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.


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.


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.

Winter Camping

My first job after graduate school.  Me and my boss are polar opposites in every possible way.

She:  a tall quiet blonde with short straight hair
Me:  a short loud brunette with long wavy hair

She:  from Minnesota
Me:  from New York

She:  liked to stay home and listen to NPR
Me:  liked hit the clubs and hear live music

You get my meaning.

So anyway, one day, we are driving to a client meeting.  She is very excited to tell me about her upcoming vacation.  Winter camping, she says.

This is something I never heard, but before I could think, it pops out from my mouth: “Wait a minute.  You are taking the two things I hate most in the world, winter and camping, putting them together, and calling it a vacation?”

She was very offended by this (and by most other things I said).  But I didn’t mean any disrespect.  Vive la différence!

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Ethical Eating

Living in the Bay Area so many years, you come to expect everyone you meet has got some kind of dietary “preferences” for reasons of health, ethics, religion, or neurosis.  At last year’s Passover Seder, for example, one of the guests wanted to ensure the matzah balls were made with local, organic, free-range eggs.  This kind of thing.

So I was at the airport, waiting at the gate for my flight.  Most people were screen-watching, but I was people-watching.  In particular, my attention was drawn to a group of Asian men who appeared to be Buddhist monks.  Well, they were styled as such with the red robes and the shaved heads.

The junior disciples opened some brown paper bags and offered containers of food to the senior monk.  Using chopsticks, the chief brought a plain green cooked vegetable to his face — maybe spinach or seaweed or kale — sniffed, but did not eat.  He seemed displeased and whispered a few words.  The novice monks took all the containers and threw them in the trash.

Though I knew very little about Buddhism, I assumed the food could not be eaten because it contained animal ingredients or was impure in some other way.  Anyway, some of the apostles left, presumably in search of more appropriate fare.

They were not going to find any vegan cuisine at this particular terminal, and it occurred to me that this might be the last chance the elderly man would have to eat for a very long time.  The airplane’s galley wasn’t likely to have any acceptable options, and it could be hours and hours before they reached their destination of Laos or Mongolia or wherever they were headed.

Soon, the young men came back bearing several personal-sized pizzas.  The leader opened a box, lifted a slice — pepperoni — and took a bite.  In a few moments, everyone was eating and laughing.  Clearly, they had not been the least bit concerned about the rectitude (or cholesterol) of their meal.  Really, the whole episode reminded me of a commercial for the Pizza Hut.

I was laughing, too.  Partly at the irony, but mostly at myself.  We all know what happens when you make assumptions.

© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.