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Monthly Archives: May 2016

School Is Out Finally

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“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Okay: my summers for the past few years have been really, really lame.  And I have a lot of excuses for that, and some of them are even good ones – no vacation time from work, scraping by on only a little money, blah blah blah.  Oh, and then there were the summers that I got dumped (two of them) and the summer that my cat was dying on top of that.  And then there’s that oh-so-special kind of New York mugginess we get time to time that just saps your will to do much aside from huddle close to the air conditioner and tell yourself that the electricity bills will be better than not dying.

But a lack of money and time shouldn’t have prevented me from trying to do stuff close to home, or at least on the weekends.  It is stupid just how many free concerts and outdoor movies and free museum hours there are in New York – hell, there are museums that are free all the time.  And I get two whole days every week where I am free to actually go visit them.

This year, finally, is different.  I have an enormous amount of vacation time – I’ve already planned two week-long trips and one three-day weekend, and I still have three days left to use, and I work with people who will encourage me to use them.  And I actually have income which if not enormous, is at least  consistent. …and I have a much more energy-savvy A/C now, so I’m more likely to turn the damn thing on.

So. This is the summer I have resolved to well and truly live it up and Do Stuff.  Hit way more of the free concerts and movies around town, make regular visits to Governors’ Island, explore corners of the city I haven’t seen, eat way more ice cream, finally try lobster rolls at Red Hook, go on day trips upstate when it gets too muggy in the city.  I want the kind of summer days like when I was a kid, when I left the house early and came home with sand in my hair and at least three new bug bites.  Or I want the summer nights I dreamed about having when I first came here – heading out of the house in a light summery sundress, maybe finding a little place to get a drink where they had music, and eyeflirting with guys.  Or I want summer afternoons where I spend hours just making something just because – a papercraft, a little book, just…doing something.

I’ve been fooling around with some papercraft stuff, actually, and have been drawn to the idea behind smash books – they’re scrapbooks the way I remember scrapbooks used to be, before you had to have a degree in design to lay out your damn pages. You just have a blank book and you stick stuff into it.  And three of the many blank books I have are all handmade, unlined paper.  So when I went out to Governors Island yesterday, and somehow came home with a couple of little paper things in my wake, I decided – well, let’s try this thing.  My goal this summer is to live it up so much that I end up filling the entire book with accumulated scraps of things, just from this one summer.  Tags from visits to the Met, matchbook covers from new bars I’ve found, napkins from new ice cream shops I’ve discovered, map sketches so I can find that weird ruined cabin during hikes upstate, you name it.

Memorial Day is on us, and that means summer is on us.  This summer is on.

La Musique de La Langue

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I have been largely monolingual for most of my life, aside from the obligatory few years studying French in high school and learning a few words of other languages here and there, mostly through singing something in one foreign language or another in the school choir.  I’d actually pick up on the sound of a language pretty quickly; one of my music teachers once tested me and found I had perfect pitch, and I can only assume it helps me copy the phonetics and sounds of whatever foreign phrase I hear.  I have no idea what I’m saying, but the way I’m saying it is perfect.

Lately, I’ve been practicing French a lot more, though.  One of my co-workers is from Paris herself, and my roommate knows French as well.  And after making one trip to Paris – and preparing for another – I’m getting a bit more serious about polishing my French up.  And the best way to do that, I read once, is to talk to yourself in French a lot. And thus a lot of my inner monologue these days has been in French – or what little of it I can remember, as I check out the colors of people’s hats on the subway (“Quelle bizarre chapeau, quelle coleur est-il?”) or shop for food after work (“eh bien, pour dinner….hmm, du fromage, du saussicon, et….des pommes de terre, peut-etre?  Oui.”).  I’ll imagine I’m trying to explain things to an imaginary friend visiting me (“Les Etas-Unis a seulment deux partis politiques”) or comment to them about things I’m watching on Netflix (“Mais non, Scully n’est pas vuer des petits hommes verts – c’est Mulder seulement!…Et non, je ne connais pas comme ils sont retourner a l’Antarctique.”)

The problem is that eventually, my vocabulary just plain runs out, and I have to switch to an English word here and there because I simply don’t know the French one.  I had to do that a lot in Paris, and I’m doing it still now, even talking to myself.  But I’m finding myself doing it less and less – not because I’m gradually remembering more words, but because I’m actually trying to avoid the way English sounds mixed in with the French.  My brain will be skating along on a stream of lovely romance-language lilt, all soft je and la, and then suddenly throwing in a clunky, germanic English word sounds like falling down after an attempt at a triple lutz, all knees and elbows and bang on the ice.

The heck of it is, I like the way English sounds too.  And I also love the sound of Gaelic languages, which are even starker compared to the way Romance languages sound; I spent a good year and a half trying to find a translation for this song by the Scottish singer Karen Matheson, simply because I loved the way the words sounded.  The fact that it’s essentially Scottish Gaelic scat singing doesn’t bother me at all, either; I still will wander about singing the sounds as best as I can copy them. I also did the same for Great Big Sea’s cover of the Quebecois folk song Le Bon Vin.  But gradually I’ve noticed that my accent is getting better than theirs, and that I also know what I’m saying – which is making the singing all the more fun.

Puppies and Baby Sandwiches

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Today has been…a day.  I’ve been spending most of the day unsuccessfully negotiating two completely different travel bookings for two completely different trips – just when I get the hotels sorted out for one, the flights I was about to book for the other go pear-shaped – and sorting out an ongoing work problem which has called upon input from five completely different time zones.

Towards the end of the day, I remembered a similar moment from another job I had 20 years ago.  For a couple years, I was part of the support staff for a very small television production company; or, to be accurate, I was half the support staff.  The other support guy, David, bonded with me early over how outrageously busy we were; we took to calling each other “Mulder” and “Scully”, partly because his name actually was “Mulder” and partly because we often felt as put-upon as they did.

On one especially busy day, I grumbled to David that “I must have had a past life where I did nothing but kick puppies or something.”

He burst out laughing, then sighed.  “If that’s the case, then I probably had a past life where I did nothing but eat baby sandwiches.”  We both sighed and got back to work.

A couple days later, I got to the office and found David missing, and a message on our answering machine.  I listened – it was a very harried-sounding David, telling me a long story about mayhem at his apartment. “First the plumbing went bust, so  called the super, but then he said I had to go make sure that the front door was unlocked so he could get in, except it wasn’t, and I forgot my key, so I had to get my roommate to try to let me back in, but he couldn’t find his own key, and I just heard that the subways are down, and…and….it’s just gone all puppies and baby sandwiches.  I’ll be in soon.”  I was still laughing when David finally showed up, and we used “puppies and baby sandwiches” as an in-joke for the remaining two years we worked there.


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I was absolutely not expecting to want to do this, but – I seriously may be making a return to Paris.  In two months.

I have always tried to never visit the same place twice.  There’s just too much world, and too little time for me to see it, for me to go back to re-visit a place I’ve already been to.  Usually there has to be a very compelling reason – I’m being given the ticket, I’m bringing someone, or I’m visiting someone.

BUT – I’d had plans to visit Yosemite this July, which fell through; I waited way too long to try to find a place to stay, and everything is totally booked up unless I want to stay in a Motel 6 an hour and a half from the park entrance.  Fortunately, I hadn’t bought a plane ticket yet, so I decided to postpone that trip until September, when I’ll have a prayer of a place to stay.

But I’d already put a bid in for the time off in July.  So now I was left with a bunch of days off smack dab in the middle of July, and I needed to do something with them.

And that’s when a whole series of very interesting things happened one day after the other.

  1. When I was last in Paris, I ended up going on a spontaneous dinner date on New Year’s Eve with a food journalist who lived near the Bastille; we split a bottle of the house red, I practiced my French, and then we went back to…his place, where we split a bottle of Sauternes and fromage and talked about The Pogues (don’t even ask how that came up, I couldn’t even tell you) before we parted ways before midnight – he to a friends’ place, me to this cocktail bar.  We’ve emailed now and then since, and about a week ago, he hailed me again.
  2. A day after that, I started thinking heck, let’s just see what the flights to Paris would be in July…and discovered that there are some very, very good prices right now.
  3. And a day after that….I realized that those days in July fell right around Bastille Day.

But I couldn’t go back, I thought at first.  I was just there…didn’t I want to go somewhere else?   I’ve never been to Amsterdam, maybe there?  Or Spain?  Or Brussels, like my roommate suggested?  Hell, I could stay on this continent, why not.  It’d be cheaper, right?

Well.  I spent maybe two days trying to talk myself out of it, but also flipping back through all the guide books, and realizing that y’know, there’s still a lot of Paris I hadn’t seen after all…like Versailles, I’d never been out there, and that would be an ironic counterpoint to Bastille Day celebrations….and say, my friend in Ireland had wanted to drop in during my last trip, maybe we could try again, especially since her birthday was around then…and….

….so, I think I’m going to Paris again.

Conversation From Work, May 10th, about 4:35 pm

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(An explanation first: my job involves a lot of data-entry for the human resources office of a non-profit.  The data is fed over to payroll, and often I will need to, er, “translate” between what’s on the form and how I know payroll would need to see it.  But my work has to be approved by a manager, and sometimes they don’t quite get what I’ve done; especially if it’s someone new.  One such new manager is there now, and came to check something with me.)

C:  So…something about the way you entered the salary for this person seemed odd; it doesn’t match what’s on the form.

Me: Yeah, payroll would pro-rate what they requested based on a full-time annual salary, so I had to annualize it based on her schedule and based on her only working half a year.

C: I’m still not seeing how you did the math, though.

Me: Okay, I’ll show you – wait, remind me what they wanted to pay her for the total job?

C: …I’d….rather not just blurt it out –

Me: Eh, it doesn’t matter – let’s call it “florg”.

C: ….”florg”?

Me: It’s a nonsense word I pulled out of my butt.

C:  ….Okay.

Me: Okay.  So.  If we put down “florg”, they would assume that that’s the annual salary.  But she’s only working for six months, and she’s also working only part time.  So the figure we have to put down in the system – uh, let’s call that figure…

(My coworker, who’s been listening)…”Gelb”?

Me: Yes, thank you.  Gelb has to be whatever her full-time salary would be if she were getting one, and if she were working for a full year. So if we want her to ultimately be paid florg, we need to figure out what gelb would be, and put that down instead.  So first what we need to know is, what is florg times two.

C: …Okay, but what you put down in the system isn’t…florg times two.

Me: Right, because she also is only working part time.  Since she’s only working 40% of a full-time schedule, they will also cut whatever we put down as her annual salary by 40%.

C: So…40% of gelb is florg?

Me: No – 40% of gelb is two florgs.

(C hesitates, then his eyes grow wide with understanding, and he runs back to his office so as not to lose his concentration and confirm I did the math right.  N and I watch him go.)

N: That was possibly the most memorable way you could have explained one of the stupider problems you’ve had to solve.

The Root Of The Problem

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We have met the enemy and he is us.  – Walt Kelly

Ted Cruz has just dropped out of the Republican primary race.  This has effectively left the field open for Donald Trump to be the Republican candidate for president.  This has a good many people somewhat concerned, and there’s a lot of Monday-night quarterbacking trying to figure out what the GOP leaders could have done to stop him.   Did they wait too long to change the party rules?  Could they have supported Cruz or Kasich more?

But GOP support for Kasich or Cruz wouldn’t have helped.  Trump, himself, isn’t even the problem.  The problem with Trump’s candidacy is – the fact that it has been getting support.

It’s true that Trump has more money in his campaign coffers than the others.  He talks louder, he’s brasher, he’s more outrageous and gets more attention and more media coverage.  But all of that only offers him a chance to declare what his message is, and declaring what his message is is only half the equation.  All campaigns are conversations – and all conversations have two sides.  Trump was speaking; but people have been listening.

And people have been agreeing.  People have been agreeing with the idea that the American idea only stretches so far, and is only meant for a select few.  People have been agreeing with the argument that success is something reserved only for a select, elite few.  People have been agreeing with the notion that torture is justifiable.  People have been agreeing with the notion that women should not have free access to facilities that could help them maintain their health.  People have been agreeing with his arguments that an increase in the number of guns will make us safer, and that concealed carry permits are perfectly sound.  People have been agreeing with his assertion that the government has the right to spy on its citizens, and the right to seize their property through eminent domain. People have been comfortable with him accepting the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan.

People also believe his claims that Obamacare is failing, despite years of evidence to the contrary. They support his nose-thumbing claims that he doesn’t pay taxes. They believe his claims that he is a job creator, even though four of his business have gone bankrupt. They join him in crowing that global warming is a hoax.  They join him in dismissing the evidence of the pollution caused by natural gas, coal, and oil as fuel. They see no contradiction between his claims to be a supporter for education one minute, and then stating he wants to cut the funding for the Department of Education the next minute. They are undeterred by his admission that he would be willing to use nuclear weapons, for the first time since World War II.

It’s easy to write his supporters off as being dumb or ill-informed.  But that assumes that people simply don’t care enough about the election to declare themselves. And the problem is precisely the opposite – people do care, very very much.  But it’s what they are caring for that is at issue.  Trump has gotten where he is because there are people who not only agree with him, but are willing to publicly affirm that belief by casting votes for him. They are willing to shout down those who oppose him.  And if one of those people shouting moves on to assault, the others cheer them on.

If we were a better nation, Trump would not have gotten this far.  He would have made his claims, and he may still have gotten a few supporters, but the rest of us would have rolled our eyes, made a few pointed comments, and laughed and turned away, and casted our votes for wiser folk.  The first time a person was assaulted at a Trump rally, the rest of the nation would have reacted with horror, including Trump, and the campaign would have folded.  But instead, enough people agreed with Trump that he is now the leading candidate for the Republican Party.

Trump isn’t the part about Trump’s candidacy that scares me.  The fact that Trump has that many supporters – the fact that that many people have carefully considered things, and still sided with him – that is what scares me.   Because no matter what happens in the election, they will still be there, and they are sharing the country with me – and they have all but admitted that if they had their way, a lot of us would be kicked out.  Trump’s candidacy has exposed the fact that nearly half our country wants to strip rights and citizenship and property and liberty from a lot of the rest of us; who it is that they’ve selected as their figurehead doesn’t matter so much – because I’m pretty sure that I would be left out of the America they want to create.