Thursday, July 31, 2008
A couple of weeks ago I was reading an article blasting the media; nothing new or objectionable in it, or even something I would have disagreed with, for that matter. But a phrase close to the end caught my attention; it was something along the lines of Jamie Lynn Spears choosing to have a child out of wedlock. Not that I am claiming that this young lady should be the role model for all our young ladies, but what gives? She choose to have sex out wedlock; once that resulted in pregnancy, obviously not planned or expected (we are talking about two dumb teenagers, after all), there was only one choice: the one that the author of that article and many of his like minded colleges spent their lives to oppose. So, again, what gives?
While I was pondering that strange composition, another, seemingly unrelated memory, popped into my mind. That went all the way to somewhere in 2001, back to when I was working for an organization peopled and run by the members of my own religious denomination. My department had the pleasant duty of covering the secondary reception desk, which everyone, aside from me, hated with passion. I, on the other hand, always welcomed the opportunity of basically reading for an hour on the company's clock. So, at one such reading break, another co-worker stopped by to chat; of course, the first question was about my reading material, which at that time was "Lord of the Rings". That, not surprisingly, led to questions about Harry Potter, which anyone who knows me will confirm as pretty dangerous to ask, since I tend to gush about it for about an hour. But since I was not in a mood to schmooze with her when I could read, I contained myself and just politely responded that I loved Harry Potter. To which she was compelled to reply that, although she herself did not read any of "Harry" books, she heard that they were objectionable due to the fact that the main personages from that series attend a "mixed" school where boys and girls are together during most of their days.
Stupidity by itself is very harmful; stupidity cloaked in religious observance - lethal.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
As I mentioned before, public library that used to be an enjoyable place to visit, now became mostly a source of irritation and a place that you visit out of necessity, and where you try to conduct your business as quickly as possible. As previously described, some of it is being contributed by the library patrons; mostly, however, it is the work of library employees. Security guards and their "King and Queen of the Three Bridges" routine already got an honourable mention; they, however, are just a tip of the iceberg.
Public library, by the nature of being public, is run by public officials; that is the main problem. Almost all of the employees, hired by the strictest guidelines of the "equal opportunity"/affirmative actions, work according to the strictest guideline of the public employees: absolute minimum effort plus no common sense, with the occasional rudeness thrown in for the good measure.
After you cleared the first barrier in the form of the above mentioned security, you are forced to engage the library clerks. These people do not have the words "fast" and "quick" in their vocabulary; "molasses" usually comes to mind when you observe them in action (and it has nothing to do with the color of their skin). There are two lines: returns and check-outs. No matter the hour or the day of the week, there is always going to be a line (sometimes huge) for the one, and up to three people yawning on the other end, because the rudimentary skills of organization are unknown to these fine public servants. Not only this, but clerks also love to play august personages; they enjoy to constantly point out to the patrons exactly where to stand, not to approach till called, and remind them that computer is always right and theirs (patrons') puny brains could not compete with it.
The funniest, at least to me, is the way they (the clerks) respond to greetings. It became almost a game. Especially with one of the clerks with a distinctive hippie appearance, who always looked as if she needed a good dose of dulcolax. So, for about three years, I have entertained myself with always being extremely polite whenever I encountered her, and catalogue her reactions. Finally, she showed signs of thawing off.
Librarians are another source of entertainment, albeit of a sad variety, since it usually gives off the glimpses into what hippies accomplished with our educational system. One of them, while trying to help another woman in front of me, could not remember Cortez' first name; both of them were equal parts surprised and annoyed when I piped it up. Another one did not know if "Edmund Burke" was an author or a name of a book. Very, very amusing!
Of course, the biggest fun and adventure are reserved for the instances of political affiliation. You can not really feel it till you disclose your official membership in the vast ranks of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, or even observe it till you make your business to notice such things.
According to my puny right wing fascist reactionary brain, if public library exists on public funds, that means that everyone supplying these funds could equally avail themselves of the library services. Which translates into availability of all printed non-fiction books, not just the ones approved by the leftie Comrades. Why is it that The Tale of Two Kings, whose message is objectionable to about 99.9% of parents (probably all of them, aside from Katha Politt), is readily available at the library, but no books written by Katherine DeBrecht? Why do they have about ninety nine copies of Bill's autobiography and ninety six of Hil's, but not one copy of "The Third Terrorist"? As this piece goes "to print", there are thirteen titles in the Politically Incorrect Guide series, but only five in the library data base, and even those in very limited quantities; aside, surprisingly, from the PIG to American History (I guess somebody did not realize the harm, since it was the first book in that series purchased by the library).
The list goes on and on and on; the only exception being Ann Coulter books. I guess her popularity is so big, it has beaten even the NYPL. I remember when her third book came out, there were twenty six copies in Mid Manhattan branch alone (and not one on the shelf for about three weeks after the initial release). But aside from Ann's books, what gives? The standard excuse is the shortage of the above mentioned funds. Fine; then buy five less copies of Al Franken's masterpieces, and at least one more copy of "The Witness" to supplement the lonely one that is constantly in demand; that still lives the budget for two copies of PIG to the Middle East and two copies of PIG to Islam. Does that make sense to you?
Lastly and most importantly, if you ever show your true righty colors to the above mentioned and described public servants, expect the additional drop in already very shaky customer service. One time I had the audacity to ask the librarian for a location of "Slander", which I wanted to check out for my Dad. She politely helped me, adding derisively that for whatever reason they had a lot of copies. "It's a really good book" was my idiotic reply. To use the old cliche, if looks could kill, I would not be writing this right now. She remembered my treacherous mug, and since then I could not get her to say hello, smile, or really help me. Another time another librarian observed me in treasonous act of picking a Reagan's biography off the shelf; same exact reaction. And remember that clerk that I have been training for about three years? After all my hard efforts to make her respond to my greetings and smile in return, I had the shortness of vision in checking out another Ann Coulter for my Dad. All that painstaking labor, wasted! Of course, my friend SubWife would have probably suggested a very easy solution to this dilemma: just stop going anywhere within five mile radius of Ann Coulter books.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Animal analogies are extremely popular both in spoken and written word. Though always very eloquent, they can be, in my opinion, divided into few categories. One of these would be descriptions insulting to people, and another one would be descriptions insulting to animals. Allow me to elaborate.
The best animal analogies that could be applied to the members of the religion of peace would be snakes and jackals. Both of them would be extremely accurate and very insulting to both snakes and jackals, because snakes and jackals are just that: animals. As such, they really have no control over their actions, as disgusting and as reprehensible as they are. Muslims, on the other hand, are supposed to be human beings, ergo, the only beings in the Universe endowed by the Creator with the freedom of choice. So, they choose to torture and kill. Kill themselves, their family members, and, of course, the infidels; all in the name of their god. I recently admitted to one of my friends that, although I detest all those people flooding my neighbourhood, mostly illegally, they are still human beings in my eyes; all of them, that is, aside from Muslims. My friend admitted to similar outlook, telling me that all she sees are ticking bombs and incubators.
And please, please, do not get horrified and tell me that only about ten percent, statistically, are radical, violent, and militant; the rest of them are just peaceful people trying to live their peaceful lives. Fine; even if that statistic is true, what happens to the peaceful ninety percent when the violent ten commits another atrocity? Do they condemn the killers, excommunicate them, and offer object apologies to the victims, their families, and their countries? Heck, no. They assume the pose of offended innocence and claim themselves the victims of Western and Zionist oppression (not necessarily in that order). The few decent individuals amongst them, like Irshad Manji or Wafa Sultan, are usually not considered truly faithful, and, as such, usually have their lives threatened.
Which brings me to another animal analogy. Why is the state of Israel impersonating a cowardly lion? That question keeps popping into my head more and more frequently in the last couple of years, especially after the "disengagement" of Gaza. It came to me again as the media broad casted the exchange of two coffins with the remains of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers for the violent Muslim killers that were incarcerated in Israel. After the exchange (brokered by the UN and The Red Cross) broadcast came the anticipated, but still horrible, news reels about Israelis crying and Muslims celebrating and planning to demand more such "exchanges".
In what language and on what level of human logic does it become clear that such situation is unendurable? Snakes kill for pleasure; jackals always go for the jugular at the least show of fear and understand only one thing: swift and violent kick in the rear. How is it not understood? Where is the plain and simple human drive for self-preservation? Diplomacy will never work when dealing with violent thugs; with people incapable of the most redeeming of human emotions: love. Because sending your husband, or, worse, your son, on a suicide mission against civilians, and then gleefully counting the price of his "sacrifice" in the form of twenty five thousand dollars is not love; it is an ugly travesty of love.
As I was working on this piece, another example of the love of peace and their neighbours was demonstrated by the Muslims. Another construction truck went on rampage in Jerusalem; this time it was stopped faster, and, thank G-d, with only tree injuries and no deaths.
World as a whole does not care about Jews. There are many (probably more than we know) brave and decent individuals who do care. EU, UN, the entire Middle East region, mass media, and other usual suspects, on the other hand, are irritated by a constant presence of this less-than-one-percent-of-the world population, which, despite many attempts in the last three thousand years, proved to be impossible to exterminate and completely wipe off the face of the Earth. So, why are we even bothering with them and their unattainable good opinion of us?
My time in seminary corresponded with the first Gulf War. Of course, we were very concerned about our brothers and sisters in Israel, and said daily prayers for their safety; but that is not why I remember it. A crazy story told by our principle got stuck in my memory. During one of the scud missile attacks, when everyone was running to the shelters, one Chasidishe Rebbe (unfortunately, I do not recall the name of the denomination) was dancing in the street! Sometimes I still try to visualize it: the sirens, people running for cover, and this old man just dancing. Why did he do this? He was firm in his believe that G-d promised us that He will not destroy Jerusalem again; so this old man was not afraid of scud missiles. Call this anything you want: religious fanaticism, senility of the old age, chassidishe buba maisa, or just sheer stupidity; that story made a lasting impression on me (and I am not that easily impressed). I only wish the Israeli government will take some lessons from this story. May G-d protect His people in the Holy Land!
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Another "only in New York" moment: there is an assisted living house next to me that is run by Catholic charities. At the end of last Passover, on recycling day, there was a whole bunch of bags for recycled paper that were filled with matzoh boxes (I assume they were recreating what they thought was the Last Supper).
Sometimes the extend of my neurosis bother me at bit (although you would never guess it lately, judging by the state of my apartment). Anyway, reassurances are always abound. One time, while I was doing my laundry, I had a chance to observe a couple that offered me one such reassurance. I was not sure as to the exact nature of their relationship, since he looked much older than her, but there was no striking resemblance present. Anyway, that was not the reason they attracted me; what really caught my attention was that they were obviously germophobic. Imagine my amusement when I realized that they wasted about two and a half hours to wash about ten towels, nothing less! Definitely puts my obsession (alas, absent lately) to do my laundry on the weekly basis in perspective.
I had an LA-born roommate who prided herself on the fact that she could out-drink Russians; of course, after she explained precisely which Russians she out-drank, her claim became sort of laughable. Here is another chapter from her drinking diary. One fine late afternoon on December thirty first, she and a couple of her buddies decided to go to Times Square and witness the Ball Drop. By the time they arrived, they were, to use her colourful expression, "drunk out of their asses". So, here they were, freezing, but happy, waiting to witness this wonderful part of the New York life that New Yorkers usually observe from the comfort of their living rooms. Imagine their surprise when everyone started yelling "Happy New Year", and they did not see anything. Upon further investigation their realized that their drunken behinds, and not their drunken faces, were facing that Ball.
Only people with my educational background and in my age category could understand the attraction of Angelique; it is impossible to explain it rationally; you just have to experience the whole thing under these particular circumstances. Americans, of course, usually have no idea about the books or the movies (one time when I will not say that their cultural exposure is deficient). Anyway, imagine my surprised delight, when I have wondered into Barnes and Noble, and saw all five movies on DVD, in French with English subtitles! Further imagine my delight (but not surprise this time) when I saw that these movies are about 135 minutes in length, and not 75 minutes as was standard in Russian cinematography.
Another terrible confession to my sister: I got baby books for both munchkins, and I had great ideas as to what should be written in them. Unfortunately, it never went past the ideas.
I am not a morning person, and never was. I am not really awake till about three hours after I have actually left my bed. Thankfully, I am very capable of operating on auto-pilot. Unfortunately, sometimes auto-pilot does not function one hundred percent, and, not being awake one hundred percent, it is very hard to figure out exactly where the malfunction is. Two separate episodes: one time I came to work knowing perfectly well that something was amiss, but could not put my finger on it. Finally, into about forty minutes of work, it dawned on me that I did not brush my teeth. Oh, mama! Thank G-d I always keep a toothbrush and toothpaste in my drawer! Another episode: I kept wondering about the state of my hair. I mean, I am not fussy about them that much, but it looked like the shampoo I was using had to be changed. Eventually I realized that I never shampooed my hair that morning! I just wet my hair, and that was it. Thankfully, I am pretty sure I am save from leaving my house minus a skirt or a top (although there are no guarantees).
Some days I really feel my age (thank G-d at least I do not show it yet!). Anyway, here is one of my senior moments. I wanted to mail something to my sister, and for the life of me I could not remember her address. Total blank! Finally, an inspiration struck: I decided to check my Gevalia account, since my coffee usually went to her address. Thank G-d for auto login!
Sometimes I wonder if it pays to show initiative and use your brain to capacity at a modern work place. Recently, our company switched to a new accounting system, which eventually created chaos and backlog across the board, but that is a different story. Anyway, there was a whole brouhaha about training everyone on how to enter our time logs in the new system. After about five minutes into that training I realized that two sentences of instruction would have sufficed, but what do I know. Anyway, while everybody else struggled and puffed, I was the first (and only one) to finish and print my time sheet that Friday (granted, I only perform one task). Anyway, on Monday I was red-flagged as the only person in our office who did not finish and submit her log. What the hell?!!! After about five minutes of deductions I found out that apparently, over the weekend, our wonderful IT overhauled the whole program once more. So, anything you did on Friday was null and void; only things done Monday morning counted. As I said, efficiency does not pay.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
The first week at my present work place was not as stressful as the first work weeks usually are. I mean, it was boring as heck, since, to tell you the truth, I am rarely busy the whole day (as evidenced by this blog); plus, the lady whom I replaced due to her retirement was hanging around for about a month after I started, which further diminished my workload.
But, on my first Wednesday, the big boss casually mentioned that every Friday is a bagel day at the office, and I have to make sure to check with my predecessor as to the exact place and order. The following day, at least six people, including the big boss, told me about the sacred Friday ritual. So, obedient to the wishes of the public, I have checked with the old lady, dutifully schlepped to the designated bagel store on Friday morning, and purchased the exact number and variety quoted to me. Oh, brother!
Now at least six people felt duty bound to tell me that they hate these particular bagels, and the only reason she used to buy there was because it was on her way from the bus stop. Huh? But, hey, you can not argue with creative people, especially in your first week. So, I listened to all the kinder garden complains and duly promised to look for a different place. I mean, this is New York! How hard would it be to find a bagel place?
Sure enough, I got lucky. There is a little hole in the wall next to my subway station that always tantalized me with the aroma of fresh bagels, and it is only one block out of my way. So, next Friday morning I went there, got a variety of bagels, plus a variety of cream cheeses, and hauled my loot to work. Oh, brother!
The results again exceeded my expectations. They were so bloody happy as not to be believed! Of course, my boss, being of a neurotic disposition, had to put in his two cents into the whole proceedings. He asked me to take orders every Thursday; since I was not overly burdened with work, I complied with his request for a while. Then, of course, I just used my judgement, and eventually just had a standard order; the owner already knew that I needed exactly six whole wheats:)
And ever since that second Friday, I was, if not exactly their hero, at least somebody very likable. One senior partner officially thanked me for the "work I was doing with the bagels"; another partner's wife, upon seeing me the for the first time, told me that she heard so many good things about me, especially the fact that I have found a new bagel place. Every new intern that passes through our office is made to anticipate a great event on his or her first Friday. One Friday morning, when I had an appointment and the designated bagel buyer for that week was late, the office officially declared a bagel emergency, dispatched somebody else, and, of course ended up with double the usual amount. And every Friday that I am absent, there is a general grumbling about the fact that they will not be served "good" bagels.
Basically, it is my honour and privilege to provide this little slice of heaven to our office:)
Monday, July 14, 2008
As previously mentioned, I work for a company that has a fair number of contracts with New York City. Most of my acquaintances labor under the misapprehension that that state of affairs usually means easy money for not much work. Wrong, my friends! Once you work for NYC, that state of affairs is definitely true. But if you work with NYC, it usually means tremendous amount of bureaucracy, wasted efforts, idiotic forms in quadruplicate, and, last but not least, a lot of wasted time and great efforts applied to the process of actually being paid for your services.
According to my boss, who has been in this racket for a good twenty years, no agency in New York City is equal in the amount of sheer stupidity to the Department of Homeless Services; it did not take long for me to begin to see the wisdom of his words. Here is just one charming example.
A subcontractor was hired by both us and DHS to perform a certain task; the task itself took less than one day. The subcontractor submitted a standard invoice to us, including all the forms that the City would require, and even couple that they usually do not. We, in turn, have submitted our invoice to the DHS; and the fun begun!
First, DHS just decided not to pay our invoices (that one including). Their funds were frozen; their director retired; the acting director did not know what the heck was flying; the new director had to be brought up to speed. Blah, blah, blah, ad infinitum. Meanwhile, we would get constant requests for minor corrections: the amount of cents is wrong; this letter is small instead of capital; this is on the left when it should be on the right; this title is wrong, etc, etc, etc. After every minute correction would be performed, our company would get a reassurance that "the check is in the mail"; then, next week another correction on another invoice is requested. Basically, a barrel of laughs.
And then, one fine day, another call came from DHS for my boss. After two minutes into the conversation, he interrupted and asked for a whole file on above mentioned subcontractor. After about half an hour of conversing with an esteemed public official, he returned to my desk. Something in his face gave me the idea that he just about reached the end of his rope, so to speak. "Barbara", he finally produced with a hysterical half-laugh, "would you mind calling this subcontractor and telling him that DHS requires time cards to be submitted according to the original Hebrew Bible, with week's beginning on Sunday, not on Monday? Apparently, they missed the last two thousand years and have not gotten on with the program yet."
My poor boss! At least he could still joke about it. Mind you, as mentioned before, that task took less than a day, plus, it was performed in Wednesday! After a few more involved conversations, the benevolent public official consented to accept that non-uniform time card, and promised the immediate payment. Yea, right. The check is still in the mail.
"Personal Assistant to Young, Successful and Entrepreneurial CEO
The ideal candidate must be highly intelligent and have excellent writing skills. Multi-tasking, resourcefulness and exceptional communication skills preferred. Proficiency in Microsoft Office, specifically Word and Excel. Candidate will most often work from employer’s home in Lower Manhattan.
This position is ideal for a college or graduate student. Part time, flexible days and # of hours available, although availability at 8am on scheduled days is pertinent.
**Ivy League Undergrad or Graduate Student Preferred**
*NYU and Rutgers Students Considered*
The candidate is expected to primarily handle very personal errands, including coordinating agenda, wardrobe planning and maintenance, arranging social events, valet/ concierge work, coordinating decorating/maintenance, insurance matters, etc. Responsibilities will also include, but are not limited to travel arrangements, vendor relations, management of calendar, filing and other general clerical duties. Ability to anticipate needs and maintain the highest level of confidentiality is required. Hours are flexible.
***This position does not offer healthcare and it pays on a 1099***
***Ideal for a college or graduate student.*** (Part-time)
***Exposure to personal wardrobe shopping - requires a keen fashion sense***
Friday, July 11, 2008
As you know, Bronx is the only borough of New York that is attached to the mainland; the rest are on the islands, most exiting of which is, of course, Manhattan, even though it is the smallest. Staten Island is another island, and both Queens and Brooklyn, my borough, are part of a bigger island called Long Island. For whatever unfathomable reason, the area know as Five Towns is also know as Long Island, even though it occupies only part of that island.
Now, this area is supposed to be "fancier" than Brooklyn or Queens, and people who live there usually proudly say that the live "on the Island". Yea, whatever. It was actually one of my former friends' idea to point out every single time this proud exclamation is made in our faces that Brooklyn is actually also "on the Island".
Few weeks ago one such opportunity presented itself, and, unfortunately, I could not help myself. My boss asked me for a set of tax documents, which in our office consists of W-4 for federal government bloodletting, IT-2104 for New York State leeches, and IT-2104.1 for the NYC draculas. He politely told me that I have given him the wrong forms, since he lives "on the different island". As I told you, I couldn't help myself, party because my boss belongs to a community for which "living on the Island" is the ultimate goal, and with other members of which I have already had similar tasty encounters. "You know, I live on the same island", was my very respectful reply (to his very big credit, he just smiled and told me that he will take care of it himself).
For whatever reason, this guys always enjoys schmoozing with me (I mean the attendant, not Dan Brown); and, in the best traditions of people from the late unlamented Soviet Union, his favorite topics are politics and political figures. In the realm of these topics, this guy is also a veritable unending fountain of conspiracy theories. The most popular of these, that the attacks of September 11 were engineered by our own government in general, and the Bush Administration in particular, was, of course, old news to me. In the best tradition of my people (Jews), I tried engaging my friendly attendant in a logical argument substantiated with facts, but, obviously, to no avail. I already stopped, and he still tried to persuade me that he was right; whatever.
Now, on my last visit, he entertained me with two more theories, which were both pretty fresh and extremely amusing. Number one: whatever policies put in motion by Gorbachev and led to the eventual demise of the Soviet Union, were instituted by him deliberately, after he received secret pay offs and the firm promises of comfortable life from American "Secret Services". Number two: the recent horrible earthquake in China was not a natural phenomenon, but something deliberately set off by American "Secret Services" from space, via satellites and secret weapons, in response to China's recent economic growth and America's recent economic troubles. So, how about these two: "Murderers and Useful Idiots" and "The Code of Ming"?
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
A little exclamation of pride: my baby brother graduated college this year; not just graduated, and not just any college: it was NYU and it was with honors! Understandably, our whole family was tickled pink; and our Dad decided to treat him to a graduation trip to the location of his choice. And, the most important, since none of his friends were available to go with him, and he did not want to go alone, I was selected as his traveling companion! Hurray!!
At first, he suggested Mexico. I nixed that idea, since I would not go to Mexico on principle; then he explained to me that he just wanted to go somewhere warm, where he could go to the beach and snorkel; the particulars were left for me to iron out. So, after much careful research, reading up, and compering different things (we are Jews, after all), I recommended Aruba. So, Aruba, here we come!
One of the reasons, by the way, why I settled on that particular little island was because different sources kept praising Arubans' hospitality and friendliness. One travel guide put it very nicely, saying that even though tourism is their main source of revenue, nobody learns to be that friendly just for work. How true that is, considering my constant frustration with the so called customer service here! Anyway, the reports were absolutely correct. The Arubans are very friendly and helpful; and Aruba itself is a perfect place for R and R.
This tiny island is about 20 miles by 6 miles in total. It's very close to the Equator, and as such has almost desert climate, which in my book is perfect, by the way. The temperature variations for the year are between 79 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit! Plus, there is low humidity, strong winds, which are actually quite pleasant, and cool nights; sheer heaven! To that, add gorgeous turquoise water! By the way, all the beaches on Aruba are considered public beaches, so, technically, you can park your bathing suite (and your behind) anywhere you fancy.
Aruba is a former Dutch colony, and now they are officially semi-independent, even though their national money are still produced in Holland and then shipped to them. Their official population is around 110 thousand people, and they have a Parliament consisting of 21 representatives. They even have a capital, although it's pretty hard to figure out the boundaries of that fair city. They have one airport where arrivals are only international and departures are either international or to USA (more on that later). They have one hospital, one post office, one police academy, one prison, one desalination plant for fresh water, and one oil refinery. They also have their own Beverly Hills: this is the area where American celebrities have their houses. Due to the nature of their soil, it's impossible for them to produce their own food, so they import everything. According to our tour guide, they produce only two things in Aruba: babies and beer. Yes, they have their own beer! It's called Balashi, and I was dared by my brother to try it (the only reason I did not was due to laziness on my part). Oh, yes, and they also have one factory called Pepsico, where they bottle both Pepsi and Coke! Go figure.
They have one main road, and when we were driving from the airport to the hotel, something nudged me as being unnatural. It took me a little while to realize that unnatural feeling came from driving 40mph on the main road! For a New Yorker, especially someone related to my brother in law, that's sacrilegious. One main road and nobody is rushing anywhere! But what is how they are: friendly, polite, very helpful, very relaxed, and not rushing anywhere at all!
Aruba was also the first place I have discovered in my travels that had Coke, but no Lubavitch! Plus, apparently, they and their visitors do not subscribe to vegetarian food much, which in total created some really funny situation with food for us. But, hey, we are not American born, so, what is a little food deprivation next to a wonderful relaxation! Although I did point out that we would be ones of the very few who would come from Caribbean vacation minus a couple of pounds, not plus:)
Jackie Mason has a great skit where he makes fun of people who go on vacation, and then all they can say is "but the water was so blue, it was fantastic"! I really enjoyed that skit, but, the truth of the matter was, by the time I have arrived, I was so exhausted, that the option of sitting by or in the gorgeous turquoise waves and not doing or even thinking of anything else was, well, fantastic. By the way, Aruba has two hotel areas: low rise and high rise. Low rise is up to five floors; I do not remember the highest hotel in the high rise area, but I think it had about twenty five floors. Insert smiley face here from a crazy New Yorker.
Out hotel was in the low rise area, and Expedia specified it as not "on the beach". Beach, by the way, was in around two minutes worth of walking:) Never the less, our hotel was not on the beach, but, as a consolation, it had two swimming pools and a hot tub. One pool was designated for the children, because it had giant slide in it. It also had the bar attached to it, so go figure. The other pool was officially for adults; it had waterfall on the northern side, and hot tub was right next to it. Of course, nobody cared who was in which pool; everyone just enjoyed themselves.
Of course, my brother and I, being dorks, had to do something. So, we went on the tour of the island, where we learned a lot of interesting facts about Aruba. One of them was the beer; the other one was that it is customary to have a rum store, a church, and a police station next to each other. We also learned that most of the Arubans are multi-lingual: they have their own dialect based on Dutch, then they learn the official Dutch, plus English and Spanish (for the tourists both from North and South America). Pretty cool, eh? We also saw their one and only lighthouse; in addition, we basically covered the entire island both from North to South, and from East to West.
We visited their numismatic museum, where we saw some really cool old coins, learned about Aruba's money (which is Florins and Cents), plus the attendant, exited at seeing two nerds, pointed out some really funky looking coins for which the late JC was supposed sold. Then we went to the Museum of Aruba's national history (which took about fifteen minutes to see in total). My brother also wanted to see the gallery of local artists, but nixed that idea after the history museum. We also went to Aruba's butterfly farm, where we saw lots and lost of gorgeous butterflies, plus were given a very informative tour with demonstration of butterfly eggs, cocoons, and chrysalis. After that we went to the Bird Sanctuary, where I managed to snap a picture of a camera shy crane, and later on we saw some beautiful green parrots, which were very similar to the ones that have a huge nest on the corner of our block here, in New York.
The most exiting were the Sea Trek and the submarine. Sea Trek works like this: you go to an island, listen to a little safety lecture, then you are given a pair of special slippers (and a wet suit, if desired), then you slowly go down the stairs, and when you are just about to submerge into water, they put a funny looking helmet on you, which basically lets you breathe under water. You get two professional divers for a group of eight, go down to about twenty feet, and literally walk under the sea! So, my bro did just that. I, unfortunately, succumbed to a claustrophobia attack, scared both divers and the guy who was running the show on top, then needed about five minutes to catch my breath, and ended up just watching the rest of the group through the wires that were connected to their breathing helmets. Ah, shoot!
After that, my poor traveling companion kept checking the submarine's dimensions, but this time his fears were unfounded. Submarine was so much fun! We dived to about 110 feet, and saw couple of sunken ships, different coral reefs, and a whole bunch of gorgeous tropical fish. One woman with a little child even found Nemo and Dori!
And, of course, we did a whole lot of shopping for cheap (sorry, inexpensive) souvenirs, in the proses of which we discovered that it pays to come to Aruba for jewelry shopping. And what kind of Caribbean vacation would it be without some exotic cocktails? But we indulged only twice; for the first time I got slightly tipsy; second time was a bit worse. Aruba also boast of a surprisingly large number of casinos, which we both decided to skip.
But, of course, the most important part was those gentle turquoise waves! Ah, what a pleasure! I think our last night there I sat in the ocean for about three hours straight!
And, the final funny: USA departures. If you are flying from Aruba to this blessed country, you clear the customs there. In order to do that, you are told to show up your souvenirs, your luggage, your mug, and the rest of you three hours before the departure time!! Tortured by TSA, poor American citizens usually follow this suggestion, which, of course, is a total bunk. First of all, the employees of different airlines do not even bother opening their computers till about two and a half hours before departure; then you spent about five minutes tops with the costumes agents. But, no liquids on board works also, and your poor shoes have to clear security twice while parted from your feet. Basically, a lot of time to visit duty free shops (which are not that plentiful or exiting), or bars (which are). I wish I would have known that in advance, so I could have spent more time in those luscious turquoise waves on the morning of our departure!
The best good buy was when our taxi driver, after unloading our luggage and thanking us for the tip, politely and with a smile told us "so, see you next month!" Ah, how much I wish it!
The one who probably annoys me the most got nicknamed Komsomolka; fortunately, only people who survived communist Russia can get the full appreciation of my private joke. Of course, that worthy individual is very Komsomol like when it comes to all matters green and pro-environment, in light of which the following vignette is even more ironic.
A couple of weeks ago she was put in charge of organizing the party celebrating our new identity (do not ask) for our division. That alone was a huge mistake and oversite, but that is not the point. To make the long story short, I was asked by her to order the cake for this shindig; and, since she can not work or let anyone else work in peace, that process took more time and effort than such undertaking usually warrants. At one point, she asked me how much the final product is going to cost. I replied that I did not find out yet, but it would probably cost a bundle, since the prices on flour have skyrocketed. "Yes, I know", was her reply, "it's because of oil, isn't it?"
Oy, gevalt! "No, it's the ethanol!" I just couldn't contain myself totally; fortunately, I had enough fortitude not to get into lengthy discussion, because with her it would have been not just a moot point, but a major annoyance for me. The most active green in our office has no idea about what causes high food (and for that matter, oil) prices! But she continues to enforce her miasma! What a wonderful illustration on this whole green, which is really red and brown, business!
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Never the less, I had a great time, as I always do, even though it was severely tempered by the fact that I did not prepare the way I planned to prepare. I mean, I had grandiose plans of converting my pig sty of an apartment into human habitat, doing laundry, beautifying myself, etc. But, due to the above mentioned heat wave, which always manages to put me into a depressed mood, I did precisely zip; even forgot to buy customary flowers. Thank G-d for friends!
Here are my Holiday highlights, aside from the wonderful food by all my hosts. Got into a little argument about Obama for President, G-d forbid; tempered myself due to the Holiday; was offered a pro-Obama pin with a suggestion to use it for target practice, if I so desire; accidentally forgot this pin (can only imagine the Freudian conclusions of my friend). Got a chance to do some major catching up; heard lots of jokes, anecdotes, and latest news about mutual friends and acquaintances; accidentally learned that water bugs are called Saddam Hussein; got into more political discussions; never made it to services, despite best intentions, but spoke with Him by myself, non the less. The only thing I missed was seeing my Mini Me (third Shavuot, thank G-d) and Mini Not Me (first Shavuot!!!) at Birkat Kohanim, since they went away (my sister and brother in law went together with them).
On a serious note, I again remembered that long ago lecture from seminary. Shavuot is when we got the tools to fulfill our mission for which we were selected on Passover. That brought very sobering realization: how many of us are aware of this mission? How many know what the mission really is? How many know what these tools are? How many are willing to acquire these tools? And, most importantly, how many of us think that we have the perfect handle on these tools, but in reality misuse them every single day of our lives? Maybe that's why we had such disgusting weather?
We have the clarity of purpose. Heavenly Father, please grant us the clarity of vision and the purity of heart and soul to see it! Next year in Jerusalem!
Monday, July 07, 2008
The only country in the world that claims me as it's citizen, even though I was not born here. A country that gave me refuge, gave me the chance to discover my identity and my purpose in life, and where I can pray on public transportation in peace. A country where poor people are fat, have microwave ovens, and drive cars. A country full of G-d's beauty. A country first settled by people who came here with one purpose in mind: to worship the Creator in the best way they saw fit, and whose grandchildren proclaimed that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Happy Birthday, America! G-d bless you!
Thursday, July 03, 2008
I do not think there is much need to retell the latest atrocity committed in Jerusalem by another member of the religion of peace. As always, all the facts are evident and available for everyone who wants to know the truth. Also as always, the honest and courageous members of the liberal press did not disappoint in their honest and courageous reporting of this particular "episode".
I know that I am preaching into the thin air, but, since the main purpose of this blog was to get things off my chest, here goes. According to Wikipedia, even though Edmund Burke was credited with the famous quote "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing", it does not appear in the letter it was supposed to be, so, it's not his. For me, even if it does not appear in that particular letter, I am sure that that worthy individual said it at least once, and definitely felt it. As for origins, I am sure it first appeared in one of our texts, but either got lost in translation, or, most importantly, we were deliberately denied credit somewhere along the line. Anyway, on with my ramblings.
There is another story that appears in our texts. When Pharaoh decided to kill all the newborn Jewish boys, he presented the facts and the possible solution to his advisers. One of them, Job, just said nothing. He did not advise Pharaoh for this particular course of action; he just stood there and said nothing. What happened to him later on is described in something known to general public as Old Testament, and, as I mentioned before, once it was a mark of educated individual to be familiar with that particular text.
So, my dear respected members of the liberal press. I know that for you Old Testament is the work of fiction written by some long forgotten individuals; and, whatever lessons we can learn from it are obsolete, or worse, promote the agenda of the religiously confused dead white males. So be it. Moreover, whatever Burke said, or supposed to have said, is anathema to you, since he is considered the forerunner of the modern conservative movement. Be that as it may, smart people devise lessons from all around them, be it friendly or not. So, just take at least a cursory study of the above mentioned; especially considering the fact that calling you "good men" (or women) is very, very debatable.