Come Saturday Morning

When we were kids, we rarely got to do normal Saturday morning activities because we had to go to shul.

Five times a week we had to go to shul, but Saturday mornings were the most painful.  The services were interminably long and conducted almost entirely in Hebrew.  Even worse, in those days women and girls were not allowed to participate.  At all.  Unless you count setting out the herring and schnapps for kiddish.

So, while the goyishe kids were doing goyishe things like playing sports and —

Actually, we did not know how the goyim spent their time besides playing sports and trimming trees.  Nor did we know why they had to trim trees that had been chopped down dead and could not possibly grow any wayward branches.  Anyway, while we were stuck in shul, we were sure the goyim were having all kinds of fun.

We did know one thing the goyim got to do on Saturday mornings.  They got to watch cartoons.  Hours and hours of cartoons.  And word on the street was that these Saturday morning cartoons were sooo much better than the “classics” rerun ad infinitum weekday afternoons.  Bugs Bunny?  Please.

Back in such ancient times, there were no VCRs, much less DVRs or TV web sites, so the only way to see these shows was to be at home on Saturday morning.  Unfortunately, there were only two reliable excuses for missing shul: vomit and blizzard.  Alas, these two events were as unlikely as they were undesirable.

Truthfully, we could do without Fat Albert and Scooby-Doo.  My mother had already conditioned us to abhor all human adipose and adore only small dogs.

No, it was The Jackson 5 we were dying to see!  Of course, Michael danced even better in real life than in cartoon life, but he was darling either way and certainly this girl’s pre-teen dream!

So it turns out the complete series of animated Jackson 5 videos is now available by DVD. But somehow it doesn’t interest me.

When the show premiered in 1971, my demographic profile made me the ideal target audience.  Today, not so much.  And it’s kind of sad to see Michael as an innocent youngster now that we know the unfortunate details of his adult life.  Besides, the forbidden fruits of childhood, mostly they don’t age so well.  SpaghettiOs?  Panty hose?  Tiny nose?  No!  No!  No!

Maybe it’s best we leave the past in its place.  Still, just a little taste, it wouldn’t hurt…

Oh, darling, give me more chance!  Oh, Michael, you and me both.

© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

No Surrender

The stoop to my building has become a favorite outdoor smoking lounge for nearby office, shop, and restaurant workers.

Of course, it is terribly unpleasant to breathe the toxic fumes upon arriving or departing home.  Worse still, the smoke drifts into our apartments though the windows and the vents.

Anyway, it is against the law to smoke within 25 feet of a property entrance on the streets of downtown Palo Alto.

So, when I encounter smokers, I politely ask them to move, and until today, the offenders have always left peaceably.

Until today.

There is a young woman smoking.  I courteously request that she step away from the doorway.

She refuses.  She says she is not going anywhere.

I gently remind her that it is illegal to smoke in the current location.

She looks me in the eye and screams:

“Get out of my face you little bitch before I punch you!”

Now, I am not a violent person.  I can’t even do kickboxing class at the gym.  When I took self defense, the instructor called me a pacifist.

And my body is not really built for the fight.  Even a small child can take me down with ease.  And besides, I just had my front teeth reshaped.

But, something suddenly comes over me.  I can’t explain.

I take a step closer to the woman.

I throw back my shoulders, chest out.

I look her in the eye and calmly say:

“I am not the least bit afraid of you.”

I would like to think she was intimidated by my physical presence.

More likely, she thought I was a crazy person.  It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that she walked away.

I felt satisfied for standing my ground.

And lucky to be alive.

What was I thinking?

© 2016 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.

A Hundred Dollars!

Palo Alto.

Such a wealthy town, such a fine weather; maybe it should come as no surprise that we have more than our fair share of panhandlers.

So, it happens the other day, an attractive middle-aged man, immaculately groomed and garbed, strikes up a conversation.

We talk about Houston, from where he comes, he compliments my smile, we chat about this, we muse about that, when suddenly, he asks me for a hundred dollars.

“A hundred dollars!”, I exclaim, “I don’t have a hundred dollars!”

He points to the bank, at the money machine, and tells me I can get it, right over there.

I never give money to strangers on the street.  You don’t know how they would spend it.  Besides, a hundred dollars!

© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Summer Camp

They don’t let you exercise at Eating Disorders Camp.  They don’t let you do much of anything but sit around and eat and talk about eating.

And the food is really, really bad.  Hospital food bad.  If they are so desperate for you to eat, you’d think they’d give you some more appetizing options.  But they don’t.

They do give you options, but I cried “Kosher!” and pleaded “Vegetarian!” and so was able to choose the same menu every day.

For breakfast, I had raisin bran and banana and (whole) milk.  They don’t allow coffee; G-d forbid the caffeine might stimulate your metabolism a little bit.

For lunch, it was fruit plate; a soggy scoop of cottage cheese, slices of under-ripe cantaloupe and honeydew, a few red grapes.

For dinner, the cheese plate; a sleeve of Saltine crackers, a package of Kraft “cheese” squares, desiccated sticks of carrot and celery, some unspecified dip-like substance.

Of course, each meal was washed down with an Ensure chaser; a completely artificial, chemically-tasting form of liquid sustenance.  To add insult to injury, they would always bring me Strawberry, the most disgusting flavor by far.

Note.  You may be thinking I got off easy, that this menu would qualify as a weight loss plan by any normal standard, but this was not the case.  The quantity of food so exceeded even my non-anorexic diet that I gained weight at a depressingly rapid rate.

Each meal came with a paper form listing all of the items on the plate.  After ingesting what we could tolerate and rearranging the rest, an orderly would come around to complete the checklist by filling-in the estimated percentage we had consumed of each foodstuff.

If we passed and it was lunch, and only if we passed and it was lunch, we could go outside to the courtyard for the remainder of the hour.  This was a much-desired privilege; fresh air and sunshine, albeit for a short while, was a very welcome respite from the dingy, institutional environment.

During this recess, we were supervised, in order to prevent any unnecessary burning of calories.  There was a swing set, however, and on some of the days I was able to coax the Shaynas — three attractive, accomplished young women, all with the same name — to join me for a gleeful arc through the air.

Truthfully, I felt like something of a den mother.  Though past forty, I was not nearly the oldest; a few of the campers were into their fifties.  But unlike a fine wine, anorexics and bulimics do not age well, so except for the co-eds and me, the rest of our group was more-or-less inanimate.

One day, it happened they were short on staff and we were left unguarded during the after-lunch interlude.  A few of the girls took advantage of this unexpected freedom to pace the perimeter.  Others discussed strategies for making an escape, but were too sapped to scale the fence.

Suddenly, one of the prisoners called out that she had found a football.  A football?  How a ball of any variety had found its way into our gated community was a mystery of epic proportion and surely an act of subversion.  While uninteresting in any other context; to us, there and then, a football was sheer delight.

Immediately, I threw my arms in the air and shouted “Anorexics against the Bulimics!” and the girls started dividing themselves into teams according to diagnostic code.

As soon as the words passed my lips, however, I realized this was a very bad idea.  I mean, most of us anorexics could be knocked down by a mild breeze.  And the bulimics, well, more than a few of them were built to play the offensive line.

No, this would make for a very lopsided and dangerous scrimmage indeed.  It was my intention to reconfigure the field, but before I could say anything, our sentry was back on duty.  In an instant, the football was confiscated and we were led back to the sterile, florescent day room.

The weeks dragged and I didn’t get much from this supposedly salubrious setting.  The counselors weren’t terribly engaging and the campers were dreadfully disconnected.  Anyway, my issues were already well-understood, and in all honesty, dangerous as my disordered thinking might have been, I just really, really liked being anorexic.

Turns out that not eating was almost effortless for me.  Friends from shul would confess they couldn’t possibly fast a full day for Yom Kippur.  One day?  Please.  I never counted calories or looked for “thinspiration”.  I just ate very lightly and exercised very vigorously.

Most women have no idea how good it feels to go by the Macy’s Petite department and find a size 0 is too big.  I could do yoga like nobody’s business; it is very easy to twist about when there is nothing to get in the way.  My mind was free, no longer needing to worry about my weight all day long.

And the positive reinforcement was out of this world.  In the locker room at my gym, women — women! — would come over to say I had a beautiful body or to ask if I danced ballet.  Men appreciated me in a way I could never have imagined prior to achieving this sylphlike status.

Though I did not enjoy the constant medical attention, it was very convenient not to get my period.  Also, there is a slight light-headedness that comes with malnourishment that is surprisingly pleasant.  The euphoria overwhelmed the fainting spells, serious symptoms, severe side effects, and well-intentioned interventions.

While this was a miserable way to spend the season, my doctor had decreed the cost of my liberty would be 100 lbs.  It was an exorbitant price to pay, seemingly impossible, but like so many others sent to summer camp against their will, more than anything, I just wanted to go home.

© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Buying Black

Whenever we needed any sort of professional services, my parents always got a guy from the shul.  The attorney, the dermatologist, the tailor, the whatever.  Except when we needed a dog doctor or a wall painter or a hairdresser.  These don’t come in Jewish.

Apparently this is a thing.  And not only among the chosen people.  The newspaper advertises real estate agents specializing in the Chinese community.  Maggie Anderson’s Our Black Year chronicles her African-American family’s attempt to buy from only Black-owned businesses for an entire year.

And Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald’s Blindspot acknowledges a bias that takes the form of a secret preference for your own group rather than any active discrimination against other groups.

Sounds about right.  Much as I hate to admit it, I am one of those otherwise egalitarian people with a tendency to favor my own landesman.  Certainly when all the other things are equal.  And perhaps even when they are not.

When my parents needed to buy a car, naturally, they went to a dealer from the synagogue.  A man my mother did not like.  OK, she didn’t like anyone, but she really, really did not like this guy.

My mother never referred to the dealer as Mr. ———, as was custom for business relationships in those days.  She never referred to him as Bob, though she would call other acquaintances from the temple by their first name.  It was always “that momzeh gonif Bob ———”.  Like “momzeh gonif” was his title.

Certainly, there were other lots in the area, but again and again, she returned to the lying thief.  Go figure.

It is this kind of irrational communal loyalty that has led me to make all kinds of questionable purchasing decisions despite the clear and present danger.

Like a few years ago, an eatery called The Roast Shop opened a few blocks from my apartment.  Kosher, closed on Shabbes, the whole megillah.  The only such restaurant in the neighborhood and only one of two in town.

Not a delicatessen type of place, they advertised as specialists in roasted meats.  In either case, not really my style, especially when there are so many wonderful Mediterranean and vegetarian options within a few blocks walk.

Also, they received terrible reviews.  The Yelp, the Chowhound, the Urbanspoon, the whole internet seemed to agree they were just awful.  And yet I felt compelled to go there and waste some hard-earned money.

As soon as I entered the restaurant, I wanted to back myself out the door.  The tables were empty, never a good sign.  They had been open a couple months, there should be at least a few customers.

Still, I ordered a plate and I tried to eat.  I tried but I did not succeed.  It was truly one of the worst restaurant meals I had ever been served.  And I have been served at a roadhouse in rural Indiana.  I have been served on a shrimp boat in redneck Georgia.  I have been served by a hofbräuhaus in Baden-Württemberg.

Though I have never tasted shoe leather, I am sure it would be a close culinary cousin to this so-called brisket.  Pure gristle.  I could not cut it with a knife.  I could not shred it with my teeth.  I could not be certain it was actually meat.  Feh!

The side of cholent was both flavorless and uncooked and contained bits of gristle.  I have eaten black beans by the Mexican restaurant.  I have cooked garbanzo beans by my own hand.  Beans are never supposed to be hard and crunchy.

The side of mixed greens — this is California — was acceptable.  Multi-colored and slightly bitter.  A few thin rings of red onion.  Nothing special but nothing to complain.  It was the only thing I could stomach.

The meal was more than $24.  Absolutely outrageous.  And I didn’t even get a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry.

The funny thing — and the point of the story — is that I kept thinking I really should give them another chance.  Fortunately, and perhaps predictably, they went out of business before an opportunity presented itself.

Anyway, so it happened, when Bernie Sanders announced he was running for President, I was immediately drawn to his candidacy.

To be fair, my attraction was based on firm political footing.  I can’t count the number of times I have said, “I’m so liberal, I’m practically a Socialist”.  In my heart, I agreed with many of his proposals, such as Medicare for all, though I thought the rich people could very well pay for their own kids’ college educations.

Also, I was impressed that Mr. Sanders’ fundraising focused on small donations from individual citizens rather than big bundles from corporate interests.  But, let’s face it, the way he talks, a Jew from Brooklyn, it makes me to feel right at home.

Alas, the way Mr. Sanders seems to shun his Jewish heritage quickly cooled my keen.

OK, maybe the man doesn’t believe, he doesn’t practice, that’s his prerogative.  But, to refer to his parents as Polish immigrants?  They were not Poles, they were Jews.  It is not the same thing.

And when he speaks about his Jewishness, he is really describing humanism, which is not a bad thing, but it is, by definition, anti-religious.  My strong sense is that he is not being forthright about his feelings.

Even so, I wanted desperately to feel the Bern.  Hillary Clinton has her pluses and minuses, but I could muster no enthusiasm.  I would watch the debates to make my decision.

Indeed, it was those debates that finally convinced me.  It wasn’t anything that either candidate said, it was the non-verbal cues.  It was the way Mr. Sanders kept making faces and laughing and wagging his finger whenever it was Mrs. Clinton’s turn to make her schpiel.

It felt annoying.  It felt disrespectful.  It felt like something I did not want to watch for the next four or eight years.

So today, as we cast our ballots in the California primary, I am not “buying Black”.

I’m with her.

© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

My Favorite Words

Upon returning from home to college following a break — summer, winter, spring, I don’t remember — friends started asking me if I had seen the new movie called An Officer and A Gentleman.

Note. This blog, all of it, is based on a true story.  I remind you this, because of all the things I would ever write, this account is the most unbelievable.  It is so inconceivable that I have never told anyone.  But I promise you, it really happened.

OK, I tell the friends no, that I had not seen the film.  And then they tell me, one after the other, I look like the girl who stars in the picture.

So, I went on the web to see some photographs of this mystery starlet.  Except I didn’t.  We didn’t have the internet when I was in college.

Instead, I went to the video store to rent a cassette starring this actress.  No, I didn’t do that either.  We didn’t even have a VCR back then.

Although the comparisons continued, I didn’t give it much thought and it was quite some time before I saw a picture of the woman in question, Debra Winger.

Now, I want to make quite clear that I have never, ever, not even a little bit, noticed any kind of resemblance between me and Debra Winger.  And I assure you, I have looked.  And looked.  And looked some more.

Truly, besides a few surface similarities — long, dark, wavy hair; gray-blue eyes; too large, but not quite Semitic nose — I just don’t see it.  I have never seen it.

At this point, I am tempted to launch into a self-deprecating song-and-dance about my appearance, but let’s just suffice it to say that she is Debra Winger and I am not.

Anyway, it would happen over the years, not too often, from time to time, upon meeting someone new; a hair stylist, a friend of a friend, a client.  The magic words: “Has anyone ever told you you look like Debra Winger?”

But it’s been a long time and I had pretty much forgotten all about it.  Then today, while waiting on the checkout line by the Whole Foods, a lady said it to me, out of the blue.

“Has anyone ever told you you look like Debra Winger?”

Everyone has some special words that lift their spirit.  For example, my favorite three words?  Easy to guess.  What woman doesn’t love to hear, “You’ve lost weight!”?  It just never gets old.

And my favorite ten words?  Well, now you know.

© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.