Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Baltimore (It’s A Small Town)

Filed under : Life in general,Travel
On July 30, 2009
At 12:00 pm
Comments : 3

Edited to add: Oh hee, it seems the City of Baltimore is 280 years old today! Happy birthday, Baltimore!

And now, the rest of Hopkins and Baltimore. I’ve always been jealous of people in my life who move abroad. Then they come back to the States and they know the language and the customs and how to do things here as well as their other country. I realized in a small way, I do have that. In Baltimore. It was nice to get off the train and immediately know where I was going, what I was doing, and how to get there.

OK, onward.

This is what most people think of with Johns Hopkins, except without all those poles. Maybe they Photoshop it. Anyway! Up there is the main library, called MSE, where people less slackery than I studied and in front of it is “the beach” where people more sexy than I sunbathed. In fact, even here in the Summer, there are some out there. Those school buses belonged to hordes of high school students visiting and being led on various tours. They were everywhere when I was visiting. I willed one of them or their parents to ask me a question so I could answer, “save yourself! Don’t come here!” but no one did. As I walked up the oval to MSE, a white-haired man holding a pile of library books caught up to me and despite my headphones started conversing with me. This doesn’t happen to me in NY but occurred several times this day. I kind of loved it. I pretended I was still a Baltimoron and the conversation went like this:

He: Are those high school students visiting campus?
Me: I guess so… seems like it.
He (mischievously): They must be! Who else would stand in the sun like that?
Me: Or at least they’re not from Baltimore.
He laughed uproariously and I felt good. Did I mention? I really feel at home in Baltimore.

Wow, picturesque! I really know how to showcase the place, don’t I? In fact, this dead end garbage dump area is where I went every single day to eat. That white door on the right was the entrance to the Kosher Dining Hall and by “Hall,” I mean a room with a long table, two sofas, a stereo, and a little prayer area, plus a kitchen. This was religious Jewish life at Hopkins while I was there. But, you know, I met College Boyfriend there which is why of all the places I see when I visit, this is the one that has a 100% chance of making me cry. I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that it no longer exists there as a testament to all the things that happened to me there or if it’s the memory of all the good and bad events in general, but there you are. A lot goes on in a one room area you visit every day for four years. It’s all locked up and I don’t know what they use it for now; I pressed my face up to the dusty barred window and tried to peer through the slats. Nothing but darkness.

Now they have a building unto themselves off-campus. It’s stunning and luxurious. I cried when I visited it three years ago and knew I would never go back. They used to ask me for money to fund it. Fuck ’em.

Feel better? This is what college is supposed to look like. That’s the lower quad, mostly because the main focal point of the upper quad was under construction and covered with scaffolding. In the distance there is Shriver Hall where they had concerts, amongst other things. I saw Ministry there before I knew they had changed their sound to… nothing like their old sound. That was a surprising show. A couple of years after I graduated, I volunteered to take one of our artists at my first label to his show there. He was my idol and I thought by coming back as somebody, I could show Hopkins that they hadn’t trampled my spirit utterly. That feeling lasted for a month or so. But don’t worry, I did ultimately get my self-esteem back.

Moving right along, I did eventually hop on the #3 bus and go down to the Harbor to see my store. Of course, it isn’t Sam Goody’s anymore, because the Musicland/Sam Goody chain is dead, but I hardly expected to find what I did in an upscale tourist mall, which was a discount dollar store. In fact, it was so bare-bones that it was called “A Dollar.” It was run by an immigrant couple who were so lax on security that I managed to take BlackBerry photos all over the store, including the back room. I meant to post them all with captions like, “here’s the slatboard where I used to organize the Maxell and TDK blank tape and here’s the area where I put a thousand cassettes and CD’s into a thousand plastic theft-proof ‘keepers,'” but in the end it was too depressing.

After that, I read the Baltimore City Paper and sipped fresh-squeezed lemonade while watching the scene at Harborplace. And then I met up with Alex and Steph and other friends from my current life and that was a nice end to the day. But just as we were finishing our dinner, a giant storm came out of nowhere to wash away the humidity for a moment. That happens everywhere, New York too, but somehow it seemed like I remember it more from there. I was glad it happened. Because whatever transpires in your life, you can always count on the rain to come and clean it up for you.

Title comes from a song of the time for me (you never really realize how depressed you were until you re-listen to the depressing songs that remind you of the time, do you?):
Depeche Mode – Oberkorn (It’s A Small Town)


You can’t believe it but here you are

Filed under : Life in general,Travel
On July 29, 2009
At 12:00 pm
Comments : 3

Oh hello! I didn’t see you there. Thanks for joining the “Return to Johns Hopkins 2009” tour. Let’s get going, shall we? I hope you brought sunscreen, it’s about 90 today with 85% humidity. That’s right, it’s a day ending in Y! This tour will be in two parts, mostly because my post containers just aren’t big enough to show you everything I need to show you. It’s that big of a tour. Today, we’ll concentrate on Places I Have Lived.

Since it was the furthest from campus, I first went to the house I lived in Sophomore year. Sure it was a long walk but it was a house! And I still love it so much that I dream of buying a rowhouse someday. You can see the door is ajar a bit, that’s because there is no air-conditioning. The open door and the fan you can’t see are the cooling sytem.

Back in the day, our landlord’s name was Alan Something. He told us, “don’t call me Mr. Something, call me Alan!” Later, we learned to change that statement to, “don’t call me Alan, call me Asshole!” Alan is still the landlord. I know because I asked a woman going inside (her boyfriend lives there but they are not students) and she told me he was still an asshole. This turned out to be amongst the only things that hadn’t changed.

Like this. This was just rowhouses and shops. Now it’s lofts and chain stores like Chipotle and Starbucks. That was, in fact, the biggest change. We had like one little grocery (Eddie’s – still there) and a Chinese take-out. Now there are cafes and national fast food outlets. It’s hard to understate how little we had and how much there is now. Not that I’m bitter or anything. *cough*

Another thing that was reassuringly the same, though, was the bus. That’s the 3 to the Inner Harbor (got good eyes?) and I took that or the 61 (which got me closer to work but came less frequently) to work at Sam Goody’s at Harborplace every other day or so for four years. So much so, that in a Pavlovian reaction, seeing this bus made me want to jump up.

This is where I lived Junior year, it’s called the Blackstone. My roommate was someone who seemed like a good idea at the time but wasn’t. In case you were wondering, Hopkins only had enough room back then in campus housing for freshmen. After that, you were on your own. I think that now even sophomores get housing but I’m not 100% on that. In any case, this place was kind of like living alone, as it was a studio attached to a one bedroom so unless I needed the kitchen, I could kind of forget my roommate existed. Also, it was across the street from campus. Sweet.

By Senior year I had had enough and for the first time in my life, I lived alone fo rills. As you’ve no doubt guessed, I loved it. I think my first day there was one of the greatest of my life; I remember walking around naked and watching Johnny Carson. What? Anyway, I lived in this pub. No, actually, I lived in a building called The Charles and I thought for a moment they had torn it down until I saw the bar entrance and knew I was there. This pub was in the basement and is the scene of the drunkest I have ever been in my life, after getting $25 to appear in a commercial for the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Yes, all it takes is $25 to get me smashed off my ass. The thing I remember most was lying on the floor of the bathroom listening to my cousin leave a message on the machine while I called out feebly, “I’m heeeeeeeere…..” But at least I had a short walk home.

The next day, I swallowed a roll of Tums and took the 3 to the record store.

This looks like a dorm, doesn’t it? It is! This was where I lived Freshman year. My first roommate told her mother that there were too many Jews on campus while she thought I was asleep. I started to talk to my family in Hebrew on the phone just to annoy her. Eventually I switched with someone and moved suites, although I remained friends with my suitemate for the rest of my life. That’s because she forgave me for leaving her with two idiots instead of just the one. She grew up to be North of the City.

That’s my window on the top floor, just behind those branches on the left. I couldn’t get in to see it because the security is much tighter than it was back when I was there. They haven’t changed the fancy name of the dorm, though, because no one’s yet given enough money, so it’s still Building A. Lame.

Next post: the rest of my visit. You should probably take this time to apply more sunscreen.

Title comes from a song of the time for me:
The Ocean Blue – A Separate Reality


Lost in transcription

Filed under : Reader of the Month,The Internets
On July 27, 2009
At 9:00 pm
Comments : 5

Google, what can’t it do? I have Google Voice, which used to be called Grand Central, and rings all my phones at once. That way, people don’t call me on my cellphone, which has about 60 minutes a month, when I’m sitting right next to a landline. Also, I can tailor my voicemail message to different numbers so if you know me as Becca, you get “you’ve reached Becca” and if you know me as something else, you get “you’ve reached something else.”

It also has a fantastic service which transcribes voicemails so you don’t have to dial in and listen to several minutes of, “just calling to say hi, but also, did you get Barb a present for her birthday? I was thinking of something I saw on Amazon. You know what? I’ll just e-mail you a link. So, um, yeah… yeah, I’ll just e-mail you. Later! Oh, right, this is Sam. Did I say my phone number? You probably have it… well, I’ll just e-mail.”

Hell, Barb’s already had two more birthdays since I started listening to that. But Google transcribes them so you don’t have to go through all that plus the whole, “press 7 to delete, press 2 to explode your brain” rigmarole. It’s just like an e-mail! Except when they’re not so good at it. While I was in Baltimore, I finally met up with our second Reader of the Month, Steph! She was delayed a bit and called me to let me know that she and Mr. Steph were on their way. Why, it was clear from the transcription!

So, to sum up, Steph and her husband couldn’t make it to the restaurant at Harborplace on time because they were doing it in the parking garage. Also, someone was watching, so that made it extra special! I made sure to let Warren, whoever the hell he is, know.

LL Cool J – Doin’ It


iPod song of the week – Sarah McLachlan

Filed under : iPod Song of the Week
On July 26, 2009
At 11:30 pm
Comments : 3

The best thing about Sarah McLachlan was how emotional her music was. Then it got kind of too emotional – I mean, how long can you sustain that level of emotion? Well, maybe that’s just me. But back in the day, before her big hits, I loved this song which now sounds somewhat dated and the production a bit cheesy. But when it came out it sounded fresh and her voice just grabbed you. There was something poignant about it, as though you, too, remember the person about whom she sings, “in the desert of my dreams I saw you there.” Remember is the key word, I think, because she doesn’t say that, but somehow it seems to me that it’s all a recollection of something or someone now gone.

This post is actually a preface to a later one which I’ll write when I’m not utterly exhausted. I went back to Baltimore this weekend and had a great, if intense time. Someone asked recently on a forum about going back to your old house. Well, you might remember that I haven’t had an old house until recently so of course I haven’t. But this weekend I realize I do go back, and I did. That house is several houses and they’re all in Baltimore. In hindsight, though, I wonder if I would have burst into tears upon stepping off the train onto the platform at Penn Station there, had this particular song not been playing on my iPod. Probably, but maybe not in those sort of sobs that make people look at you. What? Have they never seen someone who was that happy to see Baltimore before?

Streaming audio:

Sarah McLachlan – Vox


29 Tammuz, 5769

Filed under : Judaism
On July 20, 2009
At 8:00 pm
Comments : 5

Tonight begins the Yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) of my mother, and as I always do, I impart a lesson from her. This one actually comes from the Talmud, but was taught to me by her. Not just me, but since this is a summer lesson, to all the kids at the camp where she served as educational director for over twenty years.

My mother died on the eve of the Nine Days, a period of mourning in Judaism that leads to Tisha B’Av (ninth of Av – a Jewish month), the day that commemorates the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Both times – there were two temples and they both happened to be destroyed on the same day in different years. My mother used to teach the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, which is from the Talmud, and seeks to explain why the Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was ravaged, and the Jewish people exiled.

It goes like this. There was a man who decided to have a feast and invite all his friends, including a man named Kamtza. When his servant went to deliver the invitations, he made a mistake (you just couldn’t find good help in those days) and delivered the invite to someone named Bar Kamtza instead. Bar Kamtza, as it happened, and the feast-giver, were sworn enemies. Awkward! But Bar Kamtza figured, “wow, he really wants to make this up – go him!” So he showed up at the feast and the host said, “what the hell are you doing here?” That’s when Bar Kamtza must have realized they were still enemies. The host told him to get out (this is when I imagine the music stopping and the dancing girls stopping their dance and everyone shutting up and staring… the Talmud is silent on this point, however).

But no one wants to get tossed out of a happening party in front of a lot of people. So Bar Kamtza said, “I’m here already, just let me stay and I’ll even pay for whatever I eat and drink.” The host said no way. Bar Kamtza offered to pay for half the cost of the whole party! That’s how mortified he was. No dice. OK, what about the entire shindig? Just don’t embarrass me like this! But the host threw him out.

Also at this party were a lot of Rabbis, who were the leaders then, and none of them said anything while this was going on. Thus Bar Kamtza reckoned that they condoned his humiliation, since none of them had protested or spoken out. He decided to get even with the lot of them. He went to the Romans who were in charge of things at the time, and told them the Jews were rebelling. The Romans attacked, and, well, you know the rest. Death, destruction, the end of the holy Temple (there’s just the Wailing Wall now), and the loss of a way of life forever.

Obviously, there are a lot of things you can take away from this story. The one my mother always taught was that it is gravely wrong to embarrass people in public. I actually just did that by posting photos of my friends from 20 years ago on Facebook. Oops. Must try harder. But really, your good name is all you have, so if you have a problem with someone, take it to a private venue. Bad-mouthing someone on your blog, for instance, is never cool. Damage can usually be undone when the whole world doesn’t know about it.

The other lesson is obviously to not to have friends with similar names. Or just send out your invites yourself. Or work things out with your frenemies. Or keep the Romans out of Israel. That last one was hard.

I like that my mother’s Yahrzeit is tacked on to the Nine Days. It doesn’t replace any of them or get merged, it just adds one more day. The Ten Days, as it were. And I like to think that even the biggest, scariest world events, like war and destruction, could be prevented if only we were good to each other.

בזכות מרים נחמה בת הרב יצחק
זכרונה לברכה