Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Free Roxanna Saberi

Oddly enough, his presidential campaign slogan was "We can do it."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jungle Law and Order

I came back from my Everest Base Camp trek in January "centered". Om mani padme hum. Om mani padme hum.

Then back-to-work happened.

Fair enough. I've been out-of-work before, and that is no way to win friends and influence people and try to maintain cerebral equilibrium.

Across the highway from the university, a community college (attached to the university) had just opened, and if ever two words needed to be qualified with fingered air quotes it's these-- the community college's "English department".

This is another "bread and circuses" pacifier for the masses, and it needed volunteers who could help set up a program based on the model we have at the university. Eager to accept a challenge equivalent to hiking up to 5,000 meters in the Himalayas, I raised my hand and I offered to go.

Of all the things I wish I knew before I raised my hand that I know now, at the summit of the list is that many, if not most, students enrolled in the C.C, are nationals existing in the flatlands of society. Many come from outlying villages and many had to drop out of school, marry in their teens (marriage often being a way to climb at least one rung up the social ladder in this culture) and join the army or police force or take on some dead end municipality job to help support their large extended families not too far removed from a nomadic, desert lifestyle.

God bless them and I sincerely mean that.
I (more fingered air quotes)--"teach"--in the evenings; that leaves me with a lot of day light hours to kill.

I said I came back from Everest centered and that is not a state of mind I easily gravitate towards.

Y'see. I am this DSMD personality type: half of my soul inhabits the north pole, the other half the south pole, half of my brain lives in Tropic of Cancer, the other half in the Tropic of Capricorn; I'm an extroverted introvert, a misanthropic good samaritan. I am a world class architect at self demolition and self reinvention.

The 2,000 volt vibrations that split me in two came on the first day on my new job when I had to introduce the technological phenomenon of the textbook to my students, demonstrate in an incomprehensible babble how to open a book, then point out that each page had a number and that whenever I wrote a page number on the white board, they were meant to labor like children in a Sri Lankan textile mill, trying to remember what it was I told them about turning to a page where they would only find cryptic symbols as comprehensible to them as Mayan hieroglyphs are to me.

As previously stated: God bless them.

When I decided mumble grumble years ago to show my back to my country in order to travel around the world teaching English as a way to finance travelling around the world, I had two options.

  1. Pander to my charitable nature and go to work for a non-governmental organization or
  2. Pay respect to my me-firstness and bolt for an oil-rich Arabian Gulf governmental organization where I'd get really nice free digs, long, paid holidays, pay no taxes, hire servants to clean my house, wash my car and make believe I had it made.

My first impulse upon discovering I'd really stepped in the shit was to go back to my departmental director and try to cajole, to sweet talk, to cry "foul", to sob my way back across the highway to my office where I taught during daylight hours academic English to upper tiered nationals. The answer from my departmental director was "Nope, no, uh uh, get your ass out of my office and quit harrassing me with your erratic, cries-for-help Emails!"

I have had a lot of time on my hands ever since. Too much. The sort of free time where it is OK to get drunk before 9. But I can't. I have to go to work at 3.

I had two options: start my long, long, long under-employed days with elephantine doses of the latest generations of tri-cyclics and MOA inhibitors sprinkled on my Mueslix OR wait out my under-employed free mornings and afternoons glued to the computer checking my Facebook page every half hour on the half hour, reading Wikipedia articles on obscure dead 1960s rock stars, while keeping one tab open in my browser desperately seeking images of breasts all the while waiting for my double shot of Simpson's reruns from 11 - 12 before I have to death march across the highway at 3 PM. I chose to put apple slices on my breakfast cereal instead.

The last three months have been an epic struggle between the two me's. A left brain versus right brain doomsday cage death match. In theory, I have only three more weeks of classes to go before we give final exams which will be a bit of a farce since the students are on a Pass/Fail system, 50% is passing, and we teachers are encouraged to factor in the full 30% of the teacher's marks to push all students onto the next level. Only the students who have never been to class fail, and that's not true in all cases. My can't sleep, four AM chatter monkey keeps insisting that despite this being a voluntary, one off assignment, the director could very well say, "Tell ya what--you folks teaching over there now, well, since you know the ropes, consider yourself reassigned there permanently."

If that happens, I'll bid goodbye to garden, the rooms full of furniture, wife, cats, wardrobes full of apparel for all seasons and give that NGO a second thought.

Till then. Wait and see.

This summer, I am going to reverse myself on last year's decision to by-pass Southeast Asia as a summer get-away.

I really, really, really need a river that winds deep, deep, deep into a lawless jungle where I have always found a confluence of my two selves, where I find cheap high quality hash, peace of mind and atonement.

And this time, I am going to buy a home there.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What I've Learned Beta Build 54

A couple of weeks ago, I outlived my father which is a really depressing milestone. He died a few weeks shy of turning 54.

Now I know that while he was dying, and when I reassured him that he had in fact lived a full life, he went to his grave thinking I was full of shit.

I still have a lot to look forward to, many things I haven't experienced.

But I've figured out a few things, and as of this moment, here are a few things that I've learned:

that sticking your neck for others is a good way to hide neck wrinkles,

that it's easy to be scrupulous if you have few scruples,

that all people want to feel special and unique, which makes us all not so special or unique,

that what doesn’t kill you may make you stronger but it can still really hurt like a motherfucker,

that no matter where you go, people are people, and that's not necessarily an uplifting observation,

that when you move, get rid of everything you own except for what you can pack into two suitcases. I promise that within six months, you'll have collected more shit than you'll know what to do with,

that life is give and take, so do more giving. That way, when you move, you'll have less shit to pack,

that it's not what you have in life, but who you have, so the sooner one learns that a relationship is hard work and takes lots of practice, the more money you'll save on hookers,

that one should play by the rules even when no one is watching,

that not all things happen for a reason nor are meant to be--sometimes we just make bad choices,

that having goals is good; having a trust fund is better,

that you should never greet an American woman in America with European air pecks on the cheeks; it could give her American husband a reason to shoot you,

that when you age, you should get very good at crossword puzzles because you are going to be spending more and more time in doctor offices' waiting rooms and there's never anything worth reading there,

that too many people have decided to take the road less traveled by, so go with the road most traveled by--there's a lot less traffic on it than there used to be,

that if you're not at this moment in the middle of a good book, you're wasting your life,

that the eighth wonder of the modern world is how in the hell trains run on time in India,

that consistency is way harder than change.

that only socio-paths never have any doubts,

that humility is knowing how to do something well and making sure only you know about it,

that as bad as the Vietnam War was, when we got around to making movies about it, it would later jump start careers for many black actors, (and that says a lot about who we get to die in disproportionate numbers in our shitty wars),

that growing old happens; growing up doesn't.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hillary's Debt

I originally hoped that the skirt would have become president, and subscribed to her website. I continue to get spammed by Hillary dot com. Today, James Carville tried to hit me up for five bucks to help pay off her campaign date. Like hell.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Song and Dance

What would you do if, in the distance, you saw two passenger trains heading towards each other at a high speed on the same track? My first reaction, same as yours, would be to try to stop them. I could shout out a warning, but it wouldn’t do any good. Bad luck would at that moment be beyond my control. So what’s left is a choice—do I close my eyes and turn away? No. I’d watch. I would watch as fate did what it had to do. How often in the course of a life would I or any of us get to watch a train wreck? I’d bet you’d do the same. Most behavior I think of as my own, and you probably feel the same, but you’d be surprised how many people out there don’t. All of us—we’re not that different.

Most people also choose to stay put, and I think highly of them. Me? I’ve been coming and going from one place or another all of my life. That’s probably no way to live.

As many times as I’ve run to someone or someplace, or from people and places, I’ve tried to make decisions based on good judgment; other times, I’ve made some questionable choices. There have been plenty of times I’ve had no choice.

I share an office with five guys. We teach basic English language skills on an army base in the Kingdom—Saudi Arabia. From 8 till 9, three of the guys are in class. Bob and I start teaching at 9, so for the first hour of the day, we sit in desks opposite each other and prepare for our classes.

Bob is a good dancer. He gives free ballroom dance lessons in the compound gym every Wednesday night at 7. Nurses from the adjacent compound come by. It’s the highlight of my week.

This morning, Bob breaks the silence, takes his eyes off his computer screen, looks at me, takes a deep breath and blurts out, "Have you ever had a song suddenly come into your head that you just couldn't get off your mind?"

“All the time,” I tell him. I stop what I’m doing and I asked him which song.

He says, "The Laotian national anthem."

“Can't say that I know it,” I tell him.

He tells me a story about the time he was in Laos, in the 70s. He had lived very near the Laotian army barracks as the civil war was nearing its end. Every night as the flag came down, the national anthem played on loudspeakers, mortar rounds exploding just a few neighborhoods away. The Pathet Lao were about to take control of the government. Recalling the song, he begins to remember all of those Laotian ladies trying to get the hell out of Laos by any means possible before the Pathet Lao took over. Nobody knew if they were going to be bad boys, like the Khmer Rouge. Bob had had dozens of marriage proposals in those final weeks. I ask him if he'd considered taking any of them up on their offer. He shakes his head firmly and says, "No.”

I ask, "Why not?"

He says he wasn't interested in marrying at the time.

I ask him why he hadn't considered holding auditions.

Again, he shakes his head, "No. No."

I tell him, "You, sir, have ethics!"

I would have held auditions.