Sunday, February 28, 2010

Religion in Drag

There’s a first time for everything, and last Saturday was my first time to attend Purim services.

Now, understand: I’m not a highly religious Jew. Really, I’d say I’m only a Jew by heritage and somewhat mild interest. I was raised approximately 80% Christian and 20% Jewish, since my family attended church every Sunday, exchanged presents on Christmas, dyed eggs on Easter, and celebrated both my sister’s and my Baptisms and Confirmations, while the only Jewish holiday my family celebrated regularly was Passover (unless you count setting out—but often forgetting to light—the menorah at Chanukah)--and I certainly never had a bat mitzvah.

In spite of my upbringing, however, I’m not a highly religious Christian, either, and when I moved to NYC, I decided to pick and choose what holidays I would celebrate. I made my selection based upon a) the holiday's meaningfulness to me, and b) the people with whom I could celebrate. Christmas is non-negotiable, and fortunately I have been able to return to Pittsburgh to spend that holiday with my immediate family thus far. The only thing I’ve ever really liked about Easter is the music, particularly making the music, and since I am not part of an ensemble here, that holiday has fallen by the wayside. For my other favorite holiday—Passover—I was lucky enough to receive an open invitation to celebrate with my Jewish friend L____ and her extended family. It turns out that they invite tons of people to their house for this holiday, so last year I was stuffed in among a number of jovial strangers with dish after dish of delicious food. I cannot wait for this year’s Seder!

Apart from those holidays, however, I don’t celebrate much else. In fact, I don’t know about many other holidays, particularly Jewish holidays, other than Chanukah (as mentioned before) and Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year). Consequently, I was a bit surprised when I called up my friend L___ to do something this past Saturday night and received an invitation to attend servies for the Jewish holiday of Purim.

Purim is the holiday on which the Jews celebrate yet another foiled plot for their extermination. The story is told in the book of Esther (who, not-so-coincidentally, is the main female character in the story) in the Old Testament of the Bible. There’s a pretty succinct synopsis here, but the basic idea is that there is a king who is tricked into thinking it's a good idea to exterminate all the Jews, and Queen Esther changes his mind and saves them all. The point of this holiday is to celebrate her success.

While there are certain aspect of Judaism (as with pretty much all religions) I have encountered, I must say: Jews are good at nothing if they (we? can I count myself?) are not good at rolling remembrance and celebration into one big event. This is why I’ve always liked Passover—who doesn’t like hearing a good story while eating a good meal? The equation is one anyone would be amenable to: Passover = Story + Feast (so, obviously...) + Alcohol. Purim is a similar equation: Purim = Story + Alcohol + Halloween Costumes. I'm not as big a fan of the costumes as of the food, but they're definitely more irreverent, and therefore more entertaining!

To celebrate Purim, I first went to L___'s family's apartment, where her mother fed me Hamantaschen while L____ dressed up what she deemed to be a "Little Red Riding Hood" costume. (I later dubbed her "Ghetto Goldilocks" because, as I pointed out, once she took off her red coat, all she had left with was a gold "pigtail" hat and a yellow boom box purse. How could anyone associate her with little red riding hood?) Then, we walked to a nearby bar, where a pre-services singles event was happening. We mingled with two Bunches of Grapes, one Double Dare contestant, one witch, and one guy who chastised me for not wearing a costume but wasn't even wearing one himself! (I told him I was a Jersey Girl, since I had come to the Upper West side all the way from Jersey City. My lame attempt at being witty actually made him laugh, which just goes to show how awkward this entire scenario was in the first place.)

Once we were finished there, we walked to B’nai Jeshurun for the actual services. This is where the real fun started.

First, because Purim fell on a Saturday, a separate service had to be said to end Shabbat before the actual Purim service could begin. The prayers for this service were all recited in Hebrew, so I had no idea what was going on; what I did recognize, however, was the fact that they were being recited to tunes from The Sound of Music. The two individuals reciting the prayers would sometimes start clapping and the congregation would clap and chant along. One prayer even got so rhythmic that a little girl spontaneously ran out to the center of the wooden floor where the service was happening and began to break dance. Just like that, an eight-year-old was doing coffee grinders in the middle of a worship service!

Because there were so many people in attendance, all of the folding chairs on the ground level were occupied. L___'s family did not seem inclined to go up to the balcony, so our options were to either stand in the back or to sit on the floor in front of the chairs. L___ and I opted to sit on the floor. Then, about a third of the way through the Purim service, L___ pointed out two vacant chairs, and we scooted over to sit in them. Casually looking to see who was sitting to my left, I did a double-take and nearly fell off my chair. The man two seats away from me looked just like Mr. C___, my former band director. He had smart-looking wire-rim glasses, a narrow face, intense eyes, and a formerly-dark-but-now-salt-and-pepper beard. And he also had the same strong, slim legs--which I could SEE, because he was dressed in a rather short red dress with matching knee-high stockings, plus a loosely laced red corset blouse, red veil, and black wavy wig. It really was just like seeing Mr.C___ in drag, only this was made even more shocking by the fact that we were sitting in a Jewish Synagogue, celebrating a religious holiday!

Speaking of irreverence, I must make clear the fact that at least 75% of the congregation at this service had attended in costume. And this was not a markedly young crowd. Everyone from senior citizen men with canes, to pregnant mothers, to teenage sons, to three-year-old toddlers were dressed up as if Halloween had arrived early. And a cross-dressed older man was actually not the most scandalous outfit I saw. No, the most outrageous costume in the synagogue was, in my estimation, Santa Claus. When I saw this, all I could think was, "Someone is here as Santa, and no one cares. But if Christians held a costume party and someone showed up as Buddha, what would people say?!"

As if this all weren't enough, the rabbis were parading around the entire time wearing ears, whiskers, and tails, with fake money sticking out of their lapels and cigars dangling from their lips. They had entered at the beginning of the Purim service announcing that they were "fat cats" who were going to take "this Mr. America [pan to giant drop-down screen where Obama's face was projected]" to task. Did he really deserve to be Mr. America? His qualifications would be judged as follows: Swimwear (judged by photos of --you guessed it--him in swimming trunks!), Eveningwear (judged by a video of him and Michelle dancing at the inaugural ball), Oratory (judged by this video), and Talents (judged by this video, only set to music). At the end of the service, the audience voted, by way of clapping, whether or not Obama should remain his Mr. America title. Apparently at least this congregation still thinks he deserves it!

As a mere mental exercise, I have been trying to think of any Christian holiday that would a) permit its congregants to dress in drag, b) allow a child child to throw a spontaneous dance party in the middle of the service, or c) encourage its religious leaders to dress up and make fun of a current political debate. I'm not coming up with much....

Friday, February 26, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: This is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I cannot remember the last time a book that is merely "about a family" made me laugh so many times. Tropper captures the dynamic of the "dysfunctional Foxman family" perfectly, and while this is a setup that has been used by many authors, many times before, Tropper fills out each character with enough validity and sustains each character's history, reserving the backstory just long enough to keep the reader in suspense but not so long so that we forget we were even interested in what happened to that family member.

The intricacies of the relationships are intense, but not so complicated that we cannot follow them, particularly because Tropper does an excellent job of ultimately tying them back to his narrator, Judd, who has recently discovered his wife in bed with his boss, a popular (or unpopular, depending who you ask) radio figure. The simple plot trick that brings them all together is the death of their father, who never really emerges as much of a character in the reader's eye--but this is okay, because the live characters are so much more interesting, and the point of the novel is not to learn about the deceased, anyway.

My only gripe is that, quite honestly, I didn't like Judd Foxman. As a character, or perhaps as a person, he is boring! He is a completely run-of-the-mill guy, with no special characteristics. He acts (and reacts) rather predictably, and serves as somewhat of a sounding board for the rest of the characters in the novel. His commentary can, at times, be hysterical, but as I finished the novel, I began to wonder whether they were the comments of Judd himself or the comments of Tropper. Because or are Judd and Tropper one and the same? That I would love to know.

The rest of the family members all run the risk of being stock characters, but Tropper never lets them fall over that edge. He keeps them on that realm of "real people-ism," and that in particular is what makes the events of the book especially funny. It's certainly worth a read, no matter how functional you think your family is.

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The Case of the Missing Store

Has an experience ever made you seriously question your sanity?

I had been trying to buy earrings to match this one particular dress for ages. I had gone on a few targeted shopping excursions and browsed around on a number of nights after work, but all to no avail. Thus, when my friend A___, who was visiting during New Year's, requested that we go shopping, I made that weekend my self-mandated deadline. I was going to find earrings for that dress. Period. And so I did.

Honestly, when I bought the earrings, I wasn't wild about them; I was just so sick of shopping that I let the sales girl talk me into buying the last silver pair she brought out, even though the shoes I had already purchased were champagne-colred, and even though I had hoped the earrings would look a little more . . . delicate. The pair wasn't horribly expensive, and I was beginning to doubt I'd ever find anything I actually liked; moreover, it was embarrassing to look so picky in front of my friend, so I just decided to settle. After all, I couldn't keep shopping forever. Maybe my "ideal earrings" simply didn't exist.

However--as seems to happen with every spontaneous or rash purchase I ever make-I was browsing at Macy's the very next weekend for a completely unrelated item (a bracelet to match a different outfit) when I stumbled upon what appeared to be The Perfect Earrings. They were just "un-gold" enough to match the champagne-colored shoes, and they had little purple gems dangling from their ends that were the exact shade of my dress. They weren't too big or gaudy or sparkly, and, what's more, they were 30% off. All told, they were perfect.

Of course, I purchased the earrings, intending to go to the Queens Center Mall the very next day. This way, I could shop for the bracelet (which I had failed to find at Macy's), and I could also return the now-superfluous pair of silver earrings. I had bought them at a jewelry store called Ladies and Gents, and if things worked out perfectly, hopefully I would find a bracelet at that store, make an even exchange, and be home before lunchtime!

True to my plan, I arrived at the mall on Sunday morning, armed with the earrings and receipt. Like any good girl scout (okay, true confessions: I only graduated from Brownies--I was never actually a proper Girl Scout. But I've been on enough camping trips to have learned navigation and preparedness), I immediately sought out the mall directory. I was fairly certain that Ladies and Gents--the name of this store--had been on the second floor, but as the mall had four floors and two separate buildings, I could easily be mistaken.

The obvious listing for this store would be under "Fashion/Accessories." However, as I didn't see the name there, I logically moved on to "Women's Apparel." It wasn't there, either, nor was it below the category "Other." "Well," I thought to myself, "I was just here last week. Maybe the store is so new that they haven't had a chance to add it to the directory. I'll just walk around until I see some familiar stores and can orient myself. It shouldn't be too hard to find."

Off I went. I found the Victoria's Secret store where A___ and I made not one, but two individual purchases. I found the H&M store where I got lost, and even the phone kiosk where A___ bought a screen cover, but although every time I rounded a corner, I was convinced I'd found it, Ladies and Gents was nowhere to be found. After covering the second floor, I went up to the third floor. Then, I went down to circle the first floor (even though I was 99% certain A___ and I had not even gone down there during our visit). The store, of course, was not down there, so I walked to the mall's adjacent, smaller building where there was mainly a food court, a bunch of kiosks, and a few small stores, and followed the same protocol. To no avail. Aggravated, I returned to the main building, circled the second floor a second time, and then rode the escalator up to the fourth floor, convinced that even if I could not find the store up there (since I knew for sure that A___ and I had not been to that floor), maybe I would glimpse it below.

Finally, in complete frustration and embarrassment, I entered another accessories store and asked at the counter. Part of my embarrassment stemmed from the fact that, at this point, I wasn't even sure I was correctly remembering the name of the store. It wasn't listed on the receipt, so maybe I was making it up? It had to be something at least remotely similar though!

"I'm sorry," I said to the salesgirl, "but I'm looking for this other accessories store. I think it's called Ladies and Gents...or something like that? It's this big square store with a completely white walls. It just sells accessories; no shoes or any sort of apparel."

The girl conferred with her coworker, and they agreed that the store was on the second floor--like I had originally thought!--"back toward Macy's." I thanked them and headed down the escalator, back the way I had come.

As I approached the entrance to Macy's, I still did not see Ladies and Gents, so I stopped at a jewelry kiosk and asked the attendant if she knew where the store was located. She looked a bit puzzled and claimed she had never heard of it. I was now starting to panic, just a little bit. Stores did not just disappear. Why could I not find this place? A___ and I had definitely been here last week--I had these stupid earrings to prove it! Was I completely blind? And why did no one seem to know exactly where it was?

Since the store was allegedly "by Macy's," I walked into the department store, right up to a woman at the perfume counter, and asked her if she had heard of this store and if she knew where it was. She shook her head but said that her colleagues were more likely to shop at that sort of store, so they might. She found a blond, overly lipsticked girl, who came over smiling brightly and seemed to have news.

"Oh Ladies and Gents! Yeah, that store used to be right next door."

Used to be?

"It's so weird because it was there one day, and I came in the next day and it was just gone! Like, it had closed, and that wall had been built right over it."

We all turned and looked out through the glass doors of the perfume department. She was right--there was long, a freshly painted white wall to the right of the store. That was where I had bought these earrings?

"But I was here just last weekend," I told her.

"I know! It was so weird for a store to suddenly close like that. If I hadn't known it was there before, I never would have known it even existed!"

I look at the earrings in my hand, thinking that the Twilight theme song should probably start playing. Well, at least I wasn't going completely insane.

But never let anyone tell you that "____ doesn't just disappear." It might!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Post Office

Post Office Post Office by Charles Bukowski

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Take a grouchy, crotchety old bum. Put him in a miserable job working for the postal service. Add booze, old women, young women, dogs, snow storms, rain storms, crazy customers, and a dose of very plain, abrasive language that suits the form of the novel, and you have Post Office. I admire this book (and its author) for the simple fact that it achieves what it sets out to do--or, perhaps, be--very successfully. The language Bukowski uses perfectly suits the narrator, his station in life, and the situations he describes.

Unfortunately, well chosen language does not necessarily give a book purpose. I felt a lack of purpose as I read this book and was disappointed to find that I did not feel any sense of discovery or accomplishment after having finished it. Thus, while the writing itself was reasonably entertaining for a language enthusiast such as myself, the novel fell short of my literary expectations for, well...a novel.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Sati

Sati Sati by Christopher Pike

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I should reread this book and come back to the 5-star ranking, but I remember LOVING it and getting a lot out of it philosophically. Then again, I read it in my "youth" (and thought it was so novel and groundbreaking), but if Ayn Rand deserves 5 stars, then Pike deserves at least one 5-star book as well, for as many of his novels as I adored in my adolescence.

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Five Reasons You Should See Avatar (If You Haven’t Already)

Or, at the very least, five reasons I was grateful a friend convinced me to see the movie. I strongly advocate seeing it in 3D in a theater before it's too late.
  1. The casting.
    Parker (the “corporate white collar” guy of the movie) was PERFECTLY casted. And Jake Sully was very well chosen, too. Trudy and Miles may have been a bit typecast, but they played their parts exactly as needed.
  2. The fact that the writer managed to direct the movie—or vice versa—and a) didn't screw it up with poor editing or b) stunt its creativity.
    Having watched someone else direct a play I wrote, I highly respect this ability. In cinema, having this sort of full control is likely even more difficult. Imagine being wedded to a really bad line and having no director to edit it out for you. Maybe a line like, “You're not the only one with a gun, bitch!”….
  3. 3D technology.
    Granted, I’m no technology junkie and consequently am not on the up-and-up of current technology, but this movie demonstrated an extraordinary improvement in 3D visualization since my last experience at Disney World some 10+ years ago. Cameron’s world was beautifully and intricately imagined, and I think it will prove a hallmark for future filmmaking.
  4. The relevance of some of the movie's messages.
    Never mind the blatancy with which those messages were made. Some people may mock Avatar by claiming that it is a movie about loving and cooperating with nature (which, in many ways, it is—and should be, considering our impending global warming crisis!), but Cameron also includes many criticisms of our own government: our insistence upon ruling with force; our ignorance of other cultures; and our refusal to take the time to learn things before we act in ways we think are “best.”
  5. The movie’s surprising emotional poignancy.
    Frankly, I didn't expect to feel any emotional connection to a futuristic alien/nature-lover-turned-war movie. Usually, these types of movies really aren't my bag. However, due to the aforementioned points, Cameron gripped me with his movie’s emotional bond, forcing me to tense in anger as Pandora came under siege, to wince away as beloved characters died in battle, and to smile in pleasure as I exited the theater, ready to spread the word about his impressive cinematic work.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Few Sweet Facts about Valentine’s Day

Isn’t Red For Chinese New Year…?

Only the U.S., Canada, Mexico, France, Australia and the U.K. celebrate Valentine's Day.

Perhaps there is a relationship between English and the red-and-pink obsession? But then what are Mexico and France doing there?

For Those Who Wear Their Heart On Their Sleeve

In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their valentines would be. They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week.

Of course, now, wearing your heart on your sleeve means everyone knows just how you are feeling. Hope those feelings are good ones….

Who’s Your Valentine?

In Victorian times it was considered bad luck to sign a Valentine's Day card.

So hopefully they had very recognizable handwriting!

But We Just Sent Out Christmas Cards!

About 1 billion Valentine's Day cards are exchanged each year, making it the largest seasonal card-sending occasion of the year, behind Christmas.

But if you don’t get one, don’t feel badly—if you’re not a teacher, your chances are considerably less….

I Love You Mrs.___!

Teachers will receive the most Valentine's Day cards, followed by children, mothers, wives, and then, sweethearts.

Poor sweethearts! (And poor wannabe sweethearts who didn’t even get mentioned in this statistic!)

Who Needs a Man?

15% of U.S. women send themselves flowers on Valentine's Day.

Hopefully this is because they felt they deserved a nice treat and not because they were desperate to appear loved….

Poor Planning

In the United States, 64 percent of men do not make plans in advance for a romantic Valentine's Day with their sweethearts.

Lazy bums!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Deaf Sentence

Deaf Sentence Deaf Sentence by David Lodge

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had a hard time deciding between two and three stars for this book--ultimately because I very much liked the first half and was extremely disappointed by the second. Lodge is a very skilled writer in that he blends linguistic commentary--which seems perfectly plausible for his narrator, a linguistics professor, to make as he relays the story--with a nuanced plot involving father-son, husband-wife, professor-student, and man-body relations. As a language lover, I adored these linguistic insights and looked forward to discovering them within the novel's various chapters, whether in the context of Desmond's deadpan observations or Alex Loom's bizarre thesis ideas (she is conducting a stylistic analysis of suicide notes). As a fiction lover, I enjoyed reading about the interactions between Desmond and his wife Fred, and anxiously awaited the outcome of his potential affair with Alex. And as a comedy lover, I was amused by the various mishaps that would occur as a result of Desmond's deafness.

Unfortunately, about halfway through the novel, the multiple strands of the novel lose their equal balance. Instead of juggling them, Lodge places all but one plot aside, and instead chooses to focus solely upon the relationship between Desmond and his father. Henceforth, that subplot takes precedence upon all others and carries the novel through to the end, with death serving as the climax and a conciliatory reunion between Fred and Desmond serving as the denouement. I found myself tremendously disappointed that linguistics and comedy took a backseat to this melodrama that, quite frankly, I cared much less about in the overall scope of the book.

Nevertheless, I did like Lodge's writing style very much in the first half of the book. And perhaps this novel was intended for a different sort of audience--maybe one who has lost their parent and likes linguistics. Therefore, I think I may give him another chance with his intriguing novel Thinks . . ..

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Ship Breaker

by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The futuristic maritime premise of this book is creative, and it is a very quick read. The novel is also well targeted for an audience of 10-12 year olds. However, the characters fall flat and come out overly similar: although Bacigalupi tries to make them speak and act distinctly, by the end they had all meld together into one version of "Nailer" or another. The plot moves too quickly in the beginning and fails to flesh out the actual lives of ship breakers enough for readers to form compassionate connections with any of the characters. This leaves the reader devoid of any emotion attachment for the remainder of the novel, as it rushes through climax after climax.

Still, any 10-year-old adventure-loving boy who would enjoy the likes of the action-packed Animorphs series or would prefer a less literary version of Lord of the Flies would enjoy this novel. Its feverish adventure-driven pace smacks of a more childish, futuristic version of Pirates of the Caribbean II. If marketed well, it should find its niche.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Warm Fuzzies #10 : Carrot Cake

Today's warm fuzzies are brought to you by the carrot cake I made for my colleague, T__'s XLIVth birthday. Reviews are as follows:

  • That was just the moist...the most moistest.... I don't know if that's a word, but that cake was it. Can I have the recipe?
  • You should start your own business. Seriously.
  • Your cake is amazing! No like really, it's amazing. If there's any left at 4 o'clock, I'm coming back up. This time I have a bowl. You know, for my train ride home.

    And my personal favorite...

  • OMG! Damn you can bake! Cake tastes professionally done. And carrot cake is not easy to make.
  • New Roommates…or just One

    As you may or may not know, I am now a New Jersey resident. At the urging of a close friend, I left my Queens apartment to take a suddenly-vacated room in a five-bedroom apartment in Jersey City, NJ. Thus, I effectively cut my daily my work commute in half and now enjoy luxuries such as a skylight in my bedroom and my own private bathroom. However, as with all living situations, there are a few oddities. In this case, there is really only one, but it is significant.

    As of last Tuesday, I finally met every one of my four roommates. Before I moved in, I was forewarned that everyone in this apartment “keeps to themselves”—which, in my case, was a benefit, since I certainly kept to myself in my last apartment, seeing as my roommates rarely spoke to me in English. However, I was fully unprepared for the extent to which these people would simply not be present. Within a week of my moving in, I had still only met two of the four people living in the apartment, and by “met” I mean “seen.” Now, after living here a full two weeks, I have concluded that three of my four roommates are either simply never around, or they are secretly accountants (being that it is now tax season).

    The fourth roommate, J___, however, is a constant. He is more-or-less the one “in charge” of the apartment, being the one from whom I rented the room (although I must clarify that he is not the proper landlord). I know he takes the place very seriously, because before I moved in, he detailed about a thousand “protocols” about the way apartment operated, all of which I, at the time, found reassuring, since they meant that the place would be kept tidy and that I would be left to my own devices. However, as the move drew nearer, these communications began to worry me—particularly when he told me he was “making a rare exception” by renting to someone five whole years younger than the “norm” and that guests were pretty much not welcome, right after I told him someone would be staying with me--pretty much to help me move in. What was this, a dormitory?

    However, I swallowed my misgivings, because he very willingly allowed me to come see the room once it was empty, so that I could get an idea of what furnishings were in place, and was very agreeable about spreading out the deposit payment for me, which helped me out. What’s more, I was fully confident I would adore living in the new common space when he told me that he mops the floor every weekend (note: prior to moving out, I had been planning to wash the kitchen floor in my Queens apartment for the first time in the year-and-a-half I had lived there). Living with someone who feels compelled to clean more than I do? Sign me up!

    Unfortunately, this good will could not to last. Moving day was stressful enough, but when I walked into my bathroom with the expectation of its having been cleaned--which is what J___ had promised when I had come to see the place earlier that week: “I cleaned your bathroom”, had said--I instead discovered green Comet powder strewn everywhere: all over the sink, the toilet, the tub, the floor. Basically, in order to even enter the room, never mind use it or—god forbid—put things inside it, I was going to have to get out some rags and clean it. What a pleasant moving-in chore.

    Needless to say, I swallowed this slight—since maybe it was his idea of cleaning the bathroom?—and succeeded (with the invaluable help of my friend R___) in moving into my new apartment. J__ and I had a few odd encounters after this, most of which made me realize how territorial he is of counter space, but for the most part, nothing too extreme occurred. (The worst that happened was that when I was unpacking, I put my Magic Bullet food processor and electric kettle back in a corner of the counter. I had told J___ I was bringing both, and he had replied, "Oh good," to the electric kettle, and, "I hate those; they're impossible to clean," to the food processor." When I came back downstairs later, the kettle was moved to a different part of the counter, and the food processor was nowhere to be seen. J__ later informed me that he had stowed it away with the other dishes.)

    The next significant event occurred just one week later, when I received a love revolving spice rack as a birthday present from my sister. As soon as I received it, I knew the verdict would not be good. It felt juvenile to have to ask to put something on a shared kitchen counter, but J___ had already marked this whole apartment as practically "his," so I felt obligated to run this by him. And sure enough, when I brought it home and walked in to find him at his regular kitchen post, he replied with the usual, "There's not enough counter space," and, "if everybody put something on the counter….” He also cited the fact that there would be a number of redundant spices in the rack and also in our cupboards, which I sort of agreed with, but which, for me, would not have been an issue since I could send the superfluous ones home with my parents whether they were in a rack or on a box. Nevertheless, off went the spice rack, up to my room and into a box to await the arrival of my parents, who will, eventually, be taking all of my redundant cooking supplies back to Pittsburgh.

    A few days later, my friend D___--the one who persuaded me to take this NJ apartment, in fact--came over to help me put shelving up in my room. D___ has known J___ far longer than he has known me, so on his way out of the apartment, he banged on J___'s room door to say hello. (J___ was clearly inside, although he barely responded. Apparently he was napping.) Later, when I returned to the house, J___ told me that "when D___ comes over as 'my guest,' I need to remember that he is my guest and take responsibility for him. And shouldn’t let him bother J___, especially on Shabbat." Unbelievable! That he would say this to me--the person who broke her lease to fill his vacant room in the middle of the month--about the mutual friend who persuaded her to do it. The friend he is allegedly closer with!

    Then, this past weekend just put the icing on the cake. Literally.

    I set out to make a carrot cake for a colleague's birthday. I made the three cakes on Saturday night when no one was in the apartment, and I left them on one edge of the counter to cool until I could ice them on Sunday. When I came downstairs Sunday morning, I found J___ in the kitchen. "It's like musical cakes," he told me. I was a bit confused until I saw my cakes all shoved away in another corner of counter space. "I moved them," he said, "So other people could use the counter." I stayed in the kitchen to make more food for the next hour, and in that time, no one else came downstairs at all. I don't even think anyone else was home. And, would you believe it, in that hour, J___ wanted to move the cakes again. He even asked if we could stack them. (I told him we could not. I offered to put them even farther out of the way, on the coffee table, but he didn't like that idea, either. So I just put them back where I had had them originally, which seemed as far out of the way as they could get to begin with.)

    To make a long story short, when I finally started making the icing, I realized I was missing two crucial things: a lemon and toothpicks. Luckily, someone else had a lemon in the refrigerator, so I used that one, figuring I'd have to run out and buy toothpicks anyway, so I'd quickly buy a replacement lemon then. I even wrote a little note, in case "said person" came downstairs and started looking for their lemon while I was gone. Then, I washed all of the dishes, put all of the remaining icing utensils and cake paraphernalia in a neat pile on one section of countertop, and hurried around the corner to buy a lemon and some toothpicks.

    I wasn't a block away when my phone buzzed with a text. I opened it up to read, from J___: If you need to leave things out, please do not leave them in spaces other people may need to use. where then was I supposed to put the stuff? Should I have taken the cake to my bedroom? I was only going to be gone for five minutes! I texted him: I'm coming right back. And I did come right back, only to find all of the lights in the kitchen and living room turned off, which meant that in order for J__ to have seen my cake out on the counter, he had to have come out of his room, discovered my things there, turned off all of the lights, and gone back into his room. Clearly my things were not bothering anyone except him, and he didn't even want to use the kitchen!

    Needless to say, I replaced the lemon, and finished icing my cake. What is most unbelievable, though, is the fact that while I was icing the cake, J___ came out of his room and complimented me on it. All day long, he hadn't spoken one word to me. He had been cooking earlier, and I had told him his food smelled good, and he didn't respond. We had cohabited the kitchen for probably several hours, and he hadn't spoken one word to me the entire time. He had sent me that ridiculous text message, and now expected to be nice, since I hadn't "violated" his kitchen code after all. How very unbelievably ridiculous!

    And this is how things have gone the entire time. He's not a mean person. He has offered me advice on where to buy items locally and directions on how to get places. He even offered me cooking advice (although at the time I didn't really want it--but I do like to talk about and learn hints for cooking!). We ate dinner together the other evening at D___'s apartment, and I really did not mind his company the way I do when I am stressing out over whether or not he is judging the way I use the kitchen leave something in the stairwell.

    It's just really ironic, because with the exception of my senior year of college, I have always lived with people I don't know. And of everyone in this apartment, J___ is the only one I "knew" (or at least had ever met) ahead of time! One of life's ironies I suppose....