Monday, November 24, 2008

Only in Dreams

One of the ways the internet shocks me is that sometimes I see things on the internet and then can't remember if I dreamed them or not. The man who turned his penis into a flamethrower? Real. (NSFW, duh.) Shakira trying to sell me an alarm clock? Dream. A decent lion, who doesn't eat people right away. Real. Playing foursquare with Barack Obama? Dream.

A farm duck who adopts a beagle and joy is found, but the duck dies of old age and joy is lost, but the farmers stuff the duck's corpse and joy is found again? Plus, the farmer lady pulls the duck around on a rope so the beagle can play with it? Double plus, it's all in Spanish and set to that Aerosmith song from that movie. No, not that one. Right, that one.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Please Move Here

I've been kicking around a text on why it's so wonderful to live in my neighborhood for months now. In between starting the thought process and finally writing it, I traveled to some exotic destinations in order to preempt anyone rebutting me with, "Dude, you've lived in four distinct places that you actually remember so get off of that soapbox and put your pants back on." Fair enough, numerous and vociferous detractors? You chased me from my perfect little country, you bastards. You'll get yours, with walnuts on top.

I live in Arlington; more specifically I live in Nearlington (as opposed to Farlington, which is basically any part of the county in which you can't walk to the Metro, an ATM, and a bar within ten minutes of leaving your doorstep) and around the Courthouse Metro. I'm of the opinion that any point in Nearlington is equivocal to any other point, but I'm discovering this is because I'm willing to ride my bike everywhere. People who walk tend to differentiate by Metro stations.

I think you should move here. Why haven't you? It's expensive, yes, and you can have a comparatively gigantic apartment/house/manse/plantation a little farther out. Perhaps you prefer the more urban feel of actually living in DC and I can assume that you're the sort of person who appreciates walkability, occasional street crime, and not ever having to vote for president again.

Yes, rent here is pricey and I won't pretend that gas is so expensive that I'm breaking even on not driving my car. I won't make that argument because it's akin to people pointing out that hybrid cars aren't cost effective. That thing patting you on the back for being able to do math? It's a starving polar bear. They pat before they kill. I saw it on NOVA.

This afternoon I ran a disparate set of errands that would have taken miles of driving back in my exurb days. I managed to drop off a package, get my car's tags renewed, get my bike fixed, and have two hours of Arabic tutoring within the same three blocks. Earlier this summer I was able to look in three different stores for a backpack for dogs (it goes on the dog, the dog doesn't go in the backpack) before I found the right size and color. This was within a two block area and I wasn't in the dog backpack district.

When my dingy, sketchy-until-you-get-to-know-it bar closed down to make room for yet more condos, there was another, albeit smaller, version right up the street. I had dinner there tonight; hamburger, a pint of bourbon stout, A Canticle for Leibowitz to read, and a seat by the window to watch the joggers go by while I partook of my pickle. Only the absence of my wife made it less than ideal, but she was having dinner with one of her academic mentors. However, last night she got off the metro starving and wobbly from spinning class and we met in our Chinese restaurant just like one of those fancy city couples.

It's possible to run into people you know on the street; hell, I nearly ran down my nemesis L(ee) H(ummer) on my bike half an hour ago. The parentheses are due to the fact that I already know that he googles himself often and he hasn't put my face to this blog yet. I don't want to step off the Metro and find him standing covered in stickers and nothing else, waiting for me to make my move.

The neighborhood is losing some of the independent places that make it so nice, but the real estate slump seems to have put some hesitancy in those who would knock down some civic memory for a couple hundred more unsold condos. It remains to be seen how much longer that will last. Perhaps the Metro will shoot up Lee Highway for a new wacky line and I can look for places closer to the new stops and the German bakery.

Please move here; I feel like people don't have neighborhoods anymore and it leads to focusing the room on the television, only traveling while surrounded in steel and glass, being afraid of other people, and ultimately voting Republican.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

An Alternate Life, Briefly Glimpsed

My wife is a copy editor, web monkey, and occasional columnist for a local paper. God help us, if you click on her byline you see her beautiful face on her bio page and though she's kept it as vaguely nonidentifying as I've kept this blog she has picked up an internet friend. This friend sent her a bumper sticker, care of her paper but with her name on the envelope, advertising a very Alaska specific idea of having Governor Sarah Palin run as McCain's running mate. It is tacked up on the side of her cubicle. This friend, also through the magic of the internet, can be discovered through google to be something of a celebrity. He trains poodles to be sled dogs. He has a web page. He has a picture, too.

So, this is the man my wife could have married. I can see her future, clad in furs, reeking of poodle, wondering if perhaps there was another life for her with a quiet man in a small apartment in Arlington.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On Safety and Fear

S___ and I were playing the hookster last week, meeting some friends in Georgetown to get some kabobs for lunch. Window shopping on our way there, we heard a loud steam whistle start to sound. It's a sound that you generally have no reference for, but maybe you've seen movies with old steam trains. This was amplified and didn't take breaths.

When I worked at the University, I volunteered to be the office fire marshal. Part of this job, in addition to leading my coworkers to safety in Virginia with my backpack full of water and fruit rollups, was helping run the "shelter-in-place" drill. When there was an emergency that required everyone to clear the quads and run into the buildings, the huge steam whistle on top of Healy Hall would sound and the fire marshals would run outside to ward everyone in. This was necessary because while everyone knows what to do in a fire drill (run outside!), the steam whistle had just been installed and no one knew what it meant when it sounded (run inside!).

In theory, it would go off due to belltower sniper, dirty bomb, poison gas cloud, etc. When it sounded last week, it could be heard all the way down M street and no one knew what it meant. I tensed a little, since I knew it was either a drill or something horrible, and I contemplated pulling S___ into a store and leaving everyone else on the street to die. Then something else took over- there were no police cars blazing down the street, no explosions, no one falling to the ground clutching roses. The part of my brain that has been trained to be afraid lost out to feeling safe.

I know that's bullshit and maybe this actually makes me less safe. I'm sure there are survival stories that could be thrown at me of people who were prepared, followed their training, and lived to tell it. Those are riveting stories and I'm sure they're true, but damn I bet they're statistically insignificant. I read my environment that day and my monkey brain said "safe" no matter how scared and prepared that steam whistle is meant to have made me. I know in Iraq some bases have signs that say "Complacency Kills" on the gate to the outside but that's Iraq and I refuse to walk around my city, on my way to getting a lunch special at Moby Dick, and put my senses on a war footing.

Sometimes I feel like we're doomed by our frozen evolution to not be able to step outside our tribal instincts. My monkey brain wants to see the same hundred faces, to know their names and their proclivities, to trade in good faith and mete out punishment to those who break it. Too many strange faces inflicted on people who are already cut off behind single family homes and car windows, suddenly you find yourself railing against the day laborer depot with that cluster of strangers doing strange things that MUST be criminal. Be afraid, because your tribe is invaded every day. Shut yourself off, become a conservative, fear change and defend your family against all takers and comers.

I understand that, but it ends badly.

The only way I can read the news, or do my job, and not hate everyone is because I'm coming to realize that all anyone wants is to feel safe. The only people I distrust are those that seek to make you afraid to their advantage, whether they're a bully or a priest or a president. I've also been extremely lucky to arrive where I am, with the love I have, without having been knocked around and damaged and distrustful, so I can't blame people for feeling encircled.

I feel safe and I'll always do my best to remember your face and welcome you into my tribe.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Culling Our Books

When my mother is asked to describe the relationship I have with my wife and the likelihood of its success, she invariably says something along the lines of, "oh, the two of them were made for each other, they both read books."

There's a lot more going on with S___ and I, but I'd be peeved with my mom more if she hadn't helped us move into our apartment together and watched box after box of books come in. If you've ever helped us move, thank you. I know the books are the heaviest, after the sea chest (partially full of books) and the antique jelly cupboard (those colonists made their jelly storage devices to withstand the ravages of savages and catholics).

We have six regular sized bookcases and they're all full. This is a problem, since we've refused to learn an object lesson and stop buying books. We considered a rule that no new books should be bought until we had read all the ones in the house, but that did not make it out of committee. We tried an experiment where we just went to the library, but it was bothersome because all the good ones were checked out. We also made a charitable donation to Arlington County because we're lazy and couldn't be bothered to get the books back in time.

I don't know what it is about books, but if we did this with porcelain figurines or star wars pogs you, our dear friends, would not be the sexy and fashionable people that you are. Your clothes would fit poorly and you would smell like sourdough bread. Because we have a maddening surfeit of books instead, not that many people think we're nuts.

I have a hard time getting rid of books, even when I won't ever need or read them again. One of my favorite things is to have friends browse the shelves while we make dinner or put on our BSG cosplay (I go as Caprica Six, S___ as Baltar. Hot hot hot!) and hear, "Is this any good? Can I borrow it?" We have an apartment full of ideas and you can just walk in and borrow one. I like that and I don't think that will ever change.

However, it's a small apartment full of ideas and some ideas are apparently worth culling. We kept a pile of books in our living room the same way some people keep cardboard boxes of kittens in the front yard. Free to a good home, but not that many takers. What we were left with are weighty fantasy tomes from S___, most of my Stephen King and all of my Tom Clancy, two Ayn Rands, and some Middle East history and politics books that we had duplicates of. I just put them all on last weekend and I've had six buyers so far- we've got cut-rate prices and our inventory must be reduced!

What is interesting (the payoff of the whole post! soon!) is that selling best so far are pulpy fantasy novels and that these are selling to rural addresses. I imagine part of that is due to the spring semester not starting yet, but I was surprised by the rural route numbers or towns with "elk" or "raccoon" in their names. When I want to load up on trash fiction, I can hit two decent used books stores in the area and take out a sack of books. Of course, they rarely want to take these back and we arrive back to our storage problem. If you don't have one of these stores nearby, however, what a treat must be- the selection far surpasses anything you're likely to find locally and you can often pick which book has less wear and tear. Hell, you can even find an earlier edition without the movie cover if that bothers you.

The unfortunate thing is that while my books are being sold at used bookstore prices (generally between 75 cents to a dollar), there's the additional two dollars in shipping. I do feel bad about that- right now I'm wrapping the books in old grocery bags, just like I used to when I couldn't afford wrapping paper, and sending them as media mail through the post office. I couldn't possibly charge less money for shipping. Still, it's nice to know that somewhere out in rural America people are gathering their own collections, even if I should send a note saying "you'll grow out of it" with the Ayn Rand books.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Whetting

Between now and my last post, I got married to a wonderful woman in a beautiful ceremony surrounded by dear friends. Then we jetted off to Bali. You'd think these things would deserve blog postings and they do; surely I have stores of purple prose saved up about romance and commmittment and dedicatory offerings and mothers-in-law ready and I do; but I'm working crazy hours (12 hour shifts, either from 10PM to 10AM or vice versa) with erratic days off, so it will have to wait for me to adjust.

What I do have is this little verbal snapshot.

I can't easily ride my bike to work at the moment, but I want to try. I bought some neat gear which arrived today. One objet d'velocipede is a ninja cowl. S___ laughed at someone riding past us wearing one of those last night, so won't she be surprised! I think I'll sleep in it. It's very warm and caused the cat to eye me suspiciously.

Another bit of kit is a pair of tights. Man, were those hard to get on! Whoo, do they ever give me a manmel toe! For some folks, one doesn't have enough balls to wear something. For me, I have far too many balls to wear tights. They make my legs look good (the tights, not the balls. Those have always looked ungainly to me, actually. Like coconuts atop two swaying palms. Full of potential energy that you wouldn't want to sit under, in both cases) so I'll just have to find some tiny, tiny shorts.

I have been awake for a day and a half now and I don't need your forgiveness. I've been putting tea bags in S___'s espresso machine and I've found supa-tea helps me to stay awake without the jitters! Lookitmetype! I just chased the cat around the apartment wearing a ninja mask and tights, yelling "package for you, sir!" until he ran under the bed and I decided to write this.

I think you're neat.

I will write more when I've straightened out a little.

Stay classy, internet.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Omens and Restaurant Biodiversity

Today I had my first taste of what S___ will be like when she's pregnant and this means that we will have to spend those fruitful 9 months in a major metropolitan area, because she's capable of really exacting cravings from time to time. Last night, it was bastilla, which is a Moroccan dish made of multiple layers of a phyllo-like dough wrapped around a filling, topped with cinnamon, and baked. Traditionally it's filled with pidgeon and pistachios.

She related this craving to me around 9:30 last night, with the only three (3!) Moroccan restaurants in town closing at 10 and damned if I didn't let her down by pointing out that I just couldn't make it happen. Tonight, though, I ordered a carry-out bastilla and biked over to pick it up. On the way home, my bastilla bungee-corded to the back of my bike, I considered what would have happened if we lived in an area with a lack of Moroccan restaurants. I would be out in the parking lot of some bland suburban townhome tract, with a dress shirt clutched as a net and my trusty meat-mallet, stalking the wild pidgeons while the phyllo got wet enough to stretch.

I get cravings, too, but they're normally for the bad stuff I'm trying to cut back on. Wendy's value meal cheeseburgers dipped in ketchup. Mexican wedding cookies. Anything with high fructose corn syrup. All fairly easy to obtain, as opposed to S___'s now-and-then craving for the Cheesecake Factory. There's only one of those every hundred miles or so and I bet that's mainly along the coasts. When she's pregnant (decades from now) we can't be out in some goat cheese farm in Oregon or installing drip irrigation in Oman and I can't make Cheesecake Factory food at home. We just don't have that amount of butter in one place and we buy ours at Costco.

It's actually refreshing to know that when it's time for the chilluns to come, we'll have to clamp down on the wanderlust and start nesting, like we're birds finding a tree that's close to water and acres of unique and culinarily distinct seeds.