Monday, July 31, 2006

Obstructed View

Remember a while back I mentioned that I took my students to observe gender roles and interaction at a minor league baseball game? This was my view of the field.

I am not sure why I am posting this. Maybe so that I don't have to think about packing and moving.

By the way, does anyone want to buy a car? I'll give you a good deal.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Summer in Boston: Harvard University



As I go along with my mundane life, every now and then it hits me: We have to move.

Not only that, we have to move in the next couple of weeks.

I hate moving. It is one of the few things that can reach deep inside my psyche and yank out tortuous feelings of anxiety. I am not sure why, I have moved so many times. It should be quite routine by now, but it is not.

I alternate from trying to organize and throw away things to avoiding the whole issue and procrastinating. I am not sure how it is all going to get done. We have too much stuff: too many books, too many papers, too many clothes, too much food, too many little souvenirs, too many dog toys, and so on. There are so many little details to tend to as well. And yes, we have to do the things we are supposed to be doing as well. Sara has a course to take (an intense three week summer thing) and I need to plan my classes for the fall and submit proposals for those I want to teach in the spring.

Yes, boys and girls, get ready for some pretty heavy duty complaining over the next couple of weeks. So I imagine there will be little traffic through here ... I don't blame you. You should enjoy your summer.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Parking Tickets

More Culture Shock

As we prepare our move to the metropolis that is New York City, I am faced with some new cultural rules that I need to learn and adapt to. These would be all the parking rules in the city, both de jure and de facto (I love throwing in my brief legal training vocabulary around).

I will have to park our car on the street, but there is a sidestreet along our building that seems to have a lot of parking. The problem will be making sure that I move the car because they have "street sweeping" on alternate sides for an hour and half. So Monday and Thursday one side has no parking from 9-10:30 and Tuesday and Friday the other side has no parking at the same times. Not that they actually sweep the streets, rather it gives the city an opportunity to dole out expensive parking tickets.

We actually got one when we went into the office to officially apply for the apartment. This was in the Upper West Side, which is infamous for its lack of available parking. We parked at 10:40 in a spot that prohibitted parking for street cleaning from 11 to 12:30. There were a ton of cars parked on the same side of the street, so we thought that it really was not enforced and we hoped to be done by 11 anyway. We actually finished about 11:10. When we got out, most of the cars were gone and we had already gotten a ticket: $65 (plus a $2 "convinience fee" to pay online). Most of the cars that had been parked on our side, we then noticed, were just double parked on the other side of the street sans tickets. So in New York it seem like you can double park, but not park by the kerb during "street sweeping".

It's a new culture we are moving into and we need to figure out the new rules. Ah, culture shock!

Monday, July 24, 2006

More on Gender

More on Gender

I wanted to share a few more observations on gender from the observation exercise I did with my class. While at the mall, I was sitting at the food court so that the students could find me if they had a question or concern. During this time I did my own observations.

I watched a woman who must have been in her 50s or 60s walk past three or four times. She had a tight white tube-top, a tight white skirt and white five-inch heels. Her hair was long, bleached, and frayed from the excessive damage of the multiple treatments. The most striking feature, however, was her skin. It was a mix between a bright copper and a dirt brown and was excessively leathery. It was this way all over her body, which there was mostly visible (see the clothing description above). Of course her face was made up with a bright and grotesque combination of flamboyant makeup.

I was not the only one who noticed her. The young adolescent girls at the table next to me watched her with amazement as she strutted by, whispering comments to each other. The college-aged guys behind me took a break from devouring their fast-food lunch to look in disbelief.

The question that ran through my mind was just, why?

The image of this woman was still fresh in my head when on the way back to campus I was presented with an alternative image. My students and I were waiting for the bus when an old woman who was no more than 4'8" walked up to one the students. She must have been in her 70s and was dressed all in black, including a head scarf. She also wore a large religious object as a pendant. She looked a lot like this woman:

It bears mentioning that it was a hot summer day and we were standing in the sun. The student was startled by the question and realized that she did not understand the woman. The woman was speaking Portuguese and wanted to know if someone could let her know when the bus to Fox Point was arriving (Fox Point is the Portuguese neighborhood in Providence, RI). I stepped in and in my rudimentary Portuguese let the woman know that I would inform her since we were going in that direction as well.

I found these two extremes amazing and fascinating: the extent that society and our communities dictate how women (and men, but that is a discussion for a different time) should present themselves. I asked myself which of the two women was more "liberated". I guess the broader point is that these two women with radically gender norms can co-exist in the same social system. They can choose how to present themselves.

Or can they?

I began to wonder about this as the class discussion on gender evolved in my class. Being a class of adolescent girls, it became very clear how much pressure they were under to look, act, and even think in particular ways. Which brings me to my final observation...

Now you may think that anthropologist should be more or less imune to culture shock, especially in their own culture. The experience we had recently in New Jersey proved that this is not the case.

The motel we stayed at was on what would be called a freeway, but it has strip malls, stores, and restaurants right off the side of them. Getting off and back on the "freeway" is ticky if you want to stop along the way. Moreover, if you want to go to something on the other side, you need to drive to the next overpass, go over and double back. This is a pain if you don't know the area and you either go to far or turn back too early (which as you may have guessed I happened to do more than once). But I digress.

The point is we were at this motel and getting anywhere was quite an endeavor that required some skillful driving, quick acceleration, and a good attention span. When it came time for dinner, we did not have the energy to engage in the driving trek (mind you this was when it was also bruttally hot in the area). The one eatery that was next to the hotel was:

Neither Sara or I had ever been to one and we were not quite convinced that we wanted to give our patronage to such a place. But given our lack of energy and the seductive aromas of fried food we went for it.

And we experience culture shock. We felt out of place and somewhat stunned. I was not sure where to look, for if my gaze fell upon one of the servers feelings of guilt and ... ickiness... fell upon me. Even though we were still in the same country, these were cultural circles that we do not frequent. It seemed odd to see families there with their children. The cognitive disonance was just deafening.

With time, the shock wore off yet I never felt at ease. I did begin to observe more and note the extreme gender posturing that was taking place. Males began to pose more, presenting their hypermasculinity. There were groups of women that at first I could not understand why they were there, but the pheromones that were flying clued me in. The most amusing observation involved two males in their thirties who were probably regulars. They were sitting at a high table with bar stools and some of the servers would stop by and chat/flirt with them as they came and went. While the servers were standing there, I could clearly see one of the males eyes. They bounced up and down, from looking at her face to looking at her...well, you know the name of the place. When the server would be talking to the other male, the eyes would remain in the down position for a longer period of time.

The question again was why. Why would any woman want to work in such a place? Yet the attention, the validation, and probably the tips all make convincing reasons, especially when I think about the insecurities and pressures I have seen in so many of may female students.

Do we live in a society were women are or can be liberated and equals? Yes and no would be my answer. Of course, I am a male and my perspective is colored by my gender and the construction of my personal gender identity (which is again a topic for another time - but very screwed up in itself. Can you say machismo and reactionism?).

I am not sure why I wanted to write about this. The Hooters story is funny, but it also seems to fit into broader observations I have made more recently. It probably doesn't matter that much to anyone else.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Fashion Cluelessness

For my summer course, I had the students do an observation exercise on gender at the mall.

In their reports some of them wrote:
At the mall wife beaters were common among the men we observed.
Due to my complete lack of fashion knowledge, I was trying to figure out how they knew that the men were beating on their wives. Were their wives bruised? Did they witness violence?

Of course, what they meant was that the men were wearing something like this:

In my day, such garments would be called tank tops or large undershirts (Sara calls them armpit shirts and forbids me from wearing them - perhaps because subconsciously she fears for her well-being). It is fascinating how stereotyping has led to the new name for such clothing and how it is perfectly acceptable to use the term "wife beater" so casually. None of my students picked up on this even though it fit in so well with the issues of gender we were covering.

The consequences of my not knowing this term spread to our household. As a joke, I began calling the fingerless gloves that Sara was knitting "husband beaters". And somehow the term stuck. I better watch out this winter... and I guess I should brush up on my fashion terminology.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sidebar Shuffle

I did some house cleaning in the sidebar.

I have reset the job counter. I will be applying for jobs again. This time with a little less urgency because there is a good chance that I will be able to stay for a second year at the place I just got hired. Nonetheless, if I can land a permanent position in a place that Sara and I want to live...I will be movin' there. So it is time to clear out the bad vibes from the past year and start with a fresh new page of pessimism.

I need to change my poll question. However, before I do, I must note that this question has by far gotten the highest response. It must be something about combining the topic of sex and annonymity. Maybe I will continue to ask inappropriate questions.

I added a music chart so you can now see my strange and eclectic tastes in music.

I needed to trim back my blogroll. If you used to be up there and you have disappeared, but wish to remain linked, let me know and I will happily put you back up.

That's about it. It's sad, the world is falling apart and all I can seem to write about is my stupid sidebar. It is probably a more cheerful topic, though.

Random note: I know when Sara has had a little too much wine. She tends to wobble and her teeth are purple (noticeable because she tends to grin and giggle much more than usual).

Thursday, July 20, 2006

New York Bound

Our trip was successful, but we paid the price in many ways. It is not wise to look for apartments on one of the hottest days of the year, but we had little choice. With only two days and scheduled appointments we toughed it out and we were rewarded.

I hate apartment hunting - it is one of the things that stresses me out the most. Moreover, I really don't care for those who work in the real estate business - just too many bad experiences. Unfortunately in NY you really need to work with a realtor because landlords rarely rent directly to tenants. There are good things and bad things about this.

The good:
  • The realtor sorts through all the listings and shows you only the places that fit your criteria: location, price range, accept dogs, size, etc.
  • You can see a lot of places in a short period of time.
  • The realtor can somewhat tell you about the neighborhoods, transportation, etc.
The bad:
  • Some realtors can be pretty slimy and unpleasant.
  • You pay! The realtor charges 15% of a year's rent! It really hurts to pay that much, but there are few other choices in NY. We also did not have much time to look and to try to beat the system.
Before we left on Sunday, I had set up a meeting with one realtor on Monday afternoon, one on Tuesday morning, and one on Tuesday afternoon. On Monday morning we had to go to Sara's work because she had to fill out some paperwork. Then in the afternoon we looked at four different apartments. The realtor turned out to be this young Euro-Mutt gay guy. He was fairly nice and kind of funny.

As I already mentioned Monday turned out to be so incredibly hot and humid! It was about 105 degrees out on the asphalt of the city and it felt worse than the thermometer indicated. I thought either Sara or me (or the realtor) was going to get a heat-stroke. By the time we saw the second apartment we were drenched in sweat. We also had a problem in that Sara liked the first apartment better and I liked the second one. That got resolved when we saw the third, which we both liked. The fourth we did not like that much even though it was about four blocks from where Sara will be working (and it had an extra 1/2 bathroom).

That evening we decided that we liked the third apartment we saw and that we did not want to run around the city the next day when the weather was going to be even hotter (actually, it was Sara's idea and she convinced me - it is good to listen to your wife). We cancelled our appointments for Tuesday and put in an application for the apartment. After a few hours, the realtor called us and told us we were pre-appoved and that the approval was just a formality. As we drove back to Boston yesterday we got the call that we were formally approved. It was whirlwind, but a productive couple of days.

The apartment is nice and the building is wedged between two big parks which will be nice for the dogs. It is fairly big - three bedrooms. We were actually looking at two bedrooms, but this one was the same rent as some of the smaller ones. The building is well-maintained and the lobby is beautiful - art deco. We are a couple of blocks from the subway, which Sara will ride to work (three stops). The street that the building is on runs right into the parkway that I will take to get to work. The street that the building is on runs right into the parkway that I will take to get to work. I could not ask for a more convenient place from which to start my commute to NJ.

So that's the summary of our past couple of days. I have a few more observations about NY and NJ, but I will get to those later.

I was pondering though how recent events have conditioned my outlook that when things actually work out the prevalent feeling is one of relief rather than joy or enthusiasm. I need to work on that. We have a new home waiting for us in New York, a nice home in an interesting neighborhood and a dynamic city. Wohoo!!!

Saturday, July 15, 2006



Looking for a spacious, clean, dog-friendly, 2 bedroom apartment in Northern Manhattan. Close to parks a plus.

The summer course is over.

Now the task at hand is finding a new home in New York. From one draining activitity to another. No rest for the wicked.

Sara and I are driving down tomorrow to start the search in ernest. If we are fortunate, two intense days will be all we need to find the perfect space for our new nest.

I have been looking for somewhere to park my tired mind for a few hours, but there seems to be little refuge. Most bloggers seem to have gone on hiatus, they are being slowed down by the summer heat, or they are off on some lovely vacation. The news is no longer a safe place to procrastinate. The fun of the World Cup is over, now all the images flooding the cyberwaves are of violence and fighting. Television is even worse - the same "news" and the pettiness of "reality" shows.

So I faced with either dealing with the upcoming tasks or curling up into a ball and sleeping (and the dogs do this so well that when I do it I feel inadecuate).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Where have I been?

I am tired.
My day consists of:
  • Get up.
  • Drive 45 miles
  • Teach
  • Drive 45 miles
  • Grade
  • Prep class for the next day
  • Sleep
Ok, there are other things that go on. But most of them involve dealing with the upcoming move, organizing the classes I am teaching in the fall, packing up and moving boxes, and so forth.

Hence my silence. No witty observations, no commentary on society, not even the occasional rant or complaint. I guess I am complaining in a way now.

Some good things:
  • It is nice having Sara around again
  • We haven't had one of those creepy bugs for a couple of days
  • I got a fun CD that has brought a hint of smile to my face.
  • I have avoided refering to anyone as youze, y'all, or youts.
Stress abounds, however. The list of things that need to get done before we move expands exponentially.

Well, I think I am ready to take on the last bullet point in my day's itinerary.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

More Irony
  • Finally a summer day that is warm and dry, perfect to have the windows open and what happens? The neighbor is having her house painted and we have to keep the windows closed to keep the noxious fumes out.
  • Another ironic bumper sticker combination that illustrates stupidity: on the same bumper - an image of Buddha in the lotus position and a small image of Che Guevara.
  • A water park near Boston is called Water Wiz. I guess there is some truth in advertising.
  • I just found out that I failed my test for a poetic license. Damn!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What's Happening to me?

What is Happening to Me?

I don't know if it is because I have spent too much time in Italy or I need to get away from the Northeast or it is just the consequence of the hot and humid weather...

...but today I refered to a group of my students as "Youze three..."

Where the hell did that come from?

Yes, I do believe I blushed.


Irony is Lost on the Feeble-Minded

Driving home today from Providence I pulled up behind a car at a stoplight that reminded me how stupid some people are. The car was a large American gas-guzzling cars from the 1980s with an old pinkish paint job and lots of rust stains.

Across the back were several ribbon magnets, some in yellow and some with the American flag. Some implored to "Support Our Troops!" while others requested "God Bless America!"

Contrasting this proud patriotism was a Confederate flag taped to the inside of the back windshield.


Oh, and the model of the car? A Lincoln Towncar.

'nuff said...

Monday, July 03, 2006

Mexican Elections

Presidential Election in Mexico

It looks like the elections in Mexico are a tie between the conservative, Catholic, open-market candidate Felipe Calderón (the National Action Party - PAN) and the populist and social activist candidate Manuel López Obrador (the Revolutionary Democratic Party -PRD).

I wonder if they now settle who wins through penalty kicks.

For Scott

For Scott

Since Scott requested a picture of the hairy-legged centipede, I am pleased to indulge him:

I did not take the picture because usually the buggers do not like to pose and run away. In addition my concern is usually getting the critter out of my abode - dead or alive (I hate quoting Bush). In reading about the aforementioned insect, I learned that they can bite and have venom, but that usually they can't break human skin. I also learned that in general they hunt other insects and spiders, so having them around might not be so bad. I still find them creepy and I don't want them in my living space. Heaven forbid I wake up with one doing the Mexican Hat Dance on my face. [SHUDDER]

I also found out that they have these bugs in Japan, but they are not as creepy there. See for yourself:

In fact, it looks like it has partaken of little too much sake.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Quick Bits
  • I am emerging from my catatonia - slowly.
  • Today they are electing a new president in Mexico. I wanted to vote, but the bureaucracy said no. I am not sure who I would have voted for, though.
  • We now have Lone Star ticks in New England. Things from Texas should stay in Texas - it is not like there isn't enough room there.
  • No, the song Jesus of Suburbia by Green Day is not about a landscaper in LA.
  • Gross sighting of the day: the guy in the SUV behind me at a stop light leaning out of his window and either popping a pimple or plucking a lone hair from the top of his balding head by looking in his side mirror. I am not sure what he was doing and why he could not use the array of mirrors inside his vehicle.
  • People are too damn lazy - they can't walk a few more steps from a parking spot that is a few yards further away from the strip mall stores. They either have to park in the road blocking the parking lot traffic or fight for the closest space.
  • In the shoe store - parent yelling at kid. In the pet supply store - owner yelling at dog. "Behave! Listen to me! Stay, no stay there. Okay, if you are going to do that we need to go!" Honest to goodness - verbatim or pretty close.
  • Bugs - as long as they leave me alone, I am fairly indifferent towards them. Except for the psycho, hairy-legged, centipede-like bugs they have here in New England. They will charge you and when you try to stomp on them they can jump straight up in the air. A friend who is into bugs says they are harmless, but they still creep the hell out of me. And this year they seem to be trying to move into our apartment.
  • Why are the shows you want to watch on when you can't watch them and the crappy shows on when you need something to get your mind off of things?
  • Does getting your coffee ground for a flat paper filter really that different from getting it ground for a cone paper filter so as to force the coffee-house employee to go back a grind some more coffee when he did not get your order right? If you are that picky you should be a). grinding your own coffee, and b). not buying decaf!
  • I am taking my class tomorrow to a minor league baseball game to do a participant observation exercise. We are focusing on gendered behavior. It should be interesting.
  • Sara's dad was released from the hospital today. I think it was quicker than they expected. He seems to be recovering quickly. He does have a lot of rules (do's and don't's) he needs to follow and his life is going to be rather restricted for the following two months. Being home is so much better than being in the hospital - I speak from experience.
  • Thanks again to all the good thoughts, prayers, energies, etc. You never know which had a positive influence on the whole thing.
  • I wonder whether I dream in bullet-points...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

This Week Kicked my Butt

This week has left me in a catatonic state. This morning I slept until 10:30, something I never do. I am usually up and about by 8:30 or 9:00 at the latest. This is partly because the dogs will not let me sleep any longer.

Today I tried to recover, but I have been plagued by an anxiety that something somewhere needs to get done. I do have a lot of things to do, a lot of planning for the move, the courses in the fall, packing, etc. But none of those needed to get done today. Yet there I was unable to let it all go on the one hand and listless and unable to get anything done on the other.

I watched the soccer games today, but I lacked any of the enthusiasm and passion I usually have.

Might I be teetering on the edge of depression? Perhaps. All the punches my psyche has taken over the week do take their toll. My emotions and thoughts have not gotten the better of me recently, but there are still dark corners in my mind that are ready to envelop my head when the time is right.

In other news, Sara's father is improving. He is awake and getting out of bed occasionally. There have been a few little set backs, but those are to be expected. The most telling sign, however, is that he is determined to heal and improve. That is probably one of the biggest battles. So often we give in to resignation, especially after an experience like that.

I keep expecting a time to come when life gets easier - even just a little bit. I know it's not coming, but gosh, wouldn't it be nice if it did?