Hillbama vs. Romliani??

November 27, 2007

Next November may prove to be the most anticipated election in recent memory, yet…yet…I feel a certain sense of dread trying to choose from the long list of contenders that litter the current political landscape. Calling the election a conundrum of commodity would be ironic, yet fatally incorrect. There is so much choice, so much flavor, and yet it is so bland, so very simple that it can feel as if you are besting pb &j on whole grain over pb &j on wheat. both offer eternally more than the chemically-enriched white bread you have suffered for the last eight (8) years, yet neither satisfies you like a lean pastrami on rye with a generous dollop of spicy mustard and some organic greens. What’s a choice, when your options look so pedestrian?

A quip in the Boston Globe recently, attributed to the junior senator from NY, stated that she is the best option against the republicans. Imagine…your campaign tag a month from the primaries is “the best option” against the other party. Whatever happened to the days of politicking for the people? Stumping for the betterment of the constiuency? Are we simply in a battle of one party against the other? The answers, ripe for conjecture, are immaterial to this argument. The variable nature of choice will triumph over the dictate that the fourth estate espouses – which is that we have no choice.

So…we are armed with our own irrational logic – which will draft the course of our human events until 2012. What then is the path that our perversity will follow when selecting our next leader? Surely, it is not as random as an event that is simply decided at the booth? We decide, deride, sometimes hide our candidate, nay – our leader until that very final moment when the chad is punched, the box is checked, the key is pressed. As we walk away, sometimes elated & hopeful others dejected n’ unsure, we are sure of one thing – we have voted. There is something deeper here, there is something more…

I savor and yet fear the pig circus before us. Each sow struts, preens, snorts and shits out its methane-laced raison d’etre – much like the prize pig that unwittingly brings farmer Jack that blue ribbon he so covets. These candidates are no more than the silver swine that their party prostitutes for that blue ribbon. How then do we go about picking the prettiest pig? Instinct drives 90% – this much i am sure. Most of us are luddites to the subtleties that each candidate brings…the party is the key to our desires and needs. So we look for the strong, the capable, much as our ancestors did when deciding a cheiftain. This doesn’t explain how Bush presides today, however it would be arguable that he is truly stronger and more capable than Kerry (Gore is an even contest).

So as the political supermarket narrows to our standard fare of pepsi v. coke (with a possible RC cola option), how do we make that potentially life-altering decision? Personally, I feel very unsure of this next election, even in the light of the certainty of my commoditized, wonder breaded, flavorless choices that will present themselves during the first tuesday in nov. 08. Its not so much the candidates, rather the knowledge that all of this is just talk – simple lip service, much like the tripe i unraveled before you today. For even if the election is an epic struggle between the forces of HillBama vs Romliani (or substitute EdBiden v. ThomCain), I know one truth – that it is all for not! My one former truth – my one existing reality…Voting…means nothing, in fact it ultimately emasculates me. For my decision, my choice – is just background noise – pomp sans le circumstance. My future rests in a educational institution, a university – that doesn’t matriculate, and doesn’t teach its students.

I will only be happy once I see this institution dissolve, implode, devour itself a kin to the oraborus. My future and yours alike depends upon the timely and painful death of the electoral college. Then and only then, will my angst, my struggle, my ulcers heal and my vote finally be mine – as will my candidate, and ultimately my future.

Nex ut electoral contraho! Licentia ut populus!

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The Bliss of Ignorance

February 19, 2007

I have a confession to make…I like to dumpster dive. Actually, to be more specific, I have a gene, passed down from my father, and his father (and maybe for generations before them) that compulses me to stop when I see people throwing things away – and search through their items for some “treasure” that they are mistakenly disposing of.

Mind you, I have never found said treasure, nor have I felt particuraly comfortable in possessing this protein mutation that permeates my dna and forces the “what if” question whenever I see a untamed pile of rubbish. I often sheepishly go and look, sometimes even cajoling my wife into doing the “dirty” work if the crowd around the bounty is large and through my own paranoia assuming that they are watching with a disdainful eye (well – they probably are). Btw – she never gives in…and in fact has started her own reverse psychology, tantalizing/tormenting my inner bravado to go and plunder – even though her view is “hey, if they don’t want it, why the hell would I want their shit?”. Also, she feels that I am crazy for wasting my time – but that is another story for another day.

So, it should be no surprise that I decided to swoop across the street to the apartment building, who for the 6th time in the last six months is deposting a large amount of trash on the street. The first couple of times could be explained – there was a fire that pretty much gutted the top floor of the place. During those two purges, I only looked from our apartment down to see if their was anything of note in those scorched remains – realizing the bad presence (or joujou) of dd (dumpster diving) when someone else is experiencing misfortune (thankfully no one was hurt or displaced – it was small and contained, but produced a hell of a lot of garbage).

A change has occured with the last four “piles o’ treasure”. Looking down from my kitchen window, one particurally sunny Saturday morning, I felt a little giddy at the bonaza of junk suddenly accumulating. I went for a jog – doing my regular route in the chateau, and on the way back, I ‘non-chalanted’ my way over to the pile. Mind you, this is a very social thing in Versailles. There were probably 5-10 people already milling about, and many more passerbys who looked, but quickly ascertained that a stop to rifle did not justify their descension from bourgeouise-dom.

Right away, I found an old version of Operation – the game where it would buzz you as you tried to take bones out of a androgynous cadavear. Good condition, all the pieces there, and the piece de resistance…it was the french version of the game – Docteur Maboul! Literally translated, it means “a vagina doctor”. Actually, thats not true at all, but you should look it up when you have a chance.

Some other cool old mags from the 70’s and a ton of clothes. I was kind of po’d that they didn’t bring the clothes to the red cross, but after looking at them, I could see that they were in fashion between Aug 15th, 1951 and March 8th, 1952, and had a “throw-me-away” air to them.

So Dr. Maboul ended up being the big pickup, which I ran back upstairs with, to a “Oh great” (heavily weighted with sarcasm) from my wife. “More shit, huh?”

How could she say this? This was not shit, no, not at all. In fact, this was the antithesis of shit. This was …uh… a clean toilet? Anyway, I showed her it was Operation, which she did warm up to (as would anyone born between 1960 and 1980) and then showed her the mags, which also received the shit label (maybe she was right about that).

“So that belonged to the old guy?” my wife inquired. I shrugged. The old guy was a man who lived directly across from us, obviously old, who would see us through the window as he closed the shutters each night, but never acknowledge us. He was like a grandfather that we didn’t talk to.

“I don’t know. Why do you think that is his stuff?” I replied, looking over to see a lot more activity through his windows, as at least 3 people were cleaning and moving things in his apartment. “You don’t think??” I stood there looking shocked. Even though the old guy was not someone we knew, we felt like we knew him. During the summer he would have friends over and they would open the windows and play classical music. He had his routine every night at 7pm with the shutters. We would see him in the marche, and as always, he would not acknowledge us. We knew him, but we didn’t.

“I think so, hon. Maybe they moved him into a home.” I contemplated on this, and shook my head. “They probably wouldn’t be doing this type of cleaning if that was the case” I replied. “Thats too bad. We won’t have old guy to not say hello to anymore.”

Surprisingly, to me, I was disappointed. The loss (and yes – he must have passed on – his apartment is now completely empty) of this man who we didn’t know, but had a connection to, was all to real for me. The worst part about it was, looking down from the window, his legacy, for those who didn’t know him, was a large pile of trash being sifted through by his neighbors and passerbys.

I don’t doubt that there were many other memories or mementos that his family and friends were able to rescue before the purge, yet, too everyone else this was it. Actually, to most others, the passerbys, the neighbors who couldn’t see the apartment, this was probably a pre-emptive spring cleaning – nothing as extraordinary as a life passing. It was not as if this person didn’t have friends, in fact, his apartment appeared to be an active place, and the cleaning crew over the last few days was at least 4 strong.

People come and go everyday – so many so in this burgeoning populace of ours (6 billion and counting) that the number of people that we will never meet far exceeds the number that we do.  I have a separate theory which branches off that idea.  Essentially, each day of our lives, we will see a different person that we have never seen before, and that we will never see again.  So why, I keep wondering, does this one not so random person, who only existed in the shadows of my life, leave me thinking existenialist-esque (sp?) questions about what the purpose of life is.

 Now, I cannot quote Camus – in fact I only read The Stranger once 20 years ago without much recollection, but this would be an apropos time to do so.  That is my next book after Friedman’s “The World is Flat” – which doesn’t help at all now, so I digress for nothing more than digression’s sake.

 Here is the absurdity of it all.  There is a 93 year old woman in our building who we are friends with, who has shared stories of her life experiences with us (including a fascinating Christmas dinner with her family), and until yesterday, we weren’t sure if she was still with us, as her apartment had been shuttered for a month or so (normal in France when talking a vacation).  I somehow am ok with this.  I’ve met her, she has shared with us, and even if she had sadly left us, I still would have reflected and said that this woman left her mark on the world.  In fact, i would say that same sentence about many people that have come and gone, that I have never met, so clearly … this circle of life’s purpose does not need my inclusion.  No, the absurdity of it all is the happiness I felt before i realized what exactly made up that trash pile I sorted through. 

The rubbish became less than garbage to me, it became a terrible effigy for a life that had to mean more…

Sadly, I write this as if an epiphonous light has suddenly illuminated by conscious, that I am now living each day differently, but that is not the case.  The significance is lost on me, because I can’t ascertain why this one man, this person whom I never discussed great books with, or never watched the six-nations rugby tournament in the company of, or cat-called like brothers at the spandex-clad ladies jogging the streets of Paris from May to September, has made me think of what mark to make in this world.

So, like many things in life, there is no answer, there is no sitcom resolution.  The trash has been taken away, his apartment empty and shutters bound tight – yet those summer nights that music poured out of his apartment are still here.  He still walks the market on Sunday’s with the small basket of fruit that I spied numerous times on his table by the window. But he is gone…never to close the shutters once more as dusk approaches.

I guess there is some bliss in ignorance…in not knowing where the trash comes from.  I wonder if it would be different if I had met him just once?

The French vs. my personal space

February 10, 2007

It’s been 2 1/2 years and I am still not able to properly deal with the French and their infringement on my personal space. Whether walking, driving, eating, or just breathing…the French (les francais – pas les canadiens) take my personal space and make it their bitch.  This is not to say that they want my ps – they just don’t want me to have it.  Strange…no?

Let me explain…

Either by nature or nurture, there is a philosophical element ingrained, nay woven, into the social fabric that basically implies …me first – you next.  Its the same mantra that Ricky-Bobby’s peyote-popping father prophetically imparted to his son on career day, “If your not first, your last”.

The most obvious example is when you are walking on the sidewalk.  There is no concept of right or left, right of way, or even making space.  I have bumped shoulders with 80 year old women! and it was not for lack of me trying to move out of the way.   The most maddening is when a group of people are walking down the street, 4 or 5 across taking up the entire sidewalk.  I have had situations where there is a mexican stand-off (or should I say french stand-off) to go by.  They will literally stand there until you move to the side.  It is BIZARRE!

Of course, I am painting a picture of extremes.  Not every French person is this obtuse.  Unfortunately however, and maybe this is a function of living so close to Paris (being a metropolitan area),  the majority of the people in the Ile de France make no qualms about their desire to infringe upon your personal space.  I say your, as it isn’t about just me, its about everyone…be they British, Spanish, Czech, or even French. 

For example…yesterday, I went for a jog on the Chateau grounds.  The Chateau of Versailles, if you have never been, is a sprawling campus, covering 15 kilometers of prime real estate in the heart of the department 78 (aka: ‘deu-part-a-mant soi-cent-dees-wheat’).  Anyhow, I was doing a standard route of mine, the Neptune gate, up the hill to the overlook of the grand canal, and down through the canal to the Trianon and back to the center of town.  If you have Google earth, check out Versailles, it is an amazing town – one where you should be able to enjoy a leisurely run without a consitent barrage of shoulders and nudging and the unequivical need to urge “attention” (with a very french accent so it comes out ‘a-tahn-see-ohn’) every ten feet (sorry – every 3 meters).  Unfortunately, my run is just that – a battering of sharp, yet meaningless elbows and shoulders.  Sometimes, mostly in the past I would look back with a disdainful shake of the head, as if they had personally offended me.  If it was a particurally hard bump, they would also look back, saying something to the effect of watching my line (I’m still trying to figure out where my line is).

Now I would, as you can imagine, take this situation personally.  However, my sensitivity was clouded (only for a short time) by the nationalistic feelings I have for my own country.  The first thought I had was “Is it because I am an American??”  After all, all our friends and family would question us about how much the French really hated us.  If I was president, not only would everyone have to do 2 years in the military, but they would also have to live outside the US for at least a year as well (which is why I will never be pres.) – so I would never have to answer those questions again.

Getting back….After dropping the anti-Uncle Sam angle I still found myself overthinking whether or not they were able to detect the scent of hamburger and apple pie on me (better yet – budweiser and chicken wings).  After a long time searching, sometimes sitting and watching, I saw that the situation was not drawn over racial, national, religious or any other lines.  As Homer Simpson once imparted to Bart (again – more questionable fatherly advice), “Getting out of jury duty is easy.  The trick is to say your prejudiced against ALL races”. 

In short, no one is immune from the bump, the “get out of my way I OWN this sidewalk” look, or the coup d’etat – the disapproving head shake when a stand still occurs.  The stand-still is especially akward, as the resolution is typically that both of you must move aside and continue on, yet you are left feeling as if you have called their mother a bitch (which I found out is a very bad thing to say to the French!) and offended them greatly with your insolence and apparent lack of upbringing.  Don’t be offended, this would also happen with their neighbors, maybe even their families!

 Now – I could make this a very long story (some may say it already is), regaling you with all the research I did talking to my french friends and co-workers, as well as some commiserating I did with some of the many ex-pats amongst us here – to find, nay uncover, the source of their hubris.  Fortunately, I won’t subject you to this, because, eerily enough, the answer I received from all was very simple…it is a right, a raison d’etre, that each French person is entitled to at birth.  In fact, they also feel that everyone else, including the non-francais (ou les etrangers) have this right as well, although I am skeptical of that point.

This same principle is true in the workplace, or in politics, or driving, or pretty much anywhere.  It is very important that people get to express and do what they feel, without the sense of retribution that we may feel is justified in other cultures. 

SO – Its not about us….Its about them.  ALL about them.  Once you realize that…it may still be maddening, but its also kind of amusing.  Vive la France!

I ain’t goin out like that!

February 3, 2007

This story has been slowly smoothing and polishing itself since the first time I told it about 2 weeks ago. Each iteration makes me feel like Tim Roth “practicing” his cop story in Resevoir Dogs – so Fast Eddie doesn’t think he is bullsh*t.

I’m on a half-empty flight from St. Louis to Boston, sitting up in 1st thanks to a co-worker with some extra AA miles to spare. The ipod is on – something, maybe Kasabian, maybe Zeppelin making the time push by. This is my 8th day of traveling and I’m just glad to be going back to the home turf.

About an hour into the flight, it happens. To this day, I don’t know if it was a bump, a knock, a scream – but something happened. I looked up from a copy of the New Yorker – to see the guy across the aisle from me suddently jump out of his seat and run toward the front of the plane – what looked a hell of alot like a go at the cockpit. “Huh?!” – my brain is still on song 17 of 90 in the “Let it Be” playlist – and honestly, maybe he just had to go – ’cause sometimes when you have to go, you have to go.

Well things took a turn for the worse when the guy sitting next to me – the 250lb comic book store regular reading a Dr. Who novella and slightly resembling something out of the bar from the first Star Wars – jumps out of his seat – running right toward the guy from across the aisle. “HOLY SHIT” – I’m now sweating on the inside. What motivated the sci-fi manatee next to me to move like that? I start to unbuckle my seat belt – but I’m confused – what the hell am I doing!?

It is amazing how much shit can go through your head in the course of 10 seconds. Is something going down??? I am not letting this happen. I start thinking in roundhouses and jabs. there is going to have to be a beat down – instead of this plane going down.

But – i’m still sitting – why am i not getting up?? – its strange – I have this invisible hand (no offense Adam Smith) holding me back – showing some restraint. I poke my head out into the aisle to see if I can get a glimpse of what is going on -when suddenly the guy behind Jabba goes running for the front. This dude was like George Foreman back when he had a Bob Ross-esque Afro (it was a pretty little afro, there on top of his big noggin). As my uncle once said -“when foreman fought ali – he was built like a brick shithouse, now he just looks like uncle fester”.

the bob rossfro v. George Foreman 'Fro

Now suddenly, the stakes are higher – and f&*k this – but I ain’t goin out like that! if this plane is in trouble – I am taking trouble into my own hands.

Now mind you – I’ve been in three, maybe four altercations in my life, the last in 9th grade behind the basketball courts with less than adequate results. But, now I am older, and I do weights at the gym, and there is that “going psycho” factor that I pretty much rely upon for situations such as this.

So … 3 guys have rushed the front…the rest of us are looking around dumbfounded and I start to get out of my seat. “What I am going to do??” “Should I rush the front?” Then it comes to me – “don’t think – just do”. Thats it…the seat belt is unfastened, I’m up, when the call comes over the intercom


Now I am in motion (no my name is not Greg) – I’m out of the seat – just getting into the aisle when the steward comes rushing past me at top speed. I now get my first glimpse of the front…Strange – cockpit is closed – fuck – maybe they are in there after the pilot. I try to think what the guys looked like? Did they fit the “profile”? Fuck – what was the profile??

Then I seen to the side of the cockpit the three guys – and the steward. Who the hell put in the distress call?? Were these guys trying to open the door and was that the pilot on the intercom??

I’m frozen…seriously frozen. Then it happens. The three guys turn to go back to their seats…

“Whaaa…what happened” Its all I manage to spit out. I sit back down, followed by the hairless Chewbacca, and searching, pleading for an explanation – I get…”she burned herself”.

“Who? Who burned – what burned?” I realize I am blurting now, looking wild-eyed for answers from the sci-fi samauri. He pauses, looks over and responds – “the stewardess, burned herself on something”. He seems catatonic – like this really affected him. I turn back for another question but stop.

That’s it…she burned herself on something. At this point I want more, but I ain’t asking the dude sitting next to me for answers – he is definitely wierded out. So I calm myself down, throw back on the head phones and sit distracted, trying to get a glimpse up front.

About 15 minutes later, the commotion is still up front, so I decide to climb around Chewie and make my way for the bathroom at the back of the plane just to get up and walk. On the way back to my seat, who do I run into…but the scorched stewardess (uh – bad one)…

Helen (yes – her real name) was actually a matronly sweetheart of a lady and told me the story of what happened. Seems that Helen was cooking some soup in the microwave, and as she left the top on, it exploded on her when she tried to remove it. So with scalding soup on her arm and her face (this has to be the unexplainable incident that happened – but she swore she didn’t yell), the man in the aisle across from me jumped to her aid as he had a direct view of her falling to the ground.

Han Solo, seeing the guy jump – had the same thought as me and acted on it. Same with the white George Foreman – magnamiously trying to save us all. So why did they stop, and why did the distress call go in??

Helen, blushing, responds sheepishly, “well….it was tomato soup, and….you know…it kind of looks like blood.” At this point, I’m confused, travel-weary and must look like some type of savant because she then puts her hand on my forearm, and pedantically explains “they thought I was bleeding dear”.

“Ah…crazy”I respond,visualizing the situation now. “They just froze when the saw me, so I had to call Greg – sorry he is the steward to come help, because those three were frozen”

“Poor Greg, we have been flying together for years. He comes running up the aisle – and see’s three large men standing over a ‘bloody’ me…”

“Holy Shit, Holy shit…” its all I can manage, standing there wide-eyed in shock.

I know – that’s the way I felt as well. Anyway, Greg thinks that one of the guys had stabbed me, but like them, was too much in shock to do anything. So, it was up to little old me to tell them all it was tomato soup and that I just got burned. After that, they just turned and sat down.”

“This is a Seinfeld episode” I add, which she smiles blankly at.

“The worst part, is that I burned the cookies I was making for you.” She seems sad at this recollection.

“She has to be joking”, I think to myself, “she has to be joking”.

“I think we are all glad that your ok. Actually, are you ok?” I don’t know anything of the burns, but the conversation we are having is almost jovial, and it is keeping me off guard as to her injuries.

“Oh – thank you dear – I’m fine, just more scary than anything else”.

“yeah… for me to.” I say giving her a wink.

And there it is…my grandmother, reincarnated as a stewardess, gets scalded and every guy on the plane thinks he is Wesley Snipes, ala Passenger 57.

passenger 57

However, in reality, we are more like a deer caught in the headlights. Unsure if he should run, or charge, he simply stands still. (My Jerry Springer “final thought”).


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