Friday, February 22, 2008

After about two years of posting, I've discovered perhaps THE major flaw in this blog business: just as soon as you decide on a post topic, something better and more interesting pops up, and the old topic goes out the window and you're left with nothing except the urge to write SOMETHING. It's pretty traumatic, actually, but the funny thing is, it dawns on you later that you would have been better off if you had just turned around and exchanged a couple words with, say, your 44 year old gay Italian room mate. His whimsical, self assured racism is like a breath of fresh air in the luke warm social atmosphere of intolerance that seems to characterize our society that "knows better." After growing used to mousy white men and their passive racism, their glances at the floor and locking car doors when black men walk past, there's something about hearing someone say they hate black people, Jews, gay men and Italians with clear conviction and white hot ignorance that's shocking and strangely refreshing. He's like an artifact, a crystallized specimen of something very old and poisonous, and watching him spit bile at all the peoples in the world he hates fills me with that same cocktail of dread and wonder that would toss around in my stomach watching a lion snap the neck of gazelle on National Geographic. It's the awe that comes with violence and watching something you know you can't stand to look at, but don't exactly know why when you think about it hard enough. The nearest I can come to is: it's just not decent to hate that many people.

Come to think of it, I've never heard him mention a group of people he likes, except maybe Americans. Then again, he never really misses an opportunity to snipe at them, like when he insists that Americans never go anywhere, not even to Arizona, so maybe it's not so much a love of them as it is a tender kind of ambivalence, a live and let live policy simply because he hasn't found a reason to hate them, yet. Though he's never expounded on why he hates black people, other than the fact that he's had a "bad experience," I assume he has some "reason" for it, some concrete and easily explainable series of events that would at least cast some light on the subject. Then again, an undefinable past experience is pretty much the reason he gives for hating all the people he hates: black people have a "bad attitude", Jews are "good with money, very intelligent and nasty", Italians are "horrible" and "loud", and gay men are "pigs" for their wanton sex practices. Aside from those words of love and understanding, I haven't gotten anything more specific out of Marco Polo. That, of course, is assuming I actually try one of these days; despite my best intentions and all the witty and enlightened things I think of saying the next time he slips on his nice fitting brown shirt, I end up sitting dumb-struck at the table, smiling when he's not looking and wondered where and when I am exactly. More than that, though, I try to figure out how this man, himself a gay Italian who has traveled enough to know the things he says about people can't be true, could hate Italians and gay men, or any minority at all, given the fact that he is keenly aware of his own minority status and seems to have nothing but contempt for those who hold it against him. I've come to accept hypocrisy as a part of the human condition, that you can't be 100% consistent 100% of the time, and that moments of weakness or sheer stupidity should be taken as they are and dealt with, but this is a level of hypocrisy that frankly makes me uneasy. It's the kind that makes you want to knock on the inside of his skull and yell right into his inner ear until he gets the point and baptizes himself with cooking oil and washes away his sins with whatever he has lying around the house. It's not just his own private psychological soft shoulder, but the great piece of wood in humanity's left eye, the gleeful and burning desire to chop people up into things you like and don't like, to hate because you can and because it's easy, and to sell ignorance for the truth in the comfort of your own kitchen.

He always has some "evidence" to support his claims, of course, like the fact that Israeli tourist aren't allowed in Malaysia because they're so terrible. That couldn't have anything to do with the fact that there's some prejudice against Jews in general in Malaysia, could it? No, of course not. Because, you see, the Nazis killed the Jews because Germans and Jews are too similar, too much alike for them to get along, and because Jews do everything better than the Germans anyway, the Germans were protecting themselves from getting screwed. Now, I do subscribe to the general theory that people, or groups of people, who are too much like end up hating each other. I can't spend more than fifteen minutes in a room with other people who identify themselves as geeks without wanting to choke them with the certificate of authenticity for their HSN Katanas or limited edition, gold plated World of Warcraft strategy guide, and the French and Americans can't seem to reach an agreement as to whose culture truly is superior and worthy of universal praise, but to imply that the Nazis killed the Jews because they thought the Jews would "out sneak" them, as it were, is insane and sounds less like an astute cultural appraisal of an experienced traveler, and more like a blabbering crazy appendix to the centuries of pseudo-theology and science that built the ghettos in the first place.

The fact that he is well-traveled tends to give the things he says a weight they don't really deserve, a weight he tries to use to break me of attitudes I should "get over," like not wanted to lie on my resume. Now, I would never claim to be the most honest man around, because I've lied about whether I liked a food, a movie, or even a person to make someone else feel better, but I would like to take this time and say quite self-righteously that I have never, and nor would I ever, lie about something on my resume. That doesn't exclude what I like to call the "Julienne Method of Job Application," the obligatory cutting up and stretching of past experience or positions to make it look like you've actually done more, but even then everything is true, just a little, "polished", you might say. He, on the other hand, seems to think I should just write something down that I've never done before, because, as he puts it "they'll never know." First off, that's not true; given the Orwellian potential of the Internet, I don't rule out my future employer's ability to know what I ate for dinner last night, or the names of the women I secretly wrote poems to, then erased at the end of an ill advised, three hour long, Percy Shelley-inspired declaration of doomed and unrequited passions. Besides that, I suffer from an over-active conscience and over-developed since of moral responsibility; I'd rather not get the job than snatch it under false pretenses. It's pretty stupid of me, but that's the way it is. And on the petty side of things, I refuse to take advise about how the world really is from a man who says things like "I hate blacks" and believes it so firmly that he doesn't want to go to the South because it's "all black down there." He actually tried to convince me that there aren't any white people in the South, to me, a white man from the South, after which he asked me what it was like to live around so many black people. Now, maybe it's because I'm not done with my education yet and haven't been taught how to answer such ridiculous questions, but all I could think to say was: "it's OK, I guess. I mean, they're people, so...." Enlightening, I know.

But enlightening is my business. I'll ever forget when I got that Email from Mrs. Turtledove, who told me how, while in her bathtub after a rigorous game of Bridge against those ghastly Cameron sisters, the Spirit descended upon her in the form of great flaming bird and healed her rheumatism. Her new found hobby of Roller Blading, she wrote, has given her a new lease on life. And that's why I do what I do, out of love of mankind and hackneyed metaphors, the salt and pepper of creation.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I don't know when I decided to systematically try all the different kinds of juices in the supermarket, but I have. It dawned on me the other day as I found myself inspecting half a dozen cartons of multi-vitamine juice to find the best deal and / or fruit juice content. This kind of thing happens to me occasionally: about four years ago, before I drank beer or wine, I decided to try as many kinds of soda in the grocery store and "rate" them. I use the word "rate" very loosely, because my scale had no real order and depended mostly on my mood at the time. In order to give my enterprise a dull shine of scientific legitamacy, and to distract myself from the stupidity of it, I dunked it in a bath of exoticism, tasting only imported Mexican sodas. I persued this experiment with a private mastubatory intensity that only further convinced me of the justice and righteousness of it, but none of it, neither the warm glow of critical opinion or flacid analysis of appraisal, was enough to keep it from dying silently as the stream of my thoughts shifted away from it, leaving the fields barren and dry.

But these things never truly die, do they? No, they live on, deep inside, and flower again at the next rain. I don't know exactly what this "next rain" was: maybe it was that peculiar loneliness what comes with being abroad, or maybe it was the weather, the constant cloud cover, that brought me to it again. Whatever it was, I fell to myself and started in on this newest crusade. My first juice was a carton of Ananassaft (pineapple juice). It wasn't bad, thick and eerily reminiscent of Jolly Ranchers, but not bad. Its cloudy color and viscosity brought to mind the gelatine powder I had to mix into my grandfathers orange juice when he was staying with us over the summer, but I rationalised every thick swallow with glowing and reverent thoughts on my increased vitamine C intake. All in all, it wasn't that bad for 60 cents, but a bit disappointing.

My next go-round was with Apfelsine (orange). It's a standard and needs to be tried at some point, if only to say you've done it. And this is scientific, remember, so you have to have a control group. Always think the Scientific Method. Always. As it turns out, it was sub-par: the juice was sour (there has to be just a bit more sugar in my orange juice if I'm actually going to enjoy it), and there was pulp. I don't like pulp. Actually, I don't like solids in my liquids. I'm a purist in this sense, a believer in the Oneness of liquids . The only solid I allow in my drinks is the occasional ice cube, but I've even come to trying to avoid those, since melted ice can make your drinks taste funny, like the fumes from a Windex bottle. Again, the thoughts of vitamine intake kept me going to the end of the carton, but like the pineapple juice, it fell slightly below the mark.

Which brings us to the multi-vitamine juice. It's good, very good, in fact, but I can't drink. I just can't stand the after taste, those few seconds after you swallow and the distinct taste of the artichoke extracts slide across the back of your toungue. I don't know whose bright idea it was to put extracts of artichoke in the juice, or what purpose it was supposed to serve, but it's disgusting. Like my adversion to solids in my juice, I also, strangely enough, don't enjoy drinking juice that tastes like a cold anti pasta plate at an Italian restaurant. If I want to eat pickles or artichokes, I'll eat pickles or artichoke, but only that: eat. Any other mode of consumption is wrong and should be done away with, like laugh tracks, reality TV and the Electoral College. And I have to admit that the experience shocked me (I very rarely faced with abominaton), but it has not wounded me, it has not stopped me. For though more timid than before, my arbitrary obsession goes on. I have much to learn and a reader(ship) to please! Onward to grape fruit, apple and juices unknown! Forward, in the name of progress!

Friday, November 23, 2007

I just ate a giant Bockwurst with three small Bratwürste on top. No, I don't think you understand: the Bratwursts were ON TOP of the Bockwurst. Something like that shouldn't exist, but it does. The Germans have done it. Things like that remind me that I really do love this country....I just forget it sometimes.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Is it wrong that I take out my visa just to look at it? They're a bit anticlimatic, these two squares of stamped paper with a hideous picture of your's truly attached, but I can't help but feeling a profound sense of accomplishment everytime I flip over the page. I look at it the way a bull fighter might look at the ragged dimple in his thigh, or a boxer his cauliflowered ears: it was damn unpleasant getting them, but by God I earned it. I "erkämpft" it, as the Germans would say, and every second spent looking at that nondescript, yet disturbingly official set of cards, I am reminded of the storm of shit and insanity I had to wade through to get it.

I would never claim that German bureacracy is the worst, or even the most annoying, in the world (Southeast Asia possesses, as I understand it, a unique capacity for offical ineptitude), but it does operate in an environment of redundancy and desk chair megalomania that borders on the absurd, frequently tipping over the edge into the abyss of fantasy. You would think, for instance, that in a country in which cash is still king, in which almost all official documents have to be paid for in cash, that they would have an ATM machine either in the building, or in the immediate vicinity. You could think that, but you'd be wrong. No, the international student who has to pay € 50,00 cash for his visa must, if he, say, only has € 46,00 in his pocket, walk all the way back to the U-Bahn station and look for an ATM in the wall of a hospital. Yes, that's right: the closest ATM to the wonderfully named "Ausländerbehörde" and office of "Ordnungsangelegenheiten" ("Foreigner Office" and "Matters of Order") is twenty minutes away and tucked in a niche beside the gate to a hospital. I of course didn't know that it was sqeezed into a gated hole in the side of the hospital, because I didn't know where the hospital was. All I knew was that it was "behind the U-Bahn." Enter two and a half hours of frustration.

I should have known this wasn't going to be easy as soon as I got those directions, I should have seen through them and into that glaring spacial flaw that makes them impossible to follow, but I did not. Instead, I took them at face value and entered a foul place where laughter has no sound and babys' tears flow upward. You see, the problem is mainly this: there is no "behind the U-Bahn," or not at least in any clear sense. An U-Bahn (Untergrundbahn) station is set up much like a potato, with four to fives feelers branching off the central station underground and breaking the surface of the street at regular intervals, giving you, you guessed it, multiple entrances. This all makes enterering the U-Bahn pretty convenient, but it also systematically lays waste to any petty human concepts of space or matter you might have. It's something you never notice normally, this bastard of a building (you even start to think of it as something normal), until someone tells you to look behind it. For then, and only then, do you realize that there is no "behind," no "in front," there is just "is." An U-Bahn station exists like no other building I have ever seen, in its own space and time, where directions and orientation depend almost completely on perspective or line of sight.

But I took it like a man and walked around it aimlessly for twenty minutes, cursing this country and its people, until I decided that I should probably go back and tell the guy in the visa department that I might "be awhile." So, I walk back to the Ausländerbehörde, into the room where a balding little bureacrat sits hunching in front of a computer for hours on end, and tell him, the man who holds my legal residency in this pink little hands, that I can't find the ATM machine. He looks up from his computer, where I suspect he was fighting his way through a particularly difficult level of Mine Sweeper, sighs with that mixture of parental concern and spoiled distain that only Germans seem to be able to summon, and says: "It's behind the U-Bahn, in the hospital." End of conversation. Want to ask a second question? Sorry, not allowed. I had be told where the ATM machine is, and if I can't find it, I'm an idiot.

You see, there is prevailing assumption here, especially when dealing with people entrusted with petty responsibilities and powers, that everyone knows where everything is and how it works. "It's always been there," they seem to say through a wrinkled nose or rolling eyes. "It's THE hospital in Wedding. How don't you know that?" In fact, come to think of it, that's how most matters of order and procedure are handled: with an unshakable belief in your responsibility to know and understand everything. A moment of confusion, of hesitation, or God forbid, transgression reveals your inherit stupidity, earning you a stern talking-to, or at least a dispassionate snort. Having been baptized in the waters of teutonic distain, I walked back to the U-Bahn and, yes, walked around aimlessly looking for the hospital. And I know what you're thinking, so I don't want to hear it: "But Brandon, isn't there a sign on the hospital?" No, because that would be reasonable. More than that, it would mean that you assume that someone doesn't know where they're going, that that's OK, and we've already established that it isn't. Please, keep up.

Well, by this time, I legs were really starting to hurt, having walked several miles and taken two hours to do what should have taken no more that a half an hour, I start asking anyone on the street I can get my claws into where the hospital is. The first guy says it's straight ahead on the right, so I go there. It's a school. Nicely played, my man, nicely played. I walk up to another man, balding, chubby and enthralled by the picture of workmen cutting down a nearby tree, and ask again. "Excuse me," I say, "is this the hospital?" He looks away from his scene of tree carnage, smiles, points across the street, and says only the way a true Berliner can:

"Nee, det is de Krankenhaus."

(I submit the equivalent Standard German sentence for comparison):

"Nein, das ist das Krankenhaus."

I walk across the street to the high white building with elegant cupolas, wide granite arches and wrought iron gates, to what is indeed the hospital, and notice a sign in front of it's left wing, a sign that reads: "hotel."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I don't usually post headlines from the news here because it's, well, kind of lame. I mean, I assume that most of the people who visit this humble little page can read, and therefore possess the facalties needed to get something out of a newspaper or ticker tape at the bottem of a football game, so posting articles seems kind of redundant, like spoon feeding. If you want that, go to CNN. But, as the world would have it, I saw today the most attractive and irresistable headline I have ever seen.

It reads: "Toys linked to date-rape drug recalled"

Now, I ask you: how could you NOT read that. I certainly couldn't resist. There's just something about the John Watersesque combination of the words "toys" and "date rape" that keeps me turning the page, if only to find out exactly how toys and date rape connect that doesn't involve a 35 mm camera and a smokey basement. Well, appartently the beads from this certain toy, the now defaced toy of the year, contains a chemical that "converts into a powerful 'date rape' drug when ingested." I, like you, was surprised to find that the chemical used by basement-dwelling frat boys to warm their lonely nights with a blanket of drug induced hedonism had multiple uses. Who, I ask, looks at a chemical just a few changes away from a date rape cocktail and says "hey, we could make toys out of that?" A Chinese toy company.

Yes, that's right, the country that has given the mouldering remains of America's Robber Barons something to chortle over has stuck a chord of debauched Capitalism that Upton Sinclair could only dream of. Standing up to your ankles in cows' blood or having your feet burned off in vats of pickling solution? Please, that is so last century. Chemicals are the wave of the future, man. Shit or get off the pot. The trail that began with forcing children into coal mines and indebting factory workers at the company store has surpassed poising rivers with mercury and lead, or even desolving your retirement pension in the time it takes to regret eating all that Chicken Vindaloo. No, now it uses your body's chemical processes against you, changing the toys you buy your children into Chad Q. Peadhead's idea of a bitching mixer party.

I was disinclined to believe it, but this latest news leads me to believe that American has, indeed, lost it's leadership place in the world. It used to be, that when you thought of exploitative economic practices inflicted on a public that had little or no recourse against them, no one could rival Uncle Sam. Now, it seems, those days are gone. The mantel has passed to another, far more skillful student. Soon it will be their rivers that burn with an unnatural chemical brightness, and we, forgotten and bereft of our crown, will look eastward in envy.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

So Dumbledore is gay. Am I stupid for NOT seeing this coming and for thinking it stupid and / or random? Don't get me wrong, I don't really care that JK Rowling revealed during a reading that Dumbledore is gay: it would be a fantastic character developement tool, if it made sense, but it doesn't. There is nothing in the books that even remotely points to that. Yeah, OK, Dumbledore has no close relationships with women and a troubled past, but what does that mean? That describes about 2/3 of all the Dungeons and Dragon players in the United States, not to mention about a good third all Harry Potter characters. It could mean anything: he was a serial killer, suffered from PTSD, or harbored, as was my apparently ignorant assumption, a monkish disinterest in such things. Personally, I would expect a person who had looking into the dark heart of evil on several occasions to be a little emotionally aloof, but then again, maybe that's just me.

And while we're at it, I would like to point out that Sirius was never mentioned as having had a female interest (he doesn't seem to care, as a matter of fact). I personally would argue that his love for James Potter is a bit odd. And McGonagall, the spensterly teacher, was thoroughly sexless as far as I can tell. Is he gay, is she a lesbian? No, they're just partially fleshed out characters in what is increasing becoming a hodge-podge universe. OK, well, more than it already was.

Forgot to write something in the book, some piece of vital information or character trait that fundimentally affects the characters actions or thoughts, like, say, sexual orientation? Don't worry, poor writing and a loss of narrative thread mean nothing when you can just SAY it in an interview and it becomes part of the canon! Hell, if I had known that's how writing works, I would have gotten a lot better grades on my papers in undergrad.

Speaking of which: Heather, remember my senior capstone paper, how it kind of lost itself in the middle with little concrete evidence to back up my central thesis? Well, I didn't actually WRITE IT DOWN, but I obliquely implied it. Or at least that's what I'm saying now, so you should give me a better grade.

Wow. That felt good. Man, thanks, JK Rowling! Without you, I would never have known how make up for my own inability to adequately express my ideas in writing! Now I don't have to worry about whether I efficiently build upon my ideas on the page so that others grap them: I can just say things after the fact and pretend that's what I had in mind all along.

So you should all keep this in mind the next time you read one of my posts and think: "man, that sucked," because there's most likely an entire paragraph that I just didn't bother to write down, but would have made it a lot better, had you know about it at the time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It has happened. Walking back from the S-Bahn last night around 10.30, I saw, waddling out from between the bushes along the road, a WILD PIG! And let me tell you, this was no little porker, but a big hairy bastard with a long snout, beady little eyes, and freakishly tiny feet. I was a little freaked out, to be honest, since I had heard so many stories about how aggressive wild pigs can be, and the fear of being gored and the embarrassment of having to explain that to the doctor sent to spin my knee back around kept me at a healthy distance.

That said, I was really excited; it's not every day that you get to see a wild pig walking around a soccer field looking for old potato scraps. And this also means that I have seen, within the last year, whales and a wild pig! I can now happily move out of my dorm, for I have now see all that Eichkamp has to offer.