Sunday, November 16, 2008
I like wordpress. I tried to set up a new blog a few months ago and had trouble but today I gave myself plenty of time, and plenty of coffee, and realized that wordpress is easier than I thought. Hmmm...should I be saying this on a blog created by blogspot? Well, blogspot has its merits too, after all it's the provider who got me started blogging in the first place.
As for Ian's Blog II? It's time to move on I think. I haven't posted in over a month as my sister Emily gently reminds me every-so-often (she's such an editor). The trip to Africa is really at the forefront of everything right now, along with tons of reading and papers for school, so I think I'll retire this blog. I like the idea of having blogs end at some point and taking up new ones, maybe because one day I'll be able to mark stages in my life this way.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
ELECTION ALERT: Straight Party=20Voting Trap. You may have read about this; Hereare the details and what to do about it:THE PROBLEM: "Straight party voting" on voting machines is revealinga bad pattern of miscounting and omitting your vote, especially if you areaDemocrat. Most recently (Oct. 2008), a firm called Automated ElectionServiceswas found to have mis-coded the system in heavily Democratic Santa FeCounty,New Mexico such that straight party voters would not have the presidentialvotecounted.STRAIGHT PARTY VOTING is allowed in 15 states. Basically, it means that youcantake a shortcut to actually looking at who you are voting for and insteadjustselect a party preference. Then the voting machine makes your candidatechoices,supposedly for the party you requested.Additional details follow, but first: PROTECT THE COUNT:Short video launches Black Box Voting "Protect the Count" project -more to come:Form a Poll Tape Posse - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3_xFb1sWKUHOW TO PROTECT THE COUNT against Straight Party Trap:0A1) NEVER CHOOSE THE STRAIGHT PARTY VOTE OPTION, because it alerts thecomputeras to your party preference and allows software code to trigger whateverfunction the programmer has designed.2) SEND THIS INFORMATION OUT TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU CAN, blog it, root n'toot it outthere to get the word out.3) ESPECIALLY GET THE WORD OUT TO PEOPLE IN THE FOLLOWING STATES, whichhavestraight party voting options:Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina,Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, WestVirginia, Wisconsin4)DEMAND COMPLETE AND CAREFUL TESTING OF THE STRAIGHT PARTY OPTION IN LOGIC& ACCURACY TESTS.5) LOOK FOR UNDERVOTES (high profile races with lower-than-average numberofvotes cast) and flag them, post them, bring them to the attention of othersforadditional scrutiny.Details, links to documents, news stories, more specifics here:http://www.bbvforums.org/forums/messages/1954/78367.htmlVoting machine miscounts of straight party votes were proven by Californiaresearcher Judy Alter in the 2004 New Mexico presidential election; inAlabamaDemocrat straight party votes were caught going to a Republican, andWisconsin awhole slew of straight party votes disappeared altogether. Both DRE andopticalscan machines are vulnerable. Private contractors are involved; privatefirmslike LHS Associates, Automated Election Services, Harp Enterprises, Casto &Harris and others will program almost all systemsin the USA this November.ES&S scanners were involved in examples cited, but Diebold has also issuedacryptic Product Advisory Notice in 2006 about unexpected results from certainStraight Party option programming practices. (More:http://www.bbvforums.org/forums/messages/1954/78367.html )
Friday, October 10, 2008
Of course when I wake up the next morning and realize I have four hundred pages to read the genius image is nowhere around. Sometimes I make the mistake of reading my past-papers, ones that I went over with a fine-tooth comb for grammatical errors and typos. I still find more! The professors are patient, circling a redundancy or a grammatical error (c’mon Ian you’re in graduate school, grammatical errors?) and writing gracious prompts in the margin. They also write things like “well put,” “good,” “good point, but remember…” and the all important single check mark that shows that my paragraph is somewhat legible. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced what these little carbon marks do to your self-esteem, but I do remember how important it is to keep looking forward and not to obsess.
The graduate-studies building is a huge, brand-new, and somewhat cold monolithic structure. I’m getting to like it, but it’s taking time. Undergrads take classes there too, and you can tell the difference because the graduate students usually have their face in a book (“read, Forest, read!”) while the undergrads chat happily as they flow to and from the dorms. The stair-case always throws me off in this building. It’s designed somewhat like a doubly-helix, two twisting corkscrews that alternate directions at every floor as if the architect had had one to many tequila shots when he designed the building. If you happen to meet someone coming down while you’re coming up it’s like an awkward line-dancing exercise to pass each other without becoming intimate. When I arrive to class after ascending the steps I’m always out of breath and disoriented. The disorientation usually continues throughout the class period.
On my piano at home sit the books I’ve read so far. Before now, if you’d shown me the stack and told me I’d tackled all that heady non-fiction I wouldn’t have believed it. Some of the works are unbelievably brilliant. Some are dense tomes that contain brain-numbing theory. Some are little thin wisps of books that pack a wallop. With all this information being force-fed into my brain it’s hard not to feel like I know less than before because of the shear breadth of material. It's like over-stuffing a sausage until the casing breaks and all you have left is ruptured casing with ground meat oozing out. But something my professor said last night helped. She said that being in graduate-school is like trying to drink water from a fire-hose, if you stand in front you’ll get knocked on your ass, so you should try to stand to the side and take sips.
But it’s difficult to take that approach when it seems that those around you are managing to stick their head right in the stream and come out with mouthfuls of water. I’m taking a class called Atlantic World Colloquium where we look at the historiography of Atlantic history (it’s more complicated than that but forgive me, I’ve been writing, reading, and thinking about it all week and need a break). There are only four other students in the class, all second year PhDs. I’m a lowly first year—first semester—master’s. It is extremely intimidating. Last night I didn’t say a word for the first half-hour, and while I did jump in with some well received points later, it took time to let the brilliant classmates extrapolate from the readings so I could get a bearing and add to the conversation. They are all encouraging, as is the professor, and I love the class (in the way you love something that decides not to kill you but mercifully lets you live instead), but it’s a bit like going to class with five professors. They all have a much larger frame-of-reference than I do at this point, and when they start explaining about how our understanding of Atlantic world can help them in their particular areas of interests, which they are so knowledgeable about, I have to sit back and listen, a little in awe.
This graduate school business makes you tired. Sometimes the fatigue is overwhelming and feels a little like exhaustion, but sometimes it’s not all that entirely unpleasant. It’s manageable fatigue (at least that’s what I think now, get back to me later) and when you drive home at the end of the day you know you’ve worked hard, your brain feels a little like corned-beef-hash but you allow yourself to listen to low-brow rock and think about what you might have said had the class gone on just a bit longer. I’m used to being tired, but this is the first time I’ve felt this mentally fatigued since I was chef. Of course that job came with overwhelming physical fatigue as well, but I realize that the concentration it took to cook for large numbers creates the same brain-drain that graduate-studies does. I feel numb in the same way.
I cooked for fifteen years. A master’s takes two. I can do this, and, believe it or not, I can enjoy doing it. One thing I have in common with the PhDs is we are all tired. It shows on all of our faces at times, probably on mine more so, but we all acknowledge how painful this process is. Part of me wants to worry that if I go for a PhD it will be more of the same. They all teach, and I don’t even know what that experience is like so that’s a whole other set of disciplines to test my stamina. But I don’t think it’s productive to worry about that right now, I just need to watch the typos, grammatical errors and try to contribute something worthwhile.
When will I post again? I can’t be sure. I always forget how cathartic this process is, just to be writing for myself. Getting this out of my head feels a bit like being cleansed, although I wish it acted more like a week-long-lasting-energy-drink. I need to get passport photos made today, and I’m already seeing myself being gurneyed on the plane to Africa in December. I can’t wait for that trip, and it’s acting as a motivating catalyst right now. So I hope to keep rambling on this blog from time to time until then, and hopefully it won’t be a month until my next post.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Here is a quick update until I can manage a real post.
1)I’ve been offered a graduate assistantship for the fall which comes with money.
2)I put in my notice at the Public Library which is regretful, what a great job and great people!
3)The Africa trip in December is all squared away. Got the tickets last week and saved $500 because I’m flying on a Monday instead of a Friday. Plus I’m flying KLM which I hear is a good airline.
4)Love life: We’re not going there (don’t ask) :I
Monday, September 8, 2008
The chairs are more comfortable. The chairs in graduate school swivel and lean back. When you’ve made a particularly concise point that you believe has changed everyone’s conception of the subject, you can lean back and rock with your fingers inter-locked pretending to listen to the next comment appreciatively, although secretly you’re congratulating yourself for being so wise. At least until you realize that next comment is a complete rebuff of your argument and the speaker, unlike you, is actually using evidence from the text. Then you can lean forward quickly and try to find the page number, hoping that no one else in the room is listening to the argument.
You sit around a conference table. This is to make you feel more professional. Gone are the days when you would cram yourself into a little chair/desk thing like an NBA player at his 1st grader’s parents day. No, now you get to feel what the big shots feel when they “confer.” Of course, there is always that weird table-leg that positions itself between your legs, making your manhood feel compromised every time you shift your weight. The vast faux-mahogany table demonstrates the gulf between you and your peers, but it also demonstrates a loose community, kind of like holding the Zimbabwe election negotiations in the back room of Dennys.
You are committed to one field of scholarship and one field of scholarship only. Now, if reading about Atlantic trade agreements has got you cross-eyed, you can no longer go sit in a dark room afterwards gaining four credits for watching “Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!” for Cult Cinema. You must, after all that reading, go to another class and discuss Atlantic trade agreements. In fact, Atlantic trade agreement might permeate your dreams, causing you to dream you’re making a trade agreement with a unicorn from Brooklyn named Vinnie, who mysteriously turns into your fourth grade social-studies teacher.
You discover that you are extremely adept at the art of BS. Because that social-studies teacher disguised as a unicorn dream left you unable to sleep, you read Calvin and Hobbes until dawn, forsaking the reading you need to do for class. By class time you’ve read the prologue, the epilogue and the good part about the Indians rampaging against the settlers. With the well-honed skill of BS you acquired in under-grad, you can turn this small amount of reading into a long-winded discourse on the conceptual differences of clashing cultures and the wave of Euro-centric hegemony colonial trade brought with it. Don’t forget the hand-gestures, the head-nodding, the lowered voice for dramatic effect, and the brilliant regurgitation of your first point disguised as a new point.
People are better at sniffing out BS. So, that round of BS didn’t go so well. People take your claim apart piece-by-piece. A tag-team of students quotes from several points in the text that claim the opposite of your statement. Don’t worry, they could be BSing too. It’s all open to interpretation right? This should be your mantra, “everything is open to interpretation.” Say it over, and over...and over.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Sunday, August 24, 2008
My companions, still less interested in my problems than I though they should be, gave uncommitted consent to my proposal. We trekked into the woods a way and found a man and a woman shooting a sling-shot into the trees. This did not seem odd to us; it was common practice for biologists in the rainforest when collecting samples. The slingshot, with fishing line attached, would send a weight over a branch. A chain saw blade would then be raised up and over the branch, and, by using ropes connected to the blade, two people could saw a branch off without leaving the safety of the forest floor. This practice required some trial and error but with practice a botanist could come away with some rare or uncatalogued specimens.
This was obviously what this couple were up to. I told them of my situation, but they were fixated on their gathering. They told us they could take us a few miles up the road, but they would be travelling in another direction once we reached that point. Fine, I thought, a few miles was better than nothing.
But they kept on gathering as my foot throbbed and burned. Putting pressure on it at this point felt like knives shooting through my shin. I found a stump on which to sit while I waited for the scientists and began pondering the wisdom of this trip to Costa Rica which I was dourly regretting at this point. What was I thinking in coming here? This was the most inhospitable natural environment on the planet. People weren’t meant to live in this place, the insects were in charge down here. I kept having an image from one of those time-lapse photography pieces, where it looks like the insects strip down the carcass of a horse in a matter of seconds. That’s how I felt, like that disintegrating horse, being eaten by something small and ruthless, returning me to the cycle of life and assuring I’d never walk in the Costa Rican mud ever again.
When the couple finally decided they were ready I struggled into the back of their Jeep. The ride was bumpy which added to my discomfort, but at least I wasn’t walking. For a few minutes anyway. The couple dropped us off unceremoniously, and as they drove away I saw very little hope indeed. We still had five or so miles to go until the next camp-site, and I was averaging about half-a-mile an hour.
There is no way of knowing how I made it that far. At some point we finally reached the coast. We had traveled roughly 50 miles in four days and may have made it back to the expedition’s camp that night if my foot hadn’t held us up. We never did make it to the intended camp-site for that last night however. By this time K. was becoming more concerned with my situation, possibly because now there were tears streaming down my face. She had also gotten a look at the foot which was in full purplish bloom. For the first time since I had met her she looked alarmed. We had only one option, and that was to stop at the quasi-resort run by the shady Texans.
We had met these folks earlier in the expedition when they zoomed up in a boat to check us out and let us know of their presence. There were three women, a mother and two daughters who had married Costa Rican men and came off as people who weren’t in Costa Rica to bask in the glories of the rainforest. Their activity had a reputation up and down the coast as not being totally legal, and they swaggered with an air of ex-pats who, for whatever reason, might not be totally welcome in their home country anymore.
But, they had beds. And they took travelers checks. This night was by far the worst of my life as far as illness and pain go. After a dinner where I could hardly comprehend any conversation I put myself to bed for a night of agony. Any sleep I managed was fraught with devilish images involving feet, toes, Texans, and mud. The Texans kept a party going into the night which made my visions even creepier, with loud cackling and drawling whispers. There was very little sleeping and a lot of writhing, cursing and not a small amount of praying.
By the morning I knew I couldn’t walk another step. The Texans came up with an idea; they would take me back to the expedition camp in their boat. I saw hope in this suggestion and actually felt optimistic for the first time in days. I began to like the Texans; they had saved me, I took back anything I’d ever suspected them of and realized that there is charity in this world, and, that humans, when need arises, are truly altruistic beings.
Then they told me their price. $100 for a twenty minute boat ride. Another $25 to cash a travelers check, plus what we owed for the rooms. Most of this came out of my pocket, although I seem to remember the other two chipping in a generous amount. I didn’t care how much it cost though, I just wanted to get back to camp.
The boat ride was horrific, every wave we hurdled brought with it unbearable pain. I spent the ride with my eyed slammed shut and my head buried in my shoulder. When we finally arrived and bid good riddance to the Texans I wanted nothing to do with my travelling partners, trekking, rainforests, sand, rivers or mud. I staggered to my tent and picked up the old guitar someone had sent the camp. I started plucking and found some comfort in my old friend music.
Soon I saw one of the expedition leaders coming out to my tent. K. had told her about my trauma, and since this team leader was a registered nurse it was her duty to check on all illness and injuries. I don’t know why I didn’t go to her first, I suppose I was in the mood to lick my wounds away from everybody. I was not in a very good place mentally at that point.
She took a studied look at my foot and determined that if I didn’t get to a hospital that day my foot would be gangrenous by morning. I complied with everything she told me and soon I was being helped into a boat for a three hour boat ride with the same characteristics as the fore-mentioned boat trip. Waves, pain, waves, pain…
Finally, at the hospital, I watched as they lanced and cut away whole parts of my foot. It wasn’t really a hospital in the American sense; it was more of a clinic. I was on my own here too, with no one to translate. At one point they injected me with something and, though I’ve always hated needles this injection was not bad at all, a small prick really. I realized soon enough that this was to test to see if I was allergic to penicillin. The real needle came out and I took it old school, bent over a gurney while the nursed admired my bare white ass.
The entire workforce of this clinic came from every desk and examination room to witness the cutting, lancing and dressing of this rag-tag gringo’s foot. After it was over I felt as if I’d been put through several wringers, but the pressure on my foot was relieved somewhat and the nurse told me I would have to stay off of it for a couple of weeks. This suited me fine. I returned to camp with these doctor’s orders and tried to pick out what novels to read while I convalesced.
Within three days the infection was back. I didn’t necessarily heed the doctor’s advice on staying off the foot. I cooked 4th of July lunch for the camp and the locals and in doing so aggravated the infection. After that, K. made sure I took my antibiotics regularly and every morning and evening she would change my dressing and wash my foot. Soon I was on the way to healing, and one morning one of the team members insisted that I return to work. I acquiesced.
It was an experience which will stay with me until I’m dead or in, what my father calls, the gaga garage. Why it was necessary to leave camp, which was uncomfortable enough, to go “rough it” in the interior still escapes me, but I’m sure it served some purpose if only to provide a long story written on a Sunday afternoon in the mid-Atlantic U.S. The episode didn’t kill me so, if the saying is true, it theoretically made me stronger. I don’t know about that. I’m also not sure about the “personal journey” theory where you find your inner strength through this sort of thing. I don’t see much in the story that indicates strength of any kind. All I know is, in retrospect, that I wish I had stayed on the beach that first day, basking in the sun, eating coconuts and reading novels.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Orientation for history majors took place yesterday, with information and an open house at the head of graduate studies house. Interesting. I almost walked through his screen door but caught myself just in time. Very dynamic group of people.
Hopefully I’ll rap up nailing down the Africa trip within a week or so. Christmas in Africa. Last time I did that was at Vic. Falls and we were on budget of three rand a day. We had Christmas dinner in a fast food place.
I’ll finish the staph-infection story this weekend, to all who want gory-details there’re plenty more on the way.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Earlier this month I wrote about my summer in Costa Rica. One of the many stories which arose from this trip is the one I’ve told to friends and relatives countless times, so many times in fact that when I start the tale I sometimes catch a brief rolling of the eyes and almost, telepathically, perceive an “oh God, here we go with the staph-infection story again.” Rarely deterred, I launch in, and appropriately embellish where embellishment is needed and appropriately pause where dramatic effect might illicit the most sympathy and awe. When telling the story it’s best to look forward or up, but not directly at the face of the recipient, who might erode the illusion of total engrossment through a poorly concealed yawn or a snore disguised as a snort or chortle.
So let’s try it in writing for once. This way, the reader might react in anyway they please, possibly reading three convoluted sentences before surfing off to see how the US is doing in underwater synchronised kayaking in Beijing. Also it means that I can have it all down on paper for once, and at Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday for captive audiences) I’ll just whip this version out and read it as documented proof of the suffering I endured at the hands of tropical trench-foot.
There was a sado-masochistic ritual our troupe took part in during that summer in Costa Rica. This ritual was a required forced-march through the interior of the country. The criteria for this hike was not written in stone, but roughly the trek had to be three days to a week long, could not involve luxury hotels or anything labeled first-class, second-class, third-class or slightly bareable-class, and had to be with a small group, preferably people who would start to get on your nerves in, say, the first half-hour of the first day of hiking. The final, non-negotiable stipulation was when you returned you had to be covered in your body-weight with black Costa Rican mud.
My group consisted of three people. Eric, who was a bicycle courier in D.C., K. who I’ve written about before in this post, and myself, a self-proclaimed leader who felt leading was all about just walking ahead of the other two . At the time, a magazine reporter was at our camp doing a story on our work, and within the article there is a picture of the three of us starting out on the trek looking like seasoned hikers on a mission from God. We just looked that way for the camera’s benefit, we would of all much rather have been sitting on the beach reading novels and eating coconuts.
The first day gave us an idea of what we were in for. The hiking was hard. The entire day was spent trekking along a narrow beach which offered no solid surface on which to walk. At the end of the beach hike we were required to cross a river-mouth with a rushing current and rumored alligators swimming upstream. I literally had to carry K. across on my shoulders because, if not, she would have been swept out to sea. But beds and hot food awaited us on the other side, and soon our moods improved. The day had put a strain on my interdependence with K. who had trouble keeping up on the beach walk. We had three more days of this to go, and I wondered how she would do in the mud of the rain forest on days much longer than this one. It turns out that it was probably her that needed to be worried about me.
The second day had us debating on whether we should stay at the camp for the next four days and just “say” we went on the trek. But the camp, which was an eco-tourism station, charged for each night you stayed, and by that point I had used most of my funds on beer and, well, beer. Besides, we definitely could handle whatever was to come next. We’d had a good night’s sleep and were relatively buoyant by the time we set off that morning.
This day was equally as hard as the first but for different reasons. The trail followed the river into the interior of the Osa Peninsula, and the river, while shallow, had to be traversed literally dozens of times. The river-bed consisted of shaley sand and the traverses had us slogging through the water from shoal-to-shoal. We spent the entire afternoon doing this, and it was then I started to notice a slight scrape on the fourth toe of my right foot. I say “notice” because it was part of a series of uncomfortable maladies I identified on my body that day. Sunburn, muscle-ache, fatigue, and insect-bites all added to my discomfort, so the scrape from a piece of grit lodged between my toe and toe-nail was just a part of a long inventory of complaints. At the time I thought little of it.
It wasn’t until that night when I awoke to a persistent throbbing from my foot that I realized there might be a problem. I spent the rest of the night in a fitful sleep, my toe becoming the center of my dreams, shouting out for urgent attention, becoming a grotesque character who sent shock waves through my restless unconscious. When I awoke I wondered how I would walk that day, but a few tender steps had me believing I could go on. I alerted the others to the problem, but not knowing how bad it was myself, I had no way of gauging how urgent I should make the issue. Besides, abandoning the trek was nearly impossible, we were nowhere near any form of transportation and even if we had been, this would cost money which, as we know, had gone mostly for beer. I decided to see how it went, at this time there as no swelling to speak of and the pain was relegated to my toe only, my foot was still able to take the weight of my body. The toe, I was sure, would get better.
But this was Costa Rica. A small cut could become infected within a matter of hours in the humidity. One of the words we used often in the camp was “festering.” Infection was such a problem that once our the entire camp came down with conjunctivitis within a week. It was probably not the best idea to take a “wait-and-see” stance at this point, not in this climate, but there was really no other choice.
But pain makes you go looking for other choices when there are none I found out. The next day was the mud-day from hell. With every step we sank up to mid-calf in a thick brownie-batter of crud. The pain didn’t really start until mid-morning, and I remember reading a passage from “Sometimes a Great Notion” to my half-interested trekking partners in order to ease the monotony of the walk. But as soon as we hit the real mud, all I could think of was the pain which bulleted up my spine every time I sucked my foot up from the mire. By this time I was trailing far behind the others and it was my turn to shout “wait!” By the afternoon I had fashioned a crutch for myself and fancied myself a rebel retreating from Richmond. The pain was beginning to make me frantic and delirious.
(end part one)
I got an 83, not a bad score but you have to figure in the prostitutes and drug-dealers.But they're a lovable bunch once you get to know them. Well, not lovable in that way. Still proud of my hood though.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Worst date: In high school I asked a girl to the homecoming dance. I spent the afternoon detailing my car. I decided for some reason to dress in sort of a grunge-meets-gomer outfit, with layered flannel shirts and old jeans with enormous holes in the knees. (What the hell was I thinking?) When I picked her up she was dressed to the freakin’ nines. I looked like I just got off work at Goober’s gas station. Luckily she had a change of clothes for the party after the dance and, believe it or not, the grunge/gomer look was kind of in, so she had holes in her jeans too.
Worst hangover: Don’t ever eat the worm at the bottom of a bottle of tequila. I’m just saying this because it's exactly what I did on my 21st birthday. I remember going out to eat the next morning. It was Sunday and all the church people were having proper Sunday lunches. I must have looked like an escapee from the morgue. I sure felt like it. I barely managed to hold down my eggs.
Worst roommate: The guy I lived with in Portland who spent the phone bill money on strip-clubs and drugs. He also gradually moved his wife, step-son and parakeet into our two bedroom flat. The parakeet would start chirping at three in the morning and pooped all over my couch. The wife chain-smoked Misty cigarettes and played solitaire all day. Runner up: The guy who would come home drunk and throw chairs at the wall. Bye-bye security deposit. He was a pretty decent guitar player so he misses first-place by a hair.
Worst illness: I had chicken-pox when I was about 37. You’re supposed to get chicken-pox when you’re a kid, that’s why they gave it that cute name. But I got it in my thirties and let me tell you…it was not cute! Besides looking like someone lowered a wasp-nest onto my head, my girlfriend mistakenly got the wrong type of antibiotic cream which made the symptoms worse. I spent a couple of agonizing nights with a wet washcloth over my face. Physically, I felt like I’d been steam-rolled. I remember watching the Elephant Man on TV and identifying completely. “I am not an animal!” Runner up: Staph infection in Costa Rica. Honorable mention: Whatever that thing was I had for the first month in Africa.
Worst meal: This is tough, I can’t really think of a really bad meal I’ve had although I know there has to be one. I got food-poisoning from a sandwich once, but that doesn’t really count. Oh yea, recently I went to a chain restaurant and ordered eggs-over-easy. The whites weren’t even close to being fully cooked. It looked like the eggs had been precooked and then dipped in warm water for service. Yow! Also, there have been times in my life when economy dictated I concoct meals out of what I had in the cabinet. This is usually a pretty sparse selection. I came up with some scary things during these times. However, I did discover the versatility of Top Ramen.
Actually there’s one more. I once ate a raw turnip on an empty stomach, (it’s a long story). Don’t ever, ever, do this. I won’t go into details as to why, just never, ever do it.
Worst book I actually finished: The Fountainhead. I know it seems like I have an axe to grind with Ayn Rand, but I just hate all that superior social darwinism crap. Problem is, and I don’t like to admit this, the writing was compelling enough to see me through to the end…and, sigh, actually made the book difficult to put down. There, I’ve said it. Moving on…
Worst movie: I learned not to completely trust the movie reviews in The New Yorker with this one. One of the reviewers, I don’t know if it was Denby, Lane or another one, salivated about a movie called Rangoon. Has anyone seen this film? I might have missed the point, but I found it excruciatingly dull and therefore list it as the worst movie I’ve ever seen. All I remember is everyone being very sweaty and damp through the whole thing (the actors, not the audience, well maybe the audience too.)
Worst try-out: In fifth grade I tried out for the school soft-ball team. We couldn’t afford a soft-ball-mitt so, true to fashion, my mother offered to see if a friend who had sons would let me borrow one. It sounded like an okay plan, but I was a little suspicious. The glove that I got was tiny, and looked like it was manufactured around the-turn-of-the-century. (that’s the 20th century young-uns.) Predictably, the try-out went badly. The other kids had their huge non-antique-gloves and were scooping up soft-balls and hurling them back to home-plate with ease. I, on the other hand, couldn’t have handled a golf-ball with that glove and, sadly, didn’t make the cut. Runner up: this wasn’t necessarily a try-out, but I once had the opportunity to play bass with Ben Folds (he had hits in the nineties, remember?) I completely choked, and couldn’t play a note.
Worst moment in a classroom: I went to community college for a while and administration talked me into taking a piano class. It was a good class, but I got the date for the recital wrong and came into it completely unprepared. About fifty people watched me struggle through hickory-dickory-dock and a few other pieces. The instructor had to point at each key before I played it, patiently whispering “that one, then that one, now the black one again” etc.
Worst computer mishap: I was working on the big research-paper that all history majors had to complete when the library lap-top I was using shut-down. When I booted it back up I went to the recovery function and accidentally deleted several pages of my final draft. I was in a library so I couldn’t shout expletives at the top of my lungs, but I really, really wanted to.
Worst job: My first job when I went to Africa was assisting a surgeon with just general daily tasks. On of these jobs was taking photographs of surgery, which was exciting and fascinating. But I also had to do clerical work which wasn’t so great. The worst task assigned to me however was collecting sputum samples from the TB ward. Yes, really, I did that. Runner up: Chef at the Diamondback Café.
Worst fashion choice: I used to cut my own hair. ‘nuff said.
Worst bruise: I had a bruise on my hip from skiing that was the color of a black-hole and was kind of shaped like the Milky Way. Actually it was many bruises layered on top of each other because I kept falling on the exact same hip.
Worst airline experience: Flying from Transkei to Raleigh took four days. They had me on the wrong flight when I got to Johannesburg, when I finally arrived in Brussels there was an air-traffic-controllers strike, I missed the connection from New York to Raleigh by ten minutes and I was suffering from a malady which I won’t name but is extremely unpleasant to those who’ve experienced it. I had to start work at a summer camp on the same day I finally made it to North Carolina. It took me about a month to recover.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
I have issue 717 of Rolling Stone right next to me. A very intense Jerry stares out at Herbi Greene's camera in salt-and-pepper magnitude, and all the top caption reads is "Jerry Garcia 1942-1995." My copy is worse for the wear, and when I opened it this morning I found that I had placed clippings from the NY Times, New Yorker, Time, and an editorial from our local paper inside the front cover. As I was flipping through it, I welled up. Dammit, not supposed to get weepy...buck up kid!
I've been listening to a lot of Dead this week. Not really consciously, it just happens that these phases come around every now and then. Now I realize that it is the August solstice, the 9 days between Jerry's birthday, August 1st, 1942, and the day of his death, August 9th, 1995. I've mostly listened to tapes from 1970 when the Dead were part bar-band, part transcendental oracles and part folk balladeers. Jerry drove the majority of these concerts with relentless, some might say endless, guitar solos. But listening to each tape I'm amazed at how many variations the man was able to produce with just five fingers and a dozen or so frets (oh, and yes, probably lots of inhebriants). He could be sweetly lyrical one moment and turn on a dime to produce scary crunchy fuzz, then riff off blues licks and decunstruct everything into feedback and wonking noises and then find his way back to the lyrical melody.
I don't really know where I'm going with this. I just know that I'm remembering this day particularly intensely this year. There is so much about the Grateful Dead that produces fodder for the morality police, not to mention the folks who want their songs to be about love and last no more than three-and-half minutes. Not knocking those folks, but if freedom of speech and expression is still a collective value, the Dead and Garcia proved how powerful that basic human right can be. Furthermore, to many of their fans, they also proved the profound transformative power of this practice .
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Here is my home page as it stands today.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
1. My uncle once: made me set off one of those moo-cow noise makers in church.
2. Never in my life: have I wanted to conform.
3. When I was five: I went to England and ate chocolate mousse shaped like a baby bunny.
4. High school was: where I met people I'm still friends with.
5. I will never forget: Ryoko.
6. Once I met: Desmond Tutu.
7. There’s this girl I know: who had her back broken in four places, was in intensive care for a week, graduated from high school on time, and became a hero.
8. Once, at a bar: I beat a friend at darts .
9. By noon, I’m usually: pretty much awake and feeling fine.
10. Last night: I tried to relive my earlier days, went to see a band at a venue miles away from my town, rocked, and feel great.
11. If only I had: everything settled.
12. Next time I go to church: I'll listen to every word of the sermon, I promise.
13. What worries me most: abandonment
14. When I turn my head left I see: a crazy over-stuffed bookcase.
15. When I turn my head right I see: a stereo.
16. You know I’m lying when: The blotch between my eyes becomes bright red
17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: hating Reagan.
18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: One of the characters who tried to talk reason into all of the misguided idiots in Shakespeare.
19. By this time next year: I'll be me, but a year older.
20. A better name for me would be: Ian Mitchie.
21. I have a hard time understanding: women.
22. If I ever go back to school: I'll let you know when I'm finished.
23. You know I like you if: You haven't been a jerk.
24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: Heather
25. Take my advice, never: put a beer-tab in the fuse-box of a Volkswagen in the hopes that it will make the stereo work.
26. My ideal breakfast is: Eggs Benedict cooked by someone who knows exactly how I would cook it, but not cooked by me.
27. A song I love but do not have is: City of Tiny Lights
28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: give it chance, a long chance, like about a year, and then realise we're doing the best with what we have to work with, and then...save yourself, move! or not.
29. Why won’t people: stop excepting mediocrity.
30. If you spend a night at my house: do it on a Tuesday, when things are clean but don't still smell of pinesol.
31. I’d stop my wedding for: someone telling me a had a ten record deal with Columbia.
32. The world could do without: cultural assertion.
33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: read Ayn Rand.
34. My favourite blonde(s) is/are: and/or/all of the above.
35. Paper clips are more useful than: nuclear weapons.
36. If I do anything well it’s: meander.
37. And by the way: I overhauled my living-room today.
Jeremy. Archie, Emily, Danny, all tagged.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
The group numbered around forty. Mostly recent college graduates, the age ranged from seventeen to twenty-five. I was twenty-four years old, in need of a fresh outlook and anxious to experience unspoiled areas of the globe, if there still are such places. In order to go I raised the money myself, somewhere in the neighborhood of four thousand dollars. The two biggest fund-generators were a 120 mile bike-a-thon and a chicken-pie-brunch for the First Methodist Church in New Bern, North Carolina. I learned then that the best way to raise money is to feed people. The brunch raised about a third of the funds in around five hours.
To rendezvous with the other members, who were coming from all over the country, I had to reach Miami International Airport. In any international airport, especially in the late spring and throughout summer, one can see groups like ours strewn around on airport floors leaning up against over-stuffed back-packs and nervously checking passports and tickets. Some are less concerned with documents, reading battered paper-backs or exploring the terminals in search of the bar. Most represent a loose group of temporary expats, dipping their toe in the “other” world for a moment in hopes of life-changing insight or a fling with another culture. Whichever it is, it keeps an underground of back-packing adventurers moving around the globe like misplaced beetles in a never-ending column of ants.
Before the trip got underway, we were all assigned duties to be performed once we reached camp. Because of my background in restaurants, I landed the responsibility of purchasing all of the food for the camp. This was not an easy task, the camp was three hours away by boat from even the most remote town, and the boat trips were few-and-far-between. On top of this, I had to account for the tastes of forty Americans and roughly twenty Costa Ricans (nicknamed ticas and ticos) and all on a strict budget. I learned within a few days what most Costa Ricans think of oatmeal for breakfast. My Scotch ancestry took it for granted that everybody ate oatmeal for breakfast. Not in Costa Rica.
On top of this, I had a boss. Because I was a little late getting the job, the true supervisor of the food supply was an eighteen-year-old lawyer’s daughter from Westchester County New York. I’ll call her K.
I met K on the floor of the Miami airport when the YSI leader introduced us and claimed me as K’s assistant. She was small, ninety pounds maybe less, wearing over-alls and a deep scowl. She was about as impressed with me as she was with the spot on the wall she went back to staring at as soon as the inconvenience of shaking my hand was over. I tried to strike up a conversation, but this provoked only monosyllabic grunts. Still, she was pretty, I thought, and that helped.
K liked control. She didn’t know the first thing about supplying food to people, but she new a great deal about being bossy and difficult. This took her far on those first couple of supply outings where she would either ignore my suggestions outright or purse her lips and stubbornly contradict me. I had to just accept it for a while, she was in charge.
The trip soon created its own rhythm, and as we settled into the camp K became more comfortable with my help. I made some blunders yes (oatmeal) but I worked very hard, building a BBQ pit out of rebar and organizing a fresh coconut assembly line so we could have the delicious coconuts that were in never-ending abundance on the beach. Almost every morning fishermen, fishing in some of the best game waters in the world, would unload their throwbacks on us, mostly yellow-fin tuna and wahoo. The high energy arroz y frijoles and handmade corn tortillas always augmented these local gifts. I learned to make tortillas from the locals and in return I gave them some very bad but entertaining English lessons.
The insects were the drawback of the trip. Vicious sand-flies plagued any exposed skin, and one would have to wait until they bit to swat them because of their speed. In the forest, large bees would zero in and sting-at-will. An afternoon shower could bring on the hatching of millions of flying termites who would frantically fly and fornicate all over the camp, sending all inhabitants running for cover. I once found an intimidating scorpion on the inside of my shirt after pulling it off the clothes-line.
Infection was also a problem, with the smallest of nicks turning into a festering sore within a couple of days. At a later date I plan to write about the staph infection on my foot that came very close to becoming gangrenous, but that will require a whole new post.
K and I managed to become close. I built a little home-away-from home down the beach from the main camp. In a palm grove I pitched my tent on a platform made of material I pilfered from the construction sight. The platform at least kept the ground-dwelling bugs away. The tent was usually hot, but at night, with only the screen up, the breeze coming off the crashing waves of the Pacific would lull me into a light sweaty sleep.
In the camp was a mess tent with a long picnic table where the whole expedition would cram themselves at meals and play cards into the evening. I never considered the things I would miss from home until I reached the camp. One of these was chair-backs. Leaning forward over a picnic table for two-and-a-half months made me long for a lawn chair, a high-back chair, or even a church pew. So on my platform I made a porch of sorts. It was two twelve-by-fours hammered into the form of a bench. A bench with a back. Here, before dinner, I would watch the surf, drink a beer, or crack open a coconut for K and I to share. Often some others would join us and I’d pluck away on an old guitar I was teaching one of the ticos to play.
K moved into my tent not long after I finished the platform and the bench. She stayed there every night for the rest of the trip. We became friends despite the uncomfortable living conditions and differences on how to supply the camp. One night, when the entire camp had come down with pink-eye (yep pink-eye) except her, she led me like a blind man to the main camp in the dark so I could wash out my burning itching eyes. Something, possibly my habit of humorous complaining, got us laughing. We both were in hysterics over some inanity, laughing desperately while the giant indigenous trees listened and the insects kept up their relentless onslaught. It seems such a long time ago, but these things rarely leave the forefront of my recall for more than a day or two. I realize now that this is what I was looking for in Costa Rica.
So much about that trip transformed me into who I’ve become today. It was the briefest of periods, less than three months, less than a semester, less than a single season of football, less than a forth-of-a-year. Not long after, I went to Oregon while K went to Africa, at my urging. Sadly we lost touch, but as this entry suggests I haven’t forgotten her. Maybe it’s the same with her.
The dynamics and diversity of that group influenced me so positively after a period where I had foundered in the negativity of my home-town, that I felt spring-boarded forward. Now, when things are tough, I console myself with the never-ending mantra, “Well I survived Costa Rica, I can survive this too.” Its things like these that teach what you’ve really got inside of you.
This is Companario. Our group was the second to go down and start construction. None of what you see on the website was there when we started. Makes me want to go back.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
ANOTHER ONE IN A ROW
Even wrinkled water stretches out
along its roadway to the sea.
A blemish under sunlight fades,
changes anyway as all things change
the more they meet the Elements.
Only the nightmare, one in a row,
is constant under Nature's gaze.
Lean or weighted down with weight,
everybody I see now is eloquent
In true proportion.
Dreams have taught me
to turn my back on nothing
that might be something.
Something being that other one
one always needs to compliment
the given hour.
Who knows how many dreams
die out of season
reaching for some added darkness
or twisting upward where the sunlight
sits on haunches in the tops of trees.
There are no ordinary dreams.
Every nightmare is extraordinary
and compared to bodies, every body,
the dream is truly plain.
The nightmare is nothing.
I am, of course, excepting my own body
which needs a little/lot of work
No mirror told me that.
Not seeing my reflection in an other body
was looking glass enough.
While looking down
above a dream some times
I do see my old self rolling in another's arms
And oh the sight is dazzling.
---Rod McKuen 1998
Friday, June 27, 2008
Dar Williams*** — Dar’s my second cousin. We saw her in Charlottesville with my parents and she did a shout-out to my dad. She said she always imagined her southern cousins running around barefoot all the time. Pretty accurate.
Sting ***—three times with the Police and once solo.
David Bowie* – Saw Bowie twice on the Serious Moonlight Tour and the next tour which was Scary Spiders or something. Serious Moonlight was great.
The Grateful Dead* –about 15 times before the real en, and several times in their post-Garcia incarnations.
Queen* – First concert ever. Pretty amazing from what I remember.
R.E.M.** – 6 times maybe? Backstage twice, once on the day after my high-school graduation.
Wilco—saw them at Bonnaroo in 2004. I was amazed at their live act.
The Rolling Stones—in 1992. Mick was about 70 then, right? He still worked the crowd like a master. One of my top five shows of all time.
Taj Mahal—once in downtown Winston where the drunk frat-boys didn’t get it at all, and another time at Bonnaroo while standing in the longest ATM line on the planet.
Bob Dylan—several times. Usually people think his shows suck. I don’t know why, but I always enjoy them because he doesn’t care that most people think his shows suck. Best time in Durham standing within arms length of the guy who wrote all those songs.
Wynton Marsalis—I saw Wynton in the auditorium of Guilford College. His band was an hour late, he only played for an hour, he did no encore, and still it was the best 25 bucks I’ve ever spent (50 if you count my girlfriend). The high-note he hit during the New Orleans dirge was worth $23.50 by itself. Saw him again at WSSU. Branford strolled on the stage about halfway through to help finish the set. Unbelievable.
David Byrne—I never had a chance to see Talking Heads but Byrne came to my burg several years ago and put on this amazing creepy show with Talking Heads and solo stuff and a lot of artistic sets. All at a club that looked like a place you’d hold a barn-dance.
Phish—I think I saw this band about three times. The first time was good, but the other times I kind of lost interest sometime during the 29th guitar solo.
Dave Mathews—not the DMB but Dave Mathews with Tim Reynolds and Trey Anastasio. Trey spent the whole concert trying to upstage everyone and Dave looked like he was trying to keep the peace. When Trey started playing the drums during Reynolds’ guitar solo all magic was ruined for me.
Doc Watson—I’ve seen Doc Watson about four times. He always puts on a good show, and he’s in his 80s!
The Radiators—I love the Radiators. I saw them in Eugene and at Bonnaroo 2004. It was on Sunday and we were feeling very worse-for-the-wear. The band revitalized us and we continued on with our revelry.
NRBQ—I saw them in Connecticut in 1991. I didn’t really appreciate them at the time, but now I love them. They always do amazing things with their guitars.
Cracker--I got a little over-excited, i.e. inebriated, at this show and burst into their dressing room before the encore to convince with them to do an encore which they were planning to do anyway. Dave Lowry wanted to know where my girlfriend was--he was kind of a jerk.
Concert wish list, post-mortem: Frank Zappa, Muddy Waters, Thelonious Monk, The Clash. I would have liked to have been at the Beatle’s rooftop concert.
Concert wish-list: REM, again, The Pretenders during their heyday, Talking Heads, Bruce Springsteen and many more that aren't coming to mind right now.
Why the new REM album has restored my faith in human kind
The weird people who live in my town (present company included)
The Rooster that used to live in my neighborhood
A new mock-meme
Anyway, see you later…
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Sunday, June 15, 2008
True to habit, I decided to wait and see. I haven’t actually talked to the dog-walker since then because he picks up Booker when I’m gone from the house. I really don’t want to hear his side of the story, not because I’m uninterested but because he tends to get over-excited and loud. He speaks very fast. Talking to him is one of those moments when I find myself repeating “yea…but…I know…but…umhmm…yep…but…” throughout any of many one-sided conversations.
Once he took on a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses outside of my house. They had approached me earlier, and I gave them my usual stock spiel about how I had my own beliefs about the creator and that I respected theirs and wished them luck. Dog-Walker chose the moment they were walking off my porch to pull up in his blue Plymouth Volare. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, two very gracious but indoctrinated and dogmatic ladies, made the mistake of asking about the acceptance of Jesus Christ in Dog-Walker’s life. I, by this time, had begun to return to whatever I was occupied with before the door-bell rang, but soon was interrupted by something that sounded like a high pitched re-reading of Orson Wells’ sermon in Moby Dick. “Do not presume to tell me who MY God is!” I heard. “I know who MY God is and he accepts me as I AM!” By the time I got to the street Dog-Walker was brandishing a crucifix at the terrified ladies, the silver neck-chain taught as he asserted his claim to a Christian God that the Jehovah’s Witness’ could only hope to know. When I intervened, Dog-Walker was out of breath from ranting, and he was also hurt that I had not come to his aid. He couldn’t believe that my aversion to loud religious exchanges in front of my house won out over any loathing I might have for creepy religious pandering.
All judgments withheld after that. Life went on. I had seen how agitated Dog-Walker could get, and I’d pocketed another odd story about my neighborhood. But even with this new incident there is something now that’s keeping me from cutting Dog-Walker loose. His relationship with Booker.
Let me just indicate first that Booker loves me. He does the Dino Flintstone when I come home from work and, if it’s been “one-of-those-days,” he senses it and calms down quickly. But if he senses that it’s been a good day, and usually it’s because I’m singing some stupid made up song about checking the mail and feeding the cats, he charges around grabbing his Frisbee and wagging his tail furiously. He’s a good dog.
But when Dog-Walker shows up it’s a different scene all-together. Firstly Booker knows the sound of Dog-Walker’s engine. In the winter, when the front door is closed, he jumps literally three feet off the ground to get a glimpse of Dog-Walker through the glass panes of the front door. Dog-Walker’s entrance into the house is a sort of ritual, with Booker doing a hind-legged dance as the leash comes down from the coat-rack and the humans exchange greetings. A mad rush to the kitchen to retrieve treats might be followed by a taunting invitation with the Frisbee. If not, it’s out the door and into Dog-Walker’s front seat as the two toodle down the street like an old married couple on a Sunday drive. It’s kinda weird and kinda sweet.
There is no doubt in my mind that Booker is as good for Dog-Walker as Dog-Walker is for Booker, mainly because Dog-Walker tells me. These are the conversations I don’t mind. This is a man who’s been dealt some very difficult cards in his life. Life can’t be easy for him, but time with Booker seems to be one of his high-points.
So I went to the dog-park today just to get an idea of the surroundings—where these two go every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. I met a good group of people who love their dogs. The majority of the dogs are rescue dogs. The owners proudly tell of the traumas, and joys, of finding and caring for them. A heated confrontation at this place, between two-legged animals anyway, seems like an anathema. Owners sat casually under the shade trees and watched each other's dogs while a canine greeting party was organized and sent forward for every new arrival. Booker lead a couple of these.
It seems to me that the initial trouble at the dog-park is with the food that Dog-Walker is dropping on the ground. If he stops this, there could be a resolution. This is how I’ll handle it:
If it looks like Dog-Walker’s getting his gander up at the mention of changing any of his habits to satisfy a few heinous and unreasonable dog-owners I’ll simple remove the food from the cabinet and hide it. Another solution is to always make sure there are dog-treats, not just dog food so there won’t be any dispute over kibbles. The Dog-Walker can keep a milk-bone handy to give to Booker only. People are very particular about what their own pets eat, and I should try to respect that.
One plus of the whole saga, it got me down to the park. There is a fantastic place for Booker to swim, not just wallow, and the company of strangers felt right. Dogs are, among other things, conversation starters, and meeting, greeting, patting and admiring each other’s dogs quickly put all at ease. I met all shapes and sizes of people and dog, and Sunday (still a tough day for me, possibly the only one left) became tolerable and happy.
So Dog-Walker stays, as long as things return to normal. More instances like this and I’ll have to revisit my thinking on it, but I know that I have a new place to take Booker. New avenues are good for me now, and it took Dog-Walker’s indignation, and possibly his obliviousness to reason, to get me to this one.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
What’s making the dilemma worse is that while I’m working at the library I get to see the best-sellers circulate on and off the shelves, and it’s piqued my curiosity about all these current authors. James Patterson is our most popular author and, from what I can tell, you can easily read his books in a day, or an evening even. I picked up one of his books recently and just opened up to a middle chapter and read the first line. It was short and perfunctory but kind of enticing too. It seemed unapologetic. After one sentence I imagined that I could tell what sort of reading experience the book would bring me. But I have to use caution with these assumptions. I’ve started books that I was all excited about and later hurled them across the room at around chapter nine. Patterson’s portrait on the back cover doesn’t help either; he looks like the kind of guy that would have you removed from his yacht for wearing the wrong sort of loafers. But you know what they say, you can’t judge a book…..well, you know the rest.
David Baldacci is another one who’s widely read. We get veterans coming in for W.E.B. Griffin a great deal. Daniel Steele is still at the top of the list along with Robert Parker and, to my horror, Pat Buchanan is writing history books (aaaargggg) and Newt Gingrich is writing historical fiction. (Well actually, Pat Buchanan is probably writing historical fiction too but he’ll never admit it.) One encouraging detail, Barack Obama’s books are some of the most heavily circulated.
I’m wondering if I should give any of these authors a try, like having one last fling before settling down. Should I go on a Nora Roberts binge or finally start reading Harry Potter? I’ve got less than three months before I’m researching day after day. Is this the last time I’ll get to discover that prolific woman who writes about African detective agencies? All of these books come highly recommended by fine people who can’t get enough of one certain author or another. One of the most common comments I get is that the patron can’t remember if they’ve read the book they’re checking out or not. Some of them trundle off with bags stuffed with books claiming “this should hold me for a week.”
It’s probably going to reach the mid-nineties today. There are some things I could get done today, but in all fairness to me I worked a long week last week, six days between the county, the college, the film class and helping prep food for a wedding on Saturday, plus three band practice sessions (we’re practicing more because the bass player is available in the evenings now). I just walked out on the porch and that lucky, but oppressive, ‘ole sun is dialing up another scorcher. Reading seems like the ticket.
But there’s one problem. I locked my book in my desk drawer at work. The key broke off in the lock and it probably won’t get fixed until tomorrow. The book is Barbara Tuchman’s history of British and Palestinian relations Bible and Sword. What’s worse is that my graduation pictures were in the book too. I was planning to scan them and post them to this very website, but that will have to wait for a later date. My mother and father are also reading the book and I thought it would be fun to discuss it with them. Now I’ll be behind. But no worries. I do have to realize though, that a mistake like this could be disastrous once I'm in grad-school.
So what to read today? I don’t have any of the above mentioned popular authors at hand. There are some books that were given to me as presents but they don’t seem to be calling me either. Wait, I’ve got it….there’s one Patrick O’Brian on the bookshelf I haven’t read. I think the glorification of England’s empirical dominance in the early 19th century makes for a happy medium between graduate study and James Patterson. Anchors away, see you on the front porch.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
1. Name the singer/band/performer you are most embarrassed to admit you actually paid good money to see in concert.
I went to see Franciscan Monks perform Gregorian Chants at the chaste age of 10. The eunuchs were quite controversial at the time, and I remember blushing as the acoustics of Glastonbury Cathedral echoed their voices back to me. I ponder, ‘twas it was the incense?
2. Which reality TV show have you watched more than once (come on. I don’t believe you if you say “none,” unless you don’t own a TV)?
Why buy a TV when you have perfectly good entertainment in The Complete Works of John Donne to keep you warm on a blustery day in an academic town where folks play cloak-and-dagger over department chairs? I mean really.
3. Which complete trash novelist have you not only read but enjoyed enough to read more than one book of his/hers?
Joyce. When no one was watching I would hide on the Chippendale love-seat and devour the works of this trumped-up hack. I guess I have a little of the devil in me, because as much as my elders warned me of the intellectual damage I was doing, I couldn’t get enough, even though everyone knows Ulysses is only a thinly veiled retelling of the timeless classic Curious George Visits the Zoo.
4. What sappy musical could you watch over and over and over again?
I just cannot believe that no one has claimed this one. I mean Die Walküre anybody? Move over Mary Poppins, this is the feel-good musical of all time.
5. Who was your first celebrity crush?
6. Who is the most embarrassing celebrity on whom you have a slight crush today?
Stanley Fish, with Foucault a close second.
7. What movie that everyone else and his cousin and even his dog has seen have you never seen?
When I was around 13, every one of my friends went to see a film called Entr'acte. It was the biggest box-office grossing filmof all time for film-night at the Melted Clock Café in Sausalito. Since then I’m ashamed to say I’ve never seen it, but I’ve read every article about it ever written. In fact, it was the subject of my dissertation. At cocktail parties I bluff.
8. What were you drinking the first time you ever got drunk?
41 year old scotch.
9. Which old re-run will you still pause to watch if you’re flicking through the channels and see that it’s on?
Hmmm…..Dobey Gillis? I used to turn the sound down and make up my own dialogue, replacing conversations about the stolen van with revelations on Sartre and Jung. Wait, that was undergrad…sorry.
10. What book/movie/t.v. show that only a fifteen-year-old would think is funny makes you laugh?
Guernica: a Study in 24 Essays and The Complete Works of John Dryden. Anything about malignancy.
Like I said, he's truly a ne're do well.
Monday, June 2, 2008
1. Name the singer/band/performer you are most embarrassed to admit you actually paid good money to see in concert.
I paid good money to go see a southern rock band named Molly Hatchet. They used to play the hit single Flirtin' with Disaster on the radio every hour or so in, oh I guess 1981? One of the reasons we liked the band was because of its album covers. They were by a guy named Frank Frazetti (not sure of the spelling) who also did the covers for Conan the Barbarian which featured impossibly buxom, half-naked warrior women stretched out over extreme terrain while Conan was cutting a man-bat in half or something. At the concert, we were expecting to see bar-brawls and bikers but there was a pleasant family of six in front of us and very few crazed fans.
2. Which reality TV show have you watched more than once (come on. I don't believe you if you say "none," unless you don't own a TV)?
This might be a little revealing but I, now that I think about it, watch my fair share of this terrible TV genre. I know they choose the most spoiled and extreme people to represent a “true” cross section of the population because the more confrontational fire-works the better, and really I should know better, but I think I have a little train-wreck-itis in me. Mainly I watch the cooking shout-fests featuring Gordon Ramsay—Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen—but I watched a couple of seasons of Survivor and The Real World too. The other night I found myself watching a show where women try to win a farmer as a husband (if you can name this show, shame on you). Something about entitled whiney women in daisy-dukes appeals to me I guess.
3. Which complete trash novelist have you not only read but enjoyed enough to read more than one book of his/hers?
I can redeem myself here. Although I don’t claim to be very well-read, I really don’t read that much trash either. I grew up in a house that had its own special Barbara Cartland bookcase (I have three older sisters and a Mom). Today paper-backs with pastel front covers showing lustful embraces beneath the willow still knee-jerk me toward regurgitation. (Funny how the Frank Frazetti covers do the opposite.) Steven King might be the closest to trash, but come on—do we really want to say that about the guy who wrote The Shining? I used to read Ann Rule too. She’s true-crime and might fall into that category.
4. What sappy musical could you watch over and over and over again?
Don’t want to generalize here, but this meme is looking more and more like it’s geared toward the opposite sex. I don’t like musicals but I can admit when they’re good. Singin’ in the Rain is a good one. Do Gilbert and Sullivan count? I loved The HMS Pinafore when my sister’s school did it when I was around six. And…yes…begrudgingly, The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews: my first crush.
5. Who was your first celebrity crush?
I think I just answered this, so I’ll give the second crush. There is absolutely no way to beat Emily’s one-in-a-million answer of Mr. Green Jeans, but I had a very strong crush on Tatum O’Neil after Paper Moon. This is odd because I just read today that she’s been busted again for drug possession. I’m not usually attracted to the bad girls. “Tatum…I can fix you…”
6. Who is the most embarrassing celebrity on whom you have a slight crush today?
Besides the fore-mentioned entitled whiney girls on the “I Want to Marry a Hayseed?” Hmmm, I have to think about this. Oh, got it. Easy, Dana Perino. Sorry, but if this woman was at gitmo trying to get me to talk I’d fess up to everything I’d done, everything I might have done, everything I might consider doing at a later date, and anything I might not consider doing but if she says so…well that too.” The only thing Bush has done right in his life.
7. What movie that everyone else and his cousin and even his dog has seen have you never seen?
This really is the hardest question. Well right now, and get ready for the cop-out, the new Indiana Jones movie. I know that there are still plenty of people who haven’t seen it, like in Java and places, but I always profess to being such a big Raiders of the Lost Ark fan and, after reading Ebert drooling pop-corn all over his lap about it in his review, I had really planned to see it over Memorial Day. But going to the movies has lost some allure for me. But I still plan to see it soon.
8. What were you drinking the first time you ever got drunk?.
Strongbow Cider when I was twelve. Yep, that’s right folks, twelve. Did you know that in England the legal drinking age is five if you are on your own property under the supervision of parents? We would go to dinner parties and watch a thirteen-old-get drunk at the table to everyone’s amusement. I thought I’d give it a try and, sorry to say, wasn’t as amusing. It was the first time I embarrassed everyone, but not the last.
9. Which old re-run will you still pause to watch if you’re flicking through the channels and see that it’s on?
Good Times. John Amos and Esther Rolle rule the planet.
10. What book/movie/t.v. show that only a fifteen-year-old would think is funny makes you laugh?
Tommy Boy. But there are so many more. I think part of my development halted at age fifteen. I like the humor of Will Ferrell and Chris Farley. Physical slap-stick, if it’s done well, is my favorite gut-busting form of humor. I like the guy who bangs his head on a pipe and is okay physically and emotionally afterwards.
Question: I know what they say about ending a sentence with a preposition, so how bad is it to end a blog post with one?
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Things have been chugging along on the home front. I’m missing somebody, but this hasn’t caused me to curl up in a fetal position and stay in bed for three days. The bounding around is helping, staying busy is helping, and looking forward to the future is helping. I’m TAing a World Cinema class this summer…for real money—wow! We watched Miyazaki’s fantastical masterpiece Spirited Away last week. The Japanese fantasy/realism (is that the correct term) film After Life is next. I previewed Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle the other night—it’s an amazing film which incorporates elements of Singing in the Rain with Who Framed Roger Rabbit. How’s that for a combination of influences?
Okay I’m definitely rambling this morning. I bought a new coffee maker and coffee-binged a little; the caffeine hasn’t quite worn off yet.
So I’m a couple of weeks late to the party here, but I lifted this from Emily, a meme/list of classic works of literature I’ve read (or haven’t read.) This exercise should do one of two things, prove that I am more well read than I thought or inform me that I haven’t even scratched the surface of all I plan to read in my lifetime. Even though I’ve been blogging for a few years now, I still don’t know how to cross things out, so I guess I’ll put a :( next to the titles I hated.
bold = what you’ve read,
italics = books you started but couldn’t finish
:( = books you hated
* = you’ve read more than once
1. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell- This is not a good sign, right off the bat it’s one I’ve never heard of.
2. Anna Karenina – Phew, okay I’ve read this one. I got all caught up in Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in my twenties.
3. Crime and Punishment – When I finally finished this book I felt I had accomplished a major life achievement. I’ve tried to reread it, but I always get bogged down.
4. Catch-22 – Just couldn’t make it past the infamous first 80 pages. I love the movie.
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude – After a few tries, this novel finally captured my imagination when I was living in the rainforest of Costa Rica. It was the perfect setting (except for the wretched insects) for reading this, one of my top five.
6. Wuthering Heights – Are you kidding?
7. The Silmarillion – I’m finally getting over the Tolkien mania from the past five or six years, and would like to try a Peter Jackson-free reading of Tolkien sometime.
8. Life of Pi – Another top five, was reading this when I received a little black puppy I named Booker. I just listened to it on audio-books.
9.The Name of the Rose – I love Brother William. I’ve read this 1½ times.
10. Don Quixote – I did a tongue-in-cheek review of this on Youtube where I claimed Don Quixote was Italian and butchered the pronunciations, all in the accent of Piedmont North Carolina (think Andy Griffith). People took it seriously and I started getting comments correcting the information—they didn’t get it, I guess I was a little too convincing. I posted comments stating that it was a joke, and then I got this really nasty comment from someone who was convinced I was that dumb saying my disclaimers were just excuses. I ended up pulling the video off. I learned something about humorlessness through this.
12. Ulysses – If I had time, money and resources I might try climbing Everest. It’s kind of the same thing with this work.
13. Madam Bovary – I’d give it a try, but don’t know that much about it.
14. The Odyssey – Sad to admit it, but I’ve not read this.
15. Pride and Prejudice – In high school, at age 17, not really my favorite work.
16. Jane Eyre – Nope.
17. A Tale of Two Cities – I read this a couple of years ago and enjoyed it a great deal. It’s the only Dickens I’ve finished.
18. The Brothers Karamazov – During my Russian novel phase, I remember reading this at the beginning of an ill-fated relationship.
19. Guns, Germs, and Steel: Who would have thought the germination of wheat could be so darn fascinating. My mind wandered a bit, I’ll have to admit.
20. War and Peace – The granddaddy of all literature, and I read the whole thing cover to cover—in about three months. I have the new translation and want to take a vacation where there are no re-runs of The Office and Hell’s Kitchen so I can one day say I’ve read it twice.
21. Vanity Fair – There seems to be a whole genre of fiction that I either avoid or ignore, probably to my peril. Vanity Fair is one of those works that I know very little about.
22. The Time Traveler’s Wife – hmmm, sounds interesting.
23. The Iliad – Shame on me, no Greek epics...not one.
24. Emma – The only Jane Austen I’ve read is Pride and Prejudice.
Note: I’ve just read ahead in the list and there are several titles that I’ve not read, these are: The Blind Assassin, The Kite Runner, Mrs. Dalloway, Great Expectations, American Gods, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
31. Atlas Shrugged – The main character was about as dynamic as a steel girder.
32. Reading Lolita in Tehran – I haven’t even read Lolita.
33. Memoirs of a Geisha – Never had much interest in this one.
34. Middlesex – I should know about this one, but, well, next please.
35. Quicksilver – Okay, I’m definitely seeing that I’m woefully under-read.
36. Wicked – Emily said this one disappointed her so I’m glad I haven’t read it.
37. *The Canterbury Tales – finally. Three classes which looked at this work extensively. Good, I feel a little more adequate now.
38. The Historian – Is this the one about vampires? Can’t it just be about awesome history-geeks?
39. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Read this in high school too. Found out later it was one big allegory about masturbation. Anyhoo... moving on now…
40. Love in the Time of Cholera – I can’t believe I haven’t read this. I should add it to my short list. Wait, hold on, I think I did read it in Portland.
41. Brave New World – Another one I’ve always meant to read.
42. The Fountainhead – I remember when I was reading this I moped around sullenly all the time. It required Ken Kesey’s Demon Box to snap me out of it.
43. Foucault’s Pendulum – Eco requires commitment, but I might be ready now.
44. Middlemarch – Okay this is the sequel to Middlesex right? I’m kidding…please no corrections.
45. Frankenstein – I’ve not read many romantic monster novels.
46. The Count of Monte Cristo – It seems like parts of this were read to us as kids, but I’ve never actually read the novel.
47. Dracula – Emily’s read this more than once, but me? Haven’t even cracked the binding. Dark, gothic, creepy things make me claustrophobic, but I should never say never.
48. A Clockwork Orange – I carried this around in my back pocket when I was in tenth-grade. I assume this means I read it.
49. Anansi Boys – I haven’t heard of this.
50. The Once and Future King – I loved this one. I read it Scotland.
51. The Grapes of Wrath – This one affected me when I was twenty. I read East of Eden the same year.
52. The Poisonwood Bible – Frustrating and disturbing, it’s stayed with me. The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux involves similar themes.
53. 1984 –read it in 1984.
54. Angels and Demons – I like the title.
55. The Inferno – can you believe I’ve never read it all? I named my band after Dante.
56. The Satanic Verses – The only thing I remember about it is two characters falling forever and ever and discussing something. Oh, and all the stuff about Rushdie going into hiding.
57. Sense and Sensibility – Okay, I’m going to get in trouble for this, but isn’t this list just a little female-centric? There are six Austens on the list (unless I missed one). :)
58. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Hate to admit it, but I know little about this work as well.
59. Mansfield Park – this is the Austen that I’m really anxious to read. It apparently explores themes relating to my focus in history
60. *One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Required reading for Deadheads. I wish Sometimes a Great Notion had made the list.
61. To the Lighthouse – Haven’t heard of it.
62. Tess of D’Urbervilles :( - an excruciating way to experience springtime in a beginning lit. class.
63. Oliver Twist – A must read for me.
64. *Gulliver’s Travels – this was tough but I’ve read it a couple of times now. Like the satire, but it does go on and on in places.
65. Les Miserables – Started it numerous times but couldn’t make it to the end.
66. The Corrections – I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this novel since reading it some years ago. Stunning narrative about a family of selfish assholes, which would be fine if Franzen didn’t seem to champion them so.
67. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – almost got to the end of this one. Why do Pulitzer Prize winners often seem to fall short for me? I’m starting to realize that the fore-mentioned genre that I’ve chosen to ignore might offer me something that many modern novels are lacking, brilliant character development.
68. The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time – I love the title, I’ve seen it in the library, must investigate.
69. Dune – Not interested in the least.
70. The Prince – Why oh why have I not read this? I always get it mixed up with the Little Prince.
71. The Sound and the Fury – I remember coming to the end of this novel after placing blind trust in Faulkner for several mind-boggling hours and thinking “Oh, my God! I actually understand what happened…it’s a miracle.” Never has a book so challenged and rewarded me. A top five.
72. Angela’s Ashes – Not really sure this one would be for me.
73. The God of Small Things – This is another one I know very little about.
74. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present Day – No to this one.
75. Neverwhere – Never-read.
76. A Confederacy of Dunces – Just thinking of this one makes me smile. Another one high up on my list.
77. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Sounds exhausting.
78. Dubliners – I’d like to give this one a try.
79. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – I must be the only person who was college-aged during the eighties who didn’t read this. To busy with Karamazov.
80. Beloved – I just felt Morrison borrowed too heavily from Faulkner on this one (with some Styron thrown in.) It’s a shame because I know what a great work it is. I liked Song of Solomon better.
81. Slaughterhouse-Five – That reminds me, I should reread this one.
82. The Scarlet Letter – “You haven’t read The Scarlet Letter??!! You can’t be serious.” Yep, I’m serious.
83. Eats, Shoots and Leaves – This is on my nightstand. I’ll check it out. It comes highly recommended by an editor-type.
84. The Mists of Avalon – Another one I want to read. My list keeps getting longer and longer and longer….
85. Oryx and Crake – No idea.
86. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – Is this another Jared Diamond? I’m still trying to understand how the germination of wheat led to the extinction of the Plains Indians.
87. Cloud Atlas – I avoid titles with the word Atlas in them. It’s Ayn Rand’s fault.
88. The Confusion – I get confused often enough when reading, so a book called The Confusion might induce complete melt-down.
89. Lolita – Should a middle-aged man really read this?
90. Persuasion – More Austen, I’m going to lock myself in a room with my mother’s special Austen bookcase and get it over with. Freudians, stay away from that last statement.
91. Northanger Abbey – Two in a row? This is brutal.
92. The Catcher in the Rye :( – Holden Caulfield is the most annoying of all American fictional characters (except maybe those sickos in The Lord of the Flies). I knew a guy at school who wanted to emulate him, can you imagine?
93. On the Road – I read this under the delusion that it was a novel about freedom and self-discovery. I found it heartbreaking and fatalistic. Kerouac is a master at provoking gloom. Liked Big Sur better
94. The Hunchback of Notre Dame – “The Bells, the Bells…” This was probably never a quote in the book, but I like saying it.
95. Freakonomics – Sounds like the parking lot at a Dead show.
96. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – This was the one book you were supposed to
read as a young adult. I don’t know why, every time I started it I dozed off. Maybe it was a ploy to make the youth more complacent. Give me Kerouac’s depressed-state any day.
97. The Aeneid – I keep a copy in my living room. Does this mean I’ve read it? It does not.
98. Watership Down – Talking Rabbits? Bugs Bunny please. I like the Wind in the Willows. The Rabbits are kind of the chumps in that one.
99. Gravity’s Rainbow – No, but I slogged through Vineland. Pynchon’s writing ability is so far ahead of my reading ability.
100. The Hobbit – I actually enjoyed this one many years before Peter Jackson’s assault.
101. In Cold Blood – I tried it years ago. This one might be ruined by the handful of good movies dealing both with the events of the murder and Capote’s involvement in writing the book. But then again it Capote writing in the true-crime genre makes it a must read.
102. White Teeth – A sequel to Jack London. Just kidding… don’t believe I’ve heard of this.
103. Treasure Island – No, ‘fraid not.
104. David Copperfield – Must read more Dickens…must read more Dickens…
105. The Three Musketeers – Not really interested, but if there was nothing else.
I’ve only read a measly 31 of these. Sigh…must get busy. 'Til next time, happy reading.