Sunday, August 10, 2014


This morning I spoke at a church. It was the third one in the past month, and I'm somewhat surprised how comfortable it's started to feel.

Not that I ever disliked public speaking (on the contrary, I really kind of enjoy it––it's talking to people that I struggle with––not at them), it's just public speaking about myself that gets me. There's something about talking about myself with sureness that's really difficult. "Wait!" you say, "You blog somewhat regularly, and blogging is by definition about you, isn't it?" Well, yes, and no. When I blog I talk about things I've experienced, things I've done, and, when I do rarely broach the subjects of who I actually am and what I believe about my life and what I want, I can do it with complete honesty about that fact that I'm really quite unsure that I'm giving the correct narrative of those things.

The kind of speaking I've been doing for the past few months just doesn't have room for any unsureness. So I speak with sureness. About myself. And being sure of myself is deeply dishonest.

I'm not saying I have serious doubts about anything that people would normally be concerned about, or that I'm intentionally misleading anyone about anything. It's just whenever I honestly think about my life, there are so many competing narratives that I trip over them. They chase each others' tales and weave in and out of their neighbors and sometimes completely contradict one another. They hide behind themselves so I can never see them all at once and swirl around on all sides so no matter how wide a lens I use I can never see the whole structure at the same time. I couldn't ever say which was right unless I could see them all, and I can never see them all because I'm always living one of them.

How can you say for sure what the Milky Way looks like when you're part of it? How can I look people in the eye and tell them who I am when I am me?

It's disturbing, but somehow I've become comfortable with it.

And I'm not sure what I think of that.

Monday, August 04, 2014

How to fix a high-end grill in three steps or less

It is the very height of outdoor barbecue season. Unfortunately, the gas grill that my parents left behind at the house––a very nice grill at that––is not currently working. Something to do with it being hardwired into the central propane system and the central propane system being empty.

So today, I went to work to fix it, employing what locally might be referred to as the Bungarian method. The results were so staggeringly successful that I feel I owe it to society to make it public knowledge.

Step 1: Inspect grill

Step 2: Remove non-functioning components

Step 3: Carry on as usual with functioning components

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ode to Nasal Decongestants

I'm awfully congested today.

I only take an over-the-counter nasal decongestant about once every three years. And that's probably a good thing, because whenever I do I'm always like: "You complete me, Love."

It's just something about it. Like what I'm always hoping coffee will do but never quite does. I'm sure it will probably be illegal in a couple years, though. You know, that's how cocaine was introduced, actually. It was (and is) a nasal decongestant.

But then they outlawed it in the 50s and then cracked down on it in the 70s and 80s, so instead everyone started using meth in the 90s (it was invented in the 40s––but nobody wanted it because they could have coke instead). And then in the 2000s they cracked down on the precursor to methamphetamine, pseudophedrine, which is over-the-counter nasal decongestant.

That's why when you have a sniffle these days you need give them your ID so they can photocopy it and then make you sign it and date it in blood and then wait fifteen minutes for them to fax it to a federal DEA fortress somewhere while everyone at the pharmacy stands there and looks at you like you just stole and hawked their neighbor's daughter's training wheels to get money to buy your Advil Cold and Sinus. 

That's also why I'm afraid it will be completely illegal in a few years. So then, when I'm walking around feeling like I have a hiking sock hanging half out my sinuses, I can comfort myself that it's for the greater good, because there will be no more of the demon meth.

But it's all for naught, because the kids are already on bath salts and sprinting around killing people and eating their entrails. Because they took away meth, which is because they took away cocaine, which was an excellent nasal decongestant in its day.

FDR was actually a fan, I hear. He had terrible sinus problems.

So I would attempt stock-piling Advil Cold and Sinus against the coming prohibition. The problem is, just owning more than enough to get you through one cold is actually illegal now. And because I signed and dated those photocopies of my ID, they know.

They know.

They know!



*Andrew jumps through open second story window and takes off sprinting––oblivious to a sprained ankle––and vaults over a moving car and body slams two unsuspecting Jehovah's Witnesses to the ground while screaming something about Orcs before making a bee line for the nearest forest where he collapses and wakes up 19 hours later, facedown with pine needles stuck to the dried mucus on his face. 

It's how every story ends, kids. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

On Eagles Wings & Gimpy Knees

This morning I went out to get the mail and saw this big boy take off over the windrows across the road from my house.

My knee has been in a bad way for the past week, and I've been trying to avoid running and un-level ground. Two minutes later though––after a frantic search for my 200mm lens, I was dragging my uncooperative leg as fast as I could go across the treacherous plow-furrowed and woodchuck riddled surface of the field.

I caught up with our friend in one of the deciduous trees the lines the border of my grandparents' pine forest. I wasn't able to get as close as I'd hoped, but I was able to get a few shots off before he tired of the paparazzi:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pennsylvania & New York As They Ought To Be

This evening I read that the proposal to subdivide California into six separate states has apparently gained enough political traction to be considered on the state's general election ballot. I was previously unaware of the plan, but as I thought about it, my reactions were 1) I'm glad I got to drive through it while was still united, and 2) There's no way it will ever happen, and 3) That's too bad, because it really makes a lot of sense.

But why should only Californians be able to entertain ideas––however improbable––that make sense. Indeed, the West Coast is far from the only place that could benefit from some state-level territory restructuring to make theoretical maps match modern realities.

So, taking into account cultural norms, political leaning, physical geography, tax revenue, linguistic dialect, division of industry, and a variety of other factors; not to mention the simmering frustration of many of my friends in Pennsylvania, New York, New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere, I began in my mind to redraw the boundaries of the two states in what I feel to be a more equitable manner.

And I give this: Pennsylvania and New York State (and a sliver of New Jersey) as they ought to be:

Feel free to let me know what you have any suggestions, or draw your own if you think mine is completely crazy.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Like Something Should Happen

I feel strange this evening. Excited. Agitated. Like something is about to happen. Only the problem is I know nothing will happen.

I tried to study, but that seemed almost impossible. I thought about calling someone, but decided that was a bad idea. I thought about going for a run, but remembered I worked out yesterday and don't really need to burn the calories. So I made myself something to eat. Then something to drink. And then something to eat again. And I still feel like I need to go for a run, only I'm not sure if it's a wise idea now. And I still feel like something should happen.

I guess I used to feel like this a lot as a teenager. Most of the reason I started running in the first place if I remember.

Last Friday I was in Atlanta. I'd been at a conference and got dropped off at the airport a full seven hours before my departure. Maybe it was just that it was the 4th of July, or maybe it was that it was strange to be alone again, but standing in the airport I felt the same way I do now. Instead of going through security after I checked in, I turned around and went to the train station and jumped on one heading back into the city.

I didn't feel like walking around the downtown area with my bag, so instead I got on the west-bound train and jumped off at Little Five Points. There was a barbecue place there that someone had taken me to the Sunday before and I figured since I had nowhere to go and no one to meet I might as well go back there.

From the MARTA stop to the restaurant was about a half mile walk, and I ended up behind some guys about my age who kept on taking the same turns I was, to the point I started to feel uncomfortably like I was following them. I eventually just asked where they were going, and when they invited me to come I followed.

Twenty minutes later I was entering through the Emergency Exit Only door of an over-capacity establishment packed with hundreds of screaming, yellow-clad Colombians rearing for the start of the Brasil-Colombia game in the World Cup. It was packed so tight inside that trying to wriggle between people even without my duffle-bag would have been challenging, and we eventually got pushed out onto the patio––where there were a couple hundred more over-enthused Colombians, and finally over the PVC pipe barrier and onto the street.

So we went somewhere else.

And then somewhere else.

At some point we talked, and I learned that the three I was with all worked for a group that works with refugees entering the US and resettling in Atlanta. And I thought how strange it was that out of all the people I could have met in the city I met them. And when I mentioned I was going back to Beirut––hopefully this fall, it turned out one of them had lived in Cairo, and is also going back there soon. So maybe we'll run into each other someday.

At the late hour of 4PM, we began our rather unsteady journey back to the train platform. After declining an invitation to a party that evening in favor of actually getting on my flight home, they helped me transfer to the south-bound train, I breezed through security, got on another train, and made it to my gate with two hours to spare.

Drinking over-priced coffee and watching people from all over the world file past I began to feel again as if something should happen.

A very attractive Brazilian girl wearing a Brasil soccer jersey sat down in the row of chairs behind me, and I wondered what she could possibly be going to Rochester, New York, for. At any rate, in the [1 ÷ (number of seats in a McDonald Douglas MD-88)] chance that she sat next to me on the flight (poor, but it once happened on a flight from Stockholm to Munich––not with her I mean––but it happened) I remarked how serendipitous it was that all those riotous Colombians I'd been pushed onto the street by had been disappointed by the outcome of the match so that when the girl with the Brasil shirt did sit down next to me for the hour and half flight to Rochester I could congratulate her (after offering her the window seat, of course) and recount the entire scenario––which she would no doubt find hilarious and intriguing and then.... My thought was cut short by the Delta Attendant at the gate behind me that I'd completely failed to notice announcing that boarding for the connecting flight to Mobile Alabama had begun and the Brazilian girl got up and boarded that flight.

Hopes dashed, I put my ear buds in and continued to sullenly sip my overpriced coffee.

When we boarded, I thought how it was also sad––if not to a comparable degree––that I would not be getting back to Watkins Glen, New York, in time watch the fireworks with my friends, and would in fact see no fireworks at all this Independence day. To make matters worse, there was a maintenance issue and we sat on the tar for half an hour and it was completely dark by the time we taxied to the runway.

But then, as we accelerated down the runway, I looked in what I think was the direction of downtown Atlanta, and saw a firework out of the corner of my eye. We lifted off and I saw more. We climbed higher and saw more still until there were hundreds of little points of light exploding below us. It looked like the entire East Coast was trying to repel an alien invasion, and it didn't stop till we landed in Rochester. So I got my fireworks, and while there was no Brazilian girl, the middle-age woman who sat next to me turned out to be a national promotional manager for IBM and spent most of the flight––while we weren't staring out the window in silent awe––asking me questions about using YouTube as a platform for affiliate marketing, took my contact info and told me she was going to forward it to someone in their marketing department who was working on a similar program for their Enterprise computing systems. I actually highly doubt anything will come of it, but you never know.

At any rate, I felt like something should happen that day, and things happened. Maybe it's just that I wish I lived in a city. Or maybe it's that I sometimes wish I were in a different stage of life. But I still get that feeling.

Tonight I have that feeling.

Only tonight I'm pretty sure nothing will happen.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Day of the Falcon

I don't often write reviews on here, much less often of movies. Every now and then, though, one comes along that gives me a fresh perspective on something. It may be a subject I've read or watched a lot about––but always from a very objective viewpoint. What a good novel or movie does I think is give you a very human picture of a place or issue. And, for all our best efforts, we are human, so in the end, the human picture is often the right one. "[F]iction illuminating people and culture in a far more intimate manner than any guide book," is how NYT Bureau Chief Neil MacFarquhar put it when explaining why he reads a novel about any country before reporting from it.

And that is definitely what The Day of the Falcon did for me. I'm not sure if it really changed anything I think about the way things are in the Middle East today, but it makes it much easier to understand issues like "Arab identity" and the tension between progress and tradition that seem really abstract or even absurd on paper. I would recommend it based on that alone, but the fact is also: It's just a really good movie. The finest epic I've seen in quite awhile, in fact.

Awesome desert battle scenes, very nuanced relationships, and most importantly, Day of the Falcon avoids the frequent epic pit-fall of being the Arabian version of Avatar, which was the sci-fi version of The Last Samurai, which was the Japanese version of Dances with Wolves. In the first half-hour I was afraid the movie would go down that path, but then the writers surprised me by having a much deeper and more thought provoking plot.

Also, I first watched Day of the Falcon some time ago, but last time I checked, it was on Netflix, so you really have no excuse for not watching it ;)