Thursday, December 30, 2004
Man, sure feels good to be back.
After I had registered his comment, I wanted to turn around and shout something equally racist in return. I wanted to scream, "You get me some fried chicken!" I didn't, which in the end was probably a much wiser choice.
This sort of mirrors an episode from the sixth grade, when I went to fetch my bike after school and found two boys standing around it, wiping their snot on my bike seat. They didn't know me, and I didn't know them, so their snot-wiping was one of those acts of anonymous childhood malice, or boredom, or something. One of the boys was named Gary. He wore a lime green baseball cap at all times because he was cueball bald, in the way that people who receive chemotherapy can sometimes be. Everyone in my school knew of him--you could mention the "bald kid" and lights of recognition would spark in everyone's eyes--but his condition was not spoken of. The other boy was black, but I'd never seen him before and I didn't know his name. I was eleven, and they were twelve.
I tried to shoo the boys away from my bike, probably screaming some general abuse along the lines of, "Leave my bike alone!" The black boy looked at me, sneered, tugged the corner of his eyes back and said, "You're a chink! Chinese Japanese Indian chief!" My response was to sneer back, "Well, you're a nigger!" And to the other boy, I said, "And you have cancer!"
The boys reacted in horror. "You said 'nigger'!" they yelled. "That's racist!" I tried to shout back that it was equally racist that one of them had mocked my slanty eyes, but we weren't ready to engage in a discussion about the dynamics of racism between two people of color, of different colors. I unlocked my bike and wheeled away in a hurry.
It's hard to understand the instances of racism that bubble up from me. I would like say in my defense that my racist impulses usually come in reaction to racist comments directed at me, but this isn't entirely true. For example, last summer I was crossing the bridge from 155th Street to Yankee Stadium on my bike. There were three kids, aged 3-8, frolicking with abandon and blocking the way. A portly young woman shuffled in front of them, giving them little heed.
I did my usual bike-nerd warnings: "On your left! On your left! Excuse me!" I made it a point to be almost obsequious in my profuse thank yous and excuse mes. But the woman didn't move, and only turned her head to say, "Watch my kids."
I weaved through her kids and blazed past her, muttering under my breath all sorts of litany: about her weight, her unattractiveness, her young and profuse motherhood, her possible reliance on public assistance. In short, I had bought into the brand of racism that was made popular by the man who was elected President a month after my birth: the myth of the welfare queen.
I don't know how to confront these impulses in me except with the shame that accompanies the recognition of my most racist acts. But that's inevitably reactive and deficient. What's to be done? I taught high school in the inner city in part because I hoped it would disabuse me of the racism that I wasn't even fully aware of--but was that contrived? It's so easy to be perfectly anti-racist in theory, but my mind isn't the prejudice-free tabula rasa that I want it to be. It doesn't help that all of the anti-racism discussions I have had have devolved into holier-than-thou nitpicking and rhetoric that proudly soars above reality, which rarely encourages the candor that we ought to have when talking about our own racism.
But now I'm attacking when I ought to be apologizing. I guess this means that I am not yet the person that I want to be. Short of identifying and loathing my racism, I'm not sure what else I can do.
I think we both get a little high-falutin around each other and have conversations that are more abstract than the ones I usually have, but it's not pretentious so much as invigorating. When I talk to him I feel like it's late 1998 and I'm seventeen and just starting college and staying up until dawn talking about what we think are important ideas with someone whose tray I bumped in the dining hall, an experience that I don't think I've ever had, but that I've constructed, absorbed, and idealized. It was a nice to feel young and spry and able to take conversational risks on weird ideas, and not even feel like a pathetic drone attempting to replay the more agreeable moments of a youth she never lived. Anyway, kindred spirits are nice to find.
He drove me to what I learned tonight was the "alternative" Palo Alto night spot: Antonio's Nut-House, on California Avenue. Miraculously, a pint of Newcastle was $3.25. I wondered what it was about New York pints of Newcastle that made them worth $2.75 more; the ambiance? The weather? The real estate? The floor of the "Nut-House" is covered with what I initially thought was sawdust, but what I later realized was peanut shells. Antonio is a classy lassie.
I saw a person with whom I took a class in 2000, though I don't remember him except for his lacerated voice and cherubic face, which is now saddled with about 50 more pounds of fat than I remember it, and I saw about fifteen people I thought I knew. I wished I had a schnozz to cover my face. Boy, it's time to blow this pop stand. This time tomorrow I will be in my drafty, tiny, expensive, dirty shitbox of a place that I call home, in a post-orgasmic stupor smoking a cigarette that I fall asleep without extinguishing so that I burn to death in my sleep. No, wait, that's a Tennessee Williams poem. Anyway, I'm flying back to New York. Not a moment too soon.
Before one cooks, however, one must wear the appropriate cooking clothes. For my dad, this meant:
1) a shower cap (to catch follicles and dander before they despoiled the scrambled eggs)
2) safety goggles (to catch the blinding spray of cooking oil)
3) a face mask (for anthrax?)
Though he is an engineer by trade, my dad has some difficulty understanding kitchen systems. This morning’s cookout looked like a herky-jerky comedy of errors that betrayed a fundamental misapprehension of how to prepare a meal. These were his actions, in order, with the time elapsed in parentheses:
1) He beats three eggs in a bowl. (0:00:00)
2) He adds salt and pepper to the beaten eggs. (0:01:00)
3) He reads the newspaper in the bathroom, and curses loudly. (0:03:00)
4) He turns the right burner to low. (2:00.00)
5) He turns the right burner to very high. (2:00:30)
6) He leaves the ungreased skillet on the burner. (2:02:00)
7) He opens the bag of bread. (2:02:30)
8) He turns the toaster oven to broil, claiming that it needs to “warm up.” (2:02:40)
9) He turns the right burner off. (2:03:00)
10) He closes the bag of bread and puts it away, having taken nothing out. (2:03:30)
11) He opens a bag of salad-in-a-bag. (2:04:00)
12) He dumps the contents of the salad-in-a-bag into the bag, and agitates it strenuously for a minute. (2:06:00)
13) He turns off the toaster oven. (2:06:30)
14) He pours the salad-in-a-bag into three plates, one for me, one for Richard, and one for Aimee. (2:07:00)
15) He turns on the right burner, and pours enough oil to almost cover the pan. (2:08:00)
16) He pours in the eggs. (2:08:30)
17) He struggles with the spatula as the eggs stick to the bottom of the pan. (2:09:30)
18) He lifts the pan of half-cooked eggs into the air, about chest level (2:09:45) and walks away from the burner (still on, 2:10:00) and around the kitchen, scraping the eggs off the pan and onto a plate (2:10:30)
19) I make some toast in the toaster oven, eat my eggs, and congratulate him for cooking the most delicious meal I’ve ever had. (2:15:30)
The entire time he was cooking, he kept saying how delicious everything would taste. AMAZING.
(Unrelated: Does anyone remember that comic from the 1980s that asked its readers to send in their drawings of egg-related puns for publication? Like a drawing a sombrero on an oval, and labelling it "M-eggs-ican"? I think I sent one in but never got a response. Eggs-cruciating. But still s-eggs-y.)
Monday, December 27, 2004
I also told my dad for the first time. He held our save the date card in his hand and sighed the heavy sigh of someone who is deeply disappointed by his children's mistakes. He didn't say anything, propped up the card on my desk, left an apple in my hand, and then left.
Because they disapprove of so much, I've long since learned to ignore their disapproval. Their loss. I guess this clears up two more spots on the guestlist.
So I get an essay just now that answers the prompt "Choose a person you admire and write about his/her qualities" with a glowing paean to George W. Bush. I remember my immature and uninformed politics at seventeen--sort of a "Fuck the racist, homophobic, chauvanistic, classist Christian Right" kind of song--but I don't remember repeating verbatim the now-familiar lies of Karl Rove's campaign machine. She says, Bush is full a courage, full a Christian moral rectitude, full a fiscal responsibility, full a steadfastiositiness.
My job is to improve this person's chances of getting into the university of her choice. I'm not sure if that would mean a thorough edit for grammar plus a more creative rewording of the gaps in reason that she has chosen to present as fact, or a thorough edit for grammar plus a correction of all the gaps in reason that she has chosen to present as fact. Should I correct "President Bush is guided by Christian morality" to read, "The Christian tenets of faith, brotherly love, and humility provide the beacon of light by which President Bush steers the country" or to read, "Although President Bush claims to be guided by Christian morality, his utter disregard of the most needy people in his society, his willingness to ream God's kingdom on Earth for potential profit, his zealotry for bloodshed and warfare, and his sacrilegious and hypocritical invocation of Christian principles for political gain prove him to be a man motivated not by the teachings of the Bible but by the power grabs of realpolitik Republicanism."
I think the latter will get me fired. But then how'm I going to pay for my gold front teeth?
Sunday, December 26, 2004
My mom watched the elephant pluck fallen green coconuts off the ground. Would they be eaten whole? No. The elephant gingerly placed a coconut under her front foot. There was no smashing, just a gentle depression that cracked the coconut into two halves that were then trunk-scooped for the meat. Awesome! Tender! Brilliant! I suggested to my mom that we ought to have raised an elephant instead of the fat and beatific dalmatian that we did, but I think that attempt at a joke was lost in translation.
One of the earliest fake arguments Laura and I had involved elephantine brilliance. I'd heard of elephant paintings, which continue to seem as fraudulent as the franchise restaurant wall-hangings of four year-old Marla Olmstead, since any prehensile organ can grasp a brush and flail it around until it's art. I had never heard of elephant music, though when Laura introduced the subject I was ready to dismiss it in similar terms: give any prehensile organ a mallet and a xylophone, and there you go! Musique abstraite made musique concrete in the studio. Laura said I was a monster for not appreciating the music that almost brought her to tears with its beauty. We had to agree to disagree.
For the last three years, Laura has kept in her address book a newspaper clipping about an elephant herd that unlatched a gate and freed antelope in a game preserve in Zululand. Like unhappy people crab-walking, it brings a smile to my face every time I think about it. I mean, they're dextrous, they're sentient, and they're compassionate. How can you not love that?
Since my respect for elephants only increases the more I hear about them, I decided today that I ought to give the elephant music a listen. I found a few MP3s online featuring music from a twelve-piece elephant percussion ensemble. For the most part, the elephants stick to banging their mallets on various resonating items (some of which produce beautiful overtones in their long decays), but the rapture overwhelms a few players in "Little Elephant Saddle" and they can be heard bleating in ecstasy.
I have no basis for the judgment of elephant music; it seems misguided or mean-spirited to compare elephant percussion to, say, an Art Blakely solo or the Anvil Chorus. Listening to the elephant songs reminds me of reading my students' writing when I was a high school teacher. Judging the worth of a piece of student writing as a work of literature would have been stingy, because my primary duties were to encourage and improve. Likewise, I'm so delighted that elephants can manipulate mallets at all that to say their music sucks would be like mocking a student poem for poor syntax.
Anyway, even if I'm being stingy, I don't think the music sucks. It's perfectly adequate music to think frantic thoughts of deforestation and watershed pollution to. Happy listening.
The most powerful earthquake in 40 years struck south Asia this morning, triggering tsunamis that smashed into villages, resorts and tourist isles, killing thousands and leaving hundreds missing. Sri Lanka and India were hit hardest as the tsunamis, some 30 feet high, washed away fishermen, tourists, cars and beach side stalls.
The earthquake that generated the waves hit at 6:58 a.m. local time about 100 miles off the northern Indonesian island of Sumatra. It measured 8.9 on the Richter scale, which made it the largest in the world since 1964 and the fifth largest since 1900, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Officials in Sri Lanka said that 2,200 people were killed and Indian officials said 2,000 died, according to the Reuters news agency. Indonesian officials said that more than 1,800 died, while the death toll reached 257 in Thailand and 28 in Malaysia.
"Nothing like this has ever happened in our country before," Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand said in a televised address.
Millions have been affected by the waves, officials said, with people fleeing their homes for higher ground, fearing aftershocks that could send more waves to strike the islands and beaches. The death toll could rise considerably as information comes in from remote islands and beach resorts, and the fate of those missing, including the hundreds of fishermen at sea, becomes apparent.
In the north Sumatran city of Banda Aceh, which was close to the epicenter of the earthquake, dozens of buildings were toppled. But by far the most damage came as the tidal waves produced by the earthquake slammed into beaches over a thousand miles away.
The worst hit area of Sri Lanka appeared to be the tourist region, where one official said many of the victims were young children and the elderly. The military has sent thousands of soldiers to look for survivors, Reuters reported, including much of the navy. President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared a national emergency and appealed to India for aid.
Indian officials said hundreds of bodies were found washed up on beaches along the southeastern coast. The death toll reached 800 in the southern state of Tamil Nadu alone, one official told to The Associated Press.
Utterly terrifying, 8,000 people dead in their sleep. My folks were in Phuket two weeks ago. I spent a significant portion of the dawn shivering in the duck-and-cover position, waiting for the aftershocks to reach the eastern Pacific edge of the Ring of Fire.
I wonder if the folks at raptureready.com welcome this kind of news.
(Unrelated: did you know that the Bible predicted that Yasser Arafat would be a hindrance to the Second Coming? What foresight!)
(Unrelated: check out the FAQs page at raptureready.com. The opening table is reason itself to read it. Also, find answers to such burning questions as, "How do you plan to maintain this site after the rapture?" and "What is God's favorite color?")
Saturday, December 25, 2004
I think my family is Catholic. I was raised Jehovah's Witness, but quit the church over a decade ago. (I was gay, they were boring.) My mom bought a Buddha carving when we were in Taiwan in 1988, but she bought it because when you upended the Buddha and placed your nostrils to his ass, the tea tree wood from which it was created smelled fresh, not for any religious reasons. When I was much younger, at that age where I could still sit on Santa's lap without crushing his femur or raising specters of Humbert Humbert by the poolside, I accompanied my grandmother to Christmas eve services at her all-Chinese Catholic Church. The kids went to a separate room and I had no idea what was happening. All the kids in the know lined up at a designated time to receive the host, which looked so tasty and otherworldly that to this day I regret not queuing up when everyone else did. The blood of Our Lord was deep purple grape juice, and I shied away from that; too many stories from Bernice, my Jehovah's Witness mentor, about evil people who threw their hosts into the toilet and suddenly found their entire septic systems flooded with blood. Eech.
I also distinctly recall resenting the fraudulent Santa, who was Chinese-American and forty years old. No white plastic beard could've hidden your black eyebrows, buddy. And sucks to the cheap baubles you handed out from your sack.
Something I've been dwelling on: according to the Edison Research/Mitofsky exit polls from the November election, fifteen percent of all voters say they never attend church but 29% of all self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual voters say they never do. Why is this? Perhaps LGB voters are not as religious as their non-LGB counterparts? But the facts do not show this. Comparable percentages of LGB voters identify themselves as Protestant/Other Christian (49% of LGB voters vs. 54% of all voters), Catholic (23% vs. 27%), Jewish (4% vs 3%), or "Something else" (9% vs. 6%). Fourteen percent of LGB voters have no religion, compared to 10% of all voters.
So what gives? There doesn't seem to be a demand problem, since similar percentages of LGB people and all voters claim to belong to some religion. Is it a supply problem? Are there simply no churches that LGB voters feel comfortable belonging to? This is an important question to tackle, since its answer may help us find policies that bolster LGB-affirming churches and that eventually help us wrest the "moral values" mantle back from the right-wing marketing geniuses that have monopolized the idea. Our options are to flee the churches and congregate in the cities--my personal choice--or to march back into the churches and demand that we be treated as God's children ought to be treated. Seventy-three percent of America believes in angels; we'll never convert all these people to secular humanism, so we might as be strategic with the hand we've been dealt.
Friday, December 24, 2004
It's free to download, but it's damned expensive. According to a November 2003 article in the Chicago Tribune, the Army spends $4.5 million a year developing and operating new versions of the game. The game has an ESRB rating of "T," so that it is ostensibly reserved for would be snipers aged thirteen and over, but everyone knows ESRB ratings are as laughably meaningless as Bob Dole's 1996 anti-drug slogan "Just Don't Do it." Besides, "T" is a relatively tame rating for games of this genre. (There's a marked absence of gore and tits, which probably explains the rating.) Based on thoroughly unscientific observation of the few tweeners and teens I know, I'm guessing that the median age for players hovers around 15 or 16. Picture the hordes of pallid, computer-bound boys just ready to be plucked from their seats and made men--or, at least, made cannon fodder for our continuing War on Terrorism--and you'll have a better sense of why the Army spends .375% of its annual recruiting budget on this shoot-'em-up.
From the FAQs page:
Then the proverbial hand-wringing parent asks the FAQs page, "Q: Is this a recruiting tool?"
"Q: Why are you doing this game? A:...The Army's game is an entertaining way for young adults to explore the Army and its adventures and opportunities as a virtual Soldier. As such, it is part of the Army's communications strategy designed to leverage the power of the Internet as a portal through which young adults can get a first hand look at what it is like to be a Soldier."
With the precision and candor that makes the DoD what it is, the FAQs respond,
"A:...With the passage of time, elimination of the draft and reductions in the size of the Army have resulted in a marked decrease in the number of Americans who have served in the Army and from whom young adults can gain vicarious insights into the challenges and rewards of Soldiering and national service. Therefore, the game is designed to substitute virtual experiences for vicarious insights. It does this in an engaging format that takes advantage of young adults' broad use of the Internet for research and communication and their interest in games for entertainment and exploration."
There's something about this that reminds me of Channel One, the news service that strongarms America's underfunded schools into forcing their students to watch five minutes of video advertising a day during a homeroom period, or of McDonald's setting up shop in poor neighborhoods, or Joe Camel preying upon those who get most of their news from cartoons. By pouring the same old recruitment wine into slick, 300MB bottles, isn't the Army just conning the youth of the nation into early brand loyalty?
This was my first reaction, but I'm not entirely sure it's correct. After all, theoretically I have nothing against Army recruitment. I'm grateful for those 160,000 soliders in Iraq and 11,000 in Afghanistan who are fighting to keep me and Mary Cheney safe. If the Army has a $1.2 billion recruiting budget to spend, it may as well spend it as effectively as it can. My chief complaint about the Army's recruitment techniques is the familiar charge that they disproportionately target poor urban and rural kids, often kids of color. (The Economist, always contrarian, makes an interesting case for poor kids who want the Army but have tattooes on their hands or other characteristics that disqualify them.)
But America's Army might naturally target an audience with deeper pockets, those who have enough money for a computer and an Internet connection that can sustain a 300MB download and some serious video card activity. So what if the Army finds ways to convince middle-class teenagers to sign up? It's a trade-off between spending the $4.5 million on developing a video game or on trawling the strip malls of Flint for high school dropouts. The Army hasn't tracked how many new recruits the video game has brought in, so it's hard to tell if the game has been effective. Anyway, the set of boys this game targets is already so innundated with FPS games that any study into the effectiveness of America's Army as a recruiting vehicle must contend with the influence of hundreds of other, more popular martial reenactments. Meanwhile, there's the hapless recruiter weighing the rock against the hard place, with a coveted adolescent recruit wandering in between.
"We must save democracy," giggles Richard, enjoying the absurdity as he enjoys his first pee break in five hours. I've got to stretch my legs. All this Army talk is almost making me wish I weren't a man-hating dyke who would be too attracted to her ugly-ass comrades to serve properly in America's Army. Oh well, Army of One it'll have to be.
(Unrelatedly, if there's a draft, how many people will claim to be gay? If there's a draft, will soldiers be allowed to have gang tattooes on their hands? And if there's a draft, will the tattooeries of America be flooded with willing hands?)
In unrelated news, my brother Richard is home from the University of Sydney, busying himself with military video games and spending my parents' money. I have been sleeping, eating, running, and shriveling in front of the computer screen. There are now more computers in the house than there are people.
On paper, I'm all for living the moment, working with the hand you've been dealt, squeezing lemonade from lemons, etc. In body, I'm prone to whining and wishing that I was in a wide space with multicolored glass doors and getting slapped on the ass by Logan Tom. Ebbs the Fry's Electronics tchotchke-tide fast; I am dying, Palo Alto, dying!
Another tidbit for gallows-glad tidings: after Gore's concession in 2000, Bush said, "I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation." If you examine the audiotape of this speech carefully, you can hear a chorus of neocons laughing all the way to the bank.