Thursday, December 09, 2004

Day 2- Fortune Favors the ****ing Foolhardy

Outside it is raining, Blade-Runner style, neither the Canadian-Celsius nor my American-Fahrenheit (F*** yeah!) thermometers registering freezing.
Curiously, my Kelvin sensor assures me water is boiling outside (at 280° it damn well better be) but it merely drizzles, ruining any prospect of skiing.
Using the resourcefulness of generations past, my father suggests going to eat lunch.
With the other family, we depart the Pan Pacific Lodge and Resort in search of food. Our quest for nutritious, delicious, and, in the case of my father, discounted hooch & vittles leads to a basement restaurant called Ye Olde Spaghetti Factory, or something like that.
The meal is notable for two things: the fresh sourdough that came with it (mmmmm, fresh sourdough), and our waiter, who introduces my parents to that quintessential Canadian expression, “eh?”
Apparently, my parents have never heard it before, or so it seemed from the way they kept trying to get him to repeat it.
All I could think of was “A Clockwork Orange” and them three droogs.

Brown hair, done in braided ‘tails, is that-
My dad makes the connection first. “Isn’t that the girl you were talking to yesterday?”
I run over to say hi, think better of it, but before I realize Canada also has laws against predatory stalkers (damn Canucks, they’ll suffer potheads and gays but not my kind), the laws of inertia have carried me to the point where I can’t resist tapping her on the shoulder.
She turns and recognizes me, smoothing over her expression of disgust/hatred/terror with a happy face in a remarkably short period of time.
So we stand there in the village square, smothered by cold rain as we converse, our little chat turning towards the inexplicable peppiness of everyone in Canada.
“I mean, I could get lost on the slops tomorrow and yell out ‘help!’ and our ultra-cheery concierge lady would pop out from behind a tree and tell me where to go in that funny accent of hers,” Amanda explains.
She says that’s just the way the Canadians are; I say that’s what legalized marijuana’ll do for you. We debate pointlessly as my father comes over and introduces himself to her parents, and her little sister, Stephanie. He pretends to be a native and points out all the sights, and recommends various restaurants and ski slopes he hasn’t been to.
Meanwhile, Amanda mentions her hotel, the Sundial, which, I realize, is right next to ours. “Maybe we’ll see each other around?”
She nods in her best Chamberlain impersonation. “Yeah, that would be, um, nice.”
I never saw here again*.

At the basement of the Pan-Pacific is a ski/snowboard gear rental place, which seems to be staffed almost exclusively by blonde, relentlessly perky college students with nametags that also denote which Commonwealth country they’re from. For a ski resort in Canada, there is an inexplicable high number of Australians working the rental counter.
As I listen to them chatter among themselves, I am reminded of just why I hate movies and TV shows where otherwise clean and wholesome actors and actresses are forced to put on hideously fake British-ish accents.
I say “British-ish” because most of them can’t, or won’t, understand the difference between English, Scottish, Irish, South African, Australian, Kiwi, and Canadian accent, were it to be impaled into them upon ski poles.
Strangely, the only actors I can think of who can believably fake accents regardless of nationality are both British. I thought for the longest time that Gary Oldman was American, and Christian Bale is simply uncanny.
Don’t even let me start on the strange case of Kristin, Australian with a mostly-Americanized, faux-Commonwealth accent.
I admire the vaguely curved shape of my skis and watch an in-house video of the rental shop employees training as my parents and the Ismaels attempt to pay for the rental.
On the TV screen, the new hires from Australia are videotaped being wrapped in plastic sheets and then being under the barrage of something that looks suspiciously like vomit.
My parents swipe their credit cards.
On the screen, the new hires are forced to eat large quantities of mayonnaise, vegemite (it’s wonderful to see people besides myself eating vegemite) and Tabasco sauce.
The machine rejects the credit cards.
On the screen, the new hires are forced, Fear-Factor-style, to eat frozen dinners that are still frozen.
I quote the SAS motto: “Fortune favors the bold”.
My parents bravely attempt to decipher Canadian cash in order to pay. I swear I hear the cashier mutter, “Bloody Muggles.

Our hotel, el Pan Pacific, has an outdoor heated pool and Jacuzzi, so, with nothing better to do, we put on various summer accoutrements and head outside.
My Kelvin sensor notwithstanding, it is COLD.
My ribs, poking out of my skin, don’t even have nerves to register the chill, and they agree on the frigidity.
I jump into the heated pool.
Apparently “heated pool” in Canada means something different than “heated pool” in America, because when I splash down I go rigid and die of hypothermia*.
Then I get out and go to the hot tub.
My Kelvin sensor screams
Warm relief floods my body as I bask in tropical water and stare quizzically at the snow-crested landscape.
My body accepts the heat.
I rise, like Aphrodite from the sea, or more appropriately, like Colonel Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now”, steam emanating from my body as “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” blasts in the background. I am awe-inspiring*.

Day 3- “Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity”
There’s a certain type of music that goes well with each and every type of sport.
For basketball, it’s “Leave You Far Behind”, by Lunatic Calm.
For football, it’s either “Sandstorm”, by that random DDR arcade machine, OR “Smoke on the Water” by the marching band.
For the old Ultraviolence, it’s Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (although some would argue that “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel is an equally likely candidate.
For skiing, I submit Andy Hunter’s “Go”, from the Exodus CD.
I would have been listening to it on the slopes, but fear of corroding the colored innards of my Ipod leaves it back at the lodge.
I whine about my Ipod’s vulnerability to snow and fog to my brother, who replies, “Well, if you brought your Ipod to the slopes, you wouldn’t’ be able to hear anything- everyone else would be like ‘AVALANCHE!’ and you would be like, ‘Just Boogie Down Tonight!’”.
Which is slightly ridiculous; my Pure Disco (Vo1. 1 and 2) albums do not go well with skiing.
So as I glide down the icy slopes, I’m humming along to memory, my skis guiding themselves, half-remembered muscle patterns pulling and straining my body in all the wrong directions.
I pull over to a stop, panting slightly, and wait for the rest of the group to catch up.
And I’m the Frank Miller of skiing.
Whatever the hell that means; I’m constantly waiting for them to catch up.
A blue-white blur whips past me, braided ‘tails flying in the wind. It takes me a moment to recognize her.
“Amanda!” I yell. She pulls perpendicular, waves at me, then yells back, “See you at the bottom!”
Being bound by my promise to stick with the rest of the group, and by my terminal lack of velocity, I cannot follow her.
After waiting for fifteen minutes, I say screw the group and ski down to what is apparently the only operating ski-lift on Whistler Mountain, judging by the number of people waiting in line for it.
Their combined body heat melts the ice and will soon leave Whistler Mountain bare of any whiteness at all, driving everyone to Blackcomb.
About forty minutes later I’m almost at the head of the line when I see the rest of the respective family members ski, ‘board, and, in the case of my mother, walk to the base of the slope.
Forced ahead by the crowd of people in line behind me, I am separated from the group, out of sight, out of mind.
Normally, in any sort of group-skiing situation, my obsessive-compulsive need for order would result in my having prepared meeting spots and contact points, maps, and walkie-talkies preset to correct frequencies, but my dad’s frenzied urge to get onto the slopes forced me to leave with merely a wing and a prayer.
Now, lost in Canada, the horizon between ice and air dissipated by rolling white fog, I am helpless. The Voice of Self Doubt starts to whine.
I force myself to remain calm, to return to that center of self where the storm passes over and the fire does not burn.
I summon my Inner Geek.
“In NJO #20: Final Prophecy, what did the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances do when they lost HoloNet access?” I ask myself. As I plunge deeply into my database of geek lore the answer comes to me.
This has absolutely no relevance to my current predicament, but it’s funny as hell.
Two hours pass.

Time seems to have flown relatively quickly, in terms of page-space-to-time-elapsed ratio. Little to no events seem to remain uncompressed. According to Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, two hours of page space can be variably shaped and distorted in direct proportion to one’s velocity compared to the speed of ink. This can be explained simply as such: paper is not flat, but actually curved through the properties of mass, as proved by inescapably dense literary black holes like Ayn Rand.
The point is, if this was a movie screenplay, we would SMASH CUT to the “heated pool”, where sit the Carolyn, and Karim, me and Joey, and Amanda and Stephanie, who do not apparently have an outdoor “heated” pool but come over to use ours.
An intense simulation of naval warfare is underway. In 1944, as recruitment for the Kriegsmarine dipped low due to the extraordinary attrition among U-boat crews (caused partially by depth charges and partially by really bad sauerkraut), the internal Third Reich propaganda machine began indoctrinating children in the principles of underwater warfare using an ingenious pool game code-named “Marco Polo”.
Due to Marco Polo’s immediate postwar suppression throughout East Germany under the Communist-controlled Stasi, right-wing American leaders under the McCarthy administration embraced the game, helping to inspire a generation to romanticize the silent submarine service.
Even with the cancellation of the Seawolf-class submarine under the Clinton administration, Marco Polo continues to teach the Golden Rule of submarine battles: hear unto others before they ping unto you.
Our game plays out like a bad reenactment of “Das Boot”.

Having dried off considerably in the intervening hours, everyone goes to a German restaurant for dinner.
Inside, a waiter with a faux-French accent and fake lederhosen ushers us to a table.
My two main memories of the dinner are my dad chugging down a half-liter beer (which, according to my education in the metric system in Chemistry, works out to be about two gallons), and watching m ybrother eat a Germanified Thanksgiving dinner that includes sauerkraut-flavored cranberry sauce***.
‘Nuff said.

Having been invited over to come swim with us, the ladies feel it’s only proper to invite us over to play cards. Specifically, spades.
Their hotel, the Sundial Resort and Spa, is generously decked out in authentically fake Canadian wildlife (dead wildlife); the “fake log cabin” décor is quite overdone, considering the rooms are equipped with microwaves and cable TV.
But the fireplace is roaring and crackling ostentatiously; in my blue hoodie, navy blue sweater, and unlucky Hard Rock Café Saipan T-shirt I am sweating profusely.
Or maybe it’s the fact that Amanda, my partner, wonderful, cheery, lovable, yet dumb as a rock Amanda, has just bid double nil.
Of course, being down 160 points might have something to do with it, but even a rock- even a very dumb rock- would know better than to bid double nil.
Which is of course why Amanda pulls it off.
By. One. Trick.
One. Trick. Only.
Mother. F***ing. Spade.
It’s the luck, I decide, not the sheer audacity of the call. Drawing upon my instincts, I find the reason.
There are four of us sitting around a dinner table, me, my partner Amanda sitting across from me, her little sister Stephanie sitting next to me, and Stephanie’s partner and my brother Joey sitting across from her.
Stephanie and Joey, both Republicans, partners in crime, are wearing almost identical long-sleeved red T-shirts.
But Amanda and I, the opposing pair, are both sophomores and Republicans, but I’m in a blue hoodie and she’s wearing a navy blue t-shirt.
The resonance is causing a massive shift in luck, since Lady Luck is, of course, a Bush supporter.
I make the instant judgment that it is, at least at this point in the proceedings, highly unlikely that Amanda will take off her shirt, so I strip off my hoodie.
Underneath is a navy blue sweater. Damn!
I pull off the sweater to reveal my unlucky Hard Rock Café T-shirt. Life is not treating me well.
“Screwit,” I say, “We’re playing euchre.”
Euchre, the national sport of the Midwest, is a card game played with twenty-four rather than the traditional fifty-two cards; if it was supported by OHSAA, I would have a Varsity letter. Hundreds of free periods spent playing have sharpened my wits, my creative spirit, and my silver tongue to the point at which I can instantly spit out thirty different reasons why playing euchre is a far more beneficial alternative than, say, going to class.
Amanda and Stephanie pick up the game rapidly; Joey has a bit of a learning handicap, mainly that he doesn’t want to learn.
In a minute Amanda and I are up 9-0.
“Now,” I say, “This is where we’re ‘in the barn’ as the slang goes.”
She gives me a look.
“Not like that. See, all you have to do is stick the scorecards behind your ears-”
I don’t even get to the milking of the cow bit before I am covered in flecks of laughter-induced spittle.
“No, seriously,” I say, picking them up and placing them carefully behind my ears, “Because you’re like a cow, you know, with the longer ears, and then you stick out your thumbs and yell ‘We’re in the barn! Milk me-’”
A second round of spittle covers me; I look like a foamy Heineken idol.
“Are-you-serious-?” Amanda wants to know between her pulmonary spasms.
“Well, um, yeah-”
My brother can’t even muster a sarcastic comment.
Stephanie, being far more intellectual, self-controlled, and mature, keeps a straight face and says, “I think we’ve milked this joke for all it’s worth-”
I wipe the foam off and wait for them to finish exercising their diaphragm muscles. Then I go blind alone, and unlike Amanda, pull off all five.
Having won the game I pull out a map and Amanda and I attempt to find a meeting point for tomorrow.
“Well, the problem is that I don’t really know where I’m going to be tomorrow-”
“Maybe we’ll run into each other on the slopes,” she says. “It happened before; I’m sure it’ll happen again.”
I shrug. “See you tomorrow then.”
I never saw her again*.

Day 4- That’s the Way (I Like It)

Figures cut through the fog that obscures Blackcomb Mountain. They lean in and out, coming around the curves, shifting their weight to the point back and forth, and generally getting themselves carved into very small chunks by inconsiderate snowboarders.
Snowboarders are the bane of the earth; on the grand Dante-ian scale of funny Hell and comedic Purgatory they rate a very special cell in the tenth circle, right alongside ditzy cheerleaders and band slugs.
They breed nothing but malice and disdain for their fellow man (a.k.a. the average skier) and, like cockroaches, spread fast across a ski slope, overrunning families who just want to have a morning of fun without having their innards sliced apart by razor-sharp board edges ridden by idiots who are like Tony Hawk, except minus the coolness.
To remove snowboarders from slopes, honest people have tried combinations of derision, bans, and concentrations of automatic weapons fire, but roaches are hardy little things, and they just keep coming.
One of the crusaders against the darkness is a boy. The boy glides gently over the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot spring flows, weaving and bobbing his way through the horde, singing and crying-
Oh wait, that’s me.
So here I am going down, the Immigrant Song stuck in my head, attempting desperately to get to the bottom of the slope without getting caught in a drive-by-snowboarding or bumping my skis on seemingly invisible rocks which nonetheless have enough mass to severely disrupt my run.
The Green, I’ve been told, is good. There are signs that distinguish, at every single fork in the trail, the Green Runs from the Blue, the Red, and the dreaded Black. Curiously, I have yet to see a marker for a Black Diamond run, although I have seen a few hastily scrawled signs with the words, “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here”.
Blackcomb is supposed to be the less popular of the twin peaks, but given the amount of scum and skiers who have arrived there, you would think that it’s the only one.
I’ve already lost my family to the cold, harsh slopes* and now, it seems, the probability of me making it down to the bottom shrinks exponentially.
My “squawk box” spits something out. It’s a yellow Motorola walkie-talkie with 20^10 channels, all of which are being used by loud and rude Chinese tourists trying to coordinate their ski groups. Right now it is diving safely in my right jacket pocket, submerged deep beneath a layer of Goretex and another layer of maps, and a further layer of tissues which I know I will never use, because by the time I’ve taken off my glove to restore manual dexterity, breathed on my hand to restore hemoglobin circulation, and greased the pocket zipper to restore freedom of motion, the long line of snot has frozen over into a salty trail beneath my left nostril.
The squawk box squeals again and this time I definitely hear the word “Harrison” in it, so I coast to a stop, stick out my ski poles horizontally to defend myself against marauding snowboarders, wedge said poles in my North Face-clad armpits, then reach rather awkwardly to take off my glove, breath on my hand, grease the zipper, and then open my left jacket pocket.
There is no squawk box there.
The cold is affecting my memory more than ever. I make a mental note to have that fixed, then grease the other zipper and open my right jacket pocket.
The yellow submarine’s “Push to Talk” button is remarkably small and difficult to press with my frostbitten hands. After several tries I manage to hit it and say, “Who called me?”
“Never mind, we solved the problem,” comes the reply.
I grit my teeth, place the walkie-talkie back in my pocket, zip up, give my poor hand one last breath, and then slip my hand back into my glove.
They say if you hear voices while on the slopes, you’re actually dying of frost. In actuality, of course, the voice is coming from my chest, near the chunk of coal I use to fill that empty spot inside.
Grumbling, I go through the whole process again and open up with a, “What?”
“Your friend is at the restaurant.”
Before I start off my rambling ten-minute monologue about how if I had any friends they would be here with me and not enjoying the warmth of an indoor eating area, the speaker adds, “The one you met on the plane.”
I nod and tell him to tell them that I’m coming, and then start skiing downhill.
The restaurant, like, apparently, everything else in Canada, is done in a fake-log-cabin style with fifteen stuffed animal heads nailed to any wall space that isn’t taken up by huge cafeteria-style menus offering overcooked food for vastly inflated prices. A quick glance at the menu confirms what I’ve known for a long time: in Canada, pot is cheaper to buy than food.
When I find Amanda and her family, I decline to comment on that little fact as they are eating chili from bread bowls.
Why bread bowls have not caught on in the US is something I’ll never understand. They are delicious, nutritious, and, most importantly, save you the trouble of washing dishes. Finding a restaurant that serves these hollow shells of dough is rare; apparently, finding rare things is the theme of this trip.
A little shift in arrangements means I am going to be skiing with Amanda, Stephanie, and their parents, the Fantastic Four of skiing. In the first thirty seconds of our fivesome on the slope I realize that I am very severely outclassed, mainly by the fact that they decide to head down the slope marked “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.”
I snidely ask if Amanda’s father’s name is Virgil (and if her mother’s name is Beatrice) but given the fact that she’s gliding down the slopes twice as fast as I am, it’s doubtful she’ll hear me.
Beatrice kindly stops and waits for me to unstrap my skis and walk down the damn hill.
I stare down the more-or-less vertical slope, through the fog, across the steppes of powder snow and ninety-degree angles, and into the abyss.
It stares back at me.
I close my eyes and channel Elise: “It’s all in the hips!”
Then I take off.
Halfway down I am sadistically singing “Stuck in the Middle With You” and wishing I had a razor blade handy but by then I’ve already gotten into the joint-wrenching rhythm, glide-SNAP-turn-glide-SNAP-turn-glide, swiveling my hips, knees, and ankles in syncopation with my shoulders, poles, and tongue, a swift slice through the black diamond.
When I get to the bottom Amanda laughs and says, “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
I am forced to admit that it’s not.
“Good, now we can do a black run.”
I raise an eyebrow. “That wasn’t a black run?”
“No, silly!” she laughs at me and her sister giggles. “That was a Blue one.”
I sigh and get on the ski lift.

At the end of the day we ride the covered chairlift down the mountain and end up on the ground walking and mincing in our ski boots back to the hotel. There, we stand, holding our skis over our right shoulders. Amanda and I part for the last time*.
“Have fun!” I say. We hug, somewhat awkwardly, partly because we both have difficulty with PDA, but mostly because our skis are jammed up each other’s nostrils.
At least it scraped the frozen snot off.

And so the everyone departs Whistler Village, having left behind their rental skis, their indelible mark on the townsfolk (that poor waiter will never say “eh” again), and about 80% of my college fund.
We cram ourselves into the same suburban and take off for the big city of Vancouver, which, my memory reminds me, is near Seattle.
“Seattle,” I muse. “Who do I know who lives in Seattle?”
I ponder that question as Pure Disco resounds in my head. K.C. and the Sunshine Gang influence my thinking quite a bit.
“A KYW person,” I continue to muse. “A KYW person. Who do I know who lives in Seattle?”
I am interrupted by little Karim, who asks if he can listen to my Ipod. I shrug, tell him he’s too young to appreciate any of my music, but he’s insistent and very loud, so I reluctantly hand him one of my earbuds so he too can boogie down.
Then his older sister Carolyn wants to listen too, to my amalgam of tributes to bad taste. My Ipod is the only place where Kool and the Gang, Rob Dougan, Lunatic Calm, Overlord, Tomoyasu Hotei, Smash Mouth, and Claude Debussey can all coexist in peace.
I let them listen to oldies and goldies, to both the Guess Who and original Jimmy Hendrix recording of “American Woman” (and trying my best to avoid telling them my Karaoke-with-Daniel-Erin-and-a-very-sleep-deprived-Nina story), and then spin them off on some tunes from the Matrix.
Eventually, they both fall asleep.
My mom, sitting in the front seat, has also fallen asleep, but wakes up and asks my dad, driving, how long she’s been sleeping.
I check my watch- it’s been about fifteen minutes.
“Three hours,” my dad says without a hint of shame. “We’re almost to Vancouver.”
My dad has this trait of being able to pull off the most ridiculous lies, which goes along with his cheapskatery. It was a very, very long time before I finally realized that our prime source of luminescence was not invented by Mr. Lightbulb.
“Really?” she says.
My dad gestures to the abysmal blackness outside. “Can’t you see the skylights?”
She sighs. “We’re not going to be in Vancouver for a very long time, are we?”
My dad shakes his head.
She asks for my Ipod, “something classical, please”, and I set the playlist up, starting with Marty O’Donnell’s “Truth and Reconciliation Suite”. She puts on the earbuds and is pleasantly surprised.
“I didn’t know you had Riverdance on here!” she gushes.
I smile. “Um, Mom, that’s not the soundtrack to Riverdance. It’s the soundtrack to Halo.”
She frowns at me. “What’s Halo?”
“It’s a videogame.”
Surprise is written large all over her face. “They have music like this in videogames?”
“We’re not all Neanderthals, Mother dear.”
She shakes her head. “What a waste.”
I shake my head. “Philistine.”

Monday, December 06, 2004

(Quick note: Over Thanksgiving break I went to Vancouver, Canada, for a ski trip, specifically at a little ski resort north of Vancouver called Whistler Village)
(Second quick note: A “*” indicates I am lying for dramatic effect. A “**” indicates I am lying to save space. A “***” indicates I am NOT making this up)

Day 1- Disappointments

Waking up at a ridiculously early hour and throwing water into your face is the prototypical vacation-starter for travelers everywhere. The quickest way to tell if you’ve wasted your money on a crappy vacation is the water temperature. If it’s cold, you paid too much but the vacation will be OK. If the water you rub into your face resembles one of your in-laws in frigidity, you’re much better off just shooting yourself right now.
Not having in-laws (hopefully), I assume that if the water is a brittle clear chunk then the vacation outlooks are grim.
And then we get on the plane to Minneapolis, a remarkable city for the sole reason that seemingly every flight in North America is required to layover there by federal regulation, even the ones going, say, to the Moon (“Is this a business or pleasure trip, Mr. Armstrong?”) or New York.
There is a fascinating yet somewhat dry dissertation on the statistical variance of the number of empty seats on any given flight using a standardized curve adjusted to reflect the margin of error inherent in any given sample, but you won’t hear it from me 1) because I suck at Prob/Stats and 2) I was taking up most of those empty seats attempting to get comfortable enough to sleep.
So we land in Minneapolis, Minnesota (I love that: Min/Min) and tromp off immediately to the food court.
Along with us on this trip are our neighbors, and their darling children, Carolyn, 13, and Karim, 9. (As with the last Mid-Eastern family I traveled with, this one apparently alliterates their children).
They, of course, were smart enough to eat breakfast before leaving home while my family starves of malnutrition.
At Sbarros AND Pizza Hut I am denied a slice of pepperoni merely because it’s 7:15 AM local time. Discomfited and more than slightly discombobulated, I am forced to settle for an Egg McMuffin minus the egg.
I walk back to the gate and go into shock at seeing Karim eating a huge piece of Sbarro’s cheese pizza.
A number of words that our young consumer wouldn’t understand run through my head. My Egg McMuffin, minus the egg, is suddenly sausage: limp, ill-tasting, far-inferior-to-pie sausage.
I set it aside in disgust, then reconsider, and salvage the McMuffin, minus the egg, and minus the sausage. Carbs are goooooood.
The number of our flight (666, as with all flights carrying my family) is called, and we prepare to board as they call “first class”.
Wait a minute. First class?
My dad, is a patron saint, occasionally of basketball (***herf****ing blind reverse-backhand layups) but for the most part of cheapskatery. He was standing there adjusting the HMO of the leper Jesus healed. I highly doubt he’ll pay full price to ‘ole St. Pete.
The point is, my dad would never, never, NEVER buy the four of us first-class tickets, even on NorthWorst Airlines.
On this trip, however, he bought one ticket for himself, and one for Mother Dearest.
But not for me.
(In case you were wondering, I really don’t care where my brother sits)
I sight bitterly and watch as my parents recline into seats larger than Rhode Island.
My seat, the federally-mandated 37 cubic microns of airspace wrapped in a set of cushions pre-soaked in other people’s bodily fluids, is, frankly speaking, pathetic.
I sit in the center of three steerage spaces, with my little brother to my right, having claimed MY birthright, a window seat.
To my left, claiming MY dowry, an aisle seat, sits a girl, little shorter than me, about as “average American” as you can get, brown hair done in braided ‘tails, rounded face liberally sprinkled with freckles, a bracelet which, on closer inspection, is made of carefully meshed-together soda can tabs.
She sits there calmly braiding, or weaving, or intercourse-forcing, or whatever it’s called when you use multicolored strings to make DNA double-helix shapes but it’s not a Bio project.
My brother sits to my right, his ambition of reading the Lord of the Rings saga crushed when he found out it requires paging through long stretches of exposition on hobbit toes.
For myself I have four paperbacks, three comics (“Long Halloween” will take me a while, but the others are 15-minute skims), and a pen and notepad from Office Max to work on NaNoWriMo. I doubt it’s enough (the flight from Minneapolis to Vancouver is six hours) but I can always pretend to sleep.
The girl next to me asks her mom in the row behind us how long the flight will be, and the given reply is three hours. Suddenly my prospects of boredom are cut in half.
I reach for “X-Wing: The Krytos Trap”, which, curiously enough, contains more legal procedure and coutroom scenes than any of my John Grisham novels, and look up to the aisle to see my dad asking if I want to put my backpack in the overhead bin. Irritably, I consider giving him a carefully constructed ten-minute monologue on why God made the backpack (mainly so you didn’t have to put it in the overhead bin and could therefore have easy access to reading material, knives, and prophylactics), but then decide to reply, “No.”
He shrugs and tells the girl next to us not to let me or my brother give any trouble. She smiles agreeably then goes back to her DNA.
I ask her, “So, where are you heading?”
She replies, “Oh Vancouver and about, for a ski trip.”
I nod. “Where are you from?”
Warnings from my wise and otherwise uncle about Texans flash through my mind, but I Really can’t see this girl carrying Dirty Harry’s .357 magnum, and in my personal experience deoxyribonucleic acid makes for a very poor garrote, so I keep talking. “Your, ah, bracelet-weave thing-”
She grins. “Just a way to pass the time. You want it? It’s almost done.”
I’m about to say no and go back to my reading when she adds, “I’m going to be doing this all flight,” and holds up a gallon ziplock filled with yarn.
I shrug and accept it, following my dad’s dictum of never refusing free stuff.
That’s pretty much the end of our conversation, until my brother tries to construct a poorly worded statement of disdain for J.R.R. Tolkien in Spanish.
“That’s pretty bad,” she comments.
Out of idle curiosity, I ask, “Do you speak any foreign languages?”
“Well, English,” she says, and giggles. From where have I heard that distinctive style of laugh before? “Oh, and, erm, Bahasa.”
I’ve also heard that distinctive pause before. It almost sounds like- “What’s Bahasa?”
She shrinks a little. “It’s the official language of Indonesia.”
That hits me like a bolt of lightning. My paperback drops to the floor. Slowly, deliberately, I turn, my eyes burning with laser-like intensity, a trick I learned from my Mock Trial coach. “And why,” I say softly in my best lawyer-impersonator voice, “Would you speak the official language of Indonesia?”
“I used to, uh, live there for seven years,” she explains, drawing back further.
Brahms’ “Hallelujah Chorus” fills my head, rather rudely displacing “That’s the Way (I Like It)”.
Meeting another expat on a plane is like getting abducted by aliens…twice.
From there, it’s all downhill. I find out two years ago she moved from Jakarta, Indonesia (population 2,000,000) to Lenard, Texas (population 2,000), her dad is a Texas oilman who still commutes to Jakarta, she plays horse polo, lives on a ranch, is a band slug (but she’s an expat, so that’s forgivable), doesn’t want to go to Yale on a polo scholarship-
“Why?” I ask.
“Well, y’know, East Coast schools-” she shrugs. I give her my deer-in-headlights/Dan Quayle look. She sighs.
“They’re all, like, filled with rich, preppy white kids, like you-” she stops.
I’m doubled over with laughter. I search half the world to find someone who will admit I’m a rich, preppy white kid, and one happens to be sitting next to me on the plane-
I think she took it the wrong way, because she overcompensated her “faux pas”, compounding the sheer hilarity.
“Well, I mean, no offense or anything, I go to, basically a poor white trash public school, there’s lots of like, P-D-A and stuff.” Between my spastic, uncontrollable fits of laughter I’m thinking that any girl who can use the words “poor white trash” and “PDA” in the same breath can’t be all bad.
She also knows what Spades is, and even knows how to play, confirming my long-held-but-never-validated belief that someone besides me and Yahoo! Bot1 knows how to play Spades.
We pass the time alternately by conversing, listening to music, and working, her on the Human Genome Project, me on Fighting Faith. She doesn’t understand Grim Reapers and shotgun-wielding elves; I don’t understand ATGC codes and RNA; but we find a middle ground discussing genetic intermixing between Death and poor elf trash.
Finding out that she’s also heading to Whistler (the ski resort near Vancouver) and the hotel she’s staying at (Sundial), I resolve to try and meet up with her later, at about the same time I realize I don’t know her name.
As I ponder this conundrum, Seinfeld-like, she asks for my name. “An Author. And you’re-”
“Amanda.” She flashes a grin. “All this time-”
I shrug and shake my head. “Maybe we’ll run into each other on the slopes.”
“Yeah, maybe we will.”
I never saw her again*.

We load all our crap into a rented Chevy Suburban, possibly the only car I know that can take on an M1 Abrams tank and live to tell the tale, and start on our merry way to Whistler Village, located at the base of Whistler Mountain, named for the whistling noise people make when they see the utter lack of powder on it, and Blackcomb Mountain, named for the amount of hair that falls out of Asian people’s heads when they realize all the good runs are either closed or icy as hell.
The ride there was uneventful**.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

I Dream of Kobe (4/10/04)
The skylights of a dozen, hundred, thousand, million lights stare back at me through the tinted-glass window of the car. It's a familiar skyline since each of those lights is generated through a fascimile of the General Standard Lightbulb-01, attached to the balcony of a General Standard Apartment Block A, in the dreariest, copy-and-pasted-est, most cliched part of the city.
It's a welcome sight.
Then I see it: four immensely bright lights, standing out in the ocean like stars in the night, floating on a sea of black. Immediately, my mind paraphrases Johnny Depp 'I Know Those Lights'
I'm home again.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Have you ever had that feeling that you've suddenly forgotten something important? Like a sudden drop in temperature, or the butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling that comes on a really long rollercoaster drop?
Yeah, that's how I felt when I realized I left my jacket behind.
And unfortunately, given my luck, no amount of searching is going to help me find it.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Explaining a Webblog to the Heathens (3/12/04)
How do you explain a blog to anybody over the age of 36? "It's like a journal, except umm, it's updated a lot. And it's online."
You don't get much more caveman-ish than that.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Why Your Kid Should NOT Join Orchestra (3/9/04)
The benefit of joining a school musical ensemble of ANY kind (be it strings, vocals, winds, heavy metal, etc. etc.) is that it builds teamwork, trust, motor skills, a sense of rhythm and intonation, and an excuse to dress up your kid in black-and-white outfits he would never otherwise be caught dead in.
Here's my personal advice, from a very misbegotten childhood: do NOT let your child learn classical music (i.e. become an orchestra geek)
If your little Mozart learns how to play violin by his/herself, that's perfectly fine, but if your child gives you the chance to put in your own two cents for what path to start out on, put your foot down.
The wonderful thing about a band is that it's LOUD. Even a truly awful first-year school band can sound acceptable when it is playing at FFFFF.
On the other hand, a first-year string ensemble sounds exactly like it sounds (no pun intended). If you have a choice to go see your kid play his first concert on strings or to go outside and listen to alley cats howl, pick up alley cats.
The instrument I was chosen to play was called a viola, a contraption made of some steel strings and wood that, in the hands of my music teacher (the most patient man I've ever met, especially given that he had to teach me), sounded like an angel playing its harp.
In my hands, the angel was going through an extended session medieval torture device.
Three years, countless hours of practice, and zero iotas of uncovered hidden talent later, I still couldn't play the thing worth a dime.
I listened mournfully to the kids who had started band the year I had started orchestra, cool cats who could play tunes I recognized while I struggled with something written before the earth was created.
It was hell.
So take this to heart: DON'T let your kid join Orchestra. Just say NO!

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Thursday, February 26, 2004

My Review of the "Passion" (2/26/04)
When I go to movies, I do two somewhat contradictory things, almost simultaneously. They are:
1) Enjoy the movie- laugh at the dumb jokes, cry at the obvious tearjerkers, etc. etc.
2) Criticize the movie on its most minor points- 007's Walther PPK holds SEVEN shots, not six!
It was extraordinarily odd that I did neither when I went to see "The Passion of the Christ".
It took me about three seconds to assimilate the fact that it was essentially a foreign-language film, and three more seconds to get updated with the timeframe, and a final three seconds for me to try to remember if the Devil was in the Garden of Gesthemane.
Then I fell into the movie.
I forgot I was sitting there in a dark room full of strange people with my feet adhered to the floor by various materials better left unidentified, staring at a piece of canvas with colored light moving across it. I forgot all the controversy, all the pent-up rage, all the hype about Mel Gibson's movie.
I was watching the Passion.
It was so brutal, so graphic, so plainly and simply horrific that it brought back all the stuff about Jesus' crucifixion that Sunday School left out. Other movies tell you that Jesus loved us all, enough to die for us. "The Passion of the Christ" forces us to SEE that Jesus suffered.
Suffering is the message of "Passion", from the very beginning, where the Devil admonishes Jesus for trying to take the burden of everyone's sins, and the full weight of his responsibilities decends on Christ's shoulders. Every single moment is either dedicated to showing Christ's suffering, or dedicated to his followers watching him suffer.
It's a wake-up message to lazy Christians (like me), not a conversion message to heathens. We are reminded, constantly, that Jesus' sacrifice is not meant to be taken lightly.
It's not a film for entertainment. It's not a movie you'd be interested enough to see more than once. It's not be the best-made film ever. It's not even the best-made film about the life of Christ. But for a jaded movie watcher like me, it was an experience to remember.
The Seraphim's Rating: 4 out of 5

Monday, February 23, 2004

The Passion of the Critics (2/23/04)
One thing that I wonder as I see all the controversy about "The Passion of the Christ" is if anyone has actually judged it based on its artistic merit.
So far, it seems that everyone is really interested in Mel Gibson's religious beliefs, be they anti-Semitic or conservative or liberal or whatnot. No one seems to care about the little things like quality of acting, direction, editing, etc. etc.
Have we become such a skewed culture that artistic merit has become secondary to political correctness?

Saturday, February 21, 2004

PC: Political Correctness and Private Catholic (2/21/04)
My "Alma Mater" is an All-Boys Private Catholic school, one of the last institutions in the world that has yet to bow to Political Correctness and open to both genders, an issue that had quite a few of us steaming as there were other Catholic schools that merged/went co-ed voluntarily.
Yet Political Correctness has already permeated its hallways and classrooms.
Despite the fact that my graduating class would end up being roughly 90% white, 85% Catholic, and 100% male, my high school took pride (and still takes pride) in offering mandatory "Minority Club" sessions and in being "beyond petty religious differences" (which is of course why Religion courses taught by Catholic teachers are a four year requirement there).
I love the place, of course, and there's something to be said about the challenge of Catholic education. But being a minority and something of a liberal (a deeply conservative liberal) made going there difficult, to say the least.
And yet I made a concious choice to go there, making me yet another minority, this time among the thousands and thousands of students who attended because it was their best chance at a real education.
None of them had any complaints, either, so who am I to talk?

Thursday, February 19, 2004

And Speaking of Tarantino Movies... (2/19/04)
Like many of Tarantino's works, I like to publish my blog in no particular order to show my utter inability to grasp the concept of "time" and "chronology". Eventually even the individual sentences in each post will have such bad grammar and word order they will look like they were translated from Japanese. It by offended all to apologies.
Why I Liked "Kill Bill" (2/19/04)
I found it to be stupid, provocative, gut-wrenching, mindless, profane, and utterly pointless.
In other words, a perfect movie.
1) The fact that we don't even know what the main character's name is
People with "good taste" like movies that offer character development. People like me like movies that offer a fill-in-the-blanks plot, with stereotypical characters thin enough to cut your finger.
2) Random Profanity
Only Quentin Tarantino can pull this off correctly. Unlike most other directors, who carefully study the guidelines on how many "f-words" they can squeeze into a movie without offending the majority of the audience, Tarantino just puts them in for comedy value. For those of you who've seen this movie, recall the scene when O-Ren Ishii drops the bomb at the table of Yakuza (and the Japanese translation in the background!)
3) Utterly Inappropriate Music
Again, it seems only Tarantino pulls this off correctly. While in other movies this sort of thing might seem cheesy, in "Kill Bill" it's a classy parody of a cheesy soundtrack.
4) Hattori Hanzo and His Sake-Fetching Assistant
Having lived in Japan, I appreciate the humor in this scene.
The Day after the Day after the Day of the Blog (2/19/04)
Well, it's time to start with the REAL blogging.
Ummm. Errr....
Hold that thought, I'll be right back!

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Day 0: Still the Day of the Blog (2/17/04)
I must apologize if any part of the blog seems a little weird or badly formatted, since I'm new at this whole website-building, blog-publishing, ad-filtering, hacking-and-phreaking-for-fun-and-profit thing.
Day 0: The Day of the Blog (2/17/04)
Ladies and Gentlemen, it's here. The Blog. The Blog of irreverence, irrelevance, immaturity, political incorrectness, juvenile humor, etc. etc. If you are opposed to any of these things please don't continue reading; there are plenty of good blogs out there for you to read. If you are bored and have nothing else to do, then please continue on.