the ideal alternative.  Spam?  I had heard of Spam, but thought it was a kind of fake food, not something you would really eat.  Like those Christmas fruitcakes with the bright red and green chunks made from rubber or plastic or something synthetic.

The whole conversation was just bizarre.  My classmates listed the alleged benefits of Spam.  It comes in a can.  It has nutritional additives.  It is chemically preserved.  It is high in fat, calories, and sodium.  These were the reasons they would eat Spam?  These were the reasons I would not eat Spam!  Besides, it was treyf!

But something was bothering me about the whole scenario.  Something about the big picture just did not make sense to me.  I raised my hand.  “Mr. Gage,” I said, “I don’t understand how we could possibly get lost in the wilderness.  I mean, what were we doing there in the first place?”

It was then I learned that people go to the wilderness voluntarily.  To do something called backpacking.  This activity sounded even more dreadful than camping.

Soon it was time for the final exam.  Had we been in Colorado, I am sure we would have been airdropped to the Rocky Mountains in the midst of a blizzard, left to survive with only a ballpoint pen and a pocket comb.  This being New York, however, our final was multiple choice, administered on those Scantron forms where you fill in the bubbles with a No. 2 pencil.

Unfortunately, I did not survive even the first page.  It was question #5 that led to my demise.  A food question.  Spam was not one of the four available responses.  Upon encountering a patch of berries in the wild, I chose to “eat what the animals eat”.  In doing so, I made for myself a very painful death as it turns out humans do not have the same digestive enzymes as other living creatures.

Of course I’ve never had the opportunity to apply these theoretical survival skills.  I get organic berries from my local grocer and eat them without reservation.  And I’ve never been lost in the wilderness.  Like I told Mr. Gage, you never risk getting lost in the wilderness if you just stay where you belong, within the natural urban habitat.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

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.