QOTD: "Support bacteria - they're the only culture some people have." - Anonymous
Reading: Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten
Listening to: Jackson Browne, Running On Empty
Decluttering accomplishments: did assorted household paperwork, but not nearly enough of it
It's been long enough that I didn't think anybody else was going to try my friend test, so I closed it. Here are my annotated answers.
Which person do I consider most evil?
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, the Yankee pitcher's the evilest of all. The Yankees are the Source of All Evil in the Universe and Roger Clemens plays for them. One may, therefore, hold him responsible for any and all actions taken by the others on the list.
I thought this was a gimme, but I overestimated the general knowledge factor. That is, not everbody was clear about who all of the candidates are. Starting with the least evil, John Ashcroft is the Attorney General of the United States and is not particularly evil at all, but has a few somewhat peculiar notions that lead him to spend money on draping nude statues. Osama Bin Laden is the nominal head of Al Qaeda, but his individual influence is based more on his daddy's money than on anything else. Take him out of the picture and the organization would be just as formidable. That's not as true of Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, who bears more responsibility for the misery he's created, while acknowledging it less. Despite what is believed to be one of the largest personal fortunes in the world, he blames all of the economic woes of his country on white farmers and on politicians who oppose him. The strategy of accusing one's enemies of treason may work for a while, but is doomed in the long run. But you need to be playing in a more influential sandbox than Southern Africa to get higher up the evil ladder, which brings us to Bill Gates, a classic case of the nerd trying to take over the world because kids called him "four-eyes" growing up. He was a popular guess, but loses some evil points by being easy to avoid. Just buy a Mac or run Linux, refuse to cripple your machine with Office, and proclaim your home a Microsoft Free Zone. All together now - "I don't do Billy-ware!"
Roger is still eviller.
Which of the following languages have I never taken a class in?
I went to Hebrew school for several years (five, maybe?) although they just expected us to be able to sound out prayer book words. I also later took some adult ed Hebrew class when I was in college, which used the Foreign Language Institute books that diplomats are taught with. The result is a vocabulary that runs something like "I'd like to introduce the Lord, G-d, King of the Universe to you. He's interested in your new steel plant."
My four years of high school German are largely lost in the mist of time. However, I do remember the saying, "Arbeit macht das Leben suess," which means "work makes life sweet." The correct smart-alecky response was "Faulheit starkt die Glieder," meaning "laziness strengthens the limbs."
My year of college Russian offered an even stranger vocabulary, centered on the workers at a concerete factory. I also know how to say "It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Superman" in Russian. This did prove slightly useful as Russian menus use the general word for bird ("ptitsa") for "chicken." And knowing the alphabet makes getting around much easier.
Then there's Chinese. I took a two weekend immersion class at UCLA. I learned a few words, but I mostly learned that seven hours a day of class is too much. Still, it counts as a language class.
So the answer is - Spanish! I've listened to tapes in the car and watched bad Mexican vampire movies on TV (the word "sangre", meaning blood, is deeply etched into my brain). I can fumble my way through tourist transactions and read very basic children's books. But I've never actually taken a Spanish class.
What is my alltime favorite Broadway musical?
This proved to be one of the toughest questions. Anybody who guessed "Phantom of the Opera" doesn't know me very well at all, as Andrew Lloyd Webber could give Bill Gates a run for his money as runner-up evil. "Urinetown" has an entertaining cast album and I would like to see it, but is hardly in the classic category.
The most common guess was "Sweeney Todd," probably because people went with Sondheim. A good musical, yes. But while it has a strong score and a clever book, it's lacking in the third major element of musical theatre - namely, choreography. Both "West Side Story" and "Guys and Dolls" have all three elements done well. "Guys and Dolls" wins out, though, for one simple reason. It's funny. All in all, I'm shallow enough to prefer an evening at the theatre that doesn't make me think or cry. So, sue me.
Which intramural sport did I play in high school?
I played badminton. I know you think it's a silly and easy backyard sort of game, but it's really quite challenging. I also played tennis and archery. There was some sort of Girl's Athletic Association which you became a member of by playing intramural sports and there was some sort of privilege associated with it, but my memory is a bit fuzzy on that. Mostly I played racket sports because my friends did.
Where did I spend the summer before I was in 9th grade?
We spent summers in rented bungalows in Parksville (in the Catskills) when we lived in the Bronx, but stopped when we moved to Long Island. I spent one summer (between 4th and 5th grade) at Big Island Farm Camp and one (between 5th and 6th grade) at Camp Birchbrook / Twin Pines. Those were fairly normal, conventional summer camps.
Which means that they aren't particularly memorable compared to the correct answer, Camp Ein Harod. I only spent two summers there (before 9th and 10th grades) but those two summers provide a wealth of amusing stories. You see, the camp was run by a socialist Zionist organization named D'ror. (Which has since merged with another socialist Zionist organization named Habonim, who I know little about.) The socialist part mostly had to do with having work details - dishwashing, for example. If you had an activity that you really didn't want to do, you could often get out of it by volunteering to help paint a building or by peeling potatoes or some other silly chore. That didn't work to get out of Hebrew class or lectures on Zionism. We also had one counselor who was a true believer and made us sing, "There's no ism like Socialism." And we were supposed to pool our money and vote on how to use it as a group, but everybody held some back secretly and snuck into town to buy things at the General Store anyway.
Then there were the various activities they came up with to teach us about Israeli history. The most dramatic example of these was Hityashvut, where we were all awakened at three in the morning to go out and build settlements in the woods. I won't say a lot more here because I get a lot of mileage out of my Ein Harod stories in real life and I don't want to cut back on the market for them. But I will note that, while Kibbutz Meshabehsadeh is a real place, I've never been there. One of the bunks at Ein Harod was named after it (all of the bunks were named after kibbutzim that had been settled by the D'ror movement) and we used to like to chant, "Meshabehsadeh, hey!"
How many countries outside the U.S. have I been to?
Obviously it depends on exactly what counts as a country, but even by the most generous definition (e.g. counting Scotland and Wales separately and not just the U.K.), the answer is still just 26 to 40. To use a reasonable criterion, the U.S. State Department has lists of both Independent Countries and of Dependencies/Areas of Special Sovereignty. The 32 independent countries I've been to (in alphabetical order) are: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, China, Denmark, Ecuador, France, the Gambia, Germany, Holy See, India, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Tanzania, United Kingdom, Zambia, Zimbabwe. If you want to throw in Dependencies and Areas of Special Sovereignty, you can add Antarctica, Bermuda, and Saint Helena (which includes Ascension Island), putting the total at 35. Clearly, I am not about to run out of places to travel to!
What sort of pet haven't I had?
My father was not very big on animals, but had no particular objections to the turtles we got at some pet store when I was maybe five. In Parksville (and, come to think of it, on Long Island), we often caught salamanders which we kept for a few days at a time. Our first reasonable (i.e. fur-bearing) pet was a mouse named Rose Petal (Rosie, for short) that we got from our next door neighbor when her mother freaked out at the idea. She survived maybe a year or so and I still harbor vague suspicions that Dad poisoned her. He was even less pleased when we adopted a cat, who my mother named Sunshine. I am not very clear on the details, but Sunshine seemed to show up in our backyard one day and Mom always was a soft touch. In public, Dad always referred to him as "Stupid" or "that damn cat," but he was caught being nice to him privately once in a while. I have not, however, ever had a hamster. Nor do I particularly want to.
What did I plan to study when I started college?
I was positive I was going to study chemistry. I'd read a comic book about Madame Curie at an impressionable age. And I had some vague idea about being a police chemist like The Flash. (Well, you have to get your superpowers some way! A chemical accident seemed as good as any other, especially as I had not been so fortunate as to be born an Amazon princess.) I'd enjoyed chemistry in high school and had even spent a summer at an NSF biochemistry program. None of which prepared me for how much I disliked Organic Chemistry, since I could always think of dozens of reactions which might happen but never quite grasped how you could figure out which one actually would. Fortunately, I was open to the possibility of changing my mind and when it came time to declare a major at the end of freshman year, I was wise enough to select mechanical engineering instead.
Where did my maternal grandparents get married?
The correct answer is Havana. Either you've heard me tell this story or not, obviously. My grandmother was engaged to a man in New York and found out he had false teeth. She got upset about this and one of her friends suggested she take a vacation to think it over. In the 1920's, people went to Cuba the way they might go to the Bahamas now. She went to Havana and met my grandfather (who was living there because his brother knew someone who'd teach him to repair watches - I never have learned exactly how Uncle Willie, who was a kosher butcher at the time but later went into the fur trade, ended up in Cuba). Grandma mailed her engagement ring back to the guy in New York and married Grandpa two weeks later. In fact, she only went back to New York (with him in tow, of course) when she was pregnant with my mother. She'd lost her first child (a son, who is apparently buried in Havana) and didn't want to go through another pregnancy in the tropical heat.
What extracurricular activity occupied most of my time in college?
The guesses were all over the map on this one, but the right answer is dancing. I went folk dancing at least twice a week (Wednesday night was Israeli dancing and Sunday night was International) and took various other sorts of dance classes along the way. Mostly jazz dance, but some modern and even a ballroom dance class once. By the way, I was also quite active in Hillel, coordinating Sunday brunches for a couple of years and even acting as treasurer my junior year. But that took up far less time. As for the other things mentioned, I swam every day for a couple of years in grad school. I was involved in various theatrical activities throughout junior high and to a lesser extent in high school, but always felt hampered by my inability to sing. The last school newspaper I had anything to do with was in junior high, when I was more or less drafted into editing The Sandpiper - a chore which also involved writing 90% of it, including the crossword puzzles and the horoscopes. Well, I did have a brief involvement with an underground newspaper for a while in 10th grade. But journalism was too close to the sort of thing I was supposed to be interested in, so had no appeal.
Copyright 2002 Miriam H. Nadel