Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Renew our days as of old

Filed under : America,Baseball,Depeche Mode,Judaism
On October 7, 2012
At 5:45 pm
Comments : 3

On the eve of Simchat Torah and the ALDS, a Baltimore tale with a little holiday sermon thrown in. Shana tovah!

Our story begins in the early 80’s but we’re going to jump ahead to 2006, to a story I told in this very blog, about visiting Baltimore. While there, I walked from my hotel where I was staying as a guest of the lovely Dr. Toad, across downtown Baltimore to the nearest synagogue. I had to do this because I was saying Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, for my mother at that time, and you need to say it with a communal group, or minyan. The area to which I was headed, although I did not know it, is called Jonestown, but it’s not in Guyana, it’s just to the east of the Inner Harbor. While walking there, in 2006 remember, I crossed into something totally unexpected, a new development. I mean, literally, a new development. New rowhouses were being built and green spaces and squares and roads. It was a totally new neighborhood within a city that was three hundred years old and fully developed. I was really thunderstruck and curious. At the time, I was also struck by the synagogue (I wrote about that part in 2006) and how old and beautiful it was and what was it doing right there, just east of the downtown in what seemed like the last place on earth you’d imagine a Jewish neighborhood. Last week, I found out what that neighborhood was and why that synagogue was there through two completely separate means, except that both were through Google. Oh, and clearly, since they did have Google in 2006, I wasn’t curious enough to find out then. Plus, I found out what happened to the thing I haven’t yet mentioned from the early 80’s and how that ties in. Onwards!

(Oh my God, I’m going to mention The Wire again, be warned).

If you know any behind the scenes things about The Wire, you know that the “high rise towers” that get blown up somewhere in, I think, Season 3, were a liberty taken by the producers, and that, in fact, all the “tower” public housing in Baltimore city was demolished before the show even started. But it’s based on the time that David Simon was reporting for the Baltimore Sun and they had those towers then. I think it’s generally acknowledged, and I recommend again “the Pruitt-Igoe Myth” that high-rise housing projects are a big, huge failure and most cities got rid of them. The last ones to be imploded in Baltimore, and this was after I left and stopped paying attention, were called Flag House Courts and they were blown up in 2001 (appropriately on July 4th, as the flag house in that neighborhood is the one where the flag that was “still there” was sewn). I was reading about Flag House Courts, and I can’t remember why, but I found that what replaced the housing project was a new development. A new development in Jonestown. It opened up in 2005 and 2006. So now, six years later, my mystery is solved. It was a new neighborhood built on top of the footprint of the imploded housing project and it was called Albemarle Square.

But what was there before public housing? A slum, according to what I have read. But way before that, it was a Jewish neighborhood and there is still the synagogue and a few delis to let you know that. Almost all the Jews moved away to Northwest Baltimore, which is where I lived right after college. The synagogues went with them. And therein lies Part II of our tale.

When I was a kid, we used to visit Baltimore every year for the holiday which begins tonight, Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. That’s the one where the cycle of Torah readings, one each week, begins again, and we celebrate that. My mother’s college roommate had moved to Baltimore and we came each year and spent that holiday with her family. Their neighborhood wasn’t in Northwest Baltimore, it was in Baltimore County and the Internet variously calls that area Old Court, Milford Mill, Randallstown, and Pikesville. When I was a tween and teen, I called it Baltimore. This is what I would also call a tale of real estate. Because what’s the first thing you look for? Location, location, location. A new Jewish academy had opened there and lots of Jews thought it would be the place to be. But that didn’t really happen. As I found after college, the Orthodox Jews remained in Northwest Baltimore where they are to this day. The last time I was in the Old Court area was probably 1991. It seems to have gone downhill as a Jewish community since then. How did I find this out? Let’s go to The Google.

While I was looking at things about synagogues in Jonestown, I found the name of our family friends’ synagogue in Old Court. Really? Had it been in Jonestown? Yes! The congregation in the modernish, 60s-esque building I knew from my childhood had originally been located in the city and it dated from the 19th century. Eventually, according to this great site, it moved to Pimlico. And then, the site simply says, it moved to “the county.” I went to Google Maps to look it up, expecting to see the new frontier building I remembered so well, but confusingly, it was an empty, grassy field. What happened? I Googled the synagogue and listings now say, “closed in 2007.”


Here I was going to post a link to a lovely blog post found about the closing of the synagogue, with great pictures, and which told some of the story. And then I realized through little teeny details that it was by the son of my parents’ friends. The Internet is a small place, people! So you will have to do without that, because I am just private enough to not want to send a pingback there. But he, like most people I knew there, moved to the more vibrant northwest in the 90’s. I found other articles, one from 1998 about efforts the synagogue was making to attract more members and another about the closing. The Rabbi, who was a sweet, learned man, and had led the shul since 1952 “refused to comment.”

So here is this synagogue, which began in the 1800’s in the area known as Jonestown/Flag House Courts/Albemarle Square and moved out to Pimlico and then Old Court, and now has had to close (in 2007…. I’m late). I looked up the address of my parents’ friends who we used to visit…. they too moved to the northwest (and their kids live there with their families, too). Sometimes, you just gamble wrong on where the community is going to be.

I think cities live and die, people and communities move, neighborhoods change and change back, and even sports teams relocate. But we adapt and come back. And as the Orioles begin their first postseason in fifteen years, I wish them luck and I hope Baltimore, too, is rejuvenated.

If not, they’ll just fire the mayor and trade all the city council members to the Dodgers.

(Title does NOT come from this song… it’s an instrumental, aside from everything else).

I have mentioned that for me, the song Oberkorn (It’s a small town) reminds me of Baltimore. The song is exactly 30 years old this month. In the comments of a fascinating article about A Broken Frame’s 30th anniversary, someone says of Oberkorn (it was a B-side from that record), “[Depeche Mode] never really touched on that mood before or since.” I think that’s true. It is a strange, wistful mood, and one I love.

I never would have imagined they ever played it live but here it is, hidden in the intro to the far bigger song, “My Secret Garden” from a 1982 concert.


I sometimes wish I was in bed

Filed under : Depeche Mode,Music,Reasons to be cheerful
On March 7, 2012
At 11:45 pm
Comments : 2

I really want to title this post, “I got home, sat down, and was asleep eight minutes later” but it seemed a little bit literal. Anyway, I’m writing this at 1:30am and backdating it (I have done that quite often this week, you may have noticed) and it is less than well thought out, sorry. This is the problem with this challenge. But I am up to writing a half-assed post in the middle of the night!

Wait, no I’m not. I need to go to Real Bed rather than Fake Bed aka, the sofa. So one more happy song and tomorrow I promise a picture of the delightful baked goods which have caused me to average 3.5 hours a night of sleep this week.

In the vein of yesterday’s choice, I picked the sprightliest Depeche Mode song with the most unfortunate title. In case it isn’t peppy enough for you, it’s one of their earliest songs and this live video from 1981 shows Dave Gahan’s unfortunate fashion choices of that era. I like to think the pants tried to swallow him whole that morning.

Happy Purim!


Wherever you lay your deckchair

Filed under : Depeche Mode,Music,Reasons to be cheerful
On February 27, 2012
At 9:30 pm
Comments : 4

Another thing I’ve wanted to write about is the lullaby album of Depeche Mode covers recently released by Rockabye Baby. I ordered it on CD just because I loved the cover image so much. More on this in a moment. If you like DM (and really, who doesn’t?) this album will please you immensely. It’s full of perfectly detailed lullaby version of such classics as Personal Jesus, People Are People, and my favorite, Stripped. I guess that last one is for when your child needs a diaper change.

My favorite on the album is Everything Counts, which you may remember is now, in revision, considered my favorite song of all time. I think hearing the main riff in glockenspiel is more than I can handle. It’s adorable overload!

But the artwork is beyond awesome and its two main pictures are now my wallpapers at work (laptop and iPad), where kids tell me they love them every day, having no idea where they originate. Rockabye Baby artwork is always based on an iconic image of the subject band with a teddy bear taking the place of whatever human or animal is usually the focus. So instead of Dave Gahan trekking through mountains and snow to find peace and solace in his royal robes, we get these:

For reference see these stills:

Or better yet, the actual video.


What I love about the premise of the video is that even kings in their royal robes can find peace and contentment through simple things like beauty and serenity. And that happiness really = contentment (I got that from the Mishna, actually, and not Depeche Mode, but still). So when my kids tell me it’s so cute, I want to say, “but it means so much more!”

Of course, if they would just let me enjoy some silence, I’d be happy.

PS, this video inspired Coldplay’s song Viva La Vida. Sorry about that.

Buy the Depeche Mode lullabies album here.
A sample of Everything Counts here:
Rockabye Baby – Everything Counts


Twist and turn till you’ve got it right

Filed under : Depeche Mode,Music
On January 12, 2012
At 9:00 pm
Comments : 6

I am compiling a list of the things they don’t tell you about teaching (Tami can tell you the one I mentioned to her today: that you get a lot of vacation but you have so much work that you end up working through it). Another is that you can hear people calling your name in your dreams. A cacophony of voices calling, “Ms. Jball, Ms. Jball, Ms. Jbaaaaaall, I need heeeeeellllllp!” This is to say, I had a long day. 7am to 5pm with one 25 minute break and many cups of coffee. The funny part is, I taught blogging to 3rd graders today and so the WordPress post box I am looking at right now looks exactly like what was on my Smartboard for much of the day. But I digress.

At the end of the day, I went to Trader Joe’s and bought two bags worth of groceries. The cashier adeptly divided the items into the bags and kept picking them both up and then redistributing to even things out. This struck me as considerate but unusual. To make conversation, because I find it awkward to stand and watch people doing things for me, I said, “thanks, because I’m a Libra so I like things balanced, ha ha.” He answered, without any humor, “I’m a Libra, too, but I don’t care about that stuff.” Then I had to say, “well, actually, me either.” What I didn’t add was, “I was just making conversation, could you work with me here?”

Then, as I walked away with my two bags of similar weight, this song came on the store’s sound system. I kid you not:

1. This is a terrible, terrible video.
2. I do not believe in astrology but I totally believe that God is a DJ.

By the way, if you are imagining that I left the store while the song was playing, you would be INCORRECT. Naturally, I spent the time answering some work emails.


It’s a competitive world

Filed under : Depeche Mode
On September 5, 2011
At 10:00 pm
Comments : 4

Like many things in life, my experience of participating in an auction is mostly gleaned from TV and movies. Here, specifically, the scene in North By Northwest where Cary Grant acts crazy so he can escape the bad guys by being dragged away by the cops. Also, the Seinfeld episode where Elaine ends up way overspending her boss’ money on JFK’s golf clubs because she can’t bear to lose to Sue Ellen Mischke, the Oh Henry! candy bar heiress. So when I participated in my first live, non-eBay auction this weekend, I carried in a few lessons based on these. First, never trust Eva-Marie Saint and second, set a max you will spend and don’t go above that no matter how much other people are bidding.

The auction in question was of the personal collection of Alan Wilder, previously of Depeche Mode, and included memorabilia, instruments, clothes, rarities, etc. I watched a segment of his movie describing why he was selling all this stuff, because personally, if I had a giant country home, I’d keep my junk forever, and it’s not like he needs the money, but I never really understood. I think the answer is, “eh, why not?” I seriously thought most things would go for thousands, because there are millions of crazy DM fans out there, but I decided to pay my £1 to get a bidding number just in case.

In fact, most things didn’t. But the problem was, when I sat down to really calculate the most I would spend, I found that it wasn’t going to be enough to get much. I set myself a top bid of £200. That means $321 plus 15% commission plus a foreign currency fee = $377. I couldn’t decide if that was crazy high for a vinyl record or poster or so low as to fall into the “why bother?” category. But it’s really the most I could spend without hating myself.

I also set myself these rules:
1. It can’t be an outrageous price for what it is (like a guitar pick or something).
2. It has to be something I would really want and not, “hm, that seems like a bargain – grab it!”
3. It can’t be something I already own, just now signed by Alan Wilder and from his personal collection.
4. It can’t be something, like a radio promo, which I once handled millions of and saw as worthless. It would make me feel like a sucker. More like a sucker.

Plus, a lucky thing happened and I found that a limited number of physical catalogs (they were also available as a PDF online) could be purchased on eBay for £5 (with shipping and everything else, it somehow ended up as $18). What was so great about that? Simple, it virtually eliminated the “but I must have something from this auction” feeling which otherwise might have had me spend $377 on a guitar pick. Each time I would feel that during the auction, I’d think, “but I have the catalog as a souvenir!” It is very glossy, by the way, and came all the way from England.

So the last rule was perhaps the most important:
5. You do not have to actually purchase anything.

So I got online and proceeded to sit through seven hours of auction, with just two breaks. I don’t really know how these guys do it. It was one auctioneer and by the end, he seemed very, very tired. I think he just wanted to get out of there. But most of the time, I wondered how he was still functioning after hours of describing acetates and promo items and urging people to get their bids in faster.

The first couple of hours were just musical instruments and as tempting as it might be to get the synthesizer that was used in the Devotional tour, I don’t really have $15k or the space. Then came the clothes and the hilarious part was that they were sold like you might want to wear them. The waist size of the pants were described or the fact that it might have a tear but could easily be repaired, or that it might come back into fashion. I mean, are people really going to walk around wearing Alan Wilder’s Levis from 1988?

Then came the part I was really waiting for, the music. It was funny to see how there was a consensus over which songs people cared about and which ones they didn’t. Anything from Black Celebration or Music For the Masses went really high and anything from Songs of Faith and Devotion had to have its price lowered. But thanks to all my rules, I did not fall into this trap. There was a test pressing of Policy of Truth which no one seemed to want at all, for instance. But I don’t even like that song! I couldn’t imagine framing that and telling people I paid $300 for it. So I passed. Most things I really wanted went swiftly and for a lot, which I guess means I’m in the mainstream of DM fans. Too bad.

What did I bid on? Well, this. This was the thing I wanted the most and there is a story behind it, because when I was in college, I would trade International students for their versions of DM cassettes (I worked in a record store; it was easy to get a cheap American version to trade, and they always liked ours better). The other thing is, I love both these songs and I really liked the artwork. So I bid. My heart was pounding! It was really exhilarating, much more than I’d have thought. A couple of times I was in the lead but then they’d say “fair warning” and someone else would bid. Finally I hit £200 and someone bid £220. I started to think of rule #1 – are two cassette singles really worth $450? I couldn’t do it. It sold at £220, gah. The worst part is, the screen would either say that it had sold to someone in the room or “Sold to the Internet.” I’m on the Internet! It didn’t sell to me!

By the way, every time they said “fair warning,” which was about 1,000 times, I’d get a Van Halen earworm.

Soon after that, they moved on to gold and platinum records, which were out of my range, and some other things, and got to the posters. It was odd seeing posters that I once had on my walls… and I still may have them. They cost $10 at the show or in the Village. Surreal. This poster, for instance, dominated the wall of my freshman dorm room.

I also had this one.

Even without that, I really couldn’t see myself buying a poster. Where would I put it? The days of my room or apartment being plastered with rock posters are long gone. After my mid-20’s, I used to keep them in a storage space which was eliminated when I redid my kitchen and now I don’t know where they are. I also used to have some up in my office, but they don’t work as well in an elementary school computer lab as they did at the record label, y’know? But I did bid on this one, because it was pretty (love the light blue mountains in the background!) and minimalist and the song means something to me. Evidently, others thought so, too. It went for about $800.

So I came away with nothing. But here are some things I learned from the auction:
1. Depeche Mode fans have a lot of disposable income.
2. Alan Wilder had more leather jackets than I had even supposed.
3. Six plus hours of listening to someone auction things off in a Manchester accent is a kind of torture.
4. Even rich people use Ikea frames. Who knew?
5. Next time I go to a show, I am going to buy one of every t-shirt, put the lot away for 20 years, and then sell for thousands.

Most importantly, I’ll always have the catalog.

Title comes from:
Depeche Mode – Everything Counts