Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Where I Live: Rockville, MD

One night a long time ago, I was up ridiculously late and I absolutely had to stop and fill my tank on the way home. I had been putting it off for longer than I should. The reading on the meter was pegged on empty as I drifted into the gas station.

Stepping out of my car, my senses sharpened as my mind raced. I took a quick inventory of all the things about gas stations that I noticed before that were increasing my chances of being murdered that night.

Every inch of pavement was brilliantly lit.

I was exposed, between the pumps and columns, in pretty much every direction.

I was alone.

I fumbled over the nozzle as I tried to get the gas flowing as quickly as possible. I was slowing myself down by going too fast. As soon as I got the pump going, I started pacing back and forth. I couldn't help it, my legs simply took over. I was terrified, and my body was in survival mode.

Between the evening of October 2nd and the morning of October 3rd, 2002, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo violently killed 5 people in Montgomery County, Maryland, with gunfire triggered from long distances. The worst 24 hour murder streak in County history started off what was to be most commonly known as the D.C. Sniper attacks.

The situation was chaotic. For weeks people in the greater Washington D.C. area were terrorized by a seemingly endless line of random killings. There was no connection between the victims, other than the fact that they were killed while performing everyday task, like getting groceries, mowing a lawn, or pumping gas.

The case had few clues at the very beginning. There were no significant witnesses or leads as the investigation started. Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose famously claimed that there was no threat to children from the shooter. Muhammad and Malvo responded by shooting a 13 year old. Public schools instituted a lock down, with all outside activities suspended indefinitely. Moose and the sniper team were sending cryptic messages to one another on TV.

For me, the scariest part of the situation was that the adults were scared. I was a 17 year old high school senior, watching the police fumbling over the case, and watching grown men and women ducking for cover and zig-zagging while out in open public places. I saw clips of people crouched in their cars while pumping gasoline.

So I was pacing. I didn't know if there was a shooter coming down route 28 in a car, or if he had set up his shot in a nearby wooded area. It wasn't irrational. I was pumping gas, just like other victims. I was in close proximity to other shootings that occurred.

But above all else, the worst thing I had going for me was the fact that I was at the closest gas station to the very police station that Charles Moose was holding his press conferences. In a case where messages were going back and forth, I was a bullet away from becoming one.

The loud click of the nozzle startled me. I put it back in the pump and got in my car, snapping my head back and fourth as I turned the key. I thought it would be a good idea to avoid a head shot. I was shaking as I drove home. I didn't feel safe until I walked inside. I sat down with my back to the door. I didn't stop shaking, even as I went to bed.

Eventually the shootings ended. Muhammad and Malvo were caught. The rest of my senior year was much more normal. I graduated high school in the spring of 2003, and helped my family move to nearby Bethesda in the summer.

After spending 15 years in one city, in one house, the most vivid memory I have of Rockville is of that gas station. I will never forget that night. The otherwise tame decade and a half I spent in Rockville left me with a bitter aftertaste, caused by chaos, and by the shedding of the blood of the innocent, and by fear.

The Hindenburg burned. The Titanic sank. People fall victim to the inevitability of, well, an outcome. But despite the fact that the cross-hairs are always on us, we all continue to live our lives. I am reminded of this whenever I see, hear, or think about Rockville.

Let Us Discuss The Andrew WK

[I figure this will be an irregular feature of my ramblings about bands and artists I love.]

The first image most of us have of Andrew WK is that mildly disturbing one of his nose dripping blood on the cover of his first album I Get Wet. And for a lot of people, Andrew WK is simply the guy wearing all white singing metal songs that are all about Partying (either Hard, Till You Puke, or Without Stop). And at first that manic insane energy is what drew me in. But the partying rhetoric ties into a deeper belief that WK believes that everyone should live their life to it's fullest. Now that sounds a bit corny, but anyone who has seen him perform live knows that he's not kidding. The mosh pits at his shows are big masses of positiveness. At all times audience members run on stage and get piggy back rides from WK or give him piggy back rides, sing a few lines of the lyrics, high-five the bassist, etc. If it sounds chaotic it is, but WK is the perfect ringmaster, someone utterly fearless but actually non-threatening.

Musically there's also more to meets the eye. WK has deep roots in the Michigan noise scene, and is buds with the guys in Wolf Eyes. He's produced an album by reggae legend/crazy person Lee "Scratch" Perry, record two albums of Japanese cover songs and is a classically trained pianist. That last part has lead to him releasing a solo piano album 55 Cadillac and touring the country with a string quartet. If you want to see him in all his live glory, he's playing at Jammin' Java in Virginia on Monday (it was rescheduled from Sixth and I Synagogue downtown, sadly probably because of lack of ticket sales). He's such a compelling entertainer, I have full faith in this show being awesome. Cuz that's just the kind of guy he is.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where I Live: Baltimore County

There is likely only one reason you've ever heard of Glen Arm, MD, and that is if you know me personally. Furthermore, you have probably only been to Glen Arm, MD if you were coming to visit me at my parents' house.

That's because Glen Arm is not really much of a city. We have our own zip code only because the area once contained a post office. That post office closed a few years ago though, due to lack of business, and it now sits a lonely shack on Manor Road. The Long Green Volunteer Fire Company is still alive and well, and there are a number of fine churches in the area. Long Green Baptist even boasts a baseball diamond out back, where I played softball in my elementary school years. Mostly though, Glen Arm, MD is miles of farmland, interrupted here and there by single-family homes.

The house that will always be my first (and probably most cherished) home sits just up the hill from Kanes Road. It is bordered on two sides by cow pasture (I became all-but immune to the smell of manure years ago and cow tipping is a myth) and on the third by a mid-19th century Mennonite Cemetery. We have one neighbor on the remaining side of our property, but you would never call our street a neighborhood. I have always envied the children who could run up the road to play with their best friends, because my friends were always at least a 10-minute drive away.

There's just not much to do in Glen Arm that doesn't require a heavy dose of imagination. Just about anything that is worth doing near my hometown requires a 20 minute drive, with one exception:

Ah, the memories. After only 8 short minutes (during which time we'd encounter our one stoplight about 2.5 miles into the trip), we'd reach the shopping center commonly known as Four Corners in Phoenix, MD, where my love affair with Safeway Food and Drug first began.

Once a week we'd venture out to civilization to pick up our six gallons of milk and two loaves of bread, stock up on cereal, ice cream, and ground beef, and replenish our lunchmeat supply. The woman working the deli was always so friendly - she'd slice off an extra piece of Yellow American for us to eat as we shopped. We'd weave our way through the bins of colorful produce stacked high in their bins, and if we were lucky, we'd convince Mom to stop in the bakery and pick up a box of Entenmann's Rich Frosted Donuts.

The aisles were always clean and neat at Safeway. Everything was organized and in its proper place. The whole store smelled like fresh bread. It was just as a grocery store should be.

Sometimes when we were out we'd have to stop in to other stores to pick up a few items, but it was never the same. Giant. Mars. Super Fresh. Food Lion. ShopRite. None of them smelled quite right. Or they'd be dirty. Groceries would be strewn all over the floor. Their in-store brand wouldn't taste the same. They were just low-rent excuses trying to be Safeway.

Where I'm from, you shop at Safeway. That's all there was, but it was okay, because it was perfect. And so my love persists. When I moved to Montgomery County, I found an apartment complex about a mile from a Safeway. I love it. It's better than any other grocery store in the area.* And that's where I live.

*Whole Foods and Wegmans are not grocery stores. They're little community centers that also happen to sell groceries, and thus in my mind do not count.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chin up Deadskins

I won't lie, the past 24 hours have provided the most delightful schadenfreude. It's been majestic to see an obsessively followed local team lose to a team that literally did not win a single game last season (their last win before Sunday was in 2007).

There was and will be an epic amount of smack talking because of the Lions beat down of the Skins yesterday. And the first thing everyone said afterward was "FIRE ZORN." But let's not get ahead of ourselves. American sports fans tend to discount the lessons of other sports, especially soccer, so let's just say things could be quite a bit worse.

When an American team plays like the Lions did last year, they get two rewards - they get to stay in the league and they get a good draft pick (plus because there is no lottery in football, the worst team automatically gets the best pick as long as they have not traded it previously). In most international leagues, the worst two or three teams get sent down to a lower division. If baseball was played like soccer, the Nationals would not have a snazzy new pitching prospect, they would be playing in Triple A right now.

Although, soccer teams get a parachute payment when they get dropped to a lower league, there is still the fallout of failure, and most squads have to be reconfigured since their best players flee like rats from a sinking ship. Getting promoted again is always a difficult proposition. Last season, my beloved Tottenham Hotspur began the season with their worst start in decades. They were literally the laughingstock of an entire nation. (A joke from last year: What's the difference between Tottenham and a triangle? A triangle has three points.) But they got it together and dodged relegation. If they hadn't it would have been devastating.

The point is don't fire Zorn yet. Going 1-15 will net a very nice draft pick. Then you can give him his marching orders.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Where I Live: Fort Huachuca, Arizona

On two occasions in my life, I called the state of Arizona home.

The first happened when I was fresh off the plane from Germany. My father had been reassigned to Fort Huachuca (which means "Thunder Mountains"), 15 miles north of the border with Mexico. It was here that I recall my first memories. The choo-choo train cake from my 2nd birthday party. Family gathered around as I was given a large plastic knife to cut a piece of it with. My older brother being yelled at by my Grandmother for staying out past dark. The very first thing I remember seeing on television (Fraggle Rock). Arizona is where my life really began.

It's a hot state, hotter than I think anyone who lives in the east or north realizes. Temperatures can climb over 110 degrees in the summer. There's no oppressive humidity, but all that means is that you dry out that much faster. Also, the climbing mercury provides the ideal heat for monsoons - squalls which can cause flash floods in seconds with downpours so tumultuous you legimiately fear for your life. They can put everything around you underwater and then vanish to reveal clear skies in the space of five minutes. When monsoon season rolls around, it is not uncommon to see this event four or five times a day.

Beyond the weather though, there is nothing quite like the sight of the western states. There are deserts teeming with life; plants, mammals, and lizards adapted in ways completely unlike anything back east. There were roadrunners native to the area, and it was a common occurrence to hear coyotes howling at night (yes - we had roadrunners and coyotes). Other native wildlife included scorpions, deadly spiders, gila monsters, mountain lions, deer, javalenas (wild pigs), fire ants, turkey buzzards, and condors. Natural sites of wonder can be found in Arizona's extensive bat caves, a fascinating place to visit and learn about these amazing creatures, the petrified forest, the painted desert, and, of course, the Grand Canyon.

But to narrow it down so much takes away from Arizona's natural beauty. There is little about the state that is not a wonder to behold. If you're unused to the kind of marvel a desert climate can produce, you don't know what you're missing.

My memories of my first tenure in Arizona are dim. My parents divorced when I was 2, and my mother took us to live for a time in a trailer on the outskirts of Sierra Vista, the town adjacent to the Fort. I visited my father occasionally, one such visit giving rise to a classic story wherein my mom - for some ungodly reason - had decided to grow my hair out in a rat-tail. My father took one look at it, flipped out his knife, and chopped it off. If mom objected, she never says so when she tells the story - perhaps she saw me without it and realized her mistake.

At this time, she began dating a young officer named Brad, whose towering height (he was 6'7''!) made a definite impression, but for some reason his roommate was the one who really caught her eye. Thus is was not long before my mother and then-2nd Lieutenant Dennis Schlitt began seeing one another.

We moved into a house, adding my Grandmother AND Grandfather - they'd been divorced for nearly 2 decades - to the mix. There we stayed until orders came that Dennis was to be made a 1st Lieutenant and thus reassigned to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. There we remained - until Dennis was again promoted to Captain, and back to Arizona we went.

This is where my memories of Arizona firmly take root. Having my 7th birthday party at the Pot O' Luck, where they had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. Moving first to the interim housing, then to an apartment, then finally our house at 107A Lawton Ave. Visiting Lake Havasu and enduring temperatures of 120 degrees to see the actual London Bridge - yes, it's in Arizona. Seeing Tombstone and witnessing gunfight reenactments. Driving 90 minutes to Tucson to visit Toys 'R Us, or 3 hours to Phoenix or Scottsdale for the enormous malls. Meeting my best friends ever, Willy and Hannah, the brother and sister who lived next door to me. Then when we moved to a larger house (105A Arizona St.) to accommodate our growing family - now consisting of Dennis and my mom, my older brother, and the newest addition, my younger sister Samantha - my new best friends ever, Mikey and Mallory, the brother and sister who lived up the road. While I had fun after school every day with them, it wasn't until Mikey and Mallory moved away that Jason Chapman moved in, and I had my real first best friend.

Jason, supposedly an actual descendant of American legend Johnny Chapman, or Johnny Appleseed as he is more widely known, was my first best friend. We played at the playground by my house. We played at the playground next to the bus stop. We drew together (he was much better than me). We made up whole stories and worlds and acted them out in my backyard. We fought and hated each other and then apologized and forgot and played some more. I still have some of the stories we made up to this day. I keep telling myself that one day I'll do something with them. Ultimately, he moved to Germany, and it wasn't long before we lost touch.

There were so many others, though. Jesse and Ted, David Muldanado and Jonathan and Justin. Brandi, Sam, Christian, Chris Sontag and Matt Oldham, even my first girlfriend (we never actually went on a single date) Jennifer Achaval. From age 7 to 13, Fort Huachuca was my home. It was where we had our Irish Setter, a purebred named Princess Shanel (but referred to as Shanny), and where I had my first two iguanas, Godzilla and Gigantis. It was where Mrs. Gross, the teacher of the Academically Gifted class, educated me and my friends in literature and logic for 5 years running. It's where I met Ms. Bird, the nastiest and yet somehow most caring teacher I've ever encountered. Arizona is where I first became old enough to walk by myself to the PX and the Commissary, where I saved up all my allowance and birthday money to buy my own Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. And where the youngest member of our family, Evan, my little brother, came to be.

Now, Fort Huachuca itself is an army base. There's not a lot that will ever change there. My brother visited recently and tells me the only difference is that the yards, formerly lush green grass, have all been replaced by smooth desert rock, likely in a water-conservation effort. Other than that, the houses all remain the same. There's the enlisted housing, officer housing, Colonel's Row, the Officer's Club, so on and so forth. What sets Fort Huachuca apart is the mountains. I am not exaggerating at all when I say there was a mountain range in my backyard. Literally - there was the fenced-off portion of my backyard, about fifty yards or so of open grass, a steep decline that led to the one road out of town below, and then mountains. Waking up to a red sunrise spreading out over those majestic green peaks was always something to look forward to. And on occasions when it snowed, it was even more breathtaking. Snow, of course, was a rare sight to be treasured. It was much more common to be told to put on a sweater if it dipped below 60.

The outlying town, Sierra Vista, is, I'm given to understand, now heavily developed. When I was there, it was more or less a single road with stores on either side, leading to some apartment buildings where my Grandfather lived. There were run-down saloons and Native American gift shops, tiny shopping centers and a single comic shop, Stasis, that became a treat to visit. The most monumental occasion of the time I lived there was when they opened up a Blockbuster. I'm told that these days the town is unrecognizable from what it once was. Maybe one day I'll go see it again, but I prefer to keep my memory of that quiet little town where every new happening was monumental.

As often happens, I eventually found myself further along in time than I had been before. Dennis was not going to make Major, and at that time in the army the policy was up or out. So, for the first time, I was about to leave my life in the military. This time, the destination was Ohio.

Oh, but I completely left out North Carolina. Well, both my time in Fayetteville and Dayton were transitional times for me. Maybe it's best I cover them elsewhere - perhaps in my next installment of Where I Live.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Where I Lived (and Left): Culvert Cowntee

"God Bless Y'all, Real Good"
- Louis L. Goldstein

Yep. Should one choose to exit Calvert County at its southern-most tip, crossing into St. Mary's via the Solomon's Island Bridge, a casual look to the left will reveal this brick-laden farewell in all of its grammatically deficient splendor. Unbeknownst to him, former Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein managed to capture the quintessence of Southern Maryland in only five words - and he presented it perfectly. Welcome to bumfuck.

Calvert (also referred to as "CC," "Southern Maryland, and, "Uh, it's near D.C./Annapolis. Sort of.") is a peninsula bordered by the Chesapeake Bay and the Patuxent River. From top to bottom, it is approximately 45-50 miles long, and borders counties Anne Arundel, Charles, and St. Mary's. There are about 5 main drivable exits - the most notable being Route 2-4 as the primary pipeline in and out (non-drivable exits include helicopter, water travel, and death).

Calvert County is split into three main areas - Northern (North Beach, Chesapeake Beach, Owings, Huntingtown, and Dunkirk), Central (Prince Frederick, Dares Beach, Port Republic, and Barstow), and Southern (Brooms Island, St. Leonard, Lusby, Cove Point, and Solomons Island) - each with a corresponding high school. You could say that Northern is "where the money is" - noteable that their region now has (count 'em) two* public high schools named "Northern High" and "Huntingtown High." Prince Frederick is the central "town center" - a collection of strip malls and living communities - home of Calvert's oldest high school, Calvert High. Southern Calvert boast proudly of the nationally famous "Tiki Bar," claims the closest Nuclear Plant to Washington D.C. as its own, and is home to this author's alma mater, Patuxent High. If you ever visit Southern Calvert, I advise driving straight to Solomons Island. It's this author's personal favorite.

The most interesting thing about Calvert is its pattern of urban development. For all intents and purposes, Calvert County is predominately rural, but maintains its own sub-urban flair. Driving from end to end, you'll be bombarded with isolated residential communities and market centers contrasting with long stretches of country roads, farmlands, old family plots, and watershed protectorates. Formerly cheap land, an exploding population, and steady immigration combined with the residents' desire to maintain the county's rural aesthetic, watershed laws, and building restrictions coalesce to form Calvert's impression as contradiction manifested. Hence, another Gentleman's coining of the term "ghetto country" might not be such a misnomer - representing Calvert as an odd combination of backwater boonies and urban sprawl.

Interestingly enough, despite said booming population there hasn't been a sufficient concentration of people over one particular spot to form an entire "town" (exceptions: North Beach and Chesapeake Beach are technically considered towns). Instead, what you have are select districts (some mentioned above) of residential areas that are assigned to different post offices around the county - some labeled as "town centers." As opposed to having the same municipal standing as full towns, these "town centers" are simply zoned for residential and commercial use. Their infrastructure is designed to ultimately curb urban sprawl and preserve agricultural and rural areas. In essence, this equates to there being, "not a whole lot to do," in the conventional sense. For those over 21, this means a lot of seedy bars spread out across long distances, bars in restaurants, and bars in hotels. To contrast, it also means a lot of local owned establishments once you get away from "town centers" - which are more likely to run the gambit of chains. The town center thing actually worked and kept away a lot of the amenities you might find with place of higher population density.

To demonstrate my point I'll tell a story:
One point during college, I drove down to St. Mary's to a friends party, passing through Calvert on the way, where I was accompanied by another Gentleman and a former roommate from the area. Said Gentleman started flipping around on the radio looking for a local station, when I looked at him confusedly. "Well, we get DC 101 or 98 Rock," I said, returning to driving not knowing what else to tell him. I would have mentioned HFS, but this was 2007 and HFS had long since dissolved. Clearly, that wasn't what he was talking about and he continued to ask for a local station where we played songs from bands around the area. He explained that most places have this sort of thing and he wanted to know what the station number was. Still confused, I tried to explain further that the closest thing we had to that was a whole-in-the-wall station that praised God every time the DJ spoke and played old-timey, twangy country. The Gentleman wasn't buying it and further tried to explain what he was looking for when our backseat companion chimed in with, "Uh, well, there's the Rocket." "What's the Rocket?" I asked, baffled. "It's like a modern rock station, I guess? It's new. Local," he said. I was dumfounded. Apparently, I had been away for awhile - in 2006 said old-timey station had switched over and changed its branding to "97.7 The Rocket," playing contemporary rock, possibly from local bands. I had a slight moment of shock, but I don't think it was apparent. It ended up being an OK station. Not great, but certainly not horrible. Also, I was still in shock.
"So, what do you do for fun in a place like this?"
Well there's not a whole lot to do, as I mentioned before. However, if you like solitude, relaxation, or the outdoors, it's a great place to visit. Local activities include your usual gambit of sports (soccer, football, basketball, baseball/softball, etc.), crabbing and fishing, boating and sailing, kayaking and canoeing, running and hiking, beaches and bonfires, and horseback riding. We have nature preserves Cypress Swamp and Flag Ponds, as well as the Marine Museum, which serves as our own, public mini-aquarium. There's Anne Marie Gardens, if you like outdoor art. You used to be able to visit the Nuclear plant (before 9-11). Of course, there's the Tiki Bar, which opens on Solomons Island every spring and shuts down before winter hits. Local bands (of which there might have been 3**. Maybe.) might play at bars, the Clubhouse in Lusby, or the St. Leonard Volunteer Firehouse. Outside of that, get ready to spend a lot of time in friends' houses and basements. For many, this leads to a lot of a) illicit drug use (It was rumored that the Ranch Club, a residential district, had either a heroin addict or dealer on every street and that, in this particular region, heroin was cheaper than pot) or b) deviant sex (boredom is the mother of invention). If you did neither, you were left to make your own fun - just hanging out and having a good time with your pals. Sometimes, we went across the bridge to the Ihop in St. Mary's because it stayed open late. A selection of my friends began making movies for fun - which usually wasn't a bad idea. Note, however, that going and "doing something" takes time - most places worth traveling to are between 15 min-30 min away. Traveling to Baltimore, D.C., or Waldorf meant gathering a day trip involving an actual reason to go.
And that's Calvert County for you. The essence captured. I actually had a pretty decent time when I lived there. But, I admit, I only go back under very limited circumstances.

* - the running joke: since Patuxent High was in the "poorer" part of the county, yet was relatively new, ran great programs, and had the heads of the Advanced Placement commission as teachers, the "money got mad" and pushed for a new school in their district to entice PHS staff up towards the north.
- Another running joke: There's a Patuxent Elementary School and a Patuxent High School. Patuxent Middle School, however, does not exist - because the administration doesn't want to have to deal with a school with the initials "PMS."
** - On Local Bands: I only remember two of them - There was Hydra FX, who everyone liked because they actually were pretty decent and everyone knew them, and the Flinging Ferrets, who everyone hated because they sucked, were annoying, and, also, everyone knew them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Where I Live: Augsburg, Bavaria Germany

When Where I Live was announced as part of the upcoming Gentleman's schedule, I was conflicted. Certainly I do LIVE someplace, as in, physically occupy a geographic location, but the spirit of the concept seemed to be asking for more. This is not just a rundown of where you go when you get off from work. No, we are meant to capture the essence, the soul of a region through the lens of our experience. My conflict was that I have no place I am "from," no point of origin or hometown. It was a habit of my family to move every few years, one I have picked up and continued on my own. My journies have taken me across the country several times, with stories to share about each new destination.

Hence I have decided that I will break my experiences down into a series - one post for each major period in my life. These would be, in rough chronological order; Germany, Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio, New York, and finally, Maryland.

So I'll begin at the beginning. The place I was born - Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany.

The time is April 28th, 1983. College student Marci Eve Willner and husband Vladimir James Pratt are expecting their second child. Marci is finishing up course work via - funnily enough - the University of Maryland. Vladimir is serving a tour of duty overseas for the U.S. Army. They met when Marci was in the army herself, just as Vladimir was separating from his first wife, a high school sweetheart. Their son, Vladimir James Pratt II, is 3 years and 9 months old.

The pregnancy has not been an easy one. Marci almost miscarried once and was consigned to bedrest for several days. 10 days after her due date, she goes into labor. The birth is not easy. At first the baby simply refuses to be born. Ultimately, the doctor decides to use a suction tube in order to literally vacuum it free. This is not without complications. Her baby is delivered with the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck, and is a frightening shade of blue. Things don't look good, but after a touch-and-go moment, he begins to cry. At 8lbs, 6 ounces, David Andrew Pratt is welcomed by his parents. The name was the subject of some debate, but Marci ultimately won out - she had already given in to Vladimir James Pratt II, she wasn't about to let another one go without a fight.

Thus for the first ten weeks of my life, I lived in Germany. My memories of this time are understandably dim, but for some reason whenever it's brought up I think of the color blue. With no firm recollections of Bavaria, instead I've prepared a short lesson on the area and its history.

The city of Augsburg was founded in 15 B.C. as a garrison for Roman soldiers. Situated as it is between several key European cities, it soon became a bustling hub of trade and commerce. It would survive being sacked by both Huns and Charlemagne to become a vibrant college town rich in history and culture. It is the only city in Germany with its own holiday - the Peace of Augsburg. This commemorates the day when, for the first time anywhere, a treaty of coexistence was signed between Catholics and Lutherans.

Augsburg is also home to a famous marionette theater, the world's first artificial whitewater course, the 900-year-old Perlachturm bell tower, and the Fuggerei - the world's oldest social housing complex still standing today. It was also the home of playwright Bertolt Brecht, inventor Rudolf Diesel, and Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus's father.

Bavaria itself is the largest state in Germany, accounting for 20% of the country. The indigenous population does not seem to have migrated here, but rather been formed by a combination of groups held over following a Roman withdrawal from the area. It has changed as Europe changed, from Rome to Charlemagne to Napoleon. Bavaria managed to remain a monarchy even after being defeated by Prussia in 1866.

Contained in Bavaria are the cities of Munich and Nuremberg, both famous in their own right. Munich was heavily bombarded during World War II, but has since risen to prosperity once more. In 1972, it played host to the Summer Olympics.

Well-known natives of Bavaria? Look no further than Joseph Ratzinger - or as we know him now, Pope Benedict XVI.

That is what I know about Augsburg, Bavaria Germany. I do hope to visit there one day, out of a sense that cannot even be called nostalgia. More simply a desire to see the place where I drew my first breath. Absorb perhaps some of what I first saw when I entered this world.

At 10 weeks old, I departed from Germany for America. This would see me land in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, for what would not be the last time.

But more on that tomorrow.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Where I live: The LDN

It took me some distance to appreciate London. After my semester there I was a bit burned out on being in a city every day and more than happy to be back in America where all sorts of little things that I missed all came back to me.

The thing about London is that at times it seems like everyone is from somewhere else. And while I think that can add spice to a city, it's a characteristic that I find makes me want to visit places but not live there. New York, Rome, London are all cities I love to visit, but I find myself a not unhappy to leave at the end. I think there's a part of me that would take to Manchester or Chicago easier if I moved there than the really big cities (and the feeling I got when I visited a friend in Bristol during my semester in England seemed to sort of confirm that).

There is a lot to be said about London, though. Central London is quite walkable, and the vast differences from Oxford Street to Brixton to Canary Wharf to Baker Street are vast intriguing to me. Waking up every morning a block away from Regents Park made for a lot of wonderful morning runs. And after class I would come home and read the Independent or Economist. It was a very nice life, really.

Seeing Tottenham games reminded me of how engaging sports can be, and how teams can literally be weaved into the fabric of a city. North London had it's charm with the mix of ethnic communities and working class folks, and the University of North London campus was a fascinating (and somewhat baffling) mix of various architectural ideas. Plus you can't find a much more culturally attuned city, and I probably went to as many concerts and museums as I had at any point in my life.

But it never quite felt like home. It was more a collection of nice events, and nice moments and perhaps too many nice cds that I bought, yet it never came together.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tea Party Interviews

I know it's a lot to not lose your faith in humanity a little bit. Just keep in mind this quote - "if I only looked at rotten apples and pears, I'd lose faith in fruit."

Between this and birthers though, I'm starting to wonder. Maybe they're all secret liberals in part of a vast conspiracy to undermine the conservative agenda by making them look like complete flaming lunatics. It's certainly working.

Where I Live(d): Ohio

or 'What is home?'

This weekend, I went home. As a concept, 'home' is something that I personally have trouble defining. For the purposes of this post, I'm using it to describe my parents' house in Ohio. I lived there for 12 years (ages 6 to 18), but during the course of the past two years I haven't spent more than a few days there at a time. Now, according to my mother, any place that she and my father live will always be my home. (At least, that's what she told me once when I made the mistake of using the phrase 'going home' to refer to a post-Thanksgiving return to Maryland.) But that made me wonder: does she still think of her own father's house as 'home'? She never lived in his current house, and she's spent more time away from Philly than I have from Ohio. Similarly, when my parents move (which they undoubtedly will, since my father refuses to spend his retirement in a red state*) where will 'home' be? I'll no longer have any ties to Ohio, but their new residence won't exactly be 'home' for me either. At that point will I finally be allowed to grow up, and decide for myself what 'home' is?

Because even when I lived there, Ohio never really felt like home. In college, whenever people would ask where I was from, I always answered very specifically, 'I grew up in Ohio.' Because, you see, I was born in Bensalem, PA, and even though we moved to Ohio when I was six, I'm very adamant about not being from there. Don't get me wrong- the small-town Ohio thing isn't all bad. Piqua is so safe that we once left our front door open- not unlocked, but open- while on vacation, and came back to find the house undisturbed. Every person I meet on the bike trail says 'good morning,' no matter how out of breathe they might be. The sunsets are gorgeous, and the night sky is stunning. And the traffic on the highway through Dayton is certainly a nice change from the Beltway.

But for me, none of that balances the drawbacks. Growing up, I didn't go to concerts and art exhibits and plays because there weren't concerts and art exhibits and plays. I spent hours in the car every week so that I could go to ballet rehearsals and theatre classes in Dayton. And forget Saturday night sleepovers- all of my friends had to get up for church on Sunday mornings. In elementary school, a classmate asked if I had a Jewish television that would show Hannukah specials instead of Christmas programming. In high school, one of my friends burst into tears in her car and, when one of our other friends asked what was wrong, she answered, 'Alex isn't going to heaven with us!' In my little town in Ohio, I was the 'other.' While I danced in the show choir and was president of the Honor Society and was even on Homecoming court, I was always very aware of being an outsider.

Maybe it was all in my head, but I felt like the fact that I was an East Coast liberal Jew made me different. My parents didn't graduate from Piqua High School, my cousins didn't live down the street, and I didn't plan on marrying my high school sweetheart so I could settle down there too. Instead, as soon as I could, I moved back to civilization (though apparently Maryland's status is debatable). While I love my parents (and a few select local purveyors of food), Ohio is not a place that I particularly enjoy visiting.

And should I really call a place like that 'home'? I took my boyfriend with me this weekend because I wanted him to see my little town and understand where I grew up. Most of my friends, in their lovely East Coast bubble, don't really get it. Piqua's a town where nothing changes: religion, morals, and political views are passed down like family heirlooms. It's easy enough to ignore these people when I'm not in Ohio. Then they become a vague community in the Midwest; they are the 'other' instead of me. But every time I go back, I'm forced to confront the fact that they really do exist. I grew up with them and it helped shape my life. But I am not one of them, and I really don't want to call Ohio 'home' anymore.

*Yes, technically Ohio's current governor is a Democrat and its electors went to Obama, but my parents live in a county that voted 63% for McCain and a district that has repeatedly elected John Boehner to Congress.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The First Annual Russell Banks Literary Prize

I read a lot these days, and most of it tends to be pretty decent. Some I'll rush through a bit to get over with, but there are really very few books that I finish and think "What the hell is wrong with the person who wrote this?" The last book that provoked that reaction was Continental Drift by Russell Banks.

Mr. Banks has always had a hard on for Hemingway, and is a "man's man." Continental Drift follows the general narrative principles of the movie Crash - bad things happen to good people . . . and bad people . . . and everyone else too. The book tells the story of a poor Caribbean woman and a jaded American man and their parallel paths to warm sunny Florida. Sounds lovely right? Drift is full of murder and death and rape and more rape and men cheating on their wives, and people treating their relatives like shit and people abusing minorities and people abusing white people. Banks really, really dislikes his own characters.

At one point one of the protagonists shoots and kills a man who has come in to rob the liquor store he works at. This provides any number of internal and external aspects to which a good author could dwell upon, but of course Banks focuses on the smell of the dead man's last bodily function. He's that kind of author.

Despite stopping for a stretch midway through reading it, I did finish Drift just to confirm that yes, evil does prevail. But not even interesting evil. Everyone just suffers.

So the next 78 or so books I read afterwards were at the very least tolerable. I read a lot of good stuff, some great stuff, some eh stuff. And then I got to Anita Desai's Fasting, Feasting. The story of an sorta-upper-middle-class Indian family, the first two thirds of the book revolve around the eldest daughter and her parents, who by retirement function as a joint entity. The petty bitterness goes on ... and on ... and on. The family gets tricked out two dowries for the daughter who is clumsy, hopeless and good-natured. But because she never escapes the house she goes through life as a full-grown child, and that's how the parents treat her up to the very end. Any opportunities for her outside of marriage are squashed and yet its not that her parents are that controlling. If she had any drive she could have found away out, but she never does.

Midway through the novel the parents are out of their house for a while and the daughter finds the key to open the closet where the phone resides (yes, the phone is in a locked closet) and makes a call. After using it once and forgetting to re-lock it she is chastised like a four-year old for wasting money. (And this is a family with servants!)

The last third is devoted to the younger brother, the family's golden boy who is worked like a dog so that he can get a scholarship and study in America, which he does. When he gets there he spends his entire part of the book avoiding all other human life (including fellow Indians) like the plague. Most of the action revolves around a summer he spends boarding with an American family. They're all so one-dimensional I can some them up in a word each - sister:bulimia, brothers:jogging, dad:meat, mom:epic naivete (okay, she gets two words).

The low point of the book is the brother explaining his sister's condition in a phrase that's never been used by anyone in the US ever: "Yeah, and [she's] sicking it up -- sicking it up!" I had to stop reading for a minute. I admit, sick is a great term for vomit used regularly by the British but good lord, Desai teaches writing in the US! Out of the 3 or 4 sentences the brother gets in the book one of them is so tone def to American English it's questionable what Desai (or her editor) was thinking.

Fasting, Feasting was nominated for a Booker prize, arguably the most well-regarded book prize in the world. Baffling. Instead I choose to give Desai the first Annual Russell Banks Literary Prize for Character Abuse. Congrats!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Top 5 Ways I'm NOT Going to Deal with Unemployment

After a month of commuting from my new apartment in Silver Spring (or Not-So-Silver Spring, but I'll get to that in a later Where I Live post) to my job in Baltimore, it was painfully clear that working as a restaurant hostess was not worth the hassle or the gas money of an hour drive. I want to work in music, film, and theatre, so I took the big plunge and I quit my job to start freelancing in the theatre arts. The funny thing about freelancing before you actually have any jobs lined up, though, is that it looks an awful lot like...

...being unemployed.

For the first time since I was 15, I don't have a job. It's terrifying. And while I'm not yet exactly sure where the money IS going to come from, I have decided that there are certain things I am NOT going to do as I'm faced with impending destitution.

1. I will not sit in my apartment all day every day. I will get out and meet people. I will go to auditions and classes and workshops just to network and have my face seen. And now that I have free time, I will take advantage of the thousands of free opportunities that D.C. offers me. (Did you know that the Kennedy Center has a free performance every day at 6 p.m. on their Millennium Stage? 365 days a year, and they don't ask for a penny.) There is so much to do and see in the city, and if I'm not working, I'm going to get up and do.

2. I will not run to my boyfriend's every time I feel nervous. I'm a big girl, and this was a big girl decision. Yes, it scares me sometimes, and I want to curl up and just feel safe. But I know I can handle the uncertainty of the unknown by myself, and that's what I'm going to do.

3. I will not relax and stop working. I don't need a job to keep working on myself professionally. I will read new plays, rehearse new monologues, and learn new songs. I will sing scales and do yoga. I will hone my skills so that I'm more prepared to go out and get jobs once they crop up.

4. I will not settle for a job I don't want or that's not worthwhile. I am not going to cave and start working as a Starbucks barista if I don't have to. And as B. Graham often says, "We deserve to get paid for the work we do." I am a professional, and I am going to be sure that I am treated as one.

5. I WILL NOT PANIC. I can do this.

Here's to the adventure.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Got My MTV

So the MTV Music Video Awards were last night. I am twenty-three years old, which is younger than most of the artists nominated, but older than most of their target audience.

I will be the first to admit I don't totally understand youth culture. I don't think anyone does, including but not limited to youths them(our?)selves. But as of recently I love pop music, and I knew all the artists nominated for the VMA's for the first time since 2000, so I watched them. And I forgot what an incredible shit show the VMA's are. This year was no disappointment, rife with divas (Kanye), weirdos (Lady Gaga), and sporadic poignancy (Janet).

Without further ado, some observations from the night. I didn't tweet them, I promise.

--Sway hasn't aged a day (or changed his hat) since I stopped watching MTV almost ten years ago. Props to him.

--Pink and Shakira showed up in the same dress. Shock and horror! Whatever, they both looked great (though if I had to answer a People poll I'd probably vote for Shakira, mainly because I personally want to do her.)

--Madonna spoke about Michael Jackson and it was mainly sweet and a little bit weird and awkward, which is somehow fitting for him. She called him a hero, and for MTV, he definitely was. I don't know yet how I feel about her subtle accusation that we killed him; she might be right but she might be displacing. Maybe it's both and I just feel guilty for loving young Michael, knowing what the life did to him.

--Kanye West made a damn fool of himself as usual, by not only interrupting Taylor Swift's acceptance speech to rant about how Beyonce deserved the Best Female Video moon man, but by ripping the award out of the nineteen year old girl's hands just as she began to tearfully thank her largely pop-oriented fans for making her dream come true and giving a country singer a chance.
There are several things wrong with this:
1 - Taylor Swift is nineteen years old. Give her a break.
2 - It's a freaking MTV moon man. It means a lot to Taylor Swift because she's brand new to the business, she's MTV's almost exact target audience, and it's her first, but it really doesn't mean anything to anyone else, especially Beyonce. Save your soapbox and give the girl her moment.
3 - This was clearly less about Beyonce and more about Kanye's unflinching need to be the center of attention at all times, and the fact that the amount of time it took to talk about female artists was just too long for him to bear.

--Lady Gaga is a nut and I love her for it. She arrived on the red carpet with Kermit the Frog (he says it's not serious), changed costumes several times throughout the night, hung herself onstage, and dedicated her Best New Artist moon man to "God and the gays." More pop stars could use a sense of humor; that's why I prefer hip hop.

--Janet Jackson danced alongside her 100-foot brother in a hastily thrown-together tribute to the King of Pop. That's just beautiful. And really, really sad. And every time I see Joe Jackson's mug I'm reminded of the fact that, no matter our differences, everyone in the world can at least agree on the fact that Joe Jackson is a great big tool.

--Beyonce proved herself to be a beautiful, classy, professional lady and used her Best Video of the Year acceptance speech time to let Taylor Swift finish hers. I can't always agree with the message of her songs, but that was the best possible thing she could do to alleviate a lot of tension, give poor Taylor Swift her moment in the glitter, and distance herself from Kanye's great big mouth. Brava.

So there it is. There actually isn't much about the infamous award show that is different from the way I remember it a decade ago; some of the names have changed and there's a lot more tweeting involved. But the VMA's are clearly still the crazy, glittery, overwhelmingly classless, randomly sweet, earnest hot mess they always were, which is somehow comforting in this unstable world in which we live.

And I'll be listening to a lot of NPR today to make up for it, I'm sure.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Where I Live: Silver Sprung

Let's start by getting out the way the old "Where is Silver Spring, really?" question -- from the wikipedia:

"As an unincorporated area, Silver Spring's boundaries are not officially defined. Residents of a huge swath of Montgomery County have Silver Spring mailing addresses. This area extends roughly from the Washington, D.C., Prince George's County, Maryland and Howard County, Maryland lines to the south, east and north, and Rock Creek Park and Plyers Mill Road to the west and north-west. These boundaries make Silver Spring larger in area than any city in Maryland except for Baltimore."

There is no mayor, and no city hall, but because Silver Spring is Montgomery County, it tends to be taken pretty well care of. But I promise this won't be a rant about how I live in the real Silver Spring.

Instead I figured I'd mention one of the dominant issues of Silver Spring when I was a teenager - Mall of America 2. Yes, a decade or so ago (maybe it was even longer now), the developers who brought you Mall of America (the greatest/worst bit of capitalism in this fine nation), decided that Silver Spring would be the perfect place for the sequel to the epic monstrosity in Minnesota. In their plan City Place would bite the dust, and be replaced by a super-mega mall with a water park and roller coaster, and more stores than you could shake a stick at. At the time I thought it would be really cool, although most folks in the area disagreed. If I remember right the yard signs said "Smart Growth Yes, Mega-Mall No"

At the end of the day financial factors won out, the developers couldn't put together any funding and there was no Mall of America 2. And smart growth has actually happened. Downtown Silver Spring is a wonderful, highly walkable place, with a few movie theaters (including the AFI, which is a gem), a Boarders and Whole Foods, a bunch of restaurants and the world headquarters for Discover Communications, which we stole from Bethesda. Sure it's not perfect. There are too many chain restaurants, and with the amount of snot nosed little teenage punks walking around the downtown area, it can feels like a mall sometimes, but as a whole it's proof that you can make a much more inviting environment.

In the end downtown Silver Spring actually ended up exactly how people wanted it to. An already well developed more-urban suburb with excellent public transportation and a diverse and very educated group of residents was revitalized into a vibrant city (or "unincorporated area") center.

[First image from second image from and I miss that artificial turf field.]

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Now it's really over

At this point I really don't need to hear a note:

It's over folks. The thing is I'm not as bothered that much by the flying dog. It's the "font" they used for "raditude." Rivers Cuomo might as well carve a swastika into his forehead, he's dead to me.

Where I Live: Murraland

Maryland is not the South. I've lived in the South. I lived there a long time. Part of me still lives in the South. This is not. The South. If you're going by what many Southerners [unfortunately still] do, and use the Civil War as a rote test, Maryland proves itself an independent. Maryland was going to secede with the rest of the South until the Union troops surrounded Baltimore and cut off all food and supplies from entering or leaving the city. Thus, Maryland fought, and won, with the North.

But Maryland is not the North, as I thought when we first moved here. Winters here aren't as long, and the sense of individuality of the North meshes with the Southern obligation to family and greater society to make a hodgepodge of responsibility across the state.

It's a tiny state, by most standards, but the geography goes West to East, from rural mountains to suburbs to The City back to suburbs out to farms and finally to beaches. Marylanders identify themselves by the county they associate with, names and nicknames rolling off tongues to immediately place a person in a rote social position.
-Calvert (Southern Maryland)... best described as the "ghetto country" where one can find tricked out cars weaving down country roads and historic red barns housing drug deals. Idyllic, and softly urban.
-PG (southeast of Southeast)... say it like it's your 'hood. Proud location of the University of Maryland and cities with names like "Beltsville" that sprang up with little rhyme or reason when the beltway was built in the seventies.
-HoCo (between DC and Bmo)... farms and McMansions. And Columbia, Suburb of Nowhere.
-MoCo (northwest of Northwest)... intensely populated (ex: Calvert has 4 high schools; MoCo has almost 20) and more diverse than the others I've mentioned so far, but if you live here, you're probably Jewish. Or possibly, if you're Jewish, you probably live here.

I could talk about the Appalachian rusticness of Western Maryland or the indecipherable accent of the Eastern Shore (oshters, anyone?) but I've never lived there, and I don't think I could do them justice. I could talk about Baltimore (ie Bmo, Balmer, Body-more, Charm City...) and "Naptown" with relative ease and knowledgeability, but I'm going to leave those up to other Gentlemen.

Maryland is a great state for all its geographical, social, historical diversity, but the best part is what brings us all together. Crab cakes and crab pickin' in the summer. The Orioles (Geau Eaus!). Old Bay. Roundabouts, and hating on people who can't drive in them. Scrapple. Having to explain what the "mid-atlantic" is. Army vs. Navy. UMD sports.

It took me a really long time to admit this, but I consider myself a true Marylander. I love my tiny little overlooked state, and I want others to love it too. So next time you're in the DC area, stop by in Maryland. Try to make it in the summer. Don't mention Pittsburgh, Dallas, or Duke. We'll show you a good time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Virtual Gravestone

I've had a lot of discussions recently about the strangely open nature of social networking websites - like Facebook - where almost everyone's personal information is up for grabs. With Facebook in particular, the "news feed" serves as a proverbial pipeline of pictures, messages, articles, and proclamations about our personal lives. Someone has a baby - you've seen pictures and statuses chronicling that experience. Someone gets a new job or fired - it pops up. People show up to their 5th... 10th.... 20th... year high school reunions and no one's surprised anymore. Person A lost 50 pounds, Person B lost his ability to walk, Person C married young and then divorced, but none of it's a shock. So, what happens when someone dies? In a culture where our private lives are on display to (near) everyone, what happens with all that information when a life stops? How does Facebook digest death?

I stumbled onto a blog article through Twitter yesterday posting an e-mail about someone who'd died, her community of friends, and their reactions to her death on her Facebook page. I've taken the liberty of posting it below. Have a read, it's rather moving:

"A few months ago my cousin passed away. At age 28, Amy caught pneumonia and was not able fight off the infection. As the news of her death spread, her Facebook was filled with postings by her friends and family expressing their sadness. Although a couple of her friends have access to her Facebook page and one even (eerily) used it to post a status and add friends posthumously, no one has deleted the account. I looked at it today for the first time since her death and people are still using Facebook to share their important events with Amy and reminisce with each other about all the things they love and miss about her. There are pictures of her being newly added and tagged. One friend even signed up for an account specifically to write on her wall and will be deleting it just as quickly.

Before, we mostly shared our grief with those physically in our vicinity or people emotionally close to us. Now, like everything else, our grief casts a wider net and we share it with more people, more strangers. Also, it feels as if my cousin continues to live in the periphery. I can see what her friends and family are up to, just like I can see what my other (living) cousins extended people are doing. Every post brings her back into focus if only for a moment. While I was not incredibly close to her, through the postings I see more clearly the sort of person she was and all the goodness that a person can be. Her Facebook is her flower and cross on the highway, her Kensington Gardens. I have no idea how long it will last. A few months is such a short time, and the wish that a loved one is still with us can stay for a lifetime.

I'm not sure what this means. I just found it incredibly beautiful and thought I would share it with you. I'm still digesting and get tangled in all the possible words."

As a man approaching his 23rd year, I've been lucky to not have lost many people. To my knowledge, I can't say I've known anyone that has died in recent years; especially, someone young enough to have owned a profile on Facebook. I can't even pretend, or guess, at how the people in the story above are feeling. And, I can't say I've ever thought about what would happen to my profile page if I died tomorrow. I suppose I just sort of assumed that it would fall into disuse, a family member or friend may log on eventually and close it down, and that would be the end of it. Instead, in the story above, family and friends of the dearly deceased flocked to her Facebook page to share memories and condolences. To reminisce and say goodbye. Amy's profile became a virtual gravestone, and while I can't conceive how I would feel about that if it was someone I knew, I can say that this idea is profound to me.

For a concept that supposedly centers around interpersonal connectivity, the internet can be a very selfish place:
"I'll post picture albums to show the world all the fun stuff I do with my friends"

"Here's how I was feeling today"

"Read this article about the cause I fight for because I believe in it, and so should you"

"My day was really crappy""

"I don't believe in privacy settings because I believe in freedom of information"
I find it a very rare occurrence when someone or a group does something that makes me hear:
"We'll maintain this as long as we can, not just because we loved her, but because she really was amazing"
On 9/11/2001, I was driven home early from high school because a group of people selfishly tried to conform the world to how they felt it should be. And, I selfishly wondered whether or not the soccer game I was dressed up for was going to be rescheduled.

On 9/11/2009, I have off from law school where I selfishly decided to relax on a rainy day. And, I selfishly thought about this.

Where I Live: South Jersey and Surrounding Areas

Where I live:


I walk to the lawyer’s office where I’m going to try and sell a page on Haddonfield’s Featured Professional’s website to a marketing director named Brian. This law firm is huge and could be the money-making cow I’ve heard so much about -- after a month I’ve sold only one page so far...sort of. They want me to call back in October after they’ve moved. But they’re really really really interested! So I’m like -- Awesome! Great! I’ll call back in October. Super! Talk to you in October! -- on the phone but when I hang up I have to take a swill of my coffee to keep from moaning.

The law firm’s building is formidable and gray. Weeds burst here and there from cracks in the parking lot, but the cars are imported and the people getting out of them after their lunch breaks wear suits and have brief cases. My sneakers -- which are so comfortable and let me run faster than these lawyers can -- have a few grass stains and a spittle of coffee has just drooled onto my shirt, but it’s okay; I’m one of those people who can maintain his aura of normalcy -- even arrogance -- with huge puddle-like stains all over his clothes. My mother calls those kinds of people slobs. I hail from a clan of slobs.

Inside it looks like a hotel that’s been turned into an upscale brothel. Soft pastel waves adorn the wall paper. Recessed lights leave puddles of yellow light on blue carpets. The lamps shades are faux-art deco stained glass atop brass fixtures, and the receptionist’s desk is made of dark stained wood. Ebony comes to mind. The receptionist is an old woman with short cropped hair who looks like she would hit your hand with a wooden spoon for eating a cookie before dinner. Beyond her desk, at the end the hall, there is an elevator with brushed metal doors that opens and closes silently, seemingly without anybody getting in or coming out.

My name splashes all over the receptionist desk, “MynameismattlindeboomI’mheretoseeheadofmarketing!”

She responds with a question: “I’m sorry. Max...?”

“Oh I’m sorry. Matt Lindeboom. I have a two o’clock with the head of marketing?”

“Thank you.”

She picks up the phone and dials some buttons without taking her peripheral vision off me. By now she’s noticed the coffee spittle and my old saddle bag with patches of Asian flags on it. She probably also suspects I have a tattoo, like every other kid my age -- which is true -- and she’s relieved that her son is 35 and grew up before the tattoo-thing got popular. Oh but identity is hard to find in a recession. This young man might have gotten it out of desperation. She smiles generously.

“Max you can sit. He’ll be down shortly.”

Max? I find a chair and sit. I’m often confused for a Max. It’s an easy mistake to make because the T’s in Matt are basically silent. Who runs around saying their name is “Matt-uh?” What’s the point of making a big fuss? It’s just a first name and Max is pretty close. Max is a fine name. Identity persists beyond one’s name doesn’t it?


I’ve been rereading Joan Didion’s “The White Album,” from which the famous line “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” comes to us. White Album explores a time –1966 to 1971 – when Didion doubted just about every story she ever told herself. It’s not hard to believe that a person’s identity could get lost in the brouhaha of the 1960s. Didion’s 60s are a mélange of protests, crime, and famous people from California. Charles Manson raised a family and went calling on Sharon Tate and Co. Huey Newton shot a cop and then Eldridge Cleaver forged him into a political martyr for the Black Panthers. At San Mateo College they lived like “revolutionaries,” and the protests at San Francisco State College gave white students a chance to level up their revolutionary cred and for administrators to talk about programming. Didion spent her time living and trying to explain what she paranoia of what she saw. She wrote and reported and bought a dress for Linda Kasabian for her trial date at her request. But nothing seemed real, and nobody was surprised.

The stories we tell ourselves. I came back to New Jersey to a part-time job designing websites. I like where I work. The people know me and my schedule is relaxed so I don’t have to put the toilet seat down after I’m finished -- though I do -- and my boss doesn’t count my hours like a hawk for exaggeration -- though I don’t -- because she trusts me. She promised me a full-time position after another employee leaves for New York or Philadelphia, and in the meantime would I be interested in selling web pages to businesses two days a week for the Borough of Haddonfield? Sure I say. What’s the difference for a few weeks? Sell a couple dozen pages, clear a couple hundred bucks in commissions, and then get a kick-ass designing or writing job in NYC after I’ve had my fun.

The stories we tell ourselves. On my commute from Moorestown down I-295 S to Haddonfield, I keep the radio on very loud. If I manage to find Lil’ Wayne I’ll feel like I’m going to own every item I place my hands on that day. I am Midas, all of this shall be gold. If not (hip-hop stations in Philadelphia don’t like to play him in the morning for some reason) I’ll just put in a Ray LaMontagne CD, and let the world’s cold rainbow settle over me and all is suddenly tragically beautiful or beautifully tragic and I’m good with that. Sometimes I want NPR. Why are people asking if Obama is going to teach socialism to kids? That’s what Terry Gross wants to find out and I want to know! There is a blue and white pick up truck, piled high with fire wood, telling me that 10 out of 10 terrorists vote Democrat. Does that mean that 10 out of 10 saints vote Republican? If so, please explain Sarah Palin to me. A guest tells Terry Gross that Republicans are really just trying to distract away from Obama’s speech on Health Care by exaggerating his televised speech to school children. If 10 out of 10 terrorists vote Democrat then do they too stand up and cheer when the President scores political points by mentioning blunders in Iraq and Afghanistan. What does it say that I am yelling at Republicans through my computer screen, “Stand up you cowards!” when the President says a public option will help Americans. What do the terrorists do when both the Democrats and Republicans stand up after the President says, “The time for bickering is over,” like a father admonishing his misbehaved children?

I think about jobs, and what the people I went to high school with are doing. Do they live at home with Mom and Dad, like I do? When I got back to New Jersey and started a part time job designing websites I told myself that 6-months would be it for living at home. Five and a half months later I’m at my family’s Labor Day party on Long Island and my cousin asks me, “How goes the job search?” It goes and it goes.* A friend from more than a few Moorestown travel soccer teams, Zach is joining the FBI. He took all the tests, passed with flying colors, then he took an internship to work in Jordan for the summer. Unfortunately this means he has to start the background check portion of the FBIs battery of requirements all over again. He goes back on the waiting list. Now he substitute teaches. Do his parents help him buy individual health insurance, like mine do? Even if I was injured it wouldn’t cover very much. 90 days in the hospital or so. Dad says, “Just don’t get into one of those ‘you’re-almost-dead’ car crashes. You can’t afford it.” “We can’t afford what he has now anyway,” Mom offers in a way where I’m not sure if she’s sarcastic. “I’m invincible,” I say.


This reception area has two paintings of old men in suits. Old lawyers, the ones who own the law firm I think. The paintings lose my attention quickly as attractive women walk by towards the elevator, either lawyers themselves or administrative types coming back from lunch. Though I have a girlfriend I look at them like I don’t. It’s been a while and Brian the head of marketing still hasn’t come down. I’m getting ready to leave. I’m getting ready to quit this god awful sales job. Here I come New York! I hope you’re ready Brooklyn! All these lawyers streaming back from long lunches (as I imagine them) brings to mind the gin soaked lunches of “Mad Men’s” Manhattan. Who doesn’t want to be Don Draper, the scion of Ayn Rand? Who wouldn’t stand up and take what they wanted because they could if they had the balls? Who wouldn’t forsake South Jersey for the glory what’s unexperienced, making it more beautiful than here? But it’s Joan Didion I want to be. She’s losing her mind from 1966 - 1971 (there’s an argument to be made that America, too, lost its mind there) but she makes it all look so easy. She has a life that others envy. She’s a writer in California and moves in posh, elegant circles with famous, interesting people. She’s losing her mind and telling me it’s all another story with the hardness, the rawness, removed and replaced with romanticism of another’s experience. No one knows that they are doing, and no one is surprised.

Brian doesn’t look like knows what he’s doing as he finally walks past the receptionist’s desk and looks at me questioningly, “Are you who I’m looking at?”

So I get up and pretend to know what I’m doing. “Hi – Brian? Nice to meet you.”

“You too Max. Let’s go this way.” He looks relieved.

“Lead the way Brian.”

*Answer stolen from Gentleman, Adam Winer

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Experiment: Birther Website Moderation

During my travels across the internet this morning, I came across this:

Certified COPY of Obama Kenyan Birth Certificate

The gist of this is that a certain Lucas Smith traveled to Kenya (at great personal risk and expense), visited the hospital where Obama was born, and obtained a copy of his birth certificate. He is now submitting it in court to invalidate Barack Obama's Presidency. Representing him is, naturally, this crazy skank.

I have no serious objection to people wanting to come up with crazy theories as to why Obama is not a natural citizen. Maybe he was born in Africa. Or maybe he was born on the long-dead planet Krypton, sent here in a rocket ship by his father, Jor-El. Or perhaps he was never born at all, and his entire existence has been an elaborate trolling of America by, which is currently petitioning to have pedobear voted Miley Cyrus's #1 fan.

Whatever the case, I decided to put this website through a test. All comments require moderation, therefore I posted 2 comments up under 2 different names. One was sent in as "The Truth," the other as "Mudkipz."

As "The Truth," I pointed out the following problems with the Birth Certificate:

1) Lucas Smith has been convicted several times, once on multiple counts of forgery.

2) The document claims to be from "The British Protectorate of Kenya," date 1961. Mombasa was not part of Kenya in 1961, and would not become so until 1963. If it were real it would read "The British Protectorate of Zanzibar."

3) The units of measurement would be metric, not standard (not totally sure this is true actually - Kenya didn't adopt the metric system until 1967, but again - Mombasa was not part of Kenya).

4) I know they all like to think they're much smarter and more clever than the entire Republican party, but if there were even a 1% chance this were true, it would have been brought up to invalidate Obama during the election.

Then, as "Mudkipz," I submitted the following:

Damn straight i hope this clears up the whoel ilegal presidency now and we gt that terorist oreo rite back where he belongs - PRISON! he is a FRAUD who is sukcing our tax dollars into a socialist agenda so he can innoculate our kids after he LIED and LIED about being an American citizen. That is all his peopel do is LIE and STEAL, just like he is STEALING AMERICA.

I only thank GOD and JESUS who is the light and the way for delivering us from BEELEZBAMA and hope we see this great country back in the hands of JESUS where it belongs. GOD BLESS

My comments as "The Truth" were never acknowledged. My comment as "Mudkipz" passed and were put up on the boards within 10 minutes.

Without getting into what the other commentators have to say, regarding vast left-wing cover-ups, socialist conspiracies, and theories that Obama is actually the antichrist, I have to say that my post was fairly ignorant, and borderline racist. Yet that made it through their filters, as well as a follow-up post. I tried putting up a third comment basically stating "this will be the second time negroes start a Civil War" but by then someone had gotten wise and took away my posts (I'm going to try under a new name but I was probably just IP banned).

So let's not make this about birthers. I just want to instead toss out there the inherent danger of this sort of thinking in general. Here is what it basically breaks down to:

- This is America. Therefore I am entitled to my own opinion and the right to state it.
- I will create a site dedicated to like-minded individuals.
- If you do not agree with what we say, you may not state it.

How many other people choose to completely insulate themselves from debate? Not just themselves, but in this case an entire community? Can you really be acting in the best interest of proving your point if you shut down any debate coming your way with the internet equivalent of "lalala, I'm not listening?"

It was the same with Barack Obama's speech to the students beginning their school year. The speech was the subject of intense objection from the right (let's not accuse them of anything new though; when George H.W. Bush gave a similar speech 1n 1991 and also encouraged students to stay off drugs, Democrats accused him of using it as a political commercial for his D.A.R.E. program) before anyone even knew what was in it. People, and I don't just mean the type of people posting on this birthers site, I mean elected officials like Jean Schmidt and Jim Greer actually believed, or espoused to believe, that Barack Obama is a socialist, and his message would be to indoctrinate children into his evil machinations. Not only believed it, but went on the news and argued it. When it turned out that it was just a harmless pep talk designed to do exactly what the White House statement said it would do, the people who were opposing it claimed that their objections had obviously forced Obama to change the speech. Does it really satisfy people to completely stymie all challenge to their immediate beliefs and wade through life in a sea of ignorance? Is it REALLY bliss?

I think the least American thing you can do (besides renouncing your citizenship and declaring allegiance to the United Kingdom and the Crown) is be willfully ignorant. In a country where our system of government depends on the people being informed enough to make a smart decision, nothing is more detrimental than refusing to engage in debate and view the research of others. That's how we end up with a frightening number of people who don't believe in evolution.

Also, on that topic - there's no such thing as "micro" and "macro" evolution. Evolution is evolution. Stop using creationist terms. One species can become another given enough time and reason. Birds evolved from dinosaurs. Man did not evolve from monkeys, but we do share a common ancestor in the gene pool. They just discovered some jungle in Papau New Guinea where kangaroos live in trees and frogs have fangs. Stop trying to deny science, dammit.

Anyway, back to the point at hand. If you're not willing to defend your point, don't make it. Or at least don't try to keep the people who argue with you from speaking. Walking through life in a bubble isn't going to benefit you, and the worst that can happen if you open yourself up is that you might learn something.

In closing, giant pandas refuse to mate because they're saving themselves for Chuck Norris.


Today is 09/09/09, which is exciting to me because exactly one decade ago it was 9/9/99 and I feel like that doesn't happen very often. A lot has changed in the last decade, and a lot has stayed the same. On this day in 1999 I was in eighth grade in my bedroom in California and I was going to tape (VHS of course) the MTV VMA's that night, a night in which Lil' Kim left one controversial boob out (that Diana Ross would infamously jiggle) and the mothers of slain rappers Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls met onstage for an emotional hug. Today I'm a recent college graduate and I'm sitting in my living room on my day off in Maryland, watching old episodes of Sex & the City on On Demand.

And now, for the greater picture.

We were sitting pretty in bean bags at hundreds of web start-ups in the dot-com bubble
We're searching for jobs and bottoming out of the Great Recession

Everyone was freaking out about Y2K and computers
Everyone is freaking out about 2012 and ancient Mayans

Mac made its comeback with those giant candy-colored computers
Mac is everywhere with the ipod, the iphone, the macbook....

AIM was the newest, most innovative, best way to instantly get in touch with one's friends
facebook, twitter, gchat, myspace, smartphones are a part of everyday life

The Democratic party was in shambles and Evangelist Republican Conservatives (cough Ken Starr) had successfully sank their claws into the American sense of self-righteousness
The Democratic party finally came together (for a couple months anyway) under Obama's HOPE campaign to sweep the nation

Don't Ask Don't Tell
Civil Marriage Is A Civil Right

September 11 was just a day
It's not anymore


Top Five Movies of the Year:
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, The Matrix
Top Five Movies (So Far):
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Up, The Hangover, Star Trek

So there you have it. Ten years ago the economy was booming (albeit on the precipice of disaster) and the most technically innovative movie on the market was The Matrix. People were panicking about Doomsday, same as ever, and there was a war somewhere. Politics sucked, as always. Computers were a pretty big deal, a big enough deal that Y2K was a genuinely scary thing, but computers now are such a big deal that there is a small, reactionary movement toward "human power" because our reliance on technology has become a crutch.

A lot can happen in a decade, especially in technology. But, basically, we're all still humans with human issues. So there's that. Happy 09/09/09.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


As I started writing this I was facing a bit of a grown-up type decision. Nothing life shattering, but one option was clearly more mature and the other less so (not exactly immature, just a bit less wise) I chose the less mature option but covered myself and it will all probably work out.

I bring this vague little tangent because the recent Virginia race for Governor (yes, we're electing a new governor down here THIS VERY YEAR!!!) has reached a new interesting point given that Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate, wrote a very, very conservative thesis for graduate school, which in his case was the very, very conservative Regents university. From the original post article which broke this story: 'Robert F. McDonnell submitted a master's thesis to the evangelical school he was attending in Virginia Beach in which he described working women and feminists as "detrimental" to the family. He said government policy should favor married couples over "cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators."'

Now we've all done and said things in college that we may regret. In some (okay, many) cases these things are posted on facebook. But there's a bit of a problem with Bob's thesis, even though it was published back in 1989 -- he was 34 years old at the time.

Now I'll be the first to say we all have our immature moments even as we get further into adulthood (see: my pottymouth at the last DC United game), but anything you write of the length and concentration in a graduate thesis is not something to be easily dismissed as youthful indiscretion. This was a not a "wise Latina" moment, it was something far worse. Most people don't lay out their moral stances in quite such detail ever, but McDonnell did, and to say that it was 20 years ago is simply bullshit. This wasn't just an off-color comment in private company or hitting on a woman at the bar because you had to drink. This thesis is Bob McDonnell, and as the right continues to focus on values over positions, it's quite disingenuous for him to keep saying he's going to be the "jobs" governor when he wants 50% of the workforce back in the kitchen.

So the broader question is, when can we really say that you are an adult and you have to accept responsibility? When you have a kid? When you graduate college? When you turn 30? I don't know if there's a simple line and maybe that's the problem. To paraphrase that old Supreme Court chestnut, most of us know adulthood when we see it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Where We Live: An Intro

Up until now we here at These Gentlemen have employed a certain free-wheeling spirit in what we posted and discussed, be it art, politics, hilarious internet videos etc. But this month we're going to try something a bit different. In addition to our regular posts about all the things that are on our minds, we will all be devoting the rest of this month to discussing "Where We Live" and where we have lived and where we may live one day. Although most (okay, maybe all) of us have done time in the lovely state of Maryland, we all have many stories to tell both in and out of The Old Line State.