Tuesday, May 31, 2005

My Wife, My Savior.

I met her about eight years ago and knew she was the one. We've been married nearly five years and to this day, I've never regretted my decision. My Wife. When we started dating I was an undergraduate, spending way too much time in the lab, bereft of any financial stability. When I applied to graduate school, it was she that supported me and convinced me that I could go anywhere and do anything I wished. Despite all my insecurities, despite all of my anxieties, she has always been a voice of strength, compassion and loving reassurance.

Now that we're married, my schedule is the same. For nearly a year and a half, I worked incredibly long hours. Not once did she complain. Not once did she express anger over my scientific drive. I know that it hurt her. I know that she missed me. Not once did she mention it.

When she moved to the Bay Area, long ago, she fell in love with it. The great weather, the endless list of outdoor activities, all served as reminders that we live in a fantastic place. She quickly made close friends and established herself in the community. Her career skyrocketed. When I told her that things had unraveled here at Berkeley and that I wanted to transfer to Fancypants University on the snowy East Coast, her only response was, "Vavoom, I'm behind you. Wherever you go, that's where I want to be. We're in this together."

It's hard for me to convey how much I love her. Words can't describe how much I appreciate all that she does for me, day in and day out. She's sleeping now. All I can do is look at her with a smile and a tear in my eye, knowing that I've been blessed. She is the greatest person I have ever met and I am so lucky to share my life with her.

As a child, I always dreamed an angel would appear and make everything right. A cherub of fortitude that would protect me against all harm. She appeared. She made everything right. My Wife, the angel.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Back Again.

I'm running super late here and have to stick to a short entry today. I'm going to try something new. I know on those big obnoxious blogs that they set up open threads for people to talk about whatever they want. My blog isn't anything special, but personally I'm big (hefty). I'm obnoxious. Why not?

This comment section is all about you the reader. Become the writer! Put up anything that's on your mind. Anything. The first thought that comes to your head, write it in the comments section. C'mon, this'll be fun!

I'll start: After we've done our Memorial Day activities we'll hop on a plane and return to Berkeley. This has been a phenomenal trip. I've realized that I am going to grow as a result of this move. I'm simultaneously overjoyed and scared to death of moving. That's what's on my mind.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Planning to Remember.


Yesterday was fabulous. We walked all over Cambridge over to the Back Bay, then over to Faneuil Hall and the North End. Consult the map above to see how far we actually walked. Today we spent more time cruising around Boston, enjoying every second.

Tomorrow we'll spend part of the day visiting the Granary Burying Ground in Boston. Here, patriots such as John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Robert Treat Paine and the victims of the Boston Massacre are buried. Afterwards, we're headed to The Bunker Hill Monument. You'll recall the that first major battle of the Revolution was fought there June 17, 1775. We thought our little trip would be a great way to honor those that fought and died establishing and defending this country.

As many of you know, I'm very anti-war. However, I'm very pro soldier. Those fighting in military conflicts do not choose when or where they fight. They honor their word and take arms when asked. As such, they should be remembered and honored for all that they have done. I hope you all have a fantastic Memorial Day!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Exit, Stage Left.

I woke up this morning and looked out the window. It's sunny, there isn't a cloud in the sky -- okay, maybe there's two clouds in the sky. It's 68 degrees out there now. They say it'll hit 75 degrees today. Did you ever see cartoons where a cartoon character would exit the screen so fast that they'd leave part of their spots or clothing behind? Yeah, I'm about to do something like that, right out of my hotel room. Finally, I can enjoy this great city and great weather! More later.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Hi, I'm Vavoom...

Well, I stopped by to the meet the chair of my new department today. He was a nice guy, warm and welcoming. I took a tour of our new lab space. Holy crap is it nice.

I was told to stop by what they call TGIF (Thank God It's Friday is such a lame expression -- whoever invented it will forever live in infamy in my books). TGIF is effectively a party that the department has every Friday. They order 40 pizzas, 5 cases of beer and 4 cartons of soda. I'm actually quite shy at these big events, especially ones where I don't know anybody. "Make sure to be there, you seem so charming and outgoing," the chair said "I'm sure you'll make so many friends there."

I sucked it up and went to the party. A quick pan around the room revealed about 30 people, organized in cliques of 5. I grabbed a slice of pizza and some soda and walked up to my first group. "Hi, I'm Vavoom. I don't really know anybody here, I'm new to the department. How are you guys doing?" They all looked at each other with a "who the F does this guy think he is" expression. "Sorry, I hope I'm not interrupting," I said. The leader of the clan looked at me and said, "Yeah, no problem. We don't know anybody here either, maybe you should try some other people." I couldn't believe this little shit said that to me. Was I rude to introduce myself? Nah, he was just being uppity.

I shrugged it off and went to the next group of people. There were 4 of them and they seemed to be talking as if they were trapped in a whispering gallery. "Hi, I'm Vavoom. I'm joining the department this summer. I just wanted to introduce myself. What labs do you guys work in?" This time, they just stared at me for about 30 seconds. I smiled my best smile as they ignored me and continued their conversation. I figured, "I must have been interrupting their conversation... my bad."

Finally, I found two girls talking near the pizza boxes. I approached them, again with the "Hi, I'm Vavoom. I'm a new student in this department. Just wanted to say hi." Surprisingly, the first girl actually responded, "Why are you here so early?" Jackpot. "Well, my wife and I came into town to find an apartment. We found this great place down the street... " She snapped back, in a very demeaning tone, "Well maybe you should go spend some time with your wife." I walked away, to the sound of their snickers. Maybe I was trying to hard? I was actually pretty relaxed. I'm not sure why I was getting reamed so badly out there.

For those of you that know me, you know that I'd normally take such a chilly response personally. I looked around the room and realized, these graduate students come to this event to bitch about their research advisor, blow off some steam and catch up with friends from other labs (which they may only see every Friday). Nobody was in the mood to entertain a new student.

Not a problem. When I left TGIF, I was upbeat. My time will come. Besides, I'm coming to the East Coast to make a fundamental contribution to my field of study. TGIF stuff will work itself out along the way.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

First Pleasure, Then Pain.

It's all ours!!! We beat out the competition on the apartment we saw yesterday. We signed the lease today for the place of our dreams. This isn't hyperbole -- in a land where a couple thousand bucks may get you a beat down apartment, we did pretty well. Three realtors told us this was the nicest apartment they've seen near the university. It's a spacious two bedroom, two bath abode. It's close to campus and the T. I honestly don't think things could have worked out better. We're so happy.

On a more painful note, one of my new fillings fell out today and now I've got a gaping hole in the middle of my molar. It is killing me. That damned dentist...

Moving up an octave on the musical score of pain, my wife decided to try and get her eyebrows waxed today. She doesn't need it, but thought she'd give it a try. As we waited in this fancy salon, she was called in for her appointment. "You can come along," the waxer said. I figured, "Hey, this might be interesting." I tagged along.

I don't know if you've ever seen someone get a tattoo, but that's the only way I can describe what it's like to watch someone get anything waxed. The waxer placed this honey colored substance along my wife's brows and yanked as if she were trying to start a lawnmower. Next, the pincers of death were employed -- the tweezers. As if that wasn't enough, she started re-applying the wax. I saw her double dip the tongue depressor into the vat of hot wax. I quickly asked, "Hey, is that your communal wax-stuff reservoir? You know, do you guys use that wax for everyone... for everything?" "Yes," responded the waxer. "Why the hell are you double dipping into it? Don't you guys apply that stuff to women's private parts during a Brazilian wax???" I then demanded that she make up a fresh batch of wax for my wife. I guess I was being overprotective. I'm sure that whatever skeezer germs were in there were killed when the wax was heated. In any case, new wax was made and the story had a happy ending.

Back to our original subject -- the apartment is ours. I'm sure you've all heard Tony Bennett belt out "I left My Heart in San Francisco." Well, if home is where the heart is, then I've found my heart in Boston.

Brrrr!

Well, resourceful me has found a way to keep the blog rolling while juggling the task of apartment hunting. Don't ask how I got myself on the internet in our cheap hotel. I won't tell.

Being a native Californian, let's just say I've been overwhelmed by the bad weather over here. It's about 48 degrees, raining with 37 mph winds (and these aren't warm gales blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico, I'll tell you that much). We laughed, thinking how a day like today is reminiscent of the coldest day we ever see in Berkeley. I almost had to remind myself that it's actually springtime in Massachusetts.

Nevertheless, Boston is an amazing city. I've always loved it and I'm so excited to be here. I'm a sucker for American history, bookstores and fine music. Clearly, Boston is my kind of town.

We've found an absolutely amazing apartment. It's about 5 minutes from my future lab and 10 minutes from the T. I can't claim the price is exactly fair, but it's certainly a good deal by this market's standards. We put in an offer for it. It's surprising how much damn information they need for these applications. One woman at a different apartment complex said she wanted our full bank statements and may need our tax records. I'm no fool, no sirree. I told her she could stick her own taxes where the sun doesn't shine and moved on to the next place -- which turned out to be our dream apartment.

There's supposedly ~20 people vying for this two bedroom "palatial estate". We'll find out if we got it tomorrow. Normally I'd be nervous, but seeing how fantastic this city is, I'm just happy we're going to live here.

On a more bizarre note, I simply don't understand why our hotel only offers soap and shampoo from Bath and Body Works. I'm washing my ass and my hair with some stuff labeled "Cucumber Melon." Tomorrow morning I'm going straight to the store. I need shampoo and soap that doesn't smell like jolly ranchers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Apartment Hunting.


I'm off to Boston until Sunday. I'm not sure if I'll be able to blog whilst I'm away. Check on Wednesday night to see if I figured out a way to do so. If not, have a great week and tune in on Sunday night to hear all about my apartment hunting shenanigans.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Feeling Crushed.

It's difficult. It's everywhere I go, be it the grocery store, work, television, radio, the internet. Prejudice. Prejudice against people like me. I am a Muslim. I am also an American. My family immigrated to this country long ago from a third world Muslim nation. I was born and raised as a Muslim. I was born and raised as an American. I recited the pledge of allegiance everyday and my prayers in the mosque. My Father and Mother taught me about Islam and the greatness of this country. From Islam I learned about compassion, honesty, the value of education, respect and dignity. From this country I learned about opportunity and strength. I love them both, my faith and my country. Never, in my wildest dreams, would I think that I would ever feel unwelcome by both.

I have visited an enormous number of blogs laced with anti-Islamic rhetoric. Mind you, these aren't back country morons looking to get a rise out of their readers. Rather, these are well spoken individuals, launching on tirades claiming that Islam is the new Nazism. Some proudly proclaim that we should be flushing the Holy Koran down the toilet and torturing Muslims around the world. One blog actually advocated interning American Muslims. "They can't be trusted," he argued. Another argued that Islam needs to "get with the 21st century." These are my fellow countrymen, the men and women I grew up to love. It is often that I feel hated by the majority of Americans out there. I'm sure that's not true, but it sure does feel that way.

Abroad I see my faith being shattered by radical Muslims. These wayward individuals are so desperate that they've lost all concept of what they are fighting in the name of. They blaspheme my religion and my concept of humanity by strapping bombs on themselves and killing civilians. They behead innocent men and women. Lost, are they, in the eyes of God.

Of course, an overwhelming amount of attention is given in this country to flag waving nationalists that employ stereotypical rhetoric to denigrate my faith. This attention is shared with bomb blasting terrorists abroad. In the United States, my compatriots are quickly generating a nationalist myth about Islam. They are using broad brush strokes to color the religion as violent and its followers, ignorant. It is not the religion that is at fault. It has been perverted and twisted by moronic radical followers and government institutions. Islam in this world is hardly the husk of what it truly is.

This leaves moderate American Muslims feeling orphaned. While hatred for Islam grows in this country, religious zealots are destroying Islam abroad. In the course of all of this, moderate Muslims simply have no voice. If anyone is going to save this country and Islam, it is moderate Muslims. But how? Who will listen? Who will help? Why do I need to feel alienated by both my country and my heritage? I am just one person, what difference can I make?

You can only imagine the pain this causes me. It is a crushing feeling.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Scientology at The Flea Market.


Just before my dentist's appointment yesterday I took a stroll through the Berkeley Flea Market. Here you'll find pirated movies, "genuine" African masks and "Rolex" watches at an incredibly cheap price.

I passed by a large yellow tent. The sign attached read, "Scientology - Take a Free Stress Test." I figured I had 30 minutes to kill so I entered the tent. Immediately a scientologist approached me and asked if I'd like to take a stress test. He sat me down and had me hold two metal cans, both of which were attached to a spooky metering device.

Having given the instrument a close look, I figured that it must work something like a resistometer. "So, I don't know much about science," I said, "could you explain what the hell this thing does?" "It measures your thoughts," he responded. "You see," he continued, "your thoughts have mass. We are able to register thoughts using this simple device. Go ahead and try it out. Think of something stressful."

The first thing that came to mind was graduate school. Clearly the needle moved and I realized that a small crowd had developed behind me. I realized that because I heard a collective "Ooh, Ahh." "This is completely ridiculous," I thought. Then I figured that if this thing really is measuring a potential drop across my body, I could play a few games with our friendly scientologist. "Now, I want you to think of something very traumatic," he said, "You will see that the machine can differentiate between regular and traumatic thoughts."

I dropped the two cans out of view and closed my eyes, putting on my best "oh God how could that have happened to me" face. Just then, I touched the two cans together, effectively shorting the circuit. That made the meter go wild. "You see, everyone. The machine works!" Next he asked me to again think of something less traumatic. This time I simply tightened my grip on the metal cans. Remember, crappy contact will result in higher resistance. I closed my eyes and then put on my "I can't believe it's not butter" face. (Not such a traumatic look)

Finally, the scientologist concluded, "You see folks, we have ways of measuring your thoughts." I decided now was the right time to blow the whistle on this guy. "Actually, folks, this whole thing is a fraud. I can 'register my thoughts' simply by touching these cans together and changing my grip. This is pseudoscience at its worst. Thoughts don't have mass. This instrument is a complete farce. It may measure resistance, but that's about it."

Suddenly the scientologist wasn't so friendly. The people around me dispersed quickly. I gave the scientologist one piece of advice, "Look, if you want people to join your religion, tell them about how you've gained personally from spiritual teachings. Show them how you've become a better person and achieved piece of mind. Don't proclaim that you have a kooky machine that can read their thoughts."

I know that lie detectors exist. This one was the most preposterous one I'd ever seen. I know that there are several good ways to track neurological activity. I'm sorry, but this machine just didn't cut it. I've got nothing against Scientology, I'm sure it's a fine religion. I just take issue with their use of this machine to bring in followers. Incidentally, this machine was dubbed by the Church of Scientology as an "electro-psychometer." If you'd like to build one of your own, complete schematics are provided here.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Oucho.


I don't go to the dentist frequently. Why? Our family went to a dentist named Dr. Howard Stein when I was young. The place was a chop shop for molars. "If you've got 'em, we'll pull 'em" should of been their motto. It was sort of like the Kaiser Permanente of dentistry, absent the skilled health care workers. I never understood why they were so rough with me. I never understood why they pulled so many of my teeth. On the bright side, I made a killing from the tooth fairy.

Well, Dr. Stein, my family dentist, ended up on 60 Minutes. I kid you not. He was exposed for performing unnecessary procedures on his patients and bilking insurance companies for heaps of money.

Since then, I've stayed far far away from dentists. Yesterday was my triumphant return to the world of pain and misery that is dentistry. When I first sat down in the chair, I was surprised how comfortable it was. I actually thought, "hey, this is going to be great." The assistant came by to take x-rays. I remembered how much I hated biting down on those film cartridges. "Keep smiling while I take the x-ray, honey, they'll come out better that way." As she stepped back to take the x-ray she said, "Hey, come to think of it, I know your wife -- She's Mrs. Vavoom, right?" "Uhh huh," I muttered through the pocket of film. "She's gorgeous," she replied. Another dental assistant overheard this and said, "Mrs. Vavoom, she's your wife? That can't be possible... what a mismatch. You know, Dr. A is single and he really likes your wife." They both started laughing hysterically. "Keep smiling honey, don't stop smiling... that'll mess up the x-ray." Great.

The dentist, Dr. A, and another assistant came by to check out my pearly whites. This assistant was that prototypical overly nice person. You know, the kind that says "goodness gracious me" in under a second. She kept saying, "oh gosh" and shook her head while they checked out my teeth. The dentist, kept shushing her and giving her dirty looks everytime she pulled that crap. "You know, your wife, she's fantastic," the overly kind woman said, "she gives us all free financial advice and, oh gosh look at that gum pocket Dr. A." "Shush!" While hunched over my teeth, the doctor eventually said, in a lascivious tone, "Your wife, Vavoom, is quite the looker. I'm always glad when she comes through here. It's always fun to have her in the chair." I wanted to stand up and say, "What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Shut your mouth and work on mine!" Instead I simply muttered, "Uhh huh."

When all was said and done, I was diagnosed with eight, count 'em, ocho cavities. I'm going back today to get drilled. I'm not sure what's worse -- going to a dentist that'll pull my teeth unnecessarily, or going to one that's got the hots for my wife.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Inherited Education


In 1925 a trial in Dayton, Tennessee captured the nation's attention. Tennessee representative John Washington Butler was concerned that school children would lose their belief in Biblical creationism if Darwin's theory of evolution was taught in public schools. He claimed:

"In the first place, the Bible is the foundation upon which our American Government is built . . . The evolutionist who denies the bible story of creation, as well as other Biblical accounts . . . robs the Christian of his hope and undermines the foundation of our Government."

To that end, Butler proposed legislation, an anti-evolution act, which quickly passed through the legislature. The anti-evolution act was challenged by John Scopes, a school teacher that was arrested for teaching evolution to his students. Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes served as a defeat for anti-evolutionists. (although that "defeat" is heavily debated by legal scholars)

Let's jump forward 80 years. The state of Kansas is currently debating the introduction of "intelligent design" into classroom curricula. Intelligent design claims that there exists evidence that the Earth was created by one or more intelligent beings. The National Academy of Science has labeled intelligent design as pseudoscience. Mind you, Kansas did away with evolution in their classrooms in 1999. Currently, their school board is recrafting scientific standards to incorporate criticism of current scientific dogma (which is a good thing). However, creationist ideas, based on intelligent design, may be used as an alternative explanation. This fight is being waged in other states as well.

It is often stated that the introduction of intelligent design will allow school teachers to "teach the controversy." What is the controversy? Science is based upon facts. The occurrence of the big bang is supported by a wealth of data, including redshifting of cosmic microwave background radiation. Evolution is supported by a wealth of anthropological discoveries. Those conclusions are all based on fact. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for religion. I firmly believe in God. I just don't want that taught in public schools.

If you want your child to learn about creationism, take them to your local church, synagogue, mosque or temple. If you would like them to have an education that is heavily indoctrinated with spirituality, place them in parochial schools. To incorporate religion in public schools is an abomination. To replace scientific facts with nonscientific alternatives in our nation's classrooms is outright wrong.

Where do you stand on this issue? Should intelligent design be taught in public schools? Generally speaking, should religion be included in classroom activities? Stretching, how do you feel about prayer in public schools?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Hardwired?


I recently read a fantastic article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Time magazine also has a great overview of the article. In this study, Swedish scientists exposed human subjects to male and female pheromones. They used Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Positron Emission Tomography to determine how the brain responds when the subject is exposed to these sexual hormones. They found that the hypothalamus of gay men showed significant activity when exposed to male pheromones. Females responded similarly. The hypothalamus of heterosexual men demonstrated no such activity when exposed to male pheromones. They conclude that there is a different neurological response in gay and straight men when exposed to these pheromones. Furthermore, they suggest that there may be a neurological basis for sexual differences between homosexual and heterosexual men.

This has me thinking. Is homosexuality hardwired in human beings? Note -- in this study, no conclusions were drawn about the role embryonic and social development plays in determining how the brain responds to pheromones. Is it possible that people are simply born gay?

What do you think? Is homosexuality an issue of biological design? If so, can anyone really claim that homosexuals are making a choice in their sexual orientation? Extending farther, considering all of this, should we really create a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

PDA Watch.


You've decided to have a hot passionate makeout session on campus. Or maybe you're waiting in line at the grocery store and decide heavy petting will make the time pass faster. Perhaps you're spending time at the Berkeley Marina and decide to have sex on a park bench.

Such blatant Public Displays of Affection (PDA) will grant you one fantastic wish -- I'm gonna watch. Yup, you've got it right. If you've decided that you simply don't have the discretion to wait till you get home, then I've decided that I won't have the discretion to turn a blind eye to your activities. I've decided that I'll stare, in the most obvious way, at you until you've decided to stop your salami stroking.

This is a difficult burden for me to carry. Most people doing the most salacious activities in public are not always the type you want to stare at. Yet, I will uphold my convictions -- any overtly lewd behavior will be given a shameless stare. Also, I will breach your comfort zone and watch from an uncomfortably close range.

Also, if you happen to be with me during such an event, be forewarned. I will expect you to assist me with whatever play by play and color commentary needed.

Sleepytime for Everyone, But Me.

Good God. It's 3:30 AM and I still can't sleep. I tried laying in bed for the past couple hours. The result -- I'm still awake and have developed a massive headache. This is unlike most days, where I can fall asleep for a couple of hours, wake up for a couple more,fall asleep for another two,then start my day. I think I'm gonna start sleeping with a plastic bag conveniently wrapped around my head. The oxygen deprivation has gotta do wonders for my insomnia.

UPDATE: It's 4 AM. The plastic bag isn't working...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A Graded Response.

Grades were posted online today. I just don't know why, even if I know I've done well in a class, I've always felt freaked out just before I check my grades. What made matters worse, the damn site took forever to load. So here I was sitting in front of my computer praying to every God known to man, sweating. It felt like an eternity. Finally when they appeared, I breathed a sigh of relief. I did well. I was certain I did well ahead of time. I don't know why I insist on giving myself a heart attack like this. These are the last grades I'll ever recieve from Berkeley. Thankfully everything turned out. I must have gotten lucky, or something...

Do you guys ever experience anything remotely similar to this? What freaks you out?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Getting excited.


If you haven't heard, Star Wars Episode III will be playing in a theatre near you on May 19th. If you are in the minority that hasn't heard about this premiere, I think you should sign up for jury duty. You know, they're always looking for good hearted individuals that are cut off from society. They make the best jurors, right? "Michael Jackson's molesting kids? Wait, who's Michael Jackson?" "Consider the job of juror, yours."

In any case, unlike most, I actually liked Episode I and II. I mean, c'mon, the acting wasn't very good in the first three star wars flicks. Was the acting that bad in Episode I and II, by comparison? I think most saw the first three movies long ago and built them up into more than they are. In that case, such people are bound to be disappointed by the more recent additions to the saga. Take another look at the first three installations. They're fabulous movies, but aren't the religious experience most people remember them as.

As for me, I'm excited about Episode III. For those of you haters out there, I offer you the lame Darth Tater toy, pictured above. I'm hoping you'll swallow the dangerously small light saber he's wielding -- a definite choking hazard.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Summing Up.

I return to Berkeley today. The past week has been the most therapeutic vacation I've ever taken. I've been on so many trips, looking for inner peace. I've tried surfing the north shore, hiking through Yosemite, traveling through the Mexican countryside... you name it. Who'd have thought I'd find peace of mind in the confines of my parent's home?

I feel calm, collected and ready to hit it hard when I get back. As I look back at this week's blog entries, I can't help but feel like they all read like a bad self help book. Forget about Anthony Robbins, Stephen Covey, Zig Ziglar and the rest. All I really needed was perspective. Now I've got it.

Get ready, get set, here comes Vavoom!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Spare the Rod?

I spent the day yesterday with my sister's lovely family. Her children are absolute angels. They are polite, they share and they are 1 and 3 years old. I almost thanked my sister for doing such a great job with my niece and nephew. Man, she and her husband are such good parents.

In any case, I started thinking about the myriad spoiled rotten kids I've run into over time. We all know that spanking has become a politically incorrect activity. What do y'all think? Is spanking a child really a bad idea?

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Tunnels.

I had a bizarre day today. I'm still rattled. I decided to drive to the town I grew up in. I stopped off at my old grade schools. I remembered the days I spent playing football and tetherball on the playground. I walked over to the spot where I had my first fight. Sat on the steps I often went to when I was sad. Remembered my first crush. I watched kids play baseball and sighed, thinking "If only I could go back." I remembered how hard it was to be the only minority in my school. All the teasing. All the misery.

I bumped into an old science teacher of mine who said, "Yeah, I remember you Vavoom. As I recall you were brilliant but completely lacked dedication. One of those guys that never studied and pulled off great grades. Did you ever learn to apply yourself?" "No", I replied, "I'm just your average middle weight underachiever." My science teacher was right, I never really did try very hard. My old wrestling coach saw me and called me over, "Hey, Vavoom! Good to see you. Boy, you were a hell of a wrestler... too bad you never really put your heart into it. You could've gone to state finals." They were both right. In fact, I often feel like I don't put my heart into my work. Have I changed at all?

By then I had enough bad memories dredged up from my early days in school. I thought I'd drop by the house I grew up in. Yes, it is located on Tedrow Drive. I also visited the preschool I attended, it's just around the corner from the old house. Again, I revisited some very bad memories I had there.

Finally, I stopped off at the old Library. As a child, I spent hours there reading. It was my home away from home. Surely this would bring back the good times. Before I left I saw a group of pictures in the glass exhibit window. There were photos of local soldiers currently serving. I remembered an old friend of mine. We were friends from elementary school till high school. Upon graduation, I headed to Berkeley. He went to West Point. I was angry with him. I wanted him to stay out of the military. Suffice it to say, we had a major falling out. We never reconciled our differences.

I searched for his picture in the glass case. "C'mon, he's got to be in there," I said to myself. Suddenly I saw his picture. I was overjoyed to see him smiling in uniform. Then I looked above the picture. It read, "In Memoriam." I couldn't believe my eyes, "Please God, Please God, Please God," I kept repeating under my breath. I quickly went over to the front desk and said, "That, that, that picture over there. It says 'In Memoriam.' That's a mistake, right? That doesn't mean that he's, like, gone, right?" "I'm afraid it's not a mistake," she replied. "He died about a year ago."

I felt a rush of tears come to my eyes. I held them back and ran outside. I'd never vomited from hearing bad news. Until now.

I ran back to my car and took off. I needed a place to go. Somewhere I could be alone. I remembered a place we went to when I was young. In our city, we had a system of underground water overflow tunnels. They were just beyond the railroad tracks, down a sharp sloping hill that entered into a ditch. The entrance to the tunnels consisted of a massive metal door, held open by a small boulder. I squeezed through the door and entered a frightening world of uncertainty. These underground tunnels formulated a fabulous labyrinth of darkness. As a child I knew them like the back of my hand. Now, I only remembered that they were pitch black.

I thought about my friend. I thought about him dying on some field all alone. I thought about the fact that I didn't support him when he needed me. Suddenly I felt enraged. I began walking. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. I didn't care. I was so angry. Angry at myself. I walked faster and faster. Suddenly I broke out into a full sprint, not knowing if I would run into a wall. I screamed out, "FUCK! GOD DAMN IT!" My voice boomed throughout the maze of tunnels. I ran until my lungs couldn't take it anymore. I was lost. Completely lost.

Suddenly I heard a small faint meow. I walked closer and the sound grew louder. There was a small cat somewhere nearby. I couldn't see him, so I knelt down and put my hand out. Still nothing but "meow." I called for him, "here kitty, kitty, kitty." Suddenly I felt his soft body brush up against me. I picked him up and realized that indeed, he was a kitten. I walked a short while when I then heard the echoes of a child crying and someone talking. Now I was scared.

I walked further, using the echoing cries to guide me. As they got louder, I suddenly said, "I can hear you. Stay where you are. I'm coming." In the meantime, my furry friend was meowing his head off. I kept walking and eventually could make out what was being said, "I didn't mean to *sniff* *sniff*, he just fell." "How are we gonna get him out? Maybe we should get some cat food." "*sniff* I think I heard someone *sniff* down there."

The voices came loud and clear. There was a smaller tunnel that projected light into the dark surroundings. These children were somewhere in this lighted area. I turned the corner and entered the smaller tunnel. Lo and behold -- I was in a rain gutter. I saw two little boys peeking their heads into the gutter. "Did you lose your cat?" I asked. "Yes, you found him! He found him, he found him!" "I'll pass him up to you," I said. After having done so, one of the smart ass kids asked, "Hey, what are doing in the sewer?" "This isn't the sewer," I responded, "It's a drainage system. There's no shit sent into this system. It's not a sewer. Besides, I umm... I'm with Southern California Edison. I'm checking the power lines down here." "Thank you for saving him," the other little boy said. "*sniff* I thought he was gone forever." "No problem," I replied.

I went back into the dark tunnel system. It took me a while to get back to the entrance. On my way back, I kept thinking about my poor friend. It'll take a long while before I recover from the news. As I walked through the tunnels, I couldn't help but find a lesson in all of it. Much as is the case with my life, while in the tunnels I felt angry, sad, scared, completely lost, unsure of where I was going next. Yet, I was still able to help someone in need, albeit accidentally. Maybe that's what made my journey through the tunnels worth it. Maybe that's what makes life worth it.

Roasted.


Well, I spent the entire day with my father and brother at Newport Beach yesterday. I had a great time. Hey, check the time of this post. Looks late, right? Guess what? I am massively sunburned. Yup, I'm completely roasted. I got carried away in the water, forgot to reapply, etc...

You all know that, as a result of my freakish sleeping disorder, I get ~4 hours of sleep a night. Seeing that I can't sleep when my skin feels normal, what the hell do I do when it feels like its been doused in gasoline and set aflame? I'm not sure how or if I'll sleep tonight. Woe is Vavoom.

God do I need some soothing aloe. My kingdom for a smidgen of aloe...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I'm Going to Expensiveland!


I spent the day yesterday with my brother. We haven't spent a day together, alone, in 5 years. We went to Disneyland. I know, I know, but I'm on vacation and trying to recapture whatever is left of my childhood. Here's some questions for you:

1) Guess how much a day pass costs into Disneyland?
2) Guess how much a damn pretzel costs at Disneyland?
3) Why do professional athletes get paid so much?
4) Guess how many rides were broken at Disneyland?
5) Guess how much water I swallowed from the Pirates of Caribbean ride?
6) Considering your answer to number 5, when will I die of dysentery?
7) Why is tinkerbell so hot?
8) Did I have the time of my life?

Gather your answers. Solutions are posted in the comments section.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

My Father's Impression.


My father and I spent the day at the Norton Simon Museum yesterday. Seemed like a nice way to pass time. It'd been a while since I spent time with my father. In fact, I hadn't spent a full day with him in years.

As we walked through sculptures from pre-harrapan civilization and on to paintings from the renaissance, my father began to ask me questions about my current situation. I realized that I had never really told him what happened. Why I was leaving Berkeley for Boston. Why I had been so distant. Finally, I explained everything. By the time I had finished, we were standing in a gallery of modern paintings.

My father looked at me and said, "Sounds like you went through a pretty painful situation." "You know, Dad, the most difficult thing is that I feel like I failed. I tried so hard to make things work and I just couldn't. I just can't shake the feeling that I failed. I tried so hard..." Suddenly I felt a warm tear roll down my cheek. There's another rarity -- my father hadn't seen my cry in years. Mind you, this is a gallery with high ceilings, long halls and granite everything. My slight sniffling was amplified into an echoing thunder of weakness that seemingly carried throughout the museum.

My father asked, "You know where we're sitting?" "Huh?" "Do you know where we're sitting," he repeated. "No," I responded. "We're sitting in front of a genuine Monet painting. You do know about impressionist painting, right?" "Yeah," I answered. "Come, stand up. Take a closer look at it with me." My father held my hand -- yet another first in years.

"You see, when you look at this painting up close, all of these brush strokes don't make sense. They look like random flings of the wrist." I looked closely. Hell, I was so close, I thought my drippy nose might add yet another feature to Monet's Artist's Garden at Vetheuil. My father continued, "Looking this closely at this painting, you'd think that all of these brush strokes were meaningless. A complete failure on the part of the artist. Now let's take a few steps back. Only then does the real picture come into place. You can see that all of these seemingly random brush strokes were part of a bigger picture. Not a single one was a failure."

"Maybe, son, you should take a few steps back from your situation. Maybe then, you'd realize that this wasn't a failure on your part. With regards to your situation, this is just one brush stroke in the masterpiece you'll look back at and call your life."

I stepped back and saw the picture appear from the oil streaks. I took a deep breath. Suddenly, the thundering echoes of sadness stopped. Yes, I was beginning to see the big picture.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Sacred Ground?


Alright, here's the dilemma -- when visiting a church, where does sacred ground begin? I was at in the parking lot of a church yesterday, smoking a cigarette. I know, I know, they're bad for me. C'mon I'm on vacation! Somebody comes out of the church and tells me how dare I do that, I'm on sacred ground. Sacred ground? I'm in the parking lot? I don't see people bless themselves with holy water before parking their car.

I'd have understood if he told me that it was private property. But sacred ground? The parking lot?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Boko's Gift.

Y'all need to check out Boko's Aesthetic Diatribe. Boko is a very talented artist and he posts fantastic work on his blog. This Sunday's entry is par excellence. Thanks Boko!

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Sardines.


The plane trip to my parent's place was nothing short of interesting. In typical fashion we sat on the runway for 45 minutes waiting. No, no mechanical problems with the plane. No, no issue with weather. Why did we have to wait so long? We didn't have a pilot. Apparently someone made the brilliant mistake of thinking the plane could fly itself. It was a fun 45 minutes. I was sitting between my wife and and your average 400 pound woman. No joke. This woman was really large. I've got broad shoulders. This lady had broad everything. I scrunched my body in so powerfully I thought I could hold a dollar bill between my pecks. Helping matters was her fantastic sense of humor, "Boy, we sure are crammed in here like sardines!" I kid you not, she repeated that statement 10 times.

When the plane took off, things didn't improve. I ordered my traditional spicy tomato juice for the flight. My wife had water. My broad everythinged neighbor had ginger ale. I'm not sure how or why it happened, but this lady spilled ginger ale all over me and herself. Of course, there was no apology. Rather, she said, "Give me your napkin, quick! I think some of this soda got on my purse!" I could only respond, "I'll need my napkin to wipe the ginger ale off myself, thanks." "My purse is much more expensive than your shirt," the lady said.

Why do shenanigans follow me wherever I go? I'm beginning to see the charm of overpriced first class tickets. No more days as a ginger ale soaked sardine, I tell you.
In any case, I'm home and it's great. I'm heading over to the beach to go surfing today. God, this week is gonna be great.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Heading Home.


I'll be visiting my parents for the next week. When I think of my childhood, I think of how interesting my upbringing was. One of my earliest memories was from kindergarten. Apparently I had run out of socks to wear so my mom said, "here, wear these." I looked at them and was appalled. They were red with lace around their circumference. "But mom, these are girls socks," I complained. "No, no, they're spiderman socks," she reasoned, "look, they're red like spiderman and that's not lace... it's spider webbing. Just tell everyone at school they're spiderman socks. You'll look just like a superhero."

Mind you, it was broiling hot outside and I was wearing shorts. No, nobody believed they were spiderman socks and, sweet jesus, did I get the teasing of a lifetime.

I remember coming home angrily and letting loose on my mom, "you said they were spiderman socks. You lied to me! All the kids teased me at school because of these stupid socks!" I looked into my mother's eyes and saw tears developing. You see, both of my parents worked long hard hours. We weren't rich people. "I'm so sorry," she said, "I was working late and didn't get the laundry done in time." Suddenly, her face straightened. "Besides, those are spiderman socks. The next time someone picks on you for what you're wearing or who you are you stick up for yourself. Don't let anyone do that to you."

Guess what -- I wore those "spiderman" socks the next day, with my head held high. In a sense, I've worn those socks everyday of my life since then. From a simple pair of "spidersocks" I learned how hard my parents worked to keep our family afloat and to be proud of everything they provided me.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Learn 'Em Good.


Net sales for the publishing industry have risen by 1.3% in the United States. All told, Americans spent 23.72 billion dollars on the written word in 2003-2004. A breakdown shows that there was only a .1% increase in spent funds for elementary and high school texts. Juxtaposed to this statistic is a 12.4% increase in standardized test sales in the US. We know that standardized tests have become a critical component in the rubric set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act. Do such exams really measure one's educational progress? Moreover, should the results from such testing be used as a means to test the proficiency of school teachers?

I have long been a supporter the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLA). I firmly believe that established standards for educational development have been long overdue. However, is the federal government providing adequate resources for this program to be implemented? I recently read this criticism about NCLA. In it, Carol Tomlinson suggests that we are setting the bar way too low for school children. What do you think? Will NCLA really help our country catch up with the rest of the world educationally, considering the low standards it sets on "proficiency?"

For those of you with children, speak up. I'd like to hear how you would like to see your children educated. For those you you without children, speak up. These kid's will be paying for your social security (yeah right!).

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Mail Ordered Toys.

I originally was going to write about bad toys from around the globe. Guess what? When I did a Google search for "bad Russian toys." An interesting site came up. It advertised mail order brides. You've got to check out their site. It begins with the following:

1. It is true that you can find a younger, beautiful wife in Russia. Those beautiful women whose photos you have seen on the Internet, do exist and really seek men for marriage in the west.

2. You can contact them, and if you say and do the right things, you can marry one of them.

I couldn't believe the insipid tone set by this site. It later suggests that these women are "looking for love." However, rather than be yourself, you should "say and do the right things." I searched a couple other mail order bride sites and found the attitude taken by these organizations to be appalling. They often argue that marrying an American is the only way these poor women can escape rampant anti-feminism in their home country. Do they really receive better treatment in America?

I wonder if these women have been told about Anastasia King, a mail order bride from Kyrgyztan. Anastasia didn’t survive her experience. Her husband killed her. This American "Prince Charming" previously divorced his other foreign wife and was looking for another mail order bride shortly after he killed Anastasia.

From the Yale Law Journal we learn about other harrowing tales of mail order bride abuse:

"The story of a twenty-four-year-old woman named Raco offers another example. Raco married a U.S. citizen who had courted her by mail for ten years. Soon after she came to this country, he began to beat her because of differences she had with his parents. His assaults worsened because she did not want to bear children immediately. When she became pregnant, "[h]e threatened not to sponsor me for permanent residence if I didn't carry the pregnancy to term," she said. But the violence escalated, even after she decided to have the baby. When she was, six-months pregnant, he beat her so fiercely that she feared for the life of her unborn child and fled to a shelter."

Perhaps there are some that genuinely would like to marry an overseas woman and would shower her with love and affection. Really, who are we kidding? Many men seeking to marry a mail order bride place cultural and sexual expectations on these women. It’s as if they seek to find a female companion that they can exert their influence and authority over, treating them as if they were toys. One website argued the following:

“The Russian woman has not been exposed to the world of rampant feminism that asserts its rights in America. She is the weaker gender and knows it.”

Are you one of these men? Would you like to find a foreign wife that you can mistreat and dominate? If so, congratulations -- you are a loser.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Get a Move On.


The university back east has been gracious enough to pay for our move. Today I had a surveyor come and estimate the amount of truck space we'll need for all of our junk. One problem -- I had massive diarrhea. It came on just before the surveyor came to the door. I figured, "Hey, I'm a grown man. I'll hold it."

It was terrible. The guy was really chatty. I certainly didn't want to let him roam around our house alone. Oh God did I need to go. "So, heading out to Boston are you? I lived there for a while. What a great town. In fact, we're planning a trip out that way... By the way, did I mention I was a cop before I got into the moving business, yeah that was lots of fun but I'm making plenty of cash in this business yes sir I drive a Cadillac and it feels like I'm riding on air what kinda car are you drivin' these days..."

"Please hurry," I mumbled. "What's that," he asked, "did you say something?" "No, no, take your time, I want you to do the best job that you can," I said. In the meantime, my body was gurgling, "Help! Get this crap out of here!" "Hey, sounds like you didn't have breakfast," he said, "yup, I have a solid breakfast every morning, in fact we bought this waffle maker that..." I kept trying to keep his focus on the furniture. No matter what I did, he wouldn't stop talking.

"Hey, that dining table looks heavy, could you help me lift it? I'm trying to get a gauge on its weight," he asked. I swear, I felt beads of sweat developing on my forehead. I really had to take a crap, how the hell am I going to help lift the dining table? I mustered up all the sphincter strength I had and lifted the table with him.

As we rounded into the hallway and the bathroom, I saw that my beloved pet was taking a massive crap in the litter box. God, did I envy him. He's an animal, but I'm sure he did it to spite me. "Whoa, looks like your cat really needs to go... whew, that stinks. Did I mention that my wife has a cat? Yeah, we've had him for about five years now I don't care much for pets but my wife really loves him are you going to take him with you, because if you are then there's a bunch of stuff you gotta do to get him on the plane. By the way, what airline are you flying with? I hear they got all these new fares that are..."

All in all, I kept the flood gates closed for a solid hour and a half while this guy went on and on about his 4 kids that want to go to college. "Say, can I give you my business card, you've got lots of knowledge about universities, I'd love to have them give you a call... actually, would you like to meet up another time to hang out?" By this point I was desperate, "Sure, sure, whatever you want. Are we done? I've got lots of shit to take care of and really need to get going."

Never before did the toilet feel more comforting. I felt like my body had reached the land of milk and honey. What a lesson in self denial...

Monday, May 02, 2005

George Bailey, Nobel Laureate.


There's a faculty member in my neck of the woods that's been shortlisted to win the Nobel Prize. Every year, when the Nobel committee decides on who'll win, he is seemingly panic stricken. Of course, he always comes up short and has a hissy fit. He calls meetings with his personnel, demanding better performance. Afterwards, he goes home and sulks. What's sad is that this person has staked his whole career on winning one stupid prize. In fact, there is a growing body of young scientists that do research to become famous. I had the opportunity to work with a Nobel Laureate for a while. This luminary also bathed in his fame, often using it to ingratitate himself with others. He spoke as if his life work had been validated simply because he was given a certificate and a gold medallion. Often, he spoke about how he would go down in history as a great scientist. "It is quite gratifying to win such an award," he'd say.

I believe this phenomena is not limited to the world of science. Many people have defined themselves by what they do. How many professional athletes play the game because they love it? How many play for the fame and fortune? Throngs of people seek to perform at a high level only to feed their ego. Lost in the process are their concern for others, their love of what they do. Remember, who you are has nothing to do with fame or fortune. Neither does your contribution to the world.

Do we really transcend through recognition? Is it absolutely necessary to be showered with accolades to feel like you have made a contribution to society? Why do we live our lives in hope of a mere 15 minutes?

It is my strong contention that we have no idea what our real contribution is to society. I'm a strong believer in what I call the George Bailey Effect. Most people live their lives in desperate search of how they can make a difference. However, they fail to recognize the vast difference they make in the lives of those around them and, subsequently, the world. If you would like a good visual introduction to this concept, watch "It's a Wonderful Life." If you ask me, it's courageous self sacrificing individuals like George Bailey that make the difference. As for these Nobel Prize seeking, fame mongering, fortune seeking individuals, they can all go straight to hell.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Smartest Guys.


We watched Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room last night. It was a fantastic look at a corporate culture of greed and deception. In this documentary, we are given the unique opportunity to witness the alpha male dominated environment that became part of Enron's undoing. Moreover, the movie clearly shows how Wall Street's largest firms played an important role in Enron's shady business practices. If you have two hours to spare, this movie is an investment well worth making.

This documentary certainly has its weaknesses. It is clearly partisan. For example, connections are made between Enron and both Bush Administrations, with little attention paid to the role the Clinton Administration played in the Enron scandal. However, this movie isn't nearly as biased as Michael Moore's work and should be watched for the Enron corporate culture storyline alone.

The unwillingness of Enron employees to prevent themselves from partaking in unethical business deals is highlighted in this documentary. The movie suggests that employees simply could not speak out for fear of reprisal. They also argue that Jeffrey Skilling established a cult-like environment that provided clear rationalization for shoddy business practices. For those of you working in corporate environments, do you feel like you are given a voice in your company? Would you be able to blow the whistle if you witnessed corporate corruption?