Monday, March 31, 2008

News Comparison: Protest at Jokhang Temple, Lhasa

http://news.google.com/
Keyword: JOKHANG

Source:REUTERS
http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSPEK24297420080328
China will not punish the 30 Tibetan monks who disrupted a government-organized foreign media tour of Lhasa. Each side claims the other is lying to the media. Article mentions Dalai Lama quote: "I assure you I have no desire to seek Tibet's separation. Nor do I have any wish to drive a wedge between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples."
China: 19 people died in riots.
Tibet: 140 people died in riots.

Source:ASSOCIATED PRESS
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5h5Z6bJwtN_roGSIUQiQnfbf2NkhgD8VLH6KG1
30 Tibetan monks disrupted a media tour organized by the Chinese government. Article focuses on the devastation in Lhasa. Currently China denies US diplomats access to Lhasa.
China: 22 people died in riots.
Tibet: 140 people died in riots.

Source:VOICE OF AMERICA
http://voanews.com/english/2008-03-28-voa9.cfm
China says it will not punish the Tibetan monks who approached the foreign media tour of Lhasa, but confirms the temple is locked down by special forces. China is concerned the monks will interfere with the Olympic torch relay.

Source:XINHUA
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-03/28/content_7877279.htm
An "international media delegation" toured Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region. Article focuses on where the journalists came from and the destruction to property.
China: 19 people died in riots.
Tibet: no mention.
Briefly: "Their trip was disrupted by a group of monks at the Jokhang Temple on Thursday morning, but soon resumed."

Source:TELEGRAPH
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/03/27/wtibet127.xml
Emotional article depicts monks who protested at the foreign media tour of Lhasa. China claims that protests have been orchestrated by Dalai Lama.
President Bush, US, intends to attend Olympic Games opening ceremony.
PM Donald Tusk, Poland, will not attend opening ceremony.
President Vaclav Klaus, Czech Rep., will not attend opening ceremony.

Source:BBC
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7316205.stm
Interesting collection of quotes from other news sources:
USA Today; Associated Press (Beijing); China Daily; Financial Times; one refused to be identified.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Food Review: Rustica

Have you ever been in a one-sided relationship where the promise of something good is dangled in front of you? And it's only a promise, and it's always just in front of you. You're seeing a woman, and you have one fantastic date to start with, the conversation is stimulating, the make-out session is long and intense, and the next time you see her... it's less. The conversation is okay, but you get nothing more than an anemic friendly hug at the end of the night. The next time, even less than that, but you can't stop thinking about how nice it was that one time and that's what keeps you coming back. How often would you return? How hard would you work at that to attain that one magical moment of niceness again?

Do you know the concept of the heroin monkey? It's a psychological treatment in which you keep a monkey in a cage with an IV in its arm and a button on one wall. The monkey presses the button and receives a dose of heroin. He presses it again and gets another dose; presses it again but there's no shot of the drug. The monkey presses the button a few more times and attains another dose. The next dozen presses yield only one more dose. Now the monkey is hammering furiously at the button, working harder and harder and receiving less and less. That is the poor state of the heroin monkey.

If these scenarios sound at all appealing to you, by all means you must find your way to the Rustica bakery, specialists in the diminished return. Half a year ago my beautiful girlfriend led me on a long walk down to Rustica to introduce me to a delicious baked good, their bostock bread. She scored big on this find because I was floored. It was so delicious, had excellent texture against the teeth and tongue, and I couldn't wait to go back for more.

We went back the next week, but they were fresh out. Sorry.

We went back a month later. Aww, they just sold out. Sorry!

I've walked down there (eight long blocks, southbound on Bryant Ave., not the short blocks in the perpendicular direction) seven times for this bread, for one simple slice of bostock, and they are always "just out" of it. It's not a casual trip: we wake up, get cleaned up and dressed, head out eight blocks to this bakery to request this thing they make every weekend but are always, always "just out" of.

Today I waited patiently in line (if you like babies, as well, you must visit Rustica and delight in the knee-high fog of toddlers and infants, everyone and their triplets brings their ankle-biters there) until finally it was my turn to order. I asked brightly, politely, "Do you have any bostock?"

The clerk tilted her head slightly, smirked, and said, "Sorry, we just ran out."

She smirked. This was funny to her, to deny a customer like this. It was pleasant to her, it cheered her up. Maybe all the clerks enjoy this little game, mocking the hapless souls who slog out to their café in search of this one prized delicacy. It's funny to them because they get a little boost of power, being able to smile in someone's face and deny them what they would like. "Sorry, we just ran out," they softly murmur, grinning in your face. They spin on their heel and go into the back room and draw another hash mark on a chalkboard choked with tallying. The board is labeled "Fucking Losers" and the girls just laugh and laugh at all the people who came in for bostock, which they offered once and will never have again. Someone jokes that they're going to need a larger chalkboard, and they la-a-augh and la-a-augh.

You have two choices at this point. You've trudged all the way out there, so you can order something else so as not to waste the trip. Hey, you're there after all, might as well get something else. You've come all this way, you might as well spend your money on something you do not want and never wanted. You might as well purchase something that will not make you happy. You might as well work all fucking week long and throw your cash at these smirking clerks who feed on your disappointment. You might as well.

Or you can do what I did and just leave. That is also amusing to them. I turned away, muttered something dark to myself, and walked back out of the store. Oh, how it pleases them to bask in your aura when you work so hard for something, are denied it, and have a tiny supernova of disappointment and loss explode from your heart. You can see them stand up straighter, their eyes brightening, their fingers flexing slightly the tiny orgasm it gives them to refuse you. They have to focus in order to not stumble on the words sorry, we just ran out but it's hard because their eagerness to achieve this endorphic thrill is pushing the words out, tumbling out like puppies. They want to bray this in your face almost before you've even asked the question.

So I'm not going back. After seven failures, my batting average is worse than that of the heroin monkey. They won't notice the lack of my income, but their "almost as good" and "second choice" selections of baked goods will move that much slower. Rebecca suggested we head out there earlier to buy it; I informed her if I returned it would only be to issue a few bricks through their windows. There comes a time when you have to look at what you're doing, assess your role in this losing game you're playing, and make the hard choice to bow out. It hurts, you're sacrificing a dream, turning your back on a beautiful memory, but it's for the best. It would be worse to keep playing. It would be worse if I walked down there for 20 denials. If the only reason I would go there is for the glorious bostock, and if they are always sorry you stupid asshole just out of it, why would I go back? Why would anyone?

Friday, March 28, 2008

More Doubt

Finished my essay yesterday, turned it in last night. In class we formed up in small groups and I received the memoirs of four other students. They're skillfully written on interesting topics.

I reread mine today and I'm embarrassed to admit I produced it. The sentences are awkward and childish, the expressions are flat, and there is no stream of thought to speak of. This happened, then this happened, and that was kind of related to this, and this other thing happened, and the end. If I'd started the assignment when it was assigned, I might have been able to catch all these little errors and oversights. Rebecca even offered to read it for me, but I didn't have it ready in time. I cranked it out, printed it, copied it, and distributed it to my classmates.

This is where my inner voice assures me that it was right all along. I really don't have any good ideas. My writing voice is for shit. I have all the composition of a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces lodged in a tire and rolled into the Grand Canyon. My editing class shows me how little I know about the linguistics for which I thought I had a passion, and my memoirs class shows me I have no talent in a form of exposition at which I thought myself naturally deft.

I have to step back and start with the basics again. I have to crack open my notebooks and start writing journal entries. I have to pull out the Natalie Goldberg books and practice some writing exercises. I must make it a goal to fill up one notebook before Fall semester, I think that's reasonable. If I can't do that, how could I ever fulfill the most desultory of deadlines at any kind of publication?

This inner voice is a killer. I have to go back to the foundation before it slices my veins open and drains me, leaves me bleeding into the ground. I can't think about the goal, if there is a goal, I have to focus on the action of writing. I have to write for the sake of being writing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Travails in Travel and Writing

Last night I tried starting the memoir on my time in South Korea, focusing on three women whose acquaintance I'd made. I had a bottle of ale and several shots of Dewar's, but I also had a full stomach so I wasn't as buzzed as I could have been.

I wrote, oh boy, did I write. It just wasn't going where I wanted it to. Eight pages into it I'd only covered my high school career, my time at Basic Training, AIT, and permanent party at Fort Ord, CA, right before it shut down. I had just begun to start talking about in-processing in Korea, with about two and a half pages in which to address what was supposed to be the subject of this essay. I gave up and went to bed.

Obviously this isn't the kind of thing one wants to write about on their work computer, which could possibly be monitored by a particularly savvy IT department, so I borrowed my girlfriend's laptop (you'll recall, she suggested the topic in the first place, and now I wonder if that was less to be helpful and more to find out about a lurid era of my life) and have started over. This time I did the smart thing, writing it from the inside out: I started on the topic I wanted to cover, and once I had a good bulk amassed I went back and created a beginning, and then I'll write the end. The subject has shifted from being about three women to focusing on one, as well as explaining the clubbing experience through this one club, as well as outlining the responsibilities of the mamasan and the influence of the Korean mafia. I think this will be much better.

Last night I was checking out the stats on my blog and saw the regular numbers: seven visitors, eight visitors, five visitors, no hits... and then 50, and then 322 unique page views last Monday. What the hell? I went back to see what I'd written, and it was only my grotty rundown of what graphic novels I've been reading recently. That's hardly interesting, so I traced the viewer paths and found that a number of Minneapolis-oriented blogs had posted a link to my post in which I contrasted the two "Overheard in Minneapolis" websites. A few blogs linked to that post, and I suspect their substantially larger readership followed the link to come see me. I'm sorry that the rest of my blog did not entice them to continue reading, but whatever. I'll develop style and substance later, people will come back for that. I'm pleased that, for one day, I was something like a star.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I know it's old, but I like it.

The Monkey King and the Lovelorn Soldier

And I read three Hellboy compilations: The Right Hand of Doom, The Troll Witch, and Strange Places. I'd read another before this but I don't remember the name of it. I'm guessing there are only about four books because I keep rereading them; fortunately, I read them so long ago that I barely recall them and they're almost like new.

Just finished Katsuya Terada's The Monkey King, too. That was excellent, if a bit confusing. It wasn't confusing in the linear sense, I get that the story loops around, but the action from scene to scene is disjointed in an artsy way. Like, how did they end up in that still? One minute they're walking through the desert, the next they're being fermented into a beverage. What? This is the third version of the Monkey King I've read/seen, so now I think I should find some authoritative text that has the version from which all these others have been based.

I was reading an article about the Central library, which I frequent, and was struck by KARE11's dearth of copyeditors or proofreaders. I might have snickered about these errors before, but now I'm in the middle of a copyediting class and a gaffe (or string of gaffes, as the case may be) like this is fairly serious, and I'm also jobhunting for a copyediting position. Places like this can't perceive their own errors so they don't realize they have a need for this service: it's a tidy little loop of error. (I've been posting this link in a few online forums, so KARE11 will probably start to wonder why that article's getting so much attention.) My fianceé suggested that I edit the document and mail it in to their editors, maybe with a copy of my resumé. Wouldn't that be hilarious? Or would it be insulting?

Last night I was home, supposedly working on writing, while Rebecca got colored extensions put in her hair in preparation for our wedding. I say "supposedly" because in reality I found it impossible to sit down and create. I changed the litter box, scrubbed the cat puke out of the rug, tried to scrub my own boot slush from the rug, walked to the corner store for a bag of charcoal and set up to grill a couple bison steaks, &c. And the cats wanted to play, too, they get so restless when we're not around... well, they sleep all day, but when we're home they crave play. I feel guilty if I don't focus on them for about ten minutes of play, each. It's part of being a responsible pet owner.

It's also part of being a procrastinative writer. I didn't get anything done by the time Rebecca returned. I had her steak ready, and she showed me how to quickly cook a pile of spinach (I always forget vegetables when I make dinner. And starches.), and I mixed myself a snifter of brandy and Glögg - I used to do my best writing while heavily buzzed - but I had no ideas. She actually suggested to me that I write about my prurient experiences in South Korea... which I thought was brilliant. It's not going to be an essay bragging about my sexual conquests, not at all. It will be more of a tragic overview of some of the friends I made in the bars. I just don't have a solid point on which to conclude it. Rebecca said to just sum it up with where our lives went:
"Su-Jin went with her new husband to California, then moved to New York and opened a salon with some of her girlfriends from Waekwan. It took her a couple years for her to obtain permission from her husband to get back in touch with me. I last saw Mi-Kyung with a table of new soldiers, getting drunk for the night, laughing at me. Jin-Ah ran away from her club a few months before I left the country, and I have no idea whether she's still alive. I outprocessed from Active Army, went into the National Guard in Brooklyn Park, and started attending community college."
I dug through some old books and found the diary I started keeping towards the end of my Korean stint, pages of an inexperienced and naïve young spaz tormented by lust and doubt, ravaged by the caprices of idealized romance. This isn't the first time I've wanted to fly back in time, shake myself by the shoulders and smack myself around, and I'm sure in 20 years I'll say the same thing about my present self.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

School's Plowing Ahead, Work's About to End

I registered for classes this morning. I got all the classes I asked for, that was helpful. It's a little irritating that one of my required classes only occurs in the spring, and I missed it this year. Anyway, with summer semester being what it is, a couple of my classes will only run through May and June, and a couple others go through July and August. I can double up my courseload and it will feel like only taking two classes at a time, but summer classes are very intense. I had one, Writing for Television, that met only three times, each class being several hours long. I think I'm lucky that I'm taking writing courses, since we really can sit and write for an hour in the middle of class. I don't think other subjects would lend themselves to something like that.

My Editing class seems to be losing spirit. I feel bad for the instructor when half the students show up and half of them haven't done the homework. Even I dropped the ball this time, missing out on a portion of one assignment and not having completed another. Where was I, this past week? What was I doing each night? I'm planning my wedding, but not for six hours on a given night. I have deplorable study habits, it's very difficult for me to focus on school work at home. Ultimately, though, I really enjoy this Editing class and need to pour more energy into it. I'm looking for another job currently and would love to break into the copyediting/proofreading field, but I need to pursue better resources than the Classified section of the newspaper and a couple job-search-oriented periodicals found in bins at the bus stop. Searching for a job is a labyrinth on another world, a process with which I'm completely unfamiliar. I've accidentally found other jobs, or joined an agency and had them found for me, but if I had to rely entirely upon my own wherewithal to find a copyediting job, I'd probably do something goofy like pull out a Yellow Pages and systematically call every company that I suspected of publishing anything. I'm assuming there's a more streamlined, sensible hierarchy than that in place. I just have no idea how to find it. And I'm sure the hierarchy itself is convinced it has advertised itself sufficiently, but they haven't reached me, so their technique is imperfect.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Terse Review of Graphic Novels

I've been grabbing a lot of graphic novels from the Central library lately. I thought the teen section was the only collection of graphic novels, but I found many more in an Art/Literature area, more adult-themed. That doesn't necessarily mean sexy, mind, it encapsulates the pioneers and the greatest talent in the field, from Geoge Herriman to Alan Moore. I just want to keep track of what I've been reading lately.

Identity Crisis, Brad Meltzer - DC Universe story about the sordid past of some superheroes, questionable methods, and multiple layers of mistaken identity. The artwork was excellent and the story was very solid and compelling.

Escapo, Paul Pope - Paul Pope just cannot congratulate himself enough. His artwork is pretty good, his philosophy is unsophisticated, his influences are apparent. He just really likes to compliment himself in text, it's hard to get past that.

Best of American Splendor, Harvey Pekar - This was good, honest, solid storytelling. I love that Pekar's charmed with the innocuous little instances that happen every day. I appreciate that he bothered to record them, because they are charming and valuable. And the depth of his self-exploration is harrowing and brutally honest. I'm not saying anything that hasn't already been said a hundred times over by better-educated minds than mine.

Sin City: Hell and Back, Frank Miller - The same brutal, confusing artwork, the same noir dialogue, new story. It didn't distinguish itself like Family Values did, but it was a great story and perfectly suitable for your needs if you like the Sin City series.

Doom Patrol: The Painting That Ate Paris, Grant Morrison - The artwork was unmasterful and, at times, lazy. The dialogue was trite and the story was careless. This was a waste of an hour.

Hawkman: Endless Flight, Rags Morales and Patrick Gleason - Excellent artwork, and surprisingly in-depth story behind Hawkman. I always felt he was one of those obscure "filler" heroes, scraping the bottom of the idea barrel, but I was surprised to learn there actually was a story behind him and it's pretty interesting. This story in particular was pretty satisfying. I'd certainly read more in this vein.

After the Rain, Andre Juillard - This is the kind of work I look forward to. I love the European design, and the character development and plotline are sufficiently sophisticated. This is closer to a good movie than a comic book, that's what I like. I read somewhere that this was a kind of sequel, I'll have to find the original book for a sense of completion, though this story can stand on its own.

Uzumaki, Junji Ito - This manga promises to be horror in the same vein as The Ring, but mostly it's just silly. It starts out with an interesting premise but soon spirals out of control, breaking quite free of any reasonable constraints. Ghosts? Fine. Spiral warts that turn humans into carnivorous hedgehogs of doom? Not so much. Street fighting with curly hair? That's enough for me. Being manga, the artwork was excellent, but the story was ridiculous. The plot devolved into a collection of short stories recounting things that happened in town.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Alter Deutsch

A couple months ago I was at the Minneapolis airport (long before the wide-stanced bane of the Idaho Statesman showed up), picking Rebecca up from the airport. I brought a book and read it by the baggage carousel when this singular gentleman appeared.

He looked German, his clothes appeared like those of a German scholar from sixty or more years ago. He wore a dark field jacket and a three-piece suit that looked like tweed but of a tighter weave. It gave the impression of grey though it may have actually been sage with natural fiber or something. I don't know enough about fabrics to accurately call it.

The jacket of the suit went to his hips. He wore a three-button vest beneath it, with an actual pocket watch and chain running between the front pockets. That was impressive as hell and I tried to study the buttons on his jacket or vest, but this was a long time ago and I can't recall.

He wore knee breeches, which you just don't see anywhere in real life, worn in all earnestness, anymore. He had dark socks with a thin argyle pattern on the sides, I think, and these newish looking shoes of such an unusual cut. All his clothes appeared new, as if it were a graduation gift from his parents, celebrating commencement from some exclusive private school up in the mountains. The shoes seemed like they might be lounging shoes for someone who was otherwise a professional hiker. They had none of the contemporary trimming or fitting, with the sides rising up to form a seam where the laces held them together, rather than lying flat like our shoes do. There was no question of their craftsmanship, they would hold up together for a good decade or two, with proper care, and he struck me as the kind of gentleman who does brush his suit and polish his shoes each night.

He even had thin gold rimmed glasses, if I recall correctly. He really appeared for all the world as though he were stepping out of a bygone era! His grooming, his clothing were all things of the past. I wanted more than anything to ask what his story was, but that would have been astoundingly rude for someone of my age. A little kid could have asked, but he wouldn't have understood any of the answers.

I don't even know who else to ask about this. All I can do is toss up the question and hope that someone, somewhere, happens by remote chance to have some experience with this. I can't imagine how I would begin to research something as uncommon as this. Imagine if you saw someone strutting around in a British Redcoat outfit, full battle gear, but someone who wasn't just showing off his crap. Say that he was wearing such an outfit but also was a bit self-conscious, knowing how badly he was standing out of the crowd. As was this gentleman: he had a slight hunch to his shoulders, the hunch of a diligent student or the hunch of a tall man wishing to diminish his height.

But to walk around in an antiquated outfit like this as though he were stepping out of a context with real-world application... I wanted to know so badly! I wanted to know whether he was training for mensur! I wanted to know if he was an elite scholar or some kind of underground mage, called out to the States for a particularly dire mission! I really regretted having abandoned my German language lessons, that would at least have gone some way towards taking the edge off of my naive, impertinant inquiries.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Now, This is No Bullshit...

We did Steps again today. Two days ago I missed the group and didn't hear them in the stairwell so I thought no one showed up. Fortunately, I had my Shuffle with me so I listened to music and went by myself. No way was I going to sit it out: Rebecca and I have been skipping out on going to the gym (as I predicted we would, that's why I didn't want to get a membership) so I had to use the opportunity to exercise. Also, I do these rinky-dink little exercises at my desk, a routine I gleaned from some Workouts for Dummies book. Not much, but better than nothing.

Anyway, today K____ pointed out that my shirt matches my tie and commented on its trendiness. I said I was just lucky to find two colors that matched. Usually I'll try to pair up two garments and, though they're similar on the hangar, they're garish together. She explained that this was "the thing" lately, if you walk through Macy's you see all these purple shirts with matching ties, green shirts with matching ties, etc.

What happened next is something that happens more often than I think: I made up a long-standing opinion on the spot. I formed an opinion and promoted it as though it were something I've been thinking about for a long time, when in actuality it had never occurred to me before.

I was about to say, "I think that's just because those are currently trendy colors, these springtime pastels they're trying to get guys to wear. They're chancy colors, so they don't want to leave it to men to find some complementary color to go with them. It might discourage them from the purchase." I only barely stopped myself from saying this out loud because in actuality I don't think this at all. I never have in the past, this has never come up before in my life. I was about to pawn off this opinion as though... yeah, like I said before.

I wonder how many times this actually happens, how many times I've spoken authoritatively on something completely new and unfamiliar to me. I was on a local goth message board and that went pretty much the same way: I had a lot of sudden opinions and spoke about them emphatically, and people assumed I knew what I was talking about. I became a member of some standing for no good reason. That's not an ability I want to cultivate, I'd rather contribute within a meritocracy. I'd rather get far because I knew what I was talking about and had
expended real thought on a matter.

If I can pull off something as thoughtless and flimsy as this, who else is doing exactly the same thing? How far have they gone with it? Are they in positions of power and influence, whether governmental or medial? This should be alarming, as alarming as a population of adults too easily led by a smooth front.

Then again, that's how most people choose a romantic partner or a fashion statement, so... it's probably one small facet of a much larger, more pervasive problem. All I can do is keep my nose clean.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Reading List

I've been reading more lately, not just for class. I mean, I read more books for class, but I also have a stack of stuff I want to read independent of school, so I have to push through the one to get to the other. I'm trying to rein in my whimsy, additionally, but sometimes I get too curious about an author and need to read something they've written: P.G. Wodehouse's Right Ho, Jeeves is the most recent example of this. I'm trying to sneak chapters of it in between the other books.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - This was very moving and I think I've covered that already. I keep bringing it up because I was so impressed by it, not just by its skill but by how the reality of it contradicted my expectations, to my delight. I really, really enjoyed this and it changed my perception of how a memoir would strike me.

Angela's Ashes - Again, I had a preconceived notion of what this book was going to be. I discovered that at no point did the mother die and get cremated, this was not a book about ordering her sons to spread her ashes over whatever national monument or state park, and the journey of exploration as her formerly estranged family reunites for this common cause. Nope, this was an eminently entertaining story about growing up impoverished in Ireland just before WWII. It's plenty tragic, but the author doesn't revel in depression, doesn't beg the reader to please feel sorry for him. He just rolls with everything as a kid does. More than once, though, I wanted to fly back in time and give those kids some damned boots, a week's groceries, some soap.

The Namesake - This was an interesting story, though not a memoir as above. It was fairly epic, in the style of Agatha Christie's work under the pen name Mary Westmacott, starting with someone's birth and following them throughout their life. I appreciated it for the cultural insight, but ultimately I didn't see the point of it. This guy had a few girlfriends and never liked his name and got burned in marriage. The end! Also, there is curry.

The Safety of Objects - I'm in the middle of this one. It's written by a woman with a sharp (as in pointy, puncturing) sense of humor who thinks very little of men and dislikes suburbia as she perceives it. Her main characters... imagine someone living a completely normal life up until a certain point, any point in a given lifetime. Imagine at that point they suddenly become retarded. They could not have gotten to where they are if they were so mentally disabled all throughout their lives, it's not possible. They have one bad day where their mind completely breaks down. Those are the main characters, people suddenly acting within a vacuum, abruptly bereft of any common sense at all. The author has been accused of imparting deep, painful truths in these short stories, but the only truth is that she believes she is vastly superior to everyone, especially men. These stories are just painful, they're not comical at all. They're meant for people with lousy attitudes who deny themselves a full spectrum perspective. I mean, it's well written and all, just... it makes me want to put it down and be ill for a little while.

I'm also plowing through a lot of graphic novels, as well as the Wodehouse, which is quite charming. Good humor with a superior vocabulary and the most endearing turns of phrase. I hope to explore the rest of his stuff. Oh, I forgot, I was also reading G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, but I set that down and forgot about it. I should get back into it, I remember liking it very much, though I absolutely cannot recall how it ever came into my possession.

The Change is Already Apparent

I'm wearing my ring today. I'm paranoid I'm going to lose it (the ring, not my composure) so I'm being extra careful about it. I can just totally see it slipping off and falling into the center of my jelly doughnut, because of the way I eat them, and then swallowing it and having to stare into every bowel movement for the glint of my promise to my lady love. I think when the stakes are higher, Fate thinks nothing of making the disasters that much more improbable and ridiculous. If I have a favorite pen, it will fall between the couch cushions; if I have a cool new wedding ring, a turtle will eat it and a condor will grab the turtle, and the bird will get sucked into the engine of a passenger jet, which will stay aloft just long enough to crash into the Baltic Sea.

Anyway, I'm already noticing some differences in my environment, how people react to me. Yesterday, ringless, people did their usual crap of refusing to look at me. I was in a good mood about something and looked one woman dead in the eye, smiling broadly at her: she snorted and shot her gaze to the side as she chuffed past. I looked another woman in the eye and wished her a good afternoon: she tightened her frown and strode briskly past.

Today, the back of the bus actually saw a mix of genders. Rather than quailing timidly at the fore of the bus (causing, in all seriousness, elderly and handicapped people to have to stand), a few women actually sat in the back of the bus. One actually chose to sit next to me, when there were other options available to her. My ring wasn't even apparent - it must augment my aura to transmit: THIS MAN IS SAFE. I ran into yesterday's second example today, and she looked me in the eye and wished me a good morning.

Elevator courtesy, however, was still bereft. Minnesota has never heard of elevator courtesy, that is, letting people disembark before you load up the car. Either they stream in while you're trying to leave or just stand dumbly before you, preventing your exit and postponing their own entrance. That's as far as elevator courtesy goes in Minneapolis, standing dumbly in the way.

I guess I hold women to be the gauge of civility, anyway, as evinced in the above examples. Guys, I'm used to them walking into me to prove their masculinity, peeing and puking on things, and swearing at me when I move out of the area where they're doing something annoying. Some old-fashioned, chauvanistic part of my conditioning still regards women as polite, a standard for decency (or at least a baseline), as though the weight of civilization weighed upon their shoulders. That is, if I try out a new behavior and women seem to approve, then it's probably a positive trait; if I change something and women start to avoid me, then it's probably a behavior I need to extinct (it is a verb in behavioral psychology). Men are mainly concerned with sports and boobies, and I'm not concerned with winning their approval.

Well, not my friends. My friends are cool, they represent a compendium of culture and education. My friends are not "people" in general by a far cry.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rings

Rings

Our rings came in today! I'm very pleased with them. Rebecca knows a guy, Scott Verson, who actually makes rings so he was our first choice in the matter. We were unable to agree on most patterns - I liked designs more Celtic or Viking, she preferred loops and whorls - but we did settle on this. White gold with a band of rose gold, sandblasted finish to bring out the color.

Being that I never wear jewelry (I find it to be a liability, inefficient) I was concerned that wearing a ring suddenly would feel uncomfortable, but I don't want to take this thing off. It looks nice, subdued but significant, and it feels good.

We picked up the rings right after meeting with the photographer for our wedding. Things are coming into place very rapidly, we're getting everything set up and nailed down, and the ceremony is two and a half weeks away. I'm having fun with it.

Trying Out E-Mail Again

I forgot that I can do this: anywhere I have access to my online e-mail accounts, I can compose and publish an entry here. I'll have to remember that when I travel. There are some situations when I can only do email, like, Mondays when the library's closed. I can email myself an entry. I don't remember what it'll do to the formatting, however.

The important thing to remember about these entries is that I'm not going to go back and edit them. I want to, very badly when I reread them, but I'm just supposed to hack them out rapidly, throw them up online, and leave them be. That's the restriction I set up for myself. Somehow I don't think it's fair to be retroactively brilliant, to go back and clarify something that I'd said when I should've tried harder the first time, or something. Impose an idea that wasn't there, insinuate a connecting fiber that hadn't coalesced in its inception. I'll correct typographical errors, sure, but I was rereading that Four-Square entry and wanted to change a whole bunch. These are only blog entries, I'm still a nobody, it doesn't matter if I rewrite them all to hell.

I'll edit these e-mailed entries, though, because I don't know what the formatting on them will look like. I'll definitely want to delete a .sig file when applicable.

Today was beautiful snowball snow. Yesterday evening saw the onset of rain becoming sparse wet flakes, and when I left the house this morning every surface that faced up was coated in a clingy, wet snowfall. It was beautiful. If the sky had not been overcast, or at least been a whiter shade of gray, it would have been an ideal picture-taking setting. I'm a little upset if a winter goes by and I don't see all the types of snow I like, and I only really like two so that's not asking much. I don't care for the dry, powdery snow that's just useless. Skiers love it, I guess, but it has no traction for cars and it doesn't clump up for molding. It's pretty good for observing individual snowflakes, I'll allow.

But my two favorite kinds of snow are "snowball snow" and "heartbreak snow." We just got the snowball snow today but there are only a few more weeks for the heartbreak snow to show up. That's when the flakes are huge and fluffy, moist and clumpy, and they take their time to drift down to earth but the air is full of them, dense with these flakes. They make everything quiet, their fluffy bodies dampening all the sound in the area, and the noise reduction lends itself to a clarity of vision as well. Your eyesight becomes very sharp... oh, also, it has to be at night, too. It can snow like that during the day but it doesn't mean the same thing as at night. Ideally you would be standing in a parking lot outside a mall, too, with tall street lamps in the area. Heartbreak snow plays with these, creating a sphere of shifting light around every street lamp, flakes that seem to exist only while they slide through the sphere. The flakes fall on your hair and coat and don't melt. I call it heartbreak snow because it's heartbreaking to be single when the snow is like this and there's no one coated in fluffy snow to kiss.

It would also be heartbreaking for this winter go by without snowing like that, now that I do have someone to kiss.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Day of Four-Square

I'm about to go away for the weekend, so I'd better write something now or else I won't for a few days. I was about to shut down and go back to work (after my doctor's appointment) but I should hack out an entry for the sake of having written something.

Thinking back to Hulsing Elementary School, Canton, MI, circa 1982. Everyone else is out on the playground, running around, playing games, yelling, squabbling, socializing. I'm off to the side, sitting on a stoop, drawing. David G________ (I remember the names of all my tormentors; all the better to stalk them later in life and break their kneecaps in a parking ramp) and his band of cronies spots me: "There's Chris, drawin' his ass off. What are you drawing?" There was a time when I would have answered candidly, thinking I'm about to make a new friend. Experience has shown me, by this point, that he's not interested at all in what I'm drawing, he's looking for an opening for his group to make fun of me, maybe beat me up. Rather than look up, light up, and eagerly explain I'm illustrating a cosmic battle between alien fleets in the middle of an asteroid belt, I keep my eyes down and mutter that it's nothing. After a couple passes David realizes I'm not giving him an "in" and goes off in search of lamer prey, and then a group of girls noticed me.

Or maybe it's another day, and I'm playing with Micronauts in the dirt. I got these little toys for Christmas, tiny translucent action figures from a Dadaist movement, it seems like. They had silver heads, white hands and shoes (with spats), and colored bodies with a metallic chest plate. One was orange, another was yellow. Why? What did the colors signify? I couldn't discern anything about them from context: the chest plates could be swapped out, but why? If their heads were metal, why did they clearly sport a tidy conservative haircut, parted on the left? That's not futuristic or fantastic at all. Some adult gifted me with these Micronauts one Christmas, and I was immediately flummoxed. I'd never heard of them, never seen them in comics or a TV show (but I think they did appear in this media). They literally came out of nowhere for me and I was unsure what to do with them. But I was playing with one in the dirt when a group of girls noticed me.

Being such an awkward, antisocial figure, I triggered some maternal reflex in pre-teen girls. Once in a while their hearts would melt and they'd try to talk to me, find out what's wrong (as if the problem were ever simple enough to explain in a couple sentences). In this case, they invited me to play four-square with them as a gesture of charity; two years later, in middle school, things would turn around and they would be pretty damn far from any measure of charity, but I couldn't know that at the time. I was just excited to be included in a game and to interact with some cute girls.

I had played four-square in the past with boys. They were ruthless and highly skilled, and there was always a line of contenders waiting for their chance to work up to the first space. It's inconceivable to me that anyone might not know four-square but I'll explain: four boys stand within each space of a large circle drawn into quarters, and these spaces are numbered one through four. One is the top position and four is the entry point. When someone gets knocked out, they leave and everyone advances one space closer to one; new players enter the game on four.

The way you knock someone out is through a technique of agility, aggression, and deception. The players pass the ball between themselves at random. You toss the ball at someone else's space, it bounces once, and the person in that space catches the ball. We're talking about a red rubber kickball the size of a soccer ball, with a rough surface for grip. The receiving player can try to catch the ball before it bounces, but this is unlikely; the point is to catch it before it makes a second bounce. If you toss the ball at someone's space and it makes a fair bounce in their space and then a second bounce anywhere else, that player is out.

After this comes the details: rules may be established, such as banning high bounces, making the ball be passed clockwise, counterclockwise, or in numerical order (the numbers descend in a Z-pattern when viewed from above), etc. Really, this was open license to make up whatever the hell one wanted to. The end result was always the same: knock out the other players and stay in the one spot as long as possible. A few champions distinguished themselves as impossible to beat and spent their entire careers in the one position. After 15 minutes of play, the first two positions were fairly unchanging and kids could only hope to swap out three and four, get a couple minutes of game time before going to the back of the line again.

The girls weren't like this. They weren't as competitive as the boys. There was no line to join the game, and no one ever really got knocked out of the game. If someone scored against you, you just went "aww," remained in position, and play continued. This was actually more my speed: four-square with the guys stressed me out and cultivated tremendous self-hatred, at least for me. Other kids were anxious to dominate the other boys, but four-square represented yet another display of my inadequacy and inability to measure up to my peers. No wonder I chose to peel off to the side and draw pictures all recess long.

But playing with the girls was a delightful experience all the way around. Not only were they pretty and polite, they weren't as ruthless in their play and I could enjoy the sport for its own sake. I even taught them a couple tricks that the boys used, such as looking at one person and tossing the ball elsewhere. This had never occurred to the girls and they were delighted with the stunt: the one I looked at would tense with readiness, and someone else abruptly found a red ball bouncing out of their space: laughter all around. One girl practiced this technique on me for the rest of recess, she would lunge her face at me and toss the ball to the side. It was enchanting: her lips would part slightly with an unspoken "ha!" and her eyes would widen. Her irises were a luminous jade and truly lovely, so it was a little thrill to have her stare into mine so dramatically. Many times I felt I was not even in the game, just floating outside of my body and hovering right before her face. (This girl found me on Classmates.com a couple months ago and I tried to e-mail her but she has not responded.)

This only happened once, this playing with the girls. I wasn't invited back or the opportunity never arose, or the guys ridiculed me so badly that I had to lay especially low during lunches. I don't remember, and that's fine because I clearly remember my happiness during this rare instance. That's what I'd rather have cycling through my mind.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Suffer the Little Children

No matter what, I will write each day. (That is, Tuesday through Friday, when the public library's open, at the very least. Not much room for something as frivolous as blogging at home.)

Trying to decide whether I would recount some old story from first grade or the military. I'm sure I'll do both, eventually, but... no, I can't question the point of it. The point is to write.

What I liked about first (and second) grade was that they acknowledged my reading ability. I was encouraged to read books one or two grades higher than my own. The instructor... I can't recall her name, Sister Maria? She would have me read to the class at the end of the day. Everyone was packing up their pencils and books, clearing off their desks, while I read about some young boy in China celebrating some kind of holiday. I got hung up on the word "licorice," never having seen it written before. I tried to sound it out: lick-oh-rice. Sister Maria corrected me: lick-er-rish, and I made a mental note. Several years later I would encounter the same problem with "artisan," attempting to pronounce it like "artesian." There are just a set of common words that, for whatever reason, we may not encounter often in print, or else the reverse is true. One of my acquaintances failed to make the connection between the written "misled" and the spoken "misled," so the print version attained its own distinct pronunciation: "my-zulled," being past tense of "to misle." I wish that were my own story. Instead, mom tells me I combined "beside" and "against" to describe objects that fulfilled both functions: "The bike is begainst the garage."

What else do I remember from first grade? I remember the teacher playing records of religious songs. Not choirs or pipe organs, but some nun or priest who'd picked up a guitar and made polite little tunes about loving Jesus or telling some Biblical story to music. A classmate, Everett Swann, would strum his own acoustic air-guitar with a look of supreme placidity on his face. He did this during all songs, even when there was no guitar to be heard. He dismissed my concerns when I pointed this out to him.

He was one of those bad boys who were placed into that position by dint of his own magnetism. There are some people whose genetic sequences simply imbue them with a supernatural attractiveness. They may or may not be good looking, they may or may not be particularly bright, but children get starry-eyed in their presence and adults find them especially dear. Everett was one of those, and a child drunk on that much undeserved power is forced to decide, on the fly, whether to redirect that power for good or for evil. A child that young hardly has any moral compass at all, even in a Catholic school, and Everett received the adoration and benefitted himself by it. Whatever envy some of us lesser boys may have felt was quickly eclipsed by our craving for his approval.

I know for a fact girls go through the same thing, and only in the last several years the "girl crush" has been thoroughly documented. I haven't read a lot of literature about heterosexual male-to-male adoration, however. Men and women each discourage men from talking about such things: women think it's ridiculous that men could have such complex emotions, though they wish the men in their lives did (and many find satisfaction in befriending homosexual men for this reason, among others). How many times have I heard women despair of finding a man strong enough to cry, and when it may happen that I succumb to tears, they respond with helpless laughter and a little mockery.

Uh. Anyway.

So, yeah, there was this one time when... okay, you have to understand that the first and second grades were seperate from the main building at St. Joseph's Catholic School, Chehalis, WA. We had these sturdy little huts, like elementary school on the moon or something. I think this is where I got my affection (not mere gratitude but real affection) for the sound of rain falling against a roof or a window: I loved being in a warm and well-lit room with a couple dozen students and a teacher while a storm brewed outside. I loved the compactness, the paucity of space, the sense of a thin but durable wall separating us from the cold and the wet.

We were in such a hut one day when Sister Maria stepped out for a few moments, leaving us unsupervised. Something was going on in the second grade hut. I don't know what it could have been, being in my seat like a little master, but a bunch of little boys in blue cardigans and blue corduroy trousers and white shirts were huddled around the glass door, staring across the walkway to the next hut. Everett, of course, was at the center of this group and was arranging a little skit. Whatever was going on had inspired some theatrics in him, so he was instructing the other boys to line up in two columns behind him. With a "one, two," he thought he had given sufficient notice for the boys to catch him, but they were dizzy on the thrill of being included in something like this and hadn't received proper instructions anyway. So Everett counted off, let out a loud fainting gasp, pressed his wrist to his forehead and let himself drop backwards.

Two rows of boys watched him fall. A couple quick-thinking types flinched, their hands just about to grasp the empty space above him, realizing what this skit was about. I leapt partially out of my chair, also very theatrically, as if to spring across the room and catch him... then watched the poor bastard drop through the air. I sank slowly back to my seat, grim defeat staining my seven-year-old countenance. What a world, I probably thought, probably resignedly.

Everett cracked his head but good on the hard tile. He howled in pain and clutched his skull, sobbing and yelling. The boys around him stared with huge eyes for a moment, then slowly remembered previous personal engagements that compelled them back to their seats. When Sister Maria returned to the classroom she was confronted by a little boy crying his heart out and a dozen increasingly urgent variations of the incident shouted at her by tiny innocent bystanders seeking to exonerate themselves of any criminal doing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Slow Day

Last night was grand. Rebecca and I went out for a walk along the Stone Arch Bridge before it got too dark. I brought the Diana and managed to get a couple shots before it was completely unfeasible - I want to go back there some afternoon on the weekend, maybe, with a tripod and try some prolonged-exposure shots. That will be fun to me.

It was warm enough for a walk, and warm enough to grill: I rubbed some chicken breasts in lavender salt (R. got me this in Los Angeles, I've been anxious to try it out) and managed to not char the hell out of the poor chunks of meat. Usually I forget about it and it's developed a leathery, callused exterior by the time I remember. This time, however, it was perfectly done and I could barely contain my pride at not having messed it up.

Now I'm back at the public library. Today's a very slow day: five of us showed up for Steps, and I was in front with no one to talk to, so it was that much more arduous. I reheated some chicken and rice from last night for lunch, scanned the Inbox and help desk tickets for anything within my jurisdiction. I miss having a post office box because that gave me an excuse to get out for a walk once a day, at least, even though it was increasingly unlikely anything would turn up in it. I'm trying to spend less money so I don't want to jaunt out for a cup of coffee, when we brew our own at home. I'm getting better at remembering to bring filtered water from home in a Nalgene bottle. Usually I forget.

Nothing really interesting is occurring in the news lately. I was hoping I would use this blog, sometimes, to compare the reporting styles of various outlets. I would run through Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Al Jazeera, and BBC, point out the tone they take in their articles, the usage and amount of quoted material, the focus on each issue, etc. (I won't even consider CNN and FOX, that's just corporate propaganda. They're as newsworthy as a tray liner from Burger King.) I don't have any aspirations of turning this into a news blog, however, it was just to be an occasional exercise for my own benefit. As it stands, there aren't currently any articles I care to focus on, as it would seem either too ghoulish or sensationalist, if not just plain redundant, to do so. Everyone knows what a jackass Spitzer's made of himself. I've been following the Chapel Hill slaying and have to smirk that the assailants were stupid enough to get themselves filmed not just in a convenience store but at a drive-thru ATM. I have no opinion of Ferraro's comments other than they were pretty naive. See? Not really feeling the passion. Maybe it's just today, maybe it would be worthwhile to make this an evening project and do some serious research.

No, I really have nothing interesting to say today, but it's very important to me that I stay in the habit of writing, and so had to write something.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Better Off Where I Am Not

I'm in a bad funk, currently. I know it will lift, just as it always does. Even pointing at it, recognizing it by name as it steps into the room, marks the point of turning it around. It's still going to be a while before I'm rid of it, however, maybe a few days.

Riding the bus to work, all I could see was rows of bleary, sad people staring at nothing out the windows. Dull faces, disappointment pulling down the corners of their mouths, eyebrows lying down and surrendering their souls in despair. Obese people, dumping poison into their bodies, undereducated as to what junk food companies are permitted to get away with. People cheated of a decent education, unable to get decent jobs, unable to contribute to society, forced to fight against it, people whose only success will come at society's expense.

Walking through the Skyway, trudging past dull faces and mismatched outfits of cheap materials and unskilled cut. Riding in the elevator with eleven people who refuse to look at each other, eyes up or down, slightly scowling as if we'd been issued story problems before boarding. My hair wads up on one side, lies too flat on another. Someone's wearing too much perfume. Two people are sick and cough their germs into the tiny room we share. Half of us are not even from this country - what do they do in the evening? Could they go out and enjoy themselves anywhere? Can they go out and dance in a club, anywhere that isn't an insular little community center in a poor suburb?

I stop by the restroom. Some charming gentleman of breeding and letters has urinated all over the seat. It takes me a minute to mop up the urine of a business professional. That's the manly thing to do, after all, urinating while standing. Only women sit down and contain their mess. It's manly to urinate upon all surfaces for some immigrant janitor to clean up. It's manly to only permit yourself half of a palette of emotions. It's manly to be rude to strangers and speak poorly of women. Those are the qualities our culture nourishes. It causes me to strongly desire to be anything but a man.

Back in my seat, I stare at an Inbox that never fills, and I practice a new help desk program despite the impending termination of my contract. I try to read but the literature is bleak and despondant lately: The Kite Runner, The Namesake, Angela's Ashes, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. People born into circumstances, rules decided long before they were born. Decent people of dreams and intellect who are oppressed for petty, insane reasons, within a world that agrees to continue on this way.

What am I doing with my life, I wonder pointlessly for the millionth time. (An old, florid man sneezes on me as I write this.) I don't expect an answer, it's merely the Jesus mantra with which my heart beats. (Two children whimper for their mother's attention, behind me, as she shops for a new boyfriend on MySpace.) It has sunk down into my chest, sucks in the bad blood and spits out the slightly less bad blood. (An old, obese woman studies her caller ID to a loud MIDI loop of two piano chords. A fake gold watch digs into her flabby wrist; it is off by a couple hours and a dozen minutes.) It is a question that denies response, discourages thought.

What is the point of artistic expression? I have no insight to impart, and I lack any kind of aesthetic talent anyway. Acquaintances are impressed at my ability to slightly alter something that already exists, my ability to repeat something they forgot or never heard of, mistaking this for talent. Nothing I have to say will ever change anyone's mind, I will not shape the world in any positive way. I pick up trash; there's more tomorrow. I smile in someone's face; they scowl and avert their eyes. And what's to be done about traffic but leap out of the way? I used to think the point of life was the accrual of knowledge and experience, to prepare for returning to oneness with all of Creation and the Divinity. I can't even see the point in that: educated people don't live any longer or in any better condition than everyone else. I can't stand my job but have no idea what else I would do. I'm out of place in this state, in this world, but there's nowhere else to go. The only thing to do is shut off my mind, get enough food and sleep, maintain my household and wait to die. It's going to be a long wait.

I walk back through the Skyway. I hold the door open for whomever's behind me; he thanks me.

A moment later, a woman thanks him for holding the door open, too.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and That's It

Now I'm geeking out on blogging. I know I've lost a lot of friends' blogs, and throwing my head back to howl into the swirling abyss above has yielded very little. I got a couple, though, see the links on the left (on the right in Abu Dhabi).

And I've watched a couple favorite blogs go down in flames due to no fault of their own - if you're going to blog about work, make sure your boss isn't a big fat stupid baby whiner who poops himself. I'm not advocating violating confidentiality or libel, and maybe it's a bad idea to carpet bomb the listening audience with not-terribly-vague allusions that can be pieced together by anyone with a lot of time on their hands. But still.

There's one blog, of sorts, that I read daily: Overheard in Minneapolis. It is hilarious, the quotes are very good, and the site admin has a delicious dry wit about her.

One day, quite by accident, I found another place calling itself Overheard in Minneapolis, but there are a couple distinguishing characteristics that set it apart from the first. For one, where the former accepts (indeed, is built upon) submissions from readers, the latter does not. Quotations are overheard by SARAH or DANI or SARAH AND DANI, sometimes by DANI AND SARAH, and a smattering of their friends. Another difference is that the first one is daily and features several quotes daily; the second only sees new posts when someone loses a bet or during an eclipse. I mean that posts are few and far between: the last three entries occurred this month, last August, and last June (to be fair, June '07 actually saw two posts in the same month). Either SARAH AND DANI don't interact with people, or people aren't very funny around them.

Which brings us to the third and most salient point: the former site is funny, and the latter site is bereaved of humor. One "Overheard in Minneapolis" site imbues helpless, racking giggles, and the other introduces an insidious and creeping irritability in the reader. One wonders why someone would bother recording these inauspicious quotations - then you look at the dates they're posted and realize, actually, they generally don't bother.

The good "Overheard" site does not list the humorless one, but the unfunny one does refer to "another Overheard in Minneapolis blog" in its list of links. Sad but true: the mirth-free zone was there first. It originated in January 2006, while the quality "Overheard" site only saw its first post six months later. The funny site bothered to register its own domain, while the joyless blog sits in a free Blogger account. I know nothing about the history of these sites, but I like to think the jocular admin of the second site saw someone rubbing a dab of their own feces in the ear of a perfectly good idea, and realized life didn't have to be that way.

Mind you, either of these were of course inspired by the progenitor blog In Passing, started in 2000 by a college girl named Eve who simply recorded funny snippets of conversations, posting them several times a week. I believe the first such blog I'd ever heard of, actually, was Overheard in Boston (begun July '06), which describes itself as a "blatant rip-off" of Overheard in New York (July '03).

Not that that was going anywhere; I'm just saying.

Further Dispatches from the Coffee Frontier

Here I am, writing once again from the Central Library in downtown. Cell phones go off for prolonged periods as their owners skeptically scrutinize the caller ID. Once in a while a public Internet terminal will blare with music or sound effects, as its user has accidentally disconnected its headphones or managed to find an override to the inherent mute setting. The timid and nonconfrontational staff hide behind their desks, shell-shocked from some civilian war much prior to my reckoning.

Anyway. I decided to break away from the loop of major coffee chains (Starbucks, Caribou, and Dunn Bros.) to seek out smaller (or, dare I dream, independent) cafés. I wasn't sure where to go, so I decided upon a left-hand crawl of the entire Skyway system itself. ...Here, I out myself as an inveterate AD&D player. Oh well.

After several minutes of meandering I found myself in the northern-most end of the Skyway, and in my old stomping ground: I temped in these buildings and businesses a decade ago! Familiarity and bitter resentment wafted back as I revisted the stores and restaurants that have been replaced several times over by similar stores and restaurants.

I found two small coffee shops (chain, but small chains) and tried them out.

Sister's Sludge Coffee
After the minor blow-up at Dunn Bros. (my coffee companion reports the worker in question quickly ducked into the back room when she showed up, even without me present), I was hesitant to ask for anything fancy. I started out by gingerly enquiring as to whether they could handle "fancy" espresso requests. The clerk assured me they could, so I shot for the moon and asked for a ristretto con panne. I did have to explain that ristretto meant a short pull, but she knew con panne despite my mangled pronunciation. I received a tasty espresso with whipped cream, indeed. I apologized for being obtuse but explained that I was recently studying coffee, and they entertained a little chat on this subject. I found the clerk and barista friendly enough, but someone later told me they'd received a poor attitude from the store (who knows how long ago), a clerk who visibly doubted whether the customer knew what a macchiato was. Yeah, well.

Bean Counter Coffee Company
A little further down the hall I found this place and requested a simple espresso, then immediately had to ask for the location of a nearby ATM. The barista gave me the information, I ran off and got my cash, and once I returned he started making the espresso. This impressed me: he knew that the timing of making and serving the espresso was crucial and cared enough to not just leave it sitting for someone who might not even return. When I got it, I was surprised to find a rich head of crema (first time seeing such a thing, downtown) and its flavor was smooth and pleasant. Not bitter, not burnt, just smooth. Being fully caffeinated by this point, I'm afraid I was a bit effusive in complimenting the barista on a job well done.

And I have to question my first experience, down at Caffé Classico: I think I ordered the cortado, not just some especially smooth espresso. It was very delicious, of course, but I think I should be comparing single shots of espresso against each other, as I hit place after place, just so everyone's got a chance to work on the same page. Regardless, I'm pleased to know of two likely locations downtown (though a considerable walk away) where a decent coffee may be had.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Observational

There's a strange guy lurking around the Central library lately. Short, squashed features, black and green leather jacket, and armed with a Pez dispenser.

I don't know if he's drunk, high, or just insane, but he mutters to himself. Tuesday he was sitting in front of an Internet terminal on the third floor, muttering a stream of curse words as though he were talking to someone he hated. He had headphones on, so maybe he was listening to a Bush speech or something, but he was swearing in a thick foreign accent. I'm no Noam Chomsky (I'm no Bobby Flay, for that matter) but I would place it around the Middle East or northern/northwest Africa.

Then he leaned back in his chair and pulled out a little pink Pez dispenser. He held it to his cheek, looked down the length of it, and let it snap shut. He started grinning. He went through this again in another direction. Then he turned to face someone walking by and, turning, he made it clear he was "targeting" people and "shooting" them with his little pink Pez dispenser.

Yesterday he simply walked around the computer tables, picking people out of the crowd, shooting them with his little pink Pez dispenser. He made a couple acknowledging nods to a couple youth dressed in lavish gangsta regalia (puffy jackets, goldtone rhinestone shirts, oversized designer jeans, etc.) though they didn't react with any familiarity. He straightened up, narrowed his eyes at new quarry, drew the little plastic feet back like loading a new round into the chamber, and let it snap shut. He was on the other side of the room but may have seen me staring at him and may have targeted me too; as it happened, my computer time was up and I went back to the office.

I'm not sure how someone complains about something like that. It's a threatening gesture and it's disturbing, but it's hard to call the cops because someone was pointing an unloaded little pink Pez dispenser at you. The library staff are very intimidated in general and don't like to confront the patrons, though I did see the library guards take some guy down in a flying tackle and restrain him until the cops showed up. I would've loved to learn what that was all about. Dude was running between the bookshelves and everything.

ClickComments

So, I tried to install this widget for my blog, a toy called ClickComments. It's a little box of buttons you can click to agree or disagree with individual posts, rather than having to go through all the effort of typing something. The widget worked correctly in my blog for about three minutes, but when I went to the original supporting site to update my account, it resisted my attempts to login.
[UPDATE: It seems to function in IE, but has trouble with Firefox. Curious about other browsers.]

Anyway, they thoughtfully sent me an automated email suggesting it would be best for me and my tremendous reading audience if I passed the word about their wonderful service. I guess I can do that (plus editorials).

Thank you for you interest in ClickComments. Our statistics show that you would earn more clicks on Clickcomments if you tell your readers about. [rest of sentence missing]

We recommand you to blog about ClickComments, so that Your readers knows what it is and would use it to give you feedback.

You can also tell your friends to come to your blog and give you feedback with
ClickComments vai this tool.

Awesome.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Own Coffee Journey

At work, we do this exercise we nicknamed "Steps," wherein we walk up the staircase for 25 floors. We do this two or three times a week for our health, and we all agree it's a good idea but difficult to implement individually. Alone, we'd probably never undertake it, but with a group the shared motivation propels us along. Further, a lively conversation can make the trip seem like nothing.

I managed to strike a conversation with a coworker who knows an inordinate amount about coffee: preparation, equipment, quality of beans, etc. I asked him to name a favorite coffee café, and he said that, actually, he was going to start roasting his own beans. Hard core! He talked about how grinding the beans can affect the coffee's "brightness" adversely; my own hasty research suggested that a flat burr grinder works at a higher speed, creating heat from friction that may cook the beans at this process, where a conical burr grinder can grind successfully at lower speeds. I bring this up just to illustrate how deep the caffeinated rabbit hole goes.

The best espresso I'd ever had was at Caffé Classico in Louisville, KY. Rebecca and I found this Austrian-modeled cafe by accident, and she assured me this was how good espresso was supposed to taste. Usually I get a tiny cup of something burnt, bitter, and spiteful; this espresso, by contrast, was so smooth it suggested sweetness, and the scales had truly fallen from my eyes.

Using this experience as my standard, I decided to discover where, in Minneapolis, the best espresso may be had. My premise is: nowhere. Nowhere in the Twin Cities may one find an authentically, skillfully crafted demitasse of espresso; I hope to be proven wrong.

Starting arbitrarily anywhere, I went to Dunn Bros. and Starbucks to order a ristretto espresso. Ha, I didn't actually say ristretto to them, they wouldn't have known that! That would've been too much to expect. I asked for a "short pull."

They didn't know what that was, either.

The clerk (I do not entitle barista lightly) at Dunn Bros. didn't know how to alter the automated machine that created the espresso, and so couldn't provide a short pull once I described it to her. Since all their shots are double (by house rules), their ristretto is merely a single shot. Their espresso was a little acrid, lacking the creamy smoothness I hold as the gold standard, and similarly bereaved of the crema.

The clerk at Starbucks did have some gist of what I was asking for (the cashier absolutely did not, and tried to explain that I wanted the grounds to steep even longer), and was able to modify the automated machine that brews their espresso. Starbucks' espresso was a furious little cup of earwax, sans crema.

I wanted to check out Caribou this morning but my coffee companion needed to go to Dunn Bros., so I thought I'd give them another chance at this. This time, a different clerk knew what I wanted and was able to describe how to force their machine to behave, but the girl in charge of brewing actually got angry at me and started slamming her equipment around. I didn't come during the rush: there were two people behind me and one of them was my friend. I've been going to that outlet for a year and a half, and I tip a dollar every time I go, which can be 25-50% of my purchase. I'm polite, friendly, occasionally chatty - I'm a good customer. I've worked food service, I know what makes a good customer, and I try to be it.

She blew up because I requested a style of espresso which could be had anywhere else in the world, easily, and in many American cities. I required that she know too much about her job. They won't feel the loss of my income, I know, but they've lost me as a customer.

Anyway, there are other places to go for espresso.

Links for research:
Coffee Research Coffee Geek Home Barista