Saturday, May 29, 2010

Weird, Where These Things Come From

I just had a strange memory come back to me, but first, here's the chain of moments that sparked the memory into being.

I'm at the inlaws' apartment, waiting until we take off to see Iron Man 2. Rebecca said that her parents could get a nap first, but when I stepped out of the computer room I saw Rebecca and Eddie passed out and Millie sitting on the edge of her seat, watching In Like Flynn on TV.

I thought about composing a photograph of myself in each of their positions and remembered how I used to do that in Photoshop. One such picture--me, strangling myself from behind with a scarf--was so disturbing that Rebecca considered not dating me because of it, way back in the beginning.

Images of the other photo collages flickered through my mind: me, dressed as a traditional ninja, facing off against me dressed as Kakashi from Naruto. Three versions of me, standing in the front hall and pulling on jackets and shoes, preparing to go out. Two of me, sitting on the couch, one reading a book and the other clicking through channels on TV. My mind went back and focused on the three of me going out, and I think one of me was wearing a large, knee-length wool coat. I also wondered whether the traditional ninja suit would soften up after a few washings.

Actually, it's a Swedish Army officer's off-duty jacket, according to a Swedish veteran who helped me identify what the insignia on it meant. I used to pin my own medals and those of my father on its chest and go out like that. One guy on a bus tried yelling at me because he was sure I was making fun of Viet Nam. He was too young to have served, but he had a chip on his shoulder about it and was only too anxious to get into a fistfight on a bus over it.

But here's where the memory came in. I was riding in the back of an MTC bus, where the seats face each other across the aisle, and across from me sat down three people. I don't remember one of them, I think it was a girl, but she was sidelined by the other two. One was a light-skinned black man who had a shy, hunched posture and wide rolling eyes, and he expressed brief statements in goofy voices. The star of the trio, however, was a short and strong-looking white man with a shaved head, a denim jacket, and black pants tucked into a pair of tabi boots. These are ninja climbing boots with a notch between the big and 2nd toes, to assist with rope-climbing. There aren't a lot of publicly accessible ropes dangling throughout Minneapolis, so he was just being a sci-fi/fantasy freak.

He sat down directly across from me. He glared at me. He kept his chin up and stared at me intently, as though waiting for me to give anyone in his group a judgmental look. I'm wearing this large wool jacket with military medals on the chest and a gold and red drapery cord looped around one shoulder like a campaign award, plus a kouffiyeh around my neck, so I'm not looking very conventional either.

But this guy was primed to take offense at anyone. It was very, very hard not looking at any of them, occupying as they did much of the viewing space directly ahead of me. The black guy kept making comments about me to his friends, in his strange voices, one of which was a comically alarmed voice: "Now I've seen everything!" Like I'm the strange one. Walking around downtown in ninja climbing boots is A-OK, but this wool jacket of mine has me branded a freak, and the stumpy denim guy is just itching for a confrontation.

Nothing happened. He stared, I continued to look away, and one or the other of us left the bus.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Use Your Voice

Now is the time for all concerned citizens to surf on over to and use their automated submission form to send a comment to President Obama pertaining to BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I know they receive tens of thousands of e-mails every day, but add your voice regardless. My position is that the cleanup should be federalized, as BP has proven themselves to be corrupt and unreliable, locked as they are in "cover your ass" mode. Here is the e-mail I sent to our nation's president:

Please federalize the Deepwater Horizon oil spill cleanup efforts. With BP's precedent of defiance, administrative corruption, and falsified information on the disaster's day-to-day progress, they have demonstrated themselves grossly insufficient stewards of the environment and their industry. They may no longer be relied upon to accurately report the disaster's consequences nor assess the measures to rectify the damage their accident has caused. The very definition of "disaster" is an event that requires outside assistance, and BP is demonstrably incapable of moderating the repercussions their carelessness has wrought. The situation requires the federal government to commandeer the cleanup and recovery measures, as well as to enforce to fullest extent BP's culpability.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ghost Adventures: the Drinking Game

Rebecca's really into Ghost Adventures, or as we call it, Douchebag Ghost Patrol. I'm impressed by what these guys are able to record, and only the staunchest deniers could decry the evidence that is presented in each episode. And with a dozen episodes each season, coming up on the fourth season, that's a lot of hardcore denying, bordering intellectual dishonesty.

But if you watch enough episodes, patterns begin to emerge, and I'm surprised it took this long for me to coalesce these qualities into a drinking game. I found a message board where fans of the show tossed out some ideas for such a game two years ago, but I'd like to try my hand at it too.

Take one drink every time:
  • Zak calls a crew mate "dude" or Aaron calls a crew mate "bro."
  • someone gives a play-by-play of temperature change: "73! 72! 71! 70! ...69!"
  • an "unexplained" voice is too muddled to transcribe.
  • the action stops to focus on an orb.
  • an orb enters someone's head/spine.
  • Zak's underwear is visible.
  • one of the crew makes a pun.
  • you can't see the shape/shadow they claim to have filmed.
  • you disagree with the transcription of a recorded ghostly voice.
  • Zak feeds cues/answers to a witness after asking a question.
  • Zak refers to 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM as a twelve-hour shift.
  • Zak issues contradictory commands: "Stop talking and, if you hear something, speak up."
  • someone mangles or murders grammar: "phenomenas," "my camera shut off out of nowhere."
  • Nick is locked up alone in a confined space.
Take two drinks whenever:
  • a hot new piece of technology is introduced.
  • a camera or electronic equipment fails (drained battery, audio cuts out, &c.).
  • paranormal activity manifests in daylight.
  • a recorded ghostly voice speaks very, very clearly.
  • someone trips over a chair or walks into a door.
  • someone's monologue/rant is interrupted by ghostly activity.
  • someone's mouth has to be blurred due to swearing (bleeps don't count).
  • a command is issued three times: "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!"
  • Zak or Aaron makes a comically frightened face at the camera.
  • a witness becomes choked up or weeps during narrative.
  • the crew's recordings are interpreted by freaky-looking paranormal experts.
Take three drinks whenever:
  • one of the crew is possessed by a spirit/demon.
  • a woman is brought into a prison for a "trigger object."
  • an inanimate object is thrown or pushed into a crew member.
  • a ghost clearly pronounces one of the crew's names.
  • a humanoid form/shadow is clearly recorded.
  • Nick finds his own testicles.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Week in Review

It's been an eventful week! Let me just touch on some of the large and small points.

I was asking for trouble when I brought my computers in. First was the laptop: I knew that its graphics card had crashed, and that it was integrated into the motherboard. It was reasonable to assume it would be extremely difficult to get it repaired, and replacing it meant replacing the entire motherboard. And that was impossible because that model has been discontinued and no one's even selling it on eBay.

Using the laptop as a regular computer, I plugged in the monitor, speakers, a better mouse, the printer, and let it run. And it ran great for a week, but one day I asked too much of it (scanning, Flash application, transferring files, a download all at once) and the processor froze and thin wisps of smoke came out the back. I shut it down, tore out the peripherals, and set it on the porch to air out. Probably there is only enough life left in it to let me grab the few new files that didn't get backed up on it.

General Nanosystems returned my tower computer today: it also has a blown capacitor but they were confident it could run without it--there's a chance it's been running with this condition all its life. And they forced my computer to finally recognize my SATA drive, so now I have an additional 320GB storage! Now it's home and purring like a kitten... but for how long?

And I finally got a job, and maybe two jobs. I interviewed for a position with a marketing company that made it sound like they could actually e-mail most of their assignments to me, so I accepted the other, proofreading/copy editing for a dental supply company. I start tomorrow! I'll be earning money and everything.

Today I discovered a new program called Lazyfeed, which is a Web site aggregator with a handy interface that lets you segment your interests and search for new info within those topics. Awesome, right? Well, I thought I'd start one on emergency preparedness and when I used "go-bag" as a topic, it turned up an article whose title urged all white people to take up arms and prepare supplies. I thought it was a joke, you know, an intelligent parody of racist sites, since the "information" was so over-the-top and quite dated. The article itself was quite well-informed, offering good advice on packing a backpack, what clothes to bring, deals on packing food, emergency supplies, &c., but then it would erupt into spittle-flecked invective about other ethnic groups and...

It took me too long to realize it was being sincere. It took me way too long to realize this was not just an elaborate hoax of rich satire. It really was a virulent racist hate-speech blog and when I researched it, I found it enjoyed friendly and supportive connections with a few other well-known white supremacist hate-speech sites. I closed the browser and went out to the porch to have a pipe. There was a lump in my throat as the disbelief melted and I was forced to wonder how badly and to what depth the System has failed, to allow such abject ignorance to proliferate. There were no spelling errors on this site, the typography was clear and stable, and like I said there was also a lot of useful information, but then there was this staggering hatred of things the writer had no experience with. It was rampant, spoon-fed propaganda such as would have given Big Brother an erection. Beyond the willful misinterpretation of news, beyond the denial and lies, there was just this tremendous, yawning chasm of absolutely nothing, a huge void where there should have been at least a little warmth, a little intelligence, but there was nothing. And there's a community of people who live their lives in defense of that nothing, fighting against facts, reality, progress, at war with their own humanity. People striving with every last muscle to promote this gaping, hideous ignorance.

It made me physically ill. It set my body at the preamble before the heaving starts which leads to vomiting. It made me want to cry, that so many decent and loving people should have their lives threatened simply because a group of monsters needs to inflict their staggering ignorance upon the lives of innocents.

So being online, being exposed to all the world's information, is both a blessing and a curse.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Challenge: How Could Qwest Possibly Suck More?

Here's a question I receive with surprising frequency:

"Christian, why do you love Qwest so much?"

To which I say... I have to say...

Oh wait, no, I never receive that question. There is nothing I have ever done or said that reflects this attitude. I was overly delighted to send Qwest the final payment on my bill seven years ago, concluding business with them once and for all, or so I thought.

Recently we started a new account with them, just because Qwest is the only provider of POTS, or "plain old telephone service." That means when the Internet goes down and all the cell phone satellites are taken offline, POTS phones will still be in operation.

However: signing up with Qwest necessarily means additional headaches, grief, and upset that one would not ordinarily have received in the course of one's day. For instance: Rebecca informed me of a strange spike in our bill. We got a bare-bones phone account for $15, so why is it suddenly nearly $50 this month? We never use this land-line phone, it's just there for emergencies, like the gallons of water we store in our closet or the First Aid kit on its shelf.

It's impossible to know! Qwest routinely makes this crap up! That's their business model!

I thought I'd login to my Qwest online account and see what's up. It's just that I'm stonewalled from accessing it. "Your user name may be an email address," the site advises me, but e-mail addresses also contain invalid characters that can't be in a user name. So I followed the "forgot my password" procedure and created something very simple, then the "forgot my user name" procedure and confirmed it was indeed my e-mail address. Taking no chances, I cut-n-paste the user name Qwest told me into the user name field, so of course it was rejected.

"QWEST: Keeping Things Desultory and Inaccessible."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Short Day in Sturgeon Bay

Location: Sturgeon Bay, WI, USA
Last weekend, my wife and I had made plans to drive out to Madison, just to get out of town. We've both got friends there, there's no lack of stuff to do (for two days), and we really love the coffee shop known as Ancora. But as it happened, we were requested to head out to Green Bay instead: we're still trying to sell her parents' house and a plumber was scheduled to come in Saturday morning to look at a persistent leak in the basement. The family needed someone to let him in, and since we were headed that way anyway...

We packed up Friday evening and drove straight there, listening to podcasts: WTF and The Nerdist are our current favorites. We rolled in around midnight, went straight to bed, and got up nice and early... only to have the plumber reschedule. He was really pressed for appointments and asked if he might show up Sunday morning instead. This was fine, as we'd be at the house both days regardless, so we decided to make a day trip of Saturday. We stopped by Luna Coffee for supplies (read: coffee) and drove out to Door County.

Rebecca's been so stoked to bring me up to Door County! It's usually a point of conversation every time we head out to her childhood home in Green Bay: "Maybe this time we'll make it up to Door County!" It's apparently a family destination tradition for her and she has a lot of pleasant memories of the area. I've never been but I'm open for anything. I only wish we'd stopped somewhere for breakfast on the way because for some reason we forgot to eat. No problem, I figured, there's got to be restaurants in Door County.

(In literature, this is what we call "foreshadowing.")

When we pulled into Sturgeon Bay, I had no idea what to expect. I've gone on random little road trips before where the only point was to end up somewhere we'd never been before. I love those trips, where the whole day is spent in discovery and exploration, getting a feel for the local flavor and seeing how an entirely other community has developed, remote from anything familiar to me. I parked in what looked like the center of town and we walked around--it was a blustery day and, being surrounded by water, there was nothing to slow the wind down--and the first thing we saw was this place: Greystone Castle. We didn't go in (being 12:30 PM, it was a bit early for me to start drinking) but I asked Rebecca to pose in front of it. Why? Because I had my cultural references confused: I was thinking of Castle Greyskull from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Slightly different, but still a good photo-op.

We spent a lot of time perusing the selection at Madison Avenue Wine Shop, a very cool store specializing in independent wines and microbrew olive oils and vinegars. I picked up an appealing bottle of wine, Kung Fu Girl, as well as a little gift for some friends. I saw the clerk had a copy of The Kite Runner with her, which I'd read a couple years ago: she thought she'd have time to read it but the store was particularly hopping this day. Too bad for the book, but great for business.

By this time we were completely famished and Rebecca was starting to feel a little nauseated with hunger. We'd brought a bag of sesame-coated almonds to snack on in the car but this was by no means a substantial repast. It was now time to perambulate in ever-widening circles until we found a suitable restaurant. I saw a large sign proclaiming a restaurant at Wave Pointe Marina & Resort, but we walked all around the building and couldn't clearly see anything resembling a restaurant--I'm sure a little curiosity with the resort entrance would have yielded better results, but we went elsewhere.

We ended up at Kimz Galley Cafe (the copy editor in me bristled, but steady on), across the street. There were no customers inside but a couple staff walking around, so we went in. It's a bit of a challenge to find a restaurant where Rebecca can eat, with her gluten intolerance, but we checked out the menu and picked out a couple suitable items. Inside, however, a waitress informed us that it was 2:00 PM and they were closed--to iterate her point, she walked over to the front window and flipped the OPEN sign. But my cell phone indicated we had shown up at 1:40 PM. How long could it take to make a salad? Rather than argue, I asked if she could recommend any other restaurants in town, and she gave me a short list of five places within three blocks. I thanked her for her help and we set out.

I felt bad because Rebecca was declining: something in her was acting up and she really needed to just sit down and put something in her stomach. Moreover, she hates high winds and the wind today was just relentless. Not far up the road was a coffee shop, at least, so we ducked in there to get a snack before figuring out what to do next.

This was DC Brew, and I was stunned to see their selection: they had a wide line of meats (Boar's Head in particular, which I like) and cheeses, so they were quite set up to make nice sandwiches! The interior was beautiful and well-appointed, as well, so I ushered my wife to a table to rest while I got in line. There was a father and his daughter ahead of me, and off to the side an older gentleman was gauging whether I were truly in line, hoping he could get the the counter a little quicker.

But there wasn't anyone behind the counter for a minute. There were several customers seated around the premises, but it was some time before any staff manifested. When they did, it was in the form of a teenage girl who went straight to what looked like a smoothie dispenser and began trying to churn a drink out. She was in the middle of something, clearly, but there came another girl right behind her. Her job, evidently, was to hover at her coworker's shoulder and pointedly avoid glancing at the counter. The father and daughter waited, I waited, the older gent waited, but all that played out was the tableau of one girl working the smoothie machine and the other watching her with an air of anticipation. After a few minutes I collected Rebecca from her table and we hit the streets once more.

We found a health food shop nearby and tried it out, but they didn't serve food. The clerk did recommend a health food restaurant but informed us that most places close around 2:00 PM (Rebecca kept reminding me we were in the off-season for tourism). I was growing frustrated (maybe due to low blood sugar?) and was extremely reluctant to make Rebecca walk any more than was absolutely necessary. I hustled her back to the car and we started to head out of town--I stopped by Mandarin Garden, which the lady at Galley Cafe had mentioned, but they too had packed it in until the dinner rush, presumably.

Now I was irritable. This was almost as bad as driving through Buffalo, MN, which does not seem to have any restaurants whatsoever. Rebecca asked where we should try next. Darkly I informed her wherever it was, we were done with Sturgeon Bay and could surely find an open restaurant somewhere in the next 50 miles.

We did: turning off at Dyckesville into a tiny town called Luxemburg (on Sturgeon Bay Road, ironically), we found Lipsky's Firebaked Pizza & Burgers. Not only were they open, they would serve us, placing them head and shoulders above any other restaurant this day. There was only one girl working, but she worked like a little cyclone, clearing off tables, hustling food to customers, keeping everything running and in order. I tried a pizza burger (I really should have had a wood-fired pizza, in retrospect) and Rebecca got a chicken soup (carefully picking out the noodles--gluten, after all) that she really enjoyed. She told me it was what booyah tasted like, going back to an earlier conversation where I'd spotted this on a menu. Apparently it's a kind of stew, a Wisconsin-regional dish, but I'd only known it to be an intimidating cry of dominance on a basketball court or in certain social settings.

Even aside from my gratitude at finding something to eat, I was so impressed with this working girl's professionalism and effort--I'm afraid I may have overwhelmed her with the recounting of the day's misadventure, but I felt I should explain why my wife was looking so frayed and why I was so inordinately enthusiastic.

Heading back to Green Bay, Rebecca was disappointed my experience with Sturgeon Bay had not approached her golden memories of the area. She assured me it's usually much better and vowed to bring me back later in the season. I'll take her at her word and give it another try--but I'll also pack us a nice large lunch.