Journals, November 2002
Saturday, November 30, 2002
I'm sorry, there's no Mr. Lang at this number
I turn 23 today. I asked my friend Betsy to tell me to what expect -- she turned 23 Thursday. She writes: "I swear I have more wrinkles, more grey hair, and a stronger desire to eat dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon then I did a few days ago. The little hill has been traversed. Enjoy your last few hours of youth. Watch that clock with DREAD, my friend. There is no way to turn it back."
Is 23 a destination or a journey? I feel like I'm still just beginning to figure out the world around me, and get into the complicated layers that make up the people I know. Not to mention myself. Nowadays, the security guard at the work greets me by saying, "Good morning, Mr. Lang." Who?
Friday, November 29, 2002
Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got
Recently, I used an ATM at the Duane Reade drug store near my office. I swiped my card, punched the button for "$40 FAST CASH," and waited while the machine dialed up. A few seconds later, the ATM spit out $60 -- three twenties. Jackpot! I had seen the realization of everyone's dream: To have an ATM screw up and put out extra dough. Of course, my $20 windfall opened a box of squirming, poisonous ethical questions. If a human bank teller accidentally gave me an extra $20, I would have an ethical obligation to return the extra money. Do I have the same obligation at an ATM? Should I try to find out who owns the machine? But then, isn't it the ATM company's responsibility to make sure its machines are in good order, especially since it charges me a convenience fee ($1)? But then, what if the next person behind me pushes the $40 button and only gets $20? Should I give that person my extra $20? Or should I give the $20 to charity, as would be the customary use for a substantial amount of found money? My dilemma quickly resolved itself when I looked at my receipt: It said $61 had been withdrawn. Shucks.
Thursday, November 28, 2002
The perfect holiday
What can I say about Thanksgiving that hasn't already been said? Of all the American holidays, this is the most noble. Whomever you see today, you can tell them "Happy Thanksgiving" and mean it unconditionally. Hey you, Happy Thanksgiving. Now go stuff your face. This is one great holiday. As for me, I'm in Maryland for the next few days.
Wednesday, November 27, 2002
We need a hero
Let's revisit two recent topics. First, I recently wrote about coincidental encounters in New York. Here's another one. My company just hired a new artist, whom I met yesterday. After talking for a few minutes, we determined that, in 1999, she lived in a house directly across the street from mine on West College Avenue in State College, Pa.
Second, you already know my high esteem for James Bond. I saw "Die Another Day" on Saturday and felt like I got my money's worth -- a 007 movie, exactly as advertised. Here's a note about the movie you might have missed. As the movie opens, Bond is captured and put in a North Korean prison. He is tortured for a long time, then released "14 months later," as the screen tells us. As James recovers, M tells him, "While you were away, the world changed." Suddenly, the Americans seem to be running the show and Mr. Bond's services are no longer needed. This sets the stage for the rest of the film. What happened here? Here's one take on it. Bond was put in prison around late summer 2001 -- before the terrorist attacks on America. Fourteen months later (ie. present day), he emerges into the post-Sept. 11 world. Why contrive this dark plot device? Simple -- If James Bond had been in service, instead of stuck in a filthy North Korean prison, the terrorist attacks wouldn't have happened. They were the sort of spectacular calamity that only Mr. Bond can thwart. I read a review that noted this connection, and I would link to it but now I can't remember where it is. There may be some similar gossip on some Bond message boards, but I don't have time search for them right now. Just something to think about.
Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002
"If you're looking for quality entertainment, leave now"
Today's journal entry comes from very special guest Tom Barnes, visiting from Blacksburg, Va.
Long time listener...first time caller. So this is my first time in New York, and man has it been a packed day of activities. Ground zero, Times Square, getting lost on the New York subway, and the highlight of the day, the Jeckyll and Hyde Club. This was a scary theme resturant a few blocks from Times Square. This place had it all, good food, and wonderful entertainment. The place is full of these animatronic busts on the wall that talk all throughout your meal. The same guy with the slightly different voices for each bust tells bad jokes that more make you groan than laugh. Tomorrow should be just as jam packed, I am looking forward to it. Check out my webpage, it should be updated again next week, when I get back to school.
Monday, November 25, 2002
No place like home
My brother and his friends, on break from Virginia Tech, are supposed to come visit today. It's great to get visitors here in New York. Mostly, nobody ever came to visit Carlisle unless I made them feel guilty.
Hmm, I haven't been posting many pictures lately. Sorry. It's tough to take pictures of the city when you work all day and it gets dark at 4:30.
Random forgotten "Wizard of Oz" quote: "Back where I come from, we have universities -- seats of great learning where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts, and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven't got. A diploma!" - Professor Marvel as The Wizard.
Monday, November 25, 2002
Oh joy! Rapture! I've got a brain!
My brother and his friends, on break from Virginia Tech, are supposed to come visit today. It's great to get visitors here in New York. Mostly, nobody ever came to visit Carlisle unless I made them feel guilty.
Hmm, I haven't been posting many pictures lately. Sorry. It's tough to take pictures of the city when you work all day and it gets dark at 4:30 p.m.
Random "Wizard of Oz" quote: "Back where I come from, we have universities -- seats of great learning where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts -- and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven't got. A diploma!" - Professor Marvel as The Wizard.
Sunday, November 24, 2002
Despite all the obvious differences, there are a lot of similarities between life in the city and life in the country. Here's one example I've noticed. In both settings, people have a habit of tossing heaps of garbage in conspicuous places. I am not talking about the sloppy pedestrian who drops a coffee cup on the sidewalk. No, I'm talking about people who dump all of their trash in places it clearly doesn't belong. In Cumberland County, Pa., many of the country residents load their garbage into their trucks and dump it in the woods -- just like Daddy and Grandpa did. There's nothing like going on a hike in the forest and passing a rank pile of rotting food and old appliances. I remember sitting through many a local government meeting at which proud rural residents would claim to be exempt from the refuse tax because they never put any trash out for pickup. Alan Jackson glorifies this charming country tradition in his song, "Drive," in which he sings about driving a truck "down a dirt strip where we'd dump trash off of Thigpen Road." Here in Brooklyn, where everybody gets trash pickup service twice a week, people still see fit to throw their garbage in the gutter or out on their yard. There's a vacant lot on the other side of my block that's piled high with random household filth. People who throw trash where it doesn't belong ought to go back to school and learn how to clean up after themselves. Harumph.
Saturday, November 23, 2002
Taking its toll
I can't prove it, but I think the 200-mile stretch of highway between Brooklyn and Baltimore costs more in tolls than any other drive in the country. I will drive this route again tomorrow on the way back from my dad's wedding (which is this afternoon). With the help of my online EZPass account, I decided to tally what I get for my money.
Total cost round trip: $29.10.
Friday, November 22, 2002
Cash and Bond
Given the power to change into anyone else, the two men I would most want to be are Johnny Cash and James Bond. I think I speak for most guys when I say this. Johnny Cash and James Bond live life the way it is meant to be lived. James Bond traipses around the globe dressed in a black tuxedo and carrying a briefcase full of gadgets. He is smart, smooth, and in control of every situation. Always in the nick of time, he's there to save the world, get the girl, sip a vodka martini, and engage in witty banter with the bad guys he's about to kill. Then there's Johnny Cash, the man in black. He is tough, God-fearing and a great story-teller. He sticks up for the little guy, even when he doesn't have to. He shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. It's not so much that these guys are the picture of cool. They are. But moreover, they have staying power. Agent 007, nowadays under the alias Pierce Brosnan, has a new movie out today -- his 20th film in 40 years. I have not seen this movie, but I imagine Mr. Bond is his usual self, driving a fast Jaguar, blowing stuff up, penetrating the evil overlord's secret lair, and having sex with Halle Berry. Corny and formulaic, you say, but what's wrong with that? Johnny Cash, meanwhile, has a new album out and continues to be one of the coolest performers in country/folk music. Keep in mind that this guy started out at the same time as Elvis. His songs are heartfelt but not sappy, high-minded but not moralizing. On his latest record, "Man Comes Around," Mr. Cash covers 1990s alt-rock songs from Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. Somehow, the 70-year-old Cash makes each song way cooler than the Gen-X rockers who recorded them first. James Bond will never die. Johnny Cash will die a legend. Either of those two options would suit me.
This weekend: In Maryland for my Dad's wedding.
Thursday, November 21, 2002
It's a mail thing
Sometime this week, I expect to pass a major milestone. Soon, I will have 400 e-mails in my inbox. "Holy smokes!" you might be saying to yourself. "Four hundred e-mails! Daryl must be one popular guy." Think again. You see, the first message in my inbox dates from August 13, 2001. I just never clean my inbox out. At this point, it's a lost cause. Lately, I've gotten lazier than usual about replying to e-mails and filing them away. So if you need to get me an urgent message, it's best to write it on a postcard and drop it in the mail.
On another subject, I need your help. I'm trying to make a compilation of Scrabble songs. These are songs with lyrics that spell out words, such as Van Morrison's "Gloria," Aretha Franklin's "Respect," John Mellencamp's "Rock in the USA," and Travis Tritt's "Trouble." If you can think of others, please post them on the message board. Or send them to me on a postcard.
Wednesday, November 20, 2002
We tell our story, at least part of it, with the things we buy. There was an old-time radio drama called "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar," in which the protagonist, a detective, opens each episode by reading his expense sheet. Johnny Dollar was always introduced as "The man with the action-packed expense account." Don't you wish you had an action-packed expense account? Alas, most of our expenses are rather dull, like those of Derek Dahlsad of Fargo, North Dakota. Derek has posted all his Wal-Mart receipts from the past six years on his web site. He recently bought shampoo, light bulbs and toilet tissue. Funny how something as ordinary as Wal-Mart can stir such passion in people. Consider that tomorrow, yes tomorrow, is the Wal-Mart Day of Action, a national protest against the world's biggest company. Pick any issue-du-jour, and Wal-Mart is fewer than six degrees of separation away from it, as part of this nebulous evil thing called "globalization." I don't mean to poke fun, but I think there are some better causes out there to fight (AIDS is one) than run-amuck capitalism. Now it's true, I'm not a small business owner, a labor union leader or a woman who's been working for years and still can't get promoted to assistant manager. And yes, I do write copy for one of Wal-Mart's competitors. But the big dopey store from the Arkansas just doesn't strike much fear in my heart. A world run by corporations! They're monitoring our brain waves! They're selling us shampoo!
Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Did you know there is no way to obtain a previous episode of most network TV shows? Sure, you can always order a tape or transcript of the news, and some popular shows become available on DVD years later. But if you want to watch -- hypothetically -- last week's installment of "The Bachelor," it simply can't be done. Not for sale at any price. Sources in the TV biz say this is just how things work. Maybe if you're someone important -- say, a television reporter or an advertiser -- you could order a copy made for you and pay a sizable fee to get it. Otherwise, once something airs once, it vanishes into the ether like drifting smoke. Given the quickly changing digital video technology right now, we'll see how long that lasts.
My apologies for the sub-par haiku yesterday. I was remiss in not linking to two fellow bloggers (there's that word again) who I saw Saturday. On her web site yesterday, Betsy provided an accurate description of a conversation we had about Dillsburg, Pa., and, um, a certain big pickle. Jeff, meanwhile, writes a lively account of the weekend in first person plural, and offers his insights into "Buffy." And while I'm sending you away, I should note that Mike has posted some kick-ass snow pictures from the ski slopes of Vail, Colorado. Where did all that snow come from? Mike made it! We now return to our regularly scheduled program.
Monday, November 18, 2002
Bad poetry corner
Today, as a change of pace, here is some haiku about my weekend.
Sunday, November 17, 2002
The frailty of the umbrella
It's a New York nor'easter. As you lean forward and stagger into pelting nails of horizontal rain, your umbrella just might seem worthless. But it isn't. It tells other people, "I knew it was going to be raining, and I remembered my umbrella. I have thought this through." Sadly, that is all the umbrella does. It is not fashionable. It is a pain to lug around. It sure doesn't keep the rain off you. But to leave without one is either a sign of absent-mindedness or an acknowledgment that nature has defeated you. And so you wrestle with a cheap (and all umbrellas are cheap) piece of nylon that catches the wind and flaps around like a bird with a broken wing. When a gust of air swells up underneath you in a canyon of buildings, you have a momentary thrill: You are Mary Poppins! But no, the umbrella just blows apart and shows its tangled wire under-workings. No need to get bent out of shape. Just reassemble the umbrella, walk, smile, and look like you know what you're doing. After all, you have thought this through. Me, I'm becoming a big supporter of the waterproof hat.
Saturday, November 16, 2002
Minneapolis on the Hudson
Mark writes from Pennsylvania to ask if I'm going to review the Target Holiday Boat in Manhattan. Of course! This floating store opened yesterday at Chelsea Piers and is supposed to stay open for the next two weeks. It's a short walk from my office, so of course we went to investigate it first thing after work. The boat sells 92 of Target's snazziest products, such as the Michael Graves Waffle Iron and the TV that looks like a kickball. More than that, the boat a stunt designed to get the trend-setting shoppers of Manhattan all abuzz about the brand. Target papered the subways with quixotic posters featuring slogans like, "Every good holiday shopper knows their headway from their aft." For all the hype, Target has no stores in Manhattan right now. This gives Target a near-mythic quality among New Yorkers, much like Krispy Kreme doughnuts had before they were available at every gas station. (Target has already rocked the suburbs, and finally opened its first store in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. I checked it out, and it gets my stamp of approval.) Back to the boat. The craft itself is a low, wide yacht with wall-to-wall windows, red Christmas lights, disco balls, and wreathes that look like the Target symbol. It's all very ship-shape. Apparently, this boat is normally rented for banquets, wedding receptions, and other fancy events. No money or merchandise changes hands on the Target boat; that's all done on the pier. An army of peppy, red-suited Target elves (er, "Team Members," excuse me) were on hand to direct us around. At least three TV news crews were there. But the crowds were so thin when we stopped by at 6 p.m. that the crew outnumbered the shoppers. There were also some kiosks set up around for shopping on the Target web site, but an elf kindly informed us they weren't working. We didn't buy anything. However, we did leave with a free Polaroid of us sitting with Santa -- who was wearing a fake beard and a red suit covered with white Target logos. As much as I like the traditional land-based Targets, the boat left me with a kind of sinking feeling. Especially seeing Santa covered with logos like he's some kind of NASCAR driver. That's a little off the mark.
(Full disclosure: The four of us who toured the boat do some work for one of Target's competitors.)
Friday, November 15, 2002
Now that I've been out of the newspaper world for a few weeks, I feel like I can start exposing some magic tricks of journalism. For starters, here are some of the code words reporters use (often unintentionally) to send secret messages. Shh, don't tell anybody who gave you this information.
It's all in good fun, folks. Reporting is a great job.
Thursday, November 14, 2002
Cell block 16
My cell phone has a self-esteem problem, and you can help. You see, my phone was way cool when I got it two summers ago. It had a clock! Sweet! But now its feeble black-and-green screen and clumsy antenna make it sooo unfashionable compared to the other phones. Plus I dropped it. Now it's held together with tape. The phone has started acting depressed, running out of batteries by nightfall if I keep it on during the day. And the "6" button has pretty much lost its motivation. Here's where you come in. I can set the screen on the phone to display a personalized message, up to 16 characters, while the phone is inactive. When I bought the phone in New Hampshire, I set it to display "Live free or die" on the screen. That was pretty cool. Recently, in a fit of anger, I changed the screen to say "I hate my phone." But I quickly got tired of seeing that message. So I need you all to think of some fun new messages to make my phone cool again. You have 16 characters. Go. When you think of something fun, post it on my message board. With a new message displayed on the screen, my phone might regain its will to live. Until then, I have a message on the display that sums up my life these last few weeks: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
Wednesday, November 13, 2002
The shirt off my back
Are you wearing underwear? What kind? I bring up the subject because I was startled recently when I bought some Hanes undershirts and discovered they no longer have tags sewn into the collar. Instead, the care instructions are stamped right on the shirt. I'm no underwear expert, but I know a good thing when I see it. This is nothing short of a stunning miracle of technology. Fellas, you know the evils of an itchy, bad, gross shirt tag. No more reaching for the scissors every time you pick up some new underwear. That's cutting-edge. I was all set to offer Hanes my services as a product spokesman for this undergarmet breakthrough, but it turns out they already have some guy named Michael Jordan to do it. Near as I can tell, this tagless feature us limited to men's undershirts. There's still nothing sexy about Hanes undershirts, but never underestimate the power of a good gimmick.
Tuesday, November 12, 2002
The company where I work just launched a line of holiday ornaments. To build some enthusiasm, the company installed a small forest of Christmas trees in the common area of the office. Ninety fir trees in all, decorated with the new ornaments, garlands and holiday lights. Before long, important folks began coming in for tours. The entire office filled with the sweet scent of pine and gentle Christmas music played softly. And it was good. Until the spiders emerged. They crawled out of the trees, these brown wolf spiders, the kind that bite, big fellas too big to squash without getting a wad of guts and hairy legs stuck to the soles of your shoes. Soon, they had crept throughout the office. Think about one of those black plastic spider rings you can get with ten Skee-Ball tickets at the arcade. Now imagine that same spider skittering across the floor between the desks of the copy department. "Daryl!" someone gasped. "Kill it!" I scooped the spider into a brown lunch bag and set it free it outside -- by way of the 9th-story window. You're messing with the wrong editorial assistant, spider.
Monday, November 11, 2002
"It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it." - Robert E. Lee, who died long before we could kill someone by launching a missile from a radio-controlled airplane.
So why isn't your mail being delivered today? It's Veterans Day, folks. Are you familiar with the poem "In Flanders Field?" If we could have such a world in which we never had to use violence in the interest of preserving peace.
On another topic. Now that I'm writing and editing retail copy, several people have asked me lately if I miss working for newspapers. No.
Sunday, November 10, 2002
Defending the harbor
My friend Cheryl and took a trip this weekend to visit Tim and some other friends in Baltimore. (Great to see everybody. Thanks for hosting us, Tim.) While it was a busy weekend, on Saturday afternoon we took some time to mosey to the Inner Harbor. A lot of people, Baltimore city residents in particular, speak of Baltimore's Inner Harbor with scorn. The line goes something like this: It's a phoney tourist attraction, installed by developers, overrun by people from the suburbs. As a person formerly from the suburbs, I can report that there is truth to these claims. But I'll stick up for the harbor. I simply like to wander along the water, where the people are, and watching the boats. I enjoy going into the food pavilion to get a cone of Lee's ice cream, which is simply delicious stuff. Sure, the food court is tacky, loud and pedestrian, but that doesn't make it bad. Baltimore is no place to go in search of sophistication, but it is as good a place as any to enjoy ice cream.
Saturday, November 9, 2002
A little bit of history today. On November 9, 1965, a terrible chain reaction in the power grid caused the electricity to wink out all over the northeastern U.S. and Canada, including here in New York City. The blackout began in Toronto and spread through eight states. In New York, lights went in the city at 5:28 p.m. It was a Tuesday. In an instant, hundreds of thousands of people were stranded in subways, elevators and office buildings. Power wasn't restored until early the next morning. A writer in Life magazine wrote: "It seemed to me that the blackout quite literally transformed the people of New York. Ordinarily smug and comfortable in the high hives of the city where they live and work, they are largely strangers to one another when the lights are on. In the darkness they emerged, not as shadows, but far warmer and more substantial than usual." Sound familiar? You can learn more about this crazy event, 37 years ago today, at the Blackout History Project.
Today, I'm off to visit some friends in Baltimore. Hello Jersey Turnpike.
Friday, November 8, 2002
Have you seen me?
People say if you stand in Times Square long enough, you'll eventually see somebody you know. I'm sure it's true. (Especially if you happen to know the Naked Cowboy.) After a little more than two months, I'm still in awe of how many random friends I have found by chance amid the teeming masses of New York City. Last night I had dinner with my friend Jeff, who I haven't seen since sixth grade. He was a classmate of mine at Dunloggin Middle School, and by coincidence, we both wound up here in New York. (Random encounters are made slightly less random when you keep a home page.) Earlier yesterday, I ran into Brian, a guy I haven't seen since I covered student government for the school paper at Penn State a few years ago. He was visiting a friend of mine at my office. So it goes. You probably know a few people in New York, right? Amid the 8 million residents, what are the odds you would bump into one of them? Surprisingly good. On my way into work for my first day at my new job, I ran into a friend on the sidewalk walking in the same direction. You see this happen to other people just as often. One time, while I was on the F train, a woman stepped into the car and made eye contact with the man sitting next to me. "Hey," she said. The man recognized her. "Oh, hey. Did you see me through the window?" he asked. "No," she said. "That's really random," he said. They then leaned toward each other for a long, deep kiss. Maybe New Yorkers are more apt to run into people because we're in constant movement, increasing the odds that our paths will intersect? Or is there more to it?
Thursday, November 7, 2002
Now this sounds interesting. I read this week that there's a movie being made about Gram Parsons in which Johnny Knoxville plays Gram's manager. (Crossword puzzle-style explanations: Parsons = Country-rock pioneer. Knoxville = "Jackass" star.) Click here for the story, which somehow includes (of course) a connection to Ryan Adams. (Adams = former Whiskeytown frontman.) The movie will be called "Grand Theft Parsons" and is supposed to tell the amazing story of manager Phil Kauffman and the bizarre situation surrounding Parson's untimely death in 1973. Gram Parsons was both a great storyteller and a great story himself. One of his most notable songs is "Return of the Grievous Angel," about a young man who leaves home and heads west in search of adventure. On the road, bad things happen, and he realizes that all he really wanted was to be back home with his sweetheart, and so, inevitably, drawn by fate, he returns. Isn't that the classic American story?
Speaking of home towns. My dad just moved from Ellicott City, Md., where we had lived for many years, to Severna Park. That's also where my grandparents live. My mom still lives in Catonsville. So when people ask where I'm from, I answer with a place I've never actually lived: Baltimore.
Wednesday, November 6, 2002
Caught in the web
My friends Jeremy and Tom, coincidentally, each started an online journal this week. Today, here's a roundup of people I know who keep a home page. (Folks, please forgive me for using your real names and not your screen names... It just doesn't seem right...) Here we go.
Jeremy (State College, Pa.) and Tom (Blacksburg, Va.) are both doing a better job than I am with their journals. I hope you guys keep it going. Tiffany (Ellicott City, Md.) and Jeff (New York, N.Y.) are two other friends who have been keeping a fairly up-to-date journal. Renée (Washington, D.C.) has a very funny quote board she keeps updated often. My brother Gerritt (Blacksburg, Va.) posts pictures he takes of his various adventures. Mike (Vail, Colo.) is building a super high-tech site, a work in progress but very advanced under the surface. I hope I didn't forget anybody. As I made this fairly random sample list of people I know, I was surprised at how scattered my friends are geographically. It's nice that technology helps us stay in touch.
On a related note, I enjoy MSNBC's Weblog Central, which links to some of the good stuff.
Tuesday, November 5, 2002
Why we don't vote
We are often told how important it is to vote. I'm beginning to second-guess this advice. Let me tell you about my experience voting this morning. I put my voter registration card in my coat and walked to the nearest school. Inside, I had to ask two different poll workers if I was in the right place (I was). They directed me to a room with three tables. "Can I help you?" asked a woman at one of the tables. When I handed her my voter registration card, she gently scolded me and pointed me to another table. There, a guy tried to look up my name in a book, but couldn't get the spelling right. I found it for him. Next, another man at the same table tried to write my name. "Is that D-A-R-R-E-L-L?" he asked. He handed me a card and instructed me to give it to the woman sitting next to him, so I did. She said "Do you know how to operate the voting machine?" No, I said. She stood up and walked over to show me. Pulling back a black curtain, she revealed a door-sized, slate gray machine covered with little black knobs and one big red handle. She looked puzzled. She went back to her desk to check something, then returned and said, yes, it was okay. I went inside and closed the curtains. There were seven candidates for governor, but eight names. One candidate's name was listed twice -- once under Democrat and once under Working Families. Did it matter which one I chose? Then there were a few minor elections, such as comptroller and state senator, all of which were unfamiliar to me. For my representative in congress, I had two choices: a Democrat and someone from the Conservative Party. There were a few dozen unfamiliar names listed for judge, some listed twice, and I was instructed to pick six. I haphazardly threw a few more switches, gave that big red lever a good yank, and left feeling annoyed and confused.
Statistically, it would have been better for the country if I had slept in. And let's face it, the guy stocks the shelves at the MiniMarket will do more to improve my life than any candidate on the ballot today. Some people will tell you that by voting, you're helping influence important decisions such as whether we attack Iraq. Funny, I didn't see that question anywhere on my ballot. That's because we have a representative government, not a pure democracy. Basically, this means our votes amount to very little. Despite what some commentators would tell you, voting and democracy are not the same thing. Democracy is about freedom to work, freedom to travel, freedom to exchange ideas and freedom to create your own life. We can vote by getting up every morning and trying to make things around us a little better. We can vote by learning about the world. We can vote by following our dreams. But today, I feel like my vote at the poll was just a symbolic way to participate in a political process that basically ignores me. Why did I bother?
Monday, November 4, 2002
Mysteries of the Internet
Lately, I've noticed a lot of really weird nonsensical garble coming my way via the Internet. It's got me stumped. Here are two examples. Mystery 1: What on earth is going on with my message board? It appears to be commandeered by a bunch of AOL-ers who are incapable of typing more than one word at a time. This thread, which I started a few weeks ago to discuss AOL screen names, has rocketed to become the second most-frequently hit page on this site. People are flooding it with nonsense posts. Is this a virus? What's going on? Mystery 2: Every day, I get at least two large attachments in my e-mail. This morning, I got one from CoUnTrY02CuTiE@cs.com, an address I've never seen before. The subject is "Your password." The body of the message is just a bunch of garble. My computer can't even open the attachment. It's a real pain because it takes forever to download these junk messages. I don't understand where they come from; it's always a different return address. I'm pretty sure this must be a virus that is infecting other people's computers. But it's still a mystery. Can anybody out there explain this?
Tomorrow: My thoughts on the election.
Sunday, November 3, 2002
A long winter's nap
One of my favorite spots to go camping is the Quehanna Wild Area, in parts of Clearfield, Cameron and Elk Counties, about 40 minutes north of I-80 in central Pennsylvania. Most people wouldn't rank it among PA's great natural wonders, so it gets relatively little traffic. There are no rugged mountains, spectacular overlooks or majestic waterfalls there. In fact, it's not even all that "wild" -- it appears to be still re-growing from some pretty recent logging. It's an enchanting landscape, with patches of dense woods and wide, rolling meadows of scrub brush. The place is filled with porcupines and wild turkey. It will remind you of a really big back yard, the perfect place for a peaceful walk and totally unthreatening. I made a quick overnight stop there last night, on my way to a Lutheran Campus Ministry board meeting this afternoon. I drove to the middle of it and parked next to a trail. I could tell by the snow that I was the only human who had walked on that particular ground since at least Wednesday. Camping during cold weather is a great way to remind oneself of what a miracle it is to have a cosy bed and hot running water available at home. It gets dark early in the winter, so bedtime is whenever the campfire burns out. I slept soundly, warm except for my nose. When I woke up, I was being screamed at by a flock of large black birds -- ravens I think; they seemed bigger than crows. A final tip: If you're hanging around State College on a Sunday morning and badly need a shower, the Intramural Building locker rooms are a sure bet.
Saturday, November 2, 2002
Odds and ends
The copy department at work won first prize in the costume contest at the company Halloween party Thursday. We were a four-person costume consisting of taco ingredients. I was a shell. I'll spare you the details, but let the record note that this was not my idea. The prize: A set of bath towels stamped "SAMPLE."
November, always a dramatic month, is going to be crazier than usual this year. Lots of weekend road trips. Today, I'm on the road to State College. It's a football weekend, but I'm not going there for the game, but for a church board meeting Sunday. So I'm planning to camp out somewhere en route tonight. Yeah, I know it's cold.
Being out of the city Sunday, I'll miss the New York City Marathon. I thought about running this year. But then I remembered that I can't even run to catch the bus without gasping: "Man, I hate running!" after a few steps.
Serious lack of cool songs. And pictures. I hope to return from my trip Sunday with some of each.
Friday, November 1, 2002
Go, Darrell, go
Brian, from Germany, writes: "What's your opinion on the story of the Eagle Scout who says he's an Atheist, and the Boy Scouts say he has a week to find religion or get out?" (Click here for more about Darrell Lambert.)
A lot of you know already this is a pet issue of mine. The Boy Scouts taught me a lot of fun and practical skills, such as how to row a rowboat, how to perform First Aid and how to navigate with a map and compass. It's a wholesome program for dweeby guys who don't like sports. But more than that, Boy Scouts is a character-building program, that seeks to instill young men with some sense of trust, courtesy, reverence and so on. I believe treating other people with dignity -- whoever they are -- falls under that wide umbrella of scouting virtue. Telling somebody he's unwelcome because he's atheist or gay is one of the most insulting things an organization can do. It stings people in a way that's hard to understand unless you've seen it happen. It tears me apart because I want to side with the scouting program and their strict moral code, and feel loyalty to the program because of all it did for me. But on the other hand, I know what they're doing is not high-minded at all. Some folks will tell you the top scouts at headquarters in Texas stand by their anti-atheist, anti-gay rules because they're afraid off losing donations from religious groups, specifically the Church of Latter-Day Saints. But let's give them credit and figure that perhaps they simply believe what they're doing is right and good, even while it turns off scouts like me. Not to mention creating bizarre directives such as "Find God within the next week or so, or we'll kick you out." The Boy Scouts are ripping their own program apart with these rules, and harming a good number of young men in the process.
Holiday travelers at Grand Central Station. - Photographed 11.27.02, posted 11.28.02.
Times Square, photographed by my brother, Gerritt, on Nov. 25. - Posted 11.26.02
Another view of Ellis Island, photographed in September. - Posted 11.18.02
Sterling v. the squirrel, photographed in my apartment Nov. 2. - Posted 11.08.02
The rarely spotted Jack-O'-Snowman, seen Nov. 2 in Snow Shoe borough, Pa. - Posted 11.06.02
The Quehanna Wild Area in Pennsylvania, seen with snow on the ground Sunday morning. - Posted 11.03.02