Sunday, January 25, 2009
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
This just in!....
This will be a brief post but I love it when things come full circle. A few months back, I wrote about a conservative talk show host's embarrassing performance on Hardball. You can jump back to the post and give it a quick look-see (recommended). The title is "One really, really stupid conservative for starters".
For those of you who don't wish to head back in time (2008 was pretty rough), the link below will make you realize what I had long suspected about successful punditry...that all it takes is the complete abandonment of logic, intelligent discourse, and respect for your opponent to become a media sensation! We only have 6 minutes for a segment on "xxxxx" (enter any deep, complex problem facing humanity), so let's just shout about it! It only proves that "news" has become entertainment. Folks my age laughed our asses off at Saturday Night Live's "Point/Counterpoint" with Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtain because it mocked the "equal time" doctrine that was destroyed by Reagan during the 80's, giving birth to the horror we now see on "news" shows. When the satire of 30 years ago becomes tame, we truly are in some brave new world; with such people in it. Enjoy the clips!!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Winter this year...kind of like Georgia but with better beer!
Last year (below) and this year (left) Brrrr!
Now that the weather has turned, it has become a smoking platform. I force the window inward; no small feat as it has no handle, and it is just wide enough for me to lean out and view a small part of my neighborhood while I have a smoke. Now, cigarettes can and will do any number of monumentally bad things to a person. But in the right frame of mind, and at the right time of day, they become something both stimulating and relaxing.
If I look to the left I can see “Big Pink”, Portland’s tallest building and so named because of the colored stone used to clothe it’s steel frame. To be honest, I can’t see the whole thing, just the top few floors and, the red aircraft warning lights at night. The interesting thing about the view is how it is framed: The building is perfectly situated between an overgrown stand of cypress and one of Portland’s faux Victorian-style houses. I’m always amazed at how Big Pink just seems to fit so perfectly between them, blinking away and hinting at the proximity of downtown.
This last week has been good for leaning out my window and watching the world. Snow, always a brief visitor here, has taken up residence in quantities I have never seen in Stumptown. It’s fun to watch it pile up, especially near Christmas time. Whenever I see snow fall, I head out into the storm. Urban snow quiets the city, muting the traffic and creating a cocoon that I find to be rather comforting. I loved it in Georgia…until I realized that I had to head outside to go potty. That definitely took some of the bloom off the rose; as it were.
Saturday was a downright blizzard that managed to occur less than 24 hours before I was to fly home to my family in Ohio. The airport shut, and with no flights to Cleveland leaving for over a week (at least on my carrier), my mind turned to the lovely, looming vocational disaster that had come to my attention on Friday evening.
Turns out my school is broke and the board of directors is looking to make some cuts. Could be 15%, probably 20% coming off all staff salaries. Another option is to close the school outright, allowing the kids to find new schools and get settled in new environments. Either option is pretty much a death blow to many on the staff. And, if you haven’t read the papers lately, there seems to be something called a “recession” going on which tends to hamper the efforts of many opportunistic job seekers. The board meeting that was to take place last night was postponed; so we will not know our fate until next Monday.
So, as you can see, there are some distressing similarities comparing last winter with the upcoming holiday this year. I find myself cold, alone and far from those I love, my teaching position is once again tenuous through no fault of my own, and the future still fails to have any discernable focus. I know there are plenty of folks that are in the same situation as me this year, and I am also quite sure that, like me, there are those that feel as if their life’s CD player is stuck on repeating the worst song on the album. I also know this: we’ll all keep trying to jostle that damn thing onto the next track but we’re also pretty fucking sick of it and we really would like to catch a break.
May peace, health and happiness surround you all in the coming year,
Sunday, August 24, 2008
ჩემი გული არის საკარტველოში! (my heart is in Georgia)
It’s been several weeks since my last entry, which would usually signify nothing of consequence has occurred. Such a supposition could not be further from the truth. My life has been full of late. Full of elation. Full of pain. Full of work. Full of confusion. And, full of peace. How could all of these sensations inhabit my mind and soul simultaneously, eschewing the standard, linear, “good-day bad-day” routine that seems to make up our lives?
To that end, I lack a complete answer, but recent events have gotten me to thinking (not that much of a stretch for those of you who know me well), about the “whys?” of life. Awhile back, I had become quite troubled. Teaching work continued to elude me and my job of driving a cab had become a grind; something that I began to hate on a visceral level. It tainted my life…one of those jobs that exhausts you in all ways, even though you really don’t DO anything. I began to think that leaving Georgia had been a mistake.
When I left the Peace Corps, I had been sure that I had made the right decision. But as spring became summer, I found myself dissatisfied with my choice. I missed my friends (both Georgian and American), the wacky, yet endearing nature of Georgian culture, and yes, I even missed khatchapuri! I was trying to make sense out of something that hadn’t been played out….kind of like reviewing a book after reading only three chapters. So what can one do when impatience arises, served with a side dish of frustration (all you care to eat!)?
Well, like any good over-educated, under-employed Caucasian lad, I made the only “logical” choice: more school. Sensing the universe had pushed me, somewhat unwillingly, away from my first, best destiny (teaching), I dutifully corralled my transcripts and applied to the College of Urban Affairs (sustainability, planning, and the like) with visions of helping “fix what’s broke”. It’s amazing that no matter how jaded we become, the thought of learning a new skill can fill us with the idealism that permeated our youthful 20’s. Although it is somewhat muted these days, it was nice to know it still exists.
Then, strangely, things began to happen. Out of the blue, a school I had interviewed with back in May called and asked me to come in for a second interview. I prepared a mock lecture, went in and did the only dance I can pull off…shooting my mouth off for 40 minutes and tying all of it up into a nice, neat, educational bow. Yes, folks my lectures do indeed have at least one thing in common with an old episode of “Full House”: there is a lesson at the end (perhaps I should write for television?) I waited, cautiously optimistic, for days. One day, I came home and found an email in my box from the school. My heart sank…I mean, no one offers you a job via email, do they? Well, some folks do and I got that job.
Now, when I started at my last school, elation and focus were derailed by the death of my favorite dog and best friend Newman, who died very unexpectedly during the first week of staff meetings. This time I had total focus, grateful for this chance I had been given after I had depressingly written off my chances of teaching this coming school year. And then, three days before I was to begin teaching (we start early at my school), I heard it on the BBC news: Georgia and Russia were in a shooting war.
I never in a million years would have thought I would see my little Georgian home of Senaki in the news, but yes, Russians had bombed my town and 2 days later would invade and occupy it. My PC friends were evacuating to Armenia and many calling cards were expended. I called Senaki, and managed to get through and talk with my host family, who thankfully were all safe. In one of those strange moments in life, where one can find humor in tragedy, I recall the conversation I had with my old boss, Gia.
When he answered and found out it was me, the first minutes of the conversation were all about how much they missed me and hoped I was doing well. Gia talks faster than I do, and I couldn’t get a word in as I struggled to pick out key Georgian words from his questions (he speaks no English). How are you? Where are you? How is your family? All these things you would never think would emanate from a man whose town and family were just bombed by Russian jets.
Finally, after I answered all his queries in my shaky Georgian, there was a pause on the line. And then…”Errrr…Joni, Senakshi Problem!!” (John, in Senaki there is a problem”). Georgians are normally very dramatic people. Every aspect of life, no matter how mundane, can take on epic proportions when told by a Georgian. I found it so very ironic that such a succinct and matter-of-fact declaration would refer to war. I mean, Gia is a man that talks with such passion about broccoli, for instance, that you would think war would be the end all be all. But it was not that way. I am not ashamed that it made me chuckle a bit because Gia knows I miss and worry about them. He knows what side I’m on. As I said my goodbyes, I knew that something more was needed. And in some strange flash, I managed to put together a sentence in Georgian that, for once, came from inside me rather than a dictionary. “Gia, ekhla, chemi guli aris kartuli” გია, ეხლა, ჩემი გული არის კარტული“ (Gia, now, my heart is Georgian).
So now I know that PC has closed up shop in Georgia. Had I stayed, I would be on my way home now. Too late for any teaching job. Too late for any university studies. Too late to have met new friends. Too late to have found my cozy Georgian-esque” “bina” (apartment) with no window screens, sporadic hot water, and a tiny gas petchi.
But because I came home early, I have been a source of information about this terrible conflict to people who never would have seen it differently than any other “minor” war. A far away country most had never heard of, fighting over things that most Americans can’t understand. I, having lived in this country, have been able to put a human face on the conflict for my friends and students while it was happening. And for that I think there is a reason. I won’t say that all is perfect in my life…far from it to be sure. I am still trying to find out what my role is in all this (if any) but at least there is finally a bit of focus.
Strangely, I miss Georgia more than ever now. And, even more oddly, it seems a calm has spread over my once chaotic and rudder-less life. The days fly by at work…10 hours one day, 12 the next. So much to do, but not in the overwhelming sense of that first week of meetings and war. Now, there are classes here and occupation there. But Georgia is never far from the front of my mind. So strange to see Russian troops in Gori’s Stalin Square…from the pictures I can see the ATM where I would get money, the street where just 100 yards south, lies the internet café where I would upload postings to you all, and the Intotourist Hotel where we PCV‘s would gather and become too loud and too drunk from time to time (OK, most of the time). In Poti where me, Thais, and her host sister Sopo would eat khinkali and drink never-cold-enough Georgian beer, there are now Russian armored vehicles. In Senaki, where Zuriko and I would play nardi, eat cheese and m’chade, and drink homemade wine, there is now a bombed town and razed army base. I left Georgia, in part due to my frustration that they weren’t changing fast enough. Now I am heartbroken because Georgia has changed so very much since I left.
Saturday, July 05, 2008
A time to think about stuff..and Ny-quil helps a bunch!
All was well until my sinuses slammed shut and I realized that going to hear music tonight was NOT going to happen. Music and memory. Tonight is one of those nights where I am listening to a mix CD that I made for someone else. While the songs have a certain relevance to the person I gave it to, it is, upon further listening, a very selfish mix. All of these songs, save one or two, have vivid memories of my life attached to them.
Tonight is a wonderful summer evening. I mean, it’s fucking perfect! I went out and about and had a good day, running into a few acquaintances and meeting up with my friend Tamara for a couple of beers. But as twilight turned to night and I relax alone at home (all the while gorging myself on zinc lozenges), I placed this CD on the player. I think part of it is that I wish I could miracle the friends with whom I experienced this music here to my empty living room because it IS a perfect night (with the minor exception of my stuffy nose and excessive kleenex use). And that is what these songs are to me; perfection. Not musically of course (although some come close), but perfection in the sense that these songs remind you of a time of total peace and happiness.
Now, I know what you are thinking: John’s getting older and waxing nostalgic about his youth. To an extent this is true (time IS linear as far as we know), but these particular songs are special in the fact that the people and incidents I associate them with are very distinct and not regulated to my frequently misspent youth. It’s not like listening to a Springsteen record and remembering when you were young and pissed off at the system. It’s not like hearing Def Leppard and remembering, vaguely, every high school party you went to, and it’s not like remembering that Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” was playing when you saw the Challenger shuttle blow up.
No, associations regarding these songs are as specific to me as they are seemingly random to the uninformed listener. If my best friend Sam were to hear “Copperline” by James Taylor while having a beer with me, he would never know that I am magically transported to a crab feast in Norfolk, Virginia in my dear friend Katie’s backyard. Regardless of how I relate the story to him, there is no way that the song will convey the salty smell of the Elizabeth River or slimy hands covered in Old Bay that continue to pick away for the crab’s succulent back fin. I’ll never be able to listen to Dylan‘s “You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go” without thinking of that moment in time with Sue, just as hearing “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley will make me start laughing and think of Paul, Johanna, and Eric half a world away.
I hear “Bellbottom Blues” by Clapton but all I see is a very drunk Genevieve still managing to pull it off wonderfully (a much better voice than Clapton…although her guitar playing left something to be desired). Robin Ford’s “Misdirected Blues” will remind me of a long lost friend and fellow waiter Rich Wylie, when we snuck into the Birchmere and caught the show. The 7th Inning stretch is never the same after hearing Joel and Sam play “Take me out to the Ballgame” on a warm spring morning on Joel’s porch in Winston-Salem.
As I am alone this evening, some of these memories are, thankfully, intensely personal. Some of the songs remind me of lonely times in my life where a certain song just fit my mood, the day, or the moment (not in a bad way). To try and explain such things as they relate to me would be an exercise in futility but I am sure that anyone who reads this is well aware of the power of music in their lives. Keep in mind friends, that these memories are chaste and cognizant. There’s no self-indulgent (or self-loathing depending on your perspective) “our song” bullshit or drunken/stoned/tripping “that one Dead Show where I totally hooked up with ****** during “Stella Blue” crap. When I hear a certain tune, it brings me to a place not of dreaming but of actually remembering every sensory impulse that happened during that episode.
In a way, this IS nostalgic, as often, we can’t remember anything more about those times in question except that singular feeling of perfection. And, in all honesty, what’s really wrong with that? What about the rest of the crab feast? What about the rest of my time in Georgia? What ever happened to Genny? Is Joel still saving the world (or at least the odd heart patient); one stent at a time? As far as those temporal questions go, who really gives a shit? (For example, I know that hearing “Copperline” does not erase fights Katie and I have had, or that we lost contact with one another for 6 years). I really just want Katie, Sam, Joel, Johanna, Paulie, Eric, Genny, Richard, and Sue in my living room right now. Surely, we’d have a few beers, catch up, laugh our asses off, play and sing some tunes. I’m sure I would most likely find another song during the course of that evening, that would, like original packaging on any vintage action figure, preserve that perfect place in time. At least in my warped, convoluted mind.
Friday, June 27, 2008
How We Roll in Stumptown (Lebowski style!)
How we roll...with the tumbling tumbleweed!
Ohhh, Nice Marmot!
"The ringer can not look empty, Dude"
"Larry,this is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!!"
Group photo...note the marquis(below)
Much noise has been made of Portland’s livability, it’s long dark winters, glorious beer, and the glowing reviews of life in Stumptown in the pages of high-brow travel and outdoor magazines. Consequently, all this press has resulted in a huge influx of migrants (myself included….no self righteousness here) and certain character aspects of the city have changed. Some of these changes are good. Some are bad. While Portland maintains its very liberal outlook on life, I have realized that there are rich liberals and poor liberals and each group has a distinctively different view of the world.
While prices have gone up everywhere, the place I call home, the inner Southeast, has tenaciously hung on to its proletarian roots (in isolated enclaves). You just have to look a bit deeper for them. This brings us to one of Portland’s most wonderful and misunderstood subcultures of which I now find myself among. Bicycles. Yes, Bicycles.
Now most folks think about riding a bike as either a recreational or competitive event. Something for sunny Saturdays or that odd friend of yours who gets totally stoked for Tour de France coverage. True, some of you may know those who cycle daily for health, environmental, or with today’s gas prices, economic reasons. But many in Portland have taken cycling to a new, bizarre level. And as I cycle more and more, I find myself wading deeper into a way of life that has brought new friends and great experiences. I give you “Pedalpalooza”!!!
Pedalpalooza is a two week event that involves everything bike and bike related. Bike polo, bike jousting, bike repair, synchronized bike teams, bike fairs, zoo bombing, a naked bike ride (stop shuddering! I did not participate), free coffee and doughnuts for bike commuters, and my favorite events: theme rides. The gist is this: get a bunch of cyclists together and take over a small part of the streets for a time, throw back a few, and have some fun. Not as a protest (ok maybe a little) but as a way to develop visibility for cycling. While a car may look upon one cyclist as an annoyance, when there are 60 laughing, pedaling riders headed down the street, well, you’re just going to have to deal!
Last night was the “Dude Ride”. A 15-mile homage to one of my favorite movies of all time, “The Big Lebowski”. At various stops we re-enacted scenes from the movie (with audio), and rode the streets of Southeast Portland with a soundtrack of Credence Clearwater Revival. There were many bath-robes, a Jesus (with whom nobody fucks), a couple of Maudes (“vagina“), a smattering of Nihilists (we wants the money Lebowski!), and yes, copious amounts of white Russians. I stuck to beer as I have vowed never to touch vodka again after my time in Georgia (once you’ve had Gomi, you never go back!).
The evening culminated with the scattering of Donnie’s “ashes” at Mount Tabor and then a ride down to a bowing alley where we received cheap bowing and free shoe rental. And then, we bowled. I must say that for not having picked up a bowling ball for over three years I did pretty well (155 and 128). After 5 hours, tons of laughs, and only $23 dollars spent, I turned on my rolling Christmas tree of a bike and pedaled home. Tonight I find myself in a quandary: do I ride with our newly elected mayor (a big cyclist himself) or go to the bike in movie? Ahhhh such decisions.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
A long strange year
Back when I started this silly exercise of inflated self-importance (the blog...), the whole point was to regale my friends, family, and whoever else stumbled upon this curious URL, with tales of saving/changing the world one supra at a time. But, as all of you know, things went awry and I am now back in a land of indoor plumbing, mircrobrews, a less corrupt government, and the inability to get a girlfriend (ok, some things really ARE universal!).
But, today is June 15th. One year ago, myself and 40-odd compatriots were somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on our way to Georgia by way of Munich. The initial prognosis was favorable as I was seated next to a beautiful French woman who was on her way back home. We talked a bit, I apologized for many of my countrymen and our government, we drank some wine, and just to strengthen ties with our oldest ally, I whipped out my laptop and we watched The Big Lebowski with French subtitles.
After the longest fucking day(s) of travel, we were in Georgia. Our (the G7's) adventures had begun. We slogged and sweated our way through training and off to our permenent sites. Some of us are back home now. Most are still playing Sisyphus to the Georgian boulder. The G6's will be heading back home very soon and the G8's are, as I write, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on their way to Georgia (full of idealistic hubris no doubt).
I've done a lot of soul searching since I've been back and have wondered what my experience in the PC had brought me. Vocationally...nothing. I was an employed teacher before and now I'm an unemployed teacher eyeing more university studies. Linguistically....the ability to cuss at people in a language they have never even heard and a budding friendship with an American singer of Georgian hymns named..I'm not making this up: Tamara. Also, people seem to love to see their name written in the Georgian script. Spiritually....high highs and low, low lows. Still seeking balance. Emtionally...again a roller coaster. My current world view...we're all pretty much fucked unless we stop giving 95% to the top 5%...there's way too much inequity. Friendship: 4 great ones in my group, some decent ones in the others, and the deepening of existing ones back here in the states.
To the G8 whose blog told of her getting lost in Philly, hailing her first cab (ever), and being afraid to walk the streets.....Sweetie, you are in for a treat when you get to Georgia!
There are people I miss in Georgia. And although I am glad to be back here in good old Stumptown, this 1 year anniversary has me kind of wishing that I was sitting at Amiran's table, drinking bad wine and worse tcha-tcha, listening to him play the guitar and sing, eating a kilo of fresh cherries, laughing our asses off despite (or because of) a common 50+ word vocabulary. And of course...sitting on the balcony with a cup of tea and a smoke, reveling in the twilight, my prayer flags flapping in the summer breeze as random gunshots from village supras punctuate the quiet evening life of Bebnisi in the Republic of Georgia.
Godspeed G8's. G7's; hang tough and remember to be extra bitter. G6's; Welcome Home. Maria (class by herself); can't wait to dance to Raspberry Beret with you in the jungle this winter (if you don't know, don't ask!)!