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.

Now, 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 inedible Christmas fruitcakes with the bright red and green chunks made from rubber or plastic or some other synthetic substance.

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.  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.  An activity which sounded even more dreadful than the camping I had seen on the television.  I was sure they were kidding me.

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.  It turns out humans do not have the same digestive enzymes as other creatures of the forest.

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 would never risk getting lost in the wilderness if you just stay where you belong, well within the borders of our natural urban habitat.

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Extracurricular Assault

School is back in session.  You wouldn’t know it by the weather.  The stores may be showing Halloween costumes and candy, but the heat is still devastating like the desert.  Still, even you don’t have kids, you would know it.

You would know it from the news.  You would know it by the sudden swell of stories concerning the sexual assault of local students.

Here in Palo Alto, the city’s public school district is — again — under fire for failing to follow federal and state law —much less their own policies — when it comes to reporting, researching, resolving, and redressing sexual battery against students as perpetrated by faculty, staff, and especially, other students.

In one particularly egregious case, a male high school student was allowed to remain on-campus without penalty after violating three different female students.

Nearby at Stanford, the national epicenter of college sexual assault, new incidents surfaced as soon as students began returning to town for the fall semester.  The university is on track to top the 2016 record of 33 rapes.  Of course, no one knows how many victims have yet to find their voice.

Last year, Stanford became world-famous for more than academics and athletics after undergraduate Brock Turner sexually attacked an intoxicated, unconscious woman in the dirt behind a dumpster at an on-campus fraternity house.

The victim’s horror was compounded when the perpetrator — convicted in the Santa Clara County Superior Court — was given a shockingly lenient sentence resulting in only three months at the county jail, much less than the mandatory minimum, and, far short of the prosecutor’s plea.

The trial had important statewide consequences.  California law was revised to expand the definition of rape to include sexual assaults other than intercourse and to disallow judges from giving lesser sentences in cases where the victim was intoxicated or unconscious.

More regionally, citizen groups have been petitioning for a special election to recall the judge, Aaron Persky, after it came to light that he has a history of bias favoring privileged, white, male, student frat-letes accused or convicted of crimes involving sexual violence.

To say the least, this seemingly ceaseless cycle of student sexual abuse is discouraging.  But what is most disheartening for me, is that each time a new article is published, the accompanying online comments section quickly fills with assertions that the incident was consensual, accusations that the victim is lying, and proclamations that the perpetrator is innocent of any wrong-doing.

Now, my fellow Palo Alto and Santa Clara County residents are considered among the most highly-educated and liberal-minded people in the country.  Regardless, when it comes to students and alcohol and sex, the majority opinion appears to spring from men and women who have never learned the meaning of consent.

Unfortunately, this concept of consent; well, this is a topic with which I have personal experience.  More accurately, I have personal experience with *lack* of consent, specifically as it concerns students, alcohol, intoxication, unconsciousness, and sex.

In my younger days, I became friendly with a guy from school.  Although I did not consider him “boyfriend material”, there was an undeniable attraction and we had “made out” three times, each session with somewhat increasing intensity.  Still, we had always remained fully dressed and had not engaged in any touching beneath our clothes.

The next time we met alone, I was visiting him at his home.  I wasn’t feeling well.  I told him I had my period and did not want to be touched.  While he did not disguise his disappointment, we just hung out, sitting in separate chairs; talking.

When he offered me a drink, I accepted without any real caution.  While we had never imbibed together, if alcohol was available, it was normal to catch a buzz.  I was not unaware of the risks imposed by this sort of situation, but I felt safe.  He had never been forceful with me, and, of course, I would limit my consumption.

Besides, in my naivety, it just did not cross my mind that anyone would want to have sex during menstruation.  If it had, I am sure I would have thought “eww” and dismissed the idea at once.

Anyway, I was not accustomed to drinking whiskey, and though my glass had never seemed empty, I quickly became extremely intoxicated.

Clearly, I passed out, because the next thing I knew, I was lying on his bed, completely naked.  Immediately, I blacked out again.  Then, in a fleeting moment, I became aware he was having sex with my body.  Unable to move or speak, I was certainly unable to give consent.  Straightaway, I was unconscious once more.

When I awoke, sober, it was obvious that he was terribly pleased with the events that had transpired.  I told him that it was not very nice; that I had been very drunk.  He said it had happened very naturally and that he did not regret it.  It was evident he had not used a condom.

I did not tell anyone.  “Drunk Girl Loses Virginity” was not exactly headline news.  It was then, and still is now, an all-too-common circumstance.  I had not been physically injured and did not feel emotionally traumatized.  In all honesty, the idea that anyone should care about my wishes and feelings, or what happened to me, had never been properly implanted in my brain.

With maturity, of course, I came to understand that I should have reported the incident.  Not for any personal vindication; back then, even the most violent rape cases were seldom given appropriate attention.  But because so much as a minor reprimand from some independent authority might have made him think twice about his actions and possibly saved some other young woman from the same fate.

Obviously, it doesn’t take a Sigmund Freud to appreciate my aggravation at the all-too-prevalent attitude among the public of accepting such student-on-student sexual attack as merely “kids being kids”.

Or, for that matter, my abhorrence at an American president who boasts of his own history of sexually harassing and violating women, including teenage girls.  Not to mention, my scorn for a Secretary of Education who promises to pare protections for students who suffer sexual abuse.

Recently, I asked a high school student who works at my gym to share her thoughts about the rampant sexual assault plaguing our community’s educational centers.  She feels the only realistic hope for prevention lies in the values that parents teach to their sons.

Based on the standards of behavior expressed by so many of our local fathers and mothers, I am not optimistic.

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

I Will, I Will, I Will

OK, this is a really embarrassing confession.  The very first record I ever bought with my own money was Love Will Keep Us Together, the hit single by Captain & Tennille.

At least I had an excuse.  It was 1975 and I was a never been kissed girl who knew next to nothing from love and romance.  And it could have been worse.  I could have bought Muskrat Love.

But shouldn’t the grown-ups have known better?  They made this sugar-laden yet content-free tune #1 on the Billboard charts AND awarded it the Grammy for Record of the Year.

Oh, go ahead, do it to me one more time…

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Smooth, Clean, or Fresh?

Stopped by the drugstore to get some toothpaste.  The clinical, pro-health, sensitive kind.  Comes in three flavors: Smooth Mint, Clean Mint, and Fresh Mint.  I love spearmint.  I like peppermint.  I hate wintergreen.  But which is which?  Is spearmint smooth or clean?  Or could it possibly be fresh?  Come on, why make us stress and guess?  You call this a sensitive toothpaste?  I don’t think so!

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Hold

It’s been really warm lately, over 100º today.  Warm enough to open the windows.  Even to keep them open all night.  After months of bone-chill, this is something really great.  Except for one thing.

I wake up screaming.  Most every night, I wake up screaming.  It is not from nightmares.  I do not dream.  It is shooting pain from the nerves.  It is sudden and it is severe.

It is a big problem, this screaming.  Because the neighbors do not like it.

When it happened last summer, a neighbor called 911.  In the middle of the night, a neighbor called 911.  And without so much as a knock, the police broke down my door.

Instantly, my bed was surrounded by five over-zealous officers and paramedics.

Such a scene, maybe some girls, they would think they had died and gone to heaven.  Not me.  I have never been attracted to a man in uniform.

I told them my many and various symptoms, diagnoses, medications, and side-effects.  This information, it did not seem to interest them.  But then I fainted —

This was very bad timing, very bad, but my blood pressure is naturally very low.  Sometimes I have to take medication to raise it to a more human-like level.  And sometimes I faint.  It is really no big deal.  Except if I should be driving.

When I awoke, there was a gurney beside my bed.  They wanted me to roll onto it.  Instead, I pushed through the crowd and started to run —

It used to be that when I watched a cop show, I would wonder why the criminals try to make a break when it is clear there is no chance for getaway.  Now, I know.  It is instinct.  You do not think.  You just GO.

Anyway, I didn’t get very far.  Just to my living room.  There, the medics grabbed me, tossed me on the gurney, and bound my wrists and ankles to the frame.

Within moments, we were in an ambulance, sirens blaring, en route to the hospital.  I tried to remain calm.  I tried not to struggle.  It was very hard.  I wanted to sit up.  I wanted to see.  But the restraints so thoroughly restricted my motion, I could lift only my head, and only a few inches.

As soon as we got to the Emergency Room, the EMTs transferred me to an examination table and warned the hospital team to be careful because I was very strong.  This remark, it made me to feel very proud.

Instantly, the staff retied my wrists and ankles and cut off my clothes.  At least, I wasn’t wearing anything of particular value or special favor.  They stuck me with sensors and punctured me for IVs and shoved a catheter deep inside me.

Several times, I asked them to untie me and told them I wanted to leave.  I assured them I did not require emergency care; I needed only the sodium and electrolytes found in a good broth.  They told me I was being put on “hold” and would not be released without the supervising doctor’s authorization.

To emphasize this point, they assigned three — three! — security men to guard me.  Each one of these burly guys looked like he played tackle on some championship high school football team.

Seriously, besides being trussed up like Harry Houdini before one of his great escapes, the only thing I was wearing beneath the flimsy hospital gown was seven electrodes.  I was not going anywhere.

A parade of physicians and technicians took many samples and various images for untold, unnecessary tests.  I suppose it’s just protocol, but still…  A chest x-ray?  My cardio-thoracic condition is so excellent, G-d forbid someone you love would need a new heart, you should just shoot me in the head and take my mine.

Of course, they found nothing, or rather nothing other than the chronic conditions I had previously reported.

It was getting close to morning; I felt like I had been a good sport, and I told them it was time for me to depart.  I was still tied to the bed and the catheter was causing terrible pain with the slightest movement.

They told me I would need to urinate before there was any chance of liberation.  No problem, I thought.  If there is one task that I can perform on command, it is to urinate.

But I could not.  When I pressed down, I felt overwhelming agony.  Later, the nurse would tell me the catheter had been inserted improperly.  BTW, this is Stanford, one of the most highly regarded medical centers in the world.

Finally, I convinced them to let me use the toilet.  They untethered me, handed to me a pitcher (not one of those little cups), and sent me, along with my security detail — I am not kidding — to the lavatory.  When you enter into a hospital, you leave your dignity at the door.

At last, they released me on my own recognition.  My body was covered in bruises and the vaginal abrasions made it difficult to walk.

My trip to the Emergency Room had lasted only a few hours, but I left in far worse shape than when I had arrived.  Whatever happened to “do no harm”?

And even with insurance, the visit cost me thousands of dollars.  Not to mention the expense of repairing the entrance to my home.

I really love the fresh air at night, but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk.

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Brave One

Coming from a very modest background, I never left the country until my mid 20s.

I was scheduled for a business trip to Sweden.  I was excited.  Very, very excited.  I had parlayed three days in Stockholm into three weeks crossing the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.  I was working on Italy when my boss told me I better quit while I was ahead.

Two weeks before my departure, I broke my foot.  These things happen.  By me, they happen a lot.  Everyone assumed I would cancel my trip.  No way.

Many people told me I was brave.  To go halfway around the world, by myself, on crutches.  But it felt like an adventure.  It didn’t feel like something brave.

When my grandmother came from Europe to this country, she came third class on a boat.  She was a teenager responsible for her younger sister.  When she said goodbye to the rest of her family, it was forever.  She had little money in her pocket and little English on her tongue.

I was flying business class.  I had credit cards and traveler checks and a toll-free emergency number in my wallet.  I had email to keep in touch.  I had hotel reservations and dinner engagements.  I had Fodor’s guides.  Everyone was speaking perfect English.

Me?  I’m not the brave one in this story.  Not by a long shot.

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Dryer Story

When we were kids, my mother’s surveillance was constant.  My parents never went out.  We never had babysitters.

Once — literally, just once — my mother needed to make a brief excursion and had no choice but to trust my father to watch us.

We snuck into the laundry room.  We knew we were not supposed to go in there.  But we were not supposed to do anything.  Except sit quietly looking at books that we did not yet know how to read.  But we were kids.  With a natural curiosity.

Anyway, we thought it would be a good idea to see if one of us could fit in the dryer.  I was not the largest.  I was not the smallest.  It is likely I was the boldest.  For the sure I was the dumbest.

Clothes Dryer imageSo, with great excitement, I climbed into the dryer.

It was a front-load tumbler with a large circular window.

My brother closed the door…

Space Capsule imageI felt like I was Judy Jetson riding in the space capsule!

These were the days of the Apollo moon landings.  Rocket ships were everywhere.  Including my dream of the previous night.

Actually it had been a whole rocket factory in my dream.  With “about a hundred” rockets.

My brother turned on the dryer…

It was warm and blue and the rotating drum kept lifting me up one side, but then I just kept sliding back down to the bottom.  Over and over and over.  I didn’t spin around the full 360° of the circle like the way the clothes make a complete orbit.  Something maybe to do with gravity?

People tell me this story helps them understand me better.  I have no idea what they mean.

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.


A professional associate called to let me know that upon Googling me, he found my business specialty listed as rhinoplasty.

In the first place, I informed him, I was raised to marry a doctor, not to become one.  And secondly, I continued, had this been my occupation, my nose would be smaller and my income larger.


© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Curb Your Mercedes

My insomnia is of the world-class variety, the kind that gets you qualified for the most selective treatment programs.  This does not make me feel special.  It is not like getting accepted to the Ivy League.

So sleeping, and the consequent dreaming, are just not a regular part of my life.  But last night, I had an incredibly vivid dream.  Really true to life.

In the dream, my car dies.  There is no hope of resuscitation.  I would like to get a Prius or some other environmentally-conscious vehicle.  But I am completely broke.

My anonymous boyfriend — his face is actually pixelated in the dream, like on TV to protect the identity of the whistleblower — tells me he will come up with something.  And he does.  He brings to me an adorable but older vehicle.  He brings to me a small delivery van.  He brings to me a German car.

Now, you should know that my practice of Judaism tends to be more in line with the spirit of the law and not so much the letter.  And my priorities, they are not terribly logical, even by my standards.  I make no judgment, but there are some traditions I would never violate.  I would never eat of the pig.  I would never tattoo on my body.  And I would never drive a German car.

Anyway, back to the dream.  I tell the boyfriend that I would not drive a German car.  I am thinking that I must have told him this before, probably many times, but even if I didn’t mention, he really should just know.  I tell him we have to take it back.

I instruct him to get behind the wheel.  Just sitting in the passenger seat is bad enough.  OK, we go in the car and make the beeline.  Right into the telephone pole.  I am sure we deserve this fate.  I mean, what were we thinking?  Driving a German car?

He asks me to wait while he goes to the nearby service station.  So I stand beside the car in the heart of downtown, where you always bump with the people you know.  I try to hide behind the car.  All I can think is G-d forbid somebody sees me by the Hitlermobile.

Let’s face it, I have some real problems in my dream.  My bank account has no money.  My boyfriend has no face.  My car has no insurance.  But my biggest concern?  That someone should think I am not a good Jew.  And then it starts to rain.

This morning, I recount the dream to a friend who laughs heartily and tells me the dream reminds him an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

On the show, Larry and Jeff really like this Palestinian restaurant.  But they know their Jewish friends would feel to eat there, it’s a terrible affront on Israel.  And the place is next door a Jewish deli, so they worry someone should pass by and see them.

As for me, guess if you’re gonna live a sit-com life, you’re gonna dream a sit-com dream.

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.