Monday, August 31, 2009

Failed at PoliSci

I tried to start a political blog. I thought I'd pick out a politically contentious issue and research it, post my impression of it, and over time form a more substantial political opinion.

I read some news articles about the US Attorney General announcing a new probe into CIA "enhanced interrogation" techniques. Cheney immediately decried this as a political move and insisted that no one would find anything new about his opinion of these techniques, which was not the point of the investigation. He and McCain both suggested this investigation would compromise CIA efforts to protect the US, citing sagging morale. Democratic CA Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed objection, said her own Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation wasn't done yet.

At some point I realized this was just news, not politics, and this realization came after hours of trying to reword already adequate summaries of recent past events from various news channels.

This is not my cup of tea. I deleted the blog. I can't force myself to be interested in this bullshit, no matter how hard I try.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Life in Review: Wrapping Things Up

So, I have to start focusing on leaving this place, preparing to leave for China in six months. I have to get into an urgent mindset and really start taking action to make this happen.

Trying to switch my service over to CREDO Mobile has been a fucking nightmare. I really want to support their noble cause, but I've called their support reps five separate times, each time discovering they need a little more information than before. And that first account they screwed up, that's still linked to my current account, so it takes every support rep a few minutes to untangle the trail of their own errors. I've called them five times, each time necessitating a half-hour hold-time as I wait for an operator to pick up (I call, switch to speakerphone, and read a book), and each one has concluded the call promising my phone service will be up in two hours or a certain hour the next day. I won't say they were lying outright, but they have been consistently and badly mistaken, and my phone still doesn't work. Our phones, because I got two lines with a family plan, so my wife is being let down as badly as I am. But if I'm only going to be in this country for six more months, I really don't need to start a new contract, so I guess my next call will be to figure out how to return this merchandise.

My concern, among other things, is for the cats. We're going to have to give them to someone else, either on loan for two months if we come back that soon, or on loan for a year or two if we're gone that long. No one's going to be as good to them as we are, and we really were blessed with a couple sweet, intelligent, patient cats. We will never find another couple of cats as excellent as these. And now we've got to make plans to foist them off onto someone else while we're stumbling around China for an indeterminate period of time.

Which brings me to my job and financial obligations. My father loaned me a sum of money for college, in the last two years, and I have twice as much money owed in student loans. I don't feel comfortable with leaving the country with this debt back in the States. And my job! This is the first time in my life I've ever had a job I actually like, and I love this position. I'm doing the work I love to do, in the greatest environment possible (short of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory), and I have to ask whether they'd be willing to take me back in two months or else just walk away from it. This, for the sake of fulfilling a lifelong dream of travel, of living in another country. Well, etymologically, that's what the word sacrifice means: to make sacred. This trip is so important to me, look at what I'm willing to give up for it.

Well, I wanted to go to Japan, but getting out of the country for any reason is good enough.

And then there's friends and family. Family is a huge concern right now, what with the caretaking we've had to do for Rebecca's parents. It's difficult for Rebecca to make plans to leave when she's needed so badly, but it has always been important to her to experience international travel. This has been a life plan for her and if we wait for all other ducks to be in a row before we go, we will never go. It will always be one thing after another. This is a question everyone asks themselves: where do I draw the line between my needs and the needs of my family?

As for friends, it is generous to suggest that none of mine have demanded a measurable amount of my time. I see the people I know rarely, at protracted and irregular intervals: all I would lose in fleeing this nation would be the potential to see someone I know.

Lastly, my writing career--there is even less to discuss here than in matters concerning my social life. My writing habits are complete shit, I've wasted tremendous spans of time, and to suggest I've spent much time attempting to get published would be to insult the person I'm speaking to. Nothing would be lost if I had to give up writing to help take care of my wife's parents and prepare my household for leaving the country.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Suddenly, the electricity has gone out on my block. And I'm still struggling with CREDO to get our phones working. Why should it be this hard?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bless You, CREDO, You Try So Hard

I have to preface this post by saying: I like CREDO Mobile.

CREDO is a production of Working Assets, the good guys among phone service providers. As Working Assets, they used to issue a coupon for one free pint of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream with every monthly bill. That was awesome. As CREDO, they donate 1% of my bill to fifteen charities and non-profits I support and agree with. That's also awesome.

There are many things to like about CREDO, not the least of which is the fact that they got me away from T-Mobile. T-Mobile knowingly sells phones they anticipate will break down shortly after their warranty, but you have to upgrade them before the warranty is up, or else you have to pay full price for an entirely new phone. Attend: they will not replace their broken-assed phone. They make you buy a new one, if you want service for the remaining year of your contract. Oh yes, you have to sign a two-year contract (fairly standard among phone companies) and you have a perfectly working phone for the first year, but then it breaks down and you either have a non-working phone for which you still have to pay service, or you can buy an entirely new phone for a couple hundred dollars. Or you can break your contract and pay a $200 penalty. But CREDO covers that penalty fee, when you switch (and keep your number), and the Katana phone I got from them was free. Plus a portion of my bill goes to charity.

The only problem is illustrated in the two attached photos. The upper left is my bill: after I was refused a contract on the basis of my credit score (which, by the way, is 80 points higher than the national average), they still sent me a bill (for $0.00). How this bill, or service refusal, reached me is uncertain, for observe: my name is misspelled, my street is misspelled (trust me), my city was completely misspelled, and that is not the abbreviation for Minnesota. Their mailings reached me on the strength of my ZIP code alone!

But they corrected the error (that is, they deleted that account and started a new one, which was approved) and I got my new phone today and... it has their company name misspelled on the home screen, as per the second photo. Astounding, no? I asked them if they need an editor, for I am freelance and my rates are competitive.

Well, anyway, I look forward to my new, well-intentioned phone company.

Minneapolis: Squatters' House

This house no longer exists.

I don't know the history behind it, but it looked like it was abandoned. To the left of it is the former premises of a hardware store. The side of that hardware store saw about a monthly rotation of graffiti as an item would be painted, painted over, then replaced with another image. In hindsight, of course, I wish I'd kept a collection of the images that have appeared there.

As for this house, no one lived in it formally but there must've been squatters. Signs and legal notices kept getting posted on the front door, taken down either by illegal inhabitants or simply the wind and rain. The house itself became more and more dilapidated.

One day the house was just a pile of ruined lumber: a demolition crew had started to tear it down. Days later the lot was cleared and presented as nothing more than a patch of dirt between the hardware store and the neighboring house. It stayed like that for some time before a crew laid down sod and it was transformed into a lawn, and so it is today, the lot formerly known as 2607 Lyndale Ave, Minneapolis.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Minneapolis: Bob's Java Hut

This sign was posted on the side of Bob's Java Hut. Maybe it's still there--I don't know, I don't go there anymore. For one thing, I've never owned a motorcycle and am therefore not cool enough to show up, a fact I've been reminded of the few times I went, by the patrons craning in their seats to glare at me as I walked up to the counter to get a drink.

I've also had bad luck with the service there. People like to call themselves baristas but that's actually a title that has to be earned through training and performance. You don't become a barista just because management taught you which button to press on the espresso machine. But I ordered a mocha and the woman behind the counter was irritable and taking it out on me. Having worked food service, I know what a bad customer looks like and I go out of my way to be a good customer. I smiled, I said "please" and "thank you," and she couldn't get rid of me fast enough. As a last-ditch effort to dislodge the stick from her ass, I tipped her $1.50 for a drink that could only have been just above two bucks. She focused on me patronizingly and paused to deliver a ham-fistedly sarcastic "ohthankyouverymuch."

It was 'round about that time I decided this place was doing fine without my patronage.

Regardless, the sign is very funny. I'm also not a fan of poetry, though I like it in exceptional cases, and only in print form. I never like to hear it delivered, unless it's Jeff Buckley's recitation of E.A. Poe's "Ulalume."

I've had this phonecam image sitting on my computer forever. Now that it's stored online I can delete it. I'm going to go through other Minneapolis photos in my collection and treat them the same way: reflection and deletion.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Researching Ghost Stories

Oh, this is fantastic: Google Books has functions hidden within it that I've yet to avail myself. Here is one, the "Clip" function, whereby I can highlight an interesting passage of whatever I'm reading and post it here.

This, from Sheridan Le Fanu's The Ghost and the Bone-Setter, coupled with another overheard cemetery tradition in which the first person buried has a lamp engraved in their tombstone and must forever after serve as guardian of the graveyard, make for a very interesting brace of traditions!

I'm reading about this because there are some short story contests coming up, and at least one of them requires a traditional ghost story. I've never written any sort of ghost story before, aside from transcribing a nightmare, so this is going to prove a novel challenge to my custom.

Misconstrued Lyrics, Purposely

I don't remember what we were listening to (over a year ago), maybe Rhymesayers or something, but my wife was playing this one song in which the refrain was "look into my eyes and tell me what you find" with someone shouting slogans between lines, I think. I wasn't listening very closely, but the next day I was inspired to write my own lyrics:
Just look into my e-eyes and tell me what you fi-ind.
I deign not to rewind rented video tapes!
Just look into my e-eyes and tell me what you fi-ind.
Surely, I will drink milk a week before it expires!
Just look into my e-eyes and tell me what you fi-ind.
I practice poor diction and stay up way past 9 PM!
Just look into my e-eyes and tell me what you fi-ind.
My clothes are ill-fitting and I may slouch at times!
Just look into my e-eyes and tell me what you fi-ind.
Zero-tolerance policy for jive turkeys and sucka MCs alike!

Eh, the things you can do with much time on hand.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Working So Hard... and for What?

It happened again that this morning saw a thunderstorm and was rainy as I got ready for work, so I donned a rain jacket and rode the bus. Now it's bright and sunny and rather than bike home, I have to take the bus. I feel bad about losing the exercise but I'm glad that I get the chance to continue listening to the M.I.T. psychology lectures. In honor of these, I wrote a short story: Quantifying Peer Pressure.

And I'm actually writing a letter. Two, actually, one that was sent out over lunch and one I'm composing now. It's important for me to get back into letter writing, not just for the inherent value of practicing penmanship, but for staying in touch with friends. I've got a small pile of mail to catch up with, actually, so the real test is in forging time in which to respond. I'm very bad at that, much moreso than actually writing. I could make all sorts of excuses for myself, like family emergency, some of which are more or less valid, but I wouldn't benefit from that. My focus has to be on making the time to write.

I woke up late today and had only enough time to pour myself a coffee. No breakfast, no packed lunch, so I got a cheapie lunch at Taco Bell. And due to my advanced age, as well as my body's expectation of nutritious food, I feel a little ill from this garbage. Sure, it tastes great, but once those chemicals and food substitutes are actually in your body, it's another story. It is only the nostalgia of youth that gives me to lament I may no longer frequent these fast-food dives.

Tonight's Tuesday: I have writers group, which means I must race home (on the bus) and shape up the one written piece I've been trying to focus on for publication. I ran it by each member of the group and received their edits, which only have to be implemented in the story. Once they approve that revision, I can seek out a humor trade publication and submit it. After that, maybe I'll hear from them in three months or never at all! Are you excited? I'm trying to be!

Monday, August 24, 2009


It's interesting to me (and me alone) that this blog had spawned three spin-offs: focii upon writing, traffic, and stationery. I'm toying with the idea of yet another, a politics blog. I've tried this several times in this blog, examining news stories and summing them up for my comprehension. The only thing that would stop me from trying this in its own blog is, no freakin' way would I write to that on a daily basis. Maybe I could collaborate on one with my wife, since she is way more politically savvy and educated than I am, but I'm good at research so any point she brings up, I could support with a dozen sources or examine for enhanced comprehension.

It's ironic that I would consider a collaboration, since it would basically take an act of Congress to get her to sit down and write out her opinions. They're well-formed and substantiated, but I'm the only person who gets to hear them, at high volume, right after she's read some horrible revelation in the news.

But why do I want to start so many blogs, anyway? My readership is less populous and less guaranteed than my tedious little updates on LiveJournal, but Crom take my eyes if I'll go back to LiveJournal. Yet I have this urge to write, and not just to write but to indulge in the delusion of publication. I could sit at home and write out stories in Word, print them out and bind them, actually hold them in my hands. But then no one would see them, and even though very, very few people see them online, there's still the potential for an audience, for a fortuitous link from another forum drawing attention to my writing and then I... well, what? Then what? Even if 300 people read me daily, then what? Does this magically convert to a job, somehow, by which I could somehow make an income? I don't see how, and even if I did I'd have to concede the odds are remote at best.

Yet there is something therapeutic in writing with the illusion of a potential audience in mind. I don't think I could do my "short story a day" exercise only for myself, writing for myself, saving every effort on my hard drive rather than on Blogger. I know I wouldn't keep a traffic diary very long, and if I did there would be no potential for growth: my acerbic tone would worsen to acrimony, whereas because I'm deluded into thinking someone else may be reading, I feel an instinct to behave myself somewhat, moderate my misanthropy, and find more amenable ways to relate my message. For a while, exchanging glances with whatever hipster sailing through a stop sign on his fixed-gear café cruiser or spindly 10-speed (or whatever the fleeting trend may be this month), I had to wonder, Does he read my blog? Is this going to result in an altercation? How hard can a hipster hit, anyway? I could bring myself back down to Earth by reminding myself that very, very, very few people read that blog, but still... When I got my brakes replaced at Freewheel, did any of them know about ,Small Laws? Did they know about it at Commuter Connection, when I claimed my prize? I wonder.

So, no, it's not therapeutic to cultivate potential enemies throughout the Twin Cities. It is therapeutic to vent my spleen rather than grow increasingly furious with every transgression committed on the mean streets. It's therapeutic to share my interests in postal correspondence and linoleum carving, and it's therapeutic to produce a short story (nearly) every day, to feel like I'm actually producing something as a writer, even if I'm not published. At least all that.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tornado Damage

What the hell? A tornado touched down in Minneapolis. What city receives a tornado?

En route to Rebecca's sister's house to have dinner with her parents, we cruised through a section of town inundated with repair and clean-up crews. Many streets were blocked off entirely as fallen trees were being sundered and carted away. This is a picture of one tree ripped from its foundation in a guy's yard, and it's not even the most extreme example of the damage.

This picture was taken somewhere in the vicinity of Portland Ave. & E 42nd St., give or take a couple blocks.
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sick of It

So the Republicans are shuttling out-of-town protesters to town hall meetings to shout down speakers addressing the health care reform issue.  And then they suggest that Democrats are alienating themselves from voters by focusing on this underhanded tactic.  "We're cheating, but you're losing popularity by not letting us get away with it," is the message.  And then that woman waves a poster of Obama made up to look like Hitler (courtesy of the LaRouche PAC: "rabies tastes like strawberry jelly") at a Jewish congressman.  And armed men turned up at a presidential town hall meeting.  And FOX News still prefaces its broadcasts with insisting it delivers fair and unbiased coverage, while giving air time to Michelle Malkin and showing Hannity and Bachmann fawning over each other.

This only reinforces my personal theory that the entire Republican party is nothing more than a protracted test, designed by an eleven-year-old boy, to see how gullible Americans are.  But when you call him on it, he doesn't admit it.  You present your proof, your photos, your documentation, and he just smiles and says he doesn't know what you're talking about.  When not about racism, sexism, or materialism, Republicanism is about intellectual dishonesty.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Birthday Party and 'District 9'

This was a very large weekend... or it feels large, even if not every day was exactly packed. I mean, Friday was pretty busy, I think, preparing for the party and everything, and Saturday was the party itself, Rebecca's 40 Years and 40 Days party, the belated birthday party. It was a great time, good to see our friends and be social once again. I'm amazed to think that ten years ago, there were parties all the time, social outings, club nights, etc., and now something only occurs once in a great while (that I hear about). Aging is something that happens to you, as well as something you undergo. The external world imposes aging upon you as much as your own body declines toward it. That's what I find.

Sunday was the day of relaxation. Very little cleaning, much video game playing, much snacking. At one point I broke out in a cold sweat and started to tremble, salivating like I was about to vomit, and I had to nap for a few hours. I still don't know what that was about--it had some of the symptoms of flu and some of food poisoning, but didn't exactly match either.

In the evening I was well enough to see District 9, the big-dumb summer blockbuster that the critics are calling "smart" but can't say why. It happens in South Africa but doesn't address any of South Africa's issues. The white-man corporation standing in as Bad Guy is trite; denoting "the Nigerians" as the other Bad Guy is surprisingly racist in this theme and this location. It's like the film is suggesting, "Blacks and whites are learning to live together in peace, but you just can't do anything about those Nigerians. You know how they are."

What else isn't original? The predominant message of Man's Inhumanity to Man. Yes, even with a common focus of resentment, the aliens, the humans are still so inhuman to each other. This is beaten into our heads at every turn, and there's no sign of redemption. Of course, they're also inhuman to the aliens on several levels. Humans are just bastards all the way around. They don't work with the aliens as well as they did in AlienNation, which was overstuffed with safe racial analogies, and there is no bridge between cultures like in Enemy Mine. Nope, at the end, humanity can only bite its lip and hope it doesn't receive its comeuppance from without and within.

But on a technical level, the graphics are excellent, the rendering is excellent. It's a visual treat--you just have to remember to turn off your cell phone and your mind at the beginning of the movie. Don't ask, "How did the documentary crew get inside the ship to film their technicians breaking in from the other side?" Don't wonder at the "Day 47", &c., captioning when there are no film crews around. There's a clear transition when the documentary ceases being a documentary and only serves as an accent, a spice, to the film's exposition.

All these publications and critics saying that District 9 actually has a message... they're wrong. There is no message. Ask them what this message is and they can't say. It's not a racial analogy, though it wears the trappings of racism, and then trips over its own feet. It's interesting to show the aliens as an oppressed refugee class, but that's the extent of the novelty. It is disjointed, self-contradictory, sensationalist and shallow, so appreciate it for that.

And then it turned out I wasn't feeling better at all: getting up and walking around betrayed my stomach for the ticking time-bomb it had become, though it never exploded. We got home in time for me to have a seat and dampen the risk while uploading old photos to Facebook and deleting other photos out of my inventory.

Friday, August 14, 2009

XN and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Evening

Location: The Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis, MN 55419, USA
Is the Museum of Russian Art cursed? Does anyone know the answer to that? Because everything has gone to shit as of visiting it, for me.

It's taken forever to finally make it out there. Interesting exhibits have come and interesting exhibits have gone, and I've missed them all. But when Rebecca pointed out they featured a historically arranged philately exhibit, we focused our energy upon definitely going and finally made it out yesterday.

We showed up at 6:30 PM and enjoyed a tour of the paintings, explaining the aesthetic and political motivation behind most of the work. We realized we know very little about Russian history and I thought much of what was revealed in the portraiture was amazing. When the tour concluded we went into the lower level for the stamp exhibit. This was no less captivating and I studied everything they had on display. Following the development of stamp art through political eras was compelling, and the art itself held a unique charm I've rarely experienced.

We left the building and as I admired the sunset, Rebecca got a call that her family's plans had fallen through and one of us had to come over and watch her father tonight. I stayed over Monday and she stayed over Tuesday, and we were told the rest of the week was covered so we thought we'd go out on a kind of date, you know, hit the museum and see a movie. Rebecca swore we would not miss the movie this night, but that meant one of us would be showing up after 11:30 PM to stay over and assume caretaking duties.

We went home in a dark mood and almost immediately started bickering. I wanted to touch up my résumé but we had no time for that: only time for Rebecca to pack clothes and head out. We had no time for dinner, though both of us were starving, which made us even more irritable. And I forgot the part of the conversation where we had to drive both cars out to her sister's house, to drop one off for a friend of the family. He was going to watch her father tonight but suddenly wasn't available, and that's why the duty fell to us.

We drove out, dropped off the car and lingered at her sister's house so long there was no time to get dinner. On the other hand, the plan had shifted yet again and the friend who wasn't available suddenly became available. Slightly relieved, we drove out to the movie theater, a cheap theater showing Terminator: Rise of the Machines.

Except it wasn't. After parking a block away we walked up to find the theater neglected to remove that theatrical selection from their Web site. Instead, they were showing a Dr. Horrible/Serenity double-feature that started two hours prior to our arrival. A big "SOLD OUT" sign was taped to the front door.

Other people might have started laughing at this point. It was all I could do to refrain from assaulting the people standing outside having a smoke break and smashing all the windows of the theater.

On the plus side, this freed us up to find some dinner... except we couldn't find a place that would sell any to us. Okay, yes, it's our fault that we didn't want to shell out for expensive places like AZIA, Moto-i, Zen, or whatever frou-frou boutique. Yes, it is a fucking awful crime against humanity that we didn't want to double or triple our dining bill. I understand that it is completely unreasonable to not want to spend more than you have to for food, especially in the evening. Mea gravissima culpa.

We drove down Lake St. and were frustrated by a series of red lights, slow drivers, and people abruptly halting to make left turns. To escape this ongoing sequence of obstacles Rebecca swung hard to the left and we found ourselves in front of a neighborhood Mexican restaurant. We looked at each other like the universe was finally giving us a break.

Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht. We walked inside and were stared at without delight by patrons and staff. The girl at the counter, on the contrary, refused to look at us and interacted with a customer steadily for five minutes. Rebecca asked me if it looked like the cooks were breaking down the cooking line, and they were indeed putting everything away: it was ten minutes to close. We walked out and got back in the car.

Driving through neighborhoods south of Lake St. and heading generally west, Rebecca found a small deli that reputedly serves the best Philly cheese steak sandwiches. It was now five minutes before 10:00 PM, and the guy behind the counter explained they stopped serving food at 9:30 PM.

Now I was ready to tear someone's head off, and Rebecca announced that it was too late for her to have a full meal. After a small argument we drove home and foraged in our own kitchen. I started to make a sandwich but discovered the lettuce was slimy and turning liquid: the organic lettuce we buy at Trader Joe's absolutely must be consumed within four days at the latest, and we bought it five days ago. So I had a turkey/cheese/pickle sandwich on Ezekiel bread. Rebecca permitted herself a bowl of cereal so as not to go to bed completely famished.

Things got much worse after that, but I will not elaborate.

This morning I walked from work to Potbelly Sandwiches in the IDS Tower. They make an excellent slow-cooked oatmeal and it's a little treat to myself to get it for breakfast. I walked up to the counter--if you want the oatmeal, you don't have to wait in line--and asked for a bowl.

The clerk smiled and informed me she had just dumped it all in the trash.

I was going to tell everyone to check out the art in the Museum of Russian Art, especially the cool stamp exhibit, but I don't want all my friends to go hungry.

However, I would like restaurants that refuse to serve food to go out of business.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I Totally Won a Prize

Tuesday night I got a strangely nondescript e-mail advising me that I'd won a drawing and had to claim my prize within a week. It slipped past my spam filters and turned up in my Inbox.

The font was weird: rather than my default, it was in large, blocky, bold text. Aside from that, it was addressed directly to my e-mail address and no others, and it referred to a Minneapolis address for a collection point.

Yesterday Rebecca joined me for lunch, we dropped off some mail at the Loop Station, and then walked over to the US Bank Plaza building. Right where we came out of the skyway is the Commuter Connection Resource Store, which I'd seen a dozen times but never fully registered. After a brief interlude at the front desk (I turned up on the sheet of drawing winners but no prize was indicated next to my name; this was sorted out) I was awarded a free Blue Sky Guide.

For non-Minneapolis readers:
Blue Sky Guide is a one-of-a-kind resource — a coupon book, a directory, a source of ideas and inspiration. It’s your guide to living well and having fun in the Twin Cities region. Save hundreds of dollars while exploring the community and supporting local, sustainable businesses. Over 300 valuable coupons make this our largest book yet. Businesses with coupons include grocery, dining, entertainment, travel, garden and home adding up to savings of over $3,000.
We have one already, one that we bought, but having an extra doesn't hurt anything and getting it for free is nice. The point is, I didn't even know about this drawing. I must've been entered when I registered for the Guaranteed Ride Home passes, which I qualified for on account of riding my bike to work at least three times a week (bus, LRT, and carpool also qualify).

There are some cool things going on in this city. Minneapolis has some real hidden gems in it. I think it would be worth a citizen's while to wander around and ask questions, because a lot of this stuff doesn't the PR it needs, or else there's just too much of it and it's overwhelming.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Story of Sushi (formerly The Zen of Fish)

The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket by Trevor Corson

The exposition is a little jejune, but the story is rich with information from intensive and comprehensive study. If you don't mind being talked down to a little, it's a fascinating book.

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Turn That Frown Around

The guard at the front desk and I have had a rocky relationship, but it's funny how things turn around.

Because I bike to work, she assumed I was a courier and, for two weeks, would ask me to which floor I was going. It didn't seem to mean anything to her that I would be upstairs for five hours each day. She seemed grumpy, but I believe it's best to befriend people you've got to see every day, so I always smiled and wished her "good morning," every morning.

Eventually she became curious enough to ask what I was doing. I explained that I'm a proofreader for Modern Climate, the company that just moved into this building. She understood that I'm a permanent employee (well, a contractor, but that doesn't affect her). And eventually she came around to greeting me each morning and when I left each evening. She would even smile.

One Thursday morning she explained she had Friday off, and she wished me a good weekend in advance, asking whether I had any plans. She said she was probably going to stay at home and watch movies. I suggested this was an excellent time of year to check out a state park, that many places offer free bird-watching kits (binoculars, book of local birds) as a fun, easy pastime. I don't think she took me up on it, but I hope I planted a seed.

Last week she asked what kind of artist I was. I explained that I'm a proofreader: I just correct spelling errors and word choices. She assumed I must be "some kind of world-famous artist" based on the company I work for (and she forgot our prior conversation). But this was actually going somewhere. She said that she was a painter and thought she might show me one of her works. I said that sounded like an awesome idea and I'd look forward to it.

Nothing yesterday, but today she asked if I had a moment as I headed in to work. She pulled out a plastic bag and from that a medium-sized canvas with a very bright, vivid image. Three bunnies were dressed in colorful summer frocks and dancing in a lawn. The portrait was fringed with vivid, multi-hued flowers. It struck me as overly cute and oh so bright, but that would have been a poor way to greet this gesture. I complimented the sweetness of the expression as well as the detail of her work, and "oh gosh, look at those bright colors!" (You can acknowledge something without judging it, and it's as good as complimenting it.) She was quite pleased!

She also said she wanted to find a way to turn it into a card, like for Easter, say. My mind flashed with several competing online businesses with custom postal applications, but I thought the easiest outlet for her would be Cafe Press. She got very excited and, presumably, will look into that later. She modestly iterated this was just a hobby of hers, something she likes to do, but I insisted it was a great thing to stay creative at all points in one's life. I indicated that keeping one's mind active like this helps stave off Alzheimer's, which she was (inordinately) excited to hear.

This isn't the first time I've turned a seemingly unpleasant person around, just by being a decent person regardless of how I'm treated. And a lot of times it's not that they're being mean: they're either shy, socially awkward, or have been wounded too many times in the past to be receptive to new experiences. I know too many revenge-based people who don't believe in showing kindness until they receive it first, but that doesn't brook harmony between people. I think that level of entitlement is vain, actually, the idea that the world owes one anything.

Quarter-Remembered Melodies

This is going to bug me: I remembered a song from over 20 years ago but can't research it. While in the shower I suddenly recalled this tune from the early era of rap (circa Whodini and Newcleus). The chorus went "don't smile at me, I already know" and from what I remember it seemed to be a condemnation of a homosexual. It was a very long time ago, I was around 13 years old, so I remember almost none of the lyrics (except the accused defending himself as having "fine taste"). That was the impression I came away with at the time. I have no idea who the performer was or what they were really trying to say.

While showering or biking, I tend to have lots of flashbacks of my life, like rattling a junk drawer and one item or another surfaces as random. Do kids still have junk drawers? That probably means "underwear" to them...

Monday, August 10, 2009

XN is a Poor Demonstrator

I got an email from Clean Water Action about a demonstration going on today from noon to 2:00 PM. I figured I'm downtown anyway so I might as well show up for it.

It wasn't a rowdy demonstration, no bricks or tear gas. It was a group of maybe 20 individuals standing in front of Amy Klobuchar's office, to remind her (before she goes on Senator Summer Vacation) about citizens' concern with global warming. People were encouraged to show up with canoes, fishing poles, and other outdoorsy equipment to make a visual statement. I biked up from work, so I implied my mountain bike could count as outdoor gear.

A couple people gave short speeches, one of whom was Paul Townsend (in picture, middle), founder of Cool Planet. Also, Sen. Klobuchar's outdoor and ecological liaison (in picture, right), whose name I don't recall because I'm terrible at names, spoke a bit and thanked the group for the poster of photos (in picture), which was a collage of images sent by people expressing their concern with global warming, Minnesota wildlife, and their own experiences with getting out and enjoying it all.

Ultimately? It was people talking to people who already agreed with them, presenting no new information. I really dislike vague statements like, "as a result, the devastation will be something nobody can predict." That phrase covers every outcome from zero measurable effect to total world destruction. Yet it gets applause because the audience wants it to represent a variable somewhere between bad to awful. I think I shouldn't go to protests and demonstrations because I get distracted from the core issue by focusing on the logical fallacies and poor word choices.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Today We Mourn a Teen Movie Director

Man, John Hughes, huh? What's funny about this is that I thought he was as proliferate as he was seminal. Yes on the latter; not so much on the former.

I heard about Hughes' death on Twitter, where an acquaintance mentioned the news and supplemented it with his favorite quote: "I want my two dollars!" I crowed about this to my wife who calmly informed me that Better Off Dead was not a John Hughes movie.

I started to argue but we have way too many online resources to let such an insipid debate take place. Thirty seconds later I saw how wrong I was (and the guy who started it, too).

Heathers was not his, either. And he wrote Some Kind of Wonderful but did not direct it.

In fact, out of the eight movies he did direct, I saw and enjoyed only four--the first four. I made a point of avoiding Uncle Buck, She's Having A Baby, and the others. ...Well, I guess I did see Trains, Planes, and Automobiles but I wouldn't say I enjoyed it, despite it featuring two of my favorite comedians. There was one quotable line from that movie, but it's inapplicable to most circumstances. You only bring it up to remind people of the movie in which it appeared--unlike, say, something from They Live, Big Trouble in Little China, or The Simpsons which could be applied to any number of situations in perpetuity, ad nauseum.

But the four that I did like, I loved. They were important to me and I'm lucky to have been the generation they were targeted at. Do today's kids have anyone so influential? I think not! Is there any one director who epitomizes the '00s the way Hughes contributed so substantially to the zeitgeist of the '80s? Not in any good way!

Rest in peace, John Hughes. I have nothing profound with which to wrap this up, just... thanks for the awesome first four movies you directed.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pointless Evenings

I'm surprised at how much time I have in the afternoons. It's shameful, how I waste it. If I leave work on time, I get home around 3:30 PM and most nights there's nothing planned until bedtime (11 PM or midnight). Tuesdays I have writer's group, and any random night we're driving out to St. Paul to help with Rebecca's parents. This Thursday's the scotch tasting (won't have time for that, somehow) and the third Thursday of each month is an exhibit at the MIA (usually miss that, somehow). So what am I doing with my time?

I have no idea.

Tonight I started an upper body workout at 5:00 PM--it says 45 minutes but with breaks and evaluation it's about an hour--and made myself a dinner of leftovers. I'm trying to clean out the fridge of old food and condiments, make space for new food (or just stop eating out as much as possible). Rebecca got home and after she ate & changed we went out to Trader Joe's to do some much-needed grocery shopping.

We also swung by Byerly's to pick up a few items that either TJ's didn't have or Byerly's has better. I got all my sandwich-making materials, between the two places, so there's no reason to buy lunch for a week. (I still stop by Downtown Diner once a week to chat with Salaa, buying a token slice of pizza.) Rebecca wanted to make her granola and so we stopped at the bulk foods section for oats, and I saw a bin full of English Toffee in chocolate. I said we should buy some, so we got two pieces (pictured). No bag, just wrapped the ID tag around the item. It tripped up the check-out clerk more than seemed reasonable to me.

I'm just cranking out this entry before I go out to St. Paul and watch Rebecca's father tonight. He's an old man, still recovering from his recent incident, and he needs help with certain things. Tonight's my turn to help. I'm probably not going to get any sleep tonight, and then I have to take the car first thing in the morning to the mechanic to the alignment and a turn signal fixed, and then straight out to work. These are things that need to be done.

UPDATE: It wasn't so bad. I showed up at 10 PM, everyone went to bed, and I helped Eddie get changed and ready to sleep. He is most comfortable sleeping in a certain recliner and everyone asked Millie if she would like to sleep near him in the fold-a-bed. But Millie hates that fold-a-bed and wanted to sleep in the guest room, so I got the fold-a-bed. I woke up several times to Eddie's coughing fits, where the only thing I could do was guide him to the Kleenex, but around 5 AM he requested an ambulance on account of how difficult it was for him to breathe. I woke up the family, helped Eddie get dressed, and the family followed the ambulance to the hospital.

Being this was a non-emergency, I was given leave to go home. I curled up next to my wife and lay awake for two hours. Now I'm about to shower and drop the car off at the mechanic's, then bus downtown and get some breakfast. Today will be a trial of endurance

Eh, Stuff Happens

I've got so many blogs now, all I have to do is check out my Blogger dashboard and update the blog at the bottom of the list. (They're ordered by updates, see.) Then all my material will always be fresh and exciting.

For example: today over lunch break I took the Skyway to the Loop Station and picked up some int'l rate stamps. I'm sending yet another postcard to Finland--they sure do a lot of traffic--and thought I might as well pick up a sheet of stamps. That was that adventure.

On the way back, I decided to go a different way through the Skyway system. There was a sign that said it went back to the Baker Building, which I'm familiar with, but I've never used that doorway before so I took it. I wandered around a bunch of blandly off-white corporate corridors and then found myself before Soup Man, the soup chain of the original soup restaurant that was featured in Seinfeld as "Soup Nazi."

I was looking for a new place for lunch, so this filled the bill. I had a cup of mushroom barley soup with a three-pepper turkey panini. They were aromatic and delicious, and for less than eight bucks I felt reasonably full. I wended my way back through the Skyway and ran into a coworker on the way. We chatted about a big project we're working on, but not like suits do. We weren't trying to impress each other with corporate-speak and how important we are to the mission. We just chatted about what was going on and a little history of the project. It was cool.

Now it's the end of my work day and I'm heading home. I think I'll pack my camera rather than keeping it on hand and focus on just enjoying the bike ride home, despite the rest of the city's best efforts to keep me down.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

So Ends Another Weary Day

It's weird, but I've had a sense of tension all day long. My morning was fine: woke up later than usual, bottled my coffee and brought it to work. Work went fine: did a couple jobs, read the news, delivered some postcards and got new stamps (lighthouses). Biked home and, at a friend's suggestion, stopped by the Sculpture Garden. With my camera mounted to my handlebars, I took a very jerky video of crossing the bridge from Loring Park to the Sculpture Garden, then walked to the grove just north of the Spoon Bridge. There were dozens of wind chimes suspended in the branches of the trees, and it was surprisingly peaceful to be surrounded by. (I took a video of that, too, but I know better than to attempt to load videos to Blogger.)

Then I went home. If anything, I was feeling a little sore about a "discussion" on Facebook, where I discovered a friend of mine holds some pretty staunch Conservative values. I won't misrepresent her position here but the matter was health care reform and though we agreed on certain points, she also believes a number of things I find objectionable. It sucks when something like this happens. All afternoon I've been careful not to pile fuel onto the fire, though her brother was insulting. The concept of courtesy falls outside the Conservative repertoire.

Then Rebecca and I went to Deb & Tom's house. I sat with her parents and Wesley, while R. and her sisters had another discussion about home care for Eddie for the near and long-term future. There are several issues involved with this and it is an unruly mess to untangle and organize, though everyone's hearts are in the correct places. I don't know what help I was, though: Wesley made food and cleaned dishes, while I was only receptive to what conversation might occur. I'm willing to help, but I don't know what help I was.

Rebecca's staying with her parents tonight and I'm home with the cats. I redesigned the banner for The Haunted Notebook, which was fun but sounds petty compared to being alienated from a friend and family emergencies. It's even harder to write about here: I'm forcing myself to type something just to have new material in this blog. Small Laws has been neglected all weekend: becoming inured to incessant, relentless, ubiquitous law-breaking and criminality means that it's less and less topical and I begin to sound and feel like a broken record. It's hard to get hepped-up about a cyclist or a motorist running yet another stop sign. At least I still have things to talk about in Postalatry. How sad is that, when a visit to the post office is more interesting than your own life?

Well, I don't think I can kill any more time: guess I have to force myself to fall asleep and prepare for tomorrow's whole new mess, whatever it may be. There really is nothing more to look forward to; there are only large and small disasters, whether we have it in us to cope with either.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Super Scrubbing Action Ne Plus Ultra

I may not clean my bathroom weekly, but when I do clean it, it glows with perfection. I do scrub the hell out of it--many thanks to the Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day line of cleaning products--and the result is very wife-satisfying. Truth is, I take a certain amount of personal pride in seeing a cleaning task through to completion. Once, in the Army, I took it upon myself to scrub the communal urinals, which was not a desirable chore but it was quite necessary. I brought out a bottle of Brasso and polished all the copper tubing that ran to and from each urinal. The other soldiers were shocked: they had assumed these were pale green PVC pipes.

That is all. I cleaned the holy hell out of my bathroom and there is nothing more to report.