Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

In honor of the holiday, I'm watching the M*A*S*H movie, and stir-frying some chicken and veggies. Last year, I spend the holiday wandering around DC with a friend, along with thousands of WWII vets - the last gathering of WWII vets of that size, or so they said on the news. There was also a horde of Harley Davidsons circling up and down Constitution Avenue - Vietnam vets. I love Harleys - and that was loud and fun.

This year, since I haven't observed anything particularly Memorial Day-like in Ann Arbor, I feel compelled to post the lyrics to one of my favorite, and most morbid, patriotic American songs, The Ballad of the Green Beret:

Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Berets

Silver wings upon their chests
These are men, America's best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Trained to live off nature's land
Trained to combat hand-to-hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage taken from the Green Beret

Silver wings upon their chests
These are men, America's best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her this last request

Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret.

Friday, May 27, 2005

First Torts Assignment

The professor was kind enough to email us the first Torts assignment. Class doesn't start until next week, so that's a nice heads up.

Of course, being enthusiastic about resuming classes, I immediately read the first assignment. Vosburg v. Putney, a scintillating case from 1891. I suddenly see my mom's point, that she so delicately made at dim sum when my parents were in New York - "Common law sucks!" Indeed, so far, the few cases that have been mentioned in the textbook are all stupid decisions. I just don't think of things that way.

So Vosburg v. Putney is about a kid who gets kicked in the leg (gently) by a fellow classmate in school. He ends up getting a horrible infection and losing the use of his leg. Now, he had a previous injury to that leg that easily could have caused the damage that the subsequent kick merely aggravated. Also, the kid who kicked him clearly didn't mean for him to lose the use of his leg. Nevertheless, all these different courts find that he has to pay the injured kid damages.

Next case I read that stood out - Mohr v. Williams. This is about a woman who has to have surgery on her ear. The doctor discovers while she's under anaesthetic that her right ear (which he is supposed to operate on) is much less damaged than her left ear - so he operates on her left ear, successfully. She claims that this surgery caused serious loss of hearing and sues the doctor. She wins. Now, needless to say, had he not operated on that ear, she would have probably lost all of her hearing and may have suffered considerably more damage since it was in a horrible shape. But no, the doctor operated on her other ear without her consent, so he has to pay.

I can see the long-term importance of these decisions - otherwise doctors could amputate the wrong leg and you wouldn't have a lot of recourse - but I feel really bad for the defendants in these cases.

I'm not going to make snap judgements, but I really don't much like torts so far. It had better get more exciting and start throwing in references to Russian energy, Central Asia, the Caucasus and the world politics or I'll be pretty pissy this semester.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

In Ann Arbor

To my few regular readers (I know who you are now thanks to Statcounter) - sorry it's been a while, but I've been moving into my new apartment in Ann Arbor.

I will have more updates later.

Meanwhile - I just watched the last episode for the season of the best show of this season - House. Beyond the fact that the writing has been incredibly tight, the show has featured the insanely hot Hugh Laurie, and the plots have been interesting, the season managed to end with the Rolling Stones song "You can't always get what you want."

I don't normally endorse TV shows, but House manages to walk the tightrope of medical drama and soap opera without falling into any of the traps of ER or any of those other horrible hospital shows.

Oh, and did I mention that Hugh Laurie is gorgeous? Woof woof, it's sausage time!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Black Power!

Not only is today Malcolm X's birthday, but it is his 80th birthday, had he lived.

I hit the streets of Harlem with my camera, looking to see how this day was celebrated. The first thing I noticed was the sheer number of people in the streets. Many of the stores were closed and people wandered around in traditional African garb. From a street vendor near to a marching crowd of celebrants, I bought a T-shirt with a picture of Malcolm X on the front framed by the word 'remember.' In the back is a quote from Malcolm X: "The blackman in America will never be respected until he respects and protects the black woman!"

The rally was not only peaceful, but surprisingly the rhetoric of the speaker reflected a sense of tolerance rather than the traditional discourse of 'down with the white man.' Nevertheless, there were some old school Black Panthers, and the rally was about Black Power. Fists were pumped. Slogans were yelled. And it felt really empowering. I had to restrain myself from pumping my fists and yelling.

There weren't a lot of people there. But the message was a good one. Times have changed - people may have once closed stores around here out of fear, now they do it more out of respect. Today there aren't enough angry black people left in Harlem to be a real presence. Today, Harlem is watered down, gentrifying, and getting soft. This isn't all bad. But sometimes it is important to remember those who struggled for the empowerment of black people in America - not just the peaceful Martin Luther Kings, but also the more militant activists such as Malcolm X.

Those of us who weren't alive in those times cannot fathom what it was like to be black in America in the 1950s and 1960s. It is important to be reminded of the long and difficult road black people have had to walk down to be recognized as equals to white people. And the struggle for equality still continues today.

Malcolm X and Me

Today is Malcolm X's birthday. How do I know this? Because outside my window, somewhere on 125th St. a man is yelling about black power, the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X's birthday. Sure enough, I look this up, and indeed, May 19th is Malcolm X's birthday.

Malcolm X is an important figure in black history. His membership in the Nation of Islam and subsequent conversion after his 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca to orthodox, traditional Islam represent an alternative path to Martin Luther King's nonviolence, but also reflect a maturation process and a transcending of the purely militant black identity that Malcolm X adopted as a part of the Nation of Islam. Like Martin Luther King, he was assassinated, but unlike Martin Luther King, it was by black men, members of the Nation of Islam who were angry at his departure from the movement.

I remember reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X at a fairly young age. I was fascinated. As a white kid growing up abroad I knew nothing about the Nation of Islam and militant black movements of the 1960s. But Malcolm X was a compelling figure. He evolved. To the white community, he wasn't this mythical, venerated figure like Martin Luther King. He was more gritty. More real. And in some ways, odd as that seems, more like me. I saw something of myself in Malcolm X, and I admired the honesty of his autobiography (although it was written by Alex Haley, it is a very insightful and bluntly honest look into Malcolm X's life). He faced life head on. He changed when he felt change was necessary. And that made him somewhat like me. Even with the carbine, and the militancy, and his clear dislike for people like me.

Monday, May 16, 2005

99 true stories about New York (Part II of III)


The cavepeople are naked. The cavewoman has hairy breasts. I giggle. The caveman looks spectacularly dense. In another display, a hairy naked cavewoman chews on a piece of raw animal skin. I feel like breaking through the glass, capturing them and placing them in a real forest. They seem constricted, claustrophobic under that glass. I know how they feel. Sometimes New York gets to me too.


I buy a large Spanish-English/English-Spanish dictionary, a copy of Motorcycle Diaries in Spanish, and two Gabriel Garcia Marquez books in Spanish. Spanish is the language of the future for America. I must learn it. I make it through the introduction of Motorcycle Diaries before I abandon my linguistic studies for a less hectic time. Patria o muerte, I say. Hasta la victoria siempre. But right now, I’m too focused on New York.


Most of the time I don’t notice that I stick out in my neighborhood. Some days, though, particularly during the week when the weather is nicer and everyone is out on the streets, I suddenly feel very blonde and realize that I’m the only white person around. This elicits a sense of elation. I love being different.


One thing that makes New York less livable than DC is the lack of squares/circles. Logan Circle, Thomas Circle, Dupont Circle – DC is full of circles. Columbia Circle, Union Square – sure, there are such things in Manhattan, but for a city the size of New York, there is a definite dearth of circles/squares. Freud would probably accuse me of wanting to return to the womb with my desire to be surrounded by things in a comforting, spacious environment. I just think I’m a tad bit claustrophobic.


I agree with my boss who says that the Gates look like a huge series of Home Depot advertisements. Same color. Ugly. But while I am at the Metropolitan Museum one afternoon, I realize what this project is about. It isn’t art in the conventional sense – it’s social art – in a city where money determines your eligibility to the snobby art circles, the Gates deconstruct all class, race and social boundaries. Poor people have opinions on the Gates just as much as art snobs, and their opinions are just as good. I watch the people milling around in Central Park and see an incredibly successful social experiment, where public art has captivated the attention of a jaded city and set everyone to talking. Flocks of people are meandering Central Park in the dead of winter. I suddenly see a flicker of genius in Christo’s project.


They are tearing down the building across from my boss’s office. Gradually, brick by brick, they expose more of Central Park and the buildings beyond it. With that exposure, however, comes the knowledge that they will build it back up, into a newer, bigger, better building, brick by brick, until the view is gone again.


I convince my parents to buy me a beautiful giant white fox hat in Brighton Beach. I wear it all the way home on the subway, a ridiculously absurd figure in jeans, an orange jacket and a big white fur hat.


Most of the time the West Village annoys me, with its trendy hipsters, expensive restaurants, and feeling of forced revelry. Tonight, however, I like the Village, as we sit in a spacious and uncrowded Spanish restaurant, with heaping piles of food, multiple bottles of wine, and none of that rushed feeling that accompanies so many New York dining experiences. We’ve got time. The waiters have time. And there are plenty of empty tables.


On the weekend, 125th St. becomes a jumble of street vendors hawking incense, pirated DVDs, fresh fruit and books. The Nation of Islam folks are always out in full force too, selling their own books and haranguing against whitey. I love weekends in my neighborhood. By Monday, most of the vendors have packed up for the week. Next to our building, however, a tiny stall is manned by a lone figure, seemingly oblivious to the people walking by, who makes no effort to distribute his Lyndon La Rouche material. His dejection is palpable. Clearly, he realizes the futility of his cause.


New York is a great social lesson. It’s hard to live where I do and not gain a new appreciation for the working poor. It’s hard to see people forced out of neighborhoods as they get ‘gentrified’ and have to find lodging farther and farther away from Manhattan. It’s hard to see the projects right by you and not feel like something should be changed. Social justice stops sounding like aimless liberal drivel and begins to take on real meaning, particularly when juxtaposed with the hyper-rich folks elsewhere in Manhattan who walk their tiny dogs and dress them in little Burberry coats, because $100 is meaningless to them. I read Che and the subway and get angry. I realize I am part of the problem.


A few weeks ago I went with them to look at apartments in Brooklyn. They were talking about buying. Now they don’t even know if they’re getting married. Kurt Vonnegut said it best – And so it goes.


Carl Sandburg could write a poem that captured the essence of Chicago. No one could say it better. He defined the city. Hog Butcher for the World. Tool Maker. Stacker of Wheat. New York defies definition. I find myself unable to encapsulate my own experiences of New York into a briefly definable list of terms. That’s because New York is everything and anything you want it to be. Standing on my roof, I take a last drag off my cigarette and look out towards the lighted windows of the projects across the street.


We’re working on emails when my boss turns to me. “Maybe you should get married, in Arkansas or something, the Arkansas way, with the flowery skirt, barefoot, have six kids and work for me. How does that sound?” I’ve only been working there a month and I’m still wary of this Christian gig.

”Somehow that's not what I envisioned as my future career,” I say.

”What do you envision?” he asks. “I can see you as one of those lady swimmers - the ones who swim all together, in a group, and kick their legs in the air like this” (he gestures at this point, making scissoring motions with his fingers), “with the swim caps. You know what I mean?”

”Yeah, no,” I say flatly. “I'm not a very good swimmer, so I don't think so.”


I’ve never paid much attention to religious things. All at once, though, I am swamped by a barrage of religious imagery on my subway rides – homeless men preaching, gospel singers singing at the subway stop, people praying and crossing themselves on the subway. When you’re not looking, it’s not there. When you are it’s everywhere.


I stand at the 34th St. subway station, waiting for the D train. An effeminate black man dances, shaking every part of his body. He has no headphones. There is no music playing. He has a wild look in his eyes. He’s on something. Or just crazy. Some kids throw their trash at him and taunt him. His look of desperation and sadness deepens. He keeps dancing.


He buys me a beer. Goes back to talking with his friends. He buys me another one. They keep coming. Finally, I approach him and ask him what his name is. We start talking, him in his broken English, me in my slightly hyper tone. We talk for hours. I remind myself that he is a person, not just an anthropological study. Sometimes I lose track of that and am reminded of something someone once said about girls who seek out a variety of different men. He called them anthropologists. I don’t want to be one of them.


It’s my last day at work. Over the past few months I’ve grown from mockery of my job and the people at it to a certain respect. I get a call from my boss to come to his office. They usher me into the conference room. The entire floor has gathered for my surprise farewell party, and I receive presents. I do not expect this. My boss praises me effusively. I ask to say a few words.

“As some of you have probably figured out,” I say, “I’m not a particularly religious person. I was a bit worried when I took this job, through the temp agency. I didn’t know what to expect. What was a Christian organization going to be like? But everyone has been so immensely nice to me here, and so opening and welcoming, that I have had a wonderful few months. You have all been wonderful to work with and have restored some of my faith in Christianity. Thank you for this experience and for being such great people.”

And as I say it, I realize that I truly mean it. That is the most shocking moment of my stay in New York.


January 1, 2005 doesn’t dawn. Dawn is a soft, delicate word, associated with happy, fuzzy things, and puppies. January 1, 2005 steamrolls over me. It whips me. It buffets me. It catches me up in a tidal wave of nausea and lets me crashing down on jagged rocks of anguished pain. I know for sure now that mixing cheap champagne and vodka in the same glass was a horrible idea.


My boss tells me about his past. He tells me about smoking pot. About getting an older gay friend stoned for the first time. About a girl who was really into him and who swore she had never really had sex, even though she was pregnant. He tells me about his bad acid trip, and how he was eating licorice and it stuck in his throat like a giant pulsating worm, and how the people at the convenience store he went to turned into playing cards. Then we get back to working on emails.


I try to order the pastries by name, but although the pastries at the Hungarian Pastry Shop are authentically Hungarian, the clerks aren’t. Eventually I resort to pointing. They place the pastries in a white box. I watch them tie up my box of pastries with lengths of string, pulled from an old-fashioned metal dispenser that hangs from the ceiling.


“My son wanted to join the marines,” the chief mover tells me as he works his way through my inventory. “My father talked him out of it. He was in the marines. I was in the marines. At first I said sure, enlist, it’s not a bad thing. But my father said no way – talked my son out of it. It used to be a good thing. Isn’t anymore. If we didn’t have a bird-brain for a president it could still be a good thing. Hell, we wouldn’t even be in Iraq.”


The puppy stares out of the bag. This is no pampered pedigree bitch. It’s a dark mottled mutt. The puppy is wide-eyed but patient as the subway rattles and shakes.


I sometimes feel as if I spend most of my time underground. I’m developing a hallmark trait of the consummate New Yorker – the ability and willingness to discuss and weigh the merits and disadvantages of all of the possible subway routes to get to a certain destination.


Advertisement on the subway: Say what you will about wage slavery thwarting your self-actualization. You had a damn good health insurance plan. Health insurance and other benefits for today’s mobile workforce. Join now. – It’s time for a new “New Deal”


My boss tells me about his evening in the bar and a young lady there with friends who had a high-pitched, loud irritating voice. “I said to her, as I was leaving the bar: ‘Young woman, you have a voice that could drive a witch to suicide.’”


Spring has sprung in New York. I can no longer see through Central Park across to the other side through the naked branches. Instead, there is an explosion of bright green, only slightly mitigated by the ever-present black grime of New York. In a few weeks the colors will fade, but for now, the new leaves express their exuberant photosynthesis in bright, new colors.


A big ugly fly sits next to me on the couch. It’s the sort of fly that lives on farms, feeding on cow and horse dung. It’s the sort of fly that belongs in a zoo. I’m not sure where it came from. I watch it rub its front two legs together, then rub its face with them, in a universal fly ritualistic washing action. Then it rubs its back two legs together. It seems lost.


Brunch is the cornerstone of New York weekend life. Everyone does brunch. It’s the thing to do. We do brunch at a Belgian place. Everyone else orders omelets and waffles. I order the mussels cooked in white wine with french fries and beer. Long after everyone is done eating, I am still picking the tiny fragrant mussels out of their shells.


Some people have heroin. I have Strand. I fall in love with Strand when I discover a book by Trotsky about Lenin, in English in a 1920something edition for $10. I probably will never read it but it is unusual and has a place on my shelf. On a later visit, I find books by Nazarbaev and Karimov, the presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan respectively. I add to my ever-growing collection of used books, mesmerized by the never-ending, ever-changing selection. It’s an addiction.


Row upon row of gleaming chunks of meat glisten in the chill air of the cold room. It’s enormous, a vision of bloody butchery. Most grocery stores have a refrigerator section. Fairway has a cold room, with large, swinging doors that open into a seemingly never-ending vista of all types of meats, fish, and cold cuts. I buy ten pounds of beef and resist the urge to buy smoked pig trotters, smoked turkey necks, and beautiful big porterhouse steaks.


The girl at the laundromat knows me now. I’m the lone blonde girl. I also always have close to twenty pounds of laundry. I know the girl at the Laundromat. She has a dark pigmentation stain on the side of her face, marring an otherwise lovely complexion. She also often lacks change. I run across the street to the grocery store and buy a drink. She waits with my receipt, ready to write PAID on the top and send me on the way while she washes, dries, folds and carefully places my laundry in my laundry bag.


It’s the first beautiful day of pre-spring, and I walk home through Central Park. Unfortunately, so does the rest of New York. Or more precisely, the rest of the city seems to be out in full-force, mostly jogging, but also rollerblading, power-walking, and bicycling. There is very little meandering, and I wonder if this is the problem with New York. Even in Central Park, where people clearly are less focused on getting from point A to point B, no one takes time to ramble with leisure and most eyes are focused not on the trees and rocks, but on the ground beneath their feet.


I stand in line for White Castle behind an assortment of old toothless men, women with screaming children, and the occasional bum. The smell of steamed burgers permeates the air. I’m up. “Sack of ten cheeseburgers, large fries and large chicken rings,” I say. Life is perfect.

(To be continued...)

Friday, May 13, 2005

99 true stories about New York (Part I of III)

I've lived in New York for a tube and a half of toothpaste. That's how I measure time best, since my toothpaste consumption habit is the most constant thing in my life. My tube is almost empty now, and I’m getting ready to leave this great city for law school in Michigan.

When I moved here, with my half-empty tube of toothpaste, I wasn’t quite sure how New York my New York experience would be. One of the great things about this ever moving, never resting city, is that everyone’s New York is different. My New York manages to dart between the clichés, never quite getting trapped by them and etching out its own, relatively unbeaten path.


New York – the melting pot. Only, the term melting pot is too mundane. It sounds like something on a kitchen stove. In reality, New York is a crucible, a furnace, the fiery pit of Mount Doom, squelching humanity of all sorts into a tapestry (frayed and bloody in places) that runs both above ground and underground. At the same time, New York is a tossed salad, only again, the metaphor fails. Tossed salad implies all different species cohabiting under the same salad dressing. New York is more of a giant jar of jelly beans, with all different flavors, the beans protected from losing their flavor by their hard sugary shell, until the furnace melts them down into a big, sticky lump. We’re all people, after all.

The crucible of New York is most visible underground. Hot, smelly, dirty, throbbing—people lose class, ethnic, religious and racial differences when they’re all experiencing the same thing, taking the subway from wherever it is they’re at, to wherever it is they’re going. I love the subway system. I also use it a lot. It’s the most New York thing about New York.


Subways lend themselves well to internal soundtracks. I’ve always been attached to my portable music, but on the subways it becomes a religion. I carefully select what I listen to based on what I want to see in the faces of the people around me.


I take a subway home one night. It’s a Friday or a Saturday night, after 1. Most of the people are drunk. After we pull out of 59th St., someone lights up a cigarette in the subway car and starts smoking. No one says anything. I smile and bop my head to my music.


I take a subway out to Brighton Beach with my parents on Saturday afternoon. The subway runs above ground in Brooklyn. We get on the subway at U street. “Smells like skunk,” my mom says, wrinkling her nose. “That ain’t skunk. It’s the finest government-issued, government-approved chronic,” says a man in the corner of the car, taking a toke off his joint. We move to the other end of the car. He rants and raves about the Russian mafia, and how they’re pushing everyone else out of Brooklyn. “The Russian mob,” he says fervently, “they’ll kill you three times before you even hit the ground.” Then he starts trying to kick out the doors and windows of the subway car.


I’m taking the subway home, dressed all in black, with a spiked leather collar and big black platform boots. A similarly dressed twentysomething man sits down across from me. He has some pitchfork-looking sign tattooed on his chin, and an ugly skull with a spider web around it tattooed all over his left hand. His bottom lip has two lip rings in it. He’s overweight, pasty, and clearly very serious about his appearance. I listen to music. We get to the 59th St. stop. The man in black gets up, and as he’s walking out, hands me a card. It’s a tattoo parlor card, and on the back he’s written his name and number. I’ve been hit on, entirely based on my dress. The shallowness makes me giggle.


I will forever associate New York’s subway system with Che Guevara and the soundtrack of the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. For a period of several weeks, I read Che on the subway and listen to the soundtrack, over and over again. There is something soothing about David Bowie sung in Portuguese when you’re reading about guerilla campaigns.


The first rat I see in New York is either at 125th St. or 34th St. – I don’t remember which now. It’s a fairly large rat. I don’t mind rodents. No one else in New York really seems to mind them either. The rat scuttles across and under the tracks and disappears.


The first raccoon I see in New York is in Central Park, right across from the Natural History museum. It sits in a tree, peering at people, trying desperately to look like a koala. People stop, stare and take pictures. It might as well be a koala.


It’s January or February, I think. It’s supposed to snow all day. Already, the snow falls constantly and regularly. I’ve decided to walk from 125th St. to 3rd St. In the snow. I bundle up until I look like the kid brother from A Christmas Story and head out armed with my mp3 player and headphones. Charles Mingus escorts me through the soft, white snow, a perfect wintery accompaniment. Ice and snow encrust my eyebrows, eyelashes and exposed hair. I begin to garner stares. Everything is magical when white, coated with a temporary radiantly ethereal beauty. Every moment seems frozen, every scene a tableau. I always dreamt of New York like this. This afternoon, it is perfect. A scene from Fisher King enters my head as I feel like humming “I love New York in June,” only it’s not June and I’m thankfully not naked in Central Park.


New York has a Communist bookstore. It’s one of the first places I go by myself in New York. It’s called Revolution, and the man behind the counter is grizzled and paunchy, and a fervent Communist. I’m just looking for some Che Guevara. I’ve searched everywhere else. He doesn’t seem to like Che much. He’s more of a Sovietist – a Leninist-Marxist-Stalinist. I chat with him for a while, then I leave. I can’t help but think that he would have very different views on the Soviet system if he’d ever actually been there.


Bobby Burns night I get belligerently drunk. What do you expect? It’s a celebration of a Scottish poet, and everyone knows about Scots and their drink. I also read several poems in a drunk Scottish accent, until I am bodily removed from the center of attention, or so they say. I don’t quite remember. I’m no timorous, cowering beastie, though! So I pick a fight with one of my best friends. Seems like a really good idea at the time.


I get drunk enough at the Russian Vodka Room that I’m shoveling salmon caviar down my throat. I like caviar about as much as my cat likes going to the vet. Which is to say, I really don’t like caviar. But by this point I’ve consumed enough vodka to thoroughly numb my mouth and throat, and my liver has begun exuding vodka fumes through my skin. The caviar is salty. That’s about all I can tell. I then apparently engage in lively conversation with the young men at the table next to me about folk music and Russian music in general. Oddly enough, I have no recollection of this the next morning.


“Are you sure you don’t have any amphetamines?” my boss asks. For the hundredth time I shake my head and say “no, I don’t,” and smile.


We watch Kontroll, a Hungarian movie about the Budapest subway system. We are at the Angelika, and every now and then the floor grumbles ominously as a subway passes underneath. On screen, the Budapest metro hurtles through dark tunnels. It’s almost a sensory overload.


The documentary is about deep sea life, and we don’t realize until we get to the IMAX theater that it is in 3D. The strange looking ribbon-like creatures swim towards us, almost close enough to touch. Looking around, we’re a bunch of dorks, stoners, kids, and parents, with silly-looking glasses perched on our noses.


Although my headphones are on and I’m reading Mao’s book on guerilla warfare, the young man next to me on the subway begins to talk to me. I take my headphones off. He looks at my book and tells me that he likes Mao. He is Chinese and his English is accented, but he has clearly been in the U.S. a while. “Mao had a great sense of humor,” he tells me. “He was also a brilliant leader – do you know the story of how he crossed the river several times to throw the enemy off his tracks?” I smile and nod and try desperately not to mention the Cultural Revolution as a clear manifestation of Mao’s humor.


We’re at dim sum at the Golden Unicorn in Chinatown. My mom has never had good dim sum before, and I’ve managed to recruit my friends to bask in the weirdness that is my parents. We eat and eat and eat – my mom insists on ordering just about everything in sight, and multiple plates of it. But still, she wants duck. There is no duck to be found. Just as I’m suggesting that we get the check since we’re all stuffed, she dives out of her chair, and reemerges with a plate of duck. How she knew that the cart behind her had, among its other things, a single plate of duck, I will never know, but at long last, she is content.


“Do you like to be dominated?” he asks me in the bar. “You look like you like to be dominated.” He’s wearing an argyle sweater and his eyes have a cold, dead edge to them. I disengage and tactically maneuver myself so that I am surrounded by larger males. Luckily this is a Fark party, and I receive plenty of backup. The sleaze eventually leaves, ignored by everyone and blocked out of conversations.


A young black man gets on the subway as I’m riding home late one night. I have my headphones on, but he seems to be addressing the tired crowd. I pause the music. He’s reciting a poem. About being black, about the Harlem Renaissance, about Orpheus, about literature in general. Unlike the clichéd break-dancers, he offers a snippet of culture to the passengers. I’d give him money as he comes through looking for donations but it’s my stop and I’m broke.


Subway cars often have warning signs – don’t stand too close to the edge, report all suspicious objects, etc. This is one I haven’t seen before. It shows a muscular, tall young black man holding on to the outside of the subway car. “This may be his last ride,” it says, or something to that effect. I am mesmerized and suddenly want to seek out these joy-riders. I wonder how many young people are inspired rather than discouraged by this particular warning. Personally, I’d think showing a mangled corpse on the sign would be more effective.


I used to work in a lab where I killed and dissected mice on a regular basis. Rodents simply don’t bother me. So when we discover that we have a mouse problem in our apartment, I shrug it off. Until I go to brush my teeth one Saturday night at 2:30 am, somewhat drunk. There, on the corner of the sink counter is a little tiny brown mouse. At this point I am wearing a towel. Nothing else. But this is too good of an opportunity to let go. So I grab the mouse by the tail and pick it up.

The mouse squirms. I feel elation, and a feline sense of pride. The logical thing to do is to exit the bathroom, clinging to the towel with one hand and the mouse with the other and shout. I yell at my housemates to come see. We have visitors sleeping on the couch. They’re quickly woken up. I must seem like a mad apparition, dangling this mouse while wearing a towel and yelling. One housemate finally emerges. I ask him for chopsticks. At this point he hesitates, and I wonder if he’s torn between calling the psychiatric hotline or handing me the chopsticks.

Curiosity prevails. I am given the chopsticks. Still clinging to my towel, I place the mouse on the floor, take a chopstick, put it behind its neck, and pull the tail. The swiftest, most humane way to kill a mouse. Unfortunately, since I am a tad bit intoxicated, I doubt my killing skills – after all, the mouse is still reflexively twitching. So I repeat the process, a number of times, until the fur begins to rub off the poor mouse’s neck. At this point I put it in the trash and get ready for bed, feeling invisible whiskers twitching on my face.


I am not a morning person. I stand blearily in the shower, unwilling to admit that I have to get ready for work. That’s when I notice the cockroach sharing the tub with me. I watch it scuttle off behind a shampoo bottle. I finish showering, get out, and get dressed. It’s too early to be annoyed by roaches.


I finally understand what my alcoholic deceased great-aunt’s ‘stomach flu’ was all about. Aunt Betty’s stomach flu, we call it in my family. She frequently complained of mysterious stomach ailments, usually after a long night of drinking. That last mojito was probably one too many, I think, and promptly vomit into the toilet again.


I stare at people on the subway a lot. One time, I stare at this guy who is reading Dostoevsky’s Brother Karamazov. He is almost done. I want to start talking to him, but then I notice the wedding ring.


Much of the time, I think. I think about religion, politics, philosophy, life. I think about abstracts in concrete terms and concretes in abstract terms. The sprawling network of life that is New York is a mere shadow compared to the sprawl of the internet. Home is where the computer is. Nothing more.


I’m on my roof smoking when the oppressive feeling hits me for the first time – that feeling of narrowing space and endless buzzing. It hits me out of the blue, just as I take a drag off my smoke. There are buildings everywhere. And in each of those buildings, there are people. Everywhere I turn. Smelly, ugly, dirty people. I go to a peaceful place in my mind, a childhood spot of tranquility and nature. And by focusing on that spot, I am able to move beyond the oppression, although the crushing weight of a headache slowly descend on me.


The middle aged gay couple behind me complains throughout the concert about the dissonance of Ronnefeld. Every time instruments tune, they make the same tired quip about it sounding like a continuation of Ronnefeld’s pieces. I want them to hear themselves, but they are engrossed in their supposed witticisms.


I dream that I’m at Shaman Drum in Ann Arbor where Bob Dylan is signing his autobiography. In my dream, we start making out. The alarm wakes me up over and over again, but unwilling to let go, I postpone it and slip back into his embrace.


I don’t take photographs in New York. It’s all been captured a thousand times before. The image will be a stilted, artificial mockery of New York. New York moves constantly. There are always people, cars, trains, neon signs – my photography cannot capture this. Only my mind can.


There is a moment in every transplant to New York’s life when they realize they have stopped being tourists and suddenly feel like New Yorkers. It’s an epiphany when it happens. Hits you like a ton of bricks, and forever after you can point to that one specific moment and say ‘THAT – that instant is the moment when I first felt like a New Yorker.” For me that instant comes when I realize that I know what Dumbo is.


I’ve always wanted to see the Chinese New Year parade. And here I am, in Chinatown, stuffed with dim sum, the multi-legged dragon dancing down the street in front of me. Scruffy floats with bored looking passengers make their way behind the dragon. Kids set off confetti cannons in the crowded streets. We get caught in a maelstrom of people and are literally turned around and around, not going forward or backward, the eye of an exuberant storm. The motion becomes a blur as I suddenly feel like a motionless whirling dervish.


“See that,” my boss says, pointing at a picture of a young man in a motocross race. “That’s me. Would you believe it? Look at that long hair. And the motorcycle.” He chuckles. I believe it. That’s why we get along, my boss and I. He’s seen the world – the ups, the downs, the sinful and the wicked. He’s found the road to redemption, but his past is a large part of who he is and he has opted to embrace it rather than deny it. He’s a true Christian. We get along well.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

One man's terrorist... the CIA's 'freedom fighter'.

The hypocrisy of the recent revelation that Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban suspected of blowing up a Cuban airliner in 1976, was in fact a CIA informer lies in the juxtaposition between the U.S. government's unwaivering commitment to bringing terrorists to justice and its purported ignorance of his whereabouts.

Luis Posada Carriles is an illegal immigrant. He snuck over the border into the U.S. a number of weeks ago and is seeking political asylum. A New York Times editorial strongly advocates refusing him political asylum in the U.S. in the name of justice for the 73 victims of the bombing. Other U.S. papers have made similar editorial comments. Of course, the Cuban press is having a field day with this, and Castro is expected to make a statement against terrorism. He has also called for mass protests in Cuba over this issue. Oh the irony.

President Bush has made it abundantly clear in numerous speeches that the U.S. does not support terrorists of any ilk. We are supposedly committed to bringing them to justice. But somehow, 73 Cuban lives are just not the same thing as 73 American lives. And somehow, acts of violence against Castro aren't really terrorism, but more 'freedom fighting.' After all, Castro is a grave threat against the U.S. at this juncture, with his wily insidious Communist ways...of course, by ignoring Carriles' past actions, the U.S. is boosting Castro's image, which had been fading with his health.

It is unacceptable for the U.S. to allow its misguided hatred of Cuba to compromise its commitment to eradicating terrorism. It's bad enough that in our quest to destroy WMD we have let North Korea happily and peacefully develop its weapons capabilities. This has already compromised our credibility. To allow Carriles to stay in the U.S. would be an affront to Latin America, to democracy, to freedom and to the values which we purportedly uphold. Either we accept that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and take the acts of terrorism directed against us lying down, or we make no exceptions.

Or is it perhaps the case that, for the U.S. government, one man's terrorist is another man's Muslim? In any case, if you're not with us, you're against us, as we've so often repeated. Therefore, by harboring a terrorist are we not 'against us'? This is a logical quandary only Rumsfeld could make sense of.

Hasta la victoria siempre!

Monday, May 09, 2005

A deal to die for...

"Oh Rhonda, that is SUCH a handsome casket that Larry is lying in. Where did you ever get it?"

"Well, Myrtle, just between you and me - I got it at Costco - and it was an absolutely fabulous deal. Why, I even bought two - figured I'll be kicking the bucket sooner or later."

Indeed - Costco sells caskets and urns. And quite lovely ones at that. They provide a few important pieces of information on their site. First of all, you are required to read the information about the caskets before you purchase one - "MUST READ THIS IMPORTANT INFORMATION BEFORE PURCHASING A CASKET" says the notice.

Among the questions addressed are first and foremost (and my favorite): "Why is Costco Wholesale selling caskets?" You know...that was in fact the first thing I thought when browsing Costco's funerary section. The answer: "As a service to our members."

Well, that sums it up nicely.

It gets better - the last question is: "Can we choose other colors or options?" The answer: "Not at this time. We have selected the most popular styles and colors, with the highest quality linings." What do expect? You're shopping for caskets at Costco after all. It's a good thing they let you buy individual caskets and don't require a bulk order of 4 or more.


Like with so many other fascinating American product warnings, I have to wonder what transpired to require this large, obvious warning.

So how much does one of these sweet Costco coffins cost you? Anywhere from a low, low $924.99 to a whopping $2,599.99. Because no one wants to see a round number when burying their loved ones, and this way, the purchaser gets the satisfying feeling of having obtained a real bargain.

Next up - Costco provides organs - get your fresh liver, kidney or heart right here, for rock-bottom prices - guaranteed fresh!

Friday, May 06, 2005

Erwin Rommel

"Don't fight a battle if you don't gain anything by winning."
-Erwin Rommel

In recent days I've been reading "Bodyguard of Lies" by Anthony Cave Brown, a fantastic book about covert operations during World War II. As with most of my reading projects, I find myself getting caught up in certain aspects of the story and wishing to learn more about it.

In particular, I've developed a fascination for Erwin Rommel. Yes, he was part of the Nazi army. Yes, he was responsible for the deaths of many Allied troops. But he was also, from the little that I've read, an amazingly chivalrous man and a truly great general.

Rommel was never a member of the Nazi party, and grew increasingly critical of Hitler until he was ultimately suspected in plotting to assassinate him and given the choice of suicide or trial. He chose to end his life with a cyanide capsule, which permitted him to retain his military honor and protected his family from the backlash that a trial (which would inevitably have found him guilty) would have resulted in.

In his actions both on and off the battlefield, Rommel appears to have been a tough taskmaster, both on himself and on his men. Like Che Guevara, Rommel embraced a relentlessly difficult lifestyle, requiring little sleep or food, and expected the same of his men. (Yes, I have just compared Rommel with Guevara. To forestall any criticism of my comparison, I would like to point out that Rommel was an infinitely better military leader and in terms of type of warfare, the two figures are incomparable - as men, however, they had a certain degree of commonality.)

While German figures like Admiral Canaris make me somewhat nervous due to their treachery (as admirable as his covert scheming was, and as insane and demonic as Hitler was, I am always suspicious of military figures who oppose the leadership), Rommel stands out for his integrity both on and off the battlefield. Unlike the sycophants of the SS, he represented the true German military legacy, defined and perfected by the Prussians. Otto would have been proud of him.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

An Apology

One of the toughest things we face as human beings is admitting that we were wrong. It goes against our instincts to look back on our past and say "you know what - I had no idea what I was talking about - I was foolish, arrogant, stupid and most importantly, wrong." It is especially difficult to come to terms with our mistakes in a public fashion. But apologizing and admitting our mistakes, and growing and learning from them are what make us into strong and multi-faceted individuals. And in the end, we should have no regrets - only an understanding that we erred. After all, we are only human.

It is in this spirit that I offer a public apology for my viewpoints and actions upon the outbreak of the Iraq war. I know I've said many times before that this is not a political blog. But increasingly, my friends and family have been indicating to me that my best posts are those that espouse a viewpoint, and I am realizing that I cannot remove myself in my blog from issues that bother me in my mind. This would not be honest.

I would like to apologize for my actions at Ashley's, my favorite Ann Arbor bar, on that evening in March 2003. When the TV news anchors announced the beginning of the bombing campaign, I stood up and joined my boyfriend in a round of applause. This was unacceptable, and I am sorry.

I could attribute my views to my boyfriend at the time, and his conservatism and military bent. But that would be tantamount to saying that I had no identity separate from his and that I merely acted in his shadow. This is not the case. Like many young people, I was caught up in the moment, unwilling to look beyond the excitement of the day, denying the inevitable human suffering that would ensue.

I supported the war because I was a contrarian. I knew that my parents and many of my friends were strongly opposed to it. I wanted to shock them and take a different stance. I described myself as a neocon without fully understanding the implications of my statement. I decried liberals as foolish and said I didn't care about domestic issues, and that I was a foreign policy hawk. I apologize to my family, and particularly to my father for the hurt this must have caused them. My parents raised me to think for myself and to be sensitive, cosmopolitan and understanding of global issues. I insisted on thinking like Rumsfeld and deluded myself into believing that this was the way I was.

It is with much more understanding, historical knowledge, and humility that I can say today that I was wrong. The war was wrong. And even if it wasn't, no war should be celebrated with applause and revelry. I am sorry for the families of those that lost their lives in the conflict, American, Iraqi, or of any other nation. I am sorry that I didn't have the courage or the sensitivity to protest the war. I am sorry that I lost touch with my humanity, even if only for a short while, because it was at a time when humanity was sorely needed.

As part of this apology, I also would like to make a pledge: I will not remain silent because the majority is silent. I will not let my rational thought process be subsumed by faux-patriotic rhetoric and flag-waving. I will be a patriot of the United States of America in the truest sense of the word - I love my country and I do not want it ruined. There is so much good in the US, and it is all too easy to lose sight of that.

And if the United States is ever invaded, I will take up arms and blow those invading motherfuckers to the depths of hell. Because while I may be a liberal, I am not a pussy.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Islamic Reformation

I just finished reading a wonderful book by Reza Aslan called "No god but God." I bought it after seeing him appear on the Daily Show (and some people claim the Daily Show isn't educational!).

I believe this book should be mandatory reading for all Americans. So many of us have jumped to conclusions about Islam simply because of the acts of a few extremists. September 11 was indeed a shocking moment in our history, but as Reza Aslan explains at the end of his book, it is representative not of a struggle between Islam and the West, but rather of a struggle within Islam itself.

In tracing the history of Islam and its various sectarian movements over the centuries, Mr. Aslan comes to the conclusion that the events in the Muslim world today parallel the struggles faced by Europe during the 16th century with the Reformation. As he points out, Islam is just reaching that period in its history, and all of the tensions between the various factions are coming to a head.

In conjunction with "No god but God" I've also been reading the Qu'ran, and have been pleasantly surprised by the non-misogynistic and peaceful nature of the text. Islam is a breathtakingly diverse and rich religion, and is no more incendiary than Christianity was at a similar stage in its development.

The book reminded me that many of my closest friends when I was growing up in Japan were devout Muslims, and that my Muslim friends and acquaintances have been erudite, polite, and (speaking for the males) much more chivalrous than most of my other friends. There is no danger greater than generalizing - the Japanese internment camps in the US during WWII come to mind. Many Americans are on the verge of condemning or have already condemned all Muslims as extremists. This is truly terrifying.

Reza Aslan argues against imposing Western democracy in the Islamic world - he believes that Islam is not incompatible with democracy, much as Christianity was not incompatible with democracy. His point is that democracies such as the United States are based on fundamental Christian social and moral values, and that imposing a Christian cultural context on the Islamic world will not be effective in bringing social change. Instead, with the Islamic reformation, a uniquely Islamic participatory democracy is developing, rooted in Islamic values.

The bottom line is this: We cannot brand people as extremists for calling for democracy based on a religious template. Our nation is based on that same template, and seems to be doing ok. Reza Aslan's book is an important introduction to the history of Islam, and while slightly biased towards the Shi'ites (he is Iranian), gives a fair overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the various denominations of Islam. Maybe if our administration bothered reading it, they'd realize that much like in Latin America, meddling in the Islamic world is not the best way to achieve lasting participatory democracy.