August 31, 2006
On our last day in California, David and I went to Claremont with my mom and her boyfriend's daughter Nadine. My mom and I both went to college in Claremont -- she went to Pitzer and I went to Pomona -- and we wanted to show Nadine around our colleges since she is getting ready to start thinking about where she will apply. It was fun being there with my mom and hearing about what the colleges were like when my she was a student. She showed us the dorms she lived in and told us all kinds of stories that I won't repeat here for fear of getting her in trouble with her parents! It was also fun to show Nadine the dorms I lived in, and we ran into a classmate of mine who is now working as an admissions officer. Nadine must be just about the most popular sixteen-year-old in the world, because she ran into two friends of hers at Pitzer. We were there on Tuesday, which was the first day of classes, and there was a lot of excitement in the air. Classes don't start here at UM until next Tuesday, but I can't believe the summer is really just about over. I've got to do something fun with these last few days!
August 30, 2006
Home Again, Home Again
David and I are home, and I am totally exhausted. Our flight was at 7am, so we had to get up at three and leave my mom's house at 4. There was absolutely no traffic on the freeway (until we got to the 405, that is -- there is always traffic on the 405), so we got to the airport very quickly, which was a good thing. Apparently, 7am on a Wednesday is just about the most popular time to fly. We had to wait in line forever, first to check our luggage, then to get to the security area, and finally to get through security. And at LAX, there is a $2 charge (per back) to check in curbside, gratuity not included. So the whole thing cost us $8 (two bags and a 100% tip), and we didn't even get priority tags this time! But we had aisle seats and our flights were right on schedule, so we couldn't really ask for more. This time our layover was in Memphis, so David had barbecue for lunch. Somehow, even though I slept more on the plane than he did (I can sleep in an aisle seat, as long as I have a big strong man to lean on), he is out partying with his dad, while I am at home trying not to fall asleep until after dinner!
August 29, 2006
It amazes me that, wherever I go in the world, I find people wearing University of Michigan paraphernalia. Even in Ghana! Yesterday we were in the parking lot of a golf course in Glendale (we don't golf -- we just parked there to explore the L.A. River), and the guy getting out of the car next to ours had a hat with a block M on it. It was so out of context that I had to ask David if it was indeed a Michigan hat. He confirmed my suspicion, so I yelled "Go Blue" to the guy, who it turns out, didn't go to UM himself but is the son and grandson of Michigan alumni. He said that he grew up in L.A. but with the Michigan jersey on. Again, it is a very small world.
August 28, 2006
Shameless Self Indulgence, Part 2
Yesterday my friend Christina took me to get my first ever pedicure. David had suggested it a couple of weeks ago, and I rejected the idea as too extravagent and unnecessary. There is also the fact that I don't like people touching my cuticles. I have never been able to push down my cuticles because it just grosses me out too much, and I don't like other people doing it either. In high school, I made an agreement with Christina that, if I didn't push them down before we graduated, I would go and get a manicure. So the day before graduation, we got manicures together. I love telling people that I have only had one manicure ever and it was because I lost a bet. But recently I started thinking that it might be nice to have someone massage my feet and clean up my toenails, so when I got together with Christina yesterday, I thought that might be something fun to do together. She lives right behind Fairfax High School, and we walked down Fairfax until we found a nail place that offered spa pedicures for $15. It was pretty creepy when they did my cuticles, and one of the nails had such a big cuticle that she had to use some kind of battery-powered machine to cut it off. But Christina talked me through it and it was fine. Now we have the cutest toenails in the whole world. I'll never wear closed-toed shoes again!
August 27, 2006
Yesterday my mother and I were at the local Von's market in Eagle Rock, and I ran into someone I had had a class with at the University of Michigan. Liz and I walked past each other, then we both turned around, did a double-take, and asked, "What are you doing here?" It turns out that the parents of her boyfriend, Matt, who is in my Ph.D. program, live on my mom's street in Eagle Rock. And Matt and Liz live on the same street David and I live on in Ann Arbor! We chatted with them for a while and found out that my mom and Matt's parents have a lot in common, so my mom asked if it would be okay for her to knock on their door and introduce herself sometime. I can just see it: "Hi, my name is Karen and my daughter Emily goes to school with your son Matt..."
August 26, 2006
Visiting the World
Our world travels within Los Angeles continued yesterday when David and I went to Boyle Heights in search of the best beef jerkey in L.A. David is a beef jerkey connoiseur, and had read in Los Angeles Magazine's Best of L.A. issue that the A-Z Nut Wagon in Boyle Heights sold the best jerkey in the city. There was only one kind, and the guy made it right there on site. While we were in Boyle Heights we also got freshly fried chicharrones (pork rinds) at the supermercado and tacos at King Taco. Even though I grew up in Los Angeles, I had never eaten a real taco until I moved to Michigan. I decided that the Mexican food in Michigan was more authentic than in California, because the people who ran the restaurants had immigrated more recently. But the tacos at King were every bit as good as Detroit tacos!
August 25, 2006
L.A. African Fashions
The other day, my mom showed me a piece of cloth from Tanzania that her boyfriend's mother gave her. She wasn't sure what to do with it, and asked me if I wanted it. It was a huge piece, definitely enough for several articles of clothing, so I suggested that we find a tailor and get matching skirts made. Furthermore, since we are in Los Angeles, I thought we might even be able to find an African tailor. So we consulted the Yellow Pages and, sure enough, found L.A. African Fashions, located on Crenshaw in South Central. We brought the cloth over yesterday and got measured for our skirts. The tailor wasn't terribly personal, but seemed very competent. He looked at the skirt I brought in as a model, drew some sketches, measured us, and said the skirts would be ready in a week. The shop looked a lot like the dressmakers I have seen in Africa, except for the fact that it was in a building rather than a shipping container! The tailor actually shared a building with another store, Taj Mahal Imports, which seemed to mostly sell incense and Islamic books and paraphernalia. While we were in there, David got solicited by the Black Panthers and donated money to help them overthrow the government. L.A. is a pretty diverse place -- one day we were in Elat, the next day in Accra/Agra!
August 24, 2006
David and I spent yesterday visiting people on the Westside: first my grandmother in West Hollywood, then my friend Claire in the Pico/Robertson area, and then my friend Annie and her husband Adam in Westwood. Claire had just moved into her apartment this month, so we went out for a walk with her to explore her new neighborhood. It is a very heavily Jewish area; we passed kosher markets and butchers, about a million synagogues, and stores selling everything you might need to set up a Jewish household. There was even one store that specialized in mezuzot, boasting that they offered "the full line." Claire needed some groceries, so we went with her to the Elat Market. Entering that market was like stepping into another world, like being in, well, Elat. It was full of people pushing and shoving each other out of their way to get their shopping done. The strangest thing was that the shoppers didn't push their shopping carts around the market like they do in American grocery stores. Instead, everyone parked their cart in an aisle, so the aisles were just full of one cart after another, parallel parked in a line. Then they would go around the store getting what they needed and bringing the groceries back to their carts. But the carts were blocking the bottom shelves of each aisle, which made me wonder if anyone even buys anything that is located below cart level. When we went to check out, it was hard to tell where the lines were, and people kept cutting in front of us. As we left the market, we saw a pair of Mormons proselytizing to a woman with a shopping cart outside, and wondered what terrible thing those two boys could have done to have been given what is probably the toughest mission assignment in the world!
August 23, 2006
Okay, I'll admit it, the beach was actually a lot of fun. David, my mom, and I went down to Santa Monica Beach yesterday, to lifeguard station #26 (think Baywatch), which is where we used to go on field trips in elementary school. My school was about four blocks from the ocean, so we went all the time. Even though it was close to 100 degrees here in Eagle Rock, it was actually a bit chilly on the beach. Well, I thought it was chilly, but David assured me the weather was just fine. We sunbathed a while (with 45 SPF sunscreen on -- no cancer for me, thank you), then David coaxed me into the water. I had forgotten how much fun it can be to jump the waves. It was cold at first, but once we were thoroughly soaked, it was just fine. Eventually, however, I got pulled under and slammed to the ground by a big wave. It felt as though water had been forced into my head through my ears! But it was still a lot of fun.
After we finished swimming, we visited my old Hot Dog on a Stick location at Muscle Beach. This was the original Hot Dog store, which opened in 1946. Supposedly, Dave Barham, the founder of HDOS, actually invented the corndog. I worked there during the summer that they celebrated their fiftieth anniversary; this summer they are celebrating their sixtieth, which makes me feel rather old. When I worked there, hot dogs were $1.75. Now they are $2.50. This probably makes the math easier -- we had to add up the prices mentally; no cash register for us -- but just seems way too much for a turkey hot dog fried in cornbread.
August 22, 2006
We have arrived safely in Los Angeles (or "La," as David calls it), and the internet here at my mom's is fast. Very fast. I'm not sure I can keep up with it! The flight went very smoothly, despite not being able to bring water, hommus, or mustard. David and I got our tickets with frequent flyer miles, so we got routed through Indianapolis. When we got off the plane there, I turned around and realized that we were going to be getting right back on the same plane to go to LA! And most of the people on the Detroit to Indianapolis leg continued on to LA with us, which made the whole thing seem rather pointless -- why not just send the plane straight to LA?
But in any case, we landed early, and our bags were some of the first to hit the baggage claim in LA because we had bribed the skycap in Detroit. We hadn't meant to bribe her -- we simply didn't have two one dollar bills to tip her with, so David gave her a five. But apparently nobody tips skycaps anymore because, when he gave her the money, she said she would put priority tags on our suitcases. And sure enough, there they were with special yellow tags on them. Unfortunately, however, some of my food exploded in my suitcase. I had double-bagged my yogurt, so that was contained, but my oatmeal and dry milk got all over my clothes. It was easy enough to vacuum it up, but David suggested that it might not have been a good idea to pack a powdery white substance in my suitcase, especially since I also had a large "Impeach Bush" sign in it!
The first stop we made after picking up the rental car was at In-N-Out, so we have already been to the best fast food restaurant in the world. Today we will probably go to the beach, since temperatures out here in Eagle Rock are supposed to be in the triple digits. The beach was David's idea -- after working at Hot Dog on a Stick on Santa Monica Beach during high school, I would just as soon never set foot on sand again. But David has never been there, and was starting to complain that he has probably set a record for the number of times he has been to Los Angeles without going to the beach. I pointed out that he has only been twice before, but he claims it is still probably a record. So the beach it is!
August 21, 2006
I know I said my next post would likely be from Los Angeles, but I just had to gloat over the fact that I managed to get aisle seats for David on both of our flights today without paying extra! I won't reveal the tricks of the trade here, but let's just say that being a Silver Elite member of Northwest World Perks has its benefits. I guess all those trips I took to Europe and Africa last year are paying off!
Aside from a few last minute errands (dropping the last disc of 24 in the mail, picking up milk for David's cereal this morning), packing dilemmas (how to fit my mom's "Impeach Bush" yard sign into my suitcase), and phone calls, I think we are just about ready to go. So why did I get up at 5:30? Beats the heck out of me!
August 20, 2006
Tomorrow at this time, David and I will be getting on a plane to go to Los Angeles to visit my family. Actually, we will be getting on a plane to Indianapolis, where we will then get another flight to Los Angeles. But in any case, my next post will likely be from there. We are bringing the computer, and my mom has high-speed internet, so we can just plug right in and stay in touch. Maybe someday we will even get cell phones, so we can call people while we are traveling too! We just went over the TSA's list of prohibited items to see what we can and can't bring on the plane. The new rules make eating a real difficulty -- they don't serve food on the plane, and you can't bring any kind of liquidy foods, such as yogurt, and for sure not hummus -- only terrorists eat that! But I can still bring my knitting needles and, most importantly, my new Bitch magazine. Bitch is my favorite magazine for air travel because it is so text-heavy. Even on a transcontinental flight, I won't run out of reading material. Our friend Dave, who travels a lot for work, also enjoys reading Bitch on the plane, so I give him my copies after I finish reading them. He takes the cover off first, though, so he doesn't offend his row-mates!
August 19, 2006
Flying is a B--ch!
I will admit that I haven't flown since December, but when did airlines start charging $15 for aisle seats? I just tried to change the seats David and I were given for our upcoming trip to Los Angeles (we leave Monday!), and they want $15 for each aisle seat for each leg of the trip (4 in all)! I guess the question is, is it worth it? I'll let David decide, since he is the one who would get the aisle -- I'll be sitting in the middle either way.
Drawing is Hard!
I have never been able to draw. When I was a kid, I hated being told to draw something, because I just couldn't do it. Other kids made it look so easy, but for some reason, whenever I put pencil to paper, everything went awry. I didn't even realize how long it had been since I had tried to draw until last night, when my friend Diana had a Pictionary party. Of the three teams, David and I came in dead last. Granted, the game isn't all about drawing skill -- it is also about figuring out what to draw so that your team members can guess the word -- but I often felt as though I knew what I wanted to draw, I just couldn't make the image on the paper match the image in my mind!
After Pictionary, we played Scattergories, which David and I both liked a lot better. We were a lot better at it too, though David started getting a bit too competitive, and even got out one of our many dictionaries when we got home to look up some of the words he had been challenged on. I would be tempted to say that some people are just better at drawing games and some people are just better at word games, except that Kelly and Dave won both games. So maybe some people are just smarter than the rest of us!
August 18, 2006
Yesterday I finished reading Generation Me by Jean Twenge. Using psychological survey data from the 1950s through the present, Twenge argues that it basically sucks to be a member of Generation Me, which she defines as people born between 1970 and 2000. Why does it suck? To begin with, we have been lied to all our lives. As a result of the disastrously misguided self-esteem movement, we have been told that we are the best (just like the children of Lake Wobegon, who are all "above average"), that we could do anything, and that the most important thing in the world is loving and appreciating ourselves. As a result, we grew up thinking that following our (often unrealistic dreams) was more important than building solid and support-giving relationships with friends, family members, and significant others, leaving us feeling depressed and anxious. We also grew up in a world where, although there are more opportunities now for women and people of color than there were in the past, the cost of living has gone up and real wages have gone down. Families need two incomes just to get by, and it is much harder for us to buy houses than it was for our parents. So we were raised with unrealistic expectations, and are entering an adulthood in which these expectations are less likely than ever to be met. That would be worth drinking over -- if I could afford to!
August 17, 2006
Welcome to the Blogosphere, Ken
My friend Ken just started his own blog, which is just fantastic. He has an amazing flair for sarcasm. Keep it up!
I don't know why it took me so long to figure this out, but yesterday it finally dawned on my that the television show 24 is propaganda for Bush's "War on Terror." It should have been obvious: the heroes are federal counterterrorist agents; the villains are (usually -- in two of the four seasons I have seen so far) Islamic fundamentalists.
In any case, it became totally blatant in the two (season 4) episodes I watched yesterday. The counterterrorist agents apprehended an American citizen, Joe Prado, who was trying to help a known terrorist flee the country. They were fairly certain that he had information regarding the location of Habib Marwan, the lead terrorist who had just stolen a nuclear warhead, so they brought him into CTU (Counter-Terrorist Unit) for questioning. Marwan didn't want them to get any information out of Prado, so he called a lawyer from "Amnesty Global" to prevent Prado from being questioned (which would have involved torture), on the basis of his American citizenship. Just as the CTU agents are preparing to torture Prado to find out where Marwan is, a smarmy (Jewish) lawyer shows up to protect Prado's right to not be tortured.
In real life, I would say that torture is never acceptable, especially the torture of an American citizen who hasn't even been charged with a crime. In real life, I support Amnesty International. But, while I was watching 24 last night, I totally wanted them to torture the guy. The audience knew he had the information they needed and that torture was the only way to get it out of him.
In the next episode, the (new) President (who is, in fact, a complete weenie), refuses to let CTU torture Prado, but Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland -- our hero) does it anyway. He has Prado released and resigns from CTU, and then, acting as a private citizen, tortures Prado in the parking lot until he reveals Marwan's location. Jack is then reinstated at CTU to head up the tactical team to capture Marwan. When the President finds out what Jack has done, he orders Jack's immediate arrest, and sends the Secret Service after Jack, who is now about to capture Marwan. The arrival of the Secret Service tips off Marwan to the fact that CTU is about to apprehend him, and he gets away, effectively foiling CTU's mission. The President then admits that he totally f---ed up: he should have let Jack torture Prado to begin with, but in the actual event, even though Jack acted illegally, he should have just let it slide so that they could get Marwan.
These two episodes really bothered me. The writers and directors obviously wanted the audience to support CTU and to believe that torture was the right move in that instance. After all, the audience knew that Prado had the information CTU needed. We also knew that Marwan was in possession of a nuclear warhead, which he was preparing to use against the United States. The question is: was it acceptable to disregard Prado's rights in order to save countless American lives? One of the many recurring themes of the show is that one life is never more valuable than millions. Over and over we see people being sacrificed in order to save numerous others. So it seems that, according to the same logic, it would be okay to torture Prado in order to prevent a nuclear attack. After all, they didn't even kill him. But if we take this logic too far, how long will it take before we are living in Orwell's 1984?
The other thing I noticed yesterday is that all of the characters on 24 say "nucular" instead of "nuclear." My theory? The directors of the show hope that, if we hear "nucular" enough, it won't sound so wrong when President Bush says it. After all, the show is on Fox!
August 16, 2006
In the interview I posted about yesterday, Andi Zeisler of Bitch magazine and Deborah Solomon of the New York Times agreed that Chloe O'Brian, on 24 is the best female character on television. I was surprised to read this. Granted, I am only on season 4, but so far Chloe seems awkward, insensitive and, well, kind of bitchy. But she is also the most honest and down to earth character on the show, she does her work without taking or giving any bulls--t, and she is better at her job (which seems to have something to do with computers) than anyone else there. She is also totally candid about what she thinks and unapologetic about what she says. Maybe she takes on a larger role in season 5.
August 15, 2006
Yesterday my friend Shawn gave me an interview from the New York Times Magazine with Andi Zeisler, co-founder of Bitch, my absolute favorite magazine. The interview was in honor of the magazine's ten-year anniversary and the publication of its anthology, BitchFest.
The interviewer asked Zeisler why they chose the word "bitch," which is usually considered an "unappealing female stereotype." Zeisler replied that the choice of name was partly to reclaim the word bitch for "strong, outspoken women," but that they were also using bitch as a verb, which means to complain or kvetch. The editors say more about the b-word here.
As a language geek, I love these multi-purpose words, words that can be nouns, verbs, or adjectives (bitchy), as is the case for most four-letter words. The most versatile word in the English language is probably the f-word, which can also be an adverb, as used by Mr. Biggs in Sex and the City ("absof--kinglutely"). Now if only I could use them in my academic writing...
August 14, 2006
Thank You, Ken
For the fantastic dinner party on Saturday! On Saturday night, our friend Ken had David and me and three other couples over to his condo for an informal dinner and just to chill. Most of the other people knew each other, but David and I had never met them before, and they were super-interesting. There were Sean and Jeannie, who are both teachers and are getting married next weekend; Jenny and Olivier, who met when Olivier was an exchange student at Ball State University and had two weddings: one in Indiana, where Jenny is from, and one in France, where Laurent is from; and Rahul and Varsha, who are from India and had an arranged marriage. Rahul was already living in Michigan when he met Varsha, and he said that he wanted to give her an accurate description of what it is like here, because apparently a lot of marriages don't work out because the wife doesn't like living in the US. I asked her whether she thought she had made the right decision, and she said that for the most part, she likes it here a lot. She moved here in January of 2004 and grew tired of the snow after about a month, which didn't surprise me. I felt the same way, coming from California. What did surprise me, however, was that she said that, for middle-class Indians, life was harder in the US because they don't have servants here. In India she always had maids, cooks, chauffers, etc., but here she has to do everything for herself. Apparently she and Rahul get made fun of by their friends and family members in India because they wash dishes and do laundry!
August 13, 2006
When did Americans become so obsessed with having perfectly white teeth? It seems as though lately the number of products on the market that promise to whiten one's smile has increased exponentially. I have never had much faith that these products could actually work, and I think that the whiteness of one's teeth is something that the person whose teeth they are notices a lot more than anyone else does. After all, nobody sees my teeth at as close range as I do when I look in the mirror. I have never noticed that anyone's teeth looked particularly yellow, even a friend (who shall remain anonymous) who once told me that she was thinking of having her teeth professionally whitened. Despite my disinterest in these products, I found one in my home this morning -- whitening dental floss, which David had been given on his most recent trip to the dentist. How does dental floss whiten teeth, anyway?
August 12, 2006
Shameless Self Indulgence
Yesterday I had my second massage ever at the Relax Station. I have always been kind of afraid of massages because I am very ticklish, so the Relax Station is a good place to go because for $10 (plus tip) I can get a 10-minute massage, which is really about as long as I can sit still anyway. My whole body was sore, probably from weilding the hose and watering can in my doctor's garden, and the massage helped a lot. I think I'll do it again sometime!
August 11, 2006
Glad I'm Not Trying To Fly Home From London This Week
It seemed like the only news on NPR all day yesterday was the foiled terrorist plot to blow up flights from London to the US, which just made me so grateful not to be at Heathrow yesterday. This is the first summer since 2003 that I haven't gone to London, and last summer I had my own harrowing experience trying to get home.
After spending two weeks doing research in London, I went to Ghana for a month to take a class at the University of Ghana and to do research in the National Archives. I was scheduled to fly home on August 12. By that time I had been in Ghana for four weeks, and away from home for six weeks. I was tired, lonely, dirty, and ready to come home. But when I woke up that morning, the woman I was staying with was watching the BBC News, which was covering the British Airways strike. All BA flights had been cancelled. I didn’t know what to do. She didn’t have a phone, so I couldn’t call the airline, but she had one of her employees drive me to the BA office. When I got there, they said there was nothing they could do. My flight was cancelled and they didn’t know when BA would start flying again. They advised me to go to the airport and see if another airline could get me on. I was in a panic. I was far from home, in another country where I didn’t know what my rights were as an airline consumer, and where nobody seemed very concerned about helping me get home. I couldn’t even call home to tell people what was going on.
I went to the internet café and sent an email to David and my parents, telling them that my flight was cancelled and that I didn’t know when I would be able to get home. There was a travel agent across the street from the internet café, so I asked him if there was anything he could do for me. He said he could get me on an Alitalia flight for $800, but I was hesitant to go ahead with that because I didn’t know if BA would reimburse me. Nonetheless, I was determined to get home, so I packed up my suitcase and went to the airport. I went from airline to airline, but all the flights were totally booked. People who had heard about the BA strike before I had had gotten all of the available seats. I took a taxi back to the BA office. The best they could do was rebook me on a flight on August 17, five days later. They offered to put me up in a hotel, but I preferred to keep staying where I had been staying. Still, I couldn’t imagine spending another five days in Ghana. I wanted to be home. The next day I went back to the BA office. That day it was even crazier than the day before. There was an American family making a huge scene, demanding to be put on a flight that night, which made me embarrassed to be an American. A Ghanaian woman actually told the American woman that she needed to learn "African patience"! The Ghanaians who were there were, for the most part, waiting patiently, willing to accept whatever the situation was. Perhaps it was because they were already home, so they could just stay at their houses until they were able to fly, or perhaps it is because of their religious faith, their knowledge that God (Jesus or Allah -- everyone is either Christian or Muslim) would get them where they needed to go eventually. BA was resuming flights that night, but was not willing to bump anyone who had a ticket for that night, so people who had been scheduled to fly for the two days prior were just being given seats that were available. Some people would have to wait two weeks to get back to the US. When I heard that, I felt very lucky to have been given a new ticket for the seventeenth, and I gave up trying to get home sooner.
My parents, meanwhile, were freaking out. They emailed to tell me to buy a ticket on any available airline and that they would reimburse me – they just wanted me safely back in the Western Hemisphere. But once I accepted the fact that I would be there another five days, I became very grateful to have that extra time there, which allowed me to do some things I hadn’t done yet. I had my first street meal, I spent a day reading on the balcony of the house where I was staying, I spent a few extra days doing research at the archives, and I met some nice people. I wrote to my family, telling them that I was resigned to stay until the seventeenth, and not to worry about me: that every day I was there, something happened that made me glad to be there – even the days I spent freaking out at the BA office!
I’m also super-grateful to the woman I was staying with, who let me stay on for the extra five days. I would have felt much more stranded if I had been on my own in a hotel. But it was still scary, and I began to worry that I would never get home – that I would just have to apply for Ghanaian citizenship and finish my Ph.D. at the University of Ghana. On the morning of the seventeenth, I was so scared that something was going to happen to prevent me from getting home – that my flight would be cancelled, or that it would turn out that I didn’t actually have a reservation for that flight. People told me to get to the airport several hours early, and I did – there was no way I was going to miss that flight! It wasn’t until we were actually in the air that I truly believed I would soon be home. When I got to Heathrow, I called David to tell him that I was safely back in the First World, and burst into tears on the answering machine because I was so relieved.
August 10, 2006
When Green Just Isn't
For the first month after I saw the Al Gore movie, I did a lot less driving, trying to do my part to curb greenhouse emissions. But then my doctor asked me to water her garden while she is out of town, which requires a daily ten-mile round-trip drive. I almost said no, for that very reason, but I needed the job. So for the past week, I have been driving back and forth to her condo, which is in a bland subdivision on the southwest side of town. It just amazes me how much grass there is in that part of town. Each subdivision is neatly landscaped, as is the empty space between each subdivision. It would almost be pretty if it didn't look so blatantly fake. The grass is real, but it sure doesn't grow like that naturally, and it makes me so sad to think about all the resources that are wasted on that grass: the water and fertilizer to keep it green and the gas to keep it mowed. Not to mention all the extra driving that people have to do to get from one place to another when houses and businesses are so spread out. You couldn't even walk around there if you wanted to because there are no sidewalks!
Suburban sprawl just makes me sick. I was lucky enough to grow up in Santa Monica, where the streets are laid out on a grid. Everyone lives on a rectangular city block. I had never even heard of a subdivision until I went to college, and the word "cul-de-sac" was totally foreign. I never lived someplace where it took more than five or ten minutes to walk to local businesses or a bus stop. I don't know why people think that suburbs are ideal for child-raising: as a child, I loved being able to get where I needed to go without having to depend on a parent to drive me. The other day, David and I drove past Northville High School, which is a beautiful modern building surrounded by a parking lot and beautifully-manicured grass and about a million equally well-manicured subdivisions. It looks pretty nice. But there is no way to walk to that high school. The houses are spread so far apart that nobody lives in walking distance, and even if you did live close enough, there are no sidewalks! The only way to get there is to drive. Seeing that school made me feel so lucky to have gone to a high school that was set right into the city. I could walk to the mall in ten minutes or walk to the liquor store to get my Hostess cupcakes during the lunch period. I rode to school on the city bus and walked to my beachside job after work.
The point is that the kind of medium-low-density development that characterizes the part of town where my doctor lives just doesn't serve any purpose. Suburbs spreading the houses out just enough so that the only place you can go on foot from your house is your car, but not enough to actually leave valuable open space between developments. It turns the whole world into a large lawn. If development were concentrated in urban spaces, we would have livable cities, with enough density for people to quickly get where they need to go, and it would preserve the countryside for the animals, the farmers, and the misanthropes.
August 09, 2006
The Devil and Academe
Couples that Vote Together...
Argue about it afterwards! Just kidding. David and I performed our civic duty together yesterday morning before he went to work. Somehow voting together is much more fun than voting alone. Check out local election results here. We were glad to see that Sonia Schmerl, best friend of the greenway, was defeated in the 5th ward, and that Mayor Hieftje was not unseated. We had less agreement over the results of other races, but it is good to know that we can still live together even if we vote differently!
That's What a Hamburger is All About
The other day on NPR, I heard that the last living founder of In-N-Out burger died last week, and the story speculated that her death may allow the chain to expand beyond California, Arizona, and Nevada, currently the only states where one can experience the world's best fast-food burger. I won't say it is the best burger I have ever eaten -- that would be at Miller's Bar in Dearborn, MI -- but it certainly is the best fast-food burger I have ever eaten. David disagrees: he prefers Blimpy Burger here in Ann Arbor. I agree that Blimpy has a good burger, and that their menu is a lot more varied and interesting than In-N-Out (Blimpy offers blue cheese as a burger topping and deep-fried veggies as a side), but as far as just straight-up burger quality goes, In-N-Out is definitely a better burger. As someone on facebook said, you know you are an Angelino is if, "you know what In 'N Out is and feel bad for all the other states because they don't have any."
What makes In-N-Out so good? It is the freshness of their food. As I learned on NPR, they get the meat from live cow to burger in your hand within five days. The buns are made daily on-site, and I have also seen them cutting up potatoes to make fries. They are able to serve up such good food by keeping it simple -- the official menu only has three items: cheeseburger ("double-double"), fries, shakes. But In-N-Out has a cult following because of its lengendary secret menu. Vegetarian? Order grilled cheese -- a double-double with no meat. On Atkins? Order your burger "protein style" -- it will come wrapped in a lettuce leaf. Don't like cheese? Order double meat -- a double-double with no cheese. If a double-double just isn't enough for you, try a 3x3, 4x4, or even 5x5. "Animal style" will get you a burger with grilled onion instead of raw.
Another unique thing about In-N-Out is that there are references to bible verses hidden in their packaging. Having never read the bible, I didn't know what these meant, but this website explains it all. Kinda bizarre, actually.
I had only been to In-N-Out a couple of times until I went to college, where In-N-Out is a weekend ritual. The first time I went back to LA after David and I started dating, I brought back an In-N-Out t-shirt for him, though, having never been to In-N-Out, he didn't appreciate it and refused to wear it anywhere except the gym. So when he came along, I made sure to take him there, and then he started to understand the mystique.
In-N-Out is one of the two fast-food restaurants that Eric Scholosser does not disparage in his expose Fast Food Nation. The other is Hot Dog On A Stick, where I worked in high school. These restaurants offer clean and safe working environments, fresh healthy food, and better wages than most fast-food establishments. Hot Dog is even employee owned!
So why does the death of In-N-Out's founder suggest that the chain might expand beyond California, Nevada, and Arizona? Apparently, she was committed to keeping the chain relatively local so that they could use a single distribution center to get fresh ingredients to the stores quickly. Her granddaughter wanted to move into other states, but the founder doubted that they could uphold the same level of freshness and quality if they got too big. But with grandma out of the way, expansion is now possible, though it might mean selling out. I say, keep it local. Sure, I would love to have In-N-Out here in Michigan if it were as good as it is in California, but if expanding means selling out, we don't need another mediocre burger chain here. We have plenty of good local chains, such as Halo Burger, where you can get a burger with green olives. And I can always go to In-N-Out when I visit my mom!
August 08, 2006
To Tim McDaniel, super-star instructor at the ICPSR Summer Training Program in Quantitative Methods (aka "Stats Camp") for winning this week's New Yorker caption contest. View his winning caption here.
On Sunday, David and I went to Meijer to stock up on cereal and soup for him and canned fish and frozen vegetables for me. When we got to the check-out line, I realized that it was pretty clear which stuff was his and which was mine, so I suggested that we pay for our things separately. Usually I pay for everything, then go through the receipt to calculate was was David's, what was mine, and what was for both of us, and then bill him for his portion, but paying separately seemed so much easier. While we were waiting, I realized that the couple in line in front of us, who appeared to be married (judging by their rings), had also split up their groceries into two separate orders. As we were leaving, I noticed that the couple in line behind us had done the same thing. I guess we are in the first wave of a new trend: couples shopping together but separately!
August 07, 2006
To vote tomorrow in the Michigan primary/Ann Arbor city council election.
Getting the Scoop
On Friday night, David and I saw Scoop, the new Woody Allen movie (or should I say vehicle?), with our friend Angela. I'll begin by saying that it was a really fun movie. We all enjoyed watching it, even Angela, who normally doesn't like Woody Allen. It helps that Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman are both absolutely gorgeous.
But "fun" is about the most flattering adjective I have to describe the movie. It doesn't go much beyond that. The plot was absolutely preposterous. The phrase "deus ex machina" comes to mind, but unlike the traditional deus ex machina plot device, where the supernatural intervention occurs at the end, to resolve the story, Scoop begins with a supernatural intervention: Scarlett Johansson, a journalism student, is visited by the ghost of a recently-deceased star journalist who has been tipped off to the identity of the "Tarot Card Killer," a modern-day Jack the Ripper, by a fellow traveller on the boat across the River Styx. Johansson then inexplicably employs the help of Woody Allen, who plays a third-rate magician from Brooklyn, to help her get the scoop on the Tarot Card Killer and, in the process, ends up falling in love with the object of her investigation. She actually comes across somewhat tartily (I'm not sure if that is actually a word, but I feel justified in using it since the film is set in London), as we learn at the beginning that she has a history of letting her sexual desires get in the way of her journalistic pursuits. When it appears that Hugh Jackman may propose to her, she gives up her investigation of him, and Woody Allen takes over, finding the real dirt. I won't spoil the ending by saying exactly how, but Johannson's character does come through, providing a pretty satisfactory ending, but leaving many of the details of the murder mystery up to the audience to figure out.
This was the second Woddy Allen movie set among London's upper crust, but it wasn't as good as Match Point. It was definitely less dark and more fun, but ultimately less satisfying. I find it frustrating to watch movies that are set in London, because I have spent a lot of time there and I find that films always make the city seem a lot more glamorous than it actually is. The most eggregious example of this misrepresentation I can think of was Wimbledon. If you just go by what you see in the movies, you would think that the city is sparkling clean and that everyone there is wealthy. In my experience, it is a dirty, cramped, and expensive city where most people have a very low standard of living. In the U.S., it is pretty much assumed that, when you rent an apartment, it will come with a shower and a kitchen. Not so in London. My ex-boyfriend Erik spent a fortune to rent a room in a house with no kitchen -- he had the English equivalent of a bunsen burner in his room, but no refrigerator -- and no shower -- only a bathtub shared by everyone in the house! And that was in Cambridge, where rents are lower than in London.
August 06, 2006
Last night, as I was settling in to watch an episode of 24 on DVD, I thought I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought I was imagining it, but then I realized that something was flying straight at me, and it wasn't a bird or a moth -- it was a bat! Having never before seen a bat up close, I screamed and opened the door, hoping he would fly outside, but he didn't. Instead, he just seemed to disappear. David was at his dad's house, so it was just me and the bat. I called David's dad, who told me to go after the bat with a tennis racket, but I couldn't reach the tennis racket, which David keeps in the rafters of the basement ceiling. When David got on the phone, he suggested that I catch the bat in a towel and take it outside. So I got a towel and went bat-hunting, but I couldn't find the bat. David and his brother, Mike, arrived about an hour later and couldn't find the bat either, but shortly after Mike left, we heard a noise in the dining room window. David closed the window, and then we saw the bat, trapped between the glass and the screen. I was amazed at how small he was with his wings folded up. David got the towel and, on his count, I opened the window and he caught the bat. That bat actually had a pretty cute face, which would have been even cuter if he hadn't been baring his fangs at us.
Bats are another one of those things that I knew nothing about before moving to the Midwest. One night during my first year here, I went for a walk on the Old West Side. While I was walking, I started hearing squeaking noises and became very paranoid that a bat was going to swoop down and bite me. Having never seen a bat, I didn't realize how small they are, and it didn't occur to me that they were probably just as scared of me as I was of them. It was quite a relief to get back to downtown Ann Arbor, where all I had to fear were muggers, murderers, and rapists. Wildlife is much more frightening!
August 05, 2006
This fall, I will be teaching for the first time as a GSI (Graduate Student Instructor). Yesterday, I filled out my employment paperwork. In addition to the usual W-4 and I-9 stuff, I also had to sign an oath promising to uphold the constitution of the United States of America and the Michigan constitution, and I had to have my signature notarized. This was only the second time I had had to have something notarized -- the first time was when my friend Wendi adopted her son and needed me to sign a statement saying that I thought she was fit for parenthood. If only all parents had to have character witnesses!
When I went to the notary, she asked if I had sworn the oath, which surprised me, because I didn't realize that I had to say it verbally. It turns out that she was just kidding, but I did have to take a verbal oath in order to get a library card at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. I couldn't believe how many hoops I had to jump through to get this library card. I just wanted to spend one day looking through Elspeth Huxley's papers at Rhodes House. I didn't even want to check anything out. But first I had to get a recommendation from a professor at the University of Michigan, then I had to wait in line for hours to have my application processed, then I had to swear an oath that I would not light a match inside the library, and finally I had to pay three pounds sterling (about $6 at the time) to use the library for what was, by then, one afternoon! Needless to say, by the time they got around to taking my picture for the library card, I wasn't looking terribly happy.
Getting my signature notarized yesterday also reminded me of being in Ghana last summer. On my last day there, I finally made it to Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra, the capital. One of the spokes coming off the circle was a busy street full of people doing business on the sidewalk. One of the most popular businesses was "Oath Takers." At first, I was quite puzzled by this, but it soon occurred to me that an oath taker was probably akin to a notary public. I still don't know for sure, but I imagine people going to them in order to get a signature witnessed, or perhaps to complete land deals or even marriages. It is interesting to see what kinds of actions -- speech, signatures, etc. -- different countries consider to be legally binding.
August 04, 2006
Living in the Dark Ages
David and I are just about the only people we know who don't have cell phones. For a long time, I just didn't want one. I didn't talk to that many people, and I liked being unreachable when I wasn't at home. Recently, however, it has started to seem like it might come in handy. Twice already this year my land line has conked out, and I have had to go to pay phones to call the phone company to get it fixed. And there are fewer and fewer working pay phones around now that everybody has cell phones. When David and I visited my Dad in Pittsburgh last month, we got there a few hours late as a result of car repairs, baseball traffic, and road construction. When we finally did show up, my dad was sitting on his front porch with a phone in each hand, just waiting for us to call. I had called from a pay phone in Ohio, but once we got caught up in Pittsburgh traffic, there was nowhere to call from. He begged us to get a cell phone.
The excuse we have been giving people when they ask why we don't have cell phones is that we need to have the land line to dial into the internet, and we can't afford to have both a land line and two cell phones. Which then provokes the question, "you use dial up?" Apparently, we are the only people who do that too. I guess we haven't quite caught on to the fact that the twentieth century really is over. In January, the University of Michigan will be discontinuing its dial-up internet service because not enough people are taking advantage of it, and then we will have run out of excuses. No more dial up, no more need for a land line, no excuse not to go cellular. So it looks like David and I will finally enter the twenty-first century in 2007. Seven years late isn't too bad, right? Maybe we will even get digital cameras and ipods!
August 03, 2006
Rain, Glorious Rain
I hate rain. I hate being wet, I hate carrying an umbrella, I hate using my windshield wipers, I hate everything about it. Growing up in Southern California, where it hardly ever rains, I learned to consider dryness a fundamental right. Except during el nino years, but that is a whole other post for another day. Today, however, I'm so glad it is raining!
My doctor and her husband left this morning for two weeks in Hawaii, and they hired me to water their plants every day while they are gone. Every day, that is, except when it rains! Yes, I know, I'm terribly lazy. But I have two black thumbs, and I feel that the less I have to do to their plants, the more chance they will have of surviving until they get back! I warned her that I'm not very good with plants, but she assured me that she would provide me with detailed instructions. And she did, but of course I forgot everything she said as soon as she said it. So she made a little cheat sheet for me. She even gave me a water meter, so that I can determine scientifically which plants need water when. But she is very attached to these plants, especially the false cypresses, and her husband has been working hard on his tomatoes, so I will feel very bad if anything dies under my watch. Especially given how much they are paying me. So I'm a bit relieved that I won't have to start my watering duty until tomorrow. The best part, though, is that I get to take home any tomatoes that ripen while they are away!
David, who is nine years my senior, recently accused me of being old because I use Friendster, which is blase, rather than Facebook, which is what all the cool kids are using now. My apologies for not keeping up with the times. According to my Friendster profile, I joined in July 2003, way before Facebook even existed. And it is what all my (23) friends use, which is the whole point! I guess that is the point, anyway. I've never been quite sure what Friendster is good for, though the birthday reminders have been quite handy. Sometimes it creeps me out, though. I recently approved a new friend, someone I went to high school with, which means that I am now second-degree friends with my most hated high school ex-boyfriend!
But David told me that I could register on Facebook as his fiancee, so I went ahead and did that. The problem is that you have to register as part of a network, and the three options are high school, college, or work. What about grad school? And there doesn't even seem to be a network for Pomona College! Maybe David is right: I am too old for Facebook.
August 02, 2006
It's Too Darn Hot
Okay, I'll admit it, I don't always like the heat. I can deal with 90, but 100 is just way too hot. We are staying cool the best we can, cranking up the window air conditioner in the bedroom and using it to cool down the whole house by keeping all the windows closed. It works well enough -- it is in the low eighties downstairs, cooler upstairs -- but most importantly it cuts the humidity. It is good to know that we are not alone. I think the whole country is sweltering right now. And I'm glad we have the air. I grew up in Santa Monica where, not only did we not have air conditioning, but we didn't even need it. I don't remember one day in my life where I wished we had it. It was hot where I went to college, and I remember being advised to bring a fan because the dorms didn't have air conditioning, but I never heard the terms "heat index" or "heat advisory" until I moved to Ann Arbor. My first summer here, my boyfriend at the time called me at work one day to tell me that there was a heat advisory. We didn't know what this meant, but he thought he should probably pick me up and take me home so that I wouldn't have to ride the bus. Here the humidity just makes the heat so much more oppressive. Last night I had to walk about a mile to a meeting, and was just soaked with sweat by the time I got there. And the meeting room was not air conditioned. But we are getting by, and they are promising a cold front tomorrow. Again, something I'm still learning about. We didn't have "fronts" in California!
August 01, 2006
My Name is Emily, and I'm a Volunteer with the Democratic Party
Last night I did more phone canvassing for the Dems. I made 216 phone calls and got seventeen people to take my five-question survey about the fall election. Mostly I got answering machines and disconnected numbers, but I also got hung up on in all kinds of ways. If the hang-up seemed accidental, I called back; if it seemed intentional, I didn't. David briefly worked for a market research firm that did telephone surveying, and he had to call back everyone who hung up on him. I can't say I enjoy the phone canvassing -- actually, it is pretty tedious -- but it is a necessary evil that someone needs to do, and it is nice to be able to have the spare time to help out. It has also given me a lot more sympathy for people who make phone calls for a living, though I still think telemarketers are evil. At least I wasn't asking for money!