Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Life in Trash bags

A couple of days ago I noticed workmen taking out bags of trash from one of the apartments that is off the lobby of our building. I thought they might be remodeling it or something.

As I came and went (which if often because the dogs are always pining for a bathroom break), I noticed that the contents of the bags seemed to be mostly books.

A few days later, as I passed through the basement of the building (where the trash receptacles and laundry are) I was stunned to find an enormous pile of clear trash bags full of books. Off to one side there were cartons upon cartons of vinyl records.

I peered through the translucent bags to see what kinds of books there were. I noticed books on language, Judaism, old volumes of encyclopedias, and biographies (mostly of Nazi leaders). I picked up a brand new elementary Japanese language book that was on the surface of the pile. Deeper in the pile I saw a stack of photographs. There was also a box with junk that included an really old Atari computer (it probably had something like 4K memory).

Here before me was someone's life...all in trash bags. Had the person run off? Died? Whatever happened, this was what was left behind.

Being in the middle of my own crazy and hectic week, I held the sense of sadness and melancholy for a few seconds and then let it drift away.

Tonight, when I was taking out the trash, I came across the pile still living in the basement. Rummaging through it were three twenty-somethings. I asked them if they had found something good. It seems like there were quite a few science-fiction classics. I told them that I had some extra boxes if they needed them. They took me up on the offer. When I returned a fourth individual was poking through the vinyl albums amazed at what was there.

Intrigued, I joined the scavenge telling myself that I would get one good book. I came back up with about eight. I picked up some old H.P. Lovecraft paperbacks. Not high quality, but I knew that Sara like HPL. We already had those stories in an anthology, though. I did get a nice hardback H.G. Wells from 1923 or so and a strange book on Magic and Witchcraft iconography.
The other people were certainly taking away more, including many first edition Phillip Dick, Isaac Asimov, and other sci-fi writers.

I asked my fellow rummagers if they knew what had happened. The story they had heard was that the person was carted off to a nursing home and no one wanted to deal with his things. So there they were, hanging out in the basement until tomorrow when they will be taken off to some landfill. From this person's archaeological record, he was some kind of computer scientist interested in space, science-fiction, magic, and languages. He was probably Jewish - maybe a Holocaust survivor or related to one. He enjoyed music and strategy games.

The whole experience has made me think of all the people we pass everyday. As an anthropologist I know each has a story, but this is the first time I have tried to get to know a stranger through their own collection of material culture. Put together a snapshot of a life through the windows of transparent trash bags.

I wonder what story my possessions will say of me someday...

Monday, December 18, 2006


I am tired. It has been a long semester after a particularly difficult move after a particularly stressful spring.

Finals are this week. I have lots of grading to look forward to, but I can also count on a little break. A brief moment to catch my breath and find my equilibrium.

A nice surprise made its way to Sara and me recently: a small token of friendship from Sherri that was very much appreciated. It is nice to know that kindness is still floating out there.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Crisis of a Dying Computer

My DVD Player/CD-Writer on my computer died yesterday. I came into my office and it was making some strange noise and the light was flashing in an unsettling pattern.

After shutting down the computer and rebooting, the light changed to red and the computer no longer believes that the drive exists.

I also had a CD-ROM drive that died on me a couple of months ago. The computer still talks to it, but the drive refuses to open up to anyone else.

The consequences of these events are dire. I can no longer put music on my computer from CDs.

The recent failure is just a sign of the fragile health of my computer. I have had this computer for four years now and it is starting to have random fits (old things and people tend to do that). I got it to write my dissertation on (the laptop I had - which is not in the loving care of Scott - was too unreliable to entrust the massive undertaking of a dissertation and the keyboard was just too small for writing 300+ pages). I knew the day was coming when I needed to start considering replacing it.

I think that day is upon us.

What to do? Among my options:
  • Get a cheap external hard drive and hope that the computer continues to clunk along for a little longer.
  • Get a cheap PC to replace the computer for now.
  • Invest in a better PC that will carry me through the next couple of years.
  • Switch to a Mac - also a bigger investment.
This is a decision that will have to wait until the semester is over and I can ponder it with a better functioning mind. I will entertain suggestions/advice, though...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Irony of Freedom

It is sad day when students are more free to voice their dissent in Iran than in the US (and the leadership is more willing to accept it).

Do I think there is more freedom in Iran than in the US?


But I do think that the current administration's policy of segregating (at best) and silencing (at worst) dissent is a very slippery slope that we are on.

And despite the last election, we need to remain vigilant.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Moving On

Sometimes it seems like tyrants live forever. Fortunately one has come to pass. Augusto Pinochet has joined the Chileans who died from torture and executions under his watch in whatever awaits us beyond this earthly existance.

I had an uncle when I was very young, about three or four, who was from Chile. I don't remember much about him except that he treated my aunt poorly, he played the accordion, and he used to talk about Pinochet. I do remember asking my parents who this Pinochet was.

This is how I learned the meaning of the words dictatorship, coup, torture, and persecution.
Even my father who is rather conservative, did not have nice things to say about this Pinochet guy. I also thought it was silly for a leader to have a name that was so close to Pinocchio's.

It is nice to see that Chile has moved forward, being the first Latin American country to elect a woman president on her own merit.

And could someone tell me why the Texas flag looks so much like the Chilean flag?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

At Work and Being Bad

Thanks to Sherri I am procrastinating and not grading. Mindless fun is just what I need right now...

Monday, December 04, 2006


These days it seems like I am working at at least three jobs (but only really getting paid for one).

1. Teaching: This is what I would consider my day to day job. I have to prepare lectures and activities for my classes, grade, and meet with students regarding the course.

2. Research: Implicit with working at an institution of higher learning, one has to do research and prove the value of said research through scholarly channels; that is, one has to publish or at the very least present the findings.

3. My third job, however, I think comes more out of working at a public institution rather than a private one. Recently I feel like I am also a social worker. I seem to be encountering students with all sorts of problems and issues. Depression is the most common and prevailing issue. Some of them recognize it, while others try to hide it. As someone who suffers from this illness, I can usually recognize it whether hidden or not. Other issues some of my students face: domestic abuse, unwanted pregancies, dyslexia, and deaths of loved ones.

I have mixed feelings about this third job I have been thrust into. These students need help, but often do not know where to get it or are unable to get it. It seems that other faculty seem unsympathetic to their situation (but I am just acertaining that from the way they react to my willingness to listen and help). I let them know that I am not trained to help them with their specific issues, but I can lend an ear and try to help them find help.

Trying to help students with these issues is not in my job description, but I realize that often they are overwhelmed by these circumstances and they are not going to be successful with their education as a result of it. And making sure they are successful IS part of my job description. So what to do? The stream of students coming into my office has grown because as the semester comes to an end, the stress grows, the deadlines loom, and the students crack. The meetings and converstations are draining and time consuming, yet I feel I need to do what I can for them.

Why am I facing this new dimension of the education profession now? It must have something to do with the fact that I am dealing with a broader socio-economic spectrum of students. There are more students that do not have the resources to find and get the assistance that they need. In addition they might even have family situations where there is a lack of understanding of the issues that they face. Moreover, the school itself has less resources allocated to address the issues these students face.

For now I will continue to do what I can. Listen, give advice when asked for, and help find more competent forms of help when needed.

And there are some small rewards: the smile on a student's face who has gotten back on track and is doing well in class when a few weeks before she had been distraught and in tears in my office.

That said, I need a break soon. Just a few more weeks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

To Hell in a ...

I have been meaning to write more here, but I haven't. There are thoughts bouncing around in my head that need to be written, but they aren't. You know the saying about good intentions and pavement. No, wait...the road and good intentions...Damn! How does the saying go?

Forget it.

Among the things I wanted to write about:
  • Details about our trip to San Jose
  • Our funky hotel in San Francisco
  • Some random thoughts about the San Francisco Bay
  • My tasty smashed potatoes recipe
  • An account of the fun New York City exploration we finally got to do
  • And some other things that have hidden in the depths of my mind just now when I wanted to list them
But the following things seem to have gotten in the way:
  • One of our dogs seems to have bowel problems - very unpleasant in many ways
  • Tons of grading
  • A presentation at a Latino immigration conference at the college (I am debating whether I want to put the text or portions up here)
  • Accounting (travel reports and receipt chaos)
  • Student crisis #1: brother died from skin cancer. Moral-wear sunscreen.
  • Student crisis #2: father died in tragic car accident. Moral-wear seatbelts.
  • Student crisis #3: got pregnant, freaked out, got an abortion, and is estranged from family (not necessarily in that order). Moral-use protection.
  • Ordering books for next semester
  • Submitting paperwork for courses I want to teach in the fall (you gotta love bureaucracy)
  • Lack of energy
I am so looking forward to the end of the semester.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Things that Amaze Me:
  • I am living in New York and I have not had good pizza (not for a lack of trying)
  • Ditto Chinese
  • Ditto bagels
  • Inwood is a pleasant place to live but has a dearth of good eateries
  • It has been four years since I was last in Italy
  • Anytime I hear music written by Johan Sebastian Bach
  • Ditto Beethoven
  • The power and beauty of nature
  • My sister is 30 – she will always be kind of a kid in my mind (maybe this is because she has a kindred spirit or maybe it is that she is the shorty of the family). Nonetheless, I do recognize that she is a strong, intelligent, and fun woman.
  • We have had Zeus for seven and a half years
  • Airplanes
  • Most of the first-year students I am teaching were born in 1988 – the year I was deciding where to go to college, got my drivers license, and finalizing my adolescent existential crisis.
  • Sara
  • My iPod has the same amount of memory as my computer
  • One of the most popular video games is about being a vandal and criminal
  • Zephyr’s metabolism: she can eat and eat then lounge and sleep all day, yet she remains thin as a pin.
  • Water. Not water as to drink, although I do appreciate a good, crisp, cold glass of water, especially when it’s hot or I am really thirsty, rather water in the landscape. Be it a river, lake, the ocean, or even a pond, I find a certain spiritual tranquility when I stand in the presence of a body of water. Some of my favorites: Lake Tahoe, Big Sur, Reykjavik, Capri and the Amalfi Coast, Catalina Island, Tulum, Lago di Como, the west coast of Sweden, Acadia National Park, and Cinque Terre
  • I am very close to being in my LATE thirties
  • Pre-colonial Mesoamerican architecture
  • How much our dogs shed
  • The capacity of humans to both love and hate (and how often they can not distinguish the two)
  • The ignorance of many of my students when it comes to geography and their apathy on the matter
  • The internet
There are myriad more, but I will save them for later.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Just back

And I appropriately did well on the exit exam (thanks Kelly).

You're totally like 78% California!

Ahhh... a true California Aficionado! That's just like a California Avocado but not as green. Come on over and we'll make some guacamole and chips and watch a CHP chase on the news.

How California are You?

More on the trip in a bit.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Do you know the way to San Jose?

Tomorrow we leave for San Jose.

Today was pretty brutal trying to get everything done before we leave. And wouldn't you know it, the world refused to cooperate. For example, the dry-cleaners did not have our order in. Not only that, the attitude-laden girl/woman was so extremely rude about it. Time to find a different dry-cleaner.

Tomorrow is not going to be much better. Up at 5 am (I need to get into work early to take care of somethings in the office before 8 am class), avoid bears in the parking lot (probably upset that they could not find the frat party), two classes, drive home, try to get the dry-cleaning, pack, pick-up Sara, take the dogs to the "doggy hotel", park in the remote Newark lot, find our way to the airport, catch the 7:15 flight to San Francisco, find the stupid shuttle, ride for an hour with stinky strangers, and then collapse. Lots of opportunities for the world not to cooperate there. Let's hope for the best.

I kinda, sorta, almost finished my paper. It is not good, which is disappointing because it has potential. I keep telling myself that I will come back to it. It is hard, though, because you have to face the new things life continues to throw at you.

I am not sure how much I will engage these meetings. I feel so burnt out that I might just stand by the wayside. On the other hand I have this nagging voice (don't you hate those) telling me that I need to be more active in the field. I will see how I feel once I get there.

I am looking forward to seeing my sister. It has been a while since I last saw her.

One saving grace about all of this is that next week I don't have to teach. There is a giant pile of things that have been pushed off until then waiting for me, but for now I am just pretending that said pile is not there.

By the way, does anyone know what there is in San Jose other than the Winchester Mystery House and a bunch of computer geeks?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lions, Tigers, and ... (well, you know)

I am not sure if this qualifies me for hazard-pay...
A message from the Security Department:

Please be advised that two black bears were observed in the vicinity of the Mansion on campus on Tuesday, November 7, 2006
at approximately 3:30 a.m.

The bears are in search of food and do not usually approach human beings in a menacing manner.

Nevertheless, if you do see a bear, use extreme caution, and do not move toward it. Rather, follow the instructions below and
contact Security at Ext. 6666 immediately.

1. Make lots of noise so that the bear is aware of your presence. An automobile horn is extremely effective.

2. Make sure the bear has an escape route.

3. Stay at least 100 feet away from the bear.

4. Slowly back away if you are too close to the bear.

For further information about living in the vicinity of black bears and
your safety, type the following web address into your browser:
Grounhogs, squirrels, chipmunks, even deer (I saw some the other day), I can deal with. An encounter with a bear as I make my way to class at 7:30 am, maybe not.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


There is this pesky paper I need to write and it is hanging over my head like a piñata (credit for that silly pun goes to my sister). It should already be in the hands of the discussant who is to comment on it at the anthropology meetings next week in San Jose (the one in California).

As you may have guessed, it is not done. I am supposed to be working on it today. But here I am.

So things went well, for once. It is a step in the right direction, but there are so many things that need to be done. Moreover, just because the Democrats are slightly better than Republicans that doen't mean that we are now all saved. There were disappointments. I was following the race in NM-1 closely which the Republican incumbent eked out. The Senate race in TN showed that racist tactics still work. Speaking of race, I received a poll which had questions about race in politics such as would you vote for a multi-racial or African American candidate? How warm or cold do you feel towards illegal immigrants, welfare recipients, Hispanics, etc.? Good god! I digress...

I was curious to see what voting would be like in The Big City. The polling place was fairly similar to other places I have voted - I went around 2 pm and it was pretty quiet. The voting equipment was MUCH different. They still have the ancient lever machines here in NY. It was my first experience with one of these.

Unlike the shaky corregated plastic "stands" I punched my ballots in California or that I filled in bubbles in Massachusetts and Washington, the machines were large behemoths that stood behind a dense curtain that seemingly was designed to double as a fallout shelter. My pulling of the lever for each of my choices was answered by a lound clank from within the bowels of the machine.

Once I was done with my choices, I had to pull the giant lever at the bottom of the machine. It felt like I was switching the tracks at Railroad station as I moved the lever from right to left. With the giant final clank, I was done.

For once, I was on the winning side of things. The outcome was not close in any of the races, so my vote was not all that crucial. At least I was part of the process.

Celebrity City:
Once again our neighborhood (more specifically the block around our building) is the locale for the filming of a television episode. It is still Law and Order, but this time it is the Special Victims Unit spin-off. While the first time was a novelty, this time it is more of an annoyance. They are definitely taking up more street space than the last time and they have marked off the space where I usually park as no-parking for all of today and tonight. Since I got home last night from class at around 10:30, I could not be bothered to hunt for an alternative space. I just parked the car in a nearby garage.

The kicker is that I don't even really like the spinoff and there isn't a chance of me running into Jesse Martin again.

Ok...time to work on the stupid paper or prepare for class tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Preaching to the Choir

Need I say more?

Still not voting? I did not want to resort to this but...

Ok, you called my bluff. I could never hurt a dog. But you should still go vote.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Nope, not combobuluted yet.

Not even close.

Thanks, Beav', for the definitions. It helps to know more or less what you are aiming for.

Sara has been really sick for the past five days. It is a nasty cold or maybe strep. I haven't been feeling too good myself, but next to her I have no right to complain. I am not sure if I am fighting off whatever got her or something else. It has been hard to focus, get motivated, and be productive.

This is not good because I am supposed to have a paper written for a confernce next week. I have ideas that pop up in my head, but nothing concrete. And somewhere between the idea popping up and the effort it takes to get to my desk to start working on the paper, it disappears. So I sit, exhausted from the effort, and end up doing nothing.

I should know by now, after countless years of college and graduate school, I am not going to wake up and find the paper written. So I am not sure what I am waiting for.

Perhaps a break in the time-space continuum?


The above description as to my state of mind is also an explanation as to my lack of writing here. Same sequence of events, more or less.

Despite all the poor health, unfocused minds, and general clutter (mental and physical), the dogs went to the vet today and got a clean bill of health. Actually Zeus does have a small heart murmur, but nothing to be concerned about. The vet, a very personable and thorough one, praised their good health and overall cleanliness.

One novelty was that the scope he used to look into their ears projected onto a monitor in the room so I could see the ear canals of my dogs. Zephyr had a little wax in one of her ears, which looked like moss growing on the side of a cave. The three other ear canals look spotless. Too bad they don't have that gizmo at my doctor. I would love to see inside my ear.

I guess I should go and at least pretend to be productive.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Yes, I am discombobulated.

I am looking for someone who is combobulated so I know what I should be aiming for as I try to get my act together.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Recyled Treats

"Lack of Creativity" borrowed from Itiohs

Due to a lack of time, energy, enthusiasm, and creativity I am recycling an old post to mark this day. Since there has been a major turnover in my readership, this will be new to most of you (sorry Scott - you are one of the few tested and true readers who still lingers so this will seem a little stale). Without further ado:

[From October 31, 2003]
Trick or Treat
It’s hard to avoid the fact that today is Halloween. Our doorbell is sure to be ringing this evening with children dressed up looking for some sweet treats. I just hope there are some left by this evening to hand out to them. On the other hand, I hope we don’t have too many visitors so that there will be some treats left for me. For you, I offer this treat from my childhood:

Growing up in middle class Mexico, Halloween was always a strange holiday. It was the day leading up to the more traditional Day of the Dead, which is a grotesquely festive day. Mexicans tend to have a morbid fascination with death (I could go on about this here, but I will put that off for a different day). Rather than be mournful and sorrowful, November 1 is a day when one can commune with the spirits of those who have passed away. The festive nature can be seen in the abundant and amply decorated sugar skulls and skeletons. There is also the special bread, el pan de muertos (bread of the dead), which is baked just for this day. The food in general for this day is amazing. Throughout the country, one can see candlelight processions and elaborate flower and gift arrangements taken to graveyards.

Not wanting to pass up an opportunity for a party, many middle class Mexicans have adopted Halloween as well. When I was a child, there generally was a block party from which we made rounds through the neighborhood looking for sweet loot. Some factors made this process particularly amusing.

At the time, Halloween was a new concept in Mexico, so the variety of store-bought costumes was fairly limited. So unless you had creative parents, it was quite likely that your costume would look like someone else's. My mother refused to buy costumes, insisting that she could make it herself. At the time I resented not being able to have a costume that everyone else had. Now I realize that this was actually pretty cool. My favorite costume was when I was the Incredible Hulk. A friend of ours worked in the theater and she gave us some white makeup to which we added crushed green chalk. We ripped some old clothes and the costume was made. Never mind that I was a tall and lanky kid, I still was a cool Hulk.

Pumpkins in Mexico are not orange, but a yellow-green color. They are also hard as a rock. So attempting to carve a jack-o-lantern was always an impossible task.

The catchy phrase “trick or treat” does not exist in Spanish. Instead we had “Queremos Jalouín!” (We want our Halloween!), as though we were entitled to some candy.

Houses in middle class Mexico are surrounded by high gates or walls, which made knocking and demanding our Halloween impossible. So we rang a doorbell and demanded our Halloween through an intercom.

As I mentioned before, Halloween was relatively new and most people did not have any treats for us. So often we got whatever they could scrap up. Among the things I found in my bag were random stale cookies, batteries, clothespins, coins, pocket-sized packs of tissues, fruit, stones, and pens.

Most people just did not give us anything. For these people we carried a piece of chalk with us and wrote “CODOS” (literally elbows, but meaning stingy) on the walls in front of their houses. By the end of the evening, these houses would have a nice display of chalk graffiti.

As I grew older, Halloween grew in popularity and became more institutionalized. It spread into working class neighborhoods as well.

Now looking at it from an academic and anthropological perspective, I have followed the debates on how Halloween is just part of American capitalistic imperialism that is eroding the traditional values of the Day of the Dead. While I do see the consumer-oriented aspect of the day (the need to buy candy, costumes, etc.), I also remember having fun. I cannot speak for current day Mexico because I have not lived there for quite some time. When I was there, though, dressing up was part of the party and going out in search for treats and getting random junk was part of my own tradition. I still enjoyed getting my sugar skull and eating the special bread the next day. One did not replace the other. Each had its own special meaning to me. And these meanings will be different for each individual.

Ok, maybe that wasn’t a treat. I tricked you.

So here is a trick or treat option for you:

Treat: what is your favorite treat?

Trick: what has been the best/worst trick you have ever played or have had played on you?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Autumnal New Jersey

Unfortunately the colors didn't really come through in these pictures. They are actually quite spectacular. I also like the stange cloud pattern in the sky.

It is strange how the trees around the college are nearly completing their seasonal transformation, yet the trees in New York City, which is only 25 miles away, are just beginning their metamorphisis.

The colors, the change in time, the blustery wind: these are just omens of the impending invernal season.

I wish I could hibernate.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What is your ecological footprint?
One of my lectures today was on the environment. One of the topics was the concept of the environmental footprint. I had some students take the online quiz (it is handy having internet access and projection capabilities in the classroom) to find out.

You can also ake the quiz and tell me what your footprint is.

My results:

FOOD .................................... 3.5
MOBILITY ................................ 1
SHELTER ................................. 4
GOODS/SERVICES ................. 3.5
TOTAL FOOTPRINT .............. 12




Tuesday, October 24, 2006

NYC Observations

Despite the reservations I had last spring, I like living in New York so far. We have not been able to explore as much as I would have liked, but we have been able to visit a few things. I think I am slowly getting over my culture shock and learning how things are done here. Inwood is a pretty funky neighborhood with a strange brew of nationalities and peoples.

Our building in particular is a living cultural archaeological site with the different strata of cultures from the different historical habitation patterns of the neighborhood. There are some old Eastern European Jews that have been here for a long time, then there are some Dominican families who probably moved in sometime later, and now there is the influx of young artistic (there is a concert pianist that lives above us - I quite enjoy his/her playing) and professional couples. Yes, I am contributing to the gentrification of the building and the neighborhood.

Sara asked if it is still gentrification even though I am Mexican. Sadly, I think the answer is still yes.
Instant Rejection

I sent off my first job application of the season today (via email and snail mail) and I got my first rejection on the same day. The application deadline was last week, but I have sent in applications late before (announcements usually say Due: Month/Day or until position is filled).

Today's application got a quick reply via email:
I am very sorry, but legally we cannot accept applications received
after the Oct. 16 deadline.

Many good wishes,

The whole legality issue is bogus. I can accept that they would not consider my application past the deadline, but to come up with some trumped up reason...

What a way to start off the week.

Oh well...on to the next one.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I have been scarce around here lately. I am sure some of you probably thought that the people in the white coats did end up taking me away.

Yes, things are busy around here so I am going to limit myself to some quick hits:
  • I just realized that my first "hit" ended up being a bad pun. Why? Because I was going to encourage you to go over and read Oso's account of being the victim of crime in Venezuela. Crime of all kinds sucks, but what is worse is when there is a crowd of bystanders who could help prevent or contain it but fails to act in any way. It is this apathy that leads to an evironment where crime is tolerated and thus catalyzed.
Ironically, it is the Oso doing the mugging in this picture -
he is probably trying to get his computer and iPod from that pinche guey!
  • On a lighter note, the other day as I was walking to my office on campus I saw a large fuzzy ball hide behind a tree. The campus is in a wooded semi-rural area in Northern New Jersey. Squirrels and chipmunks are abundant (much to Zeus' dismay, however, dogs are not allowed on campus). This was much larger than any of those critters. As I made my way along the path and could glimpse behind the tree, I saw a groundhog in person for the first time. Yesterday I saw many of them gorging themselves (true to their porcine moniker) on the grassy areas of campus. It is no wonder that they gain such large girth. I just wonder how the avoid become a nasty tasty smorgasbord for some ravenous carnivorous mammal or a bird of prey.

  • I am off to DC today for a busy conference. I have yet to pack and the shuttle will be outside my door in couple of hours, so I better quit this nonsense and get to it...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Visual NYC: The Cloisters

Visual NYC: The Cloisters

Taken from Inwood Hill Park.

We live ridiculously close to both the Cloisters and IHP. We hear the bell ring, which is never on the hour; rather it is somewhere between 5 and 18 minutes after.

Soon all the green you see here will be gone.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Strange Days

Strange Days
I thought I had enough of a story with yesterday's events that were related to my dermatology appointment. Today I see that only a few blocks from where the doctor's office is located, a plane flew into a building.

It happened around the same time that I had my appointment yesterday.

I was 24 hours removed from an even more bizarre story.

And perhaps from talking about how something like this

nearly fell on my head. Now that would have definitely made my day worse.

I feel for the people whose apartment that plane flew into. Imagine, you are settling in after a hectic day and BAM! in comes a plane into your living room. I feel bad for the baseball player/pilot, but if you fly one of those things, you are aware of the risks. I don't think anyone living in a building ever loses much sleep thinking about an unwanted arial intruder dropping in.

What is next? I am a bit edgy about my appointment tomorrow now. Good thing it is with the psychiatrist...or maybe not. If you don't hear from me again, maybe the men in white coats took me away.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wishful Thinking

I would like to go to see a doctor and not have a story to tell. Today was the dermatologist.

It was one trial after another. I am too tired to explain, but it involved bleeding, subways, and getting lost.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Visual New York: Inwood Wetlands

Visual New York: Inwood Wetlands

These are some of the few of the wetlands that remain around the island of Manhattan. They are on the northern tip of the island (and a few blocks from where we live). If you look carefully in the middle of the picture you can see a crane enjoying lunch.

The "river" behind the mudflats is the Harlem River and behind that is the Bronx.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hard on the Eyes

Today I had another medical appointment: the opthamologist. I am on a health-kick; next week it's a double whammy: the dermatologist and the psychiatrist.

All I can say, it is very nice to have good health insurance for once and access to medical doctors.

In any case, at the opthamologist, I had my eyes dilated so they could check my lovely retinas. You may be pleased to know that everything looked good.

My challenge was leaving the office in Midtown New York and making my way around with pupils that resembled those of an owl. Moreover, Sara had asked me to pick up a small gift for a shower she is going to. I knew there was a nice set of stores nearby that included a bookstore. Getting around was not easy. You know how your eyes are sensitive when you come out of a early showing of a movie? Well, multiply that by five (I was going to write ten, but that would be too melodramatic). Moreover, my vision was blurry, especially if I tried to look at anything nearby.

I did find my way to the bookstore. Inside I welcomed the lack of windows and sunshine (for once!). I located a gift fairly quickly, but then I began to stall - I did not want to go back outside. I wanted to look around, but not being able to see things clearly nor read makes browsing in a bookstore a bit of a chore. After some time I think I began to freak people out. I would hold things in various angles trying to read them, then I would turn and look at them with enormous dilated eyes. It was at this point that they would slowly back away and make for a quick exit.

I left the bookstore only to be greeted by beams of sunshine pouring in through the massive glass walls that encircled this particular galleria. I grabbed a free cup of espresso being doled out by Illy (the wealthy patrons of these shops certainly don't need the free coffee yet they are the one's who get it) and took refuge in the Whole Foods located in the basement of building. I thought to myself, now I have an idea of what vampires feel like.

I finally braved the trek to the subway stop, squinting my way along. In the subway there were hoards of people going to the Yankees game decked out in their silly regalia. I hate the Yankees (I felt this way even before I lived in Boston). Coupled with my wide pupils, my glares kept even the rowdiest fans far away from me.

I did make it home, but I was unable to be productive because I could not read nor work at the computer. So I watched a documentary I had recorded on the Mexican American War.

Let's see what fun tale I have next week after the pimple-popper and the shrink...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

New Flatmates

In all the excitement of the chaotic life we are leading and the wildness of living through the tetanus booster gone bad, I have not had a chance to write about our new flatmates [aren't I posh using the British term?]. Frankie's recent post about her experiences with her new neighbors reminded me that I should share ours.

Sara was the first to meet one of them in the kitchen. She was quite surprised and did not know what to make of this stranger standing there partaking of our food ... or rather the crumbs that were left on the counter. Sr. Cucaracha was not all that friendly and he tried to scurry off without even a hello. Finding this rude, Sara reached for some dish soap to slow his pace. She then proceeded to squish him with a papertowel - all in one swift swoop.

[sidenote: you definitely do not want to snub Sara if you are an insect, especially if you are eating our food]

I got to meet our other new roommate, Srta. Ratoncita, early one morning. She is very shy and quickly ran and hid under our stove. Our paths crossed a few days later in the evening. I went to get a cup from the drying rack when something behind it moved. It was her. I yelped because I did not expect anyone there. She freaked and ran behind the stove.

I don't want to sound rude or anything, but between the two dogs, Sara, and me, the place is already fairly crowded and I rather not share it it with anyone else. I have asked Srta. Ratoncita and the friends and family of Sr. Cucaracha to move out. Moreover, I have attempted to be a poor host and failed to leave crumbs on the counter and floors. Srta. Ratoncita has obliged to my request and has not been seen round these parts anymore. In a moment of fatigued weakness, I failed to clean the kitchen last night and this morning I was greeted by Sr. Cucaracha II in the kitchen.

I am not afraid of the critters. Where I grew up, giant cucarachas, mice, and rats were ubiquitous. I also know that living in a city and in a neighborhood where cleanliness is not a high priority, these visitors will be a part of life. I do want to contain their visits, but I want to do it without really having to resort to using pesticides and insecticides (now those do scare me). I have set up roach traps and semi-humane mousetraps. But I thinking keeping the place clean is the best line of defense. We'll see. There may be more chapters in this saga/telenovela.

Friday, September 29, 2006

I had to take my first sick day at my new job today.

After the miserable night last night (see below), I woke up, got ready for work, and I realized that there is no way I was going to make it. I took my temperature and indeed, I had a fever.

For some reason my body has not taken kindly to the tetanus toxoid:

Seems so innocuous when pictured like that.

I have spent today alternating between sleeping and watching recorded tv shows. The dogs still don't seem to understand that I am incapacitated and keep on wanting to be taken out.

My condition is beginning to improve, but I still have a way to go.
3:50 am ...

...and I am up and awake. There is a gentle rain outside and a crisp cool breeze is gently tiptoing through the open windows. Confused the dogs are wandering wondering why I am not sleeping.

What they don't know is that yesterday I went to the doctor. He decided that I needed a tetanus booster.

I hate tetanus shots.

You might as well pour concrete into my arm and then proceed to beat on it with an aluminium bat (a wooden bat would be excessive).

This shot has also made me queezy and restless. So as I try to sleep I toss and I turn...right on to the very sore arm. I lie awake and then the thoughts start creeping into my head. Those awful thoughts of everything you need to do but cannot do anything about at 3 am.

Now the clock has just turned to 4:00 am. The alarm is going to go off in an hour and a half, informing me that the time to rise and ready myself for my 8:00 am class has arrived.

Perhaps I shall go try to find that sleep that has eluded me so far this night.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Warning: Rant Ahead

Now that I am older (and according to lore - wiser), I want to rant on a topic that I have gradually written less and less on: politics.

My silence on this topic may be a result of one or more of the following:
  • Frustration
  • Apathy
  • Distraction
  • Dimentia
  • Resignation
Or perhaps I just did not have anything to say.

We are coming up to an election. Let's call it an election lite. The turnout for the last mid-term election was around37 percent (which is more or less on par for midterm elections). Presidential elections garner about 50 to 60 percent. There are differences in the numbers based on what you take as the denominator (voting age people, voting eligible people, or registered voters). In any case, those rates are sad for a country that supposedly prides itself on democractic ideals.

That's not to say that things would be better off if we had higher participation rates.

If we had a better educated electorate, however, I think we would be both better off and have higher participation rates.

We would also have less mind-control from the corporate media. Two shameless examples are the 9-11 film that aired on ABC that distorted facts to push a political message and the confrontation between Bill Clinton and Chris Wallace this past weekend. It was amazing that there was such a direct confrontation on the air. The way it was reported, however, portrayed Clinton as the belligerent and irrational individual. If you watch the whole interview (or at least the entire part where the confrontation took place), it is clear that while Clinton is upset, he is also articulate and convincing in his arguments.

I encourage you to see the interview. Joe has kindly linked the interview, as well as some of the smarter reaction to it. I found Keith Olbermann's commentary particularly refreshing and Jon Stewarts quiet cynicism on target.

Which brings me to the second issue I want to discuss - safety. The current administration continues to hammer home the ideology of fear and that only they can provide us the safety we so desire. They use this ideology to destroy guarantees of civil rights at home and pursue criminal foreign policies. We are supposed to believe that they are creating a neat shield to ensure that we are safe.

Then we eat spinach. And we get sick.

They tell us not to eat spinach, but after exhaustive searches, they still don't know why or how the once healthy leafy green became contaminated with e. coli. Panic ensues and tons of spinach is discarded. I wonder if anyone will eat spinach ever again.

I like spinach. I will eat it again.

The moral of the story, however, is that some terrorist who did not wash her/his hands after relieving her/himself, could hurt us and create a nationwide panic and our government continues its run down the path of ineptitude despites its claims of vigilance and safety.

Maybe we should start a war on spinach or on e. coli. I should point out that we should be wary of the term war - especially when the war is "on" something. Wars are fought "against" an enemy. Terrorism is not an enemy, its a tactic. Fighting a war on terror is as silly as one on spinach.

The truth is: we will never be safe. We can be safer (remember the whole deal with safe vs. safer sex). We can be safer with world cooperation and ensuring that people are not driven to extremism. Our goal should be a world were terrorism becomes an unecessary, or at least, an unacceptable, tactic. We are so far from that world.

Voting in the next election will not bring us closer to that world, but I am going to vote anyway. Even if all the contests that I will be voting in are pretty much not contests.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I ain't getting any younger...

That's about all I have to say on this day.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Visual NY

I have finally started carrying my camera around with me as I explore my new surroundings. On occasion I will post some of these images, some with commentary, some without - depending on my mood.

This is the new neighborhood:

 Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bright Lights, Big City

The other day, as I was walking the dogs, I noticed signs posted on all the trees and lamposts along our streets. Upon closer inspection, the signs indicated that there would be no parking along the street for one day because there was going to be a film crew for Law and Order.

Film crews have followed me around during my life. When I was four or so, I appeared in some cheezy B movie that was filmed in Acapulco. I was in the pool swimming as the camera panned to the stars who were having a conversation poolside.

In college, the campus was used as a set for several films and an episode of Quantum Leap. Living in Providence, the street I lived on was the setting for many autumn scenes for the television show Providence (most which were not filmed in autumn, requiring leaves to be shipped in and strewn about - and never cleaned up). Also a scene from the film There's Something about Mary was filmed a couple of houses down.

Even this past summer I shared the campus where I taught with another film crew (I don't remember the name of the film now).

Despite these experiences, I still find it fascinating how much effort is put into the production. A whole day of work might end up as a couple of minutes on film. It can also be fun running into and meeting celebrities. Kevin Klein and Sigourney Weaver - very cool people.

So this week, as I walked the dogs, I watched in awe as lights, cameras, equipment, and props got shuffled about. Having just dealt with moving, I thought about how these people have to unpack all this stuff for one day and then just turn around and pack it all back up.

Several apartments on our block were used as sets, including one just behind ours.

Some other scenes were shot out on the street, requiring an army of people with earpieces to shut down the pedestrian traffic while the filming took place.

I was admiring the hustle of all the production crew while Zeus and Zephyr engaged in a thorough sniffing of trees and hydrants, when out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of someone coming out of the building. This person was headed in my direction. Thinking it was someone that was about to tell me to move along or that my dogs and I had just ruined a scene, I turned to face them.

When I got a clear look at this person, the first thought to cross my mind was, "Man, that is one handsome dude." I should point out that I usually don't think about the attractiveness of males, but this guy was striking. He came up and said, "That is one great looking dog. Very distinctive," as he jestured to Zeus. On cue, Zeus turned his attention to the guy and moved over to say hello and accept further compliments.

It was at this point that I realized that this handsome man was Jesse Martin, one of the leading actors of Law and Order.

He is much taller than I expected. Usually you hear about how celebrities are usually shorter than what they appear on film. As I stood there slowly realizing who this person was, he added diplomatically, "That one is also quite nice," motioning towards Zephyr. She, as usual, remained oblivious.

So I guess I was the odd one out among this sea of attractiveness.

I thanked him. He smiled and mentioned that he had to run, which he did.

The dogs poked around some more and then we went back inside. That evening Zeus displayed an air of confidence that almost shouted out, "A celebrity thought I was good looking...a handsome celebrity at that."

Maybe I am a little jealous...

Why is it so hard to get my act together?

Life should be easier and simpler, shouldn't it?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Still Trying to Figure Out which Way is Up

I am a disoriented mess - running around trying to get things done but feeling like I am not getting very far. After several tries, we finally have desks and they are now even assembled. Tomorrow we will hopefully get internet, cable, and a phone.

This is good for several reasons.

First, it seems like our apartment is in the one little corner of NYC that does not get cell phone signal (we get a signal, but just one bar and you have to be by the window). Trying to set up life (and disconnect your old one) is so hard without a working phone. I do remember the days before cell phones, trying to set up everything from a pay-phone.

I would not mind not having a phone so much if I could use the internet at home. So much of my professional life runs through the internet. My office is nice, but driving out here when I don't have to teach is a waste of time, energy, and resources.

Cable will just be a treat. We can now watch the few shows we have been missing and procrastinate by flipping through all the other crap that is on.

Back to the desks. The other problem we have is that we only have one desk chair. The second (and third one) we had got sacrificed to the we-don't-have-room-in-the-moving-truck gods. Those gods actually got a lot of things that would have been useful...but let's put aside the tears over that flowing milk.

Time to go to class.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Culture Shock (or What I learned about living in New York yesterday)
  • Don't go to New Jersey on Sundays to shop for anything. All retail stores are closed (as we discovered pulling into IKEA needing to buy two desperately needed desks). All supermarkets are insanely crowded (probably because they are one of the few things that are open). And liquor stores are the only other place to spend your money (probably making the driving aspect of it more hazardous). Yes, we paid the $6 George Washington Bridge toll to discover this.
  • Avoid using your car to do any errands. You will lose your parking spot, especially if there is a trendy riverside bar down the street popular with the chic Domincan community. Finding a new spot is very difficult and could be a competitive sport.
  • New Jersey is a stupid state with very confusing traffic configurations.

I did not actually learn this yesterday (I already knew it from my years in Mexico and it hit me today as I took the dogs out for their morning bathroom needs), but Latin Americans tend to litter a lot. The trash all over the street from the aforementioned crowds attending the bar brought back memories of the litter lining the roads of Mexico. Why people think they can just toss their refuse on the street is beyond me, especially when there are many recepticles on almost every street corner.

Today's date has not escaped me, but I want to write a more thoughtful entry on the memorial I went to yesterday. That will be coming soon, hopefully.

Off to try to get some desks - second try.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused
Once again I find myself posting before having to teach. I have 40 minutes and I don't plan to do much today. I am just going to introduce the course and urge them to go hear the convocation speaker: Eric Schlosser.

I would like to go hear him speak, but there are so many other things I need to do. I don't think I will hear anything new at his talk, though. What would really be interesting would be to meet him, but as a new and marginal faculty member, that would probably be too difficult. It is likely that I will pass.

It was nice to hear that my absence was noticed by a few. It gives pause to the incoherent existential ramblings that take place in my head. And I do have quite a few observations to share, when I have a little more time, things settle a bit, and I get internet access at home.

I am still going through each day in somewhat of a disoriented haze. Part of it is that I have not recovered from the chaos and the exhaustion of the move - by far the most stressful and difficult one I have been part of (and I have been part of many) [on a side note - I just got a cranky message from our old landlord bemoaning the condition we left our old apartment. It was messy, but I warned her that it would be. I scuffed a wall with one of the last pieces of furniture I moved out, but nothing major. And some sticky jelly-like decorations Sara put up in the bathroom left some marks that need to be painted over. I don't think it is all that bad, but her complaining bothers me - I am not sure why. I just need to let it go]. Moreover, it really has not hit me that we now live in New York and not Boston, nor that school has started and I need to be more engaged in my classes and teaching. I am here, but I don't feel like I am. Finally, I think there is a bit of culture shock that is going on, but not only have I yet to process the shock - I am still unsure of what exactly the shock is. I know it is there, but I have yet to identify it.

Despite the confusion, I am excited about our new locale. There are so many things to explore and learn about; so many places to visit and foods to try. I am eager to fall into a stable routine and begin to engage the metropolis we are inhabiting, the courses I am teaching, the new research that is awaiting me, and the cuisines that are begging to be consumed.

I just wish I had a little more time to let things settle.

Well, I have the twenty minutes before class starts.

I am hoping to get out and take some pictures to post with my upcoming observations...let's see if that happens.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

MIA (Part II)
Some of you may have noticed that I have not been around. Maybe no one noticed...

There are several reasons for this:
Moving consumed every bit of energy I had (I think I am still facing an energy deficit).
We have no internet access at our new place (no phone either). We need to wait until September 14 for this to be remedied.
There have been other matters that have kept me preoccupied.

Given the above reasons, one might be inclined to ask how is it possible that I can be writing now (probably no one is asking this, but I will go ahead and answer this conundrum nonetheless). Well, even though I am facing an energy deficit, I am still functioning just as our government can continue to operate with a budget deficit. Just like the government situation, I know that it will all come crashing down sometime, but I choose to ignore it for now.
As to internet access, I am finally in my new office which IS connected. I used to think that I should not goof off in my office, but that code of ethics went out the window.
And then there are those other pesty preoccupations - well, like the energy deficit, I am choosing to ignore those too, for the time being.

I do have my first class of the semester in two hours for which I have done ZERO preparation, so I better bring this to a close and deal with that matter for now.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

MIA (missing in action or moving is awful)

Yes, I have been away. Moreover, things have not been going particularly well.
Driving down to NY we had numerous mishaps:
  • While at a rest-stop, I hit Sara on the head with the back hatch of the car.
  • We got stuck on I-91 for a couple of hours. There was a huge accident and they closed the freeway down. This is not good when you, your wife, and your two extremely freaked out dogs really need to pee. As the traffic crept ahead, we were finally able to get off the freeway, but we were in middle of nowhere. Driving around a bit, we found a country club that had a restaurant and a grassy patch next to the parking lot.
  • In Danbury, CT, we stopped to try to get something to eat. We could not find anywhere with a drive-thru. We finally saw a supermarket and ran in quickly there. We got two turkey sandwiches and went back to the car to eat them. It was one of the worst turkey sandwiches I have had in a long time. Sara could not eat it.
  • When we finally got to NY, exhausted, we were taking the dogs up to our new place. We had to go in an elevator, which was new to Zephyr. Zeus had ridden in elevators before, but this was an old one and more bouncy than those he had ridden in before. When we finally got them in and going up, we thought we were home. Wrong. When the doors opened, there were two very mean looking dogs barking at us. Our freaked dogs were even more spooked. We quickly pressed the button to close the door and we went down a floor. We exited and tried going up the stairs. Zeus made it up fine, but Zephyr who only learned how to do stairs last year, slipped on the stone top of the stairs, only making it up three or four stairs before retreating. Seeing that the dogs were gone, I went back down and took Zephyr up in the elevator.
We came back to Boston last night without the dogs. My mom and stepfather are dog-sitting in NY. We arrived to a very messy and unhospitable apartment (there is nowhere to sit!). Our bad luck is not over. Sara is not feeling well (ie. she is very sick).

There is still much to do and I am fading quickly. We'll see how this turns out.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Moving Madness

Moving - it is madness, I tell you, utter madness. You don't believe me...have a listen:

You pack some stuff, then you turn around and there is more stuff to pack right where the old stuff you already packed was. You pack that, only to find more stuff waiting. It never ends. The stuff is out to get me!

Erratic behavior:
So I had two small piñatas that were certainly not going to make the trip. Why I had these piñatas is a long story and unimportant. And no, Scott, they were not toilet piñatas. Not wanting to confine these poor piñatas to the local landfill, I found a good home for them: the small Mexican taqueria down the street that already had a couple piñatas adorning the store-front. I had asked the owner if he would like them a couple of weeks ago when I was in there satisfying my need for a bit of my heritage. Today I took them down, but the owner was not there. The only person was a lonely cook. In Spanish, I explained that the owner said he would take the piñatas and that I was dropping them off. As I was leaving, I turned and asked the guy if he knew of anyone who was looking to buy a car as I pointed to the poor Daewoo parked out front. He said that he had a friend who might be interested, so I gave him my number and ran off to continue my hectic day. Think about it. Here comes in this big, gringo looking dude who all of a sudden starts spurting in Mexican Spanish something about piñatas and then starts babbling about a car for sale. Not your normal behavior.

I wake up before 7 am overwhelmed by all the thoughts running through my head. Enough said.

Sitting, staring...staring....staring......staring at all the stuff.

Ok, the voices in my head have not started talking to me, but I am sure they are just giving me the silent treatment.

Ok, we are all stressed here in the X household. Zeus is stressed because he knows what is going on. Zephyr is stressed because she doesn't know what is going on. Sara and I are stressed because we are not sure if we know what is going on.

One more car related anectdote: I had joked with Sara that we needed to park the Daewoo with the "for sale" sign down at the Hi-Lo Supermarket in Jamaica Plain (translation: the local Latino market in a neighborhood with a lot of Dominicans, Cubans, Mexicans, and Central Americans). This came out of a previous joke that the Daewoo would look good as a low-rider, with the neon trim and some flames painted on the side. In other words, a "ghetto car".

Today I began taking the car to local used car dealers to see what I could get for it. In between dealers, I went to a self-storage place to get some more boxes. This place was near Jamaica Plain, in a fairly seedy part of town. As I pulled into the place, two Haitian guys asked me how much I wanted for the car; they had seen the sign on the side in passing. They were seriously interested in the car, much more than anyone else. The whole time I was talking to them, I kept thinking - we should have parked it at the Hi-Lo!

In talking with the Haitian guys, it came out that they were hopeful that the new president there was going to clean things up. By this he meant that he would arrest all the "trouble makers" and shoot them. Hmmm... He continued by stating that preachers (ie. Aristide) should stay in the church and out of politics. He concluded by telling that when Douvalier was in power, things were good, it was all the idiots since then that had messed things up. Good old Papa and Baby Doc - yes, they did great things for Haiti. But then again, what do I know...

If this ramble has not convinced you of my compromised mental state, I am not sure anything will.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Beyond Words: A Universal Illustrated Guide to Xolo's Life