Thursday, November 29, 2007

Slinging Vitriol

I want to start this post with a vilification of the state of Colorado. After spending a fantastic three days in Provo, I set out with Phil, Stephen, Carolyn, and Aubrey Quebe, and Brittany Patterson to drive home to Texas. Like anyone else who has ever sat foot in the state, I have a moral objection to New Mexico. Granted, certain parts of the state are gorgeous. Angel Fire, Santa Fe, the entire northwest part of the state, they're all breathtaking and I have no issue with them. My objection to the state has four main components.

First - the entire eastern part of the state. You know those dates where all of dinner is spent hoping that the waiter will stop by in order to provide some semblance of conversation? Where your date's most scintillating topic of conversation is her marriage prep class; a class where they obviously teach her that the only requirement for marriage is that she have a pair of X chromosomes and a complete inability to offer a response consisting of more than two syllables? Eastern New Mexico is the geographic equivalent of those dates. I have actually tried to fall asleep while driving there because death would be preferable to traveling past another truck stop\porn shop\"authentic Indian crafts" store.

Second - driving on the reservations. Granted, I've only driven through these on weekends, and weekday nights, and weekday mornings and afternoons too. I've never driven through on Arbor Day though, so it would be inaccurate to say that you will always encounter drunk drivers in 1978 Ford pickups on the road. Every time I've driven through, however, I have almost been hit by no fewer than 35 drunk drivers. There are many experiences for which I don't mind tempting death...driving through New Mexico ain't one of them.

Third - doe-eyed little kids who try to sell me cheap trinkets, packs of gum, and "authentic" arrowheads while I'm trying to ingest enough grease-filled food at aforementioned truck stops to anesthetize myself to the soporific effects of the New Mexican scenery outside of my window. I feel like I'm in a third world's humiliating. I half-expect a bunch of starry-eyed European idealist non-profit employees, flush with cash from not having to spend more than .000000001 percent of their GDP on military or defense spending (don't worry, we'll keep defending your borders so y'all can keep up your 15% unemployment rates and 35 hour workweeks) to show up to these New Mexican restaurants and attempt to airlift these little kids back out of the region.

Fourth - tribal casinos. They all have names like "The Proud Indian", "Running Bear Casino", and "The Mighty Chippewa" because these sound better than "Truckers Losing Their Money", "Grandmothers Gambling Away Their Social Security", or "Using Indian Tribes as a Front for Rich White Lawyers Whose Ancestors Probably Took the Land From These Tribes".

For the reasons outlines above, I avoid driving through New Mexico when traveling between Utah and Texas. It's a little bit longer driving through Colorado, but it's much prettier. Therefore, Tuesday morning before setting out on what should have been a 14 hour drive with six people in a Suburban, I checked the weather report to see forecasts of clear skies through Colorado. I must have checked the map for the western fifteenth of the state, because as soon as we passed Grand Junction our speed dropped to 25 miles an hour, visibility dropped to 15 yards, and those numbers maintained their positions for the next 7 hours (197 miles!!) to Denver. The only way we were able to navigate was by reflectors on the side of the road, and the only way we maintained our sanity was by playing old-school Contra on Phil's laptop (a special shout-out to the first one to contact me with the code for 99 lives in that game). Our trip from Provo to Denver ended up taking as much time as our return trip all the way from Amarillo to Provo. After reading this post thus far, I realize that I only want to vilify Colorado's mercurial weather patterns, but that I also want to heap calumny upon New Mexico (already done) and for the inaccurate forecast (suck it,

There. Now that I have fully exorcised the opprobrium from my system, let's get on with it. Thanksgiving was fantastic. It started out with a 9 hour layover in New Jersey. I was initially upset about the length of the stop, but after I realized how close Newark was to NYC, my layover turned into a chance to let Kent Breard III buy me the best BBQ I have eaten outside of Texas. Kent alone was worth the layover, but I decided to avail myself of my presence in Manhattan to buy some fairly homo-suspicious scarves and eat (in addition to the BBQ) two slices of pizza, two hot dogs, one glass of papaya juice, a falafel sandwich, chicken kabobs, an italian sausage, a chocolate cupcake, cup of hot chocolate, oatmeal raisin cookie, and a box of strawberries. This was in 4 hours. I don't care to discuss the matter.

Upon landing in Provo I was reminded why I felt so detached in D.C. Driving past the Modest is Hottest billboards (don't you think they would at least try to find attractive girls for those ads?) from Salt Lake to Provo, I realized that Utah felt like home in a way that I never really expected. That feeling was accentuated by the comfortable and familial air that accompanied everything I did that weekend. The dinners out were fun, Steak Night was an unqualified success (much thanks to Noelle, Jake, my roommates, Rilee, Scott, Heidi, Emily...everyone who helped out, brought stuff, or just came bringing meat). I realized that much of the turmoil I feel over my career choices is exacerbated by the desire I have to stay in Utah, be near the people I have grown to care about, and feel like I'm somewhere where people care about me. After further consideration, I realized that I can only stretch and challenge myself when I have stepped away from everything familiar. I grow too attached and become too accustomed to the people, things, and activities that I enjoy, and I forget about testing myself. By constantly maintaining a foot in my comfort zone, I deny myself the chance to meet and learn from the challenges concomitant with life outside that zone. This realization gave me a new perspective on my time here, as I realize that, regardless of what I do or accomplish, my life has been enriched by the sheer fact that I'm here...that I left.

Anyway, as always, I let this post swell to behemoth size. The next one will be more manageable...and much sooner. I will comment on the suggestions y'all gave me for my life plans and probably rain down more bile on Europe...albeit with scholarly assistance.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Life Plan (question mark)

Most of you are probably familiar with my presidential aspirations. I had considered jumping right into it this year and announcing my candidacy, but my name-recognition in certain parts of the country (pretty much anywhere except for Utah and Texas) isn’t quite where I want it to be (practically nothing). There were also the dual stumbling blocks of not being old enough and not having a catchy campaign theme song. I considered “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta” and “I Feel Pretty”, but couldn’t get rights to use either of them. Therefore, I decided to put my campaigning off for a term or two. This lack of any clear career options for the next eight years brought with it some introspective moments in which I feel I have figured my life plan out. My request is that you respond to my plan (elucidated below) by offering affirmation of my ideas, gentle critiques and suggestions for change, or phone numbers of a local McDonald’s along with assertions that the shift manager position should be my goal.

Ok. So I laid out my life plan to myself and realized a couple of things. First, it is the most convoluted life plan imaginable. It entails three different types of schooling (law, culinary, international relations), 4 or 5 moves, practically unlimited funds, and 17 barefoot Filipino man-servants. Furthermore, I would not actually start making money for at least the next 8 years, and after adding up the years necessary to follow through on everything, I calculated that I would need to live to the age of 125.

Therefore, barring the advent of medical technology that will drastically extend the human life, the acquisition of a spare 30 million dollars, and the voluntary servitude of some affable Filipinos, I need to rethink things. If you have ever eaten a meal with me, you know that I am incapable of planning things reasonably and not going overboard. It’s evident that the same holds true with life plans. Consequently, I am going to offer only the vagaries of what I want my life to look like and ask for input from my readers.

The problem, as I see it, is the conflict between what makes me happy, what satisfies and challenges me, and what I feel I ought to be doing. The more I’ve gotten to know myself, gotten to know what makes me happy, and tried to figure out what makes other people happy, the more I realize that I don’t want to be defined by what profession I choose. I want to be defined by the friends I keep, the family I have, and how I elect to spend my time. Therein lies the problem. I will likely spend 50 plus hours a week for the next 45 years at some sort of career, and the sheer magnitude of the chunk of my life that will be dedicated to that career means I need to find something worth my time. I hardly think that I’m the only one struggling with this; everyone wants to find fulfillment in their work. My problem is that I can’t and won’t dedicate myself even half-heartedly to anything I’m not passionate about.

Anyone who knows me well enough to be reading this blog knows how much I enjoy people. I have an active social life and like being surrounded by people who are comfortable enough around me to ask me to do anything for them. You also know my feelings on food, get-togethers in general, and barbecues in particular. The suggestion has been offered over and over again that I go to culinary school and open up a restaurant, thus combining my natural sociability with my fat-kid love of food. Is that the way to go? I admit, it sounds tempting. If everything worked out, it would seem to be ideal. I would have a place where my friends and family could come. I would have opportunities to positively influence the lives of my employees and to positively affect the community. I have two reservations about the idea. First – when your start working at what you enjoy, does what you enjoy become work? Should food and hosting always be a diversion, an area of fun for me? Second – is that really what I’m supposed to do with myself?

Y’all are already aware of the esteem in which I hold myself. I think fairly highly of my intellectual abilities, my skills at networking, my prospects in the professional world, etc. Would I feel fulfilled serving food all day? I need intellectual stimulation. I need to feel like I’m making a difference, changing the world, and utterly exhausting my talents. This isn’t to be found owning a restaurant. Then what? Law? Politics? International charity work? Dead animal disposal? How is it for you? Is there a chasm between what you like doing and what fulfills you? Will I to live with this dichotomy or should I see it as an opportunity to fill my life to the fullest by doing what fulfills me and what makes me happy?

I think the crux of my dilemma is the following question. Do we have the blessings we do so we can fulfill our dreams and find happiness for ourselves; or do we have a greater obligation to spend ourselves and our talents blessing those who don’t have what we have? Are the two mutually exclusive? If so, at what point does our obligation to others end? You can always find a person or a cause that needs your attention, your time, and your support…when do you stop giving? When is it ok to be selfish? Is it? What is pi to the 78th number?

Anyway…sorry about the torrent of turmoil. If you have any answers, suggestions, comments, questions, or demands that I quit my bitching and go back to writing about Ryan’s mustache, feel free to comment here, e-mail me, facebook me, text me, whatever. I promise my next post will be more fun. And shorter.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Of mass killings and mustaches

When you're younger you think that "adults" have grown up, have matured, and have managed to do away with those puerile impulses that seem the mantle of adolescence. Turns out that getting older just makes it much more socially unacceptable to give in to one of those impulses, and much harder to justify if you actually do. Allow me to explain.

I was in a meeting today on the International Criminal Court and the keynote speaker was a woman who had been the head mediator between the government of Uganda and the head of the LRA, a rebel army in northern Uganda. She had just gone through 20 minutes of descriptive accounts of atrocities committed: mutilations, beheadings, mass rapes, etc. and was ready to take questions. I started to raise my hand in order to ask a question containing the following words - intransigence, non-governmental organizations, intractable, immutable, and mandate. Instead of stringing those GRE words into a coherent phrase, however, I immediately thought of my old roommate Ryan Sandberg and his mustache. For your viewing pleasure, and in an attempt to reinforce the futility of fighting off the full-body laugh that threatened to engulf me upon conceiving of this image, I offer the following picture of Sandberg.

Suffice it to say that the interrogative I had planned quickly became an impossibility. I was no longer concerned with sounding knowledgeable, articulate, or prepared. I was willing to settle for not knocking the guy next to me over as I fell, choking and spitting, out of my chair and onto the floor. Luckily, I managed to regain some sort of composure and was able to pass it off as a quasi-believable coughing fit. My only hope is that everyone in the room thought I was overcome with emotion at the atrocities just mentioned and that my reaction was attributable to the aforementioned occurrences.

I'm realizing that my first couple of posts can most charitably be described as fatuous, and that inane might even be a more appropriate description of them. Therefore, tomorrow's post will likely contain an update on more of my current life and future plans (yes, I figured my life out and will let you know the details tomorrow along with a plea for input) and possibly even some ruminations on topics of interest. I want to stress, however, that my blog will never become a blow-by-blow of my life (is there anything more boring than those?) or an attempt to disseminate my views on political matters. I don't categorically rule out the possibility of occasionally mentioning an item of interest, but this won't be one of those-Clinton said this, Romney raised that, this is why my position on the healthcare budget is correct-type blogs. Not that it matters, because I still don't think anyone actually reads this. Which I why I can state that Sam Wright is actually straight, and I just made fun of him because I was intimidated by his charismatic masculinity. I can mention that he is my idol and my role model. I can even say that at nights I put on a suit and pretend to take calls on my Blackberry while formatting spreadsheets, all in an attempt to be Sam Wright. I can safely say this because absolutely nobody will read it. Except maybe my mom. Love you Mom! You kick ass.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Me and my boys in blue protecting the city from the drag queens at the annual "High-Heel Drag Race". Last year things got out of control and department stores everywhere were stripped of their mascara and panty hose.

My house is the blue one. Compliments to David Trichler, D.C.'s resident photographer for the picture.

(Insert Clever Title)

I've had several requests for further explanation of where I live. D.C. is divided into four quadrants, with the Capitol building at t the center of the dividing lines. The northwest section is the best-known and the most affluent. When I moved out here I started looking for apartments in the other sections and was laughed at for it. I was told that the other sections were too "sketchy" to live in. I always had to laugh at the fact that I, after having lived in the poorest parts of my state in Mexico, after having made it through rioting in Bolivia, and after having been robbed at gunpoint (two of them!) in Peru, was being warned away from parts of D.C. Irony aside, we found a row house (two separated stories in the same house) technically in the NW section, but only four blocks away from the NE, which is close enough to pay a little less in rent than the rest of the NW ($1975 a month between three of us).

Our block consists of the following: us three white kids, a Chinese woman who owns a dry cleaner (breaking some stereotypes there, aren't we?) and who speaks so little English that I speak to her in Spanish without her even noticing, and such an assortment of other people that I can't really tell who lives on the block and who doesn't. There are quite a few houses on the block that have been in the same families for the last 100 years, and the current inhabitants refuse to make any improvements on the houses that might result in higher property taxes. They also keep the houses in a constant state of "construction", thus obviating the levying of property taxes at all. A couple of the houses also don't pay any sort of utilities bills, which means that they are dark all the time and their inhabitants spend a lot of time on the front porch. I will leave my front door at 615 in the morning to go jogging, leave at 830 to go to work, and get home from work at 1230 at night, and I can always count on multiple someones hanging out on the porches. Unemployment seems rampant, unless you count drinking Mad Dawg 20 20 all day as gainful employment. I am, however, in D.C., so I suppose that political correctness is in order. Therefore, the people who don't have utilities aren't poor, but they're economically disadvantaged. Also, the "transactions" that take place in the alley by my house and which involve plastic bags and rolls of ones aren't drug deals, but are "participation in the unofficial economy".

Some of my readers may be familiar with my sleeping patterns, which tend to alternate from sleeping outside, to sleeping on the couch, to sleeping on the floor. Outside is not really a possibility here, but my sleeping quarters are almost always located in the living room. This is prime real estate for auditorily experiencing the interactions between the porch-dwellers on my block. We've had fights, two breakups, one very...ummm...passionate reconciliation, a death threat, and a royal rumble involving close to 8 pugilists. I love where I live though. My other options were all suburban enclaves in either Virginia or Maryland. You know the type; yuppie couples walking their golden retrievers to Starbucks where they enjoy their soy chai lattes while perusing the latest Eddie Bauer catalogs. They then go home, get in their Volvo (high safety ratings!), and go to the latest restaurant out of the Zagat guidebook and order the newest Chilean wine. I'll stick with the porch-people, thanks.