Saturday, October 24, 2009

The New Bubble Boy

I'm just putting it out there because I know that everybody is thinking it but too afraid of the scorn that such an admission would bring.

What if the Balloon Boy hoax is a hoax? What if, to cover up the fact that they really thought that their fucking six year old kid might actually be soaring through the clouds in an aluminum foil bubble, the parents concoct the story that they concocted the story. They figure that the jail time or fines will be less for deceiving the media instead of reckless endangerment of a minor, so they proclaim that the whole thing was staged.

At least, that's what I would do.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Billions and Billions

I was fortunate enough to recently stumble across a video clip of Carl Sagan, the famed scientist with the famed measured diction. It may surprise you, but I have a long and sentimental history with Mr. Sagan. It started in sixth grade.

In the sixth grade we had a fun little teaching-tool where every Friday we would mix up the schedule by integrating and mixing up the three different sixth grade classes. Therefore, I got to hang out with my buddies in other classes for a couple of hours in an otherwise strictly segregated week.

Each teacher, with their respective mixed population classes, would sponsor an activity centered around watching an educational video. That was like giving out educational candy for a short attention spanned sixth grader. We loved it. Except Mr. Stowe's group. Everybody hated it.

Stowe was taken right out of some warped alternate reality TV show. He had a cartoonish bald head, black rim glasses, and was as rigid as a lamppost, and just as funny as one. Obviously having some sort of military background (I only figured this out later), Stowe walked rigidly, spoke measuredly, and sat erect at his immaculate desk fingering his stress balls. Right.

On an amusing side-note, Stowe's preferred method of punishing his delinquent students was pretty creative: He made us hand copy, word for word, National Geographic article pages. He obviously took pleasure in assigning "NGS"s to us. For those who were frequent losers, he would just say something like "Chris. 5." And that meant that Chris (and actual person who's last name I won't reveal) would have to copy five pages of an NGS article into a notebook.

Imagine this punishment: The transgressor (probably wearing a puffy Starter jacket) would sit at a chipped multi-layered wooden desk, Number 2 pencil in hand, and a yellow-covered NGS on one side of the desk and a notebook on the other. Then, through a Herculean effort, they would write down every word in the article (not making any mistakes, lest they re-do the entire thing). It was physical punishment (torture), as your hand cramped up badly, yet it was educational too as the copier inevitably learned something of relative importance. Stowe, you crafty sonofabitch. I wonder if you censored the NGS collection to remove the Papua New Guinea saggy boobs or over-the-shoulder-penis-holster articles.

(Disclosure- I never was punished with an NGS [or anything else for that matter], so the pain from hand cramping is only hear-say. But, I think I would have hated it even more because we were required to write the article in pencil. To this day, I hate writing in pencil. In fact, I can't remember the last time I wrote with one. Perhaps what bugs me the most is the gray residue it leaves on my finger pads. That chalky feeling is infuriating. I can smell that feeling right now. Oh, and fuck sharpening pencils too! And splinters. And octagonal shapes. And missing or depleted erasers. Damn you Ticonderoga! The academic ink stain is far superior to the Neanderassholic smudgings of a pencil in all respects.)

As previously mentioned, each teacher showed educational videos to the class. The point of the class was to learn how to take notes. So, as the video rolled, you were expected to take copious notes because the following week, the teacher would assign an essay topic about something mentioned in the video. We then went back to our notes and wrote the essay based on them.

Stowe chose to show Cosmos, created and narrated by Carl Sagan. Our class sat there, bored to tears, writings furiously every single word the helmet haired man said. It was akin to group NGS torture-- without even the slightest possibility of seeing some boobs. Instead, we watched "billions and billions" of suns dance across the screen. At the time, I would rather have given up pizza Friday instead of go to this class. But in retrospect, it was a great exercise and gave me an appreciation for the genius and humanity of Mr. Sagan. Listening to him speak reminds me how small and insignificant life on this planet is, in a cosmic sense. It's a joke. An infinitesimal blip on the galactic radar. But I'm sure Mr. Sagan would agree, that's what makes it so special. Rest in Peace. Watch the video.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Concocting Cocktails for Cockneys

Being a bartender ain't easy business. I am under pressure to consistently turn out beautiful and delicious creations every living second, and 90% of the time I am making three or more at once. When that ticket pops up in my station, I tear at it and pray that I know the cocktails that it contains. But, while whipping up these creative concoctions, three more tickets are printing out behind me. Now my body starts to over heat and I have a minor panic attack. The other bartender asks if everything is alright. I assure him everything is fine, but only to save myself from embarrassment. Somehow it all gets done. In the rare moment that I have a second to wipe my dripping forehead, I need to be refilling my juice containers, cleaning glasses, cleaning the station, making espresso-based drinks, restock the refrigerator, and flirt with the waitresses. I love every moment of it.

Being a novice bartender, I don't even have all the ingredients down yet, so that adds a level of complication and doubt to my work. Is a Killer Zombie with pineapple or orange juice? Does a Mai Tai have a dash of apricot liquor or a dash of cherry brandy? What the fuck is a Toblerone? I try to visualize the recipe sheet ("the specs") in my head, breathe, and it usually comes to me as if through some Bacchusean intervention: orange, apricot, milky pussy drink. My blood pressure normalizes.

Unfortunately I can't share cocktail recipes with you, as it is company property. But, I can share ingredients, as they are listed on our menus! So, here's one for you to try and figure out. I'll give you the tools, you need the creativity, oh talented reader you.

Kiss Me Quick

Midori, Malibu, and Peach Schnapps
Apple juice

Really simple and really tasty, if fruity drinks are your thing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Voices in My Head

I spend an unsettling amount of time talking to myself. Usually, I am just singing whatever song is in my head at the moment. I'll sing in the shower, sing while doing dishes, or quietly mouth the words to a song while walking (I don't actually make sounds though. I don't want people to think I am talking to myself. Right?). If I am caught in the act, I usually start humming some fictitious tune to mask my song selection. So, if you see me humming some atonal ditty, I was probably just singing "Oh Sherrie", and imagining myself on stage pushing the new Journey singer off the stage, donning a leather jacket, and high-fiving Neil Schonn as he busts out into a face melting guitar solo.

When I am not singing arena rock anthems to myself, I am legitimately talking to myself, and that's sort of scary. I do have a curious habit of fixing onto a specific word and repeating that word over and over, never tiring of it nor realizing how often I am repeating it. Sort of like Tourettes Syndrome. Often, oddly, the word is in a foreign language. Now, I am not that proficient in any foreign language, but I have enough of an ego to convince myself that I can speak a few of them with a convincing accent (Spanish, French, and German, namely). Therefore, when I fix on a word, I pronounce the hell out of it. Sure, it's probably the wrong pronunciation, but dammit, it sounds good to me.

I also talk to myself when I am angry. I mean, I have to be fucking pissed off, but when those rare occasions arise, I will blabber to myself incessantly. Usually I am saying what I wish I said to the person who pissed me off. Or, I am saying what I want to say. But I am not just coming up with pithy comebacks or stinging criticisms. I am forming situations. I form complex situations, filled with contingencies and motives and subterfuge, around myself and the offender. Like a master chess player, I start thinking of retorts to moves that haven't even been played yet, never mind imagined by the (imaginary) interlocutor! I can get myself so heated up that when I bring myself back to reality, I have no choice but to laugh out loud at how ridiculous I am acting/thinking. But I try to remember my comebacks, just in case.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What A Fool Believes

If I had to make a contribution to "Stuff White People Like", it would be Michael McDonald.

This clip is just a taste. If you can form a visual, imagine me singing this song in my best MMD impression, alone, with my iPod buds in, in my room, and getting a little too into it.

On the Other Side...

This article, however, kind of made me sick. Profs don't get cookies at staff meetings and upperclassmen don't get hot breakfast in their dorms and students can't use a shuttle and have to walk for 15 minutes to get to the library? Boo fucking hoo. Talk about a catered elite. Grow up.

NY Times Article

In support of my previous post, here's a not particularly revealing but nonetheless interesting article from the NY Times on higher education in the US.

An International Education

I have high hopes for my class time here at LSE. Already, I have engaged in an unprecedented level of debate and critical thinking in class, and it's only the second day. The reason for this, I think, is that it is not a given that most of the students agree on things that I had perceived as relatively straightforward subjects or issues. The international composition of the student body encourages this wonderful spectrum of ideas and experiences in the classroom; something that was completely lacking at Trinity, for example (Oh god, seminars at Trin were painful. I specifically remember a seminar in my sophomore year where we all basically agreed with each other on most points throughout the entire year. Agreement? The very idea is anathema to academia. We're supposed to be tearing each other's arguments to shreds, no matter the validity or logic [a joke, but unfortunately, not a joke in Congress and other venues]! But, Trinity was mostly upper class white kids. We had gone through basically the same experiences, read the same newspapers, and seen the same TV shows. Sure there were [some] conservatives and liberals, but the "arguments" were predictable and shallow. Think Crossfire without the bowties or the bald guys. Been there, seen that).

International schools must be the best source of education available. They challenge you, the student, to analyze some of your most comfortable assumptions and come to grips with opposing assumptions, and perhaps most importantly, realize that "the answers" are rarely in black and white. In fact, "the answers" are rarely answers at all, but convenient expressions of power over the weaker.

Is there a solution then to the "New England Rich White American" system of education, where we are rarely ever challenged to really tear into supposedly concrete issues? Well, what about forced integration? Eh, "forced" is never a good PR word. "Encouraged integration"? Isn't that just another way of saying Affirmative Action? Kind of. Maybe that's why I was never a militant anti-AA person.

How about "Encouraged International Representation"? Subsidized tuition for students from sort of second and third tier technological nations (whatever that means) to encourage real debate and analysis, to challenge base assumptions, and to take students outside of their comfort zone, in US universities. I'm sure this already exists, but it should be better publicized.

And one final thought: After talking to all my Europe-born buddies here, I do realize that the US education system is insane, in terms of cost. Higher education could solve an infinite number of problems (crime, poverty, obesity, etc.) in the US, but most never have access to it due to the cost. Furthermore, why should a kid from a lower class family bust his/her ass in high school when there is no prospect of a college education? Dropping out seems like a logical solution when there is no hope.

I retorted to my EU buds that given the population of the US, subsidized education costs would be a mammoth expense on the population. Educating 80 million Germans on the cheap is doable, but 380 million Americans? That's a whole different ballgame. I hope my convenient answer is wrong. The touche to my retort is to increase taxes to a EU comparable level, and that can pay the costs. That will never happen. The myth of "hard work will make you a millionaire in America" is too strong.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Direction

I was reading old posts on this blog (and for those of you who haven't, go into the archives and rehash my memories of my boozing times in Munich or my lost loves in Paris [or really, my bumbling attempts at feminine attraction]), and realized that I haven't had any real adventures to note thus far while in London.

But then I realized that what was once an adventure now seems rather commonplace. Waking up hungover with three new names in my mobile phone and not knowing who these people are or how their numbers got in my phone in the first place seems so 2008. I guess I'm growing up. Or maybe I'm just drinking too much. Perhaps the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Also, I realized that some people occasionally read this blog and might pass on any delicious kernals of gossip that I express here, so I have to be selective in my posts.

But, now that I have internet at my flat, I promise to post juicier posts and use this blog less as a soapbox for my political ravings (well, maybe I'll occasionally brighten your day with a delectable diatribe about some Central Asian topic of interest).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Living Just Enough For the City

I’ve been in London for only two weeks and already I feel like an expert. Giving directions in the streets to tourists seems like second nature to me (and you should see their reaction when they hear my {accentuated} American accent) at this point, even though I haven’t seen most of the city. Unfortunately, I haven’t taken the time to do all of the sights, though I still have the entire year ahead of me. I will see Big Ben yet!

Instead of sightseeing, I have spent the past week searching exhaustively for a job. Given my year as a restaurant manager in New York, I have some clout and had a fair chance of landing a serving gig. In fact, when I roll up to a place that seems promising, I usually spew out that I was a restaurant manager in NY before I even say my name. And the resulting effect is exactly as intended: awed silence punctuated with raised eyebrows. Right away, I have changed their perception of my possible talent for the better. Basically, they think I’m hot shit, and I'm not about to shatter their illusions.

You’d be surprised how much street cred the mere mention of New York has here. It is where everybody wishes they were. I mean, my boss came up to me and asked what were the chances he could get a bartending gig in the City for a few years. The Uzbeki bus boy pulled me aside and asked me about green cards. The guests have cousins who have lived in NY for a year and never want to come back. And no joke, I’ve been proposed to for marriage twice. Hell, I'd consider it! An US passport and an EU passport...

Enough fantasizing about the actuality of the possibility of my retiring to Bavaria-- back to my job search. After saying no to two possible jobs (and the two proposals {though one is still up in the air}), I have settled on being a bartender at a busy restaurant in Covent Garden. I am mainly making cocktails, as opposed to the pouring beer bartender-type (I scoff at thee!). Now, those of you who know me might say, “Matt, I didn’t know you knew how to make cocktails!” To which I retort, “You’re right. I don’t know what the fuck I am doing.” Truly, I don't know what the fuck I am doing. I am starting from scratch and I have no idea how I got the job. The most cocktail mixing experience I have ever had was in college, when I would pour copious amounts of Dubra vodka straight from the plastic jug (yup, plastic) into a red Solo cup and then douse it with cold Sprite (others preferred Mountain Dew, but I didn’t like the way it made my teeth yellow/green). This place is teaching me everything, from how to hold a bottle to how to pour the perfect shot (Did you know the English shot is significantly smaller than an American shot? I think an English shot is about 1oz, while our shot is 1.5 oz. Yet again, America goes big), not to mention a gaggle of cocktails, many of which are house specialties. We’re not talking about your grandma’s mojitos, but instead I am making, for example, our signature Twisted Mojito with:

Mint leaves
Stoli Vanilla Vodka
Apple juice
Licor 43

My coworkers are a colorful cast of characters. I work behind the bar with two Brazilians, an Italian, an English girl, and a Kosovar. Serving in the restaurant, we have an Irish girl, a couple of English guys, a Russian, a Frenchman, a South African, a Scotsman, a Croatian, and another American with an Irish accent (don’t ask-- I did, and the answer wasn’t logical or satisfactory). Of the three managers, one is a Danish guy with an American accent, one is an English guy, and one is a Polish girl.

The guy from Kosovo is an interesting dude. We got into a discussion about Kosovar identity today (at my instigation; I’m a history major-- so sue me!), and trust me when I say, the national pride of the people of Kosovo is not the sort of ridiculousness of the Texans where “We like things big and we’re gonna be seedin’ from the Union and make Walker Texas Ranger our President!”

Kosovar identity runs much deeper than I could ever imagine. My colleague (the Brits love that word) said that his people are Illyrian, descendants of one of the oldest peoples to inhabit the area. When I asked if he was more Grecian than Slav, he shook his head and said, “No, we’re different.” When I asked about what happened to his family during the war, he told me how he was preparing to go back to Kosovo to join the army and fight the Serbians (a group of people he “will always hate”).

He was willing to risk his life for Kosovo, but not because he was passionate about the possibility of having a country. That seemed of secondary importance. In fact, he remarked once in our conversation, completely nonchalantly, that “now we have a country.” That is not what was important to him. To him, it seems, the fight was for the the people. And that's what makes a Kosovar a Kosovar. Their identity is not ethnic, nor religious, nor national. It is historical. It is tribal. I find that fascinating.

That just about sums up my time in London so far. Working my dry chapped hands (which have a myriad of little cuts from god knows how many gadgets of destruction that live behind a bar), and not even thinking about school-- yet. That's step two.